Tuesday, May 19, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

When Liane Haid sings the song for the first time, it´s already a repetition, an echo of a previous performance. We´re stuck in a loop from the start, and our only hope lies in accepting just that: There´s no outside to the games we´re playing, the song is always already over, and at the same time it is always about to start again. If we can live with that, there´s a chance we don´t have to fight another war.

Voice of the Whistler, William Castle, 1945

Completely different in tone from the previous entries: A miniature epic, Citizen-Kane-style, leading into a kryptosexual stand-off: three people stuck in a phallic lighthouse pitted against beautiful painted backdrops, hell bent on making each other and themselves unhappy. Three is one too many, so someone has to be... ejected... from the setting. Will release even be possible, though? I especially liked the part leading up to the finale: there´s murder in the air and even the method of killing is already decided, but for a while it is completely unclear who will be the killer and who the victim. The crime as a structure fulfilling itself and casting the participants in the process...

Aside from Dix, the cast might not be all that memorable, although I did like Lynn Merrick´s commitment to her thoroughly unsympathetic character. The scene at the beach, when we see her swimming in the water, a female promise in the background, and then she steps out of the water into the foreground, wringing her hair, but she´s not at all the alluring mermaid, but rather completely pissed off...

Thirst for Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1967

The world either too close or forever out of reach. On the one hand sex scenes of glaring whiteness, body heat melting into celluloid, a stomach made of poisonous light. On the other hand a satiric family melodrama filmed from a bird´s eye perspective (or from a surveillance camera designed by Kafka); is this about a cold gaze freezing over people, or rather the other way around: the helpless retreat of the image in the presence of a irretrievably static world?

What might bridge the gap between the immediacy of sex and the aloofness of the social? Art, fetish, art as fetish, fetish as art, and in the end, violence. I haven´t read Mishima in a long time, maybe I should try it again soon.

I Hate But Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1962

There´s a shot that gorgeously pits the lovers against a fluorescent curtain of raindrops dripping down a windowplane, and the rush of green in the Kyushu finale is quite nice, too, especially with the fleshy, orgasmic ending... Aside from a few splashes like that, this doesn´t look half as spectacular as I thought a Kurahara color film would, though. At times there almost seems to be a longing for the more complete, direct sense of style provided by black and white, a deliberate draining of color, a wallowing in the drab palettes of japanese postwar reality.

It´s inventive enough as it is visually, especially the use of widescreen, and it´s a strange beast throughout. An early Godardian relationship comedy taking a detour into media / youth culture satire before being transformed into a full-blown, almost dialogue-free road-movie-melodrama... All shot through with Kurahara´s manic Sturm-und-Drang style that keeps hanging in the air a bit this time. Obviously an assignment Kurahara couldn´t quite make his own, but nonetheless lots of energy, and a very nice performance by Ishihara, sort of a dry run in preparation for ALONE ACROSS THE PACIFIC.

The X From Outer Space, Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1967

Trippy, or, more precisely, loungy kaiju / space opera film featuring a monster that looks like a gojira-chicken mashup and a flying saucer that looks like flabby pastry. The outer space stuff made me think, once again, of Bava, the kaiju scenes are rather inventive, too, and there´s a cute love triangle sideplot with an extremely polite resolution.

Nihonmatsu´s limitations as a director are obvious throughout, but once you get past them there´s lots to enjoy, here. Perfect score for this kind of film, too.

Iris and the Lieutenant, Alf Sjöberg, 1946

The social theatrics of love. More precisely, there´s a constant tension between two different forms of theatrics. The scenes of Zetterling and Kjelling belong to the theatrics of intimacy: two lovers constantly framing and reframing, blocking and unblocking their desire, like in their first longer scene together, when a kitchen cupboard turns into the medium of their togetherness as well as their separateness. Both her and his desires are authentic, but can´t ever be fully synchronized. In fact, authenticity itself becomes the problem, because authentic love must reject the readymade love scripts society (or, in one especially beautiful sequence, Mervyn LeRoy´s WATERLOO BRIDGE) provides them with.

The family scenes, on the other hand, lend themselves to other, much more openly artificial theatrics, with intricate tracking shots tracing ballet-like character movements, mirror and window shots foregrounding the mechanics of visibility and tableaux-style sequences turning people into props. Cinema as interior design, but with a deconstructive angle. How can a window curtain throw its shadow on the ceiling rather than the floor of a room?

But what´s the endgame: Is this about pitting one form of theatrics against another? About intimacy smothered by monstrous conventionality? One might think so - until the very last scene, in which a short voice-over and a short camera movement, the most modest of rhetorical gestures, turn the whole thing around, amounting to a last reframing that turns everything before it inside out.

The Landlord, Hal Ashby, 1970

Suffers quite a bit from New Hollywood´s penchant for strenuous rhetorics (more often than not, the ostensibly most liberated phase of american filmmaking was also the most stilted), but Gunn´s complex rage and the soft face of Beau Bridges make up for a lot.

Personal Problems, Bill Gunn, 1980

Nothing is real but pain and video artifacts.

Mysterious Intruder, William Castle, 1946

The best thing about this is Helen Mowery´s incredibly aggressive femme fatale mandible. She wants to bite her way into fortune... Besides that, MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER is quirky and stylish enough, but never manages to develop the dark pull of the earlier Whistler films. The series is always about encountering (and accepting) the improbable, but while in the previous entries this encounter is the very subject of the film, this one is lost in a delirious, ludicrous noir plot almost from the start (the improbable becoming form, rather than content; this is especially evident in the overuse of voice over). Also, while it´s interesting in theory to turn Dix into a murky character on the threshold of good and evil, his acting abilities do not really rise to this particular challenge.

Corps a coeur, Paul Vecchiali, 1979

In the very first scene, the film is invaded, by way of Fauré´s music, by an affect too big, an affect that doesn´t quite fit this world, these two people bound together by a completely contingent gaze. Everything afterwards is about trying to account for this affect anyway, to render it in cinematic terms. How to turn the emblem of a pharmacy into an emblem of romantic extremism?

It´s about the impulses of melodrama taking over two bodies, two subjectivities. But never completely, it´s also always about the resistance of the same two bodies against these very impulses. The impulses stem from the past, from history, from film history. The romantic hero=fool, Pierrot, starts out as a foul-mouthed blue-collar neighborhood casanova. A pragmatist, settled in his ways: In his pursuit of Jeanne-Michele, he subscribes the help of his other lovers, current, former and future ones. The compartmentalization of love. But later on he reverts back to older, more transient forms of proletarian masculinity, a 1930s tramp in waist coat and flat cap, camping out in a bizarre fenced mobile home.

The melodrama forces its way into the world, but it no longer has the power to force the world out of the film. The world persists, the neighborhood persists. It doesn´t streamline but it multiplies affect, and every affect has the same right to express itself. The earth-shattering force of the melodrama is bound to its contingency. When Fauré hits again, it is a shock every single time. There is no other world, just a country house a few hours away from home.

Finally, the melodramatic impulse has to deal with sex, not in the abstract, but in its concrete images and movements. Woman on top. Satisfaction is not guaranteed, but it remains a necessary promise.

Lux perpetua luceat eis.

Secret of the Whistler, George Sherman, 1946

Drops, for most of its running time, the expressive flourishes of the earlier films in favor of flat three-point lighting, which makes sense in a way because it is about a woman utilizing her visibility and also about an affair carried out pretty much in the open. It´s a bit land nonetheless, and the story, while interesting in theory, feels somewhat half-baked.

Die Blume von Hawaii, Richard Oswald, 1933

Strangely enough, Oswald has a much less firm handle on film sound technique in his tenth sound film than he had in his first. Still, worth it for Eggerth and the Abraham songs.

La pasión según Berenice, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1975

A scarred woman, a signed woman, but ultimately the sign tells us nothing. A connection formed by a strong handshake in the cinema leads to a smoldering romance in long takes, a long walk to the restaurant, a long dinner scene, a long walk back, now closing in on the faces, more intimate. Later they are in bed, in the shower, their bodies pulled together mechanically, by the static, unflinching power of mise-en-scene, but not opening up towards each other, let alone towards us. Language doesn´t help, quite the contrary: The more the woman talks, the more her speech is deprived of meaning. Everything that´s been said can be easily turned into its opposite. Language lends towards the static, too.

A film of unreadable faces pitted against ornamental patterns: a decorated glass door, a headboard. Sometimes, though, another kind of energy blows through the film, bulging cloth on the veranda, a window opening up, zooms without an object. Cold winds of change tied to the woman´s unmoving, scarred face.

The Angel Levine, Jan Kadar, 1970

Repression of self and repression of others causing and constantly reinforcing each other. A dialogical inner city blues kammerspiel, in between brought alive a bit by Gloria Foster, but otherwise rather stale.

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