Wednesday, May 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Le doux amour des hommes, Jean-Paul Civeyrac, 2002

Had a bit of a hard time at first, maybe just because the much more direct pleasures of Vecchiali were still fresh in my mind (also, this probably loses quite a bit when seen at home). But I guess the pool scene set me on the right track: Jeanne´s form melting away on the ground of the basin, a liminal creature, living on borrowed time, touching and transforming a few lives...

A film dipping in and out of myth, effortless, like a lonely, emblematic face dissolving into a crowd. All the while a sad readhead hovers at the edge of the film, filled with quiet disgust, until she suddenly speaks up.

The Thirteenth Hour, William Clemens, 1947

By this point they obviously just slapped the Whistler label and a few sardonic voice-overs (I love that they use the same strained doomsday inflection even when a character is miraculously saved) on random mystery scripts flying around. This one is a quite nice piece of truck driver paranoia, though, and Clemens directs lively enough, moving with ease from the open road to evermore constricted spaces, until the only line of sight left open is a service hatch.

Drive a Crooked Road, Richard Quine, 1954

A borderline modernist noir, set between a decidedly non-greasy garage, with cars plopping up and down a ramp like toys, an evenly lit, homey beach house and an open road that isn´t open at all, but prefigured as moving image so that when we really arrive there every move has been thought through already. The mise-en-scene is measured according to Rooney´s Eddie, a man "like a scared animal" whose feet hardly reach the ground when sitting on a bench. He´s constantly placed next to bigger guys - not to overpower him, though, but to emphasize the smallness of the whole world he´s been thrown in: in the end his own smallness and inadequacy makes everyone else look phony, too. His colleagues are innocuous boasters whose notion and expressions of horniness stem from Tex Avery cartoons, the crooks he encounters later are obnoxious, unsubtle fratboys. Even Dianne Fosters eroticism is scaled down, her flirting has motherly/sisterly/condescending overtones from the start.

To forge a true, full-blown tragedy from these ingredients seems like a small miracle, but Quine pulls it off.

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell, Hajime Sato, 1968

Not necessarily the best, but certainly the most out there and inventive film of the Eclipse set. After the hallucinatory beginning (an airplane flying into a blood-red sky while devil birds keep crashing into its windows) it´s almost a bit disappointing when most of the rest settles for a more grounded, dusty look, but the absolutely bonkers vaginal vampire stuff more than makes up for it.

Also spends more effort than usually on showing the fucked-upness of almost everyone. Not just the politician, but also the psychologist interested in pushing people over the edge "for scientific reasons", pointing towards a rather fundamental uneasiness with modernity. The massacres in Vietnam are in there, too, though once again ultimately all roads lead to Hiroshima.

The Rocking Horsemen, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1992
Was this love or just two people bumping into each other? A glissando into the past, based on the sound intuition that the richness of both rock and coming of age is based on finding nuance in simple riffs. The movement from youthful flights of fancy to sober melancholia is pretty much perfect and also heartbreaking.

Meet John Doe, Frank Capra, 1941

Was this love or just two people bumping into each other? A glissando into the past, based on the sound intuition that the richness of both rock and coming of age is based on finding nuance in simple riffs. The movement from youthful flights of fancy to sober melancholia is pretty much perfect and also heartbreaking.

Red Room, Tony Zarindast, 1992

Thinking of SHOWGIRLS, Lommel, PSYCHO, Gialli, TCM, PSYCHO, David Schmoeller, Giorgio Ferroni´s MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, PSYCHO once again and still this is a beast all of its own, maybe because Zarindast embraces all of his influences wholeheartedly without having the means to properly emulate a single one. Disarmingly crude, inventive, sexy, the freedom of direct to video. A bonus heart for the obese cop who has to enter a prison cell sideways because otherwise he wouldn´t fit through the door.

The Return of the Whistler, D. Ross Lederman, 1948

Largely styleless, but thanks to the Woolrich paranoia stronger than the three previous entries. Michael Duane has a interestingly bland, almost mask-like face. The most irritating thing about it, though, is Lenore Aubert´s extremely non-french french accent.

Long Pants, Frank Capra, 1927

Langdon is always ridiculous first and funny second. Often his bumbling apathy threatens to derail the (in this case mostly excellent) comic setups, as if a thoroughly thought-through, well constructed joke would already make him too much part of the grown-up world. His opposition to that world is radical and total, because it doesn´t stem from concepts, but from a lack of body tension. It´s in his bones.

So This Is Love, Frank Capra, 1928

Playful, sketchy romantic comedy that prefigures (in a rather blunt, but charming manner) IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT´s discourse on food / feeding and romance. Changes gear in the final act, an energetic, hillarious boxing match culminating in knockout intimacy.

The Dream of Garuda, Takahisa Zeze, 1994

One of those pinkus that denounce any kind of social contract, and arrive at somewhat interesting places in doing so. Everything is broken, and this is most evident not in the merciless rape scenes, not in the brutalist architecture (claustrophobic highrises thrown into waste land), not in the space-bending close-ups of Ito´s haggard face, but in the soapy erotic massage interludes, the only parts of the film played conventionally, for sensual pleasure. There´s a complete disconnect between the the narrative / emotional framing and the images themselves: For the women it´s a job, while the men have murder on their mind, and we are left with nothing but glossy softcore body mechanics.

Rain or Shine, Frank Capra, 1930

Capra´s first masterpiece? Joe Cook and his two sidekicks are a three-headed force of nature, and their presence alone makes this, the only feature they made together, highly valuable (generally, vaudeville´s influence on cinema, especially early sound cinema, still seems to be hugely underrated). This unfolds basically as a series of stage acts, not at all uncinematic, though, but perfectly integrated into a dense, layered, dynamic circus world, explored by a freewheeling camera in all its dimensions.

The plot is flimsy from the start (although Joan Peers gets a few lovely, longing close-ups) and Cook tries everything to sideline it. He wants to have it all to himself, with his act derailing the love story, and not only fueling the circus, but in the end replacing it, swallowing it up, burning it all to the ground. When the artists have the audacity of demanding a tiny share of the profits for themselves, he won´t hear anything about it, although he himself owns nothing - a hobo anarcho-capitalist, a creature of the sphere of circulation, unbound by fixed assets.

Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood, 2019

Much has been said about politics and / vs performance, and this certainly is a fascinating, conflicted film on both counts. I was also intrigued by its structure, the movement from generous, fluid open-air 90s nostalgia - Macarena, children jumping through water fountains, Muhammad Ali - to an enclosed world of paranoia and suspicion, a retreat into interior spaces and communities of purpose, with the occasional marker of history and the outside world (Clinton, Michael Johnson) relegated to tv screens.

Compared with Eastwood´s other everyday hero films, there´s more, maybe sometimes a bit too much plot here, an insistence on touching all the bases, to follow through on all the elements of the self-established discourse. Sometimes this works very well (Jewell´s mother trying to wipe off the government markings from her now forever tainted tupperware), sometimes not (Kathy Scruggs, too, getting her "payphone revelation scene").

Would be interesting to reframe the film as the story of two women: The manic public whirlwind that is Kathy Scruggs, her energy completely outward-bound, non-critical, merging with the world, a bodily extension of the system (it must be worth at least something that Olivia Wilde clearly had a lot of fun in front of the camera, and to reduce that one infamous scene to "paying with sex for intel" is downright insulting, or at least much more insulting than anything in the film), and Nadya, the most private but also the most self-assured of creatures, operating in secret, on the basis of absolute ideological conviction, stealing a shy kiss once in a while.

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