Monday, June 01, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Piano Blues, Clint Eastwood, 2003

Eastwood is anything but a natural interviewer, and it´s kind of touching that he doesn´t try to hide that at all. Generally, this is about letting the music speak for itself, though.

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend, Takashi Ishii, 2013

In the 90s, Ishii used to make rather awesome stylish thrillers with a kinky edge. Here he´s back at his pinku beginnings, and all that´s left is the kink. Not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately HELLO, MY DOLLY GIRLFRIEND also shows that the conditions for cinematic kink have changed quite a bit in the last few decades. It feels very much of one piece, at least: a dark, demented, digitally ugly tale of masturbatory misidentification centered around a blurred vagina that might or might not exist. Form fits content, but it´s also painfully slow and mostly shot in a small number of crummy locations. Basically the gutter version of AIR DOLL and in the end just as tiring.

Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood, 2000

Eastwood fully embracing his sentimental side, not shying away from the weaker part of an often perfunctory script (the Marcia Gay Harden storyline especially is a disappointment), or, even, from a terrible NSYNC theme song - at least he has the good sense to overwrite it with Sinatra in the end. Also, it´s too long and still feels rushed during the space parts. Still, this comes out stronger than some of his more ambitious films, because often enough all the trappings are stripped away and there´s nothing left but a few battered faces pitted against the end of history, lost not so much in space as in a shared, by now largely aimless, contentless and in a few precious moments almost benevolent narcissism.

Als Landwirt, Stefan Hayn / Anja-Christin Remmert, 2007

About being a farmer in the present day in central Europe, the last human element in a system structured by constantly increasing efficiency enhancement. The takeover of technology and bureaucracy is slow but relentless, evermore limiting all degrees of movement, and also gradually expunging the traditional imagery of farming. Nothing is self-explanatory anymore in the relationship of farmer and nature. (It probably never was, but at least sometimes it looked that way.)

Changeling, Clint Eastwood, 2008

She used to be on roller-skates, right there at the center of the network, smoothing over glitches in the communication system. But she´s part of another system now, Eastwood´s system, her blood-red lipstick shining through the maze of big city corruption, insisting on a primal pain that points towards another, equally primal evil. So we have to leave the city and head out there into the California desert, pitch-black cars pitted against the glaring sand, the bones are buried next to the tree trunks, while Jolie herself can´t take her skates (and not even her lipstick) into the asylum.

Really a shame that I missed this in theaters back then, maybe Eastwood´s most beautiful film. At one point I started to think of Kurosawa´s HIGH AND LOW and couldn´t shake the connection from then on. Another conservative humanist encountering / negotiating the limits of his discourse. The class-dynamics are largely muted, here, but there´s the descent into the "female underworld", the final face-to-face-confrontation that solves nothing... The period classicism is just a ruse, or maybe a defense mechanism, because in the end form is helpless against the chaos.

Vixen, Yasuzo Masumura, 1969

The first image: Ruriko Asaoka´s hands stretched out towards the camera, her fingers kneading a tabletop, sending cunvulsions, spasms through her arm, and then through her other limbs, leading to a full body miniature performance piece, Ruriko alone with the camera, biting into the tabletop, bending over a white chair, rubbing her chin against her knee, her bruised leg turning into a mysterious object, a bodily entity in its own right.

A body in perpetual motion, twisting and turning even when alone, or rather especially when alone: later on she has another solo number, transforming herself into some sort of bizarro mermaid, wriggling through bedsheets and on the floor of her apartment. When a man enters the picture, she either throws herself at him, pins him down with hands and legs, towards her skinny torso with its pronounced ripcage - a ravenous, glutton nakedness; or she tries to get rid of him, by all means necessary. (She was also raped, before the movie starts; it´s rather terrifying how fast this is forgotten.)

The film Masumura constructs around her feels rather bare-bones, although there are the usual allusions towards the war trauma and capitalist corruption. But in the end it´s all about Ruriko and the men: not a story of seduction, but of physical push and pull. One man falls for her, on first sight, another one rejects her, also on first sight. The rest is mechanics.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Frank Capra, 1936

He only knows how to express himself with his tuba. When the instrument is taken away from him he lashes out against everyone, both verbally and physically, closes down the opera house, discovers, in a moment of grace, the beauty of the echo, starts a populist revolution, finally stops speaking altogether, only to discover, in the very last shot, another use for his mouth: kissing Jean Arthur.

Breezy, Clint Eastwood, 1973

Eastwood at his most tender and perceptive. A 70s love ballad constantly negotiating its own implausibility, accounting for all of its inner and outer resistances. Beautiful dog close-ups, too.

Unorthodox, Maria Schrader, 2020

When Esty drives with her new-found art school friends to Wannsee, she mentions that several members of her family died in Auschwitz. A young Israeli woman answers: Same where I come from, but it´s no big deal today, we have other problems now. It´s not clear if the show even realizes what it it is that it´s doing in this scene: once again, it´s the Jews who are assigned the task of absolving Germany from the Shoah. Anyway, it´s more than a mere slip: throughout the four episodes, every single allusion to history, to the industrially organized mass murder of Jews by Germans, is used for a single pupose: to keep Esty (and in one scene her husband) in place, to keep her from starting a new life in Berlin, a city that is now supposed to be a save haven for Jews - who are persecuted by other Jews.

I don´t want to go too far into this. Shira Haas is an amazing actress and I certainly don´t want to take away anything from anyone who identifies with this story (which easily could´ve been told without ever leaving New York, btw), so I´ll just leave it at that: Whatever else it might be, UNORTHODOX also is the perfect spiritual sequel to JOJO RABBIT.

American Madness, Frank Capra, 1932

Not so much an anticapitalist film as a film about structural transformation of capital: money shouldn´t be stored in the vault and in our accounts, says Walter Huston, it should be out there, in the world, it should be put back into businesses. Later on he gets his wish: the money vanishes, first by way of a heist (a nice detail: the corrupt clerk hiding in a locker), later in a steady flow of small withdrawals. Money on the move - but not, like Huston imagined, in the sphere of production. Like the film itself, the money never leaves the realm of the bank, the sphere of circulation. It´s all about money following money, and the only thing that´s left to decide is the direction of the flow.

I´d screen this togehter with Dwan´s THE INSIDE STORY, another sphere of circulation comedy. The differences are stark: Dwan treats the liquefaction of capital as a problem of engineering, which also means that everything has to resolved within the realms of traditional mise en scene. Capra, on the other hand, is a social alchimist, using whatever means necessary to reach his goal.

Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood, 2014

“I'm not drawn to the old neighborhood, my life never revolved around the old neighborhood. I don´t give a fuck about the old neighborhood.”

A nostalgia film destroying the foundations of nostalgia. Popular music never was an authentic expression, it´s always born from economic and narcissist impulses. If you buy into its phony promises, like Frankie does, you´re already trapped, doomed to live your life as the copy of a truer version of yourself that never existed. The eternal boyish looks, the eternal lounge singer.

It helps that all those Four Seasons hits, while not without charm, are first and foremost pretty weird. The fake aging in the end is weird, too, weirder and more effective than the de-aging in THE IRISHMAN. (Also, as much as I love Scorsese: If he had been assigned this project, never ever would he have been able to make a film as radical as this one.)

Miracle Woman, Frank Capra, 1931

A love story, involving a minister´s daughter who turns her spiritual despair into first-rate showmanship by way of performing phony miracles from the inside of a lion´s den - and a blind man who overcomes his cynicism with the help of a ventriloquist doll. Also, a nightly beach scene smooth as silk. In a word: too good to be true, I still can´t fully believe that this movie really exists, I must´ve fallen under some sort of spell.

White Hunter, Black Heart, Clint Eastwood, 1990

Might be interesting to compare the last scene - the beginning of "principal photography" - with the ending of Duras´s LE CAMION, or other modernist films that lay bare the material reality of their own textuality. In those, the becoming visible of the camera always amounts to an opening up, a release; while here, Wilson´s journey ends with a retreat into cinema, not only into its images, but into its apparatus. A necessary retreat, but also a tragic one. In the end, the boundaries between art and life - cemented by power relations and symbolized by an act of violence - can never be overcome. When it comes to cinema, photography is always principal.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Frank Capra, 1933

As I hadn´t seen this in almost 20 years, I was a bit suspicious of my remembering it to be basically the best thing ever. But it really is.

The outpouring of style in the first part... On the one hand, the framings are always clearly delineated and intricately layered, on the other hand there´s an outward, expansive drive, an energy that pushes against the limitations of the frame; like de Mille superimposed over Sternberg. At one point, single scenes start folding into each other, an evermore amorphous flow, almost a continuous montage sequence. And yet, all of it always remains tied to Stanwyck´s perception. Or rather: it´s being imprinted onto her. Stanwyck´s shivering body during the train ride - I don´t know if I´ve ever seen a more sensual image.

The mass execution in front of Yen´s palace also serves first and foremost as a wake-up call for Stanwyck. But now, things change. Yen removes the mayhem from her (and our) sight and makes room for another order of images, a spectacle of faces and gazes, a sexual melodrama that moves, against all odds, so close to utopia that in the magnificent last shot, the reflections of ecstasy almost become visible in Stanwyck´s hair.

By now I melt before Capra´s images, I´m wax in his hands.

The Rookie, Clint Eastwood, 1990

A strange one. Eastwood seems to amp up the ridiculousness precisely because by this time he wasn´t really comfortable anymore with this kind of material. Meaning he goes all in not despite but because of a lack of conviction.Yet it never fully switches over into farce, and the biggest emphasis is placed on small stuff like the two protagonists being uneasily stuck together in the car after escaping the explosion. The car chase in the beginning, on the other hand. is a blueprint for many blockbuster action scenes from the late 90s / 00s, especially those directed by Bay (shiny, clunky objects thrown into high-speed traffic). Lots of energy, but it doesn´t really go anywhere.

I guess the biggest misstep is the casting of Sheen, who seems to be in a different movie than everyone else. In some ways this might even be the point, but I guess I still would´ve preferred almost every other young 80s star in the role.

Given all of that, this looks fabulous throughout and the jazz score adds nice, surprising touches. A 35mm print might win me over completely one day.

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