Tuesday, June 16, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Tension at Table Rock, Charles Marquis Warren, 1956

Moves in an understated way but arrives at interesting places. Egan´s quiet, introspective cool grew on me and the eerie song that haunts him reminded me of the one in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

Two in the Amsterdam Rain, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1975

Wildly ambitious, if not fully realized. The starting point isn´t all that different from Kurahara´s 60s films: Youthful masculinity running wild without the prospect of really going anywhere. Only this time it´s set in bulky old Europe, the style is static-gothic instead of dynamic-punkish (the European art film influences are obvious: Bertolucci, Visconti, maybe even Zurlini). Unfortunately the script isn´t content with letting things develop in an organically anarchic manner, and insists on inserting Sakuda into both an amour fou and a not really well articulated international spy thriller. The love story has its moments, but it´s the latter that completely takes over the film at some point. Together with the wild overacting and some glossy, baroque flourishes this makes for a still somewhat interesting, but rather exhausting mess.

The Gun Hawk, Edward Ludwig, 1963

The classic western lived and died with the Hays Code. THE GUN HAWK announces its own lateness with regards to its genre in many ways, but maybe most strikingly so in a shot of Calhoun and his girl in bed together. The taboo is no longer in place, so the old order has to die.

Just marvelous how Ludwig transforms a bread and butter b-western template (the Sheriff vs the outlaw, both mirrored in lesser, impure versions of themselves) into a highly idiosyncratic doomsday lullaby. Starting with a beautiful title sequence that feels completely out of proportion with the rest of the film but still fits, because it establishes a primacy of music and mood... Later on that incredibly effective, towards the end almost continuous heartbeat theme... The repeated bird´s-eye-shot of Sanctuary, that mythical place squeezed into the mountains... Calhoun´s sweaty skin, his softness and vulnerability...

(What does it mean that Sanctuary is only reachable through a system of caves? Is this an epistemological journey? Or, quite to the contrary, a retreat into fantasy? Also, if Sanctuary is this special place, why does its saloon look almost exactly like the one in the non-sanctuary city?)

Love for All Seasons, Johnnie To & Wai Ka Fai, 2003

Love is only real if you work through all of its mirages. It´s 2003 and Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng are already out there romancing in the thin air of total reflexivity. I finally need to get around watching all of those To / Wai joints from their mad 2000-2003 period.

Three, Johnnie To, 2016

Cerebral cinema, To´s FEMME FATALE.

I don´t have much more after a first viewing. Dense, liquid and radical. The cop way and the medical way of holding life in check, both equally corrupt. (To even has the hippocratic oath quoted just to make sure everyone realizes that Zhao Wei breaks it basically with every single step she takes.) Cinema is corrupt, too, but sometimes it might be a bit more lenient. Terrifying operating scenes.

Variation, Ko Nakahira, 1976

Not exactly what I would´ve thought a Nakahira ATG film would look like. Very somber, a travelogue of post-revolutionary depression (she) and post-revolutionary impotence (he); basically just faces, the detached drama of lighting, and the blindness of sex.

Might be thought of as the flipside of those 70s sex films in which european women travel to Asia in search of erotic fulfillment: For Kyoko, Europe provides liberation, too, but not through titillation but through sensual introspection.

Not all that much going on here, maybe, but at some point I succumbed to the flow. A Bach cello suite, mediterranean nighttime lights and a female body cautiously approaching ecstasy - sometimes it´s enough just to push all the right buttons.

An Inspector Calls, Herman Yau / Raymond Wong, 2015

A british comedy of corrupt manners haunting Hongkong cinema in 2015. Well calibrated when it comes to tone and acting, but I would lie if I said those cgi model kit sets didn´t hurt my eyes once in a while. I´ll never get completely comfortable with some aspects of digital, I guess.

Akitsu Spring, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1962

A beyond beautiful widescreen melodrama about a life suspended in the eternal immediacy of a longing made unfulfillable by patriarchy. For her, the few short days they spend together every once in a while, often years apart, are precious, every reunion an epic of intimacy. Everything else is just time slipping away without leaving behind a fully-formed biography.

For him, their time together is precious, too, but precisely because it allows him to escape from biographical time. Two ways of being miserable, but only hers is rendered in cinematographic terms. In fact, the short interludes about the man weaken the film considerable, because they distract from the repetitive, almost abstract textures of her love, the hypnotic score, the restrictive vastness of the space around her.

Still, she is no fallen woman in the Mizoguchi tradition. Mariko Okada is a woman trapped, but she´s also irreverent towards both the man who helps trapping her and towards her own suffering. Her longing has no fixed object, it´s not about the man but about being with the man and in the end she has no idea what that might mean.

Living by Karate, Seijun Suzuki, 1961

A sweet adventure tale chock full of chivalrous boy detectives, bumbling gangsters, decidedly silly pop tunes, a bittersweet love triangle that only fully comes together in the beautiful last shot (fade to pink) and a constant threat of sexual violence, played out alternately as slapstick and as melodrama.

Suzuki has a lot of fun with all of this, and he´s especially great with handling space. The headquarter of the bad guys is an almost surrealist maze of mirrors, windows and staircases, with different rooms and even stories folding into each other, and a cellar connected to a channel system. Makes one wish for a Suzuki directed Bond film.

Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee, 2008

This indeed doesn´t fully come together, and it´s hard to see how Lee ever thought that it might, given that the problems mostly begin and end with the script. He just has no idea how to bring the main black soldiers essentially fighting a double war storyline and the church massacre together in an interesting way. I appreciate the craziness of the religious stuff, but in the end it´s half-assed - Lee just isn´t a spiritual filmmaker, that international prayer montage especially feels off, like a gimmicky rehash of the fuck monologue from 25TH HOUR.

Still, this somehow grows into being an incredibly touching film, especially when Lee sticks in the village, chronicling the encounter of the black soldiers and the Italians, the forging of a fragile utopia in a space left open by receding fascism and not yet filled by the more subtle bourgeois mechanisms of exclusion.

Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee, 2020

A fratricide translated into daddy issues, but of course it´s never that simple. Even back then Tiên´s story didn´t fit into the tight black liberation academy ratio. Today the frame is wide and constantly shifting, the gold is dispersed all over the mountain and the skeletons will be too, soon. When the four bloods head for the hills, only one of them really returns. Any longing for the imaginary greatness of the past will cut you off from the world, though, and lead you down a doomsday MAGA path with nothing left to face but the empty gaze of the camera. All the others are stuck in the presence, in a mid budget epic with grand scope but not backed by a big apparatus and therefore free to roam. Lots of moving parts. In the end, nothing can keep the centrifugal forces in check except maybe once in a while a Marvin Gaye tune.

Closed Vagina, Masao Adachi, 1963

Bodies swallowed up by white and only given back once in a while, ritualistically, partially. Very young faces, faces outside of history. Can´t say a lot of it stuck with me, a better transfer might help someday.

Eclipse, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1934

Right there in the first 20 minutes two scenes of simple, poetic perfection.

Two friends in the countryside: they jump in the air, grabbing the limb of a tree and holding tight, dangling next to each other, a close up of their feet suspended in the air, then they jump back to the ground, a close-up of their feet in the grass, another jump, and the feet are in the air again... all the while they´re talking about a girl and because they´re not honest to each other everyone will have to suffer for the rest of the film.

Soon after, still in the countryside, one of the friends meets the girl in front of a mill. This time the conversation is first pitted against and then swallowed up by the relentless turning of the wheel. This goes on and on, shot after shot, a complete reversal of plot and setting. The mill is grinding, happiness is gone.

The purity of form evident in the village scenes gets lost when the story moves to the city a bit later. There are some weird tonal shifts, even some rather dull moments... and still, so much effortless control, close-ups rhythmically thrown into long shots during a very funny golfing scene, a sliding nighttime walk over a bridge, an arrested gaze, indifferent to time, when the long lost lover pops up out of nowhere...

Marthas Garten, Peter Liechti, 1997

Pretty dark behind the quirky surface, a psychotic, autistic small-town VERTIGO. Too small a playing field in the end, but this still makes me wish Liechti would´ve tried out fiction more often.

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