Tuesday, June 23, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Eternal Heart, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1929

Happiness is like another world. It takes only a small misunderstanding for it to be closed-off forever and later on, it cannot even be spoken of anymore. But it still lingers there, behind the images, and sometimes it almost becomes palpable, in a gaze hold too long, or an aborted gesture.

Vaters Garten - Die Liebe meiner Eltern, Peter Liechti, 2013

Hit me hard. So very Swiss, all that modest prosperity, the plain, bare flat, the garden bearing crops, not flowers. Patriarchy as an unequal prison: the jailor jails himself, too, though he at least has his garden to escape to. (I thought of UNA PRIMAVERA quite often; in the Swiss version, patriarchy is much less violent and probably not quite as miserable, but freedom is even further out of reach.)

The camera is always an intruder, the distance between parents and child, born from overfamiliarity, cannot be bridged, it only can be translated into different, more playful setups: by turning the parents into bunny dolls it might be easier to deal with their continued togetherness - their love, for better or worse. Liechti´s most effective idea might be the constant switching, sometimes mid sentence, between Swiss vernacular and standard German, between lived-in speech pointing towards biographical depth and language as an detached, analytical tool.

Seven Seas, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1931/32

Part 1: Convoluted, but when he stays on track, Shimizu finds some striking moments.

Part 2: That palm tree shadow shot is indeed marvellous and some of the domestic dynamics are quite interesting, but all those soapy digressions threw me off even worse than in the first one. More of Hiroko Kawasaki´s face and less of everything else, please!

To be sure, finding out that Momoyo is played by an eight year old Hideko Takamine was incredibly touching.

Sudden Death, Peter Hyams, 1995

Under the dome. The totality of action: all time is (play time is) action time, all space is action space. The bombs are right there, the bad guys too. Every kind of external motivation is dubious at best, there´s no melodrama, no pathos, not even that much body as spectacle, nothing but movement + environment + texture + one-liners.

Timecop, Peter Hyams, 1994

Runs along beautifully and there´s always exactly the right amount of Van Dammes on screen at any given moment, so in my book there are no logical mishaps here. The action is readable like the sole of Van Damme´s shoe and the locations are wonderful: The lost paradise of the present is a posh mall with a vintage feel, while the future scenes are almost exclusively set in gloomy militarist spaces. Once the Timecop has fixed time, though, it turns out that his clunky, toy-like car is the only marker of futureness and he has just miraculously grown into the bourgeois lifestyle he didn´t quite feel comfortable with in the beginning. His home turns out to always have been a castle.

Also, for mid 90s studio fare, this is surprisingly horny. Muscles and nipples. That time machine knew exactly what it was doing when it threw Gloria Reuben into a lake of all places.

The Boss´s Son at College, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

"We are punishing you in the name of friendship!"

Starts as a pleasant, freewheeling college comedy and ends with several characters getting violently beaten into shape. The change in tone is effective, because we experience everything alongside Fuji: At first, we just can´t help but root for his irreverence, his energy, his smile, so his fall from grace is ours, too. He had been a phony all along, leaving victims left and right, and his repentance will lead to even more misery.

To end the film with almost 10 minutes of very well filmed rugby feels almost unnecesarily cruel and sardonical: everything´s broken, so lets get out and beat them. But then after the match, in the shower, the tears start to flow.

Heatseeker, Albert Pyun, 1995

Once again I´m in love with Pyun´s artificial light. Here, once we step out of the location footage into pure Pyun land, everything is flat and toxic and soupy, just like the ever-bubbling score. A technocratic delirium. The fighters not only contain technology, they represent it, and because the technology is branded, the fighters also directly represent capital. Or maybe they even become capital - in Pyun´s minimalist mise en scene, the kickboxing tournaments isn´t a mere representation or an extension of capitalist competition, but the thing itself: abstract and mostly self-same market forces beating each other to pulp. It fits that most fight scenes have no dramatic tension whatsoever. Just one execution of dominance after the other.

Chance, the sole blue collar, non technology fighter might technically defeat the totalizing order of capital, but this is no more than an accident. The real danger is the pure sensual energy of Tina Cote, her kisses, her affection, her claim on the image.

A Different Image, Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982

Two wonderful main actors, present to us in unobtrusive closeness, a perceptive eye for environment, evoking a whole world with deceptively simple means. As fiction it feels heavy-handed (especially the scenes with the guy´s best friend), but maybe that´s the only way to make things stick on such a small scale.

Children in the Wind, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

The way we define ourselves through the reactions of our surroundings. The feeling of absolute loss once this no longer works. Suddenly the mob of boys providing feedback is gone, we´re alone, cut off from the world, alone high up there in the tree, out there in the current, at the mercy of the river monsters.

Mirror Images, Gregory Dark, 1992

Delia Sheppard in red looks old-hollywoodish, Delia Sheppard in blonde looks like something out of a 80s fantasy film. Steamy lingerie sex easily bridges the gap.

These Gregory Dark softcore films make much more sense when one thinks of them as sexual melodramas rather than as erotic thrillers. The suspense plots are mere afterthoughts, it´s all about the need for and danger of fantasies. Again and again, they start from a place not of erotic abundancy, but of of impotence and lack. This one takes some surprising, oneiric, almost de-Sade-like turns - it´s all about fighting a cardboard wizard and the idea that sex is a drug-fueled music box.

Delia Sheppard in her car, driving towards another life, her face reflected in the rear-view mirror, pitted against the colors of the night...

Namibia Crossing, Peter Liechti, 2004

What it means to feel uneasy. The awkwardness of the whole setup - a band made up of musicians from different backgrounds coming together in free-form musical interaction while being filmed by a director trying to account for his own fascination with the "primordial" - actually might be a good antidote to glib slogans like "intercultural exchange". At the very least, Liechti, like always, fully commits to his program and finds some strong images, especially while exploring the different environments defined by each performance.

However, in the end the main argument should be a musical one and I don´t think the film managed to make it.

Japanese Girls at the Harbor, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

The space between us and a million different ways not to bridge it.

Selbé et tant d'autres, Safi Faye, 1983

"It´s lucky that you let me work in your film." (Need to follow up on that someday...)

Mr. Thank You, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1936

The bus gives us a world, makes it visible, but it also intervenes in it. On the one hand, the gaze is completely egalitarian. Those wonderful approach / retreat 180° two-shots approach everyone with the same curiosity and tolerance, the same arigato. The farmer returning from the field, the mountain girls who listen and dance to a single record for months, the poetic drunk.

On the other hand, the bus is not just a neutral vessel. Not everyone can pay the fare, and like the street it travels on, it has a direction: from the country to the city. In the end, this is the tension that structures the film: Cyclical time (the crazy guy forever wandering the street looking for his lost love) vs irreversibility. "Most of the girls who cross the mountains never come back."

In the end it turns out that the true moral center of the film isn´t Mr. Thank You himself, who just wants to "make a living on the road" and doesn´t act up when he sees a silent tragedy unfolding in his rear-view mirror, but the loud-mouthed woman who spends most of the running time making fun of a fellow traveler´s moustache.

Ein Lied, ein Kuss, ein Mädel, Geza von Bolvary, 1932

Early German sound cinema defending its prankish tenderness against the onslaught of Fröhlich-ness.

Secret Games, Gregory Dark, 1992

The very private leading lady, the vulgar best friend, the desire for another life, sex as image, the menace of abstract space... the formula is obvious, but Dark manages to give it a new turn in every film. This isn´t one of the better ones, the psychosexual stuff in the beginning doesn´t lead anywhere and the deep end in the end isn´t all that deep. What´s left is a dime-store Bunues doubling down on commodification and some interesting performances. Bill Drago casting is an almost Brechtian move.

No comments: