Tuesday, June 09, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Love and Death at Fuji Speedway, Toru Murakawa, 1972

Every attempt to turn this into something dramatic and thrilling fails in almost comical way. The big motorcycle race is basically a kid shoving toys through a world made of toy blocks, and later on it takes a while to even register that a scene with lots of mugging, mean stares and weird framing is meant to represents an attack on the main couple.

Luckily, in between the awkward plot points, this sometimes finds a different beat and turns into a relaxed, trippy, and towards the end melancholic sex film that sometimes feels more like francoesque eurotica than pinku. Two people dancing on stairs, playing silly games on the beach, closing themselves off from the world only to recognize that in the end they might come up a bit short in doing so.

The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood, 1975

Playing the silly material completely straight is a feature, not a bug. A scene like Eastwood chasing a tits flashing Brenda Venus through John Ford land for several minutes can only work in a very special cinematic realm between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Still a bit clunky between the spectacular helicopter shots, yes, but then again it´s a film about men and mountains.

The Power of the Press, Frank Capra, 1928

The plot is rolling by on autopilot, but this is mostly about Fairbanks Junior´s youthful charms and people doing things with cigarettes anyway. Those banter scenes in the newsroom could´ve, and probably should´ve been the whole film. Still, very pleasant throughout.

Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood, 1997

Not only the president, the filmmaker too is trapped in a fiction of absolute power: Everything is subject to his gaze, he is placed behind the mirror, but while indeed the whole world is given to him, its darkest secrets condensed in a primal scene, his position of comfort at the same time hides, even stems from impotence. The closet in which Eastwood´s thief hides was meant to provide substitute satisfaction for someone else. When it comes to cinema, visibility and helplessness are inextricably tied to each other (as are, in this special case, loneliness and political rage). Maybe that´s why the thief had retreated into the world of painting long ago. Painting is soft rather than absolute power, as a painter he can smooth over the bruises on his daughter´s face; as a filmmaker, he used to capture her: make images that only announce his own absence.

Sexkarussell - Via Erotica, Frits Fronz, 1968

My second Fronz film - clearly not another BARON PORNO, but a charming serving of erotic skim milk nonetheless. The title song promises wild sex, hot sex, everyone wants it, you can´t hide from it, sex, sex, sex... And then it´s just a bunch of very low-key dirty jokes (with punchlines!) about women who maybe, who knows, might be willing to flash their boobs under circumstances yet to determined. When they do, the film mostly cuts away very quickly, not so much because of modesty, but because no one here seems to know what could possibly be done next.

There´s a decidedly goofy innocence to it all, like a second childhood of cinema. The promise of sex makes the images giddy, someone wears glasses the wrong way and therefore the image is upside down, too. Also: some energetic dubbing and Fronz playing around with an ornamental bedframe.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Clint Eastwood, 1997

A satirical ensemble drama isn´t really a good fit for Eastwood, but he invests enough in single scenes, especially the ones with Spacey and Lady Chablis, to make the whole thing work.

The Last of the Fast Guns, George Sherman, 1958

The hero is a drifter turning on 30, slowly getting tired of just being a black cipher thrown into the world. The man he´s searching for left behind his old life and plenty of old money to vanish in Mexico. The bad guy was born in Europe and lived basically everywhere. Even the Mexican woman is no "flower of the land", but points out her big city past. A tale of displaced souls that starts with an open grave.

(The economy of b-movie storytelling: in an early interior scene I was irritated by the loud jangling of his spurs - a completely unnatural sound, every time he moves around, he basically sounds like a walking christmas tree; but it completely makes sense in the end!)

The Last Days of American Crime, Olivier Megaton, 2020

As someone who has written positive reviews for not one but two Olivier Megaton movies I´m sorry to report that THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME is, for the most part, just as bad as everyone thinks it is: a vaguely nostalgic monstrosity, not so much a second-rate THE PURGE as a third-rate STRANGE DAYS, and also an unwelcome throwback to 90s Tarantino ripoffs. It´s not completely without energy, to be sure, and with its garish,at times rather inventive color scheme, Michael Pitt´s and Anna Brewster´s vulgar power acting (Ramirez is a terrible bore, though), and a general in your face attitude when it comes to imagemaking it probably is more interesting as an aesthetic object than several of your festival favorites. At least, it aspires to some kind of totality of style. Still, things drag terribly, and it only gets worse towards the end when the heist finally starts and the famous bad action kicks in. Plus, some of the worst musical cues in recent memory (the one during the first sex scene...). In the end you´re stuck with 149 extremely brainless minutes.

Man from Del Dio, Harry Horner, 1956

A fascinating film. The tortured, inward turn of 1950s westerns is evident in the dense, layered framings and the noirish lighting, but Quinn isn´t really a psychological entity. Neither is he a man solely defined by his actions, though. The different, diverging forces he encounters (love, prejudice, alcohol, a sense of honor, loneliness) seem to bypass his consciousness almost completely, directly impacting his physiognomy, stripping away all of his outward poise until he is a creature of nothing but reflex. And in the end not even that. Katy Jurado´s clearly defined, expressive frame provides a clear contrast.

Then there´s his dance with the town drunk, a beautiful poetic moment I wouldn´t have thought the film would arrive at or even be interested in.

The Wrong Missy, Tyler Spindel, 2020

American mainstream comedy really isn´t in a good place right now, so even the not exactly major pleasures of a low-brow hangout ensemble movie centered around a great, freewheeling stunt performance feel like a breath of fresh air. Unlike FATHER OF THE YEAR, Spindel´s first Happy Madison film, THE WRONG MISSY displays a bare minimum of technical competence, and this really is all a film like this needs, because everything else is performance. It´s just so relaxed and generous, trenched in joyful vulgarity. Democratic moviemaking: the bad jokes have just as much right to exist as the good ones, everyone needs a release once in a while and if Rob Schneider insists on tagging along without being able to create even the resemblance of a decipherable comic character, let him. There´s still a bit too much plot in the third act, but when Vanilla Ice finally shows up, we´ve entered a state of grace.

Also, luxury hotels always were a great setting for comedies, the world forgot but Happy Madison didn´t.

Fury at Showdown, Gerd Oswald, 1957

Eccentric little western, hold a bit back by Derek, who is never more than adequate (I´d only seen him in swashbucklers before, which probably are a better fit for him). Nick Adams, who plays his soft-faced brother, is very good, though, and by placing him next to Derek, the latter´s actions automatically acquire more meaning. For most of its running time this basically consists of the both of them walking up and down a single street, criss-crossing between four or five buildings, kept in check by prying eyes ("yes, we´ll stay in town, where you can see me") and intricate deep-focus framings. They gradually acquire additional degrees of freedom, but in the striking last shot it´s just a horse, and not the hero vanishing towards the horizon.

A wonderful scene has Derek talking to a former flame while she takes a bath in a river, establishing the intimacy between them in an understated matter-of-fact way rarely seen in american films.

Hard Scandal: Sex Drifter, Noboru Tanaka, 1980

Generation conflict in roman poruno land: the sex of the young is a question of expressivity, violent and romantic, a flourishing of late, punkish pinku style, while the sex of the middle-aged is a question of technique, a desperate hunt for orgasms that basically belongs into the realm of hardcore pornography and is filmed almost that way, too.

Often quite nasty and aesthetically not as fully realized as earlier Tanaka films, but it takes some unexpected turns and has a great eye for location. The world is either an eternal happening or a dusty mound in front of a run-down apartment building. There is nothing in between.

Stranger at My Door, William Witney, 1956

Starts with a blast and maybe the rest is just about registering the shockwaves. There´s just so much going on, a complex and ever dynamic web of projections and counterprojections, fluently moving between discursive interiors and intimate, nightmare-like bursts of action. The image you have of someone never quite fits, the woman bearing forbidden fruits might still not be open to your advances. In some cases, though, it might just turn out to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy after all.

The pastor, quoting the bible even in the marital bed, tries to lay down some ethical ground rules, although in the end he is just as helpless as anyone else. In fact, he is the one who introduces the horse, an unruly metaphor if there ever was one (shades of WHITE DOG?). Generally it´s amazing how effortless Witney turns objects into metaphors, from the obvious ones (the horse, the half-finished church) to smaller stuff like the melon or the shutter in the bedroom that is repeatedly closed down and opened up again throughout the film.

My first Witney, and clearly not my last. Never bet against Tarantino, I guess.

Kabukicho Love Hotel, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2014

On sex work, and even more so on sex and work. Not every transaction is clear-cut when it comes to our bodies, but there´s always some kind of trade-off involved. As long as it needs an object, desire already is commodification of desire. Ecstasy is still possible (and necessary), but in no way does it equal freedom. The only thing one can do is to sometimes make the pain palpable, in lingering closeups that hit out of nowhere.

I love the filmmaking more than the film, this time. The balance of small-scale observations and large, overdetermined story arcs feels off (too much of the latter, basically). A boring objection, but does Toru really have to accidentally run into both his sister and his girlfriend in the same night? Maybe the bigger problem is the focus on Toru itself: a decidedly dull presence in the eye of the storm.

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