Monday, July 13, 2020

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

The World of Geisha, Tatsumi Kumashiro, 1973

"Destination: Erotic Hell", although this is, all things considered, a rather gentle film about making one's life with one's body (training all the muscles). Extremely beautiful, too.

A Date with the Falcon, Irving Reis, 1942

Well-made, and that shot of Allen Jenkins tiptoeing is worth an extra half star.

The Falcon Takes Over, Irving Reis, 1942

Routine mystery with a Chandler mean streak. Sanders and Jenkins strictly do their thing, but stuff like the opening with Ward Bond's blank-faces menace, Anne Revere's world-weary cynicism or Helen Gilbert's blonde poison normally doesn't make the cut in these films.

The Masseurs and a Woman, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1938

So modest, so beautiful. Just a few people passing each other on the street, a few lives slightly disturbing each other in passing. Some of those people might follow up on some of those disturbances, but sooner or later everyone will hit the road again. Blindness might sharpen one's sense of morality, but it's also a good setup for jokes. A film that consist of nothing but small movements, and still arrives at one of the most heartbreaking moments of rainy loneliness I can think of.

One thing that really hits me in all those Shimizu films is the omnipresence of prostitution, not as full-blown melodrama like in Mizoguchi, but as a mostly implicit threat, like an invisible sword of fate hanging over the head of every single woman on screen.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, RWF, 1980

I'm not always completely on board with late (ca post 1975) Fassbinder, and now I know why that might be: He just poured everything there is into this one. And then he made the epilogue.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Phil Jutzi, 1931

Lively enough on its own terms, but it's just not possible to not be disappointed by the streamlining not just of the prose, but also of the main storyline, especially given that the author of the novel was involved in the production. Most of all it feels completely impersonal, less like sanitized Döblin than like a depoliticized version of Weimar working class cinema.

Jutzi makes surprisingly little use of the fact that his film is still contemporary to the Berlin Döblin wrote about. Even some of the location footage has a cardboard feel.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Burhan Qurbani, 2020

Still mostly easy on the eyes, though it really doesn't hold up well against Fassbinder. Of course: what would? But still, some of the more obvious changes work against the film, especially when it comes to the women. Without the surrogate pregnancy plot Eva's role is completely pointless (Schygulla's complex presence reduced to a generic good fairy), and while Qurbani at least tries to invest in Mieze, her scenes mostly fall flat. In the end this is all about Francis, Reinhold and Pumm and by now I think it would've worked much better as the lurid, paranoid underworld epic it lucky also sometimes is.

Berlin Alexanderplatz - Beobachtungen bei Dreharbeiten, Hans-Dieter Hartl, 1980

Fassbinder and the machine. At one point he catches a cold.

Love Letter, Kinuyo Tanaka, 1953

After an ill-fated reunion with his lost love, Masayuki Mori stands in the park looking towards Yoshiko Kuga vanishing in the background. Or rather: she keeps on vanishing, but refuses to go away completely, the slender, black figure insists on its own presence, won't let itself be swallowed up by the white light.

The Kinoshita script strikes a few notes similar to some of his postwar films: nation building, moral extremism, self-denial... Tanaka's direction is lively and inventive, especially in the scenes not directly concerned with Mori and Kuga. Sometimes I got the feeling she would've preferred to make a film about the love letters to America themselves.

Esthappan, Govindan Aravindan, 1980

He makes images of the community, and then the community, guided and supported by a Melies-like notion of cinema as vernacular magic, makes images of him.

Kummatty, Govindan Aravindan, 1979

A simple stop trick and you're no longer part of a tight-knit community, but a dog roaming the fields. Like in ESTHAPPAN, we´re almost magnetically drawn towards the unruly outsider figure. Cinema always already is both magical and revolutionary, insisting on the possibility of difference.

Ornamental Hairpin, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

Another Shimizu miracle. A heartbreaking melodrama about wasted lives folded into an anecdotal account of "my funniest holiday experiences": The petty grievances of the professor next door and the various attempts of everyone else to accomodate him. And then there was the soldier who stepped on a hairpin while bathing. Of course, for a Japanese soldier in 1941, learning to walk again could easily mean learning to walk towards death. Kinuyo Tanaka, on the other hand, stays behind, forever retracing the steps that didn't lead Chishu Ryu to her.

Who else could get that much out of a (perceived) five minute long scene of people crossing a bridge? Who else would even try a scene like that?

Family Diary, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1938

One of those often rather convoluted melodramas Shimizu seems to have directed throughout the 30s in between his more free-wheeling, playful films. This time, the plot is just a bit too preposterous, although there are some very good scenes (especially interactions of several women trying to sort out their feelings). Also, Shimizu never misses a chance for a beautiful lateral tracking shot.

Now You See Me, Louis Leterrier, 2014

Completely unimaginative, ugly, stupid... but at least it's unimaginative, ugly and stupid in a cheerful, open-hearted way, so much so that at times this almost feels like a look into the souls of Harrelson, Franco et al at their most vulnerable and naive. Eisenberg was never klemmier. That's just how he is.

On the other hand, just the thought of what something like this would've looked like if made in Hong Kong 20 years earlier...

Four Seasons of Children, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1939

Or: Children, Running. A collective mode of being in the world, inhabitating nature, making sense of the not always all that sensible affairs of the grown-ups.

Like in CHILDREN IN THE WIND, the adult storyline is in itself rather basic, and this time there's also too much of it, so that at some point, things start to feel a bit mechanical: yet another cruel twist of fate solely introduced to keep the children running back and forth for a few minutes more. Luckily, Shimizu keeps things tongue in cheek with a villain who, as another character points out at some point, really looks like a villain, because he is literally blinded by greed.

On the other hand, the somewhat repetitive structure is an asset, too, because this way we really get to now every bridge, every alleyway, every house entrance in the village, and when, towards the end, Kinta is carried home piggyback by Sampei and his peers, Shimizu can easily make every step count. That repeated close-up of Sampei's scrawny legs is as pure an affect image as anything.

Cesare Pavese. Turin – Santo Stefano Belbo, Renate Sami, 1985

The return to the countryside and its implications: melancholy, death, taking account of one's dreams and their unsatisfying fulfillment. But also: the acknowledgement of another life, of the fundamental unknowability of every single person we think we know, no matter how well.

Nobuko, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1940

Rather straightforward, especially after Nobuko moves out of the geisha house and loses her accent. Still, the shift towards Eiko is interesting, I don't think there are many films that handle a bully's fall from grace with that much compassion. Her utter helplessnes when she loses control over the image, the increasingly erratic escape attempts until she finally breaks down, trapped behind her bed's headboard.

Animal Instincts II, Gregory Dark, 1994

It makes a lot of sense that the plots of many of those early 90s erotic thrillers involve home security video systems: gadgets meant to protect the suburban home against attacks from the outside being repurposed for exploring and heightening the inner, private turmoil of its inhabitants.

This might be my favorite so far. A perfect cast, every sex scene an answer to to a precise emotional need (that isn't quite filled afterwards, so we have to move on to the next), and a clever script constantly both exploring and exploiting the connection between seclusion and exhibitionism. "I felt so filthy" - cut to shower scene.

Introspection Tower, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

Once again one should insist that a film that registers the emotional toll of education under a fascist regime (and heartbreakingly so) nevertheless can very well be a fascist film itself. When Tamiko desperately runs after her father, who drives away without even laying eyes on her, the whole point is that her pain will be for her own good in the end. Same with the ending: when the free-form structure - most of the preceding film is just a bunch of girls and boys roaming a hillside area, trying to escape authority - gives way to forced labor, a rhythmic synchronizing of bodily effort, the mourning over the lost freedom of unruly childhood doesn't undercut, but enforce the authoritarian framework: this will all have to be worth it.

Mirror Images II, Gregory Dark, 1993

Gregory Dark softcore cinema entering the epistemological quicksands here: If two identical twin sisters not only look but also fuck exactly the same, how could one possibly keep them apart? Can they themselves? Definitively one of the crazier ones. Special flavor: Luca Bercovici growling before sex.

Notes of an Itinerant Performer, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1941

How to enter the world. At the beginning she is lost in the woods, on the move, in the dark. Exposed to nature, just as she is, later on, exposed on the stage. Unprotected, just a random body in space.

Then she finds a shelter. Here, she's part of a sensible social system, but she's the spare part but, continually shut out and ignored. How it feels to be the superfluous element in every shot you're in, the eternal leftover: "Why are you still here?" Where to sit if you don't want to sit in the way?

In order to not wither away she has to assert herself, and she does, she's conquering the space by obstinately staying put, and at some point, she's always dead center, the vanishing point of every cartesian framing, again and again summoning the world of men in the hope of at least receiving some kind of response.

In the long run, this won't work either. She doesn't want to rule, but to belong. To achieve this, she has to run away, to expose herself again, for the last and final time.

A heartbreaking film, close to Mizoguchi's prewar work on the surface, but Shimizu's genius is not revolutionary, like Mizoguchi's, but essentially conservative: The world doesn't have to change for her tragedy to end, all that's needed are some minor adjustment. A special kind of hell: to suffer and not to wish for the world to be different.

Body of Influence, Gregory Dark, 1993

"Sex is a very dark force".

Shannon Whirry is pretty much unhinged here. And she has any right to be, because her character's sexuality "has been so much repressed, it acquired a personality of its own." In other words: Whirry gets to embody her own sex drive! A role she's obviously very much comfortable with.

Whirry and a few nice props aside the film isn't all that pleasant. The script is a mess, like a rushed mash-up of two completely different projects, with a serial killer plot unfolding completely offscreen and derailing the actually quite promising psychoanalyst gone wild premise ("This is called transference, it is a good thing. And this is called countertransference, it is also a good thing."). Also it's sleazy and rapey in ways these films normally aren't.

The Circus Tent, Govindan Aravindan, 1978

A monkey is made-up to look like a man, so that he can enter, temporarily, the human systems of meaning, while an old man paints his own face in order to become animal-like, pure attraction, something to look at. The circus tent is the place where animals and humans are no longer / not yet strictly different, and this is why the circus is always an anachronism, but a necessary one. THAMPU may very well be one of the best circus films ever though I'll have to see it in a better version someday to find out.

Night Rhythms, Gregory Dark, 1992

Glowing faces, a microphone, cigarette smoke and orgasms delivered by broadcasting: The first twenty minutes or so are pure gold, especially for those of us who consider THE FOG to be the best Carpenter film.

After the Night Whisperer loses his job because of horniness, this mostly consists of a series of busty strippers throwing themselves at and riding Martin Hewitt. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and the decidedly seedy setting is a nice change of pace from the middle-to-upper-class erotica of SECRET GAMES, MIRROR IMAGES et al.

One nice moment in this one: When Deborah Driggs, who starts out as Hewitt's buddy, decides that yes, she wants to sleep with him, too. It's not at all a seduction scene, but rather a conscious, solitary choice on her part, a sudden air of determination taking over her face and body.

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