Wednesday, October 14, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wie Werde ich Filmstar?, Theo Lingen, 1955

Silly and extremely regressive - the humor is not even juvenile, but strictly pre-puberty, childish games in a fantasy showbiz-setup, like an (at least) doubly-neutered HELLZAPOPPIN'. The worst thing about it might be that it is not only proudly immature, but aggressively opposed to the very idea of maturity.

I still enjoyed parts of it, to be sure. The songs are above average, and at least this is a film clearly in love with the textures of modernity. Tiller and Johns are much more stylish than your average German 50s leading ladies, too, Mona Baptiste, one of the few black actresses active in German 50s cinema, has a decent role and Theo Lingen's direction is surprisingly lively; under (very) different circumstances, he might just have turned into a German Frank Tashlin.

Zombi Child, Bertrand Bonello, 2019

The vastly superior first half plays like the world's most pretentious PRETTY LITTLE LIARS episode - meaning this isn't completely worthless, and if Bonello had embraced the ridiculousness of the premise, especially when it comes to Fanny and her wish to either get rid of or be possessed by her boyfriend (Labeque is a great actress, too), this might've actually turned out to be fun.

But come the fuck on, as a political Zombie film this is a joke, and not a good one, there's not much more here than a (probably well-researched, but who gives a shit) Vice-expose on the post-colonial implications of voodoo. Go watch Fulci's ZOMBI 2 instead.

Endless Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Not quite the film I expected given its title: a heist movie about a bunch of extraordinary sleazy hustlers trying to dig their way into a fortune left over from the war while constantly being in danger of getting crushed by multiple forces surrounding them. A very effective setup, especially in its use of crammed space and vertical organization / pressure systems. The all-embracing cynicism might be a bit much at times, but Imamura constantly manages to find new buttons to push and bolts to tighten, often opting for black comedy instead of genre thrills.

The only thing I could've done without is a random love story featuring the boy and the girl next door, which also might be the reason why this is about 10 minutes too long.

Antebellum, Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz, 2020

If this was a bit better made under its glossy one perfect shot surface one might be tempted to defend it against all that depressing "but does it really speak to our cultural moment?" criticism. I certainly appreciate Bush and Renz opting for having fun with a so stupid it's almost smart again high-concept premise instead of delivering self-serving allegorical hot takes. But in the end there's not a single truly effective scene in the whole thing while the performances are all over the place, and seldom in a good way.

On the other hand, having read nothing about it beforehand (I did see the trailer at some point, but had completely forgotten about it), I fell for the twist, hook, line and sinker. This happens most of the time with films like this, though. I'm just extremely gullible, I guess.

The Blue Sky Maiden, Yasuzo Masumura, 1957

I'm not even all that fond of parts of this, the script feels a bit too tight and mechanical (often a problem with Masumura, but more pronounced with a quotidian setting like here), never quite leaning enough in a number of potentially interesting characters like the teacher and especially the stepmother (her breakdown in the end isn't really earned), while investing too much in the bland love interest... but the combination of a young Ayako Wakao and color photography is so electrifying that everything else melts into the background anyway. Great table tennis scene, and excellent telephones.

Männer, Doris Dörrie, 1985

Mostly decent German screwball comedy, that doesn't really depend all that much on gender stereotypes; it's more about games of identity and difference: two men trying to escape their selves by turning each other into their own doubles.

A surprisingly modest film, too, and one that might actually benefit from its television roots; a bigger production might've been tempted to open up its very effective chamber-piece setting in order to introduce any number of stupid side plots. The few outdoor scenes still make it clear that Munich is the most cinematic of all German cities; and Heiner Lauterbach might just be the most cinematic of all German actors, at least when it comes to the ones still around. Uwe Ochsenknecht, on the other hand, always rubs me the wrong way and while I might be pressured into acknowledging that Dörrie puts his obnoxiousness rather effectively to use, he still is a burden she can't quite shake off.

Also, the unpleasant cinematic tradition of characters in arthouse films (almost always men) putting on an animal mask in order to, haha, mask their insecurities / fragile masculinity, really should've stopped with this film.

Flesh Pier, Teruo Ishii, 1958

Feels a bit undercooked, trying out different approaches (exploitation, procedural, melodrama) without committing to a single one. Worth checking out for a few astonishing nightclub scenes. A girl and trumpet.

Kalt wie Eis, Carl Schenkel, 1981

Fully committed to style but also to genre (the latter much more so than, for example, Eckhart Schmidt), which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The anger, the desperation, the graffiti and even all that gushing blood are first and foremost art school attitude, so how to deal with the fact that pain does, indeed, hurt?

Brigitte Wöllner's hair and the textures of Berlin. Sex and the city.

Sex Crimes, Ulli Lommel, 1992

"I fucked your husband and he wrapped me in cellophane." He indeed did the latter, in the film's first scene, an awkward kink miniature set in a non-descript hotel room. Afterwards Samantha Phillips, the woman in cellophane, harriedly removes the plastic and tediously puts on her bra. The scene is filmed in real time and it's hard to describe just how weird it is in its mixture of naturalism (Phillips's frustrated groaning when she doesn't manage to connect the bra straps is as real as acting can get), a completely phony neo-noir setup and the Bressonian no-budget Mise-en-Scene.

The rest of the film is just as strange (although I really had hoped for more awkward sex), especially once its main attraction is introduced: a private detective from the heartland hell bent on taking on big city crime. Played by Joe Lambie who comes across as a mixture of Clint Eastwood and a minor league soccer coach. He's also wearing a hat with a "k" on it, and at some point you will find out what this is about!

Lambie clearly is Lommel's version of Mister America and one of the most affecting movie characters imaginable. Samantha Philipps is great, too (she's also wonderful in Jag Mundhra's Sexual Malice), and then there's Cindy Manella who has exactly two imdb credits to her name: Sex Crimes (1992) and Sex Crimes (1992).

I've only seen two Lommel films from the 90s yet, but I'm already convinced that this must be his most radioactive decade. In this case he isn't even listed as director in the credits... Luckily imdb assures me that some Gregory Alosio didn't really call any shots, here. The Lommel touch is unfakeable.

Age of Nudity, Seijun Suzuki, 1959

Basically a kids film footnote to the sun tribe cycle, with lots of biking scenes. Would probably have worked better if Suzuki had turned it into a Japanese Our Gang feature by completely focusing on the pre-teens, instead of inserting a random "older brother" storyline. Still, pleasant enough with some experimental toppings.

Red Pier, Toshio Masuda, 1959

Feels much more organic and of one piece than the early Suzuki and Kurahara films treading similar juvenile noir grounds. Great sense of place and very musical, too. Yujiro Ishihara sings between clotheslines about love on the pier and in the end a harmonica announces his fate.

Hubie Halloween, Steven Brill, 2020

Happy Madison is the only safe space in american cinema right now.

Underworld Beauty, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

A bunch of diamonds emerge from the sewers, make their way through live bodies, dead bodies and artificial bodies, only to end up being reduced to the carbon compound they were from the beginning.

Suzuki obviously enjoys working with one of his stronger scripts, and while Mizushima indeed isn't a particularly energetic lead (evincing a kind of gloomy coolness Suzuki isn't interested in), cheeky Mari Shiraki and Hiroshi Kondo, a man more and more hollowed out by pure greed, until there's nothing left but a bundle of reflexes, easily make up for it.

In a particularly wonderful early scene, Shiraki models for Kondo. And while he paints her into a conventional nude, Suzuki's Mise en scene transforms her into a cubist assemblage.

Orphea, Khavn, Kluge, 2020

A film of two minds, one body, and, luckily, lots of music, most of it great. Lilith Stangenberg tells a story about a snake.

Stolen Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Might work better on 35, but the very dark digital transfer often looks rather undistinguished, and while some of the more freewheeling scenes about popular theater and / as voyeurism work very well, I couldn't bring myself to care about the plight of the whiny young intellectual thrown into the middle of it (the tacked on love story is even less exciting). Maybe just not my kind of movie, Mike D'Angelo calls it Fellini-esque on here, and unfortunately this might be true. I'd recommend Suzuki's WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP instead, which has almost the same plot but approaches the material from the exact opposite angle.

Heritage of the Desert, Lesley Selander, 1939

I recently read the Zane Grey novel this is based on and was surprised, given that Grey was a household name at the time and is even featured on the poster, just how little of it - neither the plot nor the feel - ends up on screen. Seems like they were just mining his work for a few colorful characters and dramatic incidents, while both the epic scope and especially the spiritual dimension, very pronounced in the novel, fell by the wayside. The adaptation is mostly about flattening of world and affect. The way the main protagonist is introduced is especially revealing: a man out of nowhere trying to escape his past, if not human society in general in the novel, a dull and arrogant rich kid claiming his fortune in the film (that his love interest is changed from half Native American to very white is, unfortunately, less surprising).

Anyway, some of the heavies are fun, otherwise there's not much to see, here.

Heritage of the Desert, Henry Hathaway, 1932

Rewatched this version, too. Not necessarily closer to Grey, but so much more charming and inventive. Feels at times like a first draft for one of Hathaway's finest, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, especially in those wonderful scenes with Scott and Blane (her lying in her treehouse, dripping water onto his face, while he rests below). Needs a better transfer, asap.

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