Tuesday, October 20, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Stormy Man, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

The Shaw version KING DRUMMER is great, and this is even better, thanks mostly to a perfect cast: Ishihara takes control of every scene he's in and he clearly was born for that seduction by drumming scene. Later on he finds his match in Mie Kitahara's playful eroticism when she slowly descends the staircase, luring him upwards.

Inoue's direction has the same forward drive as in his Shaw films; the melodramatic angle, though, is (if I remember correctly) much more pronounced than in the later version - here, the irony of the concert scene in the end hits like something out of a Sirk film.

Abwärts, Carl Schenkel, 1984

Downward mobility in the early Kohl era. Even after watching this to the end I'm not sure whether I'd seen it before or just had encountered every single dramatic beat elsewhere. Doesn't mean this feels derivative, though, it's just a very efficient and exhaustive, if not terribly imaginative (all in all very swiss, maybe) take on the premise. No screw left untwisted, no angle unfilmed and that circular framing device through the hole in the elevator ceiling might be the extra edge that brings everything alive.

Götz George is a magnificent asshole and maybe dominates the film a bit too much.

Tango durch Deutschland, Lutz Mommartz, 1981

Eddie the mummy leaves the shelves of film history, to roam the world of the living one last time. A haunted presence, he cannot escape his embodied memories; a haunting presence, once he registers he is always already somewhere else, crossing the next intersection, checking out of the next hotel room, leaving behind a slight disturbance in the fabrics of Germany.

You never exactly get what you bargained for. A seemingly innocuous sightseeing tour turns into a head-on, cubist confrontation with German inner-city architecture, a chance-encounter triggers the old swagger for a short burst of car chase action, a last fling is pursued without real conviction but the hands want what the hands want...

Mommartz himself calls TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND a failed film, although he also cannot let go of it and has reworked it twice since. Indeed a very strange project, not at all the cinephile road movie one might expect. This is not about melancholia and the death of cinema, but a very conscious, playful while also unusually committed, even straightforward stocktaking of a life touched by cinema. I might from now on think of it as my personal antidote to WINGS OF DESIRE.

The special thing about Eddie Constantine might be, that with him, there really is no authenticity behind the deconstruction; in a way, Mommartz suggests, there is no real difference between his star turns of the 50s and 60s and his second career with Godard, Fassbinder et al. It's always the same attitude, he's the material ghost of pop cinema and TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND might be the only film that really gets him (while also making me want to watch more of Constantine's early work, if only to better justify this obnoxious claim).

The Champion, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Tatsuya Mihashi standing over Yujiro Ishikawa, after knocking him down: Don't get up, stay down there on the street, so that you can realize what losing feels like. The swelling score makes it clear that this is not really about Ishikawa, but about Mihashi the manipulator who likes to put everyone into his or her place in order to turn the world into a private fantasy - which is, in turns, based on the repression of his own true desires.

Only my third Japanese Inoue film, but I'm already convinced that he is the rea deal. At the very least, he seems to have worked on a completely different level than everyone else at Nikkatsu in the late 1950s (at least when it comes to the younger generation). This is not as well-rounded as MAN WHO CAUSES A STORM - some nice training montages, foreshadowing ROCKY, aside, the boxing stuff isn't all that interesting and Inoue clearly would've preferred to but the ballet stuff center stage. At the same time, though, this is more ambitious in terms of both style and narrative. More Sirkian, too, with an experimental, and sometimes geometric approach to psychology. Fighting for the right to speak the name of one's lover.

Then there's an elaborate musical number clearly influenced by the Freed unit style in its ornamental, excessive prime, but translated into a delicate, slightly detached Japanese sensibility.

The Eagle and the Hawk, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Muscles, sweat, two pair of tight pants and lots of unbound masculinity confined to a ship and precise widescreen framing. At one point it looks like the whole thing might turn into a Traven style doomsday machine, but most of the times the pressure isn't all that high, with the various male destructive tendencies cancelling each other out and the two female stowaways providing some relief, too. The nights are for romance, even on the high seas. Yumeji Tsukioka's crazy in love performance is especially wonderful.

Not on the same level than the other two 1957 Inoue / Ishihara collaborations currently available, but breezy enough for what it is.

Girlfriends, Claudia Weill, 1978

Like mentioned on here several times this isn't necessarily fundamentally different from dozens of mumblecore-style dramedies of recent years. Not only the feel is similar, but also its strengths (acting) and weaknesses (claustrophobic feel, milieu as prison). The main difference might just be that back then filmmakers weren't supposed to make films like this and now they totally are, resulting in a self-confidence that mostly destroys the sense of fragility the charm of GIRLFRIENDS is based on.

Four Hours of Terror, Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1959

Only half the hours of terror as in the Suzuki film from two years earlier, and it shows. The film can't help getting more involving once the action starts, but the decidedly old-fashioned trappings and an unfortunate anticlimax make sure that it never quite shakes off the feel of pleasant but unessential and slightly dull sunday morning entertainment.

Reise nach Lyon, Claudia von Alemann, 1981

A bit like Schanelec's MARSEILLE but trying way too hard, thereby completely suffocating its concept: like historiography, getting lost in a city simply requires a suspension, not an exaltation of self. Still, there's a certain stubbornness both to Pauly's performance and von Alemann's gaze at Lyon that keeps me engaged.

Freelance Samurai, Kenji Misumi, 1957

Twin-themed samurai film, well-made and plot-heavy. Rather mechanical most of the time, only Michiyo Kogure lends it some real distinction (at least for someone not all that familiar with routine 50s jidaigeki). Her death in the fire towards the end is a very strong scene that seems to come out of nowhere a bit.

Zwanzig Mädchen und die Pauker: Heute steht die Penne kopf, Werner Jacobs, 1971

Pauker-film specialist Werner Jacobs for once giving (almost) free reign to the girl students, with mostly decent results. Despite the presence of the usual authoritative safeguard mechanisms, this feels quite a bit more anarchic than pretty much everything else I remember from the series - especially one scene that pits Ralf Wolter against an ever-changing multitude of female hair almost perfectly hits the sweet spot between slapstick mayhem, satirical caricature and fetishism. Even the mandatory taming of the shrew scene is surprisingly kinky: Gerhard Lippert leaning over Mascha Gonska as if for a kiss - and then jamming a "spiked" wurstbrot down her throat.

Quite a bit of dead air, to be sure, especially in the second half. Jacobs seems to realize this and randomly introduces a whole barn full of animals into the plot at one time.

The "Heimatfilme" version blots out the two Manuela songs, which pretty clearly is a feature, not a bug.

Herzblatt oder wie sag ich's meiner Tochter?, Alfred Vohrer, 1969

The black and white interview footage in the beginning seems to point towards the sex report film wave blowing up one year later, but the film that follows is almost the complete opposite: a gentle, beautifully decorated take on the way we (think about) love now, dreamy and ironic where the report films are positivist and paranoid. The initial question - how to talk to your offspring about sex, especially when the offspring is female and you are not - is just a starting point anyway for a much broader and less pedagogically minded intervention.

The whole thing feels rather un-German and often closer to the Italian commedia sexy of the time. Indeed, the film's best scenes - Georg Thomalla's cello-themed erotic daydreams - anticipate IL MERLO MASCHIO... so much so that I'm almost sure that Campanile must have seen the Vohrer film. (And as much as I love IL MERLO MASCHIO, at least the cello stuff is much funnier in HERZBLATT.)

I was a bit afraid of this because of Vohrer's borderline unwatchable DAS GELBE HAUS AM PINNASBERG, but here he puts his inventiveness to good use throughout. What really makes this special is Thomalla's performance, though, the way he gets increasingly nervous without ever truly finding out what it is he's nervous about. After all, at the time bathing with naked Mascha Gonska didn't feel strange at all. Only now, when looking at himself through someone else's eyes, everything feels strange and wrong. Only now he's always on the lookout for an "alius". (I'm not all that much into psychoanalysis, but it sure makes for good cinema.)

The stuff with the family friend and his threefold impotence by proxy is also very funny, while the scenes at the school do not always ring true. In theory, I'm all for making fun not only of petit bourgeoise inhibitions but also of strained licentiousness, and I clearly side with Mascha in preferring romantic Hemingway sex over the depressingly pragmatist, almost bureaucratic approach to fornication of her fellow students... still, the invocation of "innocence" feels rather off. I mean going directly from prancing around naked without a lurid thought in your head to earth-shattering bullfighter orgasms? This really is quite a stretch, even if Mascha almost manages to pull it off.

The Big Sweat, Ulli Lommel, 1991

"I don't like sex and drugs, but I am also constantly high. That's why I am a lucky man". This is a rather random quote from the film's dialogue, which is dominated almost completely by Robert Z'Dar's freewheeling rambling. He's playing "a new kind of cop", the kind that "fucks with your head". It's basically one non sequitur after the after, not quite bizarre enough to pass off as a surrealist performance piece, but close enough.

Half if not more of the not exactly non-painful 86 minutes is taken up by H.B. Halicki stock footage, intercut with / sabotaged by shots of Z'Dar and others looking grim towards the camera while pretending to drive. Lommel's Godfrey Ho phase is an aquired taste, and this one might be a little bit too shoddy even for me. Still worth it for Z'Dar and a few moments of dimestore noir bleakness.

Killers on Parade, Masahiro Shinoda, 1961

Colorful and wacky and featuring a goat called "End", although strangely enough I often enjoyed the youthful romance scenes more than the killer slapstick. I want to live in the orange light of that last sunrise scene.

Cream - Schwabing Report, Leon Capitanos, 1971

A sad little tale from the last days of swinging Munich, directed by an American who probably was just passing through (and later went on to write, among other things, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS). While around them the city prepares for the approaching Olympics by cleaning up its act, with everyone getting busy and making money, Sabi Dorr the narcissist and Rolf Zacher the cynicist continue living the slacker live. In their minds they still are the kings of the street when in fact the only ones who are willing to even talk to them anymore are the junkies and the freaks. A few women too, admittedly, but only the ones that are just as lost as Dorr and Zacher. In the end it doesn't matter much anymore if one wastes away in the bedroom alone of with company. A dazed, defeated sensuality, guided by the downbeat Can soundtrack and a pitiless camera that likes to hover close to the skin.

The slacker life as cultural sex work: Zacher shoots a Warholesque porn comedy, and at least he's thinking big: he dreams about opening a "Disneyland for sex". Sabi Dorr is already writing his memoirs and has long since resigned to the fact that his own body is his only capital.

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