Tuesday, December 01, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wolves, Pigs & Men, Kinji Fukasaku, 1964

The youngest brother is all energy, an organic part of the chaotic world he's living in, hanging out with his equals in the rubble (always surprising just how fucked-up parts of Tokyo still looked in the 1960s), most of the time just kicking and screaming, but sometimes they slide down the concrete ramp next to the river and start singing a song.

The eldest brother is all control, bound by Yakuza hierarchy and interpersonal obligations; he's just as much rooted in the world around him, but with him, the connection doesn't come natural anymore, everything is codified and translates as pressure weighing down on his tired face.

The middle brother, though, is different: a free agent inserted in shifting alliances, a lover who dreams of far-away places, while the world in front of him is just an image behind the sunglasses, something to mold after his own desires.

Waterloo Bridge, Mervyn LeRoy, 1940

Doesn't lose one bit the second time around. Once again absolutely enchanted by what LeRoy does with Leigh's eyes. Prostitution is all about the gaze and only the gaze ... not about an exchange of gazes, though, about gaze as communication, but about a series of lonely gazes, through which a woman learns to see (and unsee) the world anew, with us as her sole witness. If this isn't proof of the power of movies, I don't know what is.

Varan, Ishiro Honda, 1958

Varan is distracted by light, he gazes enraptured towards light, he even eats light, and of course he also dies by light! How can I not love him.

Barbara - Wild wie das Meer, Frank Wisbar, 1961

Looping back to Barbara, always a good idea, and she's always right there, on her island, waiting.

(Would love to see a D'Amato remake of this, but maybe I already have, several times.)

Black Line, Teruo Ishii, 1960

Absolutely wonderful playful gutter sleaze centered on a journalist who one day wakes up in bed next to a dead woman - with his hands still clutching the tie that killed her!

The following complications include wacky street scenes, a dollmaker cum drug dealing cum prostitution hub, an excellent action showdown on top of a moving train, and especially lots of spectacular body vistas: an extremely curvaceous nightclub performance, limbs extended towards the camera, an appreciative tilt over four female stomachs ("Women don't feel the cold, they have an extra layer of fat") and especially lots of women's legs, often doubling as framing devices.

Pretty pervy stuff, yes, but with a joyous, anarchic, licentious tilt. Amachi's journalist is both player and a plaything himself, he never truly commits to the male gaze the film seems to invite, there's something slippery about him and about the camera, too, and maybe that's why all those women constantly come up with new ways of pinning him, it, us down.

Applause, Rouben Mamoulian, 1929

Still wondering why this isn't universally admired, as, say, the missing link between Sternberg's late silents and the precode Warner backstage masterpieces from the early 30s. Or just as one of the great New York films.

Und damit tanzen sie noch immer, Marijana Stoisits, Michael Rabe, 1987

In this one, a pair of leather boots is made. Again something I could never not want to watch, and these boots also made me think of the worth and nature of ornaments. Technically, the ornamental stitches the shoemaker adds to an otherwise functional design even hurt the shoe, piercing its surface, endangering its structural integrity, but they are also the shoe's prime connection to their maker. He makes them his own by wounding them. Also, this was the last pair of boots made by this particular shoemaker. I don't think any fictional film can possibly approach a similar sense of finality.

The Flame of Devotion, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1964

The bodies of two lovers pressed against each other while a train is rushing by just inches past them: Intimacy on borrowed time, with every gesture, every gaze intensified but also undercut by anxiety. The war is far away, elsewhere, and still it curses and enchants every single aspect of the world.

One of Kurahara's best. The rather old-fashioned literary sensibility suits him surprisingly well, maybe also because by 1964 he already has the freedom (and the right actress) to fully explore the sensual aspects of desperate love. The glow of Ruriko Asaoka's body, emerging from the dark waters, two bodies losing themselves in the moist grass: Here, he finally manages to come up with the images THE WOMAN FROM THE SEA only hinted at. Sometimes I even thought of Borzage's THE RIVER: The closed-off world of romance and the bottomless mysteries of nature, the liminal railroad bridge as the only point of entry and departure.

One of the most elaborate Nikkatsu productions I've seen so far, too. Intricate sets and lots of spectacular location footage, dynamic widescreen framing, several helicopter shots ... and all of this feels much more of one piece, less confrontational than in other Kurahara films.

Without Reservations, Mervyn LeRoy, 1946

Still a wonderfully bonkers script, still not all that well rounded, especially on the dialogue level, still very pleasant nonetheless because Colbert (especially) and Wayne make it work. They just look so comfortable snuggling up in the front seat of a car. They might very well have bonded over their mutual conservative politics which are clearly present in the script, but not necessarily in a very clear-cut manner. The film works both as a mockery of New Deal idealism and as a cautious shot at restoring it, on slightly different terms.

Am Stein, Othmar Schmiderer, 1997

A beautiful documentary, switching back and forth between observational, discursive and impressionistic approaches, about one of the more remote parts of the Austrian Alps and the last few traditional farmers trying to make a living there. Tourism is encroaching anyway, of course, and the film leaves no doubt as to where its sympathies lie, but in the end this isn't about an endangered or already lost paradise and not even (like the magnificent HIMMEL UND ERDE, an obvious precursor) about an endangered or already lost way of life. It's more about leaving behind anthropocentrism, about pitting men (and rather few women), animals and nature against each other in new, surprising way. Not quite sensory ethnography yet, but maybe born from a similar feeling of inadequacy.

My Buddy, Steve Sekely, 1944

Might be interesting to dive a bit deeper into wartime + war-themed b-movies. The few I've seen here and there are often pretty strange and this still is one of the strangest. Didn't know it was written by the later blacklisted Arnold Manoff ... at the very least it's a film that has lots to say even if none of it may be all that clearly articulated.

Satan's Sword, Kenji Misumi, 1960

A crowded plot coming alive thanks to stylish widescreen framing and Ichikawa's supremely psychotic presence. A face that acts as a portal to negative space.

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

Like blahr writes: Those 10-15 minutes in the record store before Fröhlich enters and spoils everything indeed might be thought of as the perfect Weimar era multicamera workplace sitcom pilot that never was.

Satan's Sword: The Dragon God, Kenji Misumi, 1960

The nihilistic psycho-horror feel that gave the first one a special edge is mostly absent here, but as complex, varied and extremely stylish swordfighting / adventure filmmaking it works well enough.

The Silence of Green, Andreas Horvath, 2002

Made me long for the grassy hills of the British countryside, but I don't know, aside from that this feels completely misguided. Or rather, I just don't know what to make of it. Clearly Horvath doesn't really believe in the conspiracy theories he gives voice to, here? And if he doesn't, why make the film at all, let alone at a time when the Foot-and-mouth disease outbreak is still under way? I'm sure that lots of valid criticism could be (and in fact has been) levelled against both the government response to the outbreak and the economic system that gave rise to the problem in the first place. So, again, why single out the non-valid criticism while turning up, at the same time, the pastoral pathos of both sounds and images to eleven?

Maybe it's just because I saw this in the midst of another epidemic, with conspiracy theories multiplying faster than ever ... I really can't stand this kind of opaque, smug, sub-Straubian radicalism right now.

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