Monday, June 01, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Piano Blues, Clint Eastwood, 2003

Eastwood is anything but a natural interviewer, and it´s kind of touching that he doesn´t try to hide that at all. Generally, this is about letting the music speak for itself, though.

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend, Takashi Ishii, 2013

In the 90s, Ishii used to make rather awesome stylish thrillers with a kinky edge. Here he´s back at his pinku beginnings, and all that´s left is the kink. Not necessarily a bad thing, but unfortunately HELLO, MY DOLLY GIRLFRIEND also shows that the conditions for cinematic kink have changed quite a bit in the last few decades. It feels very much of one piece, at least: a dark, demented, digitally ugly tale of masturbatory misidentification centered around a blurred vagina that might or might not exist. Form fits content, but it´s also painfully slow and mostly shot in a small number of crummy locations. Basically the gutter version of AIR DOLL and in the end just as tiring.

Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood, 2000

Eastwood fully embracing his sentimental side, not shying away from the weaker part of an often perfunctory script (the Marcia Gay Harden storyline especially is a disappointment), or, even, from a terrible NSYNC theme song - at least he has the good sense to overwrite it with Sinatra in the end. Also, it´s too long and still feels rushed during the space parts. Still, this comes out stronger than some of his more ambitious films, because often enough all the trappings are stripped away and there´s nothing left but a few battered faces pitted against the end of history, lost not so much in space as in a shared, by now largely aimless, contentless and in a few precious moments almost benevolent narcissism.

Als Landwirt, Stefan Hayn / Anja-Christin Remmert, 2007

About being a farmer in the present day in central Europe, the last human element in a system structured by constantly increasing efficiency enhancement. The takeover of technology and bureaucracy is slow but relentless, evermore limiting all degrees of movement, and also gradually expunging the traditional imagery of farming. Nothing is self-explanatory anymore in the relationship of farmer and nature. (It probably never was, but at least sometimes it looked that way.)

Changeling, Clint Eastwood, 2008

She used to be on roller-skates, right there at the center of the network, smoothing over glitches in the communication system. But she´s part of another system now, Eastwood´s system, her blood-red lipstick shining through the maze of big city corruption, insisting on a primal pain that points towards another, equally primal evil. So we have to leave the city and head out there into the California desert, pitch-black cars pitted against the glaring sand, the bones are buried next to the tree trunks, while Jolie herself can´t take her skates (and not even her lipstick) into the asylum.

Really a shame that I missed this in theaters back then, maybe Eastwood´s most beautiful film. At one point I started to think of Kurosawa´s HIGH AND LOW and couldn´t shake the connection from then on. Another conservative humanist encountering / negotiating the limits of his discourse. The class-dynamics are largely muted, here, but there´s the descent into the "female underworld", the final face-to-face-confrontation that solves nothing... The period classicism is just a ruse, or maybe a defense mechanism, because in the end form is helpless against the chaos.

Vixen, Yasuzo Masumura, 1969

The first image: Ruriko Asaoka´s hands stretched out towards the camera, her fingers kneading a tabletop, sending cunvulsions, spasms through her arm, and then through her other limbs, leading to a full body miniature performance piece, Ruriko alone with the camera, biting into the tabletop, bending over a white chair, rubbing her chin against her knee, her bruised leg turning into a mysterious object, a bodily entity in its own right.

A body in perpetual motion, twisting and turning even when alone, or rather especially when alone: later on she has another solo number, transforming herself into some sort of bizarro mermaid, wriggling through bedsheets and on the floor of her apartment. When a man enters the picture, she either throws herself at him, pins him down with hands and legs, towards her skinny torso with its pronounced ripcage - a ravenous, glutton nakedness; or she tries to get rid of him, by all means necessary. (She was also raped, before the movie starts; it´s rather terrifying how fast this is forgotten.)

The film Masumura constructs around her feels rather bare-bones, although there are the usual allusions towards the war trauma and capitalist corruption. But in the end it´s all about Ruriko and the men: not a story of seduction, but of physical push and pull. One man falls for her, on first sight, another one rejects her, also on first sight. The rest is mechanics.

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Frank Capra, 1936

He only knows how to express himself with his tuba. When the instrument is taken away from him he lashes out against everyone, both verbally and physically, closes down the opera house, discovers, in a moment of grace, the beauty of the echo, starts a populist revolution, finally stops speaking altogether, only to discover, in the very last shot, another use for his mouth: kissing Jean Arthur.

Breezy, Clint Eastwood, 1973

Eastwood at his most tender and perceptive. A 70s love ballad constantly negotiating its own implausibility, accounting for all of its inner and outer resistances. Beautiful dog close-ups, too.

Unorthodox, Maria Schrader, 2020

When Esty drives with her new-found art school friends to Wannsee, she mentions that several members of her family died in Auschwitz. A young Israeli woman answers: Same where I come from, but it´s no big deal today, we have other problems now. It´s not clear if the show even realizes what it it is that it´s doing in this scene: once again, it´s the Jews who are assigned the task of absolving Germany from the Shoah. Anyway, it´s more than a mere slip: throughout the four episodes, every single allusion to history, to the industrially organized mass murder of Jews by Germans, is used for a single pupose: to keep Esty (and in one scene her husband) in place, to keep her from starting a new life in Berlin, a city that is now supposed to be a save haven for Jews - who are persecuted by other Jews.

I don´t want to go too far into this. Shira Haas is an amazing actress and I certainly don´t want to take away anything from anyone who identifies with this story (which easily could´ve been told without ever leaving New York, btw), so I´ll just leave it at that: Whatever else it might be, UNORTHODOX also is the perfect spiritual sequel to JOJO RABBIT.

American Madness, Frank Capra, 1932

Not so much an anticapitalist film as a film about structural transformation of capital: money shouldn´t be stored in the vault and in our accounts, says Walter Huston, it should be out there, in the world, it should be put back into businesses. Later on he gets his wish: the money vanishes, first by way of a heist (a nice detail: the corrupt clerk hiding in a locker), later in a steady flow of small withdrawals. Money on the move - but not, like Huston imagined, in the sphere of production. Like the film itself, the money never leaves the realm of the bank, the sphere of circulation. It´s all about money following money, and the only thing that´s left to decide is the direction of the flow.

I´d screen this togehter with Dwan´s THE INSIDE STORY, another sphere of circulation comedy. The differences are stark: Dwan treats the liquefaction of capital as a problem of engineering, which also means that everything has to resolved within the realms of traditional mise en scene. Capra, on the other hand, is a social alchimist, using whatever means necessary to reach his goal.

Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood, 2014

“I'm not drawn to the old neighborhood, my life never revolved around the old neighborhood. I don´t give a fuck about the old neighborhood.”

A nostalgia film destroying the foundations of nostalgia. Popular music never was an authentic expression, it´s always born from economic and narcissist impulses. If you buy into its phony promises, like Frankie does, you´re already trapped, doomed to live your life as the copy of a truer version of yourself that never existed. The eternal boyish looks, the eternal lounge singer.

It helps that all those Four Seasons hits, while not without charm, are first and foremost pretty weird. The fake aging in the end is weird, too, weirder and more effective than the de-aging in THE IRISHMAN. (Also, as much as I love Scorsese: If he had been assigned this project, never ever would he have been able to make a film as radical as this one.)

Miracle Woman, Frank Capra, 1931

A love story, involving a minister´s daughter who turns her spiritual despair into first-rate showmanship by way of performing phony miracles from the inside of a lion´s den - and a blind man who overcomes his cynicism with the help of a ventriloquist doll. Also, a nightly beach scene smooth as silk. In a word: too good to be true, I still can´t fully believe that this movie really exists, I must´ve fallen under some sort of spell.

White Hunter, Black Heart, Clint Eastwood, 1990

Might be interesting to compare the last scene - the beginning of "principal photography" - with the ending of Duras´s LE CAMION, or other modernist films that lay bare the material reality of their own textuality. In those, the becoming visible of the camera always amounts to an opening up, a release; while here, Wilson´s journey ends with a retreat into cinema, not only into its images, but into its apparatus. A necessary retreat, but also a tragic one. In the end, the boundaries between art and life - cemented by power relations and symbolized by an act of violence - can never be overcome. When it comes to cinema, photography is always principal.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Frank Capra, 1933

As I hadn´t seen this in almost 20 years, I was a bit suspicious of my remembering it to be basically the best thing ever. But it really is.

The outpouring of style in the first part... On the one hand, the framings are always clearly delineated and intricately layered, on the other hand there´s an outward, expansive drive, an energy that pushes against the limitations of the frame; like de Mille superimposed over Sternberg. At one point, single scenes start folding into each other, an evermore amorphous flow, almost a continuous montage sequence. And yet, all of it always remains tied to Stanwyck´s perception. Or rather: it´s being imprinted onto her. Stanwyck´s shivering body during the train ride - I don´t know if I´ve ever seen a more sensual image.

The mass execution in front of Yen´s palace also serves first and foremost as a wake-up call for Stanwyck. But now, things change. Yen removes the mayhem from her (and our) sight and makes room for another order of images, a spectacle of faces and gazes, a sexual melodrama that moves, against all odds, so close to utopia that in the magnificent last shot, the reflections of ecstasy almost become visible in Stanwyck´s hair.

By now I melt before Capra´s images, I´m wax in his hands.

The Rookie, Clint Eastwood, 1990

A strange one. Eastwood seems to amp up the ridiculousness precisely because by this time he wasn´t really comfortable anymore with this kind of material. Meaning he goes all in not despite but because of a lack of conviction.Yet it never fully switches over into farce, and the biggest emphasis is placed on small stuff like the two protagonists being uneasily stuck together in the car after escaping the explosion. The car chase in the beginning, on the other hand. is a blueprint for many blockbuster action scenes from the late 90s / 00s, especially those directed by Bay (shiny, clunky objects thrown into high-speed traffic). Lots of energy, but it doesn´t really go anywhere.

I guess the biggest misstep is the casting of Sheen, who seems to be in a different movie than everyone else. In some ways this might even be the point, but I guess I still would´ve preferred almost every other young 80s star in the role.

Given all of that, this looks fabulous throughout and the jazz score adds nice, surprising touches. A 35mm print might win me over completely one day.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Le doux amour des hommes, Jean-Paul Civeyrac, 2002

Had a bit of a hard time at first, maybe just because the much more direct pleasures of Vecchiali were still fresh in my mind (also, this probably loses quite a bit when seen at home). But I guess the pool scene set me on the right track: Jeanne´s form melting away on the ground of the basin, a liminal creature, living on borrowed time, touching and transforming a few lives...

A film dipping in and out of myth, effortless, like a lonely, emblematic face dissolving into a crowd. All the while a sad readhead hovers at the edge of the film, filled with quiet disgust, until she suddenly speaks up.

The Thirteenth Hour, William Clemens, 1947

By this point they obviously just slapped the Whistler label and a few sardonic voice-overs (I love that they use the same strained doomsday inflection even when a character is miraculously saved) on random mystery scripts flying around. This one is a quite nice piece of truck driver paranoia, though, and Clemens directs lively enough, moving with ease from the open road to evermore constricted spaces, until the only line of sight left open is a service hatch.

Drive a Crooked Road, Richard Quine, 1954

A borderline modernist noir, set between a decidedly non-greasy garage, with cars plopping up and down a ramp like toys, an evenly lit, homey beach house and an open road that isn´t open at all, but prefigured as moving image so that when we really arrive there every move has been thought through already. The mise-en-scene is measured according to Rooney´s Eddie, a man "like a scared animal" whose feet hardly reach the ground when sitting on a bench. He´s constantly placed next to bigger guys - not to overpower him, though, but to emphasize the smallness of the whole world he´s been thrown in: in the end his own smallness and inadequacy makes everyone else look phony, too. His colleagues are innocuous boasters whose notion and expressions of horniness stem from Tex Avery cartoons, the crooks he encounters later are obnoxious, unsubtle fratboys. Even Dianne Fosters eroticism is scaled down, her flirting has motherly/sisterly/condescending overtones from the start.

To forge a true, full-blown tragedy from these ingredients seems like a small miracle, but Quine pulls it off.

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell, Hajime Sato, 1968

Not necessarily the best, but certainly the most out there and inventive film of the Eclipse set. After the hallucinatory beginning (an airplane flying into a blood-red sky while devil birds keep crashing into its windows) it´s almost a bit disappointing when most of the rest settles for a more grounded, dusty look, but the absolutely bonkers vaginal vampire stuff more than makes up for it.

Also spends more effort than usually on showing the fucked-upness of almost everyone. Not just the politician, but also the psychologist interested in pushing people over the edge "for scientific reasons", pointing towards a rather fundamental uneasiness with modernity. The massacres in Vietnam are in there, too, though once again ultimately all roads lead to Hiroshima.

The Rocking Horsemen, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1992
Was this love or just two people bumping into each other? A glissando into the past, based on the sound intuition that the richness of both rock and coming of age is based on finding nuance in simple riffs. The movement from youthful flights of fancy to sober melancholia is pretty much perfect and also heartbreaking.

Meet John Doe, Frank Capra, 1941

Was this love or just two people bumping into each other? A glissando into the past, based on the sound intuition that the richness of both rock and coming of age is based on finding nuance in simple riffs. The movement from youthful flights of fancy to sober melancholia is pretty much perfect and also heartbreaking.

Red Room, Tony Zarindast, 1992

Thinking of SHOWGIRLS, Lommel, PSYCHO, Gialli, TCM, PSYCHO, David Schmoeller, Giorgio Ferroni´s MILL OF THE STONE WOMEN, PSYCHO once again and still this is a beast all of its own, maybe because Zarindast embraces all of his influences wholeheartedly without having the means to properly emulate a single one. Disarmingly crude, inventive, sexy, the freedom of direct to video. A bonus heart for the obese cop who has to enter a prison cell sideways because otherwise he wouldn´t fit through the door.

The Return of the Whistler, D. Ross Lederman, 1948

Largely styleless, but thanks to the Woolrich paranoia stronger than the three previous entries. Michael Duane has a interestingly bland, almost mask-like face. The most irritating thing about it, though, is Lenore Aubert´s extremely non-french french accent.

Long Pants, Frank Capra, 1927

Langdon is always ridiculous first and funny second. Often his bumbling apathy threatens to derail the (in this case mostly excellent) comic setups, as if a thoroughly thought-through, well constructed joke would already make him too much part of the grown-up world. His opposition to that world is radical and total, because it doesn´t stem from concepts, but from a lack of body tension. It´s in his bones.

So This Is Love, Frank Capra, 1928

Playful, sketchy romantic comedy that prefigures (in a rather blunt, but charming manner) IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT´s discourse on food / feeding and romance. Changes gear in the final act, an energetic, hillarious boxing match culminating in knockout intimacy.

The Dream of Garuda, Takahisa Zeze, 1994

One of those pinkus that denounce any kind of social contract, and arrive at somewhat interesting places in doing so. Everything is broken, and this is most evident not in the merciless rape scenes, not in the brutalist architecture (claustrophobic highrises thrown into waste land), not in the space-bending close-ups of Ito´s haggard face, but in the soapy erotic massage interludes, the only parts of the film played conventionally, for sensual pleasure. There´s a complete disconnect between the the narrative / emotional framing and the images themselves: For the women it´s a job, while the men have murder on their mind, and we are left with nothing but glossy softcore body mechanics.

Rain or Shine, Frank Capra, 1930

Capra´s first masterpiece? Joe Cook and his two sidekicks are a three-headed force of nature, and their presence alone makes this, the only feature they made together, highly valuable (generally, vaudeville´s influence on cinema, especially early sound cinema, still seems to be hugely underrated). This unfolds basically as a series of stage acts, not at all uncinematic, though, but perfectly integrated into a dense, layered, dynamic circus world, explored by a freewheeling camera in all its dimensions.

The plot is flimsy from the start (although Joan Peers gets a few lovely, longing close-ups) and Cook tries everything to sideline it. He wants to have it all to himself, with his act derailing the love story, and not only fueling the circus, but in the end replacing it, swallowing it up, burning it all to the ground. When the artists have the audacity of demanding a tiny share of the profits for themselves, he won´t hear anything about it, although he himself owns nothing - a hobo anarcho-capitalist, a creature of the sphere of circulation, unbound by fixed assets.

Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood, 2019

Much has been said about politics and / vs performance, and this certainly is a fascinating, conflicted film on both counts. I was also intrigued by its structure, the movement from generous, fluid open-air 90s nostalgia - Macarena, children jumping through water fountains, Muhammad Ali - to an enclosed world of paranoia and suspicion, a retreat into interior spaces and communities of purpose, with the occasional marker of history and the outside world (Clinton, Michael Johnson) relegated to tv screens.

Compared with Eastwood´s other everyday hero films, there´s more, maybe sometimes a bit too much plot here, an insistence on touching all the bases, to follow through on all the elements of the self-established discourse. Sometimes this works very well (Jewell´s mother trying to wipe off the government markings from her now forever tainted tupperware), sometimes not (Kathy Scruggs, too, getting her "payphone revelation scene").

Would be interesting to reframe the film as the story of two women: The manic public whirlwind that is Kathy Scruggs, her energy completely outward-bound, non-critical, merging with the world, a bodily extension of the system (it must be worth at least something that Olivia Wilde clearly had a lot of fun in front of the camera, and to reduce that one infamous scene to "paying with sex for intel" is downright insulting, or at least much more insulting than anything in the film), and Nadya, the most private but also the most self-assured of creatures, operating in secret, on the basis of absolute ideological conviction, stealing a shy kiss once in a while.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

When Liane Haid sings the song for the first time, it´s already a repetition, an echo of a previous performance. We´re stuck in a loop from the start, and our only hope lies in accepting just that: There´s no outside to the games we´re playing, the song is always already over, and at the same time it is always about to start again. If we can live with that, there´s a chance we don´t have to fight another war.

Voice of the Whistler, William Castle, 1945

Completely different in tone from the previous entries: A miniature epic, Citizen-Kane-style, leading into a kryptosexual stand-off: three people stuck in a phallic lighthouse pitted against beautiful painted backdrops, hell bent on making each other and themselves unhappy. Three is one too many, so someone has to be... ejected... from the setting. Will release even be possible, though? I especially liked the part leading up to the finale: there´s murder in the air and even the method of killing is already decided, but for a while it is completely unclear who will be the killer and who the victim. The crime as a structure fulfilling itself and casting the participants in the process...

Aside from Dix, the cast might not be all that memorable, although I did like Lynn Merrick´s commitment to her thoroughly unsympathetic character. The scene at the beach, when we see her swimming in the water, a female promise in the background, and then she steps out of the water into the foreground, wringing her hair, but she´s not at all the alluring mermaid, but rather completely pissed off...

Thirst for Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1967

The world either too close or forever out of reach. On the one hand sex scenes of glaring whiteness, body heat melting into celluloid, a stomach made of poisonous light. On the other hand a satiric family melodrama filmed from a bird´s eye perspective (or from a surveillance camera designed by Kafka); is this about a cold gaze freezing over people, or rather the other way around: the helpless retreat of the image in the presence of a irretrievably static world?

What might bridge the gap between the immediacy of sex and the aloofness of the social? Art, fetish, art as fetish, fetish as art, and in the end, violence. I haven´t read Mishima in a long time, maybe I should try it again soon.

I Hate But Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1962

There´s a shot that gorgeously pits the lovers against a fluorescent curtain of raindrops dripping down a windowplane, and the rush of green in the Kyushu finale is quite nice, too, especially with the fleshy, orgasmic ending... Aside from a few splashes like that, this doesn´t look half as spectacular as I thought a Kurahara color film would, though. At times there almost seems to be a longing for the more complete, direct sense of style provided by black and white, a deliberate draining of color, a wallowing in the drab palettes of japanese postwar reality.

It´s inventive enough as it is visually, especially the use of widescreen, and it´s a strange beast throughout. An early Godardian relationship comedy taking a detour into media / youth culture satire before being transformed into a full-blown, almost dialogue-free road-movie-melodrama... All shot through with Kurahara´s manic Sturm-und-Drang style that keeps hanging in the air a bit this time. Obviously an assignment Kurahara couldn´t quite make his own, but nonetheless lots of energy, and a very nice performance by Ishihara, sort of a dry run in preparation for ALONE ACROSS THE PACIFIC.

The X From Outer Space, Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1967

Trippy, or, more precisely, loungy kaiju / space opera film featuring a monster that looks like a gojira-chicken mashup and a flying saucer that looks like flabby pastry. The outer space stuff made me think, once again, of Bava, the kaiju scenes are rather inventive, too, and there´s a cute love triangle sideplot with an extremely polite resolution.

Nihonmatsu´s limitations as a director are obvious throughout, but once you get past them there´s lots to enjoy, here. Perfect score for this kind of film, too.

Iris and the Lieutenant, Alf Sjöberg, 1946

The social theatrics of love. More precisely, there´s a constant tension between two different forms of theatrics. The scenes of Zetterling and Kjelling belong to the theatrics of intimacy: two lovers constantly framing and reframing, blocking and unblocking their desire, like in their first longer scene together, when a kitchen cupboard turns into the medium of their togetherness as well as their separateness. Both her and his desires are authentic, but can´t ever be fully synchronized. In fact, authenticity itself becomes the problem, because authentic love must reject the readymade love scripts society (or, in one especially beautiful sequence, Mervyn LeRoy´s WATERLOO BRIDGE) provides them with.

The family scenes, on the other hand, lend themselves to other, much more openly artificial theatrics, with intricate tracking shots tracing ballet-like character movements, mirror and window shots foregrounding the mechanics of visibility and tableaux-style sequences turning people into props. Cinema as interior design, but with a deconstructive angle. How can a window curtain throw its shadow on the ceiling rather than the floor of a room?

But what´s the endgame: Is this about pitting one form of theatrics against another? About intimacy smothered by monstrous conventionality? One might think so - until the very last scene, in which a short voice-over and a short camera movement, the most modest of rhetorical gestures, turn the whole thing around, amounting to a last reframing that turns everything before it inside out.

The Landlord, Hal Ashby, 1970

Suffers quite a bit from New Hollywood´s penchant for strenuous rhetorics (more often than not, the ostensibly most liberated phase of american filmmaking was also the most stilted), but Gunn´s complex rage and the soft face of Beau Bridges make up for a lot.

Personal Problems, Bill Gunn, 1980

Nothing is real but pain and video artifacts.

Mysterious Intruder, William Castle, 1946

The best thing about this is Helen Mowery´s incredibly aggressive femme fatale mandible. She wants to bite her way into fortune... Besides that, MYSTERIOUS INTRUDER is quirky and stylish enough, but never manages to develop the dark pull of the earlier Whistler films. The series is always about encountering (and accepting) the improbable, but while in the previous entries this encounter is the very subject of the film, this one is lost in a delirious, ludicrous noir plot almost from the start (the improbable becoming form, rather than content; this is especially evident in the overuse of voice over). Also, while it´s interesting in theory to turn Dix into a murky character on the threshold of good and evil, his acting abilities do not really rise to this particular challenge.

Corps a coeur, Paul Vecchiali, 1979

In the very first scene, the film is invaded, by way of Fauré´s music, by an affect too big, an affect that doesn´t quite fit this world, these two people bound together by a completely contingent gaze. Everything afterwards is about trying to account for this affect anyway, to render it in cinematic terms. How to turn the emblem of a pharmacy into an emblem of romantic extremism?

It´s about the impulses of melodrama taking over two bodies, two subjectivities. But never completely, it´s also always about the resistance of the same two bodies against these very impulses. The impulses stem from the past, from history, from film history. The romantic hero=fool, Pierrot, starts out as a foul-mouthed blue-collar neighborhood casanova. A pragmatist, settled in his ways: In his pursuit of Jeanne-Michele, he subscribes the help of his other lovers, current, former and future ones. The compartmentalization of love. But later on he reverts back to older, more transient forms of proletarian masculinity, a 1930s tramp in waist coat and flat cap, camping out in a bizarre fenced mobile home.

The melodrama forces its way into the world, but it no longer has the power to force the world out of the film. The world persists, the neighborhood persists. It doesn´t streamline but it multiplies affect, and every affect has the same right to express itself. The earth-shattering force of the melodrama is bound to its contingency. When Fauré hits again, it is a shock every single time. There is no other world, just a country house a few hours away from home.

Finally, the melodramatic impulse has to deal with sex, not in the abstract, but in its concrete images and movements. Woman on top. Satisfaction is not guaranteed, but it remains a necessary promise.

Lux perpetua luceat eis.

Secret of the Whistler, George Sherman, 1946

Drops, for most of its running time, the expressive flourishes of the earlier films in favor of flat three-point lighting, which makes sense in a way because it is about a woman utilizing her visibility and also about an affair carried out pretty much in the open. It´s a bit land nonetheless, and the story, while interesting in theory, feels somewhat half-baked.

Die Blume von Hawaii, Richard Oswald, 1933

Strangely enough, Oswald has a much less firm handle on film sound technique in his tenth sound film than he had in his first. Still, worth it for Eggerth and the Abraham songs.

La pasión según Berenice, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1975

A scarred woman, a signed woman, but ultimately the sign tells us nothing. A connection formed by a strong handshake in the cinema leads to a smoldering romance in long takes, a long walk to the restaurant, a long dinner scene, a long walk back, now closing in on the faces, more intimate. Later they are in bed, in the shower, their bodies pulled together mechanically, by the static, unflinching power of mise-en-scene, but not opening up towards each other, let alone towards us. Language doesn´t help, quite the contrary: The more the woman talks, the more her speech is deprived of meaning. Everything that´s been said can be easily turned into its opposite. Language lends towards the static, too.

A film of unreadable faces pitted against ornamental patterns: a decorated glass door, a headboard. Sometimes, though, another kind of energy blows through the film, bulging cloth on the veranda, a window opening up, zooms without an object. Cold winds of change tied to the woman´s unmoving, scarred face.

The Angel Levine, Jan Kadar, 1970

Repression of self and repression of others causing and constantly reinforcing each other. A dialogical inner city blues kammerspiel, in between brought alive a bit by Gloria Foster, but otherwise rather stale.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

fan track

Man könnte Fußball ohne Fans, statt zu zetern, als ästhetische Herausforderung begreifen. Was hat es, zum Beispiel, mit dem - letztlich eher zuviel als zuwenig versprechenden - Wort "Geisterspiel" auf sich? Welches Spiel wäre keines? Sind die nun allseits fetischisierten Fans im Stadion wirklich etwas anderes als die den laugh track einlachenden Studiozuschauer in der Multikamerasitcom, also eine letztlich willkürliche Vorbedingung eines medialen Dispositivs, die auf ihre rhetorischen Effeke hin zu untersuchen wäre? Wie unterscheidet sich Fußball mit von Fußball ohne "fan track", gäbe es eine Form der bloßen Simulation von Fans, die von Fernsehzuschauer_innen akzeptiert würde? Wie könnte eine selbstbewusst konstruktivistische Fußballästhetik aussehen? Wie bewußt darf sich das Medium Fußball seiner rhetorischen Werkzeuge werden?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Living Skeleton, Hiroshi Matsuno, 1968

Again a lot of plot for this kind of film and running time, but this time I didn´t mind. The revenge stuff, haunted by distorted faces and muzzle flash, plays like a fever dream, and although Matsuno throws in lots of horror staples from both the japanese and the western tradition, the whole thing feels organic, thanks to the beautiful widescreen mise en scene and Kikko Matsuoka´s eerie and alluring presence. A woman made for gothic glamour close-ups and for exploring ghost ships.

Might be thought of as an update of the Lewton tradition for more modern and blunter times, but once again I mostly was reminded of Bava, especially because of the miniature effect work. The love of craft, the beauty of enhanced artificiality.

Carnal Crimes, Gregory Dark, 1991

Glossy softcore neo-noir shot through with a cynical punk spirit. Linda Carol opens the film lounging by the fireplace speaking of true love, clad in a breath of nothing. Later on, she´s tantalizingly parading Skid Row before climbing a fire escape in order to enter a world of cheapo, readymade decadence. Her desires are triggered by images first and an imagemaker second: Martin Hewitt, a fashion photographer of slippery intensity, a pornographer´s idea of a 19th century romantic poet, living in a makeshift boheme apartments made for wide-angle shots and MTV erotica.

The sex scenes themselves are mostly sub MTV, though, artificial, unimaginative and unerotic. The sex is just bland raw material, in need of stylish refinement through photography and fantasy. For a while, when everyone´s pursuing rather mysterious fetish-goals, this is quite fun. Then again, the crime plot, which unfortunately insists on taking over at some point, is a complete bore. Still, there´s an unique air to it all, a daydreamy craziness, nothing is real except for Carol´s eternal teaze, or anti-teaze: promising nothing, giving away everything, and still remaining forever just out of touch.

Das häßliche Mädchen, Henry Koster, 1933

A complete joy, a slightly Pygmalion-related farce perfectly well-rounded and slightly off-beat at the same time. Starts out as an office comedy: the company is, once again, in love, with libidinous energy disrupting the work-flow. Wonderfully enough, most of it plays out in the lobby, a slow-motion slapstick ballet of inhibited desires, with Otto Wallburg as showstopper and a deadpan liftboy as secret weapon. In the end, a few items and feelings remain unclaimed, so they´re forwarded to the next setting: From the office to an apartment, from the apartment to a party, from the party back to the office. A perfect circle.

Max Hansen is rather subdued here, maybe because he realizes what a wonderful script he has this time. Dolly Haas is, of course, never ugly, but her makeover scene still is incredibly touching: a face (and only a face) discovering itself for the first time. The change in her physical appearance isn´t an end in itself, just a new piece of information. Adjustments will have to be made accordingly. The most important thing is, though, that her own attitude doesn´t change at all afterwards, she remains naive and tender throughout, completely oblivious to the scheming around her, and at the same time, of course, the true center of every scheme.

Body Chemistry, Kristine Peterson, 1990

Trashy female stalker thriller with a primetime soap feel to it. The interesting techno-noir stuff in the beginning mostly makes way later on for low-key kink and several lengthy scenes of two or three actors desperately trying to out-ham each other. The darker aspects of the script would´ve called for a stronger male lead, and while Lisa Pescia might be an interesting actress elsewhere, she doesn´t seem to quite know what to do with her role. At least, she tries to act in the sex scenes (some of them are a bit more specific than usually in those films: rather clearly defined movements), too, and has a moment when she stands naked, ass to camera, helplessly watching her lover leave, realizing that he doesn´t want to face his desires.

After having to stand on the sidelines for most of the running time, Mary Crosby steals the show during a party from hell worthy of her DALLAS past.

Katherina, die Letzte, Henry Koster, 1936

Probably one of the last masterpieces of the (exiled) Weimar tradition: a romantic comedy of social difference. Katharina´s resistance to Hans Holt is pure lumpen class consciousness, unenlightened but powerful nonetheless. Everyone needs to stay on his or her place, because that´s the way of the world. She´s not even asking for class solidarity, if she´s gonna make it, she´s gonna make it on her own terms: buying a cow, in order to no longer be treated like an animal herself. Love corrupts class consciousness like it corrupts everything else, but in the end the corruption stays on the level on plot mechanics and can´t reach Katharina´s pure heart. She loves only insofar as love is not just a game.

Like Dolly Haas in DAS HÄSSLICHE MÄDCHEN, Katharina is a holy fool, incapable of any falsehood, any pretense, and once again it is this very basic trust in the ways of the world, and in surface appearances, that makes her the center of every intrigue. In the end, of course, she who sees through nobody unmasks everyone. Koster doesn´t use this structure for moralizing, though, but revels in bittersweet ironies paradoxies, some of which stay unresolved even after the happy end. The film´s biggest stylistic gesture isn´t comedic but melodramatic: an elaborate, Ophülsian travelling revealing a break-up letter the illiterate Katharina confuses with (and, by way of her categorical emotional investment in it, transforms into) a token of love.

The art of Koster, but also the art of Franziska Gaal, who just might have been the prime comedienne of her time, a natural clown on the same level as Lucille Ball, but with wider range, a bumbling bundle of sweetness.

G.I. Honeymoon, Phil Karlson, 1945

From Karlson´s programmer beginnings, a mostly toothless and at times dragging sex comedy. Basically it´s about two people desperately searching for a place to fuck, but unlike Sirk´s somewhat similar NO ROOM FOR THE GROOM and Dwan´s not really similar RENDENZVOUS WITH ANNIE it doesn´t manage to overcome the strictures of the code. Still, it remains somewhat interesting as a snapshot of wartime mores and Gale Storm proves once again a nice b-movie lead.

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

Very pure in a way, pretty much the perfect definition of 90s mainstream erotica, made for secret teenage late-night viewings in the family living room. Not as baroque as CARNAL CRIMES, big tit centered sex in clean middle-class houses, filmed in a rather bland style with even lighting, the camera bathing in voluptuous female flesh. No confusion about priorities here: 90 % softcore 10% thriller. It´s all about Whirry, though the panorama of sleazy male assholeness around her is quite impressive, too. In the end, Maxwell Caulfield´s jock neuroticism easily beats out Carradine and Vincent. Caulfield, beer in hand, watching his wife fucking other men on a shitty tv screen, expressing neither arousal nor disgust but only a rather unspecific, grunty excitement: a repeated image that just has to tell us something about the mediascape of the 90s.

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

Come for the sweeping camera movements, stay for the facial expressions during the spanking scene, and be haunted for weeks by Paul Hörbiger, Heurigensänger from hell. "Und jetzt noch ein Rausschmeißer!"

The Whistler, William Castle, 1944

Castle`s deep love for the bizarre is evident in every single scene, he establishes a world of pure mystery, a complete suspension of the everyday pretty much with the first shot and has always enough ideas to keep up the tension within a rather simple plot. Joan Woodbury has great hair in her way too short scene.

Die Koffer des Herrn O.F., Alexis Granowsky, 1931

I thought Lorre was, like Eastwood, never young, but here he is and he´s weird and wonderful. The film itself goes for a "symphonic Brechtian" comedy style and certainly is interesting in theory, especially as an early sound experiment. Except for Lorre and a few of the more jarring expressionistic ideas I mostly wasn´t on board, though a decent print might change that.

The Other Woman, Jag Mundhra, 1992

The moment she finds photographs of another woman in her man´s jacket, Lee Anne Beaman takes off her clothes. To cry in the shower, but still... Desire is always tied to imagemaking in these films, seduction boiled down to visual mechanics: images triggering other images. Visibility is always total (within the limits of softcore, of course), spying always gets you all the angles, and the appropriate fetish shots, too, like in this case milk spilled over a black woman´s breast. Can this even be called a fetish shot, though, when there´s no visual or erotic latency? Hunting for images which are always already available is not the same as voyeurism. But what else could it be?

Once again, the illicit sex takes place in a loft-like structure, a wide space of pure visuality, almost like the optical apparatus itself; while Beaman´s sexless home has a claustrophobic, cerebral feel to it. Lost in her own encephalon, she ventures out... (A shame the thriller plot is so clumsy.)

Sexual Malice, Jag Mundhra, 1994

When Doug Jefferey initializes sex, he presses Diana Barton against the wall, and because he´s quite a bit taller than she is, her feet lose contact with the ground. The experience of being a few inches above ground: maybe that´s what she´s seeking.

Somehow I´m very fond of this. A very mechanical plot, slick camera work and rather inventive sets including a magnificent staircase, a highly repetitive, hypnotic score basically denying all possibility of development, learning, fulfillment: always the same sweet synth poison, the soundtrack of self-same capitalist erotic realism.

Barton remains a very private person throughout, while Samantha Phillips, who has a great, lowkey throaty voice, introduces a welcome dose of cheerful vulgarity. Doug Jefferey, according to his imdb bio, has been compared to the Marlboro Man.

The Power of the Whistler, Lew Landers, 1945

In the beginning, there´s an everyday impulse. Taking a chance on someone and then follow him to strange places while animals start dying offscreen. Later on, it´s about a race between external and internal discovery: Will they or will I find out first that I´m a psychopath. The pragmatism of american pulp noir: to treat psychological phenomena exactly like tangible reality, stuff to play around with.

A great concept that takes a few less effective turns towards the end. The direction is always inventive, though, and the cast is great, especially Jeff Donnell who seems to filter out the pure essence of every emotion she´s feeling before projecting it on her beaming face.

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

My obsession with this film still is in full swing. To smile like Gitta Alpar smiles...

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Glückliche Reise, Alfred Abel, 1933

She wants to go to the jungle, too, instead of wasting away in the office, says Magda Schneider. In the end this dream isn´t curtailed, but granted. A triumph of hedonistic joy and curiosity over duty and work ethics: not much later this would become completely unthinkable in German cinema.

GLÜCKLICHE REISE is one of the last operetta films in the jewish-german spirit of the late Weimar republic - and an excellent one at that, if dated in its naive and at times uneasy exoticism. In this regard it´s a bit similar to DIE BLUME VON HAWAII, the songs are similarly great, too, although all in all it may be not quite as crazy. GLÜCKLICHE REISE has the better cast, though: Schneider and Max Hansen may nominally only be the "second couple", but they completely steal the show.

Both are gushingly frivolous throughout, a ride in a coach leads to a musical-erotic breakdown, they snuggle up to each other, singing turns into giggling and then into who knows what... when Schneider returns to her chambers, at lest, she´s still humming the same melody and her whole demeanor is positively post-coital. The scene, already starting out like the greatest thing ever and only getting better after that, is capped off with a polyamorous four-way split screen.

A shame that this isn´t available in a halfway decent version. As long as films like this one are hidden away in archives and (if they´re lucky) shoddy grey market releases, all that talk about "national film heritage" is just a sad joke.

Ihre Hoheit befiehlt, Hanns Schwarz, 1931

The english title is more precise than the german one, because in the end the crucial commands stem from Käthe von Nagy´s grace rather than from the "highness" of princess Marie-Christine. It speaks for the subtle intelligence of Wilder´s script, though, that those two forces aren´t strictly separate. Love isn´t the liberated other of politics, it can´t fully escape the grasp of power... but it can derail some of its mechanisms. The romance of von Nagy and Fritsch is integrated in and formulated through court rituals and military hierarchies which, in turn, gradually lose their meaning while being transformed into an erotic playground.

This is worlds apart from the grand, sweeping movements of DER KONGRESS TANZT, or even from more conventionally agile films like DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE or DER BLONDE TRAUM. Compared to them IHRE HOHEIT BEFIEHLT feels like a gentle romantic comedy in slow motion, the one attempt at slapstick mayhem (in an ice rink) is almost touchingly clumsy, and even Heymann´s score often finds itself stuck in loops. In the end it´s all about Fritsch and von Nagy, two bodies circling each other, push-pull motions mostly carried out through gazes and, in the case of von Nagy, short and swift hand gestures. She is the true marvel throughout. Her grace commands, indeed.

Be Sure to Share, Sion Sono, 2009

Strangely affecting, almost despite itself, because in some ways this feels like counterfeit indie cinema. Stuff like the fishing pole or the insect shell might look like quotidian details on first sight, but this is a film no place for contingencies of any kind. Every move seems preordained and it´s never quite clear if it´s the protagonist who´s stuck in patterns of repetition or the film itself. With Sono, concept always trumps narrative, and here, this approach clearly encounters its own limitations... and still, there are incredibly touching moments, like when Shiro, after running to work, almost breaks down in front of his locker. Akira´s performance is excellent throughout, as is Ayumi Ito´s, and maybe that´s the whole reason why this works.

Why Don´t You Play in Hell, Sion Sono, 2013

The desire of cinephilia feeding on its own corpse, until cinema really is transformed, with Laura Mulvey, into death 24 times a second.

Exhaustive in every sense of the word. Like with many Sono films, especially the unabashedly maximalist ones, watching this is alternately exhilarating and frustrating: One moment I happily go with the flow, the next moment I´m back at realizing that there´s no real flow at all, only a structure mechanically fulfilling itself. Not that there aren´t a few surprises on the way... but it´s always clear that Sono won´t let them derail his own vision in any meaningful way. He´s always more Kubrick than punk.

His cinema is fundamentally uncurious. On the other hand, he clearly always does exactly what he wants and that has to count for something. Here, the saving grace is the final descent into auteurist wish-fulfillment mayhem. That machine-gun dolly shot, especially, is an image I can´t distance myself from.

Einbrecher, Hanns Schwarz, 1930

"Just pretend, do it mechanically", sings Lilian Harvey, just as Ralph Arthur Roberts praises the "mechanical heart" of the dolls he creates and which, from time to time, take over the film, singing and dancing away. The dolls are also for sale and (potentially) mass-produced, while Harvey has been described, by Siegfried Kracauer, as "erotic decorative art", the perfect fetish object for the age of mechanical reproduction of desire. Indeed, with her, performance is strictly an art of surface manipulation, at times closer to interior design than to "acting": her slender figure pitted against a swing lounge, or against the vaguely oriental stylings of her (phony) lover´s (phony) apartment. (Becoming just another object in the room, albeit the most spectacular one vs becoming someone else).

I´m not sure, though, if her endgame is seduction. Just as Fritsch is a bit too narcissistic to pull of a romantic gentleman thief, she is a bit too self-conscious to be swooned. Most of the time, Harvey is sportive rather than lascivious. While her romantic scenes with Fritsch feel forced (especially when compared with the wonderful pairings of Fritsch and Käthe von Nagy), she excels in a make-believe-tennis-game and in being twisted around by Fritsch and Rühmann like a circus artist. Becoming puppet is an athletic challenge, first and foremost. Fritsch and Harvey are a body ideal more than a romantic one. Sex as gymnastics.

Bomben auf Monte Carlo, Hanns Schwarz, 1931

Interesting in theory, especially as a precursor for GROSSE FREIHEIT NUMMER 7. Here, Hans Albers is still a creature of the sea, his macho attitude unbroken and his delusions blown up to phantasmagorical (and very Freudian) proportions: Threatening to blow up a whole town in order to prove his manhood.

Still, I mostly couldn´t stand this. The Ufa splendor is present in the magnificent tracking shots bookending the film, and also in parts of the casino scene, but somehow, the effort is not worth the cost. Schwarz´s direction drags even more than usually, and while Heymann´s score is fine as always, it doesn´t have that big of a range (and the sailor aesthetic just doesn´t do much for me). The main problem is Albers himself, though: He just can´t fully take part in the games of performativity everyone else is engaging in. When he removes the fake beauty spots from Anna Sten´s face, he really thinks he stripped away all pretensions, and when he learns, later on, that he in fact didn´t really demask her, he has no other options than to run away.

Rühmann´s role makes this problem even more obvious. He´s always cast as the beta male tagging alongside a more virile leading man in these early films, but when pitted against Fritsch, he becomes both an amplifier and a deflector for the star´s hidden phoniness and thereby an attraction in his own right; next to Albers, though, he´s nothing but a naive sidekick, perfectly happy with providing punchlines for his master.

Smorgasbord, Jerry Lewis, 1983

I still prefer the of the moment intervention of HARDLY WORKING (the first true Reagan era film) to the nostalgic retreat into private fantasy that this boils down to more often than not, but there´s so much wonderful stuff in here.

Liebling der Götter, Hanns Schwarz, 1930

I was a bit afraid of this because it was clear from the outset that it would be a Jannings overload first and foremost; it indeed is and at times he is indeed rather obnoxious. In the beginning, when it´s mainly about him juggling lots of girls, everything´s fine and the film flows along nicely with a folksy comedic tone. Jannings really tries to make them all happy, I can give him that, and then here he´s not just a man, but a tenor (see DIE ODER KEINE), so he has an obligation. Later on it´s mainly about coming to terms with aging. Vitalism turns into ponderous self-pity (and, a disturbing scene, into antisemitism), there´s too much body now, too much fat, and the mise en scene isn´t flexible enough to do anything about it. The only scenes I really couldn´t stand, though, were the ones with Jannings and his wife, Renate Müller. Constantly cheating on her is one thing, but constantly cheating on her while always, stubbornly calling her "Mama" and "Muttchen" - that just won´t do.

What´s with these hunky german 30s leading men (mostly the ones I don´t care much about: Jannings, Albers) always raising both arms to express their manly joy? A weird, excessive gesture, "life affirming" in a rather desperate way.

Claire´s Camera, Hong Sang-soo, 2017

Slight, almost not there at all, which often feels nice and also adequate to the setting. Still, this left me cold like Hong´s films normally never do. Maybe I just need an (even longer) break from his world.

Die singende Stadt, Carmine Gallone, 1930

A piece of delightful, exuberant early talkies madness, especially during the early scenes in Naples. An orchestra of street kids opens the films, a group of laundresses, filmed in sultry neorealismo style, eagerly listens to a tenor´s voice, an amphitheatre is used for a sound test. There´s music in the air, but also noise, and the line between both isn´t always clearly drawn. Sound doesn´t confine cinema to the studio, it opens up the world. How far will it travel, how will it affect us?

Jan Kiepura is no one´s idea of a vivacious Italian (and someone even says so in the film), he´s cast as a supreme musical event and nothing else. Brigitte Helm belongs to the realm of the aethereally visual, those low angle shots of her long neck belong to the silent era, she encounters sound like a strange, alluring creature (actually: like one strange, alluring creature encounters another strange, alluring creature). In one of the most beautiful moments of the film we see her stepping through the somnambulist shadows of trees into the moonshine of music.

It´s one of several long, elaborate tracking shots - there´s nothing static about the film. Later in Vienna, things move inside, a jealousy drama unfolding indoors, but also lots of glorious austro-sleaze, Georg Alexander especially excels in the art of dandy non-seduction. Helm can´t break her urbane habits, Kiepura is left singing in an empty opera house and longs for Naples (where the true neapolitan girl Trude Berliner is waiting for him - ethnic identity is strictly performative in all of those pan-european musicals).

In Vienna the chaotic oneness of the audiovisual is lost. Here it becomes clear that sound sensations can´t always be fully translated into everyday life. Sometimes it´s necessary to separate the voice from the man, by way of a phonograph.

Genozide, Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1968

The effect work is nice and at times trippy and there´s a bit of gorgeous, almost Bavaesque gothic horror imagery thrown in now and then. Otherwise this is rather boring, Nihonmatsu doesn´t commit to his (at times extremely unsavory) exploitation instincts, but rather hastens through a bizarre plot.

Once again a very committed, intense Chico Lourant performance, though.

Walzerkrieg, Ludwig Berger, 1933

Charming as hell, and also borderline crazy, one last manic good time on the eve of doom. It´s pretty dark under the glamour: Love isn´t a means of freedom, but always already clocked in, good old waltzing gets a BDSM update, and when Wohlbrück composes the Radetzky March on the spot the only objection is: Can one really march to this? Of course one can!

But still: This is much more the ending of the right kind of party than the beginning of the wrong one. None of the girls of nazi cinema would ever swirl over tables as Rosy Barsony does here, a dervish in swooshing dress, unsettling the frame, transforming three-quarter time into a promiscuous beast even british royalty can keep its hands away from. Quite literally: this is very much about the joy of touching, trying out movements and bodies for the first time. Hanna Waag as queen Victoria is another highlight.

Wohlbrück and Fritsch are a perfect double lead, too, they go together as leader and follower: Fritsch really looks, acts and feels like a phonier and clumsier version of Wohlbrück, his Ich-ideal. While Wohlbrück celebrates his autonomy to the point of becoming a self-stabilizing system of pure genius with no need to even acknowledge the existence of an outside world, Fritsch remains an opportunist always beating the drum for whoever´s orchestra is the talk of the town right now.

Unfortunately Renate Müller´s role feels a bit cut short, despite a few beautiful scenes with her female orchestra (especially the one on the ship). She always seems to reenter the plot out of nowhere. At least she´s got one of the most perfect moments in the film: Her scene with Fritsch in the coach, back to back and still oblivious to each other, lost in private desires while around them the world starts to seriously spin out of control.

At the end we´re at a crossroads: The real world moves on, and Fritsch won´t have a problem beating its drum, too, and another, better world - not completely liberated, but at least animated with a desire for liberation - is left behind, forever in the thralls of the Radetzky March.

Cold Sweat, Gail Harvey, 1993

A strange film. Starts in a downbeat Chris Rea mood: everyone´s stuck in his or her personal hell. There´s the occasional burst of steamy shower sex or of silly-sweet glow in the dark body painting sex, but the good feeling never lasts past the next family dinner. The oppression of the ordinary. Little by little, though, all sense of the everyday vanishes from the film: The characters build their own version of reality, like enacting a fucked-up game only they (and they too only barely) know the rules of. Their private hells are exchanged for a collective one, at the cost of cutting off all ties to the outside world. Strangely enough, sex isn´t what brings them together, but part of what kept them apart from each other, so that has to go, too. Choosing the imaginary woman in the bathtub over the real one beneath the sheets totally feels like the natural thing to do, here. (Also, those impotence scenes are kind of brutal: the total inflation of self, not once but twice, and both times completely exposed, in full view.)

As genre cinema this is altogether well-made, but most interesting at the seams. I keep thinking of the alluring clumsiness of some of the actions, like when they try to heave the body bag on the bed but fail at first. Also that repeated shot of the alley next to the motel, a griminess that feels completely alien to the rest of the film. Generally a mismatch of detailed, almost baroque interiors and impersonal, bland exteriors, the outside world feels much smaller and narrower than the inside one.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik der Gesellschaft, S. 31-46, "Das Bewußtsein der Wissenssoziologie"

Die Kritische Theorie ist "nur insoweit die Lehre von den Beziehungen der Menschen, wie sie auch die Lehre von der Unmenschlichkeit ihrer Beziehungen ist" - solche rhetorische Schmuckstücke wirken in dem Text etwas verloren, wie Selbstzweck fast, ohne rechte Verbindung zur Struktur des Arguments. Mir fehlt Kontext, klar, aber ich habe doch den Verdacht, dass Adorno einen recht selektiven, polemischen Zugriff auf die Schriften Karl Mannheims, seines Gegners, wählt; er gibt es mehr oder weniger selbst zu, im ersten Absatz: er bezieht sich auf ein älteres Buch, das sich "nicht auf jegliche seiner Formulierungen" festlegen lasse.

Das Verhältnis von Kritischer Theorie und Wissenschaftssoziologie (sicherlich andernorts hinreichend erschlossen, historisiert usw) erschließt sich mir aus dem Text nicht; dass Adornos Attacken primär auf Formalmethodisches zielen (beziehungsweise: dass der Übergang von formalmethodischer zu politischer Kritik nicht immer einleuchtet) mag dafür sprechen, dass die Differenzen nicht immer gar so klar konturiert sind.

Was mich interessiert, ist die Passage zum, beziehungsweise gegen das Beispiel. Das Prinzip des Beispiels als einer bloßen Illustration des Allgemeinen durchs Besondere ist nicht nur intellektuell unredlich, weil es einen formalen Abstraktionsmechanismus mit Analyse verwechselt, sondern kann auch beschrieben werden als eine Verformung dessen, was einmal Material war und nun nur noch als Fundgrube für sorgfältig zurechtgestutzte Beispielen dient. Das Ergebnis ist Lächerlichkeit und Nichtigkeit, gut nachvollziehbar in weiß Gott wie vielen akademischen Arbeiten, die im Methodenteil Theorie aufarbeiten und dieselbe im Anschluss zur Anwendung bringt.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Always in My Heart Part II, Hideo Oba, 1953

Dragging along a bit, especially during a lengthy sideplot involving Haruki´s sister. After a lengthy recap, the leads don´t share screentime until the last 20 minutes, and when they do, it becomes clear that the romance is dead in the water anyway. Before that, Machiko is terrorized by her mother-in-law while Haruki goes native in Hokkaido. The latter provides some delirious joy thanks to a sex-crazed and camera-eager "wild girl" called Yumi.

Blonde Crazy, Roy Del Ruth, 1931

Cagney´s performance in this must be at least some kind of rebirth of cinema, a firstness...

Always in My Heart Part III, Hideo Oba, 1954

Another two hours of people working overtime to make both themselves and each other miserable while touring Japan´s most photogenic scenery. The last hour is very much in the fangs of death, which makes for a much more intense viewing than everything before - Oba does know how to put the emotional screws on.

All in all it´s quite interesting to see what japanese populist blockbuster filmmaking of the time looked like. In terms of themes and motives, this isn´t all that far removed from Naruse, Mizoguchi, Kinoshita, Ozu (at least his pre 1950 work); and even in terms of technique - Oba quite cleverly employs the Shochiku house style, with striking long shots, poetic pillow interludes, low angles, staggered framings through doors and window etc. Charged just a little bit differently, these images lose all nuance and are transformed into vessels for pure, shameless melodrama.

Intimidation, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960

A wonderful, caustic pulp miniature, noir turned grotesque, economical in the sense that all effort is perfectly wasted from the start, a zero-sum game in which every step almost automatically is a mistake. One great thing about it is Kurehara´s eye for physiognomy: One shot of scrawny, mousy Ko Nishimura and stocky, soft Nobuo Kaneko facing each other, both filmed in profile, tells you everything you need to know about them: this is a tale of two weaknesses feeding on each other.

Germania anno zero, Roberto Rossellini, 1948

On the constitutive impossibility of Germany.

To Trap a Kidnapper, Shunya Ito, 1982

Overlong, badly written procedural by the director of the SASORI films. Comes alive a bit when focussing on the desperate plot of the loser kidnapper, but in the end it never comes together in an interesting way.

Machorka-Muff, Straub/Huillet, 1963

There´s already Bach, and Heinrich Böll (whose unimaginative prose is the weakest link in early Straub/Huillet) is no one´s idea of hip literature... and still, rewatching this, I was surprised how close this still feels to parts of 60s pop cinema. I can almost picture a Richard Lester cut of this... And Erich Kuby´s smooth deadpan performance, when he stands up from the bed and tightens his belt...

Der Verlorene, Peter Lorre, 1951
Smoking and drinking in order not to numb the body, but to keep it in an active state, to keep one´s fingers busy, to keep them away from exploring other options; to keep them focused on sensory pleasures, so that they don´t have to become the tools of death history wants them to be. Smoking and drinking as an (ever failing) resistance against living in Germany.

Black Sun, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1964

A beautiful film, meticulously structured for all its freewheeling nouvelle vague allusions, and especially with a striking architectural design based mostly on verticality: the towering, threatening high rises in the first few shots, the steep staircase in the burned-out church, the ravine Gil vanishes into and emerges from again, the slope leading into the sea.

Verticality is unsettling, climbing higher doesn´t provide one with a superior position, with oversight, but it makes the world more fragile. The gun, on the other hand, is a tool to keep the world stable, to keep unruly verticality covered by installing fixed lines of sight, fixed power relationships. Though it constantly turns out to be pretty useless, it basically only works, and even then only barely, when your target is right in front of your eyes. The gun finds its true purpose only in the very last scene, when it is used not to battle, but to liberate verticality, to blast away the ties that bind us and enable Gil´s final escape, not towards the sea, but towards the sun.

Wien, Du Stadt der Lieder, Richard Oswald, 1930

The birth of sound cinema from the spirit of the Heurigen. A glorious primordial soup of the audiovisual, made up from jealousies, narcissism, misplaced desire, delusions of grandeur, ethnic stereotypes (and their performative undoings), popular tunes, and lots of alcohol.

This might just be the only surviving film document of Paul Graetz in full, unsettling, brain-melting bloom - for that alone it is worth more than pretty much anything in all of those German film canons floating around.

Hat Wolff von Amerongen Konkursdelikte begangen? Gerhard Benedikt Friedl, 2004

Dismantling the fabrics of german postwar society, one declarative statement at a time. Dismantling the fabrics of German language, one high finance family dynasty anecdote at a time. What it comes down to is a taking of accounts of lifes wasted and ambitions devoid of all meaning, projected onto the textures of a country that refuses to read itself.

Watching this directly after GERMANIA ANNO ZERO and DER VERLORENE makes so much sense: A miniature canon of anti-german cinema, right there.

The Warped Ones, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960

Once again lots of energy coupled with perfect control and an intricate structure. These aren´t free-wheeling films at all...

Same main actor, same jazz bar, same world as in BLACK SUN: vertiginous high rises next to rubble-filled wastelands, bustling streets and crammed apartments, the city as a playground for male irreverence, black music as fetish, and also as a way to make sense of it all.

It´s not quite as successful as the later film, I think, but it might be more complex, or at least more conflicted. In the beginning it´s all about attitude, trying to escape the boundaries of one´s own face, every need must be satisfied before it even registers as a need. Later on, this raw antisocial power, more physiognomy than sociology, is pitted against female despair gradually blown up into a full-blown bourgeois melodrama. There´s no tension worth resolving, though, just two completely incompatible modes of being (and of imagemaking) unfolding due to their own logic, leading to a final breakdown of stylized stillness.

Prison Nurse, James Cruze, 1938

Crams in a lot and some of it might stick if a better digital version appears someday.

Laplace`s Witch, Takashi Miike, 2018

A bit dull at times, maybe mostly because of the boring lead: Sakurai doesn´t have much to do in the first place, and he isn´t an interesting blank slate either - more like a bland slate. Still, I like the Young Adult mystery feel (Miike might´ve made a good guest director on PRETTY LITTLE LIARS), the Schubert touch, and also the movement from procedural mechanics to rather unspecific romanticism. Any film that pulls off, without any postmodernist shenanigans, a metaphysical standoff on a decrepit movie set can´t be all that bad.

Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht, Ludwig Berger, 1932

Another marvel, the Pommer style executed in fluid perfection. Unlike the more outward-bound, expansive DER KONGRESS TANZT and DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE, this is a musical of interiors and interiorities, a comedy of mistaken identity folding in on itself: the lovers sleep in the same bed from the start, so it´s just a question of getting them there at the same time; a question of synchronizing, of blending two lives, two space-times - and also two movies - onto each other. This is not about romantic conquest, but about matchmaking and filmmaking becoming one and the same: an artistic practice that gives us access to our own desires.

The first breakthrough happens during a lock-in in Sanssouci, and you realize: this is what these rooms were built for, not for representation of autority, for oppression or for splendor for its own sake, but for Willy Fritsch and Käthe von Nagy discovering each other.

Schuberts Frühlingstraum, Richard Oswald, 1931

In theory, Jöken is not the worst choice for playing Schubert: a soft, chubby romantic, all pastries and feeling; unfortunately his fake Viennese accent really is terrible... and this is not the only problem in a film that often feels clumsy or at least jarring. Oswald doesn´t seem to be particularly engaged, often he probably just let the camera roll and let the actors do their thing. This is what he did in WIEN, DU STADT DER LIEDER, too, and there it worked wonders, but this time, despite the presence of Siegfried Arno and Lucie Englisch, the results are often underwhelming. The ending though, with Schubert cowering at the edge of the frame, sidelined by his own music, is so beautiful, it makes up for a lot.

Anyway, no match for Forst´s LEISE KLAGEN MEINE LIEDER.

Terra Formars, Takashi Miike, 2016

Garish colors, inventive cgi and a grim premise about mutual extermination executed with straightforward precision. Miike fully commits to everything he signs on to, and for that alone you got to love him. He also always manages to at least hint at some real pain behind all the mayhem, like here in some of the flashbacks.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik der Gesellschaft, S. 11-30, "Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft"

Dass Kritiker_innen immer schon embedded sind, Teil dessen, was sie zu kritisieren vorgeben, darauf wird heute oft genug verwiesen. Mir scheint, dass die Argumente einer solchen Kritikkritik oft auf einer von zwei Schienen verlaufen: Entweder heißt es, diese oder jene kritische Praxis "reproduziere Strukturen", aufgrund dieser oder jener (oft identitätspolitisch gedachten) Setzung; oder aber, sie sei bloße Elfenbeinturmschreiberei, selbstbezügliches Insidertum, deshalb nutzlos und von Anfang an Teil des Problems. Beide Schienen haben für die auf sie Gesetzten den Vorteil, dass die Kritikkritik nicht, oder höchstens rhetorisch, zur Kritikselbstkritik ausgebaut werden muss. Die Reproduktion von Strukturen anzuklagen heißt schon fast automatisch, sich selbst aus dieser Reproduktion auszuklammern, was vor allem deshalb funktioniert, weil die Strukturen als reine Sprachstrukturen gedacht sind, weshalb sich jede Kritik automatisch performativ selbst bestätigt. Die Elfenbeinturmschreiberei zu kritisieren heißt hingegen zu insinuieren, dass eine Nichtelfenturmschreiberei möglich sei und bereits in der Anrufung dieser Möglichkeit virtuell geleistet werde.

Adorno sind diese Auswege verschlossen. Die Kritik ist bei ihm nicht aufgrund einer spezifischen sozialen Positionierung Teil des Problems, sondern sie wird es durch den Akt des Kritisierens selbst; beziehungsweise: die problembehaftete soziale Positionierung jeder Kritik entspringt einer Aporie im Herzen des Begriffs der Kritik. Dass und wie diese Aporie wiederum gesellschaftlich vermittelt, aber gleichzeitig unüberwindbar ist, scheint die zentrale Fluchtlinie der Argumentation zu sein.

Der Text ist einer der negativsten, pessimistischsten, den ich bisher von Adorno gelesen habe. Zumeist läuft seine Argumentation doch auf eine, wie sehr auch immer von Paradoxien und Praxisvorbehalten verstellte Errettungsfiktion zu. Hier jedoch taucht die Vision einer befreiten Welt, die keiner separaten Sphäre der Kultur und damit der Kulturkritik bedarf, nur einmal kurz zwischendurch auf, als Nebenbemerkung, die gar nicht mehr an Realisierung denken lässt; stattdessen zerstören sich im zweiten Teil des Essays, nachdem das Problem einmal angemessen allumfassend dystopisch ausformuliert ist, die (ideologiekritisch-)transzendentale und die immanente Kulturkritik gegenseitig, ohne dass eine, wiewohl ebenfalls kurz angedeutete dialektische Integration beider Momente in Sicht wäre.

Mir scheint, dass die Einwände gegen die erste Methode heute driftiger sind, vielleicht nur deshalb, weil die zweite, immanente, sich ohnehin mit dem Begriff von Kultur, auf den sie sich bezieht (Kultur als eine autonome, wie vermittelt auch immer doch stets Idealen von Schönheit und Harmonie verpflichteten Geistessphäre), erledigt hat.

Oder erhält sie gerade dadurch, durch die Obsoletheit ihres Objekts in Bezug aufs realexistierende Gesellschaftssystem, ein widerständiges Moment? Adorno hätte einen solchen Gedanken vermutlich eiskalt abgeschmettert; sein Ablehnung des vermeintlich Anachronistischen, die wiederkehrende Rede vom "Stand der geistigen Produktivkräfte", ist mir nicht immer ganz geheuer, wirkt manchmal doch wie ein Fetisch höherer Ordnung.

Wie gesagt, mich überzeugt die Kritik der Ideologiekritik mehr: Wenn immer, automatisch, zunächst nach dem Sprecherstandpunkt gefragt wird, erhält Ideologiekritik etwas Sortierendes, Polizeiliches, Mechanisches (mechanisch: deshalb vielleicht langweilt mich Bourdieu, dem ich sicher trotzdem Unrecht tue) - und das ist vielleicht nicht einmal das Hauptproblem. Der viel beängstigendere Gedanke besteht darin, dass es vielleicht längst nichts mehr zu Sortierendes gibt. Die Argumente gegen eine transzendentale Ideologiekritik, die Kultur abstrakt als falsches Bewusstsein durchschauen will und die stets zumindest implizit einen ideologie-, deshalb auch kulturfreien Naturzustand herbeisehnt, sind vor allem deshalb so schlüssig, weil der Prozess der Entsubstantialisierung von Ideologie, den Adorno beschreibt, heute noch einmal deutlich weiter fortgeschritten sein düfte als in dem Nachkriegsdeutschland, über das Adorno schreibt.

Ein (rätselhafter, faszinierender) Schlüsselsatz im Text dazu: "Kulturkritik wird zur gesellschaftlichen Physiognomik" (25). Das Verhältnis von Kultur zu Ökonomie ist nicht mehr zu denken als das von Ursache zu Wirkung, sondern als das blinde Ineinandergreifen zweier eng miteinander verschalteten Teile einer Maschine. Ideologie wird hermetisch durch ihre Transparenz, weil die divergierenden Ideologeme nichts mehr verbergen, ausser der Tatsache, dass Kultur in Zeiten der modernen Massengesellschaft, das ist die vielleicht erstaunlichste Formulierung des Textes, "in all ihren Stücken gleich nah dem Mittelpunkt" (25) ist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

last week in letterboxd

O Movimento das Coisas, Manuela Serra, 1985

Dough to be kneaded, grasses to be cut, soil to be tilled. It´s all about the materiality of agricultural life, not as physical immediacy, though, but as function of both rural social life and pastoral landscape. One might be tempted to read this as a celebration of a cyclical, eternal order, until a young woman returns to this so very green space, back from her work at a sewing room. A freeze frame marks the rupture: With her, another kind of temporality enters the film. We are now, and have probably always been, unknowingly, in the realm of change, of history. The woman´s detachment, hidden behind her convivial openness, painted into her city face, transforms, with the help of the soft poison of music, our preception of a world, of a way of life.

What´s left is, on one hand, the beauty of landscape, gradually revealing itself to be dreamlike, something cut off from history (as progress), until it´s finally swallowed up by the mist of 19th century romanticism; and, on the other, there´s ritual, people singing, celebrating, worshipping together in order to forge their own reality.

Sex-Crime Coast: Piranha School, Shogoro Nishimura, 1973

Teases with speedboat sex in the first minutes, before turning into a rather tight-plotted, satirical pinku not all that committed to its own mean-spiritedness. It´s more about the looks the women through back at the violent men, but unfortunately the film doesn´t really explore what kind of desires may lie dormant there. Also, when it comes to fucking, everyone becomes strangely bodiless all of a sudden, and not only because of censorship. Only one woman, the mistress of the older guy, is allowed to reveal her live, naked pulse.


Stylish enough in a second-hand kind of way - a film literally oozing in early 70s textures cannot not be stylish, even if Nishimura´s direction doesn´t seem particularly engaged this time around.

Die optische Industriegesellschaft oder darf’s ein viertel Pfund mehr sein?, Riki Kalbe, 1983

The hook alone makes this one worthwile: An abstract political comedy centered around teletext! And it´s very funny, too, especially the repeated shot of an obscene cable being inserted, squishingly, into Berlin´s lower parts.

Stop!, Bill Gunn, 1970

On the claustrophobic nature of sexual desire - there´s always too much and not enough space between us at the same time.

Just as hypnotic as that other Bill Gunn vampire film, and probably even darker.

(The awful version floating around allows a tentative appraisal at best, but this feels much more rounded and formally accomplished than most other New Hollywood experiments of the era. That scene with Linda Marsh paying the prostitute - none of the "classics" would´ve been able to pull something like this off so perfectly.)

Lullaby of Death, Yasuzo Masumura, 1982

Not at all a perfect film, especially not in terms of economy of suspense: there´s way too much plot, and way too much insistence on plot, the one big twist is visible miles ahead and still treated like an earth-shattering revelation... All of it feels very written, a literary adaptation that doesn´t quite manage to translate its source into another medium. Also, both male leads are somewhat off, the first one is overacting like there´s no tomorrow and the second one comes off pretty bland...

Still, I was constantly engaged and rather touched at the end. Masumura seems to want it all: a well-oiled, twisty butcher´s hook potboiler, a self-contained world of the bizarre and psychosexual (like in BLIND BEAST), and a sweeping vista of japanese society, encompassing all strata of society and harking back in history to WW2. The resulting tensions are never completely resolved, but Masumura also doesn´t try to hide them, on the contrary, he doubles down on all of his diverging impulses. A film at odds with itself, but also a thinking film.

Shima Iwashita is a fascinating, quietly endearing presence, even in a creepy role. Makes me want to watch AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON again.

Hellzapoppin`, H.C. Potter, 1941

A triumph of vaudeville over cinema. So total a victory that one time, one single film was enough. This is settled now.

Strange, though, that Olsen and Johnson mostly appear like visitors in their own movie. In the end, it´s a Martha Raye show. She´s the showstopper of showstoppers, again and again. Her garden house dance with Mischa Auer might be my favorite scene (next to the Congaroo dancers, of course), a manifesto of antiromantic artifice.

Adrenalin: Fear the Rush, Albert Pyun, 1996

Leave it all behind, let the world, be it Slovakia or Boston, fade away into an incoherent mist of post-communist pulp-epidemics, make your way through mossy streets - speaking of a history we´ll never have access to - and then enter another world, a world of stone, metal, dripping water, dripping light. A space totally coherent and totally incoherent at the same time. There´s teeth in there somewhere, bloody, gawning, and sometimes muzzle flash. Sensual reality reduced to a few key sensations, like the narrowness and sudden wideness of corridors, or the impact of bullets penetrating flesh. Two bodies, two points of access: Christopher Lambert, man of sorrows, endlessly vulnerable, Natasha Henstridge, woman of determination, untouchable.

Le sexe faible, Robert Siodmak, 1933

Shitty lovers of all nations. Not always well-calibrated, especially when it comes to performance. The cynical touches towards the end fit Siodmak´s sensibilities, though: one close-up of golden jewellery dangling from a wrist is worth more than all high-flying resolutions to change one´s life.

Also, this is one of those films that make me think that the early 30s were the only time there was a truly trans-european cinema. Lots of ethnic stereotypes, of course, but in the end everyone can talk with - or fuck - everyone. (Might even be transcontinental, this time, Betty Stockfeld´s lanky american heiress is the one true highlight of the film.)

Hairpin Circus, Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1972

Closed circuit driving. Back then, he was a race car driver, now he works as a driving school instructor. In the end it doesn´t matter: you´ll always drive around in circles, at the Macao Grand Prix just as much as in the maze of rainy, jazzy, somber-coloured Tokyo streets. Cars remind him of other cars, women only really exist in relation to cars. At home, with his wife, he feels nothing, he has to open the window to let the noise of engines in, at least.

A car film of stubborn, hypnotic purity. No escape, no wide horizon, like in the american films this obviously makes one think of. All epiphanies have to be won from within, through repetition. A fetish film that moves beyond fetish: If you keep on pushing, at some point the cars really turn into sexual organ, and it doesn´t even feel pornographic. No voyeuristic thrill, just a long, shared, if somewhat flat intimate machinistic orgasm.

The Great Garrick, James Whale, 1937
Life as playacting, yes, but in Whale, acting isn´t a mode of deception and seduction (like in Lubitsch; the script is based on an Ernest-Vajda-play), but a neverending process of the expression and invention (expression by way of a constant reinvention) of self-as-other. Aherene´s Garrick might be the ultimate Whale creation: even when confronted with earth-shattering news, it takes him only a few seconds to completely remodel himself, outwardly as well as inwardly. Even the most awkward humiliation can be instantly repurposed as larger than life self-pity. Or rather: almost instantly. For a few moments you see his engine stuttering, then he´s in full swing again.

Every unmasking is just another masking, and also the other way around: every masking an unmasking. There´s no man behind the mask, but also no lack, no want for authenticity, for self-identity.

De Havilland might not have the most rewarding role, mostly she´s just a blank slate for Aherne to play off against, but she gets the most beautiful shot in the film: the reflecting mirror of the pond, the reeds being pushed aside like a curtain, revealing her face, upside down. That whole garden scene has the same air of otherworldly artificiality I found so mesmerizing in THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR.

Broadway Melody of 1940, Norman Taurog, 1940

A depression slowly starting to turn inward musical of considerable beauty. Taurog delivers running gags with the attitude of an accomplished, but detached and somewhat melancholical showman.

Trixie Firschke!

Dames, Ray Enright, 1934

Favorite moment, this time: Joan Blondell exchanging glances with a bird at the end of "Girl With The Ironing Board".

Always in My Heart, Hideo Oba, 1953

First part of a blockbuster romantic melodrama trilogy. The beginning is taken directly from WATERLOO BRIDGE, but later things take a different route. A point of comparison might be Matarazzo´s Nazzari / Sanson series (making sense of post-war modernity by way of an antiquated narrative form), although Oba is clearly a lesser director. Still, the leads are engaging, the pacing is rather fast and the whole thing is immensely watchable.

Once in a Lifetime, Russell Mack, 1932

Very pleasant showbiz comedy about a film studio as a system of self-contained and self-perpetuating absurdity. Some of the more direct celebrity jabs feel a bit off (is this really supposed to be Mary Pickford?), but MacMahon and Oakie make for a wonderful comedic team, with the former gradually losing control over the latter and the film, as a result, gradually descending into full-blown insanity. ZaSu Pitts shines too, like always.

The Black Camel, Hamilton MacFadden, 1931

A rather lush production compared with later programmers of its kind, the Hawaii setting is used to good effect, and there are some unexpected offbeat precode touches like the painter-bum hiding out at his lover´s beach getaway. The mystery mechanics aren´t all that well-oiled, though.