Sunday, February 16, 2020

letterboxd backup (13)

Der Zigeunerbaron, Karl Hartl, 1935

As a musical, this doesn't work all that well, there's only a small number of songs, and most are cut short or otherwise compromised. But Hartl still manages to provide an engaging romantic comedy adventure extravaganza, because of beautifully constructed sets, a fluent visual style and especially because of Wohlbrück, who dominates the film with the kind of hyper-virile, playful masculinity that (at least western) cinema seems to have lost access to about half a century ago. His bouncy, forceful, but also dance-like gait alone is a marvel. Unfortunately, the two female leads can't quite keep up with him.

Domino, Brian de Palma, 2019

have to see this again, i guess i might find more in it when i make a conscious effort to tolerate the eurotrash production design, but in any case now i do hope even more that de palma gets to make predator. he clearly isn't finished yet but he also clearly needs better producers.

on second sight:

It grows on me, although it still takes effort to accept the general lack of glamour. Strange (especially given the fact that this probably is a producer's cut) that the only coherent and thought through strand is the one about Carice van Houten's grief. The scene in front of the windmill is beautiful.

Carolina Blues, Leigh Jason, 1944

Wartime backstage musical without much plot beyond let's keep up the show whatever the cost. Kay Kyser is annoying and a lot of the material both on and especially off stage is bland, but the Harold Nicholas number is an absolute marvel that wouldn't have felt out of place in STORMY WEATHER, and Ann Miller has one nice, short dance scene.

Les quatre cents coups, Francois Truffaut, 1959

Watching it immediately after LES MISTONS brought its strength into focus: Everything that feels flimsy to the point of insufferable in the earlier film - the stylization of memory and self-image, the impulses of cinephilia - turns into something touching and rich because of Leaud's unwillingness to give up his secrets and Truffaut's decision to accept just that.

The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine, 2019

Down in the southernmost corner of Florida, in Key West, where America breaks away into the warm ocean, where continental attitude and selfassurance bleed into the southern sea, Moondog lives. The caribbean connection is key in the latest film of America's greatest ethnographic filmmaker, it mellows and liquifies the images, it infuses them with colours that bleed around the edges of the frame, but at the same time, paradoxically, it provides a grounding, an anchor, not in a set of rules, but in a general fit of people and surroundings. Only here, in the Keys, Moondog's aesthetic approach to life feels natural, frictionless.

The true bizarro freak-outs only start when the guy heads north, towards the mainland, the highrises, the institutions, the millionaires (and their others), the tourists (and the sharks). To be sure, even in Florida proper things do not really harden up, the claims the world has on Moondog stay vague, but still, sometimes he has to make a conscious effort to break away, from capital, and also from morality (this is what some people on the left seem to be irritated by: in THE BEACH BUM, leaving behind capitalism also means leaving behind the moral universe).

Only in Key West Moondog can write, here his white cat companion patiently waits for him to return from his journey and also from a narrative that finally releases him completely undigested after having thrown everything at him capitalist melodrama has to offer.

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Snoop Dogg is smooth like alien royalty, but the biggest sensation is soft-spoken, desperately happy Martin Lawrence.

Aladdin, Bruno Corbucci, 1986

The drunk Bud Spencer scene is great. Aside from that everyone and everything is so laid back and pleasant that I wish there were at least some good ideas, too.

Tirez sur le pianiste, Francois Truffaut, 1960

On family ties and the necessary, but necessarily false attempts to escape them.

Okasu!, Yasuharu Hasebe, 1976

The summary on here has nothing to do with the movie. No one in it enjoys being raped. Still, as a film with nothing but rape on its mind it closes of discourse from the start, which only in one or two scenes leads to somewhat interesting glimpses of the radically antisocial.

Our Last Day, Cheang Pou Soi, 1999

Another shot on video film by Cheang Pou Soi, and this one feels completely different than THE HOUSE OF NO MAN, probably at least partly because he wrote the script himself. It's similarly bare bones low budget and shares with it some of its weirder quirks like the mostly ill-fitted english language pop tunes on the soundtrack (once again, there's a country western song thrown in...), but it is also much more alive and personal. The first part plays out a bit like a more existentialist and darker version of 90s Hongkong romance films of the fate keeping them apart kind, while the second half, completely set around a closet in the female lead's appartment, grows into a dense, claustrophobic psycho-horror melodrama. Visually, it's all over the place, but there's a lot of manic, desperate energy and Grace Lam is an interesting actress.

The Sparrow, Youssef Chahine, 1972

A layered thriller channeling the experience of being sidestepped by history: the battlefield is always one postcard away and the war is over and lost before anyone in the film realizes it. The dense, a bit overpopulated (at least for someone not that well versed in egyptian political history) plot flows along smoothly, but also breathless; only once in a while someone rests for a moment in order to take a look into the mirror - that is, always only at himself. Everyone's a narcissist, in one way or the other.
Once in a while, love and desire come crushing in, like a physical force. Seif El Dine as Raouf is marvellous, one of the most sensuous male leads I've seen in a while, especially in the beginning, in the village, his shirt clenched in sweat, his feeverish, eager glances towards the veiled women. While doing the laundry, one of them is seen with bare legs, and thereby momentarily destabilzes the filmic gaze.
Back in the city, sex stops being a source of primal negativity and becomes a social possibility. Raouf, then, turns out to be a romantic.

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The film ends with all the different political and erotic motifs dissolving into a nationalist fervour that is, however, synonymous with defeat.

Ich war zuhause, aber, Angela Schanelec, 2019

For Schanelec, the realization that there's no natural oneness of experience is not a big, scandalous discovery (as it is in so many bad art films), but just a matter of fact starting point for her own explorations. This might be the reason she finds beauty in everything, even in a teachers' lounge.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Of course it's a shame that hollywood has to turn everything into tentpole grandiosity these days, even the few smaller scale films that managed to get away. But if you have to go big, this is the way to go. Constantly inventive, and constantly more inventive than showy, for example in the Halle Berry fight scene: the dogs are used for tactics first, for visual carnage second.
The colours are, once again, the most beautiful thing since the death of analog cinema. The gradually expanding colour dramaturgy during the final big set piece in the Continental is what cinema was invented for.

Schattenboxer, Michael Fengler, 1977

Shoots for the kind of streetsmart, downbeat authenticity that seldom works in german cinema outside of Lemke. And neither does it here. It looks stylish enough and the music is effective, too, but everything feels terribly wooden and cringy as soon as someone, anyone opens his mouth.
I love Marquard Bohm, but he clearly only goes through the motions, here. Zacher is better, but can't save the film.
(For a much more interesting and successfull film roughly in the same vein see Dieter Meier's JETZT UND ALLES. Or, of course, Lemke, whose films are, however, almost always first and foremost comedies.)

Aladdin, Guy Richie, 2019

Thanks to the lively production design and the mostly good casting this is a bit better than one would expect a Guy Richie ALADDIN to be. However, it's still completely unfunny, basically styleless and every time it departs from the 1992 version (especially when it comes to Jasmin's character) its lack of insight becomes obvious. Whoever prefers this to Burton's thoughtful DUMBO must have a sensorium completely different from mine.

The Flame and the Arrow, Jacques Tourneur, 1950

Tourneur and Lancaster might not be a natural fit, but like it is said in the film: "We're civilized and the art of civilization is doing natural things in an unnatural way." In THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, the director and his star meet in their affinity with poetic studio artifice. Appropriately, the true place of civilization in the film isn't the castle, but the rebel's save haven - a magic studio forest in the midst of antique ruins.
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Another inversion: Mayo's abduction plays out like a metaphorical rape scene; however, once she is captured and chained, her relationship with Lancaster plays out like a BDSM romance, with her having the upper hand most of the time.
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The film's most graceful moment: Lancaster's short dance with the baby bear.

Robin and the 7 Hoods, Gordon Douglas, 1964

The main storyline is a bit dull, and there aren't quite enough diversions from it, but most of the songs are good, the Sammy Davis Jr. solo especially is downright spectacular: a trigger-happy man-child, parading on the bar counter, like something out of

a Bob Clampett cartoon. Douglas has quite a lot of fun with the awkward-dinner-table-conversation-followed-by-seduction setup repeated several times over the course of the film.

King of Kings, Nicholas Ray, 1961

Ray goes all in, and he kind of beats you down. While I was rather bored over long stretches of this, in the last half hour, I was positively transfixed. And well, Jesus really made it, he was resurrected after all.

Some of the split diopter shots are really weird.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Richard Lester, 1966

Really wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. As a conscious throwback to earlier forms of comedy (going all the way back, in the end, to Mack Sennett) this could easily have felt rather academic, but the energy flow never stops and the direction is flexible enough to sustain interest even after the fifth identity mixup featuring some grumpy old fool chasing another grumpy old fool wearing a blonde wig.

Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death, Bing Lin, 1975

Except for the strange prolog, this is a rather straighforward low budget martial arts film with a decent lead who's underwhelming only when compared to the original. Towards the end, when he fights his way, floor by floor, through a pagoda by way of combating a series of rather flamboyant opponents, a low-key surreal feel creeps in.

The Black Shield of Falworth, Rudolf Mate, 1954

Tony Curtis is athletic enough, but he still looks a bit ridiculous in all of his different costumes and armours here, and the film, unfortunately, doesn't quite know what to do with this ridiculousness. Medieval sex farce would've been the way to go (ok, when I had a say in it, this would be the way to go for almost every film set even slightly in the past...), some of the scenes with Curtis, Leigh, (a wasted) Barbara Rush and this other guy in the castle's garden are a all too virtuous delight. Everything else never moves beyond dull competence.

Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille, 1949

The woman with the golden hair and golden armour throwing golden spears on a lion's skin... isn't even the true fetish object of the scene, because up there on the wall sits her sister eating fruit, already undressing Victor Mature with here gaze. (A film about toxic femininity, as someone put it after the film; about the female gaze, too, and about a woman mobilizing the forces of the peacock.)

Soon after, Mature rejects the spear because he wants to fight the lion with his bare hands.

Christianity's and america's id unleashed, roaming freely through magnificent studio artifice (the apotheosis of the composite shot)... Lamarr's glamour is met, point for point, by hunky Mature's elegance (the way he handles objects is amazing throughout the film), and both are allowed to bloom because of the strict objectivity of De Mille's Mise en scene.

Seing this almost back to back with KING OF KINGS validated, once again, my preference for the old when it comes to both testaments and hollywood.

Friday, February 14, 2020

letterboxd backup (12)

The Third Man, Carol Reed, 1949

I always thought I had seen this and that I'd found it to be a bit academic. Now that I have seen it from a beautiful print I don't think I ever saw it before, and while it nevertheless feels a tiny bit academic, it's also playful and extremely touching once the love story becomes front and center. I also suppose I might have confused it with HANGMEN ALSO DIE, a film I, strangely enough, always thought Orson Welles acted in. So I seem to have transferred a Welles performance I hadn't seen in the first place to a completely different movie.

Brand in der Oper, Carl Froelich, 1930

Another German film from 1930 that hit me from out of nowhere (it probably shouldn't have, given the Walter Reisch script). As an early sound feature, it isn't as smooth as ZWEI HERZEN IM DREIVIERTELTAKT, let alone DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE, and in fact, parts of it feel like an awkward live television drama.

But once you make your peace with the bumpy start-stop-rhythm, it turns into an inventive backstage comedy with strong melodramatic elements and an extremely touching Gründgens performance that seems to quite openly acknowledge his closeted homosexuality (in this very sense: he plays a man who is in and stays in the closet). Gustav Fröhlich as his ultra virile assistent, rival and not quite love interest is very good, too, while the female lead, Alexa von Engström, appears inhibited all the time (or at least, when she's not singing), but somehow this also fits very well into this trange, fascinating film. There's a heartbreaking scene near the end in which Gründgens unsuccesfully tries to elicit some kind of response from her. She just stares on in silence, for closeup after closeup.

Then there's the inferno in the end, harrowing images harking back to silent montage cinema.

Im weißen Rössl, Willi Forst, 1952

Erik Charell looking for his place in the popular cinema of the Bundesrepublik. His first try is not as great as FEUERWERK which comes two years later and is shot through with a desire for another world. Here, on the other hand, what you see is what you get. Heimat is no mythical place we must all return to, but just another stage filled with stock characters torturing each other. The only release from the pressures of society comes through alcohol in a claustrophobic all-male Wirtshauskeller scene. After the hangover, the Kaiser arrives. Everyone goes mad and the film virtually stops still for 20 minutes of marching and dancing, at the same time a wonderfully designed Charell ornament and the self-image of an authoritaran society. Afterwards the romantic entanglements unravel elegantly - a kiss under every umbrella.

The whole thing oscillates between being beautiful in a creepy way (the romcom stuff, probably Forst's contribution) and being creepy in a beautiful way (the Charellian Wirtshauskeller and Kaiser celebration scenes). Strangely enough, my favorite among the generally very good cast is Heesters.

Knights, Albert Pyun, 1993

Vaguely intrigued. The monument valley, plunged in poisonous direct to video colors, Kristofferson's deadpan performance, the medieval vampire western scifi setup... It didn't quite come together for me, but I gues I'll have to check out more Pyun.
Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola, 1992

As inventive as I remembered it to be, but maybe also a bit more tiring in its insistence on not only liquifiying filmic space and time as thoroughly as possible, but also diligently working through all of those plot points, too. In a way, DRACULA carries the tension between classicism and stylization evident in all of the good Coppola films (especially those of the 80s) to the extreme.

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Early 90s auteur meta literary horror cinema ("I don't know whether to look at him or read him"):

DRACULA
THE DARK HALF
IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
CAPE FEAR
NAKED LUNCH

Quo Vadis, Mervyn LeRoy, 1951

A slow start, thanks to the miscasting of both Taylor and Kerr as well as to christianity's obvious lack of style. Once the Ustinov show begins I'm on board, though, Still, this could have been much better - the best characters (Eunice and Acte) are wasted in just a few short scenes.

The Freezing Point, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1966

The potboiler script is beyond redemption even after the first 20 minutes, and it just keeps on adding "scandalous" material in an almost mechanical fashion (why not throwing in incestuos desire for the heck of it, in a single, lurid shot), but on a scene by scene basis, this still works quite well, thanks to a good use of space and Michiyo Ōkusu's magnificent performance.

The House I Live In, Mervyn LeRoy, 1945

Scrolling down here, people seem to be astonished by the fact that a film made only months after the end of World War 2 celebrates the bombing of a japanese warship. Depressing to see that not just the facts, but the very concept of history is always on the verge of slipping away.

Im weißen Rössl, Karel Lamac, 1935

Not stylish enough to compare to the 1952 version, but Thimig is a nice, passive-aggressive Leopold and there's a rather chaotic charme to the whole thing. Works better as a comedy about provincial manners than as a musical.

Late Spring, Yasujiro Ozu, 1949

New favorite / most heartbreaking moment (will probably change with every viewing): Setsuko Hara finally giving in to the marriage plans, while sitting in the most private, lonely space available to her, in the quiet room upstairs, facing a chest of drawers.

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, Tsui Hark, 2018

Tsui Hark, the only director of digital cinema.

Latin Lovers, Mervyn LeRoy, 1953

The plot itself is rather stupid: a lot of romantic push and pull based on what amouts a bit too literally to rich people's problems... Along the way, there are hints at sophistication (mostly in the scenes focussing on the very good supporting cast), but they're lost between bland songs and an unimaginative studio Brazil.

Still, I ended up liking it. Mostly because of scenes like the one in which Lana Turner ventures into a dark stable, is being grabbed and kissed by Ricardo Montalban, and then walks back outside, into the technicolor sunlight. Not a single word is spoken, and Turner stays cool, detached and unreadable throughout. Almost as if she's at the same time inside and outside of her body, exploring her erotic fantasies, but also analyzing herself. And also: as if her screen name should really be Vanessa, not Nora Taylor. In her own icy way, Lana Turner might be a predecessor of all of these 70s euro softcore heroines, exploring, without fear but also without much emotional involvement, "exotic" sexscapes.

Tetro, Francis Ford Coppola, 2009

I remember not liking this the first time around, mostly because of its unreserved embrace of Gallo’s suffering artist as asshole performance. But I guess in the end it is this very commitment and the lack of distance resulting from it that makes the film interesting and turns it into something more than a decidedly bizarro version of the GODFATHER saga. For the most part, TETRO consists of nothing but a series of transgessions of personal boundaries, with the implicit assumption being that, in the end, this is the only valid definition of art. You don’t have to agree to be impressed by Coppola’s argument.

Rose Marie, Mervyn LeRoy, 1954

Ann Blyth and Fernando Lamas sing three love duets - the first one face to face, the second one balcony to window (the scope framing still manages to encompass both of them), the third one forest hill to mountain cave, with Blyth's voice and its echo (technically it's not a duet, Lamas is too teary to sing) providing the only tangible link between the both of them. Their love gradually eludes representation - and indeed, in the end they vanish together into the woods, becoming one not with nature per se, but with one of those beautiful MGM technicolor vistas that are always already inner spaces, no matter if filmed on location or in the studio.

Indeed, the problem with ROSE MARIE isn't the frequent use of matte painting (it's always integrated perfectly), but rather the fact that everything besides the Blyth / Lamas romance - which doesn't really start until one hour into the film - is treated rather shodilly, at least for LeRoy's standards. The story flows not as smoothly as normally and while Howard Keel seems to have a lot of fans among imdb reviewers, I don't really get his appeal, at least not in this film. Even the Berkeley directed Indian Dance scene doesn't come off quite as spectacular as it could have - the camera doesn't completely free itself from the perspective of the two white onlookers. (Is this the first Berkeley scene in cinemascope?)

The Cotton Club, Francis Ford Coppola, 1984

Might be Coppola's best 80s work. Like its three predecessors, the film longs for the wholeness of a thoroughly self-sufficient aesthetic system, and THE COTTON CLUB probably comes closest to this goal, because this time, Coppola even manages to incorporate history as a dynamic force (instead of as a static one, like in the Hinton films). There really is no outside any more. And still, this is where Gere is heading towards in the end.

Rewatching most of his work, I find almost everything Coppola made after the first GODFATHER a bit exhausting. In mostly inspiring ways, to be sure (actually, his least exhausting later films are his worst), but nowhere this sense of conceptual and sensual overreach makes more sense than in THE COTTON CLUB, the ultimate inner city entertainment industry steam boiler film.

Also, Coppola's old-hollywood-nostalgia was never more pronounced than here, and at the same it never got transformed into something new this well.

The contrast between James Remar's primal fuckedupness and Richard Gere's applied smoothness, the latter at the same time the perfect inversion and the logical successor of the former...

The Square, Ruben Östlund, 2017

Östlund may not be quite the right-wing version of Haneke I thought him to be after PLAY (although there certainly are elements of this in here, too). In fact, THE SQUARE is even worse. Haneke and Östlund share a mechanistic view of society, but Haneke at least tries to translate it into (in his best films: confront it with) well-observed social situations. Here, except for some of the scenes with Christian and his daughters, absolutely nothing rings true. Almost all of those elaborately set up scenes derail in completely absurd ways, for the sole reason of extracting, each time, the most cynical payoff possible. Some of the worst examples: the sex scene and especially the conversation about it in front of the swaying chairs a bit later; the big centerpiece performance scene; the press conference in the end. If your only trick is stacking the deck (always in the same way, always for the same purpose), at least put some real effort into it. I mean, the contemporary art scene is such an easy target, how can this still fail that miserably?

All of this doesn't even start to convey the fundamental joylessness of it all. THE SQUARE plays out like SOUTH PARK retooled as a European arthouse film. Only that it is so much less fun than that sounds.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Francis Ford Coppola, 1988

A bit too relentlessly upbeat in both tone and rhythm for my taste, but before everything else I was touched by Coppola making a film so obviously about himself, without any form of safety net or ironic detachement. It's not enough to draw up a fancy concept, or to build a single prototype for advertising purposes - you have to set up a complete production line, you have to create another, better industry parallel to but separate from the existing, compromised one, even if you're running on fumes from the start. With this film, Coppola once again declares that his greatest achievement is neither THE GODFATHER nor APOCALYPSE NOW, but the short-lived Zoetrope Studio era - his shot at transforming cinema once again into an art for the people.

In a way, Tucker is so much tied to Coppola that Bridges doesn't really succeed in making him his own. The true emotional center of the film is Landau, and especially his pleading gaze in the closeups. In the end, what is being crushed by the corporate/political power conglomerate isn't the capitalist spirit, but rather the possibility of forgiveness.

Plunder Road, Hubert Cornfield, 1957

The sealing of the net and the last poor bastards trying to make it through anyway. PLUNDER ROAD holds its own next to similar but more expansive work by directors like Siegel and Karlson thanks to its tight, process oriented structure and its focus on material detail: this is one of very few heist films that actually pay attention to the physical attributes (especially the density) of gold.

Im weißen Rössl, Werner Jacobs, 1960

The whole production isn't as rich and well-rounded as in the 1952 version (also, Adrian Hoven is a decidedly poor substitute for Heesters), but Peter Alexander's star turn almost completely makes up for it. I'm still surprised everytime when realizing how great he was at his prime. The scope of his performance is truly marvelous in this, as is, especially, his ability to suddenly switch gears, often multiple times over the span of a few seconds. Also, the role of an austrian head waiter fits him perfectly. There's a special kind of servile arrogance that seems to come with the territory and Alexander excels in it. He still would be a big hit in Vienna's coffee houses, today.

Strange Lady in Town, Mervyn LeRoy, 1955

Far from perfect, but more interesting than most of Leroy's 1950s MGM films. It is his only true western, but even this one focuses on characters the genre normally leaves at the sidelines. In fact, in the first half the genre almost completely fades into the background, as the film is clearly set up as a vehicle for Garson building up on her biopics about strong, independent women. All of this feels a bit clunky, unfortunately (although the idea of healing Billy the Kid's toothache is nice), but the film picks up when the stakes are raised. The relationship between Garson and Lois Smith's character is interesting, a double outsiderness directly asssociated with the antisocial.

Great production design and excellent use of widescreen, especially in the indoor scenes.

Atlantis, Eckhart Schmidt, 1970

"love suspends the shrinking effect". a wonderfully sweet and gentle film about female supremacy.

Wir machen Musik, Helmut Käutner, 1943

Another Käutner marvel. Music is everywhere, but not like in an integrated musical - neither an infinite ressource, nor an idealized realm of perfect expression, music rather appears like a not always all that usefull habit one is unable to shake off. More specifically, the film is about the interdependences between music and love. Both can interfere with just as easily as complement each other. And the main problem is: you never know beforehand which way things will go. Like when Karl, after a clash with Anni, sits down at the piano in order to issue a musical peace offering - while not even realizing that she takes her leave in the background of the shot. Both being in love and being a musician are, in the end, first and foremost neurotic conditions.

Ilse Werner is a weird presence in this, especially her rather sudden (and not really explained) transformation from tomboyish awkwardness to glamour goddess.

The Hustle, Chris Addison, 2019

The main reason this doesn't really work is general laziness when it comes to things like location work, timing and casting (both leads are ok and could truly shine under better circumstances, but Alex Sharp is completely misplaced here). Another thing that's annoying is that the dapper playfullness of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is replaced by a much less versatile focus on gender stereotypes. Still, in the end this is also what makes the film kind of interesting on a conceptual level: there still seems to be much more need for justification of amoral behaviour when the person being justified is female rather than male.

The Bad Seed, Mervyn LeRoy, 1956

The ultimate undoing of 50s domesticity and the family unit: everything comes crumbling down not because of the intrusion of the outside, but because the inside refuses to entertain even the possibility of an outside. LeRoy`s extremely stagey direction might feel like a strange approach for this kind of material at first, but it enhances the claustrophobic feel while both Nancy Kelly`s nuanced acting and the clever use of props (like the jar of sweets) lends it enough life.
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A beautiful oddity, unlike anything LeRoy had done before, especially in the 40s and 50s. The bumpy strangeness of the ending - the tucked on celestial justice scene included for censorship reasons, followed first by a curtain call of the whole cast (as if to ensure us that yes, this film, too, was a work of fiction) and then by a text insert warning not to spoil the ending for other viewers - suggests that THE BAD SEED really hit on something buried deep.
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It may also be some kind of weird missing link between earlier home invasion / domestic terror films like GASLIGHT, BEWARE, MY LOVELY etc and the camp horror melodramas of the 60s and 70s (I was thinking of BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING a lot).

Le gout de la violence, Robert Hossein, 1961

If this had been made a few years later, with the exact same plot, it would automatically be riddled with Spaghetti Western stereotypes (see the more famous, but much less succesfull UNE CORD UN COLT...). In 1961, however, Hossein was still able to make it completely his own, a minimalist, hypnotic fable that transforms its outdoor settings step by step into abstract, psychological spaces. In the end, there's nothing left but a few isolated faces dissolving into primal, dimensionless landscape and drowning in haunting, endlessly repeating music.

One of Hossein's best.

Le vampire de Dusseldorf, Robert Hossein, 1965

Clearly a more ambitious production than most other films Hossein directed, but also clearly still low-budget. The poverty row studio feel mostly works well by infusing the plot with fatalism and a sense of a closed-off, slightly surreal world. The El Dorado nightclub especially looks like it's placed right at the end of the world, surrounded by demons lurking in the dark.

Hossein's own performance is a bit flashy but still effective and creepy. As a whole the film, although it doesn't always feel completely thought through (Marie-France Pisier for example looks absolutely stunning, but her storyline never quite comes together), still is an interesting, fascinating addition to the tradition of M, DER VERLORENE et al.

Independence Night, Choi In-kyu, 1948

50 minutes of doom followed by 2 minutes of glory. nation building from the ashes.

Mädchen in Uniform, Leontine Sagan, 1931

But why can't my parents send me a piece of ham? It's not that I'd eat it all myself, I would share with the others.

J´ai tue Raspoutine, Robert Hossein, 1967

One of the most haunting Andre Hossein scores (and a shamelessly unhinged Froebe performance) wasted on one of the few rather dull Robert Hossein films.

La mort d´un tueur, Robert Hossein, 1964

Pretty much blew me away, although I haven’t even really seen it yet given how bad the available digital versions are. A minimalist gangster epic, consisting of two cross-cut movements, one set in the present, one set in the past, glued together by incestuous desire, leading up to doubled doom. This almost abstract structure is, for once, not contained in a claustrophobic Kammerspiel, though, but is played out as movement through urban space: three men walking in formation through the rainy streets, on and on. A constant beat, but one that allows for variations. Indeed, the attractions of the city deflect the movement intermittently, erotic sensations invade the filmic space, the incestuous desire is also doubled, it breaks up, in delirious nightclub montage sequences, into fragments, it shifts shapes until it seems to cling to every woman, every body part, if not every frame.

Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola, 2007

World War 2 as point zero, a total displacement of time, language and identity. From here on, we progress in several directions at once, but somehow still on a single axis (this seems to be almost a moral imperative here: no cross-cutting!), completely crazy, but at a steady pace, eager to cross a new frontier every twenty minutes, each time leaving behind all securities all over again.

I still can’t quite make my peace with the casting, but this sure is a one of a kind film.

No Time for Sergeants, Mervyn LeRoy, 1958

Although it works in a completely different generic register, this does for the military what THE BAD SEED does for the family: a slow, but relentless attack - from within rather than from outside - tearing away layer after layer of both psychic and structural securities until, in the end, there’s basically nothing left of the promise and externalized self-image of one of the central institutions of modern america.

Not that these are subversive films in the classic sense. It’s more about the profit motive grinding down everything except itself sooner or later, transforming cultural certainties into modular entertainment. All that is solid...

Still, there’s a certain smoothness missing. Scene by scene it is funny enough, but after a while it feels a bit tiring in its unashamed staginess and in its insistence on pounding the same point home over and over again. In the end both Griffith and the premise are probably better off in the sitcom format.

Post tenebras lux, Carlos Reygadas, 2012

Hard to truly engage with Reygadas because whatever else he might be he also is an arthouse bullshit artist par excellence, exhibiting his tricks with open contempt for both his audience and his characters (the smaller, more intimate scenes, like the one with the Neil Young song, are actually much worse in this regard than the violent outbursts). But at the same time I find myself responsive to his images, the vision of a world distorted by a force that only arbitrarily coincides with social mechanisms like patriarchy and class struggle and that points towards a much deeper, all-encompassing pessimism foreclosing all posiblities of redemption.

Aladdin, Ron Clements, Jon Musker, 1992

My memory again... I’m still not sure if I ever saw this before, I probably did, but somehow all memories of it got swallowed up by the Isnogud tv show. The whole time I waited for Jafar to say something like "I want to be sultan instead of the sultan", but he never did.

Anyway, despite the rather boring title character this still is a delight and a reminder that once upon a time the digital was a promise for animation, not a curse.

The House of No Man, Cheang Pou Soi, 1999

One of three films shot on digital video Soi Cheang made in 1999 before graduating to "real" movies. A decidedly modest affair mostly set in a isolated house near the beach. The slow, at times apathetic aproach kind of fits the material - three lifes in self-imposed stand-by. Some parts are well observed and you get the sense of a director trying out a few things on a clearly limited playing field. The confrontation of one of the protagonists with her lover's wife set on a staircase is handled beautifully (generally, Soi finds some nice ways to film his characters facing away from the camera), the colors and shadow play is quite nice (as far as one can judge from the youtube encoding) and towards the end he uses a video sfx that is kind of touching.

Still, all in all a lot of dead space (and weird, borderline awful soundtrack choices).

Thursday, February 13, 2020

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After, Jenny Gage, 2019

When you're undecided between a business and a literature major, Peter Gallagher has the perfect solution: why don't you check out the business side of literature? In fact, I can get you an internship at Verso...

The scene at the lake is beautiful.

Meine 16 Söhne, Hans Domnick, 1956

Lil Dagover, no longer just a german, but a trans-european mater dolorosa, has gained 16 sons from four countries. She reigns supreme over a music competition - four string quartets from Berlin, Dresden, Switzerland and France are supposed to compete against each other in order to obtain a grant.

But there are problems! Rules and regulations, what else? The grant can only be won by German musicians, the regulations read. What follows is a drama of bureaucracy and companionship, a very German mixture indeed. The young men adore their mistress, and when they decide to bend the rules by way of denationalizing the quartets, they bend the rules for her, to ease her pain. And she does suffer! Wailing she roams the large hanseatic merchant estate most of the film is set in.

Solidarity is the tenderness of nations, or something like that. If this is a film about international reconciliation, what exactly is this reconciliation supposed to reconciliate? The cold war aspect at least is decidedly muted. When the head of the Dresden quartet develops an arrogant and dictatorial streak, I thought that finally some honest to goodness anti-communism might come into play. But his sickness isn't stalinism, but related to the bombing of Dresden, which is the only historical event alluded to by the film. Again and again, there's even a model of the old Semperoper being passed around. One would never guess, from this film only, that the actions of Germany had anything to do with Dresden being attacked, though. Instead, in a rather bold turn of events, it is implied that the two German quartets are generously inviting in the foreigners (who can neither know nor understand anything about their pain), thereby somehow forgiving the french and the swiss (!) quartet for the bombings.

Is MEINE 16 SÖHNE itself the atrocity it claims the bombing of Dresden to be? Yes, probably, but in a rather charming way, at least when seen today. The main thing it has going for it is a perfect fit of form and content: the film believes just as much in its uplifting "internationalist" message (which is completely compatible with the blandest of stereotypes, of course, like the french violinist who's constantly wooing Dagover's daughter) as Dagover believes in her stupid competition. This unwavering conviction is evident in all aspects of the film, most clearly and most exhaustingly in the high-pitched performance of the Berlin cellist blathering away non-stop, with no regards for anyone's sanity, least of all his own.

The Red Kimona, Walter Lang, 1925

Social problems film with a good cast (I’d especially like to see Bonner and von Eltz in a more upbeat film), but a lot of static suffering. It only truly comes alive in the scenes dealing with a socialite who’s exploiting the very same kind of static suffering.

Confession, Joe May, 1937

After discovering Jane Bryan for the first time in KID GALLAHAD, here she is again - and once more, she’s the best thing in a film that still would’ve been very good without her. It’s not about her "stealing" the films from Bette Davis (in KID GALLAHAD) or Kay Francis (here). Her brillance isn’t aggressive at all. Her own presence isn’t a substitution, but an addition, something separate. As if I enter a house and find an extra room I didn’t expect.

In the case of CONFESSION, her role changes the dynamics of the plot. The film is a (mostly) shot for shot remake of Willi Forst’s MAZURKA, and she plays the younger of two women who fall in love with a philandering star pianist. In Forst’s film, this role is strictly secondary, mostly used as a build-up for Pola Negri’s grand entrance as the older woman. In CONFESSION, though, Bryan carves out her own space, mostly through gestures and glances (although she gets a few extra lines and even an extra scene; Joe May clearly realized what he had in her). Most beautifully in the scene before the first kiss, her nervousness when hanging her coat, her reluctance even during the embrace...

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CONFESSION isn’t as organic as MAZURKA - especially the more baroque elements feel much more natural in the older film -, but still I can’t decide which version I like more. It’s amazing how May manages, despite his obsession to recreate Forst’s shots as closely as possible, to lend his images a completely different, much more tender and introspective tone.

Mazurka, Willi Forst, 1935

I watched this immediately after CONFESSION. The original is, expectedly, more explicit when it comes to sex, but also much harsher. While I can understand the appeal of Basil Rathbone at least a little bit, Albrecht Schoenhals is just a bully emitting downright rapey vibes. Pola Negri is wonderful, though, and better than Francis in the remake.

Teppanyaki, Michael Hui, 1984

Probably the purest Michael Hui film, in its undivided focus on the man himself and the series of slapstick routines he takes on, but also in its clearly delineated psychodynamics: stuck between the fantasy of the calendar girl and the reality of the massive wife (there’s always either too little or too much woman), Michael is doomed from the start. Every escape route turns out to be just another walk of shame.

The setting is perfect for this: His rare cooking performances are an outlet for his delusions of grandeur, but even there, humilation is always waiting around the corner. The humour is the sort of go-for-broke slapstick madness no one would dare engaging in today, including several excursions into decidedly murky waters. But you just have to admit that even when it comes to blackface and rape jokes, inventiveness and timing do make a difference.

I completely surrendered to the genius of Michael as early as the tennis scene. Still, as far as food-centered Hui comedies go, I probably prefer CHICKEN AND DUCK TALK, mostly because of Ricky’s involvement.

I Wish I Knew, Jia Zhang-ke, 2010

I haven't seen it since it came out, but I remember being bugged by 24 CITY's tendency towards monumentalisation, and this feels like an even less interesting extension of it, a dead end of static, almost stately detachment Jia thankfully escaped from three years later with A TOUCH OF SIN. There are beautiful moments in some of the interviews, especially when the showbiz anecdotes take over, but somehow a film dealing with violent transformation (at heart, this is more about the watershed moment of 1949 than about Shanghai) shouldn't feel this calm itself.

Rumble Fish, Francis Ford Coppola, 1983

It’s not sufficent to describe Dillon and Rourke as mythical, godlike creatures, because that still implies a notion of selfsameness, of personification Coppola leaves behind here. It’s more about two energy states trying to find a balance, about two unstable chemical elements involved in a slow-burning but uncontrolled, uncontrollable reaction.

Of course, there are differences between the two of them. Rourke has broken his connection to the world of cause and effect from the start, while Dillon still clings to the social realm (which continues to coexists with the abstract, transhumanist world of pure style; without this grounding, Dillon’s disintegration would have no force at all). He needs the help of a magic realist metaphor in order to free himself, to float, to see the world the way Burum’s camera sees it from the start: not as a stage predesigned for the theater of life, but as a multidimensional sequence of layerings, which are, to a degree, navigable, but not inhabitable.

The Highwaymen, John Lee Hancock, 2019

The casting alone makes it worthwhile - Costner and Harrelson should be in films like this every year. Contemporary cinema cheated us out of the joy of properly following up on the seasoning of Costner’s neck and the transformation of Harrelson’s naivete into embodied wisdom. Even aside from that, THE HIGHWAYMEN, while not quite dense enough, works well on a mythopoetical level as yet another late western - in a way, modern westerns can’t do much more than negotiate their own lateness, and I clearly prefer a pragmatic, procedural approach like Hancock’s over whiny "revisionism" like in the terrible THE SISTERS BROTHERS. (If you really want to make a woke western, you have to put in real effort, like Larry Clark did with CUTTING HORSE.)

On the other hand, Hancock’s clumsy insistence that this is also a film about the great depression is truly frustrating. Again and again he indifferently drapes poor people on the landscape like props on a stage - and then, not only the camera, but also Harrelson gazes at them as if they represent some hidden truth.

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A better point of comparison than Penn’s film might be Louis King’s PERSONS IN HIDING, the first of the films inspired by the historical Bonnie & Clyde that tries to focus on the law enforcement perspective (although Patricia Morison ended up completely dominating the film in the Bonnie role). Interestingly, PIH, partly based on a book by J. Edgar Hoover, celebrates the same modern, abstract crime fighting techniques THE HIGHWAYMEN openly despises.

One From the Heart, Francis Ford Coppola, 1981

Beautiful and exhausting. It builds on the disconnect between the highly specific, thoroughly unromantic love story on one side and the textures of a deindividualized cultural industry based on the notion of romance it is trenched in on the other. The hypnotic, glittery, hybrid sound- and colorscapes around them clearly are not just extensions of Frannie’s and Hank’s states of mind. But at the same time, with the possible exception of their own bodies, there also is no outside they can escape to. So, this is neither about the cultural industry taking over subjectivity (= Cinema du Look), nor about alienated subjectivity "lost" in a vapid world of surface sensations (= arthouse boredom). Instead, not unlike RUMBLE FISH, ONE FROM THE HEART is a materialist film about the (im)possibility of inhabiting the modern world.

Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Behind the criminally catchy songs and the rumpel-slapstick routines this is also - like apparently almost every film Willi Forst is involved in - a psycho- (or krypto-?)sexual comedy about delay of gratification.

77 Heartbreaks, Herman Yau, 2017

As long as it sticks to its main hook - a recently ended relationship unfolding in flashbacks and thereby disrupting the attempts of both parties to move forward - 77 HEARTBREAKS has a conceptual and filmic density to it that films like this seldom have: the things and gestures of love being inseperabale from the things and gestures of love's unmaking. The main cast is good, Michelle Wai especially adds a fresh touch to it. Her more joyfull but also more vulnerable presence balances out the rather pragmatic approaches to their own feelings of Choi and Chau.

However, the NT storyline bugged me from the start, and towards the end, there are a few miscalculated scenes (the marriage, especially) that threw me out of the film almost completely. The side plot concerned with the diary itself is also pretty much useless, a crude shot for the kind of romcom reflexivity better left to directors like Johnnie To.

...und das ist die Hauptsache, Joe May, 1931

Starts with a party that seems to have no bounds, neither spatial, nor temporal, a bustling totality of lametta, intoxication and erotic attractions. All kinds of limbs thrown around all kinds of body parts.

But from the beginning, there's an outside to this totality. A kind of inner outside, though: Nora Gregor visits the party, too, but she can't become part of it, she's stuck in her body, her subjectivity. So she separates herself, and this very act of separation makes her vulnerable. The man who joins her (Robert Thoelen, a wonderful actor who didn't seem to have much of a career) knows that he has to attack her from the inside, not from the outside.

Heimkehr, Joe May, 1928

While they play house in russian war captivity, the barren room two German soldiers live in is doubled, in their conversations, by another, imaginary room: they describe, in minute detail, the house in which the wife of one of the soldiers is waiting for him. When the "wrong" soldier makes it home (his friend still being imprisoned, or so he thinks), he decides to visit the room he has fantasized about. Of course, there's also the woman inside the room... She has become part of the mutual fantasy, too. The soldier knows about the birthmark on her chest, and he also knows, that in the martial bed, she always sleeps near the wall. Naturally, when he meets her, he must see the birthmark - which isn't that big of a deal, just a harmless flirtation. What about the thing with the bed, though...

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All of this leads neither to sexy farce nor to bloody melodrama, but to an epic treatise on self-denial, played out in hypnotic slow motion. Three bodies in despair, one pretending to sleep, one lying hunched on the coach, one waiting in silent panic next door. A film sick to the bone, but also great stuff.

Mountains May Depart, Jia Zhang-ke, 2015

A strange film, ambitious but also kind of clumsy, and not only in the Australia scenes. From the beginning, the characters seem to float in a deliberately underdeveloped space given a minimum of stability by a handfull of gestures, places and metaphorical objects, repeating themselves in sometimes rather arbitrary patterns (Jingshen's fixation on guns, for example).

In the first act, the central love triangle seems to be lost in low-fi digital artefacts more than in early chinese capitalism. The second act tightens the reign and puts all kinds of narrative pressure on Zhao Tao, while the third one, on the contrary, loosens all connections. Names, occupations, even language and especially social relationships are up for grabs (Am I supposed to be your sister? Your teacher? Your girlfriend?). Jia makes it clear, in rather unsubtely ways, that this is to be thought of as an effect of capitalism, but in the end, MOUNTAINS MAY DEPART is of interest more as a narrative experiment than as allegory.

The Sin of Nora Moran, Phil Goldstone, 1933

Intriguing. The first half plays out like a darker version of one of those extremely fast moving Warner precodes, complete with bizarro Berkeley imagery. And then, about 30 minutes in, it jumps head-on into a narrative abyss it doesn't even try to escape from afterwards.

The Rainmaker, Francis Ford Coppola, 1997

Gets a bit better when the courtroom scenes start (institutional mechanics > moralistic grandstanding), but still this is the kind of self-righteous quality filmmaking that just sucks the brain out of me. To me, the nice touches Coppola adds here and there (the hints at intimicy in the early scenes with Damon and Danes, the autumnal atmosphere, also the sometimes extremely beautiful Bernstein score) just make the whole thing even uglier.

Apocalypse Now, Fracis Ford Coppola, 1979

Inspired and conflicted on so many levels, not the least structurally. The neverending journey upriver builds expectations for the final meeting with Kurz so high, they just have to be at least partially disappointed. On the other hand, all other solutions (Kurz is dead, not to be found, a harmless lunatic etc) obviously would have been cop-outs. Therefore, the film is transformed into its own allegory: Just as Willard really has to find and kill Kurz, Coppola really needs to show him and his monstrosity, no matter the cost.

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian de Palma, 1990

As misguided as this is on many levels, it's also fast-moving and funny and De Palma's courage to mobilize all his gadgets and energy in order to create for once a completely different kind of fucked-up system (sociocultural rather than libidinous) is admirable. He goes all in, whatever he does.

Might be interesting to screen this alongside Bozon's TIP TOP.

Peggy Sue Got Married, Francis Ford Coppola, 1986

The period aspect feels a bit by the numbers, Coppola probably went down this particular road a few times too many in the 80s. Still, a thoroughly enchanting concept - a reflexive working through of one’s own life, resulting in an instant melodramatising of everyday life - executed by a great cast. Kathleen Turner explores new ways of being affected in almost every scene.

Passion, Brian de Palma, 2012

Caligarizing the work-life balance.

Mandy, Panos Cosmatos, 2018

Not really my cup of tea, but both the Caspar David Friedrich pomp in the beginning and the various tonal freak-outs that follow attest to a genuine craziness i cannot help but to admire. You don’t have to feel at home at every party.

Ball im Savoy, Steven Sekely, 1935

Pure bliss. One of those "German cinema without Germany" exile films made between 33 and 38, at first mostly in Austria, later mostly in Hungary. The plot is even more flimsy than usually, and some of the routines are almost the very definition of tired, but as pretext to the show numbers, it works very well. Gitta Alpar has a natural proclivity for standing center-stage in glamourous dresses (she enjoys being photogenic in a completely uncunning way) and, of course, for enchanting us with her voice. Any film featuring her has the moral responsibility to throw as few hurdles as possible in her way. Rosy Borsody, on the other hand, doesn’t have a natural proclivity for the limelight. When she enters it anyway, things get even more spectacular. Then there’s Felix Bressart, king of the delayed joke. How can one not succumb to all of this.

High Tide, John Reinhardt, 1947

B noir that delivers its twists with a cool detachment that marks a nice contrast with the high-strung melodrama of the more expensive studio thrillers. Moral compromising not as earth-shattering scandal, but as everyday reality. Both Tracy and Castle are very good, especially their voices have the right kind of jaded cynicism to them.
I’d like to see this in better quality someday.

Operette, Willi Forst, 1940

Forst's insistence that OPERETTE and its two follow-ups were acts of resistance against nazi cinema is bogus on many levels; but the film indeed doesn't feel compromised, artistically. A complete vision of bittersweet lightness trying to escape from the traps of history and melodrama. In the end, Forst the actor might be the main reason for Forst the director not turning into a Systemregisseur. His soft, malleable corporeality is completely uncompatible with ns visions of masculinity.

Still, right now, I can't admire this as much as many of the much more shoddy German musicals of the early 30s. I may come around to absolutely loving it some day, though...

The beautiful superimposition in the final shot recalls the ending of John M. Stahl's BACK STREET.

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A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur´s Court, Tay Garnett, 1949

As a musical comedy this mostly falls flat - the supporting cast is great, but both Crosby and the songs are too tepid for any true zaniness to evolve (and zaniness clearly would’ve been the way to go, here). Luckily, somewhere along the line Garnett seems to have decided to develop the dramatic, rather than the satirical aspects of the plot. Starting with Crosby’s surprisingly dynamic duel with Lancelot, the film heightens the stakes (well, a little bit at least) and, from then on, continues to produce moments of some intensity, like the execution scene (with several heads being cut off-screen before Crosby saves the day).

Still, the only consistent driving force behind the whole thing might be Rhonda Fleming’s wardrobe changes.

Pet Sematary II, Mary Lambert, 1992

Lambert doesn't even try to one-up the high-pitched yuppie self-deprecration of the first film, but opts for a tale of almost relaxed, autumny, dusty smalltown americana, with a few decisive intrusions of craziness - especially, of course, Clancy Brown as the multipurpose asshole (cop / jock / stepdad) who wants to fuck like the rabbits he watches fucking in his spare time (a lot of animals in this). There's quite a bit of good stuff - the electrocuted movie-star mother who insists on coming back in different shapes and forms, Drew dressing up as a chubby, melancholic vampire, a very dedicated bully-performance by Jared Rushton, Lisa Waltz... The second half, after a reluctant and not well executed turn into horror, is pretty boring, though.

Die letzte Kompagnie, Curtis Bernhardt, 1930

Patriotic UFA war film whose director, producer and co-writer (+ probably quite a few crewmembers more) were kicked out of UFA for being jewish just three years later.

It starts with a black frame, accompanied by a gunshot ouverture, followed by a silent travelling over a stylized battlefield, with the corpses exquisitly draped over fences and ditches. A sculptural no-mans-land surrounded by the fog of war. Sound and image finally coalesce when Konrad Veidt summons the troops.

The fog is mostly lifted for the rest of the film, the world becomes a place of action and lines of sight again. The tension builds slowly, though, there's time for several songs (the music always triggers tableau-like tilts over the spent bodies of the soldiers) and a touch of female disturbance. Almost all of it is set in and around a mill, which makes sense because of the bursting flour bags in the finale.

(Unfortunately, the only survivng print is an english dub, done by producer Joe May himself; a technical marvel at the time, but still just as bad as most of these things have been to this day.)

Triumph der Liebe, Alfred Stöger, 1949

Atrocious adaptation of LYSISTRATA, set in somewhat pretty but completely air-tight and static historical sets probably leftover from a ns epic. Stagy in all the wrong ways, no rhythm, no visuality, no sex (ok, the latter kind of fits the source material; but then again, withholding sex only makes sense when there's desire to begin with). Anti-cinema.

The Rain People, Francis Ford Coppola, 1969

After passing a marquee advertising BONNIE AND CLYDE, Shirley Knight and James Caan enter a drive-in cinema - in the middle of the day, with no other customers and of course no film screening in sight. Like the couple in the movie Coppola makes clear they are not watching, they look like lovers on the run, only that they aren’t quite lovers, and neither are they really on the run. In theory, this is an interesting displacement: The external drama of Penn’s film (and its other predecessors) is toned down, constantly hinted at but never fully played out, sometimes openly parodied (Shirley Knight casually, tantalizingly walking towards Duvall’s cop car) - while the in the end much messier internal conflicts takes center stage. Like, especially, in the beautiful motel room / mirror scene, in which narcissistic self-images and erotic projections become interchangeable.

This is by far the best moment in the film, but generally THE RAIN PEOPLE works very well when it focusses on lengthy, intimate interactions. For a while, Coppola establishes an equilibrium of push and pull, movement and stasis that could lend the film a fleeting air - if there wasn’t always already an oppressive melodrama lurking underneath. Long before the dark - and imo stupid - turn when Knight ditches Caan in favor of Duvall, the flashy flashbacks (the Richard Lester like style inserts probably are the main reasons I ultimately didn’t like the film) insist on a psychological imprinting that just has to have consequences sooner or later. Coppola always strives for structure, and in the end this probably just wasn’t a good project for him.

James Caan’s soft, unfinished face though.

Der Herr auf Bestellung, Geza von Bolvary, 1930


Another absolutely wonderful von Bolvary / Reisch / Forst operetta film, this time set in a makeshift cardboard world and with a distinct, hyperreflexive slapstick feel. The music is more out there than usual, too, some of the numbers are shot through with syncopic elements that disrupt rather than double the visuals. The mighty Willi Forst has the world at his fingertips (he dances and flirts even with cars) and Else Elster as his lover and assistant is both his streetsmart equal and the source of a secondary, dark, melancholic streak running through all the madness.

To think that German mainstream cinema once looked like this...

Die Blume von Hawaii, Richard Oswald, 1933

Bat-shit crazy, even for Richard Oswald’s standards - a lot of the special brand of madness on display here probably stems from the Paul Abraham operetta this is based on, a wildly ambitious potpourri of "enlightened exoticism" (starting with Abraham’s probably most famous song, "Bin nur ein Jonny", done in blackface but hinting at a very real diasporic pain), an adventure story shot through with both colonial and anticolonial impulses, and romantic shenanigans even more convoluted than usually in the genre.

Oswald isn’t much interested in providing structure, he just goes along with the flow (see, for example, the location footage being thrown in once in a while, just to have a few markers of Hawaii here and there) which is probably the best approach for the material, anyway. Unfortunately, most of the actors can’t keep up with him. The one glorious exception is Ernst Verebes, who, in all of his scenes, assumes an attitude of manic detachment that fits the anything goes attitude of the film perfectly (Fritz Fischer is also good). Martha Eggers doesn’t have many chances to shine, though, in fact, she feels a bit lost - thrown around from one place and one identity into the other, she can’t assert herself in the same way as, for example, in DIE BLONDE CARMEN.

The Big Parade, King Vidor, 1925

I had seen this only once before, probably almost 20 years ago, on vhs (and my memory isn't very good, in general), but rewatching it I realized that long parts of the battlefield scenes had been burnt into my brain. Especially those harrowing shots in the forrest, the steady progress of the soldiers, not at all disturbed by the fact that some of them just drop dead on the spot. But also later, the bomb crater scenes (the desolation of the individual answering the rhythmic mass destruction in an almost dialectical manner), the long caravan right through the center of the screen etc. I remembered all of this clear as day, although seen isolated I probably wouldn't have connected most of it with THE BIG PARADE. Almost all of my most vivid war movie memories seem to stem from this single film...

I didn't have a lot of recollections of the first half of the film, but all the better - a chance to discover this beautiful, hilarious, muddy romance a second time. The barrel scene might now be my second favorite love at first sight slapstick routine after the one in THE LONG GRAY LINE.

Tennessee Nights, Nicolas Gessner, 1991

Johnny Cash sings half a song in the first few minutes, has two more lines, and then he gets the hell out of the film. Just in time, because what follows is mostly an embarrassment for everyone involved. Road-movie Americanas made by Europeans often are rather stale, and this one, despite the involvement of an american screenwriter, is downright terrible, a mixture of awkward prejudice and tacky romantization of decay.

Julian Sands holds the film together, for better or worse. At least the asshole part of his performance is on point. Stacey Dash, on the other hand, doesn't stand a chance against a script that uses her as a multipurpuse tool to address everything the writer and director always wanted to say about women and black people. Towards the end, there are at least a few moments of true craziness, Rod Steiger especially has fun as a small-town judge almost in the Will Rodgers tradition, deciding cases on the basis of their allignment with Bach's St Matthew Passion.

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Looks like there's always an even better von Bolvary / Reisch / Forst film hidden somewhere; although I do suppose that this really might be their masterpiece. The operetta film, a genre always already excessively self-reflexive, can't outstrip itself by ramping up the speed of the twistings and turnings. But maybe, THE SONG IS OVER suggests, it might be able to do so by slowing down, by refusing (narrative) progress in favor of (musical) circularity, until we realize that it's not about us singing songs but about the songs singing us.

Fifty Shades of Grey, Sam Taylor-Johnson, 2015

A bit too much distancing involved in the discourse surrounding this. FIFTY SHADES isn't about BDSM, and also not about "the way we love now" (always meaning: not me, but all the others). It's about sexual fantasies, and sexual fantasies tend to be a bit awkward. Anyway, who are we to judge.

Still, it is rather bad overall. The unconditional focus on Ana's experience and soft-spoken Dakota Johnson's fascinating presence manage to carry things for a while. It also helps that Taylor-Johnson clearly knows about the ridiculousness of the premise. Unfortunately, it becomes obvious pretty soon that the film will go nowhere with all of this, mostly because, like everyone seems to agree, Christian is a black hole of nothingness.

Saure Wochen - Frohe Feste, Wolfgang Schleif, 1950

When the staff of a coal plant is asked to organize musical entertainment for a company celebration, discussions ensue (mostly along generational lines): Is the classic form of light opera still relevant for the present? And: What would an adequate socialist operetta look and sound like?

The film's answer to the latter question isn't all that convincing, unfortunately. Still, despite the conservative songwriting, SAURE WOCHEN has a certain freshness, stays clear of pompous state art (in fact, it makes fun of it several times) and the mix of veteran actors and young, unknown faces works well. Also, there's an interesting tension when it comes to the relationship between work and music: Is the emerging socialist operetta meant to be a transference of the factory principle to another, musical level (like in a montage sequence synchronising an upbeat tune with the mechanics of heavy industry)? Or should we rather think of it as a separate, equally important plain of experience ("we are like machines while working, we don't want to be machines when dancing")?

Einmal ist keinmal, Konrad Wolf, 1955

Strange that this is not better known, given that it’s the first feature of the most famous defa director, and also pretty great. A pastoral musical comedy with Heimatfilm elements, stunningly shot in beautiful Agfacolor, that starts with Horst Drinda falling out of a moving train and landing directly in the hay. There, he encounters the first woman. A few minutes later he is kissed on the mouth by a second one (the absolutely wonderful, red-haired Brigitte Krause) while sleeping. And on he stumbles through a plot that technically follows the operetta formula, but that plays out more like an ironic, erotic fairy tale: he wants peace and quiet and time for some deep reflection, but is constantly being led astray by a strand of red hair.

Once again, except for a few tunes sung in a weirdly charming, almost clumsy way by Drinda himself, the music is a bit on the dull side, and the big performance in the end feels almost deliberatley anticlimatic in its static staging. But this doesn’t matter much, because the whole film is more about private fantasies than about collective representation.

Silvesterpunsch, Günter Reisch, 1960

The steady level of movement and vitality is as forced as the "conflict" between sports and culture. In the end, the latter (vitality / culture) is thought of always only in the terms of the former (movement / sports). The ice revue finale looks beautiful in the subdued, rosy glimmer of Agfa-Color, though, Achim Schmidtchen is a good comedic actor in the screwball slapstick vein (a very very remote relative of Dennis O'Keefe, maybe) and Karin Schröder is a nice, fresh presence in her first role. Managed fun is better than no fun at all, I guess.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

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Une corde, un colt..., Robert Hossein, 1969

The last half hour, when everything gets reduced to Hossein and the two women heading into pure nothingness, with bearded men dropping like flies aroung them, is pure bliss. Still, I don't think the genre serves Hossein well. There's just too much clutter in the way in terms of plot, and, despite the unusually strong female presence, an overabundance of macho posturing.

La nuit des espions, Robert Hossein, 1959

This might be Hossein's most eccentric, experimental film, at the very least it probably is his most abstract and minimalist work: A man (Hossein) and a woman (Vlady) meet in a cabin (so many of his films are set in cabins, or in cabin-like settings...), she might or might not be a German spy, he might or might not be a Nazi officer. In fact, they soon establish, neither is German, both are British double agents instead and therefore free to have dinner (the women are almost always hungry in Hossein's films) and sex.

But with the afterglow, suspicion creeps back in.

This is not a film about two people tricking each other, but about two people doubting each other. It is a game, but Hossein and Vlady are not the players, they are the ones being played, by a welding of love and war. A classic double bind situation, only even more harrowing. Not: You are my enemy but I also love you. But: You might not be my enemy, but you also might not really love me. Like figures on a chessboard, or, how Vlady put it during a q&a after the film, like dancers in a ballett performance, the two protagonists are being moved around constantly, never allowed a fixed and secured vantage point.

At the same time Hossein the director never establishes (unlike in the more openly avant-garde, but ultimately a bit more conventional POINTE DE CHUTE) a fixed stylistic vantage point of his own. At times, he completely identifies with his characters, but there are also moments of disruption, with the filmic turning into a purely external force, almost like in an essay film, for example when the two lovers freeze in a half-embrace, with the camera first travelling away from them and then closing in again, accompanied by a heroic marching song.

So, are these, in the end, psychological characters, or statuesque emblems for broken subjectivities in times of war?

Once again, what makes the film special isn't the mystery aspect itself, but rather the limbo-like atmosphere it helps establishing and sustaining for a while. Hossein's cinema strives for a somehow enhanced state of being, removed from ordinary life and therefore only possible in isolated, cabin-like settings, but still running on well-known, sensuary realities (a cinema of sex and food).

Le jeu de la verite, Robert Hossein, 1961

Almost reassuring that not every film Hossein directed during the most prolific phase in his career turned out to be a (near) masterpiece. This is stylish enough, but strictly by the numbers, a whodunit that, almost deliberately (but what would be the point in doing so?) enhances the main weakness of the form: It's preference to cram way too many people in a single room, who then keep on standing next to each other and try to figure out a rather bloodless mystery. This is basically 80 minutes of that: Again and again, the camera scans the mostly immobile characters and the minor changes in their constellation. The only major change: After the murder, the previously intermingling genders are strictly seperated. The men to the right, the women to the left.

There's some kind of perversity running through the whole thing, but not of the kind I love to indulge in in other Hossein films.

Les yeux cernes, Robert Hossein, 1964

Another low-key wacky para-noir by Hossein, this time set in the Austrian alps. There's a constant back and forth between the meticulous, claustrophobic indoor scenes I by now expect from a Hossein film and great use of outdoor settings: Franz (Hossein) and Klara (Marie-France Pisier) rolling through the grass for what feels like a few hundred yards, a long tracking shot of Franz and Florence (Michele Morgan) walking alongside a gorge, with the deadly depth generating an almost magnetic pull.

Hossein's direction might be a bit too gimmicky at times (with people constantly walking into or over the camera), but it never feels oppressive, because the cast gets to have fun, too. Morgan is great as the high-strung protagonist, never taking off her high heels, neither when squirming in terror on the hotel bed, nor when venturing outside, on muddy forrest roads. The real star is Pisier, though, a sassy waitress sluggishly serving soup (shown several times throughout the film, once as a POV shot), slouching on tree trunks, laughing off the (imagined) affair of her lover ("I don't want to sleep with you anyway, thinking of money is enough, tonight").

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

No one turns the whole world into music like Erik Charell.

Us, Jordan Peele, 2019

A baroque horror extravaganza like this will find studio backing only under very special circumstances, especially these days. So before everything else, I’m just glad it exists. And that there’s so much joy in it, of course.

Immer nur Du, Karl Anton, 1941

The operetta in thrall to the modern media environment. Radio technology is closing in on the stage (in fact, from the very start of the film), the artists vie for screentime, battling out their jealousies not directly, face to face, but through their publicity staff.

The whole thing is breezy enough, with Fita Benkhoff reliably providing the best scenes. I still can’t deal with Heester’s cocky arrogance, though, which is not at all justified by any form of elegance or poise. Dora Komar left me cold at first, too, but just like the music in general (it stays a bit on the bland side throughout, admittedly), she grew on me. There’s a clumsy, juvenile energy in her, especially evident in a gymnastic scene that has her twisting her body in a particularly ruthless way.

As far as nazi entertainment films go, this is probably more watchable than most. Still, there’s a strand of masochistic darkness running through it. Because Heesters insists that his wife must stop working after marriage, the fact that the couple finally embraces marital bliss in the final scene also means that the operetta production the whole preceding film deals with will close down after the first and only performance. Just another one of those infernal happy ends of nazi cinema - in a way, german audiences had to root, again and again, against their own enjoyment.

Die blonde Carmen, Victor Janson, 1935

A singer tired of playing a flower girl on stage plays a flower girl in real life in order to trick a snobbish composer. Who works on a new operetta that will in the end, of course, be her comeback performance.

An excellent operetta film that, unike most of the music films of Nazi era cinema, still very much feels like the German musical comedies of the early thirties. Maybe the isolated country hotel setting helps - the whole film plays out like a retreat into joyous playacting. Every place can be a stage, and every filmic image can be musicalized. The kind of escapism that almost spills over into utopia.

The only weak spot is Wolfgang Liebeneiner as the decidedly uncharismatic, uptight male lead. But this only leaves even more room for the magnificent Martha Eggerth, who completely dominates the film, switching back and forth between a slightly melancholic glamour perforance and an exquisit comedic turn involving faux naivete and a hilarious fantasy accent.

Un couteau dans la coeur, Yann Gonzalez, 2018

Exploitation reimaginings made by and for the art-school crowd bore me even more than the ones made by and for overeager nerds. When everyone is in on every joke from the start, there just isn't any tension left. (A 35mm print might make a difference, though)

The Drums of Jeopardy, George B. Seitz, 1931

Very entertaining low budget horror film that in fact plays out more like a morbid adventure story. Even when, in the second half, almost everyone is trapped in a house and things threaten to get a bit talky, Seitz continues to find new angles to the situation (there's not only a trap door, but also a trap hatch - and then there's even a trap window inside the trap hatch).
Also, the villain has both a relatively elaborate backstory and rather weird ideas. It's more about trickiness for its own sake than about sadism for him.
The xenophobia angle, meanwhile, is a bit more explicit than usually in films like this. Aunt Abbie makes it perfectly clear that, if she could decide, foreigners who aren't aristocratic and at least half american anyway should rather stay at home.

Million Dollar Mermaid, Mervyn LeRoy, 1952

If she had stayed on land, she never would've learned even to walk on her own two feet. Since her first contact with it, she is drawn to the water not because she wants to get lost in it, but because she wants to assert herself in it, become visible through it. Later, in London, she enters the water in foggy, lonely darkness, but when she steps out of it, 25 miles later, she is the bright center of everyone's attention. This is a lesson she won't forget. Even when only walking towards the water - on a beach in 19th century puritanical Boston - she can cause havoc, with men literally crawling after her proud stride. (1952 seems to have been the year in which LeRoy dicovered the magnetic power of vigourous, muscular female legs and especially their rhythmic movement; see also Ann Miller's dance scene in LOVELY TO LOOK AT).

The water is not "the deep", but on the contrary: the water is up there, on a pedestal, it's always already a stage. To become a creature of the water means becoming, by way of the one piece bathing suit, pure visibility. The Busby Berkeley water-ballet numbers are the culmination of this: liquid explosions of colour and sportive femininity... and once again, the choreography strives upwards, not downwards.

To leave the water would mean, she realizes rather early in the film: to "settle down". When she, in the end, does have to do just this, she looks out of the window, towards the water, towards the spectacular, and she realizes that now she, too, is on the other side.

Ich und die Kaiserin, Friedrich Hollaender, 1933

Hollaender's only feature film (filmed in three language versions, though) isn't as smooth, elegant and organic as Charell's work, but it is a fascinating, exciting oddity nonetheless. There's UFA studio splendour of the most decadent sort (including one of the most beautiful staircases I encountered in a while), but also a playful, extremely self-reflective Walter Reisch script and suggestive Jacques Offenbach songs. Hollaender's direction is often crass, even bumpy (Harvey's buffoon performance especially is a marked contrast with her spirit-like presence in DER KONGRESS TANZT), but the scenes with Veidt are handled carefully, almost tenderly. There's a lot going on in this...

La flor, Mariano Llinas, 2018

In Locarno I had seen only parts 1 & 3 (mummy & spy). Finally catching up with the whole thing, those (especially part 3 that, when viewed in isolation, might be the best film about the end of history I’ve seen so far) remain my favorites, maybe because they are more straightforward, or maybe just because I knew what to expect and was able to concentrate on the stuff Llinas does with images. In the end, this might be more about the instability of cinematic visuality than about the instability of narrative.

(The obsession with blurring and colour manipulation might also be one element pointing beyond the "last hurrah of classic cinephilia" feel of the whole thing, although I have to think about this some more).

Partie de campagne, Jean Renoir, 1936

Watching this immediately after LA FLOR, the organic richness of Renoir’s world struck me all the more. Not only Llinas’s strange reimagination (what seems to have him impressed the most is, of all things, Rodolphe’s mustache), but most of contemporary cinema feels thoroughly sealed off and vacuumed compared to this.

Polizeiruf 110: Kreise, Christian Petzold, 2015

Big Boys Don’t Cry.

A police procedural of minimalist, otherworldly elegance (bordering on pure abstraction) and a romantic journey into the night perfectly blending into each other, guided by a number of popcultural artefacts, which shine through the film like lighthouse beacons over a quiet sea (lighthouse beacons aren’t all that necessary when the sea is quiet? But that’s when they’re allowed to be pure beauty!). Also: a glimpse into Justus von Dohnanyi’s soul.

Easily in my Petzold top 3.

Polizeiruf 110: Tatorte, Christian Petzold, 2018

Like a bizarro version of KREISE, right down to the cutaway from the main plot to a short burst of action about 20 minutes before the end. Love replaced by non-love, night by day, jukeboxes by coffee machines. Meuffels and Constanze almost always communicate by - different kinds of - proxy, but the true center of the film is Nadja.

I’m not even sure if Petzold realized just how much she is the center of the film; maybe if he did, he wouldn’t have treated her just this bad. Her scenes with Meuffels (and those amount to two thirds of the film, at least it feels like it) play out like the nihilist zombie version of a screwball comedy. Language as a weapon that always already turns against the speaker itself. Each word an act of autoaggression.

Like its two predecessors, this is clearly a work of genius, though this time bordering on evil genius. The rare film by Petzold I can admire but cannot love. At the same time it makes clear once again, in its own, perverted way, that Petzold isn’t the smarter than thou discourse filmmaker some of his distractors make him out to be, but rather a romantic extremist, who would sell his grandmother (the German expression is more telling: "über Leichen gehen", to step over corpses) for the right kind of melodramatic payoff.

Transit, Chrstian Petzold, 2018

TRANSIT is both deceptively simple in its sober style, with the narrative drive, unusual for Petzold, especially in the first half subdued in favor of pure accumulation of detail, and deceptively complex: the temporal dissonance, the voice-over, the identity theft plot aren't distancing devices, but they rather work, just as the role-playing in PHOENIX, like so many layers of clothing - they allow me to navigate a dangerous, hostile world, but they are also ready to be stripped away in a second when the right hand touches me. Only always momentarily, though. Exile is categorically out of reach, we're stuck here, playing games.

En guerre, Stephane Brize, 2018

Brize's proclivity for typecasting bugged me in UNE VIE, and while in principle it might be a bit more forgivable in a straightforward union-vs-managment drama, I once again couldn't stand the way everyone falls into his/her proper place without any friction.

Apart from this the film is a bit more interesting than I thought it would be. If one goes beyond the agitprop leanings (the use of music is really terrible) this might provide some insights into the (conditions of) uselessness of collective action when the deck is stacked against it. The final move is not only the "shocking call to action" the agitprop part of the film builds it up to be, but also as uncollective an action as it gets.

Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010

The action scenes are solid but hardly as spectacular as we all believed them to be in 2010. Andreas Lust, on the other hand, really is awesome, and there are a lot of nice touches like the car crash in front of the opera and the somber darkness in Erika's apartment.

Pet Sematary, Kevin Kölsch, Dennis Widmyer, 2019

A bit on the bland side, especially when John Lithgow isn't around, but the well-built world and the uncompromising focus on oldschool, straight-forward horror machinations (while eliminating most of the weirder parts of the story) lends it enough drive.

Greta, Neil Jordan, 2018

Yes, Huppert makes for a fine monster and Jordan is as decent a metteur en scene as ever, but the only moment that really sticks with me is Moretz at the movies, the reflection of the screen lighting up her 3d-glasses, her face dissolving into uncentered (non-subjective) affect. A one-shot requiem for stereoscopic cinema's transhumanistic utopia. We still are not ready.

Pet Sematary, Mary Lambert, 1989

Unlike the remake this has no sense of place, but the weirdness and messiness of it all more than makes up for it.

Dumbo, Tim Burton, 2019

I'd preferred a more thorough exploration of dreamworld over the generic mayhem towards the end, and Farrell is a bit boring as the human anchor of the story. The affect images at the center of the film are well calibrated and never overplayed, though, the gloss balanced with the matter-of-fact cruelty of circus life.

Pink elephants made up from soap reflected in the eye of a big-eared elephant made up from code.

Dumbo, diverse, 1941

Elephants in Technicolor, cleaned with their own tears.

Saturday, February 08, 2020

letterboxd backup (8)

Hallo Janine, Carl Boese, 1939

An ersatz hollywood backstage musical leading up to an ersatz Busby Berkeley dance spectacle. The latter is better than I thought it would be, as is the oft-repeated theme song - just a tiny bit jazzier than one would expect Goebbels to be okay with. Still, I don`t know what to make of the whole thing. Everything flows smoothly and there are a few very nice scenes - the rapid-fire introduction of the dancing girls, Rökk and Godden making up a shared childhood on the spot, an intriguing Edith Meinhard in much too small a role, smiling through tears - but the central romance feels off, more like a business merger than something based on mutual attraction (which could be interesting in a film much smarter than this one).

In the beginning Rökk`s power-acting kind of intrigued me, but in the end I couldn`t relate to her - always the same slick professionalism (yes, she really can tapdance, but her show routines feel like they address the jury of a sporting event, not a live audience), always the same upbeat attitude towards life. Embodied feasibility. Heesters is more intriguing in theory, much darker, but well, he is just an unredeemable asshole in this one.

He plays a composer. In one scene, he transforms the anger of his girlfriend into the lyrics of another hit song, just like Fritsch does in LEICHTE MUSE. In nazi cinema, music doesn`t correspond to feelings, but displaces them.

Tai-Chi Master, Yuen Woo-ping, 1993

The joyful vulgarity of some of the earlier Yuen films I`ve seen is toned down a bit here. This feels less lived-in, more synthetic, but in the end it doesn`t matter much because the almost non-stop action scenes are as original and varied as ever and Jet Li is a force of nature (Fennie Yuen is my favorite among the supporting cast, her death scene is brutal). The dynamic between the two leads works very well, too, despite being set up in just a few very short scenes. In a way it`s a story about two fools hell-bent on self-mutilation, but disagreeing on how best to reach this goal. The last time they`re truly happy together is when they jointly smash bricks on their own forehead.

The "revelation scene" with the Tai-Chi scripture, the ball and the pond is a hilarious bit of pop philosophy.

Zwei Herzen im Dreivierteltakt, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Toni (Walter Janssen) is a composer. While trying out a melody on the piano, his gaze wanders towards the open window, butterflies flutter over gardenias, the music floats over into the outside world, filling the streets, activating a few passersby, other instruments join in, a military chapel adds rhythm.

---

Vicky (Willi Forst) and Nicky (Oskar Karlweis) are brothers and songwriters who live together. One of their petty arguments develops into a piano standoff, each one in his own room in front of his instrument, a symmetrical framing, Vicky to the left, Nicky to the right, short bursts of melody travelling back and forth. Vicky and Nicky have a sister, who might not be their sister. They fantasize about marrying her, but in a way they always know there`s no need for that, they can be husband and wife themselves (Willi Forst is the wife, of course), if a song requires it, they can even be a whole bunch of chorus girls.

The music is not enough, Vicky tells the producer (S.Z. Sakall) of an operetta he, Nicky and Toni are working on. The music has to be rooted, he insists, in a story, in characters. In von Bolvary`s film, the opposite is true: The characters are rooted in music, and only in music. Besides the song of the moment, there`s nothing one could count on: "You, too, will betray me / you, too, will lie to me".

The libretto is nearly finished (Sakall is already ecstatic), but the waltz is still missing. When Toni meets Hedi (Gretl Theimer), the melody starts flowing, and he thinks he has finished the job. But the waltz is, in fact, inseperable from the girl, when Hedi is gone, the music is, too. She is both the only recording of the waltz and the only grammophone able to reproduce it.

High Life, Claire Denis, 2018

I had heard a lot about the craziness, but nothing about how sad this is. A film about a double loss: first, the flashbacks to earth reveal, we had to leave behind the world of grain and texture (the world of film), then we also were forced to destroy the empty, flat, digital, neon space of raw desire and primal bodies (both unhinged from tradition) that took its place. In the end, life might, once again, find a way, but this doesn't mean there's any place left to go. The taboo is back in place and in the most beautiful scene of the film Monte observes his daughter's first steps, but his own movements lead only inward.

The Descent, Neil Marshall, 2005

Hasn't lost its grip. A perfectly calibrated ghost train ride made all the more effective by the careful, slow build-up. Because the group stays together for so long, their final separation feels like a complete breakdown of all securities, a splintering of affect, world, flesh, colour, light.
The only misstep is the film's insistence on blaming Juno for everything under the sun, because it works against the film's strength, the straightforward, irresistible, irrational pull (trumping both narrative and psychological plausability) towards the deep, dark and slimy.

Little Women, Mervyn LeRoy, 1949

June Allyson jumping over the fence must be some kind of magic trick, bringing alive these prime MGM sets in ways they almost never are.

The Lone Wolf Returns, Roy William Neill, 1935

Melvyn Douglas isn't a very good playboy detective - he's way too intense. Still, I enjoyed this quite a bit, because Neill tries and largely succeeds (maybe because of his horror background) to match the narrative twistings with visual style. Lots of shadows, veils, curtains, layerings, faces slowly revealed.

Das Land des Lächelns, Max Reichmann, 1930

Operetta film framed by the performance of the operetta, starting with the arrival of the audience and some cynical banter. Even after the show starts there are frequent cuts into the audience, and there's even a storyline connecting / mirroring the stage play and two lovers in one of the boxes. The scenes of the operetta itself are very stage-bound, but not just filmed theater. Reichmann constantly switches back and forth between a purely theatrical and a more properly diegetic space. Although the film feels very basic at times, almost like early cinema, there's something intricate about the use of reverse shots, eyeline matches and doors.

In the end its all about capturing Richard Tauber's performance, and the film certainly serves well as a showcase for his abilities and even more so for the richness of the operetta genre in the 1920s as a whole (I was especially taken by Helly Kürty as Mi, in what probably was her only major film role). The songs combine an almost operatic feel with lower, filthier instincts, and while the plot of this one would elicit (completely justified) outrage today, the songs combine crass exoticism and viennese cordiality in an intriguing way. "China girl / I wish you were my Vienna girl"

The Wild Pear Tree, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, 2018

It peaks early, in the scene with Hatice. The exchange of flirty glances, her hair, freed from the headscarf, flooding first her face, then the whole screen. And, finally, her bite on his lip, resulting in a battle scar (a second one follows soon afterwards) a little too proudly worn by Sinan, who spends the rest of the film withering away, helplessly fighting the pull of the world to transform him into his own father.

Like all of his films, Ceylan`s new is great on a moment for moment, conversation for conversation level. He remains one of the great explorers of the modes and mechanisms of small-time pettiness and the delusions of grandeur that go along with it. There`s also a pleasantly humble feel to it, despite the long running time. A single helicopter shot when entering Sinan`s hometown for the first time is the only lofty cinematic gesture, everything else stays on eye level.

The melodramatic undercurrents are toned down this time, so much so that for a while the film feels like a rather freewheeling exploration of provincial spaces and manners (thereby mirroring the book Sinan has written, of course; there`s always an excess of structure in Ceylan`s films). But later, when Ceylan tightens the strings again and leads everything back to the father-son dynamic, something feels off. In its best moments, this is very much a film about a country entering depression (in both meanings of the word), but somehow, Ceylan`s mode of intimate, family-centered storytelling doesn`t feel quite adequate for the task.

Captain Marvel, Boden & Fleck, 2019

Casting Brie Larson as your first female solo hero when you have Scarlett Johansson in your line-up is a very Marvel thing to do. These aggressively pedestrian big budget "spectacles" really are a disgrace to an industry that used to live and breathe glamour even on poverty row.

(Ok, there’s a somewhat decent Samuel L. Jackson on autopilot performance and a few stylish Gemma Chan moments. But that’s it, really. The 90s hommage theme especially is beyond lazy.)

Wonder Woman, Patty Jenkins, 2017

Post Zack Snyder superhero cinema is depressing. The Themyscira scenes in the beginning are very much in his style, and they are absolutely awesome. When things switch to the World War I setting, the air of elevated madness is gone (and the color grading gets really ugly). Thanks to the solid oldschool staging, the straightforward adventure plot and a very good Gadot who feels at home in screwball comedy just as much as in action set pieces, the film doesn’t deflate completely, but it still amounts to a frustrating normalization. Also, some of the woke posturing is really embarassing (to use native americans as stock villains is, to my mind, less insulting than to turn one of them into a mouthpiece for 21th century thinkpiece platitudes).

Trouble Every Day, Claire Denis, 2001

No idea why, especially with all the things going on here that should've impressed my younger self much more, but the only images that stayed with me clear as day from my first viewing were some of the laboratory scenes.

Ein blonder Traum, Paul Martin, 1932

Limited escapism: You want to get away from the frantic, dangerous present, from the political turmoil, from bourgeois respectability, from monogamous, strictly heterosexual love, but you only make it as far as a garden house just outside of the city limits. There, you try to build and indeed manage to sustain for a while a world of your own. In the end, though, this new world turns out to be just a less obviously repressive version of the old one. The radically different life you really desire (or maybe you just think you do) is accessible only through dreams, or momentarily, in short, fleeting glances.

As an UFA production, this is more streamlined in tone and style than the best of the operetta films of the time, but there’s a lot of joy in it nonetheless. The script is good, the songs are great, the location shooting is beautiful and Martin’s unintrusive direction serves the material well. Fritsch and Harvey were the dream couple of the time, of course, but the true center of the film is the strained friendship of Forst and Fritsch. All those double balancing acts on bicycles as well as on ladders, the constant laughing off of any tension, sexual or otherwise, the short, awkward silent moments at the end of scenes.

(Not surprisingly, I like the insecure, kind of dingy Forst much more than boring alpha Fritsch.)

Black Panther, Ryan Coogler, 2018

At least there's a a complete, largely self-sustaining vision. In the analog era, that might have been enough to make this memorable and iconic. But digital world building is less stable, and although the CGI is less random and less ugly than in other Marvel films, I don't think anything beyond the characters will resonate much in a few years.

Also, unlike CAPTAIN MARVEL, BLACK PANTHER at least (another "at least") follows through with its image politics. The fact that it succeeds in updating a black superhero aesthetics for the digital age is probably more important than all the discussions about its specific political stance (I couldn't care about this at all, maybe because I've read too much bad takes on the topic by now; to my mind Killmonger only dominates the film because Michael B. Jordan is a great actor).

All of this can't make me get over the fact that, when it comes to the filmic / dramaturgic particulars, almost nothing works. There should be a million more interestings things to do with the Wakanda setting than to turn it into the backdrop for a tired, vaguely Shakespearean royal drama. Also, the pacing is off, especially in the continent-hopping beginning, and the action set pieces might be even worse than usual - when you aim higher, you fall deeper, the car chase scene in Korea, for example, is a major atrocity.

L´armee des ombres, Jean-Pierre Melville, 1969

Rewatching this, I'm not quite sure any more if it is a good or a bad thing (or rather: what it means, aesthetically) that Melville's formal restraint and control finds, for once, justification not in itself, but in an outside force.

Either way, a masterpiece. What struck me the most this time is the short, weird scene in London, especially Ventura's short stay at the dance party. The airy, almost aquarelle colors, floating more than fixed, the hints at queerness, the exteriority of it all not only in regards to the war, but also in regards to Ventura and Melville's cinema.

Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Mervyn LeRoy, 1944

A slow, but steady and meitculous commitment to the war effort, without any aberrations - its just one long movement forward, and then one long movement backwards. Van Johnson's performance doesn't go one bit beyond exemplary american soldier, and there generally isn't much in terms of interpersonal dynamics (usually those are what makes LeRoy's films strong). But the low-altitude flying scenes alone make THIRTY SECONDS worth watching, and the scene after the crash landing at the Chinese coast, with the soldiers dragging themelves and each other towards a rock to form a heap of half-functioning limps and exhausted flesh, will stay with me.

Police Python 357, Alain Corneau, 1976

Eccentric and hypnotic from the start. The psychedelic chorals of George Delarue's title track lead into an arrhytmic romance - Montand and Sandrelli whirl around each other like two magnets with constantly changing polarization. Someone's always missing, or too much there, and when both are finally ready for each other, a truck bumps into Montand's car. Love not as fusion, as gliding into each other, but as a jarring motion, always at odds with the world.

When she dies, the subsequent thriller plot starts from there, from a world out of joint. While the two american films based on the source novel (THE BIG CLOCK and NO WAY OUT, both great, too) focus on the suspense dynamic of the investigator circling in on himself, Corneau takes a different route. POLICE PHYTON 357 is much more interested in the mark the murdered woman has left on the lifes of two men. Both of them had voids to fill, she didn't fit in either, but now that she's gone, the emptiness is all the more visible. Montand's dismal bachelor life and Perier's neutered vulnerability are very much the center of the film, in the constant attention to their living arrangements, but also in the way their bodys are scrutinized. The long scene with Montand at the shooting range...

One telling detail: While in NO WAY OUT, a digitally rendered image of the investigator is slowly but surely revealed, in POLICE PHYTON 357 it is the image of the woman that keeps coming back, again and again, even up to the last scene. (Is Montand's self-mutilation, the destruction of his own image=face, payback for him slapping Sandrelli earlier in the film?)

Corneau directs with wacky elegance throughout. During the sex scene, what first looks like a tear on Sandrinelli's cheek is revealed to be condensed sweat on the car window. The exquisit, crazy finale marries the manic intensity of, say, the DEATH WISH sequels with the kinetic energy of heroic bloodshed cinema. Or something like that. It's completely out there.

Innocence, Lucile Hadzihalilovic, 2004

Growing up in a purely metaphorical space that is, at the same time, sensually experienced as solid, organic, physical surrounding. I couldn't establish a stable relationship with this film the first time, and the second time was no different.

In 3 Tagen bist Du tot, Andreas Prochaska, 2006

Rewatch from an excellent print. Of course, almost every film is better on 35mm (including many digitally shot ones), but this was also an reminder of how unstable a medium cinema is. Small scale, low profile maintream releases like this normally get at best two to three weeks in the theater and that's it, most of them will almost never again be experienced the way they are supposed to. Or at least: the way they were born into the world of moving images.

Let the Right One In, Tomas Alfredson, 2008

A treatise on loneliness more in love with genre tropes and affects than I remembered it to be. The color grading also, while indeed a bit oppressively scandinavian at times, is more nuanced than in my memory. Especially the way red is allowed to frequently shine through those ochre-muted blue betonscapes... most effectively when the streams of blood come running over Eli's face.

Lovely to Look At, Mervyn LeRoy, 1952

Looks absolutely stunning throughout, the color explosions and all of the dancing scenes are magnificent, but it’s not dense enough to work as a montage of attractions only. For this to truly succeed, there would’ve to be an effective emotional arc stringing things together. LeRoy comes closest to finding one in the scenes dealing with Miller’s and Grayson’s jealousy and their subsequent retreats into sober pragmatism (Miller) and private fantasy (Grayson - especially in the beautiful, intimate "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" scene). The main problem, on the other hand, is the complete lack of chemistry between the three male leads.

One scene for eternity: Miller’s first and only dance. Especially her legs: two solid, powerful, larger than life organic columns, stomping away like a perfectly tuned, alluring but ultimately inscrutable mechanism. They are clearly the center of everyone’s attention - even Miller herself seems to be only just about able to keep them under control.

Ne te retourne pas, Marina de Van, 2009

Two modes of non-identical subjectivity: Marceau painfully desintegrates, her bourgeoise shell (and star image) slowly crumbling away, while Bellucchi is a shapeshifter, constantly and smoothly gliding into new postures, embodying each one as if it would be her only, true self.

Boarding Gate, Olivier Assayas, 2007

Revisiting it now, Assayas's and Argento's sexy dystopia feels almost like retro nostalgia. I long to go back to a time when people still thought globalization was our inevitable future. And were, despite everything, pretty excited about it.

Le livre d´image, Jean-Luc Godard, 2018

In the end, the most affecting feature of Godard’s image making machine is that it just refuses to stop. What still pulls me in is the compulsive, almost psychopathological quality of his work, especially evident in the use of music, the splicing together of his favorite classical melodies and his favorite classical cinema fetishes, the believe that in these ultimately rather selfsame sounds and images, in their endless repetition, combination and recombination, still resides some hidden potential not yet realized. (I believe in this too).

On the other hand, all of this did find its natural peak in the HISTOIRE(S) and I tend to be among those who can’t see much more in his films of the last two decades than remixes of and footnotes to his greatest work. THE IMAGE BOOK might be the first one that really left me cold for much of the running time. It feels like bare-bones Godard, but not in a good way. He is no longer interested in working in and on metaphors accumulating into fluid networks of meaning, even his word-play game is rather weak this time (ok, I can’t really judge this, so let’s say, there’s at least less of it than usually). Instead he seems to go for elevated images that work like gestures, commenting on each other, pulling each other, screaming at each other, sometimes ripping each other to shreds. At its worst, THE IMAGE BOOK feels like a string of meme comments on a twitter thread. His use of various kinds of digital trash aesthetics did fascinate me for a while, but ultimately it had a similar effect.

The chapter about the arabic world clearly is the most interesting part and the only one that I have any desire to dive deeper into one day. It’s starting point and probably also one of its limitation is a strict adherence to oldschool antiimerialist politics (I’m glad he mostly stays away from Isreal, this time...), but there’s something unassured about the juxtapositions, especialy about the extremely tentative, almost clumsy insertion of his own new material. Even after repeatedly conquering the whole world in and through images, a simple shot of a busy street from a hotel balcony can present almost unsurmountable challenges.

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

Might make a good topic for a Kittlerian probing into media history: Women and / as phonographs in early German sound cinema. Here, Marta Eggerth tries to sell hit records by basically becoming one herself.

The film is a bit similar to FRÜHJAHRSPARADE in its laid-back rhythm and its willingness (bordering on overeagerness) to completely hand over the field to the supporting cast again and again, most gloriously in the scenes with Tibor Halmay, who, among other things, excells in one of the most amazing artistic drunk performances I’ve ever seen.

Gustav Fröhlich, on the other hand, is a complete buzzkill in every scene he’s in, and a reminder that soon after this film left the cinemas, millions of young men modelled after him swooned all over Germany, both in- and outside of the screen (Fröhlich himself, unlike most other members of the cast, continued to stay at the top of the entertainment industry and wasted no time in getting rid of his jewish wife Gitta Alpar soon after the takeover).

What They Had, Elizabeth Chomko, 2018

The rather consistent sense of urban melancholia, especially in the scenes with Swank and Shannon, is just about all I could relate to in this. Aside from that, another reminder that the arrival of digital color grading might've been the single most catastrophic event in film history.

Insignificance, Nicolas Roeg, 1985

Roeg gets some almost perverse pleasures out of infusing a completely studio/stage-bound setup with visual flights of fancy. There are always enough ideas to keep things in flow. The euphoric, aggressive synch-pop cues for McCarthy's entrance might be my favorite moments in the film; the ending, while not impressing me all that much, had some images with an interesting anime feel.

In the end, though, this never transcends its probably rather terrible source material. The longer satirical dialogue scenes are almost cringeworthy and at least some of them ooze a very european kind of condescension towards mass culture and America. Ultimately, Roeg seeks truth neither in style nor in performance (the casting is terribly misguided, especially Russell and Curtis seem to have no idea what to do with their roles), but in the mechanics of a dubious historical fantasy, that comes close to blaming Auschwitz on McCarthy and Hiroshima on Einstein. While not even acknowledging that the main point of the exercise always was to take another peek under Marilyn's skirt.

Les Jeux de la Comtesse Dolingen de Gratz, Catherine Binet, 1981

An amazing oddity, decadent and high-strung in all the right ways. The film constantly switches between different narrative and enunciative layers, and although one seems somestimes to be in danger of getting lost in obscurantism, Binet's marvellous, almost arrogantly brilliant direction always stays in complete control, not the least thanks to her literary sensibility evident throughout. But at the same time, this doesn't feel concept-heavy at all, because the film leaves enough room for marvellous one-off bits like the two Argentinians singing in the train at the beginning.

Structurally, COUNTESS DOLINGEN seems to be built around an intricate, inextricable tension between concrete experience and markers of pure artificality directly opposed to or even openly hostile towards experience. On the one hand, Binet tells an intense, dark, daring, and very specific coming of age tale (including some segments exploring violent sexual fantasies no one would dare exploring today). Here, the film uses mostly unknowns (some of them, like Katia Wastchenko, who carries the bulk of the film, never to be seen again in cinema) and is all about remembering and reliving the places and gestures of early adolescence, the dynamics, glances and jealousies of a summer at the pool, and finally, the sharing of peaches with your way to old first real crush. Sensuous chewing, the juices are flowing.

On the other hand, there are a number of bizarre, decidedly unspecific, almost abstract bits and stories playing off of and ultimately decentering / denaturalizing the main storyline. Michael Lonsdale spends most of the film with his face turned away from the camera, Carol Kane seems to sleepwalk through most of her scenes, only to almost literally explode at the end... Impossible to get a handle of all that is going on here after just one viewing...

Les salauds vont en enfer, Robert Hossein, 1955

A cigarette butt getting passed from hand to hand is translated into spoons hammering away throughout a prison complex in morse code: either Macquard or Rudel, every single inmate is told, is a traitor. From the beginning, the prison is a space defined by rhythm and music. Later, a song sung by a black prisoner synthesizes the isolated faces behind the barred cell door windows into a fellowship of suffering. And when Macquard and Rudel, afraid of retribution by their fellow prisoners, decide to escape, their getaway (an expertly directed suspense scene, a perfectly calibrated arrangement of gazes and movements, order and its disruption) is both guarded by and scored to a church music performance.

They succeed in getting away. While wading through a muddy beach area, one of them is almost swallowed up by an invisible gaping depth - one of the very few scenes that play out a bit awkward, but in the end, it will have made perfectly sense. Because it tells us that they are already doomed before they even meet Eva.

In the prison, the women were confined to the imaginary, so they could stay brunette and true, while in reality they had already turned blonde and unfaithful. They even could be imitated, embodied in make-belief striptease shows performed in the prison yard. On the outside, Eva, the woman dominating the second half of the film, may start out as a picture, but she is also a bodily reality.

Though, at the same time, Marina Vlady's Eva is clearly a special effect. Her skin has a completely different texture than every other surface visible in the film. Sealed up and doll-like, but also possessing a plasticity that makes every other object feel flat.

Of course, both men are hooked right from the start, and jealousie ensues. But in the end, it is not so much about her actions, her femme fatale routines, about two men fighting and dying over a woman, but about two men encountering a woman, the first woman, Eva, and thereby learning sommething about themselves. An existentialist and psychosexual parable channeled through a stylish film noir plot. In a way Macquard and Rudel become two seperate, distinguishable beings only when confrontedd with Eva. Beforehand, they were tied to each other, both by external forces and by their mutual distrust. Now they realize they are free, because their desire for Eva opens up a moral choice: either act on it violently, or treat her as an equal.

Ironically, this new-found freedom also allows them to die together, almost happily: Now that we know Eva and therefore ourselves, let's walk away from the camera and coalesce with the beachscape. (Or rather: drown in Eva's quicksand?)

Pointe de chute, Robert Hossein, 1970

Wonderful to watch this directly after THE WICKED GO TO HELL, as both films form a perfect circle: The last shot of the earlier film showed a beachscape into which two men had just vanished; the first shot of the later film starts with almost exactly the same shot - an undistinguished greyish beachscape, that only slowly is revealed to be populated by a number of cars and swarming people.

What follows feels like an minimalist remix of the second half of THE WICKED GO TO HELL. Again, a woman is held by men in an isolated beach house (although in fact, the setting is completely abstract this time: the sea is right there, but completely unreachable all the same), again, violence and desire are unseparable. Though, this time, Hossein transforms this setup not into noiry, sex-crazed existentialism, but into a cinematic echochamber. Starting from a handfull of objects - a mask, a half-eaten sandwich, a radio device etc - triggering flashbacks, the story, accompanied by a hypnotic score, unfolds almost completely wordless, through a series of gazes and movements which are not so much happening (as a result of conscious decisions made by autonomouse subjects), but rather fall into place, filling out the missing pieces of a preordained structure. This doesn't mean that the desperation isn't real, though.

Les scelerats, Robert Hossein, 1960

A tale of two houses. On one side of the street, a french family lives a quiet, uneventful life. Not necessarily a happy and content one, but all the frictions, all the neurosis are contained, bottlet up in a few tight rooms, in a modest, claustrophobic family home. The sole street window is used for looking out, scanning the neighborhood, but it doesn't provide insights into the lives that are lived behind it.

The window of the neighborhing house, a building constructed in the modern, American way, with a huge glass front only insufficently protected by sun-blinds, are made to be looked into first, looked out of second. Or rather: if at all, because the people living in this house, a childless american couple, don't need to feed on their neighbors lifes. They provide for their own drama, because with them, everything's out in the open.

Interior design is often key in Hossein's films, and especially in this one. The film never tires of looking at the "american" home's living room, a space of many mysteries, although it's more intricate than vast. Nothing is hidden, but there's also no plain sight, just cascades of gazes: the maid looking through the serving hatch at the man of the house (Hossein), who stares at his drunk wife (Michele Morgan) who in turn gazes out into nothingness. Especially curious is the abundance of staircases, which are used as focal points of and so many stages for the dramatic events that start unfolding once the daughter of the French family next door starts working as a maid in the glass palace.

(Hossein is smooth but maybe not quite as melancholical as his role would demand, but Morgan provides enough psychodrama for both of them, anyway.)

Hossein's film, while staying true to its minimalist design throughout (whenever someone drives away from the two houses the film unfolds in, he or she inevitably ends up at the same railway crossing, as if this is all that's left of the rest of the world) cleverly shifts between different tones and genres. What starts out as a light, almost satirical comedy slowly reveals itself to be a psychological melodrama - but the mood is never as fatalistic as a plot synopsis (or the rather ill-adviced, plushy-noiry voice-over) would suggest. For most of the film, things are kept up in the air and, all things considered, both the Americans and the French profit from their new acquaintances.

Toi... le venin, Robert Hossein, 1959

A man out of nowhere (or rather, almost the same, out of television) is picked up and seduced by a mysterious blond, who keeps everything but her blonde hair and breasts in the shadow. Afterwards he tries to fill in the missing parts by entering a house inhabited by two sisters (and a grumpy maid expertly used for comedic relief). One of the sisters is played by Marina Vlady, who is wheelchair-bound and called Eva, like in LES SALAUDS VONT EN ENFER, but she is no longer a first woman, because now, there are two of them. Her sister is played by Odile Versois, and of course, both have blonde hair.

They take the man (Hossein himself) in, and, of course, the game of seduction and counterseduction, of suspicion and distraction, starts almost immediately. But what fascinates me most is that, once again, despite the minimalist setup and expert use of space (you are always provided, in all of Hossein's film, an exact spatial delimination of all the decicive elements), this doesn't really feel like a "tight narrative". The suspense elements pop up only now and then, and rather than leading up to a climax, they just accumulate. It's more about rhythm and repetition than about causes and consequences. For quite a while you get the feeling that, despite all the hysterics, both real and imagined, the two sisters and their mutual not-quite-lover could just go on with their present arrangement: three damaged lives, keeping each other in check, and getting at least some kicks out of it, sometimes. "I could eat half a horse", Versois tells us at one time.