Wednesday, March 03, 2021

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

So ein Mädel vergißt man nicht, Fritz Kortner, 1933

One of my favorite back-projection scenes: Willi Forst dreamwalking in a world of private musical fantasy, while behind him the big city slides by, unaffected.

The Orgy, Koji Wakamatsu, 1967

Tight little film with a wonderful Ken Yoshizawa performance at the center. Drifting through the streets and a few beds, lanky and irreverent, too big for his car, every action, and the sex too, feels random, and still there's that one fabulous burst of energy when he suddenly starts dancing, out in the wasteland, where finally really is no one around. Expression is only possible when you're on your own, when there's no way for it to flow back into communication.

The form is 60s but the relentless nihilism feels ahead of its time. Society is not just broken but non-existent, under the water, a bet on a future that is never going to happen. The bancruptcy of everything is a given, not the end point but a starting point. It's just that there also is no way to go from here.

Der brave Sünder, Fritz Kortner, 1931

A slow but unstoppable descent into total madness, triggered by an authoritarian impulse no (yet) coupled with a talent for organization. An outlier among early German sound comedies, because it isn't rooted in operetta mechanics but introduces a darker tone, both satirical and absurdist. At times it feels a little bit overeager, too, but for the most part, Kortner's inventive direction (his eye for expressionistic detail especially) keeps things moving along fast enough. Plus, the central party scene is pretty much unbelievable, prime sleazy German precode material.

It begins and ends with Max Pallenberg's great stunt performance, that today feels a bit isolated and contextless but probably made sense for audiences at the time. Everything else is an afterthought - Rühmann at least makes his presence known once in a while. Dolly Haas, on the other hand, barely registers.

I want to know more about Rose Poindexter (all I can find is that she later married Ralph Ellison), who really is the only one here who stands any chance against Pallenberg.

New Underground History of Japanese Violence: Vengeance Demon, Koji Wakamatsu, 1969

Absolutely loved this. Less abstract than most late 60s Wakamatsu I've seen so far, but in a way, the fact that on the surface this looks like a "legit" period drama makes it only more radical. Because it's like you really can see the world folding in on itself, losing its richness and depth, until everything that's left is a series of acts of violence, an image machine running solely on anger and sadism. Violence being transformed from a means to an end: this is the (in the end not political, but anti-political) core of the film, and probably of most Adachi scripted stuff I've seen so far. Those prolonged delays before the final blow, the focus on mimics, and of course that sick, ultra repetitive, hypnotic faux spaghetti western soundtrack. Again: the richness of music boiled down to a core of compressed, seductive madness.

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

Käthe von Nagy and Willy Fritsch are great together because they don't quite fit, she's too agile emotionally, so his attacks do not quite land and when she succumbs to them anyway it just has to be true love.

Factory Cowboys: Working with Warhol, Ulli Lommel, 2018

The scenes of aging Joe Dallesandro reminiscing about his factory past while sitting next to a bust of his younger, long-haired self are sufficient reason to justify the existence of this. To be sure, they're also pretty much the only reason, although some of the reenactments are cringy (Angela Davies) or random (Onassis/Kennedy/Marilyn) enough to make one raise an eyebrow or two once in a while.

Queen of Rio, Ulli Lommel, 2018

Maybe Lommel should've just taken the hint and stopped making movies after he died.

Singapore Woman, Jean Negulesco, 1941

Brenda Marshall hitting the bottle hard, before being reborn in a tropic thunderstorm. A lot of it feels rushed and some of the narrative shortcuts are downright stupid, but it hits where it counts, starting with a great Sternbergian barroom scene. The middle stretch with Marshall and Bruce being holed up in a plantation home is even better. At one point she humiliates him by laughing about his sensitivity. There's a sense of real cruelness to the scene, because not only is his character a weakling, but Bruce also is a somewhat inadequate actor, at least for a role like this. When he drives away in anger a bridge collapses and he gets stuck in the mud - her mud.

Itim, Mike de Leo, 1977

"A darkroom is supposed to be dark". Beautiful epistemological horror film in which the desire to see is inextricably linked with visionary blindness.

(The existing digital version generally isn't bad, but the brightness setting seems to be off at times. Hope this gets a better treatment someday, because this is a film that really needs the exactly right amount of darkness in every single frame.)

Kuthiraivaal, Manoj Leonel Jahson, Shyam Sunder, 2021

Wacky high concept film that seems to be constantly folding in on itself. Don't know if it amounts to all that much in the end, but worth it for the intricate sequence shot aesthetics and the creative use of digital alone.

Vertauschtes Leben, Helmut Weiss, 1961

Helmut Weiss trying out a solemn, at times claustrophobic black and white style and shooting for psychological realism, while still not being able to let go of melodramatic manipulations of the cheapest kind and shying away from the very same psychosexual implications the plot teases about constantly - resulting in a film that doesn't really live up to its own characters. Still, fascinating stuff, an intricate study in well-meaning repression.

All scenes with Baal and Prack are extremely creepy; more because of Baal than because of Prack, though. In fact, her scenes with her age-appropriate boyfriend are even creepier. Barbara Frey, on the other hand, is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Dark Heaven, Ratana Pestonji, 1958

Charming if extremely slow moving Thai musical melodrama. Mise en scene is mostly just a small number of characters placed in front of a flat static background (like a wall or a shabby apartment), the tunes are extremely repetitive and the focus is not on plot but on yearning. For someone, for a better life.

Once a Moth, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, 1976

Quintessential Nora Aunor as national allegory film. This is mostly about throwing 100 minutes of (post-)colonial injustice towards her tiny, fragile body, until she finally agrees to become the medium of the rage that has been building up inside the audience.

All in all extremely effective propaganda filmmaking that isn't shying away from the occasional cheap trick and also has a good eye for bodies. The grandfather for example really got on my nerves at times, but his dance scene is truly magical.

Assault Girls, Mamoru Oshii, 2009

A zen comedy of gameplay aesthetics; or, Oshii trolling his way into post-cinema. Don't have much to say about this, I guess, other than this would make much more sense conceptually at 700 rather than 70 minutes. Of course, this also would render it completely unwatchable, an outcome not necessarily at odds with the strategic masterplan that might or might not fuel Oshii's erratic career.

Resurrectio, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931

Endlessly fascinating early Italian sound film in which truly all bets are off. In terms of filmic style, especially (erratic camera movements, intricately composed long shots next to close-ups quivering with affect, images melting out of focus, dissolves cancelling out figures without apparent reason), but also in terms of narrative, like when a quite harmless burst of wind results in a few minutes of complete and utter mayhem inside of a concert hall. It's also extremely sensual and sexual, a film of music touching bodies, with the mind generally struggling to keep up with pretty much everything Blasetti thows on the screen. All of this doesn't even begin to describe what Venera Alexandescu does and wears throughout the film. I want to know so much more about this.

Delinquent Girl: Alley Cat in Heat, Chusei Sone, 1973

Probably my favorite Sone so far. Narratively it's extremely basic, a country girl stained by the big city setup that sometimes feels a bit like a american 70s hardcore comedy directed by someone like Chuck Vincent only without the hardcore and, of course, done with much more skill. Runs mostly on sleazy detail, inventive camerawork and a cheerful Yuko Katagiri performance for most of its runtime, only to take not one but two surprising left turns in the last ten minutes, resulting in two different versions of expanded theater: one on the streets, obscene and utopian and female, and one on a rooftop, intimate and psychotic and male.

Klondike Kate, William Castle, 1943

Well-made little Castle western that starts, directly after the credits, with a collective scream: "Women!" And off everyone goes towards the saloon... The rest of the film unfolds almost without outdoor scenes - in fact, the only time the central couple seriously ventures outside they have to return pretty soon because the sidewalk construction isn't finished and the streets are trenched in mud.

Inside it's mostly about different kinds of performances and the constant interplay of stage, backstage and audience. Castle's direction is completely assured and not without the kind of small-scale formalist inventiveness his mystery programmers excel in.

A small gem only hampered by less than ideal casting. Ann Savage remains a much too aloof presence throughout while Glenda Farrell, who might've made a much better lead, is sadly underused.

La Cieca Di Sorrento, Nunzio Malasomma, 1934

A young Anna Magnani really is the only reason to see this. Her role isn't that big but she has a few surprising, memorable close-ups. Otherwise a bit of a chore.

Black Rose Mansion, Kinji Fukasaku, 1969

Uncoupled from a solid genre script Fukasaku's ornamental approach to style easily can get on one's nerve, I guess, but I was thoroughly in love with this pretty much the whole time. It starts out like a faux European art film complete with Visconti crowd scenes and a general air of aristocratic moldiness, only to be transformed, step by step, into something much more somber and elegant and abstract. Towards the end there's a car action scene of magnificent, lurid purity.

Sale comme un ange, Catherine Breillat, 1991

Worse Lieutenant. No remorse, no redemption, no grace. (Maybe a little bit of grace.) He just has to continue existing as a sexual being, like the rest of us.

Kanto Wanderer, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

Starts with a few schoolgirls who develop a crush on a yakuza, and I probably would've liked this even more if it'd stayed in this lane. The glance Sanae Nakahara exchanges with one of the young gangsters while he's getting tattooed, the way she proudly presents her bruised wrist to a girlfriend after she was handcuffed... Then there's the enthusiastic overacting of another young yakuza who also happens to wear a hilarious crew cut. All in all perfect teen comedy material.

Akira Kobayashi unfortunately has more serious things on his mind, and once the film starts to center on him, a typically convoluted gangland plot takes over. He's still a great lead, of course, and the perfectly stylized scene, working through a new color scheme almost every single shot, leading up to his confrontation with a rival boss must be one of the most beautiful three minutes Suzuki ever directed.

Gli uomini, che mascalzoni..., Mario Camerini, 1932

Very pleasant comedy featuring a young Vittorio de Sica who could charm his way into the heart of just about anyone. Camerini uses dialog sparingly, and mostly tells his story through (automotive) movement and glances.

Three Years Without God, Mario O'Hara, 1976

The best film I've seen in a while: a requiem for the three darkest among many dark years of recent Filipino history. Opening his film with a Hitler speech, O'Hara makes it clear from the start that he is ready to go to the hardest of places, although his endgame is not so much political rage than an all-encompassing sense of loss (coupled with a strong catholic undercurrent). Projecting the multi-layered atrocities of the Japanese occupation onto Nora Aunor's fragile body means channeling history through melodrama, but not in order to simplify it, but, quite the contrary, to lay bare a number of dark ironies that are completely at odds with all nationalistic ideologies (and, for example, its use of rape as metaphor).

Although I don't know how direct an influence it was, at least spiritually this does feel like an important precursor for Lav Diaz's cinema, too. O'Hara's approach to characters and especially historical agency might be completely different, but the imago of the godforsaken woman wandering through the jungle alone makes for a clear enough connection.

(The restored version looks like a hand-painted silent at its best and like a moldy mush at its worst, and certainly never like a true color film. Still better than nothing of course, and another proof of how timely this recent batch of restorations of Filipino classics is.)

Atragon, Ishiro Honda, 1963

Of course Honda also made an underwater empire film... The clash of civilizations storyline might not exactly play to his strengths (or rather: lay bare the limitations of his films as political fantasies), and the human interest storylines are once again a bit muddled and overcrowded... but on the other hand the magnificent drilling spaceship might be his most Verneian vision and the scene with the red-haired underwater queen swimming towards the multi-color extravaganza that is the destruction of her world is enough to make this one worthwhile.

Greenland, Ric Roman Waugh, 2020

About half of this is just a single, long, dense night of pitch-black despair, with the only light provided by the continuing apocalypse illuminating the sky. Bodies desperately clinging together and still being torn apart. Alone in the dark. When the sun eventually rises, the film goes on for almost another hour and, despite a welcome Scott Glenn interlude, loses some of its steam.

Still, a touching film. Not completely un-cringy (like when the son, after mostly silently tagging along, finally opens his mouth, only to suddenly spit wisdom like the most unbearable of imaginary twitter kids), but with an expert handle on both pyrotechnics and affect. Also, while family ideology is in full swing again (the first thing Butler does, up there on a highrise, is checking a picture of wife and son on his phone), for a non-Emmerich directed 21st century disaster movie this is surprisingly uncynical, especially in its refusal to categorically pit individuals against institutions. The scene of the medic leading Morena Baccarin through several emergency tents until she finds her son really surprised me in its matter of fact humanism.

Dort oben, wo die Alpen Glühen, Otto Meyer, 1956

Beautiful camera work and interestingly high-strung in theory - if only Otto Meyer would be able to deliver a single halfway relatable human interaction. So we get a bunch of strange Heimatfilm-robots performing bizarre rituals up there in the alps. Sounds great, I know, and it is at least amusing for a while and not even without the occasional emotional out of nowhere close-up that hits you with a brig... but still, the stilted line delivery especially of Albert Rueprecht wore me down rather fast.

Ham on Rye, Tyler Taormina, 2019

A mode of being in the world that makes every single action, no matter by whom, look whimsical and therefore inherently interesting and therefore part of a cohesive network (an inclusive network, too, even for those at the bottom - thumbs down is at least a gesture, one belonging solely to you) vs a mode of being in the world that curbs and curtails every action from the start, rendering it less expressive, readable only by a chosen few as part of a private language. Exclusion opens up the world, though.

Great eye for behavior, for random detail, for trees etc and still at the same time completely dependent on structure instead of character or immediate sensual data, which sure is ambitious but sometimes bordering on frustrating, too. Is structure really a better way into this world than, for example, Haley Bodell's averted gaze? In the end I don't know and this just might be one of those films I would react to completely differently in a theater, next to all of those strange strangers.

Family Romance, LLC, Werner Herzog, 2019

A gentle stroll through Tokyo, tag along with us, why don't you, self-sameness not required. Could've used a tiny bit more energy here and there, yes, but the slow pace and the home-movie look perfectly fits in with Herzog's last few fiction films and takes their direct, unassuming, free-form approach to fiction, discourse and filmmaking to a logical, hedgehog-petting extreme.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

last two weeks on letterboxd

Krieg in Wien, Seidl & Glawogger, 1989

Very film-schooly early Seidl/Glawogger collaboration. No wonder both of them didn't work much with found footage later on, as the use of tv news material never moves beyond shooting fish in a barrel polemics. The newly recorded material is much more interesting. Since the documentary miniatures feel very much like Seidl's work, Glawogger probably was responsible for the somewhat Markeresque fiction / essay stuff centered around a female teacher (with stylish glasses) - the most opaque but also the most interesting part of this.

Apache Woman, Roger Corman, 1955

Early Corman attempt at a revisionist western. Quite interesting in theory, because it probably is one of rather few films of the time that tie the tortured psychological turn of the genre directly to racism. The most memorable thing about it is probably the committed overacting of "half-breed" Lance Fuller. Joan Taylor also gives it her best, but the whole thing is just too clumsy, and at 83 minutes quite a bit too long, to make any real impact.

Megacities, Michael Glawogger, 1998

The desire to be one with the world already implies separateness, and what moves Glawogger's filmmaking, what makes his images so restless and glittery, is his ongoing effort to escape from realizing just this. It's all about the correspondence of the outer journey to an inner journey, both equally interminable. This is also what, to my mind, aligns him with Malick (much more than with Seidl, for example). For both of them, all that beautiful surface movement, all that dancing (Malick) and all that color (Glawogger) is, in the end, just a sign for the inadequacy of perception.

Of course MEGACITIES also is a technical marvel, the travelogue of a metaphysically freed spirit, like inventing a new kind of gaze with each new day. All of this would still feel pretty empty and showy, though, without the sense of desperate unbelonging at the center of it.

Day the World Ended, Roger Corman, 1955

Clear from the start that Corman has much more fun playing around with allegorical sci-fi minimalism than with b-western tropes. He gets a lot out of a surprisingly strong cast, Adele Jergens gets what feels like a showstopper solo number and there are some extremely effective Lori Nelson close-ups: a very private face, looking at the world as if for the first time.

The film also has a weird obsession with a huge window curtain that dominates most of the interior scenes, is constantly used for scene entries and exits and foregrounds the theatricality of the film in an interesting way.

The effects work is pretty cheap and a far cry even from 40s horror schlock. A very sketchy monster, and it kind of makes sense that it just collapses when it rains.

Promène-toi donc tout nu, Emmanuel Mouret, 1999

A beautiful beginning. Must pay more attention to the fathers when I rewatch all of the Mourets. They often seem to appear at crucial moments.

Whores' Glory, Michael Glawogger, 2011

Not quite providing what people expect (and have payed for) to see is probably as good an approach as any when making a film about prostitution; and the film sure is impressive as long as it is all about opening up, from the inside - because power relations are fixed, but bodies are not - three spaces hosting the suppressed libidinous underpinnings of modernity.

Still, Glawogger doesn't quite escape the dilemma that in a film like this, an impartial and unflinching gaze often is virtually indistinguishable from delivering the misery-porn, or rather misery/porn goods. Would the film have felt uncomplete without the last two (obviously staged) scenes, that finally open up to the reality of dicks and crack-pipes? Probably yes, but still, those scenes and to a smaller degree other parts of the film feel calculating and manipulative in a way his other documentaries never do.

Way of Passion, Joerg Burger, 2011

I had seen and loved this at a festival a decade ago: a film centered around a single, rhythmic movement - a changing group of people, mostly but not exclusively young men, carrying a shrine through a small Italian town as part of a religious ceremony. Their coordinated movements result in a swaying, hypnotic movement that also affects the huge figures on top of the shrine. There's an atmospheric intro presenting the preparations for the festival, as well as a few sideway glances at other participants, but those additions basically function like a resonance chamber: they do not deflect from, but add to the intensity of the central movement. The end result is, miraculously, pure affect: bodily stress and monotony break down all down psychic barriers, men are reduced to tears, and the world vanishes. The ritual succeeds not despite but because of its senselessness and excessiveness.

Not quite possible, though, to recreate all of this outside of a theater.

Moghen Paris, Katharina Copona, 2016

Starts with truly amazing nature tableaus: treescapes transformed into sumptuous, dimensionless ornaments, velvety images I want to touch, press against my cheeks. What follows is a chaotic, contextless account of a carnival celebration involving lots of black makeup and the burning of a huge and also black figure. Like in Horwath's quite similar THE PASSION ACCORDING TO THE POLISH COMMUNITY OF PROCHNIK the mixture of arty voyeurism and programmatic non-commitment rubbed me the wrong way, but there are clearly some interesting things going on here.

White Coal, Georg Tiller, 2015

Some of the Taiwan stuff is interesting, I guess, the way a site of heavy engineering is transformed into a toy-like world, chimneys and factory buildings becoming disposable, like an assemblage of play-things. Still, strained non-communication under the guise of "pure visuality" is something I find myself wanting to put up with less and less as the years march on.

Space Dogs, Laura Kremser and Levin Peter, 2019

The rare art school high concept documentary worth a damn. Best tracking shots I've seen in a while. Makes you wonder why there isn't a whole sub-genre of films built solely around social interactions among stray dogs. Every Classic Hollywood auteur should have made at least one of those. I want to see the Hawks version of this, the Ford version, the Hathaway version.

The space stuff might feel random at times, but in the end it's just a framing device and it helps keep moving things along. Plus it provides an opportunity to add a monkey and two turtles to the mix, so there really isn't any reason to complain.

February 27th, Marie-Thérèse Jakoubek, 2018

Displacement and burnt out colors, a harsh life cut off from history, and still, the richness of existence is right there, you just have to know where (how) to look. Enough small revelations in here to make me wish for a slightly larger scale.

Earth's Golden Playground, Andreas Horvath, 2015

Hard to think of anything that make the absurdity, or maybe rather arbitrariness of the systems of added value modern societies are based on clearer than the search for gold. Destroying nature while often also upending one's own life, solipsistically drilling your way into the ground, working your way through tons of dirt and rock, only to finally recover at best a few specks of a (these days, at least) mostly useless mineral.

Horvath's film manages to conveysome of this and like in THIS AIN'T NO HEARTLAND he has good rapport with and genuine interest in a certain type of caustic oddball characters who sure make good documentary material. On the other hand, once again, whenever he sees an opportunity for polemical cross-cutting, he downright jumps on it. The "menacing" soundscapes trying to emulate horror/thriller textures also doesn't work, but at this point I probably just have to accept that his filmmaking just doesn't click with me on a fundamental level, so it might very well be my own fault.

Let Us Live, John Brahm, 1939

When Fonda and O'Sullivan visit the site of their future house and dream of their life together, the camera doesn't open up the space but stays close to them. Two faces bathed in darkness, surrounded by an imaginary America that never attains palpable existence, but is replaced by, in turn, the frame of a taxi cab, the procedures of law enforcement, and finally prison.

Ballard's camerawork is amazing throughout, the deep focus confinements of the courtroom scenes, Fonda's expressionistic desolation in the cell. A perfectly articulated visual argument that isn't necessarily supported by the rest of the film... the rushed script (the rare 68 minutes film that would've been better off at 86) is basically built around the assumption that any system that convicts Henry Fonda just has to be rigged, and I really don't know what Ralph Bellamy thinks he's doing with his role. (Btw: can't think of an earlier "turning in the badge" scene on top of my hat; but I'm sure there are quite a few?) Still, so much ambition and craft on display here that I don't really mind the rough edges.

The White Tiger, Rahman Bahrami, 2021

Had lost sight of Bahrani after his neoralism phase. So now he's making netflix quality cinema, probably better than most of its kind, but still with all the trappings, stylish slow motion when the threatening landlord shows up, a high octane hip hop montage sequence introducing the big city. The acting is mostly very good, and Bahrani still has an eye for space, but in the end this adds nothing to Adiga's novel while removing quite a bit of its infectious anger.

Madango, Ishiro Honda, 1963

Setting sails, water everywhere, a few nervous guys, a shy and a not-shy woman, the not-shy one wears a stylish bikini and sings a catchy tune, no lyrics though, just "la la la". Everything is basic and pleasantly pointless and then the fog descends, never to lift again.

In a way, MATANGO is the flipside to all the other Honda fantasy films. Not a panoramic, "objective" depiction of paranoia, but a dive into its murky subjective core. No decisive action, no confronting the monster head-on, but a slow, continuous descent into trippy madness, shadows creeping on the wall, derailing facial expressions, fog and mold and mushrooms taking over the world.

Husarenmanöver, E.W. Emo, 1956

Well made if almost aggressively by the numbers popular theater style military comedy. A film that is completely content with always choosing the least intrusive framing and letting the actors do their thing, a film that loves march music, the more repetitive the better, a film that works best when everyone makes fun of Peter Weck, who plays a weakling, a role that suits him well. The cinematic equivalent of a traditional southern German meat dish.

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards!, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

Mostly Suzuki letting Shishido do his thing and providing a healthy dose of cheerful nihilism in the process. Great colors.

Gitarren klingen leise durch die Nacht, Hans Deppe, 1960

Leading man Fred Bertelmann is a complete non-entity and the dullest Ersatz Gene Kelly imaginable, but this only adds to the bizarre charm of a film that sometimes feels like a magnificent, devastating Minnelli meet Sirk meets Cukor 1950s Hollywood showbiz melodrama trapped in the body of an ultra-provincial German Schlagerfilm with deep roots in the nazi era. Meaning this is simultaneously about the resistance against modernity, about a culture shying away from the spectre of a truly democratic and multi-ethnic society, about an inhibited, angst-ridden country seeking shelter in the phantasma of the white on white Aryan romance celebrated in the last musical number; and about mourning the better, richer world all of these characters already know exists, but don't have access to.

Both Vivi Bach and Margit Nünke are very good. Deppe has no feel for spectacle and even less for comedy, but as long as he focuses on quiet desperation, he finds images so pure and naive it hurts.

Would make a perfect double feature with Wolfgang Schleif's (even better) BLOND MUSS MAN SEIN AUF CAPRI, a film that lets loose where Deppe's shrivels up.

Monster Hunter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2020

To discover a world means analyzing it, to build a world means booby-trapping it. Not necessarily their best film, but might just be the ultimate PWSA & Milla joint, a director/star collaboration doubling as a husband and wife game of love: a challenge accepted, a stage set and conquered, a gaze returned.

Maybe the purest PWSA film, too, because this time he really starts from scratch - even the "real world" is just an endless, featureless desert, a canvas to paint on. The "new world" is once again very vertical, very Langian, all dynamic architecture, the effect work is extremely good, the main theme is beautiful in its 80s simplicity and just when things start to drag a bit, Ron Perlman shows up and introduces a welcome dose of old-school pulp awesomeness. Great stuff!

Gambler's Farewell, Kinji Fukasaku, 1968

At the core this is neither a gangster film nor a political thriller, but rather a mood piece centered around Koji Tsuruta's face. Dark, stylish, and unfortunately a bit boring, though I guess under the right circumstances I might've succumbed to its claustrophobic appeal.

I Cimbri, Peter Schreiner, 1989

Starts as an oral history account of a dying language: the (almost) last surviving speakers of the Southern-Bavarian variant Cimbrian (who obviously also use mostly Italian in their daily lives by now) trying out the language of their youth one last time. But in the end it doesn't make sense to speak a language just to keep it alive. Language must be of the world, so the film, too, takes a step back and opens up, develops another gaze.

Wer nimmt die Liebe ernst?, Erich Engel, 1931

I keep being fascinated by Max Hansen's torso. The guy seems to be made out of some kind of not particular flexible but rather flubby rubber.

Hellish Love, Chusei Sone, 1972

Well-made period pinku, more plot-centered than most and maybe a bit too much so for its own good, not leaving all that much room for scandalous ghost sex. The umbrella scene is a gem.

Giallo, Mario Camerini, 1934

The first giallo might not really be a giallo, but it's already pretty tongue in cheek and thoroughly perverted. Need to see this in a better version sometimes.

The Undying Monster, John Brahm, 1943

Easy on the eyes thanks to beautiful production design and Ballard's once again very inventive camera work. Brahm has quite a bit of fun with notions of britishness too... so it really is a shame that this turns out to be rather dull, due mostly to a boring script and noncommitted performances. Heather Thatcher is the only one with some energy here, and she ends up being punished for it by becoming the butt of one sexist joke after the other.

Ihre Majestät die Liebe, Joe May, 1931

Important, I guess, that it's Lia, not Fred, who first proposes the wedding, mostly in order to get rid of just another drunk, obtrusive customer. Love is not only the product of boardroom cynicism, but also of barroom tactics.

The Insect Woman, Shohei Imamura, 1963

Cannot help but admire Imamura's commitment to his own vision of society as eternal pigsty, but this is even more on the nose than PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS and mostly ditches the comic relief. I guess Imamura really might be the one Japanese master who just rubs me the wrong way.

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Not nearly finished with this one. Took me four viewings to realize that it's not Liane Haid but Otto Wallburg who first sings "Adieu, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier".

One of the great movie endings.

You Deserve a Lover, Hafsia Herzi, 2019

Very pleasant and I guess very French film that steadfastly and admirably refuses to be interested in anything except the protagonist's love life. Filmed mostly in close-ups which often is a warning sign, but here the camera really is most comfortable when close to faces.

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

A film that knows that everyone has his or her reasons. Even the rude gangster has a point when he scolds Nora Gregor for deceiving him with faux pearls.

Gorath, Ishiro Honda, 1962

Not nearly as beautiful as BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. Honda tries his best in making a meteorite cinematic, but in the end there's just so much you can do with a mostly featureless ball of fire traveling through outer space. The miniature work is amazing, though. The construction of the Antarctic base must be one of the great cinema as handicraft scenes - because in a way you see the process itself, not just the result. It almost becomes palpable: All those Toho employees glueing together tiny, intricate cardboard structures, adding ever more detail, placing a cardboard figure here and there - in order to prove it real, when it fact those inert miniature humans only reinforce the artifice. And then, of course, a guy in a walrus suit shows up and threatens to destroy it all again. Cinema indeed is the greatest art.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Kurz und schmerzlos

 "Von TikTok führt kein Weg mehr zurück ins Kino." Der Satz fühlt sich schief an und deshalb stimmt er. Seine Unangemessenheit ist der Index seiner Wahrheit; weil er noch vom Kino her gedacht ist, weil er einen Weg, eine Distanz imaginiert, den Transfer einer Erfahrung behauptet, wo längst die Immanenz des Memes herrscht. Von der Gegenwart her, vom Meme her, kann man die Geschichte gar nicht mehr erzählen. Beziehungsweise: man würde gar nicht erst auf den Gedanken kommen. Denn das Kino ist heute selbst ein Meme, AMC ist ein Meme, nicht einmal ein Hauptmeme, ein Zweit- oder Ersatzmeme, ein Ausweichmeme, nicht so prägnant wie der Game Store, aber das heißt nicht, dass das Kino nicht wichtig war, früher einmal. Es war sogar wichtiger als der Game Store, so wichtig, dass man nicht einmal hingehen musste, um in seinem Bann zu stehen, und erst jetzt, wo es tot ist, kehrt die Erinnerung daran zurück, in Memeform, dass es einmal möglich gewesen war, tatsächlich hinzugehen, ins Kino zu gehen. Ein Phantomschmerz, könnte man sagen, aber selbst das ist noch zu substantialistisch gedacht.

Früher... es ist nicht allzu lange her. Das Kino hat das Fernsehen überlebt, die Popmusik, Mtv, Video, Computerspiele, Streaming alleine hätte es auch überlebt; die Medienkonkurrenz, die Vielfalt der Kanäle schadet ihm nicht, ganz im Gegenteil läßt sie das Kino aufblühen. Die Medienkonkurrenz ist kinoförmig, genreförmig, weil in ihr alles von Kinovisualität infiziert ist. Gestorben ist das Kino nicht in der Medienkonkurrenz, sondern im Medienwechsel. Den modularen Reiz-Reaktionsketten der Netzkultur, der jungen Netzkultur der letzten knapp zehn Jahre (das Kino ist wirklich noch nicht lange tot), hat es nichts zu entgegnen. Die Konkurrenz wurde aufgekündigt, einseitig aber endgültig, der Tod war kurz und schmerzlos. Er wird kaum registriert, weil die meisten ihn eh viel weiter in die Vergangenheit projizieren. Aber die Geschichten vom heroischen, tragischen Ende des Kinos gehören selbst noch zum Kino.

Man kann noch in die Filmgeschichte flüchten, aber nicht mehr ins Kino.

Monday, February 01, 2021

Last two weeks in letterboxd

Bodyguard Kiba: Apocalypse of Carnage, Takashi Miike, 1994

Another 65 minutes of Miike filmmaking. As always, there's some surprising, off-beat stuff in here, starting with the atmospheric oceanscape beginnings, but in the end, he just doesn't have the resources, this time. Despite being set in three different countries, there's hardly a story and a general lack of purpose.

Passenger 57, Kevin Hooks, 1992

So you fancy yourself a big league international terrorist, but no matter what you do, the plane you've just hijacked always lands in Hicktown, Louisiana.

Brisk 90s action programmer, running mostly on wits and attitude, just like Snipes. The one-liners never stop, not even in the moment of victory, but it's not hard to see where the cynicism comes from. Hooks's matter-of-fact treatment of racists and racism enablers is extremely effective, especially when pitted against Bruce Payne's over-the-top performance. A film that knows everything there is to know about the limits of fantasy. (Another nice detail: Elizabeth Hurley, wonderful throughout, lusting after Snipes even while being shoved into the police car.)

The action comes in short bursts mostly, and doesn't make all that much use of the airplane setting. The best scene is set on ground anyway, at the amusement park, a controlled explosion of excess style in an otherwise perfectly economical film: a fluid, multi-faceted environment, a boundless space, the camera floating, in discovery mode, almost an ethnographic gaze, music emanating from color (shades of SOUTHERN COMFORT). Snipes is at first lost, but then he starts getting into the swing of things, on the Ferris wheel, on the carousel, vertical loops, horizontal loops, until he's in tune with his surroundings, ready to strike.

Utopia, Sohrab Shahid Saless, 1983

A short film about capitalism.

Peter Voss, der Millionendieb, E.A. Dupont, 1932

A wonderful cast, an all-pervading air of giddy, anything goes promiscuity, late-silent-era ornamental style fluidly translated into the sound era, two expansive musical show-stoppers, great camel stock footage - and still this somehow manages to end up mostly dull. It's all a bit too childish and literal, outside of the songs the music is mostly annoying and I guess the biggest problem is positing Forst as a Fairbanks-style comedy action hero, thereby stripping away all the layers of irony and melancholia that really make him great.

Buddha, Kenji Misumi, 1961

Daiei all-star spectacle, shooting for Hollywood bloat, but saved by a surprisingly austere sense of beauty. Not really at its best when Misumi tries to go full-scale De Mille. Fortunately he doesn't try very often; most of the time he sticks with more modest, fairy-tale like imagery.

I know next to nothing about Buddhist mythology, so I have no idea what to make of the awkward mixture of religious awakening narrative and "archaic" melodrama as well as of the fact that for the most part, Buddha is a rather peripheral presence in his own movie. Anyway, watching this from a 70mm print might make all the difference in the world.

Heidenlöcher, Wolfram Paulus, 1986

Holds up. Bits and pieces of a world of forestry and fascism. Inhabitable images, but people still live there.

Weathering With You, Makoto Shinkai, 2019

Probably as self-reflexive as a Shinkai film can get: changing the weather means not changing substance but adding something to a given entity, manipulating light and "atmosphere" - for example by adding several layers of CGI flurry over what still feels very much like a painted succession of animated world projections. And Shinkai sure is one of the best weather magicians around. In terms of pure craft I can't think of much mainstream computer imagemaking that comes even close to this (SPIDER-VERSE, for example, is clumsy and piece-meal by comparison). The first part especially, Hodoka's discovery of the city, is pure joy: different levels of sensuality, different access points to an ever-changing "reality" constantly collapsing into each other.

Later on, unfortunately, his new one just doesn't come together in an interesting way. He still knows how to push his buttons, of course: Young people in love, suspended in mid-air, the "camera" swirling around them, a rousing score - this is stuff Shinkai knows how to deliver like no one else. These kind of scenes, money shots for the young adult audience, are few and far between, though, and they feel disconnected from the rest of the film.

Shinkai is always curiously unwilling to really explore the strong emotions his films both evoke and insist on. There's way too much structure, way too much plot points... In YOUR NAME this somehow made sense because the pyrotechnics of metaphysical youthful romance, blown out of all proportions and therefore psychologically true, fed into a similar sense of totality as the doomsday storyline. This time, things just don't fit. The film is built around a slightly more mature idea of love - acceptance of the other, of separateness (and therefore eternal rain) instead of total devotion. There's a strong sense of melancholia in there, somewhere, but instead of exploring it, Shinkai buries it under layer over layer of often surprisingly awkward surface melodrama.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, diverse, 2018

Like a middling Adult Swim pilot blown up to blockbuster proportions, with all the self-optimization rhetorics, action-adventure mechanics and diversity as commodity streamlining that implies.

Have to add that I really hated the "naturalistic" character design, especially when it comes to facial movements, and this turned me against it pretty quickly. There clearly are some interesting things going on here in terms of aesthetics, but I just couldn't get over my initial aversion.

Liz and the Blue Bird, Naoko Yamada, 2018

A theater of feet. One of the many great things about this is how Yamada manages to turn the patterns of everyday life into a system of meaning that has its root in, but still transcends individual subjectivity. A bobbing ponytail, a fluttering skirt, or, again and again, shuffling feet: expressive details, which do not necessarily open up the interiority of the characters (this takes time and patience, which the film of course also has), but insist on the fundamental readability of the world.

First of all an extremely beautiful film, even more reduced and more precise than A SILENT VOICE. High School life as white-blue-greyish immanence, a world of separateness and funcionality, with all the big dreams and desires relegated to picture-book color explosions interludes. The few attempts at visual extravaganza later in the film, like the rack focus stuff during the orchestra performance, almost feel like an intrusion.

Still, I don't think there's much in recent cinema that is even half as affecting as the last "answer" of Nozomi's flute to Mizore's Oboe.

The Boy and the Beast, Mamoru Hosoda, 2015

Great as long as it's all about the boy and beast relationship: learning and unlearning, being transformed by an other's gaze. A bit disappointing when later on all of this turns out to be just a means to cope with "real life". There's a simplicity to the two-world structure that makes this feel more limited than other Hosoda films.

His more experimental side only really comes through in the final fight scenes: A digital black hole opening up in a solid, painterly body, sucking in matter, confronting representation with the lure of nothingness. Like a wound that is dangerous not because it hurts but because it negates blood.

Lu Over the Wall, Masaaki Yuasa, 2017

Don't stop the music, because if it stops, we will stop being one, our differences will reemerge, alongside a history of violence. Feet will transform into fins, complacency into hatred, and sooner or later everything will burn down. Only while we're all singing and dancing, the repressed is allowed to return, as the special, exotic ingredient added to our good times. This also means, of course, that from now on every party is a high-wire act, ready to be turned into a living, burning hell in a moment's notice.

The overeager and surprisingly uninventive blockbuster turn towards the end left me cold, unfortunately, but for at least an hour this feels truly major, like Yuasa's Miyazaki film, a freewheeling, open-ended metaphor attached to a genuine, uncynically cute setup.

Ride Your Wave, Masaaki Yuasa, 2019

Still awesome stuff in there, Yuasa's obsession with water and music is put to good use and the hidden in plain sight obscenity of the surf-the-ejaculation-finale is very much appreciated... and still, it's obvious that by now, Yuasa's move towards the mainstream starts delivering diminishing returns. It's not that he can't make a slick feelgood anime - in fact, he's almost too good at it, all those montage sequences and sentimental flashbacks come a bit too natural to him, while the darker ghost-story side doesn't have all that much aesthetic breathing room.

Mothra, Ishiro Honda, 1961

The most beautiful of monsters, not really attacking, but rather unfolding onto the world. Frankie Sakai knows from the start. Might be Honda's purest vision.

Black Report, Yasuzo Masumura, 1963

The second part of what seems to be Masumura's Black Trilogy (after BLACK TEST CAR and before BLACK REPORT) about capitalism as corruption and sex as commodity. This one is the densest, most claustrophobic of the three. It's set almost exclusively in two spaces: a cramped police station where the human form barely register between piles and piles of records, used to file away human experience into oblivion; and the courtroom, where bodies and especially faces themselves become oppressive, dominating and poisoning space.

It all feels a bit too mechanistic, and the element of erotic anarchy that makes Masumura's best films so special is completely missing; but the level of formal control is truly marvelous here.

Der Kaiser und das Wäschermädel, Ernst Neubach, 1957

The director Ernst Neubach worked on some great films as an author (including Sirk's LURED, Hochbaum's magnificent VORSTADTVARIETE and, a special favorite of mine, Oswald's WIEN, DU STADT DER LIEDER), and this one is indeed a bit livelier than most musical comedies from the era; especially the way songs often develop organically from social situations. Unfortunately, the songs aren't very good to start with and the rest of the script is downright terrible, Damar is a bore, Weck an asshole, and Grethe Weiser could almost be used as a terrorist threat. So that leaves us with not much more than some beautiful sets and Rudolf Vogel, who is, as always, a joy to behold.

Indian Diary, Michael Pilz, 2001

Filming means being in space. A space that eventually will contain bodies. Now imagine yourself to be the point in space those bodies gaze at. How to deal with this gaze, how to account for it, how to respond to it, how to avoid it?

Siberian Diary, Michael Pilz, 2003

This time, the starting point is not space, but a body that always already is there (in the image, not in space). In fact, space is, if anything, snow and ice, an unstructured nothingness there to be conquered or at least traversed. Space is a problem, even in wide-open Siberia it can become crammed. The door of the bus won't close.

Five Guns West, Roger Corman, 1955

Not all that well-made, though it almost makes up in weird psycho intensity for what it lacks in control and style. John Lund is the only pro, Dorothy Malone has expressive hair.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

letterboxd big data dump

The Big Boss, Kihachi Okamoto, 1960 

 Routine and not all that exciting gangland picture. Okamoto's knack for stylish pulp framings (the colors are often very good, too) and the cute youth culture setting can't quite overcome a clumsy script and co-lead Takarada's blandness. Really, it's all Takarada's fault: he plays a failing gangster trying to become the Japanese Elvis but feels lost in both roles without Godzilla around.

Flowers of Shanghai, Hou Hsiao Hsien, 1998

Rewatch after reading Han Bangqing's "The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai", the (magnificent) 19th century novel this is based on. Indeed a completely different experience because only now I realize just how dense and conflicted every single scene is beneath the surface level of dead opium time. A film not organized as but all the more trenched in narrative. In the end this probably is the key to Hou's success here, too: staying away from Han's panoramic approach (the "natural" but also inevitably weaker mode of adaptation would've been a "sprawling" tv epic, HBO style), skipping, safe for the failed double suicide in the end, most of the more dramatic episodes and evoking the depth of experience and history through gesture and camera movement instead. 

Tausend Augen, Hans-Christoph Blumenberg, 1984

Armin Müller-Stahl: the name is program, like we say in Germany.

You really got a problem when Wim Wenders snatching VHS tapes "to free them" isn't the low-point of your film.

Don't want to make too much fun of this because I like Blumenberg's writing a lot, but this really almost feels like a parody of a film critic's debut feature. The nice nighttime colors and a good, if over-eager soundtrack only get you so far, and aside from that it's just one half-assed smartassery after the other. Plus even Karin Baal is bad in this.

Straub's lecture on marine biology contains the word "Trübungszone".

Der Prinz von Arkadien, Karl Hart, 1932

Willi Forst at the piano jingling away, Liane Haid sprawled out on the bed, pining: what else does a film need? Nothing, like we know already from DAS LIED IST AUS. This time around there´s a twist, though: turns out the piano can do fine by itself, freeing Forst for other endeavours. No need for musical self-denial, this time.

Not quite as smooth and inventive a production as the von Bolvary films made two years earlier by almost the same team, but still: A wonderful Reisch script, some of the best, most free-wheeling Robert Stolz songs, Forst at his smoothest, Haid at her most glamourous, a general air of romantic extravaganza... A film I feel at home in.

Kirschen in Nachbars Garten, Erich Engels, 1956

Deadly dull, hopelessly repressed, painfully unfunny, with both the actors and the direction constantly finding new ways of completely fucking up even the easiest setups ... really bottom of the barrel material, but you can't deny that Engels has at least some feel for small-town pettiness. A film that sees completely eye to eye with its asshole characters, an uncanny if also thoroughly unpleasant fit of form and content. And Oskar Sima, I hate so admit it, sometimes actually IS rather funny.

Deliria, Michele Soavi, 1987

Like a streamlined and cynical knock-off of OPERA that somehow managed to get released a few months before the Argento. I agree with blahr that it often feels kind of empty, a purely mechanical genre exercise, but to me the fact that a lot of it is just dressed up hack work somehow only adds to the charm. Or rather: The fact that 80 percent of this plays like a dumb but effective slasher - with all the more esoteric concerns of earlier gialli stripped away, this really is all about entrapping and then penetrating a number of helpless bodies and nothing else - makes the remaining 20 percent shine all the brighter. Those 20 percent (basically the final girl act) mostly play like a dumb slasher, too, but with an added dose of shrill craziness that makes all the difference.

A very 80s film and also very much a film from an industry in rapid decline. By now everyone's faking it, and what's worse, everyone knows that everyone's faking it, but there might still be enough energy left to willfully forget just that once in a while.

North Sea Dragon, Kinji Fukasaku, 1966

The showdown, a multi-person, multi-weapon action scene with a magnificent forward drive and a pitch-perfect seaside backdrop is just about as good as liquid montage movement images get. Aside from that this feels a bit like a LA TERRA TREMA trapped inside a yakuza programmer body, with some John Ford imagery thrown in, too (like the shots of the women when the men leave for the final fight). The biggest drawback is probably some less than perfect casting, especially when it comes to some of the bad guys, but there's always enough going on to keep the interest up.

Lots of wet tattooed male skin.

Un gatto nel cervello, Lucio Fulci, 1990

I guess I love the fact that this exist a bit more than the thing itself, but on the other hand I'd gladly watch a whole slow-burn tv show just about Fulci sullenly shuffling around through the junkyard of his obsessions. He never should've taken off that checkered cap, though.

Final Justice, Parkman Wong, 1988

If I get this right, the plan of the bad guys mainly hinges on or even consists of them having lots of big weapons, although sometimes they hang out in whorehouses, too. Danny Lee drives a motorbike (Yamaha) wears sunglasses (Ray Ban) and smokes cigarettes dispensed by a plastic figure of a naked guy in a barrel with a boner (Marlboro). Stephen Chow is very emotional and wears a shirt with a glittery Hong Kong skyline stitched onto it. At one time he takes it off to show off his bruises.

Paradise Hills, Alice Waddington, 1999

Lost me rather early, although on first sight it does feel much less pre-packaged than most Young Adult, if only because it's, for once, based on an original screenplay. Waddington invests a lot in world building, but constantly gets lost between a rather stupid high concept plot and the also only occasionally thrilling girl power mechanics (Awkwafina and Roberts do their best to sell it). Doesn't help that the big twist is by far the clumsiest part.

Tatort: Schussfahrt, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980

Great late Staudte film. A murder hidden behind several layers of performative masculinity, Doris Kunstmann as a frustrated housewife trying to figure out with just how many levels of bullshit she's dealing with, true lowlifes have better sex but not much of a future. Essen looks quiet in its eternal green-brown (assisted by a faded tv print) - only in the very end a few factories and smokestacks show up. Inspector Haferkamp is quiet, precise and determined in a detached way, just like Staudte's direction. Willy Semmelrogge is the only element that really feels tatorty here. He has almost nothing to do but remains a constant source of irritation.

The Beachcomber, Muriel Box, 1954

Well made for what it is, especially the animal scenes - almost as if the protagonists are pushed by the beasts onto their path and into narrative. Somehow Box's careful direction only reinforces the paternalistic colonial attitude everything in here is built on, though. The film looks as if he should be smart enough to see through at least some of its own preconditions. However, it clearly isn't. White Man's Burden really is the beginning and the end, here.

Kitty und die große Welt, Alfred Weidenmann, 1956

Making fun of the theatrical dimension of politics in 1956 meant something completely different than doing the same in 1939, when Käutner shot the first film version of the play. In 39 the plot was completely in line with Führerprinzip state ideology, and Käutner's was mainly concerned with sidestepping the anti-diplomacy polemics at least a little bit in favor of screwball fun. By 1956, the kind of backroom diplomacy the play ridicules already felt ancient so Weidenmann actually would've needed to move in the opposite direction and reintroduce at least some notions of politics for the film to feel relevant. Not really surprisingly he doesn't, with the result that the stakes of the conference everyone talks about constantly are never even remotely made clear.

Instead this seems to be modelled after ROMAN HOLIDAY and exclusively hinges on Schneider's charm - which is, of course, completely sufficient for just about any film. There's a shot of her lying stretched out over the grass while two men light their cigarettes over her face. In the end, this is the moment the film was made for.

This Ain't No Heartland, Andreas Horvath, 2004

Third film I've seen from Horvath, and he really seems to to rub me the wrong way. I guess it might be the combination of polemics and pathos evident in all of his work. This one at least isn't so damn arty. Some of the low-fi-techniques, probably meant to emulate American trash culture, are actually quite funny, and both his empathy and his sense of humor clearly reach beyond the confines of his ideology. For the most part, to be sure, this really is antiamericanism 101: lots of cheap shots at the heartland state of mind, one ill-informed country hick at the time. Compared to this, the new BORAT is a nuanced piece of dialectical criticism. But in between, we see an old man telling the story of his brother who fell in love with cigarettes during World War 2, and another man remembering the one time in his life women all over the world wanted to marry him because of a newspaper ad. It's kind of interesting, in fact, how Horvath seems to drift naturally towards these two and a few more rather opaque, complicated people; they indeed get more screentime than anyone else... but still, have to cut back to that boring GOP asshole belittling the death of Iraqi civilians once in a while to remind everyone why we're all here.

Rebecca, Ben Wheatley, 2020

Been way too long since I've seen the Hitchcock, but this kind of dull competence can stand on its own perfectly well. Ben Wheatley is a nice enough window dresser and this actually goes quite a long way with a project like this. Also, although he has no feel for the darker aspects of the source(s) at all, he can't quite get rid of all the perversity inherent in this tale of two women, one who can trap men, horses and probably also women between her thighs; and one who can't. Still, the decision to basically turn Mrs. de Winter into a "proactive" action-adventure-heroine is very disappointing; and both leads are terribly bland, James even more so than Hammer.

Aus einem nahen Land, Manfred Neuwirth, 2015

24 sequence shots of rural textures (plants, animals, humans, machinery) taken in a village close to but seemingly worlds apart from Vienna. All of them dynamized by a slight, almost imperceptible lateral tracking movement, that seems to delineate a small part of a (very) wide circle (but what might be its center? Most of the time, this isn't clear at all, and the circling might be just in my mind, anyway). After a while, the direction of the movement is reversed and the camera returns to its point of origin. 

Might not quite hit, at least on first sight, the Benning sweet spot of structural intelligence and zen-like immersion... but then again it's probably a beast all of its own anyway and I'll probably have to think about it some more.

Tatort: Schönes Wochenende, Wolfgang Staudte, 1980

Not as tight and precise as SCHUSSFAHRT and way too much cringy Felmy / Semmelrogge banter (getting rid of all the annoying sidekicks generally would make TATORT much more bearable). Still, once things move away from the not all that interesting kitchen sink gangsters, this finds its own, much more meandering flow, thanks mostly to Birke Bruck as the owner of a provincial hotel, a woman looking for love in all the wrong places. There's a magnificent party scene (starting with a pretty harsh carnival speech: "... and we also beat our wives, but otherwise we're good folk") in which Felmy and Bruck almost lose themselves in each other. Of course, sooner or later duty calls, and the price everyone has to pay for this is condensed in a pitch-perfect final scene.

Stoff der Heimat, Othmar Schmiderer, 2011

Starts with a series of scenes depicting, matter-of-fact-like, processions and festivals celebrating traditional culture in Austria, Switzerland, Italy and Germany, and I guess the film would've been stronger if it had stayed on this course. The main paradox inherent in the notion of "Traditionspflege" (maintenance of tradition) comes across quite clearly: if tradition indeed is a root anchoring us, why the need for all that elaborate maintenance? The more discursive parts later in the film touch on this, too, as well as on many other, often quite interesting topics, but the film loses its shape in the process.

Es geschah am hellichten Tag, Ladislao Vajda, 1958

Rühmann / Fröbe: one of the most terrifying double binds in German (ok, Swiss, technically, but still) film history.

Vents de sable, femmes de roc, Nathalie Borgers, 2009

Not sure about the strong biographical focus. i guess it works well to counter certain kinds of prejudices, but in the end we just don't know enough about the life of the women aside from their annual trip through the desert. Still, as a record of material conditions this is impressive enough.

Die Ehe des Herrn Mississippi, Kurt Hoffmann, 1961

Kurt Hoffmann trying to find a worthwile perspective on a rather strained Dürrenmatt script, and mostly failing. The more playful parts work a bit better (always a bad sign when the "funny voice-over" actually IS the funniest part of a film), once the genre mechanics take over, boredom reigns. Camera by Nykvist, and indeed this looks at times like Bergman light.

Farben einer langen Nacht, Judith Zdesar, 2011

Light only becomes truly visible when viewed from the vantage point of its absence. Modest and beautiful, a film about polar bears, ghosts and maybe ghosts of polar bears. Would've loved to see this in a theater.

Der Richter und sein Henker, Maximilian Schell, 1975

A decent Morricone score in search of a better film. In fact it's often very bad, Jon Voight is almost bizarrely miscast and Schell has no idea what to do with the highly cynical but also very interesting source material. He actually manages to wreck even the surface suspense effects. What's left is a very 70s slow burn that doesn't make much sense and doesn't go anywhere. For a while I was actually rather fond of it anyway. Forget about the literary meta crime ambitions and you get a quite genuine film about a couple of lost souls fucking each other up.

Good News: Von Kolporteuren, toten Hunden und anderen Wienern, Ulrich Seidl, 1990

Seidl cinema before it calcified into its own trademark. Form as an act of poetic self-defense against an unshriven world: it's just not possible to film exploited migrant newspaper sellers in the same way as the people they sell their newspapers to. So the fluid, open-ended scenes with the migrants must be confronted with both the control dispositiv it is in fact subjected to, and the unreachable, closed-off world of petit bourgeoise respectability.

The authoritarian gaze is already there, to be sure, but it's still clearly distinct from Seidl's own, especially since this often is about the tension between a fixed frame and a not yet quite fixed object inside the frame, especially during the long, painful scene filmed from the perspective of an inspection car.

Das indische Tuch, Alfred Vohrer, 1963

A very tongue in cheek entry that knows that even time-worn jokes can be funny again with the right kind of reaction shot attached to them. The closed-off setting doesn't allow for quite as many stylistic flights of fancy as usually and I guess in 1963 Vohrer still had to contain himself when it comes to the more perverse elements of the plot. So we get some nice voyeuristic setups but not much to look at. Flickenschildt and Clarin are pretty impressive, everyone else is just doing his or her thing.

Safari, Ulrich Seidl, 2016

More interesting as I thought it would be to the degree that it deviates from the expected world as dollhouse style. The observational handheld scenes during the actual hunt are the true center of the film, because only here it transcends those tropes of universalized Seidl misanthropy that I just don't care much about. It's not so much about the objective obscenity of hunting tourism than about the processes of internalization it presupposes in its subjects, the rituals, the deflated mimicry of older social values like sportsmanship, the awkward comradeship; and also about the way this process is being assisted by the safari guides (=hunter-whisperers) who are not so much there in order to help with the kill, but to produce a seamless sense of hyperreality, to make sure that you feel what you think you are supposed to be feeling.

Least interesting when viewed as ideological critique. Politically, there's nothing in here that Kubelka's UNSERE AFRIKAREISE (I haven't seen AFRICA ADDIO but I don't doubt for a moment it's a more interesting film, too) doesn't accomplish with much more imagination.

Workingman's Death, Michael Glawogger, 2005

Work only looks like work, Glawogger proposes, when the image, the act of looking, is affected by it, sharing, if only symbolically, its hardships and restrictions. So the camera really needs to be crammed into those tight, airless Ukrainian mine shafts, it needs to breath sulfur fumes in Indonesia, it needs to almost drown in gushing animal blood in Nigeria, it needs to risk getting crushed by metal planks in Pakistan. There must be an initial act of identification, a conscious (if only aesthetic) act of doing away with distancing devises, in order to gain at least some sort of access to the world, the colors, the rhythm, the rituals, the stories these people live in.

This kind of experiental, subjective epistomology, Glawogger also proposes, is possible only at the margins of what today's global economy considers as work. Mining after the mines have closed, gutting of rusty ships that no longer have any use in the system of intercontinental commerce, raw material extraction done by hand instead of machine (like a parody of agriculture: harvesting poisonous chemicals instead of crops), a preindustrial open-air slaughterhouse that basically feels like a battleground.

On the margins of his own film, Glawogger shows us what happens when depictions of work are no longer tainted by experience and direct involvement. For the party crowd ad the closed mine in Duisburg, but also the tourists strolling around next to the workers in Indonesia, work is transformed into ornament, while the state propaganda both in present day China and in Stalinist Russia forces it to vanish into ideology.

The Man Who Knew Too Much, Alfred Hitchcock, 1956

Might not be one of Hitchcock's most exciting films, but I remain very much intrigued by it. There's a constant tension (evident in many of his films, probably, but seldom as clearly defined as here) between the extremely precise, mechanical, almost academic techniques of suspense and the mundane, kind of messy, almost soapy family drama. Hitchcock makes it clear that, while the mechanisms of the thriller plot always need to be airtight, with every part of the machine working perfectly in synch (like the instruments in an orchestra performance), the depiction of private life must allow for some areas of looseness and ambivalence. In the end we only get hints of the reality of Stewart's and Day's marriage - people will fill in the blanks anyway, and always according to their own experience and ideological predisposition.

Today almost no one seems to allow for the possibility of them leading basically a happy, if a bit boring life, or at least one that is very much worth saving. And the film's problem, for today's audiences, might be that the ending only really works when one is able to buy into this anyway. Because, of course, both strands, the public adventure and the private drama, only come together in the final "Que sera sera" scene, and they only do so because Day consciously chooses to transform a public performance into a private one. To sing for her son in order to never having to sing for any other audience ever again.


Letterboxd reviewers, even the ones very dear to me, never cease to amaze me. Hating on "Que sera sera"? On Doris Day? Is there nothing sacred anymore? 

Witness, Peter Weir, 1985

A rather basic high-concept script turned into also rather basic quality cinema, but elevated by attention to detail, lack of self-serving irony and a magnificent central performance by the perhaps most underrated actor of his generation.

Always tempting to say: they don't make 'em like that anymore... in this case it might be possible to date it much more precisely. Maybe this kind of film only was possible (at least in the absence of a major auteur like Eastwood) in the mid 80s, in the short period between New Hollywood exaltations and Tarantino postmodernism. I would put it next to films like TENDER MERCIES, STARMAN, RUNNNING ON EMPTY, SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME, MIDNIGHT RUN, THE FABULOUS BAKER BOYS, AT CLOSE RANGE, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED, MASK and CROSSROADS. Not necessarily the most interesting cluster of American 80s cinema (although I love all of them, especially the first three), but maybe the last time that films for the "general public", were made without any kind of condescension (=target group optimization).

Palast Hotel, Leonard Steckel and Emil Berna, 1952 (originally an Ophüls project, alas...)

The owner of the hotel is away so his wife takes over, meaning power becomes soft, maternal, and all the more effective, because its subjects start internalizing it in order to please madam. In the end this is a story about a workforce policing itself, in order to make sure that not only business, but the whole of society will go on as usual.

On the surface this might look like one of those fluffy, episodic hotel comedies that were basically everywhere in the 50s, but it turns out to be an extremely swiss turn on the genre: claustrophobic rather than expansive and breezy, tightly controlled rather than anarchic, and with an eye for petit bourgeoise pettiness, like when the foppish, handsome male lead repeatedly checks the fit of his clothes.

Tatort: Freiwild, Wolfgang Staudte, 1984

I guess I need to make amends to Müller-Stahl. I often can't stand him, but he really is magnificent in Staudte's swan song, a multi-layered Brechtian parable camouflaging as a slow-moving Berlin Tatort, pitting a dysfunctional upper-class family unit against the in the end much more dynamic community of the desitute. It also harks back to the beginning of Staudte's career, his involvement with, and then taking account of nazi ideology, with Müller-Stahl and the also very good Hallswach basically acting out a very German variation of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde fantasy (with the clear implication that Dr. Jekyll / Dr. Mengele is the true villain of the pair). Meanwhile the cops are reduced to mere catalysts, and once again there's a killer ending.

Arab Attraction, Andreas Horvath, 2010

I don't know, Horvath's cinema just remains very much not my thing... This one mostly is a filmic portrait of Barbara Wally, a former Austrian curator / part of the international art scene jet set who married a Yemenite man and now lives a part of her life according to the rules of (very) orthodox Islam. And as far as Horvath confines himself to exploring both Wally's daily life and her almost constant reflections on it, this is actually quite engaging: while she clearly doesn't think of her new existence as a piece of conceptual art, there's always a level of performance and experiment present - as there probably is in everyone's daily life, it's just a bit more obvious from her point of view.

Unfortunately, Horvath once again seems to be unable to resist his polemical impulses. In this case, this manifests itself in long-winding theological justifications of polygamy / institutionalized sexism (not uninteresting in themselves, but completely out of place here), and especially in the almost constant cross-cutting: inside vs ouside, Europe vs Yemen, men vs women etc, ad nauseam. These cuts are not at all interested in contrasting, and thereby making sense of the lived-in conditions of a variety of people; it's about pointing put, again and again, difference as such, not even to make a political point (Horvath remains sympathetic to both Wally and her husband throughout), but just because this is the only way the film seems to be able to make aesthetic sense of the material.

Maximum Risk, Ringo Lam, 1996

Van Damme is once again not quite identical with himself. This time he is retracing the steps of his former / other self: No matter where he goes he already has been there, his body has left a mark, and also a gap, but one it cannot quite fill when it returns. World and body aren't in tune, so we must go forward and do something about it. The pop psychology might be on the nose, but Van Damme is a guy who only looks into a broken mirror after beating up a bad guy with it. In the end he accepts the fact of his secondness, his lack of identity, without too much trouble. Maybe he knows that melancholy makes him look even more handsome, plus there's Natasha Henstridge who's a downright goddess in this. If this woman chooses to kiss you, she already has made all the important decisions for you.

There's a certain tension in the film between the more quirky, almost phantasmagorical parts (that Julius Ceasar bathhouse fight scene) and the rather prosaic procedural elements. Unfortunately the more poetic stuff often gets the short end of the stick, like when the taxi driver / novelist, after being introduced as Van Damme's main side-kick, is killed rather abruptly.

At the same time this is about a director finding his groove on foreign soil. Except for some weird, but also charming casting choices (Frank Senger might be Wong Jing's but certainly not Hollywood's idea of a corrupt cop) Lam seems to be well-adjusted to American mid 90s studio filmmaking. The first car chase in Nizza (a much better location for Hong Kong style action than anything in North America) plays it safe and rather clean, but when the film returns to France in the end, all hell breaks loose in classic, chaotic Ringo Lam fashion. The short bursts of mayhem in between are handled very well, too, especially the train scene, there's smoke and painterly big city lighting everywhere and there also are some nice physical bits like Van Damme getting thrown off his feet by a rather tame car crash. In the end, though, it's all about preparing for the chainsaw slaughterhouse finale. Capped off by a perfect, metaphorical one-two punch: shoot a pig to shoot a pig, become a pig to shoot another pig.

Kiru, Kenji Misumi, 1962

A 70 minute epic, spanning decades and generations, structured like an episodic adventure tale but shot through with an almost surreal sense of predestination. It's basically an interrogation of a worldview, a way of placing oneself in history by way of style; the framing is incredibly inventive throughout, and there's a tournament scene rather early in the film that seems to invent a new language of cinema on the spot, shot by shot, camera movement by camera movement, resulting in the rather radical discovery of the motionless fight scene.

A perfectly stylized piece of genre art and still not easy to pin down. At times it plays out like a minimalist fascist fever-dream (if there ever could be such a thing; fascism always goes for pomp, of course) of beauty and death, but then again there's the lively, almost exuberant presence of Mayumi Nagisa as the hero's sister. She has to die too, yes, but as long as she's alive she's completely untouched by the game of self-annihilation everyone else is busy playing.

Zaho Zay, Georg Tiller, Maéva Ranaïvojaona, 2020

Don't know, bored the hell out of me. Two stars only because it might very well profit quite a bit from a bigger screen. Still doesn't even begin to free itself from its overbearing docu-fiction hybrid concept. All those sub Pedro Costa inserts of enigmatic black bodies doing enigmatic things only rob the documentary footage of its specifity. It also features the exact kind of voice-over I am allergic too (detached elocution + a script that combines faux-personal musings with adacemic-adjacent jargon, but in the end commits to neither theory nor autobiography/fiction), so maybe I'm just the wrong audience here.

The Skin of the South, Ishiro Honda, 1952

Early Honda before his turn towards the fantastic, although even here he manages to sneak in some lovely, if still rather basic miniature work. Generally the whole will the mountain come down and bury us storyline works quite well - it starts like a nation building narrative, kind of a Japanese New Deal film, but takes some surprisingly downbeat, pessimistic turns later on. Unfortunately there's quite a bit of dead air, too, especially when the romance subplot takes over in the second half. There's a scene with a man encountering a woman bathing nude in the forest that plays out incredibly clumsy - as if those two, and Honda, too, discover the scandal of human sexuality at this very moment, and don't know at all how to deal with it.

Yasuko Fujita is an interesting actress but doesn't seem to have been in much. 

Himmel und Erde, Michael Pilz, 1982

It is possible to put something small into something big. But it also might get lost there. A film of sad, at times devastating beauty, a film about historical change and its relationship to imagemaking, or, more precisely, about a point of no return: modernity as the precise moment when a return to the world means a return to images and nothing else.

The Madness of Youth, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Running in madness, dying in love. Or the other way around. One of Suzuki's most memorable early films, thanks mostly to a number of electrifying performances (Tamio Kawaji might be the most unstable of all Japanese New Wave heroes) and Suzuki's total commitment to them. Really amazing how close this comes to being a Japanese A BOUT DE SOUFFLE while at the same time never really leaving behind the constrictions of a formulaic script based on the kind of melodramatic entanglements that only work because of the stupidity of everyone involved. It's a game of push and pull throughout: Suzuki's free-form image-making lures the characters out into a world of utopian, anarchic self-expression, and the script lassoes them back into society.

Babooska, Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, 2005

I remember really despising this back in 2006 (one among many victims of Berlinale overkill, I guess; I really enjoy not going to film festivals anymore). Which is weird because not only did I like it quite a bit this time around, I also found out that i had surprisingly clear memories of it (ie: that there's a part of my brain I didn't really know existed); above all memories of Babooska herself, especially her posture, a defiant casualness, meeting the world head-on, but at the same time holding something back. A tall lanky woman perfectly in control of herself but declining to be statuesque (I remember girls like her standing at the edge of the schoolyard, always smoking). You're just a bit more flexible if you don't stand completely upright. Her sister and her mother have a similar disposition, it's probably a family trait, but in her it finds the purest expression and maybe this is why the film centers around her. There's no other obvious reason (for its whole existence, in fact), and I guess it took me two viewings to realize that this is exactly what makes it interesting.

A Lustful Man, Yasuzo Masumura, 1961

A relentlessly dark panorama of Japanese feudal society, transformed into a breezy sex comedy about a guy, Yonosuke, who lives to adore women without actually paying the tiniest bit of attention to them. Ignoring everything but the sensual immediacy of female flesh, he at one point doesn't even realize that one of his goddesses is already dead.

In no way is Yonosuke a stand-in for all masculinity, though. In fact, he's the only one in the film, male or female, who completely opposes the Samurai approach to sexuality, which comes down to men pressing women into servitude and women hustling men for at least some reparations. In the end, Yonosuke's one-track-mind is first and foremost a narrative device: Structurally, the film is completely in tune with Raizo Ichikawa's giddy all you can eat libido, forgetting each episode just as easily as the hero does, ecstatically jumping back and forth on a map of a Japan ruled by excess erotic desire. This way, Masumura manages to sidestep moralism in favor of a series of shocks that are always both political and sensual.

Heidenlöcher, Wolfram Paulus, 1986

Seems to insist that there is some potential for resistance against tyranny inherent in the fabrics of everyday life, in the habituality of rural life especially, in embodied routines that manage to deceive city bred nazis, in structures of repetition dictated by nature and thereby seemingly innocuous, in the spatial organization of mountain villages which don't lend themselves to surveillance tactics. This kind of organic resistance, however, is threatened at every turn by all those petty grievances that also develop quite naturally in the very same surroundings.

In the end, both movements cancel each other out and what is left is a formalist surplus, a yearning for the transcendental that always only manifests itself in isolated images, images out of nowhere, neither integrated in everday life nor in the Nazi apparatus.

If I get this right, most of the cast are amateurs - except for the Nazis, among them, a rather brilliant move, Rolf Zacher.

Die Ministranten, Wolfram Paulus, 1990

"We don't have a gang yet, but we already have a leader." A film that knows about the categorical seriousness and also fundamental awkwardness of child's play. The rather inhibited line-delivery of the boys actually adds to this, because in a way they know that they are speaking someone else's (be it the bigger guys a few years older or Karl May) script. Often, we see groups of them in long shots, with the dialogue running alongside the image almost like a separate, somewhat detached layer.

Kaiba, Masaaki Yuasa, 2008

Can't say I was able to make this completely my own, especially after the travelogue episodes ended (maybe I'll have to go through the latter half with an episode guide at some point); still uses limited animation in ways I've never seen before.

Nachsaison, Wolfram Paulus, 1988

Fascinating film, more ambitious than Paulus' previous ones, basically a dystopian-modernist take on the Grand Hotel films of the 1950s. The social significance of the hotels and their bourgeoise patronage has vanished, what's left is profit motive without much substance. Just a few lonely individuals trying to keep the hotel imaginary afloat. The loneliest of them all is Albert Paulus, an awesome, soft-faced actor who should've been big, just like Mercedes Echerer (with a beauty spot above her eyebrow). She grants him intimacy for a while, but that turns out to be just another kind of hustle.

Fahrt in die Hauptstadt, Wolfram Paulus, 1991

Not quite the beware of the big city (Salzburg, in this case, that alone might give one pause) tale it appears to be at the start, when three people with leave their village to pursue very different ambitions there. Especially one of the three tales takes some unexpected turns: a woman who starts working at a travel agency indeed makes good on her promise to never return to the countryside, "no matter what". She finds a way of inserting herself, as a female, desired body, in the dense mise en scene of mirrors and gazes Paulus at times transforms Salzburg into. Most of the time this stays in its lane, though, as a well-made but unadventurous tv movie that grants us a glimpse of mainstream sensibilities regarding sex and gender, city and country, art and eros (the latter clearly is the worst of the three plotlines) in early 90s Austria; but not much more.

Blutsbrüder teilen alles, Wolfram Paulus, 2012

Pretty ridiculous. Paulus trying to reintroduce the communicative density of his tv work into cinematic terms and ending up with a slapdash, flashy dimestore JULES ET JIM. To be sure, the latter is my least favorite Truffaut film to begin with and I might hate its bloated self-seriousness even more like this naive, at times disarmingly vitalistic piece of ahistoric-adolescent wish fulfillment. Still, how is it even possible to go from HEIDENLÖCHER to this?

Die Verzauberung, Wolfram Paulus, 2007

Tv romcom that gets a bit of unearned attention because of Christoph Waltz, when in fact it's Katharina Abt, playing his unfaithful wife, who is the only standout. She plays an enthusiastic, middle-aged blonde who knows a bit more about the people around her and also about her own desires than everyone else here: the warm, open-minded, reflexive and slightly vulgar center of a film that otherwise is perfectly content with the empty rattling of bourgeois family dynamics and the touristic gaze that goes along with it.

Der Schatz, der vom Himmel fiel, Wolfram Paulus, 2012

Always nice to see Rolf Zacher, and here he gets to wear extremely garish clothes almost constantly, too. There's also an energetic, stylish turkish female rock singer who probably hoped that the film would help her career (didn't look like it worked out). Aside from that not much going on.

Zug um Zug, Wolfram Paulus, 1993

Teil 1

The two-part ZUG UM ZUG turns out to be one of the strongest Paulus films. It's the first one he didn't write himself, and still it plays almost like a catalogue of everything he had done so far (while nothing at all points towards the stuff he has done since): a community centered around lumbering and catholicism, the threat of history and what can (not) be done about it, the lonely individual despising all gestures of solidarity, an undercurrent of sexual frustration, precise imagery and an excellent ambient-style soundtrack.

Teil 2

While the first part focused mostly on an individual struggling against (and thereby destroying) community, the second part is more about group dynamics; or rather, different ways of being a fellow traveller during the Nazi era. Even if the film mostly omits direct representation of violence (with a single and very important exception), this is pretty dark, uncompromising stuff.

Du bringst mich noch um, Wolfram Paulus, 1994

First one of Paulus's relationship dramedies and from the start I just can't stand the world all of them are set in: the world of bourgeoise modernity, no longer ruled by the terror of the patriarchy, ok, patchwork families are not even a scandal anymore but rather the new normal... and still, everything is so damn dense, those people leave and breathe work and family and nothing else, every ounce of energy bound up by social connectivity of one kind or other.

Quite correctly, Paulus identifies unfaithfulness and sexual jealousy as a potential breaking point of neo-bourgeoise living arrangements - but then his films are only concerned with the question of how this scandal might be reframed in terms of family dynamics.

I might be a bit harsh... This isn't a worthless film, and I guess I have to think about the hidden insecurities of Katja Flint some day. The ending, too, is surprisingly ambitious, an unexpected turn toward a very dark place - a place a film like this clearly isn't prepared to map out, though.

Jeder Mensch braucht ein Geheimnis, Wolfram Paulus, 2010

This is the one that almost broke me. Grandpa exchanging benevolent matriarchy for a manufactum version of a boheme lifestyle. A film to make one wish for a planet without any kind of blood relationships, without Italy (!) and especially without single-family homes. Also, not quite as big of a loss, without the Green Party. In fact, every local chapter of it should be required to screen this film, and to organize a discussion afterwards on the topic: how the fuck did we become this?

Regentage, Wolfram Paulus, 2002

Might be the best, or rather most bearable among the Paulus adultery / patchwork family romcoms. There's still a conformist streak present that has nothing to do with the plot and everything with the way the film looks at his world, but at least this one is a bit more anarchic (might be the Glawogger influence; he's listed as co-author): pissing children, teens with bad hair, ridiculous yoga teachers. Plus Udo Wachtveitl is the rare Tatort inspector I truly like.

Heldenzeitreise, Wolfram Paulus, 2017

Such a strange and wonderful film. A low budget metahistorical epic shot in mixed woodland and decidedly modest sets about, I guess, the eternal struggle between ambition and horniness throughout the ages??? Featuring, among other things, incestuous desire among the Gauls, "the Eminem of the 13th century", anti European Union agitprop and a female alien invasion???

Somehow Paulus, after more than two decades of distancing himself from the timely, cutting-edge aesthetics of his early work, comes full circle and turns into an accidental avant-gardist. There's really nothing quite like it and while I tentatively content myself to 3 1/2 stars for now, this could move up much higher in the future. 

Mathilde liebt, Wolfram Paulus, 2005

Can't say that it provides much pleasure, but it's still interesting to make it through not only one, but a couple of those mainstream tv films from the 2000s. These films certainly get hold of and wrestle with sensibilities the festival films (and also the blockbusters) of the time have no idea of. Anyway, enough for me for now. I like Christiane Hörbiger. Good for her that she finds not one but two lovers after her boring in bed husband dies. But why those two of all people?

Rennlauf, Wolfram Paulus, 1998

One of Paulus's better tv films. While "Cinematic" skiing usually borders on the ridiculous, real, professional Alpine skiing just isn't very cinematic. It's all about "interpreting" the movements of the athletes in order to find out if they "make good speed" or not - but a few seconds later, the timekeeping will tell you anyway, so what's the use. Therefore, it makes sense to concetrate not on what meager external spectacle there is, but rather on a dramaturgy of gazes - longing, jealous, disappointed, eager. Then there's a lesbian encounter with Franka Potente and a rather bitchy blonde, too. The whole thing plays out like a modest but also charming and lowkey sexy fantasy triggered by lazy winter sport watching on a Sunday afternoon.

Augenleuchten, Wolfram Paulus, 2005

Nothing all too suprising going on here, but what a difference a bit of youthful negativity makes. Someone doesn't give a fuck and suddenly we see the world in a new light. Also: What a different an actress makes. Nadja Vogel is a force of nature here, and I have no idea why her career - so far - doesn't seem to have held what this debut promised. She's playing a teenage sexpot and Paulus isn't afraid to shoot through her legs when framing the men lusting after her. She isn't really a man eater, though; while pretty much all the men want the same thing from her, she wants different things from different men, and usually, because she wants things more forcefully and precisely than everyone else in the film, she gets them, too.

Next to her everything pales, but Dominik Leeb as the star-eyed boy is very good, too, and also important for the film. His quiet, forceful performance is the only thing not controlled by Vogel, and this provides enough tension to let a rather basic script come alive.

Half Human, Ishiro Honda, 1955

Solid people walking through snow film with the occasional monster appearance. Phantasmagoric imagery shining through a sub-par digital transfer has its charms, to be sure, but I'd like to see this in a better version some day.

Die Wirtin zur goldenen Krone, Theo Lingen, 1955

Lingen tries hard to enliven a terrible script with the occasional sight gag and some metafilmic shenanigans, but in the end there just isn't much he can do. Paula Wessely's double role is enough to sink the film: As a resolute innkeeper she is somewhat believable, but her princess turned scientist character is as cringy as it gets. Also, the fictional princedom is a strange compromise between Austria's eternal and eternally outdated nostalgia for the k.u.k. monarchy and a particularly dull vision of post-war European mass culture. As far as political fantasies go, this one is particularly unappealing.  
Lingen, as a director, probably never made his Tashlin film, but I still like to think he could've.

The H-Man, Ishiro Honda, 1958

Humanity liquified, the world cleansed by flames. Paranoia fighting paranoia until there's nothing left. 

Is' was, Kanzler?, Gerhard Schmidt, 1984

I notice that the STUC is already on the case, and rightly so, although one has to concede that a film willing to explore the erotic potential of model railroads can't be all bad. And even aside from that, on the more basic levels of filmmaking this isn't half as terrible (or maybe: pretty much exactly half as terrible; two stars instead of one) as I expected. The acting especially is comparatively unobtrusive, far from the political cabaret hell I was afraid of - although we have to make it through a few minutes of Didi mugging. And while Tommi Piper certainly is an acquired taste, especially when playing an alleged womanizer, his scenes with Constanze Engelbrecht are quite sweet.

All of this doesn't mean that the film in any way manages to justify its own existence. Its "critique" boils down to parliament is a corrupt pigsty and, don't forget, CDU sucks even worse and the Americans control everything. If I want something like that, I can just scroll through the lesser parts of my twitter timeline. Most of the runtime, though, is, for whatever reason, filled with an extremely bland espionage plot completely removed from any sense of real-life politics.

The directed on autopilot genre mechanics lead to an extremely non-thrilling finale on top of the CDU headquarters that may or may not be stolen from the fireworks scene from BLOW OUT - and well, this might just be the depressing truth: while the American Reagan Eighties were ushered in by De Palma's cynical extravaganza, the German Kohl Eighties were introduced by.... this.

Original Gangstas, Larry Cohen, 1996

A good deal of fun in the getting the old gang back together stage: an exploration of community driven by energetic acting and very effective musical cues. That synth bounce when Williamson deals out the goods for the first time... The more this turns into an action movie, the more tedious it gets, though. 

Cohen's edge only really shines through in some of the scenes with the mayor and the reverend. 

Captive's Island, Masahiro Shinoda, 1966

A closed-off system, like I guess most Shinoda films are in some ways, but here it is especially obvious: two islands, a bigger and a smaller one, on the bigger one the smaller is used as backdrop, and on the smaller the bigger. Past actions determine the present and present actions open up the past. The streaks on Akira Nitta's back from past punishments are the clear, perfectly defined bodily link that holds everything together.

On the outside, on the lush and very green islands, space is dynamic and fragmented. The interiors, though, often crystallize in static long shots centered around iconic imagery: a portrait of Lincoln, a picture of a suffering woman, the Japanese flag. Markers of historical conflict doubling as interchangeable graphical elements.

Battle in Outer Space, Ishiro Honda, 1959

Hardly possible to overstate just how beautiful this is, every single frame, the close-up of the woman helplessly waiting in the control room for news from the astronauts just at much as the ultraromantic moon vistas and the picture-book two-dimensionality of the interstellar battle scenes. A reminder that film sometimes indeed is a visual medium.

De De Pyaar De, Akiv Ali, 2019

A hard film to love, if only because both leads constantly behave like assholes (he on the macro level of being an opportunistic, lying prick in general, she on the micro level of demanding macho violence as proof of commitment). Also, almost every scene leads towards an "awkward moment", which is almost played out way too long and also, every single time, accompanied by overeager sound cues that seem to be designed to drown the whole world in noisy obviousness.

On the other hand, like most romance films, this is mostly about faces; in this case, Devgn's burning eyes behind a laid-back façade and Singh's transformative smile taking over her detached face are almost enough to make one forget everything else.

Deliha 2, Gupse Ozay, 2018

The direction might be a bit more uneven than in the first one, but the heart-warming community feel is once again very pronounced. Great supporting cast, too.

Our Brand Is Crisis, David Gordon Green, 2015

I guess on some level this could be defended as Green taking on a work for hire and enriching it with at least some level of warmth and detail. At times, he almost manages to make it his own, especially in the pretty excellent partying with the disenfranchised scene, which also serves as the centerpiece for Bullock's committed performance.

I can't get over the rote bullshit script, however. It almost plays out like a Ross Thomas setup, but stripped of all intelligence by introducing another, "authentic" layer of grassroot activism (as something you can just choose to tap into, no matter your background) beneath the outer layer of politics as power play, enacting structural pressure on all agents. To go back to the party scene: while Green's direction treats it as the necessary, but also necessarily inconsequential escape that it is (or at least should be), the film retroactively transforms it into a "moment of truth", that singlehandedly changes not only political but also psychological reality.

Abortion, Masao Adachi, 1966

Separating sex from reproduction... supposedly to free the former, yes, but then again Adachi's film is almost exclusively interested in the latter, to the point of this hardly being a pinku at all. It's all about controlling the inner, biological workings of women, and to go there means negating not only the body as an erotic object, but the outward, visible world in toto; so we get lots of paranoid interiors, a detached voice over, close-ups of indifferent, unreadable faces looming large and white on the screen, and - maybe most importantly - quite a few diagrams which are treated like mystical treasure maps: scientific discourse collapsing into full-scale fantasmagoria.

Shinsengumi Chronicles, Kenji Misumi, 1963

The will to fight, violence anchored not in the society, but in the individual. A reddish-brownish world of honor cut off from history and family. Not tight and action-centered enough to really involve me, but supremely stylish on a scene by scene basis.

Hummingbird, Steven Knight, 2013

Well... mostly annoying, I guess. Statham is often very good at implying a rich, repressed inner life behind his smooth exterior, here he is supposed to "really open up" and the result is just another trite redemption tale, drowning in piano triads and sub-Michael-Mann digital nighttime crispness. Not one surprising beat in the whole thing, of course Agata Buzek has do wear the red dress and of course she looks hot in it. What's missing most in this kind of gentrified genre cinema is a notion of vulgar insolence or anything else that would register as a genuine reaction to the fuckedupness of the world the film is set in. Made me want to watch AVENGEMENT again.

Mr. Deeds, Steven Brill, 2003

There seems to be some kind of short circuit at the basis of this: Adam Sandler has been Mr. Deeds all along, so when finally really playing Mr. Deeds it is enough for him to just continue being Adam Sandler. Meaning that this film's version of Mr. Deeds does not need to be explained, constructed, questioned, vindicated - he's just doing his stuff, like he always has. One rather surprising outcome of this is that Mr. Deeds's propensity for violence is much more pronounced in the remake. While Cooper-Deeds's aggressiveness was part of a complex, fetish-like psychological structure, Sandler-Deeds is just a moderately benign bully.

So is this about Sandler beating up hipsters? Unfortunately no. One thing that doesn't work at all is the city-country discourse. The film's idea of "big city life" stems directly from Capra who himself seems to have not been all that up to date back in 1936. So what we get is a quasi-feudalistic power structure coupled with what basically look like updated renaissance streetscapes. All of this doesn't matter much because in the end this is set first and foremost in Happy Madison County, land of moveable kneecap.

The Human Vapor, Ishiro Honda, 1960

Burning down the world for love, for one big show, one final act of becoming-visible. I love this one so much, it starts out as a standard mystery, and by way of introducing "scientific discourse" is turned into a deeply romantic approach to image-making and the fantastic.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 1: The Chinese Jade, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963

Raizo Ichikawa is really growing on me, those brattish charms always ready to be transformed into pure nihilism. Also always nice to have actors with truly distinctive hair. The Nemuri Kyoshiro films seem to explore the lighter, breezier side of his persona, but coupled with more than a dash of a very sixties kind of machismo.

While this sure looks good throughout, Tanaka seems to be a bit unsure about what to do with the material, mostly downplaying the action scenes while trying for a more poetic approach, like the archaic beach scenery that pops up out of nowhere several times throughout the film. 

Herbstromanze, Jürgen Enz, 1980

Imitation of life.

(This really was a surprising and rather sudden discovery: that HERBSTROMANZE, much more than the krypto-Fassbinder exercise I thought it to be, really is a Sirkian film through and through, with all meaning bound up and controlled within Mise en scene.)

Sleepy Eyes of Death 2: Sword of Adventure, Kenji Misumi, 1964

Just about perfect for what it is. A dynamic comic-book-type visual style, a versatile script, perfect eye for physiognomy (every single close-up of Yoshi Kato's face provides joy), perfect deployment of style for style's sake, for example when it comes to Shiho Fujimura's wardrobe... One of the many clever things Misumi does here is shifting the burden of characterisation: This time, Nemuri Kyoshiro is much more defined by the way people look at him rather than by his own words and actions.

Still hard to argue that misogyny isn't an important part of the recipe here ("And now princess pig wants to grope this purer-than-snow body of mine..."); but Misumi at least manages to include interesting female characters anyway.

Der Formel Eins Film, Wolfgang Büld, 1985

Unlike Büld's superior GIB GAS - ICH WILL SPASS, this one isn't set in the real world but in the immanence of Germany's music industry. Therefore, the love story, which once again is very much its center, doesn't have much room to breathe. There really is no place to go. No matter if you're trying to run away and start a new life together or if you're just looking for a place to fuck: sooner or later grinning Ingolf Lück shows up and the party is over. Plus the male lead is dull as dishwater and the music selection is even worse than one would imagine - a decidedly third-rate Meat Loaf song is the closest thing available to a showstopper, here. 

Still a lot of fun because it's all so unfiltered: the clothes, the cluttered Mise en scene, all those non- and barely-jokes cancelling each other out. A film of the world.

(Another discovery: Take away Campino and the Hosen might just be a rather fun collection of dudes.)