Monday, April 05, 2021
Starts as a rather dull narrative visualization of Goethe's Erlkönig, but takes flight once the central visual idea is introduced: The boy's hallucinations manifesting itself as a series of overlays, half-transparent figures representing the Erlkönig itself as well as a number of nymph-like dancers and other vaguely mythological creatures. Projected over trees, leaves and, especially beautiful, water, they are transformed into a direct portal into another realm of pure visuality.
That's basically it, the film isn't interested in doing much more than opening up the portal and spending some time on the other side. A one-trick pony, but sometimes that's enough.
Hinugot sa langit, Ishmael Bernal, 1985
Family melodrama, the eternal master-genre of Philippine Cinema. Here, Maricel Soriano gets sweet-talked into first watching SPLASH and then a pregnancy. Later on, she is surrounded not so much by oppressive individuals as by blunt ideological forces. The "bad" guy who knocked her up is pure irresponsibility, and advises her to toss a coin to decide the fate of her unborn child; the "good" guy who wants to marry her is pure patriarchal dullness, unable to think of her as anything else than as part of his prearranged life-plan; the aunt (?) is pure religious hypocrisy, aggressively demanding, in the name of the lord, a sacrifice she herself was never asked to make; the cousin (Amy Austria, biggest joy of the film!) is pure girl-power libertarianism and advocates for take every orgasm you can get and don't worry about the consequences. In the end, the choice Maricel has to make might not be all that hard...
There's a side-plot about a family of day laborers being evicted from their dilapidated home. Might feel like poverty porn at times, but might also be read as the dark, ironic core of the film: another kind of body politics, mirroring the possible "eviction" of the fetus, but one that does not have access to the mode of melodrama.
The Visitor in the Eye, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977
A horror film setup swept away by picturesque matte paintings, Tschaikovsky style piano romanticism and affect-trenched colorscapes. What's not to love?
Border Wolves, Joseph H. Lewis, 1938
Joseph H. Lewis cheapie from his Wagon Wheel Joe days. And indeed, his favorite framing device makes quite a few appearances. Aside from that, there are lots of songs, quite a bit of Joe-Baker-hollering, a few inventive camera movements, some of the most racist attempts at comic relief attempts I've come across recently and a vague outline of something similar to a plot. Not without merits as a sign of things to come, but a bit too random on its own terms.
Take Me Away!, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1978
For 20 minutes, this is as beautiful as filmmaking can get: Two uprooted souls falling in love while floating on top of San Francisco street scenes, remnants of the not yet completely commodified counterculture, a musical euphoria not too much removed from a plunge into death and nothingness. It all culminates first in a magical club scene and then a night of glowing close-up passion, framings of intimacy that also seem to be playing with our desire to watch.
Obayashi comes back to all of this in the end, to the club and the street romance at least. Not much has changed but that fact in itself might be telling enough. There's just nothing solid that sticks to those two. Everything in between is a bit frustrating, because it feels like this almost could've been a masterpiece, if Obayashi had just made the material a bit more his own, instead of falling back on tired family drama tropes.
There's beautiful stuff throughout to be sure, the music, the toy plane, a wonderfully giddy 70s brawl... still, the otherworldly beauty of the first 20 minutes dissipates pretty quickly, and when Obayashi tries to reclaim it in the end it feels a bit like too little to late.
Lovemobil, Elke Margarete Lehrenkrauss, 2019
Watching this after the "scandal" broke is a rewarding, if not completely satisfying experience. If one knows about the background, the signs of "scripted reality" are indeed impossible to overlook, even in the most "observational" hangout / waiting for the johns scenes. Interestingly, the only "real" protagonist, Uschi, feels even more scripted, maybe because technically she's an amateur actress while the other two women are not.
Still, turning this into "correctly labeled" fiction might have resulted in a much less interesting film, because this probably would've weakened what is strongest about it: the way these two sex workers are transformed, by way of accumulation of well-researched detail, into universally valid signifiers of what Germany and especially provincial Germany is and feels like in the 21st century. And in the end I would argue that this very quality doesn't at all depend on whether Rita and Milena are "authentic" or not.
LOVEMOBIL isn't quite strong enough to build a full-scale defense of the lying documentary on. Still, watching this with an open mind is at the very least much more enlightening than keeping up with the never-ending stream of self-righteous think pieces which come across much more embarrassing than anything the director might or might not have done wrong. Everything else the parties involved should work out among themselves.
School in the Crosshairs, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1981
When nazis take over the schoolyard, it pays off to go for the big guns. Pure joy from beginning to end.
Meet Boston Blacki, Robert Florey, 1941
Boston Blackie, king of the lame one-liners, in a well-made mystery. Rochelle Hudson, Costance Worth and Richard Lane easily make up for what Chester Morris lacks in charms (it's not him, I guess, but those damn one-liners) and Robert Florey once again directs with style, wit and an eye for the bizarre.
Facundo Alitaftaf, Luciano B. Carlos, 1978
Brain-melt material of the occasionally funky kind. Theres' a scene in which Dolphy's head gets, again and again, stuck between two sumo wrestler's bellies. Hard to not see this as the film declaring, quite openly, its own aesthetic strategy.
The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1979
ADHD: The Movie. There's more inventiveness in any five-minute stretch of this than in your average yearly Academy Awards Best Picture crop, but in the end I can only rate my own enjoyment and I was low-key annoyed by this pretty much the whole time.
Lovely Devils, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982
Two witches battling each other and the one who loves harder wins.
The narrow television frame completely and immediately feels like the perfect container for at at least this special flavor of Obayashi's madness. No room to stretch, so the only way to go is forward, rushing through melodies and set-pieces, straight into a manic Dario-Argento-children's-book-operatic-fairytale.
Now that the frame is smaller it's all the more obvious that the core of his cinema is not visual but musical. Not a single melody or a constant beat, though, but a commitment to the musical spectacular. Pop cinema driven by a discontent with the limitations of pop. The neat two and a half minutes packaging, the emotional purity, the levelling of tone and affect: all of this has to go. Pop must aspire to something different, and one way to achieve this is an opening up towards older forms, especially European romanticism. In a way, films like this one or VISITOR IN THE EYE unfold like Bohemian Rhapsody, only without the pomp and the grand gestures. It's not about "synthesizing influences" but about speaking the cinema of hybrid musicality as if it were a natural language.
Tinimbang ang langit, Danny L. Zialcita, 1982
So there's another 1980s Filipino showbiz melodrama about a nightclub singer getting discovered and making it to the big league before having to make a choice between the loneliness of the stage and conjugal confinement as the wife of Christopher De Leon. (Or rather, between De Leon and - a diamond-plastered microphone! There's a wonderful, quiet perversity to all of this.)
This one lacks the clear-cut from rags to riches dramaturgy of the later BITUING WALANG NINGNING, and in fact mostly does away with the socioeconomic context altogether. Instead, this is about a number of high-strung individuals trying to find happiness in rather erratic ways. Most of the plot developments come out of nowhere, and sometimes even the Mise-en-scene seems on the verge of collapsing. A fragile film, but then again, good love songs are always complicated.
Zatoichi's Flashing Sword, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964
"In the dark, the advantage is mine."
On the other hand, Zatoichi's whole mission in this one is to make sure fireworks will light up the sky in the end. So it's not about banning light categorically, but about exchanging one type of light for another. The blunt, narrow daylight of pure visibility must make room for the spectacular, expressive, artificial light of nighttime ghost vision (and while Ikeda's direction lacks the blunt force of his ...CHEST OF GOLD, this transformation is rendered beautifully). Light must stop being a mere tool for petty power schemes and become an aesthetic force in its own right.
Zatoichi cannot see, but he can be touched by light.
Sentinelle, Julien Leclercq, 2021
The somber tone on tone beginning leading up to a nice, impressionistic club scene kind of intrigued me, but once the destination became clear, I had a hard time keeping my interest up. As basic as this is, there's still too much stupid plot and while Leclercq makes good use of Kurylenko's sad eyes, she just isn't the right kind of actress for those brutal, down to earth fight scenes.
I Are You, You Am Me, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1982
Sweet and tender body switch comedy, with Obayashi keeping his more ornamental impulses in check while mostly handing over the film to his actors, especially to Satomi Kobayashi, joyfully lashing out against the restrictions of the world surrounding it; a great, intuitive performance, that at times threatens to sideline Toshinori Omi, whose equally important contribution takes longer to register. It mostly manifests itself in close-ups - with the girl, the switch mostly activates the body / exteriority, with the boy the face / interiority.
Maybe the best thing about it is that the social context, while never absent, mostly retreats into the background, so that the film mostly consists of the world the two of them build for themselves, without external interference. This is especially true for the extremely touching last part, a turn towards juvenile transcendence I really didn't see coming. Introduced, of course, by Bach's Air of Suite No. 3, the most beautiful piece of music ever conceived. Only special films can truly sustain Bach and this one can.
Crime Doctor, Michael Gordon, 1943
Warner Baxter suffers from amnesia and is haunted by an unknown, murky past while climbing the ranks of decent society. Plots like that, encompassing years if not decades while trying to do justice to a man's whole biography, are not exactly ideal programmer material. Indeed, the script takes quite a few shortcuts and never even tries to account for its psychological implications, resulting in a strangely non-commitant self-investigation: Baxter investigates his past self as he would another person. And the film isn't smart enough to make use of this "objective" schizophrenia either.
Anyway, the most interesting parts in here are probably the prison scenes and the plea for prosocial reform they imply.
The Little Girl Who Conquered Time, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1983
More plot-heavy than most other early Obayashis and while the small frictions in the fabrics of the everyday slowly leading to a big, romantic opening up of everything is a lovely vision of coming of age, I guess in the end I prefer the anarchism of LOVELY DEVILS and the relaxedness of I ARE YOU. Of course, one does not have to decide, Obayashi's image factory will provide for everyone in the end.
Haven't seen the Hosoda version yet, although while watching it I more often thought about Makoto Shinkai who just must have watched this at least a few times before taking on YOUR NAME.
Confessions of Boston Blackie, Edward Dmytryk, 1941
"You've got a little Gestapo in you!"
It's always interesting to see how the reality of geopolitics seeps into those wartime noirs. Not by way of stilted speechifying, but in much more casual ways. Being in war against fascism is just another part of the fabrics of daily life. (Don't know, of course, if the line was already in the script or if this is an early example of Dmytryk's antifascism.)
The film itself is quite nice, some original ideas and I've already made my peace with Chester Morris's swag.
The Deserted City, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984
A town touched by death, embalmed in green, handed over to water (while waiting for fire), having lost contact with the present, every act already a proleptic memory. When being is being with death from the start, only a concrete act of sorrow, a direct contact with death can break the spell once in a while. The wake after the non-lovers's love suicide is the most lucid scene of the film, faces sculpted in light, finally in tune with their own helplessness.
So beautiful it hurts (the cats, the dogs!) and I really wonder why, to me, it's still not a complete success. Maybe it's the voice-over in combination with Eguchi's blank face, though in the end it might've more to do with the way Obayashi looks at his characters. He respects them, and knows there surrounding, carefully placing them in space-time, securing them from hostile gazes (ours, too) when necessary, but sometimes I feel like he's not curious enough about them, or at least not as curious as I am. For example Ikuyo: She's old-fashioned, we learn, and Obayashi decides that's enough, that's all we need to know about her. But is it?
Kenya Boy, Nobuhiko Obayashi & Tetsuo Imazawa, 1984
Would love to know more about this, productionwise. Is this really an unfinished work, as some are suggesting here? Or might this just be one of Obayashi's more radical attempts at a liquified pop cinema? I mean it totally makes sense for him, when for once leaving behind live-action altogether, to not settle down on a single, stable style of animation, but instead to interrogate this new toolset, especially regarding the presence, absence and saturation of color. At the same time, the stylistic ruptures do feel more jarring and random this time around.
And it's not just the style, there's also a decidedly dubious script (like a stitched-together mashup of several "exotic", colonialist 30s serials filtered through a Japanese nationalist framework) and the total and, given the rest of his work, really surprising lack of insight into how young people behave, talk or even just move around. Wataru really is more a miniature adult than any kind of adolescent here, except maybe when enthralled by the equally awkward blonde jungle goddess Kate. His horniness might've been his saving grace, but the film isn't interested in exploring it, either.
In the end the only thing this has really going for it is its weirdness, and, like with KINDAICHI KOSUKE, this isn't quite enough to keep me engaged.
La canzone dell'amore, Gennaro Righelli, 1930
Trying, with some success, to take in the wholeness of sound, chaotic street noise mixed with intimate confessions mixed with the streamlining of auditive affect by the cultural industry. A few good visual ideas, too, like the closing in on the couple sitting high up there in the tree. Most of the times, though, the window stays closed and all sensations stay confined within the limits of a particularly tired set of melodramatic conventions.
The Island Closest to Heaven, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1984
Away with my petty objections, they always remain strangely external to Obayashi's image-making anyway. Even if they're true they're wrong, because with Obayashi, it's not about truth value or fitting into pre-arranged forms, but about following the images, wherever they might lead.
Just like Keiko here, who travels to the end of the world, to a world of pure beauty, a world as special effect, in search of an image she can't describe until she sees it. More precisely: The driving force behind her trip is her conviction that she will recognize the image once she sees it. We already suspect she won't, and we already suspect that this failure will, in the end, not matter all that much to her.
The true cypher is not the world, though, but Keiko. This is epitomized in her glasses. That women (much less often: men) are suddenly transformed when they take off their glasses is a well-worn trope (and I have to admit that I'm rather fond of it. Here, Keiko takes her glasses, and she, too, changes. It's just that we don't know what exactly this change consists in. She continues to be a cypher, but has demonstrated the possibility of change.
Maybe the most important thing is that Keiko remains a tourist, even after leaving the tour party behind. She enters a few lives, a few stories, but stays on the sidelines, detached. And learning how to do this, to be content with this, to except ones own apartness is all that matters in the end. The boat is steady, it's the world that's swaying.
Prosti, Erik Matti, 2002
The hilarious poster is strangely fitting, since this is an exploitation film first and foremost, but in a playful and, yes, honest way. Just like madame's damaged eye works both as a grindhouse signifier and as a trace of her own damaged past, Matti somehow manages to pull of directing a sensual film about prostitution. An unillusioned tale of power structures and the possibilities / limits of solidarity (female-administered sex work is still exploitation, but also a way to keep the men in check) - with glossy, at times kinky softcore sex and lots of stylish low angles of narrow bordello hallways. And it's not that the latter somehow devalues the former. It's all of one piece, without the allure of bodies in heat the microeconomy of power and pleasure the film is built on would simply collapse.
Feels a bit like a much less cynical version of early 90s Hong Kong Cat III cinema. Need to finally see more Matti...
Miss Lonely, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1985
Nostalgia is one of the key modes of cinema, a medium that always, necessarily navigates the relationship between imaginary immediacy and objective distance. To do this successfully, Obayashi teaches, one cannot play off one aspect against the other, but has to fully commit do both. So on the one hand we're drowning in desire for a particular time and place and melody and face (also for completely random things, like that slightly ridiculous white sweater we always wore in our teens), while on the other hand we're working through this very desire, analytically and without any safety net. And the perfect way to do this, this most beautiful of Obayashi's films (ok, so far, who knows what'll happen next...) suggests, is by way of comedy, by way of exploring, Chaplin-style, the connection between silliness and sentiment.
In the end it's about finding and defining objects which can bind and symbolize our affect, while at the same time making it manageable. A small piano on top of a real one.
Der Schuss im Tonfilmatelier, Alfred Zeisler, 1930
Cinema as a closed-off system centered around death. Smart and inventive, though one might've wished that Zeisler would've focused a bit less on the satirical and a bit more on the depraved implications of the plot. But well, not everyone can be a De Palma, I guess.
Bound for the Fields, the Mountains, the Seacoast, Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1986
The war is absent but only just so. All that's missing is one cut, sometimes maybe just a tilt. The nearness of the war affects everyone, transforming games into war games and society into a keystone cop comedy. Everyone's sliding and rafting towards it, talking about it, singing about it ... and still, war's not here. Being on the brink of war without getting there means being on the brink of madness without the possibility of a release, however gruesome. The world has already been invaded by violence, but without the accompanying structure provided by war. For now, violence is pure rupture, impulse without form.
Films like this often tend do get on my nerves. Farcical, vitalist mayhem intent on selling me on the primal richness of life in the face of devastation... That's why I have a hard time with a lot of Imamura, and BOUND FOR THE FIELDS clearly takes some of its cues from this tradition. At the same time, though, Obayashi never ceases to be a pop-filmmaker first and foremost, which is especially evident in his loving recreation of (1910s more than 1920s) slapstick aesthetics. Also, once again he kind of inserts himself into the narrative, as a young boy who, like in LONELY HEART, explores the world with the help of a pair of binoculars. What he offers is, in the end, not a treatise on man's eternal nature, but a perspective on a world.
Karma, Danny L. Zialcita, 1981
Patriarchy gone wild. In an early scene a woman temporarily staying in a hotel room is raped by a man who thinks she is in on it because an acquaintance usually provides him with a paid "victim" in the very same room every week. Things don't get much saner afterwards.
Once again, Zialcita's Mise en scene (and especially his editing) isn't the most solid in the world, but also once again the bonkers melodrama worldview seems to come natural to him. Plus he has a great eye for decor and what it does to people.
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
A comedy about the sphere of circulation as an integrating force, at the same time transcending and redrawing class barriers. It ends with a banquet given for the poor... that is also financed by the rich marry on borrowed money. Blasetti's direction is always inventive and Viviani is amazing.
New Tale of Zatoichi, Tozuko Tanaka, 1963
Katsu looks about 10 years younger in color than in black and white, at least on first sight, and this threw me off for a while, but in the end this turns out to be a very emotional, quietly melodramatic entry. That long scene of Zatoichi and Yayoi alone in a room, each one in a different corner, not approaching and not really looking at each other and still they're ready to completely change their lives around just because of the intensity of the moment...
Forbidden Trail, Lambert Hillyer, 1932
Love the uneasy Buck Jones swagger (he is much wackier than his wacky sidekick in this one, especially when "flirting"), and I liked that at one point the fact that he can't get what he ordered for breakfast is used as a plot point. Aside from that very routine, mostly in a good way.
Zatoichi the Fugitive, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963
There's once again a blast from the past storyline but at the same time the series starts to transition to Zatoichi the journeyman mode, starting with the random sumo match in the beginning. Like with Tanaka's previous entry, this is best when things get more private and intimate, especially in the scenes with Masamo Banri. Doesn't quite reach the same emotional intensity this time, though the last scene, with Zato's farewell dance turning from playful to desperate to gloomy in a single close-up is truly amazing.
Zatoichi on the Road, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1963
The first one I didn't really care for. Looks still amazing, of course, but the plot is uninvolving and also surprisingly slow, there are no standout set pieces and winy Mitsu is the worst character in the series so far, a damsel in distress tailor-made for Zatoichi to spring through all the required hoops and nothing more. Zato himself is unpleasantly cocky, too. Hopefully not a sign of things to come.
The Mistake, Bruno Sukrow, 2020
Still nothing even remotely like it out there, and this time the insertion of quite a bit of live-action footage - mostly nature imagery, often shots lasting for quite a long time - makes everything feel even more sui generis. Not just the pulpy fever-dreams of the code left to its own devices, but a gift from a twilight zone beyond the separation of digital and analog. We are blessed.
Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword of Seduction, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964
Ditches most of the classic chambara roots of the series in favor of a more serious commitment to its exploitation underpinnings. Here we get junkie sex slaves, sadistic nuns, out of the blue beheadings, defloration rituals etc., and while Nemuri Kyoshiro thankfully refrains from raping anyone this time around, the fact that he basically only acts out of spite, no matter what he does, is even more pronounced.
First Ikehiro I've seen, and judging solely from this he might be one of the more distinctive stylists among the Daiei jidaigeki specialists. Most striking is his use of long takes, sometimes whole scenes are done in single shots, which are often dynamized by gorge-like areas of deep focus. On the other hand, he sometimes goes for quite disruptive close-ups of pure movement. There's a weightlessness to the best scenes here that is quite a bit removed from the usually rather set-heavy Daiei-style.
Ikehiro is also the first director who tries to find an SFX equivalent to Nemuri Kyoshiro's Full Moon Sword Technique. Like quite a few of his more out there ideas this isn't completely successfull, but still, this is anything but by the numbers filmmaking.
Justice League, Jack Snyder, 2017
Watching the corporate capitalism cut before the fascist theocracy one. Just kidding, I'm mostly / moderately pro Snyder and what works here probably works because of him. (I'm not sure, on the other hand, that Whedon is the bad guy; some of the comic relief is terrible, yes, especially the Aquaman parts, but this more than anything feels unfinished, rushed, almost like a first draft.)
For Snyder, a superhero first and foremost is a scandal, an entity outside of traditional systems of cinematic epistemology, and the films can only be ways of accommodating this scandal one way or another. Introspection for example is not an end in itself, but must be experimental too, like it is here in some of the scenes with The Flash.
With the possible exception of Aquaman, who really is extremely annoying this time, every superhero arc in here has at least some kind of weird specificity and the stitched-together feel of the whole thing almost adds to its charm: different kinds of scandals, of disruptions folding into each other.
At least up to a point, because after the team is assembled (and the different worlds have been blended into each other), this does not have many interesting places to go. Still, the reddish, morphing CGI-scape of the finale is quite strong and hosts an action-adventure-set-piece more inventive than anything I've seen in any Marvel film, including SPIDER-VERSE.
Zack Snyder's Justice League, Zack Snyder, 2021
Funny that Snyder of all people is now being celebrated as a master of classical filmmaking. But in many ways it's true, this really is a much more well-rounded aesthetic object than just about anything on a similar budget level in the last 10 years. Still a bit disappointing that most of the raves center on "grief", "emotional depth" and similar qualities, thereby once again enshrining the vocabulary "real" cinema is supposed to be judged by.
The characters might be more rounded too, yes, and the dedication in the end is incredibly touching, but that's not what sets this apart from the previous version. In the Snyder cut, the superheroes do not get much more backstory or motivation. What they do get is a better stage for the expression of their powers. This expression might also be a self-expression, but first and foremost it is an expression of something the self is not.
To put it another way, Snyder is more interested in the super than in the hero. That's why Cavill's Superman is still his finest creation (and MEN OF STEEL his best film): With him, it's not about a human body discovering superpowers (a phenomenology), but about superpowers discovering and transforming a human body (an epistemology).
(That's also the reason, btw, why Affleck's Batman is so weird. In the absence of a superpower he loses all intrinsic value for Snyder, who has no eye for the specific melancholia / romanticism of basically all the earlier Batman solo films. When he tries to recreate it he falls back on tired stereotypes out of touch with the rest of his film, like Batman sitting high up there, overlooking the city. For Snyder, Batman makes only sense as a figuration of himself: an engineer of the spectacular always in danger of getting lost in his own schemes.)
This difference is not just one of narrative perspective, but constitutive for Snyder's image-making: Just like Superman's body is a medium for the exploration of superhuman strength, Snyder's films are vessels for the superpowers of high-budget digital imagery - that is, the films are not the powers themselves but experimental efforts to embody them, to translate them.
The biggest difference to the theatrical version is not the expanded Cyborg storyline, which is nice enough but maybe a bit too directly an expression of the digital sublime; but, once again, the way Snyder manages to make his cut much more about Superman (even the open matte framing only really clicked with me after the first true Superman closeups), to the point that a lot of this, especially the many scenes foreshadowing the resurrection, plays out like a religious parable.
The eruptive and obviously sexual release (the biggest flaw of the film might be that Cavill is not completely naked when being reactivated) delivers the other heroes not so much from trauma, but from interiority itself. Now their abilities can no longer be misread (by themselves as well as others) as coping mechanism and they, too, have access to the spectacular.
The question of how fascist all of this really is never completely fades away. Still, it's quite interesting that the first thing that happens after the resurrection is a fight among heroes. Even in the end, they cannot even begin to conceive of their abilities in terms of a greater good. The more discursive side of the film (all those strange voice-overs: who do they address?) stays completely fixated on self-determination the whole time, and maybe that is the political stake of the film: that the Justice League, the necessary transgression of individualism, can only be though of in terms of the otherworldly fantastical, unbound by any empiricism, be it psychological or sociological.
(On a side note, while I'm not all that curious about a post-apocalyptic Joker movie, what I really would love to see is a Snyder-directed WONDER WOMAN prequel set completely in Themyscira.)
Grand Piano, Eugenio Mira, 2013
Wonderfully bonkers hook and as long as this is just sub-Hitchcockian suspense mechanics, it runs along nicely (plus I was amused for quite a while about the thought of Elijah Wood as piano genius, not that it's completely unbelievable, I can see him obsessing just about anything, but it feels a bit like a fantasy life gone wrong); it becomes pretty clear pretty soon, though, that Mira isn't interesting in opening things up. The sole attempt at de Palma / Argento nastiness (the cello bow / knife match cut) is disappointingly tame and every outside event has to be matched, one for one, by character exploration. So in the end it's just another self-contained system, like so many recent genre exercises.
The Locket, John Brahm, 1946
In a key scene, Brian Aherne rushes back to a bombed out house he thinks Laraine Day, his wife, might be buried under. When he arrives, though, his eyes get stuck at a piece of jewelry stuck in the rubble, a bracelet that might be proof of her guilt, and this, her guilt, is his top priority, even in the face of her possible death. Throughout the film Day's evilness gains cinematic evidence almost exclusively in the actions and words of the men surrounding her.
This does not mean, of course, that she isn't evil, or that this is a film about the male "construction" of an evil woman. It's more about a cinematic investigation which is completely and hopelessly compromised from the start, contaminated by a primal evil that is itself outside of the scope of the film.
A top-tier psychopathology noir, in any case, and extremely good looking, too. The visuals build both on Musuraca's work with Lewton and Brahm's own gothic horror exercises - which were, however, probably really just this: exercises. This one is the real deal.
Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, Kazuo Ikehira, 1964
Now this is something else. Zatoichi is truly a free agent by now, and he stumbles into adventure just by sitting down while trying to take a rest. Ikehiro's direction is once more top notch, although he does not take as many risks as in SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 4. Here, it's mostly about finding a new, more direct approach to cinematic violence.
The action is varied and brutal and the forest setting lends this a visually distinctiveness most of the predecessors lack. Nature's protection isn't here to stay, though: while Zatoichi slashes his way through his opponents, the dark green glow of the trees slowly makes way for a barren wasteland.
Kisapmata, Mike de Leon, 1981
There's barbed wire on top of the door, and if it even opens up (most of the time, the blunt, helpless noise of the bell stays unanswered), the entryway is barely big enough for a small car. If you've made it inside, the maid will lock the door behind you immediately, eager to perform a duty no one appreciates. The house is greenish from the outside and even greener inside. It's never quite clear, at least in the restored version, if (or how much of) the green is a matter of lighting, of paint, or of decomposition.
If you make it inside (you'd better not, anyway), on the left side a small living room opens up, a small area of relative security and civility. The dominating sight, though, is a staircase leading to the first floor. A diagonal slicing the screen, and a passageway between utter despair and the illusion of safety. Below the staircase there's also a phone. Its ringing, like that of the doorbell, mostly stays unanswered, and once you're inside, you already suspect why: This is a self-contained system, and every channel of communication with the outside world will, sooner or later, prove to be an illusion.
Upstairs, to the left, Dadong lives. Better not even look at the door. Crossing over to the right, you reach another room. The room of the daughter of the house, a child's room that might feel bright and friendly at first, but that turns out to be, in fact, the worst room of all, a chamber of unspeakable horrors, a kernel of pure negativity that, slowly but surely, will take over the whole world.
Thursday, March 18, 2021
Well made if completely by the numbers and lacking the extra spark of craziness of, say, the better Will Ferrell vehicles. Mostly glad to see Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman and J.B. Smooth again, though Jenny Slate clearly is MVP here.
Tea for Two, David Butler, 1950
A relaxed Doris Day has ample opportunity to employ her beautiful laugh, and the great supporting cast (De Wolfe, Sakall, Arden, Wymore) provides enough distraction to make up for the fact that Gordon McRae is just about the dullest male lead imaginable. Gene Nelson's dancing is way more athletic than elegant but impressive enough. Would love to see a film that really knows how to make use of him.
One of those films that feel enough like they could have been made up on the spot (a two sentence plot scribbled on a napkin tucked on a random selection of tin-pan alley scores lazily being handed around at a dinner party) to let one forget that they in fact have been made to death.
Welcome to Sudden Death, Dallas Jackson, 2020
Relaxed feel, some good performances and at times actually funny... so a pretty decent way to spend one's time if one accepts the fact that cinema is dead (managing to forget that the Hyams film exists might help, too). By now I indeed believe it is, but I guess I'm still not ready to accept all of the consequences. Anyway, before the switch to digital a film couldn't even look half as dull as this one even if it tried very, very hard.
Debt Collectors, Jesse V. Johnson, 2020
Runs smoothly on the considerable charms of the protagonists, but feels somehow much less specific than the first one. I guess the problem might be that it is a bit too content with being just a sequel, another job for the guy, while not really being interested in accumulating detail. The relaxed and resigned attitude is a given now and no longer tied to a specific place.
Still much to love, not the least an out of nowhere over the top performance by (I think) Charity Collins during the final shootout. She was born to blast away and the camera can't get enough from her doing so.
Blood Father, Jean-Francois Richet, 2016
A French production that believes more in American cinema than pretty much every recent American film I've seen over the last few years. A cinema of dusty, sun-burnt pulp archetypes, pretty ridiculous at times and without even a hint of irony to counteract the ridiculousness, but maybe that's the only way a story like this can work these days.
Tough little cookie Erin Moriarty may be even better than Gibson, though Gibson himself is pretty great, too: totally comfortable with embodying America's unenlightened self-image, obviously more interested in being a badass than a movie star (a clear sign: how long it takes for him to shave off his beard). The man obviously has issues to work through and Richet provides just the right kind of energetic post-Peckinpah genre nastiness to help him get back in the saddle.
Pretty much exactly the film LAST BLOOD should've been, too.
Acts of Vengeance, Isaac Florentine, 2017
Strange film. A straight-forward revenge tale unnecessarily and uneasily told through flashback, burdened with lots of pop-philosophical background noise and especially awkward voice-over... Quite a bit of misguided ambition, but also a sense of commitment normally completely foreign to a film like this (even to the still way too few other Florentine films I've seen; all of them better in what they do, but this one feels closer to his heart).
Banderas never seems quite comfortable with his role, the whole film could almost be described as him trying out different poses, but no, nothing really fits, neither the Fight Club masochism nor the training montage nor the spiritual redemption mechanics. The best part probably is him stopping to speak and turning into a sulky child, being mothered by Paz Vega, but only because this allows him to rest for a while. In the end nothing helps: He just can't be transformed into one of those aging, scarred b-movie vigilantes. Something about his eyes, his still way too handsome face, about his anger never quite ceasing to look like a stage trick, purely performative.
New Moon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 2001
Trying to find a cinematic handle on the Moro conflict. Feels a bit unformed at first, there are some jarring stylistic diversions throughout and the discursive elements are a bit forced (with every major character a stand-in for either an ethnic-religious group, a political stance towards war, or both), but all of this mostly fades away during a long, hope- and aimless walk through the jungle. In the end this is all about trying to make tangible, even if only a little bit, what it means to exist, as a live, hurting, loving body, under a perpetual regime of civil war. Great close-ups.
The Green Slime, Kinji Fukasaku, 1968
Was a bit disappointed by the space opera part in the beginning, probably mostly because an MGM-Toei co-production obviously can't keep up with all the Ishiro Honda films I've seen lately when it comes to miniature works and pulpy matte paintings. Once everything is confined to the space station, this is a blast, though. Fukasaku's lively (and slightly pervy) direction, the bonkers monster design, the Horton and Jaeckel reluctant bromance... A film that knows how to milk a premise.
Adultery, Lino Brocka, 1984
Brocka soap opera about individual desire being shaped, channeled and thwarted by the hard power of economics and the soft power of family relations. In the end, male stubbornness and female adaptivity are just two equally inadequate reactions to a state of continuous societal breakdown.
A bit frustrating in its insistence on dramaturgic ploys like the courtroom scenes or the double life routine: Brocka knows how to make stuff like this work on a superficial level but has no interest whatsoever in turning it in something meaningful, so a lot of this is just treading water. Still, Vilma Santos is pretty good, especially in the domestic scenes with Salvador. Also, there are quite a few striking strictly observational scenes like the prisoners hanging out during work breaks, just a bunch of exhausted organisms without any kind of meaningful, self-determined agency, a ground zero of body politics.
An Indivisible Heaven, Mike de Leon, 1984
De Leon Soap Opera, twisted, stylish and fabulous. Here it's not external pressure that drive the drama, but the awkwardness inherent in being trapped in both a body and society. Master director that he is, Mike de Leon makes even the weaker parts of the script (like the sudden turn into DALLAS territory towards the end) work, while Christopher de Leon's performance is magnificent throughout. His uneasy courtship scenes with the "country girl" are especially pitch-perfect hilarious, the studied script of romance performed with even the slightest bit of conviction or ease. The slow drift towards intimate darkness, drowning faces in close-up, speaks of de Leon's penchant for horror.
Klassenkeile, F.J. Gottlieb, 1969
There's so much energy in these fundamentally immature Pauker films... in the end they almost always win me over, all the more when, like here, there's a surprisingly decent Walter Giller performance at the center of it all.
Karnal, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1983
The kind of precious evocation of "primal" emotions that most of the time leaves me rather cold. The period setting seems to be mostly a pretense for falling back on archetypes and images of misery that at least look good and pure. Still, well-made for what it is, I guess.
Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1964
The series settling into a more routine mode, leaving behind the lavish imagery of the first and the almost cartoonish stylization of the second entry. Now it's just about the no-nonsense delivery of particularly dark and misanthropic/misogynist b-movie routines.
(To me it's still up to debate how these post 1960 samurai films work in terms of gender - the often extremely disgusting violence can't be separated from the fact that women play a much bigger, and also more active role than in earlier jidaigeki, and also, for example, in classic westerns; still, I'd completely understand anyone who'd stop watching anything samurai related after the rape scene in here.)
This also lacks the stylistic coherence especially of the Misumi film. The magnificent fire and darkness finale makes up for a lot, though.
Death of Nintendo, Raya Martin, 2020
A relaxed film about volcanic eruptions. Completely comfortable in its nostalgic exploration of youthscapes, from swimming pools to basketball courts to locker rooms, and still there's also that one shot of two spiders fighting in close-up. (A nod to EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO FAMILY?)
I, too, like how the film is reframed as Mimaw's story in the end, although what touches me most is the attentive and unobtrusive portrayal of Paolo's mother's loneliness.
The Tale of Zatoichi, Kenji Misumi, 1962
Like Mr. Euclid writes, this seems to be, at the core, less about the technique of samurai bloodshed and more about the idea of the master swordsman. What does it mean that in all these films there are one or two guys who effortlessly slice there way through dozens if not hundreds of opponents? How to built a genre, a world around that? Who can (and who can't) inhabit a world like this?
The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, Kazuo Mori, 1962
The one year later he returns to the same village and to the same woman storyline is a great setup for a sequel. Mori easily manages to make it stand its own - everything is smaller in scale, but also more private, Katsu's face is becoming much more important, and Wakayama is a memorable opponent. There's nothing like the all-out-brawl towards the end of the first one, but the prolonged fight scene at the end of this is someting else, too, a masterpiece of controlled Mise-en-scene - the way the film retreats from and closes back in on an ongoing battle... and then, after a night of somber reflections, a single, finale, decisive gesture...
Corte d'Assise, Guido Brignone, 1931
An aria superimposed with chopping wood, the town chatter cancelled out by bleating sheep, public announcements of plot points in image and sound. An experimental approach to talking pictures, embedded in a slightly confused whodunit.
Bridal Suite, Wilhelm Theile, 1939
Starts a bit lame and never quite manages to shake off the burden the production code placed on films like this one (although Thiele tries his best to suggest, in the end, that Young and Annabella did, in fact, sleep in the same bed). Still, the actors make it work, Young especially is pretty great because he's always a performer, no matter if his act is "international playboy" or "grudgingly giving in to societal pressure and getting a job". Thiele managing to squeeze Felix Bressart and Sig Arno into the plot is also highly appreciated, of course.
My personal highlight, though, is the fairytale production design once the film reaches the Alps, especially the back projection scenes high up in the mountain, a lofty combination of studio claustrophobia and natural beauty that somehow fits my personal experience of Switzerland.
La stella del cinema, Mario Almirante, 1931
...and then sound came to the pictures and, at least for a few years, everything turned weird and wacky and ridiculous and sexy and impure and chaotic.
Film is an industry, but cinema only happens when the assembly line grinds to a halt momentarily. A vernacular, low-level approach to image-making. In one especially touching scene a film shoot is recreated around a family dinner table, with a pepper grinder as a stand-in for the camera.
The Gentleman from Nowhere, William Castle, 1948
The identity confusion / stranger in my bedroom theme should be right up Castle's alley, the "becoming Warner Baxter" scene is indeed pretty great and Fay Baker has a marvelous b-movie face that should've been in many more films like this... unfortunately this somehow still ends up rather dull, with most of the runtime being consumed by a host of boring secondary characters trying to figure out the plot. A better transfer might help.
Female Ninja Magic: 100 Trampled Flowers, Chusei Sone, 1974
A film that uses several different comic sound effects for "penis moving inside vagina" will always be at least four star cinema in my book. The whole screen drowning in body liquids basically all the time helps too, of course.
Bituing Walang Ningning, Emmanuel H. Borlaza, 1985
And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever
It's lonely at the top, but it's lonely down below, too. Showbiz melodramas are almost always great and this one does not disappoint: we basically get, for two whole hours, wall to wall high-pitched power ballads, closet lesbian bitchfights and great makeup. Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil shine, of course, but I'm also partial to Christopher De Leon, who once again plays an inhibited pretty boy, a role that suits him well.
Terra madre, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931
Another interesting Blasetti film if not quite a revelation like RESURRECTIO. This is being described as a fascist adaptation of Soviet-style revolutionary realism, and this indeed at least partly fits a film that longs for a direct representation of "the people" (in its use of sound especially: an unruly force that has its source in the community more than in individuals) while at the same time framing them as elements to be disposed of, slotted in. Neither is the cleansing by fire scene in the end exactly subtle, falling perfectly in line with fascist propaganda: the destruction is blamed on the old, corrupt bourgeoise order, while the resulting utopian tabula rasa only belongs to the new, emerging streamlined society.
Still, on a scene by scene basis this doesn't really feel like totalitarian cinema. The acting especially comes from a completely different tradition: It's all about expressivity in a popular theater manner, and often just a few words by one of the more exalted peasants are enough to totally throw the proceedings off course. These guys still think of their lives in terms of traditional melodrama, and the film slowly but surely comes around to their perspective, too.
Harvest Home, Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 1995
One of those films that settle in a small world and start feeling claustrophobic as soon as you realize it's perfectly content with its outward limitations. The vector of inquiry always only leads inside, into the the self, the past, trauma. The switch into melodramatic overdrive about halfway in still took me by surprise, though.
Anyway, not badly made but not really my kind of movie, what kept me going were mostly the Snooky Serna close-ups, a fragile subjectivity running on fumes from the start, desperately clinging to her cigarettes.
Nurse's Sex Journal, Chusei Sone, 1976
Maria Mitsui is a fascinating presence, cold and slick and melancholic, her handling syringes almost makes one feel like in a Sato film. A shame she made so few movies. Otherwise this is a rather routine entry, lacking the unifying vision of the other Sone's I've seen. The late 70s seem to be the time when pinku sex scenes start being filmed increasingly like hardcore, just minus the genitals. In some cases this works well, here not so much. Still, you almost always can count on a few haunting interludes of musical melancholia in these films.
Tisoy!, Ishmael Bernal, 1977
So at the height of martial law Ishmael Bernal shot a Tati film on the streets of Manila. Not everything works (least of all the movie brat reflexivity), and technically something like the weirder Altman films might be a better comparison, but Altman is a cynic and Bernal is the opposite. It's all so generous and expansive, I couldn't stop thinking of Monsieur Houlot. A film to hang out in, two hours trenched in 70s warmth and Christopher de Leon dances the night away. And the day, too.
The Lodger, John Brahm, 1944
The world's a stage and everyone's a stock character from the start, having to act his part. Assigning a motive to a crime is just another stage trick. Brahm obviously loves those gothic theatrics, and this time he has a clever script and a wonderful cast to back him up.
Wednesday, March 03, 2021
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
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
"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
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.