Thursday, July 02, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Forget Love for Now, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

Eternal fog, eternal bullies. Suffering becoming form. I won´t forget that one long scene with mother and son silently coming to terms with their mutual knowledge of the hopelesness of their situation, the mutual dependency of their pain: she suffers for his sake, but this very suffering becomes the reason for his suffering.

Dampfnudelblues, Ed Herzog, 2013

Drifting through damaged provincial biographies with Ed Herzog, a German Jody Hill from Calw. The rhythm of smalltown life and hidden dreams of an outlaw Bavaria shining through. Everyone faces the camera, everyone is lonely and the school principal is the loneliest. An eye for architecture. Curious neighbors behind hedges. Two drunk soccer players crash a car. Who was the driver? Nobody! The upturned ping-pong table hiding a sex cellar.

Goku: Midnight Eye, Yoshiaki Kawajiri, 1989

Without the all-out sleaziness of of WICKED CITY, Kawachiri´s noir tropes feel a bit mechanical. Still knows how to push the buttons.

Winterkartoffelknödel, Ed Herzog, 2014

Getting wackier, especially the musical interludes. A borderline splatter comedy with a minimalist jazzy groove. Everyone wants to have Sexualverkehr once in a while, that´s where the trouble starts. Who is the Moonboots voyeur? A plot fueled by slips and misplaced desire moving towards the tourist imaginary of Teneriffa and an italo-western showdown. Simon Schwarz and Daniel Christensen stealing the show.

A Star Athlete, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

People are sometimes a bit too eager to defend films by name auteurs made during fascism against accusations of complicity with authoritarianism, often by playing off form against content, a differentiation that itself becomes increasingly irrelevant once the content of a pluralist society starts being streamlined into the form of centralized power. In 1937 Japan, this process probably wasn´t all that advanced, but still it probably makes sense to think of A STAR ATHLETE as both a propaganda piece, a first call for the mobilization of all the forces (men, women and children) and a particularly freewheeling Shimizu comedy.

Parts of it feel like a free-jazz improvisation on the techniques developed in MR. THANK YOU: Instead of a bus, there are soldiers marching, while the camera aligns itself with the road, constantly switching back and forth in 180° cuts. Pure cartesian energy, unhinged from what normally is thought to be its precondition: the security of a fixed perspective. The scene when first the soldiers, then the children, then the women, and finally (but only after the street is completely emtied out) the camera, too, break away from the straight line and start roaming the fields is incredibly powerful - but of course, it also is the one scene that most perfectly realizes the mobilization of all the forces, precisely as form.

Schweinskopf al dente, Ed Herzog, 2016

The first one that feels slightly stale. The case of the day never really matters in these films, but this time around the procedural parts wear a bit too thin, because the hunt for some random escaped lunatic just doesn´t lead to many interesting situations to play off from. Still, we can share a cigarette break with the sexy nurse and enjoy her unnerving, defiant stare, there´s a funny hardware store scene, Flötzinger has fun in Italy and if nothing helps, there´s always the healing geometry of boozing in the village pub.

Sins of the Night, Gregory Dark, 1993

Stands out from the others because of the male pov: a magnificently sleazy nick cassavetes slowly drowning in the quicksands of toxic femininity. The vhs sex is very tactile, bodies pushing down onto each other, Deobrah Shelton´s breasts squeezed against Cassavetes´s torso, hands grabbing flesh and leaving an impression behind.

The Golden Demon, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

That final travelling, leaving behind a maze of pettiness, self-hate masquerading as devotion (or is it the other way around) and emotional corruption together with "the stupidest of Japanese. No, of the entire world."

Griessnockerlaffäre, Ed Herzog, 2017

Lilith Stangenberg, effortless ruling over the film like a slightly bored queen, standing in the nursery of a failed life: Why does a man marry a prostitute? Later on, she wears a white angora sweater over leggings, but this time, Eberhofer sticks with Susi and her pink jeans. Accidents are on the rise, alcohol levels are, too. The past is creeping up on us, so we got to stick together. Cheek to cheek, head in the lap. An introspective, tender Eberhofer film, and one of the best.

Berlin Alexanderplatz, Burhan Qurbani, 2020

Quite good as a Berlin gutter epic about a few lost souls fucking each other up in often rather surprising ways. Everyone is way slippier than one might think. Not all that good but still somewhat interesting as a postmodern actualisation of a modernist novel (and Fassbinder´s krypto-classicist film version which I´m finally watching right now). Not good at all in its attempts to turn all of this into an inventory of contemporary sociopolitical discourse.

Still remains fascinating throughout as an aesthetic object, deranged and gleaming, soft power instead of hard knocks, looking best in night-time colors, and Albert Schuch is indeed fabulous. Also, no one else in Germany even tries something of this scope right now, that alone must be worth something.

Sauerkrautkoma, Ed Herzog, 2018

The Eberhofer series entering the flatulence joke phase. Franz and Rudi are slumming in Munich, while the rest of the crew heads for the Swinger-Oase. The case of the week is extremely stupid this time, and Herzog gets it out of the way rather quickly to make room for a non-wedding with cinephile overtones. Why bring back Nora von Waldstätten for _this_ role, though? Ferdinand Hofer, on the other hand, proves an asset.

Leberkäsjunkie, Ed Herzog, 2019

The best one yet. "Feelings are always shit." Franz is out of shape, sloppily working a case like a referee who never even leaves the sideline. It´s not just him, though: Everyone is hungry. The chocolate box is cleaned out in mere seconds. Letting yourself go, stuffing yourself, turning yourself inside out: The soul is glowing, the heart is tattooed onto the decollete. The star soccer player vanishes into smoke, Franz vanishes into a sea of spheres. Sometimes even the camera looses balance and Franz´s baroque bachelor recluse is flooded with painterly light. A welcome deformation: embracing the grotesque while keeping the threat of bourgeoise respectability in check.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Eternal Heart, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1929

Happiness is like another world. It takes only a small misunderstanding for it to be closed-off forever and later on, it cannot even be spoken of anymore. But it still lingers there, behind the images, and sometimes it almost becomes palpable, in a gaze hold too long, or an aborted gesture.

Vaters Garten - Die Liebe meiner Eltern, Peter Liechti, 2013

Hit me hard. So very Swiss, all that modest prosperity, the plain, bare flat, the garden bearing crops, not flowers. Patriarchy as an unequal prison: the jailor jails himself, too, though he at least has his garden to escape to. (I thought of UNA PRIMAVERA quite often; in the Swiss version, patriarchy is much less violent and probably not quite as miserable, but freedom is even further out of reach.)

The camera is always an intruder, the distance between parents and child, born from overfamiliarity, cannot be bridged, it only can be translated into different, more playful setups: by turning the parents into bunny dolls it might be easier to deal with their continued togetherness - their love, for better or worse. Liechti´s most effective idea might be the constant switching, sometimes mid sentence, between Swiss vernacular and standard German, between lived-in speech pointing towards biographical depth and language as an detached, analytical tool.

Seven Seas, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1931/32

Part 1: Convoluted, but when he stays on track, Shimizu finds some striking moments.

Part 2: That palm tree shadow shot is indeed marvellous and some of the domestic dynamics are quite interesting, but all those soapy digressions threw me off even worse than in the first one. More of Hiroko Kawasaki´s face and less of everything else, please!

To be sure, finding out that Momoyo is played by an eight year old Hideko Takamine was incredibly touching.

Sudden Death, Peter Hyams, 1995

Under the dome. The totality of action: all time is (play time is) action time, all space is action space. The bombs are right there, the bad guys too. Every kind of external motivation is dubious at best, there´s no melodrama, no pathos, not even that much body as spectacle, nothing but movement + environment + texture + one-liners.

Timecop, Peter Hyams, 1994

Runs along beautifully and there´s always exactly the right amount of Van Dammes on screen at any given moment, so in my book there are no logical mishaps here. The action is readable like the sole of Van Damme´s shoe and the locations are wonderful: The lost paradise of the present is a posh mall with a vintage feel, while the future scenes are almost exclusively set in gloomy militarist spaces. Once the Timecop has fixed time, though, it turns out that his clunky, toy-like car is the only marker of futureness and he has just miraculously grown into the bourgeois lifestyle he didn´t quite feel comfortable with in the beginning. His home turns out to always have been a castle.

Also, for mid 90s studio fare, this is surprisingly horny. Muscles and nipples. That time machine knew exactly what it was doing when it threw Gloria Reuben into a lake of all places.

The Boss´s Son at College, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

"We are punishing you in the name of friendship!"

Starts as a pleasant, freewheeling college comedy and ends with several characters getting violently beaten into shape. The change in tone is effective, because we experience everything alongside Fuji: At first, we just can´t help but root for his irreverence, his energy, his smile, so his fall from grace is ours, too. He had been a phony all along, leaving victims left and right, and his repentance will lead to even more misery.

To end the film with almost 10 minutes of very well filmed rugby feels almost unnecesarily cruel and sardonical: everything´s broken, so lets get out and beat them. But then after the match, in the shower, the tears start to flow.

Heatseeker, Albert Pyun, 1995

Once again I´m in love with Pyun´s artificial light. Here, once we step out of the location footage into pure Pyun land, everything is flat and toxic and soupy, just like the ever-bubbling score. A technocratic delirium. The fighters not only contain technology, they represent it, and because the technology is branded, the fighters also directly represent capital. Or maybe they even become capital - in Pyun´s minimalist mise en scene, the kickboxing tournaments isn´t a mere representation or an extension of capitalist competition, but the thing itself: abstract and mostly self-same market forces beating each other to pulp. It fits that most fight scenes have no dramatic tension whatsoever. Just one execution of dominance after the other.

Chance, the sole blue collar, non technology fighter might technically defeat the totalizing order of capital, but this is no more than an accident. The real danger is the pure sensual energy of Tina Cote, her kisses, her affection, her claim on the image.

A Different Image, Alile Sharon Larkin, 1982

Two wonderful main actors, present to us in unobtrusive closeness, a perceptive eye for environment, evoking a whole world with deceptively simple means. As fiction it feels heavy-handed (especially the scenes with the guy´s best friend), but maybe that´s the only way to make things stick on such a small scale.

Children in the Wind, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1937

The way we define ourselves through the reactions of our surroundings. The feeling of absolute loss once this no longer works. Suddenly the mob of boys providing feedback is gone, we´re alone, cut off from the world, alone high up there in the tree, out there in the current, at the mercy of the river monsters.

Mirror Images, Gregory Dark, 1992

Delia Sheppard in red looks old-hollywoodish, Delia Sheppard in blonde looks like something out of a 80s fantasy film. Steamy lingerie sex easily bridges the gap.

These Gregory Dark softcore films make much more sense when one thinks of them as sexual melodramas rather than as erotic thrillers. The suspense plots are mere afterthoughts, it´s all about the need for and danger of fantasies. Again and again, they start from a place not of erotic abundancy, but of of impotence and lack. This one takes some surprising, oneiric, almost de-Sade-like turns - it´s all about fighting a cardboard wizard and the idea that sex is a drug-fueled music box.

Delia Sheppard in her car, driving towards another life, her face reflected in the rear-view mirror, pitted against the colors of the night...

Namibia Crossing, Peter Liechti, 2004

What it means to feel uneasy. The awkwardness of the whole setup - a band made up of musicians from different backgrounds coming together in free-form musical interaction while being filmed by a director trying to account for his own fascination with the "primordial" - actually might be a good antidote to glib slogans like "intercultural exchange". At the very least, Liechti, like always, fully commits to his program and finds some strong images, especially while exploring the different environments defined by each performance.

However, in the end the main argument should be a musical one and I don´t think the film managed to make it.

Japanese Girls at the Harbor, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1933

The space between us and a million different ways not to bridge it.

Selbé et tant d'autres, Safi Faye, 1983

"It´s lucky that you let me work in your film." (Need to follow up on that someday...)

Mr. Thank You, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1936

The bus gives us a world, makes it visible, but it also intervenes in it. On the one hand, the gaze is completely egalitarian. Those wonderful approach / retreat 180° two-shots approach everyone with the same curiosity and tolerance, the same arigato. The farmer returning from the field, the mountain girls who listen and dance to a single record for months, the poetic drunk.

On the other hand, the bus is not just a neutral vessel. Not everyone can pay the fare, and like the street it travels on, it has a direction: from the country to the city. In the end, this is the tension that structures the film: Cyclical time (the crazy guy forever wandering the street looking for his lost love) vs irreversibility. "Most of the girls who cross the mountains never come back."

In the end it turns out that the true moral center of the film isn´t Mr. Thank You himself, who just wants to "make a living on the road" and doesn´t act up when he sees a silent tragedy unfolding in his rear-view mirror, but the loud-mouthed woman who spends most of the running time making fun of a fellow traveler´s moustache.

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

Early German sound cinema defending its prankish tenderness against the onslaught of Fröhlich-ness.

Secret Games, Gregory Dark, 1992

The very private leading lady, the vulgar best friend, the desire for another life, sex as image, the menace of abstract space... the formula is obvious, but Dark manages to give it a new turn in every film. This isn´t one of the better ones, the psychosexual stuff in the beginning doesn´t lead anywhere and the deep end in the end isn´t all that deep. What´s left is a dime-store Bunues doubling down on commodification and some interesting performances. Bill Drago casting is an almost Brechtian move.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik der Gesellschaft, S. 47-71, "Spengler nach dem Untergang"

Ich war zunächst ganz selbstverständlich davon ausgegangen, dass mit dem Untergang in Adornos Essaytitel die Shoa gemeint ist. Tatsächlich basiert "Spengler nach dem Untergang" auf einem Vortrag aus dem Jahr 1938, ist also einer der ältesten in den Prismen. Zwar wurde der Text offensichtlich später ergänzt, unter anderem um einen Hinweis auf Auschwitz, aber in erster Linie ist der Untergang in "Spengler nach dem Untergang" noch der Untergang der parlamentarischen Demokratie. Adorno liest Spengler weniger als einen Historiker der Apokalypse denn als einen pessimistischen Zeitdiagnostiker. Erst im 10 Jahre nach dem Krieg entstandenen "Wird Spengler recht behalten?" (1955) fragt Adorno nach der Aktualität der Prognosen Spenglers nach der Shoa. Allerdings wirkt der spätere Text seltsam spannungsarm und fast selbst so schulmeisterlich wie die fachdisziplinäre Kritik, die in "Spengler nach dem Untergang" als unzulänglich beschrieben wird. Adorno und Spengler haben sich nach 1945 nichts mehr zu sagen.

Aus der Perspektive von 1938 hat sich gerade das erfüllt, was Adorno 1955 nicht mehr gelten lassen möchte: Spenglers Kritik am Liberalismus. Die Pointe besteht darin, dass die parlamentarische Demokratie samt der zugehörigen Gesellschaftsordnung nicht durch eine ihr äußerliche, gegnerische Kraft vernichtet wird, sondern sich von Innen heraus, infolge der ihr inhärenten Dynamiken, zersetzt. Adornos Kommentar macht sich in diesen Passagen dem Spengler´schen Determinismus allerdings vielleicht etwas zu sehr gleich. Dass die Weimarer Republik erst im Dritten Reich zu sich selbst kommt, wie auch, dass die "späten Städtebewohner" in ihrer intelektuellen Entwurzelung bereits auf die "Lager" verweisen (50), scheint mit eine allzu übergriffige Zuspitzung zu sein (die er in "Wird Spengler Recht behalten?" denn auch wieder kassiert). Dennoch ist es interessant, wie bruchlos sich die rechte Untergangseuphorie zumindest rhetorisch in eine linke Untergangsdystopie überführen lässt. Der Liberalismus ist immer schon von allen Seiten umstellt.

Das initiale Erstaunen über die vermeintliche Treffsicherheit einiger Prognosen Spenglers holt Adornos Essay freilich nicht vollumfänglich ein. Die behauptete Hellsichtigkeit bloß damit zu erklären, dass "Der Untergang des Abendlandes" im Einklang mit den Tendenzen der Macht geschrieben sei und deshalb zu denselben Schlüssen komme wie die Realität, überzeugt nicht und läuft auf einen Zirkelschluss hinaus. Eher scheint mir, dass Adorno insgeheim ahnt, dass es mit den prophetischen Qualitäten Spenglers bei näherer Betrachtung nicht so weit her ist.

Ich könnte mir vorstellen, dass Adornos bedingte Verteidigung Spenglers vielmehr etwas mit einer untergründigen Affinität beider Autoren zu tun haben könnte, insbesondere, aber nicht nur, auf der Ebene des Sprachlichen. Zwar beeilt sich Adorno, sich auch vom Stilisten Spengler und dessen "herrischen Ton" (62) abzugrenzen, aber es ist doch kaum zu übersehen, dass Spenglers Prosa im Kleinen oft zu einer Geschmeidigkeit findet, die quer steht zu den grobschlächtigen Dualismen seiner Weltanschauung. "Die intellektuelle Spannung kennt nur noch eine, die weltstädtische Form der Erholung: die Entspannung (...)" Bei diesem Spengler-Satz hatte ich sofort an Adorno gedacht und tatsächlich wird er in "Spengler nach dem Untergang" zitiert (50), genau wie einige andere Passagen (vor allem zur Kritik der Presse), die sich nicht ganz unadornitisch lesen.


Heute noch einmal die Frage nach der Aktualität Spenglers im engeren Sinne zu stellen wäre absurd, gerade auch mit Blick auf neue Faschismen. Das Zeitalter der Cäsaren wird bis auf Weiteres nicht anbrechen. Trump, Putin und Erdoğan sind vieles, aber sicherlich keine "Tatmenschen", die, von der Masse losgelöst, ihre kühnen Visionen verwirklichen. Nur sehr selten tauchen Passagen auf, die sich mit sehr viel Großzügigkeit auf die Gegenwart übertragen lassen. So ist es einigermaßen einleuchtend, den politischen Islam nicht als Fortführung einer Tradition magischen Denkens, sondern als Phänomen der zweiten Religiosität einer weltstädtischen Kultur zu beschreiben.

Im ersten Band staune ich außerdem darüber, wie nah sich rechter und linker Kulturalismus gelegentlich sind: Manche Passagen ließen sich eins zu eins für einen Einführungsband in den Postkolonialismus wiederverwerten. Freilich vereindeutigt sich das alles im zweiten Band, wenn Begriffe wie Takt, Zucht und das Gerede vom "In-Form-Sein" einer Kultur ins Zentrum rücken. Adornos Lektüre legt bezüglich solcher Passagen sehr genau den Zusammenhang offen zwischen Spenglers waberndem Mystizismus und der unbedingten Identifikation mit Herrschaft. Das Gerede vom pflanzenhaften Wesen der Kultur ruft automatisch die Sehnsucht nach einem Gärtner auf.

Von heute aus fasziniert mich an Spenglers Buch eher der große Entwurf, die Totalität eines geschlossenen faschistischen Weltbildes, auch die Methode der Physiognomie. Offensichtlich und irgendwie schon auch erklärungsbedürftig ist dabei die Spannung zwischen dem hanebüchenen geschichtsphiliosophisch-politischen Gesamtprojekt und der zwar größenwahnsinigen, aber oft durchaus inspirierenden kulturkomparatistischen Durchführung.

Nimmt man Spenglers Geschichtsphilosophie beim Wort, so läuft sie auf einen Kurzschluss von Onto- und Phylogenese hinaus. Eben deshalb aber funktioniert das politische Argument nicht: Wenn es eine (wie Spengler wieder und wieder betont: unumkehrbare) Entwicklung gibt vom pflanzenhaften in-der-Welt-Sein zur abstrakter Organisation, warum soll dann am Ende doch immer wieder die Pflanze siegen? Die "Lebensphilosophie" gesteht dem Leben nicht die Freiheit zu, sich seiner eigenen Dynamik gemäß zu entfalten.

Dass Spenglers "physiognomisches Denken an den totalen Charakter der Kategorien" (59) gebunden ist, kritisiert Adorno zurecht; und dennoch unterschätzt er, glaube ich, dessen "zuordnenden Blick" (58), der von formalwissenschaftlicher Kausalität und Kontextualisierung absieht und stattdessen gar nicht zuerst Kategorien, sondern Musterbildungen fokussiert. Die Ähnlichkeit im Unähnlichen sichtbar zu mache: das ist der letztlich doch antipositivistische Kern der Unternehmung. Soweit er sich von seinem politischen Programm ablenken lässt, ist Spengler ein Nerd avant la lettre. Im Schlechten, weil er sein eigenes Bezugssystem absolut setzt, aber auch im Guten, weil er sich die Freiheit nimmt, die Welt als eine Ansammlung interessanter und dem interessierten Blick erst einmal gleichwertiger Objekte zu begreifen (anstatt hierarchische Vorsortierungen gemäß ökonomischer, moralischer oder akademischer Kriterien zu akzeptieren).

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Tension at Table Rock, Charles Marquis Warren, 1956

Moves in an understated way but arrives at interesting places. Egan´s quiet, introspective cool grew on me and the eerie song that haunts him reminded me of the one in I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE.

Two in the Amsterdam Rain, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1975

Wildly ambitious, if not fully realized. The starting point isn´t all that different from Kurahara´s 60s films: Youthful masculinity running wild without the prospect of really going anywhere. Only this time it´s set in bulky old Europe, the style is static-gothic instead of dynamic-punkish (the European art film influences are obvious: Bertolucci, Visconti, maybe even Zurlini). Unfortunately the script isn´t content with letting things develop in an organically anarchic manner, and insists on inserting Sakuda into both an amour fou and a not really well articulated international spy thriller. The love story has its moments, but it´s the latter that completely takes over the film at some point. Together with the wild overacting and some glossy, baroque flourishes this makes for a still somewhat interesting, but rather exhausting mess.

The Gun Hawk, Edward Ludwig, 1963

The classic western lived and died with the Hays Code. THE GUN HAWK announces its own lateness with regards to its genre in many ways, but maybe most strikingly so in a shot of Calhoun and his girl in bed together. The taboo is no longer in place, so the old order has to die.

Just marvelous how Ludwig transforms a bread and butter b-western template (the Sheriff vs the outlaw, both mirrored in lesser, impure versions of themselves) into a highly idiosyncratic doomsday lullaby. Starting with a beautiful title sequence that feels completely out of proportion with the rest of the film but still fits, because it establishes a primacy of music and mood... Later on that incredibly effective, towards the end almost continuous heartbeat theme... The repeated bird´s-eye-shot of Sanctuary, that mythical place squeezed into the mountains... Calhoun´s sweaty skin, his softness and vulnerability...

(What does it mean that Sanctuary is only reachable through a system of caves? Is this an epistemological journey? Or, quite to the contrary, a retreat into fantasy? Also, if Sanctuary is this special place, why does its saloon look almost exactly like the one in the non-sanctuary city?)

Love for All Seasons, Johnnie To & Wai Ka Fai, 2003

Love is only real if you work through all of its mirages. It´s 2003 and Louis Koo and Sammi Cheng are already out there romancing in the thin air of total reflexivity. I finally need to get around watching all of those To / Wai joints from their mad 2000-2003 period.

Three, Johnnie To, 2016

Cerebral cinema, To´s FEMME FATALE.

I don´t have much more after a first viewing. Dense, liquid and radical. The cop way and the medical way of holding life in check, both equally corrupt. (To even has the hippocratic oath quoted just to make sure everyone realizes that Zhao Wei breaks it basically with every single step she takes.) Cinema is corrupt, too, but sometimes it might be a bit more lenient. Terrifying operating scenes.

Variation, Ko Nakahira, 1976

Not exactly what I would´ve thought a Nakahira ATG film would look like. Very somber, a travelogue of post-revolutionary depression (she) and post-revolutionary impotence (he); basically just faces, the detached drama of lighting, and the blindness of sex.

Might be thought of as the flipside of those 70s sex films in which european women travel to Asia in search of erotic fulfillment: For Kyoko, Europe provides liberation, too, but not through titillation but through sensual introspection.

Not all that much going on here, maybe, but at some point I succumbed to the flow. A Bach cello suite, mediterranean nighttime lights and a female body cautiously approaching ecstasy - sometimes it´s enough just to push all the right buttons.

An Inspector Calls, Herman Yau / Raymond Wong, 2015

A british comedy of corrupt manners haunting Hongkong cinema in 2015. Well calibrated when it comes to tone and acting, but I would lie if I said those cgi model kit sets didn´t hurt my eyes once in a while. I´ll never get completely comfortable with some aspects of digital, I guess.

Akitsu Spring, Yoshishige Yoshida, 1962

A beyond beautiful widescreen melodrama about a life suspended in the eternal immediacy of a longing made unfulfillable by patriarchy. For her, the few short days they spend together every once in a while, often years apart, are precious, every reunion an epic of intimacy. Everything else is just time slipping away without leaving behind a fully-formed biography.

For him, their time together is precious, too, but precisely because it allows him to escape from biographical time. Two ways of being miserable, but only hers is rendered in cinematographic terms. In fact, the short interludes about the man weaken the film considerable, because they distract from the repetitive, almost abstract textures of her love, the hypnotic score, the restrictive vastness of the space around her.

Still, she is no fallen woman in the Mizoguchi tradition. Mariko Okada is a woman trapped, but she´s also irreverent towards both the man who helps trapping her and towards her own suffering. Her longing has no fixed object, it´s not about the man but about being with the man and in the end she has no idea what that might mean.

Living by Karate, Seijun Suzuki, 1961

A sweet adventure tale chock full of chivalrous boy detectives, bumbling gangsters, decidedly silly pop tunes, a bittersweet love triangle that only fully comes together in the beautiful last shot (fade to pink) and a constant threat of sexual violence, played out alternately as slapstick and as melodrama.

Suzuki has a lot of fun with all of this, and he´s especially great with handling space. The headquarter of the bad guys is an almost surrealist maze of mirrors, windows and staircases, with different rooms and even stories folding into each other, and a cellar connected to a channel system. Makes one wish for a Suzuki directed Bond film.

Miracle at St. Anna, Spike Lee, 2008

This indeed doesn´t fully come together, and it´s hard to see how Lee ever thought that it might, given that the problems mostly begin and end with the script. He just has no idea how to bring the main black soldiers essentially fighting a double war storyline and the church massacre together in an interesting way. I appreciate the craziness of the religious stuff, but in the end it´s half-assed - Lee just isn´t a spiritual filmmaker, that international prayer montage especially feels off, like a gimmicky rehash of the fuck monologue from 25TH HOUR.

Still, this somehow grows into being an incredibly touching film, especially when Lee sticks in the village, chronicling the encounter of the black soldiers and the Italians, the forging of a fragile utopia in a space left open by receding fascism and not yet filled by the more subtle bourgeois mechanisms of exclusion.

Da 5 Bloods, Spike Lee, 2020

A fratricide translated into daddy issues, but of course it´s never that simple. Even back then Tiên´s story didn´t fit into the tight black liberation academy ratio. Today the frame is wide and constantly shifting, the gold is dispersed all over the mountain and the skeletons will be too, soon. When the four bloods head for the hills, only one of them really returns. Any longing for the imaginary greatness of the past will cut you off from the world, though, and lead you down a doomsday MAGA path with nothing left to face but the empty gaze of the camera. All the others are stuck in the presence, in a mid budget epic with grand scope but not backed by a big apparatus and therefore free to roam. Lots of moving parts. In the end, nothing can keep the centrifugal forces in check except maybe once in a while a Marvin Gaye tune.

Closed Vagina, Masao Adachi, 1963

Bodies swallowed up by white and only given back once in a while, ritualistically, partially. Very young faces, faces outside of history. Can´t say a lot of it stuck with me, a better transfer might help someday.

Eclipse, Hiroshi Shimizu, 1934

Right there in the first 20 minutes two scenes of simple, poetic perfection.

Two friends in the countryside: they jump in the air, grabbing the limb of a tree and holding tight, dangling next to each other, a close up of their feet suspended in the air, then they jump back to the ground, a close-up of their feet in the grass, another jump, and the feet are in the air again... all the while they´re talking about a girl and because they´re not honest to each other everyone will have to suffer for the rest of the film.

Soon after, still in the countryside, one of the friends meets the girl in front of a mill. This time the conversation is first pitted against and then swallowed up by the relentless turning of the wheel. This goes on and on, shot after shot, a complete reversal of plot and setting. The mill is grinding, happiness is gone.

The purity of form evident in the village scenes gets lost when the story moves to the city a bit later. There are some weird tonal shifts, even some rather dull moments... and still, so much effortless control, close-ups rhythmically thrown into long shots during a very funny golfing scene, a sliding nighttime walk over a bridge, an arrested gaze, indifferent to time, when the long lost lover pops up out of nowhere...

Marthas Garten, Peter Liechti, 1997

Pretty dark behind the quirky surface, a psychotic, autistic small-town VERTIGO. Too small a playing field in the end, but this still makes me wish Liechti would´ve tried out fiction more often.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Schild neben Dach über Denkmal

Wenn es um problematische Statuen geht und um die Frage, wie mit ihnen umzugehen ist, fällt mir stets das Wagner-Denkmal im Tiergarten ein. Das wurde in den 1980ern, um den natürlichen Verfall zu verlangsamen, mit einer Plexiglashaube überdacht. Anlässlich der Restaurierung vor ein paar Jahren wurde neben Statue und Dach ein (inzwischen glaube ich leider wieder verschwundenes) Schild aufgestellt, mit folgender Aufschrift:

"Das Schutzdach wurde über dem Denkmal errichtet, um es vor Umweltschäden zu schützen. Diese mit großem Aufwand betriebene Maßnahme wird sinnlos, wenn das Denkmal mutwillig beschmiert oder beschädigt wird, weil solche ,Verzierungen' wiederum nur mit Schäden für das Denkmal entfernt werden können" (hier ein Foto)

Ganz ausgezeichnet ist schon der sehr Berlinerische passiv-aggressive Tonfall, auch einzelne Formulierungen wie vor allem "mutwillig" und die Anführungszeichen um "Verzierungen" sind super, vor allem aber gefällt mir die Argumentationslinie: Die Statue ist nicht um ihrer selbst schutzwürdig, sondern aufgrund der Überdachung, die sich nicht mehr "lohnt", wenn die Statue anderweitig beschädigt wird. Beschützt werden muss die Schutzmaßnahme.

Vielleicht könnte man ja das Schild, dachte ich mir damals einmal, ebenfalls überdachen, um die Sinnhaftigkeit solcher Maßnahmen zu unterstreichen. Oder ein zweites Schild mit der Bitte, der Aufforderung des ersten nachzukommen, weil sonst das Konzept, der Bevölkerung Maßnahmen der Restaurationstechnik argumentativ näher zu bringen, in eine Krise geraten würde.

Die Idee, dass alle Denkmäler "für immer" stehen sollen halte ich für ebenso unsinnig wie den mancherorts jetzt ernsthaft aufgebrachten Vorschlag, einfach gar keine mehr zu errichten, bzw pauschal alle zu beseitigen. Auch mit Forderungen, die darauf hinauslaufen, den empirischen Denkmalbestand immer möglichst exakt mit dem "Stand der Erinnerungskultur" abzugleichen, kann ich mich nicht anfreunden. All das läuft darauf hinaus, den Symbolwert von Denkmälern absolut zu setzen. Dabei verweist eine Statue nicht nur auf Geschichte, sondern hat auch eine eigene. Ich wäre vielmehr dafür, Denkmäler möglichst großzügig mit einem Netz aus Dächern, Schildern und ähnlichen Objekten zu umgeben, die zwar formal auf das Ursprungsobjekt verweisen mögen, sich aber tatsächlich nur noch aufeinander beziehen. Geschichte nicht als ewig sprudelnder Quell von Identität, sondern als ein diskursives Artefakt neben anderen.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Love and Death at Fuji Speedway, Toru Murakawa, 1972

Every attempt to turn this into something dramatic and thrilling fails in almost comical way. The big motorcycle race is basically a kid shoving toys through a world made of toy blocks, and later on it takes a while to even register that a scene with lots of mugging, mean stares and weird framing is meant to represents an attack on the main couple.

Luckily, in between the awkward plot points, this sometimes finds a different beat and turns into a relaxed, trippy, and towards the end melancholic sex film that sometimes feels more like francoesque eurotica than pinku. Two people dancing on stairs, playing silly games on the beach, closing themselves off from the world only to recognize that in the end they might come up a bit short in doing so.

The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood, 1975

Playing the silly material completely straight is a feature, not a bug. A scene like Eastwood chasing a tits flashing Brenda Venus through John Ford land for several minutes can only work in a very special cinematic realm between the sublime and the ridiculous.

Still a bit clunky between the spectacular helicopter shots, yes, but then again it´s a film about men and mountains.

The Power of the Press, Frank Capra, 1928

The plot is rolling by on autopilot, but this is mostly about Fairbanks Junior´s youthful charms and people doing things with cigarettes anyway. Those banter scenes in the newsroom could´ve, and probably should´ve been the whole film. Still, very pleasant throughout.

Absolute Power, Clint Eastwood, 1997

Not only the president, the filmmaker too is trapped in a fiction of absolute power: Everything is subject to his gaze, he is placed behind the mirror, but while indeed the whole world is given to him, its darkest secrets condensed in a primal scene, his position of comfort at the same time hides, even stems from impotence. The closet in which Eastwood´s thief hides was meant to provide substitute satisfaction for someone else. When it comes to cinema, visibility and helplessness are inextricably tied to each other (as are, in this special case, loneliness and political rage). Maybe that´s why the thief had retreated into the world of painting long ago. Painting is soft rather than absolute power, as a painter he can smooth over the bruises on his daughter´s face; as a filmmaker, he used to capture her: make images that only announce his own absence.

Sexkarussell - Via Erotica, Frits Fronz, 1968

My second Fronz film - clearly not another BARON PORNO, but a charming serving of erotic skim milk nonetheless. The title song promises wild sex, hot sex, everyone wants it, you can´t hide from it, sex, sex, sex... And then it´s just a bunch of very low-key dirty jokes (with punchlines!) about women who maybe, who knows, might be willing to flash their boobs under circumstances yet to determined. When they do, the film mostly cuts away very quickly, not so much because of modesty, but because no one here seems to know what could possibly be done next.

There´s a decidedly goofy innocence to it all, like a second childhood of cinema. The promise of sex makes the images giddy, someone wears glasses the wrong way and therefore the image is upside down, too. Also: some energetic dubbing and Fronz playing around with an ornamental bedframe.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Clint Eastwood, 1997

A satirical ensemble drama isn´t really a good fit for Eastwood, but he invests enough in single scenes, especially the ones with Spacey and Lady Chablis, to make the whole thing work.

The Last of the Fast Guns, George Sherman, 1958

The hero is a drifter turning on 30, slowly getting tired of just being a black cipher thrown into the world. The man he´s searching for left behind his old life and plenty of old money to vanish in Mexico. The bad guy was born in Europe and lived basically everywhere. Even the Mexican woman is no "flower of the land", but points out her big city past. A tale of displaced souls that starts with an open grave.

(The economy of b-movie storytelling: in an early interior scene I was irritated by the loud jangling of his spurs - a completely unnatural sound, every time he moves around, he basically sounds like a walking christmas tree; but it completely makes sense in the end!)

The Last Days of American Crime, Olivier Megaton, 2020

As someone who has written positive reviews for not one but two Olivier Megaton movies I´m sorry to report that THE LAST DAYS OF AMERICAN CRIME is, for the most part, just as bad as everyone thinks it is: a vaguely nostalgic monstrosity, not so much a second-rate THE PURGE as a third-rate STRANGE DAYS, and also an unwelcome throwback to 90s Tarantino ripoffs. It´s not completely without energy, to be sure, and with its garish,at times rather inventive color scheme, Michael Pitt´s and Anna Brewster´s vulgar power acting (Ramirez is a terrible bore, though), and a general in your face attitude when it comes to imagemaking it probably is more interesting as an aesthetic object than several of your festival favorites. At least, it aspires to some kind of totality of style. Still, things drag terribly, and it only gets worse towards the end when the heist finally starts and the famous bad action kicks in. Plus, some of the worst musical cues in recent memory (the one during the first sex scene...). In the end you´re stuck with 149 extremely brainless minutes.

Man from Del Dio, Harry Horner, 1956

A fascinating film. The tortured, inward turn of 1950s westerns is evident in the dense, layered framings and the noirish lighting, but Quinn isn´t really a psychological entity. Neither is he a man solely defined by his actions, though. The different, diverging forces he encounters (love, prejudice, alcohol, a sense of honor, loneliness) seem to bypass his consciousness almost completely, directly impacting his physiognomy, stripping away all of his outward poise until he is a creature of nothing but reflex. And in the end not even that. Katy Jurado´s clearly defined, expressive frame provides a clear contrast.

Then there´s his dance with the town drunk, a beautiful poetic moment I wouldn´t have thought the film would arrive at or even be interested in.

The Wrong Missy, Tyler Spindel, 2020

American mainstream comedy really isn´t in a good place right now, so even the not exactly major pleasures of a low-brow hangout ensemble movie centered around a great, freewheeling stunt performance feel like a breath of fresh air. Unlike FATHER OF THE YEAR, Spindel´s first Happy Madison film, THE WRONG MISSY displays a bare minimum of technical competence, and this really is all a film like this needs, because everything else is performance. It´s just so relaxed and generous, trenched in joyful vulgarity. Democratic moviemaking: the bad jokes have just as much right to exist as the good ones, everyone needs a release once in a while and if Rob Schneider insists on tagging along without being able to create even the resemblance of a decipherable comic character, let him. There´s still a bit too much plot in the third act, but when Vanilla Ice finally shows up, we´ve entered a state of grace.

Also, luxury hotels always were a great setting for comedies, the world forgot but Happy Madison didn´t.

Fury at Showdown, Gerd Oswald, 1957

Eccentric little western, hold a bit back by Derek, who is never more than adequate (I´d only seen him in swashbucklers before, which probably are a better fit for him). Nick Adams, who plays his soft-faced brother, is very good, though, and by placing him next to Derek, the latter´s actions automatically acquire more meaning. For most of its running time this basically consists of the both of them walking up and down a single street, criss-crossing between four or five buildings, kept in check by prying eyes ("yes, we´ll stay in town, where you can see me") and intricate deep-focus framings. They gradually acquire additional degrees of freedom, but in the striking last shot it´s just a horse, and not the hero vanishing towards the horizon.

A wonderful scene has Derek talking to a former flame while she takes a bath in a river, establishing the intimacy between them in an understated matter-of-fact way rarely seen in american films.

Hard Scandal: Sex Drifter, Noboru Tanaka, 1980

Generation conflict in roman poruno land: the sex of the young is a question of expressivity, violent and romantic, a flourishing of late, punkish pinku style, while the sex of the middle-aged is a question of technique, a desperate hunt for orgasms that basically belongs into the realm of hardcore pornography and is filmed almost that way, too.

Often quite nasty and aesthetically not as fully realized as earlier Tanaka films, but it takes some unexpected turns and has a great eye for location. The world is either an eternal happening or a dusty mound in front of a run-down apartment building. There is nothing in between.

Stranger at My Door, William Witney, 1956

Starts with a blast and maybe the rest is just about registering the shockwaves. There´s just so much going on, a complex and ever dynamic web of projections and counterprojections, fluently moving between discursive interiors and intimate, nightmare-like bursts of action. The image you have of someone never quite fits, the woman bearing forbidden fruits might still not be open to your advances. In some cases, though, it might just turn out to have been a self-fulfilling prophecy after all.

The pastor, quoting the bible even in the marital bed, tries to lay down some ethical ground rules, although in the end he is just as helpless as anyone else. In fact, he is the one who introduces the horse, an unruly metaphor if there ever was one (shades of WHITE DOG?). Generally it´s amazing how effortless Witney turns objects into metaphors, from the obvious ones (the horse, the half-finished church) to smaller stuff like the melon or the shutter in the bedroom that is repeatedly closed down and opened up again throughout the film.

My first Witney, and clearly not my last. Never bet against Tarantino, I guess.

Kabukicho Love Hotel, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2014

On sex work, and even more so on sex and work. Not every transaction is clear-cut when it comes to our bodies, but there´s always some kind of trade-off involved. As long as it needs an object, desire already is commodification of desire. Ecstasy is still possible (and necessary), but in no way does it equal freedom. The only thing one can do is to sometimes make the pain palpable, in lingering closeups that hit out of nowhere.

I love the filmmaking more than the film, this time. The balance of small-scale observations and large, overdetermined story arcs feels off (too much of the latter, basically). A boring objection, but does Toru really have to accidentally run into both his sister and his girlfriend in the same night? Maybe the bigger problem is the focus on Toru itself: a decidedly dull presence in the eye of the storm.

Friday, June 05, 2020


"Punching up"- vs "punching down"-comedy - diese Unterscheidung hält sich leider hartnäckig im popkulturellen Diskurs. Sinn ergeben hat sie zuletzt vermutlich zur Zeit der Hofnarren: Die waren tatsächlich in einer Weise in eine einzige, hegemoniale Hierarchie eingespannt, die ihnen genau diese beiden Option eröffneten. Ein Hofnarr kann die Macht, die ihn zum Hofnarr degradiert, bestätigen, indem er den Druck, der auf ihn ausgeübt wird, nach unten weitergibt; oder er kann sie unterlaufen und damit das Risiko eingehen, unter die Räder zu kommen. Er kann das aber nur, weil er eingespannt ist in ein statisches System, weil seine Sprecherposition vorfestgelegt ist: er ist an den Hof beordert worden, um die Herrschenden zu amüsieren. 

Komiker_innen heute hingegen befinden sich im Zustand kommunikativer Freiheit. Sie stellen ihre Sprecherposition selbst her, immer wieder neu in jeder einzelnen Performance. Sie agieren, ob sie es wollen oder nicht, in einem amorphen Raum fluider kultureller Zuschreibungen, in dem eine hegemoniale Hierarchie schlichtweg nicht existiert. Die real natürlich durchaus existierenden ökonomischen bzw soziokulturellen Ungleichgewichte ändern daran nicht das Geringste. Die Differenz ist eine kommunikationstheoretische. Jede Performance bringt eigene In- und Out-groups hervor, jeder Witz, der nicht auf die direkt Anwesenden zielt, hat etwas von punching down, und punching up ist nicht punching up, sondern Anbiederung..

Monday, June 01, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Piano Blues, Clint Eastwood, 2003

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

Hello, My Dolly Girlfriend, Takashi Ishii, 2013

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

Space Cowboys, Clint Eastwood, 2000

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

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

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

Changeling, Clint Eastwood, 2008

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

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

Vixen, Yasuzo Masumura, 1969

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

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

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

Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Frank Capra, 1936

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

Breezy, Clint Eastwood, 1973

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

Unorthodox, Maria Schrader, 2020

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

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

American Madness, Frank Capra, 1932

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

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

Jersey Boys, Clint Eastwood, 2014

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

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

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

Miracle Woman, Frank Capra, 1931

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

White Hunter, Black Heart, Clint Eastwood, 1990

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

The Bitter Tea of General Yen, Frank Capra, 1933

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

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

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

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

The Rookie, Clint Eastwood, 1990

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

last week in letterboxd

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

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

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

The Thirteenth Hour, William Clemens, 1947

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

Drive a Crooked Road, Richard Quine, 1954

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

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

Goke, Body Snatcher From Hell, Hajime Sato, 1968

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

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

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

Meet John Doe, Frank Capra, 1941

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

Red Room, Tony Zarindast, 1992

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

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

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

Long Pants, Frank Capra, 1927

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

So This Is Love, Frank Capra, 1928

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

The Dream of Garuda, Takahisa Zeze, 1994

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

Rain or Shine, Frank Capra, 1930

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

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

Richard Jewell, Clint Eastwood, 2019

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

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

Voice of the Whistler, William Castle, 1945

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

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

Thirst for Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1967

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

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

I Hate But Love, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1962

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

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

The X From Outer Space, Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1967

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

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

Iris and the Lieutenant, Alf Sjöberg, 1946

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

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

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

The Landlord, Hal Ashby, 1970

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

Personal Problems, Bill Gunn, 1980

Nothing is real but pain and video artifacts.

Mysterious Intruder, William Castle, 1946

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

Corps a coeur, Paul Vecchiali, 1979

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

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

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

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

Lux perpetua luceat eis.

Secret of the Whistler, George Sherman, 1946

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

Die Blume von Hawaii, Richard Oswald, 1933

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

La pasión según Berenice, Jaime Humberto Hermosillo, 1975

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

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

The Angel Levine, Jan Kadar, 1970

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

Saturday, May 16, 2020

fan track

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

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Living Skeleton, Hiroshi Matsuno, 1968

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

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

Carnal Crimes, Gregory Dark, 1991

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

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

Das häßliche Mädchen, Henry Koster, 1933

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

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

Body Chemistry, Kristine Peterson, 1990

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

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

Katherina, die Letzte, Henry Koster, 1936

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

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

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

G.I. Honeymoon, Phil Karlson, 1945

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

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

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

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

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

The Whistler, William Castle, 1944

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

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

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

The Other Woman, Jag Mundhra, 1992

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

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

Sexual Malice, Jag Mundhra, 1994

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

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

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

The Power of the Whistler, Lew Landers, 1945

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

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

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

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

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Glückliche Reise, Alfred Abel, 1933

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

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

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

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

Ihre Hoheit befiehlt, Hanns Schwarz, 1931

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

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

Be Sure to Share, Sion Sono, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

Einbrecher, Hanns Schwarz, 1930

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

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

Bomben auf Monte Carlo, Hanns Schwarz, 1931

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

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

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

Smorgasbord, Jerry Lewis, 1983

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

Liebling der Götter, Hanns Schwarz, 1930

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

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

Claire´s Camera, Hong Sang-soo, 2017

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

Die singende Stadt, Carmine Gallone, 1930

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

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

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

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

Genozide, Kazui Nihonmatsu, 1968

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

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

Walzerkrieg, Ludwig Berger, 1933

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

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

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

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

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

Cold Sweat, Gail Harvey, 1993

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

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