Friday, January 31, 2020

letterboxd backup (7)

Blondes at Work, Frank McDonald, 1938

Very smooth and pleasant. The Torchy films are clearly better when the mystery plot is kept as flimsy as possible. Rosella Towne is an interesting, subdued histrionic, downbeat glamorous presence in this.

Zwei Frauen, Ludwig Wüst, 2006

How it feels at the receiving end of a blow.

Daze Raper, Wilson Yip, 1995

By far the best about this are a few scenes of Au and (I guess) Farini Cheung slouching on a sofa, teasing each other in a sort of detached way which suggests that, in the end, both of them are too lazy for sex. But these moments are completely disconnected from what is otherwise a modest Cat-III film. Which itself is not as seedy as the title suggests, though the few exploitation elements come with a matter-of-fact-ugliness that is somewhat irritating.

In a few more scenes early in the film, dedicated to Au's psychosis, Yip at least tries out some paranoid imagery, but as soon as the plot kicks in, this turns into a boring procedural.

Pity, Babis Makridis, 2018

By now basically all of these greek films feel like the work of nerds who finally got the upper hand on the schoolyard only to reveal that they themselves hold the exact same mindset as the bullies who used to beat them up.

Honestly, the only thing worse than Haneke`s moralising is Haneke without the moralising.

Polzeiruf 110: Wölfe, Christian Petzold, 2016

I was a bit afraid of Petzold`s Polizeirufs, but at least this one is completely enchanting. Lewtonesque not only in its premise (basically THE LEOPARD MAN, mixed with some of the usual Petzold themes) and the dreamlike progression of the story, but also in its eagerness to get distracted by alluring sounds and images, its use of strange minor characters, its weird notion of a closed-off, almost claustrophobic diegetic space which nevertheless constantly opens up surprising new vistas (what`s up with these fish tanks (?) in the mortuary?).

Also, a magnificent colour film. In the end Petzold is always first and foremost a romantic. It`s all about Barbara Auer wearing a red jacket and both Matthias Brandt`s and Petzold`s willingness to follow her wherever she might go. Who can blame them?

Ägyptische Finsternis, Ludwig Wüst, 2002

This didn`t really click with me, especially the use of a theater actress in the main role somehow bugged me. I couldn`t stop viewing her "reactions" to the world around her as an elaborate but ultimately pointless act. Everything`s premeditated. The few moments of fluorescent, bleeding, poisonous colour invading the otherwise numb world of loss and detachment are marvellous, though.

The Cincinnati Kid, Norman Jewison, 1965

Of course a film without even a single shot of Chow Yun Fat's arrogant grin can't possibly be among the best gambling movies ever made, but THE CINCINATTI KID has its charms. There's enough melancholia to justify the somewhat strained elegance, there's prime McQueen smoothness and above else, there's Tuesday Weld.

The decision to leave her out of the film for most of its running time is spot on, because this way, she doesn't become part of the world of gambling. Instead, she defines McQueen's world by staying outside of it, by projecting a sense of utopian extra-terrioriality, especially in the beautiful scene at the farm.

Applause, Rouben Mamoulian, 1929

When April arrives back from the convent, where she was sent to in order to protect her from the sleaze of showbiz, the city is all noise and steam and movement and, above all, legs. A few minutes of pure immersion into the textures of modernity, without any dialogue. She'd thought she'd escaped from the plump legs of the hard-working burlesque girls, but now they're back, always on the move, stomping away. Her mother tries to help, but she can't distance herself from the asshole boyfriend, whose shadow is always looming on the wall. Later, different kinds of legs are closing in on her, but she is lucky, the right kind of sailor comes along and takes her away fom a claustrophobic backstage melodrama, up into the wirings of a bridge, up to the top of a skyscraper. Love, architecture and cinema triumph over the stage and all kinds of stagebound feelings.

The Killing of Satan, Efren C. Pinon, 1984

Perfectly adequate at what it does. The manichean world widens in perfect pace with the flow of the story, from the lonely, chosen individual right through to the totality of heaven and hell. Of course the mugging and the Melies-style effects in the action scenes are funny, but the use of closeups is often pretty good. And some scenes - like when Satan, while waiting for the virgin sacrifice to be delivered to him, decides to stay on his throne, smooth and restrained like the somewhat vain gentleman he is, but also kind of nervous - approach a level of delirious absurdity only really good b-movies can deliver.

The Case of the Curious Bride, Michael Curtiz, 1935

Like with a lot of whodunit mysteries, I lost interest in the story about two thirds through... the different stages of world exploration are almost always more stimulating than the subsequent arbitrary reshuffling of cards. Curtiz's usual insistence on flow for its own sake (all these dissolves) doesn't help that much either, this time, but the William and Jenkins banter keeps the ball rolling.

Otobüs, Tunc Okan, 1975

A harrowing account of turkish migrants hoping for work in Europe being stranded in the center of Stockholm, in a vehicle so washed-up and out of place the city officials for a while seem to think it might just vanish into thin air if they keep ignoring it. The men only dare to venture into the cold city at night, leading to a number of encounters which, each in its own way, reinforce their outsiderness. A - necessary and complementary - sideplot ends in a decidedly dreary Hamburg bordello.

Okan's decision to foreclose all imaginary solutions (like, especially, a sudden emergence of agency among the migrants) gives OTOBÜS its extraordinary strength and puts a great amount of recent political cinema to shame.

Gangway for Tomorrow, John H. Auer, 1943

A miniature epic, with five setups (rather than storylines) of decidedly different style, tone and, especially, weight being fed into the war effort. Highlights are a gothic horror style walk to the gallows, with all the dread transposed from the executed to the executioner, and John Carradine as a suave libertarian hobo being "cured" by a healthy dose of americana. Margo's episode is fascinating too, and even the weakest one (Amelita Ward's) has an interesting voice over ("There was New York. And there was Miss America").

The Mule, Clint Eastwood, 2018

As long as we all keep insulting each other, all hope is not lost and no one is beyond redeeming. This has been a key Eastwood insight at least since HEARTBREAK RIDGE, but the insults never before were delivered with that much gentle tenderness.

Night of the Felines, Noboru Tanaka, 1972

When the sausage reminds you of work but you have to eat it anyway. What really makes this memorable, though, isn`t the fact, that in the world of the film, desire can only be approached cynically, but the unability of both Tanaka and basically all of his characters to accept just this.

Without Reservation, Mervyn LeRoy, 1946

A star author mistakes a man for a literary character she invented herself. And then, in response, tries to unwrite her own book by travelling incognito alongside the man. While a visit on a prairie farm cures her of her socialist ramblings.

I guess I'm rather alone in my absolute adoration of storylines like this. And I have to admit that WITHOUT RESERVATIONS isn't quite as lively and bold as some of the similarly themed mid-30s LeRoy comedies about fluid identities and the inherent absurdity of the star system (see esp. PAGE MISS GLORY!). But Colbert is a delight as always and Wayne's small moments of clumsiness (when he pulls her up in the sleeping car and doesn't quite know what to do next) make the romance work.

Der goldene Handschuh, Fatih Akin, 2019

The dark heart of the old Bundesrepublik beats in Hamburg, St. Pauli. It is decorated with heavy red carpets and loads of tacky knick-knack and powered by cheap liquor, sentimental Schlager tunes, crude unfunny jokes, blunt sexual fantasies and the gendered violence that goes along with all of that. It is mapped out primarily over two spaces (in between them: a loving recreation of the Reeperbahn strip of the 70s): the public spectacel of the GOLDENER HANDSCHUH, and, as its necessary counterpart, the private hellhole of Fritz Honka`s appartment, the place where the intrusive showmanship of the HANDSCHUH is supposed to be transformed into something more "tangible". Honka himself being, of course, nothing but the ultimate emanation of all of the above, the Mr. Hyde lurking just beneath the official, clean Dr. Jekyll Germany.

If it is hard to face this dark heart head-on, then not because DER GOLDENE HANDSCHUH is especially violent (safe for one scene, it isn`t), but because everyone who was raised in the old (western) Germany, no matter how far removed from St. Pauli, will recognize at least parts of its fabric. Just like in the film: everyone gets treated to at least a few maggots on the Sunday coffee table or some splashes of the local bully`s piss.


All of this might be rather blunt and crude (like many good films are), and some of the more scripted scenes indeed don`t work particularly well. Plus I`m still not sure if Dassler`s irritating central performance ultimately works for or against the film. Even beyond that I can think of enough reasons for not liking Akin`s film, but the hysterical reactions after the Berlin premiere border on the ridiculous.

I`m not in the business of declaring things toxic, but the combination of woke criticism and film festival madness might be just that.

Gods and Monsters, Bill Condon, 1998

A James Whale biopic doubling as a free-wheeling rumination on old Hollywood`s gay undercurrents (or just plain currents) doesn`t have the right to be as dull as this film unfortunately is. All the worse because Ian McKellen really is good and the scenes in which he is given space sometimes work out quite well... but almost every single time the film cuts away from him to one of the badly written fictional characters surrounding him things get very cringy very fast.

The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard, 2018

Second time around, still no love. I just can't understand why Audiard, of all people, can't muster an ounce of true enthusiasm when handed the possibility to direct a real, bona fide western.

Johnny Eager, Mervyn LeRoy, 1941

A convoluted noir plot, hold down both by MGM`s stuffy house style and by a talky script that only occasionally allows for sharp, well handled bursts of action. Robert Taylor`s smooth detachement fits the flat dramatics, Lana Turner is stylish but wasted. Van Heflin`s showy performance really is the most memorable thing about this, but mostly because it feels completely out of place. He really has nothing whatsoever to do in the film, he just tags along in order to ooze a general, unspecific air of tortured introspection.

Frankenstein, Kenneth Branagh, 1994

In theory this is a fascinating mid nineties monstrosity, a film quite conciously exchanging mood and genre-based consistency for blockbuster grandeur, for the "everything and its opposite as well" approach of films like Jurassic Park, but not yet quite sure how to suture it all together, constantly threatening to break up at the seams. In practice, though, it's just plain boring. Branagh rushes through scene after scene and almost never trusts his better, pulpier instincts. The few moments Helena Bonham Carter (she`s worth at least a full star here) is allowed to shine in make the dullness of everything else all the more obvious.

Madame Curie, Mervyn LeRoy, 1943

An extremely pleasant surprise after BLOSSOMS IN THE DUST, the other, rather dull biopic LeRoy made with Greer Garson. Maybe this time everything works because Marie Curie already is a household name and LeRoy doesn't have to sell her exceptionality to the audience. He can take her genius for granted and focus on character instead.

The leads work together perfectly during the courtship routines. Especially Pidgeon's softspoken clumsiness is an asset in scene after scene, starting at their first, silent meeting in front of a closed door. A man not quite comfortable with his bodily height somehow given form and stature by the woman he falls in love with. She herself obviously doesn't need him, as she arrives in the film fully formed, but this makes her choosing love all the more affecting.

One highlight is the scene immediately before the proposal. The weird wrinkled staircase he has to climb (several times) before entering her room already contains the truth of their romance - which, in a sense, never blooms into mutual satisfaction but retains elements of awkward courtship until the very end.

But this doesn't mean they're lacking anything. It just means that later, when the science comes in, their experiments always also concern their relationship. She just has to discover, with his clumsy help, the missing, active element. And afterwards, she has to seperate this element, their own element. The experiments are always also experiments of / in love, studies in sensual, almost (but never quite) sexual physics. Two rapt, glowing faces illuminated by their aspiration towards total knowledge...

You would think, given similar themes in similar films, that their search must be either a substitute or a metaphor for children. But they do have two of those, too. In fact it's the other way around: In one scene they tell their - otherwise completely unsignificant - daughter a nighttime story that feeds back into their scientific work. Their love is nothing but (see also the great Tourneur short of the same name) a romance of radium.

When in the last act things revert back to private life, the film obviously doesn't have many places to go. But this doesn't matter at all, as we already have reached that level of prime Hollywood craziness which immediately elevates every glance, every gesture into cristallized feelings.

Erotic Diary of an Office Lady, Masaru Konuma, 1977

Living in a grey, monotonous city, handling big, clunky typewriters by day and needy, clumsy men by night. The few colours that do shine through are so beautiful it hurts (I would love to see this on a non-faded 35mm print one day, not sure if such a thing even exists any more when it comes to japanese films from the 70s).

Pinku realism, safe for a few handheld shots filmed in a restrained, sober style. Far from subtle in its metaphors (or rather: in its insistence on turning everything into metaphors), but bluesy, powerful and unusual in its unrelenting empathy for the protagonist. The sex scenes aren't erotic, but emotionally intense, somehow even their obvious fakeness plays into this. The helplessness of it all, the bodily reality shining through nonetheless. During the last one, a rape scene oozing desolation, a hymn-like pop song kicks in, a shameless, brutally effective gesture.

Electrical Girl, Bowie Lau, 2001

Quite fun as long as it sticks to being a stupid sex comedy with a rather decent cast (even Lam Suet shows up!), but when it becomes clear that all the sfx-sex-nonsense builds up towards a boring, ultra-generic and seemingly neverending non-sfx softcore scene, my goodwill is gone immediately.

East Side, West Side, Mervyn LeRoy, 1949

In his fluent, elegant style, LeRoy sketches a few cascades of desire set in motion by the weakness of one man, played by an appropriately annoying, soft-spoken James Mason. Stanwyck is his wife, a creature of frail domesticity, clinging to stair railings, sometimes almost getting lost in decor. Ava Gardner shows up once in a while as a hardened, bird-like femme fatale and statuesque Beverly Michaels (of Hugo Haas fame) only needs one extended scene to introduce a completely different, pulpy note to the proceedings. (These sudden shifts in tone, most of the times tied to a single performance, might be one of the reasons LeRoy is so terribly underrated; for me, these are among the most fascinating aspects of his work.)

The class aspect evoced by the title is mostly sidelined - except for a single Little-Italy-vignette, this magnificent women`s picture is all about the loneliness of rich people, or of people aspiring towards the rich, like the conflicted Van Heflin character. Unlike in Sirk or Minnelli, all the conflicts are out in the open, but this doesn`t help one bit.

Destroyer, Karyn Kusama, 2018

Not every effort is well spent, especially when it comes to the hollow, gimmicky flashback structure, but there`s enough energy on the level of single scenes (especially the straighter genre stuff is handled very well) and Kidman`s performance is truly strange. It feels like the film never quite gets a grip on her.

Any Number Can Play, Mervyn LeRoy, 1949

Petty bourgeois trappings closing in on a dapper gambling maestro. Unfortunately, the deck is stacked in favor of the trappings from the start - even in the beginning, Gable`s smile is nothing but a pail shadow of the joys of a past the film doesn`t want to know much about. Therefore, ANY NUMBER CAN PLAY is successful only to the degree it can emancipate itself from its own, tired premise. Which works best in the scenes centering around the private fantasies of Alexis Smith`s character.

Stagecoach, John Ford, 1939

Been a while and I don't think I ever saw this on film before. Which might be the reason why I never realized just how beautiful the shadowy, painterly, somber second stop of the coach is. The true heart of the film aren't the celebrated Wayne action moments (I love those too, of course), but Wayne's slow nighttime pursuit of Trevor. The scene at the fence, of course, but even more so the one preceding it: The shot of her walking through the corridor, away from the camera, into the frame of light cast by the door, until her figur is fully defined by it, thereby activating him, sucking him into the same path. As perfect a cinematic definition of love as I`ve ever seen.

Joe Palooka in Triple Cross, Reginald Le Borg, 1951

Last entry in the Joe Palooka series, not really one that makes me want to check out more of it. Both Monogram and the classic b in general are on their last legs and it shows. The whiz is gone, there's almost no effort to give this form, even the body tension of the actors seem gone, they just stand there like pieces of furniture, in medium shot after medium shot. A shame, because the premise isn't bad, a few years earlier this might have been turned out to be a worthy, cross-dressing-themed variation on stuff like THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE or Lupino`s THE HITCH-HIKER.

Girlfight, Karyn Kusama, 2000

After the first half hour I didn't think I would like this as much as I finally did. There's a certain disconnect between Rodriguez's magnificent performance and the well-observed gym scenes on one hand and some rather stale Indiewood narrative devices (coupled with a few bad musical choices) on the other. Still, in the end, this is much more thoughtful, and at the same time more conflicted, than films like this usually are.

One of many nice details: the frequent cutaways to handwritten inspirational slogans taped to the gym walls. "Champions are made, not born", "It's not about the size of the dog in the fight, but about the size of the fight in the dog" - this is a film that really believes in stuff like this. Not only Diana, but almost all characters are defined by their ambitions and by the degree of their dedication invested in them (though a lot of ambitions are quite clearly misplaced; this is not a film about upward mobility, at least not in a simpleminded, straightforward sense). Her brother's insistance that he will do something productive with his time when she takes his place in the gym... The fact that, in the end, they really don't have sex that one night... The unusually strong focus on teaching, both in the ring and in school...

This is also why the fight with her father is a key moment. He is the only true fuck-up in the film, the only one not subscribing, in one way or another, to the aspirational ethos at the core of the film. Therefore, her beating him up is not just an act of personal emancipation, but also an act of annihilation. Indeed he just vanishes from the film afterwards, which points towards a cruel streak running underneath the generosity the film treats its characters with most of the time. Of course, this cruel streak is, at the same time, a reaction to another, more blunt and ugly, form of cruelty. There's no easy way out of the ghetto.

Jennifer`s Body, Karyn Kusama, 2009

Limited by an overeager screenplay beating every character into shape instead of letting things develop a bit more smoothly. But everyone seems to have had fun doing this, Seyfried is marvelous, Fox is adequate and Kusama's direction is excellent whenever she frees herself from all the gimmicks and focuses on Needy's anxiety and terror.

Cloistered Nun: Runa`s Confession, Masaru Konuma, 1976

Without all the cultural baggage western nunsploitation films automatically bring to the topic, Konuma explores the inherent obscenity of catholic imagery in a delightful, blunt way, with some playful color coding thrown in. I didn't care about the revenge-by-way-of-real-estate-deal plot, though, somehow its cynicism doesn't fit the reckless, almost slacker feel of the best parts of this (riding the vacuum pipe, the ice skating scene, the wonderful threesome at the end).

Homecoming, Mervyn LeRoy, 1948

The melodramatic foundation is, once again, marvellous. Anne Baxter as the wife almost literally tied to the domestic space, helplessly registering Gable's infidelity, by way of the letters he sends or doesn't send. Finally, Lana Turner's image is pointed out to her on a photograph with a pencil. Now she knows and now she knows she has always known. Turner herself is called "Snapshot" (while Gable goes by Ulysses D. Johnson, an extremely MGM kind of name) and gets to do a lot with her hair, especially in the best scene of the film, when she and Gable visit a pittoresque Roman bath which just happens to pop up in bombed out Europe.

There are a few more extremely beautiful scenes, but unlike in LeRoy's best 40s films, the stuffy MGM style gets in the way too often. In the end, everyone tends to explain away feelings instead of embracing / falling victim to them.

Frühjahrsparade, Geza von Bolvary, 1934

An uneasy mixture of extreme silliness on one hand and nostalgia for the Austria-Hungary Dual Monarchy and its accompanying militarism on the other. The chorus of the main tune, repeated several times, literally goes: "I don't know about that / I'm just stupid". On the other hand, when sung by the wonderful Franziska Gaal, this automatically becomes playacting more than anything else. Plus, there's the supporting cast and especially Hans Moser. A decent print might change my mind about this one.

Burning, Lee Chang-dong, 2018

As much as I was intrigued by BURNING, it never pulled me in as completely as POETRY and SECRET SUNSHINE did. One reason for this might be that, while Murakami's slacker monad characters are a good fit with Lee's sensibility (the idea to let these monads hover over an economic abyss is, I'd guess, Lee's, but works mostly well, too), his metanarrative genre inflections probably aren't. Some of the recurring mystery motifs feel a bit forced, mere signifiers of ambiguity floating through muddy semantic waters - in the end, I didn't really care whether there was a pond in the village Jong-su grew up in or not. I do appreciate the effort to flesh out the connection between writing and masturbating a bit more thoroughly, though.

What stays with me the most are the power of Jeon Jong-seo's gestures and the film's willingness to be taken in by them. Structurally, Hae-mi might just be a catalyst for Jong-su's fixation on Ben, but when it comes to performance, it's always her making the decisive moves, starting, of course, with the pantomime performance, already one of my favorite scenes of the year. The two men, meanwhile, are just acting out someone else's script.


Probably a completely random connection, but I was thinking about MIKE'S MURDER a few times, not only because the main plot is somewhat similar, but also because of a few more specific echos (the use of cars, the scene in the museum) and the general sense of temporal disconnect between Jong-su and Ben.

My Buddy, Steve Sekely, 1944

Two soldiers cower in the trenches during World War I, talking about their girls back home and their love for music. One of them claims to have been a professional musician, starts singing - the title tune "My Buddy" - and, getting carried away by his own performance, stands up. Only to be shot in the head immediately. While dying he confesses that he never actually stood on the stage before and worked as a soda jerk instead. A few moments later, a few other soldiers are rushing in, celebrating, because the war has ended.

Not everything is as bonkers as this scene early in the film, but MY BUDDY is a strange little programmer throughout. It starts like an at least somewhat commited, but unfocused social problems drama and develops into a sketchy gangster film with basically all important developments happening offscreen - while only truly coming alive during a few startingly elaborate and original musical interludes (my favorite is an energetic jazz performance, the weirdest is a mystery themed show tune with spoken words elements), which are completely isolated from the rest of the film, both narratively and tonally. The lead, Don Barry, blusters through the whole thing like a dime-store Cagney.


This is the fourth Sekely film I've seen, and while so far I don't suspect him to be a hidden master, he probably would be an interesting case study for anyone interested in researching the lesser known exile biographies of the time.

Bad Little Angel, Wilhelm Thiele, 1939

B movie americana, rooted in christianity but completely devoid of the hysterics of contemporary faith-based cinema. Executed with simpleminded, touching conviction, hampered by the dollhouse production design.

Die oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

In the final scene, Gitta Alpar doesn't even need to touch the ground anymore. Throughout the film, she hasn't really been earthbound, but rather a creature made up from music, light, joy and an ever-present hint of sexual ecstasy, and now she is just flipping and floating above a crowd of torch-bearing soldiers-turned-dancers, to be, in the very last shot, ultimately united with Max Hansen, the slacker prince of early German sound cinema, who couldn't wear a uniform unironically even if he wanted to. (He clearly doesn't.)

This must be at least one of the crowning achievments of late Weimar cinema's operetta genre, a mode of filmmaking in which music is almost literally in the air, up for anyone's taking. One thing that makes the best of these films so special is their uneconomical approach towards their own attractions. There's no fixed ratio of excess versus narration, sound versus image, rousing movement versus rapt stasis. This one, for example, starts with a modernist, comedic, montage-heavy city symphony miniature on the streets of Berlin, only to come to a virtual standstill a few scenes later, during Alpar's performance of La Traviata.

The whole thing is shot on a small number of sets, but every one of those feels like an adventure playground of glamour, chock full of fancy mirrors, crazy staircases and painted glass. The props aren't fixed parts of the physical worlds, but rather propositions, something to play with.

This isn't all about escapism, either. One of the most elaborate scenes centers around a border control routine. One after another, the actors enter the frame from the background and walk towards the camera through a cordon of bayonets until they arrive front and center in a medium shot. There, they perform a short musical act, mostly in a highly self-reflexive, deprecating manner, in order to introduce themselves and to gain their freedom (for a while, at least). The film fully embodies the contradictions of its time - only one year later, after the takeover, the jewish Alpar left Germany, while the director, Carl Froelich, immediately joined the NSDAP and went on, talented craftsman that he was, to become one of the defining directors of Nazi cinema. Films like THIS ONE OR NONE, though, allow a glimpse of another Germany, one which was never allowed to be.

In a better world, films like this one - and not monstrosities scripted by Thea von Harbour, or overstuffed, paranoid fever dreams, or, yes, not even those beautifully crafted Murnau exercises - would be considered the true masterpieces of German cinema.

Leichte Muse, Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1941

A mock-biopic based on the music composed by, but not really the life of Walter Kollo (or at least, his name is not used, I don't really get why). As a film about showbiz it is rather tedious, mostly because of the inability of NS cinema to embrace the sort of drifter, vagrant, philandering lifestyle Fritsch's character is supposed to be leading / trying to get away from. But also because of the music itself - the songs display and celebrate the sort of rude sassiness the Berliners are proud to call their own but which is and always was perfectly compatible with (or maybe even an element of) the authoritarian personality.

The center of the film isn't Fritsch's success story, though, but rather its repercussions in his private life. Especially the scenes with is wife (slim-faced Adelheid Seeck in her first role; she's also in the MÄDCHEN IN UNIFORM remake and in Käutner's DER REST IST SCHWEIGEN, I need to see more of her) are deeply affecting. Again and again, she approaches him with openness, tries to become a part of his life, and again and again he rejects her, transforming her efforts into another stupid little song.

The happy ending is wrong in a way people wrongfully claim hollywood happy endings to be wrong. When compared to Nazi cinema happy endings not a single hollywood happy ending is wrong.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

letterboxd backup (6)

Smart Money, Alfred E. Green, 1931

While in LITTLE CAESAR, Robinson is pure will to power, an ascetic almost without bodily needs, here he is a hedonist with a sentimental core. His true problem seems to be that he is a bit overeager in his attempts to connect to the world - thus the weird tick to rub on people and things with his fingers.

It really is a shame that he and Cagney only made one film together, given that in this one they more or less play an old married couple and seem to be comfortable doing so. Cagney's hysterical pantomime act is the kind of out of nowhere bit which only works because the film earns its audience's trust from the beginning.

The women, while being constantly objectified as so many blondes, are actually treated quite meticulously, each one evoking a separate, distinct melodrama in just a couple of scenes. Especially Evalyn Knapp: She's in the film for not much more than 15 minutes, but as soon as she appears, she becomes the clear center of attention. The scene in which she timidly offers Robinson her room key and thereby herself is a perfect example of what american cinema lost after the code and in a way never fully got back: the matter-of-fact ackowledgment of sexuality not as individualized desire (for this, there are workarounds even under the strictest of censorships), but as social reality.

The best scene comes a bit later, though: Knapp first putting incriminating evidence in Robinson's jacket, and then, immediately afterwards, tenderly touching, even clinging to its sleeve. Deceit and affection almost literally in the same gesture. But both by proxy. A true connection has, once again, not been made.

Nevada, Edward Killy, 1944

Mitchum could've had a very good career in b westerns alone. In this early try the surfaces are still smooth, but there's already a dangerous, violent, antisocial undercurrent in his performance which sets him miles apart from the likes of Gene Autry. The typically overstuffed plot moves along nicely, although judging from the much better THE FARGO KID, Killy was more comfortable with comic material.

Richard Martin is really annoying in this one.

La pere des mes enfants, Mia Hansen-Love, 2009

Dispersion of energy. In the beginning, Grégoire - juggling his professional and private life through multiple parallel phone calls while driving and smoking - tries to hold all the threads together, but soon he runs out of steam and the film takes over from there, starting to disintegrate long before the suicide. Hansen-Love, who (unlike Assayas) always seems to thoroughly identify herself with the world of her films, resists the urge to dissect the life of her protagonist, instead following up on some of the traces he left behind.

It feels transitory, but of course everything, and especially the disintegration, is perfectly controlled (sometimes, I thought while rewatching it, even a bit too much so). My favorite scene comes in the middle of grief: A short pilgrimage of Sylvia and her daughters to a chapel they visited earlier with Grégoire, a short, completely mute miniature, like an altar built from embodied memory and symmetrical shot positioning.

The Monster and the Girl, Stuart Heisler, 1941

Another programmer oddity from Heisler, not quite on par with AMONG THE LIVING, but fascinating nonetheless. A convoluted courtroom drama with a noiry flashback structure and alluring somnambulistic acting gives way, halfway through the film, to a straightforward creature feature, which moves along at an almost comically steady pace. The gorilla refuses to be rushed, and because he seems to be invisible to everybody but one small dog, he alone gets to set the pace, everyone else has to follow suit.

Two nice broadcasting bits: a radio announcer shoving aside an accordeon player before delivering a piece of important news. And one of the gangsters, after discovering his slain colleague, changing the radio station from jazz to classical in order to provide a different death tune for himself.

Dr. Ehrlich`s Magic Bullet, William Dieterle, 1940

Kind of a weird film: There's an obvious undercurrent relating to the more recent developments in Germany, starting with an acknowledgment of antisemitism - which isn't being followed up on later at all. Same with all the other allusions to concrete politics. There might even be a vague interventionist stance hidden in the plot somewhere, but in the end, the film always withdraws into the save fight against universal forms of suffering. In the end, Warner really didn't want to take a chance with this one.

So it never breaks away from the bearded guys with German accents microscoping formula, but at least in the second half there are a few wacky moments - Donald Meek shows up to provide some comic relief (relief really being the correct expression, here), the word "syphilis" triggers a burst of montage amidst an otherwise solemn mise-en-scene, and there's an interesting attempt to depict the point of view of a blind man.

Tiger Shark, Howard Hawks, 1932

I remembered the fishing scenes much better than the rest, which isn't all that strange, probably, also because they are truly surprising for the era the film was shot in. Long before the war films working with newsreel footage (and also long before LA TERRA TREMA) Hawks perfectly integrates documentary style shots into his narrative. What's more, the fishing scenes aren't just interested in texture and spectacle, but also in procedure - the short montage following the assembly line of fish processing, the close-up of a hook being beaten into shape.

The fiction itself is well done, too, and very Hawksian, especially in the scenes with all three members of the love triangle: Not only Johann, but also Robinson have more eyes for Arlen than for each other. In fact, the only small problem may be that Johann is almost too good an actress in this. Especially in her first scene with Robinson she evokes, by way of a view glances and her obstinate stature, a biographical depth and also a depth of inner life which the film isn't willing to elaborate on, later. Her home life with Robinson, which is supposed to break her, isn't represented at all. Which is, of course, also typical of Hawks who just wouldn't bother himself with petit bourgeoise domesticity.

Smart Blonde, Frank McDonald, 1937

Normally I tend to lose interest in straight whudonits like this about two thirds of the way - the world exploration phase is usually much more interesting than the final twists and turns. SMART BLONDE didn't quite escape this trap, although the plot clearly is above average with a few unexpected moves. Farrell is great (her short bursts of ironic laughter), though not quite autonomous enough. Tom Kennedy alone makes sure this is at least a three star film.

Rubber, Quentin Dupieux, 2009

Works because no matter what you thing of all the metanarrative absurdities, an autonomously rolling tire is inherently cinematographic.

Fly Away Baby, Frank McDonald, 1937
Tosses the straight whodunit concept in favor of a mixture of comedy vignettes, adventure and exoticism, which works better for the overall mood of these films. Plus, Farrell has much more room this time and she knows how to use it.

Synnöve Solbakken, John W. Brunius, 1919

Synnöve lives up the hill, on the sunny side, and she seldom ventures down. Into the shadows, where Thorbjörn lives, in love probably more with the idea of a female being from the sunny hill than with Synnöve herself.

The romance starts in church, the only acceptable place of social gathering. A symmetrical composition, exhibiting a symmetrical world: On the left, the world of women, on the right, the world of men, between both, the priest.

The film stays mostly in the shadows, with Thorbjörn, who suffers through melodramatic complications reformulated as paradoxical ethical predicaments: Only if you reject desire, Synnöve tells him, are you allowed to desire me.

The lovers have just a handful of scenes together. Synnöve does have her own desires, but she acts on them only twice, mostly she stays up in the light, sometimes joined by Thorbjörn's sister, the only person in the film who can easily move between the two worlds. Synnöve, being an idea more than a bodily entity, doesn't have to act, she just has to make an appearance once in a while, to make her presence felt, through single shots of her hovering in the sun far above the dark and brooding village. Short bursts of light inserted into the earthbound world of Thorbjörn.

Unholy Partners, Mervyn LeRoy, 1941

Starts as a probably more or less conscious throwback to the high-speed procedurals LeRoy and Robinson excelled in at Warner in the early 30s (FIVE STAR FINAL being the most obvious comparison, right down to the office romance side plot). Later, the film slows down and transforms itself into a character drama with some rather weird twists.

It's easy to see films like this as watered-down, much more bourgeois remnants of the precode tradition. But at the same time there's a density in texture and a psychological depth the earlier films did not reach or even aim for.

Even if Robinson probably did play this particular role a few times too often by 1941, LeRoy's mise-en-scene is rich and inventive throughout, especially in the parts not concerend with the main plot. The scenes with Marsha Hunt and the wonderfully awkward William T. Orr are especially touching, the camera measuring, again and again, the distance between the two not-quite lovers, with Orr constantly being drawn towards the perfectly inviting Hunt but unable to make the crucial move, to bridge the gap in any meaningful way.

Ne te retourne pas, Marina de Van, 2009

A film about the inner hysterics of cinema as private fantasy. How can I stay myself when Marceau transforms into Bellucci before my very eyes?

The Curse of Frankenstein, Terence Fisher, 1957

Not nearly as fast-moving and lurid as DRACULA one year later, but its minimalist simplicity has a charme all its own. The monster is the closest thing to a complex character in this. Everyone else is set dead on his or her (libidinous) track at the start and follows through until the bitter end.

The Cushing close-ups are a force of nature.

Ich seh ich seh, Severin Fiala / Veronika Franz, 2014

Familiar beats from austrian auteur cinema (oddly enough more of the Haneke than of the Seidl variety) reformulated as an A24 horror film. Martin Gschlacht has free rein, but luckily there's also the wonderful Susanne Wuest.

Waterloo Bridge, Mervyn LeRoy, 1940

"It seems there are no rules..."

An incredibly daring, almost experimental approach to affect and subjectivity. Vivian Leigh's face is the main laboratory. It starts out as a simple, easily malleable surface, ready to glide into love at any moment. And when additional layers are introduces, it is, at least at first, not because of romantic love, but because of her friendship with Kitty.

Later, in the film's most astonishing shot, her becoming a prostitute is depicted in a single take, with her looking at the men around her in an utterly new way. Like discovering the world a second time.
Even Robert Taylor's relative stiffness is an asset, because the whole last act is built around the juxtaposition of his naive, singleminded enthusiasm with Leigh's complex interiority.

Walk In, Herman Yau, 1997

Funny body switch comedy which never quite gets as hysterical as one could expect (except for the scenes with the wonderful Ada Choi). But on the other hand, Yau, as usual, takes his setup a little bit more serious than other directors would. The Danny Lee character especially is truly fascinating: Getting "invaded" by a frustrated, ambitious, younger guy, while also constantly being harassed by the repercussions of his older, philandering, more relaxed self - and feeling equally helpless towards both of these conflicting impulses. Layers of masculinity...

It is of course easy to connect the concept of "walk in" with the chinese takeover. Which might have, judging fromt this, also have had something to do with sexual insecurities.

Un amour de jeunesse, Mia Hansen-Love, 2011

I remember being bugged by Urzendowsky the first time I saw this. Which is strange, because he is pretty great here with his slightly inhibited body language. At least way better than Brekke, who downright oozes the sort of cultured-man-of-the-world sensibilities Hansen-Love's films sometimes are a bit too much enthralled by. The whole getting-into-architecture storyline is pretty strange, taking (expecially musical) shortcuts she usually doesn't take. I mean, Brekke takes his students to Berlin, of all places, Europe's prime hub for bad architecture. This alone should makes it clear for everyone how big a phony he is.

The first part, with Urzendowsky, is beautiful though, especially the almost wordless Ardèche trip, as is the ending, the bath in the river (Hansen-Love's films always make me miss the countryside), the short glance towards the image of happy family life Camille feels she's drifting away from.

Burger Boy`s, Lav Diaz, 1999

Not at all the slight comedy this is sometimes described at, but an ambitious, freewheeling metanarrative foreshadowing a lot of Diaz's later concerns and even some of his signature shots. Not all of it works, but at least it is a good reminder that Diaz is, at heart, not a realist but a filmmaker of the grotesque.

The Last Laugh, Greg Pritikin, 2019

Whenever a modern comedy is generally described as being lazy, tired and primarily an excuse for a few washed-up stars hanging out, I take notice. It almost always pays off.

Kid Galahad, Michael Curtiz, 1937

The way Curtiz controls the flow of the story during the final fight both in- and outside the ring, while also maintaining a sense of chaotic exhilaration - and all so effortless, without the soundstage-as-battlefield-bravado directors of later decades inevitably would fall back on when directing a film like this.

In the end, this isn't even about boxing, or about Robinson who may be the center of the script (connecting all the dots)... but the center of the film is Davis, or rather the triangle of Davis, Jane Bryan and Wayne Morris. Two women in love with a man. The courtship takes the form of handling the image of the man: one woman carefully collects newspaper clippings of his triumphs, the other nervously rips a single newspaper with his printed face in shreds while listening to his fight on the radio. Obviously her love is deeper.

A few moments: Davis and Morris riding on the back of the train, drifting into and out of a flirt. Bryan's face downright beaming next to a group of freshly hatched chicks. Robinson talking to his mother in italian for what feels like two full minutes.

Die Küken kommen, Eckhart Schmidt, 1985

An anarchistic, almost formless military comedy about young recruits breaking away from the drill in order to live it up in Munich. Chock-full of the kind of manic overacting that beats you (or at least me) into submission. The most out there of the guys (Andreas Jung) is also my favourite.

By way of a group of girls pursuing the boys, Schmidt's usual romantic extremism also comes into play. The film nevertheless is so obviously at odds with the director's instincts that it almost feels like the result of a bet he made (and lost) with himself.

I still like it though, except for the very bad background music. Never a moment's peace in this one.

The Woman in the Window, Fritz Lang, 1944

Midway through, Robinson gets promoted from assistant professor directly to department head. Dream logic.

Batang West Side, Lav Diaz, 2001

A displaced struggle and the struggle of displacement constantly reinforcing each other... but also, in a way, cancelling each other out because in the end man is always alone.

(Finally gave up on waiting for a print of this screening in my vicinity and watched the rather abysmal version floating around. Of course, it immediately sucks you in nonetheless. Still, Lav Diaz filming two men fishing at the Jersey Shore on a foggy winter day on colour 35mm stock is something I really need to see under better circumstances someday.)

It`s Me, Eckhart Schmidt, 2017

Schmidt's second version of Pavese's short story "Suicidi", after the magnificent SUNSET MOTEL, this time omitting the male protagonist completely. There's just one woman on a hotel bed calling her lover on her mobile phone. And in between the frustrating calls, dreaming of a sepia-toned Venice.

We don't even hear his voice. He exists only in her reactions. The story, if there would be a story, would be a familiar if rather anachronistic one. She is ecstatically in love, he is evasive. He has his job (and probably other women), she has just him.

When she's on the phone, the camera hovers over her face, closing in on her and backing away again. The extreme close-ups do not, actually, bring us closer to her, though. Just the opposite, the more the camera closes in on her, the more she's transformed into a cypher. While the completely indifferent, neutral hotel room background stays sharp, her face melts out of focus.

For the most part, she isn't a complete body. When she's on the phone, she becomes an extension of the phone. His voice activates parts of her (once they even have phone sex) but not the whole. Only when she hangs up, the camera drifts towards other body parts, or even allows her to step back a bit, to become a full entity. The thoughts of him are allowed to flow a bit more freely through her limbs. But even then, she is never caught unaware, never seen drifting away. She becomes image only as far as she is in love.

From the Queen to the Chief Executive, Herman Yau, 2001

From the outside, it merely looks like a cynical move of the british autorities to only allow for at least some form of democratic discourse in Hong Kong to emerge when the takeover already was agreed upon (starting with political reforms in the early 80s). But Yau's film makes clear that, when experienced from the inside, the political developments of these years were a full-blown tragedy. FROM THE QUEEN TO THE CHIEF EXECUTIVE registers as a longing for a democratic space that never was, with a very bitter coda.

It starts out rather convoluted, and there really is too much crammed into it, but when the focus switches from Yue Ling to Leung and his more straightforward political fight, it becomes very affecting. The casting of mostly unknowns mostly works, although I have to admit that I was constantly irritated by Ah Jing's passive sweetness. Stephen Tang's softness on the other hand is wonderful, his inner breakdown in the scene with his son is heartbreaking.

Great use of music. I don't care much for the heroism of rock any more, but here it earns its place.

The Undercover Man, Joseph H. Lewis, 1949

Procedural about halfway between the still somewhat romantic de-Rochemont-Hathaway "documentary" noirs and the much colder war on crime films of the fifties. A slow, but constant forward movement, with the violence underneath it mostly staying offscreen.

The realistic low contrast lighting is somewhat at odds with Lewis's inventiveness, resulting in often extremely, claustrophobic, crammed spaces. No room for decisive movements (Barry Kelley is the only one trying, repeatedly, and his failures might be the most alluring part of the film), just lots of detailed shuffling around, until everything finally falls into place.

Our Vines Have Tender Grapes, Roy Rowland, 1945

Some of the scenes purely focussing on Selma's experience (the one with the elephant, especially) are extremely beautiful, as is the production design, yet I mostly couldn't stand this. Trumbo seems to be undecided whether his classic Americana setting shold be transformed into a socialist utopia; or if this socialist utopia is already there, available for anyone with the correct nature metaphor at hand. In any case, his characters take turns in becoming his mouthpieces in a rather obnoxious way, transforming all lived-in details into talking points for an agenda which, in the end, doesn't dare to properly speak itself anyway. The romance of the schoolteacher and the editor, meanwhile, is like something out of the dreariest corners of socialist realism.

Random Harvest, Mervyn LeRoy, 1942

"It must come from the inside..."
Another experimental melodrama from LeRoy, once again the war experience, romantic love and peak studio era artificiality join forces in order to transform the world beyond all recognition.

Just as devestating as WATERLOO BRDIGE, and even crazier. In fact, much crazier, it should be locked into an asylum. And then it should escape, searching for Greer Garson.

The Sisters Brothers, Jacques Audiard, 2018

I didn't care for Audiard's last two films, but at least he managed to hold up the tension, even if in extremely contrived settings. This, however, just feels like a complete cop-out: tired revisionist western tropes coupled with indiewood humour (relentlesly pounding the same note over and over again, especially in the scenes with Reilly and Phoenix) and a few hints at technical competence in the action scenes.

Strange that this isn't a netflix film, feels like one from start to finish.

Second Act, Peter Segal, 2018

The fever dreams of capitalism.

(I mean, who the hell thought: the jenny-from-the-block-goes-corporate-premise plus the bonkers lost daughter storyline aren't enough, so why not bring in Hiroshima?)

Leah Remini

Blossoms in the Dust, Mervyn LeRoy, 1941

In preparing for the dance, Greer Garson and Marsha Hunt put on identical, spectacular blue dresses. When they step down the stairs (one of those shots Technicolor was invented for), we see that their boyfriends also look alike: moustached and a bit mousy. The perfect symmetry is broken when Walter Pidgeon enters, sidetracking Garson's glance, movement, affection, and ultimately, fate.

A beautiful beginning for what turns out to be a mostly uninspired biopic, steamrolling over every hint at emotional nuance. Almost as if the film dies with Marsha - the scene leading up to her suicide, after just ten minutes, is the second standout moment. The way LeRoy manages to transform her mundane crossing of a room into a decisive movement, a cinematic gesture...

Barbara - Wild wie das Meer, Frank Wisbar, 1961

Harriet Andersson's last glance directly into the camera so much mesmerized me, I had forgotten that quite a few scenes end with her enigmatically glancing at someone or other.

Also, I always forget just how good Peter Fleischmann is in this. A petty meanness with a sadomasochistic undercurrent, amost literally sweating self-hatred, like something directly out of Fassbinder.

Malombra, Carmine Gallone, 1917

A film so much in awe of Lyda Borelli, it achieves a weird form of gestural hyperrealism, especially in the possession scenes.

Two Weeks in Another Town, Vincente Minnelli, 1963

Yes, everything is breaking down, the end of cinema is near, mostly because everyone is hopelessly set in his ways... but what makes this so great is the longing for things to be different, for one last, great synthesis.

Black Angel, Roy William Neill, 1946

Woolrich adaptation which sanitizes one of his greatest novels, but somehow manages to stay true to its spirit at least in parts. There's so much misplaced desire in Woolrich, some of it almost automatically manages to slip by. Still, as much as I love Duryea, the switch from the female to the male perspective is a shame.

Green Book, Peter Farrelly, 2018

A solid grounding in the performances of the two leads (there's a halfway decent sitcom premise in there, somewhere), but there's just nothing worth grounding here. Ok, I have to admit, I like the stuff with the love letters.

Aufbruch, Ludwig Wüst, 2018

Two people anchoring each other, in order to stay afloat, hovering above the abyss.

Thunderbolt, Josef von Sternberg, 1929

Not as perfect as DOCKS OF NEW YORK or MOROCCO - the transitions between scenes aren't particularly smooth in the first half and some of the supporting and bit actors talk as if they really only learned how to one year earlier. But it might still be my favorite Sternberg so far, for the prison sequence alone. And, of course, for George Bancroft's magnificent, extremely musical drawl.

Not that the first two big set pieces - at the night club and in the staircase, with Bancroft turning himself into a dog - aren't marvels in themselves, but only when arriving in prison, things really take off. Here, Sternberg constantly switches between a playful exploration of the possibilities of sound cinema (the warden's anger over the invisible, unbreakable prison quartett / greek chorus: no matter how often I break them up, there's always another singer coming in) and a carefully calibrated, tense suspense plot. We stay in one single cell almost the whole time, yet the cinematic space is constantly shrinking and expanding. And instead of finally letting one of these two moods take over, Sternberg pushes both to their respective limits in the last few minutes before the execution: Sternberg and Bancroft evoke, at the same time and in the same gestures, a sentimental, almost cheesy, laid-back attitude and a sense of terror which, in the end, reduces the whole world to the movements of Bancroft's hands.

"I wish there were a way of telling when a human being's out of tune."

The Adventurous Blonde, Frank McDonald, 1937

The plot is interesting in theory, but gets lost in endless, clumsy, Torchy-less exposition (after the first scene, she isn't in the film for ten whole minutes, which might not seem much on paper but feels like eternity). Even when she finally comes back, things are moving slower than usual. Tom Kennedy doesn't help much this time, either. Coasts by on Farrell's charms alone.

Monday, January 27, 2020

letterboxd backup (5)

Support the Girls, Andrew Bujalski, 2018

Almost everything I read about this is more about the author's views on capitalism than about Bujalski's competent, but bland film.


As an aside: SUPPORT THE GIRLS is no more anti-capitalism than COMPUTER CHESS is anti-nerd or RESULTS is anti-fitness. There's nothing in here to challenge even a hardcore laissez-faire, leave everything to the marketplace view. Not that I would want Bujalski to make an anti-capitalism film. Almost on the contrary: By using the obvious shittiness of Double Whammies as a dramaturgical shorthand, he takes the easy way out in almost every single scene. That being said, Haley Lu Richardson is very funny in this.

Blonde Crazy, Roy Del Ruth, 1931

Love is finding new reasons for slapping each other every day and enjoying each slap as it were the first one.


Bourgeois life as offscreen doom, a force of pure, unrepresentable inhibition encrouching on the loose, joyfull mise en scene from the outside.


The dissolves are marvellous. Gestures sinking into darkness.

Captured! Roy Del Ruth, 1933

1933, when showers in german prison camps still sprayed water. Even when discounting the eerie resemblance of quite a few shots to later holocaust iconography, the first ten minutes are surprisingly dark for a film like this. Collective despair devouring all hints of individual agency. The rest of the film doesn't live up to this at all, but although the main stroyline is rather contrived and both main actors feel out of place in almost every scene, the Warner imagemaking machine keeps up the pace nicely and the crowd scenes are always impressive. Plus there's a gay melodrama hidden in there, somewhere.

Sweet Country, Warwick Thornton, 2017

Racism not as a function of cultural difference or individual morality, but as a natural product of primitive accumulation of capital. Some of the interactions feel stilted and (despite the sparse dialogue) overarticulate, but as a historical-materialist western with a knack for abstract imagery this is pretty impressive.

The Indian Runner, Sean Penn, 1991

I mostly liked this, very much an early 90s film. Somehow american cinema has lost the ability since then to make downbeat middlebrow americana like this without coming off as totally condescending (Mortensen's showy performance is problematic at times, but it's balanced out by Morse and the solid as rock Bronson and Hopper). For a long time, even the small tonal missteps like Arquette's screams work in the film's favor, making it more alive. In the last 20 minutes it somehow derails comepletely, on every level, with Penn basically doubling down on every bad directorial decision, again and again. It starts with an ill-advised musical cue (Janis Joplin) and only gets down from there. It's almost as if seeing, in real time, a fine instinctual filmmaker giving in to his desperate attempts to say something.

Private Life, Tamara Jenkins, 2018

The children you don't have, the books you don't write, the feelings you can't articulate. Private life as an economy of lack, but on the other side there's Kathryn Hahn. (Regarding form I have similar objections to this than to 20TH CENTURY WOMEN, but here the "symphonic style" doesn't bother me as much, maybe because it's mostly played as comedy.)

Balangiga: Howling Wilderness, Khavn, 2017

Probably the closest Khavn will ever come to making a Lav Diaz film. Of cause, Diaz would never use a historical atrocities experienced through the eyes of a child narrative like this and for good reason. Not without its pictorial appeal (amazing just how many great philippine new wave films were shot by Albert Banzon) but in the end, Khavn loses most of his edge when he replaces madcap structuralism with only slightly off-kilter magic realism.
(Maybe all of this is unfair because the film is really, deeply sad.)

Crimson Tide, Tony Scott, 1995

Light as information vs light as expressivity. Or, as Frank Ramsey puts it: "I don't trust air I don't see."

It´s Boring Here, Pick Me Up, Ryuichi Hiroki, 2018

Pretty much blew me away. A fractured, caleidoscopic Letter from an Unknown Woman filtered through the spaces and textures of provincial Japan (Tokyo being near enough to provide a constant reminder of what life could also be like). Time is in a constant flux, glued together only by a continuity of unfullfilled desire (to love, to be loved, to be someone else). Music and melancholia.

Strange Cargo, Frank Borzage, 1940

Just another reason to prefer old hollywood: Never would Joan Crawford let anyone bully her into not wearing high heels while running through the jungle.

The Man I Married, Irving Pichel, 1940

Anti-fascism, Joan Bennett style: The more she's being pissed off by Nazi Germany, the stylisher her wardrobe gets. "Heil Heel!"

There is no real sense of dread and terror in this, but I liked the economical, matter of fact mise en scene, which doesn't fall prey at all to the allure of nazi aesthetics (especially obvious when contrasting it with the pompous, fetishistic newsreel footage the film uses in one scene). Pichel seems to have been mainly concerend with showing that nazis, whatever else they might be, are also a bunch of no-fun assholes. Which remains a valuable lesson, I guess.

Words, Planets, Laida Lertxundi, 2018

The laid-back, relaxed attitude evident in this might be exactly what i've been missing in most avantgarde films, contemporary or otherwise.

The Crime of Dr. Crespi, John H. Auer, 1935

Schlock horror masterpiece, closer in spirit to Hershell Gordon Lewis than to James Whale. The bare bone sets accentuate the weirdness of the close-ups - horror is very much a matter of physiognomy, here. Auer has no sense of narrative economy whatsoever, but THE CRIME OF DOCTOR CRESPI is all the better for it - this is just as much an observational film about von Stroheim's way of delicately smoking cigarettes and having drinks with his child skeleton companion than it is a dark horror tale about him drugging his colleague and burying him alive. Strangely enough, it manages to also be a workplace comedy about nurses, doctors and their reciprocal erotic projections.

Roi Soleil, Albert Serra, 2018

There's enough classicist (royalist?) beauty in the framings to keep my interest up, but prankster Serra clearly still isn't my favorite Serra.

When Strangers Marry, William Castle, 1944

Kim Hunter believes the improbable. And so can we, while watching this film, for 67 glorious, poetic minutes.

Io la conoscevo bene, Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965

You think this can't get any better and then Stefania Sandrelli starts controlling a record player with her foot.

The Falcon and the Co-eds, William Clemens, 1943

Tom Conway's falcon is swallowed up by female spaces and desires, just as the whodunit plot is swallowed up by lewtonesque somnambulism. And then the sea starts to talk.


The rear projection shot of the two women standing at the edge of the cliff at the end is just as great as the famous matte painting shot in BLACK NARCISSUS.

And Then There Were None, Rene Clair, 1945

I'm not invested in the field, but I wouldn't be surprised if this is the best of all Christie adaptations, as it perfectly captures the core of her prose - the always strangely bloodless sadism as well as the sense of prearranged fate, turning every new murder into a somewhat detached, opaque echo of an unknowable original sin.

"And Then There Were None" already is as meta as a Christie story can get, with her organizing the mechanics of death alongside a nursery rhyme (more precisely: a racist nursery rhyme - it's almost too easy to read the whole thing as a comment on the impeding downfall of Empire). In fact, the structure of the story is closer to a surrealistic game than to classic mystery fiction. And Clair's playful, not-quite-formalist style plays along with this, focusing on small absurdities (the keyhole sequence, the cat) instead of haunted house routines; while also fleshing out the characters enough to not letting this turn into an academic exercise. A shame Mischa Auer dies first, though.

The House on 56th Street, Robert Florey, 1933

68-minute epic by Florey, spanning generations and decades, from the "follies of 1905" to the rush hour of 1925 - the leap in time signaled by a miniature, two shot city symphony; Florey manages to sneak in at least tiny bits of his earlier avantgarde passion in almost all of his features. Indeed, despite its oldschool melodramatic structure, the film is constantly innovative. In the second half, almost all dramatic and character development is depicted through card games.

Of the three men Kay Francis is associated with over the course of the film, Gene Raymond, her "true love", clearly is the blandest. Which may have been intentional, as he basically functions as an empty on which she can project her desire for domesticity. Indeed, although their marriage doesn't take up more than a few minutes of screen time, it is handled especially beautiful. When Francis enters the nursery, the camera stays back for a moment, letting her discover this new world of domestic bliss (which she will, of course, never be able to enjoy) on her own terms.

Later, when she says goodbye to Raymond in prison, he cautiously reaches over the screen separating husband and wife from each other - not even with his whole hand, just with the cups of his fingers. She answers his gesture, he kisses her fingers timidly and freezes into an awkward, completely inhibited position while she walks away. She is in prison, but he is lost, because he has no existence outside of her.

The Gay Falcon, Irving Reis, 1941

Despite several deaths, the plot unfolds without anyone being even slightly disturbed by it. This isn't a film about a ring of jewel thiefs; strangely enough, it also isn't a film about George Sanders philandering. He is smooth and funny as always, but he just isn't given enough room on his own. In fact, he functions more like a master of ceremonies, as an elegant glue holding together a string of vignettes centered around the magificent supporting cast: Allen Jenkins bodily reacting to a pinball game; Wendy Barrie ("I hate men") staring down an innocent waiter, in fact almost picking on him like an angry bird; Nina Vale (a fascinating, irritating presence throughout) vigorously brushing her hair, as if fighting a private war; Hans Conried cultivating, in his short appearance as a police sketch painter, his very own, excentric brand of arrogance.

La proie du vent, Rene Clair, 1927

Well, the car chase is good. And the scene with the cigarettes is even better. I wonder why this isn't used more often: smoking not as fetish, but as a more direct expression of sexuality: the desire to enter another person's body.

Dead Man´s Eyes, Reginald Le Borg, 1944

Not as visually striking and inventive as the first two Inner-Sanctum-films, but this has a weird charme all of its own. A film about non-reciprocated desires and about the absolute helpnessness of people when confronted with them. A sticky, tangled web of jealousy, guilt, blindness and deceit, all played out with an air of stylish, cool detachment. The female cast isn't quite as spectacular as in WEIRD WOMAN (neither are the hairstyles), but Acquanetta is a fascinating, irritating presence throughout.

Roma, Alfonso Cuaron, 2018

A bit too showy in parts, but there's enough energy throughout, thanks to a strong, resonant core: Cuaron's awareness that the desire to recreate the world of his childhood is inseperable from the misfortune of those two women who created this world in the first place, at the expense of their own desires.


Most heartbreaking moment: Cleo wiping the telephone receiver on her dress before handing it over to her employer.

3 Faces, Jafar Panahi, 2018

The relationship of Panahi and Kiarostami remains intriguing: The more the student finds his own voice, the closer his films mirror the themes and methodology of his teacher.

Therese and Isabelle, Radley Metzger, 1968

L'Année dernière à Mädcheninternat.

In 3 Tagen bist Du tot, Andreas Prochaska, 2006

Competent genre routines set against decent non-acting, mid zeroes cultural artefacts (the last days of fun punk, the very last days of vhs, clunky mobile phones) and a spirit of decidedly mild intergenerational discord. It takes almost no effort to completely ignore the fussy driving instructor, the awkward provincial cop, the wheelchair-bound father. Unfortunately the Jeff Spinoli type guy (playing air guitar while his resigned mother cleans up around him) dies first.
Lively middle of the road stuff like this will always age better than at least 90% of the one-note ego trip art horror films celebrated by critics.

Friday, January 24, 2020


Die letzte von doch nicht allzu vielen Filmbulletin-Ausgaben, für die ich mitverantwortlich war, ist ziemlich schön geworden, glaube ich. Zum Tierschwerpunkt habe ich einen Text zu Affenfilmen beigetragen, und erst jetzt fällt mir auf, dass ich da auch etwas über das Verb "nachäffen" hätte schreiben können, denn in gewisser Weise bringt das Wort auf den Punkt, was (oft) passiert, wenn ein Affe bzw ape suit vor der Kamera auftaucht. Das Nachäffen ist eine Wiederholung menschlichen Verhaltens, aber nicht als Kopie, sondern als Parodie und Verächtlichmachung. In der Veraffung wird etwas sichtbar - am Menschen. Das Äffische wird zum Interpretant des Menschlichen und das funktioniert nur, weil es, aller Ähnlichkeit zum Trotz, doch eine Differenz gibt zwischen beidem. Anders ausgedrückt: Im Kino äfft der Affe immer schon den Menschen nach. Der Affe ist also, als gefilmter, eine Kritik am Menschen, aber nicht weil er ein "unvollendeter" Mensch ist (das wäre die rassistische Variante der Affenmotivik, die sich das Kino zum Glück nur selten zu eigen macht), sondern weil er ein überdeutlicher Mensch ist.

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Three Godfathers, John Ford, 1948

My favorite part comes when, towards the end of the film, shortly before he arrives in this film's version of Jerusalem, John Wayne stumbles through a canyon, thirsty and depleted. As in other scenes before, exhaustion is treated not as a bodily condition but as a prerequistion for the state of grace. Wayne, however, doesn't fall into a soft, cloud-like death, but instead becomes something like a mad saint, he starts hallucinating, and the world around him transforms itself into a cinematic echo chamber, complete with ghost voices, superimpositions, and a donkey miracle. In a way, the whole film works like this: While Ford's other westerns of the period (probably even the intimate WAGON MASTER, which I'll have to revisit soon) are deeply invested in making sense of the emerging post war world, 3 GODFATHERS often feels like a private fantasy: John Ford, hanging out in his own cinematic echo chamber.

Of course this isn't a surprise, given that 3 GODFATHERS is a remake of Ford's own 1919 film MARKED MEN and also a tribute to its star, Harry Carey. The true miracle is that, despite its openly, even proudly anachronistic setup, the film never once feels claustrophobic. One reason for this might be, that the two main structural levels of the film - the genre exercise and the religious allegory - never completely collapse into each other. No matter how deliriously christian things get, Ford at the same time always stays true to the simple chase narrative (which twice in the film is sketched as a spatialized diagram). Thereby, 3 GODFATHERS permanently sidesteps the notion of mythical closure which always seems to lurk behind the next corner.

More important, probably, are single scenes, evelated shots which seem to come out of nowhere (the one with Wayne shielding his dying friend from the sun), singular intensities. This, more than the naive storyline, connects the film to early cinema, to the cinema of attractions. Of course, every single one of these moments is also a triumph of craft. The sandstorm, for example, is a triumph of Hollywood studio artifice, on par with the storm in THE HURRICANE. But the best special effect is much more basic: the baby itself, the faux christ found in the desert, and fed with cactus water. Each time the bundle in which the infant is wrapped in is opened, the film seems to discover the wonders of life anew, as if for the first time. Here, in the spiritual center of the film, glorious artifice suddenly breaks through into pure realism: The tiny hands grabbing Wayne's tanned, life-worn fingers, the mouth sucking, by way of pure reflex, on the improvised milk bottle.

The Long Gray Line, John Ford, 1955

When you watch the parade passing by you can't be part of it yourself. Not only a film about a life almost completely lived by proxy and the growing invisibility of history (in the age of cinemascope), but also about the specific melancholy of cinema.

Also: Maureen O'Hara as the last great silent movie comedian. Her love on first sight scene with Tyrone Powers might be one of the most beautiful slapstick routines ever.

The Other Sister, Garry Marshall, 1999

Whatever obscenity there might be in Lewis and Ribisi playing disabled characters is completely diminished by the objective obscenity of the uber-waspy upperclass setting. Not to speak of the obscenity of Marshall's musical cues.

This is (not unlike the other rather few Marshalls I've seen) a completely shameless film. But also an interesting one, with a lot of quirky ideas. The close-ups of isolated flying objects during the first wedding, the sex cutaway to the fish bowl (and brass music!), those friendly weirdos Ribisi meets during his getaway.

You probably need to be in tune with a certain kind of perversity to enjoy mainstream monstrosities like this. But, well, I certainly am.

Sergeant Rutledge, John Ford, 1960

One detail in the train scene early in the film: While getting to know each other, Constance Towers's Mary and Jeffrey Hunter's Tom are standing in the middle of one of the compartments of this rather un-trainlike looking train. They are facing each other while being aligned perpendicular towards the direction and movement of the machine. When the train suddenly breaks they should, according to the laws of physics, stumble parallel to the movement of the train, and also parallel to each other. However, they stumble towards each other instead, resulting in Mary falling into Tom's arms.

On the one hand this is a precise definition of movie magic: Cinema has the power to alter ficticious force, to refract it by 90 degrees (these 90 degrees might also be thought of as the romantic bias of cinema). On the other hand, the very strangeness and exposed antinaturalism of the scene fits this particular film perfectly. In SERGEANT RUTLEDGE, the chains of cause and effect aren't exactly broken, but they work in peculiar, almost absurd ways. The extremely beautiful, and despite its strangeness extremely moving film is first and foremost concerned with celebrating and mythologizing the „buffalo soldier“, with inscribing the faces of black americans on the iconography and texture of the hollywood western / of Ford's cinema... but it does this through a convoluted, meandering plot, structured around an investigation which, for most of the film's running time, seems to move not towards, but away from the crime it is supposed to solve. Only to be thrust back to it in the end by way of a rather bizarre deus ex machina development, resulting in an almost ecstatically overacted confession scene.

Viva, Anna Biller, 2007

Rewatching Biller's films on film makes me ecstatic and sad at the same time. Ecstatic for obvious reasons, sad because I realize that there are no real reasons (only fucking pragmatic ones) for the switch to digital. All films could look like this one! And especially: All filmed bodies could look like the ones in VIVA, completely exposed and yet protected by a material gaze affectionately registering their uniqueness.

Dawn of the Dead, George A. Romero, 1978

Argento cut. Which feels less different than I thought it would. But altogether, the changes do amount to a certain streamlining.

Storia di Piera, Marco Ferreri, 1983

A film in which Hanna Schygulla fights off ten (!) rapists with a hammer and which also has Isabelle Huppert doing weird pantomime / facial tick stuff has no right to be that much of a drag in almost all other scenes.

The Return of Mr. Moto, Ernest Morris, 1965

To shoot 1965, in the age of Bond, a bare-bones, 70 minutes, black and white Mr. Moto film is obviously a rather crazy idea, especially with a main actor who is almost the polar opposite of Peter Lorre both physically and in terms of flexibility. Still, for the first ten minutes, consisting mostly of a minimalist, almost abstract chase scene, manic closeups lost in empty studio space, I thought this might be an accidental masterpiece. When the plot mechanics kick in, the limitations of the everyone involved (and especially of the budget) become obvious, but the film never quite loses its strange, somnambulic charme.

A Song to Remember, Charles Vidor, 1955

It's easy to understand why Ayn Rand hated this: the George Sand character easily could've been based on herself (or rather, her public image), not only in terms of her philiosophy, but also in terms of her lifestyle. The film's repudiation of Sand / Rand in the end, in favour of Paul Muni's fuzzy populism, clearly and quite openly not only targets (in a problematic way, to say the least, although one has to remember that this was produced during World War 2) Rand's hyperbolic individualism, but also this very anti-bourgeois lifestyle. Which is, once again quite openly, alligned with feminism, if not the female experience per se. Muni's character also targets style per se: Oberlon's always extremely well-dressed Sand is the only colourful, extravagant element in an otherwise drab colour palette. Without her, this wouldn't even be a technicolor film!

In the end, Rand's dismissal of the film might be completely wrongheaded (and pointing to her not really having a sense of humour). Oberlon / Sand / Rand might lose the battle for Chopin's heart and life, but she clearly wins the mise en scene.

Red Sparrow, Francis Lawrence, 2018

Comes alive for a precious few minutes during Mary-Louise Parker's unhinged drunk performance. Jennifer Lawrence's performance is all right, but feels too conceptual. The rest is either too stupid or not stupid enough. On a side note: minor stylists like Francis Lawrence seem to have been hit the hardest by the switch to digital. Everything's way too clean and static, like a barely animated storyboard. Style has been replaced by the idea of style.

Allonsanfan, Taviani brothers, 1974

The desire to dance together is the death of revolution. The yearning for an imaginary wholeness, for a magical becoming one with the revolutionary subject will lead bourgeois idealists into doom. This is such a powerful rejection of leftist romanticism (and probably one of the most thought-through post-68 films), because it evokes its very textures: a world almost entirely made up of homosocial camaraderie, rousing music, color cues, proud but sexy and willing women.

Of course, for the Tavianis in 1974 this systematic denunciation of leftist naivete wasn't an end in itself, but pointed towards a more analytical marxist perspective. When the security of an all-encompassing macro-perspective like that is gone, too, the film suddenly feels much more bitter...

What is left today is still not pure cynicism, though, but a fascinating film constantly switching between conceptual denseness and a more loose, novelistic tone. Only the protagonist himself feels a little overwrote sometimes - Mastroianni doesn't need all this psychological and sociological burden, he works best, when he is just a soft cypher, a vaguely incongruous, overwhelmed body thrown into history. Because he so clearly is someone not made to fight, but to be petted, adored and caressed.

Watching ALLONSANFAN today is a nostalgic experience. What I'm longing for isn't the politics of the 70s, though, but a time when aesthtics still could be mobilized, more or less wholesale, for abstract ideas.

Tonight or Never, Mervyn LeRoy, 1931

Just another proof that the early 30s were the most glorious era in film history. As if cinema, in a few years, invented all of its forms once again, but not from scratch, but driven by an already established belief in the power of the medium.

TONIGHT OR NEVER is, to me, the perfect meshing of precode sexiness and silent movie sensuality. Gloria Swanson is finally able to verbalize her desires, but she still has ample room to act it out through gestures and glances, too. The way she caresses furniture... This must be an axiom of cinema: put Gloria Swanson on a sofa and something magical will happen.

The film is also proof of LeRoys supreme craftmanship. To pull of, so early in his career, a film like this, so different in tone and especially rhythm than the stuff he did at Warner Brothers at the time, shows that his films are much more than the products of their environment. Although he made just a handful of silents (I haven't been able to see a single one, so far), he manages to make TONIGHT OR NEVER look like the work of a silent master creatively retooling his work for the sound era. The cigarette butts under Swanson's window, a few Lubitsch-style cascades of movements and gazes, and, of course, Swanson's acting... Melvyn Douglas is also already pretty lubitschy.

At the same time, certain limitations are obvious, too, especially in some of the more lightweigh Warner comedies: LeRoy never tries to overcome weaknesses in the script, he always chooses to work around them instead, investing his energy in the stuff that interests him. In his lesser films, this results in piecemeal, but never completely uninspired work.

Here, the main problem is the rather stupid resoultion. Although in a way even the clumsy ending (the somewhat unearned forming of the couple) is interesting, because it lays open a tension in the script between the older narrative of romantic conquest the film still sticks to, and the emerging, more egalitarian form of the remarriage comedy.

Five Star Final, Mervyn LeRoy, 1931

Edgar G. Robinson as a hard-nosed, but in the end of course only almost completely cynical newspaperman trying to cash in on a long-forgotten murder. The temporal difference is essential, because this basically is two films in one: On the one hand, a decidedly modern thriller-as-farce about capitalist pressure in the world of mass media (and the psychological side-effects which go along with it). On the other hand, a 19th century melodrama about a woman`s tarnished reputation.

LeRoy doesn`t try to bridge the gap, instead, he accentuates it. The fluid, fast-talking newspaper scenes form a harsh contrast to the theatrical, almost a bit zombie-like scenes set at the home of the "tarnished woman". Interestingly, the only link between both worlds is Karloff - who is, not at all surprisingly, much more believable as the faux priest of victorian melodrama than as the supposedly authentic nihilist reporter T. Vernon Isopod (the name alone… so many beautiful details in this).

One might take this sensationalist defense of journalistic ethics as just another example of commercial cinema having its cake and eating it, too. But LeRoy is much more interested in structure, gadgets (the split-screen scene!) and runaway performances (George E. Stone! One of those actors who only need five minutes) than in morals. Plus, if nothing else, the theme of female solidarity rings true, like so often in his films. In the end, the true center of the film isn`t Robinson, but Aline MacMahon (in her first role!), in charge of the newspaper phone lines, throwing knowing looks at everyone who enters the scene. She's the one introspective, reflexive element in a world otherwise completely made up of manic, selfish activity.

Show Girl in Hollywood, Mervyn LeRoy, 1930

I`m still not sure quite how much and why I like Alice White, but she does have a supreme sense of style and one thing I do adore even more is her dancing. Her elegant, but relaxed, almost a bit negligent movements are far removed from the athletic style of precision dancing which dominants most american musicals. White`s dancing always feels like a by-product of her subjectivity first, and part of a choreography second (if at all).

The third of LeRoy`s Alice-White-films I`ve seen. Another making-it-in-show-business-plot, but this time set in early talkies Hollywood (complete with cameos by Al Jolson and Loretta Young), and much more ambitious. LeRoy manages to squeeze every part of film production, from casting to editing, into this (there`s even a scene set in a projection room), and especially the scenes at the producer`s office are pitch perfect. The mechanics of yes-manism.

While the loss of the technicolor version is a shame (the last reel feels static today, because the colors where supposed to provide the movement), there are so many other great and strange ideas in this, starting with the back projection tourist-bus ride when White enters Hollywood for the first time (shades of Lupino`s THE BIGAMIST; LeRoy himself uses the same idea in THE WORLD CHANGES). Another great bit is the guy who scratches the names off the office doors of fired studio employees, at the same time blotting out a career and all other voices on the sound track.

And then there`s Griffith actress Blanche Sweet as a "aging" (33 years old) former star who forms a bond with White`s newcomer. Female friendship is one of the main themes in LeRoys early films, and it`s never just a given, but it has to be tested, and in can be lost, as it almost happens here. The Sweet storyline basically is a film in itself, a rousing, bitter mini melodrama which puts SUNSET BOULEVARD to shame and comes complete with over-the-top silent movie acting and tear-eyed chiaroscuro. The greatest moment of the film, though, comes, when during the first long conversation of both women, Sweet suddenly starts to sing. Not only is something like this completely out of the ordinary in the backstage musicals of the time, but the singing has nothing to do with showmanship, but stays completely true to character as an effort of resigned, graceful self-expression. A truly magical moment.

Disco Fieber, Hubert Frank, 1979

Hubert Frank's gloriously delirious DISCO FIEBER is the german GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. Or at least, the closest german cinema could ever, after germany's own 1933, come to GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. When GOLD DIGGERS can be described as a film which acknowledes the reality of the depression, and by way of this very acknowledgement somehow overcomes it, DISCO FIEBER manages to do the same with and for (west-)german provinciality.

And it does so, again just like GOLD DIGGERS, by way of a textual bifurcation. For the most part, the film plays out like a standard, juvenile sex farce of the time, chronicling the escapades of a few wannabe-studs who try out gestures and chat-up-lines taken more or less directly from american youth films (LEMON POPSICLE clearly was a big influence, too). The jokes are stale and the slapstick-hide-in-the-closet-the-nuns-are-coming-routines are even staler, but that doesn't matter, because it's all about attitude, anyway, about celebrating the art of carelessly entering the classroom, about slouching on the bench with buttoned-downed shirts, about the right amount of disgracing oneself in an agreeable way.

Most of this works perfectly, despite itself. By now, Hubert Frank is, without a doubt, my favorite german sexploitation director. He may not be as distinctive as Jürgen Enz, as unconditionally perverted as Hans Billian, as rigorous a stylist as Ernst Hofbauer, but he is the most inspired of them all. Frank may just be the only truly instinctive filmmaker of German erotic cinema. He finds something special in every single scene. The low angles he uses for a football game, the way he glamourizes a female teacher, a bizarro dance montage involving several disguises, magnificent sport cars popping up out of nowhere in southern german no-man's-land - this is a film thoroughly infused with pleasures of the cheap, but powerful kind.

Frank's films always have charme and style, even when, or maybe especially when he has next to nothing to start from - like in this case: a film structured around Boney M, but without Boney M actually showing up on set for principal photography. When they do appear, they inhabit not only a different space than the rest of the cast, but a different layer of reality, and indeed a different medium: all the scenes with Boney M and other Frank Farian acts were shot by Klaus Überall (the name itself is a hint: "überall" is german for "everywhere") - on video.

These music video-like performances are the real piece du resistance of DISCO FIEBER, and also the sequences which align the film once and for all with GOLD DIGGERS OF 1933. Just like Berkeley's exuberant production designs and body sculptures in motion, Überall's crude video intrusions (complete with oldschool video effects - miniature people dancing on their own hands, whispering in their own ears) transcend the diegetic space in order to become objects of pure cinema. And, just like in GOLD DIGGERS, it's impossible to decide if these intrusions of the musical-spectacular represent the inner truth of the more prosaic world the rest of the film inhabits, or pure, unreachable externality.

I Spy, Allan Dwan, 1934

Not nearly good enough to be the missing link between A MODERN MUSKETEER and TRAIL OF THE VIGILANTES, but it is in the same vein: an absurdist, fast-moving comedy informed by the kind of popcultural knowingness and ironic detachement usually attributed to postmodernism. Dwan is perfectly suited for material like this - it's all about engineering and when he manages to boil down the story to pure mechanics (Ben Lyon bouncing around between two tough guys in one moment, and basically being thrown into an airplane into the next), it works beautifully. Some parts of it have a nice silent comedy feel to it and Lyon gives a wonderful deadpan performance. There is enough energy here, but not quite enough ideas to sustain it for 62 minutes.

Die Sexabenteuer der drei Musketiere, Erwin C. Dietrich, 1971

A succession of atrocious sex jokes, filmed as awkwardly (and slowly) as possible. the complete absence of even the faintest notion of craft leaves room, though, not only for formalist humour (the repeated pans over pastoral landscapes), but also for a number of small beauties: a man almost elegantly sliding into a duel scene because the floor is slippery, the lingering shot of a woman stretched out in the hay a few feet apart from a pining, but inactive man, several naked men walking in line through a dark, vaguely medieval room, trying way too hard to coordinate their movements. the one really beautiful scene that somehow managed to slip in - involving a frog sitting on ingrid steeger's breast - is worth more than anything someone like Inarritu has ever done. the dialectics of film history.

Hannah Gadsby: Nanette, 2018

While I don't particularly like this as stand-up, I know that reactions to performances like this are highly subjective, and NANETTE sure is a neat piece of storytelling and audience control, so the rating is more about its reception than about the thing itself. I just don't buy into the idea that something which triggers dozens of almost identical think pieces in just a few weeks can be a "watershed moment" or a "game changer". The vocabulary to describe this obviously already was there, as this is, point for point, tailor-made for its think piece producing target audience. Anyway, burdening popular culture with promises of salvation (while rejecting its most interesting part: its paradoxes) almost always is a bad idea.

Admittedly I'm a big fan of stand-up without actually having experienced a lot of it. But still I think it isn't a big risk to claim that a random evening in a headliner-free NYC comedy club contains more friction and energy than this.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, J. A. Bayona, 2018

I enjoyed FALLEN KINGDOM more than I thought I would, but its pleasures are completely detached from the core of the film series. I was completely on board with all scenes involving Maisie. A girl of unnatural ancestry, unloved by humans and surrounded by strange beasts, exploring (and conquering) her hostile and baroque surroundings by means of the service elevator - I can't think of many characters in big budget films over the last ten years who are even remotely as interesting as Maisie. In a few scenes, Bayona manages to create a style of heighened artificiality (I especially liked the strange color burst in the museum scene) which fits her storyline perfectly.

In theory, it might be possible to combine Maisie's adventures with big budget dinosaur mayhem in a meaningful way. However, in this regard the film just feels tired. First and foremost, FALLEN KINGDOM desperately needed at least one or two stand-out open-air set pieces. Instead, the film spends way too much time in a generic underground facility (and doesn't even manage to evoke a sense of claustrophobia; the action really is a letdown, even compared with Trevorrow's film).

One scene encapsulating my frustration: After some inventive shadowplay in Maisies bedroom, threatening, ancient Jaws crawl near the frightened girl - and then Chris Pratt busts through the door and starts blasting away in the most prosaic manner. Pratt himself isn't as annoying as in JURASSIC WORLD, but just as boring. While Bryce Dallas Howard - clearly, whether you like her role or not, the most interesting part of the first film - has almost nothing to do. Same goes for most of the new cast members. It's really all about Maisie, this time.

Fascination Amour, Herman Yau, 1999

For once, one of these choice-moments-of-a-love-story-set-to-a-pop-tune montage sequences, ubiquitous in hong kong cinema, does make sense - because the film preceding it feels so disjointed and slapdash that I really was surprised to rediscover the solid thread of memorable, intimate scenes running through it. My favorite moment: Andy Lau histrionically slouching away from the camera and from Hikari Ishida, after being accused by his boss of being a playboy,

The first part is a bare-bones romantic comedy (the hot-tub scene is good) set on a luxury vessel with Hotel Bonaventure style postmodern interiors. There are so many allusions to TITANIC that, at one point, I really was waiting for the iceberg to appear. But obviously even the most basic of shipwreck scenes would have exceeded the budget tenfold. Therefore, Lau and Ishida spend the second half in Puerto Rico. Here, the film falls apart completely while at the same time becoming more interesting. There are two extended, borderline surrealistic street dancing scenes and the considerable charms of the two leads have more opportunities to shine through the chaos.

So there's life after all, even though, ultimately, this is one of the rather few Herman Yau projects which were indeed beyond saving.

The First Auto, Roy Del Ruth, 1927

A gimmick film. Not only is it chock full of gimmicks, but it's also, in a way, about a society enthralled by gimmicks. About a society encountering modernity in the form of gimmicks. Maybe also about the gimmicky nature of modernity in general. A film about people constantly trying to showcase something or other, to attract attention to something, to play tricks on each other. The introduction of the car is just a convenient occasion to free one's inner narcissistic showman. Fortunately, the basic mood is still optimistic, even hedonistical. Progress is a given, something which is about to happen anyway, so we might just enjoy it.

The gimmicks really take over (almost) everything. There filmic realisation stems from Del Ruth's Sennett days (i just encountered a variation of the joke with the funnel in his THE HEART SNATCHER), and the technologically newer sound effects are used just in the same way: A laughter, applause and even single words are used as distinct gimmicks vamping up the otherwise silent image. Some of the effects are truly astonishing, especially a series of different, stylized voices used to depict town chatter. It's a pity this transitional phase didn't last longer (and, of course, that most of the films produced with sound effects are lost).

There's also an old man who doesn't believe in gimmicks. He sticks to his horse, an animal which almost automatically triggers, with each of its appearances, a mode of melodrama completely absent from the rest of the film, because it clearly belongs to an older era. The last shot belongs not to the car, but to the horse - which has been transformed into a kind of sentimental gimmick. So in a way, this is also a film about the invention of nostalgia. Vernacular dialectics.

Drunken Tai-Chi, Yuen Woo-ping, 1984

The only small problem might be that DRUNKEN TAI CHI climaxes rather early - there's just no way to top the magnificent fireworks scene. After that, the film settles for a parade of smaller scale set pieces, all of them performed with a lot of energy, directed with speed and inventiveness and infused with the right kind of vulgarity. The narrative is threadbare and by the numbers but treated with enough respect and attention to detail (the repercussions of the great Lydia Shum fight scene, the domestic dynamics between Shum and Yuen and so on) to keep a base level of interest in the characters.

The 80s electro beats and allusions to basketball and breakdance add an extra level of craziness, but in a way the crosscultural spectacle feels completely natural, probably because the youthful Donnie Yen really is a force of nature in this film, transforming every impuls into movement, instantly and without discrimination. Still, my personal highlight in the cast is Yuen Shun-Yee with another really out-there bad-guy-performance (he may even function as some sort of auteurist signature in his brother's films). Just like in DREADNAUGHT, he displays a fundamental, grotesque oddity which reaches far beyond the usual villain routines by tapping into a source of private craziness. Which in this case somehow is connected to him being a really great, loving dad. The scene in which he assembles a decidedly weird-looking hobby horse by pounding in the nails with his bare flesh is the kind of throwaway greatness only 80s Hong Kong cinema can provide. I will never get tired of stuff like this.