Wednesday, January 15, 2020

letterboxd backup (2)

Monpti, Helmut Käutner, 1957

dubious plotting not only elevated, but thorougly blown up (not like a bomb, but like fireworks) by käutner's almost manic sense of mise en scene, buchholtz's elastic acting and schneider's hidden sadness. the result might at first be a bit annoying, because everyone involved seems to give in to his / her most baroque instincts, but in the end it turns out to be, i think, a bona fide meta-escapism masterpiece. artifice trumps artifice.

Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights..., Philippe Garrel, 1985

Shadows of shadows of shadows. This time, the autobiographic fragments that return again and again in Garrel's work never crystallize into at least somehow self-identical bodies (like they do in later films, and even in the previous L'ENFANT SECRET), but float around freely, as if they're up for grabs. He makes one of his most beautiful films by letting go of form, focus, fixed identities, body tension, and sometimes even texture - although I once again got the feeling, that it's just not possible to film a window in Paris without the result being beyond beautiful (of course, that feeling changes at once when leaving Garrel's world...). Every shot in this is at the same time part of an impenetrable illusory maze and completely transparent towards the moment of shooting.


Garrel asking Doillon for advice on how best to film his son is the sweetest thing.

The Cannibals, Kao Pao Shu, 1972

Not a particularly carefully crafted film outside of the fight scenes. But oh my god the fight scenes! Ecstatic, joyous, communal celebrations of the pro-filmic like this are at least one of the reasons why movies exist and matter.

Riley the Cop, John Ford, 1928

Starts nice, but more or less hits a brick wall once the plot moves to Germany. I can relate.

The House of 72 Tenants, Chor Yuen, 1972

Come for the perfectly constructed comedic setpieces, stay for the sprawling, all-encompassing sense of community, and stay bewitched for at least weeks thereafter by the beautiful yellow light illuminating scene after scene.

Father and Son, Allen Fong, 1980

A film literally soaked in the specifics of memory. The long stairway leading to the small, humble apartment high above the city, the view of the vast cityscape from above (two boys pittet against a sea of houses down below as if they were spirits roaming the sky, resting in clouds). Children's games on the schoolyard, hierarchies and their unmaking, identity defined by actions and social relationships ("Are you the one who's scaring people with toads?" - "Yes"). Every escape from social control, no matter how small, feels like the ultimate victory.

Objects, meals, toilets.

Simultaneously, this is an earnest, tightly structured, sometimes almost didactic film about the mechanics and value of family. In a way both the boy and the father try to prevent the boy from becoming the father. The action of one always already influences the other, but there's no chance for communication, no escape, just a heartbreaking sense of grief.

For the boy, everything is cinema. But that's mainly a curse, too. His love for illuminated images almost burns down the family home. After being hit by his father, to stop the bleeding a woman puts tobacco on his face - an instant Chaplin moustache. His camera finally falls down and breaks up, just like the leg of the actor in his first amateur film.

Teacher: "What do you want to be?"
Boy: "I want to work at a movie theater."
Teacher: "Why do You want to do that?"
Boy: "So I can watch movies and earn money at the same time"
Well, that's always the idea...

Sinful Confession, Li Han Hsiang, 1974

I've seen only two of Li Han Hsiang's films from his 1970s "hunchback of shawdom" (Stephen Teo) phase so far. Both are episodic softcore farces filmed in elaborate studio sets. Both establish some sort of ordering principle (in Sinful Confession: a game of Mahjong and the presence of Michael Hui in each episode) in the beginning just to let themselves desintegrate completely over the course of the film. Both are vile and ugly, but while Facets of Love is vile and ugly, period, Sinful Confession somehow manages to turn vileness and uglyness into building blocks for something else - which is still vile and ugly, but also interesting and sometimes even awesome.

Especially the first story: Michael Hui plays a newspaper journalist spying with a telescope on a neighboring apartment building / love hotel, but he's mainly just there as a random anchoring point for a perverted, sweeping, freewheeling, devouring gaze. At one point, one of the naked women caught in the fangs of this gaze gets attacked by a masked man - cut to the director and crew of a porno shoot directing both the man and the woman - another cut to gawking men behind a false mirror also watching the scene. Cinema as a closed circuit, the studio as a boiling pot of sexualized madness. Filmmaking, voyeurism and sexual assault flow into one another until they become undistinguishable.

The second story - about a doctor being trapped by a sneaky vamp - is relatively straightforward and feels like something out of a rather dull commedia sexy. But the routines are somewhat elevated by the rather inspired interplay between Hui and Renee Pai (a young, statuesque actress discovered by Li who committed suicide before finishing another film).

The last half hour descends into utter chaos. A bunch of storylines thrown together without any coherence whatsoever - only to end with a cameo by the director himself, who scams Hui out of a meal and makes fun of smug film critics dismissing his movies - a scene Stephen Teo in a great take on Lis carreer identifies as a "manifestation of the plot that is Li Han Hsiang's life vis-a-vis the cinema. It is a statement of faithlessness (though not of hopelessness) that, alas, recognizes the cinema's propensity for philistinism and commercialism".

In other words: Li Han Hsiang's cinema is all about the power of the false. Maybe in a way his masterpieces of the early 60ies are also films about falseness. So his later work might not be a negation, but rather some sort of insentification of his early work: falseness is spreading, taking over form itself. Sinful Confession, especially its last third, is bad filmmaking at almost any measure - but the force of its messy vulgarity can't be denied.
The Other Side of Hope, Akis Kaurismäki, 2017

finding beauty and hope in the physical resistance of matter. might even gain another star when i get hold of one of those 35mm screenings.

Clan of Amazons, Chor Yuen, 1978

or: how to undress a shoe. (amazing how these ku lung adaptations often feel like pop-lacanianism, but with all the clunky marxism removed)

Himmel ohne Sterne, Helmut Käutner, 1955

love is a no man's land

I Am not Your Negro, Raoul Peck, 2016

First of all: Baldwin's prose and presence would be enough to support a much worse film, so for the generous amount of archival footage alone, this is never short of engaging.
At least in theory, I also admire Peck's internationalist fervour and understand his insistence on not being confined to the festival ghetto. But still... I can't help but hope he'll eventually return to the negativistic aesthetics of his early 90s work. Clearly in his newer work, the basic conditions of his imagemaking are not his own but those of the American television market (or even worse, see Le jeune Karl Marx, of various European funding bodies).

The Boxer Rebellion, Chang Cheh, 1976

The Boxer Rebellion, reframed as Chang Cheh body cinema.

Not the young, angry nationalists are the heroes, but a bunch of misfits - never in uniform - on the sidelines, at first at best hesitantly taking part in the fight. Only when everything is lost they start to come alive, in the film's much stronger second half,

Chang Cheh has hardly any interest in historical texture (although one might argue that, when it comes to the depiciton of colonial power, this almost turns his film into meta-critique), and no interest whatsoever in historical forces that cannot be boiled down to body images and hand to hand combat. All those self-important and clueless discussions of tactics, all those competently made but never fully realized battle scenes... The first part ends with a ritualistic celebration, in which Chang Cheh's cinema reaches its own point zero: One fighter after another steps into the open, presenting his body, his fighting techniques, in a way his whole self. Not to dedicate himself to the nation, but to become an object of cinema. In its second half the film strips away history, in order to lay bare an intimately rendered melodrama of masculine masochism.

20th Century Women, Mike Mills, 2016

Fanning demonstrating "manliness" for Jamie by smoking and parading in front of him, knowing fully well he'll never be half as manly as she is... Scenes like that are great but far between. I really couldn't get over all the stuff apparently necessary to turn a generous little comedy into a "portrait of a generation". The endless montage sequences, the ill-advised airy music... Plus I hated almost all scenes with Bening and Crudup, but that's probably unfair.

No U-Turn, Clifford Choi, 1982

A Cinema City comedy, directed by a lesser known New Wave director, that somehow manages to be both humble and extravagant. For the most part, it stays strictly on street level (great location shooting, including at least some hidden camera stuff). Here, on the street, the world is rather strictly separated along gender lines. The men outside in their pimped out cars have trouble differentiating between shopgirls and prostitutes, the women inside in the boutiques shy away from naked men even when they're just photographs of antique statues.

The mood is playful, though. A would-be flasher doesn't hide a dick, but a pistole under his raincoat and when things get moving they move pretty fast. The two leads get to fuck rather early in the film, and this leads to what must be one of the best sex cutaways in film history... or it might just as easily be an hommage I didn't recognize, as this is obviously the work of a movie buff, most explicitly when the images of Dawn of the Dead watched by the protagonists in a cinema later reappear in No U-Turn's own climax.

But the romantic coupling of the leads is also comically doubled in the relationship of two minor characters, and all of these scenes are played out as slapstick of the most vulgar sort. Their first clumsy "love scene" is identified with / commented on by a wrestling match on tv (and introduced with a very weird shot / counter shot-sequence). There's a mean, nihilistic streak running through the whole film (culminating in an extremely gruesome car racing scene) which coexists rather uneasily with its general laid back attitude. A strange, fascinating mixture, a strictly commercial film staying within the compounds of its own genre at all time while still exploring its own little facette of Hong Kong craziness.

Wild At Heart, David Lynch, 1990

Proves that sometimes not even Nic Cage wearing a really nice snakeskin jacket is sufficent reason to make a movie.

Maybe It´s Love, Angie Chen, 1984

A "desperate housewifes of the New Territories" expose slowly taken over by a REAR WINDOW plot. Which in turn gradually morphs into an OUR GANG murder mystery while also serving as an anti-bullying message picture. On top of that: a Cherie Chung workout montage, a Cherie Chung aerobic montage, a prolonged softcore sex scene, animals popping up at weird moments, and a subplot chronicling the sexual self-discovery of the local white guy.

To be sure, except for the very 80s Cherie Chung as visual pleasure stuff none of this works like intended - with the thriller plot at several points turning into a complete trainwreck. But still... there's so much going on, in every single scene... There's a disturbing undertone of sexual violence, an underlying rape threat which seems to throw all social relations off balance, maiming the women, but also unsettling the men. It doesn't really lead anywhere, but still it adds up to a sense of hysteria which is in a strange way only enhanced by the fact that the film doesn't manage (or even try) to transform it into a coherent aesthetic form.

Fuddy Duddy, Siegfried A. Fruhauf, 2016

pure perspective eclipsing all notions of space. pretty awesome.

As Without so Within, Manuela de Laborde, 2016

Light, matter, colour, form, texture, emulsion constantly playing off of each other without any conceptual boundaries. At least in my experience this is a rather rare thing to encounter in avantgarde cinema today: a genuinely curious film.

Foyer, Ismail Bahri, 2016

who'd believe a film about a piece of white paper could be this boring. if there ever was a film tailor-made for high-frequency festival rotation, this is it.

O ornitologo, Joao Pedro Rodriguez, 2016

the far side of camino de santiago

Miss Sloane, John Madden, 2016

when some of it works, it's mostly because of jessica chastain's lipstick.

September, Woody Allen, 1987

When there's a blackout only to make the tone in tone mise en scene even more Bergman-like. This is Allen giving in to his worst instincts almost constantly. Like with most of his work, his trust in actors compensates for many flaws, but in this case Farrow's fine performance feels isolated from the rest of the film.

Lo squadrone bianco, Augusto Genina, 1936

A colonialist adventure setting filtered through fascist melodrama: A weak, lovelorn bourgeois flees his spectacularly arrogant girlfriend (who is borderline crazy herself - played by a statuesque Fulvia Lanzi; strangely, it's her only acting credit, judging from this great performance, she could've easily made it as an Italian Zarah Leander) by enlisting for war in the desert. After at first being despised by his tough guy peers, he earns their respect through both fortitude in battle and erotic self-denial. In the end, he's just another lonely psychopath in the desert.

LO SQUADRONE BIANCO is Duce approved (winner of Coppa Mussolini 1936), and ideologically dubious in more ways than one (although the depiction of Arabs is paternalistic rather than racist, in obvious contrast to German films of the same period set in Africa) but also powerful filmmaking. The long desert campaign in the center of the film reduces the whole world to sand, camels, sweating bodys, and fluorescent shadowplay. The night scenes are especially beautiful: the film abandons the narrative completely, succumbs to a trance-like despair - at one time, there's a cutaway to the heroe's girlfriend visiting an orchester performance. She arrives at her (ultimately pointless) decision to surrender to her man's vanity almost without speaking a single word, it's all done by music and subtle camera movements.

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