Tuesday, February 25, 2020

letterboxd backup (17)

Jesse James, Henry King, 1939

"Shooting and robbing—it’ll just get in your blood, Jesse." This is a quite curious idea, if taken face value: a social phenomenon becoming, by way of repetition, a natural one. This points towards the unresolved tension underlying the script: In a world of manichean values, Jesse James either is a victim of circumstance, or he is just plain evil. In the film, though, he is both, not simultaneously but alternately. Unlike the frictions and oppositions in films like WAIT TILL THE SUN SHINES, NELLIE and THE BRAVADOS, this contradiction isn't really explored, but rather rushed over: the film constantly seems to forget, and then reinvent its own discourse.

Which, in turn, is mirrored in the film itself, in Henry Hull's wonderful newspaper editor who has a surefire solution for every problem presented to him: just shoot down whatever dog is in the way, this time. Still, lively and often extremely beautiful that it is, JESSE JAMES never quite rises above its premise; probably also because Tyrone Power is a bit out of his debth when pitted against both Henry Fonda and Randolph Scott.

The Wild Bunch, Sam Peckinpah, 1969

Interesting to see this immediately after JESSE JAMES, because in a way Peckinpah starts exactly with two questions King avoids: What to do after the railroad has won? And: Is it possible to account, in and through a hollywood film, for not just the fact, but the experience of lives lived outside the rules of society?

I was a bit afraid of revisiting it (I skipped it during a Peckinpah series a few years back), but it hold up very well for me, this time. Peckinpah knows that mayhem usually is much more effective when the camera, like a machine gun, is attached to a tripod. And his love for Mexico shines through the many quieter scenes.

Le chat, Pierre Granier-Deferre, 1971

Maybe this just caught me on the wrong foot, but I don't know... for me it's just another example of well-made trash almost always being much worse than just plain trash. Also, make no mistake: Simone Signoret realy kills a cat in this film!

Immediately afterwards there's the one single scene out there enough to somewhat please me: Gabin standing in front of a site fence, smoking (in slow motion!) and looking at cats climbing through scaffolding (also in slow motion!).

The print was beautiful.

Herrliche Zeiten, Erik Ode, 1950

This contains a valuable and probably eternal lesson for everyone tempted to check out German "political cabaret": Just watch SAFETY LAST instead.

State Fair, Henry King, 1933

A beautiful film that grants a hog full characterhood (see also the cow close-ups in IN OLD CHICAGO). This could even have been explored a bit further: Rogers and the hog as a double act comedy team, with the hog as the straight man.

A floating tracking shot introduces the central setting as an almost otherworldly wonderland. But despite the state fair providing all kinds of pretences, or rather invitations for romantic entanglements (even in the nearby forest, the moss forms a readymade love nest you just have to throw yourself into) and despite the not yet enforced code allowing for rather explicit seduction scenes (the butterfly robe engulfing the screen), the two non-hog love stories are shot through with moments of doubt and self-questioning. Until the very last shot, in fact: Even the final kiss of Gaynor and her smooth journalist lover is framed by a poster of the fair. The moment the ordinariness of their relationship begins, the film ends.

Within Our Gates, Oscar Micheaux, 1920

A splintered, systematically overreaching narrative that might be best described as a series of complex interrogations built on the conviction that, in the end, no one is fully identical with him / herself. The harrowing flashback in the end is something completely different, though: here, the film acquires classical narrative density, the characters and images are connected by cause and effect, glances and actions, not, like before, by ideas, abstract oppositions and, rather strangely, dreams. An action image of racial violence that doesn’t completely explain the preceding scenes of desperate political efforts and displaced emotions, but that clearly is to be though of as their foundation.

One great moment: when the priest steps out of the meeting with his white backers, lays down his fake smile like a mask and admits to his corruption.

Berliner Ballade, Robert A. Stemmle, 1948

The jokes aren’t much better than in HERRLICHE ZEITEN (I was ready to throw in the towel as soon as I learned about the name of the protagonist), but the delivery does make a difference. Here, they are tied to Ode’s soft-spoken voice-over and to a somnambule, skinny Gert Fröbe drifting through Trümmer dreamscapes... Although the true vantage point of the film seems to be not dream itself (for dreams still are dangerous - a bit of daytime reality might slip in, somehow), but the world of childhood: a retreat into regressive, asexual fantasy.

Ute Sielisch is pretty awesome as a blonde cypher.

Parasite, Bong Joon-ho, 2019

Well-made but too self-contained for my taste, a series of smooth, risk-free movements on an admittedly interesting playing field. Much of the action hinges on the parents, who are decidedly flat characters (the body odour storyline is the kind of cheap, purely functional narrative stunt Bong’s obvious predecessors would never have resorted to in their films), while the much more interesting son and daughter mostly fade into the background after the first half hour.

Still, there are images that stick: Ki-jeong holding down the toilet seat and smoking while dark, muddy liquid squirts out from under her, those vertically clamped in figures trying to open up a secret passage ... and, on a more abstract level, the visual setup of the two huge windows, one in every family home, gigantic vistas that completely dominate the respective rooms, but that do not provide anyone with a proper perspective. In fact the imago of total vision seems to, in the end, blind everyone involved.

Subway in the Sky, Muriel Box, 1959

A decidedly small-scale mystery oddity set mostly in one appartment. It might make sense to view the main storyline as nothing more than a framing device for Knef’s wonderful, strange peformance of "Love Isn’t Love" in the middle of the film.

Love is only true when it feels a bit wrong.

Mission to Mars, Brian De Palma, 2000

When I watched this years ago, I couldn't get over the cosmology stuff - which didn't bother me one bit, this time. If there's something unredeemable about this it is the sometimes very bad dialogue and a few unfortunate casting choices, Tim Robbins above all else.

Otherwise, this feels surprisingly well-rounded and coherent. No one here has a real connection to earth, even the one terrestial scene at the start seems to flirt with microgravity. What follows is a truly star-bound film, a maiden flight of digital blockbuster aesthetics, a trip not toward abstraction (the "white cube" scene near the end is a misstep), but toward the pictorial spectacular and also toward pure affect (the power of the space helmet close-up; see also INTERSTELLAR).

Carlito´s Way, Brian De Palma, 1993

Secret weapon: Ingrid Rogers. Carlito might think Steffi "belongs to the club", but in fact she is the sole free agent here, her chosing Kleinfeld over Benny Blanco is the decisive move, setting in motion a doomsday machine that consumes the rest of the film. She is also the single person in the film who asserts herself in front of Carlito as a presence independent from fantasy. The first time she does this his gaze wanders from her to the dancer resembling Gail, who, in turn, never manages to emancipates herself from projection, from the diverse optical setups DePalma inserts her in.

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One, William Greaves, 1968

I guess the reason for this being pretty awesome instead of unbearable might be that the "basic situation" the film is constantly reframing and commenting on, is specific and weird enough to introduce, each time it is taken up, an element of strangeness and also awkwardness that can never be quite accounted for by any of the meta-filmic shenannigans.

Baldwin´s Nigger, Horace Ove, 1968

Impressive rhetorics (even when he succumbs, only once or twice, to the anti-imperialist fallacies I can't stand any more... but don't mind me).

Rheinsberg, Kurt Hoffmann, 1967

Froboess is a marvel and Hoffmann generally directs with a reflexive, floating, unobstrusive sensibility seldom found in german films. The way the film carefully, but never prudishly skips around sex puts most of New German Cinema and its strained attempts at licentiousness to shame. Still, the combination of Tucholsky and Reinecke remains strange, and it just doesn't feel right to embalm Claire, this free spirit, in period nostalgia.

Moonwalker, diverse, 1988

Out there, but this is where he wants to be. Michael Jackson still seems to be the only modern pop superstar who manages to fully, reciprocally integrate his flamboyant eccentricities and his music. Both are inseperable from each other.

The "Smooth Criminal" segment might just be the 1980s Minnelli film that never was.

La noche le los mil gatos, Rene Cardona Jr., 1972

Repetitive, clumsy and sometimes hypnotic, like a helicopter hovering directly in front of you.

Kokowääh, Til Schweiger, 2011

Power-pop filmmaking.

Nessie, das verrückteste Monster der Welt, Rudolf Zehetgruber, 1985

Has some charms. Like something ugly and clunky on a flee market you (not I) might ponder buying for half a minute just for fun, before thinking better of it.

Das melancholische Mädchen, Susanne Heinrich, 2019

Less curious about the time and place we live in than KOKOWÄÄH.

Okay, might be a cheap shot... but this really frustrated me, because there are a few moments or even whole chapters that put their trust in performances or aesthetic instinct rather than buzzwordism. Some of these interludes are rather beautiful, but they are treated as interludes, as filler material: a music video style sequence, two people awkwardly yelling at each other in the kitchen, the ice cream shot in the end...

Everything else just made me very happy about not living in Berlin anymore.

Tiger - Frühling in Wien, Peter Patzak, 1984

Hell is other movies.

The Blue Lagoon, Randal Kleiser, 1989

Caught me at the right moment: a homogeneous vision, an oasis.

Das Superweib, Sönke Wortmann, 1996

Veronika Ferres in bed with Richie Müller, her head on his chest, her big eyes looking toward the camera, toward us...

A Change of Seasons, Richard Lang, 1980

A bit suffocating at the start, but when they reach the ski lodge, this almost feels like an episode of FRASIER. Also, Bo Derek wears an exquisit ski suit.

Suburban Commando, Burt Kennedy, 1991

Feels a bit like an overproduced sitcom pilot after a while. Still, well-crafted and reasonably funny.

The Cool World, Shirley Clarke, 1963

What a beautiful film... a richness of movement and texture saved from the abyss, all these fragile, trembling, crumbling oppositions of outside and inside, scripted destiny and random observations, male exhilaration and female exhaustion. The latter opposition is completely inversed during the majestic Coney Island sequence, when LuAnne vanishes into the beachscape dreamworld, becoming one with the city.

So far my only real regret about having to skip Locarno this year: I'll miss a 35mm screening of this...

She´s Gotta Have It, Spike Lee, 1986

Sex comedy probably isn’t the most natural genre for Lee, as it normally benefits from less confrontational, more relaxed forms of humor. Indeed, the way he positions Nola as the extraordinary object of the erotic spectacular doesn’t allow for much breathing room on her side. Plus, the actual sex scenes are the worst part of the film. On the other hand, Lee’s playfulness and discoursive openness is put to good use when it comes to pitting Nola’s suitors against each other and his vision of black hipster Brooklyn is generally extremely charming.

Midnight, Mitchell Leisen, 1939

"A shining example of trade over tradition"

Identity as a bounced check, love as the only risk investment worth a damn.

I wouldn't be at all surprised if this is both Colbert's finest hour and the best film ever made from a Wilder script. The key in both cases is restraint, the kind of restraint necessary to achieve true, no-holds-barred craziness. Leisen's decision to stay clear from all hysterics, for example, makes all the more sense when the scene with the fake phone conversation comes along: the birth of the perfect man-child.

Or the magnificent closing shot with one character after the other parading into and out of view, once again affirming their ultimate complicity in the game they had been a part of.

My favorite shot, though: Colbert's head resting on the pillow, her face turned away from the camera, an image of total, but incomprehensible self-sameness, the stillness in the eye of the cyclone.

I would screen it together with MYSTERIES OF LISBON rather than with RULES OF THE GAME.

Le daim, Quentin Dupieux, 2019

When one looks in a mirror and sees a jacket rather than a man. Although one of the ironies of Dupieux's cinema is, that what makes his films work are performances rather than concepts. In this case Dujardin is great and Haenel is even better, especially in her early scenes as a low-key irritating barkeeper.

Der Kongress tanzt, Erik Charell, 1931

Still amazed about the way Charell turns the whole world into music. One key aspect is that it is a process, and a destructive one, at that. It's not about a steady stream of music flowing through the world at all times, but about introducing a kernel of pure music, one simple melody and then feeding it with world, taking in ever more extras, sets, props, one sequence shot at the time. Until the music has used up everything.

Die - oder keine, Carl Froelich, 1932

In the end we are all flies circling around Gitta Alpar's light.

Friday, February 21, 2020

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Anna, Luc Besson, 2019

Rather tired. Luss is good. Second unit director: Olivier Megaton.

The Lost People, Muriel Box, Bernard Knowles, 1949

From the theater of war to the theater of peace. The setting in an old, baroque theater isn't a mere gimmick, because the film constantly works with oppositions like stage - audience, character - role etc, and also makes good use of the wardrobe room, of props, the costume repository and so on. In a way, this really is a backstage drama, negotiating by the means and rules of the stage a new beginning for Europe.

There's a sense of insecurity and fragileness running through both the more openly political discussions and the melodrama that slowly takes over. The marriage scene especially makes this clear: none of the involved, least of all the priest, seem to be certain if something like a marriage is still a possibility after the war (and, a fact the film acknowledges much more clearly than most others of the era: after the camps).

Both Zetterling and McKenna are amazing - two modes of feminine renitency, differening in their political implications, but united in their reluctance to allow even for the possibility of entering again into a conversation with the male world of respectability.

Afsporet, Bodil Ipsen, Lau Lauritzen Jr., 1942

An uneven script and a not all that convincing central performance - Wieselmann is good only in the beginning, as a blasé bourgeoise, her proletarian turn is heavy-handed and harks back to silent movie melodrama. But the film has a lot of energy and, aside from Wieselmann, its at the same time relaxed and hysterical demimonde fantasy has quite a bit of charme.

Death Is a Caress, Edith Carlmar, 1949

Or: what happens with the Postman-always-rings-twice template when the husband just agrees to a divorce. (Spoiler: turns out that this means that not he, but the woman has to die.)

A stylish norwegian noir thriller (lots of low angles; well-done montage sequences) turned meandering character drama. The influence of Hollywood films of the time - not only noir, but also women's pictures - is obvious, but Carlmar injects both more sex and a (luckily not too heavy) dose of scandinavian torturedness.

Both leads are great. Riiser-Larsen is extremely versatile, her character seems to change not only in mood, but also in shape almost on a scene by scene basis. Best moment: Sonja's almost childlike thrill of anticipation when she is about to have sex with Erik for the first time. Wiese himself is more of a cypher, and he is sexualised to an unusual degree.

Also makes good use of the erotic implications of cars.

The Piper´s Tune, Muriel Box, 1961

Routine adventure story executed with diligence, eye to eye with the material.

Lend Me Your Wife, Edith Carlmar, 1958

Could've been a bit faster at times, but still an extremely pleasant sex comedy, mostly built around conflicting sexual and economic interests rather than around issues of respectability. Meaning that everyone expresses his or her desires rather openly, and although things never get all that risque, there's a clear focus on the body, including some nicely done slapstick moments and yoga as a running gag. Once again, the hollywood influence is obvious (they even recreate IT HAPPEN ONE NIGHT's Wall of Jericho at one point), but the film has enough idiosyncrasies to stand on its own.

Murder Melody, Bodil Ipsen, 1944

There are a lot of different characters in MURDER MELODY and I don't believe the film depicts a sane, healthy relationship between any two of them (ok, maybe being drinking buddies counts). Everything is fucked up from the start, but as it turns out, the standard business of exploitation and violence is just a cover for deeper, stranger dependencies. A film about the experience of heteronomy. Not even my voice belongs to me.

Given all of this, MURDER MELODY doesn't feel particularly dark, because Ipsen obviously has a lot of fun with all of it. The crazier things get, the more she seems to feel at home.

Outrage, Ida Lupino, 1950

Gets more fascinating with each viewing, especially in the second half: the first, tentative steps into a new world.

A Gentleman in Top Hat and Tails, Bodil Ipsen, 1942

Extremely nice romantic comedy with an original plotline that teases with psychoanalysis, but turns out to be, in the end, more about giving the pygmalion template a rather ingenious twist: a woman modelling not only her lover, but also her lover's true love after herself. The cast is generally excellent, but nevertheless Ib Schönberg, in a supporting role, routinely steals every scene he's in. Great staircases, a lot of piano scenes, and even more eroticizing of classical composers - really, a film made especially for me.

Ung frue forsvunnet, Edith Carlmar, 1953

A bit like a Lupino production: A "shocking" social theme stripped of all sensationalism (note the difference between the poster and the somber tone of the film...) and dealt with care for psychological detail. Unfortunately the main actress is completely miscast, her downfall into the gutters of Oslo never rings true, and even besides that the film displays almost none of the style and verve Carlmar's more commercial films exhibit. Still, some scenes do pull a punch and the unagitated depiction of female professionalism (the cop, especially) is nice, too.

Les Bicots-nègres, vos voisins, Med Hondo, 1974

Not a revelation like SOLEIL O, mostly because it isn't interested in being one. Instead, Hondo creates a modular, layered, dialogical and principally open-ended examination of the (im)possibilities of cross-ethnic solidarity - and at the same time a (much more direct and aggressive) indictment of dominant cinema as just another state apparatus. The framework is strictly marxist, but despite the presence of quite a few geo-economical flip charts, Hondo's argument always starts with the constellation of specific sounds and images. My favorite parts are built around music: the antiphony about the ethics of sex work (like a series of desperate love letters) and the montage sequence set to an anti-racist chanson.

The Man Who Cheated Himself, Felix E. Feist, 1950

Nice b-movie mechanics, based on clever spatio-temporal distribution of information and the willingness of all involved to reduce the world to information... but the film only really comes alive because of Lee J. Cobb's resigned, pragmatic, detached attitude towards absolute everything: love, crime, his own downfall.

Napoli millionaria, Eduardo de Filippo, 1950

Pleasant, loose comedy about a busy, narrow, overcrowded side street in Naples and the folksy, chaotic resistance it puts up against authorities of every ideological persuasion. Every regime placards its demands on the rough walls of its houses, but in the end, the spirit of Naples shall always prevail. Even as disruptive an event as World War 2 impairs this equilibrium of tricksterism, gossip and business-mindedness only temporarily - two days after your return from German imprisonment, no one wants to listen to your tales of misery any longer.

The film starts out episodic and not all that interesting, but over time, through repetition and variation, it grew on me. Toto shows up once in a while.

Screened from one of those battered 35mm prints that tell you more about film history than all those slick DCP's.

The Winning of Barbara Worth, Henry King, 1926

Among many beautiful scenes one of my favorites: the rather long and meticulous efforts to clean, then to dirty up again, then to clean up once again Charles Lane's face after the magnificent flood scene. Conflicting instincts seem to be in play here: on the one hand the desire for harmony of capital, love, nature and national destiny, on the other an insistence on punishment, an unwillingness to let this specific face shine brightly again.

Under Capricorn, Alfred Hitchcock, 1949

When Ingrid Bergman apears for the first time, the camera scans her vertically, naked feat first. She is in pieces, in need of reassemblage, and this first scan is just the beginning of a process that will make her whole again. After this encounter, she is the pivotal point of a number of autonomous camera movements; especially she is, again and again, the (sometimes invisible) end point of those creeping shots alongside up the front of the magnificently designed country home she lives in with Joseph Cotton. Those shots usually start with, or at least are triggered by Michael Wilding, who seems to be the master of the gaze. In one crucial scene, he becomes one with the camera and also climbs up the wall of the country home towards her sleeping chamber. The synthesis seems to be complete, the gaze has been reconnected with action, but in the end it turns out that Wilding is just a catalyst for a completely different kind of transformation, that takes the form of a series of openly theatrical self-revelations.

Also, the more Bergman wins control over her life, the crazier her wardrobe gets.

The Threat, Felix E. Feist, 1949

Another no nonsense thriller powered by a well-oiled pulp clockwork. Pretty similar not only to THE DEVIL THUMBS A RIDE, but also to many other open-road-claustrophobia crime films of the late 40s and early 50s. This hasn't all that many impressive performances, but it seems to be ahead of its time in its matter of fact approach to violence. No dark, brooding, romantic atmosphere any more, just a bunch of sweaty guys fucking each other up.

Twin Kiddies, Henry King, 1916

The child meets her double, and because of the sameness of the two, everything turns out to be even more perfect than before. Also: a dog, a kitten, some dead fish (!) and two swans.

A touching film. The plot points are few and far between, and they leave ample room for harmless and surprisingly cheerful cuteness.

Ragazza da marito, Eduardo de Filippo, 1952

Tighter, but also better than NAPOLI MILIONARIA, a comedy making fun of, among other things, corrupted self-images and lives lived by proxy. The center of the film is a family saga, though, and one of the nice things about this is the way its focus switches from the father to the mother, and then back to the father over the course of the film; while the three daughters form more of a constant background presence that only comes into clear view when they are about to move out of the house.

Film ohne Titel, Rodulf Jugert, 1948

Is it even possible to make a comedy in Germany anymore, asks one of the members of the fictional film crew in the beginning. In the end, the question isn't really answered, because while some of the films comical diversions work really well (especially an interlude of Willly Fritsch reimagining the plotline with himself in the main role), at heart this isn't a comedy, but a love story with melodramatic groundings and a particular antisocial, almost anti-historical twist: the affection between the bourgeoise Söhnker and the farmer's daughter Knef is a direct correlation / transferrence to both nazi germany's defeat and the breakdown of social barriers. Not necessarily the best, but the most interesting film of the festival so far.

Gigi, Vincente Minnelli, 1958

Seen today, the "thank heaven for little girls" number is like a curse haunting the film. When you get over this, the film turns out to be nuanced, highly ironical and often very beautiful, especially the scenes centered around Caron and / or the cat. Still, the satirical tone doesn't really fit Minnelli, on the one hand it lacks the historical specifity that would put especially the gender aspects into context and give them real edge, on the other hand there's no room for the flights of fancy that make most other Minnelli musicals into the delights they are.

La mura di Malapaga, Rene Clement, 1948

A bit to Gabiny for my taste, but a lot of nice touches. The scene with the chicken and the cat is an instant favorite.

She Goes to War, Henry King, 1929

Impossible to truly dissect this, but the closeness of musical-erotic sensuality and terrifying battlefield mayhem in the existing recut makes for an intense viewing.

Wait Till the Sun Shines, Nellie, Henry King, 1952

Manifest destiny and its discontent.

Filumena marturano, Eduardo de Filippo, 1962

Some nice twists, but I was thrown off early by the staginess.

In Old Chicago, Henry King, 1938

The emergence of the big cities is seldom covered in Hollywood cinema. It is clear that they must (have) come into existence, but there seems to be no natural way imaginable for them to evolve. Urban America is always born in flames; or rather, in the desire for the flames. Still, it takes a cow to light the fuse.

Once Upon a Time the Nile, Youssef Chahine, 1968

The overcrowded plot (that includes some half-baked progpaganda efforts here and there) makes this a bit frustrating at times, but the scope of Chahine's sensuous political dialectics is once again impressive; here, it reaches far beyond his homeland. Even in Stalingrad, the gruesome real of history is inseparable from desire.

Journey Into Light, Stuart Heisler, 1951

"Sterling Hayden on skid row" seems to have been a succesfull pitch in Hollywood, even back in 1951, before his journey into the unknown; probably because it feels completely unlikely on first site, but connects to a self-destructive streak in his presence that is on display here at least part of the time. Still, the film doesn't really commit to its own pitch. Hayden is on skid row, and he insists several times that he indeed is a bum, but he doesn't quite live up to this insistence, neither in his rather clea-cut apprearance nor in his perfectly upright demeanor. Anyway, a fascinating companion piece to LEUCHTTURM DES CHAOS.

Lang ist der Weg, Herbert B. Fredersdorf, Marek Goldstein, 1949

At first, the segments with actors embedded in the montage scenes, which in turn combine various documentary sources in a swift, concise manner, seem to be mostly about telling the experience of an exemplary jewish family during the holocaust years. However, the fictional aspects of the film soon emancipate themselves. The stylized, idyllic lighting in many of the newly enacted scenes is a necessary opposition against the ugliness of history, Israel Beker has a strong presence and while Bettina Moisi isn't a very good actress, at least in this role, what does this even mean in a film like LANG IST DER WEG?

For the people in the film zionism, too, is still a fiction; but a necessary one.

The Gunfighter, Henry King, 1950

Perfectly calibrated. Everyone including the camera is closing in on Peck who spends almost the whole film in a single room, but still manages, at one time, to sneak out, disarm and jail an enemy without anyone noticing.

Indiscreet, Stanley Donen, 1958

A wonderful, almost abstract reconsideration of the 30s screwball comedies. By now, everybody knows all the moves, everyone feels seen all the time, and even if you declare that you don't care about the public: there's no privacy anyway, except, maybe, during a silent elevator ride. Still, embarassment is eternal, so the moment he is exposed as a phony, Cary Grant reverts back to his old, silly self, in the magnificent dancing scene.

The Bravados, Henry King, 1958

Pretty clearly my film of the festival. Why does the ending hit as hard as it does? I think the reason is that, while the film on first sight pretty closely resembles the dark, psychological westerns of its time, Jim Douglas, for most of the running time, is a consciously flat presence, a hero from another age, an icon rather than a character. His thirst for revenge isn't placed in his psyche, but in an object, in the watch he carries with him wherever he goes. So when he realizes his fault in the end, he doesn't just have to deal with a new fact about the past, but with a new regime of knowledge. It's a complete breakdown of self, and he doesn't have the means for rebuilding. He has encountered something he can't exteriolize any more - see also the helpless glance towards the madonna in the church at the end, echoing an visually identical, but completely differently charged shot earlier in the film.

Der große Mandarin, Karl-Heinz Stroux, 1949
An interesting, mostly well-meaning film that suggests, on many levels, that the most pressing problem of the post-war era in Germany was form rather than content. On the other hand, the real problem with a film like this is that in the end you really have to watch it. Every single fucking minute of it.

Dr. No, Terence Young, 1962

Not really a surprising rewatch: So these films indeed have always been worse than most, or at least very, very many other action films from their respective time periods. And they also always have been way too long. DR. NO is at times a bit more stylish than the later Bonds (Terence Young might not be a particularly good director, but he at least is a director), but it's also cynical in an ugly way, and it even manages to spoil the one nice fetish moment shining through a sea of sexism: when Honey Ryder emerges from the sea like a sexy, wet apparition, holding one giant, vaginal shell in each of her hands, she just has to sing one of the stupidest songs in the history of popular music.

Twelve O´Clock High, Henry King, 1949

Good, methodical war film: not only the daily routines of fighter pilots, but also the different kinds of breakdowns of these routines are explored in a systematic, patient way. Gregory Peck's breakdown in the end recalls the ending of THE BRAVADOS, but here he is, thanks to the war, provided the thing missing from the later film: an external reason to go on with his life. (Would make an interesting, if rather exhausting double bill with LeRoy's TOWARD THE UNKNOWN.)

Der Ruf, Josef von Baky, 1949

The good old german tradition of having a beer with the professor after the lecture.

Heartbreaking... and a film that renewed my believe that Germany is, in the end, just not a very good idea.

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The Devil at 4 O´Clock, Mervyn LeRoy, 1961

Another film probably not all that many people will like as much as I did. The first part does feel a bit formless, maybe because LeRoy had to accomodate both Tracy and Sinatra with enough chances to shine, while also trying to properly introduce as many secondary characters as possible (some of them are a bit boring, unfortunately). However, this also lends the film a relaxed, pleasant feel, that somehow isn't comepletely lost once the mayhem begins. There isn't any real sense of urgency in most scenes. Some will die and some will live. When Sinatra rushes into the quicksand to help his sinking friend, he doesn't even come close to him. The special effects are great in their artificiality, and the ending is absolutely marvellous. In fact it makes clear that the whole film was built around its last 20 seconds.

Daily Chicken, Lilly Grote, 1997

What it means to be 16 in provincial northern Germany: learning how to inhabit decay.

A beautifully shot Heimatfilm update concentrating on the darker underpinnings of the genre, but in an unobstrusive, relaxed manner. The starting point is texture (both natural and social), not narrative, heimat as a place and a moment in time, shot through with different kinds of affects and genres, from slacker comedy to swamp horror. The two main actresses (both without any film or tv credits afterwards) open up two different perspectives on the world, one anti- and one prosocial, but the film, in contrast to Forsyth's HOUSEKEEPING, which might be a distant cousin of DAILY CHICKEN, doesn't privilege over the other.

Femme Fatale, Brian De Palma, 2002

Unhinged... and in some moments I do miss the hinges, the groundings in 80s sleaze for example that make BLOW OUT and BODY DOUBLE so special. This one is set in De Palma's mind, and nowhere else. In a way, the confrontation of the two leads during the fake kidnapping scene makes up for it, though, an erotic excess of the eternal tease, a mode of being where there's no discrimination any more between talking and fucking and that disperses its energy throughout the surrounding film.

A Majority of One, Mervyn LeRoy, 1961

That this is quite touching at times despite both the miscasting of practically every role (except for the rude japanese house servant, by far my favorite character in the film) and the inexcusably excessive running time is a small marvel. However, Guinness's performance as japanese businessman fully in touch with all kinds of eastern philosophy is way too cringeworthy even for someone like me who normally is not bothered by stuff like that. I think it's the way they made up his eyes.

Hanne, Dominik Graf, 2018

Shot before Roeg's death, so the DON'T LOOK NOW reference is just the kind of coincidence that comes natural to a filmmaker like Graf.

Gypsy, Mervyn LeRoy, 1962

If you wanna bump it / bump it with a trumpet

I've never seen a stage production of this, but the film version feels pretty definite: Rosalind Russell as the Mother Courage of vaudeville, forever trailing the rearguard of the entertainment industry, from one artificial backdrop to the next (only "backstage" looks realistic here); the dialogical flexibility of the classical hollywood musical being transformed into a series of monologic, narcisist self-expressions; the fluidity of its mise-en-scene calcifyied into mechanised formulas that fit any given theme and always deliver the expected patriotic payoff...

Still, there's melodrama: Natalie Wood, after years of resistance, finally giving in to the all-encompassing narcissism - sitting in front of the mirror, she realizes: I really am Natalie Wood! Crucially, this is also the moment she loses control over the film, which beforehand was grounded, by way of her voice-over, in her talentlessness - to not have a gimmick is the only form of freedom available here. Now, she is just one of the automatons...

Paterson, Jim Jarmusch, 2016

Some interesting patterns, but I couldn't get over the regressive cuteness of it all.

The Untouchables, Brian De Palma, 1987

De Palma imagemaking applied to a quality genre script. The problem is not the quality, but the applied to part: instead of interrogating the script visually, De Palma just executes its predetermined breaking-points. The excess only starts with Connery's death scene, with the split diopter opera shot announcing that a new regime of images has taken over. Everything feels a bit too secure.

Still, there are other pleasures. It's the closest De Palma ever came to directing a Western, and he clearly enjoys it, the border scene especially has beautiful and inventive cinemascope compositions and a great sense of outdoors claustrophobia. Also, Kostner is marvellous in this, like a young god. He really would've been one of the greatest, had he been born a few decades earlier.

It Happened One Night, Frank Capra, 1934

Romance means that each night is a marriage.

Plätze in Städten, Angela Schanelec, 1998

Just beautiful. Mimmi is extremely uncommunicative and withdrawn even compared to other Schanelec characters. But by focussing solely on her life as it establishes itself in the frame, without any attempts to define it from the outside, Schanelec establishes an intimate bond, a push and pull relationship of almost frightening intensity.

His Gorl Friday, Howard Hawks, 1940

Those people know how to telephone.

Moonrise, Frank Borzage, 1948

A series of embraces, some more reluctant than others, all of them pitted against an unknown future. Except for the last one, but that might not be a true embrace anymore. In the final scene, Clark and Russell neither kiss nor lock each other up in their arms, but turn their heads to the side, both looking ahead. They have won a future, but might not recognize each other any more, not because they changed, but because they no longer try. They have won the world, but they might've lost their world.

The redemption storyline might feel heavyhanded, but it is only a pretext for the romantic conversations and bodily negotiations of Clark and Russell anyway, a weight pressing on them, at times pushing them towards each other, at times trying to keep them apart. Therefore, even the seemingly atavistic symbolism is emotionally true: compared to love, everything else is heavyhanded, an expressionistic nightmare. Love, on the other hand, is an escape, but only toward a ferris wheel or toward a haunted mansion, you never really get away, you just might acquire a different line of sight for a while. (Which also means that the language of love can't free itself from society and its pressures, it's just that from the vantage point of love, society sounds strange; therefore, Gail Russell's playacting in front of the huge portrait in the mansion is the strangest moment in the film.) It ends with an open question: Is there a chance for love on the inside of society?

Dressed to Kill, Brian De Palma, 1980

De Palma: the Dennis Franz years. Here, the latter is at his sleazy best, smooth and extremely well-dressed, in a garish sort of way, of course. Franz is born to play big city cops, because with this role, he doesn't need to delve into crass caricature. He's just doing his job, while particularly enjoying the seedy side of it. He's also important for the film as a whole: without his joyfull fuckedupness this might have turned out to be a bit too academic, too much focused on its intricate conversation with PSYCHO.

Angie Dickinson is fantastic, too, she projects, almost without dialogue, a different temporality, a different world, one in which there still is a connection, albeit a fragile one, between inner and outer life. Then the 70s get killed and the 80s take over. Nancy Allen does dream, too, but only in the terms and images of slasher movies.

The Mortal Storm, Frank Borzage, 1940

Borzage realizes that fascism is always also an aesthetic force, uniformizing, dehumanizing and, finally, depopulating the screen. As both the first and the last image make clear, under the threat of nazism, transcendence is only possible without any human beings present.

The Black Dahlia, Brian De Palma, 2006

A fascinating mess, born out of a mismatch of sensibilities that stays stubbornly unresolved until the end. One way to put the problem might be: while De Palma's protagonists usually are obsessed, here they are supposed to be tortured. This is also the difference between Hitchcock and noir, of course, and it points towards fundamentally different concepts of interiority and externalization. Obsessions are realized by fixations on objects, and by nothing else. They do not have a reality outside of these objects. In BODY DOUBLE, when Gloria dies, Skully immediately afterwards discovers his ersatz body, and he gets reactivated without any hesitation or doubt. The transference of Bucky's desire from Elizabeth short to Madeleine doesn't work like this at all, it's just a symptom among many others pointing towards a damaged subjectivity.

The overabundance of plot is, like in classic noir, just a mirror of an overabundance of interiority. De Palma tries to somehow counter this equivalency with the help of an obnoxious voice-over that is just one hackneyed phrase after the other (one weird thing about this: judging from what I've read of him, Ellroy is also much better with obsessive characters than with tortured ones) and an overabundance of baroque noir visuals, overcrowded sets bathed in jellylike lighting and oppressive color grading shot through with splashes of otherworldly beauty.

So, maybe this indeed is about hollowing out noir tropes in a similar way as other De Palma films are about literalizing Hitchcock. But the trick doesn't work this time. If someone is tortured, I just cannot not ask why, and even when this being tortured turns out to be a ruse, it has to be convincing in the first place. More specifically, in this case, I cannot not be bothered by the lazy / nonsensical way a lot of the characters, especially the Aaron Echhart one, are set up. I cannot just go with the flow like in BODY DOUBLE, because this is not about flow, but about the mapping of a world.

Anyway, maybe all of this is just me seeing this immediately after the De Palma films I adore the most. I used to like THE BLACK DAHLIA quite a bit back then, during its original run. This time, I really was dragged down by the combination of Ellroy posturing and De Palma's for once really self-indulgent virtuosity. At least during the first hour. Once again, it grew on me, the lurid last 30 minutes make up for a lot of what comes before. Johansson, Swank and Hartnett are a wonderful De Palma triangle, and when the film finally comes around to focussing on their mutual games of seduction and projection, all the clutter starts to wither away.

Mary, Mary, Mervyn LeRoy, 1963

Another uber-stagy late LeRoy, this time a remarriage comedy in slow motion. After his MGM phase, LeRoy seems to be a producer first, a director second, and while this sometimes results in an admirable totality of vision (GYPSY, HOME BEFORE DARK, THE FBI STORY), more often he just mechanically executes concepts that have been succesfully tried out elsewhere, usually on the stage. Still, Reynolds is very good, and there are some nice touches like the inspired use of the sofa.

La Femme d'à côté, Francois Truffaut, 1981

Love as destiny (Depardieu / Ardant) vs love as lived reality (Baumgartner / Garcin) vs love as discourse (Silver); or: what it means to encounter the real thing when one is used to make do with a reduced model, scale 1:25. Feels a bit too conceptual at times, but the actors make it work.

Marseilles, Angela Schanelec, 2004

As the whole first part in Marseille is beautiful, it might be only natural I had forgotten that at least half of it is set in Germany. The Berlin scenes are dense with self-centered, passive-aggressive, bourgeois fuckedupness, so much so that I, for once, kind of understand why some people have a problem with Schanelec’s films. On the other hand: This might be the very reason for the escape to Marseille, so everything does make sense after all. Still, I clearly would’ve preferred drifting with Eggert through the french mise en scene of layered sounds and unattached desires the whole time.

Little Big Shot, Michael Curtiz, 1935

Warner keeping busy some of its best supporting actors (Horton and Naish being the MVP’s, this time), while also making use of Curtiz’s dependably smooth execution. The way this switches in the last 10 minutes from cute farce into murder mystery, complete with surprisingly violent gunfights, is just marvellous. Sybil Jason, on the other hand, is an aquired taste, even compared with other child stars of the time, and she is given a grotesquely long musical number while Farrell, despite being on the poster, has virtually nothing to do.

Mission: Impossible, Brian De Palma, 1996

35mm screenings of 90s blockbusters are almost always a revelation: It’s amazing just how beautiful big budget filmmaking could look in the days before the Digital Intermediate (and you would never know this from most DVD/BluRay versions, which usually are very bad when it comes to colour; I might be wrong, but I think the problem is generally way worse with 90s cinema than with films from the 70s and 80s, there seems to be even less inhibitions in bringing those films in line with recent, digitally levelled aesthetics). Here, the first set piece especially blew me away. The colours and textures of old Europe repurposed for De Palma’s pulpy, fractured picture book, the phantasm of total vision vanishing, step by step, into an impenetrable fog...

The Prague scene ends with a death of the image that seems to coincides with physical death, or so one thinks, but several of the presumed dead do reemerge, spectrelike, and soon we are off towards a new target, the center of global visibility itself. In a way, the CIA vault might be thought of as an eyeball, on which Tom Cruise is performing a surgery without knowing if it will result in healing or complete blindness.

The third set piece might not be all that smart, conceptually, but it packs a lot of punch: Cruise glued to the train windshield, like an insect or a piece of dirt, about to be cleared away by the helicopter blades.

Nachmittag, Angela Schanelec, 2007

Close-ups closing us up.

Sisters, Brian De Palma, 1972

While De Palma’s cinema does gain a lot once he has access to full-blown hollywood glamour and celebrity trash culture, this completely go for broke b-movie madness suggests that it might have lost something, too. The tonal shifts, for example, are much more jarring than in his later films, and the expressionistic edge also is much more pronounced. In the end, this turns out to be more DR. CALIGARI than REAR WINDOW.

Jennifer Salt is great in this.

Hollow Triumph, Steve Sekely, 1948

Not hollow, but also not a total triumph. It probably would have needed a bit more directorial control to counter the decidedly crazy script, but on the other hand, if you have John Alton, Paul Henreid and Joan Bennett at your disposal, it’s probably not the worst idea to just let them loose.

They Shall Not Grow Old, Peter Jackson, 2018

Harrowing stuff that makes me appreciate the time and place I was born into.

Both color and 3d are used in a gimmicky way, but that might be the very point: the closer the soldiers come to the battlefield, the more classic historiography makes way for sensuous and technological pyrotechnics - for the simple reason that there just doesn’t exist a lot of actual combat footage from World War 1. This is one of the paradoxes the film is built on: technically, it would have made much more sense, to use the postproduction power on the much more extensive and varied homefront / exercise material in the beginning. But Jackson wants to immerse himself into the war itself, so everything builds towards images that, in the end, turn out to still not be there. During the ultimative mayhem, every indexical chord is cut (most evident in the openly false montage scenes connecting random living slow-motion-soldiers with random corpses), to be replaced by an affective, purely imaginary connection.

Snake Eyes, Brian De Palma, 1998

Replaces the elegance of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with a chaotic, joyous immersion into not one, but several garbage dumps of the cultural industry and 90s image culture. I never bought into the De Palma as cynical gravedigger of american capitalism argument - he clearly loves the technological, consumerist modernity in all its contradictions. Here, he ends with an honest to goodness love letter to both Atlantic City and the american working class.

Cage moves through the film like a fish through water - he finally has found his equal, if only (and unfortunately) for just one single film.

L´enfant sauvage, Francois Truffaut, 1970

A milestone on the way of becoming a member of human civilization: "Today he cried for the first time".

I still haven’t seen much Truffaut, but this, while not necessarily my favorite, feels pretty definite, like a purer version of not only LES QUATRE CENTS COUPS, but also of L’HISTOIRE D’ADELE H. and TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE: the struggle of freedom against imprinting, never to be fully resolved. In a way, it might also be the better LA NUIT AMERICAINE, because here, Truffaut openly acknowledges his own position: as a film director he is always, by default closer to Jean Itard than to Victor.

Moment to Moment, Mervyn LeRoy, 1965

Not the worst ending for LeRoy’s filmography and my journey through it, but I admit I had hoped for more from a Jean-Seberg-melodrama set in the south of France - maybe an update of BONJOUR TRISTESSE with Cecile now wasting away her time as a frustrated housewife?

MOMENT TO MOMENT does have its charmes, the lush Stradling cinematography and the hypnotic, low-key demented Mancini score alone would make this worthy of a decent digital release in order to replace the abysmal vhs rip out there. Honor Blackman is very nice as the annoying neighbor, too... the main plot about Seberg getting romanced by a sailor is done without much conviction, though. There’s a not completely unexpected but still rather crazy plot twist a half hour before the end, but this also doesn’t help much, because LeRoy decides to play the ensuing complications for suspense rather than melodrama.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

letterboxd backup (14)

Antiporno, Sion Sono, 2016

conceptually, this runs out of steam even before the first twist, but somehow it coasts along on its gimmicks and some interesting performances.

Sign of the Pagan, Douglas Sirk, 1954

Hm, I liked this one much less the second time around. This almost never happens as normally, in my experience, films only get better with each fewing. Maybe the bad German dubbing is to blame, but besides a few shots with awesome, shadowy production design, there isn’t much joy, here. Tcherina is completely miscast (her sexless dance scene is an abomination) while Rita Gam’s character, by far the best thing in this, is pushed to the sidelines.

The discourse about unreadable signs and self-fulfilling prophecies is interesting only in theory, Sirk never manages to bring it alive.

Magnificent Obsession, Douglas Sirk, 1954

I always forget how long it takes for them to arrive in Switzerland, because this is where the film really takes off.

The FBI Story, Mervyn LeRoy, 1959

An extremely elaborate production, the Oklahoma scene especially is almost absurdly stuffed with extras and scenery, the South America scene is a beautiful, poetic pulp miniature, the New York scene in the end tries to take in the totality of the city...

Unfortunately, the episodic adventure stuff and the family melodrama never quite coalesce. While Stewart shines in both professional and private life, Vera Miles gets only one good scene - right in the beginning, the kiss between the bookshelves.

All in all, not quite THE LONG GRAY LINE, but still an impressive example of conservative counter-modernism.

Toward the Unknown, Mervyn LeRoy, 1956

Turns out the real unknown is man’s heart... ok, not quite, because the film never really explores its own existentialist underpinnings, but still, the most interesting thing about this is the way the fragile self-images of both Holden and Nolan are externalized and thereby somewhat, but never completely stabilized in the fixation on aviation technology. Correspondingly, the flight scenes aren’t metaphorical equivalents of psychological developments, but a realm of "objective" sensations that only accidentally fill a psychic need. (On the other hand: When Holden’s plane catches the parachute of Nolan’s plane with its own jet engine, this is the closest to an airplane on airplane sex scene I have ever seen. Not even Sternberg went that far in JET PILOT.)

Anyway, this is once again an impressively stylized production. LeRoy seems to be much more in control than in most of his MGM films. The only problem is, also once again, that the female element is subdued. Vivian Leith is not to blame, her performance is a bit irritating but irritating in an interesting way - she never quite stops smiling, no matter how desperate a situation she’s in, the smile never feels forced, though, but rather like an infinite mimic ressource somewhat detached from her interiority. I especially liked her early dance scene with Holden, the way her hand tries out different kinds of grips on his back, as if trying and failing to define their relationship gesturally. Unfortunately it becomes clear pretty soon that she is even more wasted by the script than Miles in THE FBI STORY. Not even the perennial wife and mother to come home to once in a while, but a perennial wife and mother in waiting.

Strange Days, Kathryn Bigelow, 1995

Watched this only for the confetti in the end this time, but of course I had to take in the whole experience again.

Only one bad moment: The depressing realization at the beginning that this, too, probably is a Disney film now.

A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy’s Revenge, Jack Sholder, 1985

Queer nightmares in rusty steeltown America. A film not terribly interested in sorting out its own confusions, and this somehow gives it its strength.

Das langsame Leben, Angela Schanelec, 2001

Schanelec's most rounded film (and probably still my favorite, give or take ICH WAR ZUHAUSE, ABER), a summer, a wedding, a funeral. Some of the most beautiful tracking shots of this millenium. The Michael Sideris scene towards the end is the kind of disgression that speaks for the fundamental openness of her films.

Blow Out, Brian De Palma, 1981

Loses nothing. Still a blast from start to finish and one of the few "smart movies" that really are smart, because its various layers of irony keep playing against each other.

The crucial one might not be the substitution of the political symbolic with the real of cinema, but the organic, well-rounded feel of the whole thing: All the beats we expect of a conspiracy thriller are there, John Travolta goes through all the right epistemical, emotional and iconic motions... but still, all we really see is the successful editing process of something called "Coed Frenzy".

Of course, the general air of griminess and sleaziness is just as important. Plus, Nancy Allen is amazing, this could've so easily turned into a strained stunt performance but with her it is pure vulnerability.

Aladdin and His Magic Lamp, Boris Rytsarev, 1967

Can't relate to the humour, that comes with a subdued sadistic edge, but the dreamlike minimalism of the psychedelic dollhouse production design is marvellous.

A Thousand and One Nights, Alfred E. Green, 1945

Just about as dull as a technicolor studio film about a thousand and one nights story can be. Meaning that, while most of it is static and unimaginative at best and extremely annoying at worst (the tradition of the pop-culture-savvy sidekick should've died with Phil Silvers, he already nailed all the worst traits of it), there are also moments of supreme, silly beauty, most of them having to do with the princess (Adele Jergens, who wears an absurd headgear at one time that makes her look like a unicorn), her servant (Dusty Anderson, the only highlight among the cast) and her handmaidens prancing around in the castle's garden.

The Fury, Brian de Palma, 1978

Maybe the purest De Palma film, because this is, in a way, only about perception as a deformation of the world, ie a film about the core of the De Palma image without any distractions. A manifesto of cinematic antirealism detached not only from all conventional notions of a well-made movie, but also from most of De Palma's secondary fetishes.

Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, Lotte Reiniger, 1926

I'm intrigued by the seemingly natural promiscuity of these slim, elegant, untiring figures.

La nuit americaine, Francois Truffaut, 1973

As a Leaud and Bisset comedy this is very nice, everything else feels strangely noncommitted.

Cat Effekt, Gustavo Jahn, Melissa Dullius, 2018

filter effect "avantgarde": on

The Bonfire of the Vanities, Brian De Palma, 1990

Favorite rewatch moment: F. Murray Abraham’s freak-out about Park Avenue WASP’s in front of the city plan, a perfect, dance-like comedy miniature easily transcending its rather stale satirical function, like something out of a Mel Brooks film.

And a random thought triggered by the film’s obsession with verticality: it’s a shame De Palma didn’t get the chance to make a 3d film during the post AVATAR craze.

Doubles vies, Olivier Assayas, 2018

Might be Assayas’s darkest. A film about people on the verge of realizing that the language they speak has already regressed into pure reflex. In response, they desperately, helplessly, clumsily cling to each other.

A Dog´s Journey, Gail Mancuso, 2019

Nothing like the enjoyably bonkers first one. Positively vile at times. Still, towards the end, there are a few heartbreaking scenes I can`t distance myself from.

Scarface, Brian de Palma, 1983

Probably my least favorite among the major De Palma’s, but it nevertheless clearly is major. Technically, it’s every bit as accomplished as his other 80s films, with the Mise en scene for once structured around set design and choreographed movements more than around the camera gaze, but no less fractured because of it.

There’s just too much Oliver Stone stupidity in the script, though. It wears me down.

The Dead Don´t Die, Jim Jarmusch, 2019

A scene early in the film: After the first zombie attack, three cops visit the scene of the crime, a diner. One after the other, they take a look at the bodies of the victims, afterwards they walk out of the room to join their colleagues. While they try - and to varying degrees manage - to regain composure, reflections of the cop car's blue light are visible in the diner's window.

A scene late in the film: We are inside the stuck cop car with the zombies roaming behind the windscreen, grey specters illuminated by the blue light, a lightshow of the undead. The same three cops are watching them, each of them slowly solidifiying his/her own conclusion.

This has been described as rather tired and I get why. At times it feels less like a Jarmusch film than like the work of a less ambitious, but also less pretentious director wanting to shoot a "Jarmusch-like zombie film". This also means that Jarmusch sceptics (like me) might enjoy it much more than most of his other films.

This mostly seems to be about reiterating the Romero zombie tropes almost point for point, while delaying response time and thereby introducing an aesthetic difference that can take several forms, but is most effective when it stays on the level of basic, playfull stuff like those weird colour effects.

Spends a lot of time registering Chloë Sevigny's despair.

Orly, Angela Schanelec, 2010

Some moments of supreme beauty and the Jirka Zett stuff is perfect, but I don't think the episodic style fits Schanelec, and the very thing everybody celebrated back in 2010 - the on location telephoto work - lends it at times an artisanal, precious look absent in her other films. A road not taken, and rightly so.

Wake Me When It´s Over, Mervyn LeRoy, 1960

Another overlong military comedy portraying the army as a chaotic system of bureaucratic rules blind to each other and to reason. This one, unfortunately, is completely unfunny for most its runtime, even when Kovacs is on the screen, who at least always seems to be bursting with good-natured excitement. The potentially risque material is handled clumsily, even the attempts to defuse the more sexual aspects are done in the least elegant way and all of it makes one long for the italian comedies of the same time.

The steely surprise movie of LeRoy's filmography.

Long Shot, Jonathan Levine, 2019

The Rogen vanity stuff got on my nerves even after a few minutes, most of the more explicit political maneuverings are downright embarrasing (the wokeness overkill especially, but the few attempts to balance it out with laissez-faire-centrism also are clumsy at best) and unfortunately there are quite a few other weaknesses, most of them just part of the territory of american mainstream filmmaking these days: the beyond stupid action scene in the Philippines, the overuse of pop songs etc.

All of this can't hide the fact, though, that, at the core, this is a surprisingly well-made romantic comedy, best when raunchy, beautifully acted especially by Theron (she has the easier part, admittedly - starting out with an elegance score of 98, each cute "misstep" will almost automatically work in her favor by way of humanizing her; still, a very good, coolly nuanced performance), and directed with more intelligence than I had expected from the man who made WARM BODIES. As off as this film is when it comes to concrete politics, its romance plotline does play into questions about visibility and privacy, so the setting isn't completely arbitrary.

Having said all that, any film that wastes Lisa Kudrow on a single scene clearly doesn't have its priorities straight.

Home Before Dark, Mervyn LeRoy, 1958

Jean Simmons and her blonde helmet... A magnificently high-strung melodrama, fueled by pop-psychology of the more pragmatic, not quite Freudian kind - no secret beyond the door, just a bunch of people fucking each other up. Instead of just fucking; even the wannabe-adulterers are virtually sexless. Its real strength isn't the potboiler material, but its grounding in a patient depiction of a broken marriage. The extreme coldness of the man and the mental instability of the woman are in a way only pretexts for all of those long, painfull scenes depicting two people who still share a house, and sometimes a room, but no longer a life.

It's a bit similar in style to THE BAD SEED, but HOME BEFORE DARK is at the same time more controlled in terms of performance (Simmons is a marvel, of course, but O'Herlihy is also extremely good, one of the best weak man performances of the 50s) and more fluid in terms of visuals. The use of close-ups is especially effective - the way they go beyond iconic effect, because LeRoy manages to integrate them into the overall fabric of the film, mainly, I think, by ways of movements along the z-axis. There's a reflexive, malleable quality to the shots absent in a lot of the more stylized films of the era.

L´histoire d´Adele H., Francois Truffaut, 1975

Painterly. Seriously, this is what a film shot by Degas might have looked like.

Body Double, Brian De Palma, 1984

Maybe it's better to stay in the grave.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

letterboxd backup (13)

Der Zigeunerbaron, Karl Hartl, 1935

As a musical, this doesn't work all that well, there's only a small number of songs, and most are cut short or otherwise compromised. But Hartl still manages to provide an engaging romantic comedy adventure extravaganza, because of beautifully constructed sets, a fluent visual style and especially because of Wohlbrück, who dominates the film with the kind of hyper-virile, playful masculinity that (at least western) cinema seems to have lost access to about half a century ago. His bouncy, forceful, but also dance-like gait alone is a marvel. Unfortunately, the two female leads can't quite keep up with him.

Domino, Brian de Palma, 2019

have to see this again, i guess i might find more in it when i make a conscious effort to tolerate the eurotrash production design, but in any case now i do hope even more that de palma gets to make predator. he clearly isn't finished yet but he also clearly needs better producers.

on second sight:

It grows on me, although it still takes effort to accept the general lack of glamour. Strange (especially given the fact that this probably is a producer's cut) that the only coherent and thought through strand is the one about Carice van Houten's grief. The scene in front of the windmill is beautiful.

Carolina Blues, Leigh Jason, 1944

Wartime backstage musical without much plot beyond let's keep up the show whatever the cost. Kay Kyser is annoying and a lot of the material both on and especially off stage is bland, but the Harold Nicholas number is an absolute marvel that wouldn't have felt out of place in STORMY WEATHER, and Ann Miller has one nice, short dance scene.

Les quatre cents coups, Francois Truffaut, 1959

Watching it immediately after LES MISTONS brought its strength into focus: Everything that feels flimsy to the point of insufferable in the earlier film - the stylization of memory and self-image, the impulses of cinephilia - turns into something touching and rich because of Leaud's unwillingness to give up his secrets and Truffaut's decision to accept just that.

The Beach Bum, Harmony Korine, 2019

Down in the southernmost corner of Florida, in Key West, where America breaks away into the warm ocean, where continental attitude and selfassurance bleed into the southern sea, Moondog lives. The caribbean connection is key in the latest film of America's greatest ethnographic filmmaker, it mellows and liquifies the images, it infuses them with colours that bleed around the edges of the frame, but at the same time, paradoxically, it provides a grounding, an anchor, not in a set of rules, but in a general fit of people and surroundings. Only here, in the Keys, Moondog's aesthetic approach to life feels natural, frictionless.

The true bizarro freak-outs only start when the guy heads north, towards the mainland, the highrises, the institutions, the millionaires (and their others), the tourists (and the sharks). To be sure, even in Florida proper things do not really harden up, the claims the world has on Moondog stay vague, but still, sometimes he has to make a conscious effort to break away, from capital, and also from morality (this is what some people on the left seem to be irritated by: in THE BEACH BUM, leaving behind capitalism also means leaving behind the moral universe).

Only in Key West Moondog can write, here his white cat companion patiently waits for him to return from his journey and also from a narrative that finally releases him completely undigested after having thrown everything at him capitalist melodrama has to offer.


Snoop Dogg is smooth like alien royalty, but the biggest sensation is soft-spoken, desperately happy Martin Lawrence.

Aladdin, Bruno Corbucci, 1986

The drunk Bud Spencer scene is great. Aside from that everyone and everything is so laid back and pleasant that I wish there were at least some good ideas, too.

Tirez sur le pianiste, Francois Truffaut, 1960

On family ties and the necessary, but necessarily false attempts to escape them.

Okasu!, Yasuharu Hasebe, 1976

The summary on here has nothing to do with the movie. No one in it enjoys being raped. Still, as a film with nothing but rape on its mind it closes of discourse from the start, which only in one or two scenes leads to somewhat interesting glimpses of the radically antisocial.

Our Last Day, Cheang Pou Soi, 1999

Another shot on video film by Cheang Pou Soi, and this one feels completely different than THE HOUSE OF NO MAN, probably at least partly because he wrote the script himself. It's similarly bare bones low budget and shares with it some of its weirder quirks like the mostly ill-fitted english language pop tunes on the soundtrack (once again, there's a country western song thrown in...), but it is also much more alive and personal. The first part plays out a bit like a more existentialist and darker version of 90s Hongkong romance films of the fate keeping them apart kind, while the second half, completely set around a closet in the female lead's appartment, grows into a dense, claustrophobic psycho-horror melodrama. Visually, it's all over the place, but there's a lot of manic, desperate energy and Grace Lam is an interesting actress.

The Sparrow, Youssef Chahine, 1972

A layered thriller channeling the experience of being sidestepped by history: the battlefield is always one postcard away and the war is over and lost before anyone in the film realizes it. The dense, a bit overpopulated (at least for someone not that well versed in egyptian political history) plot flows along smoothly, but also breathless; only once in a while someone rests for a moment in order to take a look into the mirror - that is, always only at himself. Everyone's a narcissist, in one way or the other.
Once in a while, love and desire come crushing in, like a physical force. Seif El Dine as Raouf is marvellous, one of the most sensuous male leads I've seen in a while, especially in the beginning, in the village, his shirt clenched in sweat, his feeverish, eager glances towards the veiled women. While doing the laundry, one of them is seen with bare legs, and thereby momentarily destabilzes the filmic gaze.
Back in the city, sex stops being a source of primal negativity and becomes a social possibility. Raouf, then, turns out to be a romantic.


The film ends with all the different political and erotic motifs dissolving into a nationalist fervour that is, however, synonymous with defeat.

Ich war zuhause, aber, Angela Schanelec, 2019

For Schanelec, the realization that there's no natural oneness of experience is not a big, scandalous discovery (as it is in so many bad art films), but just a matter of fact starting point for her own explorations. This might be the reason she finds beauty in everything, even in a teachers' lounge.

John Wick: Chapter 3 - Parabellum

Of course it's a shame that hollywood has to turn everything into tentpole grandiosity these days, even the few smaller scale films that managed to get away. But if you have to go big, this is the way to go. Constantly inventive, and constantly more inventive than showy, for example in the Halle Berry fight scene: the dogs are used for tactics first, for visual carnage second.
The colours are, once again, the most beautiful thing since the death of analog cinema. The gradually expanding colour dramaturgy during the final big set piece in the Continental is what cinema was invented for.

Schattenboxer, Michael Fengler, 1977

Shoots for the kind of streetsmart, downbeat authenticity that seldom works in german cinema outside of Lemke. And neither does it here. It looks stylish enough and the music is effective, too, but everything feels terribly wooden and cringy as soon as someone, anyone opens his mouth.
I love Marquard Bohm, but he clearly only goes through the motions, here. Zacher is better, but can't save the film.
(For a much more interesting and successfull film roughly in the same vein see Dieter Meier's JETZT UND ALLES. Or, of course, Lemke, whose films are, however, almost always first and foremost comedies.)

Aladdin, Guy Richie, 2019

Thanks to the lively production design and the mostly good casting this is a bit better than one would expect a Guy Richie ALADDIN to be. However, it's still completely unfunny, basically styleless and every time it departs from the 1992 version (especially when it comes to Jasmin's character) its lack of insight becomes obvious. Whoever prefers this to Burton's thoughtful DUMBO must have a sensorium completely different from mine.

The Flame and the Arrow, Jacques Tourneur, 1950

Tourneur and Lancaster might not be a natural fit, but like it is said in the film: "We're civilized and the art of civilization is doing natural things in an unnatural way." In THE FLAME AND THE ARROW, the director and his star meet in their affinity with poetic studio artifice. Appropriately, the true place of civilization in the film isn't the castle, but the rebel's save haven - a magic studio forest in the midst of antique ruins.
Another inversion: Mayo's abduction plays out like a metaphorical rape scene; however, once she is captured and chained, her relationship with Lancaster plays out like a BDSM romance, with her having the upper hand most of the time.
The film's most graceful moment: Lancaster's short dance with the baby bear.

Robin and the 7 Hoods, Gordon Douglas, 1964

The main storyline is a bit dull, and there aren't quite enough diversions from it, but most of the songs are good, the Sammy Davis Jr. solo especially is downright spectacular: a trigger-happy man-child, parading on the bar counter, like something out of

a Bob Clampett cartoon. Douglas has quite a lot of fun with the awkward-dinner-table-conversation-followed-by-seduction setup repeated several times over the course of the film.

King of Kings, Nicholas Ray, 1961

Ray goes all in, and he kind of beats you down. While I was rather bored over long stretches of this, in the last half hour, I was positively transfixed. And well, Jesus really made it, he was resurrected after all.

Some of the split diopter shots are really weird.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Richard Lester, 1966

Really wasn't expecting to like this as much as I did. As a conscious throwback to earlier forms of comedy (going all the way back, in the end, to Mack Sennett) this could easily have felt rather academic, but the energy flow never stops and the direction is flexible enough to sustain interest even after the fifth identity mixup featuring some grumpy old fool chasing another grumpy old fool wearing a blonde wig.

Goodbye Bruce Lee: His Last Game of Death, Bing Lin, 1975

Except for the strange prolog, this is a rather straighforward low budget martial arts film with a decent lead who's underwhelming only when compared to the original. Towards the end, when he fights his way, floor by floor, through a pagoda by way of combating a series of rather flamboyant opponents, a low-key surreal feel creeps in.

The Black Shield of Falworth, Rudolf Mate, 1954

Tony Curtis is athletic enough, but he still looks a bit ridiculous in all of his different costumes and armours here, and the film, unfortunately, doesn't quite know what to do with this ridiculousness. Medieval sex farce would've been the way to go (ok, when I had a say in it, this would be the way to go for almost every film set even slightly in the past...), some of the scenes with Curtis, Leigh, (a wasted) Barbara Rush and this other guy in the castle's garden are a all too virtuous delight. Everything else never moves beyond dull competence.

Samson and Delilah, Cecil B. DeMille, 1949

The woman with the golden hair and golden armour throwing golden spears on a lion's skin... isn't even the true fetish object of the scene, because up there on the wall sits her sister eating fruit, already undressing Victor Mature with here gaze. (A film about toxic femininity, as someone put it after the film; about the female gaze, too, and about a woman mobilizing the forces of the peacock.)

Soon after, Mature rejects the spear because he wants to fight the lion with his bare hands.

Christianity's and america's id unleashed, roaming freely through magnificent studio artifice (the apotheosis of the composite shot)... Lamarr's glamour is met, point for point, by hunky Mature's elegance (the way he handles objects is amazing throughout the film), and both are allowed to bloom because of the strict objectivity of De Mille's Mise en scene.

Seing this almost back to back with KING OF KINGS validated, once again, my preference for the old when it comes to both testaments and hollywood.

Friday, February 14, 2020

letterboxd backup (12)

The Third Man, Carol Reed, 1949

I always thought I had seen this and that I'd found it to be a bit academic. Now that I have seen it from a beautiful print I don't think I ever saw it before, and while it nevertheless feels a tiny bit academic, it's also playful and extremely touching once the love story becomes front and center. I also suppose I might have confused it with HANGMEN ALSO DIE, a film I, strangely enough, always thought Orson Welles acted in. So I seem to have transferred a Welles performance I hadn't seen in the first place to a completely different movie.

Brand in der Oper, Carl Froelich, 1930

Another German film from 1930 that hit me from out of nowhere (it probably shouldn't have, given the Walter Reisch script). As an early sound feature, it isn't as smooth as ZWEI HERZEN IM DREIVIERTELTAKT, let alone DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE, and in fact, parts of it feel like an awkward live television drama.

But once you make your peace with the bumpy start-stop-rhythm, it turns into an inventive backstage comedy with strong melodramatic elements and an extremely touching Gründgens performance that seems to quite openly acknowledge his closeted homosexuality (in this very sense: he plays a man who is in and stays in the closet). Gustav Fröhlich as his ultra virile assistent, rival and not quite love interest is very good, too, while the female lead, Alexa von Engström, appears inhibited all the time (or at least, when she's not singing), but somehow this also fits very well into this trange, fascinating film. There's a heartbreaking scene near the end in which Gründgens unsuccesfully tries to elicit some kind of response from her. She just stares on in silence, for closeup after closeup.

Then there's the inferno in the end, harrowing images harking back to silent montage cinema.

Im weißen Rössl, Willi Forst, 1952

Erik Charell looking for his place in the popular cinema of the Bundesrepublik. His first try is not as great as FEUERWERK which comes two years later and is shot through with a desire for another world. Here, on the other hand, what you see is what you get. Heimat is no mythical place we must all return to, but just another stage filled with stock characters torturing each other. The only release from the pressures of society comes through alcohol in a claustrophobic all-male Wirtshauskeller scene. After the hangover, the Kaiser arrives. Everyone goes mad and the film virtually stops still for 20 minutes of marching and dancing, at the same time a wonderfully designed Charell ornament and the self-image of an authoritaran society. Afterwards the romantic entanglements unravel elegantly - a kiss under every umbrella.

The whole thing oscillates between being beautiful in a creepy way (the romcom stuff, probably Forst's contribution) and being creepy in a beautiful way (the Charellian Wirtshauskeller and Kaiser celebration scenes). Strangely enough, my favorite among the generally very good cast is Heesters.

Knights, Albert Pyun, 1993

Vaguely intrigued. The monument valley, plunged in poisonous direct to video colors, Kristofferson's deadpan performance, the medieval vampire western scifi setup... It didn't quite come together for me, but I gues I'll have to check out more Pyun.
Dracula, Francis Ford Coppola, 1992

As inventive as I remembered it to be, but maybe also a bit more tiring in its insistence on not only liquifiying filmic space and time as thoroughly as possible, but also diligently working through all of those plot points, too. In a way, DRACULA carries the tension between classicism and stylization evident in all of the good Coppola films (especially those of the 80s) to the extreme.


Early 90s auteur meta literary horror cinema ("I don't know whether to look at him or read him"):


Quo Vadis, Mervyn LeRoy, 1951

A slow start, thanks to the miscasting of both Taylor and Kerr as well as to christianity's obvious lack of style. Once the Ustinov show begins I'm on board, though, Still, this could have been much better - the best characters (Eunice and Acte) are wasted in just a few short scenes.

The Freezing Point, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1966

The potboiler script is beyond redemption even after the first 20 minutes, and it just keeps on adding "scandalous" material in an almost mechanical fashion (why not throwing in incestuos desire for the heck of it, in a single, lurid shot), but on a scene by scene basis, this still works quite well, thanks to a good use of space and Michiyo Ōkusu's magnificent performance.

The House I Live In, Mervyn LeRoy, 1945

Scrolling down here, people seem to be astonished by the fact that a film made only months after the end of World War 2 celebrates the bombing of a japanese warship. Depressing to see that not just the facts, but the very concept of history is always on the verge of slipping away.

Im weißen Rössl, Karel Lamac, 1935

Not stylish enough to compare to the 1952 version, but Thimig is a nice, passive-aggressive Leopold and there's a rather chaotic charme to the whole thing. Works better as a comedy about provincial manners than as a musical.

Late Spring, Yasujiro Ozu, 1949

New favorite / most heartbreaking moment (will probably change with every viewing): Setsuko Hara finally giving in to the marriage plans, while sitting in the most private, lonely space available to her, in the quiet room upstairs, facing a chest of drawers.

Detective Dee: The Four Heavenly Kings, Tsui Hark, 2018

Tsui Hark, the only director of digital cinema.

Latin Lovers, Mervyn LeRoy, 1953

The plot itself is rather stupid: a lot of romantic push and pull based on what amouts a bit too literally to rich people's problems... Along the way, there are hints at sophistication (mostly in the scenes focussing on the very good supporting cast), but they're lost between bland songs and an unimaginative studio Brazil.

Still, I ended up liking it. Mostly because of scenes like the one in which Lana Turner ventures into a dark stable, is being grabbed and kissed by Ricardo Montalban, and then walks back outside, into the technicolor sunlight. Not a single word is spoken, and Turner stays cool, detached and unreadable throughout. Almost as if she's at the same time inside and outside of her body, exploring her erotic fantasies, but also analyzing herself. And also: as if her screen name should really be Vanessa, not Nora Taylor. In her own icy way, Lana Turner might be a predecessor of all of these 70s euro softcore heroines, exploring, without fear but also without much emotional involvement, "exotic" sexscapes.

Tetro, Francis Ford Coppola, 2009

I remember not liking this the first time around, mostly because of its unreserved embrace of Gallo’s suffering artist as asshole performance. But I guess in the end it is this very commitment and the lack of distance resulting from it that makes the film interesting and turns it into something more than a decidedly bizarro version of the GODFATHER saga. For the most part, TETRO consists of nothing but a series of transgessions of personal boundaries, with the implicit assumption being that, in the end, this is the only valid definition of art. You don’t have to agree to be impressed by Coppola’s argument.

Rose Marie, Mervyn LeRoy, 1954

Ann Blyth and Fernando Lamas sing three love duets - the first one face to face, the second one balcony to window (the scope framing still manages to encompass both of them), the third one forest hill to mountain cave, with Blyth's voice and its echo (technically it's not a duet, Lamas is too teary to sing) providing the only tangible link between the both of them. Their love gradually eludes representation - and indeed, in the end they vanish together into the woods, becoming one not with nature per se, but with one of those beautiful MGM technicolor vistas that are always already inner spaces, no matter if filmed on location or in the studio.

Indeed, the problem with ROSE MARIE isn't the frequent use of matte painting (it's always integrated perfectly), but rather the fact that everything besides the Blyth / Lamas romance - which doesn't really start until one hour into the film - is treated rather shodilly, at least for LeRoy's standards. The story flows not as smoothly as normally and while Howard Keel seems to have a lot of fans among imdb reviewers, I don't really get his appeal, at least not in this film. Even the Berkeley directed Indian Dance scene doesn't come off quite as spectacular as it could have - the camera doesn't completely free itself from the perspective of the two white onlookers. (Is this the first Berkeley scene in cinemascope?)

The Cotton Club, Francis Ford Coppola, 1984

Might be Coppola's best 80s work. Like its three predecessors, the film longs for the wholeness of a thoroughly self-sufficient aesthetic system, and THE COTTON CLUB probably comes closest to this goal, because this time, Coppola even manages to incorporate history as a dynamic force (instead of as a static one, like in the Hinton films). There really is no outside any more. And still, this is where Gere is heading towards in the end.

Rewatching most of his work, I find almost everything Coppola made after the first GODFATHER a bit exhausting. In mostly inspiring ways, to be sure (actually, his least exhausting later films are his worst), but nowhere this sense of conceptual and sensual overreach makes more sense than in THE COTTON CLUB, the ultimate inner city entertainment industry steam boiler film.

Also, Coppola's old-hollywood-nostalgia was never more pronounced than here, and at the same it never got transformed into something new this well.

The contrast between James Remar's primal fuckedupness and Richard Gere's applied smoothness, the latter at the same time the perfect inversion and the logical successor of the former...

The Square, Ruben Östlund, 2017

Östlund may not be quite the right-wing version of Haneke I thought him to be after PLAY (although there certainly are elements of this in here, too). In fact, THE SQUARE is even worse. Haneke and Östlund share a mechanistic view of society, but Haneke at least tries to translate it into (in his best films: confront it with) well-observed social situations. Here, except for some of the scenes with Christian and his daughters, absolutely nothing rings true. Almost all of those elaborately set up scenes derail in completely absurd ways, for the sole reason of extracting, each time, the most cynical payoff possible. Some of the worst examples: the sex scene and especially the conversation about it in front of the swaying chairs a bit later; the big centerpiece performance scene; the press conference in the end. If your only trick is stacking the deck (always in the same way, always for the same purpose), at least put some real effort into it. I mean, the contemporary art scene is such an easy target, how can this still fail that miserably?

All of this doesn't even start to convey the fundamental joylessness of it all. THE SQUARE plays out like SOUTH PARK retooled as a European arthouse film. Only that it is so much less fun than that sounds.

Tucker: The Man and His Dream, Francis Ford Coppola, 1988

A bit too relentlessly upbeat in both tone and rhythm for my taste, but before everything else I was touched by Coppola making a film so obviously about himself, without any form of safety net or ironic detachement. It's not enough to draw up a fancy concept, or to build a single prototype for advertising purposes - you have to set up a complete production line, you have to create another, better industry parallel to but separate from the existing, compromised one, even if you're running on fumes from the start. With this film, Coppola once again declares that his greatest achievement is neither THE GODFATHER nor APOCALYPSE NOW, but the short-lived Zoetrope Studio era - his shot at transforming cinema once again into an art for the people.

In a way, Tucker is so much tied to Coppola that Bridges doesn't really succeed in making him his own. The true emotional center of the film is Landau, and especially his pleading gaze in the closeups. In the end, what is being crushed by the corporate/political power conglomerate isn't the capitalist spirit, but rather the possibility of forgiveness.

Plunder Road, Hubert Cornfield, 1957

The sealing of the net and the last poor bastards trying to make it through anyway. PLUNDER ROAD holds its own next to similar but more expansive work by directors like Siegel and Karlson thanks to its tight, process oriented structure and its focus on material detail: this is one of very few heist films that actually pay attention to the physical attributes (especially the density) of gold.

Im weißen Rössl, Werner Jacobs, 1960

The whole production isn't as rich and well-rounded as in the 1952 version (also, Adrian Hoven is a decidedly poor substitute for Heesters), but Peter Alexander's star turn almost completely makes up for it. I'm still surprised everytime when realizing how great he was at his prime. The scope of his performance is truly marvelous in this, as is, especially, his ability to suddenly switch gears, often multiple times over the span of a few seconds. Also, the role of an austrian head waiter fits him perfectly. There's a special kind of servile arrogance that seems to come with the territory and Alexander excels in it. He still would be a big hit in Vienna's coffee houses, today.

Strange Lady in Town, Mervyn LeRoy, 1955

Far from perfect, but more interesting than most of Leroy's 1950s MGM films. It is his only true western, but even this one focuses on characters the genre normally leaves at the sidelines. In fact, in the first half the genre almost completely fades into the background, as the film is clearly set up as a vehicle for Garson building up on her biopics about strong, independent women. All of this feels a bit clunky, unfortunately (although the idea of healing Billy the Kid's toothache is nice), but the film picks up when the stakes are raised. The relationship between Garson and Lois Smith's character is interesting, a double outsiderness directly asssociated with the antisocial.

Great production design and excellent use of widescreen, especially in the indoor scenes.

Atlantis, Eckhart Schmidt, 1970

"love suspends the shrinking effect". a wonderfully sweet and gentle film about female supremacy.

Wir machen Musik, Helmut Käutner, 1943

Another Käutner marvel. Music is everywhere, but not like in an integrated musical - neither an infinite ressource, nor an idealized realm of perfect expression, music rather appears like a not always all that usefull habit one is unable to shake off. More specifically, the film is about the interdependences between music and love. Both can interfere with just as easily as complement each other. And the main problem is: you never know beforehand which way things will go. Like when Karl, after a clash with Anni, sits down at the piano in order to issue a musical peace offering - while not even realizing that she takes her leave in the background of the shot. Both being in love and being a musician are, in the end, first and foremost neurotic conditions.

Ilse Werner is a weird presence in this, especially her rather sudden (and not really explained) transformation from tomboyish awkwardness to glamour goddess.

The Hustle, Chris Addison, 2019

The main reason this doesn't really work is general laziness when it comes to things like location work, timing and casting (both leads are ok and could truly shine under better circumstances, but Alex Sharp is completely misplaced here). Another thing that's annoying is that the dapper playfullness of DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS is replaced by a much less versatile focus on gender stereotypes. Still, in the end this is also what makes the film kind of interesting on a conceptual level: there still seems to be much more need for justification of amoral behaviour when the person being justified is female rather than male.

The Bad Seed, Mervyn LeRoy, 1956

The ultimate undoing of 50s domesticity and the family unit: everything comes crumbling down not because of the intrusion of the outside, but because the inside refuses to entertain even the possibility of an outside. LeRoy`s extremely stagey direction might feel like a strange approach for this kind of material at first, but it enhances the claustrophobic feel while both Nancy Kelly`s nuanced acting and the clever use of props (like the jar of sweets) lends it enough life.
A beautiful oddity, unlike anything LeRoy had done before, especially in the 40s and 50s. The bumpy strangeness of the ending - the tucked on celestial justice scene included for censorship reasons, followed first by a curtain call of the whole cast (as if to ensure us that yes, this film, too, was a work of fiction) and then by a text insert warning not to spoil the ending for other viewers - suggests that THE BAD SEED really hit on something buried deep.
It may also be some kind of weird missing link between earlier home invasion / domestic terror films like GASLIGHT, BEWARE, MY LOVELY etc and the camp horror melodramas of the 60s and 70s (I was thinking of BUNNY LAKE IS MISSING a lot).

Le gout de la violence, Robert Hossein, 1961

If this had been made a few years later, with the exact same plot, it would automatically be riddled with Spaghetti Western stereotypes (see the more famous, but much less succesfull UNE CORD UN COLT...). In 1961, however, Hossein was still able to make it completely his own, a minimalist, hypnotic fable that transforms its outdoor settings step by step into abstract, psychological spaces. In the end, there's nothing left but a few isolated faces dissolving into primal, dimensionless landscape and drowning in haunting, endlessly repeating music.

One of Hossein's best.

Le vampire de Dusseldorf, Robert Hossein, 1965

Clearly a more ambitious production than most other films Hossein directed, but also clearly still low-budget. The poverty row studio feel mostly works well by infusing the plot with fatalism and a sense of a closed-off, slightly surreal world. The El Dorado nightclub especially looks like it's placed right at the end of the world, surrounded by demons lurking in the dark.

Hossein's own performance is a bit flashy but still effective and creepy. As a whole the film, although it doesn't always feel completely thought through (Marie-France Pisier for example looks absolutely stunning, but her storyline never quite comes together), still is an interesting, fascinating addition to the tradition of M, DER VERLORENE et al.

Independence Night, Choi In-kyu, 1948

50 minutes of doom followed by 2 minutes of glory. nation building from the ashes.

Mädchen in Uniform, Leontine Sagan, 1931

But why can't my parents send me a piece of ham? It's not that I'd eat it all myself, I would share with the others.

J´ai tue Raspoutine, Robert Hossein, 1967

One of the most haunting Andre Hossein scores (and a shamelessly unhinged Froebe performance) wasted on one of the few rather dull Robert Hossein films.

La mort d´un tueur, Robert Hossein, 1964

Pretty much blew me away, although I haven’t even really seen it yet given how bad the available digital versions are. A minimalist gangster epic, consisting of two cross-cut movements, one set in the present, one set in the past, glued together by incestuous desire, leading up to doubled doom. This almost abstract structure is, for once, not contained in a claustrophobic Kammerspiel, though, but is played out as movement through urban space: three men walking in formation through the rainy streets, on and on. A constant beat, but one that allows for variations. Indeed, the attractions of the city deflect the movement intermittently, erotic sensations invade the filmic space, the incestuous desire is also doubled, it breaks up, in delirious nightclub montage sequences, into fragments, it shifts shapes until it seems to cling to every woman, every body part, if not every frame.

Youth Without Youth, Francis Ford Coppola, 2007

World War 2 as point zero, a total displacement of time, language and identity. From here on, we progress in several directions at once, but somehow still on a single axis (this seems to be almost a moral imperative here: no cross-cutting!), completely crazy, but at a steady pace, eager to cross a new frontier every twenty minutes, each time leaving behind all securities all over again.

I still can’t quite make my peace with the casting, but this sure is a one of a kind film.

No Time for Sergeants, Mervyn LeRoy, 1958

Although it works in a completely different generic register, this does for the military what THE BAD SEED does for the family: a slow, but relentless attack - from within rather than from outside - tearing away layer after layer of both psychic and structural securities until, in the end, there’s basically nothing left of the promise and externalized self-image of one of the central institutions of modern america.

Not that these are subversive films in the classic sense. It’s more about the profit motive grinding down everything except itself sooner or later, transforming cultural certainties into modular entertainment. All that is solid...

Still, there’s a certain smoothness missing. Scene by scene it is funny enough, but after a while it feels a bit tiring in its unashamed staginess and in its insistence on pounding the same point home over and over again. In the end both Griffith and the premise are probably better off in the sitcom format.

Post tenebras lux, Carlos Reygadas, 2012

Hard to truly engage with Reygadas because whatever else he might be he also is an arthouse bullshit artist par excellence, exhibiting his tricks with open contempt for both his audience and his characters (the smaller, more intimate scenes, like the one with the Neil Young song, are actually much worse in this regard than the violent outbursts). But at the same time I find myself responsive to his images, the vision of a world distorted by a force that only arbitrarily coincides with social mechanisms like patriarchy and class struggle and that points towards a much deeper, all-encompassing pessimism foreclosing all posiblities of redemption.

Aladdin, Ron Clements, Jon Musker, 1992

My memory again... I’m still not sure if I ever saw this before, I probably did, but somehow all memories of it got swallowed up by the Isnogud tv show. The whole time I waited for Jafar to say something like "I want to be sultan instead of the sultan", but he never did.

Anyway, despite the rather boring title character this still is a delight and a reminder that once upon a time the digital was a promise for animation, not a curse.

The House of No Man, Cheang Pou Soi, 1999

One of three films shot on digital video Soi Cheang made in 1999 before graduating to "real" movies. A decidedly modest affair mostly set in a isolated house near the beach. The slow, at times apathetic aproach kind of fits the material - three lifes in self-imposed stand-by. Some parts are well observed and you get the sense of a director trying out a few things on a clearly limited playing field. The confrontation of one of the protagonists with her lover's wife set on a staircase is handled beautifully (generally, Soi finds some nice ways to film his characters facing away from the camera), the colors and shadow play is quite nice (as far as one can judge from the youtube encoding) and towards the end he uses a video sfx that is kind of touching.

Still, all in all a lot of dead space (and weird, borderline awful soundtrack choices).