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).

No comments: