Tuesday, April 28, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Always in My Heart Part II, Hideo Oba, 1953

Dragging along a bit, especially during a lengthy sideplot involving Haruki´s sister. After a lengthy recap, the leads don´t share screentime until the last 20 minutes, and when they do, it becomes clear that the romance is dead in the water anyway. Before that, Machiko is terrorized by her mother-in-law while Haruki goes native in Hokkaido. The latter provides some delirious joy thanks to a sex-crazed and camera-eager "wild girl" called Yumi.

Blonde Crazy, Roy Del Ruth, 1931

Cagney´s performance in this must be at least some kind of rebirth of cinema, a firstness...

Always in My Heart Part III, Hideo Oba, 1954

Another two hours of people working overtime to make both themselves and each other miserable while touring Japan´s most photogenic scenery. The last hour is very much in the fangs of death, which makes for a much more intense viewing than everything before - Oba does know how to put the emotional screws on.

All in all it´s quite interesting to see what japanese populist blockbuster filmmaking of the time looked like. In terms of themes and motives, this isn´t all that far removed from Naruse, Mizoguchi, Kinoshita, Ozu (at least his pre 1950 work); and even in terms of technique - Oba quite cleverly employs the Shochiku house style, with striking long shots, poetic pillow interludes, low angles, staggered framings through doors and window etc. Charged just a little bit differently, these images lose all nuance and are transformed into vessels for pure, shameless melodrama.

Intimidation, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960

A wonderful, caustic pulp miniature, noir turned grotesque, economical in the sense that all effort is perfectly wasted from the start, a zero-sum game in which every step almost automatically is a mistake. One great thing about it is Kurehara´s eye for physiognomy: One shot of scrawny, mousy Ko Nishimura and stocky, soft Nobuo Kaneko facing each other, both filmed in profile, tells you everything you need to know about them: this is a tale of two weaknesses feeding on each other.

Germania anno zero, Roberto Rossellini, 1948

On the constitutive impossibility of Germany.

To Trap a Kidnapper, Shunya Ito, 1982

Overlong, badly written procedural by the director of the SASORI films. Comes alive a bit when focussing on the desperate plot of the loser kidnapper, but in the end it never comes together in an interesting way.

Machorka-Muff, Straub/Huillet, 1963

There´s already Bach, and Heinrich Böll (whose unimaginative prose is the weakest link in early Straub/Huillet) is no one´s idea of hip literature... and still, rewatching this, I was surprised how close this still feels to parts of 60s pop cinema. I can almost picture a Richard Lester cut of this... And Erich Kuby´s smooth deadpan performance, when he stands up from the bed and tightens his belt...

Der Verlorene, Peter Lorre, 1951
Smoking and drinking in order not to numb the body, but to keep it in an active state, to keep one´s fingers busy, to keep them away from exploring other options; to keep them focused on sensory pleasures, so that they don´t have to become the tools of death history wants them to be. Smoking and drinking as an (ever failing) resistance against living in Germany.

Black Sun, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1964

A beautiful film, meticulously structured for all its freewheeling nouvelle vague allusions, and especially with a striking architectural design based mostly on verticality: the towering, threatening high rises in the first few shots, the steep staircase in the burned-out church, the ravine Gil vanishes into and emerges from again, the slope leading into the sea.

Verticality is unsettling, climbing higher doesn´t provide one with a superior position, with oversight, but it makes the world more fragile. The gun, on the other hand, is a tool to keep the world stable, to keep unruly verticality covered by installing fixed lines of sight, fixed power relationships. Though it constantly turns out to be pretty useless, it basically only works, and even then only barely, when your target is right in front of your eyes. The gun finds its true purpose only in the very last scene, when it is used not to battle, but to liberate verticality, to blast away the ties that bind us and enable Gil´s final escape, not towards the sea, but towards the sun.

Wien, Du Stadt der Lieder, Richard Oswald, 1930

The birth of sound cinema from the spirit of the Heurigen. A glorious primordial soup of the audiovisual, made up from jealousies, narcissism, misplaced desire, delusions of grandeur, ethnic stereotypes (and their performative undoings), popular tunes, and lots of alcohol.

This might just be the only surviving film document of Paul Graetz in full, unsettling, brain-melting bloom - for that alone it is worth more than pretty much anything in all of those German film canons floating around.

Hat Wolff von Amerongen Konkursdelikte begangen? Gerhard Benedikt Friedl, 2004

Dismantling the fabrics of german postwar society, one declarative statement at a time. Dismantling the fabrics of German language, one high finance family dynasty anecdote at a time. What it comes down to is a taking of accounts of lifes wasted and ambitions devoid of all meaning, projected onto the textures of a country that refuses to read itself.

Watching this directly after GERMANIA ANNO ZERO and DER VERLORENE makes so much sense: A miniature canon of anti-german cinema, right there.

The Warped Ones, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1960

Once again lots of energy coupled with perfect control and an intricate structure. These aren´t free-wheeling films at all...

Same main actor, same jazz bar, same world as in BLACK SUN: vertiginous high rises next to rubble-filled wastelands, bustling streets and crammed apartments, the city as a playground for male irreverence, black music as fetish, and also as a way to make sense of it all.

It´s not quite as successful as the later film, I think, but it might be more complex, or at least more conflicted. In the beginning it´s all about attitude, trying to escape the boundaries of one´s own face, every need must be satisfied before it even registers as a need. Later on, this raw antisocial power, more physiognomy than sociology, is pitted against female despair gradually blown up into a full-blown bourgeois melodrama. There´s no tension worth resolving, though, just two completely incompatible modes of being (and of imagemaking) unfolding due to their own logic, leading to a final breakdown of stylized stillness.

Prison Nurse, James Cruze, 1938

Crams in a lot and some of it might stick if a better digital version appears someday.

Laplace`s Witch, Takashi Miike, 2018

A bit dull at times, maybe mostly because of the boring lead: Sakurai doesn´t have much to do in the first place, and he isn´t an interesting blank slate either - more like a bland slate. Still, I like the Young Adult mystery feel (Miike might´ve made a good guest director on PRETTY LITTLE LIARS), the Schubert touch, and also the movement from procedural mechanics to rather unspecific romanticism. Any film that pulls off, without any postmodernist shenanigans, a metaphysical standoff on a decrepit movie set can´t be all that bad.

Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht, Ludwig Berger, 1932

Another marvel, the Pommer style executed in fluid perfection. Unlike the more outward-bound, expansive DER KONGRESS TANZT and DIE DREI VON DER TANKSTELLE, this is a musical of interiors and interiorities, a comedy of mistaken identity folding in on itself: the lovers sleep in the same bed from the start, so it´s just a question of getting them there at the same time; a question of synchronizing, of blending two lives, two space-times - and also two movies - onto each other. This is not about romantic conquest, but about matchmaking and filmmaking becoming one and the same: an artistic practice that gives us access to our own desires.

The first breakthrough happens during a lock-in in Sanssouci, and you realize: this is what these rooms were built for, not for representation of autority, for oppression or for splendor for its own sake, but for Willy Fritsch and Käthe von Nagy discovering each other.

Schuberts Frühlingstraum, Richard Oswald, 1931

In theory, Jöken is not the worst choice for playing Schubert: a soft, chubby romantic, all pastries and feeling; unfortunately his fake Viennese accent really is terrible... and this is not the only problem in a film that often feels clumsy or at least jarring. Oswald doesn´t seem to be particularly engaged, often he probably just let the camera roll and let the actors do their thing. This is what he did in WIEN, DU STADT DER LIEDER, too, and there it worked wonders, but this time, despite the presence of Siegfried Arno and Lucie Englisch, the results are often underwhelming. The ending though, with Schubert cowering at the edge of the frame, sidelined by his own music, is so beautiful, it makes up for a lot.

Anyway, no match for Forst´s LEISE KLAGEN MEINE LIEDER.

Terra Formars, Takashi Miike, 2016

Garish colors, inventive cgi and a grim premise about mutual extermination executed with straightforward precision. Miike fully commits to everything he signs on to, and for that alone you got to love him. He also always manages to at least hint at some real pain behind all the mayhem, like here in some of the flashbacks.

Friday, April 24, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik der Gesellschaft, S. 11-30, "Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft"

Dass Kritiker_innen immer schon embedded sind, Teil dessen, was sie zu kritisieren vorgeben, darauf wird heute oft genug verwiesen. Mir scheint, dass die Argumente einer solchen Kritikkritik oft auf einer von zwei Schienen verlaufen: Entweder heißt es, diese oder jene kritische Praxis "reproduziere Strukturen", aufgrund dieser oder jener (oft identitätspolitisch gedachten) Setzung; oder aber, sie sei bloße Elfenbeinturmschreiberei, selbstbezügliches Insidertum, deshalb nutzlos und von Anfang an Teil des Problems. Beide Schienen haben für die auf sie Gesetzten den Vorteil, dass die Kritikkritik nicht, oder höchstens rhetorisch, zur Kritikselbstkritik ausgebaut werden muss. Die Reproduktion von Strukturen anzuklagen heißt schon fast automatisch, sich selbst aus dieser Reproduktion auszuklammern, was vor allem deshalb funktioniert, weil die Strukturen als reine Sprachstrukturen gedacht sind, weshalb sich jede Kritik automatisch performativ selbst bestätigt. Die Elfenbeinturmschreiberei zu kritisieren heißt hingegen zu insinuieren, dass eine Nichtelfenturmschreiberei möglich sei und bereits in der Anrufung dieser Möglichkeit virtuell geleistet werde.

Adorno sind diese Auswege verschlossen. Die Kritik ist bei ihm nicht aufgrund einer spezifischen sozialen Positionierung Teil des Problems, sondern sie wird es durch den Akt des Kritisierens selbst; beziehungsweise: die problembehaftete soziale Positionierung jeder Kritik entspringt einer Aporie im Herzen des Begriffs der Kritik. Dass und wie diese Aporie wiederum gesellschaftlich vermittelt, aber gleichzeitig unüberwindbar ist, scheint die zentrale Fluchtlinie der Argumentation zu sein.

Der Text ist einer der negativsten, pessimistischsten, den ich bisher von Adorno gelesen habe. Zumeist läuft seine Argumentation doch auf eine, wie sehr auch immer von Paradoxien und Praxisvorbehalten verstellte Errettungsfiktion zu. Hier jedoch taucht die Vision einer befreiten Welt, die keiner separaten Sphäre der Kultur und damit der Kulturkritik bedarf, nur einmal kurz zwischendurch auf, als Nebenbemerkung, die gar nicht mehr an Realisierung denken lässt; stattdessen zerstören sich im zweiten Teil des Essays, nachdem das Problem einmal angemessen allumfassend dystopisch ausformuliert ist, die (ideologiekritisch-)transzendentale und die immanente Kulturkritik gegenseitig, ohne dass eine, wiewohl ebenfalls kurz angedeutete dialektische Integration beider Momente in Sicht wäre.

Mir scheint, dass die Einwände gegen die erste Methode heute driftiger sind, vielleicht nur deshalb, weil die zweite, immanente, sich ohnehin mit dem Begriff von Kultur, auf den sie sich bezieht (Kultur als eine autonome, wie vermittelt auch immer doch stets Idealen von Schönheit und Harmonie verpflichteten Geistessphäre), erledigt hat.

Oder erhält sie gerade dadurch, durch die Obsoletheit ihres Objekts in Bezug aufs realexistierende Gesellschaftssystem, ein widerständiges Moment? Adorno hätte einen solchen Gedanken vermutlich eiskalt abgeschmettert; sein Ablehnung des vermeintlich Anachronistischen, die wiederkehrende Rede vom "Stand der geistigen Produktivkräfte", ist mir nicht immer ganz geheuer, wirkt manchmal doch wie ein Fetisch höherer Ordnung.

Wie gesagt, mich überzeugt die Kritik der Ideologiekritik mehr: Wenn immer, automatisch, zunächst nach dem Sprecherstandpunkt gefragt wird, erhält Ideologiekritik etwas Sortierendes, Polizeiliches, Mechanisches (mechanisch: deshalb vielleicht langweilt mich Bourdieu, dem ich sicher trotzdem Unrecht tue) - und das ist vielleicht nicht einmal das Hauptproblem. Der viel beängstigendere Gedanke besteht darin, dass es vielleicht längst nichts mehr zu Sortierendes gibt. Die Argumente gegen eine transzendentale Ideologiekritik, die Kultur abstrakt als falsches Bewusstsein durchschauen will und die stets zumindest implizit einen ideologie-, deshalb auch kulturfreien Naturzustand herbeisehnt, sind vor allem deshalb so schlüssig, weil der Prozess der Entsubstantialisierung von Ideologie, den Adorno beschreibt, heute noch einmal deutlich weiter fortgeschritten sein düfte als in dem Nachkriegsdeutschland, über das Adorno schreibt.

Ein (rätselhafter, faszinierender) Schlüsselsatz im Text dazu: "Kulturkritik wird zur gesellschaftlichen Physiognomik" (25). Das Verhältnis von Kultur zu Ökonomie ist nicht mehr zu denken als das von Ursache zu Wirkung, sondern als das blinde Ineinandergreifen zweier eng miteinander verschalteten Teile einer Maschine. Ideologie wird hermetisch durch ihre Transparenz, weil die divergierenden Ideologeme nichts mehr verbergen, ausser der Tatsache, dass Kultur in Zeiten der modernen Massengesellschaft, das ist die vielleicht erstaunlichste Formulierung des Textes, "in all ihren Stücken gleich nah dem Mittelpunkt" (25) ist.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

last week in letterboxd

O Movimento das Coisas, Manuela Serra, 1985

Dough to be kneaded, grasses to be cut, soil to be tilled. It´s all about the materiality of agricultural life, not as physical immediacy, though, but as function of both rural social life and pastoral landscape. One might be tempted to read this as a celebration of a cyclical, eternal order, until a young woman returns to this so very green space, back from her work at a sewing room. A freeze frame marks the rupture: With her, another kind of temporality enters the film. We are now, and have probably always been, unknowingly, in the realm of change, of history. The woman´s detachment, hidden behind her convivial openness, painted into her city face, transforms, with the help of the soft poison of music, our preception of a world, of a way of life.

What´s left is, on one hand, the beauty of landscape, gradually revealing itself to be dreamlike, something cut off from history (as progress), until it´s finally swallowed up by the mist of 19th century romanticism; and, on the other, there´s ritual, people singing, celebrating, worshipping together in order to forge their own reality.

Sex-Crime Coast: Piranha School, Shogoro Nishimura, 1973

Teases with speedboat sex in the first minutes, before turning into a rather tight-plotted, satirical pinku not all that committed to its own mean-spiritedness. It´s more about the looks the women through back at the violent men, but unfortunately the film doesn´t really explore what kind of desires may lie dormant there. Also, when it comes to fucking, everyone becomes strangely bodiless all of a sudden, and not only because of censorship. Only one woman, the mistress of the older guy, is allowed to reveal her live, naked pulse.


Stylish enough in a second-hand kind of way - a film literally oozing in early 70s textures cannot not be stylish, even if Nishimura´s direction doesn´t seem particularly engaged this time around.

Die optische Industriegesellschaft oder darf’s ein viertel Pfund mehr sein?, Riki Kalbe, 1983

The hook alone makes this one worthwile: An abstract political comedy centered around teletext! And it´s very funny, too, especially the repeated shot of an obscene cable being inserted, squishingly, into Berlin´s lower parts.

Stop!, Bill Gunn, 1970

On the claustrophobic nature of sexual desire - there´s always too much and not enough space between us at the same time.

Just as hypnotic as that other Bill Gunn vampire film, and probably even darker.

(The awful version floating around allows a tentative appraisal at best, but this feels much more rounded and formally accomplished than most other New Hollywood experiments of the era. That scene with Linda Marsh paying the prostitute - none of the "classics" would´ve been able to pull something like this off so perfectly.)

Lullaby of Death, Yasuzo Masumura, 1982

Not at all a perfect film, especially not in terms of economy of suspense: there´s way too much plot, and way too much insistence on plot, the one big twist is visible miles ahead and still treated like an earth-shattering revelation... All of it feels very written, a literary adaptation that doesn´t quite manage to translate its source into another medium. Also, both male leads are somewhat off, the first one is overacting like there´s no tomorrow and the second one comes off pretty bland...

Still, I was constantly engaged and rather touched at the end. Masumura seems to want it all: a well-oiled, twisty butcher´s hook potboiler, a self-contained world of the bizarre and psychosexual (like in BLIND BEAST), and a sweeping vista of japanese society, encompassing all strata of society and harking back in history to WW2. The resulting tensions are never completely resolved, but Masumura also doesn´t try to hide them, on the contrary, he doubles down on all of his diverging impulses. A film at odds with itself, but also a thinking film.

Shima Iwashita is a fascinating, quietly endearing presence, even in a creepy role. Makes me want to watch AN AUTUMN AFTERNOON again.

Hellzapoppin`, H.C. Potter, 1941

A triumph of vaudeville over cinema. So total a victory that one time, one single film was enough. This is settled now.

Strange, though, that Olsen and Johnson mostly appear like visitors in their own movie. In the end, it´s a Martha Raye show. She´s the showstopper of showstoppers, again and again. Her garden house dance with Mischa Auer might be my favorite scene (next to the Congaroo dancers, of course), a manifesto of antiromantic artifice.

Adrenalin: Fear the Rush, Albert Pyun, 1996

Leave it all behind, let the world, be it Slovakia or Boston, fade away into an incoherent mist of post-communist pulp-epidemics, make your way through mossy streets - speaking of a history we´ll never have access to - and then enter another world, a world of stone, metal, dripping water, dripping light. A space totally coherent and totally incoherent at the same time. There´s teeth in there somewhere, bloody, gawning, and sometimes muzzle flash. Sensual reality reduced to a few key sensations, like the narrowness and sudden wideness of corridors, or the impact of bullets penetrating flesh. Two bodies, two points of access: Christopher Lambert, man of sorrows, endlessly vulnerable, Natasha Henstridge, woman of determination, untouchable.

Le sexe faible, Robert Siodmak, 1933

Shitty lovers of all nations. Not always well-calibrated, especially when it comes to performance. The cynical touches towards the end fit Siodmak´s sensibilities, though: one close-up of golden jewellery dangling from a wrist is worth more than all high-flying resolutions to change one´s life.

Also, this is one of those films that make me think that the early 30s were the only time there was a truly trans-european cinema. Lots of ethnic stereotypes, of course, but in the end everyone can talk with - or fuck - everyone. (Might even be transcontinental, this time, Betty Stockfeld´s lanky american heiress is the one true highlight of the film.)

Hairpin Circus, Kiyoshi Nishimura, 1972

Closed circuit driving. Back then, he was a race car driver, now he works as a driving school instructor. In the end it doesn´t matter: you´ll always drive around in circles, at the Macao Grand Prix just as much as in the maze of rainy, jazzy, somber-coloured Tokyo streets. Cars remind him of other cars, women only really exist in relation to cars. At home, with his wife, he feels nothing, he has to open the window to let the noise of engines in, at least.

A car film of stubborn, hypnotic purity. No escape, no wide horizon, like in the american films this obviously makes one think of. All epiphanies have to be won from within, through repetition. A fetish film that moves beyond fetish: If you keep on pushing, at some point the cars really turn into sexual organ, and it doesn´t even feel pornographic. No voyeuristic thrill, just a long, shared, if somewhat flat intimate machinistic orgasm.

The Great Garrick, James Whale, 1937
Life as playacting, yes, but in Whale, acting isn´t a mode of deception and seduction (like in Lubitsch; the script is based on an Ernest-Vajda-play), but a neverending process of the expression and invention (expression by way of a constant reinvention) of self-as-other. Aherene´s Garrick might be the ultimate Whale creation: even when confronted with earth-shattering news, it takes him only a few seconds to completely remodel himself, outwardly as well as inwardly. Even the most awkward humiliation can be instantly repurposed as larger than life self-pity. Or rather: almost instantly. For a few moments you see his engine stuttering, then he´s in full swing again.

Every unmasking is just another masking, and also the other way around: every masking an unmasking. There´s no man behind the mask, but also no lack, no want for authenticity, for self-identity.

De Havilland might not have the most rewarding role, mostly she´s just a blank slate for Aherne to play off against, but she gets the most beautiful shot in the film: the reflecting mirror of the pond, the reeds being pushed aside like a curtain, revealing her face, upside down. That whole garden scene has the same air of otherworldly artificiality I found so mesmerizing in THE KISS BEFORE THE MIRROR.

Broadway Melody of 1940, Norman Taurog, 1940

A depression slowly starting to turn inward musical of considerable beauty. Taurog delivers running gags with the attitude of an accomplished, but detached and somewhat melancholical showman.

Trixie Firschke!

Dames, Ray Enright, 1934

Favorite moment, this time: Joan Blondell exchanging glances with a bird at the end of "Girl With The Ironing Board".

Always in My Heart, Hideo Oba, 1953

First part of a blockbuster romantic melodrama trilogy. The beginning is taken directly from WATERLOO BRIDGE, but later things take a different route. A point of comparison might be Matarazzo´s Nazzari / Sanson series (making sense of post-war modernity by way of an antiquated narrative form), although Oba is clearly a lesser director. Still, the leads are engaging, the pacing is rather fast and the whole thing is immensely watchable.

Once in a Lifetime, Russell Mack, 1932

Very pleasant showbiz comedy about a film studio as a system of self-contained and self-perpetuating absurdity. Some of the more direct celebrity jabs feel a bit off (is this really supposed to be Mary Pickford?), but MacMahon and Oakie make for a wonderful comedic team, with the former gradually losing control over the latter and the film, as a result, gradually descending into full-blown insanity. ZaSu Pitts shines too, like always.

The Black Camel, Hamilton MacFadden, 1931

A rather lush production compared with later programmers of its kind, the Hawaii setting is used to good effect, and there are some unexpected offbeat precode touches like the painter-bum hiding out at his lover´s beach getaway. The mystery mechanics aren´t all that well-oiled, though.

Monday, April 13, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Epitaph to My Love, Masahiro Shinoda, 1961

A melodrama of fate, memory and economic dependencies (which is to say: a melodrama). The feelings and gestures are a bit too big for the bodies experiencing / enacting them, especially in the case of Kawazu, and this leads to some interesting tensions. Some of the supporting actors (especially the vulgar, lively girlfriend of the heroine) are seriously underused. Mostly it´s about style, though, and I can only imagine how beautiful these rainy nighttime reflections would look from 35mm.

I Drink Your Blood, David E. Durston, 1970

Got to love golden age exploitation: there´s not enough money and / or technical skills to construct an even halfway credible, self-contained world, but well, this doesn´t matter one bit - because all you need to do is make sure almost everyone in your film contracts crazy sex-and-death-disease halfway through and then just go with the flow.

Also glad to have discovered, through this film, the fascinating Jadin Wong. From her imdb bio: "Survived a parachute fall from an exploding helicopter in the middle of war in Germany while performing to boost the morale for American soldiers. Before obeying the GI's order to jump, she asked for her make-up kit. When told, 'Miss Wong, there's no time for that', she explained that there will be reporters taking photographs of her once she reached the ground. She got her make-up, she jumped and fell and she was right. Jadin survived, though very badly scratched and bruised to be honored by the U.S. House of Congress for clocking in endless hours performing for U.S. soldiers in deadly warzones."

The Home and the World, Satyajit Ray, 1984

A somber and deceptively static mise en scene, camouflaging a story of three inner worlds on fire. It´s a true triangle film in the sense that the constellation of these three worlds just can´t be boiled down to any sort of dualism, be it based on politics, psychology, desire, or gender.

The depiction of nationalism as a necessarily and unredeemably destructive force even in a colonial context is a worthy point to make, too; even though one mostly lost on today´s world, I´m afraid.

Inventing the Future, Isiah Medina, 2020

All those resentful hard left half star takes almost make me want to become an accelerationist. At the very least, the validity of Srnicek and Williams`s point of departure would have to be conceded: There just isn´t a revolutionary subject in sight right now, and a hundred more years of Ken Loach cinema won´t change that.

The positivist believe in miracle weapons like universal basic income and artificial intelligence remains dubious, though. In general, I enjoyed Medina´s film the more the further it moved away from the main argument. When they´re left free to pit fragments of philosophical and mathematical thought directly, without the interference of hot take political discourse, against splinters of sensual reality, his images carry an undeniable force.

Sing, aber spiel nicht mit mir, Kurt Nachmann, 1963

Like in his later (and superior) KINDERARZT DR. FRÖHLICH, Nachmann amps up the silliness of Schlager cinema to almost sublime heights. He certainly was an Überzeugungstäter, and in this one, he might´ve inserted a self portrait: an intellectual scriptwriter who once dreamed of working in serious movies but now is stuck making fluff - and invests all his energy in creating the stupidest joke possible.

The songs don´t have the same energy as in the Hofbauer and Billian films, but some of the stage work is rather nice.

Global Viral. Die Virus-Metapher, Madeleine Dewald, Oliver Lammert, 2011

Smart enough, but the visuals add nothing. (At best.)

You Can Succeed, Too, Eizo Sugawa, 1964

Sarariman-ideology transformed into colorful slapstick mayhem. Pretty unsparing - the japanese business culture with its specific combination of authoritarianism and politeness is an easy, but clearly also a worthy target for this kind of endeavor. Unfortunately, as a musical iit´s mostly a bust, and the set design is not quite as unhinged as it could´ve been. Things only really get moving in the last 20 minutes, starting with a surrealist, claustrophobic barroom scene and a subsequent dream sequence that has hundreds of businessmen zombie-like (but also elaborately choreographed, a bit like in the Thriller music video) roaming the streets of a cardboard city, exclaiming: "I want neither nor money / I want neither a car nor a house / I want neither a wife nor kids / Screw it all / Man is animal".

Old and New, Sergei Eisenstein, 1929

An overdue revisit. I remembered the cow wedding (in considerable detail) and basically nothing else. I have many rather boring and unoriginal problems with Eisenstein´s imagemaking, not only with its directly ideological bent but also with its relentless vilatism... but none of that takes anything away from the fact that nobody films animals like he does.

What´s So Bad About Feeling Good, George Seaton, 1968

A strange beast, especially ideologically: a postcapitalist utopia as envisioned by Ned Flanders. The plot doesn´t make much sense even on its own terms, but Mary Tyler Moore already knows how to turn the world on with her smile, the vision of beatnik life and a community of free spirits over the roofs of New York in the beginning is extremely charming and even later on, when the plot kicks in, there are some surprisingly funny bits. Needs a widescreen release asap.

Bu Su, Jun Ichikawa, 1987

After some ticks like excessive rack focus in the beginning that reminded me of Ichikawa´s obtrusive TONI TAKITANI, this luckily turned out to be a completely different film - a free, almost punkish spirit I still couldn´t relate to completely, but this might just be a case of right film at the wrong time.

La Cecilia, Jean-Louis Comolli, 1975

A beautiful film about the legacy of a dream, a sometimes surprisingly romantic revision arrested halfway between the last echoes of immediacy and nostalgia for a past that never (truly) was, between somber, melodic resignation and clear-headed analysis.

Reading about criticism of LA CECILIA´s alleged conservative form and unflattering comparisons with more openly experimental approaches I´m thrown back on my ongoing alienation from certain strands of film discourse, seemingly thoroughly undone decades ago and still living on, zombie-like (which might also mean, of course, that they do answer to contemporary needs; can´t hurt to be suspicious of one´s own alienation).

Anyway, to me, this didn´t feel like a compromised work at all. The sense of freedom in the beginning is realized precisely as form, as an aesthetic equilibrium, with landscape, camera movement and human gestures becoming directly expressive (without the need for history, discourse etc). This only works because the group is still small and there are no fixed structures limiting movement. This way the film can present, in the same frame, different reactions to the same event - but reactions in terms of gestures, not in terms of psychology. Some of those guys, like my favorite, the one with the moustache, are almost all gesture. There´s something theatrical about it too, yes, but theater doesn´t necessarily mean Brechtian alienation. Classic hollywood and its use of types might be a better (if still not fully satisfying) comparison.

Later on, with the (necessary) arrival of the families and thereby history, the equilibrium is gone, the mise en scene becomes compartmentalised, freedom is not completely lost, but relegated to special zones like those beautiful close-ups of Olimpia and Rossi on the meadows (two heads painted into nature). At the same time, the utopia of the first part only fully comes into view (but only like that: as utopia) once it´s gone.

Torre Bela, Thomas Harlan, 1975

Another film that might´ve caught me on the wrong foot this time. I saw this years ago in Berlin, in a packed theater, with a somewhat nervous, engaged audience. Of course there wasn´t revolution in the air or anything even remotely like that, but still... there was a connection between screen and audience I just couldn´t replicate at home, a common understanding that sometimes it´s necessary to speak unformed thoughts.

This time, starting with the helicopter shot in the beginning I remember being particularly enthusiastic about, Harlan´s images felt strangely detached, a mismatch of grand rhetorical gestures and disavowal of technique. Of course this might just be a case of projecting my own detachment onto the film.

Travelling Circus, Viet Linh, 1988

Presents itself as a straightforward moral tale, with a twice repeated, clear-cut takeaway - don´t believe in miracles, there´s no way to make a living without working - bookending a film of dense, emblematic imagery and direct, perfectly articulate feeling. In the end, though, the moral lesson is an afterthought at best, because the film doesn´t center on the deceiver and the deceived, but on a woman longing to break free from depencency and a boy longing to break free from the boundaries of the world he was born into. A film about the process of individuation, not about a rule handed down to a collective.

Asya´s Happiness, Andrei Konchalovsky, 1966

The fundament is sensual realism, the embodied knowledge in the way people handle grains, the way they relate to their own bodies, to one another. On top of this, Konchalovsky builds an intricate, symphonic narrative, switching between all-out kolkhoz mayhem (a myriad of activities - still orchestrated on some level, but no longer necessarily tied to production and progress) and slower, more intimate pieces: taking account of the scars and romances of war, machismo running wild in narrow quarters, the return of unbound, unruly nature during childbirth.

The Sight, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2000

Andrew McCarthy, in the twilight zone of his career, floating through a cgi-heavy, fundamentally discontinuous gameplay world. Hold down by a dull procedural framework, but still one of a kind.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Gruß an G.

Das 41. Stück in Schumanns "Album für die Jugend" trägt den Namen "Nordisches Lied". Eine wunderbare Komposition: tief, erhaben dröhnend, soghaft, sowohl aggressiv als auch zurückgenommen spielbar. Oder in meinem Fall: bruchstückhaft, langsam, Passage für Passage. In seiner Gesamtheit überfordert es mich (als blutigen Anfänger), aber seine Schönheit lässt sich auch Takt für Takt entdecken.

Das "Album" selbst habe ich von meiner Mutter entliehen: ein altes, vielbenutztes Heft, ziemlich zerfleddert und hier und da komplett aus dem Leim gehend. In die Partituren einiger Stücke sind Fingersätze und gelegentlich auch Kommentare eingetragen. Das nordische Lied hat besonders viele Bleistifteintragungen abbekommen, darunter eine sozusagen vormusikalische. Schumann hat dem Stück, als einem von nur zwei, eine Widmung beigefügt: "(Gruß an G.)". Der Herausgeber des Bandes hat noch eine Präzision hinzugefügt: "[Niels W.Gade]". Dieser bereits doppelte, differentiell verklammerte Anmerkungsapparat ist nun noch einmal, von Hand, erweitert worden. Per Bleistift ist daneben in Druckschrift vermerkt: "Freund von Schumann". Darunter ist dann außerdem noch vermerkt worden: "*1817 - †1890 Kopenhagen".

Ich weiß nicht einmal, ob diese Zeilen von meiner Mutter stammen, das Schriftbild spricht nicht unbedingt dafür. Doch allein der Gedanke, dass sie in ihrer Jugend, als (da bin ich mir wiederum sicher) fleißige, gewissenhafte und talentierte Klavierschülerin, angesichts der Widmung die Neugier gepackt haben könnte, dass sie Nachforschungen angestellt haben und deren Ergebnisse dann, im freudigen Überschwang, in ihr Notenheft eingetragen haben könnte, rührt mich jedesmal, wenn ich Seite 56 des "Album für die Jugend" öffne.

Monday, April 06, 2020

last week in letterboxd

This Day and Age, Cecil B. DeMille, 1934

Fascinating how the diegetic drift towards populism coincides with an filmic drift towards spectacle. As long as the conventional civil order is intact, DeMille´s imagery is unusually restrained, but once the courtroom is transformed into a tribunal, he starts to think in the visual terms of his epics.

On the other hand, it´s this very concept of the epic image, of the audiovisual spectacular that most clearly separates DeMille from authoritarian cinema (both of the fascist and the soviet tradition): his images aspire to a sprawling, heterogenous multiplicity, not to streamlined, idealized iconography. Not images of control, but of process. That´s why the naturalistic acting is absolutely fundamental in his films: While in authoritarian cinema, the individual is suffocated by the ornamental, in DeMille the individual IS the ornamental.

Anyway, a one of a kind film. Full of aggressive precode sleaze, too. That line about green olives...

To me, the most obvious point of comparison is Borzage´s NO GREATER GLORY, though I´d also add GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE and OUR DAILY BREAD: already a small canon of discursive, borderline experimental great depression / new deal filmmaking. A hidden avant-garde, maybe.

Outbreak, Wolfgang Petersen, 1995

Don´t know if Petersen´s dull competence (he can´t evoke even the slightest sense of dread under quarantine but he sure knows how to make even the cheesiest farewell scene work) and the entertaining stupidity of the plot are reinforcing each other or cancelling each other out. Maybe both, doesn´t matter anyway, in the end it´s lively enough to almost make up for the complete lack of imagination.

Nagasaki Butterfly, Chusei Sone, 1972

Bodies, unfamiliar from up close, breasts of unknown firmness, only tentatively attached to the torso, muscles turning into morphing landscapes, heads bending away, at odd angles, flesh transformed by sex, violence and maybe something in between, like the blaze of a cigarette. The flesh is female, the wounds, gushing liquids, are male. Not really necessary to transform all of this into a story, and the story is indeed of no consequence, all attempts at world-building vanish into a blonde, bird-like creature, the non-communicative, unreadable center of images that know no truth outside of her body.

A Matter of WHO, Don Chaffey, 1961

Suspension of disbelief has its limits, too: In this there´s a scene in which Terry-Thomas has to simulate not to be british, and this just won´t work. Aside from that, he´s wonderful, the king of contact tracing. Nice to see a film about a viral outbreak that uses the virus mainly as a tool to connect people to each other. In fact, its main point seems to be that beyond all our economic relations, political relations, sexual relations there´s a deeper, determining force: viral relations, and only Terry-Thomas has access to it.

A shame this only seems to be available as a low quality tv rip. Some nice, ornamental proto swinging sixties visuals.

Tokyo Playboy Club, Yosuke Okuda, 2011

A tone in tone world of sub-Tarantino urban tristesse, a bunch of losers (born or bread, no difference) fucking each other up. There´s always someone worse off to punch down at. The general approach is a dime a dozen, especially in Japan, but Okuda finds moments of quiet elegance and is obviously familiar with the textures and gestures of the spaces he´s depicting. All that handling of flyers and posters, for example.

The cast is good, too, especially Ken Mitsuishi: the most pathetic petite bourgeois underworld fuckup imaginable and he still manages to convey the avid, almost obscene pleasure a cup of instant noodles can give you at the right moment.

El angel exterminador, Luis Bunuel, 1962

Accelerationism? (Anyway, I somehow never had seen this and also luckily had mostly managed to avoid reading about it. One of the few truly radical films, probably.)

Isi & Ossi, Oliver Kienle, 2020

Pretty much what one would expect from a Netflix-X Filme collaboration. Meaning it´s loud, high concept, completely by the numbers and mostly annoying, especially in its insistence on positioning class difference, again and again, as a problem of individual morality... but Lisa Vicari actually turns out to be a wonderful romcom actress and as long as the film focuses on her discovering another world by way of falling in love, I´m in. Her gaze towards the mirror before she sleeps with Ossi for the first time...

Should´ve been more Camilla!

Virus, Aasiq Abu, 2019

Virus response as collective destiny. The enemy might be biological, but the real threat is social division. A panoramic and functionalist approach, all hints at private drama, intimate particularities melting away when confronted with the onslaught of the virus and a pulsating, drony score. It´s all about the emotional response, but at the same time emotions must be leveled, kept in tune with techno-positivist thinking, because otherwise we won´t make it through quarantine.

The Killer That Stalked New York, Earl McEvoy, 1950

Like a low budget version of the de Rochemont "documentary" noirs. Keyes is great, and while McEvoy´s direction is not particularly inspired, he commits to both her pulpy storyline and the public service stuff and finds a few striking images along the way.

Deranged, Park Jung-woo, 2012

Some effective, probably Romero influenced imagery in the first half, especially the few moments of gluttonous, antisocial joy before the death drive takes over: grinning faces smeared with obscene fast food sauce, nothing but sensual immediacy in their eyes. The rush towards water as a rush towards death is a good idea, too, and parasites clearly are more cinematic than viruses or bacteria.

Unfortunately, later on things get repetitive and annoying, high-pitched mayhem without any sense of rhythm. Kim Myung-Min is constantly chased around by his phone, searching for the last, the very last, this time it´s really the very last, believe me supply of the only medizine that works against the worm inside, while Moon Jeong-hee is reduced to being a receptor of conflicting primal stimuli.

Sailor Uniform: Lily Lovers, Hiroyuki Nasu, 1983

The warm, tender, bright light of a summer at the beach, and it´s not too hot yet either, just warm enough to make one move around comfortably with no matter how few cloths on. Curiosity rules, neurosis is largely absent, the occasional violence doesn´t leave bruises (not now at least, later on it might make itself felt), and the unavoidable perverted nerd is easily cured.

The sex itself is very eighties, people making use of their bodies and a few choice objects in sportive, self-assertive, fun-punk ways. Sometimes that can be erotic, too, although it´s not something one can lose oneself in. Those women are having good time, though, the sometimes almost statuesque androgynous one as well as the other one with her insecurities that might be just another form of soft power; let them.

Sing and Like It, William A. Seiter, 1934

Ned Sparks and Edward Everett Horton are always a joy, and they`re in top form here, and there are lots of precode pleasures scattered around, too. Still, I found this dragging a bit in places (a better quality release might help), which is a shame, because the premise is intriguingly perverse: It´s about gangsters bullying a producer (Horton) into putting together a musical built around a single, borderline unbearable song; and because Seiter really commits to this idea, SING AND LIKE IT is itself turned into a film built around a single, borderline unbearable song.

It plays out like a parody / creative deformation of Adorno and Horkheimer´s cultural industry essay: How to jam, almost literally, a cultural artifact down the throat of a public that, in the end, not only acts against its own interest, but also against its own enjoyment.

In My Room, Ulrich Köhler, 2018

What works (for me), mostly works because of Löw, who has much more range than most actors in all of those wounded masculinity films. In a way he´s more of a Cologne Group than a Berlin School type of actor, which is interesting, because apart from that, IN MY ROOM sticks much closer to the "classic" Berlin School style than the recent works of most other former group members.

The limiting factor (again: for me), is that it really is a wounded masculinity film through and through, which becomes all the clearer once Elena Radonicich shows up. That she never turns into a subject in her own right, but mostly is set up as a challenge for Löw to not rise up to might be the point; I´m just not sure if it is one worth making, let alone over and over again. Put another way: As long as IN MY ROOM is a comedy about a hipster´s dream of self-sufficiency, I´m very much on board. But is it really necessary to explain, somewhat self-righteously so, why this dream is just, well, a dream?