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?

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