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.

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