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.

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