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.

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