Wednesday, September 30, 2020

inhalt / last days of berlin (and zürich)

spätzle express: vip-card: 10%, diese karte ist nicht übertragbar, www. spä

tilsiter lichtspiele: stempelkarte die dritte vorstellung geschenkt, (x2)

yorck-kinos: yorck-karte, sammeln sie kinos!,

videodrom: kundenkarte, montag bis samstag 15-24 uhr

filmmuseum berlin - deutsche kinemathek, bibliothek: benutzerausweis,

xenix bar: getränkepass

kino xenix: mitarbeiter/in

filmpodium: persönliches abonnement,

Saturday, September 26, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Balloon, Yuzo Kawashima, 1956

An expansive family melodrama, but structured around a woman for whom family life is closed off forever. Michiyo Aratama as the sad mistress, clinging to a cruel, unworthy man, is the center of the film, her oval face not quite fitting in with the modern, western-oriented middle-class sensibilities surrounding her. The only one who understands her is a round-faced girl everyone else talks down to. From her first scene, emerging out of bed and throwing herself at cold Tatsuya Mihashi, Michiyo's desperation is palpable. Like everything else, sex is a serious thing for her. She's haunted by the past, too, by the war that took her husband, and she is not the only one. Everybody feels boxed in one way or another, everyone's presence is a betrayal either of the past of the future, everyone's looking for escapes big or small. Some will even make it, but not Michiyo.


It's mostly set in entertainment spaces and homes that aspire towards entertainment spaces, but there are also quiet side-streets and a traditional matriarch trying (in vain) to hold things together in the old way. Kawashima is always curious, never judgmental. Rodin's "Thinker" makes an appearance in one of the most beautiful scenes. In a bar, German tourists sing a Franconian drinking song:

Trink mer noch eTröpfsche,
trink mer noch e Tröpfsche,
aus dem kleinen Henkeltöpfsche
Oh Susanna...

Emanuelle Around the World, Joe D'Amato, 1977

The real deal. In EMANUELLE IN BANGKOK the animal-snuff- and rape-scenes almost felt out of place, with the camera lingering on, as if without consciousness, an automaton gaze just killing time before moving on to more pleasant things again. Here however, you just have to take everything in, and when you think you've managed to escape, D'Amato manages to squeeze in another gang rape in the last few minutes.

A true exploitation rollercoaster ride from start to finish, the highest highs, the lowest lows, the India scene in the beginning is very funny, and everything is served with maximum conviction. This is the Emanuelle way, and her libertarian philosophy is on full display, too. Fittingly, this is also the film in which D'Amato discovers that any sex scene can be enhanced by a well-placed low-angle shot. Essential gutter filmmaking.

Probably the best soundtrack of the series so far. That groovy theme that always hits when things are going to be really dark is so damn effective, and I'm especially glad they ditched that stupid "Black Emanuelle" title song.

Still not sure if I want to see EMANUELLE IN AMERICA again just now, though. (Well...)

Wild Geese, Shiro Toyoda, 1953

Another tale of people hustling each other and their desperate dreams of escape. It looks absolutely astonishing and maybe it is first and foremost a showcase of the amazing level of technical skill in the Japanese film industry of the 50s. I don't know if there ever was anything comparable anywhere else in the world at any time.

Still, not quite my kind of film. Toyoda certainly knows how to push its buttons, but it is a bit too much in love with its plot mechanics for my taste and it lacks the sense of lived-in social reality of the best Japanese films of the era. Here, everything feels a bit closed-off, world as function of story instead of story function of world. Takamine is marvelous, of course, but her performance too is much more showy than in her films for Naruse and Kinoshita.

Toyoda obviously is an expert Metteur en scene, though, ingeniously combining quotidian realism (the use of space in Otama's house is pretty much perfect) with poetic, almost abstract flights of fancy. Like when she sees the student for the first time: Otama's face trapped between the bars of her window, but suddenly surrounded by pure black and therefore freed. Also the stuff with the umbrellas and bittersweet the last few minutes. Somewhere hidden between all of those stage-tricks is a great melodrama of defeat closer to John M. Stahl than Mizoguchi.

Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Joe D'Amato, 1977

Compared to the all-you-can-eat mondo approach of AMERICA and AROUND THE WORLD, this almost feels like classical cinema again, maybe because this time there's a rather clear delineation between the softcore scenes and the cannibal stuff. Especially since the sex is surprisingly sensuous. The scenes of Gemser and Tinti especially are the warmest, most intimate in the series so far. There's also the ultimative fuck in front of the NY skyline scene that they just had to include sooner or later.

Once they reach the jungle, things pretty much switches into action-adventure mode, which also means that Emanuelle herself loses a bit of control. She's no longer mistress of ceremonies, but just another piece of prey (that drony cannibal pov shots are extremely unnerving; D'Amato might not have been the best storyteller in the world, but his suspense/horror technique is always first-rate). Luckily, that wonderful water goddess scene as well as her woke closing monologue spoken directly into the camera (how shameless can you get) more than make up for it.

Of course, there's still enough relevant imagery in there to either satisfy or disgust pretty much anyone. As for myself, I can stand stuff like this only once in a while, but right now I'm completely in love with European exploitation cinema again.

A shame Emanuelle ditches her wonderful doll-camera after the first scene, though.

The Rainbow Man, Kiyohiko Ushihara, 1949

Killed by color! Inventive mystery set almost exclusively in a very gothic mansion populated by an upper-class family that cultivates a nice, space-specific set of neuroses. The rainbow stuff is pure gimmickry, to be sure, but effective enough at that and while the film clearly is modeled after Western patterns, there are some rather extreme mood changes that would feel very much out of place in American b-movies of the time. (In fact, the frenetic eccentricities of the Vohrer Wallace films might be a better comparison.)

Velluto nero, Brunello Rondi, 1976

A spiritual experience laying bare the dead souls of capitalist modernity or just a particularly annoying new-age-retreat? Hard to say, and the most terrifying thought might be that maybe both are one and the same thing anyway. You have to take in the stupid with the visionary here. All three men, for example, are caricatures of the worst kind, but that doesn't mean that Al Cliver as the world's phoniest guru won't hypnotize us too in the end.

Anyway, a very offbeat Emanuelle film, and I was mostly on board with it, thanks to the decidedly musical take on sex and a delightful sense of desert absurdity. As for Gemser, she doesn't necessarily have the most screentime, but she still dominates: no psychological entity like everyone else, but the beginning and the end of the gaze, when she gets hypnotized she melts into ritual, into cosmic space-time. As far as the plot is concerned, this time around she's not a reporter but a model who gets forced by Tinti into bizarre tableau non-vivant constellations. The best shot of the film, though, is just her bending backwards, with the camera shooting through the arch of her body. Made me think what ALIEN would've looked like with her as the alien (and, maybe, Annie Belle as Sigourney Weaver).

La spiaggia del desiderio, Enzo D’Ambrosio / Humberto Morales, 1976

Faux Emanuelle on faux Debussy island. As an exploitation film a complete bust (Kennedy especially is completely wasted), and even as a third-rate take on BLUE LAGOON at best barely tolerable. The sex scenes are very long and very soft. Still, Gemser seems relaxed throughout, maybe the lower energy level on display here was a welcome change of pace.

The Call of Blood, Seijun Suzuki, 1964

A wacky delight not only because of the more openly experimental imagery but also because of stuff like the sliding door stuck between Ryota's girlfriend and his mother. Generally the domestic scenes display a lot of care for detail, as if to balance out the anything goes approach once the boys step out of the house. The ending feels a bit like a war film with most of the war removed. Just two shell-shocked guys in a wasteland.

Papaya dei Caraibi, Joe D'Amato, 1978

D'Amato teases with cannibalism and cock fights, just to let you drown in the quicksands of a tropical slow-burn soft sex / uneasy hangout / moody postcolonial horror movie. Compared to the EMANUELLE-films, the plot feels rather well-rounded, but still doesn't really go anywhere. (Mostly because the cyclical time of myth is at odds with the linear time of politics; Papaya herself is positioned as a political actor by the script, but D'Amato's camera films her like an ancient goddess sent to earth in order to punish men by fucking them to death). Anyway, the journey is the reward.

Blade Violent - I violenti, Bruno Mattei, 1983

"I represent the captive audience watching this shit."

Belle of the Nineties, Leo McCarey, 1934

Between Mae West delivering (mostly; a few good ones slipped through) bland, desexed lines as if they really were witty and risque and a plot that's supposed to be a nostalgic celebration of classic Burlesque, but really just comes down to a number of petty people hustling each other this is a rather weird and not completely unengaging misfire. The only thing that really makes it memorable is the spiritual scene, though, not only because of the layered musical arrangement, but also in terms of Mise en scene. The whole sequence feels like a throwback to early cinema: The rules, hierarchies and control mechanisms of analytical montage fade away and the whole screen succumbs to the immediacy of spectacle.

The Wind-of-Youth Group crosses the Mountain Pass, Seijun Suzuki, 1961

A sentimental, colorful and musical showbiz film about transforming a traditional circus routine into a revue performance in line with the media age: it's no longer about exhibition of craft, but about flow of entertainment. Might even be interesting to watch this as a reaction to the introduction of color television in Japan one year earlier, with Suzuki crafting his film as a superior form of revue entertainment, too.

At the same time, of course, films like this, combining youth culture textures with older dramatic forms no longer really valid, where everywhere in the early 60s. I was reminded at times of the German Music House Schlagerfilme, and while Suzuki certainly is a better director than Ernst Hofbauer and even the sometimes very good Hans Billian, aside from a few beautiful color explosions he plays it rather safe here, especially when it comes to sex.

Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, Joe D'Amato, 1978

This time it didn't take me long to confirm that I had seen this before: The scene with the mechanic servicing Ely Galleani was still burned into my brain. Later on everything flows along smooth as silk, even when things finally get a bit nasty in the last reel. Basically a rehash of AROUND THE WORLD, but the stakes are much lower and it's not exactly clear why. Anyway, let's follow Emanuelle one last time around the globe, witness her running with the animals and parading in front of skyscrapers, enjoy some of the series' most beautiful sex scenes (one of them doubled by way of a mirror image)... and marvel at her stylish cigarette lighter-camera, just another proof that in a better, or at least more exciting world D'Amato and Gemser would've taken over the Bond series at some point.

Smashing the O-Line, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Nikkatsu Action film with a strong script and an excellent cast (Hiroyuki Nagao especially shines as the gloomy sleazeball reporter). Suzuki has great eye for downbeat location and plays things mostly straight, although the film takes some interesting turns after Nishina goes undercover.

Violenza in un carcere femminile, Bruno Mattei, 1982

I guess I understand why many exploitation fans are fond of or at least sympathetic towards Mattei. He has an honest, naive, uncunning approach to his material - it's clearly a case of filming what one loves with him. Still, in the end I'm in it for the visual pleasure and his films just provide so damn little of it. Strangely enough, once in while he does manage to achieve a striking shot, or even a somewhat effective sequence - the beginning of WOMEN'S PRISON MASSACRE, or here, I guess, some of the moody nighttime terror scenes in the first half; but he is never able to sustain any tension and sooner or later the literality of his image-making goes on my nerves. There's really no filter. here. Every impulse has to be put on the screen immediately in the blandest way possible.

Compared to Mattei, the other Black Emanuelle directors (yes, even Albertini) are bona fide aesthetes. He's the ultimative "wouldn't it be awesome, if" kind of filmmaker. I mean, how can you make something like the Laura Gemser throwing a bucket of shit scene so damn dull?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Adorno: Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft, S. 97-122, "Aldous Huxley und die Utopie"

Huxleys Dystopie einer gescheiterten gesellschaftlichen Befreiung bringt Adorno dazu, viel deutlicher und ausführlicher als er das sonst zumeist tut, seine eigene Vorstellung einer dieser entgegen gesetzten gelungenen Befreiung zu formulieren. Ausgangspunkt ist ein längeres Horkheimer-Zitat über die Befriedigung der materiellen Bedürfnisse als Voraussetzung einer befreiten Gesellschaft (111f). Daran anschließend führt Adorno aus, wie sich mit dem Schritt in die befreite, nicht mehr kapitalistische Gesellschaft auch die Bedürfnisse selbst verändern könnten. So ganz werde ich nicht schlau aus der Passage. Es geht wohl darum, Bedürfnisse nicht mehr zwingend aus der Perspektive ihrer eventuellen Befriedigung denken zu müssen. Wenn man seinen Bedürfnissen nicht mehr ausgeliefert ist, wenn der praktische Geist, der sich an die Bedürfnisse heftet und sie fesselt, verschwindet, dann sind diese Bedürfnisse nicht mehr statisch, sondern... was genau? Es tauchen Formulierungen auf wie ein plötzlich "völlig anders" aussehendes Bedürfnis (112), ein "lustvoller (...) Verzicht" auf Lametta (113), am Ende der Passage redet er gar dem "eigentlichen, nicht entstellten Sinn" der Bedürfnisse (114) das Wort. Die Flucht in die Eigentlichkeit - das ist doch eine kleine Enttäuschung. aber vielleicht verweist es auch nur auf den notwendig anti-utopischen Charakter der kritischen Theorie.

Außerdem wendet Adorno, und das ist vielleicht ergiebiger, einige Passagen des Romans direkt ins Utopische; insbesondere betrifft das solche, die sich mit Sexualität befassen. Die "Verfügung aller über alle" in den Orgien (107) wie auch den "überaus verlockenden" Effekt der "künstliche[n] Anmut und zellophanhafte[n] Schönheit" Leninas (107f) sind für ihn inkompatibel mit der dystopischen Ausrichtung. Denn: "Durch die totale gesellschaftliche Vermittlung [von Sexualität] stellte gleichsam von außen nach innen zweite Unmittelbarkeit, Humanität sich her." (108) Hier ist die Utopie nicht mehr auf Verzicht und Eigentlichkeit angewiesen.

Ansonsten kritisiert Adorno unnachgiebig und luzide die idealistische Schlagseite des Romans, wobei ich mich manchmal gefragt habe, ob die Kritik nicht im Kern auf die Romanform selbst zielen müsste, auf den Akt des Dramatisierens und Fabulierens, etwa wenn er moniert, Huxleys Roman übertrage "die Schuld der Gegenwart gleichsam auf die Ungeborenen" (121). Das lässt sich nun einmal nur schwer vermeiden im Science-Fiction-Genre. Adornos Kritik bleibt durchweg auf der Ebene der Ideologie, der Ideenroman wird reduziert auf die Ideen.

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

Tokyo no koibito, Yasuki Chiba, 1952

There's Setsuko Hara hanging out with a bunch of benevolent street urchins; Mifune being eye candy, winning a drunken street brawl filmed in jidaigeki style and spotting an apron at one point; pachinko balls flip-flopping through the streets of Tokyo; jewelry both fake and real frequently changing hands and causing havoc; people turning into caricatures and caricatures turning into people; and, to cap things off, an underwater ballet at the bottom of Tokyo Bay.

Unfortunately there's also quite a bit of dead air and in the end the whole might be a bit less than the sum of its parts. Still, nice to get a glimpse of a part of Japanese 50s cinema normally completely invisible from Western eyes.

Stranger, Shunichi Nagasaki, 1991

V-cinema take on DUEL that somehow manages to be both economical and open-ended. Nagasaki also makes great use of the blank canvas that is Yuko Natori's face. Switching back and forth between tense genre scenes, moody roadtrips through nighttime Tokyo powered by an awesome, minimalist synth score, and deadpan scenes of female loneliness in a world of men. Pretty awesome stuff.

Trauma, Dario Argento, 1993

Not always clear if it's the chaotic Mise en scene or the obviously botched Bluray transfer that renders many scenes downright unintelligible. Of course, Argento always profits more than most from 35mm (someday, hopefully...), and he also more often than not strives on chaos. Here, too: A full-blown operatic, anorexia-themed wide-angle horror film about Asia-Aura, the child-woman ghost from old europe invading (mostly) suburban Minnesota. While the daughter never quite comes into view, the father loses himself in a swamp of gimmickry and trolling: A murder weapon from the more obscure sections of the DIY store, the nerdy boy next door in cahoots with the insect world, both a Donaggio score and several Hitchcock homages that seem to be primarily designed to piss off De Palma, while Laura Johnson obviously is only in the film for that one shot of her tits bathed in golden light. Gothic dreams of junk-food culture. Anyway, I'll take messy, unhinged stuff like this over late 70s art school Argento any day.

Orchids Under the Moon, Takashi Ishii, 1991

What is it with Japanese cinema and dismal loneliness? There's a certain kind of urban despair I only find in post 1970s Japanese films: people holed up in run-down apartments, at the same time too close to and totally disconnected from city life; paranoid when alone and irritable when with company (but often still clinging to each other, despite themselves, sex without seduction); stationary heating and instant ramen; exterior staircases and unstable safety chains; ugly carpets and thin walls.

It's a pretty specific look / feel, a strand of modernity that has run its course and now everything is stuck and outdated, it hurts but you can't get away from it. ORCHIDS UNDER THE MOON is a prime example, extra dreary because shot on video, doughy faces in close-up, people bleeding on each other, fruits turning into metal. Kimiko Yo introduces a sense of faux excitement for a while but it's obvious from the start she isn't built to last, either.

Jetzt und alles, Dieter Meier, 1981

Richy Müller: another cruelly underused asset, especially in his early years. How the hell could he not follow this up with a string of increasingly baroque gangster films?

Kekko Kamen, Hikari Hayakawa, 1991

Aggressively styleless Japanese shot in video camp that, I guess, delivers what it sets out to deliver, but overstays its welcome even with a 54 minutes running time.

The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio, Takashi Miike, 2016

Like in the predecessor, there's pretty straight-forward, routine genre storytelling under the no holds barred surface, to the point of this sometimes coming off as faux anarchism (unlike in films that really let go, like YAKUZA APOCALYPSE or LIKE A DRAGON). Thanks to Ikuta's committed performance (basically: dick and brain constantly short-circuiting with the result being projected onto his extremely malleable face) I enjoyed the sex comedy parts much more than the Yakuza parts that feel like Miike just treading water. The Hong Kong setting is mostly wasted, too. Anyway, the tiger finale sure is worth the wait.

Lo spettro, Riccardo Freda, 1963

That scene of Barbara Steele looking out of the window: there is, indeed, a world out there, gleaming with light. When she steps outside a little bit later, for the only time in the film, she is completely lost, though. The rest of the time, this is about four people locked in a castle and their own obsessions.

More rounded and not quite as lurid as other Freda horror films, but just as dark. Gothic horror as a claustrophobic doomsday machine, a slow-burn of madness that no one will escape from. The imagery is very primal, a direct inscription of evil: the camera tracing shadows alongside walls, the lens flooded with blood.

The Thick-Walled Room, Masaki Kobayashi, 1956

On the one hand, this is the kind of film people sometimes wrongly accuse Kurosawa of making: self-serious, tortured humanism assisted by overblown, sometimes pompous imagery. On the other hand, the commitment is clearly real and the whole thing is interestingly messy. Not a well-ordered text, but a series of distinct outcries, some of them touching, some a bit obnoxious. Also a good eye for faces. In the end I guess I'm just not in the right mood for Kobayashi right now.

Death Laid an Egg, Giulio Questi, 1968

Reminds me a lot of Petri's A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY: Another arty sort-of-giallo enthusiastically replacing the more modest, but also more open-ended genre thrills with the director's ramblings on the state of modernity. In this case something about how the commodification of the body goes goes along with its compartmentalisation, until there's nothing left but the part-objects of fantasy play on the one side and pure, unfeeling biomass on the other.

Like with the Petri, this often looks fantastic (if not quite as spectacular; but a 35mm print might change that), but almost from the start it feels like a zero-sum game: freewheeling aesthetics in service of a closed-off intellectual system. The white room sequence for example is a great idea in theory, and reminded me a bit of THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL; but without any investment in the characters, it mostly falls flat.

In the end I still enjoyed this a bit more than A QUIET PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, because it really is funny at times, and also sexy.

Invisible Target, Benny Chan, 2007

Early in the film Nicholas Tse turns into his own ghost to bemoan his fiancee who was killed in the first of many perfectly executed action setpieces. With that out of the way, the rest is just male bodies at the edge, physically as well as emotionally. Violence as a bond, connecting friends, but also enemies. I killed your brother so that you'll always think of me. In the end we'll all be smeared with tears and blood and it will rain splintered glass, ashes, and money.

So sad there won't be many more (if any) films like this in the future now that one of the last masters is gone, but I guess every form has its time and place; INVISIBLE TARGET has to pay its dues to the new millennium, too, here and there, especially when it comes to the color grading, the only reason this isn't a five star film.

Don't skip the stunt reel in the end, they really earn it, especially Nicholas Tse.

Meow, Benny Chan, 2017

Actually quite sweet once it starts using Xi Xili as a melodramatic rather than comedic device: a spectator witnessing and sometimes healing the deformations of a Chinese middle class family. Unfortunately Chan takes quite a bit of time to get there, and the first half hour is pretty much unbearable, just one botched attempt at all-out silliness after the other.

Running on Empty, Sidney Lumet, 1988

Simply one of the all-time greats and a good example for why films sometimes are better off with scripts that aren't all that smart or nuanced. This hits so hard precisely because everything is rather clear-cut and idealized. No moral reckoning, no painful introspection, just bodies lost in affect.

In the end this is a special film because it finds the essence of not one, but two actors so perfectly that you just know that, whatever else will happen, they'll always have this, they were caught in their prime, unaware, and nothing can make this vanish. Every single scene with Plimpton and Phoenix... I actually think she's even greater than he is (maybe just because she has the easier role: all attitude in the beginning, and then gradually letting lose; he, on the other hand, has to work overtime to be an angel throughout). While he sometimes reverts to stage tricks, her performance is completely rounded. Her voice, the clarity of her pronunciation, the way she says words like "certifiable"...

The Possessed, Fraco Rossellini & Luigi Bazzoni, 1965

Trying to recreate the pureness of the voyeuristic gaze, but finding yourself trapped in a maze of sleazy rumors and unruly desires. The images used to be at your disposal, but now the tables have turned and you are at their mercy, haunted day and night by faces that read you more than you read them. The hotel, too, isn't a space of abstract desire anymore, but suddenly too close to home, a private ghost behind each corner.

Arty sixties thrillers (in this case very much Antonioni adjacent, Resnais is in there, too) often go on my nerves, and this one does too, sometimes, but more often than not it stays close enough to the pulpy energy at its core to keep the interest up.

Burden of Love, Yuzo Kawashima, 1955

Can one get impregnated by a drum solo over the phone? Kawashima's film makes a pretty good case for it. An extremely fertile comedy, editing as displacement activity, pheromones are everywhere, though seldom exactly where one wants them to be.

"Whenever you say something, the conversation gets derailed."

T-Wo-Men, Werner Nekes, 1972

Textile erotica for the tactile gaze, sex no longer a game of hide and reveal, but a constellation of different surfaces. Skin is just another texture and the body just another contingency, sometimes establishing itself, always like out of nowhere, in the realm of the eye.

Invisible Man Appears, Nobuo Adachi, 1949

Nothing new under the sun but very charming, an enthusiastic entry in a rather lovely tradition. Not quite as quirky / pulpy as Oda's 1954 version, a bit more basic, focusing strictly on the premise itself, meaning the invisible man gets a lot of invisible screen time, and also several pov shots. Some of those lingering, voyeuristic long takes, when it's no longer completely clear whether we are still seeing through invisible eyes or whether we are just a bit too curious, are quite interesting, though we're of course not yet in Verhoeven territory here. Also, once again, at some point perfectly visible people start dressing up as invisible men, an absurdist concept that might have never been quite properly exploited by cinema.

In the Folds of the Flesh, Sergio Bergonzelli, 1970

A gratuitous shower scene - set in Auschwitz! Say what you will, no one does exploitation quite like the Italians. Only my second Bergonzelli, and he really is something else, there's certainly a method to his madness, even if it's not always clear what method exactly. Here, the plot makes close to zero sense, especially the piled-up twists towards the end. Turns out that someone is or isn't someone else's mother and this changes either everything or nothing.

Before that, in a castle over the sea filled with lots of stylish stuff, people are killed here and there, with the bodies either dissolved into yellow (!) liquid or buried so shallow the vultures get (very) nervous. The mood is frenetic, unstrung and horny, but the film isn't really in a hurry - when Fernando Sancho reenters the scene, things virtually grind to halt, and gets what feels like a full half hour to sully and molest everything in his reach, climaxing in a bathtub scene for the ages.

Die Sieger, Dominik Graf, 1994

The wounds that heal and the ones that don't. Of its time (hard-edged Katja Flint erotica), some missed opportunities (soft-edged Meret Becker erotica), and sometimes not much more than a first draft for more concise small-screen work. But the highs are very high.

Hot Saturday, William A. Seiter, 1932

Could be interesting to chart some kind of "road to screwball" throughout the precode era. This one certainly would be on there, somewhere. At times it plays just like a remarriage comedy with a not yet fully-formed Cary Grant, Nancy Carroll as a more mischievous Carole Lombard and Randolph Scott in the Ralph Bellamy role. But the focus is still on questions of public morality (here with a surprisingly licentious twist) instead of self-image. Almost as if the change from precode to screwball isn't about disowning, but about internalizing sex.

Anyway, the dialogue isn't always good enough to make this really fly; that scene with Scott looking at Carroll waking up naked under a blanket makes up for a lot, though.

Crime Hinter, Soshimichi Ohkawa, 1989

Big Trouble in Little Tokyo! Supposedly the film that made V-cinema blow up, a delightful absurdity completely sealed off from any kind of social reality, and just 58 minutes long, which certainly is a big plus. Cannon/Orion style american 80s action is obviously the biggest influence (both male leads seem to have watched FIRST BLOOD a few times too often...), but this also evokes heroic bloodshed, Spaghetti western, Blaxploitation (!), Sonny Chiba films etc. All of this (plus an extra dose of sexism) bundled in a neat pulpy package of artificial lightning and creative gunplay. Like most pre 2000 japanese genre films, it is much more stylish than similar films made almost anywhere else.

Sixty Six, Lewis Klahr, 2015

Another great last film of the 20th century. Maybe the greatest, or at least the very last. An overwhelming sense of loss and finality, calendar sheets soaked with tears and injections that can't be undone.

Like Al Green sings, ain't it funny how time just slips away.

Going Wild, William A. Seiter, 1930

Rather basic even for a Joe E. Brown film, much less charming than the similar TOP SPEED. Easily out-mugging Brown, Laura Lee is pretty out there as the love interest, not necessarily always in a good way, but she kind of beats you down, and fits in with the general tone of heightened silliness of the last 20 minutes.

Bloody Spear at Mount Fuji, Tomu Uchida, 1955

Gentle comedy about fake spears, true lies and diarrhea, fueled more by philosophical despair (and sake and exquisite acting) than by a coherent plot. The dark turn in the end is astonishing. On the one hand it completely comes out of nowhere, on the other hand it completely makes sense because once your inner connection to a system of absolute loyalty you built your whole life around is gone, there probably really is nothing left to do but to fight some random bullies to the death.

Black Emanuelle, Bitto Albertini, 1975

Strangely enough I didn't realize I had seen this before until a random garden shot towards the end. Goes to show that this isn't exactly chock-full of highlights, although a naked Karin Schubert being turned into a zoopraxiscope study by an also naked Gemser certainly counts as one. The mood is colonial boredom and Albertini's direction is mostly dull, save for a few energy boosts like that piston-enforced gangbang train ride late in the film, that almost feels like a coda, coming along after Emanuelle already has decided to call it quits this time.

L'ultima neve di primavera, Raimondo Del Balzo, 1972

The art of dying young, cute, and blond.

100% cultural-industrial fluff, of course, but mostly holds up on second viewing. Just so maliciously wholesome, the way the touristic imagery is mobilized, again and again, to raise the stakes, to make the final downfall all the harder. Nature knew all along!

Also, that scene when the boy touches the image of his mother is touched, a bit later, by her image (and the image of her successor), through the light thrown by the film projector...

Sister Emanuelle, Giuseppe Vari, 1977

Well-made and funny, a nice surprise. Gemser was born to wear a white nun's habit, and she was even more born to take it off, elegantly and methodically, as she does several times over the course of the film.

Resolute blue-eyed Swiss girl Mónica Zanchi is wonderful, too. Gemser witnessed every atrocity d'Amato threw at her in his own 1977 Black Emanuelle films without batting an eye, but Zanchi, the brat, really got to her!

Till We Meet Again, Tadashi Imai, 1950

Like in THE BLUE MOUNTAIN, Imai's political fervor rather naturally translates into sensual intensity. The love story heightens the stakes of the anti-fascism (with class-difference lurking very much in the foreground as secondary theme) just as much as vice versa. In the end, what stays is the romantic stuff, though: Hand touching hand in an air-raid bunker (once again the WATERLOO BRIDGE influence), the first date of the lovers on the park bench, with Yoshiko Kuga giggling for joy, the first kiss through the glass plane and the second kiss (camera closing in) without the glass plane, later on a make-believe marriage like in a Borzage film shortly before he has to go off towards war...

The scenes with Okada and his buddies are interesting, too: remnants of a boheme lifestyle during wartime. For them, death on the battlefield is a very real prospect, but at the same time it still can be repurposed as an object of dilettante musings.

Emanuelle in Bangkok, Joe D'Amato, 1976

Emanuelle enters a hotel room. Let's see what happens next!

Breezy and often rather sweet compared to the later ones. D'Amato's unconditional love for style makes all the difference.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Goddess of Mercy, Ann Hui, 2003

Zhao Wei carrying a baby in her arms while high kicking the bad guys hired by the infant's father is a nice female reappropriation of the male heroic bloodshed tropes of HARD BOILED et al, I guess. Her first encounter with Nicholas Tse also is wonderful and the back and forth between character study and pulp melodrama makes for some surprising twists.

In the end, the script might be a bit too preposterous for Hui to really make it work, and the mainland setting also doesn't feel completely natural, this time (what about those huge, military-style anti-drug maneuvers in what looks like a sleepy provincial town? Might very well be an interesting setting, but it isn't fleshed out enough). Still, always enough energy in here, even if some might be misplaced.

Raigyo, Takahisa Zeze, 1997

The textures are so drab and unwelcoming I thought for a while this might be shot on video. It's probably just a case of particularly aggressive, and quite inventive (photo-chemical) color grading transforming Japan into a zombie-industrial wasteland, though. A whole country turning into a dead zone, like a sea devoid of oxygen. There is a rather cohesive storyline but it feels random - the kind of film that could last 10 minutes just as easily as it could last 10 hours. Rather surprisingly, the sex isn't cold but desperate, bodies clinging to each other, and it leads towards death quite naturally.

Our Time Will Come, Ann Hui, 2017

Well-made historical drama, eschewing the modernist touches of THE GOLDEN ERA in favor of a more straightforward approach. Almost a bit too plot-heavy at times, although Hui manages to include a broad range of responses to history: there's Eddie Peng elegantly killing a whole patrol of Japanese soldiers, but there's also two women and a child huddling together in an abandoned building listening to the howl of the wind.

Takes a while until it finds its emotional center, though: Zhou Xun blaming herself, in a long shot, for involving her mother in her own political struggle and thereby realizing that she never really understood her / used to take her for granted; while slowly turning away from Eddie Peng and towards the camera. History doesn't mean anything if there isn't a private reckoning, too.

In allen Stellungen, Frits Fronz, 1971

The second-to-last Fronz film and maybe the most beautiful of them all ("lifeless in a horny way" - Silvia Szymanski). In color but only barely so, with flaccid, gentle light flooding the ever-same rooms of the hotel almost the whole film is set in. A self-contained world but also a world that contains everything, and a protagonist, a girl, who is ready to take in everything. She takes her time dressing up in front of the mirror and then it begins: Gigolos and lesbians, bank-robbers and bdsm, flamboyant gays and drunk hookers, acid trips and suicide.

All of it presented in long shots and driven by straight-faced deadpan delivery of highly artificial scripted dialogue. In a way IN ALLEN STELLUNGEN enfolds like a series of miniature morality plays. No impressionistic shortcuts, everybody gets to have his or her say. The scene with the bank-robber (cultivating the phoniest but also most beautiful Berlin accent possible) and his moll might just be the missing link between Fassbinder and Jürgen Enz.

Unlike in his earlier work, Fronz isn't content with stripping and voyeurism, but approaches actual intercourse, without actually getting there, though: we get, again and again, bodies rubbing against each other, with the camera placed close to the skin, transfixed by what still doesn't really happen. At least all the relevant parts are there, and in the right place, too, we know that now. Art brut made in Austria.

Love in a Fallen City, Ann Hui, 1984

I remembered this being my favorite Ann Hui film while watching some of her films a few years back and I guess it still is. Incredibly precise melodramatic staging, like Wong Kar-Wai without the fetishistic overreach. A perfect trajectory from the enclosed spaces of tradition and patriarchy to the phony wonderland of colonial libertinage to the primal images of war: splintering glass raining down on Cora Miao, squatting at the bottom of the staircase.

Love's embrace might separate us, but history will tear us together.

Tiger, Löwe, Panther, Dominik Graf, 1989

Natja Brunckhorst is a force of nature, stubbornly asserting herself in the frame, enforcing her own temporality and energy level on every scene she's in. Everyone else is just a vessel, overeager to succumb to one of the worst scripts Graf has worked with (Sherry Hormann going for an overstuffed Sex in the City style romp). Graf himself seems to take his cues from french rather than italian and american cinema at this point in his career; in SPIELER this works quite well, here the whole thing just doesn't feel right, a clumsy attempt at mundane flippancy, like namedropping Proust, but then translating "madeleine" as "bread with sugar". Mostly, this is a one woman show, although some of Brunckhorst's scenes with the not-quite-Jean-Pierre-Leaud-but-nevertheless-charming Thomas Winkler work quite well, too.

It's still eminently watchable - even while most of the clutter really is clutter this time, Graf always finds ways to enrich his worlds, and given that this might be my least favorite among the 30+ Graf films I've seen, I guess I'm still very much in love with his work.

The Secret, Ann Hui, 1979

Watching this in the restored version is such a joy: this is indeed one of the great 70s thrillers, a slow-burn investigation grounded in social detail, while at the same time unfolding as a self-contained system of pure cinema. Sylvia Chang is frail and brave and rules the film.

Someone on here talks about the restoration being a hack job, but to my mind the new version looks wonderful (aside from the vhs-sourced title sequence). Sure, some detail is lost, as is completely normal when changing from one medium to another. The restoration has an excellent feel for the original material. So much better than all those glossy 4k restorations hell-bent on banishing history from film history.

Also watched: Bridge, Ann Hui, 1978

One of her contributions to BELOW THE LION ROCK. Very much in journalistic mode, with a good eye for the different social stata in Hong Kong, but also for quiet moments not strictly relevant for the narrative.

Sei donne per l'assassiono, Mario Bava, 1964

Beauty eating itself, turning style into style. Perfect film.

The Story of Woo Viet, Ann Hui, 1981

Emerging from a place of unspeakable violence, Chow Yun Fat navigates the world with a youthful innocence that only manages to sustain itself because in some ways he's already cut off from the world. The few anchors he's throwing out belong mostly to the realm of the imaginary: a future in America, Cora Miao as a platonic pen pal. A positively glowing Cherie Chung might be more tangible, but in the end she realizes that she, too, can't be his anchor (throwing herself on him, desperately kissing and clinging to him), and so she has to die.

This is, I believe, the paradox the film is founded on: The very fact that he is totally, irredeemably displaced grants him absolute agency - but only in a world that is already lost. So we're left with a melancholic travelogue through the spaces and textures of 70s exploitation films, punctured by short, rabid bursts of Ching Siu-Tung action.


Also watched: Road, Ann Hui, 1978

A sad, female-centered tale of poverty and opium addiction. Probably the most accomplished among her three BELOW THE LION ROCK episodes I have seen so far.

The Blue Mountain, Tadashi Imai, 1948/49

Let Setsuko Hara teach sex ed and you never know what'll happen!

First film I've seen of Imai, Japan's leading leftist director of the post-war era. Not quite sold yet, but there's lots going on here, to be sure, ideologically as well as stylistically. Like most of the reeducation films of the time this is far from subtle but at least this time the democratic furor feels absolutely genuine, to the point of conceptual overreach: why not tear it all down and return to a state of nature? Some surprisingly poetic moments in there, too.

Part 2:

Not much plot in part 2, it's mostly about working through, both emotionally and discursively, the events of part one. More often than not, this brings out the film's strengths. For starters, Imai makes better use of Hara, her face is so radiant at times, he just has to cut directly to fireworks, afterwards. There's also an extremely sensual beach scene, like something out of a sun tribe film.

Somewhere in the middle the film grinds to a complete halt while everyone is summoned in school to discuss the state of juvenile morality. Almost half an hour of excessive, mugging social theater, and clearly the best part of BLUE MOUNTAINS.

Boat People, Ann Hui, 1982

In an interview after the film's release Hui talks about how in her view the communist horrors of BOAT PEOPLE and the capitalist horrors of THE STORY OF WOO VIET cancel each other out. I'm not sure if this is quite true; even if both films end with all options lost and an escape over water, BOAT PEOPLE is clearly the much darker film, a tale of arrested development ("she still has the body of a 14 year old") and annihilation and not much more. In the end the difference might have to do less with politics than with the bustling Philippine location shooting of WOO VIET vs the emptied out Chinese sets used as stand-in for Vietnam in BOAT PEOPLE; and also with a driven, manic Chow Yun-Fat vs an apathetic, emptied out George Lam, who really must be one of the flimsiest reporter heroes in film history. I almost suspect that Hui gave him two scenes with a "real" Japanese actor (or at least someone who actually speaks the language) just to make clear for everyone that even his Japaneseness is phony, without substance.


Also watched: Where Are You Going, Ann Hui, 1992

A BELOW THE LION ROCK episode featuring Huo Dejian as himself restaging his treatment by Chinese authorities. Dense and clearheaded and a good supplement to the more paranoid takes on the imminent handover produced in Hong Kong.The Iron Rose, Jean Rollin, 1973

Love means disturbing the dead. Just wonderful how all those toppled crosses and gravestones feel completely natural after a while. This has nothing to do with blasphemy, either. It's a way of honoring the way of the world. The field of desire graves disorder. Again and again men with burning eyes in red and women without bras in yellow will enter, roam around a bit and finally get lost in it.

Sette note in nero, Lucio Fulci, 1977

The beauty of it is that at its heart, this really is a closed-off system: O'Neill isn't haunted, but cursed by images. They will come back, they will come for her, and it will be her own doing. She won't rest until they do. She's the beginning and the end of the image, their only audience, but also the camera and the darkroom (the tunnels right at the start, also somehow announcing the strange sexlessness of the film; this is a film about a face, not about a woman).

In a way it's like Hitchcock in psychotic overdrive, like Vertigo, only that not only Judy and Madeleine, but also Scottie turn out to always have been the same person. Suspense unhinged, cut off from logic and the outside world. When she steps into the murder room for the first time, she's already lost, because she has entered her brain. The rest is a game between optical nerve and cortex. The images keep coming back, every time triggering the same zoom in on her eyes, the same bonkers Frizzi music.

Sure, there's still another, more traditional film running in the background, a procedural filled with cues and policemen and telephone conversations. A backup, a leftover from Fulci's early 70s work, but it's rather obvious he doesn't care about stuff like that anymore. I mean, most of it comes down to returning again and again to the same random magazine cover, turning it into an endless readable and rereadable urtext. If one looks close enough, the World Formula is probably in there somewhere, too.

(I'm reading on here somewhere that this plays like a PROFONDO ROSSO rehash, only more conventional; I don't think so. To me, this feels much more radical and pure, much more primal than the Argento, a film I admire but don't love.)