Tuesday, October 20, 2020

last week in letterboxd

The Stormy Man, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

The Shaw version KING DRUMMER is great, and this is even better, thanks mostly to a perfect cast: Ishihara takes control of every scene he's in and he clearly was born for that seduction by drumming scene. Later on he finds his match in Mie Kitahara's playful eroticism when she slowly descends the staircase, luring him upwards.

Inoue's direction has the same forward drive as in his Shaw films; the melodramatic angle, though, is (if I remember correctly) much more pronounced than in the later version - here, the irony of the concert scene in the end hits like something out of a Sirk film.

Abwärts, Carl Schenkel, 1984

Downward mobility in the early Kohl era. Even after watching this to the end I'm not sure whether I'd seen it before or just had encountered every single dramatic beat elsewhere. Doesn't mean this feels derivative, though, it's just a very efficient and exhaustive, if not terribly imaginative (all in all very swiss, maybe) take on the premise. No screw left untwisted, no angle unfilmed and that circular framing device through the hole in the elevator ceiling might be the extra edge that brings everything alive.

Götz George is a magnificent asshole and maybe dominates the film a bit too much.

Tango durch Deutschland, Lutz Mommartz, 1981

Eddie the mummy leaves the shelves of film history, to roam the world of the living one last time. A haunted presence, he cannot escape his embodied memories; a haunting presence, once he registers he is always already somewhere else, crossing the next intersection, checking out of the next hotel room, leaving behind a slight disturbance in the fabrics of Germany.

You never exactly get what you bargained for. A seemingly innocuous sightseeing tour turns into a head-on, cubist confrontation with German inner-city architecture, a chance-encounter triggers the old swagger for a short burst of car chase action, a last fling is pursued without real conviction but the hands want what the hands want...

Mommartz himself calls TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND a failed film, although he also cannot let go of it and has reworked it twice since. Indeed a very strange project, not at all the cinephile road movie one might expect. This is not about melancholia and the death of cinema, but a very conscious, playful while also unusually committed, even straightforward stocktaking of a life touched by cinema. I might from now on think of it as my personal antidote to WINGS OF DESIRE.

The special thing about Eddie Constantine might be, that with him, there really is no authenticity behind the deconstruction; in a way, Mommartz suggests, there is no real difference between his star turns of the 50s and 60s and his second career with Godard, Fassbinder et al. It's always the same attitude, he's the material ghost of pop cinema and TANGO DURCH DEUTSCHLAND might be the only film that really gets him (while also making me want to watch more of Constantine's early work, if only to better justify this obnoxious claim).

The Champion, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Tatsuya Mihashi standing over Yujiro Ishikawa, after knocking him down: Don't get up, stay down there on the street, so that you can realize what losing feels like. The swelling score makes it clear that this is not really about Ishikawa, but about Mihashi the manipulator who likes to put everyone into his or her place in order to turn the world into a private fantasy - which is, in turns, based on the repression of his own true desires.

Only my third Japanese Inoue film, but I'm already convinced that he is the rea deal. At the very least, he seems to have worked on a completely different level than everyone else at Nikkatsu in the late 1950s (at least when it comes to the younger generation). This is not as well-rounded as MAN WHO CAUSES A STORM - some nice training montages, foreshadowing ROCKY, aside, the boxing stuff isn't all that interesting and Inoue clearly would've preferred to but the ballet stuff center stage. At the same time, though, this is more ambitious in terms of both style and narrative. More Sirkian, too, with an experimental, and sometimes geometric approach to psychology. Fighting for the right to speak the name of one's lover.

Then there's an elaborate musical number clearly influenced by the Freed unit style in its ornamental, excessive prime, but translated into a delicate, slightly detached Japanese sensibility.

The Eagle and the Hawk, Umetsugu Inoue, 1957

Muscles, sweat, two pair of tight pants and lots of unbound masculinity confined to a ship and precise widescreen framing. At one point it looks like the whole thing might turn into a Traven style doomsday machine, but most of the times the pressure isn't all that high, with the various male destructive tendencies cancelling each other out and the two female stowaways providing some relief, too. The nights are for romance, even on the high seas. Yumeji Tsukioka's crazy in love performance is especially wonderful.

Not on the same level than the other two 1957 Inoue / Ishihara collaborations currently available, but breezy enough for what it is.

Girlfriends, Claudia Weill, 1978

Like mentioned on here several times this isn't necessarily fundamentally different from dozens of mumblecore-style dramedies of recent years. Not only the feel is similar, but also its strengths (acting) and weaknesses (claustrophobic feel, milieu as prison). The main difference might just be that back then filmmakers weren't supposed to make films like this and now they totally are, resulting in a self-confidence that mostly destroys the sense of fragility the charm of GIRLFRIENDS is based on.

Four Hours of Terror, Tsuneo Kobayashi, 1959

Only half the hours of terror as in the Suzuki film from two years earlier, and it shows. The film can't help getting more involving once the action starts, but the decidedly old-fashioned trappings and an unfortunate anticlimax make sure that it never quite shakes off the feel of pleasant but unessential and slightly dull sunday morning entertainment.

Reise nach Lyon, Claudia von Alemann, 1981

A bit like Schanelec's MARSEILLE but trying way too hard, thereby completely suffocating its concept: like historiography, getting lost in a city simply requires a suspension, not an exaltation of self. Still, there's a certain stubbornness both to Pauly's performance and von Alemann's gaze at Lyon that keeps me engaged.

Freelance Samurai, Kenji Misumi, 1957

Twin-themed samurai film, well-made and plot-heavy. Rather mechanical most of the time, only Michiyo Kogure lends it some real distinction (at least for someone not all that familiar with routine 50s jidaigeki). Her death in the fire towards the end is a very strong scene that seems to come out of nowhere a bit.

Zwanzig Mädchen und die Pauker: Heute steht die Penne kopf, Werner Jacobs, 1971

Pauker-film specialist Werner Jacobs for once giving (almost) free reign to the girl students, with mostly decent results. Despite the presence of the usual authoritative safeguard mechanisms, this feels quite a bit more anarchic than pretty much everything else I remember from the series - especially one scene that pits Ralf Wolter against an ever-changing multitude of female hair almost perfectly hits the sweet spot between slapstick mayhem, satirical caricature and fetishism. Even the mandatory taming of the shrew scene is surprisingly kinky: Gerhard Lippert leaning over Mascha Gonska as if for a kiss - and then jamming a "spiked" wurstbrot down her throat.

Quite a bit of dead air, to be sure, especially in the second half. Jacobs seems to realize this and randomly introduces a whole barn full of animals into the plot at one time.

The "Heimatfilme" version blots out the two Manuela songs, which pretty clearly is a feature, not a bug.

Herzblatt oder wie sag ich's meiner Tochter?, Alfred Vohrer, 1969

The black and white interview footage in the beginning seems to point towards the sex report film wave blowing up one year later, but the film that follows is almost the complete opposite: a gentle, beautifully decorated take on the way we (think about) love now, dreamy and ironic where the report films are positivist and paranoid. The initial question - how to talk to your offspring about sex, especially when the offspring is female and you are not - is just a starting point anyway for a much broader and less pedagogically minded intervention.

The whole thing feels rather un-German and often closer to the Italian commedia sexy of the time. Indeed, the film's best scenes - Georg Thomalla's cello-themed erotic daydreams - anticipate IL MERLO MASCHIO... so much so that I'm almost sure that Campanile must have seen the Vohrer film. (And as much as I love IL MERLO MASCHIO, at least the cello stuff is much funnier in HERZBLATT.)

I was a bit afraid of this because of Vohrer's borderline unwatchable DAS GELBE HAUS AM PINNASBERG, but here he puts his inventiveness to good use throughout. What really makes this special is Thomalla's performance, though, the way he gets increasingly nervous without ever truly finding out what it is he's nervous about. After all, at the time bathing with naked Mascha Gonska didn't feel strange at all. Only now, when looking at himself through someone else's eyes, everything feels strange and wrong. Only now he's always on the lookout for an "alius". (I'm not all that much into psychoanalysis, but it sure makes for good cinema.)

The stuff with the family friend and his threefold impotence by proxy is also very funny, while the scenes at the school do not always ring true. In theory, I'm all for making fun not only of petit bourgeoise inhibitions but also of strained licentiousness, and I clearly side with Mascha in preferring romantic Hemingway sex over the depressingly pragmatist, almost bureaucratic approach to fornication of her fellow students... still, the invocation of "innocence" feels rather off. I mean going directly from prancing around naked without a lurid thought in your head to earth-shattering bullfighter orgasms? This really is quite a stretch, even if Mascha almost manages to pull it off.

The Big Sweat, Ulli Lommel, 1991

"I don't like sex and drugs, but I am also constantly high. That's why I am a lucky man". This is a rather random quote from the film's dialogue, which is dominated almost completely by Robert Z'Dar's freewheeling rambling. He's playing "a new kind of cop", the kind that "fucks with your head". It's basically one non sequitur after the after, not quite bizarre enough to pass off as a surrealist performance piece, but close enough.

Half if not more of the not exactly non-painful 86 minutes is taken up by H.B. Halicki stock footage, intercut with / sabotaged by shots of Z'Dar and others looking grim towards the camera while pretending to drive. Lommel's Godfrey Ho phase is an aquired taste, and this one might be a little bit too shoddy even for me. Still worth it for Z'Dar and a few moments of dimestore noir bleakness.

Killers on Parade, Masahiro Shinoda, 1961

Colorful and wacky and featuring a goat called "End", although strangely enough I often enjoyed the youthful romance scenes more than the killer slapstick. I want to live in the orange light of that last sunrise scene.

Cream - Schwabing Report, Leon Capitanos, 1971

A sad little tale from the last days of swinging Munich, directed by an American who probably was just passing through (and later went on to write, among other things, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS). While around them the city prepares for the approaching Olympics by cleaning up its act, with everyone getting busy and making money, Sabi Dorr the narcissist and Rolf Zacher the cynicist continue living the slacker live. In their minds they still are the kings of the street when in fact the only ones who are willing to even talk to them anymore are the junkies and the freaks. A few women too, admittedly, but only the ones that are just as lost as Dorr and Zacher. In the end it doesn't matter much anymore if one wastes away in the bedroom alone of with company. A dazed, defeated sensuality, guided by the downbeat Can soundtrack and a pitiless camera that likes to hover close to the skin.

The slacker life as cultural sex work: Zacher shoots a Warholesque porn comedy, and at least he's thinking big: he dreams about opening a "Disneyland for sex". Sabi Dorr is already writing his memoirs and has long since resigned to the fact that his own body is his only capital.

Sunday, October 18, 2020


Wenn ich müde bin und einen langsamen Film anschaue, dann bilde ich mir manchmal ein, Bilder oder auch ganze Szenen zu sehen, die tatsächlich nicht auf dem Bildschirm (im Kino ist mir das, glaube ich, noch nie passiert) erschienen sind. Ich bin mir nicht sicher, wie das phänomenologisch abläuft; die Müdigkeit ruft das Phänomen hervor und verhindert gleichzeitig seine analytische Durchdringung. Sind das schlichtweg Traumbilder, die ich hinterher dem Film zurechne? Habe ich, während ich sie "sehe", die Augen geschlossen? (Ich glaube nicht.)

Oder ist es so, dass sich im müden Zustand die gedanklichen Abschweifungen, die mich auch im wachen Zustand beim Filmschauen gelegentlich überkommen, verfestigen und als geistiges Bild sich manifestieren? Das dann ebenfalls mit dem Filmbild amalgamiert. Einen Schritt weiter: Hieße das nicht, dass der Film in solchen Momenten zu meinem Welthorizont wird, dass er also nicht mehr nur ein "als ob", bzw "was wäre, wenn" ist, sondern die jeweils nächstliegende Referenz für alle Gedanken, die mir durch den Kopf gehen? Dürfte ich daraus schließen, dass ich in den Film tiefer eintauche, wenn ich ihn nicht allzu exakt wahrnehme? Einschränkend allerdings: Wenn ich meine halbbewußten Gedankenspiele auf den Film projiziere, bedeutet das sicherlich nicht, dass ich den Film mit der Wirklichkeit verwechsele. Eher ist es so, dass ich plötzlich nicht mehr zwischen zwei unterschiedlichen Formen von Fiktion unterscheiden kann.

Eine andere Hypothese: Habe ich diese Bilder in auch nur irgendeinem Sinne gesehen? Ist es nicht eher so, dass ich plötzlich denke, ich hätte gerade etwas gesehen? ("War da nicht gerade eine Szene, in der...?") Entstehen diese Phantombilder vielleicht immer nur retrospektiv, als gefälschte Erinnerungen? Was aber wäre dann ihr Auslöser? Etwas im Film oder etwas in mir oder die Verbindung von beidem? Überhaupt stellt sich die Frage, was der Film für die Bilder, die in ihm nicht enthalten sind, für eine Funktion hat. Ist er ihr Nährboden oder lediglich eine neutrale Projektionsfläche? Zeigen die Bilder einen Mangel an oder einen Reichtum / ein generatives Potential?

Wie auch immer diese Bilder entstehen: Manchmal sind sie so plastisch, dass ich tatsächlich im Film zurückspringe, um zu überprüfen, ob ich die Szene nun gesehen oder mit nur eingebildet habe. Es stellt sich dann jedesmal heraus, dass die Szene nicht im Film ist, das heißt schon die Unsicherheit darüber, ob ein Bild Teil des Films war, ist ein Indiz dafür, dass das nicht der Fall ist. Wie müsste ein Film beschaffen sein, dass er wiederum diesen Effekt simuliert?

Es wäre schön, wenn es mir gelänge, eine Sammlung anzulegen, einerseits der Phantombilder und andererseits der Bilder, die von den Phantombildern zugedeckt oder zumindest überlagert werden.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

last week in letterboxd

Wie Werde ich Filmstar?, Theo Lingen, 1955

Silly and extremely regressive - the humor is not even juvenile, but strictly pre-puberty, childish games in a fantasy showbiz-setup, like an (at least) doubly-neutered HELLZAPOPPIN'. The worst thing about it might be that it is not only proudly immature, but aggressively opposed to the very idea of maturity.

I still enjoyed parts of it, to be sure. The songs are above average, and at least this is a film clearly in love with the textures of modernity. Tiller and Johns are much more stylish than your average German 50s leading ladies, too, Mona Baptiste, one of the few black actresses active in German 50s cinema, has a decent role and Theo Lingen's direction is surprisingly lively; under (very) different circumstances, he might just have turned into a German Frank Tashlin.

Zombi Child, Bertrand Bonello, 2019

The vastly superior first half plays like the world's most pretentious PRETTY LITTLE LIARS episode - meaning this isn't completely worthless, and if Bonello had embraced the ridiculousness of the premise, especially when it comes to Fanny and her wish to either get rid of or be possessed by her boyfriend (Labeque is a great actress, too), this might've actually turned out to be fun.

But come the fuck on, as a political Zombie film this is a joke, and not a good one, there's not much more here than a (probably well-researched, but who gives a shit) Vice-expose on the post-colonial implications of voodoo. Go watch Fulci's ZOMBI 2 instead.

Endless Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Not quite the film I expected given its title: a heist movie about a bunch of extraordinary sleazy hustlers trying to dig their way into a fortune left over from the war while constantly being in danger of getting crushed by multiple forces surrounding them. A very effective setup, especially in its use of crammed space and vertical organization / pressure systems. The all-embracing cynicism might be a bit much at times, but Imamura constantly manages to find new buttons to push and bolts to tighten, often opting for black comedy instead of genre thrills.

The only thing I could've done without is a random love story featuring the boy and the girl next door, which also might be the reason why this is about 10 minutes too long.

Antebellum, Gerard Bush, Christopher Renz, 2020

If this was a bit better made under its glossy one perfect shot surface one might be tempted to defend it against all that depressing "but does it really speak to our cultural moment?" criticism. I certainly appreciate Bush and Renz opting for having fun with a so stupid it's almost smart again high-concept premise instead of delivering self-serving allegorical hot takes. But in the end there's not a single truly effective scene in the whole thing while the performances are all over the place, and seldom in a good way.

On the other hand, having read nothing about it beforehand (I did see the trailer at some point, but had completely forgotten about it), I fell for the twist, hook, line and sinker. This happens most of the time with films like this, though. I'm just extremely gullible, I guess.

The Blue Sky Maiden, Yasuzo Masumura, 1957

I'm not even all that fond of parts of this, the script feels a bit too tight and mechanical (often a problem with Masumura, but more pronounced with a quotidian setting like here), never quite leaning enough in a number of potentially interesting characters like the teacher and especially the stepmother (her breakdown in the end isn't really earned), while investing too much in the bland love interest... but the combination of a young Ayako Wakao and color photography is so electrifying that everything else melts into the background anyway. Great table tennis scene, and excellent telephones.

Männer, Doris Dörrie, 1985

Mostly decent German screwball comedy, that doesn't really depend all that much on gender stereotypes; it's more about games of identity and difference: two men trying to escape their selves by turning each other into their own doubles.

A surprisingly modest film, too, and one that might actually benefit from its television roots; a bigger production might've been tempted to open up its very effective chamber-piece setting in order to introduce any number of stupid side plots. The few outdoor scenes still make it clear that Munich is the most cinematic of all German cities; and Heiner Lauterbach might just be the most cinematic of all German actors, at least when it comes to the ones still around. Uwe Ochsenknecht, on the other hand, always rubs me the wrong way and while I might be pressured into acknowledging that Dörrie puts his obnoxiousness rather effectively to use, he still is a burden she can't quite shake off.

Also, the unpleasant cinematic tradition of characters in arthouse films (almost always men) putting on an animal mask in order to, haha, mask their insecurities / fragile masculinity, really should've stopped with this film.

Flesh Pier, Teruo Ishii, 1958

Feels a bit undercooked, trying out different approaches (exploitation, procedural, melodrama) without committing to a single one. Worth checking out for a few astonishing nightclub scenes. A girl and trumpet.

Kalt wie Eis, Carl Schenkel, 1981

Fully committed to style but also to genre (the latter much more so than, for example, Eckhart Schmidt), which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The anger, the desperation, the graffiti and even all that gushing blood are first and foremost art school attitude, so how to deal with the fact that pain does, indeed, hurt?

Brigitte Wöllner's hair and the textures of Berlin. Sex and the city.

Sex Crimes, Ulli Lommel, 1992

"I fucked your husband and he wrapped me in cellophane." He indeed did the latter, in the film's first scene, an awkward kink miniature set in a non-descript hotel room. Afterwards Samantha Phillips, the woman in cellophane, harriedly removes the plastic and tediously puts on her bra. The scene is filmed in real time and it's hard to describe just how weird it is in its mixture of naturalism (Phillips's frustrated groaning when she doesn't manage to connect the bra straps is as real as acting can get), a completely phony neo-noir setup and the Bressonian no-budget Mise-en-Scene.

The rest of the film is just as strange (although I really had hoped for more awkward sex), especially once its main attraction is introduced: a private detective from the heartland hell bent on taking on big city crime. Played by Joe Lambie who comes across as a mixture of Clint Eastwood and a minor league soccer coach. He's also wearing a hat with a "k" on it, and at some point you will find out what this is about!

Lambie clearly is Lommel's version of Mister America and one of the most affecting movie characters imaginable. Samantha Philipps is great, too (she's also wonderful in Jag Mundhra's Sexual Malice), and then there's Cindy Manella who has exactly two imdb credits to her name: Sex Crimes (1992) and Sex Crimes (1992).

I've only seen two Lommel films from the 90s yet, but I'm already convinced that this must be his most radioactive decade. In this case he isn't even listed as director in the credits... Luckily imdb assures me that some Gregory Alosio didn't really call any shots, here. The Lommel touch is unfakeable.

Age of Nudity, Seijun Suzuki, 1959

Basically a kids film footnote to the sun tribe cycle, with lots of biking scenes. Would probably have worked better if Suzuki had turned it into a Japanese Our Gang feature by completely focusing on the pre-teens, instead of inserting a random "older brother" storyline. Still, pleasant enough with some experimental toppings.

Red Pier, Toshio Masuda, 1959

Feels much more organic and of one piece than the early Suzuki and Kurahara films treading similar juvenile noir grounds. Great sense of place and very musical, too. Yujiro Ishihara sings between clotheslines about love on the pier and in the end a harmonica announces his fate.

Hubie Halloween, Steven Brill, 2020

Happy Madison is the only safe space in american cinema right now.

Underworld Beauty, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

A bunch of diamonds emerge from the sewers, make their way through live bodies, dead bodies and artificial bodies, only to end up being reduced to the carbon compound they were from the beginning.

Suzuki obviously enjoys working with one of his stronger scripts, and while Mizushima indeed isn't a particularly energetic lead (evincing a kind of gloomy coolness Suzuki isn't interested in), cheeky Mari Shiraki and Hiroshi Kondo, a man more and more hollowed out by pure greed, until there's nothing left but a bundle of reflexes, easily make up for it.

In a particularly wonderful early scene, Shiraki models for Kondo. And while he paints her into a conventional nude, Suzuki's Mise en scene transforms her into a cubist assemblage.

Orphea, Khavn, Kluge, 2020

A film of two minds, one body, and, luckily, lots of music, most of it great. Lilith Stangenberg tells a story about a snake.

Stolen Desire, Shohei Imamura, 1958

Might work better on 35, but the very dark digital transfer often looks rather undistinguished, and while some of the more freewheeling scenes about popular theater and / as voyeurism work very well, I couldn't bring myself to care about the plight of the whiny young intellectual thrown into the middle of it (the tacked on love story is even less exciting). Maybe just not my kind of movie, Mike D'Angelo calls it Fellini-esque on here, and unfortunately this might be true. I'd recommend Suzuki's WIND-OF-YOUTH GROUP instead, which has almost the same plot but approaches the material from the exact opposite angle.

Heritage of the Desert, Lesley Selander, 1939

I recently read the Zane Grey novel this is based on and was surprised, given that Grey was a household name at the time and is even featured on the poster, just how little of it - neither the plot nor the feel - ends up on screen. Seems like they were just mining his work for a few colorful characters and dramatic incidents, while both the epic scope and especially the spiritual dimension, very pronounced in the novel, fell by the wayside. The adaptation is mostly about flattening of world and affect. The way the main protagonist is introduced is especially revealing: a man out of nowhere trying to escape his past, if not human society in general in the novel, a dull and arrogant rich kid claiming his fortune in the film (that his love interest is changed from half Native American to very white is, unfortunately, less surprising).

Anyway, some of the heavies are fun, otherwise there's not much to see, here.

Heritage of the Desert, Henry Hathaway, 1932

Rewatched this version, too. Not necessarily closer to Grey, but so much more charming and inventive. Feels at times like a first draft for one of Hathaway's finest, THE SHEPHERD OF THE HILLS, especially in those wonderful scenes with Scott and Blane (her lying in her treehouse, dripping water onto his face, while he rests below). Needs a better transfer, asap.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

last 2 weeks on letterboxd

Teenage Yakuza, Seijun Suzuki, 1962

Clearly not one of the more interesting early Suzukis. The script is by the numbers and the protagonist slightly annoying. Still, the Nikkatsu apparatus alone makes almost any film look great while Suzuki adds a phony mustache here and there and also provides lots of quirky, at times poetic details of provincial life. I'm very fond of that one very energetic, overeager girl in Jiro's clique. She brings a special spark to every scene she's in.

Emanuelle in America, Joe D'Amato, 1977

I just had to. There's still that almost ecstatic forward drive that makes it the primus inter pares of the Black Emanuelle films, but of course it can't hit you just as hard when you know what's coming.

Bad Girl, Kirio Urayama, 1963

A strange film speaking of a despair that might be tied rather strongly to a specific time and place and not easily translatable into the present / a non-japanese context. It seems to relate to the continuing defeat of the Japanese left throughout the fifties. Instead of a revolutionary subject there's only a single, obstinate girl, Wakae, stuck between a real world of violence crystallized in crammed shot compositions and an imaginary one hidden beneath the sand and accessible through imagery approaching the abstract. What would it mean to save, reform, love her?

All scenes centering on Wakae are extremely intense, while everything that isn't directly tied to her subjectivity feels heavy-handed, trenched in sociological shorthand. In a way this might not even harm the film: to strip away the false securities provided by (in this case: left-liberal) ideology you really have to let your guard down and this only works face to face, in an encounter with a single individual.

CrimeBroker, Ian Barry, 1994

From the golden days of DTV and Cable TV: a Japanese-Australian coproduction featuring Jacqueline Bisset as a no-nonsense judge who likes to dress up in ridiculous outfits in her spare time and Masaya Kato as an expert seducer and master criminal who nevertheless is easily fooled by the world's worst tailing job.

Ian Barry trenches his film in cut-rate neo-noir aesthetics but has no idea how to maintain suspence or at least keep things lively. At least there are some nice nineties artifacts: the life of crime is mostly dependent on a clunky camcorder and a very hip multi-purpose wrist-watch and there's even a hand-held image scanner that looks like something out of an especially bold teleshopping scam. The hacking scenes are decidedly pre-cyberpunk, though.

The Boy Who Came Back, Seijun Suzuki, 1958

For Sachiko Hidari, romance means encountering another world, a world more dangerous and exciting, more masculine. Love means enthusiastically sipping beer in the nightclub. Love means treasuring bodily memories, even and especially the violent ones. Love means worshipping a face, Akira Kobayashi's face, that starts out clownish, almost childish, but slowly transforms itself into a canvas of pure, existential despair. Love means being constantly transformed by this face, when encountering it, even when remembering it - while knowing from the start that she herself won't ever leave an impression on it. Because for him, love can only mean something when it is part of a manichaen struggle - in this case of purity against filth. Sachiko is innocent, but not pure.

The one he loves, Ruriko Asaoka, doesn't even have to look at his face. For her, love is something internal, a secure place. In the most beautiful scene of the film, she walks across a bridge, singing: "So far, very far away"

Always Be With You, Herman Yau, 2017

Crying in the kitchen because I forgot to cook the rice. This hits harder than it has any right to.

The Sleeping Beast Within, Seijun Suzuki, 1960

Just another one of the eleven 1960/1961 Suzuki films. Once again it's painfully obvious that an environment like this where young directors can try their hand, without career-threatening risk, at many projects in a short time, is one of the main prerequisites for a lively and rich film culture (and probably an indispensable one). Those Nikkatsu programmers might all look similar on the surface, but in fact they aren't at all. For example, Hiroyuki Nagato's reporter is much more bland in this than in SMASHING THE O-LINE, a film that shares many narrative beats with THE SLEEPING BEAST WITHIN, but ends up feeling much more paranoid and modernist. THE SLEEPING BEAST, on the other hand, is rather grave and earnest, not least because of an unusually thick, heavy soundtrack.

Sometimes, especially in the fire inferno finale, the tone approaches Greek tragedy, but Suzuki still manages to insert playful stuff like those two flashbacks to the same scene accompanied by a miniature narrator inside the frame; and in the end the gravity might be a ruse to begin with, because what it comes down to is a rather caustic tale of just another bunch of petty upper middle class assholes dabbling in heroin instead of ship supply.

The Spiders: The Noisy Parade, Ko Nakahira, 1968

Might feel different about this once a decent version shows up, but on first sight this only comes alive once in a while. Not so much a Japanese HELP! than a Japanese approximation of a dull eurospy effort. Slow and unimaginative especially in comparison with Nakahira's BLACK GAMBLER films. One problem might be that there are just too many Spiders.

The Frozen Ghost, Harold Young, 1945

A rather messy entry in the very interesting Inner Sanctum series. The writers didn't seem to want to commit to a single, clear-cut mystery this time around, instead they throw in Martin Kosleck as a multi-purpose creepy guy and let him come up with a new ill-conceived scheme every few minutes while everyone around him remains rather unperturbed. So he's throwing knives now, interesting... Still a lot of fun, thanks to effective Lon Chaney close-ups, a very stylish Evelyn Ankers and a well-sustained level of low-key craziness.

Woman From the Sea, Koreyoshi Kurahara, 1959

She may be a mermaid, or maybe she's just wet and soft from head to toe all the time, especially when in bed, ready for your kisses. She may be a magic shark, or maybe she's just hungry all the time and has to bite straight away into every fish that swims along. She comes and goes through the window into your room high up there on the cliff over the sea. Her appearances are always private, never public. She can't be won over, she can only be accepted.

Not quite the Japanese UNDINE I was hoping for, a bit too sketchy, and the focus unfortunately is mostly on plot mechanics rather than on the pull of the deep (the short underwater sequences are beautiful, though). Not sure if Kurahara was the right director, here, this feels rather restrained compared to his more famous urban slacker films. Still a fascinating, offbeat piece of termite art. When it works, it works mostly because of sultry Hisako Tsukuba, a very unusual presence in Japanese cinema of the time. Later on, as I just learned, she changed her name to Chako van Leeuwen and went on to produce, fittingly, PIRANHA, PIRANHA 3D and PIRANHA 3DD.

Una donna libera, Vittorio Cottafavi, 1954

Tracking shots are like music: they can bring us together, but they can also tear us apart. One of the great melodramas of the 50s.

(There's a new rip out there, much better quality than the old one, but it contains a stupid, jarring cut in the most important scene of the film.)

Goku II: Midnight Eye, Koshiaki Kawajiri, 1989

I'm still all in on Kawajiri's very basic muscles, babes and neon lights concept of coolness, but here he's mostly treading water.

Johnny Flash, Werner Nekes, 1986

Is JOHNNY FLASH (1986) the best film made in the Federal Republic of Germany? Obviously yes, but that's still an understatement. You have to turn things around: JOHNNY FLASH (1986) is the film the Federal Republic of Germany was invented for.

A soft experimental film about the cubism inherent in everyday life, about the interchangeability of family relations, business transactions and entertainment industry, about the beautiful ugliness of inner city post-war architecture, about the death of language and the power of music.

Eight Hours of Terror, Seijun Suzuki, 1957

Compared to so many (very) different movies on here, but clearly a beast of its own first and foremost. Suzuki's centrifugal cinema easily blows up all the constrictions films like this are supposed to be based on, time and space are already nonsense this early in the game, most obviously probably when a pedestrian manages to outpace a bus without even trying all that hard (a single road sign does the trick). He has also lots of fun with little things like repeatedly putting a baby and a gun in the same frame.

Undine 74, Rolf Thiele, 1974

Thiele had a one-track mind and by 1974 he also seems to have lost just about any connection to the time he lived in, but he also had an ultra-baroque visual imagination setting him apart from pretty much everyone this side of Wenzel Storch. Here, he and Wolf Wirth are really running wild, shooting for something like Sternberg meets Jess Franco. The rear projection motorbike sex scene is something only the creme de la creme of cine-sickos would even try pulling of.

The Incorrigible, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

"I hate Strindberg, but at least he brought us together."

Like in Urayama's DELINQUENT GIRL, Masako Izumi close-ups are a force of nature and go a long way in selling a love story that otherwise not always feels fully fleshed out. There are some very effective long shots, too (and a wonderful, highly artificial flashback sequence), but generally Suzuki feels more at home with the caustic aspects of the script: Tôgo's big city arrogance vs goofy provincial morality. Sometimes the film, flaunting its own literary aspirations, seems to aligne itself a bit too firmly with the former.

The Witch Who Came from the Sea, Matt Cimber, 1976

Sidesteps pretty much completely the iconography and dramatic beats one would expect in a film like this, instead it's mostly a series of encounters filmed as if in real time pitting Millie Perkins against different people who try to read her, one way or another. The men (including, depressingly, her sons) project all kind of bullshit on her, while the women mostly see through her.

...I seldom like flashback scenes in trauma films. Most of the times there are simply too many of them, I guess, they soon lose their unsettling force and become mechanistic shorthand in order to drive forward the plot. Here they try much harder than usually to let them reverberate in original ways, but the drive towards revelation is still present. The (great) tattooing scene, for example, would've had a much stronger and more lasting impact without the reveal that, yes, father did this, too.

I tartassati, Steno, 1959

One never watches enough Italian comedies. This has an annoying sideplot starring Luciano Marin, but otherwise it's just one exhibit of Toto greatness after the other. The tax avoidance setup is tailor-made for his trying to weasel out of his own schemes persona (as well as a somewhat harsh showcsae for a fatalistic view of society), while Aldo Fabrizi and de Funes are, naturally, excellent co-stars - although it's always clear who runs the show, here.

Steno mostly just lets the camera run, knowing fully well that Toto always comes with his own Mise en Scene.

The Blood Sword of the 99th Virgin, Morihei Magatani, 1959

The ugly flipside of Kinoshita's THE BALLAD OF NARAYAMA and similar fairy-tale-style takes on pre-modern Japan, substituting the subtle allure of aesthetizised otherness with crass exploitation. Pretty grizzly (not only the human sacrifice stuff, but also the corresponding images of state violence, like that shot of a sniper aiming at a lone woman in the woods) and not exactly thinking man's cinema, but extremely effective and, for better or worse, far ahead of its time.

The Man With the Golden Arm, Otto Preminger, 1955

Zosh Machine: the name alone is punishment and destiny. She's the true center of the film, the entrapped entrapper, locked in up there in her small, miserable apartment, a life clearly defined and restricted while everyone else has at least some options. The cruelest of camera movements: the camera moving off of her, giving her space, but only so that she can stand up and, betraying her betrayal, walk up towards Otto's unflinching gaze. From this moment on she is lost, living on borrowed time.

Yes, of course: Woman as metaphor, a sacrificial lamb at the mercy of a ruthless script. Still, what makes her role so powerful is the very absence of (sane) agency. All she can do is learn how to whistle. Zosh's whistle: In theory a medium of expression, and at the same time useless, because it cannot represent nuances and interiority, but only produces a single, garish note.

The Man With the Shotgun, Seijun Suzuki 1961

Suzuki mostly having fun with rather than making fun of western tropes makes for breezy, colorful pulp entertainment. Would love to watch this one on film one day.

Born Under Crossed Stars, Seijun Suzuki, 1965

Very funny and very free-form provincial farce / sex comedy filled with speckled cows, kisses charged with meaning, steamy revelations in the bathhouse, expressive tattoos, Yumeka Nogawa's toothy smile and assertive flirting technique (clenching Ken Yamauchi's knee between her thighs), and quite a few blows on the forehead. Sprawling with chaotic widescreen energy, great stuff.

Lust, Caution, Ang Lee, 2007

Ang Lee's afterword to the english translation of Eileen Chang's short novella the film is based on is smart, perceptive, and precise. His film, unfortunately, is none of that. Bloated, very on the nose (I knew I'd have some problems with this film as soon as the rapid-fire montage sequence during the Mahjong game right at the start), and rather academic, especially once the fucking starts. In theory I appreciate the idea of sex scenes that are meant to proof something, as part of an argument, but here they carry way too much weight, resulting in a pornographic approach to subjectivity that defeats sensuality. Not completely, though, the actors are still great and Ang Lee is a good enough technician to successfully pull off some of his tricks. Still, one of his weaker films.

Under the Flag of the Rising Sun, Kinji Fukasaku, 1972

Plunging into the abyss that is history. Once the gates are open there is no stopping it. Fukasaku's supreme showmanship and Shindo's unwavering and not exactly nuanced leftist sensibilities are a very good match for a project like this.

Five Golden Dragons, Jeremy Summers, 1967

So while Chang Cheh revolutionized the wuxia with ONE-ARMED SWORDSMAN, somewhere else on the Shaw Studios soundstages Jeremy Summers was busy directing some of the dullest chase scenes imaginable. A low-energy eurospy dud featuring Robert Cummings on autopilot, desperately trying to get some mileage out of its Hong Kong setting and a long list of cameos. The absurdist five dragons finale is mildly amusing.

Was die Schwalbe sang, Geza von Bolvary, 1956

Stilted but at times weirdly affecting adaptation of Theodor Storm's "Immensee". I haven't seen the Harlan version, which probably goes all in on the melodrama; Bolvary takes his time to get there and goes through some rather stale Heimatfilm motions. While his direction clearly has lost the spark of his early 30s films, he still has an affinity for music, though. Especially the scenes about Margit Saad discovering her sense of harmony are quite nice. She's so enthusiastic, at one time she even jumps onto the sofa! Those daring big city girls... Uber-blonde Maj-Britt Nilsson would never, she always catches the 0:30 train home. Claus Biederstaedt grew on me, too: eyebrows of defiance, eyebrows of regret.

In the end the film is like Paul Hörbiger's Philipp Meyen: mostly immobilized, hopelessly stuck in the past, clinging to half-processed memories, closed-off to new experiences... but always ready to be flushed with a sentiment that doesn't know itself.

Die Landärztin, Paul May, 1958

Probably as progressive as a 1958 Heimatfilm can get: Marianne Koch defeats provincial closed-mindedness and is allowed to have a career, but she still has to marry Rudolf Prack.

Paul May struggles terribly when it comes to the more dramatic scenes (the Maria Perschy pregnancy plot is especially awkward); as long as he focusses on Koch and the shenanigans of the great supporting cast, everything flows along pleasantly, though: Willy Millowitsch introduces a bit of Rhinelandish absurdism, Beppo Brem hugs a bottle after battling rabies, and the always great Rudolf Vogel stands on his head to defeat the foehn wind!

Raped by an Angel, Andrew Lau, 1993

Over the top and then some. Prime Wong Jing nastiness built around a number of elaborate rape scenes; or rather rape set pieces, as they basically serve the same function as a 20 minutes car chase mayhem extravaganza in a Michael Bay film. Topped off by Andrew Lau's glossy expert execution that somehow manages to eliminate most cognitive distancing devices. Those two really make D'Amato look like a choirboy.

Sensation in San Remo, Georg Jacoby, 1951

Somehow manages to feel both shop-soiled and frozen in time: Marika Rökk and company (Peter Pasetti is especially unbearable in the alpha male role) stomping through a number of entertainment mainstays like it's 1944, hell-bent on ignoring that something, anything might have changed in the meantime; everyone is a bit too old for his or her role, though, and this lends the stale proceedings an unspecific air of sadness.

The revue finale isn't all bad and especially Rökk's crossdressing scene might've some camp appeal, I guess. Too little too late, but at least it makes me a bit curious about her late work; maybe at one point she stopped being the ever-competent entertainment automaton to be transformed into a glorious, aging showbiz warhorse. This photography, at least, is rather promising:

Century of the Dragon, Clarence Fok, 1999

Another interesting film from Hong Kong cinema's transformative late 90s period. Clarence Fok's direction is stylish as always but rather restrained when compared to his prime, while the script feels like Wong Jing's attempt at tight plotting - at one point he almost deliberately wastes a perfect opportunity for extra-disgusting toilet humor. On first sight this might look like a proto INFERNAL AFFAIRS; on a scene by scene basis it still plays out completely differently, though: at its heart, things are driven not by structure but by performance, and when the great ensemble cast (MVP, rather surprisingly: Patrick Tam) is let loose, the bigger picture always quickly fades into the background.