Wednesday, November 24, 2021

This summer in letterboxd (2): Terza Visione et al

JVCD, Mabrouk El-Mechri, 2008

Good idea, terrible execution. All those unhinged, unfiltered jcvd soul searching, coupled with the also very pleasant small scope may be enough to make me cope with some of the most annoying villains in recent genre filmmaking; but it's not enough, unfortunately, to overcome the beyond ugly color grading that tries its best to suck the life out of every single frame.

Hard Target, John Woo, 1993

Total immersion: Woo comes to America and tries to film a city's atmosphere as if it were a material entity - and Van Damme its natural, organic offspring, not at all a historical, biographical being, and also not just a creature of myth; but a body rhythmically attuned to its surroundings. To me the film loses quite a bit of its punch once everyone heads for the swamps, although I'll probably have to see it again soon, anyway.

No Retreat, No Surrender, Corey Yuen, 1986

I know I should finally start watching the right kind of Corey Yuen films, but I had quite a bit of fun with this one, too. The first half has a good eye for teenage awkwardness and colorful 80s fashion (there's a cute rabbit in it, too), and the second half basically is a single, epic training montage, culminating in a decent final brawl.

Double Impact,Sheldon Lettich, 1991

Van Damme in his prime is always worth a watch and I guess the introduction of the how many Van Dammes are there, really, and why? theme so important in later years earns it its place in the canon ... but this unfortunately really is an almost formless drag for the most part.

The Last Mercenary, David Charhon, 2021

More a french mainstream ensemble comedy than a Van Damme vehicle, which I guess is both a bad thing (because the non JCVD parts often are bland and almost always way too long) and a good thing (because the script completely sidesteps cheap nostalgia and at least tries to engage with the present moment). Also makes one wish the in theory much more engaging JCVD would have been directed by at least a competent hack.

Universal Soldier, Roland Emmerich, 1992

Surprisingly well-made, if a bit impersonal. I don't think Emmerich's heart was in this one, except maybe for the road-trip Americana feel of some of the scenes and probably a few of the more out there musclescapes (although this kind of crass display of sexuality never quite sits right with his filmmaking), but he really does an expert job in elevating, for better or worse, throwaway pulp material to blockbuster proportions.

Fucking Berlin, Florian Gottschick, 2016

I wish this wasn't quite as inept on the most basic level of script and dialogue, because who even tries something like this any more? Engaging with a city and its sexual imaginary head-on, milking those iconic locations for all they got, synching streetscapes with beats and bodies, baiting with explicit debauchery and delivering the latest brand of big city ennui instead ...

Could've been an ICH - EIN GROUPIE for the new millenium, but in the end it's all just a bit too ridiculous, like donning Christiane F.'s Bowie coat on the way to a cozy Zentrum Kreuzberg bordello that seems to be born from an uneasy combination of woke sex work fantasies and ARD daytime television dramas. An exploitation film about the impossibility of exploitation cinema in the present historical moment.

Tomorrow's Dining Table, Takahisa Zeze, 2021

The drama of motherhood, first multiplied and then slowly stripped down to its raw emotional core, which turns out to be closely connected to a taboo so strict it just can't be confronted head-on. Not everything works equally well: the middle-class storyline, despite being the most straight-forward, is the weakest - strangely enough, the somewhat over the top plots of the other two archs pull more punch. On the other hand, Miho Kanno has the most intense scream of them all.

Kressin und der Mann mit dem gelben Koffer, Michael Verhoeven, 1972

Doesn't really feel like a Tatort, but more like an abstract, wannabe-modernist take on the Eurospy formula that just happens to be stuck in Bonn and surroundings instead of branching out into more photogenic locations. Overall pretty boring, unfortunately, applaudable as Verhoeven's cinematic aspirations (including long stretches without any dialogue - unthinkable in today's German television crime fiction) may be in theory.

It's Tough Being a Man, Yoji Yamada, 1969

The beginning of a journey. Mostly about an outsider trying, and failing to find the right distance (or the right kind of distance) from society. Yamada's direction is, of course, smooth and relaxed throughout. A welcoming film.

Der rote Schatten, Dominik Graf, 2017

At its best a mellow nighttime Stuttgart blues about lost souls emerging from a utopian leftist, though still thoroughly Swabian 8mm past to haunt the urban periphery of present day southern German prosperity. Some excellent musical cues coupled with a more relaxed than usual cutting pattern; underlit, tired faces still trying to escape their own historical obsolescence; a mudhole on the way to the garden hut...

But this time there's just way too much plot, and not a very interesting one either. When "grappling with the legacy of the radical left" only comes down to once again asking what really happened that one night in that Stammheim prison cell - then maybe it might make more sense to just let matters rest for now? And as much as I love Richy Müller, his trip down memory lane is quite a bit annoying, and only makes me want to watch DIE INNERE SICHERHEIT again.

Un jeans e una maglietta, Mariano Laurenti, 1983

Who's that guy, throwing pebbles into the water, causing small, pathetic ripples, lost in the cruel beauty of the sea? It's Nino, the world's loneliest ice-cream vendor ... soon to become the world's happiest ice-cream vendor, because l'amore is l'amore and we all remember a moment of grace or two. A film completely in tune with the shameless sentimentality and dreamlike bluntness of a good pop song. In a way the film might even be superior to the song, because cinema is not only about dream images, but about their perpetual actualisation and perfecting.

Also, Neapolitan dialect is extremely beautiful, and the most heartbreaking image of the whole film does belong to neither Nino nor Annemaria, but the other girl, the brunette one (Luisa?), when a single tear starts running down her silent face.

Tutte lo vogliono, Alessio Maria Federici

Dire, complacent "post-romantic" romcom that can't even be saved by wraparound sequences of Enrico Brignano travelling the countryside with a chimp on the passenger seat. I'm afraid Italian cinema has lost its way with comedy just as much as with every other genre. Where's all that high-strung sexual sensitivity gone? How can a country, in less than two generations, go from Alberto Sordi to ... this?

3096 Tage, Sherry Hormann, 2013

A film so thoroughly conflicted, it's just not possible to confront it head-on. Paradoxically, it is cursed by the inherent cinematicality of the Kampusch case - which basically amounts to a real-life exploration of Plato's Allegory of the cave, and therefore film theory. So in a way, both the film and its failure probably were inevitable. Cinema just couldn't resist to return, after the story had already played out both in reality and in the yellow press, to the cave / cellar, and to retrace every step towards liberation - a liberation that also is a liberation from cinema, because it is clear from the start that the film will lose its raison d'etre once the prison is not only broken open but thoroughly disempowered. The order of the visible demands a frame.

This complicity between cinema and the kidnapper is so pronounced, that the film constantly has to sabotage its most direct impulses in order to not delve into crass exploitation. The only thing that escapes this (once again: not only excusable, but necessary and inevitable) watering down is the casting, especially when it comes to Antonia Campbell-Hughes: a radical act of embodiment that makes clear that the art of acting in some ways is always tainted by a fundamental obscenity, the ultimate transgression.

German post-millenial film maudit fantasy double feature:

Daniel, der Zauberer (Ulli Lommel, 2004)
3096 Tage (Sherry Hromann, 2013)

Half-Way to Shanghai, John Rawlins, 1942

Another interesting wartime b-movie, a train-set mystery with J. Edward Bromberg as yet another "ethnic" detective. He's not the main attraction here, though, since the politics involved demand more in terms of characterization and motivation than the traditional whodunit formula provides. The cast is pretty great, which usually is enough to make programmers like this a success ... but here, I was constantly put off by the film's lack of effort to render the train sets halfway realistically - they're just way too wide, and people move through them without showing any awareness for the specific directedness of train travel. Weirdly enough, this is the kind of detail that completely inhibits my suspension of disbelief.

The Tiger Woman, Philip Ford, 1945

First film of John's nephew Philip Ford (who went on to direct 42 movies in 7 years) and already a gem, a bone-dry, soft-spoken noir with smooth Kane Richmond falling, more or less knowingly, for Adele Mara's blonde poison, only to, in the end, turn the tables on her by catching her in his own sensual trap. Romance as the necessary lie, only heartbroken we will approach truth. Seamless, intimate filmmaking, a dark, ironic tale spoken in a steady inflection that makes each small emphasis count.

Sightless, Cooper Karl, 2020

Nothing makes sense here but I don't care, I'm just glad that there are still films out there which use genre not as a formula but as a laboratory. Plus, Cheryl Blossom from Riverdale is in it and she's just as good a horror film actress as I already know she would be.

Mio figlio Nerone, Steno, 1956

From the golden days of Italian cinema, when you could just dress up Sordi, Swanson, Bardot and De Sica in wonderful, silly costumes, place them in colorful sets probably left over from some earlier epic, build a few loosely connected vignettes of psychosexual mayhem around them, let a dp called Mario Bava add a few ornamental flourishes here and there, and call it a movie, knowing fully well that this way of making them is easily superior to almost any other.

L'ombrellone, Dino Risi, 1965

Magnificent beach movie by Risi, pitting small gestures of despair against the oppressive force of the humming machine of modern society, a constant buzzle intensified by the erotic claims of the holiday setting. Comedy and melancholia are truly inseparable here, because often enough they're attached to the same object, like the door of a hotel room.

A distant relative of both LA DOLCE VITA and LA NOTTE, but by tackling sex-based alienation and class-based anxiety on a more life-size scale, Risi manages to get so much more out of his actors. Sandra Milo's power laugh will haunt me.

W le donne, Aldo Grimaldi, 1970

Somehow manages to be dull as dishwater despite being both a musicarello and a military farce, two genres that normally must not do much besides being themselves to bring me joy. This one really is as lifeless as cinema outside of the festival circuit possibly can be, even the Franco and Ciccio routines feel zombified, mere reflexes, performed in a no-man's-land cut off from any sources of meaning.

Perdono, Ettore Maria Fizzarotti, 1966

Caterina Casselli's warm, slightly raspy voice alone - for good reason almost all of the songs are sung by her - would make this worthwhile, but it has so much more going for it. Casselli's hairdo for once, and also the clash between broad community theater acting and painfully protracted comedy routines clash on one side, and the marvelous set design as well as the at times surprisingly sophisticated wide-screen mise-en-scene on the other.

The whole Casselli-Moroni-Efrikian love triangle plays out like an accidentally modernist exploration of love, affect and subjectivity. Especially the scenes with Moroni and Casselli - his stiffness and her excessive, slightly awkward expressivity, the way she tries to open up a new world for him with each song, to no much effect ... Efrikian is interesting, too, although the script unfortunately treats her rather terribly. When the much taller Moroni kisses her, concentrated and laborious, we don't see two people engaging in genuine affect, but two machines, involved in a complicated process that probably takes a long time (a lifetime?) to properly evolve.

I guess this is once again the kind of film not many people will love as much as me ... but I genuinely believe that there's something intersting going on here.

Die Einsteiger, Sigi Rothemund, 1985

Maybe the logical final destination of west German post-war filmmaking: the tommyfication of everything. Luckily, Mike Krüger tags along, too. I grew rather fond of him while watching this. Of course, the parodies are terribly lazy and basically every single one of them wears out its welcome after about half a minute ... but on the other hand there's no denying that this one is far more inventive than basically anything else coming out of Germany in the 1980s.

La discoteca, Mariano Laurenti, 1983

Yes, mostly a tired, conceptually underdeveloped rehash of UN JEANS E UNA MAGLIETTA that tries to exchange the beach setting for a ski resort, only to revert back to the seaside once it becomes clear that the new setting doesn't work at all ... also, even some of the music gets recycled and while I of course greatly appreciate an idea as silly as turning a German hotel owner into a Hitler revenant ("Ghitler"), even stupid jokes need a bit of care.

On the other hand, though, the dancing scenes are absolutely marvelous ... finally, the utter, alienesque strangeness of Nino D'Angelo's physique emerges into full view.

Danger: Diabolik, Mario Bava, 1968

Indeed a film that cancels out all others for the time of its projection. Not aggressively so, though, more like a mellow, friendly sun melting away all the strained ugliness out there, in cinema and elsewhere.

Poveri ma belli, Dino Risi, 1957

The mechanics of desire: Is desire something that captures your sense of taste, or something that whispers sweet melodies in your ear? Anyway, when the orchestra starts to play, only one gets to dance with her, the other one holds the broom. Even if the body is ready to commit, the eye is always wandering, looking for an escape. Anyway, how many kisses for one true love?

(To be sure, Risi's films are set in a deeply sexist time and place and it shows. How could it not?)

So so great, even the two somewhat dull male leads make sense: taken one at a time there's not much to them, therefore it really is necessary to have both of them.

Risi's direction is so fluid and perceptive, always completely in the moment, ever ready to take any detour the richness of his world demands, that the intricate structure of the story only ever registers after the fact.

The Babysitter, McG, 2017

I guess remixing a number of Spielberg / Zemeckis / Columbus style coming of age staples while turning both the sadism and the dorkiness to eleven might even count as originality; and this at least feels much more alive than something like SALVATION or 3 DAYS TO KILL. Alive in the most juvenile way possible, of course, but well, deal with it, repressed teenage horniness just is inherently cinematic.

Still, McG remains an astonishingly bad director when it comes to, say, setting up a basic jump scare or selecting a needle drop that doesn't make you want to jump out of the nearest window. What really breaks this is the attempt to set up "ominous" objects early in the film that will later on, one by one, reappear in the payoff. A structure like this demands a minimum of restraint and structural effort the perpetually overexcited McG clearly isn't prepared to muster.

Come perdere una moglie e trovare un'amante, Pasquale Festa Campanile

Wonderful slapstick sex farce about a guy who doesn't know what he wants, but who is fully immersed in his own insufficiencies. In a way, he is nothing more than the sum of his inefficiencies - the few attempts to psychoanalyze him only lead to the most basic of mother complexes. When cinema decides to tackle his fundamentally damaged libido, it's not about reaching some deeper plane, but to revel in the surface pleasure of sex as parapraxis. And, crazy enough, this very commitment to insufficiency might even lead to happiness.

Love on Delivery, Steven Chow, Li Lik-Chi, 1994

Stephen Chow films challenge my belief that sound comedies, even those of the visceral variety, are almost always best served by unobtrusive camera / lighting schemes that let performers, comedic objects and language do the heavy lifting. With him, though, the camera is always an integral part of the equation, the gag inseparable from its giddy presentation, with the world being turned into an endlessly malleable repository of comedic attractions, that is navigable only by a decidedly unsteady gaze.

Anyway, the comparatively lower stakes serve Chow's style well, so this one flows along just perfectly. I'm pretty sure that on some higher plane of existence this film is the only reason Garfield was ever invented.

Flickan i frack, Karen Swanström,1926

Gentle if not exactly fast-moving comedy of manners interrogating the way we dress and what that might mean. Much more a conversation than a sermon, it comes from a place of genuine curiosity and is filled with great, understated performances.

Cafe Chantant,Camillo Mastrocinque, 1955

A pastel dream of radioactive 1950s pop, firmly chained to petit-bourgeoise sensibilities which translate into a cultural inferiority complex: We know that we should've gone to the opera instead of to the cinema / cabaret, but well, that's where we ended up anyway, so let's make the best of it. The wraparound segments are sleazy miniatures of patriarchy running wild, still mostly untouched by any knowledge of its own historical obsolescence, while most of the variety numbers come down on the decorative and pleasantly superficial side, with a dull nostalgia song about a visit to the Scala marking the lowest, and a prolonged absurdist Fabrizi sketch the highest point on a mostly level scale.

I always enjoy the "unfiltered" / "uncurated" access to bygone popular culture films like this one provide, and this one has the added benefit of looking absolutely awesome and also of not overstaying its welcome (like Borzage's STAGE DOOR CANTEEN, for example).

Manta, Manta, Wolfgang Büld, 1991

The eternally underrated Büld delivers what might just be his masterpiece (give or take the more loosely constructed, Schlagerfilm-inspired GIB GAS, ICH WILL SPASS): a perfectly calibrated piece of tongue-in-cheek zeitgeist filmmaking, the cinematic equivalent of making out on top of a pinball machine. From the perspective of the market (aka Eichinger), this might not be much more than the adaptation of an especially stale genre of schoolyard jokes; pop-savvy Büld, though, not only adds an exquisite soundtrack, but also succeeds in transforming post-industrial social wasteland of the 1990s ruhr area into a complex moral universe - even the most tired klischees like the token migrant (a wonderfully relaxed Ömer Simsek) and the ugly duckling sidekick (anarchic camp goddess Beatrice Manowski) make lasting impressions.

And right in the center of it what might just be the best performance in all German 90s cinema: Till Schweiger in full tank-top glory as majestically petty, passive-aggressive Berti, always ready to blow his fuse over the smallest of insults, lashing out against a world he doesn't understand and nevertheless is convinced he was born to rule.

Limbo, Soi Cheang, 2021

Again enthralled by how well this works on the level of pure genre filmmaking. Especially that double chase scene right in the middle of it: two movements continually intersecting and diverting each other. And it is this very set piece that leads everyone straight into the phantasmagorical hellscape of the last 40 minutes.

Its lessons will surely be lost on the A24 crowd, but nevertheless: this might be the only film in recent memory that could sensibly described as elevated horror.

Chi si ferma e perduto, Sergio Corbucci, 1960

Toto the magnificent. One aspect of his greatness is that, even while easily dominating every single scene he's in, he manages to enhance the presence of everyone around him, too. A social comedian, attentive to everything going on around him, the smallest change of energy in the frame.

Harte Jungs, MarcRothemund, 2000

When bumbling sidekick Axel Stein is the liveliest actor in your talking dick movie you most definitely got a problem. Really nothing but a listless application of American teen movie formulas here. Seriously, the cringy rap song the two leads perform over the credits is more fun than anything preceeding it. Also, the homophobia really is off the charts in this.

Belle ma povere, Dino Risi, 1957

More on the soapy side and clearly minor Risi. Still, so much beauty and joy in every single scene. I'm so glad I finally got around to watching his films.

Mädchen Mädchen!, Dennis Gansel, 2001

Maybe it's just because I watched this almost back to back with the terrible HARTE JUNGS, but I enjoyed this quite a bit. The script is almost as rote, so it's all the more amazing what a difference a few inspired performances and some well-observed teenage hangout vibes make. Especially some of the minor characters like Dirk evince a genuine weirdness that easily transcends the function the script assigns to them. Also, this is one of the few teenage films I know that acknowledges - casually, without any moralistic overreach - the importance of alcohol for juvenile socializing.

So there's at least some kind of freedom on display here, an open horizon of possibilities, and in the end this may be all that counts. On the other hand, though, one thing that kept bugging me was the omnipresence of markers of middle-class affluency, coupled with the utter unwillingness to engage or even recognize it. Not that I long for self-righteous condemnations of privilege - but this is a film that really seems to be completely blind to its own social prerequisits.

Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell, 2020

I guess there's an argument to be made that a film willing to deal with gender politics and structural violence in the present day just has to take the dynamics and discursive frameworks of social media into account - not in order to be popular on twitter, but because social media necessarily is one of the decisive frameworks all kinds of power relations, especially those as highly charged as sexual ones, evolve in these days.

That's clearly what PYW does; a thoroughly and for better or worse contemporary film that clearly has no intention of revisiting the kind of rape-revenge tropes that participate, sometimes more sometimes less gleefully, in the violent acts depicted. And still, I can't help myself, to me the whole thing feels both emotionally stunted and aesthetically corrupt, mainly because it takes as its starting point not rape culture, but outrage over rape culture - the kind of outrage, more precisely, that might not exactly be just as "ritualized" and "performative" as some of its detractors claim, but that still has already (=long before the film starts) been codified into a stable discourse that tends to function as a way too strict moral compass, complete with self-righteous platitudes signifying nothing in the vein of "imagine how tired we are".

It's just a bit dubious that the closest the film comes to directly representing rape culture (ie the very thing basically every single action in the film is supposed to be a reaction to) is the short barroom conversation of Adam Brody and his two drinking pals in the beginning. Everything that follows is already a few steps removed from the immediacy of violence. In other words: we're always already in the realm of language. Which doesn't mean that the pain isn't real, of course ... but after a while it becomes pretty obvious that the guiding intention is not so much to lay bare the fabrics of a "toxic" society (arguably the inclusion of the Britney cover, while not really convincing musically, is one of the smarter moments of the film) than to call out a few choice boogey/wo/men that already have been dragged times and again through social media. Just like the never-ending moral twitter outrage that more often than not boils down to a policing of communication that usually is as blind to its own tendency towards authoritarianism as it is selective in its targets.

Candyman, Bernard Rose, 1992

So pitch-perfect a blueprint for epistemological horror in the beginning - the desire to immerse oneself into the urban fabric, to open up the curtains onto the social real one always suspected must be out there somewhere collapsing back onto the self, one's own body and organs of perception, with the fragility of the world projected onto Virginia Madsen's face - that it really is a shame that at some point the script just starts piling one bullshit plot point onto the other. Anyway, as long as it works it truly sparkles.

Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh, Bill Condon, 1995

Even more tedious than I imagined a Bill Condon Candyman film to be. No energy whatsoever, Kelly Rowan especially can't muster any excitement and the only thing that breaks through the tedium is th radio voice - because it's so damn annoying. Only the New Orleans setting and the somewhat atmospheric last half hour save it from being a complete bust.

Candyman:Day of the Dead, Turi Meyer, 1999

Normally I'd say give me cheap exploitation over "tasteful" boredom any day, but this somehow ended up being even worse than FAREWELL TO THE FLESH. Gratuitous nudity and trashy effect work ain't worth much when most of the film consists of your lead sleepwalking through the blandest of sets. (Ok, I know, there are quite a few D'Amato five star masterpieces that could be described using the exact same words ... well, cinema is a complex art form.)

There Is No Evil, Mohammad Rasoulof, 2020

Not so much about the death penalty than about a much more specific moral problem connected to it. This results in a degree of denseness and almost geometrical rigor episodic films seldom have, which is both a good and a bad thing I guess: the film never loses tension but also tends to be a bit too much in love with its own structure. Rasoulof does succeeds in crafting a distinctive tone for each episode - with my favorite clearly being the desperate, straightforward second one. Even there he insists on capping things of with a terribly neat twist, though.

Pura Vida Ibiza, Gernot Roll, 2004

Didn't expect the sight of the Air Berlin logo to trigger nostalgia, but here we go ... this really is a film from a world past. Bozo booz'n'boobs tourism clearly still exists though I guess an affirmation of its aesthetics as naive as this one just wouldn't fly in multiplexes anymore (especially that one particularly rapey scene towards the end with the garbage can - hard to imagine how something like this ever could've gotten a pass, let alone a mere 17 years ago). To be sure, it didn't exactly set the box office on fire back then, unsurprisingly so: a BALLERMANN 6 rip-off that replaces Tom Gerhard's star power and relaxed proletarian charme with the blandest of sex comedy tropes and a thinly disguised appeal to protestant work ethics - turns out partying is hard work, too, and even the one scene that dares to leave behind the safe grounds of penis pump humor to venture into more primal, scatological territory is revealed to be part of a mass tourism boot-camp.

Anyway, appreciate the effort, guys.

Kein Bund für's Leben, Granz Henman, 2007

Apparently the 2000s were the decade Constantin decided to more or less systematically work its way through the main modes of low-brow-comedy, by way of thoroughly Germanizing time-proven tropes coined in Hollywood (and elsewhere, of course). I guess it makes some kind of sense that after tackling the high-school sex comedy of both the male (HARTE JUNGS) and the female (MÄDCHEN MÄDCHEN) persuasion, as well as the holiday gross-out comedy (PURA VIDA IBIZA), the military farce had to be next. In theory the anarchic crown jewel of the genre ... but probably not the best fit for the German condition.

After working as production assistant on KIDS, Granz Henman had already proven himself to be German cinema's answer to Larry Clark by writing HARTE JUNGS, and as a director he generally seems to be better attuned to comedy than most of his Constantin peers, this one feels pretty dynamic at times and he even knows how to make use of Axel Stein (by not giving him lines, mostly). Still, it's all so joyless and dire. Forging, with quite a bit of discursive effort, a community of bozos united solely by their deficiencies only to let them score a make-believe victory against - who else - the Americans ... such a fainthearted, petty wish-fulfilment fantasy, enough to make me fall in hate with Germany all over again.

Der letzte Lude, Stephen Manuel, 2003

Can't say that I thought about him much in the last 20 years, but Lotto King Karl seems to be an all-around pleasant dude. Not necessarily a natural film actor, though, and DER LETZTE LUDE makes good use of his constant flippant fourth-wall-breaking only some of the time. Still, I guess under different circumstances I might've enjoyed this kind of meandering, irreverent, throw shit on the wall and see what sticks kind of filmmaking quite a bit. As long as Lotto and his director opt for hangout miniatures and gleeful obscenities, I happily go with the flow. I just wasn't all that willing, this time, to put up with the much less inspired genre parody parts.

Once again: a world past. Here, my madeleine turned out to be a Schlecker branch used as background scenery.

Ein Tag ist schöner als der andere, Kurt Hoffmann, 1969

We are family. If this isn't cinema verite, the term has no meaning whatsoever.

Deadly Breed, Charles T. Kanganis, 1989

What's not to love: a solid, pro-minority b-movie procedural that doesn't start from self-serving leftist outrage or vapid liberal aspirational rhetorics, but from a realist assessment about the difficulties of "making it" in an imperfect world that is ruled, all too often, by racist cops who spend their leisure time maniacally playing the piano in their underwear.

The J&B product placement took me a bit by surprise, though come to think of it this might share some DNA with all those meat and potatoes poliziotti made a decade earlier. The tone is more somber and the attempts at sleaze (using Michelle Berger's body as a seductive framing device, mostly) feel a bit awkward, but this one has its heart in the right place.

Ausgerechnet Bananen, Ulli Lommel, 1978

So it turns out that besides shooting the most lethargic Hitler film ever and immersing himself into Warhol's factory, Lommel in the late 1970s also managed to direct his lover at the time, Anna Karina, in a sex comedy that plays out, almost point for point, like a pre-emption of Oshima's MAX, MON AMOUR.

Only that here not the chimp, but Lommel himself is called Max. In an early scene, we see him and Karina clowning around in bed, and the following film never quite looses the feel of a sexual game two lovers invent both together and for each other. A game that mostly plays out as a relaxed, irreverent farce (with the butt of the joke mostly being not Max, but the paranoid, controlling horniness of his father) and still might not be completely devoid of consequences.

Like the Oshima film, this is much less about a woman (and not just any woman, a bona fide film star) getting it on with an ape, than about the male fantasy production even the hint at such an act sets in motion. And also like in Oshima, what really makes the film special is not its satiric poignancy, but a general air of generosity swalling up, over time, the phallic desire to know.

Always bet on Lommel, I guess.

Uno scugnizzo a New York, Mariano Laurenti, 1984

While I enjoyed both UN JEANS E UNA MAGLIETTA and LA DISCOTECA quite a bit, this one obviously is a different kind of beast and finally the pure-hearted masterpiece of pop cinema its predecessors only hinted at. Gone is the musicarello / Schlagerfilm heritage, the last remnants of traditional genre realism, the bumbling sidekick, the always a bit stuffy social mechanics of romance.

This mostly is just Nino and a black guy hanging out in the streets of NY, two creatures of pure pop, floating into and out of storylines that seem to be made up on the spot and never coalesce into something as solid as a hero's journey, let alone a biography. A job is just a job: this is the truth-value of the American dream, and in the realm of pop capitalism one just might just find oneself fighting the fight of one's life mere minutes after entertaining even the possibility of becoming a professional boxer this time.

Nino once again dances like a god from another galaxy and even seemingly botched scenes like the ending might just lead to the most elevating airport affect ever.

This, or my brain has been melted by watching way too much italo-trash lately. (And more to come!) Seriously, I'm open to that possibility, too.

Serendipity, Peter Chelsom, 2001

Cusack's and Beckinsale's immense charm, as well as the truly clever script make it easy, at least most of the time, to forget that this isn't exactly free of some of the problems plaguing modern romantic comedies, for example when it comes to the misuse of pop music. Just amazing how well everything flows together, how directly the fortune cookie talk about "fate" and "contingency" reveals a social truth about the historical moment the genre is confronted with: This basically boils down to a remarriage comedy that replaces the lover's conversation with an enhanced awareness - the only thing shared by the otherwise separated lovers - of the endless ornamental contingencies of capitalist (dys)functionality always already surrounding and determining any notion of love and romance in the present day. When we love, we no longer teach each other about the world; instead, we let the world place us in a position of dubious and temporary, yet never less than exhilarating knowledge.

Arrividerci Roma, Roy Rowland, 1957

First film of the festival and already an ending to die for: Poor Beppo finding out that being a "true musician" and an "artist", the very thing he longed for all his life, for him first and foremost means not being a tenor - and therefore losing the girl. He has to stay behind, in art, in music, while Mario Lanza and Marisa Allasio walk off, into romance, into the spectacular.


That wonderful scene with Lanza and the street girl, her pressed, squeaky voice, and especially her awkward, lanky posture. The sudden, unexpected emergence of a body still resilient to cinema.

Il gatto a nove code, Dario Argento, 1971

Still a bit too leveled for my Argento taste (surprisingly slow at times too), still a well-oiled, lowkey-wacky nighttime delight nonetheless.

Sette pistole per i MacGregor, Franco Giraldi, 1966

Proof that Scotland is farther away from Italy than the American West ... such a well-oiled and self-assured take on the genre, and in a way it is quite unusual, because in most westerns, aging is related with getting out of touch with one's times, struggling to keep up etc, while here, growing old is shown to be a natural, benign process. The elderly actually manage to keep the self-destructive tendencies of the younger generation in check. In fact, the older generation, comfortably settled in a farm house, acts as a narrative framing devise, too. The first, very funny action scene completely belongs to them, and in the end, after the younger guys almost managed to fuck everything up (while casually mistreating poor, sensual Agata Flori in the process), they, and not the cavalry, ride to the rescue.

Addio zio Tom, Gualtiero Jacopetti, Franco Prosperi, 1971

Well, fuck this, and also: how fucking dull is this. While I can't distance myself from these images, they pretty soon start cancelling each other out (the same can't be said of the soundtrack, to be sure) and then what's left is just two clumsy Italian edgelords trying to pull one over on me. Not all that different actually from the likes of von Trier, Östlund etc, and there's just a certain kind of self-important asshole (almost always European, btw) I'm not willing to have held up a mirror to by or whatever.

Un killer per sua maesta, Federico Chentrens, Maurice Cloche, 1968

A straight-forward eurospy flic, which might sound like an oxymoron, but that's probably what made me fall in love with this one pretty much from the start: this is played out as a series of solid, relaxed riffs with all the wackiness, all the stylistic surplus strictly relegated to the details. One action scene plays out like an essay on the color red, another one is set between genitalia and orifices made of stone, and a third one is basically pure music reverberating through functional architecture. Also, while I've already forgotten how the protagonist looks like I'm still kind of hypnotized by the theatrics of Marilu Tolo's beauty spots.

La casa 4, Fabrizio Laurenti, 1988

A bit disappointing given the line-up (and also the poster on here), but still quite endeering in its mixture of rather prosaic genre thrills and a steady, almost somnambulistic beat.

...hanno cambiato faccia, Corrado Farina, 1971

Ideological criticism dressed in genre tropes and ocher tones. I don't think it is particularly smart as a political text; like with quite a few films from the Italian left I have the nagging suspicion that what really bugs its director isn't capitalist exploitation of nature and humankind, but rather modernity itself - a modernity the description of which is always in danger of tipping over into fullscale misogyny, homophobia and antisemitism. And which is pitted against a rather juvenile anarchist fantasy world filled with free men and willing, topless women.

Doesn't help either that Esperati is a decidedly dull lead ... and still, I ended up kind of enjoying this, thanks to a constant level of lowkey wackiness and a magnificent performance by consumerism ice queen Geraline Hooper. I don't care at all that she is supposed to be the "wrong woman" here - I, too, would've gladly followed her into corruption.

+ half a star for the Fellini parody.

Ercole alla conquista di Atlantide, Vittorio Cottavafi, 1961

Need to see this again soon, this time in color. Already confident that this is pretty much exactly my thing, though, a conception of popular cinema as a truly democratic art form, open to all levels of access, responsive to each and every desire.

Bonnie e Clyde all'italiana, Steno, 1983

My first visit to the Paolo Villaggio universe, and already I'm hooked. The most natural turd salesman ever.

Brigione di donne, Brunello Rondi, 1974

One of the stranger beast's of the festival - a film at the same time mostly uninterested in its own genre / narrative / diegesis, and completely committed to its protagonists. It's really all about closing in on the faces and subjectivities of these women, who are transformed, by Rondi's insistent, inquisitive, but not at all voyeuristic gaze, into glamour goddesses, fallen angels strangely detached from the women in prison tropes unfolding around them, and sometimes through their very bodies.
They are, I reckon, the chosen ones. A community united not by their tragic fate, but by an inner glow which only they themselves and the camera can see. Several times throughout the film, they start to dance, without much outer reason. So there just has to be an inner one.

Per salvarti ho peccato, Mario Costa, 1953

Yet another proof that the discursive division in Italian post-war cinema separating a few iconic neo-realist classics from the vast, featureless sea of popular genre cinema is completely artificial, or rather, based on nothing but laziness and arrogance. This is as generic a weepie as it gets, filmed in a bare-bones, mechanical melo-style, trenched in stereotypes and dramatic shorthand - that nevertheless speaks, quite directly, of the historical reality of a young democracy trying to break away from a totalitarian past; a past that still holds some appeal thanks to an air of seductive heroism largely absent in the strictly petit-bourgeois present day, but a past that ultimately has to be sacrificed nonetheless, rejected once again, this time symbolically: a milkman's child from fascist times being redeemed by bloody smears on a construction site.

Flashback,Raffaele Andreassi, 1969

I like so much where the film is in the first half that I can't help being disappointed once I find out where it insists on going to in the second.

(I wonder if Albert Serra has seen this.)

Roma come Chicago, Alberto De Martino, 1968

Probably the one film of the festival that just met me at the wrong time. To me this played like the very definition of dull competence for most of the runtime - until the magnificent ending suggested a weight that just had to have been there all along. So then, another try, some day.

Ultimo mondo cannibale, Ruggeror Deodato, 1977

"Am Ende des Fortschritts der sich selbst aufhebenden Vernunft bleibt ihr nichts mehr übrig, als der Rückfall in Barbarei oder der Anfang der Geschichte."

Oceano, Folco Quilici, 1971

A film made for the widest and wildest of screens, starting out in the north and in the present day, a modernist ice-cold opening that leads into what only seems to be flashbacks - in fact, when the hero, a young, brown-skinned man with an open, inquisitive gaze escapes from the institutions of the north and starts drifting south, the film switches over into another mode of imagemaking altogether, another dimension, another temporality.

We enter the image-world of the south, of the sea, of open horizons and a continuous presence of land, sea and air. Quilici, auteur of the south seas, wants to abandon not only the textures of the north, but also the associated principles of imagemaking, he wants to abandon european notions of auteurship while handing his film over to native myth-making ... and what really makes THE WIND BLOWS FREE fascinating is that he does and doesn't succeed at the same time.

On the one hand his film indeed isn't a mere intellectual exercise, one of those dull, academic attempts to ease a guilty western conscience by "empowering" an other who is at the same time always kept at arm's length. Instead, the focus on the native guy travelling and sometimes transcending his own version of the world leads to the mythic collapsing into the anecdotal. The overarching narration recedes into the background, because what we really learn here is that each island requires its own conception of cinema.

At the other hand, though, the film can't escape the desires written into its own gaze. In a way, Quilici's film is the bright flipside to the dark world of mondo and exploitation invading cinema since the 1960s. Or, more directly, the bright flipside to Deodato's MONDO CANNIBALE screened just half a day earlier. In fact, not only has this more on camera animal carnage than the Deodato's film, it also prefigures one of the latter's key scenes, the one with the sexy native girl approaching a doomed captive through a wooden gutter almost shot for shot.

Pointing this out doesn't mean criticising Quilici. Rather, it becomes clear (at least to me, in the context of this very special constellation), that rejecting or indicting an invasive gaze (see ADDIO ZIO TOM) is almost always less inspiring than working through it, surrendering to it in order to find out where it may lead me.

L'amore difficili, diverse, 1962

Four atmospheric, well photographed miniatures about desire missing its object. The by far best one (number four) also is the most minimalist, while the worst one (number three) also is the most interesting in a way, because it is the only one that doesn't boil down to a theater of male narcissism. By shifting the focus from the husband to the wife, all kinds of awkward sexual and also cultural fantasies start creeping in - and in a way, the more ordered setups of the other three episodes suddenly feel a bit like cop-outs.

I paladini. Storia d'armi e d'amori, Giacomo Battiato, 1983

Lay down your armor, 'cause this one goes straight for the heart.

(Films have to sustain there own world only within their own spatiotemporal extension, meaning the illusion they create does not need to reach one inch beyond the frame, one second beyond the final credits. In fact, there's always an unfathomable abyss located just beyond the actual image, and it absolutely is part of the beauty of a film like HEARTS AND ARMOUR that they render this prime negativity almost palpable. There's really no substance to any of this, it's all just light and shadow and music and crazy fantasy helmets, fever dreams of honor and liebestod enacted on the flimsiest of sets making way for the spectacle of swishing leaves on the grounds of the forest.)

...E tu vivrai nel terrore! L'aldilà, Lucio Fulci, 1982

In the end we're all made of nothing but bubbling foam and psychedelic colors.

Saturday, October 23, 2021


 Auf einer Lernplatform, auf der ich mich dieses Jahr viel aufhalte, ist als kleiner Gimmick ein Konfettiregen eingebaut, der über den Bildschirm sich ergießt, wenn man eine Aufgabe rechtzeitig vor der Deadline erledigt. Mich wundert, wie sehr ich mich jedes Mal über dieses kleine grafische Ereignis freue, und vor allem, dass sich diese Freude kein bisschen abnutzt.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

This summer in letterboxd (1): Il cinema ritrovato et al

The Fate of the Furious, F. Gary Gray, 2017

I wasn't all that eager to keep up with the series after its complete surrender to the chasing supervillains around the globe formula. It's still probably the best non-Snyder blockbuster filmmaking around, though, if only because it's driven by stars rather than IP, resulting in a much more honest relationship to its own attractions. Because it's a film series made in our times, it isn't allowed to break away from identity politics, of course, but the desire for representation is directly represented by concrete bodies, not filtered through preexisting cultural objects. FAST & FURIOUS is about tough guys & a few girls competing for visibility, in a completely unsubtle but comparatively honest (because always already technologically mediated) way. This way, the films avoid the kind of empty symbolic posturing of most of the recent Disney output.

Anyway, this one unfortunately is a bit short on melodrama, but it's generally well made and the zombie car scene is one of the very few action set-pieces of recent year that really feels like a fresh experience.

Belle de Jour, Luis Bunuel, 1967

On desire and its elusive object. Always one step removed. Even if there wasn't a massive amount of writing about this already out there I guess I wouldn't feel any need to add much, because it's all in the film anyway. Bunuel is simply the best.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, David Leitch, 2019

Leitch clearly has an eye for large-scale mayhem, which in a film like this should go a longer way than it actual does, especially given that he has The Rock and Statham at his disposal, too. Unfortunately, their banter very soon starts to sound like two bots stuck in a loop and the whole thing feels much more cynical than usually. The way to go probably would've been to focus on Elba's villain, the only interesting antagonist in the whole franchise so far. But this would mean sidestepping the blockbuster formula at least a tiny bit, something Leitch clearly isn't prepared to do. As a result, everything in here is forgotten the second it leaves the screen.

Teachers of Sexual Play: Modelling Vessels with the Female Body, Sion Sono, 2000

Name your desire and then mold it. Repeat.

F9, Justin Lin, 2021

Finds its beat late, in the last act, when Diesel and Cena shoot melancholic gazes at each other while around them just another vista of insubstantial mayhem unfolds. The whole prodigal son storyline is a pretty ideal vessel for the series' better impulses. There's always an empty chair at the table.

Still ... everyone's clearly past his prime, here. Lin always was one of the longer shots for vulgar auteurism admiration (one might even argue that he's the least interesting among all F&F directors), and this one has the worst action since part 4. Plus, except for the Vin and Cena storyline, absolutely nothing sticks. Also, for a film so eager to highlight diversity, it has a hard time making even casual attempts at female agency. Poor Michelle Rodriguez (in the absence of The Rock and Statham the only action natural left) desperately holds on to the steering wheel because she once again gets nothing else to do, Anna Sawai struggles to at least register on camera, and even Charlize Theron's villain only ever acts by proxy.

Internes Can't take Money, Alfred Santell, 1937

Compartmentalized professionalism in a hospital, every patient-doctor interaction has its own cubicle, separated by sheets, and traversed by a curious, not at all showy travelling shot, a long take of streamlined caregiving that still tries to account for every individual's fate.

Stanwyck, the biggest star, is a patient, in need of various kinds of therapy. She gets treated to a glass of milk right away, but after she finishes it, we first follow the doctors, young men living solely for their job up there in the slightly otherworldly clinic. One gets fired, and now he can have a beer in a barroom, standing at the counter, frail and slim, looking into the abyss of his future life. Stanwyck shows up in the bar, too, and only here, in a space much more democratic and earth-bound than the hospital, things start moving.

A highly perceptive film, attuned to the extraordinary level of anxiety running through everyone and everything. Even the gangsters are fundamentally insecure. People crouch on claustrophobic staircases or get imprisoned in a mirror's tiny reflection, while a close-up of a shoe signals Stanwyck selling sex for money.

Sensual Game, Adachi & Wakamatsu, 1969

Somewhat interesting as a late 60s leftist hipster hangout joint, at times this almost feels like a behind the scenes featurette about one of Wakamatsu's own, much more stylized - and frankly: much more exciting - features. In the end, though, it's really not much more than a bunch of assholes using half-assed politics as an outlet for a particularly annoying brand of juvenile misogyny.

City for Conquest, Anatole Litvak, 1940

A film that uses every trick in the book. Any chance for a montage sequence, every lovely Cagney quirk, every single New York cliche that doesn't hide fast enough... it's a bit like watching an encyclopedia of Hollywood rhetorics instead of a movie, but both Litvak and Cagney are versatile enough to make it work anyway.

A few years later, a lot of this would've been filmed on site, in the De Rochemont semi-documentary style. This, though, is still a film from 1940, so Warner tries to get away with as little location footage as possible. They want both the energy of the city and the control of the studio, resulting in quiet a few moments of weird diorama beauty, like Cagney and Sheridan in front of a back-projection of NY's skyline, two souls protected by the power of the purely pictorial.

Haunted Castle, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1969

The ultimate in cat horror, clawing away at the image, until there's nothing left but a bunch of lonely figures surrounded by black, isolated and exposed, make yourself visible and you're already lost ... so who will save us from cat/woman? pure light! light not reflected by bodies or matter but expanding, taking over the whole screen, leaving behind ghost horror approaching space horror.

Liebe ist ja nur ein Märchen, Arthur Maria Rabenalt, 1955

Pure ideology transcended by Eva Crüwell's intense performance and Rabenalt's interest in sexuality. A longing that doesn't quite know it's object, a cinema that doesn't quite know it's driving force.

The Strangers: Prey at Night, Johannes Roberts, 2018

Not as good as Roberts's shark movies, maybe because with human enemies a lazy narrative setup isn't quite as excusable. Still, impressive for what it is, making the most of an on first sight way too limited playing field. Even the - still a bit stupid - hook of film of killing purely as an exercise in pop aesthetics kind of makes sense once the pool scene arrives, because here Roberts's direction finally fully commits to the same guiding principle.

Bailee Madison is very good, too.

The Calling of a Bus Driver, Patrick Kong, 2020

Beautiful film in the tradition of Hong Kong neorealismo rosa with a genre bent (Herman Yau, Ann Hui). Fueled by political anger that doesn't quite dare to go beyond this mainland bitch is evil; and a sense of quiet depression - in the end, we'll all have to take our businesses online.

Die Mörder sind unter uns, Wolfgang Staudte, 1946

Still not quite sure if I'd seen this before. I guess it doesn't really matter because I definitely had seen Knef's gaze (especially in the beginning, arriving by train - from a conentration camp, a fact the film seems to all but forget while the redemption narrative moves along) and this is what'll stay after everything else is said and done. Aside from that a strange, conflicted film that doesn't really benefit from the fact that GERMANIA ANNO ZERO also exists. Have to think more about it.

The Cardinal, Otto Preminger, 1963

That beautiful out of nowhere freeze frame of Romy in the first Vienna chapter. For all the admirable scope, the true genius of Preminger always hides in the details.

Zwischengleis, Wolfgang Staudte, 1978

Post-war Germany doesn't throw you under the moving train anymore, it just makes you want to drop yourself. Don't make eye contact at the grocery.

Uski Roti, Mani Kaul, 1969

The clarity of images and the contingency of their conjunction. Basically mise en scene vs montage, the simplest of oppositions, and still this film renders it in a way that feels new. Maybe because in the end both the image and the cut are inextricably linked to an interiority that never quite declares itself.

Million Dollar Legs, Edward F. Cline, 1932

If this would be three two-reelers (it certainly feels like that), only the first one would be a masterpiece: a faux ethnography of Klopstokia, land of theatrical strong-arming. Still, lots of great hat humor throughout and the brooming in love scene with Oakie and Fleming should be a classic. I could watch a whole festival full of stuff like this.

Alice Adams, George Stevens, 1935

Playacting as a matter of life and death. There is no authentic self hidden under Hepburns artifice, no truth to be uncovered, just a series of projections of self that only truly come alive in close-ups.

The dark twin of SYLVIA SCARLET: the Hepburn spectacular as a tool not for perpetual change but for self-imprisonment. A masterpiece dealing with the always already broken promises of upward mobility. Making one's way necessarily means growing into a racist and sexist society. Being aspirational means forcing rock-hard caviar cookies down your father's throat.

Two Tars, James Parrott, 1928

The car stuff is genius but I like the beginning even more: Two guys and two girls picking each other up (the women are extremely straightforward here), but then all energy is spent on a strange, kryptosexual gumball machine.

The Khayal Saga, Kumar Shahani, 1989

A treasure chamber I didn't really find a way into, so I was left with a bunch of random impressions from afar... insects on bodies, the interplay of music and architecture, a slow but irreversible drift into transcendence.

Emigrantes, Aldo Fabrizi, 1948

The whole family leaves, only the dog has to stay, jumping up and down behind a closed door, the shadow of his head periodically bumping into an elegiac long shot of the deserted apartment. On the map, Italy is tiny, but this probably is just part of the conspiracy. It certainly looms large over the family in their new home in Argentine - on the new continent, Roma vs Napoli is still the guiding division. To mourn for the lost homeland is a mother's prerogative, but a beyond awesome impromptu duet already prefigures the successful adaptation to another Italy, abroad.

Penny Serenade, George Stevens, 1941

Expertly executed melodrama of impossible motherhood, with every single scene designed for maximum impact and nothing else. A film that knows that the withholding of an expected emotional close-up can be even more devastating than the thing itself, and that death eternally prefigured and delayed would make the actual image of death look banal and redundant. Stevens allows affect only as long as it is completely manifactured, an effect of cinematic communication; which is, I guess, a comparatively honest approach.

A film I adore but cannot really love - the prison of family ideology is just a bit too airtight this time, maybe also because a close-up of Irene Dunne (as great as she is, here and elsewhere) is in the end still only an intensification of Irene Dunne, not something entirely different, like with Katherine Hepburn in ALICE ADAMS.

Avanti c'è posto..., Mario Bonnard, 1942

Nice Fabrizi comedy that tilts towards the sentimental - which, however, turns out to be completely compatible with the claims of the fascist war apparatus. On the margins, though, there's quite a bit of anarchical energy, especially in the scenes with Virgilio Riento as Fabrizi's boss, a living compendium of contextless idioms. Language divorced from both functionality and subjectivity, eternally performing itself.

Prima comunione, Alessandro Blasetti, 1950

Domesticity as a web of microtransgressions, internal coercion balanced with external mobility, although it's better to keep two windows and a courtyard between yourself and the pretty neighbor. If you do step out of your house there's no telling what might make happen. The actual mixes with the potential, the gaze with the voice, and the young, overwhelmed housekeeper keeps on hiding the shades of a broken vase, forever chasing a joke that never quite manages to track down its butt.

A masterpiece.

Kaiheki, Karzuo Kuroki, 1959

Japanese modernism, not yet quite sure of itself. The scope is wide, from the depths of the oceans to the totality of the crowded cityscape, but even at the end of the film the power plant isn't finished. A sign of things to come.

Guardie e ladri, Mario Monicelli & Steno, 1951

Toto and Fabrizi as two competing principles of dealing with modernity: nifty avoidance vs clumsy adaption. The excluded third is, of course, modernity itself, as an antihumanist principle that can never be confronted head-on (if one still believes in human grace, that is), but must be turned into a game, that amounts to a negotiation a society conducts with itself.

The problem is that, when all is said and done, one side has to win, just like any chase scene, no matter how elaborately prolonged and slowed down, has to result in either escape or capture. In the end, the decision has to be a moral one, for better or worse.

Man of the World, Richard Wallace, 1931

Precode Paris ennui with unremarkable direction, but that doesn't matter one bit because this is all about the way Powell keeps on pulling his hat on his face; and about the way Carol Lombard uses the english language, lending it a clarity and musicality it seldomly reaches anywhere else.

Dancers in the Dark, David Burton, 1932

A not necessarily well-rounded though always engaging pre-code curiosity. The unusual Oakie performance is probably the most interesting thing about it: At first he appears to be his usual glowing and grinning self, making even the blandest jokes work by playing them completely straight; later on, though, his naivete acquires another, darker dimension, turning his signature all-american cheerfulness act in an armour used to keep the world at a distance. Just another desperately lonely show-biz professional.

Miriam Hopkins, meanwhile, is magnificent when she sings the St. Louis Blues for George Raft, but unfortunately the script has her falling for who just has to be the dullest guy hanging around the Paramount lot.


"Why can't I / satisfy / all of my whims"
"The customer is always right."

Das Lamm, Wolfgang Staudte, 1964

A boy and his lamb, adrift in the Ruhr area, traversing vastly different locales, social stratums and modes of filmmaking. In a way, a panorama of German cinema at the time, stuck between the remnants of an older genre system, the didacticism of early New German Cinema and the sensuality of the young outsider filmmakers. Its main mode of operation is a deep sense of non-belonging, though - at least until the ill-advised optimistic ending arrives.

Elke Aberle as a tomboyish teenager joining boy and lamb for parts of their way is one of those great promises not kept that are scattered throughout German film history.

Vivere in pace, Luigi Zampa, 1947

In the first half a rather gentle comedy of occupation and collaboration; the war is obviously still on everyone's memory,, the scars are way too deep and fresh, so the focus clearly is on moving on, not on settling of scores. At one point, though, everyone starts going crazy, the film wholeheartedly embraces everyone's madness and for about half an hour, all ideological negotiations are swept away by the anarchic joy of survival.

Cikani, Karl Anton, 1922

What starts out, in an atmospheric Venice prolog, like a straightforward romantic melodrama, develops into something both more interesting and frustrating when everyone retreats into the Czech woods. Intersecting mysteries, an unstable present always already overwhelmed by a bottomless past, a constant threat of violence hanging over almost every image - quite engaging at times but after a while things start to drag quite a bit, especially given the rather dull cast.

I remember Mama, George Stevens, 1948

I Remember Mama in our crowded house at the busy city street, sitting at the kitchen table with her hair braided around her head, a blonde orbital, a maternal triple-helix, a perfect centering of a world inside of a world ... and the rest of the house is not so much a separate, external reality, but rather a bodily continuation of her, mother Irene Dunne: the claustrophobic staircase; the window upstairs with the grand city view, a place for writing in the shadow of mama; the porch that functions as a stage for self-expression more than as a true threshold; and above all the tiny figurine hanging from the ceiling, the kind of random detail that brings alive a vision of the familial past of matriarchy that might just as easily become the cruelest of prisons.

Heimlichkeiten, Wolgang Staudte, 1968

Wolf Wirth's slightly pervy long-lense fotography and Staudte's sociological interests coalescing into a surprisingly relaxed holiday movie. The beach always already is a theater of gendered gazes and identity play, so one might just go with the flow.

Seen from a beautiful print that really should be scanned for some kind of home video release pronto. All those uncanny emotions shouldn't be hidden from view any longer. (Same goes for DAS LAMM, of course.)

We Were Young, Binka Zhelyazkova, 1961

History illuminated by the sensual beams of flashlights, circles of light traversing the darkness of fascism; impressions of a resistance more aesthetic than ideological - resulting in a visionary though decidedly unheroic partisan film, or maybe it isn't even a true partisan film, because those boys and girls are only aspiring to be partisans, they know about the necessity of the struggle but might still be overwhelmed by the beauty of a ballet performance.

In the end this is the only question that matters: Can a romantic be a partisan? In the land of the flashlights, he probably can.

Alias Nick Beal, John Farro, 1949

One of those thoroughly integrated allegories in which the allegorical core completely vanishes into the flow of storytelling. So in the end we don't care at all about all of those sanctimonious thoughts about morality and the mechanics of corruption the script tries to push. Instead, we follow, breathlessly, the shenanigans of master manipulator Ray Milland in one of the best spiritual bad guy performances this side of NIGHT OF THE HUNTER; we empathize, raptly, with Audrey Totter, fallen angel in a radiating white lace dress, her hairdo slowly desintegrating as she continues to fall prey to Milland; we marvel, deliriously, in the interior design of the love nest Milland builds for Totter and poor sap Thomas Mitchell, especially the wallpaper art, demonic decorative modernism, a bit like Dali, but in good.

Rose Bernd, Wolfgang Staudte, 1957

Still my favorite Staudte, a rural melodrama of agfa-colored imprisonment and proto-fassbinderesque political despair, with all that trite Germanness thoroughly offset by a ravenous Maria Schell performance. The way she handles animals...

La famiglia Passaguai, Aldo Fabrizi, 1951

Beachside watermelon madness with Aldo Fabrizi. Pretty much exactly what may be missing in your life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

last week in letterboxd

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Radu Jude, 2021

The last third really is funny and might also be the best cinematic approximation of a seriously fucked-up twitter thread I have ever seen; aside from that, though, this mostly feels like a severe case of arthouse edgelord syndrome. The almost universal acclaim this received this February, even from some of the usually most reliable bullshit detectors on this site, feels quite irritating; maybe it really comes down to lockdown fatigue.

Ete 85, Francois Ozon, 2021

Nice Ozon film, everyting's slightly subdued, but twisted in a gentle, unassuming way (no earth-shattering revelations here, stuff like suddenly realizing that you might've always been in love with a corpse is just part of the ongoing, everday construction of self); in a way, even the title is a twist, because for the most part, this doesn't play out at all like you think a film called "Sommer of 85" would, and still, the very last line suddenly throws us back into a (subverted) coming-of-age paradigm.

Wonderful production design, too.

Frustration, Jose Benazeraf, 1971

Janine Reynaud just needs to open her hair and I'm in heaven.

Zatoichi at Large, Kazuo Mori, 1972

Probably an attempt to return the series to a more routine beat after the gimmicky last few installments. Unfortunately, the script feels a bit too much like a leftover compilation from previous entries, starting with a repetition of the babysitter formula. The showdown, introducing a new, grim, almost horror adjacent form of violence to the series, lends it some relevance, though. Also it's a nice touch that this has a character whose main purpose is calling Zatoichi out for being a killer - and because he's a kid, Ichi just has to bear it without ever reacting. Just wish this was a bit better developed.

Night Eyes, Jag Mundhra, 1990

Had forgotten about the art scene setting. Even in the spatial and philosophical center of the film, the security guards' control room, there are various artworks of varying quality displayed on the wall, right next to all of those monitors. So when Will Griffith wonders: "I thought we were supposed to protect her, not spy on her", what he really strives for might be the detached yet savoring perspective of the true aesthete.

All We Had, Katie Holmes, 2016

A shame that this has a truly terrible script, and features an especially cringy voice-over that manages to double down on the botched dramaturgy by insisting that what we just witnessed really has been an important life lesson (like when Katie's daughter manages to develop, get rid of and contemplate on a drug problem - over the course of a timespan of five minutes tops) ... because Katie's direction isn't half bad, especially when it comes to building everyday social situations inside a Diner or around somewhat awkward encounters with one's neighbors. Also, there really still is (or at least was, in 2016) quite a bit of Joey Potter in her, somewhere: everytime she cuts to a close-up of herself, something interesting (if sometimes also slightly awkward) happens ... and as it turns out, she just directed another one, this time from her own script, so let's just take another chance on her.

Night Eyes II, Rodney McDonald, 1991

I knew I'd like this one too as soon as they brought that ugly dog from part 1 back. There're even dog cutaways during at least one sex scene! Aside from that and Sevens's decidedly awkward banter with his black sidekick ("I hate it when you call me homeboy"), this is decidedly less eccentric and much less stylized than part 1. Works quite well as dime-store time-filler pulp, though, and even if the sex is rather muted, Tweed introduces an air of aristocratic yet attainable voluptuousness by way of her sheer presence.

The Secret: Dare to Dream, Andy Tennant, 2020

This is one weird film. I have to admit that to me, self-help books generally are among the more puzzling American obsessions. Such a blunt, on-the-nose approach to ideology... Weren't we supposed to be manipulated into complacency by the subtle, sugar-coated tactics of a heinous cultural industry? Self-help rhetorics opt for the sledgehammer instead ... and when Hollywood tries to reappropriate their success on its own terms, a strange bastard like THE SECRET appears.

Basically this is about Katie Holmes getting seduced by a book. The book takes the form of Josh Lucas, but because THE SECRET is as sexless a film as possible without ditching the idea of bodily existence altogether, this really is a romance of ideas - of terrible ideas, to be sure, ideas that even on their own terms make no sense whatsoever. And with Katie of all people right in the middle of it. Scientology recruitment videos hardly could get any cornier, if probably much more devious, than this.

Lucas's interactions with everyone else follow the same pattern: From a narrative perspective, he's clearly a Jesus figure, but one who can commit to neither transcendental showmanship nor to emotional involvement (just as his philosophical antagonist Celia Weston is evil only because of her general air of anxiety about the world - like thinking climate change is real, stuff like that ... yet the film insists on transforming her into a lurking monster, like something out of a horror film). He's also clearly the kind of preachy middle-aged guy teenaged girls like to have hanging around at their birthday parties... It's a bit as if the real Jesus exclusively preached stuff like "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade", and at the end of a decidedly dull New Testament married Mary Magdalene to safe her from prostitution.

That it's directed by the HITCH guy in a competent, if mostly bland way only adds to the strangeness. We get lots of homey southern countryside kitsch, a tiny bit of New Orleans flavor with maybe two black faces appearing in the whole film, some terrible music ... but also a quite engaging performance by Jerry O'Connell as the "wrong man" Katie is not allowed to settle for - when she finally ditches him, he just slumps down into his chair, a interestingly underplayed depiction of defeat. And then we also get, pretty much out of nowhere, an absolutely wonderful and completely undeserved romantic ending. Meet me at the Waffle House!

Night Eyes 3, Andrew Stevens, 1993

When it comes to erotics, the series can't quite compete with Gregory Dark's on the surface quite similar ANIMAL INSTINCTS films - maybe because here, the focus is on the man, not the woman. Sex is always just a pawn in a game, never something to be explored on its own terms. Still, this one is quite inventive, especially the mirroring of domestic surveillance equipment and television studio apparatus. The electronic gaze always demands, maybe even summons, an object.

Atlantis - Ein Sommermärchen, Eckhart Schmidt, 1970

Just a supremely pleasant experience from beginning to end. Isi ter Jung as a reluctant sex goddess, roaming both city and countryside without any haste - what little plot there is comes in bits and pieces, and mostly in the form of attempts to escape any kind of decisive, productive action, and there's always enough room for a relaxed, curious street scene, a few measures of Mozart, or another appearance of the wonderful Jack Grundky title track.

Zatoichi in Desperation, Shintaro Katsu, 1972

Strangely enough, this was the very first Zatoichi film I'd seen almost 20 years ago, by randomly grabbing the VHS at a local library. It left me rather baffled then, and now I know why: This pretty much only makes sense as a thorough, radical deconstruction of all previous Ichi films - purely on the level of style, though, since, a few weird minor characters aside, the plot isn't much more than a remix of by now slightly time-worn Zatoichi staples.

Katsu's main aim seems to be to thoroughly obscure the plane of action, by hiding the proscenium-like spatial continuity of the studio sets behind intricate shallow-focus compositions, by splintering the screen, by using color as a distracting, hostile agent, and most importantly by decentering the human figure. Meaning: by decentering himself, turning Zatoichi from the pivotal point of almost every scene and by extension a whole worldview into just another accumulation of sensory data, subject to forces beyond his control.

Night Eyes 4: Fatal Passion, Rodney McDonald, 1996

One last try at the formula, this time with Jeff Trachta as Andrew Stevens and Paula Barbieri as Shannon Tweed. Trachta even comes with his own, different dog - and finally I get it: Both he and Stevens look like dogs themselves! That's why!

Barbieri, on the other hand, is clearly a feline creature. Much more so, incidentally, than Tweed. She lacks the latter's statuesque grace, but makes up for it with a very endearing, vulnerable bitchiness. All in all another great one.

Zatoichi's Conspiracy, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1973

Before moving over to television, Zatoichi visits his hometown. The best scenes in here have him silently reminiscing among the cobwebs of the past, but the plot that finally takes over is pretty good too, thanks to an interesting villain and an unusually clear focus on economics and power relations.

Animal Instincts, Gregory Dark, 1992

Shannon Whirry's breasts as both the moral and the physical center of the universe. What's not to adore?

Two Wives, Yasuzo Masumura, 1967

A major auteurist statement camouflaging as a routine potboiler. At its cote, this is another one of Masumura's mit 60s dissections of Japanese corporate culture and the associated notion of completely reified subjectivities. This time, though, played out neither as giddy satire nor as nihilist noiry pulp, but as melodrama. The difference affect the style, too: while once again everyone's boxed in, the feeling of claustrophobia is not quite as pronounced - but only to leave room for powerless affect, all those gazes of quite desperation, often accompanied by exhaled cigarette smoke, the last remnant of bodily pleasure available after "career" has taken over one's existence.

Ayako Wakao is great as always, but this time the real standouts are Mariko Okada and Koji Takahashi, a doomsday couple bound together by the vague, insubstantial notion that a better life must me possible, somehow, somewhere.

Animal Instincts 2, Gregory Dark, 1994

Shannon Whirry has a doll-like, almost surreal beauty in this. Not sure from which planet she's from or if her intentions, ultimately, are good or evil. The film makes no effort to explain her to me. In the beginning she moves in an empty house and a completely bonkers plot just starts emanating around her.

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Last week in letterboxd

Sleepy Eyes of Death 13, Kazuo Mori, 1969

SLEEPY EYES without actual sleepy eyes. Since this was released less than three months after Ichikawa's death, it is safe to assume that it still was developed with him in mind as the protagonist. Now it's Hiroki Matsukata, trying to emulate both a character and an actor. In a way he's a walking ghost from the start, a placeholder wrestling with the fact that he is of course also a corporeal entity in its own right.

The result is a wooden, mask-like (he also uses much more make-up than Ichikawa) but not completely unappealing performance. Matsukata very much lacks the eternally boyish charms of Ichikawa, who managed to lend even the most appalling acts the air of youthful pranks. Matsukata's stoicism is of a different kind: a hint of tortured interiority hidden behind a decidedly aggressive facade.

With him, the series probably couldn't have gotten away with nearly as much cynicism ... although by this time, the series luckily manages to stay clear of its very worst (=rapey) instincts anyway. Plus this one actually has both one of the best plots of the series (involving an evil Tokugawa Ieyoshi doppelganger) and restraint expert staging by Kazuo Mori who manages to astonishing things with shadow here.

Resident Evil: The Final Chapter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2016

First time around I watched a shitty screener version, which is seldom a good idea and positively lethal here because this one is more about texture and visceral impact than anything else. The fast cutting (much faster or at least more jarring than in MONSTER HUNTER, btw) perfectly blends with the set design, all crumbling darkness illuminated only by patchy, ghost-like isles of glow, splintering the world into an assemblage of detail that no longer privileges a single perspective but asks for a constant readjustment of the gaze if one wants achieve at least some form of, ever unstable, sense of being in time and space.

It's as if Anderson finally acknowledges that light equals power and therefore has to be attacked from a position of darkness, or, maybe more precisely, chiaroscuro. Indeed, every time visibility is restored and the kind of hyperreal, intensified renaissance perspective sets PWSA normally loves more than anything else threaten to establish themselves, it's high time for Milla and company to look for a way out. At the same time, the status of the surveillance / data imagery thrown in every now and then is no longer a given, because Umbrella is no longer identical with itself. With the decline of Anderson's stable, constructivist, simulationist Mise-en-scene, the possibilities of different, ever more hybrid forms of emancipative computer visuality emerge.

For now, though, what's left is a relentless forward drive, a not unified but unidirectional movement that sweeps away everything and everyone. And still, what gives the movie form is a series of deviations from this movement, a rerouting of force: into the tank, up the tower, down the hatch. In fact, this is what Umbrella doesn't get: It's not about defining the movement (the constant speed of the tank, the exact calculation of its completion), but about swirling around it, making use of the friction it creates, riding it like a wave. This is, of course, what Alice does.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 14, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1969

And I thought the series had smoothed over its rougher edges. The last entry features a beguiling visual dramaturgy, from the shadowy nighttime beginning, outlining just a few faces here and there to the cruel visibility of daytime mayhem, as well as some extremely inventive Ikehiro staging, like the scene in which Nemuri stoically keeps walking down stairs, doing away with a whole bunch of bad guys without even turning his head once; and it also goes completely ballistic in terms of misogyny and sexual violence.

This basically is a pinku rape movie coupled with self-conscious action movie toughness, an extremely ugly mixture ... that also may be able to shed some light on an underlying sexual paranoia haunting Japanese cinema at least since the mid sixties. Still, the only thing that makes this halfway bearable is historical distance.

The Man from Yesterday, Berthold Viertel, 1932

Some of the Colbert / Boyer scenes are nice, especially her farewell gaze when his train is leaving, the cut to him, sitting in his compartment, seeing his world drift away... But aside from that Viertel (who made the great PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK a few years later) doesn't connect at all with the material and as soon as Clive Brooks takes center stage again this pretty much sinks, with the melodrama unfolding strictly on the level of stage mechanics, never being allowed to take deeper roots in the image.

Mission: Iron Castle, Kazuo Mori, 1970

Really didn't expect this. The last SHINOBI NO MONO film, with Hiroki Matsukata inheriting yet another lead role from Raizo Ichikawa ... and it's by far the best film in the series. Kazuo Mori, about to transfer to television, really through everything into this one: a masterpiece of kinetic elegance, the apotheosis of Daiei black and white action aesthetics.

Ditching the history lessons as well as the at times baroque approach to character design of its predecessor, this is straight-forward team-on-a-mission Ninja filmmaking, moving with ease from set-piece to set-piece, making perfect use of the monochromatic weightlessness of the scope framings. Mori uses low angles and foreground elements like grass and shrubbery to great effect, with the action often starting out as a mere allusion, a rumbling in the fabrics of things, before moving towards ever greater clarity. And while he usually opts for a clean, spare style, here he doesn't shy away from more openly artificial techniques when warranted, especially during a dreamlike Kunoichi seduction sequence.

Deadly Switch, Svetlana Cvetko, 2019

Nor really a stalker film, unfortunately, but rather a GET OUT ripoff centered on gender instead of race, set in a very blonde, pastel-colored fantasy world - incidentally, the very difference between the city and countryside the whole plot hinges on never actually manifests itself, since the city scenes in the beginning look just as neutered and well-manicured than everything else. So in the end, both the dangers and promises of urbanity only find some kind of representation only in Danika Yarosh's piercings.

Films like this rise and fall with the cast, though, and Hayley McLaughlin's mousy glamour-performance alone makes this kind of worth the watch. Is her action real or fake? Don't know don't care, but it's a medium of cinema!

Zatoichi Meets the One-Armed Swordman, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1971

Can't completely avoid the cheesy and always somewhat random feel of 1970s international coproduction genre cinema, although they still manage to emulate the classic Daiei style quite well. Also nice that Yasuda enhances, rather than diminishes the differences in fighting style between Katsu and Jimmy Wang Yu, mirroring two competing traditions of action cinema: the ritualistic Japanese one where the frame defines the action, and the fluid Hong Kong one where the action defines the frame.

Rip Tide, Rhiannon Bannenberg, 2017

So you want to escape your vapid life as a teenie instagram fashionista by visiting your cool aunt in Australia ... it's just that the cool aunt is super annoying, and some of the surfer bozos she hangs out with may be even worse, and you yourself are one of the awkwardest actresses in history, too, but who cares, we somehow need to make it past the 80 minutes mark, so we might as well introduce some "conflict" between the obligatory, extremely style-less pop-music montage sequences.

I hate to give a one-star-rating to a film that features an extensive slow-motion scene of high-strung teens playing baseball - with coconuts! But here I go, this one nearly broke me...

This is at least the third MarVista Entertainment production I watched over the last few weeks. I really need to lay down that particular pipe for a while.

Christiane F., Uli Edel, 1981

Big city tunnel vision: afraid of getting stuck in the tiny Gropiusstadt flat, one just has to step out into the maze. But what to do in those cold streets, not meant to be lived in but to be traversed, when the "Sound" neon sign is the only guiding light available? So she enters the corridors, again and again, one step further each time. The first needle just scratches the surface, leaves a mark of mimesis, but we all know where the journey will end. It takes Bowie to get to the next step: He takes over the film, singing just for her, and afterwards she tries H for the first time.

Later on, except for the ominous cascading main theme, the music mostly vanishes. Berlin's traffic noise is soundtrack enough for all facets of drug use. This clearly is one of the most effective gestures of the film, and still, to me CHRISTIANE F. lost some of its appeal after her initiation. Before it's a unique neorealist new wave exploitation doomsday ride, one of those films that close the door behind the hippie hangout seventies with a vengeance, afterwards it often feels more like checking boxes, one after the other (to be sure, drug dramas are something I'm not very much into in general - the main reason I skipped this one until now) and Edel clearly isn't willing to let any opportunity for a heavy-handed metaphor slide. Still, the performances and the locations carry enough weight to generate quite a bit of pull until the very end - a "happy" end Edel wisely refuses to provide with any kind of substance.

Desnuda en la arena, Armando Bo, 1969

The camera and Isabel Sarli clearly enjoy each other's company, and who am I to demand anything else from a film. My first, but clearly not my last encounter with the cinema of Armando Bo.

Limbo, Soi Cheang, 2021

Into the rubble. Most expressive production design since HARD TO BE A GOD ... really strange to remember that this was supposed to be in color for a long time, since five minutes in, I couldn't imagine this world to ever be not black and white, and later on, even the very concept of color started so slip away.

The outer world of rubble - a parallel world, a city in the city, fenced in between highways and gentrified business districts - corresponds to the inner world of the characters: three of the four protagonists are solely defined by trauma, and basically all the hope the plot has to offer (some of) them is that maybe someday they will be able to exchange one trauma for another. Only Mason Lee is promised once in a while, when meeting his pregnant wife, an alternative to an existence of perpetual trauma. In a way, though, this promise of an outside world only heightens the pain - again and again he's the one inserting himself in the rubble with the greatest intensity.

What makes this really special is that Soi Cheang shoots for both a maximalist exercise in style and a rather straightforward Hong Kong police procedural. A decidedly grizzly one, to be sure, but severed limbs and ugly rape scenes aren't exactly foreign to the genre. Basically a CATIII art movie that insists on taking both its aesthetic ambitions and its pulp mechanics seriously. And at least for me it works beautifully, not the least thanks to Liu Cya's magnificent performance. She really is a force of nature, resilience personified.

This might be the core of LIMBO's pessimistic realism (hard not to read this politically): One should strive not for shelter from the immediacy of trauma, for an escape to a better world; but for a fortification of self in this world, for building up an inner strength that might make it possible to avoid succumbing to one's environment.

Imagini di un convento, Joe d'Amato, 1979

Beautiful d'Amato minimalism, basically just longing faces, sinful bodies and an eternal corridor of desire. A solemn rhythm transforming debauchery into ritual (see for example the very systematic dressing / undressing scenes; you really get a feel for the texture of a nun's habit, here). Sex, especially of the lesbian kind, not so much as contamination, but as another kind of purification - basically indicating a shift from Christian to paganist concepts of morality.

D'Amato being d'Amato, after about two thirds of the runtime he throws in a very ugly and explicit rape scene, completely separate from the rest of the film in tone, locale and style. Afterwards we return to the corridor and things proceed as if nothing had happened.

Zola, Janicza Bravo, 2020

Generally well directed, with the contrast between the grainy, soft 16mm look and the flat, digital intrusions working especially fine; also a good eye for Florida nights, even if the Tampa locations are a bit wasted ... but I don't know, the script is very awkward at times and the whole thing feels underdeveloped. Maybe there's still too much James Franco in here?

In any case, the film never really finds its center. It makes sense that Zola herself is mostly positioned as a blankspace, but Stefani also remains completely opaque, while X is basically a run-of-the-mill villain. That leaves Derrek, by far the most interesting character here ... it's just that the film also insists on setting him up as the butt of the joke in every single scene, thereby undercutting any chance of arriving at anything but bland, mechanical storytelling.

Also, I basically knew what I was in for as soon as I saw the A24 logo, but a film like this just should not feel that clean and sanitized.

Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno, Abtellatif Kechiche, 2017

Great films start from simple premises and then discover something surprising. In this case, both the "one magic summer on the beach" and the autobiographical "a filmmaker discovering his gaze" hook certainly are familiar, time-proven staples of cinema, especially of French cinema; and one key to this masterpiece might just be that Kechiche insists on inextricably linking, if not welding the two of them. Meaning that what transforms his alter ego protagonist into a genuine creator of images really is the erotic play of unstructured (but not necessarily relaxed) hangout time; just as the summer on the beach is only magical because it is rendered through the eyes and subjectivity of a self-conscious and categorically distanced aesthete.

L Saturnino perfectly lays out the film's central place in Kechiche's post-colonial project, especially its relationship to VENUS NOIRE; but I think it also works very well in a less radical register, maybe along the lines of Rohmer by way of Claire Denis: a film about the inherent morality of bodies as well as about the necessary corporeality of all systems of morality.

And also, of course, an extremely sensual, synaesthetic film. First we get the primal image of intercourse, pure visual spectacle, a throwback to late-night teenage softcore viewings on tv, meaning it also is completely separate from us ... but we only really enter Mektoub world a few minutes later, when standing next to a beautiful woman eating strawberries while still shivering from sex. This is what Amin strives for, erotics as a form of bodily involvement in the world (guided by music, dancing, but also animals), and this is of course also what he can never reach.

Monday, June 28, 2021

last four(!!!) weeks in letterboxd

Sleepy Eyes of Death 7: The Mask of the Princess, Akira Inoue, 1966

While the world around him gets wackier and cartoonier (Inoue basically frames one comic book panel after the other, resulting in a somewhat gimmicky but effective foreground style) with every sequel, Nemuri himself mellows down a bit. This time he even does the unthinkable: when he walks into the sunset in the end he's not alone, but accompanied by a follower he at least tolerates. Despite all of his efforts at alienating the world he's not as lonely as Zatoichi. Or rather: Ichi's loneliness is destiny, his is a choice.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 8: Sword of Villainy, Kenji Misumi, 1966

Such a big departure from the previous entries, it almost feels as if this started as an independent project and got reassigned to the SLEEPY EYES series late into the production; although its' probably just a case of jidaigeki storytelling running amuck: a complex, often and especially in the beginning completely opaque web of cross and double-cross obliterating everything else, including the series' signature cynicism.

Misumi, of course, is in perfect control of the whole thing throughout and while he mostly rushes through exposition he still manages to come up with both the best full moon cut scene so far and an inventive and pleasantly humane variation on the slashing away women's clothing theme.

The Mad Magician, John Brahm, 1954

Brahm cheerfully working through some of his favorite tropes, proving that, when all is said and done, a film director ends up being the maddest magician every time (because he, in fact, manages to incinerate Vincent Price after all).

Probably closest to THE LODGER, although this time he mostly shies away from the darker implications of the material, mostly opting for light-hearted (and rather nonsensical, even for the standards of the genre) head-chopping. Also rather flat lighting, maybe because "style" was supposed to be provided by the 3d effects this time - all of them classic funfair in your face stuff that probably looked pretty desperate even in 1954. Still, there's an honest and real fascination with deviance and unstable identities that keeps this engaging throughout.

The Snow Woman, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1968

You can ever have the woman or the statue, not both. You chose the woman by declining total knowledge which equals accepting total difference. The woman can live with you because she is allowed to keep her secret, which also means: her uniqueness. You chose the statue by claiming total knowledge and thereby eradicating difference. The woman can no longer live with you because her secret has been made available. You are now free to transfer her uniqueness onto the statue, but from now on you will be alone, because the world is empty.

Great folk horror, transforming the simplest of ghost tales into a complex chamberplay of art, love and subjectivity. Tanaka's effect shots are of understated brilliance, often substrative rather than additive: no pyrotechnics, but a stripping away of the framings of the image, an elegant, icy slide into abstraction.

Only Mine, Michael Civille, 2019

Another visit to Stalkerville, USA, a place I'm increasingly fascinated by. Stalker movies really are the new erotic thrillers, and as depressing as this development might be in general, they do offer their share of stimulating weirdness. On the one hand it seems as if "real, decisive, earth-shattering" desire can only be framed of in terms of deviance these days. On the other hand, while this very deviant desire is the center of the film, it also always is embedded in a web of smaller-scale emotions which also become more pronounced when confronted with the stalker threat.

Anyway, this one really is quite radioactive. There's a strange mismatch between Amber Midthunder's natural screen presence (a bit like Aubrey Plaza without the slickness) on the one hand and the director's inability to build a scene that even remotely resembles real life. Most of the lines are awkward, but the pauses between the line are even more awkward, and Brett Zimmerman, the stalker, is the most awkward of them all. Some of his scenes, especially one in which he is supposed to threaten Midthunder with a rake, feel like very rough Alien approximations of human behavior (or maybe also: like live-action versions of the cgi-cutscenes in 90s video games).

Then there's the grotesquely overmodulated score; and the nonsensical interview scenes; and the turn towards the mythic / Native American empowerment toward the end.

Cruella, Craig Gillespie, 2021

Worst when trying to pay tribute to the original, but when it comes to honest to goodness maximalist showmanship misguided ambition is better than no ambition at all, and those showy, stupid sequence shots alone makes this a tiny bit more bearable than some other recent Disney products. Still, loud and unimaginative to an embarrassing degree, you don't even have to go back to DEVIL IN PRADA, even EMILY IN PARIS managed to get much more fun out of a similar premise. Some really bad acting too, especially among the supporting cast. And finally, you might not want to hear this, but Emma Stone really does lack in glamour and should not be allowed to play Cruella.

Shinobi no mono 8, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1966

Three years before his death Raizo Ichikawa still had his youthful looks and pulls off a much younger apprentice ninja in this prequel without any problems. There are many nice touches, including long training sequences and funny ninja stop tricks, but all in all this never quite came together for me. While the historical plot line and Raizo's revenge story are nicely intertwined on paper, this double structure once again results in way too much exposition. In the end, neither Raizo nor the colorful villains have enough breathing room... and like in most entries, all female characters remain mere afterthoughts.

Sette scialli di seta gialla, Sergio Pastore, 1972

Patchwork giallo, some bits and pieces here and there, never quite coalescing into a unified vision, but who knows, maybe it's the world that's broken. Funky wallpaper and glimmering shards, a dull lead easily outshone by glamorous sad junkie cat lady Giovanna Lenzi, a white ghost roaming the streets of a surprisingly baroque Kopenhagen.

The murder scenes, meanwhile, are mostly murky and vague, not even trying to transform an obviously rather lethargic black cat into a credible deadly weapon... until the bluntest of PSYCHO hommages arrives, literalizing every single one of the master's gestures of filmic violence.

SDU: Sex Duties Unit, Gary Mak, 2013

Even in the 2010s, Hong Kong cinema once in a while manages to make films that are better than they have any right to be. A gross-out comedy detailing a cop bro trip to the brothel, complete with pedophilia and zoophilia jokes, while still trying to sell the whole experience as an at least somewhat benign experience, a catalyst of personal growth... and still this somehow ends up being, for the most part, genuinely funny and engaging, thanks to a good cast (only Shawn Yue is a bust) and an almost empathetic interest in the inner workings of Macao's sex work scene.

No Place Like Home, Kaila York, 2019

Pretty great as a film about female friendships, or more specifically, three different examples of female friendship, each channeling a different set of projection, jealousy and power play and also different levels of expressivity, from crumbling movie-star glamour (Stacy Haiduk), passive-aggressive lethargy (Kelly Kruger), campy excess (Anne Leighton, Beth Littleford). Not at all great in its attempt to transform all of this into a conventional psychothriller.

Still, even the botched suspense scenes are kind of fascinating, because what else to do with material like this? Is there even another filmic vessel out there for the less than benign (=not at all empowering) aspects of female friendship than making just another trashy low-budget thriller about a murderous psycho bitch?

The Witches of Eastwick, George Miller, 1987

Miller's direction is inspired and at times downright bold, although he never quite manages to hand over the film as completely to his magnificent cast as he should in order to counterbalance what I suspect is a rather obnoxious John Updike novel ... I might be wrong, but the whole thing feels a bit calculated to me in its mixture of inverted wish fulfillment and the sort of feminism that strictly stays within the limits of subjectivity.

Others probably will call Nicholson's performance dated if they haven't already. I don't, he's a force of nature and a gift to humanity.

Pretty Little Stalker, Sam Irvin, 2018

So it turns out my tolerance for stupidity has limits, even when it comes to trashy stalker films. Doesn't help that Nicky Whelan doesn't seem to have a single idea about what to do with the lead role, while Ashley Rickards as the pretty little stalker has a few decent lines but never rises above a poor woman's Kat Dennings. An extra half star for the pool party slow-motion in the end, though.

A Flash of Green, Victor Nunez, 1984

Paradise is always already lost and now we're scrambling along. Although on the other hand, there's enough of the old, slow Florida left here to mourn its demise. At the center of it: a magnificent Ed Harris performance, which makes this sort of a companion piece to Romero's KNIGHTRIDERS. In both films he plays characters stuck in the past and faced with the challenges of an increasingly streamlined present. In the Romero film he chooses obstinate opposition and therefore romantic fantasy, here he chooses overidentification with the aggressor and therefore the melodrama of self-denial.

Deviant Love, Michael Feifer, 2019

Another one that didn't work for me. Amie Bell is lively enough, but soon defeated by the relentless accumulation of stupidity surrounding her. I guess in theory it's interesting that this time around the master manipulator buys into his own bullshit and with a more charismatic male lead this might even have worked. Unfortunately, dating Nick Ballard comes across as maybe even duller than spending one's evenings on Qanon websites.

A Quiet Place Part II, John Krasinski, 2020

Invested in suspense mechanics and nothing else. Well made for what it is, I guess, but I got bored with the gameplay dramaturgy pretty quickly. Pretty obvious, too, that "family" in this film is nothing but a cheap narrative device used to keep complexity in check and reduce everyone involved to a limited set of emotional beats from the start. Could all still work for me with a more adventurous script and more engaging actors - really the only thing that makes an impact here is Millicent Simmonds fascinatingly obstinate face, a face that hopefully will start popping up in more interesting movies soon.

Fatal Affair, Peter Sullivan, 2020

This film is on fire, if only because during one particularly heated exchange, taking place in a restaurant, a chef can be seen flambeing a dish in the background. Quality filmmaking and a great cast, especially Omar Epps as a soft and fluffy kind of stalker.

365 Days, Barbara Bialowas & Tomasz Mandes, 2020

Once again: one is always well advised to show restraint when judging people's fantasies... and this is marked as fantasy and nothing but fantasy as clearly as just about any film, real of imaginable, could possibly be. Of course it's also extremely obscene in just about any sense of the word and often extremely ugly on top of it, but in the end one maybe just should accept that female sex fantasies, too, have every right to take their aesthetic cues from pornhub and the worst kind of rap videos instead of from more reputable sources.

Also, ridiculous as he may be, Massimo is at least a more distinctive fantasy object than Christian in 50 SHADES, while on the other hand Sieklucka unfortunately has much less scope than Dakota Johnson. A net minus for me, but mileage will vary.

To me, the whole thing is way too stupid to come across as anything other than a fascinating if mostly opaque monstrosity. Still, as an honest attempt at mainstream erotica it's automatically much more valid than the majority of hot air festival filmmaking. So, stay tuned for the sequel, I guess. Will he fuck her even harder?

Sleepy Eyes of Death 9, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1967

Sometimes it takes nine trials to get it right. This one finally hits all the sweet spots, by counterbalancing Nemuri's cynicism with the absurdity of the world around him, resulting in a blissfully fractured narrative that also finally clearly differentiates itself from the more expansive Zatoichi films. A film of constant small-scale inventiveness, basically just Nemuri stoically moving along, stumbling into a series of adult swim shorts triggered by a satanistic sex cult gone, well, crazy.

A Quiet Place, John Krasinski, 2018

A bit better than the sequel, because naturally there's a bit more world building, the family stuff makes more sense (and is even touching at times, when old basic family rituals suddenly feel like playacting) and the monsters are much more interesting as a threatening absence than as an extremely one-note presence. On the other hand there's less of Millicent Simmonds and she's not yet as much in control of her performance. In the end the differences don't amount to much and both films end up the same brand of technocratic, positivist horror cinema (see also: James Wan) I just don't much care for.

Maria Mafiosi, Jule Ronstedt, 2017

A halfway decent performance here and there though unfortunately all in all a pretty major embarrassment for everyone involved. How can one even write a character as cringy as Rocco? I mean, Serkan Kaya is completely miscast, too, but he never even had a chance.

Zatoichi's Cane Sword, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1967

Yasuda's best entry so far, by far. His direction still lacks the poetic flourishes of Misumi and Tanaka, but this time he manages to sustain a somber, muted mood throughout. In the autumnal prologue, Ichi senses a bad omen, which later on manifests itself as him getting in too deep, way too entangled into what slowly reveals itself as a twisted family drama fueled by a woman's deep-seated feeling of inadequacy. He really seems to be at a loss this time, confronted with a problem he seemingly can't slice his way out off. When in the end he does it anyway, it feels like an eruption more than a release.

The scene with the barrel is one of the greatest action set pieces I've seen in a while.

Zatoichi the Outlaw, Satsuo Yamamoto, 1967

Zatoichi as a social actor. Doesn't suit him all that well in my opinion, and there are a few other missteps, like the at times overblown score. On the other hand Yamamoto's less stringent storytelling leaves room for welcome bits of folksy humor that enrich the series quite a bit, like the very nice hangout scenes with the horny blind masseurs.

92 in the Shade, Thomas McGuane, 1975

Peter Fonda following a fish, Warren Oates wearing tight shirts and trying to find an inner reason not to kill Fonda, the wind in Margot Kidder's hair. Only every other scene works, but as a record of a time, place and state of mind, both of a post studio era genre cinema searching for a new rhythm, a new beat to dance to and the Florida Keys before their definite touristic utilization this is quite touching.

Zatoichi Challenged, Kenji Misumi, 1967

Zatoichi versus the anti-porn brigade. Very well made if not as original as Misumi's other entries. The snow scenes are indeed magnificent.

The Devonsville Terror, Ulli Lommel, 1983

The Devonsville Terror in the 17th century: Direct action, figures of pure light sculpted out of an all-encompassing dark, women as objects of pure, scandalous visibility, hunted down with forks and torches and swine while other, human swine watch impassively, bound to wheels and finally burned, vanishing in the light they were born from in the first place.

The Devonsville Terror in the 20th century: An opaque web of creepy gestures, dark visions, fever-dreams, random murders, malicious rumors, knowing gazes set against the both overbearing and picturesque rural upper midwest. An ingrown kind of terror, ingrained in furniture, hairdos, sweaters, the terror of americana gone sour, triggered by the arrival of a sole redhead way too agile for a place like this. She's supposed to be part of a team of three witches, though the other two rarely even make an appearance. What's left are isolated acts of masculine evil seemingly separate but in fact part of a whole (a whole that makes no sense), like mushrooms connected by invisible fibers. The men, in one last act of resistance against modernity, long for the purity of 17th century misogyny, but when they try to recreate it, the magic of cinema, which in the end always takes the side of the witches, makes an appearance.

Zatoichi and the Fugitives, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968

What can I say, I love this one, too. A more modern feel, a standard Zatoichi setup slowly turning into a all that sophisticated but pretty bloody massacre of truncated limbs and blades threatening baby skin. Unusual soundtrack, too, almost abstract at times.

The real highlight is Yumiko Nogawa, the original Carmen from Kawachi, as one of the most memorable women of the series, curiously stalking Zatoichi, her sassy nose and white features not easily impressed even when knifes are thrown her way. Also a nice collection of evil, ugly badasses, like right out of an American backwood horror film. Takashi Shimizu tries to introduce some respectability, but mostly to no avail. The barbarians have taken over, and Ichi, too, has to invest a bit more of his own flesh, this time around.

September Song, Ulli Lommel, 2001

Still no idea what this even is ... really feels like something that took the form of a narrative feature film only accidentally, with Lommel somehow ending up inventing a new way of making bilingual cinema along the way: just let the actors speak every sentence in two languages, consecutively. The detail that fascinated me most this time: the grungy no future air of the son's two nazi buddies who keep hanging around at the dinner table without having anything to do in the whole film.

Samaritan Zatoichi, Kenji Misumi, 1968

And again a woman's face is the center of it all. This time it's Yoshiko Mita's, sculpted and inherently tragic, a mask-like elegance like something from an older, more static but also more noble age. In the end this might be mostly about the difference between this one passive, insisting face, a face that demands commitment on a spiritual level, and the quirky, dynamic, evasive textures Misumi's extremely inventive direction establishes.

The most versatile Zatoichi Mise-en-scene yet. Still all decisive and clear-cut, each framing an analysis of space by way of (graphic) subdivision and (depth) scaling, but there are just more variables this times, greater degrees of freedom, starting with the color cascade in the beginning. This is also one of the funniest entries, though the humor, too, is formalistic rather than earthbound, a caustic pop-art giddiness that, however, never for a moment manages to take hold in Yoshiko Mita's face.

All in all, a masterpiece. Might even be my favorite yet.

Cocaine Cowboys, Ulli Lommel, 1979

New adventures in boredom. Proof, in fact, that boredom is as rich an aesthetic category as any other. In a way this feels like a Franco film: Just some people, most of them fucked up in one way or the other, hanging out in a rather spectacular location and shooting a film not because they have to, but because this feels like the natural thing to do in a situation like this.

It's just that here they shoot not for psychedelic hangout erotica but for a real, bona-fide sex (ok, not really), drugs (a little bit in front of, probably much more behind the camera) and rock'n roll (way too much) thriller, in other words, something that would require the kind of effort obviously no one here is prepared to muster. So we get remnants of a story, unfinished gestures, stumbling attempts at hard-boiled smoothness, lots of bad music that never quite crosses over into sublime cheesiness, quite a bit of aimless Jack Palance enthusiasm and random bits of weirdness, most of them centered around a guy who looks a bit like a very young, blond Woody Allen. On the other hand, now that I'm writing it down: do we really have the right to demand even more?

Sleepy Eyes of Death 10, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1968

After two (each of them in completely different ways) exceptional entries, this once again settles for more muddled, minor charms. Basically a random clan warfare plot that only distinguishes itself by turning the misogyny up to eleven - and while some of the scenes of women trying to kill Nemuri by seducing him reach hallucinogenic heights, the shtick does wear out its welcome this time rather soon. When, as expected, one woman falls for him and repents her evil ways, the film's attempts at bittersweet romance only make clear that the Manichaean world of the series forecloses even the possibility of true melodrama.

Tanaka, meanwhile, doesn't seem to connect much with the material, although he does find a few extremely atmospheric images and also manages to film the most beautiful full moon cut scene yet.

Jodeln is ka Sünd, Ulli Lommel, 1974

Mr. Witte already wrote everything that needed to be written about this. The only thing I can add is my docile admiration for Katharina Herberg's unhinged performance, a tour de force of enthusiastic overacting exploring modes of subjectivity previously and since unknown to mankind. For 70 glorious minutes we are in the presence of a folksy, rustic sex alien who manages to laugh, cry and fuck with an intensity that seems to be inversely proportional to the "objective" humorous, emotional and erotic stimuli she is presented with.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 11, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1968

Fully embracing the pulpier aspects of its mythology, i.e. buying into one's own bullshit is always the way to go with the SLEEPY EYES series, and Yasuda does so enthusiastically here. A bonkers plot filled with high-strung women whose complete existence seems to be taken up by their Nemuri Kyoshiro obsession: Will we be able to corrupt him by making him entertain the possibility of a woman's inherent worth as something different from a sex object? Or will his charms get to us and defile the purity of our evilness?

Some pretty out there visuals, too, almost approaching 70s grindhouse territory.

Black Dahlia, Ulli Lommel, 2006

The Lionsgate digital horror phase is still the part of Lommel's filmography I'm least eager to enthusiastically embrace. To me, these films still make more sense as an accidental conceptual art piece about the Fordist underpinnings of both the cultural industry and modern-day violence (a series of films about serial killers, each of them unfolding as a series of killing scenes and not much more), or even as an expert piece of cinematic trolling than as distinct aesthetic objects.

And still, as ugly as most of this looks, it's not completely without merit. I guess the most interesting aspect of it is how the individuality of the wannabe actresses is actually heightened by the fact that all of them are being subjected to the exact same murder mechanics. On the other hand, Eckhart Schmidt's HOLLYWOOD FLING has treaded (very) similar waters with much more elegance and inspiration.

Weißbier im Blut, Jörg Graser, 2021

Surprisingly dark. Sigi Zimmerschied is excellent and if one is willing to cope with some extremely bad acting from some of his colleagues one can find one or two desperate drinking scenes with great lighting that actually might stand the test of time. Still, is it really that hard to find enough true dialect speakers to stack a not exactly overcrowded provinzkrimi?

Fabian, Dominik Graf, 2021

Into the night. In spirit sequel to MÜNCHEN - GEHEIMNISSE EINER STADT.

5 Centimeters per Second, Makoto Shinkai, 2007

Gorgeous, yes, but in desperate need of a sensibility less streamlined than Shinkai's. While he might be able to get away with grand opera once in a while, the beauty of chamber music is way beyond his reach.

Fabian, Wolf Gremm, 1980

A film almost overeager to confirm one's prejudices against New German Cinema's dog years: self-important costumed boredom, burdened with historical and literary "significance" while shying away from political or aesthetic risks of all kinds. Especially the lack of imagination: This film's version of swinging Berlin debauchery looks and feels almost exactly like a 1970s game show on German public television (ok: what I imagine a 1970s game show on German public television might have looked like - maybe something like "Dalli Dalli - Bordello Edition").

And still, with adjusted expectations, certain hidden beauties emerge. Fabian's sex scene with a prostitute towards the end is strangely touching, especially the focus on his face, the search for sexual satisfaction in a male face beyond simpleminded notions like "release", the sudden realization that we actually don't have a lot of images for that. And also some of the scenes with Fabian and Cornelia, for example the one in the bathtub. The way people used to be comfortably naked together in 70s cinema. A lost paradise that not even Graf, the sensualist, quite manages to reclaim.

Mortal Kombat, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1995

Design without architecture, a lot of beautiful singularities that do not aspire towards integration. The island, as well as the premise, is not explored but emptied out, like a box filled with awesome toys which in theory could be assembled into a coherent whole but someone misplaced the manual and anyway, wouldn't it be really cool if we throw the red-haired guy into a red-tinted underworld and if the older Asian guy could freeze people to death? Also: When in doubt, always cut to Christopher Lambert!

How I miss the days when CGI was just that awesome new thing to play around with.

Event Horizon, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1997

An ALIEN rip-off that might actually be better than ALIEN because it comes closer to pinning down the fundamental metaphysical loneliness that is the center of all space-horror. In the sky the world does not see us anymore. All we got is a limited, closed-off man-made environment - the true terror results from the fact, that up here, the map really is the territory.

Anderson's cinema, of course, loves to roam spaces like this. Usually, though, they're not thought of as absolutes, but rather as part of a larger modular arrangement, with the dramatic conflict springing more or less directly from the internal, architectural complexities and contradictions of worldbuilding. Here, however, and unlike in later PWSA films, the enemy is not a proliferation of structure, but its absolute absence, and no one, neither the characters nor the film itself, really is prepared to deal with this. So this is about a secular, constructionist cinema encountering its other.

An extremely powerful premise, as it turns out, precisely because the characters do not have neither a sensorium for the sublime nor an inner richness to fall back on. So they can neither get lost in space nor retreat into themselves. (Those shoddy flashbacks, never even beginning to coalesce into complete psycho-signatures. Biography is shot to bits and pieces from the start and every attempt to regain it only pushes one closer to the brink.)

All that they can do is make use of what is at hand: all those shiny, glittering gangways, ravenous patterned doorways, safety mechanisms that basically work like iris shutters (one of the great last shots of action cinema!). Anderson works overtime to transform outer space into the most exciting adventure playground... but still, all that hustle can't quite escape the knowledge that every action, every single gesture is tainted by the notion of nothingness, of pure negativity, looming just beyond the frame.

(Makes me wonder what a PWSA Lovecraft film would look like.)

Soldier, Paul W.S. Anderson, 1998

As if someone forced Tim Burton to direct a military sci-fi epos. Meaning very strange and clearly at odds with itself but not without merits. On the one hand, PWSA never manages to transform the garbage planet setting into the kind of structured environment he revels in; on the other hand, he clearly knows that his biggest and maybe only real asset is Kurt Russel's face. Those excessive close-ups lend the film individuality, and at least a few scenes, like the one where he hides away in the ceiling, like the phantom of the opera, are genuinely touching.

Olivia, Ulli Lomme, 1983

Hitchcock and De Palma, yes, but also WATERLOO BRIDGE and THE GHOST GOES WEST. European medieval violence invading sunny capitalist Arizona. Put on your sunglasses, especially at night.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 12, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1969

While Nemuri can hardly be called a feminist in this one, in a way this might be viewed as an attempt to atone for at least some of the misogyny plaguing the series from the start, given that the plot is largely concerned with laying open that the whole political system of feudal Japan is based on controlling women's bodies, with whatever means necessary.

While the film never quite recreates the manic drive of Ikehiro's previous entries, it makes up for it in inventiveness. The bird costume dance sequence is the most out there 5 minutes in the whole series and a fitting farewell to poor, innocent Raizo Ichikawa.

Wachtmeister Rahn, Ulli Lommel, 1974

Unusually controlled Lommel film, set on the cold streets of the German 70s, where laying one's self open to a stranger, even for a mere moment, will lead straight into disaster. One can only hope that a better transfer will turn up some day, if only for all those gloriously dreary streetscapes.

Resident Evil, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2002

Horror of space vs horror in space. The latter mostly takes over once the zombies attack, and that's also the point when the film loses part of its steam - the camera no longer directly indicating the forces of pure, antihuman geometry, but hinting at something else, something (still) organic hidden inside the geometry. Space once again retreating into being a mere container. From now on, only Alice has access to the more primal horror of unhinged spatiality. Set apart from the rest her team, she explores The Hive not like a hostile environment, but like an unknown part of her body.

Admittedly, Milla is still very much in pure eye candy mode here, basically a nerd's wet dream, and yet, PWSA manages to install the strictly feminine foundation the rest of the series is based on: Milla as the perceptive center of RE, and Michelle Rodriguez as its emotional core. The latter is a blast from beginning to end, really one of the best natural actresses of her generation. Of course, she's the most awesome zombie imaginable, too.

The Man from Tumbleweed, Joseph H. Lewis, 1940

The one with the triangle. Not as distinctive as BORDER WOLVES (less wagon wheels, too), but much better made, basically one tight action framing after the next. Clean cut Bill Elliott as the bland lead is the main limiting factor, I guess, while Iris Meredith and Ernie Adams in a good supporting role provide some personality.

Monster Hunter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2020

Didn't realize the first time around how big a switch this is conceptually: the first PWSA film that is not primarily about action / mastery of space, but about perception / construction of space. Not in the old, phenomenological / analog way, of course, there's no empirical world imprinting on empirical subjects here, but rather a structuring of sensual stimuli (sand vs stone, light vs dark, spikes vs caves) written on the blank canvas / consciousness of the digital. Therefore it totally makes sense that Milla's crew just vanishes without any real trace soon after the jump, without any real effort to at least milk this dramaturgically: We're no longer in action adventure territory, the stratifications along the lines of gender, race, attitude etc this mode of storytelling is based on just don't make sense when facing the desert of pure s(t)imulation.

There have been some comments here and elsewhere on the special status of Milla's relationship with Tony Jaa, and I guess this too really is something PWSA never tried before, because they're not defined by common or opposing goals, but by different levels / modes of adaptation. They run the program differently.

A film that longs to make the code palpable.

Terror at London Bridge, E.W. Swackhamer, 1985

David Hasselhoff might just be the most Brechtian actor ever to roam American screens.

Resident Evil: Afterlife, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2010

Always great to see a favorite hold up, especially one that seemed to be tied to a special time and place. This was a big promise back then, pointing towards a future of liquid stereoscopic action mayhem that never quite materialized, safe for at best half a dozen films ... and this one definitely still is one of them, even when seen, this time around, in 2D.

This also was Anderson's last big leap (MONSTER HUNTER may turn out to be another one, we'll see): it's no longer about engaging a single space, but about a constellation of spaces. More precisely it's about different spaces unfolding onto each other in non-intuitive ways, like in the end, when the drabness of the deserted boat suddenly makes way for the abstract whiteness of the finale.

Even the clumsy narration, with ungainly chunks of exposition dumped all over the place, kind of makes sense: we're lost in the no-man's land of mid-franchise storytelling from the start, with no solid anchor available to tie us to a consistent set of spatiotemporal elements. Is Arcadia in Alsaka or just outside the shores of LA? And why is the prison, of all places, leaking to all sides?

And finally Ali Larter's slightly high-strung sexiness, balancing out Milla's new-found Zen. What a beautiful film.

Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Kihachi Okamoto 1970

I guess I liked this quite a bit more the first time around, but then again I only really remembered the finale, which indeed is by far the best part, with all the drab conflicts finally blowing up in a carnivalesque spectacle. Before that, everything's dragging terribly, there's really no reason why this is a full half hour longer than almost every other Ichi film. The darker tones were intriguing at first but at some point I started wondering if this might be a case of a bad digital transfer. Those interiors just cannot be meant to look that murky.

Also, Yojimbo really doesn't own his co-title-credit here. Mifune's performance feels phoned in, and Ayako Wakao, too, hardly makes an impression.

Resident Evil: Retribution, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2012

I guess I still prefer AFTERLIFE because the stereoscopic action choreography just feels a bit fresher there, the richness of a new language, a new territory; but of course this one is his most complete vision, not just a series of intricate frescos but the whole Sistine Chapel of CGI-powered pulp cinema: A film about a series of simulations (stacked with unselfconscious automatons) that have to provide just enough details, texture and coherence to sustain their own illusion for a "sequence" that "rarely lasts more than an hour". Or at least under 90 minutes when excluding the credits...

On the other hand, though, these "sequences" aren't even the main attraction - just something to "make it through". In fact, when immersed into those touristic moving-image wallpaper backdrops, Anderson's cinema is very much not at home, but rather an uneasy visitor, always already looking for a way out. RETRIBUTION is a film that knows that true simulation cannot be content with similitude, but has to control all the parameters. So the real action takes place in the gangways between the interactive movie sets. In the realm of the digital, stage and backstage have switched places. The props and effects of make-believe have become completely disposable, while the control room holds at least the promise of true spectacle.

Also, that beautiful musical structure: A prelude suspended in mid-air, between the sea and the sky, amidst malleable projectiles; the main movements underground, in an antirealist antiworld; and a coda on thin ice, with sharkified zombies lurking a few inches below. Traversing all states of matter, except solid ground. (Yes, I know, that stupid White House scene in the end ... well, Anderson's cinema never aspires towards purity, the show must go on.)

Good Michelle Rodriguez marches against the NRA, bad Michelle Rodriguez shoots bullets out of her fingers.

Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Alexander Witt, 2004

Maybe not quite the bottom-of-the-barrel-atrocity I remembered, but still very, very bad. Once in a while, there's true enthusiasm shining through the chaos, mostly when Milla is forced into a one-on-one fight. Also, Milla has great hair and among the abundance of bad acting on display, Sienna Guillory's sometimes reaches almost sublime heights - like something from a beta version that accidentally made the final cut.

Also, whenever Witt manages to hold onto a shot for more than half a second, it turns out that the sets and especially the lighting aren't half bad. Really a shame that the only RE with an urban setting fell into the wrong hands. Even a mediocre journeyman director might've been able to turn the whole thing into a tight, appealing piece of early 80s throwback neon noir zombie mayhem.

Witt, though, never manages to sustain any kind of continuity (graphic, spatial, emotional) for more than two seconds. Really hard to believe how ineffective especially the zombie scenes are - these creatures are inherently cinematic, and even no-budget backyard amateur filmmakers usually manage to get some kind of mileage out of them. Here, though, the gaze is never allowed to linger on them even in passing, since Witt always finds a reason to cut to another stupid angle that indicates nothing but a desperate search for unspecific awesomeness. No wonder the guy after this retreated into second unit again, where this brand of glitzy visual noise might sometimes even serve a purpose. (Although, when looking at his imdb-page: not really all that often.)

Zatoichi Goes to the Fire Festival, Kenji Misumi, 1970

After the disappointing summit with Yojimbo, this is the film that really takes Ichi into a new decade. The plot mostly vanishes into thin air, while new kinds of attractions compete for our attention: nudity (including a naked bathouse fight that would've made Cronenberg proud), psychedelic imagery, crude body-focused humor, villains with bizarre physiognomy. Put it another way, it's almost as if Zatoichi has been taken over by the SLEEPY EYES series! There's even a honey trap storyline ... although Ichi, of course, treats the seductress with more respect.

Pretty awesome overall, although there's no denying that the series now, finally, approaches the kind of baroque late style that is no longer infinitely sustainable.

Resident Evil: Extinction, Russell Mulcahy, 2007

Quite interesting structurally with its bifurcated narrative: the series' post-humanist mythology running wild in the underdeveloped Dr. Isaacs storyline, while its action-adventure element are translated into a somewhat more realist register. Both strands look for older, pre-digital forms: The Dr. Isaacs scenes are basically a Frankenstein plot with the monster and its creator collapsing into each other, while the Nevada stuff indulges in the kind of b-movie sci-fi imagery the series normally sidelines. Indeed this is the only film that even tries to imagine something like a new normalcy during the apocalypse: America reverting back to settler crossing deserts in covered wagons. Unfortunately, this unusual focus on people just spending time together also further emphasizes the series' (and I guess PWSA's in general) tendency to cast extremely dull male leads...

Also, hard to take the Vegas zombie attack seriously after ARMY OF THE DEAD: this place just cries out for vulgar Snyderian maximalism, not for Mulcahy's otherwise enjoyable pulp economy (just dump a container full of zombies in the sand and then open the door). Those signature 3D-modelling shots, too, aren't much more than empty gestures in Mulcahy's hand, and, finally, except for the beautiful burning sky scene, supernatural Alice, including the "prophetic" headscarf look, is mostly a disappointment.

Come to think of it, though, these are all minor, petty grievances that shouldn't be allowed to cover up the solid and at times surprisingly graceful feel of this (Clouser's ambienty score works extremely well, too, especially in contrast to the mindless audiotrash of APOCALYPSE). I will always love lean and dusty b-movies, and in the end I'm just glad Alice headed for the desert. Hanging out there for a while, with bigger things looming on the horizon.

The Boogeyman, Ulli Lommel, 1980

Rural dirtbag americana first invaded and then blown to pieces by demented psychotronic mirror horror mechanics. Not as effective as THE DEVONSVILLE TERROR or OLIVIA, but the fact that it makes even less (in fact, much, much less) sense is worth something, too. The kiss of death scene is a small masterpiece of, if there is such a thing, accidental understated madcap romanticism.