Thursday, February 18, 2021

last two weeks on letterboxd

Krieg in Wien, Seidl & Glawogger, 1989

Very film-schooly early Seidl/Glawogger collaboration. No wonder both of them didn't work much with found footage later on, as the use of tv news material never moves beyond shooting fish in a barrel polemics. The newly recorded material is much more interesting. Since the documentary miniatures feel very much like Seidl's work, Glawogger probably was responsible for the somewhat Markeresque fiction / essay stuff centered around a female teacher (with stylish glasses) - the most opaque but also the most interesting part of this.

Apache Woman, Roger Corman, 1955

Early Corman attempt at a revisionist western. Quite interesting in theory, because it probably is one of rather few films of the time that tie the tortured psychological turn of the genre directly to racism. The most memorable thing about it is probably the committed overacting of "half-breed" Lance Fuller. Joan Taylor also gives it her best, but the whole thing is just too clumsy, and at 83 minutes quite a bit too long, to make any real impact.

Megacities, Michael Glawogger, 1998

The desire to be one with the world already implies separateness, and what moves Glawogger's filmmaking, what makes his images so restless and glittery, is his ongoing effort to escape from realizing just this. It's all about the correspondence of the outer journey to an inner journey, both equally interminable. This is also what, to my mind, aligns him with Malick (much more than with Seidl, for example). For both of them, all that beautiful surface movement, all that dancing (Malick) and all that color (Glawogger) is, in the end, just a sign for the inadequacy of perception.

Of course MEGACITIES also is a technical marvel, the travelogue of a metaphysically freed spirit, like inventing a new kind of gaze with each new day. All of this would still feel pretty empty and showy, though, without the sense of desperate unbelonging at the center of it.

Day the World Ended, Roger Corman, 1955

Clear from the start that Corman has much more fun playing around with allegorical sci-fi minimalism than with b-western tropes. He gets a lot out of a surprisingly strong cast, Adele Jergens gets what feels like a showstopper solo number and there are some extremely effective Lori Nelson close-ups: a very private face, looking at the world as if for the first time.

The film also has a weird obsession with a huge window curtain that dominates most of the interior scenes, is constantly used for scene entries and exits and foregrounds the theatricality of the film in an interesting way.

The effects work is pretty cheap and a far cry even from 40s horror schlock. A very sketchy monster, and it kind of makes sense that it just collapses when it rains.

Promène-toi donc tout nu, Emmanuel Mouret, 1999

A beautiful beginning. Must pay more attention to the fathers when I rewatch all of the Mourets. They often seem to appear at crucial moments.

Whores' Glory, Michael Glawogger, 2011

Not quite providing what people expect (and have payed for) to see is probably as good an approach as any when making a film about prostitution; and the film sure is impressive as long as it is all about opening up, from the inside - because power relations are fixed, but bodies are not - three spaces hosting the suppressed libidinous underpinnings of modernity.

Still, Glawogger doesn't quite escape the dilemma that in a film like this, an impartial and unflinching gaze often is virtually indistinguishable from delivering the misery-porn, or rather misery/porn goods. Would the film have felt uncomplete without the last two (obviously staged) scenes, that finally open up to the reality of dicks and crack-pipes? Probably yes, but still, those scenes and to a smaller degree other parts of the film feel calculating and manipulative in a way his other documentaries never do.

Way of Passion, Joerg Burger, 2011

I had seen and loved this at a festival a decade ago: a film centered around a single, rhythmic movement - a changing group of people, mostly but not exclusively young men, carrying a shrine through a small Italian town as part of a religious ceremony. Their coordinated movements result in a swaying, hypnotic movement that also affects the huge figures on top of the shrine. There's an atmospheric intro presenting the preparations for the festival, as well as a few sideway glances at other participants, but those additions basically function like a resonance chamber: they do not deflect from, but add to the intensity of the central movement. The end result is, miraculously, pure affect: bodily stress and monotony break down all down psychic barriers, men are reduced to tears, and the world vanishes. The ritual succeeds not despite but because of its senselessness and excessiveness.

Not quite possible, though, to recreate all of this outside of a theater.

Moghen Paris, Katharina Copona, 2016

Starts with truly amazing nature tableaus: treescapes transformed into sumptuous, dimensionless ornaments, velvety images I want to touch, press against my cheeks. What follows is a chaotic, contextless account of a carnival celebration involving lots of black makeup and the burning of a huge and also black figure. Like in Horwath's quite similar THE PASSION ACCORDING TO THE POLISH COMMUNITY OF PROCHNIK the mixture of arty voyeurism and programmatic non-commitment rubbed me the wrong way, but there are clearly some interesting things going on here.

White Coal, Georg Tiller, 2015

Some of the Taiwan stuff is interesting, I guess, the way a site of heavy engineering is transformed into a toy-like world, chimneys and factory buildings becoming disposable, like an assemblage of play-things. Still, strained non-communication under the guise of "pure visuality" is something I find myself wanting to put up with less and less as the years march on.

Space Dogs, Laura Kremser and Levin Peter, 2019

The rare art school high concept documentary worth a damn. Best tracking shots I've seen in a while. Makes you wonder why there isn't a whole sub-genre of films built solely around social interactions among stray dogs. Every Classic Hollywood auteur should have made at least one of those. I want to see the Hawks version of this, the Ford version, the Hathaway version.

The space stuff might feel random at times, but in the end it's just a framing device and it helps keep moving things along. Plus it provides an opportunity to add a monkey and two turtles to the mix, so there really isn't any reason to complain.

February 27th, Marie-Thérèse Jakoubek, 2018

Displacement and burnt out colors, a harsh life cut off from history, and still, the richness of existence is right there, you just have to know where (how) to look. Enough small revelations in here to make me wish for a slightly larger scale.

Earth's Golden Playground, Andreas Horvath, 2015

Hard to think of anything that make the absurdity, or maybe rather arbitrariness of the systems of added value modern societies are based on clearer than the search for gold. Destroying nature while often also upending one's own life, solipsistically drilling your way into the ground, working your way through tons of dirt and rock, only to finally recover at best a few specks of a (these days, at least) mostly useless mineral.

Horvath's film manages to conveysome of this and like in THIS AIN'T NO HEARTLAND he has good rapport with and genuine interest in a certain type of caustic oddball characters who sure make good documentary material. On the other hand, once again, whenever he sees an opportunity for polemical cross-cutting, he downright jumps on it. The "menacing" soundscapes trying to emulate horror/thriller textures also doesn't work, but at this point I probably just have to accept that his filmmaking just doesn't click with me on a fundamental level, so it might very well be my own fault.

Let Us Live, John Brahm, 1939

When Fonda and O'Sullivan visit the site of their future house and dream of their life together, the camera doesn't open up the space but stays close to them. Two faces bathed in darkness, surrounded by an imaginary America that never attains palpable existence, but is replaced by, in turn, the frame of a taxi cab, the procedures of law enforcement, and finally prison.

Ballard's camerawork is amazing throughout, the deep focus confinements of the courtroom scenes, Fonda's expressionistic desolation in the cell. A perfectly articulated visual argument that isn't necessarily supported by the rest of the film... the rushed script (the rare 68 minutes film that would've been better off at 86) is basically built around the assumption that any system that convicts Henry Fonda just has to be rigged, and I really don't know what Ralph Bellamy thinks he's doing with his role. (Btw: can't think of an earlier "turning in the badge" scene on top of my hat; but I'm sure there are quite a few?) Still, so much ambition and craft on display here that I don't really mind the rough edges.

The White Tiger, Rahman Bahrami, 2021

Had lost sight of Bahrani after his neoralism phase. So now he's making netflix quality cinema, probably better than most of its kind, but still with all the trappings, stylish slow motion when the threatening landlord shows up, a high octane hip hop montage sequence introducing the big city. The acting is mostly very good, and Bahrani still has an eye for space, but in the end this adds nothing to Adiga's novel while removing quite a bit of its infectious anger.

Madango, Ishiro Honda, 1963

Setting sails, water everywhere, a few nervous guys, a shy and a not-shy woman, the not-shy one wears a stylish bikini and sings a catchy tune, no lyrics though, just "la la la". Everything is basic and pleasantly pointless and then the fog descends, never to lift again.

In a way, MATANGO is the flipside to all the other Honda fantasy films. Not a panoramic, "objective" depiction of paranoia, but a dive into its murky subjective core. No decisive action, no confronting the monster head-on, but a slow, continuous descent into trippy madness, shadows creeping on the wall, derailing facial expressions, fog and mold and mushrooms taking over the world.

Husarenmanöver, E.W. Emo, 1956

Well made if almost aggressively by the numbers popular theater style military comedy. A film that is completely content with always choosing the least intrusive framing and letting the actors do their thing, a film that loves march music, the more repetitive the better, a film that works best when everyone makes fun of Peter Weck, who plays a weakling, a role that suits him well. The cinematic equivalent of a traditional southern German meat dish.

Detective Bureau 2-3: Go to Hell, Bastards!, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

Mostly Suzuki letting Shishido do his thing and providing a healthy dose of cheerful nihilism in the process. Great colors.

Gitarren klingen leise durch die Nacht, Hans Deppe, 1960

Leading man Fred Bertelmann is a complete non-entity and the dullest Ersatz Gene Kelly imaginable, but this only adds to the bizarre charm of a film that sometimes feels like a magnificent, devastating Minnelli meet Sirk meets Cukor 1950s Hollywood showbiz melodrama trapped in the body of an ultra-provincial German Schlagerfilm with deep roots in the nazi era. Meaning this is simultaneously about the resistance against modernity, about a culture shying away from the spectre of a truly democratic and multi-ethnic society, about an inhibited, angst-ridden country seeking shelter in the phantasma of the white on white Aryan romance celebrated in the last musical number; and about mourning the better, richer world all of these characters already know exists, but don't have access to.

Both Vivi Bach and Margit Nünke are very good. Deppe has no feel for spectacle and even less for comedy, but as long as he focuses on quiet desperation, he finds images so pure and naive it hurts.

Would make a perfect double feature with Wolfgang Schleif's (even better) BLOND MUSS MAN SEIN AUF CAPRI, a film that lets loose where Deppe's shrivels up.

Monster Hunter, Paul W.S. Anderson, 2020

To discover a world means analyzing it, to build a world means booby-trapping it. Not necessarily their best film, but might just be the ultimate PWSA & Milla joint, a director/star collaboration doubling as a husband and wife game of love: a challenge accepted, a stage set and conquered, a gaze returned.

Maybe the purest PWSA film, too, because this time he really starts from scratch - even the "real world" is just an endless, featureless desert, a canvas to paint on. The "new world" is once again very vertical, very Langian, all dynamic architecture, the effect work is extremely good, the main theme is beautiful in its 80s simplicity and just when things start to drag a bit, Ron Perlman shows up and introduces a welcome dose of old-school pulp awesomeness. Great stuff!

Gambler's Farewell, Kinji Fukasaku, 1968

At the core this is neither a gangster film nor a political thriller, but rather a mood piece centered around Koji Tsuruta's face. Dark, stylish, and unfortunately a bit boring, though I guess under the right circumstances I might've succumbed to its claustrophobic appeal.

I Cimbri, Peter Schreiner, 1989

Starts as an oral history account of a dying language: the (almost) last surviving speakers of the Southern-Bavarian variant Cimbrian (who obviously also use mostly Italian in their daily lives by now) trying out the language of their youth one last time. But in the end it doesn't make sense to speak a language just to keep it alive. Language must be of the world, so the film, too, takes a step back and opens up, develops another gaze.

Wer nimmt die Liebe ernst?, Erich Engel, 1931

I keep being fascinated by Max Hansen's torso. The guy seems to be made out of some kind of not particular flexible but rather flubby rubber.

Hellish Love, Chusei Sone, 1972

Well-made period pinku, more plot-centered than most and maybe a bit too much so for its own good, not leaving all that much room for scandalous ghost sex. The umbrella scene is a gem.

Giallo, Mario Camerini, 1934

The first giallo might not really be a giallo, but it's already pretty tongue in cheek and thoroughly perverted. Need to see this in a better version sometimes.

The Undying Monster, John Brahm, 1943

Easy on the eyes thanks to beautiful production design and Ballard's once again very inventive camera work. Brahm has quite a bit of fun with notions of britishness too... so it really is a shame that this turns out to be rather dull, due mostly to a boring script and noncommitted performances. Heather Thatcher is the only one with some energy here, and she ends up being punished for it by becoming the butt of one sexist joke after the other.

Ihre Majestät die Liebe, Joe May, 1931

Important, I guess, that it's Lia, not Fred, who first proposes the wedding, mostly in order to get rid of just another drunk, obtrusive customer. Love is not only the product of boardroom cynicism, but also of barroom tactics.

The Insect Woman, Shohei Imamura, 1963

Cannot help but admire Imamura's commitment to his own vision of society as eternal pigsty, but this is even more on the nose than PIGS AND BATTLESHIPS and mostly ditches the comic relief. I guess Imamura really might be the one Japanese master who just rubs me the wrong way.

Das Lied ist aus, Geza von Bolvary, 1930

Not nearly finished with this one. Took me four viewings to realize that it's not Liane Haid but Otto Wallburg who first sings "Adieu, mein kleiner Gardeoffizier".

One of the great movie endings.

You Deserve a Lover, Hafsia Herzi, 2019

Very pleasant and I guess very French film that steadfastly and admirably refuses to be interested in anything except the protagonist's love life. Filmed mostly in close-ups which often is a warning sign, but here the camera really is most comfortable when close to faces.

...und das ist die Hauptsache, Joe May, 1931

A film that knows that everyone has his or her reasons. Even the rude gangster has a point when he scolds Nora Gregor for deceiving him with faux pearls.

Gorath, Ishiro Honda, 1962

Not nearly as beautiful as BATTLE IN OUTER SPACE. Honda tries his best in making a meteorite cinematic, but in the end there's just so much you can do with a mostly featureless ball of fire traveling through outer space. The miniature work is amazing, though. The construction of the Antarctic base must be one of the great cinema as handicraft scenes - because in a way you see the process itself, not just the result. It almost becomes palpable: All those Toho employees glueing together tiny, intricate cardboard structures, adding ever more detail, placing a cardboard figure here and there - in order to prove it real, when it fact those inert miniature humans only reinforce the artifice. And then, of course, a guy in a walrus suit shows up and threatens to destroy it all again. Cinema indeed is the greatest art.

No comments: