Wednesday, March 24, 2021

last week in letterboxd

La tavola dei poveri, Alessandro Blasetti, 1932

A comedy about the sphere of circulation as an integrating force, at the same time transcending and redrawing class barriers. It ends with a banquet given for the poor... that is also financed by the rich marry on borrowed money. Blasetti's direction is always inventive and Viviani is amazing.

New Tale of Zatoichi, Tozuko Tanaka, 1963

Katsu looks about 10 years younger in color than in black and white, at least on first sight, and this threw me off for a while, but in the end this turns out to be a very emotional, quietly melodramatic entry. That long scene of Zatoichi and Yayoi alone in a room, each one in a different corner, not approaching and not really looking at each other and still they're ready to completely change their lives around just because of the intensity of the moment...

Forbidden Trail, Lambert Hillyer, 1932

Love the uneasy Buck Jones swagger (he is much wackier than his wacky sidekick in this one, especially when "flirting"), and I liked that at one point the fact that he can't get what he ordered for breakfast is used as a plot point. Aside from that very routine, mostly in a good way.

Zatoichi the Fugitive, Tokuzo Tanaka, 1963

There's once again a blast from the past storyline but at the same time the series starts to transition to Zatoichi the journeyman mode, starting with the random sumo match in the beginning. Like with Tanaka's previous entry, this is best when things get more private and intimate, especially in the scenes with Masamo Banri. Doesn't quite reach the same emotional intensity this time, though the last scene, with Zato's farewell dance turning from playful to desperate to gloomy in a single close-up is truly amazing.

Zatoichi on the Road, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1963

The first one I didn't really care for. Looks still amazing, of course, but the plot is uninvolving and also surprisingly slow, there are no standout set pieces and winy Mitsu is the worst character in the series so far, a damsel in distress tailor-made for Zatoichi to spring through all the required hoops and nothing more. Zato himself is unpleasantly cocky, too. Hopefully not a sign of things to come.

The Mistake, Bruno Sukrow, 2020

Still nothing even remotely like it out there, and this time the insertion of quite a bit of live-action footage - mostly nature imagery, often shots lasting for quite a long time - makes everything feel even more sui generis. Not just the pulpy fever-dreams of the code left to its own devices, but a gift from a twilight zone beyond the separation of digital and analog. We are blessed.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 4: Sword of Seduction, Kazuo Ikehiro, 1964

Ditches most of the classic chambara roots of the series in favor of a more serious commitment to its exploitation underpinnings. Here we get junkie sex slaves, sadistic nuns, out of the blue beheadings, defloration rituals etc., and while Nemuri Kyoshiro thankfully refrains from raping anyone this time around, the fact that he basically only acts out of spite, no matter what he does, is even more pronounced.

First Ikehiro I've seen, and judging solely from this he might be one of the more distinctive stylists among the Daiei jidaigeki specialists. Most striking is his use of long takes, sometimes whole scenes are done in single shots, which are often dynamized by gorge-like areas of deep focus. On the other hand, he sometimes goes for quite disruptive close-ups of pure movement. There's a weightlessness to the best scenes here that is quite a bit removed from the usually rather set-heavy Daiei-style.

Ikehiro is also the first director who tries to find an SFX equivalent to Nemuri Kyoshiro's Full Moon Sword Technique. Like quite a few of his more out there ideas this isn't completely successfull, but still, this is anything but by the numbers filmmaking.

Justice League, Jack Snyder, 2017

Watching the corporate capitalism cut before the fascist theocracy one. Just kidding, I'm mostly / moderately pro Snyder and what works here probably works because of him. (I'm not sure, on the other hand, that Whedon is the bad guy; some of the comic relief is terrible, yes, especially the Aquaman parts, but this more than anything feels unfinished, rushed, almost like a first draft.)

For Snyder, a superhero first and foremost is a scandal, an entity outside of traditional systems of cinematic epistemology, and the films can only be ways of accommodating this scandal one way or another. Introspection for example is not an end in itself, but must be experimental too, like it is here in some of the scenes with The Flash.

With the possible exception of Aquaman, who really is extremely annoying this time, every superhero arc in here has at least some kind of weird specificity and the stitched-together feel of the whole thing almost adds to its charm: different kinds of scandals, of disruptions folding into each other.

At least up to a point, because after the team is assembled (and the different worlds have been blended into each other), this does not have many interesting places to go. Still, the reddish, morphing CGI-scape of the finale is quite strong and hosts an action-adventure-set-piece more inventive than anything I've seen in any Marvel film, including SPIDER-VERSE.

Zack Snyder's Justice League, Zack Snyder, 2021

Funny that Snyder of all people is now being celebrated as a master of classical filmmaking. But in many ways it's true, this really is a much more well-rounded aesthetic object than just about anything on a similar budget level in the last 10 years. Still a bit disappointing that most of the raves center on "grief", "emotional depth" and similar qualities, thereby once again enshrining the vocabulary "real" cinema is supposed to be judged by.

The characters might be more rounded too, yes, and the dedication in the end is incredibly touching, but that's not what sets this apart from the previous version. In the Snyder cut, the superheroes do not get much more backstory or motivation. What they do get is a better stage for the expression of their powers. This expression might also be a self-expression, but first and foremost it is an expression of something the self is not.

To put it another way, Snyder is more interested in the super than in the hero. That's why Cavill's Superman is still his finest creation (and MEN OF STEEL his best film): With him, it's not about a human body discovering superpowers (a phenomenology), but about superpowers discovering and transforming a human body (an epistemology).

(That's also the reason, btw, why Affleck's Batman is so weird. In the absence of a superpower he loses all intrinsic value for Snyder, who has no eye for the specific melancholia / romanticism of basically all the earlier Batman solo films. When he tries to recreate it he falls back on tired stereotypes out of touch with the rest of his film, like Batman sitting high up there, overlooking the city. For Snyder, Batman makes only sense as a figuration of himself: an engineer of the spectacular always in danger of getting lost in his own schemes.)

This difference is not just one of narrative perspective, but constitutive for Snyder's image-making: Just like Superman's body is a medium for the exploration of superhuman strength, Snyder's films are vessels for the superpowers of high-budget digital imagery - that is, the films are not the powers themselves but experimental efforts to embody them, to translate them.

The biggest difference to the theatrical version is not the expanded Cyborg storyline, which is nice enough but maybe a bit too directly an expression of the digital sublime; but, once again, the way Snyder manages to make his cut much more about Superman (even the open matte framing only really clicked with me after the first true Superman closeups), to the point that a lot of this, especially the many scenes foreshadowing the resurrection, plays out like a religious parable.

The eruptive and obviously sexual release (the biggest flaw of the film might be that Cavill is not completely naked when being reactivated) delivers the other heroes not so much from trauma, but from interiority itself. Now their abilities can no longer be misread (by themselves as well as others) as coping mechanism and they, too, have access to the spectacular.

The question of how fascist all of this really is never completely fades away. Still, it's quite interesting that the first thing that happens after the resurrection is a fight among heroes. Even in the end, they cannot even begin to conceive of their abilities in terms of a greater good. The more discursive side of the film (all those strange voice-overs: who do they address?) stays completely fixated on self-determination the whole time, and maybe that is the political stake of the film: that the Justice League, the necessary transgression of individualism, can only be though of in terms of the otherworldly fantastical, unbound by any empiricism, be it psychological or sociological.

(On a side note, while I'm not all that curious about a post-apocalyptic Joker movie, what I really would love to see is a Snyder-directed WONDER WOMAN prequel set completely in Themyscira.)

Grand Piano, Eugenio Mira, 2013

Wonderfully bonkers hook and as long as this is just sub-Hitchcockian suspense mechanics, it runs along nicely (plus I was amused for quite a while about the thought of Elijah Wood as piano genius, not that it's completely unbelievable, I can see him obsessing just about anything, but it feels a bit like a fantasy life gone wrong); it becomes pretty clear pretty soon, though, that Mira isn't interesting in opening things up. The sole attempt at de Palma / Argento nastiness (the cello bow / knife match cut) is disappointingly tame and every outside event has to be matched, one for one, by character exploration. So in the end it's just another self-contained system, like so many recent genre exercises.

The Locket, John Brahm, 1946

In a key scene, Brian Aherne rushes back to a bombed out house he thinks Laraine Day, his wife, might be buried under. When he arrives, though, his eyes get stuck at a piece of jewelry stuck in the rubble, a bracelet that might be proof of her guilt, and this, her guilt, is his top priority, even in the face of her possible death. Throughout the film Day's evilness gains cinematic evidence almost exclusively in the actions and words of the men surrounding her.

This does not mean, of course, that she isn't evil, or that this is a film about the male "construction" of an evil woman. It's more about a cinematic investigation which is completely and hopelessly compromised from the start, contaminated by a primal evil that is itself outside of the scope of the film.

A top-tier psychopathology noir, in any case, and extremely good looking, too. The visuals build both on Musuraca's work with Lewton and Brahm's own gothic horror exercises - which were, however, probably really just this: exercises. This one is the real deal.

Zatoichi and the Chest of Gold, Kazuo Ikehira, 1964

Now this is something else. Zatoichi is truly a free agent by now, and he stumbles into adventure just by sitting down while trying to take a rest. Ikehiro's direction is once more top notch, although he does not take as many risks as in SLEEPY EYES OF DEATH 4. Here, it's mostly about finding a new, more direct approach to cinematic violence.

The action is varied and brutal and the forest setting lends this a visually distinctiveness most of the predecessors lack. Nature's protection isn't here to stay, though: while Zatoichi slashes his way through his opponents, the dark green glow of the trees slowly makes way for a barren wasteland.

Kisapmata, Mike de Leon, 1981

There's barbed wire on top of the door, and if it even opens up (most of the time, the blunt, helpless noise of the bell stays unanswered), the entryway is barely big enough for a small car. If you've made it inside, the maid will lock the door behind you immediately, eager to perform a duty no one appreciates. The house is greenish from the outside and even greener inside. It's never quite clear, at least in the restored version, if (or how much of) the green is a matter of lighting, of paint, or of decomposition.

If you make it inside (you'd better not, anyway), on the left side a small living room opens up, a small area of relative security and civility. The dominating sight, though, is a staircase leading to the first floor. A diagonal slicing the screen, and a passageway between utter despair and the illusion of safety. Below the staircase there's also a phone. Its ringing, like that of the doorbell, mostly stays unanswered, and once you're inside, you already suspect why: This is a self-contained system, and every channel of communication with the outside world will, sooner or later, prove to be an illusion.

Upstairs, to the left, Dadong lives. Better not even look at the door. Crossing over to the right, you reach another room. The room of the daughter of the house, a child's room that might feel bright and friendly at first, but that turns out to be, in fact, the worst room of all, a chamber of unspeakable horrors, a kernel of pure negativity that, slowly but surely, will take over the whole world.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

The Polka King, Maya Forbes, 2017

Well made if completely by the numbers and lacking the extra spark of craziness of, say, the better Will Ferrell vehicles. Mostly glad to see Jack Black, Jason Schwartzman and J.B. Smooth again, though Jenny Slate clearly is MVP here.

Tea for Two, David Butler, 1950

A relaxed Doris Day has ample opportunity to employ her beautiful laugh, and the great supporting cast (De Wolfe, Sakall, Arden, Wymore) provides enough distraction to make up for the fact that Gordon McRae is just about the dullest male lead imaginable. Gene Nelson's dancing is way more athletic than elegant but impressive enough. Would love to see a film that really knows how to make use of him.

One of those films that feel enough like they could have been made up on the spot (a two sentence plot scribbled on a napkin tucked on a random selection of tin-pan alley scores lazily being handed around at a dinner party) to let one forget that they in fact have been made to death.

Welcome to Sudden Death, Dallas Jackson, 2020

Relaxed feel, some good performances and at times actually funny... so a pretty decent way to spend one's time if one accepts the fact that cinema is dead (managing to forget that the Hyams film exists might help, too). By now I indeed believe it is, but I guess I'm still not ready to accept all of the consequences. Anyway, before the switch to digital a film couldn't even look half as dull as this one even if it tried very, very hard.

Debt Collectors, Jesse V. Johnson, 2020

Runs smoothly on the considerable charms of the protagonists, but feels somehow much less specific than the first one. I guess the problem might be that it is a bit too content with being just a sequel, another job for the guy, while not really being interested in accumulating detail. The relaxed and resigned attitude is a given now and no longer tied to a specific place.

Still much to love, not the least an out of nowhere over the top performance by (I think) Charity Collins during the final shootout. She was born to blast away and the camera can't get enough from her doing so.

Blood Father, Jean-Francois Richet, 2016

A French production that believes more in American cinema than pretty much every recent American film I've seen over the last few years. A cinema of dusty, sun-burnt pulp archetypes, pretty ridiculous at times and without even a hint of irony to counteract the ridiculousness, but maybe that's the only way a story like this can work these days.

Tough little cookie Erin Moriarty may be even better than Gibson, though Gibson himself is pretty great, too: totally comfortable with embodying America's unenlightened self-image, obviously more interested in being a badass than a movie star (a clear sign: how long it takes for him to shave off his beard). The man obviously has issues to work through and Richet provides just the right kind of energetic post-Peckinpah genre nastiness to help him get back in the saddle.

Pretty much exactly the film LAST BLOOD should've been, too.

Acts of Vengeance, Isaac Florentine, 2017

Strange film. A straight-forward revenge tale unnecessarily and uneasily told through flashback, burdened with lots of pop-philosophical background noise and especially awkward voice-over... Quite a bit of misguided ambition, but also a sense of commitment normally completely foreign to a film like this (even to the still way too few other Florentine films I've seen; all of them better in what they do, but this one feels closer to his heart).

Banderas never seems quite comfortable with his role, the whole film could almost be described as him trying out different poses, but no, nothing really fits, neither the Fight Club masochism nor the training montage nor the spiritual redemption mechanics. The best part probably is him stopping to speak and turning into a sulky child, being mothered by Paz Vega, but only because this allows him to rest for a while. In the end nothing helps: He just can't be transformed into one of those aging, scarred b-movie vigilantes. Something about his eyes, his still way too handsome face, about his anger never quite ceasing to look like a stage trick, purely performative.

New Moon, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 2001

Trying to find a cinematic handle on the Moro conflict. Feels a bit unformed at first, there are some jarring stylistic diversions throughout and the discursive elements are a bit forced (with every major character a stand-in for either an ethnic-religious group, a political stance towards war, or both), but all of this mostly fades away during a long, hope- and aimless walk through the jungle. In the end this is all about trying to make tangible, even if only a little bit, what it means to exist, as a live, hurting, loving body, under a perpetual regime of civil war. Great close-ups.

The Green Slime, Kinji Fukasaku, 1968

Was a bit disappointed by the space opera part in the beginning, probably mostly because an MGM-Toei co-production obviously can't keep up with all the Ishiro Honda films I've seen lately when it comes to miniature works and pulpy matte paintings. Once everything is confined to the space station, this is a blast, though. Fukasaku's lively (and slightly pervy) direction, the bonkers monster design, the Horton and Jaeckel reluctant bromance... A film that knows how to milk a premise.

Adultery, Lino Brocka, 1984

Brocka soap opera about individual desire being shaped, channeled and thwarted by the hard power of economics and the soft power of family relations. In the end, male stubbornness and female adaptivity are just two equally inadequate reactions to a state of continuous societal breakdown.

A bit frustrating in its insistence on dramaturgic ploys like the courtroom scenes or the double life routine: Brocka knows how to make stuff like this work on a superficial level but has no interest whatsoever in turning it in something meaningful, so a lot of this is just treading water. Still, Vilma Santos is pretty good, especially in the domestic scenes with Salvador. Also, there are quite a few striking strictly observational scenes like the prisoners hanging out during work breaks, just a bunch of exhausted organisms without any kind of meaningful, self-determined agency, a ground zero of body politics.

An Indivisible Heaven, Mike de Leon, 1984

De Leon Soap Opera, twisted, stylish and fabulous. Here it's not external pressure that drive the drama, but the awkwardness inherent in being trapped in both a body and society. Master director that he is, Mike de Leon makes even the weaker parts of the script (like the sudden turn into DALLAS territory towards the end) work, while Christopher de Leon's performance is magnificent throughout. His uneasy courtship scenes with the "country girl" are especially pitch-perfect hilarious, the studied script of romance performed with even the slightest bit of conviction or ease. The slow drift towards intimate darkness, drowning faces in close-up, speaks of de Leon's penchant for horror.

Klassenkeile, F.J. Gottlieb, 1969

There's so much energy in these fundamentally immature Pauker films... in the end they almost always win me over, all the more when, like here, there's a surprisingly decent Walter Giller performance at the center of it all.

Karnal, Marilou Diaz-Abaya, 1983

The kind of precious evocation of "primal" emotions that most of the time leaves me rather cold. The period setting seems to be mostly a pretense for falling back on archetypes and images of misery that at least look good and pure. Still, well-made for what it is, I guess.

Sleepy Eyes of Death 3: Full Circle Killing, Kimiyoshi Yasuda, 1964

The series settling into a more routine mode, leaving behind the lavish imagery of the first and the almost cartoonish stylization of the second entry. Now it's just about the no-nonsense delivery of particularly dark and misanthropic/misogynist b-movie routines.

(To me it's still up to debate how these post 1960 samurai films work in terms of gender - the often extremely disgusting violence can't be separated from the fact that women play a much bigger, and also more active role than in earlier jidaigeki, and also, for example, in classic westerns; still, I'd completely understand anyone who'd stop watching anything samurai related after the rape scene in here.)

This also lacks the stylistic coherence especially of the Misumi film. The magnificent fire and darkness finale makes up for a lot, though.

Death of Nintendo, Raya Martin, 2020

A relaxed film about volcanic eruptions. Completely comfortable in its nostalgic exploration of youthscapes, from swimming pools to basketball courts to locker rooms, and still there's also that one shot of two spiders fighting in close-up. (A nod to EVOLUTION OF A FILIPINO FAMILY?)

I, too, like how the film is reframed as Mimaw's story in the end, although what touches me most is the attentive and unobtrusive portrayal of Paolo's mother's loneliness.

The Tale of Zatoichi, Kenji Misumi, 1962

Like Mr. Euclid writes, this seems to be, at the core, less about the technique of samurai bloodshed and more about the idea of the master swordsman. What does it mean that in all these films there are one or two guys who effortlessly slice there way through dozens if not hundreds of opponents? How to built a genre, a world around that? Who can (and who can't) inhabit a world like this?

The Tale of Zatoichi Continues, Kazuo Mori, 1962

The one year later he returns to the same village and to the same woman storyline is a great setup for a sequel. Mori easily manages to make it stand its own - everything is smaller in scale, but also more private, Katsu's face is becoming much more important, and Wakayama is a memorable opponent. There's nothing like the all-out-brawl towards the end of the first one, but the prolonged fight scene at the end of this is someting else, too, a masterpiece of controlled Mise-en-scene - the way the film retreats from and closes back in on an ongoing battle... and then, after a night of somber reflections, a single, finale, decisive gesture...

Corte d'Assise, Guido Brignone, 1931

An aria superimposed with chopping wood, the town chatter cancelled out by bleating sheep, public announcements of plot points in image and sound. An experimental approach to talking pictures, embedded in a slightly confused whodunit.

Bridal Suite, Wilhelm Theile, 1939

Starts a bit lame and never quite manages to shake off the burden the production code placed on films like this one (although Thiele tries his best to suggest, in the end, that Young and Annabella did, in fact, sleep in the same bed). Still, the actors make it work, Young especially is pretty great because he's always a performer, no matter if his act is "international playboy" or "grudgingly giving in to societal pressure and getting a job". Thiele managing to squeeze Felix Bressart and Sig Arno into the plot is also highly appreciated, of course.

My personal highlight, though, is the fairytale production design once the film reaches the Alps, especially the back projection scenes high up in the mountain, a lofty combination of studio claustrophobia and natural beauty that somehow fits my personal experience of Switzerland.

La stella del cinema, Mario Almirante, 1931

...and then sound came to the pictures and, at least for a few years, everything turned weird and wacky and ridiculous and sexy and impure and chaotic.

Film is an industry, but cinema only happens when the assembly line grinds to a halt momentarily. A vernacular, low-level approach to image-making. In one especially touching scene a film shoot is recreated around a family dinner table, with a pepper grinder as a stand-in for the camera.

The Gentleman from Nowhere, William Castle, 1948

The identity confusion / stranger in my bedroom theme should be right up Castle's alley, the "becoming Warner Baxter" scene is indeed pretty great and Fay Baker has a marvelous b-movie face that should've been in many more films like this... unfortunately this somehow still ends up rather dull, with most of the runtime being consumed by a host of boring secondary characters trying to figure out the plot. A better transfer might help.

Female Ninja Magic: 100 Trampled Flowers, Chusei Sone, 1974

A film that uses several different comic sound effects for "penis moving inside vagina" will always be at least four star cinema in my book. The whole screen drowning in body liquids basically all the time helps too, of course.

Bituing Walang Ningning, Emmanuel H. Borlaza, 1985

And I need you now tonight
And I need you more than ever

It's lonely at the top, but it's lonely down below, too. Showbiz melodramas are almost always great and this one does not disappoint: we basically get, for two whole hours, wall to wall high-pitched power ballads, closet lesbian bitchfights and great makeup. Sharon Cuneta and Cherie Gil shine, of course, but I'm also partial to Christopher De Leon, who once again plays an inhibited pretty boy, a role that suits him well.

Terra madre, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931

Another interesting Blasetti film if not quite a revelation like RESURRECTIO. This is being described as a fascist adaptation of Soviet-style revolutionary realism, and this indeed at least partly fits a film that longs for a direct representation of "the people" (in its use of sound especially: an unruly force that has its source in the community more than in individuals) while at the same time framing them as elements to be disposed of, slotted in. Neither is the cleansing by fire scene in the end exactly subtle, falling perfectly in line with fascist propaganda: the destruction is blamed on the old, corrupt bourgeoise order, while the resulting utopian tabula rasa only belongs to the new, emerging streamlined society.

Still, on a scene by scene basis this doesn't really feel like totalitarian cinema. The acting especially comes from a completely different tradition: It's all about expressivity in a popular theater manner, and often just a few words by one of the more exalted peasants are enough to totally throw the proceedings off course. These guys still think of their lives in terms of traditional melodrama, and the film slowly but surely comes around to their perspective, too.

Harvest Home, Carlos Siguion-Reyna, 1995

One of those films that settle in a small world and start feeling claustrophobic as soon as you realize it's perfectly content with its outward limitations. The vector of inquiry always only leads inside, into the the self, the past, trauma. The switch into melodramatic overdrive about halfway in still took me by surprise, though.

Anyway, not badly made but not really my kind of movie, what kept me going were mostly the Snooky Serna close-ups, a fragile subjectivity running on fumes from the start, desperately clinging to her cigarettes.

Nurse's Sex Journal, Chusei Sone, 1976

Maria Mitsui is a fascinating presence, cold and slick and melancholic, her handling syringes almost makes one feel like in a Sato film. A shame she made so few movies. Otherwise this is a rather routine entry, lacking the unifying vision of the other Sone's I've seen. The late 70s seem to be the time when pinku sex scenes start being filmed increasingly like hardcore, just minus the genitals. In some cases this works well, here not so much. Still, you almost always can count on a few haunting interludes of musical melancholia in these films.

Tisoy!, Ishmael Bernal, 1977

So at the height of martial law Ishmael Bernal shot a Tati film on the streets of Manila. Not everything works (least of all the movie brat reflexivity), and technically something like the weirder Altman films might be a better comparison, but Altman is a cynic and Bernal is the opposite. It's all so generous and expansive, I couldn't stop thinking of Monsieur Houlot. A film to hang out in, two hours trenched in 70s warmth and Christopher de Leon dances the night away. And the day, too.

The Lodger, John Brahm, 1944

The world's a stage and everyone's a stock character from the start, having to act his part. Assigning a motive to a crime is just another stage trick. Brahm obviously loves those gothic theatrics, and this time he has a clever script and a wonderful cast to back him up.

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

last 2 weeks in letterboxd

So ein Mädel vergißt man nicht, Fritz Kortner, 1933

One of my favorite back-projection scenes: Willi Forst dreamwalking in a world of private musical fantasy, while behind him the big city slides by, unaffected.

The Orgy, Koji Wakamatsu, 1967

Tight little film with a wonderful Ken Yoshizawa performance at the center. Drifting through the streets and a few beds, lanky and irreverent, too big for his car, every action, and the sex too, feels random, and still there's that one fabulous burst of energy when he suddenly starts dancing, out in the wasteland, where finally really is no one around. Expression is only possible when you're on your own, when there's no way for it to flow back into communication.

The form is 60s but the relentless nihilism feels ahead of its time. Society is not just broken but non-existent, under the water, a bet on a future that is never going to happen. The bancruptcy of everything is a given, not the end point but a starting point. It's just that there also is no way to go from here.

Der brave Sünder, Fritz Kortner, 1931

A slow but unstoppable descent into total madness, triggered by an authoritarian impulse no (yet) coupled with a talent for organization. An outlier among early German sound comedies, because it isn't rooted in operetta mechanics but introduces a darker tone, both satirical and absurdist. At times it feels a little bit overeager, too, but for the most part, Kortner's inventive direction (his eye for expressionistic detail especially) keeps things moving along fast enough. Plus, the central party scene is pretty much unbelievable, prime sleazy German precode material.

It begins and ends with Max Pallenberg's great stunt performance, that today feels a bit isolated and contextless but probably made sense for audiences at the time. Everything else is an afterthought - Rühmann at least makes his presence known once in a while. Dolly Haas, on the other hand, barely registers.

I want to know more about Rose Poindexter (all I can find is that she later married Ralph Ellison), who really is the only one here who stands any chance against Pallenberg.

New Underground History of Japanese Violence: Vengeance Demon, Koji Wakamatsu, 1969

Absolutely loved this. Less abstract than most late 60s Wakamatsu I've seen so far, but in a way, the fact that on the surface this looks like a "legit" period drama makes it only more radical. Because it's like you really can see the world folding in on itself, losing its richness and depth, until everything that's left is a series of acts of violence, an image machine running solely on anger and sadism. Violence being transformed from a means to an end: this is the (in the end not political, but anti-political) core of the film, and probably of most Adachi scripted stuff I've seen so far. Those prolonged delays before the final blow, the focus on mimics, and of course that sick, ultra repetitive, hypnotic faux spaghetti western soundtrack. Again: the richness of music boiled down to a core of compressed, seductive madness.

Ich bei Tag und Du bei Nacht, Ludwig Berger, 1932

Käthe von Nagy and Willy Fritsch are great together because they don't quite fit, she's too agile emotionally, so his attacks do not quite land and when she succumbs to them anyway it just has to be true love.

Factory Cowboys: Working with Warhol, Ulli Lommel, 2018

The scenes of aging Joe Dallesandro reminiscing about his factory past while sitting next to a bust of his younger, long-haired self are sufficient reason to justify the existence of this. To be sure, they're also pretty much the only reason, although some of the reenactments are cringy (Angela Davies) or random (Onassis/Kennedy/Marilyn) enough to make one raise an eyebrow or two once in a while.

Queen of Rio, Ulli Lommel, 2018

Maybe Lommel should've just taken the hint and stopped making movies after he died.

Singapore Woman, Jean Negulesco, 1941

Brenda Marshall hitting the bottle hard, before being reborn in a tropic thunderstorm. A lot of it feels rushed and some of the narrative shortcuts are downright stupid, but it hits where it counts, starting with a great Sternbergian barroom scene. The middle stretch with Marshall and Bruce being holed up in a plantation home is even better. At one point she humiliates him by laughing about his sensitivity. There's a sense of real cruelness to the scene, because not only is his character a weakling, but Bruce also is a somewhat inadequate actor, at least for a role like this. When he drives away in anger a bridge collapses and he gets stuck in the mud - her mud.

Itim, Mike de Leo, 1977

"A darkroom is supposed to be dark". Beautiful epistemological horror film in which the desire to see is inextricably linked with visionary blindness.

(The existing digital version generally isn't bad, but the brightness setting seems to be off at times. Hope this gets a better treatment someday, because this is a film that really needs the exactly right amount of darkness in every single frame.)

Kuthiraivaal, Manoj Leonel Jahson, Shyam Sunder, 2021

Wacky high concept film that seems to be constantly folding in on itself. Don't know if it amounts to all that much in the end, but worth it for the intricate sequence shot aesthetics and the creative use of digital alone.

Vertauschtes Leben, Helmut Weiss, 1961

Helmut Weiss trying out a solemn, at times claustrophobic black and white style and shooting for psychological realism, while still not being able to let go of melodramatic manipulations of the cheapest kind and shying away from the very same psychosexual implications the plot teases about constantly - resulting in a film that doesn't really live up to its own characters. Still, fascinating stuff, an intricate study in well-meaning repression.

All scenes with Baal and Prack are extremely creepy; more because of Baal than because of Prack, though. In fact, her scenes with her age-appropriate boyfriend are even creepier. Barbara Frey, on the other hand, is a much needed breath of fresh air.

Dark Heaven, Ratana Pestonji, 1958

Charming if extremely slow moving Thai musical melodrama. Mise en scene is mostly just a small number of characters placed in front of a flat static background (like a wall or a shabby apartment), the tunes are extremely repetitive and the focus is not on plot but on yearning. For someone, for a better life.

Once a Moth, Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara, 1976

Quintessential Nora Aunor as national allegory film. This is mostly about throwing 100 minutes of (post-)colonial injustice towards her tiny, fragile body, until she finally agrees to become the medium of the rage that has been building up inside the audience.

All in all extremely effective propaganda filmmaking that isn't shying away from the occasional cheap trick and also has a good eye for bodies. The grandfather for example really got on my nerves at times, but his dance scene is truly magical.

Assault Girls, Mamoru Oshii, 2009

A zen comedy of gameplay aesthetics; or, Oshii trolling his way into post-cinema. Don't have much to say about this, I guess, other than this would make much more sense conceptually at 700 rather than 70 minutes. Of course, this also would render it completely unwatchable, an outcome not necessarily at odds with the strategic masterplan that might or might not fuel Oshii's erratic career.

Resurrectio, Alessandro Blasetti, 1931

Endlessly fascinating early Italian sound film in which truly all bets are off. In terms of filmic style, especially (erratic camera movements, intricately composed long shots next to close-ups quivering with affect, images melting out of focus, dissolves cancelling out figures without apparent reason), but also in terms of narrative, like when a quite harmless burst of wind results in a few minutes of complete and utter mayhem inside of a concert hall. It's also extremely sensual and sexual, a film of music touching bodies, with the mind generally struggling to keep up with pretty much everything Blasetti thows on the screen. All of this doesn't even begin to describe what Venera Alexandescu does and wears throughout the film. I want to know so much more about this.

Delinquent Girl: Alley Cat in Heat, Chusei Sone, 1973

Probably my favorite Sone so far. Narratively it's extremely basic, a country girl stained by the big city setup that sometimes feels a bit like a american 70s hardcore comedy directed by someone like Chuck Vincent only without the hardcore and, of course, done with much more skill. Runs mostly on sleazy detail, inventive camerawork and a cheerful Yuko Katagiri performance for most of its runtime, only to take not one but two surprising left turns in the last ten minutes, resulting in two different versions of expanded theater: one on the streets, obscene and utopian and female, and one on a rooftop, intimate and psychotic and male.

Klondike Kate, William Castle, 1943

Well-made little Castle western that starts, directly after the credits, with a collective scream: "Women!" And off everyone goes towards the saloon... The rest of the film unfolds almost without outdoor scenes - in fact, the only time the central couple seriously ventures outside they have to return pretty soon because the sidewalk construction isn't finished and the streets are trenched in mud.

Inside it's mostly about different kinds of performances and the constant interplay of stage, backstage and audience. Castle's direction is completely assured and not without the kind of small-scale formalist inventiveness his mystery programmers excel in.

A small gem only hampered by less than ideal casting. Ann Savage remains a much too aloof presence throughout while Glenda Farrell, who might've made a much better lead, is sadly underused.

La Cieca Di Sorrento, Nunzio Malasomma, 1934

A young Anna Magnani really is the only reason to see this. Her role isn't that big but she has a few surprising, memorable close-ups. Otherwise a bit of a chore.

Black Rose Mansion, Kinji Fukasaku, 1969

Uncoupled from a solid genre script Fukasaku's ornamental approach to style easily can get on one's nerve, I guess, but I was thoroughly in love with this pretty much the whole time. It starts out like a faux European art film complete with Visconti crowd scenes and a general air of aristocratic moldiness, only to be transformed, step by step, into something much more somber and elegant and abstract. Towards the end there's a car action scene of magnificent, lurid purity.

Sale comme un ange, Catherine Breillat, 1991

Worse Lieutenant. No remorse, no redemption, no grace. (Maybe a little bit of grace.) He just has to continue existing as a sexual being, like the rest of us.

Kanto Wanderer, Seijun Suzuki, 1963

Starts with a few schoolgirls who develop a crush on a yakuza, and I probably would've liked this even more if it'd stayed in this lane. The glance Sanae Nakahara exchanges with one of the young gangsters while he's getting tattooed, the way she proudly presents her bruised wrist to a girlfriend after she was handcuffed... Then there's the enthusiastic overacting of another young yakuza who also happens to wear a hilarious crew cut. All in all perfect teen comedy material.

Akira Kobayashi unfortunately has more serious things on his mind, and once the film starts to center on him, a typically convoluted gangland plot takes over. He's still a great lead, of course, and the perfectly stylized scene, working through a new color scheme almost every single shot, leading up to his confrontation with a rival boss must be one of the most beautiful three minutes Suzuki ever directed.

Gli uomini, che mascalzoni..., Mario Camerini, 1932

Very pleasant comedy featuring a young Vittorio de Sica who could charm his way into the heart of just about anyone. Camerini uses dialog sparingly, and mostly tells his story through (automotive) movement and glances.

Three Years Without God, Mario O'Hara, 1976

The best film I've seen in a while: a requiem for the three darkest among many dark years of recent Filipino history. Opening his film with a Hitler speech, O'Hara makes it clear from the start that he is ready to go to the hardest of places, although his endgame is not so much political rage than an all-encompassing sense of loss (coupled with a strong catholic undercurrent). Projecting the multi-layered atrocities of the Japanese occupation onto Nora Aunor's fragile body means channeling history through melodrama, but not in order to simplify it, but, quite the contrary, to lay bare a number of dark ironies that are completely at odds with all nationalistic ideologies (and, for example, its use of rape as metaphor).

Although I don't know how direct an influence it was, at least spiritually this does feel like an important precursor for Lav Diaz's cinema, too. O'Hara's approach to characters and especially historical agency might be completely different, but the imago of the godforsaken woman wandering through the jungle alone makes for a clear enough connection.

(The restored version looks like a hand-painted silent at its best and like a moldy mush at its worst, and certainly never like a true color film. Still better than nothing of course, and another proof of how timely this recent batch of restorations of Filipino classics is.)

Atragon, Ishiro Honda, 1963

Of course Honda also made an underwater empire film... The clash of civilizations storyline might not exactly play to his strengths (or rather: lay bare the limitations of his films as political fantasies), and the human interest storylines are once again a bit muddled and overcrowded... but on the other hand the magnificent drilling spaceship might be his most Verneian vision and the scene with the red-haired underwater queen swimming towards the multi-color extravaganza that is the destruction of her world is enough to make this one worthwhile.

Greenland, Ric Roman Waugh, 2020

About half of this is just a single, long, dense night of pitch-black despair, with the only light provided by the continuing apocalypse illuminating the sky. Bodies desperately clinging together and still being torn apart. Alone in the dark. When the sun eventually rises, the film goes on for almost another hour and, despite a welcome Scott Glenn interlude, loses some of its steam.

Still, a touching film. Not completely un-cringy (like when the son, after mostly silently tagging along, finally opens his mouth, only to suddenly spit wisdom like the most unbearable of imaginary twitter kids), but with an expert handle on both pyrotechnics and affect. Also, while family ideology is in full swing again (the first thing Butler does, up there on a highrise, is checking a picture of wife and son on his phone), for a non-Emmerich directed 21st century disaster movie this is surprisingly uncynical, especially in its refusal to categorically pit individuals against institutions. The scene of the medic leading Morena Baccarin through several emergency tents until she finds her son really surprised me in its matter of fact humanism.

Dort oben, wo die Alpen Glühen, Otto Meyer, 1956

Beautiful camera work and interestingly high-strung in theory - if only Otto Meyer would be able to deliver a single halfway relatable human interaction. So we get a bunch of strange Heimatfilm-robots performing bizarre rituals up there in the alps. Sounds great, I know, and it is at least amusing for a while and not even without the occasional emotional out of nowhere close-up that hits you with a brig... but still, the stilted line delivery especially of Albert Rueprecht wore me down rather fast.

Ham on Rye, Tyler Taormina, 2019

A mode of being in the world that makes every single action, no matter by whom, look whimsical and therefore inherently interesting and therefore part of a cohesive network (an inclusive network, too, even for those at the bottom - thumbs down is at least a gesture, one belonging solely to you) vs a mode of being in the world that curbs and curtails every action from the start, rendering it less expressive, readable only by a chosen few as part of a private language. Exclusion opens up the world, though.

Great eye for behavior, for random detail, for trees etc and still at the same time completely dependent on structure instead of character or immediate sensual data, which sure is ambitious but sometimes bordering on frustrating, too. Is structure really a better way into this world than, for example, Haley Bodell's averted gaze? In the end I don't know and this just might be one of those films I would react to completely differently in a theater, next to all of those strange strangers.

Family Romance, LLC, Werner Herzog, 2019

A gentle stroll through Tokyo, tag along with us, why don't you, self-sameness not required. Could've used a tiny bit more energy here and there, yes, but the slow pace and the home-movie look perfectly fits in with Herzog's last few fiction films and takes their direct, unassuming, free-form approach to fiction, discourse and filmmaking to a logical, hedgehog-petting extreme.