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.

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