Freitag, 15. Juni 2012

The Goat (Keaton, Cline, 1921)

A young man is taken for the escaped criminal and hunted all over town.

I still can't remember if the title has any specific meaning there are definitively no animals harmed, ridden, or otherwise made fun during the whole course of this small slapstick shtick. Somewhere it says "funny" on a wall, but the irony is superfluous - the film is just as funny, as all the other Keatons I have come to really like. The slapstick ideas are numerous, and even after a hundred years still really enjoyable and surprising to watch.

I'm starting to wonder if there has been no physical comedy at all in the last 30 years? And I don't mean police academy which I vividly remember being extremely predictable humor.

Cops (Cline, Keaton, 1922) #DTC 95

A man gets into the trouble with police men that seem to multiply faster than rabbits.

I can't really remember the original incident that sets off this wonderful chain of mishaps and myriads of slapstick action. It's been a while since I watched it, and what definitively remains is the image of Keaton being chased by an enormous army of increasingly disgruntled police men. This one didn't have the melancholy of the other Keatons that I enjoyed so much. But in terms of physical action there is so much going on, that it got even hard to follow sometimes.

Maybe I need a re-watch of this one sometimes.

The Shanghai Gesture (Sternberg, 1941) #TSPDT #790


The daughter of a businessman in Shanghai is lured into the swamp of booze and gambling by the owner of a troubled casino.

This movie caught me on the wrong foot. Largely, I didn't know what to make of it WHILE I was watching. It seems to me, that this is the much better *after* you've seen it, than during the course of its run. There is a bizarre quality in how Sternberg has framed his shots. Sometimes it felt that he just recorded close-ups of every actor, added some stunning total shots and then tried to figure out the script after the fact.

Obviously, this is totally untrue, but those amazing close-ups only came to life in my head after the film was over. Huston as the brooding father with the dark past has amazing images and looks like somebody with a seemingly very dark past. The hairstyles have not to be commented on - an image is more than enough and Tierney looks breathtaking.

There is one jaw-dropping sequence where the camera enters the casino for the first time. The image is simply amazing and the architecture of the room works great for the camera. I've never seen this in a newer film, but I'm sure people must have tried to copy it here and there.


Donnerstag, 14. Juni 2012

Kampf der Königinnen (Steiner, 2011)

The yearly cow battles in the canton Valais of Switzerland to crown the queen of cows is a spectacle.

I've missed this movie twice at festivals and was looking forward to see it now. Steiner tried to weave a documentary-style story around the actual event, trying to bring the characters closer together. He didn't manage that on all accounts and once in a while I dropped out of the narrative, wondering where he was going with that. I really liked the genuine farmers that breed those cows for fun (they don't give milk or meat) and let them fight each other in a increasingly popular competition once a year.

These are not your vachequirit cows, they are more sinister, they seem dangerous, they're heavily built and they look very powerful. I have been told that the cows are obliged to be pregnant to able to fight, because otherwise they might prove too aggressive. I was a little disappointed that they've let this pretty bizarre fact out of the movie, it might have added to that final fight. Those approximately 12-15 minutes of pure fighting accompanied by a pretty driving interpretation of the Bolero are really amazing to watch.

If I'm doing a fight scene, I'm absolutely going back to this part of the movie. Pure cowdrenalin!

Montag, 11. Juni 2012

The more, the merrier (Stevens, 1943) #DTC 124

A housing shortage in Washington leads to a bizarre flat share of McCrea, Arthur and Coburn.

The film is one of those romantic comedy prototypes. Which means you can guess the ending pretty early, the exchanges are witty and there is a big breakup somewhere in the middle. But with Coburn thrown into the mix the whole thing became way more unpredictable and for me way more enjoyable.

The demeanor with which Coburn sets up the whole affair between McCrea and Arthur is just amazing. And I have to admit that I loved that little scene with the trousers. Totally silly, but in its harmless way a great deal of fun. There were a couple of other scenes like that, but this one just stuck to my mind.

Some of the jokes are a little "stagey" - woman is in one room, man in the other, they meet in the hallway, walk back into their respective rooms, come out again, act surprised. This is run-of-the-mill fun, not very clever. But many other little visual jokes are. Like what happens with the wall between their respective bedrooms.

Leave Her to Heaven (Stahl, 1945) #TSPDT 899

A writer marries a beautiful woman, who turns out to be a controlling sociopath.

I really liked the story idea, and how the layers of "acceptable" behaviour are peeled one by one from the beautiful wife. Maybe if I had a harder time accepting that she really is that kind of self-indulging, egocentric and jealous woman, she turns out to be might have made the film way more exciting.

The film uses flashback technique to brace the actual story, but that didn't work quite well for me. Also, I think that the murder of the little boy in the lake could have been more haunting. Maybe Hitchcock should have treated this script - it would have made great sense within his own oeuvre.

Still there remain myriads of things in this film that I love. Foremost, the absolutely stunning photography, the colors, the nature, the sea. Everything looks really beautiful and the colors are breathtaking. Tierney is a must see, possibly one of the most authentic 40s beauty ideal  I can think of. I remember hearing somewhere that she detested her high voice and took a lot of training to improve it - maybe that does show a bit.

Although the lake scene is more of a "casual" murder, its images still linger in my mind. Great rewatch just for that scene.

Dance, Girl, Dance (Arzner, 1940) #DTC 322

A ballet danseuse is forced to look for a job as a Hula dancer, when the head of the New York ballet falls in love with her.

For me this seemed quite a convoluted story a bit in the Cinderella style. Going through the script was quite amusing though. Especially those remarks in the style of "inappropriate movement, discuss with the office of Dr. Blah" were hilarious to read. Apart from that I felt that O'Hara's character somehow came off way too saintly. She is danseuse, all right, but there was a certain lofty idealism about her character. On the other hand, I really thought it was fascinating how she told off her casual pursuer.

Another thing that was striking about the movie was Lucille Ball. Her rambunctious attitude is quite refreshing and I thought that she stole quite a lot of the scenes from O'Hara. I think it says on imdb that the two actresses became extremely close friends after the film.

Another little gem is Maria Ouspenskaja, appearing (after Waterloo Bridge) in a similar role as the head of the ballet, but in this film she is open-minded and supportive of her best dancer. She also "dies" when she tries to help her. Comparing the two films gives one the rather somber conclusion that those who are helpful and unselfish pay the highest price possible.

Another interesting fact is the direction by a woman. Haven't read anything about her, but that might prove interesting to research. 

Samstag, 9. Juni 2012

Tobacco Road (Ford, 1941) #TSPDT 841

A poor farmer has to raise 50 dollar before the weekend to keep his little farm on Tobacco Road.

Although highly stagey, both in idea and execution, this was a fabulously funny film to watch (although I went through some problems until I could understand the characters). Also, the ending is quite amazing with the beautiful realization that it's not so easy to really change. I was quite touched by it and it also was a big surprise for what I expected to become a really run-of-the-mill happy end.

I remember many beautiful details of the film: the dog, running to the mans lap to be stroked, the naughtily innocent Gene Tierney (in her first role?), the insolent husband of the other daughter and the obnoxious little boy. His incessant rambling is simply hilarious, and the blazing stupidity of his character are of such, as I cannot remember from any other film I have seen.

This might be very worth re-watching, maybe with focus on the dialogue.  There is a lot of it, a bit hard to understand for me, but from what I gather, extremely funny and witty.



Flavor of green tea over rice (Ozu, 1952) #DTC 469

A married couple goes through a difficult time, even contemplating a break-up.

It's really hard to find something in the storyline - it sounds transparently thin and boring when compressed to one sentence. Nevertheless, as always Ozu has managed to create a whole universe with not much else in it than that very unspectacular married couple. The biggest event/crisis in their lives is, when he is supposed to go to work in South America and she doesn't let him tell her the news.

There are also some highly interesting observations about Japanese marriage culture. As the couples get wed by recommendation, not by love there is a potential generational conflict, plus a high social acceptance for adultery or having a mistress.

The strange calmness of Ozu's films is gripping so strongly anytime - and I'm still trying to figure out how he did it. His beautiful shots of empty corridors, hallways, and other living spaces evoke strong emotions. At the beginning of the film those pictures don't have too much weight, but once the characters have imbued them with their emotions, the walls continue to emanate those feelings, long after their source has left. And all of this manages to transcend through the screen.

Ozu still moves the camera in this one, but it's only very slow tracking shots - if at all. Many visual elements are present also here: the train and the office hallway.  The plane shot seems quite an exception for Ozu.

Not in this film, but in a couple of others there was a "sad" picture of a mirror in an abandoned bedroom that makes your heart stop, it's so full of feeling.

Remember the Night (Leisen, 1940) #DTC 461

A shoplifter ends up spending christmas eve with the district attorney and - obviously - falling in love with him.

My favorite scene is definitively when the car ends up on the meadow and a cow sticks her head into the car, trying to lick Barbara Stanwyck. Cows are funny creatures, as people have known long before Preston Sturges, but they still work - at least for me. Quite possibly it is their balancing on the tightrope between curiosity and fear, combined with their large, brown eyes that makes them so relentlessly funny. Maybe a character like that might prove interesting.

The film as a whole didn't work so good for me, although it has some very funny scenes: the scene with the small town judge/sheriff and some of the exchanges of the couple. It gets a bit too sentimental at the actual xmas ceremony and fails to pick up over that.

I did like the ending which was kept at least slightly ambiguous: will he still be there when she comes out? A script analysis would maybe state that it is HER story told from HIS perspective, but the balance doesn't hold up the interest of the viewer well enough.


Freitag, 8. Juni 2012

Fort Apache (Ford, 1948) #TSPDT #981

The grandiloquent Gen. Custer (with a wrong name) tries to bring glory to the forlorn military outpost he is delegated to, but brings war and death.

I've made the great mistake of watching this film, before I've watched "They died with their boots on". Not being familiar with the grand story and glorified legend of Gen. Custer I viewed this as a rather weird stand-off between Fonda and Wayne. Many of Honda's actions don't make the least sense, but compared to the 1940 antecedent this is obviously the much more insightful movie.

Henry Fonda really manages to get across as a stuck-up, yesteryear's hero and I deeply disliked the character. That was best achieved by showing the bizarre pedantry for protocol and the total absence of humor. That the man is also safe-guarding his daughter (ineffectively, in the end) illustrates a humane side which makes him all the more real.

There are some amazing scenes and the battle scenes are fast and breathtaking. I thought the sense of space and geography in the final scenes quite interesting. I'm not quite sure, how Wayne could get to Custer and release him in battle again, but the editing somehow made it work.


Galaxy Quest (Parisot, 1999)

A former sci-fi TV series cast is tossed into a real world/galaxy/universe saving adventure and end up living up to their screen persona.

Considering my movie watching habits at the moment, this is absolutely not the type of film I would watch otherwise, and also being deeply disappointed in popcorn and sci-fi genre flicks. Through the gointethestory monthly viewing series I got involved in reading and somewhat studying the script and also watching the online tweet session with the film.

Although I did enjoy the move, I've caught myself finding it difficult to see past the not too ambivalent characters on screen. I understand from the discussions that they all have the "minimum" depth required for a good sreenplay, but somehow I felt that their inner life was too much simplified. Since the plot was not very twisted, it felt like I didn't have too much to hold on.  So when the movie was over I thought: "OK, now what?" - which means that I wouldn't recommend it to a friend over a beer.

What is interesting to note is that the script left a bigger impression on me than the film. 


All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone, 1930) #TSPDT 296

The first World War experienced through the eyes of an innocent school boy as he becomes a battle-hardened veteran.

The film is not only visually impressive and graphically violent, but has some really beautiful poetic moments, and even a few of them a bit racy, at least in implication. According to imdb it was filmed before production code came into effect and it makes it somehow possible to get a glimpse of how cinema could have developed in later years, hadn't the bizarre moral rules been put into gear - although the hand-cuffing led to those extremely witty double/triple and quadruple entendres in later years which I love (when I get them)

The scenes in the war trenches feel absolutely believable and what impressed me the most was the fact that the film actually shows what soldiers really do all day long: They wait. They wait to kill. The chit-chat in between fights and battles does let every soldier tell his post-war plans, but it does so in a very unsentimental way. The soldiers, their dreams, their problems are much smaller than the "grand scale of things" and it becomes quickly rather clear that they've never really understood what exactly they are fighting for.

I like that the "political" dialogues were not woven into any subtexts. An exchange on politics (not only sex and ambitions) would rather be expected, especially in the tight-knitted social group of a platoon.

The battle imagery is grandiose and just for that is worth a re-watch.





Dienstag, 5. Juni 2012

Black Ice (Brakhage, 1994)

Mostly dark with strong colors.

Black Ice is harder for me to interpret than Mothlight, especially I have absolutely no idea on the process of making, or any kind of hint to what Brakhage explored with this one. There is an overwhelming quantity of black, with some kind colored patches that are revealed by the "melting" of the black mass - quite possibly, this is where the title comes from.

The whole piece is in continuous zooming motion, or at least this is the impression I've had. Nothing new after sitting for hours in front of screensavers, but in a way it evokes just the same kind of feeling. I really liked the very intense colors but the perceived forward motion that is endless made it more difficult to focus on the actual structures and there form. There was a sense of a black center and a more vivid outer region, where the colored patches form. (In memory anyway)

Too early, to get a good interpretation - maybe some more re-viewing.

Montag, 4. Juni 2012

Mothlight (Brakhage, 1963)

Experimental film exploring the physical medium of film.

I will not even try to claim that I even halfway understand the film, if "understanding" is anything that was intended by Brakhage. Although there is a small pile of books on Brakhages work staring at me from the unread shelf, I still allow myself to interpret the film in my own limited way.

For me it is an exploration into the world of certain subjects like light, attraction to light and transparency. This might be a premise to end up sticking moths onto transparent films. There are some interesting related thoughts: the attraction of people to the movie and the watching of a lightened screen in a darkened room. The dissimulation of a real world existing inside the pictures projected is destroyed in this film by moths who do have reached their ultimate goal - to become part of the very thing they are attracted to.  But it also has the aspect of a collection of pinned insects.

Maybe I could nice little tale about the drawing power of stardom in movies - and how it ultimately kills you once you've made it to the silver screen. But there have been many of these, I guess.

Definitively worth rewatching many times, food for thought.

Cat People (Tourneur, 1942) #TSPDT #471

An unsuspecting architect falls in love with a Serbian woman who is cursed to become a man-slaying cat.

The famous scene in the swimming pool still haunts me from time to time. I've rewatched it and there is really nothing in the picture that would make you scare. It's the simple economy of Tourneur to push us into the pool with the poor lady and become witness and part of her (not so) imagined terror. Even though the woman is not the leading lady, and she doesn't come off as meek and devout as the typical victims in newer horror flicks usually seem to be, especially of the female kind.

I was very fascinated by the scene in the restaurant where the other "cat" immediately identifies the suspecting, but unbelieving girl. The short exchange is great, and the crowd's ignorant reaction was quite realistic, as the scene did much more for the viewer than anybody else. The woman already knew of her condition in a way and the others remained unknowing, therefore the scene was only for building up suspicion.

There is a notion of "saved by the bus" somewhere - defined by Wikipedia the following: " Any scene in which tension is dissipated by a mere moment of startlement, a boo!, is a 'Lewton Bus'". Well now I know.

There are some amazing shots again in this one. The first thing I liked was the darkened apartment on their first meeting, and, obviously, the swimming pool.

Waterloo Bridge (LeRoy, 1940) #DTC 421

A chance meeting of an officer and a dancer protracts into a romance, a series of misunderstandings, and multiple heartbreak.

It took me quite a while to get into this film, but towards the end it was a very enjoyable and touching experience. It starts off maybe just a bit too slow, with the flashback in the beginning being just a touch too campy. Maybe the over-the-top start was putting me off.

As mentioned elsewhere, this is a rather tame remake of an earlier film, which itself is a rather tamed version of a racy stage play. The film has two scenes I remember fondly, the dance scene of the two lovers - which was beautiful to watch. According to imdb LeRoy decided to do this without dialogue and it is a deeply touching scene. The scenes on the bridge were maybe not as memorable, but I liked how they used the location quite effectively as a place of the highest and lowest moments in the script. No doubt a leftover from the play.

It's interesting how difficult it must have been to hint at prostitution without showing it. I imagine a spate of meetings arguing about how this and that should be cut and edited. Luckily, it still is clear enough and the picture doesn't suffer too much from it.