A stagebound musical comedy Bergman released in 1975 in between some of his most severe movies.

Prince Tamino is rescued from a dragon by three women who fight over him while he’s still comatose. Papageno is a cheerful fellow in green with panpipes. Despite their seeming useless, Prince and Papa are roped into a rescue mission by the queen, given the flute, and assigned guardian spirits (three boys in a hot air balloon). The rest is a long, tiresome adventure, all meant to look like it’s happening onstage (with cutaway closeups of audience members). I did enjoy when the Prince bumped into a librarian when seeking the Evil Sarastro, and they argue since the librarian sees Sarastro as a wise king and the Prince as a stupid intruder. It turns out both sides want the prince to marry the princess, so all’s well, but the queen still wants to fight, so she teams up with an Evil Black Man for a final showdown against Sarastro and company. I may have gotten into jazz this year, but opera is a step too far. Conclusion: Mozart is boring.

Sarastro would later narrate Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom:


The Magic Flute (1946, Paul Grimault)

No feuding royalty and beautiful daughters here. A colorful birdie transforms into a magic flute that makes people dance themselves into trouble, and the Chimney Thief uses it to barge into a castle and torment everyone inside.

I kept holding onto these until I watched more TV, then I didn’t watch more TV… can’t seem to get to episode two of Underground Railroad or the second half of Only Murders or to start the new seasons of any of my current faves, just chilling with old movies for now.


Voir (2021)

I thought these would be Story of Film clip shows, but the first episode is mostly original photography. It’s about the summer of Jaws, with a reference to the spider eggs in Bubble Yum. 2: Tony Zhou on Lady Vengeance and the revenge film formulas – this one’s a total clip show with guest speakers, and is really nice. 3: we see the narrator, Drew McWeeny on lead-character likeability, from Lawrence of Arabia through The Godfather to Taxi Driver. Funny that he’s talking about the rise of obnoxious lead characters in the late 60s/early 70s the night after I watched Performance. 4: no film critic monologue here, it’s a special on the art of animated character design, featuring Glen Keane and artists from Brave and The Lego Movie. 5: Movies vs. TV, ehhh. 6: Simply about race in the movie 48 Hrs., but well thought-out and easily better than the last couple, which were more technical. This series was David Prior’s follow-up to The Empty Man, weirdly enough.


Travel Man season 1 (2015)

Tempted to watch The Souvenir Part II for a few sweet glimpses of Richard Ayoade, instead I discovered he spent eight years hosting reality TV shows, so I dug one up. Season one covers Barcelona with Kathy Burke… Istanbul with Adam Hills… Iceland with Jessica Hynes (Spaced), the best episode yet, and the place I most want to visit… and Marrakesh w Stephen Mangan (“The beauty is largely offset by fear”). More, please.

Washed up porn star Mikey returns home defeated to his estranged wife Lexi and hangs at her mom Lil’s house in Texas while going on “job interviews.” He ends up selling weed for family friend Judy Hill (World’s on Fire), befriending next door neighbor Lonnie for his car and hanging at a donut shop to sell drugs to customers. Then he hits on the idea of getting the donut shop girl into the porn business – “she’s my way back in.”

The whole thing sounds dour and desperate, but as noted in the reviews, Mikey (Simon Rex of Bodied) is a real treat to watch, a gloriously charismatic car wreck who eventually helps cause an actual car wreck – Lonnie going to jail for fleeing a 22-car pileup was an unexpected twist. Mikey’s plan almost works, but in the end he’s robbed and kicked out of town, for the greater good.

Baker drops a key to Mikey’s character in an InsideHook interview, having spoken with suitcase pimps with “a toxic effect on other people that they cross paths with … We’d heard a lot of stories from these guys, and they always felt like they were being sabotaged.”

Lonnie:

Baker in Filmmaker:

Right now in the US, we’re leaning towards virtue-signaling way too much. There’s a place for that in mainstream cinema. Like, if you’re making an Avengers film, hitting all the checkmarks and making it as diverse and inclusionary as possible, that’s important because that’s mainstream popcorn-cinema meant for children. That’s different. This is made for adults.

Gorgeous nature footage with French voiceover, from the Winged Migration people. It introduces skits of Early Man into the natural world, and as human civilization advances the movie builds to a second half about how we’re destroying the environment and murdering all the beauty from the first half.

After the Prince movie, I went back to Criterion for more music docs and gave Deep Blues (1992) a shot. Looking for blues guys playing music, but we got the guy from Eurythmics shopping for voodoo stuff in Memphis. Might give it another shot sometime since RL Burnside’s in the cast and Glenn Kenny recommends it, but for now we switched from blues to jazz.

Opening credits over beautiful shots of reflections in wavy water, already a good sign. An outdoor festival, single stage I think. Since it’s mostly in broad daylight, they’re able to shoot audience member antics, which often involve impractical hats, and there’s a boat race happening in the same town in case the editors need a visual shift. Cutaway skits of a portable jazz band traveling around town, in a car, to an amusement park, houses, a rooftop. Just a perfect lesson in how to make a music doc in an engaging way, codirected by fashion photographer Stern and filmmaker Avakian, whose brother George was the fest’s music producer.

The music itself – well, my idea of “jazz” has been warped by last month’s Big Ears fest, so it took some time to get into the 1950’s groove. As with Big Ears, there’s also a non-jazz headliner in Chuck Berry. A toothy, confident scat-singing white woman almost derails it (this was Anita O’Day – apparently John Cameron Mitchell is a fan), but things pick up nicely, culminating with night sets by Louis Armstrong and Summer of Soul fave Mahalia Jackson.

The second Rebecca Hall movie where someone shoots themself in the head – this time it’s her husband. Afterwards, she finds a House of Leaves floorplan of the house, and eventually, a half-built mirror-house across the lake with a hellraiser torture figure inside. Going in a really good direction, from trauma movie to occult horror, then it takes a left turn into Flatliners territory, like a Final Destination for grown-ups.

Ugh, I wrote the above ramble without realizing that Bruckner made the upcoming Hellraiser reboot, a “hulu original” so thank goodness it’ll have no cultural legacy – he previously made segments for Southbound (guy in abandoned hospital) and V/H/S (large-eyed girlbeast in East Atlanta).

From Sammo Hung to Jeffrey Lau this week. After Eagle Shooting Heroes, Lau made a two-part Journey to the West with Stephen Chow called Chinese Odyssey, and a few years later, this movie has… no relation to that one – probably just a U.S. distrib capitalizing on name recognition. Heroes was produced by Wong Kar-wai, featured cast from Ashes of Time which was being shot at the same time, and jokey references to the Wong film, which ended up releasing later than the would-be parody because Wong spends years in the editing room. These two buddies have not learned their lesson, repeating the same trick here with 2046, which wouldn’t come out for two more years. Besides the Wong refs (also a Days of Being Wild joke, and people being precise numbers of meters apart) it’s got really good music, overall a snappy action-comedy.

Princess Faye Wong escapes the palace, in part by smashing through the gate with her head, pursued by Emperor Chang Chen. Meanwhile, Tony Leung is the most hated man in his small town, obstructing business to his beloved sister’s restaurant (she is Zhao Wei of Three and Red Cliff) while trying to find her a man. Each sibling couple falls for their counterpart, and it looks like things will work out until the Dowager Empress Rebecca Pan (Maggie’s landlady in ITMFL) denies the marriage to Tony, and Princess Faye goes mad. As usual in Chinese movies, everyone mistakes the two lovely women for men, but this goes even further, becomes a genuinely transsexual movie when Tony and the Princess swap roles at the end.

Chang and Zhao being weird:

Tony and Faye in trouble:

Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.


The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

I was reading “At the Existentialist Café” on the train…

Sartre put this principle into a three-word slogan, which for him defined existentialism: ‘Existence precedes essence’. What this formula gains in brevity it loses in comprehensibility. But roughly it means that, having found myself thrown into the world, I go on to create my own definition (or nature, or essence), in a way that never happens with other objects or life forms. You might think you have defined me by some label, but you are wrong, for I am always a work in progress. I create myself constantly through action, and this is so fundamental to my human condition that, for Sartre, it is the human condition, from the moment of first consciousness to the moment when death wipes it out. I am my own freedom: no more, no less.

So I thought from the title and poster that this would be a grand existentialist movie, and anyway it’s always a good time watching something with Franz Rogowski, but wrong on both counts. In 1945 Franz goes straight from the concentration camp into jail for being gay, bunks with Haneke regular Georg Friedrich. In 1957 Franz’s boyfriend Thomas Prenn dies, and the other prisoners can almost find it in their hearts to feel bad about it. In the late 60’s Franz keeps breaking rules in order to get thrown outside with young gay teacher Anton von Lucke (Frantz). Finally the law is overturned, Franz visits a jazz club and its subterranean Irreversible sex club, goes straight outside and smashes a jewelry store window to get thrown back into prison.

Franz with the teacher: