Shorts from the last few months

The Wrong Trousers (1993, Nick Park)
Endlessly amusing, and full of curious references to unknown kinds of cheese. The baddie is a jailbroken diamond-snatching chicken with a rubber-glove rooster hat and some electrical skills. Some serious dejected Gromit sadness when the tenant chicken takes his place and he leaves home… why must funny cartoons also make me sad?


Dizzy Dishes (1930, Dave Fleischer)
A Bluto-type orders roast duck, but our blandly Bosko-like hero dances around the kitchen instead of preparing the meal professionally. He makes a half-hearted attempt to serve the duck (shaved – not roasted) when he’s distracted yet again by a dog-eared proto-Betty Boop, leaving Bluto so hungry that he eats the dishes and table (see also: Jan Svankmajer’s Food). Finally Bosko, a true villain, assaults the poor customer and leaves with the dancing girl.


Direction of an Actor by Jean Renoir (1968, Gisele Braunberger)
What to do when your father is a famed film producer? Hire Jean Renoir to give you acting lessons. Gisele is told to read lines to Renoir completely flat with no hint of affectation, and he stops her many times if he detects even a hint of predetermined acting style, saying that first she must read the lines bringing nothing to the table, and then the character’s voice will come from the lines. Sounds like good advice. I watched this short doc thinking it was connected to the ones Rivette made with similar titles, but I guess not. Shot by Edmond Richard (Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoise, Welles’ The Trial) – can’t see how exactly it counts as a film by Giselle, but I guess it was her idea.


The next four are from RevoluciĆ³n (2010), a Mexican omnibus film that I didn’t finish watching when it was briefly available online.

La Bienvenida (Fernando Eimbcke)
Armancio the tuba player sacrifices all his family time practicing for the big welcome song, then the guest of honor never shows. All the other orchestra members go home but the tuba stays and plays his rehearsed part solo for nobody. Non-moving camera, low lighting, black and white. It must be a comedy, since tubas indicate comedy, but why am I not laughing? True, the final shot was nice.


Beautiful and Beloved (Patricia Riggen)
A dying man’s wish to his U.S.-born daughter is that he be buried in Mexico, where she’s never been. There’s talk of selling her grandfather’s pistol from the Mexican Revolution for funeral expenses, but instead she gets a deal by sleeping with some sleazy guy, which I believe is seen as a victory for the revolution.


Lucio (Gael Garcia Bernal)
Lucio’s weird cousin comes to visit, refuses to participate in religious rituals and removes the christ-on-a-cross from the bedroom wall saying he doesn’t believe in images. Lucio has some sort of epiphany from all this, as seen by his running to the top of a mountain and gazing at the horizon.


The Hanging Priest (Amat Escakanate)
A couple of kids (who say they’re engaged to be married even though they’re ten – is that a Mexican thing?) come across a priest in the desert. They share their water, walk for a while, and end up at a McDonald’s.

The Bourne Supremacy (2004, Paul Greengrass)

The series has a new director, one who likes to edit so quickly as to barely let you catch the meaning of action scenes, but with an admirable energy, not the seemingly random cutting of Transformers. I’m not trying to champion or justify this, as some film critics did, calling Greengrass the best filmmaker of the 2000’s and all that, just saying it wasn’t as annoying as I figured it would be.

Felt like the obligatory sequel, bringing back all main characters from the last movie and giving each a big scene, tying up narrative loose ends, and giving lord baddie Brian Cox the death he deserved. I’m hoping part three can be more free with the plot and character. Bourne conveniently half-remembers certain things from his past, a good plot device.

Since Chris Cooper is gone and Brian Cox has gotten so desperately evil he’s shooting people in the hallways now, we get a new FBI (or is it CIA, or some made-up agency – I forget) person: Joan Allen (the same year she starred in Yes). Lola Potente is killed off in the early scenes. Julia Stiles is still in the movie for some reason. Damon’s big moment is discovering in his memory that he killed some respectable foreign politician and his wife for nefarious reasons, faking it as a murder-suicide, so now years later he finds their daughter and apologizes for killing their parents.

Buy from Amazon:
The Bourne Trilogy [Blu-ray]

The Wire season 4 (2006)

Watching at my usual slow pace. Ten months to watch thirteen episodes, oh my. At this point I’m probably willing to agree with people who’ve been saying this is the best show ever on television. Still one season to go.

New directors: Anthony Hemingway, who also worked on The Corner, steps up from being a longtime assistant director, David Platt (a Law & Order guy), Jim McKay (R.E.M.’s Tourfilm) and TV’s Seith Mann.

Low body count this season. Careers after death: Fruit, shot in the head in the first episode – Brandon Fobbs, who went on to appear in an Uwe Boll movie. Tyrell Baker (Little Kevin) starred in The Barbershop Chronicles, which is not a sequel to Barbershop. Cyrus Farmer (tough kid Michael’s stepdad), also of Oz, appeared in a Notorious B.I.G. bio-pic. And J.D. Williams (personable drug dealer Bodie Broadus, a regular since season 1), was in a short-lived show called The Kill Point.

Permanent Vacation (1980, Jim Jarmusch)

“This is my story, or, part of it.”

Yes, there’s a narrator, and it’s in color – two unexpected things from a Jarmusch film. Follows Allie (Chris Parker) for a few days as he bums around New York meeting a few characters and ultimately decides to leave. A practice run for Stranger Than Paradise, with Jarmusch exhibiting plenty of his spare urban cinematography.

Leila:

Allie lives with Leila, but will quietly leave her at the end. At least she’s forewarned, as he tells her his “born on a train” philosophy. Allie meets crazed Vietnam vet Richard Boes (he had small parts in JJ’s next five films), visits his mentally ailing mother in a hospital, spies on a woman being vocal behind her apartment, converses with Frankie Faison (one of the three curbside shit-talkers in Do The Right Thing) at a theater playing an anachronistic Nick Ray film, then steals a car from a clueless woman (my favorite scene) and fences it.

Allie with mother:

Frankie:

He ends up at the pier, about to flee to Paris for a change of scenery. First he runs into another disaffected young man, a Parisian who fled for New York – a cheerful example of Jarmusch’s dry sense of humor.

I don’t know for sure that this is Sara Driver below, since two women are credited as “nurse.” She worked on most of Jarmusch’s movies, pulling two titles (production manager and assistant director) on this one. Funny enough, Driver was in the Times the day after I watched this, since a quality print of her long-lost first film You Are Not I was just discovered in Tangier.

Jarmusch, from 1980-81 interviews:

The story was inspired by how Chris actually lives his life … About half the things that happen to him in the film actually occurred to him, and the other half I made up for him. I thought up situations and placed him in them. … It’s more about accidental connections that move the audience than about dramatic action.

The question is how to treat social problems. A lot of people criticize my film politically; they say it’s an art film, it’s harmless, and does not take a clear stand. But whenever I watch a film – even if I almost completely agree with its political aims – it will still lose my interest as soon as I notice that the conclusions are self-evident, because then there is nothing left to discover.

Buy from Amazon:
Stranger Than Paradise / Permanent Vacation DVD

Year of the Horse (1997, Jim Jarmusch)

The Auteur Completion Project rolls on. I never knew how to see Permanent Vacation until Criterion put it out a few years ago, and now that I’ve finally watched it, I might as well also finally see this Neil Young/Crazy Horse doc that I bought a decade ago. I have a weird attraction to buying concert DVDs and a weird aversion to watching them. Anyway, now I’ve seen every Jim Jarmusch film that I know of, and I feel good about that. Now to move to New York and see them all on 35mm instead of DVD.

Jim and Neil on the bus:

As far as behind-the-scenes musician docs go, this one is top-notch, not for any particular visual superiority (in fact, it was purposely shot on cheap film and video cameras) but because it lets the songs play out in full – even the long jammy ones – without impatiently cutting to some famous person telling us how great Crazy Horse is. If there’s anyone who can be counted on for patience, it’s Jarmusch.

The Wandering Image and Four Around a Woman (Fritz Lang)

The Wandering Image (1920)

Released seven years before Lang was a star with Metropolis, and I know those years represented some major developments in filmmaking, but I notice this wasn’t very Metropolis-like. It’s not letting the image tell the story, but seems like a string of wordy intertitles with brief motion images between them. I guess this is partly because half the film has been lost and some of these were explanation title cards added during the restoration, but I didn’t pay attention which were the originals and which were summaries.

The plot is convoluted, justifying all those title cards. Wil Brand is trying to claim the inheritance of his deceased cousin George, is about the sue the cousin’s wife Irmgard, though he has never met either of them (a weird way to introduce the characters, methinks) when he unexpectedly meets the wife on a train and offers to help her, as she’s desperately trying to escape John, her late husband’s brother, who is stalking her by telegram. It’s immediately impressive that this 1920 movie seems to be shot on moving trains and boats and in the woods and the mountains, not at a film studio.

Irmgard says farewell to helpful Wil Brand:

John maliciously tells strangers that Irmgard is his mentally unstable wife so they’ll help him locate her, so Wil sends her into the wilderness. She looks totally miserable, passes a hermit shepherd who decides not to help her, then goes off into the mountains where John catches up and steals some dynamite, getting serious with the death threats now. The hermit comes to her rescue and buried in rubble together, he admits he’s her husband George who faked his own death.

Death tolls a bell for the avalanche victims:

Flashback! She married George after becoming his secretary as he wrote books about free love. He could never marry lest he be seen as a hypocrite by his fascinated readers, since he’s about the only man in 1920 willing to live by his late-1960’s ideals. So John helped them marry in secret, but now that George is “dead”, John threatens to expose the whole sham and prove she’s legally married to him in order to claim the inheritance.

Hans Marr as John:

Hans Marr as George:

Anyway, back in the avalanche, John is atop a mountain cavorting like a madman, tossing rocks at the heads of would-be rescuers, when Wil Brand helps the couple escape. Later, a massive extended contrivance involving the virgin Mary convinces George to return to civilization, but he only stays long enough to retrieve his wife, and take her to live by his side in the mountains, leaving Wil with his promised inheritance – a happy ending, I suppose, given how the Germans used to worship mountains.

Seems like Wil Brand would barely need to have been part of the story, but then Irmgard would’ve had to be stronger and more self-sufficient in the early scenes (she still does pretty well). He was Rudolf Klein-Rogge, Thea von Harbou’s wife at the time, who also had a part in Four Around a Woman and would become Lang’s Dr. Mabuse. George and John are both played by Hans Marr, which probably seemed like some awesome cinematographic trick in 1920. Irmgard was Mia May, Joe May’s wife, who starred in his film of Lang and von Harbou’s Indian Tomb/Tiger of Eschnapur the following year.


Four Around a Woman (1921)
I watched this the next day. Watched it for real, paid it my full attention, not just screwing around on the computer while it was playing. But then how come I couldn’t make any sense of it, or keep track of any characters? Perhaps I’d had too much wine.

Harry Yquem:

Harry Yquem (Ludwig Hartau of Lubitsch’s Anna Boleyn) has the most beautiful wife you could imagine, someone tells us, but then we see the wife and I could imagine better. She is Florence (Carola Toelle), who later tells a friend that “a beautiful woman need not necessarily be true to her husband.” There’s an exchange of fake jewels, rendezvous at an underground tavern, somebody’s long lost brother, a murder and a police investigation. Anton Edthofer (also of Murnau’s Phantom) either plays twins (like in The Wandering Image) or plays one guy who pretends to have a brother, I never figured which. Charles Meunier (Robert Forster-Larrinaga of Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler) is after Florence for a while, and she’s friends with someone else named Werner, and I think it turns out she was a spy and has actually remained true to Harry. Based on a play by Rolf Vanloo, who was also adapted by Joe May for Asphalt.

Florence and one of the twins, I believe:

Opens with a tracking shot around a gambling table – hello, Dr. Mabuse. If the movie wasn’t such a lo-res gray blur, and ironically if there were more intertitles, I might know what is happening. There was zero music on my copy so I played “The World of Shigeru Umebayashi,” which I loved but probably didn’t help my attention level since it wasn’t meant for this kind of film. The only parts I got really excited about were when I saw a 1920 Boston Terrier, some film leader and a test pattern between the first two acts, a man with a monocle, a couple of neat shadowy camera shots, and when this happened:

Harakiri (1919, Fritz Lang)

Watched as part of the Auteur Completism Project, in which I plan to watch the last remaining movies by some directors whose work I’d almost entirely seen. Lang was a big one. I previously claimed victory with The Return of Frank James because I couldn’t find Human Desire, then again with Human Desire because I couldn’t find Harakiri, and now I’ve found Harakiri along with two other long-missing silents. Joy!

My favorite shot: at right is the Bonze’s comic assistant

“You have lost your faith in Buddha in those foreign lands. Fear his wrath!” Buddha has wrath? A monk known as The Bonze (Georg John, who played the blind beggar who identifies the killer in M) has a crush on Lil Dagover (of Tartuffe, Destiny, Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), orders her dad the Daimyo to have her become a priestess so he could get closer to her. But the dad refuses, and is disgraced, made to commit harakiri. It’s all based on the story Madame Butterfly, but I don’t remember this part from the David Cronenberg version. The story had already been filmed a few years earlier in the USA with Mary Pickford in the lead.

Lil, looking not very Japanese, under a tree with Olaf:

It’s clear that all the “Japanese” people in this movie are really Germans plus whatever dark-skinned or foreign-looking people they could scrape up, wearing bald caps, samurai wigs and robes (if Japan had watched this movie they never would have allied with Germany in WWII), but anyway, a “European” comes over the wall of the forbidden forest and starts putting his hands all over Lil, so now she’s only got eyes for this guy, which further infuriates the monk, who imprisons her before sending her away to a teahouse to become a geisha. But the Euro Man keeps visiting her, agrees to “marry” her for 999 days, and she becomes pregnant just as he leaves the county, promising to return soon.

Lil shares her feelings for Olaf with their son:

Olaf shares his feelings for Lil with the camera:

After four years, she’s supposedly no longer married so the monk comes after her, and coincidentally Olaf the euro man (Niels Prien: was in a Paul Leni movie the same year and practically nothing else) returns to Japan on assignment, now married to another European and not caring a bit about this Japanese woman. Meanwhile a prince (Meinhart Maur, later of Tales of Hoffmann) is in town, sees the girl and is smitten with her but she claims loyalty to her son’s father and won’t give up until he returns. Her friend Hanake finds out Olaf is actually in town, and goes to plead with him (in front of his wife) to come see his “wife” and son. The prince sends the monk away, and Lil can’t take the pain any longer, takes her father’s sacred knife and does herself in just as Olaf arrives – now this German guy who was a total shit gets their baby, which I don’t see as a happy ending.

Very nice piano and violin music by Aljoscha Zimmermann. Much of the same cast as Lang’s The Spiders from the same year, which I barely remember, and the only other 1919 feature I’ve seen (same year as Broken Blossoms, The Oyster Princess, and Blind Husbands). The biggest star besides Lil turned out to be the “little boy”, actually a girl who would appear in Joyless Street, The Golem and a Joe May movie before retiring from movies at age 13. It’s said that Breathless invented the jump cut, but this movie is just full of them. I think a malicious editor in the sound era must have wanted to shorten the runtime and took out frames at random.

The Hudsucker Proxy (1994, Coen Bros.)

Reportedly this movie was written by the Coens and Sam Raimi in the 80’s at the same time they wrote Crimewave together. Both were huge flops. But Crimewave, directed by Raimi between the first two Evil Dead movies, is downright awful, whereas I think every scene in Hudsucker is just perfect. The movie was expensive, but looks expensive – a well done period piece with great attention to detail. And Katy liked it!