Dishonored (1931, Josef von Sternberg)

“What a charming evening we might have had if you hadn’t been a spy, and I a traitor.”
“Then we might never have met.”

Another Sternberg/Dietrich movie, and this one just kills The Blue Angel, which I thought was overbaked and had too little Dietrich. Here not only is she perfectly lit and doing a better acting job throughout, but the story is a wartime (1915 Austria) spy vs. spy drama, all romance and excitement, more alive and relevant than the period self-punishment of Emil Jannings. Sternberg seems fully comfortable in his sound world now, maybe not pulling as beautiful images as in the silents, when it was all image, but making a movie that fully works. Some good expressive lighting (backlit against windows when she lets Victor escape) and long-held cross-fades.

Marlene with Austrian secret service man Gustav von Seyffertitz (Hymn Book Harry, who performs the wedding in Docks of New York):

The opening titles prepare us for tragedy and sexism, telling us that codename X-27 “might have become the greatest spy in history… if X-27 had not been a woman.” This is referring to the ending, when she lets the enemy spy she loves escape before his execution, which leads to her own. But of course the reason she’s a great spy in the first place is that she’s a woman, able to seduce and sleep with (whoa, pre-code) enemy officers in order to steal information, the Black Book of its time.

At the start, war widow Marlene is out streetwalking to pay the rent (whoa, pre-code!) when she picks up a gentleman with a droopy ‘stache who tests her patriotism, pretending to try recruiting her for anti-Austrian work, and when she has him arrested he reveals that he’s the head of Austrian secret service and actually wants to hire her for pro-Austrian work, argh.

Warner “Charlie Chan” Oland as the spy who shoots himself:

Some veils, feathers and masks later, she’s at a party with more confetti and streamers than I’ve ever seen in one place. She acts interested in Russian Mustache Spy and retires back to his place, where she discovers his secret spy stash, all the while acting super-fucking-cool while he creeps away and kills himself.

The colonel is Victor McLaglen, Lon’s strongman sidekick in The Unholy Three who’d win best actor for The Informer a few years later:

With a distinctive smile like Victor’s, what use is a mask?

Off to unveil the secret identity of the dead spy’s undercover colonel friend from the costume party, which is simple since he has the most excellently recognizable sinister smile. And a cute little mustache – every man has a mustache.

The colonel is onto her spying ways – she’s got him, then lets him escape. She goes to Russia and acts as a timid housekeeper at enemy headquarters, then back home where she sees the grinning colonel again and lets him escapes. Sentenced to death, she asks only for a piano and “any dress I wore when I served my countrymen instead of my country,” so gets killed by rifle squad in her feathers and veil.

Pre-execution, at her piano:

La Pointe Courte (1956, Agnes Varda) plus shorts

“They talk too much to be happy.”

Descriptions of this film focus on the blank-faced young married couple in crisis, visiting the fishing town where he grew up, debating whether they should stay together. But the couple seems to appear in about one third of the movie. The rest is about the town itself and its residents – daily fishing, problems with the law and health board, a teenage couple who want to start dating, a jousting competition in the river. Since most of the movie defies plot summary, the married couple gets more attention than they maybe deserve.

He says something like “you change your mind so much, I’m always a day or two behind.” And I’m so glad I never finished watching this with Katy (she made it about 20 minutes in), because most of their conversation is about their failing relationship, whether or not they’re in love and should break up. Katy will take this personally and think I’m trying to ask these questions indirectly myself. Also any movie containing any sadness makes her sad. Best to stick with Hello, Dolly!

Resnais-style camera moves (he was the film’s editor – the same year he made Toute la memoire du monde), some highly posed, French-poetic shots of the couple, which are all the more arresting against the reality of the small fishing village. But Varda doesn’t shoot it like reality. The sea, the clotheslines and nets, the shacks and neighborhood cats all look like an expensive set, arranged for the pleasure of her camera. An unbelievably accomplished debut.

Of the two actors, Silvia Monfort was in a couple movies with Jean Gabin, also a Robert Bresson movie I’ve never heard of, and Philippe Noiret was the uncle of Zazie dans le metro, also in Topaz and Coup de Torchon.

Ydessa, The Bears, and etc. (2004)

I like documentaries with twist endings. There’s a shocker at the end of artist Ydessa’s gallery display of thousands of framed photographs of people holding teddy bears: a bare-walled third room containing only a mannequin of Hitler, kneeling as if in prayer. Ydessa’s parents were holocaust survivors, and some of their family members didn’t survive – the exhibit is dedicated to them. I didn’t warm up to Ydessa very much, but I like the layout of her exhibit, the photos themselves and the film.

Nice Varda-esque touch: Ydessa says she’s created a fiction that looks like documentary: that everybody is happy and has a teddy bear. “Reality and fiction – I’m somewhere in between.” And of course in her montage of photos from the exhibit, Varda sneaks in a photo of herself as a child.

7 P., cuis., s.de b… (1984)

I think the title is real-estate shorthand for “seven bedrooms, kitchen and bath.” Shot in a former hospice during an exhibition created by Louis Bec, who played the older father. So I’m not sure which of the visual ideas came from Bec and which from Varda, but it’s a remarkable little film. Unseen realtor is showing this property to unseen doctor, the doctor moves in, starts a (large) family which grows up fast. They go through a couple maids and their oldest daughter gets a boyfriend and rebels against her father. Older yet, and the father has died. The rooms go from bare to slightly dressed to crazy – the bathroom totally covered in feathers at one point. Characters speak through each other, repeating phrases like in Marienbad.

Yolande Moreau, who’d play a chef in Micmacs:

You’ve Got Beautiful Stairs, You Know (1986)

A celebration of the Cinematheque and its front steps, intercutting with famous film scenes set upon steps. Some semi-re-enactments – I liked the buggy tossed down the steps, Potemkin-style, and the mildly concerned man at the bottom who leaned over to check that nobody was inside.

Buy from Amazon:
Four by Agnes Varda (incl. La Pointe Courte)
Cinevardaphoto (incl. the shorts)

Hello, Dolly! (1969, Gene Kelly)

SHOCKtober is over in a big way (yes, I’m a month behind – what of it?). A colorful trifle, with fine music and dancing, and a fluffy plot blown up to double its natural runtime by extending every tune, adding a final verse and chorus at half speed for audience members too dull to get it the first ten times. Individual scenes aren’t poorly paced – the centerpiece restaurant scene is well-timed with a good energy – the movie’s just trying to be elegant by drawing things out.

Katy and I both thought that Streisand was very good and Matthau was a weird choice for a musical. We weren’t sure why Streisand wants so badly to end up with such a stinker as Matthau – though he is a half-millionaire and she seems to have transformed him into her beloved ex-husband by the end. Katy also recognized Gene Kelly’s style in the dancing, though he’s not the listed choreographer. This was the second-to-last feature he directed, not long after his Young Girls of Rochefort role.

Streisand (who had just won an oscar for her debut film role in Funny Girl) is a widowed matchmaker who’s tired of being alone herself. So she sabotages her current job – hired by grumpy feed-and-seed owner Matthau to hook up his niece Ermengarde with a nice boy of higher standing than her chosen sweetheart Tommy Tune (“possibly the tallest dancer in the country”), Streisand instead schemes to keep the two youngsters together, hook herself up with Matthau, and distract Irene, the city hatmaker Matthau has been dating, by foisting his head store assistant (Michael Crawford of a couple Richard Lester comedies) upon her. It all ends up with a hide-and-seek dance competition in a huge fancy restaurant, featuring (for a minute) Louis Armstrong.

A huge hit in 1969, yet also a huge flop because it was monumentally expensive. It had an unexpected resurgence in DVD sales after being featured in Wall-E. The play by Thornton Wilder (Our Town, Shadow of a Doubt) had been filmed before (including in 1958 with Anthony Perkins and Shirley MacLaine), but this was adapted from the mega-hit Broadway musical version.

Buy from Amazon:
Hello, Dolly! DVD

Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (2004, Richard Ayoade)

British series with a brilliant premise, but kinda gets old over six episodes. Three or four would’ve been perfect. And no, I didn’t watch them all the same day. Matthew Holness (cowriter) plays Garth Marenghi, self-aggrandizing pulp horror author, Richard Ayoade (director/cowriter) plays TV producer Dean Lerner, and Matt “Dixon Bainbridge” Berry plays cheesy dreamboat actor Todd Rivers. These three present Garth’s unjustly forgotten 1980′s TV series Darkplace (which also stars Alice Lowe, Timothy Dalton’s assistant in Hot Fuzz), stopping the show frequently to comment on the story or its production. The humor comes from how terrible the show is (Dean Lerner’s acting is especially hilarious) and how deluded the cast and crew is about its greatness and importance. Both of the Mighty Boosh stars have cameos, though Vince was hard to spot under his monkey suit

The main cast:

The Boosh:

More shows to search for: Bruiser, My Life in Film, Nathan Barley, and (obviously) Man to Man with Dean Lerner

The Old Dark House (1932, James Whale)

Holy crap, what an odd movie. Three travelers caught in a storm arrive at a spooky house, where they’re met by a mumbly deformed butler (Boris Karloff). The masters of the house, two hateful siblings – jittery doomsayer Ernest Thesiger (the mad doctor in Bride of Frankenstein who creates tiny people) and half-deaf grump Eva Moore – say they can stay the night (“but no beds!”), and also welcome another couple that arrives soon after, but act strange and nervous. As the night goes on, Karloff gets drunk and releases the third sibling, pyromaniac madman Saul, who threatens to destroy them all.

At your service: Melvyn, Gloria, Raymond

Meanwhile someone from the first carload falls in love with someone from the second. Some of the dialogue is hilarious, but the movie never comes out and announces its intention to be a comedy or parody. Well, maybe it does when one of the men sneaks upstairs and discovers the siblings’ 100-year-old grandfather in bed, clearly played by a woman with fake whiskers.

“Grandpa”

Travelers: Gloria Stuart of Titanic, who didn’t look anything like Kate Winslet when she was young, is married to Raymond Massey, who’d later play Karloff in Arsenic and Old Lace. They arrive with their sardonic layabout friend Melvyn Douglas (also a sarcastic romantic in I Met Him in Paris), who falls for Lilian Bond (Double Harness) who arrived with Charles Laughton (same year as Island of Lost Souls), a loud, brash rich fellow. It’s alright with Laughton that Melvyn runs off with his girl – Laughton wasn’t all that attached to her.

Boris vs. Gloria:

Lilian Bond looks more like Kate Winslet than Gloria does:

Very nice looking, shadowy picture, with kinda rough editing. Remade by William Castle in the 60′s. Gloria Stuart provides an audio commentary with good insight and recall. I didn’t listen to the whole thing, but James Cameron did.

Buy from Amazon:
The Old Dark House DVD

Chinatown (1974, Roman Polanski)

The most brightly-lit and also most pessimistic noir shown in Emory’s series. Nicholson is very good at acting natural, which he does too seldom, and John Huston is haunting as the villain, a human monster in broad daylight. I remember Faye Dunaway as being hysterical in this, but apparently I was only recalling the “she’s my daughter AND my sister” scene. Polanski himself plays a dwarf thug who cuts Jack’s nose open near the beginning of the investigation, forcing Jack to wear facial bandages through most of the movie.

Huston plays Dunaway’s father – he and her husband Mulwray ran the water department for years before selling it to the city, and now Huston is running a water/real estate conspiracy, stealing water from farmers and dumping it into the river. Jack is a nobody detective taking pictures of cheating husbands when he’s used as a pawn in Huston’s schemes to discredit his former partner and recover his grand/daughter – though Jack is plenty smart enough to keep up with the plot. He almost gets ahead, too, but loses his evidence against Huston, and loses Dunaway when the cops shoot her through the head.

Nominated for all the oscars, but really, what chance have you got against the likes of Godfather 2, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and Art Carney?

Buy from Amazon:
Chinatown DVD

Kuroneko (1968, Kaneto Shindo)

From the start it’s got similarly great cinematography and sound-effect-punctuated music as Onibaba, so this is already a winner. It’s another sometimes-erotic ghost story featuring a woman and her daughter-in-law left behind when the men all go to war – was this a running theme in Shindo’s movies? But this time the son/husband returns, and the women themselves don’t fare so well.

Gintoki’s mother (Nobuko Otowa, Shindo’s main mother figure in Onibaba, Naked Island and Mother) and young wife (Kiwako Taichi of the 24th Zatoichi movie) are raped and killed by soldiers, their house burned to the ground, the only witness their black cat.

A year or two later, soldier Gintoki (Kichiemon Nakamura of Double Suicide) is sent by his boss to defeat the vengeful feline spirits that have been killing his compatriots – the girl luring them to a phantom house in the woods, serving up hot love after the mother serves hot tea. Then the men appear the next morning with their throats torn out.

Gintoki as a ragged warrior, displaying the head of an enemy warlord:

He cleans up nice:

When Gintoki visits the house and discovers the identity of the spirits, he travels to the forest night after night to spend time with them. The wife breaks her vow to drink the blood of all samurai, spending a few nights of love with her husband before disappearing to hell. Mom keeps going out and killing guys though, and Lord Raiko (Kei Sato, Hachi in Onibaba) is demanding results, so Gintoki finally attacks his mother, cutting off her arm, and brings the arm to Raiko as proof of his triumph. But ghost-mom retrieves her cat-arm, and Gintoki goes somewhat insane trying to catch her, falls dead in the ruins of their old house as snow begins to fall and a cat meows.

The visual effects are more complicated than Onibaba‘s. The mother’s hair twitches like a cat’s tail (can the girls turn into cats?), and the movie shows us the unreality of their forest home via a split-screen sky in constant motion through the trees, so that they always seem to be moving while standing still.

M. McDonagh:

Gintoki’s psychologically charged cat-and-mouse game with the spectral women is Kuroneko’s darkly seductive heart. He both recognizes Shige and Yone and knows they aren’t the Shige and Yone he left behind; given the place and time, it seems entirely reasonable for him to suspect they’re demons who’ve cruelly appropriated the appearance of the most important women in his life. That said, the newly minted samurai understands how much a few years can change a person. The ghost women, meanwhile, are wrestling with their own dilemma: they know perfectly well that under the warrior finery, their guest is Hachi, and wish they didn’t. There’s no real winning here, just infinite degrees of losing—losing one’s soul, life, honor, or humanity.

Buy from Amazon:
Kuroneko (Criterion Blu-ray)

Inside (2007, Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury)

Another let-down from the supposedly bold new school of French horror cinema. Movie takes a pregnant girl and throws every kind of evil at her, trying to be as extremely traumatic as possible, creating a damsel-in-ultra-distress, not to make any sort of point a la Martyrs, but just to fuck with us a la Frontier(s).

Her husband is killed in a car crash (like The Descent but not as cool), then a woman is stalking her at home, then home-invasion, stabbing faces with scissors, and OMG the intruder is trying to steal the now-quite-pregnant protagonist’s almost-born baby! The woman’s kindly boss is killed, so are a couple cops, and the woman accidentally KILLS HER OWN MOM. You can’t get more traumatic than this! The intruder kinda becomes a faceless demon thanks to a lit-aerosol-can attack, successfully cuts out the baby, and I don’t know who’s still alive at the end.

Stupid shots “inside” the woman show the baby’s reaction to the events. All this happens during riots in the Paris suburbs, which is either supposed to be an excuse for reduced police presence (despite all getting totally killed, the cops were alert and aimed to help) or a metaphor that I don’t care enough to unravel. The directors have a new thing out called Livid. I’ve seen baby-snatching intruder Béatrice Dalle, appropriately enough, in The Intruder.

Buy from Amazon:
Inside DVD

Cronos (1993, Guillermo del Toro)

In 1536, the official watchmaker to the viceroy flees the Inquisition and lands in Vera Cruz, Mexico. In 1937 a vault collapses, killing the watchmaker. How he lived for 400+ years becomes the obsession of rich, dying businessman Claudio Brook (Simon of the Desert himself). When his enforcer son Ron Perlman discovers evidence that the watchmaker’s Cronos Device (which turns the user into a kind of vampire/addict: see also The Addiction, released two years later) has turned up in an antiques shop, he tries to acquire it from its accidentally-immortal new owner.

Two dying men, sort of:

Think I watched this in Paul Young’s after-hours screening series at Tech, but I must’ve slept through part of it, since it seemed mostly unfamiliar. A quality flick – suppose it qualifies as horror, but it doesn’t behave quite the way a horror movie is supposed to, has a classic genre sensibility (horror genre with action/revenge/gangster elements) but marches to its own beat. For instance, the old man’s granddaughter Aurora isn’t a spooky ghost child nor a victim, but a witness/participant, a representative of the spectator with more personality than is usually allowed.

Perlman, before City of Lost Children:

Federico Lupi, also in The Devil’s Backbone, is antique dealer Jesus Gris, who has a run-in with Ron Perlman after finding and using the device. Perlman arranges a car crash and attends the cremation of Gris’s coffin – but Gris has escaped from it just in time. After getting himself together he sneaks into the businessman’s office seeking answers about his condition (with Aurora accidentally in tow, a glowstick between her teeth). The businessman is killed, and a rooftop fight between Gris and Perlman leaves them both dead-ish, but Gris is revived by the device, which he then smashes, realizing he’s being tempted to drink Aurora’s blood. He goes home and presumably starves to death in bed surrounded by his family, a strangely beautiful portrayal of a moral vampire.

Buy from Amazon:
Cronos (Criterion Blu-ray)