I’ve enjoyed Jacques Tourneur’s SHOCKtober-worthy Cat People and I Walked With a Zombie, so I planned on watching Night of the Demon and The Leopard Man this year. But wait – just discovered that his father Maurice was also a filmmaker, also made horror movies, and their careers overlapped. So I watched movies by father and son from 1943, along with an early silent short.


The Devil’s Hand (1943, Maurice Tourneur)

“An avalanche, a madman, and prunes! The evening is completely spoiled.”

High-quality studio picture that plays like an expensive Twilight Zone episode until it gets bonkers towards the end. Very nice light and shadows, some Cocteauian fast-motion and reverse photography providing subtly supernatural effects.

Failed painter Roland (Pierre Fresnay of Le Corbeau and Grand Illusion) buys the titular hand from a great chef (who immediately loses his own right hand and his kitchen skills – this doesn’t seem to faze Roland) despite warnings from the chef’s assistant Ange (heh) and then sees his painterly fortunes soar. But he begins to be stalked by a short, cheerful man in a bowler hat claiming to be the devil and taunting Roland – offering to take back the hand in exchange for tons of cash.

The fatal purchase:

Jolly old devil:

His girl Irene (Josseline Gael of Raymond Bernard’s Les Miserables, whose career ended the following year, imprisoned for sleeping with the Gestapo) was the impetus for Roland’s devil-hand purchase, dumping him at dinner in front of the chef, calling his artworks trash. After his success, they’re married and the devil tries to trade her soul for Roland’s, calling her “a beautiful sinner.” Later she phones Roland from the hotel where she used to live offering him enough money to unload the hand, but when he arrives she has been murdered. I’m missing something – why her old hotel? How’d she get the money? By doing something immoral, no doubt, but she made more money in two days than the most celebrated painter in town could dig up?

Irene with Orpheus lighting, worn out from making all that money:

Anyway, after losing everything at a casino, Roland stumbles into the best part of the movie, a dining hall full of ghosts of the men who formerly possessed the hand, telling their stories via shadow-plays, culminating in the appearance of Maximus Leo, whose hand they’ve all been fooling with. So Roland goes off to the mountains trying to locate Leo’s grave so he can return the hand and break the curse.

Framing device: he’s been narrating all this to the patrons of a snowed-in lodge (who provide most of the film’s sense of humor), despondent because the devil just staged a power outage and nabbed the hand. The devil seems alternately powerful and feeble, serious and pranksterish in this movie. Suddenly Roland runs outside, chases down the devil and wrestles free the hand before falling to his death – upon Leo’s grave. So the curse is broken, I guess. Anyway, the movie is very enjoyable despite my story confusions. Based on an 1832 short story, no relation to The Hands of Orlac or The Monkey’s Paw.

F. Lafond:

Even if some sequences make use of expressionistic lighting, Tourneur manages to instill a sense of fear by emphasising the concrete consequences of the Faustian pact rather than the supernatural powers of the Devil … Above all, the pact functions as a commercial transaction … As with other films made during World War II, there are no direct references to the military and political context of the time. But Roland’s wild-eyed looks upon entering the inn at the outset of the film express a feeling of pervading paranoia that one can fully comprehend only by taking into account the extra-diegetic reality. The horror elements of Tourneur’s La Main du diable may well express an anxiety experienced by every Frenchman opposed to the German invasion, in their souls if not through action.


The Leopard Man (1943, Jacques Tourneur)

Another in the Val Lewton series that also produced I Walked With a Zombie, The Seventh Victim and The Ghost Ship – all in the same year! This one seemed more slight than the others I’ve seen (Curse of the Cat People excepted). A leopard gets loose in New Mexico after a publicity stunt goes wrong, kills a bunch of young women, and the singer and publicity man responsible for its escape try to help out (though they’re low-key about it, because it’s not cool to act responsible for terrorizing a town).

Kiki (serial player Jean Brooks, with a nice Myrna Loy-like voice) is the singer and Manning (Dennis O’Keefe, in Hangmen Also Die the same year, also star of the original Brewster’s Millions and Anthony Mann’s Raw Deal and T-Men) the publicity man – and the guy who lent them his leopard is named Charlie How-Come, a good-natured guy, but he’d like his leopard back, please, or the $225 it’ll cost to get a new one. I don’t remember if Charlie ever gets paid.

Young Teresa is the first and saddest victim, having to cross town at night to buy cornmeal, then pounding at her door to be let in as the leopard approached. Next up is Consuelo (a Finnish actress playing Mexican – hey, any foreigner will do), accidentally locked into a cemetery while awaiting her boyfriend. And finally Clo-Clo the maraca girl (“Margo” of Lost Horizon – too bad they couldn’t get The Panther Woman from Island of Lost Souls) who kinda had it coming, since she purposely frightened the leopard at the beginning, leading to its escape.

One victim – Teresa, I think – and her finches:

Turns out a local professor (James Bell, who also played the doctor in I Walked with a Zombie) found the dead leopard (or did he kill it?) and has used the leopard-on-the-loose headline as license to kill girls himself, leaving leopard-like evidence at the scenes. What a weirdo. I like how first he tries to convince Charlie How-Come (the “leopard man”) that Charlie is becoming a leopard while drunk, so that Charlie asks to be locked up, werewolf-style.


The Man With Wax Faces (1914, Maurice Tourneur)

A silent trifle with a good ending. The classic plot, which may not have been so classic at the time, of a man who bets he can spend the night in a spooky place (wax museum) in order to prove his bravery. But he’s not brave at all – the wind and shadows scare the hell out of him, and when his prankster friend sneaks in, he gets stabbed to death by his crazed buddy.

Adding to the sense of strangeness is some wicked, Decasia-worthy film damage, coincidentally appearing right after the title “Deeper into the night, the wax figures become more terrifying.” If you saw your world melting and tearing apart like this, you’d go mad, too.

Battle of the Tourneurs – advantage: Maurice

Remarkably well-restored, exciting little hour-long comedy, with a distinctive look and memorable performances – much, much better than anything I expected with such a boring name. I don’t know what I thought, maybe a Little Mermaid type thing, but the girl comes from a family who made their wealth in oysters, and agrees to marry down-and-out royalty to get herself a title, hence “oyster princess.”

The hyper-rich Oyster King, Mr. Quaker (Victor Janson, whom I liked so much in this role, I’ll try to forget that he appeared in “the key film in Nazi popular culture” in 1942) is disturbed from smoking a cigar the size of his head by a report that his daughter (Ossi Oswalda, “the German Mary Pickford”) has torn up her room upon hearing that the Shoe-Cream King’s daughter has married a prince, so Quaker hires the local matchmaker to procure a prince.

Handsome Prince Nucki (Harry Liedtke, title star of The Grand Duke’s Finances) lives in a ramshackle apartment with his roommate/assistant, bald jokester Josef (Julius Falkenstein of Dr. Mabuse The Gambler, The Haunted Castle). The matchmaker pays a call, and the prince sends Josef to check out the girl. But she’s in a hurry, marries Josef immediately, and holds a wedding banquet (Quaker: “Excuse me for introducing you to my son-in-law”). A split-screen “foxtrot epidemic” ensues (above) and Josef gets giddily drunk, while Nucki goes out drinking with his friends. This ends with my favorite shot in the movie, the group staggering down the road, depositing a man on each bench along the path.

Nucki stumbles blindly into “the multi-millionaires’ daughters’ association against dipsomania” (alcoholism) where he’s beaten up by Ossi, who falls for him and takes him home. It’s a setup for heartbreak, since Ossi is in love with a man who isn’t her husband, but then Josef says he got married in the prince’s name so the other two rush off to bed together.

Something like Lubitsch’s 30th movie (they were prolific back then), released a decade earlier than anything else I’ve seen by him.

Dramatizes the 1905 Russian Revolution. Although I didn’t know that until I looked it up after the movie, because I know nothing of history or Russia. Apparently Battleship Potemkin is about a military uprising during the same time, and the 1905 events led to the 1917 revolution which took out the Tsars and formed the Soviet Union. So that’s why the ending, which seems tragic, is filmed as if it’s a great victory.

Full of great editing, a few cool overlapping images. Pudovkin worked under Lev Kuleshov, using his teacher’s montage theories to make grand works of propaganda, “far less ambiguously so than his rival Eisenstein.” I was in the mood for some Russian cinema, thought I’d watch a bunch of early features leading up to Emory’s presentation of I Am Cuba on 35mm, but I got busy, only watched this one and missed Cuba.

Brilliantly tense movie, vaguely similar to the other film called Mother I’ve watched recently in that both mothers try to free their sons from jail, becoming more like their sons along the way. In this one, she is partly responsible for his arrest, revealing a cache of weapons he was hiding after his group’s unionist revolt takes a bad turn. Later, she has turned against the state and teamed with the unionists, marching on the prison to free their comrades. Everyone we liked is dead in the end, but the individual is unimportant anyhow; the movement lives on.

J. Jones:
“The montage effects are different from those of Eisenstein, who believed editing was a way of achieving dissonance, making a jagged cinema of conflict. Pudovkin is more lyrical. His cross-cuts, while dramatic, do not break up but enhance the narrative.”

Also checked out:
Twilight of a Woman’s Soul (1913, Yevgeni Bauer)

Unfortunately, I found it a dullsville tableau drama, despite minor excitement over a mild camera move or two, a flashback and the presence of such a taboo subject as rape in a silent film. Seems like a good study film for an early-cinema class, but it’s not thrilling my current urge to watch quality Russian cinema. The film’s writer played the rapist, ha.

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.

A good, if depressing, baseball movie. Funny that it was made in the 80’s and not more recently – a writer today could make some good parallels to today’s baseball fans feeling cheated after the steroid scandals.

Sayles is good with ensembles, and he masterfully introduces most of the players and other characters mid-game at the beginning of the movie. The movie was high-quality throughout even if it didn’t blow me away. I thought each game of the world series was too montagey, though I don’t have a better suggestion of how to get through eight baseball games in a two-hour movie. Katy liked how it showed the strained personal relationships on the field when the team started underperforming – especially strained since some team members weren’t in on the fix and didn’t know why their teammates were playing such crappy ball. I also dug how the sports reporters kept scorecards on possible cheaters, gathering evidence, because who would know better than the reporters what constitutes a dodgy play? Funny how the small-time gamblers (Richard Edson and an under-used Christopher Lloyd) even testified at the trial, apparently having nothing to lose legally. The players were so screwed financially that they agreed to throw the series, and they were rewarded with a little money and with a lifetime ban from the sport.

John Cusack (fresh off Tapeheads) plays a neighborhood boy who grudgingly accepts the situation but tries not to look too bad in public, or get dragged down into the scandal. His teammates: Charlie Sheen (who directly followed this film with Major League), David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) as a shame-filled pitcher, DB Sweeney (The Cutting Edge) as Shoeless Joe Jackson, Michael Rooker (Slither, star of Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer) as the lead schemer, and Gordon Clapp (Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus Seven) as the frustrated catcher. Also money man Michael Lerner (the movie mogul in Barton Fink) and Comiskey (played by Clifton James of Cool Hand Luke, The Last Detail).

The Feuillade movies I’ve watched just keep getting better – from Les Vampires to Judex to Fantomas – and I’d heard this might be a total masterpiece, but I was disappointed. Mildly, I mean – it’s a fun movie and all, but it doesn’t hold up as a long-form piece as well as the others. Strange to think his films are a hundred years old. Supposedly he was assisted on this by a young Julien Duvivier.

Can you tell these two men in suits apart?

As usual, I dig the opening credits, motion portraits of each major character. Jacques (serious explorer, close light brown hair, wearing a robe for some reason) returns from Indochina (Vietnam) with Tih Minh, “a young Anamite who had saved his life,” with whom he is chastely in love. Jacques is played by René Cresté – Judex himself. In fact half the cast had recently been in Judex and would appear in Barrabas the year after this. Jacques’ comic-relief servant Placide (a goofball with center-parted hair) is glad to be home and see his fiancee, the maid Rosette (dark-haired and suspicious-looking, but she turns out to be a sweetie). Jacques’ sister Jeanne sets out to “educate” Tih while Jacques and Placide (poor guy) go off to India. Two years later they return and prepare for a double wedding.

1910’s special effects:

Meanwhile, Paris is plagued by a string of robberies and kidnappings perpetrated by evil Dr. Gilson (I can’t describe him, since he’s always got some kind of fake facial hair), Kistna (introduced with a turban and beard) and Marquise Dolores (sultry with big hair). Others mention Kistna as the “Hindu servant” of Dolores, but in private he’s shown bossing her around. The big buzz is that Jacques is bringing home a book from India, The Nalodaya, with a hand-written section by someone called Ourvasi. “In addition to revealing the existence of fabulous treasures, this testament could be of considerable importance in the event of a European war.” The baddies get Tih Minh alone when she’s taking a boat ride, kidnap and brainwash her to collect the book for them. But: “Motivated by what he believes is a laudable zeal, Placide erases Ourvasi’s testament,” so they get a worthless book.

Dolores in disguise:

And it goes on and on and on like this. The criminals don’t commit any more major crimes to terrorize Paris, they only try to get this book (well, now it’s the photograph Jacques took of the inscription before Placide erased it) for the next five hours, trying again and again and again with minor variations. Kistna comes over, all neighborly, and asks to borrow the book and see the photos. Tih Minh is kidnapped at least two more times (oh, and it takes dapper, puffy-cheeked Dr. Davesne weeks to restore her memory after the brainwashing incident). Each group breaks into the other group’s house at least once. Twice the baddies get a spy into the heroes’ house and twice they try to poison our guys. People hide in trunks. Fake beards and mustaches of every sort are used then discarded. It’s a cool flick but I’m not seeing how it’s on the level of Fantomas or Judex.

Dolores (?) and Kistna:

My copy of the movie had no sound at all, so I used soundtracks from elsewhere:
– Mike Patton’s Mondo Cane (I am obsessed with this disc lately)
– The Paranoid Park soundtrack
– Zbigniew Preisner’s Double Life of Veronique soundtrack
– Mihaly Vig’s Bela Tarr soundtracks (love those Werckmeister Harmonies songs)
– Volume 3 of the Toru Takemitsu set:
(“music from the films of Nagisa Oshima and Susumu Hani”) – this was ideal.
– Hajime Kaburagi’s soundtrack for Tokyo Drifter didn’t work out, so on to Philip Glass and Kronos Quartet’s Dracula, which didn’t work either.
– Peer Raben’s Fassbinder soundtracks (volume 1 – only the non-vocal numbers)
– Then back to Mike Patton and Mihaly Vig

Not a lot of writing on this movie online besides this nice article by A. Cutler of Slant, so I’ve perhaps quoted too much of it:

The movie doesn’t have a plot so much as a list of incidents. I don’t feel like I’ve given much away, since the one-damn-thing-after-another structure keeps the viewer watching more for what happens moment to moment than for where the story’s going overall. As a consequence of its cliffhangers, and despite its length, Tih Minh zips. … Feuillade is able to depict such wild happenings onscreen because his foundations are so solid. I mean this not just from a storytelling perspective, but from a visual one. The director consistently relies on static medium-to-establishing shots, proscenium-like in their orientation, the camera viewing the characters from a slightly elevated angle, and the lighting’s generally unobtrusive. In other words, Feuillade gives us a relatively normal, stable-looking frame so that the odd happenings within it can seem all the more disruptive.

Feuillade is filming a rousing adventure story, but he’s also questioning the future of the world. It’s a world explicitly without central authority figures, in which the characters fight to assert their own moral order—as one of d’Athys’s companions conveniently says late in the film to justify hunting the thieves, “why inform the police? We are mixed up in the most remarkable adventure in the world, let’s go all the way with it ourselves.” … The film balances its societal poles so that Nature ultimately has to intervene. Toward the end of the film, as the felons flee into the mountains, Feuillade moves his camera several hundred feet back and we see them as specks in the landscape. Unlike Les Vampires, in which the black-clad Irma Vep appears and disappears at her liking, the antagonists here never seem more than human; once the boulders crash, they seem especially so. D’Athys, a bland hero, triumphs over his adversaries not through skill so much as through luck and fate. Rather than a screenplay deficiency, this seems the movie’s point.

Les Vampires came out the same year as The Birth of a Nation, but as Jonathan Rosenbaum writes, Griffith and Feuillade “seem to belong to different centuries. While Griffith’s work reeks of Victorian morality and nostalgia for the mid-19th century, Feuillade looks ahead to the global paranoia, conspiratorial intrigues, and SF technological fantasies of the current century, right up to today.” The most appropriate comparison for Tih Minh isn’t to another silent film, but to a recent hit like The Dark Knight. Both films are about shape-shifting, disguise-donning villains and the heroes who take the law into their own hands to stop them. Both films structure themselves as a series of setpieces alternating between each party’s capture and escape. Both films are allegories about the wars their countries were then fighting (Tih Minh‘s gang is a gaggle of foreigners; several Dark Knight characters call the Joker a terrorist). Yet Tih Minh trumps The Dark Knight stylistically, tonally, and thematically. … The Dark Knight insists that wire-tapping, torture, and government cover-ups are necessary in the name of freedom, accepting these precepts fatalistically; Tih Minh, by contrast, shows us a world worth saving. … One film exhausts, the other liberates; the comic book film thinks it’s addressing reality, but the human film knows it speaks the language of dreams.

Jacques in asylum:

Notes I took:

“She is like Lord Stone. She will not betray us.”

Kistna comes right over and borrows the book, so why the brainwashing?

“But Tih Minh, the beloved, had drunk the potion of forgetfulness and did not even know how to speak anymore.”

I think they are saying that Gilson and the Marquise are psychic

The comedian got pushed over a cliff into water while the marquise tried to rob the house, caught by Jacques and passed out.

25 kidnapped girls in the basement!!

They encounter a petrified dog, aww Kistna is experimenting on cute puppies.

Kidnappees spend their days having pajama fights

Servant caught in wolf trap, Jacques leaves him.

Plac as hero is upright, not goofy as I expected.

Haha, he lures Tih out of the house to the beach using a cat.

Just as Tih is returned home, obsessed with a cat, Rosette is delivering the photos to fake-beard Gilson. Plac and Ros beat the hell out of him. Time for him to face the fact that he is a very ineffectual villain.

Music for In the Realm of Passion fits so well, I’d forgotten it wasn’t part of the movie.

“Agents of Germany” want to steal the secret. Wow, WWI wasn’t over yet.

Baddies hid microphones in the garden. That’s hell of high technology they’ve got there.

Now Gilson and Dolores are trying to steal the document – all they ever do is try to steal the document and it’s getting a bit boring.

Marx killed a servant after breaking in, then shoots her dad. Marx is Gilson!

This is the kind of car chase that was possible in 1918: the bad guys are driving away at top speed, Jacques is able to catch up by running.

Rosette is an excellent shot

Oh it’s all in goofy fun that we drive away the false nuns who threatened our lives by spraying them with a garden hose as they scurry away. They’ll be back in 15 minutes threatening your lives again.

Jacques seems to be telling Tih that pretty girls should be home arranging flowers, not out avenging the death of their father.

Now it’s an evil cook working in the house with a messenger dog, both of whom “no one suspects.”

Why don’t they stop letting people into the house. No nuns, no new servants, not anybody. Stupid rich people with houses like hotels, servants galore and people always coming and going.

Holy crap, one of the bad spies just killed Dolores with a rock.

The heroes’ plan fails, because of course it does. Our heroes are so foolish that when the baddies are disarmed they use Rosette and Placide as human shields, and this works. They’re DISarmed. You can just run around Rosette and punch the bad guys in the face. But no, they all escape.

I prefer inspector Juve and his reporter sideick Fandor from the Fantomas series. Not only are they in higher-definition than the identical suit-wearing blobs of this movie, they’re much smarter.

Oh good Dolores isn’t dead.

They escape to the rooftops! Finally. It’s just not Feuillade without a chase on the rooftops.

The three baddies turn on each other.
One’s head is smashed with a rock.
Gilson is still alive.
Gilson throws kistna off a cable car.
Gilson is blown up by dynamite!
Kistna is found dead.
Dolores kills herself.
Wedding!

Three love stories with the same actors in different eras. Can’t think of an apt comparison to another film (haven’t seen Resnais’ Smoking/No Smoking) but it’s sort of the opposite of Hal Hartley’s Flirt). I’d avoided this despite the acclaim because I thought it’d be long and boring (flashback to two Hou movies I didn’t enjoy/understand, Flowers of Shanghai and Goodbye South, Goodbye) but lately I’ve decided that those two required more attention than I gave them, so I watched this one twice (err, six times).


1966: A Time for Love

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A perfect mini-movie, and it ends so simply and beautifully. He meets her by accident at a pool hall, looking for a different girl. Writes her letters while on his military duty, returns one day and finds her gone. This time, instead of just writing to the next girl, he tracks her down, spends his last few hours of leave with her. Repeated settings, actions and songs (“smoke gets in your eyes” and “rain and tears”) along with the period setting and romantic atmosphere unavoidable evoke Wong Kar-Wai.

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Girish draws connections:

The original Chinese title of the film is Best Of Times. Hou, like a popular musician, is drawing from his “discography” of films for these three stories. The first reminds me in look and mood of A Time To Live And A Time To Die or Dust In The Wind; the second is set in a brothel like Flowers Of Shanghai; and the third clearly recalls the modern neon-smeared interior spaces of Millennium Mambo. So, Hou has created a sort of compilation album, only he has “remade” the ideas and memories behind his previous films into new stories.

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1911: A Time for Freedom

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Silent with piano music and intertitles for dialogue most of the time, traditional twangy vocal music a couple of times (performed, it turns out, by our woman). She is a geisha and apparently in love with her man, though he seems to pay her little mind, focusing on poetry, national politics and the fate of another geisha. He pays for the other girl to be freed when she becomes pregnant, leaving his own girl stuck and alone when he leaves town for Shanghai. Such slow, fluid, measured movements I am sometimes not sure if Hou’s movies are in slow-motion.

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Stylus:

Of course, the principal subject of both “A Time for Freedom” and Flowers of Shanghai is liberation—from a life of service for the long-suffering geishas, and from foreign rule for Hou’s homeland. Examining the dichotomous relationship between a wealthy activist (Chang) protesting the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and a geisha (Shu) longing desperately for a life outside the brothel, this is Hou’s most explicitly political work since his trilogy on 20th Century Taiwanese history (City of Sadness, The Puppet Master, Good Men, Good Women) and, arguably, his most resonant feminist statement to date.

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2005: A Time for Youth

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A confusing one – multiple girls with multiple problems, little explicit story but more detail information than ever. He’s a motorcycle-driving photographer and she’s a throat-tattooed, epileptic lounge singer with a scary website. Seemed to me the usual commentary on modern disconnection through overload of technology, not adding much besides superior cinematography, but the second time through I enjoyed it more (and figured out more, like the fact that He and She both have other girlfriends). Her girl says she’s committing suicide from neglect (touchy) towards the end. Still doesn’t have the emotional impact of the first two – I might’ve switched the order of the segments.

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Senses of Cinema:

Hou represents this state of freedom by a narrative near-chaos transmitted with a calm and almost casual-looking inscrutability that makes the story impossible to comprehend to any satisfactory degree in just one viewing. It is ironic, though, that while an initial impression might well have been that many of the scenes are presented in a chronologically rather random order, careful examination seems to establish that the story is actually told in a scrupulously linear way.

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Qi Shu (The Eye 2, Transporter and Sex & Zen 2) has got nothing on the career of costar Chen Chang (Red Cliff, Breath, Crouching Tiger, Happy Together and A Brighter Summer Day), but they’re both wonderful here. Story and characterizations are pretty minimal, movie gets by on weight of emotion, similar to Friday Night and In the Mood for Love – and it shares ITMFL’s co-cinematographer Pin Bing Lee, a Hou regular who also shot Air Doll and Norwegian Wood. Would look even more lovely, I’ll bet, if the DVD wasn’t all interlaced and non-anamorphic.

Won all the Taiwanese film awards. Played at Cannes with A History of Violence and Cache, Battle In Heaven and Broken Flowers, all unfairly beaten by that Dardenne movie.

November was Shorts Month! All shorts were watched at home on video, except for an outing to the November edition of Bizarro Saturday Morning, at which I fell asleep during the only theatrical short, tired out by episodes of Casper, Ultraman and Rocket Robin Hood, so it’s sadly not represented here.

The Policemen’s Little Run (1907, Ferdinand Zecca)
Tedious, undistinguished little romp, wherein cops chase a dog for stealing food, then the dog chases the cops. Fakey backgrounds ensue. Ferdinand Zecca, director of Kissing in a Tunnel (not the 1899 original or the 1899 remake, but the 1901 remake), later co-directed one of the first feature-length (well, 45 minutes) films.
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Troubles of a Grasswidower (1908, Max Linder)
The Mr. Mom of its time. Dude is an asshole so his wife leaves him, goes home to mother. Dude then fails to do the simplest household tasks until everything is in ruins and his wife returns to shame him. Terrible! Well, it’s slightly more bearable than the cops chasing the dog. Linder must’ve played the widower; he wrote and starred in plenty more shorts, such as Max’s Hat, Max Takes Tonics and Max and Dog Dick (?!)
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Winsor McCay, the Famous Cartoonist of the N.Y. Herald and His Moving Comics (1911)
Now that’s more like it. Winsor announces he’s going to make an animated moving picture, some blowhard dudes laugh at him, then he damn does it and it’s brilliant. One should never doubt the author of Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend.
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Winsor at work:
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Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906, Edwin S. Porter)
Most of the movie is the guy drinking, eating and going home, with finally some actually dreaming there at the end. His shoes fly off on strings, some stop motion, some Exorcist bed-bucking and Little Nemo bed-flying. The best part, with little devils beating him from above, looks like a Melies-lite advertisement for headache powder. One assumes he’s speaking the punchline at the end, but there’s no intertitle. Comic strip was better!
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Winsor would later create his own animated Rarebit films, and Melies would make the probably unrelated Dream of an Opium Fiend in 1908.

The Telltale Heart (1928, Charles Klein)
I love total Caligari-ripoff expressionism in cinema, and there isn’t enough of it so I was happy to find this. Completely excellent, probably my favorite Telltale Heart yet. I don’t mean to disparage the recently-watched Ted Parmelee animated version and I do miss the rich voice of James Mason, but everything works here – the Caligari sets and fonts, the acting of the lead fellow, his crazy-POV version of the inspectors and the montage and effects (overlays and mirrors).
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Depending who you believe, this was either directed by Klein (a writer/director up to the 40’s) or Leon Shamroy (cinematographer through the 70’s who worked with Fritz Lang, also shot The Robe, Caprice and Planet of the Apes).
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Fall of the House of Usher (1928, James Watson & Melville Webber)
Every version of Telltale Heart re-tells the story with narration or titles, but this film tells the Usher story through mystifying visuals… and since I’m not familiar with the story I still don’t know exactly what happened, but boy was it awesome.
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What if cinema had ended up looking more like this? What if poets were directors? The mind boggles. I’ll bet Cocteau loved this (or despised it since he didn’t think of it first).
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dream sequence from When The Clouds Roll By (1919, Victor Fleming)
A semi-remake of Rarebit Fiend! Douglas Fairbanks eats some Welsh rarebit (melted cheese on toast) along with mince pie, lobster and an onion. Not a drunken fool like the original rarebit fiends, DF is conned into eating the nightmarish midnight snack by a mad doctor. He then runs around doing stunts on horses, trampolines and camera-trick houses, pursued by ghosts, a party of society women and giant costume versions of the foods he ate. I am definitely dressing up as rarebit next halloween.
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Oramunde (1933, Emlen Etting)
Woman in a too-long white dress dances on the rocks to express her sadness. Made me sad so I guess it’s pretty good.
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Hands (1934, Ralph Steiner & Willard Van Dyke)
Hands, falling, against black, doing stuff. Montage of hands doing stuff on location. Hands getting money for doing stuff. Hands buying stuff, taking vacation, getting married to other hands. Counts as propaganda somehow.
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Brooding designer Coco Chanel meets visionary Igor Stravinsky, and sparks fly in this fictionalized bio-romance… oh wait, no that’s a different movie entirely. So what happens in this one? Coco (Audrey Tautou) is a young seamstress in a song-and-dance routine with her sister (Marie Gillain, the girl from My Father The Hero), but dreams of independence. Shacks up with an older, thin-mustached guy Etienne (Benoît Poelvoorde, Belgian star of Man Bites Dog) then falls for young thick-mustached guy Boy (Bostonian Alessandro Nivola of Junebug and Jurassic Park III). After she’s made enough money selling hats with help of actress friend Emmanuelle Devos (star of Resnais’s new Wild Grass, Mathieu Amalric’s girlfriend in A Christmas Tale), she leaves them both, becomes a solitary superstar and never loves again (except, assuming either movie is true, Igor Stravinsky).

Seemed slightly better than your average “famous historical person in love” kinda movie. They pull off a bit of drama, and one memorable image (postscript-Audrey sitting on a mirrored staircase as very modern-looking models descend, applauding). But remove Coco Chanel from the title/script and replace her with a nameless fictional character and this never would’ve made it into theaters. It’s supposedly exploring the mystique of this famous designer, but never really does so, barely touching on the design elements she is known for, just throwing together (or making up) biographical details. Katy didn’t love it either, or I’d try to be nicer.