“Cops are pigs / cops eat shit!” You know when your cynical movie opens with a couple of news guys chancing upon a car wreck and filming the dying victims before bothering to call an ambulance, the movie’s gonna end with the death of a main character and the camera looking back at us, accusingly.

Pausing to get a beer halfway in, I looked up the female lead Verna Bloom (paper-mache artist in After Hours, Mary in Last Temptation of Christ) and realized our lead is Robert Forster – I had no idea, never seen him young before. Forster wheels around town with his soundman (Peter Bonerz of Catch-22, later director of Police Academy 6: City Under Siege) in the lead-up to the ill-fated Democratic National Convention. They follow a kid home and Forster falls for his mom Eileen (Verna).

Robert and Verna enjoying some TV:

The movie has character to burn. Playful editing, very mobile camera, and full of Zappa songs. A black community confronts the white camera crew about exploitation in the media, the morals of Mondo Cane are discussed, and in a movie (/city/year) where police are the villains, the reporters discover that their TV bosses have been letting cops study their raw footage. After Forster is fired, and before he’s hired by someone else to cover the convention, he seems like a calm and okay guy, just a good dude who loves shooting film and hanging out with Eileen and her pigeon-loving son Harold – so it’s the profession that’s sick, not him personally.

This would’ve been a vaguely-memorable late’60’s anti-establishment movie, but for the ending. Harold goes missing, Forster’s at the convention, so Eileen walks the city wearing a bright yellow dress in the midst of the real police riots – some of the most intense location shooting I’ve seen.

Wexler shot everything from Burt Reynolds’ film debut in 1961 to Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and The Conversation, to Hal Ashby and John Sayles movies, to concert docs and a Zappa video.

There’s shooting and there’s shooting:

Thomas Beard for Criterion on the movie’s True/Falsey nature:

Wexler has had a kind of double life as an artist, known both for his poetic reportage and for his role as a studio craftsman, and his bifurcated career is mirrored in the dual nature of Medium Cool … To watch a fiction film and subordinate its plot and characterizations to the documentary value of the world it depicts, or, alternatively, to watch a documentary and constantly question its veracity, is to read the work against the grain. Given the design of Medium Cool, a film that explicitly functions as both document and fantasy at once, to view it at all is to read it against the grain. It’s a movie whose very composition not only allows for but demands multiple kinds of perception and visual thinking; it preserves its own disorder.

As far as I could remember from watching the early Criterion disc in 1999, this was a short-ish movie about bell casting, so imagine my surprise discovering that it’s a long-ish episodic movie about a painter with an extended bell-casting sequence at the end. Not my favorite Tarkovsky – too Catholic, and I think we’re supposed to know something about 1400’s Russian art history going in, because otherwise there’s not much drama following around this painter who never paints anything.

Turns out I also remembered the intro – a man flying away on ropes and balloons – a soviet myth according to the commentary, of the first flight of man – followed by a shot of a horse rolling over. Andrei and fellow painter/monks Kiril and Danil take shelter in their travels and witness a profane jester being brutalized by the cops.

Danil, Andrei, Kiril:

Some years later, an elder painter named Theo invites Andrei to work with him, invoking jealousy from the other monks, particularly whiny bitch Kiril, who beats his dog in anger (the movie is not kind to animals in general). Andrei takes along his slacker assistant, gets into an escapade with some naked pagans, some people get blinded, then there’s a long section of war and torture because a prince and his brother are feuding, and I didn’t know the motivation for most of this until reading a plot summary later – I thought the point was “the 1400s were terrible, yet Andrei still managed to paint beautiful things”. At the end of this though, Andrei has quit painting, or even speaking. Funny to watch this movie about a painter not painting, the day after Devotion, which features writers not writing.

Theo and Andrei:

Painters, not painting, as usual:

The movie jumps forward a decade to the part I remember – a young bellmaker’s son is approached to cast a new bell for a church, by order of the prince, who will throw a party if they succeed and kill them all if they don’t. Young Boriska claims that his recently deceased father passed on the secrets of bellmaking, but actually the kid is making it up as he goes, publicly barking orders and commanding a hundred men, but privately sick with worry. Andrei and Kirill are hanging around while all this is happening, doing nothing helpful, and it ends with the triumphant ringing of the new bell, then a color slideshow of period icons.

Boriska:

Final movie watched in the 2010’s. I rewatched Orpheus near the beginning of the decade, and it took me this long to get to the next one. Meant to watch the trilogy closer together, then go through the Lucien Clergue book, but instead it took 15 years and I don’t have the book handy, think it’s in storage. I did find The Eagle Has Two Heads and The Human Voice and The Difficulty of Being, the last of which was written in 1957, so has no wisdom about the making of this film. But like this film, the 1957 book seems very precious and big-headed about the magic powers of Jean’s great poetry.

A semi-sequel, opening with a clip from the end of Orpheus with the dialogue silenced, Jean ends up stepping inside his own film and interacting with his characters Princess Maria Casares and her accomplice Heurtebise. They’ve put Jean on trial for something or other, and this conversation eats up 25 minutes of an 80-minute movie, erasing the memory of the beautiful silence of the opening scene with constant chatter. The underworld actors look terrific at all times, at least. Jean puts himself in the position of being defensive about his art – when you are this explicit about the nature and intent of poetry, it ceases to be poetic. When he first entered the world of his previous film, I thought this is some Beaches of Agnes / Simon Cinema stuff, but this centerpiece trial feels more like an Orpheus DVD extra.

Before the trial, a bewigged time-traveling Jean visits a professor at four times in his life: as a schoolboy (Jean-Pierre Leaud! This played Cannes exactly a year after The 400 Blows), as a baby and a dying old man, and finally the active doctor he’s seeking. He follows a horse-headed man, rediscovers his Orphic character Cégeste, then to the trial, where he gives the best line to another character: “He is a poet, which makes him indispensable, though I don’t know what for.” I liked the lack of set dressing, shooting in an undressed studio and against ancient/timeless walls covered in modern graffiti. Into a Kafkaesque underworld ruled by Yul Brynner, where Jean is javelinned to death then reborn.

From Cocteau’s essay reprinted for the Criterion discs, it seems he intended Orpheus to be the narrative centerpiece between two less-narrative films. And more than those other two, this one was filmed on intuition:

Often, while making the film, I understood so little of what I was producing that I was tempted to call it absurd and to cut it out. At those times, I forced myself to condemn my own judgment and to tell myself that if the film wanted it that way to begin with, it must have had its reasons, or that reason had nothing to do with it.

The essay has one thing in common with The Difficulty of Being: shitting on French audiences, “where every member of an individualistic crowd puts up an instinctive resistance to what is offered him,” for not appreciating poetry and fantasy in cinema. Shot by Roland Pontoizeau, a Resnais associate who’d worked on Le chant du Styrène – the DP of Orpheus was off working with Melville and Rohmer.

Released from church school on vacation, all the students immediately steal from the market, assault women, and generally terrorize the town. Three dim individuals get lost in the country and find a barn to bed down. In the night, a crone hits on Philosopher Khoma Brutus, and flies away with him when he refuses her, but he knocks her down and beats her senseless with her own broom – crisis averted. I mean, the old witch transforms into a beautiful young girl, but that’s probably nothing to worry about.

But back home, the Michael Shannon-looking rector sends Brutus to give last rites to a landowner’s lovely daughter, who was beaten nearly to death by unknown assailants in the night. Brutus is terrified, tries to escape the whole way back to the farmhouse and… stuff like this starts happening:

Also, cranes!

The now-dead girl’s very unhappy father locks Brutus in the chapel for three nights to pray for her soul. Night one goes okay – she rises from her coffin, but the magic chalk circle he draws around himself keeps her away. “A cossack fears nothing,” he swears drunkenly to the guards… survives an all-night assult by her floating coffin the next night, but the stress turns his hair white, and he tries again to escape.

He’ll get a thousand gold pieces if he survives night three, goes into the chapel drunk as hell, then the movie pulls out all the stops. The effects are just great, like Goofball Cocteau. Shadows and projections and disembodied arms and skeletons, dwarves and wall-crawling demons and many-eyeballed goblins, attack from all sides, but he’s safe in his chalk circle. Then everyone steps the fuck back when she summons Viy, a golden-eyed giant, and when the foolish cossack locks eyes with the beast, his soul is lost and the monsters descend on him.

Russia’s first(?) horror movie, supposedly based on the same Gogol story as Black Sunday. Lead actor Leonid Kuravlyov came up with Tarkovsky, but only appeared in his student film, and is better known for starring in the sci-fi comedy Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future. One of our codirectors died in 1984 – the other, Kropachyov, did production design for Hard to Be a God. Art and effects by Russian animation legend Aleksandr Ptushko, whose 1935 stop-motion feature The New Gulliver sounds cool.

Twenty-three SHOCKtober movies this year… I would’ve guessed the worst would’ve been Cannibal Holocaust, or another Italian horror, or the late Ken Russell, or one of the 1980’s movies… but it ended up being this made-for-TV horror-comedy stop-motion feature. The very words “stop-motion feature” make for a must-see movie, and this month’s The Wolf House was an insane masterpiece, but this thing felt like a celebrity Scooby Doo episode.

Outside of the stop-motion (especially anything involving water), Bride of Frankenstein Phyllis Diller’s laugh is the main source of enjoyment – otherwise it’s all horrible jokes and slow, pointless plot and voice impressions. All the world’s monsters, plus a sap (Jimmy-Stewart-sounding Felix Flankin) convene at Dr. Frankenstein’s castle for something or other, then fight over the doctor’s inheritance and his “formula for destroying matter.” I think we turned it off after red-haired Francesca falls in love with Felix for hitting her, or maybe it was during the endless song she sings right afterward. The monsters are all hoping IT doesn’t show up, so I watched the end of the movie the next day, but IT was just King Kong minus his trademarked name.

Most voices were by Allen Swift – his career ranged from Howdy Doody to Courage the Cowardly Dog. In the late 1950’s he was on WPIX channel 11 NYC as “Captain Allen,” ensuring his eternal legacy via the Arcwelder song. Karloff played the Doctor, at the end of his career, the year after voicing The Grinch. Francesca was Gale Garnett, who beat Bob Dylan at the Grammys a few years prior, and also appears in future Shocktober classic The Children. Diller was in her celebrity prime, the year before Tashlin’s Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell. Rankin/Bass made this between their Rudolph and their Frosty, long before their Hobbit and Last Unicorn, and the cowriter was Mad Magazine creator Harvey Kurtzman, whose jokes work better in print.

Man, the French sure love Joan of Arc, don’t they. I guess she appeared out of the blue, giving new hope to the troops and French king, and led some decisive battles which eventually caused them to drive out the British after a century of war. It’s a good legacy, but mostly in cinema I see her being interrogated and executed, exceptions being the first halves of the Rivette and the Dumont. And here we go again… I don’t necessarily love Bresson’s choices of subject matter or his morose characters, but something about his style really gets me. This was made earlier than I realized, between Pickpocket and Balthazar – the real test will be when I get a chance to rewatch the 1970’s movies.

Not much suspense for us – the movie is based on trial records and Tarantino hadn’t invented historical revisionism yet – but even within the film, her burning is made out to be a foregone conclusion, so there’s no real point to the interrogation.

Florence Delay went on to narrate Sans Soleil, the bishop went on to nothing at all, and the Jeans… were there really four guys named Jean questioning a woman named Joan? Music by Delphine Seyrig’s brother. The last Bresson film to be shot by L-H Burel, who’d worked on Abel Gance’s J’accuse! over forty years earlier, and the first to be edited by Germaine Artus, who gives us quick fades between scenes, little downtime before dialogue starts again. Won a prize at Cannes, where it played with Cléo from 5 to 7, L’Eclisse, The Exterminating Angel, and surprisingly, Mondo Cane.

Creepy opening song by Baby Jane… not creepy in the standard SHOCKtober sense, just that it’s a packed 1917 theater full of women in old-timey hats who inexplicably love a maudlin tune competently sung by a cute kid (semi-competently dubbed, anyway).

In 1935, Jane’s sister Blanche is a movie star and the studio is pissed that her contract says they also have to produce films starring her drunk, untalented little sister Jane (untalented-Bette is represented by Ex-Lady clips, fair enough). Fun’s over when Blanche’s legs get crushed by a car in her own driveway. Thirty years later, the two ex-stars live together, griping back and forth.

Blanche (Joan Crawford, whose film career had dried up since Johnny Guitar) loves her pet parakeet, so of course it’s the first victim – just more evidence that The Shallows was special for letting its birdie survive. Crawford is quietly desperate as her sister isolates her and goes increasingly, dangerously crazy over the next couple days (“You aren’t ever gonna sell this house, and you aren’t ever gonna leave it”). Bette Davis, who it appears had been working more steadily, seems kinda one-note wide-eyed eccentric-horrid, so it’s delightful when she “acts,” impersonating her sister’s voice over the phone.

Just as the situation and dialogue are getting tiresome, the movie introduces sweet Victor Buono, hilarious as a pianist who answers Jane’s newspaper ad to accompany her Baby Jane comeback act. The plot only keeps functioning because Blanche doesn’t yell when he’s over, but she becomes more desperate later after Jane kicks the hell out of her for using the phone, the movie getting better as it gets crazier. Bette scares off Victor, crushes the housekeeper’s skull with a hammer, and takes her dying sister to the beach.

Played Cannes with The Leopard and Harakiri. Nominated for all the Most Acting awards at the oscars, but luck be damned, a Helen Keller movie came out the same year, so it only won for costume design. The same director/star/novelist/screenwriter combo followed up with Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte.

The wikis say this is a Grand Guignol horror movie, but this is less well-defined than last night’s Giallo genre (black-gloved assassin kills people with knives – admittedly kind of a crap genre). Apparently it involves naturalism, and its followers claim that all horror movies are Grand-Guignol-influenced because they involve people doing some things that real people really do. The Guignol wikis also reference John Zorn and say the GG’s lead actress was “raped at least 3000 times,” so maybe let’s not linger on this.

Lena Dunham was a Manson cultist! Aha, the ex-boyfriend of Sharon Tate is played by Emile Hirsch – I’ve seen a bunch of his movies (including some great ones) but I never recognize him. Same goes for Scoot McNairy, who played Business Bob. Dunno what Kevin Smith’s daughter or Demi Moore’s daughter look like, but they were both in there somewhere.

Mostly I watched the movie so I could finally read all the articles about the movie…

ScreenCrush: “Cliff is actually the type of guy Rick plays on television.”

Roger Ebert: “a movie not so much about an era but about the movies of that era”

The movie’s wikipedia is surprisingly good, and I found an in-depth article on a music site about the song the ranch girls sing while dumpster diving.

Slashfilm has a LOT about the movie’s songs – I found it while searching for the “Behind the Green Door” novelty song DiCaprio sings badly on television in flashback (which is period-correct).

Burt Reynolds was supposed to play the blind ranch owner, but he died while rehearsing his lines. Pitt’s character was partly based on a stuntman who worked with Reynolds. And this is Tarantino’s second movie about a stuntman – the last one starred Kurt Russell (here he played the stunt coordinator on the Bruce Lee set) and Zoe Bell (she played Kurt’s wife whose car is wrecked by Pitt – and she’s the actual stunt coordinator of this movie).

For balance, The New Yorker was not impressed, says Tarantino is racist, sexist, and a wannabe cult-leader.

The Atlantic responds (“Charles Manson was a white supremacist, a fact that does tend to put a lot of white people in a movie”), attacking the New Yorker, and ending with a hilarious Brad Pitt anecdote.

Lee Remick (of Wild River and A Face in the Crowd, great in this) is a banker who gets phoned up by a psycho and threatened into stealing some money, in a 5-minute close-range opening scene with no music. Warned not to contact police, she calls Glenn Ford anyway, and he investigates, talking with Patricia Huston, who ends up dead.

Patricia is discovered by the landlord, “Mr. Curry” in my notes but maybe I just wrote that cuz he looks like Tim Curry:

A stoolie named Popcorn gives Glenn some leads, the killer’s girlfriend refuses to cooperate and says he’s a good man who pays for her son’s medical treatments. The baddie eventually kidnaps Lee’s sister Toby (Stefanie Powers, future star of Hart to Hart) to guarantee compliance, and arranges the handoff at Candlestick Park during a Giants/Dodgers game, where things go wrong for him, and he’s gunned down by Glenn Ford on the pitcher’s mound.

The baddie also sneaks up on Lee in a hallway disguised as an old woman… I forget why:

Written by The Gordons, who are best known for That Darn Cat!, and scored by Henry Mancini, the opening theme sounding like a warmup for The Pink Panther the following year.