Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse)

Oscar for best actress, obviously, and also seven more (director, cinematography, supporting for Joel Grey) but picture went to The Godfather. I don’t know Liza Minnelli from much – just this and Arrested Development – but she’s perfect in both. The movie though, eh, not my favorite nazi musical. Could’ve stood to be more musical, blurrier and more insane a la All That Jazz (I guess Fosse hadn’t had his drug-addled breakdown yet).

Brash dancer Minnelli gets a new roommate, closeted scholar Michael York. Both roomies have affairs with wealthy Max (Helmut Griem of The Damned and Les rendez-vous d’Anna) and help to hook up two of York’s English students (Fritz Wepper of The Bridge and Marisa Berenson, wife of Barry Lyndon). The nazi stuff is less foregrounded than I would’ve thought – they’re slowly going from a violent street cult to the dominant political party in the background of a story full of sympathetic gays and Jews. Fun times while they lasted, though. Interesting to watch this right before Phoenix, eliding the whole war in between.

American Graffiti (1973, George Lucas)

I was pleasantly surprised by this – not the hyper-masculine grimy 1970’s picture I’d imagined (since it gets lumped in with Deer Hunter and Godfather and Saturday Night Fever and Deliverance in the “New Hollywood” category), but the Dazed and Confused of its time, an early-1960’s-set ensemble drama following a group of boys (and grudgingly some girls, but they don’t get prominence in the storylines or credits) between high school and college.

Wikipedia says all the guys are based on Lucas, in personality fragments, so people who knew him well must’ve seen this as a sort of George Lucas Multiplicity. Cowriters Huyck and Katz made Messiah of Evil around the same time, later worked with Lucas on Temple of Doom and Radioland Murders. Lucas was a producer on the mid-60’s-set sequel with the same cast minus Dreyfuss.

Curt = Richard Dreyfuss just two years before Jaws but looking ten years younger (based on my admittedly fuzzy memory of Jaws and the admittedly fuzzy picture of this movie on the Railyard screen). He’s got a scholarship but is thinking he’ll skip college. After a wild night getting roped into a local gang and trying to track down his dream girl, he changes his mind and heads off to school.

John = tough-guy racer Paul Le Mat (Melvin and Howard, Handle With Care, Puppet Master), who gets stuck with a young girl (Carol: TV’s Mackenzie Phillips) in his car, and is being hunted by street-race enthusiast Harrison Ford.

Steve = college-bound Ron Howard, who spends all night breaking up with his girlfriend Laurie (Cindy Williams of Laverne & Shirley), then reconsiders both college and the breakup.

Terry = nerdy Charles Smith (De Palma’s Untouchables, director of Air Bud), who somehow picks up an out-of-his-league blonde named Debbie (Candy Clark of Q: The Winged Serpent, The Blob) and keeps trying to impress her.

IMDB trivia: Harrison Ford is driving the Two-Lane Blacktop car!

36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978, Liu Chia-Liang)

A good rebellion story with some serious kung fu at the end, but most of the movie consists of training montages. Student Liu Yu-de escapes after his rebel-taught school is destroyed and family is killed by the occupying Tartars. None of the rebels were decent fighters, so wounded Yu-de flees to the Shaolin temple, rumored to have the best kung fu in town, gets sanctuary there, is renamed San Ta and starts training from the very bottom, working his way to total mastery in just a few years. The Shaolin monks’ official stance is that they ignore the politics of the outside world, but it’s San Ta’s drive to defeat the Tartars that fuels his rapid advancement. With no support or defined plan, he goes out and immediately challenges and slays the Tartar leadership, is then allowed to open his “36th chamber” to train civilians in martial arts.

Doomed Chia Yung Liu:

I find the kung fu sound effects to be distracting – a given weapon always uses the same effect at the same volume regardless of what it’s hitting. The audio in general was strangely echoey, as if a fake surround effect had been added to dialogue. And though this is supposed to be a mighty classic of the genre, I wasn’t too thrilled by the action either – maybe 1970’s kung fu films aren’t for me, because I prefer the floaty fantasy of House of Flying Daggers, the dreamy camera-play of Ashes of Time, and the inventive, flailing fights of Jackie Chan.

This movie was a huge influence on the Wu-Tang Clan, as seen below in a shot of San Ta’s head between two massive joints:

Chia-Liang Liu was a star director for Shaw Brothers studio, also made The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter and Drunken Master II, and worked on Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords. His brother Chia-Hui Liu stars as San Ta. Chia-Hui was later in Kill Bill and Man With The Iron Fists – of course, I’d be amazed if nobody from this film had been in Man With The Iron Fists. San Ta’s early inspiration, a rebel leader killed in a trap by the Tartars, is their other brother Chia Yung Liu (Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires). Lieh Lo, “the first kung fu superstar” played evil mustache general Tien Ta, defeated in the picturesque final fight by San Ta wielding the triple-staff he created. Before this, San Ta rounds up a few “hot-blooded youths” to help invade the Tartars: rebel leader Hung Hsi-kuan, suspicious and combative Lu Ah-cai (Norman Chu of Zu Warriors and We’re Going To Eat You), and social outcast Miller Six (Yue Wong, title star of Dirty Ho). One woman appears (Szu-Chia Chen of Rendezvous With Death and The Magic Blade) for about a minute. Two sequels would follow from the same director and star.

Doomed Love (1978, Manoel de Oliveira)

Simao loves neighbor Teresa and Teresa loves Simao, cousin Balthasar also loves Teresa, servant Mariana loves Simao, Joao loves his daughter Mariana, and all these loves are doomed, doomed, doomed. Simao and Teresa’s families hate each other, Simao kills Balthasar and is sentenced to prison, old enemies of Joao kill him, and finally Teresa wastes away in a convent, Simao dies on a prison ship and Mariana jumps into the ocean during his sea burial.

Teresa:

So it’s quite unhappy, and reminiscent of Mysteries of Lisbon since they’re by the same author, but also an idiosyncratic movie, with different stylistic tics than the Ruiz. Some notes I took:

– Mirror dissolve to scene of mythology
– Lots of mirrors
– Narrator, rushing through backstory
– Tadeu stomps around yelling insults but all we hear are his footsteps
– Night scenes are just a black screen with subtitles
– Letters are filmed, narrated in their entirety, or their writer will recite into camera
– Flatly delivered dialogue
– Sometimes narrator tells us what would easily have been shown
– Actors stand by patiently waiting for the narrator to finish, like in a Peter Watkins movie.
– Narrator describes Simao killing Balthasar right before it happens

Simao kills Balthasar:

Set in the early 1800’s. Each episode opens with Simao’s younger sister Rita summarizing the previous episode into camera. There are other characters and events – Simao’s brother Manuel, who runs off to Spain with a married woman, and Simao’s mom, a former queen’s lady who misses the splendor of her old life and pulls strings to get her condemned son preferential treatment, and Joao, who gleefully murders Balthasar’s men in order to help Simao – but these are secondary to the whole doomed-love thing.

I used to think of convents as good places before this and Mysteries of Lisbon, The Devils, Mother Joan of the Angels, The Nun, Les Anges du peche, Don’t Touch The Axe, Black Narcissus, and so on. There’s little religion in the convent where Teresa is committed by her family – she’s immediately told not to trust the mother superior, and all the nuns run around gossiping about each other.

There have been at least eight film adaptations of Doomed Love, plus there’s a mysterious 2006-07 series on IMDB with Branco as writer, listing all the Doomed Love characters as well as Father Dinis, Angela and Eugenia from Mysteries of Lisbon – a Branco Universe crossover?

Mariana with Simao:

J. Rosenbaum called it “The Masterpiece You Missed” in his review, reprinted in his collection Placing Movies, which I read at the beach thirteen years ago and I’ve been seeking this movie out ever since. I’m still seeking it… hopefully a better copy surfaces on video someday. I think there are different versions, and I saw the television (color) miniseries. The great Oliveira died between my watching this and finally writing it up, but I’ve got about forty more of his films to watch, so his art lives on.

Rosenbaum:

Intricate dovetailings of narration and dialogue produce some elegant displacements and overlaps in and on the sound track. When the heroine’s father shouts at her in close-up, the sound of his voice ceases at the precise moment that the male narrator announces that the (off-screen) daughter doesn’t hear him because she’s left the room. Much later, the imprisoned hero responds in person to the narrator’s off-screen report of Mariana’s blacksmith father’s announcement (visible but not heard) that his daughter is delirious — a scene much easier to follow than to describe.

Watching this classically wrought example of controlled madness for 270 minutes … I was reminded once again of the battles between narrative and nonnarrative cinema that used to be waged in this room. (Today the battles are over, the warring tribes shipped off to separate schools or summer camps, and a mongrel like Doomed Love, doomed by its own integrity, has to walk the night without the sponsorship of either ghetto.)

Duarte de Almeida of City of Pirates and Past and Present as the ship captain:

P. Cunha in Senses of Cinema:

In Portugal, the film’s critical reception was very hostile. It was also devastating for its director, who was accused of wantonly producing the most expensive Portuguese film made with public subsidy at a time of serious financial crisis. Oliveira was also criticised for moving away from the naturalistic language mandated by television, undermining the legacy of author Camilo Castelo Branco, and not being concerned with the reality of the class struggle Portuguese society was undergoing in the aftermath of the socialist revolution. The debate about Oliveira’s work was so intense that it was even discussed in the national Parliament and inflamed arguments about public financial support for Portuguese cinema.

Doomed Love belongs – along with [Past and Present, Benilde and Francisca] – to the “tetralogy of frustrated loves”, a series of four films that are adaptations of works by some of Oliveira’s favourite literary authors (Vicente Sanches, José Régio, Camilo Castelo Branco and Agustina Bessa-Luís).

Obsession (1976, Brian De Palma)

I had high expectations, and this was kinda ordinary. Nothing I haven’t seen from De Palma – a 1970’s-looking Hitchcock knockoff (Vertigo this time) with a few of his typically stylish shots and a not-too-distinctive lead actor (Cliff Robertson, lead of Underworld USA). Better is Genevieve Bujold as the love interest and John Lithgow as the villain/business partner. Speaking of which, it didn’t help that I could see the movie’s ending coming a mile away. Cliff’s wife and daughter are kidnapped, wife is killed in a botched police operation, daughter disappears and 15 years later Cliff sees a girl who looks remarkably like his dead wife. Who could it be? Some creepiness later he finally figures it out, and I wonder if Park Chan-wook was paying close attention.

Written by Paul Schrader (same year as Taxi Driver), shot by Vilmos Zsigmond (McCabe & Mrs. Miller, Blow Out) and scored by Bernard Herrmann, who split the vote with his own Taxi Driver score.

B. Westcott in Reverse Shot:

Courtland’s obsession is so all-consuming that he’s blinded to anything beyond doing right by his “second chance.” Confronted with a second ransom note, a newspaper clipping of the exact message he’d received 15 years earlier, Courtland stops nary a moment to consider the irony or ponder the identity of the kidnappers, instead rushing frantically to borrow money from the very man so clearly behind his longstanding misery. The drive towards desperation and doom so inherent to Vertigo (and so clearly voiced in Hermann’s score for both films) is thoughtfully and ambiguously upended in Obsession’s climax. What seemed certain to end tragically is instead resolved in an ostensibly joyous reunion. As the camera swirls around Michael and Sandra locked in embrace, finally coming to rest on a freeze-frame of the gleeful pair, we have to wonder what the image really means.

Blue Remembered Hills (1979, Dennis Potter)

“I should bloody damn and bloody blast and bugger and bloody flaming bloody well think so!”

Terrific and strange, the kind of thing nobody has done before or since (correction: Potter did it years earlier with his Stand Up Nigel Barton). Grown adults portray a bunch of kids playing in the woods on a particularly traumatic day. Director Brian Gibson would go on to direct Poltergeist II, but writer Dennis Potter (the year after Pennies From Heaven) is what brought me here.

The kids play war games and house, while their parents are off at real wars and houses. They hear alarms from the nearby prison and hide. They misuse pronouns. The boys kill a squirrel then get upset about it. Later, they help to kill another boy, pyro Donald who sets the barn alight then gets trapped inside it.

foreground: Colin Welland, 45, of Kes, also writer of Chariots of Fire. with Michael Elphick, 33, of Withnail & I, star of a long-running series called Boon.

Helen Mirren, 34, between Caligula and The Long Good Friday

Janine Duvitski, 27, appeared in the Frank Langella Dracula and The New World

Colin Jeavons, 50, of a bunch of early 1960’s Dickens miniseries, later Blackeyes and Secret Friends

John Bird, 43, was playing Horace Greeley on a series last year

Not pictured: Robin Ellis, 37, known for a Revolutionary War-era series called Poldark.

Inherent Vice (2014, PT Anderson)

It feels, accurately, like an adaptation of a long, wordy book, in that it’s a long, wordy movie that crams in characters and investigations and descriptions and dialogues and backstories through its runtime, leaving little breathing room or sense that it’s all adding up to something. And it feels like one of those sprawling PT Anderson ensemble dramas, in that it’s packed to the gills with great actors, some of them never better than here. And it’s faithful to the madcap trailer, in that it contains those lines and comic scenes. And it’s similar to Big Lebowski, in that they’re both quizzically-plotted red-herring comedies featuring addled detectives. But it’s like none of these things, the visuals closer to Anderson’s The Master than I was prepared for, the mood less comic and hopeful. Some of the critic reactions I looked up mention the dark, disillusioned second half of Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, a good point of reference. It’s being called the first Pynchon adaptation, but only because nobody (myself included) saw the semi-official Gravity’s Rainbow movies Impolex and Prufstand VII. Random movie references, presumably from the book: a company called Vorhees Kruger, a street called Gummo Marx Way.

This is Joaquin Phoenix’s show, but his cop frenemy Josh Brolin keeps trying to kick his ass and steal it. Also great: Jena Malone as an ex-junkie looking for her husband, Katherine Waterston as Doc’s ex-and-future girlfriend with questionable allegiances, and Martin Short as a depraved dentist. Plus: Martin Donovan, Omar, Eric Roberts, Jonah from Veep, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro, Maya Rudolph, Hong Chau and Joanna Newsom.

D. Ehrlich:

Anderson has imbued [Joanna Newsom] with a spectral dimension – every conversation she has with Doc sheds light on his isolation, but each of her appearances ends with a cut or camera move that suggests that she was never there, that she isn’t an antidote to his loneliness so much as its most lucid projection.

MZ Seitz, who is “about 90 percent certain [Newsom] is not a figment of anyone’s imagination.”:

Phrases like “peak of his powers” seem contrary to the spirit of the thing. Vice impresses by seeming uninterested in impressing us. Anderson shoots moments as plainly as possible, staging whole scenes in unobtrusive long takes or tight closeups, letting faces, voices and subtle lighting touches do work that fifteen years ago he might’ve tried to accomplish with a virtuoso tracking shot that ended with the camera tilting or whirling or diving into a swimming pool.

G. Kenny:

The movie walks a very particular high wire, soaking in a series of madcap-surreal hijinks in an ambling, agreeable fashion to such an extent that even viewers resistant to demanding “what’s the point” might think “what’s the point.”

D. Edelstein:

It’s actually less coherent than Pynchon, no small feat. It’s not shallow, though. Underneath the surface is a vision of the counterculture fading into the past, at the mercy of the police state and the encroachment of capitalism. But I’m not sure the whole thing jells.

Seitz again:

Something in the way Phoenix regards Brolin … suggest an addled yet fathomless empathy. They get each other. In its way, the relationship between the stoner “detective” who pretends to be a master crime fighter and the meathead cop who sometimes moonlights as an extra on Dragnet is the film’s real great love story, an accidental metaphor for the liberal/conservative, dungarees/suits, blue state/red state divide that’s defined U.S. politics since the Civil War.

A. O’Hehir:

Like Anderson’s other films (and like Pynchon’s other books), Inherent Vice is a quest to find what can’t be found: That moment, somewhere in the past, when the entire American project went off the rails, when the optimism and idealism – of 1783, or 1948, or 1967 – became polluted by darker impulses. As Pynchon’s title suggests, the quest is futile because the American flaw, or the flaw in human nature, was baked in from the beginning.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970, Jaromil Jires)

Not gonna write much because this needs to be seen again. Sort of a surrealist fairy tale, reminding of The Color of Pomegranates and Raul Ruiz. Valerie is stalked by a vampire called Weasel, who may be hitting on Valerie or her girlfriend, and may also be Valerie’s father. She is protected by a boy called Eagle, who may be her brother. The grandmother is in love with priest Gracian, who is also hitting on Valerie. There’s more, involving a just-married neighbor, magic jewelry, self-flagellation and lots of birds.

Learned from the extras: It’s based on the novel by a 1930’s Czech surrealist poet. Director’s name is pronounced YEER-a-mel YEER-esh. Heavily influenced the movie The Company of Wolves, and I am guessing Moonrise Kingdom and maybe Eagleheart.

E. Howard:

Despite this unsettling feeling [that the movie tends to leer at Valerie], the film is a sensual phantasmagoria, exploring the strange netherworld opened up at the junction point between childhood and adulthood. Jireš marries his dazzling imagery to a continually shifting score (written by Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusák) that encompasses tinkling music box circularity, jaunty folk melodies, and haunting religious choral hymns. This mix of disparate musical moods and sources mirrors the film’s uneasy blend of fantasy with a child’s eye view on reality.

D. Cairns:

Some book or other on the Czech New Wave compared the storytelling to Rivette’s fantastical films: you can tell there are RULES to the magic in these films, but you DON’T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE.

Last Chants for a Slow Dance (1977, Jon Jost)

This is the second obscure 1977 film on Rosenbaum’s top-1000 list that I thought I might not get to ever see until it showed up at a theater in my town with the director in attendance. The Ross sprang a whole Jon Jost retrospective on us with less than a week’s notice, and this was opening night. But after watching Last Chants, a whole week’s worth of similar movies didn’t sound like a party. Maybe if they played one per month I could summon the energy, or maybe if someone promised the others would be less bleak. It was an experience, though, and Jost was full of stories and game to tell them to the too-few attendees.

First surprise: the movie is shot in a series of very long takes, all of which Jost says were first/only takes except the finale (and only because the battery ran out). Second surprise: it’s a musical! Nobody bills it as a musical, but it’s full of original country songs (which comment on the story/themes) co-performed by Jost himself, and the narrative stops or slows down to let each song play in full. That’s pretty much my definition of a musical.

Light Industry summarizes: “Bates journeys with a young hitchhiker, then tosses him out of his pickup, argues with his wife, visits a local diner, hits a bar, has a one-night stand, and then finally encounters a roadside stranger,” whom he robs and kills. Rosenbaum calls it a “chilling portrait of an embittered, misogynistic lumpen proletarian (Tom Blair) driving through western Montana.” There’s a weird tension, because you buy lead actor Blair as Bates, but you don’t like or trust Bates, and the movie patiently follows him without really getting into his head. Definite highlight was a scene in a bar, Bates picking up some girl, another county song playing as the camera spins drunkenly around the room.