Mad Max (1979, George Miller)

“I’m the (k)night rider. The toe cutter, he knows who I am!”

I was immediately impressed with the character names, but also confused by the movie. Max is a cop, and yes his police station looks awfully run down, but it’s not some Tom Petty wasteland future – it’s all pretty much how I assume Australia looked in 1979. So maybe the apocalypse happens before part two, and that’s when Max becomes Mad. He gets pretty close to Mad in this one – give an awesomely dangerous guy a “Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” montage showing how much he loves his precious family, and guess what’s gonna happen to that family – but I wouldn’t call his murder-revenge spree against the biker gang that killed his family and his partner and broke his arm a permanent madness.

“Any longer out on that road and I’m one of them – a terminal crazy”

Other Weirdness: the big cartoon music during tense scenes. And Max locks a dude to a bomb, suggests he sever a limb to get free – an influence on SAW? Pretty straightforward, sharp-looking movie. And hey, the baddies only run down Max’s wife and kid – nobody gets tortured or raped, making this one of the more palatable 1970’s revenge movies.

We all know Mel Gibson went on to star in The Beaver and Machete Kills, but who was everyone else? Max’s wife Jessie was in early Nicole Kidman film Nightmaster. Max’s even-madder partner Goose does a lotta TV, was recently in The Great Gatsby. Max’s boss “Fifi” was once in movies called Stone and Stoner in the same year. Lead baddie Toecutter played lead baddie Immortan Joe in Mad Max 4. Shot by David Eggby (not Dave Eggers) who later shot a couple of Riddick movies.

Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

Don’t know how Lanzmann did these interviews with such an even temper and tone. Must have taken a great deal of restraint in the town where locals joyfully admitted making throat-slitting gestures at passing trains full of camp-bound Jews, or when interviewing a German doctor in charge of the starving Polish ghetto. My most recent cinematic response to nazis was Inglorious Basterds, and it’s hard to focus on the facts and details here without imagining escape/revenge fantasies.

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Lanzmann rarely edits an interview, doesn’t use tricks to seamlessly cut out pauses or repetitions. I didn’t deal with the enormity of the film all at once – instead, having just finished Show Me a Hero, I treated this like another miniseries, watching in 60 to 120-minute increments, which made its relentless death-camp horrors easier to take – or maybe not, since I spent more consecutive days thinking about them. The length and focus of the movie seemed on point, but by the time we got to hour eight, talking to people who scheduled the “special” trains who claimed no knowledge of what made them special, I thought okay, this is a bit long.

A phrase caught my attention, upsettingly familiar-sounding this year: the Jews of the ghetto were “forced not only to build a wall, but to pay for it.”

I haven’t got enough documentary history (or holocaust scholarship) to know how this movie changed things, but I noticed a few unique details. In some documentaries the interview subject will get emotional, tear up, and the camera will zoom into to their faces and I’ll think “this is a bit crass.” The same thing happens here, the camera zooming in, Lanzmann patiently urging his crying subject to continue, and it never seems exploitative – interviewer and subject are on the same moral side, and when Lanzmann tells them that it’s important to continue, you’re with him.

Some interviews are recorded with covert videocameras (which, in the late 1970s, were not very covert) broadcasting to a van outside. Per wiki, “during one interview, the covert recording was discovered and Lanzmann was physically attacked. He was hospitalized for a month and charged by the authorities with unauthorized use of the German airwaves.”

Lanzmann shot hundreds of hours of footage and has edited four more feature-length films from them so far. Filmed in part by William Lubtchansky, who was doing great work with Rivette and Godard and Varda and de Gregorio and Straub/Huillet and Truffaut around the same time. Won lots of raves and awards – no oscar nomination, but Lanzmann is now an academy member and was apparently a fan of Son of Saul last year.

Per Kent Jones, Shoah was “the Hebrew word for catastrophe or destruction, which had been in use among some Jews since the early forties.”

Jones on the structure:

The film would consist only of testimonies and new footage shot at the sites where organized killing had taken place, and of images shot where the people on camera were living at the time of filming; there would be no experts making grand theoretical summations; … with two exceptions, the people on camera would be either perpetrators, victims, or bystanders (to borrow the categories established by Hilberg); the film would restrict its focus to the systematic annihilation of the European Jews; and it would be a work of cinema as opposed to an audiovisual historical summation.

By situating his film in the present and creating conditions that allowed us to see that it was coexistent with the past, by questioning his subjects about concrete details only, by creating an atmosphere of quietly urgent attention, by constructing a form that left the impression of multiple possible beginnings and endings, Lanzmann achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.

The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972, Luis Bunuel)

Seen this a few times before, and a year or two after watching, I can never remember what I loved about it. The story’s not exciting (similar plot description to The Exterminating Angel) and I recall it being slow and weird, but not weird enough to be memorable. So I watched again, and loved it again, and this time maybe it’ll stick.

Starts out with a bunch of slightly awful people trying to make dinner appointments that never quite work out. They arrive at a house on the wrong night. They walk out of a restaurant whose owner is lying dead in the next room. Their hosts abandon them to have sex in the bushes. Meanwhile, ambassador Fernando Rey is dodging terrorists, and local priest Julien Bertheau wants to be the Senechals’ gardener.

So far a finely-shot, classy-looking film about slightly weird things, then the second half becomes a series of sidetracks. A random officer in a restaurant tells a long ghost story, the ambassador shoots a guy, the dinner table becomes a stage play, the priest takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, the whole group is raided by police and arrested, the whole group is slaughtered, and all these things turn out to be dreams, dreams within dreams, punctuated by shots of the group (minus the priest) walking down a road (recalling a shot in The Milky Way).

Murderous priest:

The sex-in-bushes, priest-employing couple: Jean-Pierre Cassel (Army of Shadows, the king in Lester’s The Three Musketeers) and Stephane Audran (Babette’s Feast, La Rupture). The other couple: Paul Frankeur (The Milky Way, Jour de Fete) and Delphine Seyrig, and her drunk sister is the great Bulle Ogier. So that’s another difference between this viewing and my previous ones: this time I know and love all three lead actresses.

Didn’t realize when I decided to watch this and Day For Night that they won consecutive foreign-film oscars.

Piccoli cameo:

M. D’Angelo:

Hard to quantify the cumulative satirical force this movie brings to bear, as it maintains the same level of genial drollery from start to finish. I always start out mildly amused, wind up gobsmacked… but it seems entirely possible that shuffling the scenes at random would have much the same effect. It’s just a single pointed joke that gets funnier and funnier, abetted by a sextet of actors who refrain from any winking or nudging — Bulle Ogier in particular achieves maximum vacuity without calling attention to herself in any way, but they all embody entitlement with zero fuss.

Day for Night (1973, Francois Truffaut)

Movie about chaos and joys of filmmaking, with producers and director, love affairs, on-set PR/media crew, interfering locals, rumor monging, old friends, unexpectedly pregnant actors, stunt doubles, lab mistakes, uncooperative animals, movie references, flashbacks, breakdowns, and an Italian actress who can’t deal with sync sound.

The torture of sync sound!

Real director playing fake director fake-showing his real actors how to act:

Truffaut plays a director and Leaud plays his lead actor – imagine that. The film-within’s plot is that Leaud’s young wife Jacqueline Bisset (Albert Finney’s ex-wife in Under The Volcano) runs off with his dad Jean-Pierre Aumont (Hotel du Nord). Meanwhile on set, Leaud’s girlfriend Dani leaves him (and abandons the film), Leaud goes a bit nuts, then nearly breaks up Bisset’s new marriage with her doctor.

Bisset and her doctor:

Leaud’s film-in-film mom is unstable Italian Valentina Cortese (star of Thieves’ Highway, a friend in Juliet of the Spirits), buzzing around set is script-girl Nathalie Baye (star of La Mémoire Courte), and in his only acting role, author Graham Greene plays the film’s insurer.

My favorite bit: Truffaut, who has brought his experiences on other films into this one, stealing from real life to create fiction, has his director-character write his lead actress some last-minute dialogue stealing from something she’d said earlier.

Equipage equipage equipage…

This was the movie that Godard wrote a nasty letter over, ending his friendship with Truffaut. Godard thought Day For Night was dishonest – M. D’Angelo only accuses it of being slight: “Truffaut shoots for amiable, and achieves it.”

Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (1974, Jorge Grau)

Or Don’t Speak Ill of the Dead, or The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue – all good titles, but I’m going with the name on the Anchor Bay box that used to stare at me from the shelves, unenticing with its generic cover art. Turns out it’s quite a good zombie movie, tense and well-photographed. It’s just like Night of the Living Dead but with a couple extra locations (incl. Manchester Morgue), but the hidden social message in this one is that cops are just the worst. They’re bad at their jobs, abusive, intolerant, and finally cold-blooded murderers.

Zombie Prime:

They stay at The Owl Hotel. Pet owl:

Shaky start as George (Ray Lovelock of Queens of Evil and Oh, Grandmother’s Dead) meets Edna (Cristina Galbo of The House That Screamed and The School That Couldn’t Scream) when she runs over his motorcycle, then they squabble over where she’s going to drive them. Good enough dubbing, better than any Italian movie. But these two aren’t very exciting. Fortunately, they agree to visit her sister Katie (Jeannine Mestre of Jesus Franco’s Dracula) and Katie’s husband Martin (Jose Lifante, a desk clerk in Dagon), who hate each other and live near the field where some jerk scientists are pumping radiation into the ground to keep pests away from crops, which also turns babies and the recently-deceased into violent killers.

Martin’s hobby is taking photographs of his naked, afraid, drugged-out wife and hanging them around the house:

Our heroes, trapped in the morgue with the only decent cop, PC Craig:

Martin is crushed to death by a wandering zombie, and enter Sgt. Aldo Massasso (of The Suspicious Death of a Minor), who immediately blames the wife because she’s a heroin addict and has her locked up in hospital. The movie’s zombie mythology gets weird, as we’re told zombies can’t be photographed, and “they transmit life to each other through the blood of the living.” Martin eventually resurrects and kills his wife, but the movie is mostly focused on biker George’s attempts to escape zombies and tell the damned scientists to turn off their machine, and the Sarge’s attempts to arrest George and Edna, who he’s now telling everyone are satanists. In the end George is screaming towards a zombie-infested hospital in a stolen police car pursued by bigot cops to rescue the woman who wrecked his motorcycle and ruined his weekend, and I’m wondering why he bothers. Then Katie is infected and set aflame, and George is shot by the cops (have I mentioned Night of the Living Dead lately?).

Things don’t end well for PC Craig:

Nor for Edna:

Jorge Grau previously made Violent Blood Bath and The Legend of Blood Castle. Cinematographer Francisco Sempere also shot Blind Man’s Bluff and Death Will Have Your Eyes. Cowritten by Sandro Continenza (Crimes of the Black Cat, Hercules and the Captive Women) and Marcello Coscia (Virgin Killer, Tex and the Lord of the Deep).

Ganja & Hess (1973, Bill Gunn)

“I dreamed you murdered me.”

Bizarre movie. Stumbly, natural dialogue. Inexplicable character behavior and barely-explained story. Trippy dissolves and music make you feel like the whole movie is a dream sequence. I can’t tell if it’s artistic, indulgent, or (probably) both.

Love this shot of saxophonist behind lamp, making it appear that he’s hitting a giant bong, a visual metaphor for this movie:

George Meda (director Gunn) meets Dr. Hess Green (Duane Jones, star of Night of the Living Dead), and according to plot descriptions I’ve read elsewhere, turns him into a vampire, but I thought Hess was a vamp all along and that after trying to kill him with an ancient dagger, George shoots himself to death. The shooting works out for Hess, who drinks George’s blood then throws him in the wine cellar.

George suicide:

Ganja:

George’s widow (unbeknownst to her) Ganja (Marlene Clark of Switchblade Sisters) arrives later and makes herself right at home, seducing Hess and being abusive to his butler Archie (Leonard Jackson, title star of Super Spook). Soon they get married (does she have to prove to anyone that her previous husband died?), he stabs her with the knife and they’re vampires together, and now I get it, the knife turns people into vampires? Some sex and blood and nudity later, I think Hess gets a religious mania and maybe kills himself, leaving queen vampire Ganja to find new beaus and victims.

Too many sidetracks, like George telling a horrible story then ending up drunk in a tree, introducing Hess’s son who is then never seen again, and an energetic preacher. But it gets credit for having a completely different feel than other vampire movies I’ve seen, even the similarly dreamy (but far more sleek and story-driven) The Hunger. Gunn was a playwright and screenwriter, also made a never-released wife-swapping movie and a barely-released soap-opera satire. Spike Lee is a fan, remade this as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus last year.

The Visitor (1979, Giulio Paradisi)

Lance Henriksen is sent by a corporate board of sinister white men to date and impregnate Barbara, who is afraid of her own eight year old daughter Katy, who caused an explosion to win Atlanta a basketball game. But first: bald children, wicked clouds, John Huston in an Obi-Wan robe and an unhappy-looking Franco “Django” Nero, who I found out from the closing credits was supposed to be Jesus Christ and whose opening narration sounds an awful lot like Star Wars with the names replaced by Bible characters. This all sounds nuts, and it is – a lost classic of cheesy/weirdo horror cinema revived by Drafthouse Films.

Unhappy Jesus:

After the bonkers intro it’s back to the family scene, which is playing out like We Need To Talk About Katy. Soon Katy shoots her mom (Joanne Nail of Switchblade Sisters and Full Moon High), who is then confined to a wheelchair and hires Shelley Winters (of Bloody Mama and Tentacles) as a housekeeper who might be working for God/Huston. Shelley affects nothing in the household besides bugging everyone by singing “mammy’s little baby loves shortnin’ bread” and saying things like “A great philosopher said that our characters are our fates. And some scientists now believe that planets somehow understand this.”

Shelley introduces herself and her finches:

Huston (the same year he made Wise Blood) is God, who works in mysterious ways, allows Katy to kill the Atlanta cop (The Big Heat and Experiment In Terror star Glenn Ford) investigating her mom’s shooting, then after many scenes standing on Atlanta roofs frowning at the sky (and after playing Pong on a projection screen with Katy) he finally kills her and Lance with a flock of pigeons.

Playin’ Pong with God:

Huston looks surprised at what he’s done:

Have I mentioned that Katy’s Satan-Falcon kills a cop by messing with the street lights?

Or that between Pong and the pigeons, there’s a Lady From Shanghai funhouse scene?

Lance was just off The Omen 2, which this movie is ripping off. We’ve also got Sam Peckinpah (who I just saw in Invasion of the Body Snatchers) playing Barbara’s ex, and the leader of Lance’s white-man cabal is Mel Ferrer (of two unrelated films both called Eaten Alive). Director Paradisi had bit roles in some Fellini films, also made a movie called Spaghetti House, and cowriter Ovidio Assontis also produced Pirahna 2: The Spawning, as his IMDB bio mentions proudly. And have I mentioned this was shot in Atlanta?

The Confession (1970, Costa-Gavras)

Same director, star, writer, editor, cameraman as Z. New still photographer Chris Marker and assistant director Alain Corneau. Instead of communists being attacked by the fascists in charge, this time a group of communists is destroyed by their own party. It’s a depressing slog of a movie, a feature-length torture session ending with the men delivering their well-rehearsed but completely false “confessions” and being sentenced to death.

This time we’re in Czechoslovakia in 1951-1952. Yves Montand plays one of the three who only got long prison sentences, Simone Signoret (a year after the even more depressing Army of Shadows) his wife, and Gabriele Ferzetti as his interrogator Kohoutek (not the subject of the R.E.M. song).

Haunting flash-forwards – the worst of which comes during the trial, when the fourteen men on trial enjoy a hearty laugh and the image bleeds into their ashes being scattered on a frozen road weeks later.

Warok, as always:

D. Iordanova:

The film was an important step in the public expression of Western leftist intellectuals’ disillusionment with Soviet Communism … The Confession was the first film that zeroed in on torture as a seemingly endless ordeal, a systematic and relentless process aimed at delivering a specific outcome.

The Second Trial of Artur London (1970, Chris Marker)

Marker was on-set during the making of The Confession, as was London, portrayed by Yves in the film. Marker focuses on the idea that the book and film can weaken the communist movement by showing horrid things done in its name. Obviously the participants in the film’s production would disagree, and Marker lets them explain why. Unbelievably, after the film’s completion, London is again accused of being a spy and stripped of his Czech nationality. But he is defended: “The witnesses who remained silent in 1952 speak up today.”

My favorite line about the film sets: “A retirement home, unmodified, becomes a prison.”

London:

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.