Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978, Philip Kaufman)

Wasn’t planning it this way, but I guess my viewing of Abel Ferrara’s Body Snatchers, and last year’s SHOCKtober screening of the 1956 original (and I suppose The Invasion) were all prelude to this wonderful Alamo screening of the best Body Snatchers movie. It loses the 1950’s prudishness, ramps up the energy and paranoia (and humor, when Jeff Goldblum is onscreen) and lands on an even bleaker ending than the original tried to imply. It could almost be a sequel instead of a remake – the 1956 ends (not counting the dumb framing story) with Kevin McCarthy screaming on the highway, unheeded, and early in this version McCarthy appears on a city street yelling “We’re in danger – you’re next!” just before getting killed.

“A disquieting paranoid thriller informed by the conspiracy theories of the period and the jaded cynicism that followed the death of the counterculture movement,” per Adam Cook.

Donald Sutherland is our new McCarthy, a San Francisco health department investigator and the boss of Elizabeth (Brooke Adams: The Dead Zone, Shock Waves). Donald likes Liz but she’s married to Art Hindle (lead dude in The Brood), who is the first to be invaded – not counting their psychiatrist guru friend Leonard Nimoy, who was probably a pod from the start. While uncovering the plot and figuring out what to do about it, they huddle with friends Goldblum and his wife Nancy (Veronica Cartwright, in The Birds as a teen, later Alien and Witches of Eastwick).

The Shaun of the Dead trick of pretending to be a zombie and walking among the others seems to work, until Donald and Liz get shocked by something and scream. Donald spotted a pod next to a homeless dude (and his dog) and kicked it – a few scenes later the dog is walking around with the dude’s face. As in the original, Liz is only left alone for a few minutes when she falls asleep and gets replaced, melting in Donald’s hands as her pod version rises up, telling him to join them.

Screenplay by W.D. Richter, later director of Buckaroo Banzai with Goldblum. Fun angles and shadowplay, and perfectly balanced tone of terror and action – no wonder a couple movies later Kaufman’s The Right Stuff got eight oscar nominations. Sutherland was later in the quite bad Puppet Masters, in which Earth is invaded by mind-controlling alien parasites, and McCarthy would reprise his role yet again in Looney Tunes: Back in Action.

Film Quarterly:

Visually, the movies couldn’t differ more. Siegel’s unadorned black-and-white has yielded to Kaufman’s lyrical color, tilts, handheld shots, and high key lighting. Michael Chapman’s photography is both lustrous and penumbral, with deep shadows and crowded, mobile frames. Annexing the genre’s salient mood of engulfing dread, he has made the new Body Snatchers a film noir in color.

The Decameron (1971, Pier Paolo Pasolini)

I guess I’m starting to get Pasolini’s style, thanks not to this confusing movie but to the blu-ray extras, which say he combines his knowledge of art and iconography with deliberately naive framing and ignorance of film history and style, influenced by Gramsci (“the revolutionary potential of the arts”) and the neorealists (who insisted on a “high level of political and cultural engagement on the part of directors and writers”). In retrospect I can see how these ideas work, but in my experience of watching the movie, it seemed like a silly bunch of populist, amoral comedic sex stories, lightly enjoyable.

First, someone is murdered in a cave, but it’s dark and I’m not sure what’s happening or if it’s important.

Then Andreuccio (Ninetto Davoli) is scammed by a princess who claims to be his long-lost sister before ejecting him into a toilet and stealing his money. He finds fortune with grave robbers later that night, stealing a gemstone ring from a bishop’s crypt.

Masetto pretends to be stupid and mute in order to gain favor with the nuns and eventually have sex with all of them.

A husband returns home to his cheating wife Peronella where she has stashed her lover in a huge vase, pretending that he’s interesting in buying it. This is when I realized that none of these episodes are related in any way.

Legendary liar/forger Ciappelletto (Franco Citti, title star of Accattone – aha, learned that he’s the murderer in the prologue) is dying, gives a final fake confession to a very impressed priest.

A multi-part episode framed by the story of a painter (Pasolini himself) working on a mural… also featuring young lovers Caterina and Ricardo caught nude on a balcony and forced to marry… Lorenzo is killed by his lover’s brothers and she finds his grave and keeps his head… and a sex fiend returns from the dead to tell his buddy that the afterlife has “nothing against screwing around”

Back to the painter: “Why complete a work, when it’s so beautiful just to dream it?”

Won a prize in Berlin (despite featuring some of the laziest dubbing work I’ve ever seen) where Vittorio De Sica took the Golden Bear. “It also quite infamously started a trend of pornographic films based on Boccaccio’s Decameron, something Pasolini actually found very upsetting,” per Patrick Rumble’s vital video essay.

Belladonna of Sadness (1973, Eiichi Yamamoto)

“Anything… so long as it’s bad.”

Billed as a long-lost feminist animation, as if viewers would be fooled – and some were. In the first ten minutes our heroine is gang-raped by nobles, who conspire to keep the townspeople desperately poor, then she sells her soul to the devil for revenge, and it only gets more grim from there. Yes, it’s nothing but pure punishment for the shining couple of Jean and Jeanne, introduced as some Christian ideal couple before Jeanne is repeatedly devil-raped, brings plague and orgies to the people and is ultimately burned at the stake and Jean becomes a hated tax collector and nobility puppet then gets murdered at his wife’s execution.

Jeanne getting hella raped:

Jeanne joking around with penis-satan:

It’s kind of a musical, making the most of very limited animation – mostly long pans across large still drawings. I appreciate the indie-animation ambition and the uniqueness of having so much sexual imagery, but the end result is dated and unpleasant.

Surely it’s not the movie’s fault for being so shitty to the people, and especially to women, for truly history was very shitty, especially to women, but after murdering our heroes the movie hastily tells us that women (ahem, topless women) led the French revolution so I guess that makes up for everything. The illustrations are pretty cool, anyway.

D. Ehrlich with context:

Strange even by the impossibly high standards of Japanese cinema, the wild and exhausting Belladonna of Sadness was conceived by Osamu Tezuka — the godfather of manga — as the third and final chapter of Mushi Productions’ Animerama trilogy (a series of explicitly adult animated films that also included erotic riffs on “Cleopatra” and “A Thousand and One Nights”).

The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg)

One of the most mental divorce-horror films, reportedly based on the director’s own experience retrieving a daughter from an ex-wife’s cult. Made between Rabid and Scanners, I liked the lead actor (horror regular Art Hindle of Black Christmas and Body Snatchers ’78) better than any pre-Videodrome Cronenberg hero.

It seems Art’s wife Nola (Samantha Eggar of Walk Don’t Run) is under the psychiatric care of “psychoplasmics” weirdo Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed, lending necessary gravity to a movie about psychosomatic killer dwarfs), and there are custody/abuse questions about their daughter, which Nola solves by sending her mutant children to kill her own parents, Art’s new girlfriend, and eventually Oliver Reed.

Family meeting:

The outsider conspiracy theorist in this movie who clues in Art about the doctor’s bizarre studies is the same actor (Robert Silverman) who played the wise outsider in Scanners. But it’s Gary McKeehan (of The Italian Machine) who first mentions “the disturbed kids in the warehouse, the ones your wife’s taking care of,” casually as if everybody already knew. Oliver Reed eventually gets on board helping Art with the rescue operation, helping to redeem whatever the hell has been happening at his institute.

In the extras Cronenberg mentions that after making Stereo and Crimes of the Future, before joining Cinepix to make Shivers, he had to decide if he was going to wholeheartedly pursue filmmaking – “I gave up the idea of being a novelist.” Forty-five years later he’d return to that idea for the great Consumed.

Carrie Rickey for Criterion:

The Brood was released the same year as another film about a custody dispute, Kramer vs. Kramer, which subsequently took the Oscar for best picture. In 1979, Cronenberg, himself recovering from a difficult divorce and custody contest, noted of his most personal film, “The Brood is my version of Kramer vs. Kramer, but more realistic.” Originally, I thought he was joking.

Masterworks of Avant-Garde Film: 1968-2002

Watching shorts from the Flicker Alley blu-ray, part four.

Film that Rises to the Surface of Clarified Butter (1968 Owen Land)

Repetitive little piece in which people draw a character, then it comes to brief stop-motion life, then they ponder this, then it happens again with a constant, quiet burbling horror of a soundtrack. Not as much fun as I’m making it sound.

Our Lady of the Sphere (1969 Lawrence Jordan)

I was rather dismissive of this last time but I’m starting to find its variety of techniques and combinations of images and cutouts from old-time illustrations pretty charming. It’s certainly a funnier and more imaginative way to spend nine minutes than the last movie was. “Jordan orchestrates the film in terms of a rake’s progress” say the liners, but I couldn’t make out much of a story (though I could identify recurring characters, at least).

Mouseover to hit the bear:

Mouseover to BZZZZZZT the donkey:

DL2 (1970 Lawrence Janiak)

Differently colored patterns fill the screen to varying degrees, from starfields to spaghetti-o’s to shower-curtain dots to bright silly-string and confetti parties, all created by organically Begotten-ing strips of film. Chiming, percussive soundtrack. Hypnotic and strangely relaxing to watch, though next time maybe play my own music.

Love It, Leave It (1970 Tom Palazzolo)

Speech from a car show plays over a nudist festival. Speech honoring the military plays over clowns. Then the soundtrack goes into a hypno-loop of “love it, love it, love it, leave it” under images of contemporary America (sports and recreation, demonstrations and celebrations, people and get-togethers and riot police), the sound finally mutating into a patriotic song layered over itself like that remix I made of the Brave trailer. The liners say he had a “sharp eye for Americana,” true. And the last page of Cinema Scope #66 points out where more Palazzolo films can be found, if I get into an Americana mood later.

Transport (1970 Amy Greenfield)

One of those dance shorts where the camera moves with the dancers, only the movements here are not too exciting – small group of people lifting each other across a dirty field. And the sound is completely unbearable, a series of horrible tones like the ones they play in movies after a bomb goes off to indicate tinnitus in the lead character. Also, two minutes of opening credits in a six minute movie?

Sappho & Jerry, Parts 1-3 (1977 Bruce Posner)

Early film by one of the anthology project’s many film restorationists. Three two-minute pieces where Bruce takes existing film elements, combines, mutates and split-screens the living hell out of them, adding more simultaneous frames in each ensuing chapter. Great fun.

Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Ch’an (1983 Francis Lee)

Pans, zooms and crossfades of black and white watercolors, with some short bursts of animation. Nice texture closeups of the watercolor work. I preferred Lee’s 1941 from earlier on the disc (these are his first and last films).

Seasons… (2002 Solomon & Brakhage)

Gorgeous variety of textures and patterns, colors and rhythms. “Intentionally silent” doesn’t fly with me, so I played the second half of the new David Grubbs album, which I would highly recommend. If I understand correctly, Brakhage did the textures and patterns, and Solomon did the lighting and coloring? Bravo to both.

I dig this frame because it looks like a dragon crashing into an aerial antenna:

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973, Peter Yates)

A tired-looking Robert Mitchum is a crook trying to stay out of jail by making deals to give up his friends. His fellow crooks are suspicious of him, and the cops owe him no particular loyalty, so it looks increasingly (to us, if not to Mitchum) that there’s no way out. Shortly after the cops get the drop on Eddie’s bank robber friends, Eddie is unceremoniously executed by the bartender he thinks is his friend (Peter Boyle of Taxi Driver). At least they had a nice night out at a hockey game beforehand.

I especially dig the general atmosphere (and the funk guitar soundtrack). Everyone acts cool but threatening. C. Stebbins called it a “relentlessly melancholic film where chess pieces are moved through quiet back-dealings and dialogue exchanges infused with ever-maneuvering fatalism.”

Mitchum, unamused:

Kent Jones:

There’s not a punch thrown, and only two fatal shots are fired, but this seemingly artless film leaves a deeper impression of dog-eat-dog brutality than many of the blood-soaked extravaganzas that preceded it and have come in its wake … Two crisply executed bank heists and a logistically complex parking-lot arrest aside, the kinetic excitement here is sparked by the verbal and gestural rhythms between the actors as they plead for their lives across dingy Beantown tabletops.

Boyle and Jordan:

Laughs: Katy told me Peter Bogdanovich was in the TV show she’s watching, and I was seeing him everywhere in this movie – turns out most men in 1973 looked like Peter Bogdanovich. I also got chuckles from the lead cop (Richard Jordan of Logan’s Run and Interiors) being named Dave Foley, and another character called Jackie Brown.

The Long Goodbye (1973, Robert Altman)

Elliott Gould plays a disheveled Philip Marlowe who mutters to himself like Popeye. Altman called him “Rip Van Marlowe,” imagining him as a man out of time, waking up in the 1970’s after twenty years with his old-fashioned detective business (billing 1950’s rates). Marlowe doesn’t mind the modern era – “It’s okay with me” is his catchphrase. He solves the case of a missing drunken husband, meanwhile being investigated for his old friend Terry’s disappearance with a suitcase full of money and turning up dead a few days later. Marlowe is lied to and pushed around by everyone in the movie, but persistently puts together the real story of what happened to his friend – a true detective after all, and one who finally discovers some truths he can’t abide.

Sterling Hayden:

Marlowe’s customer is Eileen Wade (folk singer Nina van Pallandt) whose drunken, abusive husband Roger (a beardy, rambling Sterling Hayden) is found at a scammy treatment center run by Dr. Verringer (Henry Gibson of The ‘Burbs and Innerspace). It’s not clear what exactly Verringer is up to, but he gets his bill paid by showing up in the middle of a party and appearing to hypnotise Roger into cutting him a check, then Roger drowns himself walking into the ocean that night.

Great scene of Marlowe talking to Eileen while Roger is walking into the surf below:

Marlowe’s investigation of his dead friend hinges on his belief that Terry (MLB pitcher Jim Bouton) couldn’t have murdered his wife as has been claimed by the police. But it turns out he did, and has taken the money stolen from Mr. Augustine (The Rose director Mark Rydell) to Mexico. His newly widowed neighbor Eileen is coming to meet him but Marlowe gets there first and shoots Terry.

Sometimes I had to activate subtitles for the muttering… this was a favorite:

Screenplay by Leigh Brackett, who wrote a bunch of Howard Hawks movies including Philip Marlowe mystery The Big Sleep. Altman got Mad Magazine artists to do the movie poster to convey that this ain’t a dark and humorless Humphrey Bogart movie. One of many great things about the movie is its John Williams theme song, which shows up everywhere in different versions. More movies need theme songs. How hard can it be to call up a talented indie musician and say “I’m making a movie, here’s a title and plot summary and general mood, write me a theme song”? This might make the original-song oscar category worthwhile again.

Gould improv-Jolsoning with fingerprint ink:

Altman on working with actors: “I can’t tell them what I want to see, when what I want to see is something I’ve never seen before.” Something audiences at the time had never seen before: when Marlowe is being intimidated by Mr. Augustine, I couldn’t focus on the dialogue at all because one of Mr. A’s henchmen is a pre-fame Arnold Schwarzenegger, four years before Pumping Iron, even.

Rein Raamat animated shorts

I watched Raamat’s Lend a couple months ago, just getting to the rest of the disc.

Kutt / Hunter (1976)

More cross-fading animation. Whale-hunters dodge icebergs while tracking their prey. The whale wins. Nice water and Northern Lights effects.

Pold / Field (1978)

A black/white world, slow heavy labor, each frame crossfaded into next. Work horse dreams of a better life, escapes. I think he returns to the farm after getting hungry.

Varvilind / Colorful Bird (1974)

Bored future society starts to come alive with the addition of primary colors, as their world gradually becomes a groovy hippy paradise. A black cat threatens to make everything square and gray again, but the cool kids intervene, ending in a psychotic color trip. Maybe Estonia didn’t have the color green – the movie shows yellow and blue combining to make… blue. I like the silent-film opening titles, and how each of the Raamat shorts is so different-looking than the last.

Kilplased / Simpletons (1974)

White-suited loggers discover that logs roll downhill. A farmer tries to befriend some birds while his horse is eaten by wolves (he doesn’t see the wolves, so a cat is blamed). The men burn down their structure (silo?) and destroy their own fields while chasing a pig. At least they get to eat the pig. The cartooniest Raamat I’ve seen.

I like the way he draws bird feet:

Tyll the Giant (1980)

Tyll helps the puny humans rebuild after their towns are destroyed by demons, rescues them when rough seas overturn their boat and participates in brutal battles against their enemies. This doesn’t go over well with the devil lord who shoots boulders from his eyeballs, so he destroys Tyll’s home and murders his wife. In a final horrific battle (this is the most bloodshed I’ve seen in a cartoon since Metalocalypse), Tyll is beheaded, then a voiceover I didn’t understand (because I lack subtitles) gives an epilogue. A tremendous end to the Raamat party.

News From Home (1977, Chantal Akerman)

Exciting to get to see this in theaters… glad I held off on watching the DVD for so long. I’m always afraid Akerman’s movies will put me to sleep at home, probably unfounded since I found D’Est mesmerizing. This one is similarly anthropological, showing New York in its specific era, making me wonder if the movie feels more special as a time capsule with each passing year. Akerman had moved to the States for a couple years and her mom wasn’t taking the separation well, writing constant letters, mostly to ask why Chantal hadn’t sent more of her own letters. So Chantal reads the letters from her mom aloud rapidly over her long-take images and sounds from the city, often letting the spoken correspondences get drowned out by traffic and train noise. In practice, it’s more interesting than it sounds.

M. Orange:

The keenest signifier of Akerman’s pervading sense of rootlessness, of unbelonging — a reaction, perhaps, to the threat of confinement of any kind — would also be her truest anchor in the world: her mother, Natalia … Speaking in I Don’t Belong Anywhere, a documentary profile shot shortly before her 2015 death, Akerman wonders if “throw[ing] Jeanne Dielman in her [mother’s] face was very generous of me,” describing the film as “a kind of mirror that wasn’t necessarily something [women of that generation] appreciated seeing.” In the same documentary, Akerman says it was only with News From Home that she realized her mother formed the center of all of her work. At the time of these interviews, Akerman was completing work on No Home Movie, a meditation on her elderly mother’s decline and impending death. It would be her final film.