States (1967)

I’ve watched this one before… was hoping I got a higher-quality copy, but nope. Sometimes the water is a torrent, sometimes slight drips that look like sparks. Fully white-on-black with no grey in between, all elements given the same visual character. Unfortunately that character is destroyed with standard-def interlacing, the horizontal artifacts interrupting the all-vertical movements. Silent, so I watched with a couple of Craig Taborn piano tracks from the Avenging Angel album, which accounted for at least 75% of my enjoyment of the experience.


Apparatus Sum (1972)

Color fields, sometimes gently crossfading, sometimes strobing. Lingers on red for a long time. then, holy shit, is that a dead body, or what is happening? Freaky little movie, the second one in a row affected by low video quality (this time compression artifacts in the color fields), but I’ve run out of films from the beautiful Criterion blu-ray, so you get what you can get.


Not the First Time (1976)

A pier, shore birds, a person in red on the beach, always double-shot and superimposed out of sync, like a misaligned 3D camera, with frequent cuts to pure white. Short, silent.


Cadenza XIV (1977-80)

Prolonged marching band beat over black…
then… a smokestack with a laugh track
As the camera lingers on the flame atop the smoke stack, the obvious loop point of the repeated laugh track makes me wish for the return of the marching band.


Mindfall I & VII (1977-80)

Cartoon sfx as the camera goes, I dunno, just all over the place. Jittery footage of nature and architecture and what not. Wipe/iris transition mattes standing on their own between shots – like it cuts from the footage to the transition, instead of the footage itself wiping or irising. Between the video effects and the sound effects library and the single-frame flash edits before cuts to black, it feels like a prank, and one that last almost a half hour too long. I spaced out somewhat, reconsidering that dream of attending a complete screening of Frampton’s Magellan project. At least it has a closing shot that isn’t just a random rock or cactus, but approaching the shadow of the filmmaker on the side of a building. Sicinski liked this one, anyway.

Foolish boy gets job at decrepit baths, falls into the pool immediately. Young Susan shows him around, then his first customer keeps swatting him and saying “up yours,” and the next one becomes an overheated John Waters situation. Every woman in town is hot for this 15-year-old except for Susan, who gets him arrested when he tails her to an x-rated movie. I can’t follow the currency because I dunno the 1970 guinea-to-pound-to-quid ratio, but I can follow the Can soundtrack, which is very Can. The tone stays kinda cutesy and light, even as he slashes her married boyfriend’s tires and she knocks his tooth out. Ultimately when your protagonist is a creepy insecure mumblemouthed potentially-violent teenage boy, things aren’t gonna end well – he murders her, but still in a playfully cute way.

Mike D’Angelo:

Even as his behavior gradually becomes more and more troubling, less and less defensible, the film remains too messy for a simple flipped switch in which we belatedly decide that we’ve been watching a monster … Deep End is a portrait of adolescent horniness/haplessness that always seems to be headed for tragedy (and indeed is), yet foregrounds a kid who comes across as so innocent and absurd that it’s hard to do anything but smile indulgently at him.

Long takes of people moving slowly, dramatically across a single room, an air of seductive repression. The blu extras say he films “beautiful women suffering,” yet this is far more tolerable than the same year’s Bergman, which could be described the same way.

Petra is Margit Carstensen – I’ve seen her in Possession. She is very lazy, whining that her mom wants to borrow money, dictating a letter to Joseph Mankiewicz to her servant Marlene (Irm Hermann, a Fassbinder associate from the start). When friend Katrin Schaake visits she brings along young Hanna Schygulla. Hanna is married, husband off in Australia, seems unsophisticated. Petra gets her alone, offers her money and seduces her into a modeling job.

Katrin and Petra:

Hanna’s grand entrance:

Next time we see them, they’re gripey with each other and the power tables have turned, Hanna seeming to be in control of Petra’s actions and emotions. She learns that her husband has come to Germany, abruptly breaks up with Petra and leaves – so we saw their first and last day together. The next day Petra’s classist daughter visits (Eva Mattes, murdered wife of Woyzeck), Petra has a drunken breakdown in front of everyone, and Marlene finally leaves her.

Marlene:

Not the new feature, but the director’s early gay art film, before the technical innovation of sync dialogue. Definitely connected to the new film – one doctor’s body keeps growing mysterious organs – the word “secretions” appears often.

“I am Adrian Tripod, the director of this place, the House of Skin. In a sense, my present incarnation was generated by the mad dermatologist Antoine Rouge. The House of Skin began its existence as a residential clinic for wealthy patients who were treated for severely pathological skin conditions induced by contemporary cosmetics.”

Most of the the women in Canada are dead from Rouge’s Malady. Our narrator reports that mad prophet Antoine Rouge had disappeared after seizing control, the House now fallen into the hands of two interns. Our guy visits the Institute of Neo-Venereal Disease and spends a good amount of time giving foot rubs, is later invited to join a pedophile conspiracy worshipping underground spheres.

I’d seen this before – I think it was a bootleg VHS alongside Stereo – mainly leaving an impression from the architecture and the way it’s presented, which I still think about. The color of the HD restoration is really great, and the ideas are groovy, so I was being generous while watching, telling myself “the movie is not long and slow, the sound loops are not annoying,” but it is and they are. Glad to revisit it anyway – anticipation is very high for the new one.

A stagebound musical comedy Bergman released in 1975 in between some of his most severe movies.

Prince Tamino is rescued from a dragon by three women who fight over him while he’s still comatose. Papageno is a cheerful fellow in green with panpipes. Despite their seeming useless, Prince and Papa are roped into a rescue mission by the queen, given the flute, and assigned guardian spirits (three boys in a hot air balloon). The rest is a long, tiresome adventure, all meant to look like it’s happening onstage (with cutaway closeups of audience members). I did enjoy when the Prince bumped into a librarian when seeking the Evil Sarastro, and they argue since the librarian sees Sarastro as a wise king and the Prince as a stupid intruder. It turns out both sides want the prince to marry the princess, so all’s well, but the queen still wants to fight, so she teams up with an Evil Black Man for a final showdown against Sarastro and company. I may have gotten into jazz this year, but opera is a step too far. Conclusion: Mozart is boring.

Sarastro would later narrate Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom:


The Magic Flute (1946, Paul Grimault)

No feuding royalty and beautiful daughters here. A colorful birdie transforms into a magic flute that makes people dance themselves into trouble, and the Chimney Thief uses it to barge into a castle and torment everyone inside.

Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.


The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.


The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.


Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Talked with Joe about this briefly, and so I’m not crazy for thinking the story “ends” differently in the initial flash-forward. I guess we get to choose whether we want to stick with that fantasy hero ending, or embrace the New Hollywood bummer death ending. Along the way every flashback to the driver’s earlier life and racing career ends portentously in a crash. The driver’s goal is San Francisco, takes a bunch of speed and intends to break every estimate, at the expense of the condition of the car he’s supposed to drop off. We spend some time with a blind DJ, who takes up the driver’s cause before getting beat down by the anti-freedom local boys. As for the driver, immediately after jumping onto a divided highway going the wrong way then back again to shake two cop cars, he uses the turn signal to change lanes – good movie.

Fulci’s twenty-somethingth film is the second-earliest one I’ve heard of. Super stylish with a fun, twisty plot. Great black-void backgrounds and jumpcut editing in the dream sequences. Also it’s so poorly dubbed that even the inspector’s eerie whistling looks lousy – how do you fuck up dubbing whistling?

Our buttoned-up lead is Carol (Florinda Bolkan of Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion), obsessed with her hedonistic neighbor (Anita Strindberg of Your Vice Is a Locked Room), who soon turns up murdered. Carol’s husband Frank is having affairs (Jean Sorel, Belle de Jour‘s husband, that seems relevant) and seems suspicious, and his daughter Joan (Ely Galleani of Five Dolls for an August Moon) seems sympathetic. We’ve also got a lead inspector (Losey regular Stanley Baker), his main crony Brandon (Alberto de Mendoza of Horror Express), and Carol’s therapist (George Rigaud of All the Colors of the Dark).

Carol and Frank:

Some procedures are askew here in London, Italy. The cops allow neighbors to walk right into the murder scene, and the psychiatrist plays the cops tapes of Carol’s private sessions. Carol gets locked up in a clinic while the grown-ups try to straighten things out. The psych thinks Carol did it, has a split personality that places symbolic clues in her dreams. Carol’s dad takes photos of her husband Frank with Hotgirl Deborah (Silvia Monti of the previous year’s hippie murder film Queens of Evil), accuses Frank of the murder and having based the details on Carol’s dream journal to frame her, then finally blame falls on the dad, who kills himself.

Meanwhile some pale hippies (Penny Brown of City of Women, and a guy who looks like Irish Peter Fonda’s Ghost) are chasing people around. Little Joan fancies herself a private investigator and gets herself murdered. Of course the simplest explanation is that Carol did commit the murder, having been sleeping with the neighbor.

Joan and Hippie (who paints using throwing knives):

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.