Picked a nice, short, famous one for my first Raoul Ruiz movie. Based on a fictional painter (I didn’t know until I looked it up). The curator studies “a collection of paintings by Tonnerre, a French academic painter of the mid-nineteenth century, whose rather undistinguished works, with no consistency in style or subject matter, are said to have provoked a major but mysterious society scandal”. The title is misleading, because the supposedly missing painting is not discussed so much, but rather how the paintings are connected and what scandal they could have caused. Turns out the characters within may be enacting the rituals of a secret society, but that barely seems to matter anymore by the time it’s unveiled.

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Pretty amazing movie to watch (even though I fell asleep the first time). The curator is not the film’s narrator. The curator actually falls asleep once while droning on about the paintings, and the narrator whispers to us until he reawakens. The curator stages complicated tableaus, reenactments, like life-sized dioramas of the paintings in order to get a 3-D perspective on the hidden clues, which are in mirror reflections, light and shadow, and everything else. A movie all about mise-en-scene, so the paintings and stagings have interesting layouts, and the filming of them is interesting on its own. So many layers I don’t pretend to understand.

Below: Professional Jean Reno in his first film role.
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Completely wild. Loved it, though I don’t know who I could recommend it to. Guess I’ll just see more Ruiz movies. Not sure whether any/all questions are answered at the end… curator seems too obsessive to be able to see the truth anymore, and may be using the ritual explanation to justify his own ritualistic beliefs. The movie’s got a few visual freakouts, like the one below, but otherwise is a sort of fictional essay film.

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Where the missing painting, the fourth in the series, should have hung:
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Essential essay here: http://www.rouge.com.au/2/hypothesis.html
Katy might’ve liked it. I guess. Can’t really say.

Sissy Spacek is tormented daily (most memorably in a shower-room scene full of naked high-school girls), then just when she’s made to feel special (via rigged prom queen vote), down comes the pig’s blood and out pours the psychic rage (school fire), which later also takes out her tormentors (car crash) and her mother and herself (collapsing their house). A classic for obvious reasons. Spacek was memorably nude in Prime Cut also, and probably in Badlands but I don’t remember. She was 26 in this so it’s okay to get naked.

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Two scenes from “Other Side of the Wind” that played on Spanish television or someplace. Don’t know anything about context. First has a movie director being interviewed by the press from all sides, then a hot couple getting it on in the passenger seat while another guy drives in the rain. Not the kind of thing I’d expect from Welles. All quick cuts and artistic shots a la F For Fake.

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Man and woman are contestants on game show, go back to her place after. She argues with her ex-husband in the evening, her “sister” in the morning, then her “sister” kills the man with a big knife. Neighbor Reporter sees the killing, bring the cops, they don’t believe her. She hires private eye, then investigates on her own. Finds out woman had siamese twin who died. Gets trapped, brainwashed at woman’s ex-husband’s suspicious psychiatric house, then twin kills doctor/ex-husband. Cops now believe brainwashed reporter, but she won’t help them anymore, only repeats that there was no body because there was no murder.

Amazing that in such a hitchcock-referential movie, IMDB and I can only think of three direct sources:
Rear Window, for the obsessive voyeurism
Rope, for the body in the couch that everyone walks around and sits upon
Psycho for the killing the “main character” 30 minutes in and switching focus to someone new, and for all the psycho-babble.
I guess Sisters just intensifies the sources, makes you all-too-aware of the references if you’ve seen the original movies. Strange then that Sisters itself is getting a remake.

Best visual gag: the cake decorator tool, which in close-up looks like a long dagger dripping blood.

Has that extreme-70’s-interiors look and red red fake blood of the early David Cronenberg movies sometimes. Cronenberg must’ve seen this at some point before making Dead Ringers.

Love the Bernard Herrmann score, love the split screen scenes. Movie’s far from a perfect thriller, but it’s definitely satisfying. Great, great ending (private eye on phone pole still watching the couch at a train station).

Still conflicted about Taxi Driver. Sure it’s a good movie, has a real nice look to it (ugly, but at least purposefully, professionally ugly), good acting, neat character. Just doesn’t fly out at me as a Great Film or justify the 30 years of hype. Guess I just wasn’t meant to understand American 70’s Cinema. Was really nice to see this on the big screen, even if Lefont decapitated some actors and credits… good texture to it, very nice print. Wish they’d have played King of Comedy instead, but that might not have even pulled in the 50 loners and misfits who bothered to attend this one.

EDIT JUNE 2018: This is a lousy overview of an interesting series, and I need to redo it some day. Two years ago I got to see Phantasm in theaters, which I briefly mentioned here, and now I’ve seen a 35mm screening of Phantasm II at the Alamo. The guy introducing the film made some sense, saying this was the cheapest Universal picture of the 1980’s and that the studio mandated a casting change, love interest, explanatory VO, and linear plot with no dream sequences. So it’s the most anti-Phantasm of Phantasm movies, but it still pretty much works, advancing the mythology while throwing in a couple of real nice explosions and the most horrible sphere-death of the series.


Best horror series ever? Maybe not, but let me hyperbolize. Totally consistent and original movies with a really interesting conclusion, even if I still think Don is being vague just so we’ll think he’s way deep. Might find out later on the commentary. This weekend, listened to Don talk about parts 1 & 2, and watched 3 & 4 for the first time since they came out.

Phantasm 1a

Phantasm 1b

Part one gets better every time. Obviously so low budget but you can see ’em putting their heart into it. Love how Don waits until Mike is struggling with the rubber fly monster wrapped in a jacket to talk about the excellent acting in this series… I laugh at first, but dude’s got a point in general. Weird how Reggie & Jody’s song on the porch is one of my favorite scenes. The British tagline for this movie was “Where The Dead Are No Longer That Way”. Too bad I missed this at the drive-in.

Phantasm 2a

Phantasm 2b

“The Ball is Back”. I used to think this was the best Phantasm movie, but now I see it’s just the slickest and most expensive (and not coincidentally, the one that was always on cable in 1988-90). James LeGros of Drugstore Cowboy and Living In Oblivion takes over the Mike role cuz Michael Baldwin was busy that week. Still might be the best Phantasm movie, I’m just not positive about it anymore. Best Tall Man death (exploding eyeballs!) and Balls and effects and stuff. Not much left to write about, since I’ve watched it a hundred times now. Don says the fans used to complain about this one a lot… until part 3 came out.

Phantasm 3a

Phantasm 3b

“Lord of the Dead”. I used to complain about part 3 a lot… thought it was silly, what with the kid with the killer frisbee and the feminist/lesbian with nunchucks. Watching all the movies together puts it in better perspective. They’re ALL kinda silly. Nobody ever really bought the rubber fly in the jacket scene, and you can almost see the stagehands lobbing metal canisters at Reggie at the end of part 2. It’s just fun with bursts of horror and some good storytelling underneath. The repeated bits in each movie (especially the mirror endings) are fun, too. Anyway, the kid and the drifters and the nunchuck lesbian aren’t bad, and it’s nice to see Mike back, and this is where the whole thing gets weird, what with Jody’s return from the dead and the Tall Man implanting a Ball in Mike’s head, then spending part four trying to get it back, I think.

Phantasm 4a

Phantasm 4b

“OblIVion”, or, The One Composed Largely Of Deleted Scenes From Part One Used As Flashbacks. Given about a third the budget of the last one, Don found a way to create a new story around old leftover footage rather than give up or sell out the characters. Hardly any peripheral actors/characters, lot of final-standoff Mike vs. Tall Man stuff and of course an origin story. No horror series makes it to part four without an origin story. The Tall Man gets a name (Jebediah Morningside, a funeral home director who builds portals to other dimensions at home in his spare time), Mike tries to control the Ball in his head (or something), Jody keeps popping up but I still don’t know why, and Reggie gets in some good bits. Watch these movies enough times and they start to seem like real people. I’m sad to see the story finally end.

In The Future, political dissidents in the USA are given a choice between long jail sentences or four days at “punishment park”, a desert training ground for law enforcement officials. If they can reach a target before the cops catch them, they’re free… if caught, they go to jail anyway.

Movie has two settings… one group at punishment park, and the tribunal for the next group to be sent… flips back and forth between them. The group in “court” (a tent with card tables) is modeled on Abbie Hoffman and the Chicago Seven, with one member ending up bound and gagged. Someone in the group at the park manages to kill a guard, and after that, it’s vengeance time… the whole group is gunned down as they are caught, with the camera crew first standing by, then trying ineffectively to help.

Punishment Park

Not as interesting as The Gladiators, I think, but a lot more straightforward. Can’t decide if I really liked it. Covers a lot of facets of 60’s radicalism, the straight world’s reaction to it, and the direction the country was going politically. Useful as an alternate-history lesson, maybe.

Neat DVD. Glad I resisted temptation to buy it, but made a nice rental. Now if I can carve out four hours in two days to watch the second disc…

INTERVALS is pure formalism, edits of precise length set to an even beat, all shot in Venice but with no glimpses of water. PG says the rhythm is something to do with an Italian piece of music, just to make it even more rigorous.

The next four juxtapose grainy old films with off-kilter narration, looking progressively less like home-movies as PG starts getting a bit of a budget. H IS FOR HOUSE is actually a home movie, with a narrator reciting related and unrelated words that begin with the same letter. WINDOWS tells of 37 people who fell to their deaths from windows during a certain year in a certain province. WATER WRACKETS is very nice shots of water with a fake Tolkien-esque background story on the narration. DEAR PHONE, the most diverting of the four, alternates shots of red phone booths with shots of the pages the narrator reads from, stories of people obsessed with the telephone.

Dear Phone

A WALK THROUGH H was the best one here (fortunately, since it’s some 40 minutes long). A journey through “H” (heaven/hell?) with 92 maps, incl. backstory on the maps, the people they were acquired from, and the narrator’s spiritual guide, Tulse Luper. Almost the whole movie was motion close-ups of the maps themselves (and sometimes of the windmills that appeared as the maps faded), with bookend segments showing a gallery in which each map was displayed. Way to turn a painting career into a film career. Gives me real hope that the three-hour The Falls won’t be boring, as it seems it should be from its description. Oh, as the narrator is an ornithologist, we got some nice shots of birds too.

A Walk Through H

Was a fun disc, with scans of paintings and video introductions by PG, and gave nice insight into the genesis of the cataloguing fetish he expressed colorfully in Prospero’s Books and Drowning By Numbers. I’m into the head-smashing repetition of the Michael Nyman scores in his films, too. Still don’t get why some critics say his early stuff is wonderful and everything since (1985? 89?) is crap. Adrian Martin calls him “a totally vacuous phony”, and I know Sam hates PG too. Maybe one day it’ll hit me all at once, and I’ll sing the praises of Cache, late Woody Allen, Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson while damning Prospero’s Books, Robert Rodriguez and Steven Spielberg.

A Walk Through H