“Your daughter’s screaming. The house is burning.”

This movie has been back in the national consciousness, for reasons similar to The Manchurian Candidate, and I had great fun rewatching Cronenberg’s The Fly last SHOCKtober, so let’s keep it going. Starts out shaky, asking us to accept the weird, nervy Christopher Walken as a wholesome young teacher named Johnny taking his sweetheart to the fair. After a car crash and five-year coma, Johnny wakes up to an upturned life and inexplicable psychic powers which make him an outcast – this is a more suitable Walken role, and he’s perfect in it.

Brooke Adams (of the good 1978 Body Snatchers) was his sweetie, now married to another man with a kid, and Tom Skerritt is the local sheriff who resorts to asking the psychic Walken for help catching the Castle Rock Killer (the Stephen King connected universe wasn’t as annoying 35 years ago), who turns out to be Tom’s own deputy. Walken meets politician Martin Sheen through a rich dad who hires him for private lessons, and having seen the future of the country under Sheen’s evil reign, Walken takes drastic action, surviving just long enough to see that he’s fixed the future.

It’s presumed that the accident/coma gives Walken his powers, but the movie pointedly shows him having one of his headaches that accompany psychic episodes before the crash happens, so I dunno. This came out just eight months after Videodrome, which it’s probably time to watch again soon.

It’s been thirty years, and I’ve got all but a few Joe Dante movies on the ol’ blog, so time for an Innerspace rewatch. I must’ve seen this more than once on cable – some scenes are clearly etched in my memory (The Cowboy singing “I’m an old cowhand from the rio grande,” for some reason) and most of the others felt awfully familiar as they unfolded. Besides the nostalgia value, it’s a tightly written, well-made studio comedy full of enjoyable performances and Bugs Bunny references.

The movie’s secret weapon: Robert Picardo as The Cowboy

Kevin McCarthy in his henchman lair:

Are the opening titles, exploring light beams inside a drink glass, a goof on Stan Brakhage? Probably not. The murdered scientist in charge of Dennis Quaid’s miniaturization experiment is John Hora, better known as Dante’s cinematographer on six movies. Evil Dr. Margaret is Fiona Lewis, the maid in Fearless Vampire Killers, and her false-armed henchman is Vernon Wells, lead villain in Circuitry Man. One of the movie’s writers did an unfrozen caveman drama, the other wrote The Dead Zone screenplay.

Quaid meets his host body:

Meg, right as Martin Short is jumping out the back of a truck:

“Listen, the mustache is the trendiest thing out there.”

Okay, I followed The Unity of All Things pretty well, enjoyed the atmosphere while barely following the “very minor” narrative threads, but this one is just scenes from a party without anything going on. A 4:3 frame shot on 16mm, the post-punk party music skips forward or back with every edit – maybe the sound is strictly accurate to the single-camera picture, so any cut necessitates interrupting the music flow. Most of the time the conversations are too indistinct to make out or subtitle, so this music thing is all I had to hold onto.

“I don’t know if I belong to the working class struggle.”

Finally it gets good, with a slideshow of family photos over a song about nuclear destruction, and near the end the edits start glitching, and there are sound dropouts and giant cigarette burns over the picture, but after fifty minutes of nothing happening, this is too little too late.

Set in Madrid 1982 – Franco was dead and socialism was in, and the kids were free to grow trendy mustaches and listen to Spanish-language covers of “Heroes”. Filmmaker says it “pinpoints a willful political ignorance,” but I’ve got enough of that these days, and Mubi says the facial expressions start to tell a story upon the fourth viewing, but I haven’t the time – I’d settle for trading in this movie for a CD of its soundtrack.

I’ve either never seen Christine before, or like Carpenter’s Starman, I may have seen it on network television in the 1980’s. Watched at Alamo on 35mm with The Car, and the best part of the double-feature is that they pasted the two film descriptions onto one page without bothering to revise, the Christine blurb arguing that the film is “masterful” and “brutally underrated,” and the other writeup saying The Car is totally badass and that Christine is “a total puss.”

Arnie (Keith Gordon, director of Mother Night) is the very nerdy, bullied friend of sporty dude Dennis (John Stockwell, also a director now). We meet Christine in 1957 claiming two victims while still on the assembly line, and Arnie sees it all junked up in 1978 and gets obsessed, buys it and moves it into a garage to restore. Later the seller (named LeBay, not quite LaVey, played by the next-door neighbor in Home Alone) admits that his brother’s whole family died in the car, so Dennis gets suspicious – more so when Arnie’s enemies start dying in unexplained accidents. Meanwhile, Arnie is looking late-50’s slick, has stolen the girl (Alexandra Paul of the Dragnet movie) whom Dennis liked, and Dennis is injured in a football game, so the cool/lame friends get reversed.

Chief tormentor is the extremely Travolta-looking Buddy, who sneaks into the garage with his boys to murder the car. Arnie takes this badly, acting like a shitter (the movie’s insult of choice) to his girl and his parents. The movie has been a disappointing teen drama shot with too many closeups until Buddy’s overweight henchman Moochie (of video store horror section standbys Popcorn and The Curse) gets killed in retaliation. He’s chased by Christine into an alley where the car can’t fit, but it scrunches in, destroying itself to splatter Moochie. Next it hunts the others down, blows up a gas station killing a couple guys, then runs down Buddy while on fire. Finally it drives to the garage, implodes to crush the curious garage owner (and Arnie’s surrogate father who’s been giving him odd jobs: Robert Prosky, the big bad in Thief), then fixes itself good as new overnight. Eventually the friend and the girl show up to save Arnie, battle the car with a tractor and win, the final line: “God I hate rock and roll.”

Also featuring investigating officer Harry Dean Stanton (the year before becoming a legend with Repo Man and Paris, Texas), Arnie’s supercold superbitch mom Christine Belford (a nazi villain in the 1970’s Wonder Woman series) who I’m surprised didn’t get car-murdered, and as the school hottie, Kelly Preston (future wife of the real Travolta). I guess if you’re stuck with Stephen King’s Christine, you do what you can – at least Carpenter wasn’t assigned Cujo.

This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.

These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.

It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.

Starts and ends with a labor strike, but I guess 1982 was too little/late for Demy to be considered political enough to hang with the New Wave gang again. This is a tragedy version of The Young Girls of Rochefort: all-singing, love and coincidence following multiple characters through 1955 Nantes, ending in suicide and disaster.

Our doomed lovers are Edith (Dominique Sanda, also suicidal in Bresson’s Une femme douce) and Francois (Richard Berry, now a writer/director). She’s dabbling in prostitution to get away from her loveless marriage, walking the streets in only a fur coat.

Edith’s mom (Danielle Darrieux, the mom in Rochefort) is Francois’s landlady, though they won’t discover this until late. Edith’s impotent husband is a redbearded Michel Piccoli. In 1967 Danielle Darrieux’s character was dating Piccoli, and now 15 years later he’s married to her daughter. Danielle is ex-aristocracy, politically opposed to her “anarchist” tenant, dealing with loneliness after the recent death of her husband and a seldom-visiting petulant daughter who claims to be in eternal love with the man she met the night before.

Francois is a junior dockworker, so is afraid of losing his job during the strike. His sweet, lovely girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon, a singer and stage actress) is pregnant, has a sweet, lovely mother (Anna Gaylor), but Francois tells Violette about his love affair and breaks everyone’s hearts. He joins his balding coworker (Jean-Francois Stevenin who plays the balding dude in everything: Le Pont du Nord, Small Change, The Limits of Control) on the front lines, and the movie ends how it must: Piccoli slashes his own throat, Francois gets his head smashed by the cops and Edith shoots herself.

Francois and Stevenin, with union leader Jean-Louis Rolland in the hat:

This was the last film from the box set, so I checked out the exhaustive A to Z extra by James Quandt. “Given his happy childhood, one wonders what accounts for all the broken families in his films.” Demy considered Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne “the formative influence of his career” and Quandt displays similarities between Bay of Angels and Pickpocket. “The director once said that his ideal would be to make fifty interlocking films elaborating on his characters’ overlapping destinies.” I knew about the Cocteau and Ophuls connections, but the segment on influences from paintings was fresh. Interesting sidenote on the axe murderer in Rochefort, and Une Chambre en Ville was said to be Demy’s dream project and he was crushed when it flopped.

Visually and performatively stylized melodrama, slangy and retro and dreamily lit, like a much better Grease, or a nonmusical West Side Story. Rusty James (Matt Dillon in his third S.E. Hinton movie in a row) mopes around with his tough friend Smokey (Nicolas Cage, his second year in the movies) and his nerdy David Cronenberg-looking friend Steve (Vincent Spano of City of Hope) and Nice Guy Eddie, speaking wistfully about Rusty’s long-missing older brother, local-legend gangster The Motorcycle Boy. Rusty James has a hot girlfriend Patty (Diane Lane) who’s into him, but he cheats and disappears and flakes around. Rusty James is trying to keep alive the gang wars he barely remembers from his brother’s day, and just as he’s losing a fight, The Motorcycle Boy dramatically reappears. This is the earliest I’ve seen Mickey Rourke, four years before Angel Heart, doing his gentle/tough handsome-zen thing – everyone in town agrees he’s crazy, but we don’t see him acting crazy, except maybe when he liberates every animal in the pet store.

It’s clear from the tone of the thing that somebody is doomed – probably Rourke (and yup, sure enough). The cops aren’t happy to see him back, but a heroin-addict substitute teacher starts hanging around, and old rivalries start simmering. It’s kind of a hangout movie where not much happens, but it feels tense most of the time. Dillon’s character is kind of an idiot, and his idol brother’s return blows up his worldview that things were better in the tough old days. In the end Rourke has died, Cage has stolen the girl and said he’d take over the gang if there even was a gang, Rusty James rides his brother’s motorcycle to the ocean, and it sounds like Wall of Voodoo over the credits but I guess it was that guy from The Police.

I keep meaning to watch the four hours of extras on the Criterion disc, but haven’t found the time. The Outsiders was also a Coppola-shot S.E. Hinton-written gang movie made the same year, and I should have double-featured these. The cast in this film is impressive – the brothers’ shitty alcoholic dad is Dennis Hopper, Laurence Fishburne is a gang go-between, Tom Waits a bartender. William Smith, who starred in the real David Cronenberg’s Fast Company, is the mustache cop who uses inappropriate force to kill Rourke after the pet store incident.

Rumble brothers with grudge cop:

Our second Black Audio Film Collective film after Testament, this one a collage-style doc about the 1985 Handsworth riots – with at least one scene from the 1977 Handsworth riots, the country having failed to solve racism during the intervening years. A good mix of music and sounds, collaged like the visuals. Interviews with community members about mistrust of cops because of bad policing, combined with the story of an innocent woman shot by police in her own home give the sense that nothing has changed between Handsworth Songs and Crime + Punishment. Racism remains unsolved.

I’d been wanting to see this for ages, it having appeared on some list somewhere of great films, and am glad I held off on the bootleg VHS copies to see it properly projected in a theater. Not that there are such splendid visuals – it’s mostly news and interview footage – but there’s at least one innovative move in here: lit photographs hung in a dark room, the camera slowly moving through the room in 3D like an early version of the Ken Burns effect.

Vikram Murthi:

Akomfrah sought to redefine blackness in British culture for a new generation as a reaction against conservative Thatcherite policies along with the respectability politics of their immigrant parents. In turn, the Collective demonstrated that the best way to examine the noxious ideologies in the culture was to trace their historical lineage. As a middle-aged black woman tells a British reporter, “There are no stories in the riots. Only the ghosts of other stories.”

Picturesque and moody, which is to say it’s slow in that 1980’s arthouse sort of way, with drone music which put Katy briefly to sleep. This is a mixed blessing, since she missed the siamese twins separation surgery scene.

Abena (Tania Rogers of a Dr. Who two-parter) is a journalist returning to Ghana after having fled for decades. She’s here to track down the film set of Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde and shame them for misrepresenting Africa, and also incidentally to reconnect with her former communist revolutionary friends, who remained in country and seem withdrawn and broken and not especially glad to see her. In end Abena seems to have taken responsibility for her part in the communist experiment failure – I’m not sure this was the intention, but it’s what I thought was happening. Either way, this makes a good follow-up to In The Intense Now. And she does track down the Cobra Verde set in the end, lingering on all the skull imagery and saying that Europeans have always been better at leaving testaments.

Daniel Kasman on Mubi, from where I also stole the above image:

The soundtrack, flush with ambient synths, simmering orchestrations, and local songs of lament and longing, as well as the brilliantly and variously interpolated archival footage from across Ghana’s post-independence history, is unique to the collective. The result is an elegantly mournful story where this specific woman becomes something more grand, a conduit not only for a personal history of exile and political dismay, but a national and perhaps even continental one.

Akomfrah:

In the 1960s, they’d all, in different parts of Africa, effectively lost a war of independence, one which had started with them as radicals, Marxists and socialists who wanted to take their countries in a certain direction. As the decade ground on, one by one those countries had been turned around, overthrown, or coups had been planned. Many of these people had left Britain or Europe to go back to Africa to plan these new anti-colonial moves, and, irony of ironies, had to run back to the countries they’d left. They were now back in the so-called mother countries begging for refuge … If you were from one of those exile families, like me, that melancholy was the overwhelming feeling that your childhood seemed to be suffused by. I knew I wanted to do something around that feeling of exile as a sort of space of emotional stasis.