As close as Ferrara will ever get to making Big Night – almost-but-not-quite a comedy about an enthusiastic strip club manager with a gambling problem who has bet everything (including tonight’s payroll) on a lotto scheme. A happy, generous movie that delights in hanging out with the girls, the owners and other employees and patrons for a few hours without any major agenda.

Sylvia Miles:

Willem Dafoe is Ray the gambler, hiding in his office with Roy Dotrice (Mozart’s dad in Amadeus), the only other guy in on the scam. Bob Hoskins works for Ray, Ray’s brother Matthew Modine (star of Full Metal Jacket) is the club’s silent investor who’s pulling the plug, and loud, grating Sylvia Miles (Midnight Cowboy) is the landlady about to shut them down. Ray’s scheme works: he wins the lotto, making enough to keep the club, but can’t find the winning ticket since he and Dotrice have stashed bunches of tickets in hidey holes all over the club. I guess this plot device is what led IMDB to wrongly call the movie a screwball comedy.

Modine’s dog trick:

Asia’s dog trick:

The girls don’t get nearly as well-drawn characters as the men. Mostly they strip and dance, and even highly-billed Asia Argento (same year as Boarding Gate and The Last Mistress, renowned here for her rottweiler french-kissing scene) is absent for 90% of the film. Late thursday nights are reserved for the girls and management to put on a talent show for each other and invited friends and family, changing the image of the place from a seedy sex joint to an affectionate family business, thus raising the stakes for Ray to find that winning ticket.

D. Lim in Cinema Scope:

Go Go Tales is also an allegory: a portrait of the artist as a hustler, a gambler, a performer, a dreamer, an addict, a throwback, a holdout, and, of course, a purveyor of good old-fashioned T&A, navigating the screw-or-be-screwed questions common to all exploitative professions, indeed to modern capitalist systems. You could say this one comes from the heart.

When Ferrara was interviewed in this issue, it seems he had begun his Late Sam Fuller stage: a quintessentially American filmmaker, disrespected and underfunded at home, coerced to move to Europe to keep making his New York-style indie movies.

The Addiction (1995)

A black and white (but mostly black) arthouse vampire movie. Being a big fan of talky French cinema and a moderate fan of avant-garde, non-narrative films, I always hesitate to use the word “pretentious,” but it kind of seemed pretentious. Maybe I’m just afraid of philosophy, and since the lead character is getting her PhD in philosophy, there was lots of Sartre and Heidegger and the like.

With Edie Falco, who I didn’t recognize with long hair:

It’s full of great ideas, though, and maybe it’s because I was weak and sick while watching, but I found it moving by the end. College student Lili Taylor (in that brief period between Short Cuts and I Shot Andy Warhol when she seemed like a movie star) is bitten in an alley then left alone. She get no underground vampire dance clubs or Lost Boys camraderie – she has to figure it out on her own. Clever metaphors to STD’s and drug use abound (she steals blood from homeless dudes using a syringe, ugh) along with the pondering about the nature of being. She does briefly (oh! too briefly) get a mentor in the form of Christopher Walken, second-billed for his three minutes of screen time.

With the teacher she’s about the seduce and then bite:

Lili graually infects classmates and professors, then holds a graduation party that turns into a bloodfeast. I think she dies from taking sacrament soon after, but she’s in the hospital all torn up so maybe she was dying anyway. Movie was “presented” by hip-hop/comedy producer Russell Simmons for some reason and written by Nicholas St. John, who wrote most of Ferrara’s previous movies but not Bad Lieutenant, his previous killer combo of horror and catholicism.

With some girl she just bit:


Body Snatchers (1993)

Watched this on a whim since it was on netflix streaming, not expecting much from Ferrara’s studio horror remake (the movie he forgot about when criticizing Werner Herzog for remaking Bad Lieutenant), but it was great – excellently creepy and so stylishly shot – one of the few times throwing a big-budget thriller remake at an artistic filmmaker has paid off (sorry, The Departed). Paid off for me anyway – if IMDB is to be believed, it was a royal bomb in theaters. In competition at Cannes though, beaten unfairly by The Piano (and fairly by Farewell My Concubine). Third of four Body Snatchers movies. I knew about the Kevin McCarthy and the Nicole Kidman, but not about the one with Donald Sutherland and Leonard Nimoy.

All Things Horror points out: “Sure, it’s not perfect. There’s a bit of annoying narration that seems completely unnecessary, some unfortunate blue screen, a goofy big explosion-filled ending,” all valid points. I’d like to add that the scene where suspicious doctor Forest Whitaker is driven to suicide by approaching aliens was pretty over the top, and if I didn’t already know Whitaker is a great actor, I would not have guessed it from this scene.

Awesome move setting the story on an army base, a location where everybody is trained to act like a pod person anyhow. R. Lee Ermey is looking good with his little mustache as the local general. Young Marti (Gabrielle Anwar of Flying Virus and iMurders) reluctantly moves onto the base with her boring dad (he’s so boring) Terry Kinney (founding member of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theater), evil stepmother Meg Tilly (Psycho II) and observant little stepbrother. Marti immediately stars hanging out with a couple bad influences: hot, emotionless chopper pilot Tim (Billy Wirth of The Lost Boys) and general’s daughter Jen (Christine Elise of Child’s Play 2). Once the snatching starts, Tim’s post-traumatic stress disorder proves extremely useful in blending in with the aliens. Particularly creepy was the wide-mouthed pointing scream the baddies used as an alarm once the base had been mostly snatched.

Soon after that starts, Marti’s dad goes in search of help. And suddenly Guy Pearce is on an airplane? Then some Lebanese guys welcome Don Cheadle to Toronto?? Oh man, netflix has started playing the movie Traitor instead, probably to make a funny movie-snatchers joke. It’s hilarious, but I had to go rent a proper DVD of Body Snatchers and watch the last half hour a few nights later.

Writing assistance by both Stuart Gordon and Larry Cohen – along with Ferrara that’s an entire unholy trinity of 80’s cult filmmakers. No wonder I liked it.

Precautions Against Fanatics (1969, Werner Herzog)
“Have you ever seen a dishonest man with a chest like this?”
Said to Werner’s cameraman by a one-armed man in a suit: “What are you doing here? Go away!” It’s not clear who is supposed to be here where they’re filming, in the training area of a horse racetrack. Some guy is repeating himself and karate-chopping flat stones. This cannot actually be happening! It is all pretty wonderful, a parody of a behind-the-scenes documentary. Made in between Signs of Life and Even Dwarfs Started Small, both of which I need to catch some day.
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Organism (1975, Hilary Harris)
Time-lapse footage and readings from biological textbooks portray a large city (New York, of course) as a living organism. The dated 70’s sound design is unfortunate but otherwise it’s completely wonderful. Makes me wish I had a classroom of kids to show it to. He worked on this for years, inventing a time-lapse camera in the 60’s for the purpose. Bits from Scott MacDonald “As late as 1975, Harris apparently felt that time-lapsing imagery was unusual and high-tech enough to justify his frequent use of science-fictionish electronic sounds as an accompaniment. … Hilary Harris shot some of the New York City traffic shots used in Koyaanisqatsi, though apparently Reggio didn’t see Organism until after his film was well under way.”
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L’Opéra-mouffe (1958, Agnes Varda)
Somehow I missed this during Varda Month – one of her earliest shorts hidden amongst the copious features on a Criterion DVD. Varda films either herself or another pregnant nude women, then goes on a rampage through the marketplace, mostly capturing the faces of people shopping there, with interludes featuring actors (incl. Varda regular Dorothée Blank, as nude here as she is in Cleo) clowning around. Sections highlight public drunkenness, anxiety and affection. I want to say this is my favorite of her shorts so far, but then I remember they’re all so good. Delightfully scored by a not-yet-famous Georges Delerue.
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“I was pregnant. I felt the contradiction of expecting a child, being full of hope, and circulating in this world of poor, drunken people without hope, who seemed so unhappy. I felt tenderness toward them, especially the elderly. I imagined them as babies, when their mothers kissed their tummies.”
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Silent Snow, Secret Snow (1966, Gene Kearney)
A boy named Paul starts to obsess over snow, allowing the snow in his mind to filter him from reality. Creepy and well shot. Later remade as a Night Gallery episode with Orson Welles narrating. Makes me think of the Handsome Family song “Don’t Be Scared,” with its line “when Paul thinks of snow, soft winds blow ’round his head,” except it’s one of their very few comforting, happy songs and the movie is anything but.
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Une histoire d’eau (1961, Truffaut & Godard)
A girl wakes up and the whole town is flooded from melting snow. She meets a guy (a young Jean-Claude Brialy) who offers to drive her to Paris before nightfall. Music is weird – gentle flute or horns punctuated with bursts of percussion. Ooh, a Duchess of Langeais reference… in fact there are a ton of references in her quick monologue narration, which ends with spoken credits.
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The Forgotten Faces (1960, Peter Watkins)
Revolution in Budapest. Nice reconstruction, convincingly documentary-like – where’d Watkins get all those guns? No sync sound, a TV-sounding narrator. One part, the reading of a communist speech turns briefly into a dramatic propaganda montage – don’t see that happen much in Watkins’ films.
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The Perfect Human (1967, Jorgen Leth)
“Today I experienced something I hope to understand in a few days.”
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I like the British narrator. “What does he want? Why does he move like that? How does he move like that? Look at him. Look at him now. And now. Look at him all the time.” There’s no diegetic sound, but if this was dubbed in a studio, why does there have to be so much tape hiss? A fake documentary and a stark white delight, with slow zooms in and out, gentle string music, and a general sense of serious absurdity. Only saw, what, a third of this in The Five Obstructions.
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Les Maître fous (1955, Jean Rouch)
Document of a group in Ghana called the Hauka doing something involving wooden toy guns, red ribbons, chicken sacrifice, dog-blood-drinkin’ and having lurchy foaming-at-the-mouth fits. I’m not ever quite sure, because the French narration has been auto-subtitled by google – whatever they’re doing, the subs call it “having.” After they’ve had, the film crew catches up with them at their day jobs, not freaked-out cultists anymore, just working hard, smiling at the camera. This is one African film that Katy didn’t want to watch, because Rouch is an exoticizing anthropologist. So what’s going on that this film makes the best-ever lists? A Rouch tribute page says he popularized direct cinema/cinema verite, that he was known for rethinking ethnography, and a documentary surrealism (sounds like Jean Painleve). Ian Mundell says the film “drew plaudits from the Nouvelle Vague, in particular from Jean-Luc Godard. They liked the fact that Rouch’s fiction emerged from an encounter between the actor (professional or non-professional) and the camera, and his willingness to break the rules of cinema.” Paul Stoller says Rouch crisscrossed “the boundaries between documentary and fiction, observer and participant,” but I take it that’s more about his later films, which I’m thinking I would like better. So it’s seeming like this film gets awarded because it’s one of the most-seen of his films and because of its influence, not because it’s Rouch’s best work.
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Nicky’s Film (1971, Abel Ferrara)
A mysteriously silent possibly gangster-related 6-minute film. I can’t imagine even a Ferrara scholar gets much out of this.

The Hold Up (1972, Abel Ferrara)
Super-8 production made when Abel was 21, seven years before Driller Killer. A few minutes in, I realized it’d be much better with the director commentary turned on. “And away we go. Wait, it’s the other way. Which way is she looking?” Um, some guys get fired from factory jobs, hold up a gas station, get caught. The song “Working on a Building” is heard.
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A lonely mute girl gets raped, robbed, and raped again, all in one night. She stops the second guy though (kills him with an iron, chops him up), grabs his gun and goes on a vengeance spree through the city, killing just any man she can.

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All this killing takes its toll on her daily life, and her seamstress friends at work start to notice the change. She sort of goes from righteous victim to homicidal maniac, but then she never quite loses our affection either. A lot more carefully measured and watchable than the grating Driller Killer.

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One “victim” actually takes the gun and shoots himself out on a park bench. She doesn’t kill the dog (screen shot below). Eventually puts on the nun suit and goes all Carrie at a halloween party before she’s taken out.

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Scott Ashlin says:
“What we get instead is… a film that depicts men in the harshest and most unforgiving light, presenting them as legitimately deserving a substantial proportion of Thana’s wrath. Simply put, Ms. .45 has no patience with mitigating circumstances. In this movie, people, both men and women, are defined entirely by what they do rather than by who they are. It doesn’t matter, or so Ms. .45 contends, whether an exploiter had a rough childhood or a bad day at work or a steady stream of shitty luck with the girls he dated in his formative years. Violence buys violence, end of story.”

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September 2011: Great to see this again on 35mm at Cinefest.