Under The Skin (2013, Jonathan Glazer)

Whoa.

V. Rizov:

Shots begin as seemingly uninflected observation, then the music creeps in and a whole new emotional tone is set without a single cut or camera movement… I don’t really care what this is About (I suspect it’s stupid), but it really is dazzlingly unexpected throughout. Also, there are jokes! Who said maybe-cosmic statements had to be ponderous?

B. Williams in an excellent article for Cinema Scope:

Glazer has radically deconstructed his infilmable source material and reassembled the few fragments he has retained into a sociologically ambiguous mood piece. What was originally a bonkers and sententious parable about class, labour, and the horrors of the meat industry – run by a race of talking antelope-like beings from another planet – is now essentially an abstract coming-of-age picture.

Bad Blood (1986, Leos Carax)

Pure cinema! Young, wired Denis Lavant flees girlfriend Julie Delpy to help Hans and Marc (Michel Piccoli) on a heist in place of Lavant’s murdered father, and falls for Piccoli’s girl Juliette Binoche. Camera races Lavant down the street. Amazing skydiving scene (the editing, the parachute’s-eye top-down shot, the sheer audacity). It’s a spare story, and Lavant dies at the end, mourned by both girls. Delpy and Binoche had both previously appeared in Godard films, were later the stars of White and Blue, respectively.

Don’t Look Now (1973, Nicolas Roeg)

Two kids are playing while the girl’s parents (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) are inside. Girl drowns in a pond wearing a red jacket. Donald senses danger and rushes outside, too late. Roeg is in top form, between Walkabout and Man Who Fell to Earth, with editing that kept making me say “whoa” out loud, and this must be one of the most thrilling movie openings (and endings) ever. Wonder if this is what Trier was aiming to outdo with his own child-death opening of Antichrist.

The family is in Venice while Donald works on architectural restorations. Julie meets a blind psychic who says her dead daughter is happy, is troubled by this but wants to see the psychic again if she has contact with the daughter. Donald is experiencing spooky visions and having near-fatal accidents, while incidentally, there seems to be a murderer on the loose and the psychic tells him he’s in danger and should get out of town. The movie continues building atmosphere without much story to speak of, until Donald has a fatal encounter with the local murderer, a midget women with a red jacket like the daughter’s and a sharp knife. Predates The Shining in featuring characters who can see visions of the future but this doesn’t actually help them.

Now that I’ve seen this, I wonder if Cronenberg was attempting a grotesque parody/reference with The Brood. Original story by Daphne du Maurier (The Birds & Rebecca). Nominated for all the Baftas, winning cinematography. Blind psychic Hilary Mason later appeared in a couple Stuart Gordon movies.

Need to see again… and again.

Ben Wheatley:

It’s an odd feeling, the realisation that you may have to revisit films at every stage of your life. I thought I’d “done” Don’t Look Now. I had no idea. I suppose I should have had a clue as it’s a Roeg film. It’s a kaleidoscope of meaning. I’m looking forward to seeing it again in 10 years’ time.

Nouvelle Vague (1990, Jean-Luc Godard)

I have a rocky relationship with late Godard, but was determined to watch this because of its appearance on Rosenbaum’s top-hundred list, so I watched a few others to prepare: from the pre-’68 Weekend to the Criterion-issued Tout va bien to a couple more Rosenbaum-approved films, Ici et Ailleurs (hit) and King Lear (miss). Even with all those and Histoire(s) and In Praise of Love under my belt, I don’t feel like I understand or appreciate post-’68 Godard sufficiently, but I reluctantly watched this one anyway, sure that it’d be a flop. Sure enough, it’s completely impenetrable, possibly even pretentious. But I loved it.

The picture is divine, shot by the great William Lubtchansky (the year before La Belle Noiseuse) with art direction by JLG’s Ici et ailleurs partner Anne-Marie Mieville. The camerawork feels closer to the Straub/Huillet movies I’ve seen than to anything by Godard (maybe if I remembered In Praise of Love better). Sound design draws attention to itself (music cutting on and off abruptly), as do the editing and camera. The complete soundtrack to the movie (dialogue and all) was released on CD, and I think the music of both Nouvelle Vague and For Ever Mozart was compiled from the works of the ECM label – have to check them out sometime.

There’s as much voiceover as onscreen spoken dialogue. The characters, if that’s what they are, talk past each other in quotations and philosophy. There’s very little direct story that I was able to decipher, but apparently there’s a plot going on with Alain Delon playing identical twin brothers (or possibly not), one of whom drowns (or possibly he doesn’t). Delon hangs with rich Helene (Domiziana Giordano, the guide in Nostalghia), whose maid Cecile (Laurence Cote of Gang of Four) keeps getting hit by people. That’s all the overt class warfare I found – Helene visits a factory she owns at one point, but no Tout va bien-style uprisings occur. Oh, maybe there’s more class warfare than I realized, since apparently Delon was a drifter taken in by Helene. I caught that at the beginning, but after seeing him in all the nice suits later on, then the identical twins thing, I got thrown.

Rosenbaum on theme: “In part a sustained reverie on what it means both to be rich and not to be rich, and the contrapuntal role played here by the wealthy characters and their servants is part of what makes this film so operatic in feeling.” Elsewhere he’s called it “a meditation on the end of the world.”

M. Sooriyakumaran on plot:

While driving along a stretch of highway in the Swiss countryside, a wealthy industrialist, Helene Torlato-Favrini, finds a drifter, Roger Lennox, lying by the side of the road. They instantly become lovers, but it’s not long before they start bickering with one another. One day while swimming, Helene (accidentally?) pulls Roger into the water and then watches from her boat while he drowns. Several months later, Roger’s twin brother Richard (or perhaps Roger himself, pulling a Lady Eve) turns up at Helene’s mansion, driving a convertible and wearing a fancy suit, to ask for a job in her company. He and Helene also become lovers, but this time it’s Richard who wears the pants in their relationship.

G. Santayana:

Although Nouvelle Vague has more of a story than many recent films by Godard, it is his most rigorously composed. It is his most insistently citational. With texts drawn from William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Baudelaire, Jacques Chardonne, Rimbaud, Dante, Dostoievsky, Howard Hawks, and innumerable other sources, everything in the film comes from somewhere else.

I’d heard this – an interesting idea, making a movie using only stolen dialogue. But the dialogue is all really great, and I couldn’t identify any of its sources, so the thought that it’s stolen hardly matters. Ah, the recurring dead bee query comes from To Have and Have Not, and Helene’s last name was nabbed from The Barefoot Contessa.

Santayana again:

If Passion is about light, Nouvelle Vague is about time. It is about waves ever returning – and the gift of empty hands. Indeed, the outstretched hand is the recurring visual motif in the film. … It is the natural world to which the characters aspire – to be at one with the cyclical rhythms of nature, mute in their magnificence, like the horses ever-present beside the cars. … For all their playfulness and outstanding inventiveness, [Godard's] late films are, however, mournful in tone. They seem like products of a civilization that is coming to the end.

Walkabout (1971, Nicolas Roeg)

I probably put off watching this for so long because I’d written down years ago that I’d already seen it, in the dark days of the pre-blog era. No recollection of any scenes while watching, so that must’ve been in error. Based on a novel, though I wonder how much of the original writing is left after Roeg got through with it. Roeg’s first movie with a solo directing credit. Jenny Agutter (“the girl”) went on to star in An American Werewolf in London and Child’s Play 2, Nic Roeg’s son Luc (“white boy”) is now a producer, worked on Spider and We Need to Talk About Kevin, and David Gulpilil, only 18 when this came out, became the most reliable Aboriginal actor from The Last Wave to Ten Canoes.

The kids are on a picnic with their father, when he starts shooting at them then torches the car and kills himself. Hardly fazed, the kids walk off into the wasteland. But we know from Man Who Fell To Earth and Insignificance that human emotion isn’t Roeg’s strong suit, so we focus on the visuals and editing, which are amazing and strange. For instance, mid-film there’s a page-turn transition giving the brief impression that the whole thing is a storybook. And in the middle of a cross-fade, one of the two overlapping scenes cuts to a different shot – you don’t do that!

Plenty of wildlife. Cool lizards, parakeets, cockatoos, hawks and things I don’t even know what they’re called. But it’s not a good movie to watch just for the pretty wildlife, unless you’re prepared to see David G. spear some kangaroos.

All sorts of extras on the Criterion release, which I need to get sometime. Meanwhile I’ve got P. Ryan’s essay from the website:

Toward the film’s end, it is the turn of the young aborigine to display, by means of a sexually charged ritual dance directed at the girl. The girl’s fearful rejection of him leads to another major change from the novel. There, the native boy dies from a virus to which he would not have been exposed if not for his encounter with these outsiders; in the film, the young man takes his own life. A film with two suicides and a delicately sensual nude scene was never destined for the label of “children’s classic,” and yet one can sense that Roeg has trust in the reaction of an adolescent audience, for he is speaking the truth of adolescence to us all.

Not that I’m a brilliant postcolonial scholar over here, but I saw more to David’s death than sexual rejection. When he finds the stupid white kids, they’re desperate and dehydrated. He shows them how to find food and water, leads them on a days-long hike to the place where he thinks the girl is asking to be led. She just wants her own civilization, but he bypasses roads and houses, leaving them to an abandoned farmhouse. Once there, she stops acting as his equal or follower, goes inside and cleans up, leans out the window with a bucket asking him for water, which he fetches. Now she’s in her element, and his role is to be her servant. Then a few scenes contrasting his traditional hunting methods with the shooting massacre of a rifle-toting white man – with jarring freezes and reverse photography. The mating dance seems like he’s defensively embracing his traditions and manhood, too late.

Afterwards one of the great endings, Petulia-reminiscent, as she’s back in her high apartment listening to some man talk about boring business, having a flashback to when she swam naked and free with a stranger in the outback. More from Ryan:

Much has been written about the “fragmented” style that Roeg has employed in so many of his films — Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Bad Timing all play with linear narrative, setting subtle traps for the viewer and commanding our close attention. In Walkabout, this style serves to enhance the sense of memory that pervades the film. All coming-of-age stories are fundamentally memory stories, rooted in recollections of a time of great intensity, of growing, of puzzling, of understanding. We look back at that stage in our life and find memories of the pain we felt and the pain we inflicted, unthinkingly, because we did not understand ourselves and our burgeoning relationship to a new, strange adult world. The strangeness of that world for the girl in Walkabout is deepened by the landscape; for the aboriginal boy, it is deepened by his encounter with people for whom his lifelong training has ill prepared him.

“The happy highways where I went and cannot come again” – the closing poem is also the source of the phrase Blue Remembered Hills. And as Roeg borrowed, so was he borrowed from – one kid saying “I don’t suppose it matters which way we go” was used in the Books song Be Good To Them Always.

Buy from Amazon:
Walkabout (Criterion blu-ray)

Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Inferno (2009, Bromberg & Medrea)

Very good doc on the film Clouzot almost made between La Vérité and La Prisonnière, starring Romy Schneider (of Welles’ The Trial) and Serge Reggiani (just off Le Doulos and The Leopard). The couple is on their honeymoon, or maybe just on vacation, in a small town shot in black-and-white, and Reggiani becomes increasingly wildly jealous of everyone his wife has contact with, his state of mind represented with color fantasy sequences and optical-illusion effects. Decades after the film fell apart (mainly because the writer/producer/director’s overreaching ambition clashed with his own perfectionism for details, wasting time and money and tiring the cast and crew) the script was filmed in the 90′s by Claude Chabrol, which I believe was the first of Chabrol’s movies I ever watched, too long ago for me to compare the finished movie with the Clouzot fragments.

Clouzot got some great cinematographers and effects people, including Claude Renoir, Rudolph Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc) and Andreas Winding (Play Time). It was also the first credited film work by William Lubtchansky, who is one of the main interview subjects. The documentary is very excellent, showing much of the never-finished film (the color footage in particular looks amazingly vibrant, like it was shot yesterday), and not getting into irrelevant sidetrack stories. Interiors (and therefore most of the dialogue scenes) were never shot, and there’s no surviving sound recording from set, so two actors read from the script on a black stage, providing missing context.

City Girl (1930, F.W. Murnau)

A pretty simple story. Charles Farrell goes to the city to sell the family wheat before the harvest, falls in love and marries Mary Duncan on his way home. Father on the farm is pissed about the low wheat price his son got, and is a huge grouch about Chuck’s lowly waitress wife. Storm is rolling in, destroying crops in other states, so Father works the reapers all night, but slimy Mac sees the family discord and aims to run off with Mary. She leaves, Chuck follows, Dad shoots at them, then everyone forgives everyone else and continues to harvest.

Thing is, it’s just one of the most beautiful films, definitely up with Sunrise and Lucky Star.

The city girl’s hair reminds me of the question-mark on the head of a guy in Sweetie, only in this case, hopefully unintentional, her forehead reads “666″

Chuck Farrell is his usual winning, unmemorable-looking self. I wasn’t sure about Mary Duncan in The River – she seemed a little one-note – but she’s wonderful here and extremely different from her River character. Seems like she could’ve gone further than Farrell’s usual sweet-faced co-star Janet Gaynor in the acting business, but Duncan retired in ’33, five years before Gaynor.

Murnau’s second-to-last film before Tabu. Murnau wanted to title it Our Daily Bread, and had scenes and scenery in mind which the studio denied him. The movie came out in a now-lost sound version and in a version similar to this – not sure exactly how similar, or how much is known about its history, but the booklet with the Masters of Cinema DVD would probably explain some things. Production-designed by Edgar Ulmer, and based on a stage play with a funny title which everyone online mentions as if it’s still important.

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Murnau dwarfs the family, hunched at bottom of the frame when father first enters. The little girl, Anne Shirley, had been in pictures since she was four, would be oscar-nominated for Stella Dallas seven years after this.

The workers, L-R:
- Guinn “Big Boy” Williams of Lucky Star, here a pretty good guy with a pretty small part
- creepy-looking Jack Pennick of every John Ford film, whose only role here is to look creepy
- baddie Richard Alexander, who kept busy playing tough-guy extras for the next 30 years

Father: David Torrence is best known, well, for having a more famous brother. Ernest Torrence had some major silent roles (Steamboat Bill Sr., Captain Hook), played Moriarty in an early sound Sherlock Holmes the year before he died. David was in some Michael Curtiz films, anyway.

A Danks:

City Girl’s bond to Sunrise is one of its most fascinating elements. In its opening movements it is as if the film evokes a key plot element of Sunrise (an innocent country boy, Lem (Charles Farrell), is approached by a “vamp” on a train ride to the city) only to then diverge from and invert it (he immediately rejects her). As in Sunrise, the city is presented as a dynamic entity defined by and constructed around movement and a curious modernity; but it also projects a subtle desperation and palpably melancholy quality new to Murnau’s cinema. It is also the home of Kate (May Duncan), the “city girl” of the title who longs for a romantically idealised country life and who subsequently emerges as one of the strongest and most clear-eyed female characters in American silent cinema (presenting a clear reversal of the moral universe – and characters – of Sunrise). It is through Kate that we experience the continuity of the city and country in City Girl, the archetypes of perception and oppression, and the parallel social structures and prejudices that fuel both worlds.

Everybody mentions Days of Heaven as a comparison, and Danks throws in The Wind.

Buy from Amazon:
Murnau, Borzage and Fox DVD set
City Girl blu-ray (Masters of Cinema UK)

Suspiria (1977, Dario Argento)

An awful lot like Inferno, with the ludicrous plot, hysterical acting and silly deaths. But also like Inferno, the visuals are excellent enough that I can forgive all that. I think I actually prefer Inferno, even though this one has better music and funnier death scenes.

Eva Axén went from working with Visconti in classy period pieces to getting stabbed, thrown through windows and hung by Argento:
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Eva up there escapes from a prestigious dancing school, goes to stay with a friend, and is dramatically killed (along with the friend) by an unseen evil which cares little for logic or reasonable dialogue, only for the picturesque posed deaths of young women.

Our heroine in the middle is Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise, Pennies From Heaven). At left is Stefania Casini, an older sister in Blood For Dracula.
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New student Suzy picks up the narrative from there, discovering right off the bat that her school is creepy but not figuring until the end that it’s a front for a coven of witches run by a hundreds-year-old evil mother.

The Mother Of… something:
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One thing the movie’s got going for it: casting Udo Kier. But it loses points for casting Udo Kier in a tiny, talky role, essentially letting everyone BUT Udo Kier overact. Bad call. Maybe Kier was busy in Fassbinder’s The Stationmaster’s Wife at the time.
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While Suzy has fainting spells, deals with a plague of maggots falling from the ceiling, and talks with Udo Kier and some professor (Rudolf Schündler, actor since the 30′s and director in the 50′s and 60′s, also in The Exorcist and Wenders’ Kings of the Road and The American Friend) about historical nonsense, more deaths occur. Her friend Stefania Casini is murdered by the unseen hand in a similar over-the-top manner to the first death (barbed wire, razor stabbing, nails through the eyes). And the blind pianist is kicked out of school and walks through the abandoned square at night. The music warms up, the lighting declares the buildings to be a threat, and suddenly a stone gargoyle comes alive and flies overhead… but in the end, he’s simply killed by his guide dog.

Blind Daniel (Flavio Bucci of Il Divo) getting kicked out of school by mistress Alida Valli (star of Eyes Without a Face, Senso, Il Grido, The Third Man, played a caretaker in Inferno)
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Joan Bennett (30+ years after Scarlet Street), in her final film role, has got some wicked wallpaper.
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Amazing cinematography by Luciano Tovoli (from Antonioni to Argento to Barbet Schroeder to Titus), who shines red and blue colored lights on simply everything. The dubbing is mostly good, and I liked the pumping Goblin music surprisingly well. I dig when Goblin sings along quietly with a sinister “la la la.”

Argento’s debut seven years prior was titled The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
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