Some months you just don’t feel like writing about movies, and then you get behind and start forgetting things, and the whole point of the movie blog was to write those things down soonish so you didn’t forget them. I watched this after Heart of Glass, then kept putting off writing anything because I wanted to watch again with the Herzog commentary, but never got around to that…

1828, a languageless man with no knowledge of the world is released from his cellar by some shady dude and abandoned in town. They take him to the stables and interrogate him, reluctantly decide he’s not a criminal and take to educating him, lending him out to a family. After a while Kaspar is “beginning to be a burden on the community coffers,” so he’s handed to a circus freak exhibit, sharing a tent with The Little King (the camel-laugher of Even Dwarfs Started Small), a Brazilian bear tamer, an “untamed Indian” from Spain and The Young Mozart.

With rouge-cheeked circus leader Willy Semmelrogge:

Once Kaspar is able to hold conversations, the townspeople introduce him to music, religion, agriculture, government and take in Kaspar’s naive, Chauncey Gardener-like responses, until Kaspar is unexpectedly stabbed (two separate times!) by (I’m pretty sure) the shady dude from the beginning.

Stork eating frog:

Lead actor Bruno S. was reportedly a huge pain in the ass, but I loved his Kaspar. Little Clemens Scheitz (hypnotically hobbled as the Master’s assistant in Heart of Glass) steals every scene he’s in, as a bureaucracy-loving scribe. I liked Heart of Glass better, but what do I know – this won numerous prizes at Cannes, where it played alongside A Touch of Zen and The Passenger.

Clemens:

Another great night with the Alloy Orchestra. Probably the number one advantage to living in Lincoln is that they come through every year with a different silent film – last year was Man with the Movie Camera, the year before was Son of the Sheik. Now I’ve bought their Phantom of the Opera on DVD, and I’ll see if I can sync the CD of their Lonesome score with the Criterion blu-ray – unlikely, but it’ll be fun to try.

Emil Jannings (same year as Tartuffe) is introduced as a sonofabitch who mistreats his woman, soon leaving her and their young child and running off with Lya de Putti (Murnau’s Phantom and the Joe May Indian Epic). They work circus acts until noticed by trapeze star Artinelli (Warwick Ward, who became a producer in the 1930’s) and asked to join his act. Artinelli easily steals away Emil’s girl while Emil spends all his time drinking and gambling (don’t trapeze performers have to stay in shape?), and when he realizes the betrayal he plots revenge. Some fun first-person shots from the trapeze were this film’s main attraction when it opened. Emil envisions his boss having a fatal “accident” – somehow he can’t bring himself to drop the guy, but is okay stabbing him to death

Ouch from Dave Kehr:

The blatancy that makes it so easy to teach is also its chief drawback as art. Expressionism needed the taste and insight of a Murnau to be transformed from a manner to a style; this film, untransformed, is the work of the negligible E.A. Dupont.

Haven’t watched this since theaters. Blu-ray version 17 years later reinforces first impression that it’s pretty good. Man, Pixar has come a long way with 3D textures. Misfit inventor ant is exiled for causing havoc and getting the ants in trouble with the bully grasshoppers, finds help in the form of failed circus act, returns and fails to save the day but succeeds in convincing his fellow ants to stand up to oppression.

“A pity people must live. I feel sorry for them.” What is it with the mid-1950’s and depressing circus movies? This obviously aimed to completely bum out anyone who finds joy or delight at a circus, then if cinemagoers weren’t yet convinced, along came La Strada the following year to make sure we’d forever equate the circus with death and disappointment.

A shitty circus sputters into the town where ringmaster Albert (Åke Grönberg of A Lesson in Love) left behind his wife and kids. He’s now with Anna (Harriet Andersson, star of Monika and Through a Glass Darkly), who doesn’t like him visiting the family, so she sneaks off with the pointy-sideburned actor Frans (Hasse Ekman, a writer/director also in Bergman’s Thirst and Prison), whose theater (run by Winter Light star Gunnar Bjornstrand) has lent the circus costumes while they’re in town. Albert and Anna would both desperately like to leave their horrible circus, and Albert even attempts suicide (similar ending to Smiles of a Summer Night) but in the end, they sadly roll back out of town together.

Anna and the actor:

Anna and the ringmaster:

Near the beginning is one of Bergman’s most intense dream/flashback sequences, in which humiliated clown Frost (Anders Ek, a priest in Cries & Whispers) “rescues” his wife (Gudrun Brost, Hour of the Wolf) who is bathing nude at the beach, putting on a show for an army regiment.

Wonderful quote from Catherine Breillat, which could apply to any great film:

All of the images I am describing, more than forty years later, I can see again with the absolute precision of black and white, the light and the specific, almost incandescent definition. But perhaps I am inventing them, perhaps I was able to understand the film only as it related to me, in a selfish and fragmentary manner. Who cares! … What does it matter if I make up stories — the importance of works is not only in their objectivity but even more so in their elemental power.

John Simon:

Fine as the Swedish filmmaker’s earlier outings were, here, in his thirteenth film, Bergman gazed deeper than ever into the human soul, depicting it with greater artistry. The sparring spouses in his 1949 film Thirst have their Strindbergian fascination, but the empathy in Sawdust and Tinsel is more profound, the suffering more shattering, the Pyrrhic victories (such as the film’s ending) more moving. Stylistically, one of the ways Bergman achieved this was by using a greater number of close-ups of the human face, which would continue to fascinate the filmmaker above all else throughout his career.

You expect a new Jodorowsky movie to be bonkers, and I was skeptical because movies this bonkers are usually wannabe-cult empty-headed nonsense. Text descriptions of a boy with a huge-breasted mom whose dialogue is all sung opera-style and a dad who gets surrounded by miners missing limbs all singing their woes would raise a few red flags, but AJ makes it all seem rich and wonderful, then tones down the circus act and pulls off a surprisingly emotional second half.

Explores AJ’s own childhood in 1930’s Chile, the same way Guy Maddin explored his childhood in Brand Upon The Brain and My Winnipeg, keeping emotional truths and memorable details and poetically inventing the rest. Young AJ is followed around by wise old AJ (playing himself as a phantom narrator), and as usual it’s a family affair, with AJ’s son Brontis (the little kid from El Topo!) playing the father (and I’m guessing a real opera singer as the mom).

Jaime is an ex-circus performer (see also: Santa Sangre), volunteer fireman and passionate communist ashamed of his timid, long-haired art-loving son Alejandro. Jaime’s wife (they run a shop together) is obsessed with her dead father, thinks he is reincarnated in her son because of the long hair, which Jaime finally has cut off, causing family disharmony. Jaime tries to man-up his son, giving him painful challenges, while young Alejandro’s other influences are the colorful characters around town.

After the death of his fire chief and a failed attempt to help plague-afflicted slum-dwellers, Jaime regroups and decides to journey to the capital and assassinate tyrant president Ibáñez. First Jaime protects the president from a fellow communist in order to earn a position as the president’s personal horse groom, planning a more insidious revenge. But after poisoning the president’s prize horse according to plan, Jaime can’t murder the man, his hands becoming useless claws, then loses his memory and disappears into the slums, while back home Alejandro’s mom teaches her son a different way to disappear, showing him how not to be noticed to avoid antisemitic discrimination from the locals. Jaime regains his self-worth only to be captured and tortured by nazis on the way home – but he does get home, and the family flees their fucked-up town.

Colorful, beautiful movie that can’t go five minutes without doing something different and amazing, also with judicious use of digital effects. I love a good imaginary history, and after all the family affection (and pain, let’s face it) in this movie, I was shocked to read wikipedia’s cold version of AJ’s childhood. AJ: “My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”

P. Bradshaw:

For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

The Dance of Reality works as an exorcism of an era where false and destructive dreams were also the hope for mankind, and when children were educated through abuse by their parents and by society. But Jodorowsky, one of these abused children, finally became as brave as young Alex is told to be in the film: he dares in his film to take on all of those issues, to speak freely about love and sex, fascism and communism and sorrow and pain and happiness, and to make his personal circus travel the world with brilliance.

My 2000th blog post!

Another great one by Etaix. The first section, set in 1925, has no spoken dialogue (and for the first 20 minutes, not even an intertitle). Pierre is super-rich, super-bored, lounging in his mansion pining after a lost love. He finds her (and their clown son) at a traveling circus, which finally moves on without him.

A few years later, “the talkies were born” and the stock market crashed. With a wrecked, empty house and no servants left, he contemplates suicide but opts to run off in search of his family instead.

“Ten happy years passed, and Yoyo the little acrobat became the famous Yoyo the Clown.”

Mouseover to see what happened next:
image

Post-war, Yoyo (now played by Etaix) returns to renovate the family mansion.

An utter triumph, with all the sentiment, sight-gags and circus-love of Chaplin and Tati.

This was pretty incredible. Nude man in asylum thinks he’s a monkey. Flashback to when he was a young boy in a false mustache in the circus, watching a tattooed hottie force a deaf-mute girl to walk a burning tightrope. The boy’s mom is chief priestess at the santa sangre temple, which is torn down after being disavowed by the church, claiming the armless woman they worship is not a saint. Later she catches her awful drunken husband with the tattooed lady, and he cuts off her arms then kills himself, and the young mime tightrope walker is driven away from the traumatized boy.

Then after that first 45 minutes, the unthinkable happens: the movie got boring. Later I changed my mind about this, figure it just changed mood and speed and I wasn’t able to follow along, because retracing the story through the million screenshots I took, it sure doesn’t look boring. Anyway, now the boy and his armless mom have a stage act where he hides behind her, being her arms, imagining himself invisible. A bunch of people, including the tattooed woman and a cross-dressing wrestler, get brutally murdered – mother commanding son to kill with his/her hands. He hooks up with his midget best friend from the circus, who may have never existed. Only when he finds the mime girl does he stand up to his mother (and stab her to death), then he and the girl walk outside to start a new life together. No just kidding – they walk outside to find themselves surrounded by police.

Too old to play the young lead himself, Alejandro has his son Axel play the lead, with younger son Adan as young Axel, Blanca Guerra (also in Walker) as his mother and Guy “Dean’s brother” Stockwell as his father. It’s possibly the most coherent Jodorowsky movie I’ve seen, a true horror bursting with ideas and excellently filmed. I hope all the dead or dying animals were just special-effects this time.

D. Lim (who also makes a howler mistake, calling La Cravate a lost film years after it was rediscovered and issued on DVD):

Psycho is hardly the only cinematic influence on Santa Sangre. The circus grotesquerie suggests Fellini, though Tod Browning’s big-top movies Freaks and The Unknown are perhaps even more relevant. James Whale’s The Invisible Man is glimpsed on the television at one point. Also apparent is the lurid imprint of the film’s producer and co-writer Claudio Argento, brother of schlock-horror maestro Dario. But for all its sundry inspirations, Santa Sangre never seems derivative. Jodorowsky’s anything-goes alchemy has a cumulative power, as does the documentary energy of his location photography. It’s a movie bursting with life — interrupted frequently by processions and pageants, shot in actual slums and red-light districts.

You can’t tell from the dim screenshot that this is a white bird rising from an open grave:

Robert Patterson’s Polish immigrant parents die “at the very moment his final exam begins. His professors couldn’t have waited a mere two hours to tell him the bad news, thus allowing him to graduate? Not in a story this devoted to broad strokes and contrived barriers.” (AV Club)

So RP, looking remarkably more like a real person with normal hair than he does in those Twilight trailers, hops a train and joins the circus, meets ringmaster Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, barely recognized him until he started talking with his bad-guy voice, and come to think of it, he should participate in a bad-guy voice-off contest with John Malkovich) with beautiful performing wife Reese Witherspoon (highlight of the movie was that my dream of having someone grab Witherspoon by her pointy chin was finally realized).

Anyway, Robert and Reese fall for each other but Waltz is crazy jealous and likes to murder his workers and hurt the poor, Polish-speaking elephant who comes along halfway through the movie and was the reason I agreed to go see it. Reese’s elephant tricks were nifty indeed, but maybe didn’t make up for all the dour, overwrought period drama surrounding them.

And look, Ken Foree of From Beyond plays one of Waltz’s enforcers – but not the one who’s so evil that he has to be killed off-camera at the end. Also, the whole movie is narrated by Hal Holbrook to Mark Brendanawicz. And it’s the second movie I’ve seen so far this year where somebody runs away from a circus after a traumatic event, only to return just as the circus is on the verge of failing. Rivette’s film had more clown acts and tightrope walking, and therefore wins. From the director of I Am Legend and Constantine, screenwriter of Fisher King and Freedom Writers and DP of 25th Hour and Brokeback Mountain.

A tiny film for Rivette, near the end of his career, with his old collaborators. Centers around two people – Jane Birkin (not as great as she was in La Belle Noiseuse) and Sergio Castellitto (greater than he was in Va Savoir) – who meet at a tiny circus, near the end of its life.

From the commentary: “One of the things that attracts Vittorio to the circus troupe is his sense that they have no director. He sees an opportunity, a possible role for himself.”

The first scene is magic: Jane is broken down on the road en route to re-joining the circus after many years away (due to the on-stage death of her boyfriend) when non-circus-performer Sergio, acting more like he belongs in the circus than anybody, stops and fixes her car, with no dialogue at all. After that, Sergio remains somewhat magical, but Jane’s story becomes something more scripted and typically movie-like than usually found in a Rivette film. Apparently it’s all full of interesting metaphors, and after reading Sam’s comments I’m sure I should give it another shot, but it didn’t strike me as hard as Don’t Touch the Axe, or practically any of his others, for that matter. It’s not like I understood his intentions in making Joan the Maid or the symbolic meaning behind Va Savoir, but I loved them nonetheless, and this one lacked that immediate power. It was, however, his funniest movie since Le Pont du Nord (not counting Up, Down, Fragile, which I haven’t seen), and that’s more than I can say for Rohmer’s final film, to which Sam admiringly compared this.

Anyway, I enjoyed the movie, just not as much as I expected to. Some great non-naturalistic lighting, some good awkward stage scenes (a bizarre clown bit that revolves around broken dishes), and my second favorite moment after the wordless open, Jane Birkin walking the tightrope, first towards the camera with the tightrope at bottom of frame, so we can see she’s truly performing the stunt, then it pans up slightly as she turns around, so she walks back with the rope itself out of the shot, the titular mountain (the French title is roughly 36 views of Saint Loup Peak) in the distance.