Two movies really, with full credits for each part. Not much here to gaze upon, and my copy looked like streaming mush; it’s all narrative. Chapters give different characters and perspectives (I like how their titles are tied together with song lyrics) as the missing Laura is tracked by her more arrogant boyfriend Rafael and her secret boyfriend Ezequiel (Ez’s job in the movie is to not follow what people are saying so everything has to be repeated). Ez had been helping Laura with her private project, following a love story through letters hidden in books donated to the library, but he doesn’t know about her second mystery, getting involved with scientist Elisa Carricajo who’s hiding a lake beast at her house. The music at the end of part one gets sci-fi in anticipation of this section. At the end of part two the picture goes widescreen as Laura disappears – having followed two great mysteries, she becomes one herself. Cast and crew are all returning from La Flor, and I hope they keep making these wheel-spinning mixed-genre movies.

A sort-of decade-later follow-up to the director and star’s Ostende. Citarella in Cinema Scope:

By trying to make a film in similar terms to Ostende, something else happened: a mutant film appeared, a plural idea of cinema. I like that Trenque Lauquen can’t be classified, that you can’t say the film is going this way or that way, or even that the film is this or that. It’s always trying to outrun this idea of being classified – it’s like the experience of reading a novel that takes a rhizomatic approach to storytelling, where each chapter proposes something new and mysterious. For me, the difference between the two films is that in Ostende, Laura is someone who wants to have a lot of lives – to live in fiction – but ultimately decides to go back to her normal life with her boyfriend. In Trenque Lauquen, Laura lives all those possibilities, and finally gets lost.


Trenque Lauquen (2023, Laura Citarella & Mariano Llinás)

During the Trenque Lauquen city premiere of the Trenque Lauquen double-feature, Citarella sits alone at a cafe across from the theater, the sounds of the film overlaying the town, noting walkouts (one) and people arriving to watch Barbie. Good to see Ezequiel in the crowd, I dunno why Paredes and Carricajo are backstage wearing fake mustaches. This was part of a Film Fest Gent online shorts collection pairing directors with composers, so I suppose the music in here by Eiko Ishibashi (Drive My Car, Drag City) isn’t from the feature film.

Verboten! (1959)

Fuller WWII film six months before The Crimson Kimono with a Paul Anka theme song (oh no), starring nobody in particular. Our not-so-bright hero Sgt. Brent is The Killer Shrews star James Best. He survives the sniper attack that killed a bunch of his men, is rescued by German girl Susan Cummings (Bavarian, of Corman’s Swamp Women), then stays behind after the war to marry her.

Post-war, Brent works for Captain Harvey (Fuller regular Paul Dubov, a master criminal in Underworld USA) in cleanup, along with wide-mouthed Bruno (star of High School Big Shot), his new wife’s secret confidant and a member of the Werewolves, a secret Himmler youth army aiming to carry on the war after defeat. “Hungry people are easy to bamboozle.” Susan’s little brother Franz (not great) is of course a werewolf, but comes to his senses, rats on his mates and pummels his werewolf boss to a fiery death. “Ride of the Valkyries” soundtracks a bombing/assassination montage twenty years before Apocalypse Now. The cuts to stock footage are hardly seamless but all the postwar Germany film is interesting on its own.


Dogface (1959)

“Siegfried has located the enemy” – the nazis send a dog to locate dogfaces, and Infantry Sergeant Rock’s first mission in this would-be TV series is to assassinate the nazi dog. I imagine network TV execs weren’t on the edge of their seats wondering what unseemly missions Rock would take on next. Good movie though, better than Verboten!. Our lunkhead hero injures the dog but lets it live, and it saves him after a steamy shower shootout. The plan was an authentic war series with basic tech, tough-guy actors, and a ton of military slang – since this never aired, Sgt. Rock’s career went nowhere.

The Thirteenth Chair (1929)

After London After Midnight came three more Lon Chaney pictures including West of Zanzibar. Now, Browning’s love for headscarves leads him to India, and his love for Hungary leads him to Bela Lugosi. This is quite good for a 1929 sound film, but it hurts to exchange the long, lingering silent facial expressions for inane upper-class British conversational pleasantries. There’s no transitional period, the movie is crammed wall-to-wall with dialogue as if spectators were paying by the word.

Madame LaGrange is played by an actress named Wycherly, which would’ve been a cooler name for her medium character. Yes, we’re back in Mystic territory, and to prove her authenticity she explains the mechanics of the usual tricks used by mediums, then proceeds to her spiritual work uncovering a murderer. Someone dies during the first of two lights-out seances (during which the movie achieves maximum talkie-ness, becoming a radio play) so Inspector Lugosi arrives, and star Conrad Nagel’s girl Leila Hyams emerges as chief suspect, but it turns out some other blonde lady killed both guys.


Dracula (1931)

Written about this before… watching now with the Philip Glass / Kronos Quartet score, hell yes. The music is mixed higher than the dialogue, as it should be. Now that I’ve seen Thirteenth Chair I have to say this is extremely awesome in comparison, dispensing with the constant dialogue and returning to beautiful image-making with big Lugosi close-ups.


Freaks (1932)

Wrote about this before, too. More movie-worthy characters in this hour-long film than in Browning’s whole pre-Dracula career combined. Over 50 years later Angelo had a plum role in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Before Dracula, Browning made that Outside The Law non-remake, before Freaks came boxing drama Iron Man, and afterwards was Fast Workers… a comedy?


Mark of the Vampire (1935)

John Fordian Dr. Donald Meek busts into an inn just as idiot tourists are getting the talk about why we don’t go out at night (bad idea to watch the same night as Dracula since it’s all the same vampire explanations to incredulous people). Inspector Atwill, a large mustache man, arrives to investigate a mysterious death. Fedor and Irena are survivors, swoop-haired Otto is her guardian. Meanwhile, Dracula himself (played as a wordless zombie monster with no suave dialogue) and his undead daughter Luna lurk in a nearby castle. Professor Barrymore arrives to do some Acting, a welcome diversion, while Irena’s dead dad Sir Karell has become a zombie Drac-follower, and Irena has begun acting vampy herself.

Somehow the plot gets even more convoluted, and Browning and Lugosi’s involvement becomes an in-joke, because the “vampires” have only been performers in Barrymore’s Holmesian plot to make swoop-haired Otto confess to killing his friend, hypnotized into re-committing his crime. Good performances in this, though nothing else really works, and the rubber-bats-on-strings technology hadn’t improved since ’31. I liked how no two people manage to pronounce the character names the same way.

Clanker, the Jump-Scare Cat:


The Devil Doll (1936)

Nobody told me this would be a Bride of Frankenstein ripoff cowritten by Eric von Stroheim. Maybe bitter that another director remade Tod’s Unholy Three with Lon Chaney, he goes ahead and rips that off too. Lionel Barrymore is a banker who got backstabbed by his partners and sent to prison, escapes to get revenge – wrongly(?)-accused man becoming a murderer on the run.

First stop is scientist Marcel (Henry Walthall, the yellow shut-in of Griffith’s House with Closed Shutters) to borrow his shrinking formula. He’s working on miniaturization to alleviate world hunger (isn’t this the plot of Downsizing?) but has a heart attack while shrinking the maid, so his devoted wife Malita (Rafaela Ottiano, who’d worked with Barrymore on Grand Hotel) comes along to continue his research by shrinking some bankers, Lionel hiding in plain sight as an old woman running a doll shop.

First off is nervous mustache banker Arthur Hohl (a cop in The Whole Town’s Talking), then they use a devil-doll to rob the house of Robert Greig (who played butler-typed in Preston Sturges movies). The dolls are mind-controlled by their masters (I missed Marcel’s explanation for this) and this doll-heist setpiece is cool enough to justify the entire movie.. Barrymore wants to see his beloved family members now that he’s out, so he pays disguised visits to his blind mom (Lucy Beaumont, who’d played Lionel’s brother John’s mom in The Beloved Rogue) and his lovely grown daughter (Maureen O’Sullivan started acting at the dawn of sound cinema and died in 1998 in Scottsdale, so she may well have watched Fargo in Arizona like we did).

Malita and tiny assassin:

The third banker is Pedro de Cordoba (a circus player in Hitchcock’s Saboteur), who surrounds himself with police then sweatily confesses that he railroaded Barrymore right as his doll-sized colleague was about to stab him with paralysis/shrink syrup. Malita helpfully/fatally blows up the lab/shop because Barrymore’s mission is done but she wants to go on shrinking things. Happy-ish ending for Barrymore, who meets his daughter and her beau Toto atop the Eiffel Tower, but after all the murdering he’s got to stay on the run. Browning’s penultimate film – he’d turn in one more comedy before forced retirement.

Katy’s out of town and there’s a new Criterion blu-ray, so we’re having a Tod Browning Halloween.


The Exquisite Thief (1919)

Fragment of a lost film, found in Dawson City. A carnival barker turned blackface comedian turned melodrama film director, Browning had made six features before teaming up with the exquisite Priscilla Dean for a successful run. Here she is robbing everyone at a fancy dinner party before making her getaway. Her chauffeur steals Lord Chesterton’s car, accidentally also stealing the Lord (Thurston Hall, later a Karloff victim in The Black Room). It’s implied that the cops are about to find dirt on our Lord just as he’s turning the tables on his captor, but here the fragment ends.

How will Lord Chesterton get outta this mess:


Outside The Law (1920)

Now Priscilla Dean is a reformed criminal, hanging out with her dad Madden at Chang Low’s bazaar in SF Chinatown. Gangster Lon Chaney shoots a cop while Chinese Lon Chaney(!) suspects a plot and tries to help, getting Madden arrested. The dad was in some major Griffith films, “Chang Low” is a white guy from Richmond VA who also played “Lu Chung” in an Anna May Wong movie.

Priscilla, her dad, Chinese Chaney, Chang Low:

There’s to be a heist, and the cops, the Chaney gang and the girl are all playing different angles. Priscilla gets away with Safecracker Bill, and their plan is to hang out in his apartment… for how long? Months? They invite over an annoying neighbor kid (Stanley Goethals died in 2000, and might well have seen The Matrix or the Matthew Broderick Godzilla) and let him play with a hatchet.

Sweet Priscilla goes outside the law:

Safecracker Bill is Wheeler Oakman of some very silly looking early-’40s Bela Lugosi films. Chaney surprises them and they try to keep him from finding the jewels. But they’ve both fallen for the annoying kid, and his shredded kite out the window provides a christly vision convincing the girl to go straight. The last couple reels of the film are as damaged as the kite – there’s a half hour of good movie in here within the sappy script. Browning would make a different crime film a decade later using the same title.

Non-Chinese Chaney, Priscilla, Safecracker Bill:


The Mystic (1925)

In the time since Outside the Law, Browning made a bunch more Priscilla Dean pictures and Unholy Three. Zazarek, his assistant knife thrower Anton, and daughter Zara are traveling and being tailed by a Regular Looking Normally Dressed Man, who stands out among the loonies and drunks that are their usual clientele. When they finally corner him, he’s an investor offering to bring them to the States to do their act for wealthy people.

In their U.S. debut, police pre-inspect the room as if this is a crime and not a performance, which seems silly until it turns out he money man’s plan isn’t to get performance money from rich patrons but ghostly blackmail/trickery with Mystic Zara. The money man begins to fall for cute, round-nosed rich lady Doris (she was in Princess Nicotine in 1909 and lived long enough that she might’ve watched Edward Scissorhands). The team goes after her “guardian” Bradshaw, who’s working with the cops. Schemers turn on each other and it ends in a situation I’d imagined during Outside the Law – if the people who say they were gonna give back the stolen goods get nabbed before they can, there’s no way to prove good intent. The money man didn’t have good intent after all when it comes to the crimes, but he does follow the deported family to Hungary to find Zara, so that’s something.

Glad I stuck with the new Dean Hurley score instead of playing my own thing, enjoyed the foley effects. They seem like pretty minor actors. The money man appeared in Stella Maris with Mary Pickford, the knife thrower had been in The Big Parade, the father figure showed up in small parts everywhere, and Aileen “Zara” Pringle was a short-lived star. I thought there should be more knife throwing.


London After Midnight (1927)

Browning’s lost follow-up to The Unknown, which I watched out of order in its TCM reconstruction from titles and stills. Halloweeny visuals, with a mad spookyfaced Lon Chaney renting a house, or something. The music was bad so I put on Secret Chiefs – but The Book Beriah, not Horrorthon. Unfortunately I swung too far in the other direction, now the music is 100 times better than the “movie,” and all the panning across still photos is tiresome so I’m dropping this 48-min program halfway through.


The Unknown (1927)

Opens at Circus Zanzi (this guy and Z names), where all the gypsy circus gals lust after Malabar the Mighty. This is a terrific tragedy which I’ve watched before on TCM, but does it count as tragedy if the guy who loses the girl is actually evil? Lon Chaney is sweet on Zanzi’s daughter, who fears being touched, so the armless wonder Lon is a perfect confidante. But of course Lon has arms, he’s just hiding them for his act, and he strangles her dad after being discovered.

Lon foot-toasting Cojo:

Lon’s buddy Cojo says you can’t marry the girl or she’ll find out you have arms, so Lon blackmails a doctor with a dark past into arm-removal surgery. After all, he can light and smoke a cigarette with his feet, and the girl doesn’t know he murdered her dad, what could go wrong? But while he’s away in recovery she decides she’s not afraid to be touched after all, falling into the strong arms of Malabar. Even Cojo is a shitty friend, taunting Lon about his lack of arms. Crazed Lon tries to sabotage a strongman stunt and gets horse-stomped to death in the commotion.

Typical piano score, after 10 minutes I swapped out for Tortoise’s Remixed, which I’ve never appreciated on its own but as a movie score it’s fantastic. Zanzi was in Chaney’s Hunchback and Malabar was Christine’s beau in Chaney’s Phantom. The girl Joan Crawford went on to some fame in the sound era. Between The Mystic and Unknown/London, Browning and Chaney made The Blackbird and the half-surviving Road to Mandalay, and Browning went back to “Hungary” for The Show.

All Dolled Up (2005)

Based around lo-fi backstage and onstage video of the Dolls in their heyday playing grungy NY punk clubs, also a local news report. It’s all archival, with plenty of hanging out – scenes and songs fade out abruptly. Primary source footage of artists is inherently interesting but when the cameraperson follows them on a trip to San Francisco, there are whole minutes of aimless filler.


New York Doll (2005)

This one plays more like a standard rock doc – famous talking heads tell us the Dolls were important, then the filmmakers follow bassist Arthur Kane, now working part-time at a Mormon library, en route to the big reunion shows curated by lifelong fan Morrissey. There’s some tension (moments before going onstage Johansen antagonizes Arthur over the church) but largely plays like an advertisement, feel-good story of a forgotten man getting to re-live his rock & roll youth, with a twist ending (Arthur dies of cancer days after the gig). But the most shocking thing in the movie was learning that the golden key society of hotel concierges from The Grand Budapest Hotel really exists.


Personality Crisis: One Night Only (2022)

Like with his George Harrison doc, Scorsese pulls together the previous sources – we see Morrissey bits from the Arthur Kane movie and stage footage from the archival doc. This is built around a live performance in a small club – David admits that his cabaret show is for his friends, and a wider audience wouldn’t understand it, and I didn’t, but the song “Totalitarian State” was good. Between live songs the movie nicely roams across art-related topics: Harry Smith stories, love of opera, song title inspirations. David says “intelligent ridiculousness” appeals to him, and I can get behind that.

Fortress (1992)

A couple of movies I haven’t seen in many years… Fortress being the only Gordon film I saw in theaters, before I knew him as the Re-Animator guy. It sets up a decently convincing sci-fi dystopia, but no actors are “good” in this, not even Jeffrey Combs. Anyway it’s not taking itself too seriously so why should we?

The gang:

That 70s Dad runs a private prison where even an “unauthorized thought process” will get your guts electroshocked (“intestinated”) – after RoboCop, Kurtwood Smith was typecast as an evil boss in cyborg dystopias. Ex-soldier Christopher Lambert and his illegally pregnant hotwife arrive as prisoners, and while T7D macks on the wife (Loryn Locklin of Wes Craven’s Night Visions), Lambert teams up with his cellmates to escape – including timid nerd Combs, Lincoln Kilpatrick of The Omega Man, and Clifton Collins Jr. of Guillermo Del Toro’s Robot Jox remake Pacific Rim. Lambert has to fight a giant psycho (Vernon Wells of Mad Max 2 and some Joe Dante films)… Combs is killed while installing a virus into the mainframe by typing “install virus.exe” or something, which reminds me, isn’t there a new version of Blackhat coming out?

Unauthorized thought process:


Space Truckers (1996)

An even sillier movie – I don’t think sci-fi action plays to Gordon’s strengths – but Dennis Hopper is a huge upgrade over Lambert, bringing the charm he omitted from Witch Hunt. He’s a Millennium Falcon/Firefly-style independent space trucker, beefing with George Wendt over shipment prices, then accidentally gets involved in a plot to take over the world.

Our heroes in a porta-potty:

Hopper and hired hand Stephen Dorff take a load of killer robots, then get stuck in space while lusting after the same girl (Hopper’s Witch Hunt costar Debi Mazar), then attacked by their own murderbot cargo. Nice cynical ending, the guy plotting a hostile planetary takeover (Shane Rimmer, best known from Thunderbirds) is now President of Earth – the super-soldiers were just a backup plan should he not get elected. But his plan to eliminate witnesses backfires, and our guys flee after blowing up the president. I’d take a sequel, but this straight-to-video widescreen movie was never gonna get one.

Space pirates:

Kung-Fu Master! is narrated in past tense by Jane Birkin’s character, who becomes interested in a teenage classmate of her daughter. They invite him on vacation to London, where Jane’s older daughter catches on to their affair, causing huge scandal. The movie is also about video games, and increasingly about the AIDS crisis. The silly title combined with unappealing premise kept me away for years, but this is a proper movie, beautifully made, and a warm family affair (Birkin’s daughters are her real daughters, and the boy is Mathieu Demy).

When Jane shows off the piano in her kitchen in the documentary, I realized the Kung-Fu interiors were shot at her house. But Jane B. is not a documentary, at least not exactly. They put different wigs on her and she acts out alternate lives, both from her own fantasies and stories contributed by Agnes – including an extended “Maurel & Lardy” routine with Laura Betti (the servant in Teorema).

The second half of this week’s Panahi double-feature puts another girl in a basic situation with higher potential danger – this time she’s been left behind at school and has to figure out which bus to take home. Unfortunately this girl has a shrill-little-kid voice that gets on my nerves, and the busy streets and bus stations don’t make for as warm a viewing experience. But halfway through the drama, the girl quits acting and goes home with her mic still on, so Panahi bowfingers her voyage home to complete his movie. Each half ends up pretty good, but the rupture in the middle is groundbreaking.

Three films from “The Destruction of Plot and Narrative” section of the Vogel.

There is an unbroken evolution towards vertical rather than horizontal explorations – investigations of atmosphere and states of being rather than the unfolding of fabricated plots … art once again returns to poetry and the significance of poetic truth … The elegant characters created by the older masters of world literature, the “full” explanations of human behavior, the delineations of the characters’ past, are replaced by dimly-perceived personages whose actions and motives remain ultimately as unclear as they are in real life: we are all enmeshed in knowledge of others or self that is forever incomplete, forever tinged with ambiguity.


Akran (1969, Richard Myers)

Clips in slow-mo with freeze-frames of… well, if I start listing all the footage sources, I’ll never stop. An Aaron Eckhart-type guy lying in a bed that’s rolling through a park is a memorable image. Entire scenes are constructed from stills, but out of order. Gives the impression of a normal narrative about an attractive young couple who get married, the rushes then handed to a team of maniacs who hated the film but were contractually obligated to turn in a feature-length edit.

Some kind of malicious Marclay-like tape manipulations on the soundtrack. The sound occasionally corresponds to the image, but when people speak we never hear them, instead we hear a cut-up interview about having sex with the devil. Shocker when there’s a sound-synced monologue a half hour in – an older guy who, in keeping with the rest of the film, starts repeating himself. Later, an overlapping montage of monologues may cause insanity in the viewer. A poor moviewatcher myself, an art unappreciator, whenever the audio got too extremely harsh I’d skip ahead a couple minutes.

What even happens in the movie… definitely some dreams, some politics, probably a semi-story of newlyweds hitting the town, fucking and fighting. Escalates somehow to blindfolded executions, gas masks, a mob attacking a car. Ends on a long still of bus passengers – I feel like that’s a callback to a scene I’ve already forgotten.

A lifelong Ohioan, Myers was teaching at Kent State when the cops killed those kids.

Vogel:

Described by the director as an “anxious allegory and chilling album of nostalgia,” its penetrating monomania is unexpectedly – subversively – realized to be a statement about America today: the alienation and atomization of technological consumer society is reflected in the very style of the film.


A Married Woman (1964, Jean-Luc Godard)

A round-haired girl lays naked in bed – she’s Charlotte (Macha Méril, murdered psychic of Deep Red), with a plain-looking guy (Bernard Noël of Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake). They love each other, but she’s married to someone else (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou, Monocle Guy of The Night Porter). Very unusually for a French chick, she won’t show us her boobs. Lovely shots of legs and hands though, fading out and into the next one, before they stand up and semi-normal scenes proceed. But JLG isn’t here to make a normal love triangle movie, and after we see her with both guys for a half hour, it proceeds to numbered interview segments, the husband then wife explaining their philosophies to unseen/unheard interviewer.

Vogel:

The “plot” of Une Femme Mariée – twenty-four hours with a woman between husband and a lover – is… merely a pretext for vertical, in-depth explorations of values, atmospheres, textures; of relationships, lies, ignorance of self, sex-as-communication. For audiences brought up on Hollywood, the style, tempo, and content of the film is maddening … Alienation is caused in the love scenes by fragmentation and in the interview scenes by the use of real time. This prevents conventional identification with the protagonists, rather compelling the viewer, in Brechtian manner, to ponder the social ramifications of the action.


Anticipation of the Night (1958, Stan Brakhage)

Silent film, so I asked the AI chatbot what music the late Brakhage intended me to play while watching, and it said selections from Thumbscrew’s Never Is Enough, which coincidentally I just bought on half-price sale. I played six of the CD’s 9 songs, treating them like chapters of the film.

“Camp Easy”
Light filtering through glass indoors, intercut with wild swinging camera among nighttime street lights, a silhouette figure opens the door and goes on a trip. Suburbs through a car window, but cutting back and forth to the house.

“Never Is Enough”
The figure returns home, tumbles through the yard, sees a rainbow in the garden hose spray, just as I did 15 minutes ago. Awesome transition through color fields to the night streets as the camera walks into a bush, as if the night hides inside the shrubbery. With all the quick intercutting to the dark scenes I’m starting to make sense of the title. The music gets amped when a baby is sighted in the grass, filmed in constant motion and way too close, of course.

“Emojis Have Consequences”
There’s not much to see in the night scenes – I can’t tell the moon from the streetlights. This must be one of Stan’s films about seeing, how the world was seen before we understood what we saw? An orange color field then the night scenes pick up when we visit an amusement park, the camera panning fast as children whip from left to right, then the camera-eye gets onto the ride.

“Fractured Sanity”
More rides, beginning with the ferris wheel, then a chill merry-go-round for younger kids, showing how the young riders and the surrounding lights look from each ride, Mary Halvorson’s pinging guitar helping greatly with the blurry nighttime feeling. We leave the park and examine some lit-up atrium from the dark distance, in a series of precision movements.

“Unsung Procession”
Driving, trees rush overhead, flash glimpses of a deer, of children in bed, the lighting and music both more blue than before. Wow, the kids are dreaming a water bird, flapping and preening, filmed in zoomed-in fragments, or all at once but defocused.

“Scam Likely”
Is the sun rising or has he wheeled a giant lamp into the sleeping kids’ room? I think the latter. Still intercutting to the nighttime trees, and now a bear instead of the bird. Flashing between night and dawn as the music gets more loopy, then firmly into morning, the silhouette person hanging disturbingly from a rope in the tree.

In the Defining Moments book Fred Camper calls it Brakhage’s first major masterpiece, and says it is not one of the child’s-eye films:

Quite the contrary, it opens with a man’s shadow falling across the frame … we observe his travels as he tries to establish some connection to the world. But except for some brief bursts of light poetry, such as flickering shadows on the wall, the film is largely a depiction of abject failure … the mechanical movements of the [amusement park] rides are the severest versions of the almost mechanical repeating motions through which the camera depicts most of the film’s world, trapping all in the kinds of fixed movements and mechanical rhythms that Brakhage’s later work largely overcame.