Pretty-good movie with convoluted plot based on a Hungarian play with English dialogue rewritten by Preston Sturges. Wyler didn’t have a knack for this sort of thing. Comic timing is off from the start, and the Frank Morgan character crosses the line from annoying the protagonist to annoying the audience, but the second half seems to settle into a nice groove, thanks to the soothing influence of actor Herbert Marshall.

Margaret Sullavan (of The Shop Around The Corner, also set in Budapest) is quite good anyway. She’s an orphan recruited by Alan Hale (does he buy her? adopt her?) to work at his movie theater. Trying to avoid sexual harrassment in the street she latches onto sensitive, protective Detlaff (Reginald Owen, Scrooge a few years later), who works as a waiter at a restaurant where she meets wealthy, sexually aggressive annoyance Konrad (Frank Morgan, Sullavan’s costar again in Shop Around The Corner) who works for hilarious drunken gov’t minister Eric Blore.

Through a series of preposterous events, Margaret, who wants only to be a “good fairy” and help others, gets Konrad to enrichen randomly-selected destitute & honest (the movie isn’t necessarily saying he’s destitute because he’s honest) lawyer Max (Herbert Marshall, star of Trouble In Paradise). She then tries to carry on a relationship with Max while pretending to Konrad that they’re married, all under the watchful eyes of Detlaff.

Wikipedia: “In particular, Sturges added a movie-within-the-movie in which the actors communicate in one-syllable sentences.” Beulah Bondi of the Sturges-written Remember the Night plays the orphanarian, and the musical remake I’ll Be Yours a decade later featured Sturges regular Franklin Pangborn.

We also rewatched the Sturges-written Remember The Night for Christmas.

Deserved winner of the Palm Dog at Cannes. Truly, the dogs were great. However I was frustrated and confused by the rest of the movie, which was relentless misery until the climactic explosion of dog vengeance. The movie has been compared to Au Hasard Balthasar, but it’s maybe closer to I Spit On Your Grave.

Girl is abandoned by her mom to live with her shitty dad for the summer. She is devoted to her dog Hagen, gets kicked out of her orchestra by the asshole band leader because of Hagen, but after pressure from horrid neighbors, Dad kicks the dog out on the street. Horrible people + handheld camera = no fun. Dog catchers, dog fighters, etc. The fighter trains Hagen to be hateful and violent, a la this movie’s great namesake. The girl’s bike is stolen, woman at dog shelter is a liar and dog murderer, and so on. Then: a well orchestrated bloodbath of revenge, with a picturesque but mysterious ending.

M. D’Angelo:

This movie’s stupid. I suppose it’s slightly less stupid if one views it allegorically — that is, if the dogs are supposed to represent minorities — but that barely seems tenable, especially w/r/t the laughable ending. Otherwise, its sole point of interest is its use of real dogs at the climax, which isn’t remotely scary (Mundruzcó has no feel whatsoever for horror) but does at least represent an impressive feat of screw-you-CGI logistics. And then he goes and ruins that by using said climax, which should arise out of nowhere, as a surreal flash-forward “grabber” at the outset, a ploy that smacks of bad television. At best, this might have worked as a segment of Amores perros (which it explicitly apes for a while); two hours is beyond laborious, and every cut away from Hagen to the little girl and her dad feels like Mundruzcó deliberately wasting your time.

Karrer (Futaki in Satantango) is kind of a loser. Dumped by his married girlfriend, he hangs out at local bars in a mining town until one bartender hires him to transport a package. So he talks the married girlfriend and her husband into helping him – they must be the only people he knows – and oh, how he talks them into it:

“This way it’s a nice family story. But it finishes like any other story, because stories end badly. Stories are all stories of disintegration. The heroes always disintegrate, and they disintegrate the same way.”

I’m not sure about the details. A coat check woman philosophizes. Karrer gets back with his girl, whose husband is in debt. The package has been opened. Things are missing. Karrer ends up at a police station. “It was this awful inner tension that brought me here, because of my deep respect for order. Please do not consider my report as a confidential case, but cheap tattling, and I authorize you, if necessary, to mention my name.”

Karrer ends the movie out in a junkyard barking at a dog.

Along the way: long shots, pouring rain, 4:3 b/w cinematography. Bela Tarr-like. It’s supposed to be the movie that kicked off Tarr’s long-take style, which means now I have only the social realist early films to check out. Finally watched this because I got a free preview offer for Janice Lee’s new Bela Tarr-inspired book, also entitled Damnation. Apologies to the publisher, but I am months and months behind right now – still looking forward to reading the book, and will post on it when I do.

P. Bradshaw: “Any conceivable drama or furtive eroticism latent in all this is entirely passed over in favour of a dark and general assessment of the futility of it all. It is as if Tarr has disengaged from these preposterous local activities and stepped back to inspect the bigger picture. … This is not a film that will have you whistling a happy tune on your way out of the theatre. In fact, a responsible manager will demand your tie and bootlaces on the way in.”

On the way out, I commented that this should really have been a miniseries, since Gary Oldman is conducting an investigation into Tinker (Toby Jones), Tailor (Colin Firth), Soldier (Ciaran Hinds) and Poor Man (David Dencik of both Dragon Tattoo and its remake) but we know nothing about the four men, so aren’t invested in the outcome (except through the cathartic rifle-shot of tortured ex-operative Mark Strong). And Chris told me it WAS a miniseries, starring Alec Guinness. Not only that, I now see that Tinker Tailor follows The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, and is followed by Smiley’s People (another miniseries), all tied into a seven-part series of novels. So this two-hour movie is hardly the whole story.

Colin Firth is hiding behind Poor Man’s head:

But as a film, it works. Alfredson (Film-grain-happy director of Let The Right One In, with the same cinematographer) has the best cast you could hope for, including Gary Oldman as the lead, John Hurt as the (late) boss of it all, and someone named Benedict Cumberbatch (TV’s latest Sherlock Holmes) as Oldman’s main man. Such a very British cast and film (plus a notable scene in Hungary), I’m surprised they hired a Swede to direct.

It’s complicated how Oldman identifies the mole in MI6’s spy ring – something to do with a Russian who’s fed information by everybody, but only true information by one of them (Firth, of course, since he’s the most respectable-looking of the crew). Side plots include Tom Hardy (who was he in Inception?) hiding out at Oldman’s place with his flashback story of a woman he failed to save, Cumberbatch’s file-snatching escapade (spying on the spies), Firth stealing Oldman’s wife, and the sad, trailer-by-the-river life of Mark Strong.

Bela Tarr is back, with the same crew he’s been using since Damnation (plus DP Fred Kelemen, a relative newcomer). And he is BACK this time, with another wind-filled, nearly apocalyptic-feeling black-and-white masterpiece. It seems almost like a horror film, which seemed exciting until I remembered that Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango could be just as bleak.

Everything in the movie seems concrete and real, pre-existing the film by decades. The characters are real too, even though I recognize the daughter. Once I realized the father has a bad arm that he never uses, I didn’t wonder why the actor or filmmakers decided to add that detail – I wondered what happened to the poor man’s arm. And yet, with its long takes and methodically roving camera, sometimes shoving the camera right in the face of a person or horse, I’m constantly thinking about the film’s structure and photography. Knowing Tarr’s love for artificial weather, at one point when the camera turned in an unexpected direction outdoors, I was actually surprised not to catch sight of a giant wind machine. I can’t figure out how Tarr manages to hold this atmosphere of complete reality with showy technique.

Having read no plot summaries, I was surprised that this turned out so similar to the second half of Melancholia, which I also watched this month. Both are about a small, isolated group who we gradually realize may be facing the end of the world. But Von Trier tells us about his apocalypse ahead of time. Tarr’s heroes don’t have access to google.

A cart driver (Janos Derzsi, a killer in The Man From London, Kraner in Satantango) lives with his daughter (Erike Bok, the lead couple’s daughter in Man From London, cat tormenter in Satantango) in a small house away from the main town. Besides a chatterbox neighbor who shows up one day to borrow some brandy and a band of gypsies who stop at the well for a few minutes, they are the only two people in the movie. After the prologue they barely leave the house, so we get to know their routines and mannerisms – but Tarr shoots repeated actions in a different way each time. For instance, at the first dinner scene it’s a tight shot on the father’s face as he peels and eats his potato in a great hurry while it’s still too hot. Next time we watch the daughter instead, from further away over her father’s arm. And the third time it’s a two-shot with the camera centered on the table.

Of course I counted shots. Might be off by one or two, but it’s definitely fewer than Werckmeister Harmonies, which was the same length. Five-minute average!

Prologue (1): After a black-screen voiceover tells us the title story, about Nietzche losing his mind after protecting a horse that was being brutally whipped. The man rides his cart home, the story in our minds as the camera watches his horse, which doesn’t seem to be suffering.

The First Day (4): The girl comes out and they put the cart and horse in the barn. She helps him change clothes. They each have a potato then go to bed, after taking turns staring out the window. “The woodworms: they’re not making any noise. I’ve heard them for 58 years, but I don’t hear them now.” A narrator unexpectedly bursts in, telling us the man’s name (Ohlsdorfer), that he’s the girl’s father (I assumed) and that it’s windy out (heh).

The Second Day (7): She gets water at the well, helps father dress. They gear up the horse, but it won’t move. After some attempts with the whip (nothing that would give Nietzche a breakdown), they give up, put the cart and horse back and give it fresh food. Dressing again. He splits wood one-handed while she does laundry. Potatoes. Then the neighbor wanting brandy. We’re not sure what to make of his rant (does it come from Nietzche?). “The wind’s blown [the town] away. It’s gone to ruin. Everything’s in ruins.” Then he gets more abstract, about how “they” have acquired and debased everything, that no god exists, nor does anything. “Extinguished and burnt out.” In five minutes he delivers more than half the dialogue in the entire 150-minute film.

The Third Day (5): Water at the well, father gets dressed, off to the barn. The horse hasn’t eaten, has no energy. They don’t even try to make it pull the cart, just retreat back indoors. A gypsy cart approaches and the man gets anxious. The daughter tries to shoo them away as they get water from the well – one grabs her, “Come with us to America!” The father chases them off with a hatchet. Back indoors, she reads the book a gypsy gave her, something about the violation of holy places, ending with the words “Morning will turn to night… night will end…” before she’s cut off by the narrator telling us more about the wind.

The Fourth Day (6): The well is dry. The horse won’t eat. He’s had enough, decides they need to move. They pack their possessions into the hand cart and head off, the horse walking behind. In a wide shot, they walk past a distant tree, over a hill beyond which the camera can’t see. In a minute they’re back on our side of the hill, returning home, wordlessly unpacking. The camera is outside in the wind as the girl stares out the window.

The Fifth Day (5): Wake up, have some brandy, give up on the horse. Dad barely eats, stares out the window. Then a blackout. No sun. They light the lamps, but a few minutes later those go out too, though they’re full of oil. “Tomorrow we’ll try again.”

The Sixth Day (1): Dim light (is it really there, or is the film cheating?). No water, no fire. He attempts to eat a raw potato while she stares into her empty dish.

J. Romney:

Composer Mihaly Vig contributes an intermittent score, leaden with organ and abrasive violin, that alludes to folk music while also invoking the repetitions of minimalist composers such as Steve Reich. The omnipresent sound of a raging gale has a quasi-musical presence of its own.

R. Koehler in Cinema Scope:

The film’s text . . . can be pegged as a tale of an oncoming apocalypse with great implications for today’s viewers. Such a reading tends to ignore the story’s essential absurdist essence, the will to go on despite all dire signs to the contrary. The Turin Horse is as much tied to Samuel Beckett as it is to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Fred Kelemen reveals that the house was outfitted with around 30 lights on dimmers – the natural-looking light completely faked. And in addition to wind machines, they sometimes used a helicopter.

Kelemen on the moving camera: “It is like the movement of thoughts, your thoughts move and you reveal something. We move in the world and by moving we discover and understand. The human being is a moving being — physically and spiritually — not a stationary one. The moving image is thus a thinking image.”

In a separate article, Koehler says it’s wrong to call the film apocalyptic, but I don’t follow his reasoning. “Tarr’s cinematic design begins with elaborate camera dances, the pure celebration of cinematic movement through space, and ends with absolute stasis and darkness.”

Tarr Noir! Tarr doing suspense/crime drama seems unnecessary since his use of the camera and film editing are suspenseful in itself. The crime doesn’t seem that important (until the very end) and the lead guy is kind of an ass, so the suspense remains in the shots and editing, not much carries over into the story. To get my other complaint out of the way (I quite liked the movie), the sound is off because everything is distractingly dubbed into French and English (voices include Edward Fox of Gandhi and The Duellists and Michael Lonsdale of Stavisky and Out 1). It must be for commercial reasons, but I don’t see it playing anywhere except a few film festivals, so what commercial reasons? Seeing the cast of Satantango hanging out in the bar only makes the dubbing seem weirder. Research indicates that there’s a Hungarian version out there, so I guess Tilda Swinton (French-dubbed in my version) gets screwed in both.

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Big-time Euro film producer Humbert Balsan (who worked with Youssef Chahine, Merchant/Ivory, Elia Suleiman, Lars von Trier) committed suicide during production, complicating things. Based on a novel by Georges Simenon (Night at the Crossroads, Betty, Magnet of Doom) which has been filmed before in the 40’s. I dig the Mihály Vig music, but it’s no Werckmeister Harmonies, which I listened to obsessively for a month.

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Offscreen, a man is selling his theater for a suitcase full of money, which gets stolen. The thieves get the suitcase onto the docks, under the watchful eye of stoic Maloin, then one kills the other and runs. Maloin snags the money and hides it. That’s the first half hour in maybe six or seven shots, with no dialogue at all. Crisp b/w images with achingly slow, fluid camera movements, as can be expected.

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Maloin takes time out from the crime drama to torment his family. He pulls daughter Henrietta (cat-torturing poster girl from Satantango) out of work, buys her furs, then gets screamed at by wife Tilda Swinton. Inspector (from London) questions blond killer Brown. We don’t find out exactly how Maloin kills Brown at the end before returning the money to the Inspector. That’s about it for the plot. Most of the time a very enjoyable flick. Moments of otherworldly Twin Peaks-ish parody during dubbed dialogue scenes are immediately forgiven when we come across some Satantango actors performing random hilarity in the bar, urged on by an accordianist. If Tarr fans can’t have the sustained magic of the last couple movies, at least we can all enjoy some drunken accordian antics together.

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I’d considered declaring August to be Shorts Month and watching hundreds of those, so I stocked up, but the inspiration had fled by the time the month rolled around. But we can’t let all these shorts go to waste, so I still watched more than usual.

73 Suspect Words and Heaven’s Gate (2000, Peggy Ahwesh)
Fun gimmick videos, one displaying the “suspect words” found by running the Unabomber manifesto through a spell checker, and the other listing off the search keywords of the Heaven’s Gate cult’s website. In the first the text appears quickly and fades out, and in the second the words flicker constantly.
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Apocalypse Pooh (1987, T. Graham)
scenes from Apocalypse Now and Winnie The Pooh inexpertly combined. Actually the lipsync and some of the shot selections were pretty wonderful. I’m pretty sure nobody will ever care about this movie again now that a hundred thousand video mashups are clogging youtube, but it’s a cute piece of cult history. The poor video quality would turn on the guy who made Out of Print.

Thanksgiving Prayer (1991, Gus Van Sant)
William S. Burroughs hatin’ on America, being a general bummer, as is the fashion among leftists around Thanksgiving time. Decent video but I far prefer Ballad of the Skeletons with Allen Ginsberg.
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Szalontudo (2006, Szirmai Marton)
That joke where guy 1 thinks guy 2 has stolen his food, so he starts eating from the other side, and they glare at each other eating the same food, then guy 2 walks off and guy 1 sees his food still untouched… he was eating guy 2’s food! Ah! This was terrible, with gross squishy chewing sound effects. Won an audience award in north-central Spain where they’ve never heard that joke before.
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Le Vol d’Icare (1974, Georges Schwitzgebel)
I think it’s primitive animation made on a lite-brite. Or maybe it’s HyperStudio version 0.1. Story of icarus, I suppose. I liked the flocks of birds. What is that, a harpsichord?
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Instructions for a Light and Sound Machine (2005, Peter Tscherkassky)
Pumping stutter-motion! Variable-speed lock-groove dude in a Leone western having a death-dream. Ends with words “Start,” “End” and “Finish” overlapping as the guy, appearing to be on fire, runs with mirrored graveyards above and below him.
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The Adventurer (1917, Charles Chaplin)
Weird to see Charlie as an escaped convict threatening cops with a shotgun. But there’s plenty of ass-kickin and cliff-jumpin so it’s alright. I forgot the encoding quality is garbage on my copy of these… must buy a better one.
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Inflation (1927, Hans Richter)
Rich people, money, poor people, more money, stock traders, more and more and more money, digits rushing at the screen whilst speed-adjusted carnival nightmare music plays until the whole damn thing comes crashing down. Only two minutes long! An achievement.
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Yellow Tag (2004, Jan Troell)
In the old days we were close to our farm animals but today governments require tracking ear-tags. Fun movie… maybe didn’t need the classroom and religious art scenes, but it makes up for that in the end by going all wacky with shooting galleries and suited men raining down outside some kinda UN building.
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Crac! (1981, Frédéric Back)
Animated story of the creation and long life of a rocking chair, accompanied by drum and fiddle music. It’s much better than it sounds.
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Thigh Line Lyre Triangular (1961, Stan Brakhage)
Arrrrgh, another birthing movie! Why did nobody warn me? Apparently the title is Brak-code for “vagina.” Once I got over the initial shock, this is excellent. Hand-processed frames over live-action film, intense.
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Let’s see, this opened last July and apparently I was too busy watching classic Hollywood comedies, french auteur cinema, documentaries and Wall*E to go see it. Also I wasn’t so wowed by Pan’s Labyrinth and I figured an action-comedy sequel could only be worse than that. Turns out it’s a very good action-comedy sequel. I should’ve guessed. Anyway, looked great in high-def.

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I guess Hellboy was dating fire woman Selma Blair in the first one – I barely remember the movie even though I’ve seen it twice. Anyway she’s pregnant in this one with twin fire demons, but that’s hardly discussed because we are busy being introduced to, then figuring out how to kill, various wonderful creatures.

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Also Doug “Silver Surfer” Jones is back as Abe the aquatic poetry-reading scientist psychic fellow, Jeffrey Tambor as the comic relief operations manager, and introducing the voice of Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane as the ectoplasmic being encased in a steamy glass-topped robot suit.

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This time the crew goes to Ireland (actually filmed in Budapest) to fight some Lord of the Rings holdovers.

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They win at the end.

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Did I mention John Hurt appears in the intro?

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Emory played this for us on 35mm, introduced by poet and politician Gyula Kodolányi who watched it in Hungary during its opening run… and this is the night after I saw a perfect print of The Age of Innocence introduced by Salman Rushdie. If their film screenings are about to stop, as has been rumored, at least they’re going out on top.

Scary movie. First 90ish minutes I’m wondering “where are they going with this”, then it all comes together in the last five. Set in the 1860’s but meant to illustrate and refer to interrogation techniques of the 1960’s (surprised he got away with it). Stark black-and-white, artfully composed in widescreen, with long-ish shots (nothing over a couple minutes), set at a prison out on the plains and a few surrounding buildings.

A hundred or more prisoners are being held together, a few in solitary covered with hoods and the rest in a large courtyard, but the guards don’t know whether they’ve captured the rebel leader and which of the prisoners are his horsemen. Threat of execution turns one prisonder, a pointy-hatted murderer, into a not-so-covert inside agent for the jailers. Guards capture a local woman and torture her to death in view of the prisoners, provoking suicides. Ultimately the jailers succeed through some twisty psych tricks into getting two elder rebel soldiers to identify themselves. A competition is staged, and the winner gets to select a troop of men to leave prison and join him. It’s announced that the rebel leader has been granted amnesty, and the new troops all cheer. The guards, now having identified the rebels, descend upon them with hoods…

Bright Lights:

In the concise (20-minute) but revealing interview included by Second Run with The Round-Up, Jancsó pauses to explain the larger context intended by these films, that is, how they were meant to universalize human cruelty beyond apparent, coded references to the then recent 1956 Soviet action. Speaking carefully and succinctly, Jancsó offers two themes: “the humiliation by the powerful” and “the defenselessness of the people.”