Two friends, spiky-haired Fuchs and moppy Witold, rent a room from Sabine Azéma (maintaining her manic energy from Wild Grass) and Jean-Francois Balmer (That Day, Chabrol’s Madame Bovary). They share the house with young couple Lena (Victória Guerra of Lines of Wellington) and Lucien (Andy Gillet, Celadon himself) and Azéma’s niece/maid Catherette. Then the boarders are invited on a trip to the country with the family. That’s all that happens – but not really, as most of the characters start out wired, talking nonstop and behaving strangely, and animals and people may or may not be dying, showing up hanging from trees. At the end I thought it was all quite astounding to watch, but wasn’t sure what it all meant.

K. Uhlich:

What does it all mean? Wrong question. And it’s probably absurd to even ask. Better, instead, to fully submit to Žuławski’s last symphony of insanity and paranoia, which ends, cheekily enough, with a gag reel (quite the meta final statement).

C. Huber in Cinema Scope has the best explanation of what is actually happening here:

Attempting to forge order from the chaos of the real world, Witold builds a private cosmos founded on arbitrary associations. Increasingly aware of facing a universe of possibilities, in which every connection can be randomly made, and thus is equally profound and silly … Witold is seized by an existential vertigo … In short, it becomes impossible to distinguish the awesome from the absurd, and Zulawski’s cinema of intensity has been zig-zagging with furious power between those two poles for nearly half a century.

Bonkers and gorgeous-looking, as I’d hope and expect from the late Zulawski (only the second of his films I’ve seen, after Possession), shot by young André Szankowski, who was in demand by the old masters (Ruiz’s Mysteries of Lisbon, Oliveira’s Em Século de Energia). Based on a book by Witold Gombrowicz (which does indeed feature a writer lead character named Witold), who has also been adapted by Skolimowski (30 Door Key).

Resnais’s second movie in a row about a group of actors rallying around a dying friend. You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet was a perfect final film, but Resnais was still alive and working, so he made another one. It’s just as playful, but more in the story than the filmmaking – this time the never-seen dying friend uses his situation to steal all the women.

Actually called Aimer, Boire et Chanter (google: Loving, Drinking and Singing), which is a wonderful title for the final film of one of our greatest directors – but Life of Riley was the title of the Alan Ayckbourn play it adapts. Resnais’s third Alan Ayckbourn adaptation, fourth if you consider Smoking/No Smoking two movies, fourth-and-a-half if you consider the play-within-the-film here is Ayckbourn’s Relatively Speaking.

The players: Kathryn (the great Sabine Azéma) and her balding clock-watcher husband Colin (Hippolyte Girardot, Anne Consigny’s husband in A Christmas Tale, ensemble in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet) live in a comfy row house.

The dying man’s wealthy best friend Jack (sideburnsed Michel Vuillermoz of the last two Resnais films) and wife Tamara (Caroline Silhol, young rich guy’s mom in A Girl Cut In Two) live in a nice, big house.

The dying man’s ex-wife Monica (Sandrine Kiberlain of Benoît Jacquot’s Seventh Heaven) and her new man, the much older Simeon (André Dussollier in his eighth Resnais film) live at Simeon’s place in the country.

Tamara, Monica, Kathryn:

Colin, Jack, Simeon:

George Riley, afflicted with cancer, is never seen or heard, nor is the amateur theater director who casts a few of our characters in Relatively Speaking, which they’re rehearsing throughout the film. Kathryn and Tamara convince a reluctant Monica to move back in with Riley for a few weeks, but all three women start spending too much time at his house, and each is personally invited to go on a final vacation with him after the play closes. Each is tempted: Tamara’s upset that her husband is cheating, Monica was Riley’s wife for years, and Kathryn almost married Riley before meeting Colin. Ultimately Colin and Kathryn’s daughter Tilly sneaks away and joins Riley on the trip, during which he passes away.

Almost all the action is set on backyard patios – blatantly artificial, stagey sets (house walls are represented with hanging strips of cloth). Establishing shots are drawings. Closeups are always set against a b/w crosshatch pattern. And there are a couple of appearances by an angry-looking puppet groundhog. Lovely, light music by Mark Snow. Won prizes at Berlin, playing with Boyhood, Beloved Sisters and winner Black Coal, Thin Ice.

M. D’Angelo: “In years to come I’m probably just gonna mentally reverse the order of these last two films, so as to let him go out on a high note,” and D. Ehrlich calls it “Alain Resnais’ YOU AIN’T SEEN AN INFINITELY MORE INTERESTING VERSION OF THIS LAST YEAR?

V. Rizov: “It may be impossible (for me, anyway) to understand what repeatedly drew Resnais to these rather mediocre Alan Ayckbourn plays, but his commitment to rendering them nearly impossible to understand intent-wise is a beguiling final spectacle of its own.”

Tilly at the funeral:

Max Nelson for Reverse Shot:

Colin and Kathryn’s beautiful teenage daughter, who comes to the old seducer’s funeral, is the film’s trump card; her serene indifference to the event is a kind of mirror image to the equally serene god’s-eye perspective with which the movie treats its heroes … The couple’s daughter, on the other hand, speaks the unflappably confident language of a person just starting to live. To say that the movie lacks the terms to interpret this language is only to say that it’s a film made in the spirit of old age rather than that of youth — but few swan songs cede the floor to a younger generation this graciously, or with such mischievous parting words.

Fascinating, mostly unrelated, from Cinema Scope:

After meeting in the late ’60’s, Resnais and [Marvel Comics visionary Stan] Lee first worked together in 1971 on a screenplay called The Monster Maker, about a schlock-horror filmmaker who attempts to go legit by making a prestige picture about imminent ecological disaster. Though the pair managed to sell the script, the project failed to find financing when producers balked at the cost of creating a climactic deluge of rubbish that would choke the streets of New York. (A later project called The Inmates, a romantic comedy that revealed how humans were exiled to Earth long ago as punishment for extraterrestrial wrongdoing, never made it past the treatment stage, while Lee’s proposal for Resnais to direct Spider-Man – with Henry Winkler in the lead – may not have even made it that far.)

So, it’s far from the best Resnais film, as most of the reviews I’ve read agree, but as F. Nehme said, “it’s still an affectionate coda for a master,” and that’s nothing to sneeze at. After all, the death of Riley didn’t move me, but the phrase in Richard Brody’s review, “Sabine Azéma — Resnais’s wife, now his widow,” is the saddest I’ve read all month.

Lang’s final film finds him back in Germany, making a cheap-looking b-movie callback to one of his largest silent features and his pioneering second sound film. Immediately following his Indian Epic, another serials-inspired adventure flick, it seems that either Lang’s artistically triumphant two decades in Hollywood have earned him no respect and he’s been kicked down to making silly action flicks – or maybe these are the kinds of movies he’d been wanting to make again. Seems like the former, a bland assignment for a tired old man, since the plotting is snappy but this lacks the atmosphere and interest of Franju’s Judex a few years later.

Wolfgang Preiss, who would continue playing Mabuse throughout the 60’s and appear in Chabrol’s Dr. M:

Roger Corman-looking billionaire Peter van Eyck of Wages of Fear and Mr. Arkadin:

Movie starts with a flutter of things happening. Inspector Kras speaks with a blind psychic named Cornelius, snipers are ordered by a clubfooted kingpin to kill a reporter in rush hour traffic, and the cops declare that Dr. Mabuse’s crime legacy was forgotten in the wake of the whole nazi thing. Then billionaire Travers talks a suicidal woman named Menil down from a ledge while an insurance salesman called Mistelzweig bothers everyone down at the bar.

Mistelzweig: Werner Peters, a Mabuse film regular

fake-suicidal Dawn Addams, who followed-up by playing Jekyll/Hyde’s wife in a Hammer film:

The billionaire falls for the pretty suicidal girl (and is shown a secret one-way mirror where he can watch her) while the inspector fends off assassination attempts while investigating the crime-ridden fancy hotel where those two are staying. Anyway, the psychic is the girl’s psychiatrist is Mabuse, Mistelzweig is an undercover cop, the girl is a Mabuse plant who gets the billionaire to fake-kill her fake-husband, and all this leads where it must: to a confession of evil plans in an underground lair and a car chase/shootout.

Inspector Gert Frobe, who would run into another master criminal years later in Nuits Rouges:

Henchman Howard Vernon, a Jean-Pierre Melville regular and title star of The Awful Dr. Orlof:

According to Wikipedia, based on a novel written in Esperanto. I’d like to hear the Masters of Cinema commentary with David Kalat, but I’ve already bought the other two Lang-Mabuse movies domestically, so it seems nuts to buy the UK box set for $60.

This was unexpectedly awesome. Between this, Regen and A Valparaiso, it’s time to consider adding Ivens to my list of favorite people. Sort of a Beaches of Joris, but less confessional to camera, shot more like an allegorical feature film starring himself. Always playful and never loaded with dialogue, with the occasional film reference, fable flashback or appearance by a prankster tiger-monkey.

Joris sets out to film the wind, goes to China. He trades a print of one of his films (“my first love story in 1930”) for a wind-creating mask. He sets up an array of microphones in the desert. He gets carried over mountains and enters political negotiations to film at a cultural landmark (the Terracotta Army), then gives up and recreates the landmark using models bought from street vendors.

At one point when he walks up to a massive Buddha statue which watches with a thousand eyes, closeups cutting from an eye to the camera lens, I thought strongly of Antonioni’s short Michelangelo Eye to Eye, also made by a director in his 90’s. But while Antonioni has always seemed associated with monuments, this was just a leisurely sidetrack for Ivens before returning to the matter of the wind, sixty years after he filmed the rain in Regen.

Senses of Cinema:

This is an unusually personal account of his lyrical rather than his political obsessions, largely directed by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, his wife and collaborator since the Vietnam films. … Joris Ivens died in 1989, only days after joining protesters against the Tiananmen Square massacre in Paris.

Mango Grove:

Ivens originally planned to use two crews; Ivens’s crew would film the wind, while Loridan’s crew would film Ivens’s crew filming the wind. Complications arose. Ivens was sick and, in a particularly serious incident, required on-the-scene surgery. … Thus the two crews became one. The Wind became Loridan’s film.

Speaking of Loridan, this also sounds good (from ivens.nl):

With La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux, Marceline Loridan-Ivens made her feature film debut, at the age of 74. … She had agreed with Joris Ivens after A Tale of The Wind, their last project together in which documentary and fiction are mixed together, that she would make the tale of the fire. For a long time she dared not return to Birkenau, but finally she succeeded where Steven Spielberg and Roberto Benigni failed, she got permission to film on the premises of Birkenau. … It is a film about the pain and illusive character of the memory.

Rosenbaum:

The film is clearly addressed to the West and not to China … and the overall message is to listen to all that China has to say. … Both poetic essay and meditative fiction, A Tale of the Wind has certain affinities with movies as different as Jean Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus, Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, and Souleymane Cissé’s Brightness, but it is too proud to owe its vision to any source beyond Ivens’s own far-reaching experience and research. Part of the film’s inspired thesis appears to be that cinema and history, fantasy and documentary, have a lot to teach each other.

A very late entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

Le final film de Jean Renoir, made for television when the director was in his mid-70’s, eight years after his last theatrical picture The Elusive Corporal. Some tinges of bitterness, of sadness and despair, but as always Jean is finally generous and life-affirming, closing with a whole town roaring laughter, making me laugh in response.

But first, Renoir minimizes expectations. Away from the monumental cinema screen (which he often conflated with a theatrical stage), now working for television, he envisions a diminished stage, a tiny theater, and so presents short stories instead of one long work.

A rich loudmouth (Roland Bertin of The Model Couple, The Hairdresser’s Husband), in a move imitated by Lars Von Trier for The Five Obstructions, pays a homeless guy to watch his friends’ Christmas feast through the restaurant window. Some of his guests are bummed, so they flit off elsewhere, leaving this guy outside making restaurant patrons nervous until the maitre d’ pays him in food and wine to buzz off. The bum (Nino Formicola) brings the food to his girlfriend (singer Milly, in The Conformist the same year) under a bridge – they celebrate the holiday talking together (but not eating) then lie down and freeze to death with happy smiles on their face. A weird holiday fable, and a circular one for Renoir, who’d filmed The Little Match Girl (with much window gazing and freezing to death) over forty years prior.

Gaze from outside:

Gaze from inside:

As with the concept of the “petit theater” itself, the next episode can be seen as a cranky old-timer’s refusal to accept modern technology, but in both cases he suffuses his premise with humor, downplaying the crankiness in favor of amusement. It’s the most comedic and musical of the pieces, featuring a Greek choir of townsfolk, a painting that changes expression, and cartoonishly fun acting.

Marguerite Cassan (my favorite actor of the same year’s La Rupture – mother of the husband-gone-mad) wants only an electric floor buffer, and bullies her husband about it until the next-door neighbor, an electric floor buffer sales rep, overhears and comes over to demo the product. Unfortunately, Cassan’s poor husband (Pierre Olaf of Camelot) slips on the ultra-smooth floor and dies. She remarries a man with a stronger will (Jacques Dynam, who played buffoon inspector Juve’s second-in-command in the 1964 Fantomas) who insists she not run the machine while he’s home. She disobeys and he hurls it out the window, so she hurls herself out the window. That’s two Renoir stories in a row that end in demise.

M. Cassan giving the silent treatment to first husband:

M. Cassan giving the silent treatment to second husband:

Part Three is a musical interlude featuring Jeanne Moreau (the same year she was/wasn’t in Orson Welles’s The Deep) singing “When Love Dies.” Incredibly, the producers of the VHS copy I watched decided not to subtitle the song.

The final segment was my favorite. Duvallier (Fernand Sardou), a well-loved retired captain, resides happily in his big house with his young wife (Francoise Arnoul, lead girl in French Cancan) and a lovestruck maid (the rarely seen Dominique Labourier, a few years before starring in Celine and Julie Go Boating), spending his days in town playing bowls (a similar game to bocce). All is bliss until the wife is discovered to be sleeping with a friend of his, then it’s tears all around. Duvallier ponders the situation, asking townsfolk for advice, while the friend first decides to leave town (him: “He loves you”, Mrs. Duvallier: “Yes, but only when I’m happy. When I’m unhappy I upset him, and if you leave I’ll be unhappy.”) then proposes a duel. But Duvallier decides it’s best for everyone to stay happy, to live as they have been, and so the trio goes into town for a game of bowls. It’s the most cheerful movie about infidelity that I’ve ever seen.

Final bow:

A belated entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

“This war’s gonna have a head on it”

Frank Tashlin’s final film as director is a Bob Hope picture, appropriate since Hope gave Tashlin his big break into live-action directing in the first place with Son of Paleface. Tashlin was only 59 when this came out, younger than Hope, but would only live a few more years. It’s a shame to have lost him so young, since his style kept changing with the times – would’ve been a trip to see a Tashlin picture in the 1980’s. From The Girl Can’t Help It to Caprice, Tash’s films have seemed very of-their-time – until this one, which feels stodgy and old-fashioned.

Why is this? My guess is old buddy Bob Hope. The credited writers are responsible for some TV episodes and the goofy crystalline sci-fi flick The Monolith Monsters but this has Hope written all over it. It wants to be a comedy, but it can’t make any jokes at the military’s expense – not in ’68 with Hope a political right-winger who probably spent more time than any other entertainer performing for U.S. troops. It’s more consistent a story than most Tashlin movies but it lacks all the good gags – the best jokes are the couple that Hope makes at the expense of his beloved partner Bing Crosby – and any comic momentum is killed at the end with a dry ten minutes of flag waving. So you could say it fails as a comedy since it pulls so many punches, or more generously, that it’s a light military drama with a bit of humor.

Hope’s buddy Calvin Coolidge Ishamura, played by Mako of Conan the Destroyer and Pacific Heights – the movie is very tolerant of Japanese-Americans, if not Japanese-Japanese.

Makeshift beer fridge:

The premise is simple: the Japs sunk a boat delivering beer to the army/navy base and Hope schemes to recover it, following the tides to find drifts of beer cars which he passes out to friends and hides from others. Not caring much about military matters, I didn’t realize until late that there’s a whole army vs. navy rivalry on the base (or is it two bases?) which would’ve cleared up some mysteries – like friendly, clean-looking (but with spooky eyes) lieutenant Jeffrey Hunter (below with Hope), don’t know if he’s a rival, a superior, or just a buddy. This turned out to be a late film for Jeffrey Hunter (also Jesus in King of Kings) as well – his career was cut short by a fatal stroke the following year.

The other allowable topic for comedy besides beer is girls. The group sends for nurses, imagining a team of sexy young girls arriving on the island, but all they get is a wild-haired Phyllis Diller, my favorite person in the movie. Hope gets a flashback-provoking love interest in the form of Gina Lollobrigida (of Dassin’s The Law), and I already can’t remember what Mylène Demongeot (of those 1960’s Fantomas movies) was doing there.

The new nurses: imagined

The new nurses: actual

Tashlin has to sneak in one line about television – something about reruns, I forget the context, and he manages to close the picture on a Tashlinesque piece of live-action cartoonery, Hope pulling a captured submarine with his rowboat. I assume there’s a metaphor there.

A catalog-style entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

Not just a late film, but a whole compendium of late films: a catalogue of works by Orson Welles during his last twenty years, assembled with stylish fun by Silovic and Oja Kodar, very entertaining and informative. All these years I’ve read Jonathan Rosenbaum championing the late, unreleased works of Welles, I still haven’t been clamoring to see them – I figured I’ve got enough things to watch. But now that I’ve had a taste, the clamoring begins.

It starts, naturally, with magic and stage shows – this wonderful bit of duck hypnosis which I played again and again.

Then Orson’s 1975 acceptance speech for his AFI lifetime achievement award, at which he presented scenes from The Other Side of the Wind.

P. Bog as actor:

Oja introduces herself, says she wants to combat the public opinion that Orson idly spent his time doing voiceovers and liquor commercials, but she only fuels the opinion that he couldn’t finish projects at the end because he was easily distracted by newer, shinier projects. Sure, some of it was sheer bad luck, mostly finance-related, but also the negatives of Merchant of Venice going missing.

That unlabeled can holds the original cut of Ambersons:

Scenes from Filming The Trial are shown, a good opportunity for Welles to speak for himself out of character (or, more accurately, in character as himself).

Oja discusses the great trailer for F For Fake (his final completed feature) and shows half of the trailer, then rifles through paintings and sketches he made.

Monologue readings from Moby Dick: filmed solo performance of select scenes before water-shadowed backdrops. Supposedly the rushes have been edited together and screened in Germany and New York. Please feel free to send them here next.

Don Quixote, which he spent 30 years trying to complete. I haven’t seen Jesus Franco’s version, but despite all the public whining about it, it’s probably better than nothing. Franco had no access to some of the footage, which has since aired on television (and therefore on youtube).

A Winston Churchill-related comedy sketch piece in silhouette, and an embarrassing bit at a hammy tailor shop – these are possibly part of the compilation piece known as London, also edited in Germany. I wonder if the Germans would care to release a DVD.

With tailors Charles Gray (of Dearden’s Man in the Moon and a couple of Bond movies) and Jonathan Lynn (director of Clue, My Cousin Vinny):

A trailer for The Deep, a thriller set on a couple of boats in the middle of the ocean, featuring Jeanne Moreau.

Footage shot for Merchant of Venice. The film was almost completed when part of it went missing.

A desperately lonely-looking Welles performing the missing monologue outdoors on a windy evening.

“I think acting is like sculpture, in other words it’s what you take away from yourself to reveal the truth of what you’re doing that makes a performance … There is no such thing as becoming another character by putting on a lot of makeup.” – spoken by Welles, but similar to what Renoir says in that short with Gisele Braunberger.

More projects: The Orson Welles Show (featuring The Muppets, and available on video):

The Dreamers, which I know little about:

Overall a very useful little doc, which unsurprisingly got me fired up to watch more Welles movies (and to finally read that recent Welles book by Rosenbaum). Unfortunately my follow-up feature, Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, was much less enlightening.

Afterwards I scouted around online, having a Late-Welles scavenger hunt. I came up with a couple interesting bits. First, a piece of Vienna, as it aired on the Arte channel – a segment of the 1969 One Man Band project. Seems like an unexceptional travelogue, featuring a man who feeds birds, a montage of quick zoom-ins on different cakes (also shown in the Silovic/Kodar doc). A caped and hatted Orson walks through the city scenery, visits a ferris wheel and comments on the Third Man soundtrack, then he and Mickey Rooney perform a magic trick with Senta Berger (of Major Dundee, The Terror of Dr. Mabuse).

Ten minutes of silent screen tests and still photography in preparation for Merchant of Venice, compiled by the Italians – not especially enlightening except to get another look at those long-nosed Eyes Wide Shut masks. I wonder how these tests got out while the film itself remains under wraps:

Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

There’s classic Jimmy Stewart (The Philadelphia Story, Shop Around the Corner and those Capra flicks), mid-life Hitchcock/Preminger Jimmy Stewart, and the ripe-for-retirement late Jimmy Stewart of Airport ’77 and The Magic of Lassie. But this film stands alone in featuring a post-retirement Jimmy Stewart.

IMDB trivia page says:

James Stewart said that he and his wife were vacationing at a game preserve in Kenya when they came across the filmmakers shooting this picture. He said he was persuaded to make a short appearance, speaking a few lines, because he thought it would help to promote wildlife conservation. “Never did understand what it [the film] was all about”, he said. “I did it on a whim.”

Jimmy Stewart feeds a hawk

And he does only speak a few lines, but that makes him a pretty major character in a movie where nobody speaks more than a few lines. Early on, the filmmakers announce their intention to feature a narrative, introducing a man (Philip Sayer of a couple British miniseries, who managed to die eight years before Stewart) in search of help after his plane crashes in the desert, but then they let us watch a girl named Maya romp with wild animals for another thirty minutes before anything else happens. Worryingly, the slender story wasn’t improvised by some actors who stumbled into a wildlife shoot, as it seems to have been, but was rather written by Hana’s old collaborator, legendary avant-garde filmmaker Terayama Shuji (Grass Labyrinth, Emperor Tomato Ketchup). Also worryingly, the “special effect” used to show Sayer’s plane crashing into a tree seemed to have been achieved by actually crashing a plane into a tree. It’s hard to tell if the dialogue was improvised, or if it was written for children, or if everything got simplified because of language barriers: a Japanese crew in Kenya with American, British and Italian lead actors, plus “Kathy” as Maya, no idea where she’s from.

(to be read flatly with a vague smile, revealing no emotion)
“Grandfather, the zebras and the gazelles are having babies again.”
“Ah, that means you’ll have a lot more friends now.”
“Yes, I have so many animal friends now, and I’ve got you, grandfather.”

But enough about story and dialogue. The filmmakers don’t care about it, so why should we? If you remove your expectations of “a Jimmy Stewart movie” or even “a decent film that makes a lick of sense,” it has its own pleasures. Stewart and his granddaughter Maya live in a thatched house with no doors or windows (a rhino wanders inside at one point) and spend their days playing with the wildlife and caring for their adopted pets, including a monkey and a grey thing I don’t even know what to call (they named it Tiki), which makes a “sknt!” noise that cannot be real. These two pets are treated as major characters. We get a better sense of Tiki’s personality than Jimmy Stewart’s (notice I don’t use his character name – I’m not sure that he has one). And I could think of worse ways to spend two hours than watching the beautiful Maya prance about, intercut with wonderfully shot Kenyan nature footage.

Tiki and his monkey friend:

But if Maya’s playful solo scenes recall the early Pocahontas scenes in Malick’s The New World (unfortunately set to what sounded like electro-symphonic versions of Abba songs), the effect is lost when she opens her mouth. It’s very possibly the directors’ fault (you never know), but she and Sayer and his fiancee Eleonora Vallone sure come out looking like lousy actors. Stewart, however, gets showcase scenes for his acting skills – a couple of raging anger moments, and a climactic emotional story told to Sayer about the accidental death of his son, Maya’s father, in a mine explosion. He also really comes to life, with a warm glow in his eyes revealing the depths of his love for nature, during a short speech about dung beetles. Since Stewart isn’t in the movie long enough to get to know him, these scenes don’t mesh well with his other personas in the film (benevolent nature-loving grandfather/mean old curmudgeon), lending credence to Stewart’s claim that he never understood the plot.

An actor, acting:

Oh yeah, the plot. So, since Sayer has amnesia after his plane crash, there’s nowhere he needs to be, so decides to stay with the hot (but chaste in a children’s-movie way) Maya, gaining the family’s trust by braving a snake-cutaway to rescue some cute creature from a hole it had fallen into, and comforting Maya after Jimmy Stewart’s easily-predicted death (actually I thought it was just as likely he’d wander off set and return to his vacation as stay long enough to shoot the death scene). Then, over an hour into the movie it switches to unsubtitled Japanese and I’m lost for a while. Lions behead some gazelles, tens of wildebeest and zebras drown on-camera in a horrible flood (making me pray it was not a children’s movie), some guy is killing “koala birds” with explosives, and there is a montage of animals yawning. Then rich fancy-girl Erika, the fiancee of the crash victim, sets out in her own plane to find him. Sayer somehow gets caught in a brush fire and a native (the movie calls them “the nomads”) walks him out safely. Erika catches up with the young couple and shoots Sayer with a dart gun in frustration when he won’t join her, then pisses off, leaving him in peace with Maya.

Erika at left, with the worst jumpsuit/upholstery combination in human history:

The movie doesn’t have a wildly good reputation online. J. Sharp:

With this overly precious would-be epic the director seems to be so cowed by his subject, the raw beauty of the Kenyan savannah and its denizens, that the end result resembles little more than a protracted holiday slide-show display. … It seems strange that Hani seems so content to dwell on such superficial trimmings, not only given his impressive track record in the 60s, but also that he’d previously been in Kenya to film The Song of Bwana Toshi shortly after the country had achieved independence from Britain. Bwana Toshi had dealt with the cross-cultural encounters of a Japanese geological engineer with the local community in which he is sent to work, and at least addressed such issues as expatriate-local relationships and the misunderstandings that arise due to the cross-purposes of the parties involved. In Africa Story there’s barely a black face in sight.

This was last fiction film to date by Susumu Hani, a Japanese New Wave director of the 50’s and 60’s. Co-director Simon Trevor specializes in camerawork for films shot in Africa – he worked on Gorillas in the Mist, White Hunter Black Heart and Out of Africa.

Midnight Eye has the scoop:

Susumu Hani’s career began with documentaries about youth and shifted into pseudo-documentary dramas, climaxing with Nanami, one of the greatest masterpieces of Japanese film. Although his work proves he had a profound understanding of human psychology, Hani was becoming increasingly disillusioned with humanity, which may explain why he abandoned human subjects in favor of making nature documentaries for NHK. It’s best to keep that in mind while watching this film, because at this late stage in his career, Hani seems to be completely uninterested in human drama. Instead of focusing on developing the characters, Hani chooses to simply incorporate more nature footage than the story will allow.

The vertical lines were supposed to be slimming:

Another entry for…

Initiated by Shadowplay

It’s rare for late-career shorts to even exist. Filmmakers tend to “graduate” from shorts to features, never looking back, unless called to work on some anthology film (like that one called “8” which Altman was scheduled to make after A Prairie Home Companion). Animators may be the exception, so half of the late shorts I rounded up were handmade.


Self Portrait (1988, Osamu Tezuka)
The few animations I’ve seen of Tezuka’s are among the most inventive I’ve seen from anybody. I’m not sure if the ten-second runtime of this short, made when he was 60, was imposed by the producer of this Animated Self-Portraits series or if that’s simply how much time Tezuka needed to make his point. Left/right/center portions of faces spin like a slot machine, and after four or five mismatches, the proper self-portrait alignment is reached – jackpot!


Is That All There Is? (1993, Lindsay Anderson)
Another self-portrait – the artist at age 70. Lindsay wakes up, takes a bunch of pills, puts on the news, watches some TV, has a bath, gazes at posters of his own films on the bathroom walls, goes shopping then back home, entertains writer Bernard Kops who talks about getting paid for his work, chats with some more visitors, moans about transportation with the cleaning lady, gets in a fight with his disgruntled nephew, complains about Michael Caine’s hair, discusses John Ford with a BBC producer, photocopies a newspaper review of Michael Powell’s Life in Movies that Lindsay wrote, goes through his scrapbook of past film writing, watches Ron Howard on Oprah (“I always wanted to make a movie … most importantly, I didn’t want it to be boring”), reviews his history of theater productions and film projects (he claims to have written If… 2), goes to the acupuncturist and the doctor, checks out sets and music for a new theater production, talks with his brother about gravitas, then holds a memorial service for two actresses who had appeared in his TV movie The Old Crowd fourteen years earlier. A full day. I don’t know much about Anderson – seen his bizarre Malcolm McDowell trilogy, but I only enjoyed two of them and probably understood none. This was downright enjoyable, especially considering my lack of enthusiasm for the day-in-the-life documentary format. Though I’m not saying this was a documentary – Anderson gets a writing credit, and the scene construction is subtly more intricate than could be expected from a single camera recording in real time.



Narcissus (1983, Norman McLaren)
McLaren’s final released film, made when he was seventy. A ballet version of the Narcissus tale, in which our hero dances against a black background with a girl, then with a guy, finally shunning them both in favor of his own reflection. Beautifully shot and danced. I didn’t notice much in the way of McLaren’s signature styles in the ballet until Narc began dancing with his own disappearing self accompanied by nintendo computer blips on the soundtrack. Probably won more awards than any other McLaren film, in part because by the 80’s there were more award shows and festivals than ever before.

Narcissus meets himself:

Dances with himself:


I consider “late” Buster Keaton to be the 70-ish movies he appeared in since the 1920’s, shortly after the arrival of sound when his career went to hell. So these are very late Keaton, made in the last couple years of his life when he was around seventy years old (see also: the Twilight Zone episode he did a few years earlier).

The Railrodder (1965, Gerald Potterton)
A wordless journey through desolate Canada, which must have been trying to attract humans to its empty factories, forests, harbors, fields and cities, all seen as Buster whizzes by on a motorized rail car. Not as good as a classic Keaton short, but not as bad as most state-sponsored promo pieces either, just a light amusement with some minor Keaton antics and major Canadian scenery, with possible references to The General and The Cameraman. I like when he turns the car into a duck blind, but the gag’s payoff is lame – it’s not the most well-planned or well-timed little picture. Director Gerald Potterton moved into animation, making the legendary Heavy Metal.

Buster Keaton Rides Again (1965, John Spotton)
A “making of The Railrodder” that runs almost triple the length of the feature. In fact it’s over-long, in love with its subject, providing nice quick summaries of Keaton’s past films and life story, then rambling on with the present-day footage. A coughing, gruff-voiced Keaton smokes whenever not on camera for Railrodder (he died of lung cancer the following year). He’s a stubborn bastard regarding the gags and filmmaking – it’s clear from this doc that the IMDB’s listing Buster as uncredited cowriter/director on Railrodder is accurate. My favorite gag was in the documentary, not the feature, Keaton pretending to pull a train that comes in while he’s standing near the tracks. It closes with Keaton singing “Casey Jones” in his trailer, more emotional of a picture than the fluffy promo piece it accompanies.

Film (1965, Alan Schneider)
Close-up of an eye. Protagonist, always shot from behind, staggers to his apartment, horrifying all who look upon him. Alternate blurry shots from his POV. In the apartment, he covers a mirror and removes or destroys everything that has eyes. Feels for his own pulse. Finally, Buster’s face is revealed, wearing an eyepatch and his signature hat. Close-up of an eye. I don’t understand Samuel Beckett. Could someone explain him to me?


Stop-motion pioneer Charley Bowers made these couple films over a decade after all his other work, and according to his IMDB bio, “no one is quite sure what he did” during that in-between decade. They’re his final films, completed the year before he became sick at age 64, unable to work until his death a few years later.

A Sleepless Night (1940, Charley Bowers)
No sound at all (who watched silent shorts in 1940?) so the DVD producer unconscionably included an audio track of projector noise. I listened to LCD Soundsystem instead, greatly improving the movie, which was otherwise slack-paced and plotless. We’ve got a stop-motion mouse family who defeats the dog of the house, drinks a bottle of milk, then eats soap and floats away on the resulting bubbles.

Wild Oysters (1941, Charley Bowers)
More technically accomplished (featuring much more camera movement) and snappier than the last one, and with the same models for the mouse family, makes me think A Sleepless Night was a test run for what he’d planned as a series of mouse adventures. Although, spoken dialogue and a song with lyrics that comment on the action aren’t the major improvement. The mouse torments a different dog and also a cat, drilling holes in the floor and pulling their tails through. Weirder is when he runs across some oysters, which link together as a chain and chase him about. Why oysters? Even Tom and Jerry never ran so low on ideas that they introduced a string of oysters. Anyway, weird movie but enjoyable.


The Karateguard (2005, Joseph Barbera & Spike Brandt)
The final Tom & Jerry short released to theaters, and the only one made by Barbera, aged 94 at the time, after the passing of partner William Hanna in 2001. It was a passing of the torch to Brandt, who is still making T&J cartoons. I was never a wildly enthusiastic T&J fan, so I can’t share the outrage of the IMDB reviewer who calls it “unbearably mediocre.” Jerry isn’t great at his karate lessons, so his translucent sensei encourages him to quit, instead gives him a magical gong that summons a stone-faced samurai dog, who proceeds to pummel Tom for six minutes. A good time is had by all.