Seen this a few times before, and a year or two after watching, I can never remember what I loved about it. The story’s not exciting (similar plot description to The Exterminating Angel) and I recall it being slow and weird, but not weird enough to be memorable. So I watched again, and loved it again, and this time maybe it’ll stick.

Starts out with a bunch of slightly awful people trying to make dinner appointments that never quite work out. They arrive at a house on the wrong night. They walk out of a restaurant whose owner is lying dead in the next room. Their hosts abandon them to have sex in the bushes. Meanwhile, ambassador Fernando Rey is dodging terrorists, and local priest Julien Bertheau wants to be the Senechals’ gardener.

So far a finely-shot, classy-looking film about slightly weird things, then the second half becomes a series of sidetracks. A random officer in a restaurant tells a long ghost story, the ambassador shoots a guy, the dinner table becomes a stage play, the priest takes revenge on the man who killed his parents, the whole group is raided by police and arrested, the whole group is slaughtered, and all these things turn out to be dreams, dreams within dreams, punctuated by shots of the group (minus the priest) walking down a road (recalling a shot in The Milky Way).

Murderous priest:

The sex-in-bushes, priest-employing couple: Jean-Pierre Cassel (Army of Shadows, the king in Lester’s The Three Musketeers) and Stephane Audran (Babette’s Feast, La Rupture). The other couple: Paul Frankeur (The Milky Way, Jour de Fete) and Delphine Seyrig, and her drunk sister is the great Bulle Ogier. So that’s another difference between this viewing and my previous ones: this time I know and love all three lead actresses.

Didn’t realize when I decided to watch this and Day For Night that they won consecutive foreign-film oscars.

Piccoli cameo:

M. D’Angelo:

Hard to quantify the cumulative satirical force this movie brings to bear, as it maintains the same level of genial drollery from start to finish. I always start out mildly amused, wind up gobsmacked… but it seems entirely possible that shuffling the scenes at random would have much the same effect. It’s just a single pointed joke that gets funnier and funnier, abetted by a sextet of actors who refrain from any winking or nudging — Bulle Ogier in particular achieves maximum vacuity without calling attention to herself in any way, but they all embody entitlement with zero fuss.

Everyone in a Poe adaptation is weak, white and willowy, and it’s expected that at least one of them will die of consumptive illness, as did Poe’s own wife, as we learned in the D.W. Griffith bio-pic. Here it’s Usher’s wife (played by Marguerite “wife of Abel” Gance), but not for a while. First, portrait-painting-obsessed Usher (Jean Debucourt, decades later the jeweler in Madame de…) has his “dear and only friend” over for the season, then mostly tends to his paintings (which move and blink) while his wife dies (shades of Dorian Gray).

I love how this silent film portrays music. Everything starts moving in slow-motion until Usher plays his guitar, then his playing is illustrated with quick cutaways to nature shots. Overall lots of camera movement for 1928, with crazy angles and ghostly superimpositions – a slow and moody film. Excellent looking except for the fake castle (in wide shots) and owl.

This is the third House of Usher movie on the blog after the Watson & Webber and the Ken Russell, but the first to tell the Poe story in a way I can follow. IMDB says assistant director Luis Bunuel quit over liberties taken with the adaptation. In the Poe story Madeline is his twin sister instead of his wife, but otherwise doesn’t seem too dissimilar. Epstein made this the year before his amazing Finis Terrae.

Ed Gonzalez in Slant:

The film’s tour-de-force is a hulking funeral procession of overlapping visual textures and animal-like camera movement, a startling vision of metaphysical passage and metamorphosis. With the castle’s dripping candles in ominous tow, the men proceed through land and water toward the netherworld of Usher’s catacombs, with Madeleine’s veil weighing them down like an arm digging into the ground; all the while, an owl keeps ominous watch and two toads get their groove on. Madeleine will not go gently into this sinister night, nor will Usher let her, insisting that her coffin remain unnailed, which, in effect, precipitates a supernatural spill between worlds.

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

Susana (1951)

Big, obvious drama with overbearing music and vaguely supernatural elements. Not as excitingly Bunuelian as I would’ve liked, but way better than Gran Casino.

Susana (Rosita Quintana, who was still acting in 2005, if IMDB is to be believed) is locked in solitary at the sanitarium for misbehaving, in the company of rats and an awesomely fake-looking rubber bat; begs God for mercy and the jail bars come loose. Not as impressive as in The Rapture, but it’ll do. She crashes at the first place she finds, a peaceful ranch, and gets herself in with the family to wreak havoc from within.

Susana with ranch-hand Jesus: Víctor Manuel Mendoza, who went on to appear in some Hollywood westerns:

Felicia the maid doesn’t trust Susana from the start (her line, about the storm outside, “it seems there’s a demon loose out there” comes right as Susana’s face appears in the window), but Susana seduces all the men in the house: Jesus, Don Guadelupe (Fernando Soler, star of El Gran Calavera and Daughter of Deceit around the same time) and bookish son Alberto. Actually it doesn’t seem like she seduces Jesus, it more seems that he’s a slimy rapist stalker, but I’ll take the movie’s word for it. Dona Carmen, the woman of the house, eventually realizes what’s going on and joins the maid in trying to eject the interloper – but is it too late? Another rainstorm scene where S. brushes her hair in the window in silhouette while all three men watch her from different positions. Susana confronts Dona Carmen and says if Guadelupe is forced to choose, he’ll choose Susana. Jesus is kicked out of the house: one less rival for Don Guad’s affection. Finally the cops catch up with Susana and take her away, Jesus is hired back, and Don Guad’s prize horse, which had been sick since the initial storm, miraculously recovers.

Susana and Alberto hide in the well:

Very decent acting and cinematography (Jose Ortiz Ramos, who later shot the classics Brainiac: Baron of Terror and Samson vs. the Vampire Women). Bunuel likes to shoot Susana’s legs, incl. one weird scene where Jesus breaks the eggs she’s holding and they run all down her legs.

NY Times: “Though the movie means to be steamy, Bunuel is apparently more amused than shocked by Susana’s brazen ambition and the no-nonsense way she goes about her conquests. Toward the end, when the traffic in and out of Susana’s bedroom is fairly heavy, the movie has the manner of a grandly operatic farce.”

Deleuze says some quizzical shit about “the intrinsic qualities of the possible object.” I don’t know what that means, but three different sites I checked called this Bunuel’s worst movie (or his “most unspectacular” or “fairly insignificant”) – have they never seen Gran Casino?


Ensayo de un crimen (Rehearsal for a Crime), or,
The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (1955)

It’s the Mexican Revolution! Little Archibaldo’s mother acts like it’s a huge inconvenience that her theater date has been canceled because the revolution has arrived in town. Archie, alone with the nanny, wishes upon a music box for the nanny’s death and she’s immediately killed by a stray bullet through the window. Years later a grown Archie (Wuthering Heights star Ernesto Alonso) is threatening nuns with a razor when one runs down the hall and falls down an open elevator shaft. The movie carries on like this, Archie indirectly causing people’s deaths or not causing them at all, and thinking he’s got some unholy power via the magic music box, which he reacquires as an adult, buying it out from under a cute girl.

Archibaldo in triplicate with his killer razor:

Lavinia glimpsed through a wall of flame:

The cute girl, Lavinia (Miroslava, who killed herself before the movie was released) becomes wealthy Archibaldo’s full-time fascination. He buys a mannequin made in her image (she models for artists) and poses it around his house, then watches it melt in his kiln (he’s a part-time sculptor) when she angers him. Having taken his revenge on the fake Lavinia, he proposes to pretty young innocent Carlotta – but she has been seeing a guy named Alejandro. Archie’s revenge-fantasies kick in again (shades of fellow murder-comedy Unfaithfully Yours) and he dreams of shooting the cheating woman dead in their marital bed after the wedding… but Alejandro shows up to the wedding and shoots her instead.

Cut to framing-device authority figure (was it a psychiatrist or an officer of the law?) who says he can’t lock Archie up for dreaming people dead. Archie seems bummed that he isn’t believed to have done anything wrong, but runs into Lavinia, the girl who survived his wrath, and walks happily away with her.

Legs of the nanny:

Leg of the dummy (Tristana, anyone):

I wasn’t expecting a lot after Susana, but this was excellent. V. Canby in the NY Times agrees. “The sight of the boring, but very pretty, governess lying dead on the carpet, her skirts in a tangle around her upper thighs, makes a lasting impression on the boy, who thereafter goes through life confusing love, death and sexuality. … Archibaldo is a very polite, considerate and wise nut, aware of almost everything except that he is the inevitable (in Buñuel’s view) product of religious and sexual repression.”

Carlotta in her final moments:

Superficially, this is closest to The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe than any other Bunuel movie. Voila: it is set on an island, features a fight for survival, and is in English. But psychologically, it’s most similar to early Mexican film Gran Casino because of… oh ha, I’m just kidding – I have no idea. In fact, it seems not even vaguely like anything else I’ve seen of Bunuel’s, not even Robinson Crusoe. It’s an American South civil rights drama set in isolation, so you’ve got lynch mob threats but no mob. Very good movie, excellent writing, I just can’t reconcile the Bunuel connection (not that it’s bugging me).

image

Traver, a black musician, flees to a small island, falsely accused of raping a white woman, and runs into Miller, the suspicious racist white dude who runs the place. Miller, meanwhile, is plotting to marry his young ward Evalyn, who’s really too young so he’ll be in trouble if people find this out. The irony that he’s helping capture Traver for sexual crimes (and the suspicion that Traver is actually innocent) isn’t lost on him, so despite his threatening poses, he eventually helps Traver escape after the arrival of a priest and a super-racist friend threatens to call attention (and that mob) towards the island.

Miller, introduced sneering with a dead rabbit in the foreground:
image

Has two of the same writers as Robinson Crusoe (aha!) and thrilling cinematography by Gabriel Figueroa of Simon of the Desert, Los Olvidados, Nazarin and Under The Volcano. Filmed in Mexico, and looks awfully dubbed at times. In the original short story, Traver gets killed at the end.

image

Senses of Cinema:

…though slow-paced and rather stilted, is nevertheless interesting in the way it frames racism and sexism as parallel discourses. … The Young One, unlike Robinson Crusoe, didn’t do well at the box office. Buñuel commented in My Last Sigh: “one of the problems [with it] was its anti-Manichean stance, which was an anomaly at the time, although today it’s all the rage.” Nevertheless his tone suggests that he is quite proud of these American productions, as if to say he could have been a Hollywood filmmaker like other European exiles, had chance not sent him to Latin America.

image

Slant:

Framed by a monophonic rendition of “Sinner Man” by Leon Bibb, the film has the scorching emotional urgency of a black spiritual. … In the constant frustration of Traver’s escape and Miller’s inability to play nice with him, Buñuel evokes the face of humanity repeatedly peeking out from and retreating into the steely shell of a racist comfort zone. To this already unnerving gumbo of feelings and ideas, the director adds a white supremacist hellbent on lynching Traver and a priest whose compassion has limits: he makes a case for Traver’s innocence but has Evalyn turn a mattress over so he won’t have to sleep on the same side Traver did the night before.

image

Main white dude Zachary Scott, facially Gary Sinise-like, had starred in Mildred Pierce and Renoir’s The Southerner in 1945. His final film appearance would be two years after this in Tashlin’s It’$ Only Money (I didn’t see that coming). Bernie Hamilton went on to play cops and convicts, a chauffeur, a “negro,” then in the 70’s had parts in Hammer, Bucktown and Scream Blacula Scream. I’m guessing this would be his career high point, then. The girl appeared two years later in another island drama, then IMDB loses track of her. Crahan Denton played the super racist guy, turned up appropriately enough in To Kill a Mockingbird two years later. And the priest, Mexican Claudio Brook, would star in Simon of the Desert, later in horrors Alucarda, Mansion of Madness and Cronos.

This is one of Buñuel’s anarchic sketch films (see also: Simon of the Desert, Phantom of Liberty) which he made in between his relatively more normal, subversive upper-class films (in this case between Belle de Jour and Tristana). I still think I appreciate his films more than I enjoy them, but the more of them I watch, the more I feel that his career is unassailable, that his last twenty years of filmmaking produced one long masterpiece. It turns out I had seen this before, though I barely remembered it. Must’ve rented the tape from Videodrome. Don’t think I finished it last time, because it got foggier around the halfway point.

image

Such a smart and well-researched movie, I don’t feel qualified to discuss it. I can discuss the cinematic aspects though. Good photography with no surprises, unusually long shots but not noticeably/showoffy long. Buñuel’s movies always feel the tiniest bit too slow for me, too perfectly calm and collected, the acting and sets and camerawork too high-quality for their content, which I suppose is the point.

The plot is a “picaresque”, two beggars wander into various scenarios during their long walk from Paris France to a holy pilgrimage spot in Santiago Spain – although it turns out they’re not on a pilgrimage themselves, they just heard there’s a huge crowd in Santiago where they can get rich on spare change. Different historical periods and bible stories blend into their present-day 1960’s voyage without anyone batting an eye. They meet Satan(?), the Whore of Babylon, and lots of people discussing the six central mysteries of Catholicism and their associated heresies. They do not meet Jesus, the Virgin Mary, the Marquis de Sade or the Pope, but they’re all in the movie via sidetracks from the main action (though one could argue that it’s all sidetracks). Plenty of surreal moments keep the movie lively even when the dialogue is all obscure religious debate.

image

French cinematographer Christian Matras was about Buñuel’s age, had also shot most of Max Ophüls’ best films, also The Eagle Has Two Heads with Cocteau and Grand Illusion with Renoir. Co-writer Jean-Claude Carrière (also an occasional actor) worked on most of Bunuel’s 60’s-70’s stuff and over a hundred other movies, including recent ones like Chinese Box, Birth and Goya’s Ghosts. The guy who played Jesus starred in Rohmer’s sixth moral tale a couple years later. Virgin Mary Edith Scob was in Franju’s Judex in the 60’s, and lately in some Raoul Ruiz films and the newest by Olivier Assayas. Of the two tramps, the older would be in the next two of Buñuel’s French films, and the younger would star in Clouzot’s La Prisonnière and Godard’s Détective.

image

In the DVD interviews, Ian Christie tries to make us feel better for not knowing the historical references – he says nobody knew them. He got a press kit. The film was influenced by The Saragossa Manuscript, which sounds cool. “What heresy means for him is a kind of metaphor, I think, for human beings’ fascination with arguing about the immaterial, the invisible, trying to bolt it down and make it literal.” Screening when it did, it was alternately seen as cleverly reflecting or having nothing to do with the political and social upheaval in late 60’s France. Interview with the writer and documentary on the DVD are both pretty alright, nothing that needs repeating here.

Our two bums with the whore of babylon:
image

Michel Piccoli as the Marquis de Sade:
image

Alain Cuny as the mysterious walkin’ guy:
image

L’Age d’or reference:
image

“It’s in my style as homage to Bunuel’s style which is very different.”

Very spare, a couple talky dialogue scenes but mostly quiet, with pillow shots of Paris at night between scenes. Opening titles at the symphony, Husson spies Severine, out to the street, to a bar. Her hotel, a near miss. Back to the bar, Husson confesses what’s on his mind to the bartender – this scene must contain over half the dialogue of the film. Another chance meeting on the street, an invitation to dinner. At dinner Severine wants to know one thing, but Husson plays around, doesn’t tell her. She storms out. A chicken! He pays the servers from her forgotten purse, they clean up after he has left.

Piccoli (right) with the director’s grandson Ricardo Trêpa
image

Bulle Ogier also acted in Bunuel’s Discreet Charm
image

Piccoli, reprising his Belle De Jour role, was in a pile of other Bunuel films
image

N.D. Carlson of Cineaste has a compelling explanation for every part of the film: why it works and what it means… a wonderful analysis.

Sam, as usual, sees something I don’t see, even when I’m seeing what he saw, since it was his favorite narrative film of the year.

M. Dargis calls it “an act of critical violence.”

J. Rosenbaum calls it a “sequel–or tribute, or speculative footnote … more about class and less about sexual desire”

M. Piccoli: “Very often, cinema is indecent. What characterizes Manoel de Oliveira and Bunuel is their reserve. But don’t get me wrong: this reserve allows them to explore the most secret gardens of our existence. They are very modest but very immodest when it comes to shaking the imagination of the audience.”

image

First movie Bunuel directed in 14 years, beginning his Mexican period with producer Oscar Dancigers.

Guitar guy in the prison in opening scene glances at the camera a couple times. Not on purpose, was it? Guess I’d have to hear the lyrics to know for sure. Damn cheap Lionsgate paid for an audio commentary but didn’t subtitle any of the songs. Why? It’s a musical. Lyrics might be meaningful. I can understand about half of the spoken Spanish dialogue but hardly any of the song lyrics. Wotever.

image

Dreamy Gerardo and his mechanic friend Demetrio break out of prison and go looking for work… meet up with Heriberto, who introduces to Jose Enrique, owner of The National oil field, under siege from evil oil barons who threaten the workers. G & D are naive and need work so they recruit people easily and get the place running again. all is fine until baddie oilman Fabio has owner Jose Enrique killed.

Demetrio takes over the National next. The night before the oil is to start pumping, he goes to the casino and falls for Camelia, same girl J.E. was last seen with, and he too disappears courtesy of Fabio’s goons.

Well, Gerardo isn’t gonna take this anymore. When the beautiful Mercedes, J.E.’s sister, arrives from South America, she gets a job as a singer at the casino in order to find out more. Initially thinks G. is in on the plot, but belatedly teams up with him and helps foil Fabio. In the end she sells the National to the big big oilman, knowing that G has rigged the whole place to explode if he doesn’t make it back on time (and he doesn’t). Poor Heriberto and his kleptomaniac girlfriend Nanette are presumably left back in town with no work, as Mercedes and Gerardo ride the train outta town.

image

A few, very few, possibly Bunuelian touches through psychologically meaningful shots… a drunk Gerardo stares at Nanette’s distorted, fading reflection in an ice bucket… a pane of breaking glass is superimposed on the image when G. knocks a guy out. Other than that, this is a very straightforward little studio movie. Looks awfully cheap for a musical, but not in a shoddy way, just in a non-Hollywood scaled-down way. We mustn’t blame Bunuel for the trite flicks he made in order to get by… it’s films like these that got him back in the director’s seat again, directly leading to Los Olvidados a few years later.

image