Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.

Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.

Second time through, I noted the order of stories:

How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin

Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks

Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).

M. Sicinski:

Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.

Cowardly Saplingjacks

Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)

Cave of the Red Wolves

with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!

Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl

Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)

The Final Derriere

with Sparks, Udo Kier (returning from Keyhole) as a man plagued by bottoms, Master Passion Geraldine Chaplin, and the Lust Specialist (Le Havre star Andre Wilms)

Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine

Quick return.

Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice

With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)

D. Ehrlich:

The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.

Mill Seeks Gardener

With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot

Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital

Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani

Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders

Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.

Psychiatrist and madman aboard train

Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie

Florence’s Inner Child

Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock

Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia

Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath

“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”

Woodsman Gathers New Allies

Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.

Margo and Aswang The Vampire

M. D’Angelo:

The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.

Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler

All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).

D. Ehrlich:

[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.

Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback

Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.

Ukranian Radio War Drama

With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner

Mustache / Return of the Dead Father

Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head

M. Peranson:

Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.

Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.

Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)

Night Auction Doppelganger

featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!

Stealing Mother’s Laudanum

Charlotte Rampling as Amalric’s Mother, Ariane Labed (Attenberg, Alps) as his girlfriend.

Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:

We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.

Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes

Bath.

Happy SHOCKtober!

It’s hard to tell what I watched in SHOCKtober 2013, since I was running months behind and posting movies out of order, but I think it was six movies, from Mr. Vampire through The Black Cat, plus a Last Ten Minutes full of ridiculous horror sequels. SHOCKtober 2012 consisted of a single movie, The Hole. So 2011 was the last big SHOCKtober, and 2010 even got its own horror top-ten list. Time to bring back the shocks – got a bunch of movies lined up for this month.

Polanski himself plays Trelkovsky, who snags a Paris apartment (with an awfully steep deposit) thanks to the suicide of the former tenant Simone, and is made to feel unwelcome by almost everybody. He visits Simone during her final days in hospital agony and meets her friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani of Possession, also Lucy in Herzog’s Nosferatu). Then Trelkovsky attempts to settle in at home (he works as some kind of clerk, shades of Kafka), but everyone is suspicious of him, even the local police, accusing him of rule violations, and Trelkovsky starts to suspect these hostile neighbors drove Simone to jump from her window.

One man and a wardrobe:

French neighbors scheming against Polish Jew, was starting to look like a persecution story, but then Polanski starts believing the neighbors are trying to turn him into Simone when he wakes up with women’s makeup on his face, and another day he’s lost the same tooth she had lost.

At the end, when he has found shelter at Stella’s place then trashes her apartment because he thinks she’s in on the conspiracy, it becomes clearer than Trelkovsky is just nuts. Inevitably, he jumps from the apartment window in front of an imagined audience of mocking neighbors, but the fall doesn’t kill him, and as the police arrive, he lurches back up the stairs and jumps a second time, ending up in a time-loop as he takes Simone’s place in the hospital bed and sees himself and Stella visiting.

Polanski and Adjani pause to watch Enter The Dragon:

Great cast: Melvyn Douglas (40-some years after The Old Dark House) is Mr. Z the landlord. Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) brings a petition (which Trelkovsky refuses to sign) to evict another neighbor. Jeunet regular Rufus (Amelie‘s dad) comes by looking for Simone. Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter) plays the angry building concierge. Unfortunately some actors have been euro-dubbed, and even the cinematography by Sven Nykvist (between Black Moon and Autumn Sonata) looked just-decent on my video copy.

Jo:

Melvyn:

Ebert called it an embarrassment, also explains there was an apartment shortage in Paris at the time. I guess people were bound to be disappointed in any follow-up to Chinatown, but Canby called it “the most successful and most consistently authentic Polanski film in years,” dismissing Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as “more or less tailored to popular tastes.” Critics mention Trelkovsky’s meek and malleable nature and the film’s pessimism, but I’m still not sure what to make of the Egyptian references. And am I misinterpreting the image, or at one point is his nightstand replaced with a two-dimensional copy?

Nominated at Cannes the same yeas as Taxi Driver, The Marquise of O, Kings of the Road and Mr. Klein. Based on the novel by Roland Topor, who cowrote Fantastic Planet and played Renfield in Herzog’s Nosferatu.

Oh man, I don’t know what happened plot-wise, but clearly (dimly) we’d have an expressionist madhouse classic to beat Cabinet of Dr. Caligari on our hands here if we had a better print copy.

image

No intertitles, and I guess I was paying more attention to images and technique than trying to puzzle through the story, so even the one-line IMDB plot-blurb “a man takes a job at an asylum with hopes of freeing his imprisoned wife” is news to me. I thought he might have always worked there, maybe he imagines she’s his wife, but he’s either hallucinating – crazy enough to be at the asylum, but gentle enough to be given menial jobs – or maybe he becomes mad from hanging out there too long, or perhaps the ending is a dream… so either Caligari or Shock Corridor.

image

Watched it with Superchunk’s score playing on the stereo. Now Superchunk are heroes of mine, but they wouldn’t be my first choice to score a bonkers dream-logic silent film… worked pretty well, but maybe next time I’ll cook up a mix CD for the occasion.

Based on a short story by Yasunari Kawabata, who has other titles with interesting names to his credit and film adaptations by Naruse, Shimizu, and Kon Ichikawa.

Kinugasa made Gate of Hell, which I think I’ve heard of, and some 100 other films. I hope somebody has looked into this.

An IMDB user: “the film makes use of every single film technique available at the time: multiple exposures and out of focus subjective point of view, tilted camera angles, fast and slow motion, expressionist lighting and superimpositions among others.” V. Petric via Midnight Eye: “These devices… are used not for their own sake but to convey complex psychological content without the aid of titles.”

Silents Are Golden has a plot description: “An elderly man, a former sailor, works voluntarily at odd jobs in a lunatic asylum where his wife is confined after having attempted to drown her baby son in a fit of madness many years ago.”

Excerpts from M. Lewinsky’s well-informed interview on Midnight Eye:

The strongest direct influence was certainly Murnau’s Last Laugh. There was much debate in Japanese film magazines about this film – it was released in Kyoto in January and in Tokyo in mid-April 1926 (A Page of Madness was shot in May 1926) – and its having no intertitles. In a published enquiry “My Favourite Film”, Kinugasa chose Last Laugh saying he had seen it five times. If you compare the two films you will find many elements and images from the German film used in A Page of Madness, but transformed and integrated in a different structure.

The comparison with Dr. Caligari is quite pointless I think. This German film from 1919, despite being popular in Japan, is too different in its mood and making, and its treatment of madness has nothing in common with A Page of Madness.

There are many instances in A Page of Madness where the film relies on benshi narration to furnish crucial information. Without narration, without dialogue, the film at times is nearly incomprehensible.

“If I had to choose between Elmer and the itch, I’d start scratchin'”

image

Kind of an unexpected story. Not that Street Angel was business as usual, plot-wise, but somehow I expected this one to be more normal and boring, which is maybe why I put off watching it for four months. Lazybones is a very lazy boy with an amazingly patient mother. He’s hot for neighbor Agnes Fanning but doesn’t do much about it, just expects her to marry him someday. Her sister Ruth is summoned home from college by their dour, domineering mother to marry snotty businessman Elmer, but Ruth has already been secretly married and widowed and has a baby. So she does the natural thing: puts the baby safely in a basket then jumps into the river to drown herself. This is the only act of free will performed by the Fanning sisters in the movie… they do everything their forbidding mother demands, to the ruination of both of their lives. Ruth spends the next 15 years unhappily married to Elmer, sneaking glimpses of her daughter through the window, having no more kids and finally dying of illness/madness, and Agnes breaks up with Lazybones and spends her days shut up in mother’s house, only learning the truth at the end.

Ruth (left) and Agnes:
image

Lazybones, meanwhile, agrees to raise the baby (it’s a girl, his mother tells him). Raises her well with the help of mother, but doesn’t get any less lazy. He goes off to fight in the WWI trenches and stumbles into heroism when he sleeps through a battle and finds himself behind enemy lines, helping take 20 captives. Comes home and finds his adopted daughter has become a young woman, so he starts falling creepily in love with her, until she’s fortunately whisked away into marriage by a nice local boy. LB grabs his fishing pole and heads for the river, as if the last eighteen years was just one long afternoon.

image

Lazy Buck Jones was in 150+ westerns and this, and his grown stepdaughter (above) Madge Bellamy starred in John Ford’s The Iron Horse a year earlier, would later appear in White Zombie.

Emily Fitzroy (of The Bat and the original Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) played the evil mother of sisters Ruth (Zasu Pitts of Greed, Ruggles of Red Gap and Stroheim’s The Wedding March) and Agnes (Jane Novak of some Harold Lloyd shorts).

image

Senses of Cinema refers to Ruth’s “illegitimate daughter.” Has the author not seen the movie lately, or is it like Miracle at Morgan’s Creek, where we know that Hollywood must provide a girl with a lost or deceased husband in order to have a child, but it’s understood by the viewer that the girl wasn’t actually married – a complicit understanding between film and audience of the limits imposed by censorship? Ah, Michael Grost agrees: “While there is a censor-placating marriage ceremony for Ruth (Zazu Pitts in a great performance), this is a thinly disguised look at the problems faced by unwed mothers and illegitimate children. It recalls Way Down East (D. W. Griffith, 1920). The negative look at small town life, and the wasted lives full of pain of rejected people who live there, also recall True Heart Susie (D. W. Griffith, 1919).”

M. Grost again:

Borzage’s heroes love technology. The hero’s main passion is tinkering with his car. Unfortunately, he never does anything serious with this interest, unlike later Borzage heroes who become engineers or scientists. The hero’s car links him to high technology and progress in the opening scenes. By contrast, his well-dressed, well-to-do rival drives a lavish horse-and-buggy. This suggests that respectability and social prominence are linked to backward, anti-progress forces. Kit and her boyfriend eventually open a garage, while the hero is away at war. Such garages, run by the heroes of later Borzage films, are a principal locale of Borzage’s cinema: Big City, Three Comrades. They too are signs of technological modernity.

A. White for New York Press:

Comparing Lazybones to its contemporary literary landmarks The Great Gatsby, Manhattan Transfer and An American Tragedy helps define how movies transmit deep insight through visual power. Steve, a feckless young man at the dawn of the automobile age, anticipates the existential protagonists who wait for life to happen. Letting romance pass him by, Steve helps an unwed mother raise her child and then slowly awakens to passion. Borzage shows Jones and Madge Bellamy’s sensuality with startling erotic attention—throughout his career he was certainly a master of the romantic dual close-up—and this conveys a profound sense of lost opportunity, of everyday tragedy. And this insight compares well to 1925’s other cinematic landmarks: The Gold Rush, Greed, Seven Chances, The Last Laugh, Master of the House—less ostentatious but no less deep.

Lazybones doubtlessly influenced the Johnny Mercer-Hoagy Carmichael song that celebrated Southern ease; more proof that Borzage’s films once touched the core of pop mythology. (Just as Bad Girl and After Tomorrow are quintessential Depression-era films, containing emotional values the recovering nation still hurries to forget.) In its sublimely simple way, Lazybones epitomizes the potency of American pop art at its most morally sophisticated—the same greatness that is underrated in Spielberg.

A. Kendall for TCM:

Lazybones, made prior to Murnau’s arrival on the lot, helps illuminate the degree to which Borzage’s visual style was influenced by the emigre. Borzage is in full command of the emotionally complex characters and moments of bitter pathos that highlight his “prime” work, but it lacks the visual eloquence that Murnau brought to the studio. … The emotional texture of Lazybones is remarkable for a film of 1925, and it would surely stand alongside Borzage’s best-known works, were it not for a misguided turn in the final reel, when Lazybones falls in love with his adoptive daughter Kit, who has just come of age. The sudden shift from paternal affection to sexual desire derails our identification with the hero, and makes us aware of the filmmaker trying to pile more pathos onto the story than its narrative framework can support.