2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

The brother of Morag (Geraldine Chaplin, then of Cría cuervos and The Three Musketeers, later of Love on the Ground and Talk To Her) is killed. She seeks revenge on pirate queen Giulia (Bernadette Lafont, Sarah in Out 1, also Genealogies of a Crime), infiltrates the castle with help of traitorous Erika (Kika Markham of Truffaut’s Two English Girls and Dennis Potter’s Blade on the Feather). Gradually all of Giulia’s associates are killed off, then G & M stab each other to death, fall to the ground dying and laughing.

Early ambush attempt:

Feels more mysterious and less straightforward than Duelle even though there’s less talk of magic in this one. Morag is apparently the moon goddess and Giulia the sun goddess, though they don’t reveal their powers until the last half hour. I didn’t do the best job keeping track of the minor characters, but I’m almost positive that some of them – including Morag’s brother – keep dying then reappearing in later scenes. In fact, I guess one of the two male pirates, “Jacob” (Humbert Balsan of Lancelot of the Lake, later an important film producer) is also her brother “Shane,” which complicates the plot in ways I no longer understand.

The men of the castle, Jacob and Ludovico:

There are gas lamps and castles and swordfights and magic, all very period, but then there is lots of cool, modern (clearly 70’s) clothing and guns and motorboats. And nobody is cooler than Bernadette Lafont in her bellbottomed pink leather suit (which creaks loudly when she moves). Watching her and Chaplin’s movements through the scenes, and to a lesser degree the other male pirate Larrio Ekson, are the best part of the movie and sometimes appear to be its entire point.

As beautiful and simple as the sun: Giulia with pink jeans on:

Morag and Erika have meetings in which they sit or walk robotically and recite lines in English from the play The Revenger’s Tragedy, so maybe reading that would help somewhat. Then again, D. Ehrenstein says “Analysis begins to run into a series of dead ends. The texts utilized as central sources of quotation… Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît — are merely pre-texts, having nothing to say about the films that enclose them, posed in the narrative as subjects for further research.”

As in Duelle, whenever there’s music in a scene the musicians are part of that scene, even when they realistically would’ve left the room. Maybe right before the shot begins Giulia has threatened their lives and told them to play, no matter what. There are long stretches with no spoken dialogue. Lighting mostly looks natural indoors. This and Duelle were Rivette’s first films shot by William Lubtchansky, who would shoot most of the rest of the films (not Hurlevent). William is husband to Nicole L., who edited everything for forty years from L’Amour Fou to Around a Small Mountain.

Morag killing Regina:

Erika playing Morag in the reenactment of previous scene:

Morag playing Regina getting killed by skullfaced Erika:

I wish I knew how this movie’s title was pronounced, because every time I think of it, Fred Schneider sings “here comes a narwhal!” in my head. It’s gonna be “narr-WHAA” until some Frenchman tells me otherwise. One site translates the word as “Nor’wester.”

Rivette:

When I was filming Noroît, I was persuaded that we were making a huge commercial success, that it was an adventure film that would have great appeal … When the film didn’t come out, when it was considered un-showable … I was surprised. I don’t consider myself … unfortunately, I’m not very lucid when it comes to the potential success of my projects.

J. Reichert:

As with all good revenge dramas (this one inspired by bloody Jacobean plays), the mass of killings begin to far outweigh the initial wrong done and the angel of vengeance experiences moments of doubts and sympathy for her marks—there’s betrayal as well. Rivette shorthands these narratively rich moments, suggesting them in a glance, a line, a change of Chaplin’s face, so that he can maintain focus on the ballet-like movement of his players through space, where stowing recently acquired treasure takes on the aspect of slow-motion acrobatics. The drama climaxes in a clifftop masquerade ball/murder spree/dance performance shot across what looks like infrared, B&W, and color, that combines violence and poetry into a mix that’s literally unlike anything I’ve seen.

Doomed dance party:

Giulia (left) and Morag having stabbed each other to death:

D. Ehrenstein:

The films are devoted to methods that while seeming to reach representational specificity, do so in a manner designed to cancel all possible affectivity. The settings and costumes of Duelle suggest their display in a reserved “theatrical” style, but the camera, while tracking smoothly, does so far too energetically, and when coupled with the film’s nervous angular montage rhythms, disrupts the space it has spent so much time constructing. Likewise each setting (casino, hotel, aquarium, ballet school, race track, park, subway, dance hall, and greenhouse in Duelle, castle by the sea in Noroît) suggests the possibility of an atmosphere the mise en scene never seems directly to create (as in Resnais, Franju, Fellini, etc.).

Similarly acting styles clash with one another. Flip off-hand cool (Bulle Ogier, Bernadette Lafont) wars with highly stylized affectation (Hermine Karaheuz, Geraldine Chaplin) rather than the work holding to the latter mentioned category for an overall tone as would be logically demanded by a project of this sort … The film’s essence is thus not reducible to a specific moment, but must be seen in the working through of its positive/negative gestures — unfixed points neither within nor without the films.

Poster shot: Morag and Shane… or is it Jacob?

Michael Graham:

Like any Rivette film, [Noroît] took shape gradually, drawing on a large number of deliberately chosen ideas and as many fortuitous circumstances. As important as Rivette’s interest in Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy (drawn to his attention by Eduardo De Gregorio), and the curious traditions surrounding the period of Carnival, was the availability of Geraldine Chaplin and Bernadette Lafont together with that of a group of dancers from Carolyn Carlson’s company. It must be kept in mind that Rivette often conceives a film around particular people; Celine et Julie began as ‘a film for Juliet Berto’. Any casting decision is consequently of primary importance. Further, the selection of Brittany as a location arose as much from certain union allowances permitting a six day week outside Paris, as from a vague desire to spend some time in the country. Once the different ideas and practical considerations begin to sort themselves out and interact, the narrative itself starts to acquire definition. Even after shooting has begun, however, Rivette is enormously influenced by what he may discover the actors capable of achieving.

2016/17: Watched the new blu-ray and updated the 2008 writeup below.

Juliet Berto and Bulle Ogier are rival goddesses, only on Earth for a short time unless they can possess a magic stone. Juliet hires Hermine Karagheuz (Marie in Out 1) to track some people connected to her brother Pierre (Jean Babilée, a dancer not in a lot of films) – first an acquaintance named Sylvia who dies at the aquarium, then Pierre’s on-again girl Elsa (Nicole Garcia of Mon oncle d’Amérique, now a director). Poor Elsa has a key role in the middle half of the movie, then gets killed trying to defeat Bulle and is barely mentioned again. Pierre himself has been possessed by Bulle and also infected by the stone, which he hands off to Hermine, who figures out how to use it to banish the two goddesses, Hellraiser-style, at dusk.

Juliet Berto in her serious vengeance suit:

So much camera movement, most of it (per Rosenbaum’s set-visit notes) on tracks, which seems too complex to be possible. Music is improv piano and pianist Jean Wiener is on set, in the shot, even in places where he obviously does not belong. Bulle has an accomplice, Elisabeth Wiener (daughter of the pianist) who disappears a few scenes into the movie.

Bulle and Elsa go for a walk:

David Ehrenstein has the inside scoop on literary and filmic references: “Our innocent heroine (Hermine Karaghuez instantly recalling Betty Schneider in Paris nous appartient) recites lines from Cocteau’s play [Knights of the Round Table] as a kind of incantation, much as Geraldine Chaplin reads lines from Cyril Tourneur’s The Revenger’s Tragedy in Noroît.” Rivette screened The Seventh Victim for the cast, and D.E. also mentions Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne as an influence.

Frederique Fatale: Juliet Berto at the aquarium

Hermine discovers Sylvia dead:

David Cairns puts it best:

Lots of creaking in this film! As the dolly trundles over wooden floors, a cacophony of straining wood announces its presence. Since the film has a very live soundtrack, there was obviously no way to eliminate these extraneous sounds, so they kind of make a mild virtue of them. The camera movements, coupled with the moves of the actors, are extremely elegant and elaborate, and the symphony of sounds that accompany them all can be seen as atmosphere … Jean Babilée is an amazing physical presence, not just when he does his acrobatic feats, but just in his general movements, which are all like dance, even when maybe he’s just moving around so you can’t see how short he is next to the women.

Showdown: Elsa and Juliet…

vs. Bulle and the fabulous Babilée

Rivette discussed how each of the four planned films (this was written as part two) would be set during the same forty days of Carnival, two cycles from new moon to full.

During shooting, each “unit” (each block-sequence) will be subjected to a method designed to break down not only conventional dramatic techniques but also the more recent conventions of improvisation with all the prolixities and cliches it entails (hesitations, provocations, etc.), and to establish an ecriture based on actions, movements, attitudes, the actor’s ‘gestural’, in other words. The ambition of these films is to discover a new approach to acting in the cinema, where speech, reduced to essential phrases, to precise formulas, would playa role of ‘poetic’ punctuation. Not a return to the silent cinema, neither pantomime nor choreography: something else, where the movement of bodies, their counterpoint, their inscription within the screen space, would be the basis of the mise en scene.

In order to enable us to make a definitive crossing of this frontier which separates traditional acting from the kind we are looking for: the constant presence during shooting of musicians (different instruments and styles of music according to each film) who would improvise during the filming of sequences, their improvisation dependent on the actors’ playing, the latter also being modified by the musicians’ own inventions (recorded in direct sound along with the dialogue and the “stage noises” properly speaking).

Showdown: knife-wielding Bulle…

vs. gem-wielding Hermine

G. Adair reporting from the set:

Whatever else it may be, a film is also the record of its own tournage. In Rivette’s case, the film set becomes a theatre of imponderables, which shape the result much as a sleeper’s movements will govern the nature of his dreams; and from the evidence of interviews one realizes that the only guidelines of a Rivette film are those of tournage, the idea of a definitive form, at least until editing begins, being a nonsense. In the past (L’Amour Fou, Out 1) his overriding concern as a director has been to record the work’s gestation, which tempts me to suggest that, though the ‘legendary’ 13-hour version of Out 1 may indeed be extraordinary, it must be less so than the six-week version, i.e. the tournage. From [Duelle], whose camera movements are plotted out in advance but whose dialogue is written the evening before, whose actors have specific things to do but whose music is improvised, one can have no idea what to expect.

Hermine triumphant:

Not an exceptionally good-looking movie thirty years later, and not usually fun enough to justify the dull dialogue and tired plotting (amnesia leads to mistaken identity) but it comes alive whenever Madonna is onscreen. It was on Linklater’s list of the best 1980’s movies, and has been appearing on lists of women-directed films lately, but the thing that stuck in my mind and always made me want to see it was hearing it was inspired by Celine & Julie Go Boating. Apparent Rivette influence – one woman (Rosanna Arquette of Crash and After Hours) starts following another (Madonna in her first major film role), identities get mixed up, and a magic show is involved. There’s no Fiction House, sadly.

Roberta is married to spa king Mark Blum, wears appalling 80’s clothes and big glasses, follows the hookups of the cool and mysterious Susan and her man Jim (Robert Joy of Atlantic City, a mutant in The Hills Have Eyes Remake) in the classifieds, builds up the nerve to follow Susan around and buy her pawned jacket. Roberta’s knocked on the head and mistaken for a prostitute by NYPD, then rescued by Jim’s projectionist friend Dez (Aidan Quinn of Benny & Joon, The Handmaid’s Tale) who thinks she must be Susan.

A neighbor plays saxophone, seen backlit through a window, and I thought “1980’s, New York, saxophone, it’s probably John Lurie” and was right! Also appearing: Richard Hell (Madonna’s boyfriend who gets killed in prologue, setting off the chase), Steven Wright (dating Roberta’s sister[?] Laurie Metcalf) and John Turturro (manager of the magic club). Writer Leora Barish also did a Chantal Akerman movie and Basic Instinct 2, a weird career. Seidelman also made Smithereens and a movie about a robot John Malkovich, and directed some Electric Company reboot episodes which means I’m technically her collaborator and shouldn’t be talking smack about her most famous movie. Good acting and a pleasantly goofball flick, I’ve got no hard feelings.

The ultimate meta-storytelling, misfit-family, humans-vs-gods, origami-magic, epic-quest movie featuring the ultimate ass-kicking monkey.

My only complaint about the gorgeous stop-motion, which features a centerpiece sailboat battle that is possibly the best scene I’ve ever seen accomplished in animation, is that it’s all so perfectly executed that you often can’t tell it’s stop-motion.

We stayed through the credits to see my favorite armaturist’s name on the big screen – way to go, Spake!

J. Spiegel:

I was pretty much an emotional wreck for the last 25-30 minutes of Kubo. It’s not that I was surprised by the twists–very soon after we meet Monkey and Beetle (the former of whom voices Kubo’s actual mother), it’s pretty clear that they’re not just metaphorical stand-ins for his parents, but literal ones. It’s that the way the script handles the notion of accepting death and treating it as a fitting end to our “story” was unexpected and achingly humane.

D. Ehrlich:

The physical reality of their characters conveys an otherwise impossible sense of impermanence, and reveals stop-motion to be the perfect vehicle for a story about the beauty of being finite. The movies have explored the afterlife almost as thoroughly as they have life on Earth, but this one is so powerful because of the precision with which it articulates these immortal ideas of transience.

Lightning strike:

T. Robinson for The Verge:

One of Laika’s ideals is that only one animator should work on a given scene at a time … for instance, in a scene where Kubo stands in a wooded area and a wind blows through the trees, that’s the work of a single animator moving every leaf and branch separately. The process is incredibly laborious: On Kubo, 27 animators worked simultaneously on their own scenes, each trying to achieve the company goal of 4.3 seconds of animation per week, and more often, only hitting about three seconds per week.

Conrad Veidt, Dr. Caligari’s somnambulist, again plays an intense guy with too much eye makeup, this time as stage magician Erik The Great. He can hardly wait until the young girl he stuffs into boxes and pretends to saw in half turns 18 so he can marry her, but the girl Julie (Mary Philbin, star of Phantom of the Opera, Merry-Go-Round, The Man Who Laughs) doesn’t seem anxious to marry the elder magician.

Dangerous Conrad:

Julie:

Assistant Buffo:

Film Quarterly: “In the course of his act, Eric demonstrates his hypnotic control of his assistant, Julie, and also his power over the audience, in a series of short cuts on his eyes and the faces of the audience, and then swirling images of the city, with Eric’s face looming in superimposition over it all.”

Erik hires a dude named Mark after catching him break into his apartment, as his assistant Buffo’s assistant – so now Erik, Buffo and Mark are all in love with Julie. Buffo (Leslie Fenton of The Public Enemy, later a director) gets caught mouthing off that Julie doesn’t love Erik, and Mark gets caught sitting on a bench with her (bench-sitting was 1927’s version of sex), and Erik dramatically overacts overreacts, announcing at a fancy dinner that Mark and Julie will marry, as the camera glides over a crowded dinner table in a way I didn’t know could be done back then. Then Erik frames Mark by having him murder Buffo on stage in a box full of swords.

Mark and Julie on the whoring bench, Conrad’s massive shadow over them:

Mark and Julie at trial:

Nothing’s as thrilling as a big courtroom ending, and so Erik and Julie demonstrate how the murder-box was supposed to work in front of a judge. It’s highly unusual, but I’ll allow it. But out of nowhere, Erik confesses and kills himself with a knife, leaving Mark and Julie – a thief and an unemployed magician’s assistant – in each other’s arms. I’m being flippant, but it was a good movie, if not Lonesome-caliber. Also released as a part-talkie, but Criterion’s got the silent version. Cinematographer Hal Mohr shot The Jazz Singer the same year, later A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Basically a Richard Burton heaven-and-hell monologue, plus a few conversations with baldy Andreas Teuber as Mephistophilis, some fleeting glimpses of Liz Taylor, and one fart-joke scene. Idiot Faustus, supposedly a scientist with a thirst for more knowledge though we never see anything scholarly beyond some lab equipment in the first scenes, signs a deal with the devil – his soul in exchange for all the power and riches he wants for the next 24 years. But Faustus (who speaks his own name roughly twice per sentence, lest we forget it) doesn’t want to be king, he wants only to impress the current king with his magic tricks. We don’t know what other powers he has or desires, since he seems to spend all 24 years fretting about the bargain he made instead of enjoying it, being tormented by angel voices emanating from a cool arrow-pierced mannequin in his lab. Sounds like theater but it looks like a proper film, full of cool effects and dissolves.

Cast a Deadly Spell (1991, Martin Campbell)

“Los Angeles, 1948. Everybody used magic.”

Nice enough TV-movie with some good performances and a great premise: a noir detective story in a world where magic exists. Our hardboiled hero Lovecraft (Fred Ward, the year after starring in Henry & June) who doesn’t use magic due to an incident that killed his partner is hired by a rich guy (David Warner, an HP Lovecraft fan judging from his IMDB resume) to retrieve his Necronomicon. Ward runs into ex-flame Julianne Moore (this might count as her first starring movie role), tries to avoid thug Raymond O’Connor and his zombie, and finally protects Warner’s unicorn-hunting daughter from Warner’s own convoluted world-dooming scheme.

Clearly influenced by Who Framed Roger Rabbit with a lower budget, magic creatures and spells popping up in every scene (accompanied by overdone cartoon sound effects). Campbell went on to make some James Bond movies


Witch Hunt (1994, Paul Schrader)

“For some of hollywood’s biggest stars and studio moguls, it’s time to name names.”

When I heard Schrader had made a sequel starring Dennis Hopper, I couldn’t get a copy fast enough. Unfortunately it’s such a bad movie, it makes me wonder if I didn’t severely overrate the previous one by calling it “nice enough”. This one has fewer puppets, more early (too early) digital effects. And I love Hopper, but he doesn’t seem right for the role, speaking too slowly, looking out of his depth.

Shakespeare is summoned as script doctor:

Eric Bogosian (writer/star of Talk Radio) is a slimy anti-magic senator, starts a literal witch hunt by arresting and arranging to burn Hopper’s witch neighbor (now played by Sheryl Lee Ralph of To Sleep With Anger) for defying “the unnatural activities act”. I don’t know if this is a prequel or what – Hopper has different reasons to avoiding magic than Fred Ward did, and Raymond O’Connor’s zombie is back from the other movie. Penelope Ann Miller (Edna Purviance in Chaplin) is love interest fatale “Kim Hudson”, there’s a movie-star lookalike whorehouse a la L.A. Confidential run by a transvestite lipsync artist, more characters with obvious names (a cop called Bradbury), and Julian Sands with a heavy fake accent. And morphing – remember morphing?

Mouseover to see Hopper vomit a crow:
image

The first couple minute are nice though, with clips from 1950’s industrial films recognizable from MST3K and a reference clip of Reagan testifying before HUAC.

An Ingmar Bergman comedy! I never imagined that such a thing existed. And it is so wonderful, as gorgeously filmed as Monika but altogether more fun. I have not been watching many Bergman films, and maybe it’s time to do something about that.

When Albert Vogler’s “Magnetic Health Theater” rolls into town, all its participants are accosted by the local authorities and challenged to prove themselves a worthwhile entertainment before they’ll be permitted to perform for the public. These participants include Vogler himself (Max von Sydow, even more impressive than usual), the famed mute illusionist, with Mr. Aman (Vogler’s assistant, actually his wife in disguise, Ingrid Thulin), potion-maker Granny (Naima Wifstrand), a young coachman (Lars Ekborg, male lead in Monika) and sideburns-sporting huckster Tubal (Åke Fridell, Monika’s father). Oh, but on the way, they pick up a dying alcoholic actor (Bengt Ekerot, appropriately played Death in The Seventh Seal), who’s a corpse by the time they arrive.

L-R, that’s Tubal, Granny (in the shadows), coachman Simson, Vogler and Aman/Manda:

The challengers – Consul Egerman (Erland Josephson, lead in The Sacrifice) and his wife with police chief Starbeck (under a hilarious wig) and “royal medical adviser” Vergerus (Gunnar Björnstrand, who’d play a character named Vogler in Persona) with a silly intellectual’s beard and armless spectacles – are pitting their science and law against the trickery and deceit of the traveling show, confidently toying with the visitors.

L-R: Vergerus, Starbeck, Egerman:

Also in the house are Sara (Bibi Andersson of Persona) who likes the group’s coachman, young Sanna, cook Sofia (Sif Ruud of Port of Call) who likes Tubal, and violent-tempered Antonsson (Oscar Ljung of The Virgin Spring)

Antonsson, Sanna, Sara, Sofia:

It all gets complicated once night falls. The Magician’s wife is unmasked, he reveals himself not to be mute (this had already been “scientifically” revealed when Vergerus grabbed his tongue), everyone is sleeping around, and the “dead man” charges through the dark kitchen snatching some brandy, then actually dies later on. The next morning the show goes off rather badly, with the men in power pulling back curtains to reveal the trickery. But Vogler succeeds in “hypnotizing” Starbeck’s wife into humiliating him (she relishes the opportunity), then severely freaks out Antonsson, who retaliates by attacking and killing Vogler. This should be a sobering moment for the locals, but the police chief immediately announces Vogler’s death to be nobody’s fault, and Vergerus races upstairs to perform an autopsy on the so-called magician – where Vogler switches bodies with the dead actor and tries to haunt Vergerus out of his rational scientist mind.

In the end, Tubal and Granny are quitting the troupe and Sara is joining, running away with her coachman, when they are stopped in the driveway. Everyone assumed they’ll be arrested, but in fact the King has requested a performance, so Vogler leaves in triumph. I loved the story, and the characters are distinctive enough that I kept most of ’em straight. Besides the comic madness, the whole thing is rich in meaning and mystery.

G. Andrew:

The Magician struck some as a little frivolous in comparison to [the films Bergman made just before and after]: much of the film was in the comic register, and what’s more, the sequence that constituted its dramatic climax sounded echoes of the populist horror genre.

…one of Bergman’s portraits of the artist as an all too human, less than wholly honest manipulator of others. Acutely self-critical, he was highly aware that, as a director in the cinema and the theater, he was using tricks of the trade to persuade audiences that they were witnessing something “real” or “truthful.” Vogler, too, under­stands that his demonstrations of bizarre behavior and miraculous phenomena are in the end a matter of smoke and mirrors, and he’s racked by doubt and self-loathing, made all the worse by the gullibility of many spectators—Mrs. Egerman, for instance, her adoration stemming from a forlorn hope that he’ll somehow cure the enduring grief she feels at her daughter’s death. Many people, the film suggests, are to some extent complicit in the deceptions of which art is necessarily composed—though as Mrs. Egerman’s housekeepers, Sara and Sofia, amusingly reveal in their sly responses to the proffering of love potions by, respectively, Vogler’s cocky coachman and his philistine manager, not all those who are told stories are quite as susceptible in their rapid suspension of disbelief as they may first appear. One can never be entirely sure as to who’s most deceitful, who most deceived.

And oh look, the day I’m posting this (but two weeks after I watched the movie) I learned that its cinematographer Gunnar Fischer has just died at age 100. He also worked on Monika, and surprisingly, Tati’s Parade.

Not the Mickey/Fantasia/Nic Cage Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but based on a novel called Krabat: The Satanic Mill, recently filmed again as a post-Twilight live-action feature. Second-to-last film by Zeman, who died in ’89. I’ve only seen one of his earliest shorts, though I’ve been meaning to watch his Baron Prásil for a long time now.

A poor kid named Krabat ends up at an enchanted mill run by an evil one-eyed wizard, with a staff of boys. Every year the wizard challenges the oldest to a duel, beats him by cheating, and then buries him in the grave the boy dug earlier that day. But Krabat has found a reason to live, an enchanting young girl whom he secretly visits, so he teams up with another boy to learn the magical secrets to defeat the evil wizard.

I was not bowled over by the animation at first, which looked like cut-outs with hinged joints, but as the story sucked me in and I started noticing subtle details, like the odd timing of the transformation scenes and the apparently live-action smoke, fire and water effects, I gained a greater appreciation for the movie by the end.