“The world has become more Wellesian… things seem exaggerated.” The narration is written as a letter to the late Orson, and I thought this might get too cutesy, then I recalled that I never get tired of listening to Mark Cousins. He emulates Welles’ camera moves as he did in The Story of Film. Welles took a trip to Ireland to paint in the early 1930’s, then Morocco, and Cousins shows the evolution of his sketches, travels to these places himself and films them in the present day. He ties the films to the radio plays, to the paintings, to international politics. It’s a cradle-to-grave career bio-doc like I’ve never seen, integrating the life with the art, half a rich analysis and half a love poem.

First Paul Robeson movie I’ve seen. Looks unpolished, with clumsy sound recording, but Robeson’s performance shines right through. Jericho saves some guys in a sinking ship, during which a real asshole of a superior officer is killed, so Jericho ditches the army leaving friendly Captain Mack (who refers to his black soldiers as children) to take the punishment. Jericho steals a boat containing drunken white sailor Mike (Wallace Ford, lead clown in Freaks), who follows like a dog for the rest of the picture (Jericho calls him “boy”). They get to Morocco, where Jericho uses his medical skills to gain trust, eventually marrying a local and becoming a peace-keeping tribal chief. Mack (Henry Wilcoxon, propagandist preacher in Mrs. Miniver) gets out of prison, is kicked out of the army, and searches the world to get his revenge on Jericho… but of course they team up at the end. Robeson also performs a helluva version of “My Way” (not the Frank Sinatra song) against a stormy desert backdrop. Criterion calls it “his most satisfying film role” so I guess the rest of the box set will be downhill.

Marlene Dietrich sails away from a troubled past, becoming a nightclub singer in Morocco. She takes up with young Legionnaire Gary Cooper (three years before Design for Living, sans his stammery, wooden persona), who has his own problems, having slept with his commanding officer’s wife. Gary gives her up and marches into battle, where his boss (Ullrich Haupt, who’d die in a hunting “accident” in under a year) is killed, while Marlene prepares to marry wealthy Adolphe Menjou (anti-Lincoln conspirator in The Tall Target and anti-communist conspirator in the McCarthy hearings) instead. But she ditches Adolphe at their wedding party, returning to Gary, finally throwing away her pride and independence to follow him sheepishly into the desert.

Sternberg’s and Dietrich’s first American picture, a follow-up to The Blue Angel but beating it into U.S. theaters. Dietrich got an oscar nomination despite delivering her lines phonetically. She was beaten by Marie Dressler, with Cimarron, Norman Taurog and Tabu winning out for Morocco’s other nominations. It’s not my favorite Sternberg movie, but Dietrich’s obsessive performance towards the end is among her best. Sternberg loves his tragedies: nobody gets out of this one easily, and Dietrich’s final humiliation reminds of the Emil Jannings pictures that preceded. Controversial at the time: Dietrich wears a tux and kisses a woman. “Battling” Butler was sixth-billed, but I didn’t recognize him.

Film Quarterly in 1948: “The story itself was exceedingly simple, romantic .. However, it was not von Sternberg’s intention to produce a film of reflected reality, but rather to evoke cinematically an exotic locale peopled with extraordinary characters. .. [the] absence of background music gave the film a sharp, immediate quality seldom found in films today, generally burdened, as they are, with a lush musical score.”

“That’s the sickness that comes from thinking about film.”

Some notes I took:

He cuts up some woman and puts her body in a trunk. On a train, a man tells stories about a mysterious rider with a companion speaking to him from inside a small suitcase.
Mentions of Grenada and Marrakesh
Middle-east parody?
Communicating by dance
Protagonist tends to wail
The subtitled part is the movie our protag is watching
White-robe is the Sailor? from Three Crowns? Yes he is.
Very good string music, reminiscent of Three Crowns
Protag has no memories.

Some of this will be wrong, and much will be left out. I will happily watch the movie again, hopefully from some glorious high-res copy released in the future, not a fan-subtitled compressed file made from a two-decades-old beta videotape.

To start with, our guy gets a job at a movie theater. “The films we projected, I never knew who chose them, but I think that nothing that was shown was ever watched.” He and erratic coworker Kasim sleep in the projection booth, living there with Kasim’s girlfriend Fatima. Our guy meets an unknown uncle, then an unknown nephew, then goes on a journey (see note above about cutting up and trunking some poor woman).

Suddenly: “Here begins the story of Aba Yahyar ibn Abu Bakhra as recounted by Ibn Abas may it please Allah”. A riddle-spouting djinn sets a crazily fake-bearded young man searching for his crazy uncles, then he finds the “seven sleepers of ephesus” inside a giant mouth (flashback to the giant teeth in City of Pirates). Also, twin brothers (“the only thing that distinguished them was that one drank more water”) love the same woman. Took me a while to realize that all this is the film-within-the-film.

Bearded man seeks uncle:

Giant teeth:

Back in the projection booth, Fatima eats and drinks sound and images by grabbing them off the projector beam with her hand, and our guy gets into a bloody fight with Kasim. Back in the inner film, more uncles and twins starts to jumble together. “Thus I discovered I no longer needed to watch the film. Henceforth, it would be part of me. I would see it projected on the walls of my room, on the face of my nephew and on the sheets of my bed. I could discern it in a dog’s bark, a man’s groan or a bird’s song, all of them telling me one grand tale of my two fathers, my two uncles and my mother, the dancer.”

Sailor:

The Sailor says he collects the decapitated heads of thieves, shows off his heads and one removed eye to Rosalia (the inner film’s fascinating mystery woman). Back at the theater, our protagonist comes to some final realization (“I’ve never had any memories, and in the space of that day I had aged some fifty years”) and leaves the building, ghostlike.

From (the only) IMDB review:

So not a fiction film but about fiction, immortal stories without particular author or answer, that always seem to begin by their narrator with “I heard a story”…

Based partly on a Persian novel by Sadegh Hedayat. A plot summary of the 1975 film version sounds twisty and surreal, and almost nothing like the Ruiz version except that it involves a young man fixated on a memory of a glimpsed “ethereal” woman.

Hard to tell which actors played whom, but Jean-Fran├žois Lapalus is the lead, and Jessica Forde (star of Rohmer’s Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle) was in there somewhere.

Maybe right here:

“It is at once an enormous joke and a cosmic, existential work on the human condition.” There’s little writing on this obscure Ruiz feature online, but Rouge has published an essential Luc Moullet piece.

Story of six Africans trying to emigrate illegally to Europe. They go from Senegal to Mauritania to Algeria to Morocco via boat then trucks (one of them refrigerated) then camels then by foot through the desert, truck again, then they’re stuck in Tangier for a while.

I don’t remember what happens to Arvey the stingy old guy in the end. Someone gets sick along the way and is left to the authorities, his bag stolen by Kadirou (Dioucounda Koma of A Screaming Man). Kadirou goes off with his cousin, Moussa the teacher, making their own way to Tangier.

Second half of the movie mostly follows the others: Joe the dreamer (Ona Lu Yenke of Code Unknown) who says his girl is waiting across the strait, Sipipi the sailor, and Amma the wronged wife (latter two end up together). I thought it’d be one of those endings where Joe doesn’t really have a girlfriend waiting for him in Spain, but she turns out to be real – instead it’s one of those endings where he drowns trying to escape when the police boat grabs them.

Pretty good movie, watched a very poorly-attended screening at GA Tech. The director also acts, was in Munich and Three Crowns of the Sailor. Katy probably has more to say about it since she is talking about teaching it next year, but I’m running behind on the movie blog so didn’t ask her input.

Ahhh, Casablanca at the nearly-packed 4600-seat Fox Theater. Katy liked it!

Ingrid Bergman had been in Hollywood three years, and it’d be eight more before she met Robert Rossellini. Bogart owned the 1940’s, had already done Maltese Falcon and High Sierra. Police chief Claude Rains would play Bergman’s evil husband four years later in Notorious. Her husband in this movie, underground war hero Paul Henreid, didn’t appear in many other interesting films, but directed a whole bunch of Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes. Nazi chief Conrad Veidt died a year after this came out. Dooley Wilson (Sam), would’ve been higher than tenth-billed if he was white.

Opened with Rabbit Seasoning from 1952, a full decade later. What, Blitz Wolf and Tulips Shall Grow from 1942 weren’t available? Or one of the Bogart-parody Looney Tunes? I have more imagination than the Fox programmers. A one-joke short, but it’s an enjoyable joke. The crowd loved it.