I blocked off late January for Rotterdance, and premiere screening Asako was fantastic, then Belmonte and Rojo were pretty whatever… so I’m looking at the remaining options for the following week… Monos, Happy as Lazzaro… movies I keep hearing are great but don’t look attractive like Private Life and The Souvenir… mass-murder fashion-thing Vox Lux… serious stuff by Loznitsa and Petra Costa… and La Flor is there on the list, the ridiculous outlier which obviously I’m not gonna watch because there isn’t time. So that’s what I watched.

Movie from Argentina, in multiple episodes, with multiple chapters, the whole thing cut into multiple parts which don’t align with the episodes (but do align with the chapters) – it’s complicated. The director helps lighten things up by introducing the project in a prologue, looking into camera without moving his mouth, narrating in voiceover, and drawing his diagram of the film’s structure which landed on the cover of Cinema Scope.


Episode 1

Proper b-movie length at 80 minutes, and shot on low-grade video. The audio sounds dry and dubbed, but looks to be in sync. Scientists receive shipment of an ancient mummy, have to babysit it after hours, but one girl (and a black cat) get mummy-cursed, so a psycho-transference specialist comes to help. “I’ll tell you more about it,” she says, as the movie suddenly cuts to episode 2. A Mac OS 9 skype window proves this movie has been in the works for a long time.

Elisa Carricajo = Marcela, lead scientist who is introduced on an awkward date before hectic work day
Laura Paredes = cool, efficient doctor Lucia
Valeria Correa = dazed, cursed, water-guzzling Yani
Pilar Gamboa = mummy-curse specialist Daniela

Dr. Elisa, Dr. Laura:

Mummy-whisperer Pilar:


Episode 2

Famous singer Victoria reminisces to her hair-streaked assistant Flavia about Vic’s rocky/successful recording career and personal life with lousy singer Ricky. Out of the blue, Flavia is in a scorpion cult with the secret of eternal youth, but cult leader Elisa Carricajo doesn’t seem to trust her. Andrea “Superbangs” Nigro, a rival singer, has a whole speech about storytelling and protagonists (it’s a monologue-heavy episode) and is present in the recording booth during the very good climactic Victoria song (but why? I spaced out for a while).

Singer Victoria = Pilar = mummy-curse specialist Daniela
Assistant/Confidante/Cultist Flavia = Laura = cool doctor Lucia
Superbangs singer Andrea Nigro = Valeria = cursed Yani
Scorpion cult leader = Elisa = lead scientist Marcela

Nigro:


Episode 3

Epic spy drama that starts out fun, tries to pivot to being mournful as everyone appears to be doomed, and takes long sidetracks into backstory. The four lead women are teammates in this one – briefly they were five, until their leader Agent 50 takes out the mole sent by a rival assassin collective led by “Mother.” Both team leaders report to Casterman, a spymaster ordered to kill off his own people. It’s like pulp Oliveira at times – it’s never comedy, but has a delightful heightened quality to it. Multiple narrators of different sexes with different viewpoints, and at one point (not even at an intermission), Llinás stops the episode to show off his storyboards.

Casterman:

Commie-trained mute spy Theresa = Pilar
La Niña, daughter of a legendary soldier = Valeria
La 301, globetrotting assassin = Laura
Agent 50, Ukranian super-spy = Elisa

The promo shot… from L-R: 50, 301, Niña, Dreyfuss, Theresa:

My favorite scene, kidnapped Dreyfuss in the cosmos:


Episode 4

After all that narrative drama, this episode is aggressively messing with us. The actresses play “the actresses,” undistinguished and ignored. Llinás introduces them to new producer Violeta in a studio scene of choreographed arguments, then he ditches his production, taking a mobile crew to film trees in bloom with relaxing string music, stopping frequently to write in his notebook. I think it’s a parody of the pretentious filmmaker who has lost his focus/inspiration.

Halfway through, the focus changes, as paranormal investigator Gatto arrives at the site of a mysterious incident, finding the filmmakers’ car high in a tree, the camera and sound crew raving mad, and Llinás missing, having left behind his journals. Gatto calls the La Flor script notes “a load of crap,” gets mixed up with some residents of a psychiatric colony, and follows the director’s tracks through a series of used book stores, as Llinás searches for an old copy of Casanova with a deleted chapter. This all sounds like nonsense, but it comes together beautifully by the end, after seeming like a waste of time for a good while.

“He never refers to any of them in particular, as if the four were a single thing:”


Episode 5

“In episode five, the girls don’t appear… at the time we thought it was interesting.” I think it’s the same Guy de Maupassant story that Jean Renoir filmed in the 1930’s. A couple of cool dudes with fake mustaches give horse rides to a whitesuit man and his son, when they’re derailed by a couple of picnicking women, who pair off with the mustache men after whitesuit rides away. This is all capped with an air show, and is a lovely diversion after the long previous section.


Episode 6

Heavy organ music and intertitles – the four stars are reunited, but blurred as if shot from behind a dirty screen. Aha, it’s filmed using a camera obscura, a pre-camera device which throws a reverse image through a pinhole. Supposedly the women have escaped from unseen savages and are dodging a giant steampunk insect before returning to their homes. Partially nude and without closeups, they’re finally indistinguishable.

Essential reading: Nick Pinkerton for Reverse Shot and Jordan Cronk’s Cinema Scope feature.

“It’s after the end of the world / Don’t you know that yet?”

Sun Ra finds a new planet, decides to bring over some Black people. He appears in the 1940’s as stage pianist “Sunny Ray,” playing futuristic jazz piano to the annoyance of the patrons (the Back to the Future of its time). Some sort of interdimensional devil finds him, and challenges him to card games in the middle of the desert.

Somehow I thought this movie was a concert/rock doc, but it’s not a doc of any sort. Ra ends up in present-day California and observes all kinds of dickish behavior. He is kidnapped by NASA agents, who tie him up and torture him by playing him “Dixie” in headphones, until he’s rescued by young men who were earlier arguing about whether Sun Ra was selling out by releasing his music on LPs. There’s a sidetrack where the (white/racist) NASA guys beat up some prostitutes, a running joke where the devil-man has two naked women and his crony gets excited only to be kicked out so the devil can have both women for himself, and at the end, one of the young men sacrifices himself to save Sun Ra from an assassin, then all the decent(ish) Black people are raptured away to Ra’s planet before Earth explodes.

The youth of today:

The wikis say Ra made his own edit, 20 minutes shorter, cutting out the blaxploition stuff, which would probably be for the best. No info on the director… cowriter Josh Smith’s other credit is a G-rated family movie about a kid’s baby seal. Devil-man (Ashley Clark called him a “megapimp”) is Ray Johnson, who showed up 15 years later in a previously unheard-of TV version of The Bourne Identity, and his hanger-on is Chris Brooks, who played both Hieronymus Bosch and Jesus Christ in his short career. But that’s all if you believe IMDB credits, which are often bunk. I see a John and a Chris, a Johnson and a Smith – these are all generic pseudonyms, since this movie was clearly made by aliens from the future.

One more Criterion musical watched after last month‘s spree, and this one has the most interesting story. Envisioned as an On The Town sequel with Gene Kelly, but Sinatra and Munshin got replaced by Michael Kidd (choreographer of Seven Brides) as a short burger chef and Dan Dailey (Ethel Merman’s partner in There’s No Business) as a tall corporate sadsack. The three play war buddies who promise to reunite after ten years, and they come through but don’t like each other/themselves much anymore. Through Dan’s advertising job their story catches the attention of Cyd Charisse (her boxing-ring song is the best scene), who tricks them into appearing on live TV with overbearing host Dolores Gray (Kismet the same year). The show coincides with boxing promoter Gene Kelly’s ambush by some gangsters angry that he has messed up their fixed fights, the cameras catch the ensuing brawl and confession, and the guys realize that they still like each other/themselves as long as violence is involved. A drunken dance with trashcan-lid shoes goes on for hours, and Kelly shows up Melvin with a roller skate dance where you can tell the skates aren’t locked.

Named after the song, for some reason, since mostly it’s a Christmas movie – a semi-remake of The Shop Around the Corner, with Van Johnson as the insensitive lunk. Tom Hanks and Jimmy Stewart are extremely likeable actors, offsetting the insensitivity of their character, but here the producers were mostly focused on finding excuses for Judy Garland to sing old-fashioned songs, so they changed the shop to a music store, hired a bunch of comedians for the support roles, and accidentally cast a lunk to play the lunk.

Cuddles Sakall (this is his latest film that I’ve heard of) is their boss, a music store owner who plays his expensive violin very badly, with his Devil and Miss Jones costar Spring Byington as his secretary/fiancee, plus nordic-sounding Minnesotan Clinton Sundberg (Good Sam), and Buster Keaton! Keaton gets to smash the offending violin (actually another violin, long story) and directed the chaotic scene when Judy and Van meet – which we knew because the P-Bog doc just showed it. Van’s violinist friend was actually a violinist, who had just appeared on a Life magazine cover.

Opens with heavy narration, which thankfully peters out. Judy looked and sounded great onscreen – this was a brief productive spell between The Pirate and Summer Stock during the period when she kept getting fired from movies. Mostly she sings period-appropriate songs for shop customers looking to spend 15 cents on sheet music, but she gets to stretch out at a company party, following a lively barbershop song with the crazy-energetic “I Don’t Care.”

Yeesh, we had no idea. One brother goes into town, finds a gal who’s eager to escape, convinces her to marry him, and heads back into the woods. So far so good… but then his six brothers sneak into town, kidnap six girls, cover their tracks with an avalanche, hold the girls hostage until the thaw, and when their family members arrive in spring with rifles and pitchforks the girls have the stockholm syndrome and ask to get married.

Before the mass kidnapping, saddled with a flustered husband and six hungry boys, Jane Powell sure turns this rowdy bunch of crude mountain men into model citizens in a couple scenes. Sure the men have lapses, like when they get in a brawl and destroy the barn they were supposed to be building, but the men from town were attacking them with boards and hammers! Maybe after Jane’s lessons in manners, they realized that the men in town are the savages, and deserve to have all their eligible young ladies stolen away to the hills.

Donen made this between Singin’ in the Rain and It’s Always Fair Weather. In scope with bold and bright (but shaky) color. I’m not sure any of the songs were great, but the staging and dance were all tops. Giant dude and oldest brother Adam was Howard “Not Richard” Keel of Annie Get Your Gun, and his bride Jane Powell is from Royal Wedding. Too many burly, beardy, identical-looking dudes and pretty girls without any character to mention – we focused on Russ Tamblyn as the youngest brother, didn’t realize Julie “Catwoman” Newmar was in there too. Remade in the 80’s with River Phoenix, then again with Amitabh Bachchan

Criterion posted a pile of MGM musicals, and I got Katy to watch The Pirate, which she didn’t like, even though it’s about a circus-boss scam-artist ladies’ man who pretends to be a notorious pirate in order to win over a pretty girl, then discovers her fiancee is the real notorious pirate, fat and retired.

Stars: Gene and Judy

Blustery and Loud: Walter Sleestack (The Clock King of TV’s Batman) and Gladdie Cooper (Mrs. Higgins in My Fair Lady)

Yitz: Lester Allen as Capucho, the movie’s secret star

Michael Koresky:

In The Pirate, Garland’s unhappily betrothed Manuela, who craves romance and adventure, insists, “Underneath this prim exterior, there are depths of emotion, romantic longings.” It’s a statement that could be made by virtually any character in any musical. These are hardly frivolous matters. The musical is for anyone who has ever longed for something or someone — that is to say, everyone. What is life without fantasy? To be firmly grounded, one must occasionally walk on air.

Japanese gang-war rap musical, opens with an epic long take, then blonde gang boss Mera (Ryôhei Suzuki of Kurosawa’s Seventh Code) explains the local gangs and neighborhoods to a noob cop he has stripped and threatened with a knife, and we already know what the movie is like: it’s gross and loud and sexist, and kinda fun as hell.

Mera ambushes his hated rivals, the peaceful gang Musashino led by Kai, and kills a guy, and his body is wheeled back home with a new girl in tow (Nana Seino). Meanwhile, Mera ally Lord Buppa (played by a pop-eyed Riki Takeuchi, a classic Miike star I haven’t seen since Battle Royale 2) is sent two elite fighters by the High Priest to recover HP’s missing daughter Erika (the new girl, obvs), and previously unknown gang the Waru is activated.

A holographic message from the wise High Priest:

Kai bands together all the Tokyo tribes, including the Gira Gira Girls and Neri Muthafuckaz and probably a couple more, to fight this new threat. It all looks impressively choreographed and real, neon lights and stunt fights, then a super-fake CG tank comes along and blows it. Still, for a full two hours of rap mayhem, this doesn’t lose steam. I’d been avoiding Sion Sono since Noriko’s Dinner Table, but this and Why Don’t You Play In Hell were fun, so maybe I should watch his four-hour masterpiece Love Exposure sometime.

A musical Joan of Arc story soundtracked by a metal band! It’s a bit of wacky fun – except it’s not, really… you can still detect the serious Dumont of Hors Satan in the dramatic scenes (which stop the movie dead between musical numbers) and the comic Dumont of Quinquin in the playfulness and the casting, and this movie hangs weirdly in between. The two girls playing the lead seem very much like girls, without the fervor and obsession of other cinematic Joans. These Jeannettes are still figuring out what God wants from them, and their own headbanging and awkward dances (to metal songs interrupted by sheep) is filmed at about the same level as the religious figures and miraculous apparitions. It’s a materialist movie, if that’s the right word OR the right understanding of what he’s doing here, focusing mostly on Jeannette (with great help from her uncle D’nis) being unsure and hesitant about the journey she finally undertakes at the end.

Mouseover for headbanging:
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