Shoah (1985, Claude Lanzmann)

Don’t know how Lanzmann did these interviews with such an even temper and tone. Must have taken a great deal of restraint in the town where locals joyfully admitted making throat-slitting gestures at passing trains full of camp-bound Jews, or when interviewing a German doctor in charge of the starving Polish ghetto. My most recent cinematic response to nazis was Inglorious Basterds, and it’s hard to focus on the facts and details here without imagining escape/revenge fantasies.

Auschwitz-Birkenau:

Lanzmann rarely edits an interview, doesn’t use tricks to seamlessly cut out pauses or repetitions. I didn’t deal with the enormity of the film all at once – instead, having just finished Show Me a Hero, I treated this like another miniseries, watching in 60 to 120-minute increments, which made its relentless death-camp horrors easier to take – or maybe not, since I spent more consecutive days thinking about them. The length and focus of the movie seemed on point, but by the time we got to hour eight, talking to people who scheduled the “special” trains who claimed no knowledge of what made them special, I thought okay, this is a bit long.

A phrase caught my attention, upsettingly familiar-sounding this year: the Jews of the ghetto were “forced not only to build a wall, but to pay for it.”

I haven’t got enough documentary history (or holocaust scholarship) to know how this movie changed things, but I noticed a few unique details. In some documentaries the interview subject will get emotional, tear up, and the camera will zoom into to their faces and I’ll think “this is a bit crass.” The same thing happens here, the camera zooming in, Lanzmann patiently urging his crying subject to continue, and it never seems exploitative – interviewer and subject are on the same moral side, and when Lanzmann tells them that it’s important to continue, you’re with him.

Some interviews are recorded with covert videocameras (which, in the late 1970s, were not very covert) broadcasting to a van outside. Per wiki, “during one interview, the covert recording was discovered and Lanzmann was physically attacked. He was hospitalized for a month and charged by the authorities with unauthorized use of the German airwaves.”

Lanzmann shot hundreds of hours of footage and has edited four more feature-length films from them so far. Filmed in part by William Lubtchansky, who was doing great work with Rivette and Godard and Varda and de Gregorio and Straub/Huillet and Truffaut around the same time. Won lots of raves and awards – no oscar nomination, but Lanzmann is now an academy member and was apparently a fan of Son of Saul last year.

Per Kent Jones, Shoah was “the Hebrew word for catastrophe or destruction, which had been in use among some Jews since the early forties.”

Jones on the structure:

The film would consist only of testimonies and new footage shot at the sites where organized killing had taken place, and of images shot where the people on camera were living at the time of filming; there would be no experts making grand theoretical summations; … with two exceptions, the people on camera would be either perpetrators, victims, or bystanders (to borrow the categories established by Hilberg); the film would restrict its focus to the systematic annihilation of the European Jews; and it would be a work of cinema as opposed to an audiovisual historical summation.

By situating his film in the present and creating conditions that allowed us to see that it was coexistent with the past, by questioning his subjects about concrete details only, by creating an atmosphere of quietly urgent attention, by constructing a form that left the impression of multiple possible beginnings and endings, Lanzmann achieved something that was not only unprecedented but was, and is, an astonishment: he returned the Shoah to the civilized world that had disowned it.

Gilda (1946, Charles Vidor)

“I would destroy myself to take you down with me”

Glenn Ford (this is the anonymous-looking 1940’s Glenn Ford, not the superior 1950’s version from the Fritz Lang movies) is a grifter turned semi-respectable once hired by illegal casino owner George Macready (Paths of Glory, The Big Clock) with the unlikely character name of Ballin Mundson. Buncha noir-lite character development and plot setup ensues, while I’m on seat’s edge waiting for someone – anyone – to ask Gilda if she’s decent, then finally it happens and the movie comes to life.

So I guess Glenn and Gilda dated for years before it all fell apart, and now Glenn’s hiding out in Buenos Aires and his boss goes on vacation and comes back married to Gilda. Because of this movie’s noir reputation I assumed there’d be some femme fatale reveal in which she’s plotting a convoluted revenge scenario, but nope, just a massive movie coincidence – not to say the movie isn’t still convoluted. Glenn and George take turns toying with Gilda and she marries Glenn after George fakes his own death via plane crash. George briefly returns, only to be dispatched by bathroom attendant “Uncle Pio” (actor Steven Geray was Hungarian but hey, any foreigner will do), and we get an anti-Casablanca ending as Glenn belatedly decides he still likes Gilda.

Gilda serenades Uncle Pio:

All this plot is diverting, but Rita Hayworth’s beauty and attitude are the main attraction. I wonder if Gilda’s the only 1940’s female character to marry two men, cheat on both of them repeatedly, and still get a happy ending. Her hit song from the movie “Put the Blame on Mame” (which was pried into the tagline for this movie, confusing those of us who’d never heard the song and thought it a stupid catchphrase) is about a hot-kissin’ hard-dancin’ woman, and Dave Kehr notes it “has been known to provoke impure thoughts”. Maybe Rita even charmed the censors… or maybe they demanded different kinds of changes. Buenos Aires is crowded with corrupt officials, murderous businessmen and sinister Germans – I can’t tell if the fact that nazis and their collaborators hid out in Argentina after WWII was well-known when this film was written. Of course nazis are never mentioned, and in typical Hollywood style, Mundson controls a “tungsten cartel” instead of anything unsavory.

Played the first Cannes Film Festival alongside Brief Encounter, Rome Open City, Notorious, The Lost Weekend and Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I mainly knew this film as the inspiration for Laura Harring’s character’s name in Mulholland Dr and the excerpt in Shawshank Redemption. Vidor had recently made the not-as-good Rita movie Cover Girl. Shot by Rudoplh Maté (The Passion of Joan of Arc, Foreign Correspondent), one of his last before retiring.

Devil is a Woman masked carnival:

S. O’Malley:

Gilda is a pawn between two men who seem more interested in each other than her … There’s Ballin’s phallic cane/sword named his “little friend”; at one point, Ballin says, “Wait for me here, Johnny. I’ll need both my little friends tonight” … The ending, with Johnny and Gilda exiting together, is a holdover from the days of the cathartic “The End” of musicals, but it leaves an uneasy impression, similar to the final scene in Notorious. In neither ending does it feel like “love has triumphed.” It’s more like a criminal getaway.

The Last Ten Minutes vol. 15

The Cobbler (2014, Tom McCarthy)

Just morbidly curious about The Station Agent director’s latest. Did anyone realize while making this that shoe “soles” and human “souls” are homophones? Wonder if that might be useful. Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale Station) is asking Adam Sandler out, then hey it’s Steve Buscemi! “Pickles preserve you… they give you strength” – I’ve been saying this for years. Wait, Buscemi transformed into Dustin Hoffman, am I getting this right? Sandler is not a good dramatic actor, hasn’t anyone realized? Oh, “walk in another man’s shoes,” I get it now.

Saw IV (2007, Darren Lynn Bousman)

Checking my notes, I believe everyone except maybe Orson Macfadyen was dead at the end of part 3. And here’s Orson, one of many dudes running with guns down dark corridors, while some other dudes die in a trap room. I think Donnie Wahlberg and Orson just died, then a victim turns out to be the mastermind (a la the original Saw) and leaves some dying guys locked up in a factory, and Dead Jigsaw promises more sequels – but not by Bousman, who moved on to New Year’s Day and Repo! The Genetic Opera after this. From the writers of Feast, the Piranha remake-sequel, and possibly the next Halloween.

Saw V (2008, David Hackl)

How does Dead Jigsaw continue to star in these movies? Prequel? A couple’s hands are being sawed up while Scott Patterson (a Scott Bakula type from the last sequel) plays a tape and dudes with guns walk through dark corridors to the same copy-and-paste drumbeat music and metallic sound effects as the last movie’s last ten minutes. Bland-looking Costas Mandylor escapes a trap room while Bakula Type gets crushed inside and a Matt Walsh type triggers a full-movie flashback, lucky for me. Hackl worked on all of Bousman’s Saw sequels and did production design on Lexx.

You’re Next (2011, Adam Wingard)

I hated Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die but heard last year’s The Guest was good, so catching up with the one that came in between. Soap star Sharni Vinson is looking all beat up, stumbling around till someone shoots her with a crossbow. Enter a couple of assailants, killed with knife and blender. Sharni’s boyfriend AJ Bowen was in on the home invasion plot, arranged to have his family killed so he’d inherit, but the girlfriend’s not buying his boring story, haha then she’s shot by the cops.

Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero (2014, Kaare Andrews)

Skinless girlfight, hurting each other in ways this underlit beach scene can’t quite afford to explain. Then one guy has a gun and it’s boring, and Dr. Sean Samwise Astin kills that guy just slowly enough to give him a dying monologue, and I think maybe Samwise escapes with the virus. Good work interweaving explanatory scenes through the closing credits to make viewers stay through ’em. The director made “V” in The ABCs of Death, which was also boring, and the writer did a Hitcher remake and a When a Stranger Calls remake.

Man With The Iron Fists 2 (2015, Roel Reine)

Came across this while searching for Iron Sky, had no idea there was a sequel to that middling action film. It sure enough stars RZA and his iron fists, but instead of Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu, this one’s got a lotta Thai actors, poor CG effects, and more than one guy screaming “noooooooo!” Climactic fight has RZA fighting a bad guy with iron legs. The director made a couple Death Race sequels and a Scorpion King sequel.

Iron Sky (2012, Timo Vuorensola)

Blonde woman stops a nazi from blowing up the earth, electrocuting him in an absurd way then stabbing his head with a shoe. Meanwhile a buncha Star Wars stuff is happening outside, after which a woman in a feather suit accurately says “well that was disappointing” and the Star Spangled Banner plays ironically as world leaders tussle, then LOL nuclear war. Damn, missed Udo Kier. Glad to see there will be a sequel featuring him and Tom Green.

Renaissance (2006, Christian Volckman)

That Sin City cartoon with Daniel Craig. Wow, it’s a disaster – nice frames, but the motion and editing and acting (cheers, Romola Garai of Amazing Grace) are slow and weird. Very few shades of gray, mostly pure black and white. Trying to figure out what went wrong, so I forgot to pay attention to plot. Two of the writers did a Jean Reno thing called 22 Bullets. Volckman doesn’t have lots of credits, has forgotten to make any more movies since this one.

Cabaret (1972, Bob Fosse)

Oscar for best actress, obviously, and also seven more (director, cinematography, supporting for Joel Grey) but picture went to The Godfather. I don’t know Liza Minnelli from much – just this and Arrested Development – but she’s perfect in both. The movie though, eh, not my favorite nazi musical. Could’ve stood to be more musical, blurrier and more insane a la All That Jazz (I guess Fosse hadn’t had his drug-addled breakdown yet).

Brash dancer Minnelli gets a new roommate, closeted scholar Michael York. Both roomies have affairs with wealthy Max (Helmut Griem of The Damned and Les rendez-vous d’Anna) and help to hook up two of York’s English students (Fritz Wepper of The Bridge and Marisa Berenson, wife of Barry Lyndon). The nazi stuff is less foregrounded than I would’ve thought – they’re slowly going from a violent street cult to the dominant political party in the background of a story full of sympathetic gays and Jews. Fun times while they lasted, though. Interesting to watch this right before Phoenix, eliding the whole war in between.

Rocks In My Pockets (2014, Signe Baumane)

A good night, with the energetic director in attendance, introducing then discussing her film. It’s an impressive feat too, an animated feature made by a very small team, 2D animation composited onto paper mache backgrounds. Not completely crazy about the movie since it felt like a wearying illustrated audiobook after a while with her relentless narration, but it’s a mostly charming work about her family history of depression and suicide.

Grandma is well educated but runs off with her nationalist entrepeneur boss and bears eight children in a secluded forest, as Latvia is fought over by Russians and nazis and nationalism becomes irrelevant. She raises the kids, tends the animals, carries buckets of water up the hill all day while the entrepeneur works for years on his anti-Russian manifesto, which is burned when discovered by the kids years later. It’s said that grandma would have drowned herself but she kept floating because she didn’t know to put rocks in her pockets. Signe explores her family history while dealing with her own periodic depression, learning about strange and suicidal cousins, before returning to her own feelings and the way she deals with them through art.

La Mémoire Courte (1982, Eduardo de Gregorio)

U.N. translator Nathalie Baye (Détective, La chambre verte, DiCaprio’s mom in Catch Me If You Can) is hired for a job involving the nazi-investigation papers of a man played by Jacques Rivette in flashbacks. Gregorio cowrote many of Rivette’s films, and he’s joined here by Rivette, the Lubtchanskys, Hermine Karagheuz (Out 1‘s Marie) and Bulle Ogier (and I might’ve spotted Barbet Schroeder in a dinner party scene). Given the personnel it’s clearly a must-watch for Rivette fans, and now that I’ve finally found and seen a subtitled copy, it’s a must-watch-again, since I’m afraid I got lost in the multinational conspiracy. Then again, maybe that was the idea.

Double dose of Rivette and Karagheuz:

Rivette was seeking a nazi called Andros, possibly with help from a mysterious Holocaust survivor called Mr. Mann. Baye tracks down a woman of Andros’s acquaintance, but Bulle is unhelpful. Baye talks to a guy named Franck (Philippe Léotard of a couple early 1970’s Truffaut films), who provides elegant flashbacks about Bulle’s history with a general working for Andros, selling new passports to escaped nazis. But Andros may actually be Mann, who may have killed Franck’s parents, and he’s out for revenge. The movie ends with Mann unhurt and unexposed, Franck injured and police seeking his accomplice Baye.

Baye, cornered:

Nice shadowy conspiracy drama (Rosenbaum calls it “a film noir in color”) with good music (a nervous piano rumble) and stylish flashbacks. Gregorio and cowriter Edgardo Cozarinsky are from Argentina, a country known for harboring nazis after WWII. In their contemporary review NYTimes claimed Philippe Léotard played either the general or Andros – is that true?

Oh yeah look at that, they’ve got the same eyes.
Then who’s Eduardo Manet, who IMDB says plays the general in flashbacks?

The Dance of Reality (2013, Alejandro Jodorowsky)

You expect a new Jodorowsky movie to be bonkers, and I was skeptical because movies this bonkers are usually wannabe-cult empty-headed nonsense. Text descriptions of a boy with a huge-breasted mom whose dialogue is all sung opera-style and a dad who gets surrounded by miners missing limbs all singing their woes would raise a few red flags, but AJ makes it all seem rich and wonderful, then tones down the circus act and pulls off a surprisingly emotional second half.

Explores AJ’s own childhood in 1930’s Chile, the same way Guy Maddin explored his childhood in Brand Upon The Brain and My Winnipeg, keeping emotional truths and memorable details and poetically inventing the rest. Young AJ is followed around by wise old AJ (playing himself as a phantom narrator), and as usual it’s a family affair, with AJ’s son Brontis (the little kid from El Topo!) playing the father (and I’m guessing a real opera singer as the mom).

Jaime is an ex-circus performer (see also: Santa Sangre), volunteer fireman and passionate communist ashamed of his timid, long-haired art-loving son Alejandro. Jaime’s wife (they run a shop together) is obsessed with her dead father, thinks he is reincarnated in her son because of the long hair, which Jaime finally has cut off, causing family disharmony. Jaime tries to man-up his son, giving him painful challenges, while young Alejandro’s other influences are the colorful characters around town.

After the death of his fire chief and a failed attempt to help plague-afflicted slum-dwellers, Jaime regroups and decides to journey to the capital and assassinate tyrant president Ibáñez. First Jaime protects the president from a fellow communist in order to earn a position as the president’s personal horse groom, planning a more insidious revenge. But after poisoning the president’s prize horse according to plan, Jaime can’t murder the man, his hands becoming useless claws, then loses his memory and disappears into the slums, while back home Alejandro’s mom teaches her son a different way to disappear, showing him how not to be noticed to avoid antisemitic discrimination from the locals. Jaime regains his self-worth only to be captured and tortured by nazis on the way home – but he does get home, and the family flees their fucked-up town.

Colorful, beautiful movie that can’t go five minutes without doing something different and amazing, also with judicious use of digital effects. I love a good imaginary history, and after all the family affection (and pain, let’s face it) in this movie, I was shocked to read wikipedia’s cold version of AJ’s childhood. AJ: “My father had no humanity. So here, look, I am making him human.”

P. Bradshaw:

For the first time, Jodorowsky is coming close to telling us how personal evasiveness has governed his film-making style; his flights of fancy are flights of pain, flights from childhood and flights from reality. And now he is using his transformative style to come to terms with and change the past and to confer on his father some of the heroism that he never attained in real life.

Quintin in Cinema Scope:

The Dance of Reality works as an exorcism of an era where false and destructive dreams were also the hope for mankind, and when children were educated through abuse by their parents and by society. But Jodorowsky, one of these abused children, finally became as brave as young Alex is told to be in the film: he dares in his film to take on all of those issues, to speak freely about love and sex, fascism and communism and sorrow and pain and happiness, and to make his personal circus travel the world with brilliance.

My 2000th blog post!

The Keep (1983, Michael Mann)

A movie about nazis being killed off by aliens should’ve been more entertaining – besides a really fantastic smoke-monster effect, this was only pretty good. It tries to be very serious and sets up many conflicts (good alien/bad alien, good nazi/bad nazi, nazis/jews, etc.) then doesn’t do anything wonderful with any of these things.

Trevor: “it fell apart for me when none of the story mattered… mystery invincible guy with glowing eyes walks in and defeats the beast, the worst execution of deus ex machina.”

Smoke Monster, de-smoked:

Okay, Nazis led by Jurgen Prochnow (Sutter Cane in In the Mouth of Madness, and I think Kyle’s dad in Dune) occupy a Romanian town and camp in an empty fortress watched over by a priest (Robert Prosky of Christine and Gremlins 2), who calls in his professor friend Ian McKellen with daughter Alberta Watson (Hedwig/Hansel‘s mom) to translate ancient writings after soldiers keep showing up dead. Prochnow isn’t murdering enough villagers, so the more ruthless Gabriel Byrne (three years before Gothic) is sent to take charge, later shoots Prochnow dead. Smoke Monster heals the formerly-crippled Ian McKellen, says he’s a golem-like Jewish avenger who will crush all nazis if Ian frees him. The priest gets all shitty and tells Ian he can burn in hell (admittedly all the nazis might be stressing him out), meanwhile Mystery Invincible Guy (top-billed Scott Glenn, Jodie Foster’s boss in Silence of the Lambs) has sex with Ian’s daughter until she notices he has no reflection. I think Invincible Guy and the nazis and Smoke Monster all kill each other at the end?

Alberta with sex alien:

Ian under Smoke Monster’s spell:

Second movie I’ve watched this Shocktober where the first death is by exploding head. TV veteran Mann’s second feature, which he has since disowned, based on a story by the guy who wrote Pelts. The actors act as big as possible (apparently Ian McKellen has mellowed with age) and the then-trendy Tangerine Dream soundtrack does the nazi-horror atmosphere no favors. But it’s a startlingly different movie, anyway.

Natan (2013, Paul Duane & David Cairns)

Not as relentlessly Decasian as the trailer suggests, actually settles down into a normal storytelling groove of interview material for a good while, but punctuated by Natan’s papier-mache-headed stand-in, a few effects shots of a wall of posters, and that voiceover by The Film Itself. These are all evocative additions – the poster gallery returns re-postered before and after the nazi invasion, and some of the scant footage of Natan himself, at his trial, has him repeatedly covering his head with a newspaper. This is already more thoughtful stylistic presentation than most documentaries get, then the voiceover and bookending Melies stories put it over the top.

Plus the story is killer, one of those subjects that researchers dream of – a chance to correct the wrongs of history. Bernard Natan isn’t set up as a saint, but at the very least an important figure in history, a founder of French cinema who deserved a better end and reputation than he got. The directors even scored an interview with the academic who brought the unfounded rumors and nazi-era smears into the modern age, a villain of the picture though he doesn’t seem to realize it.