Opens with Wallace Shawn in voiceover – he’s a playwright taking acting gigs, doing odd errands, going to dinner tonight with a man he’s been avoiding for years, once a friend and colleague and a celebrated theater director before he disappeared. The voiceover comes back to interrupt even after they start talking, but mostly Andre’s stories begin to take over the film.

“It has something to do with living.” Andre isn’t new age or hippie exactly, but very all-things-are-connected, seeing signs, everything is beautiful, living life for the first time, unusual coincidences, etc. He went to a forest in Poland to teach forty musical women about theater, compares the group’s trance activity to Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, after which Wallace gives him a great look. Andre had a bad trip to the desert with a Japanese monk, was buried alive in India, compares himself to Albert Speer. When Wallace finally gets a whole line in, Andre mentions nazi death camps, what is it with this guy?

After Andre dominates for the first half, Wallace gets to tell a story of his own, which is about not being able to express himself. Andre says we’re all bored because of capitalism, and volunteers that New York is a concentration camp. References to Brecht, Sense & Sensibility, The Little Prince, Autumn Sonata. This is all leading to a blow-out fight, when Wallace can’t take his friend’s nonsense anymore – but it doesn’t, it leads to a good-natured disagreement. I can’t say I thought this movie was all that special for most of its runtime, or could figure out what it was getting at, but I can say it was a shock to experience good-natured disagreement in the climax of a film, and this should happen more often.

Been a long time since Too Early, Too Late, so it’s time to give some more Straub/Huillet films a watch, via the lovely new Grasshopper blu-ray. The first five minutes is about the least visually dynamic thing imaginable, but I like the sound recording of the answering choir. Then a long circular pan across a boring landscape, but at least the blue sky is nice. Looking on the bright side here.

Moses (guy in red pajamas with staff) meets A(a)ron (green headband) in the desert, and they bellow-sing at each other, presumably trying to mesmerize the other with their cadence and beards. Staff is turned into snake… Moses turns leprous and back again. The people are extremely confused after Moses leads them away then disappears for over a month, and Aaron tries to talk them down, but screws it up. They sing about the old and new gods as the picture goes all violet… oh no, they butcher a cow during their little knife dance. I was not expecting the phrase “Holy is genital power.” When Moses gets back, he and A. argue over the best way to teach these idiot people. Discussion of how to use words and images to express larger ideas to the idiots = CINEMA!

I only halfway followed this movie… honestly, have no idea what bible story, if any, it’s retelling, and I have no practice in following stories told in opera, even with the aid of subtitles. But it had been a long, unsatisfying work day, and on the drive home I thought of a bunch of movies I could watch, and this is the one that stood out. Straub/Huillet movies aren’t exactly my bag, but they’re not bad, and my total inability to figure out what they’re on about, plus their weird stasis and precision makes them extremely relaxing to watch. Aaron also has dreamy eyes… but the soundtrack was hit or miss (from my notes while watching: “ban woodwinds”). Based on the unfinished opera by modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg.

Ted Fendt in the liners:

Schoenberg was unable to write music for this [third] act of his opera. The impossibility of resolving the opera’s central issue or committing fully to one side could have been the cause. Works whose internal contradictions resisted them, resisted easy solutions, fascinated Straub and Huillet. Unresolved tensions abound in their work…


Introduction to Arnold Schoenberg’s “Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene” (1972)

Sort of an essay film. Some abrupt cuts and blackouts mid-speech. Music rises up halfway through. Majority of the film in b/w and in a recording booth. Brecht and other writers are mentioned… Schoenberg is mad about Kandinsky. It covers a lot of ground in 15 minutes.

Official description is needed for context: “a fierce condemnation of anti-Semitism and the barbaric war machine of capitalism, inspired by a letter written in 1923 by composer Arnold Schoenberg to painter Wassily Kandinsky.”


Machorka-Muff (1962)

“A satirical attack on West Germany’s re-armament and revival of militaristic tradition in the Adenauer era.” The most commercial-looking movie I’ve seen by them – based on a Heinrich Böll novel, as was Not Reconciled. Wikipedia may know why Böll was popular with the Straubs: “Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books; his books were sold by the millions in the Soviet Union alone.” He would win a Nobel less than a decade after these adaptations came out.

“Maybe I’d have an affair with his wife… I’ve an appetite for petit bourgeois erotics sometimes.” We follow a general who is dedicating a building to a military bigwig who is posthumously judged a greater leader when it’s discovered that more of his men died in battle than was previously thought. Their debut short, and the only movie performance by Erich Kuby (a writer, journalist and “an important opponent of German rearmament”).


Not Reconciled (1964)

A boy is often beaten up at school – this isn’t shown, but discussed by a rapidfire narrator. A blonde hotel boy encounters a sheep-crazy knitting cult. Two identical-looking dudes out for lunch, the one in the lighter suit was darker-suit’s tormentor as a kid. Now architect Fahmel is narrating for us… I think we’re hopping between time periods… and it all ends in attempted murder. In general, I’m pretty sure I need to be smarter about European history and culture and politics to keep up with these movies, something they have in common with Godard. I can’t tell if it’s a stylistic choice for everyone to speak flatly, or if that’s just Germans… probably the former, since I know Bresson was an influence. The sound always matches camera angle, no attempt to smooth it out with room tone or make audio consistent between shots. From anyone else I’d assume it’s a technical limitation or lack of professionalism, but from these two I’m sure it’s a political position.

Thanks very much to Neil Bahadur for helping me make sense of this:

Not Reconciled charts a single family in two separate timelines – post World War 1 and post World War 2 – throughout these two timelines events will mirror each other and fold into the present of 1965. Virtually an attack on Germany more vicious than any Fassbinder picture, the purpose is to show the incompatibility of a democratic structure with the new ideas of the 19th and 20th century: communism and fascism. Straub shows us a post-war world where left and right never united after the collapse of both the German Empire and Nazism, and both periods lead (and presumed will lead) to essentially an internal and invisible cold war between classes and ideologies as both sections ascend to bourgeois standards of living – and in the first case, ends up leading to the failure of the left and the rise of fascism. The gun that goes off at the end of the film (in the present of 1965) is the only thing that prevents this.


Nick Pinkerton in Frieze:

The cinematic translation or transcription of texts – poems, letters, fragments, musical scores – is key to Straub-Huillet’s filmmaking practice, which began not in France but in Munich, where the couple landed in 1958 after Straub was faced with prison for his refusal to serve in the Algerian War. (They always put their money where their mouths were politically, and Straub has also crammed his foot in his gob more than a few times.)

“Despite the tendency to reduce their films to a uniform asceticism, there is no such thing as a typical Straub-Huillet film.”

“Don’t they know evil when they see it?”
“We are used to it now.

Main guy is August Diehl (title star of The Young Karl Marx) and wife Fani is Valerie Pachner, whose The Ground Beneath My Feet premiered a few months earlier. Very happy to see Franz Rogowski as a fellow prisoner in the second half – that guy is in both of my favorite movies of 2019.

Bilge Ebiri in Vulture:

You won’t find the delirious, extended montages of Knight of Cups or the galactic scope of Tree of Life here. Instead, Franz winds up in a series of almost philosophical dialogues, with priests, bureaucrats, prisoners, neighbors. Actually, it’s probably more accurate to call these loose monologues, since Franz remains mostly quiet throughout. But his very presence poses a question to these individuals about the problem of evil. “Which side are you on, and why?” he might as well be asking.

After Franz’s execution, the town seems to behave more tenderly towards the new widow. This is either my wishful thinking or Malick’s, since Bilge says of the real family: “the Jägerstätters were treated as outcasts and traitors by fellow Austrians well into the 1990s.”

Black Sheep (Ed Perkins)

A true/falsey one, with interviews and re-enactments shot in the neighborhood where the story takes place. A British kid is moved into the countryside by his African-born parents where he encounters life-threatening racism and adapts by bleaching his skin, making friends with his tormentors and becoming one of them.

End Game (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman)

The best of the bunch, focused on patients in varying states of mobility with varying family situations, all with terminal illnesses and only weeks or months to live. This is San Francisco, and the terminal patients are given palliative care (treating only the pain, since the symptoms are determined to be incurable) and told to make their peace. It’s a movie, so you know one of them is gonna beat the odds – they don’t. The directors are old-school – Epstein made The Times of Harvey Milk, and Friedman collaborated with him on The Celluloid Closet, Paragraph 175, and a Linda Lovelace biopic starring Amanda Seyfried.

A Night at the Garden (Marshall Curry)

Stock footage of a well-attended 1939 pro-nazi rally at Madison Square Garden. The movie gives little context, just plays around with slow-motion, inviting us to research the rest, so here goes. As I’m writing this, yesterday was the event’s 80th anniversary, and a few days ago the film was projected onto the side of MSG. The man rushing the stage was a Jewish plumber named Isadore Greenbaum, and the speaker was the German-born Fritz Kuhn, leader of a Hitler-worshipping group called the Bund. In the aftermath, Greenbaum was ordered to pay a $25 fine for causing a disturbance. Kuhn was investigated for stealing from his own organization, arrested at the end of ’39, and would spend the rest of his life in various prisons. Curry previously made a Cory Booker doc, a kart-racing doc, and a look inside the Earth Liberation Front.

Lifeboat (Skye Fitzgerald)

Following the (late) captain of a German rescue boat that tries to pick up Libyan refugees from their leaky lifeboats. Spends a couple minutes “putting a human face on the global refugee crisis” by interviewing rescued Libyans, the rest of the time on rescue operations with the crew, and reminds you that the world is completely horrible. Katy said it reminded her of Fire at Sea, which is not a good thing. The director works regularly on issues docs – acid attacks on women, unexploded landmines in Cambodia, the Syrian civil war, and a new one on gun violence.

Period. End of Sentence. (Rayka Zehtabchi)

After the racism, death, nazis and desperation, it was lovely to end on this story of community women outside Delhi working to manufacture and distribute sanitary pads. Much fun is had discussing the forbidden topic of menstruation, and they have dreams of conquering the country and improving women’s lives, but I became annoyed upon realizing that the movie is an advertisement. A feature came out the same year on the same topic, called Padman.

Black-and-white static camera setups of tourists browsing a former concentration camp. Some are on organized tours, some use personal listening devices, and some are just reading the signs. Lots of photos, some selfie sticks, some chatty groups and solo lingering. I won’t catalog all the terrible t-shirts people wear to the site, since someone on Letterboxd has already done that. At first I thought “these people are simply awful,” but they’re not – it’s just that those few bad t-shirts stand out, and it’s not clear why they so badly want photos of each other in front of the “arbeit macht frei” sign, but at least they’ve made the effort to come to this place and maybe learn about history instead of getting drunk at the beach. Anyway, the movie is exactly as simple as I’d heard, while the thoughts it provoked were much more conflicted than I expected.

I was in a strange mood one night during Cannes Month, and thus became the first person to ever double-feature Austerlitz with Death Proof. This didn’t actually play Cannes, but Death Proof did, because life is strange.

Sicinski:

Exhibiting a simplicity and intellectual acuity that is far too rare in the field of documentary, Loznitsa has created a film whose cumulative impact will stay with you long after you watch it, tinting and shading the way that you experience a multitude of previously ordinary cultural practices … Austerlitz is about the disconnection between the greatest horror of the 20th century and our inability to adequately convey it to the 21st. Loznitsa captures this tragedy in the form of a young dude bopping through the gates of Sachsenhausen, his t-shirt emblazoned with last year’s meme: “COOL STORY BRO.”

J. Kuehner:

The deep-focus photography of DP Jesse Mazuch accentuates the choreographic shuffle of the crowds en masse, their collective amble posing an unsavoury contrast to the bodies once confined here. The connotation is that grief has been repressed or is altogether absent, the free bodies hemmed in by social etiquette but not too hard put-upon by the gravity of the place. It’s hard to tell if this is the look of an aggregate vigil, several generations removed, or that of an amnesiac drift.

“Full Moon Pictures presents”

Oh God, it’s happening. I delayed for seven years, watching the occasional Dollman or Demonic Toys movie, but there are still Puppet Master sequels to watch, and eventually I must watch them.

“A Charles Band Production”

Don’t be too impressed – IMDB says Band produced 30 movies that year.

“A Joseph Tennent Film”

Since his previous Puppet Master sequel only a year earlier, director David DeCoteau had made about seven movies under various aliases.

Retro Puppetmaster

It’s so retro that Puppetmaster is one word again – a throwback to the first movie, or a misspelling due to overall franchise confusion and underpaid titles writers?

Flashbacking from 1944 to “long ago” Cairo, a sorcerer is stealing the secrets of the gods, and everyone in this temple is repeating their lines of dialogue in order to pad the scene.

Vincent Price-ish sorcerer holding scroll of forbidden secrets:

To Paris 1902, and enter flamboyant Ilsa, who is acting her heart out, and uptight Marguerite, who seems to be appearing in this movie at gunpoint and reading her lines phonetically. “Don’t go into any opium dens,” Ilsa is advised as she heads for a puppet show. She meets Young Toulon (now played by Greg Sestero, soon to become infamous in The Room) backstage when sewer-dwelling Dark City fellows hire hit men to take out a hobo after the show.

Sestero is not strangling this hobo, he’s checking for signs of life:

The prop and costume budget on this movie seems higher than the talent budget. “I understand. You’re a 3000-year-old sorcerer from Egypt and you want to teach me the secret of life.” Afzel (Jack Donner, DiCaprio’s dad in J. Edgar) shows Young Toulon how to resurrect the soul of his dead hobo friend into a mute wooden puppet with oversized arms, telling him this is the most precious power in the history of the world, which I dunno. The new wooden puppets are cool: I call them Skeletal Surgeon, Primitive Screwhead, Sergeant Cyclops and Hobo Hulk.

“It is time to act,” say the Dark City Goons, and not a moment too soon… oh, but that’s not what they meant. While Toulon is off being arrested and beaten by Ilsa’s ambassador father’s soldiers, the DCGs head to the theater and psychically murder all the puppeteers by blurring the film over their faces. Cornered, Afzel proactively blurs himself to death.

Blur-attack:

Self-blur suicide:

After all this plot and dreadful dialogue delivery, Toulon only has 30 minutes left in the movie to transfer the souls of his dead friends into the wood puppets and direct them to murder the DCGs. “We shall be avengers.” It’s actually not bad as far as origin stories go.

They set out to search the country for the Dark City Goons, but they’re standing right in the other room, so we get our first showdown straight away: the DCGs’ film-blurring powers vs. a bunch of stabby, strangley little puppets. The DCGs are dispatched by a falling chandelier, then the voice of Sutek shouts “live again,” and two of them do, with newly green-glowing hands. The remaining DCGs (their leader, the appropriately-named Stephen Blackehart, was later in Super and both Guardians of the Galaxy) decide to get to Toulon by kidnapping his girl.

Lovely Ilsa: Brigitta Dau, a voice on My Little Pony in its least-popular era:

Blackehart, probably:

Second showdown, on a train this time, where everyone talks real slow to allow the puppets time to get into position. It’s all kinda underlit and non-dramatic, so DeCoteau tries tilting the camera around to build some energy. The puppets team up on one guy and Toulon punches the other out the window. As with the rest of the Puppet Master movies, it feels like they’re desperately stretching out scenes to make a contractually-obligated runtime.

In 1944 postscript, properly aged Toulon (series fave Guy Rolfe) builds anticipation for another movie by telling his puppets that he’ll tell them what happened to the original puppets “at another time” – but it would be four long years before the clip-show Puppet Master: The Legacy, a cheap and shitty move even by this series’s standards, then came the Demonic Toys faceoff, and in the 2010s a new nazi-themed trilogy began, so I guess we’ll never know.

Dramatisation of when totalitarianism expert Arendt was sent by The New Yorker to cover Israel’s trial of nazi controller Eichmann and she returned with a different story than everyone was expecting, bringing up the complicity of certain Jews in the holocaust and Eichmann’s non-evil ordinariness. Besides the social problems this causes, Arendt (Barbara Sukowa, Fassbinder’s Lola, also Europa and M. Butterfly) appears to be in constant, low-burning inner crisis. It’s well-acted, but I’m not sure the movie does a great job of visualizing philosophical thought by showing Arendt looking pained and distant for two hours. Katy was distracted by her “open marriage” which her generally supportive husband Heinrich took advantage of while Hannah dreamed of days past with Heidegger, and what it had to do with anything. The use of actual Eichmann footage instead of hiring an actor was a nice touch.

At a time when movies are dominated by comics, Bryan Singer’s got a franchise all to himself. He directed parts 1 and 2, cowrote and produced part 4, directed parts 5 and 6… and had nothing to do with part 3. “At least we can all agree: the third one‘s always the worst,” says Jean Grey leaving a Return of the Jedi screening, establishing our mid-1980’s setting while letting us know Singer’s thoughts on the Brett Ratner entry. Soon after, Quicksilver tells someone that Magneto is his father, and I can’t tell if we’re still making Star Wars references.

Quicksilver:

Quicksilver and Nightcrawler in the same movie is a dream come true – every time they warp through time and space it’s thrilling. The Professor X vs. Magneto thing is old hat by now, nobody cares about Agent Rose Byrne, Beast is okay and Mystique is blah. Oscar Isaac appears as his unconscious self for ten seconds before becoming Apocalypse and ceasing to be Oscar Isaac completely – it’s either an immersive performance or a total waste of a promising young actor in a role that could’ve been played by a CG-enhanced mannequin. As always, the ending hinges on whether Magneto is truly evil or can be convinced to compromise.

Apocalypse and his Horsemen: Storm, Angel, and this lightsaber girl, the fourth horseman being Magneto, who becomes evil again out of rage when his perfect wife and kid are murdered by some doomed motherfuckers in Poland where he’s hiding out after whatever happened in part four.

Since I don’t rewatch the movies and the first one was nearly two decades ago, it’s hard to keep track of all the characters and timelines and paradoxes, but I assume the writers have this stuff taken care of, and the fact that Angel dies in 1984 but is back in part three (?) makes sense to someone. Also, I keep seeing Jubilee in the credits for X-Men movies – who the hell is Jubilee?

Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones) is Young Jean Grey, seen here with Young Cyclops (Tye Sheridan of Mud) and Beast:

I notice Days of Future Past and this movie bringing back Stryker (Brian Cox’s character in part two) as a minor baddie, and I assume he’s the tie-in to the solo Wolverine films, none of which I’ve seen. And coincidentally, the week after watching this movie I saw a trailer for the third one of those, Logan, which looks awful.

Some uncomfortable politics as usual, bringing up Auschwitz yet again, and having a middle-eastern villain watching American news footage of 1980’s decadence and decrying our false idols and weak leaders. Also Professor X’s chamber where he can spy on the thoughts of anyone in the world hasn’t aged so well. Better to focus on the series’ overall focus on acceptance of difference, but even that has taken a back seat to the action scenes since part two.

What a disappointment after the great Lords of Salem. All I can think is that Zombie was contractually obligated to deliver another full-length movie by the end of 2016, and after touring his band nonstop he ran out of time, so threw some actors and makeup artists in an abandoned factory and said “go nuts, we’ll film it and add some Malcolm McDowell scenes later to explain what’s happening.”

Sheri Moon and beardy Jeff Phillips and Meg Foster return from Salem, minus Ken Foree and Dee Wallace, plus two new black guys to be killed first (to be fair, Lawrence lasts quite a while). Malcolm in foppish powdered wig gambles on annual deathmatch with Jane Carr and Judy Geeson, sending waves of killers into the factory after our abducted carnival gang until only Sheri and “Doom-Head” (Richard Brake of Halloween II, whose makeup keeps changing in the opening scene) remain. Dialogue is mostly “fuck, fuuuuck” and camerawork is handheld garbage. Insultingly, the movie only got a single showtime and was billed as a “special event” with higher ticket fees, but joke’s on the theater since only six people showed up.

AV Club:

31 is set almost entirely within a smoky, leaky, dimly lit factory, like something out of a bad hair-metal video, and it has the structure of an especially half-assed video game, as the survivors creep from one boss battle to the next, confronted by assassins of escalating formidability: a little person done up like Hitler, slinging insults in unsubtitled Spanish; two clowns with chainsaws, cackling about “fucking all your holes”; a flirtatious Harley Quinn clone with a giant European partner … a messy mishmash of shit he’s done better before.