It [was] Cannes Month… but after Bacurau I got distracted and thought I might watch the Miguel Gomes epic Arabian Nights… but first, since I’ve seen the other two features in my Pasolini “Trilogy of Life” boxed set, I guess I’ll watch his Arabian Nights. It turns out both the Pasolini and the Gomes played Cannes, so Cannes Month continues!

Zumurrud is a slave allowed to choose her own master – she chooses poor boy Nureddin, gives him the money to buy her and rent a house, but the boy immediately disobeys her and they spend the rest of the movie having adventures trying to reunite.

N, realizing he got lucky:

Z, king of the realm:

Some of those adventures: an older couple bring home a teenage boy and girl, for a bet, and watch as each kid fucks the other while they sleep. A Christian kidnaps Z and has her whipped, but she escapes and comes upon a city that makes her king, then she orders her tormentors crucified. N is kidnapped and fucked by nuns, is later told a story about Chaplin guy Ninetto Davoli who’s supposed to marry a lovely girl but falls for Crazy Budur who kidnap-marries him. A prince finds a girl locked up by a demon underneath the town and loses his shoes fucking her. A girl turns herself to fire, a prince shoots a statue, N encounters a lion in the desert, and so on.

It’s easily the best of the three, despite greenscreen effects as poor as the dubbing and losing a star for killing a pigeon onscreen. Or maybe my expectations had been lowered enough, and I knew what to expect, focusing on the authentic ancient settings and landscapes as much as the silly-ass sex comedy.

Cool sights, unrelated to the plot:

The Devil is Franco Citti, who was in all three movies along with Chaplin Guy – and they were in a fourth Pasolini-written anthology sex comedy at the same time: Bawdy Tales, directed by Canterbury/Decameron assistant director Sergio Citti. Nureddin is Franco Merli, his career launched by this movie, then ruined the next year by starring in Salo. Zumurrud is Ines Pellegrini, who also went on to Salo, but worked through the 70’s, mostly last-billed. And Crazy Budur is Claudia Rocchi, later of Yor, the Hunter from the Future.

Strangely Ordinary This Devotion (2017)

Stones in someone’s mouth, stones on someone’s back, then without warning, HEAD SURGERY.

Graphic sex, flossing, more stones, vomiting blood, reading an interview with Cosey from Throbbing Gristle, references to children born without the need for water, movie clips taped off the TV. All starring Sheila and Dani and a kid

Higher amount of blood-red than in an Argento film. Not the highest caliber camerawork, but the description includes the term “the domestic as site of radicality,” so it’s academic art. Words are subtitled and sometimes unspoken. Usually camera sound but sometimes for good measure there’s your avant-noise-drone, once it’s kung-fu sfx, and once a deafening Prince song. Filmed in four states, apparently.

In the great Cinema Scope story that got me watching this in the first place, Michael Sicinski points out Leventhal’s “assertive editing matrices driven by colour, gesture, and shape.”

Wilson: “I was wondering what it is to be devoted to a practice at the same time that you’re devoted to a child, while you’re also devoted to being a lover …”

“I like making the argument that we could refuse to accept the domestic as a place of stasis and instead make it unknowable or unpredictable at least. While also recognizing that it has to be functional, and Rose has to get to school on time”


Fisted (2017)

The visuals of this play like SOTD outtakes (with far less blood, but still some). The sound design is much more enjoyable than the longer piece, music and loops with fun stereo panning, the closing sounds the same as the opening so this could play as a loop – ah yes, it was an installation piece.


Hearts Are Trump Again (2010, Dani Leventhal)

Card game, spider web, accordion, hair, pigeons, harvesting chard.
Dani behind the camera, talking with a German woman waiting for her sperm donor

Maybe the grungiest, most lo-fi, handheld Oshima movie I’ve seen, with some apparently documentary segments. Also maybe more sexual violence than usual. Some nice closeups on hands, like in other thief movies. Whole movie looks dubbed, with some cool troubadour songs (not as funky as the ones in Izo).

Longhaired anarchist book thief Hilltop Birdman (Tadanori Yokoo, a minor role in Mishima) is nabbed by employee Umeko (Rie Yokoyama of Wakamatsu’s Ecstacy of the Angels), to the delightful indifference of her boss, who tries to give the thief more free books. But it’s the late 1960’s and if anyone’s gonna embrace the revolution in the air, it’s Oshima. The movie goes off on tangents about sex and psychology, turns from black-and-white to color, plays with poetry and literature and theater, and makes cool images and tries to freak out the normies. “I do feel something like rage toward nothing in particular.”

It’s all crying out for some explanatory blu-ray features – for instance, it’s been a minute since I watched Death By Hanging, so I didn’t realize that movie’s primary male cast appears in a roundtable discussion as themselves – but I tend to love Oshima films even when I’m confused by them.

Veronica is injured in her sexual encounter with the tentacle beast, visits the hospital, where medic Fabian wants to help find the “dog” that bit her. The medic’s sister is Ale, whose shitty husband Angel has bad sex with her, and later, more aggressive sex with her brother. So far every other scene is a sex scene, and we’ve just decided to ignore that the movie opened with a tentacle beast…

“It’s going to like you.” The older couple who house the tentacle beast suggest Veronica take a break, so she brings the medic, who is later found beaten almost to death in a field. Evidence of Angel’s affair and his homophobic rage are found on his phone, and he’s off to jail. To console her for her losses, Ale is introduced to the tentacle beast. “What’s there in the cabin is our primitive side in its most basic and purest state – materialized.”

Angel’s out on bail or something, I forget, decides to pack a gun and visit his wife, where he attacks her then clumsily shoots himself in the leg. She loads him into the truck and takes him to visit the tentacle beast, and the next we see, his and Veronica’s bodies are being dumped in a ditch. Obviously we’ve got some major Possession influence, but there’s a bit of Under the Skin weirdness, Staying Vertical omnisexual frankness, and I thought I felt some Cosmos in there somewhere. Escalante’s fourth feature (I also heard good things about Heli) – he tied with Konchalovskiy for best director in Venice.

Pretty straightforward biopic of Wonder Woman and lie detector inventor Marston, his wife and their live-in lover… a solidly-made film with good performances. Usually “solidly-made with good performances” isn’t much of a recommendation for me, but it’s also thrilling that something this deviant played in the months between Wonder Woman and Fifty Shades Freed at the Grand, where I’m always subjected to trailers for Dennis Quaid Christian dramas. Seems a bit slow/long at times, but it’s covering ideas as well as incidents, and allowing each one the breathing space to feel natural so the characters don’t come across as sexy weirdos. Luke Evans (the documentarian in High-Rise) and Rebecca Hall (Christine) are the Marstons and Bella Heathcote (an evil model in The Neon Demon) is his teaching assistant who gets invited into their marriage long-term, though they have to keep it quiet since this is the 1940’s. From the writer/director of D.E.B.S., which I’ve been mildly wanting to watch for over a decade now.

The followcam gets shaky, but not the worst I’ve seen, and I stopped noticing it as the movie got stranger. Leo, a dude with serious eyebrows who is supposed to be writing a screenplay, is instead wandering some roads and fields, failing to pick up a young guy named Yoan, then succeeding in picking up a female sheepherd – and his success is signaled by a completely unexpected cut from them talking about moving in together to a close-up birthing scene.

Leo (Damien Bonnard – I think he drowned in Dunkirk) continues to hit on the dude Yoan, who lives with the muuuch older Marcel (Christian Bouillette, in movies since 1970). And one day Leo’s girl (India Hair of Camille Rewinds) leaves forever, and Leo is stuck living with their baby and her Bluto-looking dad (Raphaël Thierry). Bluto doesn’t take this well, steals the baby and tries to leave it outside for the wolves. And Leo goes on some Ornithologist-like journey along a river to visit a new-agey friend – I didn’t really follow this part.

Soon the movie loses its marbles: everyone is attracted to Leo, his girl is shacked up with Yoan, a panicked Leo flees into the river to escape his movie’s producers, he is beaten and stripped by a homeless gang, and finally Leo makes local headlines for having sex with Old Man Marcel while assisting his suicide. A flash-forward shows everyone living semi-normally, but the movie leaves us with Leo and Bluto surrounded by wolves.

Whatever it all meant, it’s a huge step up from Stranger by the Lake, and all the partner-swapping and unusual desires and wolf-lust felt fresh and enticing. Some scenes were too dark to be legible on my TV. The 13th I’ve seen of the 21 films in Cannes competition last year, and like Paterson and Slack Bay it never played theaters here.

Barbara Stanwyck is great as ever, and maybe the movie itself isn’t great, but it’s something we didn’t think ever existed. You hear that the 1930’s pre-codes were edgy, and you see Mae West‘s bawdy humor, but you never expect to see Barbara – pushed by a Nietzsche-quoting crank – to screw her way up the ladder of a bank, finally getting the president to marry her and inspiring two suicides along the way.

Barbara has mixed feelings watching her dad burn up:

Predicting another of her movies, eight years early:

Barbara’s dad Robert Barrat is a crabby bartender, pimping out his daughter until his stillhouse explodes with him inside, so Lily (heh) moves to the city with her buddy Theresa Harris (of Thunderbolt and I Walked With a Zombie) in tow. She doesn’t actually advance her career, because women in banks were secretaries, but she starts as secretary to lowly John Wayne in the filing department and quickly becomes secretary to men higher up the organization. There’s leering Mr. Brody, then the upright guy who tries to get her fired Mr. Stevens (Donald Cook), then his crazy-haired boss Carter aka Fuzzy Wuzzy (Henry Kolker, Katharine Hepburn’s dad in Holiday), and finally the fancy young president (George Brent), who she sideways-seduces by pretending to be reformed and uncorruptable. In the end she either finds her president-husband dead in his office, or she’s so happy he’s still alive that she renounces her riches – your choice.

Barbara ignoring John Wayne:

Cozying up to Brody (Douglass Dumbrille of Mr. Deeds Goes to Town):

With wild scarf, sleeves, and Donald Cook:

Rewatched this in less-than-optimal conditions (not on my fucking telephone, at least), but I’ve seen it so many times already. It’s hard to watch without the fan theories I read online in 2002 popping into my head… can’t let the mystery of it all wash over me when my mind keeps fitting the pieces into a puzzle. Granted, the theories work pretty well. And each scene is fantastic whether it makes narrative sense or not.

Classic Hollywood: landlady Coco is Ann Miller of Kiss Me Kate and On The Town, and the ranting woman wandering the apartment halls is Lee Grant of Detective Story and Shampoo. Betty’s new friend at the airport is Mary’s mom in Eraserhead. Since this came out I’ve seen Naomi Watts in a few things (none of them very good except Eastern Promises), Laura Harring in nothing, and Justin Theroux in Wanderlust and Charlie’s Angels 2. Most upsetting is when Patrick Fischler, the scared guy in the diner, shows up in a movie or TV show, as he does more regularly than his Mulholland costars.

Learned from the interview extras: Lynch says the title Mulholland Dr. was originally for a cancelled Twin Peaks spinoff, and The Cowboy is wearing Tom Mix’s original clothes.

2500th post!

The most awesome/unevenly ambitious Spike Lee movie since She Hate Me. I knew in advance that Teyonah Parris (Coco in Dear White People) has a plan to deny her man (Nick Cannon) sex until he stops fighting with a rival gang led by Wesley Snipes, but didn’t know she gathers a legion of women who commandeer an army base. The social issues within a heightened, unrealistic comedic production (rhyming dialogue, dance scenes, narrator Sam Jackson) make for a great combo.

Cowriter Kevin Willmott was here last week but I didn’t go see him since my parents were in town.