Honor de Cavelleria (2006, Albert Serra)

“You have to follow my path even if you don’t understand it.”

Don Quixote thinks he’s a knight, enlists his neighbor as squire. Pancho is sleepy and despondent, Quixote is belligerent, but both are quite slow and seemingly dull-witted. Time goes slowly. Some nice natural-light photography, though.

Shot in part by Eduard Grau (A Single Man, Finisterrae). Mark Peranson apparently made a Serra making-of doc, but it’s about Birdsong despite being named Waiting for Sancho.

M. Peranson:

Honor de Cavalleria is a modernist, materialist, experiential film made with a supreme amount of confidence. It’s one of those films that periodically appears in a hostile, conformist environment – like a UFO landing – and causes viewers and critics to ponder how exactly films operate on spectators. … it is as if we are eavesdropping on the real inspirations for the dreamer Quixote and the earth-bound Sancho as they moseyed across the gorgeous landscape centuries ago, their language less important than the movement of their bodies.

Serra, who has a degree in Hispanic Philology:

We wanted to make a film on idealism. What then was the starting point of such a film? A beautiful novel dealing with that theme, that is to say Don Quixote. … This austere and conceptual atmosphere [of Bresson and Bergman] interested us. Young filmmakers usually have the stereotype of the urban film, current stories, themes dealing with young people. In order to go against that, we insisted on the classic film tradition, different from that of nowadays’ young cinema. We wanted to make a film poles apart from current cinema.

Serra again, on the look: “It’s shot in Mini DV, not HD or any high-end bullshit. … I don’t like the definition to be that high.” He quotes Lisandro Alonso and Blissfully Yours as influences.

Antonio Gaudí (1984, Hiroshi Teshigahara)

A wordless montage of Gaudi architecture and artwork, beautiful and nostalgic of my time in Barcelona. Toru Takemitsu’s usually fine music score got too chiming and ethereal at times. Tiny bit of talking, first a half hour in, then over the climactic Sagrada Familia segment.

First, some Picasso in the square. Facing us: El fris dels Gegants

This is the first thing I always think about when I hear Gaudi’s name:

Sagrada Familia, distant view:

Criterion:

Gaudí’s structures, [Teshigahara] later said, “made me realize that the lines between the arts are insignificant. Gaudí worked beyond the borders of various arts and made me feel that the world in which I was living still left a great many possibilities.”

Wow, we didn’t go here:

The ol’ Parc Guell:

Sagrada Familia, inside view:

The Devil is a Woman (1935, Josef von Sternberg)

The bookend segment implies that the movie will be more fun than it is, opening during “Carnival Week” in Spain with the chief of police telling his men to shoot criminals during the festivities rather than arrest them, so the jail doesn’t overfill. Then straight into a party scene where masked Antonio (Cesar Romero, recently of The Thin Man) glimpses masked Marlene Dietrich. It immediately recalls the similarly-streamer-filled party in Dishonored with a masked Victor McLaglen (who has a much better smile than Cesar does). It’s a great-looking movie, if less gloriously so than the other Sternbergs I’ve been watching. Its best moments recall those earlier films: characters trapped together on a train (Shanghai Express), a man obsessed with Dietrich to his own humiliation and ruin (The Blue Angel) and all the carefully-composed obscured-vision shots. But it doesn’t add much original flavor of its own (besides a good dueling scene), and the middle of the movie drags from its uninteresting story.

Cesar trails Dietrich to her house but can’t get in, so he meets buddy Pasqual (Lionel Atwill, in the To Be Or Not To Be acting troupe) and listens to him talk for the majority of the movie. Pasqual recalls meeting Dietrich on an avalanche-bound train, giving money to her and her mother (Alison Skipworth of the similarly-titled Satan Met a Lady), then watching her escape with another man. This happens again. Then again and again. Then he rapes her, I think. The point of his story is that Cesar needs to stay away from the girl, but all I’m getting is that Pasqual is extremely pathetic. Cesar must’ve gotten that too, because he shows up at her house again. Pasqual sees, challenges him to a duel, then fires into the air, a suicide move. Dietrich pulls a total Casablanca on Cesar, getting travel papers for both of them (from cameo-governor Edward Everett Horton) then hopping off the train.

L-R: Pasqual, Marlene, Cesar:

Guest star E. Everett:

C. Silver:

The film is neither as warm as Morocco nor as accessible as The Blue Angel. If it is perhaps the most perfect film ever made in some ways, its very precision conveys a coldness, a diamond-like hardness; the romanticism of Morocco transformed into cynical introspection and fatalism. If Sternberg is any closer to understanding Dietrich, he is unwilling to solve the puzzle for the audience; the film remains one of the most beautifully realized enigmas in the history of the cinema.

Marlene with a duck in a basket:

from A. Sennwald’s original NY Times review:

The talented director-photographer, in The Devil Is a Woman, makes a cruel and mocking assault upon the romantic sex motif which Hollywood has been gravely celebrating all these years. His success is also his failure. Having composed one of the most sophisticated films ever produced in America, he makes it inevitable that it will be misunderstood and disliked by nine-tenths of the normal motion picture public. . . . a heartless parable of man’s eternal humiliation in the sex struggle. As Don Pasqual dances foolishly at the bidding of the young woman who has him biologically trapped, we begin by laughing with the director at the ludicrous spectacle and end by suspecting that the joke has been a grisly one.

Buy (cheap) from Amazon:
Marlene Dietrich: The Glamour Collection

Auteur Shorts watched mid-2011

Plastic Bag (2009, Ramin Bahrani)

An American Beauty plastic bag, dancing with me for twenty minutes. Only this bag’s journey is very well filmed and the bag has the voice of Werner Herzog – two innovations that would have greatly helped the last plastic bag movie I saw, The Green Bag. A blatant environmentalism screed, but I really enjoyed it. I thought it’d have the same ending as Children of Men, but it had the same ending as AI: Artificial Intelligence instead.

The Dirk Diggler Story (1988, PT Anderson)

An actual fake doc, but not a polished one. I thought it was rigged to look amateurish until I read online that it was actually edited on two VCRs by young Anderson. Narrated by PT’s father Ernie Anderson, a big-time TV announcer. It’s nice that he was willing to participate in his 18-year-old son’s movie about pornography, homosexuality and drug addiction. The most fun part of the movie is hearing this straightlaced announcer pronounce titles like “White Sandy Bitches” and “Bone To Be Wild”.

Dirk is explicitly bisexual in this one, but otherwise it hits some familiar plot points from Boogie Nights: Dirk’s drug addiction, his ill-advised recording career, his buddy Reed. There’s less nudity in the short, and it ends with an on-set fatal overdose for Dirk. My favorite bit that didn’t make the feature was a group prayer for God to protect us against premature ejaculation.

Horner (Burt’s character) is played by The Colonel in Boogie Nights, the only actor who returned. Well, Michael “Diggler” Stein had a cameo as “stereo customer”. He turned writer/director after that – his last film starred Andy Dick and Coolio.

Las Hurdes/Land Without Bread (1933, Luis Buñuel)

A half-hour documentary that has been discussed to death – how much of it is real? Can it be considered surrealist? Etc. Taken at face value as a portrait of an extremely poor mountain community, it’s well made, interesting, and too vibrant (and even humorous) to blend in with your average educational short. I still can’t believe they had a donkey killed by bees, and shot a mountain goat then hurled its body off a cliff, all to make points about the difficulty of life in this place. At least they didn’t kill any people on camera, although the narrator may have exaggerated (or undersold, who knows?) their conditions. Was released in ’33, had a French voiceover added in ’35 then a newsreel-toned English voiceover in ’37 – I saw the French version. I assume the bombastic music was on all three versions.

Senses of Cinema calls it “a documentary that posits the impossibility of the documentary, placing the viewer in the uneasy situation of complicity with a cruel camera probing the miseries of the urdanos for our benefit.”

The Old Lady and the Pigeons (1998, Sylvain Chomet)

This 20-minute movie gives me inexpressible joy. It’s a good antidote to the world-weary realism of The Illusionist, back way past the anything-goes surrealism of Triplets of Belleville into a pure comic cartoon world. A starving policeman dresses as a pigeon, barges into a bird-feeding old woman’s house and demands a meal, then does the same all year until she tries to eat him for Christmas dinner. Full of delightful little details (and at least one sad bird death).

The Italian Machine (1976, David Cronenberg)

“Let’s figure it out, Gestapo-style.”
A series of betrayals leading to an obsessed mechanic gaining ownership over a unique motorcycle. Made for TV, so people call each other “meathead” and “turkey”.

Beardy Lionel (Gary McKeehan of The Brood) hears that a collector’s-item motorcycle is in the hands of a collector. This will not stand, so he grabs his buddies (Frank Moore, second-billed in Rabid, and Hardee Lineham who had a cameo in The Dead Zone) and heads over posing as reporters to figure out how to free the bike from the boring rich guy (played by Guy Maddin’s buddy Louis Negin). Lionel sucks at pretending, though, so they’d be screwed if not for Ricardo, a dull cokehead hanger-on at Negin’s house who helps them out. Cronie’s fascination with automotive machinery peaked early with this and Fast Company, then came back with a brief vengeance with Crash.

Our beardy hero first meets Louis Negin:

Bottle Rocket (1992, Wes Anderson)

Cute sketch, with the Wilson brothers and Bob from the Bottle Rocket feature, plus the gun demo scene shot exactly the same way (just in black and white). They’re budding criminals, robbing Luke’s house then a book/video store, taking one guy’s wallet. No Inez, Futureman, Kumar or James Caan.

Something Happened (1987, Roy Andersson)

An AIDS lesson with didactic narration, illustrated with Andersson’s expertly composed setups of depressed-looking white people. One particular pale balding guy is seen a few times. It ends up less depressing than World of Glory, at least. Commissioned as an educational short but cancelled for being too dark

Within The Woods (1978, Sam Raimi)

Ah, the ol’ Indian burial ground. “Don’t worry about it,” says Bruce Campbell, “You’re only cursed by the evil spirits if you violate the graves of the dead. We’re just gonna be eating hot dogs.” Then he immediately violates a grave of the dead. Nice test run for The Evil Dead, with many elements already in place, like the the famous monster’s-pov long running shot, girls being attacked by trees, evil lurking in the cellar, knifing your friend as he walks in the door because you thought he was a demon, and of course, “JOIN US”. Hard to make out the finer points of the film since this was the grossest, fuzziest, lowest-ass-quality bootleg video I’ve ever seen.

Clockwork (1978, Sam Raimi)

Woman at home is stalked by jittery creeper (Scott Spiegel, director of From Dusk Till Dawn 2). He sticks his hands through her crepe-paper bedroom door, stabs her to death, but she stabs him back, also to death. It’s not much in the way of a story, but Raimi already has a good grip on the editing and camera skills for making decent horror. How did 19-year-old Raimi get his lead actress to take her clothes off in his 8mm movie?

Sonata For Hitler (1979, Aleksandr Sokurov)

Music video of stock footage from pre-WWII Germany stuck inside a ragged-edged frame surrounded by numbers and sprocket holes. Halfway through, the music mostly fades away, replaced with foreboding sound effects.

Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers (2001, Simonsson & Nilsson)

Drummers break into an apartment, play catchy beats in the kitchen and bathroom, with a slow bedroom number in between, then a destructive romp through the living room. But just as they finish, the inhabitants return. Clever and fun, and just the thing that probably should not have been extended into a two-hour feature.

The Saragossa Manuscript (1965, Wojciech Has)

Masters Coppola and Scorsese, who dedicate much time and money to the worthy cause of film preservation, restored this 1960′s Polish film and brought it to the States, where I’m sure a sparkling, freshly-subtitled 35mm print enjoyed an acclaimed week at the Film Forum. Then these giants, pleased with their accomplishments, went off to watch Tales of Hoffmann at George Romero’s house, while some fly-by-night company bought the rights to a video release, made a middling transfer and issued an interlaced DVD.

Alphonse is so goofy and weak-looking, even next to the flamboyantly-feathered Uzeda. I assume from the actor’s Polish James Dean reputation that this was an unusual character for him.

Rebecca Uzeda: Beata Tyszkiewicz also played Edith Piaf’s mom in a 1983 Claude Lelouch movie

I’ve just finished reading the book by Jan Potocki. The movie wisely cuts out the last half of the book and skips to the final couple pages, missing the Wandering Jew and about a month’s worth of the gypsy chief’s stories within stories within stories. And since it is all stories within stories, composed mainly of meaningless sidetracks (Bunuel was a big fan, and I’d like to think he had this in mind while writing The Phantom of Liberty), I won’t go on forever with plot summary.

Alphonse being told his cousins are pregnant:

The first person Alphonse meets at the haunted inn:

The whole thing seemed to have a more comic, amused tone than the novel – noticable from the first framing story (the titular manuscript, being read together by enemies during wartime, in the midst of a battle). Zbigniew Cybulski (star of Ashes and Diamonds, killed by a train a couple years after this) is our hero Alphonse, constantly having his honor tested by ghosts and servants, heathens and temptresses. He teams up with cabalists Pedro and Rebecca Uzeda and mathematician Don Pedro Velasquez (Gustaw Holoubek, also of Wojciech Has films The Hour-Glass Sanatorium and A Boring Story), hooks up with his cousins Emina and Zibelda, meets Zoto and his hanged brothers, and spends not so much time with the gypsy chief (whose name I’ve forgotten at the moment).

Young Lopez Suarez and his outraged father:

Pasheko (Franciszek Pieczka) was my favorite actor:

Good looking movie, straightforwardly filmed without stylistic excess or ghostly effects. The rumbling electronic music sometimes does the movie a disservice. I’m sure the cinemascope-shot film looked a hundred times better in theaters than on my laptop – fingers crossed for another revival.

I’m guessing Alain Robbe-Grillet liked this shot:

A Zoto brother:

This story (stories) was remade as a miniseries a decade later in France – nobody seems to know much about that version (not in English, anyway). The only other Jan Potocki adaptation was by Raoul Ruiz in the 80′s. W. Has doesn’t immediately seem like a filmmaker I must seek out, but his Hour-Glass Sanatorium does sound good.

[Rec] (2007, Jaume Balagueró & Paco Plaza)

Finally, a great horror movie set in Barcelona (Carriers was directed by Barcelonans but set in the U.S., a missed opportunity). Although, it takes place entirely inside one small apartment building, so it could have been set anywhere – which was Hollywood’s point when they remade it in English as Quarantine.

The most fun thing about this movie is that the cinematographer (Pablo Rosso) is also a lead character, a news cameraman following young reporter Angela (Manuela Velasco of the upcoming Spiderland, which I’m hoping is a Slint bio-pic). I’m not up-to-date on my Spanish horror viewing, so haven’t seen any of these actors before. IMDB says the leads return for [Rec] 2, but I don’t see how that’s possible since everybody dies at the end. I don’t get why a sequel (plus two more in development) would be desirable either – having flashbacks of the hilariously stupid Blair Witch 2.

Fluff reporter Angela is following fire fighters for a night when they’re called to an apartment to check on a disturbance. Said disturbance is the old woman upstairs eating one of her neighbors. They soon find out they’re being sealed inside the building by the Spanish CDC, and that people the old woman bites seem to become flesh-eating zombies.

Panic ensues. There’s a nervous, power-crazed cop who likes to draw his gun, a cute widdle girl and her mother, a young doctor, and some more zombie-fodder residents. The fireman and the reporter/cameraman nearly escape but he gets bitten. The news crew lock themselves in the penthouse, where a crazy (you can tell because there are newspaper clippings all over the walls) but organized (if the clippings weren’t enough of a plot device, there’s a tape machine) mad scientist was conducting experiments on a zombie… who is… STILL IN THE APARTMENT OH MY GOD AND it kills them both and that’s the end.

Sweet movie, though. Buy it now from Amazon.
[Rec] DVD

Broken Embraces (2009, Pedro Almodovar)

Film director Mateo Blanco (Lluís Homar of Bad Education) reinvents himself as novelist Harry Caine after an accident, both out of trauma from losing his lover Lena (Penélope Cruz), and to stay in hiding from the men he suspects caused the accident. Millionaire Ernesto Martel (José Luis Gómez of Goya’s Ghosts), producing Mateo’s film which stars Ernesto’s young wife Lena is one of those men, and his closeted son (Rubén Ochandiano of Che, Biutiful), stalking Mateo and Lena with a videocamera, is the other. Those four plus the always excellent Blanca Portillo (pot-smoking friend in Volver) are the core of the movie, which stays twisty and exciting due to Almodovar’s withholding of major story elements (like the car crash) until the end. As with Volver, it didn’t seem to burst off the screen and declare its excellence, just came off as another solid Almodovar pic. But thinking of those two in hindsight they seem so good I want to watch them again right now. Maybe that’s why the Almodovar movies I’ve seen more than once (All About My Mother, Talk To Her, Women on the Verge) are my favorites… all his work needs to be examined a second time, to appreciate the filmmaking once the shocks of the plot twists have worn off.

Cruz:
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T. Stempel:

Almodóvar is very aware that he is borrowing, and to save us from having to make a list of films and filmmakers he is referring to, we get a later scene of Diego going through Harry’s DVD collection, reading off titles and directors. One thing that struck me in watching the film is that it makes more sense as you watch it than any summary I have seen in the reviews of it. That is Almodóvar’s skill as a screenwriter.

Portillo:
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Ernesto’s son (in the present-day scenes calling himself Ray X) comes off as cartoonish (no disrespect to the actor; he’s given a cartoonish role to play). Mateo/Harry is very good as the star of the story, but as usual with Pedro’s films, my eyes are glued to the women: Cruz, Portillo, Lola Dueñas (The Sea Inside, Volver) as a lip-reader employed by Ernesto, and the unforgettable Rossy de Palma in a brief cameo.

Lola:
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Timecrimes (2007, Nacho Vigalondo)

This has been compared to Primer, and the Hollywood remake machine is already rolling over it, so I thought it’d be a better time-travel movie to watch than Terminator 4 this weekend.

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Hector is settling into his new house with his wife – one day sees a naked girl in the distance, goes to check it out and is attacked by a man with a bandaged head. This being a movie called TIMECRIMES I figure the bandaged man is Hector himself come from the past or future, and I’m right, but the movie doesn’t hide this for long, and there’s more to enjoy than just trying to guess the future/past. Doesn’t tell the story in real chronological order, but follows Hector’s own personal chronology as he is tricked by a scientist (played by the director) into entering a time machine and beaming into the past a few hours. Now Hector 2, he gets in an accident and bandages his face, goes around stalking himself and trying to figure how to get out of this. The bit I didn’t see coming is when he beams himself 30 seconds earlier than he did before, becoming the behind-the-scenes manipulator Hector 3 who ensures that the woman who falls to her death (causing Hector 2 to become Hector 3) is the poor previously-naked bicyclist who tried to help him, and not his beloved wife. Back in the normal flow of time, he sits with his wife as night falls.

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Also checked out the shorts on the disc. Nacho is the king of the clever concept.

7:35 In The Morning (2003) is a musical – guy (Nacho himself) sings a song for a girl he sees every day at the diner and gets everybody there to participate. Thoroughly unexpected finale when she calls the cops and he turns out to be strapped with dynamite.
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Crash (2005) is hilarious – guy (Nacho again, imagine that) out with his girl wants to ride the bumper cars just like old times, but he gets increasingly frustrated, angry, embarrassed and injured.
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The Pit and the Pendulum (1991, Stuart Gordon)

Finally it is SHOCKtober and I can watch Stuart Gordon movies again. This one is prep for Stuck, which should come out on video next week. It’s similar to Dagon in many ways: pretty good classic-lit-inspired story, foreign/period setting with cheap-but-good production values, spots of humor, sexual transgression… They’re fun movies to watch with some great characters, but our leads are bland, straightforward, naive dopes. It’s not like I’m rooting for Lance Henriksen, but I can’t bring myself to root for the baker and his wife either.

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Set during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492 (when Columbus sailed the ocean blue), Lance stars as an evil monk who claims to be extremely religious but tosses the church aside when it interferes with his plan, a man who tortures people for confessions and insists what he’s doing is right. If the movie was released today, it’d be attacked for all the heavy-handed GW Bush comparisons. Lance is surrounded by his cronies: Stephen Lee (the toy-loving dude in Dolls), crazed torturer Mark Margolis (a Darren Aronofsky regular) and by-the-books Jeffrey Combs, and together they torture and kill a woman whose character name sounds like Contessa Alfred Molina (played by the director’s wife Carolyn) and one who claims to be an actual witch (played by the creeeepy hotel woman from In the Mouth of Madness).

Jeffrey Combs:
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Thrust into this lunacy are a baker and his wife. The baker (also in Gordon’s Castle Freak) is a regular boring dude who can inexplicably take out three knights in full armor using only a spoon, and the wife (her only other role is in a rarely-seen Raul Julia movie) is honest and religious and doesn’t trust the Inquisition. She’s arrested and accused of witchery after she protests a public execution scene, but evil Lance falls for her and tries to get her by alternately threatening to torture her/her husband and offering to release her/her husband. He cuts her tongue out, she escapes by faking death (with help of the real witch – who swallows gunpowder so her body will explode and her bones impale the crowd during her burning at the stake, which I don’t think would really work), the couple escape and Lance dies (torture-free) in his own spike pit beneath the pendulum. Oh, and in the middle there’s a visit from a cardinal (Oliver Reed from The Brood, The Devils and Burnt Offerings!), but Lance locks him up inside a wall a la Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.”

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Lance is fun to watch as the monstrous monk. Lots of loving care is paid to torture equipment. Movie’s action scenes are weak, but overall I liked the thing. Happy Shocktober, everyone!