“At least it’s more lively than Possum,” I wrote in my notes, trying hard to look on the bright side after a long movie day. Molly is released from the psych ward and set up in an overheating apartment with a stain on the ceiling, crying in the vents, and a constant S.O.S. knocking sound in the walls. She keeps bugging the neighbors and the cops (complete with a rare use of body-strapped Pi-cam) trying to get to the bottom of the sound, afraid that somebody is in trouble. Bad use of birds – a precious birdie dies, a finch keeps slipping off a metal railing – some cool cranes appear in a video, at least. At the end, she’s crazy AND she’s right, but I’m tired of playing “is this real? OMG is anything real” in these movies.

At Midnight I’ll Take Your Soul (1964, José Mojica Marins)

Opens with a woman talking to the audience, Elvira-style, then the screaming sfx over the opening titles make it feel like this is gonna be a campy carnival ride of a movie. It’s not really, despite the TV Batman scene transitions, must just be José “Coffin Joe” Marins having as much fun in the editing room as he appears to be having in the lead acting role. The dubbing (and everything else) isn’t technically great, but it’s an honestly eccentric movie, up there with Death Bed on the pile of horrors with justifiable cult reputations.

Joe/Ze is the most feared man in town since he has no faith, and no compunction about violence and murder. He’s also a rude, shitty guy – at the beginning his woman tells him something, he replies “you have talked enough,” and walks out. He goes to the bar, cuts off a guy’s hand, whips another guy terribly, then returns home and kills his wife with a tarantula, then a second later he’s getting all moral on a random man. Seeking an heir, he kills his friend and rapes her girl, but she commits suicide – then the doctor wants to investigate the friend’s death, so Ze pokes out his eyes and sets him on fire.

After dude has been so terrible you’d think the last ten minutes of him screaming and running from vengeful ghosts would be more rewarding, but that fact that he lives to appear in a sequel gives the impression that Marins wasn’t serious about the comeuppance, he just enjoyed being bad for ninety minutes. Even on my standard old DVD, the avenging ghost’s stop-motion granite aura looked rad.


The Unliving (2010, Hugo Lilja)

I had some extra time, checked out a nice HD copy of this half-hour Swedish short. Nice twist on the ol’ zombie apocalypse. Mark and Katrin are in love – he installs wiring in zombie brains turning them into docile workers, she goes on raids into the city and nailguns zombies to walls so they can be captured and brought to Mark’s lab. They’ve each got problems – she kills a coworker who gets bitten, which is against the rules – and he spots his own mom and brings her home instead of drilling her brains, which is definitely against the rules. I assume their bosses are corrupt and there’s a whole gov’t conspiracy going on and this would’ve been expanded had they ended up making a feature version, which it feels like this very much wants to be… I kept stopping myself from being impressed with the massive amount of work put into this short because it ends up feeling like an overpriced advertisement for something, or an extended trailer for a miniseries. Or maybe I’m just cynical – it has some good character bits, like Katrin coming home, seeing her partner’s zombie mom, and stress-eating cereal. The director and writer finally got their break into features with 2018’s space adventure Aniara.

Mostly shot in Hungary, haha. I’d been saving this Sweden-set horrorfilm for our own trip to Sweden, but with our flight cancelled and SAS absconding with our ticket money, suppose I’ll just watch it now. Florence Pugh, known for having the most emotionally expressive face in the business, mostly expresses sullen sadness here after her whole family dies then her boyfriend who wanted to break up with her reluctantly lets her join his friends’ trip to visit a psychedelic pagan cult in rural Sweden.

The trip is for Chidi’s research, and I sorta buy his part in the academia subplots, but not Pugh’s boy Christian (get it? Jack Reynor, the cool older brother in Sing Street). Christian doesn’t read as a grad student, and unapologetically tries to steal Chidi’s research topic just by saying so, with no background or theory or actual, uh research, except for questioning the locals after it’s already clear to us that they’ll all be sacrificed in some ritual or another. I waited three whole hours for him to get Kill-Listed after reading somewhere that those two movies have the same ending, but he was burned alive inside Chekhov’s Bear instead, which is nowhere near the same thing.

Reynor, Pugh, Chidi:

Will Poulter (The Little Stranger) is “the shitty friend” according to my notes, but there’s tough competition – all these dudes deserve a good burning. It’s a great looking movie, so I didn’t mind the three hours even if I wouldn’t wanna watch it again. Katy should not watch it at all – between the bad relationships and graphic head injuries, it’s about the least-Katy movie I watched all SHOCKtober. The lengthy version I watched adds more close-ups of smashed heads (good for me, bad for Katy) and 20+ minutes of Chidi going on about his thesis (vice-versa).

A country song playing over the production credits, nice color in the opening scene, which features a scarfaced Udo Kier – even before the stylin’ comics-page opening titles, this is already classier than any Puppet Master movie I’ve ever seen. I think it’s considered a reboot… I suffered through the first eight movies, skipped (for now) parts 9-11 (The Axis Trilogy), and rented this as soon as I found it. I’m rewarded with a topsy-turvy world, in which noble Toulon is an evil nazi in a Puppet Master sequel which is somehow decently good and mildly interesting, with lead actors who are actually worth watching (Thomas Lennon of The State and Nelson Franklin of Scott Pilgrim).

I mean I don’t want to oversell it, but we’ve also got Barbara Crampton as a cop, Charlyne Yi, a bartender named Cuddly Bear, a hotel convention with more knife murders than in the previous movies combined, and lines like “This incident is starting to turn into a happening,” from writer S. Craig Zahler (Brawl in Cell Block 99)…

…and a big ol’ “TO BE CONTINUED” at the end. The directors made a bunch of Swedish horror movies together, and will hopefully make at least one more of these stupid killer puppet things, preferably right away.

En levande själ (A Living Soul, 2014, Henry Moore Selder)

A living brain, with ear and eyeball, awakens in a fishtank and eventually succeeds in psychically communicating with its nurse Emma. Happy birthday to me – thanks, Trevor!

Based on a novel by a physician. Ypsilon and Emma and nearly everyone else in Sweden acted in the TV series The Bridge, and the briefly-appearing inkblot psychiatrist (the “ink” was on an ipad, nice touch) was in Fanny & Alexander.


Sarah Winchester, opéra fantôme (2016, Bertrand Bonello)

“Dance but don’t move. Do the solo in your head.”

Symphony and dance, spooky old drawings and accusing ghosts, and the story of Sarah, inheritor of the Winchester rifle fortune, who became a crazy recluse after losing her family. I liked this even more than Nocturama. Similarities include doom music, seclusion in abandoned buildings, mannequins, guilt.


The Cabinet of Jan Svankmajer (1984, Quay Bros.)

A child visits Master Svankmajer, who removes the fluff and toys from the child’s head and teaches him stop-motion filmmaking. This makes a lot more sense than it did when I watched in the 1990’s, now that I know who Jan Svankmajer is. The cluster of mobile pins still reminds me of Edward Gorey (“Death and Distraction, said the Pins and Needles”)


Stille Nacht I, Dramolet (1988, Quay Bros.)

Extremely short and amazing, dollman watches as his spoon-world grows moldy with magnetized metal filings.


Stille Nacht II, Are We Still Married? (1992, Quay Bros.)

A motion-blur paddleball confounds a toe-stretching girl’s pet bunny


Stille Nacht III, Tales from Vienna Woods (1994, Quay Bros.)

Somebody died in 1892? Spinning smoke bullet, disembodied hand, hovering desk and extra-long spoon. I liked the His Name Is Alive song in the previous film – this one sounds like a buzzing TV from the next room.


Stille Nacht IV, Can’t Go Wrong Without You (1994, Quay Bros.)

The heroes of part two return, the tiptoe girl now quietly bleeding as the rabbit uses his antigravity powers to protect his eggs from a keyhole-peeping Death.


An Eastern Westerner (1920, Hal Roach)

At a hotel we saw this Harold Lloyd short on TCM, and since I watched it, I am duty-bound to put it on the blog somewhere, even though I was entirely focused on being aggravated about the picture being squished and don’t remember anything that happened in the movie itself. I guess it’s the one with the famous still of all the guns pointing at Harold’s head?


Three Monks (1982 Jingda Xu)

Short, flatheaded Red Monk, tall skinny Blue Monk, and fat Yellow Monk arrive separately at a mountaintop shrine and spend their days guzzling water and trying to make the other monk(s) bring up more water from the lake. Eventually they’re all angry, and are stealing water from the shrine’s flowerpot, when a mouse almost burns the place down and they have to cooperate to bring up plenty of water in a hurry. The catchy tunes and musical-instrument sound effects were the best part.


Feeling Good (2010, Pierre Etaix)

A 1965 outtake scene from As Long As You’ve Got Your Health. Etaix goes camping with a campfire and electric coffee pot. Confusion and bad coffee ensues. Then he’s in a military tent camp and I get lost as to what’s happening, because between bird songs and people whistling and blowing whistles, my birds got quite agitated.


Pas a Deux (1988 Renault & Van Dijk)

A couple is dancing, looks maybe like rotoscoped with colored pencil, then he transforms into Popeye the Sailor complete with voice clip, then they each transform (pretty seamlessly) into different famous characters. Cool effect, but feels like they’re just screwing around. Katy called it a precursor to Logorama.

Made by a couple of Dutch animators. Gerrit’s final film was based on a Burroughs story and featured the voice of Rutger Hauer. Monique has a whole bunch of films on vimeo


The Northleach Horror (2016, David Cairns)

Apocalyptic story of a mad scientist doing Frankenstein experiments in an underground bunker, the movie casually killing off characters (and resurrecting them) for laughs. I meant to watch this again and note character names, but my link has gone dead. Fun while it lasted. From the creator of the also-great Cry For Bobo.


Seances: The Disputed Honours (May 31, 2016)

Some familiar footage from The Forbidden Room, with changes. When Jacques Nolot is hired as a gardener, does he usually steal a magnifying glass? Whole new sequence with a man retrieving a key while two women (Camille and her sister?) cower in the night, only to be sucked into a vortex. Color and tinting changes mid-shot. All new intertitles! “O to quench the thirst of my wheat with the blood of slain mail coachmen.”

I wanted to watch When The Broken Toilets Cry but didn’t figure out the website in time. Can’t tell what to make of interruptions like the one below. It looked like typical streaming glitching at first until I realized the shots emerging through the glitch aren’t part of the scene I’m in.

And since I have nowhere else to mention these, I also watched and enjoyed a pile of Netflix’s comedy specials from this year… Joe Mande… Amy Schumer’s The Leather Special (all the fat jokes and poop stories get old, but I admit I laughed at ’em)… Sarah Silverman (more poop stories)… Louis CK “2017” (this has now replaced my memory of his Omaha show – I should’ve taken notes after each)… Dave Chappelle’s Spin and Texas specials (some bits set off my political-correctness alarm, but they’re perfectly constructed/paced hours)… Norm MacDonald’s Hitler’s Dog… three we burned for the drive to Atlanta: Trevor Noah (who we also saw in person a few weeks ago), Hari Kondabolu “Mainstream American Comic”, and the great Hasan Minhaj… and probably a couple I’m forgetting.

More deadpan sketches from the Songs from the Second Floor creator. Seems more despairing than funny, focusing mainly on two terrible novelty salesmen, but it’s punctuated by some crazy and memorable scenes – like when King Karl XII’s entire army passes by a modern-day bar, and the king enters on horseback – then again a few scenes later, defeated by the Russians (which actually took place in 1709). Then there’s the one scene of generous warmth and happiness, set in another bar run by Limping Lotta, who sings that she’ll trade drinks for kisses from the soldiers.

M. Sicinski:

The final shot in Pigeon, and therefore of the trilogy, involves random citizens at a bus stop, trying to help a confused man decide if it’s Wednesday. “But it feels like Thursday,” he protests. After awhile, an older man in a suit delivers the final word: “You can’t feel what day it is. Yesterday was Tuesday. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow is Thursday. You have to keep track of these things. If you don’t keep track of that, chaos will reign.” This pronouncement, gentle but firm, is the voice of liberal democracy, avuncular but brooking no disagreement. Some of us take years to sort out what it means for us to be human. But this man knows. If Pigeon finds Andersson lost in a shell game where every move is the same, it’s probably because this voice, and others like it, are winning every time.

Won the top prize at Venice, where it played alongside Birdman, The Look of Silence and 99 Homes – and Tsukamoto’s Fires on the Plain, which has barely been heard from since.

Great to watch this again in high-def. I remembered it being interesting, but not looking this spectacular. Morose knight (Max Von Sydow) and his charismatic squire Jons (Gunnar Bjornstrand of Winter Light, hard to adjust to him not being the morose one) are heading home through the plague-ridden country, accumulating other characters along the way. It’s both very serious about life and death and also full of jokes and lighter moments, so maybe the first Swedish horror comedy? Along the way, Jons has folksy/philosophical conversations with townsfolk, and the knight has religious/philosophical conversations with Death.

First, Jons rescues an intense, silent girl (Gunnel Lindblom: Sydow’s servant in Virgin Spring, his wife in Winter Light) from a dangerous thief. “I’m a married man, but with any luck my wife is dead by now, so I’ll be needing a housekeeper.” Then they come across actor/jester Jof (Nils Poppe of The Devil’s Eye) with his wife Bibi Andersson, sexy maid in The Magician), who’ve just been ditched by their more serious companion Jonas and need protection. Jonas has stolen the blacksmith’s wife (Inga Gill of Miss Julie), but the smith (Ake Fridell, Monika‘s dad) gets her back and Jonas wanders off to meet Death.

It’s been established that jester Jof can see spirits, so he’s the only one who realizes that the knight’s solo chess games are actually with Death, and that the knight is losing, so he escapes with his wife. The rest of the gang continues to the knight’s castle where his wife Karin (Inga Landgre, recently in Girl With The Dragon Tattoo Remake) is waiting. The six of them are just having dinner when Death catches up, and out in a field with their young son, Jof sees Death leading them all away.

Peter Cowie calls the actors “medieval ancestors of those troubadours, those traveling musicians who are still so popular in Scandinavia today.” I’ve meant to ask Trevor how often he runs across troubadours. Cowie also calls this “the high point of Bergman’s symbolic period.” I’m pretty sure the sudden parade of self-flagellating religious nuts was a Monty Python influence.

Woody Allen:

His big contribution was that he developed a vocabulary to work on the interiors of people. He would choose these great and gifted actors and he would guide them so they could project these inner states of extreme emotional intensity. He would use close-ups and keep those close-ups going longer and longer, and he never let up. Gradually the psychological feelings of the character the actor was portraying just sort of show up on the screen. He was so unsparing with the camera. Finally you start to see the wars that are raging inside the characters, these psychological wars and emotional wars, and it’s no less visual in the end than the movements of armies.

Not what I was expecting after the increasing despair of Through a Glass Darkly and Winter Light – I mean there’s plenty of despair here, and more relationships falling apart irreconcilably and suicidal behavior and children being forever warped, but for the culmination of a “Silence of God trilogy” and a film that was originally entitled God’s Silence, there’s a curious lack of discussion of God.

After a train trip through a country at war, Anna (Gunnel Lindblom, suicidal Sydow’s wife in Winter Light) and sickly Ester (Gunnel Lindblom, Winter Light pastor’s no-longer love-interest) land at a hotel, sit in their room deteriorating while Anna’s son Johan makes the hotel his playground, spying on the porter (I loved him, a friendly old man who only speaks his fictional home country’s made-up language) and cavorting with a roomful of dwarves. The sisters hate each other – Anna tells some uncomprehending hookup that she wishes Ester were dead, finally takes Johan and abandons her sister to the hotel.

Quiet and mysterious movie full of ambiguity – hard to tell much about the relationships or history, why they are here, where is here (a place that Ester, a professional translator, knows none of the language), what Ester and the boy are thinking.

L. Braudy:

Anna and Ester form two sides of a whole person, a theme Bergman would go on to further explore in Persona. Anna is defined almost entirely through her physicality — washing, anointing herself with perfume and lotions, getting dressed and undressed, having sex, watching others have sex. Ester, the translator, with her typewriter, paper, and pens, is instead a creature of language — suffering from the lung disease that suffocates her, masturbating, smoking, drinking, and thinking of sex as a mechanical matter of “erections and secretions” that disgust her. Her body in ruin, only words seem to keep her alive.

Ingmar Bergman Makes a Movie (1963, Vilgot Sjöman)

Extremely good, five-part doc on the making of Winter Light, which I’m obviously watching one movie too late, but I didn’t realize it existed back in February. Sjöman, who hadn’t yet made it big with the I Am Curious films, interviews Bergman at every step of the filmmaking process. Amazing to me how open Bergman is about his script after just having completed it, his intentions for filming before beginning.

Bergman:

“This is what we suffer from so terribly in watching American films, where everyone walks around acting so desperately natural, talking in this damned monotonous way. It makes it so dead and dull. It’s important to keep the dramatic contour. It’s not about just keeping up a naturalistic level of chatter, but actually playing a part, conveying a certain impression. And as you get towards the end of a movie – and the director must keep a careful eye on this – it’s important to raise the energy level in the actors. After having watched the film for an hour and a half, the audience is so tired that they need more energy. They need to understand the big picture.

Sven Nykvist:

Segments of process (except for scriptwriting) are interspersed with interviews discussing why things are done the way they are. For one Winter Light scene fragment, we see all the angles shot, then the first edit, then the final. Bergman gives this doc strict attention, not playing it off as PR fluff but maybe a chance to seem less forbidding to audiences as his films were turning more serious. And of course, he’s more conscious of his public image and the reception of the doc than he appears.

Vilgot for Criterion:

Bergman avoided some things, though. He was afraid of letting me read the first sketches he put on paper. These were later published in Bergman’s book Images: My Life in Film. So here we find the embryo for the film: the minister alone in the church, trying to force God out of his silence. Bergman was also afraid of letting the TV crew into the studio while he was working with the actors, so what I got for the TV series is an arranged rehearsal, made on a separate day after the real shooting was finished. … When time was ripe for the last interview, he didn’t approve of the result. “No good,” he said. He was blaming himself for being too superficial. “We have to do it once more, Vilgot.” So we did.

Bergman’s Dreams (2013, Michael Koresky and Casey Moore)

A Criterion-produced DVD extra without a DVD, stuck onto their blog and youtube, about dreams and dreamlike atmosphere in Bergman’s cinema – curiously without directly mentioning his film called Dreams or his TV adaptation of Stringberg’s A Dream Play (a major influence, Bergman closes Fanny & Alexander with a reading from it).

Set in one day, almost a real-time portrait of the failings of local pastor Gunnar Bjornstrand (bad father from Through a Glass Darkly). He gives his sermon to a sparse, unattentive congregation then has a series of disspiriting meetings in his office. Gunnel Lindblom (servant girl in The Virgin Spring) wants him to speak with her husband, a depressed Max Von Sydow, never looking more sad and powerless. Local atheist teacher, friend and off-again love interest Ingrid Thulin (Sydow’s secret wife in The Magician) writes the pastor a an attack/analysis letter, delivered as a speech to-camera.

Gunnar and Ingrid:

Then Von Sydow is back (mentioned: “a spider God, a monster”, direct callback to Through a Glass Darkly). He is feeling suicidal and the pastor so completely fails to help (“I’m no good as a clergyman,” he even admits) that Sydow promptly wanders outside and shoots himself in the head. Ingrid goes with Gunnar to inform the widow, and along the way he discusses their lack of a relationship. “I don’t want you. Once and for all I have to escape this junkyard of idiotic trivialities. And I don’t love you, because I love my wife. When she died, so did I.”

Widow Gunnel:

Off to the next church service in another town, joined by the hunchbacked sexton, a thoughtful man and the best character in the movie. Each tormented by their lives’ lack of meaning, Gunnar begins the service, which is attended only by Ingrid.

Sexton Allan Edwall, later in Fanny & Alexander and The Sacrifice:

A strong contender for Most Depressing Film of All Time. Made the same year as Frantisek Vlácil’s The Devil’s Trap (“an allegory regarding science, religion and secular power”) and The World’s Greatest Sinner, in which Timothy Carey renames himself God and defies the other God to show himself. Max von Sydow would follow this up by playing Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

The ending, in Bergman’s words: “Irrespective of everything, you will hold your Communion. It is important to the churchgoer, but even more important to you.”

P. Cowie from the DVD extras:

When it came out, I remember certainly being very shocked that this did not look like a Bergman film. It didn’t have that spectacular technical expertise which we associated during the 50’s with Bergman. But looking back I think it was very deliberate on his part. It wasn’t a budget problem or anything like that. He just wanted something very, very wintry and very, very severe.

P. Cowie:

Film buffs who know Bergman’s earlier film Through a Glass Darkly will note the organist’s scornful dismissal of that work’s conclusion: “God is love; love is God.” Indeed, Winter Light stands as a bridge between Through a Glass Darkly and The Silence, as well as Bergman’s farewell to his own religious upbringing. Some might call it an exorcism.

Ebert:

The sexton, the little twisted man, alone has a face that is alive with wonder at the mystery of faith. He has been reading the Gospels, he says, and thinks the emphasis on Christ’s suffering on the cross is all wrong. Christ only suffered a few hours, he says, while he, Algot, has suffered more and longer, and it is not so bad. No, the real suffering of Christ came when his disciples betrayed him at Gethsemane, and when he cried out to a father who seemed to have forsaken him. He suffered because he feared no one had heard or understood his message. Christ suffered because he, too, was dismayed by the silence of God.