Despite technically being a Sundance premiere, we were the first in-person audience for a movie made to be seen on a big screen with a big soundsystem. I should look up whether the archival footage even had sound, or if this was a foley fest. It puts together a good heroic narrative, the volcanologist couple turning their studies from gently predictable “red” volcanoes to dangerous “gray” volcanoes, and after authorities ignore warnings in Colombia and thousands die, they make a scare film about those deaths, which convinces people to evacuate next time. Filmmaking saves lives. A slick movie, not as personally troubling as others today, despite all the deaths. Kyren Penrose opened, solo acoustic, and we got beer and pretzels at Broadway afterwards.
I skipped a couple Garrels since Le Revelateur, decided to watch some 1972 films on their 50-ish anniversaries. Garrel + Nico = an unexpected rock musical. Liturgical voice and organ songs, incredible long takes in different forbidding environments.
Nico cries in the desert with Vest Guy (Daniel Pommereulle of La Collectionneuse), both of them wearing flowy sleeves – this section features a 720-degree slow pan over a Nico song – then she follows and berates him down a white road.
Another Nico song, a good one, kid leads a horse away from a flame circle, Vest Guy gives Nico a small goat, and so on… then Pierre Clémenti arrives nude. He journeys far and long, barefoot across a volcano, to bring gifts to a baby (played by his son) on an iceberg. Nico, practically the only person who speaks (in English and German), calls the nude archer “king.” There’s some kinda final confrontation near a rocky cave involving a sword. It’s all a very different kind of mythology than The Spine of Night, but felt right to be watching these two in the same week.
I’d meant to play this movie again the next day at work, just listening in the headphones, because the unexpected music and the way every interviewee had a different sort of audio processing on their voice was striking. But the rental expired and I had to settle for the Smog song.
Definitely on the avant-garde side of the documentary spectrum, but with terrific sound. Some very joyful edits. Before watching I read the Sicinski Cinema Scope article twice, and now want to watch all of Silva’s movies. Already by the time the opening title hit, the movie’s physical nature was nothing like I’d imagined. The talking heads are never shot in standard doc style, and he talks around the issues we imagined it’d confront head-on, but productively. The island/ocean nature calls back nicely to our last T/F movie of 2020, and still the last movie we’ve seen in theaters, Małni. Volcanic lava and disputed native lands, with Rat Film levels of digression.
By showing us a collage of discontinuous moments from a given lifeworld, Silva expresses the density of any given social formation, its atmospheric pervasiveness and resonance. As such, his films show us things that serve to emphasize just how much we cannot know … What Silva shows quite clearly through his oblique strategy of creative nonfiction is that the radical flattening of culture and history on which global capital thrives actually has its limits.
Jiri Menzel had just died, but instead of one of his movies on a Monday night I chose his countryman. I’ve seen some career-bookend works by Zeman, his early Prokouk shorts and late feature The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but not the heyday works, and this was spectacular. Real people against illustrated backgrounds, the Sin City of its time. Every kind of animation and visual trick seamlessly integrated, the thin striped pattern from the book illustrations appearing everywhere, overall amazing visual design… and to think his Baron Munchausen is supposed to be even better and I’ve been meaning to rent it for twenty years.
Our Narrator is assisting a scientist when the two are kidnapped (along with a pretty lady, of course) by pirates and taken to an evil mastermind inside a volcano who gets the scientist to help him unlock the secrets of the atom and conquer the world. The narrator is alarmed by all this but the scientist is happily distracted with a new lab and new problems to solve, until the very end, when he realizes what he’s doing and nukes the volcano. In the meantime we get submarines, a fighting octopus, parrots and fishes, of course a balloon or two, and a fantasy tour through all the inventions of the era, real and imagined (camels on rollerskates!), an alternate vision of what Tesla could’ve been.
Moana’s island is dying because demigod Maui desecrated a statue, and the villagers are strictly forbidden from sailing beyond the island, but Moana’s grandma doesn’t care about these men and their dumb rules, urges Moana to do whatever the hell she wants, then dies. Helped out by ocean magic (which is why the water rises and twists on the poster) and accompanied by an idiot chicken, Moana appeals to Maui to retrieve his magic-wand fishhook from a greedy Jemaine-voiced crab and help her return a magic stone to the volcanic lava beast, returning harmony to the land. Good songs and beautiful water and fire effects (the characters were okay – I’ll take the chicken over Moana or Maui). Directors Clements & Musker also made lost classic The Great Mouse Detective. Of the Disney animated features I’ve watched most recently, this trounces Big Hero 6 and Frozen and Mulan, but I still prefer Wreck-It Ralph over all. Looks like The Princess and the Frog should be next to watch.
Stories don’t just lead into each other like in The Saragossa Manuscript – they melt and morph into each other, thanks to codirector Evan Johnson’s digital manipulations, which don’t replace Maddin’s usual bag of tricks, but join the choppy editing and texture fetish and everything else. Some of his early movies had somnambulist rhythms, but this one is ecstatic from start to finish.
Had to watch this a couple times before I could report in.
Second time through, I noted the order of stories:
How to Take a Bath, with Louis Negin
Submarine: Blasting Jelly and Flapjacks
Starring Negin again with Ukranian Greg Hlady, panicky Alex Bisping, Andre the Giant-reminiscent Kent McQuaid, and mysteriously-appearing woodsman Cesare (Roy Dupuis of Mesrine and Screamers).
Like the men in the submarine, The Forbidden Room has an overall mood of anxiety and despair, in the sense that we are asked to grapple with its heady delirium of character trajectories and stunted arcs, all the while searching in vain for some absent center, the organizing “captain” who is supposed to pull it all together. In its endless ruptures and disconnections, The Forbidden Room brings us up short, placing us back in that capsule where the image is a form of confinement, a shortness of breath.
Cesare sets out to rescue the kidnapped Margo (Clara Furey)
Cave of the Red Wolves
with lead wolf Noel Burton, bladder slapping and boggling puzzlements!
Amnesiac Singing Flowergirl
Margo again, with mysterious necklace woman Marie Brassard (sinister Jackie from Vic + Flo Saw a Bear) and patient Pancho (Victor Andres Trelles Turgeon)
The Final Derriere
Red Wolves / Woodsmen / Submarine / Bath / Submarine
Squid Theft / Volcano Sacrifice
With Margo, squid thief Romano Orzari and Lost Generation attorney Céline Bonnier (The Far Side of the Moon)
The Forbidden Room may (or may not) be inventing narratives from thin air, but whatever history these abandoned projects might have had is completely supplanted by the present Maddin (and co-director Evan Johnson) invents for them. These stories belong to him now. The Forbidden Room may forego the hypnotically autobiographical thrust of recent efforts like My Winnipeg and Brand Upon the Brain!, but it feels no less personal for it.
Mill Seeks Gardener
With shed-sleeper Slimane Dazi and unpredictable runaway Jacques Nolot
Injured Motorcyclist at Bone Hospital
Caroline Dhavernas and Paul Ahmarani
Doctor kidnapped by skeleton insurance defrauders
Lewis Furey (Margo’s father IRL) as The Skull-Faced Man, and Eric Robidoux as the bone doctor’s long-lost brother who is also a bone doctor.
Psychiatrist and madman aboard train
Gregory Hlady again, Romano Orzari again, and Karine Vanasse (Polytechnique) as Florence LaBadie
Florence’s Inner Child
Sienna Mazzone as young Florence with crazy mother Kathia Rock
Parental Neglect / Madness / Murder / Amnesia
Bone Hospital / Insurance Defrauders
Mill / Criminal / Doctor
Volcanic Island / Squid Theft / Submarine / Bath
“I haven’t finished telling you: the forest… the snow… the convict… the birthday”
Woodsman Gathers New Allies
Kyle Gatehouse as Man With Upturned Face, Neil Napier as Man With Stones On His Feet and Victor Turgeon again as Listening Man – these are the same actors who played the Saplingjacks earlier, and again they don’t enter the cave with Cesare.
Margo and Aswang The Vampire
The Forbidden Room was shot mostly at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, piecemeal, in front of a live audience, following which Maddin and Johnson artfully distressed the digital footage and added priceless intertitles. The project took advantage of whichever actors were available to it on a given day.
Elevator Man Unprepared For Wife’s Birthday Kills His Butler
All-star segment with Mathieu Amalric, Udo Kier and Amira Casar (Anatomy of Hell, Piano Tuner of Earthquakes).
[Amalric] gleefully indulges in Maddin’s pure and peerlessly florid sense of melodrama, which here becomes a mechanism for foolhardy and paranoid men to ruin their lives as they attempt to rescue, love, or murder the beautiful women who didn’t ask for their help.
Dead Butler Oedipal Mustache Flashback
Maybe my favorite segment, with Maria de Medeiros (Saddest Music in the World) as the Blind Mother and more mentions of flapjacks.
Ukranian Radio War Drama
With Stranger by the Lake star Christophe Paou as the prisoner
Mustache / Return of the Dead Father
Diplomat Memoirs of Cursed Janus-Head
Together, Maddin and Johnson have crafted a formal masterwork jolted by digital after effects, recreating the look of decaying nitrate stock, shape-shifting the image with multiple superimpositions and variegated colour fields (the general look resembling decayed two-strip Technicolor), and compositing swirling transitions that connect (or bury) one film within the other (and the other, and the other). To try and describe “what happens” in The Forbidden Room is both forbidding and beside the point, for the 130-minute film stands more as an interminable, (in)completed object on its own, like the work of one of its main influences, the French poet, novelist and playwright Raymond Roussel (from whom Maddin and Johnson borrow their technique of parenthetical asides); one comes to understand this object, and what it’s trying to accomplish, only while watching it.
Peranson’s writeup is from the Toronto Film Festival, after which nine minutes got removed from the movie. Since nobody at the festivals was able to exhaustively account for all the stories within stories, it’s impossible to track down what got lost. It seems, though, that any lost footage (and more) can be seen in the Seances.
Andreas Apergis and his fiancee Sophia Desmarais (Curling)
Night Auction Doppelganger
featuring LUG-LUG, hideous impulse incarnate!
Stealing Mother’s Laudanum
Maddin (in an essential Cinema Scope interview) on the film’s 2+ hour length:
We could have easily had a 75-minute version … but viewers that like it, we wanted to feel like we’d broken their brains, really left a physical impression on them, left them exhausted. Hopefully exhilarated and exhausted, in a good way. We wanted “too much” to still be insufficient … it would be nice if it came out in one endless ribbon, that, like John Ashbery’s poetry, you just snip off for a beginning and an end, and just ask the audience how much they want.
Dead Father / Elevator Birthday Murder Plot / Margo and Aswang / Woodsmen
Red Wolves are Dead, Rescue is Cancelled
Submarine / The Forbidden Room / Book of Climaxes
April 2022: watched the blu-ray – the ambient-morphy extras and the commentary. This included Once a Chicken, which I didn’t realize at the time is considered a short film, I thought it was more motion-posters… all overlapping images and no Louis Negin.
Guy: “I’ve long been … making movies about things I don’t know anything about and refuse to do research on.” This wasn’t shot on stage in front of an audience like I imagined, was shot “in public” in foyers and such. Each morning the actors were all put into a trance, I think I knew this. Maddin wants to go on a self-loathing party, as usual. “I think Udo is a real-life Bond villain.” Sparks wrote, recorded and delivered “The Final Derriere” in five hours. The lost movies they’re adapting-in-spirit include Allan Dwan’s 1915 The Forbidden Room, Greek musical The Fist of a Cripple, Chinese film Women Skeletons, a Blue Mountains Mystery from Australia, Murnau’s version of the Jekyll & Hyde story, and Alice Guy’s Dream Woman.
A too-young Joel McCrea is out with his rich white yachting buddies when he decides to stay behind on a tropical island with the hot girl he met, who he soon learns is scheduled to be sacrificed to a volcano. Seems like this movie inspired both Joe vs. the Volcano and The Thin Red Line.
Ridiculous movie, but at least Dolores del Rio is good – and does some nude swimming.
I’ve avoided Pasolini because I began with Salo and have never been a huge fan of Italian cinema in general. But explorations of Fellini and Rossellini have lately got me looking at the artistry beyond the sound sync problems, so fourteen years after cringing through his nazi shit-eating movie, and in the wake of Ferrara’s new film about him, it seemed time to give ol’ Pasolini another chance.
A factory owner has just transferred ownership to the workers, who are being interviewed by the media. This is a fantasy dear to the hearts of leftist French filmmakers like Godard and Marker, and I was worried it’d get all Tout va bien, but then we flash back a few months to the factory owner’s home with his wife, daughter, son and maid, beginning with a wordless b/w intro section. The magnetic Terence Stamp (same year as Toby Dammit) comes to stay with them, soon sleeps with everyone in the household, then abruptly leaves.
The first half of the film is a long seduction (sometimes the action stops entirely, the Ennio Morricone music keeping the film alive), then in the second half each person deals with Stamp’s disappearance. Most spectacular is the maid, Laura Betti (the domineering Brunelda in Class Relations, also of 1900 and Pasolini’s Canterbury Tales), who barely speaks a few words in the movie. She leaves the house and returns to her home village, where she sits quietly in the courtyard, eating only boiled weeds and performing miracles. The rest of the family behaves in more normal (or at least movie-normal) ways: mother Silvana Mangano (of a bunch of movies set in ancient times: Oedipus Rex, Barabbas, Ulysses, Dune) starts driving into the city picking up random men and daughter Anne Wiazemsky (Au Hasard Balthazar) loses her mind and becomes catatonic. Son Pietro rents a loft and starts painting, becomes obsessed with creating new abstractions “where previous standards don’t apply… Everything must be presented as perfect, based on unknown, unquestionable rules.”
Am I crazy, or is the maid shown multiple times back at the wealthy house even after she has left for the village? Dad Massimo Girotti (Ossessione and a couple of early Rossellini features) has the last word. He gets naked in the train station on his way to work, presumably gives away his factory (it doesn’t repeat scenes from the beginning) then appears walking across a volcano, shouting in rage. We’ve seen the volcano before, an unworldly mist blowing across it, in frequent cutaways from the main action. I thought it was meant to remind us of Stromboli or Voyage to Italy, but perhaps the Italians film on volcanos all the time – Pasolini shot part of the following year’s Porcile on the same volcano, Mount Etna.
Part of Pasolini’s “Mythical Cycle” with three other films. IMDB claims Miike’s Visitor Q is a remake. Played the Venice Film Festival alongside Partner, Faces, Monterey Pop and Naked Childhood. Italy tried to censor it, of course. The catholics had mixed feelings, first giving it an award then changing their minds. I discovered the word “bourgeoise” is much better in Italian, pronounced bohr-GAZE-ee like the filmmaker.
A contemplative picture book encompassing hippies and scientists, farms and particle accelerators, meditation and raves. One of those docs that contains its own making-of, showing outtakes and crew. Overall I liked it slightly less than the CocoRosie song of the same title. The lava footage is terrific, though.
I watched the director’s preferred PAL version, rather than the U.S. release, which is five minutes longer and Cinema Scope says Mettler found “painfully slow.” And speaking unironically (?) about time constraints while filming a documentary about perceptions of time: “Compared to a model for TV or the internet, the feature-film model is fairly time-restrictive. It has its own laws and you have to obey them.” A year after this interview, Mettler is probably aware that Vine is shortening generally-tolerated length of online videos.
Best parking garage ever:
Mettler: “Even now, if you ask me what the structure of the film is, I find it fairly obtuse. The way it’s structured doesn’t add up to something familiar to me.” This is on purpose, letting each scene play its own way instead of trying to conform his documentary footage to a framework.
Ant pulling grasshopper: