Long takes of people moving slowly, dramatically across a single room, an air of seductive repression. The blu extras say he films “beautiful women suffering,” yet this is far more tolerable than the same year’s Bergman, which could be described the same way.

Petra is Margit Carstensen – I’ve seen her in Possession. She is very lazy, whining that her mom wants to borrow money, dictating a letter to Joseph Mankiewicz to her servant Marlene (Irm Hermann, a Fassbinder associate from the start). When friend Katrin Schaake visits she brings along young Hanna Schygulla. Hanna is married, husband off in Australia, seems unsophisticated. Petra gets her alone, offers her money and seduces her into a modeling job.

Katrin and Petra:

Hanna’s grand entrance:

Next time we see them, they’re gripey with each other and the power tables have turned, Hanna seeming to be in control of Petra’s actions and emotions. She learns that her husband has come to Germany, abruptly breaks up with Petra and leaves – so we saw their first and last day together. The next day Petra’s classist daughter visits (Eva Mattes, murdered wife of Woyzeck), Petra has a drunken breakdown in front of everyone, and Marlene finally leaves her.

Marlene:

Famous lecturer Jean Desailly (of a couple Melville films) picks up stewardess Francoise Dorléac (a couple years before Cul-de-sac) and talks endlessly about Balzac at the bar. He falls for her, but is married, and the whole movie is about how hard it is to have a secret affair. It’s even harder because he’s well known, but he acts like Francoise has no other options, and is a pain in the ass to her for almost their own relationship, so when he finally proposes, she breaks up with him. And then his wife finds out.

The music took the whole thing seriously from the start. It’s a suave, smooth looking movie, each scene patiently revealing. A jump cut or two just to remind us this is the FNW, overall more admirable than any fun to watch.

In the back of my mind I figured I’ve seen this years ago and just forgotten most of it, but nope, I couldn’t have forgotten this – a jaw-dropping sci-fi story (with funky music). Humans are pests and pets, the planet controlled by blue gill-eared giants. A highly-placed alien child calls his pet human Terr, which grows up and starts playing pranks and spying, eventually defecting to lead the tiny human revolution. Truce is called after the humans build miniature rockets, travel to the Wild Planet and laser down the alien sex statues.

Michael Brooke for Criterion:

Over four decades after its May 1973 premiere, it remains more or less unique. Its peculiar universe, designed by Roland Topor and realized by a team of Czechoslovak animators in Prague, is instantly recognizable from virtually any freeze-frame, and the film as a whole is so rich, strange, and sui generis that nothing has emerged since to retrospectively blunt its impact … [Topor] cofounded the Panic Movement with Fernando Arrabal and Alejandro Jodorowsky, named after the god Pan and intended to make surrealism as shocking as it had been in the 1920s, before its imagery and ideas were co-opted and diluted by the mainstream … he wrote the 1964 source novel for Roman Polanski’s disquietingly paranoid The Tenant (1976), appeared in Dušan Makavejev’s Sweet Movie (1974) and Werner Herzog’s Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979, as the lunatic Renfield).


Les Temps Morts (1965)

I’ve seen Laloux’s earlier Monkey Teeth short, but this is when he teamed up with Topor. A grim little anthropological study of man’s propensity for murder. I think their sensibility worked better when applied to a fictional scenario – and the animation is in very rough form here, illustrations cross-faded in sequence, drawings shuffling Gilliam-style, but mostly the camera panning around stills. Some sharp stills, though – if you cut the live-action atrocity footage it’d make a good picture-book of horrors.


Les Escargots (1966)

A different kind of apocalyptic movie, this one really takes a turn. Farmer realizes his crops will only grow if he cries on them, so he walks around the field holding cut onions, reading sad books, and wearing an ass-kicking machine. The giant plants attract snails, which also grow giant, slide over to the nearest major city and utterly destroy it. Little Shop of Horrors may have been an influence.

“You Can Get It If You Really Want” is the movie’s theme song and motto. Seems like Jimmy Cliff gets to have it all here: a film spotlighting his music, starring himself as a songwriter turned rebel turned cop killer, his character dying gloriously in a shootout.

First thing he does when he gets to Kingston is get robbed, and the second thing is to watch Django. He hooks up with a preacher’s girl, semi-legitimately gets a bicycle, falls into the drug business, becomes a celebrity fugitive. The final stand is intercut with a movie theater audience, life and death becoming a show.

The director’s daughter for Criterion:

He was already well established as a musical artist in Jamaica. All those tracks on the album, except “The Harder They Come,” had already been recorded by Jimmy before he was cast. But the recording of that song depicted in the film was the actual recording, and he wrote it after a conversation with Perry during the filming of the movie.

Game of Death (1978, Robert Clouse)

Time for the post-Bruce-Lee movies in the Bruce Lee box set. Bruce had filmed about ten minutes of fights for this one, then he inconveniently died. The American studio knew Bruce was profitable, and that’s all they knew, so they cobbled together a new movie, blatantly using stand-ins and cutting reaction shots from other movies. Once they simply pasted a still photo of Bruce’s face over another guy. It’s full of callbacks to the previous movies (thanks to a films-with-the-film subplot), but anyone who enjoyed those is gonna be sad about this one. Even doc footage from Bruce’s actual funeral is used, when lead character “Billy Lo” is supposed to be faking his own death. And this is all in service of a third-rate crime thriller. 1 star for the music, 1 for Sammo Hung, zero for the rest.

After filming a scene, Billy is calmly threatened by a white suited gangster who wants protection money. He works for an evil bald guy who’s somehow involved in both a record pressing plant (which threatens Billy’s girlfriend’s music career) and a championship fight in Macao (their star fighter is Carl: Robert Wall from Enter the Dragon, who died last week). The gangster protection money plot had already been used in Way of the Dragon (and the Chang Cheh movie I just watched), but so what, it’s a plot, and movies need those.

Billy’s in hiding, letting the gangsters think he’s dead, which gives all the non-Bruce actors an excuse to wear heavy disguises. Carl cheats and beats Sammo Hung in the ring, but Sammo puts on a good showcase, then Billy slaughters Carl in the lockers. The girlfriend (Colleen Camp) inevitably gets kidnapped, and a stuntman wearing Bruce’s yellow tracksuit and a dark helmet fights some motorcycle dudes in a warehouse. Finally, the one true Bruce fights some dudes (including the absurdly tall Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and it’s glorious for a few minutes. He never even touches the old bald gangster (Dean Jagger, the sheriff of Forty Guns), who falls off a roof while running away, the credits rolling before he even hit the ground.

Movie magic via still photo:


Game of Death II (1981, Ng See-yuen)

The only sense that this is a sequel is it’s playing the stand-in game with old Bruce footage (the film stock still doesn’t match). Bruce is hilariously dubbed by some cowboy-ass American. He chills with an ass-kicking abbot then gets an incriminating film from some girl. At a friend’s funeral, he’s shot and falls to his death while chasing a helicopter that was stealing his friend’s casket(!), and now Bruce’s sad brother Bobby takes over as the lead, like Bruce took over from James Tien in The Big Boss – but not exactly like that, since Tong Lung is playing both brothers here. Now with an hour to go, the movie doesn’t have to pretend to star Bruce Lee anymore, and can cut loose. The dubbing is atrocious, but the Chinese/Koreans in charge of this movie have got more respect for Bruce’s legacy and more filmmaking and fighting talent than the doofus Americans in part one.

Lewis trying to be intense despite the cute monkey:

Bobby gets intel from a white monk that the evil Lewis and his scarfaced brother, masters of the Palace of Death, are responsible, so he heads on down. Lewis can’t be that evil – he keeps pet peacocks and monkeys. The Whatever Brothers (I didn’t catch their names) challenge Bobby, and he proves his mettle, then a sudden blonde girl gets suddenly naked, tries to kill him, then a guy in a lion suit joins in! Movie is already kinda nutty, and that’s before Bobby descends to the subterranean MST3K sci-fi lair with spacesuited harpoon-armed flunkies and electrified floors. Lewis is found dead, the scarface guy is suspected so Bobby beats his ass, but Bruce’s “dead” friend, who was stealing his own coffin to avoid discovery, is behind the whole thing. Friend/enemy Chin Ku is Jeong-lee Hwang of Drunken Master, the abbot was in Temple of Doom and Sammo’s Enter the Fat Dragon.


Bruce Lee: The Man and the Legend (1973, Shih Wu)

Polishing off the Criterion box set with a return to the shameless, shoddy quality of Game of Death 1, this time in documentary form. Opens with ten minutes of news film from Bruce’s funeral, which doesn’t sound like such a long time but really felt like it, making me realize I am not cut out to watch Loznitsa’s State Funeral. Then a chronological run through his life and career, with lots of slow zooms into photographs, and a narrator who sounds like he’s from some MST3K short, like How to Go on a Date. Why is the dialogue in the movie Bruce was in as a child covered up with horn music? Why does the English narrator sometimes talk over people speaking English, telling us the same story at a slightly different pace? When Bruce defeats Bob Baker in Fist of Fury, “Baker studied for seven years under Bruce, but he is still no match for his teacher,” the narrator confusing an actor’s skill with a scripted scenario. It closes with then-unreleased Game of Death footage – in fact, Enter The Dragon wasn’t even out yet – in Hong Kong, this quickie doc beat it into theaters by a week. Shih Wu was an assistant director on A Better Tomorrow III, which I’ll probably end up watching eventually.

Finally getting to Dumont’s debut. Parts of this movie about a dimwit boy in a nowhere town look familiar from Lil Quinquin – a yard where they fix up their car even looks like a location from that movie, and there’s a character named Quinquin. But this was before Dumont had learned to be funny or unpredictable, from his punishing slow art cinema days. Maybe the crappy marching band was supposed to provide levity, but in the end it’s simply no fun to watch a crappy marching band. This doesn’t give me much hope for L’Humanité – I’m guessing that’s as misleading a title as this one, which follows a kid who Dumont wants to portray as a sensitive soul, with his epilepsy and pet finch and cute girlfriend. But the kid’s also a horrible racist, and finally catches the Arab guy he’d seen hanging around with his girl, and uses his head as a soccer ball. The non-pro actors in this stayed non-pro. I was surprised to recognize the finch-song contest from Arabian Nights.

Nicholas Elliott for Criterion:

Rather than a description of the film’s contents, the title is an unusually active element of the viewing experience, a riddle that prompts the viewer to see beyond the low horizons of Freddy’s existence and imagine how the spiritual might be reintroduced into this context. In the trickiest of ways, Dumont titles the film to prime us to look for good where there is evil. Yet he does not ask us to like Freddy, only to accept that he exists…

In which Varda proves she can find good cinema anywhere, by wandering down the street into all the small shops and turning her neighbors into movie stars. There’s too much of the magician, but his magic show serves to bring together the people we’ve been seeing in separate shops into one space. Since I can’t take screenshots off the Criterion channel, I’ve stolen a still from their website.

Maybe not horror, but there’s plenty of killing. Never heard of this until it showed up on Criterion – the only feature by a famous New York photographer and starring Carol Kane as an office worker who goes over the edge among layoffs and cutbacks, sleazy coworkers and computerization. Sending all employees to work from home with new apple laptops, this horror is familiar to me. Everything is cool here, from the opening titles (projected onto stairways and such) to the toy piano music (by John Lurie’s brother Evan). Widely disrespected movie – at least it played Locarno in competition with The Mirror and Winter Sleepers.

The office is a magazine publisher, run by large-haired asthmatic Barbara “Hannah Arendt” Sukowa, who will be killed when Kane loads a butane cartridge into her inhaler. Molly Ringwald and Jeanne Tripplehorn and Jeanne’s bf Michael Imperioli are the bitchy in-crowd, mocking the homebody Kane, whose editing work is grudgingly respected. First killing is the accidental electrocution of computer guy David Thornton (of High Art, another magazine-office movie the following year), then Kane brings his body home to liven up the basement a little, and decides he needs companions. Soon she’s proceeded from righteous vendettas to random murders – an office boy gets a food processor blade to the neck, a couple of girl scouts unwisely accept an invitation into the house. Imperioli is the would-be hero who discovers Kane’s madness, but he gets slashed, and she burns the place down and escapes, on to the next office – perhaps yours.

The audio and dialogue in this movie is so shitty, it should bring shame on the families of everyone involved. The zooms are cool. I looked up the director to make fun of him, but he was deaf, so I’m gonna credit Clouse with all the cool zooms and blame Warner Bros for the sound. Bruce is in this as much as The Big Boss, there’s much time wasted on the corny ensemble cast (I can’t help but compare this to the closest-to-1973 ensemble film I’ve seen lately, Cotton Comes to Harlem, which was 100x more convincing). Overall a sad Hollywood attempt at a Hong Kong movie. Bruce Lee innocent, and his delightfully unusual voice speaking English is a secondary highlight after the justly-acclaimed mirror/claw finale.

Han (Sek Kin, the Chinese Timothy Dalton but with iron fists) lures fighters to his island, including Lee, charismatic gambler John Saxon, and Jim Kelly (who would go on to star in/as Black Belt Jones and Black Samurai). Kelly is introduced beating up racist cops and stealing their car, so we know he’s a good guy – wonder if that was as clear in 1973. Muscley Bolo is Han’s protector, would go on to fight Jean-Claude Van Damme. There’s a female operative on the island, and Bruce’s secret mission is to avenge the death of his sister, but mainly it’s a man’s movie, baby.

Han shows Saxon his claw museum:

Bolo is unimpressed by Bruce until it’s too late:

Jim Kelly rockin’ out: