All Dolled Up (2005)

Based around lo-fi backstage and onstage video of the Dolls in their heyday playing grungy NY punk clubs, also a local news report. It’s all archival, with plenty of hanging out – scenes and songs fade out abruptly. Primary source footage of artists is inherently interesting but when the cameraperson follows them on a trip to San Francisco, there are whole minutes of aimless filler.

New York Doll (2005)

This one plays more like a standard rock doc – famous talking heads tell us the Dolls were important, then the filmmakers follow bassist Arthur Kane, now working part-time at a Mormon library, en route to the big reunion shows curated by lifelong fan Morrissey. There’s some tension (moments before going onstage Johansen antagonizes Arthur over the church) but largely plays like an advertisement, feel-good story of a forgotten man getting to re-live his rock & roll youth, with a twist ending (Arthur dies of cancer days after the gig). But the most shocking thing in the movie was learning that the golden key society of hotel concierges from The Grand Budapest Hotel really exists.

Personality Crisis: One Night Only (2022)

Like with his George Harrison doc, Scorsese pulls together the previous sources – we see Morrissey bits from the Arthur Kane movie and stage footage from the archival doc. This is built around a live performance in a small club – David admits that his cabaret show is for his friends, and a wider audience wouldn’t understand it, and I didn’t, but the song “Totalitarian State” was good. Between live songs the movie nicely roams across art-related topics: Harry Smith stories, love of opera, song title inspirations. David says “intelligent ridiculousness” appeals to him, and I can get behind that.

Fortress (1992)

A couple of movies I haven’t seen in many years… Fortress being the only Gordon film I saw in theaters, before I knew him as the Re-Animator guy. It sets up a decently convincing sci-fi dystopia, but no actors are “good” in this, not even Jeffrey Combs. Anyway it’s not taking itself too seriously so why should we?

The gang:

That 70s Dad runs a private prison where even an “unauthorized thought process” will get your guts electroshocked (“intestinated”) – after RoboCop, Kurtwood Smith was typecast as an evil boss in cyborg dystopias. Ex-soldier Christopher Lambert and his illegally pregnant hotwife arrive as prisoners, and while T7D macks on the wife (Loryn Locklin of Wes Craven’s Night Visions), Lambert teams up with his cellmates to escape – including timid nerd Combs, Lincoln Kilpatrick of The Omega Man, and Clifton Collins Jr. of Guillermo Del Toro’s Robot Jox remake Pacific Rim. Lambert has to fight a giant psycho (Vernon Wells of Mad Max 2 and some Joe Dante films)… Combs is killed while installing a virus into the mainframe by typing “install virus.exe” or something, which reminds me, isn’t there a new version of Blackhat coming out?

Unauthorized thought process:

Space Truckers (1996)

An even sillier movie – I don’t think sci-fi action plays to Gordon’s strengths – but Dennis Hopper is a huge upgrade over Lambert, bringing the charm he omitted from Witch Hunt. He’s a Millennium Falcon/Firefly-style independent space trucker, beefing with George Wendt over shipment prices, then accidentally gets involved in a plot to take over the world.

Our heroes in a porta-potty:

Hopper and hired hand Stephen Dorff take a load of killer robots, then get stuck in space while lusting after the same girl (Hopper’s Witch Hunt costar Debi Mazar), then attacked by their own murderbot cargo. Nice cynical ending, the guy plotting a hostile planetary takeover (Shane Rimmer, best known from Thunderbirds) is now President of Earth – the super-soldiers were just a backup plan should he not get elected. But his plan to eliminate witnesses backfires, and our guys flee after blowing up the president. I’d take a sequel, but this straight-to-video widescreen movie was never gonna get one.

Space pirates:

Kung-Fu Master! is narrated in past tense by Jane Birkin’s character, who becomes interested in a teenage classmate of her daughter. They invite him on vacation to London, where Jane’s older daughter catches on to their affair, causing huge scandal. The movie is also about video games, and increasingly about the AIDS crisis. The silly title combined with unappealing premise kept me away for years, but this is a proper movie, beautifully made, and a warm family affair (Birkin’s daughters are her real daughters, and the boy is Mathieu Demy).

When Jane shows off the piano in her kitchen in the documentary, I realized the Kung-Fu interiors were shot at her house. But Jane B. is not a documentary, at least not exactly. They put different wigs on her and she acts out alternate lives, both from her own fantasies and stories contributed by Agnes – including an extended “Maurel & Lardy” routine with Laura Betti (the servant in Teorema).

The second half of this week’s Panahi double-feature puts another girl in a basic situation with higher potential danger – this time she’s been left behind at school and has to figure out which bus to take home. Unfortunately this girl has a shrill-little-kid voice that gets on my nerves, and the busy streets and bus stations don’t make for as warm a viewing experience. But halfway through the drama, the girl quits acting and goes home with her mic still on, so Panahi bowfingers her voyage home to complete his movie. Each half ends up pretty good, but the rupture in the middle is groundbreaking.

Three films from “The Destruction of Plot and Narrative” section of the Vogel.

There is an unbroken evolution towards vertical rather than horizontal explorations – investigations of atmosphere and states of being rather than the unfolding of fabricated plots … art once again returns to poetry and the significance of poetic truth … The elegant characters created by the older masters of world literature, the “full” explanations of human behavior, the delineations of the characters’ past, are replaced by dimly-perceived personages whose actions and motives remain ultimately as unclear as they are in real life: we are all enmeshed in knowledge of others or self that is forever incomplete, forever tinged with ambiguity.

Akran (1969, Richard Myers)

Clips in slow-mo with freeze-frames of… well, if I start listing all the footage sources, I’ll never stop. An Aaron Eckhart-type guy lying in a bed that’s rolling through a park is a memorable image. Entire scenes are constructed from stills, but out of order. Gives the impression of a normal narrative about an attractive young couple who get married, the rushes then handed to a team of maniacs who hated the film but were contractually obligated to turn in a feature-length edit.

Some kind of malicious Marclay-like tape manipulations on the soundtrack. The sound occasionally corresponds to the image, but when people speak we never hear them, instead we hear a cut-up interview about having sex with the devil. Shocker when there’s a sound-synced monologue a half hour in – an older guy who, in keeping with the rest of the film, starts repeating himself. Later, an overlapping montage of monologues may cause insanity in the viewer. A poor moviewatcher myself, an art unappreciator, whenever the audio got too extremely harsh I’d skip ahead a couple minutes.

What even happens in the movie… definitely some dreams, some politics, probably a semi-story of newlyweds hitting the town, fucking and fighting. Escalates somehow to blindfolded executions, gas masks, a mob attacking a car. Ends on a long still of bus passengers – I feel like that’s a callback to a scene I’ve already forgotten.

A lifelong Ohioan, Myers was teaching at Kent State when the cops killed those kids.


Described by the director as an “anxious allegory and chilling album of nostalgia,” its penetrating monomania is unexpectedly – subversively – realized to be a statement about America today: the alienation and atomization of technological consumer society is reflected in the very style of the film.

A Married Woman (1964, Jean-Luc Godard)

A round-haired girl lays naked in bed – she’s Charlotte (Macha Méril, murdered psychic of Deep Red), with a plain-looking guy (Bernard Noël of Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake). They love each other, but she’s married to someone else (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou, Monocle Guy of The Night Porter). Very unusually for a French chick, she won’t show us her boobs. Lovely shots of legs and hands though, fading out and into the next one, before they stand up and semi-normal scenes proceed. But JLG isn’t here to make a normal love triangle movie, and after we see her with both guys for a half hour, it proceeds to numbered interview segments, the husband then wife explaining their philosophies to unseen/unheard interviewer.


The “plot” of Une Femme Mariée – twenty-four hours with a woman between husband and a lover – is… merely a pretext for vertical, in-depth explorations of values, atmospheres, textures; of relationships, lies, ignorance of self, sex-as-communication. For audiences brought up on Hollywood, the style, tempo, and content of the film is maddening … Alienation is caused in the love scenes by fragmentation and in the interview scenes by the use of real time. This prevents conventional identification with the protagonists, rather compelling the viewer, in Brechtian manner, to ponder the social ramifications of the action.

Anticipation of the Night (1958, Stan Brakhage)

Silent film, so I asked the AI chatbot what music the late Brakhage intended me to play while watching, and it said selections from Thumbscrew’s Never Is Enough, which coincidentally I just bought on half-price sale. I played six of the CD’s 9 songs, treating them like chapters of the film.

“Camp Easy”
Light filtering through glass indoors, intercut with wild swinging camera among nighttime street lights, a silhouette figure opens the door and goes on a trip. Suburbs through a car window, but cutting back and forth to the house.

“Never Is Enough”
The figure returns home, tumbles through the yard, sees a rainbow in the garden hose spray, just as I did 15 minutes ago. Awesome transition through color fields to the night streets as the camera walks into a bush, as if the night hides inside the shrubbery. With all the quick intercutting to the dark scenes I’m starting to make sense of the title. The music gets amped when a baby is sighted in the grass, filmed in constant motion and way too close, of course.

“Emojis Have Consequences”
There’s not much to see in the night scenes – I can’t tell the moon from the streetlights. This must be one of Stan’s films about seeing, how the world was seen before we understood what we saw? An orange color field then the night scenes pick up when we visit an amusement park, the camera panning fast as children whip from left to right, then the camera-eye gets onto the ride.

“Fractured Sanity”
More rides, beginning with the ferris wheel, then a chill merry-go-round for younger kids, showing how the young riders and the surrounding lights look from each ride, Mary Halvorson’s pinging guitar helping greatly with the blurry nighttime feeling. We leave the park and examine some lit-up atrium from the dark distance, in a series of precision movements.

“Unsung Procession”
Driving, trees rush overhead, flash glimpses of a deer, of children in bed, the lighting and music both more blue than before. Wow, the kids are dreaming a water bird, flapping and preening, filmed in zoomed-in fragments, or all at once but defocused.

“Scam Likely”
Is the sun rising or has he wheeled a giant lamp into the sleeping kids’ room? I think the latter. Still intercutting to the nighttime trees, and now a bear instead of the bird. Flashing between night and dawn as the music gets more loopy, then firmly into morning, the silhouette person hanging disturbingly from a rope in the tree.

In the Defining Moments book Fred Camper calls it Brakhage’s first major masterpiece, and says it is not one of the child’s-eye films:

Quite the contrary, it opens with a man’s shadow falling across the frame … we observe his travels as he tries to establish some connection to the world. But except for some brief bursts of light poetry, such as flickering shadows on the wall, the film is largely a depiction of abject failure … the mechanical movements of the [amusement park] rides are the severest versions of the almost mechanical repeating motions through which the camera depicts most of the film’s world, trapping all in the kinds of fixed movements and mechanical rhythms that Brakhage’s later work largely overcame.

Ethan Hawke appears in none of these movies, rather he was interviewed on Criterion to chat about movies in general and about each of these picks, so I watched every minute of that and then went on a Hawke-approved viewing spree.

The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins (1968, Les Blank)

Blank is one of my faves because the photography is grainy but good, the songs and stories play out in full, and he cuts the picture to whatever catches his interest. Hopkins is a versatile player. I see Hawke’s point about watching this to really understand the blues. It kinda worked but I’m still not past the “all the songs sound the same” phase. I’ll get back to those Bear Family comps, maybe.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972, John Huston)

That makes two in a row set in Texas. Paul Newman goes to the lawless part of the state, brags about being a bank robber, is robbed and nearly killed… Victoria Principal (TV’s Dallas) brings him a gun, he returns to the bar and kills all the men, then instates himself as sheriff and hires the next group of guys to wander in (five failed outlaws) as marshals.

I love that the story is partly narrated by dead men who passed through. Grizzly Adams (our director) isn’t permitted to die in town so he moves on, leaving his bear behind. The ensuing musical montage to an Andy Williams song is better than the Raindrops Keep Falling scene, because it’s about Newman and Principal playing with a bear. The only threat to Newman’s authority is Bad Bob The Albino (Stacy Keach) who is killed immediately, until attorney Roddy McDowall turns out to have been playing the long game, getting elected mayor and turning the tables on the power structure. After 20 years in exile, Bean returns to round up the gang (and grown daughter Jacqueline Bisset who doesn’t seem to mind having been abandoned for two decades) and stage a fight to the death between the wild west old-timers and modern society’s highly flammable oil-well town. Ethan says that everyone now admits the postscript ending is bad, in which Bean’s actress idol Ava Gardner arrives in town too late and only gets to meet Ned Beatty. Roy Bean was a real guy who often shows up fictionalized on screen – he’s been played by Walter Brennan, Andy Griffith, Tom Skerritt, and returning to the legend with a casting promotion, Ned Beatty.

Buffalo Bill and the Indians, or Sitting Bull’s History Lesson (1976, Robert Altman)

Judge Roy Bean was mostly set in 1890’s, we’re in 1880’s now, with a nightmare font on the opening titles. Sadly, for our second revisionist comedy western we’ve left Texas (set in Wyoming, filmed in Canada) but we’ve still got Paul Newman, now with an aged Dude appearance as a famed cowboy running a wild west show. Major Kevin McCarthy delivers Sitting Bull to the show (interpreter Will Sampson of Cuckoo’s Nest does all the talking) but his role and attitude are mysterious. Meanwhile it’s the usual Altmanny bustle of activity (I’ve missed it), featuring sharpshooter Geraldine Chaplin taking aim at living target John Considine, producer Joel Grey handling a visit by President Cleveland and his new wife (Shelley Duvall!) and I’m afraid I didn’t buy Harvey Keitel, the same year as Taxi Driver, playing a meek flunky. Everyone gets uptight and embarrassed in turn, and in the end, the president refuses to hear Sitting Bull’s requests, and Newman roams his oversized quarters talking to ghosts (predating Secret Honor by eight years). This won (?!) the golden bear in Berlin, against Canoa and Small Change and The Man Who Fell to Earth.

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.

“Destruction is all I need.” Tetsuo II was the right movie to watch after Videodrome, another analog video fetish film where flesh becomes guns.

Thugs keep tormenting a family, stealing their young son. They shoot the dad in the chest with some gadget while kidnapping the kid in a record store, then later, dad’s arm turns into a weapon and he blows the kid to bits.

The kidnappers return to a subterranean fight club factory of machinery-weightlifting space monkeys, where Goth Lord Shinya considers the transmogrifying gadget a success and orders everyone to be injected, to build an army. But the dad wasn’t transmogrified, it turns out he ironmanned himself out of pure rage, and he has a history of doing this. Same cast as the previous two movies, and practically a remake… it gets too plotty (Goth Shinya is IronDad’s brother), but if the alarming monochrome cyberpunk vision of part one isn’t fresh in your mind, it’ll do.

The Adventures of Electric Rod Boy / The Great Analog World (1987)

A half-feature made between Phantom of Regular Size and the first Tetsuo. Sure it’s yet another human-machine-merge movie (and watched the same week as Videodrome and Titane, wow) but this adds new twists to the Early Tsukamoto playbook: a vampire gang having covered the skies with a nuclear cloud so they can roam outside without fear of sunlight.

Boy with an electricity pole growing out of his back seems to be a gag, so he’ll conk his tormentors when he bows apologetically. The movie opens with silent-film silliness, and contains some extreme stop-motion, both in creeping metal cables winding over people and in the hoverboards the vamps ride down the city streets. Our guy travels into the future, meets Woman In Glasses (I’ve now seen Nobu Kanaoka’s complete filmed works) and an older electricity-pole guy who claims only they can save the world. Indeed, the Rod Boy apologizes so hard after his professor friend is killed, he takes out the robot vampire powering the global destruction machine.

Klute (1971, Alan Pakula)

“What I would really like to do is be faceless and bodyless, and be left alone.”

Jane won an oscar for playing the first-ever prostitute treated with respect in a movie. Lots of audiotape in this, from the opening titles to the climax. I thought movie was just pretty good – solid investigation story teaming reluctant Jane with a stone-faced Donald Sutherland. Jane is set up as the villain after family man Tom goes missing, since she’s the mysterious hot girl Tom knew in New York. Then after Donald catches up with her, Tom is assumed to be the villain, disappeared to the city due to a dark obsession with poor, harassed Jane. Eventually it’s revealed that some whiteburns guy I hadn’t cared about, Donald’s boss I think, has been stalking Jane and killing people she knows. Along the way Jane wears some good outfits, and the team meets junkies and a pervy Roy Scheider – she and Donald have pretty good characters, though the final villain showdown was lame, the murderous boss confessing everything to the point of playing audiotape of his killings, then abruptly jumping out a window as justice approached. Whiteburns was Charles Cioffi of Shaft, which also won oscars this year, along with The French Connection, The Last Picture Show, and Fiddler on the Roof.

Barbarella (1968, Roger Vadim)

“Decrucify him or I’ll melt your face.”

Jane won an oscar for this too… no wait, it says here that Katharine Hepburn tied with Barbra Streisand, somebody must have made a mistake. I avoided this movie for years, hearing it was “bad,” but that’s obviously untrue. It’s a light, funny sci-fi feature with outrageous sets and costumes, anchored by a playful but unwinking Jane. This was Jane and Vadim’s follow-up to Spirits of the Dead, and it was seeing a screenshot from that movie on my screensaver that got me thinking I should watch more Jane Fonda movies.

Jane is nude through the first ten minutes, answering a call from the President of Earth and getting fitted out with gear like a shameless Bond ripoff. She goes looking for the evil Duran Duran, conked on the head and kidnapped by some Thunderdome lost boys who sic carnivorous dolls on her until she’s rescued by Mark the Catchman, who introduces her to sex. Pygar, the last of the omnithropes, introduces her to Dr. Ping, who can fix her spaceship. Revolutionary Dildano saves her from carnivorous parakeets, I dunno, there were so many wonderful things I lost track of them all. Art directed to hell and back, shot by Claude Renoir, inspiration to Matmos and Ghostbusters II and Futurama, a justifiable cult classic.

Jane meets David Hemmings:

Marcel Marceau, looking like a Tom Kenny character:

Anita Pallenberg as the blade-wielding Great Tyrant: