Billed as an essay film, actually a lecture slideshow – literally, with the kachunk slide-change sound. Giraffe trade across the world. Roosevelt drew boos for being a huge animal killer, he is so cancelled. They find ancient artworks and mentions of giraffes in different cultures, tracing their history. Dig the giant rock carving in Niger between a US drone base and foreign-controlled uranium mines. Record of a giraffe gift to the Chinese emperor. Israeli scholars debate whether God (via Moses) intended for giraffes to be eaten, with a follow-up on the presumed origin and final location of the Ark. Exciting return to the place in Kenya where Katy fed a giraffe. Dry German narration. I bet this was great for the woman we met in line who comes to the movies to see views of exotic countries, but it felt to me like a glacial two hours – there must be a more engaging way to get the material across. Pronounced “sir,” more or less. Q&A over zoom, we ditched to get a beer. A guy on lboxd says: “Personally, I had a realization of why girafarig is a psychic type so that was uplifting.” Nona Invie opened on solo keys and vocals, did a Linda Ronstadt cover.

Brigitte Mira (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser) plays the most naive German woman ever, who hasn’t heard about racism. She wanders into a bar full of foreigners to get out of the rain, doesn’t know how bars work, and Moroccan mechanic Ali is coerced into dancing with her. He starts coming over, and she blurts out that they’re married as a cover story to the landlord, so they really do get married, and her kids (incl. Irm Hermann and the director) disown her. The grocer bans her, coworkers stop speaking to her, only the landlord doesn’t seem to mind, weird to make a landlord the sympathetic one. When the happy couple returns from vacation everyone warms up to them, realizing they each need something from Brigitte. Marital woes – he is after all 20 years younger and she refuses to make couscous, then strange ending, he’s hospitalized for a stress ulcer after they’ve made up. Movie lives up to its high reputation, looks beautifully Kaurismakian, people standing very still when it’s not their turn to speak.

Rey’s description: “Prisoners sitting in the pits of an imaginary fascist state, Molussia, transmit one another stories about the outside world like a series of political and philosophical fables.” This was based on fragments of a German novel from the 1930s, written while the author was married to Hannah Arendt. Nine chapters which you can watch in any order – I think my shuffle version worked out nicely.

6. Extremely grainy urban landscapes… modern cube-shaped buildings… the camera sits, then pans, then spins like crazy. Olo and Yegussa discuss circumstances and causes of actions over ocean footage, then we see the narrator at his mic.

5. The camera camps outside factories and industrial buildings. Story of the “displaced rurals” who became “typical city scum.” Some non-narrating people, a woman on her computer, the grain is now big jagged chunks like someone is mothlighting the film with confetti.

2. Ah a grainy shot of a factory, ok. The movie’s techniques seem pointedly primitive, like the silent soundtrack suddenly clicking into static background noise. Olo and friends discuss how peace and health are imperceptible, only war and sickness are noticed.

9. Opens with images of the narrator this time, then quick story of a futile vendetta, then a grainy beach scene. Lot of why-am-i-watching-this imagery in this movie, but also some grain so thick it’s transcendent, and another camera spin – the sky is the ground when you’re upside down.

8. A thunderstorm.

1. Early spinning, on a roadway. Burru wants to be “elected by the vanquished.” Election malfeasance, then all becomes grain.

4. What do they mean by “pariahs”? Story of a dangerous smart person who started proving untruths to impress people.

3. Burru leads his people into bloody war.

7. Good choice for a final chapter, story of a sailor who pre-wrote years of montly postcards to his mother as he lay dying, then she died too, and his friend kept sending the postcards “from the deceased to the deceased.”

Better Late Than Never:
Cinema Scope’s Top Movies of 2012

(their picks, my ranking)

Holy Motors
Moonrise Kingdom
Room 237
Django Unchained
Neighbouring Sounds
The Master
Last Time I Saw Macao
Differently, Molussia
In Another Country

Wenders apparently working without a script, just putting two guys together and following them around – a good idea, turns out.

Rudiger* Vogler isn’t a writer/photographer this time but a traveling film-projector maintainer. He picks up rider Hanns Zischler after watching him roar his Volkswagen into a river, and they barely speak, just proceed along the route of small movie theaters in western East Germany.

One night they’re woken by a guy despondent over his wife’s suicide – second Wenders in a row where a suicide causes a mood shift. Hanns walks off to the town where his father lives, visits/harasses him at his newspaper office. After this cathartic visit he thinks Rudiger should also have a cathartic visit home, so they borrow a motorbike and sidecar. After all the not-talking, they do finally get drunkenly combative and introspective, but part on pretty good terms.

Hanns and the sad man in the jukebox-equipped back of the truck:

Commentary says the photography was an homage to Walker Evans, the photographer who also inspired Upland Stories. I’ve seen the rider in a few things, including Clouds of Sils Maria and Dr. M. Man who lost his wife was in a bunch of Fassbinders – he’s the landlord in Fear Eats the Soul. Alice’s mom (of the Cities) works at a theater in one town, a Lang Mabuse actor plays the rider’s dad.

*Okay, first all my old posts‘ diacritics went bad, and now my macbook isn’t letting me make new ones by holding down vowel keys.

Alice’s mom with Rudiger:


Essential equipment for long drives:

Instead of playing The Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Bach alongside another movie from Vogel’s chapter on editing, I followed it with another Bach movie. This one places delicious performance footage within little conceptual scenes, cutting between scenes and eras like it’s no big deal (“juxtaposing past and present as if they were attractions in a theme park” per Rosenbaum).

Player piano rolls and spins slowly around a gallery.

Blind piano tuner goes to work

European trucker tells his story to a rider at a roadside cafe, rider impossibly plays a Bach piece on harmonica.

Wigged pipe organist alone in St. Thomas church, where Bach is buried

Close-up on hands during a harpsichord performance, first-person camera.

Tour guide goes to work performing as Bach – no music in this one.

Another tour – a boat, then a subway car full of cellists.

Mendelsson’s man goes to the market in 1829, the apocryphal backstory of how some of Bach’s compositions were discovered being used as wrapping paper.

Evoking the Holocaust, “music hurts,” a piano silently falls into the sea.

Connections start getting pieced together: a cellist goes on a trip to St. Thomas and speaks with a female descendant of Bach, while her husband is calling the trucker to set up a difficult crane delivery of an antique piano.

Manohla Dargis:

The film demands engagement and a kind of surrender, a willingness to enter into a work shaped by correlation, metaphor and metonymy, by beautiful images and fragments of ideas, a work that locates the music in the twitching of a dog’s ears, in the curve of a woman’s belly, a child’s song and an adult’s reverie. Like the music it celebrates, this is a film made in glory of the world.

A Bach concert film, solo and small/large ensembles performing his works chronologically, with narration from wife Anna’s diaries for context. As with all concert films (see my dislike for the Bowie movie) enjoyment is largely dependent on whether you like listening to Bach, and I’m getting from the reviews that the critics who love this are big Bach fans. I’m mixed here, but would freak out over a film called Chronicle of Anna Magdalena Zorn – either way it’s a vital entry in the biopic and concert film genres.

Difficult to understand Anna’s English narration as she rapidly, mechanically rattles off the words. Compositions are mostly static but they’re not afraid of a subtle or grand camera move. Scenes step on each other’s heels, the editor anxious to move on the moment a music piece has ended. Besides the musical performances we get great churches and lovely instruments – pre-piano keyboards such as harpsichords, clavichords and pipe organs – and closeups on (real?) historical documents. It’s an example film in Vogel’s “Assault on Montage” chapter, where he helpfully lays out the rules of “the received canon of editing” in order to show how some films break them. In this movie, “the refusal to move the camera or render the image more interesting and an insistence on real time… represents a frontal assault on the cinematic value system of the spectator.” In other words, anti-art people would call the movie boring.

Neil Bahadur:

Here we see the art go from the mind, to the page, to the finger, to the performer, and finally to the audience. In every performance Straub makes it so the hands are always totally visible, so we see the complexity that Bach/Gustav Leonhardt must transfer from the mind to the hands in full force.

Barbarian setup, two guys arriving at their rental house and finding someone already there, but we’ve already met these guys and the unexpected guest is Paula Beer (returning from Transit and Undine), so we’re in good shape. Leon (Thomas Schubert of A Voluntary Year) is an asshole writer who keeps offending people. Paula works an ice cream stand, is having loud sex with lifeguard Devid, so Leon looks down on them, dismisses her critique of his work before learning she’s getting a PhD in literary studies. His publisher arrives, hates the new book, then has a health emergency, and while they’re dealing with that, the nearby forest fires burn up the trysting place of bi-curious Devid and Leon’s much cooler buddy Felix. The movie escalates from microaggressions to fiery death so gradually you never see it coming.

Early Wenders muse Rüdiger Vogler drives past Richmond, gets to NYC and sells his car, then goes to Shea Stadium – I like this guy already. He’s a writer/photographer disowned by his editor for wandering the States and ignoring his story and deadlines, but he’s got enough cash to fly home. After he meets a woman and her daughter at the airport then the woman disappears, the movie sneakily adopts my least favorite movie plot of all (aimless adult gets stuck with precocious child), but somehow remains good. Robby Müller did nice work in Goalie, kills it here. Almost Kaurismäkian in its large-heartedness – rare that I watch a movie from the 1970s and think things were better back then. Rüdiger keeps behaving in a very relatable manner (he drops the girl at a police station and goes to a Chuck Berry concert).

Rüdiger on TV: “All these TV images come down to the same common, ugly message: a kind of vicious contempt. No image leaves you in peace. They all want something from you.”

Richard Burton, more intensely sad than I’ve ever seen him, is a spymaster-turned-spy, quitting British intelligence and hanging out with cute librarian Claire Bloom (The Haunting), but actually getting coached by Smiley (“just continue to be embittered, continue to drink”) in the hopes of being picked up by the Germans.

Took me a while to realize that they’d crossed into Germany. It’s established that Burton is fluent in German, but nobody speaks German in the movie, and even accents are rare… they simply keep speaking English, asking the viewer to imagine that it’s German. On the other side, the East Germans all act like they know Burton’s whole deal, but they’re plotting against each other and Burton intends to inflame their rivalry. Oskar “Jules” Werner is the black leather cap-wearing ambitious second in command to 1,000 Eyes of Dr. Mabuse star Peter van Eyck. As power and loyalties shift, I’m not sure that even Burton knows if the plot has gone off the rails, but apparently free and victorious at the end, he gets himself killed over the girl, leaving Smiley (Rupert Davies) and Control (Cyril Cusack, pathetic husband in Gone to Earth) needing to find a new sad drunken spy.