After reading Beatrice Loayza’s essay for the new box set, I had to watch an Akerman movie. But I cannot tolerate silence in a home screening, so, per the artist’s original intent, I made a playlist with Colleen then Titan to Tachyons then Tomeka Reid Quartet.

Static camera, hanging around in the hotel lobby and hallways and especially elevators, even getting into a couple rooms. Then back to the hallways… long static takes of hallways. Then movement! Dolly up a hallway, looking out the window at NYC, impressive jump cut from night to day, back up and down the hallway. Movie ends on the roof, slow rotation looking out at the city, the movement reminding of La Chambre. Akerman had moved to NYC and made these films with DP Babette Mangolte, both artists influenced by Michael Snow, then Mangolte shot Snow’s Rameau’s Nephew the following year.

Katy’s out of town and there’s a new Criterion blu-ray, so we’re having a Tod Browning Halloween.


The Exquisite Thief (1919)

Fragment of a lost film, found in Dawson City. A carnival barker turned blackface comedian turned melodrama film director, Browning had made six features before teaming up with the exquisite Priscilla Dean for a successful run. Here she is robbing everyone at a fancy dinner party before making her getaway. Her chauffeur steals Lord Chesterton’s car, accidentally also stealing the Lord (Thurston Hall, later a Karloff victim in The Black Room). It’s implied that the cops are about to find dirt on our Lord just as he’s turning the tables on his captor, but here the fragment ends.

How will Lord Chesterton get outta this mess:


Outside The Law (1920)

Now Priscilla Dean is a reformed criminal, hanging out with her dad Madden at Chang Low’s bazaar in SF Chinatown. Gangster Lon Chaney shoots a cop while Chinese Lon Chaney(!) suspects a plot and tries to help, getting Madden arrested. The dad was in some major Griffith films, “Chang Low” is a white guy from Richmond VA who also played “Lu Chung” in an Anna May Wong movie.

Priscilla, her dad, Chinese Chaney, Chang Low:

There’s to be a heist, and the cops, the Chaney gang and the girl are all playing different angles. Priscilla gets away with Safecracker Bill, and their plan is to hang out in his apartment… for how long? Months? They invite over an annoying neighbor kid (Stanley Goethals died in 2000, and might well have seen The Matrix or the Matthew Broderick Godzilla) and let him play with a hatchet.

Sweet Priscilla goes outside the law:

Safecracker Bill is Wheeler Oakman of some very silly looking early-’40s Bela Lugosi films. Chaney surprises them and they try to keep him from finding the jewels. But they’ve both fallen for the annoying kid, and his shredded kite out the window provides a christly vision convincing the girl to go straight. The last couple reels of the film are as damaged as the kite – there’s a half hour of good movie in here within the sappy script. Browning would make a different crime film a decade later using the same title.

Non-Chinese Chaney, Priscilla, Safecracker Bill:


The Mystic (1925)

In the time since Outside the Law, Browning made a bunch more Priscilla Dean pictures and Unholy Three. Zazarek, his assistant knife thrower Anton, and daughter Zara are traveling and being tailed by a Regular Looking Normally Dressed Man, who stands out among the loonies and drunks that are their usual clientele. When they finally corner him, he’s an investor offering to bring them to the States to do their act for wealthy people.

In their U.S. debut, police pre-inspect the room as if this is a crime and not a performance, which seems silly until it turns out he money man’s plan isn’t to get performance money from rich patrons but ghostly blackmail/trickery with Mystic Zara. The money man begins to fall for cute, round-nosed rich lady Doris (she was in Princess Nicotine in 1909 and lived long enough that she might’ve watched Edward Scissorhands). The team goes after her “guardian” Bradshaw, who’s working with the cops. Schemers turn on each other and it ends in a situation I’d imagined during Outside the Law – if the people who say they were gonna give back the stolen goods get nabbed before they can, there’s no way to prove good intent. The money man didn’t have good intent after all when it comes to the crimes, but he does follow the deported family to Hungary to find Zara, so that’s something.

Glad I stuck with the new Dean Hurley score instead of playing my own thing, enjoyed the foley effects. They seem like pretty minor actors. The money man appeared in Stella Maris with Mary Pickford, the knife thrower had been in The Big Parade, the father figure showed up in small parts everywhere, and Aileen “Zara” Pringle was a short-lived star. I thought there should be more knife throwing.


London After Midnight (1927)

Browning’s lost follow-up to The Unknown, which I watched out of order in its TCM reconstruction from titles and stills. Halloweeny visuals, with a mad spookyfaced Lon Chaney renting a house, or something. The music was bad so I put on Secret Chiefs – but The Book Beriah, not Horrorthon. Unfortunately I swung too far in the other direction, now the music is 100 times better than the “movie,” and all the panning across still photos is tiresome so I’m dropping this 48-min program halfway through.


The Unknown (1927)

Opens at Circus Zanzi (this guy and Z names), where all the gypsy circus gals lust after Malabar the Mighty. This is a terrific tragedy which I’ve watched before on TCM, but does it count as tragedy if the guy who loses the girl is actually evil? Lon Chaney is sweet on Zanzi’s daughter, who fears being touched, so the armless wonder Lon is a perfect confidante. But of course Lon has arms, he’s just hiding them for his act, and he strangles her dad after being discovered.

Lon foot-toasting Cojo:

Lon’s buddy Cojo says you can’t marry the girl or she’ll find out you have arms, so Lon blackmails a doctor with a dark past into arm-removal surgery. After all, he can light and smoke a cigarette with his feet, and the girl doesn’t know he murdered her dad, what could go wrong? But while he’s away in recovery she decides she’s not afraid to be touched after all, falling into the strong arms of Malabar. Even Cojo is a shitty friend, taunting Lon about his lack of arms. Crazed Lon tries to sabotage a strongman stunt and gets horse-stomped to death in the commotion.

Typical piano score, after 10 minutes I swapped out for Tortoise’s Remixed, which I’ve never appreciated on its own but as a movie score it’s fantastic. Zanzi was in Chaney’s Hunchback and Malabar was Christine’s beau in Chaney’s Phantom. The girl Joan Crawford went on to some fame in the sound era. Between The Mystic and Unknown/London, Browning and Chaney made The Blackbird and the half-surviving Road to Mandalay, and Browning went back to “Hungary” for The Show.

Our second Dupont movie after Variety. Rather than Anvil/Alloy we went with the music on the blu-ray, which was fine. After a talkie introduction scene, simply terrible, awkwardly tacked on (starring John Longden who I just saw in Quatermass 2) we get a proper silent film with glamorous costumes and camera moves. The setup is that Valentine (Claudette’s fiancé in It Happened One Night) runs a successful club with star dancers Victor (Hitchcock’s Blackmail) and Mabel (star of The Devil Dancer two years earlier), then after a falling out, the dancers are replaced with kitchen worker Anna May Wong, a vast improvement. Tensions build in the second half – Mabel is jealous that Valentine is sweet on Anna, and maybe murders her, but in the ensuing court drama we learn that Anna’s boy Jim (not her brother, as she’s told people) did the crime. Smooth little drama, mostly noteworthy for its Anna May content.

AKA Kimmy Schmidt’s War of the Worlds. Aliens invade Earth in search of the prettiest, perkiest girl with the most terrible trauma, and they find Kaitlyn Dever (the one who isn’t Beanie in Booksmart). A typical grey (but with fingers for toes, like Sophie Okonedo in Aeon Flux) poltergeists her house, attacking her with doors and freaking out the electricity, until she manages to stab it in the head with one of her Beetlejuice-town model buildings.

The gimmick, a good one, is that Kaitlyn never speaks – she has no friends, and doesn’t constantly talk to herself or her birds like I do – but the aliens chatter in their own language (so saying the movie has no dialogue is inaccurate). She tries to escape the town but is chased off the bus by bodysnatched humans, so returns to deal with a variety pack of aliens (the short mean one, the one with absurdly long limbs, etc) on her own turf, happily ending up the sole unbrainwashed person in town.

Duffield made the exploding-teens movie Spontaneous, and his DP did a bunch of Black Mirror and one of the Evil Dead remakes. Critics raved: “would have absolutely slayed in theaters if not for Disney’s choice to dump it straight to Hulu.”

Salome (1973)

Girl finds a mostly-nude boy in the catacombs, they start making out but he strangles her. The vibe is a murkier, cultier Jean Rollin, with light and fog effects so heavy they turn the actors into abstract imagery. It’s content to roll along in its slow dreamy way without getting caught up in story – I suppose if you’re familiar with the Oscar Wilde play you can follow along but I’m going by a few year-old memory of the Ken Russell version. Music sounds newer than 1973, like Coil Concrete – aha, this must’ve been recorded for the late 1990s home video release, which means I am free to listen to Secret Chiefs 3’s Horrorthon during the next film.


The Forbidden (1978)

Horrorthon mentions Faust in the dialogue clips, and if you skip the “preview” first track and start the album with the movie, the circus music that plays when the nude man (Barker?!) starts dancing around is very funny. Barker made these films and his theatrical works before writing the Books of Blood – I always thought of him as a novelist who came to filmmaking late, but I was off. This has the most nudity in any Faust film outside the pornography realm. The image processed in negative, surfaces seem to glow. The opening mathematica and later full-body tattooing recall Book of Blood, and rotating light over pins/nails predict Pinhead and Leviathan at once.

We went out to see three short “city symphony” docs with live music from Hotel X, part of the James River Film Fest. Joris Ivens’ Rain was pretty chill and rainy, the music wandering about aimlessly except for the guy with the rainstick who knew exactly what to do. Manhatta (1921) a sharper movie, while the music had too much melodica. Things really cooked both musically and cinematically with Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice, then we stayed for a post-movie song with guest guitarist Gary Lucas.

I’ve written about Manhatta before. Was thinking this time that if I lived there/then, I’d like to open a haberdashery, or invent punk rock. Rain/Regen is the story of a rainfall in the city. Ivens catches some nice ripples and reflections in puddles, the downside being that the movie consists excessively of puddle shots. Nice seemed minor when watching all of Vigo’s work at once some years ago, but in this program it really shines – it’s quicker and more clever and more interested in people than buildings and landscapes. I love how many shots end as soon as the subject notices they’re being filmed (or being watched, anyway). Nice gives equal credit to camera/editor Boris Kaufman, who’d go on to shoot famous 1950’s/60’s films such as 12 Angry Men.

Part 1: The Golden Sea

I watched this in college on bootleg VHS for an ill-fated report on Lang’s cinema, and remembered pretty much nothing. A story in two parts, initially set in America with rival adventurers Kay Hoog and Lio Sha. These are meant to be American names? Kay is rich as hell, going after Peruvian gold despite Lio’s gang The Spiders warning him away. Even this early, Lang was into surveillance tech – Lio has an electric mirror showing a view of the next room: a webcam 100 years ahead of its time.

Kay in foreground, Lio being molested at the tables, Georgia flag in Mexican cantina:

Our teams travel to Mexico, hop a balloon over Chile, Kay parachutes out and immediately rescues the Princess of the Sun from a snake. Lio is safely captured, is to be sacrificed, while the Princess swoons for Hoog in her secret waterfall cavern. I love that the drama is less that a girl is gonna get sacrificed and her nemesis is launching a reluctant rescue mission, it’s that the Princess performing the sacrifice doesn’t wanna but her dad says she has to. A chaotic rescue, they find and steal the gold on their way out, then the spiders start killing each other in a frenzy over the gold, and also light the “holy candle” which is a bomb fuse, flooding the cave. The movie opened with a message in a bottle, and nearly ends with Hoog and rescued/kidnapped Princess adrift in a basket. It actually ends back at the Hoog Mansion when he runs out for an errand, returns to find his princess dead with a toy spider on her.

Princess Dagover in over her head:

The servants get into the wine:


Part 2: The Diamond Ship

Lio seeks a stone for a Chinese client. The opening robbery is filmed at an angle that just doesn’t work, not high enough, very un-Lang. Kay aims to stop the Spiders, still miffed that they killed his princess. With a single edit, Kay jumps off a plane onto a rooftop, hmmm. He hangs out in an opium den to scout for clues, spots Lio and takes her hostage, but they drop him through a trap door into a flooding pit from which he improbably manages to escape. I would’ve been happy watching Kay Hoog continue to escape from implausible scenarios, but the movie feels compelled to set up a big score for us, team Spider swimming in their full black bodysuits (with shoes and masks) to a diamond-laden boat. Somehow this leads to a final fight in a poison cave in the Falkland islands, a four-fingered villain and another kidnapped daughter, but it’s hard to pay attention whenever Kay isn’t falling through trap doors. Ultimately the plastic spiders and the Kay Hoog t-shirts weren’t selling, so the series was cancelled before they made a third episode.

Nemeses:

Kay was Carl de Vogt, who worked long enough to appear in a 1960’s Mabuse. His arch-nemesis Lio Sha’s real name was the just-as-unlikely Ressel Orla. A Jew in Berlin, she escaped the holocaust by dying of illness in the early 1930’s. Lil Dagover (of Lang’s Harakiri the same year) played the Princess of the Sun, and part two’s Diamond King (with the kidnapped daughter) was Rudolf Lettinger (in Cabinet of Dr. Caligari the same year).

Conference Call:

Caligari Man with Kidnapped Daughter:

Ben Model’s music seems fine, but after five minutes I realized I could be playing Zorn’s Nostradamus: The Death of Satan instead, so I did… then The Ninth Circle… so, the Simulacrum crew of Hollenberg / Medeski / Grohowski, and adding Marsella in the second half of The Golden Lake. For part two I played Harriet Tubman’s The Terror End of Beauty. If you keep falling asleep, resuming the movie where you left off the next night but starting the album over, Harriet Tubman is like the miracle of the oil lasting eight nights. But ultimately the movie is too long, so I moved on to their previous LP Araminta feat. Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet.

Dave Kehr says it best, as usual:

Fascinating … though it no longer plays particularly well. Already at this primitive stage in his development Lang was conjuring vast international conspiracies and drawing his hapless heroes into intractable webs of fate. The form is here, the meaning would come later. The visuals too are stamped with Lang’s personality; no one carved up screen space with his precision and expressiveness.

Visions in Meditation #1

Uniquely wonderful experience watching this with Marvin Pontiac’s Asylum Tapes in the headphones, though it’s more of a vocal album than I was expecting and probably distracted from the visuals at times. Regular handheld and sometimes extreme-jitter, mostly nature, snow and slushy river, mountain valley at different times of year. SB seems to be able to walk around outside and capture images in ways nobody else does. Aperture keeps opening all the way, washing everything in white. I suppose it’s meditative – earth and mist and water, finally fire in the last few seconds.


Visions in Meditation #2 (Mesa Verde)

Tourist film of mountainside stone ruins with accompanying travel footage shot through windows, but it gets bleary and bendy, and brings in cameos by deer, geese and a nude man in a field. I played along with Chesley/Albini/Midyett’s “Irish” which lent a dirge-metal atmosphere well-suited to the ruins.


Visions in Meditation #3 (Plate’s Cave)

Sometimes there is plinky space-music in the caverns. Other things combined and juxtaposed with caverns: a carnival, a snowy road. More tourist-film car-window stuff, but the last section is focused on a whirlwind in a field, and if there’s anyone I want to see filming a whirlwind it’s our Stan. Ends on black with electro-chirp music by Rick Corrigan (who is still recording, and has stuff on bandcamp).


Visions in Meditation #4 (D.H. Lawrence)

The most distorted of the four, swirling earth and skies. A few glimpses of humanity: a reflection, a backlit figure, a closeup on toes. Silent, so I accompanied it with three songs from the new Low album… I couldn’t help myself, the bandcamp page said Rick Corrigan is RIYL John Zorn, and Zorn’s playing Big Ears with Low, and I’m obsessed with Low’s new record. Anyway Camper just texted to say it’s okay, that the Low/Brakhage combo is frisson-inducing.