Orson Welles, The Other Side of the Wind, 1970-2018
If you've got the time, there's a ton of info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Other ... f_the_Wind but if you're in a rush, here's a passable review https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/a ... pic-satire Welles's film was left unfinished at his death, though he did make Peter Bogdanovich (who plays the eminently irritating Brooks Otterlake) promise to get it done one day. Well, it took until 2018 and Netflix - they also financed a very informative documentary on the movie, Morgan Neville's They'll Love Me When I'm Dead and there's a two-hour rambling chitchat with Dennis Hopper online which might be worth your time - but here it is. It's not only the story of an ageing forgotten-by-the-industry-but-adored-by-young-filmmakers director's movie-within-a-movie (also entitled The Other Side of the Wind, which was supposed be a kind of pisstake of Antonioni but, as Bradshaw says in the above-linked write-up, looks at times as if it was shot by Russ Meyer - plenty of Welles's gal Oja Kodar wandering around in the buff), it's of course the story of Welles's own frustration as a revered figure left out to dry by Hollywood and royally ripped off by everyone. John Huston delivers Jake Hannaford's wry cynical jibes with Noah Cross gusto, but they're very much the words and thoughts of Orson himself, as witnessed by some the things he comes out with in conversation with Hopper. The editing throughout is at breakneck speed - Meyer again comes to mind - zapping between black and white and colour and every available film stock to hand, and by about halfway through you feel like a break (I recommend one, with a stiff glass of Scotch). And when it's all over you may wonder what it was all in aid of: films about filmmaking, especially in the catty world of Hollywood, do become rather tiring after a while, and this, despite fine performances from a cast including Susan Strasberg, Edmond O'Brien, Mercedes McCambridge and Paul Stewart, is no exception. Hopper is one of a handful of young lion directors who appears, playing himself (others include Henry Jaglom, Paul Mazursky, Curtis Harrington and - a middle-aged lion, shall we say - Claude Chabrol), and that Hopper connection is important: Welles obviously knew Dennis's Last Movie, which to my mind tells its film-within-film story better than The Other Side of the Wind. Anyway, a fascinating document, glad it finally appeared.
Paolo Sorrentino, Loro, 2018
More or less in agreement with Peter Bradshaw here https://www.theguardian.com/film/2019/a ... sorrentino - Toni Servillo is predictably impressive as Berlusconi, and there are plenty of impressively flashy set pieces, virtuoso tracking shots and breakneck-speed montage. The SFX are a bit odd at times - at one point a rat crossing a street causes a refuse truck not only to swerve off the road but fly six feet into the air and crash over a wall by the Colosseum (wtf?) - and it's a shame that Sergio more or less drops out of sight (the original version consists of two longer parts, the first concentrating on Sergio, the coke-addled pimp determined to make it into Berlusconi's inner circle, the second on Silvio himself). Sorrentino has been criticised for not coming down hard enough on Berlusconi, but I found much to appreciate in his script - and much which could apply equally well to the other ageing hair-obsessed "businessman" on the other side of the Atlantic.
Ken Loach - Hidden Agenda (1990)
Let’s get the good bits out of the way, because they certainly are good and I don’t have much else nice to say about this. The story is about the American widow of an human rights lawyer assassinated in Northern Ireland, teaming up with an English cop to try and get to the bottom of things. It looks absolutely gorgeous. Loach has a real painterly, minimal style, textured and poignant. Ostensibly realist, but colour and light is expertly sustained to lift the story into something beautiful. The director seems to have a great hand with actors too, because the performances here are great, with Brian Cox’s cop the standout. This, though, is as friendly as I’m going to be about the movie, because it IS a real disappointment. The narrative falters, in so many ways. Call me impossibly tainted by Tinker Tailor, but I do like a bit of tradecraft. First off, the RUC team doing the killing bungles their statements, jarring it so badly with the forensic evidence that it’s laughable. The team is named to Brian Cox as real badass, answer-to-no-one, extrajudicial cowboy killers, and yet, when he gets them in the chair, they spill everything very quickly. Really? That’s how big bad and average they are, the slightest bit of sweat from a civil cop and they blurt everything? Would they not be better trained, more ruthless, harder to pin down? You can see how this actually could have been something, how the director could have worked out a real tangle of murmurs, stubborn resistance, disinformation, false leads, as mirroring the very real and painful tangle of The Troubles, the interplay between official propaganda and paramilitary, extrajudicial enforcement on the ground. But no. A tape is in play, it turns out, a tape from the hands of a man named Harris, a black ops officer with a conscience, who has switched sides to the republican cause and is now on the run and in hiding. Once again, neither the name or person of this man is very hard for Brian Cox to come by, and when he finally gets on scene he of course has a real story to tell. And this moves us into the heart of my problems with the film. So there’s a tape, from the hands of a black ops specialist, mired in The Troubles: you’d think it has something to do with Northern Ireland then, with the sordid and soiled face of British colonial occupation and policy? NO - this is Loach, or this is Hollywood, but of course the tape has to do with the Evil Tory Takeover of the late seventies! So you plop down in Belfast and end up paying little more than lip service to the republican, anti-colonial cause. It’s baffling, really, because Loach’s sympathies must run a lot deeper than this? Shall we call it rude? insolent? to behave like this? Like setting your story in apartheid South Africa or occupied West Bank and having the real meat be about offshore banking in the Caymans or something. Well, not really, it does hew closer to home than that, and Loach does give voice and space to the republican cause, but a frustrating failure it remains
Jeff Lieberman, Squirm, 1976
After pigs and frogs a few weeks ago, I thought it was time for another eco-horror B bash - this time (careful, spoilers here) it's worms. A freak storm in some godforsaken hicktown in Georgia brings down a pylon and electrifies the local earthworm population - and the little buggers are hungry. Quoting some of the juicy Wiki trivia, "half of the worms used in the film were made of rubber; the others included large sandworms from Maine, refrigerated and transported to Port Wentworth, and an estimated three million bloodworms, provided by the University of Georgia Oceanographic Institute. To get the worms to move, wires were run under them and electrified. One scene in which a living room is filled with worms was accomplished by building a scaffolding four feet (1.2 m) above the ground; a canvas was placed on top and covered with a six-inch layer of thousands of worms. The local Boy Scouts troop was hired to move the canvas from below to make the worms undulate; they received merit badges for their work. After production wrapped, newspapers in Maine reported the local fishing industry had been impacted by a shortage of worms caused by the film production." Lieberman also passed on Kim Basinger and Martin Sheen, and later regretted his decision. Haha..
Woody Allen, Deconstructing Harry, 1997
For someone like me who grew up with the "nicer" Woody Allen comedies (Bananas, Love and Death, Annie Hall, EYAWtKAS*(*BWATA) and - a perennial favourite, Sleeper), it's a shock hearing him say "fucking" and "cunt" (wow, the C-word). But it works perfectly in what must be the most risqué Allen comedy (haven't seen them all yet, still working on it): to quote the ever-informative Woody Allen Pages
http://www.woodyallenpages.com/films/de ... ing-harry/ it's certainly "one his harshest films. Prostitution, kidnapping, infidelity and betrayal." But great fun, despite a storyline that, once you scratch away the flashy, flashback, jumpcut surface, owes much once again to Bergman's Wild Strawberries. Anyway, the best swearing comes from Judy Davis. Great how she says "motherfuckerrrrr". Big fun.
Jonathan Miller, Alice in Wonderland, 1966
"A children’s story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children’s story." So wrote C.S.Lewis, quoted in this excellent essay
https://www.sensesofcinema.com/2018/ali ... onderland/ and he knew what he was on about. Miller's 1966 adaptation was even aired after the infamous 9pm watershed on the telly, which was supposed to be when kids weren't watching. Not that there's anything too scandalous to report - there are no Drink Me Eat Me acid trips (though in 1966 that was certainly in the air), and no silly costumes either. The whole thing has a distinctly Victorian feel, very English (well, of course, the book is), with good old hymn tunes thrown in for measure. But what a stellar cast! McKern, Gielgud, Redgrave, Sellers and Peter Cook who makes an awesome Mad Hatter, to name but a few. It's so much better than the dreary Disney or the much overrated Tim Burton - and it'll make you want to return to the book again. Excellent!
Mauro Bolognini, La notte brava, 1959
Remember how the TARDIS in Doctor Who is "dimensionally transcendental" - i.e. from the outside it's as big as the Police Call Box it resembles, but once inside it's an enormous space? Time to patent my "Tardis Film Theory": some movies are relatively short in clock time, but so rich in detail and superbly and economically crafted, they feel much longer. Put it another way, in the hands of a less talented director and writer, there's enough here to be spun out into yet another dull TV series. La notte brava is a Tardis film par excellence: I simply can't believe it lasts barely 90 minutes (that's excluding the opening credits sequence) and had to watch it twice in a row, it was that good - which hasn't happened in a while. Pier Paolo Pasolini adapted his own novel magnificently: the dialogue is sparse but cuts straight to the point. Amazingly, this was rated X in Britain (I read somewhere), presumably more for what implies than what it actually shows; most of the hoo-hah centred on Laurent Terzieff's scene rolling around the floor with Mylène Demongeot and her kitten, though there's a fabulously charged homoerotic moment between Jean-Claude Brialy and Tomas Milian (great film debut for the latter). Pimps, prostitutes, poverty and petty crime in Pasolini's beloved tawdry half-finished projects on the outskirts of Rome. Not as iconic as La Dolce Vita or the Antonioni trilogy, but definitely up there with them. A great film. If you don't know it, you really should.
Ben Wheatley - High Rise (2015)
I must say, to begin, that I was very pleasantly surprised by this. Read some snarky stuff online, saw clips of what looked like hideous CGI and decided a little bit against it. But a bit of a triumph it is. The CGI is deployed very judiciously, the set design is gorgeous, the acting mostly fine, though we’ll get back to that. I like how the movie opens cold: we are in the high rise, no sociological or psychosocial background narrated or shown. The opening, with the choreographed movements of the inhabitants through floors, elevators, lobby and parking lot, is masterful. There is a nasty precision at work here, a handle on the material that I wish the director had stayed with. He doesn’t hough, and this is both the power and problem of the film. Things deteriorate rapidly in the building, class divisions between the different floors erupting into psychotic decadence and violence. Food and electricity runs scarce, commons such as the swimming pool cordoned off for the benefit of the wealthy on the top floors. Before long, pets are roasted for food on balconies, or drowned in pools. Wheatley has a great eye for interiors, practically everything that happens in the rooms of the building looks and feels gorgeous. A way of being both shimmeringly precise and filthy at the same time, it reminds me a bit of both Verhoeven and Cronenberg (Jeremy Irons plays The Architect, and remember, Cronenberg already did his Ballard with Rabid, not to mention Crash. There is even a direct nod to Dead Ringers, with the police constable knocking on the door of the high rise to inquire of The Architect about the state within.) Though, the film is practically all interiors, and this is a problem. The narrative of the failure and decay of the building is left a bit inferred, undecisive: I’m not at all sure we get there solely through montage. Not that the ideas here are bad: Tom Hiddleston’s Laing working out at the rowing machine at the beginning and still at it as everything crumbles to shit around him is a great image. You feel that some spindly narrative deployment is called for, sorely missed. (Cronenberg is instructive: not only Dead Ringers with the doubling Jeremy Irons and crumbling identities, but also when he had to go abstract and shoot past the terrible actors in Scanners. And just think what Nicolas Roeg could have done with this! Producer Jeremy Thomas procured the rights for the novel already in the seventies and Roeg, I think, wanted to do it, but it didn’t happen. He wanted to set it in a desert even. Mick Jagger, David Bowie and James Fox tearing themselves to pieces and melting into each other - I almost salivated first time I read about that.) But then, this is Wheatley’s thing: narratives that become unhinged, that breakdown the very idea of the films and not a failure of them. Kill List has a list of people to be killed, a mercenary deployment through a list that ever expands, into a circle that draws forth ever more intense and brutal violence, diseases of the soul. A Field in England moves from historical reconstruction into batshit psychedelia, premonitions of doom and dark suns rising: “Open up and let the devil in!” And this film, that manages to reference both Cronenberg, Samuel R Delany’s Dhalgren, Schroeter’s Malina, AND The Towering Inferno at the same time is a fascinating experience. I almost don’t want to mention the problems, though there are a few. The acting: Tom Hiddleston, Elisabeth Moss and Sienna Miller are all great, but Luke Evans grates. Reece Shearsmith, great as he was as Whitehead in A Field, is insufferable here. And James Purefoy: I fucking hate him, briefly. And the tacked on “political” ending does not need to be there, or indeed anywhere. The high rise poised at the cusp of the cutthroat eighties, well…no, I don’t buy it. Not wrong, necessarily, but it has no place here. And if I never hear another Margaret Thatcher sample anywhere I’ll be a happy man. That trope has become as overused and bloated as snarling William Burroughs samples…
Nanni Moretti, La stanza del figlio, 2001
Take your pick of good reviews online - Bradshaw's in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/film/2002/feb/15/1 more or less sums up what I think, though he doesn't seem to like the closing Eno song as much as I do, and I managed to get through without snivelling. Which doesn't mean I was unmoved: films about parents grieving for lost children can all too easily fall into the maudlin and mawkish, or worse, star or be directed by Sean Penn. Nanni Moretti's too smart for that, thankfully.
You know, it's been ages since I read any Ballard, my teens even, but I remember being blown away precisely by those icy images. I haven't even read High Rise! I should maybe have added the caveat "in this film" re Purefoy - I don't really know every corner of his work, but his awful hamming here is enough to wish him harm. It is nice to have this little conversation going, even if it's just the two of us - sure beats not seeing each other at all. And I should really try to get quicker ion the draw, my laptop is littered with driftwood of notes and halfthoughts, drafts and ideas. Often ideas come to me when I'm watching something, but before that can cohere in print it fades and my curiosity will go elsewhere.Dan Warburton wrote: ↑Fri Nov 27, 2020 4:28 amI'm slowly but surely ploughing through the complete Ballard short stories - an enormous book - but none of them is a particularly pleasant read. Not a criticism, that - it's just his style, that dry, unforgiving prose, with characters who are rarely sympathetic, and often downright glacial. I thought Wheatley captured that nicely in the film - no more so than his inspired persuasion of Portishead to cover Abba's "S.O.S." especially for it - though I do take your point about some actors (funny isn't it how we nurture pathological hatred of certain thespians.. Jeff Goldblum's my bête noire as you know, and Walt hates Burt Lancaster). So thanks again for such a long and well-thought-through review (would that other people did likewise.. I get the impression we're just talking to each other half the time, Henrik, but that's OK by me). My own little capsule write-ups, which more often than not lazily link to other people's thoughts on the same film, pale in comparison. But I try to keep them coming, even if they tend to come in bursts of activity. Like London buses and Covid vaccines, you wait for months and then three or more turn up at once. Still a little backlog to get through here. Meanwhile thanks again to rehipping me to High Rise.
Joseph H. Lewis, Terror in a Texas Town, 1958
Wiki plot summary: "The wealthy McNeil wants to control Prairie City and the land around it. He tries to burn out small ranchers and then hires gunfighter Johnny Crale to run them off. Sven Hansen learns from neighbour Jose Mirada that there is oil on his land. Sven stands up to Crale, his only weapon a harpoon from his past as a whaling fisherman, and Crale callously shoots him dead. The dead man's son, George Hansen, arrives in town and finds out that his father has died, but isn't sure how or why. The sheriff is in McNeil's pocket and unwilling to help. George tries talking to Molly, Crale's wife, but ends up beaten unconscious and dumped on a train leaving town. Mirada is the next one gunned down by Crale, but his courage impresses the killer, who in a fit of rage shoots McNeil, the man who hired him. George Hansen returns to town for a showdown, and.." This is (probably?) unique in the film begins with the final shootout - almost all of it, in fact. Thoroughly enjoyed it: Sterling Hayden (Hansen) polished up quite a convincing Swedish accent (correct me later if I'm wrong, Henrik old pal), Nedrick Young is superb as the weary cynical gunslinger, as is Sebastian Cabot as the obese bossman. Sharp script written by Dalton Trumbo, but as he (and also Young) were blacklisted, they didn't tell you that. Young is particularly impressive, a cool mix of Bogart and Jack Palance. The music's terrible, but don't let that put you off. This has much to recommend it.
Pierre Granier-Deferre, Adieu Poulet, 1975
Nice write-up here http://www.frenchfilms.org/review/adieu ... -1975.html - certainly worth a look for the contrasting acting styles of old-school hardman Ventura and young rock'n'roll Dewaere, as well as some splendid location shooting in Rouen. Good story, sharp script, nice ending - maybe a teeny bit too American-influenced for my taste, but I'm not complaining.
Sergio Corbucci, Il mercenario, 1968
The more of his films I see, the more I prefer Corbucci to Leone when it comes to spaghetti. A pointless exercise, perhaps, comparing the two Sergios, like having to choose between Picasso and Braque (fwiw I've always preferred the latter); the classic tropes of the genre probably originated with Leone, but I find Corbucci tighter and his action sequences more impressive. Good storyline too here - not always the case with spaghetti - even though there are plenty of cackling greasy Mexican bandits, wide-eyed grinning Gatling gun massacres, and a depiction of the fair sex that is, shall we say, not exactly.. erm, woke. And at least Corbucci knew how to make optimum use of Ennio Morricone. Straight into my top ten spaghetti westerns.
actually it's the other way around ... at least if we're talking cubism. the classic tropes (very probably) originated with braque but picasso had a knack for tight compositions, and when braque got back at him by going full color, picasso was completely elsewhere already ...
(oh and btw, if you're interested, my hockney chrono is out right about now in a dirt cheap package from taschen, re-designed as a smallish stand-alone book with all the major paintings illustrated also)
I am interested - Christmas is coming, and Jeff Bezos needs my money.. got a link, Lutz? Thanks!
Ragnar Bragason, Mr. Bjarnfreðarson, 2009
IMDb plot summary (no spoilers, don't worry): "[T]he final chapter in the lives of Georg Bjarnfredarson, an over-educated know-it-all, social outcast, closeted gay man, and his friends and co-workers. Sitting with him high in the ladder, letting life bedazzle his eyes with perplexity, is Daniel Sævarson, a shy young man who is wrangling with an uncontrollable web of lies he has concocted to deceive his family who think he is finishing medical school. Those two characters are joined by Olafur Ragnar, a 40-year-old man-child still struggling to fit in a normal society. The story begins when Georg is released on parole after a long stay in jail for murder. His mother, an obstinate feminist, refuses to take him in, practically disowning him. Daniel, an old friend, whom Georg tried to frame for the murder he had committed, reluctantly invites him to stay at his place until he gets back on his feet. Olafur, Georg's former co-worker, is also staying at Daniel's house, pretty much to the annoyance of Daniel's wife Ylfa. When these three reconnect is when hell breaks loose." I realise now I should have probably seen the three preceding chapters of the story, respectively entitled The Night Shift, The Day Shift and The Prison Shift, before tackling this one, though it does stand on its own quite well thanks to some strategic flashbacks and voiceovers. Very funny, but also touching - and very well made. A big hit in Iceland, where apparently more people went to see it in the cinemas than went to see Avatar. (Though that may have something to do with the availability of 3D at the time - that said, Bragason's characters are certainly more three-dimensional and profound than James Cameron's cartoon cardboard cutouts. Ha, whatever became of 3D cinema?)
Harry Kümel, Les lèvres rouges (aka Daughters of Darkness), 1971
Here's Geoffrey O'Brien as quoted on Wiki: "Lesbian vampires made frequent incursions in the early 1970’s—in movies ranging from hardcore pornographic to dreamily aesthetic — as the Gothic horror movie took to flaunting its psychosexual subtexts. Daughters of Darkness leans flamboyantly toward the artistic end of the spectrum, with Delphine Seyrig sporting Marienbad-like costumes and the Belgian director conjuring up images of luxurious decadence replete with feathers, mirrors, and long, winding hotel corridors. At the film’s core, however, is a deeply unpleasant evocation of a war of nerves between Seyrig’s vampire and the bourgeois newlyweds into whose honeymoon she insinuates herself. Jaded age preys cunningly on narcissistic youth, and seductiveness and cruelty become indistinguishable as Seyrig forces the innocents to become aware of their own capacity for monstrous behavior. If Fassbinder had made a vampire movie it might have looked something like this." Yes, never mind the incomprehensible plot (what's the deal with Stefan's "mother"? No spoilers..) dig the cool François de Roubaix soundtrack and the erotic charge between Seyrig and her sidekick Ilona, played by former Penthouse and Mayfair cover girl Andrea Rau. Tasty.
Paolo Sorrentino, This Must Be The Place, 2011
Sorrentino's English language debut came about when then-Jury President Sean Penn cornered him in Cannes and asked for something. He certainly got a memorable role: his ageing rocker, Cheyenne, hair courtesy Robert Smith, voice courtesy Warhol via Cage, isn't a character you're likely to forget in a hurry. The story, on the other hand, rambles: summoned back to the US out of retirement in Ireland (for tax reasons, one supposes: you don't settle in Dublin for the weather) to see his dying father - he arrives too late - he ends up taking up where daddy left off in the hunt for the Nazi war criminal who persecuted him in Auschwitz. Like other Euro-directed American road movies - Antonioni's Zabriskie Point, Wenders' Paris Texas, Adlon's Bagdad Café, Dumont's Twentynine Palms, etc. - it all ends in the desert (A Barthes-like mythology essay on the semiotics of the American desert would be an interesting read; maybe someone - Baudrillard? - has already written it..). Well, um, actually that's not quite true: Penn does return to his sleepy Dublin neighbourhood - but see if you can figure out the ending. Worth a look, if not for Sorrentino's ever- impressive camerawork, at least for another great cameo from Harry Dean Stanton.
John Boorman, Exorcist II The Heretic, 1977
Well, you didn't expect a screenshot of Richard Burton, did you? It's really worth reading the Critical Reception section in the Wiki page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exorcist_II:_The_Heretic just for a bloody good laugh. Interestingly, both Pauline Kael and Marty Scorsese liked it - but let's just say they're in a distinct minority. Widely considered to be one of the worst movies ever made (read Mark Kermode's scathing comparison with the Friedkin original, oof), it has, nevertheless, a smattering of that so-bad-it's-rather-good fascination. A bit like a vintage Troma. Boorman probably deserves most of the blame - it's so hard to imagine this was the bloke who made Point Blank and Deliverance - but then again he fell ill during the shooting, probably in self-defence, and in any case never wanted to do it in the first place (but whatever happened to Nancy Reagan's good old "Just Say No"?). The script is utterly preposterous, the sets even worse (Ethiopia? man, even Ed Wood could have made it look better than this), and Morricone's music gloriously and ridiculously inappropriate. But you have to admit grudging admiration for Burton for keeping a straight face throughout - I assume that quadruple Bloody Mary breakfast he used to have helped him through the ordeal. Love it when he pops up in "Africa" looking remarkably like Roger Moore in the late 70s Bond films (I mean, remarkably). A reminder too, perhaps, that Indiana Jones was just four years down the road.