OLDIES!

Older films seen in 2021, continued from the 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 editions. Most of these are really quick comments - typically scribbled down in 10-15 minutes without benefit of notes - and any resulting wit or insight should be viewed as an accidental by-product. Slightly more thoughtful capsules may be found on the now-defunct old reviews page.

All films, both from this year and the 18 previous ones, can be accessed alphabetically. Most can be viewed ranked by rating as well, though I'm still not sure what that's all about.

[Addendum, February 2009: I've now stopped doing reviews of new movies, but I'll continue to update this page; however, this is purely for my own benefit - since I can't always remember when I watched an oldie, so it's handy being able to find them here - and I won't be going any deeper or writing any more than I used to (probably the opposite). I am not reinventing this as a classic-movie site, nor do I set myself up as an expert on oldies. Or anything, really...]


SOMETHING WILD (57) (Jack Garfein, 1961): Hard to pin down the relationship between its first and second halves; the obvious reading is that rape = kidnapping because it's about power, not sex - but then the guy wants sex too, which muddies the waters. The real subtext may be something outrageous, glimpsed in the early scene where our heroine takes the rush-hour subway the day after being violated and recoils from the touch of human bodies but also, perhaps, seems aroused by it - the tale of a virgin who discovers 'something wild' within herself, which might also explain the curiously masochistic ending. Trouble is, it's just that one scene (she's predictably withdrawn and traumatised after that) and Carroll Baker isn't quite the actress to sell the ambiguity; that's also the problem with the first half, a superb New York odyssey with a pungent working-class vibe except that Ms. Baker (who was also Mrs. Garfein) is a bit too decorous and popular-girl-ish to really grab the attention (she's very good, but it's the difference between Alicia Silverstone - whom she quite resembles - and the freakier Drew Barrymore), then the second half gets draggy and pointlessly gruelling. Still an ambitious undertaking, Garfein working with top people and cashing in a lot of chips (he never made another movie), trying for sophisticated psychodrama but falling short. Was it lighter cameras or easier permits that made NYC location shooting so relatively common, just eight years after THE LITTLE FUGITIVE?

AUGUST 1, 2021

GOD'S COUNTRY (64) (Louis Malle, 1985): "It felt good to be on the road again. Camera in hand, making friends..." Malle is a character in his own documentary, but not an oddball like Herzog; he's polite and supportive, giving people their space - though also slightly sneaky, taking advantage of his friendship with a young farmer to extract a confession of racism ("People just seem to - not get along with blacks around here") and exhibiting a certain condescension behind the scenes ("The town Dairy Queen is one of the few gastronomic rescoures of Glencoe," notes the snobby Frenchman). He digs deep when he finds a "free spirit" who's ready to talk, and indeed follows up with a startling salvo from an unhappy old man in a nursing home (Malle: "Where would you like to be?"; Old man: "In the graveyard") - but then immediately interviews someone from the home to provide balance, this being after all a film made for public television. No great revelations tbh, the small 80s town being homogeneous, rather monolithic, averse to change, though also a fine place to live if you fit in and/or keep your head down. Malle is political but not agenda-driven (which is refreshing), the town's Republicans don't blindly support Reagan (also refreshing) and the film is old-school observational without pretensions to hybrid (even more refreshing) - though the only slightly meta element, the return to Glencoe six years later, is too much of an afterthought to really deliver. Malle was apparently busy with other projects in the interim - but it feels like he also must've known the footage he'd obtained, though strong, needed something extra.

THE FURIES (74) (Anthony Mann, 1950): Hurtling music score by Franz Waxman (of all people), then a snappy whip-pan up to the sign - for a ranch called The Furies - that explains the title. Mann is such a sly visual stylist at this point - see e.g. the way he breaks up the greeting between the son (a minor character) and the father by having servants cross the frame just as they're shaking hands, like a big 'X' literally blocking out this relationship - and effortlessly shifts a gear to Gothic with the mirror-and-scissors shocker and the death of the saintly Mexican, the landscape turning lunar and baroque with silhouettes and crags of rock. The Freudian elements are almost too much, equine metaphors all over the place; the language is colourful in general, talk of folks who "ain't got bone enough" for this or that. "I've always worked my own leather, and I'll work it now," says our independent heroine - but kisses her dad on the lips and likes to scratch his old war wound, at least till he finds a new girlfriend to do it; the girlfriend - now a marked woman - gets a beautiful speech near the end, showing the film's sophistication, and even the slightly dated aspect of Stanwyck falling for a macho man makes sense, insofar as she's attracted to a man who treats her (hi dad!) like a little girl (meanwhile, the relationship with the saintly Mexican - shot in low-angles, to affirm his saintliness - remains platonic). Loads to unpack, and enjoy; Walter Huston is a bit too broad for my taste, but uncredited Arthur Hunnicutt adds to the fun.

JULY 1, 2021

THE HUMAN PYRAMID (55) (Jean Rouch, 1961): Not convinced for one second that this is improvised, sorry. (Though it may have been constructed via improv, Mike Leigh-style.) Also not convinced that it says very much about racism, indeed it only seems to recall its ostensible message at the very end, having spent most of the running time on the romantic rivalries between a bunch of overage high-school students (a flirty white girl is the cause of the trouble). Rouch's pretensions to be 'provoking' conflict are also unconvincing, the whole thing having the feel of a drama-school exercise - it's a bit of a mess, tbh - but the rather stilted goings-on have a certain ethnographic fascination, with useful detail of microaggressions in Abidjan: the black kids work harder - the spoiled colonial whites copy their homework, and treat life in Africa as a permanent vacation - and carry resentment over shop clerks disrespecting them with the familiar 'tu' form. Also of course idealistic (at least in theory), a heartening reminder when race has become so toxic.

RAPHAEL, OR THE LIBERTINE (57) (Michel Deville, 1971): Opening shot: heroine in a dimly lit room, her face in shadow - then the camera pulls back, the light changes and her face becomes visible, the theme of distance providing illumination being very apt for this tale of mutual amour fou. Raphael the libertine is obsessed with her virtue, hates himself for soiling it, she's obsessed by his lustful embrace, hates herself for giving in to it; both take revenge by self-destruction. A veiled, handsome drama that doesn't really work (despite my reverence for this director), the dynamic being simultaneously too obvious and a little vague; Deville misdirects slyly - e.g. the many portents of Death in the first few minutes, raising expectations of a 'Romeo & Juliet'-ish ending which is not quite what happens - but to what end, exactly? Also one of those films where a woman gets turned on by brutality, which I don't pretend to be shocked by but it still sticks out in this rarefied setting.

JUNE 1, 2021

VAMPIRES IN HAVANA (66) (Juan Padron, 1985): A vampire henchman likes to turn into a glowing orb of light, wtf is that about - and indeed he strikes a pose whenever he does it, hand on forehead like a prima donna, yet another of the many wtf incidentals. Some are wtf in a dodgy way, there's a joke we'd today call homophobic (though the presumed gay couple are berated as "Freudians", which is funny) and some unexpectedly nasty deaths, but the vibe is very cool - vampire hi-jinks with Cuban jazz and sexy bits - then the second half turns into a mad whirl with four different groups in pursuit of the same McGuffin. Animation is crude, eclectic, gleefully exaggerated, reminiscent of the kids' comics (and fumetti) of my youth, ranging from the button eyes and rounded features of our trumpet-playing hero to the squiggly lines of the permanently angry police chief ("Cuckolds!"). Sillier - and nuttier - than expected from a cult cartoon.

BORN TO DANCE (63) (Roy Del Ruth, 1936): A backstage musical from the early 30s made in the revue style (BIG BROADCAST, etc) of the mid-30s, basically using a skeletal plot on which to hang a parade of musical numbers and comedy skits; the freewheeling sensibility is intoxicating, but the script - it must be said - is not good, and Del Ruth also misses easy targets (random example: he cuts away to James Stewart with a black eye during the finale but doesn't also cut away to the promoter with a black eye, which would complete the joke). Also my first proper look at Eleanor Powell, whose high-energy dancing lacks a certain gracefulness - the finale is a bit interminable - and who also turns out to bear an unnerving resemblance to Keira Knightley (something about their overbite, and the coy way they smile/simper). Still much fun in the incidentals, the film frequently bursting into unexpected comedy routines with minor characters: a telephone operator launching into an impromptu zany monologue, a security guard turning into a wild-eyed orchestra conductor, a campy department-store employee showing off the honeymoon cottage with its pastel colours and flash of "the violent cerise", then getting into bed with Stewart to illustrate how roomy it is (Cole Porter's - mostly undistinguished - songs add to the cheerful homoeroticism, like the sailor who laments having to abandon a girl on "the Lido" after being summoned by the captain to "polish his pet torpedo"). Also a superfluous little girl (Shirley Temple was big in 1936), a snatch of pig Latin, a musical ode to a Pekingese named Cheeky, a single immortal song ('I've Got You Under My Skin') among the filler, plus a selection of whiskery old jokes: "I understand you were born in Brooklyn"; "Yes sir"; "What part?"; "All of me, sir".

VIRUS (68) (Kinji Fukasaku, 1980): The 'Italian flu' (an accidentally released bio-weapon) brings the world to its knees - though it has a 45% mortality rate, unlike our own little Covid. Clearly a bonus to be watching this eccentric, often risible disaster movie now, in May 2021 - but it's dark and intense in any case, with a fairly jaw-dropping twist in the tail. First hour is chilling in its familiar specifics, but humanity becomes near-extinct (piles of bodies burning on the streets of Tokyo, etc) and we're not even halfway through; way overlong, and some of it - like a couple of melodramatic deaths in the Oval Office - is indeed quite Bad Movie-ish, but those Oval Office scenes also include some of Fukasaku's dynamic framings and intricate group compositions (see also BATTLES WITHOUT HONOUR...), adding to the sense of baroque. Overall a startling, probably unforgettable film with a bunch of unexpected choices, from a sappy MOR song to some downright evil plotting (five-year-old Toby on his dead daddy's radio) to the deeply problematic - but boldly imagined - way the women scientists revert to being breeders as the species tries to survive (pity Olivia Hussey, stuck with watching from the sidelines as her man plays hero: "Oh God! Make him come back!"). Also, speaking of unexpected choices, Chuck Connors as an English submarine captain referring to people as "you chaps" (thankfully without even trying for an English accent)? Earth to casting director, that's ridiculous.

MAY 1, 2021

WHEELS ON MEALS (54) (Sammo Hung, 1984): Genius opening gag: Yuen Baio and Jackie Chan live in adjoining apartments, Yuen opens his door and knocks on Jackie's door to wake him up, then - with the two doors open - Jackie rubs the sleep out of his eyes, grabs his pants, starts to put them on - and, as he snaps the pants to straighten them, they go 'into' Yuen's apartment, closely followed by Jackie himself who steps across the (apparent) divide and exits by Yuen's door. The gruelling fight climax is also impressive, in between the jokes are random and mostly land with a thud tbh; Chan hasn't found (or been allowed to find) his persona yet, he's just the marginally more assertive of two goofballs. (Sammo Hung has the more distinctive character, but his ineptitude rubbed me the wrong way.) Wonder if it might be cultural factors, e.g. Cantonese being a rather strident language for verbal comedy, but some bits are funny - e.g. Jackie and Sammo splitting up and heading into different rooms, followed a few seconds later by Sammo sheepishly coming back out (his door led to a bathroom) - so probably not.

DROLE DE DRAME (66) (Marcel Carne, 1937): Farce, with almost every line a set-up for some future complication, but the plot is hilariously unlikely - people behave in ridiculous ways - so it's more like surreal burlesque, the mix including carnivorous plants, a serial killer and an attempted lynching; Carne doesn't really enfold the darkness very well, but maybe it didn't need to be enfolded (or justified) in those dark pre-war times. A hypocrite bishop, an imaginative milkman, a meek horticulturalist, a lovelorn psycho, lines and motifs (the name 'Daisy') repeated for no reason, just to create a sense of absurd recursion. Clearly a film to cherish, though the first half in particular is rather fusty; Louis Jouvet's saturnine air as he upbraids distracted cousin Michel Simon for not having asked after his wife and children is comedy gold, however.

JONAH WHO WILL BE 25 IN THE YEAR 2000 (75) (Alain Tanner, 1976): A history prof talks about "holes in Time", Time hanging in folds like a sine wave (or a length of sausage, in the film's very Swiss analogy) so that different points align across the decades (if you made holes in the sausage, you could drive a skewer through them), thus e.g. Diderot didn't make sense till Freud came along much later - and it may be that 1976 aligns with 2021 too. Capitalism is falling apart, so we're told, a Green eco-movement is rising, "politics is finished" (all the characters are living with the hangover of 1968); "Crises don't just happen, they're linked to the structure and function of capitalism. They can be provoked and manufactured... like the governments of capitalist countries are now doing to purge the system, eliminate the weak, and concentrate more power among the strong". (Also appreciated the playful exchange between a radical couple in a car, at the dawn of the age of regulation: "You're not wearing your seat belt"; "Neither are you - and besides, you're smoking." "Is it forbidden?" "No. But next year it will be." "And the year after?" "The year after, you won't be allowed to listen to music in the car." "And after that?" "No more talking in the car." "And after that?" "No more dreaming.") "People have no mystery," claims the organic farmer, who prefers animals - but in fact they have their secret desires (which appear in b&w interludes) and they also, unlike animals, have a sense of time passing, and a sense of their own inadequacy; the embittered activist, haunted by failure, fantasises about shooting his reflection - then turns his gun on an alarm clock - one woman takes refuge in having babies ("I want to be filled"), an old man lives with memories of WWII and driving trains, forever trying to reach the point where the rails converge. Literate, lightly absurd, visually crunchy but elegant, with a final poetic flourish: our heroes reduced to daubs of paint on a wall, and Jonah - the next generation - scribbling obliviously over them.

DUELLE (61) (Jacques Rivette, 1976): Intrigues with a supernatural tinge, convoluted but weightless. Beautiful texture and design elements, audiences were lucky indeed in the mid-70s to keep encountering the rich, burnished colours in this or Fassbinder. (Celluloid helped, incl. I guess the film stock? Films didn't look like this 10 years later.) Elaborate dolly shots - e.g. when Lucie finds the corpse - small irruptions used for punctuation, a constant choreography and emphasis on music and dance. Two sequences are actually conceived as ballets, pas de deux, while piano (sometimes an actual pianist!) keeps appearing. Money and power are frequent themes but Rivette's conceits are theatrical, e.g. a goddess departing by taking two quick steps back into darkness - the stage equivalent of the special effect where she'd disappear in a puff of smoke. A film I'd surely enjoy on a packed day at a festival (will they ever come back?), but - as implied by that rather chilly catalogue of Cool Stuff - there's just too much stress and uncertainty in the world right now to allow any real connection to something so airless and artificial; I desperately crave human interest, if only to remind myself of being human. In that vein, props to Hermine Karagheuz, whose rather tentative performance brings a productively ill-at-ease quality missing in the rest of it.

IT HAPPENED TOMORROW (68) (Rene Clair, 1944): Capra apparently owned the rights for a while - and this is tonally very ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, indeed Dick Powell has an extremely Cary Grant moment where he's sitting on the floor in the midst of pandemonium, politely going "How do you do?" to someone as they cower beside him. He's resigned to dying at that point, fatalism about death being a reminder it was made during wartime ("Nobody believes in miracles nowadays") - but it's actually farce, despite the fantasy premise, cheerfully slapdash in a 'Let's have some random dude turn up and steal the money' way, not to mention the tortuous (but enjoyable) contrivances it sets up so that things can happen as foretold. Clair brings his gift for escalating pace from LE MILLION, while the reassuring prologue (an odd but effective device) means the tension never curdles the comedy; partly based on "ideas by Lewis R. Foster", who presumably was quite the ideas man.

THE CROSS OF LORRAINE (72) (Tay Garnett, 1943): Second viewing, first in many years. Peter Lorre gets stabbed in the carotid artery (blood gushes out, shockingly), the language is crude by old-Hollywood standards - "Go shove a swastika down your throat and spin it" - we end on a village uprising to match the ordinary-folks-killing-Nazis massacre in WENT THE DAY WELL?, earlier there's a rather glorious moment when it looks like a Nazi officer has a taste for ladies' underwear (he's actually thinking of his wife, a well-endowed woman). WW2 propaganda as comic-book sadism, probably not as elegant as HANGMEN ALSO DIE (which I haven't seen) but redeemed by obvious topicality and strong performances (even Gene Kelly is restrained). "There is also a good deal of shock and brutality, for which Mr. Garnett seems to have a special talent" - James Agee.

SHOZO, A CAT AND TWO WOMEN (71) (Shiro Toyoda, 1956): Shozo is lazy, "unreliable, like a cat", very much a leg man when it comes to women. He's torn between two of them, though his main affection is reserved for his cat (their relationship is "almost sexual") - and this often-broad comedy feels unusual for its time, more like the Japanese movies being made a decade later, treating Ozu-type domestic comedy in the emerging Sun Tribe style. There's a beach, a line of girls half-buried in the sand with their legs waggling, a new Japan of sassy young things yelling "Bye-bye!" in American - though also the old Japan of a suffering woman trying to find employment as a maid, or mistress, complaining that "men squeeze us dry", the cat weaponized in the two women's intrigues against each other. Toyoda treats them both in a balanced way, the spoiled rich girl also allowed to be sympathetic (casting Kyoko Kagawa against type helps) just as the oppressed first wife is also shown to be bitter and malicious - and of course Shozo is completely unworthy (that's the joke), a male protagonist one would never see in American films of the period, weak, immature (he even talks about his farts!) and, it's implied, only good for sex. Rather overlong, maybe something of an un-serious project; terrific wry sensibility, though. "Unlike humans, cats don't get overly emotional."

APRIL 1, 2021

SHOCK TREATMENT (43) (Jim Sharman, 1981): Seen before, though I had to check my logs to even recall it. ("That might help, yes" was the entirety of my review as a not-very-funny 13-year-old.) Strident and shambolic, a bad combination, coasting on a kitschy combo of bright colours, wink-wink jokes and songs with titles like "Look What I Did to My Id". In our small town "You'll find happy hearts and smiling faces / And tolerance for the ethnic races," sings a blonde Aryan princess - but the satire of white-picket-fence America was tired even then, and the vibe can only be described as Self-Loathing Gay given gratuitous moments like the conclusion of the dad's song: "Faggots / Are maggots! / Thank God I'm a man". Nothing as catchy as 'Time Warp or 'Dammit Janet' in ROCKY HORROR, then again I'm not huge on that film either - and hearing Barry Humphries mangle the word "pussyfooting" mit Cherman accent is surely something.

1963 REVISITED, second complete viewings after approx. 30 years:

BROKEN ARROW (53) (Delmer Daves, 1950): Quite enjoyed GREEN BOOK, but watching this well-intentioned Western helps explain why some people loathe it (though they mostly admire this one as a classic): given what the US government did to 'Indians', it seems almost in bad taste to tell the one story that promoted racial harmony and ended halfway-peacefully - even with mea culpas about the whites breaking treaties, and a focus on extremists on both sides trying to wreck the peace. "I learned things that day..." reflects the voice-over, and the film's didactic thrust is unmistakable, James Stewart learning much about the Indians who in turn call him 'Tall One' ("It is good to understand the ways of others"); historically valuable, a link between the old-school Western and the new post-war revisionism, paving the way for THE SEARCHERS et al, also of course a metaphor for racial minorities in 50s America - though also a glimpse of where Stewart might've ended up without Anthony Mann, the war-hardened actor clearly up for a change of persona but the film lacking Mann's scalpel touch on human behaviour. Noble Savage factor off the charts (though Cochise is admittedly more shrewd than savage), visually more about handsome landscapes than e.g. lucid geography when the Indians attack (not even sure what happened to the men hidden in the wagons, unless I missed something), the appeal to good Christian values understandable but rather hypocritical; Stewart's limp romance with the distractingly younger Debra Paget also a weakness, though it does allow for an earnest plea on the difficulties faced by interracial couples. It's that kind of movie.

BACK STREET (71) (John M. Stahl, 1932): Might be underrating, since it did indeed wreck me, but there seems to be an unresolved tension between how spectacularly unworthy the man is, a neglectful lover and giant narcissist (our heroine laments how empty her life is - having given up a good career to become a kept woman sitting around at his beck and call - and he sounds surprised: "Empty? When you have me?"), and the way the story nonetheless ends up painting their relationship as a grand romance, the final act making clear that he does indeed love her. Love is toxic here, an amour fou sweeping up all rational arguments - "I love you, Ray!" he declares after she's tried to make her case; "Oh..." she responds in a small voice, defeated, and we fade to black - and it's unclear if the film is hamstrung by being a 'woman's picture' forced into romance or, alternatively, aware of the tension and changing the guy in the final act as a pointedly pointless gesture when it's too late to be any help. The passage of time haunts even the early scenes (Jane Darwell griping about changing times), time - being a few minutes late - undoes the heroine, and time ultimately lends the film its pathos, the passing of the years exposing both the foolishness of love and its resilience; the script is sharp, very aware of money (the son's honest surprise at how cheaply her services came is a great moment, salt in the wound but also a kind of vindication), Stahl's direction similarly stark and unsentimental (*), the ending both high-flown and hopeless. Dated, and emotionally devastating.

(*) To quote Dan Sallitt, a master at describing directorial style (from his notes, reproduced without permission; hope it's okay): "From the beginning, total formal control, with icy tracking shots and closeups, scene transitions suspended in the emptiness of the last completed gesture, crowds, weather, everything one associates with mature Stahl".

SKIP TRACER (65) (Zale Dalen, 1977): The cops can't solve the case when our hero gets stabbed: "Seems there are too many suspects," he explains drily. He is indeed quite unpopular, a hard-nosed debt collector and ice-cold loner with a permanent sneer - and this Canadian indie is suitably bleak, though also with some unexpected nuance like e.g. the moment when, alone in the bathroom, he cheekily sticks his tongue out at his reflection in the mirror. (Just because he hates people doesn't mean he has no sense of humour.) Kind of BAD LIEUTENANT-ish as a close study of a bad man falling apart in the space of a few days - with intimations that his life is in danger - but none of Ferrara's excess and decadence, just a case of low-key action, evocative flatness and nondescript locations that don't even rise to seediness. Sign behind the counter in a diner where a hard-faced waitress brings a cup of coffee: "We Positively Do Not Cash Cheques".

ROAR (59) (Noel Marshall, 1981): Love the opening caption: "It is with great pride that we display the seal of the American Humane Association. Although some scenes appear to show animals being injured, they were never actually hurt". No wild animals were hurt, yay - never mind the 70+ cast and crew members who got mauled by the lions! (You kind of wonder, if an AHA representative was actually on set, why they didn't report something.) Not exactly a so-bad-it's-good movie (actually quite impressive technically) but it has the lack of self-awareness endemic to all such movies, playing as animal horror - with a conscious nod to Tippi Hedren's most famous role, viz. THE BIRDS - while also trying to be a kind of Disney wilderness adventure, with cute details (a lion on a skateboard) and comical reactions to people being nearly killed by the beasts ("Hey, what are you doin' on the floor?") - and of course it's also confused in that the lions aren't actually malicious, "just playing" as our hero keeps saying (human beings are the true villains); it has the Bad Movie hallmark of breezily, confidently setting out to do one thing while actually doing another. Probably most productively seen as a reflection of the back-to-Nature hippy dream, and of course its curdling in the film's turn to horror and the real-life horror of its production (Marshall apparently took years to recover from the injuries he sustained; he and Hedren divorced in 1982), the overall impression being of flower-child good intentions in denial at the unravelling reality around them; there's a give-peace-a-chance song at the end, and an amusing inadvertent note of hep-talk when our hero describes one of the lions as "the nicest cat in the world".

HAPPINESS AVENUE (63) (Hirano Katsuyuki, 1986): Notable mainly for scrawny, 24-year-old Sion Sono in a supporting role, also for the contrast between the unabashed nihilism of 80s alternative Japanese cinema and its 60s equivalent, which was pessimistic about the world but implicitly optimistic about Cinema's capacity to change things (in between, of course, came Terayama, Wakamatsu, Masao Adachi, etc etc). We open with black-clad nationalists lamenting that Japan has become a "defeated nation", not unlike the mood in early-60s Imamura and Oshima - but then we cut to a young couple skipping down the street singing a silly children's rhyme and in fact the nationalists are never seen again, the general mood exemplified by one character's line: "Whatever it is that's happening, I don't care". Larky anarchy is off the charts, indeed too much for a while - manic misfits tear down the street and the camera hurtles with them, a TV presenter is groped, people beat each other up, our hero approaches a campy LGBT couple earnestly begging: "Can you teach me how to become a gay?" - but the camera settles down and there's a moment of fuzzy 8mm beauty around the 25-minute mark, a girl touched by a violet lens flare as she sits in the hazy light, then later an idyllic interlude swimming in a lake in near-total darkness. (Wouldn't surprise me to learn that Eduardo Williams had drawn on this for THE HUMAN SURGE; the arc is similar.) Still chaotic, of course, a film that doles out its pleasures casually, if at all. We end in fireworks, madness, the neighbours coming out - the only real glimpse of the bourgeois world outside the bubble - to see what the commotion is. "She's such a nuisance." "What is it?" "I'm not sure... She seems young..."

MARCH 1, 2021

THE GARDEN (57) (Derek Jarman, 1990): "I walk in this garden holding the hands of dead friends." Jarman's AIDS lament is often lovely in a blotchy, DIY way (lots of back-projection) and increasingly camp, from a rendition of 'Think Pink' to pantomime scenes of homosexuals being tormented by hammy baddies. Writing this a week later and it's mostly evaporated, though I recall Tilda Swinton crawling on all fours, religious imagery - the title invokes both Eden and Gethsemane - a certain self-interrogation about the media's own complicity (paparazzi are glimpsed; the camera itself is attacked at one point) and a male couple standing on a beach cradling a baby, decades before gay adoption. Very of-its-time, visually striking; mostly a curio, though.

THE IN-LAWS (66) (Arthur Hiller, 1979): Second viewing, first in decades. I only recalled the broad outlines - and was not prepared for 'Signor Pepe', a very Andrew Bergman touch, anticipating the Komodo dragon in THE FRESHMAN and skydiving Elvises in HONEYMOON IN VEGAS, but way more hilarious than either. Then again, the inspired Richard Libertini scenes come directly after a rather ragged, generic car chase, so the film is patchy; fully understand why it's a cult item, though. Peter Falk is a little one-note, Alan Arkin gloriously repressed as the ostensible straight man; his beady-eyed annoyance at the dinner table - seeming to flinch at every new mention of gigantic tsetse flies - is something.

FEBRUARY 1, 2021

THE SUN'S BURIAL (71) (Nagisa Oshima, 1960): Ragged structure hurt THE KAISER'S LACKEY (another post-war missive from a defeated nation) a couple of weeks ago, but in this case (a) the fragments are infused with bravura style, and (b) they echo the ragged collapse - and incoherent anger - of a broken and humiliated country, haunted by past horrors and new fears of war. Sex and violence are conflated, violence breeds violence "like a spinning top" as one gangster ruefully puts it (they have to keep killing, just to keep going), dead bodies are looted for valuables, cynical cruelty is everywhere. "All because his girl was raped?" scoffs the heroine, speaking of a boy who killed himself after that incident; "Idiots like him are better off dead". Oshima anticipates Fukasaku and the yakuza films of the 70s - but also adds ethereal classical-guitar music (*), brick-and-brown colours, and a stunning erotic passage at sunset in the shadow of a construction site. (Plus there's also something of the old Japan, gangster violence side-by-side with the gossipy life of the neighbourhood, like in Ozu.) "There's no hope for Japan nowadays," says an old man - then tries to peek between his daughter's legs. Need to watch NIGHT AND FOG IN JAPAN next.

(*) Which may have been a convention in Japanese prestige dramas of the period; I've now heard something similar in Kinoshita's SHE WAS LIKE A WILD CHRYSANTHEMUM.

EL (72) (Luis Bunuel, 1953): A bleak joke: the patriarch (see title), the respected man, the Mexican caballero, the friend of the Church, the landowner - or fallen landowner; he spends the film trying to get 'his' land back - as a foot fetishist, a middle-aged virgin, an obsessively jealous tyrant, finally a madman. Structurally ingenious in the way it shifts identification from Francisco to Gloria, through the device of having her tell her story in flashback (the middle section starts to resemble GASLIGHT), then back to him again; tonally also ingenious, Bunuel pulling no punches yet also finding comedy in the man's disintegration (Kubrick may have had this at the back of his mind for Jack Torrance, another patriarch who goes cartoonishly nuts) and touching briefly on the wife's enabling masochism. Also that opening scene is stunningly staged - fluid camera moves (and shots of feet!) equating the priest's quasi-lascivious devotion with Francisco's own - for a director not really known as a formalist.

DARK OF THE SUN (62) (Jack Cardiff, 1968): Any film that includes the line "What exactly is this mission, sir?" is prime old-Hollywood hokum - but this is surprisingly jagged and jarring, with a lot of bold ideas that don't work and a few incidentals that startle (e.g. pointing out Western complicity in African wars); way more violent than expected, too. The team includes an actual Nazi, plus Jim Brown as an unlikely African and 60s variation on the Magical Negro ("How come you don't hate whites?"; "Because I'm good"); the great Jacques Loussier score - borrowed by QT for BASTERDS - goes from jabbing excitement to catchy swoon, as striking and messy as the rest of it; the final act adds a moral component, early scenes include a shifty capitalist doing a Sydney Greenstreet impression. There's a chainsaw fight, a suggestion of sodomy, and LION KING kids will cry at the terrifying savages being called the 'Simbas'. A good time, despite everything.

THE STOLEN CHILDREN (81) (Gianni Amelio, 1992): Second viewing, first in 25 years. Any film that unites Dan Sallitt and Dale Thomajan is bound to be strong, but I'd forgotten how strong. One might say it's too genteel (the kids don't really seem traumatised), and I wasn't really on board till about halfway through - but the careful, reticent staging starts with reaction shots (the kids are very expressive), tiny moments and a neo-realist interest in quotidian faces and places, moves into idyll with the addition of beach and pop music, then adds a sledgehammer coda. As perfectly controlled as any film I know, really.

THE KAISER'S LACKEY (60) (Wolfgang Staudte, 1951): Historical value clearly off the charts: an East German comedy condemning German nationalism (at one point, nationalist slogans are literally printed on toilet paper) and standing up for workers' rights and social democracy - six years after the war. Also notable for a blend of swooping, dollying camera moves - a shot through an open window and out into the street, that kind of thing - and fleshy, bombastic Werner Peters as the buffoonish hero, a coward, a drunkard, a sneak, a born lackey, a tyrant with his workers but cripplingly afraid of all authority; he's a memorable comic creation, crypto-fascist burgher personified, but the film seems to be a poor job of adaptation (the source is a hefty Heinrich Mann novel), lacking connective tissue so e.g. Peters is in love with a girl one minute and has abandoned her the next (it's explained, but was surely explained more lucidly in the novel). Momentum is lost, narrative lurches, set-pieces - like a rowdy bit of courtroom comedy - lack foundation; mostly just a bunch of bewhiskered Teutons toasting the Kaiser and scheming for power, which is fun admittedly.

JANUARY 1, 2021