Saturday, December 07, 2019

A Woman of Tokyo


Apple on the Mantle


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A new iteration of a diseased world has wafted up and come to choke, pervasive since the last time this Ozu picture was screened with any real sincerity.

Tonight [Friday, November 8th, 2019, Echo Park Film Center in Los Angeles] Andy Rector has grasped the horns of the California day’s last steers, with the prospect of Renoir’s picture in mind to follow: we will experience beautiful animals pleading emergency. On our minds, the safe word remains: “Evacuate.” — For the world is burning, and we’re internalizing now bestial shrieks, are absorbing them deep, and a chance few hear sounding from the wreck: "Come to the theater for respite and relief..."

So shameful to be us, crying when the night is like a dawn menacing soft on the horizon. The irony of orange in Los Angeles County. Cinephiles, where do associations lead? An autumn shell on the horizon, East Coast connotations, but substantial heat, smoke in the high winds. Landowners elsewhere, envious, postulate nothing political per se in the burning of the planet, and yet, at this moment is that not all there is? Are these fires not, species-wide, our spectacular concern?

ASSOCIATIONS

A Woman of Tokyo [Tōkyō no onna, 1933] allocates its characters by a kind of human chain — taken in another sense, as illustrative elements of human bondage. A disturbance in one individual reverberates over to and within the others. (The undulations of a suspension bridge; the flail of prey in a web.) The title woman of Tokyo, Chikako (Yoshiko Okada), represents the center median, or medium in the sense of a substance through which emotion and judgment move in waves. She provides the context for the moral relativism that defines the attitudes of the characters. When Ozu proclaims in 1933 by title alone, that there is “A Woman of Tokyo” (“Tōkyō no onna”) — well, it’s comically inarguable. Considered more deeply, who dares to dismiss this? She is not merely a “woman in Tokyo,” she is “one of Tokyo’s women,” “a woman belonging to Tokyo” — a fateful figure. Adjacent to the vagueness, the quality of the everywoman/cipher, lies a specificity that comes perilously close to turning the phrase into a metropolitan euphemism. More broadly: Chikako is the Tokyo archetype of one who does what one must to get by in the big city.

She is at once the inscrutable and the presently apprehensible—an apple taken from a mantle. The upset of Chikako’s brother Ryōichi (Ureo Egawa) over the discovery of her moonlighting as a prostitute constitutes a split in the bond between siblings, a disruption of the expectations which one held for the other. What began as a pair soon becomes redefined as halves. (That apple on the mantle will reveal still more dimensionality [still-life, la nature morte] in the conclusion to Ozu’s 1949 Late Spring [Banshun].)

Other pairs in A Woman of Tokyo:

• Harue (Kinuyo Tanaka) and her older brother, a keisatsu (police-officer) referred to only by his surname, Kinoshita (Shinyo Nara) — here, the latter assumes the role of caretaker for the former, a reversal of the dynamic between Chikako and Ryōichi

• Kinoshita and an investigating officer from his bureau

• Two reporters working for rival papers

• A personnel manager and a clerk at Chikako’s place of employment

• The 47-minute 1933 Yasujirō Ozu film A Woman of Tokyo and the 2 minute 21 second Ernst Lubitsch short from the 1932 Paramount omnibus If I Had a Million, titled The Clerk

Ozu’s remarkable intertwining of the Lubitsch segment with his own film not only pays homage to Lubitsch and the Hollywood studio-system (and to his beloved Gary Cooper, visible on the back cover of the theatrical program for If I Had a Million, in which he stars in William A. Seiter’s sketch), but also echoes the structure of A Woman of Tokyo: like Woman’s seemingly curtailed ending, Ozu withholds the final punchline scene from the Lubitsch. There, after opening the random million-dollar cheque, Charles Laughton marches through a series of office doors belonging to his firm’s senior bureaucracy and, finally confronting the chief of the company, blows a raspberry his way. In Ozu, this has been excised. (But will be evoked time and again by the director through the series of children in his other films who stick their tongues out in defiance of stoic, unbudging parents.) The openness of A Woman of Tokyo results at least in part by its diminishment. As Andy writes in his own program for the screening, "The film is silent, seemingly by choice rather than technology, as if to say: the situation depicted is unspeakable." (And, I might add, also unraspberriable.) "We’ve found no explanation for the film’s odd length of 47 minutes — no industrial, or exhibition-related explanation. Perhaps the length is wholly the result of the story and the arrested way of its telling. A shorter film for the lives of the ruined or cut short; tragedy becomes brevity, and brevity becomes tragedy." In the curtailed structure, in the plain and complicated title of A Woman of Tokyo, a terrible universality is born.

A dialectical film, then, one in which people enter rooms and the first reaction before inevitable recognition is: Who are you? or: Why are you here?. Pairs, splits, — and mirrors which, paradoxically, in A Woman of Tokyo, estrange. Objectivity encounters disbelief, a sussing-out of what could or could not be true. “Tell it slant,” goes Dickinson’s phrase, now commodified as the tagline for an eponymous Apple show; the policy is characteristic of Ozu’s work, but perhaps never has the ellipsis functioned so powerfully in his films as the scene in which Chikako stares before the mirror and, as in Kiarostami’s Certified Copy (Copie conforme, 2010), the “divide” (in the senses of “split,” and of “distance”) becomes implicit. As such the scene might be said to stand as the locus, as in Cocteau or Bergman, of an irremediable trauma. And whereas in later films Ozu characters will have, literally and figuratively, built up a front, as suggested by the director’s framing en face, in A Woman of Tokyo they are presented obliquely: torsos directed to left or right frame, heads turned, at times we might say twisted, toward the camera. (This posture, in fact, recurs among the characters of many Ozus from this period, but to examine the practice requires a scope beyond the present text.)

The movie ends shortly after the mercenary reporters drop in on Chikako and Harue to scavenge details about Ryōichi. “There’s no big scoop here,” smirks one to the other. Soon images, objects, come spiraling back, imbued with a new absence of life, their inanimation now underscored. The film moves outside, the camera abandons the reporters, and a tracking shot fixed on the rubbish-strewn sidewalk begins to roll. Of this moment Andy observes that it “seems to draw a hyphen rather than a period on the story. A hyphen to life outside the film and the movie theater.”

How many tragedies will it take to change the world?

Originally published at Kino Slang, Andy Rector's blog. Details on the program for that night are also available there, here.

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Pieces on Yasujirō Ozu at Cinemasparagus:

A Straightforward Brat [1929]

Friends Fighting Japanese-Style [1929]

Tokyo Chorus [1931]

A Picture-Book for Grown-Ups: I Was Born, But... [1932]

Where Have the Dreams of Youth All Gone? [1932]

A Woman of Tokyo [1933]

Passing Fancy [1933]

A Tale of Floating Weeds [1934]

Kagamijishi [1936]

The Only Son [1936]

There Was a Father [1942]

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

Knives Out


It's the Only Way You'll Know I'm Telling the Truth


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One of the best 2010s American films. It's not a pastiche of Agatha Christie any more than, say, Bend of the River [Anthony Mann, 1952] is a pastiche of Western Union [Fritz Lang, 1941]. It does, however, rejuvenate the whodunnit in a manner akin to Ford's Stagecoach's [1939] modernization and modulation on the western. A cross-class group portrait, a social allegory of American heritage (both in the sense of "inheritance" and "the ancestral"), which brings to mind the families Trump, Murdoch, etc...

Rian Johnson wanders the house, or the house wanders the movie. It's one of the first mystery pictures in which the production design does not serve merely as a backdrop scrim of 'atmospheric touch.' Johnson doesn't dwell on the house as wealth-porn nor aspirational fetish; just as we are at the brim of projecting our own desires, our property envy, the film shifts to a lower-middle class milieu.

Final thoughts for now:
- The script and plotting are ingenious. I think RJ said it's a screenplay he'd been working on for seven years. There are no plot-holes or details unaccounted for.
- It's very funny.
- Maybe most movingly, Knives Out and Rian Johnson are earnest enough to imagine the idea of the pure Heroine (cf. Austen, et al) in a 2019 setting.

Very possibly a masterpiece.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Poemquotes 13 - "III. Elevation" by Charles Baudelaire



my translation

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III. Elevation - The Flowers of Evil
[III. Élévation] [Les fleurs du mal]

Above the ponds, above the valleys,
The mountains, the woods, the clouds, the seas,
On the other side of the sun, on the other side of the ethers,
On the other side of the far reaches of the starry spheres,

My spirit, you move with agility,
And, like a fine swimmer fainting in the flow,
You gaily traverse the deep immensity
With an unspeakable and manly delight.

Take flight far off from these morbid miasmas;
Go purify yourself in the superior air,
And drink, like a pure and divine liquor,
The clear light filling limpid spaces.

Behind the troubles and the vast sorrows
That encumber hazy existence with their load,
Happy the one who is able with vigorous wing
To set off toward the luminous and serene fields;

The one whose thinkings, like skylarks,
Take one free flight toward the heavens at morning,
— Gliding over life, and effortlessly comprehending
The language of flowers and silent things!

====

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Thunder Bay


Jimmy Has Green Eyes


(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino Blu-ray.)

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As in quite a few of Anthony Mann's pictures, Thunder Bay [1953] involves building a basis for new opportunity and wealth. Here, Jimmy Stewart and Dan Duryea have fixed upon a Louisiana location where oil's projected for the construction of a rig and for their — and the town's — enrichment. It's 1946, Thunder Bay by name, Thunder Bay by Stewart's dynamiting the waters and inadvertently killing off a native economic staple of the town in the native shrimp population.

Every fiction involving a boat introduces pain-in-the-ass malfunctioning, the heroes' skill at jerry-rigging a fix, and at least two cantina fights. Often in the American cinema an observer as Melville's figures, rather the point-of-view comes straight from those whom immediately will suffer from the market indignities.

When they find the oil the white-bearded bastard turns his daughter over to Dan Duryea in a suit from a Burberry outlet-store.

Thunder Bay through its exaggerated tone and Stewart's dirty white fedora subverts the American ideal of economic progress through sheer industriousness. Stewart wins Joanne Dru before driving off in the end credits.

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Pieces on Anthony Mann at Cinemasparagus:

T-Men [1947]

Corkscrew Alley / Raw Deal [1948]

Bend of the River [1952]

Thunder Bay [1953]


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Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Bend of the River


Hidden Violence



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino Blu-ray.)

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Shares a plot-arc kick-off with Lang's Western Union from eleven years earlier.

The sympathetic/empathic relationship between Stewart and Kennedy: Kennedy about to be hanged; Stewart rubs his neckerchief. Kennedy chucks a knife into the back of a Shoshone warrior; Stewart has his turn doing the same moments later. They're two men with hidden pasts. Their semblances don't re-match until near the end. Kennedy takes over the caravan to redirect the food supply to the gold camp rather than the settlement, and proves himself just as much a hard-driver as Stewart, in a sequence whose shots Mann frames similarly. Before the two collide in battle in a sun-dappled river, and Stewart alone survives: his own neckerchief's disposed in the aftermath, his own hanging scar revealed for the first time "since [he was] a raider on the Missouri-Kansas border."

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Pieces on Anthony Mann at Cinemasparagus:

T-Men [1947]

Corkscrew Alley / Raw Deal [1948]

Bend of the River [1952]

Thunder Bay [1953]


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Friday, August 16, 2019

Corkscrew Alley / Raw Deal


Why Not Just Die?



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Criterion Channel.)

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Raymond Burr in silk lives on Jane Street, some stretch known as Corkscrew Alley, according to a street sign fastened to a lamppost. I deleted what I wrote originally here after I realized we weren't talking about the same Jane Street.

A jailbreak on-the-lamb picture, this 1948 Corkscrew Alley (Mann's or the screenwriters' intended title, I can't remember), more 'traditionally' noir in its scenario and set-up than the previous year's T-Men, but slightly more vital too: the dated quaintness of the counterfeit epidemic has been abandoned for the universal requisite of freedom, despite all prison sentence odds, and breaths of fresh air in the ostensibly 'free world,' that is, 'Corkscrew Alley.'

Violence between Mann in 1948 and more recent movies: here the energy-to-burst is tangible, O'Keefe nearly busts his aggressor John Ireland's eye on the taxidermied horn of a buck. This sequence veiled in netting progresses and everyone lives but Mann takes up the motif across Claire Trevor's literally fishnet-veiled face: one of these abrupt close-ups from outer-space (beyond the camera line) which adamantize the abstract and force the public to react. Take the phone in the foreground jutting like it's lost; anticipating the ring that will jostle Trevor and O'Keefe beyond... and it does, a mise-en-scène anticipating an action cause.

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Pieces on Anthony Mann at Cinemasparagus:

T-Men [1947]

Corkscrew Alley / Raw Deal [1948]

Bend of the River [1952]

Thunder Bay [1953]


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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

T-Men


Super Mr. T(ony Mann)



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For me the most impressive aspect of Mann's 1947 T-Men is the infiltration conceit, whereby Dennis O'Keefe and Alfred Ryder purport to have run with a since-dismantled outfit in order to gain access to a Los Angeles counterfeiting ring and make a deal involving engraving plates. Both men adopt thug-personae they don't dare to shed even in the face of mortal danger, a willing adoption of Stockholm syndrome that will ultimately blow up in both their bellies.

The film is intercut with creaky old-school "documentary" propaganda warning the audience of the dangers of counterfeiting, more than hinting that the almighty Treasury Department loses no battles. Jammed into one scene, a T-agent rebukes a cashier who's unwittingly received a fake bill: something along the line of, "If only more people took a moment to examine their money..." Sigh.

John Alton's cinematography's all angular ink but registers mostly as atmospherics and the 'labyrinth of moral confusion' trope.

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Pieces on Anthony Mann at Cinemasparagus:

T-Men [1947]

Corkscrew Alley / Raw Deal [1948]

Bend of the River [1952]

Thunder Bay [1953]

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Sunday, August 11, 2019

The Long Goodbye


An Altman Peak



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino Blu-ray.)

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With 1973's The Long Goodbye Robert Altman obviously achieves perfection. It's as accidental and as circumstantial as the successful ignition of a match off any available surface.

The film consists of a series of short films, one-act plays, all sharing some throughline about one Terry Lennox's suspected murder; and then there's an ending that exudes a purest Cannon Films scene avant la lettre.

The Long Goodbye contains two of Altman's wildest, most brilliant sequences:

(1) Sterling Hayden as Sterling Hayden, in his golden period where he'd had enough of everything, right on the heels of The Godfather and ten years before the release of Wolf-Eckart Bühler and Manfred Blank's documentary Hayden portrait Pharos of Chaos. The most insipid, Hayden-indulgent grandstand captured on film à la Maidstone, and every second is marvelous. Altman lets it keep going, keep going... I thank him for this. Less is not always more, because most of the time more is. (,morons.)

(2) The Doberman biting, yipping, running growling confused at the beachfront as Marlowe pulls Mrs. Wade reluctantly to shore. An abstraction, like justice, that can not be reasonably codified nor critically decoded.

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Thursday, August 01, 2019

Daisy Kenyon


A Workout at 40



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino Blu-ray.)

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For a long time I didn't think this film was worth watching again. It is duh. That was just talk.

Now that said, I don't know whom this movie was made for, besides every liberal American household. I'll tell a story. First, this is the tale of me and my best friend at Newport Beach. I'm Fonda and he's Andrews.

Next you've got a boring courtroom scene, made more boring because the topic at hand is divorce. No action; only glances; a little flitter-flutter of the hearts.

Do I have another story to tell? Nothing except that me and my buddy never respectively married, because, respectively and with all due respect, we never wanted to put up with the bullshit of the institution, and we're relatively glad now at 41. Had either of us been married, we wouldn't have gone to Newport acid; we wouldn't have been allowed the time to watch Otto Preminger's Daisy Kenyon nor simply to reflect on Newport and our crazy week.

At once I protest and endorse marriage. I protest and endorse this thing about children-having. But my loyalty would be to the woman I love, foremost, and not our (she nor I's) legal codification, and certainly not the slime-bucket of kids which is easily avoidable and whose future university is unaffordable as far as I see it for the movies I make and the jobs I take time off from. (Also unaffordable is when my children inevitably kill someone drunk-driving at 16 and it's a tragedy on the law-books, and their life is destroyed, and the collective family's is too above and maximally.)

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Sunday, July 28, 2019

Napoli Napoli Napoli



Ferrara at the End of the 2000s




(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino / Film Desk Blu-ray.)

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An inventive combination of documentary, fiction, meta-documentary... Portraitures of inmates in a Neapolitan women's prison, journalists, and community organizers; staged stories involving a local family (starring Abel's ex, Shanyn Leigh, as the daughter/sister) and a mafia arm wrapped up in contracting, ordered to carry out a hit; Abel and the crew roaming the alleys and projects, as the inmates of a men's prison recreate their daily routines.

Shot on circa-'09 prosumer HD, this is ethnology and sympathy, a cogent survey of the sub-communities that co-exist in Napoli x 3.

"People shouldn't worry so much about the corpse on the ground in a pool of blood. Because there are multiple deaths that happen before that: the deaths of young people's consciences; the destruction of their dreams."

A valedictory image of survivors: the Neapolitan incarcerated, the poor, the residents, and, tearing through Schoolly D's "King of New York" with full band under the end credits, Abel Ferrara himself at the end of the 2000s, on the cusp of a triumphant, sober, newly meaningful body of work.

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Saturday, July 27, 2019

Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble



The Windshield



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Kino / Film Desk Blu-ray.)

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Nous ne vieillrions pas ensemble [We Won't Grow Old Together, Maurice Pialat, 1972] is a grand masterpiece, constructed out of the plane of the screen/camera itself, like the windshield of Jean's little blue car, an extension of (and crutch for) himself. The 180-degree rule made anew as Jean and Catherine vacillate endlessly, the set (the framing of the set) set-off from the camera by a line of demarcation, exemplified most directly in the cuts to the 16mm handheld shots from Jean's camera at the street bazaar.

Nightmares in Pialat's film that often goes unremarked: The French predilection for the seashore, body-exposing and loud; and that couples of that epoch got married like they were taking out a short-term loan.

"There's a man who cries in Ordet, a film by Dreyer." "Why?" "His wife's dead." "Parting's like dying." "But [Catherine's] alive, that's even worse."

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Notes, information, and remarks by Pialat on the director's short films, which span in their entirety 1951-1966, can be found here.

Kent Jones's 2008 essay on
L'enfance-nue, and my translations of accompanying interviews with Pialat can be found at this blog here.

Emmanuel Burdeau's 2009 essay on
Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble, and my translations of accompanying interviews with Pialat can be found at this blog here.

Gabe Klinger's 2010 essay on
Sous le soleil de Satan, and my translation of a 1987 interview with Pialat, and a 2003 interview with Sandrine Bonnaire, can be found at this blog here.

Adrian Martin's 2009 essay on
La gueule ouverte, and my translation of remarks about the film, can be found at this blog here.

Dan Sallitt's 2008 essay on
Police (which he considers one of his favorite pieces of his own writing) has just been posted at his blog, here. A dossier of my translations of interviews with Pialat about the film has been posted here.

Dan's 2010 MoC essay on
À nos amours. has also been posted at his blog here. A visual I made for the film along with my translation of the 1984 Le Monde conversation between Maurice Pialat and Jean-Luc Godard can be found here.

My essay on
Passe ton bac d'abord... — "The War of Art" — can be read here. A dossier of my translations of four interviews with Pialat around the film can be read here.

Sabrina Marques's essay on
Van Gogh is here, alongside Godard's letter to Pialat, and words from Pialat about the film.

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Friday, June 14, 2019

Poemquotes 12 - "I. Benediction" by Charles Baudelaire



my translation

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I. Benediction - The Flowers of Evil
[I. Bénédiction] [Les fleurs du mal]

When, by a decree of the supreme powers,
The Poet appears in this troubled world,
His mother, horrified and full of blasphemies,
Clenches her fists towards God, who sheds pity upon her:

—“Ah! that I littered a whole nest of vipers,
Rather than feed this derision!
Cursed be the night with ephemeral pleasures
Where my womb conceived my expiation!

Since you’ve chosen me among all women
To be the disgust of my sorrowful husband,
And which I cannot throw back in the flames,
Like a love-note, this stunted monster,

I will make your hate that afflicts me spurt
Onto the accursed instrument of your spites,
And I’ll so twist this miserable tree,
That it will be incapable of emitting its blighted buds!”

So she swallows the foam of her hatred,
Not comprehending the eternal designs,
She herself is preparing deep down in Gehenna
Stakes dedicated to maternal crimes.

And yet, under the invisible tutelage of an Angel,
The disinherited Child gets drunk on the sun,
And inside of all that he drinks and all that he eats
Discovers ambrosia and vermilion nectar.

He plays with the wind, chats with the cloud,
And gets drunk singing of the way of the cross;
And the Spirit following him in his pilgrimage
Weeps to see him cheerful as a bird in the woods.

All those he would love observe him with fear,
That or, gathering the courage from his tranquility,
Vie with each other in prying from him a moan,
And practice on him the experiments of their ferocity.

In the bread and wine destined for his mouth
They mingle ashes with polluted sputums;
With hypocrisy they throw away what he touches,
And blame themselves for having put their feet in his steps.

His wife is off crying on public squares:
“Since he finds me beautiful enough to adore me,
I will practice the profession of antique idols,
And like them I want to gild myself over;

And I’ll get drunk on nard, incense, myrrh,
Genuflections, meats, and wines,
To know whether I can, in an admiring heart,
Usurp divine homages while laughing!

And, when I get bored of these irreverent farces,
I’ll place upon him my hand, frail and strong;
And my nails, just like the nails of harpies,
Will know how to clear a pathway to his heart.

Like a new young bird trembling and twitching,
I will extract this full red heart from his breast,
And to satisfy my favorite beast,
I will throw him to the ground with disdain!”

Towards Heaven, where his eye sights a splendid throne,
The serene Poet raises his pious arms,
And the vast inspired-flashes of his lucid mind
Thieve him of the sight of furious races:

“Be blessed, my God, who provide suffering
As a divine remedy for our impurities
And as the best and the purest essence
That prepares the strong for holy delights!

I know that you keep a place for the Poet
In the blissful rows of the holy Legions,
And that you invite him to the eternal celebration
Of Thrones, Virtues, Dominations.

I know that pain is the unique nobility
Into which the earth and hells will never sink their teeth,
And that in order to braid my mystical crown one must
Impose every time and every universe.

For it will only be made out of pure light,
Pushed to the holy foyer of primitive rays,
And whose mortal eyes, in their entire splendor,
Are but obscured and plaintive mirrors!”

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Monday, June 10, 2019

La madre (Troisième version)



Straub Alone



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Grasshopper Blu-ray.)

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This is the "Troisième version," the "third version," of Straub's film La madre [The Mother]. The music is a love-Lied by Gustav Mahler, "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ["I Came Lost to the World"], that plays in its entirety over black leader. The soul weeps, the id poses questions under the force of duration.

The dialogue is a setting of a text by Cesare Pavese in Dialoghi con Leucò [Dialogues with Leucò]. Meleagrus (Dario Marconcini) and Hermes (whose name is never mentioned), in female form (played by Giovanna Daddi), converse beneath the shade of trees and bushes. "Listen now, Meleagrus. You are dead. The flame, the burning, are past things. You are less than the smoke that was plucked from that fire. You are almost nothingness. Resign yourself."

The mother is the wife. And: "I am still an ember," Meleagrus asserts. "I lived in front of a hearth, and when I was born my destiny was already closed in the firebrand that my mother stole." Meleagrus speaks of animals and youths beyond the mountains and rivers who live toward strange destinies. "They all had a mother, Meleagrus," Hermes replies, "and labors to accomplish. And a death awaited them, for the passion of someone. No-one was master of himself, nor ever knew anything else."

To Atalanta, Meleagrus screamed during the attack on the boar: "Return home — return with the women, Atalanta. This is not the place for girls' whims. [...] 'O son of Altea,' she said, 'the skin of the boar will lie on our wedding bed. It will be like the cost of your blood, and of mine.'"

In close: "But then why did they kill us?"

Hermes: "Ask why they made you, Meleagrus."

— For all women who stare into the fire.

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Other pieces on Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Cinemasparagus:

Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter [The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp] [1968]

La madre (Troisième version) [The Mother (Third Version)] [2012]


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The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp



Die Zeiten ändern sich



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Grasshopper Blu-ray.)

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Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter [The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp, Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, 1968] is fragmentary adaptation of Ferdinand Bruckner's '20s Krankheit der Jugend [Sickness of Youth] that treats the phenomenon of prostitution as a symptom and result of class warfare, where the whole itself stands as correlative for, or allegory of, political assassination.

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Other pieces on Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet at Cinemasparagus:

Der Bräutigam, die Komödiantin und der Zuhälter [The Bridegroom, the Actress, and the Pimp] [1968]

La madre (Troisième version) [The Mother (Third Version)] [2012]


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Friday, June 07, 2019

April and May 2019 - Best Disc Supplements


Every month I highlight some of the best Blu-ray and DVD supplements, along with Criterion Channel features. Too often these pieces are overlooked or given the most cursory mention in reviews (or on sites like DVDBeaver where they take a back seat to "A/V" assessment and are usually copy-and-pasted from the Special Features text from the relevant label's website, or the guy reviews the essay by saying the essay gave him "great contextual info"). Pieces cited don't necessarily hail from new releases; rather come from whatever I've been watching that particular month. They represent, in my opinion, the best in supplementary material — critical, historical, personal — above and beyond the status quo.

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• Not Necessarily in That Order: The Birth & Death & Resurrection of Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie by Jessica Hundley / 2018 essay included in the booklet for Arbelos's 2019 edition of Hopper's film. She writes the way film criticism should be written, following the trail of crumbs that are intuitively interesting and not just strung out like party lights, virtue of facts without true anecdotal interest, rather she knows what makes bar talk good.

• Wizard Work / 5-minute 1964 promotional studio documentary narrated by Joseph Cotten, included on the Blu-ray for the 2019 Masters of Cinema edition of Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte, capturing the director at work on-set with the actors.



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Best Films Included Alongside a Title Feature:

By Sidney Lumet
by Nancy Buirski, 2015
included in the 2019 Carlotta Ultra-Coffret edition of Network

The Frontier Experience
by Barbara Loden, 1975
included in the 2019 Criterion edition of Wanda

I Am Wanda
by Katja Raganelli and Konrad Wickler, 1980
included in the 2019 Criterion edition of Wanda

Scene Missing: The Story of Dennis Hopper's Last Movie
by Alex Cox, 2018
included in the 2019 Arbelos edition of The Last Movie

Some Kind of Genius
by Paul Joyce, 1986
included in the 2019 Arbelos edition of The Last Movie

Alla ricerca di Tadzio [In Search of Tadzio]
by Luchino Visconti, 1970
included in the 2019 Criterion edition of Death in Venice






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Cover and Package Design:

• Sidney Lumet's Network
Carlotta - Joachim Roncin (original artwork) and Dark Star (design), 2019

• Elaine May's Mikey and Nicky
Criterion - Connor Willumsen (original artwork) and Eric Skillman (design), 2019

• Barbara Loden's Wanda
Criterion - Eric Skillman (design), 2019

• Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie
Arbelos - Dylan Haley (design), 2019

• Luchino Visconti's Death in Venice
Criterion - Cliff Wright (original sculpture) and Eric Skillman (design), 2019






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Monday, June 03, 2019

Battle Cry



Whooping Cough



"They're shaping into a real outfit — they're beginning to look like Marines."

"He's not a soldier — he's a Marine."

"So long, Marine."

"It's rather hard to say what Timmy looks like."


Those are some lines of dialogue pulled from Raoul Walsh's 1955 Battle Cry, but they just might have popped up in any other of the militaristic Marine-sponsored flicks. As bad as they read, I'll note there's no opposing forces within the mise-en-scène to take the armed American macho frat down a notch.

Unlike what Fuller once did label Full Metal Jacket to Jonathan Rosenbaum in good faith, Battle Cry is actually a true recruitment film: selling the services experience with sex on liberty in San Diego, Pacific crossfares, — but then the problem of having a sweetheart back home and the vicissitudes round a woman's staying in love while being married to a Marine.

I'm watching a 2h 28m narrative film from 1955 of the emotional development of robots, the romanticization of the American clod, the manifestation of the bird-brain...

James Whitmore is a cross between Lloyd Bridges and William Bendix.

A black velvet painting of the Natives of our land, and the same materiel as the eyepatch pestled in Walsh's socket by Montezuma's cock.

One of the best reviews of Battle Cry I've read recently comes from a member of Letterboxd name Fred Pahlke. It sums up the problems with almost all of the blockbuster pictures then or now. About Battle Cry, he writes, in whole:

"Standard war film. Do not have the movie."

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Saturday, June 01, 2019

Home from the Hill


"What You Feel Now Is Nostalgia and Liquor"



I'm going to walk through the plot, based off a screenplay based off a novel by William Humphrey, to illustrate the power of the melodrama at play, a distant emulsification of Douglas Sirk and William Faulkner, bound earlier in that director's own adaptation of The Tarnished Angels.

"Theron" Hunnicutt (George Hamilton, a weak-link in the Ricky Nelson tradition; another 1960 mama's boy resembling physiognomically Anthony Perkins) takes to his father, Wade (Robert Mitchum's), teaching him at 18 how to be a man in spite of his belle mom the goy Hannah (Eleanor Parker's) coddling. The couple struck a deal years back: she'd marry Mitchum, but the boy would be hers to rear. How to construct an epic of the low-South (in the sense of "low-fantasy vs. high-") — introduce an agent of change, of chance — introduce a stinking boar. Theron on its trail blasts its snout right off, and Wade, satisfied his boy's growing hair on his chest, holds a roasting-dance. Through the virile proxy (broxy?) Rafe (George Peppard), Theron invites Libby Halstead (Luana Patten) to attend the fête, 'cept her daddy Albert (Everett Sloane) don't want her to go, so they meet on the sly at the library, fall in sympathetic love, fuck in the woods on a picnic blanket. Now Wade's the one with the reputation for womanizing, and Albert Halstead's always had an inkling. See how this goes in a town that jumps for spring cleaning the local cemetery? Throw in Hannah's admission to Theron that Rafe's Wade's illegitimate son, and Minnelli's melodrama's now fully charged: Theron goes off like a soprano Bates before his father over what his half-brother should be rightly owed. Wade swats aside the impertinence: "His mother was a tramp — a sand-hilled tacky having her child by the edge of a ditch."

Mirrorings of illegitimate children, proxy matchmakers, and neglected wives panel the homestead of this musky contrivance, solid in its rank among Minnelli's strongest films.

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Ludwig


Keep Him in Mind



Perhaps Visconti's supreme achievement, in its as-close-to-as-intended length of 4 hours 18 minutes. A game of rooms, mansions, castles, a subterranean swan lake, the Neuschwanstein spire, passing through all the major themes of Visconti's oeuvre, such that the film-work itself represents the super-palace of Luchino's ego, so dense with signs made out of the opulent appointments (surely the most singularly lavish film in the history of cinema, outdoing even Kubrick's Barry Lyndon) that were it not for the more overt talkings-to-camera, the picture's Marxist precedents might be perceptible solely in its 'system of things.'

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

The Thing from Another World


BURN THE FLORATUS / WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A VEGETABLE BOIL IT



(All images are details from iPhone photos taken of the film playing from the Warner Bros. Blu-ray.)

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No big stars among the Air Force 2 crew, mostly character actors you might recognize from a handful of RKOs, and a humanoid alien of eight feet in length trapped under ice.

The confines onboard the plane when the squad brings back the pick-axed chunk of ice-submerged humanoid are pretty tight, a reset of the Air Force set, and one of the guys reading "Air Force Magazine”... Grazing over the Arctic this is literally the Cold War, no sign of Korea just yet but...

But some good-natured ripostes shoot through the crew: ribbing the captain’s sartorial discipline an underling gets clapped back — “Would you like to do double-guard-duty tonight?” A visiting camp nurse once made as big an impression on the fellas as this ice-encased xenonoid: “Say, what ever happened to that nurse?” Good healthy stuff.

A nervous humor among nervous men.

Preposterous, service-men dorms where colleagues electric-shave, but how else could it be, even in the face of extraterrestrial derangement? This one NDO (nondescript officer), he comes through, alerts the pork-faced lead, smudged Gabin (Kenneth Tobey) that he's starting to be able to see through the ice at these hands... They talk to each other looking at their watches like ‘50s homosexuals whispering at the eleventh hour...

Then the nightclub ambience, the only menopausal woman out of two, Margaret Sheridan, better even than ever-exhausting Ann in Hawks’ previous picture, I Was a Male War Bride; the rental period for Golden Exits has ended... ”You can tie my hands if you want?" "That might not be such a bad idea..." "I mean that." "You suggested it." "Alright, I'll bring a rope." One of the most erotic exchanges in Hollywood cinema since Josef von Sternberg or Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat. She ties Tobey up to an office chair and all but promises to shove a cake-mixer in his crotch. Jump forward four minutes and it’s Karl Freund’s The Mummy (the anglo bumbling male jack-ass wasn’t invented in ‘90s media). Romero, J-horror... Carpenter... “A smear of… plant-sap….” — As Rivette wrote in his first published article, “Nous ne sommes plus innocents” (“We Are No Longer Innocent”), in 1950 at the age of 22: “on réalise des films de synthèse, inexperte encore et naïve, d’où toute sève s’était enfuie.” He was not speaking of Hawks here (he hadn’t encountered him fully by this early point due to circulation-scarcity outside of the ciné-clubs; give the hitchcocko-hawksiens a couple more years to embellish their program) or even other unnamed in anything but what I take to be a neutral register. Dr. Carrington: “There are only phenomena to study...” ‘Are,’ then ‘why??’ —

The secret lives of plants, the movies themselves: forever silent over subtext, but apply the stethoscope and you hear “almost the screaming of a newborn child who’s hungry...” — movies, or cinephiles? The creature here is made of Beyond Meat, and this “thing” about whether Hawks produced and helmed, or did Nyby co-realize: I always imagine Christian Nyby resembling Lee Harvey Oswald…

“What’s Carrington doing with 35 units of blood-plasma, Nikki?”



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Tuesday, April 30, 2019

So Dark the Night


Footprints


1946. A film that in the first half hour has the feel of a series ("the Inspecteur Cassin movies" if you will), then continues in the milieu of a Clouzot or Whale, all the while consistently exhibiting the invention of a Lewis (Joseph or Jerome).

A twist premise shifts into a conceit in which Cassin commits his own homicide...

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Previous pieces on Joseph H. Lewis at Cinemasparagus:

My Name Is Julia Ross [1945]

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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

My Name Is Julia Ross


Fingerprints




(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off The Criterion Channel.)

1945. No passwords to escape the house that beetles o'er its base: neither preceding, contemporary, or prophetic: not Gaslight; The Lady Vanishes; Rebecca; Suspicion; Notorious; Secret Beyond the Door...; Sisters...

Precipices in the "woman's hysteria" film drasticize the plunge and the drown and plasticize the stately manor exterior as the shell of the internal labyrinth: a hidden room for rape the-while Nina Foch’s knocked out. Menace us all, the shadow of the hand (George Macready's, Paths of Glory) across the landscape of Julia's breast, when come the end his claw lies limp in one last close-up, erased by the surf.



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Previous pieces on Joseph H. Lewis at Cinemasparagus:

So Dark the Night [1946]

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Sunday, April 14, 2019

While the City Sleeps


Newsprints


(All images are iPhone photos taken of frames of the film playing off the Warner Blu-ray of the film.)

The title of Fritz Lang's second-to-last American film not only suggests the midnight killer but also the night-shift of the newspaper/TV office whose craven figures jump to break details on the menacing killer story as soon as quick. —

"Item 7 — You're a mama's boy." This address from the TV by Dana Andrews in his best Orson Welles, as the killer watches in PJs, certainly constitutes one of the most wrecking and complicated mixed-up portrayals ever "committed" to film in this messy '56 when it needed to most be so. Fritz Lang had one shoulder over the velvet shoulder-padding, and he wanted to examine youth-horror crime more if he could literally see, and get the insurance through to do so, throughout the '60s. Slick PJs-Johnny doesn't know if he's a boy or he's a girl, like in "Sheila Take a Bow", that Smiths song.

Creepy-crawly business in the second-half about whether the husbands' and wives' affairs' can be rationalized... Lang goes back to this thing about dialogue dukings-out in living rooms, as, big, drama! And yet — the characters don't recognize these rooms as the rocket-chambers of Frau im Mond.

The whole office goes sex sick. "Put Nancy's picture in the paper." Why bother? She storms out on Mobley/Andrews and the Lipstick Killer's already ready to pounce! "The final insolence. Broad DAYLIGHT!" Daytime during work-hours in NYC apartments with bleaching sun! White terror wallpaint, white terror curtain gaps! Then the climax —

Terror re: a tunneled train. You might ask yourself: 'Where have I seen this before?' Unsure myself, but audiences first saw it here: While the City Sleeps.

... — And yet 15 minutes still to go. In this final act we're clued to the skullduggery in the politics of ink-and-print, Ida Lupino making her final gesture, a tonality closer to Milestone's The Front Page than Hawks' His Girl Friday.

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Previous pieces on Fritz Lang at Cinemasparagus:

Der müde Tod [1921]

Die Nibelungen: Siegfrieds Tod [1924]

Die Nibelungen: Kriemhilds Rache [1924]

Spione [1928]

Frau im Mond. [1929]

M [1931]

Human Desire [1954]


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March 2019 - Best Disc Supplements


Every month I highlight some of the best Blu-ray and DVD supplements (along with Criterion Channel features upon its return in April 2019). Too often these pieces are overlooked or given the most cursory mention in reviews (or on sites like DVDBeaver where they take a back seat to "A/V" assessment and are usually copy-and-pasted from the Special Features text from the relevant label's website). Pieces cited don't necessarily hail from new releases; rather come from whatever I've been watching that particular month. They represent the very best in supplementary material — critical, historical, personal — above and beyond the status quo.

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• The House of Lang / 2017 20-minute video essay by the always terrific David Cairns included on the 2018 Arrow Secret Beyond the Door disc. A thorough overview of Lang's Career of Themes with a special focus on the director's Hollywood period: its presiding visual aesthetic: "the starkness: bare walls and barren places"; the prominence of Fate and of Guilt; the rivalry (second phase of agon?) with Hitchcock, most obviously in Secret Beyond the Door's relationship to Rebecca; the house as metaphor for for Lang’s psychological interior (Michael Redgrave's character's surname “Lamphear” derives from the Welsh for “great house").

• Restoring Detour / 2018 11-minute interview piece with Mike Pogorzelski, director of the Academy Film Archive, and film preservationist Heather Linville, also of the archive, discussing the hurdles across ten years of searching for elements to execute a proper pristine 4K restoration of Ulmer's film. Included on the 2019 Blu-ray of Detour from Criterion.



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Best Films Included Alongside a Title Feature:

Directed by Andrej Tarkovskij
by Michał Leszczyłowski, 1966
included in the 2018 Kino edition of The Sacrifice



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Cover and Package Design:

• Joseph H. Lewis's The Big Combo
Arrow - Scott Saslow, 2018


• Robert Siodmak's Phantom Lady
Arrow - designer unknown?


• Edgar G. Ulmer's Detour
Criterion - illustrator Jennifer Dionisio and designer Eric Skillman


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Sunday, March 10, 2019

Poemquotes 11


"An eye closes // At the back pushed up against the wall / the thought not taking leave // Of ideas vanishes steadily // One could die / What I hold between my arms could leave // A dream"
-Pierre Reverdy, "Auberge" [Inn], from Les ardoises du toit [The Roof's Slates], 1918, my translation

"O unwisely the spring / Piles up its dangerous architecture!"
-John Ashbery, "Why We Forget Dreams", 1948, from Uncollected Poems

"Beginning my studies the first step pleas'd me so much, / The mere fact consciousness, these forms, the power of motion"
-Walt Whitman, "Beginning My Studies", from Leaves of Grass, "Inscriptions", 1855-1892

" "Mother of heaven, regina of the clouds, / O sceptre of the sun, crown of the moon, / There is not nothing, no, no, never nothing, / Like the clashed edges of two words that kill." "
-Wallace Stevens, "Le Monocle de Mon Oncle", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

"That’s all you’ll have left of my pathetic lines, / My literature you didn’t give a flying shit about; / It’s all you’ll have left to remind you of the men, / Those past fuckwads of yours who’ll never look your way again; / It’s the only mirror you won’t be ugly in — / It’s guaranteed for eternity. / Good old Ronsard was no fool / When he said that to his stuck-up bitch..."
-Serge Gainsbourg, "Ronsard 58", from Du chant à la une!... [Songs Torn from the Front Page!...], 1958, my translation

"I wander on, and wave my hands, / And sing, and shake my heavy locks. / The grey wolf knows me; by one ear / I lead along the woodland deer; / The hares run by me growing bold. / They will not hush, the leaves a-flutter round me, the beech leaves old."
-W. B. Yeats, "The Madness of King Goll", from Crossways, 1889

"Pull my daisy, / Tip my cup, / Cut my thoughts / For coconuts,"
-Allen Ginsberg, "Fie My Fum", 1949, from Empty Mirror: Gates of Wrath (1947-1952) in Collected Poems: 1947-1980 (itself collected in its entirety within Collected Poems: 1947-1997)

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Saturday, March 02, 2019

February 2019: Best Disc Supplements


Every month I highlight some of the best Blu-ray and DVD supplements (along with Criterion Channel features upon its return in April 2019). Too often these pieces are overlooked or given the most cursory mention in reviews (or on sites like DVDBeaver where they take a back seat to "A/V" assessment and are usually copy-and-pasted from the Special Features text from the relevant label's website). Pieces cited don't necessarily hail from new releases; rather come from whatever I've been watching that particular month. They represent the very best in supplementary material — critical, historical, personal — above and beyond the status quo.

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• Burden of Faith: Tarkovsky's Final Sacrifice / 2018 35-minute conversation included on the 2018 Kino The Sacrifice disc with editor and filmmaker Michał Leszczyłowski conducted by Robert Sweeney on editing and shooting The Sacrifice while Tarkovsky was slowly dying. A great document not only of the final passage of Tarkovsky at work (who, by the way, looked as healthy and on-point as could be during the making of the movie), but of loyalty and sensitivity in last devotion to get Tarkovsky's job done.

• Audio Commentary by Godfrey Cheshire on Gabbeh / Feature-length audio commentary recorded for the 2018 Arrow Blu-ray set Mohsen Makhmalbaf: The Poetic Trilogy: three films beautifully restored by Arrow and Makhmalbaf from new scans. A lucid, systematic analysis of Makhmalbaf's 1996 masterpiece. Cheshire passes through the history of Iranian cinema with a special focus on post-Revolutionary works, discussing such topics as the usage of color as a political act (and statement with regard to expressive freedoms in the cities versus the rural areas and the populace of nomadic tribespeople); the women presented here in finery beyond the chador; pre-Islamic monuments and tombs; Mohsen Makhmalbaf performing in woman's dress; Iranian cinema and restrictions on violence; "one of the greatest cuts in all of cinema"; looks cut by the censors, lest they suggest desire. (This is the only film of the three features included in the Arrow set to be accompanied by an audio commentary.)




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Best Films Included Alongside a Title Feature:

Directed by Andrej Tarkovskij
by Michał Leszczyłowski, 1966
included in the 2018 Kino edition of The Sacrifice


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Cover and Package Design:

• Masaki Kobayashi's The Human Condition
Arrow - designer unknown, 2016


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