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 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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Saturday, February 02, 2019

January 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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• Laine and Abel: An Interview with the Driller Killer / 2016 18-minute conversation with Abel Ferrara conducted by an off-screen Brad Stevens, shot for the Arrow edition of Ferrara's The Driller Killer, presented in a 4K Arrow restoration from the original camera negative. Abel speaks from a screening room about early films as warm-up- and preamble-movies, the problems with making pornos in the '70s in the US, and how you don't need an Olivier to play the fucking Driller Killer.

• Audio Commentary with Abel Ferrara and Brad Stevens on The Driller Killer / 2016 feature-length audio commentary between Abel and Brad for the Arrow edition of the film — entirely different from the commentary recorded back in the day for the Cult Epics DVD release. Freewheeling and full of anecdotes around late 1970s New York, and the economics of life and independent film at the time in the place. "She killed the cinematographer."

• "The Pre-Release Version" by Brad Stevens / 2016 essay in the booklet for Arrow's The Driller Killer detailing all the shots and their respective lengths cut from Abel's "pre-release version" of the feature (which also appears on the release in a 4K restoration, with Ferrara's blessing) for the "theatrical version," which AF prefers on the basis that it's at once tighter and, in small parts, more ambiguous.

• "The Ship with Eight Sails and with Fifty Black Cannon" by Zoë Tamerlis Lund / 1993 essay in the booklet for Drafthouse's Ms .45, originally published in the January 2001 issue of New York Waste. An incredible text that deserves to go down as one of the definitive feminist manifestos. She was a light-year beyond the knee-jerk/reactionary contingent of "Me Too!"...

• Abel Ferrara and Ms .45 / 2013 8-minute interview with Abel that appears on the Drafthouse release of Ms .45.

• Audio Commentary with Abel Ferrara on King of New York / 2004 feature-length audio commentary on the Lionsgate Blu-ray of the film — one of the all-time classic commentaries.

• Audio Commentary with Abel Ferrara and Ken Kelsch on Bad Lieutenant / 2009 feature-length audio commentary for the Lionsgate Blu-ray of the film. Ditto the above.

• Abel Edits The Addiction / 1994 or '95 footage of Abel in the editing room, included on the Arrow disc of The Addiction (which also includes the fabulous 2018 documentary by Ferrara made for inclusion on this release, Talking with the Vampires).

• Audio Commentary with Abel Ferrara on The Addiction / 2018 feature-length audio commentary on the Arrow Blu-ray of the film.

• Audio Commentary with Whit Stillman and Main Crew / 2012 feature-length audio commentary on the Sony Pictures Classics Blu-ray of Stillman's Damsels in Distress, which also includes a good 28-minute panel on the film with Stillman and cast moderated by Peter Hammond.

• "An Introduction to Jean Rouch" by Paul Stoller / 2017 essay revised from a 2004 essay published in Rouge, appearing in the 2017 booklet to Icarus Film's Eight Films by Jean Rouch. Contains a brief report of Rouch's attendance at the Rouch 2000 event at NYU — but also recounts the afterward, wherein he heads up to Harlem. A scene is described of the word spreading among the present West African community at an open-air market that the filmmaker is in attendance, and folks line-up to express their respect... My favorite film is Jaguar, Mine is Petit à Petit...! Beautiful...

• "On the Set of Andrei Rublev" / 1965 silent color footage totaling 5 minutes, on the Criterion Blu-ray of the 2004 Mosfilm HD restoration of the feature. Tarkovsky directs, Yusov shoots, and we get to see the beautiful plums and beiges and reds of the Tatar and peasant wardrobes.

• Robert Bird on Andrei Rublev / 2018 interview with the critic and writer on the material reality of the film-world: a key aspect of Tarkovsky's movie which goes back to the not-the-frame-but-the-aquarium concept centrifuged by... who is it I'm thinking of? I reached out to Andy Rector to see if he could recall any specific source, but it turns out there was a proliferation of thought on 'the Aquarian'. I might have been thinking of Alain Bergala by way of Bill Krohn, but Andy in an email response lifts the lid to reveal species Bazin, Daney, Malraux, Straub, Agnel, Mourlet, Renaudin. Here's hoping Andy posts this mini-anthology on Kino Slang in the near future.










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Best Films Included Alongside a Title Feature:

Luchino Visconti: Man of Three Worlds
by Francis Coleman, 1966
included in the 2010 Criterion edition of Senso
(shot for the BBC Sunday Night program during Visconti's production on the omnibus film Le streghe)

Mulberry St.
by Abel Ferrara, 2010
included in the 2018 Arrow edition of The Driller Killer

Talking with the Vampires
by Abel Ferrara, 2018
included in the 2018 Arrow edition of The Addiction

Jean Rouch, cinéaste aventurier [Jean Rouch: Adventurer Filmmaker]
by Laurent Védrine, 2017
included in the Icarus edition of Jean Rouch: Eight Films

Katok i skripka [The Steamroller and the Violin]
by Andrei Tarkovsky, 1960
included in the 2018 Criterion edition of Andrei Rublev

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Cover and Package Design:

• Frank Borzage's Moonrise
Criterion - Illustration by Greg Ruth, Design by Eric Skillman, 2018

• Abel Ferrara's The Driller Killer
Arrow - Illustration by The Twin Evils, 2016

• Abel Ferrara's Ms .45
Alamo Drafthouse - designer unknown?

• Abel Ferrara's The Addiction
Arrow - Artwork by Peter Strain

• Luchino Visconti's Senso
Criterion - Cover Illustration by Glen Orbik, Design by F. Ron Miller, 2010

• Andrei Tarkovsky's Ivan's Childhood
Criterion - Design by Neil Kellerhouse, 2013 (Blu-ray reissue of 2007 DVD release)

• Andrei Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev
Criterion - Design by Nessim Higson








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Friday, January 18, 2019

Poemquotes 10


"The child dances, lightly, in a leotard too big for him; lighter than the balls on which he's balancing. And when he passes round his money-purse, no-one gives anything. No-one gives anything out of fear for filling it with too heavy a weight. He is so thin."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Saltimbanques", from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"But when he knew someone was being awaited, and who, he knew to transform his face. Thus he entered the place of him who was awaited and who did not show up."
-Pierre Reverdy, "L'envers à l'endroit" [Backwards Forwards], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"The four legs of the table are still; the others too."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Les pensées basses" [Base Thoughts], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"But what hurt, what hurt! We each had an ice-cube between our fingers and upon our tongue."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Sur l'amour-propre" [On Pride], from La lucarne ovale [The Oval Skylight], 1916, my translation

"So I opened the doors one by one. In the first room, where some children slept, I found pointless crime."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Peine perdue" [Lost Cause], from La lucarne ovale [The Oval Skylight], 1916, my translation

"Time spent in a room where everything is dark will come back later on."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Plus tard" [Later On], from La lucarne ovale [The Oval Skylight], 1916, my translation

^On Cinema

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Saturday, January 05, 2019

Poemquotes 9


"He hunted the moon, he left the night."
-Pierre Reverdy, "Chacun sa part" [To Each His Share], from Poèmes en prose [Poems in Prose], 1915, my translation

"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

"Spring comes adept with personnel, / Apt for the kill."
-John Ashbery, "Elegy", 1947, from Uncollected Poems

"Of course, there's no need to speak / 'On the level'* ['À l'horizontale'] / Though we no longer find anything to say to each other / While vertical [À la verticale']. / So, in order to kill time / Between this love-session and that, / I grab the newspaper, and my pen, / And I fill in / Both the A's and O's**."
[* “On the level,” “laying down [horizontal next to each other],” etc.]
[** Which is also to say, in accordance with the French pronunciation of the letters, “Both the ‘AH!’s and ‘OH!’s.”]
-Serge Gainsbourg, "Ce mortel ennui" [This Deadly Boredom], from Du chant à la une!... [Songs Torn from the Front Page!...], 1958, my translation

"The going of the glade-boat / Is like water flowing"
-Wallace Stevens, "The Load of Sugar-Cane", from Harmonium, 1923/1931

"I preside in the azure like a poorly-understood sphinx, / I combine a snow heart with the whiteness of swans; / I hate movement that shifts lines around, / And never do I weep, and never do I laugh."
-Charles Baudelaire, "La beauté" [Beauty], from Les fleurs du mal [The Flowers of Evil], "Spleen et Idéal" [Spleen and Ideal], 1857, my translation

"Sweet Levinsky, why so tearful, / sweet Levinsky don't be fearful, / sweet Levinsky here's your earful / of the angels chirping cheerful- / ly Levinsky, sweet Levinsky, / sweet Levinsky, sweet Levinsky."
-Allen Ginsberg, "Sweet Levinsky", 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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