Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Virgin Spring

God vs. Odin

Ingeri (Gunnel Lindblom) ignites the fire and brings it into fruition with her breath — just as she'll do by 'wishing' Karin's (Birgitta Pettersson's) death later on. 

"Odin, come! Odin, come!" Ingeri pleads to the sky; moments later she chastises the mother for Karin's not waking up to attend mass. Ingeri is feral, savage, a "wildcat."

Jungfrukällan [The Virgin Spring, 1960] could be a western — the medieval is Bergman's Wild West. It's a film about morality, about the conflict of justice and cold-blooded vengeance as acted upon a wandering group of bandits. Does the rape of Karin justify the brutality, bringing it to its apex, or is it a reactive, contagious disease of the blood? Töre (Max von Sydow): "God forgive me for what I've done." Sin and culpability, justice and vengeance — God and Odin — the two entities in combination provide the gift of the spring in the stunning climactic shot, one of the great artificial miracles set to film. When Töre proclaims his oath — "I shall build you a church" — he promises, whether or not he is immediately aware, a Church of the World, where paganism and Christianity coexist in elemental terms.

The film concludes with Ingeri running her hands through the virgin spring. Begins with fire, ends with water.


Sunday, July 11, 2021

True Story of a Hooligan / Days of Being Wild

Five for Deposit

A film set in 1960/61 that looks like it could have taken place in 1990, and been shot yesterday, Wong Kar-wai's Aa fei zing zyun [True Story of a Hooligan] / Days of Being Wild [1990] is slippery with time and place — Hong Kong, but the Philippines; three o'clock "one-minute friends" — yet might leave an ineradicable marker (or in 2020s parlance, pin-drop) for the viewer of the first time he or she saw the picture. Slippery, and dealing in quantities — money, minutes, hours, days — as though each moment were fleeting, rushing, ultimately unseizable. Portions of the story give way to longer threads in a kind of narrative hand-off. One significant series of episodes involving Leslie Cheung and Carina Lau segues into a mini-movie starring Maggie Cheung and a policeman; in any other film what might act as a simple scene change here carries the force of a rupture, and even folds up with its own discrete ending. ("Soon after that, my mother passed away, and I became a sailor.") There are near-subliminal cuts (one in particular provides us a sole glimpse of the guard on the bottom floor of the apartment building), and strange almost extra-diegetic pieces of shorthand (Yuddy [Leslie Cheung] violently opening a set of sliding doors cuts onto his auntie on the deck of a ship headed toward the States). And the strangest moment of all: the finale which is not an epilogue, but the beginning of a new story altogether: Tony Leung's poverty-playboy in his single room readying himself for a night out — a prologue of sorts for In the Mood for Love and 2046 ten and fourteen years later in 'our' time. (In Days of Being Wild, an apartment door carries the number "204.") As Tears Go By can be seen as a prologue; Days of Being Wild is the 'first' WKW.


Other writing about Wong Kar-wai at Cinemasparagus:


Friday, June 11, 2021

Il bidone

"Such Is Man"

The great irony of Il bidone [The Swindle, Federico Fellini, 1955] is that the labor the swindlers exert when pulling off their heists is at least equal to that of the common, 'actual' laborer's on any day's duty. A double-meaning in the film title — who, really, is the target of the swindle? There are the destitute targets of Crawford, Basehart, et al., but aren't these men, dressed in frocks, some kind of misdirected pigeons? (And yet is there a difference — isn't work Work?) Fellini takes care here not to have them guided by a benevolent source, such as destiny, as in I vitelloni. This is proletariat socialist cinema, which holds through to the epiphanic scene of a miraculous transfer of empathy between a lame young woman and Crawford in garb-of-monsignor. The time to "act" is then, which task each priest plays out once they don their robes: Crawford's persuaded to conjure up life-advice.

So in summary this swindle involves: talking (acting), costumes, pre-planning to a tee, manual labor on the spot to bury then later dig up the treasure. By proxy Il bidone goes after the Catholic Church and their conception of labor as the source of alms. (The gas station owner tells one of the minions he owns all the land around the station: "If you only knew..." in reference to what it took to get there...)

Monday, May 24, 2021

Bob Dylan at 80

 Recollected Items from the Desktop

"The hysterical bride in the penny-arcade" —

The flicker and swagger of all those who carol three months. Gaze now, duty-queen, your dirty hair has a sheen. And wiggle-wiggle, who's the coconut-queen? Wiggle-wiggle now your hair has a sheen.... I'd lose you dear lady, black rider, black rider. The wind began to howl. 'Twas a murder most foul. Blowin' through the letters that we wrote. Paint my masterpiece. Hattie Carroll. The emptiness of seams. I don't give a damn about your dreams. All the ring-dancin' and all the Christmas carols on all the Christmas Eves. Upon your big brass bed. Ain't talkin'. This is the story of the Hurricane. 

He's been ringing us for decades and it takes a soft touch, to allow hard escape with a garden grows so much.

Hard plates and a jackal-tooth scrapes along, signs that okay but fossilize its tongue.

Keep it for winnings all along the river, cold rain can give you a shiver; I differ —

I think jackal-tongue goes for far more online, shifted with mud-pie'd lace and brujeria-signs.

De-beg to starch this when you start this with Irish, Yeats and his gyres await,

And fall and crash through the eyelash, the billy-goat's eyelash, your separate pupil dilates.

You're Bob midst the trees of sharp fantasy and arise out the iris to tell this,

Come fresh from the core with intel meant more than Operations that may've been dubbed "Elvis."

Hibbing could've meant more beyond traceable lore but what in all Christ would that look like?

The seasons they change with semen out of their range and move far beyond caric'tured book-kike.

Zimmerman stares beyond sashes and fairness, awareness toward circus-fairs ALRIGHT and the glib.

Eighty odd birthdays isn't a lie, he was alive 'fore you thought of coffins, you thought those ceremonies, you reconciled thought with the crib...


Sunday, May 23, 2021

Poemquotes 21: "A Phantom" from Baudelaire's "Spleen and Ideal"

   (my translations)

XXXVIII. Un fantôme
[38. A Phantom]

I: Les ténèbres
[1: Obscurity]

In the vaults of unfathomable sadness
Where Fate has already banished me; 
Where a rosy and cheerful beam never enters;
Where, alone with the Night, sullen hostess,

I am like a painter that a mocking God
Sentences to paint, alas! upon obscurity;
Where, cook with funereal appetites,
I boil and I eat my heart,

At times there shines, and lengthens, and spreads out
A spectre made of grace and splendor.
By its dreamy oriental manner,

When it reaches its total stature,
I recognize my beautiful visitor:
It is She! black and yet luminous.

II: Le parfum
[2: Perfume]

Reader, have you at times inhaled
With intoxication and slow gluttony
That grain of incense filling a church,
Or the inveterate musk from a sachet?

Profound, magical charm whose past, restored, dizzies our heads
In the present!
So too the lover over an adored body
From memory plucks the exquisite flower.

From her head of hair, elastic and heavy,
Living sachet, censer of the bedroom alcove,
A scent rose, savage and wild,

And from the clothes, muslin or velvet,
All redolent of her pure youth,
Let loose an aroma of fur.

III: Le cadre
[3: The Frame]

As a handsome frame adds to a painting,
Even though it come from a well-regarded brush,
Some kind of thing strange and enchanted
In isolating it from vast nature,

So too do jewels, furniture, metals, gilding,
Adapt themselves just so to her rare beauty;
Nothing took exception to its perfect brightness,
And everything seemed to act for her as edging.

It was even said at times that she thought
Everything wished to love her; she drowned
Her nakedness voluptuously

In kisses of satin and linen,
And, slow or brusque, with each movement
Showed the childlike grace of the monkey.

IV: Le portrait
[4: The Portrait]

Disease and Death make ashes
Of every fire that blazed for us.
Of those wide eyes so fervent and so tender,
Of that mouth in which my heart drowned,

Of those kisses powerful as a dittany
Of those transports more vivid than rays of light,
What remains? It's ghastly, o my soul!
Nothing but an exceptionally faint drawing, done in three pencils,

Which, like me, dies in solitude,
And that Time, injurious old man,
Each day scrapes with his harsh wing...

Dark murderer of Life and of Art,
You will never kill within my memory
The one who was my pleasure and my glory!


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Doctor X

This is a reprint of a 2007 piece. All images are current from 2021. Please excuse the Blogspot formatting. I'm much more enthusiastic about Raymond Bernard than I was 14 years ago.

Chlorine Fumes from Everywhere

There are some films that don't do anything until 45 minutes in, 50 minutes in, two minutes around the 45-minute mark and then 55 minutes in again — just check out Raymond Bernard's The Chess Player [Le joueur d'échecs, 1927], thou-all those now seeking out more Bernard after catching up with Wooden Crosses [Les croix de bois, 1932] and Les misérables [The Wretched, 1934] on account of the fourth Eclipse set from Criterion — or, again, look no further than Jeff Garlin's film-portrait about John Waters. (Okay, I haven't seen it yet, but there it was today at the Princeton Record Exchange...)

Doctor X [1932] is one of those films, but that 45-minute mark, and those last fifteen minutes, are among the greatest in all of American cinema. You know what, I'll go one further — the entire film attains echte Totemischkeit if one douses the soundtrack and watches only the images without cue-accompaniment or dialogue. Someday, at the ciné-club I keep forgetting to found, I'll program just such a screening... for the time being, kill the sound yourselves, the same way you do on your Masters of Cinema editions of Pabst's Diary of a Lost Girl [Tagebuch einer Verlorenen, 1929]. You see, in Doctor X, nearly every shot's imbued...

For those just tuning in to the movies (and, obviously, there's no shame in that), Michael Curtiz is the director of great films like The Adventures of Robin Hood [1938], Angels with Dirty Faces [1938], Casablanca [1942] — although the home-studio of such doesn't freely advertise that the latter film even had a director (cf. The Wizard of Oz — 1939, FYI), because giving directors who never demanded pride-of-place in the first place would only serve to undermine the star-system and the orbiting guilds. Regardless, Curtiz was a good director who enacted a "workman-like best" as necessary and whenever his interest in the material rose to the "suitably piqued" — sometimes fragmentedly so, around given-project-X. In other words, he wasn't Howard Hawks. He was, however, the director of over 170 films — and even if Hawks, the director of under 50 pictures, made more than a few works that on their lonesome could be counted as aggregating the merits of (m)any four or five Curtiz films — there's still much to be said for this Hungarian émigré's prolific and, yes, often estimable output in motion-pictures. Egyáltalán nem of which, incidentally, was said by Steven Soderbergh's The Good German from last year — a work consciously and admittedly infused with "something" of the Curtiz style (or: of an amalgam of the semi-particularly-noir'd-out studio-system aesthetic). (I should clarify the Hungarian means "nothing" or "nothing at all" — should clarify, because I don't want to give Soderbergh credit where it's not due. P.S. — I saw ten minutes of Traffic on TV a few weeks ago, a film I remember not-hating when it was in the theaters — and now it struck me as absolutely disgusting, an unconscionably vile piece of shit.)

The long-and-short, for right now: Curtiz's Doctor X is a film one should not speak too explicitly about, for reasons beyond the language and the times. So I'll leave you with these shots from Long Island, captured with the two-strip Technicolor process, and in close bid you all a day of awe.