Currently Watching : Richard Linklater’s BEFORE SUNRISE

‘The Answer must be in the attempt.’

I had no desire to see this film, but finally watched, it is quite a lovely film. Covering one day, one chance encounter between two people. There is something very relateable and universal about meeting someone in passing, and bridging that gap between is there or isn’t there something there.

It’s a wonderful film about those fleeting glances we have all had, followed and acted upon, and leading to something by chance begun. Here that unlikely and awkward and magical and inept circumstance of burgeoning love is told against the backdrop of one of the most beautiful of cities, Vienna, immortalized by Carol Reed’s and Orson Welles’ THIRD MAN.

It’s a wonderful way to pass an hour and a half. Watching a film about the moments that live… because of the attempt.

 

“I believe if there’s any kind of God it wouldn’t be in any of us, not you or me but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something. I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed but who cares really? The answer must be in the attempt.” — Celine in BEFORE SUNRISE

 

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THE CINEMA OF STATUES : The Films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder


“He was a personable looking man. First your eye said he’s not young anymore, he’s not a boy anymore. Then your eye said : he’s not old. There was something of youth hovering over and about him, and yet refusing to land in any one particular place… In short the impression was agelessness. Not young, not old, not callous, not mature – but ageless. Thirty Six looking fifty six, or fifty six looking thirty six, but which it was you could not say.”

FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE by Cornell Woolrich

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Have you ever watched a film, and mere moments into it been so captured by its construction, its strangeness, and its audacity that it earns a spot in your pantheon, your metaphoric showcase of worthy things? I’m guessing the answer for some of us is yes. I say some, because the strange, by its very nature, will not be the cup of tea of everyone.

MARTHA based on a Cornell Woolrich story “FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE” was my first introduction to the world of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and what an introduction. I’ve been a huge devotee and fan of all things Cornell Woolrich since discovering his pulp fiction a few years ago. I own and have read a ton of Woolrich stories and novels. When I heard about this movie based (illegally it seems) on one of his stories, I had to try it.

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And MARTHA finally seen, I was blown away by the strange, nearly alien craft and audacity of that film, and that led me by fits and starts to today’s review of Fassbinder’s WORLD ON A WIRE.

I’ve watched movies all my life, I consider myself well informed when it comes to cinema. I’ve seen all the great genres, and most of the great directors. I can speak to you about German Expressionism, Film Noir, French New Wave, Italian Neo-realism, the Pan-African and Post-Colonialism movements. I can talk to you about blockbusters and straight to VOD masterpieces. And when you have seen as many films as I have, to get me through a movie these days… you have to either a/tell the familiar in a captivating way, or b/create something vibrant and unfamiliar.

Most movies and all Blockbusters are the former, they are variations on types of movies and a thematic structure that we have seen time and time again, since the dawn of cinema; what makes them successful is the ability to do the ‘rescuing the girl from the train track’ in a fresh and innovative way.

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Much rarer is the latter, films and filmmakers that fundamentally challenge and expand are definitions of the scope and pathways of cinema.

I’ve seen two of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films all the way through, and both of them have struck me that way. Now admittedly they are from phase 1 of the three loosely defined phases of his career. Phase 2 being his Melodramatic phase, Phase 3 being that melodrama morphed into his identity films, dealing with themes of national, sexual, and familial identities in collusion and in conflict. (for more on this and for an overview on the films of Fassbinder please see the excellent Film.com article by Daniel Walber here!)

Phase 1 is arguably his most experimental and innovative films, here you’ll find the genre infused stuff, tinged with film-noir, horror and scifi trappings, the genres that I enjoy. Pro-active genres. I find myself generally not the audience for his phase 2 or 3 films, I’m not a fan of melodrama or just statement films. But with most of these later films not yet tried, I’m open to being pleasantly surprised.

But Phase 1, his cinema of statues and stylization, static but wonderfully composed frames, filled with actors who are at times more statues than men, and when they are animated it is often in very jerky, stilted ways. His women, leading ladies, are variations on a theme, big eyed, statuesque but often emaciated to the point of boniness, strawberry blonds, odd beauty bordering on the antithesis of beauty, mannequins and masks, and a wonderful use of angles and reflections.

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In pieces the movies should not work, stilted, unnatural performances, what is generally considered signs of amateurish or bad acting. However in WORLD ON A WIRE (WELT AM DRAHT, 1973), that ugliness and unease, the uncomfortable pauses, the shots held too long, the awkward pacing, inappropriate and at times overbearing use of music, things we typically identify with bad films and bad filmmakers, in these two films of Fassbinder all these flaws are stylistic choices and become instead function, negating themselves and becoming calling cards of a fundamentally different definition of cinema.

WORLD ON A WIRE, which virtually nobody talks about, is this outrageous and ambitious and way long mini-series of a movie, equal parts science fiction, mystery, and avant-garde film, that has this incredibly intriguing and prophetic premise about a world in which they create not just an artificial intelligence, but an artificial world peopled with artificial intelligences.

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The intelligences are programed to be perfect representations of people, and have a based in time and motion relation to each other, and capable of sex and love and procreation. So an AI universe that is self propagating, and more predictive, as the world is designed to be on a 20 year curve, so the shopping habits and economic changes and housing changes and conflicts that occur in the artificial world today, will be predictive of what happens in our world in 20 years.

It’s a brilliant, mind blowing concept, that you’ll find in better science fiction stories, but not in movies; particularly not in movies of the period, the early 1970s. On top of which the AI universe is viewable and interact-able by means of downloading someone into one of the AI inhabitants of the AI world. What??? That is mind blowingly brilliant and audacious premise for a film, even today in 2016 in an age of avatars, much less for a film made nearly 50 years ago.

And all of that, is not even what the movie is mostly about: it’s a film-noir movie. With a scientist trying to get to the bottom of his coworker’s disappearance. And then there is all the Fassbinder weirdness going on this movie, that just adds yet another level to the movie.

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The doll like women who never seem to blink, random moments of strangeness, [a party scene, where people seem not to move, and the few who do, do the same movements over and over again. A scientist called into his bosses office for serious conversation which they have while not looking at each other and spinning in circles in their chair. a night club with mostly nude attractive Black Men and women dancing while the clothed patrons walk past feeling them up… it is just craziness that comes out of nowhere, but all of it leaves you gobsmaked and off-kilter and not knowing what is coming next.} And it’s not comedy, Fassbinder isn’t just taking the piss or going for laughs here, he is telling a straight story, but he is using a crooked path, fueled by dream logic, he wants the delivery not to be what you are expecting and in WORLD ON A WIRE he succeeds.

Fassbinder, very much the spiritual predecessor to later avant garde filmmakers such as David Lynch and Lars Von Trier, was a young maverick director who died way before his time at the age of 37, however in less than a score of years (before his untimely departure) he would make 44 films, 39 of those being feature films. It is a staggering body of work to have produced by the age of 37. How many of us will ever make one film, much less 44 of them. And to make such across the board unique films, love them or hate them, is a great testament to someone who obviously ate, drank and slept cinema.

600full-rainer-werner-fassbinder Image courtesy of film.com

I can see people not liking or dismissing Fassbinder’s 3+ hour Sci-Fi epic as just flawed. And it is flawed, like I said previously, Fassbinder likes the mistakes, the mistakes of time, mistakes of gender, mistakes of intention, mistakes of moment, and out of all these mistakes with WORLD ON A WIRE he makes, at least for me, something composed of the old, that feels endlessly new.

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Grade: B+. It is definitely not for everybody, but if you like directors who are creative with cinematography (not just 360 degree shots but 540 degree shots), adventuresome in storytelling, and loyal to their actors (Fassbinder works with the same actors repeatedly, including actors of color, such as El Hedi ben Salem, rarely done for the period, and still too little done today) then this is a film for you. Recommended.

The Fassbinder Collection Two – MARTHA

World on a Wire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Speak to Me of Death: The Selected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich, Volume 1 (Collected Short Fiction of Cornell Woolrich)

Now Showing: Netflix Streaming On-Demand Film of the Day — THE ROBBER (Der Rauber)

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I wouldn’t agree with the quote on the above poster by an overly excited VILLAGE VOICE reviewer, this is more an intense case study/drama… rather than a white knuckled thrill ride; however it is an extremely tight and engaging case study/drama.

Plumbing the actions of a particular robber, the film never tries to explain those actions, but is satisfied in the unfolding of them, and in that way the main character of Johann Rettenberger (played almost wordlessly, and very impressively by Andreas Lust) remains an enigma and his actions inexplicable… to the end.

Director Benjamin Heisenberg, has crafted a fascinating and easily re-watchable puzzle of a film. The puzzle being the vagaries of the human heart. Strongly Recommended. B+.

You can view on streaming here (while it lasts), and when ready to own the movie you can get the Bluray here:

The Robber [Blu-ray]

Five FAVORITE AVENGERS Posters!!

So I was at the post office flirting hard, with the fetching postal worker behind the counter. And to her credit she was throwing it back pretty capably, and we got on the subject of the AVENGERS movie. She has no interest in the AVENGERS movie or any superhero or action flick.

She was much more psyched by THINK LIKE A MAN and WOMEN THOU ART LOOSED and other relationship tinged flicks. I must admit I died inside a little to know my future wife has no interest in slam, bam action flicks, but oh well. Diversity they say makes a happy home. πŸ™‚

On a serious note, taking a page from her book, I’m glad the AVENGERS movie is finally here, and I’m glad Joss Whedon is helming it, but I’m not really that wowed by the trailer I’ve seen, or the poster.

Of course I’m going to go see it, and I hope it’s great as everyone thinks it’s going to be, but I’ll be happy with good. Let’s put it this way, on anticipation level, not crazy about the default AVENGERS poster, this one:

The poster just bothers me, because it’s so un-artfully done, if you take my meaning. I can’t quite define what grabs me the wrong way about it, but it does. It definitely puts me off. It is so bad it actually has me worried about the movie. πŸ™‚

If you can’t take the effort to make a decent poster it just hints at sloppiness or laziness somewhere else in the film. I’m hoping that’s incorrect and the buck stops with a lazy marketing department (which is far from an isolated thing in Hollywood, unfortunately.)

So I went searching for AVENGERS posters that did look good, and found these top 5! (Some of the best ones are fan created) Enjoy!

First the honorable mentions. The solo posters with Scarlett Johansson for obvious reasons πŸ™‚ :

Now counting down to the best, #5:

#4

#3

#2 A great poster from Australia!

And my #1 favorite AVENGERS poster, is this simple but sumptuous use of open space and duality in this Japanese poster. I show the logo and logo free posters. It’s great!

Well I don’t know about you, but I feel better for having seen those nice looking posters! Easily pleased aren’t I? πŸ™‚

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Free Movie of the Day! THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND!

Occasionally I’ll bring you items, freely accessible online, that I think are worth a look.

HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND, available at Archive.org, is one such item. No one is going to confuse this German production from 1960 for a good film. A softcore exploitation-horror flick, originally titled ‘Toter hing im Netz’, by relatively unknown director Fritz Bottger, and sporting a largely German cast, it was first released in the states as a luke-warm Adult Flick in 1962 called IT’S HOT IN PARADISE, and sank like a stone. A few years later it was cut to try to appeal to the Drive In Crowd, and released as THE HORRORS OF SPIDER ISLAND and fared no better under that name.

All that said, it’s a harmless enough bit of pap, the dub/voice Actors do a good job, it’s well performed for an exploitation flick, it’s full of pleasant sights and plentiful female form (which happen to be the same thing :)), And the cheesy spiders and monster makeup, is kooky and endearing in a crazy way. Again I’m not arguing with its low IMDB rating, it’s completely brain-dead (One example: the male lead says ‘there’s nothing to worry about’ after they just find a dead body stuck in a huge spiderweb), that said I fast forwarded some of it, but mostly it was kooky, dumb fun and I enjoyed the time it took to watch.

A guy stranded on an Island, with a boatload of beautiful women. What is not to like? πŸ™‚ Well maybe the man-killing spiders mutated by Uranium could be a worry. πŸ™‚

The version on Archive.Org clocks in at only 74 minutes, a full 15 minutes less than its official time as listed on IMDB (more than likely for the original German version with nude scenes, etc, intact. It’s more than long enough at 74 minutes). And the picture quality is very dark, but is watchable, and again for a way to view the movie without having to buy or rent, you can’t argue with the quality.

So to sample it for yourself, View it here!

(And I always recommend downloading/supporting the OGG format which is a free/open format, unlike mpeg/mp4/mp3 and its derivatives… which one day, if I know greedy companies as well as I think I do, the MPEG rights holders are going to start charging people licensing fees to continue using their compression algorithm. They would be already but thankfully the alternative of OGG keeps them honest. So let’s keep supporting OGG.)

Thanks for looking!

Images of the Day: Art to make you go WoW!! Paintings from the Masters!

Title says it all, enjoy:

Beksinski has been called, and rightly, the master of the Aftermath, check out my previous posts on him.

Now a landscape painter I was introduced to just today, who was born nearly two centuries before Zdislaw Beksinski, and does not deal in Beksinski’s fantastic/visionary imagery, however in mood, in languid foreboding and beauty, he is very much a kindred spirit to Beksinski. I speak of German landscape painter Caspar David Friedrich.

However where Caspar David Friedrich was the greatest painter of German Romanticism, the American Romantic movement would broaden that movements intimate, small scope, and improve upon it, introducing the world to the grandeur and beauty of the landscape en masse. There was and is no better representative of American Romanticism/Landscape Painter, than the criminally neglected Robert Scott Duncanson, Abolitionist, Painter, World traveler. Born in Cincinati to a Scottish Father and African Mother, Duncanson’s work unfortunately remains underseen and underdocumented (unlike Beksinski and Friedrich, we still await the beautiful over-sized art book on Duncanson) . Where Beksinski is the master of the Aftermath, Duncanson is the master of the Grandeur.