Saturday, July 25, 2009

Shu Pei

Indeterminacy 134

Ramakrishna spent an afternoon
explaining that everything is God.

one of his disciples
entered the evening traffic in
a euphoric state and
barely escaped being crushed to
death by an elephant.
He ran back to his
teacher and asked,
“Why do you say everything’s
God when just now I
was nearly killed by an elephant?”
Ramakrishna said,
“Tell me what happened.”
When the disciple got
to the point where he heard
the voice of the elephant’s
driver warning him several
times to get out of the
way, Ramakrishna
“That voice was God’s voice.”

- John Cage

A Scan a Day

Best Friends (1975)

Two young couples taste the free and easy life on a cross country motor-home tour until love backfires and tragedy follows.

This starts off as a buddy road movie with the obligatory nudie scenes, but turns into a homo-erotic psychological drama, when the one guy, who can't accept that his buddy is going to marry the girl, turns into a psychopath. Somewhere inside this flic there is some ambition, there's one well-done fist-fight and the ending scene is actually quite original, but this all has been done much better elsewhere.

Who's That Girl?

Bullets or Ballots (1936)

An upright police detective goes undercover to crack down on the syndicate.

Above-average gangster drama with 2 of its greatest starring doing their thing.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Audrey Tautou

The Best Movies of the 1980s?

Raging Bull (1980)

I guess it's needless to debate the merits of this Scorsese movie, it was an instant classic. I remember seeing it for the very first time, when it was released in Germany, expectations were high, of course, but we were unprepared for a black-and-white film with such relentless boxing scenes. It's typical for Scorsese to highlight another character you wouldn't want to encounter in real life, but hardly anyone has done it with such expertise like he did in this movie.

L'argent (1983)

By the time L'argent, Robert Bresson's last movie, was released I had managed to see nearly his complete oeuvre and I was already a great admirer of his work. Although he had already made a string of masterpieces this movie seemed to be a summary and radicalization of the techniques he had developed over the decades, especially his way of not showing the main events in the image, but only bits and parts.
Although this to me was the very essence of Robert Bresson being an avantgarde artist it was enormously shocking to see the audience at the Cannes film festival booing at the old man, when he received a special prize. Once again it is true that most people will not recognize real art, but rather go by short-lived fashions.

There's a fine review of the movie here.

The Gold Diggers (1983)

I have only seen The Gold Diggers once, I wasn't able to get it for our film club cinema (the other members were against playing it), and I've been trying to get a copy on DVD to re-assess my initial opinion. However, I have now read that Sally Potter retracted the movie due to the bad reviews it got at the time. To me it was a masterly formal experiment, a perfect (albeit quite feminist) image-music phantasmagoria, beautifully photographed and with wonderful music by Lindsay Cooper.

Hakkari'de Bir Mevsim (1983) aka A Season in Hakkari

In the early 80s there was a wave of great New Turkish movies in German cinemas, and the works by Erden Kiral and Yilmaz Güney were all very promising and excellent examples. I especially love Kiral's A Season in Hakkari about a dedicated young teacher who is punished by being sent to work in a very remote mountain village and how he copes with the conditions and the seclusive townspeople. It is an intense anthropological study full of love for the people and their simple way of life.

Sans soleil (1983)

This beautiful filmic essay by Chris Marker is one of my all-time favourite movies, I've watched it numerous times ever since. At the time Sans Soleil was probably mistaken for another fashionable hodgepodge of pretty images like the extremely successful Koyaanisqatsi from a year before, and I assume that's how it got a theatrical release at all. However, Marker's movie is a complex, thoughtful, sometimes melancholic essay full of remarkable insights, a cinematic experience far beyond the mainstream and superior to the artsy-fartsy independents so popular in those days.

Saraba hakobune (1984) aka Farewell to the Ark and Goodbye Ark

Similar as with The Gold Diggers I have only seen this movie by Shuji Terayama once and can only remember what a strong impression it made on me. The plot is taken from an episode out of Gabriel García Márquez' One Hundred Years of Solitude, an incestuous love story between 2 cousins. A synopsis, however, does no justice to this work which is complex, full of unusual images and highly enjoyable nevertheless. I really need to see this one again.

Blue Velvet (1986)

Need I explain? When it was released I watched it 3 times in a row, I was completely overwhelmed, Lynch exceeded my expectations. An instant classic!

Do ma daan (1986) aka Peking Opera Blues

I guess this was the movie that introduced the west to modern Asian cinema. Although I had seen quite a lot of Asian movies by then, Peking Opera Blues opened up a whole new world of cinema to me. This film by Tsui Hark is endlessly exciting with 3 gorgeous female leads, Brigitte Lin, Cherie Chung and Sally Ye. all names I've remembered since.

Dead Ringers (1988)

David Cronenberg is one of my favourite directors, one who has pushed the limits of contemporary horror as far as he could. Dead Ringers is one of his best, this time he has omitted the drastic horror scenes for more 'subtle' effects. But this perverse amour fou story is all the more disturbing.

Neco z Alenky (1988) aka Alice

The Czech director Jan Svankmajer is a legend within the genre of animation, but little known to the general public. Alice was his first feature, and it pretty much sets new marks to what can be achieved within animation. Never abandoning his surrealist sensitivity his re-telling of Alice in Wonderland is both magical and slightly disturbing. Nothing for kids!

Nadia Serlidou

ph: Jouke Bos

Indeterminacy 161

An Indian woman who lived in the
islands was
required to come to Juneau

to testify in a trial.

After she had solemnly sworn to tell
the truth,
the whole truth,
and nothing
but the truth,

she was asked whether she had been

She said,


Once on the boat coming
and once
in the hotel here in Juneau.”

- John Cage

Valeria Sokolova

Nowhere to Go But Up (2003)

aka Happy End

A young eccentric French woman travels to New York to become an actress.

Slight, but basically delightful romantic comedy, obviously made as a vehicle for Audrey Tautou to do her thing, which she does very well, of course.

Who's That Girl?

ph: Chris CB

New stuff

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Natalia Vodianova

Indeterminacy 70

M. C. Richards went to see the Bolshoi
Ballet. She was delighted with the
dancing. She said, “It’s
not what they do; it’s the ardor
with which they do it.” I said,
“Yes: composition, performance,
and audition or observation are really
different things. They have next
to nothing to do with one another.” Once,
I told her, I was at a house on
Riverside Drive where people were invited to
be present at a Zen service conducted by a
Japanese Roshi. He did the
ritual, rose petals and all.
Afterwards tea was served with rice
cookies. And then the hostess
and her husband, employing an
out-of-tune piano and a cracked voice,
gave a wretched performance of an excerpt
from a third-rate Italian opera.
I was embarrassed and glanced
towards the Roshi to see how he was
taking it. The expression on
his face was absolutely beatific.

- John Cage

Who's That Girl?

The Teacher (1974)

An 18-year-old's first summer after completing high school is much spent with a 28-year-old teacher.

This movie is basically just an excuse for delivering as many nude scenes of Angel Tompkins as possible. If I were teaching cinema I could use this flic very well to explain what NOT to do. It is not really totally bad, though, Tompkins even does fairly well (as a slutty teacher), but there are otherwise shortcomings in nearly all departments.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Mariana Idzkowska

Who's a Film Critic?

Last night watching the daily culture news broadcast as usual there was an interesting report about the future role of film critics facing the new challenge of the internet and the blogs, reviews and data presented there.

The German film critic Daniel Kothenschulte was interviewed, a very nice guy I briefly met once who not only writes film reviews, but also does piano accompaniments for silent movies. His reviews are very good, and I respect his opinion very much.

I also agreed to most of his insights about online film blogs and reviews, he was quite benevolent about the phenomenon and also admitted using the internet intensively for acquiring information. Interestingly, he does something I do, too: reading the Internet Movie Database - a site I use on a daily basis - he said he does register the viewer ratings there. If a movie he hasn't seen yet or deliberately ignored so far has a good rating, he feels obliged to watch it. Same with me...

However, he did say something I cannot agree with. He acknowledged that some bloggers write extremely good and stylistically excellent reviews, but they cannot stand in for the 'professional' film critics, since they were only "well-informed laymen"!

I have had to deal with many film critics and 'laymen' in my life, and I also have published a few things as a 'professional' film critic myself. You don't study or learn the profession of film critic, every one of them is a 'well-informed layman', nothing more. Film journalism is one of those wonderful jobs, in which you can make a profession out of your hobby.

Besides that fact I also am acquainted with quite a few film buffs who have much more knowledge about movies and cinema history than most film critics. Our local newspaper has 2 film critics I'm friends with. One works for the culture pages in general and occasionally writes a movie review when necessary; he's very well-informed. The other one writes movie reviews only, and she basically doesn't really like movies, knows hardly anything about cinema history and will not review a movie, if she doesn't get a press kit. (Sometimes I had to make my own press kits just to satisfy her request and get her to write about the movie I was playing at my cinema). It was merely an unloved job to her. That's a professional film critic compared to a 'well-informed layman'?

Once, at a local film festival, I got a booth and had a chance to sell stuff from my
cinema store. I mostly had books and magazines on display. The 'professional' film critic came by, and she started leafing through the mags - all the important mags were there, I was a bit proud of that, but she had never seen any of them before and probably never even had heard about them. In the end, she didn't buy anything, of course, but she said to me: "Nothing for me - this stuff is for specialists."

Sara Ziff

ph: Leda and St. Jacques

Vignettes #34

Although we have been brought up in a very pious Catholic family, both my sister and I have established very different lives compared to our upbringing and compared to each other. My sister joined a creationist Christian sect and is happily married with 3 children, my 2 nephews and my niece.

Another strange difference is that we always had cats in our family, but my sister nowadays does not really like them and refuses to have one as a pet. My 5-year-old nephew Clemens, however, turned out to be a cat lover just like the rest of our family, and it seems that he's especially enthusiastic about me, not just because I'm his only uncle, but obviously also because I have 2 cats.

One day Clemens asked his mother where can you find God, where does he live. My sister said that God lives in our heart and of course in his heart, too.

"But that's where the cats are already!" my nephew replied.

Cassi Van Den Dungen

Indeterminacy 148

When I first moved to the country, David Tudor, M. C. Richards,
the Weinribs, and I all lived in the same small farmhouse. In
order to get some privacy I started taking walks in the woods.
It was August. I began collecting the mushrooms which were
growing more or less everywhere. Then I bought some books and
tried to find out which mushroom was which. Realizing I needed
to get to know someone who knew something about mushrooms, I
called the 4-H Club in New York City. I spoke to a secretary. She
said they’d call me back. They never did. ¶ The following spring,
after reading about the edibility of skunk cabbage in Medsger’s
book on wild plants, I gathered a mess of what I took to be skunk
cabbage, gave some to my mother and father (who were visiting)
to take home, cooked the rest in three waters with a pinch of
soda as Medsger advises, and served it to six people, one of
whom, I remember, was from the Museum of Modern Art. I ate more
than the others did in an attempt to convey my enthusiasm over
edible wild plants. After coffee, poker was proposed. I began
winning heavily. M. C. Richards left the table. After a while
she came back and whispered in my ear, “Do you feel all right?”
I said, “No. I don’t. My throat is burning and I can hardly
breathe.” I told the others to divide my winnings, that I was
folding. I went outside and retched. Vomiting with diarrhea
continued for about two hours. Before I lost my will, I told M.
C. Richards to call Mother and Dad and tell them not to eat the
skunk cabbage. I asked her how the others were. She said,
“They’re not as bad off as you are.” Later, when friends lifted
me off the ground to put a blanket under me, I just said, “Leave
me alone.” Someone called Dr. Zukor. He prescribed milk and
salt. I couldn’t take it. He said, “Get him here immediately.”
They did. He pumped my stomach and gave adrenalin to keep my
heart beating. Among other things, he said, “Fifteen minutes
more and he would have been dead.” ¶ I was removed to the Spring
Valley hospital. There during the night I was kept supplied with
adrenalin and I was thoroughly cleaned out. In the morning I felt
like a million dollars. I rang the bell for the nurse to tell her
I was ready to go. No one came. I read a notice on the wall which
said that unless one left by noon he would be charged for an
extra day. When I saw one of the nurses passing by I yelled
something to the effect that she should get me out since I had
no money for a second day. Shortly the room was filled with
doctors and nurses and in no time at all I was hustled out. ¶ I
called up the 4-H Club and told them what had happened. I
emphasized my determination to go on with wild mushrooms. They
said, “Call Mrs. Clark on South Mountain Drive.” She said, “I
can’t help you. Call Mr. So-and-so.” I called him. He said, “I
can’t help you, but call So-and-so who works in the A&P in
Suffern. He knows someone in Ramsey who knows the mushrooms.”
Eventually, I got the name and telephone number of Guy G.
Nearing. When I called him, he said, “Come over any time you
like. I’m almost always here, and I’ll name your mushrooms for
you.” ¶ I wrote a letter to Medsger telling him skunk cabbage
was poisonous. He never replied. Some time later I read about
the need to distinguish between skunk cabbage and the poisonous
hellebore. They grow at the same time in the same places.
Hellebore has pleated leaves. Skunk cabbage does not.

- John Cage

Who's That Girl?

All Through the Night (1941)

Runyonesque Broadway gamblers turn patriotic when they stumble onto a cell of Nazi saboteurs.

The story is a bit of a hodgepodge, part comedy, part gangster flic with some noir elements, part patriotic flag waver, but it's wildly entertaining and never boring to watch.

Nataliya Piro

ph: Markus Jans

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Best Movies of the 90s?

Inspired by this blog at Fin de cinema I thought I'd make a list of my own.

This is very personal and based on those titles I have actually seen. I've limited it to 10, since it is a selection and I needed to set some priorities. In the end I assume the omits are more interesting than what I have listed...

My criteria are what these movies meant to me at the time I saw them and whether they still have relevance to me today.

So here they are listed by date of release:

Goodfellas (1990)

When the release date for this Scorsese movie was announced expectations were extremely high: Martin Scorsese did a new gangster movie! I wasn't disappointed, I watched it 3 days in a row and numerous times since. It's long, but fast-paced with great acting and bundles of memorable scenes and dialogue. Scorsese has since done more great work, but this one sticks out among his later movies.

Topâzu (1992) aka Tokyo Decadence

I played this movie at my cinema with quite some success. The trailer had announced a weird Japanese erotic movie and probably lured a lot of curious people to watch it. However, I've never screened a movie in which so many guests left the theater after the first 5 minutes. None of them even tried to get their money back. They just ran out of the house.
The movie itself truly does not spare you with drastic sex scenes, but it is more a melancholic tale about a girl trying to find true fulfillment in life. Definitely unforgettable.

Crumb (1994)

Of course this is a documentary, but rarely will you see one giving you so much insight into these odd characters, 50s family life, the pop art of the 60s, brothers' relations. There's so much to find, and in the end it is a very sad experience. Most moving and tragic is to see Robert Crumb's genius brother Charles, maybe more talented than he is, never get ahead of himself. In an afterword we are told that he committed suicide.
There's a good review of the film here.

Yin shi nan nu (1994) aka Eat Drink Man Woman

I must admit that I like most of Ang Lee's works, his The Wedding Banquet was one of the great successes we had at our cinema. However, considering his movies in the 90s I count Eat Drink Man Woman my favorite. I often pull out the DVD just to watch the first 15-20 minutes, the greatest cooking sequence in movie history, IMHO. But then I find myself watching the movie till the end. It is a wonderful family story, the father reminds me very much of my German grandfather, and the director manages to create empathy for him and the fates of his beautiful 3 daughters. In a way it is a wonderful, but thoughtful fairy tale.

Duo luo tian shi (1995) Fallen Angels

Considering Wong Kar-Wai in the 90s I could have mentioned Chungking Express and In the Mood For Love with having more relevance in 90s cinema. But I especially prefer this aesthetic daydream of a movie especially for the participation of the endlessly beautiful Michelle Reis. I watch all 3 movies every so often, this one is special to me.

Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995)

Yeah, again I could have mentioned Todd Solondz' Happiness, but this one came first! Like the latter it is advertized as a black comedy, but I wasn't really prepared for the grimness of its humour. A very unusual experience and certainly a quite influential movie.

Fargo (1996)

Well, this is probably the title that is the least surprising, but let me mention that I did not include Pulp Fiction in this list. Although I like the latter and you can hardly underestimate its influence, the movie is just too cool for its own good. In comparison Fargo is not simply cool, but truly a little masterpiece, and the Coen Bros. still need to prove that they can do it again, No Country For Old Men came close, though. Nevertheless, you can watch Fargo over and over again and still find some details you missed the other time around. Definitely an instant classic.

The Funeral (1996)

Abel Ferrara's work has always been bumpy, and there are probably less hits than misses, but this regretfully half-forgotten movie is one of his true masterpieces. I must admit it was hard to watch the first time I saw it, and the ending pretty much hits you in the stomach. If there ever was a swan song to the gangster genre, this is it. The ensemble is incredible, and the plot and mise en scene is meticulous.

Lost Highway (1997)

I've always been a David Lynch fan, almost from the very beginning, so it was so far a disappointment, when he came up with something less than great. Lost Highway was the movie that got me reconciled with Lynch after years of disappointments, and he actually went on strong with The Straight Story and Mulholland Dr. Lost Highway is special for several reasons, not the least one is that I was immensely proud that I got this movie for my cinema, and it was successful. The movie itself is a wonderful noir dream adding more facets to the Lynch universe and leaving the audience even more puzzled than ever before. (OK, I agree he can hardly surpass the Eraserhead in that aspect).

The General (1998)

John Boorman's career has also been quite patchy, but with The General I think he did his late masterpiece. I first saw the movie as a preview at the Munich Film Festival and was instantly thrilled. I certainly wanted it for my cinema and went through some pains to get it. I did, but the movie was not a success with our audience.
The movie is highly entertaining, but the humour is never in the way of depicting the complex character of this Irish criminal who was something like the king of the Dublin gangster world. It's a true story, and allegedly Boorman got the idea for the movie after the general had robbed his own Dublin home. A movie I have watched numerous times.