Archive for Ozu

Three floral arrangements and a Sunday Intertitle

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on January 22, 2017 by dcairns

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(1) WOMAN IN THE MOON (Fritz Lang)

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(2) PASSING FANCY (Yasujirô Ozu)

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(3) ERASERHEAD (David Lynch)

The necessary background: arrangement one has been destroyed, absent-mindedly, by a distraught would-be astronaut during a telephone call; arrangement two has been destroyed very deliberately by a distraught schoolboy in a horticultural tantrum; arrangement three has not been destroyed. That’s as good as it was ever meant to look.

I touched base with the Lynch again when discussing sound design with students, re-watched the Lang for an upcoming project (Fiona, to my surprise, had never seen it) and the Ozu is part of a programme of viewing designed to make me fit for yet another project. Let’s talk about the Lang a little.

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The colossal, industry-busting size of METROPOLIS must have left the Lang-Von Harbou team in a bit of a bind. They wouldn’t want their next film to be an anticlimax, but they couldn’t realistically top what had gone before. Their eventual follow-up sprang from an abandoned idea for the previous super-epic’s climax in which the heroes would finally blast off into space (THINGS TO COME would eventually follow a comparable structure) and allowed them to make a slightly more modest film with a spectacular vertical ascent. So it was something different anyway. The advent of sound would allow the team to take M in an entirely different direction and not worry about gigantism as a goal.

While some compliment WOMAN IN THE MOON for inventing the countdown, I say it deserves more praise for correctly predicting that the first interplanetary travelers would walk the lunar surface wearing chunky knitwear and jodhpurs.

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Whatever that weird experiment was that Lang was performing with his actors in METROP — a range of emotion starting in a kind of feverish hysteria and ending in complete meltdown — he’s abandoned it in favour of a lighter tone and somewhat more naturalistic perfs. Though Fritz Rasp can never be adequately captured by a word like naturalistic. Germany’s leading Backpfeifengesicht, he seems to really exult in being repellent, this time perfecting his gloating smirk from beneath an askew smear of oily Hitler-hair that seems to have been poured onto his scalp like syrup. A pre-echo of Gary Oldman in THE FIFTH ELEMENT.

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Rasp and his hair

The first section of the film has more sweetness than any other Lang of its era, with sentimental sympathy for its outcast rocket scientist and his devoted young chum. (The scientist is introduced hurling an interloper downstairs, just like Professor Challenger in Doyle’s The Lost World.) Then a kind of Mabuseian paranoia takes hold as Rasp and his cohort of shadowy industrialists force their way into the moon mission.

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Complicated intertitular thing: the announcer in the upper left is live action, the rest of the frame is a still image, and the words are animated, flying out from the announcer to vanish bottom of frame: “The spaceship (weltraumschiff) has reached the launch pad.”

Then there’s the launch and the journey — the intentionally juvenile aspect of the story is clinched by the presence of a schoolboy stowaway.

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Then the stuff on the moon, where the team is beset with treachery, cowardice and, yes, lunacy, as well as a violently unstable romantic triangle. Though I’ll never stop boosting METROPOLIS, in its restored version, as a gripping story as well as a historically important epic, a case could be made for FRAU IM MOND as an easier sell if you’re thinking of introducing students or anyone else to German silent cinema.

“How dare you make a face!”

Posted in FILM with tags , on January 8, 2017 by dcairns

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That’s what it says, apparently. Burying myself in Ozu. Can’t tell you why yet. Also — Borowczyk! So you can’t say things aren’t varied. Oh, and a bit of Ashby, a dash of Etaix. I can say no more.

Befuddled

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on September 20, 2014 by dcairns

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Hey look it’s Pierre Blanchar! (See comments for correction.) With Louis Jouvet in Salonican drag. What gives?

I have a Pabst-related gig, so I’m watching Pabst films. No hardship there.

But when I come to MADEMOISELLE DOCTEUR, a 1937 French spy thriller (Pabst was working in France before the war, which adds to the mystery of why did he go back to Germany when war started? He’s like Rudolph Hess in reverse. Or something) I hit a subtitles snag. The subs have been created by a fan. This is one of the great phenomena of modern cinephilia — fan subs have opened up vast uncharted areas for study and enjoyment by the monolingual — but of course sometimes the results are imperfect. I can remember Ozu’s sublime I WAS BORN… BUT sliding out of focus, mentally, as I gradually realized the subtitles had been auto-translated and didn’t make a lick of sense. It’s surprising how long it can take to notice. You patiently wait for a film’s narrative to resolve, but it never quite does because all the words are wrong.

The problem with the Pabst is different. The subs are simply unfinished, with whole scenes untranslated. Since it’s a twisty spy flick with moral gray areas and dubious characters adopting shady masks, it could prove challenging to my Earthling brain anyway, but the abrupt subtitle dropouts make it even more abstract, like watching Tinker Tailor as a child. (The problem Truffaut diagnosed, that whenever a character in a film refers to someone not present by name, we become confused, because unlike novel-readers we can’t flip back a few pages and remind ourselves who the hell Emma Flume or Argentine Filibuster or Rudolph Sasquatch *is*, largely disappeared for me when I read his statement of the problem, and I started paying attention to the dialogue. The bad one is still Carpenter’s THE THING, where somebody self-immolates offscreen and I can never work out who is meant to be smouldering in the ashes. I scan the beards, trying to work out which one is no longer present, which is no kind of fun.)

I was trying to think, what is this sensation reminding me of, as the film slipped in and out of comprehension like those little animated plasticine worms in ERASERHEAD, weaving above and beneath the riddled surface of my capability. I think it’s a childhood feeling, when you’re listening to adults and they suddenly shift the subject to politics or taxation or something you don’t understand and they might as well be making brass instrument noises like the adults in Charlie Brown.