Archive for Udo Kier

A Small Town in Austria

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2019 by dcairns

Having gotten some interest out of LE MANS, I was interested to see more of director Lee H. Katzin’s work — Peter Nellhaus, via Facebook, commented “Katzin followed up with the reportedly incomprehensible spy movie, THE SALZBURG CONNECTION, killing any aspirations Anna Karina may have had of being an international movie star.”

Well, say the words “incomprehensible spy movie” and I am ON IT. In fact, I’d call this one merely garbled and narratively inefficient — you can work out easily what the MacGuffin is — they explain it, thereby destroying everybody’s chance of sympathy — and you can more or less tell who the goodies and baddies are. As usual with this kind of thing, a few surprises are attempted there.

Barry Newman is a lawyer gently press-ganged into undercover work for the CIA. Anna Karina is another innocent mixed up in the caper.

The MacGuffin, I guess I have to explain now, is a box full of details of Nazi collaborators’ IDs. It could be used by Israel for revenge or by other nations for blackmail — the Americans have employed and protected many war criminals, and they don’t want to wind up with the Russians, for example, pulling their strings. This is what our man in Salzburg, Barry Newman, is fighting for. I couldn’t exactly get worked up about whether he succeeded in protecting all those poor Nazis.

The film also suffers from a setting that seems uncinematic — Salzburg is undoubtedly beautiful, but the skies are grey and the place is small — it’d do for a visit in some globe-trotting Bondian romp, but to be stuck there for a whole film seems claustrophobic and limiting. And, shorn of exotic glamour, the film probably needed more edginess, a bit of sex and violence. The latter is all red paint, the former comes not from Anna Karina in a rather dowdy, downbeat role, but from Karen Jensen as a duplicitous honeytrap, brazenly coming on to Newman throughout, to lure him to a sticky demise. Unlike Eva Marie Saint’s fey faux-casual pick-up routine in NORTH BY NORTHWEST (comparably suspicious), Jensen plays it HORNY. DIRTY, even. The film threatens to come to life.

Among the action highlights are a slow car chase through orderly Austrian traffic and a punch-up between Karl Maria Brandauer and Udo Kier, which should give you some idea of the low octane character of the whole venture. On the other hand, a sequence with Karen Jensen trapped in a stairway is highly tense and cinematic, with a bit of Katzin’s extreme slomo on display when Jensen drops the cardboard tube full of evidence she’s carrying and it bounces downstairs, end over end, huge echoing CLUNKS on the soundtrack, revealing her position to her pursuer.

Hitchcock, of course, would have realized (after his British period, anyway), that such a sequence should never be assigned to a minor character. It has to be the hero or heroine in jeopardy.

Another bit of nifty technique, though: Katzin, perhaps alone of the feckless freezeframers of the seventies, is able to use stop-start motion PSYCHOLOGICALLY: the film pauses for a moment of shock, an adrenalin-surge felt by a character and transmitted, showily, to the audience. It’s pretty OK. But somehow the movie still feels like TV, perhaps because most of Katzin’s direction is fancy, decorative, rather than dramatic and emotional. And his tricks, the lens flare and the crash zooms and the freeze frames, had all found a home in telly. As had Barry Newman, or he was about to.

THE SALZBURG CONNECTION stars Anthony J. Petrocelli; Natacha Von Braun; Alfred Redl; Dr. Mabuse; Dr. Frank Mandel; Floyd Evenright; Professor Teenage Frankenstein and the Wiener Spatzen Boys’ Choir as itself.

Mother of Gels

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Mythology with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 28, 2018 by dcairns

Inspired by our enjoyable viewing of SUSPIRIA in Bologna, we looked at Dario Argento’s follow-up, INFERNO (1980), which I hadn’t seen since around 1989, and which Fiona had never seen. I mainly remembered the bad bits, in particular the terrible cats-and-rats sequence in which the creepy bloke from MARIENBAD perishes in a heavily rodent-infested Central Park, crying, “The rats are eating me!” And the shifty butler overacting. And the crap skeleton saying “You mean you still don’t understand?” which it turns out doesn’t quite happen.

What DID happen was remarkable — by sheer coincidence we put the film on during a lunar eclipse AND a thunderstorm, and both a lunar eclipse and a thunderstorm are featured in the movie. And then our Tonkinese cat, Momo, who never watches television usually, started acting very strange during the cats-and-rats scene, prowling around the room and looking behind the TV in search of the source of all the mammalian vocals.

(I don’t now why Argento always has these animal atrocities in his films, they’re rarely convincing. The glove puppet seeing-eye dog in SUSPIRIA, and here, the cats being thrown at Daria Nicolodi (then Mrs. Argento), with the animal handlers’ hands actually visible onscreen, and then the rats that mainly just look confused. And none of it has anything to do with the “plot”. Maybe this helps: composer Simon Boswell remarked, “Dario is the only person I know who is regularly attacked by his own cats.” )

“I hope the house doesn’t burn down,” I said, after all these other coincidences. After the film ended, we became conscious of very loud engine noise coming from outside. We had the windows wide open due to the heat wave. I looked outside and saw three fire engines.

Building on the mythos invented for SUSPIRIA, Argento introduces the architect Varelli, responsible for constructing three witch houses –one of these burned down in the previous movie but the other two, an art deco palaces in New York and a creepy library in Rome, are encountered here. We seem to be following in the footsteps of ROSEMARY’S BABY and THE SEVENTH VICTIM, while anticipating GHOSTBUSTERS.

It’s Take Your Cat to Class Day, didn’t you know?

One thing that’s missing amid the supersaturated colours and moderne design is an interesting central character. Jessica Harper had worked wonders giving humanity to Argento’s sanguinary excercises du style, and poor Leigh McCloskey and his Action Man mustache aren’t up to the job, but then he never gets much to do and the movie keeps abandoning him so it can show some minor character getting stabbed up or defenestrated in flames. It’s not really McCloskey’s fault.

I did come around to Argento’s demented dialogue, though. A lot of what seems like sheer silliness or ineptitude may be entirely deliberate. My friend Alex had spoken enthusiastically of the bit in SUSPIRIA where Udo Kier says something like, “Of course there’s no such thing as witches. My friend will explain all that to you,” and then his friend appears as if by magic and says, “Yes, there are witches. It’s a house full of witches,” and Udo just smiles and nods as if this is what he’d expected to hear.

Why is that good? First, consider this quote from the Maestro ~

“I’m searching for panic, which is at another level to terror, it penetrates even further. If one wishes to compare panic to fear, we can say that fear is a 38-39 degree fever, while panic is 41 degrees. Therefore, it’s delirium”.

Now apply your memories of fever to this dialogue from INFERNO’s awkward elevator conversation ~

Nurse: “His name is Professor Arnold, he’s been quite ill for many years. And you, what do you do?”

McCloskey: “Oh, I’m a student. Musicology.”

“Oh, wonderful! A professor of toxicology. We know two other young men who -“

“No, no, it’s not toxicology. Musicology. It’s got nothing to do with medicine.”

“What is it then?”

[rather brilliant confused pause by McCloskey] “The study of music.”

“Oh yes, your sister’s involved in rather strange work too.”

“Strange? No, she writes poetry.”

“Oh. Yes, a pastime especially suited for women. Goodbye!”

Let’s just agree that this is, in fact, brilliant. McCloskey being prey to various unexplained ailments in the course of the “story” allows us to see this as a fever-dream dialogue whose demented improbabilities open portals to altered states of conversation. It makes us feel out of it. The words are wrong, the attitudes are wrong, and the voices don’t seem to emanate from the characters’ mouths. We’re sweating through a heat wave right now, so that only added to the feeling of roiling confusion.

Then there’s the strange superimposed titles, ostensibly giving us time and place as these things normally do ~

   

But, brilliantly, April (the cruellest month) has no story significance at all, and the film’s insistence that this is “the same night in April” is REALLY wacky, since the character above just got off the phone with her brother in Rome — obviously it’s the same night, since we’re in the middle of  continuous transatlantic conversation. Evidently, Argento’s mind doesn’t work along conventional narrative tracks, as if that wasn’t obvious from all the cobwebby stuffed crocodiles and gratuitous Verdi, and Keith Emerson’s score that seems to fold together Jerry Goldsmith’s OMEN theme with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. But maybe, just maybe, Argento understands normal human thought well enough to send it crashing off the rails with deliberately skewed narrative devices and exchanges.

It’s a theory, anyway.

        

(Poor old McCloskey, come to New York to investigate his sister’s disappearance, just like Kim Hunter in THE SEVENTH VICTIM, never does find out what became of her. Would having her corpse pop out at him sometime be too much to ask?)

Blind Tuesday: Eat the Pianist

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , , , , , on February 21, 2012 by dcairns

Ran SUSPIRIA for some of my students the other week, particularly the cinematography student who wanted to see some interesting colour work. Argento’s film has that in spades — I can’t recall where I heard that the maestro of mutilation used discontinued Technicolor stock, and purposely replicated the colour schemes of Disney’s SNOW WHITE, but it seems to be true. At times, notably during the first double-homicide, Argento’s vivid hues land him in trouble, where the kaleidoscopic shifts in palette make the intercutting a touch confusing — is this a new scene? where are we? is that the same woman?

While Argento’s CAT O NINE TAILS features a sympathetic blind character played by Karl Malden, and must surely form the subject for a future Blind Tuesday column, SUSPIRIA has a minor blind character, a pianist, who is treated pretty shoddily by both the film’s ballet school/coven of witches and by Argento himself. First the poor chap is rudely ejected after an allegation, no doubt unfounded, that his guide dog bit a nasty little kid (Argento never bothers to clear up what really happened, but there’s a clear suggestion of canine provocation). During this scene, where Alida Valli gets to be gloriously nasty and flash her terrifying teeth, the pianist’s jacket and stick are flung on the floor where he has to fumblingly retrieve them. The ballerinas stand around, uncomfortably. That’s no way to treat the Bavarian Stevie Wonder.

This seems to me a pretty good example of Argento’ disinterest in character. It does the film no favours, in any conventional sense, for its heroine to stand passively by during this abuse of a disabled man. Having Jessica Harper step forward and help the guy out would’ve made for a sympathetic moment. As it is, Argento’s camera ignores her (is she even IN the scene? Why not?), dodging the question of how she would react and thus evading character insight.

That night, the pianist is gored to death by his own dog, in a scene which only makes sense if it’s a bit of diabolical influence from the Queen of the Witches. We never find out what happens to the dog, which departs, grinning, just as Harper will at the end.

For much of the movie, I was wondering, since Argento clearly has no interest whatsoever in dialogue per se, why he includes so much of it? It ought to have been reasonably easy to develop SUSPIRIA’s plot with action alone. But there is, occasionally, a weird virtue to his plodding conversations, where all the dialogue is utterly on the nose, as well as being post-dubbed in a variety of accents. It’s like listening to two chatbots talking in space. Sometimes it can actually make you feel high.

Udo Kier’s scene is the best example of this. As he tells Harper how she shouldn’t believe in witches, a wind picks up, ruffling their hair and the tablecloth and the potted plants and the trees in the background. Soon it’s going gale-force, with Harper struggling to act through her whipping coiffeur, to the point where one fears for the crew’s safety, but the soundtrack ignores it completely — there’s not even the mildest whistle of “Antarctic Whiteout” (Fellini’s favourite FX record). The result is simultaneously trippy and hilarious.

To cap it all, Kier then introduces Harper to a white-haired old expert who he claims can confirm everything he’s said. Instead, the  geezer starts talking about how witches are real, and have immense powers, but can only do evil. Kier has slunk off, so we don’t get his reaction, but Harper doesn’t find this contradiction strange, which is genuinely dreamlike — I think it might have been even better if Udo had stood there, nodding sagely, as the old fellow rubbished everything he’s just said.

No reference to the discrepancy is ever made — it passes in silence, like the wind.

Suspiria (Two-Disc Special Edition)