Sunday, April 18, 2010

Movies I saw this weekend

Homocide (dir. David Maet, 1991), on Criterion DVD (2009). A cop procedural whodunnit with a cop who is Jewish but doesn't know if he is a Jew because he doesn't live in Israel and is set up by the Mosad to commit a crime and then be blackmailed to produce a list of names he already entered into evidence. A nice bookend with A Serious Man.

Kapo (dir. Pontecorvo (1959), just out from Criterion.
Very good (very Rossellini--washed out high contrast black and white that has a neorealist, documentary feel)) except for the end (a failed attempt to do a version of the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin, only set in a concentration camp).
One of the most interesting things about the film is the casting of Anne Frank as a Kapo (she pretends not to be a Jew but a thief who died in the camp and whose identity she takes over, first prostituting herslef, then becoming a Kapo), the actress who had played Anne Frank. She says a Hebrew prayer as she dies, after knowingly sacrificing herself so others can escape (they are mostly shot and killed attempting to do so). Kapo could never be made today.
Asquith's The Browning Version last night.

I also watched a film noir by Max Ophuls called The Reckless Moment
starring Joan Bennet and James Mason. Also excellent. The Browning
version has a great interview with Mike Figggis about the film and The
Reckless Moment has a great interview Todd Haynes on the film and how
he stole bits of it fro his film Far from Heaven,

Also recently watched two Frank Borzage films, The Mortal Storm (1940
and Three Comrades. They were recently released by the Warner
Archive. Borzage has a big reputation among cinephiles and I had only
seen one of his silents, which I thought was good but not that good.
The Mortal Storm seemed a like a pretty bad melodrama (the best thing
it has going for it are Jimmy Stewart and Robert Young, but even they
are forced to overact), but there's a concentration camp sequence in
it (the word "Jew" is never said, but Frank Morgan [Wizard of Oz]
plays a "non-Aryan" who is sent to the camps for his scientific theory
that all human blood is the same. There's a remarkable ski chase
near the end that comes out of nowhere--sort of Spellbound with Nazis
in it--and the last two shots are really memorable. Three Comrades
feels like a proto-Douglas Sirk film--kind of a queer film in that
three guys hang out even when one of them marries a woman. It's based on
an Eric Remarque novel. There's an excessiveness about the
acting--very artificial and stylized--that is perhaps what cinephiles
appreciate about it. But the music is pretty awful, in any case.

Last night I also watched The General Dies at Dawn (dir. Lewis Milestone, 1926), with Gary Cooper and Madeleine Carroll. It was fantastic. I'd never seen it before. A great Hollywood gem, with a cool title sequence shot with the titles appearing on sails of various Chinese junks floating on a river, some
innovative split screen work (four corners of the screen open up in
turn to reveal different characters before dissolving into one of the
corners, a kind of comic self-consciousness about the intricacy of the
plot, and a bit near the beginning and the end about a the white ball
used in pool (don't know what to make of that, but it's very cool as a
formal device).

I've also been watching a number of Charlie Chan films with Werner Oland. Totally formulaic
(even the same sets are used, redressed, in different films) but
wonderful. And I watched yesterday the new 30 minute longer version of
Metropolis broadcast in Germany a couple of months ago. A guy in
Munich on a listserv I'm on responded my request for a recording and
sent one to me. The music was performed by a live orchestra at a
screening in Berlin. Very nice effect. The new footage has not been
restored, so it looks pretty scratched up.

I'm now watching Peter Weir's The Wave for the first time since I saw it in theatrical release.  OMG, it still sucks.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Final Destination series versus The Omen series

I watched the execrable remake of The Omen (2006) and came upon a scene that made watching it worth the pain. The film confirmed my point that secular and theological accounts of death in cinema are the condition of the other and thus haunted by each other. If the Final Destination (FD) series is based on the premise of "death's design" (a parody of creationism) the Omen (O) series based on the premise that the anti-Christ has returned (the series is the spawn of Rosemary's Baby, its sequel, as the casting of Mia Farrow in the remake of the Omen as the evil any makes clear) and must be killed. The Omen remake restages the binding of Issac as Abraham's preemptive strike against the Devil the son (as opposed to God the father). The premises of both film turn quickly into their opposites: the guy being interviewed at the start of FD 2 immediately turns out to be as a kooky as an creationist, while the crazy priest in the Omen turns out to be right; moreover, the agency of God is indistinguishable from the agency of the devil--is the lightning strike on the Church a sign of God? Is the closing of the Church doors done by the devil?; images of Jesus on the cross are crosscut with images of the father holding down the son as he is about to stick about eight knives into him as far as they can go in front of the Church altar, inviting us to see a parallel between God and the father (both crazy infanticidal maniacs). Formally, both series share the same sequencing of death and the same assumption that death can be seen reflected in photographs and predicted. Both have relatively episodic plots. The Omen remake looks more butchered than edited. Wholes sequences are inserted with terrible awkwardness between shots that suggest an impossible and illogical continuity between them. The near murder of Mom by stepson is ripped off from The Shining and unbelievably prolonged. But the really telling moment in The Omen remake comes when the photographer is killed, just after asking "what if I'm next?" Running after the knives Liev Schreiber has just discarded in disgust and sounding like a total kook for being willing to kill the boy, the photographer is beheaded by a swinging metal ladder in a sequence straight out of one of the FD films. In cinematic terms, the logic of death turns out to be the same whether the film's premise is that death occurs because of death (there is no God in the FD series) or because of the devil (the Church turns out to be powerless, the space of a psychotic breakdown for the father who fails to murder his evil "son" or where priests are locked out (the Church doors close by the themselves, the same way they do in the FD series), excommunicated and killed by "freak" accident). The horror film genre depends on this dynamic. Carrie is a great film precisely because it internalizes it (Carrie's Christian Mom is evil and crazy but also right about Carrie). A p.s. The final shot of Damien smiling at the viewer is ripped off from the final shot of John Huston smiling at the viewer at the end of William Dieterle's brilliant Devil and Daniel Webster (which is a lot scarier).