Dir. Werner Herzog
158 mins.

Fitzcarraldo has been near the top of my Must-See list for some time. I could never bring myself to watch it. This mainly had to do with the idea of a 2 ½ hour movie about building an opera house in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. Watching it seemed like it would be hard work, and I didn’t feel like working. I was surprised to find myself sucked into this man’s world and obsession.

Fitzcarraldo wants to build an Opera House in a small Peruvian town in the middle of the Amazon Jungle. To finance his dream he borrows money to buy a steamship to travel to an unclaimed territory of the jungle in an attempt to manufacture rubber from the trees that grow there. With the money from this operation, Fitzcarraldo will finally be able to make his dream come true. Over the course of his journey up the Amazon Fitzcarraldo will deal with inept crewmembers, the threat of savage Native Indians, and a nearly impossible feat. The movie’s centerpiece is stunning visually and in execution. In an attempt to cross from one side of the Amazon River to the other, the 340-ton steamship is hauled over a hill using ropes and pulleys and good ol’ manpower. Inch by inch, the ship makes its way up the steep incline as Herzog lets his camera linger on the massive undertaking. The sound of creaking floorboards and groaning steel add an element of suspense. This is outstanding filmmaking! What Fitzcarraldo finds on the other side of that hill is what’s most surprising. Herzog’s story of obsession results in a Buddhist parable – It’s not about the destination, but the journey.

Klaus Kinski is an absolute wonder to watch as the infatuated Fitzcarraldo. Herzog and Kinski’s relationship is legendary, but their’s ranks with the likes of Scorsese and DeNiro, and Capra and Stewart. They make an extraordinary team.

Herzog continues to crank out pictures about as often as Woody Allen or Michael Winterbottom. That’s good for us. Not every film he makes is great, but he’s still interested and he still loves film and it still shows. There’s a certain completeness about his movies – the audience is never left wanting. I look forward to catching up with other Kinski/Herzog titles I’ve mistaken as hard work.


friday classic film blogging

The Beyond ("E tu vivrai nel terrore - L'aldilà") (1983.) Directed by Lucio Fulci. Screenplay by Dardano Sacchetti, Giorgio Mariuzzo, and Fulci. Starring Catriona MacColl, David Warbeck, Cinzia Moreale, Antoine Saint-Jean.


david lynch thursday!

I am a huge admirer of Billy Wilder. There are two films of his that I most love because they create such a world of their own: Sunset Boulevard and The Apartment.

And then there's Fellini, who is a tremendous inspiration. I like La Strada and 8 1/2 - but really all of them, and again, for the world and the character and the mood, and for this level, which you can't put your finger on, that comes out in each one.

I love Hitchcock. Rear Window is a film that makes me crazy, in a good way. There's such a coziness with James Stewart in one room, and it's such a cool room, and the people who come into this room - Grace Kelly, for instance, and Thelma Ritter - it's just so fantastic that they're all in on a mystery that's unfolding out their window.

--- "Heroes of Film," Catching the Big Fish.


FLIX Classic Arthouse Series

Raging Bull. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Adapted by Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin from Jake La Motta's memoir Raging Bull: My Story. Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci & Cathy Moriarty.

Special 35mm screening ONE NIGHT ONLY this Saturday, June 28th @ 10PM at Denver's new independently owned theater, Neighborhood FLIX.


Ten recent reviews:

Thriller! A Cruel Picture -
I wish I knew what they were getting at here. The version I saw did not have the notorious penetration scenes, but I doubt they would've changed the idea of the film, in which a young girl is raped, falls mute, and then as a young woman is kidnapped, forcibly addicted to drugs and forced to serve as a prostitute until she gains enough experience in hand to hand combat, firearms, and driving skills to exact her revenge. I've told you everything that happens here, and I wish that as an exploitation picture it had played a little more on something - the film is as clinical as that description, giving you very little to take from it, to think about during or after it. It just comes up on screen with little fanfare, so-so acting, direction, and camerawork, bad writing and some OK special effects (convincing gunshot wounds) alongside some really dumb ones (exploding cars, a'la the Pinto in Top Secret). I guess it's a tabula rasa - there's so little to it, so little invested in it emotionally or intellectually that you can project just about anything you want about sex and violence and find parts of the film to support that reading. I think it's unreadable, if not exactly unwatchable. Weird.

Before the Devil Knows You're Dead -
Not too far from the previous film, actually, in terms of me wondering exactly why I'm watching it, though there's a lot more invested in making it a "good" picture. It's hard to care about the people here as their lives spiral further and further out of control. They've created the bad places they're in and as they get worse off - supported of course by tight direction by Sidney Lumet, a crafty script, and some good acting - you just watch it happen without getting invested in anybody. It can get better or worse for Phillip Seymour Hoffman's character and it's no sweat off my back. Same goes for everyone else here. I kind of enjoyed it in a gritty, pulp/crime-filmy way, but if I'd felt more invested in the people here I think it could've been riveting instead of just neat.
Tickets -
Charming omnibus from Ken Loach, Ermanno Ormi, and Abbas Kiarostami. Loach's set was my favorite, though I wouldn't definitively say that it's in any way "better" than the contributions of the other two, just that Kiarostami hasn't yet made a real mark on me (I've only seen A Taste of Cherry), never seen anything by Ormi (though he's far and away the most prolific of the three) and I really liked Loach's Sweet Sixteen (from which several actors reappear here). A train trip to Italy provides the foundation for several stories that don't exactly intertwine but more happen in proximity to each other and Loach's beats out the unresolved arguments between the young man and cranky old lady (who never really gains my sympathy for treating him as she does) and the reflections of missed opportunities that the professor of the first segment gives us. Loach's take is warmer and more vibrant than either and more fun and more involving for me in the end. Definitely worth seeing if you like the directors involved, but not necessarily a major statement by anybody, and in that it's like every other omnibus film I've ever seen.

Yuck. I don't think I've ever seen a less humorous "comedy" of such high regard since Dr. Strangelove paraded out a bunch of footage of Peter Sellers working hard to make stale lines (written by the mostly dreary and humorless Stanley Kubrick) come to life. Here Altman and his cast throw down a bunch of ideas (or "plot" if you will) loosely around a medical camp in the Korean War and while I'm supposed to side with the young renegade doctors Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland, I just feel like they're assholes. Sutherland kind of gives me some things to grab onto, but mostly this made me think of a frat party - some smart ass guys of some privelege talk about sex and tits, get drunk a lot, try to get laid a lot, and worry about being homosexual but not about being racist, all the while feeling like they're bearing the flag of the counterculture beceause they stick it to "the man" at every opportunity. Forget that every figure of authority here is written like a one-note dickhead or uptight bitch rather than being given a fair shake at any point. Forget that his "Last Supper" here has no meaning in the context of the film, just another "fuck you" to whoever, unlike, say, Bunuel's in Viridiana. To me this is the 60's at its most self-congratulatory and most aggravating. And guess what came on my TV right afterward? Why, Dr. Strangelove, of course. Sigh....

Standard Operating Procedure -
Worth seeing, but as an Errol Morris film - where I'm used to him really getting below the surface of things - something of a disappointment. I mean, sure, if you thought that these kids were really a bunch of really bad people who operated in a vacuum and did truly horrible things to the people in the photographs, then yes, it will open your eyes. But if, as the title suggests and as I believe, you think that they worked within a culture where such behavior as the humiliation of their prisoners was par for the course - and more ominously suggested that it was completely mild by comparison - it will pretty much read out to the choir. I wish it took on higher targets, but probably it's pretty damn difficult to get that kind of information from high-level military while an operation is still underway. Even so, it's interesting, there's some enlightening stuff on screen, and it's made with Morris's usual panache and attention to detail. My only complaint with the filmmaking itself would be Danny Elfman's sometimes melodramatic score. Kinda makes you take things less seriously than you might otherwise be inclined to.

The Strangers -
A weird little film. Taken solely as something to really creep you out, it's really effective and well made. Keeps enough grounding in reality to make it seem plausible and really scary, yet uses enough cinematic technique to also amp it up and play around with you and make it really scary. Unfortunately, that's all it does. Not only does it not give you a reason why the tormentors did anything beyond "you were home," it gives you no real reason why you would get anything out of it beyond a few good scares and the creepy feeling that if you were in a similar location, this could happen to you too. I dunno, maybe now that I know what's gonna happen I can see how (or if) the failed engagement of the primary charcters plays into the rest of the film, what that frantic 911 call early on signifies, etc. I guess I just wanted more from it intellectually, and maybe even as a shocker. Once the scary stuff starts, it quickly escalates then kind of plateaus until the inevitable confrontations at the end of the film. It stays tense, but a little more dramatic ebb and flow might have made it even better. Not bad, but I was left a little wanting.

The Bitter Tea of General Yen -
If all Frank Capra's name means to you is sentimental Americana, you need to check this love story set in 1932 China. Political turmoil abounds and two American missionaries on the eve of their wedding go to a provincial town to save a group of orphans. Husband and wife (Barbara Stanwyck) are separated and the notorious General Yen (played brilliantly by the Denmark-born Nils Asther) saves the wife from turmoil and proceeds to hold her (somewhat) against her will, fascinated by her and her attraction to him, seemingly confident that she'll fall in love with him given time. You can call it melodrama if you want, but I never think that's a bad thing. Interracial love between a strong woman taken directly from her wedding day to a tradition-minded Chinese general set and shot in 1932 directed by the so-called tradition-minded Frank Capra? I'll take it. Excellent stuff all around in writing and acting, but I'd especially want to single out major props for the set design.

The Outrage -
Martin Ritt directs a film written by Michael Kanin that is adapted from Kanin's play (written with Fay Kanin) that's adapted from Kurosawa's screenplay that was in turn an adaptation of two short stories by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Too much lost in translation then for this film to possibly be good? I'd say that it ain't necessarily so, but in this case it surely is. Could be that someone could've made a good western version of Rashomon, but this isn't it. It's too stagy across the board for me and owes everything from cinematographic details to pacing to Kurosawa's version, which itself had some theatrical touches but managed to couch them in a naturalistic style when the principals got into their recollection of the events. Edward G. Robinson (especially) and Paul Newman fight hard against the tides to try and make something of this, but when you're bound to a film that owes everything down to nuances of dialogue, camera shots, and of course story to another film, how can it possibly work? And as pretty and James Wong Howe's work is here, I wish Ritt had taken a stronger position to shape the material more. It feels like Kanin's script didn't get changed and Ritt either stuck Howe with copying Kazuo Miyagawa's original camerawork or let Howe run the show as far as setting up all the cameras. Either way, this film just didn't work for me. I'd rather see Rashomon for the thousandth time.

Last House on the Left -
Once upon a time I thought this was among the most difficult of films to watch. I still find the experience unpleasant but well-done and quite affecting. I'll admit that I watched it again because David Hess, who stars here as the leader of the group of killers, is touring with the production of Sweeney Todd that just came to town. But I also wanted to see if it still hit me the way it used to, and for the most part, it did. The comic bumblings of the police feels out of place in a film that really hits it nightmarish stride pretty quickly and stays really fucking intense for the bulk of its running time. Craven is on record saying that while the film doesn't exactly draw an explicit parallel to Vietnam, the accounts of what was happening there gave them the sense of outrage to make the film as graphic and brutal as it is and that it was a cathartic experience for both cast and crew. So one could view it - as friends I respect have - as a cheesy, low budget slasher flick. Or you could view it as a complement to Winter Soldier, something that illuminates the horrific behavior the soldiers are describing, something that takes place within the world of the "Standard Operating Procedure" of dehumanization of other human beings and the offences ranging from humiliation to torture to rape and murder that can follow out from that. It's probably easy to guess where I sit within those thoughts.

The Piano Teacher -
Really fucking intense film about a masochist played to the hilt by Isabelle Huppert. Haneke seems to revel in placing you in the center of scenes of brutal and messed up situations that you feel like you shouldn't be witnessing. I have friends who call him cold, and I understand that though I'd call it "unflinching." This reminded me of some of the more intense moments of Bergman - Cries and Whispers for example - where you're privileged and also embarrassed to be watching scenes that feel so realistic and raw while touching on emotional turmoil that you hope never to experience in your own life. I find this kind of filmmaking very brave and very fascinating, but also something I really need to build myself up to watching. I'm up for watching more, just not right this second.

friday classic film blogging

Monsieur Verdoux. (1947.) Directed by Charlie Chaplin. Written by Chaplin, from a story by Orson Welles. Starring Chaplin, Martha Raye, William Frawley, Fritz Leiber, Sr.


friday classic film blogging

The Women. (1939.) Directed by George Cukor. Written by Anita Loos and Jane Murfin, from the play by Clare Booth Luce. Starring Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell.


chick habit

It's dress-up night at Dex's apartment!

Diva (1981) I think the reason that Jean-Jacques Beineix's stylish, neo-wavey thriller about bootlegged cassette tapes and the people who chase them is so easy to love is that nearly everyone in the movie is an obsessed fan (an obsessed music fan, to be precise), much in the same way and capacity the audience no doubt is - a little bit dreamy and a little bit bad, but for the best of reasons. Frédéric Andréi (who also starred in another classic from the early 80s, The Facts of Life Go to Paris) is Jules, who moons over opera diva Cynthia Hawkins (the elegant Wilhelmenia Fernandez) to the point that he snatches a dress during a premiere performance in gay Paree. One thing manages to lead to the next, of course, in the way that only things can and do in sweet little movies like this: a politically-explosive cassette is slipped into Jules' bag at the train station; the opera singer not only forgives her overeager fan but falls in love with him; and a chance encouter with a sexy teen shoplifter leads to another particularly advantageous meeting with a spacey, cigar-smoking artist. Chock full of fab music, even more fab loft apartments, and a chase through the Paris subway system, Diva is exactly what you thought the City of Light was like when you were 20.

Sorry, Haters (2005) While writer-Director Jeff Stanzler's gritty thriller meshes the cultural landscape of post-9/11 New York, the philosophy of collateral damage, and the secret shame of altruism in unexpected ways, it's still much more clumsy and less believable than it should be, especially when it becomes clear how Stanzler intends on bringing those themes together (and then the ick factor should be somewhere in Todd Solodnz territory). While what we get is daring, it never quite comes together like it should, but nevermind that - all of the film's shortcomings are picked up and sorted by Robin Wright Penn, who delievers one of the boldest performances I've seen from an actress in recent memory. If anything, you'll never hear Sonic Youth's 'Bull in the Heather' the same way again.

The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) Well, it's a story of love, deception, greed, lust, and unbridled enthusiasm: Scarlett Johannsen continues her slow upward arc towards being a real actress (she does just fine when she has something to do, but she just can't be still otherwise); Eric Bana, who has yet to recapture the spark that made everyone sit up and take notice in Chopper (2000), gets busy with the Boleyn girls, but then gets all broody. Natalie - sweet, sweet Natalie - pouts and flirts and cries and acts up a storm.

I didn't give a shit about Henry, King of the Whopper or the Boleyn Girls before I saw this, and I don't now. That said, the film isn't all that bad, and both Johannsen and (especially) Portman look fabulous throughout. What's important, after all, is that I see as many non-Star Wars and/or comic-book-related Natalie Portman movies as I can stand, so when I meet her - yes, when - we'll have lots and lots to talk about.

Wicked, Wicked (1973) A recent feature of Turner Classic Movie's always-incredible TCM Underground, Wicked, Wicked was screened in "duo-vision," or the split-screen shots that Brian DePalma deployed so skillfully in the early sequences of his culty hit Sisters. While DePalma's use of the technique exacerbated tension, Wicked, Wicked writer and director Richard Bare pushes "duo-vision" in this trashy story of hotel dicks, sleazy broads, and Z-grade Tony Perkins-eque sex slashers for an overlong 95 minutes - switching back to full screen for the gross-out scenes - and the gimmick only occasionaly makes up for the stockroom characters, dull plot, and awful script ("That manager of yours - are you makin' out with him?" "Good night, Rick! I don't have to listen to that jazz!"). But maybe that was the point. Even still, Wicked, Wicked is so brazenly, cheerfully dumb that there's at least 70 minutes of fun.

up-the-queue (open thread)

Lately, my Netflix flow has been at a shameful standstill. Hopefully in the next week I'll get around to watching at least one of the following:

High and Low - I'm hoping this is a Kurosawa film that I'll really like.
Early Spring - Continuing my quest through Ozu's ouevre. Does anyone else feel curiously "organized" after watching an Ozu movie?
The Thief of Bagdad - If Michael Powell had a hand in it, I've gotta see it. Really looking forward to this one.

What's in yours?

david lynch thursday!

"Total. Fucking. Bullshit."


friday classic film blogging

Miller's Crossing. (1990.) Directed by Joel Coen. Written by Joel and Ethan Coen. Starring Gabriel Byrne, Albert Finney, Marcia Gay Harden, John Turturro, Jon Polito, J.E. Freeman, Steve Buscemi.