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February 08 2018

February 07 2018

Warner Bros. Hosted ‘The Bugs Ball’ Bash For This Year’s Annie Award Nominees (PHOTOS)

Warner Bros. Animation shares some photos with us of the big party they threw for this year's Annie Award nominees.

The post Warner Bros. Hosted ‘The Bugs Ball’ Bash For This Year’s Annie Award Nominees (PHOTOS) appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Toon Boom Harmony Brings Traditional Anime To Life Digitally

Read our case study of how a young Japanese studio is using Toon Boom to create traditional pencil-and-paper quality work, while respecting their artists’ process and culture.

The post Toon Boom Harmony Brings Traditional Anime To Life Digitally appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

4. mondo bizarr weekender: wong ga jin si (david chung, hongkong 1986)

1986 war die Welt des Actionkinos noch in Ordnung, in den USA und in Hongkong. Wenn man sich heute David Chungs international als IN THE LINE OF DUTY bekannten No-holds-barred-Brecher im Kino ansieht, wird man auf eine Art und Weise überrollt, wie man das gar nicht mehr gewohnt ist. Ja, heutige Actionfilme mögen größer, teurer aufwändiger und vielleicht auch bildgewaltiger sein: Der schieren Power eines solchen Werks, bei dem alle Beteiligten anscheinend nichts anderes im Sinn hatten, als sich und ihre Kollegen umzubringen und auf dem Weg dahin noch möglichst viel Sachschaden anzurichten, haben sie wenig bis nichts entgegenzusetzen.

Der alberne Humor – hier die reichlich stelzbockhaften, in heutigen #metoo-Zeiten mehr denn je fragwürdigen Avancen, die der niedliche Jungcop Michael (Michael Wong) der unwilligen Michelle (Michelle Yeoh) entgegenbringt -, meist Anlass für kontroverse Diskussionen und für viele westliche Zuschauer die bittere Pille des Hongkong-Kinos, die geschluckt werden will, scheint mir tatsächlich zwingend notwendig, um die rohe Physis, die Chung in den irrwitzigen Actionszenen zelebriert, überhaupt verkraften zu können. Bekäme man nicht zwischendurch die Gelegenheit, mit den Augen zu rollen, kurz abzuschalten oder sich vielleicht gar über ein paar Infantilismen zu ärgern, es wäre kaum auszuhalten. Es fällt bei dem entfesselten Tempo, das diese Filme fahren, der Leichtfüßigkeit seiner Darsteller, ihrer tänzerischen Eleganz und der Sportlichkeit der Inszenierung kaum auf, aber wenn dann die Credits rollen, fühlt man sich tatsächlich wie ein Punching Ball – oder einer der Protagonisten nach dem nicht enden wollenden Finalfight, bei dem in einer Tour ausgeteilt und eingesteckt wird. So flüchtig IN THE LINE OF DUTY inhaltlich sein mag: Er hinterlässt tiefe Spuren.

„Selbstüberbeitungslogik“ ist ja eigentlich ein Begriff, den man am ehesten mit den neuen Strategien des Eventkinos in Verbindung bringt. Nur dass die Überbietung heute, wo ganze „Universen“ aufgebaut werden sollen, mehr und mehr auf den nächsten und übernächsten Film verschoben wird. WONG GA JIN SI fängt indessen bildlich gesprochen im Sportwagen auf der Überholspur an und endet mit zwei auf Schallgeschwindigkeit fliegenden Düsenjets, die als Geisterfahrer durch den Feierabendverkehr heizen, in ihrem Innerem ein Haifischbecken, in dem sich tollwütige Berserker mit Kettensägen duellieren, an den Tragflächen gen Null tickende Zeitbomben. Eigentlich ist man schon zur Halbzeit völlig bedient von der wahnsinnigen Geschwindigkeit, aber dann gibt es immer noch einen obendrauf, wird der Adrenalinspiegel immer weiter nach oben gepusht, bis der Hippothalamus Muskelkater bekommt.

Wie das alles möglich war, begreift man heute gar nicht mehr: Bei einer Verfolgungsjagd werden immer mehr Autos durch die Gegend geschmissen, nur weil es geht, bei einem Wahnsinnsstunt fliegt ein Stuntman von einem rund 30 Meter hohen Haus und knallt dann in ein Glasdach. Beim Showdown werden x Sprengsätze hochgejagt, denn ein Finale mit Explosionen ist geiler als ohne, logisch. Und dann sind da noch die Keilereien, die wirklich nicht so aussehen, als hätten die Darsteller Rücksicht aufeinander genommen. Und weil alles so schön ist, sieht man es aus fünf verschiedenen Perspektiven, orwärts, rückwärts und in Zeitlupe. Und trotzdem rafft man es nicht. Nur geil.

Es ist eine Binsenweisheit, aber was Film auf der großen Leinwand anrichten kann, sieht man hier, an einem Jahrhundertfilm wie IN THE LINE OF DUTY: Zu Hause auf dem Fernseher, damals von VHS oder meinetwegen auch heute von digitalen Medien, da war Chungs Film schon ein korrekter Spaß, gut für das ein oder andere anerkennende „Hoho“ oder einen offenen Mund. Im Kino, umgeben von begeisterungsfähigen Menschen, die Lust haben, sich mal so richtig in den Arsch treten zu lassen, wird das Ganze zum transzendentalen Erlebnis. Und zumindest für ein paar Tage meint man, den besten Film der Welt gesehen zu haben. Hat man ja auch.

VFX Shops Iloura And Method Are Merging Into One Mega-Studio

The companies have recently contributed vfx to "Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle," "Black Panther," "Thor: Ragnarok," Okja," and "Game of Thrones."

The post VFX Shops Iloura And Method Are Merging Into One Mega-Studio appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Digi-Tech und Geta-Klappern: SUMMER WARS von Mamoru Hosoda (Japan, 2008)


 "Die Eröffnung, ein wilder Strudel der Farben auf weißer Leinwand. Chaos. Vorbeirauschende Symbolketten und glitzernde Schwärme von Abziehbildchen, blinkende Icons und Avatare, die aufeinander zujagen, in rasanten Kurven wie bisher nur Raumschiffe durchs All schossen, außer Kontrolle oder doch nicht – und in der Mitte, da dreht sich der große Katzen-Bodhisattva. Mit leichtem Grinsen und einem Om auf den Lippen. Irgendwie auch debil wahnsinnig zwischen Digimon und Doraemon und chinesischer Winke-Katze. Im digitalen blank space von Summer Wars, an dem Ort im digitalen Netz, an dem alles zusammenkommt. Im Herzen aller Anwendungen, aller mobilen Dienste, aller Apps und jedes digitalen Contents, dort gibt es den einen Punkt, der die Welt zusammenhält: es ist Oz, der neue Mittelpunkt der Erde. Und wenn er kollabiert, dann geht sprichwörtlich nichts mehr. Nirgendwo."

 Für die japanische Kulturwebseite Tanuki Republic habe ich mir Mamoru Hosodas SUMMER WARS angesehen, und hier kann man das gesamte Review nachlesen. Ich freue mich sehr, etwas zu dieser äußerst lesenswerten Seite beitragen zu dürfen, da ich sie für ihr breites Interessenspektrum sehr schätze.

Michael Schleeh

***

February 06 2018

Review: Lost and Found—Raúl Ruiz's "Time Regained"

Raúl Ruiz frequently remarked that he was the perfect person to adapt Marcel Proust’s vast set of novels Remembrance of Things Past (or, more literally, In Search of Lost Time) to the screen because, having reached the end of reading the entire work, he instantly forget it all. He was joking, of course, but his jest disguised a serious method. The only way to convey Proust on screen, in Ruiz’s opinion, was to approach it not as a literal condensation of multiple characters and events, but as a psychic swirl of half-remembered, half-forgotten fragments and impressions—full of uncanny superimpositions and metamorphoses. “‘The best way to adapt something for film,” he summed up, “is to dream it.” 
Ruiz’s dreaming was always accompanied by extensive, meandering, seemingly eccentric research. In the case of Time Regained, he plunged (as he revealed in a splendid, lengthy interview with Jacinto Lageira and Gilles Tiberghien) into the diverse philosophical theories of time offered by Immanuel Kant and Henri Bergson; into the scientific and mathematical writings of Isaac Newton, Albert Einenstein, and Kurt Gödel; and into the accounts of visions recorded by religious mystics—since, as Ruiz reasoned, “we are dealing with what is, above all, a mystical text.” 
He even dipped into the annals of early film theory, discovering (thanks to a suggestion from Jonathan Rosenbaum) the 1946 essay by Jacques Bourgeois in La Revue du cinéma titled “Proust and Cinema”. Bourgeois’ piece confirmed for Ruiz two of his deepest, longstanding intuitions about the medium of film: that all images, even if they are signalled as flashbacks to the narrative’s past, “happen” for the spectator in an eternal present; and that, in a movie, there is a split between its tableau aspect (the period setting, the costumes, places, and so on), and its narrative aspect (everything that happens and moves forward in the plot). With the caveat that, in Ruiz’s mind, it was always preferable to treat the narrative as a fixed tableau, and give the setting its own strange, teeming life.
It is in this mélange of wildly diverse knowledge-systems, hunches, and values that Ruiz, in collaboration with screenwriter Gilles Taurand (who has also worked for André Téchiné and Benoît Jacquot) fashioned a very coherent and consistent way of adapting Proust for the screen. Concentrating on the “digest” offered in the final volume, Time Regained, and using that as a launch-pad from which to conjure the entire Proustian panorama, Ruiz dreamed up his vision of a film where “nothing really important happens”: 
Everything goes back to the point of departure, because we constantly return to childhood, to a detail or experience that possesses the signs of a repetition – those cyclical elements which form, ultimately, the substance of the tableau. That’s how I filmed Proustian narration: as a tableau. All these narrations, brief and fleeting, of no importance, end up creating an image without movement. Rather, it is in the Proustian descriptions – particular elements of environment, costume, character – that we can find, if I can put it this way, the action. Shifts, movements, incidents, sidelong details – all of these are in the tableau; while everything that is static, even ecstatic, is in the narrative.  
Ruiz’s Time Regained—in order to guarantee both the circularity of time, and the uncanny effect of multiple events happening and overlaying themselves all at once—gives us not one but four incarnations of Proust as a character. He figures as a child (Georges du Fresne), an adult (Marcello Mazzarella), as a bedridden, dying old man (André Engel); and also as a voice-over, read by celebrated filmmaker and theater director Patrice Chéreau. When two or more of these Proust-versions inhabit the same scene (as in the sublime finale), the film achieves its most lyrical, Ophülsian flourishes of style. Enjoying the evident correspondence between Proust’s decadent aristocrats and the media “celebrities” of our time, Ruiz took full advantage of what was, for him, a star-studded cast: Catherine Deneuve, John Malkovich, Emmanuelle Béart, Pascal Greggory, Edith Scob.  
It is rare indeed for films that offer a “critical reading” of their esteemed literary source material to be widely successful with a general audience—especially when that critical reading is as intricate and intertwined as the one Ruiz assembled here. As we all know, at the end of the day, the old-fashioned criterion of “fidelity to the novel”—to either its literal events, or its amorphous “spirit”—still reigns supreme in the reactions of most moviegoers to adaptations of the “great books.” But Ruiz’s Time Regained was a surprising commercial success, effectively launching a new (and more handsomely resourced) chapter in the director’s career. Producer Paulo Branco took an inspired risk in putting Ruiz (rather than a more recognisably “French” filmmaker) at the helm of this project, and granting him (as he did also with Manoel de Oliveira and Chantal Akerman) complete artistic freedom. 
What is most impressive is that even many fans and connoisseurs of the novel went away satisfied with Ruiz’s “take” on what had long been considered—in the light of the unmade adaptations by Luchino Visconti and Joseph Losey, and the weak Volker Schlöndorff effort, Swann in Love (1984)—a completely unfilmable literary property. The beloved characters, the famous motifs (such as the memory-triggering madeleine), the tersely melodramatic situations: Ruiz respected enough of that “to the letter” in order to win the right to his surreal arabesques and dreamlike variations on the given material. Specialists in both Proust and cinema even found pleasing correspondences between the structure of the novelist’s lengthy sentences and the sinuous, extended movements of the camera (superbly crafted by cinematographer Ricardo Aronovich, a regular Ruiz collaborator). 
It is natural to assume that any filmmaker who tackles Proust must be reasonably obsessed with the mental and emotional processes of recollection, and the individual’s experience of passing time. With what is, again, a bravely counterintuitive leap, Ruiz sidestepped most of that brand of subjective agony and ecstasy. As in his Chile-set swansong Night Across the Street (2012), he envisaged Proustian time not as a private sensation, but as a fully external, physical and objective “dimension”: something (he claimed) that only mystics could truly “see”. This is what makes his Time Regained both hallucinatory and concrete, wayward and exact.

‘Inside Out’ Infringement Case Dismissed In U.S. Court

A U.S. judge did not accept a woman's claim that "Inside Out" was based on her project, "The Moodsters." Our legal expert explains the ruling.

The post ‘Inside Out’ Infringement Case Dismissed In U.S. Court appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

Freiheit

Das Vorzimmer der Macht ist der einzige Ort in Dallas, in dem die ungebundene Kontingenz der Welt in die Serie hereinragt. Im Empfangsraum der Chefbüros von Ewing Oil sitzen, tagaus, tagein, zwei bis drei Sekretärinnen. Die Frauen sind loyal zu ihren Chefs, in den Intrigenspielen, aus denen die Serie hauptsächlich besteht, erhalten sie jedoch höchstens winzige Nebenrollen (Ausnahme: die bemitleidenswerte Sly in Season 7). Sie werden allerdings auch nicht "unsichtbar" wie das Personal der Ewing-Ranch, da sie andauernd mit kleinen, logistischen Aufgaben betraut werden: Mal wird ihnen aufgetragen, eine Information weiterzugeben, mal müssen sie einen aufdringlichen Besucher abwimmeln, oder einfach nur dem einen Ewing-Bruder Auskunft über den Aufenthaltsort und die Beschäftigung des anderen verschaffen. Sie legen dabei eine wundervolle Lässigkeit an den Tag, werfen sich gegenseitig ironische Blicke zu, oder betrachten auch mal ausführlich ihre Fingernägel. Sie sind die einzigen Figuren, bei denen man neugierig wird auf das Leben, das sie außerhalb der Serie führen. Allzu viel Einblicke erlangen wir nicht, nur sehr selten lassen sie ein paar wenige Worte fallen über ein misslungenes Date, oder einen grässlichen Veggie-Burger ("never again").

The Diabolical Doctor Z

Diabolico_DrZ.jpg

Dans les griffes du maniaque / Miss Muerte
Jesus Franco - 1966
Redemption Films BD Region A

What struck me upon seeing Doctor Z again after several years was the remarkable use of depth of field in the images. This begins almost immediately with the interior of some kind of prison that appears to be underground, an extremely long passageway, with the camera following a prisoner to a gate first seen in the distance. The film was made not long after Franco's work with Orson Welles, primarily as second unit director on Chimes at Midnight. While there is nothing in Doctor Z that can be pointed to as looking like a specific homage, what is noticeable here is the use of space, of placement of characters that force the viewer to consider what is within the entire frame, and the frequent use of extended traveling shots that follow the characters in pursuit.

This is a beautifully rendered blu-ray disc, one of Franco's last films in black and white. This is also Franco's most easily accessible film, for viewers less familiar with the filmmaker or whose preference is for more classical modes of cinema. Certainly working two associates best known for their work with Luis Bunuel may have been an impetus here, with Jean-Claude Carriere on the screenplay, and Serge Silberman as one of the producers.

The titles are a bit misleading. Doctor Z, that would be Doctor Zimmer, dies after the first twelve minutes or so. And Miss Muerte is the stage name of a nightclub dancer turned killer. The villain here is Doctor Z's daughter, Irma, taking revenge on the three esteemed doctors who in publicly mocking her father caused him to die in front of a conference of his peers. While not a sequel, per se, there is reference to Franco's earlier mad scientist creation, Doctor Orloff. Zimmer is a disciple of Orloff's with some unconventional ideas about mind control and good and evil, which consists of placing some unwilling victims on a glass platform, pinned down by two long metal tentacles, and sticking long metal pins through their heads. Told to cease his operations, ends the conference by getting an apparent heart attack. Irma Zimmer's revenge begins by first faking her death with an unwary hitchhiker. Among the detectives on the trail are music composer Daniel White as Green from Scotland Yard, and the still baby-faced Franco as a detective sleep deprived by the cries of his newborn triplets.

The film comes with both an English and French language track. Keep in mind that the cast was made up of primarily French and Spanish actors, and that all dialogue was most likely dubbed in as was common at the time of production. The advantage to seeing the film in English is that it does not distract from the wonderful visual qualities here. Cinephiles will certainly get a chuckle from a cinematic reference in the French dialogue in an early scene. Tim Lucas provides the commentary track here, providing information throughout the entire running time. Unlike previous Franco films, Daughter of Dracula and The Erotic Rites of Frankenstein, Doctor Z is less dependent on familiarity with the more arcane aspects of Franco's universe. Still, what makes Lucas's commentaries stand out is his preparation, with no lapses of silence or the fumbling of improvisation with scattered notes.

miss muerte.jpg

Who got played? A guest post by Jeff Smith on THE PLAYER

The Player (1992).

Jeff Smith, our collaborator on Film Art: An Introduction just recorded an installment of our Observations on Film Art series for the Criterion Channel on FilmStruck. Here’s a supplement to that. –DB

In my installment, focusing on genre play in The Player, I discuss Robert Altman’s film in relation to two important traditions in Hollywood cinema: crime thrillers and films about filmmaking. As anyone who knows Altman’s other films would expect, The Player toys with the conventions of both genres in a number of different ways.

As I note in the video, The Player was received as something of a comeback film for Altman. It augured a resurgence in the director’s career that ultimately produced such late masterpieces as Short Cuts and Gosford Park.

Today, I sketch out some additional ideas about The Player’s use of genre conventions. I hope to shed light on some other connections to the crime thriller that I didn’t discuss in the video. I also hope to show just how unusual the film is in this context. Spoilers ahead, not only for The Player but for the novel and film of The Ax.

 

Will the real Griffin Mill please stand up?

In Reinventing Hollywood, David notes that there are usually four sorts of characters involved in a crime thriller plot: victims, lawbreakers, forces of justice, and more or less innocent bystanders. Filmmakers customarily organize the film’s narration around one or more of these character roles. Typically, a cascade of further choices flows from this initial decision about whose perspective forms the focal point of the story.

In The Player, much of the narration is restricted to the knowledge of the protagonist, Griffin Mill. The film includes a few scenes where Griffin is not present, like the one where the studio’s management awaits his arrival at a meeting. That, in itself, is not unusual. Many thrillers, like Chinatown or The Ghost Writer, employ similar tactics. What is slightly unusual is the fact Griffin takes on two of the typical character roles in the crime thriller as both victim and lawbreaker.

Griffin is a suit, and as a studio functionary he doesn’t immediately engender audience sympathy. Our first glimpse of Griffin shows him listening to pitch sessions. His questions to the people proposing new film projects are glib and capricious, representing the worst aspects of Hollywood commercialism.

Yet The Player does marshall some sympathy for Griffin as the victim of a stalker. Every time Griffin finds a postcard in his mail or on his car, it reminds us that he might be in mortal danger. After the stalker plants a venomous rattlesnake in Griffin’s passenger seat, we can’t believe the threats are empty.

Any sympathy that Griffin garners as a result of this psychological warfare is mollified, though, when the victim becomes victimizer. As Griffin later explains to June, his job is to tell people “no” more than a thousand times each year. Griffin believes that one of these rejections is the reason for the threatening postcards he receives. But he tragically miscalculates in targeting aspiring screenwriter David Kahane as the likely suspect.

Griffin contrives a meeting with Kahane at a Pasadena movie theater, and having bumped into him, tries to make amends. Yet Kahane recognizes that he is being pimped. This leads to a shouting match in a parking lot with Kahane threatening to ruin Griffin’s reputation. And when Kahane accidentally knocks Griffin over with his car door, Griffin reacts with rage, grabbing the screenwriter’s head and banging it repeatedly against the lot’s concrete surface. Although it seems clear that Griffin was acting on impulse, he’s nonetheless crossed a line that separates victims from perpetrators.

More importantly, Griffin’s violent action complicates the viewer’s allegiance to him. Altman establishes a dramatic context in which the motivations for Griffin’s crime seem completely understandable. Yet whatever sympathies viewers might have for Griffin are muddled by his creepy romantic interest in Kahane’s girlfriend; his cruel treatment of Bonnie, his current partner; and the general smarminess he exudes as a successful but shallow executive. Crime thrillers often ask audiences to sympathize with heels. There’s nothing that Griffin does that is inherently evil, but there’s nothing to really like. It’s less about his crime and more about his slime.

Griffin’s passage from victim to lawbreaker also alters the typical thriller plot. At the start of the film, Griffin himself functions as the investigative agent, trying desperately to figure out who is threatening him. Once Griffin becomes a suspect himself, though, that line of action halts, and the Pasadena police’s investigation of Kahane’s death springs up in its place.

This shift in the direction of the plot doesn’t really change the film’s pattern of narration. We remain as ignorant of the police’s activities as Griffin is. What does change are the stakes of the narrative. Instead of eliciting curiosity and suspense about Griffin’s stalker, we now wonder whether he’ll ever be brought to justice for Kahane’s death. Despite its strong connections and frequent allusions to crime fiction, The Player is not so much a whodunit as it is a will-he-get-away-with-it.

 

They smile in your face, all the time they want to take your place….

 

Besides blurring the boundaries between Griffin’s role as both victim and lawbreaker, The Player falls into a specific subgenre of crime fiction: the corporate thriller. Since, the corporate thriller is mostly defined by its setting, it blends pretty easily with the typical thriller plots and characters.

Like the spy thriller, the corporate thriller can focus on protagonists engaged in industrial espionage, as we see in Duplicity, Demon Lover, or Paycheck. Christopher Nolan’s Inception blends the plot mechanics of these corporate espionage thrillers with science fiction tropes to provide a narrative frame, but then embeds elements of the heist film within it.

Like the political thriller, the corporate thriller might also focus on the backroom deals and machinations that enable the protagonist to move up the company ladder. A film like Disclosure is a paradigm case. But even romantic comedies or prestige dramas can borrow elements from it. (Think Working Girl and Glengarry Glen Ross.)

More commonly, though, corporate thrillers feature elements drawn from the crime thriller. The roots of this approach to the genre stretch back a long way and can be found in both literary and cinematic antecedents. Some plots, for example, follow investigations that expose corporate malfeasance. Others focus on murders committed within a corporate environment, as in Dorothy Sayers’s novel Murder Must Advertise and Kenneth Fearing’s novel (and film) The Big Clock and in more modern instances like Michael Crichton’s Rising Sun and John Grisham’s The Firm. Other corporate crime thrillers, like Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho (below) and Cindy Sherman’s Office Killer, involve serial murders in white-collar environments.

The corporate crime thriller enables writers and filmmakers to explore thematic parallels between the acts of brutality and violence committed by individuals and the cutthroat tactics employed by business institutions. The plots of many gangster films center on rival mobs battling for competitive dominance in black market trades. Such conflicts often seem like a logical extension of the laissez-faire principles that undergird capitalism. Corporate crime thrillers tread similar thematic territory. They sometimes suggest that the personality traits that make for good business executives and titans of industry are the same ones that produce sociopaths and serial killers.

The Player presents the familiar corporate-thriller rivalry, as Griffin works behind the scenes to outmaneuver Larry Levy. For example, Griffin momentarily ponders using Larry’s admission that he attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings as a way of embarrassing him within the company. Larry quickly undercuts this strategy, though, when he states that he just goes to the meetings because they are a great place to network.

Even more telling is Griffin’s efforts to saddle Larry with a loser project, Habeas Corpus. Midway through The Player, Griffin makes a deal with Andy Civella and Tom Oakley at a Los Angeles restaurant. The next day, he convinces his boss to greenlight the project with Larry as producer, knowing that Tom will likely prove difficult to work with and that his plan to use unknown actors has disaster written all over it. Larry, though, has the last laugh when we get a sneak peek of Habeas Corpus at film’s end. Not only does it have big stars in Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis. It also has the kind of happy ending that the pretentious Tom claimed was too Hollywood when he pitched the project. It turns out Tom cares more about the results of preview screenings than he does the purity of his artistic vision.

Not surprisingly, Altman doesn’t give us a wholly straightforward version of the corporate thriller. In a reflexive and ironic touch, Griffin’s successful ascent to studio boss seems to be secured by the same mysterious stalker who’d been taunting him at the start of the film. In a phone call, the stalker pitches Griffin the plot of the film we’ve just been watching, using his knowledge of Griffin’s crime to leverage his project into development. Here we see Altman slightly reframing the genre’s thesis about the relationship between crime and business. Griffin’s pact with his blackmailing stalker is simply a mildly illicit version of the sorts of quid pro quo arrangements upon which thousands of business deals are made.

If Griffin’s efforts to forestall a rival evoke the political thriller, then his killing of screenwriter David Kahane connects The Player to the corporate crime thriller. Once again,  Altman deviates from some of the conventions. The crime doesn’t take place inside a corporate setting, as in Rising Sun and Murder Must Advertise. Griffin kills Kahane in the very public space of a Pasadena parking lot, with film noir overtones.

Similarly, Griffin’s victim is not a colleague, co-worker, subordinate, or client. Rather, Kahane is someone with whom Griffin has had minimal contact, a name plucked almost randomly from a directory of screenwriters in order to jog Griffin’s memory. Consequently, Griffin’s motives for confronting Kahane seem quite different from the culprits in other corporate crime thrillers. More often than not, the murderers in these other stories fear job loss or try to silence others in an effort to cover up some smaller crime or bungled action. Griffin’s actions with Kahane spring from fear about threats to his physical well-being, not from threats to his continued employment. (The latter is Larry’s role.)

Some of The Player’s deviations from more conventional corporate crime thrillers come into relief if we compare it to Donald Westlake’s novel The Ax, a purer example of the genre. The Ax tells the story of Burke Devore, a production line manager recently downsized out of his job at a paper company. Still unemployed after eighteen months, Burke creates a phony job advertisement, and then begins to kill off the seven applicants he believes have the same qualifications he does. His plan is to eliminate all of the other unemployed middle managers in the paper business so that his resumé will land at the top of the pile when a new factory opens in his area.

Like Altman, Westlake has some fun with his central conceit. Just as The Player includes faux film clips and rushes as a means of satirizing Hollywood production practices, The Ax incorporates fictional resumes that tweak jobseekers’ business-speak. What makes Westlake’s social criticism in The Ax so resonant, though, is the utter banality of Burke’s ambitions. He doesn’t aspire to the garish lifestyle we see displayed by Tony Montana or Jordan Belfort in Scarface and The Wolf of Wall Street respectively. Instead Burke just wants to return to his modest middle-class lifestyle and to the dignity that a decent job afforded him. Serial murder just seems like the simplest way to achieve that.

As this comparison suggests, one of the things that makes The Player somewhat unusual as a corporate crime thriller is its play with character motivation and point of view. Facing threats and intimidation, Griffin looks more like the target of a crime than a perpetrator. In corporate thrillers, the lawbreaker is more likely to be somewhere in the middle of the corporate ladder, like Burke, than at the top of it. Moreover, although his actions are motivated by a strange combination of both vanity and insecurity, Griffin more or less stumbles into the crime he commits rather than coolly plotting it the way Burke does.

Despite these differences, The Player and The Ax share an important feature that markedly deviates from the crime thriller as a whole. Both Griffin and Burke get away with it. The plots of most crime thrillers resolve in ways that balance the scales of justice. The bad guys are usually either arrested or killed after climactic confrontations with law enforcement. But this doesn’t always happen. Burke, Patrick Bateman in American Psycho, and Dorine in Office Killer escape punishment. Even though Jordan Belfort is arrested in The Wolf of Wall Street, he gets a slap on the wrist for his crimes.

Perhaps this aspect of the corporate crime thriller reflects the cynicism and amorality that pervades the genre. After all, if your belief is that most corporations get away with murder in a figurative sense, then it’s not hard to accept this idea when it occurs in fictional contexts in a literal sense.

Still, in the case of The Player, the Pasadena police’s failure to prove their case against Griffin Mill may reflect a meshing of both authorial and generic tendencies. When Griffin embraces June in the stylized happy ending of The Player, it quite deliberately parallels the tacked on happy ending of Habeas Corpus we’ve seen just moments earlier. The dialogue Griffin exchanges with June amplifies the similarity between these scenes. When June asks, “What took you so long?”, Griffin responds, “Traffic was a bitch.” These are the exact same lines exchanged by Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis in Habeas Corpus. By allowing Griffin to get away with it, The Player’s “up” ending sharpens Altman’s critique of Hollywood convention, and allows him to subvert the kinds of mainstream genre filmmaking he’s long detested.

 

Both allusive and elusive: Comparing The Player to Hollywood Story

 

One of the other topics I discuss in my video essay on The Player is the way the film pays homage to various aspects of Hollywood tradition. Much of this is bound up with its satire of commercial filmmaking. But it also strengthens the film’s relation to the crime thriller. Throughout The Player, Altman makes reference to Hollywood’s past in multiple ways. Celebrity cameos, film posters, and production stills populate the mise-en-scene. The characters also frequently mention older film titles in dialogue.

Perhaps the most interesting allusion in The Player involves a poster of Hollywood Story that hangs in Griffin’s office. The latter is a 1951 film noir directed by William Castle, who later became famous for his use of outrageous gimmicks in the production and promotion of horror films. For The Tingler, Castle supervised the installation of devices that would vibrate theater seats, anticipating today’s 4DX Theater Experience in places like Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and Orlando.

Hollywood Story dramatizes the efforts of film producer Larry O’Brien to develop a project around the unsolved murder of silent film director Franklin Ferrara. O’Brien hires one of Ferrara’s old scenarists to write the script. He also develops a close relationship with Sally Rousseau, the daughter of one of Ferrara’s biggest stars. Once the project is announced, O’Brien finds himself the target of an assassin’s bullet. He surmises that his assailant is trying to prevent the case from being reopened. And as Sally reminds O’Brien, he doesn’t have an ending to his movie is he can’t determine the killer’s identity. O’Brien, thus, sets out to solve the crime, bringing closure to one of the biggest scandals in Hollywood’s history. Hollywood Story offers an even better synthesis of The Player’s mixture of industry exposé and crime film story beats. O’Brien’s lone wolf investigation is treated as being a necessary stage of project development.

If the Franklin Ferrara story sounds vaguely familiar to you, well….it should. Hollywood Story offers a fictionalized account of the unsolved murder of William Desmond Taylor, who was shot to death in his bungalow in the wee hours of a February night in 1922. (David blogged about the crime here.) The subsequent investigation of Taylor’s death ensnared some of the industry’s biggest stars of the period. Mabel Normand’s reputation was tainted by her association with Taylor and by reports of drug use. She took a brief hiatus from filmmaking because of the scandal, but never completely recovered from it. Normand later died of tuberculosis in 1930 at the tender age of 37.

As a fictionalized account of a notorious unsolved crime, Hollywood Story anticipates more modern thrillers that provide speculative solutions to real-life murders. Zodiac and The Black Dahlia are prime examples, as are any number of Jack the Ripper films. Hollywood Story’s approach was not unprecedented. James M. Cain based Double Indemnity on the Ruth Snyder case that was fodder for New York tabloids in the late 1920s. That said, Taylor’s death lingered for decades in popular memory in a way that the Snyder case did not.

What are we to make of The Player’s citation of Hollywood Story? On the one hand, viewers might well notice the almost immediate parallel of our “film execs in jeopardy” storylines. Just as Griffin is stalked by an unknown assailant, so, too, is Larry the target of a shadowy aggressor. Moreover, Hollywood Story, along with Sunset Boulevard, might well be an inspiration of one of The Player’s most interesting features: its intermingling of real life stars with fictional characters. Hollywood Story includes cameos by Joel McCrea and several noted performers of the silent era, such as William Farnum, Francis X. Bushman, and Betty Blythe (below). The Player pushes this aspect of Hollywood Story to extremes, containing plentiful cameos by Cher, Jack Lemmon, Burt Reynolds, Lily Tomlin, Susan Sarandon, and other A-listers.

In several other respects, though, The Player seems like an inversion of Hollywood Story with Griffin emerging as a more venal counterpart to the latter’s crusading producer, Larry. In Hollywood Story, Larry’s investigation actually produces results. This strongly contrasts with Griffin’s guesswork, which, as the result of a tragic mistake, leads to David Kahane’s death in a Pasadena parking lot. In Hollywood Story, Larry’s blossoming romance with Sally furnishes the standard double plotline commonly found in classical cinema. In The Player, though, Griffin’s interest in June seems genuinely sleazy. It also exacerbates the Pasadena police’s doubts about Griffin’s alibi, making him their prime suspect. Finally, the revelation of screenwriter Vincent St. Clair as Franklin Ferrara’s killer provides closure both to Larry’s script and to Hollywood Story itself. In contrast, none of the crimes presented in The Player are really solved. Griffin is blackmailed into greenlighting a project during the film’s epilogue, but the audience never learns the identity of the mysterious stalker. Similarly, although the Pasadena police believe that Griffin is guilty of murder, the botched lineup ensures that he will go free and that David Kahane’s death will remain an unsolved crime. In an odd way, The Player returns to the narrative roots of Hollywood Story. The fate of Kahane, our aspiring screenwriter, seems destined to mirror that of poor William Desmond Taylor, our successful silent film director.

 

A thriller with no thrills

 

I’ve sketched out a number of different ways in which The Player relates to the basic conventions of the crime thriller, but all of this is ultimately, in the parlance of the genre, a red herring. This is because The Player is that rare bird: a crime film that engenders relatively little curiosity about its solution and even less suspense about the fate of its protagonist.

This is largely because Robert Altman mostly uses crime film conventions as scaffolding for the things that really interest him: quirky characters, digressive dialogue, and a loose, improvisatory feel to the film’s performances. At its heart, The Player is a comedy that draws upon crime film conventions in much the way Altman’s adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye does.

Compare, for example, each film’s tweaking of the genre’s standard interrogation scenes. In The Long Goodbye, Detective Farmer’s tough questioning of Philip Marlowe is punctured by the latter’s goofy responses. At one point, Marlowe uses the ink from his fingerprinting procedure like it was the “eye black” used by an athlete. Later, he smears the ink all over his face and sings “Swanee” in a mocking homage to Al Jolson in blackface. Similarly, in The Player, the Pasadena police’s interrogation of Griffin is disrupted by Detective Avery’s disarming exchange with her partner about tampons, her mangled pronunciation of “Gudmundstottir,” and her dialogue with Paul about Todd Browning’s Freaks.

The Player has many ingredients characteristic of crime films: a dead body, an investigation, a shady suspect, and a campaign of stalking and extortion. Yet, by the time Altman’s film reaches its ironic and deeply reflexive conclusion, viewers might well conclude that they are the ones who just got played.


Thanks as usual to Peter Becker, Kim Hendrickson, Grant Delin, and all their Criterion colleagues. A list of our Observations on Film Art series is default@@100415%231@@6">here.

For more on Robert Altman’s career, see Patrick McGilligan’s excellent biography, Robert Altman: Jumping Off the Cliff. There are also several books featuring interviews with the iconoclastic director. These include David Sterritt’s Robert Altman: Interviews, Mitchell Zuckoff’s Robert Altman: The Oral Biography, and David Thompson’s Altman on Altman.

Those interested in learning more about crime fiction should consult Martin Rubin’s Thrillers, Charles Derry’s The Suspense Thriller: Films in the Shadow of Alfred Hitchcock, John Scaggs’s Crime Fiction, Richard Bradford’s Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction, and Martin Priestman’s The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction.

Hollywood Story (1951).

February 05 2018

4. mondo bizarr weekender: slalom (luciano salce, italien/frankreich/ägypten 1965)

Lucio Ridolfi (Vittorio Gassman) reist mit seiner Gattin Hilde (Emma Danieli) sowie Freund Riccardo (Adolfo Celi) und dessen Frau Simonetta (Isabella Biagini) in einen Winter-Kurzurlaub nach Sestriere. Die beiden Männer hätten eigentlich gern einmal Ruhe vor ihren Frauen, um hemmungslos flirten zu können. Mit einer Finte entledigen sie sich der beiden und stürzen sich sogleich ins Abenteuer. Für Lucio endet das aber schon bald mit einem Schock: Im Haus seiner Eroberung Helen (Beba Loncar) wohnt er einer Ermordung bei, nur wenig später wird er nach Kairo verschleppt und rasselt dort in eine turbulente Spionagegeschichte …

Herrlich! Luciano Salces sich am Rande des Eurospy-Films tummelnde Komödie ist beseelt von jener wundersamen Mischung aus sonniger Sxities-Entspanntheit und quirliger Aufregung, wie sie nur Südeuropäer so sympathisch hinbekommen. Die Gimmicks, die in den James-Bond-Rip-offs stets eine zentrale Rolle einnehmen, sind hier gänzlich abwesend, stattdessen besinnt sich Salce auf die Stärken der Commedia all’Italiana, die auch dann noch im Mittelpunkt des Interesses bleiben, wenn er sie durch zeitgenössische Einflüsse aufpeppt oder seinen Helden durch die ägyptische Wüste jagt. Es geht letztlich doch immer um den italienischen Mann, seinen schlitzohrigen Machismo einer-, seine Hasenfüßigkeit andererseits sowie die diese Eigenschaften kongenial ergänzende Biestigkeit bei geradezu grotesker Vertrauensseligkeit seiner Frauen. Die besten Szenen hat SLALOM dann auch zu Beginn, wenn er noch eine ganz normale Beziehungskomödie um zwei Männer in den „besten Jahren“ und ihre Ehefrauen ist: Gassman und Celi sind göttlich im Zusammenspiel, wie sie wissende Blicke austauschen und jammern, aber in Gegenwart ihrer Gattinnen dann doch immer wieder kuschen.

Vittorio Gassman ist wahrscheinlich die Idealbesetzung für diesen Typen: gut aussehend, dabei kultiviert und durchaus nicht uncharmant, aber eben doch, wie es der deutsche Verleititel sehr treffend ausdrückt, ein „Windhund“, der es perfekt versteht, sich irgendwie durchs Leben zu lavieren, ohne sich dabei jemals auf irgendwelche Prinzipien festnageln zu lassen – nur ein echter Römer zu sein, darauf besteht er. Die größere Überraschung ist Celi, der ja sonst eher die kalten Patriarchen oder aber größenwahnsinnige Schurken mimt: Er ist wunderbar als Lucios Freund, der den gemeinen Trick seiner Frau, immer genau das Gegenteil von dem zu tun, was er vorschlägt, abfängt, indem er dasselbe macht und so eben doch stets bekommt, was er will. Es ist ein bisschen schade, wenn er nach einer halben Stunde aus dem Film verschwindet und Gassman das Feld überlässt, aber Salce tröstet darüber hinweg, indem er das Tempo aufdreht und eine Verwicklung an die nächste reiht. Es ist immer was los in SLALOM und weil auch die deutsche Synchro dieser Rarität wunderbar mitspielt, darf man sich auf sympathisches Entertainment auf durchaus gehobenem Niveau freuen – im Eurospy-Genre durchaus keine Selbstverständlichkeit.

Eine tolle Entdeckung in atemberaubender Farbqualität, die auch auf dem Hofbauer-Kongress oder dem Terza Visione gut aufgehoben gewesen wäre.

 

4. mondo bizarr weekender: la rose écorchée (claude mulot, frankreich 1970)

u44224ggjc9Der Maler Frédéric (Philippe Lemaire) verliebt sich in die schöne Anne (Anny Duperey) und zieht mit ihr in das Schloss seiner Eltern. Seine Lebengefährtin Moira (Elizabeth Teissier) ist davon nicht sonderlich begeistert. Als sie Anne konfrontiert, kommt es zur Katastrophe: Die junge Frau erleidet schwere Verbrennungen, ist daraufhin fürchterlich entstellt – und ziemlich mies gelaunt. Frédéric hingegen ist verzweifelt und plant, seiner großen Liebe mit der (unfreiwilligen) Hilfe junger Damen ein neues Gesicht zu geben.

Der spätere Pornoregisseur Claude Mulot orientierte sich für sein Debüt unverkennbar am zehn Jahre zuvor unter der Regie von Georges Franjus entstandenen Horrorklassier LES YEUX SANS VISAGE und reicherte es mit saftigen Elementen des Pulp-Romans an. Frédérics Liebe und Wahn bieten Anlass für softerotische Einlagen und theatralisch-melodramatischen Schmonzes, darüber hinaus sorgen die Zwerge Olaf und Igor für jenes herzhafte Krachen der saftigen Schwarte, das für mich erst den besonderen Charme dieser Sorte Gothic-Grusler ausmacht. Wie auch die Filme eines Paul Naschy oder Jean Rollin sowie diverse Giallos, die im Grenzbereich zwischen Psychothriller und Horror angesiedelt sind, verkörpert Mulots Film einen ungehemmten Expressionismus, der sich in einem Überschwang der Emotion, großer Farbenpracht und einer Mischung klassischer und modernerer Motive niederschlägt. Was Mulot abgeht, ist die Intellektualität seines oben genannten französischen Kollegen, aber atmosphärisch stehen sich beide dennoch nahe. Das verfallene Schloss im Wald könnte auch der Schauplatz eines Rollin-Films sein und die beiden Zwerge würden sich bei ihm auch wohlfühlen. Mit der Beziehung, die der Maler zu seiner jungen Geliebten unterhält, sieht es da schon anders aus: LA ROSE ÉCORCHÉE ist, da muss man sich nichts vormachen, nicht gerade progressiv in seinem Rollenverständnis. Wenn die Handlung in das Sanatorium von Professor Römer (Howard Vernon) schwenkt, in dessen Garten sich die nackten Schönen tummeln, sind die zweifelhaften Herren in den speckigen Trenchcoats garantiert nicht weit. (Gut, die haben wahrscheinlich auch die Vorführungen von Rollins Filmen besucht, dürften dort aber durchaus das ein oder andere Mal weggenickt sein.)

Ich mag diese Spielart des erotischen Gruselfilms europäischer Provenienz sehr gern, auch weil es an entsprechenden Vertretern nicht gerade ein Überangebot gibt und jeder deswegen umso wervoller erscheint. Hier gab es die Vollbedienung: Einen trüben männlichen Helden, eine bezaubernde Schönheit, dunkle Begierden und Pläne, grunzende Zwerge in Tierfellen, kreischende Frauen, Kandelaber, dunkle Flure, Nebel, Gewölbe und natürlich Howard Vernon, der jeden Film besser macht. Das alles untermalt von einem stimmungsvollen Score (Jean-Pierre Dorsay), in ebensolchen Bildern eingefangen und mit einem perfekten Ende, das die niederschmetternde Schicksalsschwere zum Kulminationspunkt bringt. Einfach toll! Mehr muss nicht gesagt werden.

"House on Fire"—Tamil Nadu Cinema at Rotterdam 2018

I Am God
I’ve said it before and I will always be pleased to say it again: For a film festival to be relevant it is absolutely essential it presents to its audience a line connecting cinema’s present with cinema’s past. The education is key, the experience thrilling and the open-mindedness engendered are all requisite to keep the art living and enjoyed, especially in an age where an audience might be attracted to the event of a film festival but otherwise rarely, if ever, go to the cinema anymore. With over 250 feature films and a similar amount of shorts in its 2018 selection, it was easy to get lost in the massive schedule of the 47th International Film Festival Rotterdam. Which is why I greatly appreciated two particular sections at the festival curated by programmers with acute focus and taste that comparatively left the larger, more vaguely collected sections (such as Bright Future and Voices) confounding in a festival whose singular pleasure is for its audience to take risks and make discoveries among cinema’s bounty.
One such stellar section, “A History of Shadows,” programmed by Gustavo Beck and Gerwin Tamsma, served as a kind of ideal festival-inside-the-festival, creating a theme, admittedly broad—movies that question the past, our position in it and understanding of it—that allowed them to present not only premieres (Giovanni Donfrancesco’s excellent Il resoluto) and strong highlights from 2017’s festival circuit (Robert Schwentke’s wicked The Captain), but, crucially, an eclectic array of revival screenings (Jaime Chávarri’s caustic 1976 El desencanto). But the most enlightening program of films at Rotterdam for this critic was without a doubt “House on Fire,” a small but potent selection of films from Tamil Nadu. Curated by Olaf Möller, whom longtime readers of the Notebook will know helped introduce Rotterdam to revelatory retrospectives over the years of filmmakers Dominik Graf, Nils Malmros and Heinz Emigholz, this section posited a new wave of films from this south Indian state which now bests Bollywood in terms of features produced—a daunting context nearly impossible to reconcile with the necessarily limited number of films that could be shown at the festival. Nevertheless, the selection shown was indeed uniformly youthful, energetic, and fun, frequently angry, delightfully playful, and always deeply politically convicted commercial cinema.
As ever a certain kind of provocateur in film programming—namely, pedagogic, productive and interventionist—Möller’s work at Rotterdam during my off-and-on again attendance always feels pointedly set against what is trendy in the festival world, in art-cinema, and in cinephilia in general. This year, the “House on Fire” section challenged the notion of festival programming which segregates commercial cinema under a few obvious paradigms—as opening or closing night films, as gala / red carpet events, or as local or Hollywood premieres—which ignores the regional and cultural specificity of many different commercial cinemas, and the vibrancy they can emit.
Vibrant indeed well-describes these films, a selection that begins in 2007 with two calling-card productions of masculine vitriol, Vetri Maaran’s Ruthless Man and the auspicious debut of Ram, Tamil M.A. In his introductions, Möller and program advisor Stefan Borsos indicated this year as the moment (though some place it a few years earlier) when a new generation of filmmakers emerged on the scene in Tamil Nadu, coupled with the increasing trends of Indian privatization and globalization, and began to tell stories for the cinema that for all their heightened excesses—often of violence but also of comedy, social drama and romance—remain true to the cultural, economic and political reality on the ground in their state. Across the films, this reality takes the form of easy portrayals of abusive police, corrupt politicians, under-served poor, and a greater need for compassion. These attitudes, seen uniformly across the films, reflect Tamil Nadu’s long history of anti-authoritarian and liberal politics couched in its pride and nationalism associated with the state’s Dravidian heritage, especially in contradistinction to the increasingly conservative Hindu central government of India.
Ruthless Man begins as a portrait of an under-employed and layabout class of lower-middle class men in the capital of Chennai, led by star Dhanush—here perhaps the world’s most handsome bum since Spencer Tracy—as a young man whose only two life goals are to buy a new motorcycle and finally speak to the woman he’s had his eye on for two years (desires listed in order of preference). But once he gets his bike—and therefrom a job and a fiancé and the man begins to stand tall with firm morality—the film morphs into a drama of the insidious social difficulties of maintaining employment and upright behavior within an uncaring economy and the ensnaring reach of local crime. Dhanush’s journey upward in life is cut when his fate crosses the path of the assassination of a local politician and his motorcycle is stolen (shades of Bicycles Thieves as a genre film), which sends his life into a downward spiral that only his moral outrage, increased outspokenness, and brazen physical lashing out can set right. By the end, he’s stripped down topless, a vision of a Tamil Nadu Bruce Lee, fighting a gang boss to the death, all for the sake of honor and a job.
Ram’s tremendous Tamil M.A. (that is, a person who has a Masters in the language of Tamil—a degree repeatedly mocked as one only for failures) is equally angry and reaches even further. It opens with the suicide attempt of a Tamil teacher (Jiiva) and then jumps back in time to tell the saga of a smart boy forced to face repeated random deaths of those close to him, which, mixed with a rapidly changing society, continually derails his desire to be good and upright and sends him to dark places. The suicide attempt and unjust run-ins with the law sour him against the life society can offer him, leading to murder, social regression, and a mixture of insanity and mystic anger against all the wrongs and ills of the world. Like Ruthless Man, Ram’s film adroitly jumps from tone to tone, genre to genre: Tamil M.A. features long stretches of warm-hearted childhood, didactic political diatribes (much of the narrative is framed as the recollections and rants of Jiiva, dirty, bearded and deranged, in a video confession to a frightened filmmaker), an erstwhile romantic hope as a childhood sweetheart (Anjali) grows up, goes away and is found again—and yet even more jostling pleasures. If Ruthless Man hewed closer to genre and convention—with disappointingly conservative portraits of its women characters in particular—Tamil M.A., with its more expansive story sprawl, showcases greater sensitivity to its characters, allowing its hero with a graduate degree to gleefully oscillate from handsome dork to madcap maniac and effectively encompass the promise, disappointment and increasing righteous anger of a new generation of Tamil Nadu.
The third film in the program fueled by indignant anger was Bala’s I Am God, from two years later. The story starts as that of a family recovering a son long ago abandoned to a temple in another state because he was “born under an evil star,” and who is discovered to now be a member of the death-obsessed Aghori sect, divorced from human attachments and considering himself a god. But soon Bala turns the tale over to the darkly perverse drama of an organized gang of disabled beggars, a pathetic, suffering community of young and old, crippled and deformed ruthlessly run by a cruel, able-bodied gang boss. A slow parallel is set up as we watch this gang exploited by its overseers and the godlike prodigal son (the astounding Arja), returning home, strutting with volatile and virile purpose, surrounded by a cloud of ganja. The family melodrama of the lost son is forgotten as Bala hones in on the mistreatment and exploitation of the disabled in a grim and brutal story clearly standing in for society’s general ignoring, mistreatment or abuse of the impaired. Meanwhile, the god of the dead lounges, smoking dope, in an iconic combination of lethargy and imposing fierceness—a blazed superhero that we observe, waiting with increased despair for him to do something about the injustice around him. There is certainly some lightness in the film—two music numbers in particular, one of the god preening, brawling and stomping around, and the other of another band of beggars performing for and mocking local policemen are ridiculous fun—but I Am God, along with Ruthless Man and Tamil M.A., truly paint mid-2000s Tamil Nadu with brilliantly bleak, bitter and volatile hues.
Two later comedies relieve this pressure, Nalan Kumarasamy’s Evil Engulfs, an escapades-of-losers kidnapping comedy from 2013 heavily indebted to the tone and posture of the American film The Hangover (2009), and Balaji Mohan’s impressive mixture of romantic comedy and communal town satire, Speak with Your Mouth Shut (2014). Without knowing more of local Tamil Nadu cinema it is difficult to know why the included films from the 2010s look and feel considerably different—slicker in aesthetics, more influenced by Hollywood, less pissed off—than the three earlier, angrier films, but nevertheless both of these often-funny comedies remain true to the Tamil Nadu spirit of rooting their stories in observational social critique. The ridiculous comic kidnapping the Evil Engulfs miscreants resort to are because of a lack of job prospects, and their small-scale successes get complicated—eventually very violently—when they cross paths with a lone upright politician fighting a sea of corruption in business and government. Laziness, self-serving schemes, blackmail, pay-offs and police brutality are the norm even in this slick and amusing world, with the only real loser turning out to be the clean-cut, anti-corruption politician, who ends the film disgraced. It's not written as funny as it could be, and though sweating under the oppressive dusty heat of the city, Evil Engulfs is not particularly vividly characterized by its ensemble, so the ironic movements of the story become its main selling point rather than the hijinks of its affable criminals.
Speak with Your Mouth Shut is even more ambitious, using the premise of a virus suddenly striking people in a large town silent as a vehicle to satirize the ignorance and corruption of local politicians (again!), the fear-and-controversy mongering of newly emerging Fox News-style television in India, and repressive gender relationships: The point being, if everyone shuts up for a while, they’ll learn to be more considerate to others. Central to this is the romance between an unhappily engaged young female doctor (who hates to talk) and a charismatic door-to-door salesman (who loves it), who each uncomplicatedly represent the community’s best qualities, their postponed but inevitable union suggesting the kind of communication and equilibrium required to create a loving and just world. Shot in the green scenery of an old hill station, this is a cheery and kind-spirited comedy whose general simplicity is more than made up for by its equanimous treatment of both male and woman characters and its continuous undercurrent of political critique inseparable from the story itself and its many pleasures.
The two most recent films I caught in “House on Fire” in a way unified the original impulse for a need for change of the older movies with the newer one’s slick broadness. Kodi (2016), by R.S. Durai Senthilkumar, stars Ruthless Man’s Dhanush as twin brothers, one a college teacher and the other Kodi (“Flag”), a young man devoted to local politics since his youth and galvanized since his father set himself on fire to protest a local factory’s poisonous pollution. Kodi has also been secretly dating a woman who has risen simultaneously through the ranks of local politics since a young age—but of a rival party. What the ideological differences are of the parties is not spelled out, but rather the difference in behavior in politics: Kodi, with a dashing beard and action movie sunglasses, is upright morality incarnate, while his lover/rival is increasingly revealed to be cutthroat in nearly every way possible—and nearly literally. A ground-level look at extremely local political machinations in Tamil Nadu, couched in and made more pleasant through two romances (one for each brother), the film avoids grim cynicism through its focus on melodrama over ideological detail, but cleverly scores its points against corruption, nepotism, and the unscrupulous and fluid ethics of everyone (in both parties) by framing its romantic disappointment as political—and vice versa.
Resurrection
The newest film in “House on Fire” was Ram’s Resurrection, presented in a world premiere. It seems to exist in a completely different world—of reality and of filmmaking—than the director’s brilliant, digression-heavy and often embittered Tamil M.A., yet both films’ call for greater empathy for other people remain the same. It starts almost as a western, with a single father played by Mammootty retreating to an isolated house to raise his teenage daughter (Sadhana), afflicted with cerebral palsy, in the peace of nature. An absent father in the past—prompting his wife to run away with another man and leave their daughter in Mammootty’s care—he uses the retreat as a way to learn how to raise his daughter, familiarize himself with her affliction, and gain her trust and love. Local men lust over the rural piece of property, and the first half of the film is an almost abstract combination of father-daughter bonding and schemes by the locals to take their home. The second half moves back to the city, where we watch the ever-patient and compassionate Mammootty shepherd his daughter through impoverished habitats, general public contempt, and sparse local health services, at the same time realizing she’s maturing into womanhood, making her care-giving increasingly difficult.
Somewhat hampered by a too-perfect character as written for the superstar actor (supposedly bad in the past, in the present he’s never not an impeccably hunky, melancholy and compassionate man), Resurrection nevertheless patiently reveals a sweet-natured and humane story of both the toil and joy involved in caring for one looked down upon by society. Clear-eyed and straightforward storytelling suggest a universal theme, yet Ram’s well-detailed use of local ostracization, practical challenges, and the poor care for the disabled in Chennai hone the focus to Tamil Nadu. By the time Mammootty, who looks like he should be a gruff and conservative old school patriarch, meets and almost immediately befriends a transgender prostitute who gradually becomes more a part of his and his daughter’s lives—in a surprise development that a supposedly liberal Hollywood film would shrink from—the politics of the film’s full-salvo compassion are baldly apparent and should be boldly applauded.
Immensely entertaining amid a festival replete (as most are) with its share of doldrum storytelling, unquestioned conventions, and pretentious ambitions, the films presented in the “House on Fire” were a bracing tonic of entertainment. What I saw in the Tamil Nadu program were films working with small budgets to create unapologetically commercial and politically-engaged cinema fighting against the status quo, advocating for a better tomorrow, and told with a general freedom of storytelling spirit willing to go where they wanted to both incite and win over its audiences. The selection was “only are the tip of the tip of the iceberg” of new Tamil Nadu cinema, curator Olaf Möller noted at the series beginning, and if what I saw was indicative then we all have a lot more thrilling moviegoing ahead of us.

February 04 2018

Commentary: The Annie Awards In The #MeToo Era

When your first award presenter of the evening is a man charged with rape, it's a fair indication of where the rest of the evening is headed.

The post Commentary: The Annie Awards In The #MeToo Era appeared first on Cartoon Brew.

zabou (hajo gies, deutschland 1987)

Derzeit abeite ich mich durch die Schimanski-Tatorte. Leider kein allzu vergnügliches Unterfangen, stößt die Figur doch schnell an ihre Grenzen. Die Reihe erreicht ihren Höhepunkt nach einigen schönen, noch eher kleinen, aber auch etwas unspektakulären Filmen zu Beginn ca. Mitte der Achtziger, als die Autoren die richtige Mischung aus Ruhrpott-Realismus und deutscher Action fanden und mit ZAHN UM ZAHN dann ja auch einen erstklassigen Actionfilm ins Kino brachten. Doch dann kippt das Ganze, Georges Schimanski nimmt immer mehr Raum ein, die Geschmacksverirrungen der Achtziger tun das Übrige. ZABOU ist wahrscheinlich der Kulminationspunkt, der Augenblick, in dem das ganze Konstrukt auf dem Gipfel des Erfolges krachend implodiert. Der Film ist wirklich ein einziges Ausbund an Idiotie, nur schwer zu ertragen und Fremdscham-induzierend, dann aber auch wieder sehr faszinierend in seinem geradezu grotesken Versagen. Als würde ein teurer Sportwagen mit voller Absicht, schreiender Todesverachtung und koksverschmierter Nase mit 240 km/h vor einen Brückenpfeiler gesetzt.

„Zabou“ ist der Künstlername von Connie (Claudia Messner), der weiblichen Sensation im Sunflash, einem Edelpuff, den Schimanski im Verdacht hat, als Front des Rauschgiftsyndikats zu dienen, das die Straßen Duisburgs (die manchmal von den Straßen Wuppertals gedoubelt werden: Schwebebahn) mit Crack flutet. Brisanz bekommt diese Konstellation dadurch, das Connie auch die Tochter der Frau ist, mit der Schimanski vor über zehn Jahren eine glückliche Liebesbeziehung führte, bevor er dann – ganz bindungsunwilliger loner – kehrt machte. Weil er sich immer noch als ihr Vater fühlt, setzt er alles daran, sie aus dem Sumpf herauszuholen – was am Ende zu einer dramatischen Erkenntnis führt.

Let’s face it: Schimi, der Rurpottbulle mit dem Schnäuz und dem Parka, der bei Millionen von Fernsehzuschauern beliebt bzw. berüchtigt für seine ungehobelten Umgangsformen war, dessen Hauptnahrungsmittel Currywurst und Bier waren, und der in jeder Episode eine neue, jüngere Freundin begatten durfte, ist ein absolut miserabler Polizist – und darüber hinaus auch noch ein ziemlicher Softie. Das ahnte man auch schon vorher: George interpretierte den Cop immer wieder als sentimentalen Träumer mit dem Herz eines liebesbedürftigen Buben, der zwar oft „Scheiße“ sagt, aber eigentlich viel hilfloser und verzweifelter ist als sein ewiger Sidekick Thanner (Eberhard Feik). Er fühlt sich wahrscheinlich als Rocker, trägt Cowboystiefel, hat ein Motorrad im Flur stehen und immer eine Dose Pils im Kühlschrank, aber dann trällert er ständig den von Klaus Lage geschriebenen Joe-Cocker-Titelsong vor sich hin. (Wahrscheinlich würde man ihn nicht beim Motörhead-Konzert, sondern bei Wolfgang Petry oder Pur treffen.) In ZABOU modelliert man ihn mit aufgeknöpftem Unterhemd ganz wie zuvor in ZAHN UM ZAHN wieder nach dem Vorbild Stallones (der hier auch einmal in Form eine COBRA-Plakats „Hallo“ sagt), aber verglichen mit Cobretti ist er doch nur ein Schoßhündchen.

Hajo Gies versucht alles, um mit der Actionkonkurrenz aus Übersee mitzuhalten, lässt Schimanski Verfolgungsjagden absolvieren, „auf eigene Faust“ und „am Rande der Legalität“ kämpfen, sich mit einem ganzen Syndikat anlegen, Kollegen niederschlagen, auf fahrende Boote springen, aber er hat keine Chance gegen das haarsträubend idiotische Drehbuch, das jede schlechte Idee durch eine noch schlechtere zu übertreffen sucht. Das beginnt schon mit dem beknackten Hut, den Thanner trägt, und setzt sich fort in der Blödheit, mit der sein Protagonist agiert und von einer Bredouille in die nächste schlittert. Aber das ist noch nichts gegen die vollkommen fehlgeleitete Liebesgeschichte zwischen dem Helden und seiner Ziehtochter: Nach jahrelanger Funkstille mutet sein eiserner Wille, sie zu „retten“, geradezu krankhaft an und wenn es dann tatsächlich zu einer – gnädigerweise nur angedeuteten – Sexszene kommt, ist alles aus. Kopfschüttelnd sitzt man vor der Glotze und fragt sich, wie dieser Schwachsinn das grüne Licht beommen konnte. Lange vor dem Helden weiß man schon, wie das alles ausgehen wird, was seine andauernde Ahnungslosigkeit nur noch schlimmer macht.

Der Schluss setzt allem die Krone auf: Erst bequatscht Schimanski seine Zabou während ihrer Darbietung im Edelpuff, führt mit ihr einen peinlichen Dialog, bei dem die anderen Gäste doof daneben stehen und sich das ganze Spektakel mitansehen, statt den nervtötenden Störenfried einfach rauszuschmeißen. Dann feiert er seinen großen Coup, als er endlich die Drogen findet und den armen Thanner daraufhin vor Freude mit toten Fischen übergießt. Die Polizisten, die seine Razzia begleiten, sind so dämlich, sich von zwei bewaffneten Schergen überraschen zu lassen und dann endet alles mit einem auf Dramatik gebürsteten Showdown, dessen Wirkung ob der Hirnrissigikeit der ganzen Prämisse wirkungslos verpufft. Man könnte bewundern, wie schundig das alles ist, eigentlich nicht die unsympathischste Eigenschaft für einen deutschen Actioner, aber dafür fehlt ZABOU leider die spielerische Leichtigkeit und das Bewusstsein für seine Grenzüberschreitungen. Er hält sich, glaube ich, tatsächlich für großes Kino. Was für ein Trugschluss.

Coffee Break

COLD_PREY_II.jpg
Marthe Snorresdotter Rovik in Cold Prey II (Mats Stenberg - 2008)

hail, caesar! (joel coen/ethan coen, usa 2016)

Ein Produzent, der im Beichtstuhl gesteht, dass er seiner Frau das Rauchen verheimlicht. Ein blasierter Superstar, der von kommunistischen Drehbuchschreibern entführt wird. Zwillingsschwestern, die über Klatsch aus Hollywood schreiben. Eine Schauspielerin, die von ihrem Studio Lebenshilfe benötigt. Ein Tänzer, der zu den Russen überläuft. Ein Westernheld, der nicht sprechen kann, ein Regisseur, der an ihm verzweifelt. Und eine Cutterin, die sich bei ihrer Arbeit schon mal fast selbst erdrosselt. Nur einige der Figuren und Handlungsansätze, auf die Coens in ihrem bislang letzten Film den Spot richten. HAIL, CAESAR! kehrt zum einen zurück ins Filmbusiness des goldenen Zeitalters, das die Brüder zuletzt in BARTON FINK besuchten, zum anderen zum episodischen Ton von O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? und auch Noir-Ansätze lassen sich wieder finden. Insgesamt ist HAIL, CAESAR! eine eher kleine, flüchtig erscheinende Komödie, die man sofort als Coen-Film erkennt, die aber wieder mehr wie ein „Überbrückungswerk“ anmutet.

Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) arbeitet unter anderem an einem großen Monumentalfilm über Jesus Christus. Während er sich noch mit christlichen, jüdischen und orthodoxen Geistlichen streitet, wie der Heiland denn angemessen dargestellt werde (herrliche Szene!), wird sein Star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) entführt – und zwar, wie erwähnt, von kommunistischen Drehbuchschreibern, die das System auf die Probe stellen und mit dem Lösegeld die Russen finanzieren wollen. Das Verschwinden des Stars bleibt auch der Klatschpresse nicht lang verborgen, die angesichts der zahlreichen Weibergeschichten des Stars sofort Verdacht schöpft und Mannix ein Ultimatum stellen. Gleichzeitig kämpft der distinguierte Filmemacher Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) mit Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich), einem Star zahlreicher B-Western, der sich mit den geschliffenen Dialogen der intellektuellen Gesellschaftskomödie zemlich schwer tut. Und die zickige DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) benötigt auch mal wieder Hilfe.

Das Schöne an HAIL, CAESAR! ist der Schwung, mit dem er all diese Geschichten zusammenfügt, ohne je eine Idee dabei überzustrapazieren. Andere hätten aus dem Cowboy mit dem Texas-Drawl, der ohne Pferd nicht schauspielern kann, gleich einen ganzen Neunzigminüter gemacht, die Coens bringen die Idee in einer einzigen Szene auf den Punkt – und schaffen auch noch closure, wenn sie uns dann später jenen vorführen, wie Hobies Bemühen, geschickte Inszenierung und die Möglichkeiten der Technik sich zu dem einen perfekten take ergänzen. Wunderbar zurückgenommen ist Brolins Darbietung als Mannix, des Machers, der ja leider doch auch nur ein Befehlsempfänger ist, und all die kleinen und großen Probleme im Sinne des Unternehmens lösen muss, ohne wahnsinnig zu werden. Sein Ausbruch am Ende, wenn ihm der dümmliche Whitlock gegenübertritt undbegeistert halbverstandene marxistische Ideen nachplappert, ist ebenso Gold wert wie Whitlocks Blick. Dann sind da noch die wunderschönen Musicalszenen, die die Coens gemeinsam mit ihrem zurückgekehrten Kameramann Roger Deakins erdachten und die den ganzen Schmelz einer verlorenen Zeit wiederbeleben. HAIL, CAESAR! verklärt nicht, trotzdem stimmt er einen nostalgisch: Man ahnt, wie das Leben auf dem riesigen Studiogelände brodelt, wo auf jeder Soundstage ein anderes Werk entsteht, mal ein überambitionierter Historienschinken, dann wieder ein kleiner, naiver Western, bekommt diesen Eindruck einer glamourösen Parallelgesellschaft, mit Stars, die noch Geheimnisse haben und nicht jedes Schnitzel via Foto mit ihren Fans teilen. Es gibt auch wieder zahllose jener Coen’schen Ellipsen, die ihren Filmen dieses zusätzliche Maß an Leben und Authentizität verleihen: Was ist das große Geheimnis von Whitlock, mit dem er erpresst wird und dessen bloße Erwähnung ihm die Gesichtszüge entgleisen lässt? Wir erfahren es nicht.

Die schönste Szene ist jener große Moment aus dem Film im Film, in dem Whitlocks Römer Antilochus den Heiland erblickt und verzaubert von dessen überirdischen Weisheit und Schönheit bekehrt wird: Clooney/Whitlock machen das Unbegreifliche greifbar, die Musik schwillt an … und dann vergisst der Schauspieler seinen Text und alles bricht in sich zusammen. Das scheint mir auch das treffende Bild für HAIL, CAESAR! zu sein, der immer wieder an der Größe kratzt und sich dann etwas anderem zuwendet. Nur dass es bei den Coens ganz klare Absicht ist. Schöner Film.

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