Tuesday, November 25, 2014

November: the rest of the month edition

Hi, Mike here with a small revival list for this coming week. Very small list, all taking place at the Walter Reade at Lincoln Center. Films shot between 1977 and 1982 are now considered old movies. Now don't you feel old, on with the list:

THE THIRD GENERATION (1979)- Tues Nov 25 at 4:15- Walter Reade- A Fassbinder I haven't seen and I'm curious about. If you know the Oscar nominated German film The Baader Mienhof Complex, then you have an idea of where this film is going. But no romancing of these homegrown here in this 1979 Western German film as opposed to the 2008 film I just mentioned. The people depicted here didn't even found a group like the Red Army Faction. These are youngish men and women from well to due families, who would qualify for Monty Python's Upper Class Twit of the Year Award skit. These idiots may extol Marxist ideals, they may verbally attack consumerism and their Nazi collaborating parents/grandparents, but their kidnappings and terrorist attacks are more about looking cool and killing time then anything else. But they do have guns, a desire to commit terror attacks in country, and this makes them vulnerable to manipulation. Specifically, manipulation by security companies seeking more money and contracts to fund efforts to strike down said terrorist groups.

The film was hit with American critics, possibly only The Marriage of Maria Braun and Verionkia Voss had better reviews upon their American releases, though I'd have to go onto a site like Rotten Tomatoes to see if that has changed over the decades. But this kind of praise in Germany didn't come at all until Reunification, and even it took years and it seems it was muted. In Western Germany, this film was torn to shreds by critics and people sympathetic to groups like the Red Army Faction were beyond pissed. Fassbinder was considered a class traitor, and allegedly more than once was a projectionist screening this film was beaten.

The following analogy is not a great one, but the best one I can give, to allow you to imagine what a similar film here in the States would be like. Imagine one year after Inglorious Basterds, Tarantino made a film about a group of well-to-do Americans under 35 who are pro-choice, who bomb abortion clinics and post their deeds on social media because it's cool. Then imagine said group being manipulated to go after larger targets, like airports and sporting events. Then imagine said group spouting their beliefs but more interested in getting high and having sex. Then imagine said group being manipulated into such actions by security groups and a media conglomerate who see opportunities for contracts and profits by this group actions, and imagine a kind of federal cooperation so that the status quo can be maintained. Now imagine Tarantino hiring the kind of recognizable and bankable actors needed to draw an audience. No, I'm not talking about something like Syriana, I'm talking about a film people would actually be curious to see going in, and would leave pissed off.

Not the perfect analogy to The Third Generation, but it gives you the kind of firecracker Fassbinder set off in his country, that American critics and art house audiences fully supported. Decide for yourself. Not only am I including the link to the film on Lincoln Center's film site, but also Vincent Camby's rave review on the Times:

QUERELLE (1982)- Wed Nov 26 at 8:30- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- From 1982, released in the U.S. in 1983. The last film in Lincoln Center's Rainer Werner Fassbinder retrospective. Fitting since it was also Fassbinder's last film. I've never seen it, though I know about it. So I'll introduce to you by copying and pasting the Lincoln Center description of it:

The director’s swan song, taken from Jean Genet’s novel Querelle de Brest and released after his death, follows the titular Belgian sailor and hustler (Midnight Express’s Brad Davis) as he frequents a brothel in Brest run by Lysiane (legendary Jeanne Moreau), and works through a complex relationship with his brother. Fassbinder’s expressionistic use of garish lighting lends an air of surrealism to the sensational goings-on. Nominated for the Golden Lion at Venice, Jury President Marcel CarnĂ© (director of Children of Paradise) withdrew after failing to convince his fellow jurors to bestow the award, stating “…although controversial, R.W. Fassbinder’s final movie, want it or not, love it or hate it, will someday find its place in the history of cinema.”

Fassbinder got to work with a large (for him) budget for the last time, with the majority of the budget going to pay for the use of Davis, Moreau and Franco Nero. Triumph agreed to distribute it  in North America but forced Fassbinder to edit it on threat of Querelle never to be seen in the U.S./ Canada. Probably the only time Fassbinder didn't have so form of final cut, and this is the cut that will be screened at the Walter Reade. So basically, imagine a world that looks blatantly like a film set with stylized lighting, a filmed play style that  must have influenced Lars von Triers when he made Dogville and Manderlay. The amoral title character, in constant conflict with his brother, is in a town and port that's seems a separate universe unto itself, with little to signify it takes place in any particular era. Fill it with a world full of men and one woman, who are just as likely to fuck each other as  kill each other (or both), and the E.T. crowd can be told to go home. Play around with sound in terms of the volume and clarity of music, sound effects and actors (all dubbed in English, by most of the principals) to create a dreamlike effect, and  you don't have a typical movie. Throw in narration that changes from Third person to First person with no warning, and you're either fascinated, confused, or bored. Throw in the hint of incest between the brothers,  and who knows how one will react to this.

Well that last part is not entirely true. We know what the reaction was. Marcel Carne's reaction not withstanding. Few critics praised the film. Some called it a mess, some had difficulty with the clinical love scenes between men, and when it became more carnal. Some blamed the film's deficiencies on the director being messed up on pills and cocaine. Some used supposition by comparing  the darkness of the film to Fassbinder's feelings about himself as a depressed gay man, and even lightly hinted at his overdose (intentional or accidental, still debatable) after he finished editing Querelle as cause and effect. No matter what the exact critical reaction was, in an era where a toothless gay themed film like Making Love was ignored, a button pushing picture like Querelle wasn't sought out (outside of France where it was a hit) except by Fassbinder fans, who where also divided in reaction. Younger people who've discovered the film are either fascinated by the kind of film they're not used to seeing (never compared to Hollywood fare but compared to say, Brokeback Mountain) or wondering what the hell is this. God forbid if this is one's first entry into the career of Fassbinder. But if it isn't and you want to take the risk, so am I:

TESS (1979) with a post film Q and A with Nastassja Kinski- Walter Reade at Lincoln Center- Sat Nov 29 at 4- From 1979, released in the U.S. in 1980. From Lincoln Center's Nastassja Kinski retrospective. Now here was an actress who as early as 12, was willing to be physically vulnerable yet emotionally strong and never passive (at least, not for long). In European films in the 1970s, this also meant she was usually nude, as young as 13. But this exploitation (which supposedly took decades to get over) ended in some ways (how many I don't know) when she was cast in Tess.

A DCP restoration of one of the best films of 1980. Successful in its day, borderline forgotten now, at least in the states. Not on a Raging Bull or Empire Strikes Back level, but damn good. Roman Polanski's film was overshadowed not only by those two films, as well Ordinary People,The Elephant Man, and the massive financial disaster of Heaven's Gate, but also by being the first film after Polanski escaped Europe to avoid jail for statutory rape. Since this film, Roman has made other films, but Tess is the best film he's made since he became a fugitive. Yes, better than The Pianist. There have also been two good TV mini-series version of Tess, one from Australia and one from the BBC with Gemma Arterton. This film version is still the go-to adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel of a peasant girl who becomes the object of desire of two men; a love triangle that won't end well. Oscars for Art Direction, Costume Design and Cinematography for Ghislain Cloquet and Geoffrey Unsworth (2001, Cabaret and Superman, who died during shooting). Nominations for Picture, Director for Polanski and Score. This also introduced the non-European world to Nastassja Kinski, who played the title role.  A long film, a tragic-romantic film, a very good film.

Kinski would become an international sex symbol, but only in Tess were her acting talents actually used to their fullest. Hollywood cam  calling, and Kinski would take advantage to work with a variety of interesting personalities, including Francis Ford Coppola, James Toback, Tony Richardson and Paul Schrader, among others. This variety of challenging projects is why Lincoln Center is doing a retrospective of some of her films. But most of these films are not those I have a burning desire to see. Tess is one, and I'll post one other on the next list. 

I'm afraid I have no time for Paris,Texas and The Moon in the Gutter, and you're not dragging me to see Cat People or Exposed, and no way in hell am I doing The Hotel New Hampshire. A sentiment shared by American audiences I'm afraid. Kinski was billed as the next big thing in Hollywood, but there was a long chasm of flops between Tess and the art house hit Your Friends and Neighbors. Not that she didn't stop working on interesting projects; they were either small independent films in America, or projects back in Europe. So yes, Hotel New Hampshire aside, I'd say we American audiences missed out on a good thing. But we have Tess and other projects to check out. Ms Kinski herself will take part in a post film Q and A, so figure on being at the Walter Reade until 8 or a little before:

Let me know if there's interest. Later all and Happy Thanksgiving.

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