Saturday, February 23, 2008

Checking In

My computer crashed over the past week, so my electronic life is a bit jumbled at the moment.  I was able to salvage (most of) my files, which is the most important thing.  Apologies for any scatterbrained or delayed correspondence.  Things should, let's hope, be back to normal by next weekend.

Recent home viewing includes Michael Mann's Ali, Alfred Vohrer & Edgar Wallace's College Girl Murders ('67), and Jess Franco's The Sexual Story of O ('84).  That last reminds me in more than a few ways of Borowczyk's Love Rites, though it was as uncomfortable for me to sit through as, say, Bigger Than Life (a great film I don't want to revisit for a long time) or The Last House on the Left.  I am a total squeamish wuss, and frequently just can't handle long passages of people dominating and torturing (in some way or another) other people.  Even when it's highly expressionistic, or highly psychological.  Or, sometimes, blood in general is just too hard.  (One day I'll steel myself for another go-round with Perfumed Nightmare and its group circumcision scene...)  

The Mann is pretty good and I'm glad I caught up with it.  Sooner or later I'll write something about his work.  College Girl Murders struck me as low-grade competent autopilot; I think it counts as my first krimi film though.  Any thoughts on the films in question?


Frank Partisan said...

I have at my blog an open thread about the Academy Awards, including my predictions.

It used to be a mystery, who wrote the novel "The Story of O." People didn't even know the writer's gender.

edo said...

I've intended to write something about "Ali" and Mann's work in general for a while now. I think that the first ten minutes of that film constitute some of the best cinema I've seen in contemporary America - i.e. in the last decade or so. On the other hand, I find the rest of the film to be something of a let down, and I can't say that even that passage is definitively the best since there's a lot I still need to see from the contemporary scene. Abel Ferrara, James Gray (!), Jim Jarmusch among others...

But I can still watch those first ten minutes over and over again. The variation of rhythms, textures, and tonalities is really breathtaking. I think it has an impressionistic quality that goes beyond the token shaky-camera immediacy that a lot of period films use as a conceit, and actually creates a way of experiencing 'the past' that's far more exhilarating and illuminating, or at least feels that way. Mann's montage as melange/medley - a meticulous, but always heightened, exaggerated, intensified, rendering of documented settings and words and events - creates a sense that we're witnessing a revolution and taking part in it. We experience the uprising, or rather the rising up, of a whole people in song.

(I just realized that it sounds somewhat like I'm describing one of Rossellini's late films such as "Age of the Medici"... for what it's worth)

More to say, but this is a good start... thoughts Zach?

Anonymous said...

I do think Armond White hit the nail on the head when he said "Ali" was the kind of bio-film where you know less about the subject leaving the theater than when you came in. Mann generally bores me... the whole "flashy TV" thing.

Anonymous said...

"...Or, sometimes, blood in general is just too hard."

Yes, but as history and the movies have taught us, there will be blood.


ZC said...

Edo, yeah I agree that Ali has a very strong opening. I go back and forth on his films: I always respect them, they're certainly of interest for their formal properties (I wouldn't say "flashy tv" is totally off, but it doesn't get at the root of the work, for me). But I think they're also very thin, crystalline films, and sometimes I think it's to their advantage (i.e., they are a certain type of object and we needn't demand what the films are clearly trying not to do) ... and yet other times I think the films are just plain limited, hemmed in by their own bombast and maybe a bit too dependent on the language of "pure cinema" so that they can just let themselves coast on what we might designate as more textual, or thematic, or narrative idiocies. It depends on specific passages, context, my own feelings, etc. I'm slowly working out a more coherent idea about what makes Mann tick.