After all, it's just a ride….


Editing Is Energy…

Like any good patriot of cinema I have given Fury Road another appreciation over the past few days, furtively wallowing in the primitive format of 2D delivery. This essential revisit  was not dictated by any dissatisfaction with the modern blockbuster 3D formula, it simply aligned with a challenging weekend schedule, and the absolute joy this film has ignited demands another detailed deliberation – more on that soon. In the meantime I’ve also despaired at Tomorrowland, the summers weakest blockbuster thus far, a troubling piece that strangely yields some brilliant editorial technique just as it wanes on both on a political and ideological level. In that light here is a brief yet acute primer, on the fine art of cutting across axis of meaning and time;

The Inception of Movie Editing: DW Griffith from Kevin B. Lee on Vimeo.

Food for thought isn’t it? That piece seeds the soil for one of 2015’s great London cinephile events of the season which occurs on Sunday. You are promised an epic mix of Leone, De Niro, 19th century New York, alongside the incremental waning of affiliation….

Who Hired Roger For Runner?

OK, OK, there might be, and I stress the might be, some miniscule hairline cracks developing in my indomitable opposition against the Blade Runner sequel which is now officially shooting next summer. First of all nominated director Denis Villeneuve has had a storming Cannes with his new thriller getting astounding plaudits, and then today they announced that only Roger Fucking Deakins has signed up;

So with original screenwriter Hampton Fancher also in the mix I guess we couldn’t ask for a more promising mix of talent, but I still have severe reservations. Lets see who gets cast before we break out the Moet shall we? What’s that? Gosling is in negotiations?….Hmmm…(rubs chin nervously)……that might work……..

Werner Herzog Season – How Much Wood Would A Woodchuck Chuck? (1976)

howmuch woodTime to return to time gone by territory, yes, I know I’ve been slacking on the Herzog season but I think you can forgive me, after all I delivered not two, nor three but four full reviews last week so y’all can cut me some slack. Next on the BFI box-set mandated programme is another documentary which is relatively short, this time Herzog was attracted to the amphetamine mouthed livestock ringmasters housed in the so called ‘fly-over’ states , and the associated environment emitting what he memorably remarks as ‘the poetry of capitalism’. As well as the machine-gun speed wordsmiths the film is also fascinated with the punters and support staff who attend the annual world championship of auctioneers, just the sort of social competition you won’t find repeated in the urban enclaves of the East and West coast. Herzog was operating within his American fascination phase in 1976, peeking into the nooks and crannies of the great democratic experiment, and finding some odd behaviour and translucent traditions among the little covered rural heartlands of the great plains;

At forty-four minutes Woodchuck is not  a particularly demanding piece of work in either length or ambition, a rather sleight and pleasant historical travelogue of tracts of America that filmmakers frequently overlook rather than some penetrating insight into the human condition. The characters are colorful and amusing but not patronized by Herzog’s inquisitive gaze, even as they spew this almost impenetrable alien language which does seem to rise to near religious hysterical annotations in a quite bizarre manner. Truth be told after fifteen minutes of various auctioneers murdering the English language this actually gets a little tedious, and attention may drift to the rather gaudy fashions and grooming decisions which these strange natives from another century garb themselves in. It night have been nice Mr. Herzog if you’d given us some idea of exactly what distinguishes one auctioneer from the next, is it speed? Intonation? Accuracy? A combination of all these elements? They all seems to bellow out their incomprehensible argot in an identical fashion, but as I said this is perhaps more of a glancing mood piece than any serious sociological study. A respite perhaps, a calm before the storm, as we have a lynchpin film in Herzog’s entire lunatic oeuvre to tackle next, the notorious Storsezk which I have to say I’m really looking forward to revisit as I haven’t seen it in years. Until then here’s a recent interview to pad this out a little;

In other news, having got my new assignment dragged into the 21st century of youtube I spunked a celebratory £30 in the local HMV today, picking up some of the best film on Blu of the past couple of years. Inside Llewyn Davis, Her, Gravity got Under The Skin and caused the Last Of The Mohicans. Or something. How does this relate to Werner Herzog I hear you ask? Well, according to my research a certain Klaus Kinski spent the Second World War in Colchester as a POW, I bet he has a model prisoner…..

Jobs (2015) Trailer

AM I losing my mind? I thought it was only a few months ago that Bale dropped out of this project, and now we already have a trailer and a release date of October? That’s a pretty darn fast turnaround for the movie business isn’t it? I’m not a worshipper at the altar of jobs but theres no denying he was a figure of our age, and that a pretty robust cast and a Sorkin script – I’m in;

Mad M4X – Fury Road (2015)

mad1Mirror, signal, maneuver is a safety mantra which should be remodeled as mangle, slaughter, and massacre in the hotly anticipated Mad M4X Fury Road, the incandescently awaited return to one of the 1980’s most memorable action SF franchises. Thundering over the horizon like a horde of devil possessed Ferrari’s this thirty years in the making return to the scorching badlands of Australia has blazed astonishing levels of anticipation, following a fleet of trailers which raised expectations to feverish levels of excitement. You know the circuit by now of course, as some unspecified catastrophe has caused society to collapse, and pure primitive survival rests on the acquisition and maintenance of increasingly dwindling resources – gasoline, water, food and  in this latest installment, (ahem)  unimpregnated vaginas. In this Ayn Rand anarchist hell-scape wanders the stoic samurai Max Rockatansky, Tom Hardy admirably fulfilling the octane oozing breeches of Mel Gibson’s breakthrough role, although director George Miller has a very canny ace up his sleeve with this one – this is less a Mad Max picture than a film in which Mad Max appears, as Charlize Theron’s wonderfully monikered Imperator Furiosa is the real star of this blistering blitzkrieg which boils under an unforgiving sun.

mm2Am I the world’s biggest Mad Max fan?  No, but as a huge fan of dystopian SF and well crafted action carnage I was thoroughly looking forward to this, so I’m relived to report that Fury Road delivers the goods with a corybantic inventiveness on just about every level. The second Mad Max film is one of the greatest action films ever made, I think we can all agree on that in terms of sheer chutzpah, creative havoc and practical execution, with enough pathos and panting excitement to fuel a dozen Burning Man festival narcotic budgets. Fury Road equals and maybe surpasses that movies resonant cult movie intoxication, although I think another pass is required to properly assess its achievements as I’m still in something of a daze from this afternoon’s initial test drive. Like Scorsese effortlessly showing the kids how you make a devilishly fast, degrading vision of modern debauchery in Wolf Of Wall Street the 70-year-old George Miller knocks Michael Bay’s exploding dick in the dirt, with a jaw-dropping spectacle that houses more genuine cardiac inducing thrills in one second of footage than the entire Transformers (an easy target but here we are) franchise combined. This is a two-hour chase movie with a smattering of linking pauses for breath, before the engines roar and we’re off on another onslaught into this wonderfully detailed and imagined future world.

mm4Perhaps most rewarding is the subtext spinning among the retinal and aural assault, this is a movie which accelerates past the Bechtel Test curve into the canyons of feminist action masterpiece, I mean anything which has these total fucktards whining for attention  has to be applauded.   The very fact that women are a tradable commodity is a political statement which the SF setting neatly secretes, and crucially Furiosa is an equal in agency and ability to the titular Max, even equipped with a phallic castration which is never explained or referenced – a mechanical arm. The entire plot is engineered around her mission to secretly transport a harem of the villains multiple wives from his patriarchal oppression to an Eden allegorical ‘green land’, with fertility symbols and themes aligned with Millers exquisite testosterone direction. With the physical dexterity of his Cirque du Soleil performers he balances coverage and cuts between space, reaction and effect, hopefully obliterating that chaos cinema paradigm which has obsessed action movie mechanics for far too long. Co-writer UK comic artist Brendan McCarthy is the other scientist giggling under the chassis,  it’s his frenzied imagination which clutters the screen with a rich and textured vision of a world gone wild, one reason alone which will demand repeated viewings to soak in his lunatic cognition. The leeching of resources has shifted to Mephistophelian levels in Fury Road, with albino drones scuttling over the environment empowered by the hemoglobin nourishment of their captured vassals, when they’re not huffing chrome amyl nitrate dispensers that is. Yup, like I said, this is Pretty. Fucking. Mental.

mm3The commitment to practical effects works absolute adrenalized dividends, with a genuine heft and weight to the insane stunt work, quite frankly it’s a miracle that no-one was hurt and that $150 million budget must have caused as much consternation among the Warner Brothers brass as the nuclear level warning Health & Safety assessments. When people are dispatched under the wheels of indiscriminate crushing vehicles or impaled on improvised melee weapons there is a genuine urgency and threat to proceedings, and I frequently found myself muttering ‘wow’ as I mentally ducked under the 3D debris hurtling from the screen. The film was shot in the acrid climate of Namibia with hundreds of crew members battling the elements and environment for months on end, and one can only imagine that like the Apocalypse Now shoot the crew and principals went slowly insane due to the deranged imaginations roaring through the African wastelands. I also loved the art design reminiscent of Lynch’s Dune, the depraved & degraded industrial decay of the film, not just the tints and filters of John Seale’s chromatic cinematography (Miller coaxed him out of retirement to shoot this and what a finale to a terrific career) but the shift of gears through locations and set-pieces, the violent tactics required to commander a moving battletruck through a phalanx of explosives, manpower, and sheer suicidal determination.

mm5Who remembers Car Wars eh? Just thought I’d throw that in here for some of you old school tabletop RPG renegades. I realize this review is all over the place but that’s my breathless reaction, I was expecting and praying for something special which was mostly fulfilled. I do have some minor gripes however, contrarian that I can be. The opening was a little rushed and you don’t get much of an idea of Max’s back story or his psychologically sparring hallucinations, the shifting allegiances of Nicholas Hoult’s Nux character was roadkill in the back mirror of the detonating narrative,  and the various tribes of competing combatants aren’t particularly well delineated, but as I said another viewing might dispel these minor concerns. Quite apart from the sheer, rollercoaster spectacle I just loved  the thought and consideration that Miller and his team has blessed  upon this sparse and chaotic microcosm, reckoning that in a social vacuum vehicles would become fetishized and worshipped likes religious relics, as medieval ideologies would emerge from the rubble of a post cataclysm environment to give some illusory function to the daily grind of survival. Also, just to add to the jaded, disgruntled chorus of movie fans exhausted with CGI holography and the effortless dismantling of pixelated goons a return to the sheer, grime soaked physicality of cinema is a refreshing bend in the road, arriving hard on the heels of Age Of Ultron the gauntlet has well and truly been hurled down for the next Mission Impossible and Jurassic Park episodes, not to mention a certain space opera revival which we’re all excited to see. Filmmakers of my generation such as Richard Kelly and Ti West have been pontificating on Twitter that Fury Road is the greatest action movie since Terminator II, although I think they may have forgotten the ground breaking nature of the first Matrix movie I partially agree, and it’s certainly among the best action movies of the millennium. A lovely day indeed;

BFI Members Screening – Double Indemnity (1944)

di1Structure is essential to any masterpiece. To some filmmakers structure is form and dictates the formal qualities of the film – how and when key story information is imparted – depending on how character POV, requirements of tension, suspense and shock manifest from a film’s plot. To take that a step forward perhaps I need to explain the difference between plot and narrative, just to get us started. In a typical crime film the plot can be explained thus – a) a crime is conceived, b) a crime is planned, c) a crime is committed, d) a crime is discovered, e) a crime is investigated and finally f) a crime is solved. So far so good. But that plot wouldn’t have much in the way of tension or excitement if it was presented in such a linear fashion, now would it? No, in a crime film you’d generally start at stage d) then move on to e), the results of the investigation revealing sections of a) to c) on a carefully considered order, before arriving at f) in the finale. So while some filmmakers work closely with their screenwriters to erect structure others concentrate more on mood and tone, as the Coens said in an interview recently ‘it is essential that the first and last shots of your movie maintain these same core ingredients and  if they don’t, your picture has failed’. It’s when these two crucial elements are mastered we plunge into masterpiece territory, where the design of the story, how if unfolds in time and across characters perspective melds with the atmosphere, the score and lighting, the editing patterns – where aesthetics meet architecture. Having caught Billy Wilder’s film noir masterpiece Double Indemnity at a special BFI members screening over the weekend I think we have a winner. The film begins at the end, with fatally wounded insurance salesman Walter Neff feverishly limping into his downtown office at some ungodly hour of the night, when dark spirits and nefarious plans are abroad. Struggling up to his bosses desk he takes a dictaphone and begins to spill his swiftly leaking guts, recanting a tawdry tale of murder and deceit inflicted at the hands at that most deadly of film noir factors – a dame.

di4And what a dame. Barbara Stanwyck had played the more lascivious and lusty of screen harlots before, but her turn here as the feline eyed Phyllis Dietrichson is one of the iconic highlights of the genre, carefully drawing her prey into dense web of deceit and desire. She carefully convinces her  horny henchmen that maybe it was his crazy plan to knock off her old man and pocket the claim money, with a lucrative double fee paid for a death in unusual circumstances – the double indemnity. Fred McMurray as the panting Neff was an unusual casting decision for Wilder (Alan Ladd and George Raft had already passed on the project), as a doyen of mild champagne bubble comedy dramas and dreary Disney material he was something of a Tom Hanks of his day, a genial everyman whom you’d trust to invest your life savings, to stake you for $20 for your tab at the next guys Poker night, to bring your daughter back from Prom unmolested. Even as the studio production machine of the 1940’s was in full traction sometimes the executives were convinced to take risks by the insistence of influential directors, and here he turned in the most memorable and his personal favourite performance of his career. Both main players are locked in a sordid tumble of sexual fury and decadent desire, shielded from lurid exposition by the prurient restrictions of the 1940’s production code. Nevertheless the emphasis and angles are plain to see, cleverly concealed in Wilder’s emphasis on Freudian icons and totems, then polished in the acid drenched voiceover that guides us through the picture.

di2When questioned about the format of his great film noir he claimed ‘I always preferred to sacrifice surprise for suspense’, a cunning strategic decision as although we know a murder has taken place at the start of the film, we already yearn to connect the dots and establish who has wounded our increasingly repulsive protagonist. This also generates a doomed inevitably, a core essence of true noir, an inescapable destiny that once you begin the journey of transgression against the social norm your body and soul are damned. The voiceover narration serves as exposition and identification, smearing us as culprits complicit in the crime, one part confessional to two parts whispering embrace, pondering what would you do under the thrall of such bewitching physical and fiscal temptation? It’s difficult to think of another film of the period populated by such wretched leads, you can vaguely understand Neff being led to hell by prioritising his behaviour via certain elements of the male anatomy, but Phyllis remains a duplicitous archetype, even if she is granted a few brief dialogue pleas of frantic reprise before her inevitable fate. The flashback structure slowly tightens the noose, it intensifies the choking web closing in as every visit to the Dietrich home is shot with denser plateaus of chiaroscuro textured venetian lighting, drawing Neff deeper to her poisoned bosom and down to his destruction.

di3For me the film is quietly  embezzled by Edward G. Robinson as Neff’s mentor Barton Keyes, the scuttle minded master of investigation whose indigestion belched hunches are never to be second guessed, heck even his name suggests a man whose purpose on this earth is to unlock lies and penetrate mysteries. He smells a rat with the claim and gets to deploy the best of Wilder’s and Raymond Chandlers silver-tongued script, an agent of increasing pressure as he slowly erodes the foundations of Neff’s disintegrating deception. It’s one of those magical movies where by sheer fate the right ingredients were mixed in exactly the correct proportions (see also Casablanca and whom was originally attached to direct and star) with the principals cast against type in a delicious reversal of audience expectation. One lovely little cinephile factoid, although Chandler and Wilder often sparred over the script that friction ignited the final results, and he can be seen in a miniscule cameo around 15 minutes into the picture. – this is the only known footage of Chandler in existence other than a single home movie. Wilder’s next picture, The Lost Weekend, is rumoured to be in part inspired by Wilder’s observation of Chandler alcoholic struggles, that’s another great picture which I’ll get round to one day.

di5The BFI treated us with a well-preserved print which was just a little ragged around the reel changes, but the sound and grain detail were all first class, as I think to see such a classic on anything other than original nitrate would be a homicidal crime. It’s a wonderful example of the cameramen’s lavish lighting of the leading ladies of the period, Stanwyck’s silky black widow bob sheathed with an ironic halo top light, an angel of death shrouded in the sticky stink of those pungent honeysuckle shrouds. It’s a testament to Wilder’s prestige and the film’s status that this was a packed Sunday afternoon screening even while the sun was streaming down on London outside, who needs a suntan when you’ve got a fifth of bourbon, a case gnawing at you and a crimson lipped dame on your arm?. Indeed, I can’t believe that this is the first Wilder film I’ve covered here apart from a capsule review of Ace In The Hole around a year ago, suffice to say if the BFI ever host a screening of Sunset Boulevard then I will make every effort to prepare for my close-up as that’s top films of all time material. I’ll leave the final word to the great William Friedkin, a long time champion of the film, as we close this case file and look forward to the next murder to maul the Menagerie;

BFI Screen Epiphanies – Come & See (1985)


здравствуйте comrades. For my second free BFI screening of the year a number of strategies struck me on how to open a review. First of all the distinct lack of Russian cinema I’ve managed to cover over the years sprang shamefully to mind, I mean apart from a couple of stabs at Tarkovsky it’s not exactly been Kino-film 101 around here, right? Soviet film figures such as Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Dovshenko and Vertov are powerful dormant bears of film culture, ushering in and developing critical cinematic syntax such as montage and shot to shot relations, while more recently figures such as Alexander Sokurov have prowled the world stage, regarded by many as among the greatest living filmmakers. Then of course I thought about the Second World War film, a genre which broadly speaking has been treated cinematically as an action filled romp, of boys own adventure and glorious men-on-a-mission movies, until the likes of The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan detonated a new assault of blood and entrail drenched realism, illuminating the full horror and sacrifice that such inhuman conflicts ignited across both the European and Pacific theatres. But then after last Thursdays horrific events here in the UK there really was only place to begin discussion of Elem Klimov notorious 1985 film Come And See, and that is the harrowing tableau of a human face frozen in absolute horror, all reason and sanity obliterated by the sights and atrocities it has witnessed, a scene akin to both the peasant boy Flyora witness to the brutal blitzkrieg Barbarossa campaign and my reaction to the results pouring in from the constituencies across the country.

come2The film is frequently cited in the same breadth as Passolini’s Salo, Haneke’s The Seventh Continent or Zukawski’s Possession as among the most harrowing art-house of the period, rest assured it’s a tough watch both sonically and psychologically, with some brutal imagery which fully unleashes the four horsemen of the apocalypse which are referenced in the films biblically plundered title ‘And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see! And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth’. The films stomach churning center-piece is the 45 minute obliteration of a Belarus village by a division of Wehrmacht psychopaths. It’s an unendurable, extended assault of forlorn screaming, of barking dogs, of indiscriminate explosions and gunfire, as the frenzied occupants of the doomed hamlet are corralled in the village church and burned alive – men, women, children, infants. Klimov frames this almost as some horrifically distorted bacchanal, with the Nazi’s (and let’s never forgot their sympathizers and accomplices) bawdily drinking, singing, dancing and carousing as they indiscriminately slaughter entire generations of families, with the lucky ones succumbing swiftly to the cleansing fire – you really don’t wish to know what happens to the survivors.

come3I suppose I should explain the ‘Epiphanies’ sobriquet, as this is a series of screenings that the BFI host for artists or scholars as works that they champion as having changed their artistic lives. This was the choice of theatre director Katie Mitchell who was interviewed prior to the screening, and no I’d never heard of her either as I’m such a pathetic philistine. In terms of technique Klimov was also a decade ahead of his peers on the other side of the Iron Curtain, as he assaults the viewer with a trident of techniques that firmly situate us in the disintegrating headspace of poor, orphaned Flyora. In one sequence empathic identification is forged when a barrage of artillery deafens our protagonist, causing the soundtrack itself to warp to garbled and discordant tones for the next twenty minutes of screen time – Spielberg truncated and ‘homaged’ that ideal at 0:42 here. The film is also notable for a generous disbursement of Steadicam use. After Kubrick’s profile raising deployment of the method in The Shining five years before it still hadn’t quite infiltrated the industry as a popular filming method, so Klimov’s ordering his camera to prowl POV style through the nightmare gets us directly into his Floyra’s headspace, where a minefield, an enemy or atrocity could be lurking around the next corner. This fluidity is punctuated with severe close-ups of grimy, trembling, tear streaked faces, the literal face of war with humanity ebbing away as the horror warps into a numbing spectacle of grotesque mangled bodies, indescribable cruelty, the relentless laceration of metal into soft flesh and bone. Finally, in a quite brilliant touch which is all the more pertinent now the film frequently cuts to Flyora’s terrified glances to the omnipresent Luftwaffe spotter planes circling the battlefields, providing a constant drone as literal agents of death that scuttle across the smoky graveyard smeared sky. If I was being a little bit flippant I’d liken the overall effect to Hieronymus Bosch crushed in the tank tracks of Sven Hassel, a constant assault of misery and mayhem on all fronts of cinematic representation – Come And See being an invitation to voyeuristic evisceration.

come4Elem Klimov never made enough film, and although it’s romantic to think that this was due to him having nothing left to say following this ultimate statement on warfare in cinema I think it was more to do with tussles with the Soviet Goskino film-board, whom of course sanctioned or suppressed material at the whim of the prevailing political winds. They loathed the film for its ‘dirty aesthetics’, yet despite the challenge it found its way to the international festival circuit, and curiously managed a staggering 30 million admissions in Russian territory alone. As for the screening itself, well, I’m sorry to say this was one of the poorest experiences I’ve endured at the BFI. They did announce that the 35mm print they had acquired had been tested and found to be of such despicably poor quality that they had to make alternate arrangements, cannily securing the Super VHS master loops from Channel 4’s transmission of the film in the 1990’s. This quality was fine for the first twenty or so minutes, then some interference became apparent from the source master and the digital projection which resulted in blocky glitches populating the screen like a ‘snowstorm’ aerial failure. A very apologetic curate came out and explained the issue and that they would continue the projection so I stuck around – it was physically still watchable just immensely distracting – figuring that once they changed tapes the problem could be rectified and thus my patience was rewarded. Still, at the end of the day this was free to members so I can’t complain too much, and the glitches only blighted about 30 minutes of the two and a half hour film. For sheer metaphysical horror of what we deluded creatures feel justified to inflict upon each other in the name of nationalism, of prestige or of power or pride Come And See is an equal to Apocalypse Now, a harrowing vision of hell literally let loose upon the Earth, all encapsulated by Flyora’s shattered, weeping face as witness for us all;

The Man They Call Max….

So I’ve been roaring around, trying to find some material to get your engine running regarding the imminent return of Max. I looked into dystopian movie montages yet that’s been overdone recently, so I considered some Ozploitation models instead but no dice. Success screamed off the conveyor belt but beware it’s booby-trapped, if you touch those tanks then ‘BOOM':,

The Man We Called Max from Dave Black on Vimeo.

Phoenix (2015)

phoe1It’s rewarding to broaden ones horizons isn’t it? Following last year’s rather poor attendance with shall we say less mainstream movie digestion I’ve made a concerted effort this year, to seek out new material from territories and terrain which is usually less travelled, and the fruits of my labour are finally ripening. I’ll save my comments on my excursion into Argentinan cinema for another infinitely more pretentious post, but back in Europe there is a filmmaker whom has come to prominence over the past few years through his repeated collaborations with his on-screen actress muse – I’m talking about Christian Petzold and the brilliant Nina Hoss. Over the past decade they have made five films together, a cinema which in its broadest terms could be classified as nationalist enquiries into the history, the social and cultural dimensions of their shared homeland of Germany. Prior to this article dropping a week ago I had already delved into his acute emotional character pieces framed within historical thrillers, Petzold trimming his movies with a slight sense of genre foliage while the real work is occurring in the long grass of identity, ideology and individuals operating almost as cyphers of their homelands psychological temperature. It appears that this discovery was perfectly timed as his new and perhaps most assured film Phoenix arrived in the more affluent end of the cinema spectrum last week, so once again the travelcard was engaged to a repeat visit to (coincidently enough) the Phoenix screen of the Curzon Renoir.

phoenix2Berlin, 1945, a city and country sheathed in ruinous, smouldering desperation. A mysterious figure is whisked through an Allied checkpoint during a furtive nocturnal manoeuvre, her companion Lene (Nina Kundenzorf) explaining to the suspicious troops that her heavily bandaged and facially obscured companion isn’t Eva Braun but a scarred young survivor of the death camps. She is Nelly (Hoss, brilliantly impenetrable), a young Jewish singer who has returned from almost certain death, with horrendous facial scarring and an interior obliteration. In order to rebuild their lives and begin anew Lene arranges for Nelly’s plastic surgery, while urging her to join her on her planned decant to Palestine in order to join the fledging Israeli post war state. Nina is drawn to a different flame however and with her new appearance begins to court her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), a musician relegated to barman at the sleazy Phoenix club, a rather desperate smoke-choked locale where furtive sexual encounters between panting GI’s and resource starved locals are scored by Weimar decadent aural nostalgia. When Johnny notices the resemblance of Nina to his dead wife – she does nothing to disavow him of his ambitions and inform him that she is the real Nina – he traps her into a furtive scheme, to simulate the return of his real wife in order to swindle his surviving relatives by marriage out of the modest family finances.

phoenix3There is no escaping the halo of Hitchcock’s Vertigo from a first viewing of this haunting film, with a woman being reconstructed by a man in the image of his dead lover, erecting a hall of mirrors of desire, identity and deceit among the rubble strewn, decomposing ruins of the Third Reich. The film’s title signals the thematic and ideological levels that Petzold is zeroing upon, the Phoenix as rebirth of Nelly following her devastating betrayal and abuse, a personal emotional motif resonating for the difficult birth of a new, post-Nazi European state. Hoss is absolutely magnificent in her restrained, opaque performance as a creature deeply and permanently scarred by her physical and psychic ordeals, never revealing her mysterious decisions to cloak her identity or reveal her true paternity to her treacherous husband. Petzold balances the osculating rhythms of his film through a careful command of tone and framing – interior vs. exterior, social vs. singular, allegiance vs. betrayal – with just a discreet directorial flourish which is sparsely applied, the odd dash of semiotic colour here, a elevation in score and sound there. It’s a chilly, austere work which probably requires a few sittings to fully crack its coding, to decipher and heal Nelly’s psychiatric scars.

hpoe4The film is afflicted with some dramatic flaws which meander to cul-de-sacs rather than connect the themes in some grand Wehrmacht battle plan, one character whom we feel we should know better is written out of the narrative in a rather clumsy fashion for plot functions, and perhaps a shard, a glimpse of some psychological truth behind Nelly’s occasionally illogical behaviour would have served to identify with her decisions and possible delusions on a more empathic level. The final scene however is sublime and the transcedant revelation that the entire film has been building toward, a rendition of elevation and escape on a rival with Bresson at his most moving. As a final note I can strongly recommend 2012’s Barbara which critically speaking was one of those breakthrough films which raised Petzold’s visability through the world cinema set, my personal favourite of his films is Yella which is best described as a Michel Haneke temperature remake of the eerie masterpiece Carnival Of Souls, which as it stands is one of the most rewarding films I’ve seen this year. Phoenix is another successful entry in an increasingly tensile filmography, a body politic that harbours  both geographic gentile and cartographic contours of the soul, powered by one of the great contemporary director /actor partnerships;

San Andreas (2015) Trailer

Oh boy does this look terrible, in a thoroughly entertaining way. I’ve never quite seen the attraction of The Rock but he has his committed fanbase, looks like he might have bitten off more than he can chew with this one;

Is this the first crest of a new wave of disaster movies? In other news having just got back from a day at the BFI – I’m three reviews behind now so my work is cut out for me next week – this is an interesting read.


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