Sunday, 7 August 2022

Stroszek (1977)

 


Stroszek

Well, that was a sad one.

Wener Herzog’s “Stroszek” belongs to that particular sub-genre that deals with odd existences drawing the short straw in life, combined with the failed American dream topic. That combo does not exactly make for a joyful time in front of the screen, but something about the bizarre quality of this movie saves if from being a complete misery feast.

Bruno Stroszek (Bruno Schleinstein) is being released from prison in Germany (Berlin?). He is a street musician, but when he gets drunk, he is apparently prone to do stupid things. Nevertheless, the first place he seeks out upon release is his local watering hole. He is quite familiar, if not liked by the clientele there, including the prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes) and her pimps. They treat her badly, so Bruno offers that she can stay with him. The elderly and eccentric Mr. Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) has been looking after Bruno’s apartment and his musical instruments so there is a place waiting for him. Crossing the pimps was probably a mistake as Bruno and Eva are now being terrorized by them to the extent that when Mr. Scheitz leaves for America, Eva and Bruno join him.

Scheitz has a nephew in Wisconsin, and that is as prepared as they are. Otherwise, they are completely ill-equipped for life in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. Only Eva speaks English and only she has a minimum of skill level to get by. Bruno went on the idea that in America everybody gets rich by default and Scheitz, heaven knows what Scheitz was thinking. Everything tanks for them. On the winter-locked prairie, life is immensely bleak. Eva runs away with two truck drivers and Bruno and Scheitz revert to armed robbery.

Objectively this is a movie about people in the gutter who are looking for an escape, only to find themselves even deeper in a, now unfamiliar, gutter. Bruno is a quirky character, but not unsympathetic. For his special kind the niche is rather narrow and precarious, and he has no defense against predators like the pimps. For Eva, the situation is much the same. On the fringe, they cannot rely on the protection we take for granted. How tempting is it not to then simply leave and start over in another place, a place where everybody lives a wonderful life (think of a goatherder in Somalia or Afghanistan dreaming of Sweden)?

If Bruno’s niche was narrow in Germany, it is non-existent in America. He is not even attempting to be a street musician in Wisconsin. Not speaking the language, knowing the culture or even having any relevant skills, reality is crushing when it hits.

It is really sad and heartbreaking and I am not certain if that feeling is enhanced or relieved by the wry humor mixed in. It is a bitter, black sort of humor that sends the movie into left field but also enhance the alienation. An example of this is the dark moment when their mobile home has been repossessed by the bank, Eva has left and Bruno and Scheitz, who think all this is a plot against them by unknown enemies, decide to rob a bank. The bank is closed so instead they rob the hairdresser next door for 32$. Instead of escaping though, they throw the gun into the car and walk into the grocery next door to do some calm supermarket shopping with their new-found wealth. Presently, the police arrives and arrests Scheitz for armed robbery.

This scene is so… unbelievable that I could not help laughing out loud. From a scene that is the deepest darkness. Amazing.

The end-scene with the animals doing humiliating tricks for coins while trapped in a cage is summing up the movie pretty well. There is no escape for Bruno.

Recommended? Not certain. You really have to be in the mood for this.


Sunday, 31 July 2022

Annie Hall (1977)

 


Mig og Annie

“Annie Hall” is the highly celebrated breakthrough movie of Woody Allen that earned four Academy Awards and setup Woody Allen as the king of neurotic New Yorker comedy.

By all rights, this should be a movie to look forward to and as far as I can see, it still has a large fanbase among bloggers.

Unfortunately for me, I have never really been into this kind of comedy and my impression of Woody Allen has long been that I like his movies better when he is not in them. That is not a great starting point.

“Annie Hall” is all about Woody Allen’s neurotic New Yorker persona. More specifically it is about the relationship between himself (as Alvy Singer) and Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall, though mostly from his point of view. It is a non-linear story that showcases a number of episodes from their relationship in what may be an attempt at explaining what went wrong between them. Both are socially disastrous personas, Alvy is hyper neurotic and egomaniac while Annie is ditzy and unfocused. Whereas Annie to some extend gets herself under control and grow up, Alvy does not.

The comedy here stems from that both, though particularly Alvy, wear their feelings on the sleeves and are very vocal about them, mixing in jokes and sarcasm. His frequent reference to the Marx Brothers joke about not wanting to be a member of a club that would accept himself, is a pretty good description of him. Alvy is afraid of everything, obsessed about death and see antisemitism everywhere. Hiding behind jokes really does not make him any more tolerable.

Some of those jokes are fun though, I have to admit. The talk on the roof-top where they are having an inane discussion, but through the subtitles are having a very different talk, is a very nice tough. Some of his observations are also good, when the self-pity and self-loathing has been cut away.

I do have a lot of sympathy for awkward types with low self-esteem, but actively destructive types like Alvy Singer feels more like poison and the sympathy drowns in the bottomless sea of egotism. He never really sees anybody but himself or anybody else as more than a reflection of himself. The narcissism level is sky-high, and it does not really help that he does not like what he sees.

Maybe Alvy Singer is just a more honest person, maybe this is what people are mostly, beneath the veneer of politeness, but that is a very very sad thought and I prefer not to believe that.

There is a lot of modernity in “Annie Hall”, so much that I suppose the seventies or at least New York City in the seventies is practically identified with this movie. The concerns of the period, relationship analysis, sexual liberation and the costs of it, the sense of floating in uncharted seas. There is a lot to sink teeth into here, small elements and features, that may have felt like novelties at the time, but now are culturally embedded in the following generations.

Another element that makes this movie noteworthy is the number of future stars who have small parts or even screen debuts in “Annie Hall”. Christopher Walken, John Glover, Beverly D’Angelo, Jeff Goldblum and Sigourney Weaver are all there if you can spot them. That is quite remarkable.

“Annie Hall” is an interesting and different movie. It is a movie that in many ways are looking forward, but it is also a movie that, in my opinion is suffering from the classic, insufferable Woody Allen characters.

I know why Annie left him. She got tired of holding up the mirror in front of Alvy, realizing there is more to life than that. I do not need to hold a mirror for Woody Allen and can move on.


Tuesday, 26 July 2022

A Bridge Too Far (1977)

 


Off-List: A Bridge Too Far

As my second Off-List movie for 1977 I chose “A Bridge too Far”. An epic scale war movie, it belongs to a category the List editors generally ignores. Sometimes with some right, they do tend to be rather trivial, but “A Bridge Too Far” is a noteworthy movie on several accounts and I think it deserves a slot.

“A Bridge Too Far” tries to tell the story of an operation towards the end of World War 2 codenamed Operation Market Garden. In September 1944 the Allied forces drove hard to end the war before Christmas, but struggled with the problem that the Germans had prepared a defense line on the Rhine. A daring plan was conceived to take three bridges in The Netherlands with airborne troops and thereby secure an easy way into Germany. As history will tell us the plan was a trifle optimistic and left thousands of allied soldiers to die far behind enemy lines.

A story with this sort of scope was attempted before with “The Longest Day” (based on another book by the author who wrote the one “A Bridge Too Far” is based on) and this is not where the similarities end. To cover an event of this magnitude, the story has to be broken down into many smaller stories, each of which include a separate set of characters, but combined they have to merge into a larger, coherent whole. And that is super tricky. Each element has its own stellar cast (the roster of A-listers is truly impressive!) and we have to see enough of them to get engaged, but even with a three-hour running time, these are often only vignettes. Only the soldiers of the besieged 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem (led by Sean Connery as Major General Roy Urquhart) we get back to again and again as their situation degrades from bad to truly terrible.

This combination of ultra-zoom and big picture at the same time is truly difficult. It was the Achilles heel of “The Longest Day” and it is precariously close to break “A Bridge Too Far” as well. As a viewer I wish for a map and a roster of characters and how they each interlink. For the most part, I can only recognize the difference between American, British and German soldiers by the color of their uniform and their language and this is where there is some value to have famous actors like Robert Redford, Michael Caine, James Caan and Elliott Gould take up minor roles, because I can then identify the characters by the actor. Still, who exactly we were following at any given time was tricky and I was mistaken more than once.

What does work is the sense of scale and authenticity. This was the most expensive production ever made at the time and the production team had gone to painstaking length to get everything right, equipment, timeline, characters and locations. Most of the locations are the actual locations in The Netherlands and that gives it that documentary feel that makes me believe what is happening. Another thing that works for me here is how the initial cockiness gets replaced by frustration and desperation. We do not need to know all the technical details to sense that this is a disaster. This is probably the most significant departure from “The Longest Day” and what places the movie in the seventies. When people go to war, they are invincible, trusting that management has it under control and that this will be another day at the office. Then reality happens. No plan survives meeting the enemy, especially if management are on cloud 9 and removed from reality. The losers are all those soldiers sent out doing the job for management and die as a result. In the post-Vietnam and post-Watergate era this will have struck a chord.

This may start out as a movie about heroism, but it is really about who pays for political and military expediency. One of those war movies that leaves you with a really bad taste in your mouth.

For this reason, I think “A Bridge Too Far” is better than its reputation and superior to hero worshipping movies like “The Longest Day.


Thursday, 21 July 2022

The Last Wave (1977)

 


Den sidste bølge

It is quite apparent that director Peter Weir liked to tell half stories back in his early days. “Picnic at Hanging Rock” was only half the story told and this, “The Last Wave” is another such half-finished tale. I understand the desire to keep some mystery and that is fine with me, but with “The Last Wave” that move is brutal.

Tax lawyer David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is living his ordinary, quiet upper middle class life when he is asked to take on a criminal case under the Australian Legal Aid program. A small group of Aboriginal men stand accused of murder of a fellow Aboriginie. This is unusual for David, both because he normally deals with corporate tax and because he has had absolutely no contact before with the Aboriginal community. Soon, however, it is clear to David that there is a lot more than a simple murder story here. Whatever happened is connected to a number of weird and intense weather phenomena hitting Australia and taps into Aboriginal cosmology.

It is very difficult to describe what is going on when the movie turns mystical. I suppose that is the nature of mystery, but like David we only get hints and leads and even though David presses hard for answers he only ever gets half answers. What we do learn, and this may be a spoiler, though maybe not really, is that David does have a spiritual connection to the Aboriginal world, that he has the skill of premonition, at least in his dreams and that the Aboriginals recognize this connection in him.

To David this is very frightening, and he does not know what to do with it. He understands it is fundamental for his murder case, but there is no interface between Australian law and tribal law and so it does not help him. What David senses is an oncoming cataclysmic event (maybe a giant tsunami?) but there is nothing he can do about it. He is like a climatologist 10 or 20 years ago predicting the weather we have now, but nobody could or wanted to listen because it did not fit with their world.

What I like in “The Last Wave” is the active participation and role of the Aboriginals. Especially David Gulpilil as Chris Lee and Nandjiwarra Amagula as the sorcerer Charlie. There is a window here into their world that is more detailed and poignant for strengths and weaknesses than we usually see. There is a darkness too that is not a little frightening. The idea of Dreamtime juxtaposed to our reality.

“The Last Wave” also bears some resemblance to the last movie I wached, “Close Encounters”. David, like Roy, is getting obsessed with these images and feelings and they are compelling him to depart from his own life, scarring the rest of his family. The Aboriginies may not be little green men from outer space, but they carry the same significance of something important happening. The main difference is the pessimism and the impotence at doing anything about it and this is where I feel this is half a story. A man learns of impending doom and… and then what? Maybe the message is impotence, but I do feel robbed of half the story. It is also rather weird what is happening in the sacred cave, and I was trying to make sense of it. Was it a prophecy? Or is it a depiction of a cyclic event that is now happening again? And what is David’s role, except for having the premonition and knowing the Aboriginals are connected to it?

Finally, I should mention that this is the first appearance on the List of Richard Chamberlain. He did mostly television, but what television! His shows were a staple in my childhood home, and it is nice to have caught up with him on the List.

“The Dark Wave” is oddly unsatisfying, but it is not a bad movie. It promises a lot, even greatness, but does not quite make it there. Still, worth a watch. It is magic time…


Saturday, 16 July 2022

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

 


Nærkontakt af tredie grad

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is another movie with a deep history with me. Not in my childhood though, back then the UFOs scared me and the homewrecking obsession of Richard Dreyfuss’ Roy Neary felt boring and uncomfortable, but later, in my teenage years, this became something of a cult movie for me. As I am certain it has been for a lot of people. I have held back from watching it for the past ten years or so in anticipation of watching it for the List and that pause has made it possible to watch it with new eyes. I see other and different things in it now than I did years ago.

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is the love child Steven Spielberg was finally able to make with all the credits he earned from the blockbuster success that was “Jaws”. It is his vision of First Contact with aliens combined with the conspiratorial wake of Watergate. Ordinary people are receiving strange visitations from aliens, in particular Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) and her son Barry (Cary Guffey), the latter of which gets abducted by the aliens in a memorable scene, and Ron Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), an electrician, who gets a very close encounter in his service car during a power outage. These people start obsessing about their experience, painting or sculpting a particular image, which turns out to be the Devils Tower in Wyoming. For Ron, this obsession costs him his job, friends and eventually his family. His wife, Ronnie (Teri Garr), refuses of acknowledge his vision and eventually leaves him with their children.

Meanwhile, weird things are happening all over the world, leading E.T. expert Claude Lacombe (Francois Truffaut) to believe something is imminent. When the aliens send a set of coordinates (for Devils Tower!) a reception committee is set up by the US government.  Super top secret, but Ron and Jillian are not so easy to keep out.

The version I watched was Spielberg’s Special Edition, made 3 years later. The original version was a bit of a rush job with a number of flaws that he got a chance to fix in the special edition. I prefer this version, not for the extended finale, awesome as it is, but because it is a much tighter cut. There is quite a lot of Roy’s obsession that was ditched in this version and that was exactly what made the theatrical version drag. We still get the idea, but now we are not getting sidetracked.

Maybe because of this I took more notice of Teri Garr as Roy’s miserable wife and that was a big plus. Garr is always great, but it is rare to watch her in non-comedic roles. Maybe it was her comedic skill that made the madness of her home even crazier. She was phenomenal.

But then I could say that about everybody here. Guffey as little Barry is adorable and the abduction scene is iconic. When he opens the door with the yellow light flooding in, he is in wonder while his mother (and likely the rest of us) are horrified. That image has been used and referenced so often to exactly that effect that it is probably the most recognized scene from the movie.

What I like particularly about “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” is its optimistic tone. The majority of movies involving aliens treat them as a threat and science fiction is more often dystopic than hopeful. Maybe it is the overruling dramatic need for a crisis and something fear inducing to spark interest, but there is something fantastic and beautiful about the wonder on the faces of everybody in that final meeting. This is revelation and optimism, the strange and alien as something benign and not dangerous. It is a challenge to our xenophobia and skepticism, a maybe childlike wonder, but for adults to experience.

A particular key to the movie I think is when the expert government team of military types lined up to meet the aliens is refused and instead the childlike aliens pick out Roy and lead him on board. Is it not a comforting thought that he is our ambassador and not cold, faceless government agents? Something about the preference of the best in humankind rather than the worst.

Highly recommended to anybody who still believe the unknown should be embraced with childlike wonder.

 

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Smokey and the Bandit (1977)

 


Off-List: Smokey and the Bandit

One of my favorite movie genres as a child was that of crazy car races. I suppose I had that in common with most small boys. The first movie I watched in the cinema without parents was “The Cannonball Run”, probably the second one, memories are a bit blurred there. But anything with cars and trucks were great. “Smokey and the Bandit” was an early favorite and it tapped right into that infatuation. It went so far that we boys adopted a lot of the slang and would use “10-4” and “backdoor” and the like in our own speech.

Obviously, with that sort of impact, “Smokey and the Bandit” would be a perfect pick as an Off-List movie for 1977.

The Bandit, a.k.a. Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds) is a trucking legend and so the disgustingly rich Enos, father and son, turn to him on a bet that he can bootleg a truckload of beer from Texas to Georgia where other truckers have failed. It is illegal and there is a deadline, a tight one at that, but the price money is big. The Bandit bites and partners up with Snowman, a.k.a. Cledus Snow (Jerry Reed). Snow will ride the truck with his dog at ridiculous speed (95 miles an hour is a scary speed for a truck!), while the Bandit will run interference on the road police, the smokies, and thus clear the way.

Soon Bandit picks up a bride on the run (Sally Field as Carrie) and is shortly after pursued by the groom and more importantly, the father-in-law, Texas Sheriff Buford T. Justice (Jackie Gleason). The Sheriff is VERY persistent, and the Bandit is pretty good at staying a step or two ahead of him. Hijinx ensue.

It has been a very long time since I watched this movie last time and I do find it a bit difficult to get myself into the mode of old. It is a fun watch, but it is also a remarkably silly watch, and it did not click as well with me as it used to do. It may be that it has not aged that well, but, more likely, I have simply outgrown it.

“Smokey and the Bandit” taps into the idea of ultimate freedom. That happiness is to do exactly what you want to do and to hell with the rules. Or more precisely, to shove it in the face of authority, meaning the police, who dares set restrictions. The Bandit is a hero because he does not care a flying fart about the rules and actually sees it as a personal challenge to break them. The police are the laughingstock here, exemplified by the ludicrous character of Sheriff Buford T. Justice. He is the blown-up zealot who chases for personal reasons rather than the common good and cares as little for the damage done as the Bandit does. The rest of the troopers may be less personally invested but not more competent and Bandit and Smokey finds plenty of support along the road from likeminded in this rebellion against authority.

And what gives the Bandit the right for his transgressions? His immense charm. And I suppose the idea of common cause against authority.

This is in fact the common theme of all these road movies, from “Two-lane Blacktop” to “The Cannonball Run”. From a childish point of view, this is what fundamentally makes them fun and engaging. The cheek and the boldness of the protagonists against the zealous bureaucracy, telling us what to do. Yet, I cannot help feeling that the older I get, the more I find myself on the side of the law here. Not Buford T. Justice’ law, but all those patrol officers along the road who keeps getting the short end of the stick.

So, yeah, I am getting old and boring and Burt Reynold’s charm is wearing a bit thin on me, but somewhere, deep down, there is still a young boy who thinks trucker slang is cool and enjoys the cat and mouse game on the highway.

Recommended mostly to young boys and girls, rednecks and for its considerable cultural significance.

 

Monday, 27 June 2022

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

 


Stjernekrigen

There is something immensely silly about writing a review of the original Star Wars movie, the one commonly known as Episode IV - A New Hope. I bet there are hundreds, if not thousands of such reviews around. Everybody and their mother have watched it and if you have not, I wonder what you are doing on a movie blog in the first place. So, I will do it a bit differently and talk about my personal experience with Star Wars.

I was too young to watch Star Wars in the cinema. In 1977 I was barely 4 years old, and it would be another few years before I would start going to watch children’s movies in the cinema. I did see a picture recently of people queuing for Star Wars in 1977 on Facebook and I found it oddly fascinating. Back then in my early childhood people really looked different, yet Star Wars feels, in my humble opinion, fresh and modern even today.

My first experience with the franchise was the toys. It was all the rage, but ridiculously expensive. It was that or Lego, but awesome as those spaceships were, you could not actually build anything. They could blow up though and they did that very well. The coolest friends were those with a lot of Star Wars toys. Many years later, when I got a son myself, he got an awesome Y-Wing bomber in Lego. He was of course way too young for that, but for his father, building it was pure bliss.

Only after the release of episode VI did I start watching the actual movies, but then I could not stop. I have no idea at all how many times I watched them, especially episode IV. Not in the cinema though, that train had passed, but we had some very worn VHS tapes copied from television.

I guess I am one of the purists when it comes to the Star Wars universe. As much as I adore the early three movies, I have never come to terms with the prequels or the countless Disney installations for that matter. There is of course the commercial exploitation element souring things, but if I really should be honest, it is a matter of design. I love the angular and brutalistic design of the early movies. The have knobs and wires and bolts and feel like they were built of iron plates on a shipyard. There is a texture and substance to them that probably also have something to do with the model work rather than the CGI used in a later age. The pace is also slower and there is a buildup that has all but gone. Rewatching Episode IV for the first time in some years I am struck with how slow the action actually is until Falcon lands on the Death Star. Sure, there are light saber fight and blasters being fired and an awesome fighter attack on the Death Star, but it is not a start to finish adrenaline rush. Maybe I am just getting old, but it feels like my pace.

Talking about that attack run, our cinema had a small arcade of video games and the greatest one was a game on that fighter attack. I spent a fortune on that…

Star Wars is the first movie on the List where I do not feel like I am watching an old movie. To me, it is my generation of movies, a modern movie if you will, and I think that marks some sort of turning point on this project. The beginning of a different era. Perhaps also in a real sense. At least in the science fiction genre there is a before and after Star Wars. The clunky, clumsy and cheap science fictions were now a thing of the past and the genre would now receive the big budgets it takes to make truly impressive movies. Most of modern science fiction and probably blockbuster movies in general owe a debt to Star Wars. Not to mention Harrison Ford.

For my rewatch I picked the original theatrical version rather than the modernized one from the nineties and it worked just as well as always.