Thursday, 22 August 2019

David Holzman's Diary (1968)

David Holzman's Diary
“David Holzman’s Diary” is a small movie that is more interesting than it is good and that I respect more than I like.

David Holzman is a young man in New York who got fired from his job and instead sets out to do a movie diary of his life, filming the minutiae of his world with his 16 mm camera and tape recorder. Problem is that David is not a very interesting person and his life is, well, pretty empty. He films his girlfriend, which is by far his greatest asset, and she does not like it. No wonder. He films her when she is private, when naked or sleeping and who wants to be exposed like that? Soon she leaves him and then he starts to stalk her.

He also stalks his neighbors, whom he takes a tremendous interest in, and he films random people on the street, usually without asking them first. Most of his shot are uninteresting, underscoring the fact that he has nothing really to film, and sometimes it is just David himself, raving in front of the camera about nothing.

The most interesting shot is one of his friend Pepe, who explains to him that this film is a very bad idea, that David’s life in not the basis for anything interesting and as an art project it is doomed. This comes up fairly early in the film and turns out to be prophetic.

The film ends, not with some climactic resolution or clarity or anything like that, but because David’s camera gets stolen. Yeah, that is the end to that movie. No camera, no movie.

The kicker here is that this is NOT the movie diary of a looser guy in New York, but an acted film. The guy is not David Holzman, but an actor called L.M. Kit Carson and the film was directed by an artist called Jim McBride. It’s a surprise when you learn this because everything screams an amateur with a camera and then it turns out that this is just made to look like that, a mockumentary thirty years before that became cool. In that sense it is hugely successful and brilliantly crafted. I was actually convinced this was for real until I read the synopsis.

The question then is why? Why make a movie about a guy making a movie about his worthless life. A movie that itself says that this is a stupid and useless idea in the first place? It is it just meta gone bananas?

From the snippets I have caught it is a criticism of the cinema-verité concept. That the objective is to film reality because only in reality you can find truth. This is not reality but pretending to be reality and truth it uncovers is that there is nothing there. The truth is an empty and uninteresting ideal and it does it so successful that that in itself becomes interesting.


I think “David Holzman’s Diary” works very well as an art project, but not as well as an entertaining movie. It is dull and pointless-seeming and David himself is the kind of guy I feel like kicking. Pretentious and entitled, but nothing to show for it, he is just a jerk. As a concept though and the point it tries to drive home is so far ahead of its time. I cannot help thinking of how many people use Facebook or Instagram for similar purposes and what about this blog? Am I not trying to share with the world my not particularly interesting project of watching a ton of old movies?

Food for thought…

I do appreciate you reading this though. If you got this far it cannot be that bad.


Monday, 19 August 2019

The Producers (1968)

Forår for Hitler
“The Producers” is a movie I have been looking forward to re-watch for a long time. It must have been more than 20, probably more like 30, years since I saw it last and, as these things go, it had grown to a level that it could really only disappoint me. I hate to say it, but I was not as impressed with this movie as I thought I would be.

The idea is marvelous though. A dilatant of a theater producer raises money for his productions by courting little old ladies when he get the brilliant idea, through his accountant, that if he raises a lot of money and set up disaster show, he could shut it down right away and leave with the money since nobody would expect to see any of them again. So, he sets up a terrible show by a Nazi called “Springtime for Hitler”, directed by a prima-donna disaster director. This could not go wrong except it does.

I chuckle just writing this synopsis. It is so ridiculously funny a plot.

The trouble is the execution. It is just a bit over the top. The jokes are just a bit too drawn out. The acting is just a bit too much towards the camera. Ahh, but it is so close!

The producer is Max Bialystock played by Zero Mostel, who having been blacklisted made most on his career on the theater. That is quite evident in the film as his acting is always very theatrical and very vocal. The accountant is Leo Bloom, Gene Wilder’s breakthrough as a comedian. He is, well, the same character he played throughout his career, the hysterically scared geek. Neither of them really hit it with me.

I know I am a bit hard on the movie and probably it deserves better. Its just that the first time I actually laughed was when Max and Leo went to visit Roger De Bris (great name!, played by Christopher Hewett) and are received by the priceless Carmen Ghia (Andreas Voutsinas). That is pretty much halfway through the movie. From here however the movie does pick up and the show itself is exactly as outrageous as we could have imagined. There is a very nice reference to the old Busby Berkeley musicals when we see the dancers from above forming a giant rotating swastika.

What of course “saves” the show (and condemns Leo and Max) is that Hitler is played by the acidhead L.S.D. (Dick Shawn) who makes Hitler a laughable hippie. That is ridiculously funny. In fact I would much rather like to watch the actual show “Springtime for Hitler”, I just love the idea, but I am given so very little of it. It is the best part of the movie.

Kenneth Mars’ Franz Liebkind, the crazy, Nazi writer of the play is another example of a very funny idea that just gets a notch too much. Going around in his coal scuttle helmet he looks the part, but I just do not entirely buy him as a mentally disturbed Nazi. He is a little too sweet…

Mel Brooks went on to make a lot of movies and some of them I do remember fondly. I just hope, as they appear on the List, I will not again have too high expectations for them. Maybe I should sit down and watch “The Producers” again and just take it for what it is.



Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Memories of Underdevelopment (Memorias de Subdesarollo) (1968)

Minder fra underudviklingen
“Memorias del Subdesarrollo” (Memories of Underdevelopment) is a very difficult movie to describe, mostly because I still have not entirely found out what the point of the movie is. That is not necessarily a bad thing, it is an interesting movie to watch, but I am still contemplating what it is I have been watching.

Central to the movie is Sergio (Sergio Corrieri), a 38-year-old business man turned writer. When the revolutionaries took control in Cuba his wife and friends went to America, but Sergio for some reason stayed in Havana. I am not entirely certain why and I get the feeling that neither is he. Now alone he pursues a bohemian life, tries to write something, lives off the rent and spends a lot of time thinking about women and Cuba. Cuban women. Politics and underdevelopment. Underdevelopment women…

These are parallel tracks that mingle with each other, always with Sergio as narrator. Sometimes arrogant, commenting from an aloof position, even physically from his penthouse apartment, sometime more sympathetic in attempts to actually understand women and his country. Is he contributing in either area or is he just a passive observer, a tourist?

I feel the movie tries to tell the story of Cuba after the revolution with the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the missile crisis and in between the struggle of this new system, but from his point of with the portrait becoming detached and less patriotic than would have been expected, as if he is not real Cuban.

There is also this strange fascination with underdevelopment as if Cuba is an infirm and retarded patient, an inherent state that haunts the country. To me though, it is a way for Sergio to distance himself from the world around him, allowing him to be cynical.

Sergio’s relation to women is entirely parallel to this. He finds Elena (Daisy Granados), a young and naïve girl, that he feels vastly superior to. He tries to school her and model her into something “better”. This she resists and when he realizes that he is not getting anywhere with her he ditches he. She is hopeless. To the underdeveloped there is no progress. In the case of Elena there is the backlash that he gets charged with rape and ruin of a minor, which is also how the country reacts to him.

So, I guess this is the point, somewhere in those relations.

Technically the movie consists of documentary clips and fiction. There is no clear chronology and a lot of jumps and monologues. This ensures that the movie is never boring, but it can also get confusing to be without a clear narrative.

I would not say that the topics were super interesting. It gets very academic and theoretical at times as communist dialectic is an odd and confusing set of arguments, but something about the scenery and the filming kept me interested throughout and I think I got a lot more out of it than I honestly thought I would.

I am not sure “Memories of Underdevelopment” is for everybody and it takes some time to settle, but I am still glad to have watched it.


Saturday, 10 August 2019

Olsen-banden (1968)

Off-List: Olsen-banden
The second off-List movie of 1968 is a classic Danish movie. This was the year where one of the most successful Danish franchises got started, the Olsen-banden franchise (The Olsen Gang) and the first installment was simply called Olsen-banden. I suppose at that time the producers had no idea this would become a major franchise.

I do not know if these movies were ever released in any form in English speaking countries, but in Scandinavia and Germany they found a very large audience, so large that a total of 14 movies were made. Legend has it that these were some of the only western movies allowed in Eastern Germany because the authorities there thought there was an inherent critique of the capitalistic system in them.

In this first movie a lot of the standard tropes are established. The gang consists of three members. Egon Olsen (Ove Sprogøe) is the leader and master mind. Egon always has a plan and it is always brilliant and ridiculously complicated. Benny (Morten Grunwald) is the fixer. The lanky man always has a trick or two up his sleeve, though not always thought through. Finally, Keld (Poul Bundgaard) is a heavyset, small man, prone to crying and always placed in difficult situations. He is also heavily under the thumb of Yvonne (Kirsten Walther), a very vocal and not too smart woman.

The plan Egon has concocted is to steal a very valuable German art artifact, currently being displayed in Denmark. It is very well protected, but with the plan perfectly executed Olsen-banden runs away with it. This is however the point where thing usually goes wrong for the gang. On the way to the airport their getaway car runs out of gas and is taken into custody by the traffic police because there are a million things wrong with it, so the gang now has to break into the police parking lot to steal back the artifact. This happens a few times, they lose the item, win it back and lose it again. Always by ridiculous coincidences and that is part of the fun.

Most of what is fun about watching these movies is already included in this first movie: Yvonne getting her tantrums, Egon going crazy, the police being hopelessly incompetent and Egon’s insane schemes. It also went places that were later abandoned. There are a number of naughty girls, some nudity and using pornography as a joke to make people flustered. This was very modern at the time, pornography having just been legalized in Denmark, but was abandoned already from the second movie, giving those movies the most general rating. I think that was a wise decision. The Olsen-banden movies are for the entire family, but probably not this first movie.

I grew up with these movies, but have mostly watched the later episodes. It was fun watching the first installment (Copenhagen looked so quaint back then), though while I can warmly recommend trying your hands on this franchise, I would suggest starting with a later episode. They can be watched independently and usually do not reference each other.

Last year I managed to get a box-set of all 14 movies, and as a movie was released each following year it is likely I will review more of them later on. In a thin year I can always fall back on Olsen-banden.

Skide godt, Egon!


Tuesday, 6 August 2019

If.... (1968)

School rebellion movies was a fixture of the seventies and eighties. I recall watching a ton of them. Usually something about students getting back at their teachers or, more typically, a repressive system. I suppose it worked. When I went to school in the eighties our school system was anything but repressive.

One of the earliest would have been “If…” but that is not actually true. “If…” was a remake of “Zero de Conduite” from the thirties. However, “If…” was triggered by the counter culture movement in the second half of the sixties and initiated a new generation of these movies rooted in this rebellion against the established system.

The concept is simple enough. A group of students do not fit into the rigid school system and instead of making room for them, the system is bent on beating them square to fit in. But youth is irrepressible so instead of bending, the students are pushed into some sort of rebellion.

In the case of “If…” the system is the very traditional British boarding school system and the students are a small group lead by Travis (Malcolm McDowell). The rebellion is a fantasy of what the students would want to do: Stealing a motorcycle, making out with a pretty girl and going on a killing spree against teachers and parents.

I expected this movie to be dull and preachy or alternatively as chaotic as “Zero de Conduite” was, but it was neither. In fact, I had difficulty letting it go. This was in large part because of how real the characters feel. It would be so easy to draw them one-dimensionally but Lindsay Anderson, the director created multidimensional characters that look and feel like real people. It is also a point in favor that this boarding school is so heaped in traditions and patina that it is simply interesting to look at. Everything about it is completely anachronistic and hopelessly unfit to deal with the future, yet, I have this nagging feeling that it is by no means atypical, at least back in ’68.

It is an interesting angle that the rebellion is solely in the boys’ heads, that there is no way they could perform an actual rebellion, except in the small details. Yet, the fantasy blends seamlessly with reality and it often takes a moment or two before I realize that we have just gone into fantasyland.

However, I also feel uncomfortable watching “If…”. The reality today is different from ’68. Today I watch this movie on a backdrop of school shootings, so what may have felt like a fun fantasy of rebellion in ’68 is today a horrific reality. Terrifyingly many young people have taken that step from fantasy to reality and actually gone out to execute their rebellion in the form of mass slaughter. I am quite certain that this would have been too sensitive a scenario to be used today.

Being what it is, though, “If…” is the archetypical school rebellion movie and worth watching for that reason if for nothing else. The other assets are just bonuses to that. It is a shame they had to mix color film with black and white film, apparently for budget reasons, because it gives the movie an unfinished appearance, but I would still recommend watching it.


Monday, 29 July 2019

500 Movies Anniversary

500 Movies Anniversary
On a 1001 list, 500 marks the halfway point. My list has grown considerably longer over the years and that is not counting off-List movies, but reaching the 500 movie mark still feels like a sharp corner.

So, a pat on my shoulder for keeping it going this far.

The stretch from 400 to 500 movies took me from 1962 to 1968, which is only six years and it has taken me two years exactly. The List is getting crowded in the sixties and I suppose I have slowed down a bit. Well, that just means that I will have plenty more years of fun.

I made it a tradition to present some sort of award every time I reach another hundred movies and that this reward somehow reflects the period covered by the past hundred movies. I gave this some thought and decided that the category should be:

Most annoying movie.

As in the good ol’ Academy days I will nominate a whole bunch of movies. If you wonder why each of them have been nominated you are welcome to look up their review.

1.       Limite

2.       Ivan the Terrible

3.       Umberto D

4.       Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

5.       Dog Star Man

6.       Flaming Creatures

7.       Blonde Cobra

8.       Vinyl

9.       Pierrot Goes Wild

10.   Daisies

11.   Masculine-Feminine

12.   Two or Three Things I Know About Her

13.   Week End


It is a difficult pick, indeed it is. As much as I grind my teeth over dancing cowboys or free-flying dicks, there is one director that makes me despair by name alone. Who else than Godard? And the worst so far must be Week End.

I know, this is a bit of a negative award, but it is also very typical for the sixties. There are a lot of great movies but there are also surprisingly many annoying movies. By that I do not mean experimental or arty movie. Some of those are interesting and contribute in some way to cinema. But there are those that just… annoy me and the List is suddenly loaded with those. This is very much a contributing factor to the off-List movies I have introduced. Movies that often could or should have replaced the garbage we are stuck with.

And, yeah, this is of course a very subjective assessment, I am certain there are plenty of people who love these movies, but this is my blog and I can pretty much do what I want.


Saturday, 27 July 2019

Rosemary's Baby (1968)

Rosemarys baby
It is vacation time and I have been enjoying some off-time poolside in Portugal without any List movies. I am back now, and Europe is struck by a massive heat wave so without air-condition we try to stay out as much as possible to get some breeze. Consequently, I am so far behind on movies. Still, I have managed to creep through “Rosemary’s Baby” and I feel rather guilty, because this is a movie that deserves a lot more attention and focus than what I have been giving it.

Today Roman Polanski is a household name with blockbusters on his resumé, but back in the mid-sixties he was merely a young Polish director trying his luck in America. “Repulsion” was awesome, but it was “Rosemary’s Baby” that gave him the breakthrough. Some claim this was the founding of the horror genre, others that this is the best horror movie ever made. I personally doubt both claims, but certainly this is a landmark movie on both accounts.

The movie follows the book by Ira Levin very closely (you can find it as an audiobook, read by Mia Farrow herself!) where a young hopeful couple in New York is looking for a new place to live and start a family. These are Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and her still-waiting-for-his-break-actor husband Guy Woodhouse (John Cassavetes). They find their dream apartment in the Bramford building and despite early warnings they happily move in.

Soon however things start to stack up against poor Rosemary. An early friend drops to her death from a window. The neighbors, Minnie and Roman Castevet (Ruth Gordon and Sidney Blackmer) are more than a bit intrusive and weird and when her friend Hutch tries to warn her, he falls into a coma and dies. Rosemary gets convinced she is surrounded by witches who want to take her baby and for a while it is difficult to say if she is imaging it or if it is real. The scene where Satan is raping her is very dreamlike and many scenes are ambiguous. And well, <SPOILER ALERT!> it turns out it is even worse than she imagines it. In a great conclusion it is revealed that she has been beset from all sides, even by her husband and her doctor (Ralph Bellamy), to get Satan’s child.

There are many great things about “Rosemary’s Baby”. The best kind of horror movies are those where the horrific is only hinted at. Something lurking, something unseen that may or may not be real. In “Rosemary’s Baby” we never actually see anything, but hints and weird behavior. The closest thing is the rape by the devil, but even that is very fuzzy. The true terror is what is read on Rosemary’s face as she gets more and more disturbed by what is going on and, climaxing on her realization of the full scope of the terror. That is just brilliant on all accounts, script, direction and acting. To me, by rooting the story in the mundane and trivial, a very normal couple living ordinary lives, starting a family, the horror becomes far more relevant and effectual than by jumping right into the improbable. Do not let yourself get discouraged by the almost boring first half hour. As in “Repulsion” this build-up is essential to make the following horror work.

Everything in this movie rests on Mia Farrow being convincing and she does a stellar job. How on Earth she was not even nominated for an Oscar is beyond me (she did win the Golden Globe though). She has to be a bit silly, a bit naïve and then scared, really scared and she pulls it off completely. John Cassavetes, whom I like better as an actor than a director, is convincing, but I would almost consider his role more supporting than lead.

“Rosemary’s Baby” is a case of an excellent story, a good adaption, first rate direction and excellent performance coming together and to me it has aged very well indeed. Even as jaded as I am this is still terrifying. I still hardly dare to look. I still get the creeps. How many old horror movies can do that?

Roman Polanski truly mastered this genre, but somehow I am not surprised. He did live through the worst horror imaginable. When visiting the Schindler factory in Krakow last year I did see letters written by a very young Roman Polanski in the ghetto.

I recommend “Rosemary’s Baby” with the highest praise, though not if you want a good, sound sleep.

Also, this is my movie number 500 on the List. Anniversary time!