Wednesday, 19 January 2022

India Song (1975)


India Song

The best way to introduce the movie “India Song”, I suppose, is to try to describe it.

From start to finish there is a narration. This is mostly a dialogue, but with several different voices. Always the tone is as if the voices are reading poetry, slow, deliberate and obscure. In small bites the narration is well understood, but it also evades focus, so you soon loose track of what the dialogue is about. Or at least I did. There are thematic jumps, abrupt sentences, unanswered questions and sentences that seem to require a background story that is not shared with us. Most of all, there is little connection, if any, to the pictures we are watching.

Certain words are repeated. Something about vice-consuls, embassies, Lahore, Calcutta, lepers, tennis courts. All things that lead me to believe this is all about some members of the diplomatic corps in South Asia in the 1930’ies.

The pictures contain slow, often static people who never open their mouths. There is a woman (Delphine Seyrig, who seems to have made a career out of doing obscure movies) who is sometimes do slow dances with different men. Mostly though, these men are just standing or walking slowly around. The setting is a French mansion, and I am guessing we are to believe it is located in India.

Often the dialogue is combined or broken by music, including a recurrent theme that seems to be referred to as India Song.


This is about as pretentious as it gets. Very arty and stylized. So pretentious that it is almost a joke on itself. When somebody started shouting, I had to laugh, it was just so too much. Still, most of the time it is just plain boring because the narration keeps eluding me and I have no idea what is going on.

There is a trance like quality to the images and the voices that certainly makes it a special movie to watch and that does invoke a sense of dreaming and of something lost in the past as if the pictures are merely memories. It is an undeniable quality, but two hours of this is a long time to drive a point.

I did like the score though. It matches the trance-like images very well, especially that recurrent theme and there were periods where I was just listening to that and not worrying too much about the imagery or the narration.

Apparently, this movie is par for the course for director and writer Maguerite Duras and it certainly inherits something from the French art scene of the early sixties. I guess if you dig “Last Year in Marienbad” you will get a kick out of “India Song”.

Seeing “India Song” as a movie is probably wrong. It is an art installation like Jeanne Dielmann, but less successful, I think. It gets a little too impressed with its own artiness and so verges on being a mockery.

Still, not a movie I will soon forget, for better or worse.


Thursday, 13 January 2022

Fox and his Friends (Faustrecht der Freiheit) (1975)


Frihedens knytnæve

Rainer Werner Fassbinder is back with another hard-hitting drama, and he is not the kind of guy who holds back. “Faustrecht der Freiheit” (“Fox and his Friends”) is as tough to watch as these things get.

Franz Bieberkopf (Fassbinder himself) is a young man working in a carnival sideshow as “Fox, the talking head”. When the head of the show gets arrested, Franz finds himself without job and boyfriend. He has two passions he indulges in: picking up guys and playing the lottery and now he has time for both. At a public toilet he meets the wealthy art dealer, Max (Karlheinz Böhm) who brings him along with him as a plaything.

Jump ahead a month and Franz actually won the lottery and is in possession of the staggering sum of 500.000 mark. Because of this newfound wealth, Franz is now interesting to the sophisticated friends of Franz. One of them, Eugen (Peter Chatel), leaves his current boy friend and seduces Franz. Eugen is upper class with expensive habits, but the family fortune is all about lost and their company desperately needs money. This is where Franz fits in. Eugen needs those money, for himself and… well, for himself. He despises the working class Franz, but is willing to eat it if is helps maintain his lifestyle. Franz is just starstruck and completely blind and naïve to the way he is being milked dry.

Eventually, Eugen has managed to channel all Franz’ prize money into the family company, a swanky apartment and expensive art and furniture. When he dumps him, he simply changes the lock, and the old boyfriend moves back in.

It is interesting that “Faustrecht der Freiheit” is back-to-back with “Barry Lyndon”. Both movies are about a fortune hunter suddenly coming into wealth, thinking this is happiness, but then, unable to cope with it, loses it all again. Neither are particularly sympathetic, and both are blind to their own limitations, but that is more or less where the similarity ends. “Faustrecht der Freiheit” is an attack on a predatory upper class who use their status and a system rigged in their favor to exploit the working class. They need the working class to build their wealth but despise them all the same. All embodied in the arrogant and lecherous Eugen. More than anything Fassbinder delivers a political movie.

That they are all gay, is merely a distraction. Fassbinder probably found himself comfortable with a homosexual setting, but it has no impact on the actual story. Make them straight and it would be exactly the same story. My only problem with the gay angle is that the movie seems to carry on all the less flattering prejudices about gay men.

In the telling of the story, Fassbinder gives us no breaks. There is very little levity along the way, it is just a sad story that keeps getting more painful at every step. First because Frantz is completely blind to how he is being conned. He wants so badly to fit into the upper class. Then, as it dawns on him that he is losing himself, his money and that all the respect and attention he got was fake, he is powerless to do anything about it. Even the respect of his old friends he has lost. He is nothing and simply ceases.

It was not fun watching this movie. I understand where it is going and why, but it is not a movie I enjoyed watching. I did not particularly like Franz to begin with, but nobody deserves to be screwed over like this. It is just really sad.

Fassbinder fans will likely find a lot to love here. It is also the most outspoken LGBT movie so far on the List for fans of the genre. For me, this was a lesser movie than his previous movies on the List.


Friday, 7 January 2022

Barry Lyndon (1975)


Barry Lyndon

I am not certain what to think of “Barry Lyndon.

When I found that a Stanley Kubrick was coming up, I was very excited. Kubrick usually does not let me down and no two of his movies are alike. In that was he is literally the opposite of Hitchcock.

Secondly, “Barry Lyndon” is a period film, taking place in the eighteenth century. I do read a lot of books from that period, and it is exciting to get some images to go with the stories, so definitely a plus.

Yet, watching it I am a bit at a loss. I simply do not understand what story it is Kubrick is trying to tell.

What he does spend three hours on is a story about a young man (at least in the beginning), Redmond Barry (Ryan O’Neal), who through odd turns in life ends up a nobleman, only to squander it all away again. Redmond is not a hero or even an anti-hero. He is kind of an asshole, not terribly smart and making bad choices on a regular basis. Such as hitting on his cousin, a know flirt, and sabotaging her marriage to a wealthy army captain. He has loyalty to no-one but himself, which we see several examples of as he joins the army fighting in Germany. In Prussian service he becomes an agent, then a double agent, then, escaping the Prussians he goes around swindling the wealthy with his compatriot. Until he makes his big move and court Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson), a countess.

Marriage is for Redmond merely a ticket to wealth, style, more women and spending money. Soon he has spent the fortune, alienated his wife and her son and disgraced himself to his new peers and he is left with nothing, not even his leg.

There is definitely a picaresque element to the movie. Redmond drifts from one situation to the next without a larger plan, but merely reacting to the situation at hand. He is an opportunist, but for short term gains, and he rarely seems to think his actions through. This makes his life a pretty random affair with many stops on the way.

I cannot root for Redmond. For Redmond there is only Redmond. That makes it somewhat hard to watch the movie. In the beginning I am sitting with a hope that through his adventures he will mature, but he is a lost cause and by the end I just feel sorry for his victims. Except that all these dandies and coxcombs have it coming.

So, I am left a bit perplexed. Kubrick always had a point, but what was his point with Remond Barry? To showcase an asshole and see him get what he deserves? Hardly, but then what? The randomness of life when you think with your gut rather than your brain?

Nothing, however, can take away the pleasure of watching the settings, the magic light and the authentic costumes. The cinematography is just stunning, maybe the most beautiful I have seen from Kubrick. It is matched by a magical score of classic music. A lot of baroque, but also more contemporary Handel and Mozart and even some Schubert, which is actually a bit ahead of this period of second half of the eighteen century. The Handel score used as the recurrent theme is perfectly moody and magic.

A technical wonder of a movie, but a not very sympathetic story where I feel I am missing the point. I feel I have been here before, but then I am not very smart.

I could definitely listen to that score again, though.


Friday, 31 December 2021

Happy New Year 2022


Happy New Year 2022

Again, we are here, on the last day of the year and again we are saying goodbye to a year that will not be missed. Just as we thought the pandemic was over, heck we even discarded use of masks altogether, it is coming back big time and Denmark is now officially the most infected country in Europe (with a large margin!) and possibly the world. Well, that is just this year in a nutshell.

We started doing online training at the office and that has become so popular that I have done little else since summer. Nobody is going anywhere anymore. For a guy like me who used to travel 7-10 times per year, this is a big change and very sad too.

Having said that, I am grateful that I have lost no one in the family and those who got the virus, got through it easy enough or at least survived. I do hope we are soon through this.

As usual on this day I take stock on what happened on my blogs in the past year and, well, that is mostly business as usual.

I did a total of 59 movie reviews in 2021, which is the same as I did last year. Clearly this is my level of pacing. Of these 49 were List movies and 10 were off-List. This took me from 1972 to 1975. The most interesting event for me being the discovery of the Cinemateket in Copenhagen, which appears to have anything ever released in Denmark. Not the last time I will use that. In case anyone of the staff read this, thank you for kind assistance.  Otherwise, I will not point out anything special from this period except that I am listening to an awful lot of groovy seventies music these days.

On my book blog I have reviewed 11 books in 2021 which is great considering my target is a mere 5 books per year. This has taken me from The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774) to Caleb Williams (1794), which is a neat span of years. The most remarkable thing is how international the List has become with two German books, five French, one Chinese and three British books. I like that the List editors has made this a list of world literature and not just English language books.

I wish all my readers a happy and healthy new year and may the new year bring better times to all.

And remember, as legendary Danish movie critic Ole Michelsen used to say on sign-out: “ Movies should be watched in the cinema”. Cannot wait for them to open again…

Tuesday, 28 December 2021

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)


Monty Python og de skøre riddere

It is the Christmas vacation and what is better than to sit down with the family and watch classical movies. Lo and behold, the next movie on the List is “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and what movie could be better for the purpose. My son and I had an excellent time rewatching this household classic.

Usually, going through the List, if I am not watching a movie for the first time, it is at least decades since I watched them last. Not so with “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. I have completely lost count of the number of times I have watched this one and even my eleven-year-old son has by now watched it several times. The jokes are still great although I know them by heart, and it is great to see the impact they have on a child who is less jaded than me. “You must find the tallest tree in the forest and cut it down… with a herring!” and he completely cracks up.

I understand that Monty Python can be polarizing. Either you love their anarchistic British humor, or you don’t. Their style is a complete lack of respect for even the concept of a joke, which means that any situation can literally go anywhere. Combine this with a completely straight-faced delivery of even the most absurd joke and you have something that is either insanely funny or completely stupid.

Personally, I love it.

Of the three Monty Python movies, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is my personal favorite. It may not be as coherent as “Life of Brian”, but it is entirely true to the anarchy that is the heart-blood of Monty Python.

The frame story is the legend of King Arthur and his quest for the holy grail. King Arthur (Graham Chapman) is gathering knights for his Round Table, but before they can get to Camelot (it is a silly place…) they receive the quest to find the holy grail.

Except in Monty Python’s rendition horses are replaced by a servant banging coconuts, the knights are parodies, the medieval setting is an idiotic and dirty squalor. Each episode is a setup for a joke. Some fit into the narrative, some a tangential and some are so completely fourth-wall breaking that if it was not hilariously funny it would cause a breakdown of the movie. Something that ultimately has a direct influence on the ending, which the troupe called “a big let-down … a great anti-climax”.

It is challenging to string a concept of sketches into a coherent whole and this was the first time Monty Python went from their sketch shows into directing a feature length film. There are places where you can see that they are feeling their way, but in a sense, this is also a strength of the movie. It is as if nobody told them how to make a movie, so they just did it their own way. Terry Gilliam did move on to become a very accomplished director.

That leaves just one question: What is the airspeed velocity of a swallow?

Terry Gilliam, Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin, you guys are the best.

Very highly recommended.


Sunday, 26 December 2021

The Wall (Deewar) (1975)



“Deewaar” was maybe the most difficult movie to watch on the List so far. I ordered it from Amazon, but the sub-provider did not handle customs, a persistent problem since Brexit, so beside the 3€ custom charge I had to pay a 20€ handling charge from the carrier. When it finally arrived it turned out that what I had bought was the 2004 version of Deewar and not the 1975 version. That version is very difficult to buy, however, it turned out that it is on Youtube, which makes it public domain. Only, that version does not come with subtitles and Hindi is, well, not my thing. Hunting high and low I did manage to find a downloadable version. Without subtitles, but at least such a version can be paired with a subtitle file. It took me five attempts to find a proper subtitle file that was only 3 minutes delayed compared to the picture. I just had to remember what I had seen some minutes before to make sense of the subtitles.  With 50 minutes left, the video changed to a second file and for this there was no subtitle file. As a result, I had to guess at what went on for the last third of the movie.

My experience with Hindi movies is largely limited to the movies on the List and I have very little basis for evaluating whether or not this is a good Hindi movie and thus worth the hardships I went through to watch this.

A union leader is leading a strike against a corporation but is forced to capitulate when the boss kidnaps his wife and two sons. He is disgraced and run away, while his family is ostracized and flees to the city. Here the mother (Nirupa Roy) must work hard to raise the children Vijay and Ravi.

Fast forward 15-20 years and the children are grown up. Vijay (Amitabh Bachchan) becomes a dock worker who in the course of his work comes into contact with the underworld. When he beats up gangsters working for a kingpin called Samant, he gets the attention of another kingpin called Daavar. Soon Vijay is a trusted henchman of Daavar and making a ton of money. Meanwhile, Ravi (Shashi Kapoor) completes his studies and become a policeman.

From here it is pretty obvious that this will end in a clash and that everybody will feel devastated with the outcome.

This looks like a good production with action scenes and reasonable acting. The songs are limited and there is only a singe dance sequence. I think I might have enjoyed watching this if it had not been so straining to work out what was happening. A lot of the sentiments are communicated hard, there is very little subtlety here and that is actually quite helpful, but it also gives the movie a crude appearance. It is a difference movie culture and that is about as far as that is.

What I liked was how cool Vijay was portrayed. With his hairstyle and open shirts with large collars he looks and acts like an Indian Elvis look-alike with a penchant for over-the-top coolness. I would not say it was outright comical, but it did have an unintentional effect in that direction.

I doubt Hindi movies will ever be my thing, but it is always interesting to watch something else. This one may be a good representative, but I would like it to be a little more accessible for me to actually enjoy it.  

Thursday, 16 December 2021

The Man Who Would Be King (1975)


Off-List: The Man Who Would Be King

The third off-List movie for 1975 is “The Man Who Would Be King”. This is one of those movies that look pretty amazing on paper. A Rudyard Kipling story, directed by John Huston and starring Sean Connery, Michael Caine and Christopher Plummer. Yet I never heard of this movie until I started screening 1975 for potential off-List movies. This could either be a giant flop or a hidden gem.

The answer, at least in my poor opinion, is somewhere in between. This is a big and impressive production. There is format here, quality in the production and an adventure like few others. But there is also something very old-fashioned and outdated about the story itself and the sentiments behind. “Gunga Din”, another Kipling story, was outdated in 1939 and “The Man Who Would Be King”, more than 30 years later follow almost the same colonialist track. There are some excuses, but is it enough?

Rudyard Kipling himself (Christopher Plummer) is found by a haggard and slightly unhinged Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) who relates to him a strange tale, starting with a chance encounter with Kipling years earlier in Victorian era India. Peachy and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) are two British adventurers. As sergeants in the British colonial forces they have been everywhere and seen everything in India and they are now effectually conmen roaming the land, exploiting what they are able to exploit. They latest scheme is to venture into Kafiristan in present day Afghanistan loaded with guns to set themselves up as kings among the barbarians.

This starts out well enough. The locals appear to never having seen firearms before so when they take down a raiding party they are impressed with them. Peachy and Daniel are tasked with training an army and conquering the neighbors. When they win, they prevent the traditional bloodbath and want the conquered to join ranks and instead the tribe leader is cut down, making Peachy and Daniel de facto leaders. In one of these early battles Daniel is struck by an arrow. It pierces his bandolier instead of his chest, but to the locals it looks like he is ignoring a killing shot and they see him as a god, the long-awaited son of Sikander, Alexander the Great of antiquity. Being king and god, the two adventurers have gained all they hope for, only to find out what happens when people realize they have been duped.

Connery and Caine are more British than British. Their colonial arrogance is immense and so is their enterprising cheek. This is both amusing and fascinating, but also jarring. No doubt they were excellent picks for the roles. As representatives of western supremacy, they are both shamelessly arrogant and foolishly ignorant. I would not be surprised if this sort of people actually went around doing these things in the nineteenth century and I would be even less surprised to learn of it happening in this day and age. The potential problem here is that we are supposed to like and root for them and in the process see the locals as backward fools. And they are likeable and funny and bold and is this right? I cannot help thinking that as entertaining and impressive this movie is, its colonialist premise simply does not work anymore and I wonder if it did in 1975. Sure, their arrogance lead to their fall and there may be a message there and I suppose that carries a meaning too, but is that the point or just an excuse?

Maybe I am thinking to much meaning into this. Maybe this should simply be seen as an adventure, as a boys fantasy, of wealth and fame and danger in the exotic wilds of the world. And Peachy and Daniel were not the last to underestimate the Afghans and flee out of the country.

It is worth watching the movie, the production value alone makes it worthwhile, but I also understand why it has practically disappeared.