Wednesday 23 February 2022

Travelling Players (O Thiassos) (1975)


Skuespillernes rejse

Recently there has been quite a lot of movies that have been… different. Sometimes in a good way and sometimes in a less good way. “The Travelling Players” (“O Thiasos”) is definitely different and I am leaning towards it being that in a less good way.

“The Travelling Players” may have a plot, but I was not able to discern it. Being rather confused, I checked the Wikipedia page and there I found a plot summery that I did not recognize at all. What I saw was a story that was jumping forward and backward in time, sometimes mid-scene and usually without explaning that we were now in a different time. The earliest scenes seem to be 1939 and the latest scenes 1952. They are all in Greece and they all feature a group of travelling actors. To me, it looked as if the troupe is fairly consistent throughout, which is a little bit odd since members of the troupe are frequently shot to death and I should suppose the children would grow up over the span of 13 years. I never got much of a relation to any of the characters and I knew as little about each of them by the end as in the beginning. What they are basically doing are moving around, trying to set up the same show and usually getting interrupted (violently).

There is a part of me believing that the reason I cannot discern a plot is because I am lacking an understanding of the background for what I see. There is clearly a lot of references to Greek history in those years and while I do recognize German or British soldiers, everything else is just a blur of names and various people fighting.

Another part of me hopes that I am not supposed to recognize a plot (and therefore not entirely imbecile), that this is not a progressive story but a series of tableaux of a rape on repeat. The raped victim is the Greek population represented by the players. They cannot settle, they cannot get on with what they are doing (setting up a show) and they are subjected to violence, degradation and internal strife as everybody and their mother is fighting over them. According to this interpretation we see an endless fighting with external and internal enemies. Nobody is right, nobody is wrong, but everybody terrorize the civil population in the process and the result is a broken populace in poverty and misery.

I have no idea if this interpretation is correct, but that it should be a depressive one is a given, considering the hopelessly gray and winterly cinematography. This is very far from the sun-soaked Greek vacation image I have of Greece from my visits there. Not even Athens in the wake of the debt-crisis looks this sad.

“The Travelling Players” is also an example of what happens when the director is allowed all the running time he wants and therefore skip the trimming part of the editing. Angelopoulos takes all the time in the world to tell this story (three hours and forty minutes). A story, which is essentially a scene on repeat. In this sense it reminded me a lot about “Jeanne Dielman”, with the difference that I was a lot less confused there. Maybe the extensive running time is an image on how long the people had to suffer?

Confusion is indeed the prevalent feeling throughout, together with depression. Mostly I would be watching, hoping for something to anchor my understanding until that point where I gave up hoping and just resigned to accept that is about the Greeks getting raped again and again by everybody including themselves.

If this sounds like something for you, go crazy. The movie is available in full length on YouTube. The poster for the movie on Wikipedia is not in doubt. It sports the headline: “One of the Best Films in the History of World Cinema”. No less. Edited down to half the size it might have half a chance at that. As it is I cannot honestly wish this movie on anybody.

Wednesday 16 February 2022

Nashville (1975)



I do not like country music. Like in, I really do not like country music. That is a pretty important detail when you watch a 2½-hour long movie about Nashville, Tennessee, of which at least an hour consists of country music performances. It is bound to color my view on the movie.

This is a rambling movie with an enormous cast and uncounted storylines that may or may not interact. I have not recognized an over-all plot and that somehow does not feel important. In this sense it reminds me of Robert Altman’s earlier movie, “MASH”, where the buzz of the place is the objective rather than a traditional story arc.

Everything centers on the place, Nashville, and the music. In Nashville, that means country music. All the characters have an angle on the music. They are performers, wannabe performers, fans, promoters, exploiters, groupies or just hanging around because this is the place to be. You get a very clear feeling that in this place, everything revolves around the music industry and that all these people interact in strange connection with the sole purpose of promoting themselves to get a slice of the cake. Whether it is Opal (Geraldine Chaplin) pretending to be  from the BBC to get close to the action, Winifred (Barbara Harris) who has run away from her husband to pursue a career as a singer and tries to squeeze herself in where she can or Haven (Henry Gibson) who is working hard to maintain his star status to gain influence, and on and on. There is a singularly personal, if not selfish, angle to all the characters as if only they really matter.

I cannot tell if this is a celebration of Nashville or a ridicule of same. There is an element of satire, even mockery at times, of these people, but everybody acts in earnest and are dead serious about all this. This is what makes it funny, but also uncomfortable as when people do not understand why we are laughing at them. I also get this feeling that where I see a satirical exposé, others will see a love letter to everything that is great about this place.

My lack of understanding may stem from the fact that I am very much an outsider. As a foreigner, both to the country and the culture, and to the music, I am not qualified to judge this movie. I can enjoy it as a crazy spectacle and I can cringe over the music, but that can only be my personal view. I have a feeling Robert Altman was torn between love and disgust making this movie and that does make it oddly schizophrenic.

I am quite convinced fans of the music hail this movie as a masterpiece for getting into the soul of it and just as convinced that opponents to the culture that digs country music hail this as a masterpiece for exposing the hypocrisy, egoism and idiocy of it. Either way, everybody is happy.

This may also be the first movie on the List with the great Jeff Goldblum in an, albeit small, role. Those goggles are absolutely awesome and so is his bike.

I still dislike country music with a vengeance and while it did make it hard to get through the movie at times, there is no denying that on the whole I enjoyed the movie quite a bit.  

Tuesday 8 February 2022

Cria! (Cria Cuervos) (1975)


Den Spanske Ravn

I am not a fan of dubbing. I am convinced that the audio elements are as important as the visual elements in a movie and dubbing robs the audience of that vital dimension to replace it with an unoriginal foreign element. I prefer subtitles any day to dubbing.

My copy of “Cria Cuervos” is a beautiful blue-ray disc, but without subtitles. Instead dubbed versions in four different languages has been added. As I do not understand Spanish I am therefore forced to listen to the English dubbing. From time to time, I switched back to the Spanish version simply to enjoy the sound, the background effects and the beautiful voices of the actors. I even understand that there are accents in their voices that have importance to understanding some of the motivations of the characters, but totally lost in the dubbing. Man, I hate dubbing.

Anyway, even without original sound “Cria Cuervos” is a beautiful movie, featuring the darling Ana Torrent as one of three orphaned children. Unfortunately, a lot of the finer points of the movie was lost on me and I did not really understand what the movie wanted and that made it a somewhat empty experience. By comparison I found “The Spirit of the Beehive” a far stronger movie, although they are supposed to touch on similar issues.

In the opening scenes, Ana’s (Ana Torrent) father, Anselmo is found dead in bed by Ana. She thinks she killed him by mixing poison (baking soda) into his milk, but she is quite calm about it. We see Ana’s mother in flashbacks and Ana as an adult talking about her childhood, both played by Geraldine Chaplin. In Ana’s eyes, her mother died of an illness caused by her father’s philandering. Now Ana is left with her two sisters, Irene and Maite, the maid, Rosa and hear aunt, Paulina who has assumed guardianship. Ana’s thoughts seem to center on death and her being the one who inflict it. Her guinea pig dies, she offers to kill her mute and sad grandmother and she attempts to kill her aunt with her baking soda. It never appears to be from malice, more like she has the ability and duty to inflict it.

There is supposed to be a lot of allusions to the end of the Franco regime in Spain, but I cannot work out how that ties in with the little angel of death. The closest thing is that young Spain should shed the oppression of the parent generation, but this interpretation does not feel satisfying and without that, the story of Ana lacks some direction.

Beside that, these are three darling children, and it is difficult not to fall in love with them and their childish view on things. There is a recurrent theme, the song “Porque te vas” by Jeanette, which matches these girls very well. It is catchy, infectious, but also melancholic and I have been humming it ever since (there is a good rendition on Youtube).

I wish I had gotten more out of the movie. It won a number of prizes and was one of the most popular Spanish movies outside of Spain in the seventies, and you do not get that sort of success through a quiet movie about three children, so I am clearly missing a lot here. I blame dubbing, but likely I am just not smart enough.

Still, if only for Ana Torrent, it is a recommendation from me.


Thursday 3 February 2022

Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom (Salo, o le Centoventi Gio di Sodoma) (1975)


Salo eller de 120 dage i Sodoma

I have feared this moment. Ask any List follower of their worst experience and somewhere “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom” (“Salò o le 120 giornate di Sodoma”) is bound to pop up. Not exactly the greatest recommendation to get. Last year I read the book, similarly titled “The 120 Days of Sodom” by Marquis de Sade and that was so horrible I could not finish it. First time on the List that has happened. Surely, a movie made by the famed Pier Paolo Pasolini cannot be as bad as that.

It is a damn close thing.

What Pasolini did was move the story from an 18th century French (or German), gothic castle, to an Italian villa during the later part of Second World War. The four libertines are now high-ranking fascists, but with the same titles, representing aristocracy, church, wealth and the judicial system. That is about it. In every other matter of consequence Pasolini follow the book.

Oh, I wish he had not.

I am really not up to giving a summary of the story. For that, refer to my review of the book. Even thinking of it makes me gag.

On an intellectual level I understand what Pasolini wanted to do, comparing fascism to torture and murder for the sickening sexual satisfaction of those with the power to wield it. The accomplices are willing followers as long as it keeps them from being the victims and the precious innocents, the general population, is powerless against the systematic rape they are repeatedly subjected to.

Fine. Problem is, this in no way excuse making a movie like this. These are basically children and the cruelty they are subjected to is simply staggering and that long before the final sequence of actual torture and murder. For once I agree with the censors, trying to protect the public from this travesty.

There was only a single element that I found interesting enough to mention. For the storytelling and orgies, a pianist is installed to provide music. Throughout she seems to close her eyes, do her music and just focus on that. The few times she looks around it seems as if she does not want to take in what she is witnessing. Then finally towards the end, looking out the window at the horrors taking place in the yard, she simply throws herself out the window, killing herself in the fall. I take it, from shame at having witnessed all this and done nothing.

The least I can do is to warn other people.