OTB#48: Man with a Movie Camera


Man With A Movie Camera. Dziga Vertov. 1929. ⚅

I think… when English translators are translating from certain languages… they always end up with “scenario” being “SCENARIO” instead of “script”, which is what it means… At least that’s my impression after reading a book about movies translated from French to English the other month. And this just reinforces that impression.

ANYWAY.

This is an experimental silent movie from 1929 (when the silent era is almost over), and as usual with silent movies of this era, I loathe the music. The music does underscore the action (as it is), but it’s just not very good.

There aren’t a lot of experimental movies in this “best of” list. I think it Un chien andalou? And this? Which intrigues me, because this was voted the 8th best film ever by the critics.

And it is, of course, a subject beloved of people in movies: It’s about film, really. But it’s also about everything else… I mean, everything. It’s not a narrative movie exactly, but we get to see scenes from everybody’s lives, and things sorta interconnect. Slightly.

The thing that surprised me was that they hadn’t slowed the movie down. Everything happens 10% faster than natural, which I imagined was an artefact of how they used to transfer old movies. But they’d certainly fixed that for the 2K version of Potemkin I watched the other month. Here everybody’s moving around way too fast. I find it hard to believe that it was originally shown at this speed. But perhaps it was? It’s all about the bustle of modern life.

OK, I had to get rid of the music on the bluray, and I’m now listening to Boris in concert instead. That makes a whole lot more sense for this movie.

Right; I get it now. It’s just an exuberant, meta, nerdy movie enthusiast thing: Every shot is either funny or charming. Or both. There’s trick photography; there’s backwards photography; there’s moving-the-camera-around-a-lot photography (I’m sure there’s a term for that), there’s slo-mo athlete photography (“thirsty”, I think the technical term is)…

It’s just inexplicably fun. At least it is when you get rid of the annoying violins.

Ooops! There’s a teensy teensy hint at they end that the music’s by Michael Nyman! Well, OK. I’m not a fan of his, but I had no idea that he’d made something this bad ever.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#48: Rear Window


Rear Window. Alfred Hitchcock. 1954. ⚅

I saw this movie just the other year (I think… on a plane?), but now I’ve got it in 2K, so I’m rewatching it.

The movie is kinda perfect, but this 2K transfer isn’t. Or perhaps it was just this soft on the celluloid (or er whatever the young whippersnappers were using in the 50s): Every single shot looks like it’s just a bit out of focus.

But otherwise, it’s still a perfect movie. You’ve seen it: It’s a movie about watching things, and nothing could be more apt.

I love everything about this movie, but particularly the way the nurse becomes a part of it all. She’s perfect.

Hm… did I do this leftover cocktail before? Cunningham tastes kinda familiar…

… and not particularly good. But it’s OK.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#48: Goodfellas

Goodfellas. Martin Scorsese. 1990. ⚂

My most shocking, controversial opinion ever is this: I think Scorsese is overrated.

I was amused by all the accolades The Irishman got when it came out. I mean, just look at the critics falling over themselves in trying to praise it more than everybody else. It’s a mediocre movie, and while not the worst movie Scorsese has made, it’s just… OK… (If you can get beyond the horrible, horrible CGI, that is.)

So for once in my life I wondered how a movie would fare with the big awards: The BAFTA, the Golden Globes, the Oscars… Allegedly Netflix spent $70M on wooing the people voting for the Oscars, and it got nominated for everything in every single major award show. And it won zero of them. Zilch.

Which I interpret as people coming to their senses after the general scramble. Perhaps they even watched the movie? A feature I’d like to read is “Movies That I Wrote A Glowing Review For, That, In Retrospect, Turned Out To Be Kinda Naff”.

I dunno, but I found it funny, and I can’t really explain why, because I don’t like those award shows? The Oscars shitting on The Irishman should really convince me that it’s better than I thought?

ANYWAY! There’s three Scorsese movies on this “best of” list, and it’s the only one I can kinda recall watching. I mean, I’ve seen them all, but I don’t remember anything of Raging Bull and Taxi Driver, because it’s been such a long time. This one I do remember; it’s probably just a couple of decades since I watched it. And I remember being annoyed and slightly disgusted by the movie. I think it was… having to watch morons and assholes for two and a half hours being presented as if they were interesting somehow?

Perhaps I was wrong? *roll movie*

[an hour passes]

Nope. It’s a bunch of assholes having uninteresting conflicts. My interest in watching morons arguing about stupid stuff is low. All I’m thinking while watching this is SOMEBODY KILL ALL THESE FUCKERS ALREADY! I don’t think that’s what I’m supposed to think? I think it’s supposed to be like fascinating and stuff? It’s even more tedious than I remember.

Sure, this movie has some good qualities. Some of the scenes have pretty thrilling cinematography. I guess the set design is to be admired, but I think it’s a bit too much: Some of the scenes have so many props you can almost see the set designer’s assistants’ hands putting in some more vases and figurines between the shots.

It’s like they thought we wouldn’t accept this being set in the 70s if every wall didn’t have a differently patterned wallpaper and every armoire a bowl of bananas.

Am I getting whacked now?

OK, the early scenes where you get some info on how the mobsters work are fun, and the scene where the love interest meets the other wives is good, but it’s 70% boredom. I guess it’s like a male version of Housewives of Butthole County? It’s morons arguing with each other about things that don’t matter? But with guns, so it’s OK for men to watch?

I think that’s deep and insightful critique of this movie, but then again, I’ve had a couple of rum’n’cokes.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#48: Shoah

Shoah. Claude Lanzmann. 1985. ⚂

I suspect I’ve seen this before: Was it serialised on TV in the 80s? But it’s just a perfect day for watching this nine hour kneeslapper, isn’t it?

Oh, yeah, I have definitely seen this before: I remember the really annoying way it has of have people talking in Polish/Czech/whatever language, and then we get a voiceover translation in French, and when that starts, we get the subtitles.

IT IS FUCKING ANNOYING!

I guess you can claim that it’s an aesthetic choice: The French voiceover isn’t really a voiceover, but the translator actually translating, real-time, while the director is asking these people about their er experiences.

It usually goes like this: We get the director asking a question in French (subtitled), then the translator asking the question in German, then a guy answering in Polish, and then the translator repeating it in French (subtitled).

So we hear the people talking in their own voices, and that’s what’s important to the director? I mean, like gasp. I mean, they could just have subtitled them without going via French, but I guess the French hate subtitles…

[hours and hours pass]

It’s difficult to critique a movie like this, of course. The subject is so monstrous as to make any quibbles sickening.

But. This isn’t a good movie. There are some heartbreaking testimonials in here, but it’s not even an effective movie in reminding you of the horrors of Nazi Germany.

I think perhaps this movie would work better for me in a less distracting environment than here on my couch? Like, in a theatre? Because it’s really hard to keep your mind on the movie when half of it is somebody talking a language you don’t understand to the camera (without subtitles). (OK, he mainly drops the gimmick after a few hours and lets victims talk (in German, French or English) without the back-and-forth to French.)

The cinematography is pretty lush and beautiful.

These bits look a bit staged:

Some German interviewees were reluctant to talk and refused to be filmed, so Lanzmann used a hidden camera, producing a grainy, black-and-white appearance. The interviewees in these scenes are sometimes obscured or distinguished by technicians watching the recording.

I mean, the Nazi with the telescopic pointer and the diagrams just doesn’t seem possible to have happened, and it’s the director’s main Nazi viewpoint. On the other hand, perhaps the sheer ridiculousness of it all is proof that it’s real.

And it was:

During one such interview, the hidden cameras were discovered by a former Nazi and his family. Lanzmann and his assistant were so badly beaten that Lanzmann was hospitalised for a month.

But especially the bits in the van where there’s technicians receiving the hidden camera footage? In real time? Being transmitted? But why? Hm… Well, I guess a VHS recorder would make too much noise? So perhaps it’s actually real? I’m just saying that the movie could perhaps have let us in on the gag.

This seems to say that that’s bit’s staged, as I assumed. Or is USHMM a Nazi disinformation site? You never can tell these days.

The New Yorker takes the scenes as fact:

Lanzmann got hold of a paluche, or paw, a slender, stick-like video camera newly devised by the innovative designer Jean-Pierre Beauviala. Lanzmann hid it in a bag with a tiny hole for the lens, and had one of his cameramen point it at an unsuspecting interview subject. He hid a small microphone behind his tie. A van was rigged with video and radio equipment that rendered the stealthy images and sounds on a television set.

Well, I don’t know… And I’m starting to sound like a Nazi disinformation campaign myself, which is never a good idea. Please misunderstand me the correct way! I believe in everything this movie is saying! But these bits makes me wonder whether this particular director is making these particular scenes up for some reason.

I mean: It’s a minor quibble, and I’m sorry for even bringing it up.

ANYWAY.

One thing’s for sure: If this movie had been released today, it would have been forbidden in Poland, because there’s a lot of anti-Semitic poles in here, and those have never existed, according to the current regime there. And even hinting at it is illegal.

So you get Polish people explaining why their Jewish neighbours were killed.

But also that they themselves were the real victims here.

I can believe that. (I mean, that they’d say that.)

I know I’m just typing a lot of stuff here, but there’s a lot of lulls in the movie, and I have to do something, right?

I have three more hours to go, so perhaps I shouldn’t write a summing-up now: Perhaps there’ll be a twist. And perhaps it’s just me. The facts presented in this movie are horrifying… but it’s presented as if the director is unveiling unknown truth after unknown truth to us, while it’s virtually all stuff that anybody should already know.

I hate all documentaries, anyway. If somebody has something to say, they can like write a blog about it, and then people can skim it. I distrust the form: It’s useful for demagogues, because the inevitable pull of the next scene means you can’t evaluate the present one (which is why the alt-right live on Youtube). With the written word you can argue with the text as much as you like.

So don’t mind me: If you like documentaries, here’s a documentary.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.

OTB#48: Psycho

Psycho. Alfred Hitchcock. 1960. ⚅

Oooh! Psycho! I haven’t seen this for quite some time! And now in a restored 2K version!

Oh, it’s not in “acedemy” ratio? That’s the way I remember it, but perhaps it was pan-and-scanned when I watched it on VHS in the 80s…

Hitchcock was a fucking asshole and apparently traumatised (and
sexually harassed Leigh?), but, dude, this is a great movie… on a
shot by shot basis. I mean, it doesn’t make much sense (why buy a new
car with the cop watching?), but…

Anthony Perkins is so wonderful and extremely believable in this. It’s no wonder that the movie derailed his career completely, because you can’t look at him without thinking that he really is Norman Bates. Being gay and THE REVEAL probably didn’t help much, either.

This leftovers cocktail has three things I want to get rid of: Colleen Bawn.

And it’s delicious! OK, I’m really drunk now, so don’t rely on my judgement, and, indeed, a cocktail that consists of a full egg and whisky does sound really nauseating, but it’s good. Mmm.

This blog post is part of the Officially The Best series.