#155 – Movements

(1982, US, 98 min) Dir Edgar Pooley. Cast Dudley Moore, Daryl Hannah, Martin Short.

Dudley Moore stars as pretentious experimental pianist Radley Moone who has been sequestered in a secluded beach house by his manager (Short – yes, manic) to work on his newest compositions for the New York Festival of Contemporary Music. His star is on the wane, his reputation stalling and this is to be his big comeback. Radley’s gimmick, as a musician, is that each piano piece he composes is directly inspired by the feeling of passing his bowel movements but disaster has struck – he’s constipated! He spends his days munching bran, guzzling prune juice and walking along the beach which is where he meets budding young cellist June (Hannah) and comes to think that maybe there’s more in life to write music about than his bodily motions. It’s an absurd premise played straight and it flopped hard – audiences who flocked to ‘Cuddly Dudley’ in the previous years’ 10 weren’t hot on seeing him obsess about his leavings. The only silver lining are the times when Moore gets to play the piano, in particular an extended seduction scene where he ably mimics the playing style of a dozen or more pianists, much to the obvious and unfaked delight of both Hannah and he.

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#154 – Death Trip, The

(1972, Can, 100 min) Dir Herbert Yates. Cast Mel McKenna, Virginia Barbeau, Alain Stopkewich, Molly Pilbrow.

Grey skied acid western from Canadian director Herbert ‘Head’ Yates. Mel McKenna (yes, Peterson from TV’s Peterson & Son) is the wild haired, black clad Mansonesque wanderer named X who drifts near dead into the peaceful community of proto-hippies that is Small Preston. Nursed back to health by young Adrianne he seems to pass onto her strange visions of lust and the greater universe, her naked body melding with some strange being of pure light from behind the moon. Soon enough he is championing her as, in his words, “a prophet of the New Religion!” With her blindfolded in advance the whole village follows out into the wilds in search of the new Jerusalem “where the New Gods will descend from the heavens and touch our hearts with their pure light.” Of course half of them starve or die of thirst but the other half make it to the mountains where they find their New Gods and pass through a totally trippy initiation where the world, and the film, becomes pure abstraction. Not bad, if totally hippy dippy, with some astonishing effects considering it was 1972 and they had no money.

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#153 – Burakkurōzu (Black Rose)

(1988, Jap, 70 min) Dir Helmut Durmou. Cast Setsuko Tanaka, Hiroshi Somai.

In 1986 Francois Fleider accidentally asphyxiated in whilst trying out a new modified harness/pillory post made by famed ‘device’ maker Jan Flugel-Flugel which left the previously secure Durmou without a steady patron. Thankfully his fans leapt to the rescue in the form of his Japanese fan base, the surprisingly well organised Helmut Durmou Appreciation Society, populated by various titans of industry. In honour of his new backers Durmou relocated to Japan for what was supposed to be a brief engagement but lasted until his recent death and was where all his subsequent films were made (barring Hard Light which was made in Italy but with an all-Japanese crew). Black Rose acts as a kind of low-budget aperitif in this respect, focussing on two people in one anonymous room, the kind typical to the average Tokyo apartment block which immediately sets it apart from his previous films which were always set in the opulent past, whether an imagined one or clearly defined era. The reason for this becomes immediately clear when the female lead is presented with the what is the centrepiece of the film – a Flugel-Flugel pillory post of the same ‘Black Rose’ design that ended the life of Durmou’s patron. He’s obviously working some stuff out here and as such he has, unusually, made a slow, mournful film for completists only. Nonetheless it remains a fitting tribute to his indulgent benefactor. His next film, Demon, was him back to form.

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#152 – Château, Le (Castle, The)

(1975, Bel, 91 min) Dir Helmut Durmou. Cast Hal Normand, Lisa Beit, Howard Messinger.

Dormou’s debut Elisa Lees had many fans, among them the middle-aged Belgian millionaire Francois Fleider who adopted the Swiss director as a kindred spirit and supported him with not just the money to make his films but also, for the making of Le Château, the use of his impressive residence in the South of France to film in. Fleider didn’t even ask to be featured in the films he funded, the usual vain request made as part of such a deal – all that he requested was to be present at the filming which Dormou allowed. The first result of this partnership, Le Château is set in an unnamed lush countryside where, once a year, the occupiers of the nearby hilltop castle audition for playthings among the local population and, more than that, said locals line up to be judged. The structure of the film allows for agonisingly long foreplay where what awaits those deemed worthy is hinted at but not fully revealed until the end. Not that this is a tip to those unwilling to wait – steady your fingers on the remote control, press ye not the fast forward button for the build up is the point and half the pleasure for Dormou now betrays a mastery of the suspense of film, of suggestion and denial that makes the release of the films denouement all the sweeter.

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#151 – Elisa Lees

(1972, Fr/Sp/WGer, 82 min) Dir Helmut Durmou. Cast Lisa Beit, Howard Messinger, Peter Feebler.

Serious Seventies kink from Swiss director Helmut Durmou, the man who quietly amassed a fine oeuvre of very personal and highly specialised films over his thirty year career and who sadly died in the first week of this year at the age of eighty-one. Elisa Lees was his first film, made at the age of forty-two with privately sourced funds and follows the awakening of its naïve title character as she is inducted into a new world. So far, so generic as far as these things go but about halfway through the film the dominated becomes the dominatrix and she returns to discipline the men who once held mastery over her. This isn’t done in a mean, revengey kind of way though – Durmou’s films frequently kept their eye on the ball with regards consent and roleplay and the men are all very grateful once she’s done with them with the suggestion floating about that we’re merely bearing witness to a kind of ‘edited reality’ and that there is a larger story at play that we are only glimpsing. It’s a little rough around the edges but Durmou’s classical staging and clear, sharp photography are already on display – he clearly knew what he wanted from the outset.

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#150 – Umber Erneut (Umber Once More)

(2010, Ger, 101 min) Dir Heinz Fäberhöck. Cast Karl Markovics, August Diehl, Nina Hoss.

1918. Gerhard Franz Holstein returns home from the front. He left his home a budding economics student and has returned the shell of a man. He sits in the attic of his family’s home day after day now, working on his grand project: he is working on the history of Umber, a country he invented to keep him sane during his time in the trenches. Now , far from saving his mind, it is taking it over instead. Decades pass outside his window and inside Umber takes on ever more a layered history with a national anthem he plays each morning on the trumpet, a flag that hangs on his bedroom wall and paintings and drawings in his own naïve style that illustrate every corner of the world that he has invented where brotherly love fills every corner and peace reigns eternal. Outside the Nazis rise to power and it seems his days of peace are numbered – war returns to Germany and contact with the outside world grows ever more inevitable. Of course there are no happy endings here. Based on the true story of the outside artist whose works now grace the wall of prestigious galleries the world over, Umber Erneut treads carefully on the line between worthiness, whimsy and the sober realities of Germany at the time and mostly gets it right, ably abetted by a strong cast doing what they can to help.

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#149 – Pansies Ahoy!

(1953, GB, 102 min) Dir Aldous Oxbury. Cast David Niven, Dirk Bogarde, Charles Falder.

Florist duo Ted and Gerry decide to do their bit in the war and sign up for duty in Her Majesties navy, both assigned to the same ship, the HMS Pielight under the watchful eye of the notoriously humourless disciplinarian Captain Reginald Oxphroy. Ted and Gerry, being incorrigible cut-ups (as we have seen in training when they snuck a goat into their Sergent’s bedroom), decide to have themselves a little fun decorating the ship with flowers of all sorts and sizes and the more Oxphroy clamps down on them the more they appear. They find themselves eyeing up a court-martial for insubordination when suddenly, on the horizon, a U-boat! A deadly game of cat and mouse ensues and wouldn’t you know it the only thing that keeps the ship’s morale up is those damned pansies! Of course the krauts get a jolly good thrashing and of course Oxphroy comes around to the mischievous florists way of things and before the films out it’s medals all round. Hurrah!

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#148 – Quanto profonda era la sua tomba? (How Deep Was Her Grave?)

(1969, It, 130 min) Dir Paolo Andreotti. Cast Franco Nero, Klaus Kinski, Luigi Pistilli.

Nero and Kinski star in this effective, if derivative, addition to the stuffed Spaghetti Western genre, as a bounty hunter and desperate criminal teaming up despite their own personal animosity to battle it out with Pistilli’s crooked lawman Oates. You see Nero’s wife was brutally raped and murdered by the man and buried out in the desert where he’ll never find her, hence the title which is bellowed at the felled Oates come the finale. If you’re into Spaghetti Westerns (particularly Leone’s) then you’ll love this, packed as it is with sweaty theatrics, agonizingly drawn out stand-offs and a veritable delirium of dreamy flashbacks. It’s particularly recommended for Kinski’s performance, which sets a new height of crazed eye-rolling in a career stuffed with barking loonies.

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#147 – Is This Love?

(1996, US, 121 min) Dir Charles V. Holden Cast Halle Berry, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Chris Tucker, Vivica A. Fox.

An R&B version of A Star is Born with Halle Berry as the Whitney Houstonesque singer Pamela Brown who catches the eye of Vondie Curtis-Hall’s music mogul Eric Hitz. He coaches her to success with the help of dance instructor Ice (Chris Tucker in his usual role of ‘comic relief’) and singing coach Alicia (a cameoing Aretha Franklin whose acting is shaky but still has the voice). Needless to say she becomes a star and she and Hitz become a couple despite the dire warnings of his ex, who is herself a fading star. Unlike A Star is Born this ends on a real bum note that could be seen coming a mile off – Brown’s star goes into descent and she soon finds that Hitz is seeing one of her backing singers (Fox) who he leaves Brown for and then coaches to success as well. At the end Halle Berry’s nursing a big ol’ bottle of vodka and watching Fox picking up some award while blowing kisses to her new husband, the bastard Eric Hitz. Despite a strong, vulnerable performance from Berry the film is let down by pedestrian direction, a predictable plot and, worst of all, an unmemorable soundtrack.

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#146 – You Have To Start At The Bottom… To Get Your Way To The Top!

(1958, US, 110 min) Dir George McAnderson. Cast Anthony Perkins, Shirley MacLaine, James Mason.

Bright cartoonish comedy set in the world of big business. Anthony Perkins is Osgood Berenson, a country kid come to the Big Apple with his County College Certificate of General Excellence in his suitcase and the will to achieve in his heart. After a promising interview with Flexible Industrials he turns up on his first day dressed for his very own office only to be met by the mop and a bucket needed for his new position as janitor. By chance he meets the head of Flexible Industrials, the business titan Olivier Welles (Mason), when he’s taking care of the private washrooms up on the 32nd floor and makes an impression with his can-do attitude. “I have to say you seem like a most competent and assured young man,” says Olivier, “Which makes me all the more impressed that you’re willing to work your way up to the boardroom from down in the basement. I’ll see you up here in a year and I’ll make you partner, how does that sound?” That’s when Olivier’s daughter Pat (MacLaine) comes in and the smitten Osgood’s mind is made up, kicking off twelve months of begging, borrowing and stealing his way up the greasy ladder. A fine fun and funny film.

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