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January 29, 2008

Youth without Youth


Francis Ford Coppola - 2007
Sony Classic Pictures 35mm Film

It took Francis Ford Coppola to get me out of the house and into a movie theater for the first time this year. I had been wanting to see Youth without Youth simply on the basis of the few film clips that I saw last May when Coppola came to Miami Beach. There was a bit of unintended coincidence in seeing the new film at the Starz Theater in Denver. There is a photograph of Tim Roth as a young academic, ;posing with the love of his life at a place identified as The Tivoli. The Starz Theater is located on the former site of Denver's Tivoli Brewery.

More seriously, after seeing Coppola's first film in ten years, I understand why this film has been given the cold shoulder by alleged film critics. Youth without Youth is old-fashioned in several ways, but chief among them is that Coppola has done what all but a few filmmakers have forgotten, which is to try and tackle the big themes. In the space of a little more than two hours Coppola tries to discuss the essence of Buddhism - birth, death, sickness and aging, as well as time, memory, language and history. It is as if film critics, as well as audiences, have been so use to films by intellectual midgets, that they have run away from the challenge of Coppola's gauntlet.

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Even the credit sequence suggests an older film with the titles superimposed over images of roses. Like older films, all of the credits are at the beginning. Visually one sees what made Coppola excited about the possibilities of making film in his own youth - cockeyed angles and upside down shots, as well as abstract images, particularly of the sea. Even some of the special effects, as when a rose appears in Tim Roth's hand, seem old fashioned, only slightly more advanced than the camera tricks of Georges Melies. The passage of time is indicated by newspaper headlines, much like Hollywood films from the Forties. Much of Youth without Youth is shot in autumnal shadings befitting a film about characters enmeshed in the past even as they move forward into the future.

I can't claim to have really understood Youth without Youth or what Coppola was really intending to say. When everything is stripped away, the film is about a man given a second chance at love only to find that sometimes there are choices that are as disastrous as dying alone. The film ends with a discussion of the story of a man who dreams he was a butterfly dreaming that he was a man. This is appropriate for a film that shares the spirit of Borges as well as Borzage. At its' heart, Youth without Youth is the kind of film that Hollywood forgot to make too many years ago, a classic love story.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:05 PM | Comments (1)

January 27, 2008

Coffee Break


Helen Hayes and Ronald Colman in Arrowsmith (John Ford - 1931)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 05:53 AM

January 25, 2008

Boys Town

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Norman Taurog - 1938
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Almost a week to go with Edward Copeland's Best Actor Survey and I finally realized that there are about ten Oscar winning performances I have yet to see. There are too many nominees to catch up on as well. Of the winners, I finally saw Save the Tiger, the most recent of the unseen films. What is really amazing is that I actually worked in the theater that showed this film, the Greenwich Theater in New York City, and never bothered to sit down to watch the whole film. I also caught Gregory Peck's nominated performance in Twelve O'Clock High, a film I had promised myself that I would see since 1975 when I saw an excerpt at Telluride for the Henry King tribute. There will still be gaps - I will have to take the Academy at their word that Paul Lukas's performance in Watch on the Rhine was better than Humphrey Bogart's in Casablanca, or that Dan Dailey was a worthy competitor to Lew Ayres, Montgomery Clift, Laurence Olivier and even Clifton Webb.

While I like Spencer Tracy, I'm not convinced that his was the best performance of 1938. While I haven't seen Charles Boyer in Algiers, I have seen the other three nominees. Beaten by the cinematic Father Flanagan were James Cagney in Angels with Dirty Faces, Robert Donat in The Citadel and Leslie Howard in Pygmalion. Cagney and Donat would get their Oscars, and Rex Harrison would win for the musical version of Howard's role. Of the nominees, my own preference is Donat who has the advantage of being in a film directed by King Vidor, and even better, has Rosalind Russell as his leading lady.

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Father Edward Flanagan was a role Tracy played twice, starring in the sequel Men of Boys Town. Tracy was first nominated as the priest, Father Mullin, in the much more entertaining San Francisco made two years earlier. For a few years, playing a priest would merit an Oscar nomination, Gregory Peck in Keys of the Kingdom, if not an actual Oscar, like Bing Crosby's for Going My Way.

For a film biography, about the only things factual about Boys Town are that there was a Father Flanagan and there is a Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska. No effort was made to establish any sense of when Flanagan first established his home for boys (1917). The passage of time is vaguely indicated by the graying of Tracy's hair near the end of the film.

Even though Tracy won the Oscar, it's Mickey Rooney's performance as bad boy Whitey Marsh that makes Boys Town watchable. It's a foregone conclusion that the little punk will clean up his act and get into the good graces of Father Flanagan, but it's still fun watching him play the wise guy to Tracy's idealistic priest. Rooney would go on to earn Oscar nominations in future films, although it was in some of the less heralded films that would make the best use of Rooney's brash energy. Boys Town was beloved by the Academy seventy years ago, one of ten (!) films nominated for Best Picture of 1938. While Father Flanagan was famous for his belief that there was no such thing as a bad boy, Boys Town is a reminder that some films accorded classic status are not always that good.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:08 AM

January 23, 2008

Woman on the Beach

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Haebyonui Yoin
Hong Sang-soo - 2006
Bitwin Region 3 DVD

There is an illustration by Girish Shambu topping his blog entry that I immediately thought of during a scene in Woman on the Beach. The young film director, Jung-rae, creates an illustration made up of connecting points while discussing his ideas with the woman, Moon-sook. Earlier, Jung-rae discussed a script he is working on, about a character who discovers the coincidental aspects of his life connected by a barely visible string. As it turns out, the connections made by the characters in Woman on the Beach are revealed to be more tenuous.

Even though Hong's primary male character is a filmmaker, Hong is more interested in exploring the messiness of human relationships. This stands in sharp contrast with Godard, Fellini, Mazursky and almost any other filmmaker I can think of who would concentrate on the filmmaker and his writer's block. Hong's film is about people who weave in and out of relationships for the flimsiest of reasons. While most of the relationships in the film are of friendship, romance or purely sexual, the superficial aspects also inform other relationships, as when Jung-rae changes his mind about eating at a restaurant due to a perceived slight by the staff.

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Moon-sook is also an artist, a composer and singer, whose music is played in the scene introducing her. While not expressed in the film, there is a visual contrast between Jung-rae's black points of connection and music, which in its written form is a series of black dots that are organized based on precise lines and order. The man who introduces Jung-rae to Moon-sook is a set designer. Perhaps the point is too obvious, and one that Hong has revisited in past films, contrasting the deliberate structure of art with the chaos of life.

Filmmaking is an art form that frequently employs chance and accident in its final form. An interview with Hong by Kevin Lee brings that point across. Jang-rae's proposed film is about chance and coincidence interpreted as miracles. Hong has been noted by other critics for the literal and metaphorical geometry within Woman on the Beach. What is also deliberate is the setting - a resort town off-season sparsely populated by residence and tourists, and the beach itself, where any trace of activity will be washed away. As the film ends, there is the realization that Woman on the Beach is less about relationships, than about the memory of relationships.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:05 AM | Comments (1)

January 21, 2008

Story of a Three-Day Pass

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Melvin Van Peebles - 1968
Xenon Pictures Region 1 DVD

I didn't see Story of a Three-Day Pass at the time it was first released. What I do remember was that it was regarded as something of a novelty. For many people, it was the first film we were aware of to have been directed by an African-American. It wasn't until almost ten years later that I would first see films by Oscar Micheaux and Spencer Williams, as well as learn that there was once the existence of films and theaters that played what was known as the chitlin circuit. Seen forty years after its initial release, Melvin Van Peebles' Story is a wildly uneven first feature that is often as awkward as the lovers in the film.

As is suggested by the title, the film is about a soldier given leave from the base for three days. Based in France, he goes to Paris where he meets a youngish woman in a night club. She agrees to go spend the weekend with him in Normandy. Upon his return, the soldier is restricted to the base, officially for traveling outside a specified distance from the camp.

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Van Peebles breaks up the narrative with his main character, Turner, engaged in dialogues with himself as well as scenes of fantasy. Portions of the film are so choppy, with bits of dialogue repeated in different shots, that it is unclear whether the fragmentation was a deliberate aesthetic choice, or Van Peebles pieced together a feature length film with out-takes due to necessity. There are times when Story resembles a student film, which in a way it was, given what appear to be some extreme limitations in the budget.

There are also a couple of truly inspired moments of filmmaking. Early in the nightclub, Turner spots an attractive blonde. He begins to walk towards her, facing the camera, while the club patrons separate on each side of the screen, a parody of Moses walking between the waves of the Red Sea. Later, there is a shot of three men dancing, part of the sense of joy and uninhibited silliness in the night club. The camera takes advantage of the charismatic presence of Harry Baird, an actor too often underutilized during his lifetime. With the Nicole Berger as the woman, Story of a Three-Day Pass has a link between the French New Wave and what became part of the first wave of films by African-Americans to play in mainstream U.S. theaters.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:49 AM | Comments (2)

January 20, 2008

Coffee Break


Rod Taylor, James Whitmore and Ernest Borgnine in Chuka (Gordon Douglas - 1967)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 04:58 AM

January 16, 2008

Syndromes and a Century

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Sang Sattawat
Apichatpong Weerasethakul - 2006
Strand Releasing Region 1 DVD

I'm not sure if I can add any real insights to Syndromes and a Century except that I think I understand why the Thai government banned the film. First, it must frustrate the hell out of the government officials that the most critically acclaimed filmmaker is openly gay, and gets his financing from foreigners. Equally damning is that the filmmaker with the familiar name of Joe makes films that look nothing like either the Thai films made for Thai audiences, or something stately like The Overture, a Thai film for non-Thais. Joe's films lack the frame of reference that connect them with traditional Thai films which goes against the grain of a country where mainstream cinema means embracing the familiar.

Syndromes and a Century contemplates the differences between how we see ourselves and how others may see us. A statue of Buddha is seen several times, and there are several discussions about karma. While some of the characters may seek easy answers to their lives, the conclusion of the film is that one's karma is ultimately unknowable, most of all by other people.

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The structure of the film is in two parts, where some scenes are repeated, but varied in dialogue and setting. The idea of duplication is also carried out with characters mirroring the actions of others. The duplication also is in effect with a scene of the young female doctor dipping her hands in a lake, mirrored by a later scene of a young man imagining himself to be dipping his hands in water as part of Chakra healing.

The color scheme is deliberately hazy, pastels and light colors, as if there was little of substance. The characters are often photographed from a distance, making them appear a small elements of a larger, abstract universe. Syndromes and a Century could be likened to a series of dreams half remembered. We know we experienced something and can remember some random images, but any deeper meaning is impossible to grasp.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 10:14 PM | Comments (1)

January 14, 2008

The Val Lewton Blog-a-thon: The Leopard Man

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Jacques Tourneur - 1943
Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

Walks with zombies and further Lewton inspired bedlam is to be found at The Evening Class.

Even before I watched The Leopard Man with William Friedkin's commentary, I wondered about Friedkin's film, Bug. Could his own film be an attempt to re-invent a Val Lewton style horror film for a contemporary audience? Consider that the horror of Bug is largely psychological, taking place in the minds of the characters, much to the dismay of an audience that was expecting the more explicit horrors of Friedkin's more famous The Exorcist. That Bug was also a much lower budget film mostly taking place within a single set may have been a tribute to Lewton and his limited resources. There is also the classic beauty of Ashley Judd, who when photographed in certain ways, reminds one of the classic Hollywood brunettes. As Friedkin discusses Lewton and Jacques Tourneur, as well as episodes in his life growing up in Chicago, it would seem that Bug was Friedkin's attempt to recapture what made him excited about film in the first place.

Tourneur's third film for Lewton begins with a leopard on the loose in some small town in New Mexico, the result of a mishandled show business stunt. The action takes place in a totally imagined location that hardly qualifies as a small town, yet has a restaurant-night club that features hoofers from Chicago. The New Mexico location allows for some low budget exoticism in both the set up, and the film's finale. What is best about the New Mexico setting is that it allows for the introduction of one of the characters, Clo-Clo, whose act is a Spanish style dance with castanets. The castanets are incorporated as a dramatic device, as well as being the most significant element of Roy Webb's imaginative score.

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Most of The Leopard Man takes place at night. In their final collaboration, Lewton and Tourneur amplify and parody elements of The Cat People. This is especially notable during the sequence of the first victim. A young woman, sent by her mother to get cornmeal, walks alone to the one store open that night. This in spite of fear of the leopard on the loose in town. Walking home, she has to choose between walking around or under a railroad bridge. One way may be safer, but out of the way, the darker passage under the bridge is shorter and more direct. The scene seems to have been designed to remind viewers of the similar moment of the woman alone in the swimming pool in The Cat People. The parody of the "Lewton style" comes literally from the hands of the first victim's little brother, with his inappropriate penchant for creating a shadow that resembles a fierce creature.

It is life in the shadows that is where The Leopard Man truly lives. There are two lateral shots of Clo-Clo walking along the street of the small town. Against the darkness of one building is a man smoking cigarettes, creating O rings of smoke, one of which Clo-Clo grabs. A pair of lovers a glanced at kissing in the darkness. A fortune teller extends her hand with a deck of cards which may reveal Clo-Clo's future. Whether the killer is really a runaway leopard or something else is almost besides the point. What The Leopard Man is really about is the mysteries of fate and choice, and darkness as a form of sanctuary.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:01 AM | Comments (2)

January 13, 2008

Coffee Break

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Boyd Davis and Richard Dix in The Ghost Ship (Mark Robson - 1943)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:25 AM | Comments (4)

January 12, 2008


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Roland West - 1929
Kino International Region 1 DVD

Edward Copeland's Best Actor Survey will probably be slanted towards debates on the best and worst Oscar winners of recent decades. Most of the films discussed will be those we have grown up watching or are readily available on DVD. Having an Academy Award is no guarantee that a film is available. Emil Jannings can be seen in The Blue Angel as well as his silent films made in Germany, The Last Command, one of his two winning performances is only on tape. Tape is the only way you can see George Arliss as Disraeli. It won't be until the March DVD release that many of us will see Lionel Barrymore in A Free Soul, a performance that beat out the more readily seen Adolphe Menjou in The Front Page and Richard Dix in Cimarron.

If Alibi has any reputation, it is mostly due to the set design of William Cameron Menzies. The opening scene introducing Chester Morris as he is about to leave prison may remind some of the massive sets of Metropolis, especially when the prisoners march in line. Otherwise, the film seems to serve as the prototype for the kind of movies that Warner Brothers would crank out regularly in the Thirties. Chester Morris appears in retrospect to be a prettier version of James Cagney. The tough guy turned coward performance near the end anticipates Cagney's similar turn in Angels with Dirty Faces. It takes little to imagine Alibi with Cagney and Pat O'Brien instead of Morris and Pat O'Malley,

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Morris plays an ex-con who is accused of shooting a cop during a robbery. Among those vouching for his whereabouts is girlfriend Eleonore Griffith, playing the rebellious daughter of a policeman. O'Malley plays the detective in love with Griffith, and out to prove that Morris is a killer. Complicating things is an undercover detective played by Regis Toomey, who poses as a constantly inebriated playboy.

Alibi is one of the few films available by Roland West, and that unavailability of his work may keep him in Andrew Sarris' category of "Expressive Esoterica". That West worked with Menzies on the set, and Ray June as cinematographer, probably contributed to the visual look of Alibi. Too often the film betrays its stage origins with static shots of characters in conversation. The best moments are the shots of the oversized set, a point of view shot with the camera going through night time traffic, and the musical numbers which with the leggy showgirls. There is also the use of sound dramatically used, with the percussion of the policemen's nightsticks. What Alibi has is a collection of inspired moments, but not enough to make the difference between a classic and an old movie.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:13 AM

January 10, 2008

Mercury Man


Ma Noot Lhek Lai
Bandit Thongdee - 2006
Bonzai Media Corporation All Region DVD

While I never had the opportunity to meet him, I did exchange emails with Curtis, the Bangkok based film critic who writes for the English language Thai newspaper "The Nation". Curtis also has his own blog, Wise Kwai's Thai Film Journal, much improved from when it was hosted at Rotten Tomatoes. If you haven't checked it out, I recommend clicking back to Curtis' first posts on his new site. I probably should have checked his site myself before I lost a few dollars getting Mercury Man, but this one one of the many Thai films I couldn't see in Thailand simply because the available DVD version lacked English subtitles.

Mercury Man represents in several ways a deliberate, but misguided attempt by Thai filmmakers to break into the international market. As it turned out, even the Thai audience was underwhelmed by this film which attempts to graft a superhero story with Muay Thai boxing. What is of interest is that the political aspects of the Mercury Man narrative goes into a direction that most American filmmakers would be nervous to follow. This is a post 9/11 superhero movie with terrorist bad guys after a sacred Sun amulet and Moon amulet that if combined will enable them to destroy the United States. What may make the film more troubling to a non-Thai audience is that the story is also one of Buddhists versus Muslims.

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Putting this into some kind of context may be tricky. Even though most Thais are Buddhists, it is not a state religion. Still the Muslim versus Buddhists plot is questionable considering that there is a sizable Muslim minority primarily in southern Thailand. Those more familiar with Buddhism will recognize that the Buddhism displayed in Mercury Man is both generic and exotic, the with the kind of sage advice uttered by Sam Jaffe in Lost Horizon. This world view is somewhat more comprehensible based on the point of view of most Thais which is that the world is divided between ethnic Thais and everyone else.

Even a homegrown superhero movie with Muay Thai Boxing is less interesting than it should have been. Produced by Prachya Pinkaew, the boxing and the wire work are extraordinarily ordinary from the team behind such martial arts fests as Ong-Bak and Dynamite Warriors. In the title role, Wasan Khantaau is pallid next to that gravity defying force of nature that is Tony Jaa. With his Spiderman inspired costume, Wasan gets hot and kicks ass, and is a nice guy out of costume, but lacks the inspiration or sense of humor of the best superheros. Seen way to briefly as a supervillainess is Matinee Kingpoyom. After it is discovered that Wasan became Mercury Man after being stabbed with the Sun amulet that was absorbed into his body, Matinee stabs herself with the Moon amulet. She becomes Mercury Man's unnamed nemesis, freezing cold to his fiery heat. If this character had a name, would it be Ice Girl? Frigid Woman? In any event, I was reminded that I saw this very beautiful woman in another film that had was otherwise not very good, Bullet Wives. And speaking of beauty and boxing, the real Beautiful Boxer, Parinya Charoenphon, is in the cast, aptly named as the character named Grace.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:25 AM | Comments (1)

January 08, 2008

My Sassy Girl

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Yeopgijeogin Geunyeo
Kwak Jae-young - 2001
Box of Fun Region 3 DVD

I'm not sure which bothers me more, that the first new film of 2008 is a Hollywood remake of an Asian horror film, or that this particular remake is of one of Takashi Miike's lesser efforts. February brings us the Tom Cruise produced remake of the Pang Brothers' The Eye. While the remakes are primarily aimed towards an audience that doesn't know, or care, that these are Hollywood remakes of Asian films, I have to wonder how many people are seeking out the original films because they are being remade?

I might not have bothered with My Sassy Girl had I not known that a Hollywood remake was due later this year. I am comforted to know that unlike The Lake House, the remake of Il Mare, which had a too old Sandra Bullock, the English language version of My Sassy Girl has the more age appropriate Elisha Cuthbert substituting for Jun Ji-hyun. But what really distinguishes Jun is her eyes which bulge out at the incredulous suggestion that as the titular character, she is to be challenged.


My Sassy Girl starts off like a Korean version of the kind of film Ashton Kutcher would have appeared in a few years ago. A young man, Gyeon-woo, spots a young woman inches away from falling into the path on an oncoming subway. While both are on the subway, it becomes clear that the girl is extremely drunk, at one point vomiting on the head of one of the subway passengers. Mistakenly identified as the girl's boyfriend, Gyeon-woo finds himself taking the girl to a love hotel for the night to get her off the street. From there the relationship, more of a chaste, idiosyncratic friendship develops.

The title literally is translated as "Bizarre Girl". Sassy may be too misleading a description. Obdurate and bossy come a bit closer in fitting the girl, who like Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, remains unnamed. Jun's performance keeps this character some might find obnoxious, endearing instead. Some of the humor also comes at the expense of Tae-hyun Cha, the frequently hapless suitor of the girl.

What little I could glean from IMDb indicates that the upcoming remake will be have changes from the original version. What may make this film of some interest is that the new version is directed by Yann Samuel, who debuted with Love Me if You Dare. The French film was about two friends, male and female, that constantly dared each other with increasingly risky challenges. In some respects, there is a similarity to the girl's challenges to Gyeon-woo in My Sassy Girl with the game playing of Love Me if You Dare. That a French filmmaker is remaking a Korean film for a primarily American audience may be typical of Hollywood - by reworking an Asian story that can be easily transposed to the U.S., with a filmmaker who has learned his craft elsewhere - risk free Hollywood continues its flight from the slightest hint of originality.


Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:20 AM | Comments (1)

January 06, 2008

Coffee Break

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Mohsen Makhmalbaf in Iran: A Cinemagraphic Revolution

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:55 AM

January 04, 2008

I'm a Cyborg, But that's OK


Saibogujiman Kwenchana
Park Chan-wook - 2006
United Home Entertainment Region 3 DVD

One of the more interesting lists to come out at the end of 2007 was posted at Indiewire of 250 undistributed films. More precisely, these are mostly non-English language films without US distributors. Several of the films are available on DVD, and in some cases can be seen on US players that are not region free. It turns out that I have three of the films on the list and will write about them now that I have unlocked my new DVD player.

I almost saw I'm a Cyborg during my last week in Thailand, except that in Chiang Mai, unlike Bangkok, films from other Asian countries are usually shown in Thai dubbed versions, if they are shown at all. I am not surprised that Park's newest film hasn't been picked up even for DVD distribution. Unlike the "Vengeance" trilogy, I'm a Cyborg is less easy to classify. The ads make the film appear to be a romantic comedy, which it mostly is. There is one scene of violence that deliberately goes from the comic to the grim, and may make too many people think of the Virginia Tech incident, itself supposedly inspired by Park's Oldboy.


The story is about a young woman, Young-goon, who works at a radio factory. Believing herself to be primarily mechanical, she is institutionalized after wiring herself, creating a self-inflicted electric shock. It is there that she meets the other patience, including a young rabbit masked man, Il-sun who believes he can take away other people's character traits with his hand. Young-goon, not only believes herself to be a cyborg, but a killer cyborg with the mission to kill the hospital's staff. One extended scene shows Young-goon with bullets flying out of her fingers, and bullet cartridges falling out of her mouth. Something of nod towards Park's trilogy, before the murderous fantasy takes place Young-goon asks Il-sun to remove her sense of sympathy.

What I'm a Cyborg has in common with Park's other film is the examination of how people define themselves. A recurring motif is Young-goon search to discover the reason for her existence. The more clearly satirical moments are how mechanized work can be, as well as how dependent people are on machines. Park even finds a way to create a verbal and visual joke involving both the animal mouse and computer mouse. While Park uses CGI to convince the audience that Young-goon might actually be a cyborg, he is aided by Lim Su-jeong and her oversized eyes. The Korean pop singer Rain allows himself to look silly with his two licks of hair combed to appear like two modified rabbit ears. Rain will be somewhat better known this summer with a part in this Summer's Speed Racer.

In one interview, Park mentions as one of his literary influences, Philip K. Dick. It would seem that I'm a Cyborg is something of a twist on Blade Runner. Instead of a cyborg who believes he is a man, we have a woman who is convinced she is a cyborg. Which is still OK.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:59 AM | Comments (4)

January 02, 2008

Berlin Alexanderplatz


Phil Jutzi - 1931
Criterion Collection Region 1 DVD

I attempted to watch Fassbinder's version of Berlin Alexanderplatz within a very short time frame. The more I watched, the more difficult it was for me to continue. I got almost half way, but will watch the rest the way a television mini-series should be viewed, spread out over several days. I did take advantage of the inclusion of the 1931 film version which at less than ninety minutes takes as much time as a single Fassbinder episode. That one of the three screenwriters is author Alfred Doblin also makes this film of interest.

Even if you haven't read Doblin's novel, and I haven't, what makes Jutzi's film remarkable is that it demonstrates that the fluid camera work and artiness associated with German films of the late Twenties did not end when Murnau went to Hollywood. True, many of the traveling shots were shot silently with post-production sound, but most of the dialogue scenes have camera movement as well. Between the use of extreme close-ups of faces, and quick cuts in some scenes, Jutzi proved himself more adept at making a visually dynamic film that some of his Hollywood contemporaries. The first few minutes of the film a virtually dialogue free as the walrus sized Heinrich George portrays Franz Biberkopf's first steps out of the the quiet order of prison life into the chaos of 1931 Berlin.

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The footage of street life in Berlin is of interest simply as a record of what Berlin looked like before World War II. A couple of scenes, one staged for the film, show cheerful disregard for official postings. In the scene where Biberkopf meets Mieze, a street singer, we first see a sign indicating that singing and begging are forbidden in this particular neighborhood. Likewise, a scene at the beach is preceded by a shot of a sign stating that short swim wear is not allowed, obviously ignored by the many at the crowded beach. It is worth noting that when Jutzi's film of Berlin Alexanderplatz opened in New York in May of 1933, the title was the French Sur Le Pave de Berlin (On the Street of Berlin). Additionally, New York Times film critic mentions in his May 11 review that the original novel, "is said to have been among those tossed to the flames in Berlin yesterday."

The 1931 version of Berlin Alexanderplatz lacks any production credits. Even the booklet that comes with the seven DVD set lacks any written information. One has to go to IMDb to know that one of the producers was Arnold Pressburger. The music is by Allan Gray, who wrote music for several films that son Emeric Pressburger made with Michael Powell. Jutzi and star Heinrich George were both former Communists that stayed in Germany as Nazi party members during World War II. Of the two co-screenwriters, Hans Wilhelm wrote a couple of films for Max Ophuls and later went to Hollywood where one of his credits is Don Siegel's Ninotchka knock-off, No Time for Flowers. The other writer, Karl Heinz Martin, was a silent era director who returned to directing in the Thirties, ending his career in 1939. In a small role is the character actor Karel Stepanek. If this film is any indication, Phil Jutzi deserves some deeper English language scholarship. Fassbinder also liked the film, even though he pointed out that it was not truly representative of the novel. At the very least, Jutzi's film of Berlin Alexanderplatz has enough value of its own to merit consideration as more than a footnote to its better known remake.

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 03:23 PM

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

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Pang Eun-jin in 301, 302 (Park Cheol-soo - 1995)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at 12:39 AM | Comments (1)