Friday 25 September 2015

Four aspects of Vincente Minnelli

The terror of darkness. The Bad and the Beautiful (1952).

A woman and her sexual fantasy. The Pirate (1948).

Film noir as ballet. The Band Wagon (1953).

The violent sadness of a child. Meet Me in St Louis (1944).

In the films of Minnelli reality is inherently unstable, life is filled with loneliness and pain, and we alternated between nightmares and dreams. There is nothing quite like it.

Saturday 19 September 2015

Feedback on Ekman

A special post today because the Hasse Ekman retrospective at MoMA is now over, and I am overwhelmed by the response it got. Sold-out screenings, lots of good articles about it (some links below), and an engaged and passionate audience. I had a lovely time in New York and I want to thank both MoMA (and Dave Kehr in particular) and all of those who came!

I would also like to get some feedback about the films. If anybody who reads this was at the MoMA screenings, or have seen the films some place else, you are more than welcome to write down your thoughts in the comment section below. I am thinking primarily of non-Swedes now, I have already had much engagement with Swedes about Ekman, but rarely with people from other countries because they would not have seen the films. But now some have, and others who were not at MoMA might have seen some films too, elsewhere, so bring it on.

Ekman was very prolific, and there are enough good films for another retrospective. The ten films shown at MoMA were not chosen because they are my ten favourite Ekman films; some of my favourites were not available. These are the ten films I think are the best:

Royal Rabble (Kungliga patrasket 1945), with Eva Henning
Wandering With the Moon (Vandring med månen 1945), with Eva Henning
While the Door Was Locked (Medan porten var stängd 1946)
The Banquet (Banketten 1948) with Eva Henning
The Girl From the Third Row (Flickan från tredje raden 1949), with Eva Henning
Girl With Hyacinths (Flicka och hyacinter 1950), with Eva Henning
The White Cat (Den vita katten 1950), with Eva Henning
We Three Débutantes (Vi tre debutera 1953)
Gabrielle (1954), with Eva Henning
The Heist (aka Rififi in Stockholm) (Stöten 1961)

Of the four not shown at MoMA, While the Door Was Locked is one of Ekman's multiple-character narratives, this time about the various people who live in one apartment block and what happens there during one night. The White Cat is like a Freudian nightmare, visually very striking (Göran Strindberg was the DP), with the usual Ekman actors and characters, although unusually conflicted and disturbed. We Three Débutantes is about three young poets, two men and one woman and each from a different class, who try (and fail) at being friends. It is also a suitably poetic depiction of Stockholm, shot by Gunnar Fischer. The Heist, finally, is about two young criminals, adrift, alone and very unhappy.

As you can see the bulk of his great work was in the first half of his career. But the second half is good too, only not as good. Of the 41 feature films he made I would say that more than half are really good, and even those that are unsuccessful are often interesting.

Here is my earlier post about the ten films that were shown at MoMA.

And here are links to some of the articles about Ekman:
Farran Smith Nehme for
Kristin M. Jones for Wall Street Journal
Nick Pinkerton for Artforum

Friday 11 September 2015

The other Vertigo - Sebald and Kafka

All the writings of W.G. Sebald are essential, and in particular the astonishing Austerlitz. Today however I will quote from Vertigo, first published in 1990. Its original German title is Schwindel. Gefühle and translated by Michael Hulse. The quotes below are from part III, "Dr. K Takes the Waters at Riva", and concerns K, who is unhappy in Verona and consoles himself with a visit to the cinema:
Perhaps it was the bills, still posted throughout the city, announcing the spettacoli lirici all'Arena that August and the word AIDA displayed in large letters which persuaded him that the Veronese show of carefree togetherness had something of a theatrical performance about it, staged especially to bring home to him, Dr K., his solitary, eccentric condition - a thought he could not get out of his head and which he was only able to escape by seeking refuge in a cinema, probably the Cinema Pathé di San Sebastiano. In tears, so Dr K. recorded the following day in Desenzano, he sat in the surrounding darkness, observing the transformations into pictures of the minute particles of dust glinting in the beam of the projector.
Dr K. is Franz Kafka and the time is the 1913, when Kafka left Prague for a trip through Italy to Switzerland, for health reasons. In Switzerland he had an affair with a young woman, before returning home again.

But let's get back to that day in Verona, where Sebald wonders what it was that Dr K. saw:
Was it the Pathé newsreel, featuring the review of the cavalry in the presence of His Majesty Vittorio Emanuele III, and La Lezione dell'abisso, which, as I discovered in the Biblioteca Civica, were shown that day at the Pathé and which are both now untraceable? Or was it, as I initially supposed, a story that ran with some success in the cinemas of Austria in 1913, the story of the unfortunate Student of Prague, who cut himself off from love and life when, on the 13th of May, 1820, he sold his soul to a certain Scapinelli? The extraordinary exterior shots in this film, the silhouettes of his native city flickering across the screen, would doubtless have sufficed to move Dr K. deeply, most of all perhaps the fate of the eponymous hero, Balduin, since in him he would have recognised a kind of doppelgänger, just as Balduin recognises his other self in the dark-coated brother whom he could never and nowhere escape.
The German film The Student of Prague opened in late August of 1913 so it is a possibility. In any event Sebald describes the story of the film, up until its melodramatic ending with a bullet in the heart of Balduin, and speculates as to why it might appeal to Dr K.:
Final contortions of this kind, which regularly occur in opera when, as Dr K. once wrote, the dying voice aimlessly wanders through the music, did not by any means seem ridiculous to him; rather he believed them to be an expression of our, so to speak, natural misfortune, since after all, as he remarks elsewhere, we lie prostrate on the boards, dying, our whole lives long.