Archives for posts with tag: Criterion Collection

Mister Johnson

Australian filmmaker Bruce Beresford, after scoring a critical hit and box office success with Driving Miss Daisy in 1989, made the rather idiosyncratic decision – and not a commercially beneficial one, as it turned out – to travel to Nigeria to direct a film version of the Joyce Cary novel Mister Johnson. These, moreover, were turbulent, putsch-plagued years for Nigeria, and Beresford’s recollections of working in the country, expressed during an interview he granted for Mister Johnson’s Criterion Blu-ray release, were, I thought, sufficiently interesting to share with readers:

Filming in Nigeria at that time was a nightmare. […] Moving around was hell. For me, it was a great change from when I’d been there in the sixties, to when I was there in 1990 or whenever it was, because when I was there in the first place, it had only been independent [from the British Empire] for a little over a year, and they still had postal services and phones and the trains ran and there were traffic police and all the usual sort of things; but when I was back there in the nineties, nothing like that was there anymore. There was no post. Um, there was no traffic police. In fact, the police never seemed to be around. The roads were littered with dead people who’d been hit in car accidents. There was no supervision over anything. Um, it was very chaotic. And, uh, sometimes you’d be driving, like, to a location and a uniformed man would stop you and pull you out of the car and, um, pour petrol over you and hold up a lighted match and say, “We want money.” Which you would give them. It would be very advisable to give it to them. And it was fairly, pretty tense, quite often. A couple of times I thought we weren’t going to get out of there.

But, hey, at least the man got his prestige project finished – and the international critical establishment loved it (even if African-Americans thought it was racist), with star Maynard Eziashi becoming the second black performer after Sidney Poitier to win the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the Berlin International Film Festival, racking up another indispensable victory for the vibrant!

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

Rainer is the author of Protocols of the Elders of Zanuck: Psychological Warfare and Filth at the Movies – the DEFINITIVE Alt-Right statement on Hollywood!

burroughs

Burroughs: The Movie (1983), one of this writer’s favorite documentaries, makes for a must-see viewing experience in its extras-packed Criterion Collection Blu-ray release.

 

Unaccountably lionized murderer, heroin addict, pedophile, absentee father, allowanced wastrel, and “novelist” William S. Burroughs receives the star treatment in Howard Brookner’s 1983 film Burroughs: The Movie. “He’s up there with the Pope, you know?” gushes unashamed Burroughs groupie Patti Smith. “You can’t revere him enough. One of the greatest minds of our times, you know?” This is typical of the bizarre affection inspired by the eccentric writer, who gave Brookner unusually candid access to his life and was generous with his time in cooperating with the production of this entertaining documentary. Others appearing in the film include Terry Southern, Herbert Huncke, and Burroughs’s assistant and “son” James Grauerholz. Crooked-mouthed creep, brain damage evangelist, and NAMBLA alumnus Allen Ginsberg, who for a time was Burroughs’s lover, offers various reminiscences and characterizes Burroughs’s killing of his wife as a kind of assisted suicide (for a dissenting account, viewers of the Criterion release have recourse to a recorded conversation between Brookner and Burroughs biographer Ted Morgan).

Twitchy-faced Burroughs, whose incoherent mutterings published under the title Naked Lunch were included on the American Library Association’s list of banned and challenged “classics”, is imagined by his admirers to be some species of anti-establishment rebel; but, beginning with EMI’s inclusion of the notorious reprobate on the cover of the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (glamorously, right next to Marilyn Monroe), Burroughs has repeatedly been promoted as a countercultural icon for gullible youth through collaborations and endorsements from entertainment industry figures like Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Dennis Hopper, Gus Van Sant, David Cronenberg, R.E.M., U2, and self-pitying Nirvana belly-acher Kurt Cobain. He was even introduced as “the greatest living writer in America” when he appeared on Saturday Night Live on NBC in 1981, and his books, furthermore, are published by international giant Penguin.

The contradictions of the Burroughs persona are on display throughout, the patrician features and gentlemanly manners masking an ultra-degenerate who insists, “I don’t like violence,” but constantly talks and writes about it and delights in showing off his collection of guns and exotic weaponry. Burroughs, as captured in the film, speaks with relish of his dream of death squads that will hunt down and kill heterosexuals who oppose the establishment of a “Gay State”. For all of this, however, the film remains a bit of a whitewash, making no mention, for instance, of what Jim Jarmusch diagnoses in his audio commentary as Burroughs’s hatred of women. “Burroughs would have been a great CIA agent,” Jarmusch also observes, which, if true, says little about the moral caliber of that agency’s personnel. Curiously, Burroughs actually interviewed for a position with OSS founder William “Wild Bill” Donovan himself. Criterion’s Blu-ray release of Burroughs: The Movie is altogether a fascinating portrait of one of the most contemptible human beings who ever lived.

Rainer Chlodwig von K.

 

Two Days One Night

Deux Jours, Une Nuit is a dreary and mundane French “art” film directed by Belgium’s Dardenne brothers. Marion Cotillard, whom American audiences may remember as the femme fatale Miranda in The Dark Knight Rises, stars as Sandra, a working mother whose poor psychological health has kept her at home and away from her job for some time. In her absence, her boss has given her coworkers an offer they find hard to refuse: either take Sandra back at their present wage rate, or agree to terminate her in exchange for a raise for everyone else. Due to irregularities in the circumstances of their initial decision, which has (unsurprisingly) gone against her, the workers are to be given a chance to hold a second vote. Sandra now has one weekend – the two days and one night of the title – to locate and approach each of her coworkers to convince them to take her back and forfeit the promised raise.

Nothing about Sandra, who suffers from depression and spends most of the movie moping, despairing, and gobbling Xanax tablets, is particularly interesting, and one suspects that this is intentional; she stands for the common person who is too often forgotten. Scenes of her intermittently breaking down and being encouraged by her sensitive husband (Fabrizio Rongione) to persevere and not to give up on her peers and their dormant capacity for selflessness are, unfortunately, somewhat repetitive, and not the strongest material to support an entire feature film. What ultimately saves and elevates Two Days, One Night above the level of tedium is the earnestness of the film’s key performances.

[WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS]

3.5 out of 5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Two Days, One Night is:

6. Anti-American. The selfish Julien (Laurent Caron), a collaborationist co-conspirator with the workplace management, wears a “USA” patch on his shirt, perhaps signifying his sympathy with neoliberalism.

5. Anti-marriage. Sandra’s coworker Anne (Christelle Cornil) determines to leave her husband after years of being bullied.

4. Anti-drug. Sandra’s abuse of Xanax is worrying to her husband, whose concerns are shown to be warranted when she attempts suicide with an overdose.

3. Pro-union. The filmmakers, in an interview featured on the Criterion Blu-ray, say that their intent was to illustrate the “savagery” of companies whose workforces are not unionized. “We thought that with a nonunion company, we’d be closer to the raw truth of the social situation people experience today.”

2. Ostensibly anti-capitalistic, with workers pitted against each other by capital.

1. Dysgenic, pro-immigration, and crypto-corporate. Two Days, One Night is fundamentally disingenuous and misleading in framing the plight of the western worker as an individual rather than a national-racial dilemma. People are, of course, individuals on one level of their experience; but the inundation of European and European-descended peoples with Third World undesirables is precisely what has suppressed the typical worker’s wages and standard of living. In the end, when the tables are turned, and Sandra has the option of taking her job back on the stipulation that Alphonse (Serge Koto), an African, will be terminated, viewers are expected to be inspired that Sandra, playing the good goy, makes the wrong decision and sacrifices her own livelihood to save the congoid. Two Days, One Night goes out of its way to depict non-white immigrants as gentle, helpful souls and credits to their new communities, and even includes an African doctor (Tom Adjibi) who saves Sandra’s life after her overdose. To this extent, then, the film promotes a de facto corporate-state agenda.

Rainer Chlodwig von Kook

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Till Death Do We Scare

Till Death Do We Scare (1982) ****

Poor Irene (Olivia Cheng) – every man she marries dies as soon as they tie the knot! Fortunately (?), her three dead husbands, who loiter around the house as ghosts, want Irene to be happy, so they determine to locate another, hopefully more durable husband for her and pick incompetent radio horror show host Alan (Alan Tam). What follows is essentially a series of slapstick shenanigans as the ghosts, invisible to Irene and Alan, pull various stunts to bring the couple together. Complicating matters are the machinations of evil spirits who would prefer to see Alan dead. 

Till Death Do We Scare is typical fare for the Chinese ghost comedy genre, but with the odd, added attraction of stretchy Beetlejuice-style special effects by none other than Tom Savini. The best comic set piece in the movie is probably the haunted chair that refuses to let fat guy Eric Tsang sit in it; but other highlights include a deflatable ghost face, an animated pig’s head on buffet table, a decomposing princess with amorous intentions, and an unfortunate sucker who rolls down a hill and gets flattened by a steamroller. Till Death Do We Scare has the madcap energy viewers have come to expect of the Hong Kong film industry in the eighties, and should please devotees of the Chinese horror comedy.

4 out of 5 stars.

Breakfast

Vampire’s Breakfast (1987) ***1/2

Fat Piao (Kent Cheng) is a portly Hong Kong photojournalist investigating a series of what appear to be vampire murders, but police refuse to believe his stories, and only a sleazy thief (Keith Kwan) is willing to help him. Vampire’s Breakfast, like The Haunted Cop Shop (1987), is not a typical indigenous Chinese hopping vampire movie, but a horror hybrid featuring a rotten-looking blond Caucasian bloodsucker (Simon Willson) with the usual western susceptibilities to crucifixes and wooden stakes – or, as the subtitles would have it, a “mahogany nail”. Pretty, pouty Emily Chu, whom action enthusiasts may remember from John Woo’s classic A Better Tomorrow (1986), adds a deal of grace as Piao’s love interest, Angie, while Parkman Wong contributes irksome antagonism as skeptical Inspector Chen.

The movie drags a bit in the middle, but does feature a handful of suspenseful sequences, generally drenched in creepy blue moonlight and city shadows. A clandestine visit to a morgue makes for one of the more memorable scenes, while a spurting decapitation at the end should please gorehounds. One does wish, however, that the nastiness of one early scene in a strip club had been sustained throughout the film. Veteran viewers of Hong Kong horror will probably enjoy Vampire’s Breakfast, but prissier audiences accustomed to Criterion disc production standards are hereby warned that the subtitles on the Fortune Star DVD release are more than usually sloppy, resulting in lines of dialogue like, “Tow big eyes were ataring at me”.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

Vampire’s Breakfast trailer

Hebrew Cover

Got Gas?

After taking a break of a week or so to recuperate, your humble reviewer has finally mustered the courage to venture back into the Danger: Boredom Zone and finish watching the communo-Zionist “Holocaust” propaganda documentary Shoah. Following are a few of his observations on the contents of disc four, comprising the exciting conclusion. (Discs 5 and 6 of the Criterion Collection set promise “special” [i.e., T4-worthy] features.)

Fredy Hirsch

Fredy Hirsch, Auschwitz’s tragic Prom Queen

This straggling stretch of the much-lauded, long-winded, and stupendously self-important film, irrespective of the intentions of director Claude Lanzmann, provides some valuable insights into how and why false rumors of extermination by gassing spread among European Jewry during the war. Rudolf Vrba, a dishonest-faced Jew who was given duties as a registrar in Auschwitz, recalls attempts by communist inmates to secure the cooperation of Fredy Hirsch, a homosexual Zionist with leadership ability, for a violent uprising within the camp. Unfortunately, Vrba’s claims that a mass gassing of prisoners was to occur within two days only drove Hirsch to commit suicide. It also comes out in the interviews that the Czech internees in the camp were unmoved by Vrba’s gassing stories, spotting these as they did for wild prevarications.

Rudolf Vrba

Smiling liar Rudolf Vrba

Explaining his decision to escape rather than go forward with a revolt, Vrba says that his intention was to spread abroad rumors of mass exterminations at Auschwitz: “I thought zat if zis will be made known by any means wizin Europe and especially wizin Hungary, from where a million Jews were supposed to be transported to Auschwitz immediately [. . .] zat zis might stir up ze resistance outside and bring help from outside directly to Auschwitz.”

Filip Muller

Sonderkommando (i.e., Jewish Nazi lackey) Filip Muller

Another of Lanzmann’s seemingly endless procession of talkative tellers of tales of heroic “Holocaust” survival is Filip Muller, who claims to have worked as a sonderkommando, forced by the SS to assist in the gas chamber exterminations. Before proceeding to unleash his terrors, Muller makes a dramatic show of being too emotionally discombobulated to continue with his story (a pretentious objection repeated by more than one of Shoah‘s interviewees – always valiantly overcome for the sake of history and remembrance!), but then promptly sets about rambling again and rattling off a self-aggrandizing anecdote.

Muller, claiming to have witnessed one brutalization too many at the entrance to the gas chamber at Auschwitz, says that he resolved to die and to join in the chamber the Czechs he was supposed to be gassing. The Czech women, however, objected and told him, “Your death won’t give us back our lives. [. . .] You must get out of here alive, you must bear witness to our suffering, and to the injustice done to us.” For this reason – to warn and enlighten posterity – and for this reason alone did Muller refuse to die along with those women, he says. So, if this yarn-spinner is to be given credence, it would seem that some of the Nazis’ victims had the leisure of making melodramatic speeches at the gates of Hell itself and that others, furthermore, actually had the privilege of deciding for themselves whether or not they would be exterminated.

Jan Karski“They didn’t look like human beings,” Polish courier Jan Karski says of the Jews whose indignities he witnessed in the Warsaw ghetto.

Also pulling the I’m-too-overcome-with-horror-to-continue shtick, but somehow mustering the fortitude to persevere, is old Jan Karski, who during the war acted as a secret courier moving between the Polish underground and the government in exile. Karski conjures from the hideous mire of his memory a 1942 meeting he had with two Jewish leaders, a communist Bundist and a Zionist, respectively, who sought his assistance in lobbying the Allied governments for arms and for special strategies and actions to liberate the Jews in the concentration camps. “They were whispering. They were hissing. It was a nightmare for me,” Karski recalls of the meeting.

Among these Jewish provocateurs’ uncompromising demands, recounts Karski, were the following: “Let dem [the Allies] make offeeshal declaration, again, offeeshal, public declaration, dat if de German nation does not offer evidence of trying to change de policy of their government, German nation will have to be held responsible for de crimes their government is committing. And now, if der are not such an evidence, to announce publicly, offeeshally, certain objects [i.e., civilian targets] will be bombed, destroyed, as a retaliation for what de German government is doing against de Jews. Dat bombing which will take place is not a part of de military strategy. It deals only with the de Jewish problem.”

Warsaw ghetto“Stench, stench, dirt, stench . . .” Karski recalls of the Warsaw ghetto.

Karski was instructed to visit as many politicians, influential Jews, and leading intellectuals as he could and spook them with the incipient legend of the Final Solution. And so as to instill in Karski a personal understanding and appreciation (sense memories, a Method actor would say) of the squalor of the Warsaw Jews’ situation, he was secretly taken on two private tours of their ghetto. “It wasn’t humanity,” he says in an awkward attempt at pathos in describing the scene he witnessed. “German officers were dere,” and on the streets were the naked bodies of people whose relatives were too cheap to pay the tax for their burial. Other horrors included the sight of peddlers desperately selling cookies and onions and flat-chested Jewesses publicly breastfeeding “babies with some crazy eyes.”

Adam CzerniakowDiarist Adam Czerniakow: the face of nerd revenge deferred

Elsewhere in Shoah the camera goes for a pornographically lurid stagger through a Warsaw cemetery, arriving at the tombstone of Adam Czerniakow, a Jewish community leader whose diary provides a valuable record of the day-to-day happenings in the ghetto. Slack-jowled, oily-nosed Raul Hilberg, editor of the English edition of the diary, puts in another appearance in order to plug the book and to attempt to extrapolate from its contents – its “anxiety”, “rumors”, “premonitions”, and anecdotes about drunken hearse drivers – a kind of preternatural foreknowledge on Czerniakow’s part of the hellish ovens awaiting his people. Ironically, Hilberg, in the midst of painting one of his tableaux of agony, admits that Czerniakow “hasn’t any criticism of the Germans themselves” or how they administered the ghetto – but this, no doubt, is only an implicit indictment of the most ingenious subtlety!

Raul Hilberg

Raul Hilberg assumes the ironic position

One of Shoah‘s most appalling sequences has the sullen Lanzmann badgering a friendly-faced old gentleman named Franz Grassler (sounds a little too suspiciously like “Gasser”, no?), who as Deputy of the Nazi Commissioner of the Warsaw ghetto played a role in trying to keep the residents in good health and free of typhus through hygienic measures. The idea, Grassler explains, was to maintain the Warsaw Jews as a workforce, not to kill them. “Ja,” Lanzmann answers sarcastically, suggesting throughout the interview that Grassler is trying to cover up his complicity in the Final Solution.  Confronting Grassler with Czerniakow’s diary, reading aloud an innocuous passage, and feigning to yank from it some smoking gun like a rabbit from a magician’s hat, Lanzmann finally stabs Grassler with this devastating and unanswerable charge: “You were part of the vast German power structure.” So shut up and feel guilty, you old archfiend!

Franz Grassler

Lanzmann hatchet victim Franz Grassler

Meandering and non-chronological to the end, Shoah concludes with the reminiscences of an Israeli veteran of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising. “If you could lick my heart, it would poison you,” this boring man deadpans, blaming the Germans for his alcoholism. This could have been the tag line for Shoah itself: “Lick the poison heart of the Jews! Sadomasochistically savor the holy blood of Shoah – if you dare!” Either that or “Writhe in penitent boredom, you gentiles!” In the final analysis, however, this reviewer arrives at the judgment that this oldie-but-goodie would probably be most appropriate to describe Lanzmann’s 9.5-hour opus:

Shoah“It’s a gas!” – Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler

As of writing, your humble reviewer has waded his way through discs one and two of the Criterion Collection’s 6-disc DVD release of Claude Lanzmann’s 9.5-hour Shoah (1985), which purports to tell the true story of the “Holocaust” of six million Jews through the testimonies of survivors, eyewitnesses, and participants, all adding up to a “fiction of the real”, as Lanzmann himself put it.

Claude Lanzmann 2Lanzmann scheming

Lanzmann, a French Zionist, communist, and personal messenger for Mao Zedong who interviewed movie stars for French magazines in the 60s, had during the 50s been, with “with [mentor Jean-Paul] Sartre’s blessing – Beauvoir’s lover, ‘the only man with whom [feminist lowlife] Simone de Beauvoir lived a quasi-marital existence’.” According to Beauvoir in her memoir, Lanzmann’s “rancour with respect to the goys never went away.” Shoah, if nothing else, is certainly evidence of that. Beauvoir also says that the wayward, paranoid, and tantrum-prone Lanzmann would sometimes wake from nightmares screaming “You’re all Kapos!”

Claude LanzmannLanzmann in uniform

Shoah plays like this man’s smirking, smoldering, self-absorbed, joyous, and seemingly interminable slow-motion nightmare. To watch it is to experience intermittent boredom and fascination, as sluggishly panning shots of fields and roads intermingle with alternately colorful or mundane interviews.

SrebnikSimon Srebnik looking forlorn for the camera

The first pitiful Jew viewers are offered for adoration is shifty-eyed Simon Srebnik, who claims to have seen fire shooting from death camp chimneys into the sky. “I dreamed, too, that if I survived, I’d be the only one left in the whole world,” Srebnik (obviously enjoying the attention) remembers fantasizing.

Then there is the idiotically grinning Michael Podchlebnik, whose clear giddiness at being filmed for a movie prompts Lanzmann to ask why he is smiling. Fortunately for the sake of Shoah‘s credibility, Podchlebnik has found his motivation for the next segment in which he is featured and manages to work himself up into a pretty good cry. Other survivors follow, none of them particularly compelling. One claims to have seen a wall of rainbow-colored flame erupt on the occasion of the first mass incineration. Another says water gushed up from a pit to seize the bodies dumped into it.

PodchlebnikMichael Podchlebnik, movie star

The best parts of Shoah are Lanzmann’s interviews with common Poles who lived in the vicinity of railways, camps, and “gas van” operations. What is so refreshing about these people, who come across as lovable, Slavic rednecks, is their earthiness, their unstudied eccentricity, and the obvious fact that most neglect to take the “Holocaust” very seriously.

Poles

Polish “Holocaust” witnesses – possibly inebriated

“Above all, they were dishonest,” one Pole reports of his old Jewish neighbors. Laughing women recall that their men enjoyed chasing the beautiful, idle Jewesses, but another interviewee opines that the Jews were unattractive. Lanzmann, meanwhile, constantly prods them, trying to get anybody and everybody to admit that the Polish people do not really lament the extermination of the Jews and in fact benefited from it because they were then able to move into the houses of the deceased and so up the social ladder.

PoleJews smelled bad, says this Pole

Lanzmann’s anti-Christian agenda becomes overt in the portion of Shoah comprising disc two of the Criterion release. He arranges, for instance, to interrogate a gaggle of Chelmno Poles in front of a church in which Jews were once corralled, but chooses the day of a Catholic festival for his interview, so that reminiscences of Jewish internment and theft of valuables are juxtaposed and interrupted by a devout procession with icons.

HilbergRaul Hilberg doing his Raul Hilberg impression

Anti-gentile historian Raul Hilberg, author of The Destruction of the European Jews, is also interviewed and voices his view that the “Holocaust” is only the culmination of a festering anti-Semitism present in Europe and Christendom for a thousand years or more. It was “a logical progression” of Christianity toward “closure” of the Jewish question, Hilberg explains.

Hilberg, to his credit, acknowledges that no paper trail exists for a “Final Solution” as that term is generally interpreted by mainstream (i.e., corporate, Zionist-subsidized) historians and that “one cannot find a specific document, a specific plan, outline, or blueprint which states, now the Jews will be killed.” He goes on, “Everything is left to inference from general words. General wording [. . .] leaves something to the bureaucrat that he must infer.” Orders-by-inference would seem to be a novel, unorthodox, and unreliable protocol for an operation calling for military discipline, but Nazis, Hilberg gives the viewer to understand, work in mysterious ways.

Shoah coverEpic dullness in high-def

Lanzmann’s Shoah is the ultimate slog, with Pauline Kael rightly describing the documentary as one “long moan” in her assessment. Rewarding as time spent among the affable Polish villagers can be, much of the remainder (at least, based on this reviewer’s experience of the first two discs) is tedium defined. Typical of Lanzmann’s style are long panning shots over empty expanses, desolate fields and forests, ratty houses, lonely roads, snowdrifts, etc. One shot pointlessly follows a van on a road for about a minute, followed by a shot of the van boringly parking, after which the camera slowly zooms in on the stationary van – revealed to be the director’s high-tech detection Shoahmobile!

One wonders at times if the sinister intention of all this monotony is not to lull the unsuspecting viewer into a dulled, semi-conscious state of susceptibility to the Zionist propaganda. Only the contents of the next four (ugh) discs will tell.

[Read this reviewer’s further reflections on Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah here.]

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