Tuesday, 26 January 2010


'I'm turning everything full cycle. I want to explode cinema to such an extent that future generations will believe the medium to be a myth; Billy Wilder will seem like Bigfoot, and the Gish sisters a pair of gorgeous Loch Ness monsters, imagined only.' Orson Welles, 1946.

.. and so, finally, we get to Welles, The Great Orsini, the man whose personality and presence almost rubs itself out. Citizen Kane sits near the summit of every list, but Welles' subsequent work hides in its shadow. Much of his real-life substance has the shimmer of the fake about it: When critics dubbed his adaptation of Don Quixote a failure that would never make it to the screen, he responded by borrowing their cheeky name for it: Non Quixote (1947) was a chewed-up, spat out version of the myth, with Welles as both the titular hero and a modern filmmaker making a film about him. And thus a bipolar career opened up. For every impeccable Shakespeare adaptation there was to be shadowed web of cheaply made chunterers: His problems with studios, critics and his own ego led him to conceive a series of films under the title The Foul Papers that would be a spewing of interlinked ideas, filmed quickly so as to not suffer the overburdening of money and expectation, and rarely widely released. They were begun, like so many great things (including the Fictional Film Club itself), with the playful liberation of a joke, but grew into something more steadfast. And funnier.

The rabble of flicks in this broad series seem to fight among themselves, elbowing their way to the door. Heir Removal (1952), a tough runt, holds attention through the sheer volume of its dizzy anti-Roylist satire. Cruel Aprils (1949) is a doomed drunk, an elliptical inversion of Eliot's The Waste Land. Bellerophon (1944) was, Welles suggested, created when he went back in time to plant seeds that would grow into his great epic. Indeed, unknown actor Pearl Stringer was cast in that movie as Bellerophon's unlover Anteia, and she went on to star in many Welles films. Weirdly, no-one remembered her being in the earlier movie until she starred in the latter, her history growing before the world's eyes. Arch-genius invents time-travel, no-one notices. Just as Welles 'started at the top and worked his way down' as he had it, he somehow managed to work backwards from the future. Bellerophon skulks in the corner of the house, undiscovered.

(The Foul Papers series is not to be confused with Welles' other eternally unfinished run of overlapping stories, titled NOTES, that he claimed 'pull together every arc of myth, philosophy and truth into a rainbow of religious noise'.1)

Remain Cordial To The Stick Incest (1962) is a crescendo, of sorts. It is as if the filmmaker took everything that was left and threw it in the pot. Welles took kernels from all of his previous efforts, and wrapped them up in a construct half-inched from Flann O'Brien's modernist nonsense novel At Swim Two Birds. Various characters from Welles' films litter the scenes, confused and desperate to escape; they plot to kill their creator, the author Shag Lipton (Welles himself). Lipton, for his part, discovers a way in which he can in literature and literally, give birth to fully-formed adults. He explains, '...the benefits are obvious. No turgid backstory is required, no slow-moving exposition of tedious childhoods. Instead, we have sons who can be breadwinners from the womb, or daughters who are sprung out as attractive marriage propositions, or further, we can lay pensioners onto the operating table who are old and crippled enough to claim compensations from the state: parenthood is both a joy and an immediate economic advantage'.

Lipton's wife Sara (Jean Simmons) gives birth to Flashey (William Holden), a forty year-old gambler, shagger and boozer who immediately causes problems in the household with his advances towards his own mother. Lipton insists on a bed in a separate room rather than a crib in the main room, causing distress in proud mother Sara. Society begins to shun the Liptons at parties. Their son, older than they, is a public disaster, smashing glass and hearts unevenly all over the community of ex-pat American and British wives in Madrid.
Lipton assaults them from his window, describing them as '... bona-fide Marthas, lipsticked frigidaires and dried-out harpies of spastic alacrity, tense victims of a benign sisterhood, owned by thick vikings of the market, who climb over one another's gowns, splitting seams to reach an imaginary head table.'

... and meanwhile, the walking carcasses of Lipton/Welles' past creations fill the house, vengeful and waiting for the moment the creator averts his eye. He does. They put an ice-pick through his skull and escape to another film entirely, Decadent Midwife (1965) where they spawn and split up, leaving the ludic environs of philosophical parlour amusements for a life, one assumes, off- celluloid.

Harry Lime, Charles Foster Kane, Hank Quinlan and Macbeth bubble in a pool of blood, pasts both celebrated and shed. Welles implodes. 'There are no more waters in these Welles' cries Hollywood Reporter, but the big man turns his back.

Remain Cordial To The Stick Incest Directed by Orson Welles Produced by Orson Welles Written by Orson Welles, the cast Starring Orson Welles, Jean Simmons, William Holden, Rosebud Productions/United Artists Release Date US: Oct 1962 Tagline 'Gotta Get Outta This Movie!'

1. I mentioned NOTES in a previous entry regarding Walter Friend's Dijonnaise in FFC, January 2009.

Monday, 11 January 2010

MAN, DEAD AT 42 (Alfred Sitzl, Hans Mottel, 1972)

'It is impossible that I will die. Impossible. Without me, this world will cease to exist.' Alfred Sitzl

Set adrift in a technicolor effluenza, the extraordinary career of Alfred Sitzl might been worthy of many biopics even without this implausible final act. Concerned with the afterlife, he aborted his final film Legacy (later unreleased unfinished in 1975) in which he interviewed himself about how he felt he would be remembered, to arrange this. With Man, Dead At 42, he all but set-up his own obituary. In his will he left a script, including complex instructions for the staging, lighting and filming of his own funeral. His partner Hans Mottel executed his late lover's wishes, completing the final acts of Sitzl's 'final masterpiece'.

Sitzl's early works, the fierce, avant-jazz Seizmic Caricatures (1944) and the balmy horror The Eunuch With Electric Forearms (1947) were made in America, where he spent the last three-quarters of his life, thirty-one years and six months exactly. He is most famous, perhaps, for an interview on the late night cable show It's A Kerrazy Midnite Alright! during which he responded to a mock assault by ventriloquist John Jonjon and his puppet Cyrus by pulling a gun and threatening to 'shoot your pee-pee, Mr John'. This spawned a cult T-shirt with an image of Sitzl and these words sloganned beneath; in the late sixties, this became an iconic counter-cultural garment, despite most not being familiar with the work of Sitzl.

In 1970, Sitzl was diagnosed with terminal life and was given just months to live. He had just received rave reviews for his subversive cabaret tributes to certain golden dames of Hollywood ...And We Would Let Joan Bennett Excrete Freely (1968), Invictus Pickford (1969), Joan Crawfish (1969) and Joan Fontaine, Sexy Caller (1969) and was seemingly on a career high. Death could have been an interruption. But no matter: Sitzl sensed an opportunity. Hans Mottel was instructed to film Sitzl during his last few months of his life. 'He told me not to scrimp on the death' said Mottel, in his own documentary about the experience Late Lover (1981). 'I had misgivings of course. But Al was convinced that watching a man slowly die, and for that man to be the director of the film, was the most extreme aspect cinema could approach. None of the gigglers in Tinseltown could beat this... It was his final wish. To have the footage edited together in a precise way. And for the funeral to be a particular way. Lights here. Camera here. Flowers there. Close-up of his wife there. For five seconds. She'd better be sobbing.'

Sobbing she was. Indeed the whole exercise can be seen as a series of trapdoors and stunt mirrors to tease Sitzl's ex-wife Ronnie Barbeaux. In one scene we see Mottel watch with great difficulty as Barbeaux reads aloud from Sitzl's diary, as per his final instructions. The camera moves gently from face to face as Barbeaux discovers for the first time the extent of Sitzl's homosexual encounters before, during and after their marriage, culminating in the revelations that Mottel has been left the greater portion of Sitzl's modest estate. Barbeaux simmers, Mottel clings to the camera for dear life.

A grand feast was executed as per Sitzl's wishes, and the elaborate food display, including whisky fountains, a maple syrup luge and a forest of broccoli, are filmed lovingly. This scene in particular is famous for being the source for the nomenclature of a grubby sub-genre of cinema,
'torture porn' being a misheard translation and a comical echo of the French 'tours de pain' which Barbeaux can be heard to exclaim repeatedly at the funeral 'Tours de pain! Tours du pain! Qu'imbecile veut des tours de pain a leurs funerailles?'1. Mottel's camera lingers on the offending baguette skyscrapers, returning to Barbeaux as his directions from the grave insist he must. The sight of the dead man's ex-wife suffering inelegantly at the deceased's cosmic practical jokes and his tightly planned posthumous humour is certainly a pre-echo of the late-Capitalist bourgois-sadism of Saw (James Wan, 2004).
Sitzl died. But somehow, he lives on as a gremlin in the ink, a smudged graffito on our wall. This obnoxious double Vs at the shore of the Styx, this delicious gob in the direction of his future host (and no less, to those left behind), somehow stands as a gesture of great humanity at it's most defiant, petty and brave.

Man, Dead at 42 Directed by Alfred Sitzl, Hans Mottel, Produced by Hans Mottel, Victor Grue, Written by Alfred Sitzl Tarakan Pictures Release Date Fra: June 1972, UK/US: Jan 1973 Tagline: 'Sitzl Is Dead! Long Live Sitzl!'

1. 'Towers of bread! Towers of bread! What kind of fool wants towers of bread at their funeral?

Monday, 4 January 2010

ROCK'N'ROLL PARTS 1,2&3 (Eli Reiner, Dancla Flakier, Dominick Stenz, Gorse Badier, Calgary Kurt, Phil Spector, Todd Sameth, 1978, 1987, 2006)

'Chekhov said you put a gun in act one, it goes off in the end. Well I am the gun, and I've been going off since I was born' Phil Spector

Myth explodes. Fact expires. Familiar stepping stones are used or ignored. Pacino as Spector delivers a eulogy at Lenny Bruce's funeral; Spector as Spector delivers the same speech, word for word, at Jack Nitzsche's funeral. Diabetic stammering is blended into a one-chord gauze. Spector as Spector hosts late night birthday parties every Sunday at Jack's Bowl in suburban Pasadena. Sonics bleed together. Laurence Fishburne as Ike Turner didn't get as far as he did without knowing his way around a gun. We succeed, we fail, we make sure we're paid.

Elliot Gould as Leonard Cohen is drunkenly amused, always.

The World slights him at every turn; he is wronged, he doesn't need to explain himself, he says, but he does. Spector as Spector imagines Cruise as Spector delivers a didactic sermon on a Christmas record; Spector as Spector repeats it, word for word, at the funeral of Rudolf Nureyev. Pacino as Spector riffs and cribs and paraphrases from it all, half-cut like Lenny Bruce, on a recording for the soundtrack for Rudolf Nuryev's futuristic folly Beautiful Disco (1980). Spector as Spector imagines Cruise as Spector pitching a film to Peter Coyote as Robert Evans: Louis Cypher: Guitar Legend. No dice.

Spector as Spector imagines Cruise as Spector arguing with a gang in a late night diner. Pacino as Spector bends and drills one hundred musicians and thirty thousand dollars into the million-weight edifice You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling. The scene starts with soggy bum notes and inane repetition, running the gamut of self-doubt as Wallace Shawn as Don Kirchner threatens to pull the plug on genius. Tepid applause; Spector as Spector lectures the screen, dismantles the camera, eats the crowd.

Julian Lennon invokes his Dad in name only. Spector as Spector imagines Cruise as Spector strangling Lennon in London, drunkenly. Still, Cruise doesn't answer the phone, has no interest in playing Phil. Spector as Spector waves a handgun at the screen, threateningly.

Spector as Spector appears to explain: His life, originally, was to be split in three, a triptych of success-against-the-odds, parts one, two and three; but life refused to bow to a triumphant narrative. Four directors helmed the first part, three worked on the second. The third was completed without Spector, as he awaited trial in prison.

But he can't stop interfering. Pacino left the set of Part One, nostrils flaring like the hungry barrels of the shotgun Spector had on set; no matter, Part Two repeats many of the scenes of Part One, mythologising the already mythologised, with Spector as Spector imagining Cruise as Spector impersonating Pacino as Spector delivering bad jokes in the studio, the magic that punctuates the magic. Until inevitably, Spector as Spector appears, explaining, untangling, deciphering; but really, he mystifies even more, sabotaging the story of his life as surely as he sabotaged his life.

And so it goes: Part Three is just a remake of parts one and two, but the gun goes off, fatally. The series of directors, anonymous, grows longer. Scorcese wouldn't do it, and appears as himself to say as much. And so three films, all released at separate times, all blur together, because each part of Spector's life is the same story, ad infinitum.

Cruise's phone keeps ringing, unanswered.

The strings swell; Spector's own score is an amalgam of his best bits, Tina Turner shakes in nude silhouette, Darlene Love shimmers, Ronnie Spector disappears from view. Spector as Spector spends weeks trying to get a jukebox into an Oakland McDonald's. Nobody recognises him at any turn. Time drifts; the story has an explosive beginning, hit after hit after hit, before drifting through the decades, fuelled by tragicomic interludes. Spector as Spector talks to the camera, sometime in the early 21st Century:

'Sometimes, I feel like a story with no end. There's got to be one last shot, one last explosion, before this little Jewish firework goes out.'


Rock'n'Roll Parts 1,2 & 3 Directed by Eli Reiner, Dancla Flakier, Dominick Stenz, Gorse Badier, Calgary Kurt, Phil Spector, Todd Sameth Starring Al Pacino, Phil Spector, Elliot Gould, Larry Fishburne, Tina Turner, Wallace Shawn, Sheila Ferguson, Scott Glenn, Julian Lennon Produced by Phil Spector, Robert Evans, Todd Sameth, David Geffen Written by Phil Spector, Mick Brown UA/Warner Bros/Fox Release Date US: Nov 1978, Dec 1987, Feb 2006 Tagline: 'He's A Rebel'

Friday, 1 January 2010

ROOMS (Svenoslav Kartosky, 1967)

'Kartosky is a cartographer of fear, but be finds the absurdity of existence both compelling and comforting' Christian Metz

The weather chased her here, the wind at the wings of the plane, the sea blocking easy paths, the lightning that took down trees in her way, forcing her to turn left then right.

There is a large out-of-town supermarket. The entrance, through double-doors, is at the right hand-side of the front edge of the building. Buffeted by the wind, she decides to take shelter inside. The first room is small and dark. The impression is felt that the building is not too deep, but instead spreads away to the left. The visitor expects, of course, a cavernous space filled with strip lighting, but this option is not offered. Instead, there seems to be a series of small rooms connected to one another. When making her way through the first few series of rooms, the visitor is reminded sometimes of a fallow old teacher from primary school, or fleetingly remembers a game of dominoes with a dead relative. This is not unusual of course, for any visitor to any place will find themselves bedevilled by a waking thought of someone or some song for no reason that offers itself, but somehow the heavy flavours of the half-memories here are strong.

She feels a sense of huge spaces beyond her view. She feels lost, completely displaced. This configuration is illogical. But somehow she is comforted, in a way that makes little sense. It is as if up until this point she had some kind of thesis to defend, but now she is liberated from the chore. She tilts drunkenly. A light seems to flicker somewhere, but she doesn't see it so much as feel it.

She can hear the wind, far away, but it cannot reach her now. When did she leave the plane?

The visitor ducks behind a heavy curtain, sidesteps a pile of chairs and clims a set of three stairs. Then a shred of daylight, a coldness, stone floors. To her right are two identical cubicles, that remind her of the bathroom at her parents' grocery shop from when she was a child. She hasn't seen it for years, but remembers sitting on the cold seat and reading every comic in the shop. And here it is, not only doubled from her memory, but twinned again in front of her eyes, gloomy and cool.

And from here it is not too much of a step for her to begin recognizing other rooms- one ordinary door opens into an exact replica of her grandfather's shed, and the smell of honeyed wood brings involuntary tears to her face. The next room is vaguer, dimmer, and it is a while before she places it as a college friend's bedroom, pink, white and empty. She begins to rush through the rooms, desperate for certain places from her past, certain places that lack importance to everybody else except herself, were only significant enough to serve as obscured backdrops in family photos at Christmases and birthdays, and never appearing as the focus themselves. These vessels, stuck together in arbitrary fashion, seemed to make up a labyrinth of her past, minus people and context.

...and then for a second, the voice of her father, clear as a strong bell, rises into her eardrum. Lena, The Awful Truth is on TV. Irene Dunne. Cary Grant. Leo McCarey. Nineteen-Thirty-Seven. Lena! It's a good one, Lena.

She pushes through a stickered door and into her own bedroom, the one she had between the ages of six and sixteen. A man is sitting on the bed. He is dressed in a brown robe and has a kind, pink face.

Why Are You in my room?
Why are you in your room? Perhaps this is the real question.
Where Are We?
Sit down. There's something I need to tell you.
Who are you?
Don't you recognise me? I'm your brother. I'm here to tell you something. All the rooms you see here are rooms you have visited before during your life. They are here to provide a familiarity to the background. This is so that when you faint from news of your death, you do so in the apparent comfort of memories.
What are you talking about?
The configuration of all of these rooms together is absurd I know. This makes everything seem more like a dream. We find that if you think death is something like a confusing nightmare, then this helps you accept the news.
I'm dead?
Just think of it as a new year. A new decade, even. Walk boldly.

Rooms Directed by Svenoslav Kartosky Written by Svenoslav Kartosky, Mikel Kartosky Produced by Victor Garda Starring Joelie Michoz, Guus Speck Release Date: UK/US: N/A Cze/Fra: July 1967 32mins Tagline:Which ten-thousand rooms are you?