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In weiter Ferne, so nah! (1993)
Upon a second viewing: divine and human.
Both this and 'Until the End of the World' have a slightly maligned reputation- mainly because they are not 'Paris, Texas' or 'Wings of Desire'. 'Until...' is brilliant- though the Six hour 'Trilogy' version is said to make more sense...'Faraway' didn't appear in many cinemas here- its existence on a par with Cassiel and Rapheala in relation to the humans...This film seems to have been overlooked- which is strange considering the transcedental beauty within and the sublime U2 song...
'Wings of Desire' is almost a scared text in the film world- I could not put it out of my mind when I watched this film- and so had a low esteem of 'Faraway so Close!'. A few years later and I've definitely over-watched 'Wings of Desire'. And also, that film ends with 'To Be Continued...'
'Faraway...' is possibly more sublime than 'Wings...'; Nastassia Kinski (daughter of a German icon and twat, Klaus Kinski) is perfect as Raphaella. Even greater than her role in 'Paris, Texas'. The cameos are good- the return of Peter Falk, Mikhail Gorbachev thinking about love in poetry rather than the "blood & steel" of revolution and Lou Reed- who appears three times: reinterpreting his song 'Berlin' for "after the wall", playing 'Why Can't I Be Good?' in a concert scene not as great as the one Nick Cave did in 'Wings of Desire' and giving Cassiel/Karl some money when he has fallen to earth as a human. Willem Defoe is as dependeable and beaugly as ever (his name 'time itself'). Bruno Ganz and Solveig Dommartin reprise their roles as Dammiel and Marion and now have a daughter- who along with Hanna's daughter represent the recurrent child theme (prevalent in 'Paris, Texas', 'Alice in the Cities', 'The Lisbon Story', 'Until the End of the World'). Some of the shots of Berlin (and particularly Raphaella) have a quality close to a Cocteau Twins record or a Rilke poem ("we are falling fast"?). Parts of the film remind me of Kryztof Kieslowski- the black economy after the end of communism and themes of new capitalism are present in 'Three Colours: Red' (and the theme of World War II and the past recalls one of the 'Dekalog's). Cassiel sees a newspaper floating in the river, stating the death of Willy Brandt- who was West German chancellor from 1969-1976: the peak period of New German Cinema. This has as much resonance as Fassbinder's use of the photos of post-war chancellors at the end of 'The Marriage of Maria Braun'. Proof that Wenders thinks of the past and isn't completely post-German...The film does feel European- the steam boat surely a reference to Jean Vigo's 'L'atalante'? Though the fusion of nationalties is as ever, international- to the point of solely human (the myriad of languages: English, German, French compound this). The music is particularly fine- not that I've been able to locate a soundtrack album- unlike the great soundtrack's for 'The Million Dollar Hotel' & 'Until the End of the World'! If Cassiel as an angel represented East-Germany and as a human represents the new unified Germany- Wenders portrays the perversion of freedom by a consumerist lifestyle and a perverted capitalism prevalent in exploitative practices justified by the 'free market'. The reduction of meaning and significance to money is seen in the gangsters or the taxi driver who no sense of the past (when Peter Falk wants to visit a part of East Berlin: very droll & very 'Columbo'). The film ends with the Barry Adamson/Nick Cave song 'Cassiel's Song'- which is as great as their later collaboration 'The Sweetest Embrace' (and they were both present on 'From Her to Eternity' used in 'Wings of Desire'). The characters are still on a journey, the constant "road" of Wenders' films- locating the home that you can never go home to again (to paraphrase Thomas Wolfe). Would be nice if we got a third film focusing on Raphaella- but that would only be an excuse to roll around the floor in ecstasy at the sight of the divine Ms Kinski!!...'Faraway So Close!' is one of Wenders's great films of the 1990's- along with 'The Beuna Vista Social Club', 'The Lisbon Story' and 'Until the End of the World' (I was a bit non-plussed by 'The End of Violence' & 'The Million Dollar Hotel'- though I might change my mind next time I see them!; 'Beyond the Clouds' is mostly not very good- though I'm not sure how much Wenders is present after reading 'My Time with Antonioni': the nudity was very 'dirty old man'- which is great if you're making soft-porn in the Paul Verhoeven mode and not so great if you made 'L'aventura' and 'Blow Up'). Forget 'Wings of Desire' and watch this film on its own merits; then again, I thought 'City of Angels' was almost interesting as Hollywood adaptations go- so what do I know?
Jesus' Son (1999)
A neglected classic.
This film was buried here- apart from the acclaim in 'Uncut' magazine; I didn't manage to see this 'til this year. My initial viewing was a little underwhelmed- being a fan of Johnson's book I had worked this up to impossible heights in my mind. However, on a second viewing I enjoyed the film more- the nouvelle-vague via Scorsese editing & structure seemed much better 2nd time around.
The film is closest to 'Drugstore Cowboy'- though parts such as the split-screen or the digital editing as F***head takes pills in the Emergency Room could have come from 'Requiem for a Dream'. The source stories have been extended and made more cohesive- as with the adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr's 'Last Exit to Brooklyn' by Uli Edel.
The film is wonderfully shot- a great scene is the drive-in/cemetery that plays 'Carnival of Souls' (though I thought I saw Samantha Morton caught in an almost Anton 'Depeche Mode' Corbijin style!); imagine 'Zabriskie Point' without the metaphysical masturbation...
The acting is uniformly great- Crudup & Morton are fantastic leads, while Denis Leary, Greg Germann, Holly Hunter are among the excellent supports. The short Dennis Hopper shaving scene is one of the greatest pieces of cinema I have seen in recent years; while Jack Black almost steals the film with his amusing "listen to my shoes". And Denis Johnson is great as hunting knife in eye guy. Oh and Will Patton pops up as 'John Smith'- still he was in 'The Postman', so not quite yet forgiven.
The soundtrack (chosen by Johnson) is great- Neil Young's 'Cowgirl in the Sand', Wilco's 'Airline to Heaven' & 'She's a Jar', 'Hang on Sloopy' and the great score. The highlight is Morton's gyrating dance to 'Oh Sweet Pea'- almost as great as that dance scene ripped off for 'Pulp Fiction' from Godard's 'Bande a Part'.Only quibble is- where was 'Heroin' by The Velvet Underground?
'Jesus' Son' is a touching, funny, and tender film that deserves to find an audience. There are too many great moments here- Hunter's arm waving in the air, Beverly Home, the Amish, the laundry scene, the ER scene, the rabbits roadtrip etc. Terribly depressing that mediocrity like 'Human Traffic' & 'Trainspotting' finds an audience here- but a film like this isn't allowed to (except at a few arthouse cinemas). Pity- and Alison MacLean's debut 'Crush' is also excellent; here's to possible adaptations of Denis Johnson's 'Already Dead' & 'The Name of the World'- by David Lynch and Paul Schrader respectively (hopefully)...Check out Johnson's books- as this film's use of voiceover stems right from them.
This film creeps up on you- upon seeing it at the cinema I said "that could have been one of the best films I've ever seen". Though I left it a few years before seeing again- now I think it's a classic and one of my fave films. Not that Jarmusch has ever made a terrible film ('Night on Earth' & 'The Year of the Horse' were a bit so-so)- but this could be better than 'Stranger Than Paradise', 'Down By Law', 'Mystery Tarin' & 'Dead Man' (all classics).
The film does have slow moments- the ADD-afflicted nature of audiences these days may be the reason people found this 'boring'...The film's that this closest resembles are 'Leon' (though that was slightly OTT), Boorman's 'Point Blank' (the unstoppable hitman out for revenge)and Kitano's 'Sonatine' (the hitman waiting for that inevitable death). There are also aspects close to Schrader's 'Mishima' (the Samurai code), Kurosawa's 'Stray Dog' (and a nod to the source book of 'Rashomon'), the boat on a roof is not unlike the ship in a tree in Herzog's 'Aguire,Wrath of God'- though the major influence (referenced in the end credits) is Jean-Pierre Melville's 'Le Samourai'. I also think the influence of early Godard is present (A Bout de Souffle, Pierret Le Fou, Bande a Part and Alphaville)- especially in the deconstruction of convention or the end shoot out like a Western...Nice cameo from Gary Farmer, reprising his Native-American role from 'Dead Man', complete with his killer line @stupid f***ing white man"- though the theme of death and transcendence is also continued from Jarmusch's great Western. The RZA's score is excellent, as effective as Neil Young's in 'Dead Man'- and along with the Wu-Tang work on 'Black & White' their most satisfying material this side of ODB's 'Nigga Please!'. The original of 'Armigideon Time' is wonderful to hear...
The camerawork by Robby Muller (24 Hour Party People,Until the End of the World) is great- the exposed film that leaves traces on-screen, the tunnel scene extending on the city imagery of 'Blade Runner' or the constant dissolves and cuts that show the same shot as if it were many (this seems to stem from the walk Travis Bickle does near the start of 'Taxi Driver', where he's just got off work and takes a drink from a brown paper bag).
*SPOILERS* There is much humour- the best friend French ice cream salesman (Roger from ER) gives us the best subtitle gags since 'Annie Hall', while the shooting of Louie in the same arm is great. Ditto the Public Enemy loving Mafioso or the old man mugged while shopping. Plus the scenes between the little girl and the ice cream salesman and Ghost Dog are very touching.
'Ghost Dog-The Way of the Samurai' is a great film- not a dumb movie but a film; perhaps people who like films are becoming an arachaic tardition and everything is changing to suit the idiotic ('Attack of the Clones' or the existence of 'Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo' or 'Coyote Ugly' prove this). This is one for film lovers- 10/10.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997)
Once more with feeling...
'Buffy...',along with 'The Sopranos' & 'The West Wing' is the best programme on TV. What started out as fluffy indulgence has become obligatory viewing- with episodes that had evil-Angel/Buffy replaying a doomed love affair of a schoolteacher & pupil who killed her as if a Nietzschean-script (see 'The Gay Science')& the death of Joy episode being closer to the work of Kryzsztof Kieslowski than 'Dawson's Creek'...Over the seasons the dialogue has become killer, as have the regulars (Anthony Head, Alyson Hannigan,James Marsters,Nicholas Brendon and,of course,Sarah Michelle Gellar)- though Amber Benson & Emma Caulfield are the greatest assets of the show. The daring writing of Joss Whedon- killing off the lead character in 'The Gift' shows that this programme can go anywhere. The restrictions of TV compared to film can be vast- then again, the scope of TV and index of possibilities is vast.
The sixth-season episode,'Once More With Feeling', I think is one of the best programmes I've ever seen. As good as any film- though we do have back-story. And, unlike 'Moulin Rouge!'it is actually a musical- in the sense of having original songs and dancing that advance the narrative. I s'pose as a whole it was somewhere between 'Joseph & His Technicolour Dreamcoat' (which I saw Anthony Stuart Head in at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham in the late 70's!) and Dennis Potter's 'The Singing Detective'.
The episode opens with an altered credit sequence, before moving into sweeping images of a typical day- set to preludes of the songs to come. It then cuts to the first song in the cemetery ('Going Through the Motions')- which is rather splendid. We then move to the Magic Shop, where the group singalong 'I've got a Theory' develops Anya's on-going fear of bunnies (Emma Caulfield stands out here; Alyson Hannigan er,doesn't- but hey!- she had a go!!). We then get to see a surreal dance concerning dry-cleaning!! The next song, 'I'm Under Your Spell' is the highlight- Amber Benson is wonderful here, the standout of the episode. She sounds not unlike Judy Collins or Sandy Denny (if they ever appeared in godspell)- the harmonics remind me of Radiohead's 'Karma Police' for some reason! There is a sublime moment of acting when Tara gives Willow a gaze of pure adoration- really, acting like this is just amazing!! The next song is an old fashioned musical number- very studio Hollywood- between Anya & Xander ('I'll Never Tell')- with killer lines like "His penis caught diseases from a shoe marsh tribe" & "When I get so old & wrinkly will I look like David Brinkley?"...After a brief interlude, it's night again & Buffy goes to visit Spike- where he can't help but serenade her in a Bowie does 'Rocky Horror'-manner- 'Rest in Peace' is another great song concerning Spike;s problematic feelings for the Slayer. Nicely undercut by Spike;s "You're not staying?"...Next Tara discovers Willow's spell and Dawn is kidnapped by the strange wooden henchmen- leading to a dance number prior to the Demon's song- which is somewhere between 'The Mask' and Tom Waits...Anthony Head sings the next song (after a wonderful intertextual ref to the terrible movie "80's film montage")- which extends on his doubts about his r'ship to/with Buffy- this melds into Tara's refrain of 'I'm Under Your Spell' before Benson & Head (the two best singers here) take turns at singing their doubts. Buffy, sent alone to the demon at the Bronz, starts the next song ("I touched the fire")- which ends up being sung by the whole cast- Spike & Tara are great here (Willow is quite tuneless however!!). At the Bronz Buffy sings 'Life's a Song'- which is great- a hint of vocoder and some great backup by Anya & Tara- the end being sung by Dawn & Spike (the former revoices the line "The hardest thing about this world is to live in it" from 'The Gift'). After another ref to Xander's penchant for being dragged into homosexual situations (the best was the 'Dracula' episode where he declared "He's turned me into his spider-eating man-bitch"!). Demon gone we get the finale and a suprising exhange between Buffy & Spike...This episode is fantastic and stands up to reviewing- unlike detractors who state Buffy is 'over'- I believe this programme is getting better & better- as the characters & dialogue improve with age. And I think Amber Benson is a complete star here- if anyone's thinking of remaking 'Cabaret'? I would love to see a musical from those who wrote this episode. Proof that TV can be great when it feels like it (and it is left to develop)- I mean, 'Buffy' under the cloak of a teen-horror show has become more adult than adult shows!!! Oh, and if the 'Ripper' series ever gets made in the UK- can I write an episode?
Mulholland Dr. (2001)
A stunning oblique film
'Mullholland Drive' is the most arresting film Lynch has made since 'Blue Velvet' (also recently reissued in the UK). Though I liked lots of 'Hotel Room', 'Fire Walk With Me' and 'Lost Highway'- they all were less satisying in ways compared to 'Eraserhead', 'Blue Velvet', 'Twin Peaks (the TV series) and 'Wild at Heart'...('The Straight Story' is a welcome diversion, a lo-key 'Elephant Man' style picture; 'MD' on the other hand is full-on Lynch).
As with 'Lost Highway', the film makes great use of sound, camerawork and soundtrack; using the noir-darkness apparent in 'Blue Velvet'. The plots- very Poe: "All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream"- if they are plots as we know them- are perplexing and oblique. Theorists will explain the ending, the significance etc; I don't care- MD, like a dream is on one hand explainable in the lucid dream sense and on the other a vast monolith of uniknowing. The two reflect off each other and we know and we don't know...
'MD' had its roots in an abandoned TV-pilot, it is kind of the world of 'Sunset Boulevard'& 'The Day of the Locust' (West's novella, rather than the film). There are 50's references. 'Crying' is sung in Spanish in a This Mortal Coil manner that will have you sobbing like Betty & Rita. There are amusing bits of comedy. There is strange horror behind a cafe. There is a film within a film. There are minature dwarfs. There is a rotting corpse. Electricity. Lesbian-erotica. Deja-vu: a lip-synching karaoke of a nightmare script. Sinster Kafkaesque/Pinteresque film producers. And Billy Ray Cyrus!
'Mullholland Drive' is an awesome cinematic experience, for a generation of retarded filmgoers: 'Legally Blonde', pro-war films and John Travolta routine-thrillers are more the favoured films (this IS due to the monocultural cartel of film chains across the world and Hollywood's conservationism since 'Heaven's Gate'). People want Spielbergian black&whites, clear moral certainties and soap-opera puntuated plots. This film does not have those; but for a challenging, mindblowing experience- MD proves that David Lynch is an artist of vast powers. This film will haunt you like a forgotten dream!