A melodrama about two brothers, Osman and Hasan. Osman is the eldest and has power and rights over how their land is run. Hasan obeys until he realises Osman has broken every rule that binds. A complex film about patriarchy in agrarian culture and the damage it does to all the individuals involved whilst also tearing a community apart. A melodrama that seethes with sexual desire, and where that desire overrules familial relations that would normally be considered taboo. A complex film depicting a way of life that is not so distant, probably still current in some parts of the world and which is not afraid to be poetic and allegorica. It is instantly and thoroughly engaging in spite of two incidents involving animals that inadvertently act as a distanciating device and might make some think twice about watching it. Much of the podcast is devoted to exploring why we recommend people do so.
The first fiction feature made in the Ivory Coast. A land-mark film. But is it good? And by what criteria? And if not good, how is it nonetheless very interesting? Art cinema, post-colonialism, and psychoanalysis as imbibed through Hitchcock films, all get an airing in this podcast.
We continue to think aloud about Pedró Almodovar, this time focussing on Matador. Richard is ill so I am joined by Harry Russell to discuss the film. Some of the topics touched upon are the themes of sex and death, Spanish-ness and bullfighting, camp, masculinity, the classical structuring of the plot, the glossy production values, and why — whilst it is hugely entertaining — it might yet not be up to the heights of Almodóvar’s other work.
In our third podcast on Almodóvar’s work we discuss his third film, ENTRE TINIEBLAS/ DARK HABITS (1983), the first film he did for a commercial production company, Tesauro SA. A very funny and subversive film, the plot revolves around a bolero singer (Cristina S. Pascual) whose boyfriend has overdosed on heroin and who finds shelter in the convent of The Humble Redeemers. The Mother Superior (Julieta Serrano) is a heroin addict who’s in love with her; Sister Manure (Marisa Paredes) takes acid to aid her visions; Sister Lost (Carmen Maura) has a fetish for cleanliness and a tiger for a pet; Sister Rat (Chus Lampreave) is a best selling writer of trash novels based on the lives of the young girls who pass by the convent, though her sister (Eva Siva) is stealing her credit and her money; Sister Snake (Lina Canalejas) is in love with her confessor, who really wants to be a fashion designer. The film is a combination of noir, nun film, melodrama and musical all tied together by camp. Even Tarzan makes a coded appearance. It’s a film that would be very difficult if not impossible to make today. We discuss it’s context, boleros, camp, Almodóvar’s skill with actors, the chicas Almodóvar, a largely feminine space where men in drag nonetheless feature… and much more. A modest box office hit but his greatest success to that point and proof of his developing skills in mise-en-scène.
We discuss Almodóvar’s second feature, Labyrinth of Passion, where Almodóvar himself appears both as director and rock star in minor roles. We talk about its convoluted plot, its verbal and visual campyness, its anti-authoritarian stance and its status as a youth film. We note how even in his second film, there are evident connections with his first film (not least in the recurring cast) and plot strands that will re-appear subsequently (the airport scene in Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). We talk about it (briefly) as a document of its time, particularly in relation to the Nueva Movida Madrileña. The plot is straight out of Hello magazine; the idea that sex, drugs and art are a fun path without pitfalls to liberation is straight out of underground comics. Richard Lester’s cinema is a clear influence. Fanny McNamara steals the show. We could have talked for a lot longer.
The first of a series of podcasts on the work of Pedro Almodóvar. We begin the series with his first film, PEPI, LUCI, BOM Y LAS CHICAS DEL MONTON/ PEPI, LUCI, BOM AND OTHER GIRLS LIKE MOM (1980). The podcast discusses the historical context for the film; the ‘nueva movida madrileña‘; his style and how it improved over time; recurring concerns with pop culture (comics, films, magazines, pop music); recurring themes such as rape; camp as tone; the film’s combination of the outrageous with the common sense; how many of the actresses who would star in his films for the next decade already appear in his first film (Carmen Maura, Assumpta Serna, Julieta Serrano, Cecilia Roth, Kiti Manver, Eva Siva etc) and much more. We also talk of how this film has become a document of a series of individuals and indeed a whole sub-culture that was soon to disappear.
Thinking Aloud About Film explores the work of Hugo Fregonese, a director who worked mainly in Hollywood B-movies or international genre films, a choice of films excellently curated and programmed by Ehsan Khoshbacht, and a major discovery at this year’s Cinema Ritrovato. Films discussed include APENAS UN DELINCUENTE, BLOWING WILD, THE RAID, APACHE DRUMS, THE MAN IN THE ATTIC, BLACK TUESDAY…and others. The video includes images, trailers and clips from some of the films to illustrate the discussion.
Films discussed include:
The video, including images, trailers and clips may be seen here:
Why are we talking about Moneyboys? Well Jose’s recently read DIE PUPENJUNGE/ THE HUSTLER: THE STORY OF A NAMELESS LOVE FROM FRIEDRICHSTRASSE , City of Night, and Dancer from the Dance and is fascinated by gutter and underbelly, night and shadows, criminality and liminality, the ways social and psychic alienation can combine with carnal immersion though sexual connection, the tension in sex work between certain types of freedom and certain types of bondage. Moneyboys is too high class to touch on many of those things. But Richard IS interested in Taiwanese Cinema, in Hou Hsiao-hsien and in Haneke — interests which do intersect with Moneyboys — so humours him. In the podcast we talk of the significance of a Taiwanese film on this subject being set in Mainland China; the tensions between the rural and the city; the biological family which accepts money earned from sex work but casts out the worker; the value of constructed families; the various kinds of love valued (and de-valued) by the film; the possible conflation of sex work and homosexuality; the fluid long takes and the emotional distance evoked. It’s an accomplished first film, interestingly made, and interestingly made under a pseudonym. In the podcast we talk through our responses to the various strands it dramatises and the issues they raise. The film is currently on MUBI.
A discussion of the first Cameroonian feature film, a story of a doomed love, marriage made impossible by patriarchal structures shored up by tradition. Ngando and Ndomé are young and crazy about each other. Ngando’s uncle has promised him the dowry for the marriage, which he has a moral obligation to provide, as he inherited everything Ngando’s father owned upon his death, including Ngando’s mother. But the uncle takes one look at Ndomé and wants her for himself. Ndomé thinks the way forward is for her to have a child with Ngando, which would shame her and her family but might get the uncle out of the way – he already has four other wives — and allow her to marry her love. Instead, the uncle forces Ndomé into marriage and claims the child as his own. The film begins as Ngando kidnaps the child, setting up an inventive flashback structure that allows the film to unfurl as if that moment is the film’s continued present, a present where tradition enables injustice after injustice and in varied dimensions: social, sexual, economic, affective. The film is currently on MUBI and the podcast an array of reasons to view this wonderful film.
The Criterion Collection calls SOLEIL Ó/ OH, SUN , ‘A furious cry of resistance against racist oppression and a revolutionary landmark of political cinema’. The Celluloid Liberation Front, writing for MUBI, calls it ‘one of the most dazzling debuts in the history of cinema’; ‘A work of erudite formalism and incendiary refinement’; ‘never didactic’. We dispute all of this. The film is definitely, flamboyant, anti-clerical, modernist, anti-colonial, deploying folklore and experimenting with style. An important film then, very much of its time, but which can now seem to lack complexity and subtlety, though perhaps subtlety was never its aim; and perhaps we should also acknowledge that our perspective is that of two white men. Richard appreciated it more than I. We both urge everyone to see it. It’s an interesting companion piece to Ali in Wonderland and Mandabi. We discuss all of this in the accompanying podcast. Part of the series of important restorations being screened on MUBI.
A gorgeous film, shot in a quasi neo-realist style that nonetheless aims squarely at poetry and critique; clearly influenced by John Ford Westerns in its use of landscape; with shoot-outs staged amidst minarets and water fountains, horses vying with jeeps. A structure reminiscent of Angels With Dirty Faces in that two childhood friends end up on different sides of the law. With the great Yilmaz Güney as a father caught between a rock and a hard place — does he continue smuggling sheep across the border; the only option to feed his people; or does turn to farming that might not render enough to feed everyone but allow the school to come in that might offer a better life for his son? It’s a film where one feels the heat, the thirst, the despair; an existential noir amidst the barren landscape; with a great feel for places and the people who inhabit them. Güney as the father has something of Clint Eastwood’s granite iconicity about him but with life and feeling behind the eyes. Restored in 2013 by Cineteca di Bologna/L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with The Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project, Dadaş Films, and the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Restoration funded by Doha Film Institute
We continue with our discussion of the MARTIN SCORSESE’S WORLD CINEMA strand on MUBI, this time focusing on Kim Ki-young’s THE HOUSEMAID (South Korea, 1960). MUBI’s take is that it influenced Bong Joon-ho’s PARASITE – clearly evident – and that it ‘changed the course of South Korean cinema forever. An immense success when released in 1960, this striking masterpiece is a blend of sexual obsession and class struggle, horror and social critique’. In the podcast, we agree with most of what MUBI says about it but question the claim that it’s a masterpiece,’ finding the film deeply misogynistic in ways that go even beyond the patriarchal norms of its time and culture. The very handsome version being screened by MUBI is the 2008 restoration by the Korean Film Archive and is a real pleasure to see, making visible the film’s very real inventiveness with light, composition and movement.
We continue our exploration of Pere Portabella films, this one his third feature, Umbracle, an experimental off-shoot of Cuadecuc Vampir. Umbracle means shade created by twigs or pieces of wood, and we discuss the significance of the title in relation to what the film shows: is it focussing on what’s being hidden or revealed by the light? The film has a mystery that raises questions, a sensuality; there’s a seduction, both somatic and intellectual, to what the images are like, what they show, evoke, elicit. The film trots out three different film critics — Roman Gúbern, Miguel Bilbatúa and Joan Enric Lahosa — to discuss the impossibility of representing, and to advocate for an underground, more political, more experimental cinema (see clip below); juxtaposing this with excerpts of Frente infinito (Pedro Lazaga, 1959), a film about a priest in wartime, an ideal of Francoist cinema, the cross hand-in-hand with the rifle (see image below). A film of fragments, about modernity, on politics, a critique, yet one conscious of the seductiveness of sounds and images. We discuss all this and more in this all too brief podcast.
I am including the long excerpt where critics discuss censorship in Spanish cinema:
..as opposed to the ideal Francoist cinema of praying and shooting, condensed in this image:
The ‘Peter Cushing looking for his fee’ clip Richard refers to may be seen here:
An excellent article by Rosalind Galt contextualising Pere Portabella’s work and indeed that of the ‘Barcelona School’ , both in national and international aesthetic and political currents, may be accessed here.
Mou Tun-Fei goes from the New Wave-y neo-realistic aesthetic of I Didn’t Dare Tell You(Mou Tun-fei, Taiwan, 1969) and The End of the Track(Mou Tun-fei, Taiwan, 1970)and into exploitation territory. Lost Souls is pulpy, dynamic, exciting and exploitative. It’s an exploitation film and it exploits women: they have their clothes taken off, the camera lingers on their bodies, on their degradation, on the sale of these women to whorehouses. The audience, which we assume to be men, is meant to get off on all of this.
Mou Tun-fei is an equal opportunity exploiter and there is also torture and rape of men. The film is clearly highly influenced by Pier Paolo Pasolini’s 1975 film, Salò: 120 Days of Sodom and we discuss their differences and similarities. We do not agree with Victor Fan’s argument that, Lost Souls, …. is a shot-for-shot remake in a much more commercial way of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò. He also added an action sequence, which is of course very unlike Pasolini.’
We note influence but also argue that is nowhere near as good, complex, or political. There is a clear homosexaul gaze in Pasolini: he gives more weight to the men. Mou Tun-fei focuses more clearly on the women. Sodom is an archetypal art film of its day, and even begins with a bibliography urging viewers to brush up on De Sade and Barthes! But aside from questions of genre, aesthetics or value, the claim of shot-by-shot simply doesn’t hold up, though we do see a clear influence of the earlier film on the latter.
We also discuss how Lost Souls is unquestionably an exploitation film but not all exploitation films are as effective and as political as Lost Souls; and our discussion lingers on the opening sequence of the boat people and the arrival of one of the escapees onto Hong Kong’s Diamond Hill. We discuss the effectiveness of the crushing disappointment that accompanies the realisation that streets are not paved with gold there and that it is in fact one big, fragile ghetto. A fascinating film, which we recommend.
We discuss Chahine’s last film, Le Chaos, and are delighted by what we see; a political melodrama that offers all the pleasures of the genre — one feels for these people who long for love and freedom but who aren’t allowed to achieve their wants through repressive social and state mechanisms. The villain is a torturer and rapist. Chahine’s achievement is that he makes him understandable, whilst offering a Marxist critique of a corrupt culture through a film that always sides with the powerless. The mise-en-scène is masterful; the film is brilliant. Thanks very much to the kind friend who made it possible for us to see it. We have 15 more Chahine films we have not been able to source; so if any of you know where we can buy/source/see them, we would appreciate it. In the podcast we also discuss how the film can be seen as an amalgamation of recurring Chahine thematics as well as recurring visual motifs and we try to connect this film to the rest of his oeuvre. It’s one to see.
A discussion of Ousmane Sembène’s Mandabi. José had never seen it before and found it a revelation. Richard’s now seen it twice, once at the cinema in a beautiful restoration that’s now been put out by Criterion. The film is currently screening on MUBI and we highly recommend it. We talk issues of representation, gender, colonialism, how structures seem designed to oppress a sector of the population which nonetheless constitutes ‘the people’. We also talk film aesthetics and what it was about the film that Youssef Chahine might have found so appealing.
As Rakesh Sengupta writes (on Twitter): ‘In March 1979, Ousmane Sembène (b. Jan 1, 1923) was the first non-Indian chairman of the jury at the 7th International Film Festival (IFFI). His interview in TOI from that visit is so insightful for thinking about cinema, literature and the ‘third world’.
Encounter at the Station (Taiwan, 1965) is the last of the 5 Hsin Chi films programmed by the Anthology Film Archives in New York and available for all to see for free until November 30. It is a melodrama in the truest sense, music plus drama, with songs narrating or underlining the action at almost every moment. And what action! The film takes on every melodramatic trope possible and when you think it can’t get any more extreme it surprises you by going even further still. A young high school student falls in love with a boy at the station. On her deathbed her mother reveals to her that she is really adopted and to beware of the stepfather. And for good reason, as soon as the mother dies, he sells the young girl to a nightclub to pay for the mother’s funeral. Her love surprises her at the club and buys her out. But it’s no good, her secret’s revealed and she will be forever a B-girl. People have to give up their children, some go blind, some go mad. It’s never boring. We discuss all of this and more in the podcast below:
The Anthology Film Archive introduces the retrospective as follows:
5 FILMS BY HSIN CHI (Nov 17-30, 2021)
Last December, Anthology presented an online series – “Taiwan B-Movies” – in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI) and the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. That series showcased several films restored by the TFAI as part of their ambitious and vitally important efforts to preserve Taiwanese Cinema, including those that fall under the category of Taiyu Pian: Taiwanese-language films produced between 195581, in which the characters speak only Taiwanese (i.e., Taiwanese Minnan or Hokkien) despite their various backgrounds in the story. During the heyday of this vibrant local film industry, over 1,000 films were produced, but less than 200 have survived. Since 2014, TFAI has endeavored to restore some of these Taiwanese-language gems. As a follow-up to “Taiwan B-Movies”, and in order to continue to celebrate the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute’s preservation efforts, we present another online series devoted to the Taiyu Pian filmmaker HSIN Chi (aka XIN Qi). Born in the Wanhua District of Taipei in 1924, HSIN moved to Japan at the start of the 1940s, where he developed an early interest in theater and cinema. When he returned to Taiwan, he was active in the theater, but in 1956 embarked on a career in filmmaking. During the next two decades he would direct or produce upwards of 90 films – including more than 50 Taiwanese Hokkien-language films – in nearly every imaginable genre: from romances and screwball comedies to crime films, thrillers, and wuxia, not to mention Taiwanese opera and even softcore pornography. Tragically, only eight of these films survive, but several continue to enjoy a cult following in Taiwan to this day. Following the decline of Taiyu Pian cinema in Taiwan in the late 1960s, HSIN turned to making Mandarin-language films, including in Hong Kong, before transitioning into a long and productive career in the television industry. He retired from filmmaking in the 1990s and turned his attention to film preservation and archiving. In 2000, HSIN was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Horse Awards. His work remains little known here in the U.S., however – a situation we hope to remedy with this online film series. This online film series has been organized in collaboration with the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), and is presented with generous support from the Taipei Cultural Center of TECO in New York. For more information about HSIN Chi, including special video introductions and newly translated articles, click here: http://anthologyfilmarchives.org/film_screenings/hsin_chi
We have now podcast on all the films screened. The podcasts can be listened to here:
We return to the work of Youssef Chahine, spurred on by by MUBI’s decision to screen a selection of his works, in what turns out to be marvellous copies. We focus on two of his films, Daddy Amin (1950) and The Devil of the Desert (1954), we compare the visual quality of the MUBI versions to those we saw previously, confirm our admiration for Youssef Chahine’s skills as a director, José takes a dig at the arrogance of a British film culture that assumes one can just move from writing or directing for the stage to directing a movie, and not even Richard can stop José from sighing over Omar.
We continue our discussion of the films kindly made available in wonderful versions by the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. This time we discuss the second Hsin Chi film on view, FOOLISH BRIDE, NAIVE BRIDEGROOM, a wonderfully inventive screwball comedy displaying a wide array of cinematic devices for humorous effect (stop-motion, music, fluid camera), anchoring it in solid structure, set on the cusp of modernity, and wittily putting all the major decisions in the hands of the female protagonists. Great fun
We discuss Daughter of the Nile as a transitional film for Hou, the relatively few locations (the house, KFC, the nightclub, the beach etc) in which the film is set, the now typical Hou way of filming from repeating fixed camera positions with little or no movement; the way the protagonist remains relatively unknowable, the fractured family on the edges of criminality across generations, the lack of judgment on that, the continued use of fart jokes, the context in which the film was made (end of Martial law, ongoing relationship with American consumer culture etc). A film José didn’t quite like as much as Richard but which nonetheless rewarded a second viewing. The podcast may be listened to below:
Listeners might be interested in this wonderful introductory lecture to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s cinema by the great Tony Rayns:
Andrew Chan in the November-December 1917 issue of Film Comment calls Daughter of the Nile a ‘ a scabbed wound of a film whose identification with disaffected city youth paved the way for the harsher provocations of Tsai Ming-liang a half-decade later’.
In Slant Magazine: ‘Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s compositions arrange walls, doors, and windows as frames within a frame, visually trapping characters under the weight of their relationships and responsibilities. …
‘Sandwiched as it is between the two major trilogies in Hou’s canon—the first (A Summer at Grandpa’s, A Time to Live and a Time to Die, and Dust in the Wind) focused on the filmmaker’s personal memories, and the second (A City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster and Good Men, Good Women) on Taiwan’s fraught history—Daughter of the Nile is often overlooked. Yet in its elegiac, ambivalent view of neon-streaked city streets and youth floundering in a unfathomably huge cultural transition, it points the way toward Hou’s later films like Goodbye South, Goodbye and Millennium Mambo. The film is also one of Hou’s most accessible works, its depiction of angst-ridden, Westernizing youth fitting well within contemporaneous Taiwanese New Wave cinema while showcasing the director’s formal idiosyncrasy.
In a lovely review for The Monthly Film Bulletin, Tony Rayns writes, ‘In a curious way, Hou’s cinema seems to e edging closer and closer to Bresson. His preference for long, fixed-angle takes in which his characters simply go about their business increasingly succeeds in rhyming exterior gesture with unspoken, interior thoughts. In a word, his cinema is becoming more spiritual’. It can be accessed here: rayns
…and with thanks to Richard’s super research skills, the theme tune for the video
— Josés increasing Scholarly Bibliography on Hou which we will add to after every episode:
-Andres, Nigel, ‘A Camera Trained on Eternal Truths, Financial Times, London: 07 June 2005: 13.
-Assayas, Olivier, Modern Time, Film Comment; Jan/Feb 2008; 44, p. 48
-Combs, Geoffrey, ‘ Dust in the Wind/ Lianlian Feng Chen’, Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 1990;57, 675, pg.111.
-Diffrient, David Scott ,’The Sandwich Man: History, episodicity and serial conditioning in a Taiwanese omnibus film’, Asian Cinema, vol 25, no., pp. 71-92,
-Cheshire, Godgrey, ‘Time span: The cinema of Hou Hsio-hsien’, Film Comment; Nov 1993;29, 6, pg. 56.
-Ellickson , Lee and Hou Hsiao-hsien, Preparing to Live in the Present; An interview with Hou Hsiao-hsien, Cineaste, Fall 2002, vol 27, no. 4 (Fall 2002), pp. 13-19
-Hastie, Amelie, ‘Watching Carefully: Hou Hsiao-Hsien and His Audience’, Film Quarterly, vol. 69, no. 3 (Spring 2016), pp. 72-78
-Kenigsberg, Ben . ‘Looking for an Introduction to Taiwan’s Greatest Filmmaker? Start Here’. New York Times (Online) , New York: New York Times Company. May 28, 2020.
-Lupke, Christopher (The Sinophone Cinea of Hou Shiao-hsien: Culture, Stuyle, Voice and Motion, amherst: Cambria Press.
-Rayns, Tony, Esprit de corp, Film Comment; Nov. Dec. 2007, 43, 6, p. 14
-Rayns, Tony, ‘Tongnian Wangshi (The Time To Live and The Tine to Die), Monthly Film Bulletin; Jun 1, 1988; 55, 653
-Rayns, Tony, ‘Daughter of the Nile’ Monthly Film Bulletin, April 1, 989, 56, 663.
-Stanbrook, Alan, The Worlds of Hou Hsiao-hsien’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1990; 59, 2, Rayns, Tony, ‘Auteur in the Making’, Sight and Sound; July 2016;26, 9; p. 98
-Sklar, Robert, ‘Hidden History, Modern Hedeonism; The films of Hou Hsia-hsien’, Cineaste, Fall 2002; 27, 4, pg. 11.
-Udden, James, ‘Taiwanese Popular Cinema and the Strage Apprenticeship of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Spring, 2003, vol. 15, no. Special Issue on Taiwan Film Spring, 2003), pp. 120-145.
-Udden, James, ‘Dust in the Wind: A Definite Hou/ New Cinema Work’, The Cupola, 08-2014 (This book chapter is available at The Cupola: Scholarship at Gettysburg College: https://cupola.gettysburg.edu/idsfac/21)
-Xia Cai, Chapter 1: Hou Hisao-Hsien Films and Readings, The Ethics of Witness: Dailiness and History in Hou Hsia-hsien’s Films, Springer: Singapore, 2019, pp. 1-3
-Yueh-yu, Yeh. Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities; Commerce, Tex, Vol 20, Iss 2-3 (Winter 2000) 61-76.
Y-ip, June, ‘Taiwanese New Cinema’ in The Oxford History of World Cinema, Geoffrey Nowell-Smith ed. New York, United States, Oxford University Press, 1996)
-Wen, Tien-Hsiang (trans by GAN Sheuo Hui), ‘Hou Hsiao-Hsien: a standard for evaluating Taiwan’s cinema), Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, vol 9, number 2, 2008.