Thursday, January 28, 2016

Records and not records in Trog and Keep it on the Floor

Joan Crawford's last film and the epitome of her Grand Guignol, woman-past-a-certain-age era, Trog (Freddie Francis, 1970) is no less watchable than many of the MGM horrors that placed her in the box office top ten in the 1930s - The Gorgeous Hussy or, hell, even the bafflingly overrated Grand Hotel. The scene I remember most is when classical music calms Trog but rock 'n' roll sends him into a rage. And the record spun is a not-all-that-noisy freakbeat instrumental. I wonder what would have happened had Crawford requested The Stooges' recently released Fun House.
I'll be presenting a paper on Leave It on the Floor (Sheldon Larry, 2011), a sort of dramatization of Paris is Burning with happier endings, later in the year. So I'll just note the presence of spontaneous outbursts of song (including a Sweet allusion in the opening ball sequence) and Lady Red Couture from Hey Qween!, my guiltiest pleasure of 2015.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tren de sombras: El espectro de Le Thuit (Train of Shadows: The Specter of Le Thuit) (José Luis Guerín, 1997)

Absolutely gorgeous, Tren de sombras purports to compile decayed home movie footage shot in 1930 by a lawyer in Normandy named Gérard Fleury while subsequently reimagining the footage with material shot in 1997. But even after Googling "fake" along with the film's title, I'm still not 100% certain how real the 1930 footage is. My impulse is to assume that the entire film was shot by Guerín in order to cocoon myself from embarrassment if presented with obvious clues, many of which I can detail myself. Unless I'm reading her incorrectly, Marsha Kinder, in a terrific Film Quarterly essay, seems to take the footage as real while acknowledging the reality games Guerín is playing. But this festival entry claims that the film intercuts "real footage with fake b&w footage."

It hardly matters, though, because the liminal state in which Tren de sombras places the viewer is one of the most intoxicating I have ever experienced before a series of moving (and not-so-moving) images, indeed a train of shadows. Below you'll find an orgy of screen grabs as a measure of that intoxication but, gee, damn near every shot could have been grabbed. And not just grabbed but played with further, remixed, rerubbed, the way Guerín raises random snatches of Offenbach, Debussy, Schoenberg, etc. on the soundtrack to vary the meanings of the/his footage.

Kinder does an excellent job situating the film in the context of Spanish transnational cinema and the advent of digital. I quote her below for her erudition and as a reminder to rewatch some of my favorite (and not-so-favorite) films of the 1990s. 

"In fact, Tren de sombras is one of several experimental nonlinear European films from the 1990s that enable us to imagine new modes of interactive spectatorship through expanded forms of montage, database structures, and simulations of randomness—a combination which generates new narrative pleasures. Such films include European coproductions like Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World, Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book, Chris Marker’s Level 5, Raul Ruiz’s The Shattered Image, Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run, Mike Figgis’s Time Code and Hotel, Agnès Varda’s The Gleaners and I; and from Spain, Bigas Luna’s The Chambermaid on the Titanic, Julio Medem’s Lovers of the Arctic Circle, and Alejandro Amenábar’s Open Your Eyes (remade in Hollywood as Vanilla Sky). It is as if such films were designed to ensure that Hollywood action films like The Matrix do not totally dominate the emerging transmedia convergence between movies and interactive games."
Marsha Kinder, "Uncanny Vision of History: Two Experimental Documentaries from Transnational Spain - Asaltar los cielos and Tren de sombras,"Film Quarterly, Vol. no. 56, Issue no. 3, pages 12-24.