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December 21, 2018

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Andy

Dung-stained gauze? Did you see Suspirira with bad digital projection? I did, so I went and saw it elsewhere the next day, and the picture was ravishing.

I loved it. Frankly I'm stunned at how many critics missed the point of what they saw as random, pointless ("dead-end," in Manohla Dargis's words) references to various aspects of German life in 1977. By that time the word "volk" and its connotations had become uncomfortably loaded after it had passed through Hitler's hands, just as pride in being German had. The reclamation in the film of the company’s dance piece "Volk" from the Nazi era (a piece that was apparently and defiantly lacking in Nazi ideology or aesthetics, as though the true historic German soul was at heart innocent of what Hitler had wrought from it—an approriate sort of denial, as the “old guard” of dance teachers is analagous to the older postwar society of Germans holding themselves apart from complicity in what came before) occurs at the same time (in the film) as the struggle for the beginning of the reclamation of the German "volk" from their guilt for the Nazi period, which can only be instigated by the younger generation--the terrorist activities followed throughout the film are about renewing this German identity by forcing the older generation to face its crimes and account for them...no matter the senseless blood involved. While that is happening outside the company, inside, a younger generation, Sarah initiates its own bloody purge. If Madame Blanc says at one point that dancing can never again be beautiful or cheerful (this, according to a mention in the New York Times, as a contravention of Goebbels' aesthetic directive), Sarah says at the end, approvingly, that the dancing she sees among the rampant bloodshed she has just triggered is beautiful--an optimistic allowance, cuing the possibility of the bloody rebirth of the German soul, which may be allowed to move past guilt now that an accounting has started to be made (just as Baader-Meinhoff want their executive to be held responsible for his crimes, a similar accounting and settling of scores has just occurred in the company, with those who had voted against Blanc earlier in the film). With society now beginning to accept the necessary "guilt and shame" she exempts Klemperer from, the "volk" may at some point be reclaimed, German pride may be reclaimed, "beauty" allowed to creep out from the gloom of the film's tableau once more--no longer any more tainted with facist underpinnings than the word “volk.” And the fact that she represents what would seem to be nearly ancient evil while treating Klemperer so kindly, while not coincidentally echoing the terrorists's positive societal change achieved in a nevertheless evil manner, is fitting. How much evil can a new start, can innocence, ever be free of? Madame Blanc herself speaks of the opposing forces of balance--an arrow, as she says about a dance move (in a piece she says symbolizes rebirth) shot into the sky, feels an equal weight pulling it back down. Sarah’s contradictions are the beginning of such a balance reachieved. How free of evil after all were the Germans before Hitler, is mankind ever, when it is so readily subsumed by it? Just as the dancers are taught by the old guard that they must be vessels--to serve the choreographer, to give themselves over to her dictates, and, if they are so lucky, to serve as a vessel for the Mother--the people of Germany had allowed themselves to be vessels for the dictates of the Motherland, and it is this that Sarah rejects and rises above, as Germany finally will. This is not all just a random melange of period-contemporary references thrown in for the semblance of meaning, any more than the Holocaust is separate (per Brody) from these concerns, like another carrot thrown into the stew. It's a fairly cohesive structure of meaning, to the point that for me it rose above subtext and became the primary point of what is incidentally a great horror film--ravishingly textured, unsettling, and deliciously audacious.

Glenn Kenny

Appreciate the care and thought and the consideration in posting this comment. That said...

1) On the appearance of the movie: That's how it looked when I saw it, in Venice, which presumably did a tech check before screening. As I think you probably have inferred, I'm not going to spend money to double-check.

2) Okay, sure...they said "Volk," too. I don't want to go for a disrespectful joan Didion-esque "Oh wow" here, but I'm not persuaded that this fact indicates the filmmakers really thought things through, or actually have any concern whatsoever for the themes they're playing with so glibly. To me this film is the work of conviction-free artistic and moral dilettantes, and there's very likely no way you will convince me otherwise. I used to know a guy, a militant atheist with a bit of a screw loose, who used to say that to speak to him of God, you might as well talk in Klingon. That's where I'm at as far as this version of "Suspiria" is concerned.

Andy

Definitely did not mean to imply you should rewatch a film you didn't like for no real reason. I was happy to see it again, obviously. And while I'm not sure what (a possible reference to something?) "they said 'Volk' too" means--that it was just a word thrown around with no deeper point (clearly I part ways on this point as well)?--I appreciate your hearing me out through such a long bit of explication. Did my level best to convince, so I am entirely satisfied if I did not. (The only thing I forgot to include is that for me the prologue shows the return of beauty to society that Sarah seems to be cuing in the climax.) You may be right that they just threw things together without thought and I happen to have assembled it in a satisfactorily cohesive way--that would be irrelevant for me in my enjoyment of the piece as standalone art, unless I bore the makers some disdain or grudge, and I don't. (No implications here either.)

This was actually a good example of why I rarely go to movies anymore--smaller art theaters that show artier or foreign fare have unacceptably janky digital projection...I have to watch for interesting things to show up a few times a year at the few multiplexes that have more state of the art setups, assuming it's not going to be (argh) letterboxed. Don't know where Venice stands, but it felt like I was straining to make out an image through the murk at the smaller theater as well.

That's okay, I have other things I should probably be doing with my life, but it's also like part of me died with celluloid...

Andy

Oh, I'm an idiot. Inferred, not implied. Got it.

Andy again

(Also, if I may overstay my welcome, let me say: I do prefer that a piece of art only muse on or around themes rather than lay out a predetermined road map or message, and that when this is done well a structure of meaning can always be found. I honestly don't get what convictions or morals the film appears to be lacking in for so many, but I would rather that than ye old Western Union, not that I assume that is what you are saying you would prefer.)

Andrew Del Monte

I think Andy's breakdown of the meaning of Suspiria is interesting and convincing enough, but it also kind of gets at what made the movie such a downer experience: instead of talking about the scares, we're having long discussions about complicated thematics, which may or may not be relevant or meaningful, but certainly don't enhance the thrill factor whatsoever. This was the least scary major horror movie I've seen... perhaps ever? On a practical storytelling level it's just mind-bogglingly bad. In lieu of a spectacular opening ala the original we have a long expository scene where CGM explains everything we need to know is happening at the dance studio, and then the situation doesn't change much for over 2 hours (!!). The only positive takeaway for me was that Jessica Harper is still a beautiful and moving actress. Let's see her in more films.

I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts on authorship re: The Other Side of the Wind. I remember on the Slate Culture Gabfest Dana Stevens raised some doubts about whether it could even be called "an Orson Welles movie." It is such an anomalous situation so it would be interesting to hear someone hash out the questions in an in-depth way. Anyway my take is that most directors don't edit their films, and OW edited almost half of this one (apparently), not to mention shot 100% of it, so I don't see why we can't consider it "his" movie, with the obvious asterisk that there are probably things he would have done differently given that he wasn't alive when it was finished.

lazarus

Andrew: I'm not sure what makes "Wind" less of a Welles film than Ambersons, The Stranger, Touch of Evil, Lady From Shangai, all of which were hacked apart by their respective studios and weren't Welles-approved cuts. In none of those cases did the original versions survive. At least this new film was completed by his friends and collaborators who were interested in what he might have wanted and attempted to follow his wishes instead of battling against them.

Glenn: We have a lot of the same titles on our respective top 20s or so (and not just the usual suspects), and I wanted to thank you for being the one to alert me to Skate Kitchen, which I absolutely loved. And it's nice to see someone else on the positive side of the Madeline's Madeline divide.

But with all due respect, you might want to seek professional help for the unyielding Clint Eastwood stanning. Frank Borzage is spinning in his grave from that association.

George

I didn't see "The 15:17 to Paris" (the first Eastwood movie I've deliberately skipped in more than 30 years), but "The Mule" is excellent. Grateful to Clint for providing an alternative to the CGI overload at the multiplex.

And I missed the "Suspiria" remake/reimaginig/whatever, so I can't get into that debate. The new version was only showing at the local art house, while I saw the '77 original at a drive-in ... in rural Tennessee, no less.

Glenn: You've the first critic I've come across who didn't hail "Eighth Grade" as a masterpiece.

Redbeard

That settles it, I'm watching ZAMA tonight. Wish I could've seen it in a theater. Martel's HEADLESS WOMAN got under my skin, especially Maria Onetto's freaked-out eyes behind that serene-smile mask. Bravo. I can't think of any other lead performance where the actor had to register polar opposite expressions on their face for most of the movie.

Andy

As to editing and authorship in Other Side of the Wind, here are my thoughts from an email after seeing the movie (leaving out my thoughts on the Antonioni-esque portion), if that doesn't count as pretentiously quoting yourself (just being lazy):

...mostly reminded me of a person who is talking loudly and self-consciously in the hopes and assumption that everything will be overheard, because what is being said is so marvelous. It all felt so staged and artifical and forced and amateurish--bad, unnatural line readings down to almost a man. Best summed up by the horrible shots of the camera-flashing mob repeatedly pressing forward, ill-timed in the edit (intentionally, one would have to assume) so that you can practically hear the director say action, like a b-movie where someone is waiting on the edge of the frame to suddenly walk in (looking at you, Lady Terminator). I mean, even though that likely wasn't his editing, you could say that it was all intentional to match the unappealing, phony energy and style of the characters, but that doesn't do much for me, certainly doesn't vault it into some contortion of masterpiece status...and the thing is vigorously ugly, when it isn't being exquistitely beautiful.

I did think it was rather a marvel of edting and assembly in terms of the work that must have gone into it. Apart from that one complaint I already made, I would take out the Bogdanovich VO at the beginning and that's really it. At least it didn't feel pieced together, it felt like it all had to go together like that, all though a little too tight and fast perhaps; there is something post-era and overly digital-capability (and the habits it forms) about the relentlessness tightness of it.

George

Wish you had included "The Old Man & the Gun." It's not very ambitious, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Ed

No ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

George

Interesting that Redford and Eastwood are likely closing out their acting careers playing old criminals. "The Mule" and "Old Man & the Gun" would make an interesting double feature.

This was a pretty good year for movies.(I liked "Hereditary" and "Windows" more than Glenn did, despite their flaws.) The only really bad movies I saw in 2018 were "Mile 22" (one of the worst pieces of dreck I've ever seen in a theater) and "Ready Player One."

George

I meant "Widows," not "Windows," of course.

titch

It's a great list but you forgot Phantom Thread.

rdmtimp

@titch - Phantom Thread was a 2017 release (at least here in the US).

Or is this a joke that I'm not getting (always possible).

titch

Ah - explains why Phantom Thread isn't there. I wonder what Glenn's worst movie in 2018 was. He's plowed through a lot of shit, but these seemed to be in an awfulness of their own:

Acts Of Violence
Father Of The Year
Future World
Gotti

Brian Dauth

Glenn: thanks for a great new key to THE 15:17 FROM PARIS which I liked (I am highly partial to Eastwood).

Re: TOSOTW--the more I have watched it (three times on screen and same on Netflix), the more precise/capacious everything seems--as Andy notes, the dialogue is aphoristic, but then so is the editing and the mise-en-scene. The film strikes me as the third part of a trilogy begin with CITIZEN KANE, continued by OTHELLO and finished with TOSOTW.

As for THE FAVOURITE, I did not understand the appreciation for women acting raunchy in a historical drama as an advance (and its valorization as wit).

COLD WAR: as bad as the reactionarism was the stale Romanticism—do people really torment themselves that way and not get over things? Self-destructiveness has never seemed virtuous to me, but then I have always been more Jose Munoz than Lee Edelman.

titch

Well, waddya know? Gotti is the best So-bad-its-good film for a decade:

https://www.alternateending.com/2019/01/gotti-2018.html

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