The BRD Trilogy: The Marriage of Maria Braun

Our last encounter with Rainer Werner Fassbinder left us breathless, and now we move into a trilogy of some of the famed directors best (and final) work. All three stories feature female protagonists making their way in post-war West Germany, and all three are varying degrees of indictment against West German society as Fassbinder saw it. The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979) suggests that Fassbinder believes the BRD is about to blow itself up, but then he destroys all semblance of subtext in the final moments of the film. Even without that final hammer it's a fascinating tale.

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Terminal Station and Indiscretion of an American Wife

David O. Selznick is an interesting figure in the Criterion cannon, having produced a large number of films from a swath of wonderful directors. With one glaring exception we've barely liked or strongly disliked his other projects. Terminal Station, his 1953 collaboration with Italian neorealist Vittorio De Sica, takes that ambivalence and splits it in two, which is appropriate: we get one movie to love and one to hate.

Selznick so hated what De Sica brought him that he recut the film himself, shaving 25 minutes out and gutting it of it's emotional arc. The resulting film, Indiscretion of an American Wife, is also included on this Criterion release, so we talk both this week.

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Umberto D.

We've already talked a bit about Italian neorealism, albeit through a filmmaker who was trying to reject the movement some years after it had died. Now we get to see the film that, arguably, killed it. Vittorio De Sica is hardly a stranger to the movement -- his Bicycle Thieves, which we'll talk about in the future, is one of its masterpieces -- but that didn't stop critics from piling on the hate for Umberto D. in 1952. Unfairly, I may add, as it's a great movie. Alas.

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The Honeymoon Killers

According to Wikipedia The Honeymoon Killers is Francois Truffaut's "favorite American film." Wikipedia cites a 1992 New York Times piece, which pops off the quote without any solid attribution. Pat digs deeper and discovers the truth for this week's episode, though you probably could have guessed that Wikipedia isn't quite on the level.

Anyway, Leonard Kastle's 1970 ultra-low-budget true crime film is one of those where we spend a good chunk of time wondering just why it's in the collection anyway. The answer may solely be that a young Martin Scorsese was originally hired to direct, shot at least one scene, then was fired for taking too much time. The end product comes off as shades of John Waters without being purposeful or self-aware. So bad it's bad, and unhelped by its shocking use of violence.

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The Hari Kondabolu bit Pat references can be found here and is great.

Schizopolis

Phew.

After a couple of weeks of emotionally draining films that forced us to confront some dark aspects of humanity, the Collection serves us up a heaping helping of...something completely different.

The nadir of Stephen Soderbergh's career, Schizopolis seems to be an attempt to excise all of the bad ideas he was having and put them into a single film that also doubles as a sort of 8 1/2-style self-reflexive critique. 8 1/2 is an infinitely better film by any meaningful objective criteria, but Soderbergh is a lot more self-aware than Fellini. Or at least a lot more willing to make an honest acknowledgement of his mistakes. And that, coupled with the film's taking refuge in absurdity, makes this a very worthwhile watch.

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Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Continuing our short trend of films with messages that coincidentally speak to some of the darkest positions of American society today, mostly because they critique aspects of human interaction that, sadly, bubble up every so often in any civilization (and almost always exist at at least a low simmer). Rainer Werner Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) -- our first from the renowned German -- is an homage to the melodrama of Douglas Sirk, in particular a retelling of All That Heaven Allows that takes that films class-divided love story and transfers it to a West Germany divided by class, race, religion, and immigration status.

Night and Fog

A concentration camp is built like a Grand Hotel.
You need contractors, estimates, competitive bids
And no doubt friends in high places.

These were the lines of Night and Fog that may have hit me the hardest. Someone, some company, built the barracks, the guard towers, the ovens. And no doubt that company beat out other companies for the contract.

Alain Resnais' 1955 short documentary subtly twists the knife as the audience is called out for its part in the Holocaust (and all other holocausts) whether active or passive. Maybe you didn't place the noose around the neck, but maybe you sold the rope to the hangman, maybe you built the gallows, maybe you sat idly by because the people being led up the stairs didn't look like you.

But it's not about guilt; it's about responsibility.

When the Allies open the doors,
All the doors,
The deportees look on without understanding.
Are they free?
Will life know them again?
"I am not responsible," says the Kapo,
"I am not responsible," says the officer,
"I am not responsible."
Who is responsible then?

And it is not just a question of who is responsible for what happened, but of who is responsible for what may happen.

The skill of the Nazis is child's play today.

Someone builds the walls. Someone guards the gates. Someone fires the furnace.

Someone drops the bombs.

Someone steers the drones.

Someone writes the checks.

But also someone speaks the dehumanizing rhetoric: "they only want money", "they're all rapists and murderers," "they can't be trusted in a public restroom", "they're ruining this country." 

And someone listens.

Rhetoric has consequences.

Resist being one of these someones. Do what you can to help others resist being these someones.

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Hiroshima mon Amour

The same amazing non-linear storytelling that we saw in masterful use last week kind of makes its cinematic debut here, in Alain Resnais' 1959 drama Hiroshima mon Amour. Sure, as we point out, other films had used flashback, but none in quite this way, a much more literary way to be sure (we cite To The Lighthouse, but Slaughterhouse Five is perhaps the literary codifier of the method). In any case, though, Hiroshima mon Amour's technique became THE film narrative for flashback. And we're all lucky for that.

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I Fidanzati

Another great episode where halfway through talking about it we finally start to understand it fully. I Fidanzati (1963) is a film about memory: how memories shape what we’re perceiving in the present, and how our feelings in the present affect how we remember things. Ermanno Olmi is brilliant, no doubt, and the way the flashbacks in this film playout were extremely influential. (And also entertaining, which is just bonus I guess?)

Il Posto

Though he was working a decade after the movement "ended" Ermanno Olmi's films have all the hallmarks of Italian neorealism even though he claims his film style is a response to (and rejection of) Italian neorealism. That is absurd on it's face, but not the same type of absurd as Il Posto. Olmi's 1961 film is a coming of age tale that the director claims is semi-autobiographical, though we've heard that before. True to life or not, Il Posto is true-to-life with all the hilarity and disappointment that comes with life.

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Quai des Orfrevres

We here at Lost in Criterion are firmly on board with any and all films of Henri-Georges Clouzot. He is a master of suspense in many forms. Quai des Orfrevres, his 1947 police procedural and the earliest of his films we've seen in the Collection, is no exception, even while the central crime fades out of importance and the entirety of the suspense instead rests on just how our lovable protagonists are going to find a happy ending, or at least the happiest ending possible given the circumstances and their certain PTSD. They do find it, though, which I think technically makes this a comedy. Though so do the actual very funny moments.

Coup de Grâce

The year after their brilliant film The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, married moviemakers Margarethe von Trotta and Volker Schlondorff split their duties with Schlondorff staying behind the camera for Coup de Grace while von Trorra does double duty as co-writer and star. Filmed in 1976 and set in 1919, the filmmakers split the difference and rather successfully made a film that seems to have been made in 1939 for all it's melodrama and technology, though with its graphic depiction of war and its emotional consequences perhaps not in America in 1939. Oh goodness the emotional consequences.

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Jubilee

Derek Jarman's Jubilee is complicated.

It started life as a documentary about Jordan, a movie "about punk rock", and slowly grew into the post-apocalyptic time travel weirdly pro-Monarchy-ish critique of punk rock and British society. As an openly gay man in London in 1978, perhaps Jarman was an outsider outside other outsiders, further anti-establishment than the punk movement he saw around him. At least that's the argument I try to make against Pat and guest Donovan Hill, who really just think Jarman's thesis -- whatever it is -- doesn't land. I don't necessarily love the film, personally, but it's definitely more interesting than I think my cohosts give it credit for.

Of course I could very well be wrong -- certainly Jarman doesn't hit his critique out of the park -- but we manage a pretty great conversation about punk rock, politics, ideals, and selling out. One of my favorite episodes to record, hope you love it as much as I did.

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Throne of Blood

There's an old theater superstition that you should not utter the name Mackers, er, MacB. The Scottish King? MacBeth.

If we shadows have offended

Akira Kurosawa seems to have taken the Scottish Curse a bit too literally, transposing his adaptation of the Bard's play into his usual feudal Japanese setting, infusing it with Noh theatre tropes, and editing profusely, the last of which everyone needs to do when adapting Shakespeare to film.

Good thing, too. Because if 1957's Throne of Blood had been cursed, our beloved Toshiro Mifune definitely really would have died during his final scene.

Oh, and friend of the show Donovan Hill stops in for this episode, as well. What a treat!

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Love on the Run

The final film in Francois Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series (and, not coincidentally, Criterion's The Adventures of Antoine Doinel boxset), 1979's Love on the Run is a capstone and a bit of a clip show, editing in flashbacks not just to the previous four films, but recontextualizing other Jean-Pierre Leaud films in order to add more backstory. Pat isn't necessarily impressed, but that doesn't stop us from fantasizing about what this film would have been like if it was made, say, last year, with the rest of Leaud's career to pull from.

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Bed and Board

We next meet Antoine Doinel in 1970's Bed and Board. This time director Francois Truffaut has his character slightly more married but just as restless as ever before. Unfortunately, this manifests in some pretty demeaning tropes about Asian women in general, and Japanese women in particular. C'est la vie, as the French say, but perhaps more apropos: C'est la vie quand vous comptez sur les stéréotypes raciaux.

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Stolen Kisses (and Antoine and Colette)

This week we start The Adventures of Antoine Doinel boxset, a collection of films by Francois Truffaut. We've already talked about the first film in the set, The 400 Blows, quite awhile ago. When Truffaut came back to the character -- and cemented the troupe that would star in all 4 (and a half) films lead by original star Jean-Pierre Leaud -- he took a markedly different course, leaving behind the gritty coming of age tale that defined the French New Wave and creating something a bit more lighthearted, if still brilliant.

We kick things off with Stolen Kisses (1968), in which Antoine meets and courts his future ex-wife Christine. For the sake of completeness and continuity we also roll in a short film -- 1962's Antoine and Colette -- which is on The 400 Blows disc and makes me think too much about how I used to interact with women. Hopefully I've changed! Antoine (barely) does!

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By Brahkage: An Anthology, Volume 1

This week's episode is a long one solely for the plethora and variety of material we're tasked with talking about. Stan Brahkage was an experimental filmmaker and a long-time film professor at the University of Colorado, who principally focused on non-narrative film. By Brakhage covers work from six decades of his career. With over four hours of material in 26 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 74 minutes long, there's a lot to digest: a lot to love and some, well, not to.

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Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne

Robert Bresson is French, and therefore I apologize for pronouncing the T in Robert throughout this episode. Jean-Luc Godard once wrote that "Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoyevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music." Though as it turns out Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne (1945) may have come before Besson really became Bresson. His amazing propensity for when and how to use music is there, yeah, but this is also his last film to use professional actors, and it's only his second film. It'll be interesting to see more from him moving forward, and given his stature in French film, we certainly will.

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