Tuesday, April 2, 2013

1930 - 2013: Jess Franco

Jess Franco has died. The body of work left behind is vast, complicated and wholly singular. Franco followed fearless and deeply personal cinematic dreams throughout the entirety of his long life. His death comes a little after a year of the passing of his long time partner and collaborator Lina Romay. Franco's mark on film is unbelievable. As time passes on, my love and admiration for his unique movies grow exponentially. Having made upwards of 200 films, there is still much to be uncovered, restored and rediscovered. An amazing life full of inspiration found within. Endless thanks to Jess Franco for sharing his astonishing art with the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Final film of retrospective: Andrzej Zulawski's My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (Mes nuits sont plus belles que vos jours) at BAM

BAM concluded this singular theatrical opportunity to view Andrzej Zulawski's entire filmography with his 1989 French film, My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days (Mes nuits sont plus belles que vos jours). I have always found the film to be a deeply melancholic work with incredible performances from both Jacques Dutronc and Sophie Marceau.

The film begins with color-saturated brain images over the opening credits while pulsing electronic music sets a strange trance into motion. Lucas (Dutronc), suffering from rapid memory and speech loss, has just been diagnosed with a rare terminal brain disease. Shortly after, a Zulawski chance encounter alters the course of Lucas' life in the form of a fleeting coda. He meets Blanche (Marceau) who is in what appears to be an awful and puzzling marriage with a man with whom she also performs as part of a psychic act. Lucas decides to abandon his computer programming life and follows Blanche to the hotel where she performs.

Lucas (like Servais in That Most Important Thing: Love) can't help but throw himself into a volatile situation between the woman he loves and her husband. Once Lucas and Blanche are able to spend more time together an electric bond forms. What further ties Lucas and Blanche together are mutual traumatic childhood flashbacks. All the while, Lucas is constantly uttering word associations in an attempt to retain memory and language skills. Zulawski uses this angle of the story in fascinating and far-reaching ways. The wordplay is tragic and hilarious, sometimes blurring the lines between the two. Dutronc plays Lucas with such a sad intensity that even when amusing bits are spoken there is an undeniable mournfulness present.  Puns, time, and love are ambiguous.

Zulawski directs My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days with a meditative and trance like form. There are also surreal touches to the story that are intensified by the slow, hypnotic movements during the most tender and poetic sequences. Andrzej Korzynski provides yet another marvelous soundtrack with a beautiful piano variation that becomes entwined with the events.

Lucas' time rapidly dwindles as his mind unravels and delirium intensifies. Blanche understands the importance of the final time they are sharing together. The lines of reality deteriorate.

Prior to the film, BAM announced that the Andrzej Zulawski retrospective was a massive success due to the constant viewer support during the entire series. For their part, BAM screened another immaculate print. Zulawski is such a major cinematic force: There is simply no other director like him in the entire world. I hope that enthusiasm for Zulawski's work spreads significantly as a result of this wonderful and rare retrospective. Ideally, Zulawski will direct more masterpieces if he is so inclined to share his cinematic world once again.

Andrzej Zulawski's Boris Godounov at BAM

The second-to-last Andrzej Zulawski film to screen as part of the BAM retrospective might be Zulawski's most rare film, Boris Godounov. Nearly impossible to purchase in any form for home viewing, Boris Godounov was the only Zulawski feature film I had yet to view. The film is an anomaly in Zulawski’s career as a filmmaker as it is his only filmed version of an opera and his only film in Russian. As Boris Godounov is a filmed opera and most importantly a Zulawski work, it features ever shifting camera perspectives, glorious lighting, beautiful set pieces and pure spectacle. I am far from well versed in opera or film versions of opera though feel quite confident in proclaiming that this is a highly unusual cinematic adaptation of an opera.

Boris Godounov is filled with brutal, dreamlike, funny and charming sequences. It is a self-reflexive film that repeatedly brings attention to the artifice of film-making, stage productions, and art itself. Zulawski’s crew and technical background materials weave in and out of the visuals seen. This is done in such a way that never becomes overbearing or unfortunate. Instead, it adds an interesting element to an already surreal touch on the opera that is unspooling. The music, singing, and performances are top tier as are all of the magical set designs and costumes.

BAM came through once again showing an exceedingly rare print that looked absolutely phenomenal. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was to behold. I greatly anticipate the Mondo Vision release, which is currently slated for release in 2013.

Andrzej Zulawski's Fidelity at BAM

Fidelity is Andrzej Zulawski’s most recent film to date and was made in 2000. It is a paradoxical film, teetering between conventional and trademark unorthodox Zulawski, and is evocative of elements in The Blue Note, My Nights Are More Beautiful Than Your Days, and That Most Important Thing: Love.

Sophie Marceau plays Cielia, a photographer. She has a chance encounter with Cleve (Pascal Greggory) who quickly becomes her husband. Cielia has just started working as an abstract art photographer for a seedy newspaper that is trying to add some class to its media empire. Like Nadine's choice to appear in an exploitation film in That Most Important Thing: Love and Ethel's decision to perform dance routines for a pathetic photographer in La femme publique, Cielia takes the photo assignment out of necessity. The job pays for the cost of care and treatment of Celia's dying mother. Following her mother's death, the ghostly forms of Celia's deceased parents materialize somberly in various moments throughout the film.

Zulawski directs Fidelity with a swooning and tender lightness. The performances and camera movements are alive, though understated. In place of kinetic frenzy, Zulawski teases out the energy in peace. Sophie Marceau gives a dynamic and sincere performance, in spite of brief scenes when the story falters or becomes disjointed. Zulawski juxtaposes graceful camera work with adrenalin-fueled action scenes while Cielia experiences a bizarre underworld with a younger love interest, Nemo (Guilaume Canet). Andrzej Korzynski’s beautiful and minimal piano melodies correspond with the delicate emotions seen and felt onscreen. A highly effective synthesizer sequence tranquilizes with sustained tones. On the other hand, pseudo industrial-metal music during the action sequences is comical and oddly dissonant.

The arc of Fidelity instantly brings to mind Nadine’s struggle in That Most Important Thing: Love. Like so many Zulawski protagonists, Cielia strives for individual freedom and expression while imposing limits by adhering to social and personal codes of loyalty, honesty, and honor. She experiences a painful dilemma in that she loves her husband though has conflicted emotions towards him and desires another man.

BAM screened an outstandingly clean print on Sunday March 18th that heightened my appreciation for the film as I had only seen the work on DVD up until that point. The performances, photography, and music all struck me as more powerful this time around though I still think that Fidelity has some clear flaws and pales in comparison to Zulawski's most accomplished films. 

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Andrzej Zulawski's On the Silver Globe (Na srebrnym globie) at BAM

Andrzej Zulawski wound up back in Poland following the critical success of his first French film, That Most Important Thing: Love. On the Silver Globe (Na srebrnym globie) is an adaptation of an epic science fiction series titled, The Lunar Trilogy and was written by a great relative, Jerzy Zulawski. The Lunar Trilogy was released throughout Europe at the beginning of the 20th century though still to this day the writings have not been translated in English. The film version, On the Silver Globe was in production from from 1975 until the Polish government put a stop on the unfinished film in 1977. When it was shut down, a large percentage of the film was already complete though essential sequences had not yet been filmed. It wasn't until 1987 that Andrzej Zulawski was able to edit together the existing footage and complete a version of the forever unfinished film. In a fascinating and experimental move, Zulawski decided to narrate the scenes with no visual material and provide newly shot sequences of city streets and daily life in Poland. 

On the Silver Globe is a film about life cycles, permutations of those cycles and the inevitability of mankind building up false gods and eventually tearing those gods down to start anew. The story begins with three astronauts who are starting a new life on the moon. Marta and Thomas bring children into an alien landscape while Peter keeps a perpetual film diary of everything that is taking place. Zulawski sustains a reflexive perspective for the first third of the film. The characters are fully aware of Peter's hand held camera and frequently address the camera's gaze directly. The rhythm is naturally choppy and is full of quick and at times jagged cuts. Marta and Thomas eventually die and Peter is left alone continuing to document what is taking place with the primitive society that is now forming. 

In the following section of On the Silver Globe, Marek (Andrzej Seweryn), appears in an alien world of strange rituals and perplexing mysticism. His existence in this world speaks directly to a forlorn prophesy. Marek is treated as the messiah and leads a battle against massive bird like creatures called Sherns. The film becomes increasingly abstract and has a steady flow of philosophical and conflicted assertions. Part of this is due to the bizarre power that Sherns possess. They are creatures that do not speak though cause individuals to hallucinate and share innermost feelings, exposing personal weaknesses to the Sherns. The final part of the film entails the damaged relationship of Jack and Ava who are earth people that Marek knows. In a drug addled fit of rage and frustration, Jack goes to the alien land to see what has become of Marek just in time to see him brought to the point of oblivion by the same exact individuals who put him in a holy state of supreme power.

The artistry behind this film is overwhelmingly otherworldly and beautiful. Everything from the meticulously designed costumes, expansive sets, utterly unique locations to the music and cinematography; this is a film in a world of its own. Andrzej Korzynksi provides spacious and mysterious synthesizer layers that bleed right into the drenched atmosphere of wonder. Andrzej Zulawski moves the camera in unthinkable and feverish directions that build up with a greater intensity as the film draws to a close.

BAM screened an immaculate 35mm print of On the Silver Globe. It was one of the most visually beautiful screenings of a film I've ever attended. What astounded me the most was how absolutely vivid the color scheme actually is. I saw a different print of the film in January of 2008 at Anthology Film Archives and the colors were unbelievably murky in comparison to the print shown at BAM. It  has been completely clear that all DVD copies I've watched up until now have been unacceptable. That feeling is far more pronounced now knowing how amazing the film looks.  The print BAM screened contained a much wider color spectrum that jumped out in scene after scene. It was such a noticeable positive shift and so incredibly beautiful that I almost felt like I was seeing the film for the first time. The Mondo Vision release should be outstanding when it comes to light. 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Andrzej Zulawski's The Devil (Diabel) at BAM

After a sole one day break from BAM playing non-stop Andrzej Zulawski films spanning his entire career, Friday night started the tail end of the series (5 films remaining) with Zulawski's second feature film, The Devil. This rather disturbing and surreal film was made in 1972, a year after his masterful debut, The Third Part of the Night. The Devil is a veiled criticism of student riots that took place in Warsaw in 1968. Zulawski transplants the seeds of this story of corruption and sets the nightmarish proceedings at the end of the 18th century when the Prussian army invaded Poland. The mask worn on this film was seen through by the Polish government as Zulawski's film was banned for nearly two decades and it resulted in him leaving Poland to live and work elsewhere.

The Devil begins with total chaos as a strange man (Wojciech Pszoniak) dressed from head to toe in black enters a convent looking to take two individuals out of the extremely violent environment depicted. The stranger succeeds in removing Jakub (Leszek Teleszynski, who also stars in Zulawski's The Third Part of the Night) along with a nun. Jakub is told by the mysterious man to ride a horse given to him back to his home. Upon his return home, Jakub sees a wasteland of a world gone made all around him.

A wave of grim, crazed and blood filled sequences leave Jakub at a complete loss with the insane world that he finds himself in. Jakub finds out that his father is now dead, his mother has become a whore, his sister has lost her mind and his fiancee (played by Zulawski's first wife, Malgorzata Braunek who also starred in The Third Part of the Night) is now in a forced relationship with a long time friend who has taken advantage of the cracked political climate. The madness on display coupled with the man in black periodically reappearing telling Jakub to cleanse situations around him leads Jakub on a feverish killing spree.

Zulawski directs this film with more emphasis on hand held camera movements. There is a compelling energy felt throughout largely due to the ever moving and constantly on edge camera perspective. Making the film even more of an intensive sensory experience is Andrzej Korzynski's psychedelic rock soundtrack. In a daring and fresh way, the period drama is contrasted with a modern rock styling. That being said, Korzynski's sound in this film is shrouded in a haze of heavily processed sounds, making the electric guitar and bass reaching near synthesizer type textures at times.

In a way that echoes The Third Part of the Night, Zulawski shifts a political story into the realm of unmitigated horror. Strangely, The Devil is less polished and more rough around the edges yet it works to the advantage of the chaotic underpinnings. This is a staggeringly angry and seemingly cathartic work that shines harsh light on the evil spirit of a corrupt society. Jakub senselessly murders countless individuals who consist of family, friends and acquaintances. The strange man in black guides Jakub through these killings and serves as the embodiment of political manipulation.

BAM screened a rare print of The Devil that was both strong and decent in terms of print quality. Large passages of the film looked quite fine while projected though reel changes were certainly rather rough with jagged transitions at several points. Given the extreme rarity of the screening, it was awesome to finally see this film in 35mm. At the moment, the existing DVD versions I've seen are dreadful. I'm sure the unbelievable Mondo Vision label will change all of that when they are able to release The Devil.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Andrzej Korzynski's Possession soundtrack overview

Finders Keepers has recently released Andrej Korzynski's vital soundtrack work for Andrzej Zulawski's Possession as a limited cassette. While I can't wait for the Possession score to be released properly on LP and or CD, the tape will have to do until that time.

Beyond finally having a copy of the already known and phenomenal Korzynski music used in Possession, this release brings to light 12 wonderful tracks (out of 27 total tracks) of material that didn't make it into the film. Up until now, these tracks were never heard by the general public. The unused pieces work incredibly well with the familiar material.

First the known music...

The Night The Screaming Stops (Opening Titles) perfectly captures the spirit of the film with the pulsating electronic rhythms and synthesizer melody. The Night The Screaming Stops (Tempo) is a minor variation of the opening titles song and is used towards the end of Possession.

Meeting With A Pink Tie is the uptempo synthesizer driven track when Mark is talking with the man with a pink tie (and later known pink socks) about watching the dying dog under the porch yelping. The Man With Pink Socks is a riff of of the Meeting With A Pink Tie track and appears when the pink socks are finally revealed after Mark throws himself down the spiral staircase to his death. Both tracks are exquisitely sequenced and fast tempo synthesizer numbers that elevate the given scenes they are used in.

Mark Looks In The Fridge, Heinrick's Demise, Detective Deserts, Closely Observed Anna and What Is It? all contain assorted atmospheric rumblings with synthesizers, effected piano and delayed woodwind trails.

Helen Has Green Eyes is the absolutely beautiful and haunting recurring piano theme. Like the opening titles track, Helen Has Green Eyes perfectly aligns with the surge of emotions that Possession encompasses.

Mark Sees Everything circles around the Helen Has Green Eyes melody using synthesizer pads.

Andrzej Korzynski

As for the unused music...

Opetanie 1 through 6 are demented tango tracks with cascading violin and bass synthesizer work. I love all of these tracks as they possess the carnival aspect of the proceedings while adding touches of beauty, mystery and playfulness.

Possession - Orchestral Theme 1 and 2 essentially expand upon the song Helen Has Green Eyes with strings and subtle synthesizer backing. These unused tracks are my favorite of the lot and have a majestic quality to them.

Kreuzberg 1 through 4 tracks all have menacing drones and dip into familiar synthesizer motifs known in the used Possession material. These tracks riff off of the scene in which the lead detective is looking for his detective lover while following Anna to the creature apartment. The Kreuzberg tracks are variations of the track Blue Ford B-AZ6.

It is incredibly exciting that the  Possession soundtrack has finally been released. The LP/CD of the score can't come out soon enough along with more of the marvelous Korzynski soundtrack work for Zulawski films. With luck, the next string of releases will include the soundtracks for The Third Part of the Night, The Devil and On the Silver Globe.

The Finders Keepers cassette release instantly sold out on the main UK Finders Keepers site though is still available at the US based sister site, B-Music for those who can't wait for a more practical format to appear: