Lee Wochner: Writer. Director. Writing instructor. Thinker about things.


Wonderful strange films I plan to see, and those I have to miss

These Cinefamily people who are programming the Silent Movie house in the Fairfax district continue to impress. I just put two of their offerings into my jam-packed January schedule (and we’ll see if I can make it to either one of them, but I’m hopeful).

On Saturday evenings this month, they’re running a Guy Maddin festival. I’ve never seen a Guy Maddin film, but I’ve heard about these offbeat flicks from the sage known as Richard Roesberg, as well as others. I would have liked to seen tonight’s offering, but my schedule didn’t permit:

Tales From the Gimli Hospital w/ The Heart of the World (short)
This micro-budget wonder was Maddin’s first feature. Upon the film’s release, its baffling originality knocked the socks off of
audiences everywhere, and prompted them to ask aloud: who the hell is this genius, and where the hell is Manitoba? We’re still not sure about the latter, but the former is a question better answered by this film. A deadpan, dreamlike frame-tale about a sordid necrophilic love-triangle between quarantined Icelandic Canadians, Gimli’s carefully-parsed insanity is a testament to the consistency of Maddin’s vision. Like his later features, it’s densely packed with techniques that humorously and reverently reference dead technologies. Mediums are skewered. Revenge is exacted. A damn good story is parlayed. Obsoleteness is rendered obsolete.
Dir: Guy Maddin, 1988, 35 mm, 72 min

Next Saturday night, though, I hope to catch this one:

Careful w/ Oldilon Redon: Or the Eye Like a Strange Balloon Mounts Toward Infinity (short)
Possibly the best film ever made about turn-of-the-century Alpine incest and avalanche-related repression, Maddin’s Careful showcases his masterful strangeness in scene after crackly, dizzying scene. Set in an ominously quaint village whose citizens whisper so as not to disturb the massive mounds of snow that threaten to bury them all, the story here concerns a roster of impossibly wholesome youngsters who fall victim to the Oedipal hysteria their cloistered lives foster. Maddin utilizes an unmatched repertoire of campy formalities (toy-like sets, theatrical histrionics, anachronistic visuals, deliberately clunky overdubbing, faux-tinting…). As its catastrophes escalate in number and scope, Careful begins to recall an art-house version of the sort of convoluted disaster films in which body counts multiply exponentially the closer we get to the final reel. Absorbing the thick sense of unease that blankets this gory, hilarious psychodrama is an essential experience, because it’s a thousand percent pure Maddin– inexplicably unhinged, and impossible to forget.
Dir: Guy Maddin, 1992, 35mm, 100 min.

If you’re going to make the effort to go out to see something, it should be something made better by going out. These movies seem to fit the bill. As do these, of course, which I plan to take my kids to:

Sherlock Jr. & Keaton Shorts
Mishap and mayhem arise when the inimitable Buster Keaton, playing the part of a dejected projectionist, falls asleep at the reel. The silent swain returns to the theatre after being thwarted in love by a rival who, neglecting to uphold the chivalric code of love and honor, frames the naïve projectionist for the crime of a stolen pocket-watch. What follows reads like a series of cinematic puns—the framed subject, Keaton, becomes cinematically framed as dreaming lets loose the imaginative, fantastical stuff of detective fiction in this beguiling early twentieth-century example of a film within a film. While it may be impossible to disentangle the reel from the real in the space between the projection booth and the silver screen, you’ll have to follow the infamous chase scene through to waking life to see whether Keaton’s trademark deadpan antics can restore balance to the comedic order. The feature will be preceded by classic Keaton shorts and accompanied by a live musician.
Dir: Buster Keaton, 1924, 35 mm, 44 min.

I love “Sherlock Jr.” more than any other film and yes, I’ve seen it many times. But there’s nothing like seeing it the way God intended: in a movie house, with live accompaniment and a live audience. This is the sort of experience that must be savored while possible.

Finally, here’s something I wish I could see, except I have class that night. (Well, I’m teaching — we’ll see if I have any class.)

The Stone Rider
This obscure gem of German Expressionism features two frequent Fritz Lang collaborators: it stars Rudolf Klein-Rogge, who most famously played the eponymous villain in Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler, and was based on an idea by Thea Von Harbou, Lang’s wife and the screenwriter of most of his silent masterpieces. Klein-Rogge plays a fearsome nobleman whose malevolence is transformed by the unexpected love of a young girl who arrives at his castle bent on avenging her sister’s death. Alas, their love is ill-starred, as Klein-Rogge’s violent streak cannot be suppressed, and the villagers decide he must be eradicated. Dark, moody, striking, and virtually unseen, The Stone Rider will deliver the goods for silent film connoisseurs, as well as neophytes.
Dir: Fritz Wendhausen, 1923, 16mm, ca. 80 min.

Note the appearance, of sorts, of our friend Dr. Mabuse, who as the uber-Cheney is at the secret center of all machinations. This film, sadly, appears not to be on DVD (yet?); neither our friends at Amazon.com nor the saviors at Kino come up with anything.

Oh, but to be a clone or a time traveler when there are so many cultural choices from which to choose.

One Response to “Wonderful strange films I plan to see, and those I have to miss”

  1. Rich Roesberg Says:

    You should also rent Guy Maddin’s THE SADDEST MUSIC IN THE WORLD, a comedy with melodrama. I recommend his collection of writings, FROM THE ATELIER TOVAR, which includes stills, storyboards and treatments. If you look it up on Amazon, you can read a brief review I wrote.

    I am endlessly happy for you that you have the Silent Movie house. And sad for me that we don’t.

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