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Notebook 4th Writers Poll: The Ferroni Brigade's Double Trouble Madness '11

The Ferronis take our end of the year double feature extravaganza to delirious heights.
The Ferroni Brigade

Many—maybe too many, looking at this bunch of bone-tired warriors of AV-virtue—were the travels the Ferroni Brigade embarked on all through 2011: oftentimes for festivals all over Europe, sometimes for visits to this archive or that as part of our programming arbeit (to be read with a Japanese drawl). During those months in the dark, we saw a lot—some of which chimed and rhymed with new works we encountered in this multiplex back home or that gallery abroad, on this collector's Steenbeck or in that producer's private projection room (they still exist).

On one of those trips, we were joined by our main MUBI-man, His Kasness a.k.a. the Kasest with whom we plunged one evening into a brainstorming on what The Festival would look and feel like (truth be told: it was more like a communal delirium—but what do you expect from folks sitting in an Italian restaurant staring at Lapin Kulta-banners...). Der Kas came up with the most enticing vision: A series of screenings made up of double-features only, of all length and formats, which means that one program could run less than half an hour, another for a solid demi-day etc. Mind, we don't believe that we've found the eierlegende Wollmilchsau for this our age of cineventization—mother ain't even a humdinger. Still, it's certainly something festivaldom hasn't yet on offer: A space where cinema present and past is considered in a playfully dialectic fashion, and with some irreverence at that (something sorely lacking in a culture that seems to know only beanpole-up-the-arse-seriousness and brain-dead hip-to-be-square-funnyniceyeasylikeyness). Creates some quite interesting selection criteria as well, this little idea here...

So, to get the ball rolling, we hereby humbly offer as our contribution to the Notebook Double Trouble Madness 2011 a core selection for that festival whose first edition should ideally take place in February 2012, smack during the Berlinale. Maybe we'll try to find DVDs of all these works and show them in some good soul's living-room. Or we'll just invite folks for a party where we'll describe the works in living colors—we can assure you that you'd die to see TO1..., comrade Wurm do Paavo Nurmi, TO1..., comrade Möller reenact the Turin Shroud, or TO1..., comrade Huber being himself as Gonzo the Great. Or something like that.

NEW: Drive (Nicholas Winding Refn, USA)
Drak sa vracia (Eduard Grečner, 1968)

WHY: With William Shatner covering “Iron Man” on his utterly Ferronian new double album, it’s about time we admit that we all go for the iron in a man, don’t we? He may be of angel-like appearance, but he will use a knife and produce blood streams with overload pressure for the things in his life he loves most. These things don’t come often: a very fast car, a very timid girl, a very odd and unjust situation to resolve. Shortly before dying, the driver is at home, finding rest on his own personal (and every real knight’s) moral border line between courtly love, charitable devotion, and physical surrender. Our taciturn outlaw’s transfer from West Coast urbanity to the Slovakian woods in Eduard Grečner’s Drak sa vracia (Dragon is Returned)—adapted from Dobroslav Chrobák's 1943 novel—brings along some natural shifts in looks (Radovan Lukavský's dragon lives up with his name), design (the most exciting b&w vs. the most exciting colors), and means of transportation (surprisingly enough, not donkeys but bulls pull all the weight of this inhospitable peasant world), but the basic fairy tale with a tough hero in the lead (only to be the declared number three throughout life), developing the winsome nature to only speak if asked, and to wait with an iron patience before finally striking hard, unites these two masterpieces of narration, drawing close also on a meta-level: both start a “language that jumps in time” (to use Refn’s words), both borrow from aesthetics pointing back some thirty, forty years—Drive is an 80s film, Drak sa vracia, shot in the CSFR’s crucial year 1968, recalls the iconography of the 1921 Slovak outlaw legend Janošík—and both are incredibly well-tempered in unfolding their Ferronian desire a.k.a. rights. 

NEW: HaShoter [Policeman] (Nadav Lapid, Israel)
Slaughter of the Innocents (James Glickenhaus, 1993)

WHY: Sublime, surreal schizophrenia: Slaughter of the Innocents is an apex in the crazed, (comparably) baroque late phase in the way-too-brief career of American Hero (cue the Theme) James “God” Glickenhaus, who proceeds to cross-breed a detective kid adventure with a violent Silence of the Lambs-era serial killer plot, treating even the most fantastic complications with his characteristic, placid casualness and visual acuity. By nature divided against itself, the result is a telling reflection of the divided psyche of a nation as well as the resulting regulations for entertainment. No need to dwell on the nation's divided psyche with regards to Nadav Lapid's excellent first feature HaShoter, which follows in two separate movements two self-absorbed groups (Mishteret Yisrael elite squad; a group of young Israeli terrorists from well-heeled families) until they clash violently. Although deservedly lauded, we have the impression that one aspect of Lapid's film has been seriously neglected: the absurdly comic. Which becomes especially clear when contrasting it with another recent Israeli debut: Kalevet by Aharon Keshales & Navot Pupashado, marketed as “the first Israeli Slasher film”: If that's true, surely some poetic justice is to be found in the fact that the poor Israeli slasher is out of work these days, since the members of the nation's middle class proceed to annihilate each other over their squabbles, while he spends most of the movie knocked out on the ground.

NEW: The Muppets (James Bobin, USA)
OLD: The Courtship of Eddie's Father (Vincente Minnelli, 1963)

WHY: Speaking of the (unwitting) malcontents of the middle class: Master Minnelli's magnificent evocation of the dark, goddam Dracula-black underside of postwar boom family life, both epic and subtle in its dissection of the scars under the officially mandated veneer, resonates even more deeply in the light of The Muppets. The Courtship of Eddie's Father once spawned a sweet TV sitcom spinoff (which may account for its neglect), now Jim Henson's holy TV creations triumphant return to the screen is astonishingly depressing, when seen for what it is: a hardly-veiled allegory of the contemporary downsizing of the middle and lower classes. As represented by the Muppets, tellingly torn between nostalgia for the good old days and a desperate striving for to-the-moment-hipness, they ultimately get evicted despite their best efforts, and still break out in a chorus (”Everything is great /Everything is grand”) that claims “Life's a Happy Song”. Yes, during the end titles Gonzo the Great does the right thing, but bear in mind that, like Inspector Closeau, Gonzo is an unwitting anarchist.

NEW: Marian ilmestys (Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Finland)
OLD: Il mistero della Sindone (Salvatore Cerra, 1979)

Some of you certainly thought we were joking when we mentioned the Turin Shroud—well, think twice, and look at least thrice Salvatore Cerra's Il mistero della Sindone, a rare masterpiece of accidental avant-garde art überbrut. Because: That Cerra-dud(e)—about whose ways and works we found out zilch—definitely knew less than shit about the art of filmmaking. Nothing, nulla, nada, nichts. Amateurish doesn't do justice to this celluloid weirdo of a Catholic science essay movie, for amateurs are anal retentive when it comes to craft, doing things corrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrectly. Maybe Cerra did try, but he certainly failed—yet, in the way he fell flat on his face, Cerra created a work of genius no amateur on this planet could ever, ever hope for. The first half of Il misterodella Sindone tells the Shroud's story: From the cross (crudest, shoddiest Golgatha ever) to the Christ's burial cavern (Styrofoam eternal), then on through the ages (appropriated big budget-Crusade-movie footage gets intercut with el cheapo-scenes churned out by Cerra hell-bent on seamless transitions and smooth narrative flow), to the relic's current place of devotion, Turin; the second half documents an international conference on the Turin Shroud, explains its findings. Il mistero della Sindone is a patchwork-like essay on the creation of images, how they change shape and meaning through the ages, arts and technologies, get narrated in ever different ways—with only faith as such, that spiritual hunger at the core of all things, that which defies doxa and survives each and every encyclica remaining the same. At the end, the Turin Shroud becomes a symbol for cinema—not that Cerra intended so but that's what it does. Marian ilmestys gets us back to the greatest story ever told's beginning: the Annunciation. A director (played by the incomparable Kati Outinen, who gets to say more in these 34' here than inall her Kaurismäki-parts together) wants to recreate the Annunciation as a piece of AV-art. Instead of telling her actresses what to do, she talks to them about the Annunciation's history in visual arts as well as its biblical background, which includes a trip to a donkey farm and a long discourse on the Brigade's most beloved animal's history. All that as a triptych, not solely in a spiritual sense like in Michael Glawogger's Whores' Glory, but in an honest-to-God 3-images split-screen one. Driven by Jacob von Uexküll more than the Good Book, Marian ilmestys ends on a note counter to that of Il mistero della Sindone: Faith, like theworld, onto which it is projected, depends on each creature's very own perception—there's not one God but many.

NEW: Senna (Asif Kapadia, USA)
Paavo Nurmi – mies ja aika (Peter von Bagh & Markku Koski, 1978)

WHY: While we're talking about religion: Here's the Passion of the Ayrton as told in the gospel according to Asif. The life of a racing car icon done as an appropriated footage-mosaic cobbled together from images that more often than not look as if they would disintegrate into a pulp of white static any second—with the holes on the screen becoming the holes in the story, of which there are many. Paavo Nurmi – mies ja aika works in a similar fashion yet to a totally different end: Finland's greatest athlete is turned into an incarnation of his nation's hopes and failures, illusions and disillusions. Nurmi is all Finland's dreams and all its nightmares—a child in time which expands and extends, like an echo or a call, all around the globe. Through Peter von Bagh, all the world becomes Finland, and Finland cinema. 

NEW: La Folie Almayer (Chantal Akerman, Belgium)
OLD: La follia di Almayer (Vittorio Cottafavi, 1972)

WHY: One text, two adaptations which couldn't be more different—actually, Akerman latest looks as if—although we don't believe that—she'd consciously constructed her monument as a counter-vision of Cottafavi's axiomatic cine-reading of Conrad. The latter is a meditation-in-motion on one self-delusional man's fall not from grace, just down into the deep pit of poverty and loneliness—the former an essay on one woman's cunning moves into some kind of freedom. Cottafavi's direction is taught, virile, agile, muscular—Akerman's distant, observing, unexpectedly expressive at certain moments, melodramatic off and on in a high modernist key. Seen back to back, one could probably learn everything about cinema. 

NEW: Notes. Voyages en Russie 1989-90 (Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci-Lucchi, Russia)
Ritorno a Khodorciur. Diario armeno (Yervant Gianikian & Angela Ricci Lucchi, 1986)

WHY: One auteur (couple), two works way apart. Ritorno a Khodorciur. Diario armeno shows Gianikian's father reading from the diaries he wrote on a journey back to the old country which he had to flee when the Turks massacred the Armenians. The diaries were originally written in Armenian which he translates for the camera into Italian. Gianikian never subtitled the work; whenever it's shown outside the Italian-speaking world, he does a simultaneous translation of his father's words in the theater. That's taking the idea of speaking for the dead to new heights... When he did it in Lussas last summer, he was drained after the experience. Translation also plays a crucial part in the genesis of Gianikian & Ricci-Lucchi's most recent and mighty massive undertaking, of which Notes. Voyages en Russie 1989-90 is but a small part—a remembrance of things past done as something like a trailer. In 1989-90, Gianikian & Ricci-Lucchi traveled through the dying USSR to meet the last living protagonists of the nation's grand avant-garde: writers, filmmakers etc.; they talked to them, and filmed them—theirs are among the last images made of giants like eg. Iosif Hejfits or marginalized masters like eg. Israel Metter. Up till recently they couldn't do anything with the material as they weren't able to pay for someone to properly translate the many hours they'd accumulated; now they can, and therefore are in the process of shaping that record which might—might...—run for hours. Notes. Voyages en Russie 1989-90, again, doesn't work with that material, but watercolors Ricci-Lucchi painted from memory and diary entries read by Gianikian. One of the frailest and tenderest films we saw this year.

NEW: L'Apollonide (Souvernirs de la maison close) (Bertrand Bonello, France)
Carousella (John Irvin, 1966)

WHY: The ever-astonishing filmography of John Irvin yields an early, short, concise documentary about London strippers: Carousella was attacked back then as “a recruitment film” for its refusal of easy moral judgement, instead electing to let the women speak for themselves. Since it would have seemed almost too easy to pair it with Michael Glawogger's Whores' Glory (but make sure to see it anyway!), we instead offer Bertrand Bonello's astonishing evocation of a Fin de siècle brothel which manages to study similar subjects in a unique and uniquely fascinating way. 

NEW: Notes on Film 05 Conference (Norbert Pfaffenbichler, Austria)
Es muß ein Stück vom Hitler sein (Walter Krüttner, 1962)

WHY: Hitler, undying and multiplied. Es muß ein Stück vom Hitler sein, an off-kilter mix of direct comedy and investigative journalism, details all the ways the Bavarian government as well as certain federal institutions made serious money with the Berghof ruins which tourists (and some such...) could still visit till the early 60s (this film set an end to it). Scary stuff: Masses from all over the world with a want to feel the Führer's aura milling through a dank and damp emptiness imagining—what? Do we look into thefaces of myriads of Hitlers here?—let's not indulge in undue illusions about our fellow human beings... Quite fittingly, Hitler is also 20th century's most often impersonated presence of public interest, rivaled in history total only by the Christ. Notes on Film 05 Conference is as much a meditation on Our Hitler—we had seemingly everybody do him, and had him do everything—as well as, on rebound, an essay on Hitler, the actor who created a character called Führer (to quote the title of a nutty 1978 Castellanoe Pipolo comedy featuring Adriano Celentano in a double role: Zio Adolpho in arte Führer). Sounds meta, something for academics and the discourse crowd?—well, it's simply history. When Pfaffenbichler and TO1..., comrade Möller visited an exhibition called Hitler und die Deutschen (Berlin's seemingly hottest new tourist attraction in late autumn of 2010...), they were intrigued by a set of postcards showing Hitler in half a dozen different oratorical poses; these postcards, again, were styled after the postcards known from that era which show theater and movie actors in their most famous roles ie. costumes and/or poses. Germany, a maze of mirrors, a fun house with exits—entries, really—that proclaim Arbeit macht frei...

NEW: Nacht und Nebel (Dani Gal, Israel)
OLD: Zichronot misphat Eichmann (David Perlov, 1979)

WHY: Half a century ago, Adolf Eichmann stood trial in Jerusalem. Next year, it'll be the 50th anniversary of his hanging, still the only execution the state of Israel carried out. Since then, we had... so many, Ṣaddām Ḥusayn about a demi-decade,ʾUsāmah bin Lādin only months, Muʿammar al-Qaḍḍāfī but a few weeks ago. And certain things obviously never changed: Nacht und Nebel might be a recreation of the scattering of Eichmann's ashed based upon the memories of Auschwitz-survivor, Mishteret Yisrael-investigator and witness to Eichmann's execution, cremation etc., Michael Goldman Gilad, but in its core it's as much about what happened to the human remains of ʾUsāmah bin Lādin—the parallels are just too bloody obvious. The Israel is still had HaMossad leModi'in uleTafkidim Meyuchadim capture Eichmann and face a trial—now, the USA and some juridically dubious coalitions simply kill those they want to see dead, or have them killed. Due process has gone out of fashion—why, Zichronot misphat Eichmann shows: The Eichmann trial left no one unmarked. David Perlov asked people of two generations what they could remember from the Eichmann trial. The answers are at time quite staggering—especially when two men start to compare their own work as soldiers with that of Eichmann, an officer just like them... Eichmann, actually, wasn't the point at the trial, but the system he represented, as at least one interviewee here observes. Therefore, Eichmann never vanished even if his body was cremated and his ashes blown away across no-man's water; the person created from all these memories has more power than the one man who signed acts of mass murder.

NEW: The Conspirator (Robert Redford, USA)
The President Vanishes (William A. Wellman, 1934)

WHY: Crises, conspiracies, the patterns of force emerging in a vacuum left by the sudden demise/disappearance of the President of the United States. Wild Bill Wellman's The President Vanishes, a seldom-seen and thus neglected major work, is a taut, incisive adaptation of an anonymously published Rex Stout novel (and the only movie adaptation the venerable author approved of: “I hate like hell to admit it but it was better than the book”), in which the president is confronted with a fascist coup (by the “grey shirts”) on the eve of war. Conversely, Not-Exactly-Wild Bob Redford's underrated (for completely different reasons) The Conspirator, which only came to European shores this autumn—as an ideal antidote to The Ides of March, one presumes—uses a trial in the wake of Lincoln's assassination to investigate the means of upholding power in a postwar climate after a traumatic blow. Two films that could not be more different stylistically, but are like a double mirror focusing crucial moments in America's self-regard, over 75 years (and, some might argue: a world) apart.

NEW: J. Edgar (Clint Eastwood, USA)
Black Tuesday (Hugo Fregonese, 1954)

WHY: It was a (grand) Fregonese year for the Ferroni Brigade, but no matter how much we strained our brains, the current crop just did not yield anything to stand next to masterpieces like Saddle Tramp, The Raid or, of course, Apache Drums, the donkey lover's The Searchers—just to stay with the western, nowadays a mostly missed genre. However, decades before Kubrick, Fregonese experimented on shooting only with candle light, first on Apache Drums, then in Black Tuesday, the first film to be shot on Tri-X film: “In one shot I had every light turned out on the set and lit the whole thing with a single candle!”, director of photography Stanley Cortez recalled. Fregonese's noir is part of the late cycle in which the gangster protagonist goes spectacularly off the rails, but especially notable and unusual for its claustrophobic consequence. E. G. Robinson gives an appropriately unglamorous performance—unlike, say, the powerhouse of James Cagney's manic energy and Raoul Walsh's deft, pounding direction in White Heat, here you just get a psycho trapped in everyday nastiness and inevitability. The breakout from prison only leads to another: a siege in a warehouse caps the attempt of the driven protagonist to write his myth against increasingly diminishing odds (and protests of his only ally), all the while receding further in the darkness. Which, if you think about it, is exactly what happens to J. Edgar in Tom Stern's sternly lit compositions for Clint Eastwood's monumental historical shadowplay.

NEW: Evolution (Megaplex) (Marco Brambilla)
Naš marš [Our March] (Aleksandr Šejn & Aleksandr Svetlov, 1970)

WHY: And it was also a good year for 3D: There was Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), David Zamagni & Nadia Ranocchi's  (2010) and Jan Němec's Heart Beat 3D. (The latter we mention also in memoriam of its co-screenwriter,Václav Havel, whose sole directorial effort, 2011's Odcházení, showed that he not only looked like Helge Schneider but had a similar sense of surreal humor. And not only that: After the film's screening in Uherské Hradiště, TO1..., comrade Wurm gleefully declared: The only work of recent cinema to rival the sweet, jesterly genius of Michael Glawogger's Contact High [2009]; the rest of the Central Committee frantically nodded in agreement.) Yet, Evolution (Megaplex) is somewhat different from the rest. For one thing: It's actually a loop, so if you chance upon it in an exhibition, you can marvel at it for as long as you want. Truth be told: We have no idea how long it would take to exhaust this monstrous montage of icons and situations, movements, really, great and small from canon-fodder as well as debris from the junkyard of film history, how often one could walk with one's own eyes through that apocalyptic landscape of a popular culture wasted. Maybe it's impossible to exhaust—it can only exhaust the viewer—too much history... It's been long since a montage of fragments from film history could exhilarate a willing audience—for example some forty+ years, when the first 70mm-production of Sovpolikadr hit the USSR's screens: Grand moments from a grand history recreated in the grand Mos- and Lenfil'm-style re-arranged in ever new, ever more astonishing forms on the grandest of formats, all set to a rousing best-of revolutionary tunes. We walked on clouds after that one.

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