November 2019, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour – Excess and Opulence 


[Translate to english:] THE GANG’S ALL HERE, 1934

We are focusing on grand gestures for this month's Magical History Tour - on films located in the space between excess and opulence, whose exuberance is manifested either by the director's unlimited personal involvement or by an unfettered artistic vision. However, opulence and excess are by no means an end in themselves, but instead represent the expression of a desire for change asserting itself against manifold constraints and obstacles. Our program features films committed to absolute realism alongside ones that find their appropriate form in extreme stylization.

ICH DENKE OFT AN HAWAII (Elfi Mikesch, West Germany 1978, 5. & 12.11.) Elfi Mikesch’s experimental documentary is a portrait of the 16-year-old Carmen, who lives with her mother and brother in a new housing estate on the edge of Berlin. Nothing remains of her father, a Puerto Rican soldier, apart from postcards and Hawaii records. With the help of wistful music, dramatic make-up, and glitzy costumes, Carmen dreams herself into another, glamourous life – an expression of the desire to break out of an everyday life full of household obligations and an opulent counter vision to the petty bourgeois living room.

LE BRASIER ARDENT (The Burning Crucible, Ivan Mosjoukine, France 1923, 6.11., with a live piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) The directorial work of one of the great stars of the silent era, a "tour de force blend of surrealism, Freud and Dada," (Jay Weissberg), is peppered with unusual gags and experiments, has a wild motley plot, and eccentric set design. Mosjoukine plays a detective known as "Z", who is hired by the jealous husband of a married woman visited by Z himself in her dreams after reading his memoirs. "One day at the Colisée cinema, I saw LE BRASIER ARDENT," Jean Renoir later recalled. "The audience was shouting and whistling, shocked by a spectacle so different from their usual fare. I was delighted. I decided to abandon my trade, ceramics, to try to make films."

LE CAROSSE D’OR (The Golden Coach, Jean Renoir, France/United Kingdom/Italy 1952, 13. & 24.11.) Jean Renoir explores the question of how life and theater behave towards one another via magnificent colors and heavy stylization, as boundaries blur and the worlds on stage and off it are interwoven and mirrored. The starting point is the golden coach ordered by the wasteful viceroy of a small South American state. A troop of actors arrives with it, whose star the men fall in love with both on stage and in “real life”. Opulent in décor, acting, and composition – a masterpiece, just like the golden coach itself.

THE GANG’S ALL HERE (Busby Berkeley, USA 1943, 15. & 18.11.) The musical surrounding the love story between a dancer and a soldier who proved himself in the war in the Pacific was 20th Century Fox’s most expensive production at the time and the highpoint in the brief Hollywood career of Brazilian singer, dancer, and actress Carmen Miranda. In glowing Technicolor, she can be seen moving to the rhythm of the samba in shrill costumes and her fruit-bowl-aping tutti-frutti hat, directed by choreographer and director Busby Berkeley, who excelled himself with the famous banana number and a kaleidoscopic finale full of colors and forms.

LUDWIG (Luchino Visconti, France/Italy/West Germany 1973, 16. & 22.11.) With a star cast, including Helmut Berger, Romy Schneider, Trevor Howard, Silvana Mangano, and Gert Fröbe, Luchino Visconti made this analytical study of the "fairy-tale king" at unprecedented cost and with unseen extravagance, showing how Ludwig II of Bavaria cracks under the pressure of his obligations as ruler and his aesthetic utopias. "A film that can never be emulated; the sum and pinnacle of an imagination shaped and permeated by centuries of European culture, a conscience that is shaped by history and memory, temper and sensibility."(Martin Schaub).

SAYAT NOVA (The Color of Pomegranates, Sergei Parajanov, USSR 1963, 17. & 28.11.) In a series of surreal, poetic, mysterious, opulently folkloric, and meticulously arranged tableaux vivants, Parajanov shows different stations in the life of 18th century Armenian poet, composer, and singer Harutyun Sayatyan, who first lived at the court of the king, later roamed the country as a travelling singer, and was finally murdered and became a martyr. The poet’s lyrical universe is at the heart of the film, which Parajanov translates into a moving still life: careful compositions which place humans, fabrics, objects of all kind, flowers, and animals in relationship to one another. The fevered associations linked to the life of an artist form a film of superlatives, one of the most beautiful and artistically resolute to be made in the Soviet Union. “At once serious and playful, Parajanov brings the world of Armenian poet Harutyun Sayatyan to life; an 18th century of the present, in mysterious, poetic, modern, surrealistic, loving, and ironic images.” (Dietrich Kuhlbrodt)

SHOWGIRLS (Paul Verhoeven, USA/France 1995, 19. & 26.11.) Fiery, self-confident young dancer Nomi Malone wants to make it in Las Vegas. There, in a show business delirium full of glittering surfaces, uninhibited vulgarity, and wastefulness, she does indeed fulfil her dream, although the human cost is considerable. In his legendary, breathless enfant terrible of a film, Verhoeven transposes the story of All About Eve into the post-modern 90s and draws up a balance of the eight years he spent in Hollywood to that date. “If SHOWGIRLS is pornographic, that’s not due to the large number of naked, outstretched bodies, but rather because of its aesthetic: here, everything is made visible, the most intimate feelings are translated by means of gestures and facial expressions, every abyss can be felt in the sound, each feeling excitement flows into the camera movements – a total mirror.” (Alejandro Bachmann)

MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY (Lewis Milestone, USA 1962, 20. & 23.11.) In 1789, the British Marines’ HMS Bounty must take an alternative route via Africa and Australia due to bad weather on their return from Tahiti. The tensions on board are unleashed when Captain William Bligh (Trevor Howard) reduces the crew’s water rations to dangerous levels in order to save the breadfruit trees in the hold. Led by First Officer Christian (Marlon Brando), part of the crew mutinies against the captain. For the fourth film adaptation of the historical mutiny, no effort or cost was too big for MGM: a three-mast ship was built according to the original plans, with the film shot on Ultra Panavision 70 at original locations in Tahiti and Moorea. The replacement of director Carol Reed by Lewis Milestone, constant script re-writes by different authors, and the capriciousness of superstar Marlon Brando led to the shoot lasting nine months and made production costs explode into double that originally planned. With a budget of just under 20 million dollars, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY became the most expensive film ever at the time and a financial disaster, which led what used to be Hollywood’s richest studio to the brink of ruin. We are showing a contemporary 35mm magnetic sound print.

NA SREBRNYM GLOBIE (On the Silver Globe, Andrzej Żuławski, Poland 1978/1989, 21. & 30.11.) A group of astronauts leaves Earth in order to found a better civilization on a new planet. After making an emergency landing on a desolate planet similar to their own, the surviving astronauts become the founders of a shamanistic tribal culture. Video footage of this so-called silver planet makes its way back to Earth, tempting astronaut Marek to travel there, where he is greeted as a savior and soon becomes a bloodthirsty army leader. With NA SREBRNYM GLOBIE, Żuławski, a master of ecstatic, orgiastic, wild, feverish direction, adapted the “moon trilogy” by his grandfather, writer Jerzy Żuławski. A full two years after the start of work on this opus magnum, the cultural authorities forbade any further shooting, meaning that the film remained a fragment. It was only in 1988 that Żuławski was able to reconstruct a cinema version.

MUJERES AL BORDE DE UN ATAQUE DE NERVIOS (Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Pedro Almodóvar, Spain 1988, 24. & 29.11.) Pepa – masterfully played by Carmen Maura – and Ivan are voice synchronization actors for famous Hollywood films from the 50s and 60s and a couple. One day, Ivan ends the relationship by leaving a terse message on Pepa’s answerphone: she is supposed to pack his things and leave them with the concierge. Pepa’s nervous breakdown is followed by an apartment fire, drug excesses, and a colorful blend of different characters, who only plunge Pepa’s life ever further into chaos. The exuberant story with its many branching off plot threads gradually recedes into the background as the film continues. In the foreground, there is a tangle of different feelings, female insanity, and the male incapability to deal with it.

FITZCARRALDO (Werner Herzog, West Germany 1982, 7. & 27.11.) An opera house in the middle of the Amazon jungle, where Enrico Caruso is supposed to sing: Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski) fears no excess in making this insane dream reality. In order to raise the necessary money, he enters the rubber business, which culminates in his attempt to carry an old steamship over a mountain. Fitzcarraldo’s eccentric megalomania is reflected in the obsession of both his actor and his director. (hjf/mg/gv)