July 2012, arsenal cinema

Magical History Tour - No Man's Lands and Shady Underbellies in Film

Gangsters, corruption and dodgy dealings but also solitude, isolation and emptiness are the watchwords for the epoch- and genre-straddling overview of cinematic no man's lands and seedy underbellies we are presenting in July's Magical History Tour. The series maps out a diverse mix of different universes, each with their own specific aesthetic and dramatic topography. What unites them is how they show that the parameters of social coexistence or human relationships have come apart at the seams and give the impression that the boundary between the centre and the periphery can often be wafer-thin.

DIE 3-GROSCHEN-OPER (The Threepenny Opera, G.W. Pabst, Germany 1931, July 1 & 23) Pabst sets his adaptation of Brecht's beggars' opera/gangster ballad with music by Kurt Weill in a twilight world: it is here that beggar king Peachum (Fritz Rasp) and corrupt police chief Tiger Brown (Reinhold Schünzel) conspire together against Peachum's recently married daughter and her new husband. The "chase" through dives and shady harbor districts, brothels and prison cells ends in another parallel world, this time of a more bourgeois nature: a bank! 

JENSEITS DER STRASSE (Harbor Drift, Leo Mittler, Germany 1929, July 4 & 11, piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) Brilliant camerawork (Friedl Behn-Grund) and furious montage sequences characterize this love triangle between a beggar, a prostitute and an unemployed man, who end up in deadly conflict over a pearl necklace. This largely unknown key work of proletariat silent films dives deep into the underworld and its seemingly unavoidable misery. Restored print.

LE SANG D'UN POETE (The Blood of a Poet, Jean Cocteau, France 1930, July 7 & 8) Cocteau's transposition of the legend of Orpheus into a cinematic poem has an artist enter the underworld through a mirror at the behest of a statue come to life, unleashing a stream of images "free in their selection of faces, forms, sounds, gestures, plot and location." (J.C.). ORPHEE (Jean Cocteau, France 1950, July 7 & 8) A mirror is once again the portal into a no man's land, the realm of the dead, a strange world in which the poet Orpheus (Jean Marais) falls in love with a princess (María Casarès) whilst also trying to save his wife.

BLUE VELVET (David Lynch, USA 1986, July 9 & 10) In Lynch's disturbing thriller, a revealingly artificial suburban idyll in bright saturated colors comes into contact with dark, mysterious crime world, or, to be more exact: young, innocent student Beaumont (Kyle Mac-Lachlan), who has returned to the town of his childhood following the death of his father, falls into the clutches of perverted, masochistic super criminal Booth (Dennis Hopper), who spends most of his time in shady hideouts. 

GILDA (Charles Vidor, USA 1946, July 14, 16 & 19) Location: a casino. An illegal yet high-class establishment provides the background for criminal machinations. While it may seem as if this luxurious underworld is concerned with nothing less than world domination, everything actually revolves around a woman: Gilda (Rita Hayworth), who is caught between two men in Buenos Aires. A classic film noir, whose pace and tension are only surpassed by the glorious Rita Hayworth.

UNDERWORLD (Josef von Sternberg, USA 1927, July 19 & 27, piano accompaniment by Eunice Martins) A notorious gangster sentenced to death escapes from prison to find out whether his lover has been unfaithful. As a forerunner of Little Caesar (1930) and Scarface (1932), UNDERWORLD also lets feelings of fear and loneliness shine through the protagonists' all too thin facades. Mental states are revealed through everyday gestures, the lighting of a cigarette or the lifting of a glass: the further you enter the underworld, the more gripping the melodrama.

FROST (Fred Kelemen, Germany 1997/98, July 17, Fred Kelemen will discuss the film with Ulrich Gregor following the screening) On Christmas Eve, Marianne takes her son and flees from her violent husband, embarking on a seven-day odyssey through an ice-covered Germany. Her search for the town of her birth runs through fields of snow, frozen lakes, icy streets, leading from the hell of a subterranean flat into a seemingly endless ice-covered no-mans land. "A film full of terrifying emptiness and sudden, violent catharsis, FROST is one of the landmark European films of the late 90's." (Anthology Film Archives)

LES AMANTS DU PONT-NEUF (Léos Carax, France 1991, July 21 & 30) Shortly before renovations are due to start, the oldest bridge in Paris becomes the point of convergence and refuge for two people in search of a home: Alex (Denis Lavant), a young drifter, and Michèle (Juliette Binoche), a painter gradually going blind, both withdraw from the raw, hostile world beyond the Pont Neuf. But the bridge turns out to be fragile as the no man's land Alex und Michèle construct that spans different times and worlds.

THE THIRD MAN (Carol Reed, United Kingdom 1949, July 24, 26 & 29) Expressionistic shadows at a suitable slant dominate the labyrinthine ruined landscape of postwar Vienna, where an initially unsuspecting American writer  (Joseph Cotton) sets out to discover the truth behind the alleged death of his friend (Orson Welles). He is revealed to be a cold-blooded criminal, whose death at the appropriate location made film history.

LIVERPOOL (Lisandro Alonso, Argentina / France / The Netherlands/Germany/Spain 2008, July 28 & 31) A variation on the theme of loneliness. Characterized by striking visual compositions, lengthy shots and the careful treatment of color and light, Alonso focuses on his protagonist Farrel, a sailor who goes to visit his mother after a long absence. He travels through the snow-covered expanses of the Tierra del Fuego in icy temperatures to reach the isolated village of his birth, a return both slow and hesitant. He is met with a surprising encounter upon his arrival: the family has a new addition.