Sunday, April 19, 2009

Night Moves (1975) Explained

After Dellamorte Dellamore/Cemetery Man, I'm going to give my take on this obscure classic. Roger Ebert said understanding the entire plot of this film is missing the point, and he's probably right. Read the following right after you watch the movie.


Nick is a collector of pre-Columbian artifacts, illegal to obtain. He buys these items from stunt director Joey Ziegler who has a neat operation going on using stuntmen to get them from Yucatan. Marv Ellman flies them into the US and drops them off in Florida to be picked up by Tom Iverson and Paula.

All is fine until Tom's stepdaughter (Dilly) leaves her mother, Arleen, to go live with him. This upsets Nick as a horny teenager might ruin the deal they have going on. Therefore, he makes Arleen hire Harry Moseby to fetch her back. Arleen needs to have Dilly back to get her monthly alimony.

Harry finds Dilly in Florida in no time. Things go wrong when Marv has an accident and dies while transporting an artifact. During a dive, Dilly finds the plane and recognizes Marv. Tom and Paula tell Harry they'll call the coast guard, but don't for obvious reasons. Harry takes Dilly back to LA.

Dilly tells her friends Quentin and Joey that the corpse she saw during the dive was Marv's. She's a dangerous witness to Joey, who gets her killed during a stunt.

Quentin smells something fishy and goes to Florida to investigate. Tom kills him.

Harry goes to Florida to investigate too, beats Tom senseless and discovers half this plot from Paula. He makes Paula take him out on a boat ride to the submerged plane. While Paula is diving to retrieve the artifact, Joey shows up flying a plane and kills Paula, then tries to kill the boat owner, Tom. It got too dangerous for Joey - he wants to get rid of all his team. He doesn't know it's Harry on the boat instead of Tom. As his plane is sinking he kind of apologizes to Harry. Then again, since Joey killed Dilly, I don't think he'd have any problems offing Harry too.

Harry is left alone, on a boat that's going round in circles and is angry with himself for not seeing this plot sooner. As Harry had said about that chess player, "He didn't see it. He played something else and he lost. He must have regretted it every day of his life. I know I would have." If he is rescued, he'll regret not solving this case sooner for the rest of his life.

© Nov 9 2007

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Life and Times of Werner & Klaus

They were a director/actor team like Scorcese and DeNiro, with a much more colorful history due to the fact that Kinski was clinically insane and Herzog isn't quite right in the head either.

When Herzog was a kid, his family shared a house with Kinski for a few months. During that time, Herzog witnessed Kinski assault a critic for saying his performance in a theatrical play was merely excellent. He also remembers Kinski locking himself in the bathroom for 2 whole days, raging and demolishing everything in sight for no apparent reason.

Years later, during a theatrical performance, Kinski hurled a lit candelabra from the stage at an audience deemed insufficiently appreciative, nearly burning the theatre down.

Their working relationship started with Herzog sending Kinski the script for "Aguirre". Herzog: "Between three and four in the morning, the phone rang. It took me at least a couple of minutes before I realized that it was Kinski who was the source of this inarticulate screaming. And after half an hour of this, it dawned on me that he found it the most fascinating screenplay and wanted to be Aguirre."

During the jungle shoot, Kinski nearly split a fellow actor's head open with a sword - thankfully the other guy was wearing an iron helmet. Irritated by the noise coming from a hut where cast and crew were playing cards at night, Kinski fired a rifle three times at the hut, blowing off half an extra's finger.

From the beginning of the production, Herzog and Kinski argued about the proper manner to portray Aguirre. Kinski wanted to play a "wild, ranting madman", but Herzog wanted something "quieter, more menacing". In order to get the performance he desired, before each shot Herzog would deliberately infuriate Kinski. After waiting for the hot-tempered actor's inevitable tantrum to "burn itself out", Herzog would then roll the camera.

Herzog was using all his savings to produce this film, located in the jungle. More than halfway through filming Kinski threatened to leave the production (something he had done 35 times between 1967 and 1972 ruining all those films) because Herzog wouldn't fire a photographer Kinski didn't like. Kinski got on a boat and was about to row away and according to Herzog: "I said, 'Klaus, I don't have to make up my mind. I've had months of deliberating where is the borderline that we will not transgress. This would be the transgression, the borderline. This is something that you will not survive. I do have a rifle. You could try to take the boat and you might reach the next bend of the river but you'd have eight bullets through your head. You know the rifle takes nine bullets... Guess who gets the last one?' And he looked at me and he understood it was not a joke anymore. I would have done it. He understood he'd better behave".

After a few months or years not speaking to each other, things would cool down between them. Then, Herzog would need Kinski's acting prowess for the obsessed characters in his films, while Kinski would need Herzog to "bring out those innermost qualities" he had.

After Aguirre they did the acclaimed Nosferatu remake and followed that with "Fitzcarraldo". Fitzcarraldo is the true story about a man who decided to make money by collecting rubber from an area in the amazon jungle unreachable by boat. He did this by taking a 30 ton boat through the river, convincing native indians to haul the boat over a small mountain(!), reach the rubber, fill the boat with rubber, and carry the boat back into the sea. To achieve authenticity (which Herzog calls "the ecstatic truth") Herzog decided to do the exact same thing using native indians, no models, no special effects. The only difference is that he decided to use a 320 ton steamboat.

Despising miniature models, Herzog chose to shoot the scene in which the steamboat is at the mercy of the raging river, by leaving the real steamboat at the mercy of real raging river with a skeleton crew, Kinski, and himself aboard. A cameraman nearly lost his hand.

Kinski always wanted to be the centre of attention and would get pissed off when this didn't happen, for example when a lumberjack working on the film had to saw his own leg off after being bitten there by a snake, or when a plane carrying 6 of Herzog's crew crashed into the mountains.

Filming in the jungle always made Kinski go nuts.

Kinski's antics scared the natives. Towards the end of the shoot, one of the native chiefs offered to murder Kinski for Herzog. Herzog refused, but only because he needed Kinski to complete filming.

Herzog: "Every grey hair on my head I call Kinski. People think we had a love-hate relationship. Well, I did not love him, nor did I hate him. We had mutual respect for each other, even as we both planned each other's murder." Once after receiving a lashing from Kinski over the phone, Herzog drove to Kinski's house with a jerrycan full of petrol intent on burning the house down with Kinski inside. Herzog changed his mind halfway on route, mainly because he was afraid of Kinski's big Alsatian.

They last worked together in 1987. Kinski died in 1991.

Now, let's focus more on the guy who once ate his shoe...

In 1982, Herzog, learned his dear friend, the film historian Lotte Eisner, was dying in Paris. Thereupon, he abruptly stopped all projects he was working on, and set off to walk from Munich to Paris, convinced Eisner would not die before his arrival. He turned out to be right.

Once, Roger Ebert invited Herzog to a film festival. At the time, Herzog was on a plateau in a South American rain forest, so he made his way by log canoe and trading skiff to a pontoon plane that took him to a boat, etc. "He came because it was so difficult. If Werner had been in Los Angeles, it would have been too easy, and he might not have made the journey."

A couple of years ago Herzog helped Joaquin Phoenix out of his overturned car after Phoenix's brakes failed and he collided with another vehicle. Phoenix was saved because he was wearing his seat-belt. According to Phoenix, "I remember this knocking on the passenger window. There was this German voice saying, 'Just relax.' There's the airbag, I can't see and I'm saying, 'I'm fine. I am relaxed.' Finally, I rolled down the window and this head pops inside. And he said, 'No, you're not.' And suddenly I said to myself, 'That's Werner Herzog' There's something so calming and beautiful about Werner Herzog's voice. I felt completely fine and safe. I climbed out. I got out of the car and I said, 'Thank you,' and he was gone."

Recently, Herzog got shot with a .22 Air Rifle during a BBC interview.

The pellet went through his thick leather jacket and into his belly. He asked the interviewer to finish the interview and never checked into hopsital. Herzog: "I didn't want to have police called, because when you report to police you have been shot at by a man with a rifle, they send out a helicopter and a SWAT team. They would have over-reacted, and I thought, 'this is not a serious bullet, this is part of the folklore of LA, this is something we can laugh about it later on,' and we laughed a lot. I have been shot at with much more serious bullets before, in my life, and what I am trying to say, it's something very exhilarating for a man to be shot at with little success."

Gotta love these guys.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Dellamorte Dellamore (1994) Explained

I recently rewatched this cult horror classic, also known as Cemetery Man. There's so much more to it than meets the eye. Here's an explanation I wrote a few years ago on imdb. Read it right after you've watched the film.


There is a man named Franco. He used to be an engineer. His family-matters didn't go well, so he cheated on his wife with a hooker he fell in love with. He couldn't comprehend why she didn’t reciprocate his love and killed the whore out of jealousy of her clients. After the murder of the one he loved, he went insane and went out on a killing spree (7 pedestrians and his family). He is now in a hospital in a coma (an attempted suicide) and his mind tries to work out death and love (morte e amore).

This is where the movie starts. Everything takes place in Franco’s head. Franco's hospital room has no doors and no walls; he lies in the dark. This represents the coma he’s in, Francesco’s world, Buffalore.

Francesco represents Franco’s dark side, the murderer, who has taken over Franco’s mind. Gnaghi symbolizes Franco’s good side. Gnaghi likes it when the sun shines; Francesco thinks that's when the weather's gone bad. Gnaghi can complete the skull puzzle (a metaphor for death) – he understands and accepts death; Francesco cannot. Francesco is obsessed by this incomprehension, marking the phonebook up. Gnaghi burning the phonebook could be seen as his trying to help Francesco deal with death.

The ‘returners’ in the movie attack those people who can't understand death. E.g. the Mayor being eaten by his own daughter (he wanted to exploit her death to get reelected), the girl who comes to see Claudio (to ask him whether he loved her or not), ‘She’ being bitten by her husband (for having sex above his grave), Francesco being bitten by his dead girlfriend. Only Gnaghi can have a meaningful relationship with a zombified head.

The returners also symbolize Franco’s inner demons (feelings of guilt) which haunt him and which he tries to fight off. Every time Francesco is on the phone with Franco, returners appear - his guilt surfaces. ‘She’ is his worst returner – she keeps coming back, killing her was his biggest mistake. His love and lust for her brought all these problems upon him/Franco, so he wants to get rid of his wiener.

Franco denies his friendship with Francesco - he denies the existence of his dark side. When Franco tells Francesco to 'GO AWAY', he immediately leaves town. “Where do you think you're going if you haven’t yet realized the difference between life and me?”, Death tells Francesco. So he travels down the road, trying to leave Buffalore and death behind him. After they pass a tunnel (a common symbol for near-death experiences), the road ends and off its edge is the afterlife. The coffin falling over the edge reinforces this symbolism. Realizing there is no escape from his greatest mystery, death, he loads two bullets into the gun, says a prayer, and is about to kill both himself and Gnaghi, when Gnaghi awakens. Gnaghi doesn’t want to die because death isn’t a mystery to him. Therefore, he takes the gun and throws it off the edge - the good side takes over Franco’s mind. Gnaghi can now talk, Francesco can only murmur. Their positions in the snow globe switch. Now Franco has sorted out his demons and can sleep in peace.

© Oct 25 2005

Friday, March 6, 2009

Race matters in filmmaking: Clint Eastwood vs Spike Lee

This was posted elswhere on 11/6/08.

Excerpts from WENN.

Round 1: Spike Lee picks a fight

Talking about his World War II drama Miracle At St. Anna at Cannes, African-American filmmaker Spike Lee launched a bitter attack on fellow filmmaker Clint Eastwood for failing to include black soldiers in his films about the Battle of Iwo Jima. He insists African-American soldiers should have been included in Eastwood's Flags Of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima since hundreds took part in the 1945 battle for the Japanese island.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday at the Cannes Film Festival in France, Lee said, "There were many African-Americans who survived that war and who were upset at Clint for not having one (in the films). That was his version: the negro soldier did not exist. I have a different version."

Round 2: Clint Eastwood retorts

"Has he ever studied the history?" Eastwood asks, in that familiar near-whisper. Eastwood has no time for Lee's gripes. "He was complaining when I did Bird [the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker]. Why would a white guy be doing that [film]? I was the only guy who made it, that's why. He could have gone ahead and made it. Instead he was making something else." As for Flags of Our Fathers, he says, "yes, there was a small detachment of black troops on Iwo Jima as a part of a munitions company, but they didn't raise the flag. The story is Flags of Our Fathers, the famous flag-raising picture, and they didn't do that. If I go ahead and put an African-American actor in there, people'd go, 'This guy's lost his mind.' I mean, it's not accurate."

Lee shouldn't be demanding African-Americans in Eastwood's next picture, either. Changeling is set in Los Angeles during the Depression, before the city's make-up was changed by the large black influx. "What are you going to do, you gonna tell a fuckin' story about that?" he growls. "Make it look like a commercial for an equal opportunity player? I'm not in that game. I'm playing it the way I read it historically, and that's the way it is. When I do a picture and it's 90% black, like Bird, I use 90% black people. A guy like him should shut his face."

But there's one film project on the cards that might interest Spike Lee. Eastwood's next project, The Human Factor, is about Nelson Mandela and how he used the country's victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup as a means of fostering national unity. Will he be sticking with the historical record on that one? He laughs. "Yeah, I'm not going to make Nelson Mandela a white guy."

Round 3: Spike Lee shows us what kind of person he is

Lee says, "First of all, the man is not my father and we're not on a plantation either... I didn't personally attack him, and a comment like 'a guy like that should shut his face'... come on Clint, come on. He sounds like an angry old man. If he wishes, I could assemble African-American men who fought at Iwo Jima and I'd like him to tell these guys that what they did was insignificant and they did not exist. I'm not making this up. I know history. I'm a student of history. And I know the history of Hollywood and its omission of the one million African-American men and women who contributed to World War II."


Can you imagine a white filmmaker saying "a black man shouldn't direct a film about a white man"?

Can you imagine a white man mentioning the equivalent of "a plantation" during a heated argument with a black man?

They'd be crucified.

I'm going to quote the late, great Charlton Heston:

I marched for civil rights with Dr. King in 1963 -- and long before Hollywood found it acceptable, I may say. But when I told an audience last year that white pride is just as valid as black pride or red pride or anyone else's pride, they called me a racist.

...From Time magazine to friends and colleagues, they're essentially saying, "Chuck, how dare you speak your mind like that. You are using language not authorized for public consumption." But I am not afraid. If Americans believed in political correctness, we'd still be King George's boys - subjects bound to the British crown.

...At the University of Pennsylvania, in a state where thousands died at Gettysburg opposing slavery, the president of that college officially set up segregated dormitory space for black students. Yeah, I know, that's out of bounds now. Dr. King said "Negroes." Jimmy Baldwin and most of us on the March said "black." But it's a no-no now.

...Now, what does all of this mean? Among other things, it means that telling us what to think has evolved into telling us what to say, so telling us what to do can't be far behind. Before you claim to be a champion of free thought, tell me: Why did political correctness originate on America's campuses? And why do you continue to tolerate it? Why do you, who're supposed to debate ideas, surrender to their suppression?

...[University students] across the land are the most socially conformed and politically silenced generation since Concord Bridge. And as long as you validate that and abide it, you are, by your grandfathers' standards, cowards.

If you talk about race, it does not make you a racist. If you see distinctions between the genders, it does not make you sexist. If you think critically about a denomination, it does not make you anti-religion. If you accept but don't celebrate homosexuality, it does not make you a homophobe.

Don't let America's universities continue to serve as incubators for this rampant epidemic of new McCarthyism. That's what it is: New McCarthyism. But, what can you do? How can anyone prevail against such pervasive social subjugation?

Well, the answer's been here all along. I learned it 36 years ago, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., standing with Dr. Martin Luther King and two hundred thousand people. You simply disobey. Peaceably, yes. Respectfully, of course. Nonviolently, absolutely. But when told how to think or what to say or how to behave, we don't. We disobey the social protocol that stifles and stigmatizes personal freedom.

I learned the awesome power of disobedience from Dr. King who learned it from Gandhi, and Thoreau, and Jesus, and every other great man who led those in the right against those with the might. Disobedience is in our DNA. We feel innate kinship with that disobedient spirit that tossed tea into Boston Harbor, that sent Thoreau to jail, that refused to sit in the back of the bus, that protested a war in Viet Nam.

In that same spirit, I'm asking you to disavow cultural correctness with massive disobedience of rogue authority, social directives, and onerous laws that weaken personal freedom. But be careful. It hurts. Disobedience demands that you put yourself at risk. Dr. King stood on lots of balconies. You must be willing to be humiliated, to endure the modern-day equivalent of the police dogs at Montgomery and the water Cannons at Selma. You must be willing to experience discomfort. Now, I'm not complaining, but my own decades of social activism have left their mark on me.

...Disobedience means you have to be willing to act, not just talk. ...When a mugger sues his elderly victim for defending herself, jam the switchboard of the district attorney's office. When your university is pressured to lower standards until 80% of the students graduate with honors, choke the halls of the Board of Regents. When an 8-year-old boy pecks a girl's cheek on the playground and then gets hauled into court for sexual harassment, march on that school and block its doorways. When someone you elected is seduced by political power and betrays you -- petition them, oust them, banish them.

So that this nation may long endure, I urge you to follow in the hallowed footsteps of the great disobediences of history that freed exiles, founded religions, defeated tyrants, and yes, in the hands of an aroused rabble in arms and a few great men, by God's grace, built this country.

If Dr. King were here, I think he would agree.