Rein Raamat’s Hell (1983) adapts the engravings of Estonian graphic artist Eduard Wiiralt into a surreal, grotesque, and heavily sexual animated short. Wiiralt’s three source works, “The Preacher,” “Cabaret,” and “Hell,” date back to the early 1930s and portray a cacophony of bacchanalia, hysteria, and violence in the final years of Estonian independence amid the unrest of the Great Depression and European instability. Raamat’s Hell (Põrgu) was created in the comparably uncertain time of Soviet dismantling and collapse. The short is unsettling in its physical fluidity, like an Eastern European, art film prediction of the climax to Brian Yuzna’s Society (1989).
Horror can be elegantly simple. Consider Rod Blackhurst and Bryce James McGuire’s Night Swim (2014), where a nighttime dip by Eve (Megalyn Echikunwoke) in a backyard pool results in an unexpected observer. Chills and scares are developed in the short’s brief four minutes using a novel idea and some carefully paced storytelling. Dive in, horror fans!
The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents Puzzle of a Downfall Child.
Based on his own interviews with troubled fashion model Anne St. Marie, Jerry Schatzberg’s Puzzle of a Downfall Child is an unnervingly intimate, narratively-fragmented portrait of a top fashion model in personal and professional decline. Faye Dunaway, fresh from her star-making role in Bonnie and Clyde, delivers a tour-de-force performance as Lou Andreas Sand, once a celebrated model now shored up in an isolated beach house struggling to maintain her partial grasp on reality. Directly influenced by the European art cinema of Alain Resnais, Ingmar Bergman, and Michelangelo Antonioni and boasting a screenplay by acclaimed screenwriter Carole Eastman and supporting performances by Barry Primus, Roy Scheider, and Viveca Lindfors, Puzzle of a Downfall Child is a visionary film emblematic of the disenfranchised subjects, art-film sensibilities, and young, creative filmmakers that made the New American Cinema.
- New 4K digital restoration, supervised by director Jerry Schatzberg, with uncompressed monoaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
- New interviews with Schatzberg and actor Faye Dunaway
- Alternate opening sequence prepared by the studio
- New interview with playwright Elisabeth Bouchaud
- Fashion of a Downfall Child, scholar Drake Stutesman on the film’s costumes and fashion trends
- Sounds from Across the Ocean, scholar Jay Beck on the film’s sound design
- PLUS: An essay by filmmaker and photographer Bruce LaBruce
The Criterion Collection’s announcements for January 2018 sees the return of G. W. Pabst to the Collection, the long-expected arrival of John Hughes with a less-expected title, a Ken Loach Palme d’Or winner, and the return of the Eclipse series! From a trailer perspective, it is the release of Janus Films’ Night of the Living Dead 4K restoration trailer that has likely made the greatest waves. George Romero’s classic 1968 film has probably never looked better, even when it was first released.
MMC! keeps our creepy October rolling with Dave Fleischer’s spook-errific animation classic, Snow-White (1933). This Betty Boop masterpiece was animated almost single-handed by Roland Crandall over six months, his reward for loyal service to Fleischer Studios. The short features an array of creepy gags and set-pieces, the highlight of which is the Mystery Cave portion where a rotoscoped Cab Calloway performs “St. James Infirmary Blues” as a ghostly Koko the Clown. I first saw Snow-White in a class on the Disney Company where the very knowledgeable professor cited the rotoscoped appearance of Cab Calloway as an introduction of realism into the film, something I never understood given the very fantastic animation applied to the phantom Koko transforms into and the almost unnatural, counter-intuitive physics of Calloway’s glides and moonwalks. Snow-White has been preserved by the National Film Registry and can be found on Blu-ray in Volume 4 of Olive Films’ Betty Boop: The Essential Collections.
Among the last ten films I’ve watched, top marks go to the traumatic chronology of Muriel, or The Time of Return and The Dust Bowl‘s heartbreaking ecology, while Nothing Bad Can Happen might be a feel-bad masterpiece if you can stomach its tortuous content. Those looking to kick off this Halloween month with a mix of class and trash might consider the double-bill of The Beauty of the Devil and Mystics of Bali, an unexpected celebration of supernatural deals gone wrong.
- Mystics in Bali (H. Tjut Djalil, 1981)
- The Beauty of the Devil (Rene Clair, 1950)
- The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2001)
- Okja (Bong Joon-ho, 2017)
- Muriel, or The Time of Return (Alain Resnais, 1963)
- Fury of the Karate Masters (Alfredo B. Crevenna, 1982)
- Evil Ed (Anders Jacobsson, 1995)
- The Dust Bowl (Ken Burns, 2012)
- Wonder Woman (Patty Jenkins, 2017)
- Nothing Bad Can Happen (Katrin Gebbe, 2013)
Finally, The Royal Tenenbaums remains a sad, warm blanket ready for when I need it.