Blu-ray Review: Kamikaze ’89 (1982)

Kamikaze ’89 was the subject of a crowdfunding campaign that I supported vehemently on this site. Were it merely one of Fassbinder’s final films, it would’ve earned my support regardless; however, there’s more in the film worth noting than just that. This newfound exposure is definitely warranted. As Film Movement Classics was in the midst of restoring the film and wanted some aid getting it up on the big screen where it belongs. That effort proved this film did have an audience and it saw both repertory arthouse, physical, and digital release last year.

This is a film based on the novel Murder on the 31st Floor by Per Walhöö, which has seen a number of cinematic adaptations first in the USSR in 1972 and 1980 respectively both on TV, then in 1981 in Hungary, then this version in 1982. The plot ostensibly revolves around a murder investigation the machinations and convolutions of which are giallo-like but it’s the underpinnings of a system on the edge of collapse and the portrait of a society in an uncomfortable middle-ground between dystopia and utopia that give it its emotional resonance, and its melange of capitalism and communism food for thought.

As something of an anomaly in Fassbinder’s filmography, he did not adapt or direct this film, but was lead actor. However, one thing you will glean from Nick Pinkerton’s wonderfully insightful essay on the film (preferably read after having watched it) is that Fassbinder directed by proxy through Wolf Gremm, which can be seen in a few ways. So, if you know Fassbinder’s work it will still feel very familiar.

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The score is a trance-inducing orchestration by Edward Froese of Tangerine Dream fame (for more on that score the Blu-ray booklet also features an essay by Samuel B. Prime about it), bringing its eerie familiar yet vacuous other-worldliness to life was Xaver Schwarzenberger the same DP who brought Berlin Alexanderplatz to life. The film also features a small role performed by the legendary Franco Nero, and Fassbinder mainstay Günther Kauffmann.

Kamikaze ’89 does feature the minimalistic futurism of films like Fassbinder’s own World on a Wire or Godard’s Alphaville one wherein the implication of future happenings is more about societal structure rather than awe-inspiring technological advancements. This tale is also cloistered in as much as it takes place in and around one particular edifice and its mysterious and unfindable 31st floor.

This is a film that stands as a unique statement on an artistic level. It’s being set but seven years in the future, whence the Berlin Wall would fall, also gives it a curious undertone that it likely didn’t possess upon its initial release. It societal relevance may be more culturally relativistic than some other films, but its function as allegory seems as it could spring eternal with increased intensity based on the changing tides of the world’s sociopolitical currents.

Bonus Features

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Aside from the aforementioned essays there is plenty of added viewing including:

  • A feature-length documentary by Wolf Gremm Rainer Werner Fassbinder: The Last Year.
  • And an additional documentary Wolf at the Door, a filmic memoir by director Gremm.
  • Feature length commentary by Regina Ziegler
  • Radio ads voiced by John Cassavetes

Film Activism: Kamikaze ’89 on Kickstarter

Yesterday, I was pleased to learn  about (and back) this Kickstarter for an American re-release for Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s final starring role in a cult film called Kamikaze ’89 (1982). This is a re-release both theatrically and on DVD/Blu-ray.

At this time, we’ve organized the North American theatrical premiere on June 3, at BAMcinématek in Brooklyn, NY. Where it screens next is, partly, up to you – although we can’t guarantee bringing the film to every town, with your support we can reach theater operators all over the map. Any funds raised in excess of the initial $20,000 will go towards expanding the film’s theatrical impact, or investing into future stages of the release cycle, like making the best possible DVD and Blu-ray package. This film is truly an unsung classic and we can’t wait to bring it back to the public eye with your support.

Here’s the campaign blurb:

Kamikaze ’89 was the final acting role of its star (and master filmmaker) Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Directed by his friend Wolf Gremm, the film is not often cited among Fassbinder’s important achievements. That’s due for a change. Set in a dystopian, futuristic Germany (actually only 7 years after its 1982 production date), Kamikaze ’89 is perhaps Fassbinder’s crowning achievement as an actor. The film also marks his last collaboration with longtime muse Brigitte Mira, and co-stars Franco Nero, of Django fame as well as Fassbinder’s final project as a writer/director, Querelle. It is also the only film in which he wears a leopard-print suit in every scene, which we think is reason enough to consider it more than a mere “footnote to film history,” as Vincent Canby said in his original New York Times review. Finally, you’ll love the electronic score by Edgar Froese of Tangerine Dream, who as a band defined the sounds of many cult classic films, from William Friedkin’s Sorcerer to Michael Mann’s Thief to Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

They’re seeking $20,000 (this is NOT a flexible funding project). Here’s their statement on the funds:

In order to bring this film the attention it deserves, we’re planning a nationwide (and Canada!) theatrical re-release. Although Film Movement has a long track record dating back to 2002, this will be our first large-scale theatrical re-release under the Film Movement Classics banner. We know from handling new releases over the past 13 years that putting a film into movie theaters and on Blu-ray is expensive. We figure $20,000 is the minimum we need to raise to get it out there for the theatrical release alone. If we can raise an additional $10,000, we’ll put it towards the creation of a brand new 35mm print, made with the utmost care from the new 4K digital master. The true cost for this is actually significantly higher – closer to $35,000 to do it right – but if we meet this goal, we will have the generous assistance of Ziegler Film, Kamikaze’s original production company, in covering the balance for this vital asset. Finally, if this campaign is a hit, we’ll be able to invest further in new restorations and releases; you’re not just backing this film, you’re backing our mission to celebrate classic cult and arthouse cinema.

For more about the rewards and to back the project visit its page.

BAM Awards: Neutron Star Award Winners

Here you will find a historical list of the honorees of this recently-created award. A neutron star is one that glows more brightly after it “death,” similarly these filmmakers and actors do. It’s a counterpart to the Lifetime Achievement Award which is intended for filmmakers and actors who are very much alive and kicking.

The Neutron Star Award

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

2015: Dickie Moore

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Here’s one I thought I wasn’t going to hand out this year.

However, even though I knew Dickie Moore from things like The Little Rascals, Oliver Twist, The Word Accuses, Three on a Match, and saw him in a few titles this year; I thought his star couldn’t grow to me – matching the definition of a neutron star – a star bigger after its death. However, after his passing I started to realize he would fit.

Blonde Venus (1932, Paramount)

In April I covered a movie he was in for the Pre-Code Blogathon, Blonde Venus.

Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (1984, Harper & Row)

For the Summer Reading Classic Film Challenge I covered his book Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, which is a bittersweet-at-best account of the early days of child stardom, which includes the perspective of many young stars (himself included) from the early days of sound when he caught up with them again in the 1980s.

The World Accuses (1934)

Then less than a month later he passed away at the age of 89. One of the better obits I read was this one.

Bogged down with other things I didn’t eulogize him at the time. I believe the one I did for Wes Craven was the only one this year.

There is precedent for the recipient dying in the year he was awarded.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942, RKO)

So, while there will not be Film Discoveries like there was for 2013 (Miss Annie Rooney and The World Accusses) for Moore this year, his TCM homage is taking up much of my DVR with many titles I was hoping to have seen for quite some time.

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So 2016 and beyond will likely feature more of his films. No one perfectly captures all of film’s past as they learn to love and fully embrace the art. For as much as you learn and know about technique and production there is a tendentiousness to things, and everyone develops personal favorites and preferences. Some films and people are inarguably greats, or talented if their films don’t happen to reach you on a visceral level.

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Despite the fact that he may not have been a Shirley Temple, Mickey Rooney or a Freddie Bartholomew; Dickie Moore is one of my favorites. He was undoubtedly a star in his own right, he was just surrounded by many of them in a crowded system. I look forward to getting to know more of his films that remain with us though he may be gone from this world.

RIP

2014 Honoree

Mickey Rooney

Mickey Rooney and Deanna Durbin

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Mickey-Rooney-and-Judy-Garland-Andy-Hardy-Meets-Debutante-1940

This one was not easy to figure out. Much of the reason this award proved difficult to choose is that with my viewings being somewhat down across the board it was difficult to find a number of actors or filmmakers who jumped up in prominence this past year. Usually, they were known as well. However, with Mickey Rooney’s unfortunate passing I did have cause to post my first In Memoriam in some time and I did feature some of his shorts after the incident, and had seen some earlier titles he appeared in. I still have, and have been meaning to see, many of his Andy Hardy titles sitting around. Then in December he reprised his role in the Night at the Museum series. As always this kind of appearance was bittersweet (particularly as Robin Williams always features prominently in those films also). For Mickey some of the bittersweetness owed to the fact that the lingering effects on his speech of a stroke were apparent. The saving graces were that he did fine and the film very classily and prominently dedicated a title card to them both.

Rooney’s credits are many and I will continue to seek them out, and who knows I may find more that I can share legally here. I hope that seeing his later works will encourage new fans to discover some of his earlier works. Many of them, from varied points in his career, have been with me for quite some time.

Ironically, the first I ever heard of Rooney was through an impersonation of him by Dana Carvey on SNL. Like a lot of impersonations there was some basis in fact for it, much as there was for Mickey to legitimately claim he was once the biggest star in the world. That point can be debated if you like but his impact and longevity may not be matched anytime soon. Therefore, any growth in the appreciation of his work is worthwhile.

“It’s never too late to see a movie.”
-Edgar Wright

2013 Honoree

Rainer Werner Fassbinder

Rainer Werner Fassbinder (RWFF)

The award was created last year to recognize an actor, but this year’s winning selection is a slight fudge. However, I don’t feel I’ll be likely to re-define or expand the award any time soon so I’m going to go with it.

Basically, the winner did act in films and did even play leading roles, however, to be completely honest, Rainer Werner Fassbinder is winning this award for his work as a writer and director. Now a bit like Jackie Searl I did have some familiarity with Fassbinder in the past. He made appearances on both my 2011 and 2012 Favorite Older Movies list.

However, 2013 was much more viewing many more appearances and was topped off by my getting both the Region 2 box sets of his films. Granted even those aren’t all his works.

When you see a few things by a director you are responding to individual titles, when you see quite a few you start responding to a voice and Fassbinder’s was a voice I sought to hear speaking repeatedly through 2013, and I’m sure that will continue into the new year. In tandem with this award you should look out for this year’s favorites list, which will include his titles; and I may create a subsequent series designed to reflect the year’s winner as I have with other body-of-work awards in the past.

Fassbinder had a knack, in standard feature-length dramas, making the first forty minutes impossibly gripping over and over, of also creating approachable density and magnetic melancholy, and it’s why I sought to come back to his works many times over last year and why he is the recipient of this award.

2012 Honoree

Vincent Price

Vincent Price
As tends to be the case when I’m breaking out a new honor (e.g. The Ingmar Bergman Lifetime Achievement Award or the Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year), my initial write-up about it will be fairly short.

OK, so what is the Neutron Star Award? As I watched older selections through the year, I was frequently compelled to pick a film based on the fact that Vincent Price was in it. When I was younger I was very actor-oriented, more so than with directors. The fact that an actor had that kind of draw, and was one who is sadly no longer with us, made me think there had to be some kind of way I could honor them.

So I thought literally about stars, and being a nerd I confirmed that a neutron star fits the definition of a star that has gone out but glows more brightly after its passing.

Which brings me back to Price. If you look at my older films list this year you’ll find Vincent Price all over it. He was not only a talent, and not only elevated works he took part in, but in a way elevated the entire horror genre; in large part because of the horror icons he arguably was the longest-lasting and most identified with it. Christopher Lee, for example, has for years been synonymous with other kinds of films, but once Price got his foothold it was nearly his sole dominion.

I fight Netflix indecisiveness so anyone that great that makes me say “Oh, he’s in it? Good enough for me.” Is certainly worthy of some honor.

I truly like this idea and I hope it acts as another incentive to discover and get to know other actors’ filmographies in the future.

Favorite Older Films First Viewed in 2013 (Part 5 of 5)

This is a list I first saw on Rupert Pupkin Speaks. The idea is to list your favorite films from the past year that you saw for the first time, but exclude new releases. This allows much more variety and creates a lot of great suggestions if you read many of them.

Since I tracked these films much more closely this year my list grew long. I will occasionally combine selections by theme, but there is enough for five posts. These choices are in no particular order.

Enjoy!

Veronika Voss (1982)

Veronika-Voss

Yes, this is more Fassbinder and more of the BRD trilogy (two-thirds of it on this massive list). The BRD Trilogy through female protagonists tells tales of Post-War Germany and the repercussions it had for many years.

This particular tale takes place in Munich 1955 where a sports journalist meets Veronika Voss, a woman now hooked on painkillers who purportedly had an affair with Goebbles.

This film delves into quite a few aspects of the war, as well as the post war era and offers interesting commentaries on the Nazi link with the German film industry.

Mirage (2004)

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Later this year, with regard to In Bloom and the other films from former Soviet states that I was watching, I came to realize that there is a wave of new postcolonial cinema that has been blossoming worldwide since the fall of the Soviet Union, and the Eastern Bloc in general. While it was those films that pointed it out to me it has been illuminated for some time, and this an early example.

This is a Macedonian film, and was an Oscar submission in its own right the year it came out. It successfully connects coming-of-age tropes with a burgeoning nationhood. A nationhood that’s not conducive to hope; one that glorifies the outside world and presents only violence and pain within its borders. The fact that this tale marries fantasy and reality is also a comment on the perception of both the local environment and the world at large, and a powerful statement.

Duma (2005)

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If there’s one thing that always kind of bugged me about Carol Ballard’s The Black Stallion is that the portion Alec and The Black meet and bond, which is mostly silent, is far superior to the portion of the film wherein he comes home and starts to race the horse. Having bonded with a horse in the wild it just never quite jibed with me that he’d then willingly race it. Such artifice rang false. I still like the film, just not as much as I thought I would. Duma, another Ballard-directed film, based on the nature of its tale doesn’t have that issue. It’s still a tale of a boy and a wild animal bonding, helping each other becoming friends, but the nature of the animal doesn’t get altered, and furthermore, Duma helps Xan come to terms with things he couldn’t deal with in his life prior. It’s a great film that’s not as widely acknowledged as it should be.

The Merchant of Four Seasons (1971)

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Being the last installment of the list and the one I designated for any overflow, and in part due to luck of the draw, I had to have two Fassbinder titles here.

My reaction to this one was delayed, and the most powerful I felt after any of his films. Again I was gutted as the film comes closer to dropping than ending. It’s a simple tale, with a rather straightforward, and to an extent foreseeable, trajectory but powerful nonetheless.

Miss Annie Rooney (1942)

MissAnnieRooney

This has very basic set-up, however, when you look closer there are a few interesting things going on in this film. The basic premise is that a girl from a working-class family (Shirley Temple) meets and upper-crust boy (Dickie Moore) and needs a dress to fit in at a party she’s invited to. The class commentary, the love conquers all portions are fairly common. There’s a few interesting twists thrown into the happily-ever-after endings. More interestingly is the way a transitional vehicle for young actors is handled, they’re cast close to their actual age, and in fact, seem to be playing a bit older than they are at times and are not really dumbed down too much. More often than not now it seems that successful transitions from child star to adult employment on camera is facilitated by hiatus but this seems quite the successful transitional vehicle for both young stars.

Dead of Night (1977)

Dead of Night (1977, Dan Curtis Productions)

Here’s the second made-for-TV movie to be featured on this list and marks a return to the list for writer/director/producer Dan Curtis whom last appeared thanks to Burnt Offerings.

This is a TV movie that tells three tales, and the opening monologue does not lie, each tale works in a bit of a different milieu: the first, regarding a very odd time traveling incident is a fantasy, a work of imagination, that is not bereft of eeriness. The second is a mystery tale though also with a decidedly horror slant, as in this one Matheson is working off his own short story about vampires. The grand finale, and it is grand, is the truest horror tale of them all, titled simply “Bobby” deals with the horrific results of a grieving mother getting what she wished for: the return of her deceased son.

It is a taut tale, it runs 72 minutes for the three tales, so each is roughly the equivalent of an episode of a half-hour TV show; which is a perfect vessel for drama. There is a tenor of seriousness and an undertone of tension throughout the film, which culminates in rather narrative film fashion in the last tale, which is absolutely pitch perfect. Joan Hackett and Lee Montgomery are the only actors in the tale, barring a voice-over husband away on business, and they are frequently in singles and could not be more flawless in their commitment and delivery.

Dead of Night is a great anthology and one that really gives me an impetus to move Curtis further up my queue, as this is masterfully done.

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour – Don’t Think About It(2007)

R.L. Stine's The Haunting Hour - Don't Think About It (2007, Universal Home Entertainment)

At times, I will confess that choices do have to be representative. You can categorize, sub-categorize and pigeonhole films (or any art) in any number of ways. However, it’d be hard to represent 2013 for me without some reference to R.L. Stine. Yes, there was the huge write-up on the new series he produces, but also quite a bit of reading of his works, and then there’s also this film.

It took me a while to get around to screening this one because the last film I’d seen based on one of his works was quite a bad miss. This one, however, thankfully, mostly works.

A lot of that has to do with the practical effects work by Gregory Nicotero, one of the best in the game right now, who created an awesome creature for this film.

The film works itself into its story slowly. It does follow its protagonist (Emily Osment) and builds her character, and motivations for all the characters involved, but it does so a bit languidly. When things do get going though they’re rather freaky and things resolve themselves nicely, with the characters growing and a well-earned horror-film end.

As this film felt a bit stretched, it will be interesting to see if the planned Goosebumps film, comes to fruition if the anthology-styling suits it better, which it should.

In Love with Life (1934)

In Love with Life (1934, Invincible)

As many painfully poor titles as I had to suffer through in my Poverty Row theme it sure has made a dent on this list. Here’s my rather lengthy initial reaction to this film:

A few things come to mind when discussing this film, most are specific to Poverty Row others aren’t as much. I’ve discussed the running time and the utilization thereof on a few occasions in these posts. This is not something that stems from worries about my attention span or time management issues but is inherent to structuring. Some of these films are trying to cram a lot of film into not much time, others are at points stretching. This one, at a brisk 51 minutes seems to handle things just right.

Now one note I will include, I believe this is the TV edit. I base this conclusion on both the book by Mr. Pitts and the IMDb, which list the running time at 66 minutes, as does a supposedly remastered version available on the IMDb. Sadly, with many of these Poverty Row titles those are the only cuts that remain. If this is truly a TV edit kudos to the editors of this version, while it is brisk it never feels overly truncated. There just seem to be a few instances of dropped frames.

Things that separate this film are: that there is scoring throughout rather than just on the opening and closing title, there are moving shots which required sophisticated sound editing, elevated production values for the budget namely set design and good montage/titling work.

Not exclusive to, but more common in works of this type, are stories that pre-date and lead up to the stock market crash. It being a melodrama the moral is clear: we lost our money but have what matters. However, it doesn’t go as far over the top as it could, particularly with a mother-child separation at the beginning. It plays its tropes fairly well and quickly.

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T (1953, Columbia)

This is kind of surprise that this list was built to highlight. There is much in this film that I usually would not connect with. However, this particular film connects in a number of ways.

The first, and most surprising thing for me, is not only is this an original screen idea by Dr. Seuss, but one I really connect with. Even as a kid I was never really into Dr. Seuss at all, quite the contrary, but on occasion I will find a tale that sneaks by and I enjoy and this is one. Next this film features Tommy Rettig pre-Lassie and he’s perfectly cast and has quite a bit to carry aside from singing he also breaks the fourth wall and narrates the tale. The villain, played by Hans Conried, struck me as familiar. As the film started, I knew I had heard that voice. Sure enough I was right, and guessed it. I heard that voice a lot as Disney’s Captain Hook. Almost immediately I pegged this film as a one nomination film and having fallen in love with the production design thought it’d be that, it was the score which is also good. It merited multiple honors in my estimation.

The Color Out of Space (aka Die Farbe) (2010)

This was a film that I initially qualified for the 2013 year, but upon further research I discovered it was on Amazon Instant Video for a while without my knowing about it. When I had a slip-up in the planning of these lists and found this list one film short it was the perfect title to slip in.

The malleability of the tale again shines through as in this rendition while the tale begins in Arkham, Massachusetts; the protagonist is in search of his father who vanished in Germany after World War II, and that is where he will spend most of his time. As he arrives in his last known whereabouts he meets a man who starts to tell him of the strange events that had occurred in that town. These events make up a bulk of the short story.

Now the film being transplanted to Germany is already a bold decision that works out quite well. The next emboldened choice is that the film is predominantly in black and white. It’s a great choice for Lovecraft’s antiquarian style, but also aids in selling a majority of the effects work that is needed to render this tale. Yet, in a tale about color it is further brave – and without putting to fine a point on it, does serve a purpose.

There is some English dialogue in the film, but a vast majority of it is in German, and due to that performances are usually spot on. Both the cinematography and the edit do tremendous things to build the atmosphere of outre and foreboding that is one of Lovecraft’s hallmarks. Things in this tale are slightly askew and on a precipitous decline leading to one earth-shattering moment and it moves there almost unerringly.

The workmanship in this tale rivals what the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society has been able to do with its films. It really is quite a work and proves that The Colour Out of Space is what I would refer to as one of the great stories, meaning that I can view many renditions of it and revel in the tweaks an modifications each brings to the table.

Shorts

Not much text is needed to discuss the shorts, but they do deserve inclusion. Especially when you consider my list of films seen I should highlight a few older shorts, some not featured on Short Film Saturday. So here are some notable ones.

Captain Eo

Captain Eo (1985, Disney)

Thankfully I went to see this wondrous relic of the ’80s before the attraction disappeared from the Walt Disney World landscape for all of eternity. In my opinion, it’s Michael Jackson’s best and most cinematic video/short film.

The Show (1922)

The Show (1922, Vitagraph)

I sought out quite a few films based on having read The Keystone Kid. This was the first and quite a humorous one at that.

The New York Hat

This is one of the shorts I saw for the Funny Ladies Blogathon wherein I wrote about Fazenda. This is most definitely a Gloria Swanson vehicle, and most definitely a D.W. Griffith title and very good.

There were also this year a few categories, be they directors or performers, that I saw many notable films from. Namely:

Georges Méliès

545px-George_Melies

For these titles I was able to find YouTube links. However, for the long Documentary about him, I recommend the box set Méliès the first Wizard of Cinema, for the Alice Guy and Louis Feuillade titles I refer you to the Gaumont Treasures vol. 1 set, For The Little Rascals I refer you to The Little Rascals The Complete Collection.

The Human Fly

The Impossible Voyage

Untamble Whiskers

A Moonlight Serenade

There was also a noteworthy film about him I saw called: Le Grand Méliès by Georges Franju

Alice Guy

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The Magician’s Alms
The Game Keeper’s Son
At the Photographers

Louis Feuillade

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Spring
The Trust
The Heart and Money

Little Rascals

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Shivering Shakespeare