Friday 28 June 2024

On SBS and streaming on SBS On Demand - Barrie Pattison enjoys NO KIDS/SIN HIJOS (Ariel Winograd, Spain, 2015)

The agreeable production line entertainment features that were the backbone of movie-going most of my life have all but vanished. I watched The Fall Guy for which a couple of name stars in a comedy-crime piece wasn’t enough. They had to add-in takes where the camera follows a character up four flights before dropping them down a lift well, dialogue about split screen that was done in split screen, Sydney Harbour locations, multi rolling cars and setting the lead on fire.

I came home wanting a break from all this overkill and the TV put up SBS doing something called No Kids, which turned out to be Sin Hijos, a nine year old Spanish movie with the immensely watchable Maribel Verdú and Diego Peretti, anticipating director Ariel Winograd’s line of polished, agreeable romcoms, the 2022 Hoy se arregla el mundo /Today We Fix the World, 2020’s El robo del siglo / The Heist Of The Century, and the much re-treaded 2017 Mamá se fue de viaje / 10 Days Without Mum. I find that No Kids also was re-made in 2020.


No Kids has that cycle’s nice mean streak. Hangdog Perretti now shares the custody of his nine year old daughter Guadalupe Manen, juggling that with running Cabau’s Music Store, the inherited family business, when who should walk into the shop but his decade cherished crush Maribel, who doesn’t remember him. She’s irresistible. When she proves multi-lingual, he asks which she speaks and she says “Many – badly, like the Pope.” There’s only one problem. She hates children – a demo in the park where a baby bursts out crying on seeing Maribel but beams at Peretti. Frantic exertions follow, converting his flat into an economically furnished bachelor pad when she visits and back when Manen comes home. Diego passes the kid off as his sister by a long-lived dad. At one stage, Peretti is stuck on a pier collecting a ship load of keyboards and desperately tries to find someone in the family who can pick up his daughter from music practice, finally only left with Maribel. He rushes home and his first question is “Did you kill her?” In the nicest passage. Manen figures it out and starts running the operation.


Diego Peretti, Maribel Verdú Sin Hijos/No Kids 

Winograd’s act is juxtaposing his comedians with children. Characteristically in 10 Days Without Mum, his daughter warns dad Perretti (again) that if he fires the so nice baby sitter, she’ll learn to drive and run him over.


No Kids is nicely developed – Perretti’s ex-wife’s kung fu instructor new husband is glimpsed in the background showing Bruce Lee moves to brother Martín Piroyansky, the runaway white rabbit in the park is the link back to Diego’s magician father and particularly we get the school concert where Maribel sees Peretti accompany Menen’s song on guitar. His “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to lose you” is as much reality as one of these can handle. The piece has built enough good will to carry it past the inescapable feel-good ending.


Bright coloured good living settings – the apartment glass balcony – sustain the mood and the leads couldn’t be better. Weathered Perretti is a welcome departure from the conventional romantic hero. It’s a big deal when he shaves his permanent stubble to impress the winning Verdú. I think that the enjoyment of watching Winograd’s films is in no small measure that they are a reminder of the fading concept of movies as an agreeable way to spend time rather than gather record first day takings, demonstrate refined taste or signal sympathy with the underprivileged. I recommend hunting this one down in SBS’s repeats or on demand.

The Road to Bologna (8) - PAT GARRETT & BILLY THE KID (Sam Peckinpah, USA, 1974), SLAP THE MONSTER ON PAGE ONE (Marco Bellocchio, Italy, 1972)

Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn
Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

Fifty years on and Criterion have done a digital restoration of some quality for a movie that turned out not to be, as the distributor apparently hoped according to Criterion's Lee Kline, another Wild Bunch. Instead MGM got and hacked up, for their troubles a languid western with Dylan's beautiful soundtrack that dabbles in the power of the early robber baron capitalists and shows Billy the Kid as a total pyschopath of no redeeming virtue beyond Kris Kristofferson's blue eyes and angelic face. 

Chisum, whose name is invoked throughout is played by Barrie Sullivan, one of those given a credit at the start of the movie. Those later spotted in bit and small parts included a panoply of names that I doubt I recognised back in 1974 when I last saw the film - Katy Jurado, Chill Wills, L Q Jones, Jason Robards, R G Armstrong, Paul Fix, Elisha Cook, Jack Elam, Slim Pickens, Harry Dean Stanton, Gene Evans and Dub Taylor. The Academy is going to give an Award for best casting sometime soon. If they gave one back in 1974 Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid would have been a shoo-in.

Laura Betti, Gian Maria Volonte
Slap the Monster on Page One

Marco Bellocchio filled the new/old Modernissimo cinema first with his 1972 film Slap the Monster on Page One and then for a conversation with Sergio Castellito and Gianluca Farinelli. I couldn't handle the earphone translation for the latter but the former went over a treat - a brutal tale of the manipulative capitalist press seeking to meld public opinion to its political agenda. Familiar... Bellocchio says he doesn't folds the same political opinions now as he did back then but his ability to deal with a subject with ferocity was at its peak...

Thursday 27 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (7) - Double Acts - Jean Arthur, Cary Grant, Marlene Dietrich, Frederick Hollander

Who could have predicted....The hottest ticket in town has proven to be a seat for passholders among the 8000 or so who turned out last night for The Wind, Victor Sjostrom's 1928 silent. Part of the attraction was the orchestra conducted by Timothy Brock which played Carl Davis's score, composed way back in 1983. That Lillian Gish can sure sell tickets....

I was not among the 8000 but Angelica Waite sent through some photos....

As Norman May once said..."I dont want to sound incredulous...but I cant believe it."

But back indoors in real cinemas there was the well-known sight of Jean Arthur as the zipped up Congresswoman in Billy Wilder's achingly brilliant A Foreign Affair and there was Jean Arthur in the until now very hard to see The Talk of the Town. George Stevens was still trying to make pictures with a little drollery back in 1942 and Talk of the Town hits that spot sweetly. Cary Grant is also in it along with Ronald Colman whom Arthur's character finally rejects in favour of Grant. On the strength of the story her decision was ridiculous. Colman's law professor was clearly a far more desirable object.... Music for both of these movies was supplied by the great Frederick Hollander...Grant also pursued Marlene Dietrich in Blonde Venus, one of the four Sternberg pictures on show in the Marlene strand. And for the completists, David Hare take note, the little cut David was the first to notice years ago in Shanghai Express remained in the copy screened here on DCP.

Monday 24 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (6) - Feuillade, Litvak, Marva Nabili and Bresson set things alight

Rene Creste, Judex

It's raining in Bologna....has been for three days, throwing the Piazza Maggiore screenings into chaos even though the eventuality is catered for to a degree.... 

First there was Feuillade and, as has been stated over and over, the first director for whom no allowances need to be made, no excuses for primitivism, no resort to 'in its day'. Feuillade was always modern and the magnificent restoration of Judex, screening in daily bite size pieces is a reminder of his mastery. Goodness knows how much it cost the French Government for the work to be done but for the French people they should feel that this is something of considerable value produced by their taxes at work. It may be a bridge too far for any venue in Australia to screen it. Even in Bologna less than a couple of hundred turned out for the Prologue and numbers started to fall thereafter. Probably for the rest of the world they will have to make do with seeing it on Blu-ray and Ultra HD but boy is it worth spending the hours and watching it oin the biggest screen you can find. Some 95% of the material scanned and restored was taken from the original negative. It helps, it was observed, that Feuillade himself was the head of the company's production and no doubt looked after his own work very meticulously...

Annabella, Charles Vanel, L'Equipage

The next Litvak, and the first of the non-American films on the schedule, was L'Equipage a rousing WW1 story of a team of aviators defying death every day and the woman ( the stunningly beautiful Annabella) who loves two of them, the young recruit (Jean-Pierre Aumont) and the old lieutenant (Charles Vanel). The story may be hackneyed but Litvak's mise-en-scene in all the group scenes is remarkable and there were tears flowing at the end. Beautiful 4K by Pathe from the original negative, no doubt another piece of French taxpayer funded patrimony that really does set a pace...

The Sealed Soil

Khak-E Sar Be Mohr/The Sealed Soil
from Cecilia Cenciarell's Cinema Libero strand is quite a remarkable find. One of very few films made by women directors in Iran . Marva Nabili made the film virtually clandestinely and when she bolted from the country took the negative out in a false-bottomed suitcase. The film remained virtually unseen until now. It is a series of single shot tableaux which slowly uncovers the life of a young woman of marriageable age who is basically doing the hard yakka of providing for her family's domestic needs. Her indolent father, prone to much praying and mouthing "god will provide" as a solution to any problem, is the least of her problems. Her mother and younger sister are also nagging at her to find a husband. Restoration work by UCLA Film Archive has rescued the original 16mm material and the film's only former life being seen on what curator Ehsan Khoshbakht called  'ghastly VHS tapes" is now over.

Isabelle Weingarten, Guillaume des Forets
Four Nights of a Dreamer

Then there was last after being unsighted for decades yet again the French Government has provided the funding for a 4K restoration of Four Nights of a Dreamer that glows and brings back the remarkable Dostoyevsky story of the young man and the young would be suicidal woman who meet on the Pont Neuf.  One thing I had forgotten about the film is the constant diegetic musical interludes that punctuate proceedings and give a sense of the street life buzzing around these two lost souls...

It has to be said that the French Government of funding restoration work, where producers themselves apply for money out of a pot, their applications, no doubt scrutinised by some tough minded people with genuine knowledge of French film culture, seems to me a model way of going about this activity. Then the restoration work itself is undertaken by private laboratories. It is certainly not the way it is gone about in Australia where decisions and budgets remain very mysterious and fim-makers themselves often undertake the task of doing restoration out of their own pocket. Budgets for this work are also very modest indeed at home and nothing like the tens of millions of Euro that the French have spent in recent times...and the French have a lot more film heritage to play with as well.

Here's a snap of the Bologna high life...that's Angelica Waite of Cinema Reborn and the esteemed New Yorker Geoffrey O'Brien enjoying dinner at Trattoria Tony, just across the street from the Tre Vecchi Hotel.

Sunday 23 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (5) - CAFE ELECTRIC (Gustav Ucicky, Austria, 1927), THE AMAZING DR CLITTERHOUSE (Anatole Litvak, USA, 1938), BONA (Lino Brocka, Phillipines, 1981) and ITSUWARERU SEISO (Kozaburo Yoshimura, Japan, 1951)

Marlene Dietrich, Willi Forst, Cafe Electric

There was prolonged applause at the end of Cafe Electric but it may have had something to do with the crowd's acknowledgement of the virtuoso accompaniment on piano, piano accordion and flute by Stephen Horne and less to do the morality movie included in the Marlene Dietrich strand. The programme notes focussed on Dietrich's turn, a rather minor and far from compelling contribution. The notes also failed to mention in any way that the film was missing its last reel and the abrupt ending with some words describing what happened caused more than a bit of "Whaaat!" throughout the Arlecchino Cinema. Superb digital restoration of the remaining seven eights of the film by the Austrian Film Museum

Edward G Robinson, Humphrey Bogart
The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse

But on to better things and a smart move by the programmers not to do Anatole Litvak chronologically but to start with one of his best American films The Amazing Dr Clitterhouse  with Edward G Robinson as a pyschiatrist study the criminal mind whose research takes him into the heart of gang where he orchestrates a brilliant series of robberies. "A film and three quarters" said a companion. John Huston's name as the second scriptwriter suggests he was brought in to put the polish on an adaptation of a play by Barre Lyndon. A packed house watched a very good 35mm print.

Nora Aunor, Bona

by Lino Brocka is almost unknown outside the Phillipines but Carlotta Films in Paris have managed to retrieve the materials that were in France after Pierre Rissient placed the film in the Quinzaine back in 1981. The driving force may have been the lead actress Nora Aunor who plays the title role and produced the picture. She is the quintessential oppressed young woman in a Catholic patriarchal society where fathers and brothers whip and beat women who step out of line. Bona has made the mistake of becoming infatuated with Gardo, a preening philandering film extra, and she runs away from home and moves herself into his 'house' as a servant prepared to suffer all manner of indignity just to be near her idol. The applause at the ending was seriously well-deserved and you felt it wan't just the movie itself but Bona's final violent action which abruptly concludes proceedings that was being strongly endorsed. Superb 4K restoration.

Machiko Kyo, Clothes of Deception

Kozaburo Yoshimura is almost unknown outside Japan and curator Alex Jacoby suggested some of the titles in the strand will literally be having their first ever screenings outside Japan. The Kyoto set story , variously titled Clothes of Deception, Under Silk Garments  and on the 35 mm print itself The Disguised. The story of rival families who operate  geisha houses tips into modernity as the youngest children of the families fall in love with each other and run into snobbery before things are settled. Standout is Machiko Kyo as Kimicho, the smartest and most cynical of the young geisha women and her increasing efforts at keeping ridiculous male admirers at bay.

Friday 21 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (4) - Florence, Osteria de Cicalina. Alberti Dischi, Rail chaos...

What was supposed to be a nice day out In Florence proved a little more taxing. The train from Bologna was on time but the plan to drop by the church of Santa Maria Novella opposite the Florence railway station was abandoned when a slow moving queue was approached and a sprinkle of rain started. So we missed seeing the Giotto that is the pride and joy of the place. Wikipedia tells us it's a cross painted in tempera  and gold on wood panel  by around 1290-1295. It is one of the earliest known works by the artist, then in his early twenties.

A quick trip to the Antica Farmacia round the back of the church was as usual productive but access to the courtyard and the famous mural of Christ preaching  on a platform and a pesky little long tailed devil making merry hell under the platform was no longer possible. Maybe someone finally got the joke....

So it was off for a drink at a bar cum eatery called just Sophia Loren and then lunch with an old friend at Osteria de Cicalina, a splendid meal of  zucchini flan, veal osso buco, salata mista and a bottle of a Sardinian Vermentino between two of us.

Just part of the offering at  Alberti Dischi

But the main purpose of our trip was unrequited. The once fabulous DVD store Alberti Dischi near San Lorenzo is no longer in business. What was once small chain of three shops had shrunk to one the last time we were there but now, since January it's "Close-ed".  The remarkable holdings of American cinema all catalogued by director or genre have been abandoned. It also had a comprehensive collection of Italian titles all of which require patience because you have to pull out the disc and then search  for any information regarding subtitles or not before deciding to buy.

Even the nearby Feltrinelli bookshop, several floors high, has abandoned sales of DVDs but it does advertise online sales. The market for the purist collector is shrinking.

Then back to the railway station and our hopes for an early return are dashed. Chaos everywhere. All trains are running between one hour and two and a half hours late. No reasons known. Maybe somebody from Sydney State Rail has been appointed to manage the system and immediately decided to do "trackwork"...

Thursday 20 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (3) - Tomas and a Tre Vecchi Breakfast, the Showbag, MAN TROUBLE (Berthold Viertel) v BONA (Lino Brocka)

" Is your friend with the tattoos coming back? He's a very nice man." said Tomas the Tre Vecchi waiter and cappuccino maker at our breakfast reunion. "Sadly no" we had to say. Still the staff at the Tre Vecchi are an amazingly friendly bunch and they remember their guests and their coffee requirements with perfect recall.

A quick trip to the Cinema Ritrovato registration desk to sort out some booking problems lo and behold led to my showbag and pass being presented. The catalogue this year is a heavyweight 470 pages, another couple of kilos to go in the luggage all the way back home.

Otherwise, some explorations for gelato,  a quick bite of lunch at the deli cum cafe next to the Arlecchino Cinema, quiet today with only locals on hand but no doubt expecting the usual huge surge in business that accompanies a week of early morning to late evening screenings at the cinema next door.

Then onto reading the catalogue and working out whether to make changes to bookings. It now becomes the major task. First up is how determined should I be to see Berthold Viertel's 1930 Man Trouble or stick with Lino Brocka's Bona which clash on Saturday afternoon.  The Viertel seems to be booked solid for its two screenings in the very small Sala Scorsese.

The program note for Man Trouble by Jillian Borders tells us how rare these screenings are. "Austrian-born director Berthold Viertel is best known for his Berlin output, but was brought over to work for the Fox Film Corporation in 1928. Here, he has uncredited technical assistance from Fred Zinnemann. ... Due to the loss of pre-print material in the Fox vault fire in 1937, this film survives only as a 35mm nitrate workprint and has been virtually unavailable to view since that time. The audio has been restored, and the film has been photo-chemically preserved."

Wednesday 19 June 2024

The Road to Bologna (2) - The Tre Vecchi Hotel, Tony Rayns returns, Da Lucia and Donatello

From Milan's amazing Central station (above) to Bologna Centrale's vast underground cavern takes an hour and a quarter on the Frecciarossa. Then it's a short walk or a quick taxi ride (after you wait half an hour on the rank on average) to the Tre Vecchi Hotel on Via Independenza. 

As I walk up the path to the lobby, sitting in a chair on the forecourt outside is old friend Tony Rayns, just arrived and still enjoying a cigarette. It's been five years since we last met up, and he's making his first visit since the Covid interregnum. Much to catch up on including a swap of gift bags. His included a copy of his own recent book "Just Like Starting Over. A personal View of the Reinvention of Korean Cinema" published by the Korean Film Council (KOFIC). The book was commissioned by Council Chair Park Kiyong who also edited the copy and has written an effusive Publisher's Foreword. Mine included a copy of Cinema Reborn's 2024 catalogue which includes Tony's program notes on Souleymane Cissé's Yeelen.

The time catching up passed in a flash. After checking in we headed along via Falegnami intending to have some lunch at our favourite Da Lucia only to discover the place shuttered, the outside chairs chained to a column and no menu in the window box. "Temporarily closed" is stated in purple when I look up its website. A first small unexpected disappointment. So it was off to Enzo around the corner. Dinner was at the ever-popular Donatello and a note that our former favourite Bolognese Chinese across the road was long gone. Second minor disappointment - the discovery that the gelateria across from the Tre Vecchi is now a shop selling cured meats. "What happened to the gelateria?" "Clos-ed down!" said a gruff voice cleaning up inside. 

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Streaming on 7+ (with ads) - Rod Bishop recommends MR BATES VS THE POST OFFICE (James Strong, Gwyneth Hughes, UK 2024)

Toby Jones as Alan Bates


When it comes to Government fraud and extortion of its citizens, the British “Post Office Scandal” makes an interesting comparison with our snappier-named “Robodebt”.

Generally considered the greatest miscarriage of justice in British legal history, the Post Office oversaw the conviction of 900 subpostmasters for fraud, theft and false accounting between 1999 and 2015.The charges arose from financial shortfalls detected by Fujitsu’s Horizon computer software, a compulsory accounting system used by the British Post Office for their sub-postmasters.

226 went to prison. Many lost their jobs. Many had to make up “shortfalls” of more than £70,000 by selling their homes and emptying their life savings. Many suffered family breakdowns, mental health issues, severe depression and criminal convictions. Four suicided.

If you have a local shopping centre where you live in this country, the folk who run the newsagencies usually handle the postal requirements as well. These are the people who were caught up in this travesty in the UK.

In 2015, court cases brought by sub-postmasters established that Fujitsu could remotely access the Horizon computers and change accounting figures without their knowledge “even at night while the sub-postmasters slept”. For 16 years, the British Post Office had maintained Horizon was “robust” and remote access impossible. They had also spent those 16 years telling any subpostmaster who called to complain they were the only one to have raised the issue. The Post Office just lied as it extorted their money.

Currently there is no reliable figure for how much money the British Post office stole or how much compensation would eventually cost.  In March of this year, in the House of Commons, the Post Office Minister said:

The government has put $1 billion aside to deal with all this, despite the fact the Post Office has taken millions and millions from postmasters – innocent people. We have never had the figure of what was taken, although I have asked for it before”.

Whatever the amount, it was apparently accounted by the Post Office as a simple addition to its yearly profits.

When Mr Bates vs the Post Office was screened in the UK last January, this heinous scandal was revealed to many Brits who’d never heard of it. 

This four-part series opens with Alan Bates (Toby Jones) and Suzanne Sercombe (Julie Hesmondhalgh) who have lost their house and life savings to the Post Office and moved to Llandudno in North Wales. 

Bates is the epitome of a tenacious, true Brit bulldog who won’t be subjugated. Unlike bulldogs, however, he remains polite and courteous throughout his 20-year campaign for justice and restitution. Without the truth, he says, compensation and justice can’t be won.

He starts The Justice for Sub-postmasters Alliance who meet, plan and strategize in a village hall. The alliance eventually attracts 555 members and scriptwriter Gwyneth Hughes also chooses to include other victims.

Monica Dolan as Jo Hamilton

There’s Jo Hamilton (Monica Dolan), whose true love is her bakery and who runs her post office to make up for her baking shortfalls. She owes £36,000 she hasn’t got. Or ever stole.

When we first meet Lee Castleton (Will Mellor) he is making his 91st phone call about the Horizon software only to be told – once again by the Post Office – it’s all his fault, Horizon is “robust”, no-one else has complained and pay up or face criminal prosecution. He owes £25,000 but takes the Post Office to court where he loses and is ordered to repay the money and £321,000 in costs. He is bankrupted.

Jasgun Singh (Amit Shah) has to call an ambulance for his partner Saman Kaur (Krupar Pattani) who has become almost mute from the ordeal and stabbed herself in the stomach. Suffering from severe depression she undergoes shock therapy in hospital.

The Guardian has aptly called Mr Bates vs The Post Office “like an episode of Black Mirror”. It’s also pure Kafka. At one point Jo askes Alan whether the two Post Office heavies CEO Paula Vennells (Lia Williams) and Business Improvement Director Angela Van Den Bogerd (Katherine Kelly) are “incompetent or just evil?” He replies: “It comes to the same thing in the end”.

The ensemble performances are outstanding and James Strong directs Gwyneth Hughes’s pungent and clear-eyed script with impressive aplomb.

Brit television doesn’t get much better than this.


7+ is also screening the documentary Mr Bates vs The Post Office: The True Story. 

Alan Bates was Knighted in last week's Kings Birthday Honours List as "Founder, Justice for Subpostmasters Alliance. For services to Justice."

The Road to Bologna and Il Cinema Ritrovato (1) - Setting foot in Finland, Eric Ambler, Pinacotheca Brera, In contemplation...

Eric Ambler

Trying to avoid the turmoil of Charles De Gaulle or Malpensa airports my travel agent came up with a flight via Tokyo, a four hour wait and a 12 hour flight to a Helsinki  entrance to the EU. Customs took five minutes and there was literally nobody in the queue at Passport Control. That was it. The connecting flight to Milan then just involved collecting a bag and walking out to a fixed fare Euro 110 to the hotel. On the freeway, possibly because the fixed fare is an affront to all taxi drivers trying to earn an honest living (viz Don Ameche's Tibor Czerny in Midnight) the cab, a Mercedes hit 160k for  more than a few moments.

On the various planes I galloped through an Eric Ambler thriller which I bought and inscribed with my name in 1983. It takes a while for some tomes to get to the top of the pile. I suspect Ambler is no longer read very much at all but his career as a novelist, as  a novelist/source for some fine movies by some fine directors (Norman Foster/ Orson Welles, Jules Dassin, Jean Negulesco, Raoul Walsh for starters), as a scriptwriter adapting other material and writing originals, is a remarkable one. The novel I read "Doctor Frigo" was one of his later efforts. It chronicled with remarkable prescience the progress of a coup in a small South American country. It also displayed a remarkable degree of authenticity in describing a range of medical conditions and treatments which were central to the narrative.

Meanwhile the passenger next to me from Tokyo to Helsinki got through Kore-eda's Monster, Todd Haynes May December  and some sort of romcom called Puppy Love.

No trip to Milan is complete without a visit to the Pinacotheca Brera with its extraordinary collection of Italian art. Mantegna's "Lamentation of Christ" never fails to stun as does the gallery's Caravaggio "The Dinner at Emaus"

The gallery is also dominated by its two sculptures of Napoleon, who wanted the place to be Italy's Louvre. 

You can find pictures and more musings, because I said all this  just a year ago... 

I must stop repeating myself..and there are bookings to be made. Not sure I should admit the pleasurable prospect of new restorations of Raoul Walsh's The Roaring Twenties, George Stevens The Talk of the Town, Louis Feuillade's Judex and Billy Wilder's A Foreign Affair. I know I know...everyone has seen those before and needs no reminders.

Thursday 13 June 2024

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema 1960-2020 - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6 (26) West German Cinema Part Two - Alexander Kluge (1)

Alexander Kluge

Alexander Kluge was born in Halberstadt, Saxony-Anhalt in1932 and grew up prior to the war in a household full of music and culture. His father, a doctor, played the violin, counting actors and musicians among his patients and friends; social gatherings at the house included concerts and impromptu musical performances. The family home was levelled during an Allied bombing raid in the last month of the war. 

Alexander played the piano and later studied organ and church music as well as modern history at university. Although he went on to study law, his strong interest in music and opera is evident throughout his film and television work. In The Power of Emotion (1983) Kluge condenses the story of ‘Aida’ into three minutes while retaining some of the emotional impact of operatic performance and spectacle in the visuals from an early silent film version of the opera combined with voice-over narration and traces of the music (Lutze 87). This use of narration combined with several types of ‘found’ visual materials is central to Kluge’s strategies of succinctly evoking an event while revealing characters’ subjectivities in an ‘anti-Hollywood’ narrative on a low budget. 

Abschied von Gestern/Yesterday Girl (1966)

Soon after completing graduation Kluge realised that law was less attractive to him. What drew him to film was the interaction with literature and music. He worked briefly as an assistant to Fritz Lang on his Indian films where he witnessed the ongoing humiliation of the great man by the producer Artur Brauner overriding Lang’s instructions on the set with his wife’s advice. Kluge was later always careful to maintain his autonomy by also producing his own films. He made four short documentary films before producing, writing and directing his first feature. 

Kluge was the intellectual among the new directors, a lawyer and academic, a writer of documentary fiction, as well as theoretical works on politics, sociology, philosophy and aesthetics pioneered by the neo-Marxists of the Frankfurt school through Theodor Adorno's theory of modernist aesthetics in the arts and negative analysis of mass culture with an underlying hostility toward film. This was incompatible with Kluge’s commitments-wise approach to filmmaking “aptly characterized by the much abused epithet 'Brechtian'.” (Sandford 17). “He turned to Walter Benjamin who, like Brecht, was seriously interested in popular cultural forms and made a case for film as a potentially critical artistic medium specifically suited to the needs and experiences of a mass audience” (Fiedler 197-8 Phillips ed.). “The conjunction of radical politics and radical aesthetic form that characterizes much of twentieth century art is transformed by Kluge into a unique form of political modernism” (Lutze 33).

Artisten in der Zirkuskuppel: Ratlos/Artists at the Top
of the Big Top:Disorientated (1968)


The notion of the 'Autorenkino' (author’s film) most clearly defined by Kluge, referred to the instatement of a personalised mode of production formulated by the Oberhausen group of aspiring filmmakers. Kluge believed that filmmakers should familiarise themselves with all aspects of production which enables them, as a 'Filmautoren' (film author), to exercise a high degree of authorial control (Knight 69, ‘Cinema Book’ Cook& Bernink eds), or as Fiedler places Kluge’s conception of the Autorenfilm : “the director in the role of producer as well as scriptwriter” (Phillips ed.198). 

Lutze notes that there was a significant difference between the auteur directors in France and the autoren in Germany  (53). Kluge commented that it was the mode of production - low budgets enabled by lightweight equipment - that became the “badge of authenticity” of the producer/directors of the Young German Cinema, rather than the particular content of their films (ibid 54). This informed the film subsidy agencies as the institutionalised paths to film authorship enabled the shaping of a national film movement. The emphasis on the training set by Kluge and Edgar Reitz at the Ulm Film Institute was on a four year all-round film-making education rather than on specialisation.

Timothy Corrigan has noted that both Miriam Hansen and Eric Rentschler have argued that “one of the most important collective gestures of contemporary German cinema may have been to re-situate the very notion of auteur” (New German Critique Winter 1990). Rentschler has shown, it is suggested, that Kluge was part of an anticipatory effort to de-centre the conventions of auteurism in cultural and historical terms while for Hansen it was more a matter of shifting the emphasis, in comparative terms, to the ‘politique des auteurs’ (see below). Corrigan adds that another way that Kluge mobilised auteurism as a critical category was less a critical subversion of auteurism as a production strategy, and more exploiting auteurism as a category for reception. “Indeed, the market shift within auteurism as a way of viewing and receiving movies, rather than as a mode of production, has been a central change in the meaning of auteurism in the sixties to the eighties. It is along these lines that Kluge has begun to make specific use of the commerce of his own singularity and subjectivity” (ibid 44).

Gelegenheitsarbeit einer Sklavin/Occasional Work of
a Female Slave (1973)

As Corrigan puts it: “Despite similar political leanings, Kluge is no Godard […] he ultimately turns sharply from the isolation of Godard’s sometimes radical film language, and ultimately away from the entire concept of a “politique des auteurs” which supports those individualistic notions of film language” (96). In support of his contention, Corrigan quotes Miriam Hansen : “While the post-Oberhausen  film-makers naturally turned to the French New Wave for a mode, German Autorenkino was not only less homogeneous than its French counterpart but also developed different notions of authorship. Hansen identifies that for the New German Cinema the emphasis of ‘Autorenkino’ was “necessarily more on the ‘politique des auteurs,’ the political struggle for independent film-making in a country which did not have a film culture comparable to that of France” (quoted from an essay by Hansen in New German Critique 24/5 1981-2 p.41).

“Two Types of Realism”

In foreshadowing his later filmic essays, Kluge uses inserts of associative montage and a variety of references in the narratives to make ironic comment “on the relationship between past and present, the past being a precondition of the present, its weight by definition inescapable” (Kaes, ‘Heimat to Hitler’ 108).  Or, as Kluge put it: “a better way to change things is to accept the past and to complete it. The only way to change history is to regain it.” 

DVD Cover
In Gefahr und größter Not bringt der Mittelweg den Tod,
co-directed with Edgar Reitz (1974)

Central to all of Kluge’s thinking about the cinema is what he sees, in Brechtian terms, as two types of realism. One involves the superficial reproduction of outward reality that merely confirms - and thereby affirms - the existence of what it shows and is most exemplified in the cinema by conventional documentaries. “The other form of realism is critical and subversive seeking out the truth beneath the deceptive face of the world rather than passive receptivity. The motive for realism is never confirmation of reality but protest” (Sandford 18). Realism must be produced, it is not a state of nature. The natural state is ideology and dream world which is the province of the commercial cinema (Jansen and Schutte ‘Herzog/Kluge/Straub’ 1976 quoted ibid). While he is critical of stereotypical ideology and dreams Kluge is also sceptical about the earnestness with which the ‘educated classes’ approach the cinema (ibid) as, one imagines, he would likely view feminist criticism of Occasional Work of a Domestic Slave as referred to above.

The senses, in Kluge's view, are wrongly dismissed as somewhat inferior to our consciousness. He sees the senses as “fundamental not only to our perception but to the organization of that perception into knowledge”. Sandford writes that in this “we are approaching the heart of Kluge's theory, “through the senses the cinema stimulates the audience's imagination, and it is this 'Phantasie'  - the German word Kluge uses that seems to be the key term in his writings […] fundamental to [his] view of the way the cinema works” (18). 

The film is potentially there already in the audience's imagination; it is the director's job to activate this potential.”  Kluge further suggests “that for some tens of thousands of years film has existed in people's minds – streams of association, daydreams, experience, sense impressions, consciousness. The technical invention of film has simply added reproducible counterparts to this” (ibid). He has “often said that the film in the spectator’s head is more important than the one on the screen” (Liebman 162).

In Danger and Deep Distress, the Middleway Spells
Certain Death (1974)

Kluge has stressed on many occasions that “the relationship of film-maker to audience must not be one of domination.” […] His ideal cinema is “not a monologue, but cinema as dialogue, as something the audience can respond to – and not just respond, but make the cinema.” For Kluge, “dialogue with the real experiences of the audience, demands a new filmic language and this new language [can initially cause audience withdrawal]  because they are not used to it […] all the rest of the language of film is stuck in habitual grooves.”  It is important for Kluge that the audience ‘behave naturally’. If you find my films baffling, “stop worrying,” he advises, “just sit back and watch” (ibid).  This direction of thought and its relation to the audience is directly reflected in Kluge’s adoption of an essay-like collage form in his feature films beginning with In Danger and Deep Distress, the Middleway Spells Certain Death made after Occasional Work. The success of Yesterday Girl seemed to encourage Kluge to further challenge viewers' imaginations with a similar, less accessible, treadmill-like circularity - as in Artists at The Top of the Big Top - Disorientated.


Previous entries in this series can be found if you click the following links


Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series


Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more


Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Part Six (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Part Six (6) Francis Ford Coppola: Standing at the crossroads of art and industry

Part 6(7) Altman

6(8) Great Britain - Joseph Losey, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Peter Watkins, Barney Platts-Mills

6(9) France - Part One The New Wave and The Cahiers du Cinema Group

6(10) France - Part Two - The Left Bank/Rive Gauche Group and an Independent

6(11) France - Part Three - Young Godard

6(12) France - Part Four - Godard:Visionary and Rebel

6 (13) France Part 5 Godard with Gorin, Miéville : Searching for an activist voice

6(14) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Bresson 

6 (15) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Jacques Tati

 6 (16) - Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Carl Th Dreyer

6 (17) - Italy and Luchino Visconti

6(18 - Italy and Roberto Rossellini - Part One

6(19) - Rossellini, INDIA and the new Historical realism

6(20) - Rossellini in Australia

6 (21) - Italy - Michelangelo Antonioni

6 (22) - Italy - Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi

6 (23) - Italy - Pasolini, Rosi

6 (24) - Interregnum - Director/Auteur/Autoren

6 (25) West Germany