Tuesday, May 08, 2007

And the winner is...: Fassbinder's "Querelle"

Some images from "Querelle", the last ever Fassbinder film based on the Genet novel. Brad Davies is the thoughful, cunning and beautiful sailor thrown into the dubious and highly artificial world of the mythical harbour of Brest, complete with phallic sea towers, claustrophobic back allies and a louche brothel where his brother resides and the fab, though slightly tragic madame Jeanne Moreau overlooks the scene. Franco Nero is his superior on ship and secretly in love with him. I could go on. I've seen this film at least 30 times. It's exerted such a strong and curious fascination over me in my younger years I simply had to see it everytime it was shown in a cinema. Fassbinder himself stated that it was made purely for the cinema where the beautiful, almost psychedelic orange and blue lighting, the heavy camp music and the overwhelmimg stench of sexuality overhanging every scene becomes much more powerful. When I lived in Berlin in the mid 80s "Querelle" was one of those films that kept sticking around, and was always shown from time to time in the run down art cinemas around there. I saw it in Paris once. I own it on DVD now and I still watch it from time to time. I know it by heart. Though I still don't really "understand" it. It's one of those things that could not work and maybe doesn't work for everyone anyway but the combination of Fassbinders special tone, the beautiful claustrophobia of the studio transformed into a highly stylised harbour, and Genets mythical tale involving two doomed brothers is such a heady mix I fall for it everytime. It is such a beautiful ...accident. The late Andy Warhol visited the set and apparently said he felt hot for the whole day afterwards and Fassbinder wanted that quote printed on adverts for the film.

My old mate Simon has tagged me to list my favourite ten movies so here they are:

1 "Querelle" Fassbinder: see above

2 "The Big Lebowski" Cohen Brothers: What a weird plot, and what a dubious list of characters. Yet everytime we watch it we notice something different. Absolutely wonderful writing, so funny and so philosophical at the same time. No wonder there is a whole festival devoted to the film now. Fxxx it, let's go bowling. Well, the dude has become somewhat of a role model to me, despite all the good warnings written into the plot, haha...

3 "Blow Up" Antonioni: I saw this film countless times on German TV when I grew up and from an early age, i.e. when i couldn't possibly have understood everything. There's something in the half light of that park that becomes the murder scene that's become a blueprint for trying to see more in any given situation, a special quality of light that makes you suspect there's more... out there. All the swinging London stuff is so cool too. Sometimes when I walk through London I can still feel a bit of that lingering around, and the film helped made it visible and meorable.

4 "Rosemary's Baby" Polanski. Same as "Blow Up", a staple on German TV when I grew up. I love Polanski, see also "The Tenant", "Fearless Vampire Killers", "Frantic", "Bitter Moon", love them all. One thing I found out after repeated viewing is, uh, I was born on the very same day that the baby is due in the film. Now that is purely a coincidence, ok? but it's true...

5 "Polyester" John Waters: That's my favourite Waters movie, the perfect balance between his more shocking in yer face grossout earlier movies and his slightly more streamlined later black comedies. It's just very powerful and explosive and funny throughout. I remember seeing it with the infamous scratch cards at a Waters movie night in a cinema in Berlin in the early 80s. Then we got it in the sales on VHS about ten years ago and it quickly became one of my favourite videos. Love it!

6 "Spirited Away" Miyazaki: This started my occasional interest in Japanese animation though I haven't seen anything yet that comes quite close to it. Well, ok, maybe "Grave of the Fireflies". The whole look of the film, the story, the atmosphere of it was such an eye opener when i first saw it. Just goes to show what you can still do with animation.

7 "Lost Highway" David Lynch: I can see what people criticize about films like these. To me it was never that unclear. Or indulgent. It's elegant, stylish, hypnotic and utterly entrancing stuff, down to the more-goth-than-usual soundtrack. I used to watch it all the time. It never gets boring somehow. I think Lynch made a statement with this film though they are all statements on each other, constantly refer to each other. Of his post Twin Peaks film I really liked "Inland Empire", and "Mulholland Drive" too of course, but LH has a special appeal to me.

8 "The Garden" Derek Jarman: We were in Derek Jarmans garden on the shingle beach in barren, eerie and fascinating Dungeness for the second time recently, I think I'm going to post some photos soon. This film is an ode to it, among other things, it's abstract and pretty apocalyptic, if not chaotic, but to me there is hope and an aura of light too. Just like the place. I need to see it again actually.

9 "Prosperos Books" Peter Greenaway: To my mind the most extreme and absorbing of all Greenaways films, at least visually. Weird how noone talks about him anymore, for a while in the 80s he really ruled.

10 "Hustler White" Bruce LaBruce: What a trip! Bruce goes to LA to check out the hustler scene and eventually falls for a pretty hustler himself. Ironic, shocking, and swinging from one sexually adventurous scene to another, it's a heady ride...


Old Cheeser said...

Hey Thomas!

Thanks for taking up my challenge and posting up your list! A really interesting and unusual group of movies, with a definite...artsy angle, wouldn't you say?

"Querelle" sounds intriguing and I would love to see it some time. Jean Genet was quite a dirty guy anyway, with his adoration of all those virile working class men, so I can imagine the film doing justice to his vision...it sounds like it from your description anyway. Incidentally you write about the film very evocatively, excellent description and comments! (Ever thought of becoming a film critic? Or it must be the "Sexual Dissidence" lit crit days kicking in...!!)

"The Big L" - started watching that one but never saw all of it, might have to revisit it some time! I know it's got a real cult status.

"Blow Up" - pretty creepy from what I remember, and the whole thing about the subjectiveness of the camera is kind of fascinating...

"Rosemary's Baby" - on my list too, a brilliant movie! Oh my Goodness Thomas, does this mean you are devil spawn??!

"Polyster" - aaah yes, I watched it with you once I think! Francine Fishpaw is a fabulous name for a character. I love John Waters too, although his recent movies haven't been so great...the last truly good one for me was "Serial Mom".

"Spirited Away" - never seen it!

"Lost Highway" - I saw that one at the Duke of Yorks in Brighton! And was thoroughly confused. But then you've said that's how people react to his stuff. Personally "Blue Velvet" is one of my faves. And I loved "Twin Peaks"...

"The Garden" - aaah Mr Jarman! Again another one I haven't seen.

"Prospero's Books" - not really acquainted with Peter Greenaway's stuff. Does he still make films?

"Hustler White" - Mmmm, sounds...steamy!

Well done - great stuff!!

thomas said...

Hi Simon - yes, you must see them all :-)

I actually haven't seen at least half of the films on your list either so that's some home work for both of us...

"Querelle", "Big Lebowski" and "Hustler White" I've got on DVD so you can borrow or we can arrange a viewing evening like the old days ;-)

I'm not sure I could be a film critic but I do like seeing movies, just tend to miss a lot of stuff.

thanks for checking out my list! see you!

Old Cheeser said...

No worries, yes would love to see those movies, or yep, we could arrange a viewing evening....would be cool! Let's do it!

Well you write very incisively and evocatively about "Querelle" and being an English Postgrad has obviously helped your critical faculties...as with me too! Okay some might call us pretentious, but, like, whateeeeeever!!

See ya
OC xxx