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Sundays at Videotheque

Videotheque in South Pasadena, CA was my film school post-college. Even though I live far away now, I still make it out almost every Sunday to check out movies that I have no luck finding online, for money or otherwise. In this ongoing series, I will give my brief impressions about my rentals from the past week.

Shanghai Express (1932) dir. Josef von Sternberg, starring Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong, Clive Brook

Josef von Sternberg is quickly becoming one of my favorite directors. His films are exciting, interestingly shot, and often feature great performances like the ones from Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong. I would have watched a movie with just these two. This was my first introduction to Wong who has such a commanding screen presence that even the way that she gives almost imperceptible signs of disdain at the racism she faces is pretty fantastic. Sternberg was also probably Marlene Dietrich’s best director and the gorgeous chiaroscuro photography enhances her allure.

Michael (1924) dir. Carl Theodor Dreyer, starring Walter Slezak, Max Auzinger, Nora Gregor

It falls into the tragic gay character trope, but it’s a sensitive and well-told story about unrequited love and the prodigal son during a time when queer subject matter was, at best, ignored. Dreyer may have been an ideological conservative, but he shows great sympathy for his main character Zoret.

Underworld (1927) dir. Josef von Sternberg, starring George Bancroft, Evelyn Brent, Clive Brook

Despite the limitations of the technology at the time, Sternberg makes a thrilling, pulpy movie bursting with energy. The influence of this film would be quite profound on the myriad of gangster pictures that would pepper the 1930’s. The story is pretty simple and the resolution is definitely simplistic, but it works as pure, well-crafted entertainment.

Kids (1995) dir. Larry Clark, starring Leo Fitzpatrick, Justin Pierce, Chloe Sevigny, Rosario Dawson

You’ll probably never want to have kids after watching this film, but it is important to know what the excesses of youth look like unfettered. Despite the definitely reprehensible behavior going on, there is a considerable amount of empathy as well as Chloe Sevigny’s character struggles with the event that upturns her life.

Love Exposure (2008) dir. Sion Sono, starring Takahiro Nishijima, Hikari Mitsushima, Sakura Ando

A movie of sheer excess that came from a very personal place for Sion Sono. Summarizing this movie would be almost sheer folly, but think of it is a Candide tale set in modern Japan and in which the main character manages to remain mostly innocent despite the terrible things that he participates in. You can almost forgive the tons of upskirt panty shots (a very Japanese fetish), as Sono targets the even bigger targets of cults, bureaucracy and the patriarchy with big, bold flourishes.

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