Friday, December 29, 2017


If you’re looking for a movie to watch this New Year’s Eve, there is no better place to look than Charlie Chaplin’s 1925 masterpiece The Gold Rush.

The final act of Chaplin’s silent comedy kicks off on New Year’s Eve, with the auteur’s Little Tramp character hoping to meet up with the dancehall beauty Georgia (Georgia Hale). It’s a union that is not to be, at least initially, as Chaplin of course prefers a little melancholy in his romance. Not to mention his belief that new beginnings need to be earned, which is all the more reason for him to set this pivotal moment of his film during the holiday.

New Year’s represents many of the same values that Chaplin put into his all of his films. It is a holiday that encapsulates his view of America, and so perfectly fits here in The Gold Rush, a philosophical piece of slapstick that embraces one of the great American myths. Just this past holiday my dad drove me past a mountain stream in Northern California that used to be a major source for gold. He wistfully told me how there is believed to be an untapped reserve still buried in the mountain, just waiting to be uncovered. Such was the dream of many men heading west in the 1800s. There were riches to be found in the California hills.

And for Chaplin, riches to be found in the California valleys, as well. For what is the promise of early Hollywood but another gold rush, another chance for Americans to make a bid for success and riches? As in all of the Tramp films, the character in The Gold Rush represents the little man in search of something better, standing up to adversity--be it the weather, beast of the forest, or his fellow man, prone as they were to prejudice and bullying. Here the Tramp goes to a remote outpost on the hunt for his fortune, finds romance, and thanks to his own positive demeanor, also forms bonds that bring him both the kind of financial windfall and emotional payout he could only dream of. The fact that it all goes wrong on New Year’s Eve is just all the more incentive for him to turn things around. One opportunity missed only spurs him on to find another.

This, of course, is all subtext, but when we consider other films with the Tramp character, such as The Kid or The Immigrant, it’s not hard to extrapolate a deeper meaning from the inventive pratfalls. Of which there are many. Some of Chaplin’s finest and most enduring routines are present in The Gold Rush, including the dancing dinner rolls and the visually stunning climax where he and his partner (Mack Swain) struggle to escape a house teetering on a cliffside. My favorite bit is probably the dance floor scene with the dog where, typically, the Tramp’s attempts to cover his own weakness nearly blows up in his face. In that and all the rest, the charm of the Tramp is his good-natured tenacity. He’s the right kind of good guy and awfully easy to root for.

Like so many of us, the Tramp is often misunderstood and misjudged. Right up to the end, as it turns out, when even after he’s found his gold, he’s mistaken for a stowaway on the boat taking him back to civilization. This may be the most heartwarming message of all, reminding us that no matter where we go or what we achieve, we still are who we are, and should maybe not forget that--because being who we are is perfectly okay, it’s what got us where we are. For the Tramp, it not only reminds him that it was his friendship that carried him through while giving him another opportunity to fall on his keister, but also gives Georgia her chance to show she has a charitable heart, as well.

If you’ve never seen a Charlie Chaplin film before, this is a pretty good place to start. And if you’re a fan, it’s a good one to revisit--though, avoid the 1942 version where Chaplin added voiceover. He may consider it his “definitive” cut, but the narration adds nothing to the material; rather, it only detracts from the viewer’s emotional connection to the comedy by interpreting everything for them--which is the most important part. The Gold Rush will ring out this or any year in a way that will remind us why we all do what we do, showing us the good in our fellow man and reinforcing the optimism inherent in an American Dream we all should still want to believe in even if sometimes we can’t.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


The subtitle to Barbet Schroeder’s 1974 documentary General Idi Amin Dada is A Self-Portrait, which seems like a misnomer, given that Schroeder was behind the camera and his titular subject, naturally, was in front. But then you watch the movie, and you see how carefully the Ugandan dictator tries to manicure his own image. Schroeder likely added the subtitle by way of acknowledging the influence and manipulation the notorious African leader was trying to exert on him. His “all access” pass only admitted him to selected areas and manufactured events.

And so we have Idi Amin the musician (indeed, he gets a “score by” credit), and Idi Amin the dancer, and Idi Amin the benevolent commander in chief visiting his troops and personally inspecting weapons. We get the military mastermind upbraiding his council with his personal philosophy of how to lead, a rambling dissemination of loosely connected ideas, a seemingly fake grandstand, until the despot slides a warning into his propaganda, slipping into genuine anger. Here is where Schroeder inserts himself, undermining the despot’s mission, by noting through narration how one of the council members singled-out would soon be fed to the crocodiles. Literally.

By going along to get along, Schroeder is shrewdly playing Idi Amin’s own game. By letting him seemingly have control, the tyrant will let down his guard and some truth will slip out. Likewise, by getting through the door, the film crew can explore a little beyond the confines their host lays out for themm. The result, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait, ends up being a powerful exposé, laying bare the seductive powers of the man behind the image he portrays. The film shows Idi Amin as both surprisingly human and a horrible monster. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, the monster needs the human side to be effective. His sense of humor--here shown in the cheeky letters Idi Amin sends to other world leaders, which make me think as much of the recent weird missives out of North Korea as I do of the curret American President’s ludicrous tweets--is his best weapon.

Which is really something to think about in our modern times, as slick talking heads on our TVs consistently sell us a bill of goods. At one point, even Idi Amin was a hero of the people, his goal to restore the economic power of Uganda so they would not be reliant on foreign powers. The results speak louder than the promises, though, and the images that Schroeder shows us of failing shops and shuttered businesses sharply contrast with the lifestyle the great savior has created for himself.

In this, even more than 40 years later, General Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait is a lasting testament of the power of journalism and the responsibility of the media to call little men in big chairs on their own bullshit.

The new Blu-ray edition from Criterion is a considerable upgrade from their initial 2002 DVD. The picture quality is fantastic, preserving this historical document in a way that helps maintain its contemporary feel. Though supplements are spare, there are two new additions to this version: an interview with journalist Andrew Rice and a new piece with Barbet Schroeder. Coupled with the original 2001 interview with the director, the 30-minutes-plus of conversation with Schroeder explains the documentary process, reveals some of the push and pull between the author and his subject, and also gives us a little idea of what it was like behind the scenes before and after, when Dada saw the movie for himself. (Spoiler: He had concerns.)

This disc provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.

Monday, December 25, 2017


D.A. Pennebaker is responsible for two of my favorite music documentaries, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Look Back [review] and Depeche Mode 101. Both incorporate the backstage business, offstage shenanigans, and fan experience that makes the music come alive in arenas that extend beyond the recorded product, laying bare the entire operation, from farm to table.

In Criterion’s The Complete Monterey Pop Festival, the documentarian does the same for the original live rock event, packaging the premiere festival for audiences the world over as Monterey Pop; though, arguably to less effect, partially because he has less time to spend away from the music. Simply because there’s so much of it. Days of it. What we see here is just a curated selection of an entire weekend in 1967, cut down to individual performances from a selection of the performing bands, sometimes not even complete songs. These highlights include The Who, Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Otis Redding, Country Joe and the Fish, Jimi Hendrix, and more. Most of the numbers are shot and edited in a manner that mixes a distant vantage point showing a clear image of the stage with intimate close-ups, highlighting the faces and instruments. Pennebaker is trying to capture the movement, the “happening.” You are simultaneously in the audience and in the band.

The most powerful moments, however, don’t happen on the sage, but rather are the ones he finds amongst the spectators, when someone unaware they are being watched loses themselves in the music, like when the camera zooms in on the hands of the woman with chipped nail polish fingering Ravi Shankar’s tabulature on her fur coat. Tellingly, the filmmaker waits until Shankar’s song is about to climax before showing the musician himself for the first time. Likewise, we can glean much from the fact that many musicians have abandoned their posts to watch Shankar. Hendrix and the Mamas and the Papas’ Michelle Phillips are both seen in audience, alongside Mickey Dolenz, who was there as an anonymous witness, sans the other Monkees. Shankar is the most transcendent of all the acts on the bill, effortlessly achieving the tonal bliss that others, like Country Joe, struggle for. And the set receives a naturally rapturous reaction. It’s no wonder Pennebaker made it the finale.

Of all the highlighted sets, Otis Redding and the Who prove themselves to be unparalleled performers, and with his avant-garde rendition of the Stones’ “Paint it Black,” perfectly melding the aural presentation with a psychedelic backdrop, Eric Burdon comes off as ahead of his time. Many of the bands here don’t really suit my taste, including Jimi Hendrix, but it’s also obvious why he was one of two acts Pennebaker chose to peel off from the main and turn their full sets into their own movies. The Complete Monterey Pop Festival three-disc box comes with both Jimi Plays Monterey and Shake! Otis at Monterey. Otis’ show, with Booker T and the MGs providing back-up, is a wonder to behold, and if you’ve never heard any of his live albums, this short documentary will likely send you out hunting for them.

True fans will also dig the bonus Blu-ray with more than two hours of outtakes featuring more songs from the main acts and some bands that didn’t make the cut (Moby Grape, the Association, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, to name a few). All features are presented in a newly upgraded, high-definition format that brings clarity and depth to both picture and sound, surpassing even the incredible job Criterion did on their previous edition (released in ancient times: 2002!).

Of the many bonuses on the disc, the most unique and interesting is Chiefs, a short documentary about a gathering of police and religious leaders at what is essentially a weapons convention that played alongside Monterey Pop during its theatrical release. Directed by Richard Leacock, Chiefs is frightening in its enduring relevance. Shot more than half-a-century ago, behind closed doors at their own event, we witness authoritarians blaming dissenters and academic for social unrest, peddling in sincerely believed misinformation that they hope will inspire others while continuing to stoke their own convictions. They are firm and resolute in their convictions, even if they don’t always aim them properly. Sort of like the way the weapons manufacturers hide their commerce behind more lofty claims of aiding law enforcement. Their attitude and tactics of distraction haven’t changed much over their decades, even if their physical weapons--and the heat of the incendiary propaganda--have only gotten worse.

This disc provided by the Criterion Collection for purposes of review.


This review was originally written in 2011 for

What if Santa Claus were real, but instead of being the kindly old gentleman you see on greeting cards, he's really a horned devil who comes and steals naughty children for punishment? This is the Santa that the little boy Pietari (Onni Tomilla) believes in. He's read about the true Kris Kringle in books, and when an American company begins drilling in the mountain near his Finnish home, he's scared of what they'll find. Is that Santa Claus living deep down there in the frozen earth?

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale was a surprise hit in the 2010 holiday season. Written and directed by Jalmari Helander, it's an entirely original take on the Christmas mythos. Tired of traditional family fare but not quite ready for the gore and splatter of Silent Night, Zombie Night? Then Rare Exports is exactly what you're going to want in your stocking. It's like Super 8, but on the frozen tundra and with a lot fewer lens flares.

Pietari lives in the arctic with his widowed father (Jorma Tomilla), a reindeer herder who relies on the yearly migration of the big animals to put food on the table and money in the bank. The first sign that something is up is that the entire herd ends up dead before they even arrive. At first the locals think it's wolves stirred up by the drilling and explosions of the excavators, but weird stuff starts happening. Radiators get stolen, and all the kids go missing--except Pietari, who is also the only one who notices. At the same time, a bizarrely resilient old man ends up in dad's wolf trap. Is that Santa?

What we have here is essentially an old-fashioned sci-fi monster movie. Having captured the geezer they believe to be Santa, the men try to sell him back to the Americans. Of course, the whole scheme is much larger than they bargained for, and only young Pietari really gets what is going on. Everyone thinks he's strange and won't listen to him. He's wearing hockey gear and cardboard armor and dragging around a stuffed animal on a leash, so he doesn't appear to be the most reliable witness. But, as they get to the bottom of things, it's going to be up to Pietari to save the day.

Onni Tomilla is a pretty good child actor. He ably balances his fear with determination. Knowing you're right is more important than being scared. The most developed relationship in the movie is between the young boy and his father, but that is no surprise when you realize that the actors fulfill the same roles in real life. The elder Tomilla displays a natural mixture of warmth and stern frustration, the sort of thing a real father would know instinctively. The back and forth between the two adds an authentic energy to Rare Exports that allows it to work as a family movie despite its odd premise and, you should be warned, a lot of naked elf wang.

Helander and his team, including cinematographer Mika Orasmaa, have made a fun, stylish movie. The dark skies and frosty landscape make for a perfect chase atmosphere. Flakes of snow tumble over credible computer graphics, and the music of Juri and Miska Seppä helps set the mood using familiar, but effective tactics. Kimmo Taavila's editing is smart and swift, making sure the movie never rests too long. Though, actually, that might be Rare Exports' lone problem. At a slim 82 minutes, the mystery doesn't fully take hold before we get the big reveal, and Pietari devises his plan for success a little too easily. I was just getting into it, there was still more room to play!

Thankfully, Helander still has a funny, twisted ending up his sleeve. Here the quick execution works perfectly, we don't have time to get hung up on the logic of it all. It's a gleeful, cynical commentary on the worldwide commercialization of a holiday, like Linus Van Pelt's worst nightmare. No treacle-laden hugs to ring out this pageant. Rare Exports is dark right to the finish, and it's a wonderful gift for those sick of socks and fruitcakes. And hey, aren't we all?

Thursday, December 14, 2017


This unpublished capsule review was originally written in 2012 in preparation for covering a noir festival for the Portland Mercury.

This taut, multi-layered thriller is a real treat. John Payne plays Ernie Driscoll, a boxer whose last fight was his real last fight. A bad beating has permanently damaged his eye, and now he drives a cab. His wife (Peggie Castle) is fed up with the drab life, and Ernie is at his wit's end. Unfortunately for him, his night is about to go horribly wrong. Discovering that his wife is cheating on him with a jewel thief (Brad Dexter) is just the start. Before morning, Ernie will be framed for murder, wanted for beating up a theatre troop, and blind to the love that's right in front of him, the caring actress Linda (Evelyn Keyes). Lots of criss-crossing lines tighten a web around Ernie, leading an exciting foot chase and a chance at hand-to-hand redemption. Director Phil Karlson keeps a steady hand throughout, never losing control of his plot. 99 River Street's cynical streak gives way to romance and an affirmation that folks can be good and decent and still survive. A noir with a well-earned happy ending.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


This review was originally written for my Confessions of a Pop Fan blog in 2010 as part of my coverage of the Portland International Film Festival. 

A lot of people are going to call Police, Adjective boring, and I am not going to pretend I won't be one of them. That said, I may be alone in declaring it boring and saying I liked it anyway. Is that possible?

Dragos Bucur stars in Police, Adjective as Cristi, a drug-enforcement officer who is on a case following high school students around, wondering where they buy their hash. He wants to see the chain through and arrest people who really deserve to go to jail; his bosses want him to pick up the pace and arrest the kids for using. Apparently, in Romania, smoking a joint on the street can get you up to eight years in jail. Cristi doesn't want to destroy a kid's life for something acceptable everywhere else in Europe, his superiors bust his balls, and he's forced to make a decision.

Pretty straightforward stuff, but director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest) takes a lot of time hanging around the subject and wondering what it's all about. Long stretches of the film are devoted to Cristi silently tailing his subjects, and equally long chunks of time are given over to mundane tasks. Cristi eating dinner, waiting for a meeting, literally doing nothing. There is one scene where his wife plays a schmaltzy song three times in a row. One more, and I was going to get up and look for the pause button.

These things are dull, even if I can't say I was entirely bored. The real quandary is why they are even there. Isn't there more to this story than the cop's sullen routine? Porumboiu is apparently saying no, there isn't, and using these mundane scenes as an illustration of Cristi's predicament. There is nothing else, so why the fuss? Many will ask the same of this movie. Police, Adjective's saving grace in these sequences is its gritty realism and voyeuristic framing. Apparently, there is still something inherently intriguing about spying on other people's lives.

Cristi is kind of an interesting character, even if his actions aren't all that interesting. He is wrestling with an abstract concept, one his boss boils down to settling on the correct meaning of the words "law," "moral," and "conscience," and reconciling those definitions with the duties of the police. The closest Police, Adjective comes to a climax is a long semantic argument. It mirrors an earlier drunken debate between Cristi and his wife over that song, in which the officer is seemingly incapable of grasping the concept of poetic metaphor. Why can't things just be what they are, why must they be something else? It's the same schism he feels in his brain. Thus, is there any real question what he will do when faced with the same query? If you are police, be police.

Then again, isn't that "police" as noun?

Friday, December 8, 2017


This review was originally written for in 2009's as part of a piece on Kino's Murnau boxed set.

1922's Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is a wholly original cinematic beast. The prototype for virtually all vampire movies to follow, this unauthorized borrowing of the Bram Stoker Dracula novel is a frightful classic. With Max Schreck in the title role--the legend surrounding the performance later recreated by Willem Dafoe in Shadow of the Vampire--Nosferatu achieved a lower temperature of chills than the early movie industry was used to.

The story is likely familiar to anyone who has seen any of the many Stoker adaptations: young real estate agent Hutter (Gustav v. Wangenheim) is sent to a distant land to aid the bizarre Count Orlock (Schreck) in acquiring British property. Failing to heed local folk tales about the scary Nosferatu, Hutter goes to Orlock's castle and is soon trapped in the Count's nocturnal world. Seeing a picture of Hutter's wife, the strikingly beautiful Ellen (Greta Schröder), Orlock heads back to England to take possession of the woman, leaving dead bodies in his wake.

Schreck's amazingly perverse turn as the vampire, which was so believable that many have believed him to be a real creature of the night, is a wonder to behold. Wearing all kinds of prosthetics to elongate his features, giving him jagged teeth and demonic nails, he looks utterly inhuman without any of the cracks showing in the illusion. To see him rise up out of a coffin without aid or the use of his own limbs is a scary movie moment even now. Beyond Schreck's total role immersion, the thing that is most striking about Murnau's Nosferatu is it's all-pervasive atmosphere of terror. The director has created a rarefied world where nothing is as it seems and the scent of fear inches across every frame. He also employed clever and surprisingly convincing special effects to make Count Orlock a creature who is not bound by spatial relationships or time restrictions. Playing with film speeds, double exposure, and other early effects tricks, Murnau practically splits the screen in half, showing us the realm of the undead on one side and the more grounded reality on the other.

In addition to Schreck, Alexander Granach is fantastically mad as Knock, Hutter's boss and Murnau's version of Renfield. I was also quite taken with Greta Schröder, whose Helen comes off as more than a virginal beauty. Her dark hair and eyes give way to hints of a darker interior life, that there is something in this troubled woman that makes her compatible with the bloodsucker. She is not just drawing him in because of her beauty, but because maybe they are more simpatico than anyone realizes.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017


This review originally written for in 2009.

German/Austrian director Michael Haneke has become notorious for making films that are, essentially, extended meditations on discomfort, in which the lives of his fictional characters are marred by unspeakable violence and the minds of the audience are jarred by self-reflexive story twists. Films like Funny Games, Cache, and, most recently, the acclaimed The White Ribbon [review] all definitely fall into that clichéd love-it-or-hate-it pigeonhole. I generally find it hard to discern whether or not Haneke has a legitimate point to make, or he just enjoys screwing around. We are the flies, and he the vicious schoolboy plucking at our wings.

And so it's with pleasure that I can say the biggest surprise of all in his new film Amour is that there is no big surprise at all. The con man has put away his shells and left all of his secrets exposed. It makes for a powerful drama, one that has rightly been topping many critics' polls and gathering up awards, including a Golden Globe for best foreign film.

In essence, Amour is the final stage of a love story, the tail end of a lifelong romance. Most films about love deal with the initial rush of emotion, when cheeks and hearts burn hot, with that thing that has been termed, most horrendously, as "meet-cute." (Whoever came up with that term needs to end up meeting the cute side of my foot.) Haneke's film is as far away from first-date territory as one can get. It doesn't even wallow in nostalgia. There are no rote scenes of parents telling their kids of how they fell in love. Amour is, instead, trapped in the here-and-now of old age.

Esteemed French actors Jean-Paul Trintingnant (The Conformist, Three Colors: Red [review]) and Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) star as Georges and Anne, married senior citizens, former music teachers, now retired. As the movie opens, they are returning from seeing their most accomplished pupil (Alexandre Tharaud) performing in concert. They are on a high, so much so that they don't even let the fact that there is evidence someone tried to break into their apartment bring them down. It's a none-too-subtle omen. Their lives are about to be invaded by circumstances they can't control.

The following morning, Anne suffers a stroke that leaves her right side mostly paralyzed. She returns to their apartment for in-home care, and makes Georges promise to never send her back to the hospital--a vow he stands by, even when their daughter (Isabelle Huppert, White Material [review]) tries to sway them to look for an alternative. Taking care of his wife is going to be tough on Georges, and his responsibilities will only increase as her condition worsens. He's prepared to take on the challenge, however, because that is what life partners do for one another.

I know that, based on the synopsis, Amour sounds like a bit of a downer. I'm not going to lie, that's not entirely wrong. There is not a lot of joy to be found in watching an old man take care of a dying old woman, spoonfeeding her and changing her diaper, while she cries out in distress that may or may not be real. The impressive thing about Amour is that Haneke, who writes as well as directs, manages to avoid making a serious exploration of grief seem oppressive. The subject is heavy, but the film rolls along rather lightly. Haneke eschews any gross physical details and never lingers morbidly on the damage illness is causing Anne's body. Nor does he indulge his performers to treat the difficult material as a flashy showpiece. Emmanuelle Riva is remarkable. As Amour progresses, Anne's body essentially closes in on her. She can barely move and speech becomes increasingly elusive. Riva's portrayal becomes more and more astonishing the less she has to work with. The pain she conveys in the final scenes are unnerving.

For his part, Jean-Paul Trintingnant is a rock, maintaining a composed outer appearance while still managing to wrestle with the deeper internal struggle. Haneke's script confronts all the complexities, all the conflicting emotions, including the selfish impulses that are unavoidable even during selfless action. Illness locks these two lovers in their nest, where they struggle to define a dignified end and keep outside interference at bay. It's a look at old age that we rarely see in movies. These are not randy grandparents popping Viagra and chasing each other around the pool, but real people making the best of what time they have left, even when everything is at its worst. Amour builds toward an inevitable conclusion, and when it gets there, Haneke delivers it quietly, without comment, but to great effect.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

THE LURE - #896

A new twist on an old tail, The Lure is an updated The Little Mermaid with all the ferocity restored. This full-length debut of Polish director Agnieszka Smoczyńska is a musical extravaganza borrowing from the early days of MTV and cable television horror flicks. It’s a colorful manifesto, a cautionary fairy tale, and a bizarre character study all in one. The Lure is also fun and surprising. While some outcomes are predictable just by the nature of the material, you aren’t likely to guess the turns Smoczyńska and screenwriter Robert Bolesto will take to get to them.

The Lure begins at the water, as two teenaged mermaids, Golden (Michalina Olszańska) and Silver (Marta Mazurek), entice two men with song. Once rescued from the water, these men and their female companion (King Preis) take the girls to their place of business--a skeezy nightclub where they perform as the backing band for burlesque acts. Seeing a moneymaking opportunity, the band’s drummer (Andrzej Konopka) and the club owner (Zygmunt Malanowicz, Knife in the Water [review]) put the girls on stage, creating song and dance numbers that build up to their sliding into a pool of water, restoring their fish tails for all to see.

This new act is a hit. It’s sexy and taboo and altogether unexpected, so why wouldn’t it be? Naturally, based on myth as The Lure is, the girls coming to land is not without its price. As Silver is enticed to join the human world, finding a bit of romance with the band’s mercurial bass player (Jakub Gierszal), Golden embraces the more animalistic side of her nature. Mermaids, as it turns out, are predators, feasting on the hearts of unsuspecting victims. One girl turns toward love and assimilation, the other embraces her internal power and devours the living symbol of that love--the one catch being that if Silver sacrifices her true self, there will also be consequences for Golden. She can’t let her sister break up the act.

Of The Lure’s many themes, the most prominent is that of exploitation. The humans take advantage of the creatures they have found, but they also find they are not so innocent; likewise, the mermaids are exploiting their human hosts, to a degree. They quickly learn to get what they want by using their sensual charms. There is also much to be examined in how the human world pollutes these women of the sea--smoking, drinking, lust. At one point, Silver even asks why they aren’t being paid. How will mankind’s temptations alter them?

Smoczyńska’s gleefully gruesome tableu isn’t just a joy to watch, but also a marvel to look at. Its 1980s stylings are creative and colorful, owing as much to pop music videos as to classic movie musicals. For a horror film, The Lure is very bright. Kuba Jijowski’s cinematography embraces the glitz of its showbiz settings, contrasting it with the dark of the natural world (we only return to the river at night) and the drabness of the backstage environment. You’d think with such a squalid existence that the band would be dazzled by these unbelievable beings entering their lives, but they so quickly absorb them into the normal routine, even the violence is easily accepted. In the end, they don’t deserve the magic being made available to them. What’s the old joke about how if humans can’t fuck it, they have to kill it?

Most effective, though is Golden’s solo musical number. The film turns monotone as the scene freezes and we enter her mental landscape. It’s personal and slightly terrifying. Special kudos should be given to the translators who made the Polish lyrics still flow as English subtitles, with clever rhymes and pacing the lines to match the music. The characters in The Lure may be bored of the entertainment they’re participating in, but the presentation, even as it stretches across borders both physical and cultural, ensures that we are not.

Music also play an important role in Smoczyńska’s 2007 student film Aria Diva. In this half-hour short, a housewife begins a friendship with the opera singer that moves upstairs. It’s a complicated relationship, with some challenging maternal overtones, but also an undercurrent of romanticism. Here we see hints of the director’s interest in the transactional nature of performance, as well as another instance of someone who is “different” moving in and out of the life of someone more “normal.”

Opera is likewise the subject of Smoczyńska’s 2010 short documentary Viva Maria!, profiling Polish diva Maria Foltyn as she passes the torch to a successor. Archival footage of the singer at work directing in her younger years shows us just how deep her passion ran--and still runs.