Dans la ville blanche (Alain Tanner, Switzerland, 1983)

One of the more reliable art-house directors of the ‘seventies and ‘eighties was Swiss Alain Tanner. Like any self-respecting auteur the mood of his films hardly varies no matter how much the subject matter does. Though in his case the subject matter hardly varies either: eavesdropping on lonely people leading aimless lives on the margins. Pretentious and empty, but with a certain indefinable and compelling kind of magic. Typically his women were like his protagonists, dark, moody, down to earth, in humble occupations but intelligent.

In the White City is about a sailor (Bruno Ganz) jumping ship in Lisbon, sending home a video diary (actually grainy Super 8) of his impressions of the city. Mainly the trams as I remember it, from a Channel 4 showing I think. And of course there was Teresa Madruga naked in bed. She’s just a waitress he’s taken up with. You’ll also see him chasing her into the bedroom with no knickers on and getting down to work on her. Definitely worth a second look, even if it’s just to see if you missed anything. I always worry I’ve missed something with scenes like these.

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Clip #1: Dans-la-ville-blanche-a.avi (4MB)
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Clip #2: Dans-la-ville-blanche-b.avi (32MB)

Aber Doktor (Oldrich Lipský, East Germany, 1980)

As far as I know this film has never been broadcast on British TV, but I well remember an extract being shown on one of those prurient and popular Tarrant on TV style clip shows. It certainly made an impression and I was glad to eventually track the whole film down.

It’s a made-for-TV feature film, in a series roughly equivalent to the British Carry Ons. So you could translate the title as Carry on Doctor, or rather Dentist, for such is the profession of leading dragon lady Agnes Kraus.

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The plump young lady dashing around kicking out of bed the slim young gentleman who is not her husband is called Ursula Staack. Despite watching a lot of East German films I’ve never seen her doing anything like this before. She usually plays the dumpy overlooked secretary types. Literally overlooked as she’s so petite her eyes barely make it into the frame in the group shots.

This scene is a beautifully done piece of bedroom farce, with lots of mirror shots to keep the viewer on his toes. Ursula doesn’t have time to button up her pyjama jacket, and freeze frames confirm that really is all she has on. This is an extended edit, where we get to see the fate of the unlucky lad who jumped out of the window on to the removal van in only his Y-fronts. Yes the elastic does turn out to be faulty. And yes there are nuns involved somewhere along the line. The whole film was on YouTube the last time I looked, and the stills are taken from that version, rather than from the clip below which is low resolution but easy to edit.

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Clip: Ursula-Staack-naked–Aber-Doktor-a.avi (31MB)

El dirigible (Pablo Dotta, Uruguay, 1994)

A somewhat grotesque comic fantasy, The Airship was the first film to be produced in Uruguay (apparently). Some money from Channel 4 went into it, and it duly turned up on our screens late one night. I can’t remember the year. It’s of quite late date to have captured my interest, cinema having finished the process of going horribly wrong in some indefinable way sometime around about 1985-ish.

Laura Schneider in the lead casts quite a spell, with a sultry sexuality she affects not to be aware of. Take the fun and games in the souvenir kiosk for instance – photocopying her bare backside in front of witnesses. It’s one way to shame a couple of drunks I suppose.

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Clip #1: Laura-Schneider-photocopy–El-dirigible-a.avi (29MB)

In the second clip you can see her taking a shower in strange circumstances. The conceit here is that this is taking place in the gondola of an airship which happened to be passing over the city of Montevideo when a historically notable photograph was taken. Which is not an explanation at all come to think of it.

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Clip #2: Laura-Schneider-shower–El-dirigible-b.avi (32MB)

There’s another related scene towards the end. All in all, an enjoyable film of the sort much missed nowadays, a little pretentious and crude maybe, but with a sense of humour, and sometimes a poetic sense as well.

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Clip #3: Laura-Schneider-sex–El-dirigible-c.avi (43MB)

The House of the Yellow Carpet (Carlo Lizzani, Italy, 1983)

This is a remarkable Italian thriller (originally La casa del tappeto giallo), in the sadistic, paranoid, voyeuristic, and over-sexed genre called the giallo. There’s even a hint to the genre in the title (giallo simply means yellow), but it’s hardly a typical example, being small scale, claustrophobic, and obviously based on a stage play.

I first saw it broadcast one night on ITV, dubbed as is usual for that channel, and it was a delightful surprise. I’m not going to spoil things by going into details about the plot, except for the bare outline. Fragile and pretty Young Wife (Beatrice Romand) has to deal with callers interested in the carpet for sale (menacingly over-large for the tiny flat) referenced in the title. While not yet fully dressed. And while Young Husband is out at work…

The clip here is from the prelude. One night Beatrice, in her flimsy white nightie, after patching up hubby who’s cut his foot (she warned him the fool), launches into a giggly round of dancing and flashing and more. Strong stuff for the light channel…

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Clip:  Beatrice-Romand-naked–House-of-the-Yellow-Carpet-a.avi (23MB)

Die Berührte (Helma Sanders-Brahms, West Germany, 1981)

It seems a good a way as any to start off this look at the sleazier side of world cinema with one of Channel 4’s infamous ‘Red Triangle’ films, broadcast date 28th November 1986. No Mercy, No Future was directed in West Germany by Helma Sanders-Brahms, and is a feminist look at life through the eyes of a schizophrenic young woman played by Elisabeth Stepanek.

Most of the short-lived Red Triangle was pretty disappointing to be honest, lacking in both cinematic and prurient interest. This one at least was fairly nasty. Our heroine is frequently confined to a mental hospital tied to the bed with leather straps. Let out on the streets of a wintry Berlin she strips in public or offers herself sexually to any man showing the least interest in her.

The cinematic style is typically clinical, the camera an impassionate observer rarely moving. The theme takes the theories of R. D. Laing seriously. Mental illness in the young is caused by a combination of having stockbrokers for parents, and organised religion (rather than pushing untested psychoactive drugs and casual sex on youngsters and telling them they’re rebelling). Even as a teenager I could see through the philistinism and intellectual vacuity typical of this school of film-making as basically an excuse for wallowing in female masochism.

First Elisabeth accompanies an elderly gentleman to what looks like the lumber room of an orphanage for a semi-knee-trembler on a discarded bedframe. Then she strips naked in the snow outside an army base and is carried off to the mental hospital, calmly mind, no screaming and kicking. Released, there’s time for one more piece of elderly gentleman action before she returns to the family home to slit her wrists in her parents’ bathroom.

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Clip #1 (collage): Elisabeth-Stepanek-naked–Die-Beruhrte-a.avi (42MB)

She joins a happy-clappy Christian commune after this, where she has a good frontal scene with a random stranger in a chilly dormitory. The inevitable happens and she chooses an abortion. Too soon afterwards she accompanies some slackwit from Ghana (must have heard Vogue were looking for an editor again) to an abandoned bomb shelter for naked copulation. Alas Elisabeth is still bleeding so profusely the pair of hogs keep sliding off each other onto the floor. This is by far the nastiest part.

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Clip #2: Elisabeth-Stepanek-sex–Die-Beruhrte-b.avi (19MB)

When Elisabeth goes to see her parents about actually marrying this lump they have her sent back to the mental hospital again, screaming and kicking this time. Which, except for flashbacks and a fantasy about stripping in a discotheque, is the end.

Not a good film by any rational standards, but at the time it served well as a stimulating piece of artsy erotica.