Sans Soleil, and six more movies

Sunless (1983)
a/k/a Sans Soleil



Feb. 26, 2023

This is a travelogue, a collage of imagery from all over everywhere, nominally about filmmaker Chris Marker's visits to Japan, Iceland, the Cape Verde Islands, San Francisco, and his inner mind. Marker also wrote and directed La Jetée, the French short that inspired 12 Monkeys, and his inner mind is a busy place.

The film's narrator is never named, and she says she's reading from letters from someone else. Actually she's actress Alexandra Stewart (Day for Night), reading text written by Marker, who was male, a switch which adds to the subtle surreality.

The narration is more memorable than the visuals, and it's mostly stream-of-consciousness philosophical ramblings, heady stuff about time and place, memory, politics, history, joy and tragedy, and whatever else comes up.

Seeing working class people in Guinea-Bissau (to spell it, I had to look it up), Marker/Stewart waxes eloquent about the country's history, and just when you think it's profound, they add, "Who remembers all that? History throws its empty bottles out the window."

You'll either hate this movie or love it, and I'm on Team Love It, but I can also see the Hate It perspective. If you want a linear story, you definitely don't want Sunless, but if you're open to an intelligent, wide-ranging meditation, this is it.

It's like a report that space anthropologists might file on humanity. 

And it reminds me, I need to watch La Jetée.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cisco Pike (1971)

Gene Hackman is a narc pushing pot, which comes prepackaged in red bricks. While wrapped, the bricks look more like the cocaine you see in movies, but then again, I've never seen marijuana packaged in bulk.

Kris Kristofferson makes his acting debut, playing a folk singer/songwriter, which isn't much of a stretch, but he's also a drug dealer, and Hackman the narc wants his help distributing the demon weed. Karen Black is Kristofferson's girlfriend, who wants him to sing songs but not sling dope.

Hackman's role and performance seem cribbed together from other Hackman movies, but Kristofferson can act, and the movie flutters to life when Harry Dean Stanton is on screen playing a heroin addict. Viva, Andy Warhol's muse, comes off spacey but amusing.

I liked everything about the movie, actually, except Hackman and the story, both of which seem about as deep as a dime.

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Demonwarp (1988)

"Be careful, Ted, there are testicle-eating monsters out there."

Actually, there aren't. That line is only an unfunny wisecracks, but a movie about testicle-eating monsters might be more interesting than Demonwarp. It's a remarkably bad and boring monster-from-space movie starring George Kennedy and a bunch of rowdy, doomed teenagers gone partying in Uncle Clem's cabin. 

Verdict: NO. 

♦ ♦ ♦  

Dust Devil (1992)
a/k/a Demonica

To me, a Dust Devil is a mini vacuum cleaner, but in this movie a dust devil is a dead man in a cowboy hat, wandering the earth and killing people to harvest their fingers.

Hitchhiking, the dust devil is picked up by Wendy, a suicidal woman who's just left her husband because he beats her. Wendy and the dust devil spark a little and boink a lot, but after she finds some of his spare fingers and decides she wants to keep hers on her hands, it's a love than cannot be.

It's a beautiful film to look at, filmed and set in Nambia and visually dominated by orange hues of the desert. The music and sound are classy, too, and the script shows intelligence, and the dust devil and his backstory go a long ways, and the end of the story isn't what I'd expected. Clearly, great effort went into Dust Devil, and parts of it are outstanding. 

"There's a storm coming. I think it's going to rain."

It was released in America in a butchered cut titled Demonica, which was disowned by writer-director Richard Stanley. The version I saw was Stanley's cut and title. He also made Hardware, which, like this, seemed highbrow in concept and execution. I didn't care for Hardware, and this is better than that.

At its heart, though, this is supposed to be a horror movie, and it simply isn't scary. It moves kinda slowly, and never really engaged me.

Marianne Sägebrecht (from Bagdad Cafe) has a small role, and it's nice seeing her again. 

Verdict: MAYBE.

♦ ♦ ♦   

I Was a Shoplifter (1950)

Hard to believe from the silly title, but this is a serious noir piece about detectives trying to stop department store shoplifters. Their main tactic is entrapment, and with clumsy, cruel police work they're able to make it dangerous to a defenseless kleptomaniac's life.

This is a drama that will hold your attention, so long as you never think critically about anything that happens, or ponder whether anyone should give a hoot about someone pocketing a $9 necklace from a giant shop with many millions of dollars in inventory. 

So it defies expectations, and works. 

Tony Curtis co-stars, Rock Hudson has an early moment on screen, and the department store scenes are nostalgic.

Vercict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦  

The Terminal Man (1974)

Michael Crichton was my favorite writer of thrillers when I was young. Some were good — The Andromeda Strain, Coma — and some were so-so — Congo, Timeline — but they all had some thrills. Hence the term 'thriller'. This movie is based on a Crichton novel I've never read, and it lacks any thrills at all.

George Segal is having seizures where he Hulks out and becomes violent, and he has a fear of newfangled microcomputers taking over the world. The doctors decide to perform surgery on him, and the surgery itself takes about a third of the movie, or feels like it does. Not being a medical student, watching a surgery doesn't provide much entertainment.

The story finally starts cooking toward the end, but by then — arf arf — the movie's a certified dog. When things do start happening it's Segal stabbing Jill Clayburgh in slow-motion. Not being a psychopath, slow-motion stabbing doesn't provide much entertainment, either.

After that, I'm not sure whether I clicked the movie off or simply fell asleep, but somehow I'll struggle through the remainder of my days not knowing what happens to The Terminal Man.

Verdict: NO.

♦ ♦ ♦

Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? (1978)

Robert Morley stars as a gluttonous gourmet who's the editor of a gourmet magazine, and wants to eat his way through a smorgasbord of the finest gourmet dishes prepared by the world's greatest gourmet chefs.

"I am what I am precisely because I've eaten my way to the top. I'm a work of art, created by the finest chefs in the world. Every fold is a brush stroke! Every crease a sonnet! Every chin a concerto! In short, doctor darling, in my present form, I'm a masterpiece!"

The chefs keep dying, though. The murders are unnecessarily gruesome, but the film is a lightweight parody of murder mysteries.

George Segal camps it up as a fast-food billionaire looking for a superstar chef to endorse his shitty food, and also pursuing Jacqueline Bisset, who plays another master chef and maybe the next to be killed.

It's all very frantic, most of the characters are asses, everyone is always hollering, and it's stuffed with snappy dialogue nobody could come up with in the moment.

Having said all that, though, it was filmed all across Europe and looks great, and it's funny enough to recommend.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦   

I take care in selecting only films which seem likely to either be good or enjoyably bad, but after that everything is thrown into the hopper, to be pulled out and viewed at random. For today's selection, random was unkind. Sunless is quite good, but most of these movies I could've and should've skipped.

The next batch is better:

A Hitch in Time (1978)
Freddy Got Fingered (2001)
Imitation of Life (1934)
Imitation of Life (1959)
Long Weekend (1977)
The Stepford Wives (1975)
Zabriskie Point (1970)


There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

CultCinema Classics
Films for Action
Internet Archive
Kino Lorber
Korean Classic Film
Christopher R Mihm
National Film Board of Canada
New Yorker Screening Room
Damon Packard
Mark Pirro
Public Domain Movies
Scarecrow Video
Timeless Classic Movies
or your local library.

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —
Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff.

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  1. Oh man, it's been ages and ages, but I'm interested to see your opinion on "Freddy Got Fingered." I may just take a look and see if I can find a stream of it now, to refresh my memory.

    1. Oh my god, you liked it? I'm vindicated!?

    2. Of course I liked it! How could anyone not like a movie where the protagonist gives a horse a handjob?

    3. Have you seen Walerian Borowczyk's La Bête? Enjoy (and apologies)!


    4. Why the apologies?

      Haven't seen it, but I'll add it to the list.

    5. It's... uh... read the Wiki.

    6. Judging from your typed tone of voice, it's notorious, eh? I prefer knowing as little as possible about a movie before seeing it, so I'll skip the wiki and be surprised.

  2. Such great movie offerings! If I ever want to watch movies I'll know where to come (like if there was a miracle and I got a girlfriend, are movies still the stay-at-home date?) E Paradise

    1. I wouldn't know about dating, but movies are definitely better at home than in an ordinary chain-owned theater. Those places are openly hostile to the cinema experience.

  3. https://images.huffingtonpost.com/2013-03-22-IMG_3943.jpg

    1. When my sister was 10 I told her the braces on her teeth looked great, but sheesh, I didn't put it in writing.

    2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MGyHS8jwY0

    3. No one sees his picture since 1978, then 30 years later he's caught line dancing in an Austin honkytonk, it's funny. He taught at MIT and wrote for The New Yorker! Ha!

    4. I didn't know that the man of mystery in a nightclub had taught at MIT. Lectured on philosophy, says the internet. Who knew they even taught philosophy at MIT?

    5. Philosophy is a required subject at MIT, or at least used to be. Feynman writes about it in his memoirs. BTW, his memoirs are required reading at my house, and hilarious..


    6. Yeah? Is he readable? I know he was a famous popularizer of science while he was alive, but I've only seen videos, maybe read an article or two. Never tried his memoirs. Maybe?

    7. Yes. There is Feynman all over the Web and all over bookstores and libraries, but two books in particular are memoir-type books which were recorded in Feynman's own voice by Feynman's close friend and drumming partner Ralph Leighton. They were then transcribed and when the first book, "Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character" was released shortly after Feynman's death, it became a surprise bestseller. A few years later a second book from the same audio tapes was released, "What Do You Care What Other People Think?: Further Adventures of a Curious Character". The second book is also terrific, although perhaps not quite as towering as the first. You should still read it.

      Both books are available on CD and, probably, streaming as audiobooks from Blackstone Audio. I really believe in books, but the audio editions are very well read, so I have a CD copy of each. I suppose one of the Seattle libraries has both audiobooks.

      You don't need to understand anything about physics to enjoy the hell out of these books, but a little knowledge of the flow of 20th century physics (e.g., Einstein, quantum physics, the Manhattan Project, the U.S. space program) will enhance your enjoyment.

      I can't recommend these books highly enough.


    8. Well, I have the required "little knowledge" of physics, having worked as a science writer for a while — a very unlikely job for uneducated me. So I know enough to fake it, and have.

      I have just added Feynman to my reading list, thanks.

      I have never listened to an audiobook. I prefer paper. Can't read on the bus, though, or I'd get a bus-sick, so I *might* try some books-on-tape or whatever newfangled medium they're on these days.

  4. The next batch is better:

    A Hitch in Time (1978) - not seen
    Freddy Got Fingered (2001) - stupid but brilliant
    Imitation of Life (1934) - masterpiece
    Imitation of Life (1959) - masterpiece
    Long Weekend (1977) - masterpiece
    The Stepford Wives (1975) - overrated but watchable
    Zabriskie Point (1970) - masterpiece

    1. I look forward to at least one disagreement, Mr Ebert.

    2. No, I'm sure I haven't seen A Hitch In Time

    3. If you enjoyed Zabriskie Point then you were must've been on some very nice weeds. I DVR'd it recently off TCM and was pretty bored -- and I enjoyed Wim Wenders' Paris, Texas, Kings of the Road and other somewhat slow moving films. Watching couples screw in the sand is interesting for about a minute and then it's monotonous (less monotonous, of course, if you're the one doing the screwing, but I state the obvious). Then watching that house blow up 15 times loses its appeal pretty quickly, too. It would help if there was a reason to want to blow up that house aside from the general hideousness of it interrupting nature. I assume by now there's an entire subdivision ruining the natural beauty and it's a gated community. -- Arden

    4. Ha ha — no comment. I've seen all seven of the 'upcoming' movies, plus about a dozen more, just haven't written the reviews yet. My deadlines are fluid.

    5. My deadlines were pretty hard for about forty years, then became as fluid as Lake Michigan (quasi-fluid) more recently. If my arteries were as fluid as my deadlines now, I'd play a fucking round of golf.


    6. I played a game of golf once, with my now-dead brother-in-law. It was fun, but even in the '70s it was more expensive than a movie ticket. That's always been my standard — if it's more expensive than a movie ticket, I'm probably not doing it.

    7. Yeah, I meant I'd play a round of golf if somebody else was paying. I sold my clubs some time ago and sold my balls to corporate America. I'm buying them back one comment at a time.


    8. . . . and out here in Dougland, nobody wonders or cares where all the corporate money went, but it went to three uninsured back surgeries and being unable to work or get medical insurance for several years. Not complaining -- but I refer to my previous corporate existence from time to time and to my penury occasionally. That's what happened.


    9. Wow, you must've been *very* well paid or wealthy at some point, to have surgeries without insurance. They don't like the installment plan.

    10. I had several hundred thousand dollars in an IRA that I'd been paying into for thirty years. It vanished, like a fist when you open your hand. I wasn't a high-paid executive; I was in low-end management and I got pretty good bonuses because I was reasonably competent and valued the people who were on my team. Those twenty or so people built and managed a global 10 office funds management computing and telecommunications infrastructure: they were the important people, not me. I got bonuses because they were superstars; I made damn sure that they got bonuses too.

      OK, there's my professional life story. I didn't intend to write it when I sat down at the computer. I don't know why I did.


    11. It's interesting to hear other people's stories if they're told well, yours always are, and I'm glad you had the money when your back and the doctors demanded it.

      I once knew a guy named Ira.

  5. > Watching couples screw in the sand is interesting for about a minute. . .

    I notice that the industries that use sand as a lubricant usually have the word "blasting" after the word "sand". I've screwed at the beach, but Rule #1 is "shake out the blanked before you start". Rule #2 is "if you get highly agitato during the activity, see Rule #1". At that point, Rule #3 hardly matters.


    1. Yeah, that should be blanket, of course, or intercourse.


    2. Well, maybe Arden was interested for a minute, but I was more baffled. I watched the whole movie with my mouth hanging open.

      Never done anything interesting in the sand myself, except building a dirt city when I was a kid. It had a *very* good transit system.

  6. Building a dirt city?


    Sung by Gene McDaniels

    He took a hundred pounds of clay
    And they He said "Hey, listen"
    "I'm gonna fix this-a world today"
    "Because I know what's missin' "
    Then He rolled his big sleeves up
    And a brand-new world began
    He created a woman and-a lots of lovin' for a man
    Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did

    With just a hundred pounds of clay
    He made my life worth livin'
    And I will thank Him every day
    For every kiss you're givin'
    And I'll thank Him every night
    For the arms that are holdin' me tight
    And He did it all with just a hundred pounds of clay
    Yes he did, whoa-oh, yes He did

    Now can'tcha just see Him a-walkin' 'round and 'round
    Pickin' the clay uppa off the ground?
    Doin' just what He should do
    To make a livin' dream like you

    He rolled His big sleeves up
    And a brand-new world began
    He created a woman and-a lots of lovin' for a man
    Whoa-oh-oh, yes he did
    With just a hundred pounds of clay
    People, let me tall ya what He did
    With just a hundred pounds of clay

    Songwriters: Luther Dixon / Kay Rogers / Bob Elgin
    A Hundred Pounds of Clay lyrics © Gil Music Corp., Gil Music Corporation


    1. An oldie but goodie, but no, I wasn't building dirt women and kissing them. I was seven or eight years old — kissing was still decades away.


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