Stranger On the Third Floor (Boris Ingster, 1940)

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One of the earliest examples of Noir, Stranger On the Third Floor is more than a collection of tropes still in the rough – the voice-over narration is used very effectively as a medium of psychological realism, reflecting paranoia in an unjust world; this gives way to a kaleidoscopic expressionist whirlwind of a dream sequence that rivals the much more famous Dalí-designed set-piece of Hitchcock’s Spellbound. I can’t help but be annoyed at the underuse of Peter Lorre, especially considering his hiring being based upon the force majeure of his performance in M, but he is still wonderful as a pitiable, even kindly, but very dangerous figure who may or may not be a figment of the protagonist’s imagination. Mixed in with some effective social critique regarding the treatment of the accused man in the courts, Stranger On the Third Floor is only really let down by an over-quick and much too upbeat ending, that so significantly jars with the rest of this nicely paced film about the relativism of justice in a sea of circumstantial evidence.

 

***1/2

Industrial Soundtrack For the Urban Decay (Amélie Ravalec, 2015)

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I was really looking forward to this. The title suggested that I was going to be in for some psychogeographical complement between the sounds of the industrial scene and Herzogian documentary-style footage of estates and ghostly urban sprawl, like a contemporary reimagining of Einstürzende Neubauten’s “Halbe Mensch” and instead I watched a surface-level talking head fest with less information than BBC Four’s 2009 program Synth Britannia.

Covering almost exclusively the mot accessible and synthpoppy elements of Industrial, with massive gaping holes as far as artists like Nurse With Wound, Coil, Whitehouse and Merzbow are concerned, Industrial Soundtrack For the Urban Decayteaches you nothing new, but at least seeing it at the cinema gives you the opportunity to hear some Throbbing Gristle and SPK played on louder speakers than you probably own at home. This fact becomes all too abundant, however, thanks to the shoddy mixing job and poor quality of the sound recording equipment, resulting in many of the interviews getting drowned out by music many of us have heard before.

However, given that the interviews are nothing but musicians making incredibly bold Great Man Theory statements, all claiming to be the first musicians of discord, first practitioners of sampling techniques, selectively forgetting futurism, free jazz and musique concrète as just three examples, we aren’t missing all that much.

At 52 minutes, Industrial Soundtrack For the Urban Decay is a short, pretentious and dramatically wanting affair, salvaged only somewhat by the quality of its primary source material, which will itself be entirely familiar to a solid 90% of its audience anyway.

**

Heaven Adores You (Nickolas Dylan Rossi, 2014)

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Heaven Adores You is without a doubt a charming, beautiful and emotive tribute to the music of Elliott Smith and the effect and affect it had on those who knew him and those who didn’t. However, as others have criticised as well, its narrative contains certain glaring omissions and perhaps too strong an investment in claiming him as Portland’s own (one cannot help but feel the film itself becomes a little resentful and loses a certain amount of interest when it reaches Smith’s exodus first to New York City and then Los Angeles). Clearly the filmmakers were not as privileged in terms of access to the cornucopia of primary source material as those behind Cobain: Montage of Heck (and the comparisons will be abundant) were.

Still, this does mean that Heaven Adores You provides the viewer with a much clearer insight into Smith’s Portland years, both solo and as a member of Heatmiser, than I personally had previously. The way the sound editing transitions between often amateur-shot live footage and album recordings and the introspective, psychogeographic relationship the film has with both the urban and rural landscapes that were the backdrops to Smith’s creativity makes Heaven Adores You an engaging and appropriately sentimental appreciation of one of the most unique and profound singer-songwriters of our time.

***1/2