J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Tav Falco’s Urania Descending

There is a heck of a lot of National Socialist gold still out there. Some is safely tucked away in Swiss vaults, but there is one wayward shipment rather tantalizingly lying at the bottom of Lake Atter (a.k.a. the Attersee). An American fleeing boobsie Arkansas will be recruited into a scheme to salvage that gold in Tav Falco’s first feature-length film, Urania Descending (trailer here), which screens this Thursday as part of a night of the Panther Burns front man’s film at the Anthology Film Archives.

Title cards warn us not to expect perfectly synchronized audio, but frankly there will not be a lot of dialogue to worry about. Not exactly found footage, Descending claims to be the mysterious 16mm reels of an unknown outsider-artist filmmaker, cobbled together as well as possible. Although there is a bit of talking here and there, Falco is clearly engaging with the conventions and motifs of silent cinema—much more so than the caper movie.

Fed up with leering lowlifes, Gina Lee just up and bought a one-way ticket to Vienna. How long can she afford to idle away her days in merry old Vienna? Maybe for quite a while, if she can complete the job offered to her by tango-dancing playboy Diego Moritz. Her job will be to romance Karl-Heinz Von Riegl, the son of the German officer in charge of the gold shipment that crashed in Lake Atter. It will not be difficult to get him talking about it, but snapping a picture of the pertinent map will be a trickier task.

That probably makes it sound like intrigue abounds in Descending, but frankly there are almost no twists or turns to this sixty-nine minute tale. Instead, Falco is much more interested in realizing the film’s neo-retro look. Think of it as a more animated cousin of Sally Potter’s Thriller, or a less grungy, modern day Alphaville. Indeed, Descending could pass for Godard’s remake of a John Huston caper film, produced by the Warhol factory.

Descending is probably most successful evoking the spirit of Vienna through its soundtrack of accordion music, tangos, waltzes, and hints of the Third Man theme. Nevertheless, its deliberately self-conscious gamesmanship ultimately wears thin. This is definitely a case where it would be much more nourishing to watch the films that inspired Falco. More intriguing as a concept than as a finished film, Falco’s Urania Descending screens this Thursday night (5/25) at the Anthology Film Archives.

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