Ulrich Seidl, Der Busenfreund ("The Bosom Friend"), 1997
It's hard to believe, watching any of Ulrich Seidl's documentaries, that they aren't in some way rigged (you might say the same of Herzog at times) - whether he's showing S&M freaks or neo-Nazis in their cellars, over-attentive (shall we say) pet lovers, obese racist safari "hunters", there are moments, and many of them, when your jaw drops in disbelief. But we're assured this is for real.. would it be any more acceptable if it were a screenplay? I doubt it - Seidl's good at scaring the shit out of us in his fiction, too. Anyway, here's Mr Rene Rupnik (who later appears in Paradise: Faith if you're a Seidlhead), who lives with his aged mother in a tiny apartment in an ugly block of flats stuffed to the ceiling with junk, mostly magazines. Apparently he's a Maths teacher, but his real specialist subject is.. the bosom. (His word: my German's not up to it but I never heard him says "tits" - he does, however, wax lyrical about the onomatopoeic power of ficken - fuck..). He describes his obsessive stalking of actress Senta Berger (see the review on the last page), waiting backstage for her every night for 50 performances of Tartuffe, but the only stalking we see him get up to his stalking around his overstuffed flat wearing nothing but underpants. And sometimes not even those. This would be disturbing enough were he alone, but the fact that his mother is there too, cooped up in her bedroom where she keeps what little food she eats in a wardrobe and has to light the gas rings in the kitchen to keep warm as Rene throws open the windows to air the apartment. Chilling, indeed.
Jacques Nolot - Avant que j'oublie (2007)
Godard’s elaboration of montage as an additive sum greater than its parts really did something for French cinema, or the nouvelle vague. The idea - damned if I can find the exact origin of it - of images yoked together, lointain et juste (not Godard’s phrase), images at a distance from each other but equal in strength and import, one not serving as illustrating or subservient to the other, but mirroring and expanding both into something new. With early Godard, as in Pierrot le fou, you have an attempt at cinema, in the director’s phrase, where heist movie tropes crash into art history, Vietnam and Angola into musical, Michel Simon into philosophical graffiti, this into that into the other, a true equality of images. I fasten onto that word, equality, the juste in the phrase above, the idea of a democracy of the image, maybe. Or more, an indifferent image in the best sense of the word: it wants to carry this, that, or the other, all three, or four, or five, that is perfectly as it should be. Pointing, in this circuitous intro, and within the vague, to an example like Eric Rohmer. The way he had of staging both theatrical speech and idle chatter, receding into and erupting from silence and occlusion, violent emotion (Tcheky Karyo’s shocking eruption in Les nuits de la plaine lune) as well as sunlit happiness commingling and coexisting. The scene in Le genou de Claire, probably improvised, where Brialy has to fend off the irate neighbours complaining of the power boat shenanigans of his young wards. The way speech is captured, by camera and microphone, as it were at the edge of the image; speech, noise and chatter as an unregulated density intruding on the frame, given shape and body by it. The image, in a way, pointing away from itself, emptying out. And the example of Rohmer leads us, finally, to Jacques Nolot. A prolific gay actor - he’s the father in Nenette et Boni, for instance - this is one of only three efforts as a director. With probably a great deal of autobiographical input, Nolot plays an ageing gigolo. Beset by crumbling health and the death of an old friend and lover/john, haunted by the question of an inheritance coming his way, the film takes the form a reckoning, a melancholy elaboration of memory, love, friendship, erotic and sexual release. But it’s the form of the film that connects it with the ingress of this piece. Certainly no Godardian, Nolot is, as I said, much closer to Rohmer or Chereau. There is a matter of fact-formalism at work: the film opens in a graveyard, where Nolot and a friend stand at the grave of a friend. Cut to the protagonist in bed, at night, writhing in discomfort, getting out of bed naked to retch over the sink in the bathroom. Then naked, sitting smoking at the desk, having a coffee. A beer and a baguette in a café; back at the apartment, receiving a gigolo to have rough, submissive sex with, which we are also made privy too. There is an evenness of exposure here: everything is done with the same melancholy, calm gaze, be it sex, therapy sessions, lunch with friends, a lengthy chunk of Deleuze read on a car radio, the denouement where our protagonist finally steps out at a gay club in drag - a gorgeous finale. The sex is never played up or transgressively hedged: it just happens, is never explicit, but there in the frame. This oscillation between themes within the cadrage of the film, where the frame is a constant, might even lead one to a figure like James Benning (El Valley Centro: 36x2.5min shots, a perfect 90 minutes - all you see is part and parcel of the landscape of California’s Central Valley, none more or less so, none subservient, all given place and body). Also revealing is the approach to sexuality, the lack of or doing away with transgression. It’s never meant to be pornographic, to titillate, and so liberated from the shackles of conventional morality, or moralising. For a more radically political take on this theme, check out William E. Jones’s Tea Room, and his published writings on that film. You know it’s a great film where, in writing and thinking about it, you’re lead away, detouring through Godard, the nouvelle vague, politics, literature, philosophy. I dare anyone but the French to perform similarly.
Les Blank - All in this tea (2007)
Oh, how I love the documentaries of Les Blank. This one, about tea acolyte and importer David A. Hoffman, is certainly no exception. I wrote here, some time ago, at effusive length on his Leon Russell doc, A Poem Is a Naked Person. What carries over from that to here is the idea of milieu. Here, the tea is the milieu, Chinese pu-erh and oolong. Tea harvested, in history, philosophy, social ethics; tea brewed, processed, tried, tested, in competition, in ritual. Work from there to the idea and politics of organic farming, of earthworms doing their dirty deed in the ground; to the margins of officialdom and bureaucracy; mass market and boutique; terroir, taste and pleasure. Lovely how you can almost taste a film as you’re watching.
Summer of '74, my 30th birthday and the absolute low point of my life.Dan Warburton wrote: ↑Mon Aug 17, 2020 7:04 am
George Lucas, American Graffiti, 1973
https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/amer ... ffiti-1973 Ebert's glowing review is one of many. Or try this:
https://the-take.com/read/what-makes-am ... -the-1950s
Yes, it's hard to fault the screenplay, the casting's super, Wexler's photography and Murch's sound design are excellent, etc etc - so I'm left wondering why this didn't really do much for me. The fact that it depicts a time and place I never knew (though I did once drive around Redding CA in a '74 Alfa Romeo on a starry summer Friday night ending up watching two kids banging each other on the back of a pick-up truck in the car park of Doc's Skyroom) and could therefore hardly be expected to feel nostalgic for has nothing to do with it - I like The Last Picture Show for example. Anyone else a big fan (or not) of this? Anyone reading this at all?!
The movie's OK, it's filmed in Petaluma, 30 minutes south of here. But the keys are the music and Wolfman Jack -- if you connect viscerally with both of those, the rest is trivial.
Should note that a local station still uses Wolfman Jack (who died 25 years ago) as its primary DJ, with enough old tapes of him to stitch together a lively and coherent oldies station.
Did you read that bit in de Baecque's book, when they shot the one sex scene I can recall from all his films, in the opening montage of Conte d'été, with the director out in the hall doing squats rather than watch and direct? For all the gorgeous teenagers in his films, I can quite believe that he only ever had tea with them.
Mavis! (2016) -- outstanding documentary! Lots a archival footage, Bob Dylan, Prince, Bonnie Raitt, Levon Helm, Jeff Tweedy, Chuck D, hard to go wrong.
Dripping in Chocolate (2012) -- Nicely made Australian tv movie, decent if undistinguished murder mystery, charming romance, but especially worth seeing for the wonderfully sensual shots of preparing chocolate, mixing chocolate, molding chocolate and packaging chocolate.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) – Maggie Smith, Pamela Franklin
Jean Brodie is a charismatic, passionate, idiosyncratic, teacher at a Scottish girls' school, a totally committed teacher. She is also deeply flawed, emotionally at sea, politically adoring of Mussolini and Franco, and a control freak; so her strong influence over the girls both deepens their lives and leads them astray. She wields such strong influence over so many students that she comes to overestimate her power and her judgment. Smith delivers a magnificent performance – confident, stylish, pretentious, composed although confused, and clearly convinced she is 'in her prime.' Pamela Franklin -- as the student Miss Brodie underestimates and alienates without realizing it -- almost equals Smith's bravura performance. The visuals of the upscale girls' school and the city of Edinborough add to the film's sense of a too tightly wound enclosure closing in on precious, vulnerable and all too human characters.
THE GOOD LIAR (2019) – Helen Mirren/ Ian McKellen
The two stars kind of guarantee a watchable film, and both are terrific and make the film a delight . . . despite the material.
The plot is wildly convoluted, swinging from an emotionally muted flirtation between senior citizens to slick financial swindles to grim international backstories, and it all feels a bit contrived and predictable (in a general way). Ian McKellen is a professional con man whose mark – Mirren – is as far ahead of him as he usually is when he's running his cons. The unpeeling of the layers of the onion is entertaining, but lacks the foundational roots that would have made it more than clever.
Worth seeing for two outstanding performances, but bring an extra cup of "willing suspension of disbelief" along for the ride.
Across The Universe (2007) – Julie Taymor
Like Taymor's The Tempest, this is a brave and ambitious film that doesn't quite succeed in its goals but leaves brilliant and memorable fragments that are strong enough to tempt one back for a second viewing.
I started watching this once before, back when it was hot, and bailed early, thinking it was a failed musical that lacked any coherent story line. Then I saw a video (on shakespearesghost.com, a blog by a member of my Shakespeare group) of Let It Be from the film, and it was so powerful that I knew I had to see the movie.
It never does come together as a musical, but it works as kind of a themed revue. The connective tissue to create an ostensible plot is super-attenuated; but if one accepts the inherently sketchy incoherence of the story-line, several of the music videos (Let It Be, which I've linked below), the imaginative choreography and filming of Mr. Kite, the army examination and induction to I Want You, and others) are memorable little set pieces. The film is overlong, indulgent, and never does hang together as a tale; the whole is less than the parts, but enough of the parts are great that it's worth a watch.
Ebert thought it was a four star movie:
https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/acro ... erse-2007
Here's a two star review:
https://www.reelviews.net/reelviews/acr ... -universe
And here's the video to Let It Be
Henry Hathaway, Fourteen Hours, 1951
Apologies for the stock photo, but it's the best one I could find. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourteen_Hours is a very interesting read, with lots of trivia snippets you'll enjoy. Good little film too, with solid performances from the lead actors, Paul Douglas and Richard Basehart.
George Cukor / Joseph Strick, Justine, 1969
A total bloody mess from start to finish, this dreadfully wooden adaptation of the first novel in Lawrence Durrell's overrated (and already dated even when it appeared) Alexandria Quartet is spectacularly miscast - Anna Karina as a belly dancer? Robert Forster as a Coptic fundamentalist? not to mention Michael York, whose acting is almost as awful as his haircut - and was moved from location shooting in Tunis back to the Hollywood backlot when original director Strick (who at least had the good sense to want Glenda Jackson instead of the disappointing Anouk Aimée in the title role) was fired. Cukor, old Hollywood vet, phoned in a competently filmed but deadly kitsch version. Sternberg would have loved it. But in 1969 it was doomed to die at the box office. I wouldn't bother trying to ressurect it, if I were you.
J. Lee Thompson, Kinjite Forbidden Subjects, 1989
Thompson and Bronson's final collaboration is a weak, weary affair, with Charlie trying not very hard to play a rulebreaking Dirty Harry-style vice squad detective (if his performance wasn't so thoroughly lacklustre his racist banter - a Trump voter for sure in later life - might raise your hackles, but as it is it barely raises an eyebrow) and Thompson so thoroughly bogged down in the clichés of the 80s telefilm (we won't mention the music, please) you have to pinch yourself to remember this is the guy who directed Cape Fear. Not even worth spoiling the plot, but nice to see Sy Richardson (of Alex Cox fame) umm accidentally dropped off a hotel balcony by our heroes. Yawn. Avoid.
The Castle of Cagliostro (1979)
Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984)
Laputa, Castle in the Sky (1986)
My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)
Porco Rosso (1992)
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Spirited Away (2001)
Howl's Moving Castle (2004)
The Wind Rises (2013)
Watched through the entire Ghibli catalogue, and a wonderful experience it is. I will leave the word to Philip Brophy:
http://w.philipbrophy.com/projects/stud ... /list.html
But for newcomers, a certain way in if you want to explore is Spirited Away and My Neighbour Totoro. With Spirited Away, particularly the Brueghel-like grotesque of capitalist accumulation, with the No Face-demon turning food and filthy gorging into gold, and gold crumbling into sand; and the indictment of ecological catastrophe in the Stink God. Totoro is just lovely: a children’s film for sure, but melancholy and sorrowful like almost all Disney isn’t. And no matter how many times I watch it and little Mei gets lost, it’s still awful. If you don’t like it, there is a stone where your heart should be and I don’t want to know you. And also, those eighties films are dark: both Nausicaä and Laputa feature harrowing scenes and weapons of mass destruction. Suffused with a typically Japanese melancholy existentialism: catastrophe strikes, and what do you do? You pick up the pieces and get to work, although the ground may and will shift, again and again and again. Chihiro, in Spirited Away, steps with parents across the boundary between the living and the spirit world. Mom and dad gorge themselves on food and turn into pigs, what do you do? You get to work in the bathhouse and keep working, if that’s the only thing keeping you from the same fate. Just a for instance. And also, special mention should go to Miyazaki’s last film, The Wind Rises: the sound design is awesome. Check out the astounding Kanto earthquake: how the crumbling of tectonic plates and cities is portrayed with the human voice as the source, as is sounds of machinery and weapons through the film. A piece of film history, Ghibli.
Robert Altman - Short Cuts (1993)
Wow, how I’ve grown. I loved this in the nineties, and now I don’t. I think it was an introduction to Altman: when I saw this I didn’t know the man’s work. Now I do, and this is clearly dwarfed by the awesome achievements of the seventies. Images; 3 Women; The Long Goodbye; Brewster McCloud; McCabe and Mrs Miller - Short Cuts next to this array? Does not hold a candle. It could be the Hollywood love-in that was Altman’s return from the cold (here I vastly prefer The Player: scripted by my favourite Michael Tolkin, so of course…), but I suspect it has a lot to do with the Carver source. In the seventies, the camera drifted and picked up themes and ideas on the fly, argument and action agglomerated and then dissolving, poised between philosophical statement and improvisation, or improvisation as philosophical statement. Here though, the camera swoops in to catch THAT painful experience, THIS humiliation, THIS, THAT, THE OTHER, we get it! Conventional as shit, briefly. I feel I don’t care much for these people, any more. The jazz played by Annie Ross’s band clunky and plodding, and it used to tie the film together for me completely, a dry sort of lift that gelled all the suburban characters together. And, though the acting is fine - Chris Penn especially, and as always - there are a couple of people who should have been chased off the set. Jack Lemmon - look here to see why I don’t like him. And fucking Tom Waits, how I dearly wished he did get stomped by the black guys at the club. Drunken crooner with a heart of gold - more the power to you if you make it work, and Rickie Lee Jones’s We Belong Together was written about him, but don’t force me to watch. Teary, sentimental, much like the film.
Aha, that's why we haven't heard from you for a while!
I'll have to remember that one for future use. Your write-up makes me want to watch Spirited Away again (the scene on the train is pure magic) - but Max took all the Ghibli DVDs with him when he was spirited away to university
If you haven't read the Carver originals you should - your comment above gives me the impression you might not have - I'm tempted to throw back your line about the stone and the heart. I love his work so much, which is why I hated the Altman when I first saw it. I see trawling through the archives I enjoyed it more second and third time. Not all that inclined to return to it again seven years later to find out how it stands the test of time. Interesting on your list above you didn't include Nashville - deliberate omission or oversight?henriq wrote: ↑Sun Aug 30, 2020 10:05 amRobert Altman - Short Cuts (1993)
Wow, how I’ve grown. I loved this in the nineties, and now I don’t. I think it was an introduction to Altman: when I saw this I didn’t know the man’s work. Now I do, and this is clearly dwarfed by the awesome achievements of the seventies. Images; 3 Women; The Long Goodbye; Brewster McCloud; McCabe and Mrs Miller - Short Cuts next to this array? Does not hold a candle. It could be the Hollywood love-in that was Altman’s return from the cold (here I vastly prefer The Player: scripted by my favourite Michael Tolkin, so of course…), but I suspect it has a lot to do with the Carver source.
Jean Chapot, Les granges brulées, 1973
Hats off to assistant director Philippe Monnier for saving what turns out to be a rather good film, with Delon playing a judge investigating a murder in the snowbound villages of the Haut-Doubs and Simone Signoret the tough peasant mother determined to protect her family at all costs. The problems during the shooting - which the bonus documentary reveals, but which needn't spoil your enjoyment of a good movie - stemmed from the fact the director / writer Jean Chapot was utterly incapable of directing his two stars, and ended up skulking in his camping car instead of being trodden underfoot by the monstrous Delon, who directed his scenes himself (along with Monnier) and buggered off to Italy to shoot another film. Don't let this tittle-tattle spoil a good film, though. But you will need English subtitles, be warned, and I can't find any at the moment.
Stephen Frears, Philomena, 2013
So I got so fed up of Coogan rapping on about how good it is in The Trip that I decided to check it out - and he's right! Based on a true story, yet another tale of horrendous Irish nuns (Peter Mullan explored the same bleak landscape in 2002's The Magdalene Sisters) here punishing young unmarried mothers by selling their kids, this one was co-written by and stars Coogan as former BBC journalist Martin Sixsmith and is based on his book The Lost Child of Philomena. Judi Dench plays Philomena Lee herself, and very well too. What could have turned out a mawkish maudlin affair in the hands of a (tear)jerk(er) like Oliver Stone or Sean Penn is lucid and genuinely moving. Fine work all round, I'd buy Steve a glass of wine if I ever saw him, but if Trip Season 3 is anything to go by, looks like he doesn't imbibe anymore.