Le Vent d’est [1970)

Film by Godard.

Dziga Vertov.

Group in Mozambique.

Marxist Western.

Cowboys and Indians.

Das Kapital.

No no.

I must be wrong.

Not Mozambique.

That was much later.

I was confused.

So this is just Italy.

But still.

Quite possibly the only Marxist Western ever made ūüôā

And, yes:  the Dziga Vertov Group.

With Jean-Pierre Gorin.

So here was the great filmmaker (Godard) subsuming himself in the communalism of group creation.

Like being in a rock band.

There might be a main songwriter (or two).

And there might be a lead vocalist.

But it is a group effort.

Rock bands are kinda like little democracies (in my experience).

So, does that mean that communism/socialism starts at its most cellular level as something resembling democracy?

It is an interesting thought.

Because Godard was most certainly a hardcore socialist at this point.

A communist.

A Maoist!

But we remember those strange counterintuitive phrases like “dictatorship of the people”.

In other words, Marxist-Leninist thought was promising popular representation SO POWERFUL that the PEOPLE became a META-DICTATOR.

But it all kinda turned out like Tom Cruise’s witchcraft ūüôā

A big bollocks burger in Eastern Europe.

And a Soviet Union that collapsed beneath its own weight.

But China soldiered on.

And juche (North Korea).

Notice that “zhoosh or tjuz” means to “smarten up” or “stylize” in that Cockney code language known as Polari.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polari

And for my dear pizzagate researchers, you should be heartened by this further corroboration of James Alefantis’ sick mind:

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 11.20.10 PM

Why do I have a feeling about this?

Because of Bowie’s last album: ¬†Blackstar.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 11.24.26 PM

But reinserting ourselves in history, it is rather obvious that communism soldiered on mostly in the East.

Let’s not forget Vietnam and Laos (both still communist to this day).

Thus, Wind from the East.

Yes, Peter Wollen, there’s definitely some Brecht in here.

Especially in that scene when a fucking horse finally shows up ūüôā

Not much of a Western without a horse.

So there is eventually one horse for Gian Maria Volontè.

Volentè, of course, really WAS in Westerns (about five years previous).

A couple of those great Sergio Leone “spaghetti Westerners” with Clint Eastwood: ¬†A Fistful of Dollars¬†and also¬†For a Few Dollars More.

So kudus to Godard, Gorin, and the whole Dziga Vertov Group for getting Volontè.

But really the star is the beautiful redhead Anne Wiazemsky, who passed away just nine days ago.

It is no wonder Godard fell in love with her.

As he had fallen for Anna Karina previously.

But Wiazemsky was a mind.

A beauty, but a total 180 from Karina.

Of course, neither marriage worked out.

But Wiazemsky is lovely in this film.

Indeed, she is one of the few breaths of air in the whole picture.

There are certainly some suffocating scenes.

The opening shot is interminable.

Slight movements.

But eventually things get rolling.

Sorta.

Wiazemsky is splashed with blood as she is repeatedly choked by Volontè.

A bizarre scene.

Also part of this amalgam was Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

I thought I was seeing Mozambique.

It colored everything I was watching.

I was looking out for poisonous snakes.

Godard would eventually make it to Mozambique…later in the 1970s…but I was merely confused.

I mean, here’s a film that until recently was available only as a Japanese DVD (with no English subtitles).

That is the version I watched.

I hear there is another release of this film recently with other of the Dziga Vertov work, but I am happy enough (for the time being) to have seen it as a Frenchman might have in 1970.

My French was tested.

Allors…

This is a rather experimental film.

Perhaps it is no great masterpiece.

But it teaches that we can go backwards or forwards through time by way of cinema.

Forwards with imagination, and backwards in reality.

We were already beyond this point, and yet we have been blessed to return.

To get one step closer.

To close a loop.

Solve a riddle.

Replace a missing stone.

It was a lot of work seeing this film.

That is love.

 

-PD

Frank [2014)

My dear friends, it is so good to be alive ūüôā

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast ūüôā

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read¬†Finnegans Wake¬†till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about ūüôā

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50. ¬†I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured¬†Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank¬†is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork¬†generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what¬†Frank¬†is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album¬†The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film ūüôā

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed,¬†Frank¬†is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety ūüôā

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band¬†Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no,¬†Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right: ¬†Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in¬†Frank¬†when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album¬†Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara: ¬†Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the¬†papier-m√Ęch√© head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in¬†Misunderstood¬†(2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great¬†Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time: ¬†Mercury Rev’s¬†Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in¬†Frank¬†revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that¬†Soronprfbs bassist Fran√ßois Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes,¬†Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find¬†Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Vi √§r b√§st! [2013)

IF you want to see a bogus, bollocks feminist film, watch Free the Nipple.

But if you want to see the real thing…a really empowering, touching story, then check out¬†We Are the Best!

IT’s in Swedish.

So you’ll have to use your brain.

And your eyes.

Unless you speak Swedish.

But it will be well worth your time.

Vi √§r b√§st!¬†isn’t trite acting from a bunch of pseudo-provocateurs who just want to take their shirts off.

Nej.

This is the story of three 13-year-old girls.

None of them fit in.

Everyone tells them they’re ugly.

One of them is ostracized for being a Christian.

[now THAT’S punk!]

But it’s the story of three girls who come together and do the greatest thing possible: ¬†form a band.

Music!!!

And let me just say this:  the acting is fucking fantastic!

Mira Barkhammer plays Bobo.

For me, she is the star of the film.

She is the outcast of the outcasts.

No make up.

No cool haircut.

She’s searching for her identity.

But she’s so smart. ¬†So truly unique!

She wears these little wire-rim glasses.

From one perspective, this film is her search for what’s behind the mirror.

Director Lukas Moodysson made a masterpiece here.

Bobo…

The name…

I think of Boris Diaw.

The whole scenario is aw-kward.

But so beautifully so!

And yet Bobo is not perfect.

Far from it.

It’s a team effort.

And teams, especially when they are ad hoc and organic, are inherently dysfunctional.

The actress who puts the dys in dysfunction here is Mira Grosin.

But she too is so wonderful in this film!

She is the inspiration.

The first one out on the limb.

The rebel.

The loudmouth.

She inspires her other two bandmates to fly their freak flags high.

But the most enigmatic is Liv LeMoyne:  the Christian.

Director Moodysson is so deft in his handling of this dynamic.

LeMoyne’s character [Hedvig] has long, beautiful blond hair.

[At this point it is appropriate to address a strange form of class relations in Sweden:  hair color.]

When I used to think of Sweden (which I did rarely), I would imagine everyone as a blond.

Perhaps the American vision of Sweden is a socialist paradise of blond bikini models.

At the very least, blondness seems to be the defining characteristic in the American popular imagination regarding Sweden (as far as I can tell).

This isn’t a scientific study, you understand…

But it is important to point this out.

The snottiest (in the stuck up, snobbish sense) characters in this film are mostly blonds.

The little girls who call Bobo and Klara [Grosin] ugly.

It is really heartbreaking.

These two BRUNETTE girls endure such humiliation throughout this film.

And so it’s no wonder that they want to start a PUNK BAND!

But they can’t play.

Like, not at all…

Their first halting efforts are in the vein of The Shaggs.

No, worse.

And that’s where the Christian comes in.

Hedvig is an accomplished classical guitarist.

It is, indeed, much like the story of Garth Hudson’s joining The Band.

Lessons.

So to speak.

Bobo and Klara are astounded at Hedvig’s talent.

They lament that they’ll never be as good as their gifted new friend.

But Hedvig is all encouragement.

It is [pardon the expression] a match made in heaven.

And so three misfits (for different reasons) band together (literally) and take on the cock rock ridiculousness of bullies like youth-center-rehearsal-room-“stars” Iron Fist.

The message is astounding.

I haven’t seen a film which does such honor to the idea of feminism since¬†4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days.

But there’s no ulterior motive here.

This isn’t a George Soros production.

This is the real thing.

Just three young people (who happen to be female) wanting to make some noise in their world.

And we see how beautiful punk music is.

IT’s a catharsis.

Like Sonic Youth.

And we remember the true geniuses of the genre (like my hero, the late Alan Vega).

But we also remember the maxim: ¬†“three chords and the truth”.

Hedvig’s got the chords.

[Ah…harmony! ¬†What a concept!!!]

But Klara has the attitude.

And Bobo has the intellect.

They learn from each other.

“Here. ¬†Stay on this note. ¬†Good. ¬†Now move to this note.”

“Punk is about rebellion. ¬†It’s not about the school talent show. ¬†We’ve got to keep going. ¬†It’s a fight.”

“You really need to change your hair. ¬†Do something fun! ¬†Express yourself! ¬†Cut loose!”

Those are my translations of action, not dialogue.

But I can’t stress enough how great these three actresses are in this film.

Mira Barkhammer in particular is a prodigy.

But, as in the story, the trio is inseparable.

And for this kind of cohesion, we have but one place to look in thanks:  the auteur.

-PD

Trainspotting [1996)

There’s something special about Scotland.

Several of my favorite bands are from there.

The Delgados.  Teenage Fanclub.  Primal Scream.

And it is this final band which really sums up this film.

The British really have never learned how to make films.

There are two major exceptions:

Chaplin and Hitchcock.

Why would they be exceptions?

Because they made their best films in America.  Hollywood.

It’s ironic.

Because Chaplin and Hitchcock are perhaps the two best.  Ever.

Hitchcock was the better director.  Perhaps the most important ever.

But Chaplin was the bigger genius.  His talent was limitless.

So my insult is not meant to imply that the British can’t make timeless films.

They can.

But perhaps not in Britain.

But this whole British blah blah blah.

This film is going in my new category:  Scotland.

Another of my favorite bands (Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci) is Welsh.

I hope to have that category someday.  Wales.

And last but not least:  Ireland.

Which is not to say I don’t have a fond place in my heart for England.

I do.

Manchester.  Liverpool.  Bristol.  Birmingham.  Newcastle.  I could go on.

But we’re here to talk about Scotland.¬† And this film.

Trainspotting is, at once, a great film and not a great film.  Simultaneously.

Let me explain.

7/7

Looks like as much of a false-flag synthetic terror…the state attacking its own people as.

9/11

Heroin addicts don’t know what day it is.¬† Not to mention the “date”.

Heroin addicts don’t know what month it is.¬† Even the year is a bit fuzzy.

They’re fairly sure that a new century has ticked over.

Ewan McGregor is pretty great here.  In his too-small shirt.  Accidentally shagging a minor.

Oops.

Ewen Bremner is good here.  Especially the job interview.

Beautiful to hear English which begs for subtitles.

Jonny Lee Miller has the best hair.  Like Thom Yorke once upon a time.

Bleach-blond chop.

But McGregor has the utilitarian buzz cut.  The sad skinhead.

Spud on the curb.  Talking up at Diane.

And Sick Boy always prattling on about James Bond movies.  [like me]

Kevin McKidd is classic rifling through his VHS collection.  Desperately.

Kelly Macdonald is a revelation.

But Robert Carlyle is really the only indispensable element of this entire film.

He’s not great.¬† And yet he’s better than great.

Danny Boyle’s direction is generally daft.

It’s good.¬† Then it’s great.¬† Then it sucks.

But I’ll say this:¬† this is an essential film.

You can’t know rock and roll without knowing this film.

Boyle lifted the DNA of rock (with the help of Irvine Welsh).

The story’s alright.¬† The direction is passable.

But Robert Carlyle is a goddamned miracle.

He’s not conveying anything sublime.

But he’s conveying Scotland.

To me.

King Tut’s Wah-Wah Hut.

Yeah, I know…Edinburgh.

But it’s just as applicable to Glasgow.

I hear it in the music of Primal Scream.

And it shows up in the music of another of my favorites:  Spiritualized.

And I hear it in the ravaging sounds of Nick Cave circa Grinderman.

The Anglophone world.

We Americans speak the weirdest.

Especially in my neck of the woods.  Texas.  The South.

But even New York.  The Northeast.

There’s one more essential element about this film:¬† Iggy Pop.

From “Lust For Life” to “Nightclubbing”, these tunes are moments of crystalized perfection.

Even Lou Reed is well-represented with “Perfect Day”.

If you wanna understand scumbag rock and roll, see this film.

Because the rockers are alive.

They have shite lives.

They live on nothing.

Unless they get lucky.

But there’s a vitality to their way of life.

See them in their natural habitat ūüôā

 

-PD