Amadeus [1984)

In these waning hours of Christmas, I give you…

a fucking masterpiece.

Indeed, I regret that I cannot express myself at this time without resort to expletive, but this film by Miloš Forman is truly bone-chilling.

And it is especially so for me:  a former composer.

Oh, there is always still time.

To set pencil to paper (or pen, if [like Mozart], you make no mistakes).

And so we shall take under consideration the director’s cut of Amadeus as our subject.

This later, R-rated version is from 2002 and adds 20 minutes to this magnum opus.

Yes, dear friends…we shall consider many things.

The uncanny embodiment of Tom Hulce.

The deft, dastardly thespian skills of F. Murray Abraham.

And even the indispensably aghast facial expressions of Richard Frank.

You might wonder why I have chosen this film to honor God on this day rather than a movie like Ernest Saves Christmas.

I will let you ponder that one for a moment.

But in the meanwhile, we shall press onwards with the young Salieri.

Please remember the pious of Western classical music.

J.S. Bach.

Antonio Vivaldi.

Haydn.  Handel.

Ok, perhaps not so much the latter.

Because he too, like Mozart, was a man of the world.

Of the earth.

A joyful sinner.

A composer with a dirty mouth.

Yes, there are miracles in this film.

Too many to count.

Salieri’s father choking on a fishbone.

For starters.

But let us consider the whole city of Vienna a miracle on assumption.

Wien.

A city in which one could dial the number 1507 and receive an A (435 Hz) with which to tune an instrument.

We have long appreciated this bit of trivia from scholar Norman Lloyd.

It has always endeared Vienna to our hearts.

A place where [it must] music flows through every pipe and connects the city in divine harmony.

But that time period for which we yearn…that “common practice” period is just the era in which Mozart is plopped down with his hilarious little giggle.

Jeffrey Jones is magnificent as the judicious statesman the Holy Roman Emperor Joseph II.

Which brings us back to Christmas.

A child was born.  To a woman by the Holy Spirit.

Yet the child had an earthly father:  Joseph II (not to be confused with the Old Testament Joseph).

Mozart was a child.

Childish.

A hellion.

Yet I would choose him over Shakespeare and Einstein when it comes to true genius.

I had heard it.

With my own ears.

In my days of getting my bachelor’s of music in music theory and composition.

I had heard that Symphony #39.  I played it.

I was inside the music.

And it is like none other.

I had discovered the ingenious counterpoint in Mozart’s Symphony #41.

What lightness!  What architecture!

What a vision of the beyond…

It takes memory to succeed.

And we guard our memories.

But it takes observation to create memories.

An eye.  An ear (in the case of Mozart).

Yes, Mozart’s prowess for hearing something once and then playing it back or either writing out all the parts (if a mixed ensemble) is legendary.

His fame grew with these stunts.

His novelty tours with father Leopold and sister Nannerl (not pictured).

I had at least one Harvard/Stanford-trained Dr. of music warn me about the historical inaccuracies in this film.

But this is Hollywood.

Of course there will be changes.

And yet, it is an incredibly moving picture.

To borrow a programmatic description from Richard Strauss, this film becomes (for much of it) a symphonia domestica.

Which, let me just say, happens to grace us with the presence of genius beauty:  Elizabeth Berridge.

But always in life (even into the bubble of music) creeps in business.

Economics.

Finances.

Debt.

Mozart was gifted with a once-in-humanity talent, yet he did not have the self-marketing skills to always position his talent at the best place in the market.

Meanwhile, Signor Salieri activates a little psychological warfare (captured by Forman’s camera lit by little gaslights all around…).

And so it is machinations versus manifestations of God’s glory.

The story is rich.

That a composer might write his own Requiem mass…and that the writing of that mass might just kill him.

We know how cursed the 9th symphony became after Beethoven (Bruckner, Dvořák, Mahler, Schubert…).

Musicians are subject to powerful forces which attack their necessary imaginations.

Superstitions.

Salieri’s character proves that those closest to us are not necessarily to be trusted.  His disingenuous psyop has Mozart working himself to death.

And that is a scary thing.

To push and push and push.

And yet, who will be remembered?

The expert in psychological warfare?

Or the symphonist?

Times have changed, but it is still the creator who has the benefit of creating goods.

Super-warriors aren’t even creating bads.  They are creating nothing.

But, it might be argued, that they are doing the most good in this world which no longer appreciates the music of its heritage.

Yes, European classical music is on life-support.

But we return to Mozart, who is in not-much-better condition.

Part of me longs for the treatment of Ingmar Bergman in his underappreciated film version of Trollflöjten (The Magic Flute in Swedish).

But Miloš Forman does everything else right.

The scene in which Mozart and Salieri are working on the Requiem is masterful!

And still…Mozart doesn’t realize that his greatest enemy is posing as a friend to help him compose his own death from exhaustion.

It’s only when they’re throwing the lime on you that you get real perspective.

But by that point, you’re wrapped up.

It is thus a fitting Christmas story…that hatred and jealously are futile.

And that a naive genius had the keys to the musical kingdom.

For his 35 short years on Earth.

Perhaps Mozart was not a pious man, but Salieri (who burned his own crucifix in the fireplace) consistently recognized the voice of God in Mozart’s music.

I hope you are all having a wonderful holiday season and that your hearts will be filled with melodies which could make the heavens weep.

-PD

Všichni dobří rodáci [1968)

I did the best I could.

Tired.

We try and take the right road.

Or the left road.

But not the wrong road.

We want to be correct and offer our best service.

And we depend on our bodies.  Our eyes.  Our minds.

So I come back to Czech films tired.

Directed by Vojtěch Jasný.

This is All My Good Countrymen.

It rambles.  It woos us from slumber.

It progresses to higher levels of sublimation.

It doesn’t make sense.

But makes just enough sense.

We appreciate, but don’t fully understand.

We do, however, recognize Radoslav Brzobohatý from the wonderful Ucho.

There is just enough contrapuntal organ to shake the foundations.

You push on tired and forget about the guns.

The land mine.

It seems (to put it lightly) not a ringing endorsement for communism.

Just like any political system.

The people get fed up.

And which system has the flexibility to survive upheaval?

Tired.  Tired.

Farm collectivized.  A land owner is dispossessed.

Move out of your house, please.  We need your land.

Tired.  How did the merry widow get so?

Lehár.  Her red hair.

It took me a long time to get to omega from alpha.

You bet!

It would seem that Vladimír Menšík dropped acid.  On his foot.

Or poured.

A little bit of Amarcord magic…or Zéro de conduite (depending on the weather).

Icy peacock.  And the feather blossom tree pollen.

For a humorous confession.

You can’t break a law you don’t understand.

Even with a mere 10.

Refer to my previous answer.

And again.

Think of the Le déjeuner des canotiers of the Renoir we talk least about here:  Pierre-Auguste.

It is a shot of vodka perched on bottom lip.

A swig.  A slug.  In purgatory.

Resting because the boaters must be immortalized.

In their Italian boater hats.  And de Nîmes denim jeans.

Pamplona by delivery.

School districts in debt.  More prodigious than the municipalities in which they are located.

This would be lived out…this rebellion…”No.”–by our good director Mr. Jasný.

The good man starts over.  Like Sisyphus.  Camus’s best writing.

The people of the world.  They amaze me.  Every day a miracle.

Finding little motivations to care for their loved ones.

It is not cowardice.  It is compassion.

It is submission to love.  And the God of chaos has many wonderful things for us.

A daughter on a magical mystery tour.

We will get to the animal farm.  And the propaganda waiting.

But now we sing of Cardiff and Dublin.

When will the music come back?

We preserve it like a relic.

A holy repetition.

Spin that record again and make those sounds which speak to us of other planets.

This is a masterpiece of Eastern European cinema which is essential to a comprehensive understanding of the field.

I’m guessing multiple viewings are necessary.

 

-PD

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 23 [1976)

This is a very smart installment, but also a very strange one.

The host is Louise Lasser.

It is hard to know what this was all about 40 years after the fact.

The crux is the show Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman…a parody soap opera which ran for a mere two seasons (1976-1977), yet included an astounding 325 episodes in that timespan.

No wonder Louise was so tired.

The airing schedule for Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was five nights a week.

Wow…

In addition, Lasser was the wife of Woody Allen from 1966-1970.

Her contribution to Allen films includes Take the Money and Run, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex *(*But Were Afraid to Ask), and voiceover work on What’s Up, Tiger Lily? 

So it’s no surprise that this episode of SNL has an artful (if disjointed) feeling to it.

Particularly funny is the Ingmar Bergman spoof (in Swedish) starring Lasser and Chevy Chase.

But yes:  most of this episode involves the psychodrama of Ms. Lasser.

Actually, I quite enjoyed her film (in place of Gary Weis, as it were) shot in a NY diner.

One thing is apparent:  Lasser has immense talent.

The opening monologue hints at the brilliant cruelty of Andy Kaufman.

It is fairly disorienting in general.

For those needing a reason to live (I’m right there with you), we will be revisiting Lasser as Alex’s ex-wife on Taxi (God willing).

Yes, Lasser has a nice skit with a dog (her dog?) named Maggie.  It is a cute piece making fun of those tense talks between couples at the kitchen table (though this one is rather surreal).

Lasser would later feature in Todd Solondz’ Happiness.

Likewise, Lasser would appear in two episodes of Lena Dunham’s Girls (3rd season).

So what else is shakin’ in this tense SNL installment?

Well, Garrett Morris is pretty fantastic as Idi “VD” Amin.

John Belushi has a pitiable-yet-funny piece in which he tries to hawk all of his belongings (particularly his clothes…the shirt off his back).

The ladies (Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, and Gilda Radner) do a strange Phil Spector-esque tribute to the history of television (the apparatus, not the programming).  The doo-wop/girl-group song features lines about Cathode Ray (as if he’s a personage), electron guns, etc.

Laraine Newman also reprises her role as Squeaky Fromme (with excellent help from Jane Curtin).

Finally, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is fantastic on their one number.

It is a bit wistful for me as I once had the pleasure to write horn charts for them.  I’m not sure that they actually used them, but I did (anyhow) get to perform with the band at a particularly star-studded New Orleans Jazz Fest some years ago.

Really, this performance from 1976 is not to be missed.  The crazy logic of Dixieland counterpoint is an excellent metaphor for the fugue of emotions running through this particular episode of comedy.  And the stretto might just be the Preservation Hall cats themselves.

 

-PD

City Lights [1931)

Just when you think you can’t go on anymore, and then something happens.

That is a miracle.

Little miracles.

Right place at the right time.

Preparation meets opportunity.

Luck.

If the horseshoe works…if the rabbit’s foot is effective, then you want some extra help going into the ring.

And if the luck is bad, you try to wipe off the effect as with an unwanted kiss.

It’s very hard saying anything enlightening right now.

I’ve trudged up a steep hill.

Today I hit a little plateau.

But it feels like I’m back at the bottom.

Because tomorrow is back to the salt mines.

Ah, but I am lucky.

Right?

I am not a pooper scooper in life’s parade…picking up after the animals.

At least, not literally.

But it all comes down to a rather simple concept.

We go back to where the flower girl was.

We went to jail for her.

And now is only absence.

Time has passed.

And so we wander the streets.

I am the laughing stock.

Easy to pick on.

Try to preserve some decorum.

Bring a laugh to the young people who have futures.

I will not tell you the rest.

Because it is coded in film language.

Why did Charlie act so nice?

Why did he do the right thing?

Why did he go above and beyond?

It was for love.

In real life we may fail, but we too are geniuses of love.

We have gone the extra miles.

And that lost love…as sad as Górecki’s ridiculously-dense counterpoint from his third Symphony.

Sorrowful songs.

Nothing can hurt that bad.

Driving.  Alone.  Empty.

It is all part of “life’s rich pageant,” as Peter Sellers so poignantly said.

It is the same with Chaplin, Sellers.  We laugh, but we are crying.

And so “perchance to dream”…REM sleep.

Tomorrow the birds will sing.

We must keep telling ourselves that until it’s true.

 

-PD

Playtime [1967)

This took a lot of watching.  Rewatching.

Last night…so tired.

Watched half.  Then rewind.  Dozed off.  Watch same half again.

First time I saw this (years ago) was on the big screen.

It really makes a difference.

That janitor at the beginning.  His strange pause and crouch.  His peering left and right.  His broom and dustpan.

Very little sweeping.  Just clanking.

Yes.  Sounds.  Sounds.  Sounds.  (Zounds!)

The vinyl chairs which return to their shape after you sit and dent.  The strange sound.  The strange quality.

“Quality”

Tradition of quality.

It might lead you to ask:  what was Jacques Tati trying to say with this film?

Answering that is no easy task.

Sure, this seems like a simple, lightweight film.  In some ways it is.

It’s enjoyable.  It’s lighthearted.  And yet…

There is more than a smidgen of Modern Times here.  And Tati, with his pipe…  More than a pipe-full of Sartre.  Sartre with his publication Les Temps modernes.  Even Sartre apparently thought highly enough of Chaplin to work under an homage headline.

And so, Tati…lost in the supermarket.  Lost in the buildings from 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle.  Same year.  1967.  Paris.  In the banlieues.

And very few words.

As I said.

A movie of sounds.

Yes.

But images.

Reflections.

Illusions.

It appears.

Optical.

Illusion.

And its reflection.

Double.

Mirror image.

Flipped.

Paris.

It appears that the buttons have been switched.  Very nice, WordPress.  Now I am “publishing” every time I intend to merely “save” (and vice versa).

That is the theme of the film.

Thingamajigs.

No no no.  Take your time.  Uh uh uh…hold on.  [click click click click]  Ok, now rise.

We wait for the entire hallway to be traversed in an absurd observation of ritual.

And from above…the cubicles.

One needs must occupy higher ground to see the big picture.  All of these busy bees become lost in the fray.

Afraid.

True.

And so it is not farfetched to guess that Peter Sellers and Blake Edwards were influenced in their masterpiece The Party (1968) by Tati’s Playtime (1967).

But with Tati there is even more.  An industrial ballet.  The poise of the service industry (and its opposite).  [Both]

A constant counterpoint like a comic Górecki.

Perhaps I have been hitting the wrong button all along.

Have I been saying these things out loud?

Yes, we wonder.

Technology.

We grew up in a different time.

The chairs were different.

The doors were different.

And since we are quiet and meek we spend an eternity in the antechamber.  In the darkened hallway.

How do we get out?

Yes, Paris…even then, perhaps?  A drugstore?  Yes.  Too depressing for anyone to look each other in the eyes.

The hum.  The constant hum.  Like Alphaville.  Like Oskar Sala’s Trautonium.  The Birds.  Bernard Herrmann as musical consultant.  But those noises.  Mixtur.

And several waiters will salt the troutonium…and grind pepper…and spread the sauce…and the couple has moved.

The main course has stayed behind.

Heated.  Reheated.  Set on fire.  Jubilee.

Turbot.

And lobster boy just cares about his hair.

Nerval.  Hugo Ball.

But that humming…like Metal Machine Music way ahead of time.  But creepier.  Like Raymond Scott’s music for babies crossed with Erik Satie’s musique d’ameublement.

Waiting waiting.  That’s a theme.  And all the illustrious portraits of CEOs past.

Is it a job interview?

And that’s Orly?  It seems more like a hospital.  Little hummingbird nuns and swaddled kids.

But we shall always live in Barbara Dennek’s dimples.  It sounds weird to say.

But it is luck.  Bad luck.  And then good luck.

And random error.  Entropy.

Chaos.

Can anyone here play the piano?

Yes.  Yes I can!

And some half-rate Edith Piaf gets up to sing her long-forgotten hit.

Except no one has forgotten it.  Once a hit, always a hit.

More or less.

The new religion.

The hum of neon.

All the desserts look sickly.  Even to the “chef.”  Must hide his mystère.  An apple with some sputtery whip?  An upside-down coffee mug?

Mmmm…

William S. Burroughs would doubtless have approved.  The man in the gray flannel suit (book).  But taken to theatrical limits.  Choreography of male primping.  Like Cary Grant on hallucinogens.  A surreal ritual.

Ritual.

This is sociology.

Anthropology.

Paris.  The modern man.

See him in his natural habitat.

See her shop.  See her sell.

See him work.  See him drink.

If you travel, you will see the tourist side.

On a trip.

With a group.

Activities planned.

Like a cruise.

And God forbid you become separated from the group.

Yes.

That is our little romance.

And Tati is meek enough to barely suggest to suggest (x2).

That M. Hulot might find love.

It would be a random day.

He would get pulled this way and that.

And winding up in some crazy, unplanned situation he would become sweet on dimples.

See him in his fishbowl.

Before there was Mr. Bean, there was Monsieur Hulot.

Before there was Forrest Gump.

Tell me…where are the “fancy goods”?  Perhaps silk.  Hermès.

Always caught at the turnstiles of life…

-PD