Sběrné surovosti [1965)

I don’t usually review short films by themselves,

but this is such a gem.

A pearl, if you will.

The Junk Shop.

By director Juraj Herz.

Truth be told, I assumed it would be feature-length.

So when it ended, I was surprised.

But it was nice.

Just the right length.

It’s a very charming first film which delves into the depth only ragpickers can evoke.

There are, indeed, very few inventors who can claim to have “invented” the garbage can.

One (or the one) lends his name to the bin in French:  Eugène Poubelle.

Just like Joseph-Ignace Guillotin.

But let’s back to director Herz.

It might be more proper to call him a Slovakian director.

Though this film hails from the Czechoslovak days.

Born in Kežmarok:  “cheese market”.

And so what is the difference between Czechia (the new name for the Czech Republic) and Slovakia?  Why the split?

Not to be confused with the city in Croatia.  Split.

1918-1993.  One country.  Czechoslovakia.

But you’re here for film.  Perhaps.

Long before The Holy Mountain in 1973.

Iconoclasts.  Plastic Jesus.  Flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark.

I assume my audience knows when I am quoting.

If this had been a full-length film, it would have been neck-and-neck with Closely Watched Trains and A Report on the Party and the Guests.

But there’s also something “cute” about The Junk Shop.

It has a wry smile which is usually found only in children’s films.

Oh, to see her shake out her sheets.

To beat her rug.

Leaning over the railing.

An old man’s one joy.

Such priceless joys in the messy actuality of the everyday.

Anna Karina is on the wall.

She has been rescued from metric tons of paper.

She is recycled visually.  But not literally.

A poster.

Pin-up girls.

To keep the ragpicker company.

And the forerunner of American montage (by way of Eisenstein).

Stop motion Dadaism.

Synchronized on the beat.

 

-PD

 

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

It’s the big, goofy, mesh-backed baseball cap.  The ones with the plastic snaps and infinitesimally small corresponding holes.  And then the squishy, peaked frontispiece:  “Make America great again” –or– (alternately) “Wal-Mart”.

That is the Donald’s costume…out on the campaign trail.  It’s bold.  Comedic.  A bit like George H.W. Bush “shopping” for groceries out among the common folk and being dumbfounded by this whole newfangled barcode scanner.

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

And so who did Rowan Atkinson think he was with Mr. Bean?

Well, that one’s a whole lot harder to pinpoint.

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

But then there’s all these other institutions which don’t quite translate outside of Britain…The Goon Show, Dudley Moore, The Goodies…

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

We want to think it’s all original.  And perhaps it is.

But influence is unavoidable.

And so with the third and final episode of 1990, Atkinson gave us The Curse of Mr. Bean.  [1991 would yield only one episode of the show.]

The curse…hmmm…certainly sounds like an allusion to Sellers’ Clouseau.

Whatever the case may be, Atkinson’s material is all tied together with a very cohesive theme this time:  fear.

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

Fear of public nudity or embarrassment (lost his trunks in the pool).

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

For instance, the Talking Heads’ Eno-produced Fear of Music (1979).

But for Bean, the horror was more of the Freddy Krueger type.

Indeed, by December 30, 1990 (this show’s airdate), there had already been five (yes, 5ive) A Nightmare on Elm Street movies.

Churned out of the dream factory like diabolical cotton candy, they appeared in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1989.  The series then would recommence in 1991.  Which begs the question, just what was Freddy Krueger up to in 1986?  Laying low?  Vacationing?  The Caribbean?

To wit, Bean is scared witless while on a date (yes, those things where aspiring romantics “go out”) with the absolutely adorable Matilda Ziegler.

For those of you (like me) who can’t live without pithy character names, Ziegler’s role (like my beloved Enid Coleslaw) is that of Irma Gobb.

And Bean, therefore, is the man-child…the everlasting Gobbstopper [sic].

[Which is to say, Ziegler’s character is a reoccurring one.]

Perhaps we need to look further back to find a precedent for Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean…perhaps out of the world of comedy proper.  Perhaps to the Dadaists?  I can certainly imagine Mr. Bean dressed as a sort of human tampon à la Hugo Ball…with lobster claw hands.  Or maybe Bean with a lobster telephone courtesy of Dalí.  Certainly Bean would have a pet lobster to take for walks in the Bois de Boulogne with a ribbon for a leash like Gérard de Nerval.

But we perhaps perhaps perhaps need to look further.  To the wry humor of Marcel Duchamp.  To the childlike fancy and brilliance of a René Magritte or an Erik Satie.  Even, god forbid, the humor of a Mauricio Kagel.

Conductors don’t have heart attacks mid-concert?  Not according to Kagel’s Ludwig Van.

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

He’s never Anthony Braxton’s Quartet for Amplified Shovels.

No, Bean always remains funny.

And so, perhaps, nothing is more revolutionary than comedy.

This kind of comedy.

Absolutely scripted, miniaturist-perfect comedy worthy of Jacques Tati.

In that sense, we might say that Mr. Bean is like Peter Sellers having Charlie-Chaplin-like total control over a production.  At least that’s the way it seems.

Perhaps we would be criminally neglecting the director of these first three Bean episodes:  John Howard Davies.

But in such comedies, the thing really does speak for itself.

Rowan Atkinson fills every moment of screen time in these gems with his thoroughly inimitable charm.

 

-PD

Il Deserto rosso [1964)

My hair hurts.

She says.

Yes.

This is one of the miracles of cinema.

Every frame a painting with a camérastylo.

One critic will boil it down to “mental illness”.

And Monica Vitti does that very well.

Red hair.  Red desert.

But we should know Antonioni by now.

This is that existential nausea you used to hear of at coffee shops.

Except the coffee shops no longer exist.

And Manhattan is a ghost ship with no one on board.  Saying nothing.

No doubt Kubrick visited this for 2001.  And George Lucas for THX 1138.

But we are more interested in Godard.

Il Deserto rosso is a film for filmmakers.

Mulholland Dr. stands no chance.

But why?

Because, yes, we all feel like this.

Lost.

The floating world in Japanese mythology.

No doubt Kurosawa pinched the end bit for Dreams.

It’s ok.

That’s what makes Il Deserto rosso a watershed film.

In the shed.  Surrounded by water.

A proto-orgy.

Roman atavism at the group level.

No, no…

I’m not getting anywhere.

The critics will cry “overwrought”.

What we have here is really a sick sadness.

Feel too much.

Bowie’s Low title is above the artist in profile.

Low profile.

And that color.

Her hair.

What acting!

Is it?

Bow down to the master Michelangelo.

One of the true auteurs.

For the uninitiated it will seem unbearably pretentious.

Or just confusing.

It will seem that there is no plot.

And, indeed, in space there is no “up” or “down”.

There are simply bodies with sufficient mass to exert gravity.

Is that the way to say it?

Is that how it works?

Because we are all floating, right?

32 feet per second per second.

[sic]

Acceleration of falling bodies.

God bless her…

Always a sinking feeling.

Because her husband is a vapid jerk.

And the most sensitive guy can’t get close enough…cause she’s nuts.

Makes perfect sense.

Our own worst fears played out by the players on the screen.

Sei personaggi in cerca d’autore.

Precisely.

Pirandello.

Logic bombs and bombs of illogic.

The latter in Dadaism.

Hackers who terrorize simply to make their point.

To outsmart.

Legacy networks and newer nets introduced in phases…

Allowing for GDP, profit margin, and public sector infrastructure.

Which is to say, DARPA.

And where does the film critic fit in?

Merely as a voice…reminding…don’t forget your Sun Tzu.

Everything else will be diverted to slag heaps and holding tanks.

Opaque tanks…glowing green like antifreeze.

Does this sound like a fun adventure?

Then Il Deserto rosso is for you.

And for me.

Because I identify with Monica Vitti’s character so much.

Afraid of everything.

My hair hurts.

 

-PD

Prenom Carmen [1983)

If Jean-Luc Godard had never made another film after 1983, this one would have been his best ever.  It is that good.  But perhaps you doubt?  Let me tell you why I believe this to be the case.

This may have been the film where Godard really nailed down his mature style.  Really, there is no putting a date on such things.  He has continued to progress to the current day.

But let us focus on a few salient elements.

Beethoven.

The sea.

One might expect a French (Swiss) director to pick Debussy and call the elements connected (we refer here to the orchestral piece La Mer).  But Godard was always very analytical.  And so Beethoven is a more natural choice.

But what Beethoven?  Which Beethoven?  It is the string quartets.

Must it be?  It must be.  It must be.

Godard began (continued?) to make films more like a composer than a movie director.

The art film genre allowed him to do this.  And in many ways he formed and shaped this genre from the beginning.

To call art films a genre is generally not in keeping with standard film criticism practice.

But I don’t care.

If it helps to call it a genre here, then so be it.

But does it help?

It makes no difference (as Rick Danko sang).

But let us not neglect the ocean…the sea.

“I salute you, old ocean,” as Lautreamont said in Maldoror.

Indeed, Godard has some of that proto-Dadaist perversion in this movie.  Perverse, as opposed to perverted.  Both.

What is remarkable beyond Beethoven and the sea is Godard as an actor.

That’s right, Godard himself plays a prominent role as (what else?) himself.

It is really a caricature of himself.  Or is it?

To wit, Godard plays a director who has gone crazy.

Early on we see him in an insane asylum.

There is something slightly frightening and menacing about him from time to time, but generally he is hilarious.

Humor.

This film is replete with humor.

But it is not a comedy.

Sometimes a comedy of errors.

And so, Carmen?  Yes, like Bizet.  We remember Brahms being so taken with this opera.

Was it the music or was there perhaps an attractive alto in the production?

Alto.  Viola in French is alto.

And who is our alto?  Only one of the greatest actresses to ever live:  Myriem Roussel.

I must at this point beg forgiveness from the universe for not even mentioning her in my review of Passion.

I blame Wikipedia (as I always do).

I admit laziness (as per usual).

Frankly, I knew it was her in Passion by the poolside.  It is a small-but-striking role.  Mainly because she is nude.

It is all very artistic, yet I see why Godard would cast the beautiful Roussel in revealing roles over the course of several films.

Yet here, Myriem is merely a violist.  The viola in my life.  Morton Feldman.

But it is neither Godard nor Roussel who carry the bulk of the dramatic action here.

For that we must credit Maruschka Detmers and Jacques Bonnaffé.  The acting from these two players is outstanding!

Detmers plays the titular Carmen.  Indeed (keeping with the hanging sonority), it is Detmers who spends a fair portion of this movie nude.  But, to Godard’s credit, so does Bonnaffé.

But this is not just a gratuitous European pseudo-art film.  This is the real thing.

The most beautiful moment occurs during a bank robbery.

A struggle for a gun.  A man and a woman.  Carmen.  She has robbed the bank with a band of professional thieves.

And Joseph (Bonnaffé)…the gendarme responding to the violent robbery.

He leaves his post in front of the bank and exchanges gunfire with the trigger-happy gang.

And so it is that Carmen and Jo (Joseph) struggle for an automatic weapon.  Both having been shot.

They crawl over each other.  Win at all costs.  To lose is death.  High stakes now.

And climbing over each other in spurts of faint energy, they abruptly stop and begin passionately kissing.

They give up.

It is the moral.

Ah, but they DON’T give up!  They join forces.

And so Joseph goes from cop to thief.  All for love.

Lust.  Love.

Oh no, I’ve said too much (as Michael Stipe once intoned).

But no…

Carmen needs to pee.  Joseph has tied her wrist to his using his necktie.  [What kind of gendarme doesn’t have handcuffs?]

And so they stop at a shitty roadside gas station.

The moral of the stop:  even France and Switzerland have shitty roadside gas stations.

Away from the tourists.  Off the beaten path.  Where people actually work for a living.

And we have the most poignant scene.  The most bizarre.  A fat man has pocketed a jar of baby food (?) and proceeded to the restroom to eat it lustily with his fingers.  Put another way, here’s a poor schmuck whose life at this moment (for one reason or another) has been reduced to shoplifting to sustain his life force.

And the poor schmuck gets a treat.  Carmen needs to pee.  So does Joseph.  Joseph won’t untie her.  And so she uses a urinal.  And the shoplifter continues to make slobbery sounds as he licks his fingers while eating baby food in front of the bathroom mirror…nonplussed by the action.  But he sneaks a peak…ah, whatever.  He is entirely involved in his “meal.”  Somehow this scene makes sense of the whole universe.  It is hilarious, disgusting, and believable.  The mark of genius is on this film throughout.

I must add one last thing.  Just when the strains of Beethoven have become commonplace–just when the crossfaded splosh of waves has been drowned out by our psyches…it is at this point which Godard throws us the most gut-wrenching curveball:  “Ruby’s Arms” by Tom Waits.  Bonnaffé hugs the TV…resting his weight on the crappy 80s hotel console…and the screen is tuned to snow…static…fuzz…phasing lines of nothingness.  Between channels.  And as the song plays, Bonnaffé caresses the screen…caresses what might have been.

It is a most touching evocation of lovesickness.

Carmen is fond of repeating the line from the American movie, “If I love you, then that’s the end of you.”  She may not work at a cigarette factory nor dance the habanera, but she is still the prototypical femme fatale.  Yes, Jo…love is a rebellious bird.

-PD