Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

Limelight [1952)

I didn’t know movies could be this good.

Where have they been keeping this all of our lives?

Us.

When I was young I stumbled into The Gold Rush.  25/52.

And I lived at the end of a flower in City Lights.

So I knew.

But I forgot.

That Charlie Chaplin was the most vivid outcast—the great romantic on rollerskates.

And the miracle?

Claire Bloom lives.

No Sylvia Plath ending.

And Charles Chaplin lives.

As much as Baudelaire’s vieux saltimbanque.

It was her first film.  Bloom.

Age 21.

And now she is 84 years young.

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No one told me films could be miracles.

It’s kinda like Thora Birch.

Buster Keaton.

People thought she stopped working.

But it wasn’t true.

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No greater love have I seen for an art.

Like Pierre-Auguste kissing the canvas…and then painting.

You can’t simply say Renoir in film and let it linger…

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Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

The first chord.  In Moscow perhaps.  And all 122 pages fall onto the keyboard.

A thunderous vibration like Chaliapin.

Фёдор Ива́нович Шаля́пин

Boris Godunov.

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A drinking problem.

Stage fright.

Torn and frayed.

At the edges.

In the wings.

Wings.

Ah yes…I haven’t heard that name in a long time.

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The piano was unprepared.

A cage of equal temperament.

And so we removed the great nest

of cosmic dissonance.

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Don’t get me wrong.

I love a good cluster chord.

An honest, flawed note.

Take your dissonance like a man…someone said…maybe Henry Cowell.

On second thought, ’twas Ives.

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I’ve spent my life in a drum.

Like Keith Moon.

A human projectile.

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88 ways to look at a blackbird.

I’ve never seen one person leave it all on the stage quite like that.

A lifetime’s work.  Painted.

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The film was in black and white?

I didn’t happen to notice.

Because behind my eyes the colours were bursting.

U.

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And so like those little speckles in the concrete which the moon caught.

As I dreamt of being a composer.

And I too dove headfirst into the void like Yves Klein.

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And for us it was no sleight of hand.

There was no airbrushed net.

And I landed hard.

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Gandhi is smiling and that’s all that matters.

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between yell and Yale

bell strut feet dill old pod loot.  Look!

88 ways to be a composer and an itch ain’t one (bite me!)

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Film is completely unimportant when writing about film.

Take Hubert’s Flea Circus on 42nd St.

I would never have known were it not for Nick Tosches.

And my favorite book:

Where Dead Voices Gather.

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Yeah, but it’s like Picasso’s musicians.

You think I’ve really cracked up.  Craquelure.

“Any fish bite if you got good bait.”

They tell us in economics there’s only one Mona Lisa.

Because the painter is dead.

Only one…

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Because he’s not alive to paint another.

Another Mona Lisa.

Unlimited supply.  EMI.

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You’re driving at something.

I just know it.

Because the film was too long.  And too good.

Not possible, Likert.

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Many aw-kward moments of perfection.

Where Chaplin hit too close to home.

Was it Dave Davies?

“Death of a Clown”

Yes, precisely.

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It can’t be described conventionally.

You can’t just go to the Grand Canyon and say, “Vast.”

Was ist das?

Ja!

That is what I’m trying to say.

-PD

Je vous salue, Marie [1985)

Jean-Luc Godard has, in my opinion, made five perfect films.  Chronologically, this is the second of those five.

The first was 23 years earlier.  In 1962, Vivre sa vie let a 22-year-old Anna Karina shine as never before.  After a proverbial 40 days in the deserts of Varèse-like experimentation, Godard emerged to string together a series of films which paved the way for the style in which he continues to direct till this day.  Nevertheless, Je vous salue, Marie towers above the “middle quartets” which precede it.  Truly, this is one of the finest films ever to be made.

It is also a particularly difficult film to review as its history is laden with controversy.  Godard, ever the rebel, chose to retell the story of the Virgin Mary in a modern setting.  No doubt the sincerity of Godard was misinterpreted by many Catholics as blasphemy.

The key to understanding this film is watching the whole thing.  If you are offended, try to make it to the end.  Perhaps the method of storytelling will then make more sense.

It must, however, be admitted that Godard’s take on the Annunciation and birth of Jesus is highly mystical.  It is like the music of Olivier Messiaen.  Dissonance is a gift from God.  To hear the works of Messiaen is to hear devotion expressed in a highly unique way.  My guess is that the great French Catholic composer might have appreciated Godard’s timeless creation under review.  Perhaps even the current Pope Francis might sympathize with the heartfelt offering of Godard.

In 1985, this film was positively scandalous.  What a shame…

Continuing with our musical history lesson, one must only consider the great Handel (composer of Messiah).  Handel was reputedly able to curse proficiently in German, Italian, and English.  Handel was not a saint, yet he composed a tremendous amount of sublime religious music (including the aforementioned oratorio).

It makes me wonder about the great artists like Michelangelo (whose Creation of Adam graces the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel).  Was Michelangelo a particularly pious man?  I have no clue.  But it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was colorful in ways other than with his palette.

But Godard committed the greatest sin.  He let life enter his art.  God forbid that life and praise for the divine coexist in a single creation!

But let us return.  This was Myriem Roussel’s film.  It is the finest performance by an actress not named Anamaria Marinca or Dorotheea Petre ever committed to film.  Saoirse Ronan is still waiting for the right vehicle.  Hanna was frighteningly close.  Going back further I would nominate Lauren Bacall, but her range was curtailed somewhat by typecasting.

And so Myriem Roussel.  Godard.  The sublime.  Every shot in this film is perfect.  Every element is precisely placed.  It is intelligent design embodied.

I cannot begin to scratch the surface of this gem.  My lead is no match for this diamond.  No matter how much I scribble, it will not be enough.

This film will endure long after everything is gone.  Je vous salue, Jean-Luc.

-PD

Numero deux [1975)

Back.  Return return.  Long absence.

Unrestful battle to the death with corporate finance.

And Jeannot mentions Georges.  Beauregard?

Yes, almost certainly.

And so politics becomes sex.  But sex remains politics.  The two phenomena simultaneously.

Like dependent events and statistical fluctuations.

Ah, statistics…

Not the fun stuff of batting averages.  No, we mean correlations and covariance and stultifying minutiae.

And that’s where the money comes from.

Godard after 45 years had finally finished with Paris.  Done.  Fin.

Il y a equals = Grenoble?

A new era with Anne-Marie Miéville.  Sonimage.  Mon ton son image son.

Wordplay cures illnesses.

The glissando of sliding meaning.

Slippage.

I want to write film criticism as if I am writing a viola sonata.  Everything is possible.

Amazingly…amazingly…Wikipedia gives a synopsis.

Thank you kind soul…kind, fastidious soul.

Is it the same in France?  Numero deux est la merde?

Yes, Godard finds a way to shock…again.  Like Salò, but in a mundane grocery store of quotidian pain.

Wordplay and illnesses.

Is it Sandrine Battistella?

Is it Pierre Oudrey?

Are the child actors the best players in this film (in the tradition of Bresson)?

And Alexandre Rignault.  The old man?  I am too lazy.  It is already a service.  Mon beau souci.

The anarchy of breasts.

Both enjoy in different ways.

Pain is not simple.

It was this point at which Godard became a true revolutionary.  With his army surplus jacket.  Inconsequential.

Having survived the revolution.  The upheaval.  To live on into the era of Bruce Lee kicking Chuck Norris’ ass.

We see briefly.

But mainly we see fatigue.  The fatigue of Beethoven.  Facile technician.  Adjusting color timing instinctively.  Habit.

Sometime you must take a break from James Bond to question the fundamental things.

White people problems, they say.

No, I see the same in true cultures…in China…in Africa.

Unique modes of expression.  Unlearning.

The greatest service is to convey the feelings of the film.  If these feelings harmonize with the dissonance of your pathetique lives, then you are like me.  Searching for small miracles.

Actors cannot touch non-actors.  Praise be to actors who appear to have no technique–who appear to be non-actors.

Either way.  Doesn’t matter.  Matters.

-PD

Champagne [1928)

Music changes everything.  How do we start?  Mahler.  I doubted myself.  Barber.  But I was right.  It is that one dissonance which should have convinced me.  The notes rubbing against one another.

And then I slipped.  Like Betty Balfour.  Dvorak?  Berlioz?  No, it’s Sibelius.

A music scholar doesn’t need Shazam.  But I’m a shabby music scholar.  Rags to rags.

Betty Balfour gets to mingle with the ragpickers for awhile, but for her it is riches to riches.

This is a silent film.  Which is to say, it is not silent.

That is the history of cinema.  A misconception.

And music changes everything.  If it’s Giorgio Moroder providing the soundtrack for Fritz Lang…that makes a big difference.

I really lost my way at some point.  I thought I was hearing Mozart…

We thought he wrote a requiem for his pet starling.  Perhaps not.

Yes, at some point we became very lost.  Flying over the Atlantic.  Like the Mary Celeste.  Bermuda Triangle.

It wasn’t the Flying Dutchman.  I think we would have recognized Don Giovanni.  Maybe not.

Betty doesn’t know when to stop.  Lots of seasickness in these early Hitchcock films.

There’s no missing Bolero.  Ravel’s worst piece.  Worlds ahead of most music ever written.

But nothing beats the Piano Concerto in G.

When Betty is weightless…remembering the good times…champagne.  And now she is merely a wage slave.  Trading places.

No talking.  Some intertitles.  And prominently (most prominently) that music!  A choice…by someone.  It makes a difference.

Put a murder to the tendresse of Beethoven.  A birth to Schoenberg.

The orchestra makes a difference.  That flat, unwieldy oboe line…

Yes, I know it’s polytonal, but the intonation is rubbish.  Like the Salvation Army rendition of “Abide with Me” at the beginning of Fist of Fury.  Makes Monk and Coltrane sound absolutely polished.

No, I can’t stand it.  Gordon Harker is great…just as he was in The Farmer’s Wife.  Without italics that sounds positively lascivious.  Thank god for capitalization.

Did Hitchcock predict the stock market crash of ’29?  A case could be made.  Yet here it is charade.

Betty falls prey to Bresson’s predecessor…pickpocket filmed from the waist down.  Rage Over a Lost Penny.  Op. 129.  I’m just venting.

Gordon Harker parenting.  Like Gregg Popovich.  Pride in the name of love.

Nothing’s going very well for Betty.  Taken literally, this is a nihilist coup.  But just ask Bert Williams:  nothing don’t put food on the table.  Nobody.

More like “nothing to see here”…  Hitchcock would lament to Truffaut.  Nevertheless, the particular transfer I have (and the Romantic soundtrack) made this an interesting journey.  Most of all we learn that the auteur theorists were right:  geniuses never make bad films.

-PD