Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 2(a): Seul le cinéma} [1989]

So here we go again.

They told Beethoven it was a horrible way to begin his 5th Symphony.

With a rest.

It’s unheard.

Of.

Unheard.

Only the players see it.

Only the conductor pays it much mind.

So the first “note” (beat) is silent.

The conductor must give it.

But there are at least two schools of thought on how this is to be done.

First, a conductor might do as they always do and swiftly move their baton downwards to indicate visually that the first (silent) beat is occurring.

The only problem with this is that the symphony players must then abruptly jump onto the very next beat (which is an “upbeat”).

They happen in very quick succession.

Nothing/Everything.

The whole orchestra.

Tutti.

And they get one shot.

To come in together.

Like an attack.

[rest] da da da daaaaaaaaaa

[rest] da da da daaaaaaaaaa

The second school of thought is more practical.

It advises that, in this particular situation, a conductor giving a downbeat is not particularly helpful to the orchestra (because no sounds occur on that downbeat).

Therefore, the conductor motions the orchestra that the UPBEAT is happening.

When the baton (or hand(s)) come down, that is the precise time to make noise.

It is not hard to see why this might lead to a more successful outcome.

For the goal is to have the orchestra stick together.

An orchestra of individuals who are a mere microsecond off from one another creates a sound which is generally not highly-valued in Western music (at least not in the performance of Beethoven).

But this STILL leaves a problem.

The conductor of this second school, whose job it is to try and lead his orchestra to a faithful rendition of this masterwork, is thereby IGNORING what Beethoven wrote (or, more precisely, HOW Beethoven wrote it).

The beginning.

Godard comes back more fit and trim in this episode of his greatest work.

1a is probably the nuke.

1b is a psychological warfare manual (perhaps)

2a returns us to kinetic warfare.

More or less.

With some lulls.

But there is genuine artistry within these 26 minutes.

Like a symphony by Beethoven or Bruckner.

The beginning is weighted heavily.

1a = 51 mins. (the longest of all eight parts)

1b = 42 mins. (the second longest “movement” of the bunch)

The entire first section is, therefore (carry the zero), 1 hour and 33 minutes.

That’s the first quarter of this “ring cycle”.

And it is truly operatic.

So now we are into a bit of a scherzo.

26 minutes.

Now you can see the influence of television.

The “producers” of this film.

Canal+ (French TV channel)

CNC (part of the French Ministry of Culture [and Godard is Swiss!])

France 3 (a French TV channel)

Gaumont (a French film studio)

La Sept (a defunct French TV channel)

Télévision Suisse Romande (a defunct, French-language Swiss TV network)

Vega Films (Godard’s production company at the time)

26 minutes.

Enough time for eight 30-second commercials.

Arriving precisely at a sum total of 30 minutes’ programming.

It’s generous (no doubt owing to the fact that this was educational programming).

If you look at the true running time of an American half-hour sitcom these days, it is roughly 21 minutes of what you want to see.

The other 9 minutes are reserved for at least 18 30-second commercials.

In the tradition of James Joyce.

The pun.

Which Hitchcock so admired.

…and the Oscar goes to.

Oscar Wilde.

Irishmen in France.

The recurring scene from Salò…

Julius Kelp.

Literary history vs. cinematic history.

Godard has a curious frame which reads, “Your breasts are the only shells I love.”

It is a line from the poet Apollinaire.

[tes seins sont les seuls obus que j’aime]

But I must say, the exciting parts here are the “booms”!

The fighter jet exploding in midair.

Bernard Herrmann’s music from Psycho juxtaposed with scenes from Disney’s Snow White…(1937).

The agitation of Stravinsky.

Cluster chords on the piano.

Godard’s voice fed through an Echoplex.

And, just as in 1a, world-class editing!

Let me be clear.

EDITING is what makes Histoire(s) du cinéma the greatest film ever made.

It’s what makes F for Fake the second-greatest film ever made.

And what makes Dog Star Man the third-greatest film ever made.

It is more pronounced in Histoire(s) and Dog Star Man.

Orson Welles’ “editing” (montage) in F for Fake is done more at the story level.

It is a juxtaposition of content.

The Kuleshov effect with ideas rather than images.

[more or less]

Godard’s camera-pen makes some of its boldest strokes in this episode.

It rivals the 1a excerpt involving Irving Thalberg.

Which brings us to a very important point.

Godard CHOSE to use the concept of “double exposure” (two images–one on top of the other–but both seen to a greater or lesser extent) to ILLUSTRATE the subject and title of his greatest film.

Though it runs 266 minutes, that amount of time STILL wasn’t enough in which to lay out the history of cinema.

So images needed to be doubled up.

Tripled up.

Simultaneous to that, words needed to be spoken.

And furthermore, DIFFERENT words than those being spoken NEEDED TO BE WRITTEN ON THE SCREEN.

If you are not a native French speaker, you will probably need to have the subtitles on when viewing this film.

Which gives you A-N-O-T-H-E-R visual stimulus which must be taken into account.

Yes.

This film should be mandatory viewing for fighter pilots.

Practice your OODA loop here.

Observe.

Orient.

Decide.

Act.

Constantly looping.

If you want to survive in this jungle of meaning.

Night of the hunter…

Klimt.

Fred Astaire.

James Dean.

Burt Lancaster.

It’s all true.

That weary look.

From Hollywood.

It’s all true.

Which brings us to value (that thing which capitalism so gloriously creates…far more efficiently and in much greater abundance than with any other economic system).

“What is the value of knowing how to read this film,” you ask?

Just this.

It allows you to know how to read the complexity of the world.

It is a brain teaser.

With an infinite layering of meaning.

Like Finnegans Wake.

Joyce’s masterpiece should be the only required reading for a codebreaker.

Or a codemaker.

Take heed, National Security Agency.

Your curriculum needs adjusting.

Assign only Finnegan.

And reap your gains.

And what of Histoire(s)?

Its most direct application would be for analysts.

Whether they be Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, or  INSCOM.

Know how to read the image.

Know how to analyze the video.

You must think outside the box.

Sudoku the fuck out of your employees.

And thereby fight crime and keep hostile actors in check.

Which is where we musicians come in.

To analyze the phone call.

To make sense of the audio…from the video.

It cannot be taught in a bootcamp.

It has to be loved.

Nurtured.

If you had one analyst like Godard, you would have a super-soldier equal to an entire special forces unit.

The trial of Joan of Arc.

Not to be confused with her passion.

Laurel and Hardy.

Gustave Courbet.

Marcel Duchamp.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Which brings us to a very delicate situation.

What is the President planning this weekend?

And with whom is he planning it?

If Ronald Reagan was an actor (and he was), then how much more talented is Donald Trump in getting a reaction with his lines…and his gestures?

HIS lines.

HIS gestures.

Accordion music.

Munch’s vampire.

A President who has been attacked from ALL sides UNRELENTINGLY for nearly four years.

And now finds himself in the midst of the hottest biological/psychological/economic war in recorded history.

Where complexity reigns.

As globalization magnifies each twitch of activity.

And this same President STILL finds himself under attack from the same “bad actors” who have unremittingly assailed him.

As in peacetime, so in war.

These enemies of the state.

Masquerading as journalists.

And their masters above them.

Straight from the latest conclave.

“…two if by sea.”

 

-PD

 

Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 1(b): Une Histoire seule} [1989]

“And Gauguin, he buggered off, man, and went all tropical.”

Sang Nick Cave.

On the brilliant song “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”.

And our world is going to shit.

Fast.

So let’s get some answers, shall we?

Event 201.

10/10/19.

Coronavirus.

Bats.

http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/scenario.html

“The pathogen and the disease it causes are modeled largely on SARS, but it is more transmissible in the community setting by people with mild symptoms.”

Sound familiar?

Players.

War gaming.

Avril Haines.

Former Deputy Director of the CIA.

haines.html

Instead of CNN, Event 201 came up with a fake news channel called GNN which supplemented the reality of its war game.

Go to 1’17” in video.

Correlation does not necessarily imply causation, but consider the following:

A.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation helps put on the Event 201 coronavirus simulation on October 10, 2019

B.  Bill Gates leaves the boards of directors of Berkshire Hathaway [Warren Buffett] and Microsoft on March 13, 2020

C.  94 of the 154 coronavirus deaths in the U.S. as of March 20, 2020 were in Washington State [specifically in the King County (Seattle) area]:  Bill Gates’ home

Bill Gates’ father was the former head of Planned Parenthood.

The Gates Foundation gave $82 million to Planned Parenthood organizations over the years 2009-2015.

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Event 201 bat coronavirus simulation in NYC on 10/19/19 was cosponsored by the World Economic Forum.

Among its board members is Al Gore.

https://www.weforum.org/about/leadership-and-governance

Also among its board members is Queen Rania of Jordan.

If you look at the Twitter account of John Podesta (Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman), you will find that the first person he followed on Twitter was Queen Rania.

Why?

Also on the World Economic Forum board is David M. Rubenstein of the Carlyle Group.

The Carlyle Group has a close connection to the Bush family.

On the morning of 9/11/01, the Carlyle Group was meeting in Washington, D.C.

Who was at that meeting?

Dig!

“Event 201 was supported by funding from the Open Philanthropy Project.”

http://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/event201/about

What is the Open Philanthropy Project?

Who runs it?

One of the founders of Facebook (and his wife).

Dustin Moskovitz (the person in question) donated $20 million to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  He was the third-largest donor in the 2016 campaigns.

http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/09/politics/facebook-cofounder-gift-democrats

Melinda Gates is on the board of The Washington Post.

melinda-french-gates-elected-director-washington-post-company

Bill Gates has attended the Bilderberg Meetings.

bilderberg-group-conspiracy-theories-secret-societies-new-world-order-alex-jones-a8377171.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/is-bilderberg-a-conference-on-world-affairs-or-a-powerful-global-cabal-depends-on-who-you-ask/2012/06/01/gJQA5uqx7U_story.html

Both Bill and Melinda Gates were considered by Hillary Clinton staffers as possible running mates for her 2016 run.

https://time.com/4534899/hillary-clinton-wikileaks-running-mates/

Are you seeing a theme here?

This amazingly prescient Event 201 which had a scenario (see above link) that mirrors the present coronavirus outbreak almost exactly (transmission of a coronavirus from bats to humans…misunderstanding of community spread dynamics owing to mistaken comparison to SARS) was headed and funded almost entirely by left-wing, globalist people who support the Democratic Party in the United States.  The only “foil” might be the Carlyle Group presence on WEF’s board (a connection to the equally-globalist, anti-Trump Bush family).

The Clintons and the Bushes.  Lots of money.  Unequivocally anti-Trump.  And they just happen to run a coronavirus simulation a few months BEFORE the current outbreak even began in China.

Cui bono?

Bill Gates has plenty of money.

He can withstand the shock to his personal bank account.

The Democrats (and Marxist globalists) were unable to impeach Trump.  Before that, they were unable to have Robert Mueller (former FBI Director) bring down Trump for “colluding” with Russia in the 2016 election.

So what did they have left in their effort to unseat the populist Trump?

Were they backed into a corner?

Was their collective corruption about to come to light?

Perhaps they played their last card:  attempt to destroy the U.S. economy with a pandemic PSYOP.

An average of 25,000 American die every year from the flu, but we don’t close the whole country down.

In 2017-2018, the CDC estimates that 61,000 Americans died from the flu.

past-seasons.html

Finally, how did a Johns Hopkins website become the end-all/be-all source for global and American coronavirus statistics?  Why was Johns Hopkins working with the Gates Foundation for the 10/19/19 bat coronavirus simulation Event 201 in NYC?  Has the simulation now become “real”?

Which brings us back to Gauguin…and Godard.

And part two of the greatest film ever made (in my opinion).

Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Godard contends in this 42 minute segment that cinema (the movie industry) is really a part of the cosmetics industry.

Everything is masked (and anonymous).

All is façade.

Godard further excoriates Hollywood by calling it a minor branch of the industry of lies.

Quite a humorous and pithy insult.

And self-deprecating.

It is true that Godard was an avowed Marxist.

A Leninist.

And even a Maoist.

And so it’s no surprise that he references Bertolt Brecht.

But Godard was, at this point in his career, becoming less of a radical (politically) and more of a humanist.

He was mellowing as a political firebrand.

But he was hitting his apex of creative experimentation.

I must admit.

This section is not the strongest of his eight-part masterpiece.

Section one Toutes les histoires is a tour de force.

But section two, Une Histoire seule, is a bit of a sophomore slump.

Or a lull.

A composer cannot maintain a fever-pitch indefinitely.

The great auteur got our attention in the first section.

And then he eases up.

He played the “head” (as in jazz).

And now he is beginning to improvise.

At first, he loosely pounds out the melody à la Thelonious Monk.

It sounds like more of the same.

And it is.

But it’s subtle.

It is a creator pondering his own creation.

“What have I just created?”

He turns it over and surveys it.

He feels its dimensions.

He tosses it and catches it like a baseball.

He estimates its weight.

The greatest movie ever made, Histoire(s) du cinéma, is not a movie in the strictest sense of the word.

It is not a narrative film per se.

There is very little NEW footage within.

Just like James Joyce’s magnum opus Finnegans Wake, it is not a novel.

It is much closer to poetry.

But it is novel (adj.).

This is a film review.

 

-PD

Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 1(a): Toutes les histoires} [1988]

Times seem apocalyptic.

So here is the greatest movie ever made.

But it is not available on iTunes.

You may have a hard time finding it.

And an even harder time playing it.

I did.

Back in the day.

I had to acquire a region-free DVD player.

And I did.

Solely to watch this film.

It is in four parts.

Each of which is divided in two.

So, therefore, eight parts.

This much-féted masterwork was not only released on television (which is to say, it was not a “theatrical” film per se), but it was accompanied by a soundtrack on the very erudite German record label ECM and further augmented by a book (text and screenshots) published by the most famous French publishing house Gallimard.

The soundtrack is very difficult to find on CD, but it is becoming less-difficult to find in the digital realm (unlike the film itself).

You can at least “listen to the movie” on Spotify.

And so for this film review, we will only be considering (to start with) the first section (which runs 51 minutes).

It is the section with which I am most familiar.

It is my personal favorite.

But it is important to note that the entire 266 minute film is essential to the “weight” of this creation (even if this first part is the most finely-crafted).

But we will reconsider as we go along.

The first section of the film (that which is under consideration) dates from 1988.

The book was not released till 1998 (when the film was completed).

So we have a sort of serial composition here (in the sense of Finnegans Wake).

It came out in parts.

It dribbled out.

Like QAnon.

And its influence spread.

Like COVID-19.

We remember William S. Burroughs and his concept of the “word virus”.

That is certainly germane here.

But I return, again, to Finnegans Wake.

No film creation in the history of cinema is more like James Joyce’s aforementioned masterpiece than Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Indeed, the only other creation I know of which enters into this same sui generis realm is Walter Benjamin’s Passagenwerk (translated in English as Arcades Project).

These are DENSE works…these three masterpieces.

One (Joyce) a “novel”.

One (Godard) a “movie”.

And one (Benjamin) a philosophical book.

Two books and a movie.

And the movie eventually became a book (Godard’s Gallimard creation).

The reverse of the usual.

Here, book doesn’t become film.

And there is not “more” in the book than there is in the film in Godard’s case.

If anything, there is certainly less.

Which doesn’t make it any less poignant.

So, what Godard has created for us with the book is a perfect guide to REMEMBERING WHAT WE SAW.

Which is a big theme of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

Film preserves the holiness of real life (to paraphrase).

Film (and video…of which this movie makes extensive use) preserves a moment.

Film can be (and is, always) a document.

Godard outlines a very French dichotomy here.

Film can be either predominantly of the Lumière brothers’ tradition (what we might call “documentary”).

Or of the Méliès tradition (a doctored reality…a “staged” document…what we might call “drama” [and its various subgenres such as “comedy”]).

But this dichotomy is not strictly “mutually exclusive”.

And here Godard brings us the example of Robert Flaherty.

Known as a director of documentaries, Godard points out that Flaherty “staged” his documentaries (which blurs the lines between the Lumière/Méliès dichotomy).

And what of Histoire(s) du cinéma?

Is it a documentary?

In many ways, yes.

It is a history of film.

But it is also a history of the filmmaker who is MAKING that very same history of film (namely, Godard himself).

To add further layers of surreality, Godard must address his own contribution to the history of cinema (which is considerable by even the most unbiased estimation).

Which is to say…

Godard is important to the history of film.

Very important.

Whether you like him and his films or not, he cannot be ignored.

And so we have here a very curious and “loaded” document indeed.

It is a matter of historiography.

Godard cannot (and indeed, does not even try) to remove his own opinion from this exercise of surveying the history of cinema.

That may be, ultimately, because Jean-Luc Godard never stopped being a film critic.

It was as a lowly film critic that he started…and it is as a film critic with his caméra-stylo (“camera pen”) that he continues to create today.

All of his films are, in and of themselves, film criticism.

From Breathless to The Image Book, he is always making a statement.

Pointing out how vapid Hollywood can be.

Pointing out what doesn’t exist in the marketplace.

Perhaps he is creating that which he would most like to watch…as a film lover.

His favorite film didn’t exist (except in his head–except as a vague concept).

No one had made it.

So, in order to watch it, he had to create it himself.

Then he could (theoretically) “enjoy” it.

I imagine he does this with each new film he makes.

It is always an attempt (“essay”…from French etymology…”to try”) to materialize what he would like to watch.

No director has his cutting wit.

No director’s mind pivots so nimbly.

So he must become his own favorite director…over and over and over and over again.

But this film is indeed a special case.

Ten years of creation.

Joyce spent 17 years on Finnegans Wake.

Benjamin spent 13 years on his Arcades Project.

And all of this which I have written is merely a preface.

That is how IMMENSE and pithy(!) Histoire(s) du cinéma truly is.

To be a creator is tiresome.

It makes one weary.

To always dream.

To imagine.

And to sweat in pursuance of crystalizing ones inspiration.

Jean-Luc Godard has always been a bitter sort of chap.

Bitter about Hollywood.

A love/hate relationship (LOVE/HATE…Robert Mitchum…knuckle tats).

And it is true.

Godard delves very early on into the parallel birth and adolescence of cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema was still young.

Cinema had a responsibility to document.

The Germans were very technologically advanced (particularly in sound and video recording).

They kept records of everything.

Even when they went astray during the Third Reich.

Germany had already produced great directors by the time of the Holocaust.

At the top of the list would be F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang.

But they were not alone.

Wiene, Pabst…

There were others.

UFA (which still exists till this day) was a giant.

Think Metropolis.

So where is the documentation of the Holocaust?

[you can see what a “dangerous” question Godard is asking]

Is he “denying” the Holocaust happened?

I don’t think so.

But he’s asking a relatively simple and (I think) sincere question.

Where is the video record?

All that has been passed down to us of the concentration camps (and “death” camps) is the record made by American directors like George Stevens AFTER the camps had been liberated.

So what really went on there?

Are we to really believe the Germans shot no footage whatsoever in these camps?

And if so, why can’t we see it?

Wouldn’t it truly help us to “never forget” and “never again” and stuff etc. etc.???

It is a very inconvenient fact that, as far as the general public has been made aware, there are NO (and I repeat NO) films (NO FOOTAGE) shot by the Nazis in the concentration camps during WWII.

Surely it exists, right?

But where is it?

Who has it?

What does it show?

Godard is the ultimate enfant terrible here (and elsewhere).

He wants to know.

He’s curious.

Because he’s a film lover.

And he ultimately blames Hollywood (which had, by WWII, become the global center of the film industry) for not truly DOCUMENTING what happened in the concentration camps (neither while the camps were active nor anytime afterwards).

But here Godard branches off into an aesthetic direction.

Godard flatly rejects the talentless Spielberg evocation of Schindler’s List.

For Godard, a directer as mediocre as Steven Spielberg has no business trying to tackle humanity’s darkest hour.

This is the conundrum at the heart of Histoire(s) du cinéma.

What Godard (I think) is saying is this:  there is no way to “write” a history of cinema…because a large portion of contemporaneous history (1939-1945) was not addressed in any true way by the BUSINESS (ironically represented heavily by Jews) of Hollywood.

Godard seems to be saying that Hollywood’s Jews (which is to say, Hollywood) let down world jewry during the years 1939-1945…all for a buck (as it were).

It is a persuasive argument in many ways.

But let’s back up a step.

To reiterate, a history of cinema cannot be told…because there is a portion of that history which is MISSING.

This is a very important word here (and a very important term).

There are films which SHOULD HAVE BEEN MADE, but weren’t (by Hollywood).

And there are films which may have be made (by the Nazis), but as far as we know (factually) were not made.  They do not exist (officially).

Two kinds of films missing.

Hollywood was responsible for the Méliès portion.

Hollywood should have used its immense power (and magic) to save the Jews of Europe.

EVERY FUCKING FILM should have been about the plight of the Jews in Europe who had been rounded up.

But we know very well that that’s not what Hollywood did.

The Nazis were responsible for the Lumière portion.

As twisted as the Nazis were, there is no way in hell those sick fucks did not film (with their Agfa technology, etc.) what was going on in the camps.

No fucking way.

Of course they filmed.

Like a goddamned serial killer.

And it was of pristine quality.

So where the fuck are those films?

But, sadly, Godard is called an “anti-Semite” for asking about these films.

Very sad.

He is coming from a “pure film” stance.

He wants to see the films.

He wants the world to see them.

And so the history of cinema is incomplete.

There is a gap.

Irving Thalberg.  Howard Hughes.  CIA.  RKO.  Starlets.

Film directors have been projecting their fantasies onto the screen since the beginning.

Their perfect women.

Their dream lovers.

But you can’t approach film history without approaching Hitler.

Film was at such an important point in its development.

And along came Adolph.

Chaplin and Hitler overlap.

They have the same mustache.

The Great Dictator was a comedy…more or less.

But it was also an attempt (“essay”) to address Hitler’s presence on the world stage.

An attempt to repudiate Hitler.

And yet, Chaplin could not quite hit the right tones.

It is maudlin.

As a comedy, The Great Dictator is pretty superb.

But it hasn’t aged that well as a piece of poetic philosophy.

Not really.

In that moment, the great Chaplin was powerless.

But at least he tried.

He tried.

But something was missing.

The camps.

Direct reference to the camps.

Addressing the problem with no beating around the bush.

No horseshit.

We need to see the bodies rotting.

We have seen that.

But we need to see the gas chambers.

We need to see the German efficiency and precision.

We need to see their documents.

Their film documents.

No Hollywood recreation can convey what those mythical reels contain.

No backlot will suffice.

We have the propaganda films.

Leni Riefenstahl.

I think what Godard is saying is this…

Hollywood has, since WWII, had to live with the guilt of NOT DOING ENOUGH during the Holocaust.

At the time (while it was happening), it was not kosher (no pun intended) to address the camps.

The public needed uplifting fare.

And Hollywood provided.

Hollywood provided a service.

Entertainment.

But Hollywood (as an entity) was permanently cheapened by not addressing the deep philosophical issue of mass death…mass murder.

Hollywood could have yelled, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.

And, indeed, the theater WAS on fire.

But Hollywood said nothing.

Hollywood told jokes.

No medium is perfect.

Hollywood is people.

But as an institution, Hollywood was exposed as being essentially artless and vacuous.

There were exceptions.

Hitchcock (British…but part of Hollywood).  Chaplin (British…but part of Hollywood).

Nicholas Ray.  Erich von Stroheim (Germanic…but part of Hollywood).  D.W. Griffith.  Howard Hawks.  Orson Welles.

But WWII was also the death of European cinema.

This is a very important concept that Godard conveys.

Not only were European Jews liquidated by the Nazis, but European cinema was effectively liquidated by Hollywood.

Europe would never be the same.

Fritz Lang.  Jean Renoir.  Abel Gance.  Jean Vigo.  Jean Cocteau.  Roberto Rossellini.  Max Ophüls.

America won the war.

The Soviet Union also won the war.

Germany lost.

France was “liberated”.

Italy lost.

And as Europe was subsequently split in half (the capitalist West and the communist East), the hegemony of American film [Hollywood] spread.

At the end of the Cold War, that hegemony became complete.

And so Godard is lamenting the death of his national film industry.

Godard is Swiss.

But he is, in many ways, also French.

He is a French speaker.

His years of highest-visibility were spent in Paris.

And there is not really a Swiss film industry of which to speak.

French film died (“liberated”/occupied).

Italian film died (lost war…occupied).

German film died (lost war…occupied).

Scandinavian film died.

Everything was pushed out by Hollywood.

Europe was relegated to the the realm of “art film”.

European cinema was put in a corner.

The wrecked economies of Europe could not compete with the war-machine-rich studios of America.

America had the magic–the fantasy–the special effects–the Technicolor.

Weary Europeans wanted happiness.

And they bought into the American idea of happiness.

To the detriment of their own unique cultures and philosophies.

Europe became Americanized (at least in the realm of the cinema).

To be continued…

 

-PD

Vénus et Fleur [2004)

Why?

Why sexual tension.

Why do we like who we like.

Why do we choose certain people.

We must make a choice.

Did you ever have to make up your mind?

Vénus et Fleur operates on the principle of sexual tension.

The world turns on the tips of tits.

We can wait a lifetime.

20 years.

Or 1 hr. and 16 minutes (in this case).

To see the bride stripped bare.

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter.

If it happens or not.

Because the journey has been sustained by sexual tension.

So I will give director Emmanuel Mouret credit.

He buoyed a whole film on the prospect of nudity.

There is some nudity here, but perhaps not the nudity which we seek.

That is my take.

Like Finnegans Wake.

Something is disallowed.

Something is taboo.

It is our puritanical instinct which causes us shame.

One would think such honi soit would only be found in England.

We become tangled in a web of meaning.

That any French person could feel shame is astounding.

But Fleur feels it.

She in an SJW.

A BBW.

Honestly, Isabelle Pirès is stunning here!

She is the reason I kept watching.

Sure, her character can be pitifully PC.

As when she lectures the third world about their plight.

It is maudlin.

Or is Russia the second world?

It was second.

But what is it now?

Doesn’t matter.

People still get drunk and fuck.

Says Venus.

Marseille.

Beautiful film.

Keep hoping.

And Veroushka Knoge reminds us of yet another lover.

Love is quintessentially French.

Four films and then career falls off.

Tough.

Magic moment by the sea.

 

-PD

Adieu au langage [2014)

It’s been several years since I’ve seen this.

And I’m afraid.

Afraid that perhaps it hasn’t aged as well as I would hope.

But one thing is certain:  this film is infinitely more enjoyable than Le Livre d’image.

Yes.

Perhaps that is the problem.

The Image Book lacked a girl and a gun.

Is it thus even a movie?

Well, have no fear:  Adieu au langage has both…and some nudity!

And a dog.

Roxy.

Godard’s dog.

Roxy Miéville.

But first, let me just say this:  the real star here is Marie Ruchat.

More exactly, her hair.

The beautiful redhead.

Sure, Héloïse Godet is the fit brunette whom we see nude quite often in this film, but Ruchat harmonizes with the autumn leaves.

The dead leaves like honey in the calm fountain.

Bird bath.

The blood lemons that tinge as red spreads.

The electric poppies like Thoreau at dog’s-eye-view.

We can relate.

It pleases the eyes.

The difficulty of the film is rewarded in painterly images.

Not so with that which followed (Le Livre d’image).

Perhaps Godard caught himself.

Realized he was relying too much on the KNOWN.

Owed it to himself to push on…forwards…into the UNKNOWN.

Switzerland was known.

Comfortable.

Easy.

Beautiful.

An excellent film.

Compared to what.

Reexamine Godard.

Timeless imagery here.

But the difficulty of a filmmaker having difficulty making a film.

Any film.

If Joyce had kept writing after Finnegans Wake.

Lived.

Godard had already coughed in this film (four years before Le Livre d’image).

 

-PD

The Bellboy [1960)

This one is pretty good.

I didn’t give it much of a chance at first.

Sometimes black and white movies are hard to watch.

[if you grew up on color]

Kinda like silent films are hard to watch.

[if you grew up on sound]

And sorta how Shakespeare is hard to read.

[if you grew up on comic books]

This one doesn’t rival the top dog [The Nutty Professor].

It doesn’t begin to touch the neck-and-neck silver medalist Cinderfella.

But it’s a whole lot better than The Family Jewels.

Which is to say, black and white sometimes trumps color.

The Family Jewels had everything it needed.

Except that it’s a mediocre film.

The Bellboy has nothing it needed.

Kinda like Psycho.

But it OVERACHIEVES for its resource level.

What is most significant about The Bellboy is that it truly has NO PLOT.

It does, however, have characters.

[particularly Stanley (Jerry Lewis)]

So then, taking the French love of Jerry Lewis into account, one might say that The Bellboy is a rather intellectual (!) series of situations after the manner of Debord.

Or further, that The Bellboy is a long-form work of nonsense in the mold of Finnegans Wake.

Whichever comparison is most fitting, The Bellboy stands up as a watchable, enjoyable movie.

One more thing…

There ARE true (true!) flashes of genius in this film.

The sequence with Milton Berle.

Bits with Stan Laurel (and Stanley [Lewis]).

Prefiguring Peter Sellers by way of multiple characters (Lewis playing himself as well as the bellboy Stanley).

The Jerry Lewis oeuvre is very interesting indeed.

 

-PD

Pretty in Pink [1986)

Here’s another great movie.

Yes, Harry Dean Stanton is reading Finnegans Wake.

And Stanton is great herein.

But the real star is Jon Cryer.

Yeah, you heard me right.

Yes.

Molly Ringwald is a good supporting actress to Cryer’s amazing performance.

But really, it’s the clothing which rules this movie.

Cryer and Ringwald have excellent outfits.

It’s a cute film.

But let’s delve.

Duckie (Cryer) really does a great job here.

Annie Potts is pretty awesome as Iona.

AND ANDREW “DICE” CLAY IS IN THIS!!!

What?!?

Yes, the Dice knows how to light a cigarette.

That’s about the end of his screen time.

The lamest part is Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy ending up together.

It’s about as bad as Ally Sheedy’s transformation in The Breakfast Club and Emilio Estevez’s sudden fealty.

But other than that one slight detail, I highly recommend Pretty in Pink.

Put it together with The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles and you have John Hughes’ trio of teen masterpieces.

For although Hughes did not direct Pretty in Pink, he did write it.

Alternately, Hughes both wrote AND directed The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles.

If I had to pick just one, I would say The Breakfast Club is the standout gem.

But all three films are excellent and deserve further study.

They are true masterpieces whose value has not yet been fully recognized.

 

-PD

National Lampoon’s Vacation [1983)

Hello, dear friends 🙂

Perhaps you thought I was dead?

I certainly FELT dead…off and on.

And so hopefully this is a true return.

Many months.

Stops and starts.

I was reminded just tonight of the appendectomy I had one year ago.

What a blessing to have received urgent medical care.

But I never would have known at that particular time (upon my first and only self-directed trip to an emergency room) that my appendix needed attention had it not been for my anxiety.

Horrible anxiety.

Debilitating.

I sought medical help for extraordinarily high anxiety.

And the prognosis?

“You need to have your appendix removed.” 🙂

Not exactly what I was hoping to hear.

But I made it through.

My first and only surgery.

Praise God.

And I powered through.

If you will remember, it was a mere three weeks before my graduation with an MBA.

Three more weeks I had to push.

Fresh out of the hospital.

I had to hunker down each day and research.

Study.

Write.

Churn out papers.

PowerPoint presentations.

Research solar power.

Water purification.

The Maghreb.

Sertão.

Sanhedrin.

Sahara.

MENA.

Middle East and North Africa.

Not to be confused with Mena, Arkansas (sniffy woe).

Presentations.

Transhumanism.

Ivan Raszl (well, not yet).

How Hillary ripped off her campaign insignia:

transhumanism

Neither here nor there.

But suffice to say Ray Kurzweil.  Jeremy Rifkin.  Zoltan Istvan.

Bad dudes.

And by this calculus a commodius vicus back to Elon Musk and environs.

Yes, I am back.

Back to that blabbering drivel.

That dithering dithyrambic style you know and love.

And I am fighting.

Not just anxiety, but drug addiction.

Prescription medicine.

It’s what happens when we max out our dosages.

We take as prescribed (more or less).

We take the right amount.

But the “as needed” turns into “needed all the time”.

And so I have been blessed to recently receive psychological help.

For anxiety.

Not my first time (big surprise), but the first time I’ve had a real counselor.

Someone who cares.

Someone who’s qualified.

Someone who gives a shit.

Someone with the chops to help me attack anxiety.

My cousin died.

It scared the shit out of me.

43.

Heart attack.

Three years older than me.

Fuck.

Yeah…

And then I magically was prescribed heart medicine.

On top of cholesterol medicine.

Real fucking fun.

All of this shit freaked me out pretty heavily.

The death of my cousin was a supremely shocking occurrence.

Was I next?

Was I going to wake up and find myself dead???

Well, fear not, dear friends.

Yes.

During the course of my therapy, my shrink deduced that I was indeed addicted to multiple medications.

I didn’t really realize my addiction for what it was.

I knew I was tethered to my medicines, but I had no perspective on the matter.

And so we started slow.

Hey.  How ’bout not taking that third of a sleeping pill to relax…hours before bedtime, fuckface?

Ok.

And hey.  How ’bout you get to bedtime and maybe you only take half a sleeping pill?

Sleep.

Sleep was the first fix.

You gotta have a bedtime.

Be your own army sergeant.

Pick your time.

A “lights out” time.

And stick to it.

Every damn night.

Midnight.

Lights out.

It took awhile.

I wanted to remain with the world.

Wanted to stay up-to-date.

On the off chance that some kind word would make my soul bloom.

And set an alarm, you lazy moron 🙂

8 a.m.

Ok.

Better than TWO P.M. 🙂

Set that fucking thing.

And WAKE UP.

You’re tired?

Too fucking bad.

Now what???

You stay awake for the next 16 hours, that’s what!

So when midnight rolls around again, you’re pretty tired.

But you get a second wind.

So you push it.

And you gradually rack up weeks of 6 hours.

6 1/2 hours.

On average.

But the goal is 8.

Not 7.  Not 9.

8.

After WEEKS of this shit, this finally settled into a cradle.

A groove.

The string settled on the nut.

Or the bridge.

Notch.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  Exercise.

The “holy trinity” of psychological health.

I had been an insomniac for decades.

A pro musician.

Starting gigs at 1 a.m. in New Orleans.

Fucking crazy.

But now I have an MBA.

And I need to straighten the fuck up.

Sleep came.

Slowly.

Tired as fuck.

Torturous.

But you gotta FORCE YOURSELF to stay awake.

Every damn day.

Finally, these past few days I am getting 8 hours.

Was it a month of sleep deprivation?

Six weeks?

Probably.

But it was worth it.

A hard-earned victory.

Nutrition.

Fine.

Eat boring.

Eat country vittles.

Be good.

Eat your fruits and vegetables.

Don’t go for the dozen glazed donuts.

Or raspberry jelly donuts.

I know you can eat a whole dozen glazed by yourself.

But don’t fucking do it.

It’s nasty.

Disgusting.

You don’t need to be in that mindset.

And exercise.

First thing in the morning.

Walk.

Hey.  How ’bout you double your exercise amount, dipshit?

Ok.

Walk in the evening too.

Twice a day.

And how ’bout STANDING UP when you feel a panic attack coming on.

Yeah, that’s right:  get out of bed.

Get on your feet.

Don’t ball up into the fetal position.

Don’t hide your head under the covers.

Don’t wait for the panic attack to pass.

No more being a bitch to benzodiazepines.

Time to breathe.

Big breath in.

Throw back those shoulders.

Chest out.

Tighten the butt.

Lower back.

Stand up straight.

Hold it.

For God.  For country.

Like a Marine.

Salute.

At attention.

Pop that breastbone.

Tension.

Pops sternum.

I’m not dead.

I’m a crazy motherfucker, but I’m not dead.

And my crazy?  A lust for life.

A return.

“You can always come back/but you can’t come back all the way”

Yeah.

It is sheer folly to try.

But it is “life or no life”.

I am blowing the harp.

I am singing.

I am playing the country blues.

I become real acquainted with Robert Johnson.

‘Cept I already tried to sell my soul.

Years ago.

And God forgave me.

Because Jesus short-circuits the wrath of God.

So now I am onto an opioid drawdown.

Tapering.

Returning to a dosage I last mastered 7 years ago (and no time since).

So it soothed my brain to go back to this movie.

A sheer masterpiece:

National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Dana Barron makes me happy 🙂

Reminds me of love.

When we were in high school.

And the rare God miracle of falling in love with a girl from a couple streets over.

That miracle.

Those tie-dyed times.

Long since dusty and moth-eaten.

Let’s start with the aw-kward Family Truckster.

Metallic pea 🙂

The green latrine.

Not an auspicious start.

vacation1

“You’re gonna see a sign that says, ‘Rib Tips'” 🙂

This was Trump era.

Think Melania.

Christie Brinkley.

But nothing is better than Randy Quaid as Cousin Eddie 🙂

Quaid owns this role.

Drives it into the ground.

Slam dunks it.

The laconic redneck.

Piss-perfect.

“Vicki, can I help you with that Kool-Aid…please.”

“REAL…tomato ketchup, Eddie???”

And the white shoes which act as time machine and talisman.

Future past.

From another century.

Something that’s crossed over.

Houellebecq.

But I got new respect for law enforcement.

And I got huge respect for American military.

Military City USA.

San Antonio.

Here we are.

And these crazy times of FBI.

Las Vegas.

What do you want to believe?

I have turned off the medium which slapped me daily with the message.

I don’t give a fuck about the FBI.

I don’t give a fuck about the CIA.

A useful bit of wisdom at times.

Nay, I am not even really following politics at the moment.

Fuck it.

Fuck these people.

A bunch of losers.

But, regardless:  I don’t have the extra capacity…the patience.

I gotta get myself healthy.

So fuck it.

FBI, do your job.

CIA, stop being such bastards.

I don’t know.

Is that fair?

Which is to say, I’m a nobody.  A nothing.

But at least I know that.

And I can crawl from beneath my rock and give thanks to God.

I can give thanks that nobody has whacked me.

“50 yards…”

Aunt Edna on the roof 🙂

In the fucking rain.

Yep.

That is a rich scenario.

“I thought you were going to tell me your were in the CIA.”

“What, me???  No…not anymore.  A long time ago.  I don’t really like to talk about it.”

Beverly D’Angelo is really good.

Anthony Michael Hall is solid.

But Chevy Chase really ties the room together 🙂

AND RANDY QUAID.

God…

Harold Ramis directed a rather perfect picture here.

No shame.

This is fine filmmaking indeed.

 

-PD

 

The grey suit in NXNW [1959/2017)

Maybe.

After many long years.

I finally got a decent suit.

But the pinnacle is still Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Perhaps more important than Dorothy’s slippers.

The grey suit.

Gray?  Grey.

Because Archibald Leach (Grant’s real name) was from Bristol.

Now.

The debate rages on.

Was it Norton & Sons (Savile Row) or Quintino (Beverly Hills)?

And this is a very important matter.

Basis in fact.

Innocent lives are at stake here.

Vanity Fair (at least they employed Tosches for a time) contends it was a British suit.

http://www.vanityfair.com/news/2008/03/behindthescenes200803

But The Independent counters that it was an American (Beverly Hills) tailor.

My first thought is always The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (novel 1955, film 1956).

1959.

Something in the air.

Advertising.

Madison.

Shopping.

5th.

Whatever you do, don’t buy a property at 666 5th Avenue.

Mr. Kushner made that mistake.

Can you change an address?

Can we inch the building over a bit?

666 1/2?

But finally, that eternal quote of Mike Ruppert:

“The CIA is Wall Street.  Wall Street is the CIA.”

What could all this mean?

What could ANY of this mean?

It’s well-known.

But the real danger is Finnegans Wake.

Is it unpredictability?

The real danger is changing stripes.

Spots.

Markings.

Camouflage.

A mask.

My daily trousers are sweatpants.

And then we must bring in Erik Satie.

As dangerous (harmless) a man as ever lived.

The “Velvet Gentleman”.

Seven gray velvet suits.  All identical.  One for each day of the week.

A revolution in simplicity.

But there are many, many hours of piano music to wade through.

Through which.

It’s not just the Gymnopédies.

Or even the Gnossiennes.

SS.

It’s a veritable Voynich manuscript of eccentricity.

Quixotic.

Mercurial.

Bizarre!

But with Magritte we got the grey bowler.

And Max Ernst:  “The hat makes the man.”

But did he say it in English?

Not bloody likely!

And so rail-thin Cary Grant, almost certainly homosexual, looks stunning…dapper…a paragon of class in North by Northwest.

And it is a rare time where I (and many other men) say:  “Wow…I want that business suit!”

Because I didn’t grow up rich.

And it took me till age 40 to get a passable sack.

Brooks Brothers was expensive.

Still is.

I’m low-rent.

High-brow.

A conundrum.

I don’t want to sell oil.

I’m a city boy.

They won’t take me on the farm.

So what am I?

Do I ride around on a horse?

Do I spit tobacco into a cuspidor?

[not anymore]

We must go away.  To come back.  And see for the first time.

What was Jia Zhangke talking about?

Or from?

The I Ching?

Or some Zen text?

Advertising.

Memetics.

Messaging.

COMMUNICATIONS

We are drawn to the suit.

The breezy ease with which Cary Grant negotiates New York sidewalk traffic.

Every remark quick.

Never at a loss for words.

And the characters all pay attention.

From Martin Landau to Eva Marie Saint:  menswear.

Three buttons.

[a detail I missed…too late]

Buttons on cuffs.

Cufflinks.

Two-piece.

The most remarkable aspect, though, might be the “grey suit with grey tie” effect.

I mean, “what the fuck”?!?

It is slightly “off”.

Not the color-matching.

That’s fine.

But the concept.

Or this hypothetical exchange:

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Gray.”

“Gray?”

“Yeah, I don’t know…I just like gray.”

“What about it do you like?”

“I don’t know…it’s sorta mysterious?”

“Ok…but, I mean, it seems sorta drab, don’t you think?”

“Well, I’m not in the market for a gray bikini…”

Ah!

There’s the gender.

Men.

Do men fancy grey?

Is it one of the colors they’ve been “given”?

And women.

Do they really fancy pink?

I suppose some diabolical seamstress has plotted the complementary colors of all the world’s hetero couples.

Grey and pink.

Pink and green.

Orange and blue.

Red and green.

Purple and yellow.

Ad absurdum.

All I can say is this.

I feel spectacular in my new gray suit.

I’m a little closer to Daniel Craig, though mostly in the Cary Grant body type.

Or, put differently, I’m an extremely-poor-man’s Daniel Craig 🙂

I, too, would look scrawny next to James Bond.

Which segues nicely into the 007 franchise.

Suits…again.

Whether in Jamaica or parts unknown.

The sartorial fastidiousness would play a major role in framing Bond as “not just another guy”.

Taste.

An eye for detail.

Quality.

And personality, though understated.

The grey suit.

It the biggest weapon in my fashion arsenal (as of today).

And thus we turn towards commerce.

Another run, perhaps, of job searching.

Selling myself.

But at a certain point you just gotta say, “Fuck it!”

I’m a cool person.

I ain’t out to hurt nobody.

I read books.

Big fucking books.

About math and shit like that.

I’m a nerd to the nth power.

I know that.

And I’m fine with that.

Because I see the value in that.

So now I may have to bludgeon the HR receptors with a whole new level of qualifications.

Can I do it?

Can I be a lawyer?

Can I be a PhD?

[notably, perhaps, in advertising]

And beyond.

Because life has led me to this impasse.

We worry about bread on the table.

And some milk to stay healthy.

Heat in the winter.

Cooling in the summer.

Most of all…in all this mess of writing…I am thankful.

Thankful for a chance.  A chance to do the right things.

And thankful for family.  Thankful for time.

Thankful for intuition.

And thankful for failure.

Have your cake.  Or eat it.

Thank you, my friends…for your support.

I am happy today.  Hard day, as always.

And I pray the good happenings for each of you…in your lives…

-PD

Frank [2014)

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

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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-mâché 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 François 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