UHF [1989)

Here’s a masterpiece of a movie.

I didn’t think so the first time I watched it.

I was a little preoccupied.

But this time I had a reason to be more emotionally invested.

Mops!

That’s right, mops.

Mops play a big role in this movie.

Spatulas also make a sort of cameo.

But mops predominate.

In particular, there is a special mop which is almost like a character in this film.

It doesn’t talk.

It doesn’t have a name.

But it is more than a MacGuffin.

Stanley Spadowski (the true star of this movie) received the mop in question for his 8th birthday.

And, apparently, he used that mop well into adulthood.

He decorated it with various bits of colored electrical tape.

And it was with this mop that he dutifully fulfilled his role as janitor at a major local TV news station:  Channel 8.

But one day, Spadowski (played brilliantly by Michael Richards) found himself to be, in the tradition of Hitchcock, “the wrong man”.

Spadowski did nothing wrong.

He was not careless.

Even though he didn’t possess a notable intellect per se, he gave his all to his janitorial profession.

…and he actually enjoyed it.

Mopping.

Scrubbing.

Stanley Spadowski took pride in his work at Channel 8.

But, as “the wrong man”, he suddenly found himself blamed and scapegoated.

Though his unscrupulous employer made no effort to prove Spadowski’s guilt, Spadowski could not PROVE his innocence.

It was a quick exchange…

Q:  Did you do this?

A:  No.

Q:  I don’t believe you.  You’re fired.

Something like that.

Very capricious.

And, thus, Spadowski was crushed.

But the most crushing blow for Stanley was when the station owner’s son (also an employee [l’il bit ‘o nepotism]) confiscated Stanley’s mop as “station property”.

It was not.

But Stanley was helpless.

Thunderstruck.

Aghast.

Stanley had no one to stand up for him.

Yet, though he didn’t get what the wanted (to retain his job at Channel 8), he got what he needed:  a new job as janitor of the UHF station 62.

And all of this because one man observed the pitiable scene of Stanley being deprived of his tool of the trade (which he had used since childhood).

That man was “Weird Al” Yankovic.

As in the movie (where “Weird Al” is the station manager of “U62”), Yankovic was also the brains behind this movie itself.

He wrote it.

With someone named Jay Levey.

Mr. Levey directed this “cult classic”.

If it tells you anything, Levey still does not have a Wikipedia page in English…41 years after this movie came out.

So I am going to assume that Levey did not go on to bigger and brighter things in the film industry.

That being said, it appears this film actually realized a 20% profit (box office – budget = x [x/budget = profit as a %]).

But let’s get back into Stanley Spadowski (a character “Weird Al” or Levey must have invented).

I’d bet money that Yankovic came up with this character.

But this character could not have come to life without the talents of Michael Richards.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, could have pulled it off.

Michael Richards is a very underrated actor.

If you look on iTunes, you are apt to see a mere two films in which Richards plays anything approximating a significant role.

One is this:  UHF.

The other is another sort of “diamond in the rough”:  Transylvania 6-5000.

The latter would be a mostly-unwatchable, tedious comedy were it not for Richards’ breakout performance.

Richards distinguished himself as Fejos in that film four years prior to UHF.

Indeed, just a fortnight before UHF was released in 1989, Seinfeld premiered as The Seinfeld Chronicles.

Richards played the role of Kessler.

As The Seinfeld Chronicles became Seinfeld, Kessler became Kramer.

The world, in general, knows Michael Richards as [Cosmo] Kramer.

The show ran for nine years.

But let’s adjust our tack a bit here.

Who is Stanley Spadowski?

I would argue that he is the “cousin” (so to speak) of Carl Spackler:  the groundskeeper in 1980’s Caddyshack.

Where Spackler is laconic, Spadowski is prone to frenzy.

And yet, these two characters are cut from a similar cloth.

Spackler (Bill Murray) always has his impermeable camouflage bucket hat.

And usually a dirt-and-sweat-stained T-shirt.

Baggy cargo shorts.

And combat boots.

Appearing in 1980, Carl Spackler would have probably been seen as a nutty Vietnam vet.

Indeed, Spackler is tasked by his boss (the HEAD groundskeeper) to take care of the golf course’s gopher problem.

In hilarious fashion, Spackler goes after the gophers…even employing plastic explosives.

Spadowski is also a T-shirt guy.

With suspenders.

Always suspenders.

And whether they are real or fake (I think fake), Spadowski has noticeable (and endearing) bucked teeth.

He can hardly keep them in his mouth.

He is awkward.

He usually speaks slowly.

But when he gets excited, he is like a fire hydrant that’s just been opened.

What’s important about Spadowski and Spackler is that they are everymen.

They are most certainly underdogs.

And UHF, at its heart, is an underdog story.

U62, the channel, is an underdog.

It is not a network affiliate.

UHF (as opposed to VHF) was the television equivalent of AM radio (as opposed to FM).

Local stations.

Questionable programming.

Shoestring budgets.

You could find ANYTHING on UHF television or AM radio.

Anything was possible.

There was less control.

Today, in my town, my favorite radio station is run by a Methodist church.

Their format (vaguely) is “oldies”.

But their programming swings a bit wildly…and usually I love them for it.

They play songs I’ve never heard.

Occasionally a similar station will pop up in the same range of the dial using this “none of the hits–all of the time” approach (only to disappear back into the ocean of static which separates one clear-signal island from another).

U61 is this sort of beast.

Which makes sense.

Because it is run by a dreamer:  George Newman (“Weird Al”).

George starts off this film flipping burgers.

This may be a reference to the 1982 film Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

“Weird Al” gets fired.

The tone of the scene is very similar to Fast Times…

Which brings up an important point.

UHF is a pastiche.

It is stream-of-consciousness.

The narrative shifts wildly with non sequitur episodes interpolated here and there.

UHF makes continuous reference to the pop culture of its day:  the 1980s.

And this makes sense because the creator of this film was “Weird Al”:  best known as a musician specializing in parodies (usually of contemporary hits).

I hate to get all artsy-fartsy here, but I would dare say there is a modicum of post-modernism in “Weird Al”‘s filmic approach.

And, perhaps more importantly, a noticeable measure of Thelonious Monk (autism?) in Stanley Spadowski.

Idiot-savant.

And so UHF is a work of art which captures awkwardness in some of the same ways that Napoleon Dynamite and Poto and Cabengo do (respectively).

The message is:  be yourself.

You have value.

There is a person out there for you.

There is a job that is right for you.

There are no guarantees.

But you won’t be happy anyway if you’re not being yourself.

 

-PD

Good Morning, Vietnam [1987)

Things are sad here.

This is a war.

Pieczenik has outlined it as both biological warfare and psychological warfare.

Morale.

How to keep morale high?

Maybe you love someone.

Or maybe you’re just attracted to them.

But as you see them leave in a hurry, you wonder whether it might be the last time.

Are we winning?

Are we gonna make it back home?

Everything is shot to shit.

Destroyed.

The DJ is lonely.

Daft.

But quite possibly a genius.

And so you can see how Robin Williams might have committed suicide.

The Great Pretender.

Tears of a Clown.

Death of a Clown.

Drugs have taken hold.

Not the gentle breasts of the opium den, but the annihilation of heroin.

Even the General smokes.

Because you don’t know how many days you have left.

One minute you’re fine.

The next you get blown up by the Vietcong.

Or the virus gets in your lungs.

In times of great distress (to paraphrase), comedians are needed.

“We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

Willy Wonka said that.

As he grabbed Veruca Salt’s impudent mouth.

Cash is getting low.

Grapes of Wrath.

But we hang on.

With our radios.

And our MacBooks.

To have a zany DJ.

A “maniac”!

Yes.

On a boring street.

In a tense environment.

Theater of war.

Conflict.

Bittersweet.

Perhaps with more knowledge comes more sadness.

But the heart needs to heal.

The psychic energy has been vomited up.

The emetic was psychological.

Autobiographical.

And now I feel wasted.

Limp.

Fatigued.

But hopeful.

I will press on.

I am 43 years old.

There are good things about me.

I recognize what society sees as my shortcomings.

But I am on ice.

And yet it is temporary.

I was never cut out for the military.

And neither was Adrian Cronauer.

But there are many subgroups in the military.

Many ingenious ways by which to put creative individuals to work.

If the totality of war is fully understood.

Outcast.

Freak.

Break the rules.

Skirt the rules.

Play.

Emphasis on play.

Whimsy.

Quixotic.

Cronauer is a bit like Alex Jones.

Which makes sense.

When one sees the admiration Steve Pieczenik has for Alex Jones.

Not just anyone can get in front of a mic and do that.

We get a bit of Stripes here (rehashed).

Do the right thing.

Make true friends.

Long-lasting connections.

Be a good person.

Watch how your life achieves harmony.

Censorship.

Gimme Some Truth.

The pointless pursuit of the unattainable.

Sadness in human history.

In a foreign land.

Where no shops are open.

Where there are no places to congregate.

Our job is important.

We fall into a niche which is not easily defined.

The creators.

Of content.

And happiness.

The most electric scenes here directed by Barry Levinson are those of Robin Williams at work.

Spinning records.

Dancing.

You can feel the energy.

He plays off the reactions of his crew.

And the camera captures the frenzy with a shaking electricity.

Back in the real world, we must decide whether to go on being DJs and clowns.

Many dead ends.

And a broken heart.

A heavy heart.

But God says, “I got you, dawg.”

And we take this as gospel truth.

 

-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

Hector and the Search for Happiness [2014)

The thought occurred to me to give up.

On this website.

And on just about everything.

About a month ago I thought my fiancée dumped me.

And she probably did (in a way).

But it doesn’t matter.

She was sick.

And, thanks be to God, she is getting well again.

And though she couldn’t jump right back in to being my fiancée (after 18 days of darkness), I am learning to live with that.

I am learning to truly love.

Facing my own shortcomings.

Trying to own up (in my own way) to my role in our relationship’s failure.

It was certainly sickness.

Malady.

And act of God.

And then another act of God to stem the tide of her misery.

As she has emerged, I have been very confused.

Confused on where I stand.

I was hurt.

But I am getting over that.

I was hurt that she didn’t seem to want me anymore.

But that wasn’t entirely true.

I am beginning to see now just how far she was pushed.

Just how much her spirit was crushed by her three losses.

  1.  of her child
  2. of her husband
  3. of her mother

And so I happened again upon this wonderful site called Tubi.

Sounds like porn.

It’s not.

It’s free movies (with a minimum of advertisements).

Kicked in the head by a mule (so the saying goes)…and kicked in the head again (and everything’s alright).

Randy Quaid said that.

But there’s more before we get there.

I have had to learn a powerful lesson of love.

I have had to dispense with labels.

I’m pretty sure I’m not engaged anymore (though not entirely sure).

I’m not even sure if I’m in a relationship.

Not even sure if I have a girlfriend.

But that’s the crux of this epiphany.

To her credit, in my frustration and confusion, she reached out and told me she loved me.

This was, granted, even more confusing.

“I don’t want to (can’t?) be engaged to you right now, but I love you.”

To paraphrase.

And I had to dig deep.

I had to trust that I was not being taken.

Not being taken advantage of.

Not being tricked.

And so the prompt appears:

you must love to your fullest ability…without any guarantees.

You must love simply because you DO love.

Either you do, or you don’t.

Either you love someone, or you don’t.

Clarity is good.

Clarity is great.

But not everyone can give us a clear answer.

At the particular time we want them to give such answer.

And that, FINALLY, brings us to this Simon Pegg film.

How’s that for a preamble?!?

Midlife crisis.

Goes chasing his doctor.

His flame.

Love is patient.

Patience.

Letting your other take their journey.

Jesus HAD to be tempted.

Beethoven said it must be.

You gotta see dark and dirty.

What people do for a dollar.

How commerce is impersonal and disrespectful.

A bit like Carl Spackler’s loopering for the Dalai Lama.

Meet friends.

Slave trade seething in urban ruins.

Made new.

Starbucking.

Family.

Happiness.

And unhappiness.

Duty.

Obligation.

Sorrow.

Weighs heavy.

Pushed to Schnabel brink.

Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

Extreme sickness.

Hallucination.

Separated from loved ones by the veil between life and death.

Creaky amusement park.

Rusted rides.

Bad call.

Good call.

Sad to deny love.

Sad to even deny sadness.

Sure, this film is not perfect.

A bit hokey.

Often trite.

But not painfully so.

While it is low on eccentricity and originality, it makes up in sincerity.

Pegg is good.

Rosamund Pike is really stunning.

Both of them excel most at then end…on a phone call separated by an ocean.

Stellan Skarsgård is excellent as the jaded international banker.

Jean Reno is powerful in his small role.

Director Peter Chelsom needs to find his own personal voice a bit more.

This film could have been great.

Instead, it is mediocre-to-good.

This whole affair was a bit too vanilla for me, but I’m glad it exists.

 

-PD

Tokyo Fiancée [2014)

I have been absent.

Because work.

Not working, but looking.

Labor.

Jobs.

Money.

Healthcare.

I have been absent because anxiety.

Always.

But better.

Walking.

Stretching.

Exercise.

Rest.

Time.

And now the cosmos brings me a perfect film.

Because Pauline Étienne.

Actress full of joy.

But the grand auteur is Stefan Liberski.

Every color.

Every gesture.

You must pinstripe, tuck up your hair you haven’t.

You must primary color.

Yellow and red.  Made in U.S.A.

“You must fall in love with me,” says Pauline Étienne.

“I command you.”

[she continues]

And of all the girls in the world, the Belgians and Finnish are the most diabolically beautiful on film.

Godard said the Swiss.

Clear bias.

And so we have a Belgian film set in Japan.

If we try hard, we can hear Debussy.  Estampes…

Pagodes…

Sado Island… […]

To dream in the rain.

Cross the bridge.

And the river steams.

You seek a nectarine.

A noisy kiss.

Pauline Étienne.

Buttermilk legs joy rollerskate skinny.

Was taken from Salinger.

Joyce said spittoon.

As cuspidor.

The most beautiful word.

Girl.

Some films, books so good…too much to handle.

My wish.

To marry.

To have that happiness.

A mere handful of fives away from Valentine’s.

When Colombia and Ecuador will be pumping out roses for Starbuckers.

All along.

They said that sex was uncouth.

Or resorted to farm metaphors of propagating species.

But.

They couldn’t talk about love.

Excitement.

When your breath is stolen by a cold kiss.

In the autumn.

Winter.

And yet warmth from optimism.

But we must get on to the little back alleys of Tokyo.

And for a moment stop this dream.

To be born.

In Japan.

Of Belgian parents.

Does not a Japanese make.

I can suck the life out of Auden.

Elliptical.

Though I thought I was aping Céline.

But director Stefan Liberski is aping no one.

personne

We must mention the author and not the auteur, though in French there is no difference (save for the milieu of cinema).

And she gives us a fantastic story.

Amélie Nothomb.

No thumb.

Better than “all thumbs”.

Rhombus.

Can you suck on a diamond lozenge from a ring?

Lots of sucking.

But that’s the aw-kward + loneliness which makes a great film.

This one just happens to pull in Belgique and Nippon to boot.

It depends.

On her yellow socks.

On her haircut.

Pauline Étienne.

On sweater with blue stripes.

Like Edward Hopper did the cinematography.

But the Francophones have it figured out.

Every trick.

Which is to say.

No tricks.

Just emotion.

Realism.

No bullshit.

Embrace the history of film.

Compare and contrast.

What works?  What doesn’t?

What speaks to you?  How does a culture (French, par exemple) see a film?

Answer:  it doesn’t fucking matter.

What matters is the overflowing love and romance which infuses Tokyo Fiancée.

Only thing Lars von Trier ever did well was film Kirsten Dunst in the nude.

Stefan Liberski surpasses von Trier’s entire oeuvre with this one film.

Yes, I’m polemic as fuck!

I’ll take François Truffaut (the film critic) and a bottle of white wine for my friend.

I like red.

And Guy Debord.

I’ll take chances.

Damn.

I have taken so many fucking chances.

But we get scared.

Worn out.

Frightened by inexperience.

All of that is in the film.

Taichi Inoue is really sweet as Rinri.

But I keep coming back to Pauline Étienne.

She has cast a spell over me.

And I must ask:  who does she signify?

Forget the character name.

For each sad soul who dreams their way to the end.

She represents someone.

Fondue.

Teeth which nave never left the village.

New born yellow as unripe baby corn.

On the farm.

Maybe.

A different register (accent?) of French in Belgium.

Immediately recognizable to a Parisian.

And with little modesty lambasted as yokel French.

But perhaps the Belgians and Quebecois have this in common.

A cause for solidarity.

And add in the Swiss…with their weird counting and smoky lisp.

Is it?

Tokyo Fiancée hits harder than La Religieuse (2013) because it is not stilted nor steeped in period costumes.

Just tell a fucking story, we say.

Pauline Étienne.  Born in Ixelles.

How could anyone from such a place be any less than ravishing?

When we think in microcosm.

If we only know one Indian person.

They become India.

For us.

And complicate this with a multicultural relationship.

That is the gasoline of Tokyo Fiancée.

It is clean.  And genius.  Like Magritte.

A bowler hat.  An apple.  And MoMA depth.

We want to be in this Japan.

Because the eyes have captured the essence of magic.

Ingenuity.

Frivolity.

Fun.

Tokyo Fiancée succeeds at every point where Lost in Translation failed (which was at every point).

This is the real deal.

Real acting.

Real art.

Not a dilettante piece.

Sofia Coppola should send her usage permissions for My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shields tracks to Stefan Liberski posthaste.

Such music is the only thing which could make Tokyo Fiancée any better.

And yet, it is a perfect film.

Don’t fuck with perfection.

Maybe again MBV and Liberski can have a meeting of minds.

But make sure to include the Anna Karina of our age.

Pauline Étienne.

An actress for which Francophonie has been searching for 60 years.

Well, here she is.

And this is the model:  Tokyo Fiancée.

Let the joy in her heart hit the screen (splat!).

Jump on the bed.  Ahhh!!!

In the mountains.  Wooh!  The rush.

An actress with all 21 petals on her Fibonacci daisy.

Which is to say, fully capable of cinema immortality.

I believe it was Mallarmé who wrote of “bursting pomegranates” (!)

Very few films have ever had this effect on me.

And I needed this one very bad.

To confirm that there are quirky, special people in the world.

That there are eyes who see beauty in the details I notice.

And that genius in the cinema is not dead.

Thank you Mr. Liberski.

And thank you Pauline Étienne for your performance which has brought hope to a very sad person in Texas.

Je veux exprimer ma plus profonde gratitude.

C’est infini.

-PD

חתונה מנייר [2015)

[WEDDING DOLL (2015)]

This may be the most important film I’ve ever reviewed.

And it also may be the most beautiful film I’ve ever seen.

Cinema challenges us to drop our prejudices.

And so, this is the first Israeli film in Hebrew I’ve ever written about.

We must give each side their chance.

And we must stop seeing each other as “sides”.

To the best of my pathetic ability, I am going to attempt to describe a work of cinematic art that I have no right to enjoy.

Wedding Doll is a film which may change your opinions of Israelis.

I must keep my mind very focused to do it justice.

Because our aim is art.

My aim.

Our aim is beauty.

And my main aim is love.

We learn from our peers and our forebears what is right and cool.

We take on archetypes.

We try them on like hats.

Or like dresses.

And we feel comfortable in these metaphorical garments.

Because someone has blazed the path before us.

But the great humans take a step on their own.

If I take faltering steps, then I give the glory to God who has guided me even in such meager efforts.

Let me tell you about this film which celebrates harmony in our tearstained world.

First of all is due all credit to the director:  Nitzan Gilady.

His direction is on par with the great Kiarostami.

But it is equally on par with the great Ingmar Bergman.

It is that good!

Our story takes place in the Negev Desert.

And it behooves us out of an abundance of humanity to place the Negev in a new perspective.

This film does just that.

We see the Makhtesh Ramon.

A crater caused by water erosion.

Unique to Israel and Egypt.

And Makhtesh Ramon (makhtesh meaning “mortar grinder” in Hebrew…as in mortar and pestle) is the perfect analogy for this film.

In a mortar, things are ground up and crushed by the pestle.

Useful, lifesaving things like medicine.

But for the characters in our film, their circumstances are crushing them.

And like in life, some substances will be healing…and some poison.

Perhaps God is the great pharmacist.

I believe that to be so.

But let it be known:  there is not a single mention of God in this film.

And that is fine.

Because God speaks through his creation.

Let me please tell you about the wonderful actors who make this film sheer magic.

Above all is the astounding, stupendous, beautiful genius Moran Rosenblatt.

Her character, Hagit, is 24.

She is obsessed with getting married.

But she is also “special”.

It is a sad story.

She was apparently the victim of a head or neck injury at a young age.

At the hands of childhood bullies (it is intimated).

So she is developmentally disabled.

I hope I have worded it the right way.

Because no person deserves more deference than this character.

Rosenblatt makes her come alive as the most joyous, glowing human being imaginable.

But sadness is all around.

Hagit has unreasonable expectations of life.

Considering her situation.

Especially regarding employment.

And I can certainly understand.

She has a dream.

Her wedding dolls made out of toilet paper are miniature works of art, but she longs to be a fashion designer and work in a bridal shop.

As is the case with every human, we often cannot see our own limitations.

We push.  We dream.

And sometimes we are crushed by the cold reality of a world which doesn’t understand.

But one guy understands.

And he is Hagit’s coworker at a factory.

With just two employees.

A toilet paper factory in Israel.

What could have been maudlin in the hands of a lesser director is transformed into pure poetry by Nitzan Gilady.

But he needed the genius of Moran Rosenblatt.

And she needed help.

Roy Assaf is wonderful as Omri.

Omri watches out for Hagit the best he can.

He has good intentions.

Perhaps he is not perfect, but he brings Hagit so much happiness.

And yet his best efforts are unsustainable.

Only God can perform miracles.

Fortunately for Hagit, she has a mother who would go to the ends of the Earth for her.

Assi Levy plays her mother, Sara.

This is a lady who cleans rooms at a local hotel.

A very small town.

In the desert.

And a lady who sits by the washing machines and hot dryers perhaps in the basement of the same hotel.

Washing bedsheets and blankets and towels.

Sara devotes her whole life to her disabled daughter.

[the father is not around]

Hagit is simply not able to be on her own.

As much as Hagit wants that, the world is too cruel.

And Sara knows this.

She is protective of her little flower Hagit because her daughter is so kindhearted that she makes an easy target for unsavory individuals.

I will not tell you the plot twists.

I’ve probably said too much (to paraphrase Michael Stipe).

But this film is a masterpiece.

It is currently available on Netflix in the U.S. as Wedding Doll.

I have done my best to preserve the Hebrew title at the top.

If it is not visible, I apologize for the website template limitations.

My words cannot adequately do justice to the brilliance of this film.

And thus I will just leave you with its title.

חתונה מנייר

-PD

Heavy [1995)

Holidays are hard for many people.

Perhaps we think of who we’ve lost.

But also there’s the pressure of the days themselves.

Christmas.  New Year’s Eve.

Even times like the 4th of July.

I didn’t set out to write a heartrending post, but I don’t always know what it is I’m about to watch.

In general, Heavy is not a sad film.

It’s a masterpiece of minimalism.

Every shot…every movement in this movie is lovingly made.

James Mangold created a world which corresponds to the understated expressions of silent films as much as it does to the desperation of everyday life.

I’m sure some people have very happy lives.

But what Mr. Mangold has given us is a look at extreme awkwardness.

Loneliness.

Do you ever feel awkward buying something?

I do.

Every time.

It’s the interaction with people.

It comes and it goes.

But for our protagonist Victor, it mostly comes and stays.

I can’t recall an actor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) getting so much depth out of so few words.

No film I’ve ever seen handles shyness quite like this one.

Victor is a cook at his mom’s little tavern.

It’s the kind of place you’d find in Woodstock.

Kingston.  Poughkeepsie.  West Saugerties.

Though the setting is never named, these are what came to my imagination.

Those places that inspired Mercury Rev to create their masterpiece Deserter’s Songs and, before them, The Band.

But whatever this fictional town, it is positively not cool.

It is in the middle of nowhere.

And so a feeling of desolation pervades this picture.

Victor cares for his mother (played brilliantly by the late Shelley Winters).

They live together…just the two of them.

There’s a little dog.

It’s a quiet life.

Sure, it’s sad.

But it’s life.

Life goes on.

Every day.

Open the tavern.

Pay the delivery man.

Cook the pizzas.

Clean up the broken beer mugs.

It just so happens that the place has a waitress/bartender.

And the actress playing this role indeed had experience.

Max’s Kansas City.

That’s right, Debbie Harry.

Debbie plays Delores.

She’s just as feisty as you’d expect.

She doesn’t put up with any shit.

And so the world goes on.

Day after day.

Status quo.

But one day, a ray of light enters lonely Victor’s world.

Liv Tyler.

You can imagine.

Liv was 18 when this film was made.

Which brings us back to Woodstock proper.

Liv Tyler was born Liv Rundgren.

As in Todd.

It’s a complicated story, but this future actress/model knew Todd Rundgren (producer of The Band’s Stage Fright which was recorded at the Woodstock Playhouse in 1970) as father until well into her life.

Todd, of course, was also a resident of the area.  This was back in the days of Albert Grossman’s Bearsville Records.

Which brings us to another fascinating little town:  Bearsville, New York.

But Liv was obviously the daughter of Steven Tyler (lead singer of Aerosmith).

Liv didn’t find this out till age eight.

Back to our movie…

Into lonely Victor’s life walks a new waitress whose real life genes were those of lippy Steven Tyler and Playboy Playmate Bebe Buell.

That’s no ordinary gene pool.

But this is no ordinary romantic comedy.

In fact, it’s not a romantic comedy.

It’s not funny.

It’s deep.

[He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother]

Because Victor is a portly fellow.

And this bothers him.

It’s something he tries to ignore, but living at home with mom…and being fat…and being shy…

It’s enough to give a guy a complex.

And this is not a rich family.

No psychiatrists here.

Just get up and go to work every day.

Cook breakfast for mom.

Feed the dog.

Go to the little grocery store.

Get some eggs and orange juice.

So I wasn’t sure what I was getting with this movie.

But I’m so glad I watched it.

I wouldn’t really call it an uplifting story, but that’s not the point.

It is cinéma vérité in the truest sense.

And the world needs these kinds of films.

There are no explosions.

Maybe there’s not even a happy ending.

I will leave that for you to discover.

But there are certainly very few cliches.

And so this picture spoke to me in a very deep way.

To reach out to anyone on the Internet who might be reading this.

This is a film about problems.

Not crippling problems which require literal crutches, but crippling all the same.

Pink Floyd summed it up as well as anyone when they sang about “quiet desperation”.

It may be “the English way”, but it’s not a uniquely British phenomenon.

I hate to talk about the “human condition”…because I fear I will sound like one of the putzes who pens the elevator pitches which adorn every film on Netflix [who writes those things?!?], but James Mangold did something very significant with this film.

Even the music is subtly artful.

We can thank Thurston Moore for that.

And so little harmonics and behind-the-bridge pings give depth to Victor’s struggles.

It’s quietness.

Standing by the staircase.

Staring up.

Is mom coming down?

Will the dog come eat his food?

There are heroes in this world.

And sometimes they are right under our noses.

Victor is one of those.

 

-PD

Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain [2001)

Today is my 40th birthday.

And it gives me pause to reflect.

On the many wonderful things I have done and seen.

And on the mistakes I have made.

This film, in particular, brings to my heart a specific apology.

And yet, I know not how to find the wonderful young woman who first showed me this film.

I doubt she is reading.

But I pray that my thoughts will bounce off the moon…and find her happy in Paris…or Aix-en-Provence.

But Amélie, as we call it in America…is full of beaming positivity.

And so we shall push on.

As much as we wouldst remain in this quicksand, we push on.

Perhaps it’s loneliness.

And certainly an overactive imagination.

But some of it is the absurdity we found in that Québécois masterpiece Léolo (1992) by director Jean-Claude Lauzon.

We can stay at home.

Far from the maddening crowd.

The crowd.

Vidor.

Irving Thalberg.

Thomas Hardy.

But we yearn for excitement.

We yearn to feel the blood pulse in our veins.

To “lose the fear” as The Boo Radleys sang.

Best,

how many waitresses we have fallen in love with.

Hard-boiled eggs in the highlands.

Robert Burns.

Don’t close your heart.

Leave open.

Rube Goldberg might dislodge a wall tile.  And a world beyond…

Éclairs sur l’au-delà…

Do good things.

As if you were an angel.

A spy for God.

Making miracles.

Ellen Andrée…the girl drinking the water…in Renoir’s painting.

Pierre-Auguste.

Must clarify, not Jean…extolling Bazin.

Everything secretly.

One hand not knowing what the other is doing.

QWERTY.

X.

You have a mission to bring happiness to those around you.

Hippie bumper stickers call it “random acts of kindness”.

And I wholeheartedly approve.

Send the gnome to Nome.

Ponder jurassic orgasms from far afield or near (15+1).

And let out some steam for modesty’s sake.

Stratagems befitting Technical Services in thrall to love…forgery for romance.

Time machine.

Nothing some Twinings tea can’t age.

And the gaslighting which is currently being employed straight from Alinsky’s Rules against pizzagate researchers…turn the beat around.

Knowing John Podesta founded the Center for American Progress…under the aegis of which Mind Wars was written by Jonathan D. Moreno.

We have on good faith that US spec-ops use this very book.

So that Mr. Podesta should not be at all surprised by a little blowback.

Neuroscience neuroscience neuroscience.

And the funding and methodology of trolls suddenly makes sense.

Yes, Amélie is an expert in psychological warfare.

But only as a last resort.

AND, most importantly, she is sticking up for the undefended.

Jamel Debbouze.

It’s impressionist binoculars vs. covert telescope.

Good-natured.

But only she holds the key.

To Ellen Andrée.

And to the ghost.

Who seeks to repair the collective memory.

“Don’t forget my face”, she posits.

But love is the ultimate job.

The ultimate reward.

To find another like yourself.

To be accepted.

To find the lock for your key.

And vice versa.

It is cat and mouse.

And Zorro.

And Audrey Tautou is magnificent.

She is a jewel in a world created by director Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

So tender.

So halting.

We feel “the time-image” of which Deleuze wrote.

Love is too strong.

Like staring into the sun.

Too forceful.

Like a full moon.

But luckily Mathieu Kassovitz knows his proverbs.

And that “made all the difference”.

Early on one frosty morn’.

Simply put, Amélie is an undeniable masterpiece.

That only the hard-hearted could look down upon.

 

-PD

The Addams Family [1991)

Hello, dear friends 🙂

I was in the hospital last weekend for an appendectomy.

And I am trying to make the final push for my master’s degree.

Seventeen more days.

But the big story, nationally, internationally, is that Donald Trump won the U.S. Presidency.

I made no secrets about my desire for him to achieve this goal.

Which brings us to The Addams Family.

Released during the latter half of the George H.W. Bush administration.

Not quite an “80s comedy”, but close.

And a premonition of sorts for that crime family that would rule the majority of the 1990s:  the Clinton family.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld turns in a fairly decent picture here.

It’s no masterpiece, but it’s certainly watchable.

But at the center of this tale is Uncle Fester.

Christopher Lloyd’s depiction of Fester (pre-shave…Gordon Craven) is a spitting image of the Tony Podesta to whom we were introduced by way of WikiLeaks.

The less-hirsute Fester (still craven) could well be brother John Podesta.

But Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman could also well be the Gomez Addams of this story.

Ms. Clinton, then, would be the diabolical (though far less camera-friendly) Morticia Addams.

Dan Hedaya does an excellent job as the Addams’ lawyer.

There’s plenty to pass for “spirit cooking” in this family film.

Indeed, The Addams Family is a bit racy for young minds (in my opinion).

The “family” operates on fairly simple principles:  good is bad.  And bad is good.

Happiness is sadness.

A bit like Tim Buckley’s album Happy Sad (1969).

The Addams family abides by a code of vengeance against all who betray them.

Vince Foster.

Christina Ricci is cute as she is chilling in this early performance as daughter Wednesday Addams.

The most charming aspect of this film may well be Thing:  the disembodied hand/family pet.

We learn a few things.

You can’t successfully torture a masochist (Morticia).

Which begs the question…who is the real ghoul behind Hillary?

The most prominent of the “deep state” (not deep enough) is George Soros.

And so even stars like Hillary have craven masters.

Puerto Rican actor Raúl Juliá is excellent as Gomez.

Carel Struycken (Twin Peaks) is very strong as Lurch.

This film would have been better with more Cousin Itt and less MC Hammer.

Unfortunately, Cousin Itt was staged in a particularly Jar Jar Binks sort of way.

Most importantly, there will be no Bill Clinton sequel anytime soon.

 

-PD

Zéro de conduite [1933)

Food fight.

Pillow fight.

I have hypnotized myself.

Just for fun.

A one-sentence plot.

Skull X.

Forget the world.

Leap frog.

On the rooftops.

Toulouse-Lautrec as principal.

Feminine balloons.

Young Chopin at school.

With his fine hair.

And Henri goes into midget Häxan mode like the birth of Cartman.

Upright piano bed.

Bix Beiderbecke sleeping in the newspaper stuffed sounding board housing compartment.

It’s my impression.

That Ken Griffin.  And Ger Griffin.  And Rollerskate Skinny.  Knew this haunting happiness.

That Mercury Rev.  Took also from this backmasking.  Maurice Jaubert.

But we have not even mentioned the genius director auteur.

Jean Vigo.

Beanpole will dance for R. Crumb.

The sleepwalker might drop dead.

A necessary risk.  Petard hoist.

T. Rex would say Children of the revolution.

 

-PD