Top Secret! [1984)

And so we come full-circle.

As in the olden days.

When we first started.

Writing about spy spoofs.

And this is a doozy!

Val Kilmer’s first film.

As Nick Rivers.

Very much Elvis, but equally Beach Boys (at least on the opening number “Skeet Surfing”).

I would call this style of filmmaking “kitchen sink”.

It was a particular type of American comedy in the 1980s.

Fast jokes.

Set pieces.

Elaborate puns.

General silliness.

The setting is East Germany.

In the time of Markus Wolf and the Stasi.

Wolf retired in 1986.

The year after this film (1985), Vladimir Putin started his KGB career in East Germany.

But let’s talk about more important stuff…like how beautiful Lucy Gutteridge is!

A girl and a gun, said Godard.

And for a sequel, another girl and another gun…

Said I.

Port Said.

Fuad II.

Yes, Ms. Gutteridge plays the stunning Hillary.

Which roughly translates to “she whose breasts defy gravity”.

That’s a direct paraphrase.

What?

We almost get the Lawrence Welk Orchestra doing “Sister Ray”, but Nick Rivers and “Tutti Frutti” is close enough to alienate the visiting Russian operatic singer and his caricature faux-Nazi patron.

General Streck.

Not to be confused with Colonel Sturm or Sergeant Drang.

Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers (David and Jerry) strung us along the whole time.

And they directed a fairly decent film here…the triumvirate.

The Nutcracker turns out to be a ballet of literal protrusions.

The prop room is equally literal.

It’s both Joycean and daft.

But I had some genuine chuckles during this film.

They execute a priest as a demonstration.

And his Latin is a knee-slapping litany.

A greatest hits of that dead language.

Legal.  Medical.  String it together.  Make it flow.

Pig Latin.  Cow Latin.  Pidgin Latin.

Yes Elvis.  Yes Beach Boys.  And yes Beatlemania.

Sullivan.  Hysteria.  Hip sway.  Swooning.

Is it a bit of Fritz Lang with the magnifying glass?

Certainly prefigures the backmasking of Twin Peaks.

Swedish as a backwards language.

Like those hidden messages on (back to the) Beatles records.

I want to live in that loft of that Swedish bookstore…

clutching a volume of Strindberg and holding a Ms. Gutteridge.

How could anyone dream of more than two fireplaces at the top of a firehouse pole?

Many references.  The Blue Lagoon.  When Brooke Shields was just 14.

Like the Podestas, we end up next in the script at a pizza restaurant.

(!)

“Straighten Out the Rug” pulls out all the stops…and all the rugs…like Pejman Nozad on vitamins.

An incredibly detailed mock-up of the prison grounds complete with a toy train.

Bovine infiltration.

Eggs Benedict Arnold.

When instead of hollandaise, they’ve secretly replaced the sauce with Folger’s crystal gravy (on loan from the struggling PepsiCo).

While Trump protestors boycott every snack and cranny of this MNE.

But the dénouement is the underwater saloon brawl.

It is actually artful.  Postmodern.  High art in spite of itself.  Dodoism.

We must not forget the yeoman efforts of the great Omar Sharif in this film.

Sadly, Mr. Sharif passed away just this past year in his home country of Egypt.

At least he did not (presumably) need two hours of surgery to wipe the smile off his face.

“Who do you root for in the Virginia Slims tournament?”

“I always root against the heterosexual.”

“Do you know any good, white basketball players?”

“There are no good, white basketball players.”

All of this from the “Match?  Lighter.  Better still.” line which Robert Shaw sweated out of someone to fool his way into James Bond’s presence and trust for a short time…before he chose fish with red wine.

One wonders whether the East Berliners had the jelly-faced joy of seeing this arrogant Hollywood slap at the time of its release?

Most importantly, “kitchen sink” was the style of the ZAZ directors mentioned previously:  Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker.

Kentucky Fried Movie.  Airplane!  The Naked Gun films (with the exception of the last).

This really is a cute film.

And while most of it would have pushed the envelope for 1984, it would almost be a G-rated movie by today’s standards.

Still, there are some jawdropping moments…such as The Anal Intruder (with the Cuisinart on the shelf [in the jailhouse now]).

Turns out the Christopher Atkins character (played by Christopher Villiers) had gotten all the joys of the Russian sailors who rescued him…including sodomy, Karl Marx, Lenin, L. Ron Hubbard, and one more bloke.

And so we wonder…couldn’t the Butthole Surfers have made it into this film?

Just barely.

Three years later they would drop the masterpiece Locust Abortion Technician.

Ah, the Reagan era…

 

-PD

The Imitation Game [2014)

When I started this site, I focused a considerable bit on “spy spoofs” (which I cheekily filed under “espionage”).

But now we return to espionage in a more serious tenor.

Cryptography, to be exact.

Keep in mind, signals must first be intercepted before they can be decrypted.

Encryption–>Key–>Decryption.

Cipher, rather than code.

[or something like that]

And this story of Alan Turing hits all the right settings of the heart.

Indeed, the seeming Asperger’s case Turing makes a particularly prescient observation in this film.

Namely, that deciphering secret messages is very much like linguistic deconstruction.

Or even like its predecessor, structural linguistics.

Finnegans Wake, by my reading, is largely a sensual text of transgression written in a sort of code language which can only be decoded by a sort of Freudian mechanism inherent in minds similarly repressed by circumstances such as censorship.

There were things which James Joyce could not just come right out and say.

Else he would have ended up like Oscar Wilde (or Alan Turing himself) [though Joyce was pretty evidently heterosexual in excelsis].

And so The Imitation Game is a very fine film indeed about Bletchley Park (and, by extension, its successor the GCHQ).

It makes one reconsider that great piece of British classical music the “Enigma Variations” by Elgar.

Perhaps it was Edward’s premonition.

That a homosexual savant would save many lives through dogged determination to solve what was arguably the ultimate puzzle of its time.

Enigma.  James Bond fans will know it as the Lektor Decoder (a sort of substitution…a cipher…le chiffre…a metonym if not a MacGuffin).

“the article appears to be genuine” [stop]

“go ahead with purchase” [stop]

Smooth jazz on the weather channel…heil Hitler.

It’s true.

In Nazi Germany one was to begin and end even every phone call with “Heil Hitler!”.

Stupidity has its drawbacks.

Donald Trump has been skewered roundly by nearly every globalist publication on the planet, but there is power in the words, “You’re fired.”

Turing very soon realized that breaking the Enigma code was not a job for linguists.

It was purely mathematics, applied with imagination.

One of the most crucial actors in this film, Alex Lawther, plays what might be referred to as Boy With Apple.

There is something befitting of the “agony columns” mentioned by Simon Singh in his tome The Code Book about Turing’s backstory.

In the grown-up Alan Turing, we see the affection that man can have for machine…much like a struggling record producer naming his tape machine.

In the rotors there is music…and plenty of calibration to be done.

But the machine must be allowed to work.

And we must help the machine along by giving it hints on those entities which are “safe to ignore” (a sort of semiotics of limiting the fried pursuit of completism).

Love, as it turns out, sinks the Nazis.

Because even among the rank-and-file (or, perhaps, especially among them) there was a humanity which was not snuffed out.

It’s not because Hitler was a vegetarian who loved his dog.

The machine becomes predictive.

Because we tread the same path daily.

In some way.

In most ways.

Few of us are psychogeographical drifters–few bebop our infinitely-unique situations.

And even Coltrane has some signature licks.

Some runs.

Mystical fingerings.  Scriabin arpeggiated.

Then come statistics.

And megadeath notebooks seem less cynical.

Its the same discipline which made W. Edwards Deming a saint in Japan as he resurrected their economy.

The blowback was the quality revolution.

The next in that manga pantheon perhaps Carlos Ghosn.

Yes, we Trump voters are morons.  No doubt.

You must hide the victories among losses.

Where the chess player comes in.

Hugh Alexander.

Twice.

“You could be my enemy/I guess there’s still time”

Or is it NME?

“I’ve got a pi-an-o/I can’t find the C”

Or is it sea?

I salute thee, old ocean.  A quote by Lautreamont.

Or is it Ducasse?

Perhaps it’s why Ezra Pound was institutionalized.

On the grounds of the future Department of Homeland Security?

St. Elizabeths.  Washington, D.C.

When he spilled the beans about the Federal Reserve “System” to Eustace Mullins.

Finnegans.

Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley share a truly touching moment of love.

A passion of minds.

Platonic.  Immortal.

But the breaking is IX.  “Nimrod”…

That austere moment of British greatness.

One of only a handful of UK classical strains which really matter.

Sinopoli does it nicely.  With the Philharmonia.

Only a moron like me would vote for Trump.

To suffer for one’s art.

To turn off the lights and watch the machine come to life.

A miracle of whirligigs and glowing vacuum tubes.

Director Morten Tyldum expresses this ineffable humming solitude in the seventh art.

Cinema.

This dedication.

Dedicated.

And this love.

Which leads both telegraph operator and polymath to tap out the letters of their beloved.

Forever.

 

-PD

Twin Peaks “On the Wings of Love” [1991)

From the depths of great exhaustion.

Driven by integrity of purpose.

Not to take for granted.

Opportunities.

Researching in the basement of the Pentagon.

Or at least a basement.

Somewhere.

A very tough time with being strange.

And behind.

Building compassion.

But now in the land of no chances.

It felt more like another concatenation.

But this was perfect.

An episode of redemption.

Simulated.

In real life.

We are curious to know the truth of the numbers.

Interpretation.

Failure and success and failure.

And success?

Good God…

Such stewardship as to be rewarded for all eternity.

I lost my place.

When the ground yields nothing but weeds.

Rocky soil.

Luck would have it.

Futility.

Her beauty graces the shore.

The mountains.

Ignorance.

I am on and then off.

Switched on.  And powered down.

I don’t have the answers anymore.

Is the answers.

Hard and beaten by the city.

What can possibly happen.

Study hard.

Take pains.  Be perfect.

Yale.

Intelligence cycle.

Gathering.

An old alley.  Blind.  Not deaf.

Jeff mute.  Jute.

I don’t know the mystery of this progression.

Scriabin.

I am the branches.  You are the vine.

Powdered mustache.

Nothing makes sense at a certain point.

At which you are cork light buoyant.

I have given the full measure.

 

-PD

Les Portes de la nuit [1946)

I don’t know who I’m writing for.

Or why.

Maybe myself.

Because I think God grants us little bits of happiness.

So I am celebrating humanity.

Through cinema.

Poor words.

Can’t handle.

Sick of my face.

And my voice.

In cinema, we must remember the past.

We must speak every language.

So that Destiny is always equally “tired Death”.

Which is to say, Death.

Tired of doing His job.

I am death.

So I sometimes moonlight as destiny.

Jack Fate.

Jean Vilar.

Avignon.

Fate.

Jews being deported 2600 years ago.

Film influences.

Lesser films (like Schindler’s List) which receive state support often tell us how to think.

Cinema is dead in the United States.

But like Machiavelli, I believe our virtù can live again.

We may have killed the French film industry with jazz, but we birthed so much as well.

By this time he was simply known as Carette.

[it does not follow]

No one appreciates your Joycean take on the Arcades Project.

Same stream of thought which would make knowledge so ostensibly important at the start of the 21st century.

Julien Carette…of whom I’ve written before.

It is a very impressive verbal camouflage to say that code isn’t dead.

Cipher is too easy.  Too practical.

Is why art speaks in code.

But cinema is “neither an art nor a technique” (to quote Godard).

It is “a mystery”.

So to understand À bout de soufflé or Vivre sa vie, we must know Les Portes de la nuit.

It’s disgusting.

To be shot in the back.

Not necessarily in that order…

Marcel Carné.  Encore.

Another classic.

The great code.

The biggest mystery of all.

An unimportant list in an inconsequential book by Céline Scemama-Heard.

You will have to learn another language to continue down this path.

Now that the NSA has stopped jamming my computer.  Momentarily.

Nothing could be more absurd!

Yves Montand looks like Richard Hell here.

And we begin to understand Alan Vega even more.

You must remember this…les feuilles mortes sont “the dead leaves”.

Not autumn.

Lost in translation.

Nathalie Nattier would have to go to the end of the earth to make this a masterpiece.

Which is exactly what she did.

île de Pâques.

 

-PD

 

Brooklyn [2015)

I do believe my tear ducts are sore on account of this film.

Some writing will be meaningful, and some meaningless (depending on the audience).

Don’t you keep anything for yourself?

Very little…

Because I believe in the beauty of people…out there…in the vast world…the goodness of people…in heart and in soul.

It’s like Titanic without the shipwreck.

((lachrymal vases))

Ireland should be very proud of Saoirse Ronan.

And so should The Bronx.

From Howth and environs to Jerzy Kosiński’s 1982 masterpiece novel Pinball.

I have written a great deal about Saoirse in the past.

She is my favorite actress working in film.

[Thora Birch needs some gigs.  Kat Dennings needs to ditch 2 Broke Girls or CBS needs to enter the Hulu joint venture.  Anamaria Marinca and Dorotheea Petre need gigs.  Myriem Roussel:  where are you?  And finally Adèle Exarchopoulos:  you are on the right track!]

But Saoirse Ronan is unique among my favorite actresses for a variety of reasons.

Brooklyn gives her a chance to employ her Irish accent–to accentuate rather than mask it.

Quite frankly, this is a brilliant film!

John Crowley did a masterful job as director.

Emory Cohen is really good herein.

Julie Walters is hilarious!

Fiona Glascott is darn-near perfect.

But this whole thing is really about Saoirse Ronan.

John Crowley surrounded her with an older style of filmmaking.

It fits the story snugly.

Saoirse shines through like no other actress.

She is a ruby with the hardness of a diamond.

Etching her name into film history at the young age of 22.

Hollywood is not dead as long as she continues to get the starring roles she deserves.

 

-PD

El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

Tout va bien [1972)

This might be the most important film ever made.

You can’t start like that.

This whole “internal monolog” gets boring…

Illiterate Joyce fanatic.

After fucking around for four years, Godard and Gorin (like Marx and Engels) finally got the funding needed to deal a deathblow to bourgeois capitalism.  Bourgeois?  Monopoly.  Monopoly?

I feel film review coming on…itching like a well-known wool blanket.

Jane Fonda is devastatingly good in this.

Yves Montand nails it.

Godard and Gorin fling a manifesto at the world.  Hollywood has failed miserably in mustering a riposte.

Over 40 years ago.

Who speaks for Hollywood?

And who speaks for not Hollywood?

A state of mind more than a place.

New forms for new content.

Not Hollywood.

You know Jacques Tati and Jerry Lewis.

We get a hilarious choking performance from Vittorio Caprioli.

It’s not a thing to hide…the fact that one is marked for death.

But hidden it is.

A loudmouthed agitator who learned to unlearn.  Through books.

A conundrum.  No, there is no stopping being an intellectual.

If you don’t know the Dziga-Vertov Group’s work, you won’t realize that Tout va bien is actually reflective.

It is a perfect gentle art bomb.

No box office data.

Not what we meant anyway.

Must be a pain in the ass to parse these “reviews” on behalf of the control freaks.

A good psychologist would tell you to buy a mirror.  Buy some time.  Reflect.

But there are no good psychs…seems.

No, surely there are.

A lot (two words) of professions seem glutted with criminals.

And the psychs are there to define criminality.

Judges by the benison of nepotism.

By which we mean judges.  [new subject]

By this time they broke the fourth wall so efficiently and effortlessly.  With Jane Fonda.

The wrong woman.

Diegesis or die a Jesus?

Opacity of performance?

I think what they mean is, by being weird it causes the audience to ask, “Why are they being weird?”

Who cares.

Too beautiful to end there.

The most important.  Perhaps.

Can’t this motherfucker complete a goddamned sentence?

New forms for new content. (2)

Seriously, the boss has to piss!

And is that the cock from Persona?

Cock.  I never would’ve said it that way.

Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check. Check.

She told me.

Double-spacing was an antiquated technique.  Something about a journalism degree.  I tried.

Obviously, people are watching.

Route me out of the main stream.  Rout.

I know my true brothers and sisters, but they remain invisible.

Little signals over the ether and we take the helm.

Rub your jade.

Yes.  Look look look.

Doesn’t matter.  They want you to know that clearly.

The movies where the hero is a shitbag who finally does the right thing at the end…and utters one last dying quotable.

Karate for life.  For instance.

Capitalize the first noun, and then shut the fuck up.  It’s just a title.

What’s in a goddamned name?

Shaky sphere at the globe.  On the shore.  Of a ditch.

The borr(o)wed.  Borr()wed.

Barred.

If there’s a right way to write about film, this ain’t it.

Unremitting self-referential showmanship.

Serves to defuse…de fuse.

Someday.  Someday.  A couple of holy grails will roll down the hill.

Goddamn.

-PD