کلوزآپ ، نمای نزدیک‎‎ [1990)

[CLOSE-UP (1990)]

In the name of Allah…

We enter the courtroom of the world.

Cinema.

To be judged on our veracity.

But also to be judged for our passion.

Hossain Sabzian had passion.

Here.

And his story is so similar to mine.

Maybe you feel it too?

Dear cinema friend.

Because I will have to invent a new category for this movie.

Loneliness.

Hardship.

Woody Guthrie woe.

Hossain Sabzian plays himself in this story.

It is the truth.

At least as truthful as the novels of Henry Miller.

Real life.

کلوزآپ ، نمای نزدیک‎‎

The world is under the microscope.

How would Debord start his bible about the spectacle?

With that quote from Feuerbach.

A preface as preface.

From Das Wesen des Christentums.

It deserves to be repeated in its entirety.

“But certainly for THE PRESENT AGE, which PREFERS THE SIGN to the thing signified, the COPY to the original, representation to reality, the appearance to the essence…ILLUSION ONLY IS SACRED, TRUTH PROFANE.  Nay, sacredness is be enhanced in proportion as truth decreases and illusion increases, so that [*] the highest degree of illusion comes to be the highest degree of sacredness. [*]”

Those are my notes.

My copy.

My marginalia.

I could autograph it for you.

But the words are by Ludwig Feuerbach.

Having gone through translation from German to English by Donald Nicholson-Smith.

So what?

I haven’t even named the film yet.

Or the director.

Rather, I haven’t named the film in English.

Substance has been subjected to style.

Style has no translation.

Close-Up.

By Abbas Kiarostami.

One of the few geniuses in the world.

You will find on my site the review for طعم گيلاس

Who’s reading?

Taste of Cherry.

I thought that surely no film by this auteur could top that, but I was wrong.

The depth of Close-Up completely defies what I thought was possible with cinema.

It is a shock.

I am at a loss for words regarding how much this film affected me.

It is as beautiful as a bus stop.

As poor as a paper bag.

The roses from the leaf pile are a good start.

All over the world.

We play “kick the can”.

Don’t ever let people lie to you about Iran.

What is the truth?

The truth is that there is a genius there who speaks directly to my heart…like no other.

That genius is Abbas Kiarostami.

But we must mention Mohsen Makhmalbaf.

He is perfect.

It is unbelievable.

Do you know how I would feel to meet Jean-Luc Godard?

Hossain Sabzian knows.

To meet the person who gave us hope…who depicted our suffering.

Bicycleran.

بايسيكلران

Or the blessed marriage promised long ago.

We, are on the outside looking in.

Farsi mocks us.

With its beauty.

There is a lump in my throat like a piece of coal.

Do we really care about Oriana Fallaci?

Or rather Peter Bogdanovich?

Interesting that you should ask.

At first we see Haj Ali Reza Ahmadi annoyed, but later we see him as remarkably humane.

This is the Iranian legal system.

We are told it is a civil law system.

In the name of Allah.

How does a country produce such beauty?

Hossain Farazmand.

Everyone wants to be on TV.

It must be difficult to read my writing.

Who cares if you listen?

Now that IS a quote (or misquote).

Milton Babbitt.

Twelve-tone prose.

My beloved concision.

Fighting my windbag tendencies.

It is supposed to be funny.

Like Mauricio Kagel.  Or Francis Poulenc.  Or Conlon Nancarrow.

Must I mention Satie?

Yes, I must.

In the name of Hossain Sabzian.

détournement

Making the job of the DGSE almost impossible.

Ever since the Place de la Contrescarpe.

Les moineaux?  Chez Moineaux?

Trouble makers.

Like the glorious Kiarostami.

But he left us this document.

And he lives at the young age of 75.

Yet, the Situationist is Hossain Sabzian.

Like Arthur Cravan.

But more like Erik Satie.

Life?

Life is hard.

Is it like Film International?

Or like Massoud Mehrabi?

I don’t know.

But I know someone was on the same page mentally.

Because F for Fake (my second most favorite film of all time).

That is the language of cinephiles.

We’ve lost the sound.

Fifteen years ago.

-PD

#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

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

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

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

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

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

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

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

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

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

But influence is unavoidable.

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

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

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

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

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

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

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

No, Bean always remains funny.

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

This kind of comedy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

-PD

Passion [1982)

All you need is the first word.  The first sentence to get you going.

You can meditate.  Think too hard.

And now that it’s started it is gloriously ruined.  Like Kind of Blue.

Miles Davis would tell his players…one take.

Perhaps there were caveats.  But Bill Evans was ready.  Coltrane…

It is the same with “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.

One take.  Make it count.

Everything proceeds from the first word.  But don’t take it too seriously.

It is like many other first words.  “Once upon a time…”

From a mist rises Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Bruckner would use the same device many times (no doubt in honor of Ludwig van).

Yes.  We say Ludwig Van in honor of Mauricio Kagel.  And the entire spirit of everything here might be compared to Joseph Beuys.

And just like that <bam> we go over-budget.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz plays the Jean-Luc Godard character here (with the wardrobe ostensibly taken right off the back of Jacques Dutronc).  Thus Godard still creates a distance between his story and THE story.  The whole bit about Poland is made to throw us off the scent (a bit like the glorious obfuscation of Joyce in Finnegans Wake).

We find Godard to be right.  The available forms are too mundane.  The audience stops thinking when they are comfortable.  So we must disorient them a bit–prod like a brainiac Hitchcock.

You see, the most important thing is not who acted in this film.  Rather, the crucial component is the juxtaposition which allows for revelation.

We see the most perfectly-placed tableaux of human paintings.  Come to life.  The proper term is tableau vivant.  Maybe you see them at Christmas.  Perhaps a manger and the Christian genesis.

Ah, but with Godard it is Delacroix and Rubens and Rembrandt etc.  I assume Ingmar Bergman missed this Godard film because the former had already made up his mind regarding the latter.  And thus the admiration flowed in one direction alone.  We see the delicacy of Bergman–that technique of the long shot (temporally speaking).  You can almost imagine Godard telling his cast of thousands in this mini-epic to have no expression at all.

There is a connection to Stravinsky.  Neoclassicism, but really a radical belief in the purity of music.  To paraphrase Igor, “Music doesn’t have meaning.  A note is a note.”  Perhaps I have done the great composer an injustice with my memory.  Yet, a paraphrase is a paraphrase.

We humans are not computers.  No matter how many books we have.  No matter how steel-trap our memory.  No matter how fast our Internet.

And thus, that which is juxtaposed against the meticulous composition of the tableaux vivants?  Everyday life.  Careless shots.  The beauty of the sky.  The natural sway of a handheld camera.  The sun as it burns up the lens upon peeking through the bare trees.  Hanna Schygulla running through the snow with a lavender umbrella.

Real life.  Labor.  A factory.  And who is the real star?  Isabelle Huppert.  Her character in Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not a sympathetic one.  Can we say?  WE had no sympathy for her.  Very little.  Not none.

Yet here…she is the lamb of God (of which she speaks).  Huppert is the labor element.  Workers’ rights.  It is intimated that her monotonous job has caused her to stutter.  Why?  Because it is not easy to talk about the factory.

And why, she asks, are people in films never shown working?  It is not allowed.  Filming in factories.  Indeed, I believe there is a specifically French meaning here.  [And Swiss, as the film is shot in Switzerland.]  But the real shocker?  Work and sex (“pornography”) are equally prohibited on the screen.

Only Godard would find this fascinating link.  And that is why we love him.

But mostly it is another thing.

Life is so much richer in the films of Godard.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but the exceptions themselves are merely the process being revealed.  It is “the thinking life” to paraphrase Henry Miller.

Once you have been there, you don’t want to go back.  Or you can’t go back.  But we do go back.  Thinking is hard work.

And as the world bemoans what havoc Europe has wrought, let it be noted…the Beethovens, Mozarts, Dvoraks…

This is the humanism which little by little comes to occupy the mature films of Jean-Luc Godard.

Most importantly, he never stopped being a critic.

And his film reviews?  They are his films themselves.

-PD

Berlin: Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse [2008)

Ah…to be with all the pretty people.

Julian Schnabel.

I once had someone correct me on the pronunciation of his name.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

This was Lou’s moment.

Lou Reed.  Inventor of modern rock and roll.

The granddaddy.  The godfather.

This was Lou in Brooklyn with a crackerjack band.  Strings, horns, woodwinds, a choir…

This was really the way to do it right.

First time I saw this concert film, I didn’t think much of it.

Just goes to show how wrong you can be.

They nailed it.  Lou.  Julian.  Bob Ezrin.

But what really makes this the best concert film I’ve ever seen?

Lola Schnabel.

Lola Montes Schnabel.

Julian’s daughter shot some priceless footage of Emmanuelle Seigner.  Seigner, for her part, is marvelous as Caroline.

To take Lou Reed’s greatest album and give it this treatment is really an honor to Lou (who’s no longer with us).

We hear those Sturm-und-Drang harmonies on the New Year’s Eve piano played by Rupert Christie.  Motherfucker needs a Wikipedia page.  And what exactly is he playing?  The licks of another bloke who needs a Wikipedia page (apparently):  Allan Macmillan.  But you know who needs a page most of all?  The sensuous ear who transcribed Macmillan’s harmonies.  Was it Christie?  I don’t know, but that’s no easy job.

And such is the quality of this representation all throughout.  Like Brian Wilson’s Smile album brought to the stage through the journeyman efforts of Darian Sahanaja.

Yes, we musicians take note.  [buh-doomp, ching!]

So what happens here?

Lou really starts nailing it around “Oh, Jim”…

Only Lou Reed could write that song.  Only Lou Reed could sing that song.

By the time “Caroline Says II” rolls around, we are immersed in this Greek tragedy.

There was a reason Lou never did this album live for 30 years.

This is some heavy shit.  Heavy syrup.  Heavy cream.

And then Steve Hunter launches into that movable D major chord of “The Kids” and we are in the eye of the storm.

Try bringing THAT Bob Ezrin masterpiece to the stage!  And they did!!

Tony “Thunder” Smith needs a Wikipedia page, but his drumming is spot-on throughout this emotional ride.

For much of the night, Smith was faithfully playing the licks of Aynsley Dunbar.

We’re talking about bringing an album (Berlin, 1973) to the stage that featured Jack Bruce on bass.  Cream’s bass player?  Yeah, no big deal.  Piece of cake…  No pressure.

And from the perfectly-directed, Titanic wreck of “The Kids” we go right into “The Bed”…  Bleak, bleak, black songwriting…

And this is where the choir really shines.  This is where Julian shines as a director.  Not only does it work, it’s goddamned genius.

And “The Bed” ends with a watery ghost choir…and maybe someone patched in an Eventide H3000…and maybe Lou called György Ligeti or Giacinto Scelsi or Mauricio Kagel.  This is the kid (Lou) who made that stuff accessible (even more than Kubrick)…from “Sister Ray” to Metal Machine Music and beyond.

If you don’t shed a tear here, you won’t at all.

And then [voila!] the gloom lifts…with the woodwinds of “Sad Song”…

It ain’t over till you hear Antony Hegarty do Doug Yule.  Perfect match of singer and song (says Candy).

-PD

Bande a part [1964)

I need a word.  Just a word.  A word.  To start it off.  Nothing fits.  Frustration?  Yes, perhaps.  Ferment?  That might work even better.  It is a feeling.  I search for it on the Internet.  I cast my net to the blog sea.  Ahh, Valentine’s Day…  Yesterday.  How I wanted to write, yet I abstained.  Abstinence.  Discipline.  Youthful anarchy.

I needed a word.  As so I sought.  Abandoned, abandonment, abstract expressionism.  No.  Alex Chilton, Anna Karina.  Yes.  After two films she was back.  Here.  Anne Wiazemsky?  No.  We will wait for her at the Tout va bien café.

Art house, arthouse, Astruc?  Yes. Alexandre. camérastylo.  A free-flowing style.  Freewheeling.  Big Star, Bilinda Butcher?  Yes.  Feed me with your kiss.  Do you know how to kiss?  With the tongue?  That’s correct.  You stick your tongue out and I will kiss you on the cheek.

So I found my word?  No.  I found Bob Dylan, Boise, bored to tears.  A phrase.  Bresson.  Wiazemsky.  No, not yet.  But, pickpocket.  Yes.  Money.  A big stack of money!

Broken heart.  Ok, now we are getting somewhere.  And how does a heart break?  Neil?  Love.  CSS.  No, not the computer language.  Language?  We are barely passing English class.  Romeo and Juliet.  Verona.  Valentine’s.  The world’s shittiest Starbucks.  Right by my house.  Trust me.  I’ve been to Starbucks in middle-of-nowhere Arizona…in a fucking Albertson’s.  No, Target.  Maybe Wal-Mart.  No more depressing than the one by my house.  Sure, the buck-toothed high school senior was not much on the eye candy scale, but I am living in the same wasteland.  Neu Mexique.  The place where they tested the bombs.  Long ago.  Trinity.  I have become the destroyer of worlds.

No, the other CSS.  Tired of being sexy.  That one.  And Cary Grant.  Yes, my jacket’s at the dry cleaner…and I don’t have any money…so I won’t take off my coat.  Tou bi or not tou bi contre votre poitrine:  dat iz ze question.  Something like that.  Claude Brasseur.  What a brute!  What a fucking asshole!! !

Chris Bell.  The singer.  The white one.  Yeah.  Dead.  No.  Cinémathèque Française.  O-kay!  Now we are getting somewhere.  But I keep searching.  The English classes are not enough.  Maybe the Chinese will prevail.  Sami Frey is betting Chinese:  5-2.

Cocteau.  Yeah.  We’ll sit in the car and listen to the radio.  No, I’m not allowed to do things like that.  Hey, how old are you anyway!?!  Conlon Nancarrow?  Yes.  And the last time Michel Legrand on the big screen [English broken].

When it should be sad, the jazz kicks up impossibly happy.  Happily.  Hereusement?  I don’t know.  I am on the other side of the pond.

Crying.  Depressed, depression, depress-o-rama.  And then she feeds a tiger.

Doldrums.  No.  The other ones.  Not the horse latitudes.  Ennui.  Yes. She is bored, but she doesn’t know she’s bored…until she’s not bored anymore.  Euros Childs.  No.  Completely inappropriate.

Farfisa.  Maybe.  Pasolini.  Frankenstein.  Rasputin.  Claude Brasseur.  What’s your family name, Arthur?  Rimbaud, like my father.  But he’s dead.  As I pump a bull’s eye into the midway target.  Can I keep my chart?  [Crumples and throws away.]

Leave no traces.  Like the Situationists.  No more poetry.  Arthur Craven.  Shitty family.  It’s no joke.  We need that money.  I was in Indochina.  Don’t fuck with me.  Like Raoul Coutard.

Back to black and white.  Truly a film noir. Série noire .  Gallimard.  Says so at the end.  Dolores Hitchens.

Forlorn.  Ooh!  That’s a good one!  Any catch?  French cinema.  French film?  Harmony Korine.  No.  Later, later.

Henri Langlois.  Yes.  Now we’re back on track.  A name.  We needed a name.  Like Tarantino.  His production company.  Like the car scene with Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson.  Same thing.  They’re talking about nothing.  But they are incredibly rude.  Crude.  Blow a fucker’s brains out.  2.0

But the travesty is that Godard is forgotten in France.  ;that Quentin is cooler than Jean-Luc.  Quel dommage.

Howard Hawks.  To Jean-Luc.  And then who?  David Lynch?  Not very often.  Too many misses.  Same with Harmony Korine.  But those two are as good as it gets now.

Balls.  Giant figurative testicles.  The Madison.  Joseph Beuys balls.  Wolves and coyotes and felt and fat and goldleaf.  Heathen child youthful anarchy.  La Düsseldorf.  Klaus Dinger?  Motorik.

Driving like madmen.  Park on the curb…like Billy the Kid.  Drive on the sidewalk.  The Simca.  Do wheelies…no, donuts.  The mud.  The giant spools for wire.  Tightrope.

Lovelorn.  Ooh!  Nice!!  Lovesick.  Mauricio Kagel.  Yeah, now we’re getting somewhere.  Because, obviously, there’s a smokin’ hot girl out there in blog land into Mauricio Kagel.  Good strategy.

We are Sami Frey, here at Dossier du cinema.  We are Anna Karina.  We are schmucks.  We haven’t learned yet to embrace our inner Claude Brasseurs.

How ’bout that chick?  Yeah, like her!  Except……………….monotony.  Morose?  Yeah, book it!  Nerval.  Hanging from the streetlamp.  Certainly.  Ophüls?  Nothin’.

Psychogeography.  Clichy.  The Louvre in 9:43…surpassing Jimmy Johnson of San Francisco.

AND THE SUBWAY SCENE!!!

Regret, rejection?  Yes.  Print it.  The man sleeping on the sidewalk.  Teddy bear or TNT.  Richard Hell or Richard Lloyd.  Routine.  Buy groceries.  Aunt Victoria.  Like the Queen.  And a big pile of money upstairs with the door unlocked and just a jacket draped over it.  200 million francs perhaps.  In 10,000 franc notes.

Silver screen.  It has to be silver, you fucks!  Spider Man does not qualify.  It has to be Louis Feuillade.  Jurassic Park does not cut it.  Did you see her thighs?  So white.  Black stockings over your heads.  Undo the garters.  It’s like Le Petit soldat all over again, but this time the terrorists are up and walking around.  That’s what terrorists do.  They terrify.  Burglers burgle.  Etc.  No torture…handcuffed to the robinet.

I don’t have time for this shit.  Shortcut.  Dying.  “Cheat death on the other side.”  J. Spaceman.

Someone to be nice to me for like five minutes and then I’ll leave you alone.  This was Jean-Luc “Cinema” Godard on fire.

-PD

The Birds [1963)

Death from above.  That is the key to this movie.  But it is only one key.  It unlocks one very important door, but others remain locked.

I credit Jean-Luc Godard with finding this key.  In Histoire(s) du cinéma Godard draws a visual analogy between Hitchcock’s birds and WWII bombers.  This is the key which unlocks a very important part of the mise-en-scène.  The scene Godard chooses is that of the children running from the school.  Hitchcock was in his early 40s when the London Blitz raged on for 37 weeks.  At one point the capital was bombed for 57 straight nights.

But Hitchcock was not in London.  In March of 1939 he was signed to a seven year contract by David O. Selznick and the Hitchcocks relocated to Hollywood.  In April of the same year his film Rebecca was released.  It would be Hitchcock’s most lauded film till his canonization by the French New Wave.  Rebecca won, among other awards, the Oscar for Best Picture (then known as Outstanding Production).  The story was by Daphne du Maurier (whose novelette “The Birds” would form the basis for the film in question).

Foreign Correspondent would be released not long before The Blitz began (Mr. & Mrs. Smith at its height).  By the time Suspicion was released later in the year (1941), The Blitz had been over for some months.

So what?  The story was by du Maurier and Hitchcock was a successful filmmaker in Hollywood during The Blitz.  The answer is mise-en-scène.  Only a boy from London (Leytonstone, Essex) could have made birds so terrifying.  Perhaps.  We must remember that the Allied bombing of Hamburg (to use just one example) killed (in one raid) about 42,000 Germans:  approximately the same number killed over the entire 37 weeks of The Blitz.

To further stray…how would a resident of present-day Baghdad handle the filming of The Birds?  Or a citizen of northwestern Pakistan?  Or a civilian in modern Afghanistan?

To be sure, this is a horror film.  It is the only Hitchcock film I have seen which approaches the archetypal status (in that genre) of Psycho.  Hitchcock made a career of suspense–of thrillers.  The Birds is sheer terror.

Unlike many of the horror films by lesser directors which followed in the decades to come, The Birds succeeds is being both creepy and artful.  This tenuous balance is perhaps best epitomized in the scene where Tippi Hedren smokes a cigarette on the bench in front of the playground.  In a film with no proper soundtrack (save for the squawks and warbles of Oskar Sala’s Mixtur-Trautonium), it is the children’s voices singing “Risseldy Rosseldy” in the background which makes this scene both so spooky and so timeless.  Composer Mauricio Kagel would employ a similar effect (the use of children’s voices) in his haunting composition entitled 1898 (from 1973).

As an added irony, the special effects shots of the murderous birds were achieved through the indispensable help of Walt Disney Studios.  Indeed, it’s a small world after all.  And that, in some strange way, might answer the most pressing question of all:  why?

 

-PD