Frank [2014)

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

But very difficult to be sick.

I must admit, it took me two days to watch this film.

This one hit a little too close to home.

But that’s ok.

Yes, I am finally feeling better on the allergy front.

Now I am struggling with that old nemesis of mine:  nicotine.

Yep, that’s right.

Trying to kick that habit.

Whoa (woozy feeling)…

Maybe did that a little too fast ūüôā

But most of all, you know, every day I struggle with anxiety.

I don’t usually address it in such naked terms.

But it is fair here to talk about this biggest of all struggles for me.

Because Frank is a film about mental illness.

You know, if you apply for a job, you might get a “questionnaire” enquiring about your health.

America is very “democratic” and “fair” in hiring processes, but still these questionnaires persist.

And I suppose the last round of jobs I applied for (merely two) opened my eyes to the reality of my situation a bit.

Looking down the list of “conditions”, I realized I must (to be honest) check two boxes.

[Though the questionnaire was “voluntary”]

So I have “anxiety disorder” (big time!) and asthma (not so bad, but it can pop up).

So wow…I thought…man, these are listed as “disabilities” (if I remember correctly).

While some people might celebrate a disability condition, for me it’s not really cause for cheering.

But then I thought, “Wait…are these really disabilities?”

Well, I’m not going to give a medical/legal ruling on that (because, frankly [no pun intended] I don’t know).

But I know one thing:  anxiety can be totally debilitating.

I’ve had a really hard time readjusting to “life” after two and a half years of intense graduate studies.

I graduated about a month ago.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum…

My body just kinda shut down…gradually…in different ways.

That momentum which had carried me across the finish line evaporated.

And so life hasn’t been a bowl of cherries.

Anxiety is a bitch!

When I have nothing to realistically worry about, I find something.

If there is something from which worry can be derived, I will find it.

And it will drive me nuts.

At a certain point, one has to laugh at the ridiculousness of such an impulse.

[It’s not something I can very well control, you understand.]

And that brings us to our film Frank.

Frank is a fucked up guy.

Imagine the Jack in the Box guy from the commercials with the big fake head.

And then have that guy lead a rock band.

Yeah…

This film really defies all description.

So we have to dig a bit to really delineate what is going on in this masterful film.

First of all, this film has caused me to create a new category in my global survey of cinema for a country which I love (for a multitude of reasons):  Ireland.

Yes, Frank is an Irish film.

Funny enough, no one in the film has an Irish accent.

[Which begs the question, “Is it really an Irish film?”]

But I’m calling it an Irish film because I really admire the balls it took Lenny Abrahamson to make this picture.

Our director, Mr. Abrahamson, was born in Dublin in 1966.

Ok, it’s Irish (at least as far as “auteur theory” goes).

So what?

There’s something about Ireland which I get from the eccentrics.

James Joyce was the master of them all.

I will read¬†Finnegans Wake¬†till my dying day and still glory in the fact that I have no REAL idea what it’s truly about ūüôā

But this film, Frank, takes us to a place I know very well:  rock and roll.

And more specifically:  indie rock.

It is a “genre” which attracts the most far-out individuals in the world.

And I must say, there were several times in this film where I could feel the spirit of one of my favorite bands of all time.

An Irish group.

Rollerskate Skinny.

Our director is 50. ¬†I’m 40.

Maybe our frames of reference are different.

Youngsters might think Animal Collective or even the arduous process which produced Arcade Fire’s tortured¬†Reflektor.

But Frank makes me think of that early-90s noise-pop wave which was spearheaded by bands like (my favorite group ever) Mercury Rev and Rollerskate Skinny.

When I see Frank, I see David Baker.

But I know my history.

I’ve studied weirdos all my life.

So I also see David Thomas of Pere Ubu.

And of course Don van Vliet (a.k.a. Captain Beefheart).

Frank¬†is certainly a film which the “Pitchfork¬†generation” should be able to get behind.

I’ve had dinner with Roky Erickson.

I’ve seen what¬†Frank¬†is groping for.

Yes, it’s that madness which made Syd Barrett great.

But such madness comes with a price.

We can listen to that first Pink Floyd album (The Piper at the Gates of Dawn)…songs like “Lucifer Sam” where Barrett is brilliant.

And we can trace that brilliance to his solo album¬†The Madcap Laughs…songs like “No Good Trying”.

But to be SO fucked up…to be SO far out…it ain’t fun.

I’ve heard about Roky Erickson’s time at the Rusk State Hospital for the criminally insane.

It’s not a pretty picture.

But let’s talk about this damn film ūüôā

It had me hooked once I caught faint traces of those first two Mercury Rev albums (Yerself is Steam and Boces) in the sounds I was hearing emanating from Soronprfbs.

Yes, Soronprfbs.

The perfect name to describe the obtuse band at the center of our story.

Here’s a band so weird, they don’t even know how to pronounce their own name (when they show up at SXSW).

[But I’m getting ahead of myself]

First, I was wrong about Irish accents.

Indeed,¬†Frank¬†is such a bizarre film that one soon forgets that Domhnall Gleeson is speaking in one for the entirety ūüôā

Gleeson is in the right place at the right time.

It’s happened to me.

I once got a MySpace message (remember those days?) and spent the next four years in a Cajun punk rock band.

It can happen.

Those were the best years of my life.

But it’s HARD!

Taking a van back and forth (and back and forth) across the country.

Flying (I hate flying) to awesome, bizarre locales.

For someone with bad anxiety, these aren’t easy tasks.

And we see that in the character of Frank.

As I said, Frank has problems.

Somehow, Gleeson joins Frank’s band¬†Soronprfbs.

And the rest is a whipsaw of insanity.

No, Frank is not a relaxing watch, but it is hilarious!

And very meaningful!!

Soronprfbs, as a band, is a shambles.

[not to be confused with Babyshambles]

There were several times when I caught glimpses of the weirdness that is another of my most favorite bands:  The Homosexuals.

But, this film can hardly be reviewed properly without talking about The Residents.

Soronprfbs are mythic (if only in their own minds).

Their fame, however, grows.

And with fame, stage fright.

It happens to even the most grounded individuals (like Robbie Robertson).

But nothing fits the bill quite like Mercury Rev.

Soronprfbs are apt to have fights on stage.

Perhaps one member tries to gouge another’s eye out on a transatlantic flight.

That kind of stuff.

Sure, Oasis have had mid-air spats about blueberry scones.

And maybe The Sex Pistols only played to twelve people (or whatever) at their first show.

But Soronprfbs, for me, is that band which would hang electric guitars from the ceiling and let them feed back for the entirety of a show.

Which is to say, Mercury Rev.

But let me pull in the younger folks.

Think, for example, The Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Fights onstage.

Obvious mental problems.

Or is it just a put-on?

And let’s go back…

The Doors.

Jim Morrison being totally whacked out of his gourd onstage.

But no,¬†Soronprfbs is weirder…and far more obscure.

Think, for instance, Alan Vega leading Suicide in a performance at CBGB’s.

The writers of our film (Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan) will probably know everything I’m talking about [were they to ever read this].

Because they (or at least one of them…Ronson?) know the mechanism which attracts so many of us to BANDS.

[“those funny little plans/that never work quite right”]

That mechanism is mystery.

But in this case, it is the mystery of reclusive eccentricity.

Put simply, madness.

[not to be confused with the band Madness]

So Ronson and Straughan even include the perfect musical instrument to act as a talisman for their tale:  the theremin.

And they even get the character’s name right: ¬†Clara.

[after theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore]

The theremin has a long history in eccentric rock and roll.

Indeed, late in¬†Frank¬†when we see our dejected main character sleeping in his bathrobe at the French Quarter Inn (a fleabag motel), his sartorial sense evokes Brian Wilson’s rough years.

Yes, the theremin goes back to at least “Good Vibrations” and the zaniness which was The Beach Boys’ album¬†Smile.

But the theremin has come to embody the obtuse and pretentious in rock and roll.

And so it is no wonder that bands such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion picked up on this wooziest of all instruments.

Which brings us finally to a salient point.

Frank includes at least one star:

Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Gyllenhaal plays stone-cold bitch Clara: ¬†Frank’s girlfriend.

[remember, Frank is the guy with the¬†papier-m√Ęch√© head…and he never takes it off…ever]

Gyllenhaal’s character is unlikable in just about every way imaginable.

And it makes me appreciate her acting.

Indeed, God bless Ms. Gyllenhaal for taking this film role.

It’s a lot like Charlotte Gainsbourg’s role in¬†Misunderstood¬†(2014) and makes me appreciate the dramatic tension of Gainsbourg’s role more than I initially did.

Which is to say, Gyllenhaal is very much the villain of Frank.

A bit like a dominatrix version of June Chadwick in This Is Spinal Tap.

Which is to further say, Gyllenhaal is playing off her typecast from Secretary of being one bad bitch.

And she pulls it off.

But Gyllenhaal is the least important element of Frank.

It would ruin things to tell you just how Michael Fassbender figures into this film, but let’s just say he’s indispensable.

[Fassbender, by the way, is half-Irish (his mother being born in County Antrim)]

A lot of our action happens in what could pass for Tarbox Road Studios.

Indeed, there is a lot of Wayne Coyne in the character of Frank as well.

But the sounds are closer to those which Mercury Rev conjured at SUNY-Buffalo for their debut album.

Likewise, the seclusion which goes into making the great¬†Soronprfbs album reminds me of the ramshackle (yet bucolic) process which led to my favorite album of all time: ¬†Mercury Rev’s¬†Deserter’s Songs.

As alluded to earlier, Soronprfbs eventually make their way to my old stomping grounds:  the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.

I was a bit wistful seeing the Ritz Theater (now an Alamo Drafthouse) on 6th Street in one shot.

Indeed, I remember playing an “unplugged”, solo gig there back when it was still a cavernous, multilevel, piece-of-shit music venue (pool hall).

Funny enough, a lot of the tension in¬†Frank¬†revolves around that old chestnut of a band “selling out”.

Perhaps the funniest scene in the movie is when Frank presents his “most likable music ever” in the motel room.

Which is to say, this movie may not appeal to everyone.

But if you’re a rock musician (especially a weirdo like me), you’ve gotta see this.

There are a couple of scenes which make the whole thing worthwhile.

It’s funny that¬†Soronprfbs bassist Fran√ßois Civil bears a striking resemblance to Dave Fridmann circa-1991.

[just another detail which cemented the genius of this film for me]

But there are other seeming references in this film.

A bit of Stereolab (with all the Moogy wonder).

The stilted “artfulness” of Blonde Redhead.

And even the bollocks, pulseless blech of Low.

Yes,¬†Soronprfbs and their “side projects” seem to catch just about every hue in the indie rock kaleidoscope.

Director Abrahamson (and writers Ronson and Straughan) do a nice job of converting Domhnall Gleeson’s internal monologue into a social media thread which runs through this movie.

Gleeson is on Twitter, YouTube, a blog, etc.

But the funniest is the beginning…and it is the hook which reeled me in.

To hear Gleeson’s musical mind attempt to craft quirky pop songs out of mundane details of his Irish town is a real knee-slapper.

Because, as they say, IT’S SO TRUE!

So if you’ve ever written songs, witness in the first five minutes of this film the real torture it is to make lemonade out of a lemon life.

Be forewarned (or enticed):  Frank is WAY OUT THERE!

Some elements of this film are so non sequitur that they were a bit hard for my weakened, nicotine-craving immune system to handle.

In the end, this is a sad story.

But with joy, pain.

There is great joy in Frank.

Sometimes we realize we’re not in Kansas anymore…

and it’s a rough patch.

The Technicolor of life can be too much to handle.

But take courage, dear friends…

Like Gong’s great song “Rational Anthem”…from that hard-to-find¬†Magick Brother…their debut.

[Get on that, Spotify]

Miracles can happen.

And, to quote Albert Ayler, “music is the healing force of the universe”.

-PD

Yang Tidak Dibicarakan Ketika Membicarakan Cinta [2013)

By the grace of God I bring you this film review tonight.

Last night I was not feeling well enough to write.

And so I am happy to give you my first review of an Indonesian film.

It is a wonderful piece of cinema and is available on Netflix in the U.S. currently as¬†What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love.

I will just say this.

Any film which includes a character sneezing his glass eye out of his head is ok by me.

Which is to say, this is a pretty strange film.

But it is not strange in an uptight, contrived, David Lynch sort of way.

Perhaps it is the basic situation which makes this film quixotic.

The bulk of the “action” takes place at a “special” school (as it is called in the subtitles).

The beautiful young people at this school all struggle with visual impairment.

There is, however, one very important character who is sighted yet cannot hear.

[We will get to him in due time]

When I tried to watch this film last night, I was not feeling very well (as mentioned previously).

And so in my debilitating moments of bubbling, dull panic I was trying to first situate this film culturally.

There was some blurb about a Dutch film fund.

And the real bit of text at the head of the film which threw me off the scent:  a reference to the Busan film fund.

Knowing Busan, I figured, “Great! ¬†I am watching a South Korean film.”

I felt somewhat comfortable marginally knowing the cinema tradition in which I had just entered.

But as I saw women and young girls in Muslim garb, I began to question.

Indeed, even on tonight’s complete viewing, it was only 3/4 of the way through the film that I realized I was watching an Indonesian production.

Call me stupid.

Fine.

But this is not a cinema (nor a language) with which I have any experience.

It was only when I saw Jakarta on the side of a bus that I felt fairly confident where the story had been set.

So yes, this is an Indonesian film in Indonesian (or dare I say Malay).

The scope and breadth of this language is not altogether clear to me, but it seems that Indonesian is a “register” (in linguistic terms) of Malay.

Being the dunce that I am, “register” seems an awful lot like “dialect”, but I’m sure most linguists would roundly dismiss this generalization.

Perhaps “jargon” is a better synonym for “register”.

In any case, Malay (of one type or another) is spoken by about 290 million people worldwide.

But we will stick to the term Indonesian (as per the language).

Our whole film is in that language (except for one line in Javanese).

Javanese, unlike Indonesian, is not a form of Malay.

It is quite distinct.

But on to the movie!

First we must pay our respects to the highly-talented director:  Mouly Surya.

Based on a cursory search, this would be Mr. Surya (Mouly being far more common as a male name).

Ah…but thank God for research!

Our director, in fact, is MS. Surya.

She is a 36-year-old native of Jakarta.

But really, male or female, this is an obvious work of cinematic art.

What They Don’t Talk About When They Talk About Love¬†isn’t perfect, but it’s frighteningly close.

Which isn’t to say it’s frightening.

It’s not.

But it’s a film which sneaks up on you.

Cineastes may be familiar with the term “slow cinema” which has been bandied about here and there especially in recent years.

There may be some of that here…like when the character Diana combs her hair exactly 100 times.

[I was sure she was going to stop at 88…that number being good luck in Southeast Asian cultures]

Indeed, we are with the character for a seemingly interminable session of hair-brushing at her “boudoir”.

However, that is one of the few times where the “slow cinema” idea has our film run astray temporarily.

Other uses of the technique (an extreme of Deleuze’s “time-image”?) are quite effective and evoke the loneliness of sightless life.

Granted, no two lives are the same.

But the Indonesia pictured in our film is not an economic wonderland.

Quite the opposite.

It is a rather humble school in which students have very basic accommodations.

And as is so often the case, economic struggles exacerbate and compound coexisting problems.

But don’t get me wrong: ¬†it appears that the students portrayed actually have it very lucky in the context of their nation (all things considered).

Arguably the star of the film is Karina Salim.

Her situation is one of ballet lessons…and a doting mother.

That said, her roommate has a family which is struggling economically.

It is a strange juxtaposition.

But let’s focus on Ms. Salim.

Her acting is really fantastic.

Whether she is blind in real life, I know not.

But her portrayal of the character Diana is in the great tradition of pathos which touched on the works of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky.

The French adjective pathétique.

In English, we (if I may speak for us English speakers) tend to regard pathétique as descriptive of poetic pathos.

Deep expression.

And that is exactly what Karina Salim exhibits in her delicate acting throughout this film.

Her character, Diana, is right on the cusp of womanhood.

And in a very moving set of sequences, we see her quietly preparing her underwear for the week.

The moment of her first menstruation is a cause for secret celebration.

Indeed, she shares this ascent to adulthood with only her mother…on a joyous little phone call which we overhear.

Which brings us to culture.

We almost feel embarrassed knowing this intimate detail of character Diana’s life.

But American films are so much more explicit in so many ways.

Perhaps we are shocked because the reality of womanhood is rarely addressed in Hollywood movies.

And so we see that Hollywood still has taboos.

In this age in which anything goes, honest depiction of mundane-yet-visceral life realities (such as menstruation) are all but absent (save from a film like Carrie [1976]).

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this particular kind of honesty about femininity onscreen.

But what the hell do I know? ¬†I’m a dude.

So let’s back to the film.

While Ayushita is very good as Diana’s roommate, it is really Nicholas Saputra who is the other star of this film.

His character is a deaf punk rocker.

[Let that one sink in for a second]

Every day he has a different shirt.

The Sex Pistols.  Led Zeppelin (?!?).  The Clash.  Joan Jett.

He definitely has the best hairstyle in the film.

[A strange zig-zag bleach job which I’ve never seen previously]

His character Edo is a social engineer par excellence.

Yes, there is some trickery in this film.

But it is not malicious.

Or if it begins as malicious, it is transformed into something quite beautiful.

[think Amélie]

But here’s where things get really strange.

There is really no decorous way of putting this, but there are a few characters in this film which pop up from time to time…AND I HAVE NO IDEA WHO THEY ARE!

There is a rather tasteless meme going back generations that all Chinese people look the same to a Westerner.

[And, perhaps, all Brits (for instance) look the same to a Chinese person]

But, again, there are some characters in this film which seem to be playing out some subplot which escaped me completely.

Indeed, I have so rarely seen anything like it that I can only associate my confusion with that felt by so many in relation to the surreal Howard Hawks narrative in The Big Sleep.

Granted, in our film this is a very minor element.

But it is still disorienting.

Was there some series of edits which mangled this film?

Can I really not tell one Indonesian person from another?

I don’t know.

You’ll have to see it for yourself.

And explain to me exactly what is going on.

For instance, does the blind character Andhika somehow learn how to drive a Vespa around town?

And is he cheating on Diana?

Or is Diana cheating on herself?

Are there two Dianas?

Again, a few scenes completely lost me.

But they do not ruin the general continuity of this film.

If anything, they add a mercurial charm to the whole affair.

And so I wholeheartedly recommend this film which portrays a side of life on which many of us are completely uninformed.

Visual impairment. ¬†Braille. ¬†Hearing impairment. ¬†The difficulty of asking a clerk at 7-Eleven, “what kind of cigarettes do girls buy” in sign language.

And there is beauty in this world.

The appreciation for just a glimmer of sight (however blurry).

And yet, the difficulty of EVERY SINGLE TASK.

Most of all, this is a love story.

Two love stories (at least).

[not counting the extraneous players which pop up here and there]

But it is a very, VERY unique love story.

For me, it is an incredibly moving film because of the acting of Karina Salim and also Anggun Priambodo (who plays Andhika).

So take an adventure to Jakarta. ¬†Capital of Indonesia. ¬†World’s fourth-most-populous country.

While Indonesia is approximately 87% Muslim, this film portrays a diversity of religious devotion.

Indeed, while one student prays, another listens to a radio play (as one would have heard in the days of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce on The New Adventures of Sherlock Holmes [1939-1946]).

Indeed, this scene of overlap…with religion in the background (the praying student) and learning in the foreground (listening to a lesson? ¬†or just a bit of entertainment for the girls who live at this school?) is one of the most fascinating from a visual and cultural perspective.

I cannot pretend to know what is going on in all of the footage.

And so an expert on education for the visually impaired in Indonesia would perhaps be able to elucidate some of the more esoteric aspects of this film.

In the meantime, enjoy!

-PD

Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Bu√Īuel and Max Oph√ľls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know. ¬†It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like¬†Taste of Cherry and¬†Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the¬†auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. CńÉtńÉlin Mitulescu. ¬†Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-sc√®ne¬†here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike¬†Adrian PurcńÉrescu.

Cuzin is calm. ¬†And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

PurcńÉrescu is frazzled. ¬†Cynical. ¬†Either a conman of a saint. ¬†Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and¬†PurcńÉrescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD

Fargo [1996)

America is getting crazy.

Perhaps we’ve always been crazy.

But it seems like people are flipping out for a multitude of reasons.

Life is unpredictable.

We can only plan so much.

And then random events impress themselves upon us.

In America we had pre-election stress.

Very immense.

And now we have post-election stress.

Perhaps one half of the country was more stressed before, and the other half is more stressed now.

But the side which is stressed now (the losing side) is really pissed off.

And they are baiting.  With night crawlers.

And racing.  With illogic.

It’s a sort of contagion one must be removed from often in order just to survive.

This tension, as it turns out, is aptly symbolized by the film Fargo.

I have never reviewed a Coen brothers film on here till now.

And this is a good one.

I hesitate to call it great.

It’s a little too self-conscious to be great.

But it is a compelling watch nonetheless.

Our director is Joel Coen.  Ethan was producing.

1987.

A tangled web woven by a rather mundane fellow named Jerry Lundegaard.

Up in the Scandinavian north of the USA.

A piece of shit towing a piece of shit.

Fargo, North Dakota.

It’s a sad story.

But funny in its idiosyncrasies.

The everyday life of the Dakotas.

Minnesota.  Iota.

It’s edgy.

Murders.

But in steps the marvelous Frances McDormand.

Such a humanizing presence here.

To draw out “funny-looking”…just “funny-looking”…other than being uncircumcised?

Steve Park is excellent as Mike Yanagita…with a Minnesota accent.

We don’t think of these things as possible.

Down here in Texas.

Like getting cut shaving.

Ouch.

And then a Paul Bunyan axe.

But the bizarre calmness of William H. Macy might take the cake.

Calm until the very end.

Perhaps we would call it bourgeois denial.

And so perhaps panic is natural.

When we see a complete lack of panic replaced by the Nile.

“Funny-looking” comes back.

In several feet of snow.

It might get cold tomorrow (!)…front blowing in.

One socked foot.  Like a periscope.

The sweetest thing is the romance between McDormand and John Carroll Lynch.

At the buffet.  Smorgasbord.  The Swedish meatballs.  Watching TV in bed.

Every night.

And waking up together, every morning.

It is quaint.

It is America.

It is the electoral college.

You have 50 states to which you must appeal.  Convincingly.

Buscemi is pretty priceless.

Foulmouthed small-time criminal…in over his head pretty quick.

Peter Stormare, as it turns out, is actually Swedish.

And taciturn.

And of course we can’t forget the brief candles of Jos√© Feliciano.

Not a masterpiece, but strangely compelling.

 

-PD

Un condamn√© √† mort s’est √©chapp√© ou Le vent souffle o√Ļ il veut [1956)

I wanted to write last night, but the Internet fell asleep.

This is one of my favorite films ever.

But I needed to rewatch it.  As I always do.  Every movie.

Real fear.

Real danger.

A long project.

Extracting yourself from the superjail.  The prison planet.

A Man Escaped.  We have it easy in English.

But witness the fullness of the French title.

It speaks to care.  Rope.  Hooks.  Months.  Of planning.

And it all started with a spoon.

Tin nor aluminum will do.  Neither.

We must wait for iron.

Steel?

Iron.  Hardness.

It’s World War II.

Today.  World War III.

And for the CIA, World War IV.

Chemists.  Physicists.  And now mathematicians.

Computer scientists.  Statisticians.

No, that’s post-War.¬† Japan.

But for now we are locked in a room of our own making.

If we can only get through the door.

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap

tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

Which isn’t to say, taps.

We must succeed at this chess game.

Playing against an adversary with few weaknesses.

Multiple layers of defense and surveillance.

Doors and locks and gates and bars.

And silence.

It is the silence which will betray us.

And so, Dr. No, we must slip our shoes off for a little putting practice.

It is a real battle.

CIA vs. FBI.  Refereed by the NSA.

NGA vs. NRO.  Chantilly lace vs. a pretty face.

A girl and a gun.

ASIS vs. DIGO.  Or dingo.

Rich.

ASCAP vs. BM.I

But let me back up to the kebab organization known as SHISH.

Apologies to Belgium.

But it is worth noting SV/SE vs. CSIS/SCRS.

Scissors.  Suckers.  A scissor.

A pair of scissors.

He would need more leverage.  The most overused word in business.

And as meaningless as “innovation”.

What they mean is “interesting”…that’s innovation.

And by false flag, “not what it seems”.

Dear NEADS in Rome (NY) uttered collectively the phrase of Baudrillard’s lifetime:

“Is this real-world or exercise?”

But we have remembered it as simulation.

Going over his escape a million times in his head.

With poor reconnaissance.

Except the dead would-be escapee.

“He’s practically free.”

“No one’s practically free.”

Jessica Lange, incredulous.

But she’s not in this movie.

She’s headed to Roswell.

Named after Yale graduate Roswell Rudd.

A little town in New Mexico.

Out of time.  Mind.

CSE vs. GCHQ.  Or CSEC.

An animal with five eyes has no competition.

Within himself.  The owls are not what they seem.

Fifth wheel.  Hokey pokey.

Valuable antipodes.

And RCMP vs. FBI.  Horses.  Or moose.

Hippopotamus.  POTUS.  Not amused.

DND seems incorrect.

What was Fontaine in for?

And Jost?

DIPOLCAR.  Position.

MSS vs. RSS.  Seems so simple.  Really simple!  And so complex.

Pledged őöő•ő†.

But the division.

ÚZSI vs. UZI.  Sounds dangerous.

With PET we get to canned milk or breaking wind.

A lovable Lego intelligence agency.

Of one.

Just one?

KaPo vs. capo.  Vs. ligatura.

Hitchcock’s rope vs. Bresson’s rope.

For this is Robert Bresson.  The movie.  Under consideration.

SUPO vs. sumo.

But we really get fired up by DGSE.

And it’s only appropriate.

DGSE vs. BND.

The only war which has ever been fought.

Das Fenster vs. la fenêtre.

The most delicate element of escape.

A crack in the breeze.

SIN vs. voodoo of all sorts.

GRLS.  Girls?  Gorillas?  Scalded ape?

When you need headache relief quick.  Choose BAINTELKAM!

A Buddhist temple with a surrounding population 95% Muslim.

Amazing.  Elton John.

MOIS.¬† Ooh…¬† Now we are getting serious.

Putting the me in month.

And of course “the Institute” (moving alphabethically).

Lisping along.

How will you project your escape.  Like Desargues.

And Poncelet.

The movie camera.

Go directly to jail.

Whale song matryoshka.

AISE.  Must be the coolest.  Standard issue Ferraris.  And meals in Modena.

Like Matthew Broderick’s brief moment of cool in Election.

Gid Tanner and his Skillet-Lickers…coming to the Kingdom of Jordan…real soon.

SREL.¬† Sreally?¬† That’s SRAL.¬† Like SalvaDali.

CISEN as s√≠ se√Īor.

Not quite hermeneutics.

FIB vs. SIN.

PST.  Masters of recruitment.

And FOST vs. SIE.

The big daddy ISI vs. ailleurs.

The canal of SENIS.  Central American zipper.

Could have been Lake Nicaragua.

AW ūüôā Georges Sand approaching Chopin with flowers.

He was a woman.  Mr. Sandman.

SIRP vs. usurp.

SVR vs. GRU. [now we’re making some sense]

And DEVGRU vs. GRU.

GIP is priceless.  One letter from perfection.

VOA vs. VOA.

NISA vs. NASA.  And the incomparable skills of PIS.

In joint operations with SENIS.

CITCO vs. Citgo.

Must it be?  It must be.  It MUST be.

And back to our MI6 and DIA and ONI.

These are the thoughts of a man in jail.

Where having a pencil is punishable by firing squad.

And so he builds his hope on escape.

From the mundane.

He is a true soldier.

Though he be stripped of any recognition.

Wisdom is that final step.  On a journey which started with mere data.

 

-PD

O slavnosti a hostech [1966)

This is one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen.

Rarely have I seen such uneasiness conveyed through cinema.

The really terrifying part is.

How mundane all of the symbols are.

Is/are.

Insane.

For a moment.

Like the Czech version of Deliverance.

We see “party” in English (in the context of Czechoslovakia), and we think.

Communist Party.

But the slavnosti in question translates to “feast”.

Google tells us.

And Google is never wrong.

Right?

Which is to say.

Hell is a party.

A party from which you wish to flee.

Beggar’s banquet.

There is no leaving communist Romania.

And Czechoslovakia?

I can’t tell you, dear friend.

But we know of the boy who swam the Danube.

Symbolic.

To nonaligned Yugoslavia.

And from there to Italy and Toblerone.

That’s Cum mi-am petrecut sf√ĘrŇüitul lumii.

But what we have here is A Report on the Party and the Guests.

Report.

Also sounds very bureaucratic.  Quintessentially communist.

Let’s take the popular notion that Kafka sums up bureaucracy.

In which work?

The Trial? With Josef K.?

Yes.  This is most applicable to O slavnosti a hostech.

We must learn to speak every language.

Like Pope John Paul II (slight exaggeration).

Because Kafka wrote in German.

Der Process.

It’s a process of ablaut-ish metamorphosis.

Prozess –> Proce√ü –> Proze√ü

swimswamswum

Kafka died in 1924.  Age 40.  My age in six months.

1948/1949 Czechoslovakia becomes part of Soviet bloc.

Comecon.

Not to be confused with Comic-Con.

And never any Poto and Cabengo in San Diego.

Though they be in their own backyard.

Grace and Virginia were superheroes without costumes.

And they had their own language, by golly.

Brings tears to my eyes.

To see them playing potato.

“What are they saying?”

This is the absurdity of blogging about the absurdity of a film inspired by the absurdity of Kafka.

But likely unconscious.

This genius (director Jan Nńõmec) died only a few months ago.

But he gave the world a belly laugh.

And an unnerving masterpiece.

It is not as obviously magnificent as Closely Watched Trains.

But it is supremely subversive.

In a totalitarian state (like Amerika)…which is completely ruled by commodity relations.

This is our last recourse.

England swings.

Like a pendulum.

From the gallows.

Frexit (France leaves NATO…again).

Hexit (Hungary curses continental Europe from Buddhapesht to Bookarrest)

Crexit (Croatia invents new correction fluid for computer screens)

Spexit (Spain certifies that said correction fluid meets ISO standards)

Esexit (Estonia doubles GDP overnight with racy dating service app)

Slexit (a dual rush for the doors by Slovakia and Slovenia)

Rexit (Holy Roman Emperor reestablished in Romania, confined to Bookarrest)

Fexit (Finland engages in creative destruction)

Pexit (Poland and Portugal [in that order] gobble seed with bobbing avian head motion)

Irexit (being both hungry and anorexic [morbidly hangry], Ireland joins the Brits in bolting)

Everyone else stays.

Until the Czexit.  [ooh la la]

Serbia accedes and secedes in same day simply to give the world the thrill of Sexit.

[I know I know]

This is the rearrangement of guests.

So many not at the world table.

In such times.

Only art can explain.

 

-PD

 

#6 Mr. Bean Rides Again [1992)

This one is darn near perfect.

And I needed it.

After an all-nighter devoted to a Power Point presentation, this got a hearty laugh from me throughout.

We really see Bean’s dark humour start coming to the fore here.

Likewise, we start to realize by now that Bean’s middle name must certainly be “Ingenuity”.

But his genius is a sort of Rube Goldberg variety.

For Bean, it’s all about the process…the journey.

It must be:  he seems to miss his destination an overwhelming majority of the time.

Whether he makes it to the beach or not is immaterial.

It’s that he starts off by packing six cans of Heinz Baked Beans.

No can opener.

Just the beans, thank you very much.

For those of us in America, this makes less sense without a bit of experience.

My one and only trip to Great Britain was an eye-opener.

The English eat beans for breakfast!

Not only that, but some sautéed mushrooms and maybe a boiled tomato.

Sausage and a rasher of bacon.

And eggs:  runny as Usain Bolt.

It all mixes together into a mélange of heartiness.

THAT is a true English breakfast!

A working-man’s meal.

Ahh, I miss those days.

So short and fleeting.

But with Mr. Bean, I am back in the magical mundane of English society.

The Royal Mail.

The politeness.

The grasp of my mother tongue.

Feeling rather “poorly”…

Yes, a glorious grasp on the language.

Of course, I could listen to the lads in Oasis talk all day long.

High and low.

And the Midlands.

God save the Queen!

We mean it, man ūüėČ

 

-PD

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 19 [1976)

The show was really rolling by this point.

The sets are more elaborate.

The budget seems to have increased.

And the humor is worth it.

The cold opening (I’ve avoided that term for the first 18 episodes) is a killer.

Chevy Chase (of course) as Ronald Reagan…prefiguring the stilted-hip of Bill Clinton on Arsenio Hall by a decade and change.

What we learn…Chevy can actually play the organ.¬† Some nice B-3 licks.

But the killer is Garrett Morris’ priceless contribution.

Like a silent film actor, Morris takes each condescending, racist jab from Reagan and grows more and more outraged…in such a believable Miles Davis kind of way (if we ignore the alto sax he’s holding).

What a start to a great episode!

Morris is in another high-art bit of humor later…for the fake donation solicitation Fondue Pots For Namibia.¬† Yes, it sounds like the title of a Zappa song (or perhaps Captain Beefheart), yet it is Saturday night variety show humor from 1976 at its best.¬† Bloody genius!

Some of the more elaborate skits are guest host Madeline Kahn as the “bride of Frankenstein” singing Leonard Bernstein’s “I Feel Pretty” from West Side Story.¬† Howard Shore and band are great in this skit (especially pianist/vocalist Paul Schaffer…of future Letterman fame).

Another amazing skit involves Dan Aykroyd as Richard Nixon.  Rounding out this bizarre, vast set piece is John Belushi as Henry Kissinger.

Now for the bad.¬† Carly Simon is godawful in her first prerecorded number “Half a Chance”.¬† I mean, really godawful.

What is apparent over the course of the show is that Madeline Kahn was a much better singer than Carly.

At least Simon somewhat redeems herself on the ubiquitous “You’re So Vain”.¬† It’s obvious Carly had talent.¬† She has a great, soulful voice.¬† Not sure what the problem was on “Half a Chance”.¬† Perhaps it was the cheesy, out-of-tune, canned backing vocals.¬† Also, the song is a clunker.

Alternately, I could listen to the line “…clouds in my coffee” from now till eternity.¬† It has that 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle vibe to it which is truly profound…the transcendental moment of spotting a microcosm in the mundane.

As The Mighty Favog said, “Talk to me…”

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 12 [1976)

Wikipedia generally gives a nice overview of some of these early Saturday Night Live episodes, but not in this case.

Even so, that’s alright.

We’ll make do.

It might be enough to focus on the divide between droll host Dick Cavett (his pitch for “his” Nebraska Pimp book as part of “Looks on Books” kinda sums it up) and impassioned musical guest Jimmy Cliff.

Cavett is that sort of personality that everyone likes.  Always a warm smile.  A wry smile, perhaps.  A smart guy, but not too smart.  Cavett was, in some ways, in the exact middle of the cultural road.

He was just hip enough to be marginally “with it” in a revolutionary era (witness the Weekend Update attempts to cover “war-torn” Luanda, Angola) steaming with frustration.

And so the natural way to play off his image is to have him do risqu√© things.¬† For example, the skit “Our Town” substitutes New York City for the Grover’s Corners of playwright Thornton Wilder.

Cavett describes the more prurient details of NYC.  At one point, it is fairly obvious that he is describing the old Times Square full of sex shops and massage parlors.  As always, the exercise of watching this show gives us an opportunity to reflect on days gone by.  For example, this must have been around the time of a sanitation workers strike in the Big Apple.

[Speaking of Big Apple, the home movie sent in by someone (whose name I have forgotten) makes nice use of apples (and plums) as actors in a stop-motion Super-8 experiment.]

But yes…Dick Cavett is kind of like a bathroom sanitizer.¬† You’re glad he’s there (when the place is sullied), but he is generally harmless and flavorless.

What is staggering about this episode is that I remember a friend from college who (on second thought) reminds me quite a bit of Cavett.  The craziest part is that Jimmy Cliff does a song in this episode which played a part in my college days (funny enough, in relation to the aforementioned gentleman).

It’s funny how the mundane can make us sentimental.¬† However, Jimmy Cliff is not at all himself mundane on the song in question:¬† “Many Rivers to Cross”.

Jimmy Cliff couldn’t be more different in persona from Dick Cavett.¬† Cliff delivers the first great, desperate performance in SNL history.¬† Sure, Simon & Garfunkel were great in the early season, but they were pretty…composed…easily poised.

On “Many Rivers to Cross” Jimmy Cliff sings like his life depends on it.¬† The guitars are out of tune.¬† The drummer is barely in control of the song.¬† A bongo player (who alternates on timbales…with brushes) adds a bit of flavor.¬† The SNL horns (Howard Shore’s band) add some nice stabs and swells of excitement.

But it is Jimmy Cliff.  Singing right in tune.  Dead serious.  Pinging each note in absolute perfection.

Closing his eyes.¬† Lifting his head back.¬† Singing so the veins bulge out in his neck.¬† …ending the performance out of breath.

Cliff absolutely deserved to perform the three songs he did on this episode.¬† However, neither of the other two match the intensity of “Many Rivers to Cross”.

And so it takes me back.

These memories I mentioned.¬† They’re important to me.

If I’d only chosen to have my taxes done by H. & L. Brock…I coulda been a contenda.

How do we become losers?

Is it from the very first hand we’re dealt?

Some things feel like a lost cause.

Life is unkind.  Sometimes.

But what I want to know is…will it pay off?

Jimmy Cliff was ready when the opportunity arose.

How significant was this performance for the acceptance of reggae in America?

It doesn’t matter.

Those questions don’t matter.

What matters is what each one of us feels…in little moments of reflection.

I’d like to think that I’d belt it out just like Jimmy Cliff.

That’s when you give it all you have.

It’s when your passion raises you head and shoulders above the rest.

It’s a passion.¬† A hunger.¬† Of going from nothing to something.

I think quite a few of us feel like nothings.

It’s all we ever get to be.

We’re behind.

I can only speak for myself.

No wife.  No kids.

In school for the millionth time.

And my dreams seem light years away…in the rearview mirror.

Will I find them again down the road?

Is this a loop?  A mere episode?

 

-PD