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

Times seem apocalyptic.

So here is the greatest movie ever made.

But it is not available on iTunes.

You may have a hard time finding it.

And an even harder time playing it.

I did.

Back in the day.

I had to acquire a region-free DVD player.

And I did.

Solely to watch this film.

It is in four parts.

Each of which is divided in two.

So, therefore, eight parts.

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

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

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

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

It is the section with which I am most familiar.

It is my personal favorite.

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

But we will reconsider as we go along.

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

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

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

It came out in parts.

It dribbled out.

Like QAnon.

And its influence spread.

Like COVID-19.

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

That is certainly germane here.

But I return, again, to Finnegans Wake.

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

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

These are DENSE works…these three masterpieces.

One (Joyce) a “novel”.

One (Godard) a “movie”.

And one (Benjamin) a philosophical book.

Two books and a movie.

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

The reverse of the usual.

Here, book doesn’t become film.

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

If anything, there is certainly less.

Which doesn’t make it any less poignant.

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

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

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

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

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

Godard outlines a very French dichotomy here.

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

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

But this dichotomy is not strictly “mutually exclusive”.

And here Godard brings us the example of Robert Flaherty.

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

And what of Histoire(s) du cinéma?

Is it a documentary?

In many ways, yes.

It is a history of film.

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

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

Which is to say…

Godard is important to the history of film.

Very important.

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

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

It is a matter of historiography.

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

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

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

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

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

Pointing out how vapid Hollywood can be.

Pointing out what doesn’t exist in the marketplace.

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

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

No one had made it.

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

Then he could (theoretically) “enjoy” it.

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

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

No director has his cutting wit.

No director’s mind pivots so nimbly.

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

But this film is indeed a special case.

Ten years of creation.

Joyce spent 17 years on Finnegans Wake.

Benjamin spent 13 years on his Arcades Project.

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

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

To be a creator is tiresome.

It makes one weary.

To always dream.

To imagine.

And to sweat in pursuance of crystalizing ones inspiration.

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

Bitter about Hollywood.

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

And it is true.

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

Cinema and the Holocaust.

Cinema was still young.

Cinema had a responsibility to document.

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

They kept records of everything.

Even when they went astray during the Third Reich.

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

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

But they were not alone.

Wiene, Pabst…

There were others.

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

Think Metropolis.

So where is the documentation of the Holocaust?

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

Is he “denying” the Holocaust happened?

I don’t think so.

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

Where is the video record?

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

So what really went on there?

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

And if so, why can’t we see it?

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

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

Surely it exists, right?

But where is it?

Who has it?

What does it show?

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

He wants to know.

He’s curious.

Because he’s a film lover.

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

But here Godard branches off into an aesthetic direction.

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

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

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

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

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

It is a persuasive argument in many ways.

But let’s back up a step.

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

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

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

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

Two kinds of films missing.

Hollywood was responsible for the Méliès portion.

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

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

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

The Nazis were responsible for the Lumière portion.

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

No fucking way.

Of course they filmed.

Like a goddamned serial killer.

And it was of pristine quality.

So where the fuck are those films?

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

Very sad.

He is coming from a “pure film” stance.

He wants to see the films.

He wants the world to see them.

And so the history of cinema is incomplete.

There is a gap.

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

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

Their perfect women.

Their dream lovers.

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

Film was at such an important point in its development.

And along came Adolph.

Chaplin and Hitler overlap.

They have the same mustache.

The Great Dictator was a comedy…more or less.

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

An attempt to repudiate Hitler.

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

It is maudlin.

As a comedy, The Great Dictator is pretty superb.

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

Not really.

In that moment, the great Chaplin was powerless.

But at least he tried.

He tried.

But something was missing.

The camps.

Direct reference to the camps.

Addressing the problem with no beating around the bush.

No horseshit.

We need to see the bodies rotting.

We have seen that.

But we need to see the gas chambers.

We need to see the German efficiency and precision.

We need to see their documents.

Their film documents.

No Hollywood recreation can convey what those mythical reels contain.

No backlot will suffice.

We have the propaganda films.

Leni Riefenstahl.

I think what Godard is saying is this…

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

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

The public needed uplifting fare.

And Hollywood provided.

Hollywood provided a service.

Entertainment.

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

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

And, indeed, the theater WAS on fire.

But Hollywood said nothing.

Hollywood told jokes.

No medium is perfect.

Hollywood is people.

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

There were exceptions.

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

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

But WWII was also the death of European cinema.

This is a very important concept that Godard conveys.

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

Europe would never be the same.

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

America won the war.

The Soviet Union also won the war.

Germany lost.

France was “liberated”.

Italy lost.

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

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

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

Godard is Swiss.

But he is, in many ways, also French.

He is a French speaker.

His years of highest-visibility were spent in Paris.

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

French film died (“liberated”/occupied).

Italian film died (lost war…occupied).

German film died (lost war…occupied).

Scandinavian film died.

Everything was pushed out by Hollywood.

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

European cinema was put in a corner.

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

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

Weary Europeans wanted happiness.

And they bought into the American idea of happiness.

To the detriment of their own unique cultures and philosophies.

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

To be continued…

 

-PD

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People [2008)

This film is squeaky clean.

Antiseptic.

And that is not a compliment.

It is waste of great actors (and a decent story).

Jeff Bridges is good.

Great talent.

Excellent contribution here.

He plays what must certainly be a backhanded homage to Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair.

A magazine I used to read.

Dreaming of entering that glitzy world where my idol Nick Tosches wrote.

All is, in fact, vacuous in such a world (as this movie plainly shows).

Which brings us to me.

And this.

Dossier du cinema.

Pauly Deathwish.

I am almost done.

Being an addict.

Being a basket case.

Almost done.

Almost.

Maybe tomorrow?

Kirsten Dunst has great breasts.

Linchpin.

Melancholia.

Poor men love breasts (as it turns out).

Danny Huston falls like the last laugh of Murnau.

Wiping the shitter.

Riches to rags.

Saudi Arabia.

Gillian Anderson plays the villain here (of sorts).

Megan Fox is boring.

Skinny woman are, in general, unattractive.

Real.

Be real.

Keep it real.

Restecp.

White Russian as bridging mechanism.

Ms. Lebowski.

R. D. Laing.

Lord Byron.

The only cinematography is when Dracula is depressed.

I’ve been blessed (?) with a complete lack of suckcess in my lifetime.

Good bit with La Dolce Vita.

Reminiscent of the open-air movie in Cinema Paradiso.

This film could have been a lot better.

Simon Pegg is an all-world talent.

This kind of tripe is beneath his abilities.

 

-PD

Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000)

This is a damn fine film.

Maybe yesterday I would have spoke as much with a mouthful of tobacco.

But today I take a more measured approach.

And still I must proclaim:  this film has aged like a fine wine.

I can find little fault with it.

No film will express all that we hold inside…exactly as we’d express it.

And so this is as close as we get to serendipity on a Tuesday night 🙂

Yes sir…let me tell you ’bout it.

I write to stay alive.

[now I’m telling you about me…or the film…by way of me]

We come from a long/short tradition.

Film critics.

Critics.

All the way back to the earliest Homer in the Greek.

Rage.

I owe Nick Tosches a debt of gratitude for pointing that out.

My favorite living writer.

This film [we’re back to the film] could have gone off the rails early on.

Like some errant Ken Burns pablum on PBS.

But the Coen brothers are of the most deft cinematic touch.

I have delved very little into their oeuvre.

Most recently I broached the subject with Fargo (a fine film), but Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? is a bona fide 😉 masterpiece.

You see, you must be conversant in naïveté as much as in erudition.

You must run the gamut from Delmar to Ulysses in order to evoke an appropriately universal sampling of the human condition.

Blind on a Pullman.  Nay.  Blind Sheriff Murnau.  Closer.

Blind but now I see.

Precisely.

Bill Moyers couldn’t get to Shakespeare in the recessed library.

Only God could move fate.

To see beauty.

For a moment to dream of a better life.

Saved from cancer.

I know not.

We feel it’s Isaiah.  Or the Oracle of Delphi.

Pythia.  As in pithy.

Icy.

You don’t get credit for half a master’s degree.

Ain’t no one in the world impressed by that.

Even if they should.

People like awards.  Bob Dylan said.

Grammys.  Nobels.

Sells records.  Books.  DVDs.  Tickets for admission.  Memorabilia.

But I doff my hat to Tosches and Quintilian.

We are all excursus.  As Céline was all ellipses.

[…]

The Sheriff is Cooley.  As in Spade.

A mean son of a bitch.

But we don’t care none about these transgressors no more.

The electorate has spoken.

50 states.

From the words Tommy Johnson.

It’s just a cool drink of water from Robert.

And we won’t even get into Lonnie.

We hear the devil is white.

Go to any American university and you will hear the same.

Indeed, our film only falters when it attempts to be too heavy-handed.

We uncloak what is cloaked in ourselves.

And this is the curse of critics.

No critic is writing about their subject.

In reality.

The underlying gist is always autobiography.

To admit as much should be refreshing.

But that is for you to decide.

Just sing into the can.

Voice your opinion.

On shellac.

For generations to plunder in treasure hunts of old South junk stores.

Searching for the Sugar Man/Soggy Bottom…Robert Johnson already dead when he became   sought after.

A prophet in his own land.

All is dream.  And religion comes to the silver screen.

The common man can relate.  And so can I.

With my Bible on my nightstand.

I ain’t ashamed to say.

I depend on God.

See Messiaen if you need abstraction.

Because Debussy gave the clouds first…and the sirens last.

And feasts or parties in between.

Night swimming.  Nocturnes.  Campfires.  Skip James.

Pulled from routine.

We were nearly eaten alive.

And we would have dived into that abyss out of desperation.

Yet the hand of the Lord was upon us.

Not for any deed which had ingratiated ourselves to Him.

But for grace.

Mercy.

Love.

No horror here.  Just a toad.  And Mark Twain.

And how to keep tobacco dry on a Mississippi River boat.

Uncle Sweetheart smells blood.

Years before Masked and Anonymous.

So be careful not to fall in love with your own reflection.

She said he was hit by a train.

And she looked good in a bikini.

To three pathetic roustabouts with no prospects.

Chewed up and spit out by both Tropics to wade in the water of possibility.

Nerds can box.

Maybe know an arcane martial art.

Don’t fuck with us.

But protagonists of epic poetry need something more than a couple of jabs and pinches.

Circumstances must have placed them in a true imbroglio…the mother of all situations.

The Gordian knot.

Ulysses is a lying bastard.  A mad man.  Advertising.  Op side coin propaganda.

But these are skills.  For gainful employment.  And we hover to ethics for guidance.

On how to wield words in the age of microblogging and memes.

He needed a story.

Chained together.

An inspiration.

Because we’re (for all intents and purposes) inseparable.

We can dream of $500,000 ($400,000)…as the “major D”…even the mâitre’d…if we’re feeling saucy.

Dream of land.

But what was Everett’s dream?

We know only later.

To spend 84 years in jail.

Released:  1987.

Incarcerated at age 3?

Not counting on these two to do the taxes.

The KKK took his baby away.  –Joey Ramone

Seems very Bohemian Grove.

But we don’t know these things.

We only know what we’ve gleaned from D.W. Griffith.

These synchronized David Dukes are meant to evoke a temple of doom.

It is the hinge (brisure) in the whole film (if we are doing a deconstructionist reading à la Derrida).

And thus auteur theory is vindicated.

Joel Coen had something to get off his chest regarding the treatment of blacks, JEWS, Catholics, etc.

We could deconstruct from there.

It’s easy.

Top psychiatrist Steve Pieczenik does it breezily when he traces Jill Stein back to her Jewish Chicago roots which give her the privilege to run as an agnostic.

But the Coen brothers are timeless artists here.

They have found the trick.

Hillary’s coven must have been on hiatus for the past few weeks.

Demoralized.

But it’s hard to fight back the tears as they get in front of that lozenge mic I’d associate with RCA…

As the Soggy Bottom Boys emerge from obscurity.

And they have a fan base (constituents).

And these mythical performers were not even confirmed to exist.

In the flesh.

Ah, but public relations…

He was proto- “drain the swamp” with his little man and broom.

But the planets shifted.

And he’s on a hot mic inserting both feet into his mouth, one at a time, very slowly, with each succeeding word.

The way politics works.

In Mississippi.  Louisiana.  Texas.

Suck on a cigar.  Think it over.  Maybe some cognac or brandy.

And seize upon an opportunity.

To hire the best.

The best who have appeared on this stage at this moment for this very reason.

Three years after Titanic and the Coen brothers wanted a weightless freak show of inanimate objects floating as Japanese melange symbolism.

I am the man with the can.  Not Dapper Dan.  And no record-cutting lathe.

Just a tin of tobacco.  My floating life.  And all we’ve been through.

Memory soup.

We pull up to the aquarium to peer into the mysteries of other realities.

And, by so doing, try to make sense out of our own.

-PD

Citizenfour [2014)

Four days till the US election.

OK, three.

But we must take a look at things as they seem.

And analyze what they might be.

I have always written about Edward Snowden glowingly.

But this film is an enigma.

If you know the history of film, you realize that certain filmmakers (particularly Robert Flaherty) presented staged events as if they were documentaries.

This is known as docufiction.

And if you have followed my take on the two US Presidential candidates (Johnson and Stein can suck it…though Stein has true credibility), you’ll know that my assessment of Trump and Clinton has been mainly through the lens of film.

What we (I) look for is credibility.

Having watched all three Presidential debates (in addition to extensive supplemental research), it has been a no-brainer to conclude that Hillary Clinton has ZERO credibility while Donald Trump has immense credibility.

The differentiation could not be more mark-ed.

[Docu-fiction]

But what about Edward Snowden?

Let me start off by saying that Mr. Snowden does not come off as a wholly believable whistleblower in this film.

Perhaps Laura Poitras’ inexperience as a filmmaker is to blame.

Perhaps it is indeed because Edward Snowden is no actor.

But Mr. Snowden is completely inscrutable and opaque in this documentary.

HOWEVER…

there is something about his ostensible North Carolina drawl which rings true.

And so there are two major possibilities…

  1. Edward Snowden is an extremely brave individual who succeeded in “defecting to the side of the public” (to paraphrase)
  2. Edward Snowden is a superspy

I had read of Snowden.  In studying what he had leaked, his credibility seemed beyond a shadow of a doubt.  Such a damaging agent could not possibly have been a Trojan horse operation (so I thought).

Indeed, the most believable part of this film is the last 10 minutes or so.

Sadly, my “copy” of the movie switched to a German overdub for this final segment.

Which is to say, I was more focused on images in the finale.

Every once in a while I was able to make out the beginning of a phrase from William Binney or Glenn Greenwald.

At all other times during this last portion, the German superimposed upon the English made the latter an almost palimpsest.

My German is that bad.

Entschuldigung.

But here are my reservations concerning hypothesis #1 (from above).

A).  Glenn Greenwald’s earliest interview after the leak was clearly shot with the skyline of Hong Kong in the background.  It is somewhat inconceivable that the NSA in conjunction with the CIA (and possibly the FBI or DIA) did not immediately follow Greenwald’s every move from that point forward (courtesy of operatives under the Hong Kong station chief of the CIA).

B).  Glenn Greenwald is a little too smooth to be believable (the same going for Snowden).  Greenwald’s sheer fluency in Portuguese (a bizarre choice for a second language) seems particularly suspect.  The credulous me wants to believe that Greenwald is simply brilliant.  The incredulous me sees Greenwald as just as much a CIA operative as Snowden.

Indeed, hypothesis #2 would be that Edward Snowden is in fact a CIA operative.  His complete calm at The Mira hotel in Hong Kong does not harmonize with a computer geek who just lifted the largest cache of the most top-secret files in world history.  Instead, his mannerisms almost all point to someone who has been hardened and trained at Camp Peary rather than someone who grew up so conveniently close to NSA headquarters.

Snowden is admittedly a former employee of the CIA.

But what could the purpose of such a Trojan horse exercise possibly be?

One strong possibility comes to mind.

As we learn in Dr. Strangelove, there’s no purpose in having a “doomsday machine” if the enemy doesn’t know about it.

In fact, we don’t even need cinema to illustrate this.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstrations as much as they were mass-murder war crimes.

Weapons are “tested” often as much for the power of display as for the exercise of weapon efficacy.

But the world has always been a weird place.

And it is indeed possible that Edward Snowden is an idealistic, independent party in this affair.

The esteemed Dr. Steve Pieczenik (of whom I have spoken much recently) has lately called Snowden “no hero”.

I’m not exactly sure what he means by that.

Possibly Pieczenik knows the Snowden affair to positively be an intel operation.

Possibly Dr. Pieczenik (whom I respect deeply) merely sees Snowden as of no great bravery when compared to the men and women (both military and intelligence employees) who risk their lives on battlefields across the world…by direct order through the US chain of command.

But Dr. Pieczenik has also pointed out that some orders must be disobeyed.

That is part of the responsibility of defending the Constitution “against all enemies foreign and domestic”.

So we have a very interesting case here.

And it directly parallels our current election choices.

What SEEMS to be?

What is patriotism?

At what point must standard operating procedures be put aside?

What constitutes peaceful protest?

Who among us has the duty and privilege to spearhead a countercoup?

I’ve often thought to myself that I would be a horrible NSA employee because I would have a framed picture of Snowden on my desk.

Suffice it to say, I’m sure that is strictly NOT ALLOWED.

But this film makes me doubt the Snowden story.

As a further instructive detail, why does Snowden (in this film) feel so confident in his ability to withstand torture (!) as a means of coercing from him his password(s)?

Again, that does not sound like a standard ability of an “infrastructure analyst”.

Snowden does not admit in this film to ever having been a field operative.

Indeed, it almost feels like Louisiana Story or Tabu:  A Story of the South Seas when Snowden drapes a red article of cloth over his head and torso to ostensibly prevent Greenwald and Poitras from visually seeing his keystrokes.

It is overly dramatic.

These are thoughts.

No doubt, someone knows much more than me about the truth in this strange tale.

And so the film is, in turns, shockingly brilliant and daftly mediocre.

In a strange way, it is just as suspect as James Bamford’s books on the NSA (which I have long suspected were really NSA propaganda pieces).

One of the keys to propaganda and social engineering is gaining the trust of your targets.

In a large-scale psychological operation, the entire world (more or less) is the target.

Back to cinema, we need look no further than Eva Marie Saint “shooting” Cary Grant in North by Northwest.

Yes, Body of Secrets (Bamford) was damaging to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and US military in general (the revelation of Operation Northwoods) while also exposing Israel as a craven “ally” (the USS Liberty “incident”).

But if we are not careful, we are taken in by these juicy bits of “truth” (in all likelihood, very much true) on our way to accepting the whole book as an accurate exposé.

And this is what makes the world of intelligence so tricky.

Like a chess game in which you are blindsided by a brilliant move.

It takes years (perhaps decades) or an innate brilliance (perhaps both) to discern the organic from the synthetic in the shifting sands of this relativistic world of espionage.

I can only guess and gut.

 

-PD

India: Matri Bhumi [1959)

This is a hard film to title.

India.

मातृ भूमि.

Matri Bhumi.

The Devanagari (मातृ भूमि) translates to “homeland”.

And this brings us full-circle to a subject which has preoccupied us off and on for a month or so.

But we shan’t get too far into that excursus.

Nay, ’tis better to attempt a bit of writing regarding the film at hand.

First, we are thankful.

That Roberto Rossellini made a film about India.

Now, why would he go and do something like that?

Well, we must remember that he was only married to Ingrid Bergman from 1950-1957.

In 1957, he married Sonali DasGupta.  They were married until Rossellini’s death.

Without getting too lurid or tabloid, let’s just say that Jawaharlal Nehru invited Rossellini to India to help with the country’s film activities.  It was then that he met Sonali.

The rest is beyond the scope of this review.

But what is germane is the screenwriter Fereydoon Hoveyda.

Mr. Hoveyda, an Iranian diplomat and author, helped stage this documentary in much the same way that a Robert Flaherty film might be put together.

Think Tabu:  A Story of the South Seas (1931) on which F.W. Murnau collaborated with Flaherty.  Or even Louisiana Story (1948) which was a Flaherty propaganda film for Standard Oil of New Jersey.

Hoveyda, being the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N., was ostensibly in New York when the Revolution happened in 1979.  I’m guessing he stayed in America.  Probably a pretty smart choice.

And he was a smart guy.

Indeed, some of the books he wrote seem very timely indeed:

-What do Arabs want? (in French) [Hoveyda assumedly being Persian, not Arab]

-The Hidden Meaning of Mass Communications (2000) [sounds like a particularly interesting application of linguistics and/or semiotics to ends similar to the agenda-setting theory]

-The Broken Crescent: The Threat of Militant Islamic Fundamentalism (2002) [a rather suspicious title released at a potentially opportunist time]

and finally

-The Shah and the Ayatollah: Islamic Revolution and Iranian Mythology (2003) [the year the US was steamrolling Iraq…perhaps with salivating neocons looking to quickly expand into Iran]

I wouldn’t be so suspicious, but I noticed where Mr. Hoveyda passed away:  Clifton, Virginia.

Fairfax County.  Vienna.  Herndon.  Definitely some DoD in there.

Furthermore, it is home to the CIA (yay!), the NGA, the NRO, and the DNI’s office.

So my guess is that Mr. Hoveyda probably worked for the US intelligence community.

This would probably be a good time to tell you that I am pro-Islam.

I am pro-CIA.

I’m pro-Palestine.

I’m pro-immigration.

Pro-Mexico.  Pro-Russia.

But most of all I’m pro-America.

I hold no other citizenships.

Some of these revelations will be old hat.

Some new.

All probably confusing for one reason or another.

I’m pro-NSA.  I’m pro 25 AF.

I’m even pro-FBI.  [pro-DIA, pro-ONI, etc.]

Yes, I’m a 9/11 “truther”.

I want to know the truth.

Do I think Saudi Arabia did it?

It was impossible for any group to pull it off without state logistical support.

So it still points very much to an inside job.

The guilty state being the USA.

But maybe I’m wrong.

I do know one thing.

Mr. Trump has rightly noted that the WTC towers did not fall down by themselves.

Nor did they sustain enough damage to fall at near-freefall speeds.

So there was a team (a gargantuan effort) which wired those buildings to explode.

Who was that team?

What was their allegiance?

There were several big pieces to the attacks which needed substantial protection and handling once inside the U.S.

Ok, that’s about as open-minded as I can get regarding 9/11.

I just had to get that off my chest.

My assessments are fallible.

But I’ve seen an optimism in America in these past few days.

It’s not unlike the optimism which Rossellini captures in India:  Matri Bhumi.

Buzzards always circling.

And you’ve let me write about film.

And haven’t begrudged my politics.

So this is for my friends.  From many countries.

And every day I sit and try to think of the right thing to do.

Some things I know.

But there are many things I don’t know.

Many truths which are likely a combination of half-truths I never considered gluing together.

I wish all of you a happy day or night.

This is probably the worst review I ever wrote.

Because I’m better at insulting things.

I’m better at guessing.

But maybe I haven’t connected the dots?

It’s not my job.

But it’s been on my conscience since 9/11.

Who can we trust?

Why are there so many internally-incriminating anomalies?

And so many indications of a cover-up?

I welcome the Saudi lawsuits if only for the opportunity to learn who the REAL culprits were.

The Saudis were middlemen (if that).

They were central casting.

Until the remote flight plans took over.

God, what a daft war…

Based on nothing…and stirring up a continued mix of real and fake.

Impossible to discern anymore.

Maybe Trump has the guts to get some truth.

Obama squandered eight years without even a hint of curiosity.

Buzzards circling.

-PD

The Farmer’s Wife [1928)

This is a painful cinematic experience.  It takes a certain amount of masochism for all but the most rabid of Hitchcock fans to sit through this 129-minute snoozer.  But old Alfred was the auteur of auteurs and he manages to make even this vapid storyline come to life…occasionally.

Samuel Sweetland

might just be

the most inept

womanizer

in the history

of cinema.

The good farmer

would really be

out of luck

in today’s world.

His heavy-handed,

condescending ways

didn’t even fly

in 1928!  Yet,

there is the

good, sweet Lillian Hall-Davis

who sees something

in her boss.

Hall-Davis,

who plays the

housekeeper Minta,

is charming throughout

this sleeper

(and I mean sleeper).

Mercifully,

the comic relief

of Gordon Harker

makes the whole thing

bearable.

Harker plays

the handyman

Churdles Ash.

With his bent,

crushed hat

perched perilously

atop his head,

Harker is the tired,

nihilistic voice

of humor

throughout

(like a slapstick Louis-Ferdinand Céline).

Of particular note is the burgeoning style of Hitchcock and his archetypal use of images.  The two cocker spaniels at the beginning of the film are a cute example of a director truly using pictures to tell a story.  Likewise notable is the relative scarcity of intertitles.

Truly, one must have the intestinal fortitude of a François Truffaut to wade through this unending, Chaucerian version of motion pictures.  Not recommended unless you typically watch a silent film every. single. day.  Murnau and Dreyer were light years beyond this kind of film making.

-PD

The Lady Vanishes [1938)

Sigmund Froy.  Was it all just a dream?  The word conspiracy comes from a Latin root meaning, “to breathe together.”  A quick Google search might uncover a Warhol print from 1969 with essentially the same message (over a lithographed photo of the electric chair from Sing Sing).  The poster is a relic from an art auction and sale held Dec. 11th of that year in Chicago at the LoGuidice Gallery “for the Conspiracy Defense.”

This would refer to the Chicago Seven (including Abbie Hoffman).  [N.B.  They were otherwise known as the Chicago Eight until Bobby Seale’s trial was made separate.]  Charged with conspiracy, they were found not guilty of this crime.

Alfred Hitchcock was an expert in conspiracies at least as early as 1938.  If he had made no other films than The Lady Vanishes, he should have been remembered as fondly as Murnau, Lang and Dreyer.  This film is that good!

I didn’t think it so the first time I saw it.  I found it rather dull in fact.  But the talent is there.  This was Hitchcock’s last British film before moving to the U.S.

Margaret Lockwood really is lovely and talented in this strange tale.  The Gasthof Petrus which more or less serves as our beginning locale is filmed with such warmth.  It is really a nimble touch which conveyed this coziness in the fictional locale of Bandrika.  It must be somewhere near the Republic of Zubrowka.

Charters and Caldicott are an amazing caricature of British society.  The two cricket enthusiasts avoid getting involved in anything that would delay their return to the Test match in Manchester until they absolutely are forced to face the facts.

Dame May Whitty is really amazing as Miss Froy.  She was 73 when this movie was made.  What a remarkable achievement!

Michael Redgrave goes from being an obnoxious, seemingly-spoiled musicologist to the saving grace for Lockwood’s dizzied character.

The first death in the film seems rather comical.  A serenader’s song is cut short by strangulation.  We assume from the comic tone of the film that perhaps a Gasthof guest had had enough and went Herbert Lom on the poor fellow.  What we don’t find out till later is that the song was a code…and dear, sweet, innocent old Miss Froy a bona fide spy.

Hitchcock uses some interesting effects in a lovingly magical way reminiscent of the spirit which grew from Méliès’ earliest experimentations.  The effects come as Lockwood’s concussion takes effect aboard the train.  A flower pot intended to knock out Miss Froy instead had landed on Lockwood’s unsuspecting head.  She boards the train anyway, but soon passes out.

Froy.  It is a moment when silent film returns to have its vengeance.  The train whistle is piercing and Lockwood cannot understand the name of her new companion who has so sweetly looked after her since boarding.  The clever spy nonchalantly spells her name in the dust on the train’s window.  Froy.  It will remain till later in the film when it appears just long enough to refortify Lockwood’s belief that the dear old lady had indeed existed.  When the train, at that point, passes into a tunnel…we assume that a waiter in on the conspiracy hurriedly erases the trace.

Once tea is done, the two ladies retire to their cabin (which they share with a rogues gallery of ugly mugs).  Lockwood slips off to sleep.  When she awakens, her grandmotherly friend is gone.  All in the cabin maintain that there never was a little old English lady there.  Lockwood begins to think she’s going mad.  In fact, nearly the whole train is in on the conspiracy.

Human nature is explored in fascinating detail as we see the few people who could help instead choose not to.  They might, none of them, ever end a sentence with a preposition, but far be it from any to venture outside their cozy little selfish worlds to bear witness to someone’s mere existence.  And so Lockwood must go it alone until Redgrave takes up her cause and one becomes two.

A fake Miss Froy is boarded at the only stop.  She is not at all the type…more like a Yugoslavian weightlifter than the dainty Froy we’d known.  Lockwood doesn’t buy it.  As Lockwood and Redgrave dig for clues, they get a little too close to the truth when then find the old lady’s broken glasses in the baggage car.  A fight ensues with the supremely spooky magician (one of Lockwood’s car mates) Signor Doppo.  Dispensing with him after some trouble (a knife fight), they gradually become haggled by a certain Dr. Hartz.  Hartz, a truly ghoulish figure, doesn’t arouse the suspicion of the pair until it is too late.

Leave it to a nun in high heels to give away the game.  By the way, whatever happened to those nuns on the police scanner at Sandy Hook?

The nun turns out to be an indispensable help to the sleuthing couple by dint that she has patriotic reservations about killing a fellow English woman (Miss Froy).  She turns out to be saintly in spite of not being a nun.  On this train she is darn near a literal whistleblower.  She even refuses to spike the brandies which were to be Lockwood and Redgrave’s essential demise (immobilization).

Such great character actors all around…  Philip Leaver as the magician and the cricket chaps:  Naunton Wayne and Basil Radford.  The latter two (Charters and Caldicott) went on to appear together (as the same characters) in three more non-Hitchcock films including Carol Reed’s Night Train to Munich (1940).

In conclusion, this film is highly recommended…not just by me, but by the million Mexicans in the hall!

 

-PD

 

The Lovely Bones [2009)

Somehow, at some point…people forgot how to make films.  This would be considered cinema in today’s Hollywood (which is to say, a great film).  Sadly, this is barely a good film.

Once upon a time there were masters like Murnau and Lang and Dreyer. They worked in an age before sound.  They had less variables to ponder.  And yet, they managed to tell stories in elegant, sophisticated ways.  There was no CGI.

Cut to the present film.  Saoirse Ronan is truly lovely, yet not even she can salvage this schmaltz.  To be sure, this is not a happy story.  I would like to congratulate director Peter Jackson, but I cannot do so without a plethora of caveats.

Let me start by saying that Mark Wahlberg, at least, does an excellent acting job.  I can’t help thinking of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch every time I see his name.  That was the age I was raised in:  ridiculous, posturing hip-hop.  Don’t get me wrong…some of it was good.  I even remember having a fondness for Wahlberg’s group, but suffice it to say that their oeuvre has not aged particularly well.  I fear the same might be the case with this film.

Stanley Tucci is excellent and creepy as hell as the serial killer George Harvey.  Susan Sarandon, on the other hand, is a caricature of herself…completely ridiculous and superfluous to any of the aims which this film should have had.  Rose McIver is actually quite good as Susie’s younger sister (though the film seems to suggest she is the older sister in the beginning…just one loose end among many, many others).

There are moments when this film touches on the sublime, but they may not be the ones of which you’re thinking.  When director Jackson approaches the realm of Hitchcock, he does so quite capably.  One even gets the sense that a Silence of the Lambs might be developing on screen.  Sadly, we seem to slip into What Dreams May Come.  Much better to emulate Alfred than Vincent Ward.  Yikes!

About these dream sequences–this “In-Between”…it is as if Salvador Dalí’s superb imagination was being hijacked by a third-rate M.C. Escher reproductionist.  It is as if we were watching the music video to Seal’s “Crazy.”  It is horrible.

Nikki SooHoo’s acting is really, really bad.  Poor girl.  She is the Jar Jar Binks of this ill-fated venture.

After all this CGI tomfoolery we finally have another shard of cinema when McIver find’s the murderer’s sketchbook.  The close-ups of her fingernails trying to silently lower the loose floorboard back into place have a gripping suspense worthy of Hitch.  Jackson at least does a good job of making fingernails (you heard me) a significant motif throughout the picture.  Tucci’s neatly manicured nails are pictured in close-up as he disgustingly fondles the dead Susie’s house charm which he ripped off her bracelet.

The story is not bad, but Jackson has not inspired me to read the book any time soon.  The motif of the kiss is a sweet sentiment and it is just one of many touching moments in this train-wreck of a film.  Susie is supposed to be the amateur photographer.  Jackson directs like a 14-year-old.  The film would doubtless have been better had he 1/100th the budget.

The overall narrative (with voiceover by Ronan) is a formulaic, staid, pale imitation of American Beauty.

One last thought:  I can’t believe Brian Eno did the music.  Sadly, the only musical moments which are transcendent come at the hands of Dave Edmunds and The Hollies (though the latter’s is ruined by a Sarandon montage).  Nay, I shan’t be running out to see any Lord of the Rings movies anytime soon.  This is a stinker which won’t soon enough evaporate from my memory.  Jackson could really use a good night in with TCM for starters (and then, perhaps, God forbid…an Ingmar Bergman movie).  Harmony Korine’s Julien Donkey-Boy obliterates The Lovely Bones in every aspect.  Google Dogme 95, Mr. Jackson.  Learning is fun.

 

-PD