Redoubtable [2017)

Formidable.

Inspiring fear and respect.

Impressive.

Intense.

Capable.

That Swiss-Maoist asshole is my hero.

In many ways.

But which Godard?

If I were to say “late Godard” (and that would be my natural, truthful answer), Monsieur Godard would likely point out the merits of his early films…just to annoy me.

If I spoke lovingly of Vivre sa vie, he would probably proclaim that it is shit.

Jean-Luc Godard is a very complex individual.

And I can wholeheartedly identify with that.

A walking civil war.

This film never makes reference to Cahiers du cinéma.  

It doesn’t need to.

This film covers a period of time which Wikipedia classifies as Godard’s “revolutionary period”.

When did Godard stop writing for Cahiers?

He never stopped being a critic.

We know that.

And I see his point.

This is shit.

Because we want to invent new forms.

Breathless was like his “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”.

Or his Bolero.

He couldn’t escape it.

Couldn’t lose it.

Must be nice.

But maybe not.

“Play the hits!”

Did politics ruin Jean-Luc Godard?

Sure.

But it was necessary.

It was his process of growing up.

His process of attaining wisdom.

Trial and error.

Formative years.

But not the last word.

I don’t agree with Godard’s politics.

Perhaps at some point in my youth I did.

But not very much.

Because I never really understood them.

I dabbled.

But I too am a revolutionary.

In these days.

After the 2020 election.

You may call me a reactionary.

I don’t care what you call me.

I think George Washington is cool.

I think the United States of America is worth saving.

And the American Revolution has recommenced.

Same goals as the founders had.

Love it or leave it.

Godard did not show up in 2010 to receive his honorary Academy Award.

Good for him.

Fuck Hollywood!

Give me the old stuff.

Hitchcock.

Howard Hawks.

Not this new crap.

Tripe.

Perhaps you see where me and Godard overlap?

Too rashes like a Venn diagram…with a particularly-irritated common ground.

The skin is red and peeling.

Weeping.

Scratching.

Itching.

I scratch my arms.

I’m running out of real estate on my body for these nicotine patches.

Yes.

You thought it was something more interesting?

More taboo?

No.

Where does the former President of Peru come in?

Pedro Pablo Kuczynski.

Godard’s first cousin.

I too had cousins.

Who are as far off as Peru.

But always close in my heart.

Kuczynski is 82.

Godard will be 90 in one week.

I will be 44 when the Electoral College meets.

Anna Karina died on my birthday last year.

She was 79.

But this film doesn’t deal with the wonderful Ms. Karina.

No, this film deals with another stunning beauty:  Anne Wiazemsky.

Wiazemsky died three years ago.

The same year Redoubtable came out.

In the English-speaking world, we know it (ironically) as Godard Mon Amour.

Sounds more sophisticated to have the subtitled film with a more commercial FRENCH product label.

Redoubtable is too vague.

Godard Mon Amour sells itself.

[that’s what the advertising guys must have said]

Godard and Wiazemsky were married for 12 years.

Godard and Karina married for a mere 4.

I’ve never read Mauriac.

I have nothing against Catholics.

I adore Olivier Messiaen’s music.

So it bears mentioning that one of the smartest, most unique artists in the history of the world was a French Catholic [Messiaen].

Which is to say, believing in God does not make you boring.

I believe in God.

The same God.

The Christian God.

God who gave us Jesus.

God who gave us synesthesia.

Combat didn’t like La Chinoise.

De Gaulle withdrew from NATO.

Will Trump win?

De Gaulle supported sovereignty.

The European Union is the antithesis of what de Gaulle wanted.

De Gaulle criticized America’s war in Vietnam.

But that wasn’t enough for revolutionaries like Godard.

Too lukewarm.

De Gaulle wanted Québec to be free from Canada.

If you’ve ever been to Québec, you might see why.

It is unlike the rest of Canada.

Except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

But not really.

Île de Chêne?

1755-1764.

Conservatism.

De Gaulle.

Biography.

Mauriac.

Wiazemsky.

Mauriac’s granddaughter.

Starring in a Maoist film directed by Jean-Luc Godard.

La Chinoise.

And then they married.

Godard was correct.

Au Hasard Balthazar is the antithesis of the Central Intelligence Agency.

But Godard never said that.

I did.

So Anne Wiazemsky wrote a book called Un An Après which was published in 2015.

She died two years later.

The same year her book was adapted for film as Redoubtable.

She died of breast cancer.

Less than a month after Redoubtable was released in France.

This film proves that Michel Hazanavicius is a very talented filmmaker.

It proves that he knows his Godard.

But it is flawed.

Aren’t all masterpieces?

Maybe not.

Is Redoubtable a masterpiece?

In some ways, yes.

In some ways, no.

It is probably most similar to Sacha Gervasi’s Hitchcock.

Both of them are films of “exorbitant privilege”.

Which is to say, a little out of touch with their subject matter.

Was Pablo Picasso ever called an asshole?

Not if we take Jonathan Richman at his word.

Art contains deeper layers of meaning.

Usually.

Unless you’re Warhol.

In which case, the meaning MAY be found closer to the surface.

Stravinsky liked this too.

Music has no meaning.

It is just tones.

Timbres.

Rhythms.

Harmonies.

Little dots on a page.

So we are told.

By Igor.

Jean-Luc Godard and Igor Stravinsky both embraced MANY different approaches to their craft over their long careers.

Because they loved their crafts.

They were addicted.

It was a compulsion.

And, for Godard, it remains so.

Godard married the girl who rejected Robert Bresson.

Do not underestimate the thrill of this.

The thrill of it all.

Bresson was a genius too.

But she was only 18 when Bresson made his advances.

Girls want to live.

Bresson was 65.

Bold.

Numbers can lie.

Godard and Wiazemsky were only together as man and wife for three years.

Though they were married for 12.

Three years was enough, apparently.

The divorce appears to have been more a formality.

Anna.

Anne.

Anne-Marie.

I spoke to Anne-Marie on the phone once.

In exceedingly-broken French.

She was saintly in her patience.

All I wished to convey, as I called Rolle (Switzerland) on my flip phone, was that Godard was my intellectual hero.  [it is true]  And that his LATE films mattered.  That they mattered THE MOST.  That he had created beauty.  That he had plumbed the depths.  I owed it to my master to deliver this message before I (or he) died (God forbid).

I was compelled.

Jean-Luc Godard is my favorite creator this side of heaven.

Even though I don’t agree with his politics.

Bob Dylan is neck-and-neck for this honor.

Dylan is, no doubt, my favorite musician to have ever lived.

Neck-and-neck with Roland Kirk (perhaps).

My favorite jazz artist.

My favorite instrumentalist.

It is never noted that Wiazemsky was in Les Gauloises bleues.

And Godard could be an asshole.

So can I.

So can Trump.

Trump is my ideological hero.

My political hero.

I DO agree with his political philosophy.

Wholeheartedly.

And yet, my favorite film director (auteur) remains Godard.

No one is even neck-and-neck with JLG for me.

Brakhage is a distant second.

Welles is formidable.

But they do not hit the mark like Jean-Luc.

Il seme dell’uomo.

Nothing suggestive there.

Global plague.

Marco Ferreri.

Marco Margine?

Shot-reverse shot.

And then I gave Jacques Demy’s grandson piano lessons.

Or Agnès Varda’s grandson.

Same difference.

More like organ lessons.

Booker T.

You should use Belmondo again.

Funny films.

We see Coutard’s hair early.

Politics entered soon.

Le Petit soldat.

Shadow war.

The perfection of Vivre sa vie.

The jaunty, carefree, playful anarchy of Breathless.

And a sadness tied to beauty.

Politics again with Les Carabiniers.

An attempt at commercialism with Contempt.

Equivalent to Nirvana’s In Utero album.

Big-budget negation.

Nihilism.

A thorough disdain for the Hollywood system.

And the “tradition of quality” in France.

But something deeper…and more bitter.

Bande à part more like Breathless.

A little like Vivre sa vie.

Dancing.

Pinball.

Billiards.

Cafe culture.

Down and out in Paris.

Life at the margin of society.

YOUTH!

Hazanavicius first really gets going with Une Femme mariée.

Stacy Martin in the nude.

Stunning.

Cinematography.

Grabbing the bedsheets.

Clutch.

Brace brace brace.

The resemblance to Charlotte Gainsbourg is striking.

A little Alphaville.

Someone who nibbles Godard’s neck.

The Samuel Fuller scene from Pierrot le fou turned into a fistfight.

Politics.

Don’t insult me!

A bit of Macha Méril in the hair.

And a bit more of Chantal Goya.

Getting shouted down by a situationist during the May ’68 occupation of the Sorbonne.  Lumped in with Coca-Cola.

Things go dark with insults.

Swiss-Maoist jerk.

On the blink.

“Ruby’s Arms”.

It hurts.

Made in U.S.A.

Two or Three Things I Know About Her.

Urbanism.

“You ruined my shot!”

Ciné-tracts.

Eating Chinese food.

A rather unfortunate outburst directed at a war hero.

And his wife.

These are the things we do.

When we’re young.

And stupid.

And fiery.

What is striking is the humor in Redoubtable.

The broken eyeglasses.

The slipping shoes.

And their replacement.

I must give credit to Louis Garrel.

He really does convey the mania and eccentricity of Godard.

While Stacy Martin is very good here, it is a shame that Hazanavicius chose to lovingly evoke every detail of Godard’s life…except Wiazemsky’s red hair.

 

-PD

Napapiirin sankarit [2010)

Here is a masterpiece.

Not since Aaltra (2004) has a movie so perfectly made use of the dark humor pioneered by Louis-Ferdinand Céline in Voyage au bout de la nuit (1932).

Lapland Odyssey is Finnish film which is currently free to watch on Tubi.

I cannot give enough praise to the director, Dome Karukoski.

This is not just a miraculous feat of storytelling, but the mise-en-scène of a true auteur.

I was born 15 days earlier than Mr. Karukoski:  43 years ago.

Our director hails from Cyprus.

Where Eric Schmidt has recently applied for citizenship.

https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/11/9/21547055/eric-schmidt-google-citizen-cyprus-european-union

Funny timing, that.

Wouldn’t Eric Schmidt welcome a Biden Presidency?

Does Mr. Schmidt fear something in the United States?

Perhaps the former CEO of Google knows something we do not?

Might it concern impending public corruption trials?

And, just maybe, a reelection of Donald Trump?

Lapland Odyssey premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010.

That was the same year that Toronto-based company Dominion Voting Systems acquired not only Premier Election Solutions (an American company [Ohio]) from ES&S (Election Systems & Software [Omaha, Nebraska]), but also Sequoia Voting Systems [California] from Smartmatic [U.K.].

PES had only been acquired by ES&S the previous year (2009).  Before that, PES was owned by Diebold.

Premier Election Systems was formerly known as Diebold Election Systems.

Before Diebold bought it, it was known as General Election Systems.

Before General Election Systems bought it, it was known as I-Mark Systems.

You get the picture.

Dominion Voting Systems is now owned by American private equity firm Staple Street Capital (which has extremely strong ties to the Carlyle Group [George H.W. Bush’s former benefactor]).

https://www.osler.com/en/expertise/deals-cases/dominion-voting-systems

None of this would have been possible without Jussi Vatanen.

Vatanen is our hero.

He is tasked with the impossible.

Find a digital TV receiver (“digibox”) in one night.

After the local electronics store has closed.

This involves a trip to Rovaniemi:  the main city of Lapland.

[population 63,032]

Hundred of kilometers to get to Finland’s 17th most populated city.

In Finland, Lapland is not only the northernmost province, but it is also the largest province of the country.

It bears mentioning that there is also a Swedish province called Lapland.  

The cleavage of these two Laplands dates to 1809:  when Russia annexed the eastern part of Sweden and declared it the Grand Duchy of Finland.

My closest brush with this region was a single musical concert I played years ago in the town of Kiruna (in Swedish Lapland):  Sweden’s northernmost town [population 22,906].

It was an experience which profoundly changed me and which stays with me till this day.

Finnish Lapland borders Sweden’s Norrbotten County.  At Norrbotten’s northernmost point can be found Kiruna (north of the Arctic Circle).

At the southeast corner of Norrbotten County is Piteå:  my favorite town in Sweden.

The town of Piteå sits on the Gulf of Bothnia–just across the water from Finland.

I also played a musical concert in Piteå.

It was, perhaps, the happiest time in my life.

So I can imagine Rovaniemi.

A city just four miles south of the Arctic Circle.

Jussi Vatanen plays the loser who makes good.

Which makes him, in fact, not a loser.

I can intimately relate to that.

I have lost my job (again).

I am addicted to drugs (again).

And I am addicted to alcohol (a first for me).

It is in these days, when I am having the first true experience in my life with alcohol withdrawal, that I come to this film.

It is the perfect film.

It is just exactly the film I needed at this particular time.

Because I, like Janne (Vatanen’s character), am trying my damnedest to get my life together.

Last week, I got engaged.

Actually, REengaged.

I exercise (pacing back and forth in my parents’ garage as my phone records my steps).

I drink less.

I exercise.

I drink less.

Nausea.

Dizziness.

ANXIETY.

And extreme fucking INSOMNIA.

When I was in Kiruna, the sun only went down for four hours.

I didn’t see the Northern Lights.

But you can see them in this film.

And they are glorious.

If it is CGI, then I am losing my touch.

Because I don’t believe it is.

I appears to be the genuine article.

Aurora borealis.

And headaches!

Lots of sunflower seeds.

Big red welts all up and down my arms and torso from nicotine patches.

I can no longer afford my General Snus.

Sure, I have some stashed away…

But my wise old psychologist once told me:  “just move one thing at a time”.

  1.  alcohol
  2. tobacco
  3. valerian?
  4. Ambien?
  5. Xanax?

I put question marks because I am unsure of the order.

Main goal is STOP DRINKING.

Or, should I say, the FIRST goal.

If I can get an MBA, surely I can stop drinking.

[God willing]

For every hero, there needs to be a doubter.

To provide context.

The hero forges forward (when it would probably be best to just quit).

The hero quits (when it would be much easier to just continue).

The hero is determined.

The hero gives energy and inspiration to those around him.

But the doubter adds richness.

Because it is human to doubt.

Will Donald Trump be reelected President?

We will find out when the Electoral College meets on my birthday to ELECT a new President-Elect.

Till then, Joe Biden is at best the worst kind of poseur.

He is doing exactly what he promised Chris Wallace and the American people he WOULD NOT do:  to declare victory before the election is independently certified.

What a hypocrite.

https://www.foxnews.com/politics/biden-victory-election-independently-certified

Each state certifies its vote.

Biden does not have enough votes at the moment (by way of certified state votes and their concomitant electors) to declare victory.

N.B.  It is the Electoral College which will ELECT the next President (who THEN AND ONLY THEN becomes known as the President-Elect).

And so we doubt.

Me and Jasper Pääkkönen.

Was there fraud?

I believe so.

And you may doubt in the other direction.

Was there fraud?

You doubt there was.

But I know there was.

Because I have basic research skills.

And I availed myself of Rudy Giuliani’s masterful delineation of the case for fraud.

[no thanks to American mass media (which completely blacked out all coverage of Giuliani’s press conference with Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis)]

So we all doubt, each in our own way.

And someone may convince us.

The law may even compel us.

The U.S. Supreme Court may weigh in on the legality of certain ballots in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

Cold states.

Particularly Michigan and Wisconsin.

Fort Meade.

4thPOG.

Dark Horse.

Fly fishing.

Fort Bragg.

Timo Lavikainen is the late-bloomer.

Along for the ride.

But absolutely essential.

Able to love.

You must become like a child to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sibelius.

Karelia.

1893.

News of war.

Siege.

National anthem.

At some point we might mention the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.

Which lasted about 500 years (until 1795).

For beauty, we have Pamela Tola.

She just wants a fucking digibox, for christsakes!

Something about those blonde bangs.

Then there is the villain.

A bit like Alex “Scott Evil” Soros.

A bit like Martin Vanger.

Kari Ketonen plays the boy who never got anything.

…and let it make him evil.

He plays the cheater.

The trickster.

A character with absolutely no morals.

Strictly driven by lust.

[and a good bit of narcissism]

He comes off looking a bit like Kip in another masterpiece of a film:  Napoleon Dynamite.

Imagine Kip as an irredeemably-unscrupulous character and you will have a pretty good idea of who Pikku-Mikko is.

Little Mikko.

Short.

Short people.

Randy Newman.

Mikko moves in for the kill while the matrimonial bed is still warm.

Mikko false-flags his way into manipulating his enemy.

Mikko is a master of PSYWAR.

But God wins in the end.

And Moa Gammel is the real star of this film.

In a strange way.

Principal siren.

Debussy.

A Swede.

Almost the doppelgänger of Pamela Tola.

The Swede is the world image of beauty.

Alluring.

Beckoning.

The Finn is more quixotic.

Cute.

Harsh.

Soulful.

None of this, of course, means a damn thing.

And all the while Timo Lavikainen just wants to see Miia Nuutila’s tits.

License plate.

Ali G.

There will be helicopters.

-PD

Annie [1982)

Woof!

Yesterday was a rough day for me.

Yeah, nicotine withdrawal.

Ugh…

Maybe the roughest 24 hours of my life.

They say nicotine is more addictive than heroin.

I can neither confirm nor deny that.

But after a day like yesterday, I was ready for tomorrow.

And, to quote Stereolab, “tomorrow is already here”.

So when I saw this little gem on Netflix, I thought, “This is the perfect kinda movie I need tonight.  Something light.  Not too spicy.”

But as the classics of naïveté always do, this one reduced me to a sobbing snot factory.

[sorry for the vividness]

Back in the day (you know, the day), it didn’t matter to me who directed a movie.

[Auteur?

Is that like a really smart person?

Oh, no…that’s savant.]

But then I got into all this movie business.

And it started to matter.

Because certain directors consistently turned out magic…even when they were all-but-thwarted by external sources.

[and sometimes internal sources]

So it bears repeating that Annie was directed by THE John Huston.

[kinda like THE Ohio State University]

Apparently, Sony Pictures’ subsidiary Colombia Pictures thought in 2014 that Annie would be a good film to remake.

You know?

Because it’s just a musical, right?

And there had only been one other adaption of it (the one under review)…and that had been directed by some guy…Houston, or something…

So, yeah…let’s get Will Gluck (WHO?!?) and it’ll all be groovy, baby…yeah.

Well, I’m not here to pass judgment on a film I’ve never seen (Annie from 2014).

I’m just here to say, when you start fooling with perfection (like Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971]), then you’re probably in trouble.

Tim Burton got a pass (just barely) with his Charlie…

But I pity the Will Gluck,

ok…let’s discuss–

Why Remaking Annie Would Be A Wholly Unenviable Task.

Because John Huston started his directing career in 1941 with The Maltese Falcon (!)…

Key Largo…The African Queen…

Yeah, those were his.

You know, Huston is not high in my list of favorite directors.

[maybe because I’m a moron]

But this film, Annie, which he made five years before he died, is really remarkable.

But who the hell am I, right?

I’m just a no-name in San Antonio, Texas.

AH!

San Antone…

Never felt so good!

Yes, the villain of our film, Carol Burnett, hails from my hometown.

It’s not often we can say that.

Lucille LeSueur (sorry, erm…Joan Crawford).

Pola Negri later in life (Apolonia Chalupec).

Yeah, that’s about it.

And Wings.

That’s San Antonio.

[as far as cinema goes]

But I’m here to tell you, John Huston’s Annie is really special!

Even Jay-Z digs these tunes (apparently).

[couldn’t care less]

Which is to say, sampling?  Cool.

Covering?  An entire film???

Again, I pity the fool…

Because Annie is an ass-kicker.

Yeah.

You’re gonna abuse animals?

Watch out.

Annie’s got some punches–some moves!

[and that’s before her karate lesson with Roger Minami]

{not to be confused with Mini Me}

Yeah…The Asp!

And Punjab!

[who was also in Live and Let Die (1973)]

Yeah, nothing Punjabi about Geoffrey Holder.

But that’s alright 🙂

These were the Reagan years.

And Annie is a not-so-gentle nudge for Republicans to embrace their warmer sides.

[Albert Finney rolling his eyes at the George Washington painting is priceless!]

So yeah…Annie is basically a good kid.

The best!

An animal lover.

A big heart.

Courage.

An encourager.

[As Punjab says, “Buddha (?!?) says, ‘A child without courage is like a night without stars.'”]

Yeah, and Ann Reinking sees that joy in Annie.

I mean, this film has it all!

Bolsheviks!  Rockettes!  Greta Garbo!

Yes, there’s a film within a film.

And I think Edgar Poe would approve…with his glass half-full of brandy (and the other half absinthe).

Judging by Garbo, the year is 1936.

Tough year to be out of work.

And a good year to have some juniper berry syrup.

And a bathtub.

Yeah, Albert Finney knew the art of the deal.

Hardball.

[not the tripe on MSNBC]

The concept.

Aileen Quinn is really fantastic in this film.

Following Daddy Warbucks around.

Like on a Monopoly board.

Hands behind the back.

And Daddy’s gotta sell some fighter-bombers…and BUY, BUY copper!

Albert Finney is driving the economy.

Pushing the leading indicators.

And Annie is honest.

And a little honesty goes a long way.

And in sets fakery.

Looking for some dupes.

Yeah, you can only fool a Warbucks so long.

Nose upturned.

From Liverpool, mind you!

Bootstraps!  Horatio Alger crap!!!

And it ain’t crap.

Positive thinking.

Tomorrow.

I guess you gotta be willing to give it up.

The ultimate test of faith.

Where is your heart?

In steps FDR.

Infamy.

Who can know?

Why we fight?

So it’s up to us orphans to run down 5th Avenue.

If we have something to say.

Jailbreak!

These little G-Men (G-Women, in this case) are citizen journalists.

Town criers!

Extra!  Extra!  Read about the fakery!!!

Because time is of the essence.

And you gotta keep climbing even though you can see the steps run out.

God bless the parents of this world.

Those who want to give their kids a warm bed.

And sweet dreams.

Penny on the dollar for your fireworks!

You can even ride the elephant 🙂

-PD

Frank [2014)

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

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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 🙂

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-mâché 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 François 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