#3 The Curse of Mr. Bean [1990)

Just who does Donald Trump think he is???

Answer:  Sam Walton.

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

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

Yes, Donald Trump:  man of the people.

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

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

We might know Chaplin.  And Sellers.

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

Just from whence was Atkinson pulling his stuff?

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

But influence is unavoidable.

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

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

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

Fear of the diving board (afraid of heights).

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

And finally the orgiastic grand guignol of laughter:

fear of movies.

It sounds like a pretentious art school pop album.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet Bean never crosses that line of pretension.

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

No, Bean always remains funny.

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

This kind of comedy.

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

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

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

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

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

 

-PD

Amarcord [1973)

This film contains everything.

As in, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It is truly vast like the sky full of pebble stars.

There is no translation for Federico Fellini’s masterpiece Amarcord other than “I remember”.

Ah, good God:  memory!

I immediately think of George Stevens’ paean to family I Remember Mama (1948) and, of course, the king of memory Marcel Proust.

But this is Italy, not France.  And Remembrance of Things Past is a “bad” translation.  More accurate is In Search of Lost Time.

And that is exactly what Fellini is doing here.

Trying to reclaim the past.

Remember this?  Remember that?

It is, I am guessing, a conversation with himself.

A rumination.

It is a small town (or at least it feels that way).

And we have everything.

A blind accordionist straight out of Tom Waits’ dreams.

A femme fatale by the name of Gradisca (“take what you want”).  [Played by Magali Noël.]

We miss the translation now and then.  Perhaps the Romagnol dialect?

That explains our title Amarcord.

I remember.

“Jadis, si je me souviens bien…”

A season in hell.

From hell.

And yet a season of beauty as well.

Uncle Teo (Uncle Uncle) says it best…up a tree…over and over and over and over again:

Voglio una donna!

Voglio una donna!

[like John Lennon writhing in pain on “Mother” or “Cold Turkey”]

Voglio una donna!

“I want a woman!”

Each incantation different.

The 42-year-old Teo up a tree…on a day out in the country…on leave from the asylum.

And a dwarf nun makes it all better.

It’s not what you think.

When you look at the cover for the film, is says SEX SEX SEX.

Sure, there’s sex.

But it’s very matter-of-fact.

This isn’t a film with gratuitous nudity (only one brief nude scene).

Sex is woven into the film.

It’s alright to talk about sex.  1973.  Italy.

Fellini is a big shot by now.

It is art.  It is life.  It is artistic expression.

Everyone is portrayed lovingly.  Everyone is subjected to the same pimple-precise criticism.

Films don’t get any more real than this.

HOWEVER…

Fellini introduces an element of magical realism here and there.  [The magic is due in no small part to Nino Rota’s shimmering soundtrack.]

Sure, it serves as a bit of a distancing technique (Brecht?)…a defense mechanism, perhaps.

This material is too raw; too personal.

It is TOO sad!  One has to laugh because of how sad it is.

And that is the tragicomedy which lived on in the great Roberto Benigni’s comedies and the grand-slam of naïveté:  Giuseppe Tornatore’s Cinema Paradiso.

And so, to understand these latter-day…saints(?)…we must examine the old masters.  We must get used to saying Nuovo Cinema Paradiso (the real title)…because cinema is barely a hundred years old, really.  And so, we must look to Fellini as akin to Giotto.

Pros-pet-ti-va!

We get so many perspectives here…

It’s one of the few times AMPAS has gotten something right.  This film.  Oscar for Best Foreign Language.  1974.  Look at the list.  Lots of misses.

Back to Amarcord.

Beauty goes away.  The big fish in the small pond.

But the blind accordion player endures.

Vulpina (Josiane Tanzilli) the nymphomaniac fleshes out the family portrait.

Ah ah ah…

It’s no use.

This film is all about detail.

There is no use recounting the endless assortment of fascinating characters who make this thing go.

You will just have to see it for yourself.

For all of its pithy naturalism, it is really a touching film.

Fellini gets every little detail right.  Such a formidable picture!

 

-PD

 

 

L’Avventura [1960)

Was Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Probably.

Is Monica Vitti the most beautiful woman ever?

Yes.

That sounds better.

This.

This is the most disorienting film I have ever seen.

Mulholland Dr. is child’s play in this regard.

A sort of sweet, pleasant nausea.

A feeling I didn’t know existed.

Maybe.

Maybe John Hughes was right in this regard.

[Vingt regards]

uno

hair, always hair…blowing in the wind…like tall grass

good lord…

due

the birds are men…flocking on the jungle gym bars…as she silently tries to sneak from the schoolhouse

Noto…UNESCO World Heritage Site…Samba de Uma Nota Só

tre

a purring in my headphones…a Foley artist diabolico-subliminal…and yes she curls up like a cat…

Quattro

she seems to be bathing in money…but it’s just the floor pattern…sometimes…the floor looks best in red…

and there is always a woman…or a man…and you hate to admit it

cinque

dreadful…dreary…making love above the cemetery…a gazelle with blond hair…thank you Google…5’7″…an essential function for the, functioning of humanity

sei

Uh!  They’re all nudes.  No nudity here.  A goddess is clothed.  Not an alabaster ornament by the fountain.

sette

I wanted to like it.  Or I wanted to not like it.  Camus.  I said that.

otto

no man is an island…and no island a man…and no man a nomad…

nove

it all hinges (henges) on a funny face in the mirror…the genius…we create together…Vitti…Antonioni…Ferzetti

a bad habit I never caught…

dieci

andiamo…lots of andiamo…remarkable for a film with so little movement in such a big slab of its meat…

like formidable in French…Anna Karina…everything formidable…but that’s because she was Danish…speaking French…and her cute little accent…but before there was Godard Breathless there was Antonioni Adventure…like the second Television album…but moreover on Karina…before Vivre sa vie (I know…) there was L’Avventura…a little scene with a wig…and before that Louise Brooks…

undici

you think they will turn around nude

dodici

Nono, Luigi…it is the most intoxicating kiss…out of nowhere…WTF in excelsis…mamma mia!

tredici

David, del…frolicking…who says summer is over?!?  bangs…Fiat…leaping off the pavement (!)

quattordici

they told me to learn…sotto voce…or sotto nightgown…les cloches…loaves…and fishes…twenty, or vingt-et-un…Van Johnson…I really blew it…the architecture…and a dog with lunar metabolism…

quindici

you fuck…and then get fucked…that is, the circle of life…like a lion…and an impala…gazelle…przygoda…

sedici

he collects dolls…a man…faints [Truffaut]

diciassette

the first girl…is not Vitti…wait a while…count the seconds

diciotto

oops…now comes the swimming in money…my house in Rome…and the other in Milan

diciannove

Michelangelo…Sandro…I threw it all away…and no one is listening

venti

another day, another dollar…pardon me ma’am, but do you have natural nails?  I use a lighter.  Better still, until they go wrong.

it’s too packed full of dolphins

too many Bibles and Catholic eeriness

spring breakers…island hoppers

if it had ended

no

just give me macaroons and sports cars

il mio amore

-PD

Prenom Carmen [1983)

If Jean-Luc Godard had never made another film after 1983, this one would have been his best ever.  It is that good.  But perhaps you doubt?  Let me tell you why I believe this to be the case.

This may have been the film where Godard really nailed down his mature style.  Really, there is no putting a date on such things.  He has continued to progress to the current day.

But let us focus on a few salient elements.

Beethoven.

The sea.

One might expect a French (Swiss) director to pick Debussy and call the elements connected (we refer here to the orchestral piece La Mer).  But Godard was always very analytical.  And so Beethoven is a more natural choice.

But what Beethoven?  Which Beethoven?  It is the string quartets.

Must it be?  It must be.  It must be.

Godard began (continued?) to make films more like a composer than a movie director.

The art film genre allowed him to do this.  And in many ways he formed and shaped this genre from the beginning.

To call art films a genre is generally not in keeping with standard film criticism practice.

But I don’t care.

If it helps to call it a genre here, then so be it.

But does it help?

It makes no difference (as Rick Danko sang).

But let us not neglect the ocean…the sea.

“I salute you, old ocean,” as Lautreamont said in Maldoror.

Indeed, Godard has some of that proto-Dadaist perversion in this movie.  Perverse, as opposed to perverted.  Both.

What is remarkable beyond Beethoven and the sea is Godard as an actor.

That’s right, Godard himself plays a prominent role as (what else?) himself.

It is really a caricature of himself.  Or is it?

To wit, Godard plays a director who has gone crazy.

Early on we see him in an insane asylum.

There is something slightly frightening and menacing about him from time to time, but generally he is hilarious.

Humor.

This film is replete with humor.

But it is not a comedy.

Sometimes a comedy of errors.

And so, Carmen?  Yes, like Bizet.  We remember Brahms being so taken with this opera.

Was it the music or was there perhaps an attractive alto in the production?

Alto.  Viola in French is alto.

And who is our alto?  Only one of the greatest actresses to ever live:  Myriem Roussel.

I must at this point beg forgiveness from the universe for not even mentioning her in my review of Passion.

I blame Wikipedia (as I always do).

I admit laziness (as per usual).

Frankly, I knew it was her in Passion by the poolside.  It is a small-but-striking role.  Mainly because she is nude.

It is all very artistic, yet I see why Godard would cast the beautiful Roussel in revealing roles over the course of several films.

Yet here, Myriem is merely a violist.  The viola in my life.  Morton Feldman.

But it is neither Godard nor Roussel who carry the bulk of the dramatic action here.

For that we must credit Maruschka Detmers and Jacques Bonnaffé.  The acting from these two players is outstanding!

Detmers plays the titular Carmen.  Indeed (keeping with the hanging sonority), it is Detmers who spends a fair portion of this movie nude.  But, to Godard’s credit, so does Bonnaffé.

But this is not just a gratuitous European pseudo-art film.  This is the real thing.

The most beautiful moment occurs during a bank robbery.

A struggle for a gun.  A man and a woman.  Carmen.  She has robbed the bank with a band of professional thieves.

And Joseph (Bonnaffé)…the gendarme responding to the violent robbery.

He leaves his post in front of the bank and exchanges gunfire with the trigger-happy gang.

And so it is that Carmen and Jo (Joseph) struggle for an automatic weapon.  Both having been shot.

They crawl over each other.  Win at all costs.  To lose is death.  High stakes now.

And climbing over each other in spurts of faint energy, they abruptly stop and begin passionately kissing.

They give up.

It is the moral.

Ah, but they DON’T give up!  They join forces.

And so Joseph goes from cop to thief.  All for love.

Lust.  Love.

Oh no, I’ve said too much (as Michael Stipe once intoned).

But no…

Carmen needs to pee.  Joseph has tied her wrist to his using his necktie.  [What kind of gendarme doesn’t have handcuffs?]

And so they stop at a shitty roadside gas station.

The moral of the stop:  even France and Switzerland have shitty roadside gas stations.

Away from the tourists.  Off the beaten path.  Where people actually work for a living.

And we have the most poignant scene.  The most bizarre.  A fat man has pocketed a jar of baby food (?) and proceeded to the restroom to eat it lustily with his fingers.  Put another way, here’s a poor schmuck whose life at this moment (for one reason or another) has been reduced to shoplifting to sustain his life force.

And the poor schmuck gets a treat.  Carmen needs to pee.  So does Joseph.  Joseph won’t untie her.  And so she uses a urinal.  And the shoplifter continues to make slobbery sounds as he licks his fingers while eating baby food in front of the bathroom mirror…nonplussed by the action.  But he sneaks a peak…ah, whatever.  He is entirely involved in his “meal.”  Somehow this scene makes sense of the whole universe.  It is hilarious, disgusting, and believable.  The mark of genius is on this film throughout.

I must add one last thing.  Just when the strains of Beethoven have become commonplace–just when the crossfaded splosh of waves has been drowned out by our psyches…it is at this point which Godard throws us the most gut-wrenching curveball:  “Ruby’s Arms” by Tom Waits.  Bonnaffé hugs the TV…resting his weight on the crappy 80s hotel console…and the screen is tuned to snow…static…fuzz…phasing lines of nothingness.  Between channels.  And as the song plays, Bonnaffé caresses the screen…caresses what might have been.

It is a most touching evocation of lovesickness.

Carmen is fond of repeating the line from the American movie, “If I love you, then that’s the end of you.”  She may not work at a cigarette factory nor dance the habanera, but she is still the prototypical femme fatale.  Yes, Jo…love is a rebellious bird.

-PD