Histoire(s) du cinéma {Chapter 2(a): Seul le cinéma} [1989]

So here we go again.

They told Beethoven it was a horrible way to begin his 5th Symphony.

With a rest.

It’s unheard.

Of.

Unheard.

Only the players see it.

Only the conductor pays it much mind.

So the first “note” (beat) is silent.

The conductor must give it.

But there are at least two schools of thought on how this is to be done.

First, a conductor might do as they always do and swiftly move their baton downwards to indicate visually that the first (silent) beat is occurring.

The only problem with this is that the symphony players must then abruptly jump onto the very next beat (which is an “upbeat”).

They happen in very quick succession.

Nothing/Everything.

The whole orchestra.

Tutti.

And they get one shot.

To come in together.

Like an attack.

[rest] da da da daaaaaaaaaa

[rest] da da da daaaaaaaaaa

The second school of thought is more practical.

It advises that, in this particular situation, a conductor giving a downbeat is not particularly helpful to the orchestra (because no sounds occur on that downbeat).

Therefore, the conductor motions the orchestra that the UPBEAT is happening.

When the baton (or hand(s)) come down, that is the precise time to make noise.

It is not hard to see why this might lead to a more successful outcome.

For the goal is to have the orchestra stick together.

An orchestra of individuals who are a mere microsecond off from one another creates a sound which is generally not highly-valued in Western music (at least not in the performance of Beethoven).

But this STILL leaves a problem.

The conductor of this second school, whose job it is to try and lead his orchestra to a faithful rendition of this masterwork, is thereby IGNORING what Beethoven wrote (or, more precisely, HOW Beethoven wrote it).

The beginning.

Godard comes back more fit and trim in this episode of his greatest work.

1a is probably the nuke.

1b is a psychological warfare manual (perhaps)

2a returns us to kinetic warfare.

More or less.

With some lulls.

But there is genuine artistry within these 26 minutes.

Like a symphony by Beethoven or Bruckner.

The beginning is weighted heavily.

1a = 51 mins. (the longest of all eight parts)

1b = 42 mins. (the second longest “movement” of the bunch)

The entire first section is, therefore (carry the zero), 1 hour and 33 minutes.

That’s the first quarter of this “ring cycle”.

And it is truly operatic.

So now we are into a bit of a scherzo.

26 minutes.

Now you can see the influence of television.

The “producers” of this film.

Canal+ (French TV channel)

CNC (part of the French Ministry of Culture [and Godard is Swiss!])

France 3 (a French TV channel)

Gaumont (a French film studio)

La Sept (a defunct French TV channel)

Télévision Suisse Romande (a defunct, French-language Swiss TV network)

Vega Films (Godard’s production company at the time)

26 minutes.

Enough time for eight 30-second commercials.

Arriving precisely at a sum total of 30 minutes’ programming.

It’s generous (no doubt owing to the fact that this was educational programming).

If you look at the true running time of an American half-hour sitcom these days, it is roughly 21 minutes of what you want to see.

The other 9 minutes are reserved for at least 18 30-second commercials.

In the tradition of James Joyce.

The pun.

Which Hitchcock so admired.

…and the Oscar goes to.

Oscar Wilde.

Irishmen in France.

The recurring scene from Salò…

Julius Kelp.

Literary history vs. cinematic history.

Godard has a curious frame which reads, “Your breasts are the only shells I love.”

It is a line from the poet Apollinaire.

[tes seins sont les seuls obus que j’aime]

But I must say, the exciting parts here are the “booms”!

The fighter jet exploding in midair.

Bernard Herrmann’s music from Psycho juxtaposed with scenes from Disney’s Snow White…(1937).

The agitation of Stravinsky.

Cluster chords on the piano.

Godard’s voice fed through an Echoplex.

And, just as in 1a, world-class editing!

Let me be clear.

EDITING is what makes Histoire(s) du cinéma the greatest film ever made.

It’s what makes F for Fake the second-greatest film ever made.

And what makes Dog Star Man the third-greatest film ever made.

It is more pronounced in Histoire(s) and Dog Star Man.

Orson Welles’ “editing” (montage) in F for Fake is done more at the story level.

It is a juxtaposition of content.

The Kuleshov effect with ideas rather than images.

[more or less]

Godard’s camera-pen makes some of its boldest strokes in this episode.

It rivals the 1a excerpt involving Irving Thalberg.

Which brings us to a very important point.

Godard CHOSE to use the concept of “double exposure” (two images–one on top of the other–but both seen to a greater or lesser extent) to ILLUSTRATE the subject and title of his greatest film.

Though it runs 266 minutes, that amount of time STILL wasn’t enough in which to lay out the history of cinema.

So images needed to be doubled up.

Tripled up.

Simultaneous to that, words needed to be spoken.

And furthermore, DIFFERENT words than those being spoken NEEDED TO BE WRITTEN ON THE SCREEN.

If you are not a native French speaker, you will probably need to have the subtitles on when viewing this film.

Which gives you A-N-O-T-H-E-R visual stimulus which must be taken into account.

Yes.

This film should be mandatory viewing for fighter pilots.

Practice your OODA loop here.

Observe.

Orient.

Decide.

Act.

Constantly looping.

If you want to survive in this jungle of meaning.

Night of the hunter…

Klimt.

Fred Astaire.

James Dean.

Burt Lancaster.

It’s all true.

That weary look.

From Hollywood.

It’s all true.

Which brings us to value (that thing which capitalism so gloriously creates…far more efficiently and in much greater abundance than with any other economic system).

“What is the value of knowing how to read this film,” you ask?

Just this.

It allows you to know how to read the complexity of the world.

It is a brain teaser.

With an infinite layering of meaning.

Like Finnegans Wake.

Joyce’s masterpiece should be the only required reading for a codebreaker.

Or a codemaker.

Take heed, National Security Agency.

Your curriculum needs adjusting.

Assign only Finnegan.

And reap your gains.

And what of Histoire(s)?

Its most direct application would be for analysts.

Whether they be Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, or  INSCOM.

Know how to read the image.

Know how to analyze the video.

You must think outside the box.

Sudoku the fuck out of your employees.

And thereby fight crime and keep hostile actors in check.

Which is where we musicians come in.

To analyze the phone call.

To make sense of the audio…from the video.

It cannot be taught in a bootcamp.

It has to be loved.

Nurtured.

If you had one analyst like Godard, you would have a super-soldier equal to an entire special forces unit.

The trial of Joan of Arc.

Not to be confused with her passion.

Laurel and Hardy.

Gustave Courbet.

Marcel Duchamp.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Which brings us to a very delicate situation.

What is the President planning this weekend?

And with whom is he planning it?

If Ronald Reagan was an actor (and he was), then how much more talented is Donald Trump in getting a reaction with his lines…and his gestures?

HIS lines.

HIS gestures.

Accordion music.

Munch’s vampire.

A President who has been attacked from ALL sides UNRELENTINGLY for nearly four years.

And now finds himself in the midst of the hottest biological/psychological/economic war in recorded history.

Where complexity reigns.

As globalization magnifies each twitch of activity.

And this same President STILL finds himself under attack from the same “bad actors” who have unremittingly assailed him.

As in peacetime, so in war.

These enemies of the state.

Masquerading as journalists.

And their masters above them.

Straight from the latest conclave.

“…two if by sea.”

 

-PD

 

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

Uncle Buck [1989)

Good one.

John Hughes.

It really started with National Lampoon’s Vacation.

Writer.

Chase.

Ramis was at the stick.

Egon from Ghostbusters.

Hughes really took off with Sixteen Candles.

He directed.

And that’s the first I saw of the big trilogy.

Those ’80s movies which transcend decade and genre:

Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink.

The middle one is the best.

Hughes needed a dry run with Sixteen Candles.

The Breakfast Club was the home run.

The grand slam.

Which leaves some holes.

European Vaction [writer].

Weird Science [hasn’t aged well…unless you’re a horny boy].

By Pretty in Pink, Hughes had relinquished direction to Howard Deutch.

Bueller [director] hasn’t aged that well.

WarGames [piece on #QAnon in the works] is much, much better.

Some Kind of Wonderful is another Deutch-directed hole.

Crosses paths with Back to the Future [Lea Thompson].

All of which is to say that Uncle Buck pales in comparison the the true Candy/Hughes masterpiece:  Planes, Trains and Automobiles [sic].

No Oxford comma.

Holes.

She’s Having a Baby [director].

PTA [director] was his second great auteurist masterpiece after The Breakfast Club.

But in Hughes, auteur once again becomes AUTHOR [in the sense of writing].

Hughes was no camérastylo savant–no Orson Welles or Hitchcock of angle and mise-en-scène.

It’s the story that matters.

And yet…Judd Nelson’s neorealist performance in The Breakfast Club must have made Hughes the Rossellini of the ’80s…if for only a moment.

[and Nelson its James Dean…briefly]

The Great Outdoors [writer] is worse than even Uncle Buck.

Which is to say, Uncle Buck is WAY better than The Great Outdoors.

But both pale in comparison to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Christmas Vacation was a comeback.

Jeremiah S. Chechik owes his career to Hughes [writer] and Randy Quaid [genius].

Hughes only directed once more after Uncle Buck.

Curly Sue.

Sad.

And his writing went strictly downhill after the rollercoaster pinnacle of Home Alone.

Money isn’t everything.

 

-PD

 

Bean [1997)

Maybe think I’m not taking this writing thing serious.

Au contraire.

To rethink fundamental things.

Good movie.

Hideous painting.

De Kooning.

Superimposed.

[Ah!]

Perhaps not as solid as show.

But big difference feature length to sitcom squash.

Can I ever regain?

Yes.

Will I?

Maybe.

Wait for next episode to see Bean Cannes.

But, at root, watching a film.

For enjoyment.

Doesn’t matter.

See it again.

Welcome to the trauma of real life.

Daft.

Formulaic.

Heartwarming.

All.  Like Dostoyevsky.

Art has dribbled out since Podesta débâcle.

And then we come to QAnon.

Real or fake?

What would Orson Welles make of this PSYOP?

War of the world.

Buried deep in a movie review.

Experts.

I cannot say for sure.

I hope it’s real.

A good movie.

Popcorn.

 

-PD

Иван Грозный Часть I [1944)

[IVAN THE TERRIBLE, PART I (1944)]

Have you ever used Russian Wikipedia?

Because you can’t just type Ivan the Terrible.

You can’t even type Ivan Grozny.

Not least, you cannot type NBaH rpo3HbIN yactb I.

No, certainly not.

But by that point, you are close.

Funny thing about the Cold War was that it was cold.

No shooting.

At least the big guns.

Boom boom.

It was an economic war.

It would really be unfair to capitalism to claim that it didn’t win.

Ah, good old capitalism.

Capitalism is bad in a lot of ways, but it is an economic beast.

Communism is good in a lot of ways, but it got its butt kicked by capitalism.

But our story predates Marx and Lenin by centuries (even though it was commissioned by Stalin).

What we have here is a masterpiece of Soviet film:  Ivan the Terrible (Part I).

It’s important.  Part I.  Часть I.

Because Часть II wouldn’t appear for another 14 years (Stalin was a fickle patron).

And Часть III would never appear.  [It was destroyed after the director’s death.]

And what a director!

Sergei Eisenstein was a true auteur in every sense of the word.

When he died in 1948, Часть III more or less went with him.

Considering that, it’s amazing that Часть II itself even survived.

It was only the “Khrushchev thaw” which occasioned its eventual release in 1958.

But the year is 1944.

And the year is also 1547.

16 January 1547.

And Ivan (though he doesn’t look it in the film) is 16 years old.

It’s not Reims.

But it rhymes with…Bosco?

If it had a rhyme, Bob Dylan would have smacked it right down in the middle of The Freewheelin‘ or Another Side

Good old Moscow!  Москва́

Something like that…

And so we see a truly riveting coronation (this is not really a spoiler…1547).

We must remember what “the Terrible” meant.

Or means.

As I understand it…it’s neither good nor bad.

Terrible as in terror…but also as in “fear God”.

Perhaps I have botched it.

grozny (miniscule).  As opposed to the capital of Chechnya.

Let me just say this:

Nikolay Cherkasov (in this film) is the spitting image of Nick Cave.

[God forbid an iconoclast get ahold of a spitting image!]

Some might need a further clarification.

I mean the Nick Cave from Warracknabeal, Australia.

Not the one from Fulton, Missouri.

Clear?

“2000 years of Christian history baby/and you ain’t learned to love me yet”

Something like that.

Ivan the Terrible “read that book from back to front”.

“It made a deep impression” (on his forehead).

But they didn’t have BBC Radio 4 in Russia in 1547.

So not even a gift of a chess set could cause Queen Elizabeth to beam a broadcast of Gardeners’ Question Time over to Ivan.

Alas, he was on his own…

Boyars be boyin’ [if you know what I mean].

I must admit, I’m rather proud of myself for figuring this out.

To wit, Михаил Названов looks like Gene Wilder as Jesus.

Tsk tsk, English Wikipedia.

Which is to say, Andrey Kurbsky is played by Mikhail Nazvanov.

Every epic needs a great beauty 🙂

And Lyudmila Tselikovskaya is no exception.

She is chaste (and chased).

English Wikipedia gives no hypertext love.

But there is an article.

She was from Astrakhan.

And here she portrays Ivan’s bride Anastasia.

Such a lovely word…tsarina.

And by Astrakhan we certainly don’t mean Canadian military fur wedge cap.

Clear?

Ivan the Terrible is basically Donald Trump (for anyone needing a reference).

Which is why Stalin identified with Ivan.

Putin is another good reference point.

For that matter, Pavel Kadochnikov’s effeminate, moronic character is a good symbol for the past 16 years of American presidency.  Imagine W. as a metrosexual in 16th-century Russia.  You’ve got it!  16 & 16.

Marriage is the end of friendship (in more ways than two).

And so Philip II, Metropolitan of Moscow heads off to the monastery.

But at this time he was just Feodor Kolychev.

Family Glinski mentioned.  Family Zakharin mentioned.

But the House of Romanov takes an extra effort.

Anastasia’s side.

Do you remember Kazan from Quantum of Solace?

I never properly expressed my admiration for that film.

Tosca in Bregenz.  Exquisite!

Back to Kazan…  Poor saps vs. rich saps.

And military strategy comes to the fore.  That of Ivan.

Their strength was sapped.  One letter from tapped.

That would be Operation Gold!

There’s a Tartar sauce of brutality (?) reminiscent of ¡Que viva México! (remember the horses and the buried guys???).

Same camera angles.

En plein air version of coronation.  The doubters.  Maybe Eisenstein took a thing or two from Welles?

Because Citizen Kane was 1941.

The Soviet Union joined the Allies in June 1941.

Citizen Kane premiered the previous month and would open in theaters across the U.S. the coming September.

So we wonder whether one of the first “chess sets” of understanding was a copy of Welles’ film.

Back to these Tartars.  That’s just the Western version of Tatar.

An extra R (gratis).

You may need some tarragon as well.

It certainly wasn’t “Palisades Park” for these poor Tartars.

No Freddy Cannon sound effects to distract them before being picked off by (demonym-for-people-from-Kazan) arrows.

It’s almost a Thelonious goatee.  Pharaonic.  Sun Ra-nese.

Over and over we hear of Livonia.

Reval (which is today Tallinn, Estonia).

An iron curtain required iron men.

Oprichnina.  A policy.

Oprichnik.  Of the Oprichniki.  Political police.

Oath of allegiance (starting to sound like Dale Cooper).

But lets not get caught up in bikeshedding.

This film is a masterpiece throughout.

 

-PD

Exit Through the Gift Shop [2010)

In the rogues gallery of cinema history there is now a place made available next to the immortal Elmyr de Hory.

And that spot rightly belongs to Mr. Brainwash.

Which makes Banksy an analog for Orson Welles.

And the whole thing begging to be let into the joke.

F for Fake.

And even that pernicious Truman Show.

The.

And another avant-garde situation piece:  The Party.

In terms of quality, Exit…has Truman beaten.

But it isn’t really a comedy.

Not if your life is a lot like that of Thierry Guetta.

And mine is.  [Minus a million bucks].

I mean, Elmyr is a sort of hero of mine.

And FFF my second favorite film ever.

So Exit…lacks the pointed humor of The Party and the timeless sophistication of FFF.

But it is a thoroughly enjoyable film.

I was pleasantly surprised!

Street art is exactly what you get.

Graffiti. And a stray graffito.

Making a film backwards.

Spray paint.

Reconstructing what never was.

Kilroy was here.

Watching the unwatchable.

Like the human genome project.

Banksy a director.

And if Shepard Fairey is looking for a fresh face, I would suggest Boban Marjanović.

He has a posse.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Mr. Arkadin [1955)

I am a bad film critic.

A good, bad film critic.

Because this is one of those films which requires a certain attention to detail.

Get the damn title right.

So what is it?

I have just watched the British version…we’ll call it (adhering to common practice) Confidential Report.

I had seen this once before.

To me it was always Mr. Arkadin.  I didn’t realize the level of controversy surrounding this film’s numerous versions.

But let me point something out.  All of the versions are within a few minutes of each other.  Sure, some are in Spanish.  That makes a difference.  But at a certain point it is splitting hairs.  Either you’ve seen this thing or you haven’t.

I can understand the legalistic approach to film preservation when it comes to this picture.

If the whole thing isn’t presented as a flashback, I can see how the composition might be negatively affected.

But who cares?  Bogdanovich?  Sure…I care too.

And so let’s get around to why one should even care in the first place.

This is a magnificent movie!

I didn’t really think so the first time I saw it.

It’s possible to see this film and be caught in a The Big Sleep haze.

So maybe it does depend on the version.

Maybe the film isn’t supposed to be confusing.

Yet, there’s something nice (pleasant) about being confused.

If this was a universal maxim, I would walk around with a smile on my face perpetually.

But the confusion here is a rare sort.

When I first saw Mr. Arkadin I mainly “retained” (absorbed?) only its mood.

Something was happening.  Orson Welles was a shadowy character.

There wasn’t a sense of continuity.

But here’s another possibility.

This film needs (deserves) to be seen more than once.

The action moves fast.

Weird things are afoot.

The whole film is a sort of riddle.

And the symbolism is as stinky-strong as Roquefort.

Wikipedia might lead you to Basil Zaharoff, but my mind was wandering more towards George Soros and/or Rupert Murdoch.

Even Jeff Bezos…these guys who feel compelled to protect their corporate empires by buying the Wall Street Journal (or Washington Post).

We make fun of Kissinger because he got the Nobel Peace Prize.

We make fun of Obama for the same reason.

Neither deserved it.  [the prize]

It is as repugnant as Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

But really, we are dumb.

We Lumpenproletariat.

Lumpy Gravy.

We lump together Kissinger with Brzezinski.  And then we throw Soros in for good measure.

And to top it all off, we place Murdoch like a cherry atop the mystère.

There is no mystery.

Bouvard and Pécuchet are aghast.

Maybe he was born in Muğla.

Perhaps he died in Monte Carlo.

Methods.  Experiments.

This is the dossier on Mr. Arkadin.

You are paying to have yourself spied on.

Whether you like it or not.

Because, with all you have been through, you can’t even remember your real identity.

Oh yes…the tired trope of super-soldier pap and shows like Blindspot.

We almost buy it.

It goes a long way.

But it falls short.

Too few comma splices.

Yes, too few.

I will, be, here with Pynchon.  Is not a comma splice.

This is approaching the time in which firemen SET fires.  Bradbury.  Truffaut.

And among the contraband is Tropic of Cancer.

Yes, my heart rends a bit.  As I reach out.

Julie Christie…the rumors are true.

A shamus hired by a murderer.

Belgrade.  Zürich.

Orson Welles is painting a portrait of Europe.

Corruption.

A song for Europe.

Mother of pearl.

They say Rothschild came in.

Always came in.  But with a nice glass of Lafite.

ONI was sniffing around.  They were the first.  Good old chaps!

War profiteering runs all through the story of Basil Zaharoff.

And Orson Welles borrows this story artfully.

As when Patricia Medina is drunk on the yacht.

All through the film.  Those expressionist camera angles.  Vertov.  Ruttman.

But with the wine…more sinister.  As Arkadin is lucid.  Listening.  Gathering intelligence.

DYB.

We need a new generation of jet fighters.  Though the last generation never saw action in a real war.  Hasn’t been a real war since WWII.  Profiteers are restricted in their movements.

The Spanish Empire finally collapsed because of this corruption.  Will it happen in the exact same manner to the United States?

The parallels are more similar than Rome.

It is too much.  The shoddiness of these machines.  I must stop here.

 

-PD

 

 

The Circus [1928)

I never learned to write like anybody else.

I only learned my own way.

Maybe, you’d say, I never learned to write.

By writing we mean literary composition.  Style.  Manipulation of prose.

I suppose I rely more heavily on poetry.

But perhaps I’m not a poet.  In the strictest sense.

I learned to write like myself.  Thanks to film.

Each film is a mirror.

I learned to analyze my emotions and thoughts.

And because I loved the films I tried to convey their artfulness lovingly.

I don’t mean to intimate that I’m going away.  Just yet.

I don’t know.  Who knows?

I only mean to express this important realization.

As today I sat down to write a novel.

Tried many times before.  Unfinished projects.  Absurdly obsessive poetry.

But this time was different.

I sat down with literary tools.  MY literary tools.

I have developed my own style (for better or worse).

Developing a unique style of anything (but particularly writing) is a tightrope exercise.

For there are times within the modern novel that the novelist must become truly vulnerable.

We can’t have our cake and eat it too.

And why make this Chaplin film suffer the ignominy of being associated with my self-panegyric?

It just works out that way.

I’m a bum, he’s a bum.

A laughing stock.

A stock character.

But I have captured the world (if only for a second).

Modern life can seem hideous, but we wield power through art.

Set pen to paper like the greats before you and know the writer’s life.

The thinking life.

I am but a shabby philosopher.

The reason why I tack these emotions onto Chaplin’s The Circus is because of my affinity for the Little Tramp.

Nothing of Chaplin’s is as shockingly good (to my eyes) as Limelight, but The Circus certainly must rank among his most laugh-out-loud creations.

Perhaps you have seen stills from this film.

Perhaps you have noticed monkeys.

Yes, it is all very hilarious.

But the best is the tightrope as metaphor.

Some “cheat” with a net (no penalty).  Others cheat with a safety wire.

In life, we really don’t know when our crutch has been removed.

We don’t realize how ridiculous we look.

Our dependence upon a thing.

And when we outgrow it we don’t realize the momentous importance of those first few moments…in which we are flying free.

You might say that I am overthinking a rather straightforward slapstick farce, but I would advise you to ponder how The Circus ends.

There is more than a bit of sad clown.

Pensive.  Reflective.

The carnival has packed up and a little guy comes into focus as the dust dies down.

Wagons rolling…

Apparently Orson Welles didn’t think much of Chaplin as a director, but on the other hand Orson Welles never made me laugh.

That’s not nothing.

 

-PD

Monsieur Verdoux [1947)

Being unwanted is a powerful feeling.

A life devoted to a profession, and then (poof!)…

But aging is a powerful experience even when separated from an event of displacement.

Let me clarify:

Aging can make one vulnerable.

We are only all too aware that we aren’t as handsome or as beautiful as we once were.

We are made aware of this decline by way of “the spectacle” (to borrow an idea from Guy Debord).

Sure, we can read it in the glances of everyone we meet, but we must realize that those eyes have glanced upon the ideal.  Those eyes are connected to minds.  Those minds have been imprinted like microchips.

With what?  “The tyranny of good looks…” to quote the brilliant Marilyn Yalom.

The quote comes from her excellent volume How the French Invented Love (2012).  Yes, this nonfiction tome is only too relevant to the subject at hand:  Charlie Chaplin’s bizarre Monsieur Verdoux.

This one won’t have you laughing yourself into the aisle.  Not till the back nine (at the earliest).

Charles Chaplin was a rebel.  When it worked, the world loved him.  When it didn’t?  Ah-la-la…  No one can be completely spared the wrath of the public.

A quick glance at the ever-reliable Wikipedia [cough cough] tells us that Monsieur Verdoux fared better in Europe than in America.

Quickly perusing the section marked “Reception” we might come to the conclusion that audiences in the United States did not “get” this film.

So then did we merely have a cultural barrier (and its opposite) in operation as far as world reception?

I think not.  I think that Europe’s humor was forever changed by the World Wars.  Coming just two years after the second ended, this film was a litmus test.  What could be found funny in this cruel new world?

The entire world had lost its innocence.

And so the comedian was forced to make do with the sordid rubble.

It is not spoiling much to tell you that in this film Chaplin plays a serial killer.  The idea apparently originated with Orson Welles, but the treatment was no doubt a full Chaplin adaption.

Yes, it is shocking.  A bit.  Nowadays.  But then?!?  It must have been much more scandalous.

This was the first time Chaplin took to the screen in a feature film without relying to any extent upon the Little Tramp character.  It was a brave departure!

What I find most fascinating about this film is that the fictional Verdoux, like the real-life Hitler, was a vegetarian and animal lover.

Ah!  However…Verdoux was based on a real killer:  Henri Désiré Landru.

They share the same first name (and a rhyming last):

Henri Verdoux?

Henri Landru.

They also share a profession:  used furniture merchant.

It is not clear to me (without further research) whether the vegetarian/animal lover aspects were inventions of Chaplin or not.

I’m guessing they were.

In any case, they are effective reminders about the intricacy of human personalities.

Schindler’s List comes down to us as a hack film because it lacks life.  That is the message I get from reading Godard’s critique of Spielberg.  What is more, Godard seems to lament (mourn) the lack of video footage shot within German concentration camps during WWII.

Some have construed this as holocaust denial.

I don’t think that is the point.

However, Godard’s presentation of his argument brings with it a certain amount of skepticism.  Put simply, his question seems to be (in my own words), “How could the Germans be so technologically advanced (particularly in film and motion picture equipment) yet fail to shoot any footage within the camps?”

What comes down to us today is footage of said camps’ “liberations”…  Indeed, Hollywood directors were tasked with making propaganda of the hideous findings (George Stevens comes to mind) [not that they needed much help there].

And so why have I made this detour?  Simply to illustrate that the human brain is smarter than Hollywood assumes it is.

Spielberg is not a great director.  He’s merely a rich director.

Chaplin was a great director.  Monsieur Verdoux was largely a failure in the United States.

To come back to Guy Debord (and I paraphrase heavily in translation from the French), “Reality has been turned on its head…”

The spectacle reigns supreme.  Who cares if it’s true?  Even better than the real thing.  That is the message of Debord’s La Société du spectacle (published in 1967).  And that message is relevant to Monsieur Verdoux.

Perhaps it was the Letterists (of which Debord was a member)…perhaps it was the Situationists (of which Debord was the guiding light)…one of these groups boycotted Chaplin when he arrived in France.

Ah, I have found it.  Indeed.  1952.  It was the Letterists.  Their screed pamphlet called Chaplin a “con artist of sentiments”.  [translation by Len Bracken]

Indeed, that is just the role Chaplin took up five years previous in our film Monsieur Verdoux.  It is also part of the argument which Godard has made against Spielberg.

As much as I love Debord (one of my three favorite writers), I have to disagree with his early (pre-Situationist) position against Chaplin.  Godard would likely disagree with Debord and the Letterists on this matter as well (judging from the abundance of Chaplin films referenced in his magnum opus Histoire(s) du cinema).  But I must agree with Godard regarding Spielberg.  It does no honor to the memory of Holocaust victims nor survivors to give the sad event the “Hollywood touch”.

Godard has (along with most of humanity) been called anti-Semitic.  I don’t believe that to be the case regarding the most important director to have lived.  A single glance is not enough to absorb what Jean-Luc is saying in any of his films (not to mention writings or interviews).

Ah, but now I am far off-track.  I have left Verdoux in the dust.

But that is alright.

Perhaps the measure of a film’s greatness is how much it makes us think?

 

-PD

 

 

 

SNL Season 1 Episode 4 [1975)

Ah, the great Nordic beauty Candice Bergen.

The first female host in SNL history (four episodes in).

This is quite a good episode.

But we start off with the first wholehearted attempt at Gerald Ford klutz (clumsy) humor with Chevy Chase.

Yes, before there was the fumbling, bumbling, broken banjo known as George W. Bush, there was Gerald Ford.

The humor had been leaning this way since the start of the season.

And finally Chevy got to do a proper piece (the start to the show, no less).

We also get the Landshark skit in this era of Spielberg-induced panic.

We must remember that Jaws had come out that summer (a few months prior to this show).

But the overwhelming star of this episode was undoubtedly Andy Kaufman (again).

It is the Foreign Man character (which was parlayed into his Taxi success as Latka).

Andy is a revelation here.  Yes, you need to be a little sick in the head to do comedy like Andy Kaufman.

The whole point, I think, was in how much he could get away with.

It was the game.

How far could he push it.

And so Foreign Man almost starts crying.  It is a miracle moment in television.

All great practical jokers (foremost among them Orson Welles) had this ability to suspend disbelief, but Kaufman was doing it live…out on a limb.

An excursion on a wobbly rail (to quote Cecil Taylor).

And so Candice  was right when she introduced Andy as a genius.

Goddamn…

What could follow that?!?

Well, sadly Esther Phillips starts off with a fast number.

Esther was the musical guest.

A fine singing voice, but the most annoying, lingering vibrato I’ve ever heard…like a WWI fighter plane…a machine-gun at the end of every phrase.

She was, no doubt, imitating the Billie Holiday of Lady in Satin (that last, great album of drugged-out soul).

But the problem is that the Billie Holiday vibrato doesn’t work on fast songs.

Yet, Esther uses it anyway.

And so Esther’s first number comes off as a head-tilting performance art oddity equal to Andy Kaufman (only I don’t think she knew it).

But all sins are forgiven later when Esther does a ballad.

Ahh…that’s the right repertoire.

Albert Brooks regresses to the mean with his film in this episode (a mashup of possible bullpen shows for NBC…including the awful-in-all-ways Black Vet).

All in all, this is a fine show.  Aykroyd is great.  Belushi is great.

In fact, the most touching scene is a talk between Gilda Radner and Candice Bergen about femininity/feminism.

Gilda Radner was such a beautiful person…such soul!

What a show!!!

 

-PD