The Bellboy [1960)

This one is pretty good.

I didn’t give it much of a chance at first.

Sometimes black and white movies are hard to watch.

[if you grew up on color]

Kinda like silent films are hard to watch.

[if you grew up on sound]

And sorta how Shakespeare is hard to read.

[if you grew up on comic books]

This one doesn’t rival the top dog [The Nutty Professor].

It doesn’t begin to touch the neck-and-neck silver medalist Cinderfella.

But it’s a whole lot better than The Family Jewels.

Which is to say, black and white sometimes trumps color.

The Family Jewels had everything it needed.

Except that it’s a mediocre film.

The Bellboy has nothing it needed.

Kinda like Psycho.

But it OVERACHIEVES for its resource level.

What is most significant about The Bellboy is that it truly has NO PLOT.

It does, however, have characters.

[particularly Stanley (Jerry Lewis)]

So then, taking the French love of Jerry Lewis into account, one might say that The Bellboy is a rather intellectual (!) series of situations after the manner of Debord.

Or further, that The Bellboy is a long-form work of nonsense in the mold of Finnegans Wake.

Whichever comparison is most fitting, The Bellboy stands up as a watchable, enjoyable movie.

One more thing…

There ARE true (true!) flashes of genius in this film.

The sequence with Milton Berle.

Bits with Stan Laurel (and Stanley [Lewis]).

Prefiguring Peter Sellers by way of multiple characters (Lewis playing himself as well as the bellboy Stanley).

The Jerry Lewis oeuvre is very interesting indeed.

 

-PD

Romancing the Stone [1984)

This movie was very dear to me as a kid.

It’s one of those which came on TV all the time.

And it always pulled me in.

For me, nothing in this film beats the scene in which Kathleen Turner and Michael Douglas huddle ’round a marijuana campfire in the fuselage of a crashed plane.

Taking strong belts of Jose Cuervo tequila.

Basically sitting in a giant bong 🙂

But the best part–the cutest part…is KT eating olives.

An old jar.  To be sure.

But they last awhile.

And liquor kills all germs, right?

Who cares if the dead pilot took a few swigs long ago 🙂

It’s such a cozy scene.

Perhaps it’s what the Danish mean by hygge.

And it’s an ambiance I’ve only seen approached in Vertigo (Kim Novak and Jimmy Stewart by the fireplace in his apartment…after he rescues her from the waters of San Francisco Bay) and, surprisingly, The Pink Panther (David Niven and Claudia Cardinale by the fireplace…Claudia on the tiger-skin rug).

But Romancing the Stone, unlike those two films, is a full-on romcom.

Sure, there’s action…to entice the leery men 🙂

But there’s no denying that this is a romantic comedy.

And so I’m glad to join the ranks of romcom lovers.

Glad to christen a new category on my site with this fine film.

Some of it hasn’t aged so well (like Alan Silvestri’s sequenced electro-samba soundtrack), but most of it has…so kudos to director Robert Zemeckis.

Zach Norman plays a gay villain in such a way that one cannot help thinking of John Podesta.

Danny DeVito, who plays Norman’s cousin, is definitely the funniest thing in this film.

Neither Turner nor Douglas are particularly funny, but they are graceful and charming (respectively).

I would even add that Michael Douglas encapsulates a sort of masculinity which has been on the wane since the 1980s in America…UNTIL DONALD TRUMP WON THE FUCKING PRESIDENCY!

Yeah 🙂

It is trippy.

To watch this movie late at night.

To relive childhood memories.

And then to rouse oneself to one’s feet and think, “Is Donald Trump really the President? Is this not some kind of dream???” 🙂

I know for many it is a nightmare.

So I will just leave that train of thought there.  For now.

Actually, there is a more serious villain in this film:  Manuel Ojeda.

He is certainly a BAD HOMBRE 🙂

[sorry, can’t help it]

So yeah…

The bulk of the action takes place in Colombia.

It’s like William S. Burroughs, in search of yage, writing back to Allen Ginsberg.

Though the narrative becomes evermore-farfetched as it unfurls, it’s so much fun that we don’t much care 🙂

Buried treasure?  Check.

Wrestling crocodiles?  Check.

Mr. Dundee and The Goonies were from this same era 🙂

Alfonso Arau is here too…with his little “mule” 🙂

[I guess, on second thought, that is a drug-smuggling joke]

This was the performance which preceded Mr. Arau’s all-world turn as El Guapo in Three Amigos.

Yeah…the plot really gets ridiculous right after the waterfall 🙂

But this is a feel-good movie!

And we need this kind of stuff.

Sitting down to ENJOY a movie 🙂

What a concept!

 

-PD

Till det som är vackert [2009)

This is a perfect, imperfect film.

Like Russell’s paradox.

And I hope director Lisa Langseth won’t go all Frege on me and jump out a window.

Ah!

You know…

I have spoiled nothing.

And my words are almost completely inconsequential.

But similar things have been said about La Règle du jeu.

And I disagree with that.

In 1939, Jean Renoir made an unqualified (perfect) masterpiece with that film.

I qualified it only to distinguish from my initial example.

And so Pure (the title of this Swedish film which is currently on Netflix in the U.S.) is much like Asia Argento’s almost-masterpiece Incompresa.

I will be quite blunt.

Lisa Langseth stretches in almost the exact same dimension that Argento did with her fine film.

But the real similarity is acting perfection.

For a young child, Giulia Salerno was magnificent (really!) in Argento’s film.

And so Ms. Argento had the secret weapon.

A (very young) actress capable of cine-magic.

Ms. Langseth was blessed with more-or-less the same thing.

But even better.

[perhaps because the actress was a little older and more experienced]

Alicia Vikander makes Till det som är vackert go.

I mean, really…this is an acting performance unlike any other.

And so my only gripe with Ms. Langseth, the director, is that she stretched the story TOO FAR.

But that’s ok.

Because, you know what?  Maybe I’m wrong.

Langseth and Argento both seem to be trying to tell every story they’ve ever lived…IN ONE FILM.

Argento is the guiltier party.

For most of Pure, Langseth sticks to a taut plot.

Buttressed by Vikander’s exquisite acting, the sum total is ecstasy.

And so, I find myself reacting against the Hitchcock tendency in two films.

Some directors NEED a good dose of Hitchcock.

Wes Anderson, for example.

That guy is so saccharine…that when the fingers come off in Grand Budapest, we finally have a filmmaker.

But Langseth and Argento are telling GRUELING stories throughout (in Pure and Misunderstood, respectively).

And so the heavy bass note…the one which when slammed births the 9th harmonic…it doesn’t work here.

Because the tritone.

To progress through the harmonic series.

And resolve on a tritone.

It takes a special auteur to do such.

And these two ladies are not the dodecaphonists to do so.

They have not worked out a coherent system to justify their heart-ripping atonality.

But fear not.

Pure is so, so, so worth watching!

This is as close as a film can get to masterpiece while still being flawed.

And it’s so very close, I’m wondering whether the flawed one is me.

[no doubt]

Let me correct the record (ouch…David “Scumbag” Brock)…

We get noodles with ketchup.

I mean, this film is Gummo real.

So I want to give some BIG compliments.

Till det som är vackert is the best Swedish film ever made by anyone not named Ingmar Bergman.

In fact, it’s BETTER than several of Bergman’s films.

Shall I name names?

Pure is worlds (WORLDS) better than Fanny and Alexander.

Bergman was in poseur mode.

That flick is so overrated.

And Lisa Langseth totally smokes (eats the lunch of) Bergman.

Further, Till det som är vackert is (in my humble, masculine opinion) the greatest feminist film since 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days…and in some ways EVEN BETTER than that timeless masterpiece.

And so, in general, I bow down in worship to Pure.

We have homelessness.

We have mental illness.

We have resilience.

Naturalism.  Grit.  The bird-soul of music…

The only thing we needed was an editor.

To say.

Cut.

About 20 minutes before the end.

Because Ms. Langseth wants to give us redemption.

She just seems to have her Raskolnikov in the wrong pocket.

It’s ok.

I’m the daftest son of a bitch on the planet.

One last thing…

This movie moved me so much.

The bulk of this film.

Did something to me.

Therapeutic.

And sublimely enlightening.

And so I thank God for Lisa Langseth and Alicia Vikander.

God bless you.

Thank you for making this kind of art.

As Nick Cave sang,

“It’s beauty that’s gonna save the world now”.

-PD

The Man Who Knew Too Much [1956)

Netflix seems to be down tonight.

I tried several times.  Several movies.  Several fixes.

And so it is only fitting that history should trump the ephemeral stages of technological development.

Yes, time for a good old VHS tape.

And not a film about which I’ve previously written.

While I have surveyed many of the early Hitchcock films, I never wrote about the original version of this film.

1934.

To my knowledge, this is the only film of Alfred Hitchcock’s early career which he chose to remake.

Just on this fact alone, it would seem that the story was either very dear to the auteur or that he couldn’t resist something about the plot.

Granted, the two films are considerably different.

Even on a surface level, the 1934 version was (of course) in black and white.

But this was a VistaVision, Technicolor production.

1956.

22 years later.

For better or worse, I was familiar first with the earlier version.

It is a film I should revisit.

But it was not what I would call a “home run”.

The one aspect of the original which one might miss in the remake is the presence of Peter Lorre.

But we must move on to the future.  The present.

1956.

Jimmy Stewart plays the leading male role.  A doctor from Indianapolis.

Doris Day plays his wife.

The action is set for a good bit in Morocco.

Specifically, Marrakesh.

Indeed, the beginning of the film is a sort of travelogue.

In other words, its a good excuse to show off the exotic locale in North Africa.

Camels.  Veils.  [that one’s important]  The social tradition of eating with the thumb and first two fingers of the right hand.  While leaving the left hand in the lap.

All very edifying and exciting.

But Doris Day is suspicious from the start.

If we knew nothing of Hitchcock, we’d say her paranoia was unfounded.

But, in fact, it’s Jimmy Stewart’s ease which is the fateful misstep early on.

And so this movie is about suspicion.

Who can we trust?

In this age of anxiety (thank you W.H. Auden), everyone and everything is suspect.

The only true bliss is ignorance.

[and perhaps my only wisdom is that of paraphrase]

One thing which escaped me the first time I saw this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much (in the theater…lucky me) was a funny detail about Brenda de Banzie.

Yes, dear readers (and fans of Peter Sellers), Ms. de Banzie would later appear as the annoying, flamboyant Angela Dunning in The Pink Panther (1963).

Indeed, her role as the terror of Cortina (d’Ampezzo) was her second-to-last film.

But here she is a much more mysterious character.

I will leave it at that.

We get some interesting things in this film.

“Arabs” in disguise.

Which is to say, certain personages of the spook variety in brown makeup (and native garb).

One need not look very far back in history to find a poignant parallel.

Consider, for instance, the “Basra prison incident” of 2005.

I’m guessing that T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”) would provide another example, though I am no expert on this matter.

As are almost all Hitchcock films, this one is a tense affair.

Doris Day, in particular, does a surprising job of portraying the personal terror of her character.

Perhaps most notable about this film is the musical component.

As an accomplished percussionist in my own right, I heartily appreciate Hitchcock’s attention to the intricacies of an orchestral percussion section.

Indeed, the film begins with a close-up of this little-featured “choir” (in addition to the three trumpets and three trombones at the bottom of the frame).

What is most remarkable is Hitchcock’s use of the musical score (in various permutations) to tell this unique story.

Funniest is the shot of the cymbalist’s sheet music.

It is nearly a complete tacit…save for one fateful crash.

I fondly remember (with some measure of anxiety) a time when I manned the cymbals for the overture of Verdi’s La forza del destino.

It was a similar affair.

Interminable waiting.

And if you miss your one crash?  Even in rehearsal?

Well, you are screwed!

The judging stares of oboists are enough to melt a man…

But the musical score appears elsewhere.

In the private box.

Perhaps a page-turner for an assassin.

Most vividly, Hitchcock makes the score come alive in a fascinating series of extreme close-ups.

It is like a very erudite version of “follow the bouncing ball”.

So yes…some of our action happens at the Royal Albert Hall.

In an interesting twist of fate, usual Hitchcock collaborator Bernard Herrmann garners copious screen time as the conductor…OF ANOTHER COMPOSER’S WORK!

Were it Beethoven, I’d understand.

But the piece is Storm Clouds Cantata by Arthur Benjamin (who?) and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis (not to be confused with [Percy] Wyndham Lewis).

And yet it is a moving piece.

The London Symphony Orchestra sounds lovely (really magical!) in their on-screen segments.

But the real Leitmotiv of our film is “Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)”.

Speaking of magic…it is always a gossamer thing to hear Doris Day sing this song in The Man Who Knew Too Much.

I remember a time when I didn’t know this song at all.

Being in a studio with Corinne Bailey Rae and hearing a playback of her wonderful band own this song.

And my discovery of Sly and the Family Stone’s inimitable version (sung by Rose Stone).

But few movie music moments equal Doris Day in her Marrakesh hotel room singing “Que Sera, Sera…” with little desafinado Christopher Olson.

The only ones which come close are Rita Hayworth (actually Jo Ann Greer?) singing the Rodgers and Hart masterpiece “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” the next year (1957) in Pal Joey and Ms. Hayworth “singing” (actually Anita Kert Ellis) “Put the Blame on Mame” in Gilda (1946).

An interesting note about this version of The Man Who Knew Too Much…

It seems to be a sort of forgotten classic, wedged as it is between the first of my Hitchcock “holy trinity” (Rear Window, 1954) and the other two perfect films (Vertigo, 1958, and North by Northwest, 1959).

Actually, this was a period of experimentation for Hitchcock.

Our film most precisely follows the odd comedy (!) The Trouble with Harry (1955) and precedes the black and white hand-wringer The Wrong Man (released later in 1956).

But The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) should not be forgotten!

It is such a beautifully-shot film!

Robert Burks’ cinematography is divine.

And George Tomasini’s editing is artfully deft.

Like To Catch a Thief (which is actually on Netflix in the U.S. [last time I checked]), The Man Who Knew Too Much is a film which perhaps needs multiple viewings to be truly appreciated.

-PD

Zéro de conduite [1933)

Food fight.

Pillow fight.

I have hypnotized myself.

Just for fun.

A one-sentence plot.

Skull X.

Forget the world.

Leap frog.

On the rooftops.

Toulouse-Lautrec as principal.

Feminine balloons.

Young Chopin at school.

With his fine hair.

And Henri goes into midget Häxan mode like the birth of Cartman.

Upright piano bed.

Bix Beiderbecke sleeping in the newspaper stuffed sounding board housing compartment.

It’s my impression.

That Ken Griffin.  And Ger Griffin.  And Rollerskate Skinny.  Knew this haunting happiness.

That Mercury Rev.  Took also from this backmasking.  Maurice Jaubert.

But we have not even mentioned the genius director auteur.

Jean Vigo.

Beanpole will dance for R. Crumb.

The sleepwalker might drop dead.

A necessary risk.  Petard hoist.

T. Rex would say Children of the revolution.

 

-PD

Detective [1985)

How do you get that much emotion into a film review?  In order to start saying things again, we must stop saying things as we have been saying them.

Year zero.

As much as I might like to find fault with this film, I cannot.  Not really.

What for some directors would be their masterpiece is for Godard merely another step in the journey.

We get used to genius.

We expect perfection.

But let us descend from the cosmos to discuss the film at hand.

No…on second thought.

It is the prolongation of the opening titles.  Not like James Bond.  It is not a formulaic gun-barrel sequence.

It is merely (merely?) the opposite of diminution.  Augmentation.  A fugue.

There are too many words to remember.

And so Godard takes his sweet ass time telling us about the players.

Quite a cast.

If we come in blind (and cold), each addition piques our interest further.

Was it Alain Sarde who put together this troupe?

Perhaps he only wrote the checks?

No no…it is better to discuss how Godard used this extensive cast.

A cast of thousands.  Mahler Symphony #8.

Wikipedia.  Poor pathetic Wikipedia.

But maybe not.

If you are accustomed to mainstream fare, this picture may appear to have no plot.

It is the pacing.  The cuts.  Montage?

No.  No diatribe.

On to the cast.

Jean-Pierre Léaud.  How long had it been?

And Claude Brasseur!  Christ!!

But we really start moving with Johnny Hallyday.

Once upon a time…

(should start)

I (me)…I was in some city…I believe it was Quebec.  Quebec City.  Québec.

I had a room at the top of the world for the night.  I believe it was the 22nd floor.

Enough to make you shit yourself…

And in the morning, there we were…a band apart.  Bleary eyed, perhaps.

And out comes Monsieur Hallyday.

And the press clicked away.  The hands went up to shield the bright lights.

And all I was impressed with was that he’d been in a Godard movie.

This one.

But let us not forget Nathalie Baye.

She is extraordinary here.

Brasseur is very strong.

Hallyday is surprisingly perfect.

All of these pop stars in films by the former nouvelle vague

But let us really focus on the viscera.

Emmanuelle Seigner.

I have written about her before in relation to Berlin:  Live at St. Ann’s Warehouse.

Yes.  She is indispensable here.

And Julie Delpy.  With the licorice stick.

(that would be, clarinet)

Poorly documented.

Actresses age.  They become harder to distinguish from their former selves.

A stage of facial age.

But really the star (STAR)…(STAR) is Aurelle Doazan.

Sometimes it is her legs.  We study every shot in every Godard film.

The market for films.  The clearing prices.  For rare cinephilia.  Paraphernalia.  Saturnalia.

Alea iacta est.

Les jeux sont faits.

The sound.

All bets are in.  The die is cast.

The games are done.

Have been.

Godard here makes an art of either A.) saying nothing at all, or B.) saying everything that can possibly be said.

We happen to know he improved.

This experiment.  AGFA.  Audio Cassettes……….Video Cassettes.

Making an entire movie in a hotel.

Just deliver the equipment.

Arriflex.  Mitchell.  Panavision.

Schubert.  Liszt.  Honegger.

François Musy.

The engine is rattling.  Abandon ship.

-PD

British Sounds/See You at Mao [1969)

Bloody fucking bollocks!

I’ve wanted to say that for a long time.  I’ve said it before.  But it looks better in writing.

It has a sort of permanence to it.  Yet we never know.

Why the non sequitur expletive?  Because this film is a brilliant expletive deleted.

Long ago…in a galaxy…in OUR galaxy, as a matter of fact,

there were some clever blokes (?) who called themselves the Dziga-Vertov Group.

Chief among them, of course, was Jean-Luc Godard.

But it is telling that he wanted his celebrity subsumed by something greater than himself.

Ach, Gott!  Fuck this.  I have caught myself slipping into a routine voice.

A routine voice will tell you nothing about this film.

And so we come to the crux of this experiment:  struggle.

Film is a struggle between images and sounds.

In a Godard film, even images struggle amongst themselves in a feeding frenzy.

It is a manifestation of a mind trying to process the unfathomable complexity of the world.

In the film under review, it is especially the sounds which cannibalize one another.

But this is not new in Godard films.  Always, ALWAYS…there is a plethora of content.

Like a honey ant ready to explode.

[                                                      ] Space left intentionally blank.

Analogous to paragraph.

If you are thinking poetry,

you are not far off.

We miss the mark daily.  It is not a Christian confession.

There is not a way to look over the summary to this film on Wikipedia.

In that sense, I am offering a service.

Yet, I am giving you a very subjective, personal impression of this film.

I write film criticism which strives to harmonize with each individual film under consideration.

In other words, each film must be reviewed differently.

There really isn’t, despite a tendency to the contrary towards generalization, such thing as

a film like all the rest.

Yet I have my patois.  My schtick.

Take it or leave it.

Only know that the message is under continually scrutiny.

Self-criticism of film criticism in a controlled system seeking to explain it all.

If you are looking for the answer to the question,

“Who’s in control?,”

the answer is,

“No one’s in control.”

I’m sure my friends at the CIA will agree with me on this.

To clarify, I have no friends at the CIA (that I know of).

Speaking sequentially and descriptively with deference to “plot” is useless here.

We have lost the plot.  [Thank God!]

And so a guitar can change he world.

And some extremely-advanced students can change some Beatles lyrics (months after The White Album was released).

You must struggle in the mud.  Mud and blood.  Le sable et le sang.  Rimbaud.

I failed miserably.

And she was hoisted into the air on a Panavision boom.

Nude ascending a staircase.

This just in…THREE LEVELLERS SHOT BY CROMWELL IN BURFORD…

ORIOLES DEFEAT WHITE SOX IN BOURGEOIS VACUUM

Ah,…now I am weeping for the revolution…or for the auteur.

But the auteur has given us a lasting oeuvre.

Was Truffaut’s only English-language film Fahrenheit 451?

It matters.  Here.  …et ailleurs.

I am weeping for the old auteur…before he’s even gone.

And next I will view but not review.

Solely my own experience.  To remember where I started.  (which is basically where I am at this very second)

I have not moved an inch.

It is essential to see British Sounds.  To hear British Sounds.

As an English speaker.  In April 2015.  You won’t even need the Italian subtitles.

They are telling us we are losers.  THEY they.

I have no message.  “Too many messages.”  –Harry Partch

I am just floating on the waves of free association.

Go on:  call me an amateur.

A lover , not a fighter…who didn’t claw his way up to gargle in the rat-race choir.

He lives.  Let me check.

He lives.

Regardless.

And we have no way of communicating with our fellow man.  The life sucked out of the 21st century.

This is by design.

“Separation is the alpha and the omega of the spectacle.”  –Guy Debord

I present the conspiratorial view of history applied to cinema.

Paranoid nonfiction.  I have never read Dick.

Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.  The difficulties.

Such a quintessentially British euphemism.

The Troubles.  Northern Ireland.

We know nothing.  It’s not as easy as shot/reverse/shot.

It’s like the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

KGB calling it a CIA false flag.

Need we remind the perceptive reader of world history that Dr. Ewen Cameron was being paid by the CIA to carry out hideous psychiatric experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute on the grounds of McGill University in Montreal as part of Project MKUltra over a period of time which overlapped with the activities of the FLQ? That is established fact and not a conjecture with which the KGB had any connection.

And so the question becomes, as Godard and co-director Jean-Henri Roger ask, [to paraphrase] “Is Marx the best weapon with which to confront the situation before us?”

Baltimore is haunted by the past (capitalism).  China is haunted by the present (vestigial communism).  In America there is no present moment (minus the times when reality erupts within the spectacle).  In China there is no past.  Not really.  It is forbidden.  Communism requires the primacy of the present moment.  History is history.  Gone.  Capitalism requires the continuation of the past.  Inheritance.  Both suffer from the status quo.  Capitalism is no longer capitalism…and communism is no longer communism.  The great irony is that monopoly capitalism and totalitarian socialism are no longer easily distinguishable (if they ever were).  Why more people don’t seek out the power elite of this two-sided conspiracy coin is beyond me.

Fear.  Fear prevents us.  Only the dispossessed have what is called courage.  Rage.  Courage.

-PD