Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? [2000)

This is a damn fine film.

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

But today I take a more measured approach.

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

I can find little fault with it.

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

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

Yes sir…let me tell you ’bout it.

I write to stay alive.

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

We come from a long/short tradition.

Film critics.

Critics.

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

Rage.

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

My favorite living writer.

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

Like some errant Ken Burns pablum on PBS.

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

I have delved very little into their oeuvre.

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

You see, you must be conversant in na√Įvet√© as much as in erudition.

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

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

Blind but now I see.

Precisely.

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

Only God could move fate.

To see beauty.

For a moment to dream of a better life.

Saved from cancer.

I know not.

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

Pythia.  As in pithy.

Icy.

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

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

Even if they should.

People like awards.  Bob Dylan said.

Grammys.  Nobels.

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

But I doff my hat to Tosches and Quintilian.

We are all excursus.  As Céline was all ellipses.

[…]

The Sheriff is Cooley.  As in Spade.

A mean son of a bitch.

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

The electorate has spoken.

50 states.

From the words Tommy Johnson.

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

And we won’t even get into Lonnie.

We hear the devil is white.

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

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

We uncloak what is cloaked in ourselves.

And this is the curse of critics.

No critic is writing about their subject.

In reality.

The underlying gist is always autobiography.

To admit as much should be refreshing.

But that is for you to decide.

Just sing into the can.

Voice your opinion.

On shellac.

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

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

A prophet in his own land.

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

The common man can relate.  And so can I.

With my Bible on my nightstand.

I ain’t ashamed to say.

I depend on God.

See Messiaen if you need abstraction.

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

And feasts or parties in between.

Night swimming.  Nocturnes.  Campfires.  Skip James.

Pulled from routine.

We were nearly eaten alive.

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

Yet the hand of the Lord was upon us.

Not for any deed which had ingratiated ourselves to Him.

But for grace.

Mercy.

Love.

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

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

Uncle Sweetheart smells blood.

Years before Masked and Anonymous.

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

She said he was hit by a train.

And she looked good in a bikini.

To three pathetic roustabouts with no prospects.

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

Nerds can box.

Maybe know an arcane martial art.

Don’t fuck with us.

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

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

The Gordian knot.

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

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

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

He needed a story.

Chained together.

An inspiration.

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

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

Dream of land.

But what was Everett’s dream?

We know only later.

To spend 84 years in jail.

Released:  1987.

Incarcerated at age 3?

Not counting on these two to do the taxes.

The KKK took his baby away. ¬†–Joey Ramone

Seems very Bohemian Grove.

But we don’t know these things.

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

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

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

And thus auteur theory is vindicated.

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

We could deconstruct from there.

It’s easy.

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

But the Coen brothers are timeless artists here.

They have found the trick.

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

Demoralized.

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

As the Soggy Bottom Boys emerge from obscurity.

And they have a fan base (constituents).

And these mythical performers were not even confirmed to exist.

In the flesh.

Ah, but public relations…

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

But the planets shifted.

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

The way politics works.

In Mississippi.  Louisiana.  Texas.

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

And seize upon an opportunity.

To hire the best.

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

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

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

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

Memory soup.

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

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

-PD

The Princess Bride [1987)

In this world, we look for goodness.

And we think back.

Buttercup.

The name is not quite right.

But Robin Wright is perfect.

To conjure memories of wonder.

Rapunzel.

La fille aux cheveux de lin.

Ahh, yes…

We are getting closer.

Sick.  Bedridden.

Fever dreams of distant possibilities.

And Secretary of Defense, William “The Refrigerator” Perry.

The kissing had to be cut out.

The censors, you understand.

And perhaps we have saved these kisses for the finish line.

As you wish.  As you like it.

Have it your way.  I love you.

But enter from offstage the Dread Pirate Pico de Gallo.

Lisping speech impediments abound.

Wallace Shawn in The Seventh Seal.

And the sartorial strap of André the Giant.

Grenoble.

We are getting closer.

We learn that Saul Berenson is a very good actor.

Mandy Patinkin.

Hound Dog Taylor didn’t need no bass.

Enter from orchestra pit Johnny Cash.

When you are tumbling in love…weightless…in an orchard of God’s making.

Abloom.  In Stockholm.

Pretexts. ¬†False flags. ¬†It’s all here.

But Rob Reiner insists on cinema.

From the quicksand.

Don’t believe in yourself.

To his credit.

Tesla.

But this one goes to 50.

Years.

Off your life.

Two skinned appendages.  Comes with the package.

Houellebecq quote.  Creeley.

Could have sworn Mel Smith was Viv Savage (David Kaff).

Hyperlinks to Rare Bird (Charisma, Polydor).

Abandon all hope…in the hand of Dante.

The cries of the innocent.

Clouds of blood.

Slaying the witch.

On live television.

Strategic management from Stephen Hawking.

Weekend at Bernie’s.

Professional courtesy.

The only good thing Billy Crystal ever did.

Revenge.

Daniel Craig in writer’s strike watching¬†The Princess Bride.

Voilá Quantum of Solace.

And Tosca.

Rachmaninov would live again…after the first symphony…in the¬†Symphonic Dances…quoting himself…like John Fogerty…but just momentarily…to remember…conquering a state…percussing an albino…leaping from a cliff…holding up the memory of the dead…and thick glasses…on a young boy…this string quartet is for you.

“Feel sick and dirty/More dead than alive”

No Houellebecq.

“I could sleep for a thousand years…Different colors made of tears”

I was friends with André.  And he with me.

Horse pills.

Bo Diddley.

Diddley bow.

Primal scream.

The holocaust cloak in Histoire(s) du cinéma.

“Look out honey ’cause I’m using technology”

Mawwiage.

Abdomen smited.

Come too far.

Not limousine liberal.

Stand down.

“She’ll be driving six white horses when she comes”

Leaves two.

Hello lady!

Honor thy father and mother.

 

-PD

 

Twin Peaks “On the Wings of Love” [1991)

From the depths of great exhaustion.

Driven by integrity of purpose.

Not to take for granted.

Opportunities.

Researching in the basement of the Pentagon.

Or at least a basement.

Somewhere.

A very tough time with being strange.

And behind.

Building compassion.

But now in the land of no chances.

It felt more like another concatenation.

But this was perfect.

An episode of redemption.

Simulated.

In real life.

We are curious to know the truth of the numbers.

Interpretation.

Failure and success and failure.

And success?

Good God…

Such stewardship as to be rewarded for all eternity.

I lost my place.

When the ground yields nothing but weeds.

Rocky soil.

Luck would have it.

Futility.

Her beauty graces the shore.

The mountains.

Ignorance.

I am on and then off.

Switched on.  And powered down.

I don’t have the answers anymore.

Is the answers.

Hard and beaten by the city.

What can possibly happen.

Study hard.

Take pains.  Be perfect.

Yale.

Intelligence cycle.

Gathering.

An old alley.  Blind.  Not deaf.

Jeff mute.  Jute.

I don’t know the mystery of this progression.

Scriabin.

I am the branches.  You are the vine.

Powdered mustache.

Nothing makes sense at a certain point.

At which you are cork light buoyant.

I have given the full measure.

 

-PD

My Breakfast with Blassie [1983)

Just when you’re ready to give up.

Maybe something miraculous will happen.

The only kind of humor which can defeat the world order.

You want disorder?

No, we want a new world order.

But not THE New World Order.

A different world order.

An absolutely genius film with Andy Kaufman.

And Freddie Blassie.

A magical moment with Lynne Margulies.

Kinda like Donald Trump having breakfast with…

I don’t know.

No.

There’s no way to really capture this dynamic.

Bob Zmuda delivers the knockout blow.

A humor unlike any other.

Just Andy.  And Blassie.

Two celebrities.

Kayfabe?

I don’t know.¬† It’s really hard to tell.

Which means art.

The only fakery worth pursuing.

Infinite possibilities.  Water flowing up a staircase.

Yeah scripted.

Ostensibly not.

And what elements were left open?

Because wrestlers are great actors.

But not necessarily the other way around.

When a miracle comes.

Goddam it.

 

-PD

Popi√≥Ňā i diament [1958)

The words don’t come easily.

In the old crypt.

He has to toss her the matches.

His trusty matches.

Twice he has lit the cigarette of Commissar Szczuka.

As for her.  Her.

Ewa KrzyŇľewska.

Krystyna.  I saw you in a magazyna.  (GZM)

But Zbigniew Cybulski knows the author.

Cyprian Norwid.

All he wanted to do was go to school.

He had done well.  A smart kid.

The assassin poet.  Maciek.

A bit like the gunrunning Rimbaud.

Ashes and diamonds.  Violets in the dustbin.

Adam Pawlikowski couldn’t help but inhale the fleeting perfume of love.

A little love turns an assassin straight.

It is like James Bond.

Daniel Craig.

Skyfall, perhaps.

Simple word association.

And for “assassination”?¬† “Employment.”

This is Ashes and Diamonds by Andrzej Wajda.

The precursor to Bruno Forestier in Le Petit Soldat.

And in many (many) ways, the precursor to Michel in À Bout de souffle.

So much of Jean-Paul Belmondo seems to come from Zbigniew Cybulski.

It makes sense.

The sunglasses.

Living in the sewers during the uprising in Warsaw.

Godard.  So underground that he wore his sunglasses at night.

Yes, they are a way to hide.

For The Velvet Underground they would become a way to survive the strobe-light insanity of Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable.

For Lou Reed they would become immortalized as a way to deal with the harsh light of the day (or night) when on heroin.

This was no doubt from Hubert Selby, Jr.  From William S. Burroughs.

Perhaps even Nelson Algren.

But let’s not get too far afield.

This is a “review” of a Polish film called Popi√≥Ňā i diament.

It is an achingly-beautiful film.  There.  I said it.

I don’t begrudge this film.

She is my first love within Polish cinema.

There is something so special about this film.

Little moments.  The flowers dropped in the trash.

The “what-could-have-been”.¬† The employment by way of death.

The pull and tug of war.  The futility of taking sides.

Wajda was making a bold statement here.

There are no winners in Ashes and Diamonds.

The only winner is the viewer.

The viewer who sees the film-poetry and loses themselves for a moment upon the ash heap…the midden pile…the city dump which is modern life.

For a moment…stumbling across the wasteland…there is a girl…and a little bouquet of violets.

 

-PD

Deutschland im Jahre Null [1948)

The first thing film critics have to get right is the title.

Let me explain a bit.

On my site, I always list a film in its original language (to the best of my ability).

In my opinion, that is the best way of honoring the film.

So far, I have encountered the mild idiosyncrasies of Romanian, Serbo-Croat, Czech, and Polish in addition to the mind-blowing intricacy of Farsi and Japanese.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we are seeing a German-language film by an Italian director…sort of.

Italy has a very peculiar tradition concerning voiceovers and direct (or, conversely, indirect) sound.  It is an oddity which caught the attention of Godard in his role as film historian.

I cannot give you as erudite an explanation as my hero Jean-Luc, but suffice it to say that foreign (non-Italian) films in Italy have traditionally been overdubbed into Italian.  So, in other words, no subtitles.

This is distinct from an American viewer watching a Fellini film.¬† The “American” version (whether on DVD or as a film print¬†in a theater) will be in Italian with subtitles in English.¬† This goes for almost all foreign-language (non-English) films marketed in the United States.

But getting back to Deutschland im Jahre Null…¬† It is similar to the Danish director Carl Th. Dreyer directing the French film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc…with one major difference.¬† Dreyer’s film was a silent one (the only French being the intertitles).¬† Rossellini’s Deutschland im Jahre Null is very much in German.¬† We are hearing German actors speak (exclusively) German dialogue.

What is most interesting is the linguistic lineage of this film.  In English, this film is known as:

Germany, Year Zero

Which is quite similar to Rossellini’s preceding masterpiece (in linguistic parallel):

Rome, Open City

To be fair, let’s consider the Italian name (the real name) of Rome, Open City:¬† Roma citt√† aperta.¬† Fine.¬† That is the way I recognize the film.¬† The true name is (in my mind) Roma citt√† aperta.

But with Deutschland im Jahre Null we come to a very strange case.  If we do not recognize the primacy of its English title (Germany, Year Zero), and I do not, then we are directed by that great arbiter of cultural legitimacy Wikipedia to consider our options exhausted by being cognizant of the Italian title (Germania anno zero).

What is the message of this omission by English Wikipedia?  I believe the message is that Germany was (and continues to be) a null.  A zero.  A conquered culture.

We see a similar thing in the kowtowing stereotype of conquered Japan.  And though Japan might be experiencing some moderate-to-light financial troubles in recent years, Germany is by all accounts the economic powerhouse of continental Europe.  Why do I bring economics into the discussion?  Because wealthy nations are able to assert themselves.

But let us step back a bit.¬† Wikipedia does have some tasty morsels of information concerning this film.¬† If the source can be trusted, this 1948 film was not shown in Germany (the country from whence the language of the film takes its name) until 1952.¬† After its single screening in M√ľnchen (Munich), it was not heard from again within those borders until it ran on German television in 1978.¬†

Wow…26 years.¬† Either this film was grossly misunderstood, or it was understood all too well.¬† From my reading, this is a very pro-German document.

Rossellini was not George Stevens making concentration camp propaganda.  Roberto was making art.  The sign of art is the admission of possibilities.  Art seduces us because it is subtle.  Art does not proclaim in blanket statements.  Art does not underestimate the intelligence of the viewer.

Roberto Rossellini did something with his “war films trilogy” which seems to have been unprecedented.¬† The desire of neorealism was to film fiction as if it were documentary.¬† This fiction would be, likewise, based on reality.

But why is it, then, that we have very different views of Roberto Rossellini and Robert Flaherty?

I will tell you my guess.¬† Flaherty’s sin was in the framing of his presentation.¬† To wit, he presented his staged documentaries (take the oil industry propaganda piece Louisiana Story for instance) as if they were naturally-occurring, spontaneous documentaries. The sin, then, was his duplicitous relationship with his subjects.¬† He actively made his human subjects into actors.

Rossellini takes a different tack.¬† There is no pretense that Deutschland im Jahre Null is an ACTUAL documentary.¬† It merely has the feel of that medium.¬† Likewise, Rossellini’s use of nonprofessional actors was likely more of a precursor to Robert Bresson than a twist on Flaherty’s bizarre formula (which predated Roberto in both Nanook of the North [1922] and Man of Aran [1934]).¬† No, Rossellini had created something new.¬†

It’s not so much the films of Flaherty to which I object as it is the idea of them.¬† At least one of his concoctions (perhaps thanks to director F.W. Murnau) is very fine indeed:¬† Tabu [1931].¬† Flaherty and Murnau co-wrote this ostensible documentary.¬† Indeed, with Flaherty we come into contact with inchoate, obscure film genres such as docudrama, docufiction, fictional documentary (ethnofiction), etc. etc. etc.

Most importantly, none of what I have written here has even scratched the surface of Deutschland im Jahre Null.   What ever became of the heartrending main child actor Edmund Moeschke?  I do not know.

One thing is certain to me:¬† no film before Rossellini’s “war trilogy” (Roma citt√† aperta, Pais√†, and Deutschland im Jahre Null) [1945/1946/1948] takes on such politically sensitive and important topics in such a raw way.¬† The closest would be the socialism of Eisenstein or the humanism of Chaplin.¬†

It is, therefore, no wonder at all that Rossellini spawned a million “new waves” the world over.

 

-PD