Les Misérables: Une tempête sous un crâne [1934)

Often when I watch films I am totally drained of energy even at the beginning.

Going into it.

And then a cinematic miracle will occasionally make me forget all about my exhaustion.

This is one of those times.

Thanks to director Raymond Bernard.

And thanks to the lead actor Harry Baur.

This is one of those films which can slip under the radar.

Mercifully, its four-hour-and-forty-minute running time is broken up into three parts.

That was, incidentally, also the mode of release in 1934.

The three parts apparently were shown in theaters by way of staggered releases (in the incredibly short time span of three weeks).

It is somewhat of an ingenious device.  I’m not familiar with another film to have received such a treatment.

This first section of Hugo’s novel is titled here Une tempête sous un crâne.

As you might expect, it is a particularly touching story.

It is certainly worth revisiting Les Misérables after seeing this first film.

The story is very heroic.  Harry Baur instills pride.  Proud to be human.

Few characters in life or fiction make such an impression.

The initial meeting with the priest is awe-inspiring.

As Jean Valjean says (in amazement), “I haven’t slept in a bed in 19 years.”

A real bed.  With sheets.  Like normal people.

Having been in jail.

His statement is a stunner.

I know that feeling.

As an artist.

I slept on a couch for years.

I slept on the floor.

We must remember that Valjean’s crime was stealing a loaf of bread.

Five years.

His four attempts to break out of jail extended his sentence by 14 years.

19 in total.

Hard labor.

All from stealing a loaf of bread.

And wanting to be free.

And then there is dear Fantine (played by Florelle).

A mother reduced to prostitution.

Sells her hair.  Sells her teeth.

All for her daughter Cosette.

It is reification in overdrive.

Finally, Fantine has nothing to sell but her body.

She has sold parts.

She stayed pure as long as she could.

She was tricked.

And an orphan to begin with.

So she ends up in a factory…playing the glass bead game…stringing cheap necklaces to keep her daughter alive.

And another pair of vultures (the Thénardiers) trick her more.

They rip her off.

Always more and more.

Just like modern life.

Modern times.

Les Temps modernes.

So we must remember Victor Hugo as an artist of conscience.

And Sartre…conscience.

Perhaps less artful.

And Barack Obama.

Completely artless, but still perhaps some conscience.

Let’s not underestimate the humanism of the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) program.

Sure, “the Guidance” was issued by Jeh Johnson (of Homeland Security).

Yes, the program is unlawful.

It is a new law.

That’s not the purview of the executive branch.

Yes, the plaintiffs are right in their invocation of the Take Care clause of the U.S. constitution.

But we must make sure to not misquote former Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark by omitting the final words of his famous quote:

“Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws…”  Which is to say, yes:  Judge Hanen…you are right.  Greg Abbott…you are right.  Republican states…you are right.  [I am speaking, of course, about the forthcoming Supreme Court decision on immigration…United States v. Texas.]

BUT…there’s more to Tom Clark’s quote…and it is often left out.  As Paul Harvey would have said, THAT’S the rest of the story.

Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, OR WORSE, ITS DISREGARD OF THE CHARACTER OF ITS OWN EXISTENCE.

Which is to say:  the Democrats have the high moral ground here.

Let me clarify.

I hate Obama.  He’s a fake and a phony.

He had the opportunity to bring to real perpetrators of 9/11 to justice.

He didn’t.

That should have been job #1 after having wrested the White House from the maniacal neocon Bush junta.

Unfortunately, at the very deepest levels it seems that cabal never left.

Obama merely carried on the War on Terror charade (even going so far as to kill a dead man…the bogus bogeyman…Osama bin Laden).

But Obama and Jeh Johnson are right about DAPA.  MORALLY right.  Which doesn’t make their actions legal.  But I applaud the current administration for OSTENSIBLY caring about the people affected…the human beings…our illegal alien brothers and sisters.  They are, first of all, humans.  If they entered this country illegally, that is a secondary consideration.  They must always remain, first and foremost, HUMANS.

Yeah, Obama and friends most likely pulled off the Sandy Hook false flag.  That’s because the administration is, in general, a bunch of scumbags.

Speaking of presidents, Donald Trump is the only real candidate left.

Sure, he needs to slap himself in the face a few times and realize that Mexicans (among other immigrants from the south) and Muslims are people.  That’s a big hurdle for the Donald.

That’s the stumbling block.

Trump is winning because he’s the only one willing to admit that he’s a jerk.

His actions say it.

Hillary?  Secret jerk.

Cruz?  Thinly-veiled jerk.

Sanders?  Well-meaning jerk.

And then there’s the other jerk.  We’ll call him nice jerk.

Trump has won the rhetoric battle.

Now he needs to dial it back a little bit and find a soul.

I know he has one…deep down in there…somewhere.

Sanders is right about Snowden.  Trump has fumbled that one a bit.

But Trump is still the only one to address 9/11 with any sort of credibility.

That is priceless.

Can Donald “Jean Valjean” Trump turn it around and really make a positive difference?

I think he can, but he has to learn the lesson of the candlesticks…the silver…and the 40 sous.

It will be a tightrope.  The master bigot will have to convince a country of bigots that our humanity impels us to a higher moral standard.

That is Victor Hugo here…applied to the here and now.

 

-PD

 

 

Au Hasard Balthazar [1966)

If life has no meaning, then do not continue to the next sentence.

Thank you.

For those of you still reading.

You must excuse my reliance on 1/3rd of the trivium (to the detriment of the remainder).

It must be rhetoric which I employ.

Like a donkey.

No.

It doesn’t work that way.

But for those of us in poverty and misery.

How do we express our futile existences?

By affirming their meanings.

Their meaningfulness.

You have not worked your whole life for nothing.

You worked to survive.

But you survived for others.

You loved.  You cared.

You were curious.

Too curious to let the human race go.

And so, slow and easy does it goes [sic]…the autumn of your years.

Perhaps.

Another spring.

Hope.  Eternal.

Robert Bresson slips a note under our door.

A key.

At first viewing it is dull.  Ugly.

Like a donkey.

Yes.

But Bresson knew Beethoven.  Concision of expression.

Economy of means.

It is no wonder that we hear Schubert throughout this film.

And no wonder that Schubert is Philip Glass’ favorite composer.

Those ostinati.  Figured bass.

Even simpler than Alberti.

More like a rail fence transposition.

Or a Caesar shift cipher.

Ostinato.  Obstinate.

Like the donkey.

But I have patiently borne the humiliation.

I am still a youthful beast of burden.

And yet I know my hooves.

I am a genius.

A four-legged mathematician.

Give me three digits…and a single digit.

And I multiply.

I fecundate the field with feathery flowers.

Four digits.

Do I hear five?

With a memory like an elephant.

A stare like a tiger.

And a harangue like a polar bear.

But look how he shivers.

The donkey.

So humble as to not say a word.

Perhaps it was the wisdom of salt.

Salt of the earth.

A wise ass.

Yes, forever in trouble.  With my pride.

Getting kicked in the rump.

But these are really nasty assaults.

The other side of James Dean.

François Lafarge as Gérard is a real asshole.

Not enough love at home.

Feels a need to punch donkeys.

[pause]

Quite literally…the world comes to life through Bresson’s filmmaking.

Prostitutes pop up.

Pimps prance and preen.

But here we have “merely” sexual assault.

A first step in losing the ability to feel anything.

Numb.

And we have rape (through allusion, of course).

Gérard toots his horn.

Literally.

The other side of the James Dean coin.

The underside of Jean-Paul Belmondo.

A disproportionate riposte courtesy of the one filmmaker with the balls to be simple.

So simple.

On first glance it is nothing.

A donkey.

But live a few years.

And then revisit.

It is a novel.

It contains everything.

We can’t catch it because it doesn’t pop out at us in color.

One way would be to say that no one has ever looked more sad on screen than Anne Wiazemsky here.

Before Godard.

Perhaps a first conversation.

A nervousness.

It was through Wiazemsky that Bresson told this tale.

To teach the New Wave.

They hadn’t learned all the lessons yet.

He wasn’t done speaking.

The quiet tone of an old man…

I want to tell you more more more.

But this is best secret.

To appreciate the simple things.

Before they are gone.

The patient animals.

So gentle in their existence.

Not presuming.

Not running.  Not hustling.

The pack-animals.

We know this look.

In cats.  In dogs.

This wisdom.

We laugh at their carefree insolence.

But they have shown the way.

Such resilience!

Such love…

And we are taken in.

Our hearts are melted.

Yes.

Few moments in cinema feel more lonely than the end of Au Hasard Balthazar.

It is almost unbearable.

The quiet dignity of humanity being shamed.

How could we ever forget our love.

For even a second.

When we rub two sticks together at such an eyelevel perspective, the meaning of life is very clear.

But unutterable.

 

-PD

Per un pugno di dollari [1964)

They say the pen is mightier than the sword.

And so we place into a single room

the greatest writer of all time

and a schmuck with a sword.

The writer has his pen…for self-defense.

But we feel the Yojimbo trappings are too antiquated (1961)

so we give the bard a typewriter…no, a laptop

and the schmuck…a gun.

Who will draw first?

For speed, it is the gun which wins (assuming the schmuck knows how to fire it).

It is a big assumption.

So, let us add some lag time…

as the schmuck experiments with the mechanics of his weapon.

And then we stop the test and replace the schmuck with a professional assassin.

By now the poet is sweating blood.

Will he hit “send” in time?

Ah, but now we have overshot the mark with our rhetoric.

So let us back up to the computing of the 1960s.

Computation #1:  Westerns are no longer in vogue.  American Westerns are the subject of ridicule in Italy.  Laughable.

Enter Sergio Leone into the equation.

A smart guy.  Sees a gap in the market.  How would Rossellini direct a Western?  Or Fellini?

Do they make revolvers that hold 8 1/2 bullets?

And who gets the half-a-bullet?

I had intended to talk about Guantanamo Bay.  Moral disgust.

But the sands of time in the Tabernas Desert are pouring away…a steady stream of grains.

And so the faceoff makes imperative that I get the most bang for my click.

Eastwood.  Leone.  Savio.  Savio?  Morricone.  Ah, that’s better.

Gian Maria Volonté (the bad guy) would go on to play in the first (and one would assume only) Marxist Western.  A subgenre which never really caught on.  The film Vent d’est (1970)–director Godard–filming location Mozambique.

Sounds too weird to be true, right?  Just don’t be fooled by Robert Enrico’s Vent d’est from 1993.

Just because a film is Franco-Swiss (like Godard, Franco-Swiss)…uh-uh, not the same thing.

But the assassin schmuck is getting the lay of the land.  I digress, I die.

I am not the worst writer to ever live.  Give me time.  I may yet claim that title.

We cannot, however, forget Marianne Koch.  So long…

Never forget a woman from Munich.  The beautiful Renate Knaup, for instance.

A double umlaut for your trouble.  Amon Düül II.  Zwei.

But time is unkind to me…merciless.

Will we reach José Calvo in time?  With our heart of iron?

Well hello Joe, what do you know?  The “Man with No Name” and Une Femme est une femme.

I’ve hardly talked about the film.  That’s what some call “no spoilers”…

But I can make no such guarantee.

Only brilliance.  Leone.  Eastwood.  As good a Western as could possibly be made.

A triumph.

If you feel your heart in your throat…your tears well up

then maybe you think of Guantanamo Bay.

Inmates list.

One by one.

No charges.

No charges.

Suicide.

No charges.

Certainly it would help to know that Abdul so-and-so knocked off an Army Ranger medic.

The medic part is no superfluous detail.

But the rest?

No charges.

No charges.

Held for three years.

No charges.

It seems, from the outside, that the war has been run by the CIA.

There are no armies to battle.

No high-value targets.  I’m not the first to comment on the ludicrous situation of a $200,000 bomb being dropped on a mud hut.

Bad guys torture.

Idiots torture.

And so Clint Eastwood does not torture.  Here.  In 1964.

If you jump down the rabbit hole you will be disgusted.

How does this in any way have to do with a Spaghetti Western?

It is the message.

We might not have a hell of a lot of time.

Find the quote by the general…about the detainees at Guantanamo who arrived with mental problems and left with “none.”

That’s rich.

I also have a bridge to sell you in Arizona.  And I’ll throw in the Seven Dwarfs as maintenance crew.

You see, it’s a hell of a lot easier to just write a film review and not worry about all this stuff.

That’s what happens in totalitarian countries.

Hang on, someone’s knocking at my door…

-PD

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle [1967)

I am at a loss for words.  But through your peripheral vision you can tell that I didn’t stop writing after that statement.  No, in fact…you can tell that I conversely became quite verbose.  So therefore the figure of speech was misleading.  Perhaps that is why Godard came to distrust language.  Who is Jean-Luc Godard?

And what does it matter?  This rhetorical device propels my analysis, yet the reader is more or less free to comment at the end of the article.  More or less.  Derrida.  Deconstruct at the weakest link in the logical chain.  Find where the text contradicts itself.  It is like a pivot chord in a musical modulation.  Napoleon would charge with all of his forces.  More or less.

The reason I express myself in this way is because, for me, film criticism is akin to ekphrasis.  Therefore, poetry.  As much as we want to be historians or scholars or social scientists, we must accept that we are really just poets.  Just.

Finally a title which meshes with my theme.  It’s not my theme, yet I have chosen it.  Vertigo.  It rejects diacritical marks…just as Shirley cards rejected the negro.  Godard realized this in Africa.  Filming.  The film had been optimized for white actors.

With all of these tangents it is a wonder that anyone makes it to the end of these ekphrastic rants.  Rambling rants.  Off-topic.  Hot topic.  Napalm.  Curtis LeMay.  Stone Age.

It occurs to me that I could very well play the reactionary, yet conscience intercedes.  Pax Americana.  No.  I cannot justify it.  I will leave it to the Navy…”a global force for good.”

It was wise that they finally discarded such a ridiculous motto.  Perhaps no one was buying it.  Sell war.  Buy war.

It is easy to get caught up in all of the James Bond gadgetry and thereby forget Vietnam..  Forget Iraq.  Forget Afghanistan.  Libya.  Syria.

For me there is no difference between the Brookings Institution and the American Enterprise Institute.  Pepsi and Coke.  Perhaps one is a little worse than the other.  They fundamentally define one another.  A dialectic.  Hegel.  Kant.  Fichte.

If I know one thing, it’s…a thesis.  If you knew better, you’d…antithesis.  Bon.  C’est tout.  …ou 3:  synthesis.

Jean-Luc Godard dropped out of the University of Paris.  It is credited as his alma mater on Wikipedia.  The Sorbonne.

This was before Hanne Karin Bayer became Anna Karina:  Godard’s first wife and leading lady.  But now we have Marina Vlady.  Made in Russia.

I get a text.  Putin missing.  I had seen.  DEBKAfile.  Approximately one million spots lower than my website on Alexa.

No, they will never give up on trying to impose order on the chaos of Finnegans Wake.  It is sheer egotism.  And I am the antithesis:  no plot, no characters.

And what of the synthesis?  Yes, you must reread and rewatch to uncover the nuances.  Godard’s oeuvre is one long statement.  Miss a film and you’ve missed a chapter of his life–a phrase in his grand statement.  Certainly.  Certainly.  Maybe.

“The comic book and me, just us, we caught the bus.”  From the basement Bob Dylan nailed it:  modern life as comic book.  Obverse and reverse.  Godard and Dylan.

All I have is cat food.  You have seven minutes left.  Three left.

Anny Duperey looks perfect…perfectly empty…staring off into space…smoking the ubiquitous cigarette.  The Shirley card loves her.  She shines.  She is radiance.  Might she be the next! big! thing?

It is with a heavy heart…that I relate that no, indeed, rather, Juliet Berto…for some time.

And thus our grand unstated theme:  cancer.  Like the hideous sound of jungle helicopters–desert jets.  Division.  Long division.

Juliet Berto won’t be reading this in any traditional manner.  She passed away in 1990 at the age of 42.

In 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle, she made her screen debut.

Tristesse.  Sadness.  Yes, Godard was right.  It is undeniable.  Things have not gone well for capitalism.  He says neo-capitalism, but I say neoconservatism.  It is not quite antithesis.  It is already synthesis.  Beginning, middle, end.  [Not necessarily in that order…]

-PD