Le Vent d’est [1970)

Film by Godard.

Dziga Vertov.

Group in Mozambique.

Marxist Western.

Cowboys and Indians.

Das Kapital.

No no.

I must be wrong.

Not Mozambique.

That was much later.

I was confused.

So this is just Italy.

But still.

Quite possibly the only Marxist Western ever made ūüôā

And, yes:  the Dziga Vertov Group.

With Jean-Pierre Gorin.

So here was the great filmmaker (Godard) subsuming himself in the communalism of group creation.

Like being in a rock band.

There might be a main songwriter (or two).

And there might be a lead vocalist.

But it is a group effort.

Rock bands are kinda like little democracies (in my experience).

So, does that mean that communism/socialism starts at its most cellular level as something resembling democracy?

It is an interesting thought.

Because Godard was most certainly a hardcore socialist at this point.

A communist.

A Maoist!

But we remember those strange counterintuitive phrases like “dictatorship of the people”.

In other words, Marxist-Leninist thought was promising popular representation SO POWERFUL that the PEOPLE became a META-DICTATOR.

But it all kinda turned out like Tom Cruise’s witchcraft ūüôā

A big bollocks burger in Eastern Europe.

And a Soviet Union that collapsed beneath its own weight.

But China soldiered on.

And juche (North Korea).

Notice that “zhoosh or tjuz” means to “smarten up” or “stylize” in that Cockney code language known as Polari.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polari

And for my dear pizzagate researchers, you should be heartened by this further corroboration of James Alefantis’ sick mind:

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 11.20.10 PM

Why do I have a feeling about this?

Because of Bowie’s last album: ¬†Blackstar.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 11.24.26 PM

But reinserting ourselves in history, it is rather obvious that communism soldiered on mostly in the East.

Let’s not forget Vietnam and Laos (both still communist to this day).

Thus, Wind from the East.

Yes, Peter Wollen, there’s definitely some Brecht in here.

Especially in that scene when a fucking horse finally shows up ūüôā

Not much of a Western without a horse.

So there is eventually one horse for Gian Maria Volontè.

Volentè, of course, really WAS in Westerns (about five years previous).

A couple of those great Sergio Leone “spaghetti Westerners” with Clint Eastwood: ¬†A Fistful of Dollars¬†and also¬†For a Few Dollars More.

So kudus to Godard, Gorin, and the whole Dziga Vertov Group for getting Volontè.

But really the star is the beautiful redhead Anne Wiazemsky, who passed away just nine days ago.

It is no wonder Godard fell in love with her.

As he had fallen for Anna Karina previously.

But Wiazemsky was a mind.

A beauty, but a total 180 from Karina.

Of course, neither marriage worked out.

But Wiazemsky is lovely in this film.

Indeed, she is one of the few breaths of air in the whole picture.

There are certainly some suffocating scenes.

The opening shot is interminable.

Slight movements.

But eventually things get rolling.

Sorta.

Wiazemsky is splashed with blood as she is repeatedly choked by Volontè.

A bizarre scene.

Also part of this amalgam was Daniel Cohn-Bendit.

I thought I was seeing Mozambique.

It colored everything I was watching.

I was looking out for poisonous snakes.

Godard would eventually make it to Mozambique…later in the 1970s…but I was merely confused.

I mean, here’s a film that until recently was available only as a Japanese DVD (with no English subtitles).

That is the version I watched.

I hear there is another release of this film recently with other of the Dziga Vertov work, but I am happy enough (for the time being) to have seen it as a Frenchman might have in 1970.

My French was tested.

Allors…

This is a rather experimental film.

Perhaps it is no great masterpiece.

But it teaches that we can go backwards or forwards through time by way of cinema.

Forwards with imagination, and backwards in reality.

We were already beyond this point, and yet we have been blessed to return.

To get one step closer.

To close a loop.

Solve a riddle.

Replace a missing stone.

It was a lot of work seeing this film.

That is love.

 

-PD

Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo [1966)

This movie’s reputation does not precede it in one key sense.¬† Namely, this is a bizarre film.¬† Of all the far out stuff I watch it therefore takes something special for me to proclaim such.¬† Maybe, if we are well-informed, we expect weird when we sit down to view Holy Mountain.¬† With The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly we probably just expect another Spaghetti Western.

Not only does the film under review perhaps epitomize the genre, but it also sets itself apart with a story which must be seen to be truly appreciated.  I will, of course, try to avoid spoiling the drama by giving away too much.

It will suffice to discuss a few general points.  Why do I say this film is bizarre?  We can start with the title(s).  If we translate directly, we would get The Good, The Ugly, The Bad.  Not quite an arresting turn-of-phrase.  Therefore, we ponder the usual translation:  The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

There are several important concepts wrapped up in this title alone.¬† First, the direct translation and the “axiomatic” translation (respectively)¬†transpose the word order.¬† If we were thoughtless, we would ignore this minor detail.¬† But since this film relies so heavily on a strange (subversion of?) moralizing, we cannot pass over even this aspect.

The literal translation would (literally) have us place “ugly” somewhere between good and bad (or good and evil if we are feeling particularly Nietzschean).

For those of us who root for the underdog (myself included), we might start off rooting for “ugly” (or “the ugly one”).

In the axiomatic translation, “ugly” is an afterthought (so to speak).¬† It is last in order.

I’m not sure if the Sermon on the Mount was in the back of the minds of the producers of the film (wow…), but we wonder whether the first will be last and the last will be first.

One thing is certain:  the greyscale of life is fully on display in this Technicolor teaching piece.  What is weird (bizarre) is the lesson being taught.  It is horribly (gloriously?) muddied.

The good is not good.¬† The ugly is also bad (above and beyond ugly).¬† The bad is, well, bad…

But if bad is only¬†bad in relation to¬†good (Hegel?), then the bad isn’t so bad…

In other words, it doesn’t take a whole hell of a lot to be good in this world.

And so…presented with this trio of characters, we are unsure who will “win”…indeed, has anyone really excelled in their typecast?

I should mention that, in my opinion, ugly is not so ugly.  All three of these mugs are a little rough around the edges.

In fact, the first face we see in the movie is the one we might assume to be Ugly.¬† He is not.¬† The real Ugly is merely not-traditionally-handsome (I suppose).¬† We should also consider the mannerist interpretation:¬† an ugly manner vs. a refined sensibility.¬† It could be argued that Bad (here) is much more refined (though he tortures Ugly…literally).¬† Ah, but NOT literally.¬† Rather, he has someone do it for him.¬† Now, isn’t that the height of refinement???

I will give away one thing.¬† Good is really Good at least once in this film.¬† A dying soldier…bleeding to death…and Good gives him his coat.¬† But not only that.¬† No.¬† Good gives him a few puffs on a cigar (which, as it turns out, helps him transition more peacefully to the next world).¬† It is the most touching moment of the film.¬† To be sure, this is not a Hallmark movie.¬† It’s a rough, win-at-all-costs affair.¬† A bit like real life.

And who is the real STAR of this film?¬† As fate would have it, the most interesting and entertaining character is Ugly (Eli Wallach).¬† Eastwood is great as always.¬† Lee Van Cleef is great.¬† But Wallach is beyond great!¬† He’s disgusting.¬† He’s hilarious.¬† He’s endearing.¬† He’s vicious.¬† He’s cruel.¬† He’s greedy.¬† He’s human.

Sergio Leone once again outdid himself.¬† Greed may have never been portrayed in all of its dizzying rush better than when Wallach goes sprinting with joy and anticipation in search of a grave (a long story…).¬† Morricone’s music is at least another order of magnitude better here than in his previous collaboration with Leone and Eastwood.

This is a damn good film.  Happy viewing!

-PD

Per qualche dollaro in piu [1965)

My oh my.  How time does fly.

If you don’t write, you lose your touch.

And anyway, we lose our nerve.

Nerve.  This film is all about nerve.

This was the second collaboration between Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood.

This time, another strong element was added:  Lee Van Cleef.

The name may not sound familiar, but if you see this film you will never forget this iconic actor.

In truth, this picture is very similar to the first Leone/Eastwood collaboration.

Most of the novelty here can be found in the director having a third variable (Van Cleef) with which to work.

Gian Maria Volont√© is back, but he’s not the same villain he was last time.¬† He is and he isn’t.

Same for Eastwood.  The same, but different.

Leone, though, had grown as a filmmaker.  Maybe not by leaps and bounds, but there are flashes of brilliance which catch the desert sun differently here than in A Fistful of Dollars.

And why do I insist on the Italian title?  Because this really is a sophisticated Western.

In other words, it is foreign to the mainstream of English language movies.

Though the genre is American, the craft is distinctly European.

Klaus Kinski has a relatively minor role in this film as a hunchback.

Really, I would advise starting with A Fistful of Dollars and then moving on to this film.

This one is really for those who couldn’t get enough the first time around.

I count myself among those.

In other words, this film does not necessarily “stand alone” very well unless you have the experience of A Fistful of Dollars under your belt.

I should really mention Ennio Morricone.¬† He is, without doubt, one of the greatest film composers to ever live.¬† Witness, for instance, his deft compositional touch as he weaves the film score around the sound of a musical pocket watch which is chiming during a tense standoff.¬† There is a real magic–a synergy between Morricone and Leone.

Though I could dissect this movie as a precursor to the Reaper vs. Predator drones, I’ll leave that for another time.¬† Though I could let the title, For a Few Dollars More, lead me into a diatribe about the Greek debt crisis and the venal German/IMF response, I shall leave that for other political film critics reviewing Spaghetti Westerns this week.

What we have here is a movie.¬† I’m tired.¬† I don’t want a war.

-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 Volont√© (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 D√ľ√ľl 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