Perličky na dně [1966)

I’ve never been much a fan of the omnibus film (or anthology film) genre.

Several directors.

One product.

But this one serves a very interesting purpose.

So far, we have only considered the work of Jiří Menzel (among Czech directors).

So now we will get to branch out a bit.

A sampler of sorts.

Funny enough, Menzel leads this whole thing off.

Start with your best speaker, they say.

Menzel’s contribution is fairly good.

It is closer in spirit to Capricious Summer than it is to the masterpiece Closely Watched Trains

Which is to say, it is largely “meh”.

But a true auteur is still engaging even when he or she is meh, and Menzel is interesting…even when he’s boring (as in Rozmarné léto).

If we want to know where the Belgian juggernaut Aaltra comes from, then we should look no further than Menzel’s short contribution on motorcycle racing.

As with all the stories in this omnibus, the author (in the literary sense) is Bohumil Hrabal.

We get our first bit of the “aging” theme in this installment.

The old man with his stories of Smetana and Dvořák.

The weird harpsichord music courtesy of Jan Klusák (or perhaps Jiří Šust).

It’s baroque, but just slightly off.  Anachronistic.  Neobaroque.  Like Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (and just as rococonutty).

But the “aging” theme really comes to the fore in the next section which is directed by Jan Němec.  Němec sadly passed away but four months ago.

In this scene we meet two old men in a hospital.  It is a very touching piece of cinema.

They try to keep each other’s spirits up.

We also start to sense another theme in Hrabal’s writing:  lies.

Lies notwithstanding, Němec’s segment is perhaps the most poignant thing about this film.

In the middle we get a splash of color (the rest of the film being in black and white) courtesy of the radical Evald Schorm.

What makes Schorm’s segment so beautifully jarring is the music (extremely reminiscent of Olivier Messiaen):  organ dissonance ostensibly courtesy of the aforementioned Klusák and/or Šust.

We are presented with outsider art in its purest form.  A painter who paints every wall in his house.  It is certainly reminiscent of the one-of-a-kind Henry Darger.

Incidentally, the scene is deliciously dark humor directed at not only the bureaucracy of the Czechoslovak state but also at the legitimacy of the insurance industry.

Věra Chytilová contributes a dark-yet-dreamy vignette suffused with desperation throughout.  Her use of slow-motion photography captures some very special emotions and is reminiscent of Jean Vigo’s use of the same in Zéro de conduite.

Finally, we encounter gypsies for the first time thanks to the loving depiction of Jaromil Jireš.

A Czech boy does his best Jean-Paul Belmondo before the cracked mirror near the lobby cards.

Dana Valtová might be the most convincing actress in this entire feature.  Her role of the dark-skinned gypsy (who remains nameless) is quite astonishing.

And so we learn a bit more about the Czech people thanks to this defining mosaic from the Czech New Wave:  Pearls of the Deep.

And little by little we learn a new culture.

 

-PD

El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

Mulholland Dr. [2001)

How not to start a symphony.  With a rest.  #5 (7)j j-j o ^ (7)j j-j o

Beethoven started with a pause.  A pause, in this case, is unheard.  Felt.

No hay banda.

Il y a n’est pas d’orchestre.

I wish I was more confident in my French memory.

The Spanish is simpler.

[silencio]

It could be Roberto Benigni in La vita è bella reeling off a priceless punchline.

[silencio]

It could be John Cage forcing us to listen in 4’33”.

Painfully good.  A perfect film.  Mulholland Drive.  Dr. Mulholland.

I’ve either gained you or lost you by this point.

Dr. Benway.

You will excuse the word virus at work.

Perhaps the word bacteria predates Burroughs.

Always a cut-up in class.

And those classy suits.

It’s a talent to be weird, though Charles Mingus would argue otherwise.

A talent to be simple.

You have to stay with me like Lord Buckley or Lester Bangs.

I got yer Oxford comma right here.

, and don’t I know it!

She takes Hayworth’s name from Gilda.

Rita.

Laura Elena Harring.  Laura Harring if you’re into the whole brevity thing.  Concision of expression.  Bthvn.

If you really wanna impress the familia, it’s Laura Elena Martínez Herring.  Miss USA 1985.  Just missed 1984.

Or well, Wilbur…

Mr. Ed.  Paging Mr….

Herring.  Pink.  She is a living Modigliani onscreen for a brief moment on a couch.  A stippled nipple in deep focus.

But this is not her film.  She is a MacGuffin in heels.

No.  This is Naomi Watts’ film.  Boy is it ever!

But let us pop this balloon before it goes all Vivre sa vie on us.

Is this the best Amer-ican film ever made?  Probably.

Dog Star Man has a steep mountain to climb without a soundtrack to blow Sisyphus to his zenith.

F for Fake is to American cinema what Histoire(s) du cinema is to the French pantheon.

The only real challenger, then, might be Gummo.

But let us return to Maestro Lynch.  David Lynch.  Montana Dave.  The Cowboy…

This is, to reiterate, a perfect film.  Such creations do not come along often.

As such, we should savor each morsel of finesse embodied in this feast for eyes and mind.

And don’t forget the ears.  Badalamenti.  Badda bing, badda boom.

What would Chico Marx have made of this film???

Who cares…  It’s Chico stuffed into a dough ball suitcase with $50k and Groucho and Harpo mashed up

with even a good portion of Zeppo as Little Mr. Sunshine in Naomi Watts’ first character Betty Elms.

Nightmare on Elms’ street.

Mulholland Dr.

Great minds think alike.  Cannes premier of this film May 16, 2001.  Radiohead’s Amnesiac album?  June 5, 2001.

Rita.  Camille.  Diane Selwyn.

Kryptos.  Jim Sanborn.  Mengenlehreuhr.

Set theory.

(0,2,3,5)  Le Sacre du printemps.

Spitting espresso into a napkin, strikes fear in the hearts of the most hardened capitalists.

Fear.

The Flower That Drank the Moon.  Not a real film.

The Big Sleep.  She.  H. Rider Haggard.  Angel-A.

Finnegans, upon waking, diapasoned Wachet auf.

Just call me Death.  Everyone else does.

We don’t stop here.

We push on.  Like Gene Wilder on a magical fucking river of chocolate.

You can’t split the existential atom any further.  Kubrick tried in 2001.  And now Lynch had arrived at the same year.

If you open a MacGuffin, you will find nothing.

I have a bag full of money and I can’t remember my name.  That is Hollywood.

This is the girl.

And the gun.

24x per second.

Truth before the big lie even sprouted wings.  L’Effroyable imposture.  Vérités et Mensonges.

It’s like the old Edison tone tests.  Hit the lights.  Who’s playing?  The phonograph or the violinist?

Like looking at L.A. through Roy Orbison’s glasses.  A blur…a haze.

No one has split the literary atom any further than Louis-Ferdinand Céline.

[…]

Those three little dots.

The rhythm of speech.  From Modest Mussorgsky to Harry Partch.

Boris Godunov was lousy so we had to shave his armpits.

We would have never gotten to know each other so well, Boris and I.  Henry.  Mr. Bones.

Yeah, I keep on sloggin’ and get diminishing marginal returns.

Just a fancy way of saying less and less.  Nothing (more or less).

And then nothing turns itself inside out.

Naomi Watts goes from gee swell to Valerie Solanas.

The key.  CERN.  When they rev it up.

What does it open?

Möbius (stripped bare by his bachelorettes), even

[The Large Hadron Collider]

Mimesis.  Die a Jesus.

Greatest goal in life?

To achieve immortality and then die.

J. Hoberman.  J. Mascis.  J. Spaceman.

Putrefaction is merely Der Untergang des Abendlandes.  The decline of the evening lands.

Rises east, sets The West.

Civility.

L’Usine de rêves.

That killer blonde that we all want.  From Kim Novak to Daniel Craig.

Monty Montgomery.  Hope you only see him once more.

Good v. Bad, 410 U.S. 113 (2001)

The abortion of Newtonian physics.

Twice.

Thrice.

Michael J. Anderson as Larry Silverstein.

We don’t stop here.

This is the girl.

Maybe the smartest thing to do is pull it.

And we watched the building collapse.

That would be the shadow government.

An accident is a terrible event—notice the location of the accident.

Who gives a key, and why?

-PD

Passion [1982)

All you need is the first word.  The first sentence to get you going.

You can meditate.  Think too hard.

And now that it’s started it is gloriously ruined.  Like Kind of Blue.

Miles Davis would tell his players…one take.

Perhaps there were caveats.  But Bill Evans was ready.  Coltrane…

It is the same with “Sister Ray” by The Velvet Underground.

One take.  Make it count.

Everything proceeds from the first word.  But don’t take it too seriously.

It is like many other first words.  “Once upon a time…”

From a mist rises Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.  Bruckner would use the same device many times (no doubt in honor of Ludwig van).

Yes.  We say Ludwig Van in honor of Mauricio Kagel.  And the entire spirit of everything here might be compared to Joseph Beuys.

And just like that <bam> we go over-budget.

Jerzy Radziwilowicz plays the Jean-Luc Godard character here (with the wardrobe ostensibly taken right off the back of Jacques Dutronc).  Thus Godard still creates a distance between his story and THE story.  The whole bit about Poland is made to throw us off the scent (a bit like the glorious obfuscation of Joyce in Finnegans Wake).

We find Godard to be right.  The available forms are too mundane.  The audience stops thinking when they are comfortable.  So we must disorient them a bit–prod like a brainiac Hitchcock.

You see, the most important thing is not who acted in this film.  Rather, the crucial component is the juxtaposition which allows for revelation.

We see the most perfectly-placed tableaux of human paintings.  Come to life.  The proper term is tableau vivant.  Maybe you see them at Christmas.  Perhaps a manger and the Christian genesis.

Ah, but with Godard it is Delacroix and Rubens and Rembrandt etc.  I assume Ingmar Bergman missed this Godard film because the former had already made up his mind regarding the latter.  And thus the admiration flowed in one direction alone.  We see the delicacy of Bergman–that technique of the long shot (temporally speaking).  You can almost imagine Godard telling his cast of thousands in this mini-epic to have no expression at all.

There is a connection to Stravinsky.  Neoclassicism, but really a radical belief in the purity of music.  To paraphrase Igor, “Music doesn’t have meaning.  A note is a note.”  Perhaps I have done the great composer an injustice with my memory.  Yet, a paraphrase is a paraphrase.

We humans are not computers.  No matter how many books we have.  No matter how steel-trap our memory.  No matter how fast our Internet.

And thus, that which is juxtaposed against the meticulous composition of the tableaux vivants?  Everyday life.  Careless shots.  The beauty of the sky.  The natural sway of a handheld camera.  The sun as it burns up the lens upon peeking through the bare trees.  Hanna Schygulla running through the snow with a lavender umbrella.

Real life.  Labor.  A factory.  And who is the real star?  Isabelle Huppert.  Her character in Sauve qui peut (la vie) was not a sympathetic one.  Can we say?  WE had no sympathy for her.  Very little.  Not none.

Yet here…she is the lamb of God (of which she speaks).  Huppert is the labor element.  Workers’ rights.  It is intimated that her monotonous job has caused her to stutter.  Why?  Because it is not easy to talk about the factory.

And why, she asks, are people in films never shown working?  It is not allowed.  Filming in factories.  Indeed, I believe there is a specifically French meaning here.  [And Swiss, as the film is shot in Switzerland.]  But the real shocker?  Work and sex (“pornography”) are equally prohibited on the screen.

Only Godard would find this fascinating link.  And that is why we love him.

But mostly it is another thing.

Life is so much richer in the films of Godard.  Sure, there are some exceptions, but the exceptions themselves are merely the process being revealed.  It is “the thinking life” to paraphrase Henry Miller.

Once you have been there, you don’t want to go back.  Or you can’t go back.  But we do go back.  Thinking is hard work.

And as the world bemoans what havoc Europe has wrought, let it be noted…the Beethovens, Mozarts, Dvoraks…

This is the humanism which little by little comes to occupy the mature films of Jean-Luc Godard.

Most importantly, he never stopped being a critic.

And his film reviews?  They are his films themselves.

-PD