Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa [2013)

Well, not everything can be a masterpiece ūüôā

And while this film (known in the U.S. simply as¬†Alan Partridge) has its moments, it’s a rather lackluster affair overall.

But something kept me watching.

I suppose it was the sheer talent of Steve Coogan.

Bloke’s got a real gift.

But this film just didn’t really do him justice.

24 Hour Party People was much better (if I remember correctly).

At any rate, Alan Partridge is set in Norwich.

Which is in Norfolk.

Which is in East Anglia.

Yes, Mr. Partridge is a pretty shallow gent.

The context, by the way, is that of a radio station.

The film’s action mostly takes place at a radio studio.

It’s a bit of a tense film, but always long on humor.

I must give the director Declan Lowney credit.

There are some quirky bits which work quite well.

And so, perhaps I just haven’t understood this film.

It was relatively enjoyable.

I don’t want an hour and a half of my life back.

It wasn’t that bad.

But something was a bit off.

I must say, the concept was relatively sound.

[no pun intended]

Somehow the execution of the concept was less than stellar.

The acting was all fairly decent.

No doubt that Coogan was the star.

Really, I don’t know quite what to say about this one.

I wouldn’t recommend it as a life-changing film.

It’s relatively light and enjoyable, but there are a good many guns in the film.

The premise is, as stated, quite tense.

If you work in a radio station, you might find certain parts funnier than I did.

At any rate, it was great to know that Steve Coogan’s still got it.

I will be looking out for more of his wonderful performances in the future.

Cheerio!

-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

Hateship, Loveship [2014)

This one is a mind-bender.

I must admit…I thought I was watching a Weinstein brothers production.

I know, I know.

But the truth is, I went through several mediocre films to find this gem.

Truly Strange:  The Secret Life of Breasts.  Nope.

3rd World Cops.  ¡Ay, carambas!

The Girl in the Book.  Non.

The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq. Extrême ennui.

Zoom. ¬†Ugh…

Say It Isn’t So. ¬†No thanks.

Lovelace.  Not quite.

And finally the film under consideration:  Hateship, Loveship.

At some point I saw the Weinstein brothers’ names.

I can’t seem to pin it down.

But suffice it to say that it certainly wasn’t in relation to the film under review.

Which is to say, finding a good film can be a lot of work.

And reading this review is probably a lot of work as well.

But I hope I save you some small measure of time.

And perhaps guide you to a cinematic treasure which you might have otherwise overlooked.

I have nothing against the Weinstein brothers.

I know hardly anything about them.

But somehow it stuck.

“I’m watching a Weinstein brothers film,” I thought.

But as this minor masterpiece progressed, I further mused, “My goodness, these guys don’t just make crap with explosions.”

Let’s take a short look.

Inglorious Basterds.  One of the worst films ever made.

The Imitation Game.  Good one.

St. Vincent.  Not good.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno.  Meh.

So I would have been right to be incredulous.

Upon further review.

Considering that the Weinstein brothers have largely saturated the world with unwatchable crap.

But Hateship, Loveship is a different story.

To reiterate, this film has nothing to do with the esteemed Weinsteins.

I’m sure they are honorable fellows.

It was just my tired brain which mistook a very fine film (something which they are unaccustomed to making) for one of theirs.

Indeed, it appears the big cheese responsible for this quite stellar film (which grossed a whopping $80,588 [sic] at the box office) was a chap by the name of Michael Benaroya.

And I can honestly say, whatever he sunk into the project was money well-spent.

The direction, by Liza Johnson, is really remarkable.

A lesser film critic would make some comparison to The Truman Show and call it a day.

But I aspire to more.

The connection is simple.

Jim Carrey (once upon a time) tried to do dramatic acting.

The result was The Truman Show.

A good-to-mediocre film.

He’s probably done other “dramatic” stuff, but I could really give a fuck.

In OUR film, a funny lady tells no jokes.

Yes, not to be too murderously-cryptic…but Kristen Wiig plays it straight here.

And she is fucking fantastic!!!

I don’t know where this side of her acting prowess came from (though I did notice her range in, strangely, a film called¬†Paul¬†[2011]), but I must assume that some of the credit for this performance goes to director Johnson.

But still…Kristen Wiig really nails it here!

It’s one of those strange things…

I kept waiting for her to burst out with some goofy impersonation, but no.

And so this film has a sort of tension to it if you know Ms. Wiig as the brilliant comedienne she is.

The story is hard to sum up.

Scrubbing floors…

Scrub scrub scrub.

Little House on the Prairie. ¬†[d’accord]

Yes.

Wiig’s character is a plain Jane.

She’s a maid. ¬†A housekeeper.

In the beginning, she’s a sort of live-in hospice caretaker.

But I think the best summation for her spirit might be “Protestant work ethic”.

Ahh, that Max Weber chestnut…

It’s a funny thing, though…

Elbow grease so often wins the day.

Indispensable to this tale (back to the movie) is Nick Nolte.

Here is an actor who has aged gracefully.

Like Bob Dylan.

That raspy voice…

He was perfectly cast as a man in need of some housekeeping.

But the really fascinating thing about this movie is the story.

And for that we must thank Alice Munro.

There’s a little bit of stolen identity here.

Internet-age fuckery.

Social engineering (in the sense familiar to “penetration testers”).

Put simply, this film goes because of a scam.

I won’t tell you how. ¬†Or whom.

But it is even more tense and eggshell than waiting for Kristen Wiig to tell a joke.

But none of this would matter were it not for love.

Love is the cocoon which holds everything in.

Here.

That kind of love that makes you pack up all your things and head for the unknown.

That kind of love that makes you break the law.

That kind of love that has you end up in an abandoned motel in Chicago.

Yes, Chicago.

We get some Chicago here.

[Even if the film was shot in New Orleans. ¬†Of which I’m only part certain.]

Our minds are in Chicago.

Because the story tells us we’re there.

And so we fear.

Busstops.

Trips to an unseen corner store.

Under a highway (for God’s sake!).

Love.

And trickery.

It is no innovation to point out that films are trickery.

Most films.

Fiction films.

With actors.

The kind you like.

But the best films make us suspend disbelief.

And this is one of those films.

We believe Kristen Wiig.  We believe Nick Nolte.

We believe the scumbag (played admirably by Guy Pearce).

We believe the cough.

We believe the cocaine on the toilet seat.

Sometimes it’s almost too precious–too perfect.

Too strained to be real.

But Liza Johnson is in firm control of her mise-en-scène.

So while the Weinstein brothers prepare for their “untitled Furby film [in association with Hasbro]”, the damage has already been done.

A little missile of truth has sunk the Hollywood battleship.

If, like me, you want to see something to which you can relate, then try this little slice of awkward loneliness.

Sometimes we just need a goddamned mirror to know we still exist.

-PD

Comoara [2015)

It’s such a joy to return to Romania.

Not that I’ve ever been there.

Except in films.

But so you understand, no national cinema has moved me quite so much as the Romanian.

[With exception to the French.]

Iran is close.

But oh so far.

Because we don’t see Iranian movies.

Not real ones.

And on Netflix, we don’t see the history of history.

Just a recent interpretation.

And that is so often fool’s gold.

Netflix, like its dire counterpart Hulu, is heavy on Holocaust films.

This would be appropriate.

If the films were any good.

Because the Holocaust is the most important event of the past hundred years.

But the films aren’t any good.

By and large.

However, fear not:  this film does not try to take on what cannot be documented.

[see Histoire(s) du cinéma for the only good Holocaust film ever made]

No, we are after buried treasure.

Indeed, this film is listed as The Treasure on Netflix.

And I commend that streaming service for its ostensible dedication to quality foreign films.

[even if the same company has no concept of history]

If you look at the “classics” section of Netflix, you will find a paucity of titles.

This is problematic.

Last I checked Hulu (before I quit it), their “classics” section was just as bad (if not worse).

But Hulu had, for awhile, a distinct competitive advantage over Netflix (while it lasted).

The Criterion Collection.

Sure, it was not the collection in its entirety, but it was a treasure (pardon the extended metaphor) of classic films…many from countries other than the U.S. and U.K..

As I have reported previously, Hulu began to surreptitiously phase out its lost licensing (apparently) of the Criterion catalog.

Once I realized what had really happened, the damage was done.

I was out of there.

Nothing, I imagined, could be worse than the current laughable joint venture (and anemic selection) of Hulu.

And I was right.

Netflix has been a breath of fresh air.

I had previously seen Netflix’ hopper.

Years ago.

It seemed very light on classic films.

And it still is.

But what Netflix lacks in historical perspective, it makes up for (marginally) with its plentiful “international” category.

And thus we come to this fine Romanian film: Comorara.

It may be incredibly naive for me to postulate thusly, but Romanian cinema is the future.

No national cinema rivals the French.

Yes, Germany has had its share of important films (especially in the silent era and soon thereafter).

But the French-language library of films which has been passed down through the “ages” is nonpareil.

Of that tradition, nothing comes even close (for me) to equaling Jean-Luc Godard’s output.

[though he was, and always will be, gloriously Swiss]

Thus, he stands head-and-shoulders above the rest.

But there are others.

Especially those with whom Godard would have been nothing.

Jacques Becker.  Robert Bresson!  Marcel Carné.  Henri-Georges Clouzot.  Jean Cocteau.  Jean-Pierre Melville.  Jean Renoir!  Jean Rouch.  Jacques Tati.

And then there are those foreigners who worked in French (to varying extents) such as Luis Bu√Īuel and Max Oph√ľls.

But the French cinema has given us other visionaries contemporaneous to Godard.

Alain Resnais.  Eric Rohmer.  François Truffaut.  These are just a few that come to mind.

And until Netflix (and even the Criterion Collection itself) gets beyond to utter genius of Abbas Kiarostami, we will know little of the Iranian cinema beyond its undisputed master.

[Indeed, Netflix has not even broached the true cinema of Iran by featuring Kiarostami…as far as I know. ¬†It is solely the Criterion Collection which is to thank for exposing people to films like¬†Taste of Cherry and¬†Close-Up.]

But I must give Netflix their due.

They have made available the very fine Romanian film under review.

Yet, before we delve into that…I would like to delineate exactly what makes Romania different as far as being “the future” of cinema (in relation to, say, Iran…for instance).

The simple answer is that there are multiple genius (genius!) directors working in Romania.

They may not (certainly not) get the budgets they deserve, but their output is of the highest, most sublime quality.

And, sadly, Abbas Kiarostami is no longer among the living.

But it bears mentioning the¬†auteurs of Romanian “new wave” cinema.

Cristi Puiu. CńÉtńÉlin Mitulescu. ¬†Cristian Mungiu.

And the director of Comoara:  Corneliu Porumboiu.

The Treasure must not have been an easy film to make.

Indeed, the very end of the film evinces a directorial sigh of relief (if I am interpreting it correctly).

Let me just say this:  nothing much happens in this film.

Indeed, this might be the type of film which illustrates the different way in which film critics view films (as opposed to most moviegoers).

Not to mince words, my guess is that most people (98%?) would find The Treasure boring.

But I loved it!

The defining characteristic of this film is tension.

But it is not the type of tension which strings us along in a film such as Rear Window.

No.

The tension here is far more mundane in comparison.

And yet, there is real inspiration at work in Porumboiu’s mise-en-sc√®ne¬†here.

Toma Cuzin is our brooding “star”.

And he is very, very good.

But his “foil” is the Dudley-Moore-lookalike¬†Adrian PurcńÉrescu.

Cuzin is calm. ¬†And yet, the dreamer…

One might even think “gullible”.

PurcńÉrescu is frazzled. ¬†Cynical. ¬†Either a conman of a saint. ¬†Hard to tell…

But the fellow who pulls it all together is Corneliu Cozmei.

He’s the man with the metal detectors.

Yes, two…

[this is a treasure hunt, after all!]

Cozmei is caught between the personalities of Cuzin and¬†PurcńÉrescu.

And yet he’s not just an innocent bystander (so to speak).

He may be the independent party in this whole treasure hunt, but he’s smack dab in the middle of a very tense situation.

Bogart fans will not be far off if they faintly recall the Sturm und Drang of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

But most of all…it’s just good to be back in Romania.

To see a half-lit, grey day.

To see the funny looking cars.

To notice all the details of a culture I truly love.

-PD

Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure [1985)

This movie is kinda like LSD.

Not that I would know.

But from what I hear…

If you come into it with fear and anxiety, it will be a grating, disorienting, annoying experience.  Frightening.

But if you come into it at peace and relaxed, you might just have a wonderful time viewing this movie.

The first third of the film was tense for me.

Everything is tense for me.

Thank God for drugs.

And so the rest of the film was quite charming and (dare I say?) meaningful.

We probably all know the Pee-Wee story…how he got caught whacking off in an adult movie theater.

But everyone deserves a second chance.

Sure, a guy who wakes up in the morning wearing lipstick and rouge might be a little suspect to some, but this whole film is fantasy.

Back to psychedelics…

It’s only appropriate that my old computer has just come down with the trippiest virus I’ve ever seen.

But no matter.

We push on.

Five more days.

Yes, Pee-Wee is like Mr. Bean.

And when Pee-Wee dances, it presages Napoleon Dynamite’s talent show jaw-dropper by some years.

Paul Reubenfeld –> Paul Reubens –> Pee-Wee Herman

In Hollywood, you can be anyone you want to be.

That’s entertainment (as The Jam sang).

But we have to give a shout out to the adorable Elizabeth Daily who plays Dottie.

Madame Ruby only accepts cash…even on a rainy night.

But she also does income tax.

Sure, Pee-Wee looks a little too comfortable in his Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Laverne-&-Shirley frock, but that’s part of his oblivious joy.

Large Marge is, of course, unforgettable.

Diane Salinger is really great as Simone.

With that aching dream to get to France.

I know.  This dream.

I lived it.

And how I’d so like to go back.

“Au revoir, Simone…”

Nothing like sitting on a tongue…watching the sun come up between some teeth.

But then we get my hometown.

San Antonio.

And a lot of it!

Please don’t think we all speak like Jan Hooks ūüôā

As an amnesiac, Pee-Wee can recall but one thing:

“Remember the Alamo!”

Yee-Haw!!!

So let’s see…fainting after bike theft (Truffaut) followed by EMS and oxygen? ¬†Check.

Amnesia after being thrown from a bull?  Check.

Hospitalization after riding a Harley through a wooden sign?  Check.

I am remiss to mention that I forgot the appendectomy in Spies Like Us.

These signs that God is looking out for us.

And France.

A story which didn’t resonate during my youth.

But only after I’d fallen in love to Messiaen.

Only after I became Tropic of Cancer.

A duck in Milton Berle’s pants is enough to get Pee-Wee on set at Warner Brothers.

What ensues is truly a zany take on the car chase cliche.

Then Pee-Wee frees the animals at the zoo.  XMAS

And with handfuls of snakes, faints again (trumping Truffaut) before first responders revive him.

Breaking the rules was a way to promotion in the 1980s.

And when it’s couched in playful imagination, it is charming indeed.

When it’s funny. ¬†A farce. ¬†Comedic.

Pee-Wee as bellhop is like Jason Schwartzman’s understudy in¬†The Grand Budapest Hotel.

Director Tim Burton deserves heaping credit for making this an actually timeless film.  It is creative throughout.

It’s really a joy to see.

Just don’t take the brown acid.

-PD

Reservoir Dogs [1992)

That annoying, whiny little prick is a genius.

That’s the retort.

I’m really batting below the Mendoza line regarding Tarantino.

And I’ll tell you why.

Because that annoying, whiny little prick is a goddamned genius.

As much as I want to judge him as a director based on his shrill, dorky acting, I can’t.

Because he’s made some brilliant films.

As much as I want to judge him because so many filmmakers have followed his example regarding ultraviolence (which he naturally ripped off from Kubrick’s treatment of Burgess), I can’t.

It’s not Tarantino’s fault that his example is attractive.

It isn’t much more than a girl and a gun.

[the famous Godard quote…all you need for a film]

Ah!  But it IS different.

There are no girls here.

There are no female characters in Reservoir Dogs.

Sure…there’s the waitress.

Does she even appear?

We certainly hear about her.

And then there’s a broad who gets shot in the head (bringing her 15, er, 7 seconds of fame to an end).

Yes, Reservoir Dogs is a good ol’ sausage party.

Why review this film now?

Why review anything but new releases?

Because it’s my website and I’ll do whatever the fuck I want with it.

[as the inestimable Lawrence Tierney might have said]

I’ll tell you the real reason.

Because the movies of 2016 are such shit as to make Tarantino circa ’92 look like Jean Cocteau in comparison.

And so we watch for entertainment.

We might want a story.

Dialog is nice.

But whatever’s in it (or not in it), we want it to be compelling (damn it!).

Reservoir Dogs is that.

It’s tense.

Like another “dogs” (Straw Dogs).

Why the colors?  Because van Gogh.

Should be capitalized.

Don’t use your Christian names.

I just gotta say, Harvey Keitel is really good here.

No.¬† He’s fucking great!

Guy has range!

Buscemi is the ball of nerves we’ve come to expect.¬† Times ten.

More important than specific actors, we learn the nature of acting.

We learn what lends stories credibility:  details.

And as (perhaps) an homage to Andy Warhol, we see the excellent Tim Roth actually rehearse his lines during the film.

Tarantino would employ the shooting (camera) from behind trick (Vivre sa vie) in Pulp Fiction, but here he finagles a brilliance (the Roth rehearsal) that only a truly agile mind could conjure.

And so, once again, I must apologize to Mr. Tarantino for having denigrated his films so much.¬† I had seen them, I just didn’t appreciate them.

We fall in love.  We fall out of love.  We fall back into love.

 

-PD

El √°ngel 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 √°ngel 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 Bu√Īuel 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 Dal√≠) 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 persist√®ncia de la mem√≤ria.¬† 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 Dal√≠ 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 Bu√Īuel had the mad genius of Joyce.¬† In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’√āge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Bu√Īuel 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 d√©sir (1977) [his final creation].

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

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

But it is very important to note that El √°ngel 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 √°ngel exterminador¬†sets the record straight.¬† Bu√Īuel 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 monta√Īa sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.¬† Both were, incidentally,¬†shot in Mexico.

Though Bu√Īuel (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

 

M [1931)

Perhaps we pay too much attention to the story.

We all love a good story.

But the mark of the genius filmmaker may be found in their method of narrative.  The art of how they tell their stories.

To be quite honest, I wasn’t thrilled to return to this Fritz Lang masterpiece, but I’m glad I did.

It is very much how I feel about Hitchcock’s Psycho.¬† It is a wonderful film, but it’s not something I want to throw on once a week during the course of kicking back.

M, like Psycho, is a supremely tense film.¬† Nowadays, when we think of Hitchcock, we might reflect on his tastefulness.¬† Think about it (says Jerry Lee).¬† In Hitchcock’s day (a long, productive “day”), things which are now shown with impunity were positively disallowed for a Hollywood filmmaker.¬† Blood and guts…no.¬† Hitchcock was forced to artfully suggest.

The strictures guiding Fritz Lang (29 years earlier) were even more conservative.  But even so, M is a genuinely terrifying movie.

Terrifying films are rarely relaxing.  They are not meant to be.

But as I had seen this one before, I was able to focus more on the method employed by Lang.  The truth is, M is a masterpiece.  It really is the treatment of a brute subject (murder) with incredible subtlety.

What is most radical about M is its counterintuitive take on crime.

Within this film, crime is divided into capital and noncapital offenses.

In M, a band of criminals exists which seeks to put a serial killer out of business.  It may seem a strange turn of phrase, but this killer is bad for the business of other criminals (mainly thieves and such).

A town in terrorized.¬† The police regularly raid establishments. ¬†You must have your “papers” with you at all times.

And so those who survive on crime are so desperate as to adopt (temporarily) the same goal as the police:  catch the killer.

It is not giving much away to tell you that Peter Lorre is the killer.¬† This is not a whodunit.¬† It’s a “what’s gonna happen”.¬† That I will leave to your viewing pleasure.

While I am on the subject of Lorre, let me just say that this is one of the finest, weirdest performances in cinema history.  The final scene is one of absolutely raw nerves.  Lorre is not the cute, vaguely-foreign character he would become in The Maltese Falcon or Casablanca.  Lorre is stark-raving mad.

His attacks of psychosis are chilling to observe.¬† But really, it is his final outburst which tops any bit of lunacy I’ve ever seen filmed.

Today there would likely be plenty of actors ready to play such a macabre role, but in 1931 this was a potential death wish.

That Lorre put his soul into it tells us something important about him.¬† First, he was capable of being more than a “sidekick” (as he was in the previously-mentioned Bogart films).¬† Second, he was dedicated to the art of acting.¬† Lorre was not “mailing it in”.¬† Playing such a role can’t be particularly healthy for one’s mental state.

But there’s a further thing.¬† His final monologue is filled with such angst.¬† Let us consider the year:¬† 1931.¬† In the midst of the Great Depression.

But also we must consider the country:¬† Germany.¬† These were the waning years of the Weimar Republic.¬† Three important dates would end this democratic republic:¬† Hitler’s appointment as Chancellor (Jan. 30, 1933), 9/11 the Reichstag fire (Feb. 27, 1933), and the Enabling Act (Mar. 23, 1933).

The era of M (1931) was the era of Heinrich Br√ľning’s “deflationary” monetary policy as German Chancellor.¬† I put deflationary in quotation marks because Wikipedia’s current description might better be termed contractionary monetary policy.

As Wikipedia would tell it, Br√ľning was essentially instating fiscal austerity (that hot-button term of recent times) concomitantly with the aforementioned monetary approach.¬† This was, of course, the failure which paved the way for Adolf Hitler to take control of Germany.

And so we find that the historian Webster Tarpley is right when he refers to certain modern-day policy makers as austerity “ghouls”.¬† Either conservative/fascist leaders across the globe have no grasp of history, or they are looking forward with anticipation to the next Hitler or Mussolini.

It should be noted that Tarpley is coming from a socialist perspective rooted in the Democratic Party of FDR.  His opposition, therefore, would likely brand him as liberal/communist and through slippery-slope logic see the policies he espouses as paving the way for the next Stalin or Mao.

And so goes the political circus…ad nauseam.

Returning to film, we must at least consider this situation in Germany.  The country was still paying war reparations from WWI (though this was becoming impossible because of the internal economic woes).

What is perhaps most astonishing is how much Peter Lorre’s character prefigures the Hitler caricature which has come down to us from history.

War-based societies have a compulsion to kill.¬† Germany found out the hard way that this is not a healthy default.¬† Sadly, today’s Germany has not checked the most warmongering modern country on Earth (the United States) enough to make any difference.

The United States has, for a long time now, been breathing…seething for a war.¬† The “masters of war” are all wearing suits.¬† Only suits want to go to war.¬† A true warrior does not want war.¬† Only those who will go unscathed actively invite war.

But there is an insanity in suits.¬† A compulsion.¬† Don’t let the suit fool you.¬† A suit is, for us grown-ups, the equivalent of a piece of candy…or an apple…or a balloon for a child.¬† A suit advocating war is saying, “Keep your eyes on my suit.¬† I know best.¬† Trust in me.¬† Look at my impressive degree.”

The suits like places such as Raven Rock Mountain.¬† The suits won’t be on the battlefield.¬† And don’t let the 10% who actually fought in a war fool you:¬† they were in non-combat operations.¬† Their daddies made sure of it.

So keep your eyes open for the M of American cinema.¬† Who is the next fascist to take the stage?¬† Hitler had a Charlie Chaplin moustache.¬† How dangerous could he be?¬† Trump has a ginger comb-over.¬† Surely he’s harmless, right?

 

-PD

 

Le Salaire de la peur [1953)

Only appropriate that we would reapproach France during these tense times with this film which is, believe it or not, more full of tension than anything I can recall in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.

Yes, The Wages of Fear by director Henri-Georges Clouzot is unlike anything I have ever seen.  More or less.

A parallel can be made to the Humphrey Bogart film They Drive by Night, but Le Salaire de la peur is of a different caliber altogether.

Believe it or not, Yves Montand actually out-acts Bogart in this here film.

From the bizarre beginnings, we hardly have any clue where this flick is going.

Where are we?  Tegucigalpa?  No, not enough oil.  Venezuela?  Perhaps.

D’o√Ļ Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / O√Ļ Allons Nous???

Mexico.  A fictional (?) town called Las Piedras. The stones.

Not to be confused with pies (feet).

Indeed, stones play an important part in this film.  And so do feet.

But initially we are disoriented by the Eisenstein-like montage reminiscent of ¡Que viva México!  A small child with a sombrero and no pants playing with cockroaches.

And as the film gets going we notice the multitude of languages.¬† Spanish, French, German (?), Italian…maybe Dutch?

The Dutchman in question is played by German actor Peter van Eyck (born Götz von Eick).

In fact, I thought for much of the film that I was watching Oskar Werner (much to my chagrin upon consulting the credits).

And so we have a hodgepodge of refugees in this one-horse town of Las Piedras, but the oil industry beckons…on the frontier.¬† It is a dangerous industry (and becomes infinitesimally more dangerous through the course of this film).

I do believe I have heard Clouzot described as the French Hitchcock.  After seeing this, that makes perfect sense.

Le salaire de la peur is such a pithy, visceral film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a very powerful film which takes aim at corporate callousness.¬† But the real theme is danger.¬† Fear.¬† Anxiety.¬† The sickness of worry.

It reminds us that we shouldn’t judge our fellow humans too harshly.¬† We can never know the exact feelings or the exact situation.

One final thought.  Nitroglycerine plays an integral part in this film.

I pray that the Russian soldiers who died yesterday will not have died in vain.¬† May the leaders of Turkey and the other NATO countries come to their senses in what has been sheer geopolitical insanity along Russia’s border.¬† What restraint Russia has shown compared to the egregious stunt pulled by Turkey!¬† As with all actions emanating from the West, I wouldn’t be surprised if the incident was ordered to occur (giving propitious conditions) by a power residing much further west than Ankara.

May courage and wisdom be with the militaries of all nations, the soldiers of which are thrust into the most unenviable positions imaginable.  War for profit has hit its maximum potential.  If there be one true diplomat left on the planet, let him or her please stand up at this crucial time.

Don’t count too much on your simulations.

 

-PD