Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory [1971)

Now we come to a crucial crossroads.

30,665 deaths so far in the United States from COVID-19.

Over a month ago, on or about March 12th, my girlfriend broke up with me.

But she didn’t do it in any sort of clearcut way.

I committed a transgression.

I wrote a very unflattering song about her.

Musically speaking, it was a very good song.

And so, out of blind pride, I posted it on my SoundCloud page.

It was written out of frustration.

I did not feel that I could discuss anything of substance with my girlfriend.

But I must qualify that statement.

I was unable to give her criticism…at all…ever.

No matter how tactfully I phrased it, she was not open to critique.

And she was always this way.

I will let the psychiatrists in the room now give their opinions as to the reason why.

[             ]

Thank you, good sirs.

You see, my girlfriend used to be my fiancée.

And before that she was my girlfriend.

My beginning is my end.

Understand that I waited 41 years to propose to a girl.

And propose I did.

And she accepted.

It was a joyful day.

I wore my best (only) suit.

I brought flowers (as I did every time I saw her).

We were happy.

I thought that giving her the reassurance of engagement would improve her attitude.

While I was never allowed to give her criticism (without a resulting emotional explosion from her), she was allowed to give me criticism.

And she did.

From the moment I met her.

Her very first words to me when we first met in person were a CORRECTION of my faux pas.

I didn’t stand when she entered the room and approached my table.

I admit that I was in error.

But I was enraptured by her beauty.

And that was the first of many, MANY criticisms I would receive from her over the ensuing four months until our engagement.

Perhaps my optimism was misguided.

After a brief “honeymoon period”, the criticisms came back.

But I must give some “back story” to fill in her character profile.

She had lost a child mid-pregnancy just two years prior.

And less than one year before meeting me, she had lost her husband in a tragic traffic collision.

I was very compassionate to the special needs of this truly unique child of God.

My fiancée.

I wanted to help.

I overlooked many of her character flaws…attributing them to her PTSD and depression.

But every anniversary was like an eruption.

The date when her child died.

The date when her child was supposed to have been born.

The date when her husband died.

Her and her late-husband’s wedding anniversary.

Amidst all this struggle, she wanted to have another child.

Her one child had been lost.

Before ever really entering the world.

I obliged.

I loved her.

I was scared.

“What kind of father material am I?,” I thought.

But I pressed on.

I always acquiesced to her demands.

We did things HER WAY.

ALWAYS.

And it was stressful.

“Let’s go to a fertility clinic.”

Yadayadayada.

All while I am working to make ends meet.

“I will soon be too old to have children.”

A frantic pace.

Interspersed with bouts of her extreme depression.

Lovely stuff, I assure you.

It drove me back to tobacco.

And it drove me nuts.

Everything snapped for me.

One day I woke up and realized I couldn’t go to work.

I was done.

And so for 9 months, I had to be reborn.

I had to detox.

To her credit, she stuck by me (more or less).

And then tragedy struck again.

Her mother died.

I frantically tried to get my old job back (though I was not quite fully healed).

And I did.

I wanted to help her save her apartment which she loved.

But she got sick.

And sicker.

And sicker.

I kept the job.

But the apartment was lost.

And now she lives with her dad.

Just as I live with my parents (a situation she gave me grief about many times).

“Many who are first shall be last, and the last shall be first.”

Jesus spoke of karma.

And I’m sure I have a lifetime of wrecked karma ready to crash down on ME at any moment.

But sometimes the irony is too dripping.

There was the hospitalization.

Six days she was there.

I came every night (five nights).

After working until midnight sometimes.

But it was not enough.

She wasn’t satisfied.

After the hospital, she got worse (in many ways).

Finally, I was asked by her family not to contact her anymore.

Not to cause her “grief”.

And like that, our engagement vanished into thin air.

For 17 days I lived in a darkness.

And so did she.

She was very sick.

I heard nothing from her.

And then she slipped back into my life.

Slowly.

But it was so confusing.

She didn’t want to be engaged anymore (she said).

She wanted to take a (big) step backwards.

I wasn’t too happy about this, but I accepted.

And so we made it several months.

A nice Valentine’s Day.

But something was worse than before.

There was absolutely no reciprocation.

If I complimented her (which I did often), she would not compliment me.

If I did something nice for her (which I often did), it was very soon forgotten (and certainly not answered with a loving action from her).

I wanted to say something, but I couldn’t.

She was still too sick, she said.

And so things dragged on thusly.

And then I wrote that song which changed my life.

That song of frustration.

I am not proud of it.

Though it be musically a good composition, it caused her sadness.

When she happened to find it.

You see, I would write songs for this girl of mine.

I recorded 183 songs for her over the course of two years.

Some covers.

Some original instrumentals.

Some original songs.

Many of these gifts barely got a word of thanks in return.

Same for the thousands of dollars of flowers I bought for her over the same time period.

There’s even one song that she appears to have never bothered even listening to.

And it’s a good one.

After six months, it shows that it has zero listens.

Well, no one is perfect.

There were probably (almost certainly) other songs she never heard.

It just wasn’t what she needed at the time.

I can attest.

She was very, very sick.

183 songs.

Some she never got around to listening to.

In my frustration, I sang to the world.

I wrote…and put it in a bottle.

Like putting a leaf in a flowing stream.

To get rid of that care.

But of course, she found that particular leaf.

She interrogated me about it.

“No,” I said (trying to be tactful), “it’s not about you.”

But my conscience got to me.

And so the next day I came clean.

Yes, the song is about you.

I apologized sincerely.

I made no excuses whatsoever.

I didn’t plead my case.

She didn’t ask (never has) how I came to a place of such frustration.

But that was the last I heard from her.

For 10 days.

The first 10 days of this coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

I went through it alone.

I sent texts.

I sent emails.

All went unanswered for 10 days.

And when we came out, she was less than my girlfriend.

I told her I loved her…and got no response.

That was five weeks ago.

And so we have been winding things down.

We still talk.

But she is incapable of discussing our former relationship.

It stresses her out to much.

And she never even bothered breaking up with me.

So we are “just friends” now.

And I have tried to be there for her during this coronavirus crisis.

Which brings us to Willy Wonka.

This was one of the most formative movies of my life.

Perhaps THE most formative.

In elementary school, when the teachers were too lazy to teach, they’d put this film on.

And I would sit enraptured.

No matter how many times they showed it.

And they showed it to us MANY times.

It must have been one of the few VHS tapes which was approved for them to screen.

So what does this all mean?

Coronavirus, a wrecked romantic relationship, Willy Wonka…

Here is a partial answer:

a film reviewer should be cognizant of what is going on in their life and how that affects their “reading” of a certain film.

I rewatched this film tonight (for the umpteenth time) and saw stuff I had never seen before.

New details noticed.

But I was watching it with the sadness of romantic loss.

And with the stress of total societal isolation.

I have worked on the front lines of the service industry all throughout this crisis.

Precisely for the mental health BENEFIT it gave me.

Exercise.

Ersatz social interaction (with coworkers and customers).

But now, my store has been hit with a close encounter.

And so our hours have been shaved.

No more midnight.

Midnight shifted to 10 p.m.

And now, abruptly, 10 p.m has shifted to 2 p.m.

Can you imagine a coffee shop closing at 2 p.m.?

Well, that’s us right now.

And I am fairly certain I have delayed sleep phase disorder.

My “availability” starts at 4 p.m. each day.

So I have AT LEAST the next eight days off.

And I have had the past two off as well.

But five of my coworkers are home self-isolating…because they had potential second-hand exposure to COVID-19.

I miss them.  I’m making them music playlists.  I’m buying them groceries.  I’m sending them texts and emojis.

What a horrible situation to be in.

I myself was homebound today because of my asthma.

And that is our world.

Every sniffle.

Every sneeze.

Every sore throat.

As the mold floats on the breeze.

And the oaks bloom.

As particle pollution undulates.

Along with ozone.

Is it ‘rona?

If I need to take a Tylenol, is it ‘rona?

If I were to get coronavirus, it would be very bad indeed.

I live with my two elderly parents.

I have asthma.

I have high blood pressure.

And I have a whole bevy of mental problems.

But I chose to work.

I ran towards the sound of gunfire.

Whether it was stupid or brave, that is for others to decide.

And so now, here I sit with this masterpiece:

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Mel Stuart may be an auteur whose time is yet to come.

But the secret weapon is Walter Scharf.

Did he write the music?

No.

But he orchestrated it.

And such gossamer orchestration it is!

We start poor.

Shaggy dog.

Charlie Bucket.

A peasant’s name if there ever was one.

Crazy man plants the seeds of conspiracy.

About the factory.

*Charlie lives with his parents (as most young boys do).

But he also lives with all four of his grandparents.

And his father is deceased.

Willy Wonka is certainly a film about espionage.

Economic espionage.

Business espionage.

With overtones of state espionage.

International espionage.

Remnants of war.  England.  Germany.

Wonka’s factory is like Area 51.

But this film is unique in that it delineates a search.

A search by a man.

Or an organization.

Or agency.

Or entity.

A search for that one special person.

[decades before The Matrix]

God tested Abraham.

“…kill me a son/Abe said, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on!’/

God said, ‘No.’/Abe said, ‘What?’/God said, ‘You can do what you want Abe, but…uh/

next time you see me comin’ you better run.’/Abe said, ‘Where you want this killin’ done?’/  God said, ‘Out on Highway 61.'”

God, of course, STOPPED Abraham from killing his son.

But only AFTER Abraham had committed fully…knife in hand…to slit his son’s throat.

Great reading, that.

The Bible.

And this is a very biblical tale, Willy Wonka.

The eccentric Jesus.

God the Father…in the Heavens…with his Inventing Room.

The chocolate factory is heaven.

And only those who become like a child can enter…and stay.

Only those who are born again (made pure like a child) can inherit this chocolate factory.

God wants to pass on his greatest creation.

Heaven.

And God tests us.

But there is grace.

Charlie and Grandpa Joe mess up.

They drink the fizzy lifting drink.

They hang suspended like Icarus and Daedalus.

Their wings don’t melt.

They have the opposite problem.

They are on a collision course with the edge of ether.

Until they learn how to burp.

Stephen Dedalus…

Cicada 3301.

GCHQ recruiting.

Puzzles.

QAnon.

NSA.

Kryptos.

Who can solve the final part?

Right there at Langley.

Some might say I was engaged to Veruca Salt.

Wonka running counterespionage.

Counterintelligence.

Slugworth in Switzerland.

For Your Eyes Only.

Octagonal.

And hope.

Get out of bed.

Go back to work.

Warning strictly against “frippery”.

Again with Roger Moore in A View to a Kill.

Sideways fan.

Spoiled brat.

Always got what she wanted.

Cautionary tale of poor parenting.

God is merciful.

All is dream.

But God cannot be mocked.

His word is eternal.

Jesus was the Word made flesh.

Superseding the Ten Commandments.

There is freedom in Christ, but we are not to go on sinning.

We will mess up.

But it is by grace that we are saved.

So that no man may boast.

It is not by good works.

But the heart must be contrite.

And, above all, pure.

Made pure by the Holy Spirit.

When one invites God into ones life.

A little bit of divinity in each of us.

And quite a bit of divinity in this film.

By this logic, Satan (created by God) may be a Slugworth to be unmasked in the end times.

Lucifer…with that scar on his face.

The mark of Cain.

The murderer.

Finally, this is Gene Wilder’s best work.

He channels something here which is otherworldly.

Wilder became immortal with this film.

And he lives on.

As long as there is goodness in this world, we have a chance.

I want to thank my friend, the great writer Chris Lindsay, for encouraging me to write onwards during these dark times.

Thank you, Chris.

 

-PD

Tokyo Fiancée [2014)

I have been absent.

Because work.

Not working, but looking.

Labor.

Jobs.

Money.

Healthcare.

I have been absent because anxiety.

Always.

But better.

Walking.

Stretching.

Exercise.

Rest.

Time.

And now the cosmos brings me a perfect film.

Because Pauline Étienne.

Actress full of joy.

But the grand auteur is Stefan Liberski.

Every color.

Every gesture.

You must pinstripe, tuck up your hair you haven’t.

You must primary color.

Yellow and red.  Made in U.S.A.

“You must fall in love with me,” says Pauline Étienne.

“I command you.”

[she continues]

And of all the girls in the world, the Belgians and Finnish are the most diabolically beautiful on film.

Godard said the Swiss.

Clear bias.

And so we have a Belgian film set in Japan.

If we try hard, we can hear Debussy.  Estampes…

Pagodes…

Sado Island… […]

To dream in the rain.

Cross the bridge.

And the river steams.

You seek a nectarine.

A noisy kiss.

Pauline Étienne.

Buttermilk legs joy rollerskate skinny.

Was taken from Salinger.

Joyce said spittoon.

As cuspidor.

The most beautiful word.

Girl.

Some films, books so good…too much to handle.

My wish.

To marry.

To have that happiness.

A mere handful of fives away from Valentine’s.

When Colombia and Ecuador will be pumping out roses for Starbuckers.

All along.

They said that sex was uncouth.

Or resorted to farm metaphors of propagating species.

But.

They couldn’t talk about love.

Excitement.

When your breath is stolen by a cold kiss.

In the autumn.

Winter.

And yet warmth from optimism.

But we must get on to the little back alleys of Tokyo.

And for a moment stop this dream.

To be born.

In Japan.

Of Belgian parents.

Does not a Japanese make.

I can suck the life out of Auden.

Elliptical.

Though I thought I was aping Céline.

But director Stefan Liberski is aping no one.

personne

We must mention the author and not the auteur, though in French there is no difference (save for the milieu of cinema).

And she gives us a fantastic story.

Amélie Nothomb.

No thumb.

Better than “all thumbs”.

Rhombus.

Can you suck on a diamond lozenge from a ring?

Lots of sucking.

But that’s the aw-kward + loneliness which makes a great film.

This one just happens to pull in Belgique and Nippon to boot.

It depends.

On her yellow socks.

On her haircut.

Pauline Étienne.

On sweater with blue stripes.

Like Edward Hopper did the cinematography.

But the Francophones have it figured out.

Every trick.

Which is to say.

No tricks.

Just emotion.

Realism.

No bullshit.

Embrace the history of film.

Compare and contrast.

What works?  What doesn’t?

What speaks to you?  How does a culture (French, par exemple) see a film?

Answer:  it doesn’t fucking matter.

What matters is the overflowing love and romance which infuses Tokyo Fiancée.

Only thing Lars von Trier ever did well was film Kirsten Dunst in the nude.

Stefan Liberski surpasses von Trier’s entire oeuvre with this one film.

Yes, I’m polemic as fuck!

I’ll take François Truffaut (the film critic) and a bottle of white wine for my friend.

I like red.

And Guy Debord.

I’ll take chances.

Damn.

I have taken so many fucking chances.

But we get scared.

Worn out.

Frightened by inexperience.

All of that is in the film.

Taichi Inoue is really sweet as Rinri.

But I keep coming back to Pauline Étienne.

She has cast a spell over me.

And I must ask:  who does she signify?

Forget the character name.

For each sad soul who dreams their way to the end.

She represents someone.

Fondue.

Teeth which nave never left the village.

New born yellow as unripe baby corn.

On the farm.

Maybe.

A different register (accent?) of French in Belgium.

Immediately recognizable to a Parisian.

And with little modesty lambasted as yokel French.

But perhaps the Belgians and Quebecois have this in common.

A cause for solidarity.

And add in the Swiss…with their weird counting and smoky lisp.

Is it?

Tokyo Fiancée hits harder than La Religieuse (2013) because it is not stilted nor steeped in period costumes.

Just tell a fucking story, we say.

Pauline Étienne.  Born in Ixelles.

How could anyone from such a place be any less than ravishing?

When we think in microcosm.

If we only know one Indian person.

They become India.

For us.

And complicate this with a multicultural relationship.

That is the gasoline of Tokyo Fiancée.

It is clean.  And genius.  Like Magritte.

A bowler hat.  An apple.  And MoMA depth.

We want to be in this Japan.

Because the eyes have captured the essence of magic.

Ingenuity.

Frivolity.

Fun.

Tokyo Fiancée succeeds at every point where Lost in Translation failed (which was at every point).

This is the real deal.

Real acting.

Real art.

Not a dilettante piece.

Sofia Coppola should send her usage permissions for My Bloody Valentine and Kevin Shields tracks to Stefan Liberski posthaste.

Such music is the only thing which could make Tokyo Fiancée any better.

And yet, it is a perfect film.

Don’t fuck with perfection.

Maybe again MBV and Liberski can have a meeting of minds.

But make sure to include the Anna Karina of our age.

Pauline Étienne.

An actress for which Francophonie has been searching for 60 years.

Well, here she is.

And this is the model:  Tokyo Fiancée.

Let the joy in her heart hit the screen (splat!).

Jump on the bed.  Ahhh!!!

In the mountains.  Wooh!  The rush.

An actress with all 21 petals on her Fibonacci daisy.

Which is to say, fully capable of cinema immortality.

I believe it was Mallarmé who wrote of “bursting pomegranates” (!)

Very few films have ever had this effect on me.

And I needed this one very bad.

To confirm that there are quirky, special people in the world.

That there are eyes who see beauty in the details I notice.

And that genius in the cinema is not dead.

Thank you Mr. Liberski.

And thank you Pauline Étienne for your performance which has brought hope to a very sad person in Texas.

Je veux exprimer ma plus profonde gratitude.

C’est infini.

-PD

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [2005)

I was very apprehensive.

Because I loved the original so much.

1971.

Trying to remake one of the best films ever.

An unenviable task.

But Tim Burton was bringing it all back home.

1964.  Roald Dahl.

But let’s take a step further back.

Camp X.  Ontario.

“Established” December 6, 1941.

Yes.  You read that right.

The day before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

It was established by the “real” James Bond:  a Canadian by the name of William Stephenson.

His codename?  Intrepid.

He oversaw British intelligence, MI6, for the entire Western hemisphere during WWII.

(!)

Roald Dahl, the author of the children’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, was one of the men trained at Camp X (today known as Intrepid Park).

So it should go without saying that we are not dealing with just any children’s author.

And herein lies the secret of Tim Burton’s success.

He reimagined.

I fully expected full-on ball-tripping excess in homage to Mel Stuart’s “wondrous boat ride” of 1971, but Burton managed to restrain himself.

Indeed, the psychedelia of this film (and weirdness in general) is evident throughout almost every part of the film…EXCEPT THERE.

And so I must hesitantly call 2005’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a masterpiece.

Against all odds.

It’s only fitting that the lead child actor who plays Charlie Bucket (Freddie Highmore) was born on Valentine’s Day.

Yes Virginia, perhaps some things are fated.

Highmore is fantastic in a role created by Peter Ostrum.

And though we miss Diana Sowle and her priceless rendition of “Cheer Up, Charlie”, Helena Bonham Carter is quite magnificent in her limited scenes as the cabbage-cutting Mrs. Bucket.

But Tim Burton updates our story considerably to make it more relatable to the Harry Potter generation (and the service-industry pipe dream known as the “third industrial revolution”…for the “adults” in the crowd).

Yes, we needs must only revisit Eliyahu Goldratt’s “business novel” The Goal to remember the shortsighted “local efficiencies” which factory robots can produce.

By the way:  there’s a father Bucket.  And he runs into a patch of robot trouble.

Updated.

But Tim Burton does not stop there.  Whereas the original film focused tentatively on child  spies (remember the purloined Everlasting Gobstopper?), the film under review seems to situate itself amidst the full-scale industrial espionage (and, in particular, intellectual property theft) which the United States attributes to China.

But let us pay our respects here.

David Kelly was fantastic as Grandpa Joe.  Truly a wonderful performance!  And we are sad to have lost his talents in 2012.

Reading from back to front:

-our Augustus Gloop is somewhat forgettable (save for his Lowera Bowie hair tint)

-AnnaSophia Robb is appropriately snotty as the overachieving brat Violet Beauregarde  [How did Tarantino not hire this girl for his next refried kung-fu film?!?]

-Julia Winter (who strangely has no Wikipedia page) is really special as the mouthy tart Veruca Salt

-and Jordan Fry plays Mike Teevee (though they might as well have gone with “Hacker” Mike Xbox or some such first-person shooter sobriquet).

And that leaves us with the big dog himself:  Johnny Depp.

Stepping into some very big shoes.

Gene Wilder.  Taken from us just months ago.  A truly magical being.

And so Depp and Burton needed a strategy.

And it appears it was something like, “Ok, let’s make him weirder.  Like, lots weirder.  Remember those sunglasses Keith Richards wore on Between the Buttons?  And the hair like Brian Jones.  Prim.  Proper.  Rocker.  Ok, ok…but we want the Salinger recluse thing with some Prince or Michael Jackson oddity.  Purple velvet.  Ok, yes…we’re getting somewhere.”

Most striking, however, is Depp’s accent.  Very Ned Flanders…but possessed by the thoughts of Salvador Dalí.

But the Burton touch shows through.  That macabre glee.

A little cannibalism joke here.  “Which half of your child would you prefer?”

Oddities.

Though tempered by quick-tongued childlike wonder, Depp is still a rather darker Wonka than Wilder’s fatherly archetype.

Yes, Depp could fit fairly well into Kraftwerk (especially germane had Augustus from Düsseldorf won the grand prize).

Johnny and his purple latex gloves.

Not a touchy-feely Wonka.

Doesn’t even bother to learn the kids names.  [there’s only five]

Totally off his rocker.

Makes Gene Wilder’s Wonka seem like Mister Rogers in comparison.

But this is mostly secondary to the success of this film.

Tim Burton evidently didn’t feel making a true family film was beneath him.

And so, perhaps with a bit of inspiration from Wes Anderson, he made an immensely touching picture here.

Charlie Bucket is the kid we need in the world.

The chosen one.

The needle in the haystack.

And it is Wonka’s quest to find such a unique child.

Charlie almost gives up the ticket (sells it) to help his desperately poor family, but one of his four bedridden grandparents must have read Hunter S. Thompson at some point.  And so Charlie is convinced to “buy the ticket, take the ride” so to speak.

It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Enter Deep Roy (Mohinder Purba) as ALL (and I mean all) of the Oompa-Loompas.

It is in the short (!) song sequences where Burton’s debt to David Lynch emerges.

Kind of like Danny Elfman’s debt to Tom Waits.

Comes and goes.

Burton, being the mischievous connoisseur of all things dark, manages to make Veruca’s exit an homage to Hitchcock and Tippi Hedren (albeit with squirrels).

Very inventive!

Sure, there’s some crap CGI in this film (not to be confused with the even more insidious Clinton Global Initiative), but it is generally restrained.

At a few points, it gets off the rails and threatens to damage an otherwise fine film.

But I tell you this…there are plot twists here which for someone who has merely seen the first film (like myself) truly baffle and surprise.

And they are touching.

So it is with no reservations that I call this a family film.

Sure, some of the jokes are a bit obtuse.

But the framing story (the Bucket family’s existence) is indescribably magical.

It is then, only fitting, that Christopher Lee be the one to welcome the prodigal oddball Depp.

Which is to say, this film has a sort of false ending…which is inexplicable…and genius.

It is at that moment where the film finds its soul.

Family.

Love.

Humility.

Sacrifice.

Happily, Burton gives us a fairy tale ending in which the young mind can work with the eccentric master…and the eccentric master can once again know what home is like.

Home.

Wow…

-PD

Elèna et les hommes [1956)

Sometimes we are emptied of our emotions from exhaustion.

We can’t fail at love any more than we have.

Valentine’s Day is but a mockery.

And so why does Miss Lonelyhearts push on?

And Sgt. Pepper?

Some of us have immense reservoirs of confidence.

Some of us have a penchant for risk.

But not I.

If we treat love as an investment (bear with me),

then every risk has its flipside:  the potential for reward.

In love, we weigh the possibilities.

What will she say?  How will he respond?

But our world has degenerated into a soulless masquerade.

Do anything…but never show your true feelings.

If we are circumspect in our psychology, we realize that many times we don’t know our own minds.

I am not a meditating ninja.  I do not balance, poised to act with clarity.

No, I am clumsy.

In love, I am particularly clumsy.

To speak of such things in America…it just isn’t done.

Love is more taboo than sex.

Sex is ubiquitous, but love is vulnerability.

An American can never show vulnerability.

This is the great archetypal travesty of the film Patton.

And perhaps no greater dichotomy could exist than from that film to our film Elèna et les hommes.

It is Jean Renoir again.  It is Ingrid Bergman.  It is Jean Marais.

And to a very surprising extent, it is Juliette Gréco.

It must have been this film to which Godard fell in love.

More interested in Gréco than El Greco at this time.  More interested in Juliette than his schoolwork.

Those dreams which would be realized in Anna Karina.

But things fall apart.

How hard to know the soul of a man or woman.

Ingrid plays the role of a Polish princess.

On Bastille Day with Mel Ferrer there is a Rabelaisian warmth to the festivities.

From one Renoir to another, there are the pinks in the cheeks.  Red wine.  A weak drink.  Compared to Polish vodka.

And then there are the daisies.  A marguerite here and there.  Gounod’s Faust would have such as the leading soprano.

A grand opera in five acts is about what Elèna et les hommes feels like.  There are similarities in tone and mise-en-scène to Max Ophüls’ Lola Montès, but the best comparison is to Renoir’s own The Golden Coach.

What may not be evident (due to the visual disparity between the vibrant, saturated colors of Elèna et les hommes and the black and white of Renoir’s early films) is that our film is very similar to the Renoir classic La Règle du jeu.  Both share traits with the elusive Hollywood genre known as “screwball comedy”.  There is a general ruckus of celebration…a confusion of who loves whom…indeed, about who should love whom…mixed emotions…missed connections…conflicted hearts.

There are the base buffoons who live out our easiest desires.  They just chase.  So what if they lose?  Well, it makes a big difference…from the bathos of Schumacher to the stoogery of Eugène.

But these references aside, it is the others who make us believe.  The hesitating class of Ingrid Bergman and Nora Gregor…these parallel characters.  And the luckless chaps who may or may not prevail in the end…Mel Ferrer and, indeed, Jean Renoir himself as Octave in La Règle du jeu. 

It must have been a revelation for Godard to see this film.  It was the French film industry asserting itself.  And yet, it was the spectacle against which Debord would rail a mere 11 years later.

Even so, Elèna et les hommes is (at the very least) a beautiful echo of the French film tradition which preceded it.  In a sense, it was Jean Renoir retelling that old story of La Règle du jeu one more time.

Life is a strange party in which Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre is liable to be conjured from the ghostly ivories of a player piano at any moment.

 

-PD

SNL Season 1 Episode 13 [1976)

Peter Boyle had an unmistakable face.

The name might have been unfamiliar to most, but run that clip of “Puttin’ On the Ritz” from Young Frankenstein and you have a strange bit of film immortality.

Mr. Boyle was, of course, the tap-dancing Frankenstein monster who so gracefully delivered his one and only (repeated) singing line at sporadic intervals [“puttin’ on the riiiiiiiitttttzzzzzzz…”].

Irving Berlin, the song’s composer, published it barely more than a month after the stock market crash of 1929.  Aw hell…I don’t often do this, but it’s important you see this laugh-out-loud clip if you’re unfamiliar with the “super dooper” Mel Brooks moment:

Now then…

That’s Peter Boyle.  I suppose he had TWO lines in actuality.

Well, he’s here as the host of Saturday Night Live on Valentine’s Day 1976.

Ah, Valentine’s…or as the beautiful, genius Sophie Crumb (30 years later) called it “valentine-wanna-kill-myself-day!”  Yeah…

Sometimes it feels about like that.

So this episode of SNL has an occasionally sappy, lazy, wrist-slitting sentimentality to it.  Ok, I admit:  the Gary Weis film is cute.  But God…that Simon & Garfunkel music…  It’s such a tearjerker.

Really, it peeves me when SNL recycles footage.  I mean, hello!  We’re only 13 episodes into this thing.  First season!  Are they really out of material?  Hell, we’d seen ’em do it earlier with an Albert Brooks film.

At least the repeated faux commercials are usually funny.  And they’re tolerable because they’re 30 seconds long (I’m guessing) [give or take].

So, yeah…

This episode has some good parts.  Samurai Divorce Court is pretty good (mainly due to John Belushi and Jane Curtin).

Really, this episode is pretty strong until the back half.

Al Jarreau is surprisingly good as the musical guest.  I wasn’t really familiar with his stuff (just his name), but he really is a musical freak!  The guy really nails it on both of his performances…going from a simmering Valentine’s romantic tone to savant bebop scatting.

Wikipedia has a very sparse sketch of the events in this episode.

Some, admittedly, aren’t really worth mentioning.

The wrestling skit with The Bees and The W.A.S.P.s (white Anglo-Saxon Protestants) is pretty underwhelming.

Really, the most-improved (and continually improving) portion of the show was the Weekend Update with Chevy Chase.  The writing was pretty free and wild.  And think of all the great cultural references we get.

The description of Dorothy Hamill’s Olympic routine is frankly hilarious.  Also, by this time George H.W. Bush was director of the CIA.  One particularly funny question posed by the show’s writers was, “Is America a front for the CIA?”

Such humor evinces politically-aware writers.  We must remember that the Church Committee had just met the previous year (1975).  It was one of the few times (perhaps the only time) that the American intelligence community came under any sort of actual scrutiny by Congress (and, by extension, the American people).

CIA, NSA, FBI…no one was completely spared from this investigation occasioned by Watergate.

Which reminds me.  Perhaps the most classic bit in this episode is Dan Aykroyd doing a Nixon impersonation in a rubber monkey mask.  The surreal act of breathing (which causes the entire mask to be sucked in and, alternately, blown back out) perfectly sums up the bizarre nature of American politics at that time.

It was a time when Reagan was but a former “fascist” governor (and yet to be President).  Yes, Weekend Update uses the word “fascist”.  (!)  How far SNL has sunk now.

But, to be fair, SNL was projecting the humor of the American liberal movement.  At least that’s the impression I get.

One final note.  The trial of Patricia (Patty) Hearst was also big news about this time.  Obviously, her case captured national attention for quite a while.  [An earlier episode with Lily Tomlin involved a fictional sorority sister [Tomlin] writing a letter to the imprisoned Hearst while, in an aside, asking another sister to return her Carpenters records.  Ahh, the 70s…]

Perhaps the greatest coup of the episode under consideration is the montage of art photos which purport to be an “Artist Rendering” of the Hearst trial.  From Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights to  Dalí’s La persistencia de la memoria, the effect is both highbrow and ridiculous.

And it is for nuggets just such as these that we continue to be enthralled with America’s most storied variety show.

 

-PD