Hugo [2011)

It’s hard to imagine that perfection would be possible in 2011.

In this very uncinematic era ruined by technology.

But it takes a genius to produce art from tech.

And it takes an artist to produce art.

Martin Scorsese was well up to the challenge.

As the weirdo I am, The King of Comedy has always been my favorite of his films.

Rupert Pupkin spoke to me in a way that perhaps only the totality of Dr. Strangelove ever similarly did.

But Mr. Scorsese had the brass to undertake a project which should have been doomed if only by its trappings.

Films have tried and generally failed at relative tasks.

City of Ember, for example.

But Scorsese was not deterred.

Not least because he had the magical trump card:  Méliès.

Which is to say, he had the story to end all stories (as far as cinema is concerned).

The big daddy.  The big papa.

Papa Georges.

But first things first…

We must give credit to Asa Butterfield (who looks like a cross between Barron Trump and Win Butler in this film).

Butterfield is no Mechanical Turk.

Nay, far from it.

But automata (or at least one particular automaton) play a large role in Hugo.

And why “Hugo”?

Kid living “underground”?  Victor?  Les Misérables?

Yes, I think so.

And it’s a nice touch by the auteur (in the strictest sense) Brian Selznick.

[Yes, grandson of David O.]

We’re at the Gare Montparnasse.

Torn down in 1969.

Site of this famous 1895 derailment.

train_wreck_at_montparnasse_1895

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m up to 1,261.

But we press on…

Because Méliès was about dreams.

And Hugo is about dreams.

les rêves

And Scorsese has been “tapped in” to this magic at least since he portrayed Vincent van Gogh in Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams (Kurosawa-san’s best film).

I must admit…I was a bit confused for awhile.

Something told me Scorsese had transformed himself into Méliès.

It was only later that it all made sense.

Ben Kingsley.

I mean, Scorsese is a great actor (Van Gogh, etc.), but he’s not THAT great!

But I’m jumping ahead…

Sacha Baron Cohen is very good in a somewhat-serious, villain role here.

I fully expected the immensely-talented Cohen to “ham it up” at some point, but he instead gives a very fine, restrained performance which fits like clockwork (sorry) into the viscera of this exquisite film.

But let’s revisit Sir Kingsley.

What a performance!

The loss of a career (Méliès).

The loss of a previous life.

The fragility of celluloid.

All to end up running a pathetic souvenir shop.

Toys.

Very clever, but still…

Such a fall from grace.

Into such obscurity.

I can only compare it to the trajectory of Emmett Miller (which was so artfully documented by my favorite author of all time [Nick Tosches] in my favorite BOOK of all time [Where Dead Voices Gather]).

The speed at which technology moves has the potential to reduce the most eminent personage to mere footnote at breakneck speed.

It was so even a hundred years ago.

And the process has now exponentially accelerated.

But we are coming to understand the trivialization of the recent past.

We are holding tighter to our precious films and recordings.

Because we know that some are lost forever.

Will this vigilance continue uninterrupted?

I doubt it.

But for now we know.

Some of us.

That today’s masterpieces might slip through the cracks into complete nonexistence.

Consider Kurt Schwitters.

The Merzbau.

Bombed by the Allies in 1943.

Es ist nicht mehr.

Into thin air.

But such also is the nature of magic.

Poof!

Skeletons later evoked by Jean Renoir in La Règle du jeu.

Scorsese is a film historian making movies.

And it is a wonderful thing to see.

And hear.

Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre more than once.

As on a player piano.

With ghost hands.

And the gears of the automaton.

Like the mystery of Conlon Nancarrow’s impossible fugues.

I’m betting Morten Tyldum lifted more than the spirit of gears meshing in Hugo to evoke the majesty of Alan Turing’s bombe in The Imitation Game.

But every film needs a secret weapon (much like Hitchcock relied on the MacGuffin).

And Scorsese’s ace in the hole for Hugo is the Satie-rik, placid visage of Chloë Grace Moretz.

Statuesque as water.

A grin.

A dollar word.

The beret.

And the ubiquitous waltzes as seen through keyholes and the Figure 5 in Gold.

Hugo is the outsider.

Scruffy ruffian.

Meek.  Stealing only enough to survive.  And invent.

But always on the outside looking in.

Below the window (like in Cinema Paradiso).

Ms. Moretz’ world is lit with gas lamps.

And you can almost smell the warm croissants.

[Funny that a film set in Paris should require subtitles FOR PARISIANS]

Assuming you don’t speak English.

Tables are turned.

But Paris draws the cineastes like bees to a hive.

THE hive.

Historically.

And that is just what this is.

History come alive.

But another word about Ms. Moretz.

As I am so wont to say in such situations, she’s not just a pretty face.

Though they are faint glimmers, I see an acting potential (mostly realized) which I haven’t seen in a very long time.

The key is in small gestures.

But really, the key is having Scorsese behind the camera.

It’s symbiotic.

Martin needed Chloë for this picture.

And vice versa.

We get a movie within a movie.

And (believe it or not) even a dream within a dream.

Poe is ringing his bell!

Or bells.

“Lost dream” says Wikipedia.

Yes.

It is as bitter a music as ever rained into Harry Partch’s boot heels.

To have one’s life work melted down for shoes.

Rendered.

To click the stone of Gare Montparnasse.

In an ever-more-sad procession.

Méliès becomes the vieux saltimbanque of which Baudelaire wrote.

Such is life.

We never expected to end up HERE.

Astounding!

-PD

#9 Do-It-Yourself Mr. Bean [1994)

When you’re having a crappy night.

One thing after another.

Life is beating you with a one-two combination punch.

And a couple of jabs.

You must go to your contingencies.

When the situation is not good, you must move forward.

No laissez faire nor wu wei at this point.

So you push on.

And everywhere you go you get lame.  Rudeness.  Snobby.  Ageist.

Walking on hot coals for capitalism.

Which is to say that the two Starbucks I visited tonight were worse than lackluster.

Starbucks chokes the American market.

But there is variance from store to store.

There are a lot of problems to be witnessed.

As a daily customer.

With no better options.

But Starbucks isn’t improving.  They are happy where they’re at.

And so they are ripe to be made obsolete.

How would that happen?

Who?

What ideas?

Most importantly would be to hire Mr. Bean.

Not the actor.  But the real guy.  The character.

The inspiration.  The gaggle which became one.

And please test in San Antonio.

Because our fair city is lethargic and uninspiring.

We never have what we need.

How can we remain happy?

Mr. Bean.

I remember a time in my life that was so fair.

Humorous.  Laughful.  Lifefilled.

A time when a girl’s laugh meant ANYTHING IN THE WORLD’S POSSIBLE.

She’s married now for a second time.  Was never my wife.

But something much more.  A love.  A love for which Rembrandt or Van Gogh would have fought.

And so I must tell myself that maybe someone in this world will find me charming.

It’s a sad clown to be used up.

Limelight.

This is, of course, a great episode of Mr. Bean.

They’re all pretty damn good!

Nobody’s like him.

And nobody’s like me.

But I’ve been beaten.

You know the law enforcement dealing with the burkinis?

They are fashion police.  Not completely unprecedented.

But never nearly as absurd.

I’ve been beaten up.  And so I have a little pile of clothes.

The machinery has ripped into my forearms and tendons and screwed up my hands.

I already needed something happy.

And then it got bad.

And bad progressed to worse.

But I fought the good fight.

Reading in the dark.

Prussian blue.  Watteau.  Niantic.

Keyhole.  In-Q-Tel.  NGA.  KH recon.  Corona.

Pokémon Go.  And Google at every stage.

John Hanke.  “Foreign Service”.

School of hard NOCs.

Twigs dipped in Marmite.

 

-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

A Woman of Paris [1923)

This is a very sad film from Charlie Chaplin.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Not tragi-comic.  Just plain old sad.

Well-made, but full of pathos throughout.

And why is it such an oddity?

Because Chaplin himself is not in it.  At all.

This was his first attempt at being a serious director.

It was almost his last such effort.

But, alas… (as they say)…Chaplin’s final film was also to not feature himself as an actor (but for a cameo).  That film, A Countess from Hong Kong, bears a striking resemblance from the standpoint of title to the film under consideration.

To wit:

A…Woman…of…Paris

A…Countess…from…Hong Kong

The only difference is that the latter film (from 1966) was a comedy.

But back to the heart-wrenching [sic] film at hand.

It doesn’t tear the heart…doesn’t rend.  No, rather, it indeed twists it (like a piece of laundry before being hung out to dry).

And so most of this film is overwrought.  But an auteur like Chaplin is really incapable of making a bad film.  And in the end we are glad we saw it.  Me.  The royal “we”.

Sure, this film is a massive downer, but there is a sweet message to it.  In other words, it is worth seeing.  It isn’t recommended as a pick-me-up after a long day at work, but under the right circumstances it might really speak to a viewer.

It did, indeed, speak to me.

Edna Purviance is a face worth crying for.  We have cried for her.  Yes.  She ran off without any explanation.  If she’d only stayed on the phone a moment longer…

And so Jean (Carl Miller) begins his sad story.  It takes a long time to become this sad.  It is like the impasto-knife mountains of van Gogh…those little timeless blobs of paint which he shaped into miniature Hokusai waves on the canvas.  That kind of sadness…  Layer upon layer.

And the real focal point is Jean’s mother (played by Lydia Knott).  She is the mother who would understand.  An elopement.  The mother who would play diplomat.  “Go say ‘goodbye’ to your father.”

But she is only human.  Having lost everything, she only has her son left.

Our judgment as humans is clouded.  We give bad advice.  Not purposefully.  There is just a limit to what we know.  We have failed to understand certain things.  These are our shortcomings.

And so Jean doesn’t see the pot of soup on the stove.  Jean doesn’t appreciate his mother who does the grocery shopping.  Jean is too young…and he’s lovesick.

We fixate in romance.  We fall…so deep.  In love.  And it seems like a whirlpool pulling us under.

What a blessing to live!  What a blessing to smile.  Yes, I am sad.  But I try to smile.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe tomorrow I won’t be tongue-tied and shy.  Maybe tomorrow the molecules with bounce a different way.  If I am a billiard ball, maybe tomorrow I will glance off the fray at a different angle.  A glance.  Maybe someone will notice me tomorrow.  Not notice me as a freak, but notice me as a kind human being.

It’s all Charlie was trying to say.  Serve others.  Find happiness.  It’s all I’m trying to say.  And do.  I hope the universe will find my efforts humbly acceptable.  In the end.

It’s worth it.  Stay till the end.

 

-PD

 

 

 

Alphaville: une etrange aventure de Lemmy Caution [1965)

I pray before this film.  Before the thought of this film I bow my head in reverence.  Every time 1984 is read and misunderstood, it is cheapened.  Fahrenheit 451 was Truffaut’s best film.  It has nothing to do with French or English.  It is semantics.

W.K.L. Dickson.  Not Henry.  I votes in my hole.  Wernher von Braun.  SS.  He was once Nosferatu.  At Los Alamos.  Now that vampire only exists in Anna Karina’s teeth.  She has her father’s eyes.

And then there is Alpha 60…like Tom Waits meets Siri.  Sigrid…und set!  Beauty.  Victory.  Logic.

This was three years before HAL 9000 graced screens everywhere…tactfully letting us know what it couldn’t allow.  “I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

I pray before Alphaville because there used to be poets…Rimbaud, Beethoven, van Gogh.  A computer will destroy itself trying to reason through the processes of such an imbroglioWhy?  Because.  Write again.  And again and again.  The palimpsest is still readable with memory.

Thus the crux.  Technocracy seeks to control memory.  Through elimination.  It’s history.  Gone with the wind.

But speak a word of Eluard.  The Capital of Pain.  Sorrow.  It comes off as a code of significance and meaning.  Perhaps even A.I.-enhanced machines feel as if they are reading R.D. Laing’s Knots.

Planck’s postulate.  E=nhv.  E=hf?  Tarzan versus IBM.  Lucifer.

Are not to be found in the book.  Ninotchka.  Kisses for comrades.

2001.  IBM and the Holocaust.  Edwin Black.  Yeah.

Is it Borges vs. Eluard in a fight to the death?  No past.  No future.  Only the present.    Nueva refutación del tiempo.  Nueva York.

There is no time.  It’s not just of the essence.  New York.  Lou.  Lemmy.  Bogart.  What did Hume assume?  Sentient beings destroy time by obsessing on the past.  Memory.  E = mc 2 (time would cease to exist).  Beginning/middle/end.  Not necessarily in that order.

And so Godard ruined Eddie Constantine’s career…and made him immortal.  To achieve immortality, and then die.  Aspiration in life.  Melville.

Siri’s victory over death?  No.  Cortana.  Nefertiticaca.  Buxom Bolivia.  Looks like Eva Green to me.  Perhaps.

Larynx sphinx.  Sphinx.  Sphinx.  Sphinx.

None of this matters.  Erase erase erase.

I love you.

-PD