Penelope [2006)

Here we have a strangely-compelling film.

The story is perfect.

The mise-en-scène is adequate.

Ah!

Am I blaming the director?

Not at all!

Not really…

I’m blaming Lionsgate.

But not even that.

I’m blaming Hollywood.

J’accuse …!

Because the effort is there.

Christina Ricci was the right actress.

James McAvoy was surprisingly fantastic.

But Hollywood (even in a globalized coproduction) is ill-equipped to make this sort of picture.

To make a picture about a freak, you must employ freaks.

Real freaks.

People with pain in their hearts.

Thus, the finished product (as it stands) is disingenuous.

I watched the whole thing.

Hoping it would magically get over the hill.

But I’m left a bit crestfallen.

This should have been a masterpiece.

Leslie Caveny wrote a magnificent story.

Mark Palansky did everything he could as a director.

But Hollywood is incapable of thinking outside the box anymore.

And that will be its downfall.

It’s a halting effort.

A noble failure.

Peter Dinklage gives a phenomenal performance.

So here’s what needs to happen.

Remake it.

Let another director try.

No point putting a fine director (Mr. Palansky) through the torture of doing this all over again.

It’s been ten years.

Give a freak a chance.

Total artistic freedom.

Don’t worry about the box office.

Make a piece of art.

The story is there.

But does Lionsgate have the chutzpah to admit its own misstep?

The opportunity calls.

Recognize the brilliance of even TRYING to make this film.

Now make it FOR REAL.

No saccharine kowtowing to Disney archetypes.

Give the world a real film.

It’s your only chance.

 

-PD

La Bête Humaine [1938)

This might be the most depressing film of all time.

And that’s not nothing.

I seem to remember.  Thurston Moore.

A Rolling Stone review of Lou Reed’s album Berlin.

The fucked-up kids will always search out these masterpieces.

Because they are forbidden.

Like the strange death of James Forrestal.

The first U.S. Secretary of Defense.

But let’s back to cinema.  [sic]

Let’s active.

Trains.

I often dream of trains.

Such an important part of my lineage.

Whether there were drunkards or not, I have no idea.

But train men there were many in my family.

Enough.

We think it’s gonna be like La Roue of Abel Gance.

That 273-minute behemoth.

But it’s only the trappings which match.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are more perceptive than I.

But I couldn’t have seen this ending coming in a million years.

Like the Maginot Line being overrun.

This was 1938.  Jean Renoir.

Madness.  Madness.

On the precipice of World War II.

Not history.

But present.

It must be ever present.

We must be terrified of history.

And to each of us is given a special area to study.

I long labored in the musical mines.  Studying birdsongs.

But one day I escaped my cage.

And I lived to see the blowout.

Jericho, Kentucky.

But now I am given over to film.

Because I am too old to be a rock star.

“My face is finished/My body’s gone”

It would be a miracle of spectacle for me to be relevant again in the most venal of concert halls.

And so we move on to opera.  Silent film.  Quail eggs.

Madness vs. madness.

When magazine was a store.

And journal was a newspaper.

When was that?

The false-friends attack of language.  Cognates.  Faux.

Gripping his steam engine.  A night without sleep.

La Bête Humaine.  The human beast.  Monster.

Fighting it.  Fighting it.

The banality of evil had already suffused Europe by 1938.

And so we live with a corpse throughout most of this film.

Pocket watch.  Wallet full of dough.

But Simone Simon is already flirting her way to destiny.

Der müde Tod.

Femme fatale.  Serial.  Concatenation of sickly sweet roles.

Roles.

Jean Gabin.

Here’s to you, my friend!

And Julien Carette.  Always sucking on that cigarette.

We begin to covet the boring comfort of his life.

Living from one cigarette to the next.

Vive le tabac!

Piss-poor English Wikipedia will not tell you that Monsieur Carette was an integral part of Renoir’s masterpiece La Règle du jeu.  Not, that is, if you are looking at his page.

And so, dear reader, I am here to make those connections for you.

Perhaps they will mean nothing.

Perhaps they will mean everything.

Let me just say this…

La Bête Humaine was an extremely brave film to make in 1938.

More Hitchcock than anything Hitch had made up till that point.

Ahead of its time, yes.

But most particularly…symptomatic of that age of anxiety.

 

-PD

 

Nuit et brouillard [1955)

A propaganda film by the very talented Alain Resnais.

I wonder, for instance, if Olga Wormser’s script can be tied to David Wurmser’s script?

Wormser and her husband Henri Michel were “historical advisors” for Nuit et brouillard.

“…elle a été conseillère historique”…a historical counselor.

Like Philip Zelikow, perhaps?

Or like Edward Bernays.  The father of “public relations”…author of the 1928 book Propaganda. 

But I have totally skipped over dear Mr. Wurmser.  Nay, Dr. Wurmser.  Mr. Dr.  We’ll get to Ms. Dr. soon enough.

David Wurmser would seem related in spirit to Olga Wormser.

One of the principal authors of A Clean Break:  A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.

Such language…”the Realm”.

Only neoconservatives would dream up the projection of Israeli terror on neighboring countries (and Palestine) in terms fit for The Legend of Zelda.

But let’s not forget Ms. Dr.  David’s wife, Meyrav Wurmser.

Also a Ph.D., she’s a doozy.

Why take this tack?

Me.

Because I know too much of Godard.

I know that the greatest film of all time (Histoire(s) du cinema) takes as its focus “the camps”, but also takes issue with history as it has been handed down.

And so let us turn to CODOH.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, CODOH is a “hate group” or some such term.

More terrifying is that, if the SPLC is to be believed, nearly everything is a hate group.

So thanks for nothing, you punks!

(See, now I’m marked too.  It’s as easy as that.)

We must remember the yellow stars that the Jews were made to wear during deportation to the camps.

Resnais makes this all very clear.

But Resnais makes a disingenuous oopsy (in the spirit of faux documentarian Robert Flaherty):  real color footage of the camps (circa 1955…sappy, but at least with no pretense) is intercut with footage which, in context, seems to be from inside the camps during the war.

Resnais can be slightly forgiven…because (supposedly) no such footage exists.

And so he cobbles together replacement footage.

It would, by necessity, largely be from after the liberation of the camps.

Some is perhaps prewar.  Deportation.

Some appears “Hollywood” (i.e. the dramatized becomes real because real footage in this regard is absent).

Even though this film is a classic (a “chestnut”, so to speak), I take issue with the entire thing.

It is not a good film.

The film is neither less vague nor less misleading than my review.

I am vague only because I cannot tell you the exact Hollywood movie.

I cannot tell you exactly what Chris Marker did as an assistant director (though he be naturally drawn to still images [of which several figure prominently within]).

But I can tell you about a very strange and potentially important article on CODOH (that would be, Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust).

It is by a “Franco-British…holocaust denier” named Robert Faurisson (as if that is his profession).

“Hi, my name is Robert.  Oh, what do I do for a living?  Well, a little of this and a little of that.  My real bread and butter is in my capacity as a professional holocaust denier, but I also make some dough on the side as an Egyptologist.”

Main point…being “Franco-” (French), his work would be banned in his home country.  Yes, denying the Holocaust (which is not at all what he does) is a crime in France.  Also in Switzerland too, I think.  Surely in Germany, yes?

[N.B.  Holocaust denial is illegal in 14 of the 28 EU member countries…plus Switzerland…and, of course, Israel.  What a disgusting misuse of police power.]

Why criminalize a thought or opinion?

Because “denying” something as horrible as the Holocaust is somehow evil.  However, in today’s legalistic nightmare world, “denial” IS (among other things) a river in Africa.

Denial could be anything.

Five million Jews died instead of six million?  Holocaust denier!

Seven million Jews died?  Ok, we’ll give you a pass…because you have the right spirit.  But remember:  6 million.  Six, ok?  Six!

And so Faurisson, a very articulate man, tipped many sacred cows in 1980 with his piece “The ‘Problem of the Gas Chambers'” (published in the Journal of Historical Review).

It might be said that Faurisson was the James Tracy of his time.  For me, James Tracy is an American hero.

Faurisson, born in England, was an important part of French society and academia until a witch hunt occasioned by the repugnant Gayssot Act (Loi Gayssot).

Faurisson has his doctorate from the Sorbonne.  He taught there and in Lyon for 21 years at the collegiate level.  But the French are all anti-Semites, right?  Dreyfus?  Zola?  Dream on!

Well, my friends…I’m afraid the “problem with the gas chambers” is also the problem with Resnais’ Nuit et brouillard.

You can judge for yourself here:

http://codoh.com/library/document/868/

Really, that’s what is at issue here.  Read and study and judge for yourself.

The Holocaust was an immensely sad event.

But we must know it in detail.

My ignorance is inexcusable.

And, likewise, any misleading, cynical use of ANYONE’S death (from the Holocaust to 9/11) is the worst sin of all:  knowingly cashing in…perhaps even for geopolitical chips.

Question what you’ve always known.

Learn everything again for the first time.

Be free to speak.

Exercise thought.

Be humble, but don’t grovel.

Do your best.

One of the few things I can be proud of in America today…Gayssot thoughtcrime is not quite here.

But Sandy Hook is censored by Amazon.com, Inc. (Nobody Died at Sandy Hook).

9/11 coverage was/is a joke in the USA (Public Enemy was right).

And with kudos to Mike Adams of Natural News for noticing, Amazon still sells Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

For the five Ph.D.s and one J.D./Ph.D. who contributed to Nobody Died at Sandy Hook, I salute you!

Allors…d’accord.

 

-PD

 

Umberto D. [1952)

Unglamorous stories.

That is what Italy brought us in the post-war years.

And every “new wave” which has followed owes a debt to the masters like De Sica.

Perhaps you know Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves).

Don’t stop there, dear friend.

Because here we have the precursor to Dante Remus Lazarescu.

Sure.  There is some humor in Umberto D.  A very, very dark humor.

As with Moartea domnului Lăzărescu.

But mostly there is beauty.

Sadness.

Reality.

Cinema.

There is the little dog Flike.  Not Flicka, but Flike (rhymes with psych).  Or bike.

Flike.  Like Céline’s cat Bebert.

And then there is the stunning (STUNNING) acting of Carlo Battisti as Umberto.

There are few performances which can equal it.

Ioan Fiscuteanu did it as Lazarescu.

And that’s about it.

Rarefied air…these two actors.

Let me put it another way.  Umberto D. was Ingmar Bergman’s favorite film.  Do you know what I mean?

The director of Smultronstället and Sommaren med Monika.

Picked one film.  And this was it.

Appropriately, this was Carlo Battisti’s only film role ever.

As the star of Umberto D.

He wasn’t an actor.  He was a linguist.

God damn…

It’s just unreal how good this film is!

But we must also give credit to the indispensable Maria-Pia Casilio.

It is through her eyes that we see the ants…formica in Italian.

In English, we think of a hard composite material.  Formica.  A table top.

But a sort of false cognate brings us back to the archetype which Dalí and Buñuel so evocatively exploited in Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  A film.  The famous eyeball which gets “edited”.  And then the ants were back in La persistència de la memòria.  A painting.  Soft clocks.  You know the one.  And the only differences between Spanish and Catalan in this case are the diacritical marks.

But she burns paper.  To chase the ants.  And the stray cat prowls the roof at night soft as a snowflake.  And the grated skylight is her canvas to dream stretched out in her bed.  And nothing is more morose than a contemplative face at the window looking out on a dingy world.

We sense it did not go easily for Italy.  After the war.  Because when you choose the wrong side you will be punished.

And though Germany was divided and Berlin was the most surreal example of this (being wholly within East Germany…like a Teutonic Swaziland–a Lesotho leitmotiv), Italy still suffered.  We see it in Rossellini.  And we see it here.

Neorealism.  A update on the operas of Mascagni and Leoncavallo.  A continuation of Zola.  A nod to Dostoyevsky.

Verismo.

The star is an old man.  He is not really a hero.  He doesn’t save the world.  There aren’t explosions.

But (BUT)

he does something most extraordinary.  He survives…for a time.  What a miracle!

Ah!  The miracle of everyday life.  We have survived another year.  Another day!

Do you think there will be a war?

[Shame.  The shame of having to ask for help.  Begging for the first time.]

When your bed is a joke.  Newspapers and dust.  And there is a goddamned hole in your wall.  Perhaps.

A missile.  Or The Landlord’s Game (which became Monopoly).

When you are cold with a fever.  As an elderly person.  All your glamorous days have passed.

And you need your coat just to provide a little more warmth.  On top of the blanket.  To make it through the night.

As long.

As long as this film survives, humanity has a chance.

Really.

-PD

Die Büchse der Pandora [1929)

Elle est une femme fatale.

Thus sang the chorus.  Der unsichtbar Chor.

On Big Star’s cover of The Velvet Underground.

Third/Sister Lovers.  Alex Chilton from Lou Reed.

And so if we want to really know the prostitute in Vivre sa vie (Godard’s best “movie”), then we must see G.W. Pabst’s Die Büchse der Pandora.

Pandora’s Box.

Is empty.

See Mulholland Dr.

Blue key.

Lighting.

Her hair.

Louise Brooks.

The gloss of her brunette bob.

Yes, this film is many things.

Confusing?  Yes.

Boring?  Yes.

Genius?  Absolutely.

And here is why.

The two climaxes.

One would fit seamlessly into Fritz Lang’s M…or virtually anything by Alfred Hitchcock.

But the other climax?

It is seconds before.

And worlds more important.

A candle.

Like Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation album.

Two lost souls.

Dreaming.

One is reflecting on a messed up life.  Perhaps.

The other is a messed up life reflecting on nothing.  Just content with a moment’s peace.  Maybe.

Together.

The misfits.

Soon consumed by cataclysm.

An act of God.

Or its opposite.

What I mean to convey is that G.W. Pabst did something remarkable with this film.

It really does read (watch?) like Mulholland Dr. or The Big Sleep.

Something is missing here and there.

Sound!  (for one thing…)

I’ve said it before, but it really does matter who picks the music for these silent films.

It takes some research to know whether the version which has come down to you has anything to do with any official release which might have happened in the year of said film’s premiere.

What I got was Tchaikovsky…and “Greensleeves”…

But, most remarkably…it is the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture (by Пётр Ильи́ч) without the soaring love theme…which is to say, it is the build-ups…the violent cymbal crashes…the angular solemnity which Dvořák’s 9th Symphony also shares (particularly the bold final movement).

But none of this really matters.

What matters is Lulu.  Nana.

Alban Berg.  “Das Messer ist blutig…”

Émile Zola

The fine print.

Frank Wedekind

October 24, 1929

the fear index

abnormally low?

who was ready on December 1st to see the premier of Pandora’s box in new York city?

Yes, I’m afraid the world runs on fine print.

And so the glamorous flapper Lulu had a tortuous go of it (behind the scenes).

The difference between men and women.

Every word is labored now.

Because once you are caught in a font it is a vicious circle.

And so I only urge:

press on through the boredom for at least there is a candle.

-PD

They Drive by Night [1940)

When most of us think about truck drivers we probably picture a redneck chewing Red Man and listening to Merle Haggard (or, to keep the motif going, Red Sovine).  Our truck drivers do an unenviable job which requires great intestinal fortitude (figuratively and literally).  It’s a hell of a thing to have a profession where the transport of goods (or people) requires driving at all hours of the day and night.  If you’ve never slapped yourself or blasted the A/C to try and stay awake–never searched desperately on the dial for some music to spur you on, then you may not understand this cautionary film noir from Raoul Walsh.

It’s cautionary in at least two ways.  Early in the film we see a couple of drivers go over a cliff and burn alive in their rig.  Even our hero Bogart loses an arm in a particularly nasty crash.  But the other half of the moral tale involves a theme common to film noir:  crimes of passion.  In this case, it is the jealous love of Ida Lupino which causes her to murder her husband in hopes of clearing the way for a romance with the straight-laced George Raft.

Raft can’t be tempted because, along with that intestinal fortitude of which I spoke, he has a salt-of-the-earth righteousness which keeps him from betraying his friend (the soon to be murdered husband of Lupino’s character).  That and he’s in love with Ann Sheridan.

Laced throughout this gritty struggle is the thread of capitalism.  We see Raft and Bogart appreciate the first fruits (pun intended) of their labor when they sell a truckload of lemons and are able to pay off the accrued debt on their truck.  Just when it’s paid off, tragedy strikes in the form of a wreck and they are back to square one.

Raft is excellent if stiff as Joe Fabrini.  Bogart plays his brother Paul.  Though Bogie is not really the featured player here, he delivers his lines with such wry languor and cool that we recognize the true star on set.  Sheridan looks lovely throughout as Cassie Hartley, but it is the overwrought Lupino who takes center stage as Lana Carlsen by throwing a wrench into Raft’s acquisition of the American Dream.

For me, the most beautiful aspect of this film is in its beginning sequences…when we see the brothers work and sweat and dream.  They have nothing but debt, yet they persevere and put their street smarts to work.  Film noir may have given us a heroic dose of scandals, but it also brought us the verismo of such as the Fabrini brothers.  It’s nice to see this slice of life on the silver screen.  As Alfredo instructs Toto in Cinema Paradiso (1988), “Life isn’t like in the movies.  Life…is much harder.”  Sometimes directors like Walsh bring life into our living rooms.  We can thank Raoul…and Rossellini…even Leoncavallo and Mascagni.  Throw in Zola too.  It’s only natural!

 

-PD