Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The New Wave breaks on American shores

Arthur Penn's Bonnie & Clyde marked a turning point in American cinema. Not only was it influenced by the French new wave cinema in that it explored camera angles and editing techniques that deviated from the classical Hollywood method of filmmaking, but it was also a barometer for the shift in popular culture and American society in general. As was mentioned in class, some film critics ended up being fired from their jobs for writing bad reviews of the film, since they weren't "with it" enough to understand the new generation of film makers. It was released in 1967, a time when the country was greatly polarized on issues such as the Vietnam war and and civil rights. There was a strong anti-authoritarian counter culture movement, which was embodied in the Barrow gang of the film. In the scene when Clyde (Warren Beatty) first robbed a grocery store with Bonnie (Faye Dunaway) he mentioned how she was different than the rest of the girls, that she wanted different things. This could be read as a symbol of the changing attitudes on domesticity, and the role of the woman in society. Bonnie wasn't a girl who wanted to get married and be a housewife in an apron and a pearl necklace, taking care of the kids and having dinner ready when her husband got home from work. Clyde rejects the hard work ethic that was central to the WWII generation as well. In order to get out of the work detail he was part of while in prison, he cut off his toes with an axe. He also robs banks instead of holding down an honest job, and lures others away from their jobs (C.W., the gas station attendant who steals money from the register of his shop and joins the Barrow gang). The public heralds them as folk heroes instead of reviling them as criminals, and in one scene Clyde shoots up a house with the man who has just been evicted from it by his bank. Another instance of the film tapping into the anti-authority sentiment of the late 60s is when a Texas ranger tries to arrest the gang, they turn the tables on him and place him in handcuffs and force him to pose for photos with them.
Bonnie & Clyde employed many techniques to disorient the viewer and defamiliarize the narrative as in the tradition of the French new wave. It begins with an extreme close up shot of Faye Dunaway applying lipstick and then pulls back to reveal the rest of the room (and reveal that she is naked as well) instead of following the establishing shot / medium shot / close up formula. Another instance which would have seemed at home in a Godard film is when Clyde goes in to rob the bank that has no money. He forces the teller outside to explain to Bonnie that there was no money to be had. Instead of the camera following them outside to the waiting car it stays inside the bank and photographs the scene through the window. We see the lips moving and Bonnie tilting her head back in laughter, but we can't hear any dialogue, just the running engine of the car. A similar technique with sound was used in the scene when the police were involved in a car chase with the Barrow gang. The chase scene, as with all the scenes when the Barrow gang had just done a robbery, was set to the Flatt & Scruggs "Foggy Mountain Breakdown". But the music would cut out abruptly as the scene was intercut with police interviews of witnesses to the robbery.
Also present in Bonnie & Clyde was the cinephilia of the French new wave films. There are several instances of this. The first is when Clyde makes a crack to Bonnie to the effect of "I bet you're a movie star". Later in the film, when we first meet Buck and his wife, she is reading a movie magazine in the car. C.W. gets excited and asks if there are any pictures of Myrna Loy, a pretty, popular actress in both the silent and sound eras. The gang also hides in a movie theater after killing someone robbing a bank, à la Patricia and Michel from Breathless. Like in Breathless, the movie they are watching comments on the action within the narrative. The movie they are watching is The Gold Diggers of 1933, a film that was in the backstage musical genre designed to take people's minds off the depression, which feature the famous "We're In The Money" song. The Barrow gang was flush with cash from their most recent robbery, and was living their life outside the law to escape the the poverty of the depression.
An interesting side note is how this film, which was greatly inspired by the French new wave, was an inspiration for one of the great French icons of the time, Serge Gainsbourg. He recorded a song called "Bonnie & Clyde" with Brigitte Bardot about the film, and the video had Bardot sporting a look almost identical to Faye Dunaway from the film. Here's a link in case anyone wants to see it:
Serge & Brigitte - Bonnie & Clyde

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ne me tirez pasi, suis seulement le pianiste

Truffaut's Shoot The Piano Player begins using the stylistic components of the film noir genre. We are introduced to Chico being chased through dark, almost pitch black city streets, with occasional puddles of light cast from street lamps. But even from the very beginning, Truffaut is letting us know that this won't be your typical noir b-grade gangster thriller. We never see those giving Chico chase, they are in a car, but instead they shine a flashlight at him, and it almost seems like he is being chased by the light instead of the crooks. Furthermore, the moving camera, subject, and light source all make for a very kinetic mise-en-scene. However, while borrowing stylistically from the noir genre, the content of the film begins to tweak the gangster genre, and conventional cinema in general, from the very beginning. Instead of the chase ending in some grand fashion like a car crash or the quarry being caught and dragged away to a secret hideout for interrogation, the chase ends when Charlie hits his head on a lamp post and falls to the ground. This gives more of a slapstick/Three Stooges ambiance to the film, and most noirs are deadly serious. Other deviations from the noir norm come in the form of Charlie's voice overs that are filled with self doubt, a departure from the hard boiled private detective voice overs, and the almost anti-climactic shoot out at Charlie's parent's house in the country. Where a noir may have used close ups of guns being fired, blood soaked, bullet ridden clothing, and close ups of pained faces, the shootout is filmed in a long shot where the characters are visually overpowered by the house and surrounding forest.
Another way Truffaut defamiliarizes a traditional film narrative is how he introduces characters. Since Chico is the character we first see on screen, and much of the action is centered around him for the first 5 minutes or so, you begin to think he will be the main character of the film. Even when Charlie is first introduced, you get the feeling he will be a minor character instead of the lead. There are a handful of other characters who appear onscreen that seem to be a distraction of sorts from the main narrative. The first is the man who Chico is talking to after he runs into the streetlight. During their conversation the man says to Chico "I will probably never see you again," and true enough he never comes back into the picture. The same is true of Boby Lapointe, the singer in the club who gets a scene all to himself with his "Framboise" song. The scene certainly could have been cut, since it doesn't do anything to further the narrative. In fact producer Pierre Braunberger wanted it removed since he couldn't understand him, which is why Truffaut used subtitles. In an interview with Cinéaste, Truffaut reveals that his inspiration for the subtitles comes from the Canadian films of Norman McLaren where the audience sings along by following the bouncing ball over the lyrics on screen, and says that the "printed word reinforces and makes things funnier,". I particularly enjoy the third instance where Truffaut follows a character with nothing to do with the narrative, the woman leaving the music impresario's office when Charlie/Eduoard is entering. As she is walking down the hall the camera is moving with her, and when the music starts she stops to listen to but the camera still moves, leaving her behind. The next shot is the same woman walking outside, only the piano playing is still on the soundtrack. She is clearly not in the space where the music would be a diegetic element of the soundtrack, so it seems that Truffaut is suggesting that Charlie was such a great piano player that she still had the music in her head while she was walking down the street.
One of my favorite scenes is when Charlie and Lena are picked up by the crooks after his brother. As they drive in the car, the two crooks are spouting misogynist drivel, pausing every now and then to offer Lena an insincere apology if they're offending her. Charlie pipes up with a phrase his father used to say, something to the effect of "If you've had one woman, you've had them all" but his delivery seems forced, like he doesn't really believe what he is saying, and is just trying to fit in with the "cool" gangsters. We've already seen Charlie act shy around women, and as further evidence that he is no "smooth operator", with the ladies. He tries unsuccessfully to take Lena's hand while walking her home and desperately thinks of ways to make her laugh, and in a later sequence he chides himself in his inner monologue for looking at her legs while him and Lena are on the steps to her apartment. The gangsters themselves are a far cry from their counterparts in the noir films that influenced Truffaut. They bicker over their driving skills in the car like an old married couple, and are generally inept as criminals as we learn that Chico has fleeced them out of their share of a heist. In the same interview in Cinéaste, Truffaut explains that he portrays the crooks as comical due to his childhood in the Pigalle neighborhood of Paris where he witnessed thugs like that firsthand. Truffaut does not like the romanticization of the gangster archetype in film, he says that it is "snobbism on the part of artists to like gangsters. There is no reason to like them, they are bad guys...[t]hat is why I made them comical,".
One of the more innovative sequences of the film occurs in Lena's apartment. She and Charlie are shown lying in bed together after having sex, and we see images of Lena talking to Charlie intercut with images of the two of them just lying together silently. I wasn't quite sure what to make of this. I think that maybe it could have been showing what was really happening juxtaposed with what Charlie wanted to happen. Recalling the scene in the car with the gangsters, one of them says how he hates that women always want to talk after sex. So, are the scenes with Lena talking what actually happens after they have sex, and the scenes of them lying silent some sort of male fantasy world that Charlie slips off to where the woman, having pleasured him, says no more? Again, it's hard to tell if this is how Truffaut really feels about women, or if he is taking the piss out of the misogynist stereotypes using a bit of post-modern irony. It would also seem that Truffaut is poking fun at the notions of how women are perceived and should behave. Early on in the film we learn that the bar owner has a "thing" for Lena, but tells Charlie that he is too ugly for her, and that Charlie has a much better chance with her. Much later in the film, Charlie and Lena go in to quit their jobs at the bar. Lena uses some rather colorful language while telling off the boss and he throws a fit. He says he no longer is attracted to Lena since Charlie has "defiled" her, and that he is turned off by her swearing since ladies shouldn't swear. The notion that a woman is defiled after having slept with a man she isn't married to is essentially an antiquated notion in most parts of the western world today. Subsequently the bar owner is punished for holding these antiquated views, and is stabbed to death during his fight with Charlie. If Shoot The Piano Player is in part a response to some of the criticisms of Breathless, one of which was that Godard's film was misogynistic, it would seem that Truffaut lays it on the misogynism extra thick, but with a knowing wink, since he makes the characters who foster those ideas (the gangsters, the bar owner) look like buffoons.


Robert Bresson preferred to think of his actors more like models. I wonder if this was a decision based on Kulyeshov's experiments. Kulyeshov, of course, was the Russian theorist who juxtaposed a close up shot of an expressionless man with random objects like a bowl of soup and a child at play. When shown the combined images, audiences marveled at how the actor conveyed hunger while looking at the bowl of soup, or how tenderly and affectionately he looked at his young daughter while she was playing. Perhaps Bresson similarly used actors with emotionless faces in order for us as spectators to project whatever emotion we could extrapolate from the situations at hand. The situations in Pickpocket lead to a more complex reading than what Kulyeshov was aiming for. There is no one way to interpret how Bresson thought we should feel towards Michel. Instead of manipulating the audience to feel sympathy or disgust as a reaction to what Michel does, Bresson lets us make up our own mind. For example, even though Michel's face remains as blank as ever when he is confronted by the man whose wallet he just lifted on the metro, Bresson holds the shots on the faces for so long that we can't help feeling uncomfortable, as if we're experiencing the feelings that Michel must surely be feeling at having been caught. The interesting thing about this though, is where one person may be feeling shame for having stolen someone else's property, another may feel anger at having been caught in the act. Even though Michel ends up in jail, Bresson doesn't outright say whether he is a "bad" or "good" person. It's up to the audience to decide. My own personal interpretation was that Michel wasn't a criminal, just a lazy bum. Instead of putting forth the effort to find a job, he starts to pick pockets on the train just for kicks. He likes the rush he gets from it, and gets to make a little money as well, thus filling up the hours of the day in a way that doesn't involve reading in his squalid rented room. This concept of Michel's life of crime as a leisure activity is reinforced by the venues he chooses to "work" in as well as his "training". He steals at places like the race track or the amusement park, and sharpens the hand-eye coordination skills needed to pick pockets by playing pinball. He also divvies up the stolen money with his partner by playing cards in the café, to make it less conspicuous that money is changing hands.
To complement the relative emotional passivity of the actors, Bresson avoids any sort of peaks and valleys from the flatlined emotional state of the film by suggesting the action in ellipses. In the scene where Michel is at the amusement park with Jeanne and his friend, he is shown looking at the watch on a man's wrist at the table next to him. The next scene cuts to Michel walking up to his room with his jacket dirty and the knees of his pants torn to show bloody skin underneath. We aren't sure what happened until he pulls the watch out of his pocket, then we realize that he stole it and a chase ensued but he ultimately escaped. Showing the theft of the watch and the ensuing chase would've no doubt been a very kinetic scene that would have disrupted the generally static overall feel of the film.
One element I especially liked was the sound/framework device that Bresson used to suggest the story was a flashback being recounted in a diary entry or a letter being written, almost as a confessional. The film begins with a close up of Michel writing, accompanied by a piece of orchestral string music. Throughout the film we return to these shots of a hand writing with Michel's voice over narration, and the same musical accompaniment. This suggests the narrative is being told to us by Michel as a flashback, but since we never see where Michel is sitting as he is writing, we don't know if he is writing from jail or if it is many years later after his release.

Le Bonheur

While I didn't enjoy Le Bonheur as much as Cleo From 5 to 7 or some of the other films we've seen in class, there were definitely enough interesting elements to the film that made it a worthwhile viewing. I know that some of the new wave directors were influenced by Camus' writing, and I couldn't help but wondering if there were some elements of the protagonist in "The Stranger" that Varda gave to the male lead in Le Bonheur. He didn't seem to be too broken up by the death of his wife, much like the character in The Stranger who was unmoved after the death of his mother. Likewise, he didn't seem to show any emotion on the opposite side of the spectrum as well. He never looked to be joyful or content, even after having sex, with two different women no less. The only time he registered much emotion was in the scene when he is sitting with his family after the wife's funeral. But even then, it doesn't seem so much like sorrow as it does a kind of dull shock, as if he was lamenting the break up of his stable routine more than anything else. Which is why it seems it is with relative ease that Émilie steps in to fill the void left by Therese. It seems kind of odd, both on François and Émilie's part, that they would both be willing to jump into a relationship after the sudden death of Therese.
We see an equalization of the gaze in Le Bonheur. In only one film we've seen so far has the male been the object of the female gaze, and only then it was briefly, when Jean Seberg looked at Jean-Paul Belmondo through her rolled up poster in Breathless. Most likely due to the fact that Varda is the lone female in what is essentially a boy's club, we see the gaze returned to the male just as often as it is given. We see François looking with desire at Émilie at the post office when he first meets her. At their first meeting, the gaze isn't returned to François, but in a later scene when the two of them are in a café having a drink, it is evident that there is an intense attraction between the two of them. Through uses of the close up, Varda makes it clear that Émilie is deriving just as much pleasure looking at François as he is as at her.
One element of the film I rather enjoyed was the use of color. I don't know if Varda's choice of colors was motivated by any kind of symbolism, but the color palates were very pleasing to the eye. The colors of the clothing that the actors wore seemed to mimic the backgrounds in the outdoor scenes and correspond to the natural color palates found in the different seasons.
I loved the editing in the beginning sequence, when it showed Fraçois and his family walking, intercut with a close up on the face of the sunflower. It seemed that the sunflower was serving as a stand-in for Émilie, a lone outsider looking at a family. Flowers are a recurring motif throughout the film as well. Flowers show up in vases in the apartments where François and his family live, and also in Émilie's apartment. This may be a stretch, but Varda could've used the flowers as a symbol of the transitive beauty and fragility of romantic relationships.

Day For Night

Truffaut's foray into the cinephilic self-reflexivity of making a movie about making a movie was in 1973 already a path well worn by Godard and sadly doesn't fare too well against a film like Contempt. This film lacks the verve and originality of his earlier films like 400 Blows and Shoot The Piano Player. The parallel that Truffaut draws between a film crew working together while a symphony plays in the non-diegetic soundtrack seems cheap and clichéd, especially considering what we know he is capable of from his past films. It isn't much of a stretch to have himself playing the director of the fictional Je Vous Présente Pamela. While I can appreciate the whole idea of blurring the lines between documentary and reality, the goings on behind the scenes of a film isn't the most exciting fodder for filmmaking without a compelling story to go with it. Having worked on a few sets over the years, I can honestly say it is one of the most boring jobs I have ever had, and I've even worked some pretty dull jobs like the toll booth of a parking structure for a few months. It is in an interminably boring process to set up lights and the camera and block the actors and hear the same lines spoken over and over again until the director decides he has the shot he needs, then tear it all down and set it back up from a different angle and repeat the same process. Most of the time is spent standing around smoking between the shots, talking about movies (in my experience at least). The problem with Day For Night is that the behind the scenes narrative is about as dull as the movie-making process, and is presented in a rather straight ahead manner with none of the deviations from the norm that characterized the work of the new wave directors. As I said earlier, Godard's Contempt was an excellent film about moviemaking, partly because it had a great story to go with it. Werner Herzog, member of the New German Cinema group who were highly influenced by the French new wave, made a film called Fitzcarraldo that was a metaphor for the film making process, but disguised in a story about obsession and colonialism, among other themes. It's also made more entertaining by having a raving lunatic as the star. The documentary American Movie is about the movie making process and is hilarious and infinitely more entertaining than Day For Night, and a "true" story to boot. Truffaut tries to inject some humor into the proceedings by portraying the leading lady as a drunkard on the edge of a breakdown who mistakenly opens the wrong door and ruins the end of the scene, but after seeing it about 5 times in a row it just made me cringe instead of laugh. Jean-Pierre Léaud's character seems to be what would've happened had the Cahiers du Cinéma bunch turned into actors instead of directors. He is essentially the embodiment of every cinephile/fanboy's (what's the difference when you really get down to it?) dream to act in films. In a bizarre twist on the tendencies of the cinephile to watch the same film over and over again and recite the lines their favorite characters are speaking, he sits in the screening room watching the dailies and mouths the words he sees himself speaking on screen. Then after working on a film set all day, he still wants to go out and see a movie. And like most fanboys he develops a crush on the leading lady, played by Jacqueline Bisset, but again unlike all the other fanboys he actually gets to sleep with her.

Alain Resnais - Comme l'amour, comme la guerre

Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour is a rather brilliant depiction of the transitory nature of memory and human relationships. The beginning of the film shows "Nevers", the French woman and "Hiroshima", the Japanese man visiting a museum. A major part of our memory is tied to the information that we receive from our eyes, and I wonder if Resnais was inferring a connection between museums and film. Both are primarily visual spectacles, though film has the added element of sound (well, at least since the late 20s). Both attempt to preserve time in order for spectators to revisit it again, with the obvious difference being that the images in a museum space are usually static and within the filmic space they're moving. Perhaps more importantly is the fact that both films and museums have directors. There is someone choosing what goes and what stays for spectators to see. Therefore Resnais is suggesting that memory itself is malleable and transitory. Both museums and films have a transitory nature to them as well. Museums usually have a permanent collection which holds art that visitors can see every time they go, and then a section reserved for traveling exhibitions that change every few months, so if enough time elapses between trips to the museum, it is never the same place twice. While not so much the case in Resnais' time, now with the advent of DVD the filmic narrative is subject to change as well. For example, there are now 5 different cuts of Blade Runner available to the public, and who can forget the internet nerd outrage over the defilement of the sanctity of Star Wars: A New Hope when a new cut was released showing Greedo taking a shot at Han Solo before Han shoots him. On another, perhaps more metaphysical level, film and memory are both fragile media for preserving history. While nitrate film was much more susceptible to the ravages of time even celluloid film degrades, as any viewing of an 20 year old print will display. Much like memory, which is clear and sharp to begin with, but after a few decades becomes fuzzy.
Perhaps even more important than memory in relation to the image is the context of not just the images themselves, but of the viewer of the images. What I mean is that depending on where you are standing, two people can look at the same image and see two different things. For example, to a Christian the cross is a symbol of salvation, but indigenous tribes of the Americas could see it as a symbol of genocide and the destruction of their culture. This idea is echoed in Hiroshima, Mon Amour when Nevers and Hiroshima are laying in bed and Never is talking about what she saw at the museum. Hiroshima says over and over "You didn't see anything". This could mean that as a French citizen who never saw the effects of the atomic fallout firsthand like a Japanese citizen who lived through the aftermath, she could not fully fathom what had happened. And her perhaps Resnais is suggesting that true memory is comprised of all the senses instead of just what you can see in a museum, or see and hear in a film. Nevers never heard the screams of bombing survivors, nor smelled the smoke from the burning wreckage, nor felt her skin blistering from the heat of the explosion like Hiroshima had, hence his stance that she "saw nothing".
Their relationship is transitory as well. Nevers is in Japan to work on a film, and while Hiroshima wants to see her again, she is less than enthusiastic about a future meeting. Their trysts often take place in hotels as well, spaces where people stay for a few days or weeks at most, but then move on to somewhere else. These similar themes of memory and relationships are also explored in Resnais' film Last Year At Marienbad. It is set in a posh, ultra chic hotel resort where X tries to convince A that they had met the year before at another similar resort hotel at Marienbad. However, minor details keep changing every time he recalls the scenarios, like what she was wearing or where certain events took place. Even the location of Marienbad is unclear to X though, who admits that it could have been any number of other resorts he has been to. Again, the memory is fleeting, linked to a space where people stay for a short period of time. He claims that they fell in love and that she was to leave M, her husband, in a year and run away with X. This is where there is a major difference between the characters of Hiroshima, Mon Amour. While in both films they have names that suggest they are less singular human entities rather than a representation of a larger more abstract idea, Hiroshima and Nevers are names of places where people live and there is a feeling of genuine attraction between the two of them whereas X, A, and M exist in a sterile, cold, emotionless void. The substitution of there names is similar to the variables of an algebraic equation. There is an air of great formality, not only from the tuxedos and evening gowns that the guests of the resort wear, but also in the language. The more formal "vous" form of the French verb conjugations is used instead of the "tu" which is used between people who know each other well. Husbands and wives would not address each other with the "vous" form, and neither would two lovers. This suggests and emotional distance between all of the characters. __ repeatedly says "laissez-moi", wishing to be left alone, which could mean that the affair actually did happen and she wants to forget about it the passion that may have ignited it, or that the affair never happened at all nor would she want to be a party to something like that. Another difference between the characters of the two films is their class. While the characters in Hiroshima, Mon Amour were certainly well off, at least enough to be able to travel between Japan and France, the travel was for part of their employment. The characters in Marienbad belong to the "idle rich" class. There is no mention of what anyone does for work, they all seem to do nothing but take vacations to elaborate resorts play games, watch plays, or go to balls.

Cleo From 5 to 7

Cleo From 5 to 7 is different from any of the films we've seen so far. First of all it's directed by Agnes Varda, the lone female director in the boy's club of the nouvelle vague. It comes as little surprise then that the protagonist of the film is also a woman. Ironically though she appears on the surface to be just as vapid and flaky as the women in the other films we've seen. It's hard to tell at first whether Varda wants us to sympathize with Cleo or not. Most of her behavior in the film is pretty much unlikeable from the very beginning. In the beginning of the film, we see her getting her tarot cards read. The fortune teller sees an illness in her future, and Cleo goes to pieces. She breaks down crying, fearing that she is going to die. But then as she leaves the fortune teller's apartment, she looks at herself in the mirror and says that she has her beauty, and as long as she is beautiful she is alive. Further living up to the stereotype of a vapid, materialistic blonde, she goes shopping and buys a new hat to cheer herself up. In the cab ride home from shopping with her assistant the radio broadcast reports on the latest casualties in the Algerian war while she prattles on about herself. She also has contempt for the cabdriver, perhaps feeling a sense of entitlement as a diva-esque pop singer over a lowly, working class woman. The cab driver isn't the only person she condescends to. There is a subtle division between her and her assistant as well. Her assistant always addresses Cleo in the formal "vous" form whereas Cleo addresses her with the informal "tu" form. Children usually address adults in the "vous" form and vice versa, so this subtle difference in language suggests Cleo is above (or, at least fancies herself above) her assistant. She also acts like a diva when her songwriters show up for a rehearsal. She complains that the songs are too difficult to learn, and how nobody loves her and just wants to exploit her for her voice. However, I think that Cleo is ultimately redeemed through her meeting with Antoine, the soldier on leave from the Algerian war that she meets in the park. Before meeting him she is at a café and she seems to start to have an existential crisis. I'm sure it's not by coincidence that the café she goes to is Le Dôme, a café frequented by Sartre and other existential intellectuals. She plays one of her records on the jukebox and gauges the reaction of the crowd, which keeps going about their business like they were before her record started. Cleo begins to realize that the world does not revolve around her like she imagines it does, that she is just another person like anyone else. When she goes to the park and meets Antoine, she becomes even more human. At first she dismisses him and wants to be left alone, but his persistence eventually finds a chink in her armor and she becomes more vulnerable and human. We learn that her real name isn't Cleo but Florence. Through Antoine, we (or at least I) are able to feel empathy for her as a fellow human who is suffering through a disease and fears for her life.

Varda shows some amazing innovation in this film that rightly places her in the canon of the nouvelle vague along such names as Godard and Truffaut. There is one of my favorite long takes ever in the scene where Cleo is learning a new song with her lyric and music writers that signifies the isolation that Cleo feels. The camera travels slowly across the room in an arc, showing first all three characters but then slowly zooming in on just Cleo, who is standing in front of a black curtain. The camera moves in so that all we see is a medium close up of Cleo with the black curtain behind her. Cleo looks right into the camera while singing a song about dying of loneliness after being without her lover. While the song starts out with just the diegetic accompaniment of the piano, it is eventually replaced by a dynamic, orchestral string arrangement. As the music swells Cleo seems to be lost in the song. The effect is mesmerizing and is so great that the viewer gets caught up in the moment as well, and forgets (like Cleo seems to) that she is in her apartment. It instead seems like she is giving a performance in a concert hall, but then the song ends and the camera abruptly pulls back and thrusts the viewer (and Cleo) back into reality, showing us that she is indeed just in her apartment singing to an audience of three instead of a full house at a grand concert hall. There is also an incredible use of non-continuous editing in the scene where she leaves the rehearsal in her apartment and goes to the café. As she walks down the street and looks at the people looking back at her in a series of reverse shots, there are a series of shots inserted of people not on the street. We see her assistant sitting in her apartment, the songwriter sitting at his piano, patrons from the café she just left, and the man swallowing frogs on the street that walked past earlier. By showing these people in a completely different space than the one Cleo is presently occupying, it gives us an insight to her existential crisis where she is realizing that these people in fact have lives outside of the relationship to her.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

2 or 3 Things I Know About Godard -or- this entry has a beginning, a middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order

This was my first time seeing 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her and my first reaction was that it was one of the most difficult of Godard's films, at least that I have seen. I found the whispering to be an effective contrast against the noise of the city, but after awhile it felt a bit heavy handed. I suppose Godard was going for a contrast between the cacophonous noises of city life and machines versus drowning out the softer tones of the human voice. Perhaps on another level it could be meant to represent the inner turmoil of the modern mind of a city dweller, trying to filter out the noises of city life that threaten to make even the simplest thoughts impossible. In one instance, in the café, the sound of the pinball machine is just as loud as the conversation and is quite distracting, perhaps a representation of modern technology impeding man's ability to communicate. Even when the shot moves to a conversation on the other side of the café, the pinball noises are still just as prominent as they were. Communication is another important theme in the film. Godard makes reference to city life being taken over by forms of communication, most notably radio and television, and calls for the formation of a new language. Not that the film is contented with simple thoughts though. In lieu of a narrative, the film consists of a series of vignettes with a prostitute called Juliette pontificating heavy philosophical questions in an inner and outer monologue. Some of the philosophizing comes off as a bit amateurish though, like when Juliette is contemplating "what if blue was called green by mistake" or "if you say a word 200 times it becomes meaningless". It sounds like something you'd hear in a freshman dorm after a bong has made a few rounds. Godard's scathing criticism of the U.S.'s involvement in the VietNam war is still present, but I didn't think it was as clever as it was in Pierrot le Fou (with the "play" put on for the American sailors)and Masculin, Feminin (when Paul distracted the soldier while his friend wrote "peace in Vietnam" on the U.S. military car). The ever present criticism of commercialism is rather humorous though, while Juliette and another of her prostitute friends are talking about the new line of Paco Rabanne dresses while they are undressing for their "date" with John Bogus. I'm still not quite sure what to make of the fact that the "American" John Bogus clearly has a French accent. I wonder if perhaps Godard is sidling France with some of the blame in Vietnam, since they were a colonial presence there for hundreds of years prior to America's involvement with the war against communism. However, Godard equated the American presence in Vietnam to Hitler's Third Reich, with the America Über Alles signs.
The one aspect of the film I found most interesting was the line that said "If you can't afford LSD, buy a color TV". There's a few levels on which you can interpret that statement. On a literal level, a dose of LSD costs considerably less than a color television, especially in the late 60s. Perhaps Godard means to say that if your mind and body can't "afford" the effects of LSD you could "tune in, turn on, and drop out" with a different drug that is just as surreal and mind warping as LSD but can be easily turned off if it gets too intense. Speaking of illicit drugs, this film's narrative "structure" feels a lot like William Burrough's experiment to derange the mind without the use of drugs, Naked Lunch, in the sense that there is no structure, just an unconnected series of vignettes like I mentioned before. This is the perfect embodiment of his theory that films should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, though not necessarily in that order. By comparison, Le Weed-End seems coherent. Godard dips into pure avant garde formalism in one scene, when the shot is just a close up of the swirling patterns in the foam of a cup of coffee. Shots like this would not have looked out of place in films by Leger or Man Ray.
The "her" in the title of the film refers not just to Juliette but to Paris itself. All the development takes place on the outskirts of town, in the banlieus or the suburbs. Paris itself doesn't have any modern high rises or skyscrapers, they are relegated to outside the periphery like the La Défense area that is the Parisian center of banking and commerce. Since Paris figures so strongly in Godard's early films, it could signify that Paris is static and unchanging. There are no shots in 2 or 3 Things... of the iconic monuments one associates with Paris, with the exception of the Arc de Triomphe which appears briefly. The focus seems to be on the construction of new buildings. Since Godard makes reference to the need for a new language to be created, it seems he is creating a new filmic language by making a film radically different from his earlier work like Breathless where the iconic Parisian landscape (Notre Dame, the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Concorde, the Eiffel Tower) was almost like a character of the film. The problem with creating a new language though is that it will take a long time before other people can learn it.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Le Week-End

The first thing I did after I got done watching this film for the first time was to press rewind and immediately watch it again. I wasn't quite sure what I had seen and wanted to make sure I hadn't hallucinated it. Jean-Luc Godard's Le Week-End is ostensibly meant on one level to hold a mirror up to the face of society in order to show how vapid a bourgeois consumerist lifestyle is. I believe it functions on that level, but the question that always comes to mind is what good is a mirror that the majority of people wouldn't want to look into? Le Week-end is definitely not a movie for the consumers on a mass level. It seems a more effective route to take would be to make something that would appeal to a mass audience and load it with a subversive message. I think there is a certain amount of naïveté in making a film so anti-society. If Godard was really so disgusted with society, there are other ways to revolt instead of making a visually compelling film that is difficult to watch. Perhaps I'm making a generalization, but the kind of person who would go see a Godard film probably isn't coming from a bourgeois, white picket fence, 9 - 5 job with 2.3 kids background. In effect, it would seem that Godard is preaching to the converted. Someone who was really fed up with society could burn all their possessions and move off the grid to the Amazon basin where no trappings of society or the modern world have penetrated. But the downside to that is, if you're a cinephile, there's nowhere to watch movies. I imagine that, like myself, Monsieur Godard likes being able to wake up in a bed under a roof, take a hot shower, and walk on pavement to a café for a sandwich and a cup of coffee before spending an afternoon watching movies. That's not to say I discredit the message behind the film. A major part of Western culture is driven by consumerism, and the vast majority of it is for things that are inessential to our survival. Case in point, if we didn't need it, why would a company spend millions of dollars convincing you that you do? Godard touches on this earlier in films like Pierrot Le Fou, in the beginning scene when the partygoers conversations are just regurgitated advertising copy, but its taken to an extreme in Le Week-end. Godard equates consumerism with murder, as is evidenced in the scene where the pig is slaughtered. The vast majority of the population in Western nations are meat-eaters, but those who have actually slaughtered and processed an animal are greatly outnumbered by those who buy their meat in a plastic wrapped package in the grocery store. In the pig slaughtering scene, Godard makes it uncomfortably clear that that package of meat you buy at the grocery store was once walking around and had to be killed in order for it to make it to your table. I think that perhaps it would have been even more shocking had Godard used footage shot in an actual slaughterhouse, where thousands of animals are slaughtered every day in more horrific ways than the pig in this film was. I don't think the metaphor stops just with what we eat. Gas stations are frequent milieus in Godard films, and in the scene when the two garbagemen deliver their political monologues, he makes references to oil companies exploiting Africans. So essentially, anyone who has ever used gasoline has blood on their hands. I wonder if any of this is directed at himself though. Film crews take up a lot of gasoline and buy a lot of film stock and all are on a payroll, all of which are also taxed by government, so indirectly even this film buys into the very system that it rails against.

Godard makes some interesting use of the text intertitle shots in Le Week-end, my favorite being the shots where the sound of a speeding enging is heard as the screen shows the Km/h like a speedometer would, and the numbers rise with the pitch of the engine. The film starts with an intertitle proclaiming that it is a film found on a dumpsite. At the end we see one that proclaims that this is the "end of cinema". It would seem that Godard is equating cinema as just another disposable commodity, to be enjoyed for a couple hours and then thrown away. This idea is hardly revolutionary though. The Lumière brothers said as much in cinemas infancy, proclaiming to be an invention without a future, only then the movies were only a couple minutes in length as opposed to hours. I think there is another link between Godard and les frères Lumières in this film. Le Week-end has an element of what film theorists refer to as the "cinema of attraction", the era of film from its birth up to 1906. A short definition of cinema of attractions is that is a non-narrative cinema that produces a shock to the system, not unlike an amusement park ride. Although Le Week-end shows a progression from city life to an almost primitive, savage-like existence, there is only the faintest thread of a narrative structure. Corinne and Roland, a bourgeois married couple, are on the road from Paris. The only thread unifying the scenes is that they all contain husband and wife. The film is also filled with shocking bits of sex and violence. The sex is only hinted at in a long scene shot in one take but it alludes to group sex, lesbianism, and kinky sex acts involving whiskey, milk, and eggs, which even in the midst of the sexual revolution of the 60s must have made some filmgoers squeamish. The wife is describing the sex to her husband, who was not present during the sex acts, which may or may not have happened. They both seem very blasé about it, as if they were describing an everyday event like what they did at work the previous day. However, the violence is not alluded to. Godard shows in graphic detail bodies lying amongst twisted wreckage with copious amounts of blood.
Jean Paul Sartre wrote that every revolutionary is bound to become a heretic or an oppressor, and if that's the case I still can't figure out which side of the line Godard intended to come down on with this film.

Les jeux sont faits, rien na va plus.

This was my first time seeing Bob le Flambeur, and I was blown away. The only other works of Melville's I had seen were Le Doulos and Le Samouraï. While all three of these films work in the gangster milieu, Bob le Flambeur is decidedly more humanistic than the other two. The other two films are in a world where it is every man for himself. To put a twist on a well worn cliché Bob is the gangster with a heart of gold. We learn that Bob saved the life of a policeman years ago by pushing his accomplice's hand away as he pulled the trigger of a gun aimed at inspector Ledru. Whether it was expressly for saving the policeman's life or sparing his accomplice the maximum prison penalty that killing a cop would bring it isn't clear, but Bob could've just as easily stood by and done nothing. It's hard to imagine Silien from Le Doulos or Alain from Le Samouraï sticking his neck out like that for either reason, either to save a policeman's life or to save an accomplice some jail time. Perhaps Melville's opinions of gangsters changed over the years? It's interesting to see Melville portray the gangster type as someone with upstanding morals. Melville's portrayal of the Bob as a sharp-dressed, charming, kind-hearted gangster stands in contrast to Truffaut's from Shoot The Piano Player, where they were misogynistic, bumbling hoods.
Bob seems to respect women much more so than Truffaut's gangsters. In one of the early scenes an associate, Marc, drops by needing to borrow money to skip town. Bob gets his wallet out and is ready to loan him some francs until Marc says he is on the lam after beating up his "girlfriend" (most likely on of his hookers). Bob refuses to lend him the money and sends him away. He takes in Anne, a pretty young homeless girl, and gives her money for a hotel and then lets her sleep in his apartment without trying to use it as an advantage to have sex with her. I'm sure it's no coincidence that the apartment has a commanding view of the Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart) basilica in the background. In the beginning we hear Melville's voiceover talking about distance between heaven & hell. The Sacre Coeur sits on the highest point of Paris (heaven) and overlooks Pigalle (hell), the sketchy part of town where Bob first sees Anne being picked up by an American sailor. Taken that into consideration, Melville portrays Bob almost as a saint, a divine guardian for wayward girls. We also learn that Bob loaned money to Yvonne to open her café. One gets the feeling that perhaps Bob and Yvonne may have been lovers at one point but that things didn't quite work out.
Bob also functions as a sort of father figure to Paulo, a young, inexperienced, gangster wanna-be. In one scene he breaks up a conversation between Paulo and Marc as they are working out the details of a scam. Bob pulls Paulo outside and warns him not to get mixed up with Marc. Behind Bob, out of focus, we see a neon sign that says "Romance" in the background as he lectures Paulo. This could be read that perhaps Bob was once like Paulo and had ideas of a romanticized life outside of the law, but is now older and wiser, having served his time in prison as a result of the path he chose. On the other side, behind Paulo, we see a sign that says Sans Souci (care-free), a comment on Paulo's inexperience and never having been arrested.
While Bob le Flambeur came out a few years prior to the new wave explosion, there are elements of the film that clearly influenced it. While it is relatively straight forward as far as its narrative, editing, and camera angles are concerned, there are still enough deviations from the classical Hollywood style to set it apart. First of all the subject matter, the gangster/criminal underworld/noir genre, would be used by Godard and Truffaut, among others in the new wave. (put in sound effects at racetrack here). There is also an excellent example of non-classical editing used in the scene where the safecracker is practicing on a mock-up of the safe they are going to rob at the D'eauville casino. The scene recalls C.T. Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc with succession of facial close-up shots of the gang of crooks (and their dog). It doesn't do anything to move the storyline ahead and is visually disorienting, and both of these techniques were used by the new wave directors.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Une Femme Est Une Femme

Godard's second feature film to be shown in theaters showcases the seeds of ideas that would fully germinate in his later more experimental work. While Une Femme Est Une Femme follows a relatively straightforward narrative, its elements occur repeatedly throughout Godard's career. The film self-reflexively starts with starlet Anna Karina shouting "lights, camera, action!". Godard takes this idea to a further extreme in Tout Va Bien where the film starts with a close up of a hand writing out payroll checks for various members of a film crew, and a voice over conversation about who to find as a star for the film. Tout Va Bien also contains a heavy usage of the red, white, and blue color scheme that you see in Émile & Angela's apartment. You also see a few very languid camera pans between actors across spaces where no action is taking place. Shots like this became commonplace in his later work as well, like the 360 degree pans used in Sympathy For The Devil or the very long tracking shots in Le Week-end. Another device that would be a staple of later Godard films is the use of text on screen to comment on the narrative (or sometimes, having seemingly nothing to do with the narrative). Intertitle screens would pop up in between and sometimes during the "acts" of Masculin, Feminin. There is even the slightest hint of the leftist political slant his films would take on in the late 60s and early 70s. When the police come to Emile & Angela's apartment to take a look around, one of them notices Émile reading a communist newspaper, and offers him a word of encouragement, telling him to "keep it up".
I think that this film is much more self-conscious of its role as a film than Breathless. The film starts with Anna Karina shouting "lights! camera! action!", letting the audience hear what would normally only be heard by the cast and crew during the shooting. Godard also foregrounds the issue of spectatorship from the very beginning with the scene of Karina dancing at the club. She struts out onto the floor of the club and looks directly into the camera at us while she does her sultry song and dance act. One of the patrons looks at her through a pair of opera glasses even though she is only a few feet away from him. Another instance of foregrounding spectatorship is when Belmondo makes a comment about wanting to go home to watch Breathless on TV, a film that he starred in. Through his self-reference he steps outside of his characters role for a moment, acknowledging his existence outside of the artificiality of the filmic narrative that he is in.
The impression I got of Une Femme Est Une Femme is that it was a musical without the singing, and parodizes the classical 50s Hollywood era musicals. For example, there is a scene of Karina and Belmondo dancing in a rubble filled alley. This is a stark contrast to the glamorous settings in 50s Hollywood musical with flashy costumes and elaborately choreographed dance numbers. In the moments when you would expect the characters to break out into song, nothing happens. The one moment that stuck out in my mind the most was when Lubitsch came to their apartment. He leaves with to have dinner while Angela stays in the apartment alone. This would be the perfect moment for her to launch into a song about how her husband drives her crazy while she dances around the apartment, but instead she just sulks.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Vivre dangereusement jusqu'au bout!

Phrases like "groundbreaking" and "one of the most influential films ever" are bandied around enough to almost be devoid of meaning, but Breathless is one of the few pictures actually worthy of the tag. The section of the film that shows Michel driving from Marseille to Paris loses none of its ability to disorient even after almost 50 years (and in my own case, even after the 100+ times I've seen this film in the past 10 years). Nearly every rule of continuity editing is purposefully violated, and as if to push our buttons even further, Jean-Paul Belmondo looks right at the camera (and subsequently, at us spectators) and tells us if we don't like, we can fuck ourselves. It's not just the editing rules that Godard throws out the window, but the whole moviemaking process. There was no screenplay, shooting script, or storyboards. François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol appear in the credits but that was essentially just to secure funding, since Chabrol and Truffaut had already made a name for themselves and at this point Godard had only one short film under his belt. Godard wrote the dialogue each morning before shooting, and sometimes they only had enough material to shoot for an hour or so.

Of all the films we've screened so far, this one bears the heaviest mark of the cinephilic tendencies of the French new wave directors. Before the film even starts, Godard tells us that it is dedicated to the Monogram picture company, an American production studio famous for gangster B-movies. Breathless also looks a bit different than the other films we've seen so far. Even though it was shot on a very light sensitive film stock, it was pushed almost to the limit in processing to give it a grainy look, perhaps again to emulate the B-movie pictures of the Monogram studio on a stylisitic level. The alias Poiccard chooses for himself, Laszlo Kovacs, is the name of a Hungarian cinematographer. Poiccard is also enamored of Humphrey Bogart. Like Bogey in one of his most celebrated roles (Rick in Casablanca), Michel plays the tough guy role but has a soft spot for a woman, which in the end will be his undoing. Perhaps in a nod to the escapist tendencies of the cinephile, Michel and Patricia duck into a theater to hide from the police. Godard also uses the films at these theaters like songs in a soundtrack to comment on the characters. The film being shown in the first theater that Patricia goes into on her own is Otto Preminger's Whirlpool, and the dialogue we hear a woman being asked "Does this cheap parasite mean so much to you that you're willing to cover for him?", clearly an allusion to Patricia and her situation with Michel. The use of a Preminger film has another layer of meaning as well, since Jean Seberg had starred in a Preminger film the previous year.

Michel himself is an intriguing character. Godard again breaks convention by having the leading man be someone who doesn't necessarily deserve our sympathies. With his very first line in the story he tells us, "After all, I'm an asshole." Michel's actions certainly convey this throughout the film as we see him steal money from a lady friend of his and a stranger he karate chops in the bathroom, steals numerous cars, berates a cab driver, and sneaks into Patricia's hotel room. He really doesn't exhibit any redeeming qualities, yet you can't help but want him to escape to Italy.

It's interesting to see in Godard's first feature some of the ideas that he used in later films, even though stylistically they would be radically different. Michel plays classical music records much like Jean-Pierre Léaud's character in Masculin Feminin. The long take or Patricia walking in a circle and pontificating out loud seems to be echoed in the later films, like the scene in Le Weekend when three reporters are following a young girl in a field asking her long, drawn out philosophical questions. And of course dipping into the gangster genre again with the heady mix of crime, love, and music that was to come in Band of Outsiders.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The 400 Blows

Truffaut's The 400 Blows begins with a series of shots all focusing on the Eiffel Tower. After all the times I've seen this film I can't figure out his motivation for starting the film this way. The tower is never referenced again during the film and the bulk of the story takes place in Montmartre, a low rent area of the city where the tourists go to "slum it" with working class and bohemian types. I guess this could just be another example of the high/low culture juxtaposition that new wave directors favored, or perhaps a commentary on Antoine's character who is metaphorically going around in circles?
Jean-Pierre Léaud's performance is one of my favorites in all of French new wave cinema. Truffaut's choice of hiring an unexperienced actor to play this role was a minor stroke of genius. I think with an experienced actor you would've seen a performance that wasn't as naturalistic, since it would've been an actor trying to act like a troublemaking young teenager. Truffaut just cut out the middle man and hired a real troublemaking teen. This way he got someone who could actually fait les quatre-cents coups (raise hell) instead of having to be directed to do so.
Truffaut's cinephilic tendencies are clearly shown when Antoine and his friend cut class to go to the theater, but there is perhaps a reference to the earlier history of film. During the scene when Antoine is on the ride that spins around in circles, there are some shots from his POV. The bottom half of the screen shows the opposite wall of the ride, but the top half shows the people watching the ride spinning. This creates an image suggesting a zoetrope or a kinetoscope, those pre-filmic visual toys that showed moving pictures.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Les Cousins

Of all the French new wave films I've seen so far, Les Cousins did appear to be the most mainstream, or perhaps a better way to describe it was that it was the most conventional, as far as the standards of classical Hollywood go. The only major stylistic deviation comes in a scene where Charles gets in the car with Paul, who shows him around Paris. There is a rapid succession of shots from the POV of inside a convertible driving along the Champs-Elysées. There is no logical order to the cuts, and you experience a sense of giddy disorientation you feel when looking all around that area of Paris for your first time, trying to take in all the sights at once. This scene seemed to me to be a precursor to the sequence in the beginning of Godard's "Breathless" when Jean-Paul Belmondo is driving and then shoots the police officer.

One of the major themes of the new wave that is present is the blending of high and low culture. For example, during the party scene in Paul's apartment, he insists on listening to classical music while everyone is getting drunk and fights break out. While the yé-yé music craze was still a couple years off, Chabrol could have used some other sorts of music more "appropriate" for such a party such as jazz, but instead he chose Wagner.

There was something else I noticed that Godard touches on in Breathless (and in a handful of his other films before he went into the extreme experimental/political realm) and that is the attitude that love is for squares, or something to be avoided altogether in favor of casual relationships. When Florence falls for Charles, Paul and his slimy friend (whose name I can't recall) essentially browbeat her until she gives up the notion of being in a relationship with Charles, and she goes on to have a fling with Paul. Belmondo's Michel Poiccard also seems to lament the fact that he has fallen for Patricia when he tells his friend Berruti, "What's worse, I think I'm in love with her" to which he replies "Damn!" You could read this either as another example of how the French new wave rejects the conventions of the classical Hollywood love story, or also perhaps as a rejection in general of their parent's generation's ideas of love and relationships.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

So a few thoughts on The Dark Knight, a good month or so after the fact:
(I've been meaning to write this earlier but the potholes on the road to hell won't fill themselves in. Plus it's given me a bit of time to digest it.)

So, my first gut reaction to the sequel was:
All in all it was a fun way to spend a couple hours, especially when watching it on the Imax screen, but it was not as good as Batman Begins. That's not to say I disliked the film. Heath Ledger put in the performance of his career and left a pair of shoes not likely to be filled when he shed this mortal coil. It's unfortunate he won't be around to collect the Oscar. But after having a chance to think about it for awhile, I still liked the first part better. I think the story of Batman's origin was more compelling than the all-out assault on the senses in The Dark Knight. The chase scenes, while visually stunning, seemed to be just a rehashing of the high speed racing around Gotham that we saw in Batman Begins. I did however think the disappearing pencil trick was oh so cleverly disgusting, and maybe I'm grasping at splinters here (pun intended) but was that a bit of an homage to the eyeball gouge in Fulci's Zombie?

I think the one thing that left a bad taste in my mouth was the pro-Bush undertones. Nolan wasn't very subtle with the T word, or with the issue of cell-phone eavesdropping technology. The underlying message was that your personal freedoms don't matter in a time of crisis. Batman also tells commissioner Gordon at the end that he is doing what he believes is right, no matter what anyone else says about it and if they all want to hate him they can. Sounds suspiciously like Bush's defense of unilateral actions, minus the direct link to the divine.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


So not doing to well on my resolution to keep the writing up but I've already ramped up my posting in the past month which is a good start. One new release that has caused me to start salivating in anticipation is the Criterion release of Vampyr by C.T. Dreyer. I've seen this before, but as of now it is only available on a poorly transfered DVD with subtitles that take up the bottom third of the screen, presented in a terribly annoying "creepy" olde english style font. You don't even really need the subtitles for this, as the spoken dialogue is sparse. You can enjoy this one on a purely visual level. To put it in musical terms, it's more tone poem than fully fleshed out composition. The mood and ambiance created by the visuals are so subtly disturbing that you all of the sudden find yourself in the grips of the terror, much like the proverbial frog in a pot of water slowly brought to boil. Imagine fever dream hallucinations in the bucolic environs of the French countryside and you're getting close. Particularly interesting are the scenes of the shadows on the wall that take divorce themselves from the objects casting them, and the fogged out twilight scenes. Legend has it that a member of the film crew brought it to the attention of Dreyer that the camera had a light leak and showed him the dailies, but Dreyer loved the effect and didn't fix the leak.

Monday, April 28, 2008

time flies when yr (not) having fun

Wow, blog. It's been a year almost. You're still alive! Me too, barely. There's a section of Rob Sheffield's book "Love Is A Mixtape" where he debunks the Great American Adage of "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger" and counters it the observation that whatever doesn't kill you will usually leave you crippled. He's got a point. There's not enough whiskey to undo the damage done by this past semester. And what for? I graduate and then I'm like ten grand in debt and still working for Northwest (if I'm lucky and Delta doesn't downsize me) but I've got a piece of paper saying I'm not as dumb as I look. Of course I feel like an asshole saying things like that when there's people who have to worry about whether or not a mortar is going to land on their head while they're out buying groceries but overeducated, underemployed white middle class suburban guys have problems too, as is evidenced by Pavement's back catalog.
Anyway, I haven't written for the pure pleasure of bending words to my will in a long time, and lest writing become a Pavlovian response to the ka-CHUNK of a shotgun round being chambered, I figure I better get back into it. I've been meaning to write about this for awhile and since I'm damn near done with the semester, now is as good a time as any.
So anyway late last year, much to the dismay of those who waited too long to put their copy on eBay, Criterion released one of the holy grails of out-of-print cult cinema Two Lane Blacktop. Up until this point I had only ever seen it on a 2nd gen VHS dub, so seeing it fully restored was a real treat. This should be required viewing for any foreigner (or American citizen for that matter) who laments American cultural imperialism. Sure, it's a drag that McDonalds is making the world fat and all, but this serves as a reminder of why America dominates the global pop-culture market; we're just too fucking cool. Or at least, at one point we were, once upon a time. Two Lane Blacktop is like a time capsule from an era before product placement and major label manipulated soundtracks. Which is surprising, since Dennis Wilson and James Taylor (yep, that James Taylor) star in the film. They're known as The Mechanic and The Driver, respectively ( and existentially). They're a couple of drifters with a custom made, primer grey '55 Chevy making a living on illegal drag races. They get involved in a cross country road race for pink slips with GTO, played by Warren Oates. (Guess what he drives?) It's basically a trip across the country along the country two lane blacktop roads seen through the eyes of a disillusioned post-peace & love counterculture in the grips of an identity crisis and a reaction against the emergence of hyper-consumer society. Case in point, the main "conflict" of the film is the customized '55 Chevy vs. the mass produced Detroit muscle of the GTO. The only product placement is the ubiquitos Coca-Cola, but the film largely takes place in the "old weird America" of mom-and-pop diners and no-name motels along the side of The Road. Even though this film is more pertinent now than ever, it's highly unlikely anything like this would be made today in the studio system. There would have to be at least a car promotion tie-in, as well as gas stations, fast food joints, sunglasses, etc. etc. etc....

Going off on a slightly unrelated tangent. I'm just going to throw it out there that I do rather enjoy Tarantino's work. I don't particularly subscribe to his point of view where he considers himself the next Godard, but his films do strike a certain chord with me as a record/film junkie. That being said, I think he could've learned a thing or two from road movies when he was mining ideas for Death Proof: You don't have to talk so fucking much. That's the beauty of these films, like Two Lane Blacktop or Vanishing Point. The dialogue takes a back seat (no pun intended) to the wind blowing in through the windows and the Zen koan-esque roar of a red lined engine as the landscape unfurls through the windshield.