Feature Friday: “My Name Is Albert Ayler” (2007)

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I’ve been wanting to watch this film since I read a review of it in Sight & Sound six years ago. I’m a huge fan of Albert Ayler! Alas, the film is not available on video. So imagine my pleasure when I stumbled across a copy on YouTube…

You can learn more about the film at the official website for the film.

You can watch the film by clicking past the jump.

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Feature Tuesday: “What Time Is It There?”

I think I’ve already featured this on Feature Friday, but this is Feature Tuesday. And in any case I’m sure that other copy is now down.

Tsai Ming-Liang is one of my favorite living filmmakers, and What Time Is It There? was the first work of his that I saw. I recommend everything he’s made, and think that, ultimately, it’s best to watch all of his films in order (since each new film is usually an oblique sequel to the last one). But What Time? made an excellent entry point for me, and it’s a beautiful, wonderful film in its own right, if you watch just it:

Enjoy!

* Some translate the title as What Time Is It Over There?, and maybe that’s preferable somehow, but I prefer the way the title sounds without the preposition.

Feature Friday: “What Time Is It There?” (2001)

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If this is to be your final day on earth, then this is as fine a final film to watch as any other. Finer, even.

It’s the first Tsai Ming-Liang film that I saw. Afterwards, I went and watched all his other films, and have kept up with him ever since. He’s one of my favorite living directors.

I hope you have the same experience.

(Here’s something I wrote about a later film of his, Visage.)

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Feature Friday: “Le monde vivant” (2003)

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I was at Odd Obssession a few years back, and Ignatiy Vishnevetsky told me he had a film he wanted me to see. It was Le monde vivant. I went home and watched it straight away. It’s an utter masterpiece.

Le monde vivant is a minimalist medieval fantasy, replete with ogres and knights, but also Lacanian witches. Its writer and director, Eugène Green, shot it in the French countryside using, for the most part, everyday dress and objects—an inverted response to Jean-Luc Godard’s science-fiction film Alphaville, which used sections of Paris in which the future had already arrived. Le monde vivant continuously illustrates William Faulkner’s famous quote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The film is also about language, and the power of our declarations to reconfigure the world. Two kids are playing, and one of them tells the other, “I am a giant.” And so he is, within that game. (He claims that it’s natural that he should be the giant, since he is bigger.) Then the kids are kidnapped by an ogre, who is an ogre within the larger game of the film. Another example, from a later scene: the ogre’s wife tells the heroic Lion Knight, “We are alone.” “It is strange that we can be alone,” he counters, “even though we are two.” She replies, “Grammar makes it so.”

I could go on about this movie all day, noting how Green conflates contemporary slang with more formal speech, or mention his deep debt to Robert Bresson—but you should just watch the thing. It’s only 70 minutes long, and consistently witty and charming, and easily one of the best films of the past ten years.

le monde vivant farewell

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Feature Friday: “Eden and After” (1970)

Here’s something odd. Both Alain Robbe-Grillet and Catherine Jourdan (pictured above) died on 18 February (Robbe-Grillet in 2008, Jourdan in 2011).

Robbe-Grillet’s films don’t get enough attention. Hell, his fiction doesn’t get enough attention. Let’s try correcting that, though, rather than complaining? Just like Margureite Duras, Robbe-Grillet leveraged his successful collaboration with Alain Resnais into an idiosyncratic directing career. Between 1963 and 2006 he made ten features, all of which (like his fiction) served to explore his fascinations with narrative and sexual convulsions.

The plot of Eden and After begins very simply: a woman (Jourdan) searches for the truth behind the death of a man she met—and thereby enters a sexual labyrinth…

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Feature Friday: “Providence” (1977)

It turns out there’s a very beautiful copy up at YouTube. (I’d been looking for one for a while.) This has never been my favorite Alain Resnais film, though I’m not sure why. Something about it doesn’t work for me, and yet at the same time, I’m frequently drawn back to thinking about it, and am always eager to revisit it. Because certainly the  concept underlying it a brilliant metafictional conceit. Put very simply, John Gielguld plays an author who spend a long night making up a new novel starring his family. He’s especially nasty in his feelings toward them, and spends much of the time revising the text so as to torture them.

Then, the next day, his family comes to visit him…

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Feature Friday: “Hiroshima mon amour” (1959)

Jeremy M. Davies’s Rose Alley has been on my mind as of late, so this one’s for him. I asked Jeremy why he chose to name the first chapter “Evelyn Nevers,” a direct reference to the film. He replied:

The first thing we see in Hiroshima is Elle/Nevers’s naked flesh, scattered with ashes (as I recall—anyway, it should be). Except that it’s almost certainly a body double, since no faces as visible. (Again, as I recall–I might be Eberting this.) Plus, Nevers is a (real) place, yet a very unlikely surname for a real French person (like naming a character “Sacramento” or “Des Moines” … not impossible, probably, but peculiar). And in Hiroshima, Elle is dubbed “Nevers” because she and Lui/Hiroshima don’t use their proper names during their affair; they become stand-ins for their hometowns, both of which were destroyed (morally in one case and literally in the other) by the war. They cannot communicate, culturally, and as such become emblematic of their cultures to one another.

So, nudity (degraded) + introducing a shallow and Rousselian “misunderstanding” of France … I can see why it felt right, for me, at the time. Plus, it’s univocalic, if you don’t mind the y (Perec), and of course the main thing with all the names was euphony …

Happy early birthday, Jeremy! I present to you an online copy of HMA

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Feature Friday: “Maroooned in Iraq” (2002)

I first came across Bahman Ghobadi while living in Bloomington-Normal; the Normal Theater showed A Time for Drunken Horses (2000). I rather admired the film, especially the way in which it deliberately broke down toward the end, as the fate of its young protagonists grew bleaker and bleaker.

Marooned in Iraq (2002) takes that idea even farther. Set around the close of the Gulf War, it portrays the journey made by a famous Iranian-Kurdish singer, Mirza, to find his ex-wife, who ran away to Iraq decades ago with his best friend. Hearing that she’s now in trouble, he enlists the help of his two sons (also musicians, and pictured above).

The first half of the film is farcical and broad, with lots of color and comic shtick. Wherever the three men go, they encounter strange people and situations, like a woman who appears only as a shadow, or a bandit who forces the men to perform at his daughter’s wedding. Mirza also receives a lot of ribbing over having lost his wife years ago.

But then, in the second half of the film, as the trio crosses into Iraq, the film grows darker and heavier, as the men begin to realize the extent of Saddam Hussein’s then-recent attacks on their people. The comedy and color drain away, and the film transitions into something no less absurd, but much harsher and existentialist.

If nothing else, you should watch from 0:33:25–0:36:30, and from 0:58:27—1:02:29. And then maybe skip ahead to the film’s last half hour, around 1:16:00 or so, to get a sense of how somber the film becomes. But really you should just watch the whole thing; it’s phenomenal. (This Onion AV Club review aptly compares it to Emir Kusturica’s 1995 masterpiece Underground.)

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Feature Friday: “Love Letter” (1995)

I’ll never understand why Shunji Iwai’s films never caught on in the States. He’s been immensely popular in Japan since the 1990s, repeatedly scoring a string of dreamy, moody hits that includes Love Letter (1995), Picnic (1996), and All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001). Iwai’s movies are the cinematic equivalent of shoegaze and dream pop: quiet, sentimental puzzles that build their powerfully cathartic effects through the combination of atmospheric music, dramatic and unabashedly sentimental plots, and Norobu Shinoda’s peerless cinematography, an endless swirl of handheld camerawork, diffuse light, and backlighting. They give the impression of being emotion made manifest, the very essence of “haunting” and “bittersweet.” I have to believe that Sofia Coppola was thinking of them when she made Lost in Translation (2003); these films would also appeal, I think, to fans of Wong Kar-Wai, Krzysztof Kieslowski, or Andrei Tarkovsky. (Do you know any?)

I can never decide which of Iwai’s films is my favorite. All About Lily Chou-Chou is a long, complex tale—half soap opera, half manga—of a middle school class and their vacation and their relationship to an extremely ethereal pop star. (She comes across like a Japanese Björk.) It took me about three viewings to even begin to understand the plot, which is presented a-chronologically and with few clues as to which scenes are happening when. It also periodically interrupts itself to insert shots of the central characters standing in a field, listening to a discman:

I plan to steal that idea for one of my own films, someway.

Love Letter is much simpler in comparison, though still audaciously intricate. A woman who’s recently buried her fiance writes him a final love letter, then receives a reply. No, it’s not a ghost movie, although it teases us for a while that it might be. The woman continues the correspondence, leading to the telling of a fairly complex story within the main story. It’s kinda like … if Jacques Rivette adapted Nick Bantock’s Griffin and Sabine Trilogy? (Also somewhat related: Lovers of the Arctic Circle, and Sans soleil.)

The full movie appears to be online (see below). If nothing else, I encourage you to watch the amazing opening scene. (And the trailer.)

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Feature Friday: “Dark Star” (1974)

I caught up with Dark Star only a few years back, at one of the Music Box‘s science-fiction marathons. I was pleased to discover that Dark Star ranks among John Carpenter’s best, while at the same time standing out due to its odd, grim humor. (Kubrick’s influence hangs over the picture, which pokes lovingly not only at 2001—just look at the opening scene—but Dr. Strangelove.) Much of the comedy is also due to the presence of writer/star/production designer/editor Dan O’Bannon, the brilliant screenwriter behind Alien and Total Recall and Lifeforce. Appropriately, Dark Star contains lots of swipes from Philip K. Dick, as well as some ideas that would later infiltrate Alien: the cramped and tedious corporate working condition, an ornery alien creature running amok…

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Feature Friday: “Je, tu, il, elle” (1976)

Chantal Akerman is probably best-known for her 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, which is definitely required viewing. But all of her films are worth exploring! For instance, one year later, she released Je, tu, il, elle, a minimalist nouveau roman nightmare of a film. Its plot is extraordinarily simple: Chantal Akerman plays Je, a young woman who lies in bed and eats sugar, then abandons her room to hitch a ride with a truck driver, Il (whom she jerks off). Then she returns home to sleep with her ex-girlfriend (Elle). Meanwhile, you (Tu) watch; it’s really a lot like real life. The film’s style, meanwhile, goes toe-to-toe with the plot in terms of sparseness …

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“A New Leaf” is finally getting a DVD release

As evidenced here. Release date, September 4th. Which is soon. This is such great news. I think it’s the first time this film is being released on video? I’ve featured it on Feature Friday, here. Wiki article’s here. It stars Walter Matthau, of course, as well as the great Ms. May.

Who has been terribly served by home video! Terribly! Horribly. Hopefully, this release will marks the start of something new, the beginnings of a turnaround!

Related: The Heartbreak Kid, and Mikey and Nicky.

Feature Friday: “Mikey and Nicky” (1976)

I’ve already happily linked to online copies of two Elaine May films on Feature Friday—The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and A New Leaf (1971), both still up at YouTube. Now I’m happy to link to a third; I like Elaine May that much.

May directed Mikey and Nicky immediately after her first two films, in 1973. She shot a tremendous amount of footage—supposedly 3x more than was shot for Gone With the Wind—oftentimes letting multiple cameras role while she let stars John Cassavetes and Peter Falk improvise (which included, on at least one occasion, their leaving the set; May kept rolling). This (and the fact that production went way, way over budget) invoked the wrath of her producers, who tried to take the film away in editing. (Reportedly, May held some of the negative footage hostage, essentially blackmailing her way back into post-production.) A slapped-together version of the film was given a token release in late 1976, then finished by May in the following years. The result is a complex study of betrayal and guilt that would seem at least partially autobiographical—for one thing, May apparently named it after the world’s other fastest human, Mike Nichols.

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Feature Friday: “Loves of the Arctic Circle” (1998)

God, I love this film. It’s so beautiful and sad and bittersweet. For a while it was impossible to find here in the States; I had a Pal copy from the UK that I no doubt paid too much for. Even after Julio Medem had a big hit with Sex and Lucia (2001), Lovers didn’t get a proper US release. But now it’s up (with English subtitles) at YouTube; the world must be getting better.

Some people think mimetic realism and artifice are opposed to one another. They’re not, and this film demonstrates why.

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