In response to John’s Mayan-inspired post last week, here’s a free online copy of Sun Ra’s 1974 feature, Space Is the Place—in case you’re still hanging around on Planet Earth…
Posts Tagged ‘Feature Friday’
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Benoît Delhomme, Feature Friday, Jean-Pierre Léaud, Kang-sheng Lee, Shiang-chyi Chen, Tien Miao, Tsai Ming-Liang, What Time Is It There?, Yi-Ching Lu on December 21, 2012 | 4 Comments »
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.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Alphaville, Eugène Green, Feature Friday, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Jacques Lacan, Jean Luc Godard, Le Monde Vivant, Odd Obsession, Robert Bresson, William Faulkner on December 14, 2012 | 1 Comment »
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.
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…
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…
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Alain Resnais, Feature Friday, Georges Delerue, Giovanni Fusco, Hiroshima mon amour, Marguerite Duras, Michio Takahashi, Sacha Vierny on November 2, 2012 | 3 Comments »
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 …
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.)
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged All About Lily Chou-Chou, Andrei Tarkovsky, dream pop, DVD Beaver, Feature Friday, Jacques Rivette, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Lost in Translation, Love Letter, Lovers of the Arctic Circle, Nick Bantock, Norobu Shinoda, Sans soleil, shoegaze, Shunji Iwai, Sofia Coppola, wong kar-wai on October 5, 2012 | 5 Comments »
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.)
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged alien, Dan O'Bannon, Dark Star, Feature Friday, John Carpenter, Lifeforce, Music Box Theatre, Philip K. Dick, Stanley Kubrick, Total Recall on August 31, 2012 | 3 Comments »
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…
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 …
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!
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.
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.
Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Dieter Dengler, Feature Friday, Fitzcarraldo, Klaus Kinski, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Nosferatu the Vampyre, Werner Herzog, Where's Waldo?, Woyzeck on August 3, 2012 | 4 Comments »
Time has revealed Werner Herzog’s greatest artwork to be himself; his movies are always about himself more than anything else. So what makes Little Dieter stand out is that its subject, Dieter Dengler, for once trumps Herzog at his own game, making the director take backseat. (You might argue that Klaus Kinski did the same thing, but Kinski always looks to me trapped in Herzog’s films, even the really great ones. Plus, as great as Kinski was, you can always see that he’s acting. That’s not a problem per se—Kinski was a great actor—but Dengler is less acting than simply being, and it’s beautiful to see.)
Herzog later remade this as Rescue Dawn (2006), starring Batman. I haven’t seen it and I always confuse its title with Saving Grace (2007), which I always confuse with Grace Is Gone (2007). Confusion is sex.
I saw this at the Whitney Millennial Biennial in 2000. It’s still one of the wildest things I’ve seen, and it’s useful to have artworks that define certain outer limits of the form—stuff where when you see it you think, “Huh. It would be harder to push past this.”
Someday I would like to help organize a Paul Sharits retrospective.
[Note: Some number of previous Feature Friday films—7/20, I think—have since disappeared from YouTube. Such is the nature of gray market broadband video. So if you want to watch the films I link to, you'd better act fast, because better than 1/3 of them probably won't stick around. It's like Netflix Streaming! Meanwhile, I'll look around for replacement videos...]
If nothing else, watch the first minute of this one, one of the most beautiful opening minutes in all of cinema.
I came across Sans soleil after a college professor showed me La Jetée (1962). This was not long after Twelve Monkeys (1995) came out. Terry Gilliam was then my favorite director, and my very first piece of film criticism was a problematic materialist reading of La Jetée and Twelve Monkeys. I like to think today that Marker would smile and forgive me.
In 2007, Criterion Collection released La Jetée and Sans soleil together. Like with Stop Making Sense, I sometimes play them in the background while I work. I never get tired of watching or listening to either, especially Sans soleil. Alexandra Stewart‘s voice is Melancholy Incarnate.