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: “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: “Syndromes and a Century” (2006)

Easily one of the best films of the past seven years, by one of the greatest living filmmakers, Apichatapong Weerasethakul.

A funny story: I actually knew him, when I lived in Thailand (2003–5). I was given his cell phone number by a mutual film friend. One day I went to visit him at his studio in northern Bangkok. We sat around for a while, talking movies. Finally I asked what he was working on. [Note that this was in 2004, by which point I had seen only his first feature, the brilliant exquisite corpse Mysterious Object at Noon (2000).] He told me that he was finishing a new film, trying to get it ready in time for Cannes. “If we finish in time, we go,” he said. “If not—mai pen rai” (“no worries”).

That film turned out to be Tropical Malady (2004), which went on to win Cannes’s Jury Prize, effectively launching Apichatapong’s career. I’m glad I didn’t distract him overmuch!

Two years later, Apichatapong followed it up with a film some consider even better. (I myself rank them about the same, which is to say that they are both essential masterpieces of contemporary cinema.)

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An Interview with Yuriy Tarnawsky, Part 1

I first encountered Yuriy Tarnawsky‘s writing in 1998, when I stumbled across a copy of Three Blondes and Death (FC2, 1993) in a Philadelphia bookstore. (A college professor, having noticed my interest in less-than-realist fiction, encouraged me to be on the lookout for any books published by FC2 or Dalkey Archive Press.)

Three Blondes was unlike any other book I’d ever seen: it consisted of hundreds of short chapters, each one a solid block of prose, describing in meticulous detail the simultaneously outlandish and banal lives of the protagonist, Hwbrgdtse, and three blonde women—Alphabette, Bethlehem, and Chemnitz—that he grows, in turn, infatuated with. The chapters are not always presented in chronological order, and more than half of them relate the characters’ dreams. It very quickly became one of my favorite contemporary novels. (When I moved to Thailand in 2003, it was one of the few books that I brought with me.)

Later, in the summer of 2004, I met Yuriy in New York, at Ron Sukenick’s memorial service; we began talking, and soon became friends. I’m pleased now to be able to post here, in multiple parts, a lengthy interview I’ve conducted with him. I’ll also be posting and linking to excerpts from Yuriy’s writing; my hope is that this will encourage more people to seek out his unique and deliriously fascinating work. Continue reading

Features

Flaming Creatures (1963), directed by Jack Smith.

Noticing last September that the Features section of this site was blank, I began embedding there feature-length films that are available in their entirety at YouTube. At the moment there are links to:

You can find much better copies of Marienbad and What Time Is It There? on DVD, but the others are trickier to come by. There’s a great DVD of Little Murders, but it’s currently out of print, and not many video stores stock it. India Song finally got a US DVD release last year, but it’s not the kind of film you find lying around. A New Leaf was issued on VHS and is now severely out of print. Flaming Creatures never got any kind of video release to my knowledge (which is a terrible shame, as it’s one of the greatest films ever made). (No doubt the fact that it was seized by the police upon its premiere, and ruled obscene, has played some part in its inaccessibility. Censorship sadly sometimes works!)

Amazingly, all of these films are still up and running at YouTube. I’ll add others as I stumble across them…

Brevity, Part 3: Long Takes Continued (well, they’re long)

While writing my previous post, I grew aware that I wasn’t mentioning any women filmmakers. So I’d like to add something addressing that (because of course one can find numerous examples). And along the way, I’ll also try to say more in general about the power—and limitations—of the long take.

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