I was trying to think of the most perfect Thanksgiving Holiday film. While peeling my hundredth potato, I remembered Jeanne Dielman.
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 …
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.
[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.
Don’t let the odd title put you off! It’s just some funny word meaning how things can become interconnected. Cinematically, it contains both “Psycho” and “Taxi” so how can the film be bad? And imagine how smart you’ll sound when it rolls off your tongue in front of your friends.
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm is an experimental meta-documentary by William Greaves, a documentary filmmaker and actor. The premise is very simple: Greaves auditions couples in Central Park, repeatedly running them through the same inane dialogue. Meanwhile, his crew films him filming, increasingly turning the camera on themselves to express their growing unease with Greaves’s (deliberate) lack of direction. From this cascades a loosely controlled experiment in dissolution, which quickly becomes intensely dramatic and absorbing… It’s proto-reality TV!
Greaves later revisited the project, aided by Steven Soderbergh and Steve Buscemi, in the mid-2000s, to make another version, Take 2 1/2. That you can get on the wonderful Criterion release, which the video below is taken from.
Some of us have been discussing long takes in movies, and John mentioned that he’d like seeing a list of films that consist primarily of the beautiful things. So here is a start at such a list. (And here is another one, which like this list embeds many YouTube clips, such as the magnificent opening shot Orson Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958), the homage Robert Altman pays it in The Player (1992), and many others—including some overlap.)
But first: What’s the value in the long take?