Search davidnmeyer.com
Film Review Cloud
13 Tzameti A Prophet Afghanistan Alan Sharp Aldous Huxley Aldrich Alex Garland Alphaville Altman Anthony Mann AntiChrist Antonioni Assazyez Baader Meinhof Badlands Baumbach Belmondo Ben Foster Bergman Best Films of 2008 Best Films of 2009m Jia Zhang-ke Best Films of 2010 Beyond the Valley of the Dolls Bielinksy Big Dead Place Bill Pullman Billy Name Binoche Black Narcissus Blleder Blue Crush Bob Dylan Bone Tomahawk Breillat Bresson Brick Brisseau Bruce Surtees Bullwinkle Carlos Casino Royale Celine and Julie Go Boating Chabrol Chaplin Charlie Haden Cherry Jones Chris Pine Clint Eastwood Coen Brothers Criterion Da Vinci Code Daisies Dante Spinotti Dassin David Watkins David Wilentz Days of Heaven Deadwood Dean & Britta Death Proof Deborah Kerr Delon Delueze Dennis Wilson Derek Jarman District 9 Don Cherry Douglas Sirk Dreyer Driver Dumot Dunst DW Griffith Eastwood El Aura Elizabeth Olsen Elliot Gould Emeric Pressburger Errol Morris Ex Machina Exiled Exodus Exterminating Angels Fata Morgana Fiennes Film Forum Fish Tank Fistful of Dollars For a Few Dollars More Freddy Herko French Frtiz Lang Gaby Rogers Galaxie 500 Ghost Town Gil Birmingham Godard Gomorrah Greenberg Greta Gerwig Grizzly Man Guadagnino Gus Van Zant Hackman Hank Williams Hara Kiri Help Me Eros Henry Fonda Herzog HHelp Me Eros Hitchcock; Vanity Fair Hong Sang-soo Hudson Hawk I Am Love I Know Where I'm Going ImamuraTarantino In Bruges In The Loop Insomnia Isabelle Huppert Jar City jazz Jeff Bridges Jennifer Warren Jimmy Stewart Joanna Hogg John Ford John Woo Johnny To Jose Giovanni Jude Law Julia Ormond Kael Kang-sheng Lee Ken Russell Kiiyoshi Kurosawa Kill! Kiss Me Deadly Kristen Stewart Kubrick Kwaidan LA LOI Lance Rocke Lars Trier Laurie Bird Layer Cake Le Mepris Le Samourai Lebanon Lenny Bruce Lessons of Darkness Lester Bangs Let The Right One In Linda Linda Linda Lino Ventura Lou Reed Lumet Maddie Hasson Maïwenn Malick Marc Abraham Marcel Ophuls Margot at the Wedding Marina Vlady Masculin feminin Mastroianni Mayersberg; Croupier McCabe & Mrs. Miller Mechanic Meeker Melancholia Melville Memories of Murder Michael Blodgett Michael Caine Michael Mann Michael Powell Michael Shannon Miroslav Slaboshptskiy Miyazaki Montand Monte Hellman Mopar Mungiu Nicholas Ray Nicholas Winding Refn Nico Night and the City Night Moves Nolte Nuri Bilge Ceylan Oliver Reed Olivier Assayas Ornette Coleman Oscar Isaacs OSS 117 Lost in Rio Pale Flower Paranoid Park Paris Passion of Joan of Arc Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid Paul Schrader Paul Verhoeven Pecinpah Penn Pierrot le fou Police Adjective Polisse Preston Sturges Pulp Fiction Pusher Pusher II Pusher III Raoul Coutard Raw Deal Raymond Chandler Red Riding Red Shoes Refn Restrepo Richard III Rififi Rivette Robert Altman Robert Graves Robin Hood robots Rock Hudson Rodney Crowell Rohmer Russ Myer Sailor Suit & Macine Gun Sam Raimi Samuel Fuller Samurai Rebellion Samurai Spy Sautet Schnabel science fiction Sergio Leone Seven Samurai Seventh Seal Sexy Beast Shotgun Stories Sjostrom Soderberg Spartacus Blood and Sand Spartacus: Blood and Sand State of Seige Sterling Hayden
Books By David N Meyer
  • Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music
    Twenty Thousand Roads: The Ballad of Gram Parsons and His Cosmic American Music
    by David N. Meyer
  • The 100 Best Films to Rent You've Never Heard Of: Hidden Treasures, Neglected Classics, and Hits From By-Gone Eras
    The 100 Best Films to Rent You've Never Heard Of: Hidden Treasures, Neglected Classics, and Hits From By-Gone Eras
    by David N. Meyer
  • A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Renter's Guide to Film Noir
    A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Renter's Guide to Film Noir
    by David N. Meyer
Social Links
Login

Entries in Godard (6)

Thursday
Apr092015

ATOMIC DOG


WHITE GOD - Kornél Mundruczó

 White God has almost no thematic content. It doesn’t need any. It’s a spectacle: A hypnotic, suspenseful, surprisingly moving riot of human-on-dog, human-on-human and dog-on-human cruelty; unfocused social protest; and disruptive, assured cinema revolving around one – no, two – charismatic canines – Hagen, played by Hagen and his brother. Director Kornél Mundruczó presents his text with such technical and emotional bravado, you think there must be some subtext in there someplace. In this, White God resembles Daisies or other Czech revolutionary films of 60 years ago: things you’ve never seen before + directorial brio, but to what end? What end – beyond the welcome lessons that 1) We should be nicer to doggies, 2) There’s more to any doggie than meets the eye, 3) Mutts are superior to pure-breeds, and 4) Doggies possess more soul, poetry and, indeed, humanity, than most people.

Even showcasing things you’ve never seen before, White God revels in dog-movie tropes. There’s the sensitive young girl who alone values the doggie-protagonist at his true worth. There’s chase scenes featuring ineffective dogcatchers who symbolize the repressive power of the state. There’s a rageaholic, divorced dad who’s taught love by his daughter’s devotion to a doggie. There’s even a dog-hating orchestra conductor with silvery, orchestra-conductor hair who emotes with his nostrils. And there’s a brand-new trope: doggies as the visual locus of ambitious European art-movies. Godard’s Goodbye to Language introduced this trope with its many minutes spent following an adorable mutt. As ever, other filmmakers pick up what Godard puts down, and in this case, that’s doggies. One baffling trope is the title. Is it homage to Samuel Fuller’s unwatchable anti-racism parable, White Dog? Or does it reference Jack London’s immortal White Fang, another tale of a worthy beast turned bestial by human cruelty?

 White God is about something. It’s just never clear what. If Mundruczó offers specific commentary, it remains opaque. Lowlife citizens make contemptuous references to ‘mutts’ and ‘mixed breeds’: is that an indictment of Hungary’s descent into fascism and anti-Semitism? The delicate ‘tween protagonist labors in an orchestra; does that mean only classical culture can redeem Hungary’s youth?  These possibly thematic moments, presented with unrelenting intensity, play like signposts to a deeper meaning. They turn out to be background – the context through which Hagen lives his doggie life, with all its doggie terrors, joys, abandonment, violence and redemption. Every moment seems momentous and laden; the story stays compelling. The viewer’s mistake might be thinking any moment carries any greater weight than another. Weightiness proves to be the biggest tool in Mundruczó kit, that’s all. He’s certainly in command of his material. He elicits rich, nuanced, weighty performances from everyone. Hagen and his brother demonstrates a broader emotional range than most of their human co-stars. The humans under- or overplay depending on whether they’re downtrodden or villainous. The drama stays sufficiently gripping, most of the time, anyway, to render the lack of aboutness unimportant.

White God proves to be a Bizarro Ol’ Yeller. And Ol’ Yeller remains the most heartbreaking movie ever made. If you’re an adult and have not seen it, stay away. You will never recover. Ol’ Yeller was crude and made cheaply. White God is knowing and polished. Though, as in Ol’ Yeller, the human-on-dog cruelty proves almost impossible to watch. Hagen the doggie possesses more moral agency than anyone except his beloved owner, as did Ol’ Yeller. Humans get put down for the common good, as was poor Ol’ Yeller. When Ol’ Yeller turned violent toward people, he had rabies and was out of his little doggie mind. When Hagen takes his vengeance, White God presents his actions as a perfectly rational response to provocation.

The doggie performances are astonishing. The extended scenes of 250 doggies acting in concert are pure pleasure. The director wisely cuts away from showing humans beating doggies. He tries gamely to show a vicious dogfight in gory detail. Anyone who ever owned a doggie will see these are two doggies wrestling playfully with mean-doggie sounds added later. Moments like this – such as when Hagen’s brother appears in close-up and is so clearly not Hagen – lessen the film’s considerable hold. As with the lack of aboutness, it’s hard to say why the story stays so involving, but it never lags.

In the end, White God is about the joy of watching doggies. Want to see 250 joyous doggies splash at top speed through a 50-yard puddle? Want to see them race in a malevolent block-long pack through deserted, moonlit Hungarian backstreets? Want to see the lead doggie turn into a white whale and kick major Hungarian Ahab ass? Of course you do, and why not? Hagen’s revenge provides plenty of catharsis, and not just for Hagen.

 The finale, with its homage to trumpet solos and quasi-religious overtones – man prostrates himself before dog – makes absolutely no sense, but hits with the power of an ancient fable. The final shot of all those poised doggies waiting for….something, evokes Kubrick and The Birds in ways that bypass rationality altogether. This is the source of White God’s power. Mundruczó connects with the archetypal and profound in the animal nature of humans and and the human aspects of dogs. And that has nothing whatever to do with meaning.

Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Friday
Nov182011

THE THIN RED LINE


For Terrence Malick (Badlands,Days of Heaven), the world is a cathedral. Even the most venal acts of man take place in sanctified space because it’s all sanctified. Malick hears celestial music emanating from the sky and trees, sunlight piercing a forest, water running over rocks. He communicates the celestiality he sees and hears through film’s essence, light. No director save Godard so adores or is so attuned to the luminescence of the world. Malick’s pursuit of that luminescence, and the indirect naturalist cadences of his dialogue, makes him a poetic realist.

The natural world cries out, begging man to see the potential for transcendence. But man’s too neurotic and self-invovled to heed the message. It’s not that he’d necessarily rather kill. He just wants a moment’s peace from the questions that torment him, and that rampant nature underscores. Might killing or avoiding being killed still even one of the voices in his head? Sadly, no. Men argue, mostly with themselves, about abstractions that the nature surrounding them—not to mention the other men trying to murder them—renders moot. Nature goes about its business, and that business contains no mercy. Malick embraces it all.

The Thin Red Line opens with a crocodile that seems to be Satan incarnate sliding into a scummy green pond—a transcendently beautiful scummy green pond—and sinking out of sight as apocalyptic church music soars. There, as they said in Vietnam, it is. We are entering a jungle, and it’s not that the jungle doesn’t like us. The jungle doesn’t care. The law of the jungle is exactly that, and it is that law which will keep the jungle what it is. But this indifferent jungle contains much man-made evil. That croc’s swimming around in the scummy green ponds of our souls. It’s bound to resurface somewhere. Keep heading into the jungle, and Satan’s going to manifest.

And boy does he ever. Based on James Jones’s novel of the American invasion of the Japanese-held Guadalcanal island in World War II, The Thin Red Line presents combat as a fever dream, and we are the dreamers. Malick edits so that every cut—every single cut to a human being—puts us instantly into the psychological state of the person he’s cut to. No film was ever edited like this, a $70 million indie art-house war epic that hurls us from one character to another for 171 minutes. Wounded men shrieking for enough morphine to kill them, soldiers within arm’s length shooting one another, generals throwing psychotic hissy fits (Nick Nolte as the embodiment of abusive paternal rage), whatever. The action might dominate the moment, but the men’s internal dialogues are not altered by the mayhem around them, or by the subsequent peace and quiet.

Criterion’s print captures all of Malick’s luminescence. The Extras feature a telling interview with casting director Dianne Crittenden, and a number of actors. The most articulate proves to be Sean Penn. While everyone’s in awe of Malick, Penn best describes what it meant for all these stars and 22-year-old then-unknowns to head off to Australia for who knew how long a shoot for the minimum possible money: “Career suicide.”

Saturday
Oct012011

LESS TALK, MORE SMOKE: GODARD AT THE FILM FORUM

Godard’s ’60s, The Film Forum


 Godard was always smarter than everybody else. That was his blessing and his curse. Nobody could talk him out of a bad idea, including himself. Happily, in the ‘60s, during Godard’s incomprehensibly creative ferment, during his pre-Maoist, pre-I’m-going-to-stand-in-a-French-corner- and-hold-my-breath-until-the-revolution-comes-or-I-turn-blue phase, Godard had damn few of them. Bad ideas, I mean. And if the relentless modernity of his pictures might argue that JLG thought too much and felt not enough, his characters usually suffer the opposite dilemma.

Godard’s oxymoronic, all right: cinema’s most self-conscious intellectual and heart-wrenching romantic; its most innovative technician and compassionate charter of the heart; its most deadly political thinker and smartest gag-writer. Godard invented the second half of cinema’s first century. And for all of his technical, visual, structural and narrative innovations, a seldom-mentioned reason for his work standing up so well is an entirely different sort of wild intelligence, a wild intelligence JLG never got sufficient credit for: chic.

Godard himself was not a bad dresser,. His style was monochromatic and snappy: tight pants, tweed jacket, dark glasses, five o’clock shadow and, for a while, that tiny fedora. But the women in his films! Like the movies themselves, they never seem dated. They seem cooler, better dressed, more indifferent to their beauty and to-the-moment style than any women characters in film. Their self-distance and distance from their own iconography makes them even cooler, more chic. Godard wields their chic as character development, as eye candy, as beauty for beauty’s sake (thus using primality to confound/transcend the uber-rationality of his constantly reinvented cinematic structure) and as demonstration that there can be no cinema without the most hypnotizing of the movie star’s gifts: glamour.

The short version: if you have the time, see every film in the series. If not, here you go:

 1) Two or Three Things I Know About Her

Godard presents the soul-rotting suburbs surrounding Paris in a quiet riot of screaming Cinemascope and too-cool Eggleston-like barely moving frames. When his heroine—a housewife who turns tricks to pay for a color TV—appears, Godard asks us in a whisper: “Is her hair auburn? Does it matter?” The heartache here lies not in his characters’ fate, but in Godard finding a transcendent, wrenching beauty in the most desolate (sub)urban scapes. The fragmented moments of music mirror the disconnected, episodic lives that Godard barely depicts, but perfectly evokes.

 

 2) Contempt

Jack Palance in the performance of his career as the bluntest American blunt object of all time: a Hollywood big-studio producer who quotes from Mao’s Little Red Book. Red is everywhere: a red bike leaning on a wall, Jack’s lethal red convertible, the gleaming pink of Casa Malaparte, Capri’s deranged architectural masterpiece that Godard somehow turns into a symbol of unattainable beauty and the heartbreak that accompanies it. Bardot, too, gives the performance of her life, and shows a range no one had any reason to expect she possessed. Godard opens with an unforgettable scene—unbearably intimate, suspended in time, true—that shows even a sex goddess could yearn for love.

 

 3) Weekend

This opening scene is simply the deadpan funniest, as one of Godard’s prototypical distanced French beauties demonstrates for us the gap between action and narration. Then, we’re off to cinema’s greatest traffic jam, as forlorn and unironically funny as Godard ever got. JLG proves a master of expressed greed like Scorcese’s a master of fuming rage. He shows us rich folks with their hostility turned up a couple notches past the then-socially acceptable. Back then, they were the height of barbarity, a parody, an exaggeration. Now—with their lovely clothes and whining frustration—they seem all too current and real.

 4) Masculine Feminin

Godard’s one pop culture confection that expressed his disdain and great affection for pop. Casting a yé-yé singer (Chantal Goya, a pop confection herself) as the ever-elusive love interest for Jean-Pierre Leaud’s classically bumbling, yet stubborn suitor, JLG seems to leave humans-as-metaphors behind in favor, shockingly, of humans as human beings. The story—despite a few narrative-wrecking interruptions—is remarkably sincere. Godard proves his theory that language is the least effective weapon for laying siege to a heart, and demonstrates his surprisingly Rohmer-like view that in romance, women hold the cards, and men seldom have a clue.

5) Pierrot le Fou

Leaud plays the bumbler—he thinks and talks himself and everyone else into paralysis. With Jean-Paul Belmondo, there’s more smoke and less talk. Nobody in cinema history could wield a Galois with the cool Belmondo barely notices he possesses. He teams up with Anna Karina and they play at being Bonnie & Clyde in the blinding sunshine of the south of France. One unforgettable pop-art shot of a boat’s blue cabin and white hull against a blue sea and a bluer sky will show just how much emotion can be expressed by the incantory capturing of pure color. The story makes no sense: the characters run amok in their own movie, and we fall helplessly in love with them for it.

 6) Vivre Sa Vie

Godard was mad for Anna Karina until he wasn’t, until he came to understand he loved her more through the lens than in life. But while he adored her, he changed the rules of narrative forever. Karina plays a dispassionate shopgirl who drifts into prostitution. Godard never tells the story straight up; he hints, he shows one-tenth of a conversation that we have to finish, he lets locations take the place of dialogue. This is cinema of mood, of evocation, of achingly beautiful black and white. It’s a social tragedy without a message, and all the more moving as a result.

 7) Band of Outsiders

As Godard groped his way around a two-guys-one-girl romance that’s also a caper movie, he chose an languid narrative style, chucking the usual norms of tension so the director could amuse himself. This might make it a tougher sit-through for the uninitiated, and a great delight for those not quite so hung up on pacing. Do The Madison—JLG’s two-minute homage to the great Hollywood dance numbers condenses enough sweetness, Brechtian storytelling and pure movie-star allure to more than make up for any narrative sloth. 

8) A Woman Is A Woman

Here’s that two-guys-one-girl thing again, in Godard’s first color and Cinemascope frames. He revels in both, staging dance and bicycle sequences in studio apartments, and putting Karina in one post-Aubrey Hepburn eye-popping Pop outfit after another. In all these films, JLG demonstrates what cinema might be capable of, how expansive and embracing the shattering of (while always remaining in love with) the old norms could be.

9) Alphaville

In frigid perpetually nighttime Paris, under the blistering glare of fluorescence and the all-seeing eye of a totalitarian future, seamed-face B-movie icon Eddie Constantine arrives from the ’40s to bring amour back to France. Featuring the funniest chase sequence and chicest executions ever filmed, Godard lays his heart on his sleeve in high-contrast black and white, finding the secret engine of all noir (and little science fiction): love.

 10) Sympathy For the Devil

Chic? Try the Rolling Stones painstakingly building their song verse by verse, failed attempt by failed attempt, take by take. Or endless shots of the back of Brian Jones’ blonde head or looping mad circles around the studio or Bill Wyman’s ridiculous purple outfit. Intercut this with black radicals passing rifles back and forth in auto-graveyards while reading aloud from Soul On Ice. What does it mean? What does ‘meaning’ mean? While steadfastly having no idea, I can tell you just as steadfastly that the closing sequence, which is as free of meaning as any in Godard, will make you weep. Ominously, Anne Wiazemsky runs all around London putting up agit-prop graffiti, foreshadowing Godard’s leaving the ’60s and narrative, way behind.

 

Thursday
Oct072010

BUT FOR WHAT YOU ARE NOT: 13 MOST BEAUTIFUL...ANDY WARHOL SCREEN TESTS

13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests, Dean & Britta, Los Angeles Film Festival, Ford Amphitheatre, June 30, 2009

It’s impossible to watch  Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests without comment. As Pauline Kael said of Godard, the Tests turn an audience into film critics. And art critics, amateur shrinks, and fabulosity deconstructors.

Shot in two and a half minutes, and projected over four in Warhol’s slow playback method, the Tests are unblinking cinematic portraits of subjects told to “sit still and not blink.” By dictate, they do almost nothing. Lou Reed fondles and drinks from a beautiful mid-’60s Coke bottle and Baby Jane Holzer languorously, mischievously brushes her perfect teeth. That’s it. Everyone else stares back at the camera or into the middle distance or who knows where they’re gazing behind their impenetrable shades?

Those omnipresent shades (Lou rocks some fine wraparounds, Billy Name prefers big pilot-style Ray-Bans) are no less opaque than the portraits themselves. Cinema, portraiture, animated furniture—like so many Warhol films from this period, theTests just is. Though nothing happens in their content, their presence alters the molecules around them. They prove entrancing, tedious, inspiring, and fabulous: lost artifacts, gleaming communiqués rooted in a quite specific period and—if you knew no backstory—from no time at all.

Something in their stillness makes the mind race. Among the notions evoked: that Warhol imparts so much glamour and gravitas to his subjects it becomes impossible to tell who was famous/important/creatively productive and who was just hanging out; that methamphetamine—the Factory drug of choice—gave everyone the most razor-sharp cheekbones; that  the women’s hairstyles so incarnate this era (1964–66) that one can practically identify the month and week of the shoot.

It’s oddly difficult to keep these notions to oneself through the almost endless four minutes that each portrait hangs, as it were, projected on a massive screen raised behind the stage of the 1929-era, cozily outdoor Ford Amphitheatre. And so the woman in front of me whispered her insights pretty much continually into the ear of her apparent boyfriend. Didn’t bother me—she spoke so softly that I never heard a word she said. But suddenly, about halfway through,  a classic little old lady  (classic in the L.A. style, which meant severe pedal-pushers, cool sneaks and a little sweater) popped across the center aisle from three rows down to shush the whispering woman. The chastened whisperer turned ’round to me—dunno why—to share outrage and surprise and I told her: “You’re the first person I’ve ever seen shushed at a rock-and-roll show.” When folks in L.A. are told they’re witnessing Fine Art, apparently they’re compelled to behave like they’re in a museum or at the opera. Or, more accurately, at a funeral. The shushing should have felt discordant and incongruous. But incongruously, it did not.

The gargantuan screen, the opiate Tests, the sweet L.A. evening air and the naively reverential audience generated a weird denial. Denial of the fact that Dean (Wareham, formerly leader of Luna) and Britta (Phillips, his romantic and artistic partner, formerly of Luna,  co-star of the 1988 chick-band flick Satisfaction with Justine Bateman, Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts, and the singing voice of the animated heroine Jem) were onstage below the screen, rocking out, along with guitarist/keyboardist/bassist Matt Sumrow and drummer Jason Bemis Lawrence.

D & B were determined not to upstage the Tests. They did not want the film projected over them (like the Warhol films which poured over the Velvet Underground during the Exploding Plastic Inevitable), and so played in darkness, dwarfed by the static but constantly moving images over their heads.

Maybe because of outdoor venue noise ordinances, or an opera being performed live right across the Hollywood Freeway, at the Hollywood Bowl, the band rocked at a subdued volume. Though even in clubs Dean & Britta seldom shatter ears, here they sublimated themselves to the Tests, seeking music and presentation that formed a harmonious whole. They succeeded to an astonishing and transcendent degree.

A while back, the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh asked Dean & Britta to compose a score for a live show of the Tests. Warhol used to put Tests together for parties under the rubric of “The 13 Most Beautiful;” D & B honored that number. Dean went to Pittsburgh and watched over 150 tests. He took “between 30 and 40” home. He and Britta were at first intimidated into procrastination, then began to study the Tests with care as they narrowed their choices. The final selection took months. At one point D & B were watching dueling Lou Reed Tests simultaneously, trying to suss which seemed the most Lou-esque.

Dean said in interviews that he wanted “people who were at the Factory (Warhol’s headquarters on West 47th Street) every day.” He found even the most stunning one-offs, like Bob Dylan, to be less representative of the time and place, and of the soul of the Tests themselves. Dean and Britta finally chose to project and to compose original music for the Tests of Edie Sedgwick, Dennis Hopper, Paul America, Susan Bottomly, Ann Buchanan, Freddy Herko, Jane Holzer, Billy Name, Richard Rheem, Ingrid Superstar, and Mary Woronov.

For the radiant, doomed, terrifying Nico, the band played Bob Dylan’s ode to the blonde singer/model/femme fatale, “I’ll Keep It With Mine,” which features a couplet that could speak of everyone in the show:

“I’m not loving you for what you are / But for what you’re not…”

For the utterly I-don’t-give-two-shits Lou Test, they played a quite recently discovered Velvet Underground original “I’m Not A Young Man Anymore." Though the original’s a White Light-era VU rave-up, D & B rave more quietly, and demonstrate how perfectly their post-Luna sounds accompany the Tests.

As the Tests become animated paintings or furniture, neither wholly plastic art nor cinema, D & B’s music becomes dreamscape. After no more than a minute, the Tests morph into the view out of a moving car’s window onto an empty, desolate land that barely changes mile to mile, but somehow remains hypnotic. The score—sometimes meandering, sometimes howling with pain, sometimes funereal—proves rich in thematic material and functions as both the car and whatever’s on the radio during that unchanging 10-hour day behind the wheel. As one looks at the Testsand drinks them in without actually seeing, so the music permeates and nourishes without conscious listening.            

The D & B visits the early Velvet Underground, show a strong Leone influence, recreate the sonic-scapes of (Wareham’s first band) Galaxie 500-ish noodling, and even put the pedal to the metal. But in keeping with the we’re-watching-art-now-please vibe, only one person in the Amphitheatre—me —showed any head-nodding, foot-tapping physical response to the music, and that included the band.

Dean set up most of the Tests by telling a little story about each’s subject. He told most, Britta told a couple. When Britta spoke of Ingrid Superstar’s real name, Dean corrected her onstage with much greater tact and ease than Britta utilized in gesturing tempo corrections at the drummer, which she did in no uncertain terms about every other song. Wareham is disconcertingly disengaged, or deadpan or catatonic, depending on your view. Rather than the spacey, dazed dislocation of David Byrne, which convinces the observer that he spent his formative years going around and around inside his mom’s dryer, Dean’s blankness seems to spring from simple natural cool. He spoke in a bemused monotone, and Britta responded to his correction as if they were sitting around their hotel room eating room service. It was a deeply Warholian exchange.

Dean and the other guys in the band dressed like indie rock schlubs, which in L.A.is a reach for anti-fashion cred. In most videos and photos, Wareham’s a bit of a clothes-horse, so his baggy pants and nondescript black oxfords were a surprise. Britta sported the Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth bass-player) uniform with ease: a shiny black mid-60s-evoking minidress and what seemed to be—under the dim stage lights—white thigh-highs and delicate to-the-minute evening sandals. Gordon, despite her I-will-kick-your-ass androgyny, seems softened by her chic, more accessible. As if Britta wasn’t already intimidating and cooler than thou (or certainly me), her oh-I-dress-like-this-all-the-time attitude, ethereal vocals, and willfully adorable faux-naïve keyboard riffs kicked her onto some otherworldly plane of can’t-touch-this-ness.

The most moving moment of the evening came when Dean spoke—like the coolest camp counselor ever at campfire story time—of Factory regular Freddy Herko, a dancer who gave up his career to shoot speed and live in a closet. One Sunday, people gathered for brunch in the fourth-floor walk-up loft that contained Freddy’s lair. Someone put on a Mozart Mass; as it peaked, Freddy emerged naked from the closet, dancing across the room. The Mass climaxed and Freddy, in one perfectly extended galvanic leap, soared right out the window to his death on the sidewalk below.  As Freddy’s chiseled cheekbones flashed black and white against the L.A. night sky, the band played a gentle, murmuring dirge.

Friday
Oct012010

THE BRUTAL FUTURISM OF GODARD'S PAST 

2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle 

Jean-luc Godard lost interest in classical narrative structure about the same time he quit caring about the problems of men. In his early films, still exploring archetypes from cinema’s past, Godard depicted men who died (physically, spiritually, morally) imitating the onscreen icons of their upbringing. Cleansed of that struggle his own self, JLG turned from the problems of men to the problem of masculinity. That did not include profession or being a warrior or a father. Instead, he asked how does a man make the woman he loves fall and stay in love with him. Like Eric Rohmer, Godard has little doubt about the answer to that question: he can’t. At least, not intentionally.

Having dealt with men, movies and masculinity in ‘65’s Alphaville and Pierrot le fou, and finished with modern romance by ’66’s Masculin,féminin, (a period of creative output to rival Bob Dylan’s, only without the amphetamines) Godard turned to women. The dissonance between their social/sexual power and their political/economic oppression became the prism through which he viewed societal ills. Capitalism was foremost, with Vietnam and the consumerism-driven loss of the soul right behind.JLG’s favorite repeating metaphor for this tension—manifest by the lead character in 1966’s 2 ou 3 choses que je sais d’elle—is prostitution.

Based on a non-fiction article in Le Nouvelle Observateur, 2 Or 3 Things follows a young mother who turns tricks—at the urging of her mechanic husband—to pay for their apartment in the soulless, newly-built, high-rise suburbs surrounding Paris. We first meet Marina Vlady, the lead actress, facing the camera as Godard whispers in voice-over: “Is her hair dark auburn or light brown? I can’t tell. Now she turns to the right—it doesn’t matter.” Godard whispers throughout the film, reminding us that an entire world of thought, politics, culture and assumption surround the story-telling.

Though story meant increasingly less to JLG—except as a chariot for his theoretical notions—here the human moments are perfectly observed, moving and never driven by plot necessity. It’s a measure of Godard’s influence that his fragmented narrative—interrupted by long shots of consumer products, epic tableau of building construction and meandering portraits of cars in traffic—proves easy to follow. Forty years ago it might have been confusing. Since then, the larger world of cinema has not caught up to Godard, but it has cannibalized what it can digest.

2 or 3 Things stands as the end of Godard’s classical period and the beginning of his more fragmented, primarily political, Brechtian, post-modern work. It also marks the height, until recently, of Godard’s adoration of visual beauty for its own sake. 2 or 3 Things is astonishingly beautiful. Given that many of the loveliest shots feature unlovely subjects—mostly suburban sprawl—it’s hard to discern now whether Godard sought a Brutalism/Futurist appreciation for the oppressive architecture of social fascism, or if he expects us to find it ugly. He doesn’t seem to find this new world lacking in seduction.

The film moves from parody (Vlady’s husband listening to Lyndon Johnson declare his intention to bomb Moscow) to social essay: Vlady works in a brothel featuring a day-care center and customers paying with consumer goods. “All I have is cat food,” Vlady’s trick mutters. “Will that do?” He adds his can to pile.

Interspersed are exquisite panorama of construction scenes, massive freeways and blank skyscrapers, evoking the framing, composition and just plain weirdness of William Eggleston. (That is, they evoke Eggleston now. 2 or 3 Things appeared a decade prior to Eggleston’s MoMA debut.) Godard’s genius cinematographer, Raoul Coutard (Jules et JimLe MéprisWeekend), captures the oppression and machine-made sensuality of this alien universe: a robins-egg-blue dump truck jerking back and forth, the unbearable weight of a freeway hovering over the workers beneath, a slow pan across a horizon of glass and steel.

Because it stands with Le Mépris as Godard’s most beautiful, cinematographic and profound film—and because its modernity is both Pop and so of any age—this brand-new, remastered 35mm print is a revelation (new, more idiomatic subtitles have also been added). The Pop seduction of consumerism is explored via garish shots of detergent, the inside of electronic devices and construction cranes made ominous and sexual. Unlike the winter-cold irony of Alphaville or the snotty affection of Masculinfeminn3 or 2 offers an early glimpse of the exquisite heartache that so informs Godard’s more recent works, like 2001’s In éloge de l’amour and 2004’s Notre musique. Godard cuts between moments crammed with banal dialogue and ambient-sound dioramas of a new city being noisily created. He finds his poetry in the spaces between these moments/shots, and the irresistible horror/beauty of the industrial maelstrom as only Godard could perceive it. He creates an ineffable, purely cinematic poetry, where there is no accounting for the powerful emotions his juxtapositions provide. The impulse to become over-analytical is a by-product of sitting through any Godard picture. But 2 Or 3 Thingsis the rare Godard film in which the emotions hit harder and linger longer than the ideas. As always, he’s witty as hell. As one montage makes you ache, another makes you laugh aloud.

Contemporaneous critical writing insisted that Godard was determined to shatter filmic narrative convention. Forty years after 2 or 3 Things’ initial release, it’s clear that Godard simply replaced classic structure with his own—more emotionally driven—pacing, plot and emphasis. He may not longer care about what-happens-next, but he puts two images together with an awareness of their power, and, more importantly, of the resonance their montage creates. Nobody thinks like Godard, nobody cuts like him, nobody lets ideas carry emotion and emotion carry ideas as he does. With, like, ninety films made and who knows how many more to come, it’s tough to claim that one is his finest. But there is one you must not miss, one that must be seen on the big screen. This is it.

There’s No Aggression
Like Passive Aggression
Climates

Film Forum Limited Engagement

Nuri Bilge Ceylan may be the least-known of the world’s four or five greatest directors. Only his 2003 Distant (Uzak) is available on DVD. With Distant, Ceylan proved himself the first clear artistic descendant of Tarkovsky. Using Tarkovsky-like framing and pacing (that is, slooow), Ceylan explored the existential discontents of Turkey’s urban and rural cultures, through a story of an unwelcome country bumpkin coming to visit his sophisticated, emotionally paralyzed Istanbul cousin. Released in 2002, Distant had a tiny domestic theatrical showing in 2004, and was easily the best film of the year. It shares a kinship of look, feel, pacing and melancholy with another outstanding film of that year, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s The Return.

Climates, Ceylan’s new film, focuses more on human connection than a larger cosmic or political theme. Ceylan cast himself and Ebru Ceylan (they are married) as a couple whose love has turned to grinding bitterness. Climates explores how a man who never says what he means drives love away even as he yearns for it daily. Some of the most moving scenes are practically dialogue-free, and all are shot in rich, painterly palette that is Ceylan’s trademark.

A gifted still photographer, he composes a visually nourishing frame that bears the weight of his long, unmoving takes. There are images in this film that no film before has attempted and depictions of relationship moments too familiar to bear. Without a doubt, Climate is the best film of the year.