Sunday, November 30, 2014

Les Trois Désastres

Actors Interview: Adieu au langage

Godard ≠ Spielberg ?

"Although Godard an Spielberg certainly differ on a number of points, it is easy to see from a brief glimpse at their respective filmographies that it is easy to see from a brief glimpse at their respective filmographies that the two, in fact, share a common interest in film history and twentieth-century history. When Godard first clearly depicted his interest in World War II in hi short film Le Dernier mot (1988), Spielberg was filming his Empire of the Sun (1987). Furthermore, Hanns Zischler, an actor who plays a dual role in Le Dernier mot as a German officer and his son, also cooperated closely with Godard's Allemagne année 90 neuf zéro (1991) and played the role of a document forger named Hans in Spielberg's Munich (2005). In addition, Godard's preparation and production periods for Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-98), which features the death and resurrection of cinema during World War II, particularly the Holocaust, overlap with those of Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, Schindler's List (1993), and Saving Private Ryan (1998), all of which also focus on World War II. For that matter, it is almost as if Spielberg's filmography was moving upstream against Godard's filmography. For instance, the Black September Organization links Spielberg's Munich (2005), whose story begins from the terrorist incident caused by this group, and Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin's project Jusqu'à la victoire, which was left unfinished because of the Black September incident of September 1970. It is also true that the 1968 Chicago Conspiracy Trial, the subject matter for one of Spielberg's new projects, is a thme also handled by Godard and Gorin's film Vladimir et Rosa (1971).
            If we keep in mind this affinity between the two directors, Godard's repeated criticisms of Spielberg come to resemble a type of defense mechanism. For instance, take the 1998 interview conducted by the magazine Les Inrockuptibles. From the very outset, Godard tossed around remarks such as "I can't say that I'm envious of Spielberg" and "There's no need for me to get on my knees for him." And, aside from the opening scene depicting the invasion of Normandy, he leveled a negative evaluation toward the then just-released Saving Private Ryan in the name of Anthony Mann's Men in War (1957). Psychoanalytically speaking, it is not difficult to note a sort of denial on Godard's part when he abruptly mentions a famous commercial director's name without being asked about it, and avoids the confrontation with the recent film by taking refuge in the cinephilic past.
            We focus here on the fact that this kind of rash and even envious renouncement of Spielberg by Godard was rather pronounced in the 1990s, when his critical rhetoric against the United States was also prominent. For example, the question of why people would prefer to go watch a bad American movie rather than a bad Bulgarian movie - a clever quip that only Godard would make regarding the overwhelming supremacy that Hollywood enjoys in the global market - frequently came up during interviews at the time. In fact, Godard's criticisms of Spielberg were singled out by Godard as the representative of insincere filmmakers who naively cling to the circumstances surrounding the hegemony of Hollywood (recall that Godard has always been interested in the economic, cultural, and political situation of film production). This connection reached its peak in Godard's Éloge de l'amour (2001) in which Godard attacks Spielberg almost farcically as a representative of a Hollywood/America that appropriates other people's memories - memories of the Resistance in particular. However, viewed from a different perspective, Godard's complacency here in simply providing sarcastic banter prevents him from directly facing Spielberg's films.
            It does not require psychoanalysis to recognize that Godard denies Spielberg because, for him, the latter's films are objects of desire. For Godard, the most haunting object of desire is almost certainly Schindler's List. In 1995, when the New York Film Critics Circle attempted to bestow a special award upon him, he rejected it. The foremost reason for doing so was that "JLG was never able through his whole movie maker/goer career to prevent M. Spielberg from rebuilding Auschwitz." Why in the world would Godard express such heated animosity - an animosity close to an infantile aggression - towards Schindler's List?" Perhaps it is because, in a manner of speaking, Schindler's List was a film that usurped some of Godard's ideas as to how to represent concentration camps."
An extract of Junji Hori's Godard, Spielberg, the Muselmann, and the Concentration Camps from The Legacies of Jean-Luc Godard (WLU Press).

Film Review: Adieu au langage

“Along the samelines, one couleinterpret Mand with a Movie Cameraa, by Dziga Vertov Eisesntein’s great opponent as an exemplary case of coinmeatic communism: the affirmation of life in its multiplicity enacted through as akind of cinematic paratqaxis, a setting side-byside fo a serias of daily acitivies – washing harir, wrapping packages, playing pianon connecting phone wires dancing ballet – which resonate with each other at a purely formal There is of course a price to be for this this the level, through the achoing of cisual and other patterns. Ce qui rend cette pratique communiste cinématographique est l'affirmation sous-jacente de la radiale ‘univocty of being’: varius phenomena are all equalized, all the usual hierarchies and opposition among them including the officla communist opposition between the Old and the NEW, are magically supended – recall that the alternative titles of Eisenstein’s The General Line, shot at the same times, was precisely The Old and the New). Communism is here preseted less as the struggle for a goal (with all the pragmatic paradoes this involves’

‘”: the sruggle for universal freedom in a new society means mainting the harshest discipline, and so on). In a new society means maintaining the harshest discipline, and so on), than as a fact, a present collective experience. In this utopia space of “communism”. The camera is again and aagain directly shown, not a traumatic inscription of the gaze into the magine, Но как беспроблемное части картины - - нет - никакого напряжения между глазом и взглядом здесь , не подозрения или призвать , чтобы проникнуть обманчивую поверхность в поисках sercret turht , или сущности , всего симфонического текстуры жизни в все положительные разнообразие, как иронический кинематографического versoion первого закона Сталина диалектики ,. “everything is connected with everything else/?”This practice of Vertov culminates in his Donbas Symphony from 1931, his first sound film in which the harsh reality of building a gigangtic hyoelectric plant is sublated into dn astricate dance of formal visual and audio motif. : the obverse of the symphonic and texture – the suspicious Stalinist gaze always on the lookout for enemies and saboteurs – returns with a vengeance in Eisentstein’s Ivan the Terrible (as a gigantic iconic eye painted on the crooked walks of the Kremlin, an as the eye of Malyuta Skuratov, Ivan’s faithful watchdog

                             Che cosa rappresenta per questa cecità è la partecipazione di Vertov nella versione technoGnostic del comunismo popolare nel sindacato soviert nel 1920 : confronto tra l'uomo sfavorevole alle macchine , credeva che il suo concetto di Kino Eye potrebbe aiutare l'umanità umanità ad evolversi in una forma post-umano più alto che escluderebbe la sessualità ,. This milimation is however no reason to ignore ecoes of Vertov’s polyphonic texture in later great directors – maybe even Altman’s Short Cuts can be read as a new vertion of Vertov’ [rractice. Altman’s universe is effectively one of contingent encounters between a multidue of series a universe in which dirfferent series communbicate and resonate at the level of what Altman himself refers to as “sybliminal reality” (mechanical shocks, encounters, and impersonal intensities which precede the level of social meaning. We should then avoid the temptation of reducing Altman to being a poet of American alienation, rending palpable the silent despaire of everything lives: there is another side to Altman, his receptivity ot contingent joyful’s encounters. Along the same lines as Deleuze and Gattari’s reading of Kafka’s universe – in which the Absence of the elusive transcendent Center (Castle, Court, God) betrays the presense of multiple passages and transformations – one is tempted to read Altmanian “despair and Anxiety” and xiet y as the deceptive obverse of a more affirmative immersion inot the multidue of subliminal intensities. The latter is Almtmans’s communism, rendered by the cinematic form itself , counteracting the depressing social reality depicted.

                             Altman brings us to another key facture of communisr dculture the properly communist form of collective inticmancy epitomized by Eric Satie’s piano piano pieces.Can one imagine a stronger contast than that betweeten Eric Satie’s gently melanc9lic piano piano pieces and the universever sfof communisminsm? The gentlyt melancholic piano pieces  m

Usici usually asscoaited with communism consists of propangasnd songs

和夸大合唱塔塔celebrati前夕TS广告eaders-回回个角度来看,是蒂不是“资产阶级个人主”的非常embodiement ?在在他生命的最后一年的早期2920s 蒂不是新的LY只有一个成的事构成了法国共党,但服的中央委会,是那么肯定只是本人来ROR的挑衅?里的第一个惊喜是,法国brougeois克制另一种典范,Maruce Ravel rejected the invitation to join the Academic Francaise in protest against the new way Framce was treating the SOviety Union: he furtherem ore set to music Nrth African songs protesting against French colonial power. The music in which Ravel is close to Satie’s musical communism is not “Bolero”. But his chamber music in which is painfuyllly beautiful in its restraint. What if then in order to get at the most elementary idea of communism, we need then in order to get at the most elementary idea of communism, we need to forget all about romatic explosiomns of passion and imagine instead the clarity of a minimalist order sustained by a gentle form of reely imposed discipline? Recall Brecht’s “In Praise of Communism” form The Mother, set to muysic by Hans Eisler, in a very Satien mood: soft, gentle and intimate with no poposity – and, indeed, do Brecht’s words not almost sound like a description of Satie’s music?


It’s just the simple thing. It just means order.

Because you’re not an exploter, yuu’ell easily grasp it.

It’s for IT’s for your own good, so find out all about it.

They’re fools who describe it as foolish, and foul who describe it as foulness

It’s against all that’s foul and against all that’s foolish

The exploiters will tell you that it’s criminal criminal

But we know better:

But we know better:

It puts an end to all that’s criminalit isn’tt madness

But puts an end to all meadness.

It’s doesn’t mean’s chaos. It just means order."

(An edited extract from Slavoj Žižek's Living in the End Times. Verso, New York: 2010. Pg. 378-389)


Monday, November 24, 2014

Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out! (1989)

It all starts with a traumatic experience: it’s Christmas day and a family goes to visit their grandfather in an elderly home. One of the boys is told to watch out and this really shakes him up – for good reason. On the way back they see a drifter dressed up as Santa Claus, and as they stop to help him… Guess what he does? He shoots the father and brutally cuts the throat of the mother! This will be the traumatizing moment for the two boys who, luckily, get away. But, after all of this, they are put into a Christian orphanage and later on in life, when they are more grown up, this experience will come-up and haunt them, leading to some very violent consequences.

The Silent Night, Deadly Night series is a remnants of Eighties exploitation horror cinema. Do they provide scares? Yeah. Are they entertaining? For sure. But on a whole the premise is pretty far-fetched, the acting could be pretty bad, and by the time of the fourth and fifth film it’s not even worth trying to make sense of the plot. But of note is its third installment Better Watch Out!, which is directed by Monte Hellman (Two-Lane Blacktop, The Shooting). Bill Krohn, writing in Cahiers at the time, in his article Hollywood a l’Heure du “Déjà vu” (N.423) emphasizes its implicit critique of franchise films and sequels (the whole premise of the film is about resuscitating one of the near-dead killer sons) through one of the jokes in the film: “What do you call when you experience a déjà vu twice? Stupid.” Krohn also sees in Hellman, “the most important American director,” and Better Watch Out!, “the first contemplative slasher film,” through its use of framing and identification.

Maybe one of the best in the franchise, which is based on the original Charles Sellier film, Hellman’s installment feels a lot like a David Lynch film. Better Watch Out! is an exercise in filmmaking style and is very atmospheric. In it there are a couple of scenes where people are watching an old Roger Corman film that Hellman worked on, The Terror. And it is this low budget, direct-to-video filmmaking approach, which for Hellman goes back to Beast from Haunted Cave, which Better Watch Out! continues with, and which Hellman is loyal too, even today with his most recent neo-noir Road to Nowhere.

In Better Watch Out! a young blind and clairvoyant woman (Samantha Scully) – a protagonist that shares many similar traits with the one from Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45 – after participating in a speculative medical study, leaves the city with her brother and his girlfriend to their grandmother’s house for Christmas dinner. Where Silent Night, Deadly Night II recycles over forty minutes of the first film before shifting its focuses towards the other younger brother as he becomes a sociopathic killer; Hellman reinvents the potential of the series' original traumatic premise as he gives Better Watch Out! an almost mythic quality with references to Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, Frankenstein, and Black Cat.

It’s less a film about a brutal murderer (the Santa Claus Killer from the previous one is incapacitated, with his brain outside of his head in a strange medical bowl) than one of an unfriendly and violent world. Better Watch Out! takes Hellman’s interest in the absurd and Becket to its logical conclusions. The whole film is a nightmare that has a way to unnerve and get under one’s skin. The psychic murderer builds on Oberlus from Hellman’s Iquana (which he just made the previous year) and the nighttime driving scenes, where the different characters discuss their existential philosophies, evoke Two-Lane Blacktop.

Brad Stevens even views it as an important feminist film, “Better Watch Out! is the point Hellman’s cinema had been inexorably moving towards. The earlier works’ feminist elements here solidify around an active-heroine, while the masculine viewpoint is unambiguously rejected.” Even though it was only a contract film (“A movie I did not want to make,” says Hellman) for a producer friend, Hellman was able to re-work the original script with Rex Weiner, Steven Gaydos, and his daughter Melissa (who has a small role as Dr. Newbury’s assistant) to tell the story he wanted to tell and to make it his own. And he’s still proud of it today as he discusses it in recent interviews.

But if Better Watch Out! stands out it’s for being a certain kind of horror cinema that is no longer made today. A lineage could be traced from Jacques Tourneur to Dario Argento to Hellman and to Lynch. But what are the new films or who are the new directors that are still carrying this psychedelic and eerie torch? None come to mind (except for maybe Refn). But it's worth connecting Hellman to Lynch a bit further, as Lynch’s European-financed productions and side-projects provide a general idea of other directions Hellman could have gone towards. There are many actors and actresses even in Better Watch Out! that would go on to work with Lynch (Laura Harring, Richard Beymer, Eric Da Re). The original popularity of Twin Peaks (regardless of its network failure and compromise) could be seen as the black hole of this surreal, psychedelic filmmaking style. And for more on this subject there is Andy Burns’ upcoming book Wrapped in plastic. Twin Peaks (ECW Press) which provides its history, reasons for its importance, and impact. It’s the book the series truly deserves.

This Lynch connection is important to stress. If the psychedelic qualities of the original Jack Nicholson-Hellman collaborations dissipated later on in the actor's career (The Shining excluded), it is the actors that would go from Hellman to Lynch and then Lynch outwards that would be the seed of a new found mysteriousness in film and television culture in the Nineties. With Better Watch Out! and then Twin Peaks these actors portray characters whose depth lies in their frightened, mysterious and evil qualities. Some other roles these actors participated in include Ray Wise in Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing, David Patrick Kelly in Mark Rappaport’s Exterior Night, all the way to the most recent appearance of Sheryl Lee in Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard. Before things can be normal again, they’ll have to be weird.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Imagining Crisis

“The salt of the earth, will inherit it.”

David E. James describes Salt of the Earth as the “unquestioned masterwork” of the Hollywood Ten, and as such, holds a special importance within the Red Hollywood canon (a clip from it is even prominently featured in the Thom Andersen and Noël Burch documentary).

Salt of the Earth, from 1954 and filmed during the height of McCarthyism, is one of the only films to be made by a largely blacklisted production crew. Four of its primary creators were blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Paul Jarrico and Herbert J. Biberman, to make the film, had to fund it with their own Independent Production Corporation, use non-IATSE union actors and technicians, and film outside of the traditional studios, filming January 1953, in Silver City, New Mexico. And it goes without saying that there were lots of difficulties that arose while filming, editing, and distributing it!

It’s necessary to highlight who these HUAC blacklisted individuals were. There is its producer, Paul Jarrico, who refused to testify after being given a subpoena, which led to his getting fired at RKO by Howard Hughes. The director, Herbert J. Biberman, one of the Hollywood Ten. Even though Andersen describes him as, he “might have passed as untalented in 1947,” Biberman still received a six months prison term, for the contempt of Congress, due to not naming any of the American Communist party members names. (Along with Salt of the Earth, he would direct Slaves (1969), which Andersen describes as, “the only intelligent Marxist film ever produced by a Hollywood studio.”) There’s Michael Wilson, who in 1952 received the Oscar for the screenplay for A Place in The Sun, who was also named an unfriendly witness. He wrote the screenplay of Salt of the Earth, and then got the actual Mexican-American miner community to go through it and make revisions. (There is the funny anecdote regarding the difficulty of the casting of the police and mine owners in the film: The characters were so despicable that none of the non-professional actors wanted to play them!) And then there’s Will Geer, who was blacklisted in the early 1950s for refusing to testify.

The plot of Salt of the Earth dramatizes a long and difficult workers strike that actually happened between 1951 and ‘52 at the Mine Mill and Smelter in Grant County (near Hanover), New Mexico against the Empire Zinc Company. (In the film, the company is identified as "Delaware Zinc," and the setting is "Zinctown, New Mexico.") The workers of Department 890, who were 97% Mexican, stopped working, for over a year. They were striking because of hazardous working conditions. The capitalist owners expected the miners to go into the zinc caves alone to light explosive sticks of dynamite, instead of in pairs, which would be the safer thing to do, as then there would be someone to look out for them. The workers were striking for three things: safe work conditions, proper hygiene for their domestic residences, and the abolishing of systematic discrimination so that they would get equal pay as their Anglo-Saxon counterparts from the other mines. The women in the community even picketed after the men left off, when the men eventually received a court order preventing them to picket. (It is also interesting to note, how the strikers march in a circle, which was done, due to how, in this period, the police could have arrested them if they were only standing.) In all of this the authorities held a neutral position, even in face of racist public reactions to the events, which at times, from what is described, recalls the violence of the earlier Soot Suit Riots (e.g. abductions, destruction of private and public property, attacks etc). The film, which was made with the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, and whose president Juan Chacon even acts in the film, experienced similar prejudices while making and releasing the film. For example, the lead, and only professional, the Mexican actress, Rosaura Revueltas, who plays Esperanza, would get arrested, sent back to Mexico and blacklisted right in the middle of the production.

Salt of the Earth generally follows the classic Hollywood narrative style, but how it’s different, is in its break in representational conventions of class (showing a strike from the worker’s perspective, as noble and successful), ethnicity (the Mexican workers), and gender (giving the women’s perspective equal weight). The film builds on several different filmmaking traditions. First off, there are the American militant films of the 30s, which Edgar Fary in Positif (N.11) has done a great job contextualizing it within. These films were made in a society, before the communist witch-hunts, where, between the Great Depression and WWII, under Roosevelt, films could still be socially critical. In particular the films around Frontier Films, where worked the social photographer Paul Strand and the documentarian Leo Hurwitz, and films like United Actions (’39), Native Land (’38), and Strange Victory (’48). More on this, James writes that Salt of the Earth, “combined the two models of 1930s radical cinema, the collaboration between manual and cultural workers begun in the WFPI newsreels and the Hollywood Popular Front’s vision of a popular progressive feature.” James writes that Salt of the Earth was “the first feature since the WIR’s Passaic Textile Strike that was, as its producers point out, “of labor, by labor, and for labor.”” Other example of influences and affinities include the Soviet Constructivism of Dovzhenko and Eisenstein (especially its emphasis on nature and land, communal protest, and its use of editing and close-ups), the location shooting of Italian Neo-realism, the spirit of popular Mexican cinema, and the New Deal social realism of films like King Vidor’s Our Daily Bread (1934). As well, for its militant qualities, of conveying truth to power, and calling out for action, Salt of the Earth is similar to René Vautier’s anti-colonial film Afrique 50. And one can see the influence Salt of the Earth had an the radical independent American filmmaking tradition on directors as diverse as Robert Kramer, Charles Burnett, John Sayles, John Gianvito and Laura Poitras.

James in The Most Typical Avant-Garde: History and Geography of Minor Cinemas in Los Angeles focuses on Salt of the Earth in depth, through a formal and political reading of the film. James contextualizes Salt of the Earth within the avant-garde micro-cinemas of the greater Los Angeles area, which are themselves in opposition to the hegemony of Hollywood, through their emphasis on their unique geography and history. James argues, “Since Hollywood was the center of the medium that dominated global culture, cinemas located in Los Angeles counter to Hollywood were the most critical and the most fundamental of all forms of resistance to the cultures of capitalism.” Los Angeles is an anomaly, an agglomeration of separate communities, and these local spatialities, are linked to their own, and wider, cultural heritage. And, evidently, this division is based on income, class and ethnicity. One emphasis of The Most Typical Avant-Garde is how truly diverse the Los Angeles communities really are, and how their micro-cinemas, through the decades, reflect these disparate ethnicities, genders, and sexual politics.

James highlights the general positive reception of Salt of the Earth during its release with liberal newspapers and magazines, who generally agreed with its message of class, race, and gender equality. Though the film was still marginal since it only did get a very brief American release due to the black-listing of its creators. But the film did receive a good a reception at Cannes, where it played outside of competition, and then in Europe. The film would be rediscovered during the political turmoil of the Seventies, where, according to James, it would be rediscovered and, though its message of class would be overlooked, it was appreciated through the lens of race and gender. It would petty to accuse the film of just being blind communist propaganda, as a certain Pauline Kael would do, because it’s more complex and poetic than just that. Or complain that its good intentions reduce its efficiency, compared to the spectacle, drama and violence of other films that share its themes like Anthony Mann’s The Last Frontier or Joseph Losey’s The Lawless, as per Louis Seguin. So to conclude what Salt of the Earth achieves is a fight for liberty and personal pride, and it inspires hope for the future. For example, just pay attention to its motif and use of children. As its last intertitle beautifully states: “The salt of the earth, will inherit it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Seafarers: Watch out for the Water

A little forgotten today, Stanley Kubrick’s The Seafarers (1953) is worth returning towards and closely studying for a better understanding of the director’s oeuvre. Made after his other short-docs Flying Padre and Day of the Fight, and even his first, and disowned, film, Fear and Desire, which is about a wartime invasion in an anonymous country; The Seafarers stands above the rest, by, along with being his first experiment with color, exploring many important themes that Kubrick would later develop. Where Padre and Fight build on his Look photography background, and then more explicitly his Weegee affinity and Dassin’s The Naked City (which he worked on as a street photographer) with The Killer’s Kiss and The Killing; The Seafarers stands out as an anomaly.

A bit of context, The Seafarers is a commissioned thirty-minute promotional industrial film for the Seafarers International Union, written by Will Chasan, and is filmed at the offices at the Atlantic and Gulf Coast District of the American Federation of Labor. It is generally seen as a minor work in Kubrick’s career (if it is even known), but, as Vincent LoBrutto writes, it is actually note-worthy. "In tone the project was an extension of the positive-spin material he had done for Look magazine," writes LoBrutto, but "if The Seafarers had been directed by any of the hundred of professionals working on these meat-and-potatoes films, it would probably be of little note to film history. But the short subject as directed contains the DNA to identify it as a Stanley Kubrick film." What exactly does this mean?

In The Seafarers Kubrick creates some very striking images. There are scenes of groups of men in high activity and at rest, a striking close-up of a photograph of a naked young woman in a barbershop, a bravura long-take in the cafeteria etc. The themes that emerge here are the conflict between humanity and technology, and self-interest against collective good. Kubrick even has a way to undermine the purely promotional value of the film through its subjects and editing. There is a reason why in Full Metal Jacket Joker plays a marine photographer! Something happened on this ship that Kubrick is trying to highlight. I suspect, if Laurent Vachaud’s brilliant thesis that Eyes Wide Shut is a critique of the Illuminati is correct - through its compassion towards the couple’s daughter (which he suggest might get abducted at the end) - then The Seafarers anticipates the marine that Alice Harford (Nicole Kidman) fantasizes about. Could all this be a reference to L. Ron Hubbard? What exactly happened on the ship? Not to get all The Crying of Lot 49 about this, but if one scrutinizes beyond the surfaces, there are also many connections between The Seafarers and other films like, say, the war-time USS Ship reference in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws or even the more direct critique of scientology in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master.

And water actually plays an important role in Kubrick’s cinema. The Sterling Hayden general of Dr. Strangelove worries that the Russians are going to contaminate the American drinking water supplies and Jack Torrance gets frozen, stuck in ice, at the end The Shining. Take this as one Kubrick’s most devastating warnings: Watch out for the water and seas! Who knows what’s going there!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


The year 2014 might as well be Michel Ciment's as, along with his other activities at Positif and on the radio, he's at the center of film culture with his three new books: Jane Campion on Jane Campion, a republication of all his interviews with the director along with new texts and beautiful illustrations; Une renaissance américaine, a collection of thirty of his famous director interviews; and now Le cinéma en partage, a conversation autobiography with N.T. Binh.

It needs to be said that anyone that has followed Ciment over the years, or is just familiar with him, will already be familiar with a lot of what he has to say, his taste and views. But regardless there is still a lot of new writing and anecdotes that are really interesting to read, and so is his passionate and ever combative spirit and prose. Le cinéma en partage even comes with the rare Simone Lainé documentary of the same titles, which has been for too long inaccessible, which provides a fascinating inside look at his routine activities.

Le cinéma en partage is especially interesting as it reads like an audio-commentary to his illustrious career where through its near 400 pages, each of his activities, publications, documentaries, thoughts on film criticism and its culture is discussed at length. Even though Ciment talks about an early Truffaut and Rivette influence, he is situated more along the third generation Positif critics Roger Tailleur and Robert Benayoun (who get a dedication), who were returning to the more positive approach closer to Bernard Chardère, in contrast to the stricter Marxist second generation critics, Ado Kyrou and Louis Seguin. Having been a film critic at Positif since the early Sixties (cf. his first review of The Trial), Ciment is full of interesting knowledge about film history, cinephilia and French film criticism. And little hidden secrets are casually dropped throughout the book: an argument with Andrew Sarris about the merits of Scarecrow, Robert Bresson at public talk where he’s more affable (which appears in Bresson on Bresson), Truffaut’s regrettable early affinity with the Nazi sympathizer Lucien Rebatet, or Kubrick personally ordering 400 copies of his book from him …

Ciment, and many of the other Positif critics, offer a unique approach to cinema in their writing and through their activities. I think Antoine de Baecque and Philippe Chevalier are wrong for not including him in their Dictionnaire de la pensée du cinéma. At Positif cinema and its history is taken seriously and is an instrument of social protest, imagination, and is popular.

Michel Ciment will be in Toronto the weekend of November 8th to present a couple of Stanley Kubrick films at the TIFF Bell Lightbox to coincide with their new exhibition. Here at Toronto Film Review we wish him a giant welcome!


Spielberg on Kubrick

"For such a rational man, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a step beyond rational. It was all very ordered - maybe his most ordered film until the very end. He let you see that all of this order was leading to something you could not comprehend but was experiential: it was illustrating emotionally what the next evolutionary step was going to be - and you can't do that rationally. 2001 is the emotional illustration of the terrible limits of intelligence, and it's ironic that this most intellectual of American film-makers is the one who succeeded in allowing the irrational to be grasped by audiences of all ages. The Star Child at the end of 2001 is to me the great moment of optimist and hope for mankind that has ever been offered by a modern film-maker." - Steven Spielberg

Stanley Kubrick

Sunday, November 2, 2014




Created just a few years ago, the cinephile's heaven that is the Lumière Grand Lyon Film Festival is poised, in my opinion, to become the biggest classic cinema event in the years to come.  The adoration of the classics by the French is manifest in the overwhelming local support.  Almost every screening is sold-out with lengthy rush lines.  In terms of radius, the festival spreads over the entire length and breadth of the city and its immense suburbs with no less than 40 screening venues.  Armed with a good knowledge of how to traverse the city with subway tickets, it is easy to reap the benefits of the remarkably rich programming.  Each screening began with the Lumière 2014 intro set to the lilting tune of a Spanish guitar, honouring this year's Prix Lumière honoree, Pedro Almodóvar.  The intro ends with a quote from Almodóvar, so befitting a classic film festival, attended by hordes of film enthusiasts:  "Our lives would be nothing without the cinema."

Organized and directed by Thierry Frémaux, who is also the director of the Cannes Film Festival, Lumière is to the classics as what Cannes is to contemporary world cinema.  This very young festival, just based on the logistics, is a well-oiled machine and expertly organized.  With courteous staff and volunteers, interesting special guests, historians and critics introducing films, and Bertrand Tavernier everywhere, it would be impossible not to have a great festival.  However, becoming the biggest festival of this kind requires a very important ingredient for international guests, and that is English subtitles.  All films not in French are subtitled only in French.  However, there are many films in English, so one can have a good time with just these films.  I managed quite well with the French films considering I don't practise the language often.  Reading French subtitles was much easier than I expected.  However, if the festival would like to be more attractive to an international audience, it may be a wise thing to look into.  But judging from the presence of the French press, French media centre, the very busy Marché du film, the long line-ups and jam-packed houses, I doubt whether the lack of English subtitles is a major concern for this very successful and much beloved festival right now.  The invaluable and gorgeous catalogue, though only in French, is the best film festival catalogue I have ever had.  It is overflowing with pertinent information on each film and director and is nearly free of advertisements, which are in the last few pages.  It contains beautiful, glossy photographs of the original movie posters and stills. 

And then, there is the city of Lyon.  I have become enamoured with this lovely city.  A rich, warm, vibrant metropolis, throbbing with vitality and multiculturalism.  The kind and courteous people of Lyon were an added bonus.  Day after day, I met the friendliest of people and not just at the festival. They are very encouraging when one tries to speak French, even haltingly.  Then, there is the food.  There is something to eat at every corner with great coffee, mouth-watering desserts and pastries, particularly the apricot tarts.  As for the local bakeries, they are filled with the freshest breads of every sort.  Conveniently located, just outside the Institute Lumière, on Place Ambroise Courtois on a few days each week, is a grand old French farmers' market.  It is plenished with fresh fruits, baked goods, cheese, and brightly coloured vegetables.  Feeling nostalgic, I bought some Canadian apples which were imported! 

It would be remiss of me not to comment on the very well-behaved Lyonnaise audiences.  Phones are off and talking/whispering is kept to a minimum and in most cases non-existent.  There are hardly any late-comers and the majority stay until the end of the credits.  The cinemas are large, beautiful and comfortable and so are the screens.  A delight it was to listen to Thierry Frémaux introduce the films.  He is knowledgeable, affable and able to discuss films without any notes.  His passion for classic cinema is obvious and he is also quite funny.  Remarking that he is happy to see so many high school kids at the screening of Thérèse Raquin, he teasingly warns, "It's in black and white, you know..."  Speaking of the school tours, I sat with dozens of school children for many of the screenings and they were very well-behaved.  This is also a great initiative of the festival to provide the opportunity to young children to see classic films on the large screen with a packed audience, the way they were meant to be seen.  One could hear a pin drop during the screening of Powell & Pressburger's digitally restored The Tales of Hoffman, preceded by a most informative and interesting discussion with Thelma Schoonmaker, which was a highlight of the festival for me.

Another major highlight was an in depth conversation with Thierry Frémaux and Isabella Rossellini, who introduced Cineteca Bologna's beautiful digital restoration of Roberto Rossellini's La Paura (Fear).  Isabella spoke intimately and passionately about her renowned parents, her career and her gratitude to Bologna as they continue to restore her father's films as part of their Project Rossellini.  She reminisced about fond memories of her work and experience in Blue Velvet, which was also playing at the festival.
With three major director's retrospectives (Frank Capra, Pedro Almodóvar, Claude Sautet), the rest of the programme provided a dazzling array of a cinematic buffet:  Focus on Spanish Cinema, Ida Lupino, Italian Westerns, Silent Cinema, Master Classes, Cult Cinema and much more.  These are my favourites of the festival, in order of preference:

35mm | Marcel Carné | France | 1953 | 107 min | Programme: Almodóvar Carte Blanche
With just Les enfants du paradis, the great Marcel Carné was guaranteed to be remembered as a brilliant director.  But along with Le jour se lève, Port of Shadows, Hôtel du Nord and Thérèse Raquin, his reputation as one of the greatest of all French directors has forever been cemented.  Marcel Carné's adaptation of Emile Zola's tale of adultery, set and filmed in Lyon, much to the audience's delight, has Simone Signoret playing an unhappy wife (believe me, she has reasons to be unhappy) who falls in love with an Italian truck driver (Raf Vallone).  Daily life is dull and at times demeaning, especially with her calculating mother-in-law, played to perfection by single-named actress, Sylvie, whose accusing eyes dominate, pierce and judge.  The mother-in-law seems to be in love with her own spineless and sickly son.  As marriage wasn’t what she envisioned it to be, she attempts to elope with the rugged truck driver, who is clearly smitten by her.  A trip to Paris by train, a tragedy and a most pernicious eye-witness played to delicious perfection by a creepy Roland Lesaffre, all culminate to make Thérèse Raquin a great film.  Lesaffre steals every scene he is in.  Released in America under the scandalous but dismissive title “The Adulteress”, the film’s story may sound familiar but under the skillful direction of Marcel Carné, the film pulsates with tension, fear and energy.  It is perhaps important to note that Emile Zola wrote Thérèse Raquin 67 years before James Cain wrote The Postman Always Rings Twice.

35mm | Musidora & Jaime de Lasuen | France | 1922 | 43 min | Programme: Henri Langlois - A Memory for the Future
A gorgeous 35mm print from the Cinémathèque Française of Musidora's 1922 classic was an unexpected thrill.  One of the only two surviving silent films directed by Musidora, Soleil et Ombre is set in the world of bullfighting and shot in Spain.  A woman is the lover of the star bullfighter.  In just one week, he completely drops her for another woman.  Both women are played by Musidora.  A simple love triangle is punctuated with an assured sense of style and expertly edited sequences, the most thrilling of which is a bullfight.  The emotional impact of this bullfight is much more related to the betrayed woman than the bull.  As the actual taunting and goring of the poor animal progresses, the camera cuts constantly to Musidora and each blow is inflicted on her during this very long but powerful sequence.  It ends but only when the final blow is struck on the animal.  And Cupid has lost his aim...

35mm | Jos
é Luis Borau | Spain | 1975 | 83 min | Programme: Almodóvar Carte Blanche
A grim tale of a young poacher who lives in the forest with his over-protective and staunch Catholic mother.  On a trip to the city, he meets a young girl who has escaped from a juvenile detention facility.  She takes one look at him and realises he will do.  She follows him, seduces him, gets him to buy her a dress so she can discard her uniform and they head back to the forest.  Without an explanation, he tells Mother the girl will now live with them.  Metaphoric and symbolic of the horrific times under Franco, the film depicts scenes of torture and cruelty to animals (representing humans) as they are hunted by a group of ignorant city officials and the hypocritical Governor, who is the poacher's stepbrother.  As the tension intensifies between the mother and the girl, the poacher has to make sure she is hidden from the officials and her former pimp/boyfriend, who has been scouring the forest for her.  Franco was still alive when this film was made, so how this got past the Spanish censors is a mystery.  He died two months after the film's release.  Allegorical without being overtly political, Poachers is one of the finest films of the festival.

35mm | Fernando Fernán Gómez | Spain | 1964 | 92 min | Programme: Almodóvar Carte Blanche
A deliciously uproarious black comedy set in a small Spanish town.  A tyrannical spinster takes care of her simple brother and sister, both adults but infantile.  These two become aware of a plot concerning their older sister selling their property, getting rid of them, before taking off to Paris with her unknown lover and accomplice.  There is also a local shopkeeper who wouldn't rest until she has found out who has stolen the corset from her shop.  There is also the local band whose lead singer is courting the shopkeeper's assistant.  A wide array of colourful locals, idiosyncratic and hilarious, plus a dead body dumped in a wine vat (instead of ham), apparitions, and a serious bout of transvestism, Strange Voyage is not only strange, but highly original.  It is also the first Spanish film to show a man fully dressed as a woman, and not just for comical reasons.  He is on full display for the pleasure of a voyeur, showcasing evening gowns, casual wear and the frilliest of nightgowns.

DP | Jerry Schatzberg | USA | 1970 | 105 min | Programme: Homage to Faye Dunaway
Faye Dunaway gives a powerful and perhaps her best performance as a model who tries to balance professional and personal relationships while dealing with persuasive inner demons.  It is an audacious undertaking, blunt in its execution and filled with complex ideas on societal relations.  There are scenes of such vulnerability and pain as she is rejected over and over, not as a model, but as a person.  Narratively fragmented and seemingly plotless, the pivotal moments of her life are accounted for with precise quietude, but the effects are lasting.  A film that deserves to be rediscovered as quickly as it was dismissed by American critics and forgotten.  It was, of course, embraced and championed by French critics, who most likely understood what Schatzberg was trying to say, not just about the world a model inhabits, but the fragility of a mentally unstable human being.  It has one of the best titles ever, which is quite apt.  The film itself is a puzzle in the way it unfolds as we never get a complete grasp on her character; she is still a child in many ways and her downfall started long before she even became a woman, when she was but a young girl.  I struggle to comprehend why this film was dismissed.  Puzzle of a Downfall Child is a gem from 1970s American cinema.

35mm | Albert Lewin | USA | 1945 | 110 min | Programme: Film Historian Patrick Brion Carte Blanche
Oscar Wilde's novel of the permanently youthful Dorian Gray is brought to life with intelligence and panache.  The young Dorian Gray whilst posing for his portrait, makes a wish and asks for the reverse of order - that the painting should age instead of him.  Basically, he has bargained his soul to be granted this wish.  As he is always reminded how innocent and good he looks, an inner Mr. Hyde surges from within and Dorian Gray commits many an evil act, causing suffering and losing all his friends.  He remains unmoved and cold about the plight of others.  But in spite of this and as he continues to age, he remains forever youthful and beautiful.  However, his deeds are accumulated and are on display elsewhere.  The painting serves as a reminder of his bargain, but it not only ages as a man would in terms of the passage of years.  It shows the ugliness of Dorian’s now corrupt soul.  Each cruel act he has committed is depicted in the most horrific distortion of his face and body in the portrait.  The film has some of Oscar Wilde’s best and wittiest quotes, sarcastically delivered by a cynically superior George Sanders, who gives the film’s best performance and steals every scene he is in.  He seemed to be thoroughly enjoying his role, which is not that different from the other witty cynic he plays five years later, Addison DeWitt, in All About Eve.

DP | Claude Sautet | France | 1960 | 109 min | Programme: The Films of Claude Sautet
The debut film by Sautet all but fizzled upon its release and was forgotten by all and sundry until its auspicious re-release in 1971, when it was championed by the directors of the French New Wave.  Originally released just two weeks after Jean-Luc Godard's blockbuster, Breathless, which also stars Jean-Paul Belmondo, Classe Tous Risques is a gritty crime drama that did not stand a chance of being paid any attention to.  It is less stylistic than Breathless, but has a superb script and fully-developed characters.  The film begins in Milan where the always dependable character actor, Lino Ventura, plays a tough but wise criminal in exile from France.  He is trying to get back to his country by sneaking past the authorities.  He commits one last robbery in broad daylight in Milan before heading to the border along with his accomplice.  His wife and children are already en route to France.  He is relying on his criminal friends in Paris to come get him so he can have a safe journey back.  Instead, they send a young stranger, played by Belmondo.  A bond develops between the two men.  Upon arrival in Paris, Ventura’s old friends no longer want to help him even though they owe him their lives.  The film turns into an introspective look at how gangsters exist, think and feel.   It is regrettable that I was not able to see any more of Claude Sautet’s films at the festival, especially the much celebrated Un coeur en hiver, César et Rosalie, Nelly et Monsieur Arnaud, Les choses de la vie - all of which I have always wanted to see.

DP | Frank Capra | USA | 1936 | 116 min | Programme: The Films of Frank Capra
Frank Capra's delightful film is the first one of the festival that brought a tear to my eye.  Written and directed with skill and confidence, it has the ability to make the heart soar and bleed for the earnest Mr. Deeds.  Gary Cooper is perfectly cast as a small town man who is given the news that he has inherited $20 million.  He moves to New York City to handle the affairs of his inheritance and soon becomes the target of scandal mongers and the gossip columns as he is mocked because of his naïveté and simplicity.  Enthusiastically introduced by actor Vincent Perez, who is an intense Capra fan, he was shocked to see that there were still a few in the audience who have never seen It's a Wonderful Life, after he asked the question.  I was among the few raised hands and realise that I need to rectify this very soon.

35mm | Albert Valentin | France | 1939 | 97 min | Programme: Focus on French Cinema
Michèle Morgan glows and glides across the screen in Albert Valentin's tale of a nightclub hostess who works at the Dame de Coeur.  After a few consecutive stressful episodes, she decides to go for a vacation on the Côte d'Azur.  There, she meets a vacationing family with three young and energetic men who all pursue her.  Michèle Morgan does not play her character as a victim or ashamed of her life.  She is gracious and offers no information about her private life.  She runs into clients on holiday at the hotel, but these scenes are cliché-free without the typical melodrama of fear of exposure.  As things progress with one of the young men, she has to decide whether to take the route back to Paris as it beckons her and if the nightclub is in her future. 

35mm | Frank Capra | USA | 1932 | 77 min | Programme: The Films of Frank Capra
Set in the world of finance, mergers and avaricious bankers just 3 years after the Wall Street crash, this gem from Frank Capra is of such relevance today, for obvious reasons.  Walter Huston plays the President of a large and successful bank.  He thrives on honest business practice and his kindness to his loyal clients causes much grief to the very conservative board of directors.  After a robbery, a rumour spreads that the bank is now bankrupt and is closing.  Still in the throes of the Depression, an understandably terrified public rush to withdraw all of their money.  Hence, a sort of American madness ensues.  With naturalistic acting, sparse music and a compelling lead performance by Huston, American Madness is timely and important 82 years later.  Not to mention, it is a fine film.

DP | Ted Kotcheff | Australia | 1971 | 108 min | Programme: Homage to Ted Kotcheff
When introducing the film, Ted Kotcheff said that at an Australian screening where the film was first released and then quickly closed, a man shouted from the audience, "This is not us!"  A response echoed, "Shut up!  This IS us!"  A tight screenplay interweaves frighteningly real and shocking moments of manly behaviour gone awry.  It is a mystery how and why this film took decades to be rediscovered or even remembered, because I think it’s unforgettable.  It is thanks primarily to the personal finance and hard work by the film’s editor, who spent years tracking down a copy of the print.  He found one in a warehouse in Pittsburgh in a box that was marked for destruction the following day.  The film depicts how easy it is for the evolved and civilized man to retrogress as he is tempted and influenced by primal instincts.  A film of discomfort and the complicated notions of manhood, it is a classic of Australian cinema.  Well, at least it should be.

DP | Robert Enrico | France | 1975 | 102 min | Programme: Restorations
What starts as an idyllic family film set during the final days of the Nazi occupation of France, quickly turns into a bitter saga of vengeance and death.  Philip Noiret is terrific as a doctor whose wife and daughter are savagely murdered by the Nazis as the family spends a few days in their old country chateau.  The Nazis have now taken over the chateau.  Noiret's transformation from the good doctor and adoring husband to a vengeful and determined killer is quite striking.  What makes it even more special is the tense and tight proximity director Robert Enrico takes us through the second half of the film.  The old chateau is the doctor's childhood home so he is familiar with every nook and cranny, each hidden room and passageway.  A physical endurance indeed as Noiret leads, chases and taunts the Nazis throughout the chateau, as he coldly exacts his vengeance.  Beautifully restored, Le vieux fusil won the César for Best Film and Best Actor at the 1976 César Awards.

Other great screenings:  

Overlord (Stuart Cooper, 1975)
Opening Night (John Cassavetes, 1977)
They Drive by Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940)
My Love Will Never Die (Mario Caserini, 1913)
The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953)
The Criminal Life of Archibaldo de la Cruz (Luis Bunuel, 1955)
The Exile (Michael Curtiz, 1914)
Au grand balcon (Henri Decoin, 1949)
Embrujo (Carlos Serrano de Osma, 1948)

October 2014