Week End

The deeper I get into Godard’s filmography, the more research and re-watching I have to do in order to understand his films. I want to understand what the characters are talking about, who they are supposed to represent and what Godard is trying to say. Sometimes it can become exhausting. I have this (maybe unfounded) belief that once I finish Godard’s filmography, I will know him better than any other director. But will I really know him? Do I truly understand his films, or do I just understand other people’s interpretation of them? Godard makes me feel stupid.

Week end is one of those films that grab you intellectually and dares you to try to figure it out. Loosely plotted, the story becomes secondary to the individual encounters the couple has during the course of the film. They get stuck in an epic traffic jam that tells more about the people in the traffic jam, then the couple trying to cheat their way through it. Giving up all hope that they will ever move, people play chess with each other, toss a ball around and just lay about on the adjoining field. They express no desire to see what is holding them up, but these ideas don’t get in the way of attacking this couple as they try to sneak their way through the jam. They call them dirty names, grab their hair and fling things at them. They are more upset at these people trying to beat the system then the obviously horrific car crash that is holding them up. This is of course the famous epic tracking shot that has made this film famous.

The couple goes on a type of odyssey in order to inherit the money the girl’s dad left for her. They get hijacked, crash their car, stumble upon other films, kill revolutionary thinkers, casually get raped, listen to people spout worthless political rhetoric while they try to steal food from them, and finally get captured by hippie cannibals. All in their pursuit of cold hard cash.

The couple could care less about anyone who is not a direct help to them. One scene in particular illustrates that. Two people are in a wood dressed in period clothing. They are evidence of another film that Godard may have intended at one point in his career. These two people are spouting archaic philosophy and walking in a circle amongst the woods. The dangerous couple comes upon them after several days of traveling. They need to know where this one place is, but the people talking do not care to notice they are addressing them. Instead they continue to pass a rock back and forth and talk intellectual nothings. The couple gets angry and starts harassing this intellectual curiosity. It results in lighting the woman on fire and watching her burn. The insane selfishness of this couple is bewildering and obviously a critique of the “normal” (aka not political) society.

Saying that this film is a critique on consumerist and selfish society is stating the obvious. Godard is not subtle in his commentary even when he is not actually saying anything on the soundtrack. However saying this film is worth watching because of the insanity that this couple goes through and still keeps their money lust and selfish ways is saying something else. Godard is idealistic, and perhaps that is why I like him. Perhaps that is why you should like him too.

 

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It

I love looking at and hanging old photographs. I especially love this book that I rented from my old college library several times that featured women who were in the Ziegfeld Follies during the twenties. More than the films that were eventually produced documenting what the Ziegfeld Follies were, I love hearing about the stories and seeing these beautiful women in sheer clothing creating dance contortions with their bodies. In this book they talk about what the most popular styles for women during the period they are photographing. This was of course the idea of a flapper, but they also mentioned a film from 1927 was wildly popular during its time (and also was one of the films that was cited during the enforcement of the Production Code) was the film “It”. In “It,” a woman (Clara Bow who is gorgeous in this film) who exhibits the best qualities valued in a woman at the time works at a department store where a young beautiful man is poised to take over his family business. She schemes to be in his presence and the man instantly falls in love with her. The reason that he falls in love her is obvious. She is everything that a woman is supposed to be. She is IT. Of course they take the time to define what It is: “self-confidence and indifference as to whether you are pleasing or not.” Misunderstanding drive a wedge between them, but before you discount this film as melodramatic and overwrought, all of the misunderstandings are ironed out and they get together in the end.

I knew I wasn’t going to love this film from the beginning. They bring in every rich guy trope that was probably overdone even then to establish that yes this man is beyond wealthy and every woman wants him. The hero of the film also discusses with his friend the idea of “It” and the articles’ author as if it is one of the most serious articles that have ever been written. They take the article to be some sort of insight into the perfect girl. I found that strange. This film also gives the impression that men propose marriage over the slightest bit of fun they have which is totally not true, even then. She takes you to a carnival and you want to marry her? Really? Come on. (Although that carnival did look really fun. Why don’t have a whirling disc that you sit on until it throws you off anymore? I guess the answer to that is kind of obvious, but still. I want one!)

Clara Bow is a person that I have been interested in for a long time. She is one of the most beautiful people ever to be put to celliod and the directors take full advantage of that fact here. I also would describe her as being far and away the best actor in this film. While everyone else is pantomiming like they are stuck in an invisible box, Clara is fully aware that the lens is right in front of her thus her audience is looking right at her. This is of course forgivable in the other actors’ performances, because they no doubt come from a long tradition of theater that plays to the person in the back row. I also love her playfulness on screen. The scene where she plays with the baby she is helping to look after is one of the best in the film.

Overall this film was a “meh” on the like scale, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone from seeing it. I would just suggest maybe watching better silent films in front of this one. Once you have exhausted the bonified classics, then you can watch this one with my approval. I think only then will you understand its pitfalls and celebrate the camp of the film.

Reflections on the Career of Tarantino

Tarantino is one of my favorite directors. This might sound obvious when I tell you that I am a twenty-something film geek, but I genuinely think that Tarantino is one of the best directors around today. I say this mostly because he still makes films in the way that a lot of other more independent filmmakers do not. In an era when the search for realism dominates the independent film scene (although by strict definitions he can no longer be considered “independent,” he is still left of mainstream and I don’t have a better word to describe him), Tarantino makes film full of fantasy, genre bending and wisecrackery while still staying rooted in a “real world.” He also doesn’t employ these tactics that I described in the sentence before in an obvious way. For example a couple of his more recent films involve revenge fantasy coming to fruition. In Inglorious Basterds, Shosanna takes revenge on Col. Hans Landa and the Nazi regime by burning down a movie theater with Hitler and other vital members of the Nazi regime still in it. This is not something that remotely happened in real life and probably never had a chance to happen, and yet it is the natural progression of Shosanna’s anti-Nazism. You want her to burn down the building, thus saving millions of lives and winning the war against one of the cruelest dictators of all time. There is nothing outlandish about the execution of the plan and there is nothing that would lead to think that she made an unwarranted step. And yet this plot line still fits in nicely with the revenge fantasy genre.

Tarantino’s films on the surface seem to be one type of genre, but he usually employs multiple genres in order to get his desired effect. To take a film like Pulp Fiction and say that it is only a melodrama, blaxploitation with white people rip off is to dilute the film. It is a boxing film, a chase film, a romantic comedy and a crime thriller all rolled into one expertly done film. The same can be said about every other film that he is done.

I also think he is one of the few directors (female or male) who gives actresses a meaty enough role to sink their teeth in. Uma Thurman is not what I would call the best at the whole acting game, and yet I can watch her in Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill Vol. 1 and 2 all day. She is a believable character who is strong on her own. She may have pastor present romantic entanglements with Marcellus Wallace or Bill himself but she wears those entanglements as a given and a motivator to make her a stronger case. In every one of his films (with the obvious exception of Reservoir Dogs) there is at least one female character who is interesting and leaves me wanting more story on the character. I wanted to see Shosanna live at the end of Basterds and go on advocating against Nazism and Holocaust Denial and also re-build her theater. I wanted Zoe Bell to ride more cars.

Tarantino has influenced me beyond any other director out there. He helps me improve my dialogue and to make sure that I relish what the characters are saying as much as what they are doing. He helps me construct strong female characters that pull from multiple genres. He helps me realize that I don’t always have to play towards genre conventions and sometimes I can even invent my own that is a hybrid of other genres. I love Tarantino very very very much.

Nosferatu

When watching silents, it is sometimes hard to seperate a film from its legend. Nosferatu is a film that comes with a lot of baggage. Based on the Dracula story and in fact one of the first vampires to be committed to cellioud, this is considered to be Murnau’s masterpiece. This film got him attention world wide and eventually earned him the right to make big budget silents like Faust and Sunrise. It starred a man who was as weird in real life as he was on the screen. This film inspired so many other films and film movements including most horror films you can think of. How am I to say anything bad about it?

Well actually it is pretty hard to say anything bad about Nosferatu. Max Schrek is lit so well and his costume is complete that he doesn’t need to speak in order to be frightening. Murnau also took out the annoyingly slow parts in the original novel, shrinking the runtime down and making this film actually flow and breath. (unlike that horrible novel. (Seriously, don’t ever read the novel. Bram Stoker was not a good writer or really a writer at all…) He also changed the ending and therefore made vampire history by implying that vampires get killed by sunlight. Let’s just think what it would have been like to never see an irresitable vampire turn into dust or shrivel up… We would have no real way to kill vampires without having to wittle sticks and that would have been lame.

My favorite scene and the scene that sort of stays with the viewer most after the film is over is the ship scene. This is where one of the famous pictures of Nosferatu comes from. He stares down at you from the deck with his hands all out to potentially kill you. I also think that the concept is scary. Knowing that your friends and shipmates are getting killed and there is no one to save you because you are out in the middle of the ocean. All you can do is wait until it is your turn. You know that it is coming from a certain box, but you don’t know what it is or how to stop it. Ugh. That would suck.

I think this is a masterpiece, plain and simple. If you are interested in the history of vampires, I would suggest buying this film and studying it.

Favorite Sketch Shows

I love watching quirky sketch shows. I can just watch them for hours. In fact I do watch them for hours. (I don’t have much going on in my life okay?) I love comedians create characters that come out of their silly little heads in order to make me laugh. I want to make it known that these shows are my personal favorite and not necessarily the objective best sketch shows. (Although I am pretty great at making recommendations, so I feel like these shows are the best in the whole world.) One major omission from my top 5 is going to be Mr. Show. I have not seen this show, but I am working on rectifying that soon enough. Forgive me.

5. SCTV

This Canadian show from the seventies and eighties is legendary. There are many comedic gems that I like returning to again and again. If you look at the show’s IMDB page, you will see that many, many, many famous comedians worked on this show. My favorite is of course John Candy. His physical comedy was a lot more hilarious than Chris Farley. This is a great show to come back to. It gets better and better with more viewings.

4. Little Britain

It is insane sometimes when you watch British sketch shows and you see several characters that are only done by one person. In America you don’t have whole shows based on only two comedians. You can tell that Matt Lucas (who is in Bridesmaids btw) and David Williams work really hard every episode to put together shocking and hilarious sketches. My favorite has got to be Matt Lucas’ version of a British teenage girl. (Yeah, but no, but yeah!)

3. The State

This show is what inspired this top 5. I have always meant to catch up with this show, but I just never got around to it. I am so glad I finally saw all of it. (By the way I watched every disc in the space of two days. You are so jealous.) I have a deeper appreciation for Michael Ian Black and the rest of the crew who went on to do bigger things (like Reno 911 and becoming a director and stuff) My favorite sketches are smooth guys who like pudding and say things like Oh Yeah and Michael Showalter’s Doug “I’m outta heeerrreee.”

2. Monty Python’s Flying Circus

How can I not like this show? It may have been my parents’ generation, but every once in a while that may mean a sense of quality. (But most of the time, things my parents liked when they were younger means that I avoid them like that horrible plague in the Middle Ages. Remember that Plague? Yeah my parents’ taste is worse.) Their insane animations (animated by one of future’s most insane film directors.), their constant ability to make men dressed in drag funny, and their constant play on words make them a nerdy favorite. How many comedians were inspired by Monty Python? Too many. They rock.

1. Kids in the Hall

Hell yes. I love love love love this show. It may be blasphemous to suggest I like this more than Monty Python, but it is sad and true. If this was the only thing that was on every station of cable from now on, I would always be watching cable. I would definitely suggest watching the show from the start, because they sort of loose stem in the final seasons, but man are their sketches still golden. Dave Foley is a great straight man and woman. Mark McKinney and Kevin Macdonald warp their faces and limbs into comic awesomeness. I also want to have Scott Thompson as my best friend (On a tangent: I totally agree with his recent statement that homosexual teens need to grow some balls. Awesome.) I hope that I don’t ruin my sketch comedy cred. (Don’t worry I have too much for you to really notice if I lose some with this post or not.)

Honorable Mentions:

Chappelle’s Show

That Mitchell and Webb Look

SNL

La Chinoise (sorry for the late post)

Before I begin this post I want to tell everyone that is (or isn’t) viewing this homepage that I am sorry for not updating for awhile. I have been on vacation, but hopefully I will be able to continue to post everyday again. There have been some changes in my personal situation, so it will become a little harder, but I will try to muscle my way through it and provide you with my awesome insight into totally rad films.

But please, can we stay on topic? Geeze. You came here to hear about Godard, not listen to my whining.

La Chinoise belongs in the same camp as the last few films I have written about. It represents his transition that will be (hopefully) submitted with the next film I will be reviewing, Weekend. This is the bright and colorful Godard. This is the extreme radical Maoist Godard. This is the loose plot line and pretentious dialogue Godard. This is the new Godard. Man I hope he smooths out his edges in the next film.

About several young radicals who spend the summer in a bourgeois apartment plotting revenge, this film feels heavy. It feels like this is Godard yelling at the viewer: I am obscure and I am political damn it! If you can’t tell by now, I didn’t particularly like this film. I think something may have been lost in the generation gap. I and several other people are very aware how the Maoist Government in Communist China has failed. To see this Little Red Book venerated in what was supposed to be a very radical and very hip way was weird. They treated it like it was the Bible essentially. There are several scenes where the characters in the film walk around a room reciting passages to everyone else. Is Maoism the most ideal Communism? Absolutely not. (Of course you can say that about Stalinism too)

There were a few too many scenes where the actors were reciting propaganda, swallowing it whole, and then moving on. These scenes were not compelling. It was also not compelling when characters talked at the other characters. In fact I was mostly bored by those scenes. He did nothing interesting with the camera and says nothing with the statements other than “hey do I know political philosophy.” The scenes I did like were the interview scenes and the long scene that the young woman has with one of her professors on a train. During these times, I sat up and I said “Yes. They actually believe what they are saying.” It was no longer a sham. It felt real. It felt like they were characters and not actors being told what to say or do. Where this film failed was that these scenes are too far apart from each other. The dead space is filled to the brim with pretentious dogmatism.

I can take politics. I can take dogmatism. I just can’t take these things when there is no imagination and belief behind them. Essentially I need the character to believe in what they are saying in order to make a compelling film. Hopefully Godard realized at the time that some of the “tricks” he employed were not interesting and refined his style even more in his next film. Fingers crossed.

P.S. The Mao Mao song was pretty funny and cool. Totally sixties.

Otis

Horror comedy is hard to pull off. Usually it ends up staring Bruce Campbell and looking like you have tried to hard to be comedic that you lost all of the edge. There is no scaring anybody now that you made that same joke about the serial killer’s penis for the millionth time. There are of course some good examples of ones that were able to pull off the moniker of both comedic and horrific. Shaun of the Dead and Scream I feel both scare me in places and make me laugh. Both of them also rely on subverting horror conventions (in one case zombie films and in the other serial killer films) in order to make them funny. However these films still have to use these conventions to their advantage in order to make a film worth watching and worth the scares.

Otis can be placed into this category of both comedic and horrific. It involves an over weight pizza delivery guy who kidnaps teenage girls and tortures them to death if they don’t play along with his games. The premise sounds a lot like Hostel or Saw. There are graphic scenes where Otis comes in after one the girls he is torturing talks back to him and he bashes her head in brutally and then accidentally pushes her into a bathtub with a lamp that then electrocutes her.He has a dungeon that looks a lot like the one from the Saw films, it being fake grimy and sewer like. But he is visible and he is very human. His motives are known pretty early on and you feel sorry for him, an emotion that does not happen in the Saw films.

The latest victim he gets a hold of is the daughter of a nuclear family. There is a dad and a mom, a younger michevious brother and the perfect A+ girl student who happens to look like a stripper. But this family is a little bit more sick and weird than what is first set up. As the action unfolds, the family gets a fumbling investigator who hasn’t gotten one clue about the case, despite him investigating all of the murders Otis commits. The wife/mother who is a nurse gets the idea to go after the killer herself. She is backed by her son, but her husband doesn’t want anything to do with it. He is the voice of reason. Reason that soon gets a big bulldozer backed over it when their daughter escapes from the chamber and remembers the address of the kidnapper. They decide that they need to get revenge.

When they get to the house, they find the brother instead of the killer. They mistake him for being the killer and torture him like one of the best Hostel torture scenes. Once they have killed him, they find out from the investigator that they had the wrong guy. What are they to do now?

The comedy mostly steams from the interactions between the family. The reversal of the roles between father and mother, the casting of mostly comedians in the important roles and the absurd conventions they exploit in order to make the film more surreal are what generates the comedy. I love the scene when they sit down the younger brother after he is caught at taping his sister dancing and undressing. Instead of saying hokey dialogue, they just come right out and say that they don’t get him and that he needs to not be so creepy. It is delivered with such a frankness that I laughed very hard. I also like their weapons choices and sons’ various ways to be rebellious.

Otis’ character is mostly one dimensional which makes it tedious when he isn’t hamming it up as the fake quarterback. When he is with his brother, it seems that the character just goes into sleep mode, making Kevin Pollack have to work even harder than he does. They also seem to have blown the budget on creepy lighting and fake blood. I wish sometimes that horror films could be a little more subtle, but that is just me. Although these problems are obvious, the film was still enjoyable to watch.

2 or 3 Things I Know About Her

The newest installment of me watching Godard films then me trying to unravel his high-brow philosophical questions and failing utter continues tonight with 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her. If you google this film, read the synopsis on IMDB or watch the extra features on this disk, you will know that this film is about the phenomenon of prostitution that was prevalent in the emerging suburbs and high rises of sixties France. Godard was fascinated with prostitution. I think this is the third film about prostitute he made in only a few short years. Why did he decide that this was so interesting that he must submit his delicate actresses to undressing and looking like a whore on-screen? Based on what I have watched, listened to and read about Godard, he found it interesting because these overt prostitute were a symbol for the normal citizen’s everyday prostitution. Increasingly even rich people who were brought up to be dilettante had to work and sell their creativity, their body, their soul in order to live and afford gaudy things like color televisions, powdered detergent and Coca-cola among other things. Our society was and still is shooting towards being materialistic and consumer based culture instead of art-based or idea-based. This is evident in his films by the near fetishization of everyday products that all seem to have originated in the States. Products like Lucky Strikes, Coca-Cola, Laundry Detergent, Fashion Magazines, and other things that we sort of take advantage fill his screen and interspliced with the lengths that the protagonist has to go to in order to enjoy these luxuries.

Juxtaposed with this consumerism are various close-ups of socialist and philosophy books that Godard liked at the time and people quoting modern playwrights, authors, and philosophical ideas. However these people seem to be as shallow as the prostitutes who sell themselves in order to buy a new fur coat or to keep their family in the lap of luxury. These characters ultimately say nothing about their situation in life, the state of war or anything that pertains to the central dilemma of this film. The only figure in the film that has any truth in him or her besides Godard as the narrator is the child of the protagonist. I found his recounting of a dream he had where North and South Vietnam met and became friends again was fascinating. I also thought his slit lisp insanely cute and charming.

There is a scene about half way through the film that I feel makes this film worth watching. It is a scene when the protagonist is in a cafe making eyes at this man who might become her next john. He sits with a cigarette in his mouth and a coffee cup full of that black liquid in front of him. The camera zooms in to see the infinite swirls of the coffee after the man had stirred it. Over top of this image is Godard himself whispering a monologue about his isolation that he feels and the loneliness and inability to connect with anyone. He feels lost in this modern world that is constantly coming up and coming down around him. He films construction sites of these new high rises that are popping up everywhere and the highways that commute the people who live in them to the city. However as he films them, he seems to be removed from them. He cannot relate to this need to live in a “posh” apartment, own an expensive car, drink Coke all day and have every luxury in life. He knows that cannot make him happy. All of this comes to the forefront in his narration as a bubble oscillates and acts like a living organism under a microscope. It is moving to say the least.

As a complete film, with a plot line and something to say, it falls a little flat. The acting is naturally wooden and sort of lays flat on the screen. This is probably due to Godard’s unconventional way of directing the people on-screen. He would put an earpiece on them and ask them questions that they then had to answer as their character. He also would give them things to repeat through the earpiece without seeing it written down or have time to rehearse. He also was experimenting with talking over action and therefore it can be distracting. However I applaud the effort exerted.

Water Drops on Burning Rocks

This is a peculiar film. Written as a stage play by a German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder and directed by a french director Francois Ozon, this film is set in Germany but spoken in French. So although the men are speaking fluent French, at one point in the film the younger man is sporting lederhosen in a non-ironic way. It is also set in the seventies, around the time that Fassbinder was at his prime, so there are plenty of shag carpets, bell bottoms and weirdly fitting undergarments. It is a quirky drama that seems to have fallen flat for me. I don’t know if it was in the translation from German to French to English subtitles or the actors’ wooden performances or the maybe the fact it felt like a play the whole time or the characters’ motivations but I found it boring.

The story involves an older man who seduces a young man (with red hair) to have sex with him for the first time. He falls in love with the older man and moves in with him leaving his girlfriend. The story jumps forward several months to the point where the older man treats the younger man as a slave. He makes his lover undress him, fix him food and argue with him over everything. His ex-girlfriend comes by and picks him up when he is down. They have spent two days together having sex but his boyfriend comes back early and catches the girl in some form of undress. Meanwhile his transsexual girlfriend shows up and they all  wait on the older man like he some god. The younger man becomes depressed while the three other characters have a threesome. He decides that he is going to kill himself.

I think the main problem with the film is I didn’t understand why these people were so in love with this older man. He was mean, annoying, and pretty much an asshole. And yet these characters could not get enough of him. Was it because of his sexual ways? That is what the film seems to suggest, but I know from experience that even if the sex is amazing no person would have the gall to stay in a relationship like that without him having some redeeming qualities outside of his member. I guess I can’t relate and therefore don’t care about these characters.

 

Cabiria

An early classic of the silent era, Cabiria is about a young woman named Cabiria who gets captured by Roman enemies, the Carathagians. Two brave Romans or rather one brave Roman and his slave, go on many missions to rescue her. They get and then lose her again and again. Meanwhile she is threatened to be sacrificed by the High Priests to the Bronze god Moloch, made a slave to the queen of Carthage, threatened to be sacrificed again, and then taken hostage by some gropping men. The whole time, despite the lovely sets and the sequence where the little girls are being sacrificed to the God and the daring escape of Cabiria, I was bored to death.

It was all my fault. I admit I am not the best when it comes to silent films. I have this barrier where silent films can’t seem to penetrate. Until recently it was silent films and westerns that I couldn’t get past and am infinitely bored by. Although I still don’t like most westerns, I have grown to love the conventions and the plot lines. However most silent films still get me to the point where I fall asleep. I guess marveling at the inventions, the ingenuity, and the theatrics can only get me so far. I have to be invested in the story. A couple of silents have slipped through the cracks like Faust, Charlie Chaplin films and Buster Keaton films, but for most of the silents, I am resistant. Resistant to its pull. I hate myself for it.

Since a lot of silent films are in the public domain, they are on netflix watch instant. So I suppose I will start another column in order to get over my silent hump. Every Sunday I will watch one silent film and I will try to state my opinions without being too whiny. I will try to stay awake during the epics and forgive them for their rampant racism. Also if the silent films that I had watched before are on instant, then I will watch them again and try to figure out a different way to approach them. I will also try to do my research and find out why I needed to watch this film historically.

This is the earliest silent film that I have ever seen and I hope to rectify that also. I know this film had major influence on directors that I love like Fellini and Scorcese. I also know that this film cost the most at the time and is full of crazy intricate sets that are actually really beautiful. If only studios would build everything from scratch nowadays instead of relying on CGI.

I might also watch modern day silents, in particular Guy Maddin films in order to see how strong a hold silent films still have on us. I hope I can make that connection. Well I guess I will see you next sunday when I watch another silent. Good luck to me.