Monday, February 26, 2007

Post Oscar Lists n Links

I don't have anything really special to offer, but I might as well poke in....

Oscars! I didn't watch the thing (I did last year for the first time in 20, 25 years; I will when they get aroudn to giving David Lynch a lifetime achievement award - meanwhile, I can find better things to do with a Sunday night.) Martin Scorsese wins the big ones, best picture and director - reasonable choices. Unlike a lot of bloggers, I had no problem with any of the nominees - nothing great, but nothing embarrassing, not even Babel or Little Miss Sunshine, which both took a lot of lumps. I don't know - Babel is a mess, but - the direction, and in a lot of ways, the individual stories, save it. And Little Miss Sunshine was funny, and fairly clever, with a great cast - it went in the tank down the stretch (after Arkin's departure), but was amusing getting there. The worst I can say about the nominees is that a lot of better films, that were as popular, mainstream, etc. as these, were available - United 93, Children of Men (I can't expect Inland Empire to get any notice, so I won't complain there) - but unnominated. (Oh - and the three best Foreign Language films I saw, Indigenes, Lives of Others and Pan's Labyrinth - were themselves probably all better than the best picture nominees. So was Volver - how did that get missed for either award?) But that aside - given the Acedemy's track record through the years - the crap that has been nominated and won - I have nothing to complain about this years' crop.

Anyway - with Scorsese's win, I expected an outporuing of "greatest American living director" posts - haven't seen so many... Maybe a decade of complete mediocrity has taken the edge off the Scorsese fans. Still - I must say, the Lawyers, Guns and Money post raises a couple questions I'm interested enough in to answer: who are America's greatest living directers? and, what was the last time the best American (fiction) film won the Oscar?

Director? That's easy, friends. Consider this: I made me a list, the best American film of the year, from 1970 or so on: what do 1977, 1980, 1986, 1997, 1999, 2001 and 2006 have in common? You guessed it - David Lynch films, best of the year, as far as I'm concerned. He has lost nothing - he is still experimenting, exploring - he's as vital as he ever was. So - easily.

2) Scorsese, yes: he has a powerful body of work, and though he is not the director he was in the 70s, he still works, still does good work....
3) This is where things get difficult - actually it's kind of a straight up choice, I think: between Clint Eastwood and the Coen Brothers. The latter get the edge, because, I think, they have simply made the better films. Fargo, Raising Arizona, O Brother Where Art Thou, The Big Lebowski are first rate - they have no bad films on the resume (even the Ladykillers is amusing). I tend to overlook them - loving their films - taking them for granted. Odd.
4) Eastwood, then - for the opposite virtue - for his classicism, his work ethic, his ability to make strong, well crafted films that explore big questions (and small) seriously and soberly. His empathy, his modesty - and a series of very good films. None of his films is quite a masterpiece - a couple though, creep into the back of the mind... Since seeing Letters From Iwo Jima, it has been growing in my mind - thinking about things like - the lack of conventional heroism in combat: I thought of that while watching Indigenes - how it builds to a fairly conventional heroic last stand, everything clear and straightforward - there's nothing like that in Letters, the fighting is all dark and confused and, most of the film, you don't see the enemy. It's an interesting choice - more interesting than I gave it credit for when I saw it.... I also want to note, with Forest Whitaker taking home an Oscar himself - that Bird is one of those films I love far more than I ever quite acknowledge....
5) Jim Jarmusch - sounds good - though like some of the others, he seems to have faded a bit. His 80s films are extraordinary - and Dead Man is one of the best films of the 90s - and he's never really made a bad film - but... Yet... I'll take him over the competition - Spielberg? Whose great films are scattered among plenty of mediocrity, and who often ruins his best work, not trusting the audience... Spike Lee? at his best? sure - but there's lots in between the peaks. Coppola? not since the 70s. Hartley? I'll listen to arguments. Anderson and Anderson? The best of the 90s and 00s - though PT has disappeared - and Wes sometimes seems in danger of spinning his wheels. Tarantino? as washed up as Scorsese and he's 20 odd years younger. Gus Van Sant? which Gus Van Sant? might get back into it, I guess. Todd Haynes? Charles Burnett? Noah Baumbach? Terry Gilliam? Lots of choices - it's a pack, behind the leaders....

So - there you have it. I don't think there are any old timers I have forgotten - a few years ago I made a list like this and was reminded, after I did it, that Billy Wilder was still alive - that sort of thing can put a damper on the fun. I don't know how hard I'd fight for this list - other than Lynch and probably Marty...

As for the other question - the last time the best (American) film of the year won the Best Picture Oscar? 1972? The Godfather? I think so.

Anyway - that's that. This is one of those posts that ends up going in a completely different direction than I originally thought. I actually started it looking for a way to post this - a link to a Google video of Todd Haynes' banned classic, Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story. (Via Tram at Talk to Me Harry Winston.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

What Day is It Again?

Friday random ten time! (You think I have problems with the day of the week - the other night I woke up, got out of bed, turned off the alarm, got dressed - all perfectly awake, I tell you!) - then looked around and said, damn it's dark: what's going on? then I looked at the clock and saw it was 2:11 am. That is a new phenomenon: it is one thing to turn off the snooze alarm while half awake - but to dream (apparently) that the alarm went off, and get up, get dressed and....) Onwards: music. (Ratings included when it's included in iTunes.)

1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Sweet n Sour
2. Blind Faith - Well... All Right
3. Leonard Cohen - Sisters of Mercy ***
4. Bob Dylan - Like a Rolling Stone *** - that's a rather strange rating. Might be Dylan fatigue or something, rating the oens you hear on the radio All The Time lower than the ones, just as good, that don't get played so much. 5 star Dylan? It's All Right Ma... and Tangled Up in Blue - looks like overall Dylan fatigue...
5. Elvis Costello - Lipstick Vogue
6. Minutemen - Paranoid Chant *** - I've got a mile of numbers and a ton of stats...
7. Pixies - Monkey Goes to Heaven **** - haven't heard this is ages, I realize...
8. Camper Van Beethoven - Eye of Fatima (2) - the instrumental version...these two back to back take me back to my salad days
9. Slow Dazzle - The Prosecution Rests - I have no idea where this came from or why it's on my iPod. Not bad though
10. James Blood Ulmer - Nothing to Say - from Tales of Captain Black, a very great record

Thought I'd try some jazz - not a lot of Ulmer on YouTube, but there is this very cool clip of Ornette Coleman and quartet from Italian TV, with Ulmer:

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Rivette Wrap up (2)

So, once more with the Rivette, and building on yesterday's post, I want to write a bit about duality and collaboration.

Out One: Spectre makes a particularly good starting place. Even more than usual for Rivette, it is built around matched pairs of things. The two investigators (Leaud and Berto); the two theater groups; the two plays; all the pairs within and between the groups: Thomas and Lilly (leaders of the two groups); the two outsiders, Sarah and Renaud, brought in to invigorate the two groups, who end up destroying them both by leaving. People with 2 names, like Pauline/Emily, and all the names Leaud goes by. Pauline/Emily's 2 kids. The two men who never turn up in the film, Pierre and Igor. The 2 "Thirteen" - Balzac's and the film's. The two sources of the secret messages, Lewis Carroll and Balzac. And around the film - it is, first up, itself part of a matched pair: Out One: Noli Me Tangere and Out One: Spectre. And the name itself has two parts - Out One/Spectre.

Doubles are everywhere in Rivette's films: doubles, matched pairs, halves. Though sometimes, 2's becomes 4s, become a string of supplements. A pervasive organizing principal: in Paris Belongs to Us: Juan and Gerard? And various couples arranged around them: Anne and Juan's sister; Anne and Terry. In The Nun? it's more of a series of contrasting pairs: Suzanne's mother and her mother superior; the first, good mother superior and the second, cruel one - then the second one and the indulgent one, who tries to seduce her. Other characters are arranged in pairs - the mother superior trying to seduce her/the confessor trying to seduce her; Suzanne and Therese, her "rival". L'Amour Fou? the principal is there, in the split between play and home, in the split between the play shown directly and the play shown through the odcumentary crew. Celine and Julie? Yes - the two heroines, of course; the two rivals in the melo, Sophie and Camille - and Camille and her dead sister (who are presented literally as doubles.) With repeated and doubled events and scenes - two performances on stage; two conversations with Grigoire - and all of it coming around in the end, two boats passing, and then the whole story looping around to begin again.

These structural patterns are more diffuse in the later films, but still visible: Gang of Four, like L'Amour Fou, is structured around 2 locations, the theater and the house in the suburbs; most of the theater scenes involve two actors at a time; there are, as well, two men, Antoine and Thomas, one present, one absent. La Belle Noiseuse: 2 pairs of lovers, 2 main interlopers (the art dealer and the sister), 2 paintings, and of course the bulk of the film is a two hander between Michel Piccoli and Emmanuelle Beart. Jeanne la Pucelle? it's split in two, with a certain parallism between the parts - it probably doesn't fit so neatly as some. Haut Bas Fragile? I'd say with these later films, the parallels and repetitions, which are still present, and powerful, have become more serial than dual - rather than a pattern of matched pairs, you have a series of pairs: A does something to B - B does something to C - C does something to D, etc. So Nathalie Richard forms a connection to Andre Marcon, who forms a connection to Marianne Denicourt, who forms an alliance with Richard and so on. Situations are repeated - couples form and evolve - all of it structured around the metaphor of dancing... Secret Defense, though, does revolve around fairly strict parallels: 2 sets of 2 siblings each, looking for vengeance, repeating situations, coming to see themselves in each other. Va Savoir? like Haut Bas Fragile, it's more serial than dual, though the main unit for the action is the couple. And The Story of Marie and Julien offers another set of examples: 2 ghosts, Marie's 2 lovers, repetition of events (notably Marie's fate, and her cumpulsion to repeat it), and so on. (And the film itself is, I think, part of a series with other Rivette films - a point worth noting, as he definitely repeats himself - returning to situations, actors, ideas, settings, and so on, over the years.)

This post has two parts: having listed off a bunch of example, I ask - what does it mean? Or (since I'm too resolute a formalist to take "what does it mean" too seriously), what does it do? Why are they there? I am tempted to invoke the spectre of structuralism, with its binaries and parameters - not without some justification, I suspect. (See this article on Cahiers de Cinema in New Left Review, or Girish's summary - Rivette brought structuralism and similar ideas to Cahiers during his turn at the helm....) But it is also connected to his interest in theater, and in collaboration. Abstractly - everything in these films is realized - known, found, understood (as much as it is understood) - through reference to other things: through performance, through connections to another person, through the search for something missing, through repetition, repeating things differently, trying to get them right this time.

But more than this: the abstraction of doubled and repeated characters and images is related to the concrete importance of collaboration in Rivette's films. Many of these pairs collaborate explicitly - Celine and Julie, Frenhofer and Marianne, Ninon and Louise (Richard and Denicourt) in Haut Bas Fragile. And collaborating pairs recur through the films, even when they are not central to the plots: consider the theater exercises in Out One; the dancers in Haut Bas Fragile. And this spirit of collaboration, of making it up together, extends beyond the doubles that appear - theater and acting are fundamental to Rivette's work, but the type of theater is important as well - it is almost always highly collaborative, improvisational (even when working with great texts) and very tentative. Consider the constant repairing of characters and actors in Gang of Four; or the way the dancers change partners in Haut Bas Fragile, or integrate others into their dancing. All of which, finally, is a reflection of the films themselves - highly collaborative, with a loose, fluid style, an improvisational feel, and their emphasis on cooperation. The way, for instance, Rivette highlights the painter - the real painter, whose hands play Frenhofer's hands - in La Belle Noiseuse. He is always interested in how art is made, showing the process, say, of the development of that painting, or of the relationship between Frenhofer and Marianne (which itself moves toward collaboration over time), or showing the details, the starts and stops, of putting on a play in all the theatrical films.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Rivette Wrapup (1)

So now that the Rivette series at the HFA is over, I want to write up some of my thoughts on it. It's not easy - as Michael Kerpan said in the comments to one of my previous notes on the series, Rivette's films are hard to write about. They resist analysis - for, I suspect, some pretty good (and analyzable) reasons. They are very fluid - the look, the story telling style, the treatment of themes and character, the themes themselves. They are about fluidity - about theater and performance, about self-invention, about living, moving through a world, consciously, actively. That's how they look - with their mobile staging, the graceful moving camera, that constantly reshapes the space, creating deeper and shallower staging in the same shot. Rivette's style is hard to describe - he doesn't seem to have a characteristic look to his films - though they are, in the end, almost instantly recognizable. That flow and pulse of people and the camera, around, through, spaces....

His style also appears in the images and events that keep reappearing in his films. I do not list such repeating images, ideas, actions, situations, places, in vain. Rivette returns constantly to these things: pairs of things, twins, ghosts, old houses, theaters, theater, lost manuscripts (or tapes or keys or art works) - conspiracies, collaborations - cats, park benches, rooftops, stairways, people slipping, tripping, stumbling. He works variations on them - and creates formal patterns out of the variations. That’s my goal, here, by the way - the next post, taking a closer look at some of these repetitions, and their possible meaning - or at least function. But now I want to point to the sense of play in his films. They are organized around those recurring elements - not so much around the meanings of those elements, as using them to generate the fiction. Take a group of actors, plus the filmmaking crew, plus his customary set of devices, plus a book of play or work of art to work from - and see what you come up with. Literally? it seems close to it in some cases - the screenwriting credits for the casts of Celine and Julie Go Boating or Haut Bas Fragile might attest to it; the long attention to the theatrical troops in Out One and L'Amour Fou seem to work on some of the same principals.

But whether they are generative or not - the films' structures have a ludic quality: think about Va Savoir - the way the story starts with Jeanne Balibar and Sergio Castellito on stage, and slowly works outward, bringing in other characters, one or two at a time, establishing primary and secondary relationsships among them, until all of them are related to all the rest. Things are set in motion - plots are enacted and schemes hatched, people assume a series of roles, different roles with different characters - and it plays out - and comes back around to where it started, ending with everyone dancing with the one that brought them. It is heartfelt - there's never any doubt that Rivette can make you feel something with his characters - but it is explicitly a game, and usually (as here) with games inside the games.

These qualities make it hard, I say, to analyze Rivette - to define his style, his interests, the meaning of his work. It is devoted to a kind of freedom and experimentation - to exploring the possibilities of the ways we invent ourselves (if you have to have a large theme) - to ways we invent worlds. It is about secrets and mysteries, but about their contingency - and the exact nature of the conspiracies that turn up in his films varies from film to film. Maybe it's real - maybe it's a game - maybe it's someone's imagination - maybe it's Balzac. It changes, and can change every time he returns to it. And the result is, his films seem inexhaustable.

Tomorrow (or whenever I get it written): a closer look at one of the recurring patterns in his films - duality, doubles and pairs, and sometimes series' - with special attention to Out One: Spectre, which pushes the principal very far. And possibly some shameless Interpretation, or at least, an attempt to draw parallels between all those doubles and the theme of collaboration that runs through his work.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Day of the Week Confusion Random 10

Music again! the usual scheme - fire up iTunes, shuffle, list the first 10, note ratings when appropriate. Away we go!

1. Arbouretum - Underneath the Arches - had to do some research on this one - from a compilation of Thrill Jockey bands playing, underneath the arches, distributed with an issue of Stop Smiling. Very nice.
2. Pavement - Summer Babe (live) [****]
3. Ministry - Thieves
4. John Cale - Hello There
5. Blind Faith - Had to Cry Today
6. Dead Boys - Caught with the Meat in Your Mouth [****] - young, loud and snotty indeed
7. Ramblin' Jack Elliot - Rake and Ramblin' Boy - from another collection, and a very nice song...
8. Butthole Surfers - Lady Sniff [***] - what more could you ask?
9. Queen - Killer Queen [***]
10. Dinosaur Jr. - Muck

And Video: it's the obvious, boring choice, but hey - Pavement works.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Housekeeping and Sport

I doubt anyone will really bother to read this post. Can't blame you. Nothing to it. I've added a couple more links: I noticed that I didn't have Andy Horbal's blog listed in the blogroll, since switching to the new blogger template. I can't really explain that. Bloody blogger! yeah - blame google! Added a couple more as well. Added a label, retroactively, to a bunch of posts. "Auteurs" - I feel I must apologize for the name. It's there to connect all the posts I do about specific filmmakers - I don't intend to limit it to directors - I use the word ("auteur") mostly because it is alphabetically distinct, unlike "filmmaker" which conflicts with "film". You gotta let those autocompletes work right!

And sport - hey! Celtics win! whoo hoo! or, Oh No! They just lost Greg Oden! or something... it's trying to lose 18 straight, but it's inevitable when you lose your best three players (and by the time he got hurt, Tony Allen was their second best player). Pierce and Wally are back - they might start winning again. Though probably not too much on their west coast and Texas journeys. I think they'll maintain a nice shot at the top spot in the draft. Another 12-13 wins leaves them with 25 or so on the year - good a shot as any.

And pitchers and catchers are getting close to the time! the happiest time of the year!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Poliblogging Aside

I know I should leave this kind of nonsense alone, but you know how it goes.... anyone who reads political blogs probably knows about this - I think it might have turned up on TV too: a couple weeks ago John Edwards hired a couple bloggers for his campaign blog - Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon, and Melissa McEwan, aka Shakespeare's Sister. Both are rather aggressive leftist feminist atheists, who, as bloggers do, tend to speak their minds. Well - the right wing clown show immediately sprang to action, led by the particularly ridiculous Michelle Malkin. Well, comedy ensued, but the clowns kept pouring out of the Volkswagon, and before long, out came William Donahue, professional taker-of-offense from an organization called Catholics Against God (or something like that), howling about "anti-Catholic bigotry" from Edwards' new hires. Yeah yeah, they have engaged in some intemperate rhetoric against the Catholic church - they are, after all, 21st century adult women, a group which has a pretty good reason to despise the Catholic church and its policies - if you can't hate the pope, who can you hate? Anyway - John Edwards did not have the option of greeting this clamor with the hearty fuck you it deserves, so he issued a non-apology non-apology, as did the women, and there you go. But you know how those things go - it's been another week and they have both resigned, apparently after Marcotte wrote a review of Children of Men that included the shocking revelation that Christianity is patriarchal, sending the clowns for their noses again....

Anyway. It must mean something, though it's hard to figure out what. It being another year before the primaries actually start, and another 8-9 months before the election. Perfectly sensible people are railing against Edwards for letting Marcotte and McEwan go - but really: they were a pretty small part of the campaign - I suspect this "controversy" is a pretty small issue as well. Who actually cares what a couple bloggers think? Other than bloggers and blog readers? Professional thugs like Donohue will find someone to attack no matter what - if there's nothing there, they'll make it up. Still - there are other dimensions to this. From a blogging perspective - I'm with Yglesias here: I don't quite understand why they were hired in the first place, or why they took jobs with the Edwards campaign. I'm sure both women have skills and talents that would make them valuable to the campaign - but they weren't hired for their skills and talents, they were hired for their online personae. And both of them have rather aggressive, at least "outspoken" personae - especially Marcotte. How does that fit with a political campaign? Edwards isn't trying to raise hell here - maybe if he were - okay. But it still strikes me as odd.

Political bloggers, especially, seem to me to fall into three styles, that I might as well call evangelists, edifiers, and exhorters. Evangelists go out and try to convert people to their positions - they preach to the unconverted. Exhorters preach to the choir - they rally the troops, they build resolve and inspire action. Edifiers argue, explain, analyze - they are the wonks, the pundits - they may address the unconvinced or the convinced - but that's secondary to layign out the positions.... Marcotte, especially, is a classic exhorter type: she preaches to the converted - she stirs them up - she puts them in a fighting mood. She galls the other side - and she may very well turn off the undecided. Which is the problem - political campaigns need evangelists, not exhorters. (Though to be fair: the problem with calling them "evangelists" is that you don't have to be spreading good news: you can preach doom and destruction; you can condemn - it's a similar role, though - you are taking a message to people outside your group, to make them change. Jeremiah and Jonah were evangelists, basically; William Donahue, for all intents and purposes, is an "evangelist" - trying to get people to turn on Edwards. Political campaigns can do that too - the right wing does plenty of it, though not so much through blogs.) But politics needs exhorters - people like her serve their purpose, defining the issues, staking out the limits, and inspiring the "base". It seems to me that hiring her took her away from the role she is most suited for. So, in the end - this might actually be for the best.

It definitely is for the best re Shakespeare's Sister - that is a damned good blog. I'm certainly not going to be reading any politicians' blogs, even when the election campaigns get going for real - so it's just as well that the good bloggers don't disappear down that rabbit hole....

Monday, February 12, 2007

No Expectations

I'm still putting off writing some more about Jacques Rivette. It's a poser - whether to knock out quick impressions of the films, or try to work up an essay, or - I don't know - make a list of things: doubles, shadows and ghosts, artists and actors, old houses, the way women walk, conspiracies, cats, park benches, the rooftops of Paris, women who don't need men and men who are willing to live with that, bad fathers, desks and desk drawers, overnight bags - some of the things you will find in his films. We shall see.

In the meanwhile: a film: this, February, is, in film terms, the cruelest month - what you have in the theaters this time of year - man. Once you see the oscar bait, there ain't much left: that is my explanation for seeing Factory Girl. What else is there? Alas... Factory Girl is a sort of biopic about Edie Segdwick, starring Sienna Miller, directed by George Hickenlooper. Hayden Christenson turns up attempting to impersonate (Not) Bob Dylan - Guy Pearce appears in the less thankless role of Andy Warhol. The film as such isn't worth much, though it's harmless enough - a kind of haphazard style, lots of cheesy montage sequences, little tricks with the film stock, some gestures towards fake versions of Warhol's films... The story is ridiculous, with Warhol and crowd as dope fiend vampires, frittering their talents on soup cans and sucking poor Edie dry, while not-Dylan represents all that is pure and good and real, offering Edie a Way Out, but she doesn't take it, alas.... Miller does her best with this nonsense, but there's not much to do, and her best isn't anything special. Christenson is dreadful beyond compare, though whether that should be blamed on him or the script is an open question. (In either case, Dylan did well to stop them using his name - beyond being portrayed wretchedly, not-Dylan comes off not only as an insufferable prick [which Dylan proper might well have been - he certainly liked to take the piss, from what I've heard], but as a self-righteous, self-important tiresome prick. That seems less likely.) This leaves the film ripe pickings for Pearce to steal, and steal it he does.

He has an advantage: Warhol did a fine job of turning himself into one of his art works. He emptied himself of all the usual signs of emotion and personality, made himself blank and bland as his images. Because of this, when actors play him, they have to stick to his presentation of himself - the look, the mannerisms, the voice - the intentional blandness. Dylan, being gnomic and strange, mysterious and secretive, dropping hints and making references to be decoded and all, invites actors and writers to interpret him, to try to parse him out - at least that happens here: not-Dylan has all the signifiers of Dylan, but with all the hints and poses filled in with cliches. Godawful dreck results. But Warhol - and Pearce as Warhol - gets away from that. Even trying to slip the odd humanizing quality to the poor man has to pass through his persona, through his version of himself: whatever you do, you have to do in Warhol's terms, because he took away any other terms to do it with. And because of this - Pearce gives something completely different than the rest of the cast - he gives a kind of collaboration. (Hey! another item for my Rivette list!) With Warhol - his performance feels like a collaboration with Warhol, not with the script or the director of this film.

That's a bit of a lost opportunity: there's a chance, making a film about an artist (or group artists) to make the film collaborative, even if the artist isn't actually around for it. To work off the art, to incorporate it into the film. Hickenlooper tries to show us some of Warhol's art - a few iconic images, and a few recreated clips from the films. This could have been interesting - it isn't. Partly because he screws up the clips - mostly by abandoning their style - that impassive camera, the awkward zooms and focus shifts, and most of all, their duration. Some of it he screws up by shooting the act of shooting - thus freeing the camera to be pointless, and reducing the films to their silly behavior... Some of it he screws up by shooting the film being screened - and moving the camera around, zooming in to create closeups and such that Warhol (and Morrissey later on) stayed away from. It's anti-collaborative: it's trying to assert control over the image, over Warhol's art. (I'd say over not-Dylan's as well, except there isn't any actual Dylan (or not-Dylan) music in the film. There is some not-Velvet Underground music played over a portrayal of VU&N - complete with cymbals! in 1966!! - I mean - he has to know better than that!) The only element of the time that escapes this inanity is Pearce as Warhol.

Now - again I say - it's a missed opportunity. There are some odd moments where things creep in that might have been more interesting. Bits of dialogue - Warhol's remarks about just watching people, letting them be what they were... or the bits referring to his background as a coal miner's son, or his oft-remarked work ethic. That sort of direct, unpretentious work ethic is central to Warhol's value - his art gains power through repetition, through time, through the iteration of it. That, and again - the sense that art was collaborative: a gathering of people, working off one another - which runs through this period of Warhol's work. You get those hints - from scraps of dialogue, and from Pearce, I'd say - of the class dynamics under things: Warhol is strongly associated with work here (a notion common to accounts of the factory), and comes off as tougher, more subversive than the story wants to make him. There are hints - but the film doesn't really develop them. Instead, the words (sometimes), and Pearce, and Warhol himself - haunt it. The ghost of a better film...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Friday Random Ten on Saturday

My Friday ritual is increasingly turning into a Saturday post. Though most of the responsibility for that lies with Jacques Rivette. (Four more films to go, for those of you in the Boston area.) Not that anyone is holding their breath waiting to see what iTunes coughs up this week...

1. Benny Goodman - Gone with "What" Wind - from the Charlie Christian record
2. High Rise - Pop Sicle (live) - **** - 11 minutes of shameless sludgy guitar wankery - just my kind of thing, as the rating attests
3. Outkast (Big Boi) - In Your Dreams - Idlewild - reminds me I have to get the movie...
4. Charlie Parker - Stupendous - nice day for the jazz. My jazz CDs are woefully under-represented on the iPod: I've gone years listening to almost nothing but jazz, buying almost nothing but jazz - but haven't loaded much of it in the computer. It never really works on the iPod, too much of the subtlety of acoustic instruments gets washed out, I don't know if it's the compression of the music, the quality of the player or headphones, or just the fact that I listen to the iPod in public, noisy places, like the train. Whatever it is - it's never satisfying. So - other than Parker and some Coltrane, and a good deal of fusion (which, being electric, works better - so I have Miles and Mahavishnu Orchestra and the like, and they sound fine...), most of my jazz is still offline.
5. Robert Wyatt - Insensatez
6. Diane CLuck - All I Bring you is Love - from one of those Mojo collections, this one devoted to English folk... nice enough, I guess.
7. Gogol Bordello - Start Wearing Purple - **** - all your sanity and wits they will all vanish, I promise, it's just a matter of time. Indeed.
8. Fleetwood Mac - Coming Your Way (live from the Boston Tea Party) - I'm sure anyone who has actually read these posts over the years, or knows me from elsewhere, has gathered that I like my guitar solos.... I've dropped hints through the years, I think, of my favorites in the art, though not very systematically (though there was that list I posted after Johnny Ramone died). Though linking to that is a kind of mea culpa - what the hell possessed me? My 10 favorite guitar players - with no Peter Green? The plain truth is, other than Richard Thompson, he is probably my favorite: others (Hendrix at least) might be better - but Hendrix is so good he intimidates me - it's hard to connect with his music personally sometimes.... But Peter Green: shoot.... Anyway - this is just another jam, but features some nice work by the band. They were the real deal, when Green was on board....
9. Mockers - God Only Knows - more Mojo, this one from the recent Brian Wilson tribute set.
10. John Lennon - Isolation - nice track from what I think is the third best ex-Beatles record. (What are 1 and 2?) Well - All Things Must Pass really is the best, I think.... #2 is from that other somewhat overlooked Beatle collaborator, backed by John and Ringo at their rockingest - Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band record. Why not?

Video? Well - look what I found when I started looking for High Rise video - Jean-Claude Van Damme! that was easy!

Monday, February 05, 2007

2 War Films

I am way behind in my movie writing - way behind. I've been seeing films - just not writing about them. Unfortunately, they are films I want to write about: the Rivette series; the films I mentioned in my last contemplative cinema post (Honor de Cavelleria, Lights in the Dusk, etc.); the new Korean series I saw last week - more... They deserve attention - they aren't films I can list off with one-liners and stars. ("Time, **1/2 - Kim Ki-duk does Teshigahara." - no, not good enough.) And on top of that - I should try to work something up for the Talkingmoviezzz site - I made indications I would. Fortunately, most of the films I've been seeing aren't going to be making any appearances in the states any time soon. (The odd festival, maybe - not much more.) The Host is supposed to be released - maybe by the time it does, I'll write a review. In fact, I suppose that's the redemption of all of this - none of these films are in release: writing about them in a month is just as good as writing about them today - so better to do em up right.

Now - the exception to all that is the one new, broad release film I have seen recently: Letters From Iwo Jima. Another Oscar nominated film - like the others I have seen (Departed, Babel, Little Miss Sunshine), it seems to me a perfectly acceptable choice - competent, interesting enough, not an embarrassment, but nothing special. Like too many of Eastwood's films, this one has very little going for it beyond Clint - there is nothing in this film, not one second, not one line of dialogue, not one shot, that is not a cliche. Eastwood brings his usual economy and precision, but there's not much more to say for it. Perfectly generic war movie, built to spec, more or less flawlessly, but still, to spec.

Meanwhile: that was Saturday afternoon. Saturday night, I went by the HFA, thinking I was in for a 4 hour Rivette film: no! it was the 6 hour version of Jeanne La Pucelle! in two parts, starting at 7 pm.... Now: I have noticed a strange phenomenon, watching all these Rivette films. After a while - their length seems completely natural. I find myself wondering, how do other people make films that only last 2 hours? and why? This reflection takes another form - one I was particularly aware of after seeing th Eastwood earlier: how is it, I thought, that 6 hours of Rivette flows by without ever seeming padded or tiring, yet Letters, at a bit over 2 hours, dragged? And Eastwood keeps things moving - imagine some hack making that film!

Anyway - Rivette's take on Joan of Arc may be long, but it feels right. He lets scenes build - he lets things happen on screen. He gives you time to get to know his characters. He also keeps you thinking - about the story, about film, about storytelling. He tells the story by alternating between dramatization of the story, and having characters sit and address the camera directly, telling the story. This gives it a rhythm, breaking the story into pieces (which he also does by using long blackouts for transitions), breaking the illusion of the story - the anachronism of the characters telling the story to the camera, as if they were being interviewed - the strangeness of cutting away from moments in the story to someone narrating. It keeps pulling you in - and tells the story in a pretty complete and comprehensible way.

And the film itself - is quite a departure from his more characteristic modern films, but still remarkable. Its unromantic treatment of old spaces - old castles and churches, that look old - and were old, even in 1429. Its unromantic treatment of people - their shabby clothes, their unremarkable hair and faces, their unromantic behavior (people tripping, falling down, dropping things, breaking things; uncooperative horses, the unglamorous operation of machines), the matter of fact rendering of war. I was thinking, watching Letters From Iwo Jima, that I had seen it all before - when the shooting starts, the cameras turn hand held, the cutting gets disjunctive, the sound gets sharper, etc. That's how war movies all look these days. Then seeing Jeanne La Pucelle - you see war rendered in a completely different way. The first "action" sequence - starts with guns being fired - their smoke quickly fills the whole screen, the camera sort of meanders along, waiting for the smoke to clear. The fighting, when it appears, is not spectacular - sure sure, it's a budget constraint - but it still looks right: a lot of aimless dashing around, men (and one woman) laying about them with swords, shooting arrows off screen without aiming much, people ducking and dodging and sometimes falling... All of it, still, organized, as much as war can be, and shown so you can see what they are trying to do and whether they are succeeding. It was most certainly not what you see in every other war movie.

There's little doubt left: Jacques Rivette is one of the great filmmakers of the last 40 years - this series has been a magnificent experience. These films need to be on DVD - people need to see them. There are 4 more to come (and plenty of time tonight to get to part 2 of Jeanne La Pucelle, if you live within 2 hours of Boston and don't mind getting out of the film at 1 AM - they didn't schedule it planning on the 6 hour version), most of which I have seen, though only on DVD, so I am looking forward to it. I hope I can work up a few more notes on the series: there is plenty to say - he is extremely inspirational...

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Music Post

Since it's Saturday already - I guess I'll cut to the chase: quick and dirty! iPod, random 10! (Rated where rated.)

1. Blue Cheer - Feathers from your Tree
2. James White and the Blacks - White Devil [a very cool record, that...]
3. James Brown - I Got You (I feel Good) ***** [of course]
4. Gogol Bordello - Avenue B
5. Marvin Gaye - God is Love
6. Yoshimi and Yuka - Elegant Bird
7. Ghost - Live With Me **** [cover of the stones song by Japanese psychedelic folk rockers - very nice]
8. Wire - Qestion of Degree
9. The Kinks - Come Dancing [nice little song, though a ways down through the Kinks' catalogue.]
10. Half Japanese - Fire to Burn *** [throw your evil records on the fire, on the fire to burn - records and sin!]

YouTube? I suppose there are some obvious choices, but I think I'll go a bit out of the way. First - not the same song, but you have to take what YouTube offers, and a little Blue Cheer would go down well. It would be nice to have the summertime blues right about now, instead of freezing my ass off...

And for a bonus, since they have a new record out: a nice bit of noise from Masaki Batoh and company - not the stones, but again - you take what you can get.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Hippies 1, Paranoid Idiots 0

You know - for a while, watching Mumbles Menino and cronies turn this hair scare, um, this "bomb" scare in Boston into a national punchline, I was feeling really down, ashamed of my city. But now - the suspects, shown here on Fox news, have restored my faith: Boston, Mumbles and company notwithstanding, is a pretty cool place: this press conference is beautiful. Listening to the blowhard reporters trying to badger the 2 guys into taking the press conference "seriously" probably goes far in explaining how this whole thing happened. Watching the 2 guys give it back is absolutely priceless. Thank god, thank god someone being railroaded on some childish absurdity stood up and gave the raspberry to the weasels. (Link from Xoverboard.)