Paris Trance

Intrigued by Zona, I put a hold on some of Geoff Dyer's other books at the Library.  The first one available was his late 90s novel, Paris Trance, which was in many ways right in my wheel house.  It concerns an expatriate in Paris who finds some comfort in the cinemas of the City of Light.  Rings familiar.
When he grew tired of walking he went to the cinema.  (Ah, cinema, solace of the lonely young men and women of all great cities.).  He saw a film a day, sometimes two.  He became a connoisseur of the non-time that preceded the films themselves, especially in small cinemas where there were no advertisements or previews, where the audience was made up of four or five people, all of them alone.  It was easy to see why, in films, fugitives and wanted men went to the cinema; not just to hide in the dark but because these intervals between performances were out of time.  To all intents and purposes you might as well not have existed - and yet, simultaneously, you were acutely conscious of your existence.  When the lights faded -- always that same sequence of perception:  the lights are fading, no they're not, yes they are, yes -- and the curtains cranked back slightly to extend the tiny screen, there was always a moment, after the studio logos had been displayed, when the blaze of projected colour lit up the screen like Eden on the first day of creation.
Unfortunately our lonely hero eventually hooks up with an unaccountably gorgeous gal, they have fantastic sex in the manner in which many books written by males in the late 90s do, and the book loses its steam.  But Dyer is, at the end of the day, clearly a movie freak, and he captures the mystery of that in some very pungent ways.


Films Glimpsed in Films

Stalker, Distant, Ennui

Was just reading Geoffrey Deyer’ book Zona (recommended!), about his relationship with Tarkovsky’s Stalker.  At one point he digresses about a scene from Ceylon’s Distant where Stalker is glimpsed in the background on a character's t.v.  He goes on to then suggest what an interesting study could be made of films in which other films are seen in the background.  This is actually long been something I have been obsessed with, but have never had the head of steam to begin cataloguing instances of this, usually because when they occur I am deeply planted on my couch.

But now, what the hell, maybe I will begin.  Please contribute if you can.  This isn’t as easy as it sounds.

Dyer himself mentions, in addition to Distant, three others:  Frankenstein in Spirit of the Beehive, Red River in Last Picture Show, and Passion of Joan of Arc in Vivra Sa Vie.  What I like about these is in each case they are either central to the narrative of the film (in the case of Beehive) or thematically organic to the works which reference them.

And I would ask that we use this as a criterion for inclusion.  Simply throwing in references to prove street cred (Tarantino!) is not sufficient.  The clip must in some way be central to overall meaning of the film.

So I will add to Dyer’s excellent start the following:

Gun Crazy, glimpsed in the movie theater in which our lovers (is that the New Beverly…the Nuart?), Richard Gere and Valerie Karpinsky, hide out from the police in Jim McBride’s remake of Breathless.  Young lovers on the lam glimpsing a ur-text about lovers on the lam.

The Illusionist.  The Tati character attends a film, and that film is Mon Oncle!!

Mean Streets.  The boys watch The Searchers (“Twenty Dollars!”  Let‘s go to the movies!”), which is obviously a hugely influential film for Scorsese and that crowd, and is also an interesting commentary on the nature of manhood, which is central to Mean Streets.

Moonrise Kingdom

Pure Joy

Make no mistake, Moonrise Kingdom is a small film but feels enormous, not due to its big themes (the transcendent power of love), but in how it so completely crystallizes that which  Wes Anderson has been on about this last decade and a half or so.

I don't think you need to be an Andersonian to enjoy Moonlight, which is a great film by pretty much any definition.  But if Anderson is your thing, I cannot imagine a more joyous night in the cinema.  As an Andersonian from the start, I could watch it in a Loop.

But it isn't all joy, of course.  I am not the first to remark on Anderson's ability to infuse into all the whimsy an undercurrent of despair in his films, and it is there, in giant, difficult gulps in Moonlight.  In fact the cast seems to be have been assembled specifically for the ability to convey quiet desperation.  Hell, quiet desperation has given Bill Murray a second career.  Is there a stranger, sadder scene in the recent American cinema than when Murray, shirtless and paunchy and filled with so much unresolvable grief, grabs and ax and tells his sons "I have to find a tree to cut down?"

One may think Bruce Willis is the outlier in the cast, but of course his ability to carry the weight of the world has always been one of his more underrated talents.  In this, Unbreakable, 16 Blocks, 12 MonkeysSixth Sense et alia, he is our Saddest Action Hero.  I hope he gets his first Oscar Nomination for Moonlight.

Ah, but the joy. The joy.  It is also there in giant, difficult gulps.  The dance sequence to Francois Hardy on the beach is the most unbridled piece of joy on film I can recall since Denis Lavant tripped the light fantastic to David Bowie in Carax's Bad Blood.  Bravo, Mr. Anderson, for reminding us that without despair there can be no joy, and without joy, there is only despair.

Andrew Sarris is Dead

The Auteur Theory is no longer anything discussed with any passion since it is so much in the air even the most casual film goer breathes.  So upon the passing of Andrew Sarris it is important to remember that his Americanization of the Politiques des Auteurs, coining the controversial phrase for the first time in Volume 28 of Film Culture magazine in 1963, was an act of pure Cinehutzpah.

When he coalesced the Film Culture writings into a book, The American Cinema, in 1968, he created Holy Writ.  You think I am exaggerating?  Go Google Andrew Sarris is Dead and see.

So obsessed did I become with Sarris and his theory, so emboldened was I, that virtually every essay in school I was called upon to write in the year or so after first reading his Opus was on The Auteur Theory.  Aside from wondering why I had no life my professors also found the whole thing, both the theory and my enthusiasm for it, preposterous.  Everyone knows film is a collaborative art form.  The director, aside from the monocle and megaphone, was just another staff member.

And I have to admit the theory, in the end and under close scrutiny, doesn't exactly coalesce (what exactly is this "personality" that Sarris goes on and on about?).  But what made Sarris so powerful was the attempt to articulate what those of a certain cinematic inclination already knew:  that there was an abiding presence in the art of cinema, for good, bad or indifference, and we call that The Director.

And no one who thinks about the cinema today even thinks for a moment that this is controversial.


Malick's Type

Manz in Heaven

Caviezel in Red Line
McCracken in Tree


George C. Scott previews the latest Adam Sandler movie and finds it wanting

This is worse than The Savage is Loose
Okay, so this has been going around, and I have a done a fair share of sharing it myself.  But after the fourth or fifth somewhat luke warm response (wherein the comments were more along the lines of how funny Jack and Jill looked, rather than how hilarious the mash up was!), I realized, this is only really, truly sidesplitting to cinephiles of a certain ilk.

Why?  For one thing, one needs to know, love, or at least sort of admire Hardcore, the George C. Scott contribution to the mash up.  It is a grave-serious meditation on parental responsibility, guilt, the nature of evil, you know, the usual from fun-loving reformed Calvinist auteur Paul Schrader.  

The juxtaposition of the most intense scene (Scott's father character watches a porno film starring his missing daughter) from that most intense of films with the willfully ridiculous new Sandler high concept mall-rat bait is, well, sidesplitting.  And the fact Al Pacino, who probably redefines the word slumming with his appearance in J & J, regarded Scott as the greatest actor of of the generation before him, gives this an additional weird and wonderful meta-cinematic kick.  


Kim Novak

No Pushover
Male cinephiles tend to get all gaga over Kim Novak because she was in a ton of auteurist movies and...well...look at her.

This is Kim in Pushover, one of those t.v.-style late noirs that have been packaged so perceptively by Columbia and the like.  Directed by the solid but rarely inspired Richard Quine, one can sum up the pleasures of Pushover in pretty much two words (Kim and Novak) and a few choice images, including this one, which one wonders how in the world they ever got away with.

Perhaps not SFW

But it is the ambiguity of the look in the car mirror that is the key Novak image.  What in the world is being those eyes and that sloping nose?  Certainly most of the suspense of Pushover is wondering to what extent Novak's character is controlling the sap played by an rather sad-looking Fred McMurray, long past his leading man days, to do her bidding.   If she is really in control at all.