Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): December 2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Montage: Two and One (Jacques Rivette & Brian Eno) (video)


A new video entry in my montage series, combining movies and music. The previous entry joined two eras of horror (the first two Hellraiser films & Haxan) with duelling guitar solos from a live version of "Sympathy for the Devil." This time I have used clips of Jacques Rivette's films Duelle (1976) and Out 1 (1971) alongside Brian Eno's song "Golden Hours" from 1975.

Update (YouTube upload): 



& the Cinepoem is also available now.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Prisoner - "Free for All"


Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

The last episode presented the world of The Prisoner as a cheerful totalitarian state in which it was impossible to tell the prisoners from the wardens. "Free for All" certainly doesn't run from that sense, but it amplifies it by presenting the Village as a sham democracy too. With an election approaching, Number Six is invited, encouraged in fact, to run for for the position "Number Two." Of course he has his usual headstrong plan: if he is voted in he will rip the facade from the community, discover which prisoners are biding their time until they can escape, and lead all of them to liberation. He might also get to meet the mysterious Number One and find out what's really going on. Needless to say, it doesn't work that way. The current Number Two (or is he?) (Eric Portman) stands by placidly while Six makes his incendiary speech but soon he is responding to each twitch of thought or pang of conscience with a round of brainwashing. On the previous episode, it was said that Six should not be so overtly manipulated, that he must come to provide information and accept the Village's authority of his own accord. There are no such qualms this time. Six is subjected to an ingenuously conveyed mental torture (with silhouettes of a square and circle entering the silhouette of his profile), plied with spiked drinks, and otherwise manipulated into being a grimacing tool of the establishment. This feels like the most cynical episode I've watched so far, and maybe the most hopeless.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Force Awakens: thoughts on the phenomenon (& film)


The mega-blockbusters of 2015 are Spielberg/Lucas films, but without either Steven Spielberg or George Lucas at the helm. This is a rather depressing thought. There is a sense that Frankenstein's monster has finally destroyed even its own masters (though I doubt Spielberg is weeping too hard, having executive-produced the record-setting Jurassic World, and if Lucas is - as some allege - disappointed with the direction the franchise took after selling it to Disney, there are plenty of honors and profits on hand to soothe him). For forty years, the awe-inspiring, intimidating beast of blockbuster cinema co-existed with individual filmmakers (and they were filmmakers first and foremost) who could reign it in, using the massive tentpole format to express personal visions. The Spielbergs, Lucases, and others like them were outnumbered by directors-for-hire, executing studio committees' visions of how best to market their property. But perhaps because of the idiosyncratic fact that these almost inhuman cinematic juggernauts were born out of the auteurist autonomy of New Hollywood, for a long time the art of personal expression was able to overlap with corporate desire to attract a mass audience. No longer...now Hollywood finally has what it always wanted: complete control over the major franchises, with skilled minions like JJ Abrams or Colin Treverrow to deal with rather than creators who insist on controlling their own product (not to mention taking a huge slice of the financial pie). Auteurism is dead...long live the corporation!

Wait, wait, no, that's not right. Let's try again.

The Force Awakens, the seventh episode of the Star Wars saga (the first film in ten years, and the first sequel in thirty-two) is full of sweeping vistas and loving detail. Rey (Daisey Ridley) is a plucky new heroine, more Luke than Leia as she scavenges on her desert planet Jakku and discovers an ability to use the mystical Force. Teaming up with runaway stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and the lovably hilarious droid BB-8 - easily the most endearing new cast member - she makes her way across the galaxy in a stolen spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, running into the ship's former owner, aging smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) along the way. At the forested way station of Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong'o), Rey discovers the lightsaber of the legendary Luke Skywalker in a striking sequence mixing flashback and vision. The film's climax sees General Leia (Carrie Fisher) lead the Resistance (confusingly fighting for the New Republic) battling the First Order, desperately trying to reinstate the Galactic Empire with the help of renegade Sith wannabe Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the Starkiller, a huge planet-turned-weapon-of-mass-destruction. The film is a lot of fun, hitting the nostalgic sweet spot by evoking old memories indirectly (Jakku obviously recalls Tattooine, yet it has its own barren, exotic flavor that somehow calls to mind Ralph McQuarrie's early concept art for the series) while also playing catch-up with old characters (when Han arrives, he essentially takes over the film for a while). The Force Awakens also plays it extremely safe by - as everyone else has already noted - very closely mimicking the dramatic structure of the first Star Wars film and resting so much of the film's appeal on familiar fan favorites like the Falcon, Han, Leia, Chewie, X-wings, TIE Fighters, the third incarnation of a Death Star, comic space-age banter, and the Empire vs. Rebellion power struggle (with the roles barely switched). This leaves the heavy lifting for the next episodes in the saga, leaving us with a sense of momentary satisfaction but also the larger question, "Why?"

There, was that better?

In truth, I find it almost impossible to discuss The Force Awakens as an individual film without dipping into the larger phenomenon. This sequel finds itself on one of the most unusual missions in cinema history, and every frame is informed by that mission. However, I did want to divorce my larger Lucasfilm frustrations from the experience of watching the movie. As such, I can report that The Force Awakens provided a good night out at the movies (and that, of course, the following write-up contains spoilers). Abrams, Kasdan, et al have crafted an enjoyable work of entertainment, more satisfying than most big-screen spectacles I have seen in the past decade. And as a bonus, many moments capture a whiff of that old Star Wars magic. Does it go deeper than that? Not really, and the ways in which it falls short and limits the experience are directly linked to the motivation behind the film and the context in which it was made. But first...why do I care?

Monday, December 28, 2015

The End of 2015, a status update: Star Wars & more (5 days this week)


Offering a strong ending to a strong year, I will be posting every weekday through the end of 2015. This allows me to play catch-up (after struggling to find Monday posts, in January I'm going to be a hit with a big backlog of posts as several long-delayed works go up simultaneously). It also allows me to continue the trend of the past few weeks, as I covered the Lynch/Rivette screenings at Lincoln Center, and to end the year with my highest number of blog posts since 2011 (despite taking a month and a half off following the completion of my Journey Through Twin Peaks series).

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Favorites - Pandora's Box (#75)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Pandora's Box (1929/Germany/dir. G.W. Pabst) appeared at #75 on my original list.

What it is • Lulu just wants to have fun. Despite this seemingly simple motivation, she holds immense fascination for us as well as the characters onscreen. Her troubled past (there are intimations of both extreme neglect and abuse as a child) drives her into a hungry, unapologetic enjoyment of the present: cheerfully embracing various lovers, refusing to be tossed off as a diversion, always eager for excitement and sensation. The first hour of the film charts Lulu's rise from chorus girl to wife of her wealthy patron, and the second hour follows her fall through a variety of different locations and situations. This suggests an epic scale but Pandora's Box is more accurately described as a series of intimate moments despite quite a few crowded setpieces (the stage production, the wedding, the trial, the gambling barge). G.W. Pabst's direction is characterized by precision and focus, avoiding Murnau's ambitious scope or Lang's towering monumentalism in favor of detail and gesture. Above all, Pandora's Box is centered around the face of Louise Brooks. Film history is littered with star vehicles, many of which probably feature those stars in a greater quantity of close-ups or even screentime. Yet I'm hard-pressed to think of many other movies so utterly defined by the screen presence at their center. Pandora's Box is based on the iconic plays of Franz Wedekind, who turned Lulu into a cultural icon in Germany, and Pabst was a widely-respected director of silent cinema. In theory, the film should not be reducible to its star. And yet whenever Louise Brooks is on screen, it's as if everything else exists as a frame for her charisma. Which is...

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Prisoner - "Dance of the Dead"


Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

It's Carnival Day in the Village and the idea seems perfectly suited for the bright, cheerful community. In theory, that is - in practice it means dozens of people in colorful costumes standing around aimlessly until they are told what to do (in this case, dance). If the first episode focused my attention on the mystery of the Village itself, this - the eighth episode aired and (on the advice of Christopher Yohn and others) the second I have watched - awoke my curiosity about the Villagers themselves. Who are they? How did they get there? Why do they do what they do (or don't do)? Are they like Number Six, desiring escape but having learned to bide their time until the right opportunity arrives? Or have the pleasant repetitions of the daily routine, the hospitalizations and other medical intervention ordered by the Doctor (William Lyon Brown), and the fear of violent reprisal effectively brainwashed these people? We get a variety of answers in "Dance of the Dead," but no definite conclusions.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Inland Empire & The Story of Marie and Julien (Lynch/Rivette #7)


This is the seventh and final entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Inland Empire (2006) and The Story of Marie and Julien (2003) on the evening of Sunday, December 20. This review contains spoilers for both films.

The double feature will repeat, at 4:00pm on Tuesday, December 22, the final day of the retrospective.

Throughout the David Lynch/Jacques Rivette series we have seen characters blur together and switch places, sometimes literally - replacing one another through a miracle of space and time - but often more subtly, as they shift positions of power, experience each other's thoughts and feelings, or enter a mutual dream space. How appropriate that this final double feature rotates the directors themselves into one another's territory even if the changeover is far from complete. Inland Empire still feels Lynchian and The Story of Marie and Julien still feels Rivettian. But in significant ways, the two filmmakers evoke each other's fascinations, a quality especially true of Inland Empire. Fascinated by the rehearsal process and the loss of identity inside an intense psychodrama, depicting a fluidity between worlds that go anywhere at any moment, and shot as experimentally as any Rivette film (Lynch invented random scenes the day of the shoot) Inland Empire feels like a mash-up between the psychological/aesthetic intensity of L'Amour Fou and the crosscutting narrative freedom of Celine and Julie Go Boating.

The Story of Marie and Julien does not evoke Lynch as overtly as Inland Empire evokes Rivette (although someone did describe the film to me as "Lynchian" before I saw it). However, there is an uncanny stillness and slowness to Rivette's work in Marie and Julien that recalls Lynch's touch, especially in early works like Twin Peaks that sought a mood of meditation - and occasional frustration - by drawing out moments as long as possible. Marie and Julien also falls more readily into a genre than most of Rivette's work (all the better to subvert, my dear), recontextualizing a romantic ghost story just as Lynch recontextualized the road movie, film noir, or TV soap opera. Finally, perhaps most importantly, no Rivette film holds as much stock in the ability of faith and love to achieve the miraculous. Although Lynch himself drifted away from this viewpoint in the previous two selections (the fatalist Lost Highway and tragic Mulholland Drive), Inland Empire fully returns to the transcendence of his earlier films, even more full-throated in its lack of ambiguous irony or bittersweet resignation. For the final night of a series that has probably highlighted differences more than similarities between the two auteurs, Lynch and Rivette find their sentiments strangely in sync - like clockwork.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Paradox of Twin Peaks and David Lynch: interview with Andreas Halskov, author of TV Peaks


Every month, I will be offering at least one post on Twin Peaks...up until Showtime re-airs the original series. Then I will post extensive coverage of each episode (mixing new reactions with my many older pieces) immediately after they air. Stay tuned.

Andreas Halskov's interest in David Lynch takes a multimedia approach (appropriately enough). He has recently written the fascinating study TV Peaks, part Twin Peaks analysis, part fandom study, part general television history. Throughout the year he has also been creating video essays in collaboration with Jan Oxholm, studying Lynch's effects through a close analysis of his images and, perhaps especially, his sound. My favorite of Andreas' videos so far is "What's the Frequency, David?" which hones in on, in Andreas' own words, "the conscious and the unconscious world – as if they were two frequencies on the same radio." It is precisely this sort of layered analysis that Halskov thrives upon; he has also written a Danish monograph called The Paradox of David Lynch, observing several of the seeming contradictions that define Lynch's work and lend it its appeal. Fascinated by Andreas' scholarly approach, enthusiastic demeanor, and various insights, I arranged an interview. The following conversation has been edited down from exchanges via email and phone.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mulholland Drive & Celine and Julie Go Boating (Lynch/Rivette #6)


This is the sixth entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) and Mulholland Dr (2001) on the evening of Saturday, December 19.

These are the films. If you're asking me for my personal favorites I would probably go with the wilder and woollier Fire Walk With Me and Out 1. But it's incredibly easy to see why Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating are considered their directors' masterpieces, and why they have become the go-to initiation rites for anyone hoping to fall under David Lynch's or Jacques Rivette's spells. J. Hoberman called last night's double feature, with some trepidation, a "surfeit of cinema." He's right. It isn't that films like Lost Highway or L'Amour Fou aren't intensely cinematic in their own right, it's just that these two titles are movie-movie-movies in the same sense as Citizen Kane, 2001: A Space Odyssey, or 8 1/2. Collecting together all of the elements present in other Lynch or Rivette films, they are rich with a sense of magic - some combination of charm, imagination, reflexivity, excitement, and depth - transforming already great films into something even more iconic.

These films also form the most logical pairing of the entire retrospective, kicking off the entire concept according to programmer Dennis Lim. Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating join classics like Robert Altman's 3 Women, Vera Chytilova's Daisies, and Ingmar Bergman's Persona by placing young women at the center of an alluringly fantastical world. Betty (Naomi Watts) and Rita (Laura Elena Harring), like Celine (Juliet Berto) and Julie (Dominique Labourier), chase their own elusive memories, mix amateur sleuthing skills with a penchant for performance, rely upon talismans to guide them through a web of intrigue, and cross interdimensional boundaries between reality and dream in order to solve a murder and satisfy their dangerous desire to penetrate an aura of mystery.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Lost Highway & Duelle (Lynch/Rivette #5)


This is the fifth entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Lost Highway (1997) and Duelle (1977) on the evening of Friday, December 18.

There are moments in Lynch and Rivette where we suddenly "snap into" it, and in retrospect everything that happened before seems like preparation for the threshold experience. Lost Highway has many such moments (mostly featuring Robert Blake's dread-inducing Mystery Man) although having seen the film several times I've perhaps become more accustomed to them. Duelle has these moments too, and I was less prepared for them last night because I'd seen the film only once and remembered virtually nothing about it. Hence, while much of Duelle (especially the meandering first half) didn't do a lot for me, those moments were vivid reminders of why both of these artists are worth treasuring and why despite their countless differences - differences that this particular double feature highlights to near-breaking point - Lynch and Rivette feel complementary. Their films are like vehicles that take different roads (perhaps a Parisian avenue and a Californian lost highway) to reach the same destination: that sensation of dislocation in time and space where a vertiginous sense of the uncanny is triggered by decor, performance, and camera movement. The rabbit hole has opened up and we are falling or floating - it's hard to tell.

Wild at Heart & L'Amour Fou (Lynch/Rivette #3)


This is the fourth entry - but, technically, the third double feature - in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended individual screenings of Wild at Heart (1990) on the afternoon of Tuesday, December 15, and L'Amour Fou (1969) on the afternoon of Thursday, December 17.

If the pairing of Paris Belongs to Us and Eraserhead suggests a contrast between Rivette's ambitious sprawl and Lynch's intense claustrophobia, the Wild at Heart/L'Amour Fou double feature places the shoes on the other feet. Rivette turns his characters inward, locating most of L'Amour Fou within two interiors: the cavernous rehearsal space where Sebastien (Jean-Pierre Kalfon) directs the play Andromachas, and the distinctive apartment (as much a creepy character as Henry's room in Eraserhead) where Sebastien and his wife Claire enact ritualistic abuse, empathy, and engagement. Wild at Heart, on the other hand, blows the Lynchverse's doors wide open, rocketing Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) cross-country to experience wacky adventures with a wild cast of characters. Fifteen years after Eraserhead, Lynch's Palme d'Or-winning work is the polar opposite of his debut in almost every conceivable way.

If the clear contrast between L'Amour Fou and Wild at Heart lies in their settings, the obvious similarity is their subject: these are the directors' foremost "couples films," depicting the raw power and fragility of passionate, confused, possibly somewhat crazy men and women. But the strongest link between these movies is the role they play in the careers of their respective auteurs. Both are stylistic breakthroughs, stumbling across a form better-suited to express Lynch's and Rivette's visions than anything they had worked with before. This is generally understood in the case of L'Amour Fou, far less so with Wild at Heart.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Favorites - La Roue (#76)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. La Roue (1923/France/dir. Abel Gance) appeared at #76 on my original list.

What it is • One sunny day a train crashes in a hybrid urban/rural landscape (a countryside crisscrossed by railroads and other industrial clutter). Sisif (Severin-Maris), a virile young engine driver, rescues the orphaned Norma and decides to raise her as his daughter. Unfortunately, Sisif's delight in this "rose of the rail" is cast in a more sinister light when she grows into a beautiful young woman (Ivy Close) and he finds himself attracted to her. This horrible desire (which Sisif is determined to deny and keep a secret) drives much of the film's tragic action, but there are many other elements weighing on his body and soul too - all of life is represented (repeatedly and none too subtly) as a wheel that keeps relentlessly turning, wearing the characters down over the course of this four-and-a-half-hour film. Sounds miserable, right? Yet the film is also deeply beautiful, capturing the crisscrossing lines and plumes of black smoke in the railyards, and later the stirring, epic peaks and valleys of the Alps where an aging Sisif, slowly going blind, is reassigned to guide a pathetic little funicular engine in his waning days. The cutting is superb, with an accelerating onslaught of images clashing yet complementing one another; this is revolutionary montage a year before Sergei Eisenstein made Strike, and more concerned with accumulation than contrast. And the performances of Severin-Mars and Ivy Close are monumental in their expressiveness, capturing the subtle shifts as their characters lose their youth but never quite their vitality. La Roue was a benchmark in the silent era, essentially forgotten for decades but re-discovered in recent years. Abel Gance, fresh off the acclaimed J'Accuse and several years shy of his even more groundbreaking Napoleon, is concerned with innovative technique onscreen, but he is also deeply invested in the soul of the picture (which opens with a tribute to his young wife, who died while he was making La Roue). This is a film that recognizes beastliness and beauty as two sides of the same human coin.

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Eraserhead & Paris Belongs to Us (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #4)


This is the third entry - but, technically, the fourth double feature - in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended the double feature of Paris Belongs to Us (1961) and Eraserhead (1977) on the evening of Tuesday, December 15.

This is arguably the most paradoxical double feature of the series. Eraserhead and Paris Belongs to Us are weirdly complementary: both debut films that took years to shoot, both set in an uneasy urban location, and both unusually black-and-white (the only other monochrome title in the retrospective is L'Amour Fou). But these two films are also radically, jarringly different. Paris Belongs to Us is concerned with a very specific time and place - the opening card tells us when ("Summer 1957") and the title tells us where - and Rivette was operating within the context of a larger film movement: the French New Wave. Eraserhead, influenced by Lynch's stint as an art student and young father in Philadelphia but shot in sunny Los Angeles' lesser-known industrial quarters, takes place in a nightmare metropolis of the mind, deeper into the subconscious than even German Expressionism dared to go. Thirty-eight years later, there's still nothing else quite like it.

The Prisoner - "Arrival"


Welcome to my viewing diary for The Prisoner. Every Wednesday I will review another episode. This is my first watch-through of the 1967 British cult TV show so there will be NO spoilers for upcoming episodes. But I will be watching the series in this order so if you are watching along with me, keep that in mind.

Patrick McGoohan certainly knows how to kick off a TV show. In a quickly-cut montage with no dialogue (the only word even printed onscreen is "Resigned"), it is established that the main character (played by co-creator McGoohan) is leaving an ominous organization - probably a spy agency - and that they don't want to let him go (packing his bags for an exotic getaway he is gassed and knocked out). The aesthetic with which this information is presented seems unusual to modern eyes. From my admittedly small sample size, many acclaimed 00s TV shows employ moody lighting or eccentric (usually drawn-out) pacing but they seldom employ the fast-paced visual storytelling embraced by "The Arrival"'s cold open. The Prisoner was made in 1967, and occasionally it's very 60s fondness for montage feels excessive, with multiple cuts covering action that could be more effective if economical. Still, for he most part I found this style much more refreshing than dated; the first few minutes got me very excited for the seventeen episodes to come.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me & Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles/Part 2: The Prisons (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #2)


This is the second entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended the triple feature of Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles (1994), Joan the Maid Part 2: The Prisons (1994), and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) on Saturday, December 11. 

Major plot details of the television show Twin Peaks are discussed below.

On February 23, two young women live their last day as mere mortals. Joan the Maid, a 15th century French peasant, arrives at the disgraced Dauphin's court, setting a course that will crown him king within five months and burn her at the stake within another two years. Laura Palmer, an 80s American high school student, confronts her abusive father, precipitating a chain of events that will climax later that night when he brutally murders her. These worldly, sordid details are amplified by a larger spiritual struggle in which the women's lives and deaths are enmeshed. Laura rejects the evil spirit that shares her father's body (and wants to inhabit hers) by accepting a mysterious green ring bonding her to a rival spirit, ensuring salvation alongside death. Likewise, Joan becomes a war hero by listening to supernatural voices, and she overcomes her brutal imprisonment by proclaiming her divine mission, paving the way for her execution as a heretic.

Jacques Rivette's Joan the Maid Part 1: The Battles & Part II: The Prisons (1994) and David Lynch's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) take opposite approaches to these two heroines. Joan observes the saint's behavior without accessing her visions (never once do we hear those famous voices) while Fire Walk With Me immerses us completely in Laura's consciousness, exposing her hallucinations and weird encounters with a ferocious vigor convincing us they are absolutely true. Both films take faith as their subject; perhaps because of their filmmakers, they address and fulfill that subject in very different ways.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Blue Velvet & The Duchess of Langeais (Lynch/Rivette Retrospective #1)


This is the first entry in a series covering the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center, running from December 10 - 22. I attended a double feature of Blue Velvet (1986) and The Duchess of Langeais (2007) on the evening of Friday, December 10.

In spite of many memorable images, the work of David Lynch and Jacques Rivette is often defined by what we can't see: whispered conspiracies and chimerical secret societies, supernatural pathways that might exist only in the characters' heads, or buried links and splits establishing two characters as one or one character as two. Almost always, these hidden clues connect different worlds or people, speaking to these characters' hunger as they blindly grope their way toward deeper connection, spiritual or collective (a process envisioned literally in a rehearsal scene from Rivette's 1971 magnum opus Out 1). In Lynch's Blue Velvet and Rivette's The Duchess of Langeais (based on Honore de Balzac's History of the Thirteen) this impulse appears in its most basic form: the longing of one human being for another. Despite this simplicity, both films illustrate how ugly and cruel that longing can become, how easily a desire for the whole becomes enmeshed in abusive power plays. Few other double features will depict this desire as being so hopelessly futile, so destructive and dangerous.

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Favorites - The River (#77)


The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The River (1951/UK/dir. Jean Renoir) appeared at #77 on my original list.

What it is • To call the "plot" of The River episodic would almost be an exaggeration - better to call it anecdotal, so slight are the moments it collects together like beads on a string. "Where would the world be without string?" one character asks another, defending his jute-processing business - and in this film the string is the narration by Harriet (Patricia Walters, but the voiceover is by June Hillman). A gangly redheaded adolescent onscreen, she is adult and wise on the soundtrack, offering a many-years-later reflection that carries all those brief moments along, linking them together like the titular river carries and links the boats. But boats, beads, whichever metaphor you like, those individual moments are the real stuff this film is made of and Jean Renoir's first experiments with color ensure that they glisten like pearls. A girl in white and gold dancing for her lover turned blue Krishna...a tangled green jungle through which three teenage girls tread, under a bright blue sky...the orange robes and orange flames of the Diwali ceremony set off by a glorious cacophony of reds, greens, and blacks...the overwhelming, intoxicating burst of spring: green, pink, orange, blue, punctuated by the explosion of red powder on a character's amused face. However, the film is not just visual spectacle. Despite its deceptively languorous and casual air, The River delves into war, death, grief, spirituality, heartache, displacement, the experiences and emotions big and small that define life. And at its best, the reassuring narration fades away leaving us with images that both speak for themselves and don't begin to tell us what to think as Harriet comes of age, competing with her friends Valerie (Adrienne Corri) and Melanie (Radha) for the attention of the war-wounded Capt. John (Thomas E. Breen).

Why I like it •

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Lured in by Lynch & Rivette: a retrospective at Lincoln Center (+ status update for the coming weeks)


Over the coming two weeks, I will be reviewing every double feature in the Lynch/Rivette retrospective at Lincoln Center. Reviews will be going up as soon as I am able to write them, alongside my usual Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 7am routine. To kick off the retrospective, I am sharing the intro & a link to an essay I wrote for Fandor Keyframe (where my videos will resume in the new year). By coincidence, Fandor's head video essayist, Kevin B. Lee, also produced a new video related to the retrospective which premiered tonight at Lincoln Center, alongside a talk by Dennis Lim, who programmed the series with Dan Sullivan, and Melissa Anderson.

In addition to my pieces on each Lynch/Rivette screening, the coming weeks will feature interviews with two authors of recent Lynch/Twin Peaks literature: Dennis Lim - who, in addition to programming the retrospective, also just published David Lynch: The Man From Another Place - and Andreas Halskov, whose new book TV Peaks covers the influence, innovation, and fan culture of Twin Peaks. And before I give way to the Fandor piece, I also want to point you to James Cooray Smith's thoughtful, nuanced article on the Star Wars prequels for the New Statesman (despite the provocative title, his perspective is more exploratory than polemical). Not only is it a great read, he very generously shouted out my Journey Through Twin Peaks videos!

Ok, on with the show...

• • •

David & Jacques Go Boating:
The Lynch/Rivette Dual Retrospective at Lincoln Center

by Joel Bocko

For thirteen days in December, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will trade its screening room for a rabbit hole. American auteur David Lynch and French filmmaker Jacques Rivette are the subjects of a fifteen-film retrospective marked by split narratives, double characters, and entangled locations. The surrealist directors are themselves defined by duality, with some viewers celebrating them as truthtellers while others dismiss (or appreciate) them as tricksters. Their films thrive on this uncertainty, projecting an aura of dreamlike mystery punctuated by playful interludes and violent epiphanies.

It isn’t hard to see why Dan Sullivan and Dennis Lim, author of the brand new Lynch book The Man From Another Place, programmed Lynch and Rivette side by side in a series of double features (although tickets are available for each film individually, the heart of the retrospective’s approach is in these pairings). The program notes feature many convergences between the cowboy and the Frenchman: “secrets, conspiracies, and paranoia; women in trouble; the supernatural manifesting itself within the everyday; the nature of performance and the stage as an arena for transformation; the uncanny sense of narrative as a puzzle without a solution, a force with a life of its own.”

Rivette evokes that uncanny sensation by mixing casual fly-on-the-wall photography with heightened theatricality, while Lynch prefers to decorate his cinematic canvases with subverted Hollywood fantasies. Both directors discover the bizarre in the everyday, but Rivette tends toward mesmeric daydream whereas Lynch creates more convulsive nightmares. Indeed, the Lynch/Rivette retrospective is defined by harmony and dissonance, with each similarity exposing a subtle difference. The dance orchestrated by Sullivan and Lim may be a tense tango rather than a smooth waltz.

Rivette has praised Lynch’s work, declaring Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992) “the craziest film in the history of cinema. I have no idea what happened, I have no idea what I saw, all I know is that I left the theater floating six feet above the ground.” Lynch’s thoughts on Rivette are unknown (perhaps he’s never been asked). Did Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974) influence Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001)? Or do great minds simply think alike? Perhaps these directors share the same wavelength but operate on different frequencies.

Unscrambling these signals, Sullivan and Lim have posed pairings both obvious and inventive, relying on character, chronology, theme, or something more intangible to concoct these double features. “I was particularly interested in performance in their films,” Lim has noted, “and the way both filmmakers work with narrative.”

FRIDAY, December 11
Rivette’s The Duchess of Langeais (2007), 137 minutes, at 3:30pm & 9:00pm
Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986), 120 minutes, at 8:30pm (followed by reception for ticket-holders)

Narrative provides the glue for the opening selection, pairing Lynch’s groundbreaking Blue Velvet with Rivette’s late work The Duchess of Langeais (based on Balzac’s History of the Thirteen). The first exists in an all-American small town mixing fifties sunshine with eighties anxiety, while the second encloses itself in the ornate drawing rooms and boudoirs of Restoration France. Both center on enigmatic woman who bewitch a young man, Blue Velvet’s Dorothy (Isabella Rossellini) seducing Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) through violence and seduction, Balzac’s titular Duchess (Jeanne Balibar) preferring coquetry to fornication as she toys with a youthful general (Guillaume Depardieu).

Corruption and conspiracy (most notably via Dennis Hopper’s terrifying Frank Booth) characterize the communities surrounding these private psychodramas, social spheres determined to impose order in the wake of unrest. The tension in Rivette’s film may arise in the contradiction of the director’s own freewheeling sensibilities with Balzac’s royalist sympathies, whereas the tension in Lynch’s film arises from within himself. The much-protested, much-celebrated American subversive was also an avid supporter of Ronald Reagan at the time, fascinated in equal measure by picket fences and the dirt underneath.

SATURDAY, December 12
Rivette’s Joan the Maid: The Battles (1994), 160 minutes, at 2:00pm
Rivette’s Joan the Maid: The Prisons (1994), 176 minutes, at 5:30pm
Lynch’s Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (1992), 134 minutes, at 9:15pm

The next double feature (or, technically, triple feature) focuses on single characters: Joan of Arc (Sandrine Bonnaire), whom Rivette depicted in Joan the Maid: The Battles and Joan the Maid: The Prisons and Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), whom Lynch invented as a murder victim on the mystery show Twin Peaks (1990-91) before finally granting her onscreen life in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Gifted and damned young woman, inclined toward spiritual insight while tormented by powerful, worldly men, both were more familiar to audiences as myths than flesh-and-blood human beings.

In Joan the Maid and Fire Walk With Me, these heroines are resurrected through intense, committed performances by two brilliant actresses. Rather than relegating them to passive, martyrhood both Laura and Joan are characterized as defiant in the face of death, strong, resilient, and also deeply human. Laura’s spiritual victory may not be obvious as Joan’s, but it is there for those who want to look. Both Joan and Fire depict the fiery humanist heart concealed behind Lynch’s and Rivette’s playful public personas.

SUNDAY, December 13
Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), 250 minutes, at 3:00pm
Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), 124 minutes, at 8:15pm

The first weekend of the series concludes with back-to-back romances characterized as much by violence as sex; their very titles proclaim that love leads to madness (or vice-versa). Rivette’s L’Amour Fou (1969), depicting the breakup/breakdown of a marriage between an actress (Bulle Ogier) and director (Jean-Pierre Kalfon), and Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), coupling Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern as tender-hearted fugitives from a bizarre criminal empire, are fueled by the passionate energy of two different freedom-loving zeitgeists, and both represent major turning points in their directors’ careers.

Shot during the social tumult unleashed by May ’68, Rivette’s four-hour intimate epic introduced improvisation-based narrative to his work, paving the way for the thirteen-hour experiment Out 1 (1971). Produced at the end of the Cold War, Lynch’s road movie ignited a new impressionistic style for the director, pushing him toward his increasingly avant-garde episodes of Twin Peaks. Acclaim greeted both films (Wild at Heart won the Palme d’Or at Cannes) but they remain controversial, alternately described as audacious or self-indulgent.

TUESDAY, December 15
Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us (1961), 140 minutes, at 6:30pm
Lynch’s Eraserhead (1977), 89 minutes, at 9:15pm

The retrospective resumes, following a one-day break, with Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead (1979) and Rivette’s directorial debut Paris Belongs to Us (1961). Both breakthroughs took years to produce, held together only by the young directors’ visions and the passion of their collaborators despite long pauses and funding crises. Conveying apocalyptic energies through paranoid protagonists and hilarious (if unnerving) communication breakdowns, Eraserhead and Paris Belong to Us trace a similar path…and yet these may be the two most different films that the retrospective placed together.

No Lynch film exists more purely within an imaginary headspace than Eraserhead, confronting Henry (Jack Nance) with bizarre characters like his mutant baby, his animalistic in-laws, and the Lady and the Radiator. Few Rivette works are as explicit as Paris Belongs to Us about links to current or recent events, with Anne (Betty Schneider) uncovering the possibility of a worldwide fascist plot behind her friend’s apparent suicide. Eraserhead is solitary and fantastical, while Paris Belongs to Us is communitarian and worldly. This yin/yang dynamic clearly establishes where the Venn diagram of Lynch and Rivette aligns…and where it diverges.

FRIDAY, December 18
Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), 134 minutes, at 6:30pm
Rivette’s Duelle (1976), 120 minutes, at 9:15pm

Following several solo screenings throughout the week (listed at the end of this article), the double features return with these two moody, mythic noirs. Fond of cryptic puzzles and pulpish allusions, Lynch’s Lost Highway(1997) and Rivette’s Duelle (1976) stretch their makers’ reality-bending tendencies beyond their previous limits and watch them snap. These brazenly supernatural stories defy physics while embracing an intuitive logic drawn from the collective unconscious.

Rivette’s low-fi sci-fi fantasy features a literal battle between goddesses of sun (Bulle Ogier) and moon (Juliet Berto). Lynch’s fever-dream juxtaposes a jealous husband-turned-innocent patsy (Bill Pullman, Balthazar Getty) and a meek wife-turned-femme fatale (Patricia Arquette) against the sunny suburbia of the Valley and the nightmarish darkness of Los Angeles. This match-up promises to be among the most invigorating double features on display this week, plunging us into metropolitan mindscapes that gleam with the cold, dazzling allure of Duelle’s diamond.

SATURDAY, December 19
Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), 192 minutes, at 4:45pm
Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), 147 minutes, at 9:00pm

MONDAY, December 20
Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001), 147 minutes, at 4:00pm
Rivette’s Celine and Julie Go Boating (1974), 192 minutes, at 7:00pm

Not only are Mulholland Drive and Celine and Julie Go Boating among the most closely-linked films of the two directors, they are also become the signature creations of each. Mulholland’s Hollywood tone poem – the story of a naïve young actress (Naomi Watts) befriending a mysterious amnesiac (Laura Elena Harring) (or so it begins) – now ranks as the most acclaimed American film of the century. Celine and Julie – in which the title characters (Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier) stumble across a haunted house/enchanted movie set/alternate-reality wormhole – remains Rivette’s most celebrated work by a long shot (even making an Entertainment Weekly all-time top 100 list).

Despite the dark themes of Mulholland Drive in particular, these are also among the most fun works in the Lynch-Rivette canon, mixing glamor, humor, and even action with a sense of endless possibility and experimentation. Each film unfolds in the cross-section of two very different narrative worlds, occasionally offering very alternate viewpoints of what appears to be the same fundamental story. In Mulholland Drive, these narratives occur back-to-back. Even more radically, Celine and Julie views them side-by-side. If you venture into Lynchland or Rivettropolis only once in December, this is probably the trip you will want to take.

SUNDAY, December 20
Lynch’s Inland Empire (2006), 180 minutes, at 5:00pm
Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien (2003), 151 minutes, at 9:00pm

For the most adventurous spirits, however, the best is yet to come. The final double feature (aside from the Mulholland/Celine Monday repeat) joins two of the directors’ later works, proving that they did not become more timid with age. Shot when Rivette was in his seventies, Story of Marie and Julien, starring Emmanuelle Beart and Jerzy Radziwilowicz, ends the retrospective where it began, with an erotic love story involving intrigue and deception. This time, however, the romance unfolds not within a realistic historical context but against an increasingly supernatural, irrational backdrop.

Lynch’s hallucinatory video experiment Inland Empiremoves with the logic of channel-or-web surfing, mixing the digital world of the twenty-first century with a fascination with cinema’s – and particularly Hollywood’s – past. Loosely organized around the experience of an actress (Laura Dern) whose reality becomes entangled with the part she is playing, Inland Empire remains Lynch’s most radical work. Inland Empire and Story of Marie and Julienjumble together psychic synchronicity, ghost stories, and a quantum-infused timestamp. They open up new doors for the directors, but they also look back upon long, storied careers, referencing and reflecting the early works of Lynch and Rivette.

No less than Celine and Julie, Betty and Rita, Sailor and Lula, or Marie and Julien, the duo of Lynch and Rivette are as exciting as they are dangerous. Lincoln Center will briefly serve as a portal into their overlapping wonderlands, but unlike the Lynch/Rivette characters – who access these dream worlds via hard candies, blue boxes, magical diamonds, or ominous rings – we require only ordinary tickets. I have mine, and will be reporting on the retrospective while it unfolds (on Lost in the Movies [http://thedancingimage.blogspot.com]). Will it be real, or some strange and twisted dream? There’s only one way to find out. See you on the other side.

Additional screenings
TUESDAY, December 15: Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990), 124 minutes, at 4:00pm
WEDNESDAY, December 16: Lynch’s Blue Velvet(1986), 120 minutes, at 2:30pm
THURSDAY, December 17: Rivette’s L’Amour Fou(1969), 250 minutes, at 2:00pm
FRIDAY, December 18: Rivette’s Paris Belongs to Us(1961), 140 minutes, at 3:30pm
SUNDAY, December 20: Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997), 134 minutes, at 2:00pm
TUESDAY, December 22: Rivette’s Story of Marie and Julien (2003), 151 minutes, at 4:00pm