Lost in the Movies: Fragments of Cinephilia, Pt. IV

Fragments of Cinephilia, Pt. IV

Short thoughts on: Love Exposure • Batman: Mask of the Phantasm • Kwaidan • The Honeymoon Killers • Richard Linklater  Les Bonnes Femmes • Running on Empty • Phantom of the Cinematheque • Out 1

My response to Boyhood, The Giver, and the recent spate of "death of adulthood" articles is almost entirely written but won't be ready in time for Monday morning. Hence I'll hold off on it till next week and present some oldies instead. For the fourth time (but the first in two years) I am collecting IMDb comments (mostly) left many moons ago during the era when those boards were my main online cinematic stomping ground. Most notably, my first response to the epic and enigmatic Out 1 is recorded below: I wrote these words in the immediate afterglow of a very memorable screening. Enjoy. (And if you do, make sure to check out the previous round-ups.) Disclaimer: my opinions circa 2007 are not necessarily still mine although I suppose I wouldn't re-post them if I didn't think they had some merit (even if 2014 me disagrees with their premises).

Before moving on to the older posts, this one's actually from my blogging years, when I mostly ignored the forum. On the scene in Love Exposure (2008) when the character Yoko recites verses from Corinthians to the hero, Yu and tells him he doesn't know what love is:

I thought it was a great scene in a movie that I wasn't otherwise sure was great (I liked it, but not as much as many others I know). To me, it seemed she might have been correct - I know we're supposed to believe Yu really loves her, but it's such a frenetic, hyperactive devotion he shows towards her, very adolescent, that I had suspected he lacked the maturity to "truly" love her though he seemed to be approaching this in the van scenes with his patient watching over her.

Even by the ending, I had trouble believing Yu's feelings didn't run more towards infatuation and lust than truly deep love. I also didn't quite buy Yoko's conversion, or rather I wouldn't have bought it if Mitsushima wasn't so outstanding in her performance that I almost believed it.

Anyway, a film worth revisiting. Stylistically, I thought the Corinthians scene might be the best in the movie; much of the film was superficially stylish, but this was one sequence where I actually felt the filmmaker was expressing a personal vision and not just a surface sensibility.

And one more from 2011, on Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), which one commentator called the film "Batman Begins wishes it was": 

Ditto everything you said, from wanting to come to this board after watching the film again and being bowled over, to Phantasm's emotional superiority to the Nolan films. That's the key: emotionally engaging. I don't think any live-action comic book comes close to this one in effortlessly keeping a foot in both the stylized, archetypal comics universe and the world of human drama. Maybe because it's animated?

It's also a very engaging noir.

Now onto the older posts, from about six years ago. On Kwaidan (1964) and a commentator who compared it to his father's advice, "Chew your food slowly":

I am notorious for eating my food too fast, so perhaps it makes sense that I was sometimes restless in this movie. But I'd also have to agree with the above poster who prefers Ugetsu...for me, the first episode was weakened by comparison. It was so formalized (albeit often very beautiful in a slightly cold way) that I didn't feel as attached to the situation or moved as I did after the man's night back with his wife in the Mizoguchi film. Of course, Kobayashi is going for a very different effect than Mizoguchi; I guess in the end, poetry moves me more than myth, for whatever reason. But that's personal and I admired the film a great deal and am glad I saw it (particularly for the second episode).

More on that second episode:

Woman of the Snow. Though I admired the entire film from a technical point of view, the extreme control and penchant for repetition and drawing things out didn't always engage me. But this second episode was the most beautiful, and for me the most transporting. Some of those images will never leave me...the colors were so lush, the compositions so perfect...absolutely brilliant.

On Francois Truffaut's avowed affection for The Honeymoon Killers (1970), which he called his favorite American film:

The film has a certain spare quality which Truffaut seemed to appreciate in American films. It's funny, though he often gets pegged as the grand romantic and Godard as the detail-obsessed minimalist, in some ways the reverse is true. For all the flourishes of Jules and Jim, Truffaut seems to have a fondness for small, precise, focused visual storytelling, while Godard in his enthusiasm can't decide what to pick out and includes everything. Personally, I think this puts me closer to Godard, but I don't know how others feel.

On Richard Linklater, whose Boyhood (2014) I will be reviewing next week. The final line remains true even today:

I like Linklater but have a problem with the Linklater cult. I enjoyed Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, A Scanner Darkly, and Waking Life. I respected Slacker though its characters annoyed me too much for me to really like the film. And School of Rock was fun though it never would have been taken as seriously had the director been unknown.

So I generally like Linklater's work but something about his following and public image irritates me, whether or not it's his fault. Maybe it's the fact that when I was about eighteen, I said I hadn't seen Tape and someone sneered at me, "You call yourself a film buff and you've never seen Tape?!" Tape of all movies! Never mind that the person had probably never seen any number of classic films which I declined to taunt them about. Right away, Tape and Linklater seemed to stand for a noxious brand of cinematic elitism, one which celebrates modern independent films and scorns those who don't share the passion or knowledge, yet ignores the grand history of film in which said modern movies play a small part. (To be fair, this is history that Linklater himself certainly does not ignore, and I like some of the things he's said about this issue in interviews - again, the caveat's with the cult not the leader). So that could be the start.

Slacker twists the knife in the wound a little deeper. It seems to represent the arrogance of a whole generation (or generations, stretching from the punk movement to Generation X) which whines about how narcissistic the baby boomers are, yet is just as full of itself without having as much to show for it. Sorry to generalize about all you circa 35 to 45 people out there (and believe me, I've got plenty of problems with my own generation). I wanted to punch most of the characters in the face. "Withdrawing in disgust is not the same thing as apathy." Perhaps not, but at least the apathetic aren't patting themselves on the back for their "courageous" non-participation.

Still, the movie was well-made and Linklater's more genial follow-ups are more ingratiating. So I like him as a director, but felt it necessary to express a few reservations. Don't know if anyone else agrees with them, but there you have it.

P.S. By the way, I still haven't seen Tape.

On the ending of Les Bonnes Femmes (1960), which I later reviewed in full:

Yeah, all I could make of it was that she was some kind of archetype and that Chabrol was implicating the viewer (or himself as the filmmaker), bringing our voyeurism front and center. After all, we never see the face of the man who asks her to dance, and she stares directly at us (the camera) at the end of the film. Its surrealism would have taken me aback had not the previous scene already shattered my ideas of what the film was about and what its tone was. I mean, I had an inkling, given Chabrol's known Hitchcockian tendencies and the weird vibes that guy was giving off, but still...kind of a shock. A very interesting film, certainly.

On Running on Empty (1988), which I also reviewed in full a few years later:

I heard about this one a while ago and rented it recently, not sure what to expect. I don't think it's a great film, by any means, but rather a really good one...a nice little film elevated to a higher level by an interesting subject matter, some excellent performances, and the very solid direction of Sidney Lumet. I find Lumet fascinating - he's been working for 50 years and has a number of classics under his belt, yet he's not known for his unique voice or style; indeed, he doesn't seem to have one. Instead he just brings a certain knowledge and sensitivity to the set. The movie had a number of nice elements and though the subject is fairly serious there's a kind of relaxed, almost blissful quality to some of the scenes. I like the locations a lot, for one thing; they really captured a kind of middle American poetry (if that makes sense). And the family dynamic was very convincing, though as someone pointed out River doesn't bare much of a resemblance to Judd as his dad. Well, it was the 60's - maybe Mom was experiencing some "free love"...

Anyway, aside from the quality of the film, I wanted to discuss the idea behind it. In some ways, it does seem like a sanitized version of 60's radicalism. Having watched a few documentaries on the Weather Underground, on whom the "Liberation Army" is obviously based I can't quite imagine the two parents involved, even in their younger, crazier days. The Weatherpeople were pretty hardcore and in their statements and actions gave off the air of self-conscious, narcissistic revolutionaries, rather than concerned but angry citizens. But in a way the watering down makes the movie more interesting -- as an example of the way America (or a certain element of America) saw its legacy of 60's radicalism in the late 80's. So besides being a damn good, enjoyable little movie it has value as a sociological document...

On the documentary Phantom of the Cinematheque (2004), about Henri Langlois, who programmed the French Cinematheque for decades:

This is disappointing...the man did as much for cinema as anyone else, maybe more. I wish there were more people here. Anyway, I saw a documentary the other day in which Chabrol described visiting a screening area of Langlois' when he was a young man. They were playing M on the first floor, which he'd seen, so he went upstairs and had seen the film screening there as well. On his way down, he noticed they were projecting a third movie on the stairwell, Diary of a Lost Girl. He hadn't seen it, so he sat down on the steps to watch.

That's my idea of the afterlife (if I've been good of course).

On Out 1 (1971), the thirteen-hour film by Jacques Rivette. I attended a screening in March 2007 which remains one of the most memorable cinematic events of my life:

I just returned from a two-day screening of the film and feel the need to digest it publicly in this forum. An amazing and unique experience, but I can't really sort out my feelings about the ending, or lack thereof. If anyone else has seen it, please jump into the discussion with your thoughts. I would say the sixth episode was probably my favorite...by this point the dynamics of the group were becoming clearer, particularly their mysterious but potent connection to May '68 (the constant references to "two years"). The resonances were coming into focus, if that makes any sense...but the mystifications piled on in the seventh episode and then the eighth, although suggesting some new lines of thinking (especially that Pierre and his venture are surrogates for Rivette and the making of the film itself), ultimately left me stranded. I knew the film would never really resolve itself, certainly not in the manner of a conventional movie, and I didn't want it to, but I did need some sort of closure. I kept dreading that the film would end suddenly, without any real synthesis, and eventually it kind of did. Yet at the same time, I can see the theoretical value of this unsettling dissolution. If the subject of the film is the buildup and subsequent collapse of meaning, structure, and purpose (particularly as these relate to the utopian ideals and adventures of May '68) than it's only appropriate the film NOT arrive at a synthesis. So I understand the intellectual value of the last chapter but was there another way, one that's less of a letdown? Or would that be cheating?

Sorry to speak so obscurely and vaguely about the film, but it really sent me down the rabbit hole and it's hard for me to sum up its effect (intellectual, aesthetic, or emotional) in clear terms at this moment. I'll return to this board at another time when I can look at the film with distance - particularly if a discussion gets going - but I felt it was important to express my immediate reaction first, while the film is still somewhat raw in my memory.

A couple other thoughts (and read no further if you have yet to see the film, though I'm not sure why you have read so far already if that's the case):

The sequence in the bedroom reminded me of Persona, and was the darkest and most unsettling part of the film. It did a good job setting up Leaud's later references to passing through a nightmare and maybe Leaud is the best surrogate for the spectator. We're forced by Rivette to get off the train before it's really reached its destination, if there was one, and Leaud provides the explanation for this...he's decided the whole thing was merely an adolescent fantasy, which it was and wasn't. Just a thought. And also, I didn't like Juliet Berto's death. For the weight it should have carried it seemed rather light and playful, yet at the same time too violent for the film. Kind of like when the actors violate the "rules" of the improvisation by getting too aggressive. Maybe that was the point. Or am I letting Rivette get away with murder - literally and figuratively?

You wouldn't think it possible after a 12-hour film, but I feel the need to see the film again. Maybe in a few years...

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