Lost in the Movies: February 2016

The Favorites - Rear Window (#66)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Rear Window (1954/USA/dir. Alfred Hitchcock) appeared at #66 on my original list.

What it is • L.B. Jeffries (James Stewart) is a globe-trotting photographer at home in exotic locales ranging from remote wilderness to combat zone. In the skies over Europe or the Pacific in World War II, he befriended co-pilot Thomas Doyle (Wendell Corey), now a police detective in New York City. Jeffries is in New York too, recovering after an accident on a car race track which broke his leg (but the picture was worth it). Lisa Carol Fremont (Grace Kelly), a lovely high society girl, flits from social event to social event on Park or Fifth Avenue, but her heart is in humble Greenwich Village with Jeffries, whom she hopes to marry (he's resistant both to accepting and breaking off their relationship, preferring the non-commital status quo). Meanwhile, the man who lives across the courtyard from Jeffries, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr) has sent a woman off to the countryside - perhaps to Connecticut or Long Island, and perhaps she's his wife...or his mistress. But if it's his mistress, where is his wife? Buried somewhere else? Stashed away in the apartment? Ghoulishly scattered across the city and in the East River? (I just now got Thelma Ritter's "I want no part of it" pun for the first time.) Our story of adventure, romance, and murder spans all of these various locations...

Except it doesn't. Rear Window takes place entirely within a single apartment (save for a few one- or two-second shots in the courtyard). Even when we look into other rooms we are doing so from Jeffries' vantage point. This is the brilliance of Rear Window: it locks itself down to one location despite its multiplicity.

Why I like it •

Oscar Blues montage: Honoring Spike Lee & Gena Rowlands

It's been a busy week. Since last Thursday, my long-delayed Fandor video on Anna Karina went up, I released three more (also long-delayed) videos that I'd been working on for a while (see The Killing & The Asphalt Jungle Side by Side and Rimbaud's "The Stolen Heart" in addition to this one), my short guest spot on the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast went up (and I also made appearances, via feedback, on a Star Wars episode of No Ship Network and guested on Obnoxious & Anonymous - jump to 35:16 for the beginning of our Twin Peaks season 3 speculation/discussion). Additionally, one of my videos was featured on this week's Twin Peaks Tuesday column on One Perfect Shot. After something of a dry spell in terms of productivity and (especially) output, the old saying "It don't rain but it pours" certainly applies.

With all of that catch-up out of the way, this latest entry in my Montage series may be the work I'm most excited to present this week. Its origins stretch back to my dissatisfaction with the Academy Awards six years ago, when I learned that they had decided to stop airing the Honorary Awards. Frequently given to film veterans who had never actually won an Oscar in competition, the Honoraries were a great way to pay tribute to the medium's past and remind us, amidst all the superficiality of the ceremony, that the movies are an art form created by imaginative, hard-working individuals, many of whom are misunderstood or underappreciated in their time.

Further explanation, relevant links, images from the video, and the Vimeo upload all follow the jump.

The Prisoner - "Living in Harmony"

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.

This is probably the least successful episode so far for me, yet it's also one of the most interesting. Every week I say "The Prisoner couldn't possibly stretch its conceit any further" before being surprised. At the risk of going out on a limb, however, it's hard to imagine any future chapters (aside from the gloves-off finales) taking a bolder approach than this. Of course, how much can you twist the show's basic premise without venturing into decadence? I spent about as much of "Living in Harmony" admiring its cleverness and enjoying its eccentricities (and this is a very eccentric episode) as I did frustrated by the moments that lapsed into self-parody and bizarre-for-bizarre's sake mannerisms. At one point, when the mute outlaw/deputy "The Kid" (Alex Kanner) started performing some sort of drunken avant-garde dance with his pistol I decided I was just going to go along for the ride without asking too many questions, but that wasn't always easy. I guess I should dive right into the big twist... When "Living in Harmony" begins, it follows the structure of the usual opening shots pretty closely. But instead of riding in a sports car, Number Six is on a horse. He's crossing the prairie, not the busy streets of swingin' London. Instead of pounding a table in a sleek, modern office and turning in his resignation he throws a sheriff's badge on a U.S. marshal's wooden desk. "Living in Harmony" is a Western.

Honoring Twin Peaks Day tomorrow with Twin Peaks Unwrapped

Look closely at that chair to see David Lynch (w/ headphones) caught in the reflection!

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.

UPDATE: The episode is up!

Original message

Late tonight or early tomorrow, Ben and Bryon of the Twin Peaks Unwrapped podcast will be posting their latest episode: a special honoring "Twin Peaks Day" (since February 24, 1989 is the day the pilot episode takes place on). I will be one of their guests, along with many other fans and commentators sharing what Twin Peaks means to them and why it remains relevant. I will share the program here as soon as it's available. (I'll also be appearing on Twin Peaks Unwrapped again in about a month, for a much longer discussion on the mid-season two episodes.)

Meanwhile, my long-delayed Side by Side video analysis of The Killing and The Asphalt Jungle finally made its debut this weekend. My third Cinepoem video, one of my more abstract works (an interpretation of a Rimbaud poem) will upload later today and I'm also hoping to have my Montage video - which was originally scheduled for a few days ago to go up on Thursday. It relates to the upcoming Academy Awards so I want to have it ready soon.

The Passion of Anna K. (video essay on Jean-Luc Godard & Anna Karina)

Although I prefer to stick to the 3-a-week schedule, it looks like this week I'll be posting on Tuesday and Thursday as well, so stay tuned.

This is a video that has been on my mind for at least four years. Now I'm finally able to realize it for Fandor Keyframe.

Here is my written introduction for the non-narrated video:

For six breathless years, actress Anna Karina and her filmmaker husband Jean-Luc Godard forged a cinematic partnership that remains legendary. Their collaboration is charted over the course of seven feature films: Le Petit Soldat (1960), A Woman is a Woman (1961), Vivre sa vie (1962), Band of Outsiders (1964), Alphaville(1965), Pierrot le fou (1966) and Made in USA (1966). Split into seven montages (one for each film), "The Passion of Anna K." traces the evolution of Karina's craft as well as her purpose within Godard's work. Each montage is bookended by Karina's first and last appearances in the particular film, a guideline that yields surprising revelations. We witness her transformation from playful ingenue to hardboiled pro. Trajectories emerge with tidal rhythm rather than the logic of a straight line: from love to disillusionment, affection to respect, spontaneity to rigor, passivity to power. (To reference a straightforward explication of the couple's relationship and collaboration, see Tyler Knudsen's complementary approach in "Godard and Karina: A Marriage on Film", which I discovered after making this).

Each montage features a simple title to guide us through the ebb and flow of this onscreen relationship.

"Muse" depicts Veronica from Le Petit Soldat as a cherished object of affection, observed externally. Concerned with capturing her vivacious aura but unable to enter her mind, the film itself eventually seems to close in on this butterfly.

"Performance" presents an actress simultaneously more enigmatic and more exposed (especially when Godard includes Karina's weepy line flub), reflecting the fact that in A Woman is a Woman Angela is the central subject rather than just a love interest.

"Discovery" echoes Vivre sa vie's structure with 12 shots (one from each chapter of the film) weaving together Godard's reverential but cold photography of Nana, the actress' growing command of gesture and expression, and the director's own narration of an Edgar Allan Poe story detailing an artist's lethal desire to capture his wife's presence in his art.

"Conversation," reflects Band of Outsiders' raw, uncertain dynamic of director and star, pushing forward from the previous film's breakthrough/dead end. Godard veers between vocalizing Odile's thoughts himself, and allowing Karina to express the character's own ideas and feelings.

"Awakening" chronicles the longing emotional distance between Alphaville's stoic hero and the brainwashed Natasha. Linking Karina's acting prowess with Godard's growing alienation from his muse, this genuinely poignant scenario climaxes with a declaration of love whose formality echoes the couple's first collaboration, suggesting lovers as strangers.

"Rupture" represents Pierrot le Fou as the collaborators' passionate, doomed final fling. Marianne's story is a brilliant microcosm of the entire Karina-Godard dynamic (from meet-cute through intense romance to disenchantment, distance, and destruction), conducted with a despairing self-awareness climaxing (for the third and final time) with the death of Karina's character.

"Freedom" serves as a surprise epilogue, using Made in USA to move beyond the previous films' framework. Karina plays Paula, a strong if also cartoonish heroine (the comic-book stylization of the film has been heightened by the montage's own design). Following a bittersweet reversal of the earlier films' climaxes, we conclude on a cautiously optimistic note, with the character, the actress, and the director all moving into an uncertain, open-ended future.

Update 2017: H. Perry Horton wrote a great little piece to accompany this video for Film School Rejects called "The Muse Matters" - check it out!

uploaded to YouTube 2017 (update 2020: but the link is currently private due to a copyright back-and-forth that I don't want to deal with again until my Twin Peaks videos are finished)

The initial impetus for this idea came from Richard Brody's thorough Godard biography Everything is Cinema (2008) which connects the dots between Godard's tumultuous relationship with Karina and the stories he tells, events he depicts, and ways that he scripts and especially photographs Karina's characters. While that context isn't mandatory to appreciate the video (let alone the actual films) it certainly does add another interesting dimension to their dynamic, especially given the personal, confessional nature of Godard's filmmaking. Personally, I think Godard's and Karina's collaboration gets to the heart of movies - the interaction of an author's point of view with the larger world, a world that (especially when embodied by the human form of a performer) may push back with another identity, creating new complications and yielding unforeseen treasures.

Additional pictures follow the jump...

The Favorites - The Apu Trilogy (#67)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. The Apu Trilogy (Pather Panchali, Aparajito, The World of Apu/1955-1959/India/dir. Satyajit Ray) appeared at #67 on my original list.

What it is • The Apu trilogy begins and ends in the countryside, but between the opening verdant village and the final wide-open path, the story contains multitudes. The first film shows a difficult rural life through the joyous, impressionable eyes of a little boy (Subar Bannerjee); the second film uproots the growing child (Pinaki Sengupta and Smaran Ghosal) and his family as he works, gets an education, and experiences hardship; and the third film takes the young man (Soumitra Chatterjee) into adulthood, offering greater rewards and even greater challenges as he finds his way in the world. Rare for films on my list, this entry actually covers several works rather than just one, some of which were released before others had even been conceived with the entire process of creation taking about a decade. As such, the trilogy reflects not only the growth of its characters but of its filmmaker. Pather Panchali, Satyajit Ray's debut picture, was a very faithful adaptation of a classic novel. It was crafted almost entirely outside the prodigious Indian studio system on a shoestring budget, with long gaps during shooting when money ran out. Many of the actors were nonprofessionals, or had theatrical but no film experience, and Ray (who worked as an assistant on Jean Renoir's The River, which appeared earlier on this list) had never directed a foot of film. Aparajito, adapted a little more loosely from that novel's follow-up, was shot partially in studios. By now Ray had received international acclaim for the first film but was still finding his way. By the time he concluded the saga with The World of Apu he was departing more radically from the source material, and his filmmaking had taken on an exceptionally impressive, professional sheen - with a bravura sense of elaborate mise en scene replacing the charming, rugged, and poetic neorealism of the first movie.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner - "It's Your Funeral"

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 Prisoner is something of a high-wire act. Its parameters seem so clear, the risks so high, that at any given moment you expect it to fail spectacularly. "It's Your Funeral" is a perfect example of this. After the previous nine episodes, it seems increasingly difficult to imagine where the show could go next without either repeating or overextending itself. At first, the episode seems to tread on the latter territory. Despite the creativity of focusing on the authorities' point of view - something we've humored before but never to this extent (we even get a glimpse of the daily mechanisms of the Village bureaucracy)  - at a certain point this maneuver feels a bit forced. We watch Number Two (Derren Nesbitt), this time a somewhat prissy and smug blonde youth, manipulate Number Six into thinking there's a plot against him (meaning against Number Two). Initially clever, within a few scenes this device seems a little tired. We've already viewed these officials toy with Six so many times that it feels like finally the show may have fallen a bit flat in its conceits. Ho hum, so Two will convince Six there's an assassination conspiracy, and then convince him that he's crazy for thinking this and oh, who cares really? But then the episode reveals its ace in the hole: on the day Two is to be assassinated, Six goes to visit Two to warn him again - only to be told that he's a "jammer," someone who creates so many false-flag rebellions against the governing class that he's considered a boy who cried wolf. So far, so predictable: their goal is to mess with Six's mind, right? Well, no. Over half an hour into "It's Your Funeral" we discover the twist: the actual Number Two, the one who is at risk of being killed is someone completely different, an older man (Andre van Gyseghem) who is actually passing the official role on to the Two we met earlier. Six, at this point, is little more than a pawn in their game - with the new Two's goal to execute the old Two. Why? Well, we don't really know. Perhaps because, as Six archly puts it, "they're trying save a pension."

Fragments of Cinephilia, Pt. VI

Short thoughts on: Stanley Kramer • Howard HawksVivre sa vieAnatomy of a Murder • John FordThe Hunchback of Notre DameMouchetteYoung Mr. LincolnOrdet Jules and Jim

Here we are with another collection of IMDb comments, my sixth in about as many years (albeit my second in two months, so maybe you can expect more in the near future). As we move back in time, here we reach the period where I was really posting on those board prolifically, watching many movies and eager to share my thoughts in the primary forum I used at the time. While the previous (or should I say, chronologically, next?) round-up featured a lot of European films, here I seem to be at least as much focused on American classics. What do you think of these movies? Do you agree/disagree with my judgments? Since this was almost a decade ago, I'm not sure how frequently I concur with my conclusions, but it is interesting to revisit these earlier opinions.

The Favorites - Satantango (#68)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Satantango (1994/Hungary/dir. Bela Tarr) appeared at #68 on my original list.

What it is • To describe Satantango as the tale of villagers grieving the loss (by neglect) of one of their members, deceived into leaving their decrepit homestead by a devious, messianic con man would, in a sense, be accurate. But it would also be highly misleading, like describing the history of humanity in terms of biological evolution. Sure, the process traces an overall shape but the essence of the experience is captured in fleeting yet all-enveloping individual perceptions. Over the course of seven hours the aforementioned events occur, but the real gravity of the film lies in its moments, all of which Tarr stretches out to a point that bypasses tedium and achieves transcendence. Attempting to verbalize the film's sequences doesn't do them justice. A group of villagers dance endlessly to almost comically repetitive music. A little girl, ignored by everyone around her, focuses her own diabolical attention on a pet cat. A cruel conniver, initially far from home, returns to this hamlet that feels like some sort of distant planet, at once a microcosm and an idiosyncrasy. Even detailing how Tarr shoots the scenes, through relentless long takes employing glacial movement and frequently ridiculous behavior, makes the film sound like some sort of perverse intellectual exerecise when in fact it's anything but. By some sort of alchemy, Satantango's grimy, deeply textured surfaces immerse us in a sensation that escapes words, that escapes even camera movements or compositions.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner - "Many Happy Returns"

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.

Week by week, it's amusing to look back on where I thought future episodes might go. I certainly didn't expect "Many Happy Returns" to call the bluff of "The Chimes of Big Ben" or "A, B, and C" by all-out allowing Number Six to escape, allowing him to get all the way to London (!), and even to explain the Village to his superiors and launch an investigation into its whereabouts (!!). And this being a middle episode of The Prisoner (a category that I guess describes everything from 2 to 15), naturally that investigation leads right back to him being stranded on the island again - and we do at least learn this time that the Village is on an island. This is a great episode, maybe my favorite of the series so far. Not only is its narrative conceit bold - hilariously bold, even - it also has the courage to tell nearly half of its story without a single word of dialogue. It's sixteen minutes before we hear any speech at all. Twenty-two minutes in, Six speaks his first line of dialogue ("Where is this?"). Twenty-eight minutes through the episode (more than halfway) Six finally speaks to another person who understands him. As a result, we get pure visual storytelling for a substantial chunk of the episode; it's another feather in The Prisoner's cap as it finds new ways to expand on and play with its concept episode by episode.

Cinepoem: Rimbaud's "The Stolen Heart"

updated 2/23 - the video is up!

My third Cinepoem is up a couple weeks late, but I am now almost caught up with the video schedule I set months ago. Covering one of my favorite poets, Arthur Rimbaud, this video is one of the more formally complex and abstract that I've created so far. It uses (non-graphic) clips from Salo and Blue is the Warmest Color (as well as some stylized bloodshed from Patriotism - between that and Rimbaud's language, this probably isn't something you want to play at work). While it may seem slightly perverse to pair one of Rimbaud's hardest-hitting verses with clips from NC-17 films that don't feature extreme violence or sexuality I was more interested in suggesting the emotional aftereffect/byproduct of both desire and trauma. For the score, which might be one of my favorite aspects of this montage, I slowed down and combined tracks by Kendrick Lamarr and The Velvet Underground. And the photo zoomed in on for most of the video, providing one of its central disciplines, is of course Rimbaud himself.

Check out my previous Cinepoems each of which segues directly into the next: "Idylls of the King" and "After Great Pain". I created a new playlist to play all three in a row, and new ones will be added as they are uploaded in coming months.

Oh, and an embarrassing correction for something I should have double-checked in the credits: the translator is Wallace Fowlie, not Walter. Argh. Jim Morrison is spinning in his grave.

The Favorites - God's Country (#69)

The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. God's Country (1986/France/dir. Louis Malle) appeared at #69 on my original list.

What it is • In 1979, Louis Malle was on the road, crossing the American Midwest with a PBS production crew. Apparently the original object of his documentary was going to be a Minneapolis shopping mall but the irritating Muzak of the location drove him out into the countryside, where he stumbled across a town fair in a small farming community, Glencoe, Minnesota. Taken with the down-home charm, friendly nature, and cultural idiosyncrasies of the town, Malle decided to stay, recording interviews with bankers, cops, lawyers, clerks, retirees, lots of farmers, and at least one cow inseminator. The job descriptions only go so far, because what Malle really captures is humanity in all its manifestations. Some of his conversations subtly hint at deep emotion beneath the cordial, colloquial surface while others go so deep that we almost forget what we're watching, the backdrop of the specific time and place falling away completely (the most obvious example is the young woman who speaks about love, loneliness, sexuality, hypocrisy - and whose expressive face conveys even more emotion than her frank words). Malle was never able to cut this footage together as originally planned and then in the mid-1980s he returned to Glencoe to follow up with these folks. The last half-hour of the documentary has a more depressed feel than the rest of the film (which also contains melancholy stretches), emphasizing that the Reagan administration, for all its talk of "Morning in America," is actually hastening the downfall of the heartland. But even here, Malle and his subjects find hope and comfort. I only wish we could return now, thirty years later, to see how everyone (who remains) is doing. In ninety minutes, God's Country makes you feel like you know these people and the town they live in, and at the same time it keeps them slightly mysterious (much as you can know your neighbors for years, only to discover you were barely scratching the surface). The film offers us a perspective that is both a peek and a revelation.

Why I like it •

The Prisoner - "A, B, and C"

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.

"A, B, and C" is full of surprises and new directions. This in itself is - somewhat paradoxically - unsurprising, because I haven't encountered any "filler" episodes yet (and if I did, they were early enough in the order not to strike me as such). With every entry, The Prisoner seems to find a new way to twist its premise and discover new alcoves and corridors within its terrain, even as it uses elements introduced in other episodes. "The Chimes of Big Ben" cleverly allowed Number Six outside of the Village - to a point. "The Schizoid Man" forced Six to wrestle with his own identity, as the authorities manipulated his reality. "The General" used technology to dominate Six (and other Villagers), until his own ingenuity destroyed the power of the machine. "A, B, and C" incorporates all of these approaches, while also utilizing the "tell us why you defected" obsession of "Big Ben" and actually continuing with the same Number Two for the first time (Colin Gordon, who also appeared in last week's entry, "The General"). One twist is that Six isn't really outside of the Village, but simply experiencing computerized hallucinations in which Number Two and Number Fourteen (Sheila Allen) use avatars to prove that Two betrayed the Agency before resigning (or was planning to betray them afterwards?). Another twist is that Six is able to achieve his most dramatic, table-turning victory yet perhaps because escape is never even his goal, but also because Two is under such intense pressure to discover Six's secrets.

Meet Me at Sparkwood & 21

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.

Two weeks ago I was graciously invited on the air by Em and Steve, of the incredibly thorough and engaging Twin Peaks podcast Sparkwood & 21 (if you haven't listened yet, check it out and if you think you've heard enough Twin Peaks podcasts, think again - this one is a keeper). One of their podcast's hallmarks is the lively back-and-forth between listeners and the hosts via "letters to the show." Having covered every episode, the film, and the major spin-off media, Steve and Em decided to interview all of their frequent feedbackers, including me. Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more in-depth discussions (I can't wait!). As is the case when they are covering the series, they left no stone unturned: in an epic three-hour conversation (you might want to split this over several listens) we discussed the making of my video essays, my thoughts on Twin Peaks, favorite books/movies/directors/comics, embarrassing beach experiences, and (why not?) Star Wars.

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