The Discreet Bourgeois

Possessed by an urgency to make sure all this stuff I love doesn't just disappear


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OK, JLG! I Give Up!

For most of my cinematic life I have striven to become as familiar as possible with the works of great directors.  Repeated viewings of Ozu, Ford and Bergman have yielded untold pleasures.  Immersion in other directors’ work was not as pleasurable, but was fruitful in advancing cinematic knowledge (Ophuls, later Lang, later Renoir, later Fellini).  But there is one director whose work has mocked just about every attempt I have made to understand it or, at least, become familiar with it: Jean-Luc Godard.

jlg

To date, I have seen at least 15 of his films.  I can say that I adore Vivre Sa Vie, was delighted by Une Femme est Une Femme and have tolerated multiple viewings of Breathless, but that’s it.  I finally waved the white flag earlier this week about half-way through Masculin-Feminin.  After 50 minutes I realized that I had no idea what I was watching.  I stopped it, and vengefully deleted it from my DVR along with a copy of Contempt, which I refused to watch.

As readers of this blog know, I don’t shy away from the austere and the dense.   I love Jeanne Dielmann. Andrei Rublev I find sublime, all 205 minutes of it. I have had fun puzzling out Last Year at Marienbad,  and have luxuriated in Persona, while admitting I was mostly baffled by most of it.

But Godard is something else entirely for me.  His are the only films that make me feel inadequate. I watch and I watch and I never, ever connect.  I keep coming back because many people who I deeply respect are people who revere Godard.

So, I am making a request. If you are one of these people, please help me here.  Let me hear from you how to engage these films.  And I want concrete answers.  I don’t want to hear ‘Let it just wash over you!’ ‘Don’t get hung up on what it means.’  When I hear that kind of thing, I hear you saying to me,  ‘I have no idea either, but I am not going to admit it.’

So please, no flaming (if anyone still uses that term!).   Just practical advice.

Thanks,

Your pal,

Mitchell

 

 

 

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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. To Each His Own (Mitchell Leisen)
  2. It’s Love I’m After (Archie Mayo)
  3. Black Moon (Roy William Neill)
  4. The Life Of Oharu (Kenji Mizoguchi)
  5. Hitler’s Children (Edward Dmytryk)
  6. Hitchcock/Truffaut (Kent Jones)
  7. The Whales of August (Lindsay Anderson)
  8. The Black Cat (Edgar G. Ulmer)
  9. Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk)
  10. The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock)

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1- I guess there are only so many things you can do with the classic ‘white woman drawn to the wicked world of Caribbean Voodoo’, but I must say that I was really struck by how much Black Moon looked and felt like my beloved I Walked With A Zombie.  A side-by-side viewing of the two would really show what makes a film of genius as opposed to a solid Hollywood B-film.  Of course, I Walked With A Zombie does have that Jane Eyre thing going for it, but it also has pacing, a great script, terrific acting and atmosphere you could cut with a knife.  Black Moon has more the feel of the second part of a Saturday afternoon double-bill from the Thirties. Fun, creepy, a little depressing, but not much more.

2- Can a man be a feminist director? I don’t know what else to call Kenji Mizoguchi.  Every one of his films that I have seen depict the plight of women, especially at the hands of self-interested men.  The Life Of Ohara is an especially bleak example of this. It is gorgeous, and the performance of Kinuyo Tanaka is amazing, but man, is it depressing.

3- Thank you Criterion for having another 50% off sale and allowing me to own the endlessly insane Written On The Wind. I would love to know what the reaction was when it first appeared in theaters.  Nymphomania, sexual performance anxiety and Lauren Bacall all wrapped up in an absolutely over the top Dallas-like story.  The image of Dorothy Malone dancing in sexual frenzy in her bedroom in her underwear, while right outside her door her father dies of a heart attack, is something I don’t think I will soon forget – nor would I want to.  This film is nowhere near the level of genius of All The Heaven Allows, but it is almost as formally dazzling. Color, costuming, mise-en-scene are all plotted out within an inch of their lives. Sirk seems to invert the famous Chekhov dictum by saying, ‘If a gun goes off in the first five minutes of a movie, you better see that gun for the rest of the film’. Malone won the Best Supporting Actress award for this frenzied portrayal, beating out another iconic performance of late 50s nuttiness: Patty McCormack as the terrifying Rhoda in The Bad Seed.  I guess the Academy didn’t dare give it to any one else for fear that Malone would come and shimmy them all to death.  And do I even need to mention her fondling of her father’s ‘oil well’ at the end of the film?

dorothy malone

 

4- Thank you, Betsy Rubin, for your gift of a collection of more obscure Hitchcock films.  Because of this I was finally able to watch his silent gem The Lodger.  I feared that it would be more ‘homework’ than ‘pleasure’ but I was wrong.  It was a wonderful watch. You certainly can tell that Hitchcock spent time in Germany and watching German films – this looks like it could have been directed by UFA-period Fritz Lang.  The expressionist shadow and paranoia have obvious roots in Babelsberg, but so much of it is full of stuff we will see over and over again in later Hitchcock: the ‘wrong man’ plot, the underwear fetish, Catholic iconography (there is a really blatant re-enactment of the deposition from the cross). The interesting thing about this ‘wrong man’ plot is that Hitchcock doesn’t fill the audience in on the details until almost the end, so we don’t have the sympathy for Ivor Norvello that we do for Cary Grant in North By Northwest.

On to The Parradine Case!


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Once Upon A Time (Alexander Hall)
  2. Le Plaisir (Max Ophüls)
  3. All That Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk)
  4. Sergeant Rutledge (John Ford)
  5. A Doll’s House (Patrick Garland)
  6. Julius Caesar (Joseph Mankiewicz)
  7. The Palm Beach Story (Preston Sturges)
  8. The Conversation (Francis Ford Coppola)
  9. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (Martin Scorsese)
  10. Bad Day At Black Rock (John Sturges)

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1- If you are looking for a film that features Cary Grant as well as a dancing caterpillar, then Once Upon A Time is the film for you!

2- Can someone please explain the genius of Max Ophüls to me?  I find his legendary moving camera distracting. I find his films dull. I’ll keep trying but I would certainly appreciate a little help here. Le Plaisir flowed better than most of his films I have seen, but for me they are deadly – mostly because they seem to be wearing ‘high art’ on their sleeves and that is never a good thing.

3- This time around I caught up with some films that I have been trying to get to for years.  I always dodged Sergeant Rutledge because, for some reason, I figured late John Ford would be stodgy John Ford. I should have known better. It is a stirring film. Its dealing with race issues is surprisingly frank and at the same time matter-of-fact.  Quite unusual for a film from 1960 where race was either ignored or served with a sledge-hammer. Ford turns Woody Strode into an icon of virtue to rival what he does with John Wayne. Plus you get to see Billie Burke!

sergeant rutledge

 

How did I miss Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore? What a rich script, with dense, surprising characters. It doesn’t have the taint that so many landmark films of the 70s have.  By way of contrast, The Conversation reeks with that taint.  The paranoia, the smarminess, the ugly mise-en-scene, the nihilistic characters – it has them all.  It is indeed brilliant, but I think once was enough for me.

4- All That Heaven Allows  – pure genius

5- Bad Day At Black Rock was recently shown on TCM as part of a Westerns festival.  That was pretty brilliant programming since it is truly a western disguised as a contemporary drama. Good guy rides into town and frees it from the corrupt and sadistic thrall of the bad guy. Plus it features a one-armed Spencer Tracy which makes it required viewing