The Discreet Bourgeois

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

The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

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  1. Distant Voices/Still Lives (Terence Davies)
  2. The Neon Bible (Terence Davies)
  3. Grey Gardens (Maysles Bros.)
  4. Querelle (Rainer Werner Fassbinder)
  5. Chunking Express (Wong Kar-wai)
  6. Les Vampires (Louis Feuillade)
  7. Celine and Julie Go Boating (Jacques Rivette)
  8. Nope (Jordan Peele)
  9. No Blood Relation (Mikio Naruse)
  10. The Joke (Jaromil Jireš)

1- Thanks to the Criterion Channel, I was able to rewatch Distant Voices, Still Lives as well as Davies’ adaptation of John Kennedy Toole’s novel, The Neon Bible. DV/SL is a masterpiece as is his later film The Long Day Closes. DV/SL is more experimental and that is perhaps why it seems more ‘distant’ than the later film. This film also lacks a central character to act as our representative in the world of the film. The Neon Bible was written by Toole years before his masterpiece, the hilarious Confederacy of Dunces. I have never read it, but from the film it seems to be a young author’s book of crushing seriousness. Hard to believe that this quasi-Southern Gothic piece came from the pen of the greatest comic author I know. Amazingly, the film has a star turn by Gena Rowlands. Not bad

2- I avoided Grey Gardens for years. I reject the notion of watching something for its camp value, and I figured that would be the experience. It seems degrading to a film, to watch it in that manner (unless that was the intention of the creators – like John Waters. The premise of Grey Gardens is cruel, no matter what apologists say to the contrary. These mad women are putting on a show for the Maysles. It was probably fun for them but I don’t see how else an audience can react to the film except as a freak show.

3- I have noted before that some directors, like John Huston and Yasujiro Ozu, end their careers with their highest quality work. Others, (I am looking at you Alfred Hitchcock!) sort of peter out. It is hard to see which category Fassbinder falls into. Querelle is that last of his 8,000,000 films that he made in his short life. I question if we can look at this as a summing up because his death seems accidental and unexpected. He had just produced a string of masterpieces and no doubt would have created others. We’ll never know. It is a shame that this mess will always be his last film because critics will try to regard it as a final statement. It is nothing of the sort. It is a failed overheated experiment and would have been a footnote in is output if it had not been is last. Brad Davis is extraordinarily hot in the film, but a terrible actor. Jeanne Moreau is on hand to sing one of the silliest songs I’ve ever heard.

4- Chunking Express is delightful. Wong Kar-wai turns out quite rigorous films that never fail to entertain as they challenge. The character of Faye is wonderful and we get to see the talented and beautiful Tony Leung and Takeshi Kaneshiro play characters with parallel stories of lost love. Just beautiful.

5- Les Vampires was directed by Louis Feuillade in 1915. In many ways, series that you see on any of the streaming channels are pretty much in the same episodic format. 107 years have brought technical advances but not necessarily narrative advancement. In tone, it is similar to horror-comedy shows like Buffy the Vampire. The mind-boggling terrifying gang, the Vampires, are terrorizing Paris with unspeakable crimes (which we rarely see). A dogged journalist cum detective along with his comic sidekick, Mazamette, are dedicated to eradicated these monsters from the City of Lights. Not much of a plot from episode to episode but the whole thing is tons of fun. Each episode is about 40 minutes long. The most memorable images and performance come from the legendary Musidora, playing the arch-Vampire Irma Vep (an anagram, natch). Her face and her performance are unforgettable. Her eyes have been used as the symbol of the Chicago Film Festival for years!

6- Nope is aptly named. It is the first movie I saw in a theater since Covid struck. I sat there for 45 minutes then it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea what I was watching. The story was incomprehensible. The actors mumble or shriek. The special effects overwhelm the whole enterprise. This all was heartbreaking to me since I think Jordan Peele’s Get Out is one of the most brilliant films in years, closely followed by his Us a few years later. Even though most reviews have been rapturous, I am beginning to hear name of M. Night Shamalayan being invoked: i.e., a phenomenal debut followed by increasingly weak movies. I hope this is not the case. I think he is a genius. I really believe that excessive CGI is a health hazard to all moviegoers.

7- Mikio Naruse’s films never fail to grab and move me. No Blood Relation is one of his earliest surviving movies. Under 90 minutes, it is immediately gripping. Thanks to the Criterion Channel for making more of this master’s work available.

8- I am not sure if it is that only one kind of film stock was available, but all the films of the Czech New Wave all look exactly the same to me. Slightly grainy and somber, even in the comedies. The Joke is based on the Milan Kundera novel. I need to read more of him.

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