The Discreet Bourgeois

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


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Rashomon (Akira Kurosawa)
  2. Europe ’51 (Roberto Rossellini)
  3. Fear  (Roberto Rossellini)
  4. Charlotte et son Jules (Jean-Luc Godard)
  5. All The Boys Are Named Patrick (Jean-Luc Godard)
  6. A Woman Is A Woman (Jean-Luc Godard)
  7. Pierrot Le Fou (Jean-Luc Godard)
  8. Now, Voyager (Irving Rapper)
  9. The Color of Pomegranates (Sergei Parajanov)
  10. I Walked With A Zombie (Jacques Tourneur)

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1- It is a good thing to watch favorite classics again and again.  Many films are to be watched once, digested and then you move on to the next one.  But there is another type of film that seems to thrive on being watched over and over again. You know every centimeter of the film, yet there is a tremendous satisfaction in retreading the familiar turf. It might sound like a cliche but the film gets richer with each viewing, and your aesthetics deepen as well. Rashomon is a prime example of this kind of film.  I love it. It is a part of me.

2- I continue to have a maddening relationship with the films of Jean-Luc Godard. TCM recently had a daylong presentation of his features and shorts. It seems like the man made a million films. There always seems to be one I haven’t seen.  This time around I got to watch two shorts I had always heard about: All The Boys Are Called Patrick and Charlotte and her Boyfriend. Both were surprisingly delightful, not an adjective one associates with Godard, especially his later work.  It reminded me of the early, breezy comedies of other Nouvelle Vague directors.  I also had the same instant love for A Woman is a Woman that I had for Vivre Sa Vie. The playfulness, the delightful Anna Karina, the callow Jean-Paul Belmondo, the handsome Jean-Claude Brialy all make for great viewing fun. I still need a lot of help appreciating the later, more polemical Godard. I found Pierrot Le Fou torture to sit through. Advice, anyone?

3- I always thought that the films Rossellini made in the 5os with Ingrid Bergman were weird, poorly crafted and stiff.  But watching Fear and especially Europe ’51  made me realize that they are cinematic operas. The oversized emotion, the large scale acting, it’s all there. And viewed in that light, these films are magnificent.

4- Just a reminder to watch as much Parajanov as you can. There isn’t much out there and it is all kind of astounding.  Read my introduction first.

 

 

 

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Ah, Youth!

When I was in sixth grade everyone had autograph books and we collected a little note from each of our fellow students and our teachers at graduation.  Usually the messages were generic.  ‘You’re a great kid. Good luck in Junior High.’ Sometimes the messages were more personal and revolved around an in-joke between you and the signer, infinitely upping the cool quotient of your autograph album.  Another feature of the autograph book was the way the date was written. It almost always revolved around a pun.  ‘Dated till Niagara Falls’ , ‘Dated till Bert Parks on Abbe Lane’, ‘Dated, are you?’  I rarely got the clever ‘dated’ puns in my album.  Instead I got things like: “Dated until Mitchell grows long hair and wears bell-bottoms’  or ‘Dated until Mitchell likes rock ‘n’ roll’.

The evidence here points to the fact that I was never interested in books, film or music aimed at ‘young people’.  I always felt I was being patronized. What? Am I not smart enough to read or view stuff intended for adults?

I was suspicious of the Beach Boys. ‘We’ll have fun, fun, fun till your Daddy takes your T-Bird away’  Wait, they are actually sneaking out behind their parents back and doing mischief in a car? Do they really believe they should be getting away with things that are wrong by singing a catchy tune about it?

A friend of mine was reading the Harry Potter books to her younger son until he asked her to stop. ‘These kids are told not to do things, they do them and never get in trouble for it.’ , he explained. This kid is my soul brother.

The problem that I had with youth-oriented art is that is seemed to prize rebellion for rebellion’s sake. That appeared to be bratty at best and destructive at worst. I was horrified when the Brando character in The Wild One was asked, ‘What are you rebelling against?”  His answer was ‘Whaddya got?’ “Well,  that’s no good!” I thought, “Who’s going to take you seriously if your rebellion is so unfocused and you are just being a thug?’

As I got a little older I realized that many of these ‘rebellious youth’ films were the studios’ cynical way of cashing in on the youth trend of the day.  In the Forties, audiences melted for the homespun high jinx of Andy Hardy.  In the Fifties and early Sixties you get things like Rebel Without A Cause with the iconic and greatly over-rated James Dean held up to be the spokesman of teenage angst. His classic line ‘You’re tearing me apart’ always makes me laugh.

you're tearing me apart

What problems does this bourgeois kid have that he is so rebellious? His parents are disconnected from him? Join the club.  Just the fact that the rebellion is described as being without a cause should immediately diminish the audiences interest. Nothing is more boring than spending two hours with a petulant teenager.

Yet the vague notion of being ‘against the Establishment’ was romantic enough to elevate Brando, Dean, Belmondo and the others to heroic stature.

I just never understood what I was supposed to take away from these films and characters. It wasn’t like they were fighting Nazis or the Spanish Civil War.  They just seemed like bored, suburban kids with way too much time on their hands which leads to a morbid self-obsession.

A few years ago I would have been tempted to add Breathless to the mix of movies of this type.  But on recent viewings it seems to me that Godard is actually doing a riff on the bad-boy rebel.  It is almost a pastiche, a send-up, loving though it is.

belmondo  breathless

That’s what makes the Japanese movie The Warped Ones all the more disturbing.  This film, whose Japanese title is more accurately rendered into English The Season of Heat, has as its hero a young man recently out of jail who, with his two sidekicks, a female prostitute and a male gang-banger wannabe, spend most of the movie misbehaving in public, raping girls on the beach, grooving to ‘black jazz’ and just in general being scarily sociopathic.

warped ones

 It is hard to tell if the director or screenwriter would have seen Breathless, since this film also came out in 1960. The lead, though,  seems like he is channeling Jean-Paul Belmondo’s character. He has a recurring gesture that recalls the famous thumb passing the lips in Breathless.  His restless taut body is also reminiscent of Belmondo.  But when it is all over, we are not left with much except a lot of expressed anger, anti-social behavior and a sense of despair. I am still not sure if this character is not being held up as some kind of counter-culture hero.

I can think of many examples of films that show feckless, rebellious youth to great effect.  I would recommend Louis Malle’s great Lacombe Lucien as an example of what happens when an angry bored young man can’t have his talents properly channeled.  I am sure there are others.  Any recommendations?


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The Last Ten Films I’ve Seen

  1. Frankenweenie (Tim Burton)
  2. Breathless (Jean Luc Godard)
  3. Gregory’s Girl (Bill Forsythe)
  4. The Goddess (Yonggang Wu)
  5. Nightmare Alley (Edmund Goulding)
  6. Day For Night (François Truffaut)
  7. Love On The Run (François Truffaut)
  8. Repentance (Tengiz Abuladze)
  9. Another Language (Edward H. Griffith)
  10. Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard)

1- After some 10 attempts, I am proud to announce that I love Breathless.  I was so resistant to its insouciance that I was kind of blind to the great fun it was having.  What a delight this movie is.  Even the dreaded endless scene in the hotel room became a pleasure.

2- What greater pleasure is there than seeing a film that you adored decades ago to find that it is even better than you remembered? Gregory’s Girl is more magical and mad than I remembered, and I remembered it as pretty magical and mad. Any film that can accurately capture the ineffable atmosphere of Alice In Wonderland  is Jake by me

3- I think I need to write a piece to explain how I feel about Rust and Bone.  It is so typical of the indie movement in that is seems to be so self-congratulatory about how it exams unappealing characters from the lower classes.  Nebraska is slightly guilty of this as well, but it has more heart and allows itself a sense of humor which Rust and Bone certainly did not.

4- I am so loving watching these very early talkies taken from contemporary stage hits. TCM  shows tons of them. They are rarely ‘good’ films, but as a glimpse into what was happening in the theater at the time, they are priceless. Another Language hardly good cinema but great archeological fun.  It was treat to see a very early performance from Helen Hayes.


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Qu’est-ce que c’est ‘dégueulasse’??

I have been leading a monthly film group for the past several years. My intention is to show as many canonical films and shorts as possible. This month it was Breathless. Canonical for sure, but a film that I vigorously dislike. I diligently read up on the film and watched every last extra on the Criterion edition figuring that if I didn’t come to like it, at least I could give good background beforehand and lead an interesting discussion afterwards. It is a landmark, after all, and just because I don’t like it doesn’t mean I won’t watch and discuss it.
While watching and reading, I tried to understand why I disliked it so much. Often, you can’t understand why you love something, but it should be fairly easy to figure out why you dislike something.
The first clue came when I read some excerpts of criticism Godard wrote before directing Breathless. Most of it came off as a manifesto or, even better, a war cry. Godard and his fellow critics were out to annihilate the established French directors of the previous era. They took affront at what they perceived as bad art. They had the right to excoriate because they were the true lovers of cinema and this establishment were talentless, flabby hacks who had no idea what cinema even was, let alone how to make good picture. Godard and the other boys of the Cahier du Cinema would show the world how it should be done, first through criticism extolling the virtues of the great American auteurs like Hitchcock and their Great God Howard Hawks, and then through their own films which came to be know as the Nouvelle Vague.
My next clue came from the dedication to the film to Monogram Pictures, a minor Hollywood studio specializing budget Westerns and things like Bowery Boys comedies. As the film unreeled, with its inside jokes about friends of Godard from his Geneva days and its obscure references to Sam Fuller films, it became clear what my problem was: Breathless is a very adolescent film. The whole aesthetic of giving the finger to the preceding generation, the praising of obscure films and directors to show that you have the gnostic insight to the true nature of film, all of this adds up, for me, to the feeling that I am spending time with a very petulant 18 year old.
Kathleen Rooney quite aptly points to a parallel between the punk ethos and what the Cahier guys were doing. In both cases what was perceived as a moribund art was given a jolt back into life by people who loved the art form more that life itself. The problem for me is that adolescent art doesn’t age well and stops speaking to people who eventually grow up. I guess this is not a general feeling since Breathless is beloved by millions who watch it repeatedly.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for iconoclasm. I think Un Chien Andalou is one of the most subversive things ever created and I would watch it any time. Nor I am not totally down on Nouvelle Vague. The greatest cinematic experience of my life was when I first saw Celine and Julie Go Boating back in 1978. I have dragged more than one unsuspecting friends to sit through that three and a half hours of unalloyed bliss.
But Breathless seems to me like it just wants to sit in the corner and sulk. Yes, Belmondo and Seberg are pretty and sexy. Yes, the jump cuts are fun for the first half hour. But then it always seems to me that it is time for the grown-ups to leave the room and let the kids have their dyspeptic fun.