Le Coup du berger (1956, Jacques Rivette)

Le Coup du berger, or, “Fool’s Mate” or maybe “Checkmate”. Straub assisted-directed, Chabrol wrote, Truffaut and Godard had small parts.

A very Chabrollian short. A woman’s lover gives her a fur coat and she wants to keep it, but she’ll look suspicious to her husband. She they concoct a foolish plan: she pretends to find an airport claim check in a cab and has him pick up the case, where she’ll be pleasantly surprised to get a free fur coat! But he twists the plan by replacing the coat with something cheap and giving them good one to HIS lover. Gotcha!

A decent little flick… worth a look, but as Keith Uhlich in Slant says, it’s more Chabrol’s film than Rivette’s. He also says “the whole thing is shallow and obvious in ways that Rivette’s features never are”. I wouldn’t go that far, but I wasn’t assessing its worth in the Rivette canon, just watching for the fun of it.

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Kenneth Anger, volume 1 (1947-1954)

Fireworks (1947) – the one where young Ken daydreams that he is beaten by sailors and a roman candle is set off in his pants.

Didn’t blow me away as much this time, but maybe I’ve seen it too many times. Would still recommend to everyone as the definitive statement on being gay & 17, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July. Just unbelievable that this was made in 1947, with practically no precedent… before even Stan Brakhage had picked up a camera. I guess Anger wasn’t old enough to know that this kind of thing was not done.

Fireworks sailors:
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Puce Moment (1949) – the one where a glamourous actress lives in her glamorous house, and a bunch of classic hollywood dresses are paraded in front of the camera.

Guess I didn’t see the point because I don’t care about dresses and glamour. Commentary was the best part. Anger’s mom or aunt or someone was a costume designer for the silent films, so he’s filming these dresses in vivid color which have only been seen on screen before in black and white. Part of a longer movie that got scrapped.

Puce woman:
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Rabbit’s Moon (1950) – the one where mimes do a dance in a forest, and one tries to reach the moon to impress a girl and I’m pretty sure he dies in the end, oh and there’s pop music playing.

Really neat, wasn’t expecting to find a mime movie on here. Anger says the film was commissioned and the actors were hired from the Marcel Marceau school. He talked about the storyline too, but I can’t remember much of that. Cool little movie – the one from this disc that I’d show off to people in my never-gonna-happen short-films fest.

Rabbit mime:
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Eaux d’artifice (1953) – the blue-tinged one where Ken just photographs water in some garden fountains and sometimes a woman (actually a very small woman) runs by in a fancy dress.

Maybe my favorite of the bunch. Just light sparkling through water, opera music playing. Peaceful.

Eaux d’artifice:
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Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) – the slow one where people in fancy costumes stand around and do stuff and finally blend in weird montages (or “the one with Anaïs Nin”).

I was dozing off, should watch again with the commentary on. A long, pretty, entrancing and colorful movie. Maybe best to watch while dozing, really.

Pleasure Dome montage:
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La Ronde (1950, Max Ophuls)

A theater adaptation that starts out stagey and effortlessly segues into movie form. The narrator shows up, walking around a carousel, tells us what’s going on, gives direction to one of the characters, and walks off into the set for the first scene, where the “movie” takes over… very nice. Then this guy keeps showing up comically in the other segments, reminding us of the structure of the movie, of the director/author’s presence, keeping things light and stagey whenever the scene threatens to take over. Of course we’ve got Ophuls’ camera roaming smoothly everywhere in long takes, nice photography and a whole bundle of good actors. I loved it. Much more “adult” than most movies, examines different facets of romantic relationships, one small scene at a time:

Prostitute & Franz The Soldier – he’s in a hurry but she picks him up and takes him under a bridge free of charge, for no apparent reason than the narrator told her to!

Franz The Soldier & Marie The Maid – still in a hurry, Franz manages to get Marie to leave a party and go walking with him. They do something or other on a park bench, but then he wants nothing to do with her after. She ends up fired from her job for staying out late, but the narrator assures her she’ll get a better one soon.

Marie The Maid & Young Alfred – the cutest segment… Marie and Al left alone in the house, trying to approach each other, successfully in the end.

Young Alfred & Married Emma – Al is renting his own bachelor pad these days and trying to be suave around Emma, who finally calms down and lets him.

Emma & Her Husband Charles – sitting up in bed talking about how completely unacceptable extra-marital affairs would be.

Charles & 19-yr-old Anna – Charles is suddenly the lech, running up the bill at a fancy restaurant to get Anna to go home (or to a hotel, I guess) with him.

Anna & Poet Robert – Robert is dreamy… too dreamy for the likes of Anna.

Robert & Actress Charlotte – Charlotte is too famous and dreamy for the likes of Robert.

Charlotte & The Count
The Count & The Prostitute – I start to forget the specifics towards the end of the movie, but gimme some credit, there was a lot going on.

The narrator is Anton Walbrook, a star of Life & Death of Colonel Blimp… prostitute Simone Signoret, a big star from a lotta movies I haven’t seen… soldier is Serge Reggiani, the contrary Don Francisco in The Leopard… the maid is Simone Simon, who I recognized from Cat People… Alfred is Daniel Gélin, who later worked with Hitchcock, Ruiz and Cocteau… Emma is Danielle Darrieux from 8 Women and Young Girls of Rochefort… her husband is Fernand Gravey… Anna is Odette Joyeux… poet is Jean-Louis Barrault, star of Children of Paradise… actress is Isa Miranda… aaaaand Count Gérard Philipe starred in Bunuel’s Fever Mounts at El Pao, released a month after he died.

Godard called it France’s worst film. I can’t figure that guy out.

Rancho Notorious (1952, Fritz Lang)

I followed up Fritz Lang’s early sound stinker Liliom with this real good western. More of a musical than Liliom, every few scenes we get a troubadour singing the Chuck-a-luck song.

This came after Secret Beyond The Door and House By The River, and right before The Big Heat and The Blue Gardenia, square in the middle of that great ten-year period for Lang. Just like in Big Heat, our hero’s wife gets killed at the beginning, but this time it’s not part of any conspiracy, just mean ol’ thievery and rapery and murderry. Our hero is Vern (Arthur Kennedy from Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, Sam Fuller’s Shark, Bright Victory and Lawrence of Arabia) and when the townsfolk and lawmen won’t help him hunt the baddies past the county line, he goes undercover-vigilante and dedicates his life to revenge.

He follows clues across the country to Chuck a Luck, Marlene Dietrich’s secret baddie hideaway ranch, and fakes being bad long enough to figure out who’s the sumbitch what killed his wife. He thinks it’s this slick-shooting shifty guy for the longest time, but in the end it turns out to have been some cowardly sideman, who gets what for. But Marlene dies trying to save our guy. So heroic and good natured is our guy that even selfish Marlene would die for him!

Cool as hell movie, with Marlene in her early 50′s still looking good and a buncha actors I don’t recognize doing a fine job too. Somehow I missed both Jack Elam and George Reeves (who was already Superman when this came out). Best part is the first few scenes of Vern seeking out the ranch, hearing legends about Marlene via not-necessarily-true flashbacks. That Herr Lang could make a tight little revenge thriller when he wanted to.

TRIVIA: Lang wanted to call this movie “Chuck a Luck” but the studio forced the title “Rancho Notorious”. Both titles, of course, are stinky.

Liliom (1934, Fritz Lang)

Not a musical. Why did I think it was a musical?

Katy: “Why would you watch a movie that you don’t want to see?” A good question. Here’s the answer:
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My third-to-last available Lang film. Now that I forgot to tape Human Desire off cable, I’ll just write that one off. Two years ago I set out to see ALL of the Lang films… most were very good, almost all were enjoyable, some are now among my favorite films ever, but there were bound to be a couple stinkers. I didn’t even know Liliom was a stinker (now I know) but it didn’t look too great from the cover art and plot description. But Lang was on a winning streak in Germany… M (1931) being one of the best films ever, then Testament of Dr. Mabuse (1933) completely excellent… then the whole Hitler thing forces Lang to leave Germany, so he makes Liliom in France then ends up in the U.S. making Fury in ’36, one of his best American movies. So everything surrounding Liliom was great, but I’ve hardly heard anything about Liliom. Can’t rent it, so I bought it to find out for myself.

Unfortunately what we’ve got here is a very bad movie. Liliom is a charming carnival barker who digs a young woman named Julie. The moment he steps off the carousel he reveals himself to be kinda a jerk, but later we learn the truth: that he’s a TOTAL jerk!

jerky Liliom (left) and his thug buddy:
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As the movie goes on he becomes more of a jerk. Then the movie takes a weird twist: Liliom dies in a heist and goes to heaven to be judged. They deem him a jerk and send him to purgatory for some years. He gets to come back to earth for a day, and he checks out his daughter who’s now 16 or 18 and he slaps her then gets sent back to purgatory. The judgement doesn’t look good for Liliom!

But then something even stupider happens. The daughter goes up to her mom and says “hey mom, you ever been slapped by someone but you didn’t even feel it?” The mom says “yes I have” and cries and her tears fall on her hand or the daughter’s hand and the judge SMILES ON LILIOM AND LETS HIM INTO HEAVEN, which is just an offensive ending to a dreary and pointless movie.

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The Descent (2005, Neil Marshall)

Very very dark – hard to get screen caps. Had some thrills and some scares, worth a look, but not the saviour of horror cinema that it’s been made out to be. Just a fun movie. Or is fun the word, since it starts out grim and just gets less hopeful towards the end, up until the Brazil fake ending.

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Sarah and Juno and their friends are extreme-sports enthusiasts. One day Sarah’s husband and kid die in a car crash and she is sad. Later the friends go on a new adventure together. This time they will explore a cave. But Juno wants to make things real extreme so she picks a cave that nobody has explored before and doesn’t bring the map. Oopsie there are blind cave dwellers within who will kill and eat them all. Most people die from cave dwellers but Juno accidentally kills one friend, and Sarah finds out, so she sort of kills Juno. Sarah escapes and is relieved, but oh she dreamt that and she really lays dying in the cave. It’s a motherfucker.

Better than Dog Soldiers.

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Paris Belongs To Us (1961, Jacques Rivette)

Very nice movie.

Rivette was working on this from 1957-1960. In ’57, Chris Marker did Letter From Siberia. In ’58 we had Le Beau Serge, Elevator to the Gallows and a couple shorts. ’59 brought Pickpocket, Hiroshima Mon Amour and The 400 Blows, then Breathless and Shoot the Piano Player were in 1960. So Rivette might have started everything, in a sense, but by the time he’d made his statement public (in ’61, along with Cleo From 5 to 7 and Last Year at Marienbad), the whole “new wave” was in full swing in the theaters.

Betty Schneider (of Mon Oncle) is young innocent Anne with brother Pierre (Francois Maistre, later of a buncha Bunuel films). She meets theater director Gerard (Giani Esposito of French Cancan), paranoid American Philip (Daniel Crohem) and mystery woman Terry (Francoise Prevost of Rivette’s 1981 Merry-go-round). Movie gets more disturbed and paranoid (as well as loose and rambling) as it progresses, ending with the deaths of a buncha characters. Maybe like The Dreamers. Incidentally, “Paris Belongs To Us” would’ve been a better title for that movie.

Interesting parallels with Out 1, both being about theater groups and city-wide conspiracies. In this one, we never find out if the conspiracy even exists, and in Out 1, the group does exist and is partially uncovered, but the group has no sinister purpose, never even did anything together and have been long dormant.

Much is made of the cameos by Godard, Chabrol, Rivette and Demy in the promo material, but I can’t say I noticed any of those.

Michael Rowin in Reverse Shot calls it “a fascinating disappointment”.

the calm:
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the storm:
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the intrigue:
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The Road to Guantánamo (2006, Michael Winterbottom)

Daaamn. A mean, helluva movie. I liked Winterbottom’s Code 46 then was on the fence after 9 Songs and 24hr Party People, but this one redeems him (for its intentions alone, but I thought it was well-made). And this is a movie with intentions… it has a definite and righteous goal.

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Interesting how people call this (like Touching the Void before it) a documentary when it’s mostly re-enactments with voice-over. Three guys went to afghanistan, got caught up in the al-qaeda retreat by mistake, and got captured by the US forces. Or that’s what they say happened… whatever truly happened does not matter, because it’s what happens next, their imprisonment and torture, that really counts. Seems like the US forces can do whatever they want without repercussion, so I’m surprised they even let these guys loose to tell their stories, despite their innocence. Took ‘em two years to do it, though. My favorite part is the Americans and Brits pointing at zoomed-in photographs and grainy videotapes, pointing at blurred heads in the crowd and saying to these guys “this is you, admit this is you at an osama bin laden rally”). It’s not them, and our guys have proof they were in Britain the entire year in question, but all the inquisitors want is a confession (of anything at all, however false)… and apparently all middle-eastern people look the same to them.

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As an expose of the post-terror guantanamo system, it’s a horribly necessary film. Sad, mean and awful, but with a purpose, an anti-torture agenda. Winterbottom’s a minor hero for actually travelling to Afghanistan and Iran to shoot this. The story continues, since some of the film team was detained on the way home from winning prizes at the Berlin film festival and “asked if they intended to make any more political films” Scary.

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Inland Empire (2006, David Lynch)

Yay!

A purely textural, immersive experience, defies all description or explanation. The actors in a film become their characters, teleporting to Poland, psychics and unknowns, and of course, Rabbits.

Sam writes: “most impressive to me was its function as a purely visceral machine. The sound in the theater was booming, giving his shock-moments of menacing narrative intrusion a physical as well as mental impact. The endless distorted close-ups, his use of darkness and blinding brightness, and the excellently interpolated sequences of abstraction (and those verging on it) contribute at least as much to this effect. Perhaps this is what has been missing in his films since Eraserhead: his attempts at messing with our imagination were only interesting inasmuch as we were interested in his, while in these two very medium-specific movies he ropes our physiological responses into the mix, and cuts far deeper in every way. In an era when the loudest and flashiest action films can actually seem boring (even when combined with artistic pretention as in Children of Men), the emergence of a truly shaking cinematic experience is good news indeed.”

Katy didn’t go.