More 16mm screenings from Clay, Halloween-themed this time. Clay showing seasonal shorts reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock’s halloween show where he joked that since he’s only playing songs about ghosts and death, nearly half his catalog is disqualified.

The Skeleton Dance (1929, Walt Disney) was the first in the Silly Symphonies series, with good music-visual sync, but too much repeated animation. No spoken/sung dialogue, wordless skeletons playing in a cemetery until the sun comes up.

Runaway Brain (1995, Chris Bailey) is an excellent, fast-paced Mickey Mouse short with a mad scientist voiced by Kelsey Grammer, beaten for an academy award by Wallace and Gromit. Seems like nobody around me had heard of this before.

The Tell-Tale Heart (1953, Ted Parmelee), animated with some abstract imagery, overlapping shots and sharply-drawn characters. Has a deservedly high reputation, but beaten for an oscar by Disney’s Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom.

Betty Boop’s Hallowe’en Party (1933, Dave Fleischer) – always great to see a Betty short. Her party is pretty tame – kids bobbing for apples and singing like the birdies sing (tweet, tweet tweet) – until a bully shows up and she attacks him with her secret cache of ghostly evils. Full of amazing animation and visual ideas, beautifully synched to the music. I gotta get me a whole pile of these cartoons someday. I asked Wikipedia when the apostrophe disappeared from “hallowe’en” but it didn’t know.

Naturally the show was also full of TV episodes and classic commercials – Count Chocula vs. Franken Berry, of course, also a kids vehicle that looks suspiciously like the Wacky Wheel Action Bike (“you can’t ride it! you can’t ride it!”) and an awesome PSA warning kids to stay away from blasting caps.

Of the TV shows, we’ve got a Popeye the Sailor episode where an evil robot-popeye robs banks, the adventures of Goodie the Gremlin, who helps people invent the steam engine, airplanes etc. instead of tormenting people like the other gremlins want, a Spider-man episode where Green Goblin gets his hands on a book of voodoo spells, and a hilarious, surreal episode of Ultraman (featuring benign fluffy chattering Pigmon monster in a recording studio, giant plumed lizard monster with heat-seeking feather missiles, and the usual bonkers dialogue). Then the lower-tier corny garbage shows: a cartoon Sinbad the sailor, some dimwit monster who shoots smoke out of his head, Beany and Cecil meet the invisible man (1962, produced by a post-Warners Bob Clampett) and a Hal Seeger-created short called Batfink, in which BF and his dim pal Karate fight a magician.

Both this and Genesis required all my concentration to figure out who was who and what was happening.

A girl and her dad:
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Magic man Mambi has a daughter Jangine, and he promises her in marriage to the son of powerful leader Guimba. Twenty years later she is beautiful and Guimba’s son is a perverted dwarf, so she wants to marry a hot dude instead. So Guimba, a scary, easily-angered man who hides from sunlight, drives her father and all hot dudes from the village and demands she marry the son as planned.

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But the son doesn’t want to marry Jangine – he prefers his women more full-figured. This is fine with Guimba – he’ll let the son marry his large mistress while Guimba takes the girl for himself. The father sends some magic boogedy into town, Guimba kills his son then exposes himself to capture and ridicule by the townsfolk, and presumably kills himself.

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Jangine would star in Moolaade (Katy recognized her; I didn’t). The griot appeared in Bamako, and the daughter’s father has been in everything: Finye, Yeelen and Genesis among them. We liked it alright – Katy says it was more confusing than Genesis, because at least she’d read the book of Genesis and seen Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat but with Guimba we had no frame of reference.

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R. Ames in his African Filmmaking book:

Sissoko turned away from the basically realistic approach of his first two features with Guimba The Tyrant. Already, in Finzan, Sissoko had drawn on the popular Malian koteba theatrical tradition in the portrayal of Bala, the village idiot. Now in Guimba he moved further in the use of African oral traditions to shape the whole film – creating a narrative full of abrupt shifts in time and place and unexpected digressions – the shift in style typified by the appearance of a griot at the beginning and end of the film, introducing the tale and commenting on its aftermath. The inset story, which focuses squarely on tyrnny and the need to oppose it, has obvious contemporary relevance, as many commentators have noticed, to the overthrow of the Malian dictator Moussa Toure in 1991. But the film is shaped as a fable mixing elements of farce and the supernatural and with constant shifts in mood and direction. It chronicles the rule of Guimba and his dwarf son Jangine, putting emphasis on their brutality, on the constant praise-singing of their eloquent but two-faced griot, and also on their ludicrous sexual desires: Jangine rejects the beautiful Kani, to whom he was betrothed as a child, in favor of her more than amply proportioned mother, Meya. The exile of Meya’s upright husband by Guimba, who covets Kani for himself, trigers the ruler’s eventual downfall, chronicled in an often confusing sequence of confrontations played out in splendidly evocative costumes within the visually impressive setting of Djenne, one of Mali’s ancient Saharan trading centres. As Sissoko has rightly said, Guimba “opens the door to audiences for understanding our history through our cinema. Obviously, some aspects will seem odd or not readily comprehensible, but the door to dreaming and discovery is open to those who wish to enter it.”

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Camille: “Can I come during the day, from 5 to 7?”
Marcello: “The magic hour for lovers.”

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Simon Cinema (Michel Piccoli) isn’t doing too well, confined to his mansion-museum with his butler (Truffaut/Duras vet Henri Garcin) and best friend Marcello Mastroianni (as himself, sort of). Film student Camille (Julie Gayet, the girl with the giant gag vase in My Best Friend) is hired to talk with Simon about movies for 101 nights, and her boyfriend (Mathieu Demy) takes advantage of her position to cast the legendary Mr. Cinema in his student film.

Michel and Marcello:
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Garcin and Gayet:
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But the plot is just an excuse for some fun. Every star of French cinema shows up, major films are mentioned (nothing is discussed in any depth – no time). Anouk “Lola” Aimée, Catherine Deneuve and Robert De Niro take a boat ride. Sandrine Bonnaire appears as both her Vagabond self and Joan of Arc. Piccoli drops the Simon shtick and the white wig for a minute and compares cinematic death scenes with Gérard Depardieu (“that old devil Demy!”) before a poster of their co-starring Seven Deaths film…

Gerard and Michel:
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Sandrine d’Arc:
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Hanna Schygulla (Fassbinder films, Passion) and Jeanne Moreau (Jules and Jim, The Lovers) play Simon’s ex-wives. There are seven dwarfs. There’s a conspiciously Bonheur-looking sunflower shot. Alain Delon arrives by helicopter (reminiscent, though it maybe shouldn’t be, of the out-of-place helicopter in Donkey Skin).

Gayet with Alain Delon:
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Jeanne and Hanna:
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It’s all very light and playful. I’m sure I missed a thousand references, but it keeps many of them obvious enough to remain accessible (if you didn’t catch the meaning when a bicycle is stolen outside the mansion, someone cries “italian neorealism strikes again!”).

Mathieu Demy meets Fanny Ardant:
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The credits list how many seconds and frames were used from each featured film – impressive – and also all the stolen music cues.

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tour bus guy: “Glad to see you on form.”
Simon: “Form of what?”
“Why, you seem content.”
“Form and content, a debate even older than I am.”

At Cannes:
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NY Times: “While covering so many bases, Ms. Varda never makes more than a glancing allusion to anything, and at times the film is such an overloaded grab bag that it grows exasperating. Or even baffling; for unknown reasons, Stephen Dorff turns up in a pantheon of great Hollywood stars.”

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LA Times: “Michel Piccoli plays Monsieur Cinema, who embodies the history and spirit of film, and in particular, that Fabulous Invalid, the French motion picture industry itself. (Since Varda is such a playful director, Piccoli is sometimes simply himself.) Monsieur Cinema may have been inspired by the director of the landmark Napoleon, the late Abel Gance, whom Piccoli resembles when he puts on a long silver-white wig.”

Lumiere brothers:
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Doctor Belmondo and Jack Nance:
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I. The Battles begins with Jeanne having had her angel visitations already, trying to convince local government to take her to the king, and halfway through the film gets to the battles she led against the English. II. The Prisons is half battles (which is good; we didn’t get enough battles in part 1) and half British prisons (with hardly any of the trial/execution scenes that Dreyer would focus on). All set 1429-1431, except for an odd intro in 1455, with Jeanne’s aged mother, a nun, telling of her daughter’s unjust execution.

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It’s a Rivette film, all right. Long shots with medium natural lighting, deliberate camera movement, same typeface as always on the titles, brief blackouts between scenes, same list of collatorators in the credits. Quite a follow-up to La Belle noiseuse… I’ll bet nobody saw this coming. It works very well to Rivette’s strengths, though, and stays focused on Jeanne and her quest without gimmicks and without getting caught up in the scale of the story and the hundreds of side characters.

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Sandrine Bonnaire, a decade after Vagabond and a year before The Ceremony. I didn’t recognize anyone else besides a cameo by Edith Scob. IMDB says Jean de Metz, the guy who leads her to the king’s court, was in Hurlevent, King Charles (André Marcon) is appearing in Rivette’s new film, and Quentin from Out 1 played Pierre Baillot (who was that?).

with Edith Scob:
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Joan is charismatic and persuasive, but acts realistic. Her supernatural visions aren’t shown – we know Rivette isn’t above showing supernatural visions, but here he has Jeanne speak of them regularly without portraying them as a reality to the audience.

Unfortunately, this four-hour film has another two hours which I can’t see at the moment. Looks like Artificial Eye has released it on DVD. You know, my birthday is coming up…

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J. Rosenbaum:

…this is a materialist version of a story that offers no miracles, though it does offer a pertinent attentiveness to gender issues (such as the nervousness and sexual braggadocio of the soldiers who sleep beside Joan) and a Joan who’s girlish as well as devout, capable of giggling as well as experiencing pain; when she wins over the dauphin the scene is pointedly kept offscreen, and when she’s interrogated by priests about her faith she could almost be a graduate student defending a dissertation.

with the king/dauphin:
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C. Fujiwara:

As Rivette and Bonnaire present her, Joan suggests a novice movie director protected by a seasoned crew that humors her as much as obeys her. (Army life in this film is more sitting around than fighting; in this respect it’s like a film shoot.) She doesn’t do miracles; she just uses common sense and takes the initiative.

Opening titles: we hear a nice Tom Waits song (the soundtrack is great overall) and see “JVC PRESENTS.” Didn’t JVC used to make blank tapes? The kind that weren’t even as good as Maxell?

Five segments in five cities. Has cute parts, and I guess it’s part of the greater Jarmusch body of work or whatever, but also kinda feels like something that could’ve safely stayed in 1991 (or maybe ’93; it was ahead of its time). What’s funny is that it doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that should get easily dated (except through the usual – fashions, cars, mobile phones – only period pieces are immune to those) but it has this early 90’s aura about it, like Smoke or a Hal Hartley movie, which I don’t see in Dead Man or Down By Law or Mystery Train. Maybe it’s just Winona Ryder. Anyway this remains my least favorite Jarmusch picture, though I did enjoy it overall. If you could break it up Coffee & Cigarettes-style, it’d be nice to lead from New York straight into Helsinki, and maybe add Rome every third or fourth viewing.

LA: Winona Ryder is a midget phonebook-sitting wannabe-mechanic driving fancypants cellphone-calling casting agent Gena Rowlands home from the airport. Gena’s client is looking for a tough young girl, an unknown, so predictably she propositions Winona, who turns Gena down. Jim says it’s the first movie Gena agreed to do after John Cassavetes died. I never made it past this segment when I first tried to watch Night On Earth a decade ago… pixie Winona is too hard to take as a street tough.

NY: East German Armin Mueller-Stahl (same year he did Soderbergh’s Kafka) is new to New York and cab driving, so passenger Giancarlo Esposito takes over, picking up sister-in-law Rosie Perez for a miniature Do The Right Thing reunion, wide-eyed Armin taking it all in.

Paris: Isaach De Bankolé (stolen from Claire Denis) kicks out some diplomats, picks up a blind girl (Beatrice Dalle, star of Time of the Wolf, also a Claire Denis regular) and asks her a bunch of dunderheaded questions.

Rome: Roberto Benigni picks up a priest, drives like a madman (but there’s no traffic so it’s cool) visits a couple transvestites, and tells horribly perverted stories until the priest dies after dropping his meds on the floor and Roberto quietly unloads him on a park bench.

Helsinki: Cabbie picks up three guys from a hard night on the town. Of course all four of them have been in Kaurismaki films (one of the passengers played Polonius in Hamlet Goes Business. They tell their drunk friend’s hard luck story and the cabbie replies with his own hard luck story. Way to end your movie on a dead baby tale there, Jim.

Nice color cinematography by Frederick Elmes (a Lynch regular who later shot Broken Flowers) – not seen here cuz it was a rental and I forgot to get screen shots.

July is “Movies I Rented & Copied But Never Watched” Month. I figure there are about 75 of those, and tragically only 31 days in the month.

Dan Hedaya + prosthetic arm:
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Rented this for our Florida trip. Made it halfway through with Katy but she didn’t seem interested in the second half. I gotta agree that for a cult comedy it’s awfully slow and talky, and the second half is slower if anything, but I still think it’s great. A crazy movie. There are big, loud, blues-song music-video segments, a slow two-minute pull-away shot of Tom leaving the doctor’s office and petting a dog, a puppet of a hammerhead shark, and Meg Ryan in three roles, two of which are impersonations. I’d at least admire the movie for all that even if I didn’t find it hilarious and wonderful.

In Ossie Davis’s follow-up to Do The Right Thing, the movie that took on Driving Miss Daisy’s view of race in America, he plays chauffeur to a white man.

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Abe Vigoda plays the village leader like the Three Stooges in tribal makeup:

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The great Robert Stack (House of Bamboo, Written on the Wind) is the doctor who gives Tom his fatal “brain cloud” diagnosis:

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The great Lloyd Bridges is the rich man who pulls the strings, including Stack’s:

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Meg Ryan is kinda awful as Hanks’ coworker at the rectal probe and artificial testicles factory with a Little Shop of Horrors New York accent, and worse as Lloyd Bridges’ daughter, doing an over-the-top Katharine Hepburn impression, but she’s kinda good as that girl’s un-accented half-sister who captains the boat to the island.

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“Men don’t have to tell women everything.”

I love Jet Li but I think he’s been in about two good movies since the mid-90’s, so thought it was time to rent some of his early good stuff. Thought this was just okay though – an action flick given importance by tying in some historical drama. From the director of King of Beggars, Royal Tramp and The Medallion, but not as goofily comedic as those (and fortunately not as drab and dry as Jet Li’s Fearless either). This could still afford to be more fun, but I think it had a political point which I mostly missed.

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Jet is Chen Zhen, disciple of a respected Shanghai fighting school gone to Japan to study. This is the mid-30’s and China is occupied by Japan, so when Jet starts the film by kicking the asses of thirty Japanese dudes who belittled his country, you know what direction the movie is going. Turns out his master was killed at home by a new school of rude Japanese guys so Jet returns home (followed belatedly by his Japanese girlfriend; you see Jet is beyond racism and just wants everyone to get along).

So Jet teams up with the master’s son and new clan leader Ting’en (Siu-hou Chin of Twin Warriors and the Mr. Vampire series) and cool-headed elder guy Uncle Nong (Paul Chun of Peking Opera Blues, played a king in Royal Tramp II). They talk peace and strategy, challenge some guys to some fights, and so on.

Uncle Nong, Ting’en, Jet:
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Hmmmm, I’m thinking… okay, Jet kicks the ass of the guy who killed his master and figures out that the school’s chef poisoned the master to make him lose the match. A Japanese general kills the guy who Jet beat and takes control of the other school. Somehow involved is this guy Fumio Funakoshi (Yasuaki Kurata, also of Fist of Hero, Fist of Vengeance, Fists for Revenge and Fist of Unicorn) who challenges Jet to a blind match, which ends in a draw then Fumio respectfully bugs off. The general is not so graceful about losing, pulls a sword forcing Jet to fight back – with his belt! – and kill the guy.

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There was also some racism business, a thing about a brothel girl who Ting’en hangs out with, a court case, and Jet pulling boxing moves in the middle of his kung-fu fights. At the end, Jet is “executed” by the Japanese, but really he’s secretly shuttled out of town with his girl. Some extremely cheesy parts – if this is better than Fearless, it’s not an awful lot better. Filmmaking seemed pretty standard, with too much editing but some good fight choreography by Yuen Woo-ping, who himself directed a Brigitte Lin movie and a Michelle Yeoh movie the same year. After Black Mask (1996) he’d start bouncing back and forth to Hollywood to help with Matrix sequels and Tarantino flicks.

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Movie is apparently considered one of the greatest martial arts films ever (I preferred Royal Tramp) and contains references to Bruce Lee’s Fist of Fury.

Nic Cage goes to jail. Twice.

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Harry Dean is a lovestruck sucker, gets killed by three characters who are far more prominent in the deleted scenes: Quiet Dropshadow (Jerry Horne in Twin Peaks), talky, over-friendly Reggie (black islander Calvin Lockhart, who played “Biggie Smalls” in Sidney Poitier film Let’s Do It Again, which I must see sometime), and creeeepy cane-walkin’ woman Juana Durango (Grace Zabriskie, even creepier in Inland Empire, also Laura Palmer’s mom). Álex de la Iglesia made some sort of a sequel featuring these three characters called Perdita Durango or Dance With The Devil. I guess it’s not really a sequel, but both films are based on novels by Barry Gifford, who also cowrote Lost Highway and Hotel Room.

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Lynch has plenty of contenders for Creepiest Character In Film History – there’s Robert Blake in Lost Highway, Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet… my personal pick is Willem Dafoe in Wild At Heart.

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Crispin Glover also gets a bigger part in the outtakes, including the scene below where he’s almost discovered by our heroes working at a gas station. I can’t remember if the revelation that he impregnated cousin Laura Dern when they were younger was in the movie or not… I’m thinking it’s from the outtakes too.

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“How many stars you think are up there, baby?”
“There’s a couple.”

Action of the movie spans 400 years, with title cards telling us when we are.

1600 – Death
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Young Orlando is favored by Queen Elizabeth I (gay performer/activist Quentin Crisp – I must see his 70’s Hamlet), who orders him to never grow old.

1610 – Love
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Orlando is smitten with a visiting Russian princess (Charlotte Valandrey). They ice skate together, O. pledges his undying love, and when she leaves the country he attempts a romantic rescue but gets his ass kicked.

1650 – Poetry
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Orlando is obsessed with poetry, and decides to sponsor acclaimed poet Nick Greene (Heathcote Williams of Jarman’s The Tempest). O. tries his own hand at poetry, unsuccessfully.

1700 – Politics
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Orlando goes to “the east” as an ambassador, hangs out with the Khan (Lothaire Bluteau of Jesus of Montreal), accidentally gets involved in a war. Filmed in Uzbekistan!

1750 – Society
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Back home, Orlando wakes up one day as a woman. She puts on the most massive gown she can find and goes out to a small party held by Archduke Harry (John Wood of Richard III). She’d met Harry in 1700 (he’s barely aged – the movie does not treat its timeframe very literally) and he is very intrigued… offers to marry her, then curses her when she refuses. Also at the party: high-haired Kathryn Hunter (who played a plot contrivance in the last Harry Potter), Roger Hammond (Demy’s Pied Piper), Peter Eyre and Ned Sherrin.

1850 – Sex
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Orlando runs through a hedge maze straight into 1850, where she meets and falls for Billy Zane. I know, right? Billy Zane!

Birth
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No date in this segment – set in the present. Orlando motorcycles to her publisher’s office, where they tell her they won’t publish the book she’s been writing for 400 years without some changes. She doesn’t take this hard, goes to the park with her daughter (played by Tilda’s daughter). Daughter has a video camera, they see an angel flying over the trees, segue from that totally nuts image into the closing credits.
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Must say I had high hopes and this movie smashed them all Godzilla-like. The movie is a mighty masterpiece, scoffing at my insufficiently-high hopes! It has as much to say about life and how to live it, fleeting relationships and the nature of time as The Benjamin Buttons, but it says them more elegantly (I know I’ve been hard on The Ben Buttons lately – I actually liked it a lot). Plus it must be the most beautiful super-feminist film I’ve seen… I’ll bet college kids love to write theses on it (a google search reveals this to be true).

Potter says the movie is “about the claiming of an essential self, not just in sexual terms. It’s about the immortal soul.”

Music cowritten by Potter, has Fred Frith on guitar, mostly good, peppered with some late-80’s-sounding beats. Same cinematographer who shot Potter’s Yes. Movie was nominated for a buncha awards, incl. oscars, but lost to The Piano, Age of Innocence and Schindler’s List. Won some stuff in Venice and Greece and I feel pretty good about that.