Edith+Eddie (2017, Laura Checkoway)

I guess it’s common practice to screw over elders using the legal guardianship system? Imagine being the lawyer responsible for the lonely death of a nice old man in an oscar-nominated documentary seen around the world. This was filmed 11 miles from my grandmother’s house.


Daredevil Droopy (1951, Tex Avery)

Droopy and Spike compete at a circus to be one of The Great Barko’s daredevil dogs. Rapid-fire series of short contests, mostly ending with the larger dog badly injured, but it’s fine because he was trying to cheat. Lots of dynamite in the second half. Best bits: figure skating, human bullet, that strength-tester bell-ringer seesaw hammer game.

Mouseover to send Spike through the hoop of fire:
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Mouseover to give Droopy a better gun:
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Droopy’s Good Deed (1951, Tex Avery)

Spike is a wild-eyed hobo pretending to be a boy scout, another series of short competitions with Spike cheating and losing to the cool and competent Droopy, who gets a ton more dialogue in this one. Slightly racist jokes in this and the previous one, always to the effect of turning Black after a bomb blast, and it’s not terrible – until one time it definitely is, then a weird, fakeout ending at the White House. I assume I downloaded the uncensored versions of these somewhere or other, they sat on my laptop for a year, and tonight I’m in the mood for some violent cartoons.


Watching Oana (2009, Sebastien Laudenbach)

Earlier short by The Girl Without Hands director. A couple: he is a pastry chef, she translates poetry and brochures. Told from his perspective, wanting a baby, not believing in her ambitions, thinking he knows her inside and out but apparently not. Some cringey moments, I hope it’s not based on a true story. Spoken opening credits, then alternates between written segments created with stop-motion pasta, and spoken conversations with close-up animation of something besides the couple’s faces (wine glasses, shadows, legs in the surf), then the pasta turns into words inked onto skin and the music ramps up for the disturbing final section. The voice of Oana is played by Elina Löwensohn, who keeps coming up lately. Played at Annecy with The Secret of Kells and Western Spaghetti.


The Boy Who Chose the Earth (2018, Lav Diaz)

Two minutes for the latest Vienna Film Festival, a boy at home alone receiving a letter, running outside, apparently surprised – then rain and flooded streets. The last Lav Diaz short I watched was also fierce storms and floods, either footage from the same week or else the Philippines get some regularly nasty weather.


The Glass Note (2018, Mary Helena Clark)

Miniature frames of music and water and wind. Extreme bodily close-ups. Mostly seems interested in sound being created and moving through channels, with a sidetrack about tourists touching the breasts of bronze statues.


Story of an Old Lady (1985, Agnes Varda)

Lost, deteriorated Varda mini-doc about the woman she cast to get naked in the feather room in 7 P., cuis., s.de b…. Bit of behind-the-scenes interview, her getting a kick out of playing the employer in Vagabond, bossing around Yolande and Sandrine, when she’d worked as a maid all her life.


Trees Down Here (2018, Ben Rivers)

I wasn’t sure that ending my night with Ben Rivers would work out, since he tends to put me to sleep, but it opens with an owl close-up and I’m hooked. Architectural sketches alternate with architectural photos, but with an owl or snake in the foreground. The final minutes have a tape of John Ashbery reading his poem “Some Trees”. Ben’s most engaging work yet, I suppose if you’re into architecture, poems, owls and snakes.

The original Faces Places, displaying and discussing L.A.’s murals with the artists and residents.

No onscreen text – she introduces the artists verbally, and when the camera shows a new piece (constantly), a whispered voiceover says the name of the painter.

The Illegals perform probably the best-ever punk song in a Varda film.

Agnès talks about the sky with a hare krishna holding an Alice Coltrane record. Juliet Berto shows up regularly, just wandering through. Street artists (and punk bands) sure didn’t dress very cool in 1980.

This is from Varda’s second Los Angeles relocation, the first a decade earlier represented by Uncle Yanco, Black Panthers and Lions Love.

Agnès Varda goes on one of her journeys around France, looking up old friends and making new ones, but this time she’s got JR, a photographer who likes to make gigantic portraits and paste them onto walls and other surfaces. This is pretty much the best thing in the world. Photographed: a mechanized farmer who enjoys his solitude, factory workers, dock workers’ wives, a shy waitress, the last remaining resident of row houses for miners, one of Agnès’s late friends, a whole town picnic. Agnès tries to introduce JR to his sunglasses style predecessor, some ex-filmmaker, but they get stood up. Besides that one hiccup, it’s a magical trip.

Uncle Yanco (1967)

“Above all, man is nourished by what’s marvelous.”

While in California, Agnes introduces herself to a relative, who is an awesome weirdo (it must run in the family), a painter and builder living on a Sausalito houseboat inspiring all the local hippies. She shoots and edits this encounter with her usual verve, including slates and rehearsals, capturing and restaging realities.


Black Panthers (1968)

Good images of a Panther rally protesting the imprisonment of Huey Newton – mostly straightforward reportage and interviews with lively editing. It’s less vibrant as a film than her others, possibly because her tourist crew wasn’t trusted by the panther community.

David Myers shared cinematography credits on both of these films. He’d become an acclaimed rock doc photographer beginning a couple years later with Woodstock and Gimme Shelter, including at least three Neil Young movies, a Grateful Dead concert film, The Last Waltz, Louie Bluie and Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara.

Sept. 2016:
Watched this again in the beautiful blu-ray restoration, along with Agnes Varda’s documentary. Of course, I take back the comment below that the music is unmemorable – I find no showtunes memorable until I’ve heard them a second time, and now I feel like I’ve known the twins’ theme song forever. Had completely forgotten that there’s a murder in this movie, a family friend who hangs around the café is arrested for chopping up a girl named Lola-Lola (Blue Angel reference?). Re: the English version of The Young Girls, it’s glimpsed in the Varda doc, but apparently nobody thought it worth restoring and adding to this box set, so that’s probably the final word on that.

Transporter Bridge, transport me away:

Oct. 2007:
Not a total musical like Umbrellas was, and no connecting characters between the two, just a brief mention of the town of Cherbourg. This one has the same longing tone as the previous film in parts, but mostly it’s a much sunnier film, a loving, colorful, musical tribute to Hollywood escapist classics.

At this point, Demy was far out of touch tonally with his French New Wave contemporaries. Umbrellas characters were at least affected by the ongoing war, but Rochefort, coming after the more politically-engaged Muriel and Paris Belong To Us and The War Is Over, is in its own insular world for the most part. A few years later, after the May ’68 riots and Godard’s and Marker’s hard turns to the left, after even Demy’s wife Agnes Varda had filmed Black Panthers and contributed to the Far from Vietnam project, Demy would continue to go his own way, filming a musical fantasy fairy-tale with Deneuve and Jean Marais in 1970. By that point, I gather that he was not well-liked by his New Wave filmmaker/critic contemporaries. I don’t think he is well-liked still… I’ve been reading that his career was pretty uneven, and only a quarter of his films are talked about regularly. I guess Demy’s films have had to be recontextualized to be appreciated, removed from the radical French 60’s and enjoyed as pure cinema.

Danielle Darrieux (star of Madame De… and the cheating wife in La Ronde, later in 8 Women & Demy’s Une chambre en ville) plays Yvonne, mother of Catherine Deneuve, her tragic real-life sister Françoise Dorléac (of The Soft Skin and Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake) and young Boubou.

Yvonne regrets having left Boubou’s father Simon Dame (Michel Piccoli) ten years ago. Delphine (Deneuve) keeps missing her dream man, an artist/poet doing his military service, Jacques Perrin (of Donkey Skin, Cinema Paradiso, the Kieslowski-penned 2005 Hell). Solange (Dorléac) dreams of meeting famous American composer Andy Miller (Gene Kelly). And they all (more or less) meet up and fall in love at the end of the movie.

L-R below: Darrieux, salesman George Chakiris (West Side Story), Josette, romantic Perrin, George’s partner Bill, Gramps

Guess I’m not so musical-savvy, don’t know what to say about this one stylistically. I mean, it’s bright and colorful and fun, less sense of loss and longing than Umbrellas, but I kind of miss that. Gene Kelly is a cutie, fits in just fine.

Katy asks why the mother has to work all day at her diner to get by, while her daughters live high in their fancy apartment and pretty dresses from teaching song and dance lessons. Are the realism and the fantasy rubbing against each other uncomfortably, or is the mother paying for Boubou’s school and still helping to support the girls until they get married? If the latter, I’d hope they’d take a shift at the diner once in a while.

This and Umbrellas had a funny combination of set and location shooting, with Demy doing location shots in the actual towns, but repainting the storefronts to his liking. Nice music, nothing memorable for me, having heard it just once. The girls refer to Jules and Jim and composer Michel Legrand. The camera should count as a cast member since it is engaged by the other characters and dances around with them. A self-reflexive movie then, both in its use of the camera and its reference to musical convention. Bright, solid primary colors abound.

Jonathan Rosenbaum: “There are English-dubbed versions of both Umbrellas and Young Girls; I haven’t seen the latter, but the English version of Umbrellas is so unrelievedly awful that I’m happy to have missed the dubbed Young Girls.” Although if the IMDB trivia page is to be believed, Rochefort was fully shot in English as well as French, so it might be worth hunting down an English version if it still exists anywhere.

Varda cameo as the shortest nun:

Caroline Layde for Senses of Cinema:

However undemanding and lollipop Demy’s films may appear, they present some nuance and sophisticated intertext, and they share a certain charm, vivid and unified. His films inhabit worlds in themselves that may peripherally refer to social reality and the real world but remain content as alternate realities of poetry, color, and music … Demy’s consistency of vision itself justifies his inclusion among the “auteurs”, defined by André Bazin and François Truffaut and expanded by Andrew Sarris as distinguishing themselves with their salient visual language from mere metteurs-en-scène. Demy certainly created a signature style of poetry and innocence and clung to it. Yet this quality also has a sophisticated aspect, suggesting the dream worlds of the surrealists and of Demy’s inspiration, Jean Cocteau. It is fitting that the American critic Gary Carey has described Demy as “the Joseph Cornell of French cinema”.


The Young Girls Turn 25 (1993, Agnes Varda)

The town of Rochefort threw a party and screening for the 25th anniversary, invited Demy’s family, Legrand, the set designer, the producer and cast. Bittersweet memories for some, pure joy for others. Film and video of the festivities along with film clips and Varda’s excellent 16mm footage from behind the scenes.

“The memory of happiness is perhaps also happiness.”

Jacques on set:

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”

Cluster-bomb:

Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Hadn’t watched this in a long time. I misremembered it as her neorealist movie – a grim, straightforward portrait of a wandering homeless girl. Apparently I missed or forgot all the really interesting bits: scraps of interviews with people who’d seen the girl, out of chronological order, and the great dramatic violin music between episodes. It’s as poetic and beautiful as Le Bonheur, or any of Varda’s other features.

Sandrine Bonnaire had already starred in Pialat’s A nos amours, would later headline Rivette’s Joan the Maid. As Mona the Vagabond, she tries different odd jobs, a couple boyfriends (a pothead vagrant and a Tunisian farm worker), stays with a hippie philosopher goat-farmer (playing himself), is picked up by a rich woman thrilled to have contact with a lower class, and best of all she meets (and temporarily replaces) Yolande Moreau (lately of Micmacs and The Last Mistress), employed by an old woman with bad eyesight.

Doesn’t sound like it makes any sense from my description, but it won the golden lion at Venice, so there. And as always, Varda has the best DVD extras, which she produces herself. One reveals a documentary moment in the film, where Varda staged a bus-station conversation between the vagabond who inspired the film and an older man, while Sandrine and Yolande roam in the background of the shot.

Jacquot de Nantes (1991, Agnes Varda)

A pretty good movie about a kid growing up in small-town France wishing to make films – but if you’re a Varda/Demy fan who knows the backstory, that she’s filming her husband’s childhood memories as he’s dying, it becomes extremely wonderful and moving.

The Beaches of Jacques:

You see inspirations for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Donkey Skin, Pied Piper and Lola, family life, the love for music and cinema. Largely black and white with splashes of color. Varda flips between childhood events and the film they’d inspire, flashing a graphic of a pointing hand from the Demy Garage sign in between.

Jacquot 1:

“Seeing my name there when I was so young gave me a sense of the fragility of our existence.”

WWII occupies much of the film. His father helps with wartime manufacturing. The kids see Les Visiteurs du soir instead of Baron Munchausen because they’re not allowed see German films. In September 1943 his town is bombed. “There were dead all over town.” Adult Demy tells us he’s hated violence ever since.

Jacquot 2:

Making La Ballerine:

Young Demy spends a season with the clogmakers, works with puppet shows, decides he wants to manufacture theater and film sets. After tiring of the 8mm Chaplin film he’s given, he scrapes off the emulsion and hand-draws his own war story on the film. After a failed attempt at live-action shooting, he continues making films alone – stop-motion this time.

Jacquot 3:

Demy is sent to trade school but hates it, makes his stop-motion and keeps dreaming of cinema. The movie ends quite suddenly. “Later, Christian-Jaque came to Nantes to present his film D’homme a hommes. Christian-Jaque was kind enough to look at my film.” Demy gets to enroll in film school. “I met a woman filmmaker, we made a few films, then she gave me a fine son, and now I paint.”

L’Univers de Jacques Demy (1995, Agnes Varda)

Varda’s doc about her late husband’s films, with some personal details and stories thrown in, and interviews with key participants. Varda says they didn’t work together until Jacquot de Nantes, “so I’ll be discreet in this documentary.”

Demy on the set of Lola:

Covering all his films, in no particular order: Lola (with Anouk Aimee, Marc Michel and Michel Legrand), Three Seats for the 26th (with Francoise Fabian), Donkey Skin (with footage of Jim Morrison visiting the set). “I wanted to recreate things that Marais did with Cocteau.”

A Slightly Pregnant Man, then flashback to the war, the nazi bombing of his hometown. “After something as horrible as that, you get the feeling nothing worse can ever happen. And that’s when you start creating a fantasy world.” A Room in Town with Michel Piccoli. La Table tournante, codirected with animator Paul Grimault at the end of both men’s careers. A hilarious montage of scenes from 1954’s The Rebels of Lomanach in which Demy plays the soldier who dies first in every battle scene, then assisting Jean Masson and Georges Rouquier, who encouraged Demy by producing his clogmaker short.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg with Deneuve and producer Mag Bodard. Model Shop, which was “Lola in L.A.” and would have starred Harrison Ford if the studio hadn’t insisted on bankable star Gary Lockwood (heh). Varda catches up with Ford and asks Aimee about the sequel. Demy: “I called it Model Flop, which it was.” On to Pied Piper (also in English), The Seven Capital Sins (Demy drew Lust), and his weird-looking 1980’s Orpheus story Parking, “a fairy tale where there’s no fairy.” Back to Bay of Angels, then Lady Oscar and the TV movie La Naissance du jour (“I like it because I thought it was unfilmable”) before ending on a high note with Young Girls of Rochefort.

So, having just heard about them for the first time, I watched some of Demy’s early shorts.

Le Sabotier du Val de Loire (1956)

A solemn documentary about the clogmakers of Demy’s youth – or perhaps a half-documentary with a dramatic story added, including a death and a climactic wheelbarrow purchase.

Le Bel indifferent (1957)

Demy’s first non-hand-drawn color work, based on a Cocteau play about a very desperate and lonely woman, waiting all day for her man to return, but seeming even more alone when he does. Cinematography by Franju regular Marcel Fradetal.

Lead Actress Jeanne Allard appeared in Varda’s Les Creatures.

Ars (1959)

Another black-and-white semi-doc, this time about Jean-Marie Vianney, parish priest of the small town of Ars, who’d be named a saint after his death. Demy films museums and artifacts while briefly telling Vianney’s story, but most effectively he shoots the present-day town as if the events were happening currently.

Also watched Les Horizons Morts (1951) again – a very accomplished student film.

And happily, Demy’s homemade animations are available to watch in full, apart from their appearances in the above two features.

Le Pont de mauves (1944)
Bombing of the bridge.

Attaque Nocturne (1948)
Looks like the mugger is walking past the Demy Garage entrance.

La Ballerine (unknown date)
I love the pinholes tracing her path.

Varda films her own travels for a year or so, as she visits old friends and new, goes to lots and lots of art exhibits and museums, and attends retrospectives of her work. “Now that I’m old, everyone tends to give me awards and trophies.”

I didn’t get tired of the framing story: a tree at her offices is severely pruned, all shot in still photographs. And speaking of photographs, the main excitement in episode one is that she visits Chris Marker at his studio. She shoots the cables behind his computers, “the secret threads of the labyrinth of his art.” A Demy-fest celebrating the 50th anniversary of Lola, featuring Aimee, Piccoli and Varda’s children. Lots of exciting artwork.

Manuel de Oliveira attends Varda’s screening in Lisbon. Somebody explains Oliveira’s cinema: “He says reality is merely the result of certain conventions. It’s very important in Manoel’s films to understand that society becomes the artifice. Cinema is not the artifice. Manoel’s films help us get some distance from this reality imposed on us, so we can interpret it in another way.” Then Oliveira clowns around for Varda, doing his Chaplin impression and miming a fencing match, and my understanding of him changes. When he was a piece of trivia, The Oldest Working Filmmaker, it always seemed like he had very little time left, that each film might be his last (a review I found of Non, over two decades and thirty films ago, suggested that it would be his last), but seeing him in action I suddenly realize that he may live forever.

Varda chills in Marker’s world:

Oliveira:

Ep. Two, she goes to Brazil and meets Glauber Rocha’s daughter and Jeanne Moreau for the Rio film festival. A chair in a gallery prompts a montage of chairs Varda has photographed. Stockholm, and an Ingmar Bergman auction. Agnes is so fascinated by her interviewer, they end up swapping jobs. She calls gallery director Hans Ulrich a “contemporary art detector.” Varda meets Jonas Mekas and Yoko Ono while dressed as a potato. Flashbacks to Vagabond and Beaches. An elephant upon its trunk announces an exibition.

Agnes Potato with Mekas:

Ep. Three: igloos in Basel. Varda’s installation film Patatutopia is a triptych of potato images. Another installation of interviews, each one playing on its own television in front of its own easy chair. “A piece by George Segal attracts my attention. I didn’t know how to film my distress when Jacques died. So I wrapped myself in white, like plaster, and imitated Alice. I listened to music we both loved. Artists invent ways for us to express our emotions.” At the Alliance Francaise she attends a presentation of Beaches and a photo exhibit, including portraits she took of filmmakers (Demy, Visconti, a superb shot of Fellini). She visits the Hermitage and flashes back to Russian Ark, then back in Paris has a fascinating chat with artists Annette Messager and Christian Boltanski.

the Segal piece:

Patatutopia:

Boltanski’s holocaust-metaphor used-clothing installation:

Ep. Four: setting up a Beaches installation, with sand and her shack made of filmstrips. Some visitors to the shack: “Their interpreter murmurs ‘New Wave'”. Digital beaches, a man who collects buttons (and button stories), then a return to La Pointe Courte, where she films the 2010 version of the same jousting tournament she shot in 1954 for her first feature. A Marker grinning cat leads to more museums, including an exhibit by a painter who works only in black. I liked how he displays his paintings, suspended in the middle of a room instead of upon the walls, so you can look past one to compare it with another in 3D. Jean-Louis Trintignant recites poetry in the park – this kind of thing never happens where I live.

Varda street on la pointe courte:

Trintignant:

Ep. Five: a visit to her buddy Zalman King, Richard Pryor’s costar. Towers built by a “hero of outsider art.” Interview with a reluctant participant at the gang violence memorial. She talks about Jim Morrison and visits her old beach house, presumably during the Lions Love era, then toys with blue screens on the beach. Some 15th century angel/Jesus paintings then, more fun, skeletons in Mexico City. Agnes gets her interpreter to play piano and her assistant to pose nude for a photograph. Interview, with clips of Japon, with Carlos Reygadas, before visiting Frida Kahlo’s house. A juice factory that also houses a massive collection of modern art. Matthew Barney, Marina, Abramovic, and the best molé in town.

Zalman:

Agnes and Mexico interpreter Elodie, not nude:

And the series ends with no grand sweeping statement on the travels, just a series of sketches accumulated over a year or two, the time it took for the tree in her courtyard to completely re-grow.