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:

2006:
The first time I was too blown away by how wonderful this movie is, so entranced by its beauty and mesmerized by the entirely-sung dialogue to quite believe what I was seeing and hearing. Knew I’d have to see it again soon to make sure the dream was true. Still a nearly perfect movie… even more so now that I understand the singing and the flow and the story, and can just get caught up in it.

2016:
Finally looking perfect on blu-ray – I wasn’t thrilled how some colors on the 1990’s film print restoration jittered like a Nintendo game with too many enemies onscreen. Also I’m watching this for the first time since seeing Lola, so that movie’s lead character Roland Cassard as the jeweler who marries Deneuve and his brief Lola-flashback scene are new sources of wonder.

Meeting Roland at Mr. Dubourg’s place – he’s back there quietly gazing at Geneviève.

Other things noticed: how depressed and sullen Guy is after returning from the Algerian war… the crazy wallpaper in the movie and how it clashes and blends with the brightly colored clothing… and the auto mechanic male lead, from Demy who grew up in an auto garage.

When visibly pregnant Geneviève breaks down and agrees to marry Roland: “If he refuses me as I am, it means he doesn’t have deep feelings for me. If, by some extraordinary chance, he accepts me, I’ll have no reason to doubt him, and I’d be a fool to turn him away.”

And on Guy: “I would have died for him…”

Rosalie Varda played the lovers’ daughter in the final gas station scene – I saw Rosalie again in Uncle Yanco the same day.

Didn’t expect to find a 1954 photo of Chris Marker and Alain Resnais holding a Fernand Léger print in the blu-ray extras:

Checked out Tony Scott’s The Hunger for the first time in lovely HD, then watched his brother Ridley’s Alien on blu-ray the same night for a SCOTtober double-feature.


The Hunger (1983)

Cool looking movie with Nic Roegian editing – and I noticed this before listening to Tony Scott’s commentary, where he admits to being Roeg-obsessed. Scott worked in commercials, and brings their slick-as-snails visuals to a noirish vampire flick, opening with a Bahuaus video intercut with agitated lab monkeys. If that sounds like something that might not fly with the public, it apparently didn’t.

The eternally-youthful Catherine Deneuve is a centuries-old vampire living with true love David Bowie. Bowie seems like perfect casting for a vampire movie, but something goes wrong and he starts rapidly growing older (it’s perverse to hide Bowie under age-makeup), trying at the last minute to get help from blood specialist Susan Sarandon, and eating a neighbor kid (soap star Beth Ehlers) in a panic.

Aged Bowie:

Master vampire Deneuve is used to this sort of thing, stashes Bowie in the attic with the other aged corpses of former lovers, and begins seducing Sarandon. But Dr. Susan is too self-aware for vampire life, kills herself, and the zombie lovers rise up to destroy Catherine.

No fangs – our vampires use ankh-shaped knives to bleed their victims. A bit too many slow-motion doves flying but mostly the style works in the movie’s favor. Not according to Ebert, who called it “agonizingly bad” but enjoyed the sex scene. Played out-of-competition at Cannes, where Bowie’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence was competing with L’Argent, The King of Comedy and Nostalghia.

Scott later directed two episodes of the 1990’s anthology horror series The Hunger, hosted by Bowie. Enjoyed seeing Dan Hedaya as a cop but I missed Willem Dafoe’s cameo. Sarandon’s lab coworker Rufus Collins had previous vampire-film experience in Warhol’s Batman Dracula, and her other coworker Cliff De Young starred in Pulse and Dr. Giggles. Writer Whitley Streiber explored werewolves in Wolfen and aliens in Communion.


Alien (1979)

Has that Star Trek: The Motion Picture tendency to slowly bask in its models and space effects. The creature puppets weren’t as dodgy-looking as I remember them (though there’s such a bad edit right before Ian Holm’s disembodied head starts talking).

Spaceship control room looks like a sound booth with Christmas lights:

After watching this and Prometheus on blu-ray within a couple months of each other, I don’t get why people think there needs to be more connection between the two – one seems to be referencing the other pretty clearly to me.

There’s this thing:

And this guy:

And dudes who touch things they should not be touching:

And an android who does not appear to have everyone’s best interests at heart (his orders end with “crew expendable”).

You don’t think of Tom Skerritt as being the first-billed star of Alien, but I guess Weaver was an unknown at the time (or they didn’t want to telegraph who will survive from the opening credits). Veronica Cartwright had been in Kaufman’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake the year before. Harry Dean Stanton doesn’t do much horror but Wise Blood and Fire Walk With Me might count. Yaphet Kotto starred in Larry Cohen’s Bone and lived through Freddy’s Dead. And John Hurt has appeared in Hellboy, Only Lovers Left Alive, and something called The Ghoul.

“Deliberately paced, lacking narrative momentum” reads a positive review. I found it very strange (even having seen some of Oliveira’s other films) in an exciting way. It would be easy to write an accurate plot description for netflix, something like “a respected old actor (Michel Piccoli) becomes the guardian of his grandson after losing the rest of his family in an accident, and begins to redefine his life’s priorities.” But that wouldn’t begin to convey the film itself. For instance, Oliveira opens on Piccoli starring onstage in Exit The King alongside Catherine Deneuve and Leonor Silveira. Piccoli plays this scene facing almost entirely away from camera. We see the men backstage who’ve come to deliver the news about his wife and daughter’s fatal car accident, but the men speak to nobody and the scene keeps playing out, watching the back of Piccoli’s head, for about the first fifth of the movie’s runtime. So it’s clear that “narrative momentum” is not what Oliveira was going for.

A while later, Piccoli’s actor has kept working since the accident, a nanny caring for his grandson most of the time. Then he’s (badly) cast in a film of Ulysses directed by John Malkovich. After fumbling a few passes at the English dialogue, he speaks the title and ditches the movie.

R.I.P.

Catherine Deneuve is pretty and timid, a bit spacey, but nobody suspects (except possibly her older sister Helen, if she has ever paid that much attention) the extent of her psychosis until Helen goes on vacation with her awful boyfriend Michael (Ian Hendry, philandering zombie in Tales from the Crypt), leaving Catherine alone in their apartment with her thoughts. It turns out her thoughts are dangerous.

Maybe this is just a 1960’s thing, but when Catherine finally starts murdering people (first her stalker who thinks she’s in a relationship, then her landlord who offers an alternate method of paying the rent), I felt they were creeps who deserved it. But it seems from the extras that the movie just wants us to believe that Catherine is mad (and has always been mad, according to the final zoom into a childhood photo where she looks distracted/possessed).

A stylistic triumph on a tiny budget. Polanski’s follow-up to Knife in the Water and his UK debut, bankrolled by porn producers who would work with him again for Cul-de-sac. This one was written as the commercial hit that would fund the next one, a more personal work for Polanski. It’s lovely that slow-moving one-woman psychological horror with unproven stars (Deneuve had done Umbrellas of Cherbourg but wasn’t yet internationally renowned) used to be considered a sure hit.

Michael: John Fraser of Tunes of Glory

and Helen: Yvonne Furneaux, of La Dolce Vita

When Catherine is alone, the walls crack and ooze, rapist ghosts appear, hands grab her through the walls (a Cocteau-meets-Cronenberg effect using latex sheets bought from a condom factory). Polanski already showed a strong visual style with Knife in the Water, and here he’s got a ringer of a cinematographer: Gilbert Taylor had just shot A Hard Day’s Night and Dr. Strangelove. The film won a silver bear in Berlin alongside Le Bonheur (Alphaville got the gold).

I was about to start reading my Ruiz book, so I watched this first to feel more current. But it’s near-impossible to feel current with the prolific Ruiz, especially when the book opens in Chile two decades before the earliest of his features I’ve seen (Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting).

There’s much mirroring and many strange relationships in this one. Catherine Deneuve is a lawyer defending a boy her just-deceased son’s age for killing his aunt (her own age). Two bizarre and conflicting psychoanalytic societies are interested in the case – one run by mustachey Christian (Andrzej Seweryn, house butler in You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet), an associate of the dead aunt, and the other by his erratic-acting “official enemy” Georges (Michel Piccoli, a couple years after Simon Cinema).

Defendant Rene is Melvil Poupaud, a Ruiz regular who got his start as the murderous little boy in City of Pirates. Catherine’s first strategy is to interview him, but she doesn’t get straight answers. Rene plays a game with Catherine that he played with his aunt, where they switch places, speaking as each other, interrupting with a “beep” if the other person gets them wrong. Rene’s aunt kept a diary about him with shades of Through a Glass Darkly – “I’ll follow his development, his descent into hell.” So Catherine reads the diary at the aunt’s house (under supervision of Bernadette Lafont, pirate leader of Noroit and Sarah in Out 1), imagining the scenes described within with herself as the aunt.

All this leads to a tableau reenactment of historic crimes, posing members of the society according to a painting (callback to The Hypothesis of the Stolen Painting), but Rene’s “girlfriend” (actually a hired actress) says it’s an excuse for orgies. Anyway, Catherine wins the case, Rene is free, and Piccoli’s entire society poisons themselves.

But it doesn’t end there. Catherine’s mother died earlier in the film, now her friend the judge dies – she spends lots of time nearly alone at the funeral home. Mustache guy Christian returns, takes her to his archives with Mathieu Amalric (one of Rene’s criminal friends from earlier), explains his theory (referenced in the film’s title) about crime being inherited through generations. “People assume stories happen to them. Actually, they are possessed by stories.”

“We thought you’d end up a murderess,” said Catherine’s mom early in the film. Free but possibly guilty, Rene stays at her house, becomes more and more demanding, takes over her life, until finally she stabs him (and all his friends) to death, ending up on trial herself.

Bizarre Ruizian touches along the way: at key moments, we’ll hear the sound of child laughter or distant applause. While someone is talking, sitting still, instead of a slow camera move, the person’s chair or the decor behind him will be slowly gliding. Piccoli’s character has major dandruff, a distracting detail in all his scenes. And a whole mother/daughter conversation in mom’s curio-filled house is shot from various spooky angles with the knick-knacks in the foreground and the people in the distance.

M. Le Cain:

Solange’s adventure essentially consists of her moving through the various perspectives on a murder case, assimilating and reliving the stories of the different characters as they die, like a giant snowball accumulating more and more snow as it rolls down a hill. Having become both victim and murderer – who were themselves both engaged in a dangerous game of identity swapping – she pronounces herself the ‘universal inheritor’ of all the film’s narratives.

Not at all surprised when the end credits told me it’s based on a novel. The novel was Herman Melville’s follow-up to Moby Dick, which according to wikipedia was “a critical and financial disaster… universally condemned for both its morals and its style.” The movie plays like a piece of tragic literature without feeling uncomfortable in its present-day setting. I mean that as a compliment, but it also means the plot, as strange as it initially seems, has a feeling of inevitability. It opens on a rich couple, happy, alive and in love, so I know things won’t end well. Maybe it would be interesting to someday make a movie that opens on a loving couple who manage to stay that way.

Anonymously bestselling author Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu, star of Don’t Touch The Axe) is engaged to marry Lucie, but already a weird incestual vibe is creeping in when he calls his mom “sister” and gets all clingy around her. His best friend Thibault returns from travels, congratulates Pierre on his engagement to their mutual childhood friend Lucie, seems sincere about it. But Pierre is distracted by a stalker, and when he finally catches her, she claims to be his long-lost sister Isabelle, hidden away and raised in Bosnia. So Pierre visits some good places to die: the highway at night, a massive unstable rock, a waterfall, then tells his fiancee and mother that he’s moving to Paris by himself.

Pierre and mother:

Pierre tells Isabelle (Yekaterina Golubeva, sinister stalker in The Intruder): “for the world, you’ll be my wife,” even though nobody in Paris knows who he is so it shouldn’t matter. They immediately run into trouble on both sides of the law, Thibault throws him out, and newly-disillusioned Pierre is having trouble with his follow-up novel. His agent: “The need to spit the world’s sinister truth in its face is as old as the world itself.” Another woman and a little girl travel with them – I was never sure who they were, exactly, but the girl dies after being smacked in the head by a passer-by, and the couple moves again.

Now they’re in a warehouse run by a drums-and-feedback noise conductor and his all-black-clothed orchestra – just the kind of thing people assume goes on in Paris – and now their public/private roles seem reversed, as they sleep together when nobody is looking, but stay in separate beds. Back in the country, Pierre’s distraught mom (Catherine Deneuve, the same year she did Ruiz’s Time Regained) gets on his motorcycle and dies on the highway at night – so it beats the massive rock and the waterfall as the movie’s foreshadowed death monument. Lucie tracks Pierre down and stays with them (“we’ll say you’re my cousin”).

More troubles: Isabelle jumps off the winter ferry trying to die, Pierre publicly identifies himself as the author of the bestselling novel but is called an impostor, nobody wants his new book (“a raving morass that reeks of plagiarism”), Thibault is harassing them, and Pierre is getting shit from his conductor/landlord, whose musicans apparently also double as his private militia. So Pierre grabs some guns, goes into town and blows Thibault’s head off, is packed into the police van as his women both run after him, then Isabelle walks in front of a speeding ambulance.

It struck me as ironic that Pierre is trying to write a great, tortured novel, seeking the ultimate truths, while all his relationships are full of lies. Watched this because I enjoyed the unhinged awesomeness of Carax’s Lovers on the Bridge and his Merde short, and I’m hearing that his new one is bananas. But this was apparently the grimly serious piece between features of transcendent weirdness, despite a blood-soaked dream-sequence or two. I was looking forward to the Dirty Three score, but it’s actually by Scott Walker – what was I thinking of?

Lucie, in happier times:

Senses of Cinema:

If compared to Jean-Luc Godard and later Philippe Garrel in his first works, in Pola X we find a Carax closer to Jacques Rivette – who, not in vain, has declared that for him this is the most beautiful French film of the ’90s. The Rivettian airs can be found, for example, in the importance of the ideas of conspiracy, secrecy and masks; in the shots of large interior spaces like factory buildings and chateaus; and, above all, in the treatment of time: so many meters of film are used to follow the characters’ journeys, living the process with them – at the beginning of the film we follow Pierre all the way from the chateau where he lives to Lucie’s home, including the ferry ride; similarly, at the end of the film Carax spends a lot of time following Pierre’s journey to Thibault.

Halfway through this movie I paused for an hour – or was it a day? Either way, I spent some time away from the movie just loving it, thinking so this is why people love Desplechin, this is great, not like A Christmas Tale which I thought was just so-so. Then I got back to the movie and the second half felt exactly like A Christmas Tale, not in terms of plot or character, but in that I just liked it pretty alright. So either the second half is disappointing, or I should not pause movies in the middle.

Large-mouthed Emmanuelle Devos is our star, who manages an art gallery, tends to her ten-year-old son, and is engaged to Olivier Rabourdin. Elsewhere, the ever-dependable Mathieu Almaric is introduced saying fuck you to the IRS on his outgoing answering machine message before he is taken away by men in white coats. I love that guy. Drama: Almaric is Devos’s crazy ex-husband who she contacts because her dad is dying. Is that what happened? I watched this a couple months ago now, so I’m not sure.

I thought the movie would center around Devos, but Almaric takes over for a long time, with his drug-addict lawyer, his superstar psychiatrist, new psychiatrist Catherine Deneuve, his family and a suicidal friend in the asylum who’s studying Chinese. In the second half it flashes all over through time, Devos breaking up with Almaric and driving her first husband to suicide. Energetic, emotional editing, not going for any sort of classical continuity, with very decent handheld camerawork. In the end, Almaric decides not to adopt (or be some kind of insurance-policy guardian for) Devos’s kid.

I think these might be time-lapse shots of the tide going out, but the picture quality is too poor to be sure. This is gonna be a rough one…

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Opens with a closeup of Catherine Deneuve smiling, a good sign, but soon she and husband Michel Piccoli are in a car crash. Afterwards, she can’t speak anymore and he has a harry potter scar on his forehead. Some eerie, powerful string music and many close-ups of crabs later, we’re at a seaside town where the couple have come to recuperate. Apparently they don’t talk with the locals much because there’s plenty of gossip going around.

Sheet salesmen:
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Doesn’t take long for things to get weird. Small hands drop buttons into pockets. Piccoli (whose character name is also Piccoli) gets scammed by traveling sheet salesmen. Fishermen provide La Pointe-courte flashbacks for the viewer. Piccoli beats a chef with a dead cat. But it’s not a comedy! Something dark and eerie is definitely going on.

Piccoli talks with a horse. The horse talks back.
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Piccoli is a writer working on a story, and when we see him writing the dialogue being spoken by a woman across town, I’m never sure afterwards what is really happening and what’s part of his meta-movie.

horse: “What is your story about?”
MP: “It’s about a man who knows how to control people by remote control. … but it wouldn’t last very long, a minute at most. This guy would be a bad person, with an evil mind. He wouldn’t be human or animal anymore.”

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Soon Michel meets a bad man with an evil mind, Mr. Ducasse, who lives in a tower. He’s hired kids to drop magic discs into townspeople’s pockets which enable their wills to be controlled by his super computer. Ducasse calls the townfolk his “creatures”, gets Piccoli to play a game of Battle Chess with him over the fate of the town and of MP’s wife. MP is losing, but decides he doesn’t have to take Ducasse’s crazy misanthropic shit anymore, destroys the computer and tosses Ducasse from the tower. I’ll let NY Times give away the ending below.

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Other notes I took while watching:

Catherine writes him messages, which I can’t read from the poor picture quality, and even if I could read them, they’d be in French. I have nice DVDs of Varda and Demy movies here, but I choose to watch a junk bootleg instead. Odd priorities.

The dead cat came with a piece of iron that makes the lights go out and causes people to act strange.

He just told a rabbit that his wife is pregnant.

Thief Max burns money, puts on diving suit, gets shot by partner.

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You can’t tell much about the camerawork from my lo-res letterboxed videotape, but it’s one of the first films shot by William Lubtchansky (a decade before he began his 30+ year relationship with Jacques Rivette) along with two others. Interesting that all of her films until 1977 had multiple credited cinematographers.

Village Voice calls it “really botched” in their roundup for this year’s retrospective… “If it’s about anything, it’s about the creative process in action and stars that fine actor Michel Piccoli as a novelist who bases the characters in his story on friends and acquaintances.”

Ebert: “a complex and nearly hypnotic study of the way fact is made into fiction. It seems to operate on many levels, but in fact it operates on only one, illustrating how fantasy, reality and style are simultaneously kept suspended in the mind of a creative writer.”

NY Times: “Then love conquers all. The survivors of the seven subplots make happy arrangements — for example, the statuesque hotel keeper (Eva Dahlbeck) gives up mistressing for the town doctor and begins with an underage busboy. The writer almost completes his novel. The wife gets her voice back, pronounces her husband’s name (“Edgar”), and has her baby — a bawling creature who at the end fills up the screen precisely to balance (and somewhat to resemble) a crab creature that fills it at the beginning.”

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The movie’s studied anthropology and attack on human behavior reminds me of Resnais’ Mon oncle d’Amerique. And also of Bjork’s “Human Behavior.” There’s definitely, definitely… definitely no logic.