Since Garrick reminded us of Olivier, and Steve was just talking about Shakespeare movies, this came to mind – a very early Criterion DVD I bought on sale and never watched, and now the disc is in storage but the movie’s on Criterion Channel in very nice quality.

Opens with a super sweet model town, this should be the whole movie, minus that typical 40’s movie music that gets so choir-bombastic it overloads everything and just sounds like a dull roar of horrid horns. The play is being framed as a debut performance at the Globe, complete with crowd reaction and backstage shots. Leslie Banks (the Jimmy Stewart of the original Man Who Knew Too Much) returns as narrator before each act. It starts raining at the largely outdoor theater before act 2, then the setting magically shifts to Southampton, the sets in the “real world” looking more fake than the Globe, but it’s nice to get outside.

Olivier’s direction is fine and inventive, but the performances are super-declarative and I’m barely even trying to follow the action, except when Falstaff shows up, dying in bed with sour memories of the King’s final kiss-off speech via voiceover. The change in scenery allows for crowd scenes and big camera crane-ups, but I admit the endless speeches are less engaging without the crowd reactions – but the crowd in the early section was distracting when their laughter competed with the speeches, so apparently I cannot be pleased. I thought the performance style was tuned to the Globe, but once we go offstage they yell just as much, in fact the king’s famous pre-battle Crispin’s Day speech sets a new movie record for yelling. I was surprised to recognize John Laurie – the accent helps. Two women speak French, and either subtitles hadn’t been invented yet or it’s assumed that anyone going to see an Olivier/Shakespeare movie in the 1940’s would know French. Olivier was given an honorary Oscar, after this movie lost all its category nominations to The Best Years of Our Lives.

The Big Shave (1967, Martin Scorsese)

Scorsese’s queasiest film? Guy just keeps shaving until he is bloody all over, ending with a full cross-throat red slash. Jazz score with no direct sound, very student-filmy.

We’re Going to the Zoo (Josh Safdie +3)

Stop-motion opening title, nice. Woman on a long drive pulls over for a minute when she spills her coffee and hitchhiker Josh jumps in back with her little brother. They stop at a diner and dine-and-dash, but he runs back in and pays? He gets lectured about sex before marriage from a rest-stop cashier. They have a fun ride, drop him off, proceed to the zoo which is closed, then pick him up on the way back. Lo-fi camera.

When We Lived in Miami (2013, Amy Seimetz)

Scenes of a woman and her daughter in Miami, a day or two before a hurricane comes through, then it adds her cheating husband into the mix. Lovely editing.

The Lonedale Operator (2018, Michael Almereyda)

John Ashbery recalls his childhood love of movies, and the viewing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which led to his beginning to write poetry at age 8. He’s interviewed in color 16mm, reading from his own letters, with photos and film footage cut in. He moved to Paris and binge-watched silents at the Cinematheque… pretty standard interview doc except for a cool bit of editing between classic films at the end, and the factor that this was filmed just months before Ashbery’s death. DP Sean Price Williams is just everywhere.

Pinball (2013, Suzan Pitt)

The director’s own paintings, detailed and turntabled then fast-cut to the music Ballet Mechanique. So far Pitt is 2 for 2, and there’s more on the Channel – hope it’s sticking around.

The Amateurist (1998, Miranda July)

Miranda 1 “the professsional” is presenting her work on Miranda 2 “the amateur” to the viewer. I think 1 transmits numbers and patterns to 2, who paces a cell, reacting with hostility to these communications, while 1 watches lovingly. “A portrait of a woman on the brink of technology-induced madness”


Pioneer (2011, David Lowery)

Another single-room two-person short. Will Oldham is an ageless man telling his stepson a bedtime story about how the boy was kidnapped and sought for over a hundred years, only to mysteriously reappear.


Saute ma ville (1968, Chantal Akerman)

Whoa… teenage Chantal comes home, eats dinner, tosses the cat out the window, cleans the apartment, then kills herself on the stove. Jeanne Dielman in miniature – with less technical mastery, replaced with a playful sense of anarchy, extended to the dubbing (she sings in voiceover when not singing onscreen, and when lighting a match, the sound effect is a voice saying “scrrratch”). Watching the doc later, she calls it “the mirror image of Jeanne Dielman.”


Asparagus (1979, Suzan Pitt)

Up there with Lynch in terms of having the most warped ideas and having the technical chops to get them onscreen. This is the height of color and form/space/scale weirdness while still maintaining some vague narrative trajectory, accompanied by bent spooky music, then it hits new heights when our heroine leaves the house (putting on a mask first, much appreciated), sneaks into a theater and unleashes her phantasmagoric cel-animated phallic-symbol madness on an unsuspecting stop-motion audience. A masterpiece, filmed from 1974 to 1978.


Atlantiques (2009, Mati Diop)

Serigne boarded a pigogue heading to Spain and died on the way. However, Serigne sits around the fire with a couple of friends detailing the trip and his reasons for leaving. Obviously a ghostly precursor to the feature.

– bonus short –

Strasbourg 1518 (2020, Jonathan Glazer)

Exhausted repetitive dances in vacant domestic spaces.

Faster cutting between a larger set of dancers towards the end.

New music by Mica Levi is an irritating fast club beat with hints of bird calls

Criterion had a bunch of these movies, and I needed something to watch in weekday installments during a horrid week.

Jackie is tired of training with his mocking grandpa.

So he joins a gang and dresses like an idiot servant and a pretty girl to hustle suckers into fighting him.

But eventually he’ll have to content with the evil wizard who killed his dad (and grandpa).

Is he up to the task? Totally, yes.

Grandpa was James Tien of the Bruce Lee movies. Baddie Yen Shi-Kwan was in the first two Once Upon a Time in China movies. The year after starring in Drunken Master, this was 25-year-old Jackie Chan’s directorial debut.

It [was] Cannes Month… but after Bacurau I got distracted and thought I might watch the Miguel Gomes epic Arabian Nights… but first, since I’ve seen the other two features in my Pasolini “Trilogy of Life” boxed set, I guess I’ll watch his Arabian Nights. It turns out both the Pasolini and the Gomes played Cannes, so Cannes Month continues!

Zumurrud is a slave allowed to choose her own master – she chooses poor boy Nureddin, gives him the money to buy her and rent a house, but the boy immediately disobeys her and they spend the rest of the movie having adventures trying to reunite.

N, realizing he got lucky:

Z, king of the realm:

Some of those adventures: an older couple bring home a teenage boy and girl, for a bet, and watch as each kid fucks the other while they sleep. A Christian kidnaps Z and has her whipped, but she escapes and comes upon a city that makes her king, then she orders her tormentors crucified. N is kidnapped and fucked by nuns, is later told a story about Chaplin guy Ninetto Davoli who’s supposed to marry a lovely girl but falls for Crazy Budur who kidnap-marries him. A prince finds a girl locked up by a demon underneath the town and loses his shoes fucking her. A girl turns herself to fire, a prince shoots a statue, N encounters a lion in the desert, and so on.

It’s easily the best of the three, despite greenscreen effects as poor as the dubbing and losing a star for killing a pigeon onscreen. Or maybe my expectations had been lowered enough, and I knew what to expect, focusing on the authentic ancient settings and landscapes as much as the silly-ass sex comedy.

Cool sights, unrelated to the plot:

The Devil is Franco Citti, who was in all three movies along with Chaplin Guy – and they were in a fourth Pasolini-written anthology sex comedy at the same time: Bawdy Tales, directed by Canterbury/Decameron assistant director Sergio Citti. Nureddin is Franco Merli, his career launched by this movie, then ruined the next year by starring in Salo. Zumurrud is Ines Pellegrini, who also went on to Salo, but worked through the 70’s, mostly last-billed. And Crazy Budur is Claudia Rocchi, later of Yor, the Hunter from the Future.

Local crime boss Bob Hoskins gets back into town, and quickly has to figure out what’s going on when some of his top men start getting killed right when Bob was gonna go legit by signing with real estate developer Eddie Constantine and profit off the 1988 olympics. Turns out some of his guys took a side deal from the IRA, stole from them, and now his whole organization is under attack.

Eddie, Helen, Bob:

Bob’s in his first starring role, Helen Mirren is his unamused sister, their curlhaired partner Jeff is Derek Thompson (just off the rock musical Breaking Glass) and Paul Freeman (villain of next year’s Raiders of the Lost Ark) is Bob’s buddy who gets stabbed to death by none other than Pierce Brosnan (twelve years before his performance in The Lawnmower Man landed him the James Bond role). Bob won’t accept defeat, takes on the IRA at a demolition derby, and it almost looks like his plan’s gonna work. Decent 1980’s movie, does not live up to expectations of being an early Criterion release that I’ve been wanting to watch since it came out… in fact, the DVD release was late 1998, which is closer to the release of the original film than it is to the month I finally watched it.

Opens with Wallace Shawn in voiceover – he’s a playwright taking acting gigs, doing odd errands, going to dinner tonight with a man he’s been avoiding for years, once a friend and colleague and a celebrated theater director before he disappeared. The voiceover comes back to interrupt even after they start talking, but mostly Andre’s stories begin to take over the film.

“It has something to do with living.” Andre isn’t new age or hippie exactly, but very all-things-are-connected, seeing signs, everything is beautiful, living life for the first time, unusual coincidences, etc. He went to a forest in Poland to teach forty musical women about theater, compares the group’s trance activity to Hitler’s Nuremberg rallies, after which Wallace gives him a great look. Andre had a bad trip to the desert with a Japanese monk, was buried alive in India, compares himself to Albert Speer. When Wallace finally gets a whole line in, Andre mentions nazi death camps, what is it with this guy?

After Andre dominates for the first half, Wallace gets to tell a story of his own, which is about not being able to express himself. Andre says we’re all bored because of capitalism, and volunteers that New York is a concentration camp. References to Brecht, Sense & Sensibility, The Little Prince, Autumn Sonata. This is all leading to a blow-out fight, when Wallace can’t take his friend’s nonsense anymore – but it doesn’t, it leads to a good-natured disagreement. I can’t say I thought this movie was all that special for most of its runtime, or could figure out what it was getting at, but I can say it was a shock to experience good-natured disagreement in the climax of a film, and this should happen more often.

Very promising, opening titles over an auto assembly line, “with the participation of Bert Haanstra,” the factory work bringing to mind his great short Glas. Alas, Tati fell out with Haanstra (and his funders, and somehow Lasse Hallström), and this ended up a fitfully amusing, semi-improvised road-trip film that incidentally features Mr. Hulot as an auto designer helping transport his creation to a trade show.

The joke is that delays and misfortune make them miss the show completely – they get a flat tire, the truck’s clutch goes out, etc. But it’s hard to feel sorry for them (not that the movie asks us to) when they also run out of gas, get arrested for speeding through a border crossing, cause a ten-car rube goldberg car crash, and don’t seem to know what day the show starts – this is all professional incompetence. Anyway they’re a likable crew except for the grating American PR rep Maria.

Besides Hulot’s presence, you can catch glimpses of the style of the guy who made Playtime only a few years earlier, and can also catch his influence on Roy Andersson. Some cute bits: after the second garage stop Tati makes a rock music video out of traffic lines and road marking patterns. Montage of people’s windshield wipers matching their personalities, some good sight gags in the police station, Maria’s constant stylish wardrobe changes. But there’s also this disastrous bit:

Learned from Jonathan Rosenbaum’s article that Haanstra shot the nose-picking montage, and at least some of it is unstaged.

Jonathan Romney for Criterion:

Tati certainly appears less in control than in the vast coordinated ballet of Playtime. For the most part, the jokes in Trafic drum up a sense of languid, almost apathetic chaos, without there always being conventional payoffs to give the comic business a sense of purpose. Notwithstanding the painstakingly synchronized pileup scene, the film is characterized by slow-burn gags that create an overall comic atmosphere rather than work toward a clearly defined goal … Without a doubt, Trafic contains a hovering tone of despair that makes it a somewhat melancholic pendant to Playtime.

Happy to see that much of the motion in these motion-paintings involves snow or animals – in fact, when there are humans in a scene, they’re the only things that don’t come alive. The visuals sometimes remind of The Mill and the Cross, and sometimes you can’t tell they’re based on still photos at all.

Here’s me, pointlessly taking stills of motion versions of stills:

Crows are prominent. Rare is the scene without any birds in it. The movie is as attuned to outdoor bird behavior as I am, always wondering what the crows and ducks and sandpipers are up to. Whenever there are birds seen through a window we hear opera. Not all the animals survive… tense music in frame 5 before a deer gets shot, and there are more bird fatalities in this than in The Lighthouse. In the most narrative scene, a seagull gets shot and another mourns him. Great ending: a Disney-sounding song, a sleeping motion designer, a classic film on an iMac rendering at about 1fps, the wind in the trees outside.