“Help me someone! There’s a crazy woman in here trying to castrate me!”

The Poe-injected story goes that rock star Roddy Usher killed his wife in a fit of madness so now he’s in hospital under the care of Dr. Calahari. But “story” is just an excuse for Ken. He got himself a DV camera (with built-in microphone), grabbed every silly prop and goofy actor he could find, and set to work making a camp comic “horror” flick. The credits say “Designed, Photographed, Edited, Produced & Directed by KEN RUSSELL (who also did the Cooking),” so this was a backyard hobby project. That page doesn’t even mention writing (he shares credit with Poe) or acting.

Starring: Ken Russell

And have I mentioned it’s a musical? Full of puns and hammy awfulness and prank props and silly-ass music. Sounds nightmarishly awful, and I’m not some super-freakish Ken Russell fan who would forgive him a terrible movie. But, surprise! Shock! It’s not a terrible movie! At least I didn’t think so, as I quickly went from groaning at the self-conscious awfulness to laughing along. Mad Ken must be on the same camp-wavelength as me, which I should have guessed after seeing his Trapped Ashes episode.

Usher:

Of course it helps that I liked the music, composed by Usher himself James Johnston (who also played a rock star in Clean – Maggie Cheung’s dead husband). Upsettingly, Nurse ABC Schmidt (Marie Findley) hasn’t appeared in other films. Sweet Annabelle Lee (Emma Millions) played “Tart” in Ken’s short Lion’s Mouth – bad move not including that on the Usher DVD. Russell’s wife played Usher’s sister (also a mummy in the second half) and the guy who played Igor (he stayed behind a mask) has been in Russell movies as far back as the 60’s.

This guy, an experimental patient whose life Ken has been prolonging through chemicals or electricity or something, portrayed “Death” in a recent Woody Allen film.

Oops…

I’d be afraid to watch this again. It doesn’t seem in retrospect like anything I would’ve enjoyed, so it might’ve just caught me in a perfectly receptive mood. As of this viewing, my only complaint is that there weren’t enough musical numbers in the second half.

Amazingly, this nearly decade-old movie is Ken’s most recent full-length, coming a few years after his string of not-at-all-acclaimed TV movies.

Ken looks dismayed at his lack of DVD sales:

For a few minutes I was mad at the Tara for projecting the film out of focus, not an unreasonable thought given previous disasters at that theater, but then I realized the movie was shot on low-grade DV – probably a good financial choice for a two-person three-year project, but less than ideal for landscapes, which the camera turns into mud. A would’ve-been-lovely shot of pack horses parading before distant mountains ended up looking like a blurry painting. K Uhlich agrees: “As subcultural anthropology, it’s unassailable. Yet the often ugly-looking DV aesthetic dilutes the cumulative effect. For every gorgeously low-res image (a blobby, white sea of sheep racing heedlessly toward their pen), there’s a correspondingly ineffectual visual or vista that one wishes had been captured with higher-end equipment and a keener cinematic eye.”

Jimmy wasn’t bothered by the camerawork so much as the editing, saying that each shot lingered too long, which became cumulatively frustrating. But we agreed it was neat overall, even if most of its value was in teaching us city folk how ranching works.

“The resistance had its youth and it had its old age, but it never went through adulthood.”

Godard already in his mournful history/memory/holocaust phase (of course, I keep forgetting this was made after Histoire(s) du Cinema). Very nice black-and-white photography and lovely, sad string music, then after an hour it turns to super-saturated color, very unique and wonderful looking. Story/character/intent-wise, though, I didn’t get the movie at all.

Part of it is self-referentially about making a film, trying to cast it. There are mentions of Henri Langlois, Robert Bresson, Hannah Arendt, Juliette Binoche, May ’68 and Max Ophuls. Didn’t feel any more like a proper narrative film than Notre Musique did. I’d say that maybe the small-screen experience wasn’t cutting it and I needed to see in a theater, but I saw Notre Musique in a theater and fell asleep. Maybe I’m not smart enough, or wasn’t prepared enough to tackle this one… it’s the kind of thing I’d be better off reading a bunch of articles before watching. I never figured out the love story, or the flashback structure, and even the filmmaking story seemed elusive. But probably it’s just because I’m an American, and it’s not for me.

“Americans have no real past. They have no memory of their own. Their machines do, but they have none personally. So they buy the pasts of others, especially those who resisted.”

There’s some anti-U.S. business, a character hating on the fact that U.S. residents call themselves “Americans,” textually taking ownership over both continents, and a slap at Spielberg (“Mrs. Schindler was never paid. She’s in poverty in Argentina”). Godard reportedly took time at Cannes to attack Spielberg further… guess he’s not thrilled that the current Cahiers crowd voted War of the Worlds as their #8 pick of the decade. C. Packman at IMDB says: “The film is a critique on Hollywood and how capitalism is destroying cinema and love. … The film succeeds in offering a philosophical problem, but demonstrates philosophy’s inability to enter into any realm other than the abstract. Godard here follows Marx’ dictum: ‘Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it’.”

“When did the gaze collapse?”
“Before TV took precedence over life.”

No actors I’ve heard of before, and the one I liked best (Audrey Klebaner, above, as Eglantine) has never been in another film. Shot on 16mm b/w film and color video by Julien Hirsch (Notre Musique, Lady Chatterley) and Christophe Pollock (Up/Down/Fragile, Class Relations), but I can’t figure out who shot which. Punctuated by repeated title cards and blackouts.

Salon is ruthless:

Godard’s artistic deterioration has been particularly heartbreaking because, as his sensibility has atrophied, his visual gifts have matured. … The burnish of the images in First Name: Carmen, combined with the flow Godard shows in the editing rhythms and in the use of Beethoven string quartets to underscore the images, can lull you into thinking that something is actually going on in the film. … What it adds up to, though, in In Praise of Love as in the films that have preceded it, is a retreat, a shutting out of the world.

Slant calls it “an inscrutable rumination on memory and history that only Godard is meant to fully grasp.” I’m looking for raves, not pans – I watched this because it was on multiple best-of-decade lists. Reverse Shot goes gaga over the use of images, touches lightly on the story, and complains that the original title Éloge de l’amour (WordNet defines “elegy” as “a mournful poem; a lament for the dead”) has been translated to In Praise of Love.

This was both wonderful – an inventively whimsical little ride of a rigorous art film – and tedious in that way that non-narrative films can be. It wouldn’t be a Snow work if it didn’t test my patience a little – it’s part of his charm. This kind of thing is always very different with an audience, not that I think it’s likely I’ll ever get the chance. I picked up visual similarities to Presents and Sshtoorrty… not so much Wavelength unless you count every zoom as a reference to Wavelength (which I guess some critics do).

People walk through a door with the title printed on it (this is where the zoom comes in), while we hear Snow, offscreen, instructing each on the entrance of their timing. Cut to inside the office, and the camera rolls to the right, an infinite camera move since the set is digitally joined at the seams. He electrocutes all his actors, a chair disappears in a lap dissolve, blatant digital effects pop up, then the picture twists like a ribbon as it transitions to next scene. Apparently these are many different actors dressed similarly to give the appearance of a regular cast of characters, but I can’t see subtleties like that on my VHS copy… a shame.

A family sits in their garishly (digitally) decorated living room with a wall mirror reflecting the camera until objects fly off the wall and destroy themselves while the people sit still staring at the sky inside their television. Obnoxious noise permeates, except when one would expect a sound effect (during an explosion, say) when it goes silent.

A classroom is shot from above until the kids notice the camera, stack their desks so they can reach it.

Two people enter a too-small doorway at the same time, fusing and morphing into a slow-moving doorway-shaped block, which lumbers back into the infinite-loop office set. The credits show up before the hour mark and begin to lap themselves. The whole movie rewinds. Then at the end a couple enters a cinema and sits down to watch an early animated work by Snow.

J Hoberman calls it “that rarest of things—a summarizing work. Like Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman or Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, it could be used to conclude Motion Pictures 101. … Rigorously predicated on irreducible cinematic facts, Snow’s structuralist epics – Wavelength and La Région Centrale – announced the imminent passing of the film era. Rich with new possibilities, *Corpus Callosum heralds the advent of the next. Whatever it is, it cannot be too highly praised.

Hoberman again: “a bonanza of wacky sight gags, outlandish color schemes, and corny visual puns that can be appreciated equally as an abstract Frank Tashlin comedy and as a playful recapitulation of the artist’s career.”

Pop Matters:

Similarly, domestic life in *Corpus Callosum is irrevocably altered by innovations. The home is filled with televisions, pizzas, and empty glasses. Intense oranges and pinks make the living room seem alive and breathing. The walls are decorated with paintings, an eye-test chart, a crutch, and a skeleton. A mirror reflecting what appears to be Snow and his film crew forms the focal point, reminding us that this film has an author, just as our own environments have human creators. In one 12-minute sequence, objects on the walls begin exploding, one at a time, into beautiful pixel starbursts. Snow, the reflected “god” (for he is creator of this space and the characters who dwell within) appears here to be an Old Testament type: he can give and he can take away.

NY Times:

In keeping with his lighter side, *Corpus is also fun … But then it starts to feel as if things are going on for too long. Mr. Snow realizes he is literally playing with time, though, and even jokes about it: he inserts the credits in the middle of the picture. … We get the point, but the movie goes on and on, using repetition to comment on repetitive behavior.

Rosenbaum, who ranked it his #1 movie of 2002, above even Platform: “Not counting the asterisk, the title refers to the tissue connecting the hemispheres of the brain, an apt reference given the prodigious and joyful inventiveness on display.”

In Snow’s description he says:

The sound – electronic like the picture – is also a continuous metamorphosis and as the film’s “nervous system”, is as important to the film as the picture. Or: the sound and the picture are two hemispheres joined by the artist. *Corpus Callosum is resolutely “artificial”, it not only wants to convince, but also to be a perceived pictorial and musical phenomenon.

… a shame, since my copy had lousy sound.

Funny that I watched this the day after The Last Movie, since it turns out Snow put out a record called “The Last LP”.

Snow, interviewed:
“Although it was all done in the computer, so there isn’t any film in it except for a little tiny bit at the end which is something I did in 1956 and is in a sense my first film. The film I usually refer to as my first film A to Z which is a cut out animation film in 1956. Where as what appears at the end here is, well something which we used to call flimsies. You see I started out in animation and that is how I got involved with film. We used to make the drawings on tracing paper, we would put them on pins with one over the other on a light box and you would draw them. And I did this little sequence of this leg stretching in 1956, but I never shot it, I just kept it as a flimsy. So I guess that is in a sense my first film or at least it was intended to be shot as film. But it was not shot as a film.”

Offscreen: Has it changed over the years, the audience reception?

Michael Snow: Yes. I don’t know what is happening to people but they are not as tough as they used to be. … I really want to make physical things so that the experience is a real experience and not just conceptual. Well yes there are ideas in the works, but they are also body affects, like the panning, for example in Back and Forth. I’ve seen someone get sick and people have fainted with La Region Centrale, so I must be doing something right.

Interlacing! Surly women argue over heroin. Nhurro takes a shower. Vanda sells lettuce. Bunch of one-shot scenes, disconnected from each other – I mean, they’re in the same neighborhood with some regular characters, but one doesn’t narratively follow the last. Sometimes the movie seems to be challenging me not to watch it, like when a man with a needle in his arm compares awful blood-clot stories with a friend, or when a girl will not stop scraping a tabletop with a razor.

S. Hasumi: “All of Pedro Costa’s shots have a vertical power that breaks the viewer free from the story’s linear cause and effect. The pleasure of exposure to that liberation has, ever since F.W. Murnau, been a privilege allowed only to film.”

It’s Carrefour!

Caught references to Cape Verde and to a woman who either sold, killed or abandoned her baby (the story is not well remembered – nothing around here is). Other than that, no Jacques Tourneur film-love or even a Wire bootleg on a boombox, just pure miserable reality. Of course it’s not exactly reality, as pointed out by the commentary – shots are staged, there were retakes, dialogue was thought out before the scene.

More than two hours in, Soon after the girls talk about their childhood in this neighborhood, when drugs weren’t around, or at least were better hidden, the song “Memories” is playing on a TV, cutting after the line “I remember the time I knew what happiness was.” What, is the movie belatedly remembering that it’s a movie? I didn’t enjoy the first half, thought it was getting worse, then felt increasing sympathy for it during the final hour.

Cyril Neyrat sees revolution while I struggle to stay awake and not to get annoyed:

Costa bought a Panasonic DV and went to Fontainhas alone, every day. Vanda and Zita had invited him into their room: “Come, you’ll see what our lives are really like. You used to ask us to be quiet; now we’re going to talk, you’re going to listen. That’s all we do, talk and take drugs.” Over six months, alone with his DV camera, a mirror he found on-site, and cobbled-together reflectors, Costa reinvented his cinema: facing the bed, he looked for frames and strove to master the light that came in through a single tiny window, as in a Dutch painting … After the six months, a sound engineer came to lend a hand from time to time. He recorded the girls’ speech, the murmur of Fontainhas, the sounds of the bulldozers and the mechanical diggers tearing the condemned neighborhood’s houses down one by one. The miracle of In Vanda’s Room is that of a new agreement between the world and the film, of a recovered equality between the two sides of the camera.

Costa reinvented a solitary, craftsmanlike cinema, operating at the pace of everyday life: going into the neighborhood each morning, looking, working, doing nothing, picking from the stream of life and energy flowing before the camera something that might give rise to a scene. And then repeat it, do it over—up to twenty times—until the beauty and the intellectual and imaginary power of a sculpted reality made dense and musical are revealed. With In Vanda’s Room, Costa strips cinema bare, but far from wallowing in an aesthetic poverty that would add to the humiliation of the underprivileged of Fontainhas, he rediscovers in this subtraction the aura of the great primitive and classic cinemas, and their ability to reveal and celebrate the beauty of the world, the beauty of sounds and colors, of a ray of light passing through shutters to illuminate three bottles set on a wood table.

“It looks like a film, it is a film in some sort of way,” opens Pedro defensively in the DVD commentary, before proceeding to tell us about the difficult sound work they did in post-production. “It’s a bit pretentious but the ambition with Vanda in sound, image, everything, was to recompose, offer, unveiling the secret that really doesn’t exist, going against the cinema-machine…” it’s a rambling commentary, but it’s a three-hour movie so there’s no hurry. It rambled me straight to sleep, twice in the first hour, so I finally gave up halfway through.

I think I get Ten, that it’s a discussion between everyday people about their real problems, somewhat politically charged but mostly a realist drama minus much of the drama, with two digital cameras bolted inside a car. He says the story could be anyone’s story, and that anyone’s story would be worth filming for a movie. I didn’t dislike it, but I prefer Kiarostami’s other work, or the kind of scripted social dramas that Jafar Panahi makes (or made, since he’s currently in prison).

At the center of the movie, a mother gets in terrible arguments with her son who resents her for divorcing his father. We also have scenes (exactly ten total, each with countdown leader) with the woman’s sister, a prostitute who accidentally hops into the car (the most contrived part of this realist experiment) and an old woman hitching a ride to pray (the least contrived – reportedly she was really hitching a ride, and had no idea she was appearing in a movie).

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Better is the documentary 10 on Ten, or I should say it’s better to watch them both together, as A.K. explains in-depth his thoughts on filmmaking, actors, writing and so forth. The doc opens where he shot the end of Taste of Cherry, the hill with winding paths and the distictive trees, which overlooks the streets of Tehran, where he shot Ten. He talks about the immediacy of video, its portability and ability to capture natural performances, which he used by accident in Cherry after the final scene was botched by the film lab, then halfway on purpose in ABC Africa. “This camera allows artists to work alone again.”

He no longer writes screenplays, just sketches his movies over a few pages. “I only remain faithful to the original idea of the film, and even that is not something you can be sure of. When I write a full and accurate screenplay, I’m no longer interested in making it, and usually hand them over to colleagues.” Hence Crimson Gold the year after Ten came out. The shocker is the last chapter of 10 on Ten, a miracle of an ending involving ants in a hole in the road, reviving my faith (shaken by Ten) that A.K. can make cinema out of anything.

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E. Hayes:

Ten centres on a divorced woman and her relationship with her son, Amin. The actress Mania Akbari is herself a divorcee, and Amin is her own son. We watch the son, without inhibition in the way today’s children can be with parents, caught between his separated mother and father in their battle for possession, self-possession and respect. Through the mother’s struggles with the child, a little tragedy is played out. Pride and possessiveness make communication hideously painful. Meanwhile, various aspects of womanhood are embodied by the women who catch a lift with Akbari. This is a drama of the deferred nature of human fulfilment – a tragedy most people in any audience are all too able to identify with, in any country.

lead actress Mania Akbari:

This film, in my opinion, talks about how relationships today are empty and distant from love. All women in the world, and men for that matter, thirst for love. This film isn’t anti-men. Relationships have become transactions, have become materialist. I think this is what the film shows.

Didn’t stick with me very well the first time, maybe because it didn’t make enough narrative sense for my brain to properly hold on to, like a wacked dream that I remember clearly when I wake up but is already gone by the time I hit the shower, not related enough to reality to survive my beginning to ponder my work day. Should have watched it a couple times originally. But now I see I should watch more than a couple times, maybe annually from now on. Lynch’s most free, most trippy and loose movie, existing almost entirely in dream state, but also his most dirty and real looking because the DV photography feels like a home movie. Completely inexplicable and entirely worthwhile.

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Hard to watch at home. The three hour runtime, the almost entirely black scenes, and the very dynamic audio levels (quiet whispers turn into sudden shock sound effects and screams) work best when I’m home alone and wide awake on a winter’s night. I think it freaked out my birds more than anything else I’ve watched. Next time I’ll watch on my laptop, in accordance with Lynch’s dreams of an all-digital cinema.

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The plot, thanks to Cinema Scope:

Dern’s first incarnation, Nikki Grace, is an actress who lives in a cavernous Hollywood mansion and lands a coveted role in a Southern melodrama titled On High in Blue Tomorrows opposite suave ladies’ man Devon (Justin Theroux). She soon learns that the film is a remake and that the original Polish production was aborted when both leads were murdered.

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Nikki begins to merge with her character, Sue, and the script’s adulterous affair spills over into real life. But what’s real, and who’s dreaming whom? The boundary between the film and the film-within-the-film — indeed between all levels of reality — vanishes completely. Besides Nikki and Sue, Dern plays at least two other overlapping variations on the character: One lives in a shabby suburban house, sometimes with a harem of gum-chewing, finger-snapping young women. The other, a tough-talking Southern dame, is spilling her guts out in a dank room, telling floridly vulgar tales of sexual violence and terrible revenge. Interspersed throughout are scenes from a Beckettian sitcom with a rabbit-headed cast. Certain phrases, often pertaining to identity confusion (“I’m not who you think I am,” “Look at me and tell me if you’ve known me before”), repeat in varying contexts and start to acquire talismanic power. (The key to transcendental meditation, which Lynch has practiced for over three decades now, is the repetition of a personal mantra.) Meanwhile, the film we are watching is beamed to a TV in a hotel room, and a mystery brunette watches along with us, silently weeping.

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Did I write this weeks ago, or was I quoting from a website?: “Dern changes identities and locations, each with only a faint memory of the others, giving her a constant sense of unease.”

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The neighbor who visits her is awfully good in a Twin Peaks sort of way. A choreographed dance to “The Locomotion” manages to be one of the spookiest parts. Seeing father Rabbit leave his locked-down living room set is thrilling. Cameo by the girls from Darkened Room (actually only Jordan Ladd is strictly from Darkened Room, but I like to think they’re the same characters). William H. Macy in a big cheesy cameo as a radio reporter and Harry Dean Stanton as Irons’ sad assistant, always bumming money off people.

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Bright Lights:
“It sounds complicated, but it makes clear emotional sense, just as Mulholland Drive did.”

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House Next Door calls the ending hopeful, and I guess you could say that. Dern escapes from at least one of the films she’s trapped within, wakes from the dead and goes back home where, per HND, “Lynch returns to the face of Grace Zabriskie’s Neighbor and, before our jaundiced eyes, this formerly intimidating and ugly figure becomes suddenly beautiful and ethereal. Moreso than Dern’s final close-up (a stunner in its own right) I think the answers to the film’s many mysteries, for those who need them, are contained in Zabriskie’s sideways glance and virtuous smile.”

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Extras on the UK DVD are all interview-style. One is by The Guardian, one is by Mike Figgis at a hotel in Poland.
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Interviewer: “If T.M. creates positiveness… some people might ask: what about all the darkness that’s in the films?”
Lynch: “Exactly.”

On the inclusion of Rabbits in Inland Empire: “Sometimes we start something and we think it is that, and later… it sprouts and becomes a bigger thing.” Okay it’s not a great quote.

“Really the only difference [between IE and the earlier films] is Inland Empire was shot with DV… and it was a low-grade, bad DV.”
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“It is true that the 50’s gave birth to rock and roll and that early rock and roll holds a very special power, I think. It started the whole thing rolling, but in my mind it drifted away a little too quickly. And I think there’s more gold to mine from that feel of the first rock and roll.”

Repeats the same information over and over, not saying much for long periods, interviewers asking stupidly general questions hoping Lynch will tell them a nice story. He does tell a couple light ones, but three times each. So the final segment, The Air Is On Fire, comes as a happy surprise. It’s a biographer (who knows enough about Lynch not to ask pedestrian questions) viewing and discussing Lynch’s paintings and sound installations.
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“We’re cooking quinoa.”
“This pan is unbelievable.”
The U.S. DVD is already better than the U.K., with a b/w video of Lynch in his kitchen and a nice stills gallery, and that’s before I even get to the meat of the disc. Hey, he times his cooking the same way I do, by yelling out numbers from the clock instead of setting a proper timer.
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More Things That Happened is outtakes from IE. First 20 minutes are scenes with Dern’s circus husband. He comes home late. He sells a girl a watch.
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Dern continues talking to the man at top of the stairs. She has a crossed out “LB” tattoo on her hand. A girl with earrings talks to Dern about meeting Billy at a bar. Mostly people telling each other stories.
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Ballerina
A ballerina performs behind cloudy overlays and blobby digital soft focus to ambient music. Some neat effects in there but too long by half.
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Lynch (one) is a full-length documentary by BLACKandWHITE, whatever that is, company or person, on the making of Inland Empire. Lots of behind-the-scenes dealings, set construction, some talk with the actors, Lynch in every scene. Lynch 2 on the IE disc is presumably deleted scenes from that doc, another half hour of material. Not tremendously eye-opening, just gives you the impression that IE is completely Lynch’s artistic vision, if you couldn’t have figured that out before, down to the smallest detail. He yells at his crew on set then praises them up and down in interviews. We hear a lot about the improv nature of the film and script, but we see careful planning and scheduling of shots and scenes. Watching David choreograph the closing credits musical number, telling the lumberjack not to cut all the way through the log because “we’ve only got one log,” you realize that all the backstage footage in the world might be fun to see, but still wouldn’t explain a thing.
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“It’ll be more than a mouthful, which will look real, and it looks great. And you can throw up a lot of blood. Two times you’ll throw up.”

“There was a thought for a long time that you had to suffer in order to create, and this is just about opposite of the truth. If you’re suffering, even a little bit of suffering cuts into your creativity. In fact, the happier you are, and the more wide awake and rested you are, the better it goes… then the ideas can flow way better, way smoother and faster, and more of them.”

Stories is Lynch talking for 40 minutes, maybe excerpts from the website Q&A segments, about IE and digital and meditation, the usual topics. This is where the famous quote about watching a film on a fucking phone is from. His hatred extends to computers as well, but I think if he was here and took a look at my television setup and laptop setup, he’d have to grudgingly admit that I’m getting better picture and sound off the laptop.
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On a separate disc, Room To Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker is mostly Lynch talking about himself and his working methods, and partly an advertisement for Avid systems. Best of all, it includes an extra scene related to Inland Empire. Windowboxed and interlaced, unfortunately – nice going, Avid.
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Sur la route de Mulholland Drive is a half-hour behind the scenes, interviewing all the principals and watching the filming. More interesting than most backstage press-kits if only because I’m unusually interested in the film. Following that is a cutdown of the film’s Cannes press conference.
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Le Son de David Lynch, another doc, from French television in 2007, interviews Lynch and a bunch of people I didn’t understand. Hmm, Wild at Heart was called Sailor et Lula over there. He and Badalamenti (below) recorded music for Twin Peaks and Lost Highway before shooting, and he’d play the music on set… wonderful.
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On the Lime Green box set, Out Yonder is a three-actor stilted-humor throwback to The Cowboy and the Frenchman, only Lynch is one of the actors this time. Not really interesting at all, a conversation where all forms of the verb “to be” are replaced by “bees bein'”, with fart jokes, tooth pulling and a distant cavalry. In the next episode, a girl with gonorrhea seeks her missing chickens.
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Scissors is a Cannes short previously known (to me) as Absurda. A Flash-looking dream-cinema piece incorporating bits of the ballerina footage.
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A couple of greetings for film festivals, both in b/w, filmed in reverse, starring Lynch himself and just awesome.
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Fictitious Anacin Commercial is exactly that, a half-minute gag commercial. A Real Indication is an amateur music video (if amateurs had a crane). And Early Experiments is 16mm footage from the Grandmother/Alphabet/Six Figures era set to overdramatic string music, with some cool motion paintings and lots of mirror symmetry.
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Then there’s Dynamic 01: The Best of Davidlynch.com
David answers member questions about favorite pieces of music, how to write a screenplay, his box full of ideas on scraps of paper, Marilyn Manson, coffee vs. cappucino, and meditating with Roy Orbison.

Intervalometer Experiments:
Ambient videos with slow, rumbling music. The first consists of trees and a distant mountain at sunset, the video grain threatening to destroy everything. The second is a spooky set of stairs molested by an encroaching shadow. The third is the corner of a sunroom in time-lapse, with scary trees and a dormant alarm system.
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Industrial Soundscape is a lock-groove computer animation three times as long as it needs to be. Maybe we were supposed to use it for meditative purposes. Bug Crawls is animation of a bug climbing a mad science house in slow-motion as a blimp passes by. Lamp is a half-hour doc of David making a lamp, which isn’t as funny as when he makes quinoa. And there’s another episode of Out Yonder, which I think I’m gonna skip. No, I guess I’ll watch it. “You bees bein’ barkin’ right up the tree which bees bein’ the wrong one!”

Darkened Room
A Japanese girl dances with the camera, talks to us about bananas before introducing her crying fried (must be Jordan Ladd of Death Proof) in the other room. I think I hear the Rabbits music. Third girl (Ladd’s Cabin Fever co-star Cerina Vincent) comes out to torment the crying girl. Hmmm, my note three years ago said this is six minutes long, but now it’s ten. Maybe last time I lacked the intro with the bananas. A few visual cues and mention of a mysterious watch purchase tie this in with Inland Empire and More Things. Little did I know the first time I watched it. Little did Lynch know, probably.
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Boat / “When things go wrong, it gets like this.”
David takes his boat (the “Little Indian”) out for a spin, takes low-grade blown-out video then adds a woman-in-trouble descriptive voiceover. He goes fast enough to go into the night.
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Three love stories with the same actors in different eras. Can’t think of an apt comparison to another film (haven’t seen Resnais’ Smoking/No Smoking) but it’s sort of the opposite of Hal Hartley’s Flirt). I’d avoided this despite the acclaim because I thought it’d be long and boring (flashback to two Hou movies I didn’t enjoy/understand, Flowers of Shanghai and Goodbye South, Goodbye) but lately I’ve decided that those two required more attention than I gave them, so I watched this one twice (err, six times).


1966: A Time for Love

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A perfect mini-movie, and it ends so simply and beautifully. He meets her by accident at a pool hall, looking for a different girl. Writes her letters while on his military duty, returns one day and finds her gone. This time, instead of just writing to the next girl, he tracks her down, spends his last few hours of leave with her. Repeated settings, actions and songs (“smoke gets in your eyes” and “rain and tears”) along with the period setting and romantic atmosphere unavoidable evoke Wong Kar-Wai.

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Girish draws connections:

The original Chinese title of the film is Best Of Times. Hou, like a popular musician, is drawing from his “discography” of films for these three stories. The first reminds me in look and mood of A Time To Live And A Time To Die or Dust In The Wind; the second is set in a brothel like Flowers Of Shanghai; and the third clearly recalls the modern neon-smeared interior spaces of Millennium Mambo. So, Hou has created a sort of compilation album, only he has “remade” the ideas and memories behind his previous films into new stories.

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1911: A Time for Freedom

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Silent with piano music and intertitles for dialogue most of the time, traditional twangy vocal music a couple of times (performed, it turns out, by our woman). She is a geisha and apparently in love with her man, though he seems to pay her little mind, focusing on poetry, national politics and the fate of another geisha. He pays for the other girl to be freed when she becomes pregnant, leaving his own girl stuck and alone when he leaves town for Shanghai. Such slow, fluid, measured movements I am sometimes not sure if Hou’s movies are in slow-motion.

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Stylus:

Of course, the principal subject of both “A Time for Freedom” and Flowers of Shanghai is liberation—from a life of service for the long-suffering geishas, and from foreign rule for Hou’s homeland. Examining the dichotomous relationship between a wealthy activist (Chang) protesting the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and a geisha (Shu) longing desperately for a life outside the brothel, this is Hou’s most explicitly political work since his trilogy on 20th Century Taiwanese history (City of Sadness, The Puppet Master, Good Men, Good Women) and, arguably, his most resonant feminist statement to date.

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2005: A Time for Youth

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A confusing one – multiple girls with multiple problems, little explicit story but more detail information than ever. He’s a motorcycle-driving photographer and she’s a throat-tattooed, epileptic lounge singer with a scary website. Seemed to me the usual commentary on modern disconnection through overload of technology, not adding much besides superior cinematography, but the second time through I enjoyed it more (and figured out more, like the fact that He and She both have other girlfriends). Her girl says she’s committing suicide from neglect (touchy) towards the end. Still doesn’t have the emotional impact of the first two – I might’ve switched the order of the segments.

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Senses of Cinema:

Hou represents this state of freedom by a narrative near-chaos transmitted with a calm and almost casual-looking inscrutability that makes the story impossible to comprehend to any satisfactory degree in just one viewing. It is ironic, though, that while an initial impression might well have been that many of the scenes are presented in a chronologically rather random order, careful examination seems to establish that the story is actually told in a scrupulously linear way.

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Qi Shu (The Eye 2, Transporter and Sex & Zen 2) has got nothing on the career of costar Chen Chang (Red Cliff, Breath, Crouching Tiger, Happy Together and A Brighter Summer Day), but they’re both wonderful here. Story and characterizations are pretty minimal, movie gets by on weight of emotion, similar to Friday Night and In the Mood for Love – and it shares ITMFL’s co-cinematographer Pin Bing Lee, a Hou regular who also shot Air Doll and Norwegian Wood. Would look even more lovely, I’ll bet, if the DVD wasn’t all interlaced and non-anamorphic.

Won all the Taiwanese film awards. Played at Cannes with A History of Violence and Cache, Battle In Heaven and Broken Flowers, all unfairly beaten by that Dardenne movie.

“You’ll be your own downfall.”

The Lady of the title is Grace Elliott, a Brit in France during the 1789-93 French Revolution. Actually the French title is L’anglaise et la duc but Grace is Scottish, claiming English nationality for simplicity when it’s suddenly very dangerous to be a French aristocrat in France. The movie’s intertitles and much dialogue are taken directly from her diaries.

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The Duke is one of my favorite Jean-Pierre Jeunet actors, but I didn’t recognize anyone else. Star Lucy Russell has failed to break into the Hollywood mainstream (landing such roles as “female restaurant guest” and “classy shopper #3” in recent big films). Ach, I missed Alain Libolt (Renaud in Out 1) as the Duke of Biron.

Renaud plus 30 years:
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Grace is pure aristocracy, the very target of the revolution, and her sympathies lie with her friends whom she sees being rounded up and killed by the brutish masses. Steadfast in her devotions (though lying to stay alive), she’s contrasted with her friend the Duke, who changes with the times and ends up voting for the execution of the king. Plays like one of Rohmer’s Moral Tales only with more action, more heads on stakes, and more awesome digital backdrops of period Paris standing in for the usual stifling production design and avoidance of outdoor shots (except by filmmakers with Scorsese-budgets). Slant, in fact, called it an “economical antidote to the bloated costume drama.” Grace tries to negotiate the changing world without compromising her belief in the class system, while the Duke either adapts his morals or never had any to begin with. The main thing this movie has over the other Rohmers I’ve seen is historical interest… I delighted in the details of the revolution, about which I know very little. I thought the movie rather anti-revolution, which seems shockingly out of fashion, and one “Grunes” confirms that this was a problem:

Rohmer pitches the action from Elliott’s perspective, with which his own Roman Catholic penchant for order prompts him to identify—hence, the controversy the film engendered in France. Thus the street mobs are unwashed, grisly, barbaric, obscene; poor Louis XVI!

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It’s hard to know what to make of the movie’s politics. There’s also a long scene where she successfully hides a Marquis from the police. We don’t get to know the guy very well, but he’s not made out as a man who deserves to die, so bravo, I guess. When Grace is finally arrested and held for two days for possession of a letter from an Englishman, the letter ironically turns out to praise the French revolution to the heavens. These examples and the duality in the title make it seem relatively even-handed, despite being adapted from Grace’s own horrified writings.

Duke Jean-Claude Dreyfus:
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Watched this the night the director died. It got mentions on decade-end lists, with some screenshots that got stuck in my head (like the one below, peering into a painting with a telescope), so I’d planned to watch it soon anyway. I didn’t hear much when it came out, probably because of the timing (sept-oct, 2001). Beaten out for its only two César nominations by Amelie and Brotherhood of the Wolf.

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NY Times:

The moral dilemmas that Grace and the Duke face are diagrammed, in Mr. Rohmer’s inimitable fashion, with equal measures of clarity and complexity. The director manages to evade both the stuffy antiquarianism and the pandering anachronism that subvert so many cinematic attempts at historical inquiry. His characters are neither costumed moderns, just like us only with better furniture, nor quaint curiosities whose odd customs we observe with smug condescension. They seem at once entirely real and utterly of their time. And the time itself feels not so much reconstructed as witnessed.

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I’ll close by outright stealing an entire blog post by from Glenn Kenny, only because I want to always be able to find this Rohmer quote.

My films, you say, are literary: The things I say could be said in a novel. Yes, but what do I say? My characters’ discourse is not necessarily my film’s discourse.

There is certainly literary material in my tales, a preestablished novelistic plot that could be developed in writing and that is, in fact, sometimes developed in the form of a commentary. But neither the text of these commentaries, nor that of my dialogues, is my film: Rather, they are things that I film, just like the landscapes, faces, behavior, and gestures. And if you say that speech is an impure element, I no longer agree with you. Like images, it is a part of the life I film.

What I say, I do not say with words. I do not say it with images, either, with all due respect to partisans of pure cinema, who would speak with images as a deaf-mute does with his hands. After all, I do not say, I show. I show people who move and speak. That is all I know how to do, but that is my true subject. The rest, I agree, is literature.
—From “Letter to a critic [concerning my Contes moraux]”