Almost exclusively composed of out-of-context scenes from other movies, mostly American with some exceptions (Zabriskie Point). I was surprised to see a scene from “Shockproof” (since I just watched it and had never heard of it before it was restored earlier this year), respectful mention of “Killer of Sheep” (again, this came out before all the recent tours and restorations) and an early scene from Sam Fuller rarity “The Crimson Kimono”.

The voiceover calls attention to the use of the city of Los Angeles in all these scenes, the backgrounds and cityscapes, the falsehoods and misrepresentations, and you quickly learn to watch each clip for the city it displays, not for the intended dramatic content. He talks about the documentary moments in fiction films, the way you can chart the changes in a certain neighborhood (and the eventual demolition of the whole area) through movies that were shot on location there over a period of decades.

One of the better movies about the movie industry, that’s for sure. I never had much interest in Los Angeles, and it’s not like the movie made me a big fan, but subject matter aside, it’s a fascinating idea for a movie, and meticulously put together. Entertaining as hell (didn’t mind the 3-hour length). A few jokes here and there, but mostly a straightlaced essay film. Wouldn’t really have to see it again unless I visit L.A., but I guess I could go for an upgraded version, since I watched a bootleg AVI of a bootleg VHS.

A pretty good Richard Pryor stand-up act. This got a theatrical run in early ’79, and is on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s list of his 1,000 favorite movies. I love a good stand-up act, and I guess if I had a better memory for jokes, I could fold my favorite stand-up acts in with my favorite movies… but I really consider them to be separate beasts. Comedians still get theatrical runs once in a while (Sarah Silverman “Jesus Is Magic”), but I hardly ever think of them as cinematic. Even my favorite Spalding Gray monologue films (“Monster in a Box”, “Gray’s Anatomy”) I have a hard time reconciling with my other favorite films… I prefer to think of them as illustrated audio-books (sorry, Steven Soderbergh and Jonathan Demme).

I know Pryor was a groundbreaking comic, so I cringed when he got into the “black people walk differently than white people” part of his act. Not exactly original anymore, and not nearly on the same level as an average Chappelle Show episode. The more observational stuff, crowd interaction, stories of growing up, mostly great. Still, last week I rented Louis C.K. “Shameless” (directed by Steven J. Santos, an awards-show stage manager) and laughed more. Didn’t even think to add it to my “films” list. I think I only added those Ricky Gervais stand-up specials to the list because they were directed by the guy who did the Alan Partridge series.

Jeff Margolis directed the Academy Awards show for the first half of the 90’s, then moved onto the Miss America Pagent and Country Music Awards. I guess he’s the guy in the control booth who says “camera two on my mark… and… mark.”

I still want to check out the other Pryor concert movies sometime (chronologically, from directors of playboy videos, the hanna-barbera happy hour, and pryor himself) and maybe his TV special and series (from dir. of Mr. Show!).

The long-awaited continuation of my Marker-a-thon!

Dedicated “to the happy many”

“The Lovely Month of May”, in two parts:
Part 1, “prayer from the top of the eiffel tower”
Part 2, “the return of fantomas”

“It happened in may 1962. For some it was the first springtime of peace.”

A series of interviews with Parisians at/about the end of the Algerian War. A little provocative, but more of an inquisitive survey than a personal statement.

Marker as interviewer recommends Cleo from 5 to 7 to a guy who sells suits, then tries recommending Marienbad. Guy replies “but it’s something you’ve gotta understand.” “Don’t you understand things?” “Sure, but why should I take the trouble? I pay, don’t I? Sitting in a movie to rack my brains?”

Narration: “The mayor of Paris would have a lot to do, but there is no mayor of Paris”

Someone petting the head of a baby owl, narration untranslated.

Sometimes there are whole sections that aren’t subtitled or translated. Sigh…

The interviewees are asked about money, politics, world events, their daily lives. Some prodding to get the more apolitical citizens to talk about politics, or to talk about why they don’t want to. There’s a shift to more specific issues in part two. More about racism and prejudice, poking around about the Algerian War. This is the same year Alain Resnais was making a very different film concerning the Algerian War, Muriel.

Not very cinematically interesting, I guess, but today it’s a fascinating look back at a certain time and place (May ’62, Paris) and a general survey on people’s thoughts, hopes, fears and prejudices. I wonder what Parisians thought when the film came out. Can’t imagine they raved about it. He’s asking questions that lots of people didn’t want to be asked, seems like he’s throwing social problems into the faces of the Parisian viewer. I’ll bet foreigners were more intrigued.

A long interview with an Algerian ends with spoken statistics about that particular May over time-lapse photography of the busy streets. “But for the 5,056 people in the prisons of Paris, each day of May was exactly the same.”

“As long as poverty exists, you are not rich. As long as despair exists, you are not happy. As long as prisons exist, you are not free.”

A surprisingly affecting movie… I liked it more than I thought I would. Movie ran only 1:58, forty-five minutes shorter than the IMDB runtime, so that’s further incentive to see a more complete and better translated version if/when I can find one.

Marker: “What I wanted to come out of the film is a sort of call to make contact with others, and for both the people in the film and the spectators, it’s the possibility of doing something with others that at one extreme creates a society or a civilization… but can simply provide love, friendship, sympathy.”

From Catherine Lupton’s book:
“Immersing himself in groundbreaking new developments in camera and sound equipment that allowed human encounters to be filmed with greater ease and spontaneity, Marker brought the interview centre stage in the filming of Le Joli Mai, a less-than-flattering depiction of French social attitudes at the close of the Algerian War.”

“Marker stated that one of his ground rules was to avoid selecting the participants or manipulating the interviews… in order to confirm a ready-made conclusion… Another was to refuse to regard participants as stock examples of social or character stereotypes. ‘People exist with their complexity, their own consistency, their own personal opacity and one has absolutely no right to reduce them to what you want them to be.’ Le Joli Mai does grant its participants the space to be themselves, and to speak fully on the topics and questions proposed by the interviewer, without reducing their contributions to caricatured soundbites. Even when the film makes pointedly critical montage interventions into a discourse that it evidently regards as misguided or fatuous, it still retains the texture and substance of the interviewee’s speech, so that it is possible for the spectator to measure Marker’s reaction against the statements or attitudes that have prompted it.”

Marker produced this film and Le Jetee simultaneously, a film which turned “the documentary adventure of Le Joli Mai inside-out, distilling its subterranean fears and anxieties about the future into an elegaic masterpiece of speculative fiction.” His new filmmaking identity “might be the critical conscience of contemporary France, or the cosmonaut of human memory.” “In his self-curated retrospective at the Cinematheque Francaise in 1998, the earliest of his films that Marker elected to show were La Jetee and Le Joli Mai. He went on record to state that he regards his earlier films as rough and rudimentary drafts and no longer wishes to inflict them on the cinema-going public.”

“The camera operator Pierre L’homme is credited as co-director in recognition of his central role in creating the film’s mobile, responsive visual images.” Pierre later shot Army of Shadows, Mr. Freedom, a Bresson feature, a Godard short, and The Mother and the Whore before working with Marker (and Yves Montaud) again on The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Singer in 1974. Narrator Yves was in Let’s Make Love, The War Is Over, Tout va bien and Le cercle rouge, and narrator Simone Signoret I know from Army of Shadows and La Ronde. Composer Michel Legrand did a James Bond movie, F For Fake, some Jacques Demy (incl. the musicals!), some Varda and Godard.

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Marker’s third movie, the one he made right before “Letter From Siberia”.

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Nice to have a fast-paced English voiceover so I can actually tell what is being said, unlike with the washed-out subtitles of “letter from siberia” and “description of a struggle”.

Movie is short, poetic and comical. We reeeally needs a nice dvd set of these travelogues to go with the great current releases of “Sans Soleil.”

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“this isn’t an absent-minded surgeon; it’s a townsman protecting himself against the dust

The narrator remarks that dust, germs and flies are the enemies of the revolution, so there may still be capitalists in China, but there are no more flies. Catherine Lupton: “This remark neatly commends the energy put into overcoming problems, while taking ironic note of the obstacles that may have been overlooked in the rush to cleanliness. This hint of light-hearted subversion wholly escaped the selection committee for the Berlin Film Festival of 1957, who refused to screen Sunday In Peking unless the comment about the vanquished flies and a number of other remarks deemed to be Communist propaganda were removed.”

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“shops covered with characters as if they were huge boxes of tea”

Nice line: “the harsh price of the picturesque”… and history remembers “legendary wars that still resound through the peking opera house today.” Images and writing about the past and future, history meeting present day, the nature of time.

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“the chinese people celebrating their bastille day, their day of revolution”

I don’t remember any owls, and cats were (entirely?) restricted to the title cards, but there was a Siberia-reminiscent bear:
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These movies are all still good, worth watching for enjoyment, not just as academic exercise to probe Chris Marker’s beginnings in film. Wish they’d get a little more attention.

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Senses of Cinema:

In describing Peking/Beijing, Chris Marker understands that, no matter how sincere his intentions may be he will never be more than an outside observer to this or any other culture he visits. Rather than ignore or disguise this problem, he runs with it. Literal performances and cultural displays are made the dominant subject of Dimanche á Pekin’s assembled footage. Gymnasts, dancers, shadow puppets, acrobats all feature to such a degree that, if the film was the viewer’s first exposure to Chinese culture, they could begin to imagine a kind of circus-nation, one in which performance was as common a means of communication as writing or speaking.

Catherine Lupton says the film “examines the identity of the state of Israel by reading it as an accumulation of signs, marks of the multiple conflicts that have carved out its twelve years of existence as a nation.”

Signs:
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Movie is a “Letter From Tel-Aviv” then, exploring Israel, Palestine, Jerusalem, Haifa, with the humorous and intelligent commentary as in Marker’s other early docs. Of course I’ll need to see it again sometime whenever possible, since my copy has nearly unreadable white subtitles and tiny, crappy picture quality. I’m not even sure what language is being spoken by the narrator.

Marker’s owls are present:
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And cats as well… a man who feeds them calls in hungarian “to all hungarian-speaking cats”
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Electronic sound effects and filming an oscilloscope predate the technological curiosity in Sans Soleil by more than 20 years.

Cinematography by Ghislain Cloquet, who later shot Mouchette, Balthazar and Jacques Demy films, won an Oscar for a Roman Polanski film, then died during the production of Sans Soleil.

“born in camps, crushed by camps… us, germany, with our crimes,” fragments of a whole unexpected section of accusatory comments against Europe. This could be a more-hopeful sequel to “Night and Fog.”

Store signs at the beginning read: samson, delilah, varda and ali baba
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Definitely some plays on words like in Letter From Siberia but harder to tell what’s being said… some play with editing and sound effects (announcer and crowd cheering while camera follows a kid skating downhill through the streets, as if he is inaugurating a new Olympic sport).
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A scene of quiet study brings to mind the library short Toute la mémoire du monde.

I miss every third or fourth line so not always sure what points he’s trying to make, especially during a section composed of stills and zooms in the orthodox quarter.

We get a favorite theme from Sans Soleil discussing pictures/images vs. reality in the photographs taken home by tourists and in the ancient biblical paintings of this land.

The Jewish Saturday has a “mood of general strike”… he calls the kibbutz meeting an “absolute democracy” then describes a communist “Utopia”. His purposely combining terminology of communism and democracy during the kibbutz meeting scene must’ve incensed some people when this came out.

The young artist who Marker chooses to represent the Israeli state in the final scene:
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Mad:
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Cat windows:
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Children:
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The President Has AIDS (2006, Arnold Antonin
Totally ineptly made movie with honorable intentions, defended by lead actor (the Haitian from Heroes) in post-movie discussion. Apparently the Haitian independent film scene isn’t all that it could be. Not about the “president”, but a super popular entertainer (and, inexplicably, a regular guy who looks identical to him). Good to hear that it did well in Haiti and got people talking, anyway.

Salud (2006, Connie Field)
Documentary on Cuban medical system, but mostly set in other countries where Cuban doctors set up to help poor populations that local doctors can’t or won’t treat. Pretty okay doc, but I mostly remember the less-okay post-movie discussion led by an alternative-medicine advocate who loomed in front of Katy and me.

Daughters of the Dust (1991, Julie Dash)
I spaced out during the entire movie, and whenever I looked up I saw some languid images and heard conversations that I could only barely understand when I tried hard. Didn’t seem worth trying that hard. Sorry, acclaimed african american director Julie Dash!

More consistently on-topic than any previous Moore video/film project, and even more of an illustrated essay than Fahrenheit 9/11 was.

Kinda made me cry a little. Katy liked it, too.

You hear about “cult films” and films with “a cult following” a lot, but where are these cults? Is there a basement in Des Moines where ten or twelve people get together monthly to watch Richard Elfman’s Forbidden Zone? Maybe a club in Montreal that meets at a different member’s living room every wednesday night to watch a different Mario Bava movie from one guy’s prize collection of DVDs and bootleg cassettes? An Alejandro Jororowsky society in Mexico City that watches a 16mm print of El Topo once a year followed by a ritual sacrifice of farm animals?

If these movie cults literally exist, I just hope there’s one for Werner Herzog.

“Little” Dieter Dengler was about seven when WWII ended. He lived through the rebuilding of Germany, when people were boiling and eating wallpaper to get the nutrients that were supposed to be in the glue. Later became a blacksmith’s apprentice and worked at a machine shop. Got toughened the hell up by all these experiences and finally left town for the first time ever to head to America and become a pilot at age 18. Joined the air force, worked shit jobs for a few years, then quit to get a college degree, become a citizen and join the navy where he finally started flying, which is all he ever wanted to do. Got sent right away to Vietnam, and first mission he’s shot down and captured over Laos. It gets hairier from there, with deadly escapes and all the adventures that Herzog’s upcoming Rescue Dawn will be recreating. Died in Feb 2001, and there’s a “postscript” scene of his funeral on the DVD.

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Dieter lived an exceptional life, went through very extreme ordeals, and had a single driving obsession (to fly), all making him such an obvious Werner Herzog protagonist that, a decade after shooting this documentary, Herzog is returning to the same story with Rescue Dawn.

Never one to make a “straight” documentary, interviewing Dieter and his war buddies at a neutral location, zooming in slowly on old photos and showing stock footage… no, Herzog does all that, but he also takes Dieter back to Laos. Herzog “helps” Dieter re-enact his own capture and imprisonment with props, locations and some willing Laotian men. What a terrible, wonderful idea. Dieter seems totally up for it, never breaks down into post-trauma sobbing sessions, just reports his history matter-of-factly, with Herzog’s voice occasionally coming in to ask questions or observe in his godlike way.

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(Grizzly Man connection) Dieter: “Duane, my friend, he was gone, and from then on my motions, my progress, became mechanical. In fact, I couldn’t care less if I would live or die. But then later on, there was this bear, this beautiful bear that was following me. It was circling me in fact sometimes. It was gone and I missed it. It was just like a dog, it was just like a pet. Of course I knew this bear was there, he was waiting to eat me. When I think about it, this bear meant death to me. And it is really ironic. That’s the only friend I had at the end, was death.”

But… Herzog: “Dieter took an early retirement from the armed forces and became a civilian test pilot. He survived four more crashes and flies to this day. Death did not want him.”

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Completely awesome movie, short and gripping and moving. I might not join the Herzog cult (they’d never stop talking about the relationship between man and nature, and they probably all have dangerous and bizarre obsessions) but I’ll sure watch more of his films.

Second-and-a-halfth time I’ve seen this. Next time I’ll have to find the longer (miniseries?) version.

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Still my favorite wine documentary. Unnervingly unsteady handheld digital camerawork, wandering obsession with wine people’s pets, sudden shifts from one country to another, and interviews that give subjects plenty time to make their views clear or to make fools of themselves.

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Movie starts (but does not end) in Brazil, which is apparently a difficult place to make wine. For the most part, the ol’ stickler traditionalists come out looking good (Mondille family, the guy below), the big-money company owners come out looking not so good (Michel Rolland, Mondavi, Antinori), and some other characters add flavor and remain neutral (critic Robert Parker, new york distributor Neal Rosenthal).

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I read a great magazine interview with Jonathan Nossiter – was it in Cinema Scope? Will have to find that again. I love how idiosyncratic the movie is – the way the camera restlessly looks around instead of watching the interview subjects, the inclusion of scenes and dialogue that the subjects probably thought (knew!) would be thrown out, the rich v. poor, worker v. owner and globalization arguments stated or implied in every scene.

Katy liked the movie, I think.