Opens dramatically, comparing cinema light to the flares signaling the liberation of Tavernier’s city from nazis. Tavernier has been directing features since the mid-1970’s, and I’ve never seen his work, so thought I’d start with this documentary expounding his cinematic influences. He goes long on one artist at a time, each segment feeling like a standalone TV episode.

Long initial piece on Jacques Becker’s films, and I could do worse than bingeing all of these. He discusses Renoir’s great films, sticks up for their technical skill then goes into the man’s sketchy politics, defends Jean Gabin’s politics and his postwar career, then on to Marcel Carne and composer Maurice Jaubert, all these segments linked by actor Gabin. The composer segment is welcome because film music in the 1930’s was almost universally terrible, but Jaubert’s sounds original, and it’s a nice break after 90 minutes of raving about the most obvious choices in classic french cinema. It’s kind of a square doc about square old films.

After Joseph Kosma, another composer I’m less taken with, finally some action: Eddie Constantine crime flicks. A brief look at Godard, through early Truffaut, to the French cinematheque under Langlois. Edmond Gréville looks downright innovative compared to the others, and it starts getting personal with Melville helping Tavernier to start his career in film – these two were highlights, then we coast to a shaky end with Claude Sautet. It’s got me wanting to watch some Becker, Melville and Gréville, I guess, but Tavernier seems to have aimed this at big fans of his work who haven’t seen any Renoir or Carné or Truffaut, and who would that be?

“People have become slaves to probability.”

Been waiting for this to come out in HD so I could watch it again, and didn’t have to wait long at all – because we live in the glorious future. Cool looking movie and Eddie, in his eighth film as Lemmy Caution, is a convincingly noir hero. But it’s got a strangely somnambulist atmosphere, and sometimes it feels like I’ve been given prank subtitles.

“The meaning of words and of expressions is no longer understood.”

Lemmy is visiting Alphaville from the outer countries, guided by the lovely Anna Karina, daughter of some important professor. I think Lemmy asks some questions, tells some lies, shoots some guys, then confounds the computer controlling the city (voiced by a mechanical voice-box) using poetry.

“No one has lived in the past and no one will live in the future … The present is terrifying because it is irreversible.”

Soundtrack features big dramatic music, shrill morse-code tones and a croaky Central Scrutinizer voice, each annoying in its own way. Welles regular Akim Tamiroff plays a short-lived ally, Howard Vernon (Dracula and Dr. Orloff in France and Spain) plays the professor, and Christa Lang (not yet married to Sam Fuller) plays a “seductress third-class”.

Lang and Tamiroff:

Vernon:

K. Phipps:

The supercomputers of the early and mid-1970s inevitably shared DNA with HAL, the murderous companion computer of 2001: A Space Odyssey, whose influence can be felt throughout the decade (and beyond). But HAL had his antecedents, too, and in many respects he and his brethren share much in common with an unlikely source: Alpha 60 of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1965 film Alphaville … To create the technocratic totalitarian state of Alphaville, Godard looked no further than the newest additions to Paris: buildings made of steel and glass controlled by pushbuttons and glowing under fluorescent lights. As Jacques Tati would a couple years later with Play Time, Godard considered the price of this progress and wondered where humanity could live in it, and what kind of life people might lead there.

Not a very popular movie, not easy to find or widely discussed, so I wondered about the title. Is it “Lion’s Love” or “Lions’ Love” or just “Lions Love”. Title card on the movie says:

“Lions Love Lions Love Lions Love by Mama Lion”

So that clears that up.

Jim and Jerry, writer/performers of the musical Hair (and therefore the cringe-inducing song Age of Aquarius), along with Andy Warhol model/actress Viva, lounge around an L.A. mansion speaking hippyese, apparently playing themselves. Shirley Clarke, also playing herself, comes to stay for a while since she’s meeting Hollywood bigwigs about getting an independent film produced. Bad things come in threes within a couple days in June, when RFK and Andy Warhol are both shot and Shirley overdoses on pills. All but Kennedy turn out okay.

I’m not sure what the movie was getting at. The other Varda film I didn’t love, One Sings, The Other Doesn’t, at least had a point, exploring feminism from a number of angles, but what is this one getting at? That violence is a drag? That Los Angeles is full of phony hippies?

There are scenes in a film studio where a producer is meeting with Shirley’s representative trying to agree on a project. The budget works out, but ultimately the studio won’t give her final cut, using careful phrasing like “of course she has creative control, but we might have to change things after test screenings.” And we get a scene (the only one I loved) where Shirley refuses to “overdose,” so Agnes jumps in front of the camera and does it for her, showing Shirley that it’s no big deal. But I wouldn’t say the movie is about the difficulty of making a movie. No movies ever get made here except Varda’s, and Viva’s acting career is barely mentioned.

AV: “I’m trying to make a movie”
SC: “Right, it’s your story, you do it.”

L-R: Jim Morrison, Agnes Varda, Frank Zappa

Auteurs quotes PFA in calling it “a deliberately decadent riff on fantasy, immaturity, and violence: American culture, 1968,” so I guess it’s that.

Eddie Constantine shows up at the door for a little scene, but I didn’t catch Jim Morrison (besides the photo above) or Peter Bogdanovich – IMDB claims they both appear.

Mostly it’s bubbly hippies talking over each other, singing, improvising and pretending to be deep. This is pretty much exactly how I imagined 1969 to be. It must have been unbearable. I like the brief street sign montage of roads named after movie stars – didn’t know about that, but should have guessed.

Viva: “I’m tired of all this emancipation crap”
“Please turn the camera off.”

Shirley Clarke with cardboard camera, an image Varda would re-use in Simon Cinema

“Should art imitate, exaggerate, and/or deform reality?”

Even Varda runs out of patience with these guys sometimes – I like that she speeds up the action, replacing the sound with string music, whenever the scene gets long or the dialogue is less good.

They watch Lost Horizon on TV, as old to them as Lions Love is to me. The hippies find out they don’t get along with children. Frank Zappa appears again in a montage of drawings after title card “the witnesses.” It’s ironic since Frank hated hippies. The apartment whispers things to Shirley. One of the guys suspiciously uses the line “let the sun shine in.”

“Why Kennedy? Why do they always shoot Kennedy?”

I did love the ending, an interview with the three lead actors (Jim takes off his fake wig), ending with Viva who wants to just breathe for a while, a long closeup as she does exactly that. Warholian? Possibly.

Eddie Constantine visits Viva:

Also found a lovely TV interview with Varda and Susan Sontag, whose first film Duet for Cannibals was just out. Varda starts by protesting the introductory speech’s use of the word “grotesque,” says her stars “are not grotesque people at all. They have long hair and they live like free people.”

“It’s not a story; it’s a chronicle, I would say.”
“It’s mainly a film about stars, stars-to-be, political stars…”

Sontag joins Varda in attacking the interviewer – A.V. calls him racist for continuing to use the word grotesque, and S.S. contradicts him when he tries to speak about all of underground cinema as if it’s the same kind of thing. He tries to get out of it, uses phrases like “labyrinthine convolutions” and mentions Dostoyevsky, but it’s too late for him. It’s funny to me that Varda’s film is in English and Sontag’s is not.

More craziness from Lions Love: