A contemplative picture book encompassing hippies and scientists, farms and particle accelerators, meditation and raves. One of those docs that contains its own making-of, showing outtakes and crew. Overall I liked it slightly less than the CocoRosie song of the same title. The lava footage is terrific, though.

Hot lava:

Cat in field / Reviewing footage of cat in field (mouse-over):
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I watched the director’s preferred PAL version, rather than the U.S. release, which is five minutes longer and Cinema Scope says Mettler found “painfully slow.” And speaking unironically (?) about time constraints while filming a documentary about perceptions of time: “Compared to a model for TV or the internet, the feature-film model is fairly time-restrictive. It has its own laws and you have to obey them.” A year after this interview, Mettler is probably aware that Vine is shortening generally-tolerated length of online videos.

Best parking garage ever:

Crouching tiger:

Mettler: “Even now, if you ask me what the structure of the film is, I find it fairly obtuse. The way it’s structured doesn’t add up to something familiar to me.” This is on purpose, letting each scene play its own way instead of trying to conform his documentary footage to a framework.

Ant pulling grasshopper:

Particle detectors:

One of the first movies in ages that we’ve tried to watch with people over, ending as usual in failure. I knew it would be sci-fi with an environmentalism theme, but wasn’t prepared for the woeful hippie Joan Baez songs. Pretty good story/ending/character with pretty good physical action and pre-Star Wars model work, with a couple of exceptional elements. First, obviously, Bruce Dern is wonderful and gets better in the second half when he has nobody but himself and his robot drones to act against. Then there’s the drones – they worried me because I couldn’t figure them out. They’re not shaped correctly to have an actor inside, their robotic parts are truly 1970’s-robotic-looking (simple and slow), but their leg movements looked too natural to not be human. I wouldn’t have guessed there were amputee actors inside. Effects whiz Trumbull brings some of his 2001: A Space Odyssey expertise to a sequence where Dern pilots the ship through Saturn’s rings to escape detection – otherwise it’s mostly bunches of boxes painted silver in front of a starfield.

Two “drones” in foreground, with greenhouse-pod behind:

No explanation is given, but Earth sends commands for the deep-space (why didn’t they stay in orbit?) stations that hold the last of the dystopian planet’s plants and wild animals to detonate their greenhouse pods and return home. Three fun-lovin’ astronaut dudes wheel off in their rovers with suitcases full of nukes to complete the task, but Dern loses his cool, kills one of ’em with a shovel (his leg is hurt in the scuffle) and lets the others explode in a doomed greenhouse, then escapes past Saturn (“killing” one of his three drones, which gives him and the other drones more distress than the human deaths do). Interestingly, the submarine-style radio/radar silence of the title is never directly addressed in dialogue or on computer screens – it’s just inferred that Dern is making his escape, leaving the authorities to believe that his ship was destroyed. I’d give Trumbull and his writers (two of whom would later write The Deer Hunter, the other would become a major TV procedural-show writer/producer) credit for letting the audience add interpretation instead of overexplaining everything, but other evidence (like the blatant, subtext-killing Baez songs, the oversentimental but otherwise extremely simple robots and Dern’s confusing leg-injury subplot) would indicate bungled storytelling instead.

There’s not much suspense left after Dern has killed off his fellow astronauts. The movie tries to make us care when he’s joyriding his dune-buggy and injures a robot, and tries to make us believe that a botanist wouldn’t realize that plants need sunlight. But really it’s all build-up to the last five minutes, when he’s located and about to be “rescued”. He sets the sole working robot to the task of watching over the last garden dome, then jettisons it to safety and sets nukes to blow himself (and his rescuers?) into space-junk.

Part of the same financing program to let young filmmakers run wild on low-budget pictures, along with American Graffiti and The Last Movie. Sounds like a program they should’ve continued. Music by PDQ Bach under his real name.

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:

On one hand, I thought this was a bad movie.

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The script seems to have been written for fourth graders, and every camera shot is from a helicopter so you start to get the feeling that all the slow gliding movements are on purpose and you’re watching a giant slow-motion Bollywood video. Narrator Glenn Close throws huge numbers and statistics at us until they become meaningless.
“faster and faster…”
“billions and billions…”
“There’s no time to be a pessimist.”
The slow pace, lingering on each beautiful helicopter shot, and precious repetition-heavy voiceover stinks of pretentiousness, as does the stereotypical music (the kinds of howling African female singers that Martha Wainwright listens to). Sometimes the music turns new-agey, and the voiceover says stuff like “The earth is a miracle. Life remains a mystery,” I’m thinking as a concession to hippie-minded creationists. I wasn’t sure if the doc advocates vegetarianism as part of its packaged hippie agenda or because meat is actually worse for the earth than veggies. And in the length between cuts, I had time to reflect on the irony of a conservationist riding over the whole globe in a helicopter. Maybe their copter ran on biofuel, but more likely they paid a farmer in bolivia a dollar fifty to plant some trees then declared their film “carbon-neutral” in the credits.

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But speaking of the credits, jeez, this was shot in twice as many countries as The Fall, and there’s no doubt that the visuals are amazing, especially in the high-def version that I watched. And the point of the movie is to keep the viewer hooked with these visuals while impressing upon us how severely we have destroyed the earth (for people like me who missed that Al Gore doc), and what consequences we will soon face. Glenn Close tells me that “humanity has no more than ten years to reverse the process,” then I turn off the movie and, no shit, read the headline “global warming skeptics growing in numbers,” along with the usual business about war, politics and health care. A few windmills in Florida are not gonna be enough to forestall the wrath of Glenn Close’s global-warming pandemic.

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We are severely screwed. Movie ends up being scarier than Collapse, Wolf Creek and Martyrs combined. I bought ice cream.

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A useful doc if you haven’t heard of raw foods, bovine growth hormone, solar energy, biodiesel, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, or Woody Harrelson. I’ve heard of these things, so it was just a pleasant entertainment.

Best part is Project Ruckus or Camp Ruckus, a protester boot camp.

Had animated bits between sections, but not as many as in Tales of the Rat Fink.

Recommended listening: Blade of Grass by the Asylum Street Spankers