As cynical and absurd as Idiocracy (and even featuring Terry Crews). Lakeith Stanfield finds something he’s good at (selling awful things to rich people) and forsakes his awesome girl Tessa Thompson and his unionizing coworkers for a taste of fortune and power. He realizes the error of his ways, but also gets turned into a horse.

Starts and ends with a labor strike, but I guess 1982 was too little/late for Demy to be considered political enough to hang with the New Wave gang again. This is a tragedy version of The Young Girls of Rochefort: all-singing, love and coincidence following multiple characters through 1955 Nantes, ending in suicide and disaster.

Our doomed lovers are Edith (Dominique Sanda, also suicidal in Bresson’s Une femme douce) and Francois (Richard Berry, now a writer/director). She’s dabbling in prostitution to get away from her loveless marriage, walking the streets in only a fur coat.

Edith’s mom (Danielle Darrieux, the mom in Rochefort) is Francois’s landlady, though they won’t discover this until late. Edith’s impotent husband is a redbearded Michel Piccoli. In 1967 Danielle Darrieux’s character was dating Piccoli, and now 15 years later he’s married to her daughter. Danielle is ex-aristocracy, politically opposed to her “anarchist” tenant, dealing with loneliness after the recent death of her husband and a seldom-visiting petulant daughter who claims to be in eternal love with the man she met the night before.

Francois is a junior dockworker, so is afraid of losing his job during the strike. His sweet, lovely girlfriend Violette (Fabienne Guyon, a singer and stage actress) is pregnant, has a sweet, lovely mother (Anna Gaylor), but Francois tells Violette about his love affair and breaks everyone’s hearts. He joins his balding coworker (Jean-Francois Stevenin who plays the balding dude in everything: Le Pont du Nord, Small Change, The Limits of Control) on the front lines, and the movie ends how it must: Piccoli slashes his own throat, Francois gets his head smashed by the cops and Edith shoots herself.

Francois and Stevenin, with union leader Jean-Louis Rolland in the hat:

This was the last film from the box set, so I checked out the exhaustive A to Z extra by James Quandt. “Given his happy childhood, one wonders what accounts for all the broken families in his films.” Demy considered Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne “the formative influence of his career” and Quandt displays similarities between Bay of Angels and Pickpocket. “The director once said that his ideal would be to make fifty interlocking films elaborating on his characters’ overlapping destinies.” I knew about the Cocteau and Ophuls connections, but the segment on influences from paintings was fresh. Interesting sidenote on the axe murderer in Rochefort, and Une Chambre en Ville was said to be Demy’s dream project and he was crushed when it flopped.

This feels more mainstream than Kate Plays Christine or Actress without compromising Greene’s interest in blurring the lines of performance, and while bringing up tons of new and timely issues. The photography is very good (some epic travelling shots, most notably when introducing our young star Fernando) and Greene has graduated from filming lone actresses to an entire town. I came in with high expectations and couldn’t be happier – this was the standout hit of True/False.

In July 1917, striking workers in an Arizona mining town were rounded up and herded out of the town, told they’d be killed if they returned. For the hundredth anniversary, Greene films a town-wide re-enactment of the event, as portrayed by locals with hundred-year roots, by ex-miners and their families, businessmen and government officials, and town newcomers. Few had heard of the “Deportation” before the anniversary committee got underway, but as they research their roles it leads to much discussion and some uncomfortable parallels to still-current problems – deportation and communist agitation were rearing their ugly heads again right as filming began. Two brothers whose grandfather exiled their great uncle play opposite sides, a friendly young dude plays an ambivalent miner who gets swayed to become a flag-waving striker, and a descendant of a town leader insists the deportation was right and necessary until the moment when he finds himself rallying his neighbors onto desert-bound railcars at gunpoint. Minds don’t exactly get changed, but people soften their hardline positions. The whole ensemble piece is beautifully assembled and shot in widescreen, cutting between documentary behind-the-scenes footage and staged-reenactment scenes without radically changing the visuals, breaking down the boundaries between them in true Greene-T/F style.

After lunch we went to the Journalism Institute on campus because we heard there was a Strong Island exhibit. It must have been closed on Sunday, but we came across this instead:

Would be a decent enough movie – good concept but plot problems and sometimes clunky direction – but oh, the cast! A few months after The Lady Eve, someone had the smarts to hire a bunch of Preston Sturges players (Coburn, Demarest, and I’m counting Jean Arthur from Easy Living) along with Cuddles Sakall (same year as Ball of Fire) and Spring Byington (You Can’t Take It With You) and throw ’em all together. I was worried that the unknowns (Edmund Gwenn as a cranky boss and Robert Cummings as Jean’s labor-organizer love-interest, both Hitchcock actors) would drag down the cast, but no, everyone was great.

Coburn is supposedly a reclusive tyrant businessman whose response to any trouble is to fire people, but when he goes undercover at his own department store to ferret out pro-unionists he immediately turns into a teddy bear and falls for a fellow worker (Byington) in the shoe department. His new friends, Jean and Robert, are leading the labor fight, and though Coburn easily gets their list of sympathizers, he decides – instead of firing everyone on the list – to have a double wedding and take everyone on a Hawaiian cruise.

Wood made a couple of Marx Brothers movies and writer Norman Krasna did Mr. and Mrs. Smith, Indiscreet and White Christmas. Nominated for two oscars alongside The Devil Pays Off and The Devil and Daniel Webster, a diabolical year.

What’s up with Donen always having a co-director? Abbott was 70 at the time, and unless this is a misprint he lived to be 107.

A pre-Pillow Talk Doris Day is a workers’ union representative named Babe in a pajama factory, and Broadway actor John Raitt is the new middle manager Sid (but everyone calls him Sorokin – they’re into weird nicknames in this movie) who fires her. Seems like a fine setup for a romantic comedy if you ask me. I liked this, though I got complained at for falling asleep and had to finish it the next day. Katy didn’t like the songs, and a musical lives or dies by its songs, so it died. We both noticed the color was dull and drab, but IMDB people all rave about the bright colors, so maybe there’s a better DVD out there.

So yeah, Sid has to fire Babe, but she’s still on the union committee demanding a seven-and-a-half cent hourly raise, causing slowdowns and sabotage to shake up the owner, Mr. Hasler. This causes the committee (which consists of Babe, a heavy girl named Mae, a glasses guy who likes Mae, and a twitty nasal-voiced Marilyn-wannabe) to break into song and dance.

Sid also likes Babe, but doesn’t get much ground there. So he takes to stalking her friend Gladys (Carol Haney), the boss’s assistant, until he gets the key to the safe where the books are kept. I think he catches the boss embezzling money which had been earmarked for an employee raise six months earlier, and negotiates that they get their raise (non-retroactively) and nobody gets in trouble… which is sort of a copout, but maybe the movie didn’t want to appear too pro-union. Of course this means Sid gets the girl.

I told Katy that Carol Haney reminded me of Shirley MacLaine in Artists & Models. MacLaine was Haney’s understudy for this role on Broadway! I am good. Haney was great in this, and attention-grabbing with her dance to “Steam Heat” and singing on “Hernando’s Hideaway,” but this was her final film and she died of illness not long afterwards. Mae, unsurprisingly, didn’t have much of a Hollywood career, playing roles such as “angry lady”, “housing lady” and “fat lady.” Nasal-lady Barbara Nichols’ short life in film included Sweet Smell of Success and Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

Sid Sorokin was nothing special, but Doris Day really came to life in this one. I liked Haney’s songs and the weird union plot and the neon signs that label everything in the pajama factory. Wasn’t keen on the playful comic romp of Gladys’s jealous husband Heinz chasing her around with a knife at the end, but overall found it a better-than-average musical.

À bientôt, j’espère [Be Seeing You] (1968, with Mario Marret)

“Almost 10,000 workers have lost a day’s pay, just like that. It is not a prowess, it’s solidarity and it is something formidable compared to TV games or trash papers. It’s far better, it’s wonderful. It’s normal, it’s the working class… that’s what we must be aware of. What is beautiful is not what is written in the tabloids. It’s what the working class does. It’s to lose 5000 francs to support our sacked mates, and to contribute today again to make up for their lost pay. If only this was advertised and spread. Isn’t that culture? I want to tell management we’ll win thanks to the solidarity they know nothing about. We’ll get you. We’re not mad at those who think wrongly they are the boss, but we’ll get those who own capital. It has to be, it’s natural, and we’ll be seeing you.”

Unfortunately this does not seem like an intricate film which will grow deeper in meaning with repeat viewings – just on-the-spot reporting, interviews with striking factory workers who calmly explain what’s wrong with factory conditions and the effects (both actual and hopeful) of their strike. The only good speech is the one quoted above, at the very end. Movie was a letdown considering the great strike movies I’ve seen lately, including Harlan County USA just last week… but this wasn’t aiming to be similar to that film, or to The Battle of Chile, just small-scale reporting of a single event, leading (hopefully, but not actually) to a revolution of working-class-created films.

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2084 (1984)

Filmmakers are asked to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the 1884 start of trade unionism in France. “They were rather at a loss, so they had this idea of simply jumping ahead a century… afraid of defining the state of the movement today.” Their software and studies predict three possible futures, color-coded.

The Grey Alternative: a never-ending crisis. “When it takes all your energy just to stay afloat, there’s not much imagination left for creating a future.” An alternative with the possibility of “a social or nuclear explosion”, “a fearful society huddled in its blankets of false security, staking its hopes on a precarious balance that is forever in jeopardy. Here the union is at best a powerful protective organization” to “safeguard your job, keep you as comfortable as possible… A union like that doesn’t bother with changing the world.” “Union ritual becomes… nothing but congresses, meetings, demos, slogans. What a drag.”

The Black Alternative: “it could be fascism, it could be stalinism… it’s not easy to forsee a world where the technical developments replace ideology… The appropriation of this technology: who is to benefit from it, who should control its development, was the overriding question of the late 20th century, its real challenge. Because we didn’t understand in time what was really at stake, it was left to a new type of leader to govern the future: the techno-totalitarians.” It forsees “violent workers revolts [in] the 80’s and 90’s and their repression.” This leads to a Wall-E utopia. “At home you get more images than your eyes can absorb and more information than your memory can stock… Anger too belongs to a bygone age. The state is a well-oiled feeding machine and the union nothing more than the engineer who keeps it working, the one who detects the little glitches, little breakdowns, and who can’t even imagine that the machine can serve some other purpose. In fact, of ‘union’, only the name remains. Trade unionism passed away with the dawn of the year 2000” because of infighting.

The Blue Alternative: a tentative hope. “before our eyes, technology is beginning to prove itself a fantastic tool for changing the world, and this transformation includes the struggle against hunger, against suffering, the struggle against ignorance and against prejudice. It is still a struggle, but in the context of the 21st century, not the 19th.”

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“The 20th century hasn’t even existed. It was nothing but a long, painful transition from barbarism to civilization. In the 1980’s those who still felt angry about poverty, about the injustice of industrial societies were right. Those who felt there was hope for change were right too. The part unions played was to bridge the gap between this anger and this hope. They were the instrument of a new struggle, a place where imaginations could meet and create new solidarities, where people could… learn how to make good use of their differences, and how to win control of their days.”

The film proclaims that it has been “talking less about what has been done already than about what remains to be done. Nothing is programmed yet. The three alternatives are open to us.” “We’ve just got one century left.”

Definitely had to watch this a second time to make sense of it because of the rapid-fire low-key narration and the bizarre images (mostly of film students in a lab combing through 20th century film images), which I would focus on and lose the train of thought of the narration. They don’t exactly work together most of the time. It’s a great commentary though, and a strong little film.

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Remembrance of Things to Come (2001, with Yannick Bellon)

Excellent movie by two 80-year-old artists celebrating the photography of Yannick’s mother Denise Bellon. Tells stories through Denise’s photographs of France and surrounding countries (including colonized north Africa) and of her friends the Surrealists, first in the pre-war 30’s, then the lead-up to WWII, and briefly post-war (incl. a surrealist reunion photo). Nothing afterwards, though Denise lived until 1999 – makes for a short, focused movie. Electro-sounds and female narration by the Sans Soleil crew of Michel Krasna and Alexandra Stewart.

“Each of her photographs shows a past yet deciphers a future.” This is the kind of movie I’d been waiting for while sorting through Marker’s lesser-known 70’s stuff – poetic commentary weaving history and art around the images. Don’t know how the collaboration with Yannick Bellon worked, but this feels very much like a Marker movie, and a great one at that. There are cats, of course (see below), and the second mention I’ve seen him make of the 1952 Olympics.

From what Acquarello writes about this, you’d think he was talking about Sans Soleil: “It is in this analytical deconstruction between the integral art of composing an image and the cognitive assignment of significance behind the captured image that filmmakers Chris Marker and Yannick Bellon create a compelling exposition on the processing and (subconscious) self-actualization of human memory.”

Movie opens on Dali’s Rainy Taxi, which I saw in Spain.

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The Bellon sisters:
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Auguste Lumiere:
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The Pont-Neuf, which I recognized from Lovers on the Bridge:
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The commentary on this part, about scrap metal used to fuel the war effort, is one of Marker’s finest:
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Puisqu’on vous dit que c’est possible [We Maintain It Is Possible] (1973)

“We can now point out that the government preferred to surrender to multinationals rather than grant anything to the workers. That’s what we can say for now.” [via megaphone]

Movie about worker occupation of a factory in 1973, with an intro saying the movie was shot by “Scopecolor”, edited by Marker, and is the sole responsibility of those involved – the strike participants’ way of distancing themselves from the film, perhaps. A watch factory called Lip is to be shut down, then bought out, then restructured with massive layoffs, and the workers decide not to accept this, to take the factory and sell the watches themselves. Negotiations don’t go well (the workers have all sorts of demands, the owner simply says it’s not profitable so he’s shutting it down) then the police evacuate the building and demonstrations hit the streets.

Has much more interesting editing than À bientôt, j’espère but that’s not saying much. Still, for the most part, video interviews and a few photographs for a while, then footage from inside the factory, nothing exciting to watch. I mean, all praise to Mr. Medvedkin, and I agree that cinema can have many useful purposes, but personally I’ve seen an unusually high number of movies about worker strikes, so forgive me if I yawn when this one’s narrator goes on about how exciting are union meetings.

“The outrage lies in labor exploitation and the alienation that capitalism inflicts on workers.” says a speaker during a convincing speech – which is exactly the point here. Rich factory-owners aren’t going to freely hand their factories over to the workers, and the government isn’t going to allow one group to occupy another group’s buildings against the owner’s will, so the only way to win is the change the system, to reform capitalism. It happened, however briefly, in Chile, but the watchmakers at Lip failed to overthrow the French capitalist system.

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Set Theory (1985)

An ugly slideshow done entirely in HyperStudio, accompanied strangely enough by string music by Russian composer Alfred Schnittke instead of the electronic sounds Marker is fond of using. The story goes: Noah is on his ark wondering how to sort out all these animals, when two wise owls come by and teach him set theory. “Eureka,” cries Noah, who now understands all manners of mathematics through understanding set theory. Since it uses French intertitles instead of spoken narration, I transcribed the titles and ran ’em through google translator to make a subtitle track with helpful program Media Subtitler. The movie itself was only halfway worth the effort – it seems a very minor work (though more amusing than À bientôt, j’espère) – but it was fun to play around with. Some of the clip-art and dialogue is actually pretty cute – a tiger being confused with a house cat due to faulty classification and taken home is portrayed using an oversized tiger in a bathtub, with E. Munch’s “The Scream” in the foreground.

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Fast, Cheap and Out of Control was the last movie in my documentary month series with Katy, but now Jimmy is doing his own documentary month. Katy didn’t come to this one (sadly, since it was better than almost any of the movies we watched at home). Story of coal miners in Kentucky who decide to join a labor union. The mine won’t recognize the union, so they strike. Tensions escalate between the old miners and the new scab workers, finally one of the old miners is shot and killed. A day or two later the mine lets them back to work, the union in place. Then a couple months after the year-long strike, another strike, this organized by the union leaders for higher pay and safer conditions.

Wonderful story, engrossing movie, with great bluegrass music. I’ll bet Chris Marker liked it.

Won best doc at the ’77 Oscars. Barbara Kopple went on to co-direct Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing, a movie I was just mocking in the video store the other day. IMDB trivia: “When filming began, the film was intended to be about the 1972 campaign by Arnold Miller and Miners For Democracy to unseat UMWA president Tony Boyle, in the aftermath of Joseph Yablonski’s murder; but the Harlan County strike began and caused the filmmakers to change their principal subject, with the campaign and murder becoming secondary subjects.”