Memorial screening for Jerry Lewis. I’d never seen this, didn’t realize it’s semi-plotless, casting a mute Jerry as one of many bellboys at a luxury hotel and throwing him into situations. Apparently hastily written and shot in the Miami hotel where he was performing at the time. And it shows… half the jokes are lazy or awful, though it’s short and overall pleasant enough.

Also featuring Jerry as himself, Milton Berle as himself, both of them as lookalike bellboys, and Lewis’s future cowriter Bill Richmond as a fake Stan Laurel. It’s a strange movie. I feel bad having so little to say about it, but maybe you had to have suffered through the studio comedies of the 1940’s and 1950’s to appreciate its innovations.

Fourth of July memorial screening for the great Abbas Kiarostami.

As mentioned before, the rosetta stone document that kicked off my art cinema craze was Jonathan Rosenbaum’s top-ten of the 1990’s article, including his thoughts on The Wind Will Carry Us. In 2004 and 2005 I watched every Kiarostami movie I could scrounge from the Videodrome shelves on DVD and VHS. I can’t say I loved them unconditionally and wanted to watch them again and again, but I can definitely say that I shared some of AK’s fascinations, that Close-Up and ABC Africa expanded my ideas of what cinema could do, and I was increasingly impressed by his artistry. In the past year or so, we’ve lost three filmmakers from Rosenbaum’s list of ten: Akerman and Oliviera, and now Kiarostami.

R. Koehler:
[Kiarostami] frequently stated in interviews that his open endings — most starkly experienced in the dense blackness of the final moments of Taste of Cherry — are his invitation to the audience to work at finishing the film for themselves.

He doubles down on the idea of viewers finishing the film for themselves in Shirin, a film visually composed of close-ups of women watching a film, which we hear in its entirety on the soundtrack.

J. Naremore in Film Quarterly:

The result is a metafilm of considerable richness, giving us the opportunity to “see” a movie in our minds as we watch the play of emotion across women’s faces and become conscious of our own role as cinematic spectators.

Opened out of competition in Venice with 35 Shots of Rum and The Beaches of Agnes, but too experimental to get a full theatrical run here. I’ve previously watched Kiarostami’s Cannes short Where Is My Romeo, made from this same material (but with a different soundtrack).

The DVD extra was made by Shirin producer Hamideh Razavi and lacks the artistry of 10 on Ten, but it’s fascinating to see how exactly Shirin was assembled – first each actor was filmed separately, looking at placeholder images lit with handmade flickering effects, then the “film” was created in an audio booth. Kiarostami talks about capturing natural expressions, but he also gives detailed direction for these non-performances. By the time we get to the editing phase, the short doc runs out of steam and the subtitlers quit early.

“It is up to you to define the movie for yourself.”

Other times, he suggests what the women might be watching.

“Those of you who are more experienced know love is always threatened by disappointment, that’s why you don’t show your joy much. Like most classic love stories, it has a tragic end, a certain disappointment which is itself a kind of satisfaction.”

Rosenbaum on Shirin:

One might even say that Kiarostami, an experimental, non-commercial filmmaker par excellence, is perversely granting the wish of fans and friends who have been urging him for years to make a more “accessible” film with a coherent plot, a conventional music score, and well-known actors.

AK:

I think I’ve come very late to this exploration of women’s issues… Leaving women out of my films was not a very intelligent decision. I made this discovery rather late, but there it is, I have made it.

Not gonna run through the whole cast on IMDB, but just limiting to actors with headshots, I see Taraneh Alidoosti (an Asghar Farhadi regular, title role in About Elly), Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, Chicken With Plums, Rosewater), Leila Hatami (star of A Separation), Behnaz Jafari (Blackboards) and Juliette Binoche (Certified Copy). Good to see that at least one woman in the audience also worked on the soundtrack, so was “watching” herself.

Maybe Taraneh Alidoosti:

Maybe Leila Hatami:

AK quoted by Rosenbaum:

I believe in a cinema which gives more possibilities and more time to its viewer — a half-fabricated cinema, an unfinished cinema that is completed by the creative spirit of the viewer, [so that] all of a sudden we have a hundred films.

Also watched:
Roads of Kiarostami (2006)

Road photos, crossfaded, the camera moving along the photos to trace the paths of the roads. Soft music for the most part, with some AK VO explaining that he mostly takes photos of roads and paths, and reading us road-related poetry.

Roads was part of a festival commemorating the anniversary of the WWII atomic attacks.

Kiarostami, speaking with B. Ebiri:

Many of my photographs, they tell stories in a way: They’re fictional, as far as a photo can be. In my films, though, I’m the opposite; I try to get farther away from narrative and try to bring an experimental, visual art element to it. And the poems are very often evocative of image or atmosphere. So there’s definitely interaction between the different forms. And at any rate, they’re all products of the same mind — even if sometimes it doesn’t show on the surface.

Back to Shirin, and Kiarostami’s work in general…

Rosenbaum, from his Taste of Cherry article entitled Fill in the Blanks, one of his all-time greats:

Much of what’s been called innovative in the art of movies over the past half century has at first been seen by part of the audience as boring or as representing a loss — usually because it has somehow redefined the shape and function of narrative … If the major additions to film art offered by Antonioni, Bresson, Godard, Rivette, and Tati — as well as by Chantal Akerman, Carl Dreyer, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Abbas Kiarostami, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Bela Tarr — are at times perceived as subtractions, this is because we tend to bring old habits with us when we go to movies. New habits are unlikely to be formed without some conflict, during which various kinds of seduction and frustration will vie for supremacy … Lately I’ve come to realize that what I regard as the most wondrous thing to happen in cinema in many years, Kiarostami’s movies, strikes a few friends and colleagues as boring and empty, even predictable … I’ve gradually come to think that these disagreements revolve mainly around the issue of why what seems to be essential information in Kiarostami’s narratives is missing. Parts of the sound track in some of the latter portions of Homework and Close-up, for instance, have been suppressed (openly in the first case, and surreptitiously — by faking a technical glitch — in the second). Audience expectations about where the camera goes — and what it finds — are deliberately flouted in Close-up, Where Is My Friend’s House?, and Life and Nothing More. And we’re kept so far away from pivotal bits of action in the closing sequences of Life and Nothing More and Through the Olive Trees that we have to imagine part of what’s taking place — the sound as well as the images. In each case, we’re forced to fill in the blanks as best we can — an activity that isn’t merely part of Kiarostami’s technique but part of his subject. In the most literal and even trivial sense, we are what Kiarostami’s movies are about.

R. Koehler with context:

I would argue that it’s the immensely powerful minimalist features of his contemporary, Sohrab Shaheed Saless — especially A Simple Event and Still Life – that imprint the most visible stamp on the features and shorts that Kiarostami went on to make in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s. Like never before among Iranian directors, Saless’ storylines and images are stripped away to their essentials, fixed shots are extended to produce the effect of lived-in experience, and ironically sly humor pokes its head up when you least expect it. It was a particularly rigorous modernism, which Kiarostami embraced and adapted to suit his own ends.

D. Ehrlich:

Arguably modern cinema’s most provocatively self-reflexive auteur … his films are so widely cherished in part because they encourage audience participation where lesser directors might simply punish casual spectatorship … For such a committed gamesman, Kiarostami’s films are imbued with a rare emotional lucidity, and yet they still steadfastly undermine the traditional dynamic of film acting, so that any outward show of emotion is first a representation of that emotion before it can be received as an expression of it.

The Film Stage reported at the end of last year that Kiarostami’s next film, composed of tableaux blue-screen shorts, was almost finished. The movie after that, to be named after his own book of poetry, was supposed to be shot in China a month or two before his death, but I suspect that didn’t happen.

Reminder that AK was denied access to the US to present Ten in New York.
In protest, Aki Kaurismaki didn’t attend either, via the Times:

If the United States authorities do not want “an Iranian, they will hardly have any use for a Finn either,” he wrote. “We do not even have the oil.”

Kiarostami, on filming outside of Iran:

“I consider cinema a universal language, and I consider human beings as universal beings,” he says. “So there’s no reason why people should not be able to relate to a film, or we shouldn’t be able to make films, in different languages and different cultures than our own.”

B. Ebiri:

The Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami was 76 years old when he died, and his last feature was 2012’s Like Someone in Love — so why does it feel like he’s been taken away from us at a moment of such creative promise and vitality? Perhaps because his cinema always seemed to be in mid-mutation, forever testing the limits of film to convey great complexity and humanity. He was the shape-shifter of modern cinema, a man whose restlessness spoke through the constantly refracting nature of his work.

G. Cheshire:

Beginning with Taste of Cherry, each new film confounded my expectations. It took days, weeks, months or even years to process and finally get a fix on the latest Kiarostami, to feel I had a grasp on what it was about that at least satisfied me. Close-Up was multi-layered in its meanings, but I felt I got it on first look. Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us, on other hand, I came to regard as masterworks equal to that film, but on initial viewings they befuddled me — and demanded that I revamp my understanding of Kiarostami yet again. For critics, who are increasingly pressed to deliver cogent judgments within an hour or two of seeing a film, such bafflements are as valuable as they are awkward. What if the greatest artists ultimately are the ones who require time, patience, thought, and perhaps above all, an awareness that views their work as an organically evolving whole rather than one consumerist nugget after another?

Related: I updated my entry on Like Someone In Love this week with a link to a valuable Glenn Kenny article.

P. McGavin:

How do you even begin to assimilate this work? His great skill was taking moments — scenes or images — that feel familiar and transforming them into something charged, poetic, mysterious and finally quite beautiful.

T. Hassannia:

Kiarostami’s films are easy to watch because they’re visually resplendent; they’re challenging to watch because they seem to contain a hidden puzzle. But the more familiar you become with his work, the less you’re sure those puzzles are meant to be solved. They’re not. They’re meant to be explored. If the ending of Where is the Friend’s Home? is any indication, Kiarostami believed in the experiential; to use a cliche, he preferred the journey to the destination. He revelled in the digressions of life, and thanks to the temporal features of cinema he was able to serenely express that vision.

A.O. Scott:

To an extent that we have only begun to grasp, movies invented a new way of thinking, and Abbas Kiarostami’s movies are among the clearest and most challenging applications of cinematic thought.

K. Phipps:

He and other filmmakers of his generation also provided — and continue to provide, alongside their successors — a window into the world of Iran at a time when such windows weren’t always widely available, or created by the country itself. But it’s hard to think of any country as a collection of faceless enemies when you’ve wandered their streets, seen their children, and felt their desires and pains. Kiarostami captured that, and he did it brilliantly with a sense of playfulness and profundity.

It’s Cannes Month and Kolirin’s new movie will be premiering, so per the Festifest 2.0 rules, I wanted to watch his most acclaimed previous movie. Also, the lead actress just died, and I’ve never seen anything of hers, so this can be a Memorial Screening. That’s a lot of stupid justifications, but they got me to watch this wonderful movie, so it all worked out.

After a bus-ticket foul-up, a self-serious Egyptian band ends up in a rural Israeli town instead of the city where they’re supposed to play their concert (asking for the Arab Culture Center they’re told “No culture – not Israeli culture, not Arab, no culture at all”). The straight-faced humor of their situation, and the visual gag of the neatly-aligned band members with their spiffy blue uniforms in unfamiliar territory immediately brings to mind Kaurismaki (specifically Leningrad Cowboys Go America), which is a good thing. They’re stuck in town for the night, put up by a restaurant owner (the late Ronit Elkabetz) and other locals.

The bulk of the movie is interactions between Elkabetz (Dina, the town’s fading flower, who resents being stuck there), the humorless band leader Tawfiq (Sasson Gabai of Rambo III) and the youngest, least disciplined band member Khaled (Saleh Bakri of The Time That Remains). Tawfiq and Dina express their life regrets, Tawfiq learns to be less harsh with Khaled. Meanwhile Khaled goes out with some younger guys and teaches one of them how to comfort his unhappy date at a dance club.

Ronit Elkabetz steals the film, and this performance would be enough to convince me that she was a powerful actress, but after Scout Tafoya’s great write-up on rogerebert.com I’m determined to see more, especially her Viviane Amsalem trilogy.

Won some prizes at Cannes in 2007 playing in the Un Certain Regard section with You, The Living, Flight of the Red Balloon, Munyurangabo and Mister Lonely.

From an Indiewire interview:

iW: Did that Egyptian band really exist?
Kolirin: Nothing is real in the movie.
iW: I’ve heard the film is banned in Egypt.
Kolirin: It doesn’t apply just to my film. Any Israeli film would be banned in Egypt.

P. Utin in Cinema Scope:

The films of the Cinema of Disengagement are characterized by their tendency to avoid politics in noticeable ways … The Band’s Visit highlights one of the cardinal differences between the Cinema of Disengagement and the political cinema of the past. By addressing “everyone,” by refraining from preaching or taking a clear political stand, the new Israeli cinema is able to draw audiences at both foreign film festivals and the box office that may have disagreed with certain strong political opinions: it invites universal identification. But after the films have finished, the iceberg effect allows viewers to think about what they have seen, and even to discover that the films are charged with further content.

I have mixed feelings about this one. Felt like Lynch already reclaimed Twin Peaks for himself in the final episode of the series. Sheryl Lee is great, and it’s a good movie about her increasingly troubled youth, dodging her upright boyfriend James to hang out with drug-supplying Bobby (who kills a guy in the woods), and grappling with her realization that her tormentor “Bob” is actually her father. Lynch’s heart may have been on poor Laura’s side, wanting to spend time with her while she was alive, but it comes off as a redundant prequel, full of fan-servicing cameos by the show’s cast and decisions based more on actor availability than artistic concerns.

Lynch practically writes Agent Cooper out of the show, replacing him with Chris Isaak (and wonderful sidekick Kiefer Sutherland) in a long opening segment about the disappearance of Laura’s associate Teresa Banks and her mysterious ring, but he can’t write out Laura’s best friend Donna. Lara Flynn Boyle was a superstar in 1992, appearing in Wayne’s World and Matthew Modine identical-twin thriller Equinox, so Moira Kelly (With Honors, The Cutting Edge) is the new Donna. The whole Horne family is missing too (Sherilyn Fenn was costarring with Danny Aiello in a movie about the JFK assassination from Jack Ruby’s point of view) though they’re mentioned in the deleted scenes.

Peaceful domestic scene:

Rewatched this the night Bowie died. He has a tiny role in the movie, but fits into Lynch’s netherworld perfectly. I forget some of the Twin Peaks mythology (planning to rewatch some episodes before the new one comes out), but I’m into this brigade Lynch was building of dimension-hopping special agents: Kyle, Bowie and Isaak. Re-reading a Cinema Scope article from when the deleted scenes came out, there are plenty of interesting connections to the series that I missed from not having watched it in 14 years.

Who can identify all the people in Whatever Lodge This Is? There’s Bob and MJ Anderson up front, then we’ve got papier-mache-face, cane fella, old woman, suit kid, and the fake beard brothers. According to a Twin Peaks-dedicated wiki, the old woman is Mrs. Tremond and “her intentions are unclear”.

Thanks, Wikipedia… so the red-curtained, zigzag-floored place is The Black Lodge, and that’s one-armed Mike sitting with MJ Anderson (who refers to himself as “the arm” in the film) facing Bob and Leland.

Same ending as Orlando?

Part two of my Wes Craven tribute, because when a horror giant dies just before SHOCKtober, memorial screenings are in order. I used to have this movie’s sequel on VHS (bought at a garage sale), and saw the awesome remake in theaters, but have probably never watched the original until now.

Stupid family taking cross-country trailer trip breaks down in the desert at the foot of cannibal-infested mountains, send a few guys in different directions looking for help. But first we set up the Harbinger hillbilly gas-station attendant (and incidentally the grandfather of the cannibals) who tells them not to go poking around, and mountain thief Ruby, who’s looking for help escaping her murderous family.

Ruby:

Bobby (Robert Houston, later an oscar-winning documentary filmmaker) runs after his escaped dogs, discovers one of them murdered but doesn’t tell anybody. Mustache Doug (Martin Speer of Killer’s Delight) finds nothing and comes back. And Big Bob (Russ Grieve of dog-horror Dogs) returns to the old man in time to see him get slaughtered, then Bob is captured, crucified and set on fire, distracting the family into leaving their trailer unguarded, in what’s probably one of the most intense sequences of the 1970’s. Bald Pluto (Michael Berryman of too many horrors to list, also One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) and curly Mars invade, shoot Mustache’s wife Dee Wallace (star of The Howling and The Frighteners) and her now-insane mom (Virginia Vincent of The Return of Dracula and Craven’s Invitation to Hell), eat the parakeet, steal the baby and flee.

Family portrait, pre-invasion:

The next morning it’s payback time. Young Carolyn Jones (Eaten Alive) and Bobby plot to use their dead mom as bait and blow up cannibals who return to the trailer. Not sure how head mutant Papa Jupiter escapes that explosion, but they kill him good, with gun and hatchet. Mustache Doug climbs the mountain and attacks head-on to rescue his baby, unexpectedly aided by a rattlesnake-wielding Ruby. I can’t recall if Bald Pluto dies (think Bobby’s other dog gets him), but he’s definitely on the VHS box cover of part two.

Papa Jupiter:

Craven did interesting things to the horror genre with New Nightmare and Scream, and made some great thrillers with A Nightmare on Elm Street and Red Eye. One of the movie sites pointed out he’d been interviewed by Audobon, and had lately been writing short stories for Martha’s Vineyard Magazine about local birds, which include a strong pro-bird environmental message as well as time travel, the ghosts of passenger pigeons, and an osprey using a shotgun.

“It’s hard convincing a bird of anything in words. They’re musicians.”

Rest in peace, Wes. The birds have lost a friend.

Eduardo de Gregorio, cowriter of the great Celine and Julie Go Boating, died last month. I don’t know any of his non-Rivette works, so I watched one he wrote/directed and one he adapted from a Borges story directed by Bertolucci, both very good.

Surreal Estate (1976, Eduardo de Gregorio)

A novelist (Corin Redgrave, Vanessa and Lynn’s brother) seeks a country house in France as an investment – can’t find gate so he climbs the wall. A sexy, ghostly Bulle Ogier shows him around then abruptly disappears when he attempts to enter a forbidden room. Already he’s referring to his situation as novelistic: “Her act was pointless. The mixture of old clothes, erotic come-on and overacted hysteria was in the most hackneyed gothic tradition, a tradition I had done my own small part to debase.”

Next time he meets a different girl (Marie-France Pisier, Bulle’s fiction-house coinhabitant in Celine & Julie) and an older servant (Gigi star Leslie Caron). He rightly comes to think that the vanishing girls are part of an imaginative scam to get him to buy the house, and decides that he must meet Bulle again to write a book about her – but eventually he buys with the understanding that the two beautiful girls will stay there with him – which they do not.

Leslie Caron:

Marie-France:

I lost track at the end of who really was working for whom, and who knew what about which scam, instead paying attention to the mobile camera creeping around corners, the great crazed piano music, and the self-conscious gothic atmosphere the film is creating. Shot by Ricardo Aronovich (Ruiz’s Time Regained and Klimt) with assistant director Claire Denis!

But maybe losing track of the plot threads and simply reveling in the atmosphere of mystery was the film’s intent. It seems to purposely confound expectations in order to mess with Redgrave, beyond simply the goal of selling the house, and the girls end up competing for him (and against him), while Caron takes a larger role than first expected, and even takes over narration for a while.

D. Cairns in The Forgotten:

Secret passages and two-way mirrors are hinted at. What emerges is a much stranger yarn, one which never fully coalesces into an “explanation.” Depending on one’s inclinations, this is either less or much more satisfying than the initial Scooby Doo plot. What seems to be the case is that the younger women are actresses playing parts for the dubious benefit of Redgrave, whose mind starts to unravel when faced with such duplicity. … The idea of actors performing a semi-improvised “play” in a real location with an unwitting stooge as co-star is a beautifully Rivettian one.

Of course, Marie-France Pisier (Agathe) had problems with flowers in Celine & Julie as well.


The Spider’s Stratagem (1970, Bernardo Bertolucci)

Bertolucci made this the same year as The Conformist. I think I’ve underestimated him because the only movie I’ve watched in the last decade was his underwhelming The Dreamers. Similarities to Surreal Estate: it’s about an outsider entering an enclosed world full of unknown intrigues. Also, both movies have overt Macbeth references. Very elegant camerawork, outdoing the other feature.

Young Athos comes to the town where his militant anti-fascist father (also Athos, and they look identical) lived and was murdered. He meets his father’s mistress Draifa (Alida Valli of The Third Man, schoolmistress of Suspiria), who sets Athos to investigating the murder. The town is hostile to his queries, and Athos feels endangered from all fronts except by creepy Draifa who wants to hook him up with a young niece so he’ll stay. Then when he tries to flee in frustration, the secretive parties suddenly open up.

The main suspect was fascist Beccaccia, who finally tells Athos “unfortunately, it wasn’t us who killed your father.” Elder Athos’s three friends, who seem alternately welcoming and sinister, finally give up the plot – that Athos had ratted on his own group when they’d planned to bomb a visiting Mussolini, then had allowed them to shoot him instead, martyring him for the cause.

Ebert:

He’s on a strange sort of quest. He doesn’t seem to really care much who killed his father (if you’ll forgive me for not taking the plot at quite face value). In a way, he is his own father, or his father’s alter-ego. Magnani was the only vital life force in the district, and the district defined itself by his energy. Even the fascist brownshirts gained stature and dignity because Magnani opposed them, and Bertolucci demonstrates this with a great scene at an outdoor dance. The brownshirts order the band leader to play the fascist anthem. All dancing stops, and everyone looks at Magnani to see what he’ll do. Coolly, elegantly, he selects the most beautiful girl and begins to dance with her.

“Tommy is the only rock opera ever made” – Ken Russell

Sad Ann-Margret’s husband is killed in the war. Some time later she goes on vacation and meets Bernie (Oliver Reed) at a resort. He moves in, but one night the husband returns, disfigured from a plane crash, and Bernie kills him in front of little Tommy, who’s told that he didn’t see anything, didn’t hear anything, won’t say anything. And so he doesn’t ever again.

Tommy grows up to be curly-haired space-cadet Roger Daltrey. He’s not healed by attending Eric Clapton’s church of Marilyn worship, nor when Bernie gives him a night with extreme drug fiend Tina Turner (filling in for David Bowie), nor when he’s left with psychically abusive babysitter Paul Nicholas or sexually abusive Uncle Ernie (Keith Moon), nor from a visit to Dr. Jack Nicholson (filling in for Christopher Lee).

But one day Tommy finds something he’s good at. After defeating Elton John (who agreed to be in the movie provided he got to keep these boots) at a pinball championship, he becomes famous and attracts hundreds of groupies.

At home, mom celebrates their new wealth by throwing a bottle of champagne through the television and writhing in the bubbles, baked beans and chocolate that pour forth from the damaged set.

Tommy breaks through his mom’s mirror and starts speaking again, becomes a messiah to kids everywhere, his symbol a cross with a pinball on top. Mom is his biggest supporter, and stepdad Bernie is the financial wizard, plotting to set up Tommy camps everywhere and sell merchandise everywhere else. But their prefab religion backfires and the kids revolt, killing Tommy’s parents. But he lives to bathe in waterfalls and climb mountains with a big cheery grin.

It’s a ridiculous story, a twisted excuse for lots of music and celebrity cameos. Russell was never a huge fan of rock music (I’m not a big Who fan myself, really only enjoy “I’m a Sensation” from this soundtrack), had written a follow-up to The Devils called The Angels about false religion, which he couldn’t get off the ground. When offered to direct a movie with sympathetic ideas to his own, which Russell could help mold (he got Pete Townshend to write additional scenes and change plot details) with a pre-sold celebrity cast – a batshit-crazy musical story that needed visual accompaniment – how could Ken say no? It might not be Ken’s purest personal vision, but I double-featured it with Song of Summer as memorial screenings when I heard he’d died.

Unsurprisingly produced by Robert Stigwood, who produced Jesus Christ Superstar (and later Grease). Oliver Reed (of The Devils, of course) was doing Richard Lester’s Musketeers movies around the same time. Daltrey would be back with Russell on Lisztomania, which I need to see. And Ann-Margret needs to be much more popular – she was fantastic in this.

War doc, watched with Katy because co-director Tim was just killed. Less explanation than usual in these sorts of things, and more combat than usual. The cameraman likes to be right there in the action during firing and bombing – which makes for good footage, but is probably why he’s dead now. Movie makes a good argument for the futility of war, pointing out that another unit failed because it didn’t build a forward outpost like these guys do (named after killed comrade Restrepo), then dealing obliquely with civilian deaths and disappearances, finally noting that this outpost was abandoned soon after filming. More impressive than the movie was a gallery of Tim’s still photographs which the NY Times showed online this week.

When someone in the film world dies I don’t always run out and watch one of their movies – only when it’s someone meaningful to me, like Claude Chabrol, Dennis Hopper and Eric Rohmer. I once considered holding a monthly “death of cinema” screening, inviting people over to watch the work of whoever had died that month (there’s always someone), but as with all my plans to watch movies in groups, it fell through – nobody liked Rohmer’s final film, so Katy suggested I not do that anymore. But Maria Schneider warrants a memorial screening because she starred in one of the few Jacques Rivette films I haven’t yet seen, and I happen to have a nice subtitled copy of it handy.

Maria Schneider at dinner:

Schneider was allegedly exploited in Last Tango in Paris, backed out of Caligula, fired from That Obscure Object of Desire, and not up to the task of leading a Rivette picture, which probably explains her replacement in certain sequences by a different actress. But she’s still revered for her part in The Passenger and for being so naked in the early 70’s. This was actually Schneider’s second movie titled Merry-Go-Round – the first was in 1973, a (West) German remake of La Ronde.

Schneider’s costar is Warhol actor Joe Dallesandro, the houseboy/lover in Blood For Dracula. Yes, this is weird casting for a Rivette movie. But production-wise we’re in familiar territory, with the Out 1/Duelle team of Schiffman, de Gregorio, Tchalgadjieff and Lubtchansky (X2). By the end we’ve got triple-cross conspiracies, psychics, secret weapons, assassinations and meetings in the park, so the Rivette touchstones are all there. It’s also surprisingly good-looking (if not up to Duelle/Noroit standards) for such a reputedly troubled film.

Joe and Maria:

The story goes that Maria’s father is presumed dead and some four million dollars left in his care are unaccounted for. Maria’s elusive sister Liz (Danièle Gegauff, a producer on Out 1 and star of a single Chabrol film) summons Maria and Joe (Liz’s boyfriend) but fails to show up herself, so these two meet and go on an adventure together. Liz shows up briefly, along with a bunch more characters, each of whom want to help either Maria or her possibly-alive father, or more likely, want a share of the money. Most suspicious is Shirley (Sylvie Matton, whose husband directed her and Udo Kier in his adult horror Spermula), who is possibly either Liz’s best friend, the father’s ex-lover, Joe’s sister or none of the above,

Maria’s sister Liz with Suspicious Shirley:

The movie seems to fits neatly in the Rivette filmography, with on-camera musicians like predecessor Duelle, and a couple of characters chasing around the country trying to solve a possibly imagined mystery a la follow-up Pont du Nord. But there are some wrinkles. The grasp on the mystery is soon lost and Joe and Maria ramble, their relationship growing increasingly unpleasant, then the plot returns with a puzzling vengeance in the last half hour. Plus there are unexplained fantasy scenes, with Joe and a suspiciously Maria-like girl (played by Hermine Karagheuz, Marie in Out 1) chasing each other through forests and deserts, with appearances by snakes, rifles and a mounted armored knight.

Marie/Karagheuz:

Jean-Francois Stevenin (“Max” in Le Pont du Nord) is in an early scene with the two sisters, and seems to kidnap Liz (cue Walter: “the girl kidnapped herself”). Seemingly trustworthy lawyer-type Renée (Francoise Prevost of Vadim’s segment in Spirits of the Dead) and the mysterious Shirley put our duo up to collecting the key and combination/location of the father’s safe in order to retrieve the money (this is never done, as far as I could tell). Psychic Mr. Danvers (Maurice Garrel, Philippe Garrel’s father, played Emmanuelle Devos’s dying father in Kings and Queen, also amusingly in a movie called Noli Me Tangere) pretends to be the post-plastic-surgery father of the sisters. Liz is rescued (or “rescued”, depending if we believe Walter) by Maria with Renée’s associate Jerome (Michel Berto, Honeymoon in Out 1, also in a Robbe-Grillet film) armed only with a pipe. In the end it either all goes wrong, or all goes according to plan, as Liz is shot by a sniper and Maria unloads a pistol into poor Mr. Danvers.

Mr. Danvers, we hardly knew thee

Whenever the movie just doesn’t know where to go, it cuts to either the live musicians or the fantasy scenes. I wasn’t sure what to make of them, but they grew on me. I liked the bass-and-clarinet soundtrack, the colorful, mobile cinematography. The physical action, fist-fighting and such, were pretty inept, especially coming right after Duelle starring the sprightly Jean Babilée. Movie was made to fulfill contractual obligations after the collapse of the proposed four-part series that yielded Duelle and Noroit, but then was a huge failure itself, so I’ll bet the exec producers wished they’d just left Rivette alone.

The musicians: Barre Phillips at left worked on the Naked Lunch soundtrack with Ornette Coleman, and John Surman at right has put out 20+ albums and hopefully changed his hairstyle:

Cinema-Talk:

It just has the right amount of disregard for plot that nothing seems remotely forced. This is almost unheard of in Rivette’s world. For as great as his other films are, they (almost) all seemed to be dragged down by unnecessary elements that were thrown in at the last minute. Here, everything is so completely natural (one cannot stress this enough!) that the 150-minute running time feels fairly short.

The two sisters, plus friendly assistant Jerome:

Rivette:

We started work with the two actors, and after 8 days, things were going very badly. It was like a machine that, once set in motion, must continue running despite changing regimes, forced or arbitrary accelerations, until the energy was all burned up, exhausted. That’s not at all how we filmed L’Amour fou, even if there too, the spectator feels he’s witnessing an encounter. … It’s an exaggeration to say that we placed Maria and Joe together in front of the camera and waited to see what would happen. We had a starting point of course, and then we made up the beginning of a story, with a father who had disappeared, but all along we told ourselves, this is just a pretext for Maria and Joe to get to know each other. I like that idea: two people get together because a third, who has arranged to meet them, does not show up. There have no choice but to get to know each other. It’s a situation I imagined in the context of the Resistance. Thinking about it again later, I think it was the subject of Robert Hossein’s Nuit des espions. And since I didn’t feel like making a film about the Resistance or the terrorist underground, it became that more banal situation, two people convoked by a third who is only the sister of the one and the girlfriend of the other. But since the relationship between Maria and Joe rapidly became hostile, we were forced to develop the story-line; from a mere pretext it took on a disproportionate importance. Maybe that gives the film a certain vagabond charm, I don’t know, but it really is a film with a first half-hour that’s quite coherent, and then it searches for itself three times, three times searches for a way out.”

Renée:

E. Howard:

The bulk of the film consists of Ben and Léo wandering around the French countryside, ostensibly searching for clues to Elisabeth’s disappearance or the safe combination needed to get their hands on the missing money. What they actually do is mope around a lot, wander through abandoned houses, and joke and fight and patter, improvising goofy bits like the one where Ben mocks the conspiratorial obsession with the number three by counting off increasingly lengthy numbers consisting entirely of threes. In the film’s best scene, the duo takes a break for dinner at an abandoned house whose refrigerator is improbably well-stocked: they crack open cans of sardines and make salads and drink the juice from jars of cherries, sitting across from one another at a long table with candelabras in the center. Léo jokes that it’s a bourgeois meal, and the two of them have fun playing hide and seek from behind the candle flames, and soon the conversation turns into a lighthearted seduction where it’s obvious that the actors are having as much fun as the characters.

Our heroes, looking tired and frumpy in the morning light:

Rivette again:

I like a film to be an adventure: for those who make it, and for those who see it. The adventure of this filming, I must admit, was a bit fitful: the course which was established at the outset was corrected many times, in response to contrary winds, lulls, or gentle breezes. I only hope that the finished film, with all its detours, keeps something of the dangers of the crossing, of its uncertainties, of its unclouded moments-even if, at the end, one notices that perhaps the voyage has been circular: like a “merry-go-round.”