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.”

After playing the hellraiser in Le Ceremonie, Isabelle Huppert is back to being classy and restrained in this one. She’s the first and third wife of pianist André Polonski – he had a son by his second wife, who died in a car crash. In another part of town, Jeanne (Anna Mouglalis: Coco Chanel in the Jan Kounen film) learns from her mother that she was nearly switched at birth with Polonski’s son Guillaume. Since Jeanne is an aspiring pianist and looks up to Polonski, she takes this as a sign and visits his house, where he offers to give her private lessons.

Huppert and Dutronc:

It’s gradually revealed that icy Huppert, who runs a chocolate company, puts sedatives in the family’s chocolate every night, and drugged Guillaume’s mom the night of her car accident years ago. Jeanne drives off to the store at night with Guillaume in the car, knowing very well that she’s been drugged. Why does she do this, other than to offer us a climactic suspense scene? Huppert ends up like Sandrine Bonnaire in Le Ceremonie and Jean-Pierre Cassel in La Rupture: caught red-handed as the credits roll.

Mouglalis and Pauly, born on the same day:

All sorts of parallels and doubles – each kid is missing a parent, they were (nearly?) switched at birth, Huppert and Polonski were married twice, Jeanne dresses up as Guillaume’s mother – I’m not sure what it all adds up to, but it kept the movie from feeling thin even though very little happens, plot-wise, over 100 minutes. Guillaume is Rodolphe Pauly, who played the soldier who dies and swaps identities with Audrey Tautou’s beloved in A Very Long Engagement, and sharp-featured Jacques Dutronc was Pialat’s Van Gogh, also costarred with Huppert twenty years earlier in Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie).

Chabrol:
“Perversity guides its adept (or its victim) to a form of relative solopsism that leads us to provide other examples of relative solopsism; that of the musician, for instance, with infinitely more benign consequences that are nonetheless real. We have tried to illustrate this idea by the slow dissolution of the most definite certainties of our society – here, filial descent, and so the family. The main aim is to get across the idea that all certainties melt away as the story progresses.”

“All style, no substance.”
“That’s what dreams are made of.”

Dr. M, der Spieler:

In between two highly-regarded Isabelle Huppert-starring late works by Chabrol, I watched this ambitious, now-obscure Fritz Lang homage. Almost the only mentions of it online appear in sentences such as: “Chabrol’s career wasn’t perfect; he also made disastrous flops for foreign distributors, such as the forgotten turd Dr. M.” So I was excited about the Mabuse connections (they were very slim) and M connections (there weren’t any), but kept very low expectations – then the movie turned out to be quite good.

It never tops the great opening: 3 minutes of cross-cutting between four tense, unexplained segments, each ending with a death, with a TV broadcast keeping time between locations. Looks like a high enough budget, judging from the scale of the fire and explosions that follow. So why did an interesting, high-tension sci-fi movie with good explosions turn into a failure? Well, the storyline and the actors aren’t actually all that amazingly good, rather made-for-TV quality. But more importantly, it’s set in a future where Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall, which fell many months before the movie was released – so all of the script’s east/west occupation metaphors were seen as laughable by the time it shirked into theaters.

I’m not sure that Flashdance’s Jennifer Beals was the most bankable international star for a prestige picture, either. Beals was also in Sam Fuller’s Madonna and the Dragon in 1990, and Chabrol himself had appeared in Fuller’s Thieves After Dark a few years prior. Here she plays the spokeswoman for a vacation getaway company – Theratos – which advertises incessantly all over the city, cheapo-Blade-Runner-style. Movie was shot in Berlin and has that 70’s-80’s grimy film look, and also stars falsely-gruff-voiced German actor Jan Niklas as our rebel lieutenant hero. So maybe I overestimated the film’s budget.

Jennifer Beals:

Beals is introduced in a nuclear mosh-pit dance club. My favorite fanciful sci-fi detail in the movie is more social than technological – there’s a woman in her seventies drinking at the bar in the club amongst strobe lights and deafening thrash music. The city (or at least the TV news) is obsessed with a recent series of suicides, and Claus, the cop on the case, finds a connection to Beals, in that each suicide was darkly obsessed with her, taking photographs and advertisements with her face and mangling them. Meanwhile, her omnipresent ads for Theratos (pronounced somewhat like Toronto) has language like “drift off, let yourself go, leave it all behind, time to go” as the cops unveil more suicide victims – shades of They Live.

Claus and his partner Stieglitz (Benoit Regent: Binoche’s lover in Blue and the guy who stalks all the girls of Rivette’s Gang of Four for some reason I don’t recall) are the only two cops on the case of the suicides, and eventually, like more than halfway into the movie, they make the incredible discovery that the vortex-turtle medallions found on all the suicide victims are from Theratos! That’s right, the very logo of the company that seems to be the only advertiser in the nation, and they discover this halfway through the movie. Look, you can see it on the wall-mounted motion billboards:

But maybe the reason these two dull-wits are running the investigation is that their superiors are actually the evildoers behind the whole conspiracy. Mustachioed ham Doctor Marsfeldt (Alan Bates of Georgy Girl and the Mel Gibson Hamlet) is our Mabuse substitute, complete with a Dr-Claw-in-Inspector-Gadget array of video screens that can see anything in the city, and balding Captain Engler is his enforcer within the police. I can’t recall if Marsfeldt has some sort of government position or what power he holds over the police, exactly, but he turns out to be the owner of Theratos and father of Jennifer Beals – two things I would’ve thought would be public knowledge about the biggest company and most visible public figure in town.

Dr. M:

Filmed in English, in Berlin, so the rest of the not-great actors have a range of accents and delivery – including Peter Fitz (the lead guy’s sad-mouthed uncle in Werckmeister Harmonies), Hanns Zischler (Germany Year 90 Nine Zero, Kings of the Road) and William Berger (Devil Fish). Zischler plays Moser (pronounced Moo-zuh, reminded of Ma-bu-zuh) – not sure who he was exactly, but he got close to exposing mad doctor Marsfeldt before getting shot in the back by a LASER, one of the few reminders that we are in the future.

Return of the Jedi? No! It’s Dr. M – now with lasers!

I looked up Theratos online but the closest I found was Thanatos, the Greek death demon. I did find David Kalat’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Mabuse,” which has a whole chapter on the movie – counts as the most in-depth writing on the film to be found online, even if Google Books only has half the pages of that chapter. “Theratos is owned by Marsfeldt’s Mater Media. Like a nuclear explosion in which the atomic reaction generates the fuel that keeps itself blazing, Marsfeldt is sitting pretty on a recursive catastrophe. The more people commit suicide, the more desperate the citizens become to escape the city, the more they mob the Theratos offices to book vacations. The more people visit Theratos, the more people commit suicide. And as the cycle consumes more and more unwitting Berliners, Marsfeldt’s companies – Mater Media and Theratos – make gargantuan profits.”

The floating cult of theratos:

Kalat says it’s the last Mabuse movie to date, but as much as I want to believe, I wouldn’t even call it a Mabuse movie. There is, briefly, a character blatantly named Herr Lang. It’s definitely a stylish, intriguingly plotted movie, even if I have story detail problems and the dialogue is sometimes weak. The second-to-last Chabrol feature shot by cinematographer Jean Rabier, who also worked with Varda and Demy.

Engler and Claus:

Oh, anyway at the end the gruff cop hero (whose pregnant wife died 2 years ago, just to give his character some inner pain) saves the girl from crazies and they go off to Theratos, which isn’t as cool a getaway spot as promised by her own ads (as one attendee puts it after being isolated from his wife, “If you can’t screw on vacation, when CAN you screw?”). The cop and Beals do screw at some point, while Dr. M simultaneously watches disaster and atrocity footage on his fuzzy b/w TV – an unnecessarily disturbing detail. Eventually they break into the TV studio and Beals takes to the airwaves, saying some new agey babble about positivity that somehow undoes all the propaganda of the late-night talk hosts (have I mentioned them?) and her own Theratos ad campaign, as across the city people put down their suicide weapons and go on with their lives.

Chabrol:
“Dr. M stresses the fact that we are continuously manipulated… and that political speak has invaded every circle. … This is why, faced with steely-hearted strategy experts and computer brains, I hope that my film will be stimulating, since it does homage to lucidity as our only defensive weapon.”

First of three Chabrol memorial screenings in September. I remember liking his Le Beau Serge and L’Enfer from the dark pre-blog days, and since then I’ve greatly enjoyed La Rupture and been slightly disappointed in A Girl Cut In Two. Obviously for such a Rivette/Truffaut/Varda/Rohmer/Marker/Godard (not to mention Hitchcock) fan as myself, that’s not enough attention paid to a founding New Waver with over 50 films to his name.

The Guardian’s headline the day Chabrol’s death was announced read “Claude Chabrol anatomised the French middle class with a twist of the scalpel,” which could almost be a poster description of this movie, but maybe changed to “with a blast of the shotgun.” Immediately after watching it was impossible to avoid comparing it to Funny Games – they’re not similar in plot so much as in impact.

The great Isabelle Huppert (I wonder if Haneke had felt the Funny Games connection when he cast her in The Piano Teacher) got much attention and acclaim for this movie, but younger Sandrine Bonnaire (just off Joan the Maid) is the central character. She takes a housekeeper job for the Lelievre family (Jacqueline Bisset of Day for Night and Under the Volcano and Jean-Pierre Cassel, the amoral baddie in La Rupture), which she performs dutifully and quietly, keeping her personal life to herself, until she starts spending more time with fiery friend Huppert, a postal clerk long suspected by Cassel to be reading the family’s mail.

The two women egg each other on, growing more defiant in the faces of authority (Bonnaire’s employers, the church where Huppert volunteers) and more disturbingly, finding out about each others’ dark, possibly murderous pasts. Seems like a hard place to keep secrets, and Bonnaire’s past has managed to follow her into these distant suburbs. But the one thing she doesn’t want discovered is her illiteracy, so when the family daughter (Virginie Ledoyen of Cold Water & 8 Women) finds out and threatens to tell, it’s the beginning of the end.

Possibly dyslexic Bonnaire trying to read a note… filmed in a mirror (nice touch)

Sure I noticed the blatant introduction of shotguns into the movie earlier (Cassel cleans them in prep for a hunting outing) but I didn’t quite think it would come to this: Bonnaire and Huppert sneak into the house after Bonnaire has been fired for threatening the daughter, and they quietly trash the place while the family watches opera on television, each pretending to enjoy the opera for the sake of the others (that’s how it seemed to me anyway – and I think Cassel really does enjoy it). Then, when discovered stalking the kitchen with shotguns in hand, they blow away the entire family. Also didn’t see coming, despite the blatant early introduction of Huppert’s car troubles, that her getaway stalls in the middle of the road and she’s killed by oncoming traffic (her former employer the priest drove the other vehicle). Killer finale: as Bonnaire walks past the accident scene, emergency workers play the tape machine recovered from Huppert’s car, which was set up by the family son to record the opera but instead faithfully recorded the entire crime.

NY Times: “When Sophie arrives by train to begin her new job, she turns up on the wrong side of the tracks. This film takes quiet, devilish pleasure in every such hint of something awry. For instance, there is the impassive way that Sophie behaves around the Lelievres, and how it contrasts with her coarse, ravenous manner when she’s eating alone.” Senses of Cinema: “In crime fiction, criminal behaviour is often not so much a result of free agency as something determined by psychological and social factors. However, in Chabrol, the urge to explain crime is undermined by the competing view that evil itself is unexplainable. Sophie and Jeanne’s illicit behaviour is not simply a compulsive backlash against class inequality but a curiously ordained ritual.”

Bonnaire likes to watch movies on the TV in her room – I recognized Stéphane Audran from La Rupture in one of them, and sure enough it’s 1970’s Chabrol film Wedding In Blood they are viewing.

“You underprivileged bastard!”

Iconic Hopper, slightly blurry:

A strange movie in many ways. For instance, no opening credits then after 12 minutes it says “a film by Dennis Hopper”… then after 12 more minutes we get the title. Hopper plays a different sort of hippie drifter loner. He’d like to get married and have a steady job, but on his terms. He worked as a stunt man on a film about Billy the Kid (under director Sam Fuller, in a cameo) in Peru, but seems alienated at the wrap party, only comfortable in smaller groups.

When the production leaves, he stays behind with local girl Maria, idyllic until a priest tries to get Hopper’s help when locals pretend to be making their own movie, with real violence, not understanding the Hollywood fakery. Maria also starts getting him down – turns out she’s not satisfied with the natural paradise that Hollywood Dennis had envisioned. She wants all the American conveniences, which an out-of-work stuntman can’t afford. He turns to the elusive fast-buck by helping his shady friend Don Gordon (Bullitt) try to strike gold, but that ends in failure and embarrassment.

Don Gordon and Donna Baccala, whose only other film was Brainscan:

From what I’d heard I was expecting a rambling incoherent mess of a film, a drugged-up slog making no real sense. But it’s a right proper movie, and a good one. There’s much more to it though; more plot and characters than I’ve mentioned, events sliding out of order, flash-backs-and-forwards. Reference to someone who died during the film shoot. At the end there are “scene missing” cards and a slate onscreen, we see a retake of a scene we just watched, and people start breaking character as the movie winds itself down.

Nice garfunkly folk music throughout. Maybe they’re pushing it when they play a Jesus song while Dennis is dazed and wounded. After the gold mine idea goes bad he rampages through the old movie set and is imprisoned by the local “filmmakers” with their wicker camera. “They want me to die in the movie like Dean did” – so he named his dead friend Dean. “That’s what’s wrong is we brought the movies – that’s where we made our mistake.”

The priest: “They didn’t want to come to my church anymore. They got carried away by that game. So I just wanted to show them that the same moralities that exist in the real church can exist here in the movie church. I hope that after this game is over, morality can be born again.”

Priest Tomas Milian of Traffic, also starred in an Antonioni film and a Django movie:

Mubi explains it all:

The success of Hopper’s Easy Rider gave many young filmmakers the opportunity to work in Hollywood under the studio system. In 1970, Universal hired five “young genius” directors to make pictures for them. Hopper was one of these and developed a script with Steward Stern, the writer for Rebel Without a Cause, about the process of moviemaking and its effect on the natives of a remote and primitive village in Peru where it is being shot.

The Last Movie was the result – an amazing milieu of cinema and the decade it was created in. Hopper is a stunt man and wrangler on a big budget western, with which Hopper infused the presence of Sam Fuller, Sylvia Miles, Toni Basil, Henry Fonda, Kris Kristofferson, Michelle Phillips, Dean Stockwell and the cinematography of Laszlo Kovacs. After the production leaves town, Hopper’s life starts to get a little insane, torn between a new movie producer in town, a buddy (the great Don Gordon) and his quest for gold, and the incredible, ritualistic movie being “shot” by the locals using a wicker camera and boom mike. Under the surface bubbles the genius of the film, dealing with friendship, loyalty, the superstitious nature of filmmaking and the notion of film genre.

Although it received the only award given at the 1971 Venice Film Festival, Universal refused to distribute the film unless Hopper re-edited it. Hopper was intransigent, and Universal gave The Last Movie only token distribution and the picture was shelved.

Sam Fuller:

Only two user reviews on Mubi. One says “it’s wildly textured, emotionally intense, covers a lot of thematic ground, but its all of a piece-it works.” and the other, “a truly loathsome work of self-pity and self-aggrandizement, whose charms include smug, playful racism, and casually brutal misogyny.”

Peruvian “director” frames up a shot:

Wicker-cam:

MZ Seitz on Hopper’s filmmaking:

Although he directed just seven features, his style is quite distinctive. It’s ragged and intuitive, more sensual than logical, intoxicated by drugs, sex and music. And to greater or lesser degrees, all of his films address the individual’s struggle to survive within a machine without becoming a cog — the central narrative of Hopper’s long and strange career, with its youthful promise, adult madness and autumnal wisdom.

Z. Campbell:

The Last Movie is the only film I’ve seen that makes me think that it well and truly is an ‘anti-Western.’ (Though: this much-maligned genre that I love so much didn’t actually need ‘post’ or ‘neo’ updates–it had a strong critical component to it from the classical era onwards.) The Last Movie is quite possibly the only true and intentional avant-garde feature film I’ve seen from Hollywood. It shatters its own sense of fiction, of narrative illusion, it’s just celluloid material projected, and in so doing foregrounds the personal & cultural situations which constitute these fictions. Apocalypse Now? Child’s play–everything Coppola tried to do in his film on violence and imperialism and cinema, Hopper has already done–better–by 1971.

Maria and the city: Stella Garcia was also in a Clint Eastwood western called Joe Kidd.

Mrs. Anderson: Julie Adams was great in this. Hopper cast her in Catchfire twenty years later, and twenty years earlier she’d starred in Creature from the Black Lagoon.


The American Dreamer (1971)

“A camera is always a questioning instrument”

Also watched a washed-out old VHS of a truly ridiculous documentary on Hopper made during the editing of The Last Movie. Not about The Last Movie at all, just a portrait of a hippie for people fascinated by the Easy Rider freakshow. It’s everything that Lions Love was accused of being. Hopper gives his views on spirituality but mostly talks incessantly about sex. The movie takes up plenty of time showing him shooting guns and getting naked, and even writes him a theme song.

“There’s no honest men in the movie business except me.”

An hour in, the movie gets more interesting when Hopper starts to question and criticize the filmmakers methods, and to their great credit they left this in there. The doc is made by L.M. Kit Carson – David Holzman himself, who’d later write the terrible Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 starring Hopper – and Larry Schiller, who later made not one but two JonBenet Ramsey movies. I’d heard that The Last Movie was a disaster and that this intrepid documentary shows why, but I found the opposite to be the case.

“I don’t need to have people make movies about me.”

“This movie, it’s a nice idea, whether it’s damaging or whether it isn’t,
it doesn’t really matter to me.”

Astree loves Celadon and vice versa, with the kind of suicide-pact love that mainly exists among 17-year-olds in tragi-romantic plays. His parents don’t approve so the young lovers make a public show of dating other people… but Astree believes the show, feels betrayed and tells Celadon to piss off, so he goes and drowns himself in the river. Not quite dead, he’s rescued by nymph Galathée and her gang. Gal wants hunky Cel for herself but he escapes and hides away in the forest, eating berries, refusing to approach his beloved because, after all, she ordered him away. Meanwhile, Astree and Cel’s brother alternate (“he must be dead!” “he must be alive!”).

I guess I see the Rohmer moral theme at work here. Cel loves his girl so he must remain faithful to her and do as she says, staying away even if she doesn’t know he’s alive. But as Jimmy said, breaking into a giggling fit after hearing Celadon echo his simple emotions for the thousandth time, “he’s SO dumb!” It’s hard to disagree… they are all so dumb, and the movie is so straightforward and simple that it gets frustrating. Some nice imagery though, I thought (Katy said it looked made-for-public-television). Best not to get into the ending, in which Celadon pretends (not convincingly) to be a girl in order to get closer to his beloved.

Astree is Stephanie Crayencour and Celadon is Andy Gillet, neither of whom have shown up elsewhere yet. Jocelyn Quivrin who played Celadon’s brother died in a car crash two months ago. Nominated for the golden lion in Venice along with six movies I’ve loved (and also Sukiyaki Western Django) but they all lost to Lust, Caution, which I thought didn’t get good reviews.

M.J. Anderson:

Adapting Honoré d’Urfé’s novel of 5th century Gaul life, The Romance of Astree and Celadon claims to reproduce less the period depicted than its 17th century readers’ imagination of the earlier period. Commensurate with this goal, the director features canvases painted in the seventeenth century, a castle built well after the novel’s setting and importantly a grafting of the Christian faith onto the Druid-themed source material.