“There’s something terrible about reality.”

Another wonderful-looking Antonioni movie: characters full of ennui, atrocious dubbing and subtle electronic music by Vittorio Gelmetti.

Monica Vitti (a couple years after Avventura/Notte/Eclisse) starts out acting homeless and desperate, begging (actually buying) a sandwich off a striking worker and devouring it behind some trees. Turns out she’s comfortably married to factory owner Ugo, but she seems to have whatever Julianne Moore had in Safe mixed with run-of-the-mill bored-housewife craziness (husband says she hasn’t been quite right since a car accident).

Zeller (Richard Harris of Caprice, which probably isn’t how most folks remember him) is the new guy in town, meeting Ugo inside a rackety, color-coded steam-spewing factory to talk about replacing the strikers. Soon enough the three of them are joining a bald friend and two other women at a would-be-orgy at a beach house (actually a red shack over a polluted river). Monica thinks she’ll open a shop, is painting the place but still doesn’t know what she will sell, tries to confide her feelings in a somewhat ambiguous Harris. I’m not sure what it all meant, but Antonioni shoots the hell out of it, in hazy, polluted color.

From the film within the film: a story told to Vitti’s son:

Criterion says it’s a “look at the spiritual desolation of the technological age”, “a nearly apocalyptic image of its time”. M. Le Fanu:

Red Desert is the most ambitious of all of Antonioni’s attempts to ground the condition of our modern existence in a theory of alienation… on the one hand, Antonioni would say, the world being created by the advance of technology is undoubtedly beautiful: we see it in the fantastic structural shapes thrown up by science and industry… on the other hand – and here the pounding soundtrack of the film’s opening ten minutes makes its inescapable comment – this new world is very close to hell.

A Letter to Uncle Boonmee (2009, Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

Slow-panning shots outside looking in, but mostly inside looking out. Unique location (Nabua village in Thailand) but also unique photography style. I wonder if another filmmaker could’ve found images half as strong as these. As for the story, well, as usual with A.W. I don’t really get it. The village has a history of violence and repression, and this (fictional?) uncle is unseen, addressed by a narrator. Actually it’s more than one narrator, reading the same script, which is later critiqued for accuracy of dialect as we continue roaming the houses, looking slowly up at the trees. Makes me want to catch up with A.W.’s features that I’ve missed. Later: So I have, with Syndromes and a Century. Its dialogue repetition and shots of trees from inside buildings reminded me of this short.

Academic Hack:

In a stunning act of political avant-gardism, Joe has adapted Thai Buddhist tenets regarding reincarnation as a means for excavating the hidden history of a troubled landscape. As his camera slowly creeps and pans through darkened, abandoned homes, Apichatpong is displaying the remnants of a repressed past, in an assertion of ghostly, vertical time. … Joe’s dominant visual cue throughout Boonmee is the depiction of dark, illegible interiors whose porous walls and broken-out windows allow the bright green of the jungle to puncture the once-domestic space with light and texture. As beautiful as the effect may be, it is also chilling, since it represents the breakdown of human effort’s separation from natural encroachment, the dissolution of basic boundaries.


We Work Again (1937)

A newsreel short about how “we” (meaning black americans, though it sounds like the regular white studio voiceover guy saying “we”) are finding jobs after the depression – mostly jobs in the arts, thanks to the federal works agency. Contains rare footage of Orson Welles’ “Voodoo Macbeth,” which used all black actors and looks like it could’ve used a higher prop budget.

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The Little White Cloud That Cried (2009, Guy Maddin)

Commissioned for a Jack Smith program. It reminded me of Kenneth Anger, with the classic pop songs strung together, the soft-focus closeups, but that’s probably because I barely know anything about Jack Smith. Lots (lots!) of nudity, largely (maybe entirely) transsexuals. Typical Maddin editing (which is to say: exhilarating). It’s either art or the best porno I’ve ever seen.

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Someone got the filmmaker by accident. He looks so intense!
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Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair (2009, Guy Maddin)

No credits. Need to get a copy someday without interlacing. Made for the Rotterdam festival for an outdoor exhibit. Isabella is in the ‘lectric chair. A man rushes to save her, too late, embraces her as the switch is pulled. Charming homemade effects: tin foil, sparklers and exercise equipment. Louis Negin (reused footage from Glorious?) dances shirtless in celebration!

Maddin: “Now, I was immediately told no nudity, I was immediately told no strobing, so strobing became the new taboo. It would throw the citizens of Rotterdam into epileptic fits flipping on the sidewalks.”

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More, from a simply fantastic interview with Maddin: “My condition for doing it was that I got permission to re-use the footage in my next feature. Whenever I accept a short film commission, I get permission to use the footage from it and so I’m slowly assembling clips… and in this financially depressed time, you need to. It’s a Frankenstein feature film built together from a bunch of dead short commissions.”

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Zoo (1962, Bert Haanstra)

One of the greatest short films ever. He must have shot for days and days to get so many great shots of animals and spectators, then associatively edited them together into a docu-comedy. I learned from the ravingly positive writeup on the official Bert site that it was all filmed with a hidden camera.

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Contact (2009, Jeremiah Kipp)

Boy and girl visit dealer, get bottled drug and take it together naked. Bad trip ensues. Girl’s concerned parents wait at home, until she shows up late, hugs daddy. Very little spoken dialogue – for artistic sake, or with international film fest distribution in mind? Heavy-handed sound design with echoey shock-horror effects with a sidetrack into 8-bit glitch noise.

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The Bookworm (1939, Hugh Harman)

The crappiest little time-filler of an MGM cartoon. Can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy these as a set, so may as well parcel ’em out as bonus content on other discs. Poe’s raven wants to catch a bookworm (that’s a worm who eats books) to put in the Macbeth witches’ cauldron, but the worm is saved by characters from other books, with a complete lack of imagination, not even the har-har caricature value of those not-great Tashlin library shorts. Why would the books want to save a bookworm anyway? This seems an important part of the story, and it’s just ignored. Ted on IMDB overthinks the movie, says it’s “amazingly sophisticated in its abstraction,” no kidding. A Tashlin movie would just blow Ted’s head right off. Harman put more effort into the same year’s classic short Peace On Earth.


Love On Tap (1939, George Sidney)

At least with The Bookworm you can tune out the story and watch the animation, but there’s no joy in this one. Well, it’s a musical short so I guess you’ve got dancing, but that’s not much of an attraction. Story goes this dude is trying to marry a gal who leads a dance troupe, but her dancers are whiny dependent brats and she caters to their every whim, putting off the guy until he threatens to leave instead of marrying her. He should’ve. Sidney later directed celebrated musicals like Annie Get Your Gun and Kiss Me Kate… guess you gotta start somewhere.


Michelangelo Eye to Eye (2004, Michelangelo Antonioni)

Antonioni silently contemplates the work of another Michelangelo. 15 minutes of static or slowly tracking shots, with just room noise until an ethereal choir sings us out into the credits. Nice to see that after all these years, M.A. is still filming people dwarfed by giant structures and pillars.

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Wake Up, Freak Out, Then Get a Grip (2008, Leo Murray)

A cute cartoon illustrating how we’re all going to die from global warming. Only Leo doesn’t say we’ll all die, he says all the good species of animals will die, leaving rats and roaches, and since there won’t be enough resources left for all of us, those with the most guns and lowest morals will survive to slaughter the rest. Then he says we can’t stop things by being jolly good consumers and buying fluorescent bulbs, we must rather campaign our governments and friendly local corporations to smarten up. Not likely! Move inland.

Made and released before My Night at Maud’s, but it’s part four of the Moral Tales. I made a moral decision to watch the films according to their numbering in the DVD box set, and not in the order they were made.

It’d be almost Antonioni-esque without the voiceover. Hardly anything actually happens, but Adrien always keeps us filled in on what he’s thinking. I considered disliking the movie for a while, a movie about idle rich young artists having self-conscious affairs, but it turns out Adrien and Haydée aren’t rich (only idle and leeching off their rich friend) and never manage to have an affair. I ended up liking it.

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Buff 30ish Adrien comes to the beach to take his “first vacation in ten years” prior to an art opening, hopes to sit around with buddy Daniel and do absolutely nothing, not even think (they read so they don’t have to think). 21-yr-old Haydée is also at the house sleeping with a different guy every night. We don’t get much insight into Daniel – he’s the third wheel here – but Adrien and Haydée are both trying to find themselves, define their own moral codes, playing off each other and never quite getting together. At the end, Adrien pulls a standard Moral Tales move. Chances are good that he’s got Haydée for the night, but he leaves her in the middle of the road, deciding that sleeping with her would be against his character, and books a flight for London to see the girl he’s with (briefly) at the start of the film.

Leisurely-paced movie, but never slow or dull. Differently structured than the other films, with a few-minute prologue for each character before the main section of the movie begins. Rohmer and his cameraman would be happy to just stare at Haydée all day – her entire prologue is shots of her barely-clad body. Apparently that’s what defines her character.

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Have I mentioned that it is in color? Guess that’s another good reason to watch it fourth instead of third. Nice, rich color, too. Much of the look is in the bleached grays and browns and blues of the beach and the plain interior of their villa, so what colors we get in clothing and city life and an antique vase all stand out. Adrien and Daniel wear some hilarious clothes throughout (see above). Must be a 60’s artist thing.

Adrien was Patrick Bauchau, had a smallish part in Suzanne’s Career, later in American stuff like The Rapture and Panic Room. Haydée was Haydée Politoff, immediately turned to Spanish and Italian horror movies, had a small part in Love in the Afternoon, and mostly quit acting after that. Daniel was Daniel Pommereulle, appeared in Godard’s Weekend the same year, then two by Philippe Garrel.

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from V. Canby’s NYT review:

Much of the comedy in La Collectionneuse, as in Rohmer’s later films, is provided by the otherwise aware hero’s elegant self-deceptions about his own motives, followed by his dimly seen perceptions of what could be another truth. In this context, it is a momentous event (and, comparatively speaking, momentously funny) when Adrien begins to have doubts about the affair of Haydée and Daniel. “I couldn’t be sure,” he tells himself with complete seriousness, “that their complicity was entirely for my benefit.”

There is a certain chilliness and lack of spontaneity to all of the performances, especially Bauchau’s, which, I suspect, has as much to do with the tiny scope of the film as to the actor’s talents. My Night at Maud’s and Claire’s Knee suggest living worlds outside the films’ rarefied milieus, whereas La Collectionneuse exists in splendid, arrogant isolation. Adrien is tiresome. Daniel is enigmatic, and Haydée is sweet, and great to look at, but, after a while, sadly commonplace.

A note of interest to local film buffs: the Seymour Hertzberg who is listed in the credits (he plays Sam, the American art collector whom Adrien solicits), is the nom d’écran of Eugene Archer, a former New York Times film reviewer who, I’m told, has absolutely no intention of acting again. He is an excellent reviewer.

“Seymour Hertzberg”:
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From P. Lopate’s Criterion essay:

Haydée is not the most articulate young woman, though she says just enough to cast doubt on the men’s interpretations. There will be other Rohmer films that take us deep into the psyches of women; this one does not, but it gives us a very daring, precise portrait of the misogynistic, entitled, self-loathing psyches of men. And unlike, say, most Woody Allen movies, it does not let the rationalizing male character off the hook. Rohmer explicitly warned us, in an interview: “You should never think of me as an apologist for my male character, even (or especially) when he is being his own apologist. On the contrary, the men in my films are not meant to be particularly sympathetic characters.”

From an appreciation in The Guardian:

Drama, for Rohmer, is made up of a number of frequently small incidents which culminate in an inevitable denouement. There are many kinds of film-making but Rohmer’s would be very difficult to beat within the confines of his chosen metier.

A Modern Coed, 1966

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“People used to say girls went to college only to land a husband. Though today’s coed might find a husband, she isn’t necessarily looking.”

Just a short doc to tell the world that there are female college students, and some of them even study science. Its main reason to exist today is to document mid-60’s Paris hairstyles. Narrated by Vidal from Maud’s.

Foreground: our coed. Background: a cat with a hat in a box.
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Rohmer on La Collectionneuse in 1977:
“It’s the only film I made that followed the era’s fashion. Audiences loved the new fashions, the long hair, the blue jeans. Then there was Haydée, whom audiences adored. Marcel Carné signed her for his next film right after that.”

He speaks proudly of a conversation scene in the 1976’s The Marquise of O, calling it “tiresome and static” but saying nobody else would have dared film it as written.

“This is a problem that concerns me. In the past, I was drawn by the way people spoke. I’m deeply interested in language. Currently, I find a kind of sloppiness has crept into the French language and I don’t like it very much. I like colloquial language, but today, especially as it’s used in intellectual circles, I find little of interest in it. … That said, I also believe characters in film should speak naturally. I’m getting around this currently by shooting films set in the past. When I return to contemporary films, I don’t know what my position will be. Perhaps by then language will have evolved further. Today’s spoken language is so extremely impoverished that it doesn’t inspire me. You find the same dialogue in every film now.”

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The first time I watched this, I felt bad for not liking it. Just… nothing ever happened, and it seemed to mostly consist of people standing theatrically far apart from each other and looking away. Bored me to death. Then I embraced my dislike of L’Avventura since I found that more and more Italian films made me feel tired and annoyed. And geez, can those mofos not lip-synch properly. I will never get over that. But watching L’Eclisse and talking to Dawn convinced me to give this one another go, and so I have…

And what a masterpiece it is! Beautiful from start to finish. I guess knowing what I was in for (pace-and-plot-wise) and knowing what to look for (camera compositions, not an engaging story) really helped. Played most of the commentary track afterwards and that helped too.

There is a story here. Gorgeous Claudia (Monica Vitti) vacations with her friends Anna (reconnecting with fiance Sandro after months away) and Giulia (with her drab husband) on a cruise. At a rocky island, Anna disappears and never returns. Claudia and Sandro search everywhere for her, extending the search to the mainland, where they finally fall for each other and give up on Anna.

Story’s not so bad, characters not as horrible as all that, just can’t believe that Antonioni can set up EVERY shot so beautifully.