This would make a good double-feature with Dead Ringers, another 1980’s movie about twin doctors who fall for the same woman. In this one, Oliver and Oswald (twins, separated conjoined, I think Oliver is the blond one) are played by Eric and Brian Oswald (brothers, not twins) – zoologists studying animal behavior when their wives are killed in a car accident while being driven by Alba (Andréa Ferréol of La grande bouffe, The Last Metro, Street of No Return). They become increasingly obsessed with Alba, with each other, and with chaos and decay, freeing zoo animals and shooting time-lapse films of ever-larger dead ones.

These three are surrounded by some suspicious characters: a woman called Venus (Frances Barber of Secret Friends) and a mad surgeon named Van Meegeren, who amputated Alba’s leg after the car crash and now wants to amputate the other leg. She finally turns down the twins in favor of a new man who is also missing his legs – I think she dies at the end but not sure exactly why, and the brothers stage a suicide before the time-lapse camera to add their own decaying images to the collection.

It sounds like a bunch of weirdness from a plot description, but in practice it’s much weirder. Obsessed with Vermeer, decay, snails, symmetry, doubles, the alphabet, fakes and missing limbs – with the great pulsing Nyman music, and always more than one thing happening per shot, each splendidly composed frame full of motion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

One week in 1953, things went very badly for military scientist Frank Olson (played by Peter Saarsgard in reenactment footage). After he’s given LSD at a cabin getaway, he does something wrong (“they laughed at me”) then asks to be fired from his job. Instead he’s escorted to NYC, taken to see a psychiatrist (actually an allergist) and a magician, and one night he goes out the window of his hotel room and falls to his death. Few specifics are known for sure – what happened in the cabin, who else was in the hotel room, what the NYC trip was even for – but Frank’s son Eric has spent six decades learning all he can, trying to piece it together. So the film follows his investigation, fleshing out the story more and more as he learns details over the decades from court cases and document searches and unofficial visits.

Eric’s collage art must have inspired some of Morris’s compositions:

Dr. Balaban… I thought this was Morris and his interrotron when I first saw it:

Saarsgard is lost in the reenactment scenes, dazed or drugged or having a breakdown, and we barely see or discuss him behaving normally before the fateful week. Other actors hover about, such as Tim Blake Nelson as sinister boss Gottlieb (who once tried to assassinate Lumumba) and Bob Balaban as the allergist, but these scenes never quite come together, because the investigation doesn’t. We get close enough to make assumptions – that Frank was dropped out the window, staged as a suicide – but it all leads up to the terrible final moments of the Eric Olson interview:
“I remembered my father but I forgot who I was… you become lost in a sea of questions, all of which pertain to the other, none of which pertain to yourself… Because the value of the lost one is infinite, the sacrifice becomes infinite.”

It’s a powerful ending, and I love some of the editing tricks, echoing and split-screening the interview images. But something is off with the big-picture editing – the episodes were either meant to be watched a week apart (watching two in one sitting yields too little progress, too much repetition) or they had enough material for four good episodes and extended it to six when they got the netflix deal.

The Tabloid television setup:

chemist Robert Lashbrook:

Lawrence Garcia in the new Cinema Scope:

Uncertainty, unknowability, and the nature of truth are subjects that Morris has revisited throughout his career, specifically in relation to (American) structures and systems of authority. And despite its overt epistemological explorations, conspiratorial tone, and more unconventional trappings, Wormwood still bears the hallmarks of traditional journalistic reportage. But there’s been a marked change as well: the relative certainty of something like the Randall Dale Adams case — built around a clear miscarriage of justice, with a self-evident corrective goal — has been traded in for McNamara’s fog, Rumsfeld’s flurry of memos (nicknamed “snowflakes”), or the recurring image of the sea in The Unknown Known. It’s a shift from thin blue line to churning, Rorschachian haze.

I thought I’d do another Shorts Month, but February turned out to be pretty busy, so I only got to a dozen (plus the Oscar Animation program). Breaking them up into two posts…


Skinningrove (2013, Michael Almereyda)

After Experimenter and now Escapes, I thought it’d be worth watching everything I can find by Almereyda. This one is simply a slideshow, narrated by photographer Chris Killip who’d spent a few years documenting the titular fishing village. We get descriptions of who we’re seeing, how his (excellent) photographs were taken, and what happened after (two of the boys died in a storm). Killip says he’s never been sure what he should do with the photos – I suppose this is what.


Me the Terrible (2012, Josephine Decker)

Girl dressed like a pirate conquers New York, from the Statue of Liberty to Wall Street to the Empire State Building, until a gang of red-suited bicyclists steal her teddy bear in Central Park and she abandons the rest of the conquest. The adults seem to be lipsyncing to voices from old movies. Not at all like Decker’s Butter on the Latch, but fully wonderful in all new ways.


Split Persona (2017, Bradley Rust Gray)

Twin sisters Karrie and Jalissa have a majorly depressed mom. Jalissa always takes care of mom, so she asks Karrie to stay home for once, but apparently whenever mom is left home with Karrie she attempts suicide. Bummer of a little film, possibly made as a PSA for mental health care – it barely exists online, despite coming from the director of Jack & Diane. This was written by a Nelson, whose mom suffers from depression, and it stars a Nelson as the mom, but no word whether it’s Mom Nelson.


Second Sighted (2015, Deborah Stratman)

Movement through space. Stock footage. Water and earth… earth under water, and flowing like water. Graphic markups on photographs. Models and data and data models. Good stuff, and I didn’t even mind the soundtrack: drones, chimes and that chirpy chatter that accompanies old computer images. My first by Stratman – I’ve been seeing her name here and there.


Woodshock (1985, Richard Linklater)

Bunch of pretty annoying dudes clown around at a Texas underground film festival. Daniel Johnston makes an appearance, then the footage starts overlapping and running in reverse in order to get groovy and psychedelic. He calls this a “film attempt” in the credits, fair enough. I spotted GBH and Exploited t-shirts! Shot by Lee Daniel, who was still working with Linklater as late as Boyhood.


Gazing at the Catastrophe (2012, Ali Cherri)

Closeup of a man’s face, his skin tone shifting every couple of frames. A photoshop cursor strokes each of his features, slowly applying scars or burns to his visage, then the picture cuts away to stuttering video horrors for a few seconds, and repeat.

The followcam gets shaky, but not the worst I’ve seen, and I stopped noticing it as the movie got stranger. Leo, a dude with serious eyebrows who is supposed to be writing a screenplay, is instead wandering some roads and fields, failing to pick up a young guy named Yoan, then succeeding in picking up a female sheepherd – and his success is signaled by a completely unexpected cut from them talking about moving in together to a close-up birthing scene.

Leo (Damien Bonnard – I think he drowned in Dunkirk) continues to hit on the dude Yoan, who lives with the muuuch older Marcel (Christian Bouillette, in movies since 1970). And one day Leo’s girl (India Hair of Camille Rewinds) leaves forever, and Leo is stuck living with their baby and her Bluto-looking dad (Raphaël Thierry). Bluto doesn’t take this well, steals the baby and tries to leave it outside for the wolves. And Leo goes on some Ornithologist-like journey along a river to visit a new-agey friend – I didn’t really follow this part.

Soon the movie loses its marbles: everyone is attracted to Leo, his girl is shacked up with Yoan, a panicked Leo flees into the river to escape his movie’s producers, he is beaten and stripped by a homeless gang, and finally Leo makes local headlines for having sex with Old Man Marcel while assisting his suicide. A flash-forward shows everyone living semi-normally, but the movie leaves us with Leo and Bluto surrounded by wolves.

Whatever it all meant, it’s a huge step up from Stranger by the Lake, and all the partner-swapping and unusual desires and wolf-lust felt fresh and enticing. Some scenes were too dark to be legible on my TV. The 13th I’ve seen of the 21 films in Cannes competition last year, and like Paterson and Slack Bay it never played theaters here.

Griffin Dunne (An American Werewolf in London) is a hopeless single dude working a boring job with Bronson Pinchot. After work he meets diner patron Marcy (Rosanna Arquette of Desperately Seeking Susan the same year), bonding over their shared love for Henry Miller, and she refers him to her artist roommate Kiki (Linda Fiorentino of Jade). After an undercranked cab ride to their loft, his night spins out of control in tragicomic fashion. Not to get all auteurist on a 1980’s wild-crazy-night picture, but it’s better-looking and more intricately designed than this genre generally gets.

O’Hara and Bloom:

Buncha people with tendencies to panic and lose their cool about small things, not excepting our main man – in Marcy’s bed smoking a bad joint he suddenly sneaks out ranting about needing paperweights. He gets into a barter situation with bartender Tom (the late John Heard), gets shamed by Kiki’s dom boyfriend, wanders over to waitress Teri Garr’s place, then to Catherine O’Hara’s place, then a beardy guy’s place, then Verna Bloom’s place – what is it about Griffin Dunne that makes everyone want to take him home? Verna paper-maches Griffin to hide him from an angry mob who believe he’s responsible for a string of break-ins, then the actual thieves Cheech & Chong steal him, believing he’s art. It’s a very good ending, pulling Griffin abruptly out of the situation and back to his office, which could make the whole thing seem like a harmless dream if not for Marcy’s suicide.

Teri Garr is skeptical:

John Heard is skeptical:

Made by Scorsese between King of Comedy and The Color of Money, after a first attempt to make The Last Temptation of Christ fell apart. Reportedly the flashy camera moves were designed as a Hitchcock parody. Joseph Minion wrote (with some help from Kafka), also wrote Vampire’s Kiss and Scorsese’s episode of Amazing Stories. Tied with Blood Simple at the first Independent Spirit Awards, but it was better-loved in France, where it got a César nomination and won best director at Cannes.

Mouseover to make Dick Miller wink at you:
image

Catching up… I watched this three weeks ago, and the only note I took says:

Unfun intellectual/political word games

Obviously it’s a complicated (if unfun) movie, so a one-line review will not do. This is where my lack of biographical knowledge on Godard (and lack of interest in 1960’s politics) holds me back, because this feels like an escalation of ideas about consumerism and radicalism and societal ills from 2 or 3 Things and Weekend… but it also feels like a parody, its characters deluded comic-book Mao radicals. This doesn’t seem right, since the ideals of our main characters seem similar to Godard’s own, in his later, more boring works.

Feels like we spend forever in the primary-color apartment with young commies Jean-Pierre Leaud, Juliet Berto (her first year in film) and Anne Wiazemsky (star of Au Hasard Balthazar the year before). But there’s also an assassination attempt, a guy exiled from the group, suicide, some fun self-reflexivity, and an endless train conversation with a philosophy professor. Literature references abound, apparently, and name-dropping of Katy’s favorite theorists.

Played Venice the year Belle de Jour won, tying China is Near for a jury prize.

“Most likely Bonnie died while we were waiting in the living room.”

Narrated by the neighbor boys, still obsessed with the Lisbon girls who committed suicide 25 years earlier. I finally watched this because Coppola has a new movie in Cannes this week… I’d skipped it when it came out, because I was busy watching boy movies like Fight Club and Sleepy Hollow and Wild Wild West and 8mm. Heard it was good, meant to catch up with it, just another movie on the must-see list, never realizing it’s a stone-cold masterpiece, and now I want to watch it 100 more times.

And so we started to learn about their lives. Coming to hold collective memories of times we hadn’t experienced, we felt the imprisonment of being a girl – the way it made your mind active and dreamy, and how you ended up knowing what colors went together. We knew that the girls were really women in disguise, that they understood love and even death, and that our job was merely to create the noise that seemed to fascinate them. We knew that they knew everything about us, and that we couldn’t fathom them at all.

The Lisbon Girls: youngest Cecilia (the first to attempt suicide, and later, the first to succeed) is Hanna Hall (young Robin Wright in Forrest Gump, Michael Myers’s older sister in the bad Halloween). Lux gets the most screen time, because she is Kirsten Dunst. Older Bonnie is Chelse Swain (The Mangler 2), then Mary is AJ Cook (Final Destination 2, Wishmaster 3), and oldest Therese (Leslie Hayman). Their parents Kathleen Turner and James Woods seem protective, but not unreasonably strict, at least not until they pull all the girls out of school and order them to destroy their rock LPs after Lux stays out all night with prom date Josh Hartnett… things go downhill quickly after that.

The girls:

The parents:

Coppola does her Marie Antoinette thing, with perfect period costume design, gorgeous grainy photography, lively performances and good music, whether period-appropriate or not (Sloan songs, Air score). What I never would’ve guessed is that this movie is partly a comedy, and frequently hysterical. Doesn’t appear to have been taken very seriously at the time, only winning awards from MTV and a Casting Society, but it made the Cahiers top ten, at least.

The boys play them music over the phone:

Manilazic on letterboxd:

The boys keep on looking for clues as to what pushed Cecilia to suicide, but end up collecting objects belonging to the girls that only aggrandize their mythology: their answer is right under their noses, but their blossoming teenage male minds can’t see it. Even though the girls themselves attempt to communicate with their worshipers several times, they are always met with nothing but a blind fascination. Too mystified by the women in those girls and by the changes they see in all things as they grow up, the boys can’t connect with the Lisbon girls as human beings and see that they need help.

Peter works his own organic farm in Vermont, long abandoned by family. It’s at least the second doc I’ve seen about an artist/farmer – Peter was a painter and sculptor before a sawmill accident mutilated his hands. Not the finest camerawork I’ve seen (also: graphic scenes of sheep killing/butchering and cow exploration), but among the shaky unfocused scenes there are some pretty nice shots. Filmmakers seem to be trying to stay out of the movie themselves, but Peter is always talking with them, asking questions, bossing them around. He’s an alcoholic, pondering getting sober but that would mean leaving the farm for a month. Nothing is really finished at the end – the farm is in decline, and maybe he’ll kill himself.

Ehrlich:

Despite his occasional delirium, Dunning is painfully self-aware for a drunk who needs to guzzle rum in the middle of the night in order to stave off the DTs. The more he caterwauls into the void, screaming at chickens like a crunchy King Lear, the more comfortable he seems asking for help. He asked Stone to document his suicide, but — over time — it begins to seem as though he wanted the filmmaker there in order to make sure that he didn’t go through with it.