Some of the most daredevil action ever filmed, with the all-time flimsiest setup (the cops say drug smuggling is out of hand, requiring some kind of “super cop,” so Jackie Chan is called in). Maggie is left behind to be annoying alone, while Jackie springs a criminal from prison to gain his trust, then Michelle Yeoh pretends to be Jackie’s sister and saves their asses when they get busted while undercover. It’s a 1992 action movie, which means there are bazookas, and really too many things get blown up. But damn, Yeoh jumps a motorcycle onto a moving train.
The Image Book (2018) and Jean-Luc Godard shorts
Stereo sound hard-panning left and right, songs cutting in and out, incomplete subtitles, footage warped and effected, recolored, switching to the wrong aspect ratios on purpose, speed-adjusted and frame-by-framed, interlacing, watermarks. He’s taking the “I invented the jump-cut” thing a little far, with an entire movie of technical errors.
Vertigo, Salo, L’Atalante, Alphaville, The Flowers of St. Francis, Freaks. Testament of Orpheus matched with Die Nibelungen. The Rules of the Game rabbit hunt. Paintings and late-era Scott Walker.
Doc footage of horrors to people and animals. Obviously there’s a point to distorting and mutating the film footage and in flipping between fictional and actual atrocities. “This is the law of destruction of the living. Every being must be sacrificed,” says gravel-voiced JLG, or at least that’s what the subtitles tell us he’s saying.
The nature of art and war are covered, briefly. Focus on Russia, trains, physical film apparatus, the Muslim world. Named/numbered chapters, but I’m not sure they help anything. Politically, he seems to be in a terrible mood.
You do eventually drift into its rhythm, or its lack of rhythm. Towards the end it feels like he might start telling us a coherent story about a would-be conqueror named Sheik Ben Kadem (“but the world wasn’t as simple as his dream” sounds like Adam Curtis) illustrated by the jumble of sources he’s been establishing… alas, JLG is just reading scraps from a 1980’s novel, and the subtitles lose interest in following him.
It’s such a homemade UFO, I’d believe you if you told me he made it alone in a weekend, or that it took many years with a team of researchers.
These are films that ignite every interpretative impulse in our brains without satisfying our desires to be passive, unproductive viewers; they do not give clarity or any obvious avenues through the deluge of information, even if they make us feel as though, were we smarter, more knowledgable, bilingual cinephiles, we would be able to do just that. It’s in this way that Godard’s films also invite us to improve ourselves, something I think very few other artists achieve.
Many years ago, Godard attempted to create a style of cinema that could inspire revolutionary change. At this point, he seems to not only regard such a thing as impossible, but also regards cinema as a tool of violence and colonialism. In the film’s longest and most lucid section, he argues for the Arab World as a lost paradise hurt by western intervention, and cinema as a tool of oppression (in his narration, he says something along the lines of “all representation is violence”). He doesn’t seem to draw a distinction between classical Hollywood cinema, news footage, Blu-Rays, and amateur cell phone video — he suggests they have all basically been flattened into the same thing.
In his comparison of war footage and fictional violence, Godard posits the old problem: which representation is the original, and what inspired what? The connections are pre-cognitive and deeply intuitive, posed as questions, and (like so much in late Godard) recall Aby Warburg’s Mnemosyne Atlas. How have images — both “cursed” and “blessed,” in the current parlance — dipped and ducked into the unconscious across the ages, forming something like a universal art history?
If, as Godard intones early on, pledging allegiance to the ideas of Swiss cultural theorist Denis de Rougemont, man’s condition is indeed “to think with hands,” then what happens when cinema subverts or displaces that tactile state? When a hand becomes, as in Godard’s famed aphorism, “not a just image, but just an image”? When real violence becomes conflated with the violence of representation? In a choice that will strike some as crass at best, and exploitative at worst, Godard continually rhymes the two, in one instance placing gruesome footage of ISIS throwing bloodied bodies into the water against the scene in Vertigo (1958) in which Scottie rescues Madeleine from the San Francisco Bay. The ultimate point that Godard arrives at here, though, is fairly direct: which is that cinema—even revolutionary, politically minded cinema—has not clarified, but obscured the reality of the Holocaust and other attendant horrors, and instead contributed to a larger confusion, an effective “flattening” of reality. (That the clenched fist of revolution is here traded in for a raised index finger is instructive.)
The Image Book ends with another display of madness that would be a more than appropriate sendoff for the French New Wave figurehead’s restless career. Taken from Max Ophüls’s Le Plaisir, it’s a sequence of a man dancing and spinning around furiously until, finally, he falls down. This moment also serves as a canny reminder that, whatever effort it takes to understand the exact nature of the work that Godard is doing here, he’s also exerting that effort with us—and he seems to mind not at all if he collapses in the process.
As a memorial screening, I watched one JLG short film per decade…
Une Femme Coquette (1955)
Agnès writes a letter to a friend to confess cheating on her husband, having witnessed a discreet prostitute picking up men from the street and wondering if she’d have the courage to do the same. The woman is portrayed as complicated, and the men (including JLG himself) as impulsive dickbrains. The filmmakers bring Guy de Maupassant’s apartment-balcony story outdoors, showing off Geneva parks, bridges and birds. Ten years later, Masculin Féminin was sold as an adaptation of the same story before being completely rewritten.
From the Paris vu par anthology, which people say is quite good overall but I’ll watch the rest some other time. In very mobile long takes, Monica comes to her bf’s metalworking studio to tell him about a delicate mixup: she’s sent two telegrams to her two men and mixed up the addresses. He doesn’t buy it and kicks her out, so she runs to her other metalworker bf’s place. Both guys are caught up in their work and don’t stop to listen to her. Seems she didn’t mix up the addresses after all, and Roger also kicks her out. Some tech issues here, a bad post-dub, but cute.
Brief, noisy apartment scene, filmed mostly from behind the actors, to sell aftershave. You can’t tell a whole lot from my unsubbed copy but apparently that’s Juliet Berto and they’re arguing about Palestine, haha. Don’t know whether this aired, but it made some quick cash for the Dziga-Vertov Group.
Puissance de la parole (1988)
The Power of Speech is the opposite of Goodbye to Language. Filmmaking apparatus, overlapping hypnotized dialogue, a bitter post-breakup conversation transmitted through 1980’s phones and satellites. Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan songs, used less abruptly than in the later features.
Strobing edits (cutting between sky/water/volcano looks cool) and space-age philosophy. I’ve always liked movies where two people speak abstractly at the shore. A couple of Rivettian ghosts on the beach: Warok and a Gang of Four lead. “No thought can perish, so no act is without infinite result.”
L’enfance de l’Art (1993, w/ Mieville)
A woman reads to a boy, a book about revolt and revolution, while violent battles and children’s games go on around them. Nice string music, an action scene, a bazooka.
Liberty and Homeland (2002, w/ Miéville)
I did not realize Godard had a 9/11 film, or that he ever used dub music in his work. Male and female narrators go off about France and art, finally settling on a story of a (fictional) painter. Blending sources with different aspect ratios, extremely enhancing the colors – it was all there 20 years ago.
Remerciements de JLG (2015)
Godard totters home muttering in scraps and quotes, falls down, and delivers a speech from the floor about cinema and the lack of it, gets up to his desk and talks politics and poetry – all this in five minutes.
Boxcar Bertha (1972, Martin Scorsese)
Barbara Hershey, who also appears in two (but not all) of Scorsese’s movies where someone gets crucified, sees her cropduster daddy die then hits the Depression-era road. She and family friend Von (Bernie Casey of The Man Who Fell to Earth, In the Mouth of Madness) and railworker Bill (David Carradine, whose dad plays a railroad bigwig) meet up in various places and get into hijinks. Good performances, especially in the second half, and some sharp editing, but this is more a Roger Corman period adventure story than anything else.
Bertha caught between two Carradines:
The cops and strikebreakers in this are real pieces of shit. She meets a moneyman called Rake, she shoots a guy who calls everyone he dislikes a red, and she jailbreaks her friends… there’s a nice classic car wreck off a cliff, another gets smashed by a train, there are some shotgun murders, and Bertha and friends become professional bank robbers. She’s freed from a whorehouse by Von, but both guys finally get busted.
Von taking care of business:
Strikebreaker on the left would become a Scorsese regular, mustache guy would disappear.
Millionaires’ Express (1986, Sammo Hung)
Sammo plays a thief and killer and master bullshitter. Terrific opening scene – he finds a field of dead soldiers and loots their bodies, but they were only playing dead for a military game, stand up and capture Sammo, take him back to base and humiliate him, then he blows them all up.
The point is supposed to be a train robbery, but nobody can stand still long enough to wait for the train; buildings are burned down and a bank is robbed before it even arrives. Too many characters and factions to keep track of. James Tien was in there somewhere, and Rosamund Kwan of the Once Upon a Time in China series, and Hwang Jang-Lee (the “dead” friend/villain of Game of Death II). Wong Fei-hung is in this, meets his rival Kien, both as little kids. People can’t stop jumping out of two-story buildings. Whenever the pace is less than frantic, he simply speeds up the film… this is cheating, but the result is absolutely thrilling, so I’ll allow it.
No revisionist western is complete without one of these:
The protestors and prostitutes team up against the patriarchy:
Shorts watched September 2021
Cityscape (2019, Michael Snow)
This looks and sounds great, I must remember to watch it often. Snow is up to his old tricks, the camera across the river from the Toronto skyline, tracking down then up (an almost-invisible cut in the water), left and right, a drumbeat soundtrack increasing in speed and intensity along with the camera, whipping back and forth, then slowing down and adding rotation into the mix, never going the full Centrale, staying on one axis at a time, finally spinning off in the sky.
Train Again (2021, Peter Tscherkassky)
Strobing between trains and horses, combining images so it looks like horse action is being projected onto the side of a train, or the train is the physical filmstrip. Then tracks-as-filmstrip, colliding into each other, always in motion. And this being Tscherkassky he shows the filmstrip itself sliding around, overlapping other images, displaying printed soundtrack and fetishizing sprocket holes. Some visual and sound segments are identifiably looped, some images inverted and posterized. Not sure why Danny bikes in from The Shining but it made me laugh to see him here. A theater audience is strobed against a parade of Lumiere films, then of course The Great Train Robbery appears. Screaming brakes and smash-ups dissolve into shards – I can’t tell if this is Evan Johnson-style digital melt or if my encoded copy just can’t keep up with the motion. The flicker on this thing must really be something in a theater. Closes with a Kren appreciation, the train rounding the bend, having survived history and catastrophe.
Log 0 (2019, Isiah Medina)
Silent but for one burst of rain, this feels like a random assemblage of things, daily life and filmmaking excerpts. I’d thought of the title as mathematical, but oh, it’s an activity log, like the little end-of-year videos I make but Medina-style. Towards the end piano music comes in and the shots get longer, and there’s somebody sketching some curves, so maybe it’s mathematical after all, or both.
Duck Duck (2019, Harmony Korine)
Dance-beat instagram-filter hot dog furries go on a gentle hotel-trashing rampage. My first Korine movie since Trash Humpers is under four minutes long and could’ve been a minute shorter, so I dunno how I feel about tackling the 95-minute The Beach Bum anytime soon. Description says this “exploring the emerging disciplines of wearable cinema, augmented reality, and spontaneous storytelling.”
White Echo (2019, Chloe Sevigny)
Kickass little movie about a group of women using a ouija board in an old house, a spirit following medium Kate Lyn Sheil home. Groovy music, too.
Point and Line to Plane (2020, Sofia Bohdanowicz)
Easily my favorite Bohdan/Campbell, dedicated to the memory of the two departed friends mentioned in the voiceover, so some truth in the story here. Ghosts and movement (fast horizontal camera pans) tie this to the other shorts watched today. Art (Hilma af Klimt) and color and patterns are discussed as DC travels to cities and museums, ruminating on two late friends.
La Chanson de Prévert (2021, Michel Gondry)
Apparent cutout animation of an autumn leaf that produces radical temporal effects on anything it touches, set to an upbeat French pop song. Tremendous.
Figure Minus Fact (2020, Mary Helena Clark)
Still frames at first. Bells and silence… insects and fishes. Not sure what it’s going for, but it’s in crisp HD and some of the images are very nice. There are numbered “figures” (demonstrating insects that blend in with plant life) but most figures are presented unnumbered, sans fact.
Nimic (2019, Yorgos Lanthimos)
The Lanthimos short with the great poster and music. Considering laying down my rock records and getting really into Britten and Ferrari, but I need to finish Tom Waits Mode first. A little movie with big music and camerawork, Matt Dillon happens upon a mimic (Daphne Patakia of Benedetta) on the subway, who replaces him in his home and profession. Mimicking Lanthimos’s usual cinematographer is Diego García, who shot Cemetery of Splendor.
The Bucket (2019, Jia Zhangke)
Ohhh no, I was gonna say the music sounds like a TV ad, but this WAS a TV ad, a “shot on iPhone” promo about a guy traveling from the country to the city with a heavy bucket packed by his mom, which turns out to contain eggs from her farm packed in sand. Not gonna count this as a Jia film, just a paycheck, but at least there was bird tossing.
The Names Have Changed Including My Own (2019, Onyeka Igwe)
Archival slideshow, then british-accented narrator speaks of reading a book about her grandfather. Australian? A mother walks off with her infant twins. A darkened-stage dance routine, really nice photography. Discussion with her father or an uncle over a video version of the slave trade story featuring the grandfather. Facemask and hand sanitizer in a 2019 movie. A silent film is run and described in real-time but only the film reels and equipment are shown. Story of separated twins who reunite late in life. These threads run one after another, shorter and faster towards the end. The film about trains and the research family history in archival media really ties this nicely to the Tscherkassky and Bohdanowicz shorts.
The Return of Tragedy (2020, Bertrand Mandico)
“A smile is not a peaceful act, it’s a carnivorous statement.” In English and great color, Elina undead flying her internal organs like a kite while a cultist named Kate Bush confuses the cops. Scenario repeats with different details and results. The casio music and kooky weirdness recalls Quentin Dupieux. Yann Gonzalez also came to mind, or rather I was trying to remember if Mandico is the filmmaker who’s in M83, but no that’s Gonzalez, who is mentioned in the credits.
Harold Lloyd x3 (1921)
Among Those Present
Watching three Lloyd shorts from the same year, and this one opens with the best bit, wealthy-looking Harold exposed as a coat-check guy wearing a guest’s fancy clothes. A witness to the incident offers to get Harold some glad rags and take him partying with the swells, for obscure reasons, leading to riding and hunting antics and cute rich girl Mildred Davis. After this complicated setup, the second half is just Harold pantsless, running away from various animals. Mildred’s parents are very good – James Kelly had been in all of Chaplin’s Mutuals, and Aggie Herring was in the Jackie Coogan Oliver Twist and, uh, Suicide Squad.
Now or Never
Now Mildred is the maid of a neglected kid with rich parents, but it’s the day she’s supposed to meet the boy she knew years ago, and they are both having transportation issues. Harold has wrecked his car, rides underneath a train car, then Mildred gives him the kid and boards… a different train? Doesn’t matter, they end up together, most of the movie devoted to the stupid kid being naughty-cute.
Animated segments! Harold and Mildred are finally married in this one (and soon IRL), walking around with a baby carriage full of wine (aha, prohibition). Then the movie goes downhill, taking care of horrible kids that aren’t theirs again, and Harold’s fairly incompetent in this one.
Newmeyer and Roach made these, as would be expected.
My Twentieth Century (1989, Ildiko Enyedi)
Twin girls in Budapest grow up separately, both end up dating a thin-faced Tesla-type character (Nostalgia star Oleg Yankovskiy). Lots of appealing birth-of-cinema and -electricity stuff.
From my notes:
– She tries to bomb the minister at the cinema
– They go to the zoo and the monkey narrates a flashback
– Stars and electric lightbulbs whisper to each other
Dorota Segda as Dora:
Dorota Segda as Lili:
Midnight Run (1988, Martin Brest)
Memorial screening for Charles Grodin and Yaphet Kotto, here playing a criminal banker and an FBI agent with his identity stolen, respectively. Robert De Niro is the bounty hunter returning Grodin from NY to LA. It’s a wacky crime comedy road movie, with the cops and the gangsters (led by Dennis Farina) and RdN’s rival hunter Marvin (John Ashton of Beverly Hills Cop) all after them, so it’s sufficiently incident-packed to be a hugely successful commercial hit. Throwing in a sad visit to RdN’s family, and morally letting the criminal off the hook at the end turns it into a solid 80’s classic (pretty sure I saw it in theaters on first release) and also a semi-remake of Remember The Night. Got tired of Marvin, didn’t buy that the criminal snipers would open fire on the cops, otherwise lives up to the legend.
Clockers (1995, Spike Lee)
The lead cops, whose casting may be holdovers from when this was first planned as a Martin Scorsese picture, get first billing, but the film belongs to Mekhi Phifer as Strike, sort of the D’Angelo Barksdale of this story. He’s a mid-level drug dude with a stern and intense boss (Delroy Lindo) whose heart (and stomach) isn’t in his work. The poor guy either executes a rival or guilts his brother into doing it, and he’s such a harmless dude that even the cops help him get away in the end. Whoever called this a trial run for 25th Hour nailed it.
Keitel and “Chucky”:
Strike tries to get himself a protegee named Tyrone, but keeps getting yelled at by Tyrone’s mom. Some Spike Lee weirdness keeps you on your toes – the climactic murder by Tyrone is foreshadowed in a VR game, and what was up with that “No More Packing” billboard with the gun in a lunchbox? Best of all is when Harvey Keitel, terrible at his job, is telling Tyrone what he should say to get off for the killing, appearing by the kid’s side in alternate-flashback versions of the events.
Somebody was not careful when writing character names – with only a few lead roles, why would you name four of them Ronny and Rodney, Errol and Darryl? Also funny to hear an interviewee correct the cops’ pronunciation of his name “Jesus,” with John Turturro standing right behind him.