Roger Beebe films and videos

Wonderful program by Beebe, a Florida film prof when he’s not touring art spaces with eight projectors. He’s a low-key charismatic speaker who held the audience easily while introducing films, telling stories or fixing equipment breakdowns. It probably helps that most of us were Film Love regulars who weren’t exactly expecting to see Transformers 2… I wonder how the screening went in Macon the night before.

Last Light of a Dying Star (2008)
This is the big one. Opens with two 16mm loops of blippy light tears, then more 16mm and a Super-8 of science videos (comets, solar system, eclipses) and a german or russian show about the sun getting drunk and trying to stay up all night, and videos of an astounding sequence of thousands of still images featuring the sun or moon aligned and sequenced to show a sunset/moonrise. Also a short stop-motion 16mm loop of a star, sliding and breaking. The frames are positioned around the wall, some overlapping, as Roger “conducts”, starting and stopping and moving frames so it’s more a performance than any kind of traditional film.

Money Changes Everything (2009)
3x16mm, the left and right being documentary shots of Las Vegas while the middle is similar but has a ghostly frame inside a frame, and the audio track sounds like a radio show explaining research which shows Vegas to have the highest suicide rate in the nation.

TB TX Dance (2006)
TB is Toni Basil (singer of the hit song Mickey) and TX is Texas (the state). After their respective introductions, they dance. Made with a laser printer on clear film leader (including the soundtrack), and projected side-by-side with its inverse image, this was an impressive, creative and goofy way to start the show. I won’t say the name of the litigious filmmaker from whom some of the images were borrowed.
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The Strip Mall Trilogy (2001)
Strip-mall images are reclaimed, decontextualized and rapidly edited. If I was a serious film scholar I would’ve cornered Beebe and bugged him about Hollis Frampton and Zaireeka, but it doesn’t matter if this was Zorns Lemma-influenced or not – it is awesome.
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Composition in Red & Yellow (2002)
An ironic hymn to the ever-present McDonald’s.
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Famous Irish Americans (2003)
Educational! Made during a Minneapolis winter when he was afraid to go outside, heh. Tried to show this to Katy but when she learned it wasn’t about Minnesota, she declined.
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There was another one shot in Paris – spoken intro along the lines of “Now you’ll see I don’t just hate America – I hate France, too.” Also, a reluctant dude from the audience sang along with a karaoke music video of “Touch Me I’m Sick” consisting of clips from a venereal disease educational film. Director was selling (cheap!) DVDs of his work, hence the screenshots.

Histoire(s) du Cinema (1988-1998, Jean-Luc Godard)

This will be one to watch again when I know more French, or just when I’ve lived longer.

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Chapter 1(a), “Toutes les histoires” (“All the (Hi)stories”)

Dedicated to Mary Meerson (Langlois’s companion who helped run the Cinematheque) and Monica Tegelaar (producer of Raoul Ruiz’s On Top of the Whale).

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IMDB says parts one and two came out in the late 80′s, and the rest followed in the late 90′s. This one seemed more like a 50-minute trailer than an episode. Montage of archive footage, still and moving, edited and faded and superimposed and blended together. The footage includes scenes from films of course (rules of the game, great dictator, day of wrath, germany year zero) but lots of stills (producers, directors, Thalberg, Hughes) and paintings. Lots of focus on World War II, and ending with that Germany Year Zero segment, the whole thing came off as vaguely depressing. Maybe that’s why it took ten years to get the rest of the episodes made?

Three images overlapped: (1) Rita Hayworth dancing, (2) a drawing of Howard Hughes in his final days, (3) the witch-burning scene in Day of Wrath.

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Chapter 1(b), “Une Histoire seule” (“A Single (Hi)story”)

Dedicated to John Cassavetes and Glauber Rocha (Brazilian director of Black God, White Devil).

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Surprising number of references to Godard’s own films. Tons and tons of stuff I am not getting because I don’t know much French (I pick up half the film titles and some of the short sayings printed onscreen) or art history, and haven’t seen most of the films. Should’ve known better than to think part two would be more straightforward or make more sense. Even if I don’t know what it’s saying, I still get interesting juxtapositions of images and nice shots from great films seen and unseen, which is enough to keep me watching. Sounded like I heard some Leonard Cohen and Neil Diamond.

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Chapter 2(a), “Seule le cinema” (“Only Cinema”)

Dedicated to Armand J. Cauliez (a writer, published a book on Jacques Tati) and Santiago Alvarez (Cuban filmmaker).

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Fast-forward a decade. Same ol’ thing here, but two big changes:

(1) Not just montage of pre-existing footage edited with Godard in his study anymore. An actual actor, Julie Delpy, reading poetry. Also an interview with Godard by another guy (couldn’t be Serge Daney – he died in ’92), 90% untranslated.

(2) Me getting a little tired and pondering making my own historie(s) of cinema instead

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Chapter 2(b), “Fatale beauté” (“Deadly Beauty”)

Dedicated to Michele Firk (film writer turned militant radical, killed herself in Guatemala to escape arrest) and Nicole Ladmiral (actress in Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest).

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Sabine Azema (above) recits some poetry, much of it untranslated. Godard types at his typewriter some more. I listened in the headphones and a background noise (JLG’s pet bird?) frightened me. Something about photography being invented in black and white as the colors of mourning to note the death of reality. And something about women, and murder, and Band of Outsiders and Rancho Notorious and Gone With The Wind. Good to see that Godard appreciates Tom Waits.

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Chapter 3(a), “La Monnaie de l’absolu” (“The Coin of the Absolute”)

Dedicated to Gianni Amico (Italian filmmaker, assistant director on Bertolucci’s Before the Revolution and Godard’s Le Vent d’est & James Agee (film writer, champion of Chaplin’s Monseiur Verdoux, writer of Night of the Hunter and The African Queen)

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or part 3A, the war and futility episode. WWII talk leads into an appreciation of Italian Neorealism and the most clearly presented introduction to a certain aspect of cinema and history thus far in the series. Says that Italian cinema in the 40′s and 50′s changed film like Manet (the godfather of modern art) changed painting. Closes with a nice montage of Italian film (minus too much onscreen block text and crazed fade transitions) set to a Richard Cocciante song. This episode has a clear point and meaning and narrative arc and supporting arguments… I don’t understand. Maybe the others have too, and I’ve been missing it. Juliette Binoche appears with Alain Cuny (of Les Amants and La Dolce Vita), who died in 1994, four years before this episode aired. Julie Delpy looked mighty young in her segment too – maybe all this footage was shot in the 80′s and not finished editing until ten years later.

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Chapter 3(b), “Une Vague Nouvelle” (“A New Wave”)

Dedicated to Frederic C. Froeschel (head of a cine-club in Paris, 1950) and Naum Kleiman (Russian film critic, director of the Moscow Film Museum).

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“Becker, Rossellini, Melville, Franju, Jacques Demy, Truffaut. You knew them.”
“Yes, they were my friends.”

A personal episode, sometimes celebratory but more usually melancholy. Godard himself is the guest speaker this time, but he’s actually into it, not just distractedly reciting behind his typewriter. These things never quite seem to begin, the opening titles still playing when the episode is half over. Some 400 Blows, some Henri Langlois, more goings-on about the death of cinema. What, is video the new art form?

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Chapter 4(a), “Le Côntrole de l’univers” (“The Control of the Universe”)

Dedicated to Michel Delahaye (actor in Out 1, Alphaville, plenty more) and Jean Domarchi (1950′s, 60′s Cahiers critic, had a bit part in Breathless).

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Another really good one. Probably not coincidentally, all the voiceover on this one is translated, so I was able to understand it. Lots of voiceover – it’s getting to be more of an essay lately and less of a purely visual slideshow. Still plenty of that dull video text, white-on-black block lettering. The thing always drags a little when JLG decides to move those words around the screen for thirty seconds before returning to the film clips. When there were clips, it seems half of them were by Hitchcock, “our century’s greatest creator of forms.”

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Chapter 4(b), “Les Signes parmi nous” (“The Signs Among Us”)

Dedicated to Anne-Marie Miéville (one of Godard’s collaborators since 1976) and to Godard himself.

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I hope nobody stumbles across this entry hoping to learn about the film, because I really doubt I understood most of it. More more more war images in this section (have I mentioned that the film is obsessed with WWII?) and more ponderings on love, death, art, history, man, the state, and Charlie Chaplin. And it seems to me that Godard is terribly depressed. Anyway, here’s a good bit of the voiceover from the last eight minutes:

I need a day to tell the history of a second…
I need an eternity to tell the history of a day.

We can do everything except the history of what we are doing. It is my privilege to film and live in France as an artist. Nothing like a country that every day walks further down the path of its own inexorable decline.

I am the fugitive enemy of our times. The totalitarianism of the present as applied mechanically every day more oppressive on a planetary scale. This faceless tyranny that effaces all faces for the systematic organization of the unified time of the moment. This global, abstract tyranny which I try to oppose from my fleeting point of view. Because I try, because I try in my compositions to show an ear that listens to time. And try to make it heard and to surge into the future.

The only thing that survives from one epoch is the art from it created. No activity can become an art until its proper epoch has ended. Then, this art will disappear. Thus, the art of the 19th century – cinema – made the 20th century exist, which barely existed.

Cinema feared nothing of others or of itself. It wasn’t sheltered from time. It was the shelter of time. Yes, image is happiness. But beside it dwells nothingness. The power of the image is expressed only by invoking nothingness. It is perhaps worth adding: The image, able to negate nothingness, is also the gaze of nothingness on us. The image is light. Nothingness, immensely heavy. The image gleams. Nothingness is that thickness where all is veiled. The most fleeting moments possess an illustrious past. If a man passed through paradise in his dreams and received a flower as proof of passage, and on waking, found this flower in his hand… What is there to say? I was that man.

Thought I’d watch the Cannes 1988 press conference, but after the first three minutes (“video artist” Godard passionately attacking television) it all turns French.

From a belatedly-discovered interview between JLG and J. Rosenbaum:

JR: Yes, but it also isn’t legally acknowledged that films and videos can be criticism.
JLG: It’s the only thing video can be — and should be.

With that strong distinction between film and video, it occurs to me that JLG considers Histoire(s) as being about cinema but not being a work of cinema itself. I watch Breathless on my TV and say I’ve seen one Godard movie, then I watch Histoire(s) on my TV and say I’ve seen two Godard movies. JLG should like to smack me for such a thought.

Some Seventies Shorts

Frank Film
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Barebones story of Frank Mouris’s life narrated on the soundtrack blended with a free-association list of words. Visual is a fast-motion collage of magazine-clipped images. Neat, must’ve taken forever. Won the Oscar, kickstarting a long life of filmmaking obscurity for Frank, poor guy.

Valse Triste
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Looks like a montage of found footage from rural America in the 1940′s set to sweeping sad music. Sepia-tinted, only 5 minutes long. Took me a visit to IMDB to realize the montage represents the wet dream of the boy who goes to sleep at the beginning of the film, damn. I get it now. Bruce Conner born in Kansas in 1933, so he WAS that boy!

Adam, 5 to 12
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Begin the rhythmic Estonian vocal music. Trippy animation doesn’t do much, then the clock appears, then a whole pile of grim images of war and death are overlaid on the clock. Adam tries to turn the clock back but it’s frozen at 5 to 12. Finally it moves dramatically to THE END. Director Petar Gligorovski died in 1995.

V. Gligorijevic (via email) on the music: “Its composer, Veljo Tormis, had clash with Soviet authorities which perceived Estonian nationalist overtones in Tormis’s music, from which the Curse to the Iron, the featured background, is considered one of his most recognizable works.”

Reflecting Pool
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Wow, this is great. Seven minutes of a reflecting pool with some video effects. A man motions to jump in, but is frozen in midair while the pool stays in gentle motion. The man slowly fades out, and most of the rest of the action takes place in the pool’s reflection and through its varying levels of agitation. Probably just a more complicated metaphor for sex than the last film… I don’t pick up on those things easily. Bill Viola is only 56 and still working.

Sweet Light
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Another by Bill Viola. Close-up: some flies on a windowsill. Camera moves slowly and evenly away and turns toward a man writing at a desk. Camera fast follows a ball of paper he hurls on the floor. Abrupt change to camera spinning around a dinner table candle, then insects leaving vapor trails in the air. There is light involved, and it’s all pretty sweet, so there’s your title.

Pause!
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A man against a wall making hand gestures, distorting his face and making breathy sounds. Gets violent at times. Probably also a metaphor for sex. My copy was dark and muddy but it’s not like I’ll be scouring rare video stores looking for a better version. Oh, I looked it up and the man is Arnulf Rainer, a surrealist-influenced artist known for “body art and painting under drug influence”. This must be body art. I wouldn’t have named a museum after this guy, but I guess the New York art scene knows better than I do. Directed by Peter Kubelka.

Powers of Ten
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By famous designers/architects/filmmakers Charles and Ray Eames. “A film dealing with the relative size of things in the universe and the effect of adding another zero”, made for IBM. A man is laying in a park in Chicago. We zoom out from him to 100 million light years (10^24 m) then zoom into his hand to 0.000001 angstroms (10^-16 m). Both Eames died on August 21, ten years apart. Music by Elmer Bernstein (also dead) of Far From Heaven and Ghostbusters.

The Metamorphosis of Mr. Samsa
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The Kafka story done with cool mushy black and white perspective-shifting animation (paint on glass?). Samsa might be some sort of spider/beetle. Caroline Leaf works with the National Film Board of Canada.

Elimination Dance
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Co-written and starring Don McKellar (Last Night). Dir. by Bruce McDonald, who made cult films Roadkill and Hard Core Logo. Couples dance all night while an announcer reads off descriptions (“anyone who has lost a urine sample in the mail”) eliminating them one by one, as the cops slowly close in fearing unrest. A comedy, cute. Not from the seventies, I realize (1998).

A Doonesbury Special
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Kind of limited animation, but that’s not a cool criticism to make of a well-intentioned independent production like this one. Neat movie, could’ve stood to be another half hour longer. A regular day at the commune with a bunch of flashbacks, “feeling the present as it moves by”. A little sad, some disillusionment about the fallen ideals of the late 60′s, probably a nice companion to the comics (which I haven’t read since Hunter died). Both Hubleys have died, Trudeau cowrote the Tanner movies.

La Soufriere
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“This is the police station. It was totally abandoned. It was a comfort for us not having the law hanging around.” Would’ve probably been one of Werner Herzog’s best-known movies (OR have led to Herzog’s fiery death) if the volcano had exploded as predicted, but since it didn’t, this is an obscurity on a DVD of documentary shorts. “There was something pathetic for us in the shooting of this picture, and therefore it ended a little bit embarrassing. Now it has become a report on an inevitable catastrophe that did not take place.” Herz and crew tromp about an extremely dangerous volcano site in the Caribbean, explore the completely empty towns below, and interview what few stragglers remain. One of the cameramen is from Morristown NJ, also shot Far From Heaven, A Prairie Home Companion, Tokyo-ga, True Stories and The Limey.

Most of these movies are as old as I am.