Chronicle of a Summer (1961, Jean Rouch & Edgar Morin)

Before looking for critical articles and reading the Criterion extras, I supposed this was an important film for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s part of the French New Wave movement to bring the new, portable film cameras into the streets. Then it’s a portrait of the times, an ethnography of 1961 Parisians and their thoughts, two years before Le Joli Mai did similar work with a more political flavor. And it’s also a total meta-film, which I hadn’t realized going in.

Rouch & Morin introduce their “novel experiment of film-truth” to interviewer Marceline. I correctly assumed this was Marceline Loridan Ivens of A Tale of the Wind. Either I’d read it before, or she was mentioned in opening credits, or she’s just the only Marceline I know of. Anyway, they intend for her to ask people “how do you live? What do you do all day,” and everyone’s acting like this is the first time people have ever been interviewed on camera.

A backlit Marceline from the best shot in the film:

Then a montage of Marceline interviewing people on the street, or trying to, since nobody is much interested. I was afraid the whole movie would be like this. They find some people willing to talk (ahem, friends of the filmmakers) and hang out at their places. They find a black student named Landry, and one of the first questions is “so you don’t mind being black?” Marceline gets her own turn to speak, then they regroup and discuss their progress. “So far, the film has confined itself to take in the events of this summer of 1960,” then they bring in the war in Algeria, racism, the newly independent Congo, Marceline’s concentration camp tattoo (Landry: “I’ve seen a film about them, Night and Fog“) which leads into a dreamy monologue about her camp experience, and the movie starts to get interesting. Interview subject Angelo is being harassed by his employer for participating in the film. Landry goes to St. Tropez as “the black explorer of holiday France.” Morin: “You know Rouch and I are making a film. We don’t agree. Rouch thinks life is fun and I don’t.”

Landry:

This is the first movie I’ve seen to include its own test screening. Participants and non-participants give their reactions. “It’s completely phony.” “Extremely painful. When it’s not terrifyingly boring, it’s at the cost of total indecency.” Finally, the directors interview each other about the test screening results. “As soon as they’re more sincere than in life, they’re labelled either as hams or exhibitionists.” One of them finally decides the film is about the failure to communicate (isn’t that what all films are about?).

Morin was a sociologist who’d coined the phrase cinema-verite three years earlier. Rouch had already made 20 documentaries at this point (including Les Maître fous) and would make 80 more (including Rose and Landry two years later – a follow-up?). Produced by Argos Films (which released Night and Fog). The second most intense interview subject after Marceline is Cahiers du Cinema secretary Marilu Parolini, who later cowrote four Rivette films and The Spider’s Stratagem. Cameramen included Michel Brault (Mon Oncle Antoine) and Raoul Coutard (at least 15 Godard films).

Marilu…

and her boyfriend Jacques Rivette:

S. Di Iorio:

Morin was largely responsible for the film’s radical content: alternately analyst, priest, and spectator, he led the in-depth conversations that formed the backbone of the project and worked to facilitate moments of communal contact … Rouch, on the other hand, was concerned with form, and spent much of the production developing a walking-camera approach – they called it “pedovision” – that offset the closed-room structure of his partner’s scenes with renegade expeditions into contempo­rary France. While the film’s oscillation between sincere attention (Morin wanted to listen) and anarchic exuberance (Rouch brought water skis) almost justifies Morin’s self-deprecating description of the two of them as a kind of Martin and Lewis of ethnographic cinema, what matters more than these differences is the fact that, as partners, they shared fundamentally similar values. Both were confident that cinema offered a means to analyze everyday life; both believed that invaluable discoveries could result from what Lautréamont and the surrealists framed as the friction of unexpected encounters; both were convinced that their film would be determined by the chance associations and meandering pathways of open-ended conversations.

For Chronicle, Rouch and engineer André Coutant developed a prototype of the first handheld, sync-sound 16 mm camera ever used in France.

Morin:

I thought we would start from a basis of truth and that an even greater truth would develop. Now I realize that if we achieved anything, it was to present the problem of truth. We wanted to get away from theater, from spectacle, to enter into direct contact with life. But life is also theater, life is also spectacle.

V/H/S/2 (2013)

More anthology nonsense, but this time (with the possible exception of the final alien segment) each found-footage first-person story actually has a reason for having cameras present – though again these are all digital cameras and there’s no reason they’d have all been transferred to VHS, besides that ever since The Ring people think videotapes are haunted.

Framing story is by Adam Wingard associate Simon Barrett – a private-eye/video-blackmailer couple is hired by a mom to find her college kid who is presumed missing, but has actually disappeared into a cult of haunted VHS-tape trading.

Phase I Clinical Trials by Adam Wingard, since I am accidentally determined to see every Adam Wingard movie. He also made the terrible A Horrible Way To Die (terrible’s what it is). I think the lead guy who gets a cybernetic eye is Wingard himself. He sees ghosts, and soon meets a nose-ringed girl with cybernetic ear who hears ghosts and wants to have sex with him in order to drown out the ghost sounds. This doesn’t work for long. Ghosts drown the girl and he ends up cutting out his fake eye with a knife as the ghosts slowly approach. Presumably this is a remake of Johnnie To’s My Left Eye Sees Ghosts.

A Ride in the Park by Sanchez and Hale, two of the original Blair Witch guys, brings some fun and comic zombie mayhem to the proceedings. A dying girl interrupts a biker, then he gets bitten and they both become zombies. But his helmet-mounted GoPro is still running, and records his attack on a family picnic. Happy ending: he recognizes what has happened and blows his own brains out.

Safe Haven by the guy who made The Raid movies and a guy who made a couple of Indonesian horrors, has a camera crew interviewing a commune death cult. It’s an odd segment because the camera crew is incompetent, full of relationship drama and uncharged batteries and general lack of preparation, so why is this the organization the reclusive cult finally allows into their compound on the day of mass suicide / zombie apocalypse / demon summoning?

Slumber Party Alien Abduction is by the Hobo With A Shotgun team, and as with that movie, the title says it all. Parents are away so the kids invite friends over and they all have sex and throw water balloons and torment each other, until aliens come for them.

Fun movies to watch on weekdays in Shocktober when I only have 20 minutes to spare (The ABCs of Death is for when I only have three minutes to spare). Still not so great, but surely better than part one.

Deseret (1995, James Benning)

I’ve finally watched a James Benning movie. I knew I’d either love it, or not get it, which would be frustrating since I have about 15 Benning movies on my must-see list based on critic recommendations. Whew, loved it. Felt like Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind meets Hollis Frampton. I noticed he was cutting the picture on every new spoken sentence, but later I discovered it gets more Framptony yet: there’s one literal/relevant shot per segment, the long between-segment shots get gradually shorter, movie switches to color when Utah becomes a state and there are precisely as many b/w frames as color.

All spoken text is from historical New York Times articles, which don’t seem overly fond of Utah or the Mormons, so it’s interesting to get a history lesson told by a suspicious narrator – from early reports on Brigham Young, U.S. military expeditions to quell the Mormon rebellion, fights against polygamy, the cross-country railroad, and the Mountain Meadows massacre, in which Mormon militia killed 100+ non-Mormon settlers. Things get somewhat less extreme once statehood is achieved – standouts include the U.S. army’s nerve gas tests killing thousands of sheep and Robert Smithson’s great Spiral Jetty.

Amazing quote from 1880s: “Mormonism is a good deal as slavery seemed once to those of the north who had never seen, but only read one-sided unreliable representations of it: not half as bad when you come to see it.”

Rosenbaum: “Benning’s eye for evocative beauty is as sharp as ever, and his complex invitation to the viewer to create a narrative space between his separate elements keeps this 1995 film continually fascinating.”

The State of Things (1982, Wim Wenders)

“Making movies is suicide.”

Watched this right after Ruiz’s The Territory.

Alexander Graf quoted by Michael Goddard: “The story is based on the situation [Wenders] found when he visited [Ruiz] in Portugal to charitably bring black and white film stock to a stranded film-crew whose finances were exhausted: their story became the background to the story for The State of Things, in which he films the crew – some of whom were borrowed from the real stranded crew – in the act of waiting.”

Opens as a sepia-toned post-apocalyptic sci-fi film starring The Territory cast, and after a few minutes turns to silvery black-and-white behind-the-scenes, with Sam Fuller playing the cinematographer, and Patrick Bauchau (Rohmer’s La Collectionneuse) as the director Fritz. After a close-up shot, Fuller tells Fritz they’re out of film. The crew gets down time, hangs around their hotel, everyone assuming the producer can send more film soon, but after a few days Fuller hears that his estranged wife has died and returns to the States, soon followed by Fritz who wants to find their producer Gordon.

Sam and Fritz:

This first half is great, from the sci-fi stuff to the beautifully shot (by Alekan again) boredom and cast/crew artistic hobbies. Then in the States, Wenders thinks we need a pulp plot. Gordon’s lawyer (Roger Corman, who supposedly helped produce The Territory) won’t say where Gordon is, but Fritz finds his mobile home and goes for a ride, finding out Gordon (Allen Garfield, a Gene Hackman type, of Hi, Mom! and Putney Swope) is broke, never paid for the movie in the first place (the screenwriter did), and owes money to gangsters, who inevitably catch up and kill both men. The very ending is a highlight, Fritz pulling out his camera, holding it like a gun while searching for the shooter.

Movie references about. Fuller himself makes a Forty Guns reference, pointed shots of a marquee with The Searchers and Fritz Lang’s star on the walk of fame. Billboards for 1980-81 movies like Caveman, The Jazz Singer and Ordinary People. Wenders was in his classic American cinema phase, having just worked with Nicholas Ray and made a couple of detective movies.

Corman:

Fuller’s driver: “I take pictures, photographs, but I never really thought in black and white before I saw our rushes. You can see the shape of things.”
Fuller: “Life is in color, but black and white is more realistic.”

Organ doom music (by Wenders regular Jürgen Knieper – not Jim Jarmusch as IMDB states) sometimes overloads the scene. Nice use of X’s Los Angeles when they arrive in Los Angeles.

Fritz complete filmography:

Artur Semedo, the other man on the dam in The Territory, plays the production manager:

I read that Joaquim Pinto’s new movie What Now? Remind Me has behind-the-scenes footage of The Territory. I would’ve made this a triple-feature, but it’s not out yet.

The Territory (1981, Raoul Ruiz)

I read in the Ruiz book that Wim Wenders movie The State of Things was inspired by witnessing Ruiz’s difficulty making The Territory, having to stop production because they’d run out of film stock, and that Wenders borrowed The Territory’s cast and crew, so I knew I had a perfect double-feature.

Based on a true-ish story, The Territory follows lost campers who resorted to weird religious-fanatic cannibalism. Ruiz doesn’t seem like a based-on-a-true-story kind of director. Ruiz seems to agree: “When we finished, we realised it was an art film.” M. Goddard: “…clearly Ruiz was hoping that the film would also succeed in suspending the distinctions between commercial and artistic cinema, by being at once a Roger Corman exploitation film and a philosophical parable about the origins of human society.”

Some of the behavior and dialogue is what you could call realistic (though the dubbing is not), but the overall atmosphere has a surreal edge. For instance, the way the campers always end up traveling in circles when they insist they’re going straight seems more out of The Blair Witch Project than historical fiction.

Their wild-haired guide Gilbert (Paul Getty Jr.) acts unhinged from the start, cares little for the campers, just for the journey and the strict rules of the forest. He finally leaves them, but they find his dead body while wandering and drag him around for a while before deciding to eat him.

Early bit of Ruiz weirdness, Gilbert slowly rises while speaking:

French girl Francoise (Isabelle Weingarten, star of Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer), mother of young Ron, is disgusted by meat eating in general, so doesn’t join in the feast – and becomes the next victim.

Francoise, shot by Henri Alekan (before La Belle Captive):

Later a crazy stick fight, Peter (Geoffrey Carey of Kings & Queen) attacking Jim (Jeffrey Kime, later in Ruiz’s Treasure Island) while screaming “what should I do, Barbara,” presumably about to kill Jim when Peter has a heart attack instead. Randomly at the end, a guy they’d previously passed in the forest and never noticed shows up again, kills Jim with a rock and is rescued along with Barbara and Ron.

from Michael Goddard’s great The Cinema of Raul Ruiz: Impossible Cartographies:

A key moment comes when they encounter a map of the park in which its nature as an impossible labyrinth is made clear; the map inverts, in a series of concentric figures, the park’s situation of being within the province, within the country, and within Europe, so that the park contains first the province, then the country and finally Europe, a clear example of a Ruizian impossible cartography.

Another key example comes when they encounter two men having a picnic of bread and cheese at an abandoned dam. While at first seizing upon this as their salvation, the characters soon discover that it is useless to try to talk to these men as they not only lack a common language but the men seem to be inhabiting a different space; certainly they seem unable to comprehend in any way the ‘plight’ of the trapped tourists and are no more useful when questioned later in the house of their friend by those searching for the missing visitors.

One of the two men on the dam is João Bénard da Costa, also in Past and Present. He’s filmed with a table of food in the foreground, just like he is in City of Pirates.

Survivors:

Adrian Martin:

The human body is the true territory of the film, its borders and functions ambiguously defined in relation to acts of eating, violence and sexuality. It ends in the type of sardonic twist we find frequently in Ruiz’s films: after the horror, one of the characters writes it all down and scores a best seller.

The Tenant (1976, Roman Polanski)

Happy SHOCKtober!

It’s hard to tell what I watched in SHOCKtober 2013, since I was running months behind and posting movies out of order, but I think it was six movies, from Mr. Vampire through The Black Cat, plus a Last Ten Minutes full of ridiculous horror sequels. SHOCKtober 2012 consisted of a single movie, The Hole. So 2011 was the last big SHOCKtober, and 2010 even got its own horror top-ten list. Time to bring back the shocks – got a bunch of movies lined up for this month.

Polanski himself plays Trelkovsky, who snags a Paris apartment (with an awfully steep deposit) thanks to the suicide of the former tenant Simone, and is made to feel unwelcome by almost everybody. He visits Simone during her final days in hospital agony and meets her friend Stella (Isabelle Adjani of Possession, also Lucy in Herzog’s Nosferatu). Then Trelkovsky attempts to settle in at home (he works as some kind of clerk, shades of Kafka), but everyone is suspicious of him, even the local police, accusing him of rule violations, and Trelkovsky starts to suspect these hostile neighbors drove Simone to jump from her window.

One man and a wardrobe:

French neighbors scheming against Polish Jew, was starting to look like a persecution story, but then Polanski starts believing the neighbors are trying to turn him into Simone when he wakes up with women’s makeup on his face, and another day he’s lost the same tooth she had lost.

At the end, when he has found shelter at Stella’s place then trashes her apartment because he thinks she’s in on the conspiracy, it becomes clearer than Trelkovsky is just nuts. Inevitably, he jumps from the apartment window in front of an imagined audience of mocking neighbors, but the fall doesn’t kill him, and as the police arrive, he lurches back up the stairs and jumps a second time, ending up in a time-loop as he takes Simone’s place in the hospital bed and sees himself and Stella visiting.

Polanski and Adjani pause to watch Enter The Dragon:

Great cast: Melvyn Douglas (40-some years after The Old Dark House) is Mr. Z the landlord. Jo Van Fleet (Wild River) brings a petition (which Trelkovsky refuses to sign) to evict another neighbor. Jeunet regular Rufus (Amelie‘s dad) comes by looking for Simone. Shelley Winters (A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter) plays the angry building concierge. Unfortunately some actors have been euro-dubbed, and even the cinematography by Sven Nykvist (between Black Moon and Autumn Sonata) looked just-decent on my video copy.

Jo:

Melvyn:

Ebert called it an embarrassment, also explains there was an apartment shortage in Paris at the time. I guess people were bound to be disappointed in any follow-up to Chinatown, but Canby called it “the most successful and most consistently authentic Polanski film in years,” dismissing Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby as “more or less tailored to popular tastes.” Critics mention Trelkovsky’s meek and malleable nature and the film’s pessimism, but I’m still not sure what to make of the Egyptian references. And am I misinterpreting the image, or at one point is his nightstand replaced with a two-dimensional copy?

Nominated at Cannes the same yeas as Taxi Driver, The Marquise of O, Kings of the Road and Mr. Klein. Based on the novel by Roland Topor, who cowrote Fantastic Planet and played Renfield in Herzog’s Nosferatu.

All That Jazz (1979, Bob Fosse)

A singing, dancing musical fantasy taking place in the mind of a lead character confined to a hospital bed, who doubles the filmmaker’s own hospital illness/fantasies. But enough about The Singing Detective

Bob Fosse ended up in hospital trying to obsessively re-edit his film Lenny while launching his musical Chicago, and Fosse’s stand-in Roy Scheider (the guy in Jaws whom I disliked less than Richard Dreyfuss) is in a similar fix, plus he’s juggling too many drugs and women, including ex-wife Leland Palmer (that’s the actress’s real name, also of Ken Russell’s Valentino) and dream-girl Jessica Lange. Inspired by 8 1/2, Scheider always surrounded by women in his profession and home life.

Lost the big oscars to Kramer vs. Kramer and Apocalypse Now, but still won a bunch, including editing, which it deserved. Most impressive part of the movie is the dance scenes, which include the camera and editing as part of the dance.

N. Murray:

Joe’s great curse is that he knows everything can be improved with more time and effort — himself included. More than once in the movie, he shows his work to someone who’s exasperated with him for all the time he’s taking and all the money he’s spending, and in each case, they shake their heads, annoyed to have to admit that all his fussing has made the finished product more brilliant. A skeptic might say this is Fosse congratulating himself, but it’s really more of an explanation. It’s impossible to create something as lasting as All That Jazz without doing a lot of personal and collateral damage.

Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg)

So, in the straightforward ending, pre-crime dept. head Max Von Sydow murdered precog Samantha Morton’s inconvenient mother and good cop Colin Farrell, while Cruise’s ex-wife springs him from The Attic to bring justice and a happy ending. But an article Katy found says the ending is too idyllic and perhaps Cruise never awoke from The Attic, but actually dreams the last half hour Brazil-style. I love that the movie works either way.

Highlights: creepy doctor Peter Stormare and the following scene with retina-scanning spiders invading his apartment complex, Cruise escaping via auto assembly line, Morton’s freaked-out performance, the still-exciting technology and how most of it is becoming real. Katy is hung up on the mismatched architecture/design styles of all the interiors.

Guardians of the Galaxy (2014, James Gunn)

It’s like all the humorous bickering of The Avengers mixed with the action of… The Avengers. So it’s like The Avengers, or maybe Firefly. But funnier, and with more rock songs. Katy and I don’t like the shot-too-close, over-edited action scenes, but otherwise had no complaints.

Heroes: Andy Dwyer, hulky Dave Bautista (Brass Body in Man With The Iron Fists), green Zoe Saldana (Avatar), talking raccoon Bradley Cooper (Midnight Meat Train) and kinda-talking tree Vin Diesel (The Iron Giant). Not heroes: Andy’s mercenary ex-partner Michael Rooker, Zoe’s evil-blue-robot sister Nebula, “the collector” Benicio Del Toro, super baddie Ronan (partnered with Thanos, a main Thor/Avengers baddie) and Ronan’s enforcer Djimon “Digital Monsters” Hounsou.

Supplementary good guys: president Glenn Close and cops John C Reilly and Peter Serafinowicz.

Introduced: something called “infinity stones” which I think power some of the other magic stuff in Avengers-world, and rumored superhuman backstory for Andy.