We went out to see three short “city symphony” docs with live music from Hotel X, part of the James River Film Fest. Joris Ivens’ Rain was pretty chill and rainy, the music wandering about aimlessly except for the guy with the rainstick who knew exactly what to do. Manhatta (1921) a sharper movie, while the music had too much melodica. Things really cooked both musically and cinematically with Jean Vigo’s À propos de Nice, then we stayed for a post-movie song with guest guitarist Gary Lucas.

I’ve written about Manhatta before. Was thinking this time that if I lived there/then, I’d like to open a haberdashery, or invent punk rock. Rain/Regen is the story of a rainfall in the city. Ivens catches some nice ripples and reflections in puddles, the downside being that the movie consists excessively of puddle shots. Nice seemed minor when watching all of Vigo’s work at once some years ago, but in this program it really shines – it’s quicker and more clever and more interested in people than buildings and landscapes. I love how many shots end as soon as the subject notices they’re being filmed (or being watched, anyway). Nice gives equal credit to camera/editor Boris Kaufman, who’d go on to shoot famous 1950’s/60’s films such as 12 Angry Men.

Piecemeal protest doc with surprisingly great location footage and interesting scenes, each one a bit too loud and going on for too long. The pieces are mostly unsigned, but I believe Chris Marker put the project together, and some segments are either identified online, or just very easily guessed (ahem, Resnais). They mention that Joris Ivens shot on location – most everyone else stayed home and used stock footage or filmed protest marches.

“It is in Vietnam that the main question of our time arises: the right of the poor to establish societies based on something else than the interests of the rich.”


Supposed to be President Johnson:

The Resnais segment is interesting before it wears out its welcome. Bernard Fresson (of a few Resnais films, including a small part in Je t’aime, je t’aime) is playing “writer Claude Ridder” (name of the lead character in Je t’aime, je t’aime played by Claude Rich) while a woman Karen Blanguernon (Rene Clement’s The Deadly Trap) glares from the corner of his office. This segment was written by Jacques Sternberg (Je t’aime, je t’aime, of course), so perhaps Claude Ridder was his standard lead character name, since this Ridder seems too impassioned to be the heartbroken dead soul from the feature. “Ridder” monologues on the war, politics, and his own inability to make change. “A spineless French intellectual articulating excuses for his class’s political apathy,” per the NY Times.

Next, a history lesson using stock footage, photographs and comics, drawing connections to the Spanish Civil War (the Resnais had mentioned Algeria).

Then Godard, who monologues in front of a giant film camera, talking about the distance, his inability to connect with the war itself, or even the French working class, the focus of so many of his films. Since he can’t film on-location, he inserts Vietnam into his feature films. “I make films. That’s the best I can do for Vietnam. Instead of invading Vietnam with a kind of generosity that makes things unnatural, we let Vietnam invade us.”

After a jaunty music video to a protest song by Tom Paxton, a longer somber voiceover reading the words of Michele Ray who spent three weeks with the Viet Cong, showing her footage before it goes crazy at the end.

“Why We Fight,” in which General Westmoreland explains the official U.S. position on the war, filmed off a TV while someone zooms around and twiddles knobs. Title must be referencing the 1940’s U.S. propaganda film series Why We Fight, which Joris Ivens contributed to.

Anti-napalm rabbi:

Monologue by Fidel Castro, who gives his theories on guerrilla warfare and how this applies to Vietnam. The new wavers seemed to have easy access to Fidel back then.

Ann Uyen, a Vietnamese woman living in Paris discusses Norman Morrison’s setting himself on fire outside the pentagon, and what that meant to her people. “We think that in America there is another war, a people’s war against everything that’s unfair.” Then an interview with Norman’s widow, who seems in sync with Norman’s politics. This was by William Klein.

War protest zombie walk, probably shot by Klein:

Marker’s outro:

In facing this defiance [of the Vietnamese], the choice of rich society is easy: either this society must destroy everything resisting it – but the task may be bigger than its means of destruction – or it will have to transform itself completely – but maybe it’s too much for a society at the peak of its power. If it refuses that option, it will have to sacrifice its reassuring illusions, to accept this war between the poor and the rich as inevitable, and to lose it.

Orderly or Disorderly (1981, Abbas Kiarostami)

Like an expanded version of Two Solutions to One Problem, A.K. films some situations in two ways each: chaotic and organized, to demonstrate that ordered efficiency leads to happier results. First it’s school children, in line vs. every-man-for-himself. Then they attempt to film traffic patterns, first outside the city then inside. But the traffic cop helping them with their “organized” model is no match for city drivers and pedestrians. Each scene begins with a slate, and at the end A.K. says “cut,” but in certain situations (“disorderly” schoolkids taking forever to board a bus, multiple unsuccessful attempts to get “orderly” traffic patterns) you hear the director and crew talking, discussing their results and the purpose for the film – an early example of A.K.’s love of behind-the-scenes stories and slyly demystifying the filmmaking process (sly because he re-mystifies it in various ways, like the final shot of 10 on Ten, or most of Through the Olive Trees).

stubbornly disorderly traffic:

M. Saeed-Vafa in Senses:

What is normally non-humorous is seen and heard as humorous, ridiculous, or absurd through Kiarostami’s films. Similar to Tati’s Playtime, Kiarostami’s fantastic short Orderly or Disorderly derives its power and humor through shot composition, the use of sound, and, in particular, Kiarostami’s voice over. The high angle long shots of the children in the school-yard lining up to drink water or getting on the bus, as well as the impatient drivers who complicate traffic in a Tehran intersection, reveal the humorous nature of chaos and order in public spaces.

Rotterdam Europoort (1966, Joris Ivens)

A really strange one – you think it’s going to be a doc portrait of the city, but it goes full-on poetic instead. This makes perfect sense once I realize that Ivens is the guy who made A Valparaiso and A Tale of the Wind. I’d gotten him confused with Bert Haanstra somehow, whose movies are just as exciting, but more straightforward and focused, documentary-like. Repeated dialogue (err, monologue), talks about work, old age and youth, the nature of man. Monumental, inexplicable. I watched it twice. IMDB says Chris Marker adapted the narration for France. Shot by Etienne Becker (L’Amour Fou, Malle’s Calcutta) and Eduard van der Enden (Haanstra’s Glas and Fanfare, Tati’s Trafic).

from the Ivens site:

After more than thirty years of work abroad, Ivens was invited by the municipality to make a film in Rotterdam again, where he had shot his well-known The Bridge (1928). Rotterdam-Europoort, whose production took two years, became a layered hybrid of fact and fiction, poetry and legend: a modern interpretation of The Flying Dutchman. Not devoid of critical remarks, it was a challenging way to promote the port.


The figure of a lost soul, who is at one point addressed (by an opera singer) as “Captain,” is Ivens’s and, if we are of a certain age, our own surrogate. This elegant, mysterious, mystified man is embroiled in a scattered existence, at least partly caused by the war, the ongoing burden of its memory, and the onslaught of youth who kill time rather than people.

mysterious Captain in a skirt shows up halfway through:

I Am (Not) Van Gogh (2005, David Russo)

Thinking about Little Dizzle again, I looked up Russo and discovered he has a short I haven’t seen. I’m not crazy about the voiceover – Russo explaining the premise of his proposed short film to a skeptical arts festival council – but the visuals are just what I’d hoped for, more of the chaotic/precise stop-motion of Populi and Pan With Us, this time amongst a festival crowd, flitting rapidly behind the animation, out of time like that Orbital video. I loved the rolling clock – also great are a swimming fish on cut-out paper and an animated mouth lip-synched to David’s flustered narration.

78 Tours (1985, Georges Schwizgebel)

Better than the others I’ve seen by Schwizgebel. Nothing but excellent animation and imaginative transitions as everything morphs into everything else for four minutes, to a catchy accordian theme.

S. Katz: “For 78 Tours Schwizgebel drew out ellipses at varying angles to indicate the positioning of the characters in relations to the camera. Some of these plan views are so complex they look like technical drawings for an engineering project.”

Squirtgun Stepprint (1998, Pat O’Neill)

Black and white water-droplet (squirtgun?) patterns that sometimes seem to flow, but usually just flicker and jitter, seeming to double back on themselves (step print?).

Description by somebody who understands: “O’Neill applied film developer to film stock using a squirt gun, then rearranged the results into rhythmic repetitions.”

stills don’t really make sense for films like these:

Coreopsis (1998, Pat O’Neill)

Line-drawing (or scratching) patterns, abstract, though I tried to make them into faces, bodies, fireworks, footballs. Again with the jittery repeated patterns in the motion. Sometimes a focused bunch of overlapping figures on screen, but just as often a sparse batch of small lines in a vast darkness. The lines get thicker and fuzzier towards the end. After the previous short, I realized this would be silent and played some late Ennio Morricone over it, not to brilliant effect, turning the film into a sitcom title sequence.

Details found online: “O’Neill scratched directly on the film, then altered it using an optical printer.”

This was unexpectedly awesome. Between this, Regen and A Valparaiso, it’s time to consider adding Ivens to my list of favorite people. Sort of a Beaches of Joris, but less confessional to camera, shot more like an allegorical feature film starring himself. Always playful and never loaded with dialogue, with the occasional film reference, fable flashback or appearance by a prankster tiger-monkey.

Joris sets out to film the wind, goes to China. He trades a print of one of his films (“my first love story in 1930”) for a wind-creating mask. He sets up an array of microphones in the desert. He gets carried over mountains and enters political negotiations to film at a cultural landmark (the Terracotta Army), then gives up and recreates the landmark using models bought from street vendors.

At one point when he walks up to a massive Buddha statue which watches with a thousand eyes, closeups cutting from an eye to the camera lens, I thought strongly of Antonioni’s short Michelangelo Eye to Eye, also made by a director in his 90’s. But while Antonioni has always seemed associated with monuments, this was just a leisurely sidetrack for Ivens before returning to the matter of the wind, sixty years after he filmed the rain in Regen.

Senses of Cinema:

This is an unusually personal account of his lyrical rather than his political obsessions, largely directed by Marceline Loridan-Ivens, his wife and collaborator since the Vietnam films. … Joris Ivens died in 1989, only days after joining protesters against the Tiananmen Square massacre in Paris.

Mango Grove:

Ivens originally planned to use two crews; Ivens’s crew would film the wind, while Loridan’s crew would film Ivens’s crew filming the wind. Complications arose. Ivens was sick and, in a particularly serious incident, required on-the-scene surgery. … Thus the two crews became one. The Wind became Loridan’s film.

Speaking of Loridan, this also sounds good (from ivens.nl):

With La Petite Prairie aux Bouleaux, Marceline Loridan-Ivens made her feature film debut, at the age of 74. … She had agreed with Joris Ivens after A Tale of The Wind, their last project together in which documentary and fiction are mixed together, that she would make the tale of the fire. For a long time she dared not return to Birkenau, but finally she succeeded where Steven Spielberg and Roberto Benigni failed, she got permission to film on the premises of Birkenau. … It is a film about the pain and illusive character of the memory.


The film is clearly addressed to the West and not to China … and the overall message is to listen to all that China has to say. … Both poetic essay and meditative fiction, A Tale of the Wind has certain affinities with movies as different as Jean Cocteau’s The Testament of Orpheus, Chris Marker’s Sans soleil, and Souleymane Cissé’s Brightness, but it is too proud to owe its vision to any source beyond Ivens’s own far-reaching experience and research. Part of the film’s inspired thesis appears to be that cinema and history, fantasy and documentary, have a lot to teach each other.

UPDATE DEC. 2008: Wow, check out these stills from the new restoration. DVD box set will be out soon – check http://www.ivens.nl/ for updates.




Directed by Ivens, narration written by Chris Marker, assistant camera by Patricio Guzman. Wow! Not to discount Ivens’s achievement, but this plays just like Marker’s travel documentaries. Definitely belongs with that group in some imaginary DVD box set, hopefully with far improved image quality over the awful version I just watched. I want to say this had better camera work than the Marker docs, but in this state, it is hard to tell.


A decade before the Battle of Chile events would begin, Ivens and crew give us an overview of life in this port city built on a series of steep hills. Focus is on things that affect the residents (like the funicular system) and events they participate in (huge annual fireworks show, a kite flying festival), not the popular tourist sites and historic buildings mentioned on wikipedia. Or maybe Ivens just hired a local tour guide and didn’t check wikipedia before going over there. A humorous tone to the commentary (when appropriate), shots of penguins, seals, pelicans and cats (no owls in town), a fire, some jump-cutting in line for the funicular. One very non-Marker-esque bit when a staged (I assume) bar-fight shatters a mirror and leads to a splash of blood, audio dissonance, a kaleidoscopic shot cutting to a burning pirate flag to introduce a history of colonialism in the state… awesome.

buildings that look like ships:

Wikipedia: The opening of the Panama Canal and reduction in ship traffic dealt a staggering blow to Valparaíso, though the city has staged an impressive renaissance in recent years.

Senses of Cinema gives a shout out to Ivens:

… à Valparaiso has regularly been regarded as more of a Marker film than one truly belonging to Ivens. This reading prioritises and favours sound over image – a common mistake even when reading Marker’s wholly “owned” work – and fails to recognise the range and often explicitly lyrical nature of Ivens’ broader filmography.