Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Because he's evil. And he lies.

The antecedent of which will be fairly obvious, a few lines down — and which is obviously not meant to pertain to JLG. C'est-à-dire: I thought I'd ring in my birthday with a post about Godard (a figure little-discussed 'round these parts), with good reason, too: Andy Rector posted the following as a comment last night to my 12.31.08 entry here, and I didn't want to let it fall between the Blogspot cracks...

(But first, a re-post of the footage/scene referred to below, which took place during the shoot of Détective [Detective, 1985] ) —

Andy writes:

I'm not sure who Godard is talking to, whether it's Pierre Novion or Bruno Nuytten. Richard Brody says it's Nuytten but I can't trust a word in that book at face value without checking elsewhere. In fact, to show how wildly Brody distorts his material, here's what Brody "deduces" from the below dialogue (tirade, whatever you'd like to call it) — his "deduction" more exaggerated than any Godard has ever made in his public life (even Godard's total rejection of, for example, Resnais in 1970, had a logic at the time) — the point is BRODY IS SAYING THESE THINGS, NOT GODARD, AND THIS IS SYMPTOMATIC OF BRODY'S BOOK : "Godard had doubted whether Nuytten had read the script and understood the point of (Johnny) Hallyday's text, then went so far as to challenge whether Nuytten knew that the camera they were using, the Arriflex, had been invented in Germany to film German soldiers on the battlefield during the Second World War. In his wrathful exaggerations, Godard was in effect calling Nuytten's preference for an extra lightbulb an unwitting complicity in genocide."'

Now read what Godard said, speaking to the cinematographer (I've pulled this from a subtitled version I have) —

GODARD: You forget the cinema is people who invest their money, invest their ideas, their heart. Actors invest their body and sometimes their heart. I invest my heart. One has rarely seen technicians invest in the cinema. [Excuse me.] One has rarely seen technicians invent equipment. It wasn't a sound engineer who invented the Nagra. You didn't invent the Arriflex — you don't even know who invented it. Hitler invented the Arriflex, so battles could be filmed. That's why you have a light camera.


CINEMATOGRAPHER: This is not what they invented...

GODARD: NO, but the Arriflex was developed from it...

CINEMATOGRAPHER: I know the story...

GODARD: It was the military...

CINEMATOGRAPHER: I know the story...

GODARD: I regret that a cameraman or a camera operator never invented, the way a singer invents a song. There are many things like that. So when one is insulted, one knows what risks he's taking on the film; he doesn't have to take risks but he doesn't have to sulk either! There are enough unemployed in France.

CINEMATOGRAPHER: It's now been 5 weeks that we have a strange relationship with you...

GODARD: And I have a strange relationship with you. And you have a curious relationship with the sun.


Thus ends Andy's comment, although I've held back on Godard's next sentence, j'ai ralenti les phrases (quelle vitesse chez Godard), to stagger the savor:

GODARD: I'd rather spend an hour discussing an intonation.

In close: Godard's trailer for Détective — possibly the greatest bande-annonce of all time. (Although certainly a number of other Godard trailers, not to mention Kubrick's trailer for The Shining, collectively approach second-place.)


Monday, January 19, 2009

Song o' My Heart [Music/Effects Long-Form Version]

Notes on the Borzage Film That Sings "Relegation"

Master-shots announce the synch-sound as imminent, then bodies in full form erupt with a vivid aural force, harmonized against the blank and steady walls like the backdrops of Dreyer.

Song o' My Heart [Music/Effects Long-Form Version] by Frank Borzage, 1930:

Ordet [The Word] by Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1955:

How is this film different from a John Ford? Different quantities of sensuousness around the presence of their respective masters. (Greater abundance in Ford.) (Also in Ford: all inflections of human experience.)

This is a film, more or less, about the young Terence Davies clenching his pink fists in tears, listening to The Beatles, crabbing bedsat with woe and complaint and no small measure of spite.

Song o' My Heart [Music/Effects Long-Form Version] by Frank Borzage, 1930:

Borzage's neglected film inspires in me both affection and contempt, more sweetly than are feelings of jealousy and supersession engendered, vying, in some by "She's Leaving Home". Within Borzage's oeuvre, it is the film perhaps closest to Ozu's Kagamijishi [1936]. A — yes — commercially conceived half-hour of Irish sentimental ballads doesn't just punctuate the last third but indeed effectively obliterates the entire film. This is the purity of cinema that is also the anti-cinema, much more antagonistically wrought, if not conceived, than whatever we'll witness in Warhol's Eating Too Fast [1966] or Rivette's Secret défense [Top Secret, 1998]. John McCormack, a boiled tenor-Elvis seemingly golem'd out of a footnote on James Clarence Mangan, might have seen his career in cinema go far, had the penultimate vestiges of an Edwardian vogue not already been eradicated by the Jazz Age in the years immediately prior. Indeed, and I must admit, this film — in essence an ur-"art" toss-off for Borzage, and one engineered precisely as a "vehicle" for McCormack — makes me "want to find an available woman"*, even as the tears course generally over sybarite knuckles. Every film's got something to it about the origins of America.

Kagamijishi by Yasujirô Ozu, 1936:

Song o' My Heart [Music/Effects Long-Form Version] by Frank Borzage, 1930:



" "Tuesday, the 9th. [Mr. Ainsworth's MS.] One P.M. We are in full view of the low coast of South Carolina. The great problem is accomplished. We have crossed the Atlantic — fairly and easily crossed it in a balloon! God be praised! Who shall say that any thing is impossible hereafter?"


[...] What magnificent events may ensue, it would be useless now to think of determining."

—from "The Balloon-Hoax" [1844] by Edgar Allan Poe.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

They Had to See Paris

Notes on Borzage's First Sound Film, Which Was Very Much an "Event-Picture"

This man Will Rogers, with the perfect hairline and hair-volume, shakes his finger and controls the scene, — he is a coach without a headset.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:

The filmmakers in this period (Year One of synch-sound, of 'talking') invent the conversation-initiated shot/reverse-shot grammar because they don't know what else to do. But the bulk of the master-shots are similar to those of Lubtisch from this period — they're 'the shooting of men'. A tension between this 'set' (in the sense of 'group', not 'shooting location'), and another set (and thus an overarching dialectic of dialectics): shots that bear a concerted attention to the rigorous geometries of space (and social order) lie within the vicinity of shots that evince the hayseed-ethos's compulsion toward deflation and the loosely (and sharply) improvisatory.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:

Like sidereal cosmos-dust dispersed by meteorite: insane gay-subplot with barmy Russian aristo.

The melodramatics are topsy-turv'd to comedics in the moment when the Marquis can no longer court(-to-marriage) or be persuaded to court on her own terms the Oklahoman's dear daughter Opal, as a result of Pike's/Rogers's monikering of the bearded Frenchman "Plugnickel". The Frenchman's entrance and declaration of insult are pure Feuillade.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:

Resplendent documentary shots pervade the fiction/action — no, just action — like the pillow-takes of Ozu a few years later.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:

There's no need for montage when the words are strong enough to put across the cuts. Borzage holds it in medium-shot, and when he's over goes back to the master. Everything's stoned-still.

Pike: Oh, Ross, — a thing like this might be all right with a few people over here in Paris, and it might be tolerated in some places in America, but I — oh I don't know, I — it ain't hardly what you and I was raised up to...

Ross: Why that's a lot of puritanism. My mind is made up! I've got my own life to live and I'm gonna live it my own way!

Pike abandons women. Gumjawed long-shot sincerity. Hand-clasped hysterics. Sinister cheek-raise, gulping shoe-stare introspection. "A WOMAN. Oh Ross — tell me THAT's not TRUE." The family clings to casual adultery confessions. A sitcom filmed in 1929. The whole family doesn't even come together until 1h 18m into the thing. The last scene, 'virtuosic' posing as 'virtuous', is one of Borzage's most terrifying climaxes.

They Had to See Paris by Frank Borzage, 1929:



Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Street Angel


The core of the mystery: How did Frank Borzage's 1928 Street Angel go not just from 1.33:1/1.37:1, to (the Movietone-soundtrack-accommodating) 1.20:1 — but from an image track with normal proportions, to an image track with proportions nearer to a gravitational singularity? That is, to proportions of a markedly different nature than those found in the other 1.20:1 Borzage features of the same period (and in the same box set). In other words: why's it squished?

A 1928-era printing anomaly? Perhaps some odd one-off William Fox-sanctioned experiment with an abandoned technical process? Or a print-duping anomaly? — maybe having to do with something odd having occurred around a duped source-print used for the transfer? — maybe — and this is what I suspect — the extant source-print having contained a blow-up of the 1.20:1 image, onto a 1.37:1 frame, cropping off some of the top or bottom (or both top and bottom — but judging by these frames, I suspect "the bottom") of the frame edge — which print was then "reinstated to its original 1.20:1 aspect ratio" during the creation of a new print, or solely at the DVD-authoring level, in a very nonsensical way indeed — that is, by "squishing" the (cropped, missing a piece of the top/or-more-likely-the-bottom of the original 1.20 frame) 1.37 image back into 1.20 — never mind that the image would now be subjected to a kind of funhouse/inverse-Wii-Fit grotesquerie of proportions, and (ostensibly) missing a sliver from the top or bottom of the frame...

Alternating, below: an image taken from the new Street Angel DVD included as part of the Murnau, Borzage and Fox box set, presented in the 1.20:1 ratio; followed by the same image, modified by me in Photoshop, with its proportions reinstated to fill out the 1.33:1 frame.


Friday, January 02, 2009


A Time to Love and a Time to Die by Douglas Sirk, 1958:

"[...] Vivian and Patricia, do you have any ideas about why the world of cinephilia is so predominantly male? I do know a lot of women who are movie-lovers, but of course you’re right. I have a feeling it has something to do with the greater culture. When I was a kid, there wasn’t really anyone else my age who I could talk to about Howard Hawks or George Cukor. When I was in my 20s, I knew plenty of people who liked movies, but there was a difference: as a close friend of mine put it, you’re seeing life and death up there on the screen and your loved one is saying “Wasn’t that nice” and then thinking about where to go for dinner. So there was always a feeling of solitude and privacy that went hand in hand with loving cinema. I’m reminded of Jim Jarmusch’s anecdote, quoted by Jonathan Rosenbaum, about going to Italy and being able to talk to the bartenders and waiters about Dante. Whereas “if you walk into a bar and quote poetry here, they stick a gun up your ass.” Denigration of the arts in general is still quite acceptable here. How much this has to do with the differences between men and women and their respective approaches to cinephilia, I don’t know — let’s just say that while it’s not quite as bad as it was when I was younger, it’s still true that certain things are expected of men, and a familiarity with the arts is not among them. Opportunities to talk about movies in the most frivolous way are numerous, while opportunities to have in-depth exchanges about them are few and far between. In my experience, men flock to such opportunities when they arise. Women do a bit less.

"This is my own experience, and I’m sure that other people have different takes on the matter. [...]"

—Kent Jones, in the comments over at Dave Kehr's place.

"At the cinema, the screen would light up and we'd shiver. But more often we'd be disappointed, Madeleine and me. The images seemed old and flickery. Marilyn Monroe had aged terribly. We were sad. This wasn't the film we had imagined, the perfect film each of us had carried within us, that film we would like to have made or, perhaps, even to have lived."