Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Rink


The Rink by Charles Chaplin, 1916:

• Charlie-as-waiter jots items on a patron's check: "spigitty", "mellon", "4 biers"

• Master of the physical universe.

• Why do men eat tools, impedimenta of men? 'Not anymore, Jack!'

• Chaplin's physical strength. When he tears the arms off chairs, there's no need to rig them in pre-production.

• A difficult film to follow, the mind skates along.

• You have seen nothing until you've seen Charlie on roller-skates. Anyone who watches Chaplin, from cinephile to 'popular spectator,' understands that he's the equal of Keaton. Aside from the tours-de-force of the two rink sequences, watch Charlie, seated on the bench next to Edna Purviance, use the lip of the moulding on the wall behind his head to make his hat "floop!" up repeatedly in expression of delight, as though it were attached to a string jerked by a grip in the rafters.

• The film's title becomes metaphor that you need not consciously comprehend, but you watch the film and you understand The Rink exactly.




Previous pieces on Chaplin at Cinemasparagus:

Making a Living [Lehrman, 1914] / Kid Auto Races at Venice, Cal. [Lehrman, 1914] / Mabel's Strange Predicament [Normand, 1914] / Between Showers [Lehrman, 1914] / A Film Johnnie [George Nichols, 1914] / Tango Tangles [Sennett, 1914] / His Favorite Pastime [George Nichols, 1914] / Cruel, Cruel Love [George Nichols, 1914] / The Star Boarder [George Nichols, 1914] / Mabel at the Wheel [Normand and Sennett, 1914] / Twenty Minutes of Love [Chaplin and Maddern, 1914] / Caught in a Cabaret [Chaplin and Normand, 1914] / Caught in the Rain [Chaplin, 1914] / A Busy Day [Sennett, 1914] / The Fatal Mallet [Sennett, 1914] / The Knockout [Sennett, 1914] / Mabel's Busy Day [Sennett, 1914] / Mabel's Married Life [Sennett, 1914] / Laughing Gas [Chaplin, 1914] / The Property Man [Chaplin, 1914] / The Face on the Barroom Floor [Chaplin, 1914] / Recreation [Chaplin, 1914] / The Masquerader [Chaplin, 1914] / His New Profession [Chaplin, 1914] / The Rounders [Chaplin and Arbuckle, 1914] / The New Janitor [Chaplin, 1914] / Those Love Pangs [Chaplin, 1914] / Dough and Dynamite [Chaplin, 1914] / Gentlemen of Nerve [Chaplin, 1914] / His Musical Career [Chaplin, 1914] / His Trysting Places [Chaplin, 1914] / Getting Acquainted [Chaplin, 1914] / His Prehistoric Past [Sennett, 1914] / Tillie's Punctured Romance [Sennett, 1914]


Sunday, September 25, 2011

He Who Awaits Dead Men's Shoes Dies Barefoot: A Cinematographic Proverb

Sab-Hannah — Can You Hear Me?

Quem espera por sapatos de defunto morre descalço, um provérbio cinematográfico, Monteiro #2, begins with the remnants of a Nouvelle Vague-style film — the café scene out of Charlotte et Véronique, the girl with Chantal Goya bangs et son Jean-Pierre. No diegetic soundtrack to the footage — silent, except for the artificial layer of a projector-whirr. Rushes. The microscope and the scrutiny. Goya in a cab (or perhaps Cléo at 6pm). At last, JCM's voice-off cuts into l'écran sonore

"In those days we led a hard life. We wanted to make films and, having just returned from London with our poor but suitably deluded minds, we were the classic figure of the enthusiast. The year was 1965, and many an innocence would in the meantime be ravished. This country, gentlemen, is a bottomless pit, an asshole one can't escape from. At any rate, a film, even though formless and sketchy as a stillborn, is a foretaste of our own history, the silent projection of our spectres. That is all. Let us move on without regrets."

Luís Miguel Cintra picks up in 1970 from the rushes-footage of the abandoned film — he and his friend sit at a table in a café, continuation of Masculin-Féminin. A roach falls from the ceiling into Cintra's water-glass. As always, the search for money.

It's as though João César's 1970 film — and its prologue made of rushes of the aborted 1965 feature — exist as records that attest to the fact: "Alas, once the world was young..."

JCM's tree (cf. Vai-e-vem...)

From the finagle of a newly deceased admiral's clothes in a pre-emptive estate sale (exchange), to the counter of a pawn-shop. To lunch (now affordable) with a bird — her purse leering in central position of the tableau. LMC recites from the collected works of Luís de Camões. But quotation, citation — dead men's shoes — this is not enough.

Cintra will sit in a rocking-chair and watch a couple beyond the threshold laze in bed and (of course) read Cahiers du cinéma. His voice-over narration declares: "In the end, crimes are things that keep repeating themselves."

A cinematographic proverb and an ethics. Yet nods to Alphaville and Vivre sa vie follow: with the negative exposure (repeat of a positive version, seconds before) of Cintra running on the platform at the train that pulls away with his love — the negative marks the shift to the event ("Cintra runs") as 'extra' to the woman's consciousness, the new P.O.V. (when Godard went negative in Alphaville, the citation was of Nosferatu by Murnau, the larger idea about the UFA cinema as metonym for the death camps) — trains. — This-all followed by an invocation of Poe's "The Oval Portrait", as re-poeticized by the doomed finale of JLG's Vivre sa vie. From there, a direct 'Godardian device': the hand that scrawls in a notebook as the camera films the act (and this hand inscribes an aphorism attributed to its master: "The cinema is a fraud (Godard), but that fraud might be overcome."

And then Mónica returns, Cintra sits at a café with her and her friend... João César intones a text over the soundtrack that begins like Cocteau (mirrors, two kingdoms) and gradually suggests the damnation in citation (mirror-people). — How to build the artform anew? beyond influences?

Remember too — the mirror-people are this boy, that girl. "You'd better leave..." he tells her twice across movie-time...

Remember too — the mirror is solipsism, and the cinephile mirror, well... inside and outside, how to escape such-kind of... terrible... self-portrait of the damned?


Previous pieces on João César Monteiro at Cinemasparagus:

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen [1969]


Friday, September 23, 2011

Zuckerman Unbound


"He was reminded of a story about Flaubert coming out of his study one day and seeing a cousin of his, a young married woman, tending to her children, and Flaubert saying, ruefully, 'Ils sont dans le vrai.' A working title, Zuckerman thought, and recorded in the white window of the composition book cover the words Dans le Vrai. These composition books Zuckerman used for his notes were bound in the stiff covers of marbled black-and-white design that generations of Americans envision still in bad dreams about lessons unlearned. On the inside of the front cover, facing the blue ruled lines of the first page, was the chart where the student is to enter his class program, period by period, for the school week. Here Zuckerman composed his subtitle, printing in block letters across the rows of rectangles provided for the subject, room, and instructor: 'Or, How I Made a Fiasco of Fame and Fortune in My Spare Time.' "


"Pepler laughed his hearty appreciative laugh. God, he certainly seemed harmless enough. Dark glasses? A tourist indulgence. Going native. 'Whistle something else,' Pepler said. 'Anything. As far back in time as you want.'

" 'I really have to be off.'

" 'Please, Nathan. Just to test me out. To prove to you I'm on the level. That I am Pepler in the flesh!'

"Well, the war was on, the sirens had sounded, and his father, the street's chief air-raid warden, was out of the house in the prescribed sixty seconds. Henry, Nathan, and their mother sat at the rickety bridge table in the basement, playing casino by candlelight. Only a drill, not the real thing, never the real thing in America, but of course, if you were a ten-year-old American you never knew."


" 'Look,' said Zuckerman, you want the whole truth?'

" 'Yes!' Eyes big, eyes bulging, eyes asizzle in a glowing red face. 'Yes! But the truth unbiased, that's what I want! Unbiased by the fact that you only wrote that book because you could! Because of having every break in life there is! While the ones who didn't obviously couldn't! Unbiased by the fact that those hang-ups you wrote about happen to be mine, and that you knew it—that you stole it!'

" 'I did what? Stole what?'

" 'From what my Aunt Lottie told your cousin Essie that she told to your mother that she told to you. About me. About my past.'

"Oh, was it time to go!

"The light was red. Would it never be green again when he needed it? With no further criticism to make or instruction to give, Zuckerman turned to leave.

" 'Newark!' Pepler, behind him, delivered the word straight to the eardrum. 'What do you know about Newark, Mama's Boy! I read that fucking book! To you it's Sunday chop suey downtown at the Chink's! To you it's being Leni-Lenape Indians at school in the play! To you it's Uncle Max in his undershirt, watering the radishes at night! And Nick Etten at first for the Bears! Nick Etten! Moron! Moron! Newark is a nigger with a knife! Newark is a whore with the syph! Newark is junkies shitting in your hallway and everything burned to the ground! Newark is dago vigilantes hunting jigs with tire irons! Newark is bankruptcy! Newark is ashes! Newark is rubble and filth! Own a car in Newark and then you'll find out what Newark's all about! Then you can write ten books about Newark! They slit your throat for your radial tires! They cut off both balls for a Bulova watch! And your dick for the fun of it, if it's white!'

"The light went green. Zuckerman made for the mounted policeman. 'You! Whining about Mama back in Newark and how she wouldn't wipe your ass for you three times a day! Newark is finished, idiot! Newark is barbarian hordes and the Fall of Rome! But what the hell would you know up on the hoity-toity East Side of Manhattan? You fuck up Newark and you steal my life—' "


Previous posts on Philip Roth at Cinemasparagus:

The Ghost Writer [1979]

2006 and 2007 Interviews

See also some of the Chaplin entries.


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Titicut Follies

Titicut Follies by Frederick Wiseman, 1967:

Late cross-posting this here, but two weeks ago my first essay in a series called 300 Million Milliseconds covering every one of Frederick Wiseman's forty films from 1967 to present, and beyond, in chronological order of release, went up at The MUBI Notebook here, on Wiseman's earth-shaking debut, Titicut Follies.

Next in the series is 1968's High School, which will be posted shortly.


Endless Pavement

The Greatest Naruse Silent

Kagirinaki hodô [Endless Pavement] by Mikio Naruse, 1934:

This film, Kagirinaki hodô, is known now, because of the Eclipse set, has been known, as Street Without End; a better translation might be Endless Pavement...

Refrain of the streetlights, of the bulbs of building interiors, in the opening act... A constant, constant music...

Sugiko is hit by a car (third accident of this sort in the first five extant Naruse films) — sickbed — any injury in the Japanese cinema of this period tends to plunge the victim into a coma...

Comedy and melodrama, two pairs of suitors, two pairs of rich men offering Sugiko a leg-up, two mothers who object to their sons' desire to marry the girl, two girls (co-workers and friends), Sugiko and Kesako, are offered jobs from the same studio as movie actresses...

They go to the movies to watch Lubitsch's The Smiling Lieutenant...

The surface is barely scratched here. A great film, one of Naruse's greatest. Too much to say. But less talk for now. Autumn approaches at last...


Previous pieces on Naruse at Cinemasparagus:

Flunky, Work Hard [1931]

No Blood Relation [1932]

Apart from You [1933]

Every-Night Dreams [1933]


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ADIEU AU LANGAGE / Jean-Luc Godard / 5 x 45-Minute Interview This Week

Godard Speaks this Week for Hours
on His New Feature
Adieu au langage, et caetera

From Monday, September 12th, 2011 till Friday, September 16th, 2011, Jean-Luc Godard discusses his forthcoming feature Adieu au langage [Farewell to Language] with Laure Adler on her radio program Hors-Champs on France Culture.

Either listen by streaming on France Culture's site;

— go to the iTunes Store and search for "Hors-Champs" and subscribe for free, for the program as podcast instant-downloads. Monday's episode runs 45 minutes;

— or, best still, to go directly to the iTunes Store podcast download/subscription page, click here.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

Every-Night Dreams

Not Wistful — A Recurring Consternation

Yogoto no yume [Every-Night Dreams] by Mikio Naruse, 1933:

The home is a home-base for the narrative, the recurring center both within this film and from one entry to the next in Naruse's filmography.

Every young filmmaker should put internal vision on hold for one outing and try to make a film in the style of Naruse.

There's a cozy, lovely ambiance to the dwelling of Omitsu (a woman who entertains docked sailors, she's played by Sumiko Kurishima), the room she shares with the couple that babysits her son Fumio (Teruko Kojima) — wood-paneled and papered walls... Mizuhara (Tatsuo Saitô, the stork in Ozu films and others at Shochiku) returns one day to his family so that he might see his son. He convinces Omitsu to reconcile. He takes his boy out to play (in the Shochiku-'backlot'-barrows), during this period of unemployment.

Fumio, out playing one day, gets hit by a car (cf. Flunky, Work Hard, where a train delivered the blow). Following the accident, Mizuhara commits a robbery, ostensibly to send the boy to a good hospital (still unemployed, he tells Omitsu he's borrowing money from old friends), — an alarm is triggered, and a frenzied pursuit occurs through the night streets of the town: canted angles; the effect of limitless motorcycle cops emerging from around building corners...

There's lots of play with mirrors in interior moments: they exist for the characters to confront themselves, to 'reflect' — before evading themselves once again...

We learn that, the morning after Mizuhara hands Omitsu the stolen money and departs, he has drowned himself: a powerful cut to an upside-down shot of water. Omitsu is disgusted by an act she sees as the pinnacle of his cowardice. "Where's Daddy?" — successive tracks-into.

The film ends on a montage of life around the port. In the beginning of Every-Night Dreams, Omitsu comes back from 'away' — Mizuhara comes back from 'away'. Away: the America of No Blood Relation, the countryside village of Apart from You... Mikio Naruse had a way with away...


Previous pieces on Naruse at Cinemasparagus:

Flunky, Work Hard [1931]

No Blood Relation [1932]

Apart from You [1933]


Apart from You

The Story Might Go On Forever, But the Film Ends Where It Does

Kimi to wakarete [Apart from You] by Mikio Naruse, 1933:

Kikue (Mitsuko Yoshikawa) works as a geisha, wears a modest wedding ring; her friend Terugiku (Sumiko Mizukubo) helps her pluck grey hairs. Kikue's son Yoshio (Akio Isono), a schoolboy, might be taken first for her husband, or lover, given the absence of another male in the household — it's 21 minutes into the film before the nature of their relationship is made clear.

Yoshio runs out after an argument with his mother and accompanies Terugiku — much closer to his own age — on a visit to her home village and family's house, at which point the film unloosens topographically, varying heights and vantages. It's revealed that Terugiku's geisha duties support her family — who register disappointment when their daughter asserts that she doesn't want sister Misako (old enough to have had her own baby) to become a geisha.

(The insert-shot and cut to the return-P.O.V., a face with a smile: a hallmark of the Japanese cinema.)

Upon return Yoshio is upbraided by his "gang" for his absence; a train passing in the background provides a grace note of remembrance for his time in the country with Terugiku.

The Shochiku sickbed motif is twice invoked — the second time, with superimposed (memory) montage, recalling the ghost-plane scene of Flunky, Work Hard.

Final grace note: at the end of the film, a cut to the clock in the train station displaying the time as 11:20am. There's no plot reason for the shot — Naruse is only showing us that when the train arrives, it's 11:20am.


Previous pieces on Naruse at Cinemasparagus:

Flunky, Work Hard [1931]

No Blood Relation [1932]


Thursday, September 08, 2011

I Shot Jesse James

"It Was Legal." "It Was Murder."

Samuel "Flashback" Fuller, reliving the nightmare, the trauma (cf. Shock Corridor, The Naked Kiss, The Big Red One, etc.): Bob Ford (John Ireland) can't bring himself to pull the trigger in the re-enactment of Jesse's murder (Jesse played by Reed Hadley), and he's being paid to do so, before an audience.

A film about what happens when action passes into mythology...

After Bob Ford retreats from the stage, in quick succession he
— is serenaded by an unwitting troubadour with the ballad of "the coward Robert Ford"
— is shot at by a young boy who, once Ford returns fire, relents and claims he only wanted to be the one who killed the most notorious gunman in the land
— spins to take in a prospect-messenger galloping through the street, firing his revolver skyward (Ford's shot nerves recoil once more) and announcing to the townsfolk: "Silver! Silver!", thus completing the nightmarish tripartite-sequence with an echo of Judas's betrayal.

After he strikes it silver-rich, to set the scene for a proposal of marriage to Cynthy (Barbara Britton), a trouper of modest talent, Bob Ford takes rooms done up as a floral hell — a camp Gethsemane.

I Shot Jesse James by Samuel Fuller, 1949:

Much has been made of the homoeroticism of the washtub scene, but a gay lust in-and-of-itself never motivates the characters of James and Ford, nor does such a subtext drive any concrete aspect of the story. What the tub sequence accomplishes is to make The Homoerotic Suggestion a symbol for the mutually admiring, near-brotherly love shared between the two men (oblivious in part to the existence of Jesse's actual kin, the intermittent Frank, portrayed by Tom Tyler); The Homoerotic Suggestion serves too to encapsulate crudely (of course crudely: a Sam Fuller film) the resentment felt by Bob Ford in what he determines to be an unequal power-relationship with the leader of the gang.

I Shot Jesse James by Samuel Fuller, 1949:

Near the end, two pivots:

(1) Frank James walking backward out of the saloon with his shotgun pointed at Ford the entire time.

(2) Kelly (the wonderful Preston Foster) refusing at first to turn to stymie Ford in the showdown, and complete the motif: Ford now cannot shoot a man with his back turned. At the fatal moment, Kelly blows Ford away and the latter admits his regret over killing, betraying, a man he loved.

All this business with backs, of course — from Ford's gaze upon Jesse in the washtub, to the moment of the boss's assassination — completes the "symbolic suggestion" of the film, and represents, within Ford's mind, guilt over having committed, metaphorically, anal rape.

And so begins this oeuvre of fuller symbology: with a flash back.

I Shot Jesse James by Samuel Fuller, 1949:


"Vanessa" by Grimes

From the Darkbloom EP. Directed by and starring Grimes (Claire Boucher). She released her first two albums in 2010, Geidi Primes and Halfaxa, each written/composed/produced, like the Darkbloom tracks, by Boucher. Both masterpieces. Listen to them now. Most exciting new records in forever. New one coming out soon.

A genuine genius.

Grimes - Vanessa (Arbutus/Hippos and Tanks 2011) from Grimes69 on Vimeo.


Monday, September 05, 2011

The Ghost Writer


"Throughout breakfast, my father, my mother, the judge and Mrs. Wapter were never out of my thoughts. I'd gone the whole night without sleep, and now I couldn't think straight about them or myself, or about Amy, as she was called. I kept seeing myself coming back to New Jersey and saying to my family, 'I met a marvelous young woman while I was up in New England. I love her and she loves me. We are going to be married.' 'Married? But so fast? Nathan, is she Jewish?' 'Yes, she is.' 'But who is she?' 'Anne Frank.' "


" 'Amy, you want to split an egg with me?'

"His invitation for her to speak gave me my first opportunity to turn her way without embarrassment. It was so. It could be. The same look of unarmored and unimpaired intelligence, the same musing look of serene anticipation... The forehead wasn't Shakespeare's—it was hers.

"She was smiling, as though she too were in the best of spirits and his refusal to kiss her breasts the night before had never happened. 'Couldn't do it,' she said to him.

" 'Not even half?' asked Lonoff.

" 'Not even a sixteenth.'

"This is my Aunt Tessie, this is Frieda and Dave, this is Birdie, this is Murray... as you see, we are an enormous family. This is my wife, everyone. She is all I have ever wanted. If you doubt me, just look at her smile, listen to her laugh. Remember the shadowed eyes innocently uplifted in the clever little face? Remember the dark hair clipped back with a barrette? Well, this is she.... Anne, says my father—the Anne? Oh, how I have misunderstood my son. How mistaken we have been!

" 'Scramble an egg, Hope,' said Lonoff. 'I'll eat half if you'll eat half.'

" 'You can eat the whole thing,' she replied. 'Just start taking your walks again.'

"He looked at me, imploringly. 'Nathan, eat half.'

" 'No, no,' said his wife and, turning to the stove, announced triumphantly, 'You'll eat the whole egg!' "


" 'Fondling those papers of yours! Oh, she'll see! I got fondled more by strangers on the rush-hour subway during two months in 1935 than I have up here in the last twenty years! Take off your coat, Amy—you're staying. The classroom daydream has come true! You get the creative writer—and I get to go!'

" 'She's not staying,' Lonoff said, softly again. 'You're staying.'

" 'Not for thirty-five more years of this!'

" 'Oh, Hopie.' He put a hand out to her face, where the tears were still falling.

" 'I'm going to Boston! I'm going to Europe! It's too late to touch me now! I'm taking a trip around the world and never coming back! And you,' she said, looking down at Amy in her chair, 'you won't go anywhere. You won't see anything. If you even go out to dinner, if once in six months you get him to accept an invitation to somebody's home, then it'll be even worse—then for the hour before you go your life will be misery from his kvetching about what it's going to be like when those people start in with their ideas. If you dare to change the pepper mill, he'll ask what's the matter, what was wrong with the old one? It takes three months for him just to get used to a new brand of soap. Change the soap and he goes around the house sniffing, as though something dead is on the bathroom sink instead of just a bar of Palmolive. Nothing can be touched, nothing can be changed, everybody must be quiet, the children must shut up, their friends must stay away until four— There is his religion of art, my young successor: rejecting life! Not living is what he makes his beautiful fiction out of! And you will now be the person he is not living with!' "


Saturday, September 03, 2011

No Blood Relation


Nasanu-naka [No Blood Relation] by Mikio Naruse, 1932:

No Blood Relation resembles 'the experimental film,' here Naruse displays the same audacious exuberance of Jean Epstein ten years earlier... Cœur fidèle meets Naniwa Elegy meets Kubrick's The Killing... The camera dollies in, tracks like a missile in trajectory; two-fold result: spatial disorientation, and a sense of time's elasticity, of consciousness (being, experiencing, in-the-moment) as something set to beats.

The first worm's-eye shot — a barren tree in relief against a blanket of clouds rippling in the sky — poeticizes an emotion; this will come to be known as the style of Ozu.

A great soulfulness belongs to Shigeko (Hisako Kojima); she brings to mind Takamine the child-actress.

The importance of clocks: 4:55, 6:30... It takes the wife an hour and a half to get home from her department store job.

Panning insert-shots, camera movements in rhyme, the camera whirling so furiously it's as though no 'center' of the story can take hold, as though the film world and plot are only abstracted surfaces for the slide of the lens... It's perhaps the closest Naruse gets to F. J. Ossang... And the camera outrageously continues hurtling, practically slaps the faces of its subjects — really, the No Blood Relation camera moves beyond all proportion...

Strange arrangement of relationships — the man who was left by the mother of his child (oh, she went off to a career in Hollywood, a neither-here-nor-there Anna May Wong, probably, or something), who remarries another woman (Masako) — when he's sent to prison, Masako is courted by a tall-dark-handsome old-friend now back from Manchuria who acts out of love to attempt reacquiring the child kidnapped — assisted by the mother-in-law/grandmother, who leaves the original household to take up with the kidnappers. It turns out, the emotional center is Shigeko, the child...

The brilliant opening scene with the con dovetails into the wider and completely unbelievable premise, as though Naruse and screenwriter Noda set out to invent new domestic possibilities specifically, and to test a method of mad, rhyming repetitions which — albeit less anchored in reality — we won't see again till Pialat's Nous ne vieillirons pas ensemble.

Film ends with a farewell to culprits. On one hand suggests that all parties have moved on, grown from their experience — on the other, foments an undertone of good riddance and relief, as the gangsters' ship sets sail for... America.


Previous pieces on Naruse at Cinemasparagus:

Flunky, Work Hard [1931]