Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Books I Read in 2020

These are the books I read in 2020 —


Our Friends from Frolix 8

by Philip K. Dick

written 1968 / published 1970

The Collected Fanzines

by Harmony Korine


Fox 8

by George Saunders


The Beautiful and Damned

by F. Scott Fitzgerald


2 x 50 ans de cinéma français: Phrases

[2 x 50 Years of French Cinema: Phrases]

by Jean-Luc Godard and Anne-Marie Miéville


Marion’s Wish

by Tim Heidecker, Mark Proksch, and Gregg Turkington


Run River

by Joan Didion


The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald


The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice

by William Shakespeare


The Catcher in the Rye

by J. D. Salinger




by Lev Tolstoy


translated by Michael Scammell

The End of Policing

by Alex S. Vitale


The Lion People

by Murry Hope


The Paschats and the Crystal People

by Murry Hope


If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem

by William Faulkner


1: Études de mœurs: Scènes de la vie privée: 6: Un début dans la vie

[1: Studies of Manners: Scenes from Private Life: 6: A Start in Life]

by Honoré de Balzac


translated by Clara Bell

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

by Joan Didion


The Piazza Tales

by Herman Melville


A Maze of Death

by Philip K. Dick

written 1968 / published 1970

The Silence

by Don DeLillo


The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

by Herman Melville


Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative)

by Herman Melville

1891 / posthumously published 1924

The Life of Timon of Athens

by William Shakespeare


Maybe the People Would Be the Times

by Luc Sante



Monday, December 28, 2020

Cléo from 5 to 7

The Summer Solstice

There's no better walkthrough of Cléo from 5 to 7 [Cléo de 5 à 7, 1962] than Varda's own 36-minute 2005 documentary Remembrances et souvenirs [Remembrances and Souvenirs — in French the last word refers both to memories and souvenirs literal and as-memories]. She explains that her intention in beginning the film in color during the tarot-reading scene was to depict a gradual but decisive shift from fiction (the tarot) to reality (the close-ups of Cléo [Corinne Marchand], née Florence, and the medium, shot like the remainder of the film in black-and-white). Bad omens: the drawing of the Hanged Man and Death cards. But I'd take issue with two of Varda's remarks: (1) The film actually varies between: a documentary-like medium-contrast black-and-white (see the scenes of Cléo turning pedestrians' heads on the sidewalk and café, among other passages that recall L'Opéra-Mouffe) — this would  represent 'reality,' such as it is; and: a high-contrast, soft-edged black-and-white that represents 'surreality.' (cf. a pasted-ad for Buñuel's Un chien andalou.) Later in Remembrances et souvenirs she acknowledges as much by relating how DP Jean Rabier placed a green-filter over the lens of the shots in the Parc Montsouris so that the green lawn behind Cléo and Antoine (Antoine Bourseiller, the father of Varda's first child, Rosalie) would adopt a magical, snow-like character. (As Antoine remarks here, though referring to Cléo's test results: "It could be something else."(2) Varda suggests that the medium, portrayed by a non-professional actor (note the abutment with Marchand, a professional performer in this prologue that sets forth the contrasts between fiction and non-fiction), puts a spin on the reading of the Hanged Man and Death cards to soften their implications, when the cards almost certainly (in reality) portend destruction. How then can the cards be read as sheerly a fictional device? My personal interpretation of tarot is that the reading of the cards can speak to a tacit outcome, a Fate (a fait accompli) or taken in whichever sequence one might apply, a conduit for multiple narrative possibilities, a labyrinth of sorts wherein you 'choose your own adventure,' a conduit for multiple narrative outcomes.

Just as Varda explores the interchange or Venn-zone between fiction and non-fiction, destiny and free will, so too does she posit, and admits explicitly in Remembrances et souvenirs to, formulating in Cléo from 5 to 7 the overlap of quantified-time and experienced-time (la durée). Hence the breakdown of minutes in the chapter heading titles for each sequence, and hence: (a) the unreliability (and practical unfeasibility) of matching that precise length of time with the onscreen shots of which the scene consists (a difficulty astonishingly overcome in the sung-films of Jacques Demy with Michel Legrand — who appears in Cléo as Composer Bob, in one of those weird amateur performances); which in turn (b) nevertheless aligns with the sense of duration. Time occasionally moves too fast, other times too slow. Cléo finds herself caught in the middle as she awaits the test results confirming a malignant tumor. With the film effectively ending at 6:30pm, not 7pm, Varda invokes time in all its cruelty, lopping the proceedings off before their 'promised' end. At the same time, all possibilities exist for Cléo and Antoine in their final gaze before a cut to black, with no "FIN" in sight.

(The sense of experienced-time, of 'zonings-out,' is given further expression in the looped close-up of Cléo descending the staircase from the medium's flat [which Tony Zhou and Taylor Ramos perceptively point out in their 2016 FilmStruck video-essay The Music of Michel Legrand belongs to a 1 - 2 - 3 pattern that corresponds to the beat of her footsteps; see aforementioned Demy strenuousness, here exhibited in digest], a multi-jump-cut in Le Dôme [at which café Cléo will later be seen to have dodged a literal bullet] during the "Quelques autres" section, a few frames shaved off the back of Cléo's head in a subsequent scene, a single jump-cut during a taxi ride after dropping off Dorothée [Dorothée Blanck/Blanks] that evokes two of the car sequences in Godard's Breathless, at the ring of the bell as Cléo and Antoine board the bus, and twice in succession as the trolley stops at its destination, La Pitié.)

The internal and the external, objective and subjective. How many times does Cléo stare into a mirror, examining whether or not her beauty has begun to fade at the prospect of dying? (Snow White of the Park Lawns, in "the crystal bier" as Legrand's chanson "Sans toi" ["Without You"] imagines; later echoed by the infant in the incubator carried by the interns outside of the hospital, a scene likened directly to Snow White.) Once again, as in The Fiances of the Pont Mac Donald, inserted in the middle of Cléo from 5 to 7 in its entirety, we look back to Cocteau's Orphée, and the mirrors, and the messenger-angels of death. Cléo's is a vanity born out of the absolute fear; Bergman's clocks tick away — except in Cléo's apartment, where they're all stopped.

(In the background of one shot, the word "DEUIL" can be read on a shopfront — "MOURNING." Later, before Cléo's and Antoine's arrival at La Pitié, "POMPES FUNÈBRES," or "FUNERAL DIRECTOR'S.")

The death theme (or, not a theme so much as a subject) also finds a correlative in the taxi radio broadcast and later the encounter with Antoine which bring into the mix the Algerian conflict. Grim and gallows-ironic that in 2020 "the current toll: 20 dead and 60 wounded" should seem but a pittance of loss.

Post-face: Varda had Pierre-William Glenn shoot in 2005 a video-doc with a scooter-mounted camera tracing Cléo's route through the film. It's called Les trajets réels de Cléo dans Paris filmées 44 ans plus tard par Pierre-William Glenn, Superchéfop', Supermotard [The Real Routes of Cléo in Paris Filmed 44 Years Later by Pierre-William Glenn, SuperDP, Supermotoman]. It lasts around 9 minutes all-in, shown at 2x speed, and a closing title tells us that in natural time on a moped the whole thing would last around 17. The durée, however, is not projected. • 


Thursday, December 17, 2020

The Fiancés of the Pont Mac Donald, or: (Beware of Dark Glasses)

The New Wave at Its Beautiful Infancy — But Not So Beautiful Yet as It Would Be

A deceptively simple 5-minute short built around one primary comic gag, — and yet — Varda makes this all, Les fiancés du Pont Mac Donald, ou (Méfiez-vous des lunettes noires) [The Fiancés of the Pont Mac Donald, or: (Beware of Dark Glasses), 1961], seem effortless, — "But of course," one might say, "it's five minutes," at that moment thereby annulling their opinion. As Varda explains in her short intro video made in the early 2000s, she was sick of Jean-Luc Godard, her friend, hiding what she deemed such beautiful eyes constantly behind the dark sunglasses-schtick. She proposed she would chance to make a 'light' movie to be based around his weirdo predilection, and that this would be a short-film to be inserted in its entirety within her feature-in-progress Cléo de 5 à 7 to some rather splendid effect when she felt the amusement could be used in the pacing. 

Here I focus on the short stand-alone, Les fiancés du Pont Mac Donald, which was subsumed by her Cléo only months from the time of finishing. It's superb. 

This film came about in the same year as Godard's third feature film Une femme est une femme [A Woman Is a Woman], but not precisely exactly in the same Paris-universe para-universe. In fact the Pont Mac Donald (i.e., the MacDonald Bridge; I'm never sure whether to write it as the "pont" or the "Pont"; if this is a problem for me can I still eventually move to France?) was demolished some years after the shooting. The Pont du Mac Donald was no architectural spectacle by Paris standards, but on film it heaved proportion, some silent rigging of a Rivettean flair that was yet to come to be.

Of Une femme est une femme — a multiplication of the gag film par excellence..... What to say here, re: this precious five minutes of celluloid except that: in its course, JLG throws his arms up in exasperation skyward like Harold Lloyd pleading for a touchdown; that: Godardian brilliance reveals its asymptote like they taught us in high-school, that it can only be attained by he-himself, while Varda films the short that allows him to act; that one must beware not just in Hitchcock for those dark glasses (Strangers on a Train, Psycho, etc.); that to read an analysis of "the gag" if one is so inclined, one has to buy this probably out of print Buster Keaton Blu-ray box I produced during my time at Eureka!'s The Masters of Cinema Series that's 180-pages with a dialogue between Dan Sallitt, Jean-Pierre Coursodon, and Brad Stevens; that here Sami Frey is black like death, and there's a relevant dream in The Chase by Arthur Ripley; that one also thinks of Cocteau's Orphée; that the music of the dark glasses is a vamp by Michel Legrand; that the music that comes before Legrand is visual, comes before the action, was named Frankenstein and James Whale. •


Thursday, December 03, 2020

Jean-Luc Godard Is 90

It comes to this: One of your ultimate heroes hits 90, and he's as sharp, ready, and willing-to-power-up as ever. A wild 90. An ideal one.

Heartening to take in the expressions of well-wishes on social media: Christ, I hope this isn't belovedness. No way. Something more like the end of the ECAL interview when the professor-interviewer tells Godard words to the effect of, "We just collectively want you to know that we care very deeply about you, and you mean a great deal to many many people."

If I didn't have my head up my ass these last couple weeks I would have prepared a selection, at least, of frames from JLG films spanning the '50s to the 2010s (nothing yet in 2020+, although he is fabricating two as we speak, one of which may or may not be the film which is, or perhaps is no longer, titled Scénario). But I didn't. It would have been a treasure map for young and old to dive into the universe of Godard.

Anyway he's the last man standing of the New Wave except for Luc Moullet.

Furthermore he's the living embodiment of the art-form known as Cinema. Renoir, Chaplin. He is the Memory-Inventor, he is the Geist.

To quote Serge Daney quoting Fritz Lang: "The exercise has been profitable, monsieur." 

Happy 90th birthday, Jean-Luc Godard.


Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Women's Dream (aka Dreams)

 What's in Your Head, Your Head

The clock is ticking: maybe because of its foregrounding we should ingest that as the First Instance of what will become one of Bergman's great tropes — although it ordains not so much a matter of suspense (as in Hitchcock) as a humming, if you will, of irresolution, and the announcement nonetheless of an eminently logical plotting to come. The film is Kvinnodröm [Women's Dream, 1955], also known as Dreams, which is not to be confused with Akira Kurosawa's picture of forty years later. In contradistinction from the Kurosawa movie, there are no surreal passages here to signal dreamscapes (outside of the Bergman-intrinsic-cinema), but rather wishes, hopings-for — mind you, in Women's Dream they have their airing. Note too that this is the umpteenth Bergman picture that pivots around women and not men: in Bergman's view, women are infinitely more interesting and are the contextual stage-setters for men's condition(s). A cinephile of iconoclastic taste, Bergman opts for Eva Dahlbeck over Joan Crawford, and that is to his individual credit.

Women's Dream starts out like a silent film, with Susanne (Dahlbeck) art-directing the photo-shoot for which Doris (Harriet Andersson) is modeling — something like five minutes of screen-time without any dialogue, only the tinkling of the music, diegetic or non, on the soundtrack, — a representative from the maison hornily sucking in each inch of the proceedings, tapping his ringed fingers on an endtable, an oblivious ass, his bladder-section bulging to the point of burst. Here is the most 'dreamlike' section of the film, something that would fit in Fellini were it not for the dire sweat, just inadmissions of anxiety ("Si, certo.").

Another shoot encroaches, via telephone, in Göteberg now: the models know that Dahlbeck has a lover there; Andersson is a good-time gal and will surely find amusement, despite the fiancé of Stockholm. We now gather these women as parallels in their love-lives, and await the mutual unstringing. It's not long after their arrival in Göteberg (by train again, condensing but promulgating touches of A Lesson in Love) that Dahlbeck attempts to connect via telephone in a konditeri with Henrik (Ulf Palme), wherein all the exclusively women patrons give her perturbed, perhaps maddeningly jealous, glances, as she exits the establishment after what has been an exceedingly chaste exchange.

Susanne fires Doris upon her lateness for the Göteberg shoot; Susanne second-guesses her own anger immediately afterward. Doris has met Otto (Gunnar Björnstrand), a dandy'ish about-towner who telegraphs his wealth by promises of gifts to Doris in the course of her idle window-shopping. I don't have much to remark upon here: the most extraordinary section of the film, in which Otto invites Doris to his house and thus initiates one of The Great House Scenes in cinema: many questions about the origins of an estate arise, but they're outside the ken of the film itself, which is a beautiful circumstance. 

A fantasy crumbles upon the intrusion of Otto's daughter Marianne (Kerstin Hedeby), vulpine.

"Go, I said," are Otto's last words to Doris.

The emotional stakes throughout this sequence make Susanne's rendez-vous with Henrik seem what it is — worn of energy — in this dismal hotel room that reminds one of a movie made ten years later, Godard's not un-Bergman-like Une femme mariée.