Monday, April 26, 2021

Lions Love... and Lies / Lions Love

Spaced Children

This entry on Agnès Varda's 1969 feature will be made up of a numbered succession of notes and observations. Prelude: What's with the title: a plural noun as subject and an intransitive verb... an ellipsis... a  conjunction with a noun. The restoration-info card and other period ephemera insist on giving Lions Love... and Lies as the name of the film, though the onscreen title stands resolute in its repetition: Lions Love. One of the hippies intones the full title over a card onscreen that reads just Lions Love ten-and-a-half-minutes in. Take it as part of the jumble that is the film itself. — Or, as Varda deconstructs the title in her 2014 video introduction: Lions (the three leads have sprouted leonine manes), love (the three leads give themselves to one another freely), lies (television).


(1) Applause for the arrival of Viva and her stoolies at the play (staged by Rip Torn). It's the height of the late-'60s vogue for all that '20s fluff à la Harlow or Paper Moon. Truly their entrance seems one with the performance on-stage.

(2) Viva shares her rented house with two preening kooks, who utter as though under a spell of inspiration the glib monstrosities of dim American Hippiestein thought ("I hate everything about entertainment, including living.") and as though cameras are recording their sensational devil-may-fuck faux-brilliance for posterity — precisely what's going on before Varda's device, revealed a few times later indeed to be capturing the proceedings as faux-documentary. Here's the first thing to surmount as an intelligent viewer of the film: that Viva is a natural presence and legitimate personality on camera, but the other two (Jim Rado and Jerry Ragni) are off on narcissism trips that, accordingly, get them repeatedly laid. (In 2021 they're either dead or, I'd wager, come off a little less than effulgent.)

(3) The arrival of Shirley Clarke, the heroine of the film. Her lightly fed-up New York attitude goes over well in Los Angeles, where she's treated like something of a novel new gift from the sun (or at least from Max Raab, who's flown her out to see what a New York filmmaker can put together on the subject of Southern California, LA specifically). ("It's funny, I don't like the sun in New York, but I like it here," she says on the car-ride back from LAX, and I'll second that emotion. Her pal Carlos on Hollywood: "It looks like you're coming into a city, but the city's never there.") The hotel rooms are booked because of the Eugene McCarthy / Robert Kennedy primary debates, so Shirley opts to crash at Viva's — she's seen her in Warhol's films and loves her. "Which comes first, the movie or reality?" 

(4) The difference nowadays is that Varda's film, while it once could have been seen as a breaking away from the tenets of traditional movie-core, must now look like the pregenitor of subsequent breakaways from a classicism or '60s post-classicism, come to new form by way of an Olivier Assayas or a Nicolas Klotz. Shirley smiles at Jerry's verbal-horseshit, explaining, "It's very simple, I just use real people." What would this movie be without Jerry and Jim Jag-Off? Something else I quite concede, baby. I wish it were made in the future these poltroons couldn't predict, where their smartphone messages would blow them out of the frame to require tending to. 

(5) June 3rd Monday 1968. Insufferable sequence of the Triangle in bed dialing phones and playing 'a game' where they pretend they're ordering food, while the editing moves the playback between normal speed and speeded-up. "Show me money." "Call the Bank of America!" This is the hippie subversive folderol that really gets Jerry's rocks off. "Mr. Rosenbaum was so rude to me I just couldn't barely believe it!" Trust us, honey, Mr. Rosenbaum don't know where it is...

(6) Shirley gets up in the morning sporting a white sportcoat, skirt, and hat-with-chinstrap, all set to meet her producer, and Viva warns that, "If you're nervous, don't drink so much coffee..." "You're right," responds Shirley. The immediate joke is that Shirley might shit all over her wild white wardrobe, but previously the other two assholes au jus Jerry and Jim in their begging for nude coffee fixes had no regard for wet farts in the bed.

(7) The most thrilling parts of the film take place in Max Raab's office as Shirley's people negotiate with the producer-exhibitor on the terms of her film in the way of final-cut privileges and eventual release. Haggling over decimal points and helping to "amortize [his] studio""Let's not be silly over a point..." Jesus Christ. "This girl is used to making a final cut... When people give her the money she HONORS that obligation... And that's one of the reasons she's a talented person, that's one of the reasons her name on a marquee MEANS something. We're trying to make a breakthrough here, she NEEDS final cut..." Max Raab, sincerely curious: "Do you think it means that much to her?" Well Max, the film won't be for you. May not be for most. What comes first, the movie or reality? Whom are we talking about — Shirley or Agnès?

(8) "If you were as good an actor as Bobby Kennedy you'd be where Bobby Kennedy is, up on the podium." "Who wants to be up there, you could get killed." "Influencing the masses." God bless you. They knock some suddenly-appeared toddlers out with pills then Varda cuts to an alcove or oubliette ivy-strewn where Jim is pretending he's St. Augustine and Jerry is St. John of the Cross — hippie trends; no-one gives a shit about Biblical prophet history post-'69 — with some nymphs thrown in the aquarium windowed behind their bench; it's only a pastiche of Pasolini and Buñuel in the place of a scene from Hair. [NOTE: I had no idea before writing this, then watching Agnès's 2014 introduction, that Ragni was in fact responsible for what is... Hair.]

(9) A cut back to "Max" and his negotiators, pleading with him that 'this' is the New Cinema. God help us. Let's see what Max has to say: "Artistic control is good and fine — up to a point. She can make her film, she can deliver it to us, but then it has to be previewed." Max is a man who likes to say 'NO,' as exhibited by the phone-call he jumps on in the middle of his guest's imploration re: Shirley-would-be-Agnès. The latter negotiator finally gets in edgewise: "Sometimes you make a little investment for the next step.""The final say on how this film goes out to the public has to remain in this company and that's it." Shirley goes home.

(10) Or rather she takes some pills on Viva's bed. "It's a fake bird-of-paradise except it looks prettier." Varda is obsessed with the naked physiques of her three principals — why? The wife of Jacques Demy can't get enough of Viva's bony flanks and teepee breasts, Jim's pre-cancerous blandness, and Jerry's dipshit's pectorals, follicles, overall Vitruvian sculpting. ("This is the man to be.") Thankfully, an intertitle spells the word: "EXAGERATE" [sic]. Shirley: "I'm sorry Agnès .... I certainly wouldn't kill myself about not being able to make any goddamn movie." Well this is the suicide point in the film. Varda swaps the blouse with Clarke, gets in front of the camera, swallows the pills with the Dr. Pepper, and states matter-of-factly: "I'm trying to make a movie." At last the movie is liberated. The ultimate phrase. Actors' whims and misgivings be damned. I'M TRYING TO MAKE A MOVIE...

(11) "Leave the picture; kill the sound." It was all true. Reaction in the aftermath of carnage. Bobby was shot, then on the phone: Andy Warhol was just shot. Shirley's in bed OD'd on 'red candy.' Viva: "I can't staaaaaaaand it. Shirley, Kennedy, Andy... everybody's dyyyyyying..." One of the greatest line utterances in the semi-modern cinema. 

(12) Viva again: "The national pastime is televised death." The funeral "cortège" arrives...

(13) Eddie Constantine shows up at Viva's door. It's the only time I've ever heard him speak English. The two kooks urge him to stay, after he's mid-bolt, having discovered their presence. What a scene, what with two spinal-tapped jerks... 

(14) Shirley comes back from the hospital. Viva assembles a Theda Bara puzzle. Shirley says, in that '60s way that Didion might document, "Oh that really is too funny..." — Plain folks doing their thing. A montage of the stars. "What else is Hollywood but Babylon and sunshine?" 

The space children future!

But: "I would just like to breathe for one minute." Thus comes the greatest liberative allowance of Varda's camera. Propriety dissuades the image. And: The End.


Other writing on Agnès Varda at Cinemasparagus:

La Pointe-Courte [1955]

Ô saisons ô châteaux [O Seasons, O Châteaux, 1957]

L'Opéra-Mouffe, carnet de notes filmées rue Mouffetard par une femme enceinte en 1958 [The Opéra-Mouffe: Diary Filmed on the rue Mouffetard in Paris by a Pregnant Woman in 1958, 1958]

Du côté de la Côte [Around the Côte, 1958]

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]

Cléo de 5 à 7 [Cléo from 5 to 7, 1962]

Le bonheur [Happiness, 1964]

Elsa la Rose [Elsa the Rose, 1966]

Les créatures [The Creatures, 1966]

Uncle Yanco [1967]

Black Panthers [1968]

Lions Love... and Lies / Lions Love [1969]


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