Sunday, December 31, 2023

The End of 2023

Thanks for checking in on Cinemasparagus throughout 2023. Probably highest readership so far, now that people are coming round to blogs and discs again. Some kind of year. 

Above: (a) a screengrab from the opening seconds of Pedro Costa's As filhas do Fogo [The Daughters of Fire / The Daughters of Fogo]. (b) a screengrab of the opening seconds of Pedro Costa's Venice trailer. Undoubtedly for me the film of the year (I haven't yet seen the Godard), although in the case of the former, to see it on a small MacBook screen is not to have seen it. I suspect only a theater can do justice to this three-frame Gancean spectacle.

The Films I Saw in 2023 That I Hadn't Previously Seen, but Which Expanded My Mind:

(Omitting the Godard, Costa, and Korine works for the moment.)

À l'ombre de la canaille bleue [In the Shadow of the Blue Rascal] [Pierre Clémenti, 1985]

Un américain [An American] [Alain Cavalier, 1958]

L'amore [Love] [Roberto Rossellini, 1948]

L'argent de poche [Pocket Money] [François Truffaut, 1976]

As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty [Jonas Mekas, 2000]

Baxter, Vera Baxter [Marguerite Duras, 1977]

La chambre verte [The Green Room] [François Truffaut, 1978]

The Curse [Nathan Fielder, Benny Safdie, et al, 2023]

Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights... [She Spent So Much Time Under the Sunlamps...] [Philippe Garrel, 1985]

eXistenZ [David Cronenberg, 1999]

Family Plot [Alfred Hitchcock, 1976]

Fåro Dokument [Fåro Document] [Ingmar Bergman, 1970]

La femme bourreau [The Executioner Woman] [Jean-Denis Bonan, 1968]

Filming 'The Trial' [Orson Welles, 1981/2001 posthumous]

Hallelujah the Hills: A Romance [Adolfas Mekas, 1963]

Hare Krishna [Jonas Mekas, 1968]

Holy Motors [Leos Carax, 2012]

India Song [Marguerite Duras, 1975]

Killers of the Flower Moon [Martin Scorsese, 2023]

The Last Picture Show [Peter Bogdanovich, 1971]

Messiah of Evil [Willard Huyck and Gloria Katz, 1973]

My Degeneration [Jon Moritsugu, 1989]

The Mystic [Tod Browning, 1925]

Nana [Jean Renoir, 1926 — the recovered/restored 2h 49m version]

Neige [Snow] [Juliet Berto and Jean-Henri Roger, 1981]

Presents [Michael Snow, 1981]

Riten [The Rite] [Ingmar Bergman, 1969]

Rote Sonne [Red Sun] [Rudolf Thome, 1970]

Shitoyaka na kedamono [Elegant Beast] [Yūzō Kawashima, 1962]

The Smile: "Wall of Eyes" [Paul Thomas Anderson, 2023]

Texasville [Peter Bogdanovich, 1990/1992 — Bogdanovich's cut]

There There [Andrew Bujalski, 2022]

The Touch [Ingmar Bergman, 1971]

Vengeance Is Mine [Michael Roemer, 1984]

The Watermelon Woman [Cheryl Dunye, 1996]


Wednesday, December 27, 2023

There There

Bujalski Ushers in the '20s

It always seems a long while till a new Andrew Bujalski movie drops. In the case of 2022's There There I've been waiting ever since 2018's soft-land breakthrough Support the Girls for the follow-up. Never second-guess what kind of premise or form Bulaski's next project will house. In the case of There There, the filmmaker presents a series of one-on-one conversations, with a segment handing off from one character to the next encounter. 

Bujalski's technique here is radical: filmed entirely during the Covid peak, a single respective actor was employed and present for the shot-reverse-shot; incredible logistical planning alone on the filmmaker's and actors' and DP's (the great Matthias Grunsky) eyeline matches. Nothing keeps a great artist down. Love and affection reside at the core of this remarkable, psychologically and emotionally penetrating film.

Yet There There doesn't push a 'realist' agenda: The decor within the opening segment's bedrooms differ wildly from the Lili Taylor shots to Lenny James'. Other films would in post deal with composites of a profile plan américain tracking shot, where the camera would, say, track from left to right and pass through a close-up 'wall barrier' in the process, with one of the participants in a different part of space, a phone call between the figures. The question Bujalski sets forward is, "Why 'do' artifice for its own sake?" There There represents a modern ne plus ultra of the Kuleshov effect.

The title indicates not only the typical sense of assuagement but also the spatial sense, "there" and "there."


Monday, December 11, 2023


Dog Gone

(from L to R: Alex Warren, me, Jamie Granato, Nick Pinkerton)

Al Warren's follow-up to his underseen but splendid first feature, Sequence: Four Short Stories [2014], Dogleg [2023] (also co-written by the novelist Michael Bible) is the kind of film that is either a breakthrough in and of itself, or the augury of a next work that will signal a widespread breakthrough. (See, as recent examples, Kris Borgli's Sick of Myself to Dream Scenario, or the Safdies' Heaven Knows What to Good Time.)

With the premise: "the family dog of 30-something new parents goes missing the day the wife leaves for travel, and Warren (who also stars) stresses out on a search to find her," the filmmaker devises for his fractured comedy all kinds of set-pieces, of vignettes — some taken from the main character's ( / Warren's) film-in-the-works, some hanging self-contained and absurd. One of Dogleg's final-act culminations takes place on a set where our man the director has a total nervous breakdown, and this seems to snap the dream-state-of-consciousness that characterizes the bulk of the film.

The end sequence at the backyard party (from which the above image is a frame) plays like a dance of relief, the come-down before a return to some sense of 'normalcy.' With its acute examination of the '20s family way (an entire text on which could be written), Dogleg is the present-day thirtysomething; no — wait. Dogleg is the present-day's dirtysomething.


Other writing on Cinemparagus on the films of Al Warren:


Thursday, December 07, 2023


Part A: Hugo Is a Christmas Movie As Well!

A very short Christmas capsule: If any tiny tykes are visiting for the holidays (or live somewhere in your house) — and to shuffle things around from the usual Yuletide of British Sounds (See You at Mao) and Eyes Wide Shut, I sincerely suggest showing the squadlings Scorsese’s one and only movie for kids, Hugo, from 2011. Marty made it for his daughter Francesca when she was 10 or 11 ($130 million quasi-gift, an option based around published YA IP, tax breaks like sugarplums or quasi-grifts). It’s a fantasia draping late-1800s / early-1900s Paris and involves the toy maker and lapsed magician (Ben Kingsley) Georges Méliès’s path to regaining public acclaim and becoming institutionalized as a national treasure: the inventor of cinematic spectacle. Before once more falling back into obscure recognitions and reexperiencing the hand-to-mouth life. Hugo invites comparison with Jeunet's Amélie Poulain, but more intelligent and beautiful, despite its jack-in-the-box nature as a synthetic, autonomic machine that springs forth a baker's-dozenteen of admittedly painstaking (not necessarily painful) CGI shots and decompressed pre-vizzed milieux. A fairytale for the family nest, something more Coppola than Scorsese. Next year at this time you can guide the kids to Breillat’s Bluebeard or FFC's Megalopolis.

               Part B: ...But Serge Bozon Has Taken a Position Too

From the latest issue of SoFilm: a conversation between Serge Bozon and Emmanuel Levaufre. English translation (from the French) kindly performed and supplied December 2023 by Jhon Hernandez.

Filmmaker Serge Bozon returns to questions of cinema which deserve to be seen with more care. And, with the help of his magnifying glass, he always discovers a lesson. 

There is no criticism without critical heritage, so let's start from what we inherit. Twenty years ago, Skorecki wrote in Libération: "Scorsese, you know? Rarely has a filmmaker been so little attuned to cinema. Who is this body that only films for show? It’s as if it's not his job, he tries so hard not to learn it." Thirty years ago, Lourcelles defined Scorsese in his Dictionnaire des films by his “constant and decadent sluggishness,” and his inability “to disengage from the sordidness he depicts to adopt in its place a distance, or any point of view.” We should just repeat their words for Killers of the Flower Moon. But you have to earn your bread so I decided to look for mine with Emmanuel Levaufre. 

In Killers of the Flower Moon, Scorsese hesitates between three films. The first is a great machine of repentance intended to plunge us into the oblivion of American history, just to see to what extent capitalism is not only greedy, but racist. And, not only racist, but genocidal. 

-Do we really need cinema for that? To show the traces of a genocide, yes. But that’s not what Scorsese does: he reconstructs the genocide. Reconstructing a genocide as a grand spectacle, its quite disgusting, isn’t it? To understand what happened, it is better to read a book by a historian. 

-But a big movie with big stars attracts people who would never read that. For many, Scorsese’s project is worthy and important. Don’t forget he is a Catholic. He created his film in a spirit of a collective contemplation. A big film, for him, can be like mass. In fact, before filming, he and his team were blessed with Osage songs and dances. 

-I find this, like the final shot (the shape of the flower that appears when the camera goes up to the sky), ridiculous. That Apple finances (to the tune of $200 million) the first work revealing the intrinsically genocidal dimension of capitalism gives us hope, after Mattel and feminism, of great films to come, including an Amazon production against tax evasion. This will perhaps be the grand return of Oliver Stone. 

-Be serious. You know well that capitalism can encompass everything, including its own denunciation. And the worst part is not there. By becoming millionaires because of oil, are the Osages also, yes or no, capitalists? Who employs the workers on their land, them or the whites? Is it only the women who are under guardianship or men too? How are profits distributed? Nothing is explained, so the denunciation of capitalism is a smokescreen. 

-The second film is more interesting. It’s a macabre fable about an imbecile who sinks into evil without ever understanding anything. His stupidity protects the hero. For example, his stupidity keeps his romantic innocence intact: he loves his wife at the same time as he poisons her. Yes! He kills her little by little like a greedy bastard, and he loves her like a big blind dog, he wants to protect her and kill her at the same time. It’s mysterious and the idea is potentially superb. His stupidity also allows for all the twists and turns: he tells the FBI agents that he is going to testify and in the next scene he tells his uncle’s lawyer that he will not testify. Both convinced him because he really has no point of view, therefore the scenario cannot be established on moral foundations, nor accumulate dramatic certainties. Another superb potential idea: a macabre fable entirely unstable due to the imbecility of the hero. 

-You talk about a macabre fable. Rather, I had the impression of seeing a sinister farce. I also said to myself that Scorsese was building his second film on a comedy method: the slow burn, the stretched gag. There, it’s as if he was doing a 3-hour slow-burn. I kept wondering when the hero was going to explode. I couldn’t take it anymore. I should have suspected that it would be like Jerry Lewis’ slow-burns: the character endures without ever exploding, he implodes. 

-Macabre fable or sinister farce, there is something ironic in this second film which culminates in the final radio show. And the third is the non-ironic mirror of the second: a woman refuses to see in her husband the man who killed her sisters and is slowly killing her. Does she love him to the point of madness, even though she is so intelligent, autonomous and determined? Is she a saint ready to forgive everything? Is she just as stupid as him? Or, are they same thing: love, holiness, and stupidity? Here again, the character is mysterious and the idea potentially superb. 

-I also saw it as a slow-burn. We wait for the explosion, and it never comes. It’s a way of exhausting the character at the same time as the viewer. We can’t help but wonder how such an intelligent woman could be in love with such an idiot. Scorsese plays with our nerves to suddenly end up leaving the scene, without a word. This final separation sequence is beautiful. 

-Yes, but I wonder why there are so few beautiful sequences. 

-Because of the actors. Leonardo DiCaprio is never as bad as in a Scorsese, while he can be great with others. Here he is catastrophic. Like his false jaw blocking his face, the “elephantism” of his performance buries the minimum of dryness necessary for any fable. It’s the same with Lily Gladstone. Scorsese massacres her potential by imposing on her an interminable pain that buries her alive. He achieves the feat of blocking his two main actors! 

-But this, it’s almost a detail. The basic problem is structural: the gravity of the first film constantly overwhelms the other two. For example, the mystical scenes (rites) or political (assembles) scenes with the Osages are bathed in a sanctification preventing any irony. And, how can a farce, even a sinister one, be reconciled with so much solemnity! It’s impossible. And it’s obvious that it’s impossible. It looks like Scorsese didn’t ask himself any of the basic questions about his project. It’s crazy not to think about what we’re doing at this point. He is as stupid as his hero. 

-You are wrong about the basic problem. Even if we could ignore the first film, the other two wouldn’t work. Scorsese gives himself two mysterious characters, but he immediately melts them into an incomprehensible world: he obscures the succession of events (we never know how much time has passed between two sequences), introduces strangers (who are these parents who insult children at the table, and who are these insulted children?), multiplies the opaque characters (why does the brother-in-law turn out to be an enemy of the family corruption when he also seems to be marrying the Osage to benefit from their wealth?), and leaves actions without follow-up (what happens to the investigation carried out by the brother-in-law?). How, in these conditions, can we be surprised by the attitude of the two main characters? Scorsese is not surprised because he has the key [cf. Hugo —CK], and it is the same as usual. Daney said that Scorsese’s question is always: “Why me?” Whether it is Christ, a paramedic, or a boxing champion, the answer is always the same: because you must suffer a lot and comprehend nothing – before your redemption. So why be surprised at what happens to the characters? They are marked by original sin and live in a world in ruin. In this world, it is impossible to be good (Mollie) or become a little better (Ernest) without suffering a lot. 

-Yes, Scorsese’s key is so abstract that it is always ready to be used. Abstraction is his original sin. The first film cannot be combined with the other two, but the three share an abstraction hidden under the deluge of characters, adventures, murders… in his bad characters as in his good ones, Scorsese is never interested in the particular form that their qualities and defects can take, in a particular time and in a particular place. What interests him and even fascinates him is, on the contrary, that these qualities and defects are present everything in the same way at all times – an ahistorical fascination with Evil and Good which makes his cinema so monotonous. 

-Yes, we would order a film about Hamas from him and we would get another endless thing about the Mafia with stars doing fanny face contests. 

-In this sense, he doesn’t care about the particular history of the Osage, so he doesn't care at all.


Wednesday, December 06, 2023

Taylor Swift's Landscape


This is a precursor to a text I wish to write analyzing the following images in each other's presence. Letter to Taylor: Investigation About a Still