Friday, August 7, 2020

CLIFFORD

I'm quite fond of this daring, adventurous little picture, and it always makes me laugh when I'm flipping TV channels and there it is - Martin Short


My enjoyment of Clifford is genuine. It's considered a terrible movie by most people so it's easy to assume I'm being ironic when I preach my love for it. Anyone who knows me somewhat well or follows me on various forms of social media knows that I prop up and defend Clifford on a regular basis which might come off as silly or disingenuous. But let me be clear that there’s no ironic “it’s so bad it’s good“ bullshit fetishism over here (liking things ironically is destroying fandom & certain lanes of criticism because you can no longer tell if people genuinely like things anymore).
Clifford doesn’t get the respect I believe it deserves so I only feel it’s right to try and even the playing field by being somewhat overly protective of it...


What we have here is a suitable case for deep cinematic analysis. I'd love to hear a symposium of veteran producers, marketing guys and exhibitors discuss this film. It's not bad in any usual way. It's bad in a new way all its own. There is something extraterrestrial about it, as if it's based on the sense of humor of an alien race with a completely different relationship to the physical universe. The movie is so odd, it's almost worth seeing just because we'll never see anything like it again. I hope. - Roger Ebert


Roger Ebert (R.I.P.) wasn't completely wrong. He may not have realized it when he shared his thoughts on Clifford, but there’s an ultimate compliment embedded within his venomous review. He’s essentially saying there’s nothing like Clifford and I’m inclined to agree. That means something when a legendary critic/cinephile says that a film is pretty much unlike anything he‘s ever seen before (think about how many movies Roger Ebert had seen over the years). At the time of Clifford’s release these words didn’t help. Negative reviews have certainly helped a movie’s popularity but that wasn’t the case here. Clifford was a bomb. But almost three decades later you’re sitting in front of your laptop (or phone screen) reading the analysis that he was speaking of. 

It makes sense that Clifford left most folks scratching their heads since it was essentially birthed from the minds of the Second City comedy troupe. Their brand of humor doesn’t always connect with everyone. Martin Short wasn’t the only sketch comedy/Second City alum behind this misunderstood gem. Clifford director Paul Flaherty (brother of Joe Flaherty) wrote for SCTV, The Tracey Ullman show and has an extensive history of working with Canadian comedy legends like Short (The Martin Short Show, Jiminy Glick, etc) & Second City legend John Candy (Who’s Harry Crumb). These are the minds we’re dealing with when it comes to the humor in Clifford.

One thing that made SCTV so unique is that they never tried to really compete against stuff like Saturday Night LIve. If SNL was doing a skit impersonating a famous recognizable celebrity, SCTV would pay homage to someone like Ingmar Bergman instead...



Some Second City skits weren’t even funny. They were just sometimes brilliant & oddly unique. Like I already said - Second City's humor doesn’t always click with everyone. Martin & Orloff , Neighbors (1981) & Brain Candy are just a few examples of Second City-based movies that bombed or fell flat upon their initial releases.
Now...Second City certainly has a nice share of successful brands (the Christopher Guest movies, Schitt’s Creek, etc). I don’t want to downplay their impact on the comedy world. 
Unfortunately Clifford doesn’t get a place in the pantheon of successful sketch/improv comedy-based movies.

I’m cringing at the term I’m about to use but I am a fan of the style of comedy that some have labeled as “anti-comedy” or “alt-humor”. Stuff like Andy Kaufman, Tom Green, Tim & Eric, Eric Andre, etc. There are a million ways to define anti-comedy or alt-humor. If we tried to get to the root of the definition we’d never actually get to the movie of discussion so we’re not going to make this about that. But one common term/phrase that links/connects every possible definition of alt-humor is "deconstruction". Guys like Andy Kaufman, Tim Heidecker & Eric Andre are all about dissecting typical comedy tropes and exploring what really makes things funny. It's similar to abstract art or various forms of noise music or circuit bending. That’s essentially what Clifford is to me. It travels down the same lane as "traditional" movies & tv shows like Dennis The Menace or even Zazie Dans La Metro - the pairing of a wild untamed child (the comic relief) and the “straight man” (the co-star who usually catches the brunt of all the gags & mishaps).
The deconstruction aspect of Clifford is Martin Short (a grown man) playing the part of a little boy. In the film he's sent to stay with his uncle Martin (Charles Grodin) to give his parents a much-needed break.
There’s a lot to be explored about the relationships between uncles & nephews on film. It's a unique relationship in that Uncles & Aunts aren't exactly parents but they're still authority figures. They're just usually the "cooler" more lenient authority figures (in terms of traditionally functional family relationships). Clifford is definitely one of the more unique uncle/nephew stories in that they go from being awkward & unfamiliar with each other, to hating each other (which is an understatement if you've seen the movie), to eventually becoming friendly in the end.

Even if you haven’t read a review or watched a trailer for Clifford you still kind of know what to expect before going in. It’s an adult playing the part of a child. That's the (odd) selling point. So before you even start the movie you know you’re about to watch something absurd, overly silly, somewhat surreal & slightly detached from reality. It’s real easy (and cheap) to dunk on a movie with a 10% rotten tomatoes rating (like Clifford) when there are so many other “critically acclaimed” movies that deserve the same type of harsh criticism that Clifford got. Pop culture has given us everything from talking horses (Mr. Ed) to talking dogs (Family Guy) and we’ve accepted it. Is a grown man playing the part of a child (with the idea that the audience is “in the know”) that far removed from all the other odd-sounding storylines we’ve accepted on television and in film over the years? I certainly don’t think so. For 30+ years we’ve suspended disbelief and allowed ourselves to be entertained by a serial killer trapped inside of a child’s doll in the form of the Child’s Play franchise. I know those movies aren’t for everyone but they’ve been successful enough to spawn countless sequels. Child's Play is just as absurd & silly as Clifford when you really think about it.
Look at Saturday Night Live or The Kids In The Hall. We never questioned when adults like Mike Myers or Bruce Mcculloch played children. Clifford is no different. It’s essentially a long comedy sketch (Martin Short has an extensive background in sketch comedy as an alum of both SNL & Second City). I completely understand that the idea of a long-form sketch comedy movie isn’t for everyone but it’s worked before. Why didn’t it work for Clifford

Perhaps people’s problem with Clifford is the comedy and/or the overall execution. That’s understandable I guess. But at the same time, some of Martin Short's movements are a callback to folks like Buster Keaton, Groucho Marx and even Jean-Paul Bel Mondo...

The Cook / Clifford

A Day At The Races /
Clifford

Breathless / Clifford 


What’s also interesting about the execution of Clifford is that director Paul Flaherty took things a step further by making Clifford/Martin Short the actual villain of the story. The tone of the film would have you believe that Uncle Martin’s evil boss (played wonderfully by Daphne Coleman) is the bad guy but it’s really Clifford. The character of Clifford transitions from a lovable funny precocious child to an evil saboteur. Throughout the film Clifford frames his uncle for ped0philia, sabotages his work and almost gets him killed. That's funny to me. The humor here is dark and somewhat fucked up. But it’s legitimately funny! It may not be funny to everyone but I know lots of people who find the scenarios laid out in the movie to be funny.


Perhaps an understanding of silent films and old-timey humor could help one appreciate Clifford a little better. I see a lot of the wacky physical comedy & goofy facial expressions in Clifford as a callback to folks like the Three Stooges, Laurel & Hardy, and the Marx Brothers. Those guys are just as goofy and absurd as Martin Short.
I picked these specific moments from Clifford (below) to highlight my point. I intentionally made them gifs instead of videos without audio to hammer home the idea that these facial expressions come right out of an old silent movie. Everyone in Clifford acts "big". Almost like they're theater actors performing for the people in the back row instead of the folks in the front...






And Charles Grodin is no novice to these types of performances & facial expressions as he had the same energy in the Beethoven movies (which is interesting because the basic premise of Beethoven is very similar to Clifford)
Beethoven 



Clifford certainly has it’s share of jokes that are somewhat corny & cheap (there’s no denying that). Some stuff is downright cringe-inducing. But - going back to the deconstruction element for a moment - those particular jokes are SO corny and SO over the top that it feels like the movie is aware of that and is almost taking things a step further by poking fun at that style of wacky goofball comedy. I could be reading too much into things tho... 


Movies like this usually go on to find a cult audience... 

Poor box office, bad studio karma, critical excoriation...all the prerequisites for a cult hit. Which is indeed what Clifford has become - Martin Short

Now...with all due respect to Martin Short, I don't think he understands that a lot of people who claim to like Clifford do so ironically.

Today, anyone twenty-five year and under who approaches me in public only wants to talk about Clifford. Some of them tell me that when they and their friends get nostalgic for their early years of childhood, they get stoned and watch Clifford in their dorms - Martin Short

But who am I to tell Martin Short what he knows or doesn't know about his own movie? Perhaps I'm out of touch and unaware that there is a genuine cult of Clifford fans. It's just the idea of having to get stoned to watch it bugs me. Almost like you need to get high in order to laugh at/with it. I can attest that weed can make some things funnier, but Clifford is funny on it's own. It's twisted yet sweet sense of humor should be enough!.

Please understand the point of me writing this isn’t to change everyone's mind or to convert everyone in to liking this movie. I just think some people took the movie at face value and decided they were going to dislike the premise before actually watching it. We’re all guilty of doing that. But one of the many great things about film is that you can revisit something with a different frame of mind later in life. I urge some of you with an open mind to maybe take some of what I’ve said and go back and revisit Clifford. Or, for those of you that dismissed it from the jump and never gave it a chance in the first place - GIVE IT A CHANCE!

Friday, July 31, 2020

THE SCHOOL OF PERSONA PART TEN: IMAGES/MULHOLLANAD DRIVE


Images /
Mulholland Drive


With this series I usually include actual shots from Persona but it’s no mystery that Robert Altman’s Images & David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive are two of the most popular films to come out of the “school of Persona”. There's no need to insult the intelligence of my readers. The similarities are mostly visual (as you’ll see below), but the plots concerning all three films do connect even on a surface level (mental breakdowns, duality, paranoia & severe anxiety among artistic/creative women).
Articles, reviews, essays & books have already been written on the connections between these films from the lens of Persona and, for the most part, I agree with what’s been said for the last 50 years. So there’s no need for me to regurgitate words & thoughts we're already familiar with.
This is strictly visual (although context does obviously matter so it helps to have seen both movies before exploring this entry). Some of these comparisons are common (like the one above). This is a classic shot that can be traced right back to Persona (both visually and thematically). But there are lots of other minor/lesser acknowledged visual similarities that both films share that I feel don’t get mentioned enough.


Another persona-esque shot shared emulated in Images & Mulholland drive...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

A small detail but both of these close-ups are very similar...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Similar jump scares...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images / Mulholland Drive

Images / Mulholland Drive

Altman & Lynch highlight duality & split personalities through mirrors...
Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive

Images /
Mulholland Drive


Friday, July 24, 2020

SONIC THE HEDGEHOG


A 38 year old childless man (like myself) has no business having any kind of strong/strong-ish opinions on Sonic The Hedgehog. Sure anyone can have an opinion on any movie but when a family-less adult has an overly emotional response to child/family-friendly movie, it is a little weird to me. But that's just me. 
Sonic The Hedgehog is a family movie (which is often code for being a kids movie that parents can "tolerate"/sit through). But people my age (with or without families) have a history with sonic just as much as the kids of today. We had sonic first long for before today’s youth (I was a Nintendo kid but my next door neighbor/friend had sega so I have my fair share of memories with sonic & chaos emeralds and whatnot). I think some adults have a legitimate case to voice their opinion. Sonic is the kind of character, video game, movie, etc that can bridge generations. Chances are the kids who watch the Sonic movie have parents who played the video game and watched the cartoon when they were young.

Sonic The Hedgehog isn’t that bad for what it is. I’m seeing it catch a lot of flack on my “film twitter” timeline but you can’t compare Sonic to something like Barry Lyndon or The Long Goodbye which is what I think some folks are doing (and I don't even think a lot of them are aware of it but that’s a separate conversation for another time).

Unless you were living under a rock then you know the sonic movie was doomed from the start. The original teaser trailer and initial design of the sonic character was somewhat nightmare-inducing. It brought on comparisons to things like Von Trier’s Antichrist rather things like Toy Story, Wall-E or other family-oriented movies of that ilk (Sonic is nowhere near a Wall-E or a Toy Story but it does deserve to be mentioned along with them)...

Antichrist / Sonic The Hedgehog


Even after the sonic character went through an exhaustive CGI redesign brought on by a social media pushback (...bullying), folks still weren’t really having it. It became a punching bag for memes (I will say that this was one of the few times I agreed with the mass social media pushback/criticism of something as the original sonic design was a bit weird-looking).
After the new rollout there were pockets of campaigns from people trying to guilt folks in to seeing the sonic movie following the hard work from the CGI team who were eventually fired after the redesign. While I’m sorry when anyone loses their job, I’m not going to be pressured in to seeing something (especially when the original design was bad from the beginning). Do it right the first time (and that isn't a criticism of the designers. I'm sure the original sonic concept was green-lit by the higher-ups). I think a lot of people reacted similarly and folded their arms at the pressure of being force-fed a sonic movie that took forever to come out because of post-production issues (there were also pre-production issues going back over a year ago that also added to the negative stigma attached to the film).

Even though Sonic The Hedgehog made a nice chunk of money overall, the general consensus ranged from “Meh” to not that great (there were some overly positive reviews here & there). But in my opinion this was a fun road movie that also “tackled” things like representation without doing it in a pretentious/overly force-fed kind of way.

In the film Sonic has to make it from a small town in Montana all the way to San Francisco (with the help of good-guy sheriff James Marsden) in order to open a portal to get him back to his universe where he’ll be safe. The only problem is the evil Dr Robotnik (played perfectly by Jim Carrey) is on their heels trying to stop them. It’s the same premise as everything from E.T. to Mac & Me (the evil scientists/nameless government entity is trying to capture the friendly Alien before he/she can get back to their planet. So while the plot isn't all that original (how many plots are?), it’s a revisit of a classic science-fiction/adventure trope that hasn’t been done very well in a while with the exception of maybe Midnight Special which hasn’t really stood the rest of time (it’s certainly a solid movie but no one is really talking about it anymore which is a shame because, like Sonic, it’s a family-friendly sci-fi adventure that’s better than it’s given credit for).

Sonic has just enough Jim Carrey before things get obnoxious (he’s used sparingly throughout the movie) and it shares a lot of the same imagery & scenarios as other fun action-adventure movies that folks have enjoyed in recent years...

The Matrix / Sonic 

X-Men /
Sonic


And going back to the representation I spoke about earlier - I like to think my two Afro-Latin goddaughters (and their parents) are the prefect audience for this movie. The racial make-up of the cast of Sonic is multi-racial much like Spider-verse. Organic, non-forced/non-pretentious representation is important in movies (and all art for that matter). My goddaughters (age: 6 & 4) look like half of the important characters in this movie and that does matter. Especially for young people. It’s nice to see a non-segregated major motion picture with characters that look like you in a world where you’re still told that you look “different”. Even on a subconscious level.

On the other end of the age spectrum, my podcast partner Scott also thought the sonic movie was surprisingly good. If both children and adults with different backgrounds & perspectives find enjoyment in a harmless popcorn movie that counts for something in my book.

So while this isn’t a masterpiece (or even “GREAT”) it’s still a fun family movie that deserved better. If you haven’t seen it due to all the pre & post-production issues or you’re avoiding it due to bad word of mouth reviews, I’d give it a shot. Don’t expect too much but at the same time, it’s a pretty fun movie.
Throughout the months of April & May I saw an influx of tweets, reviews & thoughts on the films of Michael Haneke. He’s one of my all time favorite filmmakers (easily in my top 10) so I love any attention he gets.
My problem with this newfound fascination & exploration of Haneke is that it took (takes?) place during a very depressing period for a lot of us. In a time when we have covid, ridiculously high unemployment numbers (due to Covid), police brutality (“highlighted” for me with the murder of Elijah McLain), etc - why would you want to watch something like The Seventh Continent, Time Of The Wolf or the The Piano Teacher? It is my belief that Michael Haneke is a masterful filmmaker but you do have to be in a mood to watch his films. 2020 has been a shitty year. It’s a wash. The bad has absolutely outweighed the negative. Why would you want to watch depressing, cold & grim movies in a time like this?
And outside of Haneke, some of the most popular/praised/“critically acclaimed” films of this year are mostly downers. Sorry We Missed You, First Cow, Never Rarely Sometimes Always, Da 5 Bloods, Tommaso, etc.
Most of these movies I just listed are great but they’re absolute downers. I don’t know about you guys but after 4-5 sad, serious, depressing movies in a row - I need a fun, mindless, palette cleanser. That’s what Sonic The Hedgehog is to me. Allow Sonic to cleanse your palette of all the depressing shit going on even if it's for 100 minutes or so.


Friday, July 10, 2020

CARLO PANGALANGAN LABRADOR'S THOUGHTS ON SAMUEL BECKETT'S FILM



First off, I’d like to thank Marcus for letting me guest post again. This time around I proposed that he and I collaborate, I’ll provide the words, he’s got the side-by-sides. I hope you enjoy it:

When I was a burgeoning cinephile, my first ever resource was the 1996 Edition of the Time Out Film Guide. I hardly had access to movies, but discovering films through these pithy capsule reviews, underscoring the titles, gave me prospective films to look forward to seeing, I made my first endless watchlist. One of the best features of the guide was its index that re-sorted the films into subgenres, a couple of my favorites were “Urban Nightmares” and “Experimental”. It was in the latter where I found out about this underground Buster Keaton film, with a self-reflexive and elemental title like Film, and it was purported to be the vision of Samuel Beckett, whom I had no idea who he was. I eventually learned about Beckett, and read his prose, which I ended up preferring over his plays which made his name. Film was difficult to find, so my first experience of it was reading Beckett’s very detailed screenplay. I eventually was able to get a copy of Five Minutes to Live DVD (cinephiles in the early 2000s would be familiar with this label, they also released The Dirk Diggler Story), which looked like a terrible third generation vhs dub, but it allowed me to finally see this hidden gem.

Beckett didn’t decide overnight to try his hand at writing a screenplay, long before he had success in the world of literature and theatre, he had expressed interest in attending film school, and this is evident in the application letter he wrote to Sergei Eisenstein below:



Beckett was known for precision, something he had complete control over in language, which translates well enough in theater, which, for the most part, has control over its setting. But this could not be accomplished completely in Film, it’s exactly the flaws that make it fascinating.

So let’s break down his screenplay. It is not written like a screenplay or a scenario, more like a treatment or outline. It contained very detailed instructions, down to the diagrams of the action and camera placement. Physics and Geometry play an integral part in the piece, leaning on Keaton’s physicality and the way the camera films him. Beckett’s placement of the camera has more purpose than most filmmakers working today.

Beckett works with the idea of “self-pereceivedness”, that Keaton is one character, O, the Object, and the camera, E, the Eye, being the other character. E always views O through a 45 degree angle from behind O, his right side. Every time, E goes even slightly past this “angle of immunity”, it threatens the imbalance. O traverse through three different spaces, not wanting to be perceived.
This rule is only broken when we occasionally see O’s perspective through the distortion of a cloth, blurry lens obstructed by an object too close.
They got Boris Kaufman (who was Jean Vigo’s cameraman, and also shot On The Waterfront and 12 Angry Men) to be the DP, ensuring that Beckett’s precise camera directions were followed, and not a shot or movement was wasted.

Wouldn’t be intriguing to put this side-by-side with Keaton’s own distinct visual style: it was always a conscious decision to shoot and frame him in long shot, rarely ever getting close.

A young Buster Keaton in One Week (above) vs. an older Buster Keaton in Film (below)


Despite being relatively obscure until recently, it seems that Film’s DNA can be found in subsequent films. I am a believer in Jung’s Collective Unconscious, except when it comes to stand up comedy—fuck all y’all joke stealers. It’s hard to imagine what kind of release Film had in 1965—was it screened on its own? Or did it accompany a feature? It makes one wonder if David Lynch had possibly seen it while attending AFI, as the opening scene of Film with O traversing an industrial landscape, stumbling, evokes Eraserhead, when Henry staggers around a similar landscape—and steps into a puddle. And even O’s look with his hat and a handkerchief underneath it, obscuring his face—recalls Merrick in The Elephant Man.

Film /
The Elephant Man

Film / Eraserhead


It also reminded me of the post opening credit scene in Dead Man when William Blake enters the town of Machine, his shock at seeing the blow job out on the street, and a gun being pointed at him, is similar to the shock expressed by the couple that O encounters at the end of the street.

Film /
Dead Man

Film /
Dead Man


The first part of the film was compromised, it was supposed to be a busier street scene with extras bustling, and the couple O encounters at the end of the scene was supposed to have a monkey with them (!). It was Beckett’s realization that film had a lot more compromise compared to Theater, but according to director Alan Schneider, Beckett was open to the changes.

But compromises didn’t begin with the opening, it started with the casting. Beckett originally wanted Chaplin, not Keaton. Beckett had written many of his tramp characters, like Vladimir and Estragon, inspired by Chaplin. I certainly feel Film carries more weight with Keaton, his face cragged, having gone through the wringer in the sound era, living most of his life thinking that all his silent work had been destroyed for its silver elements. He didn’t get what Beckett was trying to do, yet his performance is integral. I’ve always been more partial to Keaton because of the lack of sentimentality, with gags coming from the narrative rather than basing a narrative around gags. There was beautiful imperfection in Keaton’s films because he has so few chances to get it right.

Save for one surprising (and ironic) moment of a character saying “Sssssh”, the entire 22 minute film (about the length of an old Keaton two-reeler) is completely silent (no musical accompaniment, no sound effects). It’s premise is simple enough, but it’s the fact that it is without words, you left to figure it out as the film moves on. Another filmmaker known for making completely soundless films was Stan Brakhage, and he said that you’re actually able to see more without sound. Maya Deren’s At Land intentionally came with no accompanying score. One of my all time favorite filmmakers, Peter Hutton also made films without sound.

Another Maya Deren connection: Film / Meshes Of The Afternoon


Beckett himself was no stranger to wordlessness, 3 short plays: Act Without Words I&II and Breath (to the point where it didn’t even have characters).

Look, I get it, watching Film in complete silence might be challenging, but think about the other activities you do in your day to day in silence. I browse the web in silence, how about you, are you reading this in silence? You have more quiet moments in your life than you imagine.
I remember the first time I ever saw Man with a Movie Camera at Anthology and it had no accompanying score, it creates a 4’33” effect, wherein incidental sounds outside of the screen become part of the experience. I’ve had similar experiences watching the films of Peter Hutton.
It’s gotten to the point that I frequently mute scores on DVDs of silent films, finding most the scores grating. One of my more recent whims has been to put on a record to match the silent film, I’ve found Alessandro Cortini’s Risveglio and Sonno to be quite effective.

So if you can’t imagine sitting in silence for 22 minutes watching Film, I would recommend playing Mogwai’s My Father My King alongside it, if you time the start of the Mogwai track after the opening credits, it aligns nicely.


Following behind a character, seeing the back of their head, has been a common shot in cinema, in fact, in 2017 it became de rigueur in World Cinema, but rarely has it been done with as much purpose as in Film. Hal Hartley also used it to great effect in Flirt, when Bill Sage is retelling an encounter with a married woman.

Film /
Flirt

The Hartley connection goes beyond the visual. He has expressed admiration for Beckett in interviews, saying he felt a kinship in the work being about “the word”. Graham Fuller, interviewing Hartley as a preface to his published screenplays for Simple Men and Trust, made the comparison to Keaton, both in the precise framing (Hartley apparently shot all of Simple Men with a 50mm lens, which gave the film a consistent look with almost all the shots being medium-range), the deadpan humor, but more importantly, the lack of sentimentality, that Hartley’s characters express self-abnegation rather than pity.


O’s journey leads us to a room, that bare room where he rids himself of reflections of his existence. I imagine this approximates what Keaton must’ve felt, like his existence was erased when a studio head told him his silent films were melted down for their silver elements.

I’ve always been predisposed to characters who find themselves alone or in isolation, Lisandro Alonso has practically made a career on films about this, but it’s his first three, the trilogy of La Libertad, Los Muertos, and Fantasma. We are witnesses to evidence of these characters' existence being filmed, and an awareness of this (in the now deleted ending of La Libertad) and in the entirety of Fantasma.

Film /
Fantasma


Another thing that fascinates me about Film is that it’s Beckett and Keaton meeting at a crossroads of their careers. This was when Beckett’s work really to get interesting for me, he had just published the English translation of How It Is around this time, and in prose he really begins to narrow down his work to voices in closed spaces, narratives whittled down to their very essence, a voice telling a story that may or may not have happened.
Despite making a posthumous appearance in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, I consider Film to be Keaton’s final performance, the same way I consider Love Streams to be Cassavetes’ last film, not Big Trouble. Keaton passed away a year after Film was released, and we get a sense that the character O is dying, too. Film culminates with a look directly into the camera (E), expressing “The agony of perceivedness”, the same look that the couple in the street and and the lady in the staircase had.

And with Keaton’s passing it was the end of an era: black and white was becoming rarer in the 60s, and Film could be considered the last silent film.

There is a note at the beginning of Beckett’s screenplay which states that “no attempt has been made to bring into line with the finished work.”, but who would even attempt it today? Film could never be remade with the same circumstances, it will just feel like a cheap pastiche or homage. Probably only Guy Maddin could get close, but who could he cast who would have the same weight and magnitude as Keaton?

Beckett is now rightfully credited as director on imdb, even if he isn’t in the restored version’s credits. His screenplay is directing, Alan Schneider was the intermediary. Ultimately, Beckett was gracious with the result, stating that Film acquired "a dimension and validity of its own that are worth far more than any merely efficient translation of intention."


ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 131 W/ SPECIAL GUEST MTUME GANT


Frequent guest & friend Mtume Gant joined us to talk about Spike Lee's latest.

Enjoy...

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 130


Scott & I watched The King Of Staten Island on father's day then recorded a podcast about it.

Enjoy...

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

LIBERTÉ


Liberté is a weird combination of sexual liberation and sexual repression happening at the same time. In the film we follow a group of high society “swingers” in 18th century France having a sexual romp in the woods. It’s a beautiful mixture of the bath house scene in Reygadas’ Post Tenebras Lux, the nightclub scenes in Friedkin’s Cruising and the climactic orgy scene at the end of Brian Yuzna’s Society (early on in Liberté we hear agonizing screams coming from the woods and I was immediately reminded of the screams coming from the bath house in Post Tenebras Lux). I enjoyed this movie a lot but I also felt the need to cleanse myself afterwards (for those of you familiar with the aforementioned films I compared Liberté to, you should understand). I don’t mean to get too gross but you could almost smell this movie at certain points. But perhaps that’s part of the point of the film. An unabashed/unflinching look at sex & sexuality which can be "gross" at times (it should be noted that bathing practices were a little different in the 18th century so the smells must have been extra potent).
There’s a very “matter of fact” approach in the acting style which highlighted things. There’s no guilty or surprised looks on the faces of the actors as they touch, fondle, screw & suck their way through the film. This hammers home the idea of their sexual liberation. The deadpan emotionless looks on the faces of the actors implies they aren’t ashamed of what they're doing. However, they are off in the woods secluded from the rest of the world which obviously implies some kind of shame or discretion. No matter how comfortable they are together, they all know this is something that can’t be done out in the open. 
I know I compare a lot of things to Bresson but the Bresson comparison is very valid here. Not only is the acting style in Liberté similar to films like L’Argent & The Devil Probably, but, like Bresson, Albert Serra uses (some) non-professional actors.


This felt like a callback to the films of the New French Extremity. If I went in to Liberté blind without knowing the actual director (Albert Serra) I would have thought it was made by the likes of Bertrand Bonello, Francois Ozon or Marina De Van (all varsity lettermen of the New French Extremity scene).
Liberté takes place in the woods and I was reminded of the opening sequence of Bonello’s Tiresia (another film that’s partially about sexual repression and sexual deviancy). In Tiresia we follow Lucas Laurent cruising the woods for prostitutes and if you take out the modern wardrobe (Tiresia is set in 2003), you'd think the events in the film were overlapping with Liberté (it should be noted that Liberte co-star Lliana Zabeth worked with Bertrand Bonello on The House Of Tolerance which also deals with similar subject matter)

Tiresia / Liberté


It also isn't too far-fetched to compare the events of Liberté to certain moments in Ozon's See The Sea (a movie that has a pretty memorable cruising scene in the woods)

See The Sea / Liberté


Or the more recent Stranger By The Lake...
Stranger By The Lake /
Liberte 



As for direct influences, Albert Serra was open about the fact that the look of the film was inspired by the artwork of François Boucher & Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard...





The events of Liberté brought me back to my three years of taking history of architecture in college where we learned about how (some) famous opera houses and music halls were designed with side rooms that were used for sexual romps and other debaucherous encounters.


Normally a film about sex has a tone or an overall ambiance that matches the subject matter. But that’s not really the case here. Liberté is intentionally cold which isn’t something that you don’t want to associate with sex. There is a softness & tenderness to some of the performances but at the end of the day Liberté is cold. I like to think that approach was intentional as to not fully distract from the beautiful backdrops & costume design. Sex is a beautiful thing (I don’t think Serra believes otherwise) but it can also be weird & strange. I imagine the average human being that enjoys having sex would think twice about joining in on the events presented in Liberté. There’s a “fluid” ambiguous feel to everything that not everyone would be down with (I certainly wouldn’t be). Helmut Berger’s presence in the film alone just adds to the sexual freeness & ambiguity as he’s known for his more “fluid” roles over the years.

Albert Serra uses Berger in the same way that he used Jean Pierre Leaud in The Death Of Louis XIV which is less of a performance and more like an artifact of the history of cinema he brings with him...
Helmut Berger in Liberte
Helmut Berger in The Damned


On the surface, Liberte comes off as a tool strictly to shock the viewer. But if you go a littler deeper (no pun intended), you’ll see that the events in this film branch off to everything from art to architecture and politics (this film is actually part of a larger multi-part/multi-media project). Liberte is also a reminder that a lot of the New French Extremity was rooted in and inspired by classic art, architecture & literature. There was a lot more to that scene than just shocking imagery.

I don’t know exactly where this movie ranks/sits on my “best of the year” list but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since first watching it over a month ago and that counts far more than some placement on a list...

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