are two new versions of F.W. Murnau's immortal Sunrise. And you don't need any special player to enjoy them, hence the slight name change of my column to the Foreign DVD Report, at The Auteurs' as always.
While I'm waiting for the materials I need to complete my Tuesday Foreign DVD report to materialize, allow me to point out that today's the day the DVD and Blu-ray disc of Steven Soderbergh's delightful The Girlfriend Experience hits the street. Among its extras is an alternate cut in which my character, The Erotic Connoisseur, is (spoiler alert?) actually shown brandishing the Q-tip which is only tearfully mentioned in the theatrical cut. Subjectively, I can't handle watching it; objectively, it may constitute the apogee of the Sydney Greenstreet/Victor Buono impersonation that is my performance. (Since I can't handle watching it, how could I come to that conclusion? I couldn't tell you.) The still reproduced here is of my lovely co-star Sasha Grey's character, Chelsea, ruminating on the strange offer in the safety of another john's hotel room. The look on her face in the actual scene is, verily, priceless; a kind of "what you say?" made flesh.
* About twenty minutes into my first viewing of this utterly beguiling film, observing the bizarre behavior of one of its lead characters Georges Palet (an exquisite performance by André Dussolier), and wondering what the hell his deal was—dementia? psychosis?—I dutifully scribbled in my notebook "the refusal of pathology." In a realistic film they'd be carting the guy off to a mental hospital pretty quick. And then of course I remembered that Resnais has never in a million years made a realistic film. Even his films about very real and very profound topics—Night and Fog, on the Holocaust; Hiroshima mon amour, on, well, guess; Muriel..., on (obliquely) the French occupation of Algeria; La guerre est finie, on revolution and revolutionary action—are most compelled by imaginative strategies, not documentative ones. Resnais, of course, has always known this. Scott Foundas notes, in an interview with Resnais in The Village Voice this week, that the director "bristles" when presented with the notion that "the conditional nature of memory...has been another career-spanning preoccupation." "I prefer to say 'the imaginary,'" Resnais counters. "All of our lives, we live with the memory of a sad experience, or a pleasant one, and, thanks to those memories, we try to avoid other sad experiences and try to repeat pleasant ones. But we don't remember things exactly as they happened, thanks to the chemical processes of the brain. A memory that's too short doesn't suffice; with the imaginary, one can retain everything."
Quite true (and see also Resnais' Mon oncle d'Amerique re brain chemistry), and it's instructive to reflect on how the initially brief encounters between certain of Wild Grass' characters affects both their imaginative world, and the imaginative world of the film. And that conveying these imaginative worlds is of course going to be a function of camera placement, camera movement, color, and optical effects. Which is one reason I disagree with my esteemed colleauge Richard Brody when he says that here "Resnais' virtuosity with the camera merely passes the time on screen as the mechanisms of his script grind along."
* Resnais told the assembly at the press conference that Christian Gailly, the novelist whose L'incident provided the basis for the screenplay by Alex Reval and Laurent Herbier, was a jazz musician of many years' standing before he took up literature. Resnais enjoys Gailly's work in part because it reminds him of jazz improvisation. As Foundas notes of Wild Grass in his Resnais interview, "the film zig-zags zanily from one genre to the next." It does so, on occasion, in a matter of mere shots, the way a bop instrumentalist may interpolate a quote from "Pop Goes The Weasel" into a solo on a ballad, or some such. I am also reminded of something said about the work of Resnais' erstwhile collaborator Alain Robbe-Grillet (I don't know whether he was a jazz fan, but I suspect maybe not): that therein, "the narrative is in search of its own coherence." The series of false endings leading up to Wild Grass' hilarious and cosmically staggering final shot constitute one of the most bracing examples of this principle in action that contemporary cinema has to offer.
* Watching the way the characters' irrationalities seemed to rub off on each other, I was reminded of one of the most legendary unrealized projects in late 20th-century cinema: David Lynch's One Saliva Bubble, or at least of my memory of what it was supposed to have been. Or, rather, my imaginative projection within my memory of what it was supposed to have been. That is, I thought some sort of contagion within a saliva bubble that got passed from character to character affected their behavior. Although as it happens, the reality of the Lynch/Mark Frost script was that the titular bubble creates an electrical short-circuit that unleashes a psychotropic behavior-affecting beam on an unsuspecting town.
But in any event, it wasn't just the premise of Wild Grass but its tone that put Lynch in my head. It then occured to me that in some ways, throughout his career Resnais was creating a more genteel, less sexually morbid manifestation of "the Lynchian" avant le lettre, going back as far as the phantasmagoric short Le chant de styrene.
* Proof is in the pudding department: My Auteurs' Notebook colleague David Phelps reported from Cannes in May that at a press conference there Resnais said that the film's comedy was inspired by Curb Your Enthusiasm, and, indeed, a bit involving a stuck zipper could have been lifted directly from that series.
* At the New York press conference, supporting player Mathieu Amalric told us that he did his roles in Grass and the maladroit Bond film (or "doob-leh oh seven" movie, as he put it) Quantum of Solace at pretty much the same time. Which might explain why he uses the exact same crazy stare throughout both pictures.
* Comic appreciation corner: Another highlight of the Foundas interview is Resnais' citation of the great Milton Caniff. It made me so happy I very nearly brought one of my Terry And The Pirates reprint volumes to the NYFF party in the hope that I could get Resnais to sign it! Also, the color coding of Grass, so aptly noted by Manohla Dargis in her most recent bit of praise for the film, reminded me of how much I wish, still, that Warren Beatty had gotten Resnais to direct Dick Tracy.
* I note with a sigh of resignation that some of the film's detractors—critics I like and respect—are responding with the old bit about "not caring about" the film's characters. I won't cite or link, since My Lovely Wife has noted that I've started enough fights in recent months. But I will note that while I did not necessarily "care" about the film's characters, I did find them of interest, as they say...and (here's where I start getting "do-I-have-to-spell-it-out-for-you" irritable...) that the film isn't really interested in establishing a conventional kind of viewer empathy ANYWAY. And that I still find the whole topic too tedious for words, and that I've discussed exactly why, in a fair number of words nonetheless, here and here, if you're interested.
I am loath to bring up the arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland on an old U.S. warrant, because I generally find that referring up the director's legal history in this country accomplishes very little besides giving a certain number of individuals the opportunity to puff up their chests and get humoungously righteous. I will note, for the heck of it, a commenter on a Facebook thread who, apropos the arrest, giddily pronounced "...we've all been waiting for justice here in America!" This struck me as funny, because recently I've been reading about thatdudein Texas who was, like, totally put to death by the state despite being all, like, not guilty of a crime and stuff. And I wonder where's the frothing at the mouth about that? But that's just me. It probably really only has something to do with my pathetic inability to include myself in the "we" that's all been waiting for justice in America. Sad.
UPDATE: Kim Morgan's consideration of Polanski's art—specifically his practically-feminist Repulsion—is well worth checking out, its slightly in-your-face title notwithstanding. When I wrote about Criterion's great DVD of Repulsion back in July, I noted: "I'll leave it to others to ruminate on the irony of Polanski having made two of the best, most sensitive pictures about how a patriarchal society can crush women: this one and Tess, filmed in 1979 after Polanski's departure from the United States."
In the "we should all/I should only ever have-such-problems" department, I'm now trying to make time to really dig into three incredibly important Blu-ray releases: the 70th Anniversary Edition, as it were, of The WIzard of Oz, the Diamond Edition of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves Dwarfs,and perhaps most staggering and significant of all, the Eureka!/Masters of Cinema presentation of Murnau's Sunrise. Those of us who feared, and still fear, that high-def formats would be used almost exclusively in the service of the glossy and the contemporary find this item an extremely heartening development. But I don't want to write too much more about any of them until I can really dig. So I'm hoping for a bit of a blank-slate Sunday...
The great Alain Resnais at the New York Film Festival press conference for his latest film, the mind-blowing Wild Grass. Alternating between French and English, the maestro held forth on the future of cinema (it involves Arnaud Desplechin), his favorite television shows (The Sopranos...The Shield?!?...X FIles (of course)..DID he say The Wire?) and whether or not he's an auteur. He says not so much, we say hell yeah he is.
Grass supporting player Mathieu Amalric was also in attendance, and all the shots I got of him were pretty shitty, but I'm putting up this one anyway, because the actor had this gaze of adoring concentration fixed on his director throughout, and I thought that was adorable.
Above, step two in the making of some of the artwork for this week's Topics, Questions & Exercises over at The Auteurs'. For the completed bit of cinephilic comedy, go there, where there's more stuff, as Chuck Barris would say.
On the one hand, Lars von Trier's new provocation, Antichrist, often seems hardly worth the trouble of discussing. Its opening—that is, its opening once you get past the ostentatious title cards announcing the auteur, the title of his latest opus, and the fact that this first section of the film is a, ahem, "prologue"—depicts, in luscious, satiny black-and-white, the film's unnamed central couple making violently uncontrolled love as their adorable toddler toddles out of his crib, onto a window sill, and out the window, stuffed animal in tow, falling to his death. Not only does the sequence include the requisite hardcore-sex insert shot (a staple of Scandanavian cinema since 1974's They Call Her One-Eye, I guess; here stars Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg are doubled by Horst Stramka and Mandy Starship), but it's scored to the aria "Lascia ch'io pianga" ("Let me weep," doncha know) from Handel's Rinaldo. Underscoring the difference between know-something-ishness and blatant pretentiousness by partaking equally of both, it's a scene so silly that it practically begs you to laugh at it. And, as the sage Spencer Pratt once said, "that's the problem."
Or, rather, that's one of the problems. By now you've no doubt heard of the putative cinematic atrocities that follow as von Trier transports his troubled couple—he's a therapist, she's a stalled academic—to their place in the woods, called Eden of course, wherein the male intends to cure the female of her grief. It's not just the sickening violence, sexual mutilation, boogity-boogity lighting effects and other shock maneuvers that rankle. It's the intellectual incoherence, the scattershot introduction of nonsensical ideas that doesn't quite camouflage the fact that all von Trier is doing is showing a lot of behavior. It's that despite all this behavior—and Dafoe and Gainsbourg don't flinch from any of it, although you might not come away from the movie believing that that's necessarily to their credit—we never really understand who these people are, their characters are so woefully underwritten, underdeveloped. It's the damn red herrings—wait a minute, their child, named Nick, had...cleft feet? What, is this movie The Omen all of a sudden?
It's all of that and more. So my question for myself is, why the hell is this movie still working me over, to the point that I believe it's the main cause of my waking up in a completely shitty mood this morning?
Such are the mysteries of cinema.
Oh, but I see I haven't yet addressed the title of this post.
This week I'm attending a lot of press screenings for the New York Film Festival, which I'll be covering mostly for The Auteurs', starting soon. This morning I'll be seeing Antichrist, which I hear tell is like having Lars von Trier himself piss acid into your eyes. Funsy! For notes, I'm using this kind of fruity-looking hardbacked Clairefontaine book that I picked up out of necessity in Toronto in 2000 and put away once my proper reporter's notebooks arrived. I'm using it now because, well, why let it go to waste. Anyhow, I thought it might (I mean might—don't hold it against me if it's not) be fun to reproduce what scant notes I put in it at the time, to give you all a glimpse of what my working methods at Premiere were, and how my oft-goofy mind works. (Funny that I took more notes for TIgerland than Code Inconnu.) So. Notes from the 2000 Toronto Film Festival reproduced as written, below the fold.