The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them; it may be the story of their first love, or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation...and it will be enjoyable because it will be true and new...The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure. The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love.
—Francois Truffaut, "The Film of Tomorrow WIll Be An Act Of Love," Arts, May 15, 1957, as excerpted in Truffaut: A Biography by Antoine De Baecque and Serge Toubiana, translated by Catherine Temerson, Alfred A. Knopf, 1999
F.T. Are you in favor of the teaching of cinema in universities?
A.H. Only on the condition that they teach cinema since the era of Mélies and that the students learn to make silent films, because there is no better form of training. Talking pictures often served merely to introduce the theater into the studios. The danger is that young people, and even adults, all too often believe that one can become a director without knowing how to sketch a decor, or how to edit.
—Alfred Hitchcock, interviewed by Truffaut, May, 1972; featured in Hitchcock/Truffaut,revised edition, SImon and Schuster, 1984
40 IS a bitch. Man, don’t I know it! I think it was Martin Amis who said—and I’m paraphrasing here—that turning 40 is the most fucked up thing ever for a guy, because it means, for all intents and purposes, that the first half of your life is over, and like, what have you got to show for it, right? You are never going to get that first half back, it’s all downhill from here, you’ve stopped growing, physically, and you’re actually starting to putrefy. You’re on your way to death. Things start going away, right away. In this film about you, Uncle Kent, you start having some problems with your sight—you’ve got to look at certain stuff on paper first farther away, then nearer to you, in order to read. Wow, I’m relatively lucky—I didn’t start getting eye issues when I turned 40, and I still don’t have ‘em, but man, beyond that…well, I gotta admit I was a little surprised and shaken at how much the story told about you in the film Uncle Kent had in common with what I was going through when I turned that age.
The affinities started hitting me pretty early on, as I watched you hunching over your work easel, doing that animation stuff—you apparently work as an animator, whereas I work as a writer, they’re both kinda solitary occupations. And then there was how you live by yourself, and how you drink a lot, and how you smoke a lot of pot, and how you hang out a lot with your cat. See, here’s you, with your cat.
And here’s me, a long time ago, back in my 40s, with my cat.
And my stupid fanboy Akira t-shirt. And my double chin. And my nose hair. Sorry about that. Gosh, how embarrassing.
Now I was never that much of a pot person—until this one period where I got so anxiety-ridden and insomniac that I started smoking it very intently…but I’m getting ahead of myself here—but I definitely had this routine back then of working and drinking and just sort of wallowing in loneliness. And you’re clearly not taking very good care of yourself in other respects. “Check” on that, for me, when I was your age, too. You live in L.A. , so you have a car, and you’re letting that go to shit; I haven’t owned a car in a while (an advantage of a certain mode of urban living, I’d say), but I dare say if I had, well, what’s happening to your car would have happened to mine.
And there’s even more, and here’s where it gets kinda weird!
There's a leitmotif about sexuality (among other things) running through Sofia Coppola's new film Somewhere that's both mordantly funny and a bit disquieting; a little sinister even. As you know if you've seen the film, or even read about it, Somewhere's storyline, such as it is, concerns one Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a dissolute aging Hollywood golden boy holed up at the legendary haven of tinseltown decadence, sunset Boulevard's Chateau Marmont. Circumstances necessitate that he spend more time than he had been planning with his 11-year-old daughter from a prior relationship, an alert, talented, overtly cheerful girl named Cleo (Elle Fanning). The film largely alternates between scenes of Johnny half-heartedly fulfilling his professional duties and possibly even more half-heartedly playing bad boy, and showing the growth of his relationship to a family member he, as it happens, barely knows. Once Cleo takes up temporary residence with Johnny at the Chateau, the border between his two lives becomes peculiarly porous. It's one thing when, on a jaunt to Milan, a querulous sometime lover of Johnny's (Laura Chiatti) muscles in, in her pushy European way, to Johnny and Cleo's almost-cozy domestic arrangement; in that context, Cleo can overtly express her disapproval, and the communication between father and daughter beyond that grows practically conspiratorial. It's the more fleeting encounters that pack an almost haunting punch.
The thing is, it's not just that Johnny is an indiscriminate (if not exactly avid; one of the film's most trenchant bits involves what one might term Johnny's lack of presence in the midst of an erotic assignation) consumer of young female flesh. It is that the wearers of the young female flesh, all of them, as they used to say, free, white, and over 21, are almost constantly throwing that flesh at Johnny. He can't even look off the balcony in the middle of a phone call without seeing some ostensible hottie lolling or lounging. And when that ostensible hottie sees Johnny Marco and recognizes him, five will get you ten that she will offer herself to him. The one in the image above is played by Nicole Trunfio, and the image above shows her right before she pulls back her bikini top.When Johnny and Cleo return to the Chateau after their brief trip to Italy, they're seen, relatively bedraggled, dragging their bags back to their apartment in the hotel. Johnny then pops into his bedroom, where he's greeted by a young woman (Laura Ramsey) wearing nothing but a sailor's cap, sitting under the covers, waiting for him. "It's not a good time," he mutters. The woman sits up and leans forward, and while she's a thoroughly and undeniably attractive human being, here Harris Savides camera catches her form in a stance that could arguably called unflattering; she looks peculiarly exposed, let's say. "Are you sure?" she asks, and her smile, meant to allure, seems a little sickly. "Yeah," Johnny nods, and he backs out of the room and then takes Cleo downstairs for a meal.
All this isn't meant to make the viewer feel sorry for Johnny, or even really to think about him much at all, at least I don't believe that's the case. The character one thinks about is Cleo, who's rather coltishly poised at the threshold of adolescence. I've seen one fulminator on Twitter rage that the scene in which Elle Fanning's character figure skates in a leotard constitutes "child pornography" (yeah, I know; it's too late for me, but not for you—heed my words and just stay the hell away from Twitter), and while that's ridiculous, I believe that Coppola is not interested in soft-pedaling the fact that Cleo is in fact on the cusp of something. She's trying out a particular female role with her father throughout—that is, of domestic caretaker, an aspect of old-school wifeliness. The scene where she prepares Eggs Benedict for her dad and his genial rotter pal, the shot of her carefully cutting the chives to sprinkle atop the hollandaise sauce, indicate not just care and thoughtfulness but an indisputable impulse to please, to impress. The women who throw themselves at Johnny; they too want to please and impress. Not just Johnny, but the world, such as it is. As Johnny prepares to exit the Chateau, perhaps for good, we see one more half-naked girl (Katie Nehra) on a patio at the end of a hallway. She's not undressed for Johnny; she's being made up for a photo shoot, of the sort they do at the Chateau. By this time all of the naked and half-naked young women have gotten, frankly, to be a bit much (even the dirty old man inside me—and you don't have to dig very far to find him—was saying, "Okay, I think I've seen enough"), and I think that's entirely deliberate. But one can be struck by a nagging thought: that Cleo could, in not so very much time, grow up to be one of those women. Well, no, one might want to answer oneself. She's clearly too smart, too self-possessed. Well, as her penultimate scene with Johnny shows, she's not all that self possessed; she's kind of lost and lonely too, and she's eleven. And smart? What's that insurance against? Are we entirely sure that all the women showing Johnny their tits are dumb by default? And if Cleo does grow up to be one of those girls who likes to flash movie stars from their balconies, is that the end of the world?
Sofia Coppola is hardly a prig, as the opening shot of Lost in Translation quite eloquently testifies. And, as it happens, one can even find topless photos of the director herself—rather artistic ones, not Maximesque shots, natch—floating around on the web. But in Somewhere she demonstrates an interesting insistence on the issue of exposure and, if you'll excuse the phrasing, the solicitation of consensual relations, and brings up a lot of questions as a result. It's just one more indication that the film is quite probably a lot more than the pretty trifle that even some of its admirers—myself somewhat included—have tended to categorize it as.
One of the interesting things about writing for a larger, more mainstream audience, as I have been doing, and quite happily at that, for MSN Movies, is the feedback you get, and the ways some people track you down in order to provide that feedback. As, for instance, the complaint of one "Sauncie" concerning my negative notice on The Tourist, in a post on this blog that has no relation to The Tourist. Another dissatisfied customer contacted me via my Facebook account. This individual wrote, in part, "...your review seemed extremely arrogant, self-assuming, full of big words to try and impress people who have no clue as to what you are talking about. Your veiled insults to the fun Pirates movies was extremely irritating. One thing that I think all critics forget is that they are watching MOVIES. Things that are NOT real but made for entertainment purposes. You may not like the story, and that is your right, of course, but could you maybe dare to condescend to the little people and word it to where people can understand it easier and not want to throw darts at a picture of your face? Chronicles of Narnia are fun adventure movies....why take them so seriously. Relax, stop trying to impress people and let yourself be taken away. By the way, the Pirates movies were fantastically done. The last one may have had too much of a story but hey, it was easy to let yourself get into.......IF you let yourself. Take care."
The review in question was of the new (and lousy) Narnia movie with the seafaring stuff, but as you'll note, my correspondent was more irritated by my incredibly offhand (albeit admittedly sarcastic) and brief mention of the Pirates of the Cari-whatsis film franchise therein. I was somewhat reminded of back in the early '90s, during my brief but glorious sojourn as the Sci-Fi/Fantasy columnist for TV Guide, and I was writing something about the then kinda inchoate Cartoon Network debuting a new series, and I said something along the lines of "Just in case you've had your fill of Huckleberry Hound reruns on the Cartoon Network," which elicited this pained three-page letter from a minister (I forget which denomination) out in the Midwest taking me to task for disparaging this beloved, humane, wonderful cartoon character who never did anybody any harm. I always found that a little...well, quizzical. And whenever that story springs to mind, I remember when voice artist Daws Butler passed away in 1988, and the New York Daily News ran an obit of him, and they didn't have a picture of him on file, so they ran a drawing of the beloved, humane, etc. character Huckleberry Hound, only the layout didn't provide room for a very long caption, so the caption read "H.Hound." Which, when it comes to mind, never doesn't crack me up.
And this of course in turn reminds me of the great bit in the 1946 Disney animated short "Donald's Double Trouble," in which the ever-irascible Donald Duck finds himself once again alienated from the lovely Daisy. On the street Donald happens upon a doppelganger, one who talks like Ronald Colman even, and persuades him to pose as Donald and make nice with Daisy. You can see where this is going. When the doppelganger gets a load of Daisy, he figures he's a cinch to tap that, particularly if he lays down the swanky smarm, which he correctly figures she's not accustomed to from the other guy. "We'll paint the town vermillion!" he promises her, and squires her to a nearby fair. Donald tails them, and keeps an obsessive record of all the PDAs he observes. It's all very Raging Bull. Near the, erm, climax, the doppelganger proposes to take Daisy through the fair's Tunnel of Love. The enraged, desperate Donald scribbles a note, which he passes surreptitiously to his would-be destroyer:
Who knew that Donald, in the privacy of his interiority, referred to his own self as "Don?" Fascinating.
Incidentally, the argument raised by the objector to my dismissal of the Pirates of the Whozis movies—"Things that are NOT real but made for entertainment purposes"—is echoed in a much more full-of-big-words-to-try-and-impress-people fashion in a recent Die Filmkrant post by Adrian Martin.
At top: Hatfield and the North, a vault recording title of whom provides the name for this post. Their music is highly enjoyable to let yourself get into...IF you let yourself. No, really.
...oh, no, wait, it's the aforementioned. That is, Frank Tashlin's Susan Slept Here, 1954. A weird one, not just because of the whole "she's-seventeen-years-old" thing. Obviously. Not major Tashlin, but thoroughly worthwhile, and as you can see, the transfer is aces.
I have some thoughts on the greatness of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu, whose work is getting highlighted in a welcome and innovative retrospective at Film Forum, for The Daily Notebook. "The Takemitsu Treatment" is here.
One imagines that certain Ingmar Bergman skeptics and out-and-out detractors might find cause to term his 1958 picture Ansiktet, also known as The Face, and released in the United States as The Magician, as the writer/director's first substantive self-pity party. Because it is, for all intents and purposes, something of a parable of The Misunderstood Artist. Max von Sydow stars as Vogler, a self-proclaimed—well, not really self-proclaimed, as he pretends to be mute, but he has a spieler who extols his abilities, and loud—mesmerist who works a variety of mysterious and mind-boggling entertainment miracles in an appropriately chiaroscuro-laden 19th-century landscape, via the appropriately mystifying-by-19th-century-standards powers of "magnetism." He and his troupe are waylaid by an impetuous petit-bourgeouis bureaucrat and a pompous, sadistic rationalist physician determined to expose Vogler as a charlatan. Vogler's "art," such as it is, is eventually both vindicated and revealed as "mere" trickery; and Vogler himself, stripped of all his artifices, is revealed as something of a pathetic, grasping figure, more or less reliant on the credulity and/or kindness of the strangers he bamboozles as he and his entourage shamble from one engagement to the next.
"Didn't I do everything in my power to make you feel something?" Vogler begs of his former tormentors directly prior to the film's final and supremely ironic reversal of fortune. Concocting this picture in the wake of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries could have struck some as an odd way to complete a hat trick, but it is in fact a splendid one—although it's even more splendid if one forces one to see it more or less out of its context. Because in fact whatever self-referentiality it contains needs neither redemption nor justification (although Bergman's splendid prose account of/apologia for the film, from his book Images: My Life In Film, and included in the booklet of the new Criterion Collection edition, provides ample supporting evidence for any such case); and also because, viewed without such stuff in mind, The Magician works like the devil as a fleet, witty, atmospheric entertainment, something of a Bergman genre film as it were (as The Seventh Seal also is, in a way), a sometimes faux-gloomy jest that recalls certain of the vintage Universal horrors as it does Seastrom's The Phantom Carriage and other Nordic touchstones. Its narrative briskness and stiff spine is matched by a loose-limbed playfulness beautifully embodied in the utterly unconvincing way gorgeous Ingrid Thulin attempts to impersonate a teenage boy (she is in fact Vogler's wife). The film feels more alive than most period pieces of the contemporary cinema.
This past July marked the third anniversary of Bergman's death, and the continuing—as opposed to waning—fact of his stature as a cinematic master makes Jonathan Rosenbaum's new-conventional-wisdom op-ed in the Times in the wake of the filmmaker's death seem even more churlish than had likely been intended. With a "case closed" confidence, Rosenbaum stated,"The hard fact is, Mr. Bergman isn’t being taught in film courses or debated by film buffs with the same intensity as Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles and Jean-Luc Godard. His works are seen less often in retrospectives and on DVD than those of Carl Dreyer and Robert Bresson — two master filmmakers widely scorned as boring and pretentious during Mr. Bergman’s heyday." I've never quite gotten over that last bit, which seems to blame Bergman for the scorn straw man Rosenbaum erects. But the more germane self-satisfied faux-"tant pis" occurs earlier in the piece, with Rosenbaum's oh-gee-isn't-that-tough-luck shrug, "Like many of [Bergman's] films, 'The Magician' hasn’t been widely available here for ages." But—ooops!—here's The Magician on DVD, on Criterion no less, in a gorgeous restoration that gives amazing solidity and depth to Gunnar Fischer's black-and-white images—I was practically hypnotized by the steely frames of the eyeglasses worn by Naima Wifstrand's crone and Gunnar Björnstrand's inquisitor. And there's a major Bergman retrospective at, which moved Mike D'Angelo in the L.A. Weekly to insist that coming to grips with Bergman is a necessary "rite of passage" for the "budding cinephile." That doesn't sound like much fun, mind you, but it does sound important. "Like almost any other significant, prolific artist," D'Angelo, slightly adopting Rosenbaum's shrug, proclaimed, early in September, "Bergman produced both towering masterpieces and self-indulgent drivel." There's a different kind of confidence at work in that assessment; as much as I might dislike or object to a particular work of Bergman's or a particular aspect of a Bergman work, I've never been sure that I could apprehend it well enough to dismiss it, literally, as drivel; for me in this respect it's a case of not having enough context. Is the monologue on Mozart from Hour of the Wolf, which Bille August later transposed to A Song For Martin, inspired musicological analysis or just something that sounds nice? I can't rightly say. But someday I may learn. Until that point, I believe that we'll continue to keep arguing about, and learning from, the great Ingmar. And, yes, actually enjoying a good deal of his work. As you should definitely do with this really great disc of The Magician.