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October 13, 2010


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Sal C

Thanks for posting Glenn. The man gives great interview. I'm covering the Philadelphia Film Festival and Carlos is the film I'm most excited to see.
If you haven't seen Cold Water, please make a point of catching it at BAM. I think it may be his best film. It's definitely one of the most truthful and expressive depictions of adolescence ever on the screen.

S. Porath

Fantastic interview. Only having seen the three hour version, I am looking forward to revisiting the whole thing. Besides the ideological and political aspects in the film (which I didn't feel nearly as strongly as the interview suggests that you did), it is one handsome film. It is one of the more vibrant films I've seen this year, and really struck me by how thrilling this essentially old-fashioned story was (and, for my money, gave a sense of time and place far more effectively than 'Munich', which has a similar milieu).


Great job on the interview, though I have to speak out and say that I still don't understand what the appeal of Assayas is. BOARDING GATE has got to be one of the worst, most unwatchable films I've ever seen, and I've found little to celebrate in the other films of his that I've watched. I am holding out for the full CARLOS, though.

Lance McCallion

Carlos is good stuff, though I feel it begin to run out of direction, momentum... and possibly 'meaning' by the end? I look forward to the shorter version just the same. As far as his recent work though, I find a lot more to admire in his more formally audacious films like Demonlover and the incredibly Boarding Gate. Even Summer Hours, though a bit more of a call-back to his earlier themes and formal preoccupations and perhaps overshadowed by other similar films that came out at the time (thinking Still Walking, Flight of the Red Balloon), has quite a bit more to chew on than Carlos. Still, his film technique is as strong as ever, and the latter features quite a number of sheer bravura, breathless sequences.


I came away from the interview a little confused as to why he made Carlos, or what he thought he was trying to say. When you ask him if he deliberately stressed certain ironies, and he says, no, that actually happened - I mean, all sorts of things happened in Carlos's life, but there has to be some principle of selection as to which you include, or what you emphasize. (Or maybe not as some of the reviews suggest.)

Lord Henry

BOARDING GATE is terrific! It not only has one of my favourite final shots ever, but it's also probably the last good film Michael Madsen will ever make. Seeing the five-hour CARLOS on Sat at the London Film Festival, can't wait.

Glenn Kenny

Asher, what he says is that he didn't feel as if he was stressing certain ironies "as such," and that he was having fun with the material. And I think it's absolutely legit for him to say that he didn't alter the structure in order to stress the ironies—that he's being as factually accurate as he can when he can. Which is not to deny that the ironies exist—he knows they're there.

I'm very high on "Boarding Gate" as well, and think it's in some senses very much of a piece with "Carlos."


I don't doubt that he's aware of the ironies inherently in the material, or that he wants to deny their existence. On the contrary, I'm sure they're a large part of what attracted him to the material in the first place. I'm just a little baffled by the penchant for factual accuracy as opposed to stressing, emphasizing, exaggerating those aspects of the material that interest him; actually, I guess what I'm baffled by is why he'd want to be factually accurate at all. You look at a film like YOUNG MR. LINCOLN, which I'd certainly have to regard as one of the two or three best biopics ever made, if not, as Eisenstein had it, the best American film period, and, you know, not only does Ford restrain himself to a tiny period of Lincoln's life during which nothing was happening, he makes absolutely everything up! It's not even received Lincoln lore, it's Ford's own manufactured Lincoln lore. And the result is a more profound meditation on Lincoln and American democracy than any other Lincoln movie, probably any Lincoln biography, than has ever been produced - precisely because, I think, it's all made up. (Notably the other work about Lincoln that everybody knows is Sandburg's, and that's all made up too.) Ford can invent these almost biblical parables of Lincoln tasting the pies, and Lincoln cheating at tug of war, and they get at the heart of the paradox of who Lincoln was much more effectively than any actual facts from his life could. Even take THE SOCIAL NETWORK; how much less would that film have to say about Zuckerberg if it gave us the precisely factually accurate Zuckerberg? What would the point of the movie even be if it became a scrupulously accurate record of Facebook's corporate history? So when I hear that he included this detail about the Japanese shooting at Pompidou's portrait simply because it really happened, I'm a little aghast. If you include it, it should be for a reason, a reason good enough that if it never happened it's the sort of thing you would have wanted to make up. Otherwise, how do you impose form and meaning on your materials? A life filmed detail for detail has no meaning; it only attains meaning by selection, and fabrication, and omission.

Glenn Kenny

@ Asher: First off, with all due respect, let me just say I'm very glad that I never had you as a third-grade teacher. Secondly, your being baffled as to why Assayas would want to be "factually accurate at all" is kind of funny. Considering all of the shit that "The Social Network" has been taking from clods such as Nathan Heller who, on account of having attended Harvard at some point, get to turn up their noses and say, "Harvard wasn't REALLY like that," and wag their underemployed fingers at other attendant irrelevancies, I'd think at least one reason would be self-evident, if not at least a little self-serving. Thirdly, we all love "Young Mr. Lincoln." We don't all have to make it, or try to. Anyway, I think we're understanding the interview segment in question differently. I'm seeing it as Assayas saying that he didn't plan for Carlos' proclamation that "behind every bullet will be an idea" to be explicitly countermanded by the ridiculous shooting of the Pompidou photo, as in, he didn't have it in mind to make that a, you will excuse the phrase, "beat" while he was writing or shooting; the irony was in fact built into the historical material itself. It was there, as opposed to having to have to be invented. Just as the irony of Carlos seeing himself as a world revolutionary when all along he is really only a mercenary is built into the material. And it's this factual irony which makes, I think what some see as the final parts longueurs actually necessary.

And certainly the film teems with instances of Assayas imposing his creative will/imagination over the material. Part of the challenge, and fun, for him, I infer, was staying true to history while doing so. We don't know, for instance, that The Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" was playing on the car radio during Kröcher-Tiedemann's shoot-out with Swiss border agents in late 1977; we do know that it COULD have been, as the record itself had been released in the fall. Would Olivier have used the song even had that not been the case? I think he might have.

Kent Jones

This is all pretty silly, and I have no use for punitive, absolutist rhetoric, when it's directed at OA or anyone else - for some reason that I've never understood, he inspires alot of it. Let's just say that a John Ford movie about Lincoln made for Darryl Zanuck in 1939 is to an independently produced 3-part Olivier Assayas movie about Carlos made in 2010 as an artichoke is to a calculator. They're both motion pictures based on the lives of real people, and they're both great - there the similarities end.


Thanks for the excellent interview. I'm hoping you'll get a chance to write about some of Assayas's earlier films, too. I like Désordre a lot, not least for the New York scenes; it's striking how vital it still feels even when showcasing locales that have been completely transformed. It's a pity that some of his other earlier work is so hard to see, though I see that Désordre and L'Enfant de l'hiver were released earlier this year on DVD. Perhaps there's a future foreign DVD report there?!

Glenn Kenny

@ Gareth: We shall see. I'm off to see "Winter's Child" now. "Disorder" was pretty spectacular, and the New York scenes inspired not just nostalgia for Olde Manhattan but for a filmmaking era when curreny exchanges and film economics were such that a low-budget production could afford an overseas jaunt for a few days shooting.

Kent Jones

I hope everyone got a chance to see PARIS AT DAWN. I saw that when it came out in France, before DESORDRE or WINTER'S CHILD, and it's still one of my favorites.


Well, I now have the 5+ hour version of CARLOS on my DVR, which means it should only be a couple years before I get around to watching it.


Glenn, I've been bothered by a lot of THE SOCIAL NETWORK trashing as well, but I felt like Nathan Heller's article was one of the more benign and reasonably argued. He's certainly right that it gets Harvard wrong and I don't think that's insignificant because it points to a larger problem with Sorkin's writing, which tends to TV drama short-hand and quick caricature. There's also the anger and paranoia behind every word. This is both a strength and a weakness, I think.

In any event, Heller's central criticism is more based on the claim that the film gets the overall zeitgeist of its moment wrong. That claim is one I completely disagree with. I'm 23 and I feel like I've lived scenes from THE SOCIAL NETWORK.

Loved DISORDER and WINTER'S CHILD. I don't think they're great films, but they are definitely great first films and it's significant to me that already in 1986 Assayas's films looked nothing like the films that were be made at the time. The extreme shallowness (and shallow focus) of the spaces he creates feels a decade (or two) ahead of the time. I'm really excited for PARIS AT DAWN this evening. Seeing CARLOS at IFC tomorrow.

Glenn Kenny

@ Edo: It is true, Heller's piece is one of the more benign and reasonably argued, at least on its face. But, as Spencer Pratt says, "That's the problem." Because I sometimes like to wear my emotional infancy on my sleeve, I don't mind admitting that in some ways I find the "benign," "reasonable" voice that says "I went to Harvard, don't you know?" even more infuriating than the voice that shouts the same thing. Also, my disdain for the horse he rides in on (as it were) is no secret. So he does make a very tempting punching bag. He could certainly help the both of us out by not writing about "Psycho," as he threatens in another of his Slate pieces.

But Heller's piece hardly represents a bottom as far as "Social Network" writing is concerned. Maggie Gallagher's gruesomely stupid ruminations are, well, gruesomely stupid, and special mention must be made of St.-Theresa-reincarnated-as-a-fast-food-joint-cashier Kathryn Jean Lopez's demented dribblings. I won't link, as half the "fun" of such stuff resides in the finding of it.

I'm seeing "Paris" this afternoon and hope to have some thoughts on early Assayas up soon after that, or soon after "Cold Water" next week...

Chris O.

Late to this party. Kick-ass interview for a kick-ass film. (Spoiler: What a way to attack a guy's manhood/machismo... arresting him in the middle of that particular... discomfort.) I'm going to chase it with some Hammer "Mummy" efforts tonight to cleanse the palette. Hoping to see "Enter The Void" sooner than later as well as I've heard great things. Wonder what Assayas thinks of Noe's film(s).

Asher's comments and Mr. Jones' response are interesting. It reminds me of the "absolutist" statement by Makavejev that Criterion posted on Facebook earlier and the ensuing comments (featuring more absolutist blah blah-ings). The "shoulds" and "should-nots" of filmmakers and their works kill me.

Sorry about your TV, Glenn. My Toshiba Regza (LCD) has been a delight thus far, if you're still browsing.

Kent Jones

Chris O., it's the idea that there's a moral/aesthetic playbook for filmmakers to consult that really amuses me.

On a more practical front...there's a misconception that CARLOS was shot on digital. It was shot in 35, on the new Aaton Penelope.

Glenn Kenny

@ Kent, and others: Yes, and unfortunately that misconception made it into Manohla's otherwise very accurate "TImes" review. Now I feel kind of bad for not including the stuff that Assayas said about the shooting in my Daily Notebook interview. It was omitted for space concerns, and also because (this was probably silly of me) I didn't know how Olivier would feel, retrospectively, about hammering at certain of the film's producers! Any way, the exchange went like this:

"Q: And you shot in 35.

A: Yes. Yeah. But which was also a struggle. This has been--we did it--I don't know how we got away with it. I don't know how we got away--and how we got away with shooting in CinemaScope format. It's like we sold it to the TV executive...who was a young, smart guy who said, OK, you want to shoot 'Scope, no problem. So he kind of give it away; the [actual] producers of the film only understood after--like more than half way into the shoot that the film was actually shot in that form."

I think perhaps the misconception arises because of "Carlos"' thematic/length/etc. relationship to Soderbergh's "Che," which WAS shot in digital.

Chris O.

Don't know if I need to clarify but for the record, Kent, I was agreeing with you. (Hence, the quotes around "should" and "should nots".) By the way, the Makavejev instance was his quote about narrative structure being a "prison." I'll just say people didn't like that.

Glenn, would it be possible to read the interview in its entirety here at some point? If it's transcribed, that is. Just curious. I wanted it to go on.


Maybe there's an answer to this confusion. I just saw CARLOS this afternoon at IFC. It was clearly shot in 35mm, but it was projected digitally, presumably DCP. It looked, well, awful. You could see jagged contours in certain shots, colors were muted, and the camera movements lost a lot of their kinetic wallop to the smoothness of the motion. It's a very good film, so this was a real disappointment.

But what goes around comes around. I ducked into the last thirty minutes or so of THE SOCIAL NETWORK at a theater that was showing it in 35mm. It looked terrible. Digital loses its subtlety to photochemical, and vice-versa.

Kent Jones

Chris O. - understood. I tried to find the Makavejev thing on the Forum and couldn't.

Edo, I don't think there will be any 35mm prints of the complete CARLOS. A matter of economics. I have to say that the DCP looked spectacular when I saw it in Cannes - it's a matter of projection. On the other hand, your SOCIAL NETWORK experience reminds me of the time I saw ZODIAC on 35, which looked dreadful. Everything is in a state of transition now.


Kent, I was afraid of that. I'm guessing this is something IFC couldn't do anything about even if they wanted to? Anyway, it's a damn shame is all I can say. A film shot in 35mm should be shown in 35mm. Even if DCP can sometimes look good, you can always tell it's not film. The grain feels like it has a layer of glass over it. It's at a certain remove...

Chris O.

Kent, it was on Facebook on Oct. 13. They posted the quote that opens his profile on their site (to which they also linked encouraging people to explore his work): "“Narrative structure is prison; it is tradition; it is a lie; it is a formula that is imposed." I don't want to post the comments here but they ran from reflexively and ignorantly dismissive to how he's incorrect because of how the brain thinks in terms of story.

Kent Jones

Chris O., thanks for giving me the detail. Sounds like a non-conversation. My own response is: he's a filmmaker, that's the way he feels in relation to his own work, he's not the first artist to describe his own desires and practices in the language of pronouncements and prescriptive statements (Bresson comes to mind) and he won't be the last.

Edo, I sort of agree, but to be specific: CARLOS looked FABULOUS in Cannes, and it was the DCP. I haven't been down to IFC to look at it so I can't judge. But the broader question you're raising doesn't have an answer that will be to your liking. As the years tick by, 35mm prints will become as rare as Grecian urns.


Oh, don't I know it...

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