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October 10, 2012


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I find it ironic that he praises LIFE OF PI (which I haven't seen) for "crackerjack filmmaking" yet denigrates LEVIATHAN, which gave me more sensual pleasure than any new film I've seen so far this year, as a glorified home movie. Something gives me the feeling he'd write off Stan Brakhage's SCENES FROM UNDER CHILDHOOD alongside Resnais.


feel like the posts have been especially strong lately, keep up the good work

Joel Bocko

Great piece. I'm kind of amazed that people can find Last Year in Marienbad self-serious, when the thing seems so undeniably and irresistably arch. As for "boring" - Resnais is absolutely hypnotic; I recall seeing clips of the long tracking shots looking up a the ceiling of the chateau and being so yanked in, viscerally, that I just had to see the entire film soon after.

Also - re: ""Film Culture Isn't Dead, It's Just More Fun" - really? And not just the title (which I'll deal with in a moment). I find it kind of fascinating how the floodgates have really opened on "Is Cinema Dead? No, It Isn't. Yes It Is!" this season. Not that there haven't always been essays like this, but man have they never poured out in this volume (we've already reached the point, and only in a matter of weeks, where the titles of various essays are referring to other critics' titles as well). Hell, I contributed an entry on this venerable subject myself recently (specifically in response to David Denby's piece, which I loved), and I know another blogger who's got one on the way in a week.

I don't find it surprising so much that the subject is on everyone's lips, as that it's SUDDENLY on everyone's lips; it seems to me American cinema at least has been undergoing a crisis for at least close to a decade but right at this moment everyone seems to want to talk about it. I wonder why, and where it will lead.

Anyway, as far as Bailey's essay title (the essay itself I'll promptly read) and your selected quote - agreed, one of the things that drives me batty about the counter-crisis arguers is their tendency to construct these straw-man cinephiles. Like the Badass Film Digest review you linked to (or linked to a link to) recently, which kind of painted an absurd (to my eyes) picture of Red America/Blue America film culture. I'm as annoyed by stiff film-studies milieus as the next guy, but to throw out a fondness for classic or art films as "pretentious" or "snobby" or whatnot is not just to reject those areas of moviedom, it's to reject movideom altogether, since the richest cinephilia has always consisted of embracing a broad range of both mainstream genre films and obscure art films, and a lot of stuff which doesn't fit into either of those two categories. In that regard, it's remarkably unlike the music scene - which I've always found (even in my brief period as a music enthusiast) rather offputting in its niches, dichotomies, and kill-your-idols obsession (I once compared music vs. movies to Oedipus vs. Hamlet; one actively seeks to destroy the past, and yes I know that Oedipus doesn't KNOW he's killing his father but we'll have to overlook that for a moment for the metaphor to work - while the other values the past and seeks to destroy the present pretender; I think that sums up the way cinephiles and rebellious filmmakers approach the traditions and contemporary practices of their medium).

Lately, though, I've been noticing trends towards movie buffs actively hating on classics or art films with a kind of proud, chip-on-their-shoulder "look-Ma-I'm-so-rebellious" attitude that just makes me depressed. At least since the New Wave, reverance for the past has been one of the traits that marked revolutions in the medium. Lose that and I think, rather than move forward on the road to the future, movies and the people who love them will become stuck in a rut, spinning their wheels, and congratulating themselves for taking their own course.

David Ehrenstein

Thanks for this very welcome defense of Resnais. While Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad have remained his most "famous" films, my particular faves are Providence, Muriel, Stavisky, Je t'aime Je t'aime and Not on the Lips. He's a far lighter and more playful filmmaker than his enemies can possibly grasp, muc less give him credit for.

Back in the late 60s'/ early 70's when I was still based in New York I used to run into him all the time -- once quite memorably at the first public screeing of Kazan's The Arrangement. "Shall we go?" said his companion Florence Malraux when the end credits ran. "No," said Resnais. "We are going to stay and see it again!"
This was the period when Resnias became a Sondheim obsessive, seeing "Company" and "Follies" many many times. As a result Strich got the role of a lifetime in Providence and Sondheim wrote the great score to Stavisky.

Lately he's been using composer "Mark Snow" who back when he was known as Marty Fulterman was a classmate of mine at Communist Martyrs High (aka. The High School of Music and Art)

Lambert Wilson, who freqently visits L.A., tells me that Resnais has all sorts of physical difficulties. But his spirits are high and he is preparing his next film even as I post.


You've got it: when someone has the apparent integrity to write "I'll own it: I couldn't find a way into the film..." there's a good place to stop. But Bailey trudges on, refusing to 'own' it.

A different Brian

How can the swipes at Freud grow tiresome? In the intro of maybe 6 books and a handful of interviews? Maybe 500 words against without a doubt the most influential and important fraud of the 20th century? And N. was completely right!

A different Brian

Sorry to harp (and hijack), but Nabokov's reputation isn’t going anywhere new. This crap has been put forward by poshlusty dimwits since 1926 (Sirin is cold-hearted, unserious player of silly games, etc.), for heaven’s sake (and is more or less Edmund White's problem, as well). It’s not a new development, but a change of tide between the fortunes of the self-serious Dostoyevsky-lovers and those who believe that the only really serious thing about literature is its formal invention and uncanny beauty. Nabokov already decisively answered these rubes in chapter 4 of The Gift (or Dar, as Glenn prefers!).

David Ehrenstein

My favorite Nabokov is Pale Fire which like Altman's O.C. & Stiggs manages to be homoerotic and homophobic at the same time.

It would be nice f someone made a film of it -- but Raul Ruiz is dead.

A different Brian

David Ehrenstein: hear hear!

Rand Careaga

Over forty years ago I was first exposed to Nabokov at an impressionable age (nineteen, in Berkeley, via a remaindered copy of Ada--the UK edition with the proper flap copy) and fell in love. I gobbled up the remainder of the available oeuvre by the end of 1972, and have revisited most of them since. His influence on my own prose style was regrettable, and I still have pages and pages of cringeworthy stuff from that period buried in a filing cabinet somewhere...

Anyway, Nabokov's critics today aren't saying anything he didn't anticipate long ago. From "Spring in Fialta" (1936) the narrator describes a "Franco-Hungarian writer" of whom he disapproves:


I had known his books before I knew him; a faint disgust was already replacing the aesthetic pleasure which I had suffered his first novel to give me. At the beginning of his career, it had been possible perhaps to distinguish some human landscape, some old garden, some dream-familiar disposition of trees through the stained glass of his prodigious prose…but with every new book the tints grew still more dense, the gules and purpure still more ominous; and today one can no longer see anything at all through that blazoned, ghastly rich glass, and it seems that were one to break it, nothing but a perfectly black void would face one’s shivering soul. But how dangerous he was in his prime, what venom he squirted, with what whips he lashed when provoked! The tornado of his passing satire left a barren waste where felled oaks lay in a row, and the dust still twisted, and the unfortunate author of some adverse review, howling with pain, spun like a top in the dust.


Incidentally, read the opening lines of "Spring in Fialta" and tell me that they weren't echoing at least subliminally in young John Updike's mind when he sat down to compose "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" in 1960.

Peter Labuza

Great piece, Glenn. I hate this idea that "this movie doesn't present itself easily to me what to do ho hum." I knew some of the actors from seeing other French movies and they were playing themselves, but I didn't know who Jean Anouilh was or that he had written an adaptation of the Orpheus myth until I began reading the press notes later. But that didn't stop me from loving the hell out of this film by watching how it created a world of magical realism and the conversation in sparked between the old and the young.

If there isn't an easy entry point into the film, YOUR JOB IS TO FIND ONE. I did that with "Khrustolyov," a film so Russian it might as well not even bother with subtitles (hell, I used to have a job where I watched foreign films without subtitles - the very good ones didn't need them). But I immediately engaged with its almost Looney Tunes-style humor, and loved getting lost in its absurdest world.

This goes the same with issues when people talk about "the film didn't do what I wanted it to do." Well what is it doing and why? How about thinking for five minutes? A lot of critics out there love to just throw their hands up and give up when they might actually have to use their brain. You don't have to like it still, but how about engaging with the text? That's what I did with "Holy Motors," a film I didn't like, but I worked really hard to investigate all of its pieces and consider why they were on screen. Grow up and do your job.


I wouldn't mind at all if the dominant meme about Alain Resnais swung from "dour and obscure" to the much more accurate "formally playful." Mon oncle d'Amérique, with its giant mouse costumes and documentary segments, probably better reflects Resnais's overall sensibility than Last Year..., although I don't hear it talked about anywhere near as much.

David Ehrenstein

And it should be.

At length.


How radically different would Resnais' filmography be if he had been able to film the adventures of Harry Dickson?
Would a future critic be saved from blasphemy or forever doomed to spend an eternal night on Muriel's couch?


And Smoking/Non-Smoking isn't available either, still my favorite Resnais...

David Ehrenstein

The script of "Les Adventures de Harry Dickson" was published in French several years back, illustrated with photos Resnais took in preparation for shooting. He wanted Dirk Bogarde and Delphine Seyrig to star and he wanted to make it in 70mm.

But he's not a "visionary" like Paul Thomas Pipsqueak so he didn't get the chance. It would have been beautiful -- like Feuillade with sound.

Gordon Cameron

>His influence on my own prose style was regrettable, and I still have pages and pages of cringeworthy stuff from that period buried in a filing cabinet somewhere...

Yeah, Nabokov is one of those 'don't try this at home, kids' writers. He's one of the few writers whose prose can practically make me swoon, though.

Brian Dauth

From "Ada":

"That was love, normal and mysterious. Less mysterious and considerably more grotesque were the passions which several generations of schoolmasters had failed to eradicate, and which as late as 1883 still enjoyed an unparalleled vogue at Riverlane. Every dormitory had its catamite. One hysterical lad from Upsala, cross-eyed, loose-lipped, with almost abnormally awkward limbs, but with a wonderfully tender skin texture and the round creamy charms of Bronzino’s Cupid (the big one,whom a delighted satyr discovers in a lady’s bower), was much prized and tortured by a group of foreign boys, mostly Greek and English, led by Cheshire, the rugby ace; and partly out of bravado, partly out of curiosity, Van surmounted his disgust and coldly watched their rough orgies. Soon, however, he abandoned this surrogate for a more natural though equally heartless divertissement."

Brian Boyd and others have argued that "Ada" seems to be the novel where Nabokov most fully tries to come to terms with regard to his brother Sergei through the character of Lucette. I would have to read "Ada" again to see if it were true, but I was always struck by both the work's homophobia and their need to have queer characters in them. It was only much later when I learned that VN had a queer brother who died in a Nazi camp that things made more sense retrosepctively.

David Ehrenstein

Here's more about the Nabokov brothers


No real way to get to the bottom of this now.

I've always felt VN's antipathy to Thomas Mann stemmed from homophobia and the deadly fear that "Lolita" would be compared to "Death in Venice."

Nothing gay in Resnais -- save the bartender character in "Coeurs," and the lovely Lambert Wilson.

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