January 31, 2016
This has to be the absolute best movie to ever revolve around the "man doesn't recognize woman because she is wearing glasses" plot. It's a 1967 musical starring Anna Karina & Jean-Claude Brialy, with songs written by Serge Gainsbourg (he also has a small role in the movie) and a guest appearance from Marianne Faithfull. (!!!)
I want to say that story-wise it's pretty horrible, as most movies that pretend glasses make someone look like an entirely different person usually are, but it's mixed with so much irreverence that you can't help but love it. Jean-Claude Brialy takes a photograph in which Anna Karina is in the background, sans glasses. Technically he "falls in love with her" but it's really a kind of creepy obsession that he takes to astronomical levels. He has her photo blown up into posters that are plastered all over Paris. He has a team of photographers out combing the streets trying to find her likeness. Meanwhile, he actually KNOWS HER but she wears glasses all the time, so he doesn't realize she's the girl in the picture.
The real highlight of the movie is the visuals and, if you're a fan of Serge Gainsbourg, the music. I'm not really an admirer of his original songs (too much talk-signing?) but his version of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is my all-time favorite. And the song that Marianne Faithfull sings (LOVE HER) in the film is pretty fantastic.
But. THE VISUALS.
Some movies are so visually striking that you could probably watch them on mute and still enjoy them. Considering the fact that this is a musical, it seems illogical that it would remain enjoyable as a silent movie, but it really would. From the costumes to the backdrop of Paris with it's enormous brightly colored posters of Anna Karina's face hanging up everywhere, to the twin aunts (??) who always seem to be dressed in plastic and are seen below painting one of their hands blue:
At one point the aunts (?) wear jumpsuits that are covered in zippers. One removes the sleeves of her suit while the other removes the midriff before they proceed to get manicures and pedicures.
There's also an interesting dream sequence that made very little sense to me, but it looked so amazing I'd happily watch it over and over again. A sad Anna Karina dons all-black with a photo of Jean-Claude Brialy on her shirt. An astronaut Anna Karina counts to 8 in English while jumping around in a spacesuit. I dare you to peel your eyes away from this madness!!
After I finished watching this I urgently pulled out my phone and started looking for a clear raincoat and round glasses online. I may not have brown hair (or bangs, at the moment, although this movie is definitely pulling me back in their direction) but Anna Karina will always and forever be my style idol. I think I'm actually incapable of watching a movie that she's in without wanting - nay, NEEDING - to replicate her look. I haven't seen The Nun yet, but I'm pretty sure I'll be on etsy frantically searching for vintage habits after I finally watch it.
Seriously, though, she always has a unique style that's a perfect combination of quirky and classic. I could never get even remotely close to achieving that myself, but I bought these glasses anyway. If nothing else, at least they'll be perfect for going incognito when I don't want anyone to recognize me ;)
January 23, 2016
What do you do when you find out that the movie you love was created by someone terrible, or someone who did terrible things? Or someone you just don't agree with? This subject has been fascinating me and twisting my conscience into knots for years.
I started giving it even more thought after I listened to the commentary track on Deux Hommes de la Ville, which was written and directed by Jose Giovanni. The movie is about a reformed criminal that's hounded by a relentless cop who doesn't believe in redemption. It's a great movie with a powerful message about the flaws in the prison system and the inherent inhumanity of the death penalty.
But according to the commentary track, Jose Giovanni was a pretty despicable guy. You can look him up on Wikipedia if you want, but if you're the type of person who can't watch a movie after they've learned bad things about the filmmaker you might want to steer clear of his biography. At the end of the commentary track, the narrator, Jean Gabin biographer Charles Zigman, informs the listener of Giovanni's transgressions and then poses the question: how do you feel about the film now that you know?
To make matters worse, I also watched two interviews with Alain Delon, who starred in the film with Gabin, and he made it a point to assure everyone that the anti-capital punishment message of the film was one that he definitely did not share. (Although, at least his argument in favor of the death penalty is that some people are too evil to walk this planet... which has basis in logic. Whereas the last time I had an argument about this matter with my grandmother her rationale was that "we need to kill people because we don't have enough room in our prisons.")
So after watching this movie that I absolutely adored-- not just because it was entertaining, but because it echoed my own beliefs about the morality of the prison system and capital punishment-- I find out that the writer was a despicable person and the star didn't believe in the message that had resonated so deeply with me.
How do you feel about the film now that you know?
Here's the thing. I still love the movie. And I don't know how I feel about that.
Where I stand on this whole issue varies wildly from case to case. When I was little, my parents were active supporters of the Brady Campaign and, subsequently, not the biggest fans of Charlton Heston. So by the time I turned 13 and started getting interested in classic movies, I already had a pretty strong bias against him burned into my brain. In this particular case, it's not even a matter of someone being a bad person *objectively,* it's a matter of them doing things or supporting causes that don't align with my own personal values.
It's actually very similar to Delon and the death penalty --- Alain Delon might not be out there murdering people (actually, he might have. but that's another story) but most of his political views contrast sharply with my own, and therefore make it hard for me to actually like him as a person. The difference here is that I knew I didn't like Charlton Heston, the person, before I ever saw his movies. I found out that Alain Delon was a bit of a xenophobic right-winger after I was already familiar with his films. In this instance (and almost every instance where the movies come before the research) I seem to give people a pass. Not as a conscious decision, mind you, it's my gut reaction. I still can't seem to stomach Charlton Heston onscreen, even though I've made exceptions for plenty of other conservative actors like John Wayne and Walter Brennan. I mean, Gary Cooper is one of my favorites and he was a friendly witness during the HUAC hearings.
But back to Jose Giovanni and the issue of people who are actually guilty of criminal acts or objectively heinous behavior. Like Roman Polanski or Woody Allen. I love Roman Polanski movies, especially Repulsion and Rosemary's Baby. I can't imagine never watching either of those films again. Does that make me a horrible person? Sometimes I feel guilty about it, but I also don't know if I *should* feel guilty about it. Does a movie, or a book, or a piece of artwork, need to have been created by a morally upstanding person in order to be considered worthwhile?
A very extreme and probably not-really-something-I-should-put-on-the-internet scenario that I like to debate with my dad is this: imagine a work of art is discovered and it's one of the most beautiful paintings the world has ever seen. It rivals the Mona Lisa in its beauty; despite the fact that there is no signature and art historians are unable to trace its origin, it becomes a worldwide sensation. It's purchased by The Louvre and people flock to see it for several hundred years. Then, at some point in the future, technology advances to the point where we're finally able to figure out once and for all who painted this masterpiece. And it was Hitler. Does the painting become less beautiful at this point? Do you feel guilty if you thought it was beautiful before you found out? Are you a bad person if you still think it's pretty once you know who painted it? How would society react to this discovery?
It's a tough call, isn't it? My dad thinks that this definitely sullies the beauty of the painting, with one exception: if it was painted when Hitler was a teenager, before he started becoming the monster that he eventually turned into (although this brings up a whole other discussion about whether or not people are born bad, and -if they aren't- when exactly Hitler transitioned, or started to transition, into being a horrible person.) I personally am completely torn on the entire question (even though I'm the one who posed it to begin with!) I don't know if art needs to be connected to its creator, or if it should be considered a separate entity once it's been completed.
Another factor that complicates my attempts to untie this moral knot is the passage of time and the immediacy with which we can retrieve and process information in the internet age.
Take, for instance, the Italian painter Caravaggio. Not a great guy, he was apparently very temperamental, often engaging in brawls and, although it's not clear if it was intentional or accidental, he killed a man and was sentenced to death by the Pope. He fled Rome after the murder and went to Naples, where his skills --as a painter, not a murderer-- were still in high demand. The Church even commissioned several paintings from him. And now, some 400 years after his death, he is considered one of the greats. His introduction of a new, dramatic form of chiaroscuro is heralded in Art History classes. His masterpieces are hanging in the most prestigious museums in the world, including the Met and the Louvre. His sullied personal reputation is, essentially, a moot point. His works are now separated from the man and they stand alone as beautiful relics from our collective past.
What will the world think of Woody Allen's movies 400 years from now? Will time continue to erase the misdeeds of human creators while the work survives? Or will the internet age preserve the personal failings of artists in such a way that they can no longer be separated? And do we even want them to be separated in the first place?
Ideally I would love to experience a moment of clarity on this topic, but for the time being I remain thoroughly ethically confused. I guess at the very least, the fact that my enjoyment of movies created by morally questionable people bothers me is a sign that my conscience is still somewhat intact. The knot may never become untied, but at least there's a glimmer of hope that it could loosen.
January 11, 2016
I've lived in New Jersey my whole life and I've been a Frank Sinatra fan for 16 years but somehow I never made it to Hoboken until this past December. For Christmas my parents surprised me with a trip to the Hoboken Historical Museum, where they currently have an exhibition celebrating Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday.
It's a small exhibit, but it's jam-packed with tons of Sinatra memorabilia. I was incredibly smitten with their collection of movie posters (I was even so bold as to ask what's going to happen to the posters after the exhibit is over... desperately hoping they would have replied "we're giving them away for free to whoever wants them!" The actual [and much more logical] response was that they're looking for a place to keep them on display permanently.)
They had a huge collection of paraphernalia from various Sinatra fan clubs, which was one of the most adorable things I've ever seen. First of all, some of the names for the clubs were incredibly cute and creative. My favorites were "Frankie's United Swooners" and the "Frankly Impressed Fan Club." They had club membership cards, signed fan photos and (probably the cutest part) some letters that fans had sent in asking if they could join the clubs. The enthusiasm over "Frankie" and his music was so sweet!
Apparently one of the clubs asked "Why do you like Frank Sinatra?" on their membership cards and these were some of the responses they received. I think my favorite is "He just sends me."
Frank Sinatra was an outspoken opponent of prejudice of any kind, and the museum had a few examples of his activism. In the advertisement above, Sinatra joins five other celebrities in an attempt to demonstrate that we should judge people based on their talent and personality, not their ethnic background. Here is the text from the ad:
Did it ever occur to you to rate a great performer by his race, creed, or where his parents came from?
Of course not. You don’t care. You judge him on his performance, on his merits. You think of him as an individual — not as a member of some particular group.
Why judge your neighbor or fellow worker any differently? Yet — think a minute — how often do you pin a group label on someone before he has a chance to prove his own personal qualities?
All that any member of any racial or religious group in America asks is the right to be considered on his individual merits. Like him or dislike him as you choose — but do it because he’s the kind of a person he is — not because of his race or religion.
There are people in this country who would have us do otherwise — who would breed disunity and trouble by damning whole groups just because they are of a different creed, color, or national origin.
Don’t play their game! It’s dangerous.
For our own sake — for America’s sake, we can all do these three things to help the cause of unity:
1. Accept - or reject - people on their individual worth.
2. Don’t listen to, or spread, rumors against a race, or a religion.
3. Speak up, wherever we are, at home, in business, in our school, labor, church, or social groups, against prejudice, for understanding.
Remember - that’s being an American.
They also had some memorabilia from Sinatra's retirement and post-retirement. Not going to lie, I checked the gift store to see if they had any copies of that pink shirt. They didn't, so I might just need to make one for myself.
And this might have been the sweetest part of the whole exhibit. Frank Sinatra might have kind of moved on from Hoboken once he made it big, but Hoboken never moved on from him.
Jean Valentin, with her watch that always reads "Frank time."
There's also a self-guided Sinatra walking tour, which I definitely want to do on my next visit! (I'm particularly interested in visiting Sinatra's favorite bakery. He apparently loved it so much he had bread shipped to LA from back home!) I'm so glad that I finally made it to Hoboken, and the same month as Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday, to boot! If you're in the area, I highly recommend paying a visit before the exhibit closes in July.
January 08, 2016
I think Le Toubib (1979) is a beautiful anti-war movie. It takes place during a future war where new and brutal ways of killing and maiming are taking place on the battlefield. Heat-seeking bombs are filled with thousands of shards of rectangular glass. In a scene that you'll be hard-pressed to forget once you see it, an unexplained chemical weapon traps soldiers within the walls of a cave... their lifeless bodies preserved in the rock in a sort of modern, man-made Pompeii.
There is a good deal of unnatural, philosophical dialogue about the nature of war, which might have seemed too heavy-handed to some viewers, but I appreciated it immensely. I particularly liked the point (and this hadn't even occurred to me until it was brought up in the movie) that we send soldiers into battle with the sole purpose of killing other soldiers. But when a soldier is injured -- not killed -- we immediately stop the game. The soldier is taken out of battle and nursed back to health. Someone that would have easily been considered "collateral damage" is suddenly a precious life to be saved.
I only had a few issues with the movie. I felt like the death of François wasn't fully explained (was it something to do with the new weaponry and how Desprée had mentioned earlier that wounds were getting infected too quickly now? Or did I just miss something?) I think Harmony's character was a little underdeveloped. She didn't feel like a real person to me, for some reason (although maybe she wasn't supposed to?) There's also the classic case of the fragile girl in danger constantly turning to the tougher man for protection, but even though this is a trope that often bothers me I can't help but admit that if I was ever in a similar position I know I'd behave the same way. Finally, I felt like the ending was *almost* perfect. I would have preferred if it ended with the freeze-frame of Harmony and the sister reading the letter. Coming back and showing the audience what happened to Harmony wasn't really necessary, since it had been implied, and I felt like it actually lessened the impact. All of these faults were minor, though, and didn't really detract at all from my appreciation of the film.
Le Toubib is available on a restored Pathe DVD/Blu-Ray with English subtitles, but it's a Region 2 disc so you'll need a region-free player to watch it.
January 05, 2016
First of all, did you get the reference in the title? If you did, I love you. (If you didn't, it's a nod to 30 Rock.)
Lately I keep having flashbacks to August, 2009. If you've been following me that long then you might remember how my posts suddenly veered off in the general direction of Dirk Bogarde for pretty much a solid year. I have 40 posts tagged with "Dirk Bogarde" on this blog. FORTY. At the time I felt kind of guilty for blogging about him so much, because I assumed (and I'm pretty sure I was correct in assuming) that 99% of my blog readers couldn't possibly care less about Dirk Bogarde. I even had a giveaway where I volunteered to send a Bogarde DVD to anyone who asked for one. Not just one winner, ANYONE WHO ASKED ME. And then I was depressed that only like five people took me up on the offer. I just really wanted to spread the Dirk love, you guys!
Anyway, all this to say... I'm kind of going through that again with Alain Delon. Like I said in my last post, I had downloaded a bunch of his movies in 2010 and I've been playing catch-up for the last several months. It's almost weird how 2010 Kate was basically preparing 2015 Kate for this obsession. I was like "I'll just get my ducks in a row now, and then five years from now IT SHALL BEGIN."
I'm trying really hard not to go overboard on Silents and Talkies, though. It's kind of fun (in the most embarrassing way possible) to look back on all of my Dirk Bogarde posts, but I probably lost a nice chunk of my readers who, understandably, weren't interested anymore when I turned into a broken-record blogging nightmare.
But then, of course, when most of the movies you're watching share the same star it can be difficult NOT to write about at least some of them. I've mostly been writing about Alain Delon movies in little tiny blurbs on my Letterboxd account here. (By the way, if you aren't on Letterboxd yet I highly recommend it! It's like Goodreads for movies. SO MUCH FUN!) I was really happy with my review of La Piscine today so I thought it might be okay to share it here, just this once (I say "just this once" as if I haven't already included Alain Delon in four of my latest blog posts) This is what I wrote:
Okay, I watched this for the first time last year and I had rated it 4/5. It went in my 2015 Favorites list, just not at the top. I loved it, but I wasn't in love with it.
Sometimes you revisit a movie and all of a sudden there's this urgency to watching it, like your heart is racing faster and your eyes are so glued to the screen that it becomes physically impossible to look away. Actual heart palpitations. You're simultaneously aching for more but wishing it wouldn't move along so you could savor it longer.
Vapid characters that are bored by long summer days spent lying in the sun -- but you empathize with them anyway. An atmosphere so thick with humidity and languid tranquility that I felt the need to shed layers and take a dip in a pool, despite being palpably enveloped in a New Jersey winter. A mellow soundtrack that I need to track down and purchase and listen to whenever my nerves need soothing. A story that takes you places you never expected when you sat down to watch a movie that disguised itself as nothing but a slow summer holiday on celluloid.
I'm pretty smitten with this review, but I still don't feel like it properly conveys how much I loved re-watching this movie. There are certain movies that seem to go further than just conveying sights and sounds and emotions. I swear you can feel the sizzle of the sun in this film. If it wasn't scientifically impossible, I'd go so far as to say the sun somehow travels from the screen directly onto your skin. It's tactile in a way that movies actually can't be. I don't think I can properly explain it, but the world created in this movie feels so real and present that after waking up this morning, I felt as if I had been in the movie last night. As I mentioned a couple of posts back, escapism is a major factor for me in watching movies so the whole "I feel like I lived this movie" thing is a big selling point in my book.
This clip that was posted on youtube really conveys the mood of the film (and I really love the song that's playing throughout) If this seems like something that might interest you, too, it's available to stream (with English subtitles) on Amazon Prime here!