Wednesday, November 29, 2006

D'Autres Nouvelles des Etoiles

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"There's a trilogy in my life, an equilateral triangle, shall we say, of Gitanes, alcoholism and girls... and I didn't say isosceles, I said equilateral." --Serge Gainsbourg


"The first time I saw him I thought. It really wasn't his face, it was... it was his way of being that I found... horrible! He had no sense of courtesy or kindness... but I understood later that what I'd taken for belligerence came from a real shyness." --Jane Birkin

"Serge is a mixture of Bob Dylan, Frank Sinatra, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and Tom Jones. It's a combination we've all fantasized about hearing, and there he is. I heard all the music first, but when I saw films of him, I really got the attitude, which communicates a lot. The way Serge carries himself is like no one else... He represented a rock 'n roll decadence that isn't cliche. It's a little more refined and maybe a little more perverted." --Beck

I never knew a Melody, but I once knew a Heather Lee and she was a Serge Gainsbourg fan. I had no idea who he was at the time and assumed he was a schmaltzmeister like Charles Aznavour. I broke up with Heather Lee before I heard any of her Gainsbourg discs, but when I finally did, I realized she had been grooving to one of the coolest cats ever.
The last couple of years have been good for Gainsbourg collectors. Many of his LP's have been reissued and some, like the reggae albums, include bonus material. Hard to find soundtracks, such as Cannabis, have also been re-released. A number of good compilations exist, including a 3-disc set of his music for films. For the hardcore fan there's a comprehensive 17-disc box that spans his entire career. As for Serge on video, in 2000 Universal France released a collection of Gainsbourg's television appearances and promotional clips. Last year a revised, subtitled, two DVD set was made available domestically. D'Autres Nouvelles des Etoiles features 80 clips [9 of them interviews] filmed between 1958 and 1989, a total of 4 hours, 40 minutes of footage.
Serge Gainsbourg is a singular presence in French pop or pop in general. As Beck noted, he combined an unlikely assortment of musical and personal qualities. The most typical image of him is a mondaine hedonist, coolly sucking on a Gitane while caressing a ravishing doll. A sort of French James Bond, if you will. The less typical image of him is a polite, gracious, self-deprecating, funny, shy, philosophical, nervous man. A sort of French Miles Monroe, if you will. Displaying the evolution of his persona, D'Autres Nouvelles des Etoiles presents Gainsbourg in his complexity.
To understand a little of his diverse nature it helps to know something of his background. Serge Gainsbourg was born Lucien Ginsburg on April 2, 1928 at the L'H/Yentel-Dieu, the oldest hospital in Paris [est. 651AD]. Lucien or 'Lulu', as he was known, grew up in a relatively secure, artistic household. His parents, Joseph and Olia Ginsburg, were Russian Jews who fled the Bolshevik revolution. His father, Joseph, was a painter-turned-pianist who played in bars and nightclubs. Gainsbourg would say, "he raised his children with his own ten fingers." In the summer, Joseph Ginsburg would play seaside resorts like Deauville and Biarritz, often bringing the family along. It was thus that Serge had an early introduction to the world of luxury and entertainment and it was on the beach of one of those resorts that he became aware of the link between sex and music, when a pretty girl walked past as the PA played a Charles Trenent tune.
In 1942 the French government began complying with the occupying Nazi regime and issued the directive that all Jewish citizens over the age of six had to wear an identifying gold star. His parents tried to make light of it, telling him that it was like wearing a sheriff's badge, but he knew his government and many of his countrymen considered him less than a citizen and could have cared less if he and his family, like 77,00 others, had 'vanished'. His father managed to get the family to Limoges where they spent the rest of the war under the name Guimbard. Later in life Gainsbourg would say, "I have never forgotten that I ought to have died in 1941, '42, '43, '44."
One can see how this experience would brand him with an outsider sense of his culture. In the French cannon Gainsbourg is as iconic as Napoleon and yet, like the Corsican, he never considered himself fully French. In commenting on his relationship with Birkin he noted, "We make a funny couple... I'm of Russian origin, only my education is French. So Russia and England, it's a real cocktail, a bloody mary with lots of vodka." Elsewhere, he commented that his distance came from his roots having been left in Russia. This sense of otherness became embodied in the name he chose for his career. Though morphing Ginsburg into an Anglo/Francophonic variant of Gainsborough, he swapped 'Lucien' for 'Serge' to assert his ancestry.
The extent to which his heritage influenced his music or sense of humor is interesting to speculate. In the liner notes of his Gainsbourg tribute CD, John Zorn wrote, "at times certain inflections, lyrics or turns-of-phrase sound strangely Jewish" and Gainsbourg himself asserted, "My music is Judeo-Russian; always something sad." According to Birkin, when he had his mega-hit with Je t'aime, moi non plus, he took himself to Cartier's and ordered a star of david in platinum. And yet, as far as overt references in his work and public life went, he was more demonstrably Jewish than Bob Dylan, but less so than Woody Allen. He didn't make it a cornerstone of his public persona, but he didn't avoid it as songs like Yellow Star and Juif et Dieu attest. [To be fair Dylan did do Neighborhood Bully, but as everyone knows, his non-musical roots are largely a private matter to him.]
Then there was the matter of his professional late-blooming. He had originally wanted to be a painter, but discerned that it would be unlikely for him to enjoy a bourgeois lifestyle as an artist. In a 1968 interview he stated:
-" painted for about fifteen years... Then certain problems of survival arose after my military service. Before your military service, you have your parents.

--Sometimes after, as well.

--No. When you're an aristocrat, perhaps. I wasn't, so I took fear of the bohemian life, which I consider anachronistic... I took fear of that bohemian life which I found had no place in a modern context and I gave up painting.

Adopting his father's profession at the age of 23 was, then, a fallback and if being a cocktail pianist lacked the cache of being an artist, it at least afforded him an occupation where he could smoke, drink, keep odd hours and pursue women. The irony of course being that, as a painter, he would have been undistinguished, but as a piano player he had more than a spark. He worked as hard as any musician or, if you prefer, was no lazier than any musician. In either case, he had a nimble tread on the keys, improvising tunes at the drop of a hat.
Gainsbourg developed a nice string of gigs among the clubs of the Rive Gauche and, within several years, added singing to his repertoire. Despite this he was not a popular figure. Most likely, this had more to do with his style than his material. His witty, cynical songs did better when covered by Mich/(R)le Arnaud, Juliette Greco and Pia Colombo. Serge liked doing instrumentals but, by all accounts, hated singing in front of an audience. Pierre Koralnik, who would later direct him in several projects, attended a performance in 1958 and recalled:
His appearance on stage was very striking. Gainsbourg was looking very cramped in his suit, with a pallid face, singing in a lugubrious tone and making no attempt to win over the audience. That was the strange Mr. Gainsbourg, who came for one song and left just as quickly.

And Jane Birkin has this anecdote:
He was very frightened. He couldn't remember his own words because they were so clever, so he wrote them down on a piece of paper, and when his hands would shake too much in front of the chic nightclub audiences he would roll the paper up into a little ball and chuck it at them.

By comparison, his equally arty, year-younger contemporary, Jacques Brel was an established star. Although doing similar material, Serge possessed none of his success or popularity and languished as an awkward, weird guy who tended to alienate audiences.
When his first recording, Du chant /* la une!, was released in 1958 he was 30, divorced and living with his parents. Thus, despite the later improvement to his fortunes, he felt for a long time like a bit of an imposter. For someone who proclaimed he wasn't an aristocrat, he took the air of wealthy dilettante. He would often approach songwriting and scoring commissions in a lackadaisical manner, terrifying more than one director, but would always pull through, producing a brace of songs and a score within a matter of days. Paradoxically, it was the feeling that he was an artist incapable of success, engaged in an inferior pastime that freed him from the notion that he had to play by anybody's rules. After all, if he was producing trifles, it didn't matter what their substance was. Ironically, this pose would cause him to produce the most astonishing output of popular music in postwar France.
Predictably, filmmakers didn't quite know what to make of him. In the late 50's he had the appearance of a hotheaded hood from a Melville film, the one you'd least want to get into the car with. His early film roles were bit parts as creeps and punks, his very first as a blackmailing photographer in the Bardot flick Voulez-vous danser avec moi? At least movie directors utilized something of his aura. The directors of his music clips couldn't be bothered. As a newcomer, he had little or no control over the way he was presented and was probably told just to show up and wear something nice. In Adieu, creature! [59], Serge cruises the countryside in a convertible and in La nuit d'octobre [59], he wanders the ruins of a cathedral, like a lost soul in a Franju film. In both, his dark-suited urbanity strikes incongruously with the rustic setting.
The first thing that surprises you when you see him is how animated he is. Despite his reputation as l'homme impassive Gainsbourg had a very mobile face. When singing or even conversing, he pursed his lips or twisted them in cruel expressions. His Picasso eyes would widen and dart about, he would arch his eyebrows, his hands would wander back and forth, then gesticulate menacingly. Because of the violent subject matter of his songs, such as Le Poin/ssonneur des Lilas [59], he would often mime suicide -- pointing his fingers to his head or slashing across his throat or wrist. As a consequence of all this emoting, he was often a terrible lip syncher. Koralnik states, "He was never a great actor... He was already such a personality in life and in the media that he couldn't take on another role... He'd completely overwhelm his characters, like a vampire; the first thing you'd see would be Gainsbourg playing at being an actor."
Even when not singing, his face often betrays great discomfort, the sense that he would rather be anywhere than performing in a clip. In L'assassinat de Franz Lehar [64], a duo with the even more hawk-faced Philippe Clay [who makes Serge look sweet by comparison] there's an instrumental passage where the camera tracks along as he walks. Serge doesn't have to express anything, but his face constantly twitches. Unfortunately, very few clips in D'Autres Nouvelles des Etoiles show him performing live, but when he does his body and face tend to be more reserved and in sync with his voice, as in a masked appearance at a Parisian Mardi Gras soiree in Les petits paves [62].
His voice too, early on, was not one he was happy with. Remarkably light and fluttery, it was an instrument perfectly suited to capturing the turns of the ornate chansons he was composing, but one he would ultimately came to hate.
Given these hangups, it's no surprise that his best performance of the period is an instrumental of All The Things You Are [64]. Accompanied by a guitar and bass, it's the only clip where you see him jamming on the piano; a true pity, because it proves what a good player he was! It is also one of the few instances where he looks like he's enjoying himself. He smiles! You can tell this is what he likes to be doing. --Odd his collaborators didn't capitalize on this more.
About this time, however, the familiar image of him begins to develop as the cigarettes and liquor appear. He also begins to be seen more frequently on television. One in a series of four clips, All The Things You Are was made for the program Venez donc chez moi which, as implied by the title, seems to have been shot in his apartment -- the first of many glimpses into his residences, all of which bore a decorating sensibility one could call 'Neoclassical Gothic'.
Gainsbourg's first sexual encounter was with a prostitute at the age of 17. He was laughed at and told to come back when he was older. He had to approach several before one would take him as a client and she chewed gum throughout the transaction. His first romantic liaison occurred with his girlfriend, Elisabeth Levitsky, at the apartment of the absent, vacationing Salvador Dali. According to Sylvie Simmons in A Fistful of Gitanes they,
"fucked in Dali's all-black living-room - its walls and ceiling covered in astrakhan, the curly black material used on old-fashioned coat collars - on a pile of pricey artworks by Miro, Ernst, Picasso and their unwitting host, which were scattered on the floor. Lucien left the apartment with a Gitane clamped between his lips, a future wife on his arm, a firm idea of the ideal of home decor, a small black-and-white picture stolen from Dali's porn collection of two young girls eating each other out, and a reinforced belief that surrealism was the finest artistic movement there ever was..."

With experiences like this, it would have been unusual if he hadn't developed a somewhat neurotic sexuality. Like other famously neurasthenic skirt-chasers [W. Allen, R. Crumb] Gainsbourg pegged a lot of his women troubles on his looks. True, he wasn't anybody's idea of conventional handsomeness, but then neither were Gabin or Belmondo or Chevalier or Leaud or Montand or Piccoli or Depardieu or scores of other actors and performers who became sex-symbols in France. If anything, this jolie-laid tradition should have made him feel like a contender. Sure, he was no Alain Delon, but neither were most of his contemporaries. But if having affairs with a succession of gorgeous women wasn't enough to quell his insecurity then, perhaps, there was something more than calculatation to his profession of ugliness; a prideful boast which he bore like a perverse shield.
His discomfort with the opposite sex is beautifully manifested in Ce mortel ennui [64]. Dressed in a severe black suit and skinny tie, he promenades the marble arcade of a lavish building. About him chicly dressed women loiter and a gang of them stalk him like panthers. It could be an ogled Monica Vitti in L'Avventura with the sexes reversed. The song has a mournful jazz tone. The lyrics concern a man bored to death by his wife, but lacking the nerve to leave her because he fears she will commit suicide and so, bides his time by filling in the a's and o's of his newspaper. Smoking a cigarette, he walks through a phalanx of women [one of whom bears a teasing resemblance to him], then finds himself surrounded, like a sulky parakeet in a girl cage.
By 1965 Gainbourg's career was beginning to pick up. He was writing more pop-oriented songs, his album Gainsbourg percussions was a modest success and yet, in an interview with Denise Glazer, he's transparently uncomfortable. He smiles sickly, bites his fingers and barely makes eye contact. At one moment, his awkwardness becomes so apparent the camera cuts away. His sarcasm, at least, flows unimpeded. When asked why he switched from highbrow jazz to lowbrow pop he quips, "I've turned my coat because I've noticed the lining is mink" and when asked why he writes so many songs about women he replies, "What do you want to talk about in a song? They have to please women. It's women who applaud and their husbands follow... or their boyfriends."
In two clips from that year one can see his continuing aversion to performance. In Machins choses[65] he's paired with an 'exotic' girl with whom he lies on a flokati and fur festooned floor. Despite their proximity, he barely registers her presence. In Couleur cafe[65] the exotic girl is back and Serge now follows her about as she dances, at one point suppressing a laugh as if to say, 'I can't believe I'm in this fucking ridiculous clip.'
His first big break was France Gall's winning the Eurovision song contest with Poupee de cire, poupee de son. A far cry from his sardonic chansons, it was a fairly innocuous ditty sung by a fairly innocuous singer. Furthering the irony, it was not even the official entry of France, but of Luxembourg. However, a hit was a hit and it gave him some visibility. The money and attendant success didn't make him any happier. If anything, he felt like he had slid further down the greasy pipe; first abandoning art for jazz and then jazz for pop. The compromise!
His disenchantment is fully on display in the mini-doc Gainsbourg tel que [65]. A camera follows him about Paris as he speaks from what is evidently a phone interview.
--How do you see the success of Poupee de cire, poupee de son?

--As 7 million Francs.

--And besides money?

--Nothing. OK, I get some satisfaction.

Asked again what success means to him, he responds, "It simply means the loss of the notion of money. I think that's all. It means money. It gives you money. But when you have extravagant tastes you never have enough." Asked how he used to be perceived, he responds, "It's funny. I had a reputation as an impenetrable character, super intellectual and sophisticated. Never understood by my compatriots. I liked pure, modern jazz, but no one's interested in modern jazz." Asked if the perception of him has changed he says, "I didn't yet have a theatrical costume. Now I have a cynical costume. A cynical costume, which I find theatrical, because it comes from my relaxation. But before, they said I didn't have a theatrical costume. And now I have cynical costume they call me pretentious. They should make up their minds. It's a vicious circle." A bit of a philosopher, he adds at the end, "If you take a camera and point it at a blue sky, what do you see when you develop it? Nothing at all... In my tortured love life, I have beautiful black clouds, greys, blues."
By 1967 he was becoming a prominent part of the landscape. Since 1960 he had been scoring several film and television projects a year, but in '67 alone he had ten such commissions. The most important of these was Anna, a musical starring Anna Karina. Asked how he felt about having an actress sing his songs he replied, "I think she's more professional as a singer than any real professional. In fact, I promised her -- and the contract is signed -- twelve songs, a whole record." Although, sadly, it has never been re-released, Anna is considered to be one of his best collaborations; the first which allowed him to express his lyrical and aesthetic sensibilities with a clear and strong hand [a good description can be read here].
In addition to Anna, he worked on the television shows Vidocq and Dents de lait, dents de loup. A clip from the latter shows him singing among a sea of teenyboppers. He's twice as old as everyone around him, but doesn't remotely look out of place. This isn't Frank or Dino or Sammy trying to get with the kids. Partly this is due to the fact that there isn't a speck of condescension in him. As sardonic as he might have been, he developed a genuine appreciation and understanding of the music of his younger contemporaries and could write it as well as any of them. Indeed, Gainsbourg twigged quite early to what the Brits were doing and sought English musicians to give him that mod sound. However, his generational bonding owed as much to his sulky, lupine demeanor, which gave him a rock 'n roll pose as Byronically insolent as any twenty-something with an added layer of sophistication as a bullet-proof patina.
If swinging it, London-style, wasn't enough to put him over, then having a high-profile fling with Bridget Bardot was. However, despite their musical and sexual chemistry, the clips they did for her television special were somewhat inert. Bonnie and Clyde [68] displays no particular dazzle, although Comic Strip[68] is goofily fun in a sub-Barbarella way. For real magnetism one should watch Ne dis rien [68] with Anna Karina. A model of simplicity, it shows them slow dancing as they sing to each other. I have no idea if they ever enjoyed a tryst, but the looks they exchange are heartbreakingly romantic.
Though relishing the affair with Bardot, he felt betrayed when she eventually dumped him for her husband; his wounded ego flaring in a 1968 interview when asked the perennial question of why he wrote so often about women.
--Yes, but if you don't want to talk about Vietnam or the problems of Africa we come back to women. What other subjects do you see?

-"s this a transposition of life or a position you've set out with?

--A position, because my life has been punctuated with breakups and failures. Women are a delicate matter... Especially women in 1967, 1968... It's a problem!

--Why is it a worse problem than in 1930 or 1931?

-"n the 1930's they at least had a sense of public modesty, whereas now they wear miniskirts up to their thighs. When they get into a taxi it's up to their pelvis... A young girl dressed like that, which as a voyeur I find very beautiful, cannot have a mentality as strict as that of a young girl of the 19th century.

A year later Gainsbourg met the English model/actress Jane Birkin when she auditioned for the film Slogan. They did not hit it off immediately. He had originally wanted Marisa Berenson and considered Birkin unsophisticated or, as he charmingly put it in Portraits croises [70], "The first time I saw her... Jane? Who's that pig? And English!" Birkin, in turn, had no idea who Gainsbourg was and called him Serge Bourguignon. However, after an arranged dinner and an ensuing night on the town, they became inseparable for a dozen years. In the same program she explains the attraction.
-"t suits me fine that everyone finds him horrible... When I was little, I had a parrot who bit everyone but me... He loved me because I dared to tickle him under his wings. He adored me. Everyone said, "How can you adore that awful parrot?" I thought, "He's adorable but I don't want the others to know..."

A clip from that year Elisa [69], like Ce mortel ennui, shows Gainsbourg circulating among a group of women. This time, he has someone to return to. Birkin has little to do but sit next to Serge at the beginning and end of the song, but the way she smiles and whispers at him shows the playfulness of their rapport. They are similarly lovey-dovey in 69 annee erotique [69] where she sings while perched on top of his piano.
The effect of their romance can be further seen in /Ae propos de Melody Nelson [71], where they are interviewed by Gainsbourg's frequent interlocutor, Denise Glazer. In stark contrast to his prior declarations, he smilingly states:
-"'m not a cynic, as other maintain... I'm a romantic... I always have been. As a boy, I was shy and romantic. I became cynical through contact with others, who attacked me for my ugliness, and my candor... They confused my candor with cynicism...

-"n fact, what you call ugliness is something you made into a style through your desire for perpetual candor...

--They say I'm ugly... fine, I don't care. It's worked for me... I wrote somewhere that when I'm called ugly I laugh quietly so you don't awake.

Although acting together in a handful of mostly forgettable films, the fullest flowering of their onscreen pairing was Histoire de Melody Nelson[71]. Presenting the entire album in a 28-minute clip, it was shot on color video, a rarity back then. The piece has a live video style, swirling lights are mixed and melded with superimposed images in a candy-colored blur. Of all Gainsbourg's clips, it is the one he undoubtedly had the most creative input in. Surrealist paintings, of the sort he once made love on, act as scenic elements. At one point, he and Birkin stroll through a series of Delvaux's and at another their embrace mimics a Magritte. It is also, among his clips, one of the most sensual. His performance is unusually relaxed. Smartly, he doesn't lip-synch many of the lyrics, instead letting them play as he performs mute. Birkin, naturally, is quite sexy [albeit in a goofy sort of way] as she shimmies about in series of snug and revealing outfits, but the real pleasure is seeing them dance together. The sense of tenderness and yearning contained in the lyrics is given visual form as they sway in each other's arms. More romantic, even, than Ne dis rien, it's a level of intimacy one sees only again in La decadanse [72]
"Look at this cigarette. Of course it's eating away at my lungs. But what else could give me that same kind of physiological orgasm, one that renews itself every five seconds, every five minutes? There's the hand-gestures, the click of the lighter, the enjoyment of tar and nicotine eating away at me... And these violent pleasures come from soft drugs - like alcohol. How can you give up a minor drug that's such a pleasure?"

Gainsbourg suffered a heart attack in 1973. Ever the aesthete, when the medics arrived, he refused to be placed on the stretcher until he went upstairs to fetch his Herm/(R)s rug, because he found the ambulance blanket too vulgar [he also took the opportunity to snatch ten packs of cigarettes, which he later smoked in his hospital room]. According to Simmons, "Although his doctors had warned him that cigarettes were bad for his heart; others in the medical profession had announced that drinking was good for it; so by upping his intake of one, he figured he could cancel out the harmful effects of the other." Though entering the period of his most idiosyncratic productivity, his personal excesses began taking their toll and by the late 70's, he was showing signs of wear. The dissipation is apparent in Sea Sex and Sun [78] where an older, seedier Serge sidles up to two black dancer/singers, who hustle away as he awkwardly tries to fondle them.
By the early 80's, his relationship with Birkin had also worn thin and she left him for the director Jacques Doillon. As she put it, it wasn't the drinking that drove her away, though that could be unpleasant, and it wasn't his controlling nature, though his finickiness didn't comport well with the messiness of marriage with children. And it wasn't that he was a bad father or a faithless husband because, for the most part, he was sweet, doting and loyal as both. What did it was the simple need to live a more normal life. Gainsbourg might have been content to burn his candle at both ends, but Birkin wanted to burn hers from just the one.
His dissolution accelerated after the breakup. The formidable capacity for alcohol was overwhelmed by bottomless consumption and the svelte rake morphed into a drunken lech. In public appearances he became a rheumy, paunchy, inebriated self-parody. The incidents he's best known for, burning a 500 Franc note, accosting Whitney Houston, are not to be found on D'Autres Nouvelles, but can be readily seen on YouTube. However, one can see a duet with Catherine Deneuve, Dieu fumer de havanes [80], in which he has his arm about her and repeatedly tries to draw her closer. Deneuve brushes him off smilingly, plucking his hand away. In Lemon Incest [84] Gainsbourg lies barefoot and shirtless with his then 13 year-old daughter Charlotte, who's clad in a shirt and panties. Much has been made of the scandal provoked by this video, but it's fairly innocuous. Instead of looking like a taboo-breaking provocateur, he looks like a flabby geezer. More disturbingly, in Love On The Beat [84] Serge sits on a couch on a stage in a disco. As dry ice wafts about, topless dancers circulate like fish. Like an old cat, he clumsily paws at them as they flit by. On a separate dais his brand new wife, Bambou, dances topless in a pair of jeans as an audience of mooks watches and cheers.
Jacques Doillon described Gainsbourg as an optimistic suicide. Despite his pastis-fueled ride into oblivion, he remained productive until his death at the age of 63 [on an odd personal note, the same age at which my father died]. In addition to producing his own albums, he produced several for Jane and Charlotte as well as one for Bambou. In addition he wrote and directed two films, Charlotte Forever and Stan the Flasher. Not too bad for a guy who drank up two-thirds of his liver.
Throughout his career, Gainsbourg showed different faces. Insecure, edgy creep. World-weary humorist. Dirty old crank. Those can all be rather entertaining, but my favorite image of him is as an artist, a husband and a father. The truest reflection of this is to be found in the legacy of his work. Not only in the reams of enjoyable music he produced, but in his influence on those whom he loved and inspired. There, the spirit of Serge continues in Jane and Charlotte, Michel Gondry, Benjamin Biolay, Air, The Tindersticks, Jarvis Cocker and many others who continue to create beautiful, melancholy, fanciful, funny things.
End Note: The last time I was at the Easy Street in Lower Queen Anne, they had several copies of D'Autres Nouvelles for sale at a very reasonable price.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Gimme Indie Film!

MUTUAL APPRECIATION
(Andrew Bujalski, US, 2005, 35mm, 109 mins.)


True, he likes the Breeders, thinks Green Day's pretty swell,
but what about the Bartlebees and Neutral Milk Hotel?
It's okay for a Sunny Day but that Sting album won't do
so when I play you Allen Clapp you'll know baby I love you!
-- Tullycraft, "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid to Know About"


Mutual Appreciation is the indie-rock version of the feature film. In fact, the line between the two dissolves in Andrew Bujalski's follow-up to Funny Ha Ha (2003). Granted, it's an obvious parallel, since Alan Peeples (Justin Rice) is an aspiring Conor Oberst, but the picture itself plays out like a lo-fi pop tune. So much so that I scrambled to find the perfect analogy. Sebadoh's "Gimme Indie Rock!"? No, too loud and snotty. Mutual Appreciation is just as funny, but more subtle, less obvious. Tullycraft's "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid to Know About"? No, too smart alecky. Mutual Appreciation is just as appealing, but more sincere, less angry.

To Bujalski's credit, his movie is too original to parallel any one particular songwriter or filmmaker -- although the name Cassavetes is frequently invoked in reference
to his work. So, does it help to like Bright Eyes, Sebadoh, Tullycraft, or Bishop Allen (Rice's real-life group) to enjoy the film? Does it help to like any independent music? It's not a prerequisite, but I do think indie rock fans are likely to be more sympathetic towards a stoop-shouldered, fuzzy-haired slacker like Alan. Those
who prefer more polished entertainments are certain to grow weary of this guy's shambling antics a lot quicker. He's like a young Nicolas Cage on Xanax.
As the action begins, Alan has relocated from Boston to New York. He's in a one-
man band called the Bumblebees. Actually, there used to be other members, but
he left them behind in Massachusetts (Bujalski's home base). Now he's looking to start fresh. All he really needs is a drummer. (So, I guess it might not hurt if you're a fan of two-person combos like the Black Keys or Mr. Airplane Man.) Until he gets
a place of his own, Alan is staying with his pal, Lawrence (Bujalski), a grad student. Lawrence's journalist girlfriend, Ellie (Rachel Clift), often hangs out with the two.
It quickly becomes clear that Alan has a thing for Ellie. It takes much longer to realize that the feeling is mutual (hence the title). Will Alan act on his attraction?
Will Ellie? Well, Mutual Appreciation isn't a soap opera. What they do may not be irrelevant, but what's of greater interest to Bujalski is what they say -- or try to say --
to each other. Not just Alan and Ellie, but Alan and Lawrence, Lawrence and Ellie,
all three together, as well as the conversations they have with the other folks
floating around the periphery, like Sara (Seung-Min Lee), a DJ with the hots for Alan.

[image]

In other words, this is one of the most verbose films I've seen in ages. I have a penchant for "talky" films, so I'm not complaining, but you can't say you haven't been warned. It's because of this quality, combined with the naturalistic dialogue (which feels improvised, but is mostly scripted), non-professional actors, messy apartments, and black and white flatbed-edited 16mm--the independent film equivalent of the four-track tape--that Mutual Appreciation has elicited comparisons to My Night at Maud's (1969) and The Mother and the Whore (1973).

While Manohla Dargis finds the Cassavetes comparison misleading, I find the French references equally misleading, but not necessarily inaccurate. Bujalski may well have taken cues from Eric Rohmer and Jean Eustache--along with Mike Leigh, Jim Jarmusch, and Richard Linklater--but there's less at stake in Mutual Appreciation. He isn't, for instance, tackling religion or politics. Yet therein lies the charm of his effort. It's exactly what it appears to be: a look at several young Americans. (Which brings to mind the Bowie song, but Lars Von Trier already nabbed it for Dogville.) It's set in the present, but would probably feel the same had he set it in the past. Hence, I don't think he's speaking for his generation, as some have claimed.

As flattering as they may be, such pronouncements set prospective audiences up for disappointment. I have no idea whether Andrew Bujalski will turn out to be the next Jim Jarmusch or Richard Linklater. On the basis of this film alone, I think he's just trying to be his own guy, which seems to be the movie's main theme: finding your identity. You can't do it alone. We're unavoidably affected by what other people think of us, as well as what we think they think of us. And we respond in different ways. Consequently, although I found the passive-aggressive Alan irritating and compelling in equal measure, I could never really anticipate what he was going to do next. As much as Mutual Appreciation is like indie rock, it's even more like real life.

[image]

Here's a way to spend our day with Lois and the Crabs,
we'll have some fun and visit Cub and maybe we'll hold hands.
We can keep the Lemonheads and Weezer he gave you,
'cause you and me got Heavenly and Nothing Painted Blue, hey-hey!

-- Tullycraft, "Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend's Too Stupid to Know About"


*****

Possibly the best reviewed film of the year, Mutual Appreciation plays the Northwest Film Forum Dec. 8-14, Fri.-Thurs., at 7 and 9pm. Andrew Bujalski will be at the Friday and Saturday screenings. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Avenue on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, click here. You can also call 206-267-5380 for show times.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Revelations of the Human Soul

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI SHORT FILMS

"When Krzysztof Kieslowski died on March 13, 1996, it was as though
a certain kind of cinema had come to an end along with him. The calm,
reflective, compassionate gaze he brought to bear on the dilemmas
faced by his characters made him the most humanistic of film directors."
-- Richard Williams in The Guardian

kiesl.jpg
Kieslowski's best Jeremy Irons impression

*****

I'm always interested in the early work of major filmmakers. It isn't that I expect to enjoy such films-although that's a nice bonus-but that I hope to learn something from them. Maybe I'll gain greater insight into their creator; maybe I'll gain greater insight into his/her career-ideally, both. In other words, I long gave up on the assumption that I'll like the early material. That's a fool's game, and I've gotten burned before. Everybody has to start somewhere, after all, and few begin at the top. (Or, if they do, there's the very real possibility that there's nowhere to go but down).

All of this is to say that, in Revelations of the Human Soul, the Northwest Film
Forum focuses on the early work of the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (born 1941). Until recently, I was only familiar with the Decalogue and Three Colors, but that's a little like saying one is "only" familiar with Berlin Alexanderplatz. In other words, if you haven't seen the latter, you can't really say you know Fassbinder, as
he considered it his defining work, and everything he did relates to it in some way.
The same is true of Kieslowski, although I'd rather not choose which is superior-
the series, which was inspired by the Ten Commandments, or the trilogy, which
was inspired by the concepts behind the French flag (liberty, equality, fraternity).
Both are essential. While the NWFF isn't screening Blue, White, and Red or the complete Decalogue, the program includes shorts, features, and full-length versions of Decalogue entries A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love.
The shorts are divided into four programs: Student Shorts and Early Documentaries, Kieslowski on Daily Life, Kieslowski on Politics and Protest, and Final Documentary Shorts. The earliest, The Office, shot by hidden camera, is from 1966. The latest, From a Night Porter's Point of View, is from 1980. Six were screened for critics.
In all honesty, I disliked Before the Rally (Student Shorts) and Factory (Daily Life), both fly-on-the-wall looks at workers in dramatically different fields, international racing and national social security. I don't have much to say about either, other than that I found them dull. As such, I wouldn't recommend these films to Kieslowski neophytes, although his concern for regular people, his innate humanism, comes through loud and clear. (Factory is an extra on the Double Life of Veronique DVD.)
bricklayer.jpg
Jozef Malesa in The Bricklayer (1973)
With I Was a Soldier (Student Shorts), Bricklayer (Daily Life), and Seven Women of Different Ages (Final Shorts), however, I felt I was getting a glimpse into the mind
of the man who made A Short Film about Love (1988) and Red (1994), my favorite Kieslowski efforts. (The other selections felt as if they could've been made by almost anyone). The NWFF also screened a short called Slate, a compilation of outtakes from The Scar (1976), which is amusing at first, but quickly becomes repetitive.
What I liked best about I Was a Soldier (1970) is that Kieslowski arranges information about these veterans so that each recollection builds on the one that precedes it. In this black and white film, he simply lets them talk about their war experiences. The more they talk, the more they reveal. At first, they don't seem to have much in common, but then we realize that all suffered the same injury (I won't say what, as I didn't know at first). They haven't dealt with it in the same way, but each man has vivid dreams about the person he used to be. This is quite a moving documentary; it isn't heavy-handed-never obviously anti-war or pro-disability-
but deeply sympathetic, nonetheless. This is also true of Bricklayer, a portrait of a Polish everyman, and Seven Women of Different Ages, which offers glimpses of ballerinas at every stage of life, from hard-working student to stern teacher.
Other than the two Decalogue segments, in their made-for-TV length (60 versus 86 minutes), I'm not familiar with the other Kieslowski films in the series. Titles include Camera Buff (1979), Blind Chance (1987), and No End (1985). Based on the description alone, Camera Buff sounds like the one to catch, if you were only going to catch one, since it concerns an amateur photographer (actor-turned-director Jerzy Stuhr, White) whose obsession with his hobby ruins his life. In its outline, Camera seems like the filmmaker's ultimate nightmare: that the thing he loves best will destroy him.
And who's to say Kieslowski wasn't predicting his own death at the age of 54?
Like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and other legendary obsessives, Kieslowski was so productive that he was unable to film all of the screenplays he wrote (or for which he drafted treatments), hence Heaven and
Hell were directed by Tom Tykwer and Danis Tanovic, respectively, just as Fran/ssois Ozon took on Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Fassbinder), George Hickenlooper took on The Big Brass Ring (Welles), and Steven Spielberg took on A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Kubrick). I'm glad these films were made and that these legacies continue-
and more are on the way-but there's just no substitute for the real thing.
Whenever I watch a movie that's struggling to be meaningful, I think of Kieslowski, since such works usually miss the mark. At his best, Kieslowski couldn't be more profound, but I never sense a "struggle" or desire to impress, as I do in the work
of spiritual heirs, like Alejandro Gonz/*lez I/+/-/*rritu (Babel). It's not that I don't like
the Mexican director's work; just that I don't think his jigsaws are as deep or clever as they at first appear (not so with the Dardennes, who say more with less).
In Kieslowski's mature material, it feels as if it came naturally to him to explore what-beyond language, culture, and other exterior trappings-connects people. These early films indicate that that wasn't the case; that he had to grow into his brilliance, and I'll always be grateful he lived long enough for that to happen.
seven women.jpg
Dancers in Seven Women of Different Ages (1978)
"In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, movies counted.
Because everyone was against the communist system, it
was easy for us to tell stories the public understood, even
during censorship. Now, the audience doesn't know what it
wants to see, and we don't know what we want to say."
-- Kieslowski in 1994
*****
REVELATIONS OF THE HUMAN SOUL: WORKS OF KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI
runs from 11/10-19 at the Northwest Film Forum. Click here for the full schedule.
Passes available. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill between
Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can also call
206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

Revelations of the Human Soul

KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI SHORT FILMS

"When Krzysztof Kieslowski died on March 13, 1996, it was as though
a certain kind of cinema had come to an end along with him. The calm,
reflective, compassionate gaze he brought to bear on the dilemmas
faced by his characters made him the most humanistic of film directors."
-- Richard Williams in The Guardian

kiesl.jpg
Kieslowski's best Jeremy Irons impression

*****

I'm always interested in the early work of major filmmakers. It isn't that I expect to enjoy such films -- although that's a nice bonus -- but that I hope to learn something from them. Maybe I'll gain greater insight into their creator; maybe I'll gain greater insight into his/her career -- ideally, both. In other words, I long gave up on the assumption that I'll like the early material. That's a fool's game, and I've gotten burned before. Everybody has to start somewhere, after all, and few begin at the top. (Or, if they do, there's the very real possibility that there's nowhere to go but down).

All of this is to say that, in Revelations of the Human Soul, the Northwest Film
Forum focuses on the early work of the great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski (born 1941). Until recently, I was only familiar with the Decalogue and Three Colors, but that's a little like saying one is "only" familiar with Berlin Alexanderplatz. In other words, if you haven't seen the latter, you can't really say you know Fassbinder, as
he considered it his defining work, and everything he did relates to it in some way.
The same is true of Kieslowski, although I'd rather not choose which is superior --
the series, which was inspired by the Ten Commandments, or the trilogy, which
was inspired by the concepts behind the French flag (liberty, equality, fraternity).
Both are essential. While the NWFF isn't screening Blue, White, and Red or the complete Decalogue, the program includes shorts, features, and full-length versions of Decalogue entries A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love.
The shorts are divided into four programs: Student Shorts and Early Documentaries, Kieslowski on Daily Life, Kieslowski on Politics and Protest, and Final Documentary Shorts. The earliest, The Office, shot by hidden camera, is from 1966. The latest, From a Night Porter's Point of View, is from 1980. Six were screened for critics.
In all honesty, I disliked Before the Rally (Student Shorts) and Factory (Daily Life), both fly-on-the-wall looks at workers in dramatically different fields, international racing and national social security. I don't have much to say about either, other than that I found them dull. As such, I wouldn't recommend these films to Kieslowski neophytes, although his concern for regular people, his innate humanism, comes through loud and clear. (Factory is an extra on the Double Life of Véronique DVD.)
bricklayer.jpg
Jozef Malesa in The Bricklayer (1973)
With I Was a Soldier (Student Shorts), Bricklayer (Daily Life), and Seven Women of Different Ages (Final Shorts), however, I felt I was getting a glimpse into the mind
of the man who made A Short Film about Love (1988) and Red (1994), my favorite Kieslowski efforts. (The other selections felt as if they could've been made by almost anyone). The NWFF also screened a short called Slate, a compilation of outtakes from The Scar (1976), which is amusing at first, but quickly becomes repetitive.
What I liked best about I Was a Soldier (1970) is that Kieslowski arranges information about these veterans so that each recollection builds on the one that precedes it. In this black and white film, he simply lets them talk about their war experiences. The more they talk, the more they reveal. At first, they don't seem to have much in common, but then we realize that all suffered the same injury (I won't say what, as I didn't know at first). They haven't dealt with it in the same way, but each man has vivid dreams about the person he used to be. This is quite a moving documentary; it isn't heavy-handed -- never obviously anti-war or pro-disability --
but deeply sympathetic, nonetheless. This is also true of Bricklayer, a portrait of a Polish everyman, and Seven Women of Different Ages, which offers glimpses of ballerinas at every stage of life, from hard-working student to stern teacher.
Other than the two Decalogue segments, in their made-for-TV length (60 versus 86 minutes), I'm not familiar with the other Kieslowski films in the series. Titles include Camera Buff (1979), Blind Chance (1987), and No End (1985). Based on the description alone, Camera Buff sounds like the one to catch, if you were only going to catch one, since it concerns an amateur photographer (actor-turned-director Jerzy Stuhr, White) whose obsession with his hobby ruins his life. In its outline, Camera seems like the filmmaker's ultimate nightmare: that the thing he loves best will destroy him.
And who's to say Kieslowski wasn't predicting his own death at the age of 54?
Like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, and other legendary obsessives, Kieslowski was so productive that he was unable to film all of the screenplays he wrote (or for which he drafted treatments), hence Heaven and
Hell were directed by Tom Tykwer and Danis Tanovic, respectively, just as François Ozon took on Water Drops on Burning Rocks (Fassbinder), George Hickenlooper took on The Big Brass Ring (Welles), and Steven Spielberg took on A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (Kubrick). I'm glad these films were made and that these legacies continue --
and more are on the way -- but there's just no substitute for the real thing.
Whenever I watch a movie that's struggling to be meaningful, I think of Kieslowski, since such works usually miss the mark. At his best, Kieslowski couldn't be more profound, but I never sense a "struggle" or desire to impress, as I do in the work
of spiritual heirs, like Alejandro González Iñárritu (Babel). It's not that I don't like
the Mexican director's work; just that I don't think his jigsaws are as deep or clever as they at first appear (not so with the Dardennes, who say more with less).
In Kieslowski's mature material, it feels as if it came naturally to him to explore what -- beyond language, culture, and other exterior trappings -- connects people. These early films indicate that that wasn't the case; that he had to grow into his brilliance, and I'll always be grateful he lived long enough for that to happen.
seven women.jpg
Dancers in Seven Women of Different Ages (1978)
"In the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s, movies counted.
Because everyone was against the communist system, it
was easy for us to tell stories the public understood, even
during censorship. Now, the audience doesn't know what it
wants to see, and we don't know what we want to say."
-- Kieslowski in 1994
*****
REVELATIONS OF THE HUMAN SOUL: WORKS OF KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI
runs from 11/10-19 at the Northwest Film Forum. Click here for the full schedule.
Passes available. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol Hill between
Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can also call
206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

What Is It?

what_is_it_poster.jpg

Crispin Glover's What Is It?

I was very excited to see that this show was coming to Seattle - so excited, in fact, that I purchased my tickets about 4 weeks in advance.

The first part of the show did not disappoint. Crispin read from a series of 8 altered books he put together, and he read from them in his quirky, expected, weird Crispin Glover way. It was highly entertaining, and I made a note to purchase at least one (if not a few) of the books after the movie, and to get them signed.

That idea flew out of my mind quickly once the film started.

The film is described as
"Being the adventures of a young man whose principle interests are snails, salt, a pipe, and how to get home. As tormented by an hubristic, racist inner psyche"

What Is It?, indeed. I am actually struggling to find an accurate way to describe watching it to you. I do know that I did find myself feeling very uncomfortable in more than a few ways, which is a big part of the reaction the director wanted, per his Q&A following the film.
Glover said his primary interest in making this film is that he feels the media sanitizes films too much, and nothing shocking or disturbing ever makes it to the screen anymore - in essence, people no longer make films that make others really think. I purposely did not read anything about the film before I went to see it (an old habit of mine; I don't like to be influenced by other's reviews), and while watching I wasn't exactly getting a good sense of what he was trying to accomplish. Mostly, (in-between feeling uncomfortable) I was bored and just wanted it to end.
My friend seemed to enjoy it though; he even said he thought that it had moments of brilliance. I guess I just didn't see that in the multiple takes of snails being salted, swastikas, blackface, a woman smoking a pipe, people being hit over the head with shovels and hammers, a Shirley Temple doll on a cloud overlooking pornagraphic situations, and naked women with huge breasts carrying watermelons.
I will admit that after Glover explained his reasons for making the film during the Q&A, I understood better what the purpose was, and I do think it served his purpose perfectly...I just didn't like it. And this is where I feel like I'm failing you in my review. Obviously saying "I just didn't like it" without providing an explanation for WHY is ridiculous as a reviewer. But that is my gut reaction, and I am sticking to it.
I can tell you exactly why I didn't like the Q&A portion, however. I have always found Mr. Glover adorable, but I think that during the Q&A, his mistake was not just taking some time up front to say all he wanted to say about his choices for actors (the cast is almost entirely made up of people with Down Syndrome), the screenplay, society, the media, etc. - so much so that he kept coming back to it, over and over, no matter what question was asked. It was basically like hearing an hour of the same speech, looped. There were some interesting stories, and I liked hearing them, but his ADD-approach to answering was getting on my nerves, especially after having already been in a Broadway Performance Hall seat for 2 hours prior.
By the time he was done, I was so ready to get out of there that I almost ran - not even wanting to stop to meet him, or purchase a book. I honestly did not want to get trapped into an overdrawn explanation of why he made the film...again.
I know this is just one girl's opinion, and maybe I'm just not cut out for films that are so abstract. Or, maybe the multiple snail murders were just too much for me. I am sure that if this sounds like your kind of thing, you will enjoy it. For those of you that are interested, even though it only played in Seattle this past weekend, he did say he would likely release it on DVD after he's done touring with it - but that would likely be at least another year or two.
Also, this is apparently the first in a series of 3 films he intends to make with the same overall theme. I don't think I'll be going to see the other two. :)

Kaspar's Kouch Film Festival 2

Those who attended the first Kaspar's Kouch Film Festival will recall the personal attention they received from the festival director, who not only screened and introduced the films in the living room of his apartment, but prepared and served the popcorn, snacks and beverages himself. Alas, Dustin Kaspar will not be hosting or cooking for the festival this year. The staff of the Central Cinema will. However, do not fret. In addition to providing a greater viewership opportunity with a 118 seat theater, the Central Cinema menu will provide festival patrons with a host of intriguing choices. Namely, should one order the puttanesca or the diabolo pizza with Once Upon A Time In America and would accompanying Wings of Desire with a braised chicken confit, a glass of banquette de limoux, a cr/(R)me br/alee and a French press coffee be overdoing it?

Dustin, of course, will be introducing the films. In addition to screening an assortment of chestnuts, he will be presenting a secret-fest night, featuring two films which have not been released domestically on video [Hint: A RETICENCE PLOT] and the Seattle premiere of two low budget indie films, The Milk Can and In Memorium. Admission to the festival is $7 per film or $10 for a double-feature. A full series pass is available for $50. For more information, please contact Dustin Kaspar 206-437-8852. The series schedule is as follows:

November 11, 2006 OPENING NIGHT - SEATTLE PREMIERES
7:00 THE MILK CAN (2005) Matt Kresling (95 min.)
9:45 IN MEMORIUM... (2005) Amanda Gusack (73 min.)
November 12, 2006 CUBICLE CHALLENGES
6:30 FEAR AND TREMBLING (2003) Alain Corneau (107 min.)
9:00 OFFICE SPACE (1999) Mike Judge (89 min.)
November 15, 2006 SECRET SCREENING
6:30 Secret film 1 (89 min.)
8:45 Secret film 2 (88 min.)
November 16, 2006 MISSING PERSONS
6:30 THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Alfred Hitchcock (97 min.)
8:50 THE THIRD MAN (1949) Carol Reed (NR, 104 min.)
November 17, 2006 CONTEMPORARY GERMAN MASTERPIECES
6:30 WINGS OF DESIRE (1987) Wim Wenders (127 min.)
9:15 THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000) Tom Tykwer (135 min.)
November 18, 2006 NON-CONVENTIONAL MUSICALS
5:00 UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) Preston Sturges (105 min.)
7:30 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (1993) Francois Girard (98 min.)
10:00 THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) Rob Reiner (82 min.)
November 19, 2006 EPIC FINALE
5:00 ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) Sergio Leone (227 min.)

Kaspar's Kouch Film Festival 2

Those who attended the first Kaspar's Kouch Film Festival will recall the personal attention they received from the festival director, who not only screened and introduced the films in the living room of his apartment, but prepared and served the popcorn, snacks and beverages himself. Alas, Dustin Kaspar will not be hosting or cooking for the festival this year. The staff of the Central Cinema will. However, do not fret. In addition to providing a greater viewership opportunity with a 118 seat theater, the Central Cinema menu will provide festival patrons with a host of intriguing choices. Namely, should one order the puttanesca or the diabolo pizza with Once Upon A Time In America and would accompanying Wings of Desire with a braised chicken confit, a glass of banquette de limoux, a cr/(R)me br/alee and a French press coffee be overdoing it?

Dustin, of course, will be introducing the films. In addition to screening an assortment of chestnuts, he will be presenting a secret-fest night, featuring two films which have not been released domestically on video [Hint: A RETICENCE PLOT] and the Seattle premiere of two low budget indie films, The Milk Can and In Memorium. Admission to the festival is $7 per film or $10 for a double-feature. A full series pass is available for $50. For more information, please contact Dustin Kaspar 206-437-8852. The series schedule is as follows:

November 11, 2006 OPENING NIGHT - SEATTLE PREMIERES
7:00 THE MILK CAN (2005) Matt Kresling (95 min.)
9:45 IN MEMORIUM... (2005) Amanda Gusack (73 min.)
November 12, 2006 CUBICLE CHALLENGES
6:30 FEAR AND TREMBLING (2003) Alain Corneau (107 min.)
9:00 OFFICE SPACE (1999) Mike Judge (89 min.)
November 15, 2006 SECRET SCREENING
6:30 Secret film 1 (89 min.)
8:45 Secret film 2 (88 min.)
November 16, 2006 MISSING PERSONS
6:30 THE LADY VANISHES (1938) Alfred Hitchcock (97 min.)
8:50 THE THIRD MAN (1949) Carol Reed (NR, 104 min.)
November 17, 2006 CONTEMPORARY GERMAN MASTERPIECES
6:30 WINGS OF DESIRE (1987) Wim Wenders (127 min.)
9:15 THE PRINCESS AND THE WARRIOR (2000) Tom Tykwer (135 min.)
November 18, 2006 NON-CONVENTIONAL MUSICALS
5:00 UNFAITHFULLY YOURS (1948) Preston Sturges (105 min.)
7:30 32 SHORT FILMS ABOUT GLENN GOULD (1993) Francois Girard (98 min.)
10:00 THIS IS SPINAL TAP (1984) Rob Reiner (82 min.)
November 19, 2006 EPIC FINALE
5:00 ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA (1984) Sergio Leone (227 min.)

Saturday, November 4, 2006

The World According to Whitehead: Part Two

TONITE LET'S ALL MAKE LOVE IN LONDON: A POP CONCERTO
(Peter Whitehead, United Kingdom, 1967, BetaSP, 70 mins.)


Tonite lets all make love in London as if it were 2001 the years of thrilling god.
--
"Who Be Kind To" [sic] (1961-63)


The title comes from a poem by Allen Ginsberg. It's your first clue that Whitehead's best work isn't just another self-congratulatory celebration of an overrated era (I'm all about the 1970s).

Though less cynical than The Fall, which casts a jaundiced eye on New York City circa 1967-68, Tonite is more wide-ranging exploration than by-the-numbers documentary. In this case, the director swings his gaze to London. Sure, the obvious suspects are here: Michael Caine (charming as ever), Vanessa Redgrave (channeling Comrade Fidel), Pink Floyd (at the UFO Club), the Animals (in the studio), and the Rolling Stones (in glorious slo-mo as fans attack from all sides).



The less obvious suspects turn out to be just as interesting: Edna O'Brien (on modern morality), Vashti Bunyan (then a protegé of Stones manager Andrew Loog
Oldham), Twice as Much (ditto), pop artist Alan Aldridge (an "obvious" choice at
the time; less so now), and all-American tough guy Lee Marvin. Hey, what's he doing here?

Marvin happened to be in England at the time, filming Robert Aldrich's The Dirty Dozen, so Whitehead cornered the cat for some words on the miniskirt. Some
of these famous and not-so-famous folks flit by like butterflies, others actually have a few things to say, notably a refreshingly humble Mick Jagger and amusingly candid David Hockney, who prefers New York's more egalitarian approach to class.

*****

Click here for details about the groovy soundtrack.

Tonite plays the Northwest Film Forum 11/3-5, Fri.-Sun., at 7, 8:30, and
10pm. It's part of the series LET'S ALL MAKE LOVE IN LONDON: THE FILMS
OF PETER WHITEHEAD
, which runs from 11/3-12. Passes available. The NWFF
is located at 1515 12th Ave. For more information, please click here. You can
also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.