Table of Contents: Movies


Public Image Ltd. by Muriel Spark

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Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark?! Cue that silent head exploding poof gesture to express the moment your head explodes at an improbable convergences like Public Image Ltd. & Muriel Spark. Found rabbit-holing at Fodderstompf, the complete online PiL chronology,

New Musical Express, July 22nd 1978: John Lydon officially announces to the press that the new group will be called ‘Public Image’ (Limited will follow). He also announces that they will manage themselves, and that they have signed an eight album deal with Virgin Records; no doubt influenced by the support Lydon was receiving from Virgin in his legal battle. The name ‘Public Image’ was inspired from the title of a 1968 Muriel Spark novel.

John later commented in Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, “I got the name Public Image from a book by that Scottish woman, Muriel Spark, who wrote ‘Prime of Miss Jean Brodie’. When I was in Italy, somebody introduced her writings to me. I checked out some of her other books when I got home. One of them was called ‘The Public Image’. It was all about this actress who was unbearably egotistical. I though, Ha! The Public Image. Limited. Not as a company, but to be limited – not being as ‘out there’ as I was with the Sex Pistols.”

Fellini & the Allure of Comics

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[RERUN: Originally Aired Sept. 2009 / An old favorite lost in the great SQL database corruption of 2012. I never tire of thinking about the electric confection that is Fellini & Manara’s Trip to Tulum, so here it be. Admittedly dated by my still fresh allergic rejection of the very idea of Zac Snyder’s appalling adaptation of Watchmen}

Comics, and the ghostly fascination of those paper people, paralyzed in time, marionettes without strings, unmoving, cannot be transposed to film, whose allure is motion, rhythm, dynamic. It is a radically different means of addressing the eye, a separate mode of expression. The world of comics may, in its generosity, lend scripts, characters and stories to the movies, but not its inexpressible secret power that resides in that fixity, that immobility of a butterfly on a pin. –Federico Fellini

The graphic novel Trip to Tulum has its roots in an aborted film of Fellini’s called the Journey of G Mastorna. Fellini’s entry in the “whoa… he was dead the whole time” mini genre, the movie was plagued by strange mishaps throughout its production. Already haunted by nightmares, Fellini threw in the towel after a huge Gothic church set collapsed minutes after it had been erected. The script and its attendant themes and vignettes sunk back into Fellini’s imagination. Over time bits and pieces floated to the surface in other films.

Fellini’s affection for comics and graphic storing telling is well known. In the mid 80’s, he allowed an Italian newspaper to serialise a version of the story, now called Trip to Tulum, with accompanying illustrations by Milo Manara. Manara, mostly known for his tony, Euro sci-fi erotica, is an illustrator and artist of the highest caliber. When Manara wanted to expand the story into a graphic novel, Fellini agreed, and took to the collaboration with gusto.

The result is simply one of the lost classics of the form. It begins with a stunning Anita Ekberg ringer finding Fellini asleep on the edge of pond in a a lush grove swept through by gusts of wind. Fellini’s hat flies off and as she reaches to grab it she falls in. Swimming after the sinking hat she descends to a vast, surreal field of sunken planes and ships. It emerges that they are all physical manifestations of Fellini’s films and unrealized notions. On one plane she finds a nattily dressed, kelp encircled Marcello Mastroianni, and…. oh never mind, from there the story just unfurls from one scene to the next like wax balls in a lava lamp… it’s a frisky fantasy adventure, a hallucinatory dream, a self referential commentary, an allegory of film-making, and finally a meditation on the creative act itself. Out of print now, copies can be found here.

(Incidentally, the Fellini quote is one of the definitive statements on the relationship between movies and comics. The notion of characters on “loan” lies at the heart of Chris Nolan’s respectful yet inspired cinematic interpretations of Batman. Its warning against literalism is precisely what an earnest vulgarian like Zach Snyder does not understand – which is why there is nothing whatsoever to be gained, and everything to be lost, in seeing Watchmen)

Ursula Andress in TODD-AO

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Here’s a quick one — a sketch portrait of Ursula Andress as Vesper Lynd in the technicolor carnival that was the original Casino Royale. The one where Peter Sellars seduces her behind the fish tank. When I cut the painting I had accidentally done it in almost the exact aspect ratio of TODD-AO, hence the title. Best to click, it’s a long one, so it shrinks tiny. Cheers

Outwit Grand Moff Tarkin — Again!

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My last flareup of Star Wars fever — These illustrations were featured on the playing cards included with Escape from Death Star board game. Playing it again out of sheer nostalgia confirmed my vague memory of the game itself as pretty janky. I was struck, however, by these quick, scratchy, pen & ink sketches of iconic scenes from the movie. More than anything they reminded me of Jim Holdaway’s classic Modesty Blaise newspaper strip that ran throughout the 1960s. In any case, just hanging this small bit of ephemera here on the Internet in case anybody needs it.

Also while we’re the closing subject I’ll leave you with the smartest pop cultural assessment I’ve read of the new flick, the essence of the original, the folly of the prequels (of which I’m finally mostly persuaded, although I’m still with Kevin Smith on Sith) — Our Star Wars Holiday Special by Aaron Bady in The New Iquiry:

[The prequels] were marred by horrific writing and joyless characters, of course, but those superficial failings pale in comparison (or resulted from) the more fundamental underlying problem: they tried so hard to explain that they killed the joy of the thing itself… How did Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader? How did the republic fall? Where did the emperor come from? How did Luke and Leia end up separated, who is Obi Wan Kenobi, and where are all the mothers in this universe? These are not plot holes; these are the dark matter that holds the galaxy together… Instead of placing their faith in the force—the way an open-mouthed child lets the storyteller carry them off—the prequels tried to explain what the force really was and worked so hard at it that they made the entire thing tedious and boring. They turned their targeting computer back on.

It also has perceptive & compact assessments of Star Trek vs Star Wars and why JJ Abrams’ approach arguably disfigured the former while revitalizing the latter (again persuasive personally, but my imaginative stake in Trek is much looser so I think the reboots are mostly a gas) With this, then — nerd. Out.

Portraits by Don Bachardy

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A selection of exquisite portraits by Don Bachardy — the longtime partner of author Christopher Isherwood. He’s often featured in appraisals of of Isherwood as a somewhat benighted boy toy, more made of their age difference & his feathered California handsomeness than his formidable gifts & sensitivities as a portrait artist. I came to find this work in the context of an an article that made a passing mention of a Bachardy portrait of Terry Garr. As my fasination with Garr runs deep, down the well I dove, looking for the portrait. I found it among the rest of these delightfully rendered portraits. Enjoy. Great interview with Bachardy, now 80, here. A another, along with a review of the compendium of these portraits, Hollywood, here.

(above Natalie Wood, Marlene Dietrich, Michael York, Angela Lansbury, Jane Fonda, artists Vija Clemins, Ed Ruscha, Richard Diebenkorn, her awesomeness Terri Garr)

Hold it right there, Emma Peel!

The opening credits of the Avengers in color are deservedly beloved. What struck me recently was how sharp the compositions of the main frames are, though. They make a wonderful sequence – the dirty floods of color, the stark contrast, the precision staging of it all. Amazing thing is, even when frozen, they retain a jaunty swagger, the lightly hammy sophistication, and flair.

Made in USA

The stills above are taken from Jean-Luc Godard’s Made in USA. Made in 1966, it was an unauthorized adaptation of Donald Westlake’s the Jugger, featuring the adventures of Parker, a hard-boiled thief – the same character played by Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s 1967 classic Point Blank. (Parker was also recently adapted by Darwyn Cooke in an amazing graphic novel, the Hunter)

The movie is a squirrelly one. On the one hand, visually, it’s perfectly captivating. It is composed like a comic book, all bright colors shot rigidly against stark backgrounds.The stills speak for themselves – Scene after scene, the movie is farrago of pop art, mod fashion, and commercial signage. The dialog could be in Tasmanian and it wouldn’t matter a smidgen – it’s still a flat out sock knocker.

Which it might as well be, because the movie scarcely makes any sense at all. It’s confusing, deadpan, stiff, meandering, and plot-wise, essentially indecipherable. A decoder ring is provided on the Criterion Edition DVD in the form of a short interview with two Godard scholars. According to them, the flick is simultaneously a passionate love letter to, and a fierce rejection of, American films and culture, as well as a record of the disintegration of one of two concurrent love affairs. It is also, obviously, French. Enjoy it any way you see fit.

Claude Chabrol: 1930-2010

A selection of some fab posters for films by pioneering French director Claude Charbol, who died this week. (Some decent obits here, and here.) A giant of French cinema, Charbol was a founding member of the French New Wave, close pals with (and somewhat of a patron to) Jean-Luc Godard, François Truffaut and Éric Rohmer. Along with Rohmer he published a seminal critical work on Alfred Hitchcock, a significant influence.

Charbol was often described in shorthand as the French Hitchcock, which is pretty dead on, adjusting a bit for time periods and sensibilities. While not strictly a formulaic filmmaker, diabolical plots, melodrama, all manner of decadence, wry humor and a general wickedness abound.

For your consideration, a passel of recommendations from his extensive oeuvre: A Double Tour, 1961 – a convoluted noir, Who’s Got the Black Box?, 1967 – shaggy, but entertaining espionage yarn,  The Unfaithful Wife, 1969 and Innocents with Dirty Hands, 1975 two chilly, melodramatic physiological thrillers, Cop Au Vin, 1985, the first of two top drawer police procedurals featuring inspector Jean Lavardin, Masques, 1987 an intriguing character-driven mystery, The Swindle 1997, a neat little caper, Merci Pour Le Chocolat, 2000 about a wealthy family’s nest of secrets, and Comedy of Power, a corporate boardroom drama. Available here, or at your fine local video store.

Hold it right there, Emma Peel!

The opening credits of the Avengers in color are deservedly beloved. What struck me recently was how sharp the compositions of the main frames are, though. They make a wonderful sequence – the dirty floods of color, the stark contrast, the precision staging of it all. Amazing thing is, even when frozen, they retain a jaunty swagger, the lightly hammy sophistication, and flair.

To Die For

Can we take a moment to be gobsmacked by the art direction and costume design of Gus Van Sant’s To Die For? (written by the brilliant Buck Henry, in bowtie, above) Lurid, mean, lusty, sarcastic, and genuinely and absurdly fashionable in equal measure, just like the movie itself. Well worth digging up and re-watching, both for it’s delectable eye candy as well as the tart sweet taste of it’s sadly unexpired satiric cocktail —
~ 1 jigger of Hallmark
~ a generous splash of Maury Povich
~ 1 dash of vintage Vogue
~ fresh squeezed orange juice
~ two fingers carbolic acid.
Mix well and enjoy.

 

Casanova

Thoroughly fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine by Tony Perrottet on the overlooked biographical details of that legendary Casanova, Giacomo Casanova. The piece opens with a gob-smacking accounting of the serpentine path his celebrated memoir took, ending in its exalted cubby in the Bibliothèque nationale de France in Paris. Suffice it to say it includes a stop during the 19th century in a special cupboard for illicit books in the French National Library, called L’Enfer, or “the Hell.”

The story then turns to a vividly sketched outline of Casanova’s life – establishing a far, far more interesting character than, as Perrottet puts it, “a frivolous sexual adventurer, a cad and a wastrel.” In fact,

Giacomo Girolamo Casanova lived from 1725 to 1798, and was a far more intellectual figure than the gadabout playboy portrayed on film. He was a true Enlightenment polymath, whose many achievements would put the likes of Hugh Hefner to shame. He hobnobbed with Voltaire, Catherine the Great, Benjamin Franklin and probably Mozart; survived as a gambler, an astrologer and spy; translated The Iliad into his Venetian dialect; and wrote a science fiction novel, a proto-feminist pamphlet and a range of mathematical treatises. He was also one of history’s great travelers, crisscrossing Europe from Madrid to Moscow. And yet he wrote his legendary memoir, the innocuously named Story of My Life, in his penniless old age, while working as a librarian (of all things!) at the obscure Castle Dux, in the mountains of Bohemia in the modern-day Czech Republic.

In British terms, let’s say, this is all much more Richard Francis Burton than Flashman. Fascinating, and as Blackadder would say, “as French as a pair of self-removing trousers.”

As far as the art goes, above are some frisky watercolors by Auguste Leroux from the 1932 French edition of Casanova’s Histoire de ma Vie. Leroux was a celebrated illustrator who worked with Huysmans, Balzac, Stendhal and Flaubert… below are some fetching prints by Milo Manara inspired the the 1976 Fellini film. (My appreciation of their finest collaboration, A Trip to Tullum, here.)

Also, for your pleasure, a live cut of Roxy Music’s strutting tribute.

Roxy Music: Casanova:

 

That Heavenly Smile!

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Reposting this for a couple of reasons. One, recently re-watched Smile, which was as mesmerising as the viewing that originally inspired this post. Also, because of this fantastic, engrossing profile of Errol Morris in Smithsonian Magazine.

If setting one’s anthropological or satirical sights on Southern California is as difficult as shooting an arrow into a side of a barn then setting them on a beauty pageant in mid 70’s Southern California is as hard as walking into the side of the same barn.

Michael Ritchie’s Smile (1975) and Errol Morris’ Gates of Heaven (1978) serve as a useful reminders to never take an easy target for granted. Smile stars Bruce Dern and Barbra Feldon (Agent 99!!) in proto-mock-umentary about a small town beauty pageant in Santa Rosa, California. It is a direct, albeit far more subtle, progenitor of Christopher Guest’s mocumentaries. Gates of Heaven is a rigorously filmed documentary about the people whose lives cross at a pair of Southern Californian pet cemeteries. They are united by two fundamental convictions – the profound weirdness of Southern California, and the universality of human nature.

What’s amazing about the films is that they arrive at similar moments of profound insight and gob-smacking surreality from such very different starting points. As their personal philosophies, passions, and musings unspool, Morris’ subjects reach such high levels of quirk they seem to drift into the realm of fiction. What grounds them – what makes them so moving – is each oblique, strange, meandering interview becomes a loose prose poem to fundamental human themes – love, companionship, art, mortality, disappointment and aspiration. Richies’ film, a genuinely hilarious and gentle satire, is so lovingly staged, and the dialog so carefully wrought, that segments become little snowglobe dioramas the of human condition.

And what Tang frosted snowglobes! Both films have distilled over time into super saturated essences of the era. Belief in the promise of suburban Southern California seemed require the spiritual nourishment of ochre, flaming orange and lime. Filmed while the 70’s were in full swing, both directors stage and style scenes with Wes Anderson-esqe levels of compositional fussiness.

While they share a common nexus, each film leaves behind a distinctly different impression. Smile’s human moments dissipate quickly, and remains a big hearted time capsule. Gates of Heaven’s impact is far more profound and the weight of its numinous human strivings stay with you long after it’s scenes of 70’s kitsch fade.