Tuesday, February 3, 2009
Every once in a while, a film comes along that is not the work of a director, but rather of an actor or actress (in this case the latter). In other words, "Pandora's Box" is not 'a film by G.w. Pabst', but rather 'a film starring Louise Brooks'. Her flawless portrayal of Lulu is perhaps the most brilliant performance ever given (especially considering Brooks was only in her early twenties). Perhaps this was because Louise Brooks and Lulu were one in the same - after all, Brooks later said that she was playing herself. In fact, Brooks supposedly became an 'escort' for a short period of time (after her career ended), much like Lulu near the end of the film. The end of Louise Brooks would not be nearly as depressing as the end of Lulu, however. Brooks was rediscovered in the 1950's thanks to a following in Europe (Cinémathèque Française curator Henri Langlois once said, "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks."), and Brooks would live the last 30 years of her life (dying in 1985) with a popularity amongst film circles across the world.
"Pandora's Box" is the most hauntingly beautiful film ever made. It IS erotic. It IS bleak. It IS cinema. If I were to choose one film to explain the magic of cinema - this would be it. The picture seems so real and tragic that when Lulu's fate meets up with her, one must feel some sort of emptiness - as if they have just lost a person they really cared for. And yet at the same time, you know very well that Lulu's story must end this way - it's her destiny, her fate. To have it any other way (such as in the ending used in some markets, in which Lulu joins the Salvation Army), would seem out-of-place and very unusual considering the subject matter.
"Pandora's Box" is very much a modern Greek tragedy. Meaning it very well could have been written by Sophocles or Aeschylus, though in my honest opinion, I believe it far surpasses the work of either of them. As in much the same way as a ceiling painted by Michelangelo, a novel written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, or a song sung by Francoise Hardy or written by Bob Dylan, the work becomes synonymous with the creator (in this case Louise Brooks), so that the two no longer exist without one another, thus being invariably dependent on each other.
Watching this film, one is in voyeuristic bliss. As if we're peeping through a peephole and sitting in awe at the array of images before us. Its perfect juxtaposition of sex, violence, and tragedy make it such a beauty to behold. And in fact, the lack of sound - or rather dialogue - is what makes it even more lovely to see. Seeing it in a darkened room, alone, and with the music turned up, the film is not a film, but instead a montage of flickering images set to music - making it an enigma, a mystery. That is the magic of silent cinema, and that is a magic that a film with recorded dialogue could never even hope to attain.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
Jean-Luc Godard's first film - a revolutionary, jazzy manifesto that can be seen as a tribute to the American B-Noirs of the 40's and 50's - is perhaps the greatest first film ever made, and - like "Citizen Kane" - is one of the most influential first features of all time. In other words, when one makes a first feature, it is a key goal to have their film in the same league as "A Bout De Souffle" - although that is nearly impossible. Godard breaks rules here - in fact he smashes them, pours gasoline over them, and then throws a lit match on them. He tests us - trying to see what works and what doesn't work. And believe it or not - 95% of what he tries works completely. From his odd music cues to the pioneering, yet infamous jump cuts (which has only been 'mastered' in film once, and that film was "A Bout De Souffle") which are seen throughout the entire duration of the film.* It's funny, sad, sexy, savage, and yes - a masterpiece.
Jean-Paul Belmondo, exemplifying the 'cool', plays Michel Poiccard, a man on the run after killing a motorcycle cop. Jean Seberg plays opposite him as Patricia Franchini - a sexy American working in Paris as a newspaper seller. They get back together, having been one-time lovers. But the law soon closes in on Michel and leads to a deadly end. Yet the plot isn't important. In fact, Godard seems to discard the plot - only using it so he has an end to the film. The character interaction is much more important. Through the fractured storyline and editing, you feel for the characters, yet feel detachted from them as well. You find similarities between them and yourself. The books they've read, and the books you've read. The movies you've watched, and the movies they've watched. Yet you also feel alienated from them. You're not able to tell if Michel is good or bad - a hero or a villian. The film is pure Godard - inventive and full of dark humor (e.g. Michel smokes his 'cig' even once he's been shot). Not to mention the multiple mentions of American cinema, such as Michel's fascination with Humphrey Bogart.
"A Bout De Souffle" stands the test of time. It was wonderful seeing it on the big screen in its original glory. If one wanted to see what modern cinema started with, I would show them this film. From the beginning in which we see Belmondo looking at a woman on a newspaper and smoking to the final eerie image of Seberg doing the Bogart lip motion - we are fully enthralled and amazed at the wonder that is Godard.
* Supposedly Godard decided to use this technique after realizing that "A Bout De Souffle" was running too long. He didn't want to edit whole scenes out, so he just cut certain parts of each scene to give it its very unique look.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
"Vivre Sa Vie" may very well be Godard's greatest film and it is without a doubt the most serious of his early 60's films. Our main character Nana (played by the rare beauty that is Anna Karina) changes from selling records to selling flesh. Over a short period of time, she changes from resisting to kiss a client to practically throwing herself onto them. She works her way up until ultimately being killed by some thugs, after wanting to leave 'the business'.
The story sounds cliched, but is actually quite different from any film I've seen (though I was reminded slightly of Pabst's "Pandora's Box"). "Vivre Sa Vie" is almost not a film, but rather a novel (which in fact makes sense, as it is split into 12 tableaux - or 12 chapters). Film wise, it employs all the great trademarks of a Godard film - from the type of dialogue the characters use to the odd, yet genius music cues.
Seeing Rialto's new 35mm print (which I saw on the big screen at SIFF's Godard's 60's series) makes Raoul Coutard's cinematography on "Vivre Sa Vie" even more beautiful to look at. When Criterion releases this in the near future (which I know they will as you can already buy the poster on their website), I will buy it the day it comes out.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
"Koroshi No Rakuin" (a.k.a. "Branded to Kill") is Seijun Suzuki's magnum opus - as it tops everything the director had done before and after. It is many things - in other words, it doesn't fit into one neat little package. It is both real and surreal. A stylish crime picture and dark comedy. The main character, Goro Hanada (played by the always cool Jo Shishido), is the no. 3 killer in all of Japan. He is rough, suave, and - need I say - deadly. He also has an odd fetish for boiling rice. The film is about him trying to become the no. 1 killer. Along the way, we'll be engrossed in a world where one wrong turn costs you your life. A world where women are either deadly and hate men or deadly and like to sleep around with men. The raw, black and white, nightime cinematography, the jazzy soundtrack, and the stylized violence all add to the 60's coolness that emanates from every single frame.
Perhaps "Koroshi No Rakuin" is special to me because it was one of two films (the other being "Alphaville") that really got me hooked on foreign films. It also - to me, at least - is an example of cinema at it's best.