Friday, December 31, 2010

Les Idoles (Marc'o, 1968)

Directed by one Marc'O, producer of Isidore Isou's Venom and Eternity, with assists from André Téchiné, Jean Eustache, and apparent location scouting from Paul Virilio (!), Les Idoles had every reason to be a fabulous film. Instead, it wastes its Lettrist fervor by informing us that, what's this now, pop music idols are really manufactured products and authenticity cannot grow in late capitalism's multinational gardens. Aw. Such profound revelations must have pained the film's vanguard creators. But not as much as its putative pop songs hurt us.

Based on a Living Theater-like play, Les Idoles frames its story with an unorthodox press conference designed to show off three pop idols: Charly Switchblade (Pierre Clémenti), Crazy Gigi (Bulle Ogier), and Simon The Magician (Jean-Pierre Kalfon). The trio's devious handlers allow a warehouse full of fans to ask any question whatsoever which inevitably wears down the singers and compels them to reveal the sham underneath their youthcult-galvanizing images. Via flashbacks, we learn about the manipulation that propelled them to stardom, a trajectory Monsieur O seems chuffed to lay out for us. But because he's cocooned himself so successfully from the "evils" of the pop machine, the overall effect is more arch than revelatory (obviously). Here's yet another movie which feeds the filmmakers' delusions that they can keep it unreal and emulate actual pop music's blissful inauthenticity. I'm no lover of French pop. But I cannot imagine someone hating it enough to applaud the horribly sung approximations/parodies of Johnny Halliday and France Gall that Clémenti and Ogier essay in this sorry context (and lord knows who Kalfon is trying to ape - some sort of cross between Scott Walker and...Pat Smear?). After about fifteen minutes, the self-satisfaction in a job very poorly done becomes unbearable. And M. O's camera offers no counterpoint, establishing the film's righteousness with every aimless dolly shot. Great fashions and maisons, though...

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pazz & Jop 2010

1. Gonjasufi: A Sufi and a Killer (Warp)
2. Girl Talk: All Day (Illegal Art)
3. Die Antwoord: $O$ (Cherrytree/Interscope)
4. Rangers: Suburban Tours (Olde English Spelling Bee)
5. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella/Def Jam)
6. Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Big Machine)
7. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL)
8. M.I.A.: Maya (Interscope)
9. Jim Ferraro: On Air (Muscleworks Inc.)
10. Caribou: Swim (Merge)

1. Enrique Iglesias Feat. Pitbull: “I Like It” (Universal Republic)
2. Shamantis: “J. Biebz - U Smile 800% Slower” (MP3)
3. Mozart Satie (Dominique Leone): "ILM Progression" (MP3)
4. Die Antwoord vs. Enya: "Orinoco Ninja Flow (Wedding DJ’s Remix)" (MP3)
5. Lady Antebellum: “Need You Now” (Capitol Nashville)
6. Rihanna: "Rude Boy" (Def Jam)
7. Usher Featuring "OMG" (LaFace)
8. Dominique Young Unique: "Show My Ass" (Art Jam)
9. Droop-E Feat. E-40: "I'm Loaded" (MP3)
10. Lil Wayne Feat. Nicki Minaj: "Knockout" (Cash Money)


Monday, December 20, 2010

What's this picture about? Dope!

Pickup Alley (John Gilling, 1957)

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bank of America Cinema RIP/Babes in Toyland (1934)

Sad times last night as the Saturday Classic Film Series ends its run at the Bank of America Cinema. But happy times too since the Northwest Chicago Film Society will continue the series on Wednesdays at Portage Theater (4050 N. Milwaukee Ave.) with Written on the Wind in 35MM on February 16th. I'm embarrassed to admit that this was the first (and last) time I was at the Bank of America Cinema, especially after making the mistake of paging through their final schedule (I missed Sirk's Meet Me at the Fair on film?!?!). But anyone who failed to attend last night missed something remarkable.

Understandably, the lovers of cinema who kept this series going since 1971 (!) did not want to let go. So after the feature they raised the lights a tad, invited the audience to the lobby for free cupcakes, and then allowed the diehards to remain seated for some odds and ends that comprised one of the most singular and moving cinematic experiences I've ever had.

First, an Elvis vehicle in Scope, Roustabout (1964), but just one reel of it (!) (basically corresponding to this chunk here). He was still pretty punky even this late in the game and it featured a surprisingly decent song called "Wheels on My Heels" (oh and Barbara Stanwyck - what the hell was she doing in this??).

Then a National Film Board of Canada short, Dance Squared (Danse carrée, René Jodoin, 1961), that recalls the visual music experiments of Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, etc. Peep it here.

And then...something I can't youtube (ha!) - train training footage found by a local film enthusiast (right?) named James Bond (!). No titles. No sound. Just footage. The camera was mounted on the front of a train and filmed about 20 minutes of a ride (akin to Billy Bitzer's NYC subway footage). Presumably someone learning how to drive (is that the correct word?) a train would watch this footage in tandem with some sort of simulator. It reminded me of driver's ed sitting in mock cars which were (very poorly) synced to an ancient computer and even more ancient driver's ed films in order to test your ability to slam on the breaks along with the character on screen (gawd that was weird!). An exceedingly surreal way to end the evening/series, it winnowed the audience down its appreciative essence, to paraphrase J. Hoberman's on Jack Smith. The projectionist played some Hank Williams (which worked beautifully with the footage) and then some Beach Boys (much less so) which helped ease the film's de facto avant-garde impact...somewhat. As each song ended, our deep-seated knowledge of cinema conventions expected the footage to end along with it. But on it kept rolling, instilling more and more delirium in...well, at least me. I loved the shit out of it, particularly those Warholian, Peek-A-Boo For Adults moments that imbue minor changes with seismic significance ("Look! A man is waving!"). And I sincerely hope each trainee was able to avoid the oncoming train by switching to the track on the right.

I'd never seen the feature, Babes in Toyland, a children's musical directed by Gus Meins (who?) and Charley Rogers (who?) with music by Victor Herbert and starring Laurel and Hardy. Meins and Rogers were apparently afraid of analytical editing. Even in the dialogue scenes, they rarely cut to a close-up or indulged in shot-reverse shots. But all the better to show off the nursery rhyme sets. And the music was much less florid than I anticipated, especially "Don't Cry Bo-Beep."

The (stop motion?) 100 six-foot toy soldiers (not the 600 one-foot models Santa ordered) got some ooh and aahs. Oddly enough, on the bus ride over, I read an essay that had some bearing on this scene, Kristen Whissel's typically brilliant "The Digital Multitude" from the Summer 2010 issue of Cinema Journal (also check out her fantastic book Picturing American Modernity: Traffic, Technology, and the Silent Cinema). "The Digital Multitude" analyzes CGI masses in contemporary Hollywood film and how they're often positioned as a sea of enemies who will bring an end to the current chapter of history if the good guys fail to stop them. Describing their look and narrative function, she writes "(their) radical uniformity of appearance signals the subordination of each individual's actions and desires to a single, shared objective: to facilitate the rise of a new, oppressive power" (103-4). But in Babes in Toyland, the radically uniform toy soliders are enlisted to save Toyland from the evil Silas Barnaby and the equally uniform but much more freely moving bogeymen. So it'd be useful to see if the stop motion multitude in classical Hollywood cinema functioned to less oppressive ends overall.

Still, despite such special effects, I had trouble grasping the film's prestige level. Was this an A picture? The sets were elaborate but a bit chitzy nonetheless. Maybe I just couldn't distinguish it from the rather creepy Castle Films shorts that preceded it such as Suzy Snowflake (who?).

Finally, before the feature, a masterful Laurel and Hardy short I'd never seen. Big Business (James W. Horne and Leo McCarey, 1929) got off to a stiff start but quickly turned into something waaaay punker than Elvis.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

The Trend: "Band-Aid" (Northside 1980)

Um yeah this is in the running for both the greatest punk song of all-time and the greatest guitar solo of all-time. And now, for the first time ever, it comes complete with lyrics!!! Corrections welcome.

The Trend: "Band-Aid" (Northside 1980)

Every time I cut myself
There's never a band-aid in the house
That makes me bloody mad
When I can't find a Curad

Somebody give me a band-aid

It doesn't matter if I'm cut or burned
Without band aids I'll never learn
I just can't stand the sight of blood
I just can't stand the sight of blood

I found one!

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Saloon Bar (Walter Forde, 1940)

Saloon Bar is an obscure Ealing comedy-thriller set at Christmastime about a group of pub regulars trying to save a friend from hanging for a murder he didn't commit. But the film delights more in its vertical pleasures than the forward momentum towards clearing the man's name. Forde spends much of the running time familiarizing the audience with the characters and their routines, peppering the story with perpetual diversions and interruptions, many of them sonic/musical.

At the film's beginning, a light score plays as the employees ready the bar for opening.

As Ivy and Fred talk, though, the music's volume rises to almost absurd levels, so much so that you think you're in for a sonic experience akin to the obnoxious wall-to-wall score of Ulmer's Bluebeard.

But lo - the landlord reveals it as diegetic music playing on the radio (stereo?) as he complains about the loud music disturbing his wife upstairs who is about to have their seventh child. That's Fred on the right turning the music off.

Then we have some grating music interruptions. First, a tuneless trumpet pokes in.

And a bunch of bratty kids caroling off key (including a young Roddy McDowall)

Here's an odd shot-reverse-shot sequence (cut on the word "irony")

And you can see the boom mic in the upper right on the wall menu

There's a funny bit where the men show off their legs.

And a visceral track in to the murder victim in a flashback (apparently an omniscient one)

There's some business being annoyed with/making fun of the upper class, first in a garage when one of the regular is trying to find some clues to his friend's innocence, and then later as a party of toffs leave the bar in a snooty huff upon discovering there's no tomato juice.

And if you're a newbie, don't get in the Saloon Bar folk's way when they're looking for clues else you'll find yourself shamed out of the place with their cold, silent stares.

With the real killer finally in their midst, the regulars are about to trap him when the sound of preaching comes from outside. A creepy tracking shot moves towards the door and a shaggy evangelist enters rambling about evil and lies.

It all becomes too much and the killer indulges in some kino fisting before running off.

Eventually all is well and everyone revels in their amateur sleuthing.

And the landlord's wife gives birth to a boy. He closes up shop as a policeman reminds him that it's after hours. But the landlord invites him in for a private party with the regulars. As Tim Pulleine writes in "A Song and Dance at the Local: Thoughts on Ealing," "We are left with the sense of a small, cosy clan that may know its place but is not going to stand for being messed about."*

* in The British Cinema Book, ed. Robert Murphy (London: BFI, 2008,), 259-266.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

He's a Cockeyed Wonder

In honor of TCM Star of the Month Mickey Rooney, here's the poster for He's a Cockeyed Wonder, a gay story of a sad sack who becomes a hero.

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