Thursday, March 25, 2010

1973: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)

1973: The Mother and the Whore (Jean Eustache)
Seeing this was one of the high points of my cinephile experience so far. I can't remember the name of the theater, but it was right around the corner from the Pantheon, in the 5th arrondissement of Paris.  In other words, the same exact neighborhood where all the action takes place in the film.   


The Mother and the Whore is one of these films that makes its own rules when it comes to time.  The movie is 217 minutes long.  You enter from one world and exit from another.  It manipulates the world that much.  


Aside from its unique temporal relationship, this Eustache film takes a very special approach to drama.  In fact, if the film weren't in black-and-white, it would feel more like a four hour documentary than a narrative film.  The film has no traditional structure and the scenes stubbornly, and somewhat arbitrarily, unfold with no regard for past precedent.


Eustache took his own life in 1981.  But he left us with this incredible achievement, one of the most personal films I have ever seen and my favorite French film, post Pierrot le fou.  Some of Eustache's other work is hard to find, but he has a major reputation in France, and if this one is any indication, I can't wait to fill in the gaps.




Other contenders for 1973: I still have some titles to see.  From this year, these include:  Federico Fellini's Amarcord, Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive, Jacques Rozier's Du cote d'Orouet, Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon, Jacques Tati's Parade, Roman Polanski's What?, and Marco Ferreri's La grande bouffe.  I need to revisit Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and George Roy Hill's The Sting.  It's been too long since I've seen either of them to know where they'd place on this list.  From this year, however, I really like Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter, Woody Allen's Sleeper, Orson Welles' F for Fake, and William Friedkin's The Exorcist.  I love Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye, and Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris.  And my closest runner-up is Hal Ashby's The Last Detail.

8/29/10 I watched Peter Bogdanovich's Paper Moon.  It's got tons of heart and is full of intelligence.  Ryan and Tatum have great chemistry on screen, and Tatum really delivers a strong performance.  Bogdanovich imbues it with a nice sense of Fordian nostalgia and melancholy, and the black-and-white imagery gives it all an added dimension.  A very strong outing from Bogdanovich.

1/30/11 I watched George Roy Hill's The Sting.  Smart and smooth storytelling from Hollywood in a way that we hardly ever see anymore.  Keeps you guessing, is fun, and never really overstays its welcome.  Artsy, not at all, but a good, entertaining ride. 


7/18/11 I watched Victor Erice's The Spirit of the Beehive.  An elusive, yet lyrical look at childhood and the power of fantasy and the impressionable, young mind.  Beautiful to watch but never really felt for me.  


7/29/11 I watched Peter Yates' The Friends of Eddie Coyle.  Some great, early seventies naturalism and Yates proves once again that he's really skillful at bringing a city to life (this time it's Boston).  But at times it's almost so subdued and cool as to feel a little lacking.  


7/31/11 I watched Marco Ferreri's La grande bouffe.  Death by decadence is the subject here.  And even though there is a droll spirit at work, there's also an aura of melancholy that surrounds everything.  Somewhat amusing but a bit tiresome.  


8/10/11 I watched Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.  A loose, mournful western from one of the late masters.  Peckinpah meanders, ponders loyalty and lost ideals, and delivers what might be the most personal of all his works.  The loss of a lifestyle, the onset of civilization, a western about not fitting in, that doesn't really fit into anything that's come before or since.  


10/16/11 I watched Abel Ferrara's Could This Be Love.  A pretty boring, messy early short from Ferrara, my least favorite of his three shorts.  


12/4/11 I watched Roberto Rossellini's The Age of the Medici.  The clearest and most penetrating expression I've seen of Rossellini's late period.  Difficult, cerebral cinema with a groping, yet elusive style. No one has ever quite made films like this, and Rossellini's late period certainly deserves much greater exposure and discussion, if nothing else for us to know these ramblings of a master into uncharted territories.

8/11/12 I watched Joe Boyd's Jimi Hendrix.  A fairly intimate look at Hendrix with some great performance footage.  I still wish one of these docs would go deeper on him as he was clearly something of a genius and something special.  

12/16/12 I watched Charles Burnett's The Horse.  An early short that feels like a workshop of quirks before Burnett would find the right vehicle in Killer of Sheep.  

4/27/13 I watched Jerry Schatzberg's Scarecrow.  Zsigmond gives it great space and brings a real strength to much of the framing.  Its assets - its looseness, authenticity, and the freewheeling nature Schatzberg is able to capture quite often - also sometimes leave the engine running a little cold.  But there's a depth and heaviness of feeling that put it comfortably in the group of great character studies that came out of the American cinema in the seventies.  

11 comments:

  1. You can skip Polanski's WHAT? It's not even worth seeing for the nudity quotient.

    THE LONG GOODBYE is my favorite this year, with THE EXORCIST and LAST TANGO IN PARIS close behind.

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  2. My Own #1 Film of 1973:

    The Mother and the Whore (Eustache; France)


    Runners-Up:

    The Spirit of the Beehive (Erice; Spain)
    Badlands (Malick; USA)
    La Grande Bouffe (Ferreri; Italy)
    Distant Thunder (S. Ray; India)
    The Wicker Man (Hardy; UK)
    Brother Sun Sister Moon (Zeffirelli; Italy; USA)
    Lost Horizon (Jarrott; USA)
    Sleeper (Allen; USA)
    A River Called Titas (Ghitak; India)
    O Lucky Man! (Anderson; UK)
    Part Time Work of A Domestic Slave (Kluge; Germany)
    A Touch of Class (Frank; UK)

    I salute you Jeffrey!!! I share the same affinity for Eustache's cerebral masterpieces, and Ilikewise have it at #1 for this year, even with some other excellent films. And you saw it in Paris too! Spectacular!

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  3. Tony, great to hear from you! I definitely share your love for the Altman and Bertolucci. Thanks, Tony.

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  4. Sam, great to hear from you! I'm curious, have you been able to see other Eustache films? They're pretty difficult to find, it seems.

    From your list, I still need to see DISTANT THUNDER, THE WICKER MAN, BROTHER SUN SISTER MOON, and LOST HORIZON. I like BADLANDS although a little less than the ones I mention.

    Thanks, Sam. Always a treat to have you here!

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  5. Jeffrey, I haven't seen the Eustache, which sounds like the kind of long, formidable movie I'd dig, so for now SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE is the one to beat for me. From your to-do list I also recommend Amarcord and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and I'll add my own suggestion of Kinji Fukasaku's "Yakuza Papers" (aka BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY), a five-film Godfather-esque epic that sprawls across this year and 1974. Looking at all the lists posted so far reminds me of how strong a year this was in a very strong decade of cinema.

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  6. For some reason, the blog's not publishing this comment today from Samuel Wilson:

    "Jeffrey, I haven't seen the Eustache, which sounds like the kind of long, formidable movie I'd dig, so for now SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE is the one to beat for me. From your to-do list I also recommend Amarcord and The Friends of Eddie Coyle, and I'll add my own suggestion of Kinji Fukasaku's "Yakuza Papers" (aka BATTLES WITHOUT HONOR OR HUMANITY), a five-film Godfather-esque epic that sprawls across this year and 1974. Looking at all the lists posted so far reminds me of how strong a year this was in a very strong decade of cinema."

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  7. Samuel, great to hear from you! I need to see that Fukasaku. It sounds quite interesting.

    I look forward to you seeing this Eustache. It's pretty remarkable!

    Thanks, Samuel. Always a treat to have you here!

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  8. Jeff,
    Have not seen your selection (another one for the list!). My own choice is Scorsese’s “Mean Streets”, a film that has been close to my heart since I first saw it at the Cinema 1 theater in NYC. Scorsese has practically been an idol as an artist/filmmaker/teacher. Having spent some of my earliest years living in the area depicted I can say no one has created the environment of life in the streets in Little Italy during that period better than Martin Scorsese.

    BTW – I second Tony’s suggestion to not waste your time on Polanski’s “What”, probably his worst film.

    #1 Mean Streets

    American Graffiti
    Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
    Badlands
    Paper Moon
    The Last Detail
    Don’t Look Now
    Last Tango in Paris
    Serpico
    Sleeper
    The Exorcist
    Day for Night
    Scarecrow
    The Friends of Eddie Coyle

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  9. John, great to hear from you! I'm a huge fan of MEAN STREETS, too. It's no doubt an extraordinary accomplishment.

    From your list, I like AMERICAN GRAFFITI, DON'T LOOK NOW, SERPICO, and DAY FOR NIGHT although all a little less than the ones I mention. I still need to see SCARECROW.

    Thanks, John. Always wonderful to have you here!

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  10. I have completely fallen in love with Sam Peckinpah's PAT GARRET AND BILLY THE KID... an achingly beautiful and violent film that blew me away when I saw it for the first time a few months ago in preparation for my own countdown. It's a 10/10 for me and easily my favorite Peckinpah movie. I expected very little from it and immediately fell in love with it.

    My #1 runner up would be American Graffiti, which I always enjoy. And Mean Streets would be just behind them.

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  11. Dave, I definitely owe PAT GARRETT a more recent look. It's been a very long time since I've seen it. I look forward to it. Thanks for all the great comments!

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