Monday, November 27, 2017

Favorite (four), part forty-seven

Just like in my other forty-six posts in this series, I want to take a second to single out the highlights of my recent film viewing.  Most of the films I have been glad to see but only very few have stayed with me.  This series is my filter for those and my hope is one or two will be good to you as well.

Jean Rouch's Chronicle of a Summer
I have long known that Godard was a big fan of Rouch but this is the first of his films I have seen.  It is extraordinary.  It breaks the fourth wall in more sophisticated and interesting ways than Godard ever did and serves as the template for the docu-style Godard would take into Masculin Feminin and several of his other films from the period.  A number of the scenes are magical including the long take of Marceline walking as the camera moves farther and farther away from her and the moment when the father imparts mountain climbing lessons to his more risk-averse daughter.

Paul Fejos' Lonesome
I wish Paul Schrader were here.  I've heard him list off on a number of occasions the things that cinema does particularly well and I always thought his list quite astute.  But one thing he may or may not have mentioned that I think the medium does unusually well is restraint.  When the cinema holds back from giving the audience what it craves for an extended amount of time and then finally delivers, the result can be incredibly powerful and moving.  I'm thinking of Fellini's restraint from using a close-up until the very end of Nights of Cabiria or Marker's sudden burst of movement in La Jetee or the emotional restraint Bresson exhibits throughout the entirety of Pickpocket until its very final moments.  Here, the restraint has to do with sound and as with the very best examples of restraint, when it finally breaks or gives in, it comes as a complete shock.  The first time the two characters spoke in Lonesome I did not know what to think.  I have seen a good number of films but I have never gone into a silent film expecting to hear two characters speaking to one another 30 minutes in.  But Fejos does not stop there.  He dazzles with color, he dazzles with montage and then when it is time for him to bring it all to a close, he does that gloriously as well.

Agnes Varda's The Beaches of Agnes
Although I still do not know Varda's cinema well at all (to date, I have only seen this and Cleo), I am very interested in tracking down more of her work.  Her cinema feels like some gourmet confection - inventive, sophisticated, quirky and most impressively, light.  I have seen a few other filmmakers go down this path of personal essay or stream of conscious autobiography (Marker and Godard, particularly).  But neither is able to articulate their personality and give you a feel for who they might be as a person better than Varda does here.

Billy Wilder's Avanti!
It is the work of a great artist, later in career, working at a time when a youth style has taken over that is so different and foreign it threatens to immediately render the director archaic or a fake depending on the approach he chooses.  Aside from his nod to 8 1/2 (and perhaps to all of the new generation's emphasis on style) in the film's prelude, Wilder confidently and intelligently chooses to stay "classic" and the film derives its power by this bold stance.  It is like Dreyer post Nouvelle Vague giving us the UFO that is Gertrud or Bresson adding color but perhaps nothing else that is stylistically new to his oeuvre in 1983.  Of course, also giving Avanti! its charge is the effect of classic elements in the hands of a master - deeply felt acting (I can't remember ever liking Lemmon better), an intricately designed narrative and long scenes, built and captured slowly, eloquently and artfully.

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