Agnes Varda and Chris Marker, the cat.

Forgot to mention how much I enjoyed THE BEACHES OF AGNES, an autobiographical essay-film by Agnes Varda. An 18 Certificate warned us of “strong sexual imagery,” which turned out to be one shot of man with an erect penis. I almost asked for my money back, then remembered that ten or so years ago the film probably couldn’t even have been shown uncut in the UK with such an image. So I guess it qualifies, barely, as a strong sexual image.

But it isn’t all penises, the film is charming and moving and produces regular striking images of the kind Varda has specialized in throughout her career, but which have been rarer in her recent tiny-budget documentaries, because houses made of film-strips and beaches decorated with mirrors require a little bit of time and money to set up. Somebody’s apparently given Agnes a bit of cash to make this one, and about time.

What else have I seen that I’ve forgotten to tell you about? There was THIRST, by Chan-Wook Park (OLD BOY), which Fiona liked a lot more than me. The borrowings from THERESE RAQUIN (previously filmed by Marcel Carne) sat oddly in a vampire movie, and the lead character’s moral decline never became as obvious to him as it needed to, in order to provide a dramatic catharsis. Lots of icky imagery and some beautiful visuals. The idea of a modern vampirism arising from an experimental treatment for an AIDS-like illness struck me as a bit tacky, though. (Although this disease afflicts celibate men, which at least is original.) OLD BOY is still this guy’s best movie by a squid-s length, although I’M AN ANDROID (BUT THAT’S OK) has considerable charm and oddity value.

Finally tracked down BACHELOR FLAT, Frank Tashlin’s widescreen bedroom farce with Terry-Thomas, Tuesday Weld, Richard Beymer and Jessica Dachshund (a dachshund). The stand-out scene is the one everybody talks about, Jessica dragging a dinosaur bone along a beach (the shot CinemaScope was invented for), but T-T is on great form, Tuesday is as cute as a whole row of buttons, and there are some nice visual tropes. The only Tashlin left for me to see now I think is THE LIEUTENANT WORSE SKIRTS.

Been enjoying the 1930s Perry Mason films with Warren William (and later a couple other dudes), a widely disparate series of “thrillers,” some of which are pure slapstick and some of which rely a little more on drama. Mason’s secretary, Della Street, seems to be played by a different actress in every film, whereas Allen “Office Dibble” Jenkins turns up playing different characters. Michael Curtiz’s super-snappy THE CASE OF THE CURIOUS BRIDE is the stand-out. Thanks to regular Shadowplayer mmedin for the discs.

Also, time for an update on the strange quest known as See Reptilicus and Die…

18 Responses to “Beaches”

  1. Speaking of modern vampires, I saw Ferrara’s The Addiction this weekend. Really striking film. Vampirism in that film is not called by name and nobody bears fanged teeth, even if mirrors are draped, daylight is avoided. The title links it to drug addiction(and Christopher Walken makes a cameo discussing Burroughs), more generally it’s about man’s addiction for violence – be it sexual or murderous. Vampirism is the complete metaphor uniting that. Of course Ferrara complicates that with the religious discourse his film takes, making it a total investigation into ethics.

    Agnes Varda’s The Gleaners and I may not be pretty in terms of visuals but in it’s use of digital and the way the camera is precisely framed(by Agnes herself) it’s a striking achievement. As is the sequel, Deux Ans Apres which anticipates Beaches when she discusses how she unconsciously homaged a tic made by Jacques Demy in her film on him and what that means in relation to her long life and age.

    Gleaners by the way was a big box office hit, probably the biggest commercial success of Varda’s career. That might have made it easier to make the film.

  2. david wingrove Says:

    On the subject of Agnes Varda, I’ve finally watched her 101 NIGHTS – which has been around the house for ages! It’s a magical hommage to the history of cinema, with Michel Piccoli as a legendary 100-year-old director/actor/producer and in supporting roles…well, just about everyone else you care to name.

    Marcello Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert de Niro, Alain Delon, Jeanne Moreau, Harrison Ford. It gives new meaning to the term ‘all-star cast”. The one person who couldn’t be induced to show up and play herself for five minutes was, apparently, Elizabeth Taylor. Still, an Italian impersonator stands in for her admirably.

  3. I love I’M AN ANDROID (BUT THAT’S OK). It’s a very original film. Old Boy is great, but Android has so much more going on. Not sure I’m going to see Thirst. I’m a little sick of vampires right now. Any take on them seems unoriginal.

  4. Chan-Wook Park’s OLD BOY is one of the worst films I have ever seen.

    Edward Woodward RIP. He was a wonderful actor.

  5. I concur with Arthur S. on The Addiction. It’s one of Ferarra’s (and Lili Taylor’s ) best, and more than worth a look-see for those who haven’t — especially as vampires have been turned into Mormon teenage hearththrobs via the noxious Twilight series.

  6. I had a full month’s warning that “Beaches of Agnes” would play my city, so I filled the time by watching a bunch of her movies (including the wonderful “101 Nights”). Then I sat squirming at the film, wanting to explain all the references to my companion but knowing that would be annoying. I think Beaches / Varda Month amounted to my most cinematically worthwhile experience of the year.

    Haven’t made it to Bachelor Flat yet, but I just caught Tashlin’s first feature, and have been meaning to rent the Looney Tunes disc with 10+ of his early shorts.

  7. I find that I agree with you about the Masons, even which is the best. What a weird series of films, goes from dead serious gradually to flat-out parody and then back to mild humor. The last one with Donald Woods as Mason is the only one that I can even remotely relate to the TV series, because it’s the only time Mason doesn’t really have any major ethical issues.

    None of these is even the craziest lawyer film of the ’30s by a long shot. I’ve got one precode that beats these by miles in the “what were they thinking?” department.

  8. Tony Williams Says:

    RIP Also Edward Woodward and I’ve just discovered that all the episodes of his 1977 series 1990 do survive along with a few episodes of the early b/w CALLAN that escaped the 1970s UK “tape holocaust.”

    I remember the consternation concerning the poster of the UK version of BACHELOR FLAT at the time that showed a trouserless Terry jumping up and down on a car before an undressed Tuesday Weld. It was soon withdrawn due to the additional graffiti that adorned an area I will leave to your imagination

  9. Good news re Woodward’s TV work, but bad news re him. He will be missed. One of the various pleasures of Hot Fuzz is the spry collection of oldsters given a new outing.

    Weird bit in Bachelor Flat where TT gets drunk and starts aggressively chasing screaming girls. It’s only remotely acceptable because it’s TT and therefore absurd.

    More precode lawyers please! Especially if played by Lee Tracy.

    Peter, if you didn’t like Old Boy, best avoid Thirst. One of its less pleasing traits is the way he tries to top the squid-eating scene for grossness, again and again.

    Varda is quite rueful about 101 Nights failure at the box office (in Beaches of A), but she stands by the film. Can’t wait to see it.

    My one problem with The Addiction, which has great imagery and a towering central perf, was the dialogue, seemingly cut and pasted from a dictionary of quotations. I thought, “OK, they’re philosophy students, that’s credible.” But then everybody who turns up talks that way! Kind of gave me a headache. The rest is great though.

  10. ——————
    My one problem with The Addiction, which has great imagery and a towering central perf, was the dialogue, seemingly cut and pasted from a dictionary of quotations.

    Godard’s movies are literally like that. Nouvelle Vague for instance was crafted when Godard assigned his crew to scan tons of books for dialogue and apparently not one line in that film is original source. With The Addiction, the only way that kind of film can work is making the philosophical undertone transparent and direct which is how Ferrara likes to make his movies. And even then nothing prepares for the shock of the climactic orgy/massacre even if the dialogue is pointing to that direction all along. I especially like the stillness of Lili Taylor right before she lunges at the nearest guy.

  11. I must say I am interested in that kind of “static” dialogue that is part of The Addiction and Godard’s strategy. Other films take on similar approaches though in unusual ways. Like Melville’s Leon Morin, Pretre has long detailed descriptions of theological concepts in dialogue when most of his other films tend to be verbally sparse. I saw Oshima’s The Man Who Left His Will On Film a few hours ago and there again you have verbose descriptions of revolutionary and political struggle and constant repititive phrases. The static quality of the dialogue makes us focus even more on the performances, the mise-en-scene and the emotional tenor of the scene. Ferrara’s Mary is interesting for how it links theological discourse with the emotional realities of the characters and the way the actors play their roles.

  12. I think one key difference between JLG’s use of quotes and Ferrara’s may be that Godard seems to use less well-known stuff. Maybe if I were French I would know all his quotes, but The Addiction’s usage struck me as a lot more ham-fisted. There’s one moment where somebody quotes, then gives a long-winded explanation of the quote that’s less clear than the original line. Great central metaphor, great performance, great climax and numerous good scenes along the way, but I wished I didn’t speak English.

  13. Nicholas St. John wrote all the Ferrara’s films until fairly recently, when they parted company. They grew up together in Hell’s Kitchen, where they got started doing 8mm films. They’re both hardcore Euro-intellectuals, but Nicky is also a practicing Catholic. He isn’t always verbose (except in person). The MS. 45 script was 34 pages long.

  14. Well, since he didn’t actually originate 90% of the dialogue in The Addiction, maybe the script was 34 pages without it!

    Does anybody know why Ferrara and St John stopped working together? Good to see Ferrara seems to be becoming more productive again lately.

  15. I spent a day with Ferrara in Dublin around the time The Addiction came out. Taped a lot of fantastic interview material, then managed to drunkenly tape over it (it had been a long day with a lot of drink taken) before it could be transcribed. The interview was eventually published but 90% of it was stuff I made up, paraphrasing Abel as best I can (the man has a very particular way of talking). Later, hilariously, massive chunks of the interview formed the backbone of the first book to appear about Ferrara’s work.

    Anyway, what he said about The Addiction was interesting – he said he didn’t like, or possibly even fully comprehend, Nicky St John’s script, but because they worked together and were partners, he made it anyway. His general feeling about vampires: “There’s nothing fuckin’ sexy about a vampire – fuckin’ suckin’ a neck – fuck off!”

    Re Park Chan-Wook: David C, have you seen Sympathy for Mr Vengeance? It was the first of his films that I saw and is still for me by far the best, as its storyline seems the least forced (Old Boy has tropes right out of 1920’s theatre, and Lady Vengeance just feels like he’s been forced to make a trilogy for marketing reasons). But Mr Vengeance is full of real, felt emotion and pain, and the ending is devastating.

  16. OK, looks like I have to try Mr V. I like the cheesy plot turns of Old Boy, and kind of dig them in LV except they and the film as a whole are less effective and symoathetic.

    That’s very funny about Ferrara. You can tell The Addiction doesn’t buy into the whole Horrible Sexy Vampire idea, it’s all about the intravenous. I would have thought Ferrara would have understood that alright.

  17. Jenny Eardley Says:

    You can win an Agnes Varda boxset over here:

    I won the book on Rififi at the same place a couple of months ago, it’s a good read.

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