Archive for Bernardo Bertolucci

Partner Up

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 2, 2019 by dcairns

The final day — officially, anyhow — the Day of the Dead — of PROJECT FEAR. we have survived the efforts of our crazed cult leader to crash us out of the EU, like the Rasputin guy piloting the Siberian Express off a cliff in Sergio Martino’s HORROR EXPRESS. Instead, we’re lingering on a siding, waiting for the zombie cossacks to dismember our institutions. I did what I could.

First up, Tim Concannon turns his steely gaze — a braver man than I! — upon Val Guest’s AU PAIR GIRLS. Is this British soft-porn “romp” a European horror film? Tim argues YES. Go check it out.

(Also, you should hear his podcast. Amazingness! And a big influence on a certain other podcast.)

My friend Martin Allison wanted to contribute something but couldn’t decide what, so I sent him two random films. One was Bertolucci’s PARTNER, which I still haven’t watched but I knew that (a) it uses the Doppelganger theme, hence the uncanny is present and (b) Pierre Clémenti at one point does a Max Schreck impression. That was enough for me.

Martin’s “rant” as he called it is very interesting to me because his objections to the film are exactly those of Bertolucci himself, who felt he was too much under the Godardian influence and needed to break free from it, which was why he gave the Paris-based professor in THE CONFORMIST Godard’s phone number and then murdered the guy.

Here’s Martin:

On my first viewing I didn’t even realise this film was directed by Bertolucci, this in many ways sums up what you need to know.

To paraphrase Mr. Burns, at first glance this film feels like it was made by a bargain-basement-Godard.

The clear lifting of Godard’s visuals is very confusing. Considering how Godard’s films are so detached from emotion, character and plot – and therefore solely rely on images to relay arch themes in an obtuse way – copying this style without having a clear purpose is absurd.

Godard’s images are an attempt at embodying the platonic ideal, the image of something physical stands in for something metaphysical; an idea.

In a very strenuous and lazy summary; to Plato a bed was a representation of an idea, rather than a physical structure, therefore a painting of a bed was a representation of a representation.

What we have with Partner is an imitation of a representation of a representation.

Having a quick glance at the surprisingly high IMDB rating, it looks like any positive reviews have confused the merits of Bernardo Bertolucci with the merits of this film. The conceit shines through in any review above 5/10 saying something along the lines of “As an experiment, Partner is more of a success than a failure.” – the problem being it’s a film, not an experiment and must be judged accordingly.

The narrative (little that there is) concerns a guy who encounters a double of himself and then they have some obtuse and ponderous interactions where one stands at one end of the screen and the other stands at the other.

The film comes in a strange place in Bertolucci’s filmography – between thematically (and in many ways stylistically) similar Before the Revolution and The Conformist, which both deal with the idea of a character being seduced by an ideology, fascism to be specific.

We go from disconnected scene to scene, none of which actually slot together meaningfully.

It is curious as Bertolucci’s films before and after this one successfully work with meandering plots and non-chronological scene progression. Of course, with both of those films, there is a clear purpose to why they are structured as such – revealing information to the audience in a meaningful way, forming an arc to the films as a whole. Which can only strengthen my assumption that Godard was being ripped off, but without understanding
why his films were made that way.

A handful of his new wave films have fairly disconnected scenes, but manage to come together to form a whole (Vivre Sa Vie), whereas in Partner it feels like a lazy structural device, without any justification.

Two bizarre scenes I think worth mentioning are one in which our main character uses an artificial cobweb gun at this acting forum he appears at (there is a cool shot of cobwebs over small trees, fitting for this time of year).

And a scene in which a 60s campy euro-pop track with the word ‘Splash’ repeated over and over plays over the main character and a woman who took her bra off for some reason earlier in the film dancing around a washing machine and half-undressing, rolling around in the bubbles from the wash – before the protagonist strangles her. The problem here being I can’t tell if it’s supposed to be satire or sincere, either way it’s poorly realised, self-indulgent, confusing and embarrassing.

What bothers me about any positive reviews for the film on IMDB is that they have nothing to do with the film, as it simply isn’t very good and doesn’t work. Just because a good director was involved, it feels like there is an extra level of projection and open-mindedness granted to the film, an un-deservingly huge benefit of the doubt can be the only explanation for these ratings.

The film is loosely based on The Double by Dostoyevsky – but you wouldn’t know it.

There is an examination of the duality of man going on thematically, but it’s so on the nose I’m angered it’s been overlooked by all these apologists on IMDB, as it’s by no means subtle.

When did ‘experimental’ become a convenient way to excuse something that is bad, which just happens to have a more academic fan base?

Visually the film does have some interesting frames to offer up, as well as bright primary colour palettes similar to those found in Godard films.

A couple of scenes display enjoyable ideas – a parody of the Odessa steps from Potemkin and a scene where large piles of books move around (little carts underneath) spookily as our protagonist sits in place afraid.

I found a concise summary of this film on IMDB, as I doubt I can write one so well, read it for yourself.

From user ‘Darth-Chico’;
“Exuberance carries this film half way, after that it degenerates into an exercise in employing old art film clichés. Though he bases his movie on the Dostoyevsky story ‘The Double‘, Bertolucci apparently has no message, and no original way to present it. By the end this movie has dragged you through a tedium of stupidity and indulgence. This is the kind of
film that gives art movies a bad name. 4/10 “

Two Deaths

Posted in FILM, Television with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 27, 2018 by dcairns

Bernardo Bertolucci evidently hoped to make more films before getting the cancer that killed him. Nic Roeg, after writing his autobiography, had grown frail in mind and body, and would not have been able to. Still, we wish it were otherwise. The fact that Roeg was unable to make his own projects for so long is deplorable, an extraordinary tragedy to add to the more mundane fact of death. (“This isn’t the worst,” Von Stroheim is said to have lamented on his death-bed. “The worst is that they stole twenty years of my life.”)

To a friend, Roeg freely admitted to trading on his reputation with nonsense like SAMSON AND DELILAH (with Liz Hurley! On the basis that Baby Spice hadn’t been discovered yet, I suppose). He clearly wasn’t the kind of filmmaker who could be a gun-for-hire and still bring his distinctive sensibility into play. His work was cerebral, and if the underpinnings weren’t there, you couldn’t expect a gloss of Roegian affect. Bertolucci was lucky enough never to have to make a biblical epic for HBO, though he’d probably have been a better choice for the task.

I first caught a glimpse of Roeg’s work when Barry Norman, presenting Film 83 on the BBC, showed us what the programme (and he himself) had looked like when it started ten years earlier, and there, startlingly, was a clip of a sodden Donald Sutherland screaming in slow motion, holding his drowned child, a trail of droplets raining from her toe, as a slide of a church dissolved into a lurid phantasmagoria of colours. I immediately knew I had to see this film, even thought (or BECAUSE) I had no idea what the images meant.

I looked the film up in Halliwell’s Film Guide, and surprisingly, if you know Halliwell, he actually managed to capture some of the strangeness I had felt, though I think he also managed to (a) spoiler the ending and (b) render the plot garbled and meaningless in a single two-line synopsis.

   

Then there was a Guardian lecture at the NFT, broadcast by the BBC again, where we saw clips from other Roeg movies including his latest, EUREKA!, which I was able to rent on VHS a bit later. I may need to revisit it to see if I still feel that the beginning is great and the rest, progressively less great. By the time INSIGNIFICANCE came out, I think I’d caught up with the earlier films and been blown away. Even if I didn’t always enjoy or understand the experience first time round, some blowing-away always took place. I used to alternately hate and then love BAD TIMING each time I watched it, and even though half the time was no fun, I couldn’t stop watching it. On VHS!

ARIA screened at Edinburgh International Film Festival but I can’t actually recall if Roeg took to the stage for the intro. Ken Russell was there with a plastic cup impaled on the end of his golf umbrella and that rather stole all the thunder, I’m afraid.

I think the first one I was able to see on a first run at the cinema was CASTAWAY (maybe that’s worth revisiting? It was one he really wanted to make). Barry Norman previewed it, saying he’d seen a rough cut with the director sitting right behind him muttering, gloomily, “It is what it is, I suppose…”

A guy I know worked on a script for Roeg. He said a lot of the script notes were just muttering, really, but then you would get these blinding flashes of brilliant insight. And Roeg would turn up on TV interviews, muttering quite dreamily to himself, the words sometimes completely indecipherable, then snapping into sharp focus. Kind of like what my developing mind would experience when struggling through the denser passages of his films.

Another guy I know worked for years and years to get another Roeg movie made, and he was absolutely certain Roeg was still a master, powers undimmed, if only the right project could be launched. This was a kind of Jekyll & Hyde story, and when the idea of an octogenarian Roeg helming the whole thing came to seem unduly optimistic, the plan became to have one, younger director for Jekyll while Roeg handled Hyde, or maybe it was the other way around. Donald Sutherland was up for starring, and when scheduling conflicts intervened, Ruther Hauer was slotted in. But the financing never came together.

I don’t have such a clear image of when Bertolucci impinged on my mind, but Paul Schrader discussing him on The South Bank Show (ITV this time) would have brought THE CONFORMIST into my ken. I hadn’t even seen TAXI DRIVER at this point, I think, and the interview made me rent that and RAGING BULL and probably AMERICAN GIGOLO but Bertolucci had to wait until BBC2’s Film Club, I think, screened THE CONFORMIST, and then there was THE LAST EMPEROR at the cinema, and LAST TANGO IN PARIS at the University Film Society (but maybe at one of the Cameo’s late-night double features first, with something unsuitable like BETTY BLUE).

Channel 4 (see how television used to play such an active role in cinephilia) showed 1900 over two nights, and I watched it with my parents, treating it as a big miniseries, and my dad summed up the weird, allegorical ending with a quite literal interpretation that turned out to be exactly what BB had in mind. I can only assume that screening was censored at least a bit, because there are SO many WTF images in there that I can’t imagine my parents lasting ten minutes. Fiona’s face nearly fell off when I ran it for her.

While the experimental arm of commercial cinema in which Roeg had been able to work — the very fag-end of British sixties cinema — sputtered out and left him to waste his time on hackwork — Bertolucci was somehow able to keep making personal films. What hurt him, I think, was the end of the arthouse cinema he’d come out of, and the end of the hope for a particular revolutionary change in society which had animated his vision. The man who made STEALING BEAUTY and BESIEGED was still talented, but I think he’d lost key elements of his relationship to the world, so that his talent didn’t know quite where to go. He gamely kept at it.

We saw him in Bologna a few years ago, in his wheelchair with the Mondrian wheels. I was going to say “I love your wheelchair” and then I realized who he was and would have added “and your work!” but he had a big guard standing over him making sure nobody interrupted his chat with the guy from Variety. So I didn’t get to have an encounter as charming as the one I heard about from a friend of a friend on the internet, who had approached him at a cafe and asked, “Those colours in THE SHELTERING SKY… was that what the desert was like, or were they created?” to which BB replied, “They were created… for you.”

The Man with the Mondrian Wheels

Posted in FILM, Painting with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2016 by dcairns

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9 a.m. HER MAN (Tay Garnett). Proto-Wellesian tracking shots, and Phillips Holmes looking Greek-godly in a shredded sailor suit. “That was practically a bdsm costume,” said Meredith Brody.

11. a.m. BROADWAY (Pal Fejos, whose very credit drew applause). “You’re seeing all sorts of fresh-minted clichés,” observed Mark Fuller.

16.00 MAS ALLA DEL OLVIDO (BEYOND OBLIVION, 1955) Argentinian Gothic melodrama which draws from REBECCA and GASLIGHT while harking forward to VERTIGO and even THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK. See it if you ever get the chance.

21.45. THE HIGH SIGN (music by Donald Sosin), COPS (music by Timothy Brock) and THE KID (music by Charlie Chaplin adapted by Timothy Brock). Orchestral accompaniment. The Piazza Maggiore. Sublime.

A rare “golden” print of REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE was displayed. Andrew Moor observed of the movie, “It’s a sort of mash-up of BILKO and EQUUS.”

Saw a man in a very cool wheelchair — it had Mondrian wheels. “We should compliment him on his chair!” Moving a little closer: “We should compliment him on his career!” Bernard Bertolucci, in the flesh. But the towering bodyguard maintaining his privacy as he chatted to Scott Foundas barred all compliments.