Archive for Jacques Tardi

All Action

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 2, 2020 by dcairns

Ben Wheatley’s FREE FIRE (2016) and Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s LET THE CORPSES TAN (2017) could be lumped together as part of a stillborn European cinema movement — the all-action movie. Critics have often — inaccurately — complained that Hollywood action movies are just continuous violence uninterrupted by plot. They do strive to give that impression, but are more likely to be following the 80s Joel Silver/Simpson & Bruckheimer format of an action sequence every ten minutes, and the cause-and-effect narrative motivation is usually very strong. Part of the reason they often feel so simplistic in story terms is that they have a this-follows-that structure, like a treasure hunt, or a guys-on-a-mission thing, and use the three-act structure religiously.

So the idea of taking literally what critics complain about is kind of an interesting one. What would it feel like if everything was an action set-piece. In theory, very intense, but in theory also, you could still tells a complex story and have interesting characters — because as writer David Gerrold once attested, you CAN and SHOULD use action as a CONTINUATION of plot and character, not as a SUBSTITUTE.

Movies usually managed the PLOT part — I remember being struck by an elaborate chase/battle in the piece of crap AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, which left the characters and situation back where they started, so that the whole thing could have been removed without affecting the story one jot. The feeling was unfamiliar, because even the lamest action movies don’t usually make this elementary blunder. Even if the action sequence consists of Character A trying some stunt to resolve their difficulties, and the stunt doesn’t work, and they end up stuck with the same difficulties, some form of story progress will have been made, even if it’s only the discover of “Well, THAT stunt didn’t work.”

David Cronenberg, asked whether his CRASH was not just a series of sex scenes with no story or character, said he didn’t see why story and character couldn’t be developed by a series of sex scenes. The same should certainly be true of violent scenes.

Where most action movies do go wrong is in character development. Everybody becomes an unstoppable killing machine once the conflict kicks off. There is no plausible reason why Benny, the barroom piano player in BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA, should turn out to be such a skilled gunman (“able to kill four men with three bullets,” as Alex Cox may have put it — I don’t recall the exact figures) other than that Peckinpah is indulging in self-parody. Making different characters differently effective at violence is an obvious tool that’s underused — generally the leading lady is the only one allowed to be frightened or weak, leading Schwartzenegger to proclaim that women are kind of a drag in action cinema. But check out how ALIENS manages to characterize, at least in comic-book terms, a whole bunch of different characters in what is effectively a single protracted dramatic/action situation. And most of them are military folks, and they’re STILL varied.

So, LET THE CORPSES TAN is the one we watched, part of my exploration of Jean-Patrick Manchette. So far I’ve read one of his novels (Fatale), one set of comic-book adaptations (by Jacques Tardi) and seen two movies, the other being Yves Boisset’s FOLLE A TUER. He’s a writer whose work can best be described as “propulsive” and he seems like a good match for this approach.

The film isn’t actually all shooty-gun stuff, but it manages to feel like a single runaway panic attack of mayhem, hallucinations and virtuoso set-pieces. It would be fair to say it never lets up. Fiona, feeling a bit sleepy, disengaged from the “plot” entirely and just let it flow over her — maybe enjoying it more as a result. I was impressed by the style, then let down by the ending. It might seem axiomatic that if your movie is all climax, when it finally stops it will feel anticlimactic, inconclusive, but I could imagine all sorts of solutions that would have made it more satisfactory, chief among them the classic Hollywood trick of setting up a puzzle piece, letting the audience get distracted into forgetting it, and then paying it off at the end when they’re not expecting it. That doesn’t happen here.

The filmmakers have colossal panache and there are techniques here which border on the unique (every filmmaker should see it), and the whole thing looks terrific. But it seems that even with a book to base it on, they’re not great at story. It’s hard to care about anything in this psychedelic charnel-house. It’s good to see Elina Lowensohn again, and her character’s indifference to the chaos around her is intriguing, but we wait in vain for her attitude to change — since change of attitude is a defining trait of characterisation in stories. (Hollywood, with its redemption narratives, insists of wholesale character reform, but I think the minimum of development we’re entitled to is a change of APPROACH by each character.)

The danger of a movie that’s continuous movement is that it could all become paradoxically static. LET THE CORPSES TAN slams into that obstacle at 100mph, and the fact that the impact doesn’t slow it down is part of the problem.

The Sunday Intertitle: Damn this War!/This Damn War! (with added panther)

Posted in Comics, FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , on August 23, 2020 by dcairns

Continuing to investigate the work of Alfred Machin. I thought at first there was little available, but actually a good bit of his early work is on YouTube.

MAUDIT SOIT LA GUERRE (1914) is fascinating because it’s an early feature, because it’s an anti-war movie made mere months before WWI broke out, and because it sorta predicts aerial warfare, with biplanes blowing up balloons and stuff, all staged full-scale.

But I’m also impressed by the stencil colour, which firstly is used to differentiate one side from the other: the two main tints are those applied to the unnamed rival nations’ uniforms. But then we get bright green grass, red roof tiles, and then, for the numerous explosions, flashes of all-over red.

Machin was doing his very best to personalize the concept of “the enemy” with this story of friends from different countries who find themselves fighting to the death on opposite sides. If we thought of the other side as people like us, it would be a lot harder to kill them.

Another thing I devoured recently was Jacques Tardi’s similarly titled graphic novel Goddamn This War!, translated and released by Fantagraphic Books, which paints a remorselessly grim (series of) picture(s) of the whole of WWI, largely from a French infantryman’s viewpoint. Tardi chooses to make his protagonist politically aware and cynical about the war from the get-go, eschewing the traditional journey from naive patriotism to war-weary cynicism. By starting downbeat, Tardi seems to leave himself nowhere to go, which is kind of true, but then he GOES THERE. So we get bludgeoned by page after page of horror and misery, and it’s exhausting — as it should be. I could barely finish it.

Light relief: Machin casts his favourite star, Mimir the panther, in an earlier short, SAIDA A ENLEVE PIS (1913).

Tardi Sweep

Posted in Comics, FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 11, 2019 by dcairns

APRIL AND THE EXTRAORDINARY WORLD — I think the title doesn’t quite work in English — too vague — is a rather dazzling and genuinely charming steampunk adventure inspired by the works of cartoonist Jacques Tardi, also the source for Luc Besson’s THE EXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES OF ADELE BLANC-SEC (the key word here is “extraordinary,” it would seem).

Besson is a bugbear of mine. There are the films that are just hateful, the ones that are nearly good, or good in places and upsetting in others, and then there are his attempts to be charming, which are horrible. I think probably he has an awful personality (Google “Luc Besson accusations”) and he’s one of those guys who can’t help but put himself into his work. For all his limitations, Michael Winner had something similar going on, you always felt you were in the hands of a nasty piece of work. In the case of ADELE BS, Besson’s decision to plaster his supporting cast in grotesque, no, UGLY makeups is a great bit of self-revelation, in that it tries to be about capturing a comic-book ambience (the way the live-action Tintin movies gave Captain Haddock a bizarre, painted-on beard, or Robin Williams’ corky arms in POPEYE) but doesn’t resemble Tardi’s attractive caricatures whatsoever. It can be read only as an eruption of nastiness from somewhere outwith the project.

When I worked in animation, abortively, my colleague remarked “There’s only so much shit a thing can contain before it’s JUST SHIT.” Besson always gives me a little more shit than I can overlook.

Whereas, I’m glad to say, AATEW (AVRIL ET LE MONDE TRUQUE, or “fake world,” in the original — which doesn’t really fit the story either) is properly delightful. Marion Cotillard and the late Jean Rochefort do voices. The characters and setting look enough like Tardi to pass and there’s humour, constant delightful invention, and no Bessonian bum notes. Nobody can really draw like Tardi, and they certainly can’t mass-produce Tardi drawings in sufficient quantity for an animated feature film, and computers certainly can’t do it, but with enough skill, respect and taste there’s a possibility of getting close enough to be pleasing. This, the filmmakers (directors Christian Desmares and Franck Ekinci, writers Ekinci and Benjamin Legrand) have succeeded in marvelously.

The production design is fabulous, the colour a little cautious (as with BELLEVILLE RENDEZVOUS, a tendency towards sepiatone), the character design not as pleasing as Tardi would have made it but a long way from the unpleasantness of Besson’s silliy-putty fizzogs. But the story and the story world unite to create something really imaginative and fresh and appealing.

I liked the characters (just not the way the younger ones are drawn), who all have proper arcs and make something sweetly nostalgic out of their generic limitations. There are some good laughs. There’s a talking cat who may not be Jiji from KIKI’S DELIVERY SERVICE but is bloody excellent. Fiona was impressed by the anatomical exactitude of his rear elevation. Probably STEAMBOY will remain the ultimate in animated steampunk spectacle, and LAPUTA THE FLYING ISLAND the most truly wonderful, but this is quite a bit more quaint and charming — there’s an airship-powered funicular railway, ffs — the belt and braces approach to retro-futurist whimsy.

What allows it to be both charming and interesting is that the filmmakers know what we want and don’t want, and can skirt the edges of thr latter to keep it interesting. There are characters who, if they died, would really upset us. So the filmmakers threaten their lives and make us believe that they COULD die, there could be a less pleasing version but still acceptable version of the film where that happens. Whereas, the only thing that upset us was the destruction of the WALKING HOUSE, which was a house we adored and were ready to make an offer on.

Should work for kids and adults. Don’t know why it isn’t better known.