Archive for Jean-Luc Godard

Ghetto Fabular

Posted in FILM, Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 15, 2022 by dcairns

Met some of my new students yesterday. Oddly, our first official class has been postponed due to somebody called Elizabeth dying. There’s a national holiday to allow us to watch television, a spectacularly British idea which should become an annual, or daily, event.

Since the entire university is shutting down, my eleven screenings will be reduced to ten. I’m definitely starting with Keaton. But if I show SHERLOCK JR I can fit in a Chaplin too. Or a bunch of shorts — could cram in a Lumiere, a Melies, and a couple of something elses to show the development of silent film language… Maybe a Guy and a Feuillade?

I have a week and a bit to decide. It’ll be a last-minute thing, I’m sure.

A little more on THE GREAT DICTATOR. As I said before, the ghetto scenes show Chaplin more than usually constrained by the laws of good taste. While, normally, we can show Charlie having difficulties and we laugh but still have sympathy for him — as was shown in all the WWI gags — we can’t laugh when he’s being bullied by stormtroopers, even when they’re unreal Hollywood goon type stormtroopers. We can’t be encouraged to laugh along with those thugs. Chaplin can use their bullying to build up tension — increased by the fact that the Jewish barber character is an innocent who doesn’t even know what stormtroopers ARE, and so doesn’t realise what danger he’s in — and release that tension as laughter when Paulette starts clunking them with a frying pan. And we can laugh — just about — when she accidentally clunks the J.b. But the notion of being able to beat up Nazis in Nazi Germany without consequences, even if it’s “Tomainia” instead of Germany — is so obviously a fantasy that the film can’t really lay claim to being a satire while this material is being unfolded. It becomes even more a fairy tale than LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL, which admits to being one (a shrewd bit of damage control by producer Harvey Weinstein, who must have known the film was unacceptable but would be extremely popular).

Sidenote: the slapstick business with the stormtroopers is also hampered by being shot and shown at 24fps, without undercranking, and the tracking shots seem to reinforce the HEAVIER quality this gives it.

When, later, Charlie is being strung up from a lamp post — lamp posts have been dangerous since EASY STREET — things are so serious they’re not funny at all. It’s a bigger problem than the one first diagnosed when he wanted to combine comedy and drama, and a friend advised that the two values would surely fight one another. Chaplin believed, and proved, that they could be held in balance. But I think it’s fair to say that in a comedy, violence by anti-Semites against Jews will be upsetting enough to kill subsequent laughter if it’s done with realistic intensity, and if it’s tamped down to be less upsetting, will seem like an unacceptable softening of the truth.

Of course, this is where having a copy of THE DAY THE CLOWN CRIED to look at would be very useful. It’s just possible that Jerry Lewis, king of the conflicted response, might have solved the problem, even if he did it unintentionally — his likely mingling of broad comedy, schmaltz, and horror could (and we can only speculate) have fermented into something truly unbearable. The late JLG said that the only film to make about the Holocaust would be a very technical study of how many bodies could be fit on a wheelbarrow, and it would be unbearable. Jer might be the man for that. (Welles: “When he goes too far, he’s wonderful. When he doesn’t he’s unbearable.”)

So, no, I’m not a huge fan of the stormtrooper schtick. And it’s interesting that this business is really the only use Chaplin makes of the J.b’s amnesia, other than as a convenient ellipsis to skip over most of the interwar years.* Our protagonist lays down no memories during this period, so we can jump ahead to the next bit of interest to us. And, to return to my crackpot theory, when the Jewish barber is imprisoned, he splits in two, like Bill Pullman in LOST HIGHWAY. Here, one persona is exaggeratedly innocent. The other is pure malignity. One copes with his war trauma by a near-total memory dump. The other prepares a second global conflagration as revenge.

More Hynkel frolics soon!

*The return to the cobwebbed barber shop does give us a great uncanny moment, where the barber suddenly notices the disrepair, which makes no sense to him since he believes he’s been gone perhaps for a day. The camera tracks in to a medium shot, pans to a web-shrouded sink as he looks at it (a non-optical POV shot, effectively), then back to him, and Chaplin graces us with a very fleeting Look To Camera.

“Do you see this too?”


Posted in FILM with tags , on September 13, 2022 by dcairns

This is one of the most useful clips to show students, I find. Although JLG does have a movie star, 35mm equipment etc, what he’s doing, finding the epic and cosmic in the small and mundane, and capturing the quality of cafe time — reading material interrupted by bursts of noise as the natural sound crashes back into consciousness. Some of JLG’s other obtrusive sound and music cuts I find frustrating, even if I understand the intent, but this sequence captures something I really identify with.

The line that JLG could make cinema out of a matchbox and an elastic band is a very true and smart one, and it’s a lesson we should all learn.

8) Napoli -Rosi

Posted in FILM, MUSIC with tags , , , , , , , on March 29, 2022 by dcairns

UNA CERTA IDEA DI NAPOLI is Francesco Rosi’s entry in the 12 REGISTI A 12 CITTA’ series, its ambition reflected in the fact that it has a proper title that’s not just the name of its setting. Rosi, of course, has scored a great city to make a film about. You have to think that Wertmuller and Lizzani drew short straws, though they still found plenty to celebrate.

This of course is Rosi’s return to the city he celebrated and mourned in HANDS OVER THE CITY back in 1963.

Scored with popular Neapolitan songs — as how could it not be? — with attendant phonograph crackle adding atmosphere — Rosi’s film, edited by Ruggero Mastroianni, looks great. Several of the other directors have used helicopters. But his city and his choice of music (O Sole Mio) make them that much more sweeping and impressive.

I tend to like the episodes in this series that eschew voiceover. Though a good VO can be an ornament to a documentary, nobody here has come up with an approach that escapes the curse of the travelogue or tour guide. In the documentaries of Franju or Resnais the narration assumes a powerful, poetic force, and is never a litany of tourist board facts. But Lizzani and Lattuada kind of fall into that trap. Rosi’s film manages to be “informative” with just images and music, and the way they’re juxtaposed. Vesuvius erupts — in paintings and sound effects, and the blast of lava changes the record.

More sonic disruptions are created by Mastroianni’s cutting — a fresh bout of helicopter shots is accompanied by aggressive eggbeater engine noise. Slowly cut into by church bells pealing. Then, Ruggero’s namesake, Ruggero Il Normanno, King of Sicily, appears standing in a niche, and a series of perfectly calibrated shots allows for a succession of kings to swap places with him, while the stone surround seems to stay the same. As a strategy, alternating between flowing movements and static cuts is eye-catching, but the execution here is dazzling. The little parade of statues is so effective, and so different from its surrounding sequences, that Rosi repeats it with new statues in a different location later in the film, so that it becomes a thing. You know, a thing.

The sound is a big part of the success here: when the bells continue over renaissance paintings of the city seen from above as if from Da Vinci’s helicopter, the chimes add to the sense of an aerial elevation. And then we cut to an actual helicopter shot. Hands over the city.

Religious music for shots of churches, but then it continues as we travel down mean streets, imparting an air of tragedy. Lattuada featured extremely narrow streets too, but he TOLD us about them. Freeing the soundtrack up for other material works wonders.

In general this little film is one of the best not so much for the way it creates moods through movement and music and framing, but in the way it BREAKS those moods with abrupt shifts on the soundtrack. Almost Godardian — but it’s very much Godard: Italian Style. So the jolts play in an exciting way, and don’t tend to feel like having a bucket of ice water thrown in your face, which is the sensation I sometimes get from JLG.

A brief modern bit — shots of women walking in the street, a very Italian thing to celebrate (there’s a whole segment of some Italian compendium that’s just watching women jiggle, I recall, and it’s made by someone otherwise respectable — Risi?). Pizzas are prepared. David Lean said of filming in tourist places, you have to include the expected sights, but you have to find fresh ways of presenting them. Here, it’s not so much the shots, it’s the cutting and sound.

Like Olmi, Rosi ends his show in the opera house, but he resists actually having anyone belt out a tune. Though some bits of his film are obvious — the disapproving montage of modern city life occurs elsewhere — his presentation, thanks to Mastroianni’s cutting, keeps defying expectations. Really nice.