Les Diaboliques

Thursday, 30 August 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #35: Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques.


This movie is amaz­ing. I’m not one for hor­ror movies, be­cause I nev­er get scared, but the end­ing se­quence of this film even creeped me out. Pretty much any time you hear any­thing about this film there will be the in­evitable com­par­isons with Hitchcock and the state­ment that this film in­spired him to make Psycho. Thankfully I haven’t seen Psycho yet and am there­fore un­qual­i­fied to talk about that. What I am qual­i­fied to talk about is the to­tal awe­some­ness of this film. These two wom­en, a wife and mis­tress, plot and kill the man who abus­es them and rapes them and beats them. They’ve got a great al­i­bi and all that, they dump the body in­to the dirty swim­ming pool of the board­ing school they run/​work at. The pool gets drained and the body is nowhere to be found. Then peo­ple and things start hap­pen­ing that in­sin­u­ate that Monsieur de Lassalle is still alive and kick­ing. This must be im­pos­si­ble, since he was drugged, drowned and then held un­der­wa­ter all night by a big bronze stat­ue.


Clouzot’s ex­treme film­mak­ing ex­cel­lence is so ef­fort­less that it is hard to feel the sus­pense creep­ing up on you un­til the mon­ey shot at the end. This shot was so good I had to watch it about a dozen times. You can see it in the YouTube clip linked at the end if you don’t mind spoil­ing the movie for your­self. Basically what hap­pens [and this isn’t a spoil­er] is that Mrs. de Lassalle thinks some­one is in the school at night and is creep­ing down the hall­way at night. She puts her back to a door which we know some­one is be­hind and look-lis­tens her at­ten­tion down an­oth­er hall­way. Then the cam­era pans away from her and slow­ly tracks around to re­veal the ex­tent of the hall­way. It doesn’t sound too spec­tac­u­lar but it works on so many lev­els that for me it is def­i­nite­ly the mon­ey shot of the film, no mat­ter what came af­ter it.


The rea­son this shot is so spec­tac­u­lar is be­cause on top of all the tra­di­tion­al weight of sus­pense em­bod­ied in the “what’s down the dark­ened hall­way” cliché we have the dra­mat­ic irony of know­ing where fig­ure of sus­pense is lo­cat­ed; right be­hind the hero­ine. When the cam­era moves away from her there is a tor­tur­ous fore­knowl­edge that some­thing hor­ri­ble is go­ing to hap­pen to her, and that we won’t get to see it! The view­er, at the height of sus­pense and ten­sion in the movie, is es­sen­tial­ly told that they will get no sat­is­fac­tion. Then the movie kicks back in­to gear and we even­tu­al­ly do get sat­is­fac­tion, but that pan and track would have made the movie worth watch­ing even if all the rest of it had sucked. Plus, Vera Clouzot, who played Mrs. de Lassalle is quite at­trac­tive and wear­ing a see-through night­gown. Clouzot’s ref­er­ence to ac­tors as “in­stru­ments” is not as in­sult­ing as it seems, for the­se in­stru­ments, it is an hon­or to be held in the hands of a mas­ter.



In oth­er gym-re­lat­ed news, there is this dude who I’ve seen at the gym since I start­ed go­ing there that nev­er lifts weights. He dicks around the en­tire time, al­most al­ways look­ing at him­self in the mir­ror and go­ing through the mo­tions of lift­ing weights, set­ting up the bar, ad­just­ing seat heights, switch­ing out han­dles and weights, clean­ing the bench, sit­ting down and get­ting “in the zone”, but nev­er ac­tu­al­ly do­ing a set or even a rep. He spends some­thing like an hour in the lock­er room, groom­ing and comb­ing his hair and shit too. I on­ce showed up and he was in the lock­er room comb­ing his hair, did my ap­prox­i­mate­ly one-hour work­out, and when I went to the lock­er room he was still comb­ing his hair. Weird thing is, the guy is frig­ging ripped, so he must ac­tu­al­ly lift some­time.

Saloio bread is gross. I picked up a loaf from Dave’s be­cause it seemed to be the clos­est bak­ery ap­prox­i­ma­tion to whole wheat, since they were out of the lat­ter. It is salty as hell, crumbly, dense, and chewy. It tastes worse than the home­made hosts that Fr. Stan makes back at St. Gabriel’s in Connersville. Never again.

I get so much weird junk mail about mort­gages now that I’m a home­own­er. A lot of it is ob­vi­ous scam stuff about PMI and re­fi­nanc­ing, but some of it is not so ob­vi­ous scam stuff that looks like of­fi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion from Fifth Third. Today how­ev­er, I re­ceived a scratch off tick­et. It says on the tick­et that all tick­ets are win­ners for stuff like an xBox or iPod Video, the on­ly oblig­a­tion is to sit through a demon­stra­tion of some home care prod­ucts. Fat chance.

I al­so both like and have a crush on some­one. 🙂


Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Lou shot me an email to­day to help him re­store his WordPress af­ter his site was hacked, he came over right af­ter I got home and we fixed it fair­ly quick­ly. Then he and I met up with Shawn at the Lincoln Park Pub for Taco Tuesday and I ran in­to my old boss. Found out she reads this and has been keep­ing tabs. Hi boss. Had some tacos, met some new folks, shot the shit and had a nice re­lax­ing time for a cou­ple of hours. That’s the kind of so­ci­ety I dig. Spontaneous, chill, hi­lar­i­ous, food.

Married wom­en have been hit­ting on me the last few days. I was at my friend Sandy’s birth­day par­ty on Saturday and Amy and I both got the vibe that this run­way cat­a­log mod­el­ish wom­an was flirt­ing with me. Then, at the gym to­day, this oth­er la­dy kept mov­ing to work out in front of me and check­ing to see if I was look­ing at her and asked me if I was get­ting a good work­out. Wedding ring on the fin­ger. Maybe they aren’t hit­ting on me [pos­tu­late] and I’ve an enor­mous ego [fact] or they feel like I’m safe to flirt at [pos­tu­late] when the hubs isn’t around. This is just as strange as get­ting hit on by gay guys while run­ning was a year ago; but not as fun­ny. My cur­rent boss says that be­ing mar­ried doesn’t mean what it used to, and that ex­pec­ta­tion that mar­ried folks are go­ing to cheat trou­bles me.


A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #30: Fritz Lang’s M.


Fritz Lang al­ways blows my mind. The pre­cise craft­man­ship in all of his films, the ex­act­ly cor­rect fram­ing for a shot, the in­spired, slight, un­der­stat­ed cam­era move­ments, the chiaroscuro and beau­ty of the black and white would be worth watch­ing in a film with­out any­thing re­sem­bling a plot. But Lang is not mere­ly good at one or two as­pects of film­mak­ing. He is good at mak­ing films, com­plete worlds un­to them­selves. M is a world of sus­pi­cion, where neigh­bors are en­cour­aged in para­noia and tale-bear­ing, where the in­nocu­ous be­comes sin­is­ter, and a bud­ding fas­cist gov­ern­ment con­trols the pub­lic through its ef­forts to find and stop a face­less en­e­my. It was made in 1931, an­tic­i­pat­ing the Third Reich by a few years. That’s just the macro lev­el. On the mi­cro lev­el, the psy­cho­log­i­cal por­trait of a child-killer is im­me­di­ate­ly ab­hor­rent and un­der­stand­able, and the steps in­to Hans Beckert’s [played won­der­ful­ly by Peter Lorre] mind are so well-writ­ten, por­trayed, apt and sur­pris­ing­ly po­tent that the film, which is large­ly run-of-the-mill po­lice pro­ce­du­ral for the most part, cul­mi­nates in an un­ex­pect­ed ex­plo­sion of emo­tion that a view­er is left with some­thing ap­prox­i­mat­ing a thou­sand-yard stare.


If we have to pick one word for this film to be about, it is like­ly re­pres­sion. The rea­son Beckert acts as he does, even though he knows he is mad and should not, is be­cause he has no op­tion in his so­ci­ety but to re­press his rep­re­hen­si­ble de­sires. Even a ver­bal ex­pres­sion of his de­sire to have sex with lit­tle girls and then mur­der them is so out­side the norm that it would like­ly cost him his life or at least a few teeth. Stuck as he was, forced to in­ter­nal­ize and co­coon him­self from the every­day of every­one else, it is un­sur­pris­ing that he would es­sen­tial­ly dis­ap­pear, so in­nocu­ous that no clues ap­pear apart from his habit of whistling Peer Gynt as he seeks new prey. Similarly, his writ­ing of a let­ter to the po­lice, and then the pa­pers at­tests to his de­sire, no mat­ter how now mal­formed, to have com­mu­ni­ca­tion with so­ci­ety at large. This is all pos­si­ble to learn with­out ac­tu­al­ly see­ing his face, or hear­ing him speak. Sound was a rel­a­tive­ly new fea­ture in film at this time, and its am­bi­ent use by Lang, its ap­pro­pri­ate and height­en­ing omis­sions, and its la­con­ic di­a­logue make the fi­nal so­lil­o­quy by Beckert all the more ef­fec­tive.


The fact that even the crim­i­nals, so­ci­etal edge-cas­es them­selves, want to de­stroy Beckert with no qualms is telling to his ex­treme de­viance. Yet, when he ex­plains the mo­ti­va­tions and guilt that dri­ve and tor­ment him, heads nod even among the kan­ga­roo court. These are peo­ple who know what it is to sin, though for the most part they can con­trol it. The co­da is so terse that it was ei­ther meant to be that way or some of the miss­ing footage be­longs at the end of the film, but no mat­ter the rea­son, it at­tests si­mul­ta­ne­ous­ly to the para­dox­i­cal eth­i­cal and rea­son­ing sat­is­fac­tion of the rule of law and the pas­sion­ate, emo­tion­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion of jus­tice not be­ing served. The tale of se­ri­al killer be­comes anal­o­gous to the life of every per­son, on­ly tak­en to an ex­treme; and the char­ac­ter sketch of a dou­bly fear-dri­ven so­ci­ety adds an­oth­er facet to Lang’s idea that vice and vi­cious­ness are all too eas­i­ly en­cour­aged with any per­son.


Time Bandits

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #37: Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits.


Woops. This movie to­tal­ly didn’t do a damn thing for me. And usu­al­ly I re­al­ly like Terry Gilliam. I would have pre­ferred some­thing like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen as the Criterion pick, if they were go­ing to go with a Gilliam kid’s movie, since that film is both en­ter­tain­ing, won­der­ful and well made. Time Bandits doesn’t seem like any of those to me, but I’m hop­ing that it was nec­es­sary prac­tice for Gilliam in or­der for him to pro­duce Munchausen. It is a pret­ty good children’s film, al­though the char­ac­ter­is­tic Gilliam dark­ness might fo­cus the de­mo­graph­ic on old­er chil­dren. A younger one might not un­der­stand the whim­si­cal Napoleon, the tech­no­crat­ic decla­ma­tions of Evil or cope with the ex­plo­sive end­ing of the par­ents. The film cer­tain­ly doesn’t strike me as some­thing fun­ny. Silly, def­i­nite­ly, chil­dren will laugh at the danc­ing dwarves, but ac­tu­al hu­mor is rarely to be found. It is Monty Python with­out the punch.


The film­mak­ing is Gilliam™; a sort of steam­punkesque mag­i­cal re­al­ism, where things like knights break­ing through wardrobes in 20th cen­tu­ry Britain seem plau­si­ble main­ly be­cause the sets are as ba­nal as re­al life and the fu­ture al­ready ap­pears ob­so­lete. What I mean is that a view­er doesn’t have to sus­pend dis­be­lief to see and en­ter in­to a room that looks like what any boy’s room looked like in 1981, and when the mag­ic oc­curs, it is the type of mag­ic that a boy would imag­ine hap­pen­ing in his room. Gilliam nev­er di­ves too deeply in­to the rich ter­ri­to­ry he presents. Instead the con­stant flit­ting about al­lows him to keep the film at a lev­el that chil­dren can un­der­stand and that al­so ap­pears to be a bit dream­like; set­ting up the “it was on­ly a dream, or was it?” cliché end­ing.


It of­ten seem like Gilliam keeps mak­ing movies in at­tempts to ei­ther elu­ci­date a com­pli­cat­ed thought or pin down a speci­fic world­view that is his Truth. He’s am­bi­tious, in the re­spect that his goal ap­pears to be a uni­fied the­o­ry, where­as oth­er di­rec­tors are con­tent with the ex­pli­ca­tion of a small piece of truth. Gilliam is a philoso­pher who ac­ci­den­tal­ly be­came a film­mak­er and us­es that medi­um as his the­sis ve­hi­cle. He cer­tain­ly seems to ex­press a Camusian ex­is­ten­tial­ist ab­sur­di­ty, fo­cused less on the ab­sur­di­ty of ex­is­tence pe­ri­od, and in­stead on the ab­sur­di­ty of ex­is­tence now. And while this idea that hu­mans waste their lives con­vinc­ing and dream­ing about bet­ter things pro­vides frus­tra­tion, the fact that the­se fan­ta­sy es­capes are of­ten bet­ter than ac­tu­al life, and the fact that Gilliam is a cre­ator and pur­vey­or of such fan­ci­fuls is an irony that I am cer­tain Gilliam is aware of.


Lord of the Flies

Saturday, 25 August 2007

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #43: Peter Brook’s Lord of the Flies.


It is tough get­ting chil­dren to act well; just ask any­one who’s ever had to get chil­dren to act well. A vast ma­jor­i­ty of the cast in Lord of the Flies couldn’t act their way out of a wet pa­per bag, but thanks to Peter Brook’s care­ful plan­ning and chore­o­graph­ing of key sce­nes, and re­laxed im­pro­vi­sa­tion­al al­lowance in oth­ers, the awk­ward act­ing abil­i­ty morphs in­to an ap­pro­pri­ate skit­tish­ness for ado­les­cent ma­roons. This adap­ta­tion is well on the mark of the book, with an added in­ten­si­ty of vis­cer­al im­agery and psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare that on­ly film can provide so ef­fec­tive­ly. The main strength of the film is that it was shot en­tire­ly on lo­ca­tion, apart from the open­ing mon­tage, and the re­al­i­ty of the is­land set­ting feeds in­to the re­al­i­ty of the char­ac­ters’ de­vel­op­ment. Without the im­pos­ing hand of civ­i­liza­tion, re­gress­ing to a wild and sav­age state be­comes easy.


Lord of the Flies is not on­ly a tract about the im­por­tance of civ­i­liza­tion, but al­so an in­ter­est­ing thought-ex­per­i­ment on the emer­gence of new cul­tur­al forms. In the film, this is no­tice­able fair­ly soon, as the po­lit­i­cal rifts be­tween the two lead­ing boys, Jack and Ralph, are a mi­cro­cosm of in­ter­na­tion­al po­lit­i­cal strife. Similarly, the cre­ation of rit­u­al chants and ac­tiv­i­ties to ward off the beast­ie, and Jack’s clev­er ma­nip­u­la­tion of their fear to main­tain con­trol have con­tem­po­rary par­al­lels in our own coun­try. This is no new trick, but its ef­fi­ca­cy en­sures its con­tin­ued use. The cog­ni­tive dis­so­nance and lin­guis­tic la­cu­nae in their vo­cab­u­lary af­ter the first mur­der takes place is al­so telling in terms of their fear. Similarly, the de­vel­op­ment of face-paint and lit­tle to no cloth­ing are marked changes from their ini­tial school-boy at­tire.


Still, there are sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween be­fore and af­ter. The choir­boys be­come the hunters and their dis­ci­pline, or­ga­ni­za­tion, and loy­al­ty as the lat­ter is due di­rect­ly to their train­ing in the for­mer. They are al­so the ones who cre­ate and en­force the cul­tur­al pro­gres­sion of the tribe of boys, while Ralph and Piggy, who’ve main­tained their rea­son to some ex­tent, are in­creas­ing­ly os­tra­cized. All of this ter­ror comes through strong­ly through the use of lib­er­al cut­ting and re­align­ments in the edit­ing room, and the sheer amount of footage Brook had on hand to pick and choose from. The fi­nal scene is so ab­hor­rent , as Ralph flees the oth­er youths on all fours, much like the pig they are con­vinc­ing them­selves he is, that the ap­pear­ance of white socks and match­ing deck shoes of adult pro­por­tions, and the adult that is wear­ing them is a great re­lief. The mon­ster we’ve on­ly caught glimpses of, the mon­ster that was about to ap­pear in full and ter­ri­ble force, es­pe­cial­ly be­cause of its fa­mil­iar­i­ty, is slain just like that.