Les Diaboliques

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Roundup

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. 🙂

Impromptu

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.

M

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Time Bandits

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Lord of the Flies

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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