Friday, November 10, 2006

Triple Bill

The one clear glimpse of the Eiffel Tower in Jacques Tati's Playtime: reflected in glass.

Recently, I caught a triple bill at Cinematheque Ontario.

The day I purchased the Criterion DVD of Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), I decided, in a moment of cinephile-purist guilt, that I would only re-view the film on DVD, and would wait for my first time to be on the big screen. That was six years ago. Am I glad I waited—what an unbelievable theatrical experience this movie is!

I know you are in mid-yawn as you read this—perhaps a write-up on Playtime is only a touch less redundant than one on, say, Citizen Kane—but I’m still in the throes of stupefaction, so thanks for humoring me while I rhapsodize just a bit.

Premise: A group of American tourists arrives in Paris and spends a day in the modern steel-and-glass city. Playtime’s most famous feature is its modernist refusal of the conventions of classical storytelling—it has practically no plot, no dramatic arc and (most amazingly) no real ‘characters’ that we can fasten onto. Even in the most daring narrative films we are given one or more ‘lead characters’ who exist in relief just as ‘figure’ exists in relief and relationship to ‘ground’ in a painting. But figure and ground are (democratically!) indistinguishable from each other in Playtime.

Also, to lasso a musical analogy here, the frame in Playtime is polyphonic, with the ‘melodies of action’ occurring simultaneously in the foreground, middleground and background, all given equal importance. But it is simply impossible for your eye to be in three places at once! And so, if ever a film required multiple viewings, it’s this one. Nöel Burch even wondered if “the film has to be seen not only several times, but from several different points in the theater to be appreciated fully." (!)

Playtime has: hardly any real dialogue, just a musique concrète of speech sounds; no single language but interchangeable shards of English, French, German, Spanish, and more; no subtitles despite this profusion of languages; and no close-ups, only medium or long shots.

What Playtime shows us is the ridiculous reverence we display—silently, with hardly a thought—for the modern spaces in which we move about all day, every day. If we could somehow turn an eye on ourselves and see ourselves in these spaces, we’d see the unwittingly hilarious role each of us plays in that epic comedy, 'modern living'....

* * *

It’s always bothered me that I write about Western movies while knowing next to nothing about Western religion, specifically Christianity. I was raised Hindu and even though most of the schools I went to as a kid were run by foreign (Western) missionaries, they weren’t permitted to teach Christianity or proselytize in schools. So all of us Hindu, Muslim and Christian kids took a religion-neutral “Moral Science” [sic] class instead.

Anyway, I’m fairly clueless about picking up on Christian symbolism in movies, which is why I’m both stunned and a bit perturbed that some of my favorite filmmakers (e.g. Bresson, Dreyer) have Christian themes running through their films. I respond strongly to what I intuit without difficulty to be the spiritual import that permeates their films, but the grounding of the Christian themes in details quite escapes me until I read about it later. It’s just another example of something I’ve always believed—that I often learn at least as much about a film from reading or hearing what others have to say about it than I do by simply thinking about the film on my own in solitude. (Yet another reason why I value the blogosphere so much....)

Rosselini’s Europa 51 (1952) is the second film of his “Voyage” trilogy, which includes Stromboli (1949) and Voyage In Italy (1953); all three feature Ingrid Bergman in the lead. The trilogy is a long-acknowledged landmark of modernist cinema—Antonioni’s films seem unthinkable to me without them. Right after he made Francis, God’s Jester (1950), Bergman reports that Rossellini said to her: “I am going to make a story about St. Francis and [Francis is] going to be you.” Europa 51 was the result.

Ingrid Bergman plays a self-absorbed socialite, but when her son dies unexpectedly, out of deep guilt she decides to devote her life to helping the poor. Both Rossellini and we the audience see her become almost saintly, but the society in the film (her husband, parents, doctors, the Church, etc.) views her, quite simply, as mad. Rossellini films her often on her own (meaning, not sharing the image with others), and shoots her in expressionist, chiaroscuro close-ups; the frontality of these close-ups reminds us immediately of Dreyer’s Saint Joan. (A few years later, Rossellini made his own Saint Joan movie with Bergman.) The film ends on a remarkable note of spiritual grace—no knowledge of Christianity was needed for complete emotional lift-off!—although friends tell me the ending was saturated with religious allusion.

Also, I’m beginning to realize Rossellini’s powerful feeling for place and its relationship to human life, form and psychology, and this is one of many ways in which he is surely an influence on Antonioni. Much more on Rossellini in the works, coming up soon....

* * *

The third film on the bill was (against all odds, given its predecessors) the most immediate knockout; I hadn’t even heard of it. Joris Ivens and Marceline Loridan lived for four months in a village near the 17th parallel, the dividing line between North and South during the Vietnam war. Their documentary The 17th Parallel (1968) contains no talking heads reflecting on the war, no direct address to the camera detailing war experiences, no historical account of the conflict, and like Playtime, no ‘lead characters’ or ‘story arc’.

Instead, as bombs fall from overhead daily, the film records North Vietnamese villagers at work: (1) Building underground shelters in their homes; (2) Creating daily schedules for rice planting which are coordinated with American bombing runs (when the bombers come by day, they plant at night, and vice versa); (3) Filling in bomb craters for re-cultivation; (4) Cannibalizing unexploded American bombs for parts to make, in one instance, a printing press to publish a daily newspaper for the village! One villager remarks after carefully inspecting the parts disassembled from a U.S. bomb: “It’s better than the stuff we get from Hanoi…”; (5) Building ramshackle portable shelters against pellet bombs in case planting is interrupted by a bombing raid; (6) Proposing a physical exercise program for the villagers, since they spend most of their time underground, in an oxygen-weak atmosphere; (7) Writing long letters to (separated) family in South Vietnam; (8) Singing songs of fortitude while digging, clearing or planting en masse; (9) A tailor at work underground, using a mannequin with half-destroyed arms, ironically reminiscent of Venus de Milo; and (10) The most tragic of all: the village schoolteacher conducting his class underground and teaching 8-year-olds the only English they will need to know—what commands to issue to a captured American soldier to make sure he will do your bidding. Bottom line: this movie will break your heart.

The 17th Parallel was my introduction to Joris Ivens; I know he’s thought to be one of the great documentarists/essay filmmakers in cinema. I have Spanish Earth, taped off TCM, ready to watch. I’d love to get my hands on more Ivens, especially his Tale Of The Wind (1988), which sounds, from what I’ve read, amazing.


Blogger Doug said...

Girish, I'm so jealous that you got to see this triple bill, although I've been fortunate enough to see Playtime on the big screen in 70mm, which is an absolutely incomparable experience to seeing it on video, even excellent the Criterion DVDs. The clarity of a film print is so crucial for its staging in depth and for the way in which the viewer can explore the screen with his/her eyes. I always compare the film experience to Lawrence of Arabia or 2001--if you haven't seen it in 70mm, you've hardly seen it at all.

In regards to your comments on its non-narrative aspects ("Even in the most daring narrative films we are given one or more ‘lead characters’ who exist in relief..."), isn't it hilarious how Tati "hides" from the viewer in those early scenes, offering a variety of "false Hulots"? I can't imagine a star today doing something similar; he's intentionally playing with and mocking the whole idea of stardom.

Europa '51 may be my favorite Rossellini film, but that's really competitive ground. I'm not sure that one needs to know that much about Christian spirituality to connect with it (nor Bresson, nor any other truly great artist who ultimately makes films about and for humanity in general), but certainly it's an evisceration of bourgeois safety and social norms that never fails to move and challenge me immensely as well.

Thanks for the heads up on the Joris film--it sounds smashing. The European Foundation Joris Ivens has been working on a DVD box set for ages. If you haven't seen it already, I highly recommend his film Rain (1929) on Kino's avant-garde set.

November 10, 2006 5:44 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks for your (always perceptive!) comments, Doug.

I never thought of the "false Hulots" or Tati's sending up stardom, but you're absolutely right, of course!

And thanks for the tip on Rain. I own the Kino avant-garde set but had forgotten all about the Ivens film on it....

Doug, I also wanted to tell you how much I've been enjoying your prolific blogging: Peter Watkins, Costa/Straub-Huillet, Kozintsev, Yanagimachi, etc. It's been a real pleasure to have a steady diet of Film Journey reading.

November 10, 2006 10:21 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I second that.

Can you believe I've never seen PLAYTIME? Will I ever be able to catch up with all these treasures?

Fascinating perspective on your idiosyncratic response to imbedded Christian imagery. As a student of Joseph Campbell's, however, I think your gut instincts align most clearly with the spiritual or religious underpinnings of any story. Though the Christian soul is in the details; does it really need saving?

Your comments on THE 17TH PARALLEL reminded me of a friend's recent visit to Cambodia and Laos. He said he was amazed by the 101 uses of artillery shells. His favorites were huge garden pots overflowing with flowers.

November 11, 2006 1:10 AM  
Blogger Brian said...

I strongly relate to your cinephile-purist decision to delay Playtime; I've made many similar promises to myself over the years. Of course, its less of a luxury to do so living in San Francisco (a lucky fact I hope I never take for granted). I've been fortunate to have chances to see Playtime in cinemas three times in the past five years, once in 35mm and twice in 70mm. It has become one of my touchstone films that I (probably way too often) compare other films to: "'s like that scene in Playtime, except not nearly as..." The film also has provoked an emotional reaction each time: the beautiful chaos of the party scene triggers a deep nostalgic response. I even tear up a little, I think usually at the point where Barbara Dennek is invited to come up onto the stage and play the piano.

Anyway, I like your musical analogy to polyphony very much, and don't think a film as rich as Playtime (or Citizen Kane for that matter) ever becomes redundant for a reading by a perceptive, honest viewer.

I have not seen the other two in your triple bill (though I'm aching to expose myself to some Joris Ivens after having only seen Doug's suggestion Regen.) If you don't mind my prying, your comments have me wondering if you've encountered filmmakers from India making allusions to religious traditions well-known in that country, but lost on those of us raised in a culture where such traditions are considered alien.

Michael, I saw those garden pots when I visited Laos in 1999. I even found them used that way in a Buddhist temple in Luang Prabang!

November 11, 2006 1:25 AM  
Anonymous Matthew said...

This Wednesday at the Melbourne Cinémathèque, there will be two sessions of Joris Ivens films, including:

Rain (1929)
New Earth (1933)
Misère au Borinage (1934)
The 400 Million (1939)
Power & the Land (1941)
Indonesia Calling (1946)
...A Valparaiso (1963)
Football Incident (1976)

November 11, 2006 4:34 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Michael, Brian and Matthew!

"wondering if you've encountered filmmakers from India making allusions to religious traditions well-known in that country..."

Brian, I never thought of this question until you asked it just now but a couple of films I can think of right off the top of my head might be Satyajit Ray's Devi and Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Shadow Kill. But of course these films also work on a totally universal level, as Doug remarked about Bresson...

More than religious traditions, there are scores of references to cultural traditions and practices in the films of Ray, Ghatak, Sen, Benegal, etc that it might be interesting to catalog. I take them for granted and don't give them a second thought but I wonder how they are viewed through non-Indian eyes.

Conversely, part of the reason why I love American films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High or Clueless or Romy & Michele's High School Reunion is their sheer density of cultural references for this foreigner....!

I've lived here for 20 years and I still feel like a stranger in a strange land...(I always will, I suspect.)

November 11, 2006 1:47 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Girish, have you seen Renoir's The River? I know so little about Indian culture, but I've always thought of that film as a beautiful and inspiring introduction to it.

(And thanks for your blog compliments!)

November 11, 2006 7:36 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

Girish, that's too funny. It sounds like we're all to some extent using films for cultural anthropology.

I doubt it's as effective as, say, a textbook, but it's so much more interesting, isn't it?

November 11, 2006 8:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I, too, was in Jackman Hall when you saw Playtime there, and I agree - That was the way to see it for the first time. i'm not sure if it would have stuck with me as much if I'd seen it on a TV.

Love your blog, BTW.


November 12, 2006 7:41 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Yeah, Doug, I *love* The River. And I dig how it's as much about Renoir (and the way he sees the world) as it is about India...!

Tuwa, there's stuff I've learned from Romy and Michele and Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) that I could never find in a textbook! The movies are such a multipurpose form....

Thanks, Jeff. And glad to know a fellow Jackman regular!

November 12, 2006 8:37 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Michael Sicinski writes about Down In The Valley:

"During one of the periodic online debates that crops up around the issue of auteurism, Mike D'Angelo (who's generally in the anti-auteurism camp) noted that while many script-driven films are dismissed as being "too writerly," no one ever accuses a film of being "too directorly." But as it happens, this effectively sums up Down in the Valley, David Jacobson's third film as writer-director, and the second one I've seen. From the opening credits sequences on through most of the first hour, it's clear that Jacobson has complete control of the visual aspects of the medium. We've all seen umpteen-thousand depictions of the suburban soullessness of L.A. and environs, but Jacobson condenses this knowledge, and a healthy dose of skepticism about it, into stark, sun-dappled images of freeways, commercial zones, prefab subdivision vistas. Jacobson's San Fernando Valley is saturated with a radiance and a structural power that recalls John Ford's Monument Valley, or Michelangelo Antonioni's sparsely populated modernist landscapes. While it's clear from the lens-flares that Jacobson is operating on the stylistic assumptions of American cinema of the 70s (just as Dahmer was, for all its flaws, a meticulous riff on Fassbinder), he manages to invest this now-canonized way of seeing the world with a fresh contemporary luster. (In broad daylight, and with the comic incongruity of Edward Norton sitting in the frame in his ten-gallon hat, Jacobson successfully shoots an average Unocal station is if its glistening plastic and swarm of fueling cars were heavenly bodies in a constellation. This scene should sit proudly beside Kiss Me Deadly's Sinclair sequence and the artwork of Ed Ruscha in the micro-pantheon of gas-station transcendentalism.) So what's the problem?"

There's more....

November 12, 2006 8:41 AM  
Blogger Zach Campbell said...

Girish, that's one hell of a triple bill you've got there--well, OK, I haven't actually seen the specific Rossellini and Ivens films you mention (yet), but when you're on their level of achievement you can almost assume ...

The one time Playtime showed up in NYC in recent years in 70mm (at the Walter Reade), I was out of town. I've seen it in every other format though, it seems. I'm so glad you got so much out of this one, Girish, it's a real landmark of a film. "Polyphonic" is a great way to describe Tati's compositions ...

Ivens' The Spanish Earth is a fantastic film (and his and his wife's Tale of the Wind is no less than the Greatest Film Ever). His was a life of constant examination and re-examination of political struggles of the oppressed and exploited against their masters and antagonists--but also a contemplation of life's beauties and mysteries not so much outside of the political struggle as in addition to it, co-existing with it (as Pour le mistral or ...a Valparaiso attest). I'm still kicking myself for not having seen all the films in the retrospective here, years back (I didn't truly, truly "get" it until the tail end of the retro). But now I try to see anything I can by him. Which isn't enough.

By the way, on Elusive Lucidity my friend Gabe has started what will be a series of posts on the Torino Film Festival. There's no film commentary up yet, but I hope people will drop by and have a look at his reports.

November 12, 2006 10:09 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Thanks, Zach.

Re: Playtime, when I was writing the post, I was also reminded of your account of seeing it for the first time.

I will keep my eyes peeled for every Ivens I can find. I'm taking a movie road trip to George Eastman House this evening and shall urge Jim Healy, the curator there, to consider doing an evening of Ivens.

And hey, it's cool that the blogosphere can satisfy its curiosity and see a pic of the proprietor of Elusive Lucidity in Gabe's post.

November 12, 2006 12:45 PM  
Anonymous David Lowery said...

Now you can retire that six-year old Criterion disc, Girish, and get the new 2-disc edition that just came out earlier this year! I still haven't watched it myself, even though I bought it the day it came out...I probably have a subconscious block against it, knowing that it will never compare to the first time I saw it, on 70mm at the Walter Reade....

November 12, 2006 2:17 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Sorry for the long post, but let's not forget that The Spanish Earth gave us one of the best auteur anecdotes of all time--Welles' account of brawling with Ernest Hemingway!

"The first time we met was when I had been called to read the narration for a film that he and Joris Ivens had made about the war in Spain; it was called 'Spanish Earth.' Arriving, I came upon Hemingway, who was in the process of drinking a bottle of whiskey; I had been handed a set of lines that were too long, dull, had nothing to do with his style, which is always so concise and economical. There were lines as pompous and complicated as this: 'Here are the faces of men who are close to death,' and this was to be read at a moment when when one saw on the screen faces that were so much more eloquent. I said to him, 'Mr. Hemingway, it would be better if one saw the faces all alone, without commentary.'

This didn't please him at all, and since I had, a short time before, just directed the Mercury Theatre, which was sort of an avant-garde theatre, he thought I was some kind of faggot and said, 'You--effeminate boys of the theatre, what do you know about real war?'

Taking the bull by the horns, I began to make effeminate gestures and I said to him, ' Mister Hemingway, how strong you are and how big you are!' That enraged him and he picked up a chair; I picked up another, and right there, in front of the images of the Spanish Civil War as they marched across the screen, we had a terrible scuffle. It was something marvelous: two guys like us in front of these images representing people in the act of struggling and dying . . . we ended by giving each other accolades and drinking a bottle of whiskey."

--Welles in Cahiers du Cinéma, 1965

November 12, 2006 2:37 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Don't apologize, Doug. Long posts are most welcome. That's a great, myth-sized anecdote!

You know, I never realized how entertaining Welles was in conversation. I picked up the interview book put together by Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles, recently and it's a hoot. It makes me want to copy out passages and post them.

David, I look forward to your Satantango post...

November 12, 2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger Mubarak Ali said...

What a day this must have been, Girish. Will you be going to most of the other Rossellini screenings? I notice they've got Acts of the Apostles and The Age of the Medici lined up, among other Rossellini rarities. Looking forward to your thoughts on these if you do see them.

My first encounters with Playtime were on video and then the Criterion disc, when I was already counting it among my very favourite films. Then I got to see it on 35mm when a Tati retro rolled into town coupla years ago, after which I promised myself to always see this film in the cinema whenever I get the chance. Haven't had that second chance yet.

As for Ivens - I've also only seen Regen. Wish that Melbourne Cinémathèque retrospective came along same time next year instead, when I'm hoping to be (living) in Melbourne...

November 13, 2006 5:15 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Mubarak. That's great news about your moving to Melbourne. I'm always reading (enviously) about the film scene there. I can't think of a city in the Southern hemisphere that is more visible in film culture, esp. on the Nets.

Alas, I doubt if I'll be able to make it up for Medici or Apostles; the last few weeks of the semester will probably be too busy to allow it. But I was pleasantly shocked to find a VHS copy of The Rise of Louis XIV in my college library...!

November 13, 2006 7:57 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--David Bordwell has a long post spurred by Dave Kehr's NYT article.
--Andy files his second Pittsburgh dispatch at Greencine.
--Jonathan Rosenbaum on the Catalan filmmaker Pere Portabella.
--Acquarello on Robert Todd's In Loving Memory (2005).
--Also: upcoming DVD releases.
--Gabe Klinger's first post from Torino at Zach's place.
--New issue of FIPRESCI's magazine Undercurrent, including a tribute to Daniele Huillet.

November 13, 2006 8:07 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was going to say, "Girish, that's one hell of a triple bill you've got there!"

Seeing Playtime on the big screen was far and away the best cinematic experience of my life. I don't know that its impact was lessened much at all by seeing it a number of times on VHS first: it's an entirely different picture when you see in theatrically.

I haven't watched my new Criterion copy yet either, but it sure does look nice on my bookshelf...

November 13, 2006 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Filmbrain said...

I first saw Playtime on the big screen at MOMA (ten years ago?) where it was introduced by Martin Scorsese. He told a great story about how he first saw the film on late night television (in black and white no less) and was rendered speechless by it.

(Did you spot the cardboard cutout extras?)

Amazing that the film was a commercial failure upon its release. Tati spent nearly every penny he had on the film.

November 13, 2006 10:53 AM  
Blogger Alex said...

Ivens' The Bridge (1928) is, for me, more interesting than Regen (Rain) and is more of an insight onto the future course of Ivens' work. Besides, drawbridges are teh kewl.

Has anyone seen Philips-Radio?

November 13, 2006 12:45 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, Andy, Andrew, Alex.

Cardboard cutouts? Really? I missed that entirely, just like I'm sure I missed a host of stuff in Playtime...

I noticed that Philips Radio is on Rosenbaum's "Essential 1000" list. And speaking of Ivens, this essay collection in the "Film Culture in Transition" series looks pretty tempting.

November 13, 2006 1:08 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--New issue of Film Comment.
--Darren asks for your favorite needle drops.
--Two new posts from Jim at Scanners.
--Dave Kehr's latest NYT column.
--At Michael Guillen's: interview with Darren Aronofsky.
--David Lowery on Sátántangó.
--Via Jim Tata, an interview with Pankaj Mishra.
--Quick Hits from Walter at Quiet Bubble.

November 14, 2006 8:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--Two new posts at Andy's place.
--Noel on coming-of-age films..
--Peter sees the new Alfonso Cuaron film in Berlin.

November 15, 2006 7:38 AM  
Blogger girish said...

The academic in me is drawn to this New Yorker article called "The Nutty Professors: The history of academic charisma". Let me excerpt a bit:

"Not that long ago, universities played a very different role in the public imagination, and top academics seemed to glitter as they walked. At a Berlin banquet in 1892, Mark Twain, himself a worldwide celebrity, stared in amazement as a crowd of a thousand young students “rose and shouted and stamped and clapped, and banged the beer-mugs” when the historian Theodor Mommsen entered the room:

"This was one of those immense surprises that can happen only a few times in one’s life. I was not dreaming of him; he was to me only a giant myth, a world-shadowing specter, not a reality. The surprise of it all can be only comparable to a man’s suddenly coming upon Mont Blanc, with its awful form towering into the sky, when he didn’t suspect he was in its neighborhood. I would have walked a great many miles to get a sight of him, and here he was, without trouble, or tramp, or cost of any kind. Here he was, clothed in a titanic deceptive modesty which made him look like other men. Here he was, carrying the Roman world and all the Caesars in his hospitable skull, and doing it as easily as that other luminous vault, the skull of the universe, carries the Milky Way and the constellations."

"Mommsen’s fantastic energy and work ethic—he published more than fifteen hundred scholarly works—had made him a hero, not only among scholars but to the general public, a figure without real parallels today. The first three volumes of his “History of Rome,” published in the eighteen-fifties, were best-sellers for decades and won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1902. Berlin tram conductors pointed him out as he stood in the street, leaning against a lamppost and reading: “That is the celebrated Professor Mommsen: he loses no time.” Mommsen was as passionately engaged with the noisy, industrializing present as with the ancient past...."

November 15, 2006 7:42 AM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...


November 15, 2006 2:41 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Noel--Didn't know you had a twin brother...

November 15, 2006 7:41 PM  
Blogger Noel Vera said...

Yep, I got one, ain't he a cutie? Actually HE went to Mass Communications, I took Legal Management; now I'm the critic. Go figure.

Dead Ringers, incidentally, is pretty much spot on.

November 15, 2006 11:25 PM  
Blogger girish said...

--David Bordwell has a large follow-up post to his previous response to Dave Kehr's NYT article.
--Chris Cagle at Category D has a detailed post comparing Intro/Film textbooks.
--The Alfred Hitchcock blog-a-thon hosted by Squish.
--Gabe Klinger reports from Torino at Elusive Lucidity.

November 16, 2006 6:19 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

And again I wish Bordwell allowed comments. A fascinating post, in any case.

November 16, 2006 11:49 AM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Hey Girish,

This is soooo off-topic that I apologize. I remember you were planning on doing a Bollywood poster series this past summer. Found this interesting article which talks about how bollywood posters are designed to entice both the classes and masses. This makes sense regarding how the same film is sold differently in the A & B centres, and why people often feel that the poster does not correctly represent the product being sold:

November 16, 2006 5:53 PM  
Anonymous mndean said...

Girish, I'm very jealous. Ivens I have wished to see for years, and as for Playtime, well, I have seen it, but never in 70mm.

Playtime's name is well chosen. I had seen it after seeing Mon Oncle, and I always considered Mon Oncle a very bittersweet movie. One could see the death of the old France and it's sterile concrete replacement coming. When I saw this film, I kind of dreaded Playtime, thinking it would be another indictment on modern life. (I saw his films in roughly chronological order) Boy, was I wrong. Playtime found this universe to be an amusing new playground. A series of false images, reflections, and inanimate objects commenting and even conversing. Glass abounds everywhere and is always a barrier. You never knew quite where you are, and everywhere Hulot (or a false Hulot) edges into the frame. Note that the women in the tour group who come to see Paris, never see the Paris we think of (Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, etc.) except in reflection as they're hustled around. It's all a mad, buzzing hive of airports, hotels and restaruarts, and it's as funny as anything I ever saw from Tati.

The only bad thing about the film (in a social way) is that you have to be a real movie nut to like it. Most people I've known read movies pretty superficially and want things spelled out for them. Playtime spells nothing out, and as you wrote, has no plot to speak of, just a day and night in a small part of the city. I've tried it on friends who don't know much about movies and it's been a disaster. The utter perversity of its approach drives them mad, they say nothing is happening, wish acts of violence happen, etc. I know they're beyond redemption, and I don't ever invite them to watch any films I care about anymore.

November 16, 2006 8:47 PM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

mndean, are you sure that wishing for a plot is the same as wishing for violence? Naturally, all violence is conflict, but not all conflict is violent (or, luckily enough, at least not in my experience).

It's possible your friends would consider your taste in movies "beyond redemption." Do you still talk with them? It sounds like you took it rather hard.

November 17, 2006 12:01 AM  
Anonymous mndean said...

All of them are still my friends, of course, but I no longer watch movies with any of them. How many gross comedies and protofascist action films can one see before turning into an imbecile? I'm not willing to find out. Heck, I even tried Buster Keaton on 'em, with disappointing results. I expected their reaction to Playtime, and was not surprised by it at all. But I was hoping one of them might surprise me.

November 17, 2006 4:04 AM  
Blogger girish said...

Hey, Sachin. Thanks for that link; I enjoyed the article. I hope you've been well.

mdean and Tuwa ~ I've tried many times to show films I love to non-cinephile friends. I even helped found and run a film club for five years with non-cinephile friends which turned out to be (for them as much for me) a bit of a frustrating experience. (Thankfully, they're still dear friends of mine--bless their endless patience...)

Nowadays I'm a bit careful about who I watch or chat with freely about films...Which is why I'm thankful for the blogosphere because it's the one public place where the cinephile in me can just be himself...

November 17, 2006 7:13 AM  
Blogger girish said...

--David Lowery has a conversation with Richard Linklater.
--A meaty essay at 24 Lies Per Second: "David Lynch folds space."
--Acquarello on Philippe Garrel's Elle a passé tant d'heures sous les sunlights....
--Brian Darr on SF screenings, with beaucoup links.
--Matt Clayfield on the manga of Tezuka.

November 17, 2006 7:23 AM  
Blogger Tuwa said...

It occurs to me this morning over a late breakfast that what I wrote sounds unfriendly, and that wasn't how I meant it.

So if you'll indulge me for a minute, two short anecdotes:

One year I decided I wanted to watch Pather Panchali over the Christmas holidays. My mother watched it with me, quietly at first; then some friends came over and she began saying--repeatedly--that the film reminded her of a bad Boris Karloff movie. "Bad film" and Pather Panchali in the same sentence! And Boris Karloff too! What on earth is she talking about?

A couple of years later, one of my sisters wanted to show me the remake of The Longest Yard, with Adam Sandler, who's like fingernails across the chalkboard of my soul. She was really excited about it, so we watched it. At the end, she wanted to know what I thought of it. I hated the film, and mustered up something nice to say, and changed the topic as soon as civilly possible.

Is there cinematic holiness? Maybe. Am I a movie high priest? No. Do I remember these two anecdotes every time I see a film and am annoyed or even offended by it? I wish I could say yes, but no.

November 17, 2006 11:33 AM  
Blogger Sachin G. said...

Hi Girish, yes I have been well :)
Tuwa, you gave a very interesting example using Pather Panchali. I only know of a few people who have finished watching that movie. The rest won't even bother seeing it is because they have heard that it is too depressing and not happy enough.

I have been accused of being a film snob by some friends for refusing to watch the new multiplex movie. I admit, sometimes I do watch one just for a change but I can't do it week-in, week-out. I have been told that I need to relax and watch a mindless movie as opposed to watching a film where 'nothing' happens. My counter argument to them is that sugar is not bad if taken in moderation. But if one keeps stuffing one's body with too much sugar, then it can be a problem.

In the end, each person enjoys their own brand of cinema. I have found it best to leave others to their preference while trying to enjoy mine.

November 17, 2006 12:40 PM  
Blogger Maya said...

I know a couple of film critics who would be outraged by that statement. But, of course, I'm not naming any names.

Don't . tempt . me .

November 17, 2006 10:19 PM  
Blogger girish said...

Thank you, friends!

I am an insomniac wandering the Internets when I should be sleeping in on a Saturday morning like normal people.

Here are a couple of links:
--Zach on 'blackness' in cinema.
--Filmbrain on Im Kwon-Taek.
--Some of Dennis Cozzalio's favorite comedies.

November 18, 2006 6:23 AM  

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