Some recent imbibing of the nonstop viewing habit:

I am Curious Yellow and I Am Curious Blue. Blue and yellow are the colors of the Swedish flag, and these are Swedish director Vilgot Sjoman’s very controversial 1967 film (and almost completely ignored “parallel” 1968 follow-up).

Yellow was very nearly banned in the USA and caused a huge stir upon its release. I’d heard that the film itself was nothing compared to its cultural impact, i.e. that the reason it’s important was that it broke taboos and challenged censorship, but its usefulness ended there. Thankfully, what I’d heard wasn’t even close to being on the mark. When a film is touted a “young woman’s sexual awakening,” is from the sixties, and is only ever discussed in those terms, I expect the worst- I don’t care if it is from the land of Bergman. However, though the films do both contain explicit sexual scenes, those scenes don’t necessarily seem contrived or out of place in their context; they’re clearly not exploitative or porn-substitutes. That context is an okay variation on what Godard did in Masculin Feminin a few years earlier; deploying the so-called “cinema verite” camera as a weapon to expose the myth of objectivity.

Sjoman doesn’t have nearly the smarts of Godard, but he does have the humor (at the end of each film, breathless voices plead with and order us to “Buy our film- the only film to come in both yellow AND blue!”), and it’s fascinating to watch his star, Lena Nyman (who later starred as the disabled sister in Bergman’s Autumn Sonata) confront Swedish citizens from across the social spectrum with very loaded questions about their socialist paradise. It’s somehow comforting to know that even Sweden has had its malcontents, that even a seemingly perfect system must be perfected, and apparently not without more than a little internal strife and social turbulence. If we’re to believe these movies, Swedes are very conflicted about their need to present a smiling socialist face to the rest of the world and are loath to admit to the inequities and injustices that do still exist.

Sjoman blurs the lines between reality and fiction so thoroughly that by the time you’re halfway through Yellow, you’ve accepted that these films aren’t actual documentaries in any conventional sense, but complicated prankish satires, though with a real, clearly defined yearning for social exploration and demystification; this, not some timorous sexual searching, is the “curiosity” of the title. The films question absolutely everything, including their own content and form. None of what we’re seeing, neither the “fiction” nor the “documentary” portions, are entirely nonfictional, though much of it was apparently improvised. The films are very, very loosely constructed as films-within-films, with everyone playing themselves working on the movies they’re working on, then going home and exploring the ups and downs of sexual liberation. I’m being flip in my summation, really; they’re not great films, but it did all make much more cinematic sense than I expected it to, and there were some very worthwhile insights and pleasures.

Much more indulgent, familiar, comforting fare: The third and fourth respective installments of Truffaut’s Antoine Doinel series: Stolen Kisses and Bed and Board. The Doinel films (starring the arrogantly handsome but personally charming Jean-Pierre Leaud as Doinel since Leaud was 13 and Doinel was younger than that) are uniformly indulgent; very tender, very funny, melancholy but not melodramatic. They force us to split the hair growing between “distance” and “detachment.” They are quite detached- we’re always seeing Doinel from the outside, “in action” as it were, with not a moment for contemplation- and yet these details and little crises of his life are very affecting, somehow. Truffaut always was on the most accessible edge of the more avant-garde Cahiers du Cinema crowd, but he always exuded integrity. He played Camus to Godard's Sartre when it came to temperament and sensibility. I only have one Doinel entry left: 1979’s Love on the Run. I always meant to pick up Antoine de Baecque‘s Truffaut biography, but considering the overwhelming number of books I always have lined up to read, it’ll have to go under the “someday” category... I did read his Films in my Life, which is basically a collection of good, obsessive reviews with possibly the most endearing title ever given to such a book. He was definitely the most good-looking of the New Wave auteurs... (as distinguished from New Wave by The Auteurs, which is something equally worthwhile but entirely different).

25th Hour made a good rental, as do many Spike Lee films (especially Summer of Sam, which comes this... close to being a keeper). It’s really quite a good film, particularly the last fifteen minutes and all the bits with Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Edward Norton, as the convicted drug dealer trying to make the most of his last hours with his friends and girlfriend, is very decent in it, just like he always is; more than passable, good, not quite great. It’s also nice to come across a widely released Hollywood film that at least tries to be thoughtful and non-reactionary (even anti-reactionary, if you look at it in a certain way). That applies generally to the drug/judiciary-penal system theme and specifically to the neat little digression toward the beginning when Norton’s character castigates every minority group in New York City, with cut to accompanying montage, as he grasps for an external target for his own self-loathing. It really is a film you need to see, even if it's only just the once.

Is there anything better that could happen to you than receiving a package from overseas containing the other two Sparks albums from the Kimono My House era? Propaganda and Indiscreet: Not as thoroughly brilliant as Kimono (which contains not a single inferior track), but definitely in the same fantastic vein. Their career since has been extremely spotty and often embarrassing, but on the basis of these three albums alone, they earn a place in the pantheon alongside T. Rex, Bowie, Roxy Music, Eno, New York Dolls, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad gloriam. The standouts: “At Home at Work at Play,” “B.C.,” “Thanks but no Thanks,” “Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth,” “Something for the Girl with Everything,” “Bon Voyage” (from Propaganda) and “Hospitality on Parade,” “Happy Hunting Ground,” “How Are You Getting Home,” “Tits,” and “Miss the Start, Miss the End” (from Indiscreet), though “Under the Table with Her” and “It Ain’t 1918” are growing on me. “Hospitality” has got to be the best rotting-elegant sarcastic ode to colonialism EVER, and “Something for the Girl with Everything” is two revved-up minutes of hard-diamond glam-pop brilliance anticipating punk catchiness. My musical world has definitely brightened because of the Mael brothers. Why is it always the strange-looking ones?

Oh, also, The Thrills. A Dublin band that has a sad-in-the-sun California obsession to rival Joan Didion’s. An uneven album, but when it’s on (as with the twangy regrets of “One Horse Town,” “Big Sur”) it’s transporting.

As for keeping literate, I finished reading While the World Sleeps on assignment for Just Out (readers of that venerable publication will be privileged with my complete, organized thoughts once the review is published; I’m sure the suspense is killing everyone). Should a book full of essays delineating the AIDS crisis and the many ways in which everyone involved has been martyred, useless or deplorable, be so... well, readable? As in, entertainingly, curiosity-gratifyingly readable? Well, that was the case; it was riveting. Next up: Augusten Burroughs’s biographical comedy-nightmare Running with Scissors as background preparation for follow-up memoir Dry, which is another review assignment.

Am I really so over-opinionated that, in addition to the things I’m actually asked to review, I have to subject everything else to the same treatment here? Best to leave that unanswered, I suppose...

Always remember: “There are things to be loved and things to only attend.”
Comments: Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to Posts [Atom]