Blindspotting: Sans Soleil and Dog Star Man

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This could be my shortest Blind Spot post ever…Though I enjoy short form experimental films, appreciate the different aspects of filmmaking that get teased out and respect the filmmakers a great deal, it is not an area in which I’m overly well-versed. I’ve seen a few other films from the two directors responsible for this post’s films (Chris Marker and Stan Brakhage) along with a few things from Maya Deren, James Benning, Cocteau, Bunuel, etc., but my knowledge of their techniques, goals and intentions is somewhat limited. Having said that, especially after viewing both Marker’s Sans Soleil and Brakhage’s Dog Star Man, you don’t necessarily have to have any background at all since these films are the perfect art form onto which you can map your own feelings and perspectives. Neither of these films has a clearly laid out narrative or real characters, so it enables you to soak in its variety of images (many of which almost seem random at times) and attempt to put your own personal spin on them.

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Marker’s Sans Soleil, for example, feels like a freeform wander through the world’s different cultures (pausing longer with some, glancing off others) with a fascination in the activities and ways of life of its people. All the while, Marker (and his sometimes overly serious and pretentious female narrator) riffs on the meaning of memory and how it forgets, changes and shapes history (“We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten” and “History only tastes bitter to those who expected it to be sugar coated”). The film also plays extensively with Japanese culture by tying into the memory aspects of the film and replaying Japan’s war history (“Small fragments of war enshrined in everyday life”). It also covers cats, an extraordinary ceremony to lay the souls of dolls to rest, more cats, sexual fetishes and a couple of additional cats (not to mention cat dolls placed into sex positions). The horrors of war are explored in a variety of different fashions as well, but focusing more on the concept of horror itself (the graphic death of a giraffe is a tough watch – you can see the life drain right out of it). If this seems somewhat random, well, it did for me too.

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“You didn’t think I was rolling out of here naked, did you?” Trailer for Milius Documentary

Iconoclastic filmmaker, writer, gun-owner John Milius, is the man who is responsible in part for the Dirty Harry Franchise, Apocalypse Now, 1941, Conan The Barbarian, Red Dawn and HBO’s Rome; who was rumoured to have pulled a piece on a film executive and is the direct inspiration for the Coen Brother’s Walter Sobchak character (“MARK IT ZERO!”) Making its debut at the SXSW festival this week is the documentary that is comprised of stories from just about every major Hollywood director from the 70s and 80s as well as clips and photos. And Sam Elliot and his glorious mustache spouting something worthy of a Milius-ism: “He didn’t write for pussies. And he didn’t write for women.” That just about sums it up!

MatineeCast: Walter Murch

We probably do enough plugging for other sites and podcasts around here, but it’s only comparable to how much we plead and insinuate ourselves into other places around the web looking for plugs of our own. But one podcast I’ve recently started to become more and more of a fan is The MatineeCast over at The Dark of the Matinee hosted by “The Mad Hatter.” Each weekly episode is co-hosted by a different someone in the movie critic/industry/blog world and each starts with the same set of “ice-breaker” questions that give the audience a feel for the guest that week. Full disclosure: I am slated as a guest on the show at some point in the next 60 days or so.

This week’s episode was a little more special as Hatter was able to track down Oscar Winner Walter Murch. Being an Academy Award winner for both sound design and film editing it’s easy to get into pretty interesting territory with a guy like this. The guy really is a legend. Jumping into the discussion at one point is another (much less prolific) film editor and the conversation dives head first into various editing tactics and examples of some favorite moments in film editing history. The whole podcast wraps up with an audience Q&A after a screening of Apocalypse Now (Redux) (for which Murch won an Oscar in sound and was nominated for editing). It’s a quick and interesting listen and recommended whole heartedly as a guy who is fascinated by the art of editing. An art which many believe is actually the true director of a film.

You can stream the show directly from the web site as well as glancing over the show notes. If iTunes is more your speed, you can subscribe here. Enjoy the listen and leave your thoughts, questions or complaints in the comments section over at Dark of the Matinee. Besides the podcast it’s a pretty good daily blog read as well.

 

Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: New Hollywood Marathon

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My largest and most glaring gap of cinematic knowledge, at least of American film, is easily the 1970s. I grew up watching the films of the Hollywood studios’ golden era, the 1930s-1950s, and of my own generation, the 1990s-current, but have only sporadically caught the films in between. Given that many of the greatest and most iconoclastic American films of all time come from the 1970s, I have decided that enough is enough, and this year I am going to eliminate my New Hollywood list of shame, which includes: The Godfather Part II, M*A*S*H, The Exorcist, Five Easy Pieces, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, Badlands, Apocalypse Now, Raging Bull, and others.

easy-riders-raging-bulls.jpgBecause my knowledge of the whole era is a little superficial, I’m reading Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll Generation Saved Hollywood to give myself a background in the history and temperament of the era, and watching the films he discusses while I’m reading. And I figured, might as well share my journey through New Hollywood as I go. The list of films you’ll find after the cut is culled from Biskind’s book and Wikipedia’s entry on New Hollywood, leaving out some that I have already seen.

One thing that has fascinated me as I worked on creating this master list is how varied the films are – drama, comedy, action, satire, war, crime, romance, horror, western, science fiction, concert film and period piece are all among the genres represented. What they have in common: 1) a willingness to push the boundaries of what cinema was allowed to do and to explore themes of sexuality, antiheroism, and isolation that were previously taboo, 2) a sense of brashness and raw vitality brought by the eager young filmmakers wresting the reins from entrenched studios, 3) a tendency to focus on character and script rather than plot, and 4) a knowledge of and appreciation for cinema itself, from the masters of Golden Age Hollywood to the imports coming from Europe and Japan.

This quote from Biskind’s introduction I think sums it up nicely:

[The 1970s were] the last time Hollywood produced a body of risky, high-quality work — work that was character-, rather than plot-driven, that defied traditional narrative conventions, that challenged the tyranny of technical correctness, that broke the taboos of language and behavior, that dared to end unhappily. […] In a culture inured even to the shock of the new, in which today’s news is tomorrow’s history to be forgotten entirely or recycled in some unimaginably debased form, ’70s movies retain their power to unsettle; time has not dulled their edge, and they are as provocative now as they were the day they were released. […] The thirteen years between Bonnie & Clyde in 1967 and Heaven’s Gate in 1980 marked the last time it was really exciting to make movies in Hollywood, the last time people could be consistently proud of the pictures they made, the last time the community as a whole encouraged good work, the last time there was an audience that could sustain it.

And it wasn’t only the landmark movies that made the late ’60s and ’70s unique. This was a time when film culture permeated American life in a way that it never had before and never has since. In the words of Susan Sontag, “It was at this specific moment in the 100-year history of cinema that going to the movies, thinking about movies, talking about movies became a passion among university students and other young people. You fell in love not just with actors but with cinema itself.” Film was no less than a secular religion.

A few Row Three contributors have already shown an interest in writing about some of these as well; if you’d like to watch and share your thoughts about any of them, please do! See also the list at the bottom, which includes several films I’ve already seen and don’t intend to rewatch and write about, but someone else certainly could. If you’re not a R3 contributor and would like to join in, just email me and I’ll post your reviews with credit.

 

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Improbable Movie Trading Cards

When I was a kid I collected all sorts of cards. Baseball cards of course, but before (and after) that I collected loads of movie and TV show cards. I still have most of my Star Wars collection and I snatched up “Dukes of Hazzard” cards and even “M*A*S*H*” cards for some reason.

I’m sure they still make such cards today, but since I don’t seek them out, I rarely actually see any. Either way, I’m sure these mock movie collecting cards I found over at automaticlifestyledispenser.com would get a few parents upset. I for one would be all over the Coens set though! This is some seriously great work. Especially love the sticker inserts. Kudos sir!

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more under the seats!
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