Memory Object - Discovering God

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Random Art Work of the Week

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The Face of Another

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1966 – Directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara

Random thoughts. These Sunday posts are often about fighting the urge to rigidly catalogue things but not always being successful. Sorry if this just sounds like a rough taxonomy of key points.

The Face of Another is an oddly cold but sedutive allegorical piece of science fiction: presented in a harsh, graphical style that appears to constantly alert us to surfaces.

I want to start off by presenting the segment around which the movie seems to pivot:

I don’t think that there is an accident that the song has a vaguely Kurt Weill-ish feel. (Who wrote this?) The emphasis on facades and artifices in the film is similarly Brechtian. The beaded curtain in the home of Okuyama and his wife echo the Langer’s Lines in the doctor’s office. Body parts become detached and inanimate parts become part of the body. The scars on the face of the girl in the parallel story flit in and out of the field of vision for both ourselves and observers within the film.

Teshigahara is clearly telling a tale from a moral standpoint: it could be interesting to compare this to Stray Dog as far as being a critique of post war Japan and the dissolution of identity: perhaps a project for the future. It is certainly also an interesting idea to think about masks as mode of transcending identity from our own historical period, in which we seem to, from our online identities at least, have no corporeality at all. Again, for another time.

(One question: why does the soundtrack music when Okuyama is seducing his wife sound so familiar? I would love some feedback on this.)

Modern Times

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1936 – Directed by Charles Chaplin

One of the things that is difficult about this project is the prospect of taking on movies that have been written about to death. I had actually never seen Modern Times before. What to say about it? The location shooting is gorgeous, the themes are timeless, the sets are awe-inspiring, Paulette Goddard is completely charming (though I didn’t believe for a minute she was a teenager, which, in itself, was a bit weird), the music is beautiful and Charlie Chaplin has no match.

My impulse is to just say, “enjoy it”. I don’t really want to analyze it: I want to just be here now and savor this perfect object.

Perhaps I’m just wanting to let myself off the hook it being Friday night: my being exhausted and having a lot going on.

It certainly was a lovely movie to end the workweek with.

Do want to mention though how eerie Chaplin’s prediction of pervasive video monitoring was, even if we stop short of our boss yelling at us in the bathroom. Isn’t that much of a stretch.

Paris, Texas

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1984 – Directed by Wim Wenders

I got inspired to go back and watch Paris, Texas again. The movie struck me quite a bit when it came out, and I was obsessed with the Ry Cooder soundtrack. There are obviously a lot of parallels between this film and the 10 years earlier Alice in the Cities. Again, we see the mediation of the direct experience through photographic images. Again we see lost and disconnected people. Also again we see semi-abandoned children, which set off alarm bells to us now, and are difficult to watch without judging, or at least fretting. No seat belts? Eek.

This is another road movie, of course, and constantly presented with a contrast not just between the direct experience and the captured image but the contrast between wide-open spaces and flattened spaces. The Dean Stockwell character, interestingly, creates billboards. the Nasstasja Kinski character, Jane, also interestingly works in a very odd strip club consisting of these strange foreshortened rooms resembling familiar public spaces.

The movie, then, as now, has a slight “ick” factor to me: i’ve never cared for the romantic depiction of what was obviously an abusive and possible even statutory rape situation between the Harry Dean Stanton character, Travis, and Jane. Our gaze upon her remains problematic. The rest of the relationships are more intriguing, such as between the child, Hunter, and Travis.

The movie doesn’t hold up quite as well as it could over time, and it times it lingers a bit too long on the idea of American vastness and emptiness. Still the geography is captivating, if, at times, inaccurate. Having now lived in Houston, can assure you that the place the Jane character turns off to after getting off the Interstate is absolutely not the neighborhood where the strip club is depicted to be.

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That neighborhood, were we to see it, is one of those typical Houston suburban-y areas filled with tract homes and cookie-cutter apartment complexes and little shack-like mom and pop businesses: not an urbanized back alley with murals and parking lots.

Below is the neighborhood near Shepherd off of I-10 (the Katy Freeway):

imageWhere is that damn Statue of Liberty mural? Oh, well, it has been thirty years...

Versus the movie:

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It took a while to scout out an actual urban part of Houston, but we did it!

That neighborhood is apparently near US Highway 59 and State Highway 288, near downtown, which is about 12 miles southeast from where we think we are, though I cannot find the exact intersections. We are definitely looking at a hybridized, fictionalized, perhaps mythologized, city.

Alice in the Cities

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1974 – Directed by Wim Wenders

Some movies just feel right. What they might lack in complex plot points, cinematographic innovation or intense studies of character, they make up with a vibe or tone that resonates with lived experience. In the case of Alice in the Cities, Wenders manages to quite simply and clearly capture pure loneliness and disconnection. Maybe I just love road movies, maybe I just miss the 70s. Not sure: it doesn’t really matter.

Wenders is obsessed with the way the mediated image changes the direct experience. This is especially evident in the pervasive display of the televisions in lonely motel rooms. The Polariod photos as well create a distance between the immediate and the mediated. The photographer, Phil, seems happier experiencing his trip though his growing stack of snapshots, and seems incapable of finding anything to say about his actual journey. He is trapped.

The child, Alice, whom is dumped on him by her distracted and heartbroken mother before they travel back to Europe from New York City, does not “free” him or “transform” him or make life more immediate. She is in a world she has even less control over than he. She’d rather watch television at the little pay booth at the airport than deal with her reluctant and disgruntled caregiver. At least she can control this image. Yet, somehow, they manage to move through this world driven by images (the quest for grandmother’s house, the early presence of the John Ford film in one of the indistinguishable seedy motels, followed later by the news of his death, the overall sense that the world flattens and dies by by our ability to caputre it) in a manner that we start to belive, ever so slightly, in the power of motion, of movement and the chance to transcend, if not change: what we ultimately hope for in a road movie.

Z

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1969 – Directed by Costa-Gavras 

The period of the late 60s – early 70s was clearly pivotal in the merging of the bleak political landscape into popular entertainment. Unlike The Battle of Algiers, which had a more art house audience in mind, Z was designed to work as a more standard suspense-thriller. Almost certainly influential on New Anerican Cinema (though perhaps the other way around as well), Z is also perhaps an early entry into political “downer” cinema. Unlike a Hitchcock film, which it shares some conventional elements with, we are not going to get a tidy, moral re-alignment of the universe.

Costa-Gavras pulls no punches that the film is meant as an indictment of the political coup in Greece in 1963, and turns the standard “any relation to persons living or dead is coincidental” on its head: he categorically declares it is not at all a coincidence. This certainly draws us in, if for no other reason than by the level of surprise.

The movie remains timeless, especially in the way it portrays how a contingent of the working class may be all too willing to act as “knights” for the cause against perceived “societal threats” (in this case, pacifists), and are equally willing to take the fall for powerful men who in fact see them only as pawns.

Some things simply never change.

Le plaisir

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1952 – Directed by Max Ophüls

OK, I have to admit I did not watch the whole thing yet. If this is what is published Saturday morning, so be it.

I will say, I see where Wes Anderson likely got some inspiration for The Grand Budapest Hotel, with all the ersatz European decay.

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Interesting fact: most every time I watch Wes Anderson’s movies, I feel literally sick to my stomach. This is not to say I dislike his work, and it may be that it all references back to my having originally seen The Royal Tennenbaums in early fits of morning sickness, but his movies are so rich and trifling and twee, that I always feel like I ate too many bonbons.

Le plaisir inspires a similar reaction. Sugary sweet, full of rather insipid tropes (hooker with the heart of gold, vain, impudent model, burly sailors in striped shirts getting into brawls, lovestruck artist breaking everything in sight… these were certainly tired old references in 1952), I found it hard to invest in it to any great extent.

As an omnibus (three short stories from Guy de Maupassant) it is an odd structure: a rather long story flanked by micro story up front and a longer short story at the end. The omnibus is one of the harder forms to pull off. This one I would rank as relatively successful, given the content.

Next up is a gritty political thriller. Let’s see how that goes.

The Battle of Algiers

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1966 – Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo

In my previous post about El Norte I spoke about how my parents were big film buffs, and also how I enjoyed watching movies with my mother. My mother has always had a very thoughtful approach to watching film.

The Battle of Algiers was on television back when I was about seven, maybe eight years old. In retrospect, it must have been PBS. Of course, memory is full of gaps and modifications. I may have been older, perhaps younger. I definitely remember seeing the scene with the cafés being blown up. I also definitely remember asking my mother why they would that: why they would blow up a public space, with children eating ice cream, people enjoying a song on the jukebox or conversation with friends. I don’t really remember how she explained it to me. (Of course, the sequence of images in my mind’s eye is entirely different than the actual montage.) The sequence haunted me for years, and it took a long time to figure out what movie this was.

When I was a child I must’ve come into the movie independently of anything before or after that pivotal sequence. I hadn’t seen the part where the French authorities had blown up an entire housing complex in the Casbah, killing dozens of whole families. The comprehension of why these women would take these actions, while still nausea-producing, at least makes some kind of narrative logic. Before, it had seemed entirely random. (All of this was roughly based on real life events the Algerian uprising in the 1950s.)

For a useful article on the historical background of the real events versus the events as portrayed in the film, I recommend this:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/martin-evans/battle-of-algiers-historical-truth-and-filmic-representation

I had no idea at the time that, 40-45 years later, this film would still hold a mirror to world events. (The U.S. Military, apparently, in recent years, still uses this as a kind of field guide to navigating current occupied zones.)

The gritty, “you are there” newsreel feel to the movie is effective, and helps blur the lines between news, documentary and fictional narrative.

One more thing: the soundtrack is fantastic, being a mix of traditional Algerian music and Ennio Morricine.