Life Is Sweet – leave it to the self-effacing British to trash Mike Leigh every time I mentioned him in conversation overseas. I understand where dislike for him comes from, but I don’t agree with it. However, Life Is Sweet is the only film of his I’ve seen where I have felt something similar to what his critics talk about. The characters are so broad (with the exception of David Thewlis’s mesmerisingly languid “Lover” and Jim Broadbent’s immediately familiar Andy) that you feel the life go out of the film and are only left with the “sweet” part. And that’s never any fun. What I love about Leigh’s films are the details… Life is Sweet seemed to lack those things. But as a filmmaker it does teach me a lesson. Which is much much more than I could ever say for garbage like Quills.
Back to the sauna now with Herzog, or maybe the ice: Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe is only truly interesting to me because of the amazing monologues Herzog is given to in moments of action, much like the greatest actors. It’s amazing, in a very cliched and devastating way that 30 years ago when that film was made, he was talking about the death of languages and of images because of television. So many people would argue and say that television now is better than it has ever been. That’s just because we’re used to it, my dear, dear friends.
Now I must go from Herzog to the illustrious Philip Kaufman – literary pornographer of Hollywood elite… that sounds so much more honorable than what he actually does. I am again reminded of Herzog, as the father in Julien Donkey-Boy… “tell her she is a dilettante. She’ll never learn to play the harp. She is a dilettante and a slut.” That’s how I would describe Kaufman, and his incredibly ludicrous “interpretation” of the last days of the Marquis de Sade. I watched Quills in part because it is hard to refuse yourself the pleasure of going back and forth from watching masterpieces to trash, like the Russian sauna with its hundred-degree heat followed by excursions into snow-covered fields and even dips into ice water. There’s a certain discipline for body and mind in this kind of action. Quills is everything that I find deplorable. Able-bodied and minded actors are used to portray “madmen” and pinheads in the asylum that Geoffrey Rush’s slender and reptilian Sade shares with them. I’d gone from watching Gummo to watching Quills. There is a monologue in Gummo delivered by a retarded girl. And it’s the most tender thing, and the most respectful thing in the film. The act of shooting a film is exploitative regardless of whom or what you’re filming. However, filming actors pretending to be loony wacky mental patients is even more exploitative than shooting the real thing because it deceives the audience even more than usual. And it bores the audience. It certainly bored me. I’m not a Ted Turner-esque stickler for historical accuracy but everything, historical and not, about this film, is fake. Frenchmen being played by Australians and Americans with English accents, the slender Rush portraying Sade, who was grossly obese by that point in his life, as some sort of virile androgynous temptress, an obligatory sex scene between Joaquin Phoenix and Kate Winslet because they are the only “attractive” characters in the film… but since they really couldn’t/shouldn’t have been having sex it takes the form of a dream… oh, I had more arguments against the film while watching it than I do now a week or so later… but let that be the closing argument of the prosecution: forgettable.
The real trouble with movies like this is that they can’t admit what they are. Porn that can be watched in mixed company and then discussed over a midnight espresso. What a contradiction that it should be about a historical figure so open about his life’s work and the motivation behind it. That’s Hollywood. Three Little Words is the exact same story, Fred Astaire just doesn’t go full-frontal.
Nobody Wants to Play with Me is a short film about a little boy who is abused at home and humiliated at school by his classmates. The lack of care he is given at home causes his isolation. The whispers of the other children are viscerally disquieting. “He lives in an old house, we can’t play with him, he stinks. He eats only popcorn.” The aesthetic and manner of the film is such that you never wonder whether it is a documentary or fiction, although it is obviously a bit of both. There is something amazing about Herzog’s ability to not be bound by form or plot. Often the stories of his films are incredible, but he isn’t obligated to them. He is able to use these stories as reasons to create iconic images – my current definition of iconic is an image that stays in my mind for long after the film is through, and to behold it for the first time feels like being branded with a hot poker. It’s almost a physical sensation, to know immediately that what you’re seeing is absolutely true… and yet he’s not an absolutist, he isn’t really anything but himself. And his truths, as we know, are not limited by their literate definitions. Nobody Wants to Play with Me has one such iconic image… the main character, having made one single friend in school, decides to give her Max, his pet crow – the camera tracks with him as he walks determinedly through the snow in his thin red coat from his house to hers, carrying the cage as Max repeats, “Max is good,” and “Goal!”
I will write about the films posted previously in a short while. For now I have decided to focus on my most recent viewings. The last few days have proved difficult ones for filmwatching, but nonetheless I’ve managed the following:
Mit mir will keiner spielen (Nobody Wants to Play with Me) – Werner Herzog – 1976
Quills – Philip Kaufman – 2000
Life Is Sweet – Mike Leigh – 1991
Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe – Les Blank – 1980
The Real Blonde – tom DiCillo – 1997 (revisited)
Ordinary People – Robert Redford – 1980 (revisited)
Burden of Dreams – Les Blank – 1982
Night of the Hunter – Charles Laughton – 1955 (revisited)
Hangover Square – John Brahm – 1945
As you can probably guess, this will mostly be about Herzog. But let’s just go in order.
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Tagged comedy, documentary, film, hollywood, horror, movies, noir, sadism, thriller, trash, werner herzog
That’s something Humphrey Bogart says in one of my favorite films, Nicholas Ray’s In a Lonely Place. It’s a quote illustrative of what I’ll be doing here. To be able to sermonize uninterrupted will take some getting used to. But I do hope to be interrupted.
This whole idea started out as a list I began keeping about a week ago of the films I’ve been watching…
Out of the Past – Jacques Tourneur – 1947
My Geisha – Jack Cardiff – 1962
Asphalt Jungle – John Huston – 1947
Gilda – Charles Vidor – 1946
Girl in the Red Velvet Swing – Richard Fleischer – 1955
A King in New York – Charlie Chaplin – 1957
King of New York – Abel Ferrara – 1990
Eyes Without a Face – Georges Franju – 1959
Control – Anton Corbijn – 2007
Jigoku (Hell) – Nobuo Nakagawa – 1960
Palindromes – Todd Solondz – 2004
I did also see The Dark Knight, but believe me when I say I won’t litter the infinite internet with any words on the subject. Thoughts on some of the films in the list above will be forthcoming.