Friday, April 17, 2015

Margarethe von Trotta: 'The Second Awakening of Christa Klages' (1978)

Margarethe von Trotta's Das zweite Erwachen der Christa Klages / The Second Awakening of Christa Klages (1978) is a beautiful gem of a film. First, it captures the Zeitgeist of the 1970s -- the spirit of the times: think Patty Hearst and the Baader-Meinhof, for example. This spirit pervades a crisis framework for the characters to move within, but the more surprising aspects of the film arrive through interdependent character development and social interaction that is refreshingly different from the more typical "buddy movie." 
Barely before The Second Awakening of Christa Klages is underway, two young men and the title character rob a bank in a most foolhardy manner; their ill-conceived notion is to help fund a sort of hippie school for little kids where Christa worked and has left her daughter for safekeeping. 

From this strange beginning, everyone is figuratively off to the races. One of them makes it to an idealistic collective in Portugal, but things don't end there. 
The strongest and more interesting characters in The Second Awakening of Christa Klages are three women and one man. Christa (Tina Engel) befriends the kind and thoughtful Pastor Hans Graw (Peter Schneider) and she also finds solace with Ingrid (Silvia Reize), a friend from the past. Finally, the mysterious Lena (Katharina Thalbach) works at the exchange bank Christa robbed and appears to be stalking her. 

Das zweite Erwachen der Christa Klages was director Margarethe von Trotta's first feature-length contribution to Der Neue Deutsche Film / the New German Cinema movement. The film print of the version I saw was washed out; it would be nice if this movie could be added to the Criterion Collection and given full honors. This is a cool indie film, different from most up to its time because of its special consideration of female characters. 

Today's Rune: The Self. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003)

If you approach Allan Mindel's Milwaukee, Minnesota (2003) as part archetypal fairy tale, part darkly comic modern "heartland" story, you can relax into it without qualm. Definitely this is true: twelve years since its release and three viewings down the pike, I continue to enjoy it -- a small independent film that holds up well. 

Besides the handful of actors (all with something to recommend in their performances), there are striking visual contrasts (as in the image above) within the purview of Bernd Heinl, director of photography, and for the ears, there's a cool wintry soundtrack by Michael Convertino and Robert Muzingo (even a little backwards-looping music). 
Milwaukee, Minnesota centers around Albert (last name Burroughs, no less, played by Tory Garity, whose mother is no less than Jane Fonda), a savant of some kind, wildly successful at winning ice fishing contests while living with his control-freak mother. 

Who, you may ask, is Albert's father? There's a little mystery for you right off the bat. 
Why, suddenly, does Jerry James, a roving incarnation of evil (banality and all) -- arriving from Chicago as if escaped from a parallel Coen brothers' universe, convincingly played by Randy Quaid -- roll into town?  
Why on earth is the movie called Milwaukee, Minnesota, and who is Mr. McNally (played aptly by Bruce Dern) -- as in the publisher of maps?

Why is Gary (Josh Brolin) wearing modified women's undergarments? What exactly is Gary's connection to "the Lady" (played by Holly Woodlawn, as in "Holly came from Miami F-L-A / Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.")?

What about grifter Tuey (Alison Folland) and her hypochondriac brother Stan (Hank Harris)?  Hint: how Tuey and Albert respond to one another is a key element in the film.

Milwaukee, Minnesota, in its overall feel, reminds me of Wim Wenders' 1977 film Der Amerikanische Freund / The American Friend (that one starring Dennis Hopper and Bruno Ganz). And at certain times, Troy Garity's Albert strongly resembles Dustin Hoffman's Benjamin Braddock, protagonist in The Graduate (1967). In addition to a certain physical resemblance, Hoffman was ten years older than his character was supposed to be at the time of filming, and both actors were about thirty years old when playing their respective roles -- in both cases they are memorable and a little off-kilter.
Today's Rune: Harvest.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

'Madrid, 1987' (2011)

David Trueba's Madrid, 1987 (2011): in simple settings ranging from a café to an artist's apartment with atelier (studio room), the two main characters chatter away like dueling typewriter vs. computer keyboard. Nudity and sexual energy keep things down to earth as needed. 

With an age difference of fifty years, veteran journalist Miguel () and beginner Ángela () are able to cover a lot of ground, roving from the effects of the Spanish Civil War to American writers and, inescapably, on to the socio-political Pandora's Box opened up at the end of the Franco dictatorship: a period of four decades of repression followed by many years of exploring new-found social freedoms (still on-going in the 21st century). Ángela's fascistic father and Miguel's wife remain off-stage. 
Madrid, 1987: Miguel snapping away at a typewriter, making his living as a writer.  
Ángela, seemingly a bit naïve, is subtly more subversive than Miguel. 

By way of synchronicity, I was reading Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake's Life with Picasso (1964) at the same time as watching Madrid, 1987, so it doesn't seem at all far-fetched even as a realistic movie. Gilot and Picasso (another Spaniard, by the way) were forty years apart in age and there are a couple of scenes in Madrid, 1987 that are reminiscent of their early interactions. The main setting is -- coincidence? -- the inside of an artist's apartment. If an artist's space can't be free of ordinary convention, where's the fun in being there?

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Jean-Pierre Melville: 'Deux hommes dans Manhattan' (1959)

I finally took in Jean-Pierre Melville's Deux hommes dans Manhattan / Two Men in Manhattan (1959), a nifty noirish film with exterior shots taken on location and interior scenes shot in France. The shot sequencing drives the film a little off-kilter, giving it an interesting split personality throughout.

The plot is simple. Moreau (Jean-Pierre Melville), a French news reporter, is assigned to find out what happened to a French official who was discovered missing from a United Nations vote. Moreau rustles up Delmas (Pierre Grasset), his boozy paparazzo pal, to see if together they can get the scoop before law enforcement or anyone else.  

Where to look first? As a courtesan in the film says matter-of-factly: "Cherchez la femme" -- look for the woman. 

At his apartment, Delmas has a few photos of the missing man. Taken while the latter was roaming around New York City, in each picture he's accompanied by a different woman. The two "investigators" go around to various venues high and low, seeking answers and trying to locate people of interest (all women): an assistant, a jazz singer, an actress, a dancer, a prostitute, a wife and a daughter. Most of the investigation takes place at night.
The beauty of the movie is not so much in the story as in the atmosphere, aptly established through the medium of black and white film. 

Sweeping pans and montages of Manhattan are a joy to see -- compare with the wonderful opening sequence in Woody Allen's Manhattan (1979) -- all set to music that's crackling with jolts of "bright lights, big city" excitement. 

Melville's Manhattan, like Allen's, is informed (apparently) as much by imagination and idealized desire as by realism, and so Two Men in Manhattan serves as both a cool social document and a testimony to the artist's eye. 

I have two more Melville films to see in order to cover his entire ouvre. He made a baker's dozen in all before dying of a heart attack at age fifty-five.

Today's Rune: Journey.       

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Françoise Gilot's 'Life with Picasso' (1964): Take Two

An ideal French conversation will aim to consider many interesting topics without beating any one to death. And so it is with Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake's Life with Picasso (1964). Throughout the book, much is observed about Picasso, but from multiple vantage points. Two specific examples follow.

Gilot was, during her early meetings with Picasso -- the artist and man -- amused by the situation. Picasso quickly became "interested" in her, certainly, and wanted to "let her in on things," show off a little. "But whatever the pretext, it was quite clear that he was trying to discover to what degree I might be receptive to his attentions. I had no desire to give him grounds to make up his mind. I was having too much fun watching him try to figure it out" (page 22).

As an artist, Picasso keenly explained his philosophies and craft as they went along. One idea they discussed was the challenge of voluntary restraint in creating something (anything) new: ". . . we need one tool to do one thing," Picasso asserted, "and we should limit ourselves to that tool . . . [F]orcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of restraint that liberates invention" (page 57). Working within a convention or genre, for instance, frees one to try fresh approaches within an already popular framework. Such was one small bit of Picasso's advice to Gilot as an artist developing in her own right. 

Life with Picasso also treats the avid reader to many other characters -- always with sharp description and reflection. Gilot's take on Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein, for one, is observant and downright playful. Her powers of observation range over many people, not to mention ideas, places and events. Fabulous book -- one might even say, ideal. 

Today's Rune: Protection. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Françoise Gilot's 'Life with Picasso' (1964): Take One

Françoise Gilot and Carlton Lake's Life with Picasso (1964), a thoroughly fascinating, well-written and entertaining memoir, serves as a sort of gold standard for this kind of book. Reading it inspires quick resort to the internet for further research about the characters and artworks discussed within. 

Life with Picasso also serves as an inspiring "classroom" and "studio" for further reflection, possibly even action, as in the James Brown song, "Get Up Offa That Thing!"

At the time of this posting, Françoise Gilot is ninety-three years old. Pablo Picasso, who was in his sixties when they became paramours in 1944, died in 1973.

Today's Rune:  Breakthrough.  

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Eyes of Texas: T Bone Burnett at the Lone Star Film Festival (2010)

In remembering that T Bone Burnett had brought up Marshall McLuhan during the 2010 Lone Star Film Festival in November, 2010, I dug up my notes from his talks. Saw him at three different venues on or around November 13, 2010. These scribbles were made during T Bone's interview with Bobbie Wygant. 

T Bone has worked on many projects, ranging from his own albums to the music for Coen Brothers' films (The Big Lebowski, O Brother Where Art Thou?, Inside Llewyn Davis) to Walk the Line and Crazy Heart.

Bobbie Wygant asked T-Bone about his inspirations while living in Fort Worth, Texas.

There was a place called the Capri Theatre and they showed [Luis] Buñuel films and [Jean-Luc] Godard films and [Federico] Fellini films and [Sergei] Eisenstein and [Akiro] Kurosawa . . . these incredible foreign films in Fort Worth, Texas, & it was like a portal into another universe . . . I appreciated it so much. I learned. I would say it was through these two places, the Capri Theatre and Record Town, that I sort of learned everything I've lived my whole life on.

[My 2015 update]: The Capri (which also went by other names) was torn down I think in the 1980s. Nothing has replaced it. Fort Worth needs independent "art house" theatres -- at least one, for God's sake. Fort Worth's three major art museums are wonderful resources, and "Magnolia at the Modern" screens independent and international movies on weekends. However, new art does better in less controlled, contained or restricted environments; that is, via more free-wheeling & Bohemian focal points.

At another venue in 2010, T Bone Burnett spoke of his agreement with Marshall McLuhan, that a new medium envelopes an old medium and lifts elements of the old medium into higher art forms.

Examples: TV becomes more engaging when eclipsed by the internet (The Sopranos, etc.); analog music (vinyl record technology) becomes more absorbing when made obsolescent by digital music. 

Let's be mindful that we are surrounded by an electronic envelope of many layers. 

There's more, but that's a taste of it.

Today's Rune: The Self.