My February 2011 film column for Maximum Rock N Roll. Originally appeared in issue 333.
DON'T ANSWER JOAN - THIS QUESTION IS TOO DANGEROUS
I know I mention silent films a lot in this column and I am going to do it again. There was a screening of Carl Theodor Dreyer's The Passion of Joan Of Arc at Oakland's Paramount Theatre. The Paramount Theatre is a beautiful Art Deco designed building originally opened in 1931. It has been restored and maintained so it looks amazing. They show movies there usually once a month. I have never been to see one so it was about time for me to go. An orchestra and a chorus of one hundred and eighty vocalists also accompanied this screening of The Passion of Joan Of Arc.
The Passion of Joan Of Arc is the story of the trial and eventual burning at the stake of Joan of Arc. The film begins as she is brought before a court of religious figures that do not believe she has spoken to god. They question her in a very creepy and condescending way. She is only nineteen and the judges are filmed as dirty old men, faces distorted and angry. One judge even drools. They want Joan to admit that she did not speak to god. They are not above torturing her to get their way.
The woman sitting next to me cried as they were nearing Joan's execution. It is pretty indicative of the impact this film has. You get so caught up that you forget it is a silent film since the emotions in the characters' faces are overwhelming. To use an old cliché they speak volumes. Dreyer shoots everyone in close up. Maria Falconetti who plays Joan particularly has a defiant, yet humble quality to her expressions. Her eyes are wide, but filled with anguish. She is being judged by men who should, but don't understand her faith.
If you have never seen a silent film it's time to start with The Passion of Joan Of Arc. All Bay Area residents should check out the film schedule at the Paramount Theatre.
After last month's multiple viewings of La Brune et Moi I have become somewhat obsessed with actor Pierre Clémenti. That may seem odd since one would probably assume I would identify more with the female punk in that film. Yet, I don't. I find Clémenti the more interesting one. Focusing on one actor is probably not the way most people choose movies. Usually I would pick a director and try to watch as many of her/his films as I could. This time I found this random way more compelling. I got to see a weirder variety of films.
I went to my local library to stock up on all the films I could find featuring Pierre Clémenti. If you don't make use of your library, you are missing out. I take full advantage. I picked up The Conformist, Sweet Movie and Listen, Let's Make Love.
The Conformist is a 1970 film by Bernardo Bertolucci. The main character Marcello Clerici is a flunky for Mussolini's fascist party. He is also engaged to marry a middle class woman. The combination of which he feels will make him "normal". Marcello comes from an eccentric family. His father is in an insane asylum. His mother is having an affair with her chauffeur who also supplies her with morphine. As a younger man he was also more of an outsider and more idealistic. He receives an order from the fascists to assassinate his former professor who is living in exile in Paris. He arranges his honeymoon to coincide with this job.
Pierre Clémenti has a small, but pivotal role in The Conformist. He plays a homosexual chauffeur Lino whom years earlier met the much younger Marcello. Some boys are harassing Marcello so Lino offers him a ride. After an attempted sexual encounter, Marcello suppresses the experience until he runs into Lino again coincidentally on the night of the fall of the fascists in Italy. Marcello lashes out at Lino releasing all his pent-up frustration at himself.
I was unfamiliar with Sweet Movie a 1974 film by Dusan Makavejev. I am not usually squeamish, but this film really made me squirm. It also seems odd that I have never heard Sweet Movie being name-dropped by the theoretically challenging modern directors like David Lynch or Lars von Trier. Perhaps it is even too weird for those guys.
Sweet Movie follows the stories of two women. The first is Miss Canada who wins a reality TV show to marry a multi-millionaire milk industry mogul Mr. Kapital. Remember this is 1974 before any of this type of reality show actually appeared on television. On the show a gynecologist inspects the women to make sure they are virgins. Miss Canada wins and marries Mr. Kapital. Not surprisingly the marriage doesn't work out perhaps having something to do with Mr. Kapital's gold penis and his need to urinate on his wife. She is then shipped in a suitcase to Paris eventually ending up at an Austrian commune where the members engage in a bunch of regressive activities that include vomiting, urinating, defecating and other basic human functions.
The other woman is Capt. Ann who travels the canals of Amsterdam on her boat. Clémenti plays a sailor from the Battleship Potemkin who offers himself to her. After some coaxing she allows him to come on board. She speaks of continuing the socialist revolution, yet her ship is filled with candy and sugar. She later tries to seduce some young boys on board. Anna Prucnal who played Capt. Ann was reportedly not allowed to return to her home country of Poland for many years after this film was released
Finally there is Listen, Let's Make Love. Listen, Let's Make Love is a 1967 film by Vittorio Caprioli. This is probably the most straightforward of the Clémenti films I watched. Clémenti plays Lallo who arrives in Milan for the funeral of his estranged father. While there he is introduced to his father's life as a man whose "career" was having affairs with rich married women. Lallo begins on a similar lifestyle after being introduced to the friends of his aunt. After a series of affairs that he ends abruptly to move on to the next woman, Lallo thinks he falls in love. However it may be too late for him or something to that effect.
December 3 was the eightieth birthday of Jean-Luc Godard. In honor of his birth I decided to enjoy a Godard film I had never seen. Strangely there's a lot of them. I chose Les Carabiniers. Les Carabiniers is the story of two poor farmers Ulysses and Michelangelo who are recruited into the army by two unscrupulous carabiniers or riflemen. Ulysses and Michelangelo are convinced that the king has personally asked them to join and are promised that during the war soldiers are allowed to take anything they want: money, cars, clothes, etc. It is the way war works. The farmers are encouraged by their wives to enlist with the hope of all the financial benefits of war.
Throughout Les Carabiniers Ulysses and Michelangelo write postcards home to their wives documenting their exploits. Godard constantly mocks the processes of war by sending Ulysses and Michelangelo all over the globe. They send postcards from various impracticable locales such as Paris, London, New York, Mexico and so on. They breezily recall killing the enemy with the same attitude as relating the sights they've seen.
Amusingly, Bertoluccci once said of The Conformist "I am Marcello, and I make fascist films and I want to kill Godard who is a revolutionary." Godard's latest film is called Socialism. Hopefully, I will get to see it soon.
Les Oreilles Qui Saignent #0 is a video zine made by a group called Synthe Punk City out of France. It watches like the schizophrenic mind of an average punk. It could either be what you would possibly see if you were able to view the uncut thoughts of a person or if you could manage to visualize the hour and twenty minute description of her/ his year. There are clips of bands playing live, interviews, movie clips, older clips of punks taken from movies along with other various shots. There are few descriptions and the interviews are in French so I have no idea what they are talking about. Though that doesn't seem to hinder my understanding of things.
Les Oreilles Qui Saignent #0 consists mostly of live band clips from punk bands such as Chaos ZZZ, Government Warning, Surrender, The Wankys, Shitty Limits, La Purria, State Poison, Warning//Warning and more. The sound isn't always perfect on these segments. There is a lot of the distortion you seem to always get from video camera microphones when recording live bands. But it is good enough for a live sampling. Plus the whole thing is available as a free download at the website. LesOreillesQuiSaignent0
I am always looking for films to review. If you made one, send a copy to Carolyn Keddy, PO Box 460402, San Francisco, CA 94146-0402. If your film is playing in the San Francisco Bay Area, let me know at email@example.com. I will go see it.