Archive for October 5th, 2016

by Stephen Mullen

Alphaville is the first Godard film I ever saw, way back in the mid-80s. I saw it on a double bill with Alexander Nevsky, if my memory is accurate after 30 odd years. I remember liking Nevsky, though finding it all a bit strange; but Alphaville was a revelation. I had ideas about what Godard was supposed to be like – he was supposed to be difficult, possibly blasphemous (this is back around the time of Hail Mary – which I think was the second Godard film I ever saw, and came a bit closer to what I had been led to expect.) Instead, I saw this astonishing science fiction noir…


It is a beautiful film, with its rich play of light and dark, its bodies in rest and motion in overlit antiseptic spaces and dingy dark hallways, its faces, its eyes, especially Anna Karina’s face and eyes. It’s an overpoweringly romantic film – I walked out enthralled by Eluard and the staging of his poetry, Anna Karina’s voice, the light and dark, hands and faces, the strange contrast between Karina and Eddie Constantine – that sequence is, by itself, one of the most romantic, achingly sensual, passages ever put on film. I had never seen anything like it then, and haven’t seen much like it since. But what might have been even more surprising was how funny the film is. Full of jokes, full of wit, visual, verbal, jokes coming out of the material, the references, the performances, staging, the setting. (That machine that asks you to insert a coin, then gives you a thank you token.) It’s always serious, but never takes itself seriously – a pretty universal trait in Godard’s films. They are funny – they are full of serious things, conversations, ideas, images – but they are packed with jokes, visual and verbal puns, in jokes, references and allusions that become comical in context. (And it gets even funnier when you start spotting the things Monty Python stole – it’s tattooed on the back of their neck!) It was a fine introduction to Godard – it conditioned me to look for beauty, romanticism, sensuality and wit, as well as Deep Thoughts and Art. (Which it has; don’t discount that.) (more…)

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 © 2016 by James Clark

      Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995) is a strange and brilliant delight, but it presents, to the unwary, death-dealing pitfalls. Tackling it, as Roger Ebert chose to do (in the course of hating a ridiculing it), as a self-sustaining offering, is tantamount to rock climbing in flip-flops.

Looking for the direction of this film without a strong sense of the films preceding it is, in fact, expository suicide. Jarmusch, we must never forget, is not just another wizard of the weird (and wonderful). He is, instead, a very accomplished writer of interpersonal theatre whereby discursive gambits send off shock waves demanding close and repeated investigation. Dead Man opens with a foppishly clad young man, William Blake, riding a mid-nineteenth-century train for the sake of commencing work in a Rocky Mountain steel plant in the capacity of an accountant. His trip had begun in Cleveland. As far as the bare, immediate facts go, we have to come to terms with this protagonist, whom we have never seen before, being disappointed in his expectation that he has a job to go to—and from there entering a dark and violent misadventure and puzzling entanglement in Native American lore. During the ride out, we hear that his parents had died recently in the Cleveland homestead. But, far more importantly, there is no direct information about why a fragile-looking youngster would travel 2000 miles to seek employment in a Wild West frontier town. As it happens, a very definite and developmentally overt source of enlightenment does supplement the raw narrative. The catch is, this tip-off comes packaged in previous Jarmusch films. In his first full-fledged feature, Stranger than Paradise (1984), a young Hungarian girl travels far more than 2000 miles to obtain work in the form of a Cleveland hot-dog diner. After a year of this, she tells some visitors, “… kind of a drag here…” William, then, in this light, enters the enterprise—seldom elucidated, and never elucidated by our traveller-of-the hour—of turning one’s back on a family heritage (the hot-dog worker comes in for a lot of heat and obscenities from the immigrant aunt who sponsored her). Other versions of quiet renegades getting not only bruised but also assisted by traditionalists appear in the films Down by Law (1986) and Mystery Train (1989). In the latter vehicle two young Japanese tourists have their differences about what constitutes the glorious rebellion of vintage Rockabilly; but they both agree the Mountain West is something to be merely and briefly endured (that, even a hundred years after William giving it a go). One other thing about the consequentiality of Cleveland, and the wider deadness you will never explicitly pick up from Dead Man, is that the dash to fulfilling mystery is, in itself, a difficulty factor heavier than those mountains. (The boss at the metal works, totally indifferent to the snail-mail snafu leaving William destitute and desperate, ridicules, “Where did you get that suit? In Cleveland?” But though he is an early detractor of a place much-maligned for being somehow unsatisfactory, he shows in his every move that he doesn’t at all see The Best Location in the Nation the way Jarmusch and many of his creations see it.) (more…)

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