Archive for April 2011

Terrence Malick Pantheon

A couple of days back Rob and I sat down to record one of our now legendary Pantheon podcasts, where we look at one single director that we both love and place them in the pantheon of all time greats. That was an easy task with Terrence Malick, whom I consider one of the all-time and living best directors out there. Rob was less familiar with his work, but quickly caught up and shared (most) of my enthusiasm. We also had a lot of speculation and comments on the ongoing drama with the release of TREE OF LIFE, hopefully coming to a cinema near you soon. But why read about it here in boring words and stuff, when you can listen to it on our podcast:

Splendor Cinema Podcast 55: Terrence Malick

The Conversations #25: Wong Kar Wai

Jason Bellamy and I have completed the latest installment of The Conversations, a discussion of Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai, and it has now been posted at The House Next Door. It isn't a full overview of every single Wong film (as much as we would have loved to do it, that would have been pretty overwhelming, to write and to read) but a selected overview of his career based on five films. Over the course of our conversation, we talk in depth about Days of Being Wild (1990), Chungking Express (1994), In the Mood for Love (2000), 2046 (2004) and My Blueberry Nights (2007). Focusing on these films allows us to examine Wong at different points in his career, considering how he's developed even while crafting a coherent cinematic universe that's always unmistakably his. We talk about his distinctive aesthetics, his thematic preoccupations, his actors, and the continuities between his films. I'm especially happy with how this conversation turned out, so take a look and as always, join the conversation in the comment section at the House, where we invite additional commentary about Wong in general, about the films we talked about or the ones didn't.

And next month, toward the end of May, be on the lookout for the next Conversation, covering the work of Terrence Malick in preparation for his forthcoming film The Tree of Life. That piece will be a two-parter, with the first part a career overview of Malick's first four films and the second part a discussion of his latest work.

Continue reading at The House Next Door

Other Famous Weddings of Note...

While many of us will no doubt be royal watching on Friday, a timely book came out this past month
that takes a look at other famous weddings of note.

Weddings and Movie Stars (Reel Art Press, April, 2011) features a variety of celeb weddings, many that rival that of a Cecil B Demille production. Frank Sinatra and Mia Farrow, Ava Gardner and Mickey Rooney, Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker and the many nuptials of Liz Taylor are just a few of the images (many seen for the first time) and behind the scene tales. Gowns by Vivienne Westwood, Balmain, Christian Dior and Givenchy also grace some of the book's 288 pages along with one of my favorite sections, weddings in the movies. Gossip and glamour, it's a great combination!

Audrey Hepburn's marriage to Italian psychologist Andrea Gotti
 in a dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy. The marriage took place in Lake Geneva in 1969.

Elizabeth Taylor wedding portrait
for  Father of the Bride

Taylor marries Richard Burton for the first time in March of l964 and looking demure in a daffodil yellow dress by costume designer Irene Sharaff who also designed her outfits for Cleopatra
Hutton Archive/Getty Images
The soon to be Mrs. Roman Polanski aka the late Sharon Tate weds in London

Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine (Katherine  Ross) make
their getaway in The Graduate and leaving audiences to wonder what happens next
@1978 Bob Willoughby/

Joan Crawford (sans a wire coat hanger) poses for a publicity
shot for Reunion in France
MGM/The Kobal Collection

Real-life couple Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz wedding scene for the film The Long Trailer in 1954.
Her polka dot gown and bag were designed by MGM costumier Helen Rose

You can read more about the book at Reel Art Press. Happy wedding viewing!

Outsourcing Illumination:2010 Oscar Winner, Inside Job

I watch a lot of documentaries in my free time though I rarely write them up here. There's a reason for that. Most of the documentaries I watch are political or activist in nature and involve a subject for which I have a certain level of conviction. Most are about people I believe in but which many others (uninformed, in my opinion) might find to be cranks or kooks. Well, to each his own but it's my site and I don't want to hear any crap about someone I think has dedicated their life and work to bettering the world. I really don't. I mean, if you have a problem with someone who spent the better part of 40 or 50 years working to make the world safer or fighting for justice but they upset your political platform and thus you don't like them then, really, fuck you, what have you done?

See what happened there? I got hostile and we weren't even talking about one of those documentaries which is precisely why I don't talk about those documentaries. Well, outside of with my wife, I mean. When I do write about a documentary it's generally because it has a decided mission but a politically neutral stance. Like my review of Countdown to Zero. I didn't like it and gave it a fairly bad review. Politically, the movie goes right down the middle, not blaming or indicting either side, simply laying out the case for better protection against nuclear terrorism. In this mission, I believe it fails. Now, normally, here at Cinema Styles, I avoid bad reviews. I like to focus on promoting music and films that are worthwhile and of which I think more people should be aware. I'll probably never review an album I don't like and rarely ever a movie I don't like. For the most part, I'm not here to protect you from seeing bad movies but to share with you what I think are the good ones.

Sometimes, however, I'm not comfortable keeping quiet, as with Countdown to Zero which, I felt, fed misinformation to the viewers in an effort to unnecessarily frighten them and was disappointed because it is such an important topic and was dismayed that it got such slipshod treatment. About a week after watching it, I chose another documentary to watch, one I felt would bring my documentary experience back to form. I chose the Oscar winning Inside Job, about the fiscal crisis of 2008, directed by Charles Ferguson who made the excellent No End in Sight in 2007 about the disastrous post-war non-plan with Iraq. No End in Sight was replete with interviews from inside and outside the White House and gave an illuminating look at what happened. I was hoping for the same with Inside Job but unfortunately, didn't get it.

Still, there are similarities to the balanced nature of No End in Sight. For instance, it lays blame for the financial debacle equally at the feet of the Clinton and Bush administrations. It does a good job of stating that policies enacted under Clinton, furthered by Bush and exploited by Wall Street helped sink the economy in 2008. And it goes even further towards being fair and balanced. At the end, after seeing 90 minutes of crooked cabinet members under Clinton and Bush and dozens of disreputable money brokers, all responsible for the debacle, we get a kind of "where are they now" montage in which practically every goddamn one of them is serving in the Obama administration! What was it Pete Townsend said? "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

So this all sounds good, right? Wrong. It's not good and there's a reason it's not good. Because unlike Ferguson's earlier effort, it's not illuminating, it's incriminating. Ferguson's style of documentary filmmaking apparently underwent a fundamental shift from No End in Sight to Inside Job and the shift was from using information and knowledgeable sources to clarify a situation, as in No End in Sight, to using a only few knowledgeable folks while mainly focusing on attacking the bad guys "60 Minutes"-style and offering a large amount of commentary in the narrator's script. The narrator is Matt Damon and, I don't know why, this somehow makes it worse. I don't say that because I dislike Matt Damon but because he delivers the narration like a sage passing judgment rather than a neutral, informative voice.

To make matters worse, the concepts at play are not easily understood by any measure and while the documentary throws in an analogy here and an animated 1-2-3 diagram there, it consistently backs away from clarification to go on the attack.

To be clear, I have no problem with attack journalism. At its best it exposes frauds and shames con artists but a documentary attempting to put the complex pieces of a decades long downslide into criminal financial behavior on the largest scale imaginable isn't the place for it. What the people need is clarification, not "Ha! Take that, shithead!" when Ferguson says, "Are you serious? Did you just say that? I have information right here that proves..." etc. And he does! Don't get me wrong, he does have the information and he does throw it into the faces of these men of very questionable moral standing. But so what?! What the viewer walks away with from the documentary is the misinformed belief that this crook or that crook just got roasted and was, thus, somehow punished, but we still don't quite understand any of the actual details. Well, except that Larry Summers is King Asshole. I'll give that to Ferguson. That much is clear. Summers = King Asshole.

No End in Sight didn't have the attack moments. No End in Sight had Richard Armitage and Robert Hutchings and analysts and directors and soldiers, all under the Bush administration speaking openly and honestly about what went wrong. It was, in the best tradition of documentary filmmaking, illuminating. It took the people directly involved and let them tell the story without vitriol.

But a lot happened in the documentary world between 2007 and 2010. A personal, more polemical style came into vogue, and Ferguson seemed to think that was the best way to do his next effort. To be sure, he's not doing a Michael Moore impersonation (thank everything that is good in the universe for that) but, this time, flash and fireworks dominate over substance and clarity.

Inside Job isn't without merit but it fails at its core task of providing illumination into the events, circumstances and financial convictions that led us down the road to disaster. It's entertaining enough, what with it's "Gotcha" moments and book-cooking revelations, but I'm not looking for cheap revenge entertainment, I'm looking for a serious reflection upon a worldwide crisis. The information's there but the style works against it. It comes off as a gussied up version of an old Mike Wallace interview on "60 Minutes" and when the final shot of the Statue of Liberty blazes across the screen while Matt Damon tells us "some things are worth fighting for" you can't help but feel Andy Rooney should've narrated the whole thing all along.

High Plains Drifter

Clint Eastwood's High Plains Drifter is a rotten, ugly, disgusting movie, a descent into Hell in every way. It is a disturbing moral vacuum of a movie, a vision of complete societal breakdown that wallows in non-stop muck and grime for most of its running time. It doesn't start that way, though, as the opening sequence introduces Eastwood's unnamed drifter in a way that quite consciously recalls the spaghetti Westerns he made with Sergio Leone in the 60s, the films that established Eastwood as a Western icon. The opening is slow and methodical, as the drifter — he's credited as "the stranger," and remains one throughout the movie — rides over lush green countryside into the town of Lago, entering the town through a cemetery, the gravestones of which are highlighted in the foreground of the shot as the horse stomps between them, a staggeringly obvious premonition of what's to come. The setting itself is unique, a seaside town (shot in California) that surreally looks like a ramshackle Western way-station on the edge of a beach. The music sets the tone, too, an eerie whining drone that evokes Ennio Morricone's Leone soundtracks with more of a sinister edge; one isn't sure if a flying saucer is going to land or if a lot of people are simply about to die or, perhaps, if a ghost is riding into town.

Once the stranger enters the town, Eastwood puts the emphasis on the repetitive sounds of the town, as everyone simply stares silently as the rider passes by. There's no dialogue, only the rhythmic chuff, chuff, chuff of the horse's hooves kicking up dust on the dry road and then, when the stranger dismounts, the clang of his spurs and the hollow reverberation of his boots on the wooden planks of the saloon's front steps. After this evocative opening, which so thoroughly sets the scene and suggests that this film is a self-conscious response to Eastwood's spaghetti Western background, the film's story kicks into action and it becomes clear that, if this is a response to the spaghetti Western, it's strictly in negative terms. It's as though Eastwood set out not only to deconstruct his screen persona, but to drag it through the mud and totally destroy it, to tear it into shreds.

This stranger is recruited by the people of Lago to defend against a trio of outlaws who are returning to exact vengeance on the townspeople for sending them to jail, a familiar setup derived from multiple Western antecedents. Throughout the film, flashbacks and contrived dialogue scenes fill in the details of the town's past, suggesting that it's an utterly corrupt place with some very dark secrets. Eastwood's stranger appears to nudge this vile place a few steps closer to the abyss, acting as a kind of moral arbiter and judge of these disgusting, cowardly people, even though this stranger is equally monstrous. In particular, the film's attitude about rape is absolutely unforgivable and horrifying, as several scenes suggest that not just one but two women are forced into sex with Eastwood's character and wind up enjoying the rape and even in some ways actively pursuing the drifter. It's played, more or less, for laughs, as when one of the women returns to, quite understandably, take a few shots at the drifter for what he did. The stranger asks why it took her so long to get upset, to which the stranger's midget sidekick (Billy Curtis) replies that maybe she was just upset that he hadn't come back for more, which is a pretty appalling laugh line by any measure. Eastwood's character is portrayed as such a smirking badass that these women, though initially resistant, come to enjoy his attentions even when he forces himself on them. It's despicable, and makes it especially hard to take too seriously the film's moralist judgment of the other characters for their various hypocrisies and sins.

Indeed, by the end of the film the whole town has descended, quite literally, into Hell. Eastwood's drifter, using his position of power as their only defender to take control, reorganizes the town, orders all the buildings painted red, and paints over the town's name on the sign outside town with the inscription, "Hell." Yeah, it's not a very subtle movie. There's a kind of awful impact to many of the film's images, particularly when Eastwood exploits the slightly surreal setting of this beachside Western town. In one scene early on, Eastwood strides through the town and the camera tracks along with him, the bright blue of the sea shining through the glass whiskey bottle that the stranger is taking swigs from. Later, the town becomes truly hellish, with all those red buildings and flames everywhere, with the stranger himself as a kind of devil pronouncing his verdict on nearly everyone in the town. It's almost beautiful in its horrible way, especially when Eastwood's familiar silhouette is framed in black against the bright orange flames.

The film betrays a sadistic, nasty-minded sensibility, assaulting the audience with horrific images like a lengthy flashback (repeated several times) of a man being whipped to death in the center of the town. Each time the scene recurs, it goes on for an uncomfortable amount of time, with an emphasis on the sound of the whips thumping into flesh, while streaks of bright red movie blood run across the dying man's face and torso. The townspeople all look on, passively allowing this horror to happen, and Eastwood's aesthetic forces the audience into a similar passivity, forced to endure the sounds of the whips drawing blood for what seems like an endless span of time. Eastwood wants to rub the audience's faces in the violence, like a cinematic punishment, but he repeats the whipping sequence so many times, and lets it run for so long, that it goes beyond grating into simply boring.

Eastwood's character, though a sociopathic monster and a rapist, is the film's moral center, which says a lot about what a morally bankrupt movie this is. He's meant to be the voice of conscience who rides into town and exacts vengeance on these people who once stood by and watched while a man was killed. The revenge theme provides a justification for everything that happens subsequently, especially since the finale draws an explicit link between the unnamed drifter and the dead man, even suggesting, as the stranger fades away into a hazy mirage in the desert, that he's the reincarnation of the noble murdered man. The film keeps implying that, while what the stranger does is despicable, in some ways these people deserve what they get, that they were asking for it. That's precisely the film's attitude about rape, for sure, and what the stranger does to the town as a whole is akin to rape as well, the violation of the community as an entity. The stranger comes into town and rapes, not only the women, but the town as a whole, and the film suggests that maybe this is alright. The filmmaking frames most of the stranger's behavior as a big joke, with Eastwood's self-satisfied smirk as the rimshot following the punchline. Eastwood encourages the audience to laugh along with the stranger as he humiliates, punishes and torments the townspeople in revenge for their own horrible deeds.

Passing Fancy

Passing Fancy is an early silent comedy by Yasujiro Ozu. Although many of Ozu's silent films are quite different from his later works, in Passing Fancy Ozu's mature style already seems to be almost fully developed. The film is a charming family comedy about the single dad Kihachi (Takeshi Sakamoto), his son Tomio (Tomio Aoki), and his friend Jiro (Den Obinata), and the tension that enters their simple lives when they meet the homeless and unemployed young woman Harue (Nobuko Fushimi). The middle-aged Kihachi immediately likes the much younger woman, helping her get a job and a place to stay at a neighborhood restaurant while courting her in his goofy but charming way. Harue, though, thinks of Kihachi as an uncle and prefers the younger Jiro, who makes sure to keep her at arm's length, though one suspects that despite his insistence that he doesn't like her, he's only pushing her away out of loyalty to his good friend.

The film is mostly shot from Ozu's familiar low vantage point, his aesthetic already well-established by this time. In his films with children, the low camera placement seems to take on an additional purpose, as the low-to-the-ground framings are perfectly suited to a child's proportions — Tomio fits comfortably within the frame no matter how low the camera is placed — while the adults seem to tower outside the frame, their legs entering the frame before the rest of their body begins to appear in view. The compositions of the film are as meticulous and deliberate as later Ozu, with a constant awareness of how objects and people are arranged within the static frames; there is no camera movement, an aesthetic choice that would be totally codified in Ozu's late color films. As in his later work, striking use is made of bottles and other household objects positioned to counterbalance the actors within the frame; often the actors are placed into the background with some domestic object highlighted in the foreground. Ozu also periodically inserts static shots of the surrounding buildings and water towers to establish the setting, early examples of the "pillow shots" that would become such a powerful aesthetic devise in the director's postwar oeuvre.

Though there are elements of drama and melancholy in Passing Fancy, the film is largely a comedy, not so much in terms of broad slapstick as in its gentle but pervasive comic tone. Even at the height of the film's downtrodden section, when Tomio falls ill and Kihachi worries that the boy might die, Ozu breaks the tragic mood with a comic series of intertitles when Tomio's teacher asks Kihachi how the kid got sick, causing Kihachi to respond that "he ate fifty sen worth of sweets all at once," then enumerating all of the different flavors of candy the boy had eaten. Obviously, the illness isn't meant to be taken entirely seriously, but Kihachi's worries are heartrending anyway. Similarly, there's a strain of comedy running through the film centering on economic concerns in Depression era Japan, a concept introduced in the most humorous possible way in the film's opening scenes. At a theatrical performance, several men in the audience see a coin purse sitting on the ground and discretely peek inside, realizing that it's empty and then discarding it, only to have another man pick it up in the hopes of finding something inside. Ozu milks this gag for its gestural comedy, and also for its suggestion of poverty so extreme and common that none of these men think twice about trying to scrounge for money anywhere they might find a few coins. The physical comedy is then extended with a sequence where several men get up and dance around as though they have bugs crawling around in their clothes, another sign of the squalor of this neighborhood.

That economic hardship defines the film in many ways. Kihachi is embarrassed by his lack of financial security, by his inability to give his child everything he'd like to, and his desire for more leads him to extravagantly give the boy a coin, which Tomio then uses to gorge on candy since he's not used to having any money at all. More seriously, Kihachi proves incapable of paying the doctor who cares for his son, and scraping together the money for the medical bills proves to be an exceedingly difficult task. It quite literally takes the efforts of nearly everyone he knows to pay the doctor, with his community of friends and neighbors coming together to help him and his son.

Ozu often seems constrained by the stylistic conventions of the silent cinema; Japan was slow to switch to sound, and though Ozu often gets by here through gestural acting within the frame, this is a rather dialogue-heavy film with a lot of information and emotion conveyed through the text. In the scene where Harue and Jiro argue over her lack of romantic feelings for Kihachi, Ozu unleashes an uncharacteristic barrage of dialogue intertitles, alternating between static, repetitive images of Harue and Jiro, with more or less the same closeup of each repeated over and over again in between titles. It's one of the moments when the limitations of silent style for Ozu become obvious, as his visual sensibility must be subsumed to the necessity of staging a lengthy and emotionally complex conversation entirely in text.

Such glitches aside, Passing Fancy is a warm and gently funny work. The film's story is minimal, which allows Ozu to develop his characters and to use his slow, observational visual sensibility to create a portrait of an era and a neighborhood. The rich sense of community, the half-comic depiction of economic woes, the emotional nuance of the characters as they make the best of their limited circumstances, it all adds up to a lovely film that's very much attuned to the social milieu in which it is set.

Sweet Relief

Recently, I reviewed Télépopmusik's album Genetic World on these pages and Angela McCluskey, the lead vocalist with the softly powerful voice, was kind enough to write me and ask if I could help out with something she feels strongly about. It's called Sweet Relief and it's been around since 1994 when it was founded by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams. From the site:

Sweet Relief was founded by singer-songwriter Victoria Williams in 1993. Victoria, while on a career-making tour with Neil Young was forced to drop off mid-schedule after experiencing unexplained debilitating symptoms. A long and painful diagnostic process revealed she had multiple sclerosis.

After her diagnosis, a group of friends assembled an all-star album of Victoria’s songs, Sweet Relief, which alleviated much of her medical debt. Vic, knowing that there are many musicians like her - -unable to afford medical expenses and compromised in their ability to work- - donated some of her proceeds from the album to found Sweet Relief Musicians Fund. The name of the fund derives from a song of Victoria’s, Opelousas (Sweet Relief) and the fact that we do provide sweet relief in the form of financial assistance to many musicians who would otherwise be in untenable predicaments

It's something I understand from experience. I used to belong to AFTRA/SAG but couldn't find enough work to reach the minimum amount where the union pays the health insurance and couldn't afford my own. Eventually, work outside of the arts provided a stable income and health insurance but the vast majority of artists don't find fame or fortune and can't get any coverage. I'm good friends with a terrific jazz pianist right now who can't sustain a living with music despite his talents.

Sweet Relief takes donations from people inside the industry and out to help the people who have provided so many with so much for so little. If you are a musician, like me, know a musician or just love music (surely there's no one that doesn't, right?) take the time to give whatever you can to help those with debilitating illnesses who don't have the means to take care of what the heart and soul cannot.

And to help you get there, here's a video of Here Comes the Sun, sung beautifully by Angela and arranged by Paul Cantelon. The list of folks helping out with the video is an impressive one and I urge you to go to the Vimeo site as well to read the info. Then purchase the song through one of the provided links to help bring needed funds to Sweet Relief. Thanks in advance and enjoy the music.

Here Comes The Sun by Angela McCluskey (benefiting Sweet Relief) from Bernadette/Capture on Vimeo.

Inexhaustible Documents: The Record Club

As the title says, I've started a new project, called Inexhaustible Documents, a Record Club organized among a number of bloggers who normally write primarily about film, but who also have some interest in music. If you remember the way the film club TOERIFC worked, the Record Club is going to work along similar lines. Each month, one member of the club will pick an album to recommend to everyone else. Over the subsequent few weeks, everyone will listen to the album, and then return to the site of the person who selected the album for a discussion about the music. The vibe should be relaxed and conversational, an online version of friends casually trading recommendations and commenting on them, and in that spirit the membership of the Record Club is appropriately fluid and open. There are already a number of active members (Jake Cole, Dennis Cozzalio, Marilyn Ferdinand, Carson Lund, Drew McIntosh, Kevin Olson, Troy Olson) who have committed to participating in the club, and a few others who may join in from time to time, but the monthly discussions will be open to anyone who's listened to that month's album and wishes to participate. Those who are interested in picking albums and hosting discussions will also be able to do so down the line.

Each month, there will be an announcement towards the beginning of the month in several places: here, at the new Inexhaustible Documents blog, and at that month's host blog. For the first month of the Club, I've selected the introductory album, and the discussion will be hosted here at Only the Cinema starting on May 23. Information on the selected album is below. There's also a small banner if you wish to promote the Record Club.

The first pick for the club is:

The Congos - Heart of the Congos (1977)

It's spring, a great season for listening to reggae, and this is one of the greatest reggae albums of all time.

If you're interested in participating in the club, take a listen (or, better yet, a few listens) to the Congos' debut — for the first time or the thousandth — and come back here on May 23 for a discussion of the album.

If you'd like to promote the Record Club, you can display the banner below by pasting the code onto your own blog.

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Ode to the Dolls

It is hard to believe that this year marks the 45th anniversary of the cult classic book-turned-film Valley of the Dolls. Baby boomers may recall reading under the covers away from parental eyes as it was quite controversial at the time -- today you would hardly bat an eye. The film has a cult following today with so many classic laugh-out-loud (some intentional, some not) scenes and lines -- Neely O'Hara flushing Helen Lawson's wig down the toilet, Lawson singing "My Tree" and "The only hit that comes out of a Helen Lawson show is Helen Lawson, and that's ME, baby, remember?"

Valley of The Dolls was written by the late Jacqueline Susann, queen of the steamy blockbuster long before Jackie Collins (30 million copies sold to date). The roman a' clef tells the story of three young career women -- singer Neely O'Hara (Patty Duke), actress Jennifer North (Sharon Tate) and talent agency assistant turned model Ann Welles (Barbara Parkins). The three use "dolls" a.k.a. barbiturates/downers to cope with their various soap opera maladies (breast cancer, gay husbands, etc.) and you get the picture.  Veteran actress Susan Hayward plays aging singer Helen Lawson and it's rumored that the role was patterned after Judy Garland and Ethel Merman. (Ironically Garland was originally cast but let go). Candice Bergen, Petula Clark, Raquel Welch and Ann-Margaret were up for the roles of the three girls.

Patty Duke

Sharon Tate

Barbara Parkins

Author Jacqueline Susann

Susann with cast members (Lee Grant in sunglasses)

"Here kitty kitty"

Susan Hayward singing "My Tree"

Patty Duke romps on classic Sixties style brass bed

The movie is pure camp with some wonderful style moments (Pucci patterned jumpsuits and big hair just to name a few) and a great window into sixties Manhattan and Los Angeles. The title song by Dionne Warwick became a huge hit as well. The film was also ranked as one of the 100 Most Amusingly Bad Films Ever Made by the infamous Razzie awards so you know it has to be fun viewing (many rank it alongside 1995's Showgirls). Perhaps actress Lee Grant (who plays Tate's sister in law) said it best that the drama was "The best and funniest worst movie ever made!"

The Soundtrack

If you are in the Savannah area, SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) is hosting a panel on "Jacqueline Susann and the Style of the 1960s: The 45th Anniversary of The Valley of The Dolls" on April 29th at 4:00 p.m. with fashion designer Lisa Perry, Decades vintage boutique owner Cameron Silver, literary agent Ira Silverburg and Lisa Bishop  and Whitney Robinson, directors of the Susann archives. The topic will be the book and its impact on fashion. There is also an exhibit of her personal archives and period garments at Savannah's Pinnacle Gallery.

Nobody does sixties style better than Lisa Perry

Happy Easter!

Photos: Life Magazine, Twentieth Century Fox, Lisa Perry

Love On the Run

Love On the Run is the final installment in François Truffaut's series of Antoine Doinel films. For this goodbye to his most famous character, and to the series that he inaugurated with his debut feature, Truffaut offered a recapitulation of everything that had come before, a self-conscious trawl through the highlights of Antoine's onscreen life. The film is littered with snippets of other films, scenes from the previous Doinel adventures that keep bubbling up from the thoughts of various characters. These scenes from other movies are presented as memories, an appropriate metaphor since they are memories, presumably, for the audience as well, memories of other movies seen, memories of this character's previous screen adventures, of what he and the rest of the cast looked like nine years ago, or eleven years, or seventeen, or a full twenty years ago, when the actor Jean-Pierre Léaud and the character he played were both only fourteen, a rebellious kid struggling with quarrelsome, inconsistent parents and the strict discipline of school. These films have always been about constantly building on the foundation of the past, and the previous films in the series already contained echoes of the earlier works, references to Antoine's previous adventures and to the audience's memory of his earlier screen incarnations. Here, the device is taken to its logical conclusion, the subtle echoes and parallels replaced by literal — and liberal — quotation.

When Truffaut last checked in with Antoine, in 1970's Bed & Board, he was married to Christine (Claude Jade), and that film ended, after some marital difficulties and infidelity, with the couple's moving reconciliation. It's thus purposefully jarring that Love On the Run opens with Antoine waking up with another woman, Sabine (Dorothée), who has the same slender, nice girl prettiness as Christine. The opening scene, in which the couple playfully banter and spar, until Sabine finally turns off the light and tackles Antoine, suggests that Antoine still hasn't changed, that he's still unsettled, flighty, always looking for something different and winding up with variations on the familiar. He's never quite grown up, and throughout the film he's being dissected, analyzed, his routines and follies mocked and prodded. Everyone has his number down by now: that he's a hopeless romantic until the moment when he gets what he thinks he wants, that he's still haunted by his past and especially by his unhappy childhood, that he has a rather pessimistic view of love and relationships. When the film opens, he's on the verge of getting divorced from Christine, he's embroiled in his latest in a long line of passionate affairs with Sabine, and he's ripe for a reappraisal of his life so far.

The film thus takes Antoine, and those around him, on a trip back through his life as it has unfolded on screen. Characters from Antoine's past return, revisiting earlier moments in his life. Most notably, Antoine again meets his first love Colette (Marie-France Pisier), the girl from the short Antoine and Colette, in many ways the template for all of Antoine's later romantic adventures even though she always resisted his amorous advances. She's now a lawyer, divorced like Antoine, and also mourning the death of her child. Her reunion with Antoine allows her, through reading his autobiographical novel, to reminisce about their pasts and to think about where their lives are headed now. Colette's story in this film parallels Antoine's, to the extent that she becomes a costar with him, two people with a shared past headed along similar trajectories. Just as Antoine struggles in his relationship with Sabine, unable to convey to the girl just how much he loves her, Colette has an on/off romance with the book store owner Xavier (Daniel Mesquich) who, it turns out, is Sabine's brother. Her story and Antoine's thus come together, as both of them are trying to shrug off their pasts and move forward with a new love. As Antoine tries to come to terms with his immaturity and his hang-ups, Colette is still haunted by the death of her child (a detail that's foreshadowed early on but isn't revealed until late in the film) and her uncertainty about her feelings for her lover. This film, mirroring Truffaut's second Antoine story, is about Antoine and Colette, but this time it's not about their failed romance, but about their parallel romances with other people.

This film is refreshing in that it abandons the cheesy humor of the last two Antoine Doinel installments, Stolen Kisses and Bed & Board, focusing instead on the pathos and emotion of Antoine the perpetual man-child, always just on the cusp of adulthood, always learning lessons that, one suspects, he may forget just as quickly. Love On the Run is moving because it provides a cathartic final look at Antoine's life, his mistakes and mishaps, and because it gives him a chance to correct some of those failings. At one point, Antoine runs into Lucien (Julien Bertheau), the man he saw kissing his mother in The 400 Blows, and apparently the man who went on to become her longtime lover. Lucien provides Antoine with a softer, more sympathetic view of his mother, conveying to the touched young man that even if she was never quite able to show it, she did love Antoine. Lucien takes Antoine to his mother's grave, and her face, preserved as she had looked in The 400 Blows, is briefly superimposed into the film, a ghostly projection from the cinematic past providing some closure to Antoine's unhappy childhood.

And also, of course, to Truffaut's, since Antoine's troubled childhood was so thoroughly autobiographical for the director. This is an especially autobiographical film for Truffaut, as evidenced by the liberal quotations from his own previous work, not just the Doinel films but Day For Night (which is evoked by a flashback of Antoine's affair with a woman played by Dani, with situations and dialogue derived from the earlier movie) and Une belle fille comme moi, which Truffaut lightly mocks by having his characters comment on it. He also nods to his fellow New Wave filmmaker Eric Rohmer by having Christine and Dani's Liliane draw sketches for Rohmer's Perceval le Gallois, thus acknowledging the more adventurous, experimental path traveled by some of Truffaut's New Wave contemporaries while he went on to make mainstream thrillers and comedies and love stories.

Love On the Run, of course, is stuck in the past, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. The film's relentless quotation is often moving, though at times Truffaut goes overboard, especially when he excerpts such long scenes from his previous films that one nearly forgets the surrounding present-day material that prompted these flashbacks. The story of Love On the Run itself is minimal, and the flashbacks often overpower the new material. But Truffaut makes interesting use of his structure, inserting several flashbacks to scenes that didn't exist in the previous films, scenes that might be excerpted from some never-made film that fills in the blanks in between Bed & Board and Love On the Run, like Antoine's affair with Liliane, and the death of Colette's child, and the start of Antoine's romance with Sabine.

The film's final act is especially moving and charming, built on a playful foundation of coincidences and contrivances, like Colette's meeting with Christine, which provides the impetus for one of the film's very best scenes. It's wonderful to see these two women who Antoine loved so intensely converge at the apartment of Antoine's latest love. The two women sit on a bench together and talk, sharing stories of heartache and humor, commiserating about the man they both knew at very different times in his life and in very different ways, laughing about his follies and his idiosyncrasies. It's a delightful and oddly emotional scene, a wry look at Antoine from outside his own self-involved bubble, and the women laugh together, intervene one last time in Antoine's latest romantic folly, and then move on to their own lives without him. This sets up the romantic finale, in which Sabine and Antoine, after reconciling — the way Antoine and Christine had reconciled at the end of Bed & Board — speak into a mirror, delivering lines that might as well be spoken directly to the camera, since they constitute the last word on Antoine and the implicit moral of this final film. It's an acknowledgment that nothing is certain, that life is a constant process of upheavals and changes, and that despite this lack of permanence the best thing to do is to approach each new adventure, each new love, each new career, pretending that it will last forever. What a great way to say goodbye to Antoine.

When Music Kills the Mood

Last October my wife and I had an awful experience with a silent film, a modern score and an idiot emcee. It was, to date, our only bad experience at the AFI. The AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, MD is a place we visit often to take in classic Hollywood and world cinema and whenever I mention it here, it's usually glowing. But this time, we took in Nosferatu the night before Halloween and things didn't go as well. We had avoided it in the past (it plays every year) because it felt like one of those rare AFI events that pulls in the dilettantes, the folks who aren't really classic movie lovers but think seeing what they perceive as an old creaky silent with a counter-intuitive modern score will fill all kinds of awesome ironic longings in their cold, smug souls.

And we were right. That's exactly how it felt.

We felt surrounded by people who didn't know the first goddamn thing about F.W. Murnau, Nosferatu, Max Schreck or silent films period. I'm not saying that is who we were surrounded by, just that it felt that way. I'm sure there were many classic film lovers there, like my wife and I, feeling the same thing we were, which was, to wit, "Who are all these interlopers?" Kind of like on St. Patrick's Day or New Year's Eve when all the amateurs come out to throw up on the bar floor and the real drinkers stay home or on Christmas and Easter when all those parishioners who didn't bother to show up on any other Sunday of the year suddenly pack the house.

"This movie's so fabulously dated! I so want a t-shirt of the bald guy!"

Then came the emcee, a local dee-jay whose name I can't remember and even if I did I wouldn't mention it here because why embarrass the guy, right? See, the thing is, he didn't know anything about silent film. Nothing. He got up on the stage in his Dracula cape and, frankly, before he even opened his mouth I felt like punching him. Then, when he opened his mouth, thoughts of punching him quickly gave way to, "How can I kill him in front of all these people and somehow make it look like the self-satisfied hipster couple in front of me did it and, hey, maybe I could figure out a way to make them die too as a bonus."

Seriously, here's what he does: He takes the emaciated, skeletal sliver of knowledge on Murnau and Nosferatu he culled from Wikipedia five minutes before going onstage and tries to turn it into some kind of Richard Pryor-esque shtick. He starts giving us details in stand-up format, like this: "Oh, so Murnau is all like 'oh no you didn't! I know you're not trying to sue me, woman! [referring to Bram Stoker's widow] and so F.W.'s all like, 'Take my movie? I'm gonna slide a copy of this film under my bed, uh-huh!" So, you can probably understand the homicidal thoughts I was having more clearly now, right?

Once the movie started, it got worse. The music took over. The movie? Oh, it was there, somewhere, struggling to compete with the ear-shattering percussion and endlessly clever found objects used as instruments that made you go, "Why that's a clever use of a wrench. I wonder how they... hey, wait a minute! I'm supposed to be focusing on the movie!"

To make matters worse, my lovely wife has less tolerance for this kind of malarkey than I do and when Count Orlock is making his way up the steps in what should be a very chilling and creepy scene and the "orchestra" is bombarding the audience with a full-on percussive assault using the kind of drum fills more appropriate for a battle sequence or John Bonham solo, I can sense her sitting next to me, steaming. I can sense it because, well, she is.

"I'm at the top of the stairs now. Cue the cannons."

In a way, though, I kind of have to hand it to the "orchestra" (sorry, I can't seem to type that word without the scare quotes) for some kind of dubious achievement in that I really can't imagine anyone else doing a better job of producing the opposite mood of what was on the screen than they did. To do so would require playing "Have you Never been Mellow" during the rape scene in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and who wants to go there?

When it was over, the lights came up and the audience erupted in thunderous applause. The couple in front of us couldn't contain themselves and started shouting, "Bravo!" and "Encore!" and "Sundance Movie Channel!" Okay, maybe not the last one. Anyway, I briefly contemplated pushing them over until Dracula took the stage again and my wife shouted, "Run!" We got the hell out of there as fast as we could. One more second of shtick from that moron and the evening would've ended with my best impersonation of the theatre climax in Inglourious Basterds with that mother fucker standing in for Hitler.

Afterwards, I thought on the experience long and hard. See, I have no problem with modern music for old films or modern music in new films that take place in the past. I've used modern music myself for montages of classic film and a film like Chariots of Fire takes place in 1924 but has a score entirely recorded on synthesizer. No problem.

My problem wasn't that it was modern music, nor was it that it didn't entirely fit. My problem was that it felt like it wasn't supposed to entirely fit. It felt like it was supposed to stick out, so you'd remember the score more than the movie. The composers weren't interested in complementing the movie, they were interested in impressing the audience with their skills and talents and endless cleverness. And that really bugged me.

Nosferatu is a great work and would have been infinitely more effective had we watched it silently, as in truly silent with no sound or music at all. I've watched it that way before. In fact, I've watched a few silent movies that way, actually. I've turned down the music on many a silent film just to watch it in silence. It's a wonderful experience and with the best silent films, can really become hypnotic.

"Wasn't the score ironic?" "Mmm-hmmm." "We should make it our ringtone."

But the point is, the music took center stage, not the movie. Last year, when I saw Upstream at The National Archives, it had a beautifully fitting piano and violin score composed for it. Some found objects were used too for sound effects but they never detracted from the film and Upstream is several rungs down the ladder from Nosferatu, with or without John Ford at the helm. Afterwards, the audience asked questions and one of them was for the pianist composer himself. He was asked what he thought about certain modern "orchestras" musical accompaniment to silent films and he said he admired their talents but they were more concerned with their scores than the movie and when you're scoring a movie, the movie comes first. The audience applauded. This was before my AFI experience (though I wrote it up afterwards in November) so I clapped out of appreciation for the idea rather than because of actual firsthand knowledge. After seeing Nosferatu, I immediately flashed back to that, though, and thought, "Damn straight."

Modern music for an old movie or a period piece is not a problem. It's become kind of a fad in recent years, in fact. The problem is music that doesn't fit the mood, or the point of a scene. It's a problem that happens from time to time with even the best of movies and exploring music in film is something I'd like to do more of here at Cinema Styles. Exploring how it fails can be just as instructive as when it succeeds. For now, I'm content to avoid any modern scoring of silent films for a little while longer until I get the bad taste out of my mouth. Of course, I'll go back to others but I think the AFI's annual Nosferatu showing and me are done. I ignored my instincts and it bit me in the ass. Lesson learned.

Bed & Board

Bed & Board is the fourth installment in François Truffaut's series of films about the lovable rogue Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Léaud). The previous film, 1968's Stolen Kisses, ended with Antoine settling down after some romantic adventures, finally realizing that his longtime on-again-off-again girlfriend Christine (Claude Jade) was the girl for him. This film opens with Antoine and Christine married, living in a small apartment above where Antoine works in a shop dying flowers. The film's opening scenes follow Christine on her errands, initially only tracking her shapely legs below the hem of her skirt, as she goes from shop to shop, correcting the shopowners on her title: she's a "madame," not a "mademoiselle," she says proudly, perhaps proud both that she's married and that she looks young enough to still be mistaken for a young unmarried girl. When Christine returns home soon after, she runs into an old man on the staircase, who lets her go ahead of him so he can ogle her legs, the same way Truffaut's camera had been admiring them just moments before. The point is obvious: Antoine has a young and very desirable wife, and in the subsequent scenes some comic interplay with a slightly older woman who flirts with Antoine establishes that he too is young and desirable. It's a portrait of a happy marriage but already the emphasis on youth and attractiveness sets the stage for some straying outside of this marital and domestic bliss.

The film picks up where the previous Doinel films left off, continuing to examine Antoine as he grows up but doesn't exactly mature. The series that started with Antoine as a young boy, rebelling against his parents and the oppressive confines of school, has now followed him through his teenage romantic troubles and into adulthood and marriage. The previous films are very much present here, in ways both obvious and subtle. During the early scenes, when Antoine is working at the flower shop, he gets a call and answers the phone with an enthusiastic greeting to someone he greets as a mother; for a moment, one wonders if Antoine has at last reconciled with his parents, who were last seen in the first film of the series, The 400 Blows, before he ran away from home. Instead, the woman on the phone turns out to be Christine's mother. As Antoine says, "I don't fall in love with a girl, I fall in love with her whole family." This was a running theme of the earlier films in the series as well. Antoine, who had such an unhappy childhood and such lousy parents, is constantly looking for an adoptive family to call his own. In Antoine and Colette, he'd been as attracted to Colette's loving, kind parents as to the girl herself, and in fact he'd probably spent more time with her parents than with her, as she was constantly dodging him and keeping him at a distance. In Stolen Kisses, he'd formed a similar dynamic with Christine and her parents, and his love for Christine seems to be bound up in his admiration for the happy home life and close relationship she has with her parents, a domestic contentment that had been denied to Antoine (and, by extension, Truffaut) as a boy.

Later, Christine refers to Antoine's ill-fated relationship with Colette, thinking that his admiration for Christine's new glasses is linked to the girl he once loved as a younger man. He corrects her, saying that Colette didn't wear glasses, but in fact his desire for Christine to keep the glasses on in bed hints at something else altogether: a slight restlessness, a desire for something a little different, for a change of pace. Antoine has met a girl, the Japanese girl Kyoko (Hiroko Berghauer), and he seems to be heading towards an affair. That's the drama that eventually emerges from the film, but it does so only slowly, gradually bubbling up from beneath the light, charming surface of everyday life.

Day-to-day domesticity is the focus here, with lightly humorous scenarios like Antoine and Christine's elaborate and indirect way of getting a forgetful woman to remember to pay for the violin lessons that Christine gives to the woman's daughter. The courtyard of the building where Antoine and Christine live is populated with more eccentric characters, and just as the detective agency of Stolen Kisses provided a forum for little bits of antic comedy and one-liners, this cast of characters serves a similar function here, sprinkling little comedic routines along the fringes of the film. Most of it isn't particularly funny or original, amusing enough to elicit maybe a small smile or a chuckle rather than real laughter. As a comedian, Truffaut's material is rather tame and familiar, and the effect, as at times in Stolen Kisses, is of watching a comedy with very few real laughs. (One exception is Antoine's great response to Christine's musing that she wouldn't breast-feed a child, and another is the bit involving Antoine's insistence that he's reading a newspaper article about "lascivious broads.")

Léaud is such a charming presence that he's fun to watch no matter what the context, and the same goes for Jade. But the sad fact is that each subsequent Antoine Doinel film seems less weighty, less substantial than the last. By this point, the series has become a venue for Truffaut's lightly comic musings on marriage, which are strictly generic and derived from conventional romantic comedy — the best example is the recurring and very unfunny routine with an impatient opera singer and his perpetually late wife, who's always scurrying after him. When that gag is repeated by Antoine and Christine at the end of the film, it's meant to signify that they too have fallen into the routines of marriage, that this is true love. Instead, it's merely sad to see these charming and lively characters subsumed by such lame material. Truffaut's comedic impulses are at the level of a sitcom or a tired old-school comedy, with overly broad caricatured characters: dirty old men, horny housewives, and so on. In comparison to the loose, rich, offhanded humor of The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette — humor that emerged organically from the characters and situations, blended into the varied emotional palette of those films — this staid and prosaic comedic sensibility is a jarring disappointment. Still, there are a few good recurring characters, especially a friend of Antoine's who's constantly asking to borrow money in incrementally greater amounts, always asking to borrow again whatever he already owes.

Truffaut also makes good use of a sinister mystery man (an echo of the mysterious stranger who followed Christine around in Stolen Kisses) who everyone in the neighborhood calls "the strangler." The man turns out to be an innocuous actor, and one night Antoine and Christine see him on TV, doing impersonations of Delphine Seyrig. He starts out performing a parody of Resnais' Last Night In Marienbad, then segues into dialogue from Stolen Kisses, dialogue that Seyrig's older seductress had spoken to Antoine before they went to bed together. As the lines are spoken, Truffaut focuses on a closeup of Christine, smiling and giggling, oblivious to the fact that the actor is reciting lines from one of her husband's previous sexual adventures. It's another of the film's premonitions of the marital discord and infidelity to come.

The thing is, once Antoine has achieved the bourgeois family life he always wanted — the loving parents, the sweet and smart wife, the beautiful baby boy they have halfway through the film — he doesn't really know what to do with it all. He's still a playful and aimless young man, drifting through life. He gets fired from his job as a flower-dyer after screwing up a bouquet with an experiment that fries the flowers, and he stumbles through a case of mistaken identity into a new and even more whimsical job where his sole responsibility seems to be piloting remote-controlled boats around a lake-sized scale model of a harbor. The purpose of this bizarre job is never explained; it's merely a sign of Antoine's continued existence within a quasi-adulthood in which he hasn't quite adopted to marriage, or parenthood, or the responsibilities of a real adult job. As little as Bed & Board resembles the earlier films in the series in terms of tone or style, Antoine himself is still very much recognizable, the impish adolescent of the earliest films in the series still embodied within an older body.

Antoine's continuing uncertainty about what exactly he wants leads to one of the film's best sequences, the penultimate scene at a restaurant where Antoine goes with Kyoko. During the dinner, in between courses, he keeps leaving the table to call Christine on the phone, telling her how unhappy he is and how tired he's grown of Kyoko already. The calls eventually lead to his reconciliation with Christine, a very touching moment in which Truffaut cuts back and forth between closeups of the earnest, upset Antoine and the sweetly smiling Christine, the editing bringing the couple back together even though they remain separated across the phone line. It's a very touching moment, and even if Bed & Board on the whole is too weak and inconsistent to be considered a truly worthy successor to the earlier films in the series, moments like this carry over a measure of the emotional complexity and warmth most closely associated with Antoine Doinel and his adventures.

Stolen Kisses

Stolen Kisses is the third installment in the series of Antoine Doinel tales that François Truffaut inaugurated with his debut feature The 400 Blows. The film opens several years after Truffaut's last visit with Antoine (played as always by Jean-Pierre Léaud), in the short film Antoine and Colette. As with the gap between The 400 Blows and that short, several years are left as an ellipsis between installments, with the effect that each new film in the series is like catching up with an old friend, learning what he's done and where he's been in the intervening years since his last appearance. Since Léaud grows up on screen with his cinematic counterpart, it's also a way of catching up with the actor, seeing how the fourteen year-old boy from The 400 Blows has matured into an independent young man with a vibrant, eclectic life both onscreen and off. When Stolen Kisses opens, Antoine has been in the army for three years, and at the very beginning of the film he's in a military prison, awaiting his release from the army after a troubled career as a private. During his exit interview with a superior officer, the man rattles off a list of Antoine's offenses, including all the bases where he'd gone AWOL, and Antoine smiles at each one, as though fondly recalling happy memories of what he'd done during each of these infractions; a whole history is suggested in those smiles.

It's a loving and playful re-introduction to this familiar character, an assurance that though Antoine has grown older he's still a charming misbehavior, a defiant young man with little tolerance for authority. Even more telling, perhaps, is what precedes this scene, an opening image which on the surface has no real connection to the rest of the film. During the credit sequence, Truffaut films the building that housed the then-closed Cinémathèque Franèais, which at the time of the making of this film was embroiled in the Langlois affair, when the firing of Henri Langlois, the Cinémathèque's longtime director (and mentor to the Cahiers du cinema group of filmmakers and critics), triggered student protests and riots demanding his reinstatement. Truffaut and Léaud were both on the frontlines of these protests, with the latter making fiery speeches on Langlois' behalf in front of that very building. Some text during the titles of Stolen Kisses dedicates the film to Langlois, but the film itself has only the most tenuous of connections to Langlois or to the protests and politics bubbling up around him at the time. The protests over Langlois' departure from the Cinémathèque would eventually seem like a precursor to the broader student riots of May 1968, but these political questions linger only at the edges of the film.

The Langlois affair is mentioned explicitly, once, by the parents of Antoine's sometime-girlfriend Christine (Claude Jade), who describe it in vague and slightly bemused terms, reflecting the generation gap between the older generation and those who, like Truffaut and Léaud and their associates, grew up with the Cinémathèque and with Langlois' tutelage. But Antoine and Christine are equally abstracted from the events; Christine gets off from school when boycotts break out at her university, and she uses it as an unexpected vacation, going skiing with her friends. Antoine, for his part, is totally unaware of any of it. Later, Christine mentions to him that some of her friends are involved in protests, but Antoine, absorbed in his job, barely listens, and that's the extent of the film's engagement with the political upheavals sweeping France at the time. It's a curious decision, this abstraction from the politics of the time, especially since both the director and the star were so heavily involved in the events in their personal lives. It's as though Truffaut is asserting, with his casual integration of the politics at the fringes of a politically content-free film, that he intends to keep his cinema somewhat separate from the upheavals of the time — a pointed rejection of the very different path taken by Jean-Luc Godard, and the increasing split between the two filmmakers and former friends. Truffaut's film makes a token nod to the politics, to the concerns that so occupied both Truffaut and Léaud off the set. Godard could not make such a separation between his politics, his life and the films he made, but Truffaut, it seems, could.

Instead, Stolen Kisses is largely concerned, like Antoine and Colette, with Antoine's romantic adventures, in this case especially his on/off relationship with Christine, with whom he has a relationship that mirrors his friendship/affair with Colette, even including his closeness with the girl's mother and stepfather, who are like surrogate parents for the adrift young man. In addition to the relationship with Christine, the film also traces Antoine's visits to prostitutes (including his very funny encounter with a pair of them early on) and his fascination with Fabienne (Delphine Seyrig), a beautiful older woman who's the wife of the shoe store owner Tabard (Michael Lonsdale). He meets this latter couple while working as a detective for a private investigation firm, one of several jobs he takes during the course of the film. Antoine is an inept detective, perhaps because his example is the movies: in one of the film's funniest scenes, Antoine, excited over his new job, follows a random woman on the street and acts so suspicious that she detects him almost instantly. His exaggerated cinema detective routine — hiding his face behind a newspaper, ducking behind trees, weaving back and forth behind his chosen target — is derived entirely from the language of detective films, with a heavy parodic spirit in the way he executes these maneuvers.

Indeed, Stolen Kisses is a comedy in a way that, for all the humorous moments in both The 400 Blows and Antoine and Colette, neither of the first two Antoine Doinel films were. This film often seems to be built around sketches, bits of comedic business like Antoine's introduction to the detective Henri (Harry-Max), in which the detective cons Antoine (in an short-lived job as a hotel desk clerk) into helping him get proof for an adultery case. The scene is pure antic slapstick, albeit somewhat clumsily staged, with jarring cuts and a kind of forced cheerfulness as the woman in the case sits in bed topless and the men yell at each other. Truffaut's comedy often seems forced and off-key like this, particularly in the scenes involving one of the detective agency's other clients, an obviously gay man who enlists the agency to track down his former boyfriend, a magician. Truffaut makes the gay man an object of mockery, emphasizing the way the agency's owner sees right through the man's explanation that he wants them to find his "friend." Later, when the detectives tell the man that his "friend" is now married with a pregnant wife, he loses it, assaulting the detectives and eventually getting carted away. (The best part of that scene, though, is Léaud's possibly unscripted sudden fall off camera, tripping over an unseen obstacle in the midst of the chaotic scene.) The gay man provides comedic relief, his heartache over his breakup an object of derision and implicit mockery — a stark contrast to the treatment of Antoine's naïve romanticism and obsession with his amour du jour in this series.

The film is more compelling in its comedy when it comes to Tabard, the shoe store owner who hires the agency, he says, because even though he's a very successful businessman and, he thinks, a decent guy, he believes that everyone in his life, from his employees to his wife, actually hates him. Even in his first interview, he gives a first hint as to his true character, casually letting slip his racist sentiments even while insisting that he doesn't discriminate against anyone in his store — even Arabs and Chinamen, he says, not realizing that he's revealing more clues than he thinks. It gets better. Antoine gets a job in Tabard's store to observe the store owner's (nasty) interactions with his employees, and becomes obsessed with Tabard's wife Fabienne. Tabard is a jerk with his wife, too, and it's obvious that she looks at him with barely veiled contempt and annoyance. When Tabard says that he once painted houses, his wife, with a girlish smile, jokes, "like Hitler." Tabard slams down his fork, obviously angry, but the way he phrases his response, it almost sounds like he thinks she insulted, not him, but Hitler, by calling the dictator "a housepainter." "Hitler painted landscapes," he says indignantly, with the air of a man tired of hearing his hero slandered. The portrayal of Tabard as a silly fascist who wonders why nobody likes him is the film's richest vein of comedy.

In a way, the structuring of Stolen Kisses as a comedy robs the film of the depths conveyed by the earlier Antoine Doinel stories. In this film, Antoine is almost a bystander in his own story, observing the action and the weird characters around him but staying curiously uninvolved — which also works as a metaphor for the film's lack of political involvement. Antoine is almost a placeholder in this film, the strong emotions he displayed in the earlier films somewhat dimmed, held at a distance. The film is about Antoine's slow realization that he has to finally grow up, and in the final scene — having reconciled with Christine and proposed to her after a fling with Fabienne — he comes face to face with a romantic, passionate young man who wildly declares his love to Christine, who calls him "crazy." Antoine, one senses, would recognize himself in this fiercely romantic and impetuous man, and as Antoine walks away with Christine at the end of the film, disappearing down a tree-lined boulevard, he's leaving behind that iteration of himself. It's a powerful conclusion, but not one that's organically developed in the rest of the film, as Antoine simply shuffles from one job to another with little indication of what he's feeling on a deeper level, beyond his desire for one woman or another.

Even so, the film is at times charming, and the eccentric characters who populate the detective agency provide a real source of entertaining diversions. The heart of the film, though, is Christine, and Claude Jade's spritely performance, radiating girl-next-door charm and poise, makes her a compelling character. When she decides she wants Antoine back, and devises a simple ruse to bring him back to her, the mischievous smile on her face communicates everything one needs to know about her. Truffaut also stages a lovely scene in which the reunited lovers communicate entirely in short notes to one another, culminating with Antoine proposing to her and declaring his love, all accomplished silently, just watching the faces of the actors as they play this little game of non-verbal love. Delphine Seyrig's performance as Fabienne — which climaxes with an absolutely wonderful and meandering speech she gives to a silent, slightly frightened Antoine as she seduces him — is also great, and in many ways the two women overshadow Antoine, and Léaud, in his own movie.

It's sometimes a problem that Antoine seems peripheral to his own story, but the emphasis on the two women he loves restores some of the energy and richness that's otherwise lost here. The film is sometimes funny (Antoine trying out for a job as a stock boy, ineptly wrapping a package and getting the job because the owner wants a detective in house) and has clever flights of fancy like the sequence where a letter is tracked from the post office through the underground pneumatic tubes of Paris to its eventual destination, but on the whole it's an uneven third visit with Antoine Doinel, not nearly as satisfying or consistent, or as deep, as the first two entries in the series.

Scrolling Movies

While I was taking a break from writing I did a lot of movie watching, as always, but I also engaged in my newest favorite pastime, scrolling through movies. That's what I call it, at least. When I say, "I'm going to going to go scroll through some movies," what I mean is I'm going to take movies I've already seen, find them on Netflix Instant, and scroll through the thumbnails until I find a scene I want to watch. Like this:

For years, my goal was to have every movie I wanted to see at my fingertips, a goal shared by most cinephiles. First there was cable, which provided a lot more availability of titles but not at one's beck and call. Then came VHS which put the movie in one's hands but the fast forward and rewinding capabilities left much to be desired. Then came DVD which constituted a vast improvement. Now scenes could be "jumped" to but, still, there was the menu screen options, the chapter listings and then having to fast forward to the particular part once you've made it to the chapter. Now, with Netflix Instant, the dream of every cinephile is coming true.

Like most cinephiles, I've watched thousands of movies, thousands. And, like most, I think of them, scenes from them, lines from them, often. But I don't want to grab a stack of DVDs, go to the tv, load them in one by one, wait for the menu to come up, jump to the scene, etc. What I want, and what I now do, is waste (only I don't think it's wasted) hours at my laptop clicking on a movie I love and going to a favorite scene. Or, hell, picking a movie I think is a pile of crap but nevertheless has a few cool moments I'd like to see again. Or just going to the closing credits because there's a piece of music I'd like to hear.

Scrolling movies is dangerous though because it really can take up hours and hours of your time, especially when you realize half the shows from your childhood are now on Instant and you can spend, oh, let's say an hour just watching opening credit sequences from them. Like Mission: Impossible. Each credit sequence shows scenes from the upcoming episode. I watched it as a kid and when I saw it was available on Instant I immediately starting going through the opening sequences. I watched a few episodes in their entirety too but mainly, I focused on the openings.

Streaming movies offer cinephiles the ability to conduct their own film seminars in miniature where a film is dissected frame by frame. The seminar can last hours (sometimes I'll watch a movie, go back when it's done and pull out scene for further examination) or minutes as multiple films are explored. And the thumbnails take all the guesswork out of fast-forwarding or rewinding, allowing the cinephile the ability to stop right at the moment they want to watch.

It can also help reevaluate a movie. Sometimes in watching a moment or two from a film I originally found lackluster, I'll discover it's better than I remembered and end up watching the whole thing. Sometimes, the opposite occurs and I realize the scene wasn't that great and neither is the rest of the movie. It almost acts as a way of keeping up on your studies, so to speak. Rather than let a false memory, good or bad, linger and fester, you can go right to the source and make sure it's how you remembered it.

Now that it's here, there's no going back. I'll continue to scroll and, from time to time, report back on a scene or a moment or a line that led to a rediscovery. The fact is, after several decades of watching movies, I've frankly forgotten a lot of the details of films I saw in the beginning of my love for film and scrolling allows me to refresh my memory, one frame at time.