Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Imposition of Roles

Most films set in Europe during World War II tend to portray the most horrific aspects of battle or the Holocaust. In focusing on lives in occupied France that weren't as drastically affected as others, 1980's The Last Metro succeeds in conveying some of the broader scope of the horror, showing how the demon of intolerance saturated the media and social discourse. With gorgeous costumes and production design, this film by Francois Traffaut is also an ode to people whose commitment to artistic expression compels them to take incredible risks.

Lucas Steiner (Heinz Bennent) is a famous playwright, forced by the Nazi occupation to live in the cellar of the Theatre Montmartre. Like the Phantom of the Opera, he continues to write and listens to a production of his latest work being rehearsed on the stage above, passing notes through his wife, Marion (Catherine Deneuve), the only person who knows he's there. She brings him supplies and newspapers and sometimes, at great risk to herself, stays the night down there with him.

He explains to her how he tries to follow the news and listen to the radio but sooner or later he has to stop because he feels like he's being driven mad. Even the crossword puzzle is filled with anti-Semitic clues and answers. In one fascinating scene, he plays with a false nose while Marion cuts his hair, pondering the difficulty of playing a Jew. "If you underplay, they're skeptical" he says. "If you overplay, they say, 'He doesn't look Jewish.' What does it mean to 'look Jewish'?" It's an absurd question for him, a Jewish man, to be asking himself, yet as someone who works in the theatre he's especially attuned to how an audience simultaneously wants to see something real and something that fits their expectations. As an artist, he's always had to work with the Jew that existed in the mind of the audience and so he has a unique insight into how that illusion has taken hold in the public mind.

We don't learn much about the play which is rehearsed and finally performed over the course of the film, just isolated scenes of dialogue. It doesn't seem to be about Jews but from the way the character played by Marion talks about her self-image as someone who didn't seem worthy of being loved one wonders if Steiner has transposed his feelings to her character.

Mainly an ensemble film, mostly the movie's centred on Marion who certainly has a full plate. Famous as a movie actress, Marion is now working in the theatre both as lead actress and a figurehead manager for her seemingly absent husband. The film begins with the point of view of Bernard (Gerard Depardieu) who overhears her insisting they be very careful not to hire anyone Jewish or with Jewish family members. Her husband's precarious situation forces her to feign loyalty to anti-Semitic policy. A virulently anti-Semitic theatre critic tries to draw her out by expressing sympathy for her husband--in talking to him, she has to protect her husband as well as try to persuade the critic not to write a negative review of the production--like Lucas' hypothetical Jewish character, she can't overplay her part and Deneuve is excellent letting just enough anxiety show through.

I've never really understood the appeal of Gerard Depardieu so it takes some imagination on my part to understand why people in this movie seem so attracted to him. But he gives a decent performance as a young man whose well meaning but tactless passions can endear him to others even as he brings them to the edge of disaster. Mainly this is Deneuve's film and her subtlety is captivating.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

A Rebel's Journey Through Time

One thing was made clear by last night's two new Star Wars Rebels episodes--the show is a lot better looking than it was in season 1. It looks about as good now as Clone Wars looked in its last couple seasons so I guess Dave Filoni finally convinced Disney it was worth spending money on a show like this. If only Rebels had the same calibre of creative talent when it came to writing.

Spoilers after the screenshot

I watched the "Rebels Recon" followup interview package that went with these two new episodes. Dave Filoni, showrunner on Rebels and nominally on Clone Wars, wrote and co-directed last night's two episodes and in the interview segment he talks about how the "Mortis Gods" featured in the episodes were created by George Lucas for a story arc on Clone Wars. Not my favourite arc from Clone Wars as it happens. They look pretty cool and I like design of the mural but I don't really like the vaguely Catholic Holy Trinity aspect of the Mortis Gods. It is, however, another example of the show leaning on teases of things Lucas came with to try to string us along with Ezra's (Taylor Gray) story. An even better example is when Ezra enters the cave, hears a bunch of soundclips from all over Star Wars history, and then saves Ahsoka Tano (Ashley Eckstein) from her duel with Vader via a time portal on what looks like a great Mario Kart map.

So they actually came up with an explanation for that lame jump in time at the climax of season 2. I only wish Ezra had reached further back to when Ahsoka had her original face. I'm glad she's alive, hopefully in her next incarnation she'll look like herself. There was a little while where Rosario Dawson was rumoured to be up for a life action Ahsoka, something I whole-heartedly endorse. There is a real physical resemblance and Dawson is one of the most under-appreciated actors of the past thirty years.

Anyway, of course Ahsoka being there is all about Ezra and her teaching him how to let go of Kanan. I guess if Ezra's voice didn't annoy me so much, and I wasn't so bitter about how Ahsoka's been relegated to an advisor role on this series, I could've found the moment poignant. Ezra's one of two elements that Filoni seems to consider a point of deep personal expression, the other being those Loth Wolves.

If only they didn't look exactly like the wolves from Princess Mononoke, something I'm far from alone in noticing. It invites a really unflattering comparison for Rebels. So far they've been transport and quest givers on Rebels, nothing like the truly fascinating dramatic conflict from the Miyazaki film about the need for humanity to exploit nature for survival. But last night's episodes of Rebels did introduce an interesting Imperial character voiced by Malcolm McDowell.

Until he inexplicably had a stormtrooper knock Sabine (Tiya Sircar) in the head I liked how he was actually trying to win her over instead of immediately going for the slobbering Nazi interrogator thing. Though here, as I have since the beginning of the series, I found Sabine's attitude about art insulting. In season one we were supposed to take her Sixth Doctor colour palette as a sign that she was just so creative and rebellious, and now she says that everything about art has meaning, like it's a secret code only artists can read. I did like how the score seemed almost to be quoting Raiders of the Lost Ark when she and Ezra were looking at the mural, though.

Ian McDiarmid returned as Palpatine, the Emperor, last night, which was great, though his moments felt a little deflated. Being absent for the whole series, and absent in Rogue One, has lent him some mystique that felt kind of squandered by him showing up to have a chat with McDowell's character. And the idea of him caring so much about Ezra seemed ridiculous.

This moment at the end with Ezra and Hera (Vanessa Marshall) was nice, though. Really pretty. I hope Ezra dies early on next week so I can enjoy these visuals without him around. I hope his eyebrows fall off when dies, like that guy from FLCL.

Twitter Sonnet #1088

A quarter candle's lit for later ghosts.
The fire shades support a nymph and swain.
Into the ceiling reach the leafy hosts.
A deep above, a pitch as blood contained.
A string denotes the brow against the paint.
A struggling wind revived the ancient drapes.
Recumbent wrists in darkened heat were faint.
The silhouettes in plaster burned their shapes.
The blurring branches blend behind a tree.
Tornadoes smaller than the dream approach.
The second leaf in ev'ry bush can see.
A watchful ceiling cloud amassed reproach.
A shadow's budget broke the paper dogs.
A velvet fire's stitched to velvet logs.

Monday, February 26, 2018

The Important Uselessness

The Chinese Cultural Revolution seems to be on a lot of people's minds lately and it's gotten me thinking about how much I loved Fifth Generation Chinese films in the 90s. I used to prowl the video stores and sit through Bravo marathons of movies like Ju Dou and To Live, innumerable movies, most of them starring the amazing Gong Li. I didn't know anything about Chinese history, I'd never even heard the term "Fifth Generation", all I knew is there seemed to be an awful lot of Chinese movies that followed characters over the tumultuous decades of the 20th century in China. By far my favourite, though, was 1993's Farewell My Concubine (霸王別姬).

I really loved this movie. Long before the days of internet piracy, I used to have two VCRs connected to each other to copy gems from the video store. These copies were pretty lousy, as you might imagine, and it wasn't good enough for me when it came to Farewell My Concubine so I eventually bought it in widescreen on VHS--back when widescreen versions were still hard to find because it was only loonies who wanted movies with black bars on the top and bottom. But the earliest mention of Farewell My Concubine in my blog is a 2003 entry where all I said of it was, "I should also note that on Tuesday I purchased Farewell My Concubine at Tower Records for just fifteen dollars." Fifteen dollars really was a good price for a DVD at that point. Though to-day Farewell My Concubine is listed on Amazon for $54.98 with only one copy left in stock--and it looks like exactly the same DVD edition I found in a bargain bin in 2003. Apparently not as many people remember it as fondly as I do. There's a Chinese Blu-Ray on Pirate Bay but it's not the director's cut, lacking 14 minutes. Like a lot of Chinese movies, it was only editions released in other countries that showed viewers the version without the input of Chinese censors.

I didn't know it at the time but when I bought it in August 2003 it was only a few months after the film's star, Leslie Cheung, had committed suicide, jumping from the 24th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Hong Kong. According to Wikipedia, "Before his death, Cheung mentioned in interviews that he had become depressed because of negative comments about gender-crossing in his Passion Tour concert. He had planned to retire from stage performance because of the strain of being a gay artist in Hong Kong, facing stigmatization, surveillance, and marginalization."

It's hard not to think about how this resembles the life of Cheng Dieyi, the character he played in Farewell My Concubine. Trained from an early age in the brutal Beijing theatre world, Dieyi becomes associated with the role of the concubine in a famous Beijing opera, also called "Farewell My Concubine", who commits suicide before her lover's, the king's, defeat. The movie, like other Fifth Generation films, has the changing cultural and political world of China interwoven with the foreground story, in this case Dieyi's lifelong troubled love for his co-star, Duan Xiaolou (Zhang Fengyi), a love frustrated further when Xiaolou marries a prostitute named Juxian (Gong Li).

In 2007, I revisited the film and wrote a lengthy entry on it. I remember at the time not quite understanding why I'd been so in love with it six or seven years earlier. Now I find myself much more in agreement with late 90s me than with 2007 me. Part of the problem, I think, is I was really happy at that point in 2007, possibly the happiest I've been in my life, and I'm not sure it's a movie you can fully appreciate if you're that happy. But watching it again a few nights ago, it really became clear to me why it was so important to me. In 2007 I wrote, "I could have done without a lot of the political aspects of the movie, as it's more often a distraction from the far more interesting personal drama than a vehicle for it." Now I couldn't disagree with myself more. For one thing, the movie really avoids taking a side--it portrays politics but the story itself is apolitical, which in itself was a pretty audacious political move compared to art in China under Mao. Just this morning I read this article at Atlas Obscura about a former Chinese propaganda artist who says: "in that era, every artist must do propaganda work, because Mao told us that art is merely a tool for the revolution."

Farewell My Concubine's director, Chen Kaige, pulls no punches in portraying life for aspiring actors in pre-World War II Beijing. He shows a school where children lived and trained, subject to regular physical abuse. The troupe's existence depends on wealthy patrons and everyone quietly looks the other way when pre-pubescent Dieyi is at one point taken behind closed doors where it's quietly understood the patron will rape the child.

Then, in Japanese occupied China, political favour from the Japanese is essential for survival but immediately afterwards draws popular rebuke. Dieyi and Xiaolou find themselves having to carefully navigate the balance of political sympathies as adults, now famous opera singers. Then the Cultural Revolution happens and the opera itself, as something old and, even worse, decadent, is irredeemable. As bad as everything is shown to be before the Cultural Revolution, there's a surpassing ugliness in the scenes where the opera troupe are dragged out into a public square in full makeup and forced to confess their personal relationships before the People.

What really made the movie important to me in the late 90s was Dieyi's perspective throughout all this. This was at the same time I was obsessed with Oscar Wilde and the "art for art's sake" ideal. In one trial scene, Xiaolou vents his exasperation at Dieyi's personality, how Dieyi seems as though he would live the role of the concubine, how the mad Dieyi would sing for Chinese, Japanese, Capitalists, or Communists, he didn't care. All that mattered to him was the opera. We see this all through the movie. When Dieyi is a kid and he and another actor in training temporarily escape from the school, the two go straight to an opera house where adults are performing the operas the two have been training for from dawn to dusk every day. In spite of the pain and abuse, Dieyi is captivated by the costumes and performance.

This was years before I saw Powell and Pressburger's The Red Shoes. I wonder if it was an influence on Kaige. In any case, it was good watching Farewell My Concubine again. In these weird years, it was good to have a reminder of how I came to think and feel the way I do about art. I'm amazed my DVD still works.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

A Good Home for the Circulation

Just once I'd like to be offered money to spend all night in a haunted house, though preferably more than the ten pounds offered to the man in 1964's Castle of Blood (Danza Macabra). A gorgeously shot film from directors Antonio Margheriti and Sergio Corbucci, it goes for the classic haunted house vibe with gusto. The beautiful Barbara Steele gives an intense performance in the lead role.

The 1960s saw several films from Roger Corman that played fast and loose with adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe stories but I haven't seen any that take quite as many liberties as Castle of Blood. The opening titles say its based on an Edgar Allan Poe story and even features Poe as a character (played by Silvano Tranquilli) but there's not one aspect of the film that bears any significant resemblance to anything Poe wrote. In this version of reality, Poe's stories are all based on his real experiences and they all seem to be about people returning from the grave, an idea scoffed at by a journalist named Alan Foster (Georges Riviere). He's interviewing Poe in a pub when another man, Lord Thomas Blackwood (Umberto Raho), proposes the fateful ten pound bet that Alan can't make it through a night in his castle.

Thomas seems confident because several other people have tried and died, something the men discuss in an oddly casual manner. Alan laughs and accepts the challenge because he doesn't believe in ghosts, kind of missing the obvious fact that people really have died, whatever the cause.

Once alone in the castle, Alan spends some time wandering around and the filmmakers take the opportunity to pile on with shadows, cobwebs, candelabra, all the good things in life, before people start showing up in the supposedly abandoned place. The first one Alan meets is the beautiful Elisabeth Blackwood (Barbara Steele) who's wandering about in her nightgown. She tells him how her brother, Thomas, tells people she's dead only because she's dead to him.

As more and more people manifest, Alan is made privy to the juicy details of the love polygon that mostly involved beautiful men, and one woman, fighting and killing each other for the love of Elisabeth. Elisabeth, in turn, falls for Alan which, whatever might become of him, has got to be good for his ego.

There's something in the portrayal of spirits trapped in a place, forced to continually dwell on their pain and unfulfilled desires, that has a real resonance but mostly this film is just a nice soak in wonderful atmosphere.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Multi-Mel-verse

Those looking to finally hear about how the Sixth Doctor met his companion Mel will kind of get what they want with the 2013 audio play The Wrong Doctors. I admire writer Matt Fitton's decision to make a confusing and weird moment from the television series even more confusing and weird instead of tidying it up. It's mainly an enjoyable story though Bonnie Langford makes things even more confusing by getting her lines wrong from time to time.

The final season of the television series to star the Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) aired in 1986, comprised of four stories that were all tied together in a season long arch called The Trial of a Time Lord. Each individual story featured a framing story where the Doctor was on trial on Gallifrey and the various tales were shown to him and the court as evidence of whether or not he'd been a good Time Lord. In the third story, Terror of the Vervoids, an adventure from the Doctor's future was shown, featuring a companion, Mel (Bonnie Langford), the Doctor had not yet met. When the season's story arc resolved, the Doctor from earlier in the time stream, the one on trial, went off with Mel as a companion, not quite mentioning the trouble this caused since she came from further ahead in his time stream. Essentially, the Doctor started travelling with Mel because she came from a future where she was travelling with the Doctor. In the following season she became a companion to the Seventh Doctor, denying the writers any opportunity to explore the paradox, if they even intended to. The somewhat chaotic situation with the writing staff at the time, and Colin Baker's sudden departure, prevented the show from following up on the topic. According to Wikipedia, writers from the show at the time, Pip and Jane Baker, addressed the issue in their novelisation of The Ultimate Foe, the final story in Trial of a Time Lord. But the paradox is my favourite thing about that otherwise really annoying companion with the squeaky voice.

The Wrong Doctors picks up with the Doctor sad and alone after the departure of the excellent audio companion Evelyn Smythe--the actress who played her, Maggie Stables, had retired due to illness that caused her death a year later. So Six decides its finally time to meet Mel for the "first" time. The story cuts between this and scenes where the Sixth Doctor, earlier in his time stream, is dropping Mel off at her home in the town of Pease Pottage so he can have the opportunity to meet her for the first time properly. Everything goes wrong when both Sixth Doctors meet after their TARDISes are stolen; there are inexplicably two Mels, one of whom doesn't seem to be as smart as the other; and there are dinosaurs and Victorians roaming the streets.

Age has improved Langford's squeaky voice somewhat, it's not quite as grating, so I don't mind that it doesn't make sense that she sounds older than she's supposed to be in the story. The two versions of Six are played off against each other under the theory that the audio plays have softened Six a little bit from the obnoxious, arrogant personality fans dislike about him on the television series, but the difference is really too subtle to justify how the characters remark on it in the audio play. But the plot which explains the strange goings on is delivered nicely enough by entertaining dialogue between the characters, though it still never manages quite to give us a picture of how the Doctor and Mel met. But maybe that's for the best.

Twitter Sonnet #1087

In styrofoam a face awaits the flame.
In cases gilt the chairs await the kings.
On circuits hid electrics tell the name.
On lobby desks within the metal rings.
'Twas bread surrounded lettuce late at night.
For sandwich worsts the only quiet dog.
Unspeaking parts attest to clamour right.
Alas for cymbals shining through the fog.
The clashing oats revealed a winning meal.
In time a pottage placed a building gruel.
In faceless porridge breakfast grains'll deal.
A field of post at dawn is much the rule.
A blue return on countless stones emerged.
The plastic pushed where thoughts and dreams converged.

Friday, February 23, 2018

More Paper than Man

When I first saw this I thought it was photoshopped. But it's real. High def cameras and his own surprisingly good handwriting are Trump's enemies. One of the sickening things about him is just what a cheap imitation he seems to be, just how thin and obvious his facade is. Look at the 45 on his shirt cuff. Because he's the 45th president. It's like the "M" on Mario's hat. It goes with the power ties that are taped instead of clipped. He's like a parody, like a personification of cheap "how to succeed in business" tips from a self help book from the 80s. And here he is holding a listening session with children, parents, and administrators whose lives were impacted by gun violence at schools. Everything about him, from his apparent lack of interest in the meeting to his vague ideas about opening more mental institutions to put potential killers in seems to herald the complete lack of change that will result in policy from this shooting.

In a way, Trump is a more fitting president than Obama. It was hard to rail against Obama for the lack of change on gun laws, he always gave the impression he really understood and deeply cared about the issue. Trump is a perfect figurehead for all of the greed and apathy that has stymied any productive change since Columbine. It's easier to focus one's anger now that the person in office reflects what the institution accomplishes.

The full listening session can be seen here. A lot of sites and articles edit out the students and parents that agree with Trump's ideas. One parent in particular speaks passionately for the idea of arming teachers while one of the students speaks passionately against it. One parent of a victim of the Sandy Hook shooting points out that guns in the hands of teachers aren't much of a deterrent for shooters who figure they're on a suicide mission anyway. I haven't heard of any school shooters escaping harm or capture.

Another parent of a Sandy Hook victim points out how solutions involving putting more guns in schools are focused on dealing with the problem after it's manifested instead of preventing it. Even Trump's vague idea of creating more mental institutions seems like it's suggested in the spirit of putting dangerous people away and forgetting about them like garbage in a landfill. He doesn't just seem like he doesn't understand the issue, he seems angry at the idea that he should understand it.

He does seem more fired up to-day as he responded to the revived crowd chant of "Lock her up!", referring to Hillary Clinton, with "Everything that's turning out — now, it's amazing. It's come full circle. Wow, have they committed a lot of atrocities?" There is not one part of that statement where I can see any connexion with reality. Who are "they"? How has it come "full circle"? And "atrocities"? Is he using that word, a week after a massacre, to refer to a political party now in the minority? Maybe he got his notes mixed up.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Ordinary Trouble

There's something audacious about how unremarkable the story is in 1939's The Whole Family Works (はたらく一家). Directed by Mikio Naruse, who by this time had only a few sound films under his belt, it shows his improved proficiency with the medium while still not being like the nuanced, dark melodramas he directed in the 50s and 60s. Nonetheless, in focusing on the unremarkable events in the lives of a ordinary family in financial trouble, it subtly highlights problems in the Japanese economy at a time when most filmmakers in Japan were making propaganda films for the war effort.

As the title suggests, the whole family works. Well, really just the father, Ishimura (Musei Tokugawa), and the four eldest sons, the other kids are still too young and Mrs. Ishimura (Noriko Honma) works hard at the domestic duties of a housewife who doesn't have a lot of cash to work with. Ishimura and four of his sons all work in dead end, menial jobs.

The eldest son, though, Kiichi (Akira Ubukata), has a little ambition and this serves as the point of tension for the whole film--he wants to take off five years to go to school in the hopes of getting a better job so he can provide for the family. This may seem a trivial problem for a movie but Naruse makes it clear how delicate the situation really is for the people involved, spending a lot of time focusing on Ishimura mulling over the issue. Even with five people in the family working, they're already barely getting by and the loss of just one source of income for five years could be devastating.

One might expect a scene where Kiichi does something drastic or embarrassing but in the climax of the film he just gets drunk, something his father doesn't even mind. In conversation with another man, Ishimura says he's much more worried about Kiichi getting a girlfriend so the young woman who tends the local bar, Mitsuko (Sumie Tsubaki), seems to him a much bigger danger than the alcohol she serves. The last thing he needs is an addition to the family, a source of stress that adds some subtly melancholy tension to seemingly innocent and friendly conversations between Mitsuko and the sons.

Only just over an hour long, nothing terribly dramatic happens in the film but with Naruse's storytelling instincts its a nice little snapshot of the tensions experienced by a family in a precarious situation.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Continuing Story of Hazardous Heights

Do the eyes of love see accurately? Should they? When Julie confesses to lying to Mahe at the beginning of Francois Truffaut's 1969 film Mississippi Mermaid (La sirène du Mississipi) he says he doesn't mind, in fact he finds it charming. But this is only the tip of an iceberg of lies in this fascinating film and also only the first hint of the love Mahe feels for deceptions. Beginning with a dedication to B movies and Jean Renoir, Truffaut's film arguably justifies both of those dedications but more than anything Mississippi Mermaid seems to me a commentary on Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.

In the film's central scene, Catherine Deneuve's character, Julie/Marion, wears the signature hairstyle of Judy/Madeleine, Kim Novak's character from Vertigo. Set in a hotel room like the central, revelatory scenes of Vertigo, Truffaut doesn't bath the walls in green light the way Hitchcock does but the gorgeous Impressionist painting wallpaper, counterfeiting nature through an artist's perspective, reflects the role of fantasy, or delusion, in romance.

But the film could also be seen as a thematic sequel to Vertigo for how it follows up on some potential threads Vertigo left unexamined. It's after this central scene that Mississippi Mermaid enters new territory as Mahe (Jean-Paul Belmondo) becomes a willing accomplice and the two have an unstable relationship on the lam in France. Sometimes Mahe's sense of righteousness asserts itself in passive aggressive jabs at her, his anger not unreasonable considering, like Judy, she played a role in a murder, in this case the murder of a woman he knew and believed he loved. But what's love?

The real Julie, whom we never see, died before the events of the movie began, on a steamer called the Mississipi, on her way to Reunion, a small island east of Madagascar. Occupied by the French since the mid-17th century, Mahe shares a name with Mahe de La Bouronnais, an 18th century governor of the island. Since the movie was made during the middle of the Vietnam War, the clear allusions to French colonialism have a significant impact, particularly in how out of touch the colonialist dream turned out to be with reality. Or in how that dream was a destructive influence. Belmondo's Mahe fell in love with Julie through correspondence in which he told her he was a worker at a cigarette factory. In reality, he's the wealthy owner of a tobacco plantation--ironically, his attempt at deception was meant to prove his potential bride's honesty, but it's a deception Deneuve's character later gleefully tells him the real Julie saw through.

The fact that Deneuve's character turns out to be more beautiful than the picture Mahe has of Julie is more important to him than the suspicious fact that she looks like a completely different person, much as Scottie in Vertigo fails to identify the flaw in his own logic when he decides to accept the job of following Madaleine after he's seen how beautiful she is. Presumably there was real affection, though, between Mahe and the woman he exchanged letters with but since she knew more about him than he thought she did it's possible she was only manipulating him as Deneuve's character was. This is what Deneuve claims Julie was doing in that central hotel room scene.

She claims to have been honest about one thing, she was raised in an orphanage, and its from here she launches into a self-analysis and account that Judy never had a chance to give Scottie but which one might deduce from careful viewing of Vertigo. Marion (Deneuve) says, "When you get out of orphanage you're either brainwashed or rebellious. I threw myself into life. At fourteen I got my first high heels. A man bought them for me." Here the movie's dedication to B movies makes sense as she tells Mahe the pulp novels she read, and he scoffed at, were books she treasured because of how they reflected her life in ways other books didn't. Already from an early age, she's learning what men want from her and she's learning how to use it against them to get what she wants. You notice she doesn't say whether she was brainwashed or rebellious and it's a matter of opinion which she was by the time she and an unseen accomplice and mastermind named Richard orchestrated the job they pulled on Mahe.

The tragic note on which Vertigo ends is Judy arguing that she truly loved Scottie and him having the internal conflict over whether or not he loved her or only the dream of Madeleine. Mississippi Mermaid gives us the follow up relationship that might have been. Unlike Scottie trying to recreate Madeleine by controlling Judy's clothes and hair, Marion takes control in the latter half of Mississippi Mermaid, choosing a red sports car for the two of them despite Mahe's concern that it's too flashy, and in a reversal of the scene where Scottie carefully picks out Judy's clothes, Marion picks out a coat from a store window and wears it despite Mahe's concerns that it'll make her look suspicious. The relationship isn't smooth and there are moments where each, in turn, seems inclined to betray the other, each time leading to poignant reconciliations that seem tragic for the characters' awareness of how destructive they are to each other.

Both Deneuve and Belmondo are fantastic in the movie. Belmondo is quite a daredevil in it, too, as in one scene he quickly climbs up the side of a building and through the open window of that hotel room. I guess he certainly doesn't get vertigo.

Shot all on location in Reunion and France, and with impeccable costumes (I want every outfit Belmondo wears in this movie), Truffaut makes this intriguing story about love and artifice truly beautiful.

Twitter Sonnet #1086

We came by climbs distorted for the lake.
The grinding bean reports caffeine to cops.
About cigars we dialled smoke to take.
The biggest egg regrets the frequent stops.
The fingerprints were green in case of time.
In counting threads the scarf was mostly red.
On books suspended high above we climb.
The pages blur for raining words unsaid.
The pamphlets unexpected found were bliss.
In keeping poison up the apple taught.
From cheddar grounds we punctured jack for swiss.
In coats a turtle's neck was warmly bought.
The music of the screws fell in the pail.
A crumpled map revealed the paper tale.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

A One Sided Space Affair

Star Wars: Rebels finally returned last night with two new episodes. Excited? Well, although the writing quality hasn't much improved, even surprisingly indulging in several unpopular gender related plot devices, it did at least deliver one plot point I'd been fervently hoping for since the series began.

Spoilers after the screenshot

Kanan (Freddie Prinze with a Z Jr.) is finally dead. I was hoping for something more humiliating, like falling face first into lava while making a bad joke, but the important thing is he's gone. Unless the show again pulls its punch like it did with Sabine's (Tiya Sircar) mother at the beginning of the season.

But obviously Kanan and probably Ezra (Taylor Gray) need to be dead for the premise of Rogue One and A New Hope of a galaxy without Jedi. Then again, I would've thought it would be important for the Rebels not to be destroying a Star Destroyer every five minutes the way they do on Rebels, so who knows. The first of last night's two new episodes, "Jedi Night", did seem to be making an attempt to make things look a little more desperate, though, and the destruction of the fuel for the TIE Defender factory seemed like it was being treated as a miraculous victory. It almost made the show seem like it belonged in the galaxy dominated by a seemingly unstoppable Empire we see in the films.

Of course, it's part of Kanan's whole flattering death package. His martyrdom comes after saving a drugged and physically tortured Hera (Vanessa Marshall) whose humiliating state allows the writers to side step any real development of their relationship until she confesses her love to him. Then Kanan has the awkward line about how it's "the Truth Serum talking"--wouldn't that mean it's true, then? Hera confesses her love and Kanan, as a stoic figure of weirdly retrograde masculinity, doesn't say he loves her back.

Isn't that like Han and Leia in the climax of Empire Strikes Back? Not really. One of the reasons Harrison Ford's performance in both the original Star Wars trilogy and the Indiana Jones films is such a revelation is the vulnerability with which he imbued his otherwise old fashioned heroic characters. In Empire Strikes Back it's in the writing, too--as much as he seems to have Leia pegged when he alludes to her true feelings for him on Hoth, its his preoccupation with her feelings that reveals his. Leia picks up on this and that's why he looks hurt when she kisses Luke. When he's put in carbonite on Bespin, she shows herself to have more strength by being honest with her feelings while Han hides behind his cockiness--"I know"--which has the gutpunch effect of making his fate seem all the more horrible. He's not ready to die, he's at least as much of a kid as he's accused her of being.

The relationship between Hera and Kanan depicted in "Jedi Night" is downright creepy by comparison. He almost takes paternal custody of her while she's loopy from the drugs, something that becomes even more uncomfortable with suggestive shots like this one:

It's less about a relationship than it is about Kanan winning her with his chivalry.

The second of last night's two new episodes, "Dume", features the return of the wolves from Princess Mononoke, called "Loth Wolves" on Rebels because they're native to Lothal, much like Loth Cats and presumably Loth Blue Whales and Loth Praying Mantises. One of them seems to be a reincarnation of Kanan. The sequence, with all the trappings of spiritual revelation, turns out to be all about giving Ezra a new quest.

Meanwhile, Sabine and Zeb (Steven Blum) have a fight with Rukh (Warwick Davis). They first spot him from a distance and have some strange dialogue where they refer to him as an "it" and a "thing", which is odd considering Zeb looks way more alien than he does and regular encounters with much stranger looking people seem to be fairly normal in the Star Wars universe. It takes on disturbing connotations when one considers the Noghri, Rukh's species, have a history as an enslaved people in the old Expanded Universe. The fight itself is okay except Sabine can't seem to hit him when he's standing still in front of her and she's using two guns. And for some reason both her and Zeb think it's a good idea to send him back to the Imperial base unharmed but covered with paint. Obviously we're dealing with a very different wing of the Rebellion than the one Cassian Andor belongs to.

The lighting was pretty nice in these two episodes and as usual Vanessa Marshall gives a standout performance as Hera. Hopefully she has a much better role on the show going forward. I'll keep watching hoping for that and I'm looking forward to hearing Ian McDiarmid back as Palpatine. But I really hope the multiple Star Wars series Disney reportedly has in development will have better writers.