Les Mistons is Truffaut’s second film, made when Truffaut was 25 years old and shortly before Les quatre cent coups . Les Mistons deals with emergent sexual awareness in childhood. Truffaut notes,”Most films about childhood make the adult serious and the child frivolous. Quite the other way round.” He develops this sentiment further in L’enfant sauvage ; and L’argent de poche .
Godard wrote in Cahiers du cinéma that “With Les quatre cent coups,Truffaut enters both modern cinema and the classrooms of our childhood. Bernanos’s humiliated children. Vitrac’s children in power. Melville-Cocteau’s enfants terribles. Vigo’s children, Rossellini’ s children, in a word Truffaut’s—a phrase which will become common as soon as the film comes out. Soon people will say Truffaut’s children as they say Bengal Lancers, spoil-sports, Mafia chiefs, road-hogs, or again in a word—cinema-addicts. In Les quatre cent coups, the director of Les Mistons will again have his camera, not up there with the men like Old Man Hawks, but down among the children.”
Here is a poster for the movie Les Vampires by Louis Feuillade. It is a signed lithograph currently on display as part of the permanent exhibition at the Cinematheque Francaise. It is a little known fact that the actress Musidora depicted here actually worked at the ticket booth at the Cinematheque Francaise until 1943.
Musidora, who not only starred in films but also directed and produced them, is worthy of a blog post in her own right (and a New York City retrospective for my money). Here’s a brief glimpse from Soleil et Ombre , one of the two films that she directed that has survived:
I saw N.U. for the first time on film as part of the recent Antonioni Centenary conference; and what a revelation it was. Though it clocks in at around ten minutes, it qualifies as a miniature masterpiece.
N.U. is set in Rome. The first frames go by in flashes without any apparent link and without the rhythmic games of montage. We then discover the city through the eyes of the sanitation workers, and our eye is drawn to minute details as well as grand monuments, such as a homeless man and the Spanish steps of the Trinità dei Monti. The sweepers’ work is routine and their gestures seem automated, but Antonioni imbues even the simple act of sweeping with poetry and humanity. With minimal voiceover, Antonioni focuses on the immobility of the workers when he isolates figures in space. Time is suspended, accompanied by a contrapuntal and aesthetically discordant (but for that reason very effective) jazz soundtrack. There is a reflexive pause when Antonioni cuts to a shot of a soldier lingering in front of a cinema. Note the last deep focus, extra-long take on the poles receding into the distance in a painterly, perspectival manner.
Antonioni explained why there were few internal shots of the homes: “It would have required lighting which we did not have at our disposal: therefore we remained on the street. Let’s say that I constructed an aesthetic system from this fact. Even the other Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel within the space he was assigned.”
Directors were more sensitive than the critics to Antonioni’s documentary work, which is at the very heart of his aesthetic. Valerio Zurlini states: “For us who were then busy with documentaries, N.U. was the revelation of a master. It made an extraordinary effect on us, like the great films of De Sica and Rossellini. We didn’t have eyes suited to looking at the city. Antonioni made us see it for the first time. All my documentaries, and not only mine, are indebted to N.U.“
Let’s get down to brass tacks: there are few things I love more than hardboiled film noir dialogue—that outrageous, rapid-fire back-and-forth smothered in pulp and peppered with slang. It’s a major source of the genre’s appeal, cloaking the film in the seedy, coded vernacular of the underworld. The tough talk in The Sweet Smell of Success represents a particular apogee of the form, and the neurotically articulate screenplay is chock-full of colorful metaphors, New York argot, and punchy one-liners. Some of the most memorable: “You’re a cookie full of arsenic,” “Just don’t leave me in a minor key,” ‘Your dead son, get yourself buried,” and “The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river.”
Which brings us to Christpher Wool. This fine example of Wool’s language-based painting is now on view at MoMA as part of their current refresh of the Contemporary Galleries, and its visual impact is akin to that of a New York Post headline: graphic, sensational, and not overly predisposed to sublety. Wool appropriates this evocative line from the film, shortens it like a text message, and then stencils it imperfectly in pump-em-full-of-lead-black on a stark white background. “CATS INBAG BAGS IN RIVER suddenly morphs into a puckish haiku, a expression of hardnosed lyricism. Sidney Falco, the character who utters this juicy bit of repartee in the film, is someone that we come to admire for his gumption in doing away with the competition, and his cockiness has a comic edge. This painting too, manifests a certain biting humor, a humor that mocks the seriousness of painting and pays tribute to all of the sinister smart guys in the room—of which Christopher Wool is one.
Here’s Mr. Falco himself, aka Tony Curtis, delivering the line full of piss, vinegar and snarling ambition. Don’t be a two-time loser: see this classic if you haven’t already, and then check out this painting in person.
Death, from Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, makes a cameo.
Ming Wong’s Persona Performa at the Museum of the Moving Image was one of the highlights of 2011 for me, in part because it synthesized the genres I’m most passionate about: cinema, art, and live performance. Ming Wong, a multimedia artist whose name deserves to be better known in the art and film worlds, created a fluid experience that morphed from a museum-installation to a theater piece to a dance sequence, to culminate in a screening-cum-performance. These different segments bled into one another quite seamlessly, emphasizing the protean nature of live performance as the audience moved throughout various spaces in the museum.
The catalyst for Wong’s piece—or perhaps the navel—is Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, one of director’s most austerely experimental works and the film that Susan Sontag deemed his masterpiece. Persona is centered on the relationship between two women: an actress who has suffered a nervous breakdown (Liv Ullmann) and the nurse who is assigned to take care of her (Bibi Andersson). The film is most renowned for an iconic sequence in which the same conversation is shown from both characters’ perspectives. The final scene will make you gasp.
Wong’s piece fleshes out the central motifs of the film, that of communication and doubling. Actors and actresses in blond wigs performed continuous configurations, deconstructions and reconfigurations of the film’s gestures, pairing up at the finale to mimic moments from the film in different languages with their images projected on the screen behind them. The performers were a diverse group of women and men, reflecting the diversity of the surrounding neighborhood, Astoria (which a narrator refers to cheekily as “Actoria”), and adding a layer of variation and defamiliarization. Here’s glimpse of what the performance looked like, but please don’t mistake the copy for the real thing—the actual event was immersive in a way that a YouTube video can never be.
Ming Wong’s practice reminds me a bit of Yasumasa Morimura, the Japanese visual artist who alters famous paintings to include his own image. For his video installations, Wong often impersonates characters from the movies—enacting his cine-obsessions as well as subverting expectations of gender and race. Wong (who is from Singapore originally but resides in Berlin) has drawn inspiration from auteurs such as Wong Kar-Wai, Fassbinder, Pasolini, Visconti, and Sirk, as well as exploring classic cinema from Singapore and Malaysia. Almost all of his pieces deal with language barriers, in juxtaposition to the obstensible universality of film-image. Though originally he was both the director and star of his films, his recent productions have become larger in scope, with several cast members, more elaborate sets and costumes, and numerous locations. For his next project, I’d love to see him take on a film that explicitly engages in multilingual wordplay (Godard, anyone?) collaborate with a well-known auteur (maybe that master of genre satire Tsai Ming-Liang) or re-construct an epic film—his artistic capacity to speak through the medium of cinema comes through loud and clear.
I found it – the utterly asinine and sexist beer commercial that Scorsese referred to this 1993 letter to the New York Times.The ad is obviously satirizing a Fellini film, and was part of a larger campaign with the tagline, “Why ask why? Try Bud Dry.”
Fostering willful idiocy as a sales tactic? Yup, sounds like America.
I love this poster for the French release of Chaplin’s short film A Woman, in which he cross-dresses to fool the father of a girl he met in the park. He even shaves his iconic moustasche, and I have to say, he makes quite the handsome woman!
I have been thinking a lot about color, and about artists and their relationships to their materials. I myself am a color junkie, and dramatic color is like a shot of adrenaline to me. The directors/cinematographers who share my chromophilia — Vincente Minnelli, Antonioni, Almodóvar, and Zach Cardiff’s cinematography in The Red Shoes immediately come to mind — understand the emotional essence of each shade in the spectrum. Red excites and stimulates. Green is a sedative. Yellow vacillates between sunny and sickening. Orange is talkative. Blue is always one of two moods: Yves Klein Electric or Plaintive Picasso.
From Picasso's Blue Period: Portrait d’Angel Fernandez de Soto
Lately I have been struck by the fact that the intensity of a certain hue is umbilically tied to its medium. Technicolor is indisputably the most significant development for color filmmaking in the 20th century, and one could argue that it precipitated a completely new approach to directing — new lighting, new make-up, even a new kind of acting. This is in stark contrast to digital filmmaking in which the majority of color correction happens in the post-production phase. Since the advent of digital, there has been a definite trend towards over-saturated colors that I would like to see go away, or at least toned down to avoid actors looking like Oompa-Loompas (then again, maybe they tan too much).
Becky Sharp, the first three-strip Technicolor film
But where does color come from? A filmmaker would think about color in terms of light or projection, but a painter would instantly think about paint and pigment. This understanding of color is first and foremost practical — pigments are not abstract, but material substances with chemical attributes. Paint has a particular consistency and texture. If you run out, you can’t complete your painting.
Derek Jarman’s book Chroma explores both the material and the spiritual implications of color, from the perspective on an artist who has worked in both painting and film. Written while Jarman was losing his eyesight due to complications from AIDS, it is an elegiac meditation on what colors signify, and how they exist in the real world. There are 19 vignettes in total, some named after different colors, along with essays on perspective, shadow and light, translucence, and iridescence.
I find it fascinating to read Chroma against the backdrop of Jarman’s films, which run the gamut from grainy 8mm shorts to 35mm Technicolor features. Here are some excerpts juxtaposed against film stills that showcase Jarman’s innate feel for color, both as light and pigment.
May my black Waterman ink spill out the truth.
Chemistry and romantic names — manganese violet, cerulean, ultramarine and distant places, Naples yellow. The geography of colour, Antwerp blue, raw Sienna. Colour stretching to the distant planets — mars violet; named after old masters — Van dyke brown. Contradictory — Lamp black.
1919. The world is in mourning. Kasimir Malevich paints White on White. A funeral rite for painting.
When yellow wishes to ingratiate it becomes gold.
The Tempest, 1979
Red is a moment in time. Blue constant. Red is quickly spent. An explosion of intensity. It burns itself. Disappears like fiery sparks into the gathering shadow.
Wasn’t Dorian Grey’s brain speckled with the scarlet stain of insanity?
Painters use red like spice.
Pink is always shocking. Naked. All those acres of flesh that cover the ceilings of the Renaissance. Pontormo is the pinkest painter.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas. This song could only be sung in Southern California around a swimming pool.
Sloan Square, 1976
Leni’s full moon falling through a crystal grotto in the High Dolomites
The most stable of greens is the Terre Vert. The most elusive, the copper greens that turned all the Venetian paintings brown. Fugitive colour flies in time, and leaves us in a perpetual autumn.
The Last of England, 1987
How Now Brown Cow
There is nostalgia in brown. The touch of my mother’s soft beaver lamb coat in which we buried our tears. Brown simplified life.
Who has not gazed in wonder at the snaky shimmer of petrol patterns on a puddle, thrown a stone into them and watched the colors emerge out of the ripples…
Where did glass appear in my films? Faces distorted, pressed into the window.
And then there is Jarman’s Blue. Filmed in Technicolor, this cine-poem is both plaintive and electric, and is perhaps the saddest movie I have ever seen. It speaks for itself:
This movie, while short on decent story and plot, is a real treat for jazz fans.
The Swedish poster (designed by Eric Rohman) is a snappy photo-collage of all the great jazz musicians of the day. While they are all supreme jazz ambassadors representing the Big Easy, it doesn’t get much better than Billie Holiday backed by Louis Armstrong in this smooth number:
In January 1914, when Chaplin had been at Keystone for a few months, Mack Sennett asked him to come with some new ideas for gags. It was at this time that Chaplin invented the character of the tramp.
Kid Auto Races At Venice , in which Chaplin’s “Tramp” character makes his debut.
I was in my street clothes and had nothing to do, so I stood where Sennett could see me. He was standing with Mabel, looking into a hotel lobby set, biting the end of a cigar. “We need some gags here,” he said, then turned to me. “Put on comedy make-up. Anything will do.”
I had no idea what make-up to put on. I did not like my get-up as the press reporter. However, on the way to the wardrobe I thought I would dress in baggy pants, big shoes, a cane and a derby hat. I wanted everything a contradiction: the pants baggy, the coat tight, the hat small and the shoes large. I was undecided whether to look old or young, but remembering Sennett had expected me to be a much older man, I added a small moustache, which, I reasoned, would add age without hiding my expression.
I had no idea of the character. But the moment I was dressed, the clothes and the make-up made me feel the person that I was. I began to know him, and by the time I walked on to the stage he was fully born. When I confronted Sennett I assumed the character and strutted about, swinging my cane and parading before him. Gags and comedy ideas went racing through my mind.
The secret of Mark Sennett’s success was his enthusiasm. He stood and giggled until his body began to shake. This encouraged me and I began to explain the character: “You know this fellow is many-sided, a tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure. He would have you believe he’s a scientist, a musician, a duke, a polo player. However, he is not above picking up cigarette butts or robbing a baby of its candy. And of course, if the occasion warrants it, he will kick a lady in the rear — but only in extreme anger!”