Saturday, August 04, 2007
This has been a terrible week in the history of film. Even tho their great works were decades behind them, losing Bergman & Antonioni in such a short time is the film equivalent of losing, say, Ginsberg & Creeley in three days. Or Pound & Williams – pick your generational elders. Plus the death of cinemaphotographer László Kovács. With the deaths earlier this year of Robert Altman & Ousmane Sembène, 2007 is not going to be looked at as a good year for cinema. It’s rare, if not impossible, to have four great directors born in one year, so to lose that many leaves a deficit that goes beyond just numbers. Altman & Sembène were still active. I reviewed Sembène’s last film, Moolaadé, when he brought it to
In my discussion awhile back concerning Barrett Watten’s list of influences (which he’s now revised, incidentally), I noted that Watten’s claim for Wojciech Has’ The Saragossa Manuscript, tho also one of my favorite films ever, as having “taught me that all art is a construction” isn’t one that I could make, simply because Antonioni had given me the same lesson somewhat earlier. For me, the magic movie is always going to be The Red Desert with its obsessively wonderful sense of color. Richard Harris & Monica Vitti bed down in a white room, the lights go out &, when they come back on, everything is the palest pink. There is one scene in which, in a small building on a pier, Harris looks out a window as a tanker passes by slowly, in real time. That scene for me is one of the two or three greatest moments in all of cinema, matched perhaps only by one in Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore when the pathetic weasel of an intellectual, played by Jean-Pierre Léaud (like Eustache, a protégé of both Truffaut & Godard), leaves his girlfriend, played by Bernadette Lafont, to dash off to his mistress on learning that she’s pregnant. Lefont puts on Edith Piaf’s "Les amants de Paris" – a 78 if I remember right – and listens to the entire song in real time with her head in her hands. It’s a devastating moment. Those two scenes showed me how art, any temporal art, at its very greatest slows down time.
I saw a cheesy movie about a catastrophic series of storms that begets a new ice age the other night on the telly, The Day After Tomorrow, written & directed by Roland Emmerich, a German-born director known for Stargate, Independence Day, Godzilla & Mel Gibson’s The Patriot. In one scene, the last surviving people in Manhattan have taken up residence in the New York Public Library, where they’re burning books to stay warm (a conscious decision was made not to burn Guttenberg’s Bible, but everything else was toast), when an abandoned freighter literally floats up the street and comes to rest next to the library. The protagonists first see the freighter through a window – a straight steal from Antonioni, even to the direction in the frame, going right to left. In the midst of all this silliness (the arctic wolves on the freighter come a few scenes later), it was a breath-taking moment, simply because I knew what Emmerich was saying & doing with that shot, a level of communication I didn’t think this movie had the capacity to make.
Europeans routinely characterize Antonioni’s work as leading up to the “Eros Trilogy,” the three black-and-white films that immediately precede The
A piece in the New York Times notes the much of Antonioni’s work has never made it to DVD. It’s true that Antonioni only had one “hit” in
I always found Bergman’s symbolism a little ham-fisted and corny. But any excuse to see Max von Sydow or Liv Ullman was good enough for me & Bergman’s films were something like the required reading of my generation. My first formal date with