Dec 20, 2012

Massive Movie Roundup (Part One)

Or, What I Have Watched Since the Election

Or -- for Nick C -- tldr:  I Watch Way More Films than Anyone You Know

Let us begin:

NOTE:  I am going to be using a star system for these films, something I am not usually fond of, but feel is appropriate for the purposes of this post.  The star system I will be using will be similar to the Michelin Restaurant Guide.  Most films made would receive no stars in my book, but then again, I do not often see films that I would not recommend to folks.  "*" is a Recommended Film.  "**" is a Highly Recommended Film.  And, "***" is considered a Classic or a Masterpiece.  There are no halfsies, either.  


Considering that the Wife and I are going to see The SF Ballet's The Nutcracker on Boxing Day, we must have ballet on the brain.  Renee picked First Position (*) for us to watch last night after dinner.  First Position is a documentary about six young dancers preparing for the Youth American Grand Prix (YAGP) competition.  Renee and I probably liked Michaela's story the best.  And, I am convinced that Aran is going to be an absolutely massive star of the ballet stage.  Miko and Jules' Da seemed amiable enough, but their Mother really set us on edge.  Plus, Miko and Jules were rehearsing for the competition up here in Walnut Creek! (The family lives in Palo Alto.)  Perhaps they shopped at my store? That Mom does look familiar.  First Position is good, but prob could stand to be a little tougher on some of these parents and on the brutal nature of the business these children are endeavoring to enter.  First Position occasionally toes the line as an advertisement for the YAGP.  Still -- especially for balletomanes -- it is a touching document of the fact that dance and the ballet are still powerful and magical art forms in this nation (and across the globe) that can still enchant and inspire cultures obsessed with iToys, video games, and sport.  

Anyhoo, the Wife fell asleep on my lap, and I kept the balletomane theme en pointe by watching a documentary I had been wanting to see for ages, but, for whatever reason had not:  Ballet Russes (**).  I must say that I am a bit embarrassed for a couple of things.  One, that I was mistaken what the film would be about in the first place -- I thought it was about a great Soviet ballet company locked behind the Iron Curtain -- and, two, that this proud Oklahoman apparently never knew that some of the greatest ballerinas of the twentieth century were Native Americans born in Oklahoma in the Twenties.  

Clockwise from top left: Maria Tallchief, Marjorie Tallchief, Yvonne Chouteau, Moscelyne Larkin, and Rosella Hightower.

Maria Tallchief, who is considered one of the greatest ballerinas ever, was married to Balanchine for a while, and helped create the New York City Ballet, and founded a ballet company in Chicago. Marjorie Tallchief became the artistic director for the Dallas Ballet after her retirement from dance. Ms Chouteau and her husband, Miguel Terekhov, founded the University of Oklahoma's School of Dance, and for a time directed the Oklahoma City Ballet. Ms Larkin and her husband founded the Tulsa Ballet Theater, which is one of one of the most respected civic companies in the world. And, Ms Hightower, after dancing and directing some of the leading companies in Europe eventually started a ballet school in Cannes, which is now named after her.

Ballet Russes, despite having very few "outside" and/or critical witnesses; and, generally having a PBS-like touchy-feely air about it, is still quite good.  It is the amazing story of two great ballet companies, and all the great choreographers, designers, and dancers that captivate you while you are watching it.  The "home movies", as they were -- especially the ones in color -- are mesmerizing to watch. And, the dancers' stories are juicy, gossipy, and very sweet and touching all at the same time.  You get the notion that those performers would have done it all for free. Many of them practically were.

It is a lovely story about the people that basically created the ballet art form as we know it.  Good stuff.


Now, I get it.  It took me a long time, but I get it now.  I was watching the wrong films! I had seen the Stones film (a boring waste); Weekend (which I have always liked); Alphaville; and, natch, Breathless.  

Honestly, I just can not understand all the hullabaloo and fervor for Breathless and Alphaville, especially the former.  Maybe I just do not like Jean Seberg.  Perhaps the nod of debt Godard had for Jean-Pierre Melville by name checking Bob le Flambeur and including the great director in Breathless only reinforced the film's shortcomings to me, as compared to Melville's great films.  I just do not think Breathless or Alphaville go far enough in deconstructing or exploding the genres they are supposedly critiquing.  Alphaville, in particular, is a crashing bore to me, still.

Then, a couple of days ago I saw Une Femme Est une Femme (***)  and Pierrot le Fou (***) back to back.  The first thing that jumped out at me was the brilliant use of color.  The films are saturated with delicious blocks of vibrant primary colors.  Then, I noticed the ingenious mischievous deconstruction of soundtrack in the films; songs stop abruptly, and then start again; and certain "sounds" of what is on screen will be isolated and be the only thing you hear, for instance.  

And then there is Godard's muse:  Anna Karina.  She is intoxicating on screen.  She is like the old Hollywood stars in that she is not acting so much as creating a magical larger than life presence to witness.  She goes beyond acting.  She just is.  And her force is powerful enough to leave you wanting more forever.  (Much can be said for Jean-Paul Belmondo, too, in these two films, at least.  Belmondo certainly was an actor, though, as can be seen in his other film roles away from Godard.) 

I also realized that Godard should be a natural love of mine due to his obsession with text and words in all forms of art.  It is an obsession I share with him, personally.  Text is constantly interrupting or superseding the films.  The characters are always reading books, magazines, or newspapers no matter what the action of the film contains.  Two of the most enchanting and wonderful scenes I ever seen in a romantic comedy are in Une Femme when the lovers, Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy, drop dialogue altogether for their bedtime rows, and "speak" to each other using only the titles of books straight off their shelves.  

The other great thing about these films is how joyful and playful they are.  Even a film like Pierrot, which is a road movie about a couple of terrorists wreaking (sort-of) destruction and death through a gorgeous technicolor 60s version of the south of France, is witty and charming.  The films are never boring or pedantic or preachy.  Godard seems to be illustrating the famous Situationist slogan:  "Beneath the paving stones, the beach!" That underneath this history and these old established cinema genres the magic is already there. The beauty and magic is built in to us.  We just have to shed all our shabby outer selves to reveal it.  

It also strikes me how compelling and perfect these two films are for young adults today.  This slice and dice, playful, bells and whistles style should be a natural fit for our iToys/cellphone/reality show modern day sensibility.

Both of these films are true masterpieces, which is not a term I throw around liberally, and come highly recommended by me.  Une Femme is streaming on Netflix, and you can rent Pierrot on iTunes.

(And I have not even seen Le Mepris yet!)

Part Two soon.

All my love, 
Mwah, ... 

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