God's Little Acre

God's Little Acre
Lord, make way for gold

the girlfriend experience

the girlfriend experience
chelsea's work

Trash Humpers

Trash Humpers
broken, faked, MADE

Friday, January 15, 2021

death drives, ending lives.


 Smiley Face Killers
(2020) has bogeymen.  They have lived inside your thoughts and expectations since you were small.  They lingered; biding time in the corners, outside the light. They will hide in a closet, shadow you on your bike; force you to recall your view in the world as a child-- open to suggestion, independent of thought yet dependent on others to help protect you.

We wear false faces.  The symmetry of a young jock's visage veils the disruption his bipolar disorder wreaks. Smiley Face Killers points to this time:  We mask and we separate, failing to distinguish ourselves from another.  The scenario  proliferates the confusion of people who lack a simpatico between interior and exterior, indicating psychic crisis.  The voice inside us is suggestive, yet strong, saying now is the time to drown yourself and die.



As the dissonance between FACE/MASK and interior widens, the crisis grows.  Encompassing a social breakdown, the leaders are pulled inward, into their doubts, their psychological weaknesses and into their solitude, away from others.  The movie comments on how what nudged at us in our childhood bedrooms--  (is he under my bed waiting to kill me?  Does a monster live in my closet?  Will I soon be brutally murdered?) grows inside us all the while.  Our dis-ease is progressive and chronic, having caused pathology to our organs as they developed.

As in Cosmatos' Mandy (2017) -- the mask of the face is the illusion of containment. The borders of the face of Mandy leak when she is consumed and destroyed by the cult leader. The horror is the reveal of the lack of distinction and autonomy that one human actually has from another.  The lie is that we control our thoughts, our bodies, ourselves.  Our wants can infect and even attract others to overtake us.


Smiley Face Killers is mythical in its fears while specific in its placement and time.  Timeless terrors are grounded in contemporary social isolation (technical as well as medical.)  Like Mandy, it is a film about a specific year.  Mandy's pointed recall of 1983 is a parallel to Smiley Face Killers' magnification of psychic ills through grounding it in a modern plague.

 Our dis-ease is multiplied and vague. It is pandemic. This disease is both the soil and the dirt along the grave; it breeds mental illness and suspicion and weakens our organs to keep us from noticing we are the target of many.. in turn, our destruction serves the earth and nourishes the few who live in the outlines, once scared children themselves, now vanquishing the monster inside us all, victorious at last.

In the logic of Smiley Face Killers the face is called Galiel.  He must be killed. It is the name of the mask that pretends to be a face. 





Sunday, September 27, 2020

GOING NOWHERE: Voyage and Experience in Quarantine

alone in a room; The Girlfriend Experience






Sudden, desperate, life-affirming hugs occupy the close of two films I watched early on in the shutdown. 

They tell the truth; we live alone, we die alone, but we can grab onto another person, and we radically embrace our closed path.

Voyage to Italy (Viaggio in Italia),1954, chronicles a married couple close to demise.  Sanders and Bergman are middle-aged and wedded for years. They set out to escape each other, on a trip along Italy's coast.  Scenes vacillate from pitted alienation of the two in a car and the couple roaming in and out of each other's immediate space; always an arm or two apart at cocktail parties. 

Scenes inside the car consist of dead spaces in between conversation, resentful glances and an uncanny way for a couple  to instigate forward motion as the metal confines them.  Time feels thick and air outside the windows teases of freedom.

There is a sudden air of exploration as, once in Italy, they  (primarily she, in solo outings) wander off-road sites; gazing at petrified faces from Pompeii and other victims of history and time.    In the scenes of the couple bickering in crisis there was a lack of truly seeing or hearing one another; every action seemed bent on reactive emotions.  Here, at Pompeii, among tombs of dead, the act of looking stirs a radical shift of consciousness.
The traveling couple meets eyes, but of the dead, not of each other.  The stare disturbs some veneer that separates the face and the heart.  The dead are not just immobile but petrified; frozen at the time in which they entered death. A look of recognition and warning bores through the visiting pair.














The Girlfriend Experience, 2009, details the experience of simulated lifestyle and love that capital can afford.  The experience is of a moment in time; the bubble of the early aughts; a surge about to burst, and performed intimacy, leading to a larger performative experience of personality and love and the confusion regarding which is more material. 
  The looks in TGE are not quite of shared recognition but of the attempt to perform it, or  the desperate hope to find it. 



Misplaced faith in belief systems is at the crux of Sanders and Bergman's marital crisis. Is monogamy and lifelong love still something to believe in midcentury? Figures and numbers populate the value system of TGE. "You know how I am about my numbers", which is that she can no longer discern the distinction between real and performed value, between real meaning and pure narrative concoction.  Escort Chelsea (Sasha Grey)'s belief system is comparable to the zodiac, wherein her emotional ties and patterns are reinforced and validated by correlating numbers (numerology meets astrology, described as personology by Chelsea).  Her love ideals and career goals are lofty and seemingly spiritual, yet on both sides her relationships lack an actualization.  There is physical togetherness but the touches are dispassionate; as calculated as the moves of the traders and entrepeneurs she beds.  To Chelsea, numbers and dates hold the potential of connection that seems lacking in her; pupils distilled, gaze slightly askew.  Her eyes sit idle, as if on a separate person.  The unstable value of numbers and signs is  evident here as in the bulk of her clientele; all suffering the financial fallout of 2008-2009.  
 Just as their eyes' immersion into scenes of history shock and free Bergman and Sanders' characters from their inability to connect, the eyes of Chelsea tell a story of disconnect and the consistent attempt to break through into real connection, though her life is also constructed around the work of performing connection when it is not there.







These films testify that all that remains in this world that is real and worthwhile is the moment of sudden expression through physical contact, be it naked skin on skin, or clothed tightly grasped hug, to break through our walls that alienate us from feeling and seeing one another.



Voyage to Italy Finale: bergman and sanders embrace at last, in a crowd

TGE 's final perfomed sex act-  a meaningful near naked embrace of two lonely players


Monday, September 16, 2019

Babylon_4 Mubi: I'm a Legal Alien in London

Frank Rosso's Babylon (1980) is showing February 25 – March 26, 2019 on MUBI in the United Kingdom.
Babylon
Impressions of Franco Rosso’s Babylon (1980) extend past the boundaries of its 95-minute running time. Like the dub remixes its London characters’ lives revolve around, the movie plays with re-establishing identity and our experience of time. A narrative document of young, working class male Jamaican-British Londoners, Babylon doles out atmospheric city scenes of their place in the community: sons, brothers, boyfriends, small-time crooks, laborers, music lovers and producers. Privileging viewers with immersion into an insulated, under-documented immigrant community, the film provides a window into their daily lives. We are thrown into conversations and situations, intimately experiencing their patois (new subtitles have been provided for this restoration,) their interactions with friends, their constant victimization by a dominantly racist white society, and the massive sound system parties they congregate to. A corrective to the British ignorance and fear of Jamaican immigrants, the film’s emphasis is on the immigrants’ culture (dub and reggae music) as a political and emotional response.
The opening shots focus on young men (our protagonists Blue and his friends) running through and against hopping London traffic. Lifting stereo elements into trucks in industrialized environs, the men’s labor is seen against an underpopulated abandoned warehouse setting. A cut to opening credits leads into a dancehall club scene; the men we’ve followed in the opening shots are no longer running against or away from the center of the action. A feeling of exhalation colors shots of dancing to the riches their sound system provides. The entire first third of the film has the quality of a low-key celebration.
Like the heavy boxes and stereo supplies that the men struggle to put together in the formation of a sound, their dub music community highlights strength of the masses uniting in common goals. The moment of lifting and moving the heavy boxes that build their sound system demand action and coordination, leading to sweat and strain—“you stand there, you hold this end!”—but it is also a microscopic view into a never before filmed community. Babylon is a both a film about outsiders and one created by outsiders, though that includes an Italian turned Londoner director, a Jewish co-writer (Martin Stellman), and a legendary Barbados-born dub producer. As directed by Franco Rosso, there is a palpable effort to get inside of the experience of Black British immigrants. The question is posed: how is it living as a legal immigrant, for all intents and purposes a legal alien, inside a white society that marginalizes the Black and the immigrant experience?
Rosso was an immigrant to the UK himself. Italian-born and primarily British-bred, Rosso exhibits curiosity and knowingness as he settles into this world. Rosso served as an assistant editor on Ken Loach’s emotive outsider drama Kes (1969), and later worked on documentaries tracking the marginalized criminal population of Britain. Yet despite Rosso’s perceptive direction and the cinematography of Chris Menges (The Mission, The Killing Fields, Comfort and Joy…), it is the original soundtrack by Dennis Bovell, more than any other element, that creates the storyline’s intention and tone.
Blue (Brinsley Forde), our main protagonist, dodges family stress and expectations by finding good times and purpose in the world of dub. Blue and his peers form the underdog sound system group Ital Lion, and Babylon tracks their rivalry with champion Jah Shaka. Beefy (Trevor Laird), one of Blue’s pals, stands out as a frequent butt of his friends’ jokes, but under the surface lies a growing disgust for the unjust treatment he encounters at the hands of whites. As racial tensions slowly intensify in the last third of the film, the dub score becomes more futuristic and haunting.
The enjoyment and collective experience of music is a building block of the film’s structure. Reggae music, rooted in Jamaica, enjoyed a rapt audience in Britain in the 1970s and ‘80s. Associated with Rastafarianism and music of the masses and the oppressed, it also focuses on a rhythm that is on the offbeat, mainly stressing the second and fourth beats. Dub music, often remixing/reproducing reggae songs electronically, involves a producer who alters the beat by way of prolonging, muting or repeating sounds. It revolutionized dance and social gatherings by the way it alters and deepens a soundscape. Dub remixes incorporate electronic sounds, such as phasers and martial tempos to infiltrate the more subdued reggae melody. Reverb, echo and muting are used to swallow up the original sound, creating a cavernous feel.
The dub music flooding the film is both a character and a characterization of our protagonists’ experience. It can be heard soundtracking scenes of their shenanigans, their parties, their London walks and rides, and their workdays. It is only in scenes where the racism of white men (being targeted and chased by whites, called racist names by a white woman who dislikes their music, et cetera) that the music comes to a standstill. In the final scenes of the film, the personal stakes for our characters reach their boiling point, and the dub music increasingly reflects this destructive landscape. Phaser sounds dominate the dancehall, as the Ital Lion crew produce a dominantly electronic and alien soundscape. Just as when a character calls out to “tear it up,” referring to the music, we witness the breakdown and rebuilding in both the immigrant experience and the remixed music. An explosive ending reinforces the film’s portrait of the bifurcated immigrant experience: the sense of identity by belonging to an insulated group, and the concept of being an alien in another world.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

I DREAM MYSELF ALIVE: MANDY's Giving Tree

**Notes on MANDY. (2018)**

1985.

 A-Ha invites the world to hear synth songs composed of elements medieval, picaresque and fantastic.  The songs constitute their 1985 album, Hunting High and Low.  One such song is both melodramatic tonally and a popular music hit and it is  titled "I Dream Myself Alive."

"I Dream Myself Alive.
You can't deny.
There's something dark against the light.
All I can say,
It doesn't have to be this way."

The song is immersive, conducting a specific world and feeling, as the band does cohesively throughout the album.  Beyond being music, playing it evokes a subjectivity; an enclosure; a world of feeling.

1983.

MANDY.  Panos Cosmatos, 2018.

The synth sounds (composed by Johann Johannsson) haunt and bounce; reverberating the space they live in, like glass.  Sometimes notes collect en masse, droning; suggesting inevitability.
Red Miller (Nicholas Cage) dreams himself into an unreal reality.  He inhabits a holy space of his own creation.  He works in the earth and  the earth returns his effort and gives shelter.  Love is a private inner world he and his lover Mandy Bloom (Andrea Riseborough) sustain by maintaining its borders.  She illustrates; figurally and scenically aligned with the fantastical imagery of the Metal bands she sports on her shirts.  Their story is romantic yet conscious about its interiority; hiding inside, being separated from some greater world.  The elements coloring the story are oversaturated primaries, deep space in forestry environs, mythologic marital love, and the fantastic.

Early scenes:  Red cuts trees for work. The trees his chainsaw cleaves in two prefigure the cleaving of oneness into twoness that occurs in dramatic graphic imagery as the movie gets in motion.
When Red returns home to Mandy at the end of his work day, their domestic sphere evokes a modern treehouse, with the style of a singular construction, visible lumber and the sense of being a safe space within a natural organism.




"Handke wrote, 'The people left the grave quickly.  Standing beside it, I looked up at the motionless trees:  for the first time it seemed to me that nature really was merciless.  So these were the facts!  The forest spoke for itself.'  That was beautiful, ...Handke did not lie...I was lying.  Why? When I looked at a tree, I saw that it was blind and arbitrary, an entity that had come into being and would die, and which in the meantime was growing."
-- p 177 My Struggle, Book 6 -Karl Ove Knausgaard.

TITLE CARD:Shadow Mountains 1983 A.D.


Images track the Sacred as well as the Profane.  The couple's womblike home counters the vastness of the wooded spaces as well as the heterogenous intentions outside of their own.

Mandy is the main character through which we experience a sense of anxiety of outside threats.  The look in her eyes as she works in the shop, her awareness of another's gaze upon her; both a male in a car and another female, in person. Women are not holy to Mandy, and her modernness is sensed in her own agency by working for herself and knowing enough to be as untrusting of a woman than she may be a man.

Murmured in the background is an Unseen Voice of the Televisual: The voice of President Ronald Reagan, announcing, triumphantly, the spiritual awakening of America.

ENTER: THE BOGEYMEN.

Distinctions are as blurry as the image of Mandy's face when it falls under the subjective, longing  gaze of "Psycho Jesus Freak" Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache.)

Vision counters sound.  Aural reality is rhetoric, and vision slowly states that what we see and what we know is moving into past tense. The definition of Mandy vs the definition of the evil sister is blurred because the point of view is blurred. We watch Mandy walk home and we breathe in a dreamlike sense of her:  romantic and elemental in the forest.  The form of her silhouette is liquefied as she and the forest bleed into each other.  Is this a fairytale princess; the viewfinder owned by adoring husband Red?  Or is this the view of Mandy from the car window of murderous deviant Jeremiah Sand?

THE TREE OF LIFE VS THE BOGEYMAN.
PERCEPTION IS FLUID.

Good vs. Evil, or loss of individuation.
Silhouettes have boundaries.  Their outline is what differentiates (for the watcher) the distinction between where the human ends and where the forest they are walking in begins.  Boundaries (like these) bleed in MANDY.  The doors of perception allow one to enter a possible crisis: permanent loss of self.  They also offer privileged rarity:  pure experience outside of the self. To bend the mind and amuse at the loss.

Later on, in Knausgaard's book, he struggles with the process (WHY and HOW) of creating art.
A sense of boundary -less ness or selflessness is drawn:
"What does it mean to write?  First of all it is to lose oneself, or one's self.  In that it resembles reading, but ...the loss of the self in writing is in a different way complete, as when snow vanishes into snow...no foreground or background, no top or bottom."
p. 240

TOPICAL BOGEYMEN:
(in 1983)
Under the gothic pop terrain is a deeper reckoning:  reaction to the radical political change of the late 1960s -70s and the freewheeling sexual mores that came to the cultural forefront at the same time:  the political and cultural reactionaries came back to battle it all with BOGEYMEN.  Feminism was born and then widely rebuked in 1983; a recall based on the horror of women who do not subordinate to men.
When Mandy is taken by the man who can't escape her gaze; he is the bogeyman she had societally/misogynistically become. In the sequence depicting her kidnapped encounter, their is a shared recognition between the two; each horrified of the other, faces acidically dripping into one another's form.

GODLESS SOVIETS. (Perestroika, doomed attempts to alter a governmental economy. Encroaching RED scare echoed in MANDY's apocalyptic reds)
Fear of sexual deviation and the loss of the couple: recent psychic symptoms from 1970s spate of MANSON TYPE CULT LEADERS.

INDEPENDENT WOMEN -- WILL FORSAKE MEN.  Because ERA almost passed..until in 1982 it failed to be ratified by the a few of the total needed number of states.  Anxieties of the job market areexulted by working men facing the end of economic harmony as well as the end of heterosexual dependency.

Writing on the economic crisis of 2008-09, David Leonhardt  reminds us of 1982 as he writes (NYT, Jan 20, 2009):  "Is the economy only a little worse than it was in the last couple recessions, as some have said, and still a long way from the dark days of 1982?"



she exerts agency

Trapped in his Gaze

Are they so different?

enjoyment, but solitary

Desperate to reassert his own agency
MANDY may not "be" about anything, but it surely recalls a lot of things.  The political psychic scars are indelible though not explicit, and the hypnotic distension of allure foregrounds the experiential nature of art above narrative.  The epic battle of good and evil that follows is itself foregrounded by the film's slow burn of a start.  Maybe it's commenting that good and evil are creations people choose, politically serving the bogeymen the policies are drawn to disenfranchise.  Refuting logic by the cleaving at its formational core, MANDY feels about the intoxication of space and sound; and how aligned it can be with a particular period of time. All we know for certain is the immersive aspect of life, the colors and stunningly serene or driving sounds of synth, the purest blues in a valley lake, the sound of your lovers' quiet voice.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

A STAR IS BORN: IT WANTS TO KILL YOU

A STAR IS BORN is beautiful and total cinema, because it tells us what life is worth.  The movie illustrates its own world; bathed in blues and reds, contoured by the deepening of saturation and the presence of shadows (analogue to a spotlight), the colors correlate to the music and how it in turns shapes our moods.
The world of A STAR IS BORN is so purely aligned in these efforts, so honest in the emotion it details, so uncluttered, that it is essential in style.
The beginning is the search for any remnant of the Real. Can we still deeply connect? Will connections last?  Is there still a reason to stay alive?


Jackson;  Elegant Mess

Drama along the onstage intro:  Red stadium lights explode.   Music shifts moods. A visual rhyming; the spotlight in the small drag club where Ally first performs reds the entire room. The echo of style as well as in the story:  Addiction speaks loudly to the addict. Its messages can't be ignored.  The addict also hears louder, sees brighter.  Things are so beautiful and others are unbearable. Addiction tells its afflicted lies that blind your worldview.  Likewise, tinnitus tells you of sound that is not truly there. It blinds your ears and haunts you. Talent and the groundswell of stardom drown out all else when Jackson (Bradley Cooper) is on stage.  Not surprisingly, the quiet of the alternating parallel movement of the film (the intimacy of true romantic connection) is peace, it is blue; focus drives inward as a quiet question is implored.  


Coming out of the stadium he is driven away and has a chance encounter with Ally (Lady Gaga).  Resigned eyes now reflect recognition.

Inside the film a question is asked:  Can we save one another?





(An answer) sung by Ally in the parking lot to Jack:
"Aren't you tried of tryin to fill that void?   Or do you need more?"
An exurban stopover.  Restless artists; one unknown and one a star.  As impossible as it is to posit that a super star encounters an honest love connection with a waitress/songwriter...we  relate.  How rare and unlikely it is in today's culture to meet offline, to have that run in with a soulmate, and the space and time to share.

Prisoners of the Light

Jackson is an addict, he is down, and so naturally, in his back pocket he's got plans.  They're reserved for another day, one not too near, because they are not sure to occur.  His disease endures, desiring him dead.


The tinnitus that afflicts Jackson is a musical echo of his addiction.  To suffer it is to hear too loudly, or to hear sounds internally that do not exist externally.  The sounds create a singular pain. This is the affliction that addiction has on his brain and his heart.  A sonic equivalent to the distorted reality that magnifies his problems; expanding as Ally rises to stardom.  What better way to illustrate to a non addict the pain in being so sensitive to everything, but not being able to dull it anymore?


The sole difference imparted in the relationship of this version of A Star is Born is Jackson's Addiction.  The male psyche is the way in to this dark tunnel, replete with wounds and a soul baring desire for love and comfort. The connection and the love shared between them is real.  They speak of how they feel what they write -- how they shape it into something more.  This is a kernel of creation.  As their connection takes root, stakes are raised; narratively the love and safety Jackson seeks seems answered as he bolsters Ally's problematic self esteem and drive. Visual cues follow the narrative: blues become reds and the music and cuts come quicker.  Melodrama by way of music video:  dynamic cuts make points between the shots, eyes exposed -- pregnant with trauma; missed chances, romances.  Each frame is an intact production. The music serves a heightened emotional intensity.  Addiction is rewarded with not often seen honesty-- it pulls and its lures.  His impulse to obliterate is filmed as a beautiful living thing. 
He is sickened by the alteration of Ally's music, a denigration of the Real.  Teams enter:  they surround Ally and re mold her.  She is driven further from herself.  She is produced and contained, separated from the truth they once had in a parking lot.  Artifice was stripped when her drag club makeup was peeled off her face; a bandage hiding the wound. As fame builds and blinds (with deepening blues and reds, intensified edits), the makeup returns to obscure and entrap. The path is full of fraudulence, more than he will bare.  The answer:  Use.  Escape.


Art Pepper, addicted jazz musician:
"Living without love is like not living at all."






back to the film:
-----------------------------------------------------------------

ADDICTS NEED LOVE MORE THAN YOU.
The art is in the relay; in the arrangement.
Every frame is a composition; stripped of surplus emotionally and visionally.  Every detail is intentional.
Each shot is treated as importantly as the next shot.  Cooper's film is so perfectly tuned in to sound and image that  the truth of every moment cuts through clearly, as if we are watching from zero; everything is the first time we have seen it; the first moment we have heard it.
 Another thing about the essentialness of the film style.  The light:  the film is often dark; using expressive lights via the glare of the overproduced tv segment or the total soul baring exposure of the concert spotlight.  In Cahiers du Cinema, there is a 1970 article by Serge Daney and Jean-Pierre Oudart called "Work, Reading, Pleasure."  Daney speaks of how a film can give us "...the splendour of truth."  He goes on to describe film, in a materialist sense, as a "prisoner of the light."


The end:  She is born; he dies.  He (Jack) has left the earth; surrendered his war with meaninglessness. This is a sad state of affairs, but rejoice:  brutal, secret pain has been transformed by the crafting of its very depiction.   Sorting out the  aftermath, there is a brief scene of his brother (Sam Elliott) and Ally in discussion. The brother riffs on inevitability and work of a songwriter:  There are 12 octaves in every song, and every song is always going to keep telling the same 12 notes, in different ways, but what makes it art is in the arrangement(( and  the tone. ))  It is the same circle that keeps going around and around, and everyone tells the same story, and its only art when someone arranges it this way.
Also:  it is 12 steps that can lead to freedom.
Brief respite in recovery



Thursday, October 4, 2018

Jerry and the Prefab People: HARDLY WORKING and Americana


(this post is of a piece I did for Mubi last winter.)


Jerry and the Prefab People: "Hardly Working" and Americana

In "Hardly Working" (1980), Jerry Lewis is Making America Goyish Again.

Part of the Jerry Lewis tribute A MUBI Jerrython. 
In Hardly Working, Jerry Lewis, as Bo Hooper, is Making America Goyish Again. Made in between The Day the Clown Cried and Jerry’s Telethons for Muscular Dystrophy, this is Jerry’s first (seen) attempt to wed issues of Jewish /outsider identity, and Americana with the desire for artistic or political legacy.  Opening with a montage (of other movies): Jerry toots his horn in a greatest moments' super edit.  Bracketing the sequences is the typewriting scene in Who’s Minding the Store?. Though it is not a film Jerry directed, it is the only clip shown piecemeal that conspicuously shows craft.  The poetry of his comedy, seemingly effortless, credited to hard work.
This gaze extending into the past introduces an artistic defense that Jerry makes for himself.  In a late career pivot Jerry Lewis (re)directs himself in Hardly Working as a less hapless, more goyish and less boyish Clown.  This iteration is Bo Hooper, older and wider, the least 'beau' Bo; close cousin to The King of Comedy's "Jerry Langford", but without his stature or success.  Adjusting his persona as a literal clown in a more real world,  there is markedly less "Bell" and less "Boy."  More muscular, aged and thick in circumference than we've seen him on screen, physical and emotional gravity occupies these frames.
Abandoning some of the pure anarchy of earlier Jerry star turns, Hardly Workingintroduces a pathos (the circus closes and Jerry is thrust into the real world to plant roots), infecting the carefree cinema of Jerry's past.  The world may scorn an unemployed clown, but that does not make him a scoundrel. Despite his best efforts, Bo remains an optimistic square peg.  Though never made explicit, issues of difference, and the fear of being kicked out of a community reverberate as indicators of "Jewishness."
Away from the circus, Bo is thrust into the land of you better blend in, and comedy ensues as he tries on job after job after job.  These jobs don’t ‘work’ for Bo/Jerry.  Dreaming of a greater purpose, he is an artist busying himself with mindless chores.  Common work is for the common people, or at least the more vanilla ones. 
The picture crystallizes a time of becoming; Jerry the clown (and Bo the clown) is struggling to find or create serious work; to be a part of a social or artistic legacy greater than a stand alone comic sequence. 
Hardly Working followed a painful near-decade where Jerry Lewis stopped making his own films. The last film he'd previously had in production was the still unseen Holocaust picture The Day the Clown Cried.  Intended to be Jerry's first serious dramatic role, the film apparently embraces head on both Jerry's Jewish identity and his identity as a performer.
Bo Hooper is the antithesis to the clown who periled in the Holocaust.  His family members and romantic interest read blond and bland.  With his severely greased back thinning hair, Bo even bears a passing resemblance to 1979 Ronald Reagan.  Bo’s gaze of desire lands on suburban tennis courts where palm trees and well-manicured foliage abound.  Homes and sunny exteriors conspicuously point to the whitewashed appeal of 1950s revisited as 1980s suburban America, a universe welcoming Ronald Reagan’s campaign  pledge to "Make America Great Again".  Bo lives in a series of set pieces wedded to prefab housed, affluent Florida (also location for Lewis’ The Bellboy) that embody an ethnic-free America.  In  the sun-filled suburbs half the tension is "blending in", which Bo attempts with desperation, but it's hardly working.
Muted mentions of government, civil service, running for office and becoming the President dot the film.   Hooper bases out of his very blonde sister's (Susan Oliver) suburban home in Florida, and in one of the earliest not for laughs scenes, he speaks to his (very blonde) niece about working hard and becoming anything you want, even the President. 
The onset of a greater purpose may be mistaken as a poverty of poetry.  The American qualities of ingenuity and regeneration are at work. Meaningless work is the same whether it is of a pointless entertainer or of a pointless postal position. A cog in the movie machine sees a forest for the trees, dreaming of a greater impact.  The mirror exposes an evolution of another actor; from performing roles to performing politics. Ronald Reagan, already governor of California, had transitioned to a role of greater public standing.  Reagan ran for President as Lewis was making Hardly Working.
Jerry’s visible ethnic difference is highlighted by the pale blonde women cast as relatives and love interest. This quiet echo of what drove him to make The Day the Clown Cried haunts the film.  It is impossible to separate the difference of being Jewish from the different -ness of Jerry as Bo. 
A mitigation of Bo's exceptional 'difference' aka ethnicity or Jewishness, results from the splintering of characters Jerry plays.  The most outrageous, most specifically ethnic character is also the only other one Jerry plays in drag; a lady, spewing Yiddish and thickly accented english, is dressed for tennis, flirting with Bo the postal worker on his route. 
Notably, this is the only other scene where running for president is directly addressed.  Through a strained dialogue, Jerry as the tennis lady thinks that Bo the postal worker (now semi-established by middle management) is looking to run for office.
Hardly Working also gives us time-bending sequences where pure comedy reigns.  After a shift as a disc jockey in a disco nightclub, Bo, in a sweater vest and front-seamed slacks Mr Rogers would wear, unties his bow tie in a nod to being off the clock, joining the younger, hipper  nightclubbers.  Separated from the others, he wistfully props himself upon a staircase rail, igniting a Saturday Night Fever fantasy sequence. Lewis becomes Travolta, not Travolta the great dancer, but Travolta the entertainer who doubles as an object of desire.  Suddenly dressed as Tony Manero and in center frame; the faces of the onlookers take on a hypnotized stare.
Dance moves, at first slow, point to a tightly wound sensuality.  Rhythm has Bo on a short leash; the possession glows in his eyes, and it can move you to tears. The stoned onlookers' faces dissipate into relaxed smiles; all eyes focused on Jerry.  Just as the tone draws us in, the dance moves morph to pure parody and physical comedy.  Propelled by pure sensation, the droop in his eyes abides and the gravity of his weariness lightens; Jerry is reborn, alive yet again. 
In failed job after failed job, there is the shadow of persecution: a constant threat that he can again be suddenly  dismissed. The initial loss of work in the circus was traumatic enough for him to uproot his life and try to find another way to live.  The constant loss of work underlies the lack of power in the hired hand as well as the nagging anxiety of being 'found out' and 'taken away' (Jewish anxieties post World War II).  The narrative  culminates in a pied piper type calling that finds Bo marrying his adoration from being a clown to being a leader in the Postal Service. The layers of persecution , threats of removal /being thrown out of a community, along with the bright pre fab faces that populate its carefully manicured 'Americana' point to a dilution of Jewishness or any specific ethnic identity. The tension of fitting in and getting to stay in a community coincide with the least Jewish Jerry and a political climate of retroactively imagining all of America as the suburbs in the 1950s.
The electricity of Hardly Working runs counter to earlier Jerry Lewis pictures.  With a jangly alteration of scenes of relaxed comedy and those of forced sentiment, tacky romantic music underlining earnest dialogues collide with some of the greatest stand alone comedic sequences ever put to film.
The result is a movie out of step while caught trying to move forward.  Jerry is in conflict; he is a man in artistic progress and moral consideration.  He is the clown and the Postal Office Civil Servant, the suburban WASP, but he is also still the Jewish City boy.  The effect of watching all these (sometimes clashing) elements  is to force a pause of reflection between laughs-- drawn into a more intimate relationship with the film’s author.


Thursday, August 16, 2018

Reflective Breath __UN SECOND SOUFFLE


Careful, don't get winded.


Notices to watch the breath and check the pulse were commonly heard on the aerobics tapes of the 1970s + 80s.  "Don't forget to breathe!" "Are you above your target heart rate? If so: SLOW DOWN. If not, let's work HARDER!"
 In writer-director Gerard Blain's elegiac UN SECOND SOUFFLE (1978), the breath and wind is slowed and riffed on.  A momentary pause opens wide onto a scene of emotional stillness; no matter if the subject is mid-run, mid-record spinning or mid-drawing room.
The portrait of divorcee Francois' (Robert Stack) wealthy, worldly late in life bachelorhood is sober and stately.  Like a regal animal, near extinction, he is chronicled National Geographic style in the frame as he accomplishes his forest jogs.
A second wind is also a return to breath; an end to the inhalation of inner stasis.  Blain lays out a story of pluralism.  This film is not a chronicle of "one" second wind, but a series of inner reflections and distanced resignations. These inward movements are interspersed with suddenly expelled emotion. Distended sequences of exercise build a wave like crescendo of the regret that only comes with age.  The zen-like runs are countered with scenes of frenetic interaction.  When he is portrayed engaging with others it is always competitive (side by side or front to back in the frame) or flung into an overly filled mise en scene, confused in its decor and emotions.
Francois is emotionally and physically distanced from his family in early scenes, and he lives in a post - marriage, post - family constructed haven.  His emotions guarded; his looks toward familiars feature scant suspicion and a weighty regret.  His gazes at his competitors in dating (all vastly younger and virile), track a haughty disdain.  His eyes never quite hunger, yet he persists in competitive pursuits and tracksuits.


queuing his song to queue emotional deep connections 

savoring his "favorite movement" which promotes in him, literal stasis; total reflection
Shots of Stack's protag are dominated by the room in which he lives; be it the room of his conspicuously mod bachelor den or the unmarked trees of the woods.   Other times his camera moves in close to Stack's expressively resigned eyes; imagining, feeling, what we are not quite sure.  

His character competes in a progressively accelerating dating game with a young man he matter of factly learns (in the most sober post or pre coital interview) is sleeping with his much younger live in girlfriend.  The young man is at least 20 years junior, rides a motorcycle, and is regaled in bright primary colors. All of these attributes (including the bike, leading to minor injury, another sequence pregnant with the viewer's worst imagined futures) are co-opted by Stack's sullen man. He is virile, he is competitive, and he now bikes in the city streets and works out in the public sphere of the pre-fab  gym, as contrapuntal as can be to the shades of green in the natural world of his earlier runs.
In one shot, the two men playing this game (though maybe only the elder knowingly) encounter each other in the gym shower; Stack literally peaking in at the competition's natural goods.
The second wind is, at times, the viewer waiting to exhale.  Holding one's breath in a pregnant wait for an emotional release; scenes are directed surrounded by a heaviness that is  insinuated yet denied.
Then there are the moments, often brief, when the pain or the reality of a dynamic is expressed most directly, even with humor such as in this scene, or sans humor early on when Francois bursts out to his daughter that she must have an abortion.  Here the second wind is the culmination of introverted breath; shooting out with surprise, brevity, and honesty.

Emotion is very simple.  Very true.

Back to the gym.. Some 14 years earlier the fear of sexual desire and virility of men was drawn in primary saturated hues of the material world, in Alfred Hitchcock's MARNIE(1964).  A screaming recall of that yellow purse is repeated in a shot (against white synthetically colored /tiled gym + shower walls) in UN SECOND SOUFFLE as an orange Adidas bag calls out a similar signification.  The denatured orange in the anesthesia of the constructed gym is stifling and alarming.

MARNIE and her Yellow Purse


Every moment we die a little more.  One's second wind is never promised; a sentiment that is the singular recurring musical and visual thread of Blain's picture. Each run is heavy with the viewers' imagination; pregnant with collapse. Gerard Blain's films stand as a recognition; a nod to this sober, unwavering fact.
As in the very title of one of his last films,  AINSI SOIT-IL (2000)
 "SO BE IT."



"Time is not on your side, on your side, on your side."

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