Tag Archives: Salo

The Image Book

16 Mar

‘The Image Book’: Godard’s cinematic collage will consume you, given the time and attention

Image result for the image book showtimes

In my mind there’s a debate which director had the best decade ever. An obvious choice is Coppola in the 1970s, topping Spielberg and Scorsese with four killers (“The Godfather,” “The Godfather II,” “The Conversation” and “Apocalypse Now”). How do you beat that? Well, in the 1960s, Jean-Luc Godard churned out “Breathless,” “Contempt,” “Band of Outsiders,” “Weekend,” “Alphaville” and “Sympathy for the Devil,” among others. That’s a pretty stacked deck, even if folks want to debate the last two entries. For me the French New Waver’s sci-fi flick (“Alphaville”) never worked, but it’s highly regarded; and many find Godard’s chronicling of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” studio sessions stilted, intermixing what I would call their greatest song with images of the Black Panthers and negative American imagery. But you can’t make that song look or sound bad, even if you interrupt it with total nonsense.

I digress. Godard is almost 90 and he’s made more than 100 films of various lengths and formats. He’s probably not been truly relevant stateside since his 1985 take on the Virgin Mary, “Hail Mary.” In pre-sex scandal Irish Catholic Boston, where the church was a powerhouse, there were far more protesters outside the Paris Cinema on Boylston Street (now a Walgreens) than people trying to get tickets. I wonder how that would float now? Shortly afterward, Godard made a short called “Meeting Woody Allen” – again, I wonder how it might be received today?

I don’t think Godard gives a rat’s ass what folks think of his films. He’s always made the vision he wants. Initially he wanted to be a writer, and dabbled in journalism; he crossed the creative divide into making films more about themes and feelings – the theater of the absurd and, in the case of “Weekend,” the lurid.One could argue that many of his 1960s works, namely “Breathless,” about a day in the life of a petty hood in Paris (Jean-Paul Belmondo) are visual contemplations on the cycle of violence.

That’s where we are with his latest, “The Image Book,” which gets five screenings in March at the Harvard Archive, starting with two Friday. In a highly edited montage we get newsreel footage of battle, cinematic battle, lots of Godard’s own work (several chapters of the film are labeled “Remake”), even “Jaws,” some choice footage from “Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom” and classic Hollywood B&W snippets from the 1930s and 1950s, saturated with deep color that makes them feel like moving watercolor paintings. Like Godard’s “Goodbye to Language” (2014), a serendipitous exploration of the parallels between the travails of a couple and a dog, “Image Book” is haunting and ethereal, though edits and audio transitions are jarring at times. It’s like an ICA video installation on the early works of David Lynch: You can drop in and drop out, and it pretty much all still makes sense. It’s a building wave of emotion and social commentary that Godard has very carefully assembled. The patient will be consumed. 

Most tag Godard incorrectly as founder of the French New Wave with “Breathless” (1960), but that honor is reserved for Agnès Varda, who made “Le Pointe Courte” in 1955. She’s got a few years on Godard, and in 2017 was nominated for an Oscar for her documentary “Faces Places.” (Those French have clearly found the fountain of youth.) In 1967 she collaborated with Godard, among others, on “Far from Vietnam” a pro-North Vietnamese postcard protesting U.S. involvement in the country. That film, a college of vivid images, is a perfect companion piece for “The Image Book.”

 

Belle de Jour

15 Apr

 

Hard to believe it’s been 50 years since Luis Buñuel’s “Belle de Jour” caused a minor stir by chronicling the soul-searching of a bored Parisian housewife who, for obscure reasons, takes up part-time work as a high-class call girl. Provocative and erotic but never base or graphic, the film’s a deep dive into the psyche of its heroine; entwined in fantasy and fulfillment, the film gives Buñuel, a deft surrealist (“The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie” his signature work), opportunity to reach into his bag of tricks and smudge the edges of reality the way Dalí or Munch might on a canvas.

On the outside Séverine (Catherine Deneuve) has it all: a spacious flat in a nice neighborhood and a classic, good-looking husband by the name of Pierre (Jean Sorel) who works long hours as a surgeon. Everything’s perfect, yet there’s an aloofness and conflict behind her wide, luminescent eyes. The film begins with Pierre and Séverine in a horse-drawn carriage ambling though the countryside when Pierre orders its driver to halt and his assistants to assail her. It’s one of the many fantasies we get from Séverine’s point of view. In another she’s dressed in a virginal white gown and men throw mud and perhaps worse at her – thoughts of Pasolini’s “Salò” well up. 

The carriage bell, the beat of hooves and the mewling of cats work their way mysteriously into scenes within the flat and brothel. What’s it all mean, and what of Séverine‘s masochistic fantasies? A troubled childhood? The desire to break free of a coddled life, yet an unwillingness to jump? A self-destructive bent to feel alive? Perhaps simply the intoxication of strange men in strange places? It’s a tease throughout, and the real-world pairings as arranged by Madame Anais (Geneviève Page) are almost as far out as Séverine’s fantasies, especially the client who demands that she dress up like his recently deceased daughter. Then there’s the gangster who gets freebies on the house, and the obsessed john who follows Séverine home. Ever lurking too is Pierre’s buddy Henri (Michel Piccoli, who has the mug of a mortician) who’s on to Séverine’s game and quite taken by her seeming piety and the wild side just beneath. Séverine outwardly loathes him. “Keep your compliments to yourself,” she tells him.  Continue reading

Salo or 120 Days of Sodom

23 Oct

A scene from Pier Paolo Pasolini's "Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom." (Zebra Photofest)

“120 Days of Sodom,” the rapacious weave of sexual excess and debauchery penned by Marquis de Sade in the late 1700s, didn’t receive a commercial publishing until the 20th century, mostly in part because of its perceived depraved pornographic content.

Pier Paolo Pasolini’s cinematic rendering of de Sade’s carnal excursion gone gonzo some 200 years later has often been called the most reviled film of all time, not just because of its stark, graphic nature, but more so for its aloof dehumanized detachment. Still, much like de Sade, with such infamy credited to his name, Pasolini looms a major cultural icon bridging zeitgeists, ideologies and art forms.

Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” his final work, remains a hot topic of discussion, most recently rekindled after Criterion Collection’s reissue on DVD and Blu-ray in 2011, and is also part of the Harvard Film Archive‘s ongoing “Furious and Furiouser” series about maverick filmmaking outside the studio system in the ’70s. The program, inspired by the anti-Hollywood ire of Sam Peckinpah, includes such eclectic and wide ranging works as Larisa Shepitko’s “The Ascent,” Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Conversation,” Robert Bresson’s “The Devil, Probably” and even “Saturday Night Fever.”

In a historical context, it’s ironic that “Salò” was Pasolini’s film. The film (and de Sade’s underlying work) pulls heavily from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” most notably the “Circle of S—” and “Circle of Blood” chapters that conclude the work. Leading up to those two fine portrayals of fecal feasting and slow homicidal executions (genital burning, sodomy to expiration, scalping and dismemberment) there’s a succession of bacchanal orgies where those subjugated to the whim of the ruling few, must entertain or provide services of sensual pleasuring, and should they balk or fail, the discipline is swift, cruel and even lethal.

Pasolini, a known homosexual and something of a libertine, didn’t live to see his film’s controversial ripple throughout the world (it was banned in many countries upon its initial release in 1975). He was murdered outside Rome, run over (repeatedly) by his own Alfa Romeo driven by a 17-year-old hustler who claimed Pasolini picked him up and made unwanted sexual advances (even with a confession there remains much conjecture as to the nature of events).

Given grim dithyrambs of debasement in “Salò,” the film’s being is ultimately more eerily prophetic than sadistically ironic. The great director Michelangelo Antonioni (“The Passenger” and “L’Avventura”), a contemporary countryman of Pasolini, remarked that the poet-turned-filmmaker, “was the victim of his own characters.”  Continue reading