30 June 2011

Life Not Simple, The Movie Blood Simple, You Get Two Posts in One! Simple!

Life is perplexing.

Today I saw a friendly old acquaintance at the gym who, for reasons I cannot fathom, proceeded to act like a total jerk. Minutes later I ran into another old friend who I hadn't seen in three years and he was perfectly charming. You're up, you're down. Good day, bad day. Bad encounter, nice encounter. Rain, sun. The best prediction is the one you never make.

On the bus home from the gym most seats were occupied by university students here for the Summer session. For the most part they were quiet, head in a book or texting, or day dreaming. But there was also a couple of high school age kids. A male and female. The female in particular had no sense of volume control. She could be heard loud and clear all over the bus and likely outside of it as well. This despite the fact that her companion sat across from her.

As many young people do, she referred to her fellow females as "bitches." Not as a insult but as a generic term for women. I'm so old that I remember when bitch was a derogatory term. In the same way, she and her friend referred to all males as, niggers, again as a generic and not as an insult. Here I have elected to use all the word’s letter rather than put an asterisk in place of the letter "i." I have also spelled it out instead of typing: "the n word." You see, the young couple in question said the whole word without an asterisk. And they did not say "n words" but niggers.

Yes, nigger is an offensive term. But this business about not even dare speaking it in any context whatsoever has gone too far and gone on long enough. Mind you, I do not advocate white people using it publicly, except of course in the context of an example such as: "the racist called all black people niggers." I don't believe it should be treated as if it had magic powers and will turn Caucasians who utter into pillars of salt. I further believe that "faggot" is extremely offensive and should be avoided at all costs too. But let's not start saying "the f word." For that matter I do not like it when men say "bitch" in reference to female humans. I could list many other words that I find highly objectionable as well as phrases, sentences, paragraphs and entire books. But I also find censorship extremely offensive. Cultural as well as governmental and self.

Words have a lot of power. But we shouldn't live in fear of any single one of them. Being sensitive is fine. Being paranoid not.

Here's a thought: let's rely on common courtesy in the use of language. Let's consider other people's feelings. The schmoe I saw earlier today didn't use common courtesy in speaking with me in that he clearly didn’t care how I would feel about what he said. Offending someone else is fine when its in the furtherance of a cause or idea. If you are offended by my suggesting that continuing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans is tantamount to declaring war on the poor, that's okay. I was expressing a sincere opinion on a political issue. I'm offended by 90% of what the Tea Party says but don't believe that they should silenced for saying it. It's when comments are gratuitous and serve no point that they are rude and objectionable. Just as violence in films is not bad in and of itself unless it is gratuitous.

What's so confounding about life is how it comes around and bites or caresses you regardless of what you're doing. In the gym, standing on a corner, on the bus. There are always people about who intentionally or otherwise brighten or darken your day or just cause you to think and feel and thus grow. The old phrase I used to hear was that you have to take things in stride. It's not only trite but suggests that nothing should stay your inexorable march towards wherever. I'm of the opinion that you should not take everything in stride. You should stop and slap some things right in the face. Others you should stop and hug. (I mean figuratively in both instances although hugging is a good thing.) Still others should cause you to ruminate. It's not so all fired important to continue in a straight line all the time.

All of this leads me to the film of the day I enjoyed after returning to my humble abode. (I know I took long enough to get to it.) Blood Simple (1984) the Coen Brothers' first feature. I hadn't seen it since it's initial run which by math is over a quarter of century ago. So this was basically a new movie to me.

Here we have people who have all kinna stuff happening to them. Whether they brought in on themselves or not is a separate point. They're being cuckolded, followed, getting shot at, shot to death, shot not quite to death, stealing money, having it stolen, leaving behind incriminating evidence and of course being buried alive (don't you just hate that?).

One person, Marty (Dan Hedaya) sets everything in motion when he correctly suspects that his wife Abby (Frances MacDormand) is cheating on him. His pursuit of vengeance leads him to hire a private detective (M. Emmett Walsh) whose dark sense of humor is the heart and soul of Blood Simple. He's a cackler, he's a schemer, he's as cuddly as a the lazy old crocodile.

Thing is, people in this movie keep following the natural course of events. They see something like a dying man and don't ask questions. They assume (when you assume you make an ass out of you and me, or so I've been told). In fact you can see Blood Simple is all about people taking things in stride and going on with what seems the next logical step. There's not a hint of philosophizing by the characters which allows us an audience to do that for them. These are people with total tunnel vision and an annoying single mindedness in the pursuit of the simple.

Blood Simple has been called "dark" and a "dark comedy." Fine if you want to put labels on it those two will do. But it’s also a study of human nature. No, most people are not willing to take another human being's life. But most people respond to the situations in something like what the characters in Blood Simple do. There's a lot of self preservation going on. Trying to stay out of jail, stay alive and get rich.

It's interesting to me that there's not a single cop, lawyer or other authority type figure in the film. Instead there are the consciences, or the lack thereof, of the players. They police themselves and set their own rules and create their own moral structure. People will often do that in absence of a real authority and with predictable results.

Blood Simple also foretold the cinematic style of the Coen Brothers. Much of what we've seen in their films of the last 25 years is in on display here and for that alone its well worth seeing. One example is the beginning of the film which recalls the beginning of No Country For Old Men (2007). Shots of the Texas countryside with a character from the film speaking philosophically in voice over. In Blood Simple it's Walsh.

A Coens picture is always going to avoid cliches. It is always going to smart without consciously trying to be. So many films today try to impress audiences with the important point they're getting across or their interesting story telling techniques. There's practically a little man in the corner of the screen saying over and over: see how we did that, isn't that clever? While the Coens just creatively tell the story. No whistles and bells unless there's a scene calling for a whistle blower and bell ringer.

There's plenty of blood in Blood Simple but it was always felt like it was there because someone was bleeding not because we needed to be shocked or grossed out. It is a story that asks not to take it in stride. Sure we can go through life and films excepting everything at face value and challenging nothing. But we can also wonder at the complexity of it all and try to sort out how to best place ourselves within the scheme of things. How can we, as fellow travelers, best navigate through our lives enriching or at least not hurting, the journeys of others.

I opened this post by saying that life is perplexing. For me the best crossword puzzles are the ones that cause me to scratch my head. Easy can be boring. Same with movies. Of course we have to bring our own thinking and experience to films and to situations in life. That's the fun of it.

26 June 2011

Beginners is About Love, Death and Beginning (Of Course)

There were a lot of hallways in the new film Beginners. Hallways are lonely places if you stop in them. They offer nothing in and of themselves. Except of course if you move through them in which case they are paths to rooms or apartments. Some place new, different. Or someplace familiar, home. At the end of hallways there are usually doors. Doors are impediments. They can stop you from entering. But open, they allow you into that room or apartment. Doors are funny that way.

Director Mike Mills may not have been consciously showing a lot of hallways or doors. Hell, maybe I'm alone among all the people who've seen the movie in noticing them. But I did.

Beginners is an easy film to relate to if you are a certain age. Like the age when you're parents are leaving you forever. That's what's happening to Oliver (Ewan McGregor) as we learn right at the beginning of the of the movie. His dad Hal (Christopher Plummer) has gone to the hereafter. We do get to know Hal through the course of the movie through flashbacks. We learn that when his wife of 44 years (Oliver's Mom) died, he came out and plunged headfirst into the gay community. This plunging included getting himself a boyfriend. Why not?

Oliver is quite likable. Hal is likable. Hals' dog Arthur is adorable. He becomes Oliver's dog. He's a Jack Russell. We get to know some of his thoughts through subtitles. Cute. Then there's Anna (Melanie Laurent) who is likable, adorable, and altogether quite fetching. She becomes Oliver's girlfriend. Life is good.

Beginners is one of those movies that defy easy description. That's a good sign. Movies that can be summed up in a sentence are often not about a whole lot. Beginners is about a whole lot. Like how parents eventually die. I went through that with my dear old dad a few years ago. There is an intense feeling at the time that this is part of the natural order of things. There is also the intense feeling of death's permanence. I kept telling my father what a great dad he had been. It was easy to say because he was fabulous. I was reminded of that as we watch Oliver coping with his father's cancer which is in stage four (when his dad claims to be getting better, he tells dad there is no stage five). There's also the heartbreaking stuff of going through a parent's belongings. My big brother shared that chore with me. Still....

Let's be clear though, Beginners is not a sad film. Not at all. For one thing there is the wonderful relationship between father and son. There is the joy of a life well lived. And there's also a love story mixed in.

Love stories are a staple of films. They are quite often poorly done. Not here. There is cuteness, piquancy and giggles, but there are the genuine struggles that thinking people can go through when they prepare to commit fully to another human being. How love ever works out is a miracle given all the obstacles. But it does happen. Thankfully.

Arthur (remember he's the dog) has a significant role in the film too. He's not there just to be cute. If you see the movie (you should, really) contrast his behavior, his love, to that of the humans.

Of course this is a move about beginnings. Hence the title. Hal begins life anew at 75 as a gay man. Oliver and Anna try to begin a love affair. They've failed in previous attempts with others. Beginning is harder than continuing and a lot harder than stopping or never starting. Try beginning something some time and you'll see what I mean.

Often you begin by going down a hallway and then opening a door. Sometimes this is literal. Other times this is figurative. I don't know that there were really all that many shots of hallways and doors in Beginners. But its what I noticed. I took that away from the film. Matter of fact, I took a lot away from seeing it. I should think most people would.

(Director/writer based the film on his own experiences. The truth of his experience probably informed it in a very, very positive way. See this recent article from Berkeleyside.)

25 June 2011

"We Have Heard the Chimes at Midnight" And Then Collapsed on an Idaho Road

Thank you William Shakespeare for inspiring the film I watched earlier today, My Own Private Idaho (1991). I know you didn't have young hustlers living in the America circa 1990 in mind when you wrote Henry IV Part I Henry V Part II and Henry V. And gay sex was probably not in your first draft. But dude....This adaptation totally worked.

Yeah the idea of a young man about to inherit position and wealth. Soon to abandon old friends and old ways (in this case of drugs, of thievery of prostitution) turning his back (literally!) on old friends -- sorry Falstaff. All here! Gus Van Sandt adapted, adopted and directed.

Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix (he became the late River Phoenix way too early) starred. And it was good what they did (if I count the number of times I've liked Reeves in a movie it won't take but a second).

My Own Private Idaho is a remarkably sad, happy story which means it tells some truths about life. I really like that in a story, a movie. Don't you Shakespeare? I knew you would.

You see there are young man who prostitute themselves -- one who looks from hell and back for his mom -- they cuss, steal, laugh, cry and try to figure out what the deal is with this thing called life. And there are people who make 180 degree turns in their lives. And one who has narcolepsy that totally screws with him. Yeah people collapse on lonely roads too. Loneliness. Life can be incredibly lonely at stretches for people. Even when they're among friends. Weird, huh?

People say stuff like this to each other: "Why, you wouldn't even look at a clock unless hours were lines of coke, dials looked like the signs of gay bars, or time itself was a fair hustler in black leather." That was Scott Favor (Reeves) talking. And people also express this type of sentiment: "I've been tasting roads my whole life." Maybe not in those words but that kind of notion which was said in this story by Mike Waters (Phoenix).

I've noticed that people can be really profound when they talk the truth about things they know. You go to a 12 step meeting where people are struggling with their demons or just trying to sort out the day-to-day and you hear some seriously honest, eloquent stuff. "I'm a connoisseur of roads. I've been tasting roads my whole life. This road will never end. It probably goes all around the world." That's Mike again and that's more stuff about roads which as you can guess he spends a lot of time on and are like a metaphor and all for a lot of what he's dealing with like looking for his mom which is really also looking for who he is and I don't care that this is a run-on sentence because sometimes it just has to be that way. My point being that sometimes rules are superseded by what is needed at the time. That's a point a lot of people don't get. The characters in My Own Private Idaho do, however. Because for better or for worse they are alive. There's a lot of walking dead in the world.

I was comfortable watching the people in this film because, like I said, they were being real and also because (and here I pause and ask you to do the same).....Van Sandt did a really beautiful job of telling the story. The shots down lonely roads were easy, but kudos for not screwing them up. The scene set ups, the frames of faces and people talking, really nice. The whole feel of the film was a wonderful melding of artsy and real. Plus it had the language of Shakespeare. There were a few lines literally lifted from the aforementioned plays (like in the title of this post) but that's not what I mean. The language came from the combination of truth and beauty in the words and the story construction. Also, like the great bard, there was a depth to the story.

Also, My Own Private Idaho has love in it. The great director John Cassavetes said he wouldn't make a story without love as the central element. People digging around within themselves trying to sort out who their loves are and why and if and when and what to say about it, that's life at it's most basic. Yeah we eat, sleep and all that other stuff, but by God we also spend a lot of time wrestling with love (what the hell is it, anyway?). It's a helluva thing and gets to all of us regardless of present circumstance. Mike has a wonderful/terrible time exploring his love for Scott and does it aloud in conversation with him in an amazing fireside conversation. It's just the kind of stuff that separates superior film from crap.

This is a movie that goes ahead and says something. Maybe you didn't like it, or can't relate, but you've got to credit films that dig deep. They find real kind of stories with real kind of people in them dealing with real kind of situations. Then they try to find a way to tell it that will make it accessible but also challenge us. I'm all for it and am sorely sorry it's the kind of storytelling so rare in Hollywood.

Okay so Shakespeare if you're in a place that you can check this movie out, do so. Then again, its been out for 20 years so you probably have already. What did ya think? See what an incredible variety of stories your stories inspire? You should be proud, man. Seriously.

20 June 2011

So You Want to Start Watching Woody Allen Films, an Introduction

So You Want to Start Watching _______is an occasional feature here at Streams of Unconsciousness. It is a guide to anyone unfamiliar with a particular star, director, genre, or time period in films. After a brief introduction, I will provide a sampling of films to watch. Although I will always strive to include the best possible films for each chapter in the series, I will also look to present representative work. I'll say a little bit about each film, all of which will be provided in chronological order. This is the third of the series. In the first I provided an introduction to the films of Humphrey Bogart the second was an intro to screwball comedies in the third I introduced films of the 1970s next was an introduction to Westerns and the most recent focused on Alfred Hitchcock.

With the recent release of Woody Allen's latest film, Midnight in Paris, to critical acclaim, I thought it a good time to suggest some of the master's movies to anyone unfamiliar with his work. Even if you have a basic familiarity with Allen, you've probably missed a few of his films here and there, after all, he's made a boatload (and whatta boat!).

As I wrote of Allen in my review of MidnightI've loved this guy since I was a kid and he was a comic. When he started directing, I instantly adored his films, and not just his earlier funnier ones. When he got serious I was on board. He writes them, directs them, occasionally appears them.  

I love enough of Allen's films that a personal top ten would not only be easy to compile but I could in fact manage a top twenty without breaking a sweat, as you'll see below. 

Allen is a prolific filmmaker who has averaged a film a year for the past 40 years. In addition to directing he also writes the screenplays and often, though not so much recently, stars. Allen's primary directorial influences are clearly Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini. You could do a lot worse, in fact, I'd defy you to do any better. But he's also influenced by his own comic background which included writing for Sid Caeser, the New Yorker and for his own comedy act. Allen is largely self-taught which is to say he studied at the feet of the master. He is true renaissance man. In addition to his film work, Allen is an accomplished playwright, author and clarinet player.

Allen does not talk down to his audience. He respects our intelligence even if many of us don't respect our own. Allen's typical audience is educated, urban, liberal and perhaps middle aged. He is very popular in Europe, particularly France. His films have never been huge money makers, but Allen has a loyal audience and has done all right for himself and the studios and producers who've backed him. With only a few exceptions, even his films with serious themes are laced with large doses of humor. And with only a few exceptions his comedies are heavily spiced with thought-provoking themes. Most Woody Allen films receive positive critical acclaim and he's done all right in terms of awards though they don't interest him. He's had numerous actors gain Oscar nominations for work in his films with several winning the statuette. 

Most of Allen's film feature bed-hopping adulterers, such philanderers making for more interesting cinema fare than the chaste. Allen does not play well among the deeply religious. He has also explored murder, morality and the very nature of life itself. Like Bergman and Fellini, he has never shrunk from big topics.

Seemingly every actor of note has appeared in a Woody. Unlike many long time directors he has not had a regular ensemble cast. Though for a time Diane Keaton played his female lead and then for a longer period Mia Farrow. In addition to some of the names you'll see below, his stars have included Penelope Cruz, Javier Bardem, Anthony Hopkins, Sean Penn, Hugh Jackman, Marion Cotillard, Jose Ferrer, Will Ferrell, Jim Broadbent, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Ewan McGregor, Collin Farrell, Charlize Theron and Gena Rowlands. To name just a few. Seriously, there are a lot more.

I offer here a mere sampling of his films as a starter set for the Allen novice.  I tried to offer a variety of types spread relatively evenly over the past 40 years. In some cases I've previously written about the film and offer a link to that post. Also the reader may be interested in my post on some of the best one liners from Allen films.

Bananas (1971). Some will undoubtedly disagree with my assertion that this is the best of Allen's early comedies, but there is no arguing that it is representative of Allen's initial directing stage. It is played strictly for laughs and of those there are plenty. Allen stars as Fielding Melish a bit of nebbish (a horny one) who gets caught up in a Cuba-like country with a Castro-like revolutionary. You can read some social commentary in Bananas, but in a film in which Howard Cosell interviews a post-coital couple as if they'd just completed a boxing match, the emphasis is clearly on laughs.

Love and Death (1975). I believe that, though this is straight comedy, it represents the start of Allen's transition into more serious fare. While the overall theme is light, there is foretelling of some of the deeper themes to come in Allen's works (note the word "Death" in the title). Set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars, L&D is as wise as it is witty. Here's an earlier post I wrote about the film.

Manhattan (1979). My favorite Allen film and one of my top ten of all time from any director. I have struggled with writing about it before and will again. It simply is too perfect for me to find the right words for. Shot in glorious black and white, Manhattan is a love letter to New York. It is also screamingly funny. Allen co-stars with Diane Keaton.

Zelig (1983). Not like any other film done by Allen or for that matter anyone else. It is the king of faux documentaries, purporting to be the story of a man (Zelig, played by Allen) who changes personality and even physical appearance to conform to those around him. In the presence of a psychiatrist he is a psychiatrist, in the presence of an African American, he becomes an African American. I wrote this about Zelig a few years ago.

Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). Michael Caine won a best supporting actor for his portrayal of the philandering husband of Hannah (Mia Farrow). Her sisters are portrayed by Barbara Hershey, with whom Caine's character has an affair, and Dianne Weist. Allen features as an ex of Hannah and the world's greatest hypochondriac who goes through the world's greatest mid-life crisis after a cancer scare. It is a typically grand ensemble Allen cast (Carrie Fisher, Sam Waterston, Maureen O'Sullivan, Lloyd Nolan and Max Von Sydow also appear) with a lot going on. Much of the action is quite funny and much is thought provoking and much a bit of both.

Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989). A film widely shown in philosophy classes, C&M brilliantly asks some very profound moral questions. Martin Landau is wonderful as a respected opthamologsit who ponders having a bothersome lover killed. Waterston is a rabbi and patient of Landau who is going blind. Allen appears as a documentarian assigned to make a film about an arrogant film producer played by Allan Alda. Mia Farrow, who by this time was appearing in all of Allen's films, is the love interest. C&M is the highlight  and finale of the rich 15 year period starting with Love & Death, in which Allen made most of what I consider his best films.

Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). Allen's first post-Farrow film is exactly what the title suggests. Allen co-stars with his old friend Diane Keaton. Also along for the ride are Angelica Huston and Alan Alda. Allen and Keaton are a married couple who suspect that their neighbor is guilty of foul play. There are laughs aplenty and the nagging questions: Did he do the deed? Will they find him out? Are they in danger? Maybe to all three. Will the audience giggle all the way? Definitely. 

Everyone Says I Love You (1996). This is the one and thus far only Woody Allen musical. That's right, he did a musical. The cast is all-star featuring Alda, Drew Barrymore, Tim Roth, Edward Norton, Goldie Hawn, Julia Roberts and a pubescent Natalie Portman. The settings include New York, Vienna and Paris. You will not hear the greatest voices ever recorded but you will have a fun time with the songs and the non-stop laughs. It'll keep a perpetual smile on your face.

Small Time Crooks (2000). I include this pure comedy because it is criminally neglected. Here we have the teaming of Allen and British comic actress Tracy Ullman. They formed a not surprisingly great duo. STC is based on Larceny Inc. (1942) starring Edward G. Robinson. In both cases a gang of crooks start a business close to a bank so that they can tunnel into the vault. And in both films the businesses prosper. In STC, with, as they say, hilarious consequences. 

Match Point (2005). This is one of the few Allen films to be devoid of humor. It is an elegant look at a young man, Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers) who through hard work and marrying well, mostly the latter, gets it all. But he is a man who believes it is more important to be lucky than good. He's going to need luck when he starts an affair with a gorgeous blonde (Scarlett Johansson) who is the ex fiance of his brother-in-law. She wants, expects, demands that he leave his wife. As in a number of Allen films a murder of convenience is planned. There are no good guys here. No hero. No justice. But there is a beautifully told story, that, like a lot of Allen's best, will get you thinking.

Okay, so here are my top 20 Allen films, in order: 1) Manhattan, 2) Annie Hall (1977), 3) Crimes and Misdemeanors, 4) Broadway Danny Rose (1984), 5) Zelig, 6) Hannah and Her Sisters, 7) Midnight in Paris, 8) The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), 9) Match Point, 10) Radio Days (1987), 11) Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), 12) Bananas, 13) Stardust Memories (1980), 14) Manhattan Murder Mystery, 15) Bullets Over Broadway (1994), 16) Love and Death, 17) Cassandra's Dream (2007),18) Take the Money and Run (1969) and 20) Scoop (2006).

19 June 2011

In The Last Picture Show -- It's Not What Happens to Sonny, But How He Responds To It

He breaks up with his girlfriend.
He has an affair with the coach's wife.
His mentor dies suddenly.
His best friend puts his eye out in a fight.
Another friend is killed by a truck.
He is dumped by the most beautiful girl in town, who has just been using him anyway.
He returns to see the older woman, she's enraged because he ignored her for three months.
Through joy, tears, heartache, understanding and pain, he preserves.
At the end of the story he is left in a dead end mid Texas town. A recent high school graduate who owns the local pool hall but has to work on an oil rig to keep it open. He has no girl, no discernible prospects, no way out. But he'll be fine.

He is Sonny Crawford (Timothy Bottoms), the centerpiece of Peter Bogdanovich's incredible film, The Last Picture Show (1971).

As Ma Joad says in The Grapes of Wrath (1940)But we keep a'comin'. We're the people that live. They can't wipe us out; they can't lick us. We'll go on forever, Pa, 'cause we're the people.

The Last Picture Show featured an extraordinary array of acting talent. Four of its cast members were nominated for Supporting Actor Oscars, two won. The winners were Cloris Leachman and Ben Johnson and the nominees Jeff Bridges and Ellen Burstyn. The cast also boasted Eileen Brennan, Cybil Shepherd, Randy Quaid, Clu Gulager and Sam Bottoms (Timothy's brother).

But Sonny is the character who proves the old adage that it's not what happens to us that is important, but how we respond to it. There is a conceit in this country that the ability to pick one's self up, dust one's self off and start all over again is a uniquely American quality. Or even that it is emblematic of hearty small town Americans. People in all parts of this country and the world as a whole have the ability to roll with the punches and take a knock down with being knocked out. In any case, Sonny personifies this quality.

But more than this Sonny is the type of character who dwells in many films and many actual towns and communities. Sonny lives within the eye of the storm. He is not endowed with special talents nor encumbered by debilitating defects of mind or body. No great deeds does he perform, no terrible crimes does he commit. But neither is he ordinary. Far from blending into the crowd, he seems to embody it.

Bogdanovich and Larry McMurtry wrote the screenplay based on McCurty's novel of the same name. The story is set in Nowheresville, Texas from November 1951 to October 1952. The year in the life of a town, specifically members of its high school senior class. Like many a small town there is little to do and what is done becomes everyone's business. Sonny's affair with the older woman (Leachman) goes from gossip to common knowledge in the blink of an eye. There is a lot of sleeping around in such towns, providing as it does a relief of boredom and the marriages that so many rush into in dull places. Marriage gives a sense of empowerment to the newlyweds and escape from stifling home lives. So that they may ultimately create their own stifling domestic atmosphere.

Ennui is the currency in such towns. Relief can be found for some in church, others require football games, booze or a roll in the hay. There is also the picture show. The town kingpin is Sam the Lion (Johnson) who owns the pool hall, cafe and aforementioned picture show. He is wise, kind, respected and has taken Sonny under his wing. Sonny in turn looks after Billy (Sam Bottoms) a younger lad who doesn't utter a word and is generally considered a dim wit. So yes, there's Sonny in the middle.

Sonny's best friend is handsome and popular Duane (Bridges) whose girlfriend is the town's beauty, Jacy (Shepherd). When they break up, Sonny is ultimately caught -- where else? -- in the middle.

He's been, essentially, in the middle of a marriage too. He's in the middle of a gang that enrages Sam by getting Billy laid by the town whore, who slaps poor Billy when he spills his seed all over her.

But Sonny, even when beaten up by Duane and smashed in the eye with a beer bottle, does not play the victim. People who fall easily into the victim role are boring and unproductive in stories and whatever the hell real life is. Sonny don't play that.

Sonny does nothing in broad strokes, like so many "characters." Sonny is no shrinking violet either. He is doer. He is always there. The best in the "common" person who knows good and well the meaning of the word quit, but is not a practitioner. And in ensemble film like The Last Picture Show he is indispensable. The strength of Bottoms' performance is that he is an evident figure whose resilience shines as other actors are appropriately spicier. He is the one who we, as an audience, are drawn to, unknowingly. Our sympathies lie with him because he is us. He is the center that our extremes gravitate to.

Sonny is the people and he keeps a comin'.

17 June 2011

Professors in Film, The Good, The Great and the Wacky

With school out and many of you done with college or preparing to head there or holding frond memories of your days at university, this seems an appropriate time to reflect on the academic center of college life -- the professor.

I had college professors who could have marketed themselves as non addictive cures for insomnia. It would be impossible for me to forget the prof who stated in the middle of a lecture that a rock communicates to us. He posited that by its failure to communicate it was in fact telling us that it could not communicate. The mind boggles.

Fortunately I also had professors who were at once thoroughly entertaining, enlightening and inspiring. To such an extent that I've become convinced that these three qualities are intertwined. Some of my professors were among the most influential people in my life and it was a privilege to be spell bound by them.

As a public school teacher I exhorted my young chargers to strive for admittance into a university. I contended that, while earning a degree was important, the real treat would be to learn and that in many cases they'd be doing so at the figurative feet of masterful teachers. This would not be the little dog and pony show that I put on. This would be enthralling lectures from experts in their fields.

Many professors, whether among the great or the pathetic, are what we call in this culture, "real characters." That is to say that they distinguish themselves from your ordinary Joe or Josephine with eccentric or dynamic behavior. They are thus ideal fodder for films. I humbly submit the following ten film characters as emblematic of the variety of interesting professors that show up in films. My only restriction was that those selected must have appeared in an outstanding movie. I am disappointed that no female characters made the list. I will not shoulder the blame for this, instead pointing out that even today females are under represented among tenured university faculty and this is reflected in films.

Alan Bates as Ben Butley in Butley (1974). Okay so he wasn't particularly keen on tutorials. His office was a reflection of his personal life, a mess. Still he was what they call a character. Passionate about...well himself, anyway. Interesting bloke and that's what you really want in a professor, eh?

Colin Firth as George in A Single Man (2009). I found the one lecture we got to witness of his quite interesting. Here's a man of obvious intellect, clearly well read and learned. Oh sure he's got a wondering eye and a weakness for some of his cuter students. Who's perfect?

Donald Sutherland as Dave Jennings in Animal House (1978). Perhaps possessive of some questionable morals what with the sleeping with a student , not to mention getting stoned with several students. But a compelling figure in front of the classroom and certainly able to relate to today's students.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). Strongsuit: A sense of adventure. Weakness: Frequent absences. It's quite obvious from what little we see of him before a classroom that the chicks dig him. But most importantly, imagine the stories the guy could tell!

Richard Burton as George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966). Okay so he's spineless in the face of his wife's rage. Okay so he's a bit of a lush. You hear that deep stentorian voice? I wanna hear him lecture.

Henry Fonda as Tommy Turner in The Male Animal (1942). A man of principal, a strong believer in academic freedom and allowing students to think for themselves. Unafraid of taking on the powers that be. Simply put one of the most commendable film professors ever.

Groucho Marx as Professor Quincy Adams Wagstaff in Horse Feathers (1932). I don't know about the rest of you lot but I like a teacher with a sense of humor. That being the case you can't possibly top Professor Wagstaff. I believe he had a PHd in madcap antics.

Michael Douglas as Professor Grady Tripp in Wonder Boys (2000). Another prof not above getting stoned with a student. Again we have an iconoclast. And again someone who gives favored students the personal touch. Plus with friends like Terry Crabtree (Robert Downey Jr.) he's going to be a hoot to hang out with.

Edward Everett Horton as Professor Nick Potter in Holiday (1938). How to describe him? How about whatever word is the antonym to pompous? Clearly a cerebral but fun-loving bloke. Anyone who influenced and was friends with Johnny Case (Cary Grant) is better than okay.

Michael Stuhlbarg as Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man (2009). I'm no good at any form of math but if I were to learn it, it would be at the feet of the likes of Gopnik. He is clearly a sincere and very nice man who is continually being dealt unfair blows by the fates. But like any good teacher he shows up every day. And oh yes, he's a man of integrity, no bribes will he take.

15 June 2011

Thy Will Be Done, Malick's Tree of Life, With a Cast Including God

Dear me.

There are films that try to say something. Try to be important. Aim for significance. There are earnest attempts to utilize cinema as a means of edifying and enlightening. Yes, there are ambitious film makers who seek to make films of high artistic merit. Then there's Terrance Malick's The Tree of Life.

With God appearing as himself, herself, self. At least I assume that was the real deal. Had me convinced.

There is within Tree of Life large spaces in which my mind wondered away to areas totally unrelated to the film or its themes. Then again when your theme is life itself I suppose its impossible to be off topic.

Tree of Life is not without stretches that will induce yawns from the most high brow intellectual on your block. But when a movie also has you contemplating parenthood, childhood, death, and the beginning of life on Earth...well, you can forgive the occasional slow stretch. For that matter, perhaps such breaks are needed. This is, after all, awfully heady fare.

Mundane details about the film include the fact that the "story" such as it is, is set in 1950s Waco, Texas, but also at the Big Bang, primordial ooze and present day and somewhere in between all places. Heaven? Brad Pitt is the stern father of three lads in their pre teens who walked right off of a Norman Rockwell painting. Jessica Chastain is the mom. I did not know her before but will not soon forget this amazing actress. Sean Penn is the present day incarnation of the oldest boy. His scenes, by the way, made little sense to me but were so rich with significance and beauty of some kind that I cannot explain, that I'll be making my own meaning of them.

Much of what happens  in the film is garden variety growing up. But as told by Malick in the Tree of Life, we see that every move we make is rich with the meaning of life and our place in the universe. It really is.

Early in the film the mother's voice whispers (there is a lot of whispering voice over) that we can go the way of nature or the way of grace. Nature is an unforgiving master that giveth and taketh away. Grace however....

So there is yin and yang. There is God as a forever presence, but not of the Old Testament variety angrily imposing His will. There is a search for meaning and no easy answers to be found in a book. Discovery must come through the living and the asking. Through the developing and understanding of nature and grace. Journeys of self discovery, we see, take us to the roots of humankind and existence itself.

Yes it is all very deep. But Malick's gift is to provide us with a very rich stew that lies lightly as we digest it all. It is a film that does not require your imagination at all, just a mind opened to allowing come what may. Let the visions, the scenes, the symbols, the characters flow into your conscience. I do not know how on Earth the DVD will be divided into chapter. The Tree of Life is like a river.

I don't know if it takes remarkable courage to make such a film or just a conviction that one should aim big. Malick is clearly an ambitious director and that's not news. Would that there were more of his kind. And more movies that dared to be about the something.

11 June 2011

Paris Texas is a Movie that Happens While We're Busy Making Other Plans

I'm always shorter than people expect I'll be. Do I write or sound tall? Or taller, at least?
But I'm sturdy (hurdy gurdy) and deceptively strong. Like a tequila sunrise. But that's not what you're here for, is it? None of this is. You want the juice. The fix. My great con of film blogging. You want a hit of 100 proof Streams of Unconsciousness movie prattle. The kind you can contemplate those long lonely nights in front of the flickering image....

He walks silent through the landscape of the film. Not a word is spoken for nearly half an hour of film time. Like a ghost. An angel. Spectral and gaunt. Kind of cool. King of spooky. His name is Travis (not Bickle) and he's played by Harry Dean Stanton in Paris, Texas (1984).

His square-dealing, straight-as-an-arrow, middle-class, suburban brother Walt (Dean Stockwell) retrieves him from the south Texas frontier – where he has collapsed – and takes him home. Home to L.A. and Walt's wife, who is French, and son – who is really the son of Travis.

It's a strange, moody, beautiful story. Wim Wenders directed and he's certainly strange and moody if not particularly beautiful.

I ran into this movie today. Smack dab into it. Like ramming my head into a low door jamb. Thud. But it didn't hurt. Felt kinda good, actually.

What do we make of Travis? He was gone for four years, and when he finally talks won't say where to or why that four-year gap exists. He's got a wife he's not seen in four years. Meanwhile their child Hunter has lived a little over half his life. With Walt and Ann.

You know what Travis does the first night in his brother's house? Not sleep. No, that's ordinary stuff. He polishes all the shoes in the house and lays 'em all out in order on the outdoor terrace. Because.

Travis and Hunter have some catching up to do but that's not going to be easy. One being not yet eight years old; the other being laconic. Probably should be laconic with a capital L. I'm just saying.

Walt, by the way, has his own company making and erecting billboards. Of course. Travis says he really likes his billboards. Walt points out that he's not the only person in the world makin' em. Cute!

Anyhoo, Travis is a tortured soul (not sole as in feet, let's not get carried away with the whole shoe business). I mean he's been wandering for awhile now and has just re-emerged. He's no good-time Charley.

But ya know what he finally decides to do? Find the boy's mother. And to take the lad with him in the search. Why, that's kidnapping, you insist. Yeah, in real life, but this is a story. A parable even. Don't go all literal on it. Travis is just liable to walk off into the desert again like he kept trying to do at the beginning of the film. (Hey! I forgot to mention that the reason the movie is named Paris, Texas is cause Travis owns some property in said city, or town or whatever....Or maybe it's because Travis was conceived there, or...hell you decide for yourself. Truthfully, it might not be all that important, I don't know.)

Let's skip ahead shall we? There are some scenes I found really awkward. Such as when Travis is talking into the window-side of a window mirror (they call em two-way mirrors) but.... On the other side is his wife (Natasha Kinski). Eventually it goes from really awkward to quite beautiful and you just might be ready to sob or something. I don't know you, so I can't say.

Then other stuff that seems suitable enough to the story happens and it ends. The film, I mean.

I really like the choices of how Paris, Texas begins and ends. I mean, where do you start a story and where do you say this is where we stop it? That's a tough decision. They got it right in this particular story (written by Sam Shepard). Where you start and end determines what's in the middle, if ya think about it. And it sure-fire colors how you view the whole story. Ultimately, it's better with some stories not to chop 'em up into pieces, chapters, parts. But look at them like a river. Just flows. Travis kinda flows through the story. There's a steadiness and relentlessness about him. I think.

I just think a lot about Travis. He's so meandering  and purposeful – if that makes sense, but I don't guess it does and that's okay. How easy is it to always make sense to other people when you're describing art? I mean it's simple enough if you deal in trivialities and clichés. Maybe next time. Paris, Texas doesn't lend itself to trivialities or clichés. I like that in a movie. Don't you?

Travis is endless and indestructible. And oh so vulnerable. (Got it!)

But I was making a point about this Travis fella. He's lived, by God. Which means some really grand times and some pretty deep lows. (I don't trust a guy says he's had a nice smooth life. He's either a liar or an empty suit.) But ya know he doesn't just live in the angst. He walks through it. In it. Among it. Makes it poetic. I like that. I also like the way Wenders told this story. It's really pretty to look at for one thing. And the soundtrack  works like a charm. I really like Stanton, of course, but I also really admire how Stockwell played the straight up and down counterpoint. You haven't got much of a film if the supporting players are just props and not like real, living people themselves.

I'm sure glad I didn't see this film until 27 years after its release. Cause today -- this day, this place, this mood -- I was ready for it. I got my plunk in the head and was seeing stars but it felt good and those stars was pretty.

You do your thing, Travis. You're alright.

10 June 2011

Someone Should Write a Book About the Making of Zabriske Point (But Not Me)

Someone should write a book about the making of Zabriskie Point (1970)
And its aftermath
But not me
Of course they'd probably have to watch the film
Several times
That's asking a lot
The great Italian director, Michelangelo Antonioni directed Zabriskie Point
You're right
It was not as good as L'Eclisse or L'Aventurra or La Notte
Or Red Desert
Or Blow Up
Hey not even in the same league
Was Zabriskie Point his low point as a director?
The person who writes the book might have an opinion
Strange film
Supposed to capture the spirit of revolution
Of the 1960s
Even though Kathleen Cleaver (a real live Black Panther) was in it
And there was a cool opening scene with her and others
Talking about it (revolution)
There were protests and bombs and shootings too
In Zabriskie Point
But then it got weird,
Maybe the book someone would write
But not me, like I said,
would focus a lot on the two main actors
Both of whom were lousy actors
First time actors
Almost last time actors
The woman dropped out of UC Berkeley to be in the film
(Go Bears!)
Her name was Daria Halprin
In fact it still is, for she yet lives
The dude was played by Mark Frechette
He does not yet live
He only lived another 5 years after the film
Died in prison
Was there for a bank robbery
Here's what he said about the robbery:
"There was no way to stop what was going to happen. We just reached the point where all that the three of us really wanted to do was hold up a bank. And besides, standing there with a gun, cleaning out a teller's cage - that's about as fuckin' honest as you can get, man!"
Told you someone should write a book about the making of Zabriskie Point
(But not me)
He died while lifting weights
150 pounds fell on his throat
Hey, this book practically writes itself!
Both Daria and Mark joined a commune
(In real life, not in the movie)
Which in itself is an interesting story
She was only in one other film
But did marry Dennis Hopper
She later founded the Tamalpa Institute
You probably didn't know that it, according to its website:
"Offers classes and workshops for the public throughout the year and a comprehensive training program in movement-based expressive arts education and therapy for people who wish to incorporate embodied creativity through the arts into their personal lives and professional practices..."
Now you know!
The book
(which I won't write)
could have a lot of interesting stuff about how Antonioni cast the film
(I mean Zabriskie Point, of course)
And the many hassles during production
Like people being really pissed off about it's anti American message
Right wing groups protesting
A grand jury investigating -- crazy man, crazy
Also stuff about how MGM tried to cut a lot of scenes from the film
Don't forget the about weird orgy scene
I should say the WEIRD orgy scene
(Actually, to be fair, can you make an orgy scene that seems totally normal?)
And the exploding stuff at the end
Which is actually pretty cool
And the fact that Rod Taylor and G.D. Spradlin were in it
Oh and the reaction to the film
The word mixed comes to mind but details please future author
(Who isn't me)
Not to mention the lives of the players afterwards

(Be sure to check out the You Tube clip I've posted)
Lot of the book
(which I reiterate, I won't write)
should be about Antonioni traveling around the U.S.
His "research" his whole thought process, or as much as can be told
Just as a film Zabriske Point...not so good
But as piece of radical 60s Americana, kind of interesting
As a story about particular people involved in a...let us say
wild and wooly project...really really interesting
Potentially fascinating
It would make a great book
(But not by me)

07 June 2011

A Piece of My Mind (Not That I Can Spare It) About Four Recent News Stories

Okay check out this headline: "Shooting That Killed 3-month-old was Case of Mistaken Identity, Police Say." I don't even know how to get my mind around this one. What, they killed the wrong infant? I don't mean to sound flippant about this but it is utterly mind blowing. Did someone say to the assassin afterwards "Not that three month old, ya dummy!" There's never a right anyone to kill -- but a baby? Not only do you kill a baby but it's the wrong one? I recall some of the lamentations of Ed Tom Bell (Tommy Lee Jones) in No Country For Old Men (2007). As Ed Tom would say, you can't make this stuff up, I dare you to try. No, the baby wasn't really the target, the family with which he was in a car, was. Still the assailant killed a baby. By the way, there's been an arrest in the case. Of a 17 year old. For heaven's sake he was a baby not all that long ago himself. God have mercy on us all.

There was an opinion piece in Saturday's New York Times called When Teachers Talk Out of School. In sum it's about how some teachers have gotten in very hot water, even canned, for making disparaging comments about students on blogs, Facebook and the like. One first grade teacher likened her job to being a "warden" overseeing "future criminals." Another was suspended for referring to her high school students as “rude, disengaged, lazy whiners” and “frightfully dim.”  Having been in the teaching biz for 20 odd years (and by God they were mostly quite odd) I can attest to the fact that teachers make these kind of comments to one another about their students all the time. All the time. But this well meaning Times story about cases of teacher's 1st Amendment Rights and how bad mouthing students isn't so covered, is a classic case of burying the lead. Why are teachers so continually frustrated and angered by their young charges? What social conditions are in place that make aberrant, rude and manic student behavior so common place? And where is the situation the worst? Urban schools? Are many of the offenders African American, or is poverty a more common link? Which teachers are more frustrated? White teachers? White teachers of Black students? What solutions are there to this very serious, very real social problem? Just for starters I'd say getting rid of standardized testing and focusing on the daily discipline issues that stunt education is for more critical than the sideshow of what teachers say and where the venting takes place.

Speaking of distractions...How about the whole Anthony Weiner crotch photos story? First of all I'd like to address my fellow males: Seriously, stop sending pictures of your (fill in one of various synonyms for penis here) to women. It is utterly infantile and you're giving us all a bad name. Any woman who's interested in such a photo is surely someone you should steer clear of anyway. Second of all to everyone, but of course mostly men, if you do something incredibly stupid and get caught you've got an immediate decision to make that you need to stick with. Either confess all immediately or deny until your dying breath. As they say in 12 step programs, half measures avail us nothing. The lie, the cover up, is usually worse than the deed. But really what's most important to me about the (seriously there is no pun intended) Weiner story, is that it's not that important. Good God the media spends (wastes) way too much time on sex scandals, divorces, affairs and drunken rampages. They are rarely very significant stories and those that are get way more play than they deserve. How about spending half the time you do on story's like Weiner's groin pic on the criminal manner in which corporations, big business and super wealthy individuals get around paying tens of millions of dollars in taxes -- every f*cking year. That's just one of the kind of stories that gets neglected while the sexy stuff is spread out all over TV and the web. Shameful.

I close with the lighter side of the news. Those running jokes, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachman, made the news with their unique interpretations of two events in U.S. history. Palin said this of Paul Revere's famous ride: He who warned, uh, the British that they weren’t going to be taking away our arms – uh - by ringing those bells and – um - makin’ sure as he’s riding his horse through town to send those warnin’ shots and bells that – uh - we were going to be secure and we were going to be free. Hey, at least she had the right war. As any school kid knows, Revere was alerting the rebels, not the Brits. And this from Bachman: What I love about New Hampshire and what we have in common is our extreme love for liberty. Your the state where the shot was heard around the world in Lexington and Concord. Boy the tourist industry in Massachusetts has some nerve claiming those battles happened in their state. I know comics everywhere hope these two towering intellects will stay in the presidential race long past their expiration dates. Priceless.

05 June 2011

Better Than Noon in Tulsa -- Woody's Back!

Passion is real. Romance, maybe. Time travel, sadly not. 

I've loved this guy since I was a kid and he was a comic. When he started directing, I instantly adored his films, and not just his earlier funnier ones. When he got serious I was on board. He writes them, directs them, occasionally appears in them. He is Woody Allen and his latest film is Midnight in Paris. I believe it will be my favorite of his works from the last 20 years. Tres, tres bien.

The main character, Gil (Owen Wilson) is a writer who loves Paris and romanticizes the past, particularly Paris in the Twenties. Buddy, that's me all over. But this lucky stiff gets to visit that magical era which saw the Lost Generation write and compose and drink and cavort and talk in the City of Lights.

Thus the cast of characters in Woody's 41st feature film includes Hemingway and Fitzergald (love those guys) and Picasso (I'm a fan) Cole Porter (dig him) and Luis Bunuel (I've just started watching and loving his films!). There's also Salvador Dali, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas and the wild and wacky Zelda Fitzgerald.

Folks, the casting was perfect. Kathy Bates, for one, was born to play Stein. Casting familiar historical figures is a dicey proposition as its go easy to go wrong (Gwen Stefani as Jean Harlow in the Aviator anyone) but Allen and his crew nailed it and the actors came through marvelously.

On the subject of the cast, Marion Cotillard is utterly enchanting and Rachael McAdams and Michael Sheen play less than desirable folks to perfection. Oh yes, you also get Carla Bruni whose real life husband is some big mucky muck in France. As Porter might croon: Midnight in Paris is dee-lightful and dee-lovely. Hey, how can a movie set in Paris not be?

Question: is love a real, tangible experience, or is it a name we've given to feelings that are ultimately incomprehensible and ethereal? And if it is real how can we be sure that an individual experience of it is genuine and not just a desire to let ourselves go into a feeling? Movies have done a lot playing with love. Distorting, simplifying, trivializing. The instant and forever love of cinema is more a convenience for storytelling than something we're likely to experience.

Then there is love of a place. Many of us, for instance, have fallen in love with Paris. It is like a lover who is both the most beautiful and the wisest we've ever met. It's impossible to conceive of a better one. Places are less likely to let us down then people. Cities like Paris, with a reverence for the past and the vibrancy of modern times, are a good example of why this is so.

There is also a love of past eras, usually in particular places. Some people feel they were born in the wrong time period. They are being silly. I should say, we are being silly. But rationality in the face of love is to be assiduously avoided. We're not very well going to go back to those times so its a pretty harmless conceit.

I cannot adequately express my great frustration that I cannot time travel. This missing skill set has frustrated me all my life. Reading about Paris or Berlin in the Twenties is like reading about sex. It cannot compare with the real thing. We are left to rely on our imaginations. Artists like Woody Allen are a great help.

Midnight in Paris addresses love in its many forms. The longing in particular. For a person a city or an era. And our powerlessness in the face of love. We are so often at the mercy of fate or, even worse, another person, if we are to fully realize the object of our desire. But it also explores the notion of belief and surrendering to that belief. That's powerful stuff. You'll see if you see the movie, see.

What a great fortune to live here and now and to be able to see really special films like Midnight in Paris. I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling it was made specifically for me. (Woody: How did you know?) I now can't wait to get back to Paris. I want to re-read all my Hemingway and Fitzgerald and continue watching Bunuel films. I want to live here and now where movies can speak to me, can validate FEELINGS and move me to respond to the inner artist.

As to a plot summary of Midnight in Paris...haven't I told you enough? I don't think too much, little more than I knew going in. See for yourself. Maybe you'll find love.

(This post is dedicated to my wife with whom I saw Midnight in Paris and with whom I'd like to spend many midnights in Paris...reading Hemingway and listening to Cole Porter and....)

03 June 2011

Films That Exist Outside of Themselves, Such as Vivre Sa Vie

These are the words I'm going to use to start this post. They sprung organically from my brain and appear here unedited. I'll not go back and change them. I did not plan what I was going to write. Stream of consciousness blogging. I've done it before. You get a sentence in your head and then...blast off.

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) begins with the camera focused on a woman's face in profile. Some music is playing. Then it stops. Then the woman is facing the camera. The music starts and stops again. It is the face of the main character of the film (Nana) played by Anna Karina, then 22 years old. She is quite fetching. Her face is a prominent feature of this film directed by her then lover, Jean Luc Godard.

When the credits finish we see the woman at the counter of a cafe talking with a man. But we see them from behind. There is a lot of natural ambient cafe noise in the background. This is just the first of several scenes in cafes in which there is a lot of such background sound. It is never disruptive, instead giving the film a natural feel.

Vivre Sa Vie is a film that rode the crest of the New Wave of French cinema. It assiduously avoided cliche. Unusual circumstances, like a gangland slaying, are part of a natural tapestry of life told in soft focus black and white. There is the unusual. Like 12 chapter titles cryptically foretelling future events. There is also a spontaneous amateur solo dance number performed by Nana, reminiscent of a similar scene a later Godard film, Band of Outsiders (1964). In both cases a jukebox provides the soundtrack.

There is also a very matter of fact detailing of the life of Paris prostitute, a profession that Nana joins. It is told in the form of a Q and A between Nana and her pimp-to-be. The fact of prostitution is shown without judgment. It is not sorted, glamorous or immoral. It just is. Things are like that.

We also follow Nana into a movie theater where she watches Carl Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). It is a tribute to that silent classic. It is a tribute to the faces of two actresses: Karina and Maria Falconetti (Joan). Whether it pertains to the story of Nana is a topic open to the interpretation of the viewer.  Similarly there is a cafe scene in which Nana has a long philosophical chat with an old man who is in fact, according to the credits, the philosopher. Here's an example of their conversation: 
Nana - Shouldn't love be the only truth? The Philosopher - For that, love would always have to be true. It fits in with the rest of the story in that anything can happen in life and often does.

There is an ending to Vivre Sa Vie that can be viewed by turns as fitting, depressing or merely there. I see it as the third of those options. This is not strictly speaking a movie that finishes its story off. Many great films don't end in our minds, they exist outside of the silver screen, or TV screen or computer screen. I do not refer here to the phenomenon of memorable moments or scenes or lines in movies. I instead speak to the manner in which some movies go on living in our heads after we've seen them. They have asked questions of us or presented ideas that ask our further exploration. Movies that breath.

A movie like Vivre Sa Vie is a party that is always there. It is a meaningful discussion that we can pick up again later. It is that painting we keep coming back to. The poem we read over and over again.

Godard made several films, likes this one, that I love dearly. He's made others that I thought stunk to the heavens. It happens. When his films work -- for me -- they are sincere efforts at being casual. Robust joy done cooly. They have faces (you always must have faces).  And a face doesn't get much better than Karina's. It's not just beautiful (those eyes!) but expressive. Even when in complete repose. But the best example of "the face" is the scene in which she's being interrogated by the police, it's as if she is the only person you've ever cared about it.

These types of films that Godard made have stayed made. And we live with them, happily ever after....