Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Avocados are the most difficult plants to try to maintain. We had three that we put in our room for the winter: two of them are fine, one of them suddenly started to shrivel up. And there's no difference in temperature, we water them all the same. And there are two new ones which we had in water... we planted one and put it outside last week. Well, the minute the weather went below 40 degrees, that plant's leaves turned all brown and it seems to be dying.

Today there was the second press screening of "Leon Morin, Pretre" and i planned to go, but when i woke up i had... it almost felt like a cramp in my stomach. However, i shall proceed.

From my memory: the reason i wanted to see "Leon Morin, Pretre" again was that it seemed to me that in his early films (from "Le Silence de la Mer" to "Leon Morin, Pretre", and that includes the two "thrillers" "Bob le Flambeur" and "Deux Hommes dans Manhattan"), Jean-Pierre Melville is always dealing with displacement, and that displacement has to do with the overwhelming emotion of something "forbidden" contrasted with the surface of activity. In "Le Silence de la Mer", the girl and her grandfather refuse to change their routines, as a way of silently protesting the presence of the Nazi officer. And the commentary reveals those emotions which cannot be stated.

And in "Leon Morin, Pretre", the ambivalence which is at the center of Melville's work runs riot: there is Barny's attraction to the priest, but also Barny's interest in other women which is enforced because of the absence of a lot of the men in the town. The Occupation creates an enclosed, claustrophobic atmosphere (rather like the various underworlds in Melville's thrillers, with their codes of honor and their rigid rules). Another thing in Melville: his enclosed worlds have their own rules (like the games that the twins play in their room in "Les Enfants Terribles"), and these rules are often a subversion of the traditional rules that exist outside (thus, the gangsters and thieves have their own protocols, just as the police do, and these rules often mimic each other, as in "Le Cercle Rouge").

But i've been thinking about Melville... and also about Harry Smith because i went to the screening of "Film #23" which turned out to be an incredible work. And what was so fascinating about "Film #23" was that the information about how the film came to be (it was supposed to be a singular work, one copy only which was then to be sold as a "unique" art object, but Harry didn't then destroy the materials he used... he just didn't label them, but left them among his effects). And what Harry used was: footage of couples which he shot (some of which was used in "Mahagonny"), what seems to be discarded footage from the period of "Early Abstractions", discarded footage from the period of "Late Superimpositions", etc. You'd think, from the way this sounds, this would have been a mish-mash, but it wasn't! The absolute care with which the various layers are played off against each other, the rhythms of the editing which match the rhythms of the music Harry chose to accompany the film (the late 1930s Kurt Weill score "Little Johnny Johnston" which began as a New Federal Theater project: very a propos in this economic climate), all of these are just so perfectly combined.

Some other things i've seen recently: the premiere episode (a 2-hour movie) of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" (the last work directed by Anthony Minghella, and very charming; it's one of Minghella's better works, and it's good that it's based on material which isn't so fancy and pretentious, because Minghella was able to use his visual skills - the film was shot in Botswana, and it's a beautiful country - and his skill with actors on "light" material, and the results show what a fine crafstman he could be when he wasn't trying for poetic profundity, which weighed down and ultimately sank "Cold Mountain"); the Basil Dearden thriller "All Night Long" (especially noteworthy because of the appearance of so many wonderful jazz musicians, including Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus and John Dankworth); the Jamie Kennedy documenatry "Heckler" (which turned into a screed, not about heckling, but about critics).

Wouter Barendrecht died on Sunday: a real shock! Since we haven't been going to any international festivals in at least four years (at least since we've moved), we haven't really had a chance to run into Wouter. But during those crazy days of the IFP Market (especially the late 1980s), Wouter was working for the Berlin Film Festival, and he was also trying to get Fortissimo off the ground. The idea of Fortissimo Films was very ambitious (certainly, at that time): he would help to finance, produce and distribute films by artists from around the world. The model was sort of the Hubert Bals Fund, but Wouter really felt that there had to be a way to get the films (once completed) to festivals, and into distribution around the world.

But his death was very sudden. When he was starting Fortissimo, he worked very closely with Norman Wang and Sophie Gluck, because Norman and Sophie were the people who handled a lot of the cinema coming out of Asia (China, Hong Kong, Taiwan), and Wouter felt that this was an area where exciting cinema was developing. But Wouter's sudden death was very shocking, and very sad. He was only 45. But he did make Fortissimo into a real force in world cinema. And there's a staff, and the work he started will continue, but it's still sad, because he was the person who had the vision. And that's something that's hard to replace.


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