Tuesday, December 30, 2008

About Money: A Documentary on 'L'Argent', Marcel L'Herbier's Film

L'Herbier in Excerpt

A very quick post, as '08 purges itself with one last heave, simply to draw attention to Jean Dréville's 1928 film — revised in 1971 so that it be accompanied by beautiful, distant, scratchy recordings of standard 'classical' movements, and a voice-over commentary by Dréville himself (which voix off serves, at the same time, as a proto-"audio commentary") — about the making of Marcel L'Herbier's 1929 L'Argent [Money]. Dréville's picture is possibly the first ever "making-of" film, and arguably greater even than the (great) L'Herbier film to which it's ostensibly appended.

The title in full: About Money: A Documentary on L'Argent, Marcel L'Herbier's Film [Autour de l'argent, un documentaire sur l'Argent, le film de Marcel L'Herbier].

Sample frames —

Autour de l'argent, un documentaire sur l'Argent, le film de Marcel L'Herbier [About Money: A Documentary on L'Argent, Marcel L'Herbier's Film] by Jean Dréville, 1928/1971:

The film is available as part of the recent two-disc standard-def Masters of Cinema Series release — which not only contains the above Dréville film, but his one-minute, 1928 preceding film, L'Arrivée à Paris de Brigitte Helm pour le tournage de l'Argent [The Arrival in Paris of Brigitte Helm for the Shoot of L'Argent, 1928]; also, L'Herbier's feature; and Laurent Véray's very interesting 2008 video film Marcel L'Herbier, poète de l'art silencieux [Marcel L'Herbier: Poet of the Silent Art]. Footage of L'Herbier's screen-tests of the actors is also included. The 80-page book that comes with the release contains a Richard Abel essay about L'Herbier's feature; translations of excerpts from two interviews with L'Herbier from 1968 and 1978; and excerpts from period (1929) critical notices composed on the occasion of the film's post-'28 recut and public release.

Here's a translation I did of a dazzling excerpt from L'Herbier's 1979 book La Tête qui tourne [The Turning Head / The "Shooting" Head], which didn't make it into the book:


Today, across the deep eddies of time long since past, I still perceive, as on some dotted thread, the impalbable fragrances of that second Belle Epoque of 1925, année folle... And within me lingers that idea that by way of two paths extending in parallel toward the same goal (a film of L'Inhumaine [The Inhuman One, 1924], a "Deschanel" Interior), I had doubly fastened myself to the more or less flamboyant flank of French Art Décoratif.

If this march forward had the merit of bringing me multitudes of unexpected joys, neither did it neglect to point out, to an ignominious troupe of nay-sayers, the way toward my little corner of the world. Up to the day, already evoked, in which to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the "
Arts Décoratifs", I will see enthroned at the Palais du Louvre — such sweet revenge! — certain objects and effects created by the best names in the art-world, and some simply of my own invention, which acted as the tender accomplices of my deeply rewarding life, and which such obliging aristarques as Vuillermoz and Chavance had admired at my house.

But to come back to the matter at hand — the filmic aesthetic — we might wonder, after all, whether the humble reality of the world of forms, when it has been transformed into film images, and which, in this event, manages to be nothing but a faithful reproduction of planetary appearances, is not, herein, similarly hostile to the decorative motifs that one creator, infatuated by transfigurations, purported to add to the arrangement? To have doubtlessly been, on certain occasions, one of that sort, I come now to wondering: is the cinematograph so imbued with congenital humility that it must strike into filmic ostracism the likes of [von] Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Cocteau, Visconti, Delvaux, Ken Russell, or even Patrice Chéreau, and, along with them, other (Russian, or Japanese) hobbyists of the baroque — all because, in paying honor to the cinematograph, at times in fictive (but such pathetically endearing) vestments, they have in some way come to mythify it? Here I put forward a profound question that brings us back, through certain assertions of
Hermès et le silence [Hermès and Silence — L'Herbier's 1918 essay], to some of the very recent cogitations of one Marguerite Duras declaring the primacy of the recording of the Verb over the recording of the image. This restores some currency to those old jottings of mine, so that these pages might presently lead us back in their direction.


Monday, December 08, 2008


Small Post Meant for a Long Time Now, Respurred Upon Reading Something Irritating — To Demonstrate, Once-and-For-All, That Rivette's Out 1, Despite All Production-Stills Currently in Circulation, Is a Color Film

(no 'spoilers') — (posts on Jerry Lewis, and Seijun Suzuki, and Frederick Wiseman, still to come) —

Out 1 by Jacques Rivette, 1971/1990:


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

A King in New York

Civil Rights

Short and sweet: I watched Chaplin's A King in New York [1957/1973] recently, for the first time in probably six or seven years. So refreshing — one of those pictures that acts as an anthropology, as a sociology of the there-and-then doubling as the here-and-now, and does so with the ease and grace, expansion-contraction, characteristic of an Old Master at this game of cinema. (It's not only the precursor to three instances of Godard's oeuvre, but also to Renoir's Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier [The Testament of Doctor Cordelier, 1959], that early New Wave film which will remain forever young, seven steps ahead of the cable shows.) To boot, its Master is front and center: Chaplin, as one King Shahdov, monarch-in-exile — Chaplin here in "Charles"-mode, gone further still than enacted in Limelight [1952], far enough to circle back from behind till he meets the source again, the man Chaplin, completing the avatar first hinted at in the close of The Great Dictator [1940]. Shahdov — which I infer as the phonetic rendering of the likely native-spelling of this poly-European king's name: "Shadow". Shahdov — which I likewise infer as the phonetic off-shoot, and affirmation, of the French: chef-d'oeuvre.

The purpose of this post is relatively minor, insofar as it's just to register, for reference-sake — and this may be widely known and circulated already, I don't know — that the footage from A King in New York used by Godard for the final shot of Episode 2B: Fatale Beauté in the Histoire(s) du cinéma [History(s) of the Cinema / Story(s) of the Cinema, 1988-1998] does not originate from the version of Chaplin's film that currently circulates on disc. Yes, the version made available by the MK2/Warner Bros. DVD (the American edition of which is to be avoided at all costs, due to unspeakably ghastly authoring in the way of PAL-to-NTSC standards-conversion; — and, in some of the earlier films, CROPPED ASPECT RATIOS), and on the out-of-print Region 1 DVD from Image, stands as the correct cut, the one sanctioned by Chaplin c. 1973 — but the aforementioned shot that closes 2B was removed, by Chaplin, at the time of the '73 American theatrical release. Still, this shot, and a wealth of other footage excised by Chaplin in his second pass through the editing of the film in the early '70s, has been maintained within the "Outtakes" section of the MK2 disc. ( — This supplement wasn't included on the earlier Image release — whose snapper-case nevertheless boasted its presence.)

Whether Godard took this shot from a VHS based on a telecine of the earlier/premiere cut of the film, or from a tape that included the shot within an appended "Outtakes" section, I don't know. Anyway, it doesn't matter — it serves its purpose, in the Histoire(s), in figuring into 48 of the most ingenious, virtuosic, profound seconds in the whole History of Montage.

A King in New York by Charles Chaplin, 1957/1973:

Frame from a shot removed by Chaplin from his 1973 recut of A King in New York:


A few days ago Nick Wrigley passed the following clip on to me, following a small bit of organic archaeology on the part of Andy Rector; by coincidence, this Will Sheff fellow from the group Okkervil River, and who looks like my friend Dan W., mentioned / linked to it (as pointed out to me by Nick) on Drowned in Sound, and in turn mentions it was passed on to him, initially, by one of the Shearwater people.

Without further introduction — the year is 1976, and Nina Simone is at the Montreux Jazz Festival:


And Odetta is dead — just under two months away from her slated performance at the Obama inauguration. (This clip is extracted from Scorsese's Bob Dylan: No Direction Home [2005], FYI.) —


And this is the cover of the forthcoming Morrissey album:


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Office Killer

"The Nineties American Indie Film", as Seen by Cindy Sherman

Any spiritual heir to Irwin Yablans with a struggling production company and Manhattan office-space might, or has, or if not probably will, eventually, drum up funds to unreel a farce of office murder — and this won't be some zeitgeist-inflected genre choice; rather, — with New York leases running at a premium and resultant leveraged elbow-room delimited by the scald of heat pipes at one flank and the flanks of an every-seven-minutes,-innit? status-updating colleague on the other — the total projection of a regruntling-fantasy. If made material, something that'll bob up late-nights on IFC, something which'll play SIFF... It's happened, you fucking know it, and you're searching for examples but nothing's buzzing except that SoHo Rep play, which was tantamount to same. But really, so what, for such is precisely the anonymity of the breed Cindy Sherman surrogated in her beautiful 1997 film released by — zoinks, who else? — Dimension Films.

Office Killer is an exploitation of the exploitation — the latter, in its context of American festivalia, a head-stew of crummy naïfs who have shaped an idiom by force of numbers and waved the "independent" banner the livelong voluntary march downhill to cinematographic slavery, —

— that is, their films always seeming to possess the double dubious achievement of being both anti-commercial, and anti-ambitious — or at least anti-material, born from a nostalgia for emotions or memories of real experience, so in this sense, yes, the pastiche tack has its genesis inside utter sincerity. Anyway: sad, and we might say civilization is dead, for, circling back, ambition fails to materialize beyond that quality misconstrued out of Fugazi records that has to do with the concerted demolition of all performative proportion; that temperament which would make capacious every insert-shot to accommodate the roll of one or two suspicious eyeballs, or eradicate the reaction-shot, only to replace it with a lark of mugging. Cindy Sherman has reappropriated the American "indie satire," just as she has, in her photography, re-cast/re-directed the production-still and frame-enlargement, the post-Bettelheim Märchen, and the more recent (nochmals) Zeitgeist-cliché of clown-terror, with its own ties to the American fabric of narcissism, which undercurrent ultimately finds its union and its dissonance in the balls/gut realm of portraiture. (Clown paintings. <=> Nazi gun conventions. | Flea markets.) We mustn't dare doubt the sincerity of the artist who thrusts her hands into the kindling. Sherman made a film that looks "different" from "normative" multiplex fare in a perfectly "normative" way — and yet, everything is not O.K. in Office Killer. So what makes it something more than a "sly satire"? — This film that subverts its own delivery, that satirizes the "sly satire", is, after all, trafficking in arch-subtle distinctions.

Untitled Film Still #27 by Cindy Sherman, 1979:

Untitled (Woman in Sun Dress) by Cindy Sherman, 2003:

Untitled 411 by Cindy Sherman, 2003:

Untitled by Cindy Sherman, 2008:

Untitled by Cindy Sherman, 2008:

— Repeat: the satire is the sincerity. A strange topography of mugs, many shot from a hunched-over perspective or from a vantage looking down at someone hunched over. Bauble glass landscape, new planet too visual, too sensual, too menacing for the kind of gesture born from chatter with film-crew or occurring internally about "where's the optimal spot to place the camera?"

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— A mise-en-scène of control and the overlooked. And if it needed to be spelled out: "an office is a prison, an office is an office/killer".

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Sherman's portraiture is the mugshot of the victim. (At times I can't tell whether the "systems-novelist" invented 20th c. art, or vice-versa. Note: this ourobotao is intrinsic to the era.) Focal-depth is the limn (I suppose I picked this up in the gutter, just like when I confused "shit" with "sock" [sic for "suck"] in 1st grade? — I'll never talk about "rhizomes"). Sometimes it's as though someone is filming into the space being filmed by another director (cf. Ringwald) — a focus, then, in a real sense, upon a 'victim'. (And note in the image shown here that the focus — the thesis of the shot — the problem — is not the 'grotesquerie' of the mug, as a lesser director would have it; it's the ring. Listen to her conversation and reflect upon the sum of this 'marriage' or this 'engagement', and reflect upon its material chintz.)

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— No shot is anything less than beautiful.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— That 1997 thing. That State cable-sketch/New-York-blackboxstage thing.

Abandon thesis, by the way. Alright. Two films are fighting here, yes — regards to Dan Sallitt — the one is the aforementioned, the other is the original expression. (Legitimate originality, the casting of a fatter girl for the "childhood"-version-in-flashbacks of the thinner adult.)

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

The Larry Sanders Show, but without anything. (Memory Lane: Hank Kingsley waking up from a 99 Bananas bender: "......My breath smells like a monkey's asshole.")

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Carol Kane is a manifestation of Cindy Sherman. The eyebrows do not merely prefigure clown-paint, but dislocate the sexual longing in front of Mother by gross parody of the code of the Italian whore. (Kane's archetype is, by the way, mousey secretary Agnes [Allyce Beasley] on Moonlighting.) The revenge of Janis Joplin on her parents. Kane has actual sexual warmth, despite the faux-show ('poker') we're to take her as a scrub. Sherman, cognizant of this, I think, poses it in/as defiance. Carol Kane is as good as Meryl Streep ever has been, Ma. Such presence, such (tangible) command of the set! The end of the film is synchronous Kane-as-Sherman.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Mother's automated chairlift ride up the stairs is not a rhyme of kitsch-sentiments re: ascensions to Heaven, but a notation re: representations of same — no no, just kidding. Passage of occurrence and one-step-removal [adj.] gloss [n.] slide inexorably forwards and back. The mother's ascent, forty minutes in, bookending the siren-signal of her daughter's garb in the kitchen, auditions for sacrilege, while rewinding (figuratively, okay) back through the past of cinema and all meta-murders (where cuts equal "cuts" [and/or vice-versa?] ) as Norman Bates resides with mother vanquished ineffectively in vaginal dank. ("My mo— fa— my — my mother, always liked those Peanut-Butter Smoothies.") A shot of the chairlift-in-operation is held 'too long', yet locates its earnestness in the comfortable duration of the power-of-joke-accumulation. Does satire come close to imperiling the explanation/extinction of a punchline? Hold your shots, just like Chaplin did, — or just how Samus Aran fired mega-bursts. The 'set' of Kane's/Dorine's home doubles as the Church of Feminism of the Real Gaze.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— A fake 'think-out' of Hitchcock, as suggested by the Rear Window-confinement of that opening faux-dolly-into the set/edifice-cavity. A psych-out of the films that want to sic-on-Hitch. Son-and-mother are one thing; now daughter-and-mother will be another.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— The computers are 'out-of-date' — except they're way-out-of-date. Computers aren't computers (the PowerBooks aren't then-contemporary PowerBooks), they're representations of computers. But it's explicitly remarked upon in the dialogue, and, thus, 'a small opening to the backstage'. I definitely hate self-reflexivity, at least in certain idioms, at least on the part of 'the ways and the means', but something here is beautiful.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— A 'motivation' of 'sexual abuse' that — despite 'occurring on a road-trip taken during young-Dorine's teenage years' — goes nowhere. (This sentence itself indicative of the method.) Eric Bogosian is about right, here.

— Knives are sharper than daitô-katana.

— Ringwald is two things at once, an amphibian. Separately: she has two modes of 'range': exasperated outrage-bluntness, and interlocutor. As such, she is always perfectly realistic.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Scores are sedatives. Still, when the score plays wry-winkily over horrific scenes, we're being nudged to 'read' the action as "gallows humor," "dark humor," "wry humor." The fact of the matter is the shock of a corpse is initial; if you build a scene upon the transparent-packing-taping-over of exposed guts and the subsequent Windexing of the strips for sheen, and this goes on and on, — then we've already experienced it. The shock is done and done, the wry-score is superfluity.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Shots like Mizoguchi.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— The film's as much a comic-strip as William Klein's Mr. Freedom [1969], a movie which shares a rage at contemporary America. (No, we don't need to recontextualize these things in the Obama era; there's much still transpiring.)

Mr. Freedom by William Klein, 1969:

— Mode of '90s American cinema: "fever-dream of Lynch's cinema."

— Not a precursor, but a mocker-augury of Brick [Rian Johnson, 2005].

— Images as gorgeous as Tourneur.

— Atmosphere: fluorescent bulbs flickering on and off, dramatically affecting the consistency of the lighting in a scene. Continuity of this across a cut is beautiful attention.

— No-one can deal with an extended shot in a film of two dead-children; nevertheless, two children have died. Why are they murdered? No reason at all. This is 'a serial-killer movie.' Again: 'there's no satire here, idiot.'

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997:

— Imperioli is starring in the kind of movie he starred in before The Sopranos. A thing gives rise to its actuality. Is is Is! Will and parthenogenesis.

— Watch Mikey and Nicky [Elaine May, 1977].

Mikey and Nicky by Elaine May, 1977:

— I know people like this assemblage in Lambertville.

All this being said, something's missing, too, in Office Killer. It's a sad film, sad in the same way Fritz Lang's Hollywood noirs are sad, — reasons that have nothing to do with their plots. Sherman's picture, and those of Lang, are films (and remember, now, we're not speaking at all of a 'meta' tone) about their genres, in an elegiac mode, that is, not elegiac about the past and possibilities of their own genres (and, again, now, mind you I don't believe there's any actual thing as 'genres' in pictures, but this distinction is part-and-parcel of the discourses of both the films of Sherman and of Lang, which are rooted in surmising a commercial climate), but about what their own films are not as a result of being formulated within that idiom which their producers ($) or supposed ($) public would comprehend as 'such-and-such set of locutions.'

The Blue Gardenia by Fritz Lang, 1953:

But above-all overriding commentary are those moments of anti-crystalline beauty: moments like Jeanne Tripplehorn's wake-up-revelation in the rec-basement, wherein Sherman constructs the images that in a moment infuse the beauty with commentary all over again, by way of the shades — the reds, the neon, the fadeawayandradiate-screens — discovered in the sort of movie 'that would show things like this', the moviemaker of which, in turn, being she who would envision showing these things, — would be she who would want to make the sort of film Sherman is making.

Office Killer by Cindy Sherman, 1997: