Holy Motors is a cinephile odyssey, taking its viewers on a linear, perhaps cyclical journey through a series of variations on film history, performance, and identity. Or, with its continually shifting interplays between character and situation, we might think of it as a live-action replay of the ultimate meta-cartoon, Duck Amuck. The set-up is deceptively simple: we first meet Monsieur Oscar (Denis Lavant) as a businessman leaving his lavish home for work, waving goodbye to his loving family, and being collected by the driver of his white stretch limo, Céline (Édith Scob). On the seat next to him are the details of nine assignments he must complete today. Each one requires a different disguise and costume, and sends M. Oscar out of the car, onto the streets of Paris and into a different performance, for no visible audience (except us), and to no obvious purpose. We watch as he goes about his daily business of acting the roles that may keep families, business, art running from day to day. But we’re never sure of his motives or his masters, nor whether there is a real M. Oscar underneath all of the layers of performance. Continue reading
Last week, I traveled to Bournemouth to give a talk at the Arts University. I think I got lucky with the weather, and it was a pleasure to enjoy the mild temperatures, intermittent sunshine and bouts of dryness. The other pleasure was addressing Bournemouth’s staff and students. They managed to sit still for a full hour while I pontificated about ventriloquism and cinema. This was the first outing for some new research I’m working on, drawn from a bigger (and long-gestating, oft-delayed) project on Cinema and Puppetry. It’s coming along slowly, but it’s getting there and gathering some speed now that I have more time to devote to it. AUB’s Animation Research Pipeline talks (of which this was one) provides a space for people like me to share work in progress.
I made a complete screen recording of my talk, and while my voice is quite clearly recorded, some of the sound on the clips might need you to raise the volume once or twice. I hope you enjoy it, but I’d love to hear any comments you have, good or bad; it’s not a short lecture, and the first half is quite theoretical, but I promise you it contains good stuff on Charlie McCarthy, The Great Gabbo, Lon Chaney in drag, Mel Gibson having a fight with a glove-puppet beaver, and tastefully coloured Keynote slides.
Here’s the video. It’s available in HD, which should help you if you want to read the text on the slides:
- If you’d like to hear more of the wonderful Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy radio shows, there are plenty of episodes freely available online, especially at the Internet Archive. I have previously posted on this site their 1936 short film Nut Guilty, which is well worth ten minutes of your time. I refer in the talk to a saucy exchange between Charlie and Mae West: you can hear part of it here.
- You can found out much more about Steven Connor’s superb book Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism here. The book’s website includes many links to further information and articles.
[BLOG IN PROGRESS. I started this post hoping it might be of benefit to my students. As much as I love the film, I know it can be off-putting to non-film specialists, and to plenty of other people unfamiliar with Jean-Luc Godard's style of filmmaking. I intend it to be an ongoing post, and will add to it periodically, so if you have any thoughts about the film, or anything you think that viewers need to know about Le Mépris in order to get maximum interest from it, leave a comment below with your ideas and suggestions.]
In summary, it’s part domestic drama, in which a man tries to find out why his wife no longer loves him, and part meta-cinematic backstage dramatisation of the adaptation process, in which that man struggles with his job as a screenwriter on an American film of Homer‘s Odyssey. Filmed as the Hollywood studio system collapsed, Le Mépris is a meditation on the relationship between art and life, film and reality.
Here, in four chapters, is a lecture I gave to undergraduate students in the Department of English at The University of Exeter in 2010. The students had already watched the film, so if you haven’t seen it, you should probably avoid this talk until you have, as it discusses important plot developments. The title I was given was “The Politics of Privacy”, but my talk doesn’t address that idea directly: Michael Haneke’s Cache was one of several texts for that week on a module dealing with personal expression in writing and film, often focusing on postcolonial subjects. My lecture introduces students to the film and suggests some ways to interpret it and start to unravel its mysteries.
For reasons of upload limits, I have had to divide this lecture into four segments,. These were obviously not planned breaks, so each chapter will start and stop a little abruptly, I’m afraid. If anyone’s interested, I’ll also post the complete audio file for the lecture, but the video version includes slides, text, and video clips that should help to illustrate it, especially when I’m reading out long quotations.
At present, I’m only able to post all four chapters to my YouTube channel, though these are at least available in HD – Vimeo has tighter upload restrictions, so I can’t post all of them yet, but you can find updates, and earlier video podcasts, at my Vimeo page.
These are some preliminary thoughts from a first viewing of Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. I’m in the process of writing a chapter on representations of Georges Méliès for a forthcoming book, so this will be one of my primary texts, and I’ll need to watch it again. I thought I would assemble some notes as I go along. As a result, this might read like a string of disjointed observations at times, but hopefully there will be some points of interest for you along the way. I’m happy to discuss the film, too, and I’m aware that it has divided moviegoers in a way that it didn’t necessarily divide the critics. A quick perusal (which is all anyone should usually have to endure) of the IMDB comments page will give evidence of popular objections to the film. It was looking like a weighty flop on its domestic release, but Hugo will probably just about claw back its $170million budget (the best evidence that this greenlit at a time when it looked like 3D was an infallible cash-cow) when the totals are added up from international markets. So, please leave me a comment if you have an opinion about this film. Continue reading
This is an adaptation of Singin’ in the Rain, published in Movie Love comics, April 1952, to tie in with the film’s original release. It seems clear that this was not intended to be the first place to encounter the film, but a chance to remember it. Scenes are sketched out so quickly (they have to cram the entire film into 12 pages) that they would surely be difficult to understand if you weren’t already familiar with the film. Before there was home video, and long before you could own a digital copy of a film on a mobile device and replay favourite scenes at any moment, paratexts like comic book adaptations did the job of replaying films for their fans. Continue reading
Something a little bit miraculous happens while you watch Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre. The film is effortlessly engrossing without ever hitting the marks one might expect in a film about such emotive subject matter. In the eponymous French port, a defeated writer, Marcel Marx (André Wilms), now eking out a living shining shoes, takes in a Gabonese child fleeing the immigration authorities, and goes to great lengths to ensure the child’s safety. Continue reading
Last week’s Halloween package of Frankenstein posters proved quite popular, so I hope this is another treat. Not for the squeamish, nor for those who don’t like zombie movie posters, here are 100 (count them!) posters from zombie films, from the voodoo-themed to the splatter-obsessed, the grave to the parodic. The zombie has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, alongside that other staple of the horror scene, the vampire, but these lumbering undead, single-minded in their pursuit of your delicious brains, haven’t been so open to romanticisation. I hope you enjoy this massive parade of guts and gore.
In the run up to Halloween, here’s the first of a series of scary treats for you to enjoy while you scoop the guts out of a pumpkin or a neighbour. The story of Frankenstein is one of those that has been endlessly reiterated in movies and literature, from Edison’s 1910 adaptation to Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, via James Whale’s matchless Bride of Frankenstein and Frank Henenlotter’s Frankenhooker. There seems to be an enduring fascination with the reanimated corpse and its path towards self-definition, and the deceptively simple premise lends itself to many reconfigurations. Thankfully, this also gives ample excuse for some wonderful, often lurid poster art to tease us with sightings of the jerry-built creature. You should also pay a visit to the excellent, comprehensive Frankensteinia blog for more about the monster and his maker.
Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life was always going to be billed as divisive, baffling, even pretentious. Maybe it was screened too early of a morning at the Cannes Film Festival to be able to enfold every critic in its warm embrace: on a high-wire that threatens at any moment to pitch him sideways from the heights of transcendent beauty to a plunge into grandiloquent navel-scrutiny, Malick, oblivious to the danger, has tended to turn cartwheels when he might have trodden tentatively. More than almost any other director, Malick has a reputation as a cinephile’s favourite, not least because he seems to have completely circumvented the commercial circuitry of cinema culture to make films completely on his own terms, at his own near-geologic pace. This might be taken to imply that his films are obtuse, obscure, or that dread word ‘difficult’ (by which we usually mean ‘worthy, probably nutritious, but barely entertaining). But The Tree of Life is far from mysterious, obtuse or baffling. Continue reading