Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Breathless (1960) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭✭


Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless gave France’s nascent La nouvelle vague a solid international underpinning and it has remained a vibrant, stylish and entertaining influence on filmmakers for 54 years. Largely improvised and capriciously photographed, Breathless tore away the final threads that bound films to novels - and the formal elements of novels - leaving each medium a little freer to reach their own respective potentials. The narrative of Breathless, and unlike some later Godard films it does have one, is not dispensed through written dialogue designed to advance plot points but rather a capturing of fleeting ideas and quickly dissolving moments in time. Like life itself, some of these moments are big and important while others simply banal markers on the timeline of existence. Breathless gives equal dramatic weight to the climactic and the mundane, throwing a greasy yet elegant monkey wrench into 1960‘s accepted orthodoxy of what a movie was supposed to be.

Not only was the film’s storytelling shockingly new, the director repackaged 20 years worth of popular cinema iconography into a gateway to a new aesthetic; one that combined wispy absurdity with standard crime drama alienation. In essence, Godard celebrated the conventions of Film Noir while banishing them to irrelevance in a speeding Citroën; the dust of a generation in its wake. The rugged, big shouldered men of Noir, complete with dark suits and tamped down fedoras, had darted about the screen for two decades, their pockets crammed with cryptic messages on cocktail napkins and loaded roscoes at the ready. These shadowy, laconic figures always had heavy agendas, filled with big deals and important things to do. 

The generation of Breathless also has their appointed tasks, but seem uncertain if all the effort is really worth it. The film’s main character - protagonist doesn’t seem like the right word - a hunky young thug named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is one of these confused souls. Weened on the imagery of American gangster movies, Michel spends his aimless days pursuing the twin pleasures of petty theft and venery; a fat Gauloise perpetually dangling from his lips. Michel seems unable to think more than two hours ahead - the typical length of a movie in other words - but one day his short sighted hedonism results in more than existential ennui. With the gendarmes closing in, Michel retreats to Paris and the bohemian flat of a visiting American student (Jean Seberg), where the couple hide out while Michel tries to raise funds for an escape to Italy. True to Godard’s genre-bending vision, Seberg is no gum chewing, bottle blond gun moll, but a tough-minded journalist charting her own course, Vastly superior to Michel in cunning and guile, this pixie-faced savant serves his emotional needs while holding the key to his eventual undoing.

The transformational aspects of Breathless aren’t limited to what appears on the screen. Godard broke filmmaking rules by the bushel, running a set so rife with creative chaos crew members doubted if the film would even be watchable, much less a historic achievement. Writing the script as he went along, Godard would shout directions and newly created lines of dialogue at his actors, often in the midst of scenes with the camera still running, leaving Seberg and Belmondo to define their characters on the fly. Jump cuts - prior to this movie considered an amateurish mistake - were frequently employed to shorten scenes due to Godard’s refusal to shoot conventional coverage. Shots were “stolen” all over the city of Paris, without permits or attempts at crowd control, as innocent passersby gawk into the camera with dumfounded curiosity. In a famous sequence that foreshadows the film’s violent finale, shot by Godard while seated in a wheelchair, Seberg and Belmondo ruminate on life and love while pacing around an apartment in a myriad of directions. Godard covers it all, tossing the trite notion of a 180˚ camera axis out the window and onto the cobblestones of Montparnasse.


Criterion’s cinephile edition is an excellent way to add an indispensable piece of film history to your archives. The many ways Breathless has influenced the course of moviemaking over the last half century cannot be overstated, and new innovations seem to reveal themselves with each viewing. In the interim, Jean-Luc Godard has made well over a hundred films, and while many have been remarkable, some even extraordinary, none have topped Breathless as a harbinger of style and approach.



Breathless (1960) on Blu-ray ✭✭✭✭✭


Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless gave France’s nascent La nouvelle vague a solid international underpinning and it has remained a vibrant, stylish and entertaining influence on filmmakers for 54 years. Largely improvised and capriciously photographed, Breathless tore away the final threads that bound films to novels - and the formal elements of novels - leaving each medium a little freer to reach their own respective potentials. The narrative of Breathless, and unlike some later Godard films it does have one, is not dispensed through written dialogue designed to advance plot points but rather a capturing of fleeting ideas and quickly dissolving moments in time. Like life itself, some of these moments are big and important while others simply banal markers on the timeline of existence. Breathless gives equal dramatic weight to the climactic and the mundane, throwing a greasy yet elegant monkey wrench into 1960‘s accepted orthodoxy of what a movie was supposed to be.

Not only was the film’s storytelling shockingly new, the director repackaged 20 years worth of popular cinema iconography into a gateway to a new aesthetic; one that combined wispy absurdity with standard crime drama alienation. In essence, Godard celebrated the conventions of Film Noir while banishing them to irrelevance in a speeding Citroën; the dust of a generation in its wake. The rugged, big shouldered men of Noir, complete with dark suits and tamped down fedoras, had darted about the screen for two decades, their pockets crammed with cryptic messages on cocktail napkins and loaded roscoes at the ready. These shadowy, laconic figures always had heavy agendas, filled with big deals and important things to do. 

The generation of Breathless also has their appointed tasks, but seem uncertain if all the effort is really worth it. The film’s main character - protagonist doesn’t seem like the right word - a hunky young thug named Michel (Jean-Paul Belmondo) is one of these confused souls. Weened on the imagery of American gangster movies, Michel spends his aimless days pursuing the twin pleasures of petty theft and venery; a fat Gauloise perpetually dangling from his lips. Michel seems unable to think more than two hours ahead - the typical length of a movie in other words - but one day his short sighted hedonism results in more than existential ennui. With the gendarmes closing in, Michel retreats to Paris and the bohemian flat of a visiting American student (Jean Seberg), where the couple hide out while Michel tries to raise funds for an escape to Italy. True to Godard’s genre-bending vision, Seberg is no gum chewing, bottle blond gun moll, but a tough-minded journalist charting her own course, Vastly superior to Michel in cunning and guile, this pixie-faced savant serves his emotional needs while holding the key to his eventual undoing.

The transformational aspects of Breathless aren’t limited to what appears on the screen. Godard broke filmmaking rules by the bushel, running a set so rife with creative chaos crew members doubted if the film would even be watchable, much less a historic achievement. Writing the script as he went along, Godard would shout directions and newly created lines of dialogue at his actors, often in the midst of scenes with the camera still running, leaving Seberg and Belmondo to define their characters on the fly. Jump cuts - prior to this movie considered an amateurish mistake - were frequently employed to shorten scenes due to Godard’s refusal to shoot conventional coverage. Shots were “stolen” all over the city of Paris, without permits or attempts at crowd control, as innocent passersby gawk into the camera with dumfounded curiosity. In a famous sequence that foreshadows the film’s violent finale, shot by Godard while seated in a wheelchair, Seberg and Belmondo ruminate on life and love while pacing around an apartment in a myriad of directions. Godard covers it all, tossing the trite notion of a 180˚ camera axis out the window and onto the cobblestones of Montparnasse.


Criterion’s cinephile edition is an excellent way to add an indispensable piece of film history to your archives. The many ways Breathless has influenced the course of moviemaking over the last half century cannot be overstated, and new innovations seem to reveal themselves with each viewing. In the interim, Jean-Luc Godard has made well over a hundred films, and while many have been remarkable, some even extraordinary, none have topped Breathless as a harbinger of style and approach.



Sunday, February 23, 2014

TCM for March 2014



TCM ushers in Spring with some fresh and interesting choices. There's an experimental film festival, the foodie fave Big Night, great interviews from the Johnny Carson vault and Olmi's Neo-Realist classic Il Posto. My picks below, all times Eastern. Full Schedule HERE.


3/7


Johnny Weissmuller partys with the Amazons

6:30 AM
Archaeologists trick Boy into helping them find a hidden valley ruled by women.
BW-76 mins, CC,



8:00 AM
Tarzan fights to keep a seductive female big game hunter from capturing too many animals.
BW-72 mins, CC,


3/8


11:45 AM

A man falsely accused of his wife's murder escapes to search for the real killer.
BW-106 mins, CC,

1:45 PM
A Victorian gentleman bets that he can beat the world's record for circling the globe.
C-182 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

5:00 PM
After a mysterious blackout, the inhabitants of a British village give birth to emotionless, super-powered offspring.
BW-77 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

6:30 PM
A blood-sucking monster stalks the crew of a U.S. spaceship.
BW-69 mins, CC,


8:00 PM
A lonely butcher finds love despite the opposition of his friends and family.
BW-94 mins, CC,



Novak and March get cozy in Middle of the Night

9:45 PM
A widowed businessman courts a younger woman who works for him.
BW-117 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

4:45 AM
A young Catholic faces guilt when he discovers the love of his life has been raped.
BW-90 mins, Letterbox Format

3/11

2:30 PM
A horse thief marries for profit, but doesn't reckon with his wife's determination to reform him.
BW-80 mins,

8:00 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Bob Hope from 10/13/78
C-10 mins, CC,

8:12 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Bing Crosby from 3/5/76.
C-8 mins, CC,

8:24 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Tony Randall from 9/17/74.
C-10 mins, CC,

8:36 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Truman Capote from 11/27/72.
C-9 mins, CC,

8:48 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Gregory Peck from 7/8/76.
C-10 mins, CC,

9:00 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Lauren Bacall from 1/11/80.
C-10 mins, CC,


11:15 PM
A journalist sets out to expose a female sex expert but falls for her instead.
C-114 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

1:15 AM
A broken-down private eye sets out to find a rich woman's missing husband.
C-121 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

Gina Lollobrigrida Festival!

3/14


12:15 PM

Chaos results when a mild mannered man tries to have an affair with his neighbor's wife.
C-95 mins, Letterbox Format

2:00 PM
A powerful businessman opposes his son's involvement with a woman with a past.
C-103 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3:45 PM
A cook turns to theft so she and her lover can marry.
C-121 mins,


6:00 PM
A womanizing tycoon ends up chaperoning a group of American girls who have rented his Italian villa.
C-113 mins, CC, Letterbox Format



12:00 AM
A conversation between a globe-trotting theater director and a playwright playfully explores ideas about art, theater, and daily life.
C-111 mins, CC,


2:00 AM
A group of friends who hang out in a Baltimore diner face the problems of growing up.
C-110 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


3/15


The adventures of Baby Langston in The Sugarland Express

8:00 PM
An ex-convict springs her husband from prison to keep their child from being adopted.
C-110 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

The dangers of marijuana are outlined in this educational short film.
C-21 mins,

3/16


3:45 AM
A child's world collapses when his mother runs off with her lover.
BW-84 mins,

3/17


The Seven Ups gets my vote for Best Car Chase Ever.

10:00 PM
New York City cops wage a war against assorted hoods and criminals after one of their own is brutally killed by a hoodlum.
C-103 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

12:00 AM
An aging cowboy faces changes in the West with the rise of civilization.
C-99 mins, CC, Letterbox Format

3/18


8:00 PM

TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Lucille Ball from 4/28/77.
C-12 mins,


8:12 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Carol Burnett from 8/10/79.
C-12 mins,


8:48 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Jack Benny from 7/20/73.
C-12 mins,

3/22


Zardoz proves there's nothing worse than truly bad Sci-fi.


2:00 AM
In the far future, a savage trained only to kill finds a way into the community of bored immortals that alone preserves humanity's achievements.
C-105 mins,

3:45 AM
A mysterious fungus invades a space station and turns the inhabitants into monsters.
C-90 mins, Letterbox Format


5:15 AM
This anti-porn short film shows a floodtide of filth engulfing the country in the form of newsstand obscenity.
Cast:  Damian O'Flynn ,
C-31 mins,

3/23


10:00 PM

A U.S. agent recruits a German expatriate to infiltrate a Nazi spy ring in Brazil.
BW-101 mins, CC,

12:00 AM
In this silent film, a small-town boy raises a ruckus when he writes a book about how to handle women.
BW-80 mins,
2:00 AM
A deeply disturbed young man subject to seizures decides to murder members of his dysfunctional family.
BW-105 mins,


4:00 AM

Lives of quiet desperation in Il Posto


A young man fights to become a cog in the big business machine.
BW-93 mins,


3/24

4:00 PM
A sheltered girl uses music as a means of winning her independence.
BW-98 mins,


5:45 PM
A young cowhand rebels against his rancher stepfather during a perilous cattle drive.
BW-133 mins, CC,

3/25


8:24 PM

TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Sean Connery from 12/5/75
C-12 mins,


9:00 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with George C. Scott from 11/3/87
C-12 mins,


9:12 PM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Gene Kelly from 11/7/75.
C-12 mins,


3/28


8:00 PM

A French refugee in Denmark transforms the lives of the elderly women for whom she works.
C-103 mins, Letterbox Format


10:00 PM

Big Night. Don't watch it hungry.

A failing Italian restaurant run by two brothers gambles on one special night to try to save the business.
C-107 mins,


1:45 AM
A space probe unleashes microbes that turn the dead into flesh-eating zombies.
BW-96 mins, CC,


3/29

2:00 AM
A documentary focusing on the history of experimental film.
C-83 mins, CC, Letterbox Format


3:30 AM
This hypnotic, experimental short film presents a tilted figure with a series of straight lines and curves that occasionally sprout from the existing design.
BW-5 mins,


Some cool experimental films on the 29th.

3:36 AM
This experimental short film incorporates repeated images, slow motion, and a mysterious cloaked figure to examine an emotional experience.
BW-14 mins,


3:50 AM
This short film documents the daily life on Orchard Street, a commercial street in the Lower East Side of New York City
C-12 mins,


4:03 AM
This experimental short film contains four separate sequences of avant-garde performances.
C-15 mins,


4:18 AM
This short film compresses one day at the port of Cassis, France into one shot.
C-5 mins,


4:24 AM
The short film is a montage of sped up video clips of The Ringling Brothers Circus in action.
C-12 mins,


4:37 AM
This experimental short film focuses on perspective differences of variously sized and shaped rectangular figures.
BW-3 mins,


4:41 AM
Everyday objects rebel against their daily routine in this experimental short film.
BW-7 mins,


4:48 AM
This experimental short film uses stop motion animation of still photographs to convey images of politics and science in the nuclear era.
C-10 mins,


4:58 AM
A series of simple line drawings form into complex patterns in this experimental short.
Dir: Wade Shaw
BW-6 mins,


5:15 AM
In this short film, a police officer tries to prevent a gang war by bringing the rival groups together over dinner.
C-27 mins,


5:15 AM
In this educational short film, tips on proper nourishment are given.
BW-10 mins,

3/30

5:45 AM
TCM presents an interview from The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, with Henry Fonda from 3/26/80.
C-10 mins, CC,


10 Years of The Savages

The Savages struck a vibrant chord with me when it was first released 10 years ago. It’s all about a pair of 40-ish siblings...