The Week in Consumption, 10/26-ish

going up a little late. Life intervened!

Le Doulos Yet Another Jean-Pierre Melville gangster thriller about a man who might or might not have ratted out his friend. Now that I’ve seen about eight of these, they’re starting to get a little repetitive, even though they’re reliably charming. It’s neat to work backwards from Army of Shadows into these earlier films, because it helps me understand their connection to French political identity. Army of Shadows explicitly deals with French Resistance in WWII; his gangster movies seem like pieces of a massive allegory about French collaborators. There’s flashes of more contemporary stuff here too–one man runs past prominent grafitti about Algeria and the OAS–but the ruined hovels, the threat of being turned in, and vague ethnicity of the leads evoke occupied France.

Ashes and Diamonds On the last day of WWII, the Polish Resistance sends one man to assassinate the incoming Soviet puppet. Starring Zybigniew Cybulski, the Polish James Dean. His performance is a skeleton key to understanding how Eastern European men dress, behave, and carry themselves. I’m exaggerating, but it feels that way! There are a few great scenes in this, but the movie also made me very impatient.

Playtime This seems like the strongest of Tati’s Monsieur Hulot series, but maybe that’s just because I watched it on blu-ray. The film is divided into major set-pieces: the first takes place in two nearly-identical modernist buildings, as Hulot attempts in vain to navigate them; the second features a nightclub on opening night that’s sleek but falling apart at the seams. Instead of offering simplicity and transparency, modernism obfuscates and complicates. Mon Oncle presented us with glimpses of an older France, but it’s been thoroughly obliterated here.

Playtime is very enjoyable, but it certainly exercises the eyes. Many of the visual gags demand extraordinary visual acuity from the viewers. There’s one scene in which Hulot is looking for another man, who happens to be standing right next to him. Hulot spies him through his reflection in the glass window, takes the reflection to be the man himself, and begins to gesture to him. The other man, who makes the same mistake, gesticulates wildly in return. Hulot exits the building and walks over to where he thought the other man was, which is in fact an identical building housing different business . The whole thing depends on the audience picking up on these barely visible half-reflections.

The Earrings of Madame De . . . Max Ophuls’ film about a woman in a loveless marriage who begins an affair seems to take place in a world of its own. The central conceit is similar to his Le Ronde, but instead of love being passed around a dozen characters, it’s a symbol of love being passed around by four of them–much more economical. I’ve heard this film described as Wellesian, and there’s certainly the same care invested in objects and spaces that you see in Welles. I don’t really have a good handle on this movie, though, and I believe repeat viewings will illuminate it more.

Death of a Cyclist This movie was directed by Juan Antonio Bardem, who was Javier Bardem’s uncle. I don’t think it’s unfair to compare it to Hitchcock in terms of suspense, although the last third goes in a different direction. A man and woman, who carry on a love affair in an isolated hotel, return to the city and kill a cyclist in a hit-and-run. They tell no one, but an art critic in their social circle hints that he knows. There’s a lot of tense close-ups and coiled emotion in this one. Carlos Casaravilla is absolutely unnerving as Rafa Sandoval, the art critic who claims to know their secret.

Oliver Twist one of the more surprising David Lean films, as the Dickens classic is infused with expressionist strokes and weird camera angles. It’s almost as antisemitic as the book, featuring Alec Guinness (who had a Dickensian benefactor in his own life) with a horrific fake nose as Fagin.* I intended to kind of half-watch this while I worked on some other stuff, but I got pulled in by that storytelling magic.

*This doesn’t surprise me at all, but the Alec Guinness wikipedia entry is divided into two parts of equal length: Star Wars and his other movies.

Almond Butter I am using this to cycle off of peanut butter, and wow, it’s really good! I don’t know if I could eat it for days on end, like I do with peanut butter, but that’s probably not a good idea anyway.

Tarot Sport This is the new Fuck Buttons album. Someone on a message board called it “kinda samey more ravey less screamy” which is a perfect six word review. Lots of eight minute tracks with dance-friendly tempos but undancey rhythms. It’s more consistent than Street Horsssing but it loses something I can’t define in the process. I guess I just miss the noise. It’s similar to releases by Boredoms and Dan Deacon this year, and I did pump out a few job applications while listening to it, so it hits that inspiring/uplifting/propulsive demo pretty well. There’s some tribal flirtation going on too, but I’m more ambivalent about that aspect.

Childish Prodigy Kurt Vile’s latest collection of songs. It’s been raining every day for the past two weeks, and his fuzzy reverb feels like another layer of clothing. I’m not sure that there’s any actual tunes here yet. As a vocalist, Kurt Vile is Mick Jagger gone to seed. This music makes me feel like I’m in a Jim Jarmusch film.

Cerebus: High Society, Church and State I & II 1500 pages of glorious comics. I’m rereading my comics collection, trying to pick up tips on how to write and draw better. Cerebus is an incredibly cynical work about an anthropomorphic aardvark warrior who tries his hand at religion and politics. The plot is Byzantine in more ways than one, as Cerebus tries to take the reins in a city-state crushed by poor credit and under the thumb of a divided church. There’s a confusing number of characters, often introduced in passing, who become incredibly important rather quickly, then disappear for fifty issues. Some of this is just good suspense, and some of it feels more like the creator’s stalling the main plot to keep the comic coming out on time.

Even though it’s got this weird medieval setting, the comic also comments extensively on its own position on the margins of comics and the margins of American culture. Cerebus is from the uncouth north, and strives to make himself central to the workings of the metropole. Similarly, Cerebus came from Canada to challenge to the comics industry in the 1980s. So we often see Cerebus squabbling with parodies of comic book characters (The Thing, Swamp Thing, Man-Thing, Captain America, Moon Knight, Wolverine) and jousting with icons of pop culture (thinly veiled versions of Groucho Marx, Oscar Wilde, the Rolling Stones). Neither Cerebus nor Cerebus could ever gain an economic advantage against its foes.

Creator Dave Sim shares many of the flaws of his lead (megalomania, misogyny), a problem which would become more extensive and explicit in later work. But these 75 or so issues are one of comic-dom’s great achievements: page-rattlingly funny, inventively designed, populated with sharp characters who feel vivid and present.

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