The Show Tell Project

For Seymour's Fat Lady

Category: film

Girls On Film: French New Wave

by fyarlgiles

I’ll Be Your Mirror: Performance and Identity in French New Wave 
by Angie Hoover

Cleo descends the dark spiral staircase as she contemplates her dwindling health. She peers out of a foggy, barred window, confined by the weight of death and cancer. Again and again, the image of her pretty face appears like a looping phrase on a snagged record: she is a fragmented woman built on hollow ground. She approaches a mirror and smiles, delighted by her own reflection: “Wait pretty butterfly. As long as you are beautiful, you are more alive than the rest of them,” she thinks.

cleofrom5to7_cleo-mirror

Cleo, the main character of Agnes Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, looks to her appearance to assert her identity. She is both the product of and response to an era dominated by celebrity culture: infatuated with her own carefully contrived persona, but desperately craving authenticity. Her dilemma is complex, but not necessarily unique.  In the late 1950s,  Hollywood films injected archetypes into Western culture that were almost immediately revered and imitated, infusing an element of performance with modern identity. The pervasive force that is American Cinema– filled with vamps, tramps, and wise guys, told audiences how to be likable, how to be interesting, and how to be important, and they listened. Selfhood then became a complex marriage between acting and being, one which is explored in depth by Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7 and Godard’s Breathless. Through content and form, these films take a new artistic approach and provoke contemplation about the cultivation of the Self in an era where people attempted to understand and affirm their identities through appearance.

Cleo from 5 to 7 BFI Quad

The American Influence and the Birth of New Wave

The pioneers of the French New Wave movement were heavily influenced by American Cinema and paid homage to Hollywood both directly and subtly within their films. Breathless  is one of the clearest examples of this, chronicling the love affair between a Humphrey Bogart-Wannabe and his American girlfriend, Patricia. At one point in the film, the main character, Michel, visits a movie theater and casually jokes with a movie poster featuring Bogart’s harsh but handsome stare. This is Godard’s nod to the crime dramas of the 1940s. Similarly, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows shows the young Antoine escaping the harshness of everyday life in a movie theater, a practice which Truffaut claims, taught him how to make good films.

19-24774-french-new-wave

The French movie-going population grew rapidly during the German Occupation, and continued to flourish during France’s reconstruction and modernization. During the second half of the 1950s, the popular audience rejected french films in favor of  american blockbusters (in particular detective films and B-movies) and the film critics of the time, including Andre Bazin, Jean Luc Godard, and Francois Truffaut, praised the more stylized work of american directors like Welles and Hitchcock. In the same breath, these critics condemned the “old style” of french cinema for its banal, hackneyed approach, and in an effort to revitalize filmmaking, they began directing their own films.

The onslaught of innovative films that resulted are considered the “new wave” of french filmmaking. Unlike the literary adaptations, and extraneous period pieces of pre-war France, French New Wave films addressed relevant social issues, as well as issues of existentialism, individualism, and the human experience. Both content and technique were manipulated to force contemplation about memory, time, and identity.

American Idols and Public Persona

Facades and personas are common areas of interest in French New Wave, which often dissects the process of personal transformation and the cultivation of Self. The implication in these films is that personality is no longer a thing that is discovered, but rather a thing that is created, resulting in a deep sense of narcissism and self-consciousness. Both Godard’s Michel and Varda’s Cleo obsessively interact with their own reflections as they attempt to build their personalities. Through these exchanges, we see the strange relationship that is forged between persona and self. When Michel rehearses his movie star glare in a glass  window or Cleo, catching her reflection in a hallway mirror, turns her chin upward ever so slightly to catch the perfect light, these films reveal the dichotomous nature of identity in the entertainment age. The self observes and critiques the effectiveness of the facade, and those natural behaviors which conflict with the crafted persona must be changed. Just as a ballet teacher urges her students to point their toes, or arch their feet to create a more uniform appearance, the self and the facade must be perfectly synchronized.

breathless1

These interactions also function as a form of validation: reassurance that the self is still interesting, still beautiful, and that the persona is being upheld. Mirrors and other reflective surfaces are ever present in the films of La Nouvelle Vague, serving as symbols of inescapable self-awareness. Always, these characters are watching themselves be watched. On a drive through the french countryside, Michel glances at his rearview mirror to make sure that he is capturing that hard, mysterious quality that Bogart has perfected. He stares ahead, an oversized black fedora casting a shadow over his brow and a lit cigarette dangling precariously from his bottom lip. Even on this solitary drive, he imagines that he is being admired. Later, in Patricia’s apartment, he leans against the sink and stares at himself. He traces his thumb over his lips and delivers his line: “ I always fall for girls who aren’t my type,” but he isn’t talking to Patricia; he is talking to himself— playing the role of the tough gangster. His criminal-facade is not only a tool that he uses to gain approval from others; it is who he has become. For Michel, like for Cleo, the facade has become the primary identity. It wields ultimate authority and like an overbearing parent, it must always be consulted for permission. In Breathless, Godard’s rough, personal style is instrumental in accentuating the nature of this interconnection.  As Hoffman notes, his transitions from shot to shot contradict traditional editing rules, creating  a “perceivable gap in time and space.” These missing frames make scenes jittery and disjointed, representing visually the perspectives of Michel, whose actions are fragmented and contrived.

a-bout-de-souffle

This level of self-centeredness is emotionally debilitating: a narcissism that spurs introspection but dehumanizes others. Michel perceives his life in a cinematic context, and  so a portion of his compassion is foregone for the sake of his performance. As he drives down a dirt road, he begins to play-shoot a silver pistol. The blinding sun shines through the window of his stolen car while a police car pursues him. He parks the car where the road meets the trees and steps out of the driver’s seat. Sliding his head into the  car window, he reaches for a gun. In a flash, he shoots the policeman to the ground. Godard then cuts to a long shot of Michel fleeing the scene of the crime. The quick cuts, and lack of realistic violence imply that this moment does not have a lasting emotional impact on Michel; this murder is just another plot point in the epic crime drama that is his life. A natural event in the life of an outlaw. For Michel, empathy is secondary to enhancing his tough-guy persona, and decisions are made with the intention of further developing his image. His identity is, as Ebert argues, a “cool facade […] that functions to conceal his desperation”. This disregard for other people is paralleled, albeit subtly, in Varda’s Cleo, who coyly plays her own record during lunch at a diner. She dances and smirks graciously as if the patrons are her audience, without realizing that some are complaining about the noise. Through their careful studies, these directors hint at the delusion as well as the deep need for acceptance lurking beneath their conceit.

A-BOUT-DE-SOUFFLE-aka-BRE-006

Where is the Line?

The Movement’s intense focus on personal experience is what allows viewers to empathize deeply with its characters and investigate issues of identity within themselves. Lingering close-ups are privileged over quicker shots that transition from person to person with the flow of action. In this way, moments between plot points are emphasized rather than omitted,  allowing the spectator to observe minute changes in expression and mood that might be lost in more fast-paced films. In Cleo from 5 to 7, we follow Cleo as she waits for the results of a medical test. She visits an old fortune-teller, tries on a multitude of hats, and traipses through the city, stopping intermittently to admire herself in various mirrors and windows: where is that line? That line between the facade and the Self ? Can she see it, or is it hiding  beneath her long black lashes, and her tiny, pointed nose?  When she returns to her apartment, she sits on her flouncy bed, adorned with feathers and silk. All of the pieces in her apartment are exquisite, but disconnected. A swing stands alone in the center of the room. A dresser. A bed. A piano. Each object sits in its own area, separated from everything else as if to be beautiful is to be isolated. Her songwriters arrive and she joins them at the piano.

Varda slowly zooms into her face and the background melts into a blanket of deep black. Cleo begins to sing and the camera stays tight on her face. The playfulness in her eyes evaporates and we sense a growing sadness. Slowly, she slips out of her pretty but empty shell, and we can see her fears and her desperation leaking out with every tear that streams down her face. That line between the self and the facade is as bold and dark as the notes that she sings. Although Cleo remains unwise, the viewer can see that there is something deeper to her: a longing, an emptiness, a confusion. In this long take, we have learned to detect a nearly invisible hole in Cleo and in ourselves. This film, and others within the movement, transform abstractions like the dichotomy of identity into tangible things that can be observed and understood, making  external what is internal for the viewer. Film-watching is then an experience  of self-scrutiny and personal transformation.

a-bout-de-soufflc3a9-breathless

How Does it End?

Both Cleo and Michel find different ends to their conflicts of identity, but their endings are shrouded in ambiguity. After a conversation with a young soldier, Cleo discovers that she has cancer, but is able to see herself as a part of the world rather than the shining star that it revolves around. Michel is gunned down as he runs through the streets of Paris, only to die uttering a cryptic phrase  as Patricia stares down at him in confusion . The films themselves are more circular than linear, ending with puzzling scenes that send viewers back around to the beginning and through the film again like a carousel. Meaning is found throughout, in the detailed expressions of the characters and the innovative artistic methods which point to aspects of identity that cannot be conveyed through dialogue or plot. French New Wave Films often sought the contradictions  and conflicts inherent in the human experience, but neglected to offer neat resolutions.


hero_cleo2-thumb-500x360-51585

Because these characters are able to fashion themselves after archetypes ( e.g. the debonair outlaw or the beautiful pop star) , they believe that identity is something that begins externally and is funneled inward. What these films show so perfectly is how gradually the division between what we are and what we pretend to be dissipates, effecting a void that is difficult to recognize. Almost accidentally,  the films of the French New Wave explore the internal conflict that arises when personas are so easily adopted and projected. When performance is an integral part of being, there is always the fear that the real self will slip through, causing a rift that could mean the loss of acceptance and possibly the loss of self-understanding. Because the New Wave directors forced existential issues into film during a time when the meaning of identity was transforming into something part real and part artificial, they attuned viewers to an emptiness that was felt but not yet intellectualized.

The integration of more individualistic and innovative filmmaking techniques reinvented film as a medium and the innovations of Godard, Truffaut, Varda, and others transformed film into an artform that was capable of investigating culture and its impact on identity in a new, more expressive way. The films themselves are mirrors reflecting back narcissism, disfunction, and the reduction of human nature. The French New Wave popularized the concept of film as art: a medium with the ability to explore and transform cultural perceptions and the movement itself is self-conscious, experimental, and yearning for depth like its central characters, simultaneously constructing and dissecting its own identity with every jump cut.

Cinema Surreal: Sweet Dreams

by fyarlgiles

Animated food and allusions to Synanon.

Please enjoy this claymation short film by Kirsten Lepore

Half full of holes

by meaghanmerrifield

Half from Alex Bohs on Vimeo.

Poetic short film Half by Alex Bohs utilizes a split screen mirroring effect as well as color filtering to accentuate how inherently different each of us processes the same place. How the lenses, constructed by our experiences,  through which we experience the world around us shape our existence.

Cinema Surreal: I’ll Show You Mine

by fyarlgiles

A short animated film that explores the boundlessness of human imagination  & the exchange of feelings and ideas.

Our imagination flies — we are its shadow on the earth.

– Vladimir Nabokov

Film by Sean Donelly

Not Stand-up Comedy: Louis CK’s

by fyarlgiles

“Ice Cream” (1992)

Starring his stand-up buddies Laura Kightlinger and Craig Anton, “Ice Cream” is a riff on Golden Era Hollywood films, and it’s the first short to net Louis C.K. a lot of attention. “Ice Cream” played at the Sundance Film Festival and the Museum of Modern Art in 1994. On getting into Sundance, Louis C.K. said, “I got really lucky. It was like the biggest deal of my life when I got that.” The movie was shown on TV in Europe and on US cable networks like IFC and Bravo and won C.K. the Grand Prize at Aspen Shortfest. Most importantly, however, is that C.K. included the movie as part of his submission to be a writer for Late Night with Conan O’Brien, which became his first big TV job. C.K. says the fact that he made his own films impressed O’Brien and then-headwriter Robert Smigel and, along with his reputation as a stand-up, was largely responsible for him getting the job.

(Taken from Splitsider)

Cinema Surreal: La Planète sauvage

by fyarlgiles

Welcome to our very first Cinema Surreal! A new reoccurring segment featuring surreal shorts, trailers, animation, and found footage! We really hope that we can expose you to some hidden treasures!

 René Laloux’s La Planète Sauvage (its title changed to Fantastic Planet for the U.S. release) paints an animated tale of humans kept as domesticated pets by an alien race of blue humanoid giants called Traags. While the story does not distinguish itself in the annals of science fiction, the imagination invested in the surreal backdrops, with its eerie creatures and landscapes, does.

planete

 The story takes place on the Traags’ planet Ygam, where we follow our narrator, an Om called Terr, from infancy to adulthood, when he escapes his subjugation and incites a revolt. As a French-Czech coproduction, this story had much resonance for its makers as an allegory of Czechoslovakia’s invasion by Russian troops in the late ’60s, and had to be completed in Paris due to political pressure.

14375e-image-de-La-planete-sauvage-575

planete-sauvage-09-g

The animation technique–moving paper cutouts across backgrounds–contributes to the overall feeling of other-worldliness. Fantastic Planet won the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973.  In the USA it immediately drew comparisons to Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels and Planet of the Apes (both the 1968 film and Boule’s 1963 novel). Today, the film can be seen to prefigure much of the work of Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away) due to its palpable political and social concerns, cultivated imagination, and memorable animation techniques.

(Information taken  from Amazon)

95350e-image-de-La-planete-sauvage-3814

Enjoy!

Not Stand-Up Comedy: Louis C.K.’s “Ugly Revenge”

by fyarlgiles

Another surrealist piece made in the early 90s starring Ron Lynch, JB Smoove, and Amy Poehler. It is a modern day western set in New York city. I still haven’t decided how I feel about it.

Not Stand-up Comedy: Louis C.K.’s “Hello There”

by fyarlgiles

images

“Hello There” starring Ron Lynch, is The first in a series of surrealist shorts C.K. made for Howie Mandel’s Showtime sketch comedy show. I saw it when I was a friendless  junior high school student and  had no idea where it came from, or how I might ever find it again, but I loved it. And I never forgot it.

louie

14 years later, following a 4-day netflix marathon of Louie,  I embarked on a brief but ravenous search for all things Louis C.K.  and there it was.  To this day, it  is my favorite of all his short films.

-Angie

At 1:12, you can catch a young Louis walking by in a sweater and a pair of sunglasses. ENJOY!

“Hello There”

A Short Film by Louis C.K.

(Taken from Splitsider)

Girls on Film: Sex and Gender in Hedwig and the Angry Inch

by fyarlgiles

BeFunky_hedwig_and_the_angry_inch

I recently rewatched Hedwig and the Angry Inch, a glamrock, gender-bending musical that holds a very special place in my heart.  In a world where subjectivity is lost in favor of rigid, boring stereotypes, a film which welcomes interpretation is refreshing. As simple and comforting as it would be to reduce sexuality to GAY, STRAIGHT, LESBIAN,  & BISEXUAL, we cannot. There is no truth in that. Sexuality & Gender Identity are messy and complicated. They exist in spectrums, not uncompomising boxes.

The film itself is about a transgender woman left deformed by a botched sex-change operation (hence The Angry Inch), so the plot itself is one which offers commentary on the lives of people living in the grey area of gender identity. But what’s more striking is the creative risks that the director takes with the film’s form in order to deepen his commentary.

wiginabox

The film takes elements from multiple genres (musical, animation, romance) and combines them to create a new style which emphasizes the fluid nature of sexual identity. In fact,  the film’s amalgamous style makes it difficult to place it within a specific genre. But this is not an accident nor is it a flaw. The interweaving of different styles strongly reflects the ideas explored in the story, providing cohesion.

origin of love

As a woman who has always struggled to define her sexuality, I am comforted (moved even) by the nonjudgemental approach  that the director takes when portraying these characters. With a subject as unconventional as this, I think it is important to encourage  the audience to relate on a level that is independent of  stereotypes. Love is complicated, and so are we. The End.

Heroes1

People are too complex to be categorized neatly, and Hedwig gives us the opportunity to see the complex mixture of thoughts, feelings, and anxieties that are born from believing just the opposite. In fact, the film points to confusion and self-loathing as inevitable developments of strict definitions of gender and sexuality.  Hedwig’s internal conflict is in part, the result of her need to please those around her– to fit into our culture’s standards of beauty.

hedwig-and-the-angry-inch

I don’t think that the pressure to be beautiful is the film’s focus, but I do believe that the danger of internalizing fashionable opinions (whether they relate to beauty, gender, or art)  as objectively true is touched upon. The story shows us that  just as people morph and change, so do the shared truths of entire groups..entire countries.

The-Fall-of-the-Berlin-Wa-001

Hedwig’s transition from male to female is paralleled by the erection and destruction of the Berlin Wall. To cross the wall and gain freedom, Hedwig must surgically alter himself. Shortly after this, the wall is demolished, suggesting that the restrictions placed on expression and identity change (sometimes drastically) over time. Hedwig is then tragic and pathetic, because his hardships have been rendered meaningless. We get the sense that conforming to cultural standards of gender or beauty, always leads to misery.

In the last scene of the film, Hedwig discovers that through love, we share so much of ourselves, that we morph into each other. Though relationships can be painful, they lead to rebirth and reinvention. For some, this film is odd, erratic and sort of hard to relate to, but I felt connected to it in a special way. As an outcast, as a woman, as a sexually confused person. And it helped me to understand that blurring boundaries of gender, sexuality, and artistic form can deepen our understanding of beauty and our capacity for empathy.

 

 by Angie Hoover-Hillhouse

 

The Occasional Review: Sects, Cults, and Mind-control

by fyarlgiles

SECTS, CULTS, AND MIND CONTROL 

at the Cinefamily

cultsmixencore

 

The clips themselves were outrageous, I will never forget the final 5 minutes of the night, when  we watched in horror and delight as newly-initiated fanatics shook spastically in the nude while throwing pillows at each other.

The Cinefamily is an independent theater in Hollywood which focuses on making movie-going a social experience through creative, film-related events. The theater itself was once a silent movie theater, and the old marquee still hangs above its entrance: a charming detail which encompasses everything you feel upon entering: nostalgia, warmth, and a loving appreciation for art and film.

  Last week, Meaghan and I  attended “Sects, Cults, and Mind Control”, an artful and informative look at how cults use mind-control techniques to gain and keep followers. Through lecture, bizarre clips, and montages of news footage set to music, the event provided insightful commentary about how the birth of psychology set the stage for the concept of social engineering. The desire to understand the human mind, many times, is fueled by the desire to manipulate and control the thoughts of others.

The clips themselves were outrageous, I will never forget the final 5 minutes of the night, when  we watched in horror and delight as newly-initiated fanatics shook spastically in the nude while throwing pillows at each other. But the absurdity was only a fraction of the event’s intrigue. What keeps us coming back is the intimate setting and sincerity of all the people who work there. There were maybe 100 people in attendance, and the curators of the event spoke to their audience as if they were old friends gathering for beer and cheetos in the  living room.

– Angie