The Show Tell Project

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Tag: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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Girls on Film: Orange is the new black

by fyarlgiles

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Before Piper leaves to spend her first day and night in prison,  she crawls on top of her boyfriend: “we have to make this the stuff of fantasies,” she whispers.  And then they struggle through their tears to force one, last meaningful fuck.

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This, says tv, is what women are. They can be smart and interesting, but above all, they must be nymphos. The entire scene is very beautiful and quite real, but it made me think about how instrumental women are in their own objectification. Television shows get this wrong a lot for me; men are wrongfully vilified as  the source of objectifying remarks that reduce women to hot, horny things.

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“That’s not the way you treat someone who makes you cum the way I do”

But  the dialogue in Orange is the New Black, a show with an almost entirely female cast, seems to get closer to the truth. Sexual confinement cannot survive unless women adopt shovenistic ideas as their own and then push them into the world: “ I am a catch because I am beautiful, and smart, and I want to fuck ALL the time. What an exceptional woman I am !”  

We have come a long way, baby,  but there is no arguing that women internalize and perpetuate their own sexual oppression.  Of course it is empowering for a woman to own her sexuality! For a woman to know what she likes and let it be known, but  there is a problem when we believe that intellect is secondary to sex-drive. In a time where identity is intensely contrived, this sort of idea can force the element of performance into areas that should be reserved for intimacy or at least sincere pleasure.

 Self-objectifying comments come from women. We make them about ourselves and  we make them about other women, sometimes without even realizing it. In Orange is the New Black, an ultimately empowering show, we can still find traces of self-subversion and self-objectification.

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“I know she is hard to leave. I mean we both know how she is in bed”

I would like to pretend that there is some external force bashing me into submission, telling me that sex- how much I want it, how much I have it, and who I have it with is the foundation of who I am.. but I think that maybe I am perpetuating this.

Angie

Cinema Surreal: The Cat with Hands

by fyarlgiles

A few nights ago, I was lucky (or unlucky) enough to view this horror short. It is about a cat who lives in a well and steals human body parts so that he can become a man. The film is loosely based on Mit Romney’s Life Story

Happy Halloween!!

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)

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

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“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.

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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)

Interim

by fyarlgiles

THE END! 

Today concludes our second series, Basic Instinct!

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Stay tuned for some pretty cool stuff, including several of

Louis C.K.’s Early Short films!

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Coming Up:

They’re All Going to Laugh at You 7/15-7/25

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Named for the famous line in Brian DePalma’s rendition of Carrie, this theme will take a look at anxiety, vouyerism, and fear of judgement as well as unconventional pieces (poetry, short dramedies, prose)  by our favorite stand-up comedians.

I want to mention that we have a lot of cool stuff for this collection including several of

Louis C.K.’s early short films!

We can’t wait to share!

&

Way of the Future: Obsession

Pieces that look at ambition, fixation, neuroses, and superstition

Artwork by Steven Quinn:

http://society6.com/terra3/Taking-notes_Print

& Sammy Slabbinck

http://society6.com/Imass/Burden-of-Beauty_Print

Art Mash: Monkey See, Monkey Vroom

by fyarlgiles

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“Giant Monkey Bike” by Steven Quinn

http://society6.com/terra3/Giant-monkey-bike_Print

&

1970s Kinks Promo of Apeman

Our L.A. Event Picks: Week of 7/1

by fyarlgiles

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July 4 from 2pm-5pm: $12

Lost & Found Film Club, a monthly showcase of ephemeral, industrial, and educational 16mm films, salutes some of the things  that make this country great: Burgers? Check. Sparklers? Check. Amber waves of film grain from sea to shining sea? Double check.

http://www.cinefamily.org/films/lost-and-found-film-club#lost-found-film-club-july-4th-2013

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May – Sept @ Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The exhibition Hans Richter: Encounters examines the  career of painter, filmaker, and writer, Hans Richter, as both an innovator and a collaborator for the first time.

http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/hans-richter-encounters

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7/5-7/6 at 8pm: $12-$150

Looney Tunes projected on a giant  screen, with their exhilarating scores played live by the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

http://www.hollywoodbowl.com/tickets/warner-bros-presents-bugs-bunny-symphony-ii/2013-07-05