Daisies

“Am I tough? Am I strong? Am I hard-core? Absolutely.
Did I whimper with pathetic delight when I sank my teeth into my hot fried-chicken sandwich? You betcha.”
― James Patterson

Daisies

I watched another Czech New Wave movie on The Criterion Channel – “Daisies” – a very odd and unique film.

Two somewhat attractive young women decide that since the world is going to hell in a handbasket they will do whatever they want. A lot of what they want is to convince older men to take them out to expensive restaurants where they eat and drink wine to excess – then take the men to a train – pretend to go with him – then jump off and run home without.

The movie is surreal and jarring – there is a scene where the women cut up the very film stock with scissors – until it is reduced to a jerky collage of heads and body parts. There is no plot – only the two women messing around. There is one scene with one of the two covering her naked body with the display cases of a Lepidopterist who is passionately in love with her.

At the “climax” of the film (such as it is) the two ride a dumbwaiter up through a series of odd tableaux viewed through a tiny grimy window until they arrive at a giant hall set with a log table – chairs for twenty or so – and a sideboard groaning with food. They start out sampling here and there before graduating to gorging themselves and finally a full-blown food fight where they destroy the feast. Then they appear wrapped in twine and newsprint trying to clean up their mess as best as they can – in apparent penance for their chaotic destruction.

They finish – happy and satisfied – stretched out on the table amidst the broken crockery and stained cloth until….

But that would spoil the fun, wouldn’t it?

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.”
― Alain de Botton

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Waiting on a workman to come by and cut up a downed tree – I wanted to rest a bit and take in a film – something streaming from the Criterion Collection. I decided to dive back into the Czech New Wave and chose what is often regarded as the last movie in that movement (It was released after the Soviets invaded the country and clamped down on artistic freedom and everything else) – Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.


The movie has been described as a fantasy film, as a horror film, as a coming-of-age film, as a vampire film, as a fairy tale, and as soft-core pornography. It is all that and… maybe… more.


What it is not is a linear consistent plot-driven film. It is a hallucination inside of a dream, jumping around, people change identities, die and come back to life. There are elements of lesbianism, incest, rape, reincarnation, magic, and eastern European folklore.


Valerie is a beautiful thirteen-year-old that comes of age (symbolized by drops of blood on blooming daisies) and is then thrown into a mystery of magical pearl earrings, a vampire grandmother, an evil presence that might be her father or her uncle or an anthropomorphic polecat. I guess what we are seeing is the symbolic introduction of the young girl to the mysterious world of adult sexuality – seen through a warped and horrific kaleidoscope.


It obviously is not a movie for everyone – but I’m not everyone and I liked it. It was a fun way to wile away a bit of time while waiting for something else to happen.

Godard’s Nana

“Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself.”

—-Michel de Montaigne

Anna Karina as Nana in Vivre sa Vie

When I finish a book – I have a tendency to look around for a movie of the same subject. After finishing Zola’s Nana – I first found a version on Netflix… but it was a Golan-Globus soft core R rated porn piece full of naked girls and leering old Frenchmen. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with that – but it wasn’t what I was looking for (at the time).

Then I discovered, on the Criterion Channel, a French nouvelle vauge film by Jean-Luc Godard: Vivre sa Vie. The main character (the transcendent Anna Karina) is Nana, a Parisian woman that starts out wanting to be a movie star but ends up  falling into a life of Prostitution. It was obviously inspired by (although very different) the Zola novel. And I watched it.

Susan Sontag called Vivre sa Vie “a perfect film” and “one of the most extraordinary, beautiful and original works of art that I know of”

66307739-godard-s-vivre-sa-vie-sontag-1964-120copy.pdf (wordpress.com)

The movie consists of twelve discrete tableaux – each one featuring a title card announcing what you are about to see. That breaks the film up and allows it to jump around, emphasizing the downward spiral of Nana’s life. In the novel, Nana preys upon the desires of the men around her – destroying them in the process. The movie is the opposite – the men around Godard’s Nana all prey on her desires and dreams, destroying her in the process. In the Novel, the men give Nana their money… in the Film Nana gives her hard earned cash to the men – she is reduced to a piece of property, a capital item that is expected to produce a certain amount.

This dreary, melodramatic story is contrasted with the luminous actress, Anna Karina. She fills almost every frame of the story and her beauty jumps out from the glorious black and white screen. I always have a tough time with the French New Wave, but I think this contrast is part of the appeal. The amazing potential of this beautiful woman reduced to disaster by the vagaries of cruel fortune.

Oh, one more thing… for you fountain pen nerds out there. There is a long scene where she writes out a letter – an application to work as a prostitute for a madame (it is heartbreaking). She is using a Parker “51” – a distinctive pen (hooded nib, arrow clip on the cap) – very popular at the time the film was made, and arguably the greatest pen ever. I’m ashamed of myself for recognizing that – and thinking it is cool.

Vivre sa vie review – quintessential soul-searching from Godard | DVD and video reviews | The Guardian

VERTIGO | Jean-Luc Godard: Vivre sa Vie (closeupfilmcentre.com)

My Life to Live movie review & film summary (1963) | Roger Ebert

Vivre Sa Vie (1962) film review – an analysis of a perfect film — Films to Watch Before you Die

The Oval Portrait by Edgar Allan Poe (poestories.com)

‘I think we’re always responsible for our actions. We’re free. I raise my hand – I’m responsible. I turn my head to the right – I’m responsible. I’m unhappy – I’m responsible. I smoke a cigarette – I’m responsible. I shut my eyes – I’m responsible. I forget that I’m responsible, but I am. I told you escape is a pipe dream. After all, everything is beautiful. You only have to take an interest in things, see their beauty. It’s true. After all, things are just what they are. A face is a face. Plates are plates. Men are men. And life, is life.’

—-Nana (Anna Karina) in Vivre sa Vie

Hiroshima Mon Amour

I was an architect, she was an actress. I drew the Eiffel Tower upon her dress. So we could see the world… The flash burnt our shadows right into the wall. But my best friend and I will leave them behind in Hiroshima. I will keep her secrets, I will change my name. My sweetheart and I are saying goodbye to Hiroshima.

—-My Favorite, Burning Hearts

The opening of Hiroshima Mon Amour

I have been taking too much pleasure in the NBA playoffs and as always happens when you take too much pleasure in something it all went to shit. My team, after a fantastic start, crashed and burned and went down to humiliating and ignominious defeat.

My lesson learned, again, I turned the game off and switched over to the always reliable backup – The Criterion Channel (the best streaming money you can spend). I cruised through the copious selection of marvelous and recherché moving picture shows and settled on a classic that I have never seen, Alan Resnais’ Hiroshima Mon Amour.

Resnais had made his reputation with a string of documentary films, including the first-rate Night and Fog, about the Nazi death camps. He was approached to make a similar nonfiction work about the Hiroshima bomb and traveled to Japan to start work. He realized that he could not make a simple documentary about that horror, especially for Western audiences (who, in the 1950’s, generally thought of the bomb as the end of the war) and proposed he make a fictional film instead.

He hired the novelist Marguerite Duras to write the screenplay and made a groundbreaking film. The surface plot is about a French actress (played by the luminous Emmanuele Riva) in Hiroshima to make a documentary about the bombing – she has a brief but intensely passionate affair with a Japanese architect (played by the equally riveting Eiji Okada). They have only thirty-six hours before she must go back to Paris.

But time in the film isn’t the same as it is in the real world. The story is told in conversations between the couple, in flashbacks, in dream sequences, in bits of newsreel footage.

The fourteen minute opening sequence is an amazing kaleidoscopic montage surrounding a scene of two naked bodies writhing in passion while radioactive dust falls from the sky and sticks to their sweat-drenched skin.

The film is full of questions, symbolism, conundrums wrapped in enigmas, doubling (the actress has had forbidden affairs with soldiers of both of the West’s enemies in WWII) and all the other accouterments of the French New Wave.

Despite all this, the film is watchable to anyone tired of the MCU. If nothing else, you can look at Emmanuele Riva and her expressive face (at eighteen and thirty four) as she is buffeted by history, war, the past, and the passion of today.

Emmanuele Riva in Hiroshima Mon Amour

Decades ago I stumbled across an obscure New York band called My Favorite. I have been a bit of a fan ever since. Watching the movie I realized that one of their “popular” songs, Burning Hearts, was inspired by the movie. Cool.

Short Story Of the Day, Technology by Bill Chance

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

—-Bill Chance, Technology

 

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#16). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 

Anna Karina

 


 

Technology

Wilfred had tested positive and was in strict quarantine. He wrote low-level code for a living and could easily work from home. His condominium was more than large enough for one person. There were grocery stores and number of restaurants in his area that offered delivery – he wasn’t going to starve.

But he hated eating alone.

His place had plenty of storage space and he was always fighting his hoarding tendencies. Every now and then, though, his habit of keeping stuff served him well. Not very often, but sometimes.

As he dreaded another sandwich alone (he had taken to eating over the counter where he made his food to minimize cleanup) he had a sudden idea. Digging around in a disused walk-in closet he found an ancient dot-matrix printer and a big box of blank continuous pin-feed paper. He even had some extra stashed ribbon cartridges, enough to do a lot of printing.

He dragged it out and set it up on a sturdy side table. He was disappointed when he realized his laptop didn’t have a parallel port – but Amazon had a surprising collection of USB to parallel adapters with prime overnight delivery. While he was on the site he ordered a pack of large foam core board, some rubber cement, and a nice cutter for curved mat boards. Tape and scissors, he already had.

One of his common tasks as a code jockey was to write printer drivers, and it didn’t take him long to cobble together something to output some surprisingly good graphics (black and white, of course) to the ancient dot matrix.

The next job was to pick five people and download some quality images. His dining room table would seat six and he had nice quality place settings for himself and five others. There were so many folks to choose from, but it was his party and he could invite whomever he wanted.

It took a while to get used to the noise of the dot matrix in his condo. He had forgotten how loud and slow the things were. But the image of the paper slowly unfolding from the box and running through the printer was comforting and the noise ultimately became almost soothing.

Then there was the gluing, the cutting and trimming, and putting it all together. The smell of the rubber cement was nasty in the closed in space, and Wilfred decided he should have used double sided tape. But it did work and the odor finally dissipated.

Finally, he was done. He had several days to decide on his first menu and have the food delivered. He decided that it didn’t have to be too fancy and he should make what he liked. Nobody was getting enough exercise so it better be healthy. He settled on baked chicken meatballs with garlic-dill yogurt sauce served over zucchini noodles with mixed vegetables and sweet potatoes on the side.

He filled the six plates and put one at each place. Then he filled glasses with water and a nice white that he had stashed away.

So there he was with five other people – the foam core cutouts firmly taped up on each chair, arranged man-woman, with him at one head.

To his right was the French actress Anna Karina – the photo he printed was of her at her prime as a star of the early sixties New Wave. Her stunning beauty translated well to the black and white dot matrix printing – so many of her movies weren’t in color – Wilfred thought of her that way.

“After all,” she said, “Things are what they are. A message is a message, plates are plates, men are men, and life is life.”

To his left as the author Patricia Highsmith. She was born in Texas but settled in Paris and had a very unconventional life. She was burdened with alcoholism and depression, but sometimes that made for lively dinner conversation. She was plainspoken, dryly funny, and fun at the table, in general.

“I know you have it in you, Wilfred,” Patricia said suddenly at the end of a silence, “the capacity to be terribly happy.”

Beyond her was Oscar Wilde. Wilfred always loved the way he wove witty aphorisms through his writing and imagined he was always good for a quip to keep the conversation going. He was not disappointed.

“I’m a man of simple tastes. I’m always satisfied with the best,” he said, and everyone raised their glasses.

On the other side, next to Anna Karina, was the massive presence of Orson Welles. Mr. Welles was on good behavior and really enjoyed the food. His tales of some of the famous people he had met kept everyone enraptured.

“There are three intolerable things in life – cold coffee, lukewarm champagne, and overexcited women…” he said, trailing off.

Finally, at the other end of the table, was Cleopatra. Her English was surprisingly good for an ancient Egyptian Queen. She looked at life and the world in general in a wildly different way that anybody else and had the others thinking deeply about their own perspectives.

“Marc Antony?” she said, “I never understood how such a big man had such a small brain.” And everybody chuckled.

The meal ended but Wilfred still sat there enjoying the company and the conversation. Finally he collected the plates and glasses and was momentarily bothered by the amount of food that was wasted.

“But that’s the price for good company,” Patricia Highsmith pointed out. And she was right.

Everyone had such a good time. So they made plans for another dinner in a few days.

“I’m sorry,” said Oscar Wilde, “I have to fly to Paris for a meeting with my agent. There’s a play coming out and he is desperate for me to make some changes.”

The others talked about it for a minute and the decision was made to invite Groucho Marx.

“Then Groucho it is,” said Wilfred. He had plenty of paper and foamcore left and had learned to sleep through the sound of printing.

 

Short Story Of the Day, Nouvelle Vague by Bill Chance

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto.

—-Bill Chance, Nouvelle Vague

 

I have been feeling in a deep hopeless rut lately, and I’m sure a lot of you have too. After writing another Sunday Snippet I decided to set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ll write a short piece of fiction every day and put it up here. Obviously, quality will vary – you get what you get. Length too – I’ll have to write something short on busy days. They will be raw first drafts and full of errors.

I’m not sure how long I can keep it up… I do write quickly, but coming up with an idea every day will be a difficult challenge. So far so good. Maybe a hundred in a row might be a good, achievable, and tough goal.

Here’s another one for today (#15). What do you think? Any comments, criticism, insults, ideas, prompts, abuse … anything is welcome. Feel free to comment or contact me.

Thanks for reading.

 


 

Nouvelle Vague

 

Armando loved cars. And his girlfriend Cecile had a great one. Her father had a bit of cash stashed away and bought her a vintage light blue ’65 Mustang Convertible to drive around while she was at school. She used to say, “I live the top down life.”

The two of them also loved film… or more precisely, movies, because they mostly watched them on tape. The VHS format had recently defeated its deathly adversary, the Betamax, and a rental store for the hard-core movie aficionado had opened up near his apartment. The two of them were renting stacks of tapes and working their way through the French New Wave.

Though they lived in a tumbleweed-blown college town in the middle of the great plains they liked to pretend they were in Paris. A greasy spoon was a pale but workable substitute for a Parisian Cafe – one even had sidewalk tables for those few days where the weather wasn’t blowing ice or baking heat. They watched Godard and talked politics over meals and she cut her hair like Anna Karina.

Like all Nouvelle Vague couples they saved their important, passionate conversations for the times they were driving in the car. She named the Mustang Metal Hurlant. They would drive with the top down, sometimes slowly or sometimes sliding around the gravely corners. They would take turns driving and would imagine a camera on the hood shooting through the windshield as they talked about their dreams, argued, or the passenger would lean against the driver and they would cruise in silence.

They would take a purposeful minute of silence every now and then. “If there’s nothing to say, let’s have a minute of silence” was their motto. A minute of silence can be a long time. A real minute of silence takes forever. But they took pride in being able to pull it off.

It took some effort but they learned to dance The Madison. Never found a place in public they could show off.

There was nothing better than driving around with the top down in the twilight evening after a hot day. The convertible made its own breeze and the world was awash in magical colors once the sun set until it became too dark. They kept a little cooler of iced beer cans under the dash and would sneak sips when they knew the cops weren’t watching. Even the condensation on the curved aluminum was beautiful and delicious.

At the end of one of these perfect evenings the night crept down the sky until they had to think of something else to do.

“I know!” Armando said, “Look over there.”

It was the last drive in theater. The VHS tapes had killed the drive in – but there was one last one, hanging on, out there on the edge of town, at the end of time.

They didn’t even look to see what movie was playing, but paid their money and drove in. They were the only customers – the space vast and empty.

“At least we’ll be able to see close,” said Cecile. She drove down right to the front, with the towering white screen rising above them like a fortification. Cecile looked over the door, confused.

“Hey! Where are all the little speakers on poles?”

“Oh, those are long gone,” said Armando, “People kept stealing them. You just tune in on the radio for the sound.”

“This car doesn’t have a radio.”

They drove all the way back to the one spot, right beside the snack bar that still had a speaker. The single employee (who owned the theater and had taken their money earlier) popping corn and filling sodas could keep an eye on that one. They watched the movie on the tiny, distant screen, with nothing but space between.

Still it was nice. And sitting there in that specific instant in that vintage car with the top down watching the last drive in alone (except for the snack bar guy) in that peculiar slice of time they were happy, content and in the moment – blissful and unaware of the tumult and pandemonium that was bearing down on them… on everybody… like a tsunami of insanity – only a few short decades away.

The Judy’s are on YouTube

1982 – I was excited. A bunch of cow-orkers and myself had tickets to see the B-52s. The venue for the post-punk, new wave show was a strange place called the Wintergarden Ballroom on John West Road in East Dallas. The cross street was Dilido – the worst name for a street, ever. The building is still there, it’s a factory that makes raised flooring for datacenters now.  I had seen Devo at the Wintergarden a few months before.  If memory serves, there were only a few rows of seats, almost everybody stood – which added an intensity to the shows.

A ticket to Devo at the Wintergarden

A ticket to Devo at the Wintergarden

We were all there, I was very excited. The B-52s had really meant something very special to me after I had had an epiphany while hearing Private Idaho on a car radio at three in the morning driving hell bent for leather somewhere in the vast expanse of the Kansas Flint Hills.

The warm up band came out. It was a Houston based trio named The Judy’s. I had never heard of them. They started to play.

I can’t remember anything about the B-52s that night. But after almost thirty years I think I know and remember every song in The Judy’s’ set.

They simply blew everybody away. It was incredible.

They might have seemed like a novelty act. Dressed in some sort of obscure uniforms (Milkmen?) they played strange instruments. The keyboard player used a child’s toy piano, often holding it on his shoulder. The drummer mostly beat on a string of pots and pans hanging from a stand. They made use of a static filled television to provide an odd harmony.

But they were not a novelty act. The music was unlike anything anybody had heard before (or since), but it was unquestionably great. The audience didn’t leap about or dance (much) – they stood there stunned, swaying, enthralled by what we saw on the stage.

It was special. The funny thing is, talk to anybody who saw The Judy’s back then, they will tell you the same thing.

I guess the Judy’s were the prime example of a local hit. They were worshipped in Texas. The Talking Heads opened for them in Houston.

They got a lot of airplay on George Gimarc‘s seminal radio show back in the day. I remember waiting on line at the Granada Theater for a midnight showing of Shock Treatment (the awful sequel to Rocky Horror) when The Judy’s’ Guyana Punch came on somebody’s cassette boom box. The line went nuts and made him rewind and play it over and over.

Washarama

Washarama

I bought vinyl copies of Washarama and Moo.

Moo

Moo

Everyone assumed they would be a big hit – but they slowly drifted into obscurity. They pretty much disappeared, except in the minds of their fans from back in the day. I guarantee that none of us ever forgot them.

And now they are on YouTube. And their music has been pressed into CDs. Now, where’s my wallet, where’s my credit card.

The Judy’s live in 1981 singing their quintessential number – Guyana Punch

My favorite Judy’s song has always been Her Wave. Here is that song from the same 1981 show.

I don’t know how I missed this: they played at SXSW in 2008. Man, I wish I could have been there.

This is truly the best of all possible worlds.