movies often have a problem with pacing. Often they move slowly, too slow for
our modern tastes, and drag out a story unnecessarily. “La Jetée” has the
opposite problem. It is way too short.
is a bit of an oddity as it consists exclusively of still and I cannot help
thinking that I am looking at a storyboard of a half-finished movie. Fleshed
out this would be an excellent movie, but as it is it is way too short and
merely a skeleton of what it should be.
A ma has a
memory from his childhood of a woman on the pier of Orly airport in Paris. A
man rushes towards her and is killed. The world is ruined in an apocalyptic
world war and Paris is a radioactive desert. Survivors live underground divided
in a master and a slave segment. The masters are making experiments on the
slaves in order to send them forward or backward in time to get help. The man
with the memory is a successful test subject and manages to get back in time
and meet the woman. He befriends her and spends a considerable time with her.
Confident in their success the masters now send him to the future where
humanity grant him an energy source. Mission accomplished the masters prepare
to terminate their test subject, but he is saved by future humanity. He can
join them, but asks instead to be sent back to the woman. He finds her on the
pier and rushes towards her. As he is killed by an agent of his masters he
realizes that this is exactly the scene he remembers watching in his childhood.
Terry Gilliam actually fleshed out the story in his “12 Monkeys”. Technically I
suppose it was a remake, but can you remake a sketch? Anyway, the similarities
are so striking that it feels like the movie “La Jetée” should have been and it
is also acknowledged by Terry Gilliam.
Even in its
half-finished look “La Jetée” is an interesting little piece of work. The
pictures are striking and the apocalyptic feel is exquisite. This mix of slum
and high-tech, misery and hope is so well developed that Gilliam in his quirky
mind hardly had to improve on it. The black and white photography is reminiscent
of concentration camps and with the Nazi doctors and the German mumblings I do
not think that is coincidental.
I also like
the story a lot. Time travel, as silly as it is, is a favorite theme of mine
because of its paradoxes and this is an early example of those paradoxes in
play. The position of the “movie” is that ultimately time has a single stream
and you cannot really change it, only create loops. No multi-verse or
alternative time lines here and philosophically it is also more satisfying.
Time travel is such an interruption on reality that it really should be
problem of “La Jetée” is the short running time. Only 27 minutes! Of those Chris
Marker, the director, decided to spend a considerable part idling around on a
museum. I could see time running out and they were just looking at animals! I
feared that the ending would be rushed and it was. Almost anti-climactically
In a sense
I do not mind the still image format. It serves its purpose, but maybe for a
longer movie it would have been too much. Even then, had the movie spend 15
minutes more on key points this would have felt like a complete movie. The
potential for greatness is so big that missing that last step feels almost
criminal. Still, I enjoyed it a lot, as I had a feeling I would, and I would
definitely recommend it. As introduction in a double feature with “12 Moneys”
it would be perfect.
Ifjor i Marienbad
In 2004 I
was in Marienbad and it looked nothing like this…
in Marienbad” is a movie I have heard rumors of for a while. It is often
mentioned as one of the worst or most challenging or even pointless movies on
the List. Certainly not as one of those I should look forward to watch. Going
in to this I felt quite a bit of trepidation and my expectations were not high.
through to the other side I can certainly see why this would not be to
everybody’s taste. To call it polarizing is probably to give it too much
credit, but actually I am not as negatively inclined as I thought I would be.
in Marienbad” is an art movie, no doubt about that. It is in fact so arty that
at surface value it makes absolutely no sense. A synopsis is virtually
impossible and I cannot really go any further than saying that this is a about
a man trying to convince a woman that they had an affair the year before,
something the woman denies.
does the movie actually do for 90 minutes?
There is a
lot of narration of the poetic, sort of stilted, kind, about memory and
corridors and emotional imprisonment, although much of the narration is lost as
it does not seem to make a lot of sense and often does not even match the
pictures. All the scenes are inside or outside a baroque castle, sumptuous but
cold with a lot of straight lines. The castle is populated by what appears to
be guests (a hotel?), but they are immobile or on auto pilot and do not seem to
be alive. The only actual characters are two men and a woman. The first man is
the one who keeps imploring the woman to remember their affair, while the
second, a scary skull like dude, looks like he could be her husband. He is
always looming on the side.
is constantly jumping, even when narration or dialogue is continuing. The
chronology is random and there is no start nor finish. Well, there is sort of a
finish, but I am not sure that is the last we see. Cloths change, especially
hers between white and black dresses and we often watch people playing some
sort of game with cards, dominos or sticks.
As I said
nothing here makes any sense at surface value and trying to perceive some sort
of story is a frustrating experience. Art films however is all about what is
happening beneath the surface, what it is all supposed to mean and “Last Year
in Marienbad” is only different in the sense that it has entirely given up on
the surface narrative.
I can only
guess. According to the extra material there is no official or even majority
interpretation of the movie. Instead various people have offered their
interpretations and who is to tell which is right?
thing is that this is what I like about art films. The weirder and opaque the
better and this is certainly one of the most mystifying art films I have ever
watched. Going through the process of watching it I am helped by stunning
photography to get me through to the point where I can start to make my own
interpretation is in no way completely thought through I believe that the woman
is the only real character. The first man is a memory lurking just outside conscience,
something she may have blocked or repressed and the castle with all its
corridors and repetitions is her mental prison. In the extra material they talk
about that she could have been a victim of a sexual crime and that sounds
plausible to me. The second man certainly looks menacing and capable of
terrible things. She seems to have to make a choice between something that may
liberate her or staying in her mental prison and her escape depends on
If I have
the patience to watch it again I might completely discard this rough skeleton
or be able to flesh it out, but for now it will have to do.
certain David Lynch watched “Last Year in Marienbad” before he made “Mulholland
Drive”. Those two movies are like siblings, equally frustrating and open to
interpretation, but also fascinating to watch.
harsher state of mind I would call “Last Year in Marienbad” a very pretentious
movie and there is certainly something exclusive and snobbish about it. I know
several French teachers from my high school days who would just love it. Yet, I
cannot help thinking that this is a very interesting watch and definitely
something you are not going to see every day. Recommended? Not to everybody.
Feber i blodet
movie of 1961 is Elia Kazan’s ”Splendor in the Grass”. The movies I watch are
now “only” 56 years old, technically, so I am approaching modern times and
accordingly expect more modern movies. “Splendor in the Grass” seems to fit the
brief being as it is a movie concerned with youth culture, filmed in high
quality Technicolor and employing the latest in Method Acting. I should be in
for a treat.
There is no
arguing the qualities of Splendor in the Grass. The production quality is just
about as good as it gets and with all the… not so technically accomplished
movies I watched from 1960, this feels like a great leap forward. The colors
are super crisp, the settings are nice and detailed and the acting is
wonderful. Of course it helps that we get actors like Nathalie Wood and Warren
Beatty (in his first movie and yes, he is the very same man who presented the
wrong Best Picture winner at the latest Oscar show, though not by any fault of
his). Youth culture movies was a new phenomenon at this time and Hollywood was
still feeling its way into a genre that would eventually become a staple.
In 1961 (or
1962, if you lived far away from Hollywood) this would have been the movie
teenagers went to the cinema to watch and I get the impression that its
influence was significant.
that there is a lot to love about this movie. Then why is it that I am not
completely sold by it?
with “Splendor in the Grass” is that you have to accept the premise that
teenage love is the end-all and be-all of everything and being prevented to get
the one you love is devastating on all accounts. This is a very romantic notion
that Hollywood has endorsed unrestrained for half a century or more and
convinced several generations of teenagers is true. Call me terribly
unromantic, but I do not buy that premise and stories that depends on this
premise tends to leave me cold. Instead I tend to get a bad case of
eye-rolling, which means that I would not be your favorite pick to accompany
you for a classic tear-jerker.
In the case
of this movie it helps that there is a second theme in the form of sexual
repression. The young couple are denied not just each other, but also the
sexual release. In fact it is hammered through to them that sex is a bad thing,
something bad people do, so stay off it. It is far more believable that this
denial of human nature would lead to aggression, rebellion and mental collapse.
In 61 we were just embarking on the sexual revolution and by setting the clock
back some 30 years the movie sets up an environment with enough repression to
engender the drama and the crisis, not unlike what Ophüls did by displacing his
stories to the 19th century. I doubt this trick was really necessary
though, sexual repression exists in many environments to this day, but it may
have made the story easier to digest.
(Natalie Wood) is told that sex is what bad girls do and she can see that the
boys want sex so she wants to be a bad girl, but both Bud (Warren Beatty) and
her parents want her to be a nice girl, so she gets confused. Bud is coached
into distinguish between sex and love and it does not really help him much.
repression is a powerful agent and had the movie dared go all out on it I am
sure I would have liked the movie a lot better than I did. Instead it only goes
halfway in that direction and never leaves the crushing teenage love theme.
Both Deanie and Bud eventually find their release, but we constantly have to
struggle with the ghost of all-encompassing teenage love and it sabotages the
movie for me.
me a great deal because of the potential there is in this movie. The scenes
with Deanie and her parents, the best in the entire movie, are so promising.
They are so entrenched in their world view that, especially the mother, is
constantly misreading her daughter. She means well, but is poison to Deanie.
This, far more than the relationship between Bud and Deanie, is the heart of
in the Grass” is not what I would call my kind of movie. It does a lot of
things right and has seeds for something great. In the end however it choses
another kind of audience than me and for them I have no doubt that it works.
is one of those movie I am quite familiar with. I watched it back in high
school when we had a Roman theme and I remember it as being an exciting movie
to watch for a teenage boy with a penchant for antique history, though also
that I was disappointed by the ending. I mean, they killed our hero!
It has been
many years since then and revisiting “Spartacus” is a mixed pleasure. On some
accounts it is better than I remember, but on others I cannot help being disappointed
and that surprised me. I did expect it to confirm all my happy memories.
belongs to a category of sandal and sword monster productions in vogue in the
late fifties and early sixties. It was, I suspect, the recognized recipe for a
blockbuster and as such it is firing on all cylinders to provide a magnificent
spectacle, keeping in mind that all those invested dollars have to be earned
back again. It is a long movie, around three hours, in splendid colors and
hosting thousands of extras in truly impressive battle scenes. The sets are
spectacular with elegant Roman villas, a gladiator school and grand battlefields.
Costumes and equipment all look authentic and not least, the cast is first
is of course the central figure as Spartacus. No wonder, as that is the title
character and Douglas was the man behind the movie. He was executive producer
and it was his own production company, Bryna that made the movie. However, the
actor that steals the picture is Laurence Olivier as Crassus, the Roman
senator. Olivier was known as one of the best actors of the era, but I have
often been underwhelmed by his appearance and felt his pretentiousness to be in
the way of the roles he was playing. Not so in “Spartacus”. Laurence Olivier IS
Crassus. I saw a statue of the man and he even looks like Olivier. The Roman arrogance
is dripping from him, but not in the sycophantic and effeminate fashion
normally associated with arrogance, but from sheer power. This is a man who
knows he is better, stronger, richer and more deserving than anybody else. He
is Patrician with capital P. Not a small feat, but for Olivier is perfect.
Ustinov, Jean Simmons and Charles Laughton are all excellent and had it not
been for Olivier I would have devoted more space to their praise. Tony Curtis
and John Dall seem miscast, Curtis is not believable as a very young effeminate
singer and Dall just resembles a country bumpkin from the Midwest, not a Roman
this is all good, so what is my problem?
is that “Spartacus” is far more interested in promoting a cause than telling an
actual story. Never mind all the gimmicks included to please the perceived interests
of an audience, that goes with the territory in a big production. I am pleased
that for once this is a sword and sandal movie without biblical aspirations.
The cause here is the struggle for freedom from an oppressive power. This was
the crusade of the western world during the cold war and in 1960 we are right
smack in at the height of that conflict. It is not difficult at all to see
Spartacus’ slaves as oppressed people in the east block rebelling against the tyrannical
and inhuman power of the Soviet. The slaves are freedom loving every-men and
women of valor but low birth with a just cause and the Romans are evil,
arrogant powermongers with no regard at all for subhuman slaves. This sort of
black and white painting is typical Hollywood and ensures that the message gets
received, but the actual story suffers greatly because of it.
gets to be the bad guys in movies. I suppose the Bible and Christian traditions
have given the Romans so much bad publicity that they are forever stained in
the eyes of the modern public, but when you get down to the core of things the
Romans were not worse than anybody else. In fact much of what we admire and
strive for are of Roman origin. Trustworthiness, legal justice, peaceful trade,
religious freedom and civil comfort are all Roman virtues. Every society in
antiquity held slaves. Everybody waged wars and blood-sport was not a Roman
invention, tasteless as it is. Frankly, bull fighting is not that far removed
from gladiator games.
I found the
political battle between Crassus and Gracchus far more interesting this time
round and while this is presented as callous political plotting with the slaves
as pawns, this is also a window into the Roman conflict between patricians and
plebeians and, even more interesting, the struggle between the pluralistic rule
of the Senate and the dictatorial rule that eventually would become the empire.
This is a super interesting era in Roman history and I gobble up every bit of
it and find that the taste of what “Spartacus” serves us is often foul.
again that is not the mission of “Spartacus”. This is about the struggle for
freedom and to that end sentiments and aspirations are given to the slaves that
I seriously doubt they had. In reality the slave army was not betrayed by
Cilician pirates, but chose to stay in Italy to plunder. How is that for noble,
freedom seeking every-men?
is a spectacle and that is what we get. It is entertaining, but it is also
hamfisted. I do not see Stanley Kubrick here at all. This is so different from
anything he did. But I see a lot of Kirk Douglas and that is also okay. And for
the performance of Laurence Olivier I can forgive “Spartacus” anything.