Saturday, February 26, 2011

Treni popolare

The Italian comic gem from 1933 Treno popolare, the first feature of director Raffaello Matarazzo, and the first movie scored by Nino Rota, is utterly charming and speaks to an innocence and love of common humanity lost forever. The story of a Sunday pic-nic visit to a regional village on a special train by denizens of Rome is told with elegance and panache, with Rota’s music and title song integral to the experience. Alas, the joy for a modern viewer is bitter-sweet watching simple lives oblivious to the sinister undertow of fascism and the cataclysm to come. Essential.

Domenica d’Agosto from 1950 is a charming delight. The benign chaos of Italians out for a good time and the sweet melancholy of everyday life. A celebration of the feminine. A set of stories of five girls and women is metaphorically the story of the same woman: a cute little innocent re-united with her father, an achingly-charming teenager playing at life and love, a young woman sadly in love with the wrong man, a working-class girl on the cusp of motherhood and a life of travail, and a luminous older mother who reaches out to a lonely father. The mise-en-scene is quite brilliant at times: the shower of propaganda leaflets disturbing the family picnic, a sardonic scene where we cut to a ‘businessman’ and his heap of a truck, and the subtle wit of a scene on the train near the end when the father completes a phone number for his daughter.

Occupe-toi d'Amélie (France 1949)

A marvelous French farce from director Claude Autant-Lara. The pace is beautifully established from the lengthy opening credits in a long long take as a rather portly bourgeois gentil-homme runs down a collonade – you know that attempt at running by a fattie in a hurry but constrained by a conceit of deportment – towards the camera which seamlessly recedes into the cinema, accompanied by a gorgeously insouciant musical accompaniment from composer René Cloërec. It turns out this gentleman is late for his role in a farce playing at a Paris theater. The scene as he hurries into the labyrinth of stairways and corridors backstage owes nothing to Max Ophuls – it is sin qua non elegant. In his dressing room, we get down to business as he exchanges a hurried conversation with a party of petit-bourgeios, which includes two bearded twins who must be the bizarro avatars of two of the the aviator triplets from A Night at the Opera. Later we cut to the streets of Paris with another elegant zoom pan from the street to a soiree in an upper floor apartment. The camera enters from the window takes in the scene and then pans to the right – we are on stage in the same theater! Of course Danielle Darrieux is gorgeous, and wastes no time in farcing it up. She slaps a servant who is caught sneaking a drink, and is immediately slapped in return! All this in the first 7 minutes – brilliant.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Reflections on a Black Swan

I have only seen Black Swan being cloistered in a cinema-free zone for a number of weeks. A weird denial of fantasy and a stubborn rebellion to make my own prosaic life matter more than someone else’s vision of hapless reality – perhaps.Or is it a dream? A paranoid fear that I will confront my own debauched existence in another zone of meaning? But my nightmares when I do succumb to sleep are vivid phantasmagoria I can embrace and discard when I awake, or can I? Dreams of ballerinas, swans, sluts, goddesses, dark fallen angels, and virgin nymphs, that don’t pass the reality test but are more real than the tepid realism I confront when not in sleep. The White Swan is dead, long live the Black Swan, in all her lurid unreality. Renew my subscription to the Resurrection.

The White Swan is dead.

The wraith in the mirror
A thousand and one shards of shattered glass dissolve into a bloody cascade
A cosmic alchemy
The red phoenix rises into a hurricane of abandon


The black swan pirouettes into and out of the spotlight
A crescendo of liberation
She takes no prisoners

Her lips dark labia of debauchery.
She bites and draws blood from the mouth of her dark prince