I mark every chapter of Max Ophuls‘ biopic of Lola Montes with the carnival routines. It’s probably not good to do so, since I conflate one part of the circus act with another. Some scenes, like the one involving horseback riding, even remind me of other carnival movies like the one with Charlton Heston.
It’s probably better to do this instead with what part of the heroine’s (Martine Carol) fascinating life that we’re seeing, like her mansion at the French Riviera or when she was Bavarian King’s (Anton Walbrook) courtesan. But there’s something less concrete about those episodes, as if they were a fantasy, because circumstances disallow permanence. Without the carnival the movie would be surprisingly boring, as if we’re watching her shuffling to different palaces. There’s beauty in those places but the circus’ surreal set pieces are to die for.
The movie’s transitions from wide-screen to lesser-wide screen seems more choreographed with repeat viewings. The ringmaster’s (Peter Ustinov) voice more commanding, the conversations between Lola and a German student (Oskar Werner) more intimate because the frame’s walls are closer. However, these black spaces also makes this feel like an incompletely restored movie. For a master, it feels like a gimmick to make these kinds of decisions or the refusal to make such a decision.
I want to know something deeper about the commonalities of Ophuls’ films, deeper than his opulent portrayal of the fragile status of the 19th century woman. Like fleeting glory that they can only touch but never hold. I envy women. Or maybe it’s the failed misogynist in the that does so, thinking that their ability to marry or consort into money isn’t self chatelling. I’m willfully confusing seduction with power. Social distinctions were more distinct back in Lola’s lifetime but she transcends her poor and suspiciously mysterious Irish provenance and be on stage for or to sit alongside Tsars and Grand Dukes and Kings.
But when students depose Kings they also get rid of her status. Her carnival life after Bavaria is as humiliating as, I imagine, it would have been for Cleopatra had she been found alive. A circus copyrights her life and she has to do it nightly for different towns. Thankfully she makes no pretenses, that she’s nothing but a performer. As a metaphor for her life, for the last act she climbs up different ladders and swings to the ceiling of the tent until she has to risk her life, taking a leap all the way down.
- “Cinema’s 50 greatest flops, follies, and failures” (gointothestory.com)
Well the links lead from me to me. Let me begin with the new character posters for Steven Soderbergh‘s Contagion, which I talked about for Nathaniel R’s The Film Experience. Blythe Danner has seen her daughter’s poster, apparently. The comments went beautifully, as people remembered the Gwyneth and Winona frenemy situation and surprisingly, Matt Damon‘s poster is competing to be the second favourite along with Laurence Fishburne‘s.
Speaking of Kate Winslet movies, she’s playing the role of She-Hulk in Roman Polanski‘s new film Carnage, a movie I won’t shut up about until its release. I didn’t like the poster, but it’s a surprise hit for the commenters at Anomalous Material, where I’ve also been busy writing news and reviews. I think that John C. Reilly has the best colouring here, while I’m not into Jodie Foster and Christoph Waltz‘ orange so much although yes, there are loathsome orange people out there.
I also reviewed Crazy, Stupid Love at YourKloset, a website that I write for when movies and fashion collide, which thankfully happens often enough for me.
I did a paper on Argentina in my first year in university. Beef is one of that country’s largest exports. There will be a lot of cows in this movie.
So Che Guevarra, known as Ernesto ‘Fuser’ Guevarra (Gael Garcia Bernal) was my age in 1951 and is best friends with a guy named Alberto (Rodrigo De la Serna), aged thirty, both of whom are passionate young adults who are kind of lost just like I am? Sweet and comforting, actually.
The Motorcycle Diaries follows the two men as they try to make it from Argentina to Venezuela by a motorcycle they call The Mighty One or The Powerful, depending on the translation, hoping to make it there for Alberto’s birthday. The film oscillates between the innate greatness and the precarious uncertainly of young lives of these two future leaders.
Although they are the main characters of the film, they’re also not necessarily the heroes since as young men, their strengths won’t be as well moulded. The movie’s technically about Ernesto, sometimes he steps aside for Alberto, who’s more charismatic to women and is a better dancer than he is. Both the young men also take the same humble attitude and watch great actions from the people they meet along their journey. Alberto, on his birthday and far from Venezuela, stumbles and says that traveling up a hill isn’t humanly possible, then we see a Native walk uphill. The two city boys learn from the people they meet and gather the fortitude to do impossible things themselves, like tell a doctor he can’t write or refuse to wear gloves while shaking hands with lepers or swim across a dangerous river at nighttime.
The trip is an educational experience in all the ways they have intended or otherwise, finding out for instance about specific restrictions. The two are kicked off a mining site while trying to watch out for a Communist couple, or the Natives are kicked off their land by corporations, both examples fueling outrage within Ernest and Alberto’s young minds.
Comparisons are inevitably drawn between this film and Bernal’s other road trip movie, Y Tu Mama Tambien. Ernesto fools around with his girlfriend in a car, although the scene’s tamer here. He and Alberto are also going to fight along the way. However, unlike the comfortable distance Julio and Tenoch has inside a car, ‘The Powerful’ becomes ‘The Deceased,’ the young men have to go on foot as they stubbornly continue their journey. Walking, as these guys say, makes them actually meet and talk to people along the way. They have informative conversations with drifters, or lepers who aren’t being treated well by the nuns in the settlement. The desolate injustices hinted at in Y Tu Mama Tambien are more pronounced in this film but the impact somehow seems lessened.
Background – Passes for Casino Jack came with the package I bought at TIFF. I skipped it for Modra, a Canadian film with hip reviews and hipper people giving out flyers for it. I felt bad about missing Casino Jack since director George Hickenlooper‘s untimely death. My intuition failed, choosing a movie that came to theatres four days before this one, thinking this had better distribution chances. I’m watching Casino Jack in January instead of The Mechanic, ditching a friend in the process :(. I’m a Metacritic slave I so might never see The Mechanic.
On Casino Jack. I have faint recollections of people belonging to the footnotes of history, and the film’s subject, Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), is supposedly a monstrous figure. Instead we get an ex-movie producer quoting movies a lot, with delusions of grandeur and a warped perception of competitive capitalism. The film’s first scene shows him claiming, in front of a mirror, that he works hard so that his family doesn’t have to walk or ride the subway, juxtaposed by him getting stuck in traffic with his daughter, hearing bad news from his partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), hiding from FBI for frauding left and right. Affluence doesn’t mean convenience, especially if your means are illegitimate.
Jack tries to convince us that he’s in the right while the film tries to convince us that he’s either deluded or caught up. He says that his job, lobbying helps congressmen to decide the laws for America. The film knows that it’s audience is smart enough to know that if congressmen wanted to write effective laws, they’d visit their constituents. Almost every character tainted hands in this fictional yet probably accurate portrayal of Washington. Jack uses his laundered money to build restaurants or Jewish schools, our devil’s advocate. We see the embarrassment of riches that he and these usurpers dip themselves into, the trinkets they need to feel accomplished, taking down enemies without knowing the consequences.
Nothing interesting visually in this film. Most of the camera work hides, for example, the blue sky, photoshopping the CN Tower between or behind those condos in ‘Florida’ that I’ve been in, hiding Senator ‘John McCain’ between those Manchurian Candidate-esque TV screens. There’s Spacey transforming himself into Jack in the photos of him, his skin droopier. There are also low angle shots of Jack as he’s being fired and/or interrogated.
Spacey’s never convinced me as a lead actor, and it takes a while for Pepper to settle within a suit-and-tie role, but they’re wonderful to watch in quieter scenes. They’re also a great part of an ensemble, illuminating a script full of pas de deux between characters. Michael’s girlfriend is played by Rachelle Lefevre, making memorable entrances and exits, doing wordplay as efficiently as the men, the film’s Cressida. Adam Kidan is played by Jon Lovitz, complementing the film through ccomic timing. These four are worth a matinée, including Jack’s description of Imelda Marcos, the strangest one I’ve heard.
Hazy childhood movie memory – Pu Yi goes from child emperor (Richard Vuu) to teenager (Tao Wu), either doing group martial arts warm-ups or military warm-ups with the Communists within the Forbidden City. That’s probably not how the movie actually goes.
My first film class showed Visions of Light, where it talks about this film’s use of symbolism through colour. Red means tradition and authoritarianism. Yellow, apparently is transition but I think it’s actually marks discovery. I haven’t seen Visions in a long time. I remember Pu Yi’s tutor Reginald Johnston’s (Peter O’Toole) bike being yellow. Lastly, green, and thus all the cool colours – even brown, strangely enough – means change, abdication, moving away from Pu Yi’s (John Lone) Imperial past. The words ‘open the door’ are often said with hostility in this film. This is the first movie I remember to use blue as a feminine colour, worn by women in the Forbidden City, or blue lighting/screen to depict an escape where the women are in focus and in their most troubled and precarious. Or white for loneliness. Great cinematography from Vittorio Storaro, Bertolucci’s longtime collaborator.
I’ve tweeted that a big chunk of The Last Emperor is the Asian Conformist, which is reductive, yes. Bertolucci’s about style and morally cold-hearted characters, a combination he masters here. The film is essentially political, as it publicly calls out authoritarianism’s hypocrisies. I suppose knowing that Pu Yi wasn’t that nice of a person makes the film more morally complex. It makes an emperor’s story relatable because it’s about any individual’s growth from unwanted independence to confusion to selfishness to adult self blame to resignation. Lone performs this rollercoaster of an arc beautifully, like playing hide and seek with the character’s moral ambiguities, changing depending on the man’s place in life. Other great performances include O’Toole’s enunciation, Maggie Han as Easter Jewel and Ric Young as an interrogator, the latter two camping it up without distracting from the film’s even tone.