VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 3

The third tableau, or chapter, of Godard's Vivre Sa Vie is primarily about the cinema.  It begins with a transitional scene connecting it to the preceding tableau which showed us the protagonist Nana's working life.  She returns home but cannot get the key to her apartment from the concierge, because she owes back rent.  We know from the preceding tableau that Nana has lent 2000 francs to a co-worker, who wasn't at work that day.

Cast adrift in the city, Nana meets a friend by chance on the street, the guy she was breaking up with in the first tableau, who shows her some pictures of his child, apparently a child he had with Nana.  Her only relationship with the child now seems to be through these photographs, through images.

Nana refuses an offer of dinner from her ex because she wants to go to the movies.  She goes to see Carl Dreyer's silent film La Passion de Jeanne Arc at the Jeanne d'Arc theater.  She's sitting with a date, who has his arm around her, but she is utterly absorbed in the film.

Godard shows us a relatively long passage from the film, cut into his own film — in other words we don't see this passage as images playing on the movie theater screen, which is never shown in the shots inside the theater.  Thus, when Godard cuts from Dreyer's extreme close-ups of the suffering Joan about to meet her death to a close-up of Nana reacting emotionally to the images, a kind of equivalence is suggested, on two levels.

Nana is identifying with the character Joan . . . but Anna Karina, playing Nana, is also mirroring or doubling the actress Falconetti, playing Joan.  Karina is entering the history of film as an image.

After the film, Nana ditches her date, whom she's apparently just hustled for the admission price to the movie, and goes to meet another man at a café.  We've seen Nana “servicing” a male customer at the record shop — now we've seen her trading a little groping for a movie ticket.  In the first tableau, her boyfriend accuses her of breaking up with him because he doesn't have enough money — and she doesn't exactly deny it.  Godard is establishing the idea of her persona, especially her sexual persona, as a marketable commodity.

Nana and the new guy she meets sit beside each other at the café bar, like Nana and her soon-to-be ex in the first tableau, but they face each other, and we can see their faces.  The camera tracks back and forth between them nervously, mostly keeping them in a two-shot but one that's constantly reconfigured.

This nervous, apparently unmotivated tracking makes us conscious of the camera, even as Nana and the man discuss photographs he's going to take of her to help her break into the movies, which is her dream.

The ironies grow elaborate.  Godard has already put Karina into the movies, into this movie among others, and suggested an equivalence between her image and some of the most iconic images in all of cinema — but the character Nana is somewhere far behind the actor playing her.

Curiously, this dissonance doesn't disrupt either our sympathy for the character or our delight in Godard's abstract aesthetic gambits.  The two levels of meaning play against each other in a logical and beautiful way, like two counterpointed lines in a Bach fugue.

Next:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 4

Previously:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 2

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 2

The second tableau or chapter of Godard's Vivre Sa Vie consists of a single very complex shot.  It opens on a counter in a record shop where the film's lead character, played by Anna Karina, works.  She is servicing a customer, checking to see for him whether the shop has albums by various artists in stock.

At one point she has to move to some bins on a lower level of the shop and the camera pans and tracks with her as she does.  In the course of this she chats with two of her co-workers, asking about another employee who's absent from work and who owes her money.

She finds the record the customer wants and returns to the counter as the camera pans and tracks back to the original shot and then tracks along further in the same direction to the cash register, where the transaction is completed by the cashier.  The camera tracks and pans back the other way, losing Karina, revealing now a shop window across the street.  Continuing to track and pan the camera comes to rest on a view of a busy Paris street seen through the doorway of the record shop.



The whole scene gives us a vivid image of the character's boring work life, her position of deferential service to the customers — a man in this case — as well as a vision of her as someone entirely boxed in by a world of commerce.  The camera, panning and tracking, gives us something close to a 360-degree view from her work station, in a single shot.  The presence of merchandise and commercial activity wherever the camera looks
makes a social statement about the world she inhabits, but the unbroken continuity of the single shot makes us feel it as an oppressive reality.

Next:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 3

Previously:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 1

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 1

After the extreme, iconic close-ups of Anna Karina in the credit sequence of Vivre Sa Vie, Godard launches into the first of the film's twelve tableaux, or chapters, by conspicuously hiding her face from us.  He shoots her from behind as she sits at a café bar facing a mirror behind the bar, in which we can barely make out her reflection.

She is having a conversation with a man who's also sitting at the bar, out of frame.  When Godard finally cuts to the man, isolated in his own frame, he is also seen from behind, but his face is not visible in the mirror.

Karina's character is breaking up with the man — Godard's visual strategy echoes their estrangement, of course, but hiding Karina's face also directs us to what she's saying, to the character's story, and away from the iconic status of his alluring star.

The woman asks the man if he wants to play a game of pinball — the camera is on his back when she proposes this and her hand comes into the frame to rest on his shoulder.  Having shared the same frame at last, they move to the pinball machine, in a shot where they are both visible, their faces revealed to us partially in an angle that's still from behind but more to the side.

Though sharing the same frame, their concentration is not on each other but on the pinball machine, and our attention is divided between them and a view of Paris outside the window behind them.  The man describes an essay by a child about animals, in which the child writes that birds are made up of an outside and an inside.  The child says that when you take away the outside, the inside is left, and when you take away the inside the soul is left.  As the man describes this essay, the camera pans left to isolate Karina in the frame.

The essay echoes the dynamic of Godard's film — in which he pits Karina's outside, her beauty and her cinematic allure, against her character's story, her character's inner struggle, and suggests that, or wonders if, when her story and struggle are concluded, there will be some kind of revelation of a soul, one which will
perhaps reconcile the actor and the character — that is, a soul which both share.

This is less a statement of Godard's purpose than a question he is asking us to think about as we watch the film — and in some sense a question he is asking of cinema itself.

Previously:

VIVRE SA VIE — CREDIT SEQUENCE

Next:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 2

VIVRE SA VIE — CREDIT SEQUENCE

Jean-Luc Godard's Vivre Sa Vie, from 1962, is divided into twelve tableaux, or chapters, each introduced by a title card.

Before the first tableau is a credit sequence, with the film's credits superimposed over three close-ups of the film's star, Anna Karina — two profile views similarly framed but shot from different sides and one frontal shot of Karina's face.

The profiles are primarily back-lit, with a small amount of fill on the dark side of the face.  The images are beautiful, almost iconic — Karina is still and composed.  Her face is presented as a kind of landscape we are invited to explore.  When she moves her lips slightly, or swallows, it seems as if the icon has taken on miraculous life.  In between these shots is the frontal shot, fully lit.  In it we can see tears beginning to well up in Karina's eyes — she looks lost and bewildered.

This sequence of shots is a kind of program for the film that follows, in which Godard will celebrate the cinematic presence of his star almost as a work of art, as a predominantly aesthetic phenomenon, and also tell the story of her character, a confused, self-absorbed young woman, who is indeed lost and bewildered, unequipped to navigate the world which will destroy her.

The portrait of the character is alternately judgmental and compassionate, never fully resolved on this level.  The aesthetic presentation of the actress's beauty and exhilarating cinematic presence is consistently celebratory, but also tends to objectify her to some degree.

All of these levels of meaning and their conflicts with each other are summed up in the three shots of the credit sequence.

Next:

VIVRE SA VIE — TABLEAU 1

PURSUED

Niven Busch was a crucial figure in the development of the Western after World War Two.  He was a New York magazine writer before moving to Hollywood in the 1930s to work as a story editor and screenwriter.  He supplied stories or wrote scripts for a variety of genres, including two conventional Westerns, The Westerner, for William Wyler, co-written with Jo Swerling, and Belle Starr, on which he had a co-story credit.

In the early Forties, Busch began writing novels — his second, Duel In the Sun, set in the Old West, was a bestseller and became the basis for David Selznick's notorious film of the same title.  This was the film that began to change the nature of the post-WWII Western.  Its adult sexuality, which caused it serious problems with the Breen office, its dark Gothic tone and its neurotic or twisted characters marked it as new kind of Western — one more in keeping with the noirish mood of the nation after WWII and Hiroshima.

Busch's own script for Duel In the Sun was discarded, but he was soon at work on an original Western screenplay, Pursued, which many consider the first true noir Western — that is, a Western which deliberately mirrored the themes and forms of the post-war crime thrillers we would eventually call films noirsPursued starred Robert Mitchum, who had made a lot of Westerns but was about to become, with Out Of the Past, a true icon of the classic film noir.  Busch himself had recently done the screen adaptation of James M. Cain's noirish thriller The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Pursued was directed by veteran Raoul Walsh, who had made some fine pre-war crime thrillers, like High Sierra.  These weren't films noirs, exactly, but they were part of one tradition from which film noir emerged (another being the hard-boiled detective thriller.)

Walsh seems to know, though, that in Pursued he's venturing into new territory.  Walsh had a spare, no-frills visual style, but the visual style of Pursued is anything but spare.  It's dark and moody, almost expressionistic at times.  In High Sierra, Walsh's style has a documentary quality — he's looking at a desperate man colliding with a desperate destiny in an almost clinical way.  In Pursued he's trying to get inside the psyche of his haunted protagonist.

Pursued is structured as a series of flashbacks, which wasn't a common device for Westerns but became a very common one in the classic film noir.  The Western landscape in Pursued is not a symbol of freedom and redemption, as it is in most Westerns.  It has an ominous, threatening aspect — like the urban labyrinth of the film noir.

It's almost as though the neurosis and existential anxiety of the urban noir has infected the Western genre — and in truth I think that's pretty much what happened.  The atomic-era crime thriller, what we now call the film noir, was a very popular genre, and Duel In the Sun was a big box-office hit.  There was commercial calculation as well as artistic daring in the move to darker and more adult Westerns.

However, for all its importance as a milestone in the development of the post-war Western, Pursued is not a very satisfying film.  The noirish elements haven't been fully integrated into a consistent tone — as they would be in the later edgy Westerns Anthony Mann made with Jimmy Stewart.  Pursued lurches from mood to mood and style to style, sometimes playing like a standard Western, sometimes like a Gothic romance.  Busch's attempt to tell a tale of dark destiny feels mostly contrived, without the psychological persuasiveness of The Furies, for example, based on another of his Western novels.  Pursued has its moments of perverse power but is more interesting as a stage stop on the way to the genre-bending Western territory that lay ahead.

OCCULT DETECTION



Paul Zahl remembers Dr. Jules de Grandin, occult detective, and his creator Seabury Quinn:

IN MEMORIAM:

Jules de Grandin



The homage to the
Weird Tales illustrator Virgil Finlay (1914-1971)
which has appeared on the Golden Age Comic Book Stories website (June
16, 2010
) is evocative and beautiful, not to mention haunting.



Square in the middle of the illustrations presented are two old
portraits, from the late 1920s, of “Dr. de Grandin” and “Dr.
Trowbridge”.  These were great men of the magazine
Weird Tales; and I
would like to give a short eulogy to one of them.  He is Jules de
Grandin, occult detective extraordinaire.



Jules de Grandin was a French-born private investigator who lived in
the fictive town of Harrisonville, New Jersey, outside of New York
City.  He was the creation of the writer Seabury Quinn (1889-1969), who
directed funerals by day and wrote horror stories by night.  Quinn had a
fine eye for the macabre detail, and an imagination that created
unusual supernatural situations that were rarely disgusting but often
eye-catching.  They
lurked in the memory.


The occult detective was usually accompanied by his medical friend Dr.
Trowbridge
[below], a fairly sceptical “liberal”, if occasionally moralistic. 
They lived and worked in Harrisonville, which, incidentally,  was pure
James-Gould-Cozzens country.  That is, the old established families were Episcopalian; the professional ones,
Presbyterian or Methodist; the immigrants, mostly Italian and Central
European, Catholic; the blacks and poor-whites, Baptists or
non-denominational evangelical.  I single out the religious aspect,
because most of the Jules de Grandin stories involve occult incursions
into real life that are ultimately defeated by some sort of religious
talisman.





Jules de Grandin is highly educated, most cosmopolitan, and you can't
pull the wool over his eyes, ever!  He reminds me a little of Agatha
Christie's more mainstream character, Hercule Poirot.  But he, unlike
Poirot, deals with vampires (in F. Scott Fitzgerald suburbs), werewolves
(in Little Italy), or Asian gurus and yogis (in Scarsdale).  Beautiful “Society” girls get crucified on the ninth hole of the Harrisonville
Golf Club.  Evil non-sectarian clergymen cause young people to commit
suicide.  International satanic 'combines' kidnap young women at
wedding rehearsals in Episcopal churches.

That particular kidnapping,
by the way, is one of Seabury Quinn's great set-pieces.  It takes place
in the 1932 novella entitled
The Devil's Bride; and in it the heroine
is abducted right under the nose of Doctor Bentley, the Rector of St.
Chrysostom's, during the Friday afternoon rehearsal for her wedding the
following day.  Quinn, like his much more mainstream contemporary James
Gould Cozzens, 'gets' the situation he is describing.  When I came
across that particular story, I was simply stunned.  Had Seabury Quinn
been sitting in the back of the church during the 
every-Friday-afternoon-at-five rehearsal that is still a characteristic
of church life in this country? 



Two great stories involving Jules de Grandin — both available in
paperback anthologies of Quinn's work published in the mid-1970s — are
the 1928 “Restless Souls” and the 1930 “The Brain Thief”.  In “Restless
Souls” de Grandin administers a mercy-killing to a young woman who has
become a vampire and who is actually and really in (human) love with a
predatory vampire.  Our hero makes it possible for the woman to bring
her love for this (creep) to fruition, simply out of compassion for her
obsessive state.  Then he takes a further step of compassion, and it is
unaffectedly touching.  It is also unexpected.




In “The Brain Thief” an Asian mentalist succeeds in hypnotizing two
young marrieds in Harrisonville into deserting their respective (good)
spouses,;carrying on an outrageous public affair, scandalizing the
whole town; and then marrying one another, and having children by one
another — only to be malignantly snapped out of it by the mentalist,
thereby triggering their suicides from guilt and shame.  For the period
in which it was written, “The Brain Thief” is shocking.  Even for now,
it is upsetting.  Although the  villain is taken care of, the story
ends on a note of inevitable tragedy that can sear itself into you.



If you like horror fiction of any voltage, from Baring-Gould (low
voltage) to Clive Barker (high voltage), you will like the Jules de
Grandin stories of Seabury Quinn.  You will also like the illustrations
of Virgil Finlay, who illustrated quite a few of them.  You may also
appreciate the  broadly tolerant WASP context of many of the stories,
as well the diverse undersides of that world, which are constantly
surfacing, as in “The Brain Thief”, and causing carnage.




Finally, can I say a word about Jules de Grandin's religion?  It
figures in the stories.  You can't escape it.  And it is fairly
wonderful, and . . . contemporary.  In a gruesome little tale from 1927
entitled “The Curse of Everard Maundy”, the named villain is a
non-sectarian revivalist, a thorough squid as it turns out.  When Jules
de Grandin informs Dr. Trowbridge that they will be attending one of 
Maundy's services, Dr. Trowbridge comments, “But aren't you a Catholic,
de Grandin?”



This is the great one's reply:



“Who can say?  My father was a Huguenot of the Huguenots; a several
times great-grand-sire of his cut his way to freedom through the Paris
streets on the fateful night of August 24, 1572.  My mother was
convent-bred, and as pious as anyone with a sense of humor and the gift
of thinking for herself could well be.  One of my uncles — he for whom
I was named — was like a blood brother to Darwin the magnificent, and
Huxley the scarcely less magnificent, also. 



“Me, I am” — he elevated his eyebrows and shoulders at once and pursed
his lips comically — “what should a man with such a heritage be, my
friend?”



Now that is just simply too good.  Evocations of John Calvin, Audrey Hepburn, and
Aldous Huxley: for what more could you ask?



Here is to Jules de Grandin, and to his great creator, and to his
excellent illustrator. 
Requiescent in pace.

FROM THE ARCHIVES: REPORT FROM THE BEACH, 12 DECEMBER 1998



Where I live, the sounds of the night are romantic and consoling –
trains and waves.  The coastal tracks run by about a mile and a half from
me, but over the silence of the cultivated fields the trains sound very
clearly after dark.  Late at night long freights roll through endlessly,
the soft clacking punctuated by occasional organ-note whines from the
diesel horn.


The waves are continual, of course, and low — sometimes you need to
strain to hear them.


But tonight they were thunderous — they kept breaking into my
consciousness as I worked at the computer.  When I realized I had to go
out for milk, I couldn’t help walking down to the beach to see what was
going on.


This gave me a chance to examine the Christmas lights on my street, very intense in the misty air — and only strung on the simplest houses, the ones owned by the oldest residents.



As I approached the beach it sounded as though the waves were crashing
right into the houses facing the ocean, but they weren’t.  The tide was
rather far out and the waves were breaking in long explosions of foam
across the whole length of the beach — something they very rarely do.
Either the bottom has shifted and regularized or the winter swells are
so large they bring waves that just override the bars.


There was a very light haze circling the whole horizon, and low down to
it.  To the northwest, the haze made the lights of Ventura sparkle –
they looked exactly like the Christmas lights on my street.  Far out at
sea, oil platforms showed their lights just as festively, and a fishing
boat with lights running up its tall net booms was anchored just
outside the entrance to the harbor, probably waiting for the tide to
lift it over the bar there.




Above the ring of the mist the sky was crystaline, thick with stars.
The first time I glanced up a shooting star burst like a rocket — so
big and bright that it looked like milk being spilled from a glass.
More shooting stars exploded as often as I gazed up.


Milk — of course.  Then back home, drinking egg nog laced with very
good Brandy.

The waves seem even louder now, as the tide comes in . . .
as though they’re breaking on the walls of houses just a few hundred
yards away.

It’s a call that always repays answering.

DISTRIBUTION, EXPLOITATION, BALLYHOO

In a very interesting comment thread on Facebook, sparked by some remarks in the press by Cotty Chubb about the film Unthinkable which he produced, John Tarnoff raised the issue of “4-wall digital” distribution.  “4-wall” is the practice of renting a movie theater to showcase a film which hasn't gotten traditional distribution.  It's usually been done in a major city, hoping to get press attention, which then might lead to traditional distribution.  It still required expensive local advertising, usually in newspapers, and of course at least one costly photochemical print of the film.

But things have changed.  Digital projection doesn't require costly photochemical prints, and online advertising, including peer-to-peer advertising, could theoretically reach enough people to fill a movie theater at any given showtime.  The decline in attendance for traditional theatrical films, and the shrinking of their demographic appeal, is likely to continue, even though revenues will continue to flatline, more or less, due to inflated ticket prices (which is what 3D is really all about.)

4-walling suddenly seems like an interesting alternative to traditional distribution, since theater owners still need people marching past their concession stands and since the costs of 4-walling have fallen to within the capacities of independent producers — if they can figure out how to do it right.

Doing it right is going to involve relearning the ageless techniques of exploitation and ballyhoo.  Seeding mentions in discussion groups or on Facebook and Twitter is only part of the equation.  4-wall exhibitors are going to have to make some waves in the local community where the film is to be shown — which was the function of the classic circus parade.  The performers of a circus would march through the streets of the town they were about to play, previewing their wares.  This was an entertainment in itself, all given for free, to build interest and excitement.

A free concert in a park or shopping mall might be the modern equivalent — or even a parade, done in collaboration with some local group with a connection to the film's subject matter.  We're talking about relatively small towns here, places where a little free entertainment is a big event . . . but the train circuses played lots of relatively small towns and made most of their money from them.

We're also talking about films that don't cost too much to make — ones with budgets in the hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars range, not the millions-of-dollars range.  And that means they have to be really, really good films.

The theater experience needs to become an event as well — with the stars of the film in attendance, programs, ushers in character costumes (volunteers from the local high school drama club).  And I mean “stars of the film”, not “stars” in the current sense of the word, because such stars won't show up in Cheyenne, Wyoming for a live appearance in a shopping mall or at a rodeo.  All the creators of the films of the future will need to think of themselves as part of the traveling circus that the film will become.

The online communities that coalesce around certain films also need flesh-and-blood equivalents — a convenient venue, for example, where people who've just seen a film can assemble to discuss it and to bond.  Such assemblies would be mighty engines of the word-of-mouth advertising that any film needs to succeed — and create the core of future audiences for future films from the same artists.  These assemblies are also opportunities for merchandising — just like the CD and T-shirt tables at rock concerts.

Theater owners used to cook up ballyhoo like this, with the help of the studios, even back in the days when almost everybody in America went to the movies every week.  Now that more and more people are declining to go to the movies, such exploitation has become critical.

Producers of small films need to wake up and take charge.  The days are past when you could just feed your movie into the distribution machine (if you were lucky), do a little press in the big media centers, and hope for the best from newspaper reviewers and the audience.

We need to revive the spirit of Barnum (above) — who would do anything, and I mean anything, to drum up interest in his attractions, at his museum or in the rings of his traveling circuses.  He realized that ballyhoo is itself an entertainment, an art form — that people love to be bamboozled out of their pocket cash if the bamboozling is daring and spectacular enough . . . and if the first dose of it is free.

Ironically, in this virtual age of ours, the time has come for showmen to get back out on the road — to feed the virtual world with real-life hokum.  This is what musicians have come to realize — their money today is made on the road, in live concerts, in providing unique experiences for their fans.

Of course, it will all be meaningless if the attractions, the movies, don't work for people — but that's another advantage of being out on the road.  You find out what people want and don't want in the most direct and sometimes brutal ways.  They teach you what kind of movies to make — in a way no focus group or demographic analysis ever could, and certainly in a way no studio executive trying to parse the box-office returns in Variety ever could.

To sum it all up as succinctly as possible — modern producers need to start thinking of themselves as showmen again . . . they need to abandon Hollywood, the motion picture capital of greater Los Angeles, and get some sawdust and elephant shit on their shoes.