cannes 1968

The 2008 Cannes Film Festival is now over, the awards have been doled out, and the filmmakers, celebrities, critics, distributors, paparazzi, and everyone else have slouched back to their countries of origin, nursing a 12-day hangover of glitz, garishness, and grotesquerie.

But the 61st Cannes fest was also an anniversary year. A little over 40 years ago almost to the day, the 1968 incarnation of the film festival was embroiled in social turmoil, mirroring the student and working class struggles blowing up in the streets of Paris and elsewhere across Europe. Godard, Truffaut, Malle, Forman, Polanski, and others shut the festival down. No doubt, the outrage that these filmmakers felt (especially Godard and Truffaut) was sincere and passionate… but especially in Godard’s case, the outrage was mixed with a more volatile emotional cocktail as well. You can read more about the revolution on the beach here. And watch some footage of the protest below. Unfortunately, it’s not subtitled in English, but the anger is loud and clear. Watch for actor Jean-Pierre Leaud.

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canned heat

Today is the last day of the Cannes Film Festival and it will no doubt be interesting to see what film sweeps out of town with the Palme d’Or. From all reports, the 61st annual fest has been a bit of a let down from previous years, though there are always a few films eager to bully and tussle their way into the modern canon… and perhaps onward to real greatness.

Matteo Garrone’s Gomorra is garnering plenty of accolades and is the front-runner for some to win the festival’s top prize:

Garrone’s film sounds interesting, though haven’t we seen this countless times already? I think I can go the rest of my lifetime without seeing another mob movie, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit interested since it seems that Gomorra does have a conscious social/political context to it, something you can’t say about Stateside takes on the crime/organized crime genre outside of HBO’s superb The Wire series.

Personally, I’m most interested in Steven Soderbergh’s two anti-traditional takes on the biography picture, The Argentine and Guerrila, unveiled at the festival in one 4 1/2 hour fell-swoop as Che, about the legendary revolutionary, and Charlie Kaufman’s directorial debut, Synecdoche, New York. Both films have critics buzzing with praise though perplexed and aggravated as well. Distributors seem to be wary also, especially regarding the running time of Soderbergh’s ambitious epic and the complications involved with the manner in which he hopes and wants it to be screened in cinemas. Deja vu of when Francis Ford Coppola talked about his rough cut of Apocalypse Now at Cannes in 1979, even with releasing Che as a roadshow event sans credits and with a program given to patrons. I hope Soderbergh sticks to his guns and the film rolls out like the big event it should be. It may tank in the States, but there’s a whole wide world out there who will be anxious to see Che off of the T-shirts and flickering twenty-feet high instead.

Speaking of Kaufman… here is a short clip of the news conference after the screening of his film at Cannes on Friday:

charlie kaufman and hollywood’s merry band of pranksters, fabulists and dreamers: an excursion into the american new wave

My first book is out today in the UK! It will be published in the United States in September.

It’s a study of contemporary (mostly) American filmmakers Richard Linklater, David O. Russell, Wes Anderson, Sofia Coppola, Spike Jonze, and Michel Gondry. There are a few other surprises inside, as well, such as a look at Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko, Steven Soderbergh’s Schizopolis, PT Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love, and Roman Coppola’s CQ.

My hope is that it will appeal to film lovers of all stripes, from those with a more scholarly bent to the pop-culture subgeniuses to the novices who don’t know their Godard from their Gondry.

The book is available from the usual suspects, including here.

breaking… uh… news!?

Thirty-eight years ago, Mick “She’s the Boss” Jagger once thought about playing droogie Alex DeLarge in a film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. Obviously and thankfully, director Stanley Kubrick thought differently.

What on earth goes on at The Guardian? You can read more about this non story here. Or better yet… watch this trailer for Donald Cammell and Nicholas Roeg’s masterful Performance (1970), a film I am glad Jagger decided on doing.

may day in malaga

Malaga… I’m still only in Malaga….

There are worse fates, of course, but I still wasn’t supposed to be spending two days in this port city. We left lovely Granada on Wednesday and arrived by bus in Malaga late in the afternoon. The plan was to get into the mountains on Thursday and settle into our new digs…. But the buses don’t run on May Day! I should have known, but my track of time of late has been flexible at best.

Days go on and on… they don’t end…. But suddenly there is a change.

It was early afternoon. Too early for lunch, I was chatting with a friend of mine when I heard music floating up to my open hotel window… and someone shouting through a bullhorn. Was that The Internationale? Oh yes, comrades. May Day was here!

My companion and I fled our comfortable abode and hit the streets. Standing there across from the cathedral, we were bystanders. But not for long. Unable to resist the pull of the march, we joined in and marched through the old town, transforming a disappointing day (I really wanted to get into the country) into a beautiful, memorable one. Malaga… you won my heart.

Workers of the world, unite! Indeed.

port tropique by barry gifford

In fleeing… I mean leaving America, I made some difficult choices, decisions that I feared I would regret later on when I found myself in some ramshackle yet comfortable pub in Ireland or baking in the hot sun in Andalucia:

Why did I box up those damn Graham Greene novels? I knew I shouldn’t have packed that first Robert Stone novel! I wonder if I can find Under the Volcano here in Granada?

Big deal, right? Is that the world’s smallest fiddle I hear? Whatever.

For the most part, I think I made out okay. I packed a handful of paperbacks—mostly some film reference books and a book on Spanish football, Phil Ball’s Morbo—and some noir fiction, namely three David Goodis novels (Cassidy’s Girl, Black Friday, and Street of No Return), Bill Pronzini’s and Barry Malzberg’s Running of the Beasts, and Barry Gifford’s Port Tropique.

Gifford has long been a favorite of mine. I’m no completist, and I haven’t liked everything I’ve read (Arise and Walk was especially disappointing). But when Gifford is cooking, it’s like mainlining lightning. The Sailor and Lula novels are great, of course, as is the novel Night People and his book of film reviews, The Devil Thumbs a Ride and Other Unforgettable Movies (long out of print, though it’s been reprinted under the title Out of the Past: Adventures in Film Noir, with some slight revisions). And then there are his collaborations with director David Lynch: Wild at Heart (1990; based on the novel), Hotel Room (1993), and my personal favorite, Lost Highway (1997). The latter film, with its neon bad mojo, deranged Möbius strip logic, and sudden impact va-voom courtesy of Patricia Arquette, all speed toward high fetishism for me and I make no apologies for it. There’s also Alex de la Iglesia’s 1997 film Perdita Durango (based on the novel of the same name), starring Rosie Perez as the title character, future Academy Award winner Javier Bardem, pre-Sopranos James Gandolfini, and director Alex Cox in a bit part. It’s ugly, indulgent, violent, sleazy, unpleasant, clever, and I’m not even sure that I like it. But I keep going back to it because I was such a fan of Iglesia’s horror/comedy El dia de la Bestia (1995), and with every new viewing hope that Durango’s misguided dramatic free falls will drive me to some kind of new understanding or new insight. So far, though, it hasn’t worked out.

I pulled out Gifford’s Port Tropique a couple of days ago, sat out in the sun, and with each finely honed paragraph, each charged chapter fueled with death and a sort of sultriness that sours to malaise within seconds, I succumbed to the book’s undertow and felt the vibrant blue sky over me darken. The trip was short—Gifford, a master of sparseness and clipped Zen phrasing, kept it all perfectly down to 136 pages—but the afterburn of images and torrential negativity have stayed with me long into the next day’s read.

With its Central American locale, dissolute Norte Americano expats, and literary/cinematic references liberally staining the pages, I was sold. The noir-laced bad vibes aren’t Gifford simply dazzling us with some post-modern jazzing about, knowingly winking at us while mining a wealth of film noir imagery and Papa Hemingway’s chest of literary devices, not to mention mugging Joseph Conrad, Graham Greene, B. Traven, Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Robert Stone, and Sam Peckinpah for kicks. No, it’s not as simple as that. Gifford may be blunt at times, but he’s not obvious. In essence, this post-Beat American minimalist, poet, chronicler of the heartsick and dream-crushed, constructs his narrative with the materials of the true 20th Century American fiction legacy–hardboiled pulp fiction—and houses it with the only protagonist Americans truly understand: the loser.

Fuck Superman. Fred C. Dobbs is the true iconic American character. Or is that J.R. “Bob” Dobbs? I can never remember.

Lost in translation, memory-haunted Franz Hall spends his days drinking in the saloon, pining for the wife who has long given up on him and the dead child that he couldn’t save, and wastes his nights longing for the big score while guzzling Superiors at the local bar. Like an insect trapped in amber, Franz can’t escape from his memories. But he was a dead man long before he ever crossed the border. Port Tropique is a wasteland, a purgatory for the poor night creatures unable to speed up the inevitable curtain call, and Franz is center stage.

He eventually gets reined into working as a bagman for some local smugglers. Franz goes down to the docks in the middle of the night with his suitcase… some men in a boat will load him up with cash… he returns to his hotel until contacted and then unloads the money. He’ll earn some ducats in the process and everyone will be happy. Simple, right?

Not on your life. Franz can’t help but get wise and splits for the border with half a million dollars when Marxist rebels overtake the city, thrusting the country into chaos. The road from then on out grows darker for poor Franz. But that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with a passing knowledge of the noir genre. This is night country… and salvation is hard to come by, if at all. Noir fiction, as well as in the films, is a bitter tonic and we like it that way. You’ll hear no complaints here. We like it hard and we like it mean. I just wish the book wasn’t so short. But that’s Gifford: never over staying his welcome and always keeping the story clipped and resonant with the power of vibrant bad dreams.