in search of moebius…

The legendary comics illustrator Jean “Moebius” Giraud died this weekend.  His influence on the world of pop culture can’t be overstated.  Even if you’ve never seen any of his artwork in Métal Hurlant magazine (Heavy Metal in the States) or anywhere else, you’ve probably seen his graphic design work in such as films as Alien (the spacesuits worn by the crew of the Nostromo), Tron (concept artist), The Abyss (concept artist), and The Fifth Element (designer).  Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (my favorite science fiction film) is heavily indebted to Moebius as well: the crazily busy cityscape was inspired by the one from the classic story “The Long Tomorrow,” a collaboration between Moebius and American screenwriter Dan O’Bannon (who would later write Alien).

There’s a great little documentary about Moebius from a few years back, Moebius Redux: A Life in Pictures aka In Search of Moebius, that aired on the BBC and that I’ve included below.  Great stuff for anyone with even a passing interest in this stuff.

Advertisements

great crack-ups #3

True love is a beautiful thing.  It’s beautiful because it’s rare… certainly not as common as Hollywood movies would have you think.  Despite that fact, the Hollywood studios have always sold that lie to the public and we eat it up because we want to believe that it’s true, we want to believe that out there in the cold, dark world there’s someone special waiting for us, and that romance is indeed possible.

You believe it.  I believe it.  We have to because the alternative is too painful to deal with.  No one wants to be lonely.  We all want to believe that Cary Grant or Irene Dunne is somewhere out there, although the older you get the more you realize that the romantic ideal, especially if you’re a misfit, just doesn’t happen like it does in the movies.

It never has.

In Paul Thomas Anderson’s deliriously romantic 2003 film Punch-Drunk Love, matters of the heart are as intoxicating as anything you’ll find in a vintage screwball comedy or its modern variation, but it’s a whole lot more scary, bewildering, and weird too.  Although on its surface the film is as outrageous and absurd as the most fantastical musical, it’s also… realistic in ways these kinds of movies never are.  It externalizes what we feel internally when we hover over the abyss that is true romance… it dares to plunge us into the wildness of pure drunken emotion.  And it warmly allows its two completely dysfunctional oddball lead characters a chance to shine in roles usually reserved for the personality-free mannequins that uniformly sleepwalk through these kinds of parts.

Punch-Drunk Love is a romantic comedy for people who know movies like this are bullshit.

Barry Egan (Adam Sandler), a Southern California businessman specializing in cheap novelty items, is the kind of guy who doesn’t get a lot of excitement in his life.  He doesn’t want a lot of excitement in his life.  He’s a businessman and a professional.  That doesn’t mean he isn’t bored, however, or that he doesn’t yearn to meet that certain special someone.

He’s just a normal guy.

But Barry isn’t “normal.”  None of us really are.  Not like those people on television or in the movies.  If you are, or you think you are, then there’s something probably wrong with you.  Hidden.  It means that underneath the façade is a raging weirdo.  It means… you’re not comfortable in your real skin.

You’d never think that some people were weirdos underneath.  But they are.  Unlike Barry, Lena Leonard (Emily Watson) is socially more adept and she hides her inner freak better.  She’s shy, though once you get to know her, once she allows you to get a little closer, her laughter and the way she smiles and the way she looks at you and the way she listens to you and the way she talks really gets under your skin.

She’s infectious.

And though that word… “infectious”… connotes joy as well as unpleasantness, Barry tries not to focus on the negative.  It’s a bad habit… something he does too much.  Because he’s lonely… because when he’s alone he realizes that he may be alone forever… that he’ll never find real love.  And when he’s lonely, which is most of the time, he does stupid things like call phone sex lines and tries to get to know the woman on the other end.  He does desperate things like trying to make friends with the lonely woman on the other end.  She is lonely, right?  If she wasn’t, why would she be working the phone line?

Luckily, Barry met Lena… a real person… a real opportunity… something real removed from the time wasted talking on the phone sex line.

Loneliness is the farthest thing from either of their minds tonight.  For the first time in a long while, neither Barry or Lena feel so alone.  For the first time in a long time, Barry and Lena both feel like they’re making a real connection with someone else.

It feels good.

It feels special.

It feels like the best thing ever.

It feels like something is blooming…

But things start to go haywire when Lena asks Barry about the “hammer incident”… a story she heard from one of his sisters.

Barry isn’t amused to be reminded about the hammer.

Not now.

Not like this.

Not from her.

Everything was going so well…

Maybe there’s still a way out of this though.

Maybe this terrible feeling will end soon.

Then everything will go back to normal.

Maybe they can then go back to having a great time.

Then they can believe again that love is possible and that it was the right thing to take a chance…

Instead of feeling like you’re all alone standing along the edge of the cliff… scrambling to hold on…

While the bloom that was once love…

Turns to rage within.

Maybe there’s still a chance to turn it back to something good.

Maybe he can fight his way out.

Or perhaps they should go to a different restaurant instead and try all over again.

The food wasn’t good here anyway.

a completely idiosyncratic list of five silent films you should see

We can argue all day and night about the merits of this year’s Oscar darling The Artist.  I liked it and you can read my take on it here.  One thing that’s not up for argument, however, is that the movie’s relative popularity gives cinephiles, critics, and teachers the perfect opportunity to capitalize on it, highlighting movies from the silent era for people who may have never seen a film from that period.  Where to start?  The Guardian yesterday blogged some suggestions–“The top five silent films to shout about”–for those of you wanting to wade in a little further.  Five picks doesn’t really do it justice, of course, but the choices are good and it’s hard to go wrong with Sherlock Jr. and The Last Laugh, both essential movies.  And I love that they included Guy Maddin’s masterful short The Heart of the World from 2000.

I’m no silent film scholar by any means, but I do have some favorite movies from that era.  This is a purely subjective, off-the-top-of-my-head list… not meant as anything authoritative.  If I were pressed, I’d say my favorite silent film is Abel Gance’s masterpiece Napoléon from 1927.  This rarely screened epic is a sprawling achievement and if you’re lucky enough to see Kevin Brownlow’s restoration of it later this month in Oakland, you’re in for a once-in-a-lifetime treat.

Excluding that, though, I’d go with the following five films for my own great silent five list:

Der Golem: How He Came Into the World (1920), directed by Paul Wegener & Carl Boese.

German Expressionistic horror film based on Gustav Meyrink’s novel, which was itself based on the Judaic legend of a mighty clay avenger mystically conjured to destroy those who tyrannize the Jewish inhabitants of the Prague ghetto.

Sherlock Jr. (1924), directed by Buster Keaton.

I have to add it to my list as well.  The scene above is a justifiably brilliant moment of fantasy, physical comedy, and sly meta-commentary/self-reflexivity that is as incisive, simple, and clever as anything Charlie Kaufman has ever done.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), directed by FW Murnau.

One of the great movie moments from this period.  Visually impressive, this tragic melodrama focuses on a poor farmer (George O’Brien) who gets romantically involved with a swinging city girl (Margaret Livingston) and agrees to murder his faithful wife (Janet Gaynor) so that he can be with his new lover.  This film has many memorable scenes and the clip above is one of them.  The editing and cinematography are simply incredible here and throughout the entire movie.  Sunrise gets better and more nuanced with every viewing.

Tumbleweeds (1925), directed by King Baggot.

This is a rollicking good Western starring William S. Hart, who was known for adding a bit of cowboy authenticity into his performances and films, unlike many of the other silver screen range-riders like Tom Mix and others.  Is it a great movie?  No.  But it’s entertaining and this sequence is fantastic–an intricate and dangerous action scene reenacting the legendary Oklahoma Land Rush.

The Call of Cthulhu (2005), directed by Andrew Leman.

This homage to silent films is based on the cosmic horror story by HP Lovecraft.  It’s nicely done.  There are so many legitimate silent films to put on this list–Fritz Lang’s The Spiders (I couldn’t find any clips) or his other films from those years or Wings or any of Douglas Fairbanks’ swashbucklers–but I couldn’t resist this one.  It’s great fun and evokes the mood of the story rather well.