On Saturday 12 March 2016, the Camera Photo Club de Loches celebrated its 50th anniversary at the Espace Agnès Sorel in Loches – with an exhibition, a buffet, interactive events, a huge programme of film projections, speeches by local mayors, and special guests talking about their experiences of film-making and photographing for virtual reality walkthroughs. Click here to view a little video I made to commemorate the event!
Where are the snows of yesteryear? Well, right here. I’ve shot a second film of this morning’s sudden snowfall, and paired it with some music by a blind Japanese musician, Kimio Eto, who died in 2007: this “Koto Snow Fantasy” was recorded in the 60s. The Shinto rapture at the delicate nuances between changing seasons, in art and music, is well-known.
“All Heaven and Earth
Flowered white obliterate…
Hashin, Japanese Haiku
Click HERE to see my seasonal hymn to the nature spirits of Touraine.
The twice-weekly market in Loches, Indre-et-Loire, is a tribute to everything that we love about France – wonderful fresh produce, a convivial atmosphere, great restaurants and a thriving café society – though the mythic Café des Arts is currently closed for refurbishment, alas, alack. The market isn’t at its best on a chilly February morning, -4C, but so be it. With no pretensions to high art, I shot a little footage this morning to convey some of the local flavour: click HERE to view it!
Marlon Brando kept hundreds of hours of audio tapes of his own reflections, recorded in meetings, during hypnosis, in therapy and during press interviews. They add up to a magnificent autobiographical account, in his own inimitable voice. The British director Stevan Riley has used them as the foundation of his documentary, Listen to Me Marlon – with a beautiful and elegiac use of archive footage and photos.
Brando tells us, in his own words, about his small-town childhood with his adored but alcoholic mother, and his fear of his violent, intimidating travelling salesman father. It is clear that his biggest debt was to to the actress and teacher Stella Adler, who imported Stanislavski’s Method to the United States – a revolution in stage and particularly screen acting: “everything that you do, make it as real as you can, make it alive, make it tangible.” When Brando was totally unknown, she said to him, “Don’t worry, the world is going to hear from you”. According to Brando, all motion pictures today, all acting today, stems from Stella Adler.
Above all, his thoughts on acting are fascinating, and on how movie actors are mythologised by the public. “It had nothing to do with me. The audience does the work. They are doing the acting.” “We need myths, we live by myths, we die for myths.” He has no illusions about the movie industry: “There are no artists, we are businessmen, we are merchants, and there is no art. Agents, lawyers, publicity people – it’s all bullshit. Money money money. If you think it’s about something else, you’re going to be bruised.“
“Lying for a living, that’s what acting is. All I’ve done is to learn to be aware of the process. All of you are actors, and good actors, because you’re liars. When you’r saying something that you don’t mean, or refraining from saying something that you do mean – that’s acting….. You lie for peace, you lie for tranquility, you lie for love.”
“When the camera is close on you, your face becomes the stage. Your face is the proscenium arch of the theatre, 30 feet high.”
His remarks on individual films are illuminating. On A Streetcar Named Desire: “There’s nothing about me that’s like Stanley Kowalski – I absolutely hate that person and I couldn’t identify with him.” On Candy: “Probably the worst movie I’ve ever made in my life, Candy. How can you do that to yourself? Haven’t you got any fucking pride left?” We learn that Last Tango in Paris was a film that Bertolucci intended to be about Brando himself – a man who protects his privacy.
What comes across time and again, particularly at the time of his son’s trial for murder and Cheyenne Brando’s suicide, is his extreme shyness and sensitivity. One expression of his rejection of the brutal side of American life was his support of Martin Luther King and the black rights’ movement. Another was his passion for the peace-loving people of Tahiti, initially stirred by looking at library pictures of Tahitians when he was “entranced by their faces, unmanaged faces – that’s where I want to go, that’s where I want to be”. He realised this dream during the filming of Mutiny on the Bounty (a film he hated, though his Mr Christian is a delight). This, like so much in his life, comes across as a reaction against his hard, unloving father.
Some more great quotes from the audio tapes:
“You’ve got to be somebody. If you’re not anybody, you’ve committed a sin. And you’re on a goat trail, way out on your own.”
“The neurotic individual’s entire self-esteem shrinks to nothing if he does not receive admiration. To be admired and to be respected is a protection against helplessness and against insignificance. Because he is continually sensing humiliations, it will be difficult for him to have anyone as a friend.”
“The greatest fear an actor has is fear – how you’re going to be judged.”
“Life will have given me the truth, and taken in exchange what’s left of my youth.”
“It took me a while to realise. Unless we look inwards we will never be able to see clearly outwards.”
“I spent thousands and thousands of dollars on psychoanalysis. And those guys do nothing but stick pliers and screwdrivers in your brain.”
“Acting is just making stuff up but that’s OK. Life is a rehearsal, life is an improvisation. I’m going to have a special microphone placed in my coffin, six feet under. So that when I wake up in there I can say ‘do it differently’.”
As is well known, acting became a burden for him: “I’ve taken too many punches. I don’t want to be stressed any more.” In his later film appearances – notable principally for their handsome remuneration – he didn’t even learn the script, relying instead on cue cards or a pocket recorder feeding the lines into his ear. Had it not been for Tahiti and the Tahitians, and what they represented for him, he would have given in to blanket disenchantment. For a man who locked the door to his inner life, these audio tapes – and Riley’s use of them – open it up to an extent that is rare in any biographical documentary.
Love and Mercy (2014) is all about Brian Wilson, the genius behind the falsetto wunderkinder. The true story of how they hit on the falsetto route to celebrity is not explained, but otherwise well-known. Wikipedia can outline his descent from musical genius to paranoid and depressive states better than I can. This film focuses on his relationship with a former beauty queen and car salesroom person whom he fell for when he was washed up and unforgiven, and how she extracted him from the grip of a dominating and malevolent group of people who sought to make money out of their guardianship of him.
The young Wilson is played by the very versatile actor Paul Dano (excellent also in the recent movie Youth) and, older and haggard and world-weary, by the wonderful John Cusack. The chief manipulator is Paul Giamatti. Elizabeth Banks is absolutely perfect, in every gesture – every movement of doubt, or attraction – in her role as his heart’s elected.
I have no idea how close this film is to the real story, though my personal fact checks suggest pretty close. In itself, it is a great film – the cinematography is not startling, but, to the eagle eye, subtle and compelling.
This is a movie about a man who is still alive. I wonder what he thinks of it?
I was gripped – it had a true story to tell, with great studio scenes (clearly well-researched) showing Wilson’s creativity with studio musicians, and a very sensitive treatment of the love life that saved him, a woman who was not just seeking connection with one of history’s greats but truly connected with everything that was weak and- through weakness – strong in the man. It joins my list of authentic recent American biopic movies – i.e. films that forgo formulaic emotional taps for an approach that respects the subject and the reality of what that person experienced.
It made me think of Deliverance, of Chinatown, of Bonnie and Clyde – of the very best American crime stories. And yet, who has ever heard of it? Another minor masterpiece that has slipped off the radar or never appeared on it. And yet everything about it is perfect – the cinematography, the story (a woman who writes to a convicted murderer in prison and believes she loves him, but is secretly loved by someone else), the script, the acting – everything. It has a truly star cast – Matthew McConaughey (Dallas Buyers Club, True Detective), Nicole Kidman – not her first role as a Southern slut – Zac Efron and John Cusack.
In my part-time mission to save neglected masterpieces from oblivion, I have found a new cause. Lee Daniels, the director, is a black American, and I haven’t seen his other movies (The Butler most recently), but I will soon.
So many movies I’ve viewed recently are just dull fodder for dead minds. This one is head and shoulders above them all. Everything about it is convincing and naturalistic. The story of interwoven, cross-cutting and internecine romantic obsessions. Amazing.
Back in Touraine after a stint in Paris, this short film is a riff on the Paris-country push-me-pull-you, something I know a little bit about… It may seem a bit biased, because it is. You just have to say “Champs Elysées” to a Parisian and they say “La plus belle avenue du monde !” Excuse me, but it’s just a luxury shopping precinct arranged in a straight line. And since 13 November, if you carry a bag you can expect to have it turned inside out at every shop.
The charms of ne0-ruralism is another thing, and a subject I shall return to. In the meantime, if you want to see this profound, game-changing cinematographic oeuvre – click here!