Amoeblog

Jacques Tati's "Monsieur Hulot's Holiday"

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, January 15, 2017 07:42pm | Post a Comment

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday

By Nazeeh Alghazawneh

Jacques Tati was quite the oddity for French cinema, especially for someone whose career began as Monsieur Hulot’s Holidayearly as the 1930s. Here comes a man standing at 6’3” who is creating absurd, French slapstick comedies in which he stars as a bumbling, gauche oaf who lumbers about society with as much subtlety as one can who is 6’3”. Yet he was an auteur, a man whose grasp of comedy functioned in this lovely space of purely good intentions despite his inherent tendencies to cause amok everywhere he set foot. One couldn’t possibly find a trace of malice anywhere in the droop of his large eyes that hang comfortably onto the prominence of his bulbous nose, which only furthers his overall demeanor through the wide-set stance of his incredibly long legs that can’t help but remind someone of those inflatable mascots outside of car dealerships.

Of course the man as a director and the man as an actor are two very different personalities, as one is who he actually is while the other is fictional; however, Tati’s decision to star in his own films as opposed to hiring someone else was a very bold artistic choice because nothing about the man’s physicality fit into the elegant sophistication that French society had based its identity on. It’s this stark juxtaposition of societal decorum subverted by benevolent incompetence in which Tati not only found and excelled at his humor, but absolutely reveled in. He constructed a world that allowed him to indulge in his many idiosyncrasies as a physical comedian and performer, while simultaneously poking fun just how seriously people at the time took themselves and their social hierarchies. It’s here that Tati’s most famous character, Monsieur Hulot, was born and forever ingrained into the bellies of anyone who laughed at the silly Frenchman.

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"It's the MOST... jazziest tiiime of the yeeear...!"

Posted by Job O Brother, August 24, 2009 01:03pm | Post a Comment

I know it’s probably plastered all over your calendar already, but just in case you didn’t know, this is Jazz Week at Amoeba Music Hollywood. This means that, in addition to our normal, totally tubular jazz selection, we’ve squeezed in some additional, choice inventory, plus we’re hosting jazz-spinning DJ’s and such. I think I saw a colorful banner with the word “JAZZ” in bold letters somewhere, too. I mean, people – come with your party hats on!

The back room of Amoeba Music Hollywood is what we call the “jazz room”, though it hosts many other genres of music*, one of which is the Soundtrack section, where I’m most oft found. Some well-meaning employees once tried to get people to nickname the room “jazzical” for the large section of classical music that frames the opposite side from jazz, but it never stuck, partially because people were so accustomed to saying “jazz room” and partially, I’m assuming, because saying “jazzical” makes you feel like an effeminate fat kid, which isn’t a fresh sort of feeling at all.

“Can I have some more toffee and McMuffins? They’re jazzical!”

Within the soundtrack section are some great jazz albums, which will be the focus of this blog entry. So for those of you hoping for a 500 word exposé on actress Edie McClurg, I’m sorry but this isn’t the blog for you.

The first jazzy soundtrack that comes to my mind is the score, composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, for the Otto Preminger film, Anatomy of a Murder.


This work is significant, not only because it’s the first Hollywood film-score composed by African-Americans in which the music’s presence isn’t “justified” by the appearance of band-leaders or a combo on the sidelines, but because it’s the first and only music that Duke Ellington composed while living in Antarctica. (Ellington and Strayhorn had moved to the polar continent in an effort to cultivate a stronger following there, after accounting records showed very poor sales among penguins, fur seals, and krill.)


"All jazz sounds the same to me."  The Northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica)

Probably my favorite jazz soundtrack is Miles Davis’ music for the Louis Malle film, Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud [English translation: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit].


I love to play this album when I’m taking a hot bubble bath. I light candles, sip a glass of wine – really treat myself to some luxury. Maybe I’ll exfoliate my skin with some lavender oil and salt crystals, or sometimes I’ll place slices of cool cucumber over my eyes and let them soak, soak, soak the stress away. Occasionally I’ll get hungry during these baths and I’ll make a delicious cucumber salad with salt and lavender oil dressing. Sometimes I won’t even take a bath – I’ll just live in squalor and filth, huddled in a corner, chomping on cucumbers and sobbing. Sometimes the dog across the street tells me the name of the Devil and it means I have to kill my grandma again. Miles Davis was a genius!

Another fantastic album is Sonny Rollins’ music for the movie Alfie (the 1966 British version starring Michael Caine, not the 2004 Hollywood re-make featuring Marjan Neshat).


Hoo boy, I love me some Sonny Rollins!

A notable mention is the soundtrack to the David Cronenberg film Naked Lunch, an adaptation of the novel by William S. Burroughs. While composer Howard Shore’s work isn’t a jazz score, per se, it does feature some intoxicating horn blowing by free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. It’s spooky stuff – perfect for opium dens, rotted whorehouses, or when you’re hosting your next Wiccan blood-letting.


I’d be remiss not to mention Antonio Carlos Jobim’s masterpiece of bossa nova as realized for the film Orfeu Negro (we call it Black Orpheus). Listening to this album is a transportive experience and will flood your mind with rich and hallucinogenic imagery, even if you’ve never seen the film itself. We play it in the jazz room at least once a month. I think it’s law?


There’s other noteworthy recordings on this theme, such as Gato Barbieri’s score for Last Tango in Paris, Herbie Hancock’s score for Blow-Up, or David Amram’s jazz-influenced music for The Manchurian Candidate, plus more besides. I could go on but, fact is, I have to wrap this blog up for now, as I’m practically starving, and I’ve got some cucumber pie cooling in the windowsill. Topped with a little whipped cucumber or a slice of hot, melted cucumber? Yummy yummy yum!

So stop by Amoeba Music Hollywood this week and make a point to embellish your jazz selection at home. Owning Kind of Blue is a good thing, but don’t you think it’s time to delve a little deeper? If you come find me in the soundtrack section, I’ll be happy to help. I’ll be the guy with cucumber skins caked in the corners of his mouth.

Oh, and I’ll be wearing pants.

Happy Jazz Week! ...Oh, and since you've been so well-behaved, here you go:













*To be exact: Blues, New Orleans, Gospel, Contemporary Christian, Pop Vocals, Soundtracks, Lounge, Kids’ LP’s (but not the CD’s – those are upstairs), Experimental, Classical, New Age, Stand-up Comedy, Avant-garde, Opera, Early Music, plus DVD’s for the above genres (excepting Stand-up Comedy, which is upstairs, also) in addition to DVD Audio, SACD, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, 8-tracks, mini-discs, and partridges in a pear tree. Did I get everything?

(Wherein we weigh which warble wears weather well.)

Posted by Job O Brother, June 8, 2009 03:11pm | Post a Comment

The last few days in LA have been kind of gloomy – gloomy by LA standards anyway. I mean, it’s still no place for Ian Brady and Myra Hindley to stage a killing spree, but the clouds have been thick, grey and low, and wet, cool swirls of breeze pour through my window as I write this.

This is a good thing. This is a great thing! I did not move to LA for the weather. My idea of perfect weather is something akin to a cemetery scene in [insert gothic horror film here].

Recently, I found myself at yet another pool party where Industry types multi-tasked by schmoozing while sunbathing, enjoying tropical cocktails and posing atop Danish-designed chaise lounges as the desert sun baked their copper hides; the air perfumed with herbal ointments, oils and extractions, occasionally flavored with dissipating puffs of cigarette smoke – sex was in the air and everyone was hoping to be noticed by someone they were pretending not to notice – and all I could think was, “I wish it would rain.”

Inspired as I am by the titillating tenebrous of today, what follows is some of the music I save for a rainy day. These ditties are safely tucked in a specific playlist for whenever the Sun’s obscured and the scent of moisture’s all around.

Siouxsie & The Banshees – "Dazzle
"


This song takes me back to the appropriately dark days of the 1980’s. I had just dropped out of high school my sophomore year and the world was a new and wonderful playground of drugs and whimsical fashion choices.

Whether it was holding (legally unrecognized) weddings in the graveyard at night or dropping acid on the banks of the South Yuba River, two things made these occasions sweeter: the rain, and the sound of Siouxsie crooning brooding. This song is taken from the album Hyæna (released 1984) which features Robert Smith from The Cure on guitar and keyboard. No matter what phase of my life I’m in, this album always makes me feel like a teenager again… and gives me an immediate hangover.

Kate Bush – "The Kick Inside"


This song, from the album of the same name, was the debut from English treasure Kate Bush. Because I had dropped out of high school, I would wake up bright and shining at around two o’clock in the afternoon.

My “morning” ritual was this: make a cup of Earl Grey, put on The Kick Inside, smoke clove cigarettes and drink tea until my best friend, Sadie McSweeney, arrived at the garage (I was living in a garage at the time). After she would berate me for waking up just as she was finishing her laborious school day, we would settle in and play a few games of Ace to King, an obscure card game I learned from my maternal grandmother who was once a Las Vegas blackjack dealer and housekeeper for one Frank Sinatra. (Did you get all that?)

But this album was also always played when it rained, which, in Nevada City in the wintertime, is often.

Fats Waller – "Ain’t Misbehavin’"


The fact that this song features in the film Stormy Weather is appropriate, but coincidental. It could be any Fats Waller number and it would sound sweet to me come a gloomy day. There’s something about the playful tickling of his keys that makes me feel all gezellig. Next time storm clouds keep you from jumping hopscotch outside, stay inside, put some Fats on, and drink scotch instead. I do.

Franz Schubert – Piano Quintet in A Major


This is the perfect soundtrack to daylight showers, particularly in spring. It makes everything feel fresh and I swear that this quintet actually deodorizes the air, despite its being known as the “trout” quintet.

In the provided clip, you’ll see one of the most famous recordings of the piece and one I highly recommend. There’s an informative documentary on it, too, which you can watch by clicking on the word altiloquent in this sentence.

Miles Davis – Ascenseur pour l'échafaud


Miles Davis created the soundtrack for this French film about a woman who is very sad because she’s injured herself and, as a result, must now walk very slowly. Things seem like they will improve when she meets and falls in love with a car (who could allow her to travel faster) but they find they have nothing to talk about, so they part. The film ends with the woman discovering her forehead has become greasy, so she contemplates buying some facial wash, which, in French New Wave Cinema, is the equivalent to Sandra Bullock finally finding romance. The end.

You don’t need to see the movie to enjoy the soundtrack, which is romantically depressed and sultry.

Scott Walker – "Plastic Palace People
"


Oh, Scott. Lovely, lovely, Scott Walker. Scott on a rainy day. Nothing more needs be said here.

Anyway, whatever you listen to, stay dry, drive safe, pray for earthworms and don’t over-do the marshmallows on your cocoa. People die from them, you know. Like, all the time. They have too many marshmallows in their cocoa and they f**king die. The end.

Alice Guy-Blache - first female of film direction

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 3, 2009 08:33pm | Post a Comment
 

Early Years

Alice Guy was born on July 1, 1873. Her French parents were working in Chile, where they owned a chain of bookstores. When Alice's mother got pregnant, the couple returned to Paris where Alice was born. Soon after, her parents returned to South America and left her to be raised by her grandmother in Switzerland. After eventually moving to Chile to rejoin her parents, the family returned to France and enrolled Alice in school. Once again, her parents returned to Chile. Shortly afterward, her father and brother died.


Career
In 1894, Alice was hired by Léon Gaumont as his secretary and still photographer. Whilst working for him, she began experimenting with filmmaking. A couple years later, Gaumont started his own company, Gaumont Film Company and Alice was head of production from 1896 to 1906. In the late 1890s (c. 1898), she directed her first film, La Fee aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy). In doing so, Alice Guy became the first female film director. In addition to directing at least 324 films, she contributed as a producer, writer or in some other aspect on many more. Though she made slapstick, fantasy, sci-fi, western and action films as well as many other genres, many of her filmes were intended for female audiences and bore a deliberate and outspoken feminist sensibility.



Pioneering experiments
Not only was Guy prodigious, she was an experimenter and pioneer, employing and developing numerous special effects, developing narrative conventions and experimenting with synchronized sound (using Gaumont's Chronophone system) to produce sound films in 1905 and '06. She was also one of the first directors to direct fiction. Though she was not originally from America, the Who's Who in the Motion Picture World of 1915 credits her with being the first American to make a film with more than one reel.

                               

In 1907, she married Herbert Blaché-Bolton, the English production director for Gaumont's British and German productions. The two moved to Cleveland, Ohio in 1909 to oversee Gaumont's productions there. In 1910, the Blachés left Gaumont and formed their own company, The Solax Company (partnering with George A. Magie) which became the largest film studio in America in the pre-Hollwyood era, operating out of Flushing, New York on Lemoine Avenue.

  

In the press of the day, though celebrated as "the world's first and only woman director," she was treated as something of a curiosity. This was, after all, an era in which women still didn't have the right to vote. A 1912 issue of Moving Picture World noted "Madame Blache is never ruffled, never agitated, never annoyed by the obtrusive effects of minor characters to thrust themselves into prominence. With a few simple directions, uttered without apparent emotion, she handles the interweaving movements like a military leader might the maneuvers of an army."


With her husband working as cinematographer and Alice Guy-Blaché directing many one-reelers, within two years they were successful enough to invest over $100,000 dollars in an advanced production facility in Fort Lee, New Jersey, then one of America's hotbeds of film production. In 1913, their company became Blache Features, Inc. There's an historical marker at the former Solax site now, at the location of Fort Lee High.



Selected Discography
La Fée aux Choux (The Cabbage Fairy) (~ 1898) (one of the first scripted fictional films)
La Esméralda (1905)
Madam Has Her Cravings (1906) (an early film with close-ups about a woman obsessed with phalluses)
La Fee Printemps (1906) (one of the first color films, painstakingly hand-tinted)
The Life of Christ (1906) (a big budget film with over 300 extras)
A Child's Sacrifice (1910) (the first Solax film, starring Magda "The Solax Kid" Foy)
A Fool and His Money (1912)
Algie the Miner (1912)
Algie Making an American Citizen (1912)
In the Year 2000 (1912) (about a future in which a woman rules the world)
A House Divided (1913)
The Pit and the Pendulum (1913)
Shadows of the Moulin Rouge (1913)
Matrimony's Speed Limit (1913)
The Woman of Mystery (1914)
My Madonna (1915)
House of Cards (1917)
The Great Adventure (1918)
Vampire (1920) (the year of her last directorial efforts)



Later Years
In 1922, the Blachés divorced and Solax closed its doors. Alice Guy-Blaché moved back to France with her two children, Reginald and Simone. She never returned to filmmaking, instead focusing on lecturing, writing novelizations and working to receive proper recognition for her work. In 1951, the Cinematheque Francais honored her as the world's first female filmmaker. In 1953, she was honored by the French govermenment with a Legion of Honor. In 1964 she moved back to the US to live with Simone. Alice Guy-Blaché died on March 24, 1968 at a nursing home in Mahwah, New Jersey.


As is so often the case, Alice Guy-Blaché died in relative obscurity, despite her irrefutable importance in the development of film. In 1975, Nicole-Lise Bernheim directed a short biography, Qui est Alice Guy?. 20 years later, in 1995, The National Board of Canada produced a documentary, The Lost Garden -- The Life and Cinema of Alice Guy-Blaché. In 1997, The Women in Cinema Film Festival was dedicated to her. More recently, in 2002, Alison McMahan published a biography, Alice Guy-Blaché -- Lost Visionary of the Cinema.

Follow me at ericbrightwell.com

Rive Gauche

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 7, 2008 09:14pm | Post a Comment

Roughly occurring at the same time as the more well-known and more celebrated French Nouvelle Vague (or New Wave), another group of frequently collaborative film-makers were grouped together under the moniker "Rive Gauche," named after Paris' artsy side. These film-makers (Agnès Varda, Chris Marker, Jean Cayrol, Henri Colpi, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet,) applied to film the concepts which defined the Nouveau Romain in contemporaneous literature. Duras and Robbe-Grillet were also writers and associated with the literary movement in which experimental authors sought to create a new style with each work. Together, they produced an amazing body of film which remains largely overshadowed by the much more popular New Wave, though no less interesting or significant.

Because of the film-makers' approach to art and their being French, as well as contemporaries of the New Wave, they're often lumped in with them even though the New Wave, while radically experimental, was more stylistically consistent due its focus on the director as the film's author. Ironically, the New Wave view served to encourage the personal and recognizable authorial nature of film, whereas members of the Rive Gauche often sought to depersonalize their works in an attempt to defy expectations, placing them in polar opposition in this regard.



Alain Resnais began making films in the 1940s. He is best known for his films Nuit Et Brouiilard (1955), Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) and L'Anee Derniere a Marienbad (1961).

Nuit Et Brouillard stands alone in cinematic history in its depiction of the Jewish Holocaust. Resnais avoided the familiar black and white stock-footage for most of the film and instead presented tranquil scenes of the by-then abandoned concentration camps in color, with flowers growing through the cracks and sun beams shining on the desolate remains. Compare, for example, Nuit Et Brouiilard to a cinematically conservative film like Schindler's List. Spielberg chose to film in black and white (both literally and morally), with big name actors and with action unfolding in a familiarly un-ending winter that makes the events seem cliche and safely remote.

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