April 22, 2009

A Pleasant Evening with Klaus & Werner

Warning: Explicit Language

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes

Maybe it was an unconscious backlash to my previous delightful movie experience or maybe it was just residual curiousity from a documentary that I saw on IFC several years ago, but while LSB was out schmoozing with ambassadors and the Special Representative to North Korea, I took the opportunity to rent Aguirre: The Wrath of God.

First, some background. I've always been interested in the combative, symbiotic, love/hate relationship between the German director Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski, his nemisis and frequent star of many of his earlier films. I guess that makes me kind of weird, but perhaps this quote will explain my fascination:

Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, cowardly creep...he should be thrown alive to the crocodiles! An anaconda should strangle him slowly! A poisonous spider should sting him and paralyze his lungs! The most venomous serpent should bite him and make his brain explode! No panther claws should rip open his throat--that would be much too good for him! Huge red ants should piss into his lying eyes and gobble up his balls and his guts! He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It's no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me.

- Klaus Kinski (on Werner Herzog)

Aguirre was made by Germans, with mostly German actors, about Spanish conquistadors in 16th Century Peru. It follows the story of Aguirre, who leads a expedition up a river in order to find El Dorado and goes increasingly insane in the process. Think Heart of Darkness in the context of Spanish exploitation of South America, in German (with English subtitles). It begins with a bunch of men carrying a cannon over a mountain and ends with loads of hyper little monkeys on a raft. In the middle, people are hit with arrows, decapitated by other (German) Spaniards, eaten by indigenous Peruvians, and avoid starvation by eating the algae growing on the bottom of their raft. If that doesn't interest you enough to go out and rent it, perhaps this trailer or following quotes from the film will:

"That man is a head taller than me. That may change..."

- Aguirre (prior to the above-mentioned beheading)

"Whoever even thinks about deserting will be cut into 198 pieces
and then trampled upon until you can paint the walls with him"

- Aguirre (in an effort to inspire his men)

"If I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees...
the birds will drop dead from the trees."

- Aguirre (just prior to proclaiming himself "The Wrath of God")

Yeah, the movie was pretty awesome.

April 09, 2009

Two Snaps Up In a Circle

Les demoiselles de Rochefort

Netflix got away from me somehow. An impulse click on the “add to queue” button by LSB left us with a copy of the 1967 classic Jacques Demy musical The Young Girls of Rochefort on a Saturday night. The photo on Netflix looked unbearably cheesy and it starred an ageless Gene Kelly. I wasn't familiar with Demy, nor had I ever seen a French musical as far as I could remember, so I was curious and, well, slightly frightened.

However, after sitting through the entire movie with a half-smile on my face (and periodic exclamations along the lines of: “this is so great!”), LSB concluded that I actually enjoyed it even more than she had and demanded that I write about it.

The Twin Song

This anachronistic, Franco-pastel explosion was like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Imagine your typical MGM-style musical from the 40's and 50's: lots of song and dance routines, a romantic/dramatic/comic story involving men, women, and their misadventures. Magically transport that (or some of that) to the mid-60's, add a touch of bizarre, twisted Frenchness to it (i.e. two women smoking while singing a musical number about how they're twins and have been with lots of guys) and voila!

Delphine's Trumpet Solo!

The story follows twin sisters, Delphine and Solange, who aspire to be famous singers, dancers, musicians, etc. One actually picks up a trumpet--I think she puts down her cigarette first--and plays during one of the musical numbers. They are bored with life in sleepy Rochefort and long for cosmopolitan Paris where they hope to be famous and meet extraordinary men. They sing about this a few times, which is how I know. They also sing about how they are twins--several times throughout the film. I could be wrong, but I think it was even called "The Twin Song"--or maybe LSB named it that. Anyway, somehow the town is populated almost entirely by artists, musicians, sailors, and...carnies!

Carnies and the Feminine Ideal

On the subject of carnies, two of them feature prominently in the film. They are in town with the carnival, of course, though they spend most of their time singing and dancing in the town square and singing, dancing, and drinking at a local bar. They have funny little French pants and shoes, and, while my American sensibilities immediately deduced that they must be gay, alas, they sing mainly about women.

There's also a naval officer/artist, who is the sweet, sensitive character of the story. He paints a picture of his "feminine ideal" which hangs in a little gallery in town and looks remarkably like one of the twins—though, he’s never met her (do you see where this one’s going?). He spends most of the movie at the local bar telling people about his feminine ideal and looking all dreamy. We've all been there, haven't we?

The mother of the twins, and owner of the bar where everyone hangs out, keeps sending the carnies (who she only knows from their time spend drinking, singing, and dancing at her bar) to pick up her whiny son at school. Somewhere along the way, you learn that she used to be in love with a man, but she left him years ago because he had a funny name: Simon Dame (She didn’t want to be known as “Madame Dame”). There's more to this part, but there is no space for it here.

The movie is full of almosts and near misses...and carnies. Did I mention the carnies?

Deep in the background of the story someone kills and decapitates a woman--which serves only to provide some entertaining conversations and a few laughs for the other characters. Doesn't this kind of thing always happen in musicals?

I recall thinking to myself at several points throughout the movie: "wait, did that really just happen?" Yes, it did. Every time. While I won't give away the specifics of the ending, let's just say that it ends somewhat happily, in a slightly unsatisfying, European way.

So, if you mysteriously find The Young Girls of Rochefort at the top of your Netflix queue and aren't quick enough to change the sequence before they ship it, I suggest you give in to les jumelles and start pouring the wine...