Today at Sundance I wandered aimlessly around a supermarket picking up different cheeses and putting them back down. I can never decide on a brie.
Cheese-less I journeyed to a bustling main street (a very steep hill) where altitude-acclimated rich ladies breezed by me in furry hats and sunglasses. They were having a good time.
View image Marlene Dietrich, "The Scarlet Empress" (Josef von Sternberg, 1935). A pivotal moment of (re-) birth after providing her country with a male heir -- though not one fathered by her husband, royal half-wit Grand Duke Peter.
View image "Scarlet Empress": "... one of those extraordinary women who create their own laws and logic..." Beds, dreams, filters.
Memory starts one image pinging off others across time and movies. Ruminating upon the Close-Up Blog-a-thon at the House Next Door (which, obviously, I can't stop doing), I see close-ups flowing into and out of one another, dreams within dreams within nightmares, on themes of memory, loss, identity, the process of consciousness and the end of consciousness -- you know, the stuff movies are made of.
View image "Once Upon a Time in the West" (Sergio Leone, 1968): Mrs. Jill McBain (Claudia Cardinale) arrives in Sweetwater to find her family slaughtered. After the funeral, she is alone in a big bed in a small room in a vast new land.
View image Final shot, "Once Upon a Time in America" (Sergio Leone, 1984): David "Noodles" Aaronson flops down in an opium den to smoke away his pain and drifts off into a narcotic dream...
In the Godardian spirit of making a movie as a critique/analysis of other movies, here's a free-association visual essay/commentary on close-ups (with inserts, jump cuts, switchbacks, flashbacks, flash-forwards...) that got synapses firing in my brain as I flipped through shots in my memory -- and my DVD collection. Looking back, most of them seem to be filtered, obscured, freeze-framed or reflected faces of characters reaching an impasse or a reckoning -- largely from the endings of some of my favorite movies. I wish I could actually cut the film together, so that I could show them in motion, control how long each shot remains on the screen and fiddle with the rhythms (flash cuts, match cuts, reversals of motion), but I don't know have the technology or the know-how for that at the moment. So, imagine this as a (sometimes perverse) little movie, a "found footage" montage sequence... Kuleshovian, Rorschachian, Hitcockian, Gestaltian, however you want to look at it. I suppose it's also a look in the mirror.
Hope you can see the associations, juxtapositions, oppositions, contradictions I was going for, although I'm not sure I consciously understand all the leaps myself. They just flowed together this way. Feel free to make your own connections. (And, of course, be aware that you may find spoilers surfacing. With a broadband connection all 38 enlarge-able images should load in about 10 seconds.)
View image Final shot, "McCabe & Mrs. Miller" (Robert Altman, 1971): The camera moves in on Mrs. Miller (Julie Christie), in an opium den while snow drifts outside.
View image Flash cut to final shot of "Petulia" (Richard Lester, 1968): Petulia (Julie Christie), in labor, feels the hand of someone (husband? lover? doctor?) on her cheek just before she blacks out under anaesthesia.
View image Flash cut to final close-up, "Le Boucher" (Claude Chabrol, 1970): Drained and devastated after a long and harrowing night-trip to the hospital, Helene (Stephane Audran) drives herself to a dead end and stares across the impassible river in the cold light of dawn.
View image Flash cut to final freeze-frame close-up, "The 400 Blows" (by Chabrol's New Wave compatriot, Francois Truffaut, 1959): Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) reaches the ocean at the edge of the continent. Where to go from here?
View image Flash cut to final moment of final shot: "Nights of Cabiria" (1957) (Federico Fellini): Cabiria (Giulietta Masina) pulls herself together, puts her game face on, looks into the camera and smiles through tears in a tender moment of quiet triumph. Another of the most famous movie-ending close-ups.
From John Hartl, film critic for MSNBC, Seattle, WA:
“Nights of Cabiria��? (1957)
The opening scene in Federico Fellini’s greatest film presents a pattern that will be repeated in the story of Cabiria, a shrimpish streetwalker who is as feisty as she is gullible. She and her boyfriend of the moment, Giorgio, scamper across a vacant field in front of some appallingly character-less Roman apartments. She’s happy and uninhibited, but he seems impatient and calculating. As they approach a canal, he grabs her purse, shoves her in the water and runs away. A small boy hears her cries, and he and his friends rescue her just as she’s about to drown. Several adults join the rescue party, gracelessly turning her upside down as they expell the water she’s swallowed, and finally she starts breathing again. Offended and embarrassed by the kindness of strangers, she walks off in a huff.
Life rarely gets better for Cabiria, who doesn’t have much more luck in her dealings with celebrities, religion or a theatrical hypnosis session in which she bares her soul for an audience of still more strangers. Played with tremendous spirit by Fellini’s wife, Giulietta Masina, she has a habit of falling for traitorous losers, throwing money at them, then waking up to find herself surrounded by people she's never met. The opening scene is almost a prophecy, yet it's never depressing because Cabiria doesn't know how to give in to despair. In the end, she achieves a state of grace in the midst of her most ruinous folly.
Oscar turns 75 this year, old enough to write a second volume of its memoirs. The Academy Awards are always called Hollywood's Prom Night, and like all prom nights they inspires a lot of memories and photographs and scrapbooks, and sometimes you go rummaging through them.
In Rome Thursday night, they turned off the water in the Trevi Fountain and draped the monument in black, in memory of Marcello Mastroianni. The Italian actor, who died early Thursday at his Paris home, made about 120 films, but was best remembered for Federico Fellini's "La Dolce Vita" (1960), in which he waded into the fountain in pursuit of an elusive sex goddess played by Anita Ekberg.