two directors

Gertrud (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1964). We can't ignore what we bring to the table. My admiration for the films of Carl Theodor Dreyer grows from his masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc, which I put at #15 on the 50 Favorite Films list I did some years back. I've looked forward to seeing his other movies, but I've mostly been disappointed. Neither Vampyr, his first movie after Joan of Arc and his first talkie, nor Ordet, his penultimate feature (Gertrud was the last) did much for me. So I didn't know what to expect as I settled in to Gertrud. I could imagine the style of the film, but whether I liked it or not was up for grabs.

It turns out I liked it quite a bit. Based on a play, a fact Dreyer makes little attempt to disguise, Gertrud is a talky examination of the place of love in life, centered on a woman in her mid-30s who realizes the love has gone out of her marriage. She makes attempts to find new love, or to rekindle old loves, but eventually she appreciates that the kind of love she seeks is not forthcoming from any man. The ending is not sad, but perhaps bittersweet. Dreyer films this with very long takes ... there are fewer than 90 shots in the two-hour movie. Some may find the style to be too off-putting, but I was sucked in, and it seemed appropriate to the material. While the conversations between the characters are quite intimate, their bodies do not reflect this. The characters are constantly looking off into space as they talk ... rarely does anyone look at the person to whom they are speaking. The words tell us of a desired intimacy ... the eyes tell us that intimacy may never happen. (In a coda, with Gertrud as a much older woman, the people are finally looking at each other as they talk.)

Nina Pens Rode, who plays Gertrud, has gotten much praise for her performance, but I confess I found her unconvincing. If you disagree, you will surely find Gertrud to be a classic, and many will share your view (it is #83 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of all time). She didn't ruin the movie for me ... in my own personal canon, this falls short of Joan of Arc (as most movies do) but I found it far better than the other Dreyers I have seen.

Enemy (Denis Villeneuve, 2013). I came to Enemy is a much different manner than I did for Gertrud. My wife selected it off of Netflix ... I'm not sure why, it has Jake Gyllenhaal, maybe she likes him, mostly she picks movie she can knit to. I knew nothing of the movie, so I settled in, clueless about what was to come (which is usually how I like it). It is safe to say I didn't like Enemy. It got decent reviews ... Peter Hartlaub did a fine job of describing it as "what might happen if someone let Terrence Malick make a 'Twilight Zone' episode, with a quick rewrite by David Cronenberg." The clue for me may lie in that description, since I am not a fan of Malick and I run hot and cold on Cronenberg. Gyllenhaal has a double role as two men who look identical, and he got praise for his work here, although I felt it was nowhere near as good as J.K. Simmons in Counterpart. Villeneuve creates an ominous atmosphere, but for me, the movie went nowhere, even as I could tell something was being attempted. I lost patience, and I wasn't convinced by what Hartlaub called "an occasional cameo from an apropos-of-nothing giant spider." I didn't roll my eyes very often, but I was always on the verge. It was only after the film ended and I looked it up to see what others thought that I found out who the director was. The first film of his I saw was Incendies, which I found quite powerful. Later came Prisoners, Sicario, and Arrival, all of which I liked, if not as much as I liked Incendies, still enough to make me want to keep my eye on Villeneuve. All of which makes me wonder what I might have made of Enemy if I knew in advance that it was by a director I liked. When I watched Gertrud, I was ready to compare it to an all-time classic on the one hand, and a couple of not-so-classics on the other. I wanted to give Dreyer a chance, though, and so I was pleasantly surprised when I liked the movie. If I had known I was about to see a movie by Villeneuve, I would have started off anticipating a good movie. But I didn't have that extra push that comes from looking forward to a film by a favored director, and for me, it fell far short even before I knew who directed it. Meanwhile, there are plenty of "what Enemy means" videos on YouTube if you are so inclined after watching it.




music friday: 1998

Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone". An obvious cheat ... the video is from 1966, the famous "Judas" version. The concert was officially released in 1998. Play fucking loud, indeed.

Madonna, "Ray of Light". At 40, she reinvents herself again, and makes arguably her best album in a decade that isn't called The Immaculate Collection.

Lauryn Hill, "Doo Wop (That Thing)". Her first post-Fugees solo album turned out to be her one and only studio album (so far).

Neutral Milk Hotel, "Holland, 1945". Their second album turned out the be their last studio album (so far). Jeff Mangum has gone on to other things, none of which includes a solo studio album.

Lucinda Williams, "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road". There are some divas on this list ... Madonna and Cher come to mind. Lucinda Williams is the anti-diva: she drips authenticity.

OutKast, "Rosa Parks". OutKast had a tremendous series of albums to start their career. This song got them sued by Rosa Parks.

Air, "All I Need". The opposite of OutKast, Air's first album was their best. I'm just making this up, I have nothing to say about this band.

Brandy and Monica, "The Boy Is Mine". Brandy is Snoop Dogg's cousin. Monica released an album, All Eyez on Me, with the same title as a Tupac album.

Cher, "Believe". I told you there were divas on this list. She's the only who was in her 50s at the time. This wasn't the first time Auto-Tune raised its head, but it's the one we remember.

Massive Attack, "Teardrop". A.K.A. " Theme from House".

Spotify playlist:


film fatales #42: bombshell: the hedy lamarr story (alexandra dean, 2017)

This is something of a Dual Film Fatale entry, given that it's a documentary about Hedy Lamarr directed by a woman.

I was looking forward to a film showing how Lamarr's work as in inventor was buried underneath her image as a great screen beauty. And that topic is always in the background. But much more of the film than I expected is devoted to Lamarr's career as an actress. And that career is not the most interesting thing about Lamarr. I wanted a movie about an inventor who was also an actress, but what I got was a movie about an actress who was also an inventor.

Obviously, the two go hand in hand. And the time spent on her acting career does establish a setting whereby Lamarr's intelligence might be ignored. Dean is kind enough to avoid much analysis of Lamarr's acting ... her fame came from her beauty, not because she was a great thespian.

I'm wondering if they spend relatively little time on her inventions because they weren't as engrossing for the audience than just showing pictures and clips of her in her prime. I don't want to press this point too much ... Dean does not ignore the inventor in favor of the beauty ... but it's the inventions that make this story more than just another tale of a Hollywood goddess.

Nonetheless, Lamarr's life story is a fascinating one, and a documentary is the way to go. The information is here. Lamarr was as smart as she was beautiful.

(Explanation of the Film Fatales Series.)