the dreamers (bernardo bertolucci, 2003)

I love Eva Green so much from Penny Dreadful that I assumed I've seen her in lots of movies, but in fact, The Dreamers, which was her film debut, is only the second one I've seen (Casino Royale being the other). When the movie was released, it was noteworthy as the latest film from Oscar-winner Bernardo Bertolucci. Until the film was complete, at which point the resemblance to Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris was evident. Most of the film takes place indoors, with people hanging out naked, having sex, with enough explicit shots to result in an NC-17 rating. Even now, the nudity seems to be on the edge, featuring not just full frontal but closeups of genitalia. For the first, but not the last time, Eva Green's sexuality smolders on the screen.

Yet some punches were pulled. The Dreamers is a story of 1968, with two Parisians, twins (Theo and Isabelle), and an American (Matthew, played by Michael Pitt) Most of the physical interaction is between Pitt and Green. The film hints at an incestual relationship between the twins, but a possible sexual relationship between the two men is only subtext. Bertolucci decided not to film scenes from the script that made that relationship more explicit, and given the openness of the presentation of the three, that decision is odd.

The three young people are infatuated with film, and viewers with a deep knowledge of film history will enjoy the references to that history. Asked if she is from Paris, Isabelle announces, "I entered this world on the Champs-Elysées, 1959. La trottoir du Champs Elysées. And do you know what my very first words were? New York Herald Tribune! New York Herald Tribune!" Non-film buffs may be confused ... Eva Green is clearly not nine years old. But Bertolucci is quoting from Godard's Breathless, and to make his point more clear (and to help the non-buffs), he tosses in a brief clip of Jean Seberg in that movie selling that paper. These connections pop up throughout the film ... the twins like to play trivia games that require knowledge of film trivia. There are probably too many of those clips of other movies ... we get the point ... but the connections are meaningful, showing how the twins (and Matthew) are engulfed in film, perhaps at the expense of the "real" world.

The trivia games also connect to the sexual currents in the film. If you don't know the trivia, you have to perform some act. The first time we see this, Isabelle makes Theo masturbate in front of the other two to a photo of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel. Later, Theo makes Matthew and Isabelle have sex while he watches. The construct (film trivia, then sex) is odd, but the sexual freedoms of the three are so natural that we believe in them. There is no denying the erotic power, but Bertolucci takes it further, and his actors are perfect. In particular, much of the nudity is almost commonplace, co-existing with the erotic.

The irony is that all of this takes place in Paris in 1968, when revolution was in the air. Theo and Isabelle are half-hearted participants ... they'd rather watch movies. Matthew is like an American in one of Henry James' novels, seemingly innocent. The three of them live in the house of the twins' parents. One of the best scenes comes when the parents, who have been on holiday, turn up and find a completely messy house and three naked people sleeping together. The parents leave.

Of course, the innocent American must be abandoned in the end. Theo and Isabelle leave him to return to revolution. It is at this time, if we haven't already figured it out, that we realize the twins are playing at revolution, that, in fact, Bertolucci is only playing at revolution. Paris 1968 is a prop ... you wouldn't go to The Dreamers to learn about that time.

The Dreamers is as good as its spiritual parent, Last Tango, if just a bit below The Conformist. And I love Eva Green even more after seeing it. #989 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don't They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.

This scene, in which Isabelle extends the "Name That Film" game to sculptures, includes one of the film's most remarkable images:


what i watched last week

L’Eclisse (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1962). This movie, like many others, benefits from the intelligent guidance of someone who “gets” the movie. You could say this is always true, but for many/most films, the pleasures are available from the start. It’s not that we wouldn’t benefit from watching, say, Goldfinger alongside an expert on Bond movies, and some films (the best Bonds among them) retain a lot of their pleasures on multiple viewings. But a movie like L’Eclisse has a built-in inscrutable surface, and that surface makes the movie a candidate for further viewings, perhaps especially after reading through some of the best criticism of the film. One of my flaws as a critic is that I resist works that don’t make themselves immediately apparent. When I hear that a movie must be seen more than once, I get cranky, thinking if that is the case, the movie hasn’t done right to begin with. I don’t think an inscrutable surface is evidence of depth. But I can go too far. You will get more out of L’Eclisse, the more you put into it. Antonioni doesn’t do all the work for you. Having said that, I remain puzzled why I find L’Avventura one of the greatest of all movies, yet find the rest of his word admirable at best, and barely watchable at worst. I find Blow-Up fun, if silly, and Red Desert only worth a single viewing, if that. #106 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of all time. 7/10.

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968). Revisiting a classic film from a classic director. One problem is that I think Kubrick is overrated, and I think 2001, rather than marking his peak, marks the beginning of his decline. My favorite Kubrick films are Paths of Glory (1957) and Dr. Strangelove (1964), with Spartacus (1960) after that. I intended to write about this movie in a separate post, but I think it slides right in to my comments on L’Eclisse. 2001 has a built-in inscrutable surface, which makes it a candidate for multiple viewings. I think the cosmic themes of the movie are perfect if Kubrick wanted to seem deep ... there is no explanation, Kubrick resists explanations, but in a true cult-film pattern, the vagueness only increases the interest of its fans. I don’t like this, but perhaps 2001 is the kind of movie where the absence of explanations is the proper approach.

I was a big fan of 2001 when it came out. We all watched it more than once, usually when high. We didn’t see the “Star Gate” sequence as needing explanation ... we just laid back and let it wash over it. There is something to be said for that kind of response, and it’s true, I never liked 2001 as much as I did when I was young and high.

The special effects hold up remarkably well (not talking about the Star Gate). The enormity of the space vehicles is impressive, and everything moves slow ... I think if they zipped around, we’d see the effects as primitive in comparison to what is possible today. Instead, they are lovely and elegant. The Star Gate stuff is less impressive, but at the time, we were blown away.

I can’t say too much about the importance of the music. Most of us owned the soundtrack album, which we played far more frequently than we did any other music-only soundtrack. (I mean, we played A Hard Day’s Night more, but that was a Beatles album, not a soundtrack.) We’d hear the music, and see the scenes in our heads. Kubrick’s use of music was remarkably on target ... everything fit perfectly with what was on the screen. So when we listened to the soundtrack, we felt fond feelings about the movie, which led us to go watch the movie again.

On the other hand, Kubrick’s disdain for actors is evident. Actors like Kirk Douglas and Peter Sellers had such strong screen presences that they couldn’t be held down, and Malcolm McDowell dominated A Clockwork Orange. (One reason for that is that the other actors were awful.) In 2001, the most interesting actors are the guy who does the voice of a computer, and the ones who play apes. I understand that Kubrick is emphasizing the banal ... I suppose Keir Dullea is the perfect actor, in that case. The performances we remember most from later Kubrick are the ones where the director allowed the actor to do whatever he wanted ... McDowell, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket. There isn’t a lot of subtle acting in Kubrick movies, which may matter more to me than to others.

If you had asked me in the late-60s, I’d have given 2001 10/10. In more recent years, I’ve decided on 6/10. But, for whatever reason, I felt more kind this time around. #3 on the TSPDT list of the top 1000 of all time, above, just to list the next three, Tokyo Story, The Rules of the Game, and The Godfather. Honestly, I’m feeling generous to 2001, but it is not in the league of those other three. I wouldn’t place it in the top five of 1968. (Monterey Pop, Rosemary’s Baby, and Night of the Living Dead come to mind.) 7/10.

tv grid, 1968

This comes from a TV Guide in 1968, just as the new fall season arrived. I found the picture at a website called Television History. It shows a grid with all of the prime time shows on the major networks:


If you want to know what was different about life for a 15-year-old American in 1968, here is one example. Three channels to choose from, all over-the-air free-with-ads. The total number of prime-time series was smaller than a list of the prime-time series today for any specific time/day.

As for what I watched: Saturdays were CBS until 10:00, although if there was a rock and roll act I wanted to see, I would switch to Hollywood Palace. Sunday was also CBS: Ed Sullivan, Smothers Brothers, Mission Impossible. Monday was tough, since the second half of The Avengers conflicted with the first half of Laugh-In, and there were no VCRs in those days. Tuesdays I’d watch Red Skelton, or nothing at all. Wednesdays were totally cruddy. Thursdays began with ABC comedies The Flying Nun, Bewitched, and That Girl, followed by a switch to NBC for Dragnet and my dad’s fave, Dean Martin. Finally, Friday had The Wild, Wild West.

The truth is, Robin and I started going together in late September of that year, so I spend most of these evenings talking to her on the phone.

1968: december 9

As expected, I couldn't maintain a recap of 1968 throughout the entire year. But I didn't want to let that project die without paying tribute to one more event from that monumental year, an event I've spoken of a couple of times before on this blog. It's something now known as The Mother of All Demos.

The Chronicle actually ran a fairly detailed piece on this yesterday, since Stanfurd is having an anniversary presentation today. Here is the blurb for the original session:

This session is entirely devoted to a presentation by Dr. Engelbart on a computer-based, interactive, multiconsole display system which is being developed at Stanford Research Institute under the sponsorship of ARPA, NASA and RADC. The system is being used as an experimental laboratory for investigating principles by which interactive computer aids can augment intellectual capability. The techniques which are being described will, themselves, be used to augment the presentation.

A mouthful, to be sure, but the basics are both simple and astonishing. On December 9, 1968, 40 years ago, Doug Engelbart gave a presentation where he introduced tools like the computer mouse to the world at large. When it says "principles by which interactive computer aids can augment intellectual capability," it means ... well, it means a large chunk of what many of us do everyday on our personal and work computers. And this was in 1968.

The link above takes you to video of the presentation ... it's long, but fascinating. Some of the descriptions on that page of the video give a sense of the breadth and foresight on what was being shown:

  • Doug introduction, "if you had a workstation at your disposal all day that was perfectly responsible....or responsive."
  • Word processing beginning with "blank piece of paper," text entry, Illustrates cut, copy, file creation including header with name, date, creator. Doug is shown using keyboard, mouse, and chord keyset.
  • Doug demonstrates capability ... to jump between levels in the architecture of a text, making cross references, creating Internal linking and live hyperlinks within a file.
  • This segment discusses control devices, the keyboard and mouse. "I don't know why we call it a mouse. It started that way and we never changed it."
  • Doug illustrates how NLS can be used to construct, collaboratively modify, and ultimately publish reports and papers. He shows how to examine and modify the paper he and his colleagues wrote for this conference, sets formatting for printing, hypertext linking and viewing of document.

1968: october 31

On this date 40 years ago, President Johnson announced that he would stop all bombing of North Vietnam. This decision was tied to new peace talks with Hanoi. Operation Rolling Thunder, the name given to the Americans' bombing campaign, had lasted for 3 1/2 years. Wikipedia tells us that "Estimates of civilian deaths caused by American bombing in operation Rolling Thunder range from 52,000 to 182,000." Whatever the objectives of the campaign (and they were varied, changing, and often unclear), it is considered to have been a failure.

Near the end of Johnson's speech, which came just before the 1968 election, he stated:

I do not know who will be inaugurated as the 37th President of the United States next January. But I do know that I shall do all that I can in the next few months to try to lighten his burdens as the contributions of the Presidents who preceded me have greatly lightened mine. I shall do everything in my power to move us toward the peace that the new President--as well as this President and, I believe, every other American--so deeply and urgently desires.

1968: more october 26 tv

Once again with a tip of the cap to Blog Wilkins for hunting this stuff down.

Looking over the TV listings for October 26, 1968, Bay Area version, I see, besides the channels I spoke of earlier and some others that didn't come in at our house, two other UHF channels, 20 and 44. So we had a bit more TV than my last post may have suggested. The rest of this post is pure nostalgia and thus, pure crap, but here goes.

When Channel 40 began broadcasting with that Boston Blackie movie, ABC was showing the Notre Dame-Michigan State football game (the Irish were ranked 5th in the country, but State won, 21-17). Later, ABC's Wide World of Sports had stock-car racing and table tennis. In those days, you could have a popular sports show with events that had occurred days or even months earlier ... hardcore fans might know the results, but the casual viewer would tune in to the National 500 Stock-Car Championship, taped eight days earlier, without knowing who won (in this case, Charlie Glotzbach).

Some of the shows are tagged "COLOR" ... not every show was in color in those days, so those tags were important.

That afternoon, Channel 3 showed the Japanese sci-fi movie Attack from Space, which I watched many times as a kid. The plot is described as "Spies from the planet Sapphire force a Japanese scientist to aid them in their plans for invading earth." This was one of the infamous "Starman" movies, straight-to-TV American edits of Japanese films.

Channel 11 from San Jose showed the immortal TV series Spotlight on Speed. Immortal at our house, at least ... the show was created by my uncle, and starred my aunt (my dad's sister) as "Miss Speedway."

Channel 40 ran episodes of an odd series called Silents Please. This series would take silent movies and edit them to fit a 30-minute time slot. This wasn't easy ... the first movie on the Ch.40 run was Old San Francisco, which in its original form ran 88 minutes.

Finally, it's worth noting, as Patrick Ellis did in an earlier comment, that most stations went off the air during the early morning hours (although UHF channels soon came up with the all-night movie format for insomniacs). Patrick mentioned the national anthem being played before signoff ... there was also an odd show, I think it ran fifteen minutes, that was shown before the national anthem on some channel. It was called Ebbtide, and it consisted of poetry read on a voiceover while the picture showed waves crashing on rocks with a lovely lady in a flesh-colored bathing suit posing for the camera. The lady's name was "Lorelei" ... she was my aunt, the same one who played "Miss Speedway."

1968: october 26

Thanks to the entertaining Blog Wilkins (the title will mean something to Bay Area baby boomers), I can tell you a lot more about the schedule on Channel 40 than I could have a day ago. Why does this matter? Because 40 years ago today, Channel 40, a UHF station out of Sacramento, went on the air. My memory could certainly be wrong, but as best as I can recall, Channel 40 was the first UHF station to actually show interesting stuff in our neck of the woods. Young readers might well wonder what the hell a UHF station is ... just imagine one of those gazillion cable channels no one watches, only the picture is fuzzy and you need a separate pair of rabbit ears to make it come in at all.

When I was growing up, we had more television stations to watch than most people, because Antioch was situated between San Francisco and Sacramento. The SF channels were harder to get ... we had an antenna on the roof for those, with a dial inside the house that changed the direction of the antenna to point either to the City or to Sacramento. Each of those two cities had a network outlet, which at that time meant ABC, CBS, NBC, and NET (not yet PBS). Oakland had Channel 2 ... channels were called by their numbers in those days ... Channel 2 was independent. Channels 2-13 were VHF ... don't ask me, but they're the channels every TV got, and in Antioch, 2 was indie, 3 was NBC Sacramento, 4 NBC SF, 5 CBS SF, 6 NET Sac, 7 ABC SF, 9 NET SF, 10 CBS Sac, and 13 ABC Sac. That's all you got to watch. No cable, no satellite, no Internet, just those channels.

Channel 40 was on the UHF part of the dial ... later there was 44 and 20 and 36, but 40's the one that began it all in our house. (There was some dinky channel in Concord or something like that which showed Grade-Z stuff, but it's long forgotten.)

So, what did Channel 40 show on October 26, 1968? Thanking Blog Wilkins again, the first thing to appear on Channel 40 was the movie Meet Boston Blackie. Blog will be adding more details about 10-26-68 later in the week, but in the meantime, over those first two years, among the staples of Channel 40 were kids shows, rassling, and Bob Wilkins. Wilkins showed old horror movies late on Saturday nights, and was a cult favorite who also worked out of Channel 2 in Oakland. Rassling was even more interesting in this regard. Both Channel 40 and Channel 2 showed pro wrestling from the same federation, run by Roy Shires. Since Sacramento and Oakland/San Francisco were considered separate television markets, Shires didn't worry about keeping the story lines the same, so sometimes you'd have one guy as champ on Channel 2 and a different guy as champ on Channel 40. Ah, the joys of living in Antioch, able to watch it all.

This is not a nostalgic plea for the good old days when you only had 4 or 5 programs to choose from. But post-boomers may not realize just what television culture was like in those times. They were times when adding a local, hard-to-get UHF channel that showed old movies and pro rassling was exciting, because it increased your options by a large percentage.

Here's a bit of Wilkins from the mid-70s: