The performance that changed my life?

Note: contribution to the Performance that Changed My Life Blog-a-thon

Can you ever really say something changed your life? As much as we talk about movies being transformative, do they really ever transform us more than a moment? Sure, when I walked out of "The Science of Sleep", for example, I felt like creating something, I felt like I could, in fact, create something, but did I really become noticeably more creative after seeing the film? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

I'm not sure any performance really changed my life permanently. I am sure, however, that there is one that sent an almost painful pang of recognition and revelation through me.

It's a performance from "Lost in Translation". But it isn't Bill Murray's.

It was the scene where Bob and Charlotte lay on the bed together that did it, when she talks about her aimlessness. It wasn't just that the details fit: I had a horse phase, a phase in which I photographed everything including my feet (and pizza's before and after, that sort of thing). I wanted to be a writer, still do somewhere, but as soon as I sit down and start writing I hate every word.
But as I said, it wasn't just the details. It was also her flat tone of voice. Her expression. The way she seemed to accept what she was and wasn't, but at the same time also the way you could feel the despair lurking under the surface. The combination of not too high self-esteem and an arrogance toward girls who use Evelyn Waugh as a nickname. She was me - except of course much, much sexier.

Many other actresses of Scarlett Johansson's generation are more talented than she is, and have much more range, more depth. I don't dislike her as much as some do, and I in fact love her voice, but I have no problem admitting she's no great actress. Nonetheless, in this part (and in another one from before she got all glossed up, in Ghost World) she is absolutely perfect, and could not be more genuine.

Did her performance change me? I couldn't say in which way. But it did affect me greatly, and that alone makes this performance worthwhile.

Ocean's Thirteen

Oh, do I love it when Soderbergh just sits back and has some fun with his boys.

I refuse to apologize for it, either. The Ocean films might not be high art, perhaps, they might not have any important message or central theme or whatever, but they're pure, undiluted fun. More importantly, perhaps, they don't confuse being fun with dumbing down and making fart jokes. Instead, this film, like the others, finds the fun in nice small character moments: Danny and Rusty finishing each other's sentences and sniffling over Oprah, Roman's competitor being called Greco, Virgil leading a Mexican worker's revolt, Basher's letters, Linus' nose, I could go on. Soderbergh himself, in the meantime, amuses himself as "Peter Andrews" by going crazy with color filters, strange angles, overlays, even a split screen at some point.

Not everything works, of course. The big seduction of Ellen Barkin is too puerile and vaguely reeks of sexism, even for a boys-will-be-boys movie like this. The inclusion of Toulour feels tacked on, and as much as I love seeing Vincent Cassel (francophile that I am) there should either have been more of him or none at all.

But why nitpick? I saw this in a full theatre and I'm fairly sure everyone left the movie with just a little more jaunty a step than they came in with. This is a movie about the pleasure of letting yourself be scammed: there might be nothing here, but it's a great time at the movies while it lasts, and sometimes, that's all you could ask for.


A Bout de Souffle - first thoughts

Maybe the clearest way to illustrate the difference between France and the US is that the American idea of Jean-Paul Belmondo is Richard Gere.

It's amazing how the two Godard's I have seen so far are both very similar and very different. The style is what's similar, mostly: the jump cuts, the acting style, the fascination with the sound of gunshots. The form is what's different. This is the film I should have watched with my parents, not just because it's linear and focused in a way "Masculin Feminin" was not, but also because of the wonderful touristic shots of Paris.

Of course, this doesn't mean I liked it any less. You can definitely feel Truffaut's touch in the quirkiness of the characters and in the logic of the central love story, and as you might now I absolutely love Jules et Jim, the only Truffaut film I've seen so far. And how can you NOT fall in love with Belmondo chain smoking through the film giving his best impression of Humphrey Bogart -albeit a bit too filled with youthful enthusiasm to be able to approach Bogie's cool. He's not conventionally handsome by anyone's definition, but there's something about him that makes you understand exactly how he can wrap any girl around his finger. And Jean Seberg, ah, Jean Seberg, she's such a lovely little pixie, hair cropped short, every feature so clearly delineated and so mobile.

There are wonderful scenes here. The two lovers kissing, then taking their sunglasses off, the interview with the novelist, I could go on.

The conclusion? I need to find a way to get a hold of Bande a Part.


Whistle Stop

I was worried there for a while.

See, film noir is my reliable genre. Whenever I pop one into the DVD player I know that I might not love it, that it might not be particularly well-written or well-acted, that they might be some cheesy effects, but I can be sure that I'll at the very least enjoy watching it. I have a hard time articulating what makes the grim, cynical world of noir films so comforting to me, but it is.

You can imagine that tonight, I watched "Whistle Stop" with growing dismay. It started promisingly enough, with a mysterious Ava Gardner decending of an ominously whistling train. But almost everything that followed disappointed. The main character wasn't snarky or disillusioned or even truly tortured: not only was he much too old for the type he played, but he was just a wimpy, spineless drunk, and not the good kind. The Femme Fatale looked classy and acted fatale-y at first, but she soon turned out to be a sheep in wolf's clothing. The only one even remotely capable of interesting me was the sleazy nightclub owner played by Tom Conway.

I responded in the only natural way: I tried to find reasons to disqualify the film as a noir. There weren't enough shady metaphors, for one, there was no noir dialogue. The femme fatale ended up being a woman who stood by her man unconditionally. There was no deception, no double-crossings; there were plans of murder, yes, but they were diffused and then almost forgotten.

I needn't have bothered, because one thing gives it away entirely, and makes the point like all the above arguments can't: this film has a happy ending. And so this evening has for me too: my first film of the night might have been a disappointment (I'm about to watch the next one, my second Godard, "A bout de souffle"), but I don't have to discard my comfort genre just yet.


The Player

The Player has suspense. Laughter. Heart and hope and sex and violence and, of course, a happy ending. It's Altman saying a royal and distinguished Fuck You to Hollywood, by making a movie that both honors and mocks Hollywood, and that manages to follow the template of a Hollywood movie, that has all the elements of a generic Hollywood movie, but that's impossible to mistake for anything but an Altman movie.

I liked it, as you might have gathered from the above. I didn't love it though, because despite all the loving references to classic films, it is a bit of a cold movie, a bit glib. So many Hollywood players appear in this film, yet all seem to be feeling superior to what's being depicted. It's as if by appearing in this movie they're distancing themselves from "the system", but of course they're still inside it.