The Aero:

A marvelous romp through early Godard, from the vibrant A Bout de Souffle, his debut, up almost to the point where he abandoned “conventional” cinema for the formal and political experiments that dominated his work to the expense of his popularity if not critical stock. Amazingly, in this 8-year period he churned out 14 features and ten shorts, all of them desperately inquisitive about Cinema and about male/female relations, some of them political, and all of them overflowing with joyful celebration of the possibilities of film. A Bout de Souffle is a wannabe gangster film, freewheeling round Paris with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg in a cute crop and tight Herald Tribune tee. Une Femme est une femme introduces us to Anna Karina, Godard’s muse for the next few years, who plays a stripper who wants a baby; she’s equally happy to have it by boyfriend Jean-Claude Brialy or pal Belmondo.

Pierrot le fou is one of the films that feels like a periodic summing up (like Weekend); in this case Belmondo and Karina are the characters from Breathless, refracted through five years’ experience, enquiry and experiment. They’re on the run from bourgeois respectability, stopping only long enough to chat with the great Sam Fuller at a party (who delivers the best epigram on cinema). It’s shot in fantastic colours (often a concern of Godard’s) and has a terrific ending. Masculin Feminine is more of a chamber piece, with the stated aim of examining the Children of Marx and Coca-Cola. This it does via a courtship between the wonderful Jean-Pierre Leaud and Chantal Goya, shot in grainy black and white. They discuss morals and politics and Bob Dylan, amongst other things, and if its brilliance seems rather bitter, that’s because Godard was breaking up with Karina at the time.

Using black and white again for Alphaville was essential for filming modern-day Paris as an almost unrecognisable future dystopia; completely convincing even with almost none of the regular trappings of science fiction. Eddie Constantine is a battered private-eye arrived in the future city of Alphaville where love and emotion are outlawed. A strange amalgam of sci-fi and film noir, with Godard’s usual philosophical/political notes, and another great ending. Match this with La Chinoise, which focuses on a Maoist cell in Paris (including Leaud and Anne Wiazemsky from Bresson’s Au hasard, Balthazar – she was to become Godard’s next muse) as they discuss the Chinese cultural revolution and the possibility of armed revolution in the west. It’s described in subtitle as a film in the making, and the curtain is drawn back at the very start to reveal the workings of the cinema-machine that Godard would shortly dismantle entirely.

The “her” of Deux ou trois choses.. is just as much the city of Paris as the woman the film follows (Marina Vlady), a prostitute. Such is the modern world, Godard suggests, and so narrow is the scope of aspirations open to ordinary people, that the only way to attain happiness is through capital, and the only way to obtain capital is prostitution. But it’s far more light-hearted than that makes it sound, and a wonderful collage of the socio-political times. There’s barely a whiff of politics in Bande à part which along with the Friday night programme, one of Godard’s most fun movies. Karina, Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey star in an ostensible crime caper that zips through American cinema as quickly as the protagonists’ celebrated dash through the Louvre. Constantly halting the plot for a fun bit of business, it takes in the western, the musical and the thriller, as well as brimming over with the joie du cinema that distinguishes the best of the nouvelle vague.

Cinespesia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery:

Where I come from, this was for many years notorious as a film one was not allowed to see, on Kubrick’s orders. Even though you could always pop over to Paris and see it on the big screen, I still get a frisson of excitement at the chance to see it. Perhaps it’s just old news over here. Either way, it’s still a fantastic film, full of intensity and absurdity; by omitting the original ending of the book, Kubrick shifts the material to dodgier moral ground, granting more weight to the violent outrages inflicted by and on the anti-hero Alex (a magnificently malevolent Malcolm MacDowell). But this also gives the film its great ambiguity and the aestheticised examination of wanton violence and its suppression becomes all the more frightening.

This is such a great revenge drama that it’s easy to see why Sly Stallone thought it would be a good idea to remake it. Unfortunately, the film’s magic comes from the sour, determined and arrogant presence of Michael Caine as the eponymous gangster, and the depiction of the north of England almost as another country. Caine is a London boy in Newcastle, getting to the bottom of his brother’s murder, mixed up in a porn ring, and repeatedly threatened and shot at. It sure is grim up north, what with the grey skies, the drab rows of terraced housing and the unemployment and resentment. It’s chock full of action and great lines, there’s a couple of dolly birds for Caine (including phone sex with Britt Ekland), playwright John Osborne as a gay mob boss, and one of the bleakest endings in all of cinema.

The Hammer:

This should be required viewing for everyone. One of those films that is basically perfect. And damned funny. One reason is that in the Dude’s epic quest to get his rug back, the Coen brothers’ lifted a good trick from Raymond Chandler, having him wander about LA from oddball encounter to oddball encounter, like a hippy Marlowe (er, or Elliot Gould in The Long Goodbye). My favourite characters are the nihilists, out for the Dude’s johnson, or Julianne Moore’s post-feminist artist with her perfect enunciation of the word “vagina”. Or maybe John Turturro’s outrageous bowling rival who turns out to be even more creepy than he appears. No, it’s got to be The Dude, bearded Jeff Bridges in a bathrobe, just fine with his doobie and his Creedence and a superhuman ability to be easygoing.


It’s Charles Boyer time at LACMA. I love Charles Boyer, with his rubbery French pout and husky accent. He’s marvelous and dashing with Jean Arthur in the excellent History Is Made At Night, a romantic thriller, with the emphasis very much on highly emotional romance. He could turn himself just as easily to brooding and frightful, as is the case in Gaslight. A limp Ingrid Bergman (thank god it wasn’t Joan Fontaine) thinks she’s going mad, or her husband’s trying to drive her mad, or both. Could it have something to do with her murdered aunt and the jewels hidden in that very house?

Starlight Studio:

A rollicking Howard Hawks comedy that takes its pace from the train of the title, on which much of the film takes place. A Broadway producer on his way down meets his former star, on her way up, on the cross-country train. He immediately tries to woo her back but she’s having none of it. The thing of it is, he is John Barrymore, on outrageous form with mischievous humbug grandiloquence; and Carole Lombard is quite screwy enough to match such full-scale hamming. Hawks winds them up and lets them go; that they are theatre folk only adds to ribaldry. Terrific.

UCLA at the Hammer:

The stunning debut of British director Derek Jarman holds the distinction of being the only film with dialogue in Latin. Even as a low-budget homoerotic early Christian-era picture it is in an underexploited genre. Jarman and pals went to the wilds of Sardinia and shot beautiful boys under beautiful sunlight and came back with an art-school masterpiece. Jarman’s obsessions are already present in his focus on power and sexuality in the story of St Sebastian, as is his endearingly theatrical tone, tempered by the naturalism of location-shooting; best of all is the gorgeous photography and the dreamy sleepy atmosphere of the baking Med.

images: bfi, wikipedia, again, figeac, basecine