Toby Dammit (1968) & La Jetée (1963) film notes by Tova Gannana for the Lynwood Theatre

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Toby Dammit (1968) feels like a hangover, a warning. In the future there will be fog machines, an airport filled with forgotten passengers, film producers as the only reliable adults, an awards show with fake sentiment, alcohol and barbiturates, a devil who wants to play catch with a white ball, a fast car that can’t get you where you want to go. Toby Dammit takes place in Italy. Everyone speaks French. Toby Dammit is an actor. He is famous; he doesn’t want to comply. “You swore you’d leave me alone,” he says to one and all. The film is specific and general. Everyone a stand in is replaceable, forgettable. Toby arrives by plane. The multicolored sky is peaceful. Toby enters an airport that no one is meant to leave, as though the building was their destination. Photographers huddle and snap photos of Toby. He cringes. Life in this film is weird. Toby acts weird, throwing his blonde hair around like a pair of hips. He is an icon who doesn’t want attention. A capitalist who is an anarchist, a nihilist who is a believer. He contradicts because he is the future. A wet rag squeezed dry, he is a personality not a person. Toby is making a film because he was promised a Ferrari. He is a guest on a TV show without an audience. Two men in lab coats turn dials for fake laughter. The host of the show crawls on hands and knees out of the frame. Toby is interviewed by a woman sitting off camera. He enjoys answering her questions. This is how he sees evil and temptation. The devil is not a black cat but a little girl in a white dress. Never alone, Toby is driven from one event to the next. His first night in Italy ends at an awards show he can’t wait to leave. The room is filled with the grotesque and bloated. A door to the netherworld has opened. Toby may have once been a great actor, but no longer. He’ll work for the keys to a car. He leaps from the stage before his acceptance speech. Like a maniac Toby drives his Ferrari through an Italian town all tucked in for the night. The only people out are a crew of electricians hanging a street light. Toby can’t find the road back to Rome. The road he is on wraps around the town from one dead end to another. Toby pulls over and cries. No one hears him. He yells louder. There is no life left in Toby. Toby Dammit is like the day after, a day that never ends.

La Jetée (1963) - The Criterion Collection

La Jetée (1963) begins at the airport with a family waiting on the tarmac. La Jetée, shot in black and white, is mostly still photographs. Toby Dammit, shot in carnival colors, is all movement. Watching one after the other is like switching channels. In both these films the future is already here. La Jetée takes place in Paris with people speaking German. The narration is in English. The people who have survived WWIII live underground and perform experiments. They are not actors and producers. They are scientists and their subjects trying to time travel. The action in La Jetée is memory. To remember is an act itself. There will always be a nostalgia for the time before. In Toby Dammit, Toby knows he is doomed and drives towards his death. In La Jetée, a man with no name is given a choice. When does he want to live, in the past before the war or the future? He is dangerous to the scientists because his memories are strong. Toby Dammit is dangerous only to himself. As humans we think of ourselves or of others, our personal impact or how we are doing as a collective. Both films are about not being able to escape the present. No one can put their life on pause. Time simply moves on.

La Strada (1954) film notes by Tova Gannana for the Lynwood Theatre

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Water represents life and death, hardship and fortune. La Strada (1954) begins at the beach. A young woman, Gelsomina (Giulietta Masina), carries kindling on her back. She wears a cape.  The wind blows it open as she walks alone with the sound of the waves. Running to meet her, Gelsomina’s little sisters call out, “Gelsomina! Mother says to come home right away. There’s a man here. He came on a big motorcycle. He says Rosa is dead.” She follows her sisters, running towards her fate. Zampanò (Anthony Quinn) doesn’t look at her. Smoking a cigarette, he leans against their house. He looks as poor as they are. His jacket and hat are rough, his face lined from scowling and squinting. He doesn’t need to do any convincing. Gelsomina’s mother’s speech sounds prepared, “Gelsomina, you remember Zampanò who took Rosa away with him? My poor daughter. I’ll never even see where they buried her. She’s dead, poor thing. She was so beautiful, so good. She could do everything.” One daughter is the same as the next. Not because this unnamed mother is unfeeling but because she has to make do without. She says to Zampanò, “See how much my daughter Gelsomina looks like her? We’re so poor. I told you, she’s not like Rosa. But she’s a good girl, poor thing. She’ll do what she’s told. She just came out a little strange. But if she eats everyday, maybe she’ll get better.” Her faith in Zampanò is medieval. He has not returned one daughter to her safe and sound, and yet she sends off another with him. She turns to Gelsomina, “You want to go with Zampanò and take Rosa’s place? He’ll teach you a trade. You’ll earn some money. And one less mouth to feed around here wouldn’t be bad. Zampanò’s a good man. He’ll treat you well. You’ll travel the world. You’ll sing and dance. And look what he gave me: 10,000 lire.” A sister stands behind Gelsomina while her mother talks. Not far away is the sea. There is no way out for any of them but through Zampanò. He is the road. Gelsomina’s mother isn’t asking if she wants to go; she is already holding Zampanò’s money. Gelsomina’s mother is promising her daughter a future that neither of them has a hand in or any power. Zampanò listens, unfazed as Gelsomina’s mother talks. 

Best Actor

Zampanò doesn't show Gelsomina the world; he shows her the outskirts of Italy. He doesn’t teach her a trade; he beats one into her. He doesn’t pay her; he lets her eat the food she cooks for him. Gelsomina is like a circus bear though her ankle chain is invisible. She cares for him because she has no one to care for. She is loyal to him because that is her character. Like Rosa, Gelsomina will have a breaking point from which she will not return. The road is not linear. It is circular. We go forward, and we go back to where we came from. Gelsomina takes Rosa’s place on the road, and she ends with Rosa’s fate. 

Zampanò repeats his act in every town. He sleeps with women and drinks too much wine. He is all instinct and no thought. Gelsomina wants to unshackle herself emotionally and spiritually. Chains are part of Zampano's act. He breaks them across his chest by flexing his muscles and pulling the chain apart. What chains him to his nature he can’t unhook. He is hooked on his physical strength. He doesn’t question; he acts. Gelsomina tells him, “You have to think.” She means that he should think of her as valuable not only for the coins her clowning brings in. Once she runs away from Zampanò only to be found by him. He won’t give her up. The road they travel never arrives in any center but circumvents, keeping them on the edge. They are outsiders, foragers with no place to bathe or wash their clothes. The dust and dirt of the road accumulates. Zampano and Gelsomina carry the road with them. People who come to their shows are ordinary. Willing to laugh, they share their food with them and pay them for their comedy. The townspeople are also outsiders. They are poor and have no road to travel. They have children, they own taverns, they survive their husbands' deaths. They are happy to be entertained. They sympathize and offer help. They don’t pity. 

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Zampanò and Gelsomina join a circus. Gelsomina wants Zampanò to teach her how to play the horn. She begins to get her footing. When she goes in front of an audience she feels that all the world's a stage. She asks Zampanò about Rosa. Her ghost haunts the road. Life is about change. Zampanò resists and is taunted by a tightrope walker, the Fool (Richard Basehart) who makes fun of his one act. Zampanò is chained to the past. Connections with women are shallow and brief. Gelsomina picks up the Fool’s melody, a melancholy tune. The Fool plays it on his violin. Gelsomina masters it on her horn. As she plays it everywhere, that tune becomes how she will be remembered. The Fool picks on Zampanò in a way Gelsomina never could. Zampanò is brutal but not inhuman. The Fool tells Gelsomina that Zampanò must like her or he would have left her. She tries again and again to show him her value. His vision is only as far as the next town. Gelsomina is the most adaptable to the road. She changes with each experience. She learns what she can, she makes friends, she easily loves. Zampanò is rigid. He has his act. He is unable to listen to anyone or share anything of himself. This is his mistake. There is an end to every road. In La Strada the road ends at the water, the place where the road began. Gelsomina is no longer with Zampanò. He has lost her like he lost Rosa. No other human beside him, he is alone with the sound of the waves licking at the shore. He has eroded his life. He clutches at the sand.

Eyes Without A Face (1960) by Tova Gannana for the Lynwood Theatre

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In Andre Bazin’s 1952 essay on Italian Neorealism we read,“Indeed, art aims to go beyond reality, not to reproduce it. And this is even truer of film because of its technical realism, its ability to reproduce reality so easily.” Stories taken from real life are rendered as fiction; they are a re-creation of events. We know all this and yet what we see on the screen we believe. The early German films relied on lighting. Casting shadows created the feeling the film itself was alive. Films like art are one of humankind's great creations, a contribution back to the universe for being created. Bazin began his 1951 essay, “Cinema and Theology,” with the line, “The Cinema has always been interested in God.” Bazin wrote about the relationship between man and God depicted in film, about power and punishment, miracles and being saved. In Eyes Without A Face (1960), Doctor Génessier (Pierre Brasseur) has a reputation in Paris. He may not be known at the Café de Flore, but where there are titles and money he is. Like a vulture, Génessier circles high above in the highest Parisian circles. No surprise when he spares no one in order to get what he wants, a new face for his daughter whose face was disfigured in a car crash caused by him. Godlike to himself, he doesn't see the humanity in other people. Genessier values the ways others can be of value to him.

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Eyes Without A Face begins at night with a car on the road and a nervous driver behind the wheel. Louise (Alida Valli) wears a pearl choker at her throat. In the back seat is the body of a young woman disguised in a fedora and a trench coat. The young woman, with no face, has on no shoes. The way she is dragged to the river by Louise once the car is parked shows how important she must have been. Eyes Without A Face is about the faceless, the nameless, the ones whose bodies throughout history have been used and discarded when no longer useful. It is about a father not motivated by love but obsessed with control. Determined to fix what he has broken, he takes without asking. Eyes Without A Face is about how a body can turn into just parts. Génessier and his secretary Louise work as a team. She is indebted to him for fixing her face. Her debt allows her to do horrific things. At his estate Génessier keeps dogs of many breeds in concrete cages. White doves are kept in the basement. These animals who want long walks and fresh air are denied their freedom. He keeps them because he can. Society assumes Genessier is a great important doctor, a respected citizen. A mother asks him to save her young son's eyesight. Genessier saves his true character for his personal operating room where he uses his scalpel to remove the faces of the young women Louise has kidnapped for him and etherized on his table. 


Edna Grüber (Juliette Mayniel), a student with no connections arrives in Paris. She needs a place to live and is picked up by Louise with the promise of a room to rent. Edna’s friend noticed that Louise wears a pearl choker; she later tells this to the police. As Louise drives Edna farther out of Paris the tension builds. Louise last drove with a dead girl in the backseat. In front, Edna senses that something is not right. She says nothing because she is polite. Instead, Edna turns her fear to hope. Her fear was founded. Edna ends up dead. Doctor Génessier’s experiment is successful for the short time that his daughter Christiane’s (Édith Scob) tissue accepts Edna’s face as her own. Christiane wastes away in her room. She can’t leave because of the state of her face and what her father has told Paris about her fate in the car crash. Génessier does not raise his voice or his fists. His violence is in his mind. Christiane is his property the way his dogs are, the way Edna became. 

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One can’t participate in society without a face. One doesn’t need limbs, hair, some organs or even teeth. A face is like a heart or a brain. Like style, a face signifies individuality. Our faces are one of God’s greatest gifts. The idioms, eyes are the windows to the soul and the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body, tell us the significance of a face. The horror of Eyes Without A Face is that these young women could lose their faces and survive. Doctor Génessier doesn’t care if they live or die. One ends up in the river. One leaps from a window. To him, their fate is that he wanted their face. What happens to them after makes no difference. In 1960 plastic surgery as a cosmetic enhancement was taking off. To have a pointy nose, ears that were flat, eyelids that didn’t droop, were things people saved for and splurged on. What made us ourselves wasn’t celebrated. This too is a way our bodies are treated as parts. Today, advertisers use computer generated faces to sell us things. Sometimes we spot these fakes. They look too perfect, without warmth and style, faces without eyes. They are corporate tools; blood doesn’t flow through their veins

Gimme Shelter (1970) film notes by Tova Gannana for the Lynwood Theatre

Gimme Shelter (1970 film) - Wikipedia

1969, The Rolling Stones were young, their audience was younger, the decade was almost over. The light on Mick Jagger on stage is red. He is impossibly thin-hipped, chiseled, with a long haired sensuality. Look too long and you’ll start to fall under some kind of spell. 

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Since the 1950’s we have been raised by television. Shown who we are and who we can become, the box makes people famous like the Rolling Stones. Gimme Shelter (1970) by Albert and David Maysles is an experimental film about a rock 'n' roll band and their audience. The Maysles knew they wanted to make a film experience. The audience watching the film sees what the audience watching the Rolling Stones in concert is seeing. All that goes right, the surge of energy felt through the music, and all that goes wrong, the drugs and the violence, can be felt by both the crowd in the film and the film audience. Time is erased through the shared experience of the viewer inside the film and outside. Albert Maysles  said, “Everytime I see it, my primary feeling is oh my god those poor kids. Youngsters with all kinds of possibilities of youth. What’s happened to their idealism. So much of it seemed to be washed away in drugs. So it’s a sad story.”

There is the concert that goes well at Madison Square Garden and the concert that is a disaster at Altamont. There are the kids who are on drugs and in love and the kids who are on drugs on a bad trip. Altamont is compared to Woodstock, a movement claiming love, sex, peace, drugs, and rock n’ roll. There is the illusion that Woodstock was without violence and the illusion that Altamont could be peaceful. The Stones and the other bands who perform at Altamont fly in by helicopter, the kids who come as the audience to Altamont arrive by car, drivers snaking across the landscape, caught on film by a camera in the Rolling Stones’ helicopter. There are the known faces in the bands and the unknown faces in the crowd. The film takes place in public and is littered in moments that feel lonely. Mick Jagger on stage falling apart at the microphone clearly in distress over what he is seeing in the crowd before him, singing the last lines to Under My Thumb, “I pray that it’s all right,” just before Meredith Hunter is murdered by the Hells Angels.

Goodbye to Love: Gimme Shelter (1970) — Talk Film Society

Gimme Shelter shows people who were ordinary. Who knows what happened to them? There are people loving, entwined on a blanket, a woman blowing bubbles, a man walking with an American flag, a child being held by an adult who looks like he cares about him. There are the people who are freaking out. A scaffold looks unsteady above the crowd where concert goers have climbed to get a better view. A man in white, streamers hanging from his hair, dances violently atop a speaker. The scene feels nothing like a peaceful gathering, but like something witchy brewing in a caldron. Everyone wears a uniform, divided by the Hells Angels in their namesake vests and the hippies who wear what they wear. A naked woman barrels like a bear towards the stage, exposed and out of her mind like she has no mind of her own. We don’t know her name or anything else about her; she represents a movement of Americans on drugs, a reminder that LSD didn’t fix anything. In the October 1966 issue of Playboy Hebert Gold wrote, “In America we now live in a drug culture. It is estimated that six dozen mood pills were consumed per person in 1966. Dracula is blurting chemicals into our blood streams, not sucking the blood out.” At the end of the sixties Psychedelia had gone mainstream, sold at Macy’s and bought by suburbanites. 

Gimme Shelter (film 1970) - Wikipedia

Gimme Shelter asks questions rather than narrates. It captures rather than dictates the story. We are aware of the camera as we are aware of the Rolling Stones. There is a surrealism to the reality of the film. The Maysles and the editor Charlotte Zwerin film the Rolling Stones watching the dailies on Zwerin’s Steenbeck, “Can you slow it down?” Jagger asks in order to see the murder at Altamont which took place while he was onstage. The Maysles show the Rolling Stones perform in slow motion, the crowd in a trance as the song “Love in Vain” by Robert Johnson is sung by Jagger. The film is full of parallels. Madison Square Garden inside feels orderly. Altamont outside is utter chaos. On arrival at Altamont, Mick Jagger takes a punch to the face. Why this happened is not explained. The axis of the film is the end of the decade; the band and the concerts are the reason and the excuse. The film absorbs everything in its path. There are people the masses want to emulate without knowing who these people are, without knowledge of self in order to not lose oneself to those you emulate. Rock 'n' roll is the perfect set up. The stage above, the crowd below. Drugs and alcohol passed around in both circles. On stage there is money being made, in the crowd is youth and inexperience. There is no wisdom because there isn’t time for that. Gimme Shelter captures all of this on the cusp. Change was happening. The American lifestyle would shift again out of one decade and into the next.

A Night at the Opera (1935) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock

A Night at the Opera (1935) - FilmAffinity

A film is like a soil sample. It tells you about the time it was made through its sets and dialogue, through who is acting and who didn’t get the part. Films remain in their time and thought of in our time as classics or trash, dated or modern, relevant or unwatchable. Of course, all this is as subjective as what you taste in a glass of wine. Much has been written about the cinema screen being primal because what we see is larger than life, the images looming over us as though we were infants in a cradle or beings in a cave watching shadows dance on the walls. The twentieth century was all about the movies. Our obsession with screens turned on has been amplified to a fever pitch. We can’t walk out of a theatre into a blustery day with only our thoughts of what we just experienced. The screen travels with us and moves our thoughts from ding to ding. What once was believable on screen, has turned to distrust for the screen. We always knew we were being manipulated by the gags, the romances, and the speeches, but they were on a human level, made by hand and mind. Diane Keaton’s coffee stained teeth with gold caps in Baby Boom (1987) wouldn’t have made it in the twenty-first century. Her teeth look like most of our teeth. There is something real about them because they are real. Films have always distorted reality or shown a different reality to escape to. What one watches as a kid stays with them like a recipe one doesn’t need the written instructions for anymore. Though most TV shows today are about the past, never before have we lived in a time so focused on the future. Most of what we remember about the past comes from the movies. All the more reason to watch films that began in the beginning. The earliest films document life as it had been lived for millenia. They are documents of change, of technology taking over, of trains cutting paths through places only people on foot and horseback had traveled. Whatever one loves most one thinks everyone should study. Like the gym or math teacher in my high school who thought their subject was the most useful in adulthood. Films like wine are entertaining and intellectual. They satisfy you and make you think. Or they taste like apple juice or vinegar and get dumped in the sink.

As films were being made, so were professions. Ingredients were needed, cameramen, gaffers, actors, seamstresses, location scouters, directors, financers, and cinema-goers. Enter the film critic. Each with their own idea on how to watch and write about film. In his author’s preface of, The Immediate Experience (1962), Robert Warshow explains his motivation for connecting culture and film, his example, T.S. Elliot’s poetry and Humphrey Bogart’s style, “To define that connection seems to me one of the tasks of film criticism, and the definition must be first of all a personal one. A man watches a movie, and the critic must acknowledge that he is that man.” Warshow died in 1955 at the age of 37 of an aneurysm the day after he received a letter from The New Yorker asking him to write for them. If one cares about film, Robert Warshow is a name dear and close. His writing is the connecting tissue between sight and understanding. 

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Otis Feguson wrote earlier than Robert Warshow. Ferguson also died at the age of 37, killed in WWII while serving in the Navy. The Film Criticism of Otis Ferguson was published in 1971 with a preface by Edmund Wilson. Warshow’s book had an introduction by Lionel Trilling. They wrote about film when film was a large part of American culture. Films weren’t in the home but outside in the world. One couldn’t watch alone but had to watch alongside others in the dark, accompanied by sounds on the screen and sounds from the audience. Walking out into the sunshine or the cold night one walked out with others. Today we roll over into a more comfortable position to watch the next thing in our queue. 

Film - A Night At The Opera - Into Film

Some films, directors and actors are recognized like famous streets, national dishes, presidents, or countries who are friends or foes. Lines from the Marx Brothers have been passed around the table like a plate of mashed potatoes. “Hello I must be going,” Groucho declared making his entrance. Ferguson reviewed the Marx Brothers film, A Night at the Opera (1935) for The New Republic. Mostly he wasn’t impressed, “In terms of rhyme, reason, good taste and formal plot structure, A Night at the Opera is a sieve, a leaky ship, and culled to the guards with hokum. It has three of the Marx Brothers and absolutely no pride. It seems thrown together, made up just as they went along out of everybody else’s own head--it steals sequences from Rene Clair, it drives off with whole wagonloads of the Keystone lot without so much as putting the fence back up.” Ferguson writes like how beaujolais nouveau is talked about in some circles, yet drunk just the same because of tradition. Ferguson describes the film in visual terms; that is his brilliance. What he saw he wrote, and what we read by him we see. Ferguson didn’t dismiss A Night at the Opera; he was able to pick the film apart and write like this, “They are very much like somebody exploding a blown-up paper bag--all bang and no taste; but they are irrepressible clowns with a great sense of the ridiculous. They tear into it by guess and by god, they rush through it as though it were meat and they starving; their assurance, appetite, and vitality are supreme; they are both great and awful.”

A Night at the Opera (1935) - The Marx Brothers

In his review Ferguson wrote of laughing a great deal throughout the film. In Groucho’s stateroom, different professions pile in one after the other all searching for each other, “In the good spots the action is kept swift and disentangled, evenly spaced and in clear relief.” There was more than one writer of A Night at the Opera. George S. Kaufman, a character in his own right, known as “the gloomy dean of humor” and Morrie Ryskind were aided by Al Boasberg who wrote the stateroom scene. He famously cut it up and glued it to the ceiling. The Marx Brothers and the director Sam Wood quickly collected the strips and pasted them back together. Boasberg was known in Hollywood as an eccentric genius. He was called to doctor most scripts, punching them up with his wit. In 1936, the day after Jack Benny offered him $1500 a week to be on call for “The Jack Benny Show,” Boasberg died at home at the age of 45. 

Film is one of those things you can’t get away from. It is a reflection; good films don’t flatter. Films are like wine in the way that Clifton Fadiman wrote about the juicy fruit in his essay, Brief History of a Love Affair (1957), “Name me any liquid--except our own blood--that flows more intimately and incessantly through the labyrinth of symbols we have conceived to mark our status as human beings, from the rudest peasant festival to the mystery of the Eucharist. To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history.” True, the movies haven’t been around as long as wine, but entertaining ourselves and others has. Reading about the movies adds depth and flavor, dimension, and location. 

A Night at the Opera (1935) - Backdrops — The Movie ...

My earliest memory of watching a film is the Marx Brothers in A Night at the Opera. That film has permeated my being. Groucho introducing Mrs. Claypoole to Mr. Gottlieb, “I could go on all night,” Harpo and Chico mopping up their plates of pasta with thick slices of bread, Harpo playing the harp to the delight of the steerage class. I have never seen or heard someone play a harp, but I can close my eyes and hear him playing anytime I want. Movies do that. It’s not so much their perceived greatness or what other people think about them but how they make you feel while watching and absorbing them. You are what you eat and drink, you are what you watch and read. We consume food and film as a whole; the experience stays with us in bits and pieces. The line in Fergusons’ review of A Night at the Opera that sticks most with me is, “Their picture is done the minute it fades on the screen. But the boys themselves are still with us,” I think I am reading differently than how he must have written it. Or maybe my interpretation is what he meant. 

Smooth Talk (1985) film notes by Tova Gannana for the Lynwood Theatre

Smooth Talk - Wikipedia

Smooth Talk (1985) begins in nature. Water lapping at the shore is the first sound. Three girls lie on a blanket at the beach. The sun is setting. They’ve fallen asleep. The boom box by their side is silent. Above them gulls call and screech. They realize they are late. “My mother’s going to kill us,” one of them screams as they run with their belongings to the road. The asphalt beneath their feet. They stick out their thumbs and take the first ride. The man in the pickup turns out to be mostly harmless. He drops them off at the mall where they are supposed to have been all afternoon. When you are fifteen you can’t do what you want to do. Or you find a way to do what you want without your parents knowing. Life is both following house rules and taking a chance when you see one. The girls are allowed to spend their days inside at the mall; the beach is thought to be dangerous. Smooth Talk feels like at any moment something bad will happen. 

The mall is where the girls get dropped off. Where they put on makeup at one of the department store counters, introduce themselves to teenage boys, and see a movie. Their mothers send them there because they believe inside at the mall the girls will be contained. At the mall the girls feel independent. They run into a fancy store making noise only to be kicked out. They follow male shoppers around hoping for something like attention. When they get it they change their minds. Their outings go their way until the adult world gets involved. Two men corner them and tell them just what they would like to do with them. The men, obviously perverts, are easy for the girls to spot. It’s the less obvious perverts who the girls aren’t able to recognize and the situations they get into that they don’t know how to navigate. 

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Film critic Vincent Canby wrote in his review of Smooth Talk (1985) about, “the high, thin clouds that always seem to be neutralizing the light but not the heat of the Marin County summer sun.” There is nothing neutral about what takes place on the ground in Smooth Talk. Everything in Connie’s (Laura Dern) world feels personal. Everyone feels like a menace. Her dour older sister June (Elizabeth Berridge) lives at home, is her mother’s pet, has never loved or been loved romantically and resents Connie when Connie shares with her that she has. Her angry and melancholic mother Katherine (Mary Kay Place) who spends her days doing house work, feels invisible to Connie and compared to Connie. Her father Harry (Levon Helm) gone during the day, is a dreamer like Connie. In the evenings he sits outside and smokes on the porch. He doesn’t give her guidance. Her friends Laura (Margaret Welsh) and Jill (Sara Inglis) do dangerous things with her like hitchhike. They cross the highway to hang out at the drive-in where older teenagers and young adults cruise in cars and make out. One of these nights Laura leaves Connie without a ride home. Connie cries in the phone booth to Laura and then walks back by herself on the dark country road. They can’t drive themselves; they can’t ask for help. They fear getting into trouble and living a boring life.


Jill decides to spend the rest of the summer alone. She isn’t searching for her reflection in the world like Connie who is as unsure of herself as the world seems to be determined to be sure of her. “Leave me alone, get off my back, you know you’re always at me,” Connie tells her mother one morning. What Connie means is that she doesn’t want to be defined or completed. Her mother too wants to be left alone. She doesn’t want to be bothered by Connie growing up. Connie to her mother is trouble because she is pretty, though through no fault of her own. “I look at you. I look right into your eyes and all I see are a bunch of trashy day dreams,” Katherine tells her daughter. Then leaves her to go do house work. The house is where Katherine puts her attention. She paints the walls with longing brush strokes. She holds wallpaper up in examination, in curiosity if the pattern will fit the room. June is an easy daughter; her opinions and actions are meant to please. June plays cards with her parents, and teaches at the high school. No one asks questions of Connie; they only give directions. When Connie is out of the house she makes decisions. She looks across the highway at the drive in and says to her friends, “want to go over?” Mostly she is lucky. Luck runs out. 


The character Connie Wyatt comes from the Joyce Carol Oates short story, Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been? (1966), which is based on the true crime story of “The Pied Piper of Tucson,” a man who murdered teenage girls because he wanted to know what it felt like to, “snuff out a life.” Oates wrote that is was “not after all the mass murderer himself who intrigued me, but the disturbing fact that a number of teenagers—from “good” families—aided and abetted his crimes.” In Smooth Talk the parents try to warn their daughters but their own lives overshadow their concern. They are busy being adults and believe what they say will be listened to. Connie, as Oates wrote her, has two ways of being, “Connie-at-home, and there is Connie-with-her-friends. Two fifteen-year-old girls, two finely honed styles, two voices, sometimes but not often overlapping.” She does this on purpose to survive. Her desires are not trivial though to an adult they would seem to be. The adult women are unhappy everywhere. Laura’s mother drives her station wagon without a smile. Facing forward we see only her profile. As though she is anonymous. Maybe she feels anonymous. Connie’s father is happy to own his own house and land. That is his dream. He tells Connie, “Who’d a thought I’d be out here, smoking a cigarette on a summer night. Don’t owe nobody nothing. Know what I mean?” She shrugs looking out into the dark. “I guess,” she answers. What is Connie’s dream we don’t know because she doesn’t know. Connie, as Oates wrote her, is a maiden obsessed with her own vanity. “I can’t wait til I’m old enough to drive,” she tells her father and goes inside. “The Pied Piper” shows up in Smooth Talk wearing cowboy boots and driving a gold colored convertible. Connie gets in his car just like she does in Oates’ story. Twenty years later, in the film, Connie talks back to him. 

Smooth Talk, like it’s source material, feels as though danger lurks behind every switchback on the mountain trail, as though any driver on the road may lose control. The girls inhabit their bodies, but because they are young and unsure they don’t own them. This is what feels so dangerous. The world around them seems to be saying, when you are older you can say no. Then no one will be asking anyway.

Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock

Gold Diggers Of 1933 movie posters at movie poster ...

The choreographer of Gold Diggers Of 1933 (1933) Busby Berkeley, drank martinis while taking his daily bath, married six times, went to court for vehicular homicide, died of natural causes at the age of 80, and released five musical films in 1933. About dance in film, the critic Arlene Croce wrote, “In America, you were either Tap or Toe, and Toe was art.” Berkeley’s choreography in 1933 was all about fantasy. In unison, dancers transformed into a waterfall, an illuminated violin, ladies and their fellas picnicing at the park, and gold coins shimmying in hypnotic formations. Croce called it, “kaleidoscopic.” One of Berkeley's trademarks was that each dancer had a closeup, like in a pageant. The musicals of the 1930’s were about work, losing it, needing it, looking for, having to give it up, or choosing between. Women in life and in films were in the workforce and were conflicted. Secretaries like Barbara Stanwyck in Baby Face (1933) sleeping her way to the top of the bank where she types, she knows it's wrong, but she’s ambitious. Carole Lombard in Hands Across The Table (1935) plays a manicurist who wants to quit and marry rich. The dancers in Gold Diggers just want to put on a show. The title of the film is a play on the stereotypes of the working women Stanwyck and Lombard played. 

Blog of the Darned: Gold Diggers of 1933

Gold Diggers is tap not toe, and it is an art film. The actors and all involved were artists. They lived exciting, hard lives. They worked early and all the time. Ned Sparks who plays the theater director Barney Hopkins, left home at 16 to join the Klondike Gold Rush. Guy Kibbe who plays Faneuil H. Peabody, a wealthy lawyer whose client is a playboy, was setting type at age seven for his father, an editor at the El Paso Herald-Post. At 14, Kibbee ran away to join a road show. Ruby Keeler who plays Polly Parker, was dancing in New York nightclubs from the age of 13. She married Al Jolson in Hollywood at 19. Ginger Rogers who plays Fay Fortune, had thought of becoming a school teacher but instead learned show business from her mother Lela, a studio scriptwriter. Rogers was married five times. During the filming of Gold Diggers she had an affair with the director Mervyn Leroy who years later directed Frank Sinatra in the short film, The House I live In (1945) about the need for tolerance and acceptance of all races and religions in America. The title song of that film has been covered by socially conscious singers from Mahalia Jackson to Sam Cooke. Patti LaBelle sang the song for Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday as he listened in the audience. Dick Powell who plays the leading man Brad Roberts, grew up in Little Rock singing gospel. Joan Blondell who plays the dancer Carol King, was born into a family of vaudeville actors. At four months she appeared onstage in her cradle. Three years after Powell and Blondell starred in Gold Diggers the two were married, but not for long. Powell sang and danced in films from the 1930’s to the early 1940’s when he switched to film noir. Powell was the first to play Detective Phillip Marlowe in Murder My Sweet (1944). Humphrey Bogart later took the character Marlowe for his own spin. Bogart bought Powell’s boat from him. They loved being out on the water. They starred in films opposite husky voiced Lizabeth Scott, who also sang in films, but not musicals. She starred in nightclubs, holding the mic. Scott played beautiful women who got roughed up. She did the rough housing, mostly with her voice. 

Gold Diggers of 1933 | Mountain Xpress

Hollywood was small then. The studios owned themselves. They were not international conglomerates as they are now. Movie tickets and lipstick sales were high during The Depression. Most small towns had theaters. Cities of all sizes had cinemas. Making a film meant work for many people. Sets, costumes, scripts, choreography, musicians, you name it and it was needed. People were hungry and popcorn was consumed along with the movies. In the 1930’s the American audience wanted to escape by watching onscreen what could only have seemed to be an alternate universe. Gold Diggers opens during the rehearsal of a Broadway musical. The number is “We’re In The Money,” which is ironic because the show is about to close before it has a chance to open. The principals in the film are also the principals of the show. The director Barney employs four dancers, Carol, Trixie, Polly and Fay. The women live together in a cold water flat. Trixie steals milk from a neighbor's window ledge. They share one good dress. Brad Roberts, a piano player and composer lives across the way. He sings and plays for Polly. While slicing bread for their breakfast Carol says, “I can remember not so long ago a penthouse on Park Avenue, with a real tree, and flowers, and a fountain, and a French maid. And a warm bath with salts from Yardleys. And a little dress that Schiaparelli ran up. And a snappy roadster and a ride through the park. Now we’re stealing milk.” Carol doesn’t miss the things so much as the work that made it possible for her to buy her version of the good life. The women are in it not for the cash prize but for the reward of employment. To work is to have where to go. To work is to have things to do that need to get done. To work is to tire, to sleep soundly, to wake refreshed in order to go back to work the next day. The movies of the 1930’s were about work, because for so many finding work was just a fantasy.

Paris Blues (1961) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock

PARIS BLUES (1961) - YouTube

In a basement club a jazz band plays each night as the stars come out. Candles in wine bottles drip on the tables. Men and women sit and sip. Some dance, some lean with their back to the bar. All are listening to Ram Bowen (Paul Newman) on trombone, Eddie Cook (Sidney Poitier) on sax, Michel "Gypsy" Devigne (Serge Reggiani) on guitar, and the rest of the gents swinging and wailing away. La nuit du jazz; to be awake in Paris is to be in one of these spots. The streets where Club Privé is seated are tight, crowded with people and movements of the night. Ram drinks wine, Eddie drinks milk, and Gypsy does heroin. While Gypsy fades away, Eddie and Ram stay up composing and arranging, getting into the arguments you get into when you collaborate. They wear suits; Eddie’s is sharper. Ram’s tongue is quicker; he is meaner. They are Americans in Paris. Exiled for different reasons, they have jazz in common. For Eddie it’s not just the jazz, but to live in France in 1961 as a black American man. The pianist Aaron Bridgers, who plays the piano in Paris Blues (1961), left the US for France. In 1974 Bridgers became a French citizen. It is not Newman and Poitier we hear play, but American jazz musicians such as Max Roach flying on the drums. The film score was composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. When he speaks, Ram is the opposite of how he plays. He talks and he pushes people away. He wants to write a great piece of music. Ram carries around his composition like an instrument. He is ambitious and surly. Eddie takes it from Ram even though he tells him, “I ought to walk.” They are in Paris Blues together. They understand what Paris is to each other. 

Paris Blues (1961) - MUBI

Music fills every frame in Paris Blues as though the images of the film were notes on a page, notes floating in the air. The first sound of the film is Ram’s trombone like the whistle that brings you running to the station. Ram wears a bracelet, Eddie has a tie clip, little details that tell of someone who is paying attention. 

A train arriving in Paris with Wild Man Moore (Louis Armstrong) is greeted by screaming fans in overcoats holding signs welcoming him. Ram walks behind them. He has come to greet Wild Man in his private car. They are friends from the States. On the same train are two women, Connie (Diahann Carroll) and Lillian (Joanne Woodward), who have come on vacation, two weeks to see the city. Connie is the first to see Ram. He helps her with her luggage. “Is your girlfriend as pretty as you are?” Ram asks Connie. Connie who is black replies, “Yes. She’s a white girl.” He snaps back, “She might be hard to find. All these white girls look alike.” Lillian shows up; she has found a cab. She recognizes Ram from his records. Ram turns to Connie with an invite, “You want to hear me play some night just tell the cab driver, ‘Marie’s Cave,” okay?” Connie is less impressed than Lillian. 

Paris Blues. 1961. Directed by Martin Ritt

It is Eddie who first sees Connie and Lillian at the club. Later that night, Eddie walks around Paris with Connie. He tells her,“I like to walk and I like the way you walk and Paris is the city to walk in.” What he says sounds like a piece of music. “Look at it,” Eddie tells Connie, “and not just what you see, but the way the place makes you feel. I’ll never forget the way I felt the first day I walked down Avenue Champs Elysées. Just like that I knew I was here to stay.” Eddie has been in Paris for five years with no intent to go back to the States. In Paris he can sit for lunch without getting clubbed. Parisians are not colorblind, they see that he is a black man, but they are also not blinded by color. They treat him like a man. Connie, a school teacher, tells Eddie, “Home, to me, is home. My family is my family. And whatever problems they’ve got, I’ve got them, too.” 

It is Lillian who intends to pick up Ram. She fishes her wish and wakes up next to him. Music is a hard act to follow. Ram doesn’t want the morning newspaper or the shades drawn or sunshine before noon. Ram doesn’t want to return to the States to live in a quiet house in the suburbs. “When it’s quiet in my house it usually means the children are asleep.” Lillian, a divorcée, counters. Lillian falls in love with Ram because of the way his music makes her feel. The musician becomes the magician. Lillian falls under Ram’s spell. The last words Lillian speaks to Ram are her reversal, “You’re never going to forget me. You’re gonna walk down the street of wherever you happen to be; you’re gonna see me, even when you know I’m not there.” Ram will for the rest of his life, or until he forgets her, be in the audience as Lillian pulls rabbits out of her hat. 

Jazz Noir: Paris Blues - 5/23/13 - Hallwalls

Paris Blues is as much about what brings people together as about what pulls them apart. You can listen to jazz your whole life and only understand that what you are hearing is a perfect mystery like wind through the trees. Eddie and Ram export themselves to Paris because they cannot find their place in America. But Jazz is to America what salt is to the earth. America is not the Ford Model T, but Louis Armstrong and his horn. It is not the railroad tracks across the States, but Harriet Tubman and her underground train. It is not the Edison Electric Company and their light bulbs, but George Washington Carver and his invention of peanut butter. It is not the movies of Hollywood, but the desire to tell stories and fill seats. It is not the songs themselves, but the voices of those who sing. It is not home is where the heart or hearth is, but where you and your kin can feel free. America as a creation can still create. America as a changeling can still change. It is the concrete and the imagination. It is the building blocks and the foundation. It is not the speeches, but the action. The only open road left is that which will take us to the future.

The Olympics In Mexico (1969) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock

The Olympics in Mexico (Alberto Isaac, 1969) French grande ...


The 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico was the first Olympics held in Latin America, was the first to be televised in Technicolor and watched by 600 million across the globe, was announced by the narrator of the film The Olympics In Mexico (1969) as “the largest peaceful gathering of youth ever witnessed.” The first sound of the film is that of cheering. Inside the Olympic stadium and Olympic village a global party is happening; fans wave flags. Each country is announced as their athletes march around the track wearing the clothes of their countries; suits and ties, turbans, dresses with chevron stripes, ribboned straw hats held at their hearts, hands in white gloves, yellow dresses like daffodils. They are not individuals but part of a mass; not representing themselves but their countries. The Olympic flame travels from Olympia, “following an itinerary that symbolizes the meeting of the classical world with the New World,” the narrator announces. Genova, Barcelona and Madrid are filmed from above; tree filled parks, terracotta roofs and boulevards, a swirling whirling traffic circle. People line the city roads and clap as the Olympic flame passes them by. Others are startled by the camera crew; a man walking in front of a donkey and cart, a bride and groom posing for a moment. The Olympic flame arrives in Latin America via water. One swimmer passes the torch to another as boats circle and bob around them. The Olympics, the story goes, are about hard work and hope, the young and their coaches, joy and heartbreak, uplifting your countrymen and letting them down. The Olympics are about moments that happen within a second. Colored balloons are released and float into the atmosphere. Now this looks dated. 

Avengers in Time: 1968, Sport: Summer Olympics, Games of ...

A young woman in white runs with the flame in its last leg. Her black bob bouncing as she climbs the stairs in slow motion. She is historic in a historic moment. In her hand, the flame is more than fire; it is an ideal. The flame is eternal. Birds are released. The only sound is that of their wings. The games officially begin. A man runs and we hear him breathing. The camera is no longer on the crowds but close up on the athletes as individuals; the hairy armpit of a Hungarian javelin thrower in pigtails, a runner’s lips as he moves his tongue side to side. The Olympics are obsessive about what the human body can do. The gymnasts in white spin themselves in circles on the bar. Everything is perfection; arm muscles, outfits, the stadium’s bright lights, the manicured green grass. There is brutality. A soccer player kicks the ball at the referee. Water Polo players hold one another under water. 


There is an exhaustion while watching race after race. In the stadium everyone but the athletes wear suits and dresses. A boy in yellow pants looks bored. Machines in a room chatter as they transmit news about the Olympics. There are events the film does not tell us about. 10 days prior to the start of the Olympics, in a public square in Mexico City, hundreds of people, mostly women, children and students, were massacred by the Mexican army. “We don’t want Olympics, we want revolution!” they chanted. In 1968 at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago protestors chanted, “The whole world is watching.” 

Robert Beamon of South Jamaica, Queens, jumps and makes history. James Ray Hines of Dumas, Arkansas, wins a Gold. Willie Davenport of Troy, Alabama, with his trim mustache, wins a Gold. Margita Gummel of East Germany, a student and wife, wins a Gold. Their ecstatic moments caught on film. Davenport died of a heart attack in the Chicago O’Hare Airport at 59. Years after her win, Gummel was outed as one of the first athletes to use steroids. Athletes’s names and records are remembered, but not always the athlete themselves. They drift back into the population unless they have an agent who finds the right angle. The Olympic ceremonies also happen in the rain. 

The Olympics are like two sides of a drama mask, happy and sad. The team spirit, problem solving, pushing ourselves to be our best, collective winning, glory for more than just ourselves.  With any source of light what do we do when darkness gleams through? If whole communities are bulldozed in order to build Olympic villages, if athletes are doping, if there is an uptick in human trafficking around the arenas built for glory, if people are remembered for their scores but not for the lives they live, if training for the Olympics is a feat in and of itself, is it worth our energy, attention and resources every four years when so much of our known world seems to be going extinct moment by moment? 

There are Olympic moments that are forever wedded together; Jesse Owens in 1936 running and winning 4 gold medals in Berlin, Hitler watching in the stands. In 1972, Munich, after Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed, the games without pause continued. In 1968, Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos took their places to receive the Gold and Bronze. The camera not knowing what in the end would be remembered, which image will become a symbol, caught just one raised fist highlighted against the sky.

Bay Of Angels (1963) film notes by Tova Gannana for CSA Hitchcock


In a casino there is always both kinds of luck. There is picking a number, noting a sign like sitting next to a blonde, a man in a hat, a woman in a pretty dress. There is the roll of the dice, turning over the cards, holding one's breath. There is the waiting for one's luck to change, for time to speed up or slow down. To gamble is to throw in your lot with those who are in the room. In a casino everyone is dressed for night. 

At the beach, Jackie (Jeanne Moreau), in white heels, fluffs her white bob and lights a cigarette. She doesn’t sink in the sand; she teeters on the rocks and pebbles. Jackie seems unwelcome among the families, the sun, the fresh breeze off the sea. She prefers scotch and slots in the mornings. Whatever she has she gambles away, her train ticket, her jewels, any money that she wins. It’s a lifestyle for her; she feels free. At a casino in Enghien, Jackie is tossed out by management to the street. Although she cheated, she calls them the thieves. 

Top Stylish Films of the 1960s

Jean (Claude Mann) has never gambled. He has a nine to five at the bank and lives in Paris with his father. He doesn’t own a car. Jean's friend Caron (Paul Guers) influences him. Caron gambles and lies about it to his wife. Caron invites Jean to play roulette in Enghien. Jean resists, afraid that if he starts he won’t be able to quit. Caron tells him, “You have to try everything to learn who you are. You might be really lucky.” Jean’s father, a watchmaker, believes that "gamblers always lose.” He tells Jean, “If I ever hear you’re gambling you can pack up and get out.”  Jean is cautious with Caron; with his father he is bold. Jean takes his bank pay and goes to Enghein. “I don’t even know the rules,” Jean tells Caron on the way. Jean wins but keeps his head. “Let’s go or I’ll start losing,” he tells his friend. Leaving the casino, Jean is uneasy, “It’s amoral. I won six months' pay in an hour.” 

Not all who gamble are motivated by money. Jean leaves his father's house and travels by train to Nice. It is summer and crowded with people and possibility. The French Riviera sparkles in sunshine and moonlight. Jean crosses paths with Jackie. She spots him across the roulette table. He picks a winning number. Jackie lights a Lucky Strike. She is hooked on his luck; he is hooked on her. Together they know they are not on vacation. They have left behind their lives in Paris. Jackie was the wife of a wealthy industrialist who kicked her out, who kept their three year-old son. “I feel like I gambled him away too,” Jackie tells Jean. Like a casino chip, Jackie is all surface. Jean follows her in a way he wouldn’t follow Caron or his father’s advice. They win big in Nice, buy a car, and drive to Monte Carlo. Jackie changes her white suit for a black backless dress and a feathered boa. The casino in Monte Carlo is the casino of all casinos. Jean, Jackie, and their wad of francs have arrived. 

Love Music Wine and Revolution: Bay of Angels (1963)

Bay Of Angels (1963), the story of Jean and Jackie who with every gamble grow closer and yet more alone, was shot in the casinos and on the streets of the French Riviera. Jeanne Moreau said it was exhausting to be watched by so many. She made herself forget they were standing there. The presence of the onlookers can be felt in the film. Jean forgets his father’s warning while he tests himself. When he realizes what his luck can bring he calls him. 

Jeanne Moreau on the set of Bay of Angels, 1963

Jackie is not a gambler because of the money. She returns to the table for the thrill. Bay Of Angels musical score by Michel Legrand is emotional; the piano racing like a heartbeat. Jean and Jackie have their fights which are physical. “Smile or I’m switching tables,” she warns him. For a moment Jackie trails another man on the casino floor. Jean is jealous and wins her back. Their relationship becomes circular like a roulette wheel, spinning between hope and hopelessness. Jean tries to get Jackie to return with him to Paris. “I’m afraid of ending up like you,” he tells her. She doesn’t eat, she has no friends, her stockings get a run. To lose all your money by gambling is to not care about your life. Jackie will play til the end or until she decides she doesn’t want to disappear. In her monochromatic wardrobe and platinum hair Jackie is like a ghost; the casino her tomb. When Jean stands up from the table and leaves, the air goes with him; she is sealed in.