Hedda Hoffman was an underpaid extra starlet, hanging around the Paramount Studio lot waiting for her big time. There were so many hopefuls just like her but she not only had resources, she was also resourceful and no one would ever be able to claim she’d slept her way to the top.
Her wedding ring was a prop and if that wasn’t enough for the groping talent scouts’ hands, Hedda would whisper gently and conspiratorially in their ear that she was suffering from a not-so-rare sexually transmittable disease. That usually cut short any kind of amorous fervour and bodily exploration, but was also risky because she didn’t want to end up as gossip fodder in Louella’s HollywoodReporter.
So, one step at a time. Yep, it was a men’s business but she wanted to make it on her own terms, not for nothing was her favourite smoking place underneath the big Klieg light, even if the emanating heat liquefied her carefully applied make-up.
7.30 am. There came Mr. Grant, on the dot as usual. She had skillfully re-arranged the cables so that he had to trip.
And who would catch his fall if not Hedda?
This story emerged from a prompt by Hausauspapier using today’s date (21st Feb in my case). If you want to join in, take the book you are reading or the one closest to you. Open it on page 21 (day), copy the second sentence (month) and add your own sentence or write a whole story.
Mine was David Niven’s autobiography Bring On The Empty Horses about the Golden Age in Hollywood and the sentence was ‘Kick her up the ass!’ Sure enough Hedda went into action again.
I’m carrying this clever prompt forward and you are invited to participate with a link in the comments section or by leaving a comment.
Does anybody actually have time to read blogs or anything for that matter?
If truth be told, I need several lives. Fortunately, Reincarnation is there for each and everyone of us. At least the Buddhists don’t differentiate between believers/good and non-believers/bad. On a whole, they are far less judgmental and critical than the Catholics with their pre-planned itineraries of: GOOD people this way please and the BAD turn right at the corner and down the escalator which will take you to where we all know where. Continue reading →
A homage to LAST TANGO IN PARIS
Even though Last Tango in Paris is mostly famous for its highly charged sexual scenes accompanied by blasphemy which therefore caused a scandal at the time of its release and must still have the pope cursing the day it hit the screens, what got overlooked is that Last Tango in Paris is a poetic and narrative masterpiece.
At the core of the film lies a doomed love affair, but Bertolucci also comments on the dogmatic and damaging influence of the family and, drawing the circle even wider, the Catholic church. The two characters, Jeanne and Paul, are like two savages, who try to create their own world but ultimately break when confronted with their past lives and the outside world.
Last Tango in Paris dares to delve into the ugly depths of human relationships and not only that, it digs up the monsters lurking in its murky waters and gives them human faces. Starting with evocative titles featuring paintings by Francis Bacon and trembling music by Gato Barbieri, we know we are in for a ride when the film opens with a shot of a man in a brown coat standing beneath a railway bridge trying to escape the noise of the overrunning train by pressing his hands to his ears. There he is forlorn with disheveled hair and agony in his eyes: Marlon Brando, the character of Paul, the uprooted American in Paris. Maria Schrader plays Jeanne, the Parisian ingénue, and as she passes him in a crème coat with fur trimmings and a hat with plastic flowers she looks like a character from a varieté show at the Pigalle.
And in comes the third character of the film, the obscure object of desire: an apartment to let. When Jeanne asks the old Caribbean concierge for the key, the woman doesn’t let go of the girl’s hand and, like the witch in the fairytale, she seems to jinx the girl with her hysterical laughter, a foreboding of that whatever is going to happen in this apartment will be no ordinary affair.
And we are also entering Vittorio Storaro’s (the cinematographer) world of dirty whites and browns, which in times of intimacy are given a copper glow, but where the light can never quite fight off the shadows and where darkness becomes a place for painful comfort and shared loneliness.
As Jeanne ascends in the elevator like a modern-day Alice travelling to wonderland, the camera rests on a round lamp shining like the moon. When she enters the apartment the American is already there, slouched in a corner, waiting for nothing, but not surprised to see her there. They talk about the apartment, if he’s made up his mind about taking it, he has, she is not sure, he tells her to decide quickly, all marvellous sub-text for what follows next: they fuck. And it is an act of heavy labour, void of any intimacy.
Desperate and confused Jeanne runs to meet her boyfriend, an eager film student who is documenting their lives as a couple in love, and thus transforms any real feelings into acting, taking away the realness she craves.
Cut to a woman cleaning a blood-stained bathroom in a boarding house: the place the American owned together with his wife who committed suicide. Paul’s troubles to communicate are not only language-based, even in his own house, he is a man out of place. His feeling of being trapped inside a human zoo is translated into aggressive action and words.
Jeanne and Paul meet again at the apartment. She wants to know his name. He reacts violently, insisting that there should be no names. He imposes a world without past and memories on her: We are strangers and shall remain strangers. The less you know me the less you can hurt me. And we know that this man is a prisoner of his past and the only way to escape it is by pretending it isn’t there. The apartment thus becomes a sanctuary, a place outside life and reality, a stage where past events can be re-enacted and given a different outcome and the purest form of communication can be found.
But his past cannot simply erased and weaves itself into the present as the mother of his dead wife waits for Paul at the boarding house, eagerly preparing the funeral, holding on to what she can grasp: the cards to be sent out, the flowers, the ceremony. Her grief meets with Paul’s aggression as she tries to overcome the horror of what has happened by throwing herself into organising the aftermath, while utterly unable to understand why her daughter has killed herself. Or maybe she does and tries to escape her guilt by hanging on to the mundane tasks.
Jeanne’s boyfriend, still obsessed with finding out who Jeanne is, takes her back to her childhood house in the countryside, occupied by her racist nanny and the memories of her dead father, a colonel in the French army.
Jeanne carries her memories over to the apartment, to the man who does not want to know them, and who recognises them as what they are: romanticised images of childhood, her youthful naiveté constantly clashing with his middle-aged cynicism. Eventually Paul opens up and his childhood memories are of a different nature. Both his parents drunks, humiliating him, the boy. But when Jeanne taunts him about having let go of his guard he replies that everything he’s told her might be lies. Later on he cries by himself and we know they are not.
Paul’s language throughout the film is violent and obscene, the armour on which he hopes all the pain ever inflicted on him and which is yet to come, will bounce off. But when alone with his wife, covered in flowers and makeup for the dead, he breaks down, releasing his hurt by cursing her and confessing that he’d loved her and that she short-changed him until the very end.
All this is a charged build-up for the core scene of the movie: Paul butters up Jeanne’s rear and rapes her, or does he? But it wasn’t this what caused the controversy: while he is at it, he makes her repeat after him, in a scene entitled “Holy Family”: “I’m going to the family. That holy institution, meant to breed virtue in savages. Holy family. Church of good citizens. The children are tortured until they tell their first lie. Where the will is broken by repression. Where freedom is assassinated by egotism. Family… you… you…you fucking family! Oh God… Jesus”, and he comes.
Here, Bertolucci makes a connection between the family as the nuclear unit to the Holy Family and simultaneously comments on the corrupt nature and righteousness of the Catholic church, stating that both families, your own and the supposedly holy one, are a means of oppressing the independent spirit, fucking you in the ass, literally.
Yet the more Paul frees himself of his demons and becomes a believer again, the more Jeanne spirals into a dark world of her own. When he finds her under the rail-way bridge, he is a changed man. A man with music in his walk, full of optimism and hope. But Jeanne has passed the point of no return and tells him it’s over. They enter a dance hall where middle-aged couples engage in a semiprofessional tango competition. For Jeanne their fairytale has become stale reality, reeking of disillusionment. Paul is finally himself, a love-struck teenager, if not for the first time then surely for the last. He tells her he loves her, but she only sees the maître d’hôtel in him. As if now, that his guts are displayed on the table Jeanne notices his tie is the wrong colour.
Once more the possibility of their love appears as they playfully dance amongst the couples their version of the tango. Being kicked off the dance floor they retreat into a dark corner and in an act of pity and humiliation Jeanne masturbates Paul, and maybe, unconsciously, pays him back. Then she desperately breaks away from him. Paul runs after her in the streets and forces his entry into her mother’s flat. Jeanne takes her father’s revolver from the drawer. He wants to know her name: She says, Jeanne, and shots him. Paul staggers onto the balcony and, in a final gesture of absurdity, or simply to leave his mark behind, he takes out his chewing gum and sticks it beneath the iron-cast railing. Jeanne mutters,: “I don’t know who he is. He followed me in the streets. He tried to rape me. He is a lunatic. I don’t know what he is called. I don’t know his name. I don’t know who he is.” And it’s true: the one thing he has never told her was his name.
Mickey Rourke famously said that there is no man who wouldn’t rather watch a woman stripping on stage than a theatre play. If there is truth to that, then it might well be that movies were invented in order to fuse theatre and stripping. So that men can go to the theatre and still get their tickets’ worth.
Americans like to censor everything which is not a tamed depiction of the sexual act. And because they are prudish, sex is always portrayed as a clean, civilised thing. Something people do after they’ve been introduced to each other, or evil has been put to rest, or a car-crash.
In French films people go through a lot of talk before they have sex, as opposed to German films where they talk afterwards. In Italian cinema food definitely takes the place of sex, simply because the characters know that pasta carbonara is bound to be satisfying, while with sex you never know. Wong-Kar-Wai’s characters prefer to have sex with absent people. In Russian films the characters often confuse violence with sex, or take it to be the same, which is why one of the lovers always ends up alone.
But wait, there is the famous love-making scene between Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie in Don’t Look Now. Departing from the norm, this is a married couple doing it. How often do we see sex between married people in films? Therefore the average viewer must think that married people and people over the age of 28 don’t have sex. And if it doesn’t happen in film then it surely never happens in real life.
Films from the 30ies, 40ies and 50ies brittle with sexual tension and the mysterious forces between people. Because sexual acts, including kissing,couldn’t be shown, so symbolic imagery and double-entendres had to take its place. Nowadays we can have whatever we want on film and the truth is there is nothing exciting in seeing two actors pretend (or not pretending) to have sex with each other. It’s boring and, more often than not, gratuitous.
But the point I’m really trying to make is this: There aren’t many nonpornographic films that give us naked men in all their splendour, probably because the directors happen to be mostly male. I remember Jude Law’s yummy bum in The Talented Mr. Ripley, but that rare sight was only meant to show the homoerotic tension between Ripley and Jude Law’s character. In 21 Grams, even though the love scene between Naomi Watts and Sean Penn doesn’t add anything to the story, Penn still looked gorgeous naked. So why don’t we get more of this? If there has to be nudity than I want more naked men! At least then female viewers can indulge in voyeurism, too.
Like with a book, I can tell a good film/TVseries/anythingmoving from a mediocre one within the first 2 minutes. The opening either captivates me or doesn’t. If it does, then there is nothing I need to do but let myself be immersed in what runs before my eyes. If it doesn’t, I either press STOP or leave the cinema as quickly as possible. I have sat through films that tore at my nerve ends, angry at the idiocy or wankiness of whatever it was I was watching. Bearing in mind that I am about to spend at least one and a half hours of my life, the thing I am spending this time on should be worth the while.
And this isn’t about being high-brow or lofty. Conan the Barbarian, for instance, is a great action film and also the beginning of Schwarzenegger’s political career. He did a great job of reminding the voters-to-be of just how competent he is in ridding the world of evil characters with nothing more than a sword and an oily body on which his enemies simply slipped off. Nowadays where wars are being fought with state-of-the-art technology and preferably long-distance, California’s ex-governor was right there in the midst of it, getting his hands bloody. Impressive.
But film/TV/everythingthatmoves is not only important for launching future political careers, there is the entertainment aspect too. Because, let’s admit it, life is dreadful. It sucks the very marrow from your bones. It takes some time to fully realise this but once you do, your longing for any kind of distraction from dwelling on this fact for too long increases. Of course, there are different kinds of distraction, like having kids, or collecting Russian-orthodox icons, but sooner or later it will hit you again and you are yearning for a different reality, a life you could lead if you were, for example, born in Little Rock or Düsseldorf. If you were a legal secretary or a guerilla fighter or making easy bucks selling drugs outside schools. That’s why I watch films. To be there with people in messy situations and find a way out of them, by killing or stealing or throwing china across cosy living rooms. Until now I have committed nothing of the previously mentioned problem-solving things, even though the urge has certainly been there.
Fortunately, we always have choices and different ways of dealing with whatever life throws at us. As a civilised and cowardly being I usually take the route of the least resistance, the one that,
seemingly, offers me the bargain price. But then I watch films and I see all the other things I could have done instead, the lives I could be living. This keeps my primal instincts at bay and also keeps me from going to Africa to do charity work.
And this brings me conveniently to the third aspect of why moving imagery is important. It keeps people’s minds occupied. It appeases our unruly selves. After a mindless day at work, what is better than coming home and switching on the TV/computer/microwave? If it wasn’t for the hypnotising moving imagery we would be wanting sex all the time, or rob the corner shop, or talk to our partner and find out that the relationship is non-existent. But instead film does it all for us, the revolutions, the arguments, the affairs, and, most importantly, calming down the infrequent amorous, murderous and making-the-world-a-better-place urges.
AND THAT IS WHY WE NEED ANY KIND OF MOVING IMAGE WE CAN GET HOLD OF.