02 August 2023

The Mother and The Whore intro.

The latest in this occasional series of screening intros that I've been asked to publish, here's Jean Eustache's The Mother and The Whore. This one is a bit weird, because I decided to sort of wing the last minute or so (you'll find this point denoted with an *), so the text here is more clearly organized.

Fuckboys, y’all. They’ve been with us forever. There’s just no getting around how much of twentieth century culture is built on the foundation of that special kind of insecurity that leads someone both to try and sex their way through the neighborhood while at the same time clinging to someone in a death grip of promises and misguided intentions. Now, monogamy can mean a lot of things- you’re coming to see a French film at the Belcourt, so that’s already a concept that you get, at least aesthetically. But this film, The Mother And The Whore, is focused on that cornerstone of civilization about what’s good for the goose being good for the gander, oh Sheila indeed.

We’ve all known a guy like Alexandre. Perhaps not someone coping with the collapse of their ideals following the 1968 Paris riots by dabbling in misogynist sportfucking, but I bet a decent amount of you know a former liberal thinker who let their inner reactionary out after 9/11. Or someone whose social media let out their unsuspected incel tendencies. Some folk here might even be like Alexandre, though I don’t know if it’s even possible to smoke as much as this fictional character does and still be puttering around, because if you are trying to quit smoking, tonight is not going to be the night for it. But if you’re trying to quit a guy who can’t help but disrespect you because he’s stuck on a continuum between the deepest, crippling insecurity and the most stereotypical, visceral horniness, well you are in luck. Even moreso, how a guy responds to the end of this film is a gift to the world from filmmaker Jean Eustache, because it’s not quite a pulsating neon sign or anything, but it is what we call pretty damned close.

I’m glad you got to see the trailer for the new Ira Sachs film, Passages, before this, because it is a great companion pieceto this film- there are certain speed bumps that loom before any triad, regardless of the gender expression of those within it. Although funnily enough, in depicting this situation in the age of texting and eCommunication, Passages runs ninety minutes. So some doctoral student in mathematics can actually figure out how much more quickly our lives have been greased on toward oblivion by our technology.

This is a film about a lot of things, but chiefly are pleasures and pains of conversation. And that’s why I wanted to do this little address beforehand. Because the first time I saw this, in 2010, it was thanks to friend of the Belcourt/occasional Nashvillian and brilliant artist Harmony Korine, who programmed it with his then-new film Mister Lonely. And it was a pain in the ass to make happen. The French Consulate had to be involved. Agnes B had to be involved. It was a big deal. And I appreciated the film because there are few things that make the heart go zing like high contrast black and white. But when I watched it again last October at the New York Film Festival, they premiered this restoration alongside special guest Francoise LeBrun (whom we had recently watched masterfully holding court in Gaspar Noe’s Vortex), who had been unable to attend the film’s US premiere at the 1973 NYFF because she was pregnant. So it took fifty years for New York to catch up to her. And as for me, standing here on my forty-eighth birthday, it’s not so much that time caught up to me, more that it slammed full-tilt into my ankles and left me in a state of teleological confusion with great wailing and gnashing of teeth. But what struck me was the most controversial aspect of the film.

It’s never not been controversial. This film, for fifty years now has been messing with people’s minds and senses of propriety. * But what seemed most controversial about it during the screening last October was the new subtitle translation- which I found a revelation, making the film exponentially more relatable (and mordantly funny), but which seemed to piss a lot of people off. I'm not a native French speaker, but I know hardcore cinephile, and I know the ways of consumptive sadness and the way that sexual pathology can get all up in your syntax. So we'll just say that I found this restoration of the film a revelation. And I hope it provokes a response in you that helps you find some form of catharsis. 

Also, here is a picture of Francoise LeBrun at that aforementioned New York screening last year. She's the coolest.

Werckmeister Harmonies intro.


I had a request to publish the text of my intro for Bela Tarr's Werckmeister Harmonies, so here goes... Its abrupt ending is intentional, due to my weird ass trying to pay tribute to the film's thirty-nine shots by doing the intro in 3.9 sentences.

It’s a testament to the cruelty of time and the venality and susceptability of man that Werckmeister Harmonies has bridged many chasms and somehow become the most easily relatable film from Bela Tarr and Agnes Hranitzky for American audiences, not because of any sort of extensive flourish in the capacity to empathize, but rather, simply, that anyone living through the past eight years of American history just cannot simply pretend that elaborate demonstrations of the mass appeal of inarticulate fascism and chaotic demagogues are something to merely be viewed through the veil of ‘Eastern Europe,’ when there’s no aspect of this film, from the perceptive way science and art become enemies of collective mania all the way to the dependence that all of us rely on to whomever is on the inside, connected to power in enough of a capacity that we may live- merely live on the crumbs and spare change that slip from the pillaged table.

Taken from Laszlo Krasnahorkai’s The Melancholy of Resistance, in tribute to whose sentence structures I have undertaken this introduction just as I aim to pay homage to this film’s thirty-nine shots by doing this in 3.9 sentences, Werckmeister Harmonies is the fruition of a school of Hungarian cinema going back decades, but most fun to explore in the work of Miklos Jancso (The Red and The White, Private Vices Public Virtues, Red Psalm), who had been experimenting with the combination of radical political thought and extended, fluid single-take scenes since the ‘60s- with the added bonus of a bit of horny optimism and ample flesh, a form of expression that was viewed by some as decadent and by others as obsessively formalist, which let’s be real are two exceptional ways to hammer away at personal pain and national trauma and make it into something new, supple and stark.

If you saw the seven and a half hour Satantango back when we showed it on film in 200? or in its rapturously lovely restoration in 2019, then you know how Tarr and Hranitzky work, which is exquisite black-and-white photography and not rushing into foolishness, moving with deliberation and purpose and letting the viewer sit with everything that’s happening, not relying on constructivist editing or Slavko Vorkapich mind games, letting you steep in stark emotional truth and often incredible performances, sometimes dubbed into Hungarian, widely known by more diligent linguists than I to be a very difficult language for non-native speakers to master- even Tilda Swinton, who worked with Tarr and Hranitzky in 2007’s troubled The Man From London, had a Hungarian dub artist- but always reliant on the human face, in this case Lars Rudolph’s eyes, the site of human decency bearing the sight of a perpetual disappointing pain that drags humanity down like gravity, or in the cruel sparkle of Hanna Schygulla’s posture, collaborator chic she’s been refining since the Fassbinder days, and the sheer heft of ideas incarnated in teeming throngs of bodies.

To watch this film now is an illustration of how it all can happen, all too easily, a lifechanging work of art for more than two decades that has nonetheless remained constant even as the world continues to unwind on such a sudden scale, leaving us to contemplate the movements of the cosmos not to gauge our impact upon them but rather to take comfort in our inability to do so, chastened by our own limitations, reflective and wounded, deprived of even the privilege of being a cautionary tale, replaying our tragedies, bound to the knowledge that there was nothing we could have done anyway, music itself having left, suspended in silence and

Podcast Appearances!


In addition to my monthly gig as one of the cohosts of Fearless Pretender, the podcast where we take a chronological journey through the film and television work of the singular Jennifer Jason Leigh, I also had the chance to appear on chaos imp Billy Ray Brewton's new podcast Movie Mixtapes, where we riffed on the theme of History with Bite. We started with Ken Russell's 1986 masterpiece Gothic, then went from there, each contributing three other titles on a similar theme. Give it a listen, why don't you?

At the movies: Talk To Me (2022).


The exquisite terrors of Talk To Me await you. This film messed me up.

At the movies: Let's just call it Mission: Impossible 7.


Mission: Impossible: Dead Reckoning - Part One has a few surprises up its sleeve, namely a triumphant return for Esai Morales.