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Band Of Outsiders (#110 of 5)

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

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The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

TCM Classic Film Festival

The 2016 TCM Classic Film Festival

Like several of its previous incarnations, year seven of the TCM Classic Film Festival, which concluded this past Sunday in the grimy, glittery heart of Hollywood, was organized around an overriding theme. But unlike such past umbrella constructs as “Family in the Movies: The Ties That Bind,” “Hollywood Style,” and “History According to Hollywood,” this year’s official theme, “Moving Pictures,” was one that was perhaps less precisely defined.

According to the official press release, TCMFF 2016 would be dedicated to exploring films “that bring us to tears, rouse us to action, inspire us, even project us to a higher plane…the big-time emotions of big screen stories, from coming-of-age pictures to terminal tearjerkers, from powerful sports dramas we feel in our bones to religious epics that elevate our spirits.” By the time the final schedule had been announced, there was even a sentimental subdivision of films centered on animals—Lassie, Come Home, Bambi, and Old Yeller among them. Of course, almost every film, whether we respond to it with warm feelings or revulsion, “moves” us in some way, emotionally or intellectually, sometimes even physically, so it seems a forgivable response if, going in, TCMFF’s announced theme seemed too broad to inspire much in the way of great expectations for an above-and-beyond level of curation.

New York Film Festival 2013: Le Week-end Review

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New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Le Week-end</em> Review
New York Film Festival 2013: <em>Le Week-end</em> Review

Nick and Meg have barely stepped off the Eurostar in Roger Michell’s Le Week-end when it becomes evident that nothing bodes well for their hope of recapturing the magic of their honeymoon in Paris from 30 years before. The steps of Montmartre seem so much steeper, the hotel in which they once stayed has been tawdrily refurbished, but, most importantly, the middle-aged English couple, played with consummate skill by Jim Broadbent and Lindsay Duncan, have reached a point in their married life where they can only irritate the hell out of each other.

Le Week-end is written by Hanif Kureishi, who in the mid ’80s, with movies like My Beautiful Laundrette and Sammy and Roise Get Laid, delighted in being one of the bad boys of independent British cinema. Now two years shy of 60, which makes him about the same age as his characters, he’s writing in a more mature and introspective vein. Le Week-end is a portrait of a failing marriage, where the two partners, having endured a monogamous life together, are now questioning whether or not they should remain together. Meg can’t seem to summon up anything but scorn for her husband, a once-promising academic soon to lose his job at a community college in Birmingham. For his part, Nick is painfully aware that he’s totally dependent on his wife, and that he hasn’t lived up to his own potential. “I’m amazed at how mediocre I have turned out to be,” he remarks ruefully at one point.

AFI Fest 2012 Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me and Not in Tel Aviv

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AFI Fest 2012: Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me and Not in Tel Aviv
AFI Fest 2012: Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me and Not in Tel Aviv

“We never love someone. We just love the idea we have of someone.” Those words from poet Fernando Pessoa are surely ones that Alejandra (Andrea Portal) is familiar with, though she might be loath to admit their truth. Everybody’s Got Somebody…Not Me, the debut feature from Mexican writer-director Raúl Fuentes, follows Alejandra’s turbulent affair with high schooler María (Naian Daeva), whose schoolgirl-in-sunglasses vibe hints at the shades of Lolita undergirding the story. For her part, Alejandra is in that vein of Nabokovian intellectual, a highly cultured literary editor and an aesthete who contemplates María as one would a roughly hewn art object: full of life and energy, but waiting to be refined. Their relationship is defined by its contrasts: Alejandra busts out her portable CD player in a Wendy’s to listen to the Cure and still uses a paper address book when she has a perfectly workable cellphone. María is, of course, a teenager.

The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment

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The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment
The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—3rd Installment

Parody and Pastiche

When one thinks of parody, one might immediately think of blitzkrieg spoofs like the Mel Brooks movie satires (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein, High Anxiety, Spaceballs, etc.) or the 1980 airline-disaster-movie takedown Airplane! But those deliberately lowbrow laugh-a-minute joke-fests represent only one kind of parody.

In general, parody has a critical intent: it tries to deconstruct and then mock outdated or plain silly conventions, and it does so often by adopting those same conventions. As many might agree, only if an artist understands those conventions can he even think about demolishing them through parody effectively. Parody, though, does not necessarily have to be funny/ha-ha comedy—it could also be funny/strange (to borrow terms coined by Andrew Sarris) in the sense that it is trying to render as odd and ridiculous certain artistic sacred cows, whether that entails merely a cliché or an entire outdated genre. Blazing Saddles, for instance, took on the Western genre as its target, while Airplane! toyed mercilessly with the conventions of the disaster genre that was seemingly in vogue through a good part of the 1970s. Of course, to be able to satirize both Westerns and disaster epics with any effectiveness, the filmmakers had to understand and, at the very least, look like a standard-issue Western or disaster epic (Airplane!, for instance, took this a step further and based its entire plot on a 1957 airline disaster flick entitled Zero Hour). Robert Stam defines it in this way:

The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—2nd Installment

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The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—2nd Installment
The Philosopher and the Fan: Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino—2nd Installment

Band of Outsiders vs. Pulp Fiction

I ended yesterday’s installment by asking why Jean-Luc Godard and Quentin Tarantino were interested in self-reflexivity, why they were interested in making movies that deliberately jolted us out of the illusionism inherent in cinema. That question, I believe, is the source of most of the fascinating differences between Godard and Tarantino as film artists, and thus the most worthy of examination. So let me begin this analysis by taking one film by each director and comparing them side-by-side: Godard’s Band of Outsiders and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. No, despite their crime-genre nature, both films aren’t exactly equivalent works. Band of Outsiders is, at heart, a simple crime drama about three alienated French youths—two guys and a girl—who try to make their humdrum lives better by playacting a robbery, trying to steal money from the girl Odile’s rich aunt.

Pulp Fiction, on the other hand, is a multilayered, three-part postmodern symphony that tells the stories of: 1) Vincent Vega trying to please his boss, Marcellus Wallace, by taking his teasing, voluptuous wife out for an evening; 2) falling-on-hard-times boxer Butch Coolidge trying to elude an angry Marcellus after reneging on a deal to throw a fight; and 3) Vincent and Jules’s desperate attempts to fix the mess Vincent creates when he accidentally shoots a young kid in the head in a car in broad daylight. And even that one-sentence plot summary doesn’t encompass the framing story that surrounds the stories, involving both a young couple’s (Tim Roth and Amanda Plummer) attempts to rob a coffee shop and Jules’s sudden religious awakening spurred on by a near-death incident in the third story. If one film is infinitely more intricately woven than the other, though, both draw from similar sources (principally, the crime genre, but also from musicals and other movies from the 1950s) and both suitably represent what each director is about.