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Film Comment Selects 2015: Un Ange Passe

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Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Un Ange Passe</em>
Film Comment Selects 2015: <em>Un Ange Passe</em>

Un Ange Passe translates, literally, to “an angel is passing.” The French often use this idiom for moments when a conversation inexplicably falls silent, humorously spurring the speakers out of an awkward rut, as they refer to the imaginary figure above them. An English equivalent is difficult to find, though, perhaps, a combination of the tumbleweed image and the phrase “silver lining” comes closest. In Philippe Garrel’s films, at times so tender as to be ascetic, moments of conspicuous silence abound and achieve a resonance not unlike that of the use of negative space. It’s hard to think of another filmmaker in recent memory who can make the soft white buzz of a room sound so compelling—and clarifying. In the case of Garrel’s eighth feature, from 1975, this clarity materializes in the figure of his muse and lover, Nico. Fittingly, the film begins with her, alone, sitting outside on a street bench, deep in thought, while her live rendition of “Frozen Warnings” plays on the soundtrack.

Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography

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Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography

Sire Records

Great American Novel: A Lou Reed Discobiography

“Between thought and expression lies a lifetime,” Lou Reed sang on the Velvet Underground’s 1969 song “Some Kinda Love,” but after his death last month prompted a notable spike in album sales, a new generation is likely realizing Reed’s thoughts didn’t really wait that long for expression. He sang far faster than his consciousness could censor, a difficult and necessary skill for a writer, rare in a rock star. He kept the drug and gay references blatant, back when it meant no airplay, no Ed Sullivan. He’d received shock treatments as a teenager to “cure” his bisexuality and found solace in narcotics, and if it left him divided against himself, such tortured transfiguration was also the stuff of great literature, a la Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams, and he knew it. “I always thought that if you thought of all of it as a book then you have the Great American Novel, every record as a chapter,” he told Rolling Stone in 1987. “They’re all in chronological order. You take the whole thing, stack it and listen to it in order, there’s my Great American Novel.”

Film Comment Selects 2011: The Velvet Underground and Nico

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Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em>
Film Comment Selects 2011: <em>The Velvet Underground and Nico</em>

It would be hard to believe that Gus Van Sant hadn’t seen The Velvet Underground and Nico, Andy Warhol’s landmark recording of an hour-long performance by the band, before he made Last Days. Like Van Sant’s movie, one scene of which shows its listless characters rocking out to the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs,” Warhol’s film is in absolute lockstep with the textures of its soundtrack. The bandmates jam in a windowless room of Warhol’s Factory, the camera frenetically panning and zooming over the faces of Lou Reed (pale and zombie-like, but also badass in sunglasses that seem pasted on his face), Nico (who does no actual singing here, though she does manage to attack her guitar strings with a knife), and Nico’s toddler son, a blond boy who slaps at a tambourine from underneath his mother’s feet, looking like he’s either immersed in this world or completely confused by it.