More WWTF: “The Duke of Burgundy”

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Mainstream websites such as philly.com, the online division of the  “Philadelphia Inquirer” describes The Duke of Burgundy as a straight-faced homage to 1970s European erotica, full of soft-focus nudity and soft-core kink.” Stephen Rea, in his review of UK auteur Peter Strickland’s film goes on to mention Italian soft-core king Jesus Franco and America’s Radley Metzger as influences on Strickland’s art and calls Duke a throwback to “more innocent times, when actresses with exotic names would strip off their costumes while embracing far-fetched scenarios – and one another.” 

Since I nurse tender feelings towards French film-maker Just Jaeckin’s original 1974 Emmanuelle and its leading lady, Sylvia Kristel, I decided to add it to my Netflix list.

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Sidse Babbette Knudsen in The Duke of Burgundy
 Go deeper – to hard-core cinephile sites like cinema-scope.com – and the dedicated viewer will unearth more complex (conservative viewers may call depraved) meanings. Control is a dominant theme – as in Sun  Choke  – but expressed in a much more subtle manner. The narrative revolves around a May- September lesbian couple (Sidse Babbet Knudsen, Chiara d’Anna), their S & M roleplay and lepidoptery. (The film’s title refers to a type of butterfly.)  There are film references and metaphors galore oozing just under the surface  But what a lush and sensual surface it is (cinematography by Nic Knowland).
Since I have not engaged in S & M roleplay personally, some of the references flew by me on the first viewing. (So that’s why the character portrayed by Ms. Knudsen drinks so much water.) Ms. Knudsen’s CV, incidentally, includes TV’s Westworld, Borgen (a Danish political drama in which she plays Denmark’s Prime Minister!) and a small role (opposite Tom Hanks) in the film A Hologram for the King.  Ms. d’Anna (a former geologist, according to “Rolling Stone”, who called the film “the kinkiest arthouse film of the year“) is the younger half of the duo. Both actresses play their roles in refreshingly natural fashion , as writer/director Strickland intended.
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Chiara d’Anna in The Duke of Burgundy
In the interview with cinema-scope. com’s  Jose Teodoro, Mr. Strickland makes the remark ” ….  I’m trying to embrace that disreputable or sleazy impulse, as the film we made clearly started as a Jess Franco tribute, though it ended up as something very different … ”  You’ve been warned (or intrigued).
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DVDs I Rent So U Won’t Have To: “The Extra Man”

"Look, Paul, it says I gave a master class in acting!"

WHY I RENTED IT:

Screenplay is based on novel by Jonathan Ames, creator of HBO’s Bored to Death.

Writer/director duo Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini are the team behind arthouse indie hit  American Splendour 

FULL DISCLOSURE:

I’m a fan of Raymond Chandler’s hardboiled 1940s crime fiction and I’ve seen all the movies based on his books.

So when I heard HBO was making a TV series about  a young slacker (Jason Schwartzman) who decides to become a private eye in modern day New York after reading a Chandler novel I was hooked. ( And, as he proved in  Rushmore no one can play contemporary quirk like Schwartzman.)

Schwartzman plays a character called Jonathan Ames. With a name like that we could assume the show is at least partly based on Ames’ own experiences (although the author appears to deny  it in a  “behind the scenes” feature for The Extra Man DVD. ) 

Bored to Death  seems to be as much about the character’s on-again, off-again writing career as it is about his misadventures as an unlicensed P.I. That’s okay. The half hour program  has a quick, satiric wit, delightfully twisty storylines  and a terrific cast including Zach Galifianakis as Ames’ slovenly best buddy Ray  (a struggling comic book artist) and Ted Danson as egocentric publisher George Christopher (rumored to be based on Vanity Fair pub Graydon Carter.) 

"It's His Round!"

ANYWAY …

In The Extra Man, the lead character is again an aspiring writer in NYC who takes his cues for living from a novel. 

In this case, the writer’s name is Louis Ives, he’s played by Paul Dano  and the novel in question is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and the 1920s era in which the story is set. (I remember reading the novel in university and wondering what all the fuss was about. However, that may have been because my English prof had a gift for taking classic novels and wringing every ounce of enjoyment  out of them.)

To make ends meet after moving to NYC, Louis shares the rent on an apartment with Henry Harrison (Kevin Kline), an eccentric gent who lives in genteel poverty while maintaining the air of a faded aristocrat. Harrison cadges free meals (and otherwise lives in a manner to which he would like to become accustomed) by escorting elderly women to social engagements. Seems that, in proper society circles, a woman, no matter what her age, never attends a social function without a suitably accomplished male escort. Harrison offers to school Ives in the art of being “an extra man.”

(We can assume the character derives his name from Henry Higgins, the pompous professor played by Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady.)

Oh, and in case you’re wondering,  Louis is nursing a crush on a young office assistant, played by Katie Holmes. Harrison appears to be asexual. 

"No, honestly, I really like women."

SO WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

Well, for starters, although I thought Paul Dano was uncannily convincing in Little Miss Sunshine and I liked his work in There Will be Blood  this role cries out for someone with Schwartzman’s deft quirky touch.

Kline obviously loves his role as the richly eccentric and pretentious Henry Harrison. He isn’t the only one.

Venerable Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers calls Kline’s performance  “a master class in acting.”

Perhaps.

"I'd like to speak to the writer of this review, please!"

However, this may be one class the average viewer will want to drop out of or at least try to stay awake until the bell rings.

Flick reminds me of one of those stiff, awkward movies adapted from Broadway plays that never quite translate from stage to film despite the best efforts of cast and crew.

Speaking of which, writing/directing duo Pulcini and Berman, working from Ames’ novel, show little of the creativity and inventiveness that  transformed Harvey Pekar’s cranky, misanthropic memoirs into the wonderfully idiosyncratic and entertaining American Splendour.

TBL (The Bottom Line); Obviously, a little bit of Ames goes a long way.

The "Real" Jonathan Ames

The Tunes They Are A Changin’


It always baffles me when people complain that they went to a BOB DYLAN concert and he changed all the tunes around so they couldn’t understand the words and it was nothing like their cherished memories of the songs.
Hey, wake up and smell the incense. It’s Bob Dylan. He has always followed his own rules. It is part of who he is.

And, let’s face it, if he was going to sing all of his hits just like the record, he would have retired from boredom years ago.
If you don’t know that, then you don’t know your Dylan history and perhaps you shouldn’t have been at the concert in the first place.
Having crowds criticizing him because they don’t like the way he is tinkering around with his sound is nothing new.

They were booing back in the Sixties when he first pioneered his own distinctive brand of electrified folk.

(Watch the excellent Martin Scorsese DVD documentary NO DIRECTION HOME for a sense of déjà vu.)

In the May 2009 ROLLING STONE cover story “`Bob Dylan’s America“ the crotchety sixtysomething legend tells interviewer Douglas Brinkley …
“My band plays a different kind of music than anybody else plays. We play distinctive rhythms that no other band can play. There are so many of my songs that have been rearranged at this point that I’ve lost track of them myself. We do keep the structures intact to some degree. But the dynamics of the song itself might change from one given night to the other … today, yesterday and probably tomorrow I don`t think you`ll hear what I do ever again … you wouldn`t recognize them unless you`d come through certain experiences. “

Uh, okay, I`m glad we cleared that up.

Getting the Big Picture

Annie Leibovitz Hits Us With Her Best Shot

“Photography is one per cent talent and 99 per cent moving furniture.”

ANNIE LEIBOVITZ quotes revered portrait photographer Arnold Newman in “Annie Gets Her Shot”  October 2008 VANITY FAIR

For the complete article on this now legendary American photographer (I first saw her work in early issues of click on the link below:

http://www.vanityfair.com/culture/features/2008/10/annie_excerpt200810