When I was much younger, in my early thirties, I remember the strange enjoyment of having discovered Highsmith almost by accident and reading the Talented Mr. Ripley on my living room couch stumbling over each and every surprise. Where had this writer come from and I why hadn't anyone ever told me about her. Year's later the cinematic rendition of the novel by Rene Clement echoes those very same feelings.
lain Delon excels as gentleman psychopath Tom Ripley in René Clément's beautifully restored classic.
The boyish, twinkly-eyed, bring-him-home-to-meet-momma good looks of Alain Delon run in complete opposition to the ugly modus operandi of his Machiavellian character in René Clément's taut 1960 psychodrama, Plein Soleil (aka Purple Noon), re-released in the UK on a newly restored print. Adapted from Patricia Highsmith's novel, 'The Talented Mr Ripley', Clément's film, when boiled down, examines the destructive and impossible nature of lying, as Delon's raffish Tom Ripley finds that his intricate game of identity theft on the Italian riviera is not as failsafe as it initially appears.
The film takes great pains to establish a workable relationship between Ripley and his trust fund-powered acquaintance, Philippe Greenleaf (Maurice Ronet), who has fled from his folks in San Francisco to live it up in continental Europe. Through strange quirk, Ripley (it seems) has inveigled his way into the family circle to the point where he's been promised a cash reward if he can save Philippe from his is decadent odyssey.
Though bullied by Phillipe and his pals who believe him to be a leech, Tom remains in the inner circle nonetheless, and it transpires that either all the physical and verbal abuse he has been suffering has driven him to violence, or, this was all part of his fiendish master plan.
The film's most extraordinary and tense sequence arrives about half-an-hour in, where Tom is drafted in as loose-limb on a boating trip with Phillipe and his Fra Angelico-scholar girlfriend, Marge (Marie Laforêt). His presence sets off arguments between the lovers, and Phillipe — whose sense of financial entitlement has reached dangerous extremes — is starting to suspect Ripley's up to something.
Unlike Roman Polanski's Knife in the Water from two years later and trades in a similar psychological set-up, Plein Soleil is photographed (beautifully, by Henri Decaë) in the piercing midday sun. The gorgeous blues of the water and the sky play in ironic stand-off to the seething rivalries on the boat. The camera, too, offers signs of ominous portents, barrels around the boat to capture the energetic drama on board, often feeling like it too is about to fall into the sea.
As lies beget lies beget lies, Tom has managed to manipulate his situation so he's the one who's now cashing the cheques and slumming in luxurious hotels. Aside from its tag as a thriller about a gentleman psychopath, Plein Soleil, also examines the desperate measures one might take to lift themselves from penury and live, illicitly, extremely high on the hog. It's a character study, but also a critique of consumerism and the antisocial baggage that comes from its unalloyed indulgence. And it's only the final clever twist that lets down the material, a handy literary conceit that's lost in the world of movies.
Purple Noon is the very opposite of film noir. No murky labyrinths here: all is apparently open and bright, inviting every variety of self-indulgence. Each frame filled by Henri Decaë’s astonishing cinematography is a place that begs to be entered and savored. The color values are almost too beautiful to be endured, especially since we sense that they are not only beautiful but accurate, no Hollywood fantasy but the almost tangible textures of a world where texture still matters. This is a film that can hardly be watched without nagging waves of desire and envy—all the better to become complicit in the desires and envies of the murderous hero. By the end of the film, we do not simply understand Tom Ripley; we want what he wants.
To that extent, and despite the freedom with which it reworks many of the book’s details, the film is deeply faithful to Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley (1955)—much more so than Anthony Minghella’s later version, which, along with making elaborately unnecessary additions to Highsmith’s story line, reduces Ripley to a figure of pathos and the film to a critique of his misguided yearnings. Highsmith, on the other hand, does not so much critique Ripley’s motives as share them. Her book—which was once pigeonholed as a genre entertainment and now seems one of the novels of its period most likely to endure—has the force of a fully realized and quite perverse fantasy, a The Count of Monte Cristo for postwar Americans, or at least those postwar Americans who could identify with Tom Ripley’s sense of primal dispossession and infinite yearning.
Highsmith had the coldest of eyes, and she reserved her empathy precisely for a character who feels entitled to deceive or destroy anyone who gets in the way of his sincere desire to become the person he was meant to be. Her Tom Ripley is an astonishingly detailed inner portrait of a young psychopath who merely wants the best of everything. He is neither a diabolical Other nor a clinically observed specimen, but someone we come to know as an intimate companion, sharing his thoughts and seeing the world through his eyes—the eyes of a rejected child who cannot rest until he has had his revenge on the world for denying him a place at the banquet table. The novel’s uncompromising amorality, right down to the note of triumph on which it ends, gives it the invasive force of myth. Myths are not morality plays, even if this one does imply a twisted self-help credo: you really can have whatever you want, as long as you’re willing to kill people and clever enough to cover up your crimes.
Clément’s decision to curtail Ripley’s triumph at the end is very much in line with the cinematic conventions of the time, but also evidently reflects the director’s sense that the punishment of transgression “somehow . . . reassures people.” Cinematically, however, he still gives Tom the final victory: in our last glimpse of him, as he strides, unaware, toward a police stakeout, he is still free and savoring the completeness with which he has realized his desires. Tom’s triumph is also that of Alain Delon, whom we have watched throughout the film as he watches the others and studies them, trying on masks and rehearsing deceptions, to emerge finally into this serene moment of perfect accomplishment. It was Delon’s first important role, and it is hard to imagine the film without him.
He moves in two directions on Petite Soeur, polishing his sound on the vinyl portion while saving his deeper experiments for the digital bonus tracks.
Charrier is joined on this record by a quartet of additional musicians who play everything from the expected (guitar and percussion) to the unexpected (charango, clarinet). Even the percussion gains an unexpected edge thanks to the derbouka and afuche cabeza. On this album, the guests provide more than just adornment. Charrier is a generous host, launching the album with his own sounds on the title track but fluffing the pillows for charango and guitar on “No Closed to Be”. The percussion grows increasingly prominent throughout the track, and takes over at the start of the next. This attention to detail allows the album to flow smoothly despite the presence of what might otherwise have seemed competing timbres. Each track possesses great internal movement as well; one or two instruments set the table, but the others soon arrive to eat. Even the unassuming maraca finds a place next to the metallophone.
No single track provides an indication of what the album is about, but “Instant/Moment” comes close, with a slow build of drums, bass and harmonium leading to an explosion of brass. If the other songs and instruments are represented by the paint smears on the cover, “Instant/Moment” is represented by the center splatter. But note: the splatter still lies across a smear. There’s nothing on the main album to knock a listener out of a pleasurable trance. The six minute “Toumimi Tatayé” is even accessible enough to be a single (at least by ACL standards).
There’s a thought experiment that goes something like this: in a room lit only by tones of black and white, a scientist has the ability to investigate all knowledge. All her life, she’s never seen outside of the room. Finally, she’s released into the world, where she experiences colour – would she recognize them as what she’d been studying?
Such it is with ‘Petite Soeur’. If you grew up listening only to this album and someone played you pop music – you’d probably think you were having some kind of seizure. Such is the pacing and tone of it, so far removed from the arms-flailing approach that defines most mainstream fare. It is stately, restrained and monolithic. At no point, however, does it stray too far away from listenable territories. Falling somewhere between neo-classical, post-rock and ambient, the compositions here mine their influences without being beholden, and map new territory without being alienating. “The harmony of noise and the noise of harmony” indeed.
It’s a triumph, and an original one. I can think of few ways to accurately reduce it to it’s constituent parts without taking something away from the experience. If you can, seek out this album – even better, purchase it when you do. A destination worth the journey alone.
If Billie Holiday and Ethel Rosenberg were alive, they’d both celebrate their 100th birthdays this year. At first glance they may seem an unlikely couple, but a closer look reveals surprising parallels.
They were each born into poverty six months and a hundred miles apart. Billie in April 1915 in Philadelphia, and Ethel in September in lower Manhattan. Both had extraordinary singing voices, although Billie’s vocal genius eclipsed Ethel’s. Still, Ethel’s teachers considered her voice so special that they called her out of class to sing the national anthem at assemblies.
Both girls were precocious. Ethel graduated high school at 15 and tried to pursue a singing and acting career. At the height of The Great Depression, she could only find work as a clerk-typist in New York’s garment district. There she helped organize and lead a strike at 19. Billie was singing in clubs in Harlem at 17, and made her mark as a recording artist before she was 20.
Both got in trouble with the law. Billie first ran afoul of powerful forces for singing “Strange Fruit,” the anti-lynching anthem. Her performances generated threats, even riots. Josh White also sang the song and was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy period. He bowed to their demands that he stop. Billie defiantly refused and continued singing “Strange Fruit.” Many believe that her resistance led law enforcement to hound and arrest her in 1947 for drug possession. She served almost a year in prison, and her conviction disrupted her career for the rest of her life.
In 1950 Ethel was arrested with her husband Julius and charged with Conspiracy to Commit Espionage; they were convicted and sentenced to death. The government knew she had not committed espionage, but they held her as a hostage to coerce her husband into cooperating with the authorities. She refused to confess to something she did not do and backed her husband’s refusal to implicate others. The FBI files never claimed she was guilty, but consistently described her as “cognizant and recalcitrant.”
You might conclude that Billie and Ethel had similar talents and defied similar enemies.
Both died prematurely, victimized by law enforcement. Ethel was executed in 1953 at age 37, and Billie died in a hospital bed at age 44, while awaiting arraignment after another drug arrest.
Billie and Ethel followed different paths in life and probably never met, but they converged in death. High school English teacher, poet, and songwriter Abel Meeropol wrote “Strange Fruit” after seeing a photograph of a lynching. He played it for Billie Holiday in 1939, when she was performing at Cafe Society and she subsequently began performing it.
SAM FRAGOSO: The characters in each of the six stories within Wild Tales are rather angry, and understandably so. The whole film essentially amounts to a hilarious, satirical, and searing middle finger to bureaucracy and big, corrupt governments. Are you drawing from your own life and worldviews?
DAMIÁN SZIFRÓN: Yes, I'm taking images from real life. Mine, people I know, weddings I've been to. But they didn't end like that.
FRAGOSO: I was about to say, you've been to weddings like the one in your film?
SZIFRÓN: [laughs] No, but I've been to weddings where everybody knew things that the bride didn't or the groom didn't, and they were expensive and everything was controlled. And you can feel the violence and the tension there. Then I take those images into the world of fantasy and movies and I play with those ideas and I turn them into something else.
FRAGOSO: You seem to be interested in opening the floodgates.
SZIFRÓN: Yes. But I will say the violence preexists the violent confrontations. One guy drives the Audi and the other guy drives a very old car. One has air conditioner, the other doesn't. And that's violence. They both inherited those cars, those lives.
FRAGOSO: This is true. The press release says this is a film about "losing control." I mean, the story about that car being impounded, which forces the man to go to the DMV ... it's relatable. That frustration never subsides.
SZIFRÓN: Of course, that is the fold of the system. The system is designed, and all the people are fucked by that system. And all the people who work for the system are hostages. We all know the system is not made for our benefit. We are consumers and contributors, but the whole things benefits a very few people. It's a minor group.
FRAGOSO: What's disheartening is that you seem to be angrier about it than most people in the U.S.
SZIFRÓN: I think that in more developed countries or more powerful countries, the poor people of the U.S., the people that make the stuff that U.S. consumers buy, don't live in the U.S. Some of them do, but most don't. I'm sure that you feel the abuse of publicity, everybody trying to sell you something.
FRAGOSO: Sure, but the benefit of living in America is that it's incredibly easy to turn a blind eye—to ignorantly exist in this harmful, myopic mirage built for us. Does this happen in Argentina?
SZIFRÓN: Well, of course. It's the same system all over the place. It's something global.
FRAGOSO: The "cage" is what you call it.
SZIFRÓN: Yes, yes... I think of a cage, or a room with a very low ceiling that we have to crawl through. But you can feel that in many different things. For example, waking up with a machine that takes you off of your dream. I have a daughter now and she's five years old. And every time we wake her up, she's mad. I understand her, it's a natural need. Wanting to sleep more is like wanting to go to the bathroom. We get used to being interrupted on a daily basis. I think that's violent. Me? I'm a screenwriter, most of the time. Some of the time, I direct. So I wake up whenever I want. And I truly appreciated that, but very few people can do that. It's not normal, and I think in a logical world made for us, that would be normal. You wake up and you do your stuff.
FRAGOSO: Haven't you noticed how difficult it us to keep people in your life when you're on this bizarre schedule?
SZIFRÓN: Yes, of course. Everything is assigned before we are born. It's very hard to assign your own life and make your own decisions. If you want to get married, if you don't want to get married; if you want to live with this amount of money or not. . .
. . . .FRAGOSO: You seem very much opposed to capitalism.
SZIFRÓN: There's something there. Obviously, capitalism has good things also. Of course, they gave us the medium to do a lot of stuff. But I think that perhaps it's time to think about what we need and what we don't need anymore. I truly don't need to change my cell phone every year. I truly don't need that. I don't think I need a cell phone, but in case you need it and want to have it, I think we can build one that lasts for five years or 10 years. And you have your cell phone and you can stop looking for the new one.
FRAGOSO: But then the people creating those new phones wouldn't be making money.
SZIFRÓN: But the people who make money... are very few people. Most people spend money. Few people make real money. And the difference between who makes large amounts of money and the rest of the world is huge.
FRAGOSO: What's the economical disparity like in Argentina?
SZIFRÓN: I will not know the numbers, but each year it gets bigger. But I think it's a natural thing of how the system works. It gets bigger. That's the formula.
FRAGOSO: And where is this formula going to take us?
SZIFRÓN: I think it's exploding in some countries. Often, people who criticize other systems say that they didn't solve the world. But I don't think that capitalism has solved the world. I think that new stuff is going to appear at a point, and I think we have more technology and socially we cannot compete with the technology we already have. It's amazing, the cell phone that can send information and shoot images. The actual use is completely stupid. People are just chatting or tweeting and criticizing others. And so I think that the engineers and the amount of decisions that happened in the world to get to this is amazing and made by amazingly talented people. We're not able to establish priorities and make decisions that help the majority of us and would result in a better life for all.
FRAGOSO: But if the technology is so stupid, why do so many people use it?
SZIFRÓN: The technology is not stupid. What I'm saying is kind of obvious, and I think a lot of people feel like this. But you have to be very brave not to use a cell phone today, and I have to force myself a lot to read a book. It's very hard to read a book in this day because the Internet distracts you and you spend hours looking at a screen. So it's very hard to have a serious, deep conversation with somebody or spend a considerable amount of time understanding something.
I would say that stupidity is an addiction, and I know many, many addicts. And sometimes I notice that I am one of them. Just reading things that I already know, or things that I don't really care about. We are losing our time. Everything is made for us to consume, and the reason things are the way they are is because they benefit a very, very small amount of people who probably have some kind of illness. For me it's not that natural that once you get something you want more and more and more.
Most of the people I know, if they had $10 million they would go rest forever and ever. They wouldn't want $20 or $500 million. That's something that happens to very few people who are extremely ambitious that want things that they then don't know what to do with. Most of us would like to go to the beach to spend our lives with the people we love—with friends, with family and enjoy, not accumulate. The enjoyable things of life are very easy to get. They are all there. It amazes me when you go to a very expensive hotel boutique... there's nothing there. It's expensive because you don't have things. You have the forest. You have the river. You have a cabin made of wood. A fireplace. That's it. And that's extremely expensive today, just to get out of the cities and concrete and not to have cars and traffic. I feel that nonsense all over the place. I feel trapped in a world that I don't like with the thinking that we could have a much better and beautiful life.
Blake and Lee are so modern in their duets from 1966 that they must of resembled aliens from another planet to the public and strangely they seem so at home in today's all you can do sound environment. Why isn't this work better known. So American.
R: Yeah. And I remember Yola Brubeck on the plane. It was my first airplane flight.
R: We might have gone to San Francisco also, but we didn’t get too much audience support at Monterey. We did Golden Circle in Sweden, Bergen, Antibes… A whole European tour and nothing would happen in America. Bill Smith, a friend of Brubeck’s in Rome helped out in Rome and Palermo. We got some nice audience reaction. I know Max Gordon said we weren’t ready for the Vanguard, that I wasn’t very relaxed. And I probably was awkward as hell at the audition. I really was not a swinger. There really was not the beat. And I guess we loved more ballads, so that can be a little hard going. I know at Copenhagen, at the Montmarte, they didn’t want us. We would look back and ask, “Why did we do well at Golden Circle?” I never really made it much as a solo either. My only success was at the Whiskey Jazz Club in Madrid. Where I would be asked to go back. You know how much I admire Chris Connor and I’m not sure personal appearances were her most relaxing experience. The second trip with Jeanne Lee we spent some time in Belgium. There’s a photograph of a wonderful patron of the arts who also owned the nightclub. Jeanne and I would appear at the house and we would do soirees. Through this, I think, we met Ilyas Kistelink. There are some wonderful recordings in the Belgian television archives. I remember playing in Stuttgart opposite Cecil Taylor, Jeanne and I. Jeanne says you’re making a mistake going to Greece, remember that. You have 300-400 extra dollars. We finally got paid. I was a year or two older, but she had a wonderful grip on reality. I went and of course the junta took place. Nightmares. People invited back to Greece.
R: Well, she was over there a lot. I think there were Paris concerts, but we never toured again. She appeared at Jordan Hall…but there were not many concerts. I remember missing Paris so much. I’ve made 35 or 40 trips and I think I’ve had to pay for one in my life. It’s mostly been France. It’s so interesting because you can bomb in Paris, but people with a little power, if they like someone they can somehow get the money and bring you over. [page break] B: The record won an award also.
R: The Billie Holiday award. A lot of that was for Jeanne Lee’s interpretations. I know she was called the heir of Billie Holiday in Palermo. We got a lot of great press in Stockholm. We stayed for a month at the Hotel Neptune in Bergen. Through friends of friends. We played Kenny Clarke’s at St Germain du Pres. We did an evening in Paris and it was a little controversial. Nothing like Stravinsky, but some people said, “Where did the jazz go?” I know Trude Heller on Sixth Ave in NYC once suggested to Jeanne Lee that she drop me. Jeanne of course appeared with so many musicians, but at that time she said, “I won’t drop Ran.” I think it just had to do with the music. My piano playing didn’t have quite the bristle of Cecil. I loved Jeanne lee and Archie Shepp’s version of “Lover Man” and also “Blasé.”
A recording of Ran and vocalist Jeanne Lee from 1966 titled Free Standards that includes pop and jazz standards such as the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s” Night and Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” as well as several original compositions, has surfaced on a jazz blog.
Details on the recording are sketchy. Apparently it was made in 1966 in Stockholm at a friend of Ran’s house. Ran remembers the session but isn’t sure whether an album was officially released. The title doesn’t show up on Amazon or other official outlets, so it’s possible the album circulates a bootleg.
Fans of Ran and Jeanne’s groundbreaking 1962 album, The Newest Sound Around (currently out of print) will no doubt find the recording of interest. If you’re curious and internet savvy, for the moment you can check out MP3s of the recordings here.
If any readers know further details about this album or own a copy, please e-mail Ran.
What kind of music were you playing when you first became proficient on the instrument?
Well, proficiency is something we may have a hard time finding in my music, not to mention a moment when proficiency began. I am [comparing myself to] Justin Haynes, Mary Halvorson, Marc Ribot, and Sam Shalabi. These musicians are, of course, not only proficient, but mind-blowing as well.
My listening and my playing are not always obviously illustrative of each other, which I think is something that many musicians would also say. When I was playing in a post-punk band in the late eighties, I was listening to Dancehall Reggae, Bebop and some of the more lyrical music of the new romantic or post-new wave (Howard Jones, Cocteau Twins et al). As a young guitar player with a very limited knowledge of the instrument and of music in general, I looked for guitarist’s records in the record store and found Pat Metheny. I listened to a few of his records from the Eighties, though I cannot say that I listened very attentively. At that time I think I had a better time listening to Neil Young. Who knows what I will be listening to when I become proficient?
What led you to create experimental (non-mainstream) music?
Again, a point in time that is hard to pinpoint. Specifically speaking of the guitar, the first time I heard Derek Bailey or Eugene Chadbourne I knew I was hearing something that would stay with me, if only an abstract feeling I would continue to believe in. But these kinds of epiphanies, if you will, are never enough on their own. They are the easiest things to recall and to pass on as memories, starting points. After spending some time studying guitar with Lloyd Garber, I met some musicians in Toronto that were very much interested in similar sorts of things. With Martin Arnold, Ryan Driver, Doug Tielli, Stephen Parkinson, Allison Cameron, Dan Freidman, Rob Wannemaker, Mike Gennaro, along with some incredible visual artists and dancers (if we are to distinguish) I started to get involved in improvised and experimental music.
Whose music inspires you? Past and Present.
The past and present are very much on my mind right now. Two years ago I moved to Paris, and for financial reasons could not bring my CD collection with me. I put some things on my hard drive and that was it. I visited Toronto this summer and quickly pulled out some CD’s to bring back with me to Paris. Here are some of the things I brought:
[List included in full as it illustrates Chenaux’s eclectic influences]
King Jammy’s Dance Hall Collection
Peeping Tom: Boperation
6 CD’s by Toronto based composer Martin Arnold
Rudolf Komorous: Listening To Rain
Robert Ashley: Atlanta Acts of God
Nowegian Hardanger Fiddle records by:
Knutt Myrann, Hakon Hogemo, Torliev, and Sigmund Eikas
Pandit Pran Nath: Midnight
Elis Regina and Tom Jobim: Elis and Tom
Tvisongur: Icelandic Medieval vocal music
Robert Ashley: String Quartet Describing the Motions of Large Real Bodies, Automatic Writing andThe Wolfman
Peter Cusack and Max Eastley: Day For Night
This Heat: Deceit
Mohammed Jimmy Mohammed: Takkabel and Halgizey
Brian Eno: Discreet Music
The Howling Hex: Allnight Fox
T-Rex: A Beard of Stars
John Martyn: Live At Leeds
Gagaku (no other information in English)
Hallgrim Berg & Erik Roine: Munnharpa [Jaw Harp duo]
Gilius Van Bergeijk: Volume 1 and 2
Pandalis Karayorgis: Heart and Sack
Masayuki Takayanagi: Lonely Woman
Franz Koglman: L’Heure Bleue
City Of Salt: Towers Open Fire
Willie Nelson: Crazy: The Demo Sessions
Blue Gene Tyranny: Free Delivery, Go Blue Compositions By Blue Gene Tyranny, and Just For The Record
Dionne Warwick: Anyone Who Had A Heart
Peter Ablinger: Weiss/Weisslich
Walt Dickerson and Sun Ra: Visions
Masters of Piobaireachd: Volumes 1, 2, 3 [bagpipes]
Gavin Bryars: Hommages
Sun Ra Arkestra: Reflections in Blue and Standards
Christian Wolff: (Re):Making Music
Anne Briggs: A Collection
Camberwll Now: All’s Well
This Heat: This Heat
Richard Ayers: NO.31 et al
Ferrara Ensemble: En doulz chastel de Pavie
Helmut Lachenmann: Reigen seliger Geister
Karayorgis & Pakula: Lines
Syzygys: Complete Studio Recording
The McPeake Family: Wild Mountain Thyme
The Flying Lizards: The Secret Dub Life of the Flying Lizards
Steelye Span: Please to See the King
Lata Mangeshkar: In Many Different Moods
Kesarbai Kerkar (Hindustani classical vocalist)
In a totally different context with the quirky jazz group Drumheller
I only discovered the films of Luis Buñuel a few years ago. I had, of course, known of him even before that, but was simply born too late to have seen any of his films when they enjoyed considerable critical and even popular success, particularly in the 1960s and the 1970s. Luckily, I found a Buñuel box in my local video store in Berlin that mostly contained later films that he had directed during those two decades.
The first film that I watched was La voie lactée (The Milky Way, 1969). I was totally fascinated by its surreal plot. Its allusions to the role of religion in our lives were really fresh for me. Although surreal, the film has remarkable depth. Following this first exposure, I then watched all of the Buñuel films that I could find and became a fan.
For Buñuel de Jour, I picked certain essential films directed by Luis Buñuel to serve as a starting point, with each composition inspired by and named after a particular film, rather than using individual characters, locations or scenes from films as inspiration as I had done for the first two K-18 recordings. "El Padre" is an exception, as it is dedicated to Buñuel himself with no reference to a particular film.
Music was an important part of Buñuel´s early films, to such an extent that for his one silent film, Un chien Andalou (An Andalusian Dog, 1929), he created a soundtrack in 1960. For this sonorized version, Buñuel included the same music (Richard Wagner´s "Liebestod" from his opera Tristan und Isolde and two South American tangos) that he himself had played on a phonograph at the film´s premiere in Paris on June 6, 1929 in front of a small by-invitation-only audience counting among its members key avant-gardists of the time, including the film´s co-creator Salvador Dalí, George Auric, Christian Bérard, Jean Cocteau, Le Corbusier, Fernand Léger, Pablo Picasso and Tristan Tzara as well as André Breton and his entire surrealist entourage.
In some of his earlier films, Buñuel used music that was obviously inappropriate for the particular visual situation in which it was used, thereby creating a counter-point to it. This made music, in a way, more independent in these films and not subservient to the visual scenes by only coloring them as was and still is often the case in films.
What I really like about Buñuel´s later films in particular is that, in most cases, they only feature music when someone actually plays an instrument or a musical group performs in a particular scene or, for example, a radio or a gramophone is seen in the background. This way, music is always real in the particular scene. As a result, these later films also have long periods without any music, thereby leaving a lot of room for imagination and fresh musical ideas.
Luis Buñuel Portolés (February 22, 1900 - July 29, 1983) was a Spanish filmmaker who worked in France, Spain, the United States and Mexico. When Buñuel died at the age of 83, his obituary in the New York Times called him "an iconoclast, moralist, and revolutionary who was a leader of avant-garde surrealism in his youth and a dominant international movie director half a century later." His career was characterized by both its longevity and its amazing creativity. Still, the main targets of his social satire were consistent: the bourgeois way of life, religion and fascism in their many forms.
Buñuel´s first picture, Un chien Andalou, was made in the silent era in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, with whom Buñuel and poet Federico Garcia Lorca had formed the nucleus of the Spanish surrealist avant-garde movement in Madrid already before Buñuel moved to Paris in 1925. This first film still captivates new audiences whenever shown at film festivals or museums or by movie societies around the world, whereas his last film, Cet obscure objet du désir (That Obscure Object of Desire, 1977) - made 48 years later - was one of his greatest commercial successes and won him Best Director awards from the National Board of Review and the National Society of Film Critics. Writer Octavio Paz, who was a strong supporter of Buñuel after he had settled in Mexico following his blacklisting in the United States, where he had lived in 1938-45, because of his alleged communist past, called Buñuel´s work "the marriage of the film image to the poetic image, creating a new reality ... scandalous and subversive."
Buñuel was a master of both silent and sound cinema, of documentaries as well as feature films, and his work spans two continents, three languages and nearly every film genre, from melodrama, satire and musical to erotica, comedy and romance, from costume drama, fantasy and crime to adventure and even western. Still, filmmaker John Huston believed that, regardless of the genre, a Buñuel film was always so distinctive as to be instantly recognizable, something that most artists can only aspire to achieve with their work regardless of the media they utilize.
A COFFEE IN BERLIN (or “Oh Boy” as it was originally titled) depicts an everything-goes-wrong absurdist tragicomic tale of a man leading such a life. Meet Niko Fischer (Tom Schilling), a young man who’s dropped out of law school, dropped out of his relationship with his girlfriend Elli (Katharina Schuttler) and as his bombastic, vile (yet correct) father points out, drops out of everything.
Over the course of a day in this beautiful, black and white depiction of modern day Berlin, we learn how lonely and aimless Niko Fischer is, paralleling the false starts of Generation Y, while also pointing out how we can all have it worse. This is SLACKER with subtitles, a soulful jazz soundtrack and a winking sense of humor.
Niko Fischer must deal with bureaucracy, failing an “idiot test” to get his driver’s license back after he was caught driving under the influence. We don’t feel sorry for him, since he deserved to lose his driving privileges, but imagine having to take a psych test from a crazy, jackass psychologist if you ever run afoul of traffic violations, and you’ll quickly empathize with Niko’s plight.
Throughout the day, Niko can’t get what is probably the easiest thing to find in any metropolitan city: a cup of coffee. But that’s precisely the point. He can’t afford one, the coffee machine is out of order, it’s being cleaned, the warmer is empty, etc. It’s a comedy of errors, just like Niko’s life.
His only friend is Matze (Marc Hosemann), an older man who quotes TAXI DRIVER, while also essentially being Niko’s taxi driver. He’s an actor, but he hasn’t ever worked, because he’s waiting for the right role, like all of us. We’re waiting for the right job, a sign, a reason to get out of bed. When Niko’s father (rightfully) demands an explanation for what his son has been doing for the past two years since dropping out of school, Niko merely responds that he’s been “thinking.” You can imagine how that goes over. It’s a testament to Jan Ole Gerster’s visionary film that I want to hit Niko with a golf club, while simultaneously knowing exactly what he means.
My generation is filled with self-absorbed over-thinkers, constantly deliberating their next move, paralyzed to inaction. Once we finally make a decision, we instantly regret it, analyzing it over and over like we’re the central character in a soapy melodrama, wishing we had taken the other fork in the road, bemoaning our existence on social media. It’s not that dire, silly or universal a problem, but that’s sometimes how it feels, and that apathetic attitude is draped over this entire film.
A COFFEE IN BERLIN is quick to point out that nobody has figured it out. Niko’s creepy mess of a neighbor plays foosball by himself, and reveals his problems to a complete stranger within moments of meeting Niko, breaking down in tears because of his wife’s cancer (but mostly because they don’t have sex anymore). “Adults” don’t have it any better.