Tag: New Wave

Film Classics: Mickey One

Mickey One

directed by Arthur Penn
starring: Warren Beatty, Alexandra Stewart, Hurt Hatfield, Franchot Tone
USA 1965; screened 19 September 2008 at the Silent Movie Theatre, Los Angeles

In the mid-1960s, Warren Beatty worked to push the envelope of possible leading man roles in Hollywood. Influenced by the anti-heroes and non-commital style of the French New Wave, he sought as actor and producer to move away from the typical pretty boy roles in bland films that other Hollywood actors were performing.

In the rarely-screened Mickey One, he plays a stand-up comic on the run from the mobsters who gave him his start and now own him. Such a plot sounds like the set-up for a farce along the lines of Some Like It Hot, but in the hands of Beatty and director Arthur Penn, it becomes instead a dark, paranoia-filled trip through the underbelly of the nightclub industry. It’s never entirely clear whether the mob is still after Mickey as he slowly returns to the stage, supported by Jenny, the girl who urges him that his fears are unfounded. The hints that they are may merely be in his head, transferred to the audience through our identification with him.

Unfortunately, Beatty and Penn don’t always get the tonal balance between American crime film and New Wave drama quite right. New Wave heroes project a devil-may-care bravado even over their inner fears – a confidence Mickey can’t even believably feign most of the time. He desperately wants to know who exactly is after him, why, and what he can do to either confront and eliminate them or escape them permanently; but he is too afraid to actually try to find out – until the end when recklessness overcomes even his paranoia. The only times the awkward tension between deterministic apathy and paranoid truth-seeking seems to work unequivocally are during Mickey’s comedy routines (including his impromptu goofing when he first meets Jenny). When he’s performing, his forced bravado and tormented anguish merge uncomfortably, yes, but believably, turning him into the chatty version of Truffaut and Godard’s quietly desperate characters – he just wears his desperation on the outside instead.

The difficulty of melding New Wave styles into American film stems, to some degree, from the philosophical differences between France and the United States in the early to mid 1960s. France had lost two World Wars (or won only with foreign aid after surrendering), undergone a painful conflict with Algeria, and was nearing the political upheavals of the late 1960s – combined with the influence of existentialism, the fatalism of New Wave heroes is not wholly unexpected. The United States was still riding the tail end of the post-war boom, and though American noir of the 1940s and 50s had its share of existential heroes, American films tend to be more optimistic. (And the 1960s mainstream Hollywood that Beatty was reacting against could be almost sickeningly optimistic.) Yet, it’s not an impossible feat – Beatty and Penn would incorporate New Wave style into a quintessentially American story perfectly only two years later in Bonnie & Clyde. So count Mickey One as a not wholly successful but still extremely interesting and worthwhile experiment on the way to the heights of Bonnie & Clyde.

*note: I’m sure there are other influences on Mickey One; Cassavetes seems probable. I use the New Wave because I’m more familiar with it, and sort of in love with it right now. Plus the programmer at the Silent Movie Theatre mentioned the New Wave in relation to Mickey One and Bonnie & Clyde, so I had it in my head while I was watching the film.

Above Average

June 2007 Reading/Watching Recap

I did not watch or read a lot of great stuff in June. I think I gravitated toward somewhat mindless fare on the movie side due to the effort of reading (skimming?) two novels a week for class, and the reading was dictated completely by the class–which was on Joseph Conrad, D.H. Lawrence, and Virginia Woolf. I’m glad I read the Conrad and the Lawrence for the experience of it, but I didn’t really enjoy either of them. Woolf, of course, I’m in love with. Her writing. That is. After the jump, reactions to Babel, Pretty in Pink, Dogville, Anchorman, Zoolander, Ocean’s Thirteen, Borat, A Woman is a Woman, Paris, je t’aime, Ratatouille, Nostromo, Sons and Lovers, Women in Love, To the Lighthouse and others.

(There are a lot of links in the post…let me know if you try one and it’s broken, okay?)

Cinema Yearning

I mentioned yesterday being obsessed with Paris lately; a good chunk of that is watching more French films, most of them set in Paris (Godard‘s Band of Outsiders and Une femme est une femme, Melville‘s Bob le flambeur, the recent Avenue Montaigne and Paris, je t’aime). Also, trying to learn more about the French New Wave, which grew up in Paris, around the Cinematheque Française. When considering the question of what historical time and place I would want to go back to if I could go back in time, I always used to say the Old West, around the time the railroads were being built. I’d still like that, but I think now I might choose 1950s-60s Paris, so I could attend the Cinematheque Française and witness the revitalization of American genre film and the birth of the New Wave. Not to mention getting to see all those classic films on the big screen with other cinephiles! This video clip is from a documentary about Bernardo Bertolucci‘s film The Dreamers, which is set in the mid-1960s, when the Cinematheque founder Henri Langlois was removed from its administration by the French government, much to the outrage of the film community. I’ve reedited the clip a bit to highlight the Cinematheque more than The Dreamers. ;) The first male voiceover is Bertolucci, and the color clips are from The Dreamers; Matthew is the main character of the film. The rest is documentary footage from the 1960s.

*sigh* Ah, well.

If I can’t go to the original Cinematheque Française (it still exists, but in a different place, and obviously Langlois is no longer around), can I at least go to New York’s Film Forum? Look at their list of showings this summer: Metropolis, Laura, Sorry, Wrong Number, The Lost Weekend, Taxi Driver, Cat People, Rear Window, Rope, The Wrong Man, Wait Until Dark, Love Me Tonight, Queen Christina, Silk Stockings, Blood and Sand, The 400 Blows, La Chinoise…and more! Wow. If I lived in New York, I fear movie-going would threaten to overshadow rent in significant expenses. Maybe I could just live at Film Forum. That’d be more efficient.

To Ponder – The New Wave, Modern or Postmodern?

I have pondered before whether the French New Wave was perhaps when Modernism hit film, after it hit literature in the 1920s…there still might be some things to support that, but having now seen a few more Jean-Luc Godard films, it’s clear he’s very much postmodern in his reappropriation of earlier film, hugely self-conscious techniques, etc. I’m working on a paper comparing Modernism to Postmodernism in the literary sphere, and the more I read about, the more I think that in a way, Modern vs. Postmodern is a mindset, almost…there were writers doing Postmodern things in the 1920s, and there were Modernist writers in the 1960s–certainly I’m having trouble believing that Postmodernism is as much a rejection of Modernism as Postmodernists would like us to think; it seems to me much more an extension and enlarging than a rejection. Anyway, here’s my new pondering: Is it possible that François Truffaut, with his detached yet subjective philosophical realism which owes more to the high art Italian Neorealism than it does to American B cinema, is the Modernist side of the New Wave and Godard, with his self-reflexivity and dependence on intertextual tropes from low-art crime film, is the Postmodern side? I’m not sure that wholly holds up, either…I’m about to rewatch Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player, which is more heavily influenced by American genre film. This pondering is stemming from the differences between The 400 Blows (Truffaut’s first and arguably most important film) and Breathless (Godard’s equivalent masterpiece).

Modernism and the Nouvelle Vague…

To ponder…

The French New Wave is to cinema what the Modernist Novel is to fiction.

“In the novel, writers like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce tried to evoke ‘inner speech’ or ‘stream of consciousness,’ through associative and fragmented forms, omitting verbs, pronouns, connectives, and articles, and leaving sentences uncompleted. A number of filmmakers, interestingly, have shown interest in cinematically rendering inner speech. [Literary theorist and linguist Mikhail] Bakhtin’s contemporary [filmmaker and film theorist Sergei] Eisenstein repeatedly expressed a desire to render the stream-of-consciousness monologues of Joyce’s Ulysses, and [New Wave director and film critic Jean-Luc] Godard, in both Une femme mariée (1964) and Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), approximates inner speech through discontinuous and fragmentary voice-over commentaries” (Robert Stam, “The Theory and Practice of Adaptation,” 2005).

Modernism and post-modernism hit film nearly the same time, in the 1960s-1970s. Golden-Age-Hollywood-era film (1930s-1950s) is equivalent to 19th-century fiction. Modernism in fiction hit in the 1920s, but was disrupted by WWII and post-war concerns, resurfacing as post-modernism in the 1960s. Postmodernism in literature is not a reaction against modernism, but a continuation and extension of it.

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