Every month, A Place for Film brings you a selection of films from our group of regular bloggers. Even though these films aren’t currently being screened at the IU Cinema, this series reflects the varied programming that can be found at the Cinema and demonstrates the eclectic tastes of the bloggers. Each contributor has picked one film that they saw this month that they couldn’t wait to share with others. Keep reading to find out what discoveries these cinephiles have made, as well as some of the old friends they’ve revisited.
Jack Miller, contributor | Puce Moment (1949)
The films of Kenneth Anger often remind me of ravishing, glittering jewels. These are works of mysterious, almost frightening visual expression, handsomely coloured in vivid hues which occasionally recall the hand-tinting of silent cinema as well as the Technicolor epiphanies of ‘50s Sirk melodramas. But for all the intoxicating, baroque detail of Anger’s images, the films remain nearly impossible to classify in dramatic or literary terms. One might plausibly conclude that Anger’s images are so resolutely personal that they remain tantalizingly cryptic to the distant observer.
Puce Moment, an early entry in Anger’s Magick Lantern Cycle (1947-1972), is a fragment of an incomplete, longer work that was to be called “Puce Women” and focus on the lives of silent film stars in Hollywood. The film deals with a reaction of sorts, but one that’s based in the texture of garments and the scent of perfume rather than in psychedelic drugs. We observe a series of dance-like movements emanating from the fabric of 1920s gowns being removed from a clothing rack, and an unnamed woman (Yvonne Marquis, Anger’s cousin) draping her face in them. The pleasures of the film partially arise out of its textual juxapositions: on the soundtrack, Anger placed two haunting psych folk songs by Jonathan Halper, “Leaving My Old Life Behind” and “I Am a Hermit.” Like the woman’s trance-like reactions toward her glamourous possessions, much of the power of the film comes from a kind of alchemical reaction between sound and image.
The full, 6-minute film can be seen on YouTube:
Michaela Owens, Editor | The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)
Because 2020 has been such a colossal disaster, I’ve been embracing my two favorite holidays, Halloween and Christmas, much too early this year as a way to bring myself comfort and sanity. This means my Christmas shopping is already 80% done, my Yuletide décor is all planned, my house has been decorated for Halloween since late August, and I’ve been getting a head-start on my watchlist of spooky films. One movie that I’ve heard a lot about and finally got around to seeing this month was The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, a delightful comedy starring Don Knotts that I haven’t stopped thinking about for a week now because it made me feel so good.
It seems strange to say that considering the plot involves a bloodcurdling murder-suicide and a cobweb-infested haunted house, but there is a sweetness and a warmth to the film that I couldn’t get enough of thanks to the small-town setting, the dazzling cast of character actors (Reta Shaw! Charles Lane! Philip Ober! Ellen Corby!), and the endearing wannabe reporter at the center of it all, Knotts’s Luther Heggs. And then there is Vic Mizzy’s score. I absolutely love Mizzy, especially his work on one of my most beloved TV shows, The Addams Family. His music for The Ghost and Mr. Chicken is very similar — which means it is incredible — and it goes perfectly with the film’s creepy, kooky, altogether ooky vibes.
Although the story is a little predictable and Luther’s romantic interest, Alma (Joan Staley), doesn’t have much to do, I can already tell that The Ghost and Mr. Chicken will be making me laugh for many, many more Halloween seasons to come.
Jesse Pasternack, contributor | One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977)
I greatly enjoyed IU Cinema’s recent event in which A Place for Film blog contributor David Carter discussed the life and work of Agnès Varda with associate professor Joan Hawkins. David’s comments led me to finally seek out a film of hers I have been eager to see called One Sings, the Other Doesn’t. I’m glad that I did, because I found it to be a beautifully crafted film whose feminist sensibility makes it particularly relevant at this point in time.
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is about a young woman nicknamed “Pomme” (which is French for “apple”) who loans money to a young mother named Suzanne to have a then-illegal abortion in 1962 France. They lose touch but meet at a demonstration ten years later. Their chance reunion leads the two dissimilar women (Suzanne is a level-headed family planner and Pomme a bohemian singer/songwriter) to rekindle their friendship over a lively exchange of postcards and a shared female solidarity.
People often describe Varda’s films as being ahead of her time in terms of technical innovation. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t clearly falls into this category. Her use of close-ups of photos to establish the mood of this film is strikingly similar to the photo montage that begins She’s Gotta Have It (1986). Her tracking shots display a speed and adroit exploration of film space that led filmmaker Mark Cousins to justly compare her to Orson Welles and Max Ophüls in his new documentary Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema. Even brief shots, such as one that seems to be from the POV of an older camera as its image of Pomme changes color after taking a photo of her, is reflective of Varda’s iconic innovative spirit when it came to using film form to tell a story.
One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is even more timely in terms of its thematic content. Pomme and Suzanne’s efforts to keep their friendship alive in the face of great distance will be relevant to anyone trying to keep in touch with a friend in quarantine, even if Zoom now makes that process easier. Pomme and Suzanne’s political engagement will be relevant to anyone who has gotten more involved in politics since the 2016 election. But arguably the most relevant aspect of this movie is how Varda grounds their lives in a distinctly feminist sensibility.
Both Pomme and Suzanne find that other women strengthen their identities. Pomme’s “family of women” encourage her creativity and songwriting, while Suzanne finds professional fulfillment working with other women in family planning. This sense of female solidarity gives you an idea of how women were able to win such victories as legalized abortion and greater protections against discrimination based upon biological sex. At the same time, the decades-long attack on abortion rights around the world, as well as the looming potential confirmation of abortion rights opponent Amy Coney Barrett to the U.S. Supreme Court, makes this liberatory spirit as well as a sequence in which women protest for their right to have an abortion more moving.
As a massive Criterion Collection boxset will attest, Varda had a long and productive career. She made many masterpieces that demonstrated her brilliant eye for technical innovation and massive heart for people who mainstream society has not normally treated with respect. Both qualities course through One Sings, the Other Doesn’t like blood through a vein. It is a beautiful story of the efforts it takes to keep a friendship alive, as well as a cry for female autonomy that Varda most directly conveys in a lyric that she wrote for one of Pomme’s songs. It is a lyric that is increasingly poignant in America because of an ideologically changing Supreme Court, but one that will always be true: “My body is mine.”