Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Pretty Little Heads

Events pile up. Look at the Miklós Jancsó sidebar program at the Walter Reade Theater. Part of their Hungarian Cinema survey, I've seen Electra, My Love (1974) and The Round-Up (1965) (with The Red and The White (1967) DVD aching to be viewed). The Round-Up is a stunner. Hungarian rebels agitating against the Austrian Hapsburg Empire are arrested and placed in a makeshift prison. The authorities don't know which are rebels and which peasants, so they set up ruthless traps for them to reveal themselves, and to encourage betrayals. Jancso's compositions are made up of shifting diagonals, line-ups of suspects and robotically trained troops. The authorities are mechanical in their methods, separating a few from the group, threatening the death penalty for all if none talk, and then depart, waiting for one or both to crack. Jancso's camera circles these doomed individuals with exacting grace, exposing the impossibility of escape and the practical genius of their brutal keepers.

Electra is less brilliant. Jancso shifts Euripides' tragedy to the Hungarian countryside, adding a folk singer as the
chorus. Here his constantly moving camera swoops around huge masses of people acting out bizarre rituals. One group rhythmically whips the ground, another links arms for a traditional dance involving lots of hopping. The hills are covered in candles. The specatcle can be overwhelming one moment and gratingly pretentious another.

The Museum of the Moving Images's complete Jacques Rivette retrospective begins on Friday, and I'm steeling myself for a crash course in this conspiratorial minded director. The big story here, of course, is the screening of
Out 1 (1971) on December 9 and 10. It's his 12 and a half hour opus of a theater group's improvisations with some sort of Balzacian mystery thrown in. Rarely shown - I'm pumped. Read Dennis Lim's brief history of the film to further whet your appetite.

The only Straub-Huillet film I've seen is The Chronicle of Anna Magdelena Bach (1968) a biography through music of Bach (it consists of long takes of performances). Best bio-pic ever? Probably. Rigorously beautiful tracking shots of Bach performing - it says everything without saying anything, that sort of thing. Well, Daniele Huillet died last month - and FIPRESCI's online magazine, Undercurrents, offers a great tribute in its latest issue, including appreciations by Jonathan Rosenbuam, Chris Fujiwara, and the editors of Cahiers du Cinema.

The Country Music Awards were fun. Especially Faith Hill's reaction after losing the best female vocalist award to American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. When C-Und's win was announced, Faith visibly yelled "What!" and stalked off camera. She claims it was a joke, and that everybody should calm down. Whatever her intentions it was beautiful television, plus her "Like We Never Loved At All" is hands down a better tune than "Jesus, Take the Wheel." Of the 17 performances I counted during the show (how an awards show should be run), the standouts were Alan Jackson's "Red Like A Rose" (also one of the best albums of the year), Brad Paisley doing a love song, Miranda Lambert with "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend", and Vince Gill with some uplifting thing at the end.

The new Nellie McKay album is superb. The adorable photos in the CD case are better.

Oh, and Rossellini at MoMA!


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