Film Review: Model Shop (dir by Jacques Demy)

The 1969 film, Model Shop, plays out like a dream.

The film tells a simple enough story.  In fact, it’s tempting to say that Model Shop is plotless though it actually isn’t.  There’s a plot but, in many ways, the film is more about how the story is told than the story itself.  Gary Lockwood plays George Matthews, a former architectural student who is currently living in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, Gloria (Alexandra Hay).  Gloria is an actress while George …. well, George is just a drop out.  Throughout the film, we get clues that George might have once cared about things (for instance, some of his friends are putting out an underground newspaper while another is into creating protest music).  However, by the time we meet him, George seems to be rather detached from life.  Of course, some of that may be due to the fact that, because he’s no longer in college, George is now eligible to be drafted and sent to Vietnam.  (The film was made in 1969, after all.)  In fact, George has just received his induction notice.  He basically has a week left before joining the army.  At one point, in a flat tone of voice, he says, “It feels like a death sentence.”

Getting drafted is not George’s only problem.  He’s also about to lose his beloved car!  George has a day to come up with a few hundred dollars so he can keep his beloved green roadster from being repossessed.  (In George’s defense, it is a pretty nice car.)  While Gloria goes off to shoot a soap commercial, George spends his day driving around Los Angeles and searching for money.  George has a lot of friends but most of them are too busy making music and setting up love-ins in Griffith Park to help him out.  George doesn’t want to call his mother for the money and when he tries to call his father, he gets a lecture about how his older brother served in Korea.  No one is willing to make any sacrifices to help out George.  That may have something to do with the fact that George is, at times, a tad whiny and a bit self-absorbed.

It’s while wandering around Los Angeles that George spots the beautiful Lola (Anouk Aimée).  The glamorous but sad Lola works at a model shop, a sleazy establishment where men pay to take her picture.  Lola has a tragic story of her own, one that finds her stranded in Los Angeles.  It all leads to a brief romance that’s as bittersweet as ennui in May.

(Ennui in May is also the title of a musical that I’ve been writing, off-and-on, since 2012.  Keep an eye out for more details!)

Model Shop was the first (and only) English-language film of French filmmaker Jacques Demy and one reason that the film seems so dream-like is because Demy wrote the dialogue-heavy script in French and then had it translated into English.  As such, this is an extremely talky film in which no one ever seems to have a real conversation.  (It should also be noted that what sounds beautiful and poetic in French can come across quite differently in the harsher tones of the English language.)  George, Gloria, and Lola all speak in pedantic, declarative sentences.  There’s none of the individual verbal quirks or changes in tone that would make it seem as if these were people having an actual conversation.  As well, nobody ever talks over anyone else.  No one ever attempts to interrupt anyone else’s train of thought.  At times, it seems like the cast is performing under the influence of hypnosis and they’ve been told, “Do nothing while anyone else is speaking.”  It creates a rather odd atmosphere.

Also adding to the film’s dream-like feel is Jacques Demy’s direction.  The pacing feels just a little bit off.  It’s not so far off as to harm the film.  In fact, the fact that everything seems to be moving just a little bit slower than expected is actually one of the film’s biggest strengths.  If nothing else, it reflects George’s own feelings of being on borrowed time.  Beyond that, though, Demy often seems less like a director than an anthropologist.  A good deal of the film is simply made up of shots of George driving around Los Angeles and one gets the feeling that Demy was more fascinated with capturing the unique style of America than with telling George’s story.  Demy directs the film like an outsider looking in and, as a result, he often seems to focus on the details of daily life — like the television and the billboards and the red Coke signs hanging over every store window — that Americans takes for granted.  At the start of the film, the camera lingers over an oil derrick, as if Demy is looking at this symbol of Americana and looking for clues to understand what makes America what it is.  Much as Michelangelo Antonioni did when he made Zabriskie Point, Demy seems to be trying to use this film to solve the riddle of America and how Americans — even with the country embroiled in an unpopular war — could remain so youthful and optimistic about the future.  Unlike Antonioni, Demy seems to be more bemused than angered by America’s contradictions.  Anonioni ended Zabriskie Point by blowing up a luxury, mountain-side home.  One gets the feeling that Demy would have found the same house to be rather charming.

Of course, the late 60s were a time when Hollywood studios felt that they were under attack, not just from television but from foreign films as well.  With all the critics talking about European films were superior to studio films in every way and young filmgoers flocking to foreign films, it would only make sense that the studios would would bring filmmakers over from Europe.  For the studios, it was a chance to try to convince people that they weren’t run by out-of-touch dinosaurs.  For the filmmakers, it was a chance to try to capture and explain America on film.  The end results were mixed, with many of the directors — like Fancois Traffuat and Michelangelo Antonioni — later testifying to the difficulty of trying to work with an American studio while having a European sensibility.  This was also true of Demy, who never did another English-language film after Model Shop.  Reportedly, Demy wanted to cast an unknown actor named Harrison Ford as George but Columbia Studios demanded that Demy use Gary Lockwood.  (Lockwood, of course, is best known for not showing a hint of emotion, even while hurtling to his death, in 2001: A Space Odyssey.)

Model Shop is definitely a film of it’s time, which is why I enjoyed watching it.  Yes, it’s pretentious and kind of silly.  But, at the same time, Demy is so fascinated with the Los Angeles of the late 60s that it’s hard not to share his fascination.  The film plays out like a dream of the past, like a time machine that puts you to sleep and then fills your head with images that you can see but you can’t quite reach.  It’s a time capsule, perfect for history nerds like you and me.

Someday, if films like Back to the Future and Happy Death Day 2U are any guide, we’ll have time machines and we’ll be able to personally experience the past.  Until then, we can watch films like Model Shop.

ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Bullwhip” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

If there’s one thing “Bronze Age” comics didn’t do, it was subtlety. It was alien to their very DNA. And your ability to accept this as fact will go a long way toward determining how much you enjoy — or don’t — All-Time Comics : Bullwhip #1, the second installment in Josh and Samuel Bayer’s post-modern take on 1970s super-hero comics.

Josh Bayer’s script is a mess (as is the Das Pastoras cover, if we’re being totally honest), but I don’t necessarily mean that in the pejorative sense — at times it’s a rather delightful mess, as nominally “feminist” (but really much more of a stereotypical male-fantasy take on an equally stereotypical dominatrix figure — entirely, I would contend, by design and not accident, since flubbing every lame attempt at portraying empowered women was a staple of comics “back in the day” — and, all too often, remains one to…

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ATC Week : “All-Time Comics : Crime Destroyer” #1

Ryan C.'s Four Color Apocalypse

With the recent release of All-Time Comics : Zerosis Deathscape #0, the opening salvo of the second “season” of this ongoing, idiosyncratic project — as well as the All-Time Comics trade paperback collection of “season” one (both published under the auspices of new “home” Floating World Comics) — now seems like a good time to look back to 2014/2015 and examine where the brothers Bayer have been in order to possibly limn out the parameters of where they’re going. A few general observations here, and then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of each issue as the week progresses —

First up, it’s gotta be said that this whole thing reads much better in trade than it did in single issues, even if I miss the cheap newsprint. The aims of creators Josh and Samuel Bayer with this concept are multi-faceted — and yeah, maybe even more than a bit muddled…

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One Hit Wonders #26: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett (RCA Victor 1964)

cracked rear viewer

New Zealand born, Canadian bred Gale Garnett sang her way to #4 on the Billboard charts during the summer of 1964 with a song that’s since become a summertime folk-rock classic, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine”:

Gale herself penned the tune and performed it with her band The Gentle Reign. Folk music was still big in those early days of Beatlemania, and Gale’s song, with it’s liltingly lovely harmonica and whistling refrains, had young lovers swooning in the summer breeze. Gale and her group copped a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Recording, and made the rounds of all the TV shows, but “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” was their one and only hit record.

But that didn’t stop Gale Garnett! She was already a starlet of note, appearing on TV shows like HAWAIIAN EYE, 77 SUNSET STRIP, and BONANZA, and would soon be featured in animated form as the beautiful…

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Film Review: An Innocent Man (1989, directed by Peter Yates)

Jimmie Rainwood (Tom Selleck) is an aeronautics engineer who, with the exception of once getting arrested for marijuana possession in college, has lived a clean and productive life.  Mike Parnell (David Rasche) is a corrupt narcotics detective with a raging coke habit.  When Parnell and his partner, Scalise (Richard Young), get a tip about a house where drugs are hidden, Parnell is so coked up that he gets the address wrong.  They end up breaking into Jimmie’s house and, when Jimmie steps out of the bathroom holding a hair dryer, Saclise shoots him.

Jimmie survives getting shot but that’s the least of his problems.  In order to cover up their mistake, Parnell and Scalise frame Jimmie.  They replace the hair dryer with a gun.  They plant drugs in Jimmie’s house.  Because of his previous marijuana conviction, no one believes Jimmie when he says he was set up.  Convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit, Jimmie is sentenced to six years in prison.  While his wife (Laila Robins) does everything that she can to get him released, Jimmie is preyed upon by the other prisoners.  His only friend is Virgil (F. Murray Abraham), a veteran prisoner who shows Jimmie that he’s going to have to do some terrible things to survive being in prison.

As he showed when he directed Bullitt, the late Peter Yates was a director who could make even the most conventional genre material feel fresh and that is what he did with An Innocent Man.  Made at a time when American leaders bragged about their devotion to the war on drugs, An Innocent Man is critical of both the police and a legal system that cares more about punishment than rehabilitation.  Even if the plot is predictable, the film is gritty enough to make an impression.  Jimmie is so victimized and Parnell and Scalise are so smug that, by the time Jimmie finally has a chance to orchestrate his revenge, you can’t wait to see the cops get what’s coming to them.

Part of the appeal of An Innocent Man is that it features actors who you normally would not expect to appear in a film like this.  Tom Selleck, best-known for playing upright authority figures, plays a frightened man who is forced to sacrifice his humanity to survive.  When the movie started, I was skeptical that Selleck could pull off the role but, by the end of the film, he had the thousand-yard stare of a man who had been to Hell and back.  Meanwhile, David Rasche, best known for his work in sitcoms, is more than convincing as the most corrupt narc around.  Best of all is F. Murray Abraham, playing the seasoned convict who knows how to get things done in prison.  When he tells Jimmie that he has to “take of care of this,” even if it means committing a real crime, you believe him.  By the end of An Innocent Man, nobody’s innocent anymore.

Titans, S1 E2, “Hawk and Dove” Review by Case Wright (Dir. Brad Anderson)

titansI used to say that Hope was a useless emotion. So many things come close and never quite make it. A surgery, a marriage maybe, finding the right job, or a myriad of things we try for and fail. As we get older, our hope is hesitant and reality becomes our future.

Titans encapsulates those near misses and the familiar heartbreak that doesn’t sting like it used to.  It is the most brutally realistic show I’ve ever seen.  It’s almost like watching a documentary.  This is really what it would be like if heroes were real and we can see their touchstone in the faces of Veterans.

Brad Anderson wherever you are- You can bring it!  The PTSD of this show is Battlestar Galactica levels of real.  The fight scenes are sometimes hard to watch, but you can’t look away.  You really can show disappointment.  This episode was all about coming up short.  You missed it by this much!  It’s Superhero Noir.

The episode introduces Hank and Dawn/Hawk and Dove.  They are a tough duo with a history with Dick/Robin.  By history, Dove and Robin knocked boots.  Dick failed Dawn.  Dawn failed Hank.   Now, Dawn and Hank are living on the margins, trying to take down/ripoff a gunrunner or just die.  It’s sad.  Hank gets beat up a lot, he needs a new hip, he’s alcoholic, addicted to pain pills, and steroids.  Dawn is resigned to her fading life with a broken man who will need long-term care- if he lives.  She has a broken partner and she pines for Dick Grayson; the true love of her life.

Dick has the great idea to abandon Rachel with this well-adjusted duo in DC.  It works out…..terribly.  Dick agrees to help Hank and Dawn ripoff of the gunrunner and he proceeds … well …see below.  There’s hedge clippers to the balls and a throwing star R to the eye.  It is brutal.  To be fair, Dick doesn’t believe that he is father material.  Well, maybe he’s right?!  Unfortunately for Rachel, Dick is all she’s got because the cult that is out to kill Rachel has tracked Dick down to DC.

The cult has a Leave it to Beaver family juiced up on super steroids and they totally beat the snot out of Hank, Dick, and Dawn.  Dawn is thrown off a building for good measure and appears to be dying.  Rachel is kidnapped by the cult….again.

What makes this show great is that they are trying to make rational choices, but life still wins and they still lose.  They are competent, but just outmatched.  Titans taps into real humanity because success is rare, they understand how flawed they are, and they’re just not good for anyone.  The photo below of Dawn looking down on her broken drug-addled boyfriend summed up the whole episode: Hank to Dawn: I promise this time will be different and Dawn’s face says – no… no it won’t, but it’s nice for you to try.

Minka Kelly, Alan Ritchson, Brenton Thwaites, and Teagan Croft’s performances were so painfully spot on.  You felt that their failure was yours.



Music Video of the Day: Robert De Niro’s Waiting… by Bananarama (1984, directed by Duncan Gibbins)

Robert De Niro might not seem as if he would be the most likely of subjects for a teenage love song but this song is hardly a traditional love song.  The song was originally conceived as being sung from the point of view of a girl who deals with the trauma of being raped by escaping into a pretend world where Robert De Niro is her boyfriend.  By the time the song was actually recorded, the rape angle had been dropped but this it’s still darker than your normal teen crush song.

Originally, the subject of the song was going to be Al Pacino, which might have made more sense.  (Remember that while Robert De Niro was shooting pimps in Taxi Driver, posters of Al Pacino as Serpico were decorating dorm rooms.)  However, it was decided that, musically, Robert De Niro sounded better than Al Pacino.

This video features the members of Bananarama being followed by two “gangsters” who could have stepped out of a De Niro film.  It was directed by Duncan Gibbins, a talented director who tragically died in 1993.  I wrote more about Gibbins and his career when I reviewed his video for Smuggler’s Blues.