Reviews

'Three Popular Films by Jean-Pierre Gorin' Depict a Divided America

This collection provides some of the most important works of a very influential filmmaker, whose work (unfortunately) is rarely distributed outside the festival circuit.


My Crasy Life

Director: Jean-Pierre Gorin
Distributor: Criterion
Release date: 2012-01-17

Most cinéphiles know Jean-Pierre Gorin from his collaboration with Jean-Luc Godard and the Dziga Vertov group. After the strike events of the May of 1968 in France, Gorin and Godard formed the group and produced various political films such as, Un Film comme les autres (A Film Like the Others), British Sounds/See You at Mao, Pravda, Le Vent d'est (Wind from the East), Luttes en Italie (Struggles in Italy), Jusqu'à la victoire (Until Victory/Palestine Will Win), Vladimir et Rosa (Vladimir and Rosa), Tout va Bien and Letter to Jane. Drawing upon Bertolt Brecht’s dictum that ‘art is not a reflection of reality but a hammer to shape it’, the group aimed at producing films which would not simply entertain, but would make the public perceive the historicity of the world they live in and eventually change it.

In 1972, the group dissolved and Gorin followed a different career path making documentaries and teaching at the University of California in San Diego. These documentaries illuminate aspects of America’s culture, as well as of its political and social flaws in very sophisticated ways.

The first film, Poto and Cabengo, tells the story of Grace and Virginia Kennedy, a pair of twins, who spoke in their own private language – a mixture of German and English. The twins attracted the mainstream media’s attention during the '70s, but it was Gorin who realised that the their language was not a private language, but ‘a patchwork of southern lingo spoken by their father and of the deformations imposed on the English language by their German born mother’. In placing his emphasis on the twins, Gorin puts forward the conjecture that language is not the neutral interpretation of the world, but a social construction, per se.

Meanwhile, the filmmaker draws our attention to the social construction of the everyday life and the certainties of the American culture raising issues regarding the myth of America being the land of equal opportunities and the lack of welfare state in the USA. Throughout, Gorin does not hide the fact that what we see is a film, thus he does not aspire to put forward claims to objectivity as many documentary filmmakers do.

By contrast, it's by means of an experimental attitude, that he invites us to rethink and debunk our social certainties and prejudices. One needs to address his employment of sound as a means of creating counterpoints to the images and here it is worthwhile quoting Kent Jones. As he says: “Does anyone else use sound as a totally filmic weapon?” wrote Farber of Godard.

The same could be said of Gorin’s fix on the spoken word in Poto and Gabengo, and throughout the trilogy, a matter of tireless, ethnographic curiosity, slaphappy connoisseurship, and an immigrant intellectual’s ironically tinged boosterism of his new culture – in fact, the title of one of Godard’s finest and least known works nicely sums up this side of Gorin’s cinematic enterprise: Puissance de la Parole. In Poto and Cabengo, you can practically taste the filmmaker’s joy as he circles around the katzenjammerian speech patterns of Chris Kennedy, the raunchy vulgarity of her Hispanic neighbours, and Tom Kennedy’s depressed Georgia drawl, and then contrast these voices with the squeaky-clean cadences of the speech therapists and linguists, perfectly enunciating every syllable of their expert opinions.

Gorin’s interest in sounds and language is evident in the second film of this collection My Crasy Life (spelling intentionally wrong). The film is about a Samoan street gang in Long Beach, and explores the gangster community with its own rules, language, ethics and culture. Gorin is not a moralist, but his gesture to make a film about a community which is rarely depicted in the cinema, is indicative of his intention to debunk the unified image of the American society that the Hollywood industry puts forward.

By contrast, Gorin proposes an image of the USA as a divided society and this division is dexterously proposed by the emphasis on the gangster’s accents, their music and their verbal bravado. As Gorin states ‘it is a basic problem to be able to hear the social music we are involved in’. The audience is given the chance to hear this social music, but the director does not impose it on us. The film is a combination of documentary and fiction, in which the members of the gang are asked to re-enact typical activities and they answer hypothetical questions about vengeance, their hate of other gangs and their view of their ‘homies’ as being their real family.

The last film, Routine Pleasures, takes as its subject a club devoted to model trains. Gorin sets out to answer the question ‘what do these recreations of the past mean’. Gorin situates the model-train crew evoking the all-male groupings in Howard Hawks’s Only Angels Have Wings (1939). Gorin seems to imply that these detailed recreations in the model landscapes signified a willingness to freeze time and history and provide those involved with a sense of historical closure and safety from the workings of history, something that reached its peak during the Reagan era.

This collection provides some of the most important works of a very influential filmmaker, whose work (unfortunately) is rarely distributed outside the festival circuit. It's a must for all those interested in art cinema and documentary, as well as for anyone interested in politics and representation. The only problem with this collection is that apart from Kent Jones’ written notes on the films, there are no extras. Such a good collection of films deserved some extras that could introduce Jean-Pierre Gorin to the ‘non-initiated’.

9

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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