• Ravi Swami

Films about Filming - 3 documentaries, 1974, 1975 and 2014

Updated: Feb 6



Mubi Channel, hosted by AppleTV in the UK contains an interesting line-up of documentaries, ranging from films by Agnes Varda that span her prolific career, such as "Daguerrotypes" (1975) , watched a few days ago and which takes a look at the various small businesses in the immediate vicinity of Varda's Paris neighbourhood and which serves as an object lesson in how to find a subject and make a film when options are limited (in Varda's case because she was bringing up her young children) - Varda ran an electricity cable from her home to power the film equipment and the length of it dictated how far she could film along her street.


The end result is a charming piece of observational documentary that details various family-run shops and businesses whose time is running out as the proprietors face the inevitability of retirement, having established in the immediate post-war years and earlier.


"About Some Meaningless Events", a Moroccan drama-documentary and released a year earlier in 1974 has the hallmarks of an experimental film that takes its' lead from the French New Wave (of which Agnes Varda was a leading member) in many respects, and is an attempt at making an impression on the cinematic landscape of Morocco of the 1970's - it's not an area that I'm very familiar with other than knowing that Indian cinema is popular there, as it is across the Middle East, so I thought I'd check it out.


The documentary element that forms the basis for the film is a vox-pop survey being conducted by the film-makers in a Moroccan bar, where they ask random customers for their opinions on Moroccan films, what they would like to see and so on, the purpose being to formulate a new movement in Moroccan cinema along the lines of the French New Wave movement.


Alongside this there is a developing parallel plot concerning some shady goings-on that may lead to a murder, revealed by the film crew clandestinely recording the conversations between certain customers using mostly long lenses to avoid detection.


The resulting close-up visual style is what makes the film hard to watch since apart from the latter part of the film where the film moves to exteriors, the majority of the film is set in a smoky bar full of people getting drunk and where one to two people fill the frame engaged in intimate conversations.


The film ends as the director and crew conduct a point-mortem on the project and I was left wondering how much of the film was straight documentary and how much was rehearsed drama in the conventional sense. For example, a bar-room brawl breaks out at one point and there is the inescapable feeling that director is playing with form by referencing a genre.


Overall, it's an interesting experiment that may have led to a renaissance in local cinema, which up to that point consisted of imitations of Western formulas or romantic soap-operas.


"Seduced and Abandoned" cheekily and perhaps intentionally by means of a reference, takes its' title from Pietro Germi's film of the same name and that is reviewed in a previous post.


Producer James Toback and actor Alec Baldwin embark on a journey to help finance a re-make of "Last Tango in Paris", starring, naturally, Baldwin, partly as an attempt to resurrect his career, at the Cannes Film Festival, and the film documents their various meetings with film directors and producers, superficially as an examination of the often arduous process of marketing a film project at the festival with no guarantee of success.


Frankly, I think their intended project sounded either very inadvisable or was just a ruse take the p*ss out of the whole film-making circus that Cannes is by two Americans, one of whom (Baldwin) was a stranger to the festival, as Toback spins his idea past various bemused people like Bernardo Bertolluci (director of the original "Last Tango in Paris"), Martin Scorcese or actors like Ryan Gosling, with the plot of their intended film becoming increasingly outlandish in the process, as if Toback and Baldwin are having a huge laugh at their expense.


Having visited the festival twice myself and finding it a dispiriting experience consisting of trying to gatecrash parties, running up and down the Croisette or gawping at all the flaunting of wealth, my takeaway is that you should avoid it at all costs unless you have something concrete to sell, just want to watch films or simply desire to experience the Mediterranean location - albeit a very crowded one - and it will be interesting to see how the town has survived the pandemic in terms of attracting the vast numbers of people that formerly thronged there annually for the festival and other events - in every other respect, as a holiday coastal resort in the South of France, there is a lot to appreciate, however.


After watching the film I googled James Toback, since I wasn't aware of his work and discovered the same sordid trail of abuse as that of Harvey Weinstein, and suddenly his aptitude for seducing potential investors with promises of fame and revenue if they invested in his films took on a different, more sinister, significance, lending some ambiguity and dual meaning to the films' title.

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