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Two books and one DVD that you should not hesitate to buy/rent/steal:

These movies don’t need my recommendation, but the collection itself, with its wealth of extras and (as always) immaculate transfers, is worth its weight in a precious metal slightly less expensive than gold but more expensive than silver. I don’t know what that metal is, but if you find out: bingo!

 

Jean-Patrick Manchette wrote more than just these two masterpieces of existentialist French noir, but these two are my favorite. Both are available in English. Fatale from NYRB in an indifferent translation, and La position du tireur couché (as The Prone Gunman) in a better translation from City Lights Noir. If you can read French, you should. Manchette has been described as Guy Debord meets Rayond Chandler, and while that’s both reductive and inaccurate, it’s not entirely wrong.

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Vertov's Notebook

 

Vertov's Notebook

Dziga Vertov’s 1929 pseudo-doc still retains its power to amaze. Post-modern before the term had even been (unnecessarily) invented, Vertov presents a documentary about a documentary, while at the same time showing us a documentary. The only character is the cinematographer, or to be more accurate, the man with the movie camera (various English language titles have called the film Living Russia, or The Man With A Camera, but the original Russian translates literally to Man With A Movie Camera, and it’s easy to see why). There is no plot, beyond that conveyed in the title. There is no narrative. The lone character is “played” by Mikhail Kaufman, who is also the film’s actual cinematographer (along with Gleb Troyanski, uncredited). The footage was edited by Vertov’s wife, Elizaveta Svilova. It was filmed in the Ukraine, largely in Odessa, and presents (ostensibly) a portrait of the Soviet worker’s life from dawn to dusk. Vertov (real name Denis Arkadevich Kaufman) used 1,775 separate shots to make MWAMC, and in presenting these shots, in a rapid-fire manner that pre-dated and predicted MTV by some fifty plus years, he invented, deployed, or developed techniques like double exposure, fast motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, jump cuts (see what I did there?), extreme close-ups, footage playing backwards, stop-motion animation, and a self-reflexive style taken to such an extreme that at one point he has a split screen tracking shot where each side has opposing Dutch angles.

The pages above are taken from Vertov’s notebook and give some idea of his process. You can find out more at the excellent site Mubi, which deserves your full attention and support, much as Vertov’s still-astonishing masterpiece does, all these years later.

Side notes:

1) The film collective formed by Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Golin, among others, in France, active from 1968 to 1972 (Tout Va Bien and Letter to Jane are both available from the Criterion Collection, the others… good luck), called themselves Groupe Dziga Vertov.

2) I discovered that the Russian word for “lift,” or elevator, is or at least was “lift,” transliterated into Cyrillic characters, by watching this movie. I recently wrote a long short story with that title but did not explain where I had taken the title from. If anyone from Tin House is reading this post, this is how that happened.

 

Some of the better things I read, saw, or listened to last year, many of which were not released in 2010, which I know is not the point of a year-end list. Sorry. This list, moreover, is not the product of a great deal of reflection. These are off the top of my head looking around my room at what’s spilled on the floor or stuffed into bookcases. I should have provided hyperlinks, but I didn’t. Almost everything here is easily traceable via Google.

Movies:
The Tree of Life (trailer) (Terrence Malick)
Enter the Void (credits sequence) (Gaspar Noé)
Histoire(s) du Cinéma (J-L Godard)
Film Socialisme (J-L Godard)
Che Parts One and Two (Steven Soderbergh)
Les plages d’Agnès (Agnès Varda)
The Red Shoes (restored version) (Powell & Pressburger)

Books:

(I’m leaving out books for which I wrote blurbs, probably wrong-headedly).

Fiction
Jean Echenoz, L’occupation des sols
Maurice Blanchot, L’arrêt de mort
Blake Butler, Scorch Atlas
Grace Krilanovich, The Orange Eats Creeps
Mark Gluth, The Late Work of Margaret Kroftis
Justin Taylor, Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever
Vladimir Nabokov, The Original of Laura
Kate Zambreno, O Fallen Angel
Joshua Cohen, Witz
I started Bolaño’s Savage Detectives but did not finish it, which is certainly not his fault. I really like his writing.

Non-Fiction
Comité invisible, L’insurrection qui vient
That Carl Jung Red Book thing. Best illustrated manuscript since the Book of Kells. Have not actually read a word.
Dennis Cooper, Smothered in Hugs

Music:
Robert Pollard, Moses On a Snail (GBV Inc.)
Unholy Two, $cum of the Earth (Columbus Discount)
Tyvek, Nothing Fits (In The Red)
Matador at 21 live stream because I’m both agoraphobic and busy.
I spent a lot of time with The Complete Stax-Volt Singles 1959-1968 for complicated reasons.
Saw the Scott Walker documentary finally. Wish I hadn’t. It’s not that the doc was bad or that SW was in any way disappointing, it’s more that some things are better left to the imagination. This and The Day The Clown Cried come immediately to mind.
Guided By Voices reunion show at the Wiltern in LA. Old people rule. Except Brett Favre.