#334- Night and Fog

Quick recap: It’s a documentary about the Holocaust.

This probably won’t be a surprise, but don’t expect much humor in this review. Hopefully your expectations weren’t that high to begin with.

Fun (?) fact: Director Alain Resnais was very careful to not use the word ‘Jew’ when referring to victims of the holocaust because he wanted to create something that condemned genocide altogether. He felt that using the term, although true, might lead people to believe the Holocaust was an isolated event when in fact, could easily happen to any group of people.

My thoughts:  It has recently come to my attention that I’m not the most fun person to be around. That’s not to say I don’t have other great qualities, but I don’t think ‘bubbly’ comes to mind when most people describe me. Case in point, I chose to spend my spring break watching a film about the Holocaust and my Friday night recapping the horrible things I saw.

For a documentary about the Holocaust, this was every bit as sad and horrifying as I expected it to be, and yet there were still parts I found shocking. As the narrator said, it’s unfathomable. Night and Fog was filmed in 1955, roughly 10 years after the war ended. Resnais interspersed images of the abandoned concentration camps with real footage of the prisoners and even then everything felt surreal and almost unbelievable. As the narrator says, images and film can only show so much. It is impossible to truly understand the constant fear and apprehension felt by everyone.

For a little 30 minute film, there were so many points touched on. Resnais said he wanted to make the film as an allegory for the situation going on with France and Algeria at the time, but that sentiment could be applied for any conflict. It’s depressing to think that lessons still haven’t been learned. Genocides have happened since then, not to mention the gradual embrace of the Nazi party again. It took everything to not turn away when the images of bulldozers pushing bodies into mass graves came on the screen, but it’s something that needs to be seen. Even in 1955, Resnais was already worried that people were becoming complacent again. The narrator (whose script was written by Jean Cayrol, a concentration camp survivor), mentions people taking pictures in front of crematoriums and selling the images as postcards. The most frustrating part of the film, though, was to see the SS officers deny any wrongdoing and any responsibility whatsoever. It is alluded to the fact that so many of these camps are situated just outside of big cities, implying entire nations of people who knew what was going on. And still, it happened. And still, it continues to happen.

Final review: 5/5. Essential viewing.

Up next: High Noon


#235- Blonde Cobra

Quick recap: A man becomes many different characters and looks at himself in the mirror a lot.


There are many layers of crazy in a movie that is only 30 minutes long

Fun (?) fact: Jack Smith, who acted in Blonde Cobra, influenced Andy Warhol’s films as well as John Waters.


My thoughts: I have no idea what I watched. No clue whatsoever. And after reading up a bit on the film’s meaning, I don’t think Jack Smith or director Ken Jacobs were really going for anything other than doing something experimental. And if that was truly their goal, great job, you guys! You surpassed it by a mile.

But seriously, what the hell did I just watch? Most of Blonde Cobra is Smith making weird noises, singing off-key, and telling weird, shocking stories that don’t really have a point. There are also various audio recordings played throughout, which further add to the madness.  There were a few parts that stuck with me, like the quote, ‘why shave when I can’t think of a reason for living?’ so it’s not completely devoid of meaning. At times, it seemed like Smith was descending into madness, or maybe at home he felt less inhibited (he was a self-identified ‘queer muse’) so this was his way of being himself. And you know what? I dig it. This short film is as weird as it gets, but I kind of liked sitting back for a half hour without the pressure of trying to figure out a deeper meaning. It’s Art, man. I’m not sure if this was the takeaway, but watching Blonde Cobra made me realize that not everything has to make sense all of the time.


FInal review: 2/5. Go check it out on Youtube, although it is very explicit and messed up.

Up next: Memento

#206- Zero for Conduct

Quick recap: 4 boys in a strict boarding school make a plan to attack the adults and bring revolution.


Fun (?) fact: Not so much ‘fun’, but ‘inevitable’: immediately after its release, it was banned completely until 1946.

now look what you've done!

now look what you’ve done!

My thoughts: As a teacher, I’ve become used to the various complaints and insults directed at me by kids. Hate homework? I get it, but you still have to do it. I’m making you work too hard and now your hand hurts? got it, don’t care. Eat your shorts? Whatever, Bart Simpson. Children hating school is a fact of life, and movies depicting this is pretty standard. But Zero for Conduct is in its own realm of absurdity and anarchy, and I’m still not quite sure what I watched.

Before you read any further, If…. was directly inspired by Zero for Conduct and although I don’t think they improved on anything, it’s still an interesting companion to this film.

The first scenes of the film were a little underwhelming, since I was expecting full anarchy from the get-go. Instead, the story starts with two boys in a train car, on their way to boarding school. It was kind of like Harry Potter, but without the magic and happiness. The boys start pulling toys out of their jackets to impress each other, like feathers and balloons. It’s silly and made me wonder what counted as ‘bad behavior’ back then, because if this is it, then all those people who say, ‘back in my day, kids didn’t act like they do today’, are quite correct. And really, throughout the entire movie, I didn’t see anything too scandalous from the boys or even from the administration and teachers. In one scene, a couple of boys are roughhousing and the prefect (NOT a Weasley), makes them stand at the foot of the bed for awhile. It was weird, but I wouldn’t call it cruel or abusive. Many of the scenes involved the boys being made to work, which of course they don’t want to do and so they decide to start a war during their school’s Commemoration Day ceremony. I read in many places that the school was very strict and rigid, which I guess was true, but that’s what I thought boarding schools were about. The only thing objectionable I saw was that the boys were made to eat beans everyday, so….probably not worth a battle.

Up yours, children!

Up yours, children!

I guess the confusing part (just like If….) was that I didn’t know who to sympathize with. The boys were annoying and, well…..boyish. There was bathroom humor and smoking and roughhousing, which didn’t endear them to me. The school itself didn’t invoke much sympathy, either. The adults all had something weird going on, like one who did handstands in class and then the president who was a little person. I guess it was just all very weird. And the war itself ended up being all of the boys locking themselves in an attic and refusing to participate, while the four main boys threw random things at the adults. Revolution indeed, children.

Now, that's some high level tomfoolery I can get behind!

Now, that’s some high level tomfoolery I can get behind!

Final review: 2/5. Did I mention it was a French film? Probably not a surprise, given its absurdity.

Up next: Hoop Dreams

#155- The House is Black

Quick recap: Lepers! They’re just like us! They eat, play with friends and have bricks stacked on top of their hands in an effort to relieve stiffening joints. So much like us, those lepers.

Bart: At Sunday school, they said the lepers were cured by some bearded dude. Homer: Jesus? Bart: Yeah, that sounds right.

Bart: At Sunday school, they said the lepers were cured by some bearded dude.
Homer: Jesus?
Bart: Yeah, that sounds right.

Fun (?) fact: Leprosy can be spread to humans from armadillos. Now I don’t feel so bad about all the ones I have hit in the past, and believe me, there were MANY.


My thoughts: There really isn’t much to say about this film, partly because it’s so short and partly because it’s just footage of people with leprosy so I’ll  just look like a jerk if I make fun of them.  Along with the footage, the director reads her own poetry as well as a few bible verses thrown in for good measure. Most of the time it felt like I was back in the church I grew up in, watching a promo video from some missionary needing sponsorship. At any minute I thought some preacher was going to pop up and in his thick southern accent, beg us to ‘please think of the children’. I’m just thankful there wasn’t inspirational music in the background or it might’ve been too difficult to hold back snark.

Despite what I just wrote, I never felt like The House is Black was exploitive. The people living in the colony seemed truly happy and it made me especially glad to see a team of doctors and nurses taking care of them. I always thought people in leper colonies were cast off and forced to survive on their own but that’s apparently not true for everyone. The podcast Stuff you Should Know did an excellent show about leprosy a few months ago and it was there that I learned how tightly knit these groups can be. There was a famous example of a colony in Hawaii where, even after it was closed, people chose to stay because it was their home. I also learned that the disease is curable although its disfiguring effects can not be reversed. As sad as these colonies seem to us, they are able to provide a somewhat loving, normal life.

The scene that kind of derailed the movie was at the end when the teacher asked his students such enlightening questions such as ‘name something good (friends, play time)’ and then ‘name something ugly  (hand, foot)’. What the hell kind of lesson is this? And then he asks one of the children to explain why parents are important and the kid answers that he doesn’t know because HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY. Jeez. The title of the film comes from the teacher asking a man to write a sentence using the word ‘house’ and the man comes up with ‘the house is black’. So I guess they were studying grammar or ‘phrases you can use to totally make westerners feel even more sorry for you than they already do.’

MRW someone asks a stupid question.

MRW someone asks a stupid question.

Final review: 3/5.

Up next: Sex,Lies and Videotape