Monday, May 30, 2016

Thom Andersen's THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD debuts at Anthology Film Archives

Noted documentarian Thom Andersen calls his new work, THE THOUGHTS THAT ONCE WE HAD, "a personal history of cinema." Boy, is it ever. It is also, as will come as no surprise to those who love Andersen's work -- his Los Angeles Plays Itself, which I just watched for the second time in preparation for covering his new film, still holds up as the best documentary I've ever seen about my own home town -- so full of ideas, connections and sheer love of cinema that it should prove irresistible to any cinephile. Another terrific film of his, Red Hollywood, along with the rest of his work, will be shown during an Andersen retrospective that opens this Friday, June 3, at Anthology Film Archives in New York City.

Andersen, shown above, is smart and fast, bouncing around from film to film, period to period, in somewhat chronological order. He credits as his major inspiration (and quotes freely from) a French philosopher named Gilles Deleuze, whose work I do not know. (After seeing and enjoying Andersen's film, in which Deleuze is heavily used, I should find out more about this fellow and his writing.)

What, for TrustMovies, makes the documentary most unusual is that so many of the film clips used are new to me. They're not at all what I'm used to seeing. And even when they are sometimes better known, the way Andersen presents and juxtaposes them makes for thought-provoking, troubling and intellectually stimulating viewing.

From the silents, with their reflective faces (above and below), through talkies and into color (and finally a whiff or two of the musical), the filmmaker whisks us along. Suddenly we're seeing the bombing of North Korea ("No repentance. Not even an acknowledgment"), along with Hiroshima and Vietnam. "Did we have it in for the yellow race?" Andersen wonders. "The past," he notes, "must be redeemed." As always with this filmmaker, the sense of justice deferred comes across mightily.

We see Hitler visiting a conquered Paris and Maurice Chevalier singing Sweeping the Clouds Away. If only. There's a comparison of Hank Ballard and Chubby Checker and their Twists, and then a good portion devoted to the various types of comedy -- from Harry Langdon to Laurel & Hardy and The Marx Brothers.

Ah -- then we view some crime, which is so often "delivered up as a gift." And horror. And an odd-but-endearing tribute to a little know (by me, anyway) actor named Timothy Carey. And Brando, of course. Do you know who was Ludwig Wittgenstein's favorite actress? (I'm not telling: You'll have to see this film to find out.) We do see those amazing clips of Jack Smith's favorite star, Maria Montez.

Andersen himself owns up to loving Debra Paget (above) best of all. So did I, actually, along with early Joan Collins. (I thought Ms Paget was so gorgeous and sexy that I've often wondered why I didn't turn out a bit straighter.)  I'd also never seen the clip he uses of Paget dancing in a costume that seems awfully racy for its time.

The Thoughts That Once We Had grows ever better, crazier and more rapturous as it goes along. That search for justice continues, too. I think we even view, toward the end, Austrian journalist/novelist Joseph Roth reading in German? And Christina Rossetti gets one of the last words -- if not the last visual.  Just as with Los Angeles Plays Itself and my favorite DemyThe Young Girls of Rochefort, I'll want to see this film again in a few years. Probably every few years. What a movie documentarian Mr. Andersen is!

His newest work, along with a retrospective of his other films, opens this Friday, June 3 and runs through Sunday, June 12, in New York City at Anthology Film Archives. You can find the complete schedule by clicking here. Los Angeles Plays Itself, by the way, is also available for DVD rental at Netflix. For awhile you could even stream it, though that option is no longer currently open. Maybe it'll come back again at some point. Meanwhile, get to AFA for a very good time in an intelligent, thought-provoking movieland. 

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