The Beaches of Agnès

After getting up early to work on writing, taking a walk in the oxygen heavy park, recording a podcast, having breakfast with friends, it was still early—a much better Sunday than usual—so I had that feeling of, I can do anything, even watch golf on TV—but instead, I looked up the movie schedules and saw there was a movie I knew nothing about called The Beaches of Agnès, from 2008, and if I walked over to the Oriental right now, the timing would be perfect. That is a very exciting prospect, sometimes, so I went, after quickly reviewing Agnès Varda's filmography. Her name is familiar—pretty much a household word, along with Godard, Truffaut, Demy, etc.—for someone who attended some sort of film school and /or can remember the repertory film programs with big newsprint schedules you'd tape to your refrigerator. I realized, however, that I'd seen none of her films, at least that I could recall, except for Vagabond (1985), a grim story of a young woman drifter, which did make a strong impression on me. Also, it may be the movie that contains this really haunting image, burned into my memory (but it may not the be that movie, so I don't want to describe this haunting image, be wrong, and look like a dumb-ass).

So, it turns out that this movie, The Beaches of Agnès, is a sort of memoir film, a kind of personal retrospective on Agnès Varda's career, which is longer than even my life—so it was a great way to remember what I'd read (but not seen) about her, which is very little—but more important, get to know and become excited about her work, which I might, in the future, have a chance to see. That description makes the movie sound somewhat dry, but it's anything but that; it's playful, goofy, thought-provoking, and for me, highly inspirational. The first thing that's evident and really pretty exciting is that she is not that person just forever recreating their success—legacy-obsessed and over-serious—in fact, her work isn't limited by the feature narrative straitjacket—it's all over the place; documentary hybrids, short film, installation, and really just herself as a performer—and also is not contained by grim art heaviness—not contained at all. That is what you get from this movie, which she made at the age of 80, and I suppose thought by many to be her last film (for the artist, you always think your current work will be your last work). But she went on to make another film after this, in 2017, called Faces Places, so how exciting is that? I haven't seen it yet, but now I'm looking forward to it.

After my project of re-watching and writing about all of the Coen Brothers movies (which you can find on this website) I was thinking about doing another list, where I watch all of the work by a filmmaker. You'll notice that many such lists, in the writing-about-film world, consist of the work of white men filmmakers (and I admit, Robert Altman is next on my agenda). But it occurred to me that it would be fun to try to see all of Agnès Varda's work (if that's even possible, I don't know). Right after I moved to Iowa City, a new town to me where the only person I knew, at first, was the person I moved there with, I immediately discovered the Bijou, a repertory film program who were showing, that fall, all the works by Alain Tanner—which I religiously attended—and that really set the tone for a successful, happy, fruitful period my life. The cinema is a church and religion for many of us (even if you also have church and religion in your life). I'm not sure how the Oriental Theatre is going to be programming, going forward, but I'm excited just thinking about the possibility that they might show all of the work of a particular filmmaker—or at least provide significant pieces of the puzzle for such a quest.

I realize I'm not really writing about this film—but I'm just accepting that's the kind of movie review I'm going to write. I will never take notes during a movie, and for me to sit down now and try to craft a summary would expose my spotty memory and require me to read, online, someone else's summary—and really, if the reader of this (all two of you) wants more, you know where to look. The exciting thing is that I feel like I got to know a lot about Agnès Varda—and even had the illusion of getting to know her. Also, which I feel like she might appreciate, my mind opened up to a lot not seemingly related subjects and emotions—and the rest of my day was really transformed into a kind of life-receptive performance living. Also, I got to check out the current restroom situation at the theater. During the recording the podcast (more on that later) with local musician, artist, and explorer, Lauryl Sulfate, I learned about a few local haunted bathrooms, including possibly, she said, the women's lounge at the Oriental. So I was anticipating returning there, after having entered it for just the first time during the intermission of a film just a week ago. To my horror, it was now, once again, the ladies lounge! What was with this restroom musical chairs, I thought? I was not real happy, at least until I found the new men's room, which boasts some totally substantial urinals, with significant, tiled walls around them. I anticipate some film festival action here in the near future, and thus you can count on being in line to pee, and there is nothing worse than standing at a public urinal with “stage fright” while that antsy film festival crowd burns holes in your back with their eyes. Old tile work can only be preserved, never matched, but a humane and safe place to perform the miracle of urinary evacuation, that's something to get excited about.

Randy Russell 8.29.18