I have this awful habit of gushing affection whenever I run into one of my heroes. Worse, it's the sort of affection that strangers don't take kindly too. It's not exactly a King of Comedy moment, but some of the looks it engenders suggest I need to rephrase my adoration. I was at a Lincoln Center event for the films of Claire Denis when I bumped into the filmmaker in the hall outside of the bathroom. I immediately blurted out " I love you, errr... I mean I love your films." She was gracious and warm in a rather un-French way. Of course it made me love her more, errr... I mean her films.
Last month the DVD for my favorite Denis film: "Nenette et Boni" was released. From the opening shot, this film like all of her films, sucks you in to the hypnotic pace. The soundtrack is an actor in this film as much as any of its cast and the cinematography compels you to participate, instead of allowing you to be a voyeur sitting in the dark. Agnes Godard is her flawless cinematographer and the soundtrack is written by Tindersticks.
Claire Denis was born in Paris to parents who were living in Africa. Her father was a French official in colonial Africa, constantly moving house every two years, more interested in being nomads than colonizers. Her first film "Chocolat" in 1988 described that odd inbetween-ness that she felt growing up in a country that she knew was not her own, but never really knowing the birthplace that was on her passport. All of her films float in a new France that is essentially a blend of ethnicities, most of which, in some way holding a tenuous tie to France's past. Using some of the skills given to her by the accomplishments of the French New Wave, Clair Denis makes metaphors into stories that unfold in a language of gestures. Her films defy the spoken word that was the stranglehold of the Nouvelle Vague. Another fellow post new wave director, Andre Techine, also employs the loose narrative of inbetween-ness in many of his films.
By the way, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith was the most gracious of hosts to my unwarranted affections when I bumped into him on the streets of Soho in the early 90's. He was palling around with Lenny Kravitz and a gaggle of babes with babies on their hips, but I just wanted to personally thank Aerosmith for standing up to the National Endowment for the Arts. A show at the MIT List Visual Arts center had recently had $10,000 of NEA funding revoked due to a sexually graphic exhibit and Aerosmith stepped in to make up the difference. Steven smiled one of those massive smiles and said "You're very welcome". His lady friends weren't so agreeable.