Monday, January 22, 2007

Breathless New Wave: The Cinematics "Keep Forgetting"

In Moh Azima's video for "Keep Forgetting," The Cinematics live up to their name with rampant referencing and some very pretty cinematography...

The Cinematics "Keep Forgetting"

dir. by Moh Azima

In 1959 Francois Truffaut's The 400 Blows and Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, Mon Amour debuted at Cannes. The following year Jean-Luc Godard released Breathless to international acclaim. It was with this triumvirate of international successes that French New Wave cinema was ushered into the collective conscious. In crafting this lush video for The Cinematics, director Moh Azima references all three films and the movement as a whole - as if to say he hasn't forgotten the tremendous impact those directors have had on the history of film.

It's almost exactly what you'd expect from a band so aptly named - arty, serious and highly self-referential. An early shot shows our heroine staring at a bunch of televisions with her own image on them; she blows kisses at herself. It's sort of the joke and force of the video, a homage that is somehow about homage. The cheesy cameo by a band member in the phone booth is a classic concept of both film and music video, but the slow-motion panning close-up on the same singer later, as the women runs on the street behind him, is far more singular. She seems to be inescapably running through the back of his mind, like the referenced old-school films.

Like many of the New Wave artists Azima intentionally confounds the plot so there is not a necessarily identifiable sequence to the narrative. Yet we can still pull out certain ideas and moments from the energetic work. The opening title sequence, with the girl running along a deserted highway, is as noir as it is Godard - but it establishes the aesthetic of the piece. It's a constantly moving chase scene in which a woman chases and is chased by her own shadow. In a sense she is unable to forget, no matter what she does or where she goes, something about herself. Perhaps it's a concrete memory, but it seems almost as likely that it is simply the constant reminder of her existence, her aging and her growth as a human being.

Unfortunately for Azima, the Cinematics song does not provide the strong backbone or reference point that the video could use at it's lagging point, about three-fourths of the way through. Apart from the "keep forgetting" theme there is little that the band actually contribute to the weight of the concept - and yet their look and sonic sound is somehow a perfect fit with the frenetic pace and style of the directing. The pounding drum hits at just the right moments, and the electrified guitars move in unison with the skillful editing. The wonderful stairway shot, where the actress hits every step on the way down, implies that the video isn't going to let-up even for a moment. It's a very cinematic sequence, but it doesn't develop into something larger by the end.

Hiroshima, Mon Amour, which is perhaps the least known of the three major films mentioned earlier, is actually the closest thematically to this video. It details the way in which memory, time and feeling enfold and collapse over and into one another in the wake of grand love. In that film Resnais complicates our perceptions of the timeline by flashing back and forth using vague heavily romantic dialogue. Azima implements similar visual clues here (to lesser effect), out of which the climactic slow-mo shot seems to shine brightest.

But Hiroshima was also obviously about history and the uncertain quality of knowledge - the way our own memories never match up with what is generally "known" about particular historical events. Azima doesn't reach these depths, but his framework is largely based on a similar mood of vague memory and concentration on the past - though in a much quicker and glossier visual style.

Yet this is not a remake or even a studied homage to any one film, and it's not about just one concept, idea or story. It envelopes an entire period in order to distill a portrait of the greatness that embodied those films. While it lacks the resonance of any of those works, it holds our attention simply on the basis of stylistic ploys. As one perceptive Antviller points out, the very final shot, a slight zoom into a still-frame, is very close to the final shot of Truffaut's 400 Blows, a film that is very much about the passing from childhood to adulthood. In a similar sense "Keep Forgetting" is Azima's love letter to his own childhood, a remembering of those moments when he fell in love with cinema - and a hope that he might transfer some of that spark onto a new audience.

The Cinematics

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