Welcome back to BCB After Dark: the coolest secret club for night owls, early-risers, new parents and Cubs fans abroad. Please come in out of the cold on this holiday evening. Let us take your hat and coat. There’s no cover charge tonight. The hostess will seat you now. Bring your own beverage.
BCB After Dark is the place for you to talk baseball, music, movies, or anything else you need to get off your chest, as long as it is within the rules of the site. The late-nighters are encouraged to get the party started, but everyone else is invited to join in as you wake up the next morning and into the afternoon.
Last time we met it was eighties night and I asked you who was your favorite Cubs player from that decade. All of the 11 candidates got at least one vote, but the winner was no surprise as Ryne Sandberg got 44 percent of the vote. The second-place vote-getter was also no surprise as Andre Dawson picked up 23 percent. In third place is a guy whom most people associate with the nineties, but Greg Maddux did make his major-league debut in 1986. Maddux got eight percent.
Here’s the part where I talk about jazz and movies. Feel free to skip ahead to the baseball question at the end. You won’t hurt my feelings.
The covers of rock standards by the Minneapolis jazz trio The Bad Plus have always been popular around here, so I thought I’d throw in another one tonight. Here’s an early one of theirs from the Newport Jazz Festival on 2003, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”
Some weeks I just don’t watch a film that makes me want to write something. Despite watching at least four films this week, this was one of those weeks. None of the films that I watched were really good or really bad. Sometimes I think I should write about a really awful film like Ice Station Zebra (1968) because reading someone ripping a bad film can be more fun that reading about a good one. I’ve often wondered if Howard Hughes watching Ice Station Zebra four or five times a day was a sign of his madness or if watching Ice Station Zebra four or five times a day was what drove him mad. I think it could be both. So I could write about Ice Station Zebra to be entertaining, but then I’d have to watch Ice Station Zebra again and then I risk ending up like Howard Hughes, minus the money.
So I’m going to write about director Olivier Assayas’ 1996 film, Irma Vep. Irma Vep is a very artsy, low-budget indie French film that makes fun of very arty, low-budget indie French films in particular, and the creative process and its place in the marketplace in general.
Irma Vep is not a great film by any means, but it interested me because of its connection to the 1915 silent film serial Les Vampires and the fact that Assayas is turning the film into a HBO miniseries, starring Alicia Vikander, that’s coming out later this year. Irma Vep is in turns both funny and compelling, as well as dull and uninteresting in others. It’s a mess, just like the film-within-a-film that is the plot of the movie. That may be the point of the film, which at least makes Irma Vep reasonably interesting.
Director René Vidal (Jean-Pierre Léaud) has been hired to do a remake of Les Vampires, a brilliant silent serial about a Parisian criminal gang that calls itself “The Vampires.” (They are not actually vampires.) The “muse” of the Vampires is a woman called “Irma Vep,” played by the single-stage-named actress Musidora, who pretty much steals the show. (“Irma Vep” is an anagram of “vampire.”)
I’ve watched the entire Les Vampires serial and it’s tremendous fun. It’s a masterpiece of silent film making and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. This is a problem for René, because he can’t figure out why anyone would re-make Les Vampires. It’s perfect as it already is, says René. But such is the demand that someone thinks that a remake of a famous intellectual property, and one in the public domain, no less, would be something people would pay money to watch. Sound familiar?
René casts Hong Kong martial arts actress “Maggie Cheung” (played by Maggie Cheung, and I’m going to put the show “Maggie” in quotes to differentiate her from the actress Maggie.) as Irma Vep. René says that’s because no French actress could reproduce what Musidora did, but the real reason is that he saw one of her Hong Kong martial arts films and became obsessed with her.
This becomes a problem as “Maggie” doesn’t speak a word of French. She shows up late (“The shooting in Hong Kong ran long,” she’s always explaining) and is thrust into this world where everyone is speaking French around her (and about her) and she can do nothing but smile and nod her head. They repeatedly ask “Maggie,” in English, if she’s a fan of French films and she has to say that not many French films play in Hong Kong. When they ask her is she’s a fan of René’s work, “Maggie” says of course, but then admits that she’s only seen some tapes René sent her but they weren’t translated and since she doesn’t speak a word of French . . .
It soon becomes clear that the entire production is a disaster. For one, the crew has no problem telling “Maggie” that while René may have been a great director once, all of his recent stuff is crap. (And casting Léaud is a bit of meta fourth-wall breaking here, since Léaud played Antoine in The 400 Blows as a child in 1959, one of the greatest films ever made in any language.) Everyone also agrees that all contemporary American films are crap. Still, one crew member walks around in an Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator t-shirt and the costume for Irma Vep is a direct steal of Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman costume in Batman Returns. So much for Hollywood being all “crap.”
The costume designer is constantly fighting with the assistant director and both take the time to bad mouth the other to “Maggie.” The assistant director tells “Maggie” how awful the costume designer is and how she’s a worthless junkie. (There’s scant evidence she is.) The costume designer is bisexual and when she takes “Maggie” to a party (because everyone broke for the day without telling her and the costume designer was the only one left to take care of “Maggie”), the host of the party gets the costume designer to admit that she’s sexually attracted to “Maggie.” She then spends the party trying to get “Maggie” and the costume designer to sleep together, much to the great embarrassment of both of them. This is all at a party where everyone is speaking French and only speak to “Maggie” in English when they want her opinion on something that they’re arguing about. “Maggie” just smiles a lot and tries to be polite, as most of us would in that kind of situation.
The film also takes some shots at French journalism, as “Maggie” gets interviewed by a French journalist who just wants to ask her about John Woo, whom he thinks is the greatest living film director. “Maggie” keeps having to point out that she’s never worked with John Woo. So she keeps trying to be polite and diplomatic and that angers the journalist, who wants “Maggie” to agree with his points of view on American, French and John Woo films.
Nothing in the film is working out the way that René wants it, and he becomes increasingly unstable.
This film isn’t really about plot, but if you want a spoiler warning, here one is. But honestly, this isn’t a plot film.
“Maggie” becomes increasingly disoriented by all this chaos (and French) going around her as she tries to make this movie. So one night she goes back to the hotel, puts on the lated bondage costume that she’s wearing to play Irma Vep, and to the tune of Sonic Youth’s “Tunic (Song for Karen)”, she becomes Irma Vep. She sneaks around the hotel like a cat burglar and steals some jewels from other guests. When she’s done with the heist, she throws the jewels off the roof of the hotel and into the alley.
René has a nervous breakdown and after a violent fight with his wife, is locked up in a mental hospital. He’s replaced by an extreme French nationalist director (ironically played by the Italian-Colombian-Swedish actor Lou Castel) who can’t understand how a Chinese woman could play the French Irma Vep. (And yes, there’s a sneer to his voice when he says “Chinese.”) So “Maggie” is fired from the film and she heads off to New York to meet with Ridley Scott. And we get a screening of the re-make of Les Vampires, or at least as much of it as René has finished before he was fired. I’m not going to describe it, but it’s pure nonsense.
Most of the film tries to put the audience in the role of “Maggie,” who is just confused and trying to make the best of the bad situation she’s been put into. Irma Vep tries to keep the audience as off-balance as “Maggie” is. Sometimes this is clever and funny. Sometimes it is not. This is a good film with a lot to say about the state of filmmaking in 1996, but it’s not exactly a grab-your-attention must-see film. It’s an odd little thing that has its charms. Mostly Maggie Cheung.
I should mention that another piece of “meta” in this film is the in-film director René’s obsession with “Maggie Cheung,” as the actual director Olivier Assayas would marry Maggie Cheung two years after the film was released.
I’m really wondering how Assayas is going to turn this into a mini-series for American television in 2022. Vikander is apparently not playing “Alicia Vikander” but a fictional American actress, so that’s going to be one big change. But one of the big themes of Irma Vep is that the film-within-a-film, the Les Vampires re-make. was being made for no reason at all. It was a property, there was a small amount of money behind it and it had a star, but it had no reason to exist beyond that. I’m very curious to see if Assayas has a reason to re-make Irma Vep beyond that he can and that HBO is giving him the money to do so. Or maybe that’s just too meta.
Here’s the trailer for Irma Vep, which should leave you pretty confused. Although I must admit, Maggie Cheung walking around in a latex Catwoman bondage outfit in the rain to the music of Sonic Youth is pretty darn cool.
Welcome back to everyone who skips the music and movies.
It looks like we are not going to get Spring Training games to start on time and certainly the start of the season is in jeopardy. But that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any baseball. The minor leagues will carry on almost as they always have, except the 14 players on the 40-man roster but not on the 26-man roster will be missing-in-action.
There will also be college baseball, which starts this weekend and goes on into June. There’s Asian baseball and as many of us learned during the 2020 lockdown, the quality of Nippon Professional Baseball and Korean Baseball Organization leagues are pretty good, even if they aren’t on the same level as MLB. There are ways to watch those games in the US, even if it’s not as easy as it was in 2020.
The Mexican League is officially considered a minor league, but the teams are not affiliated with any MLB organization. Their season starts in April.
There is also your local high school or town ball team, which generally aren’t televised but I know that many of you will watch in person.
So my question today is which of those baseball organizations are you most likely to watch before the lockout ends? I’m not asking if you’re definitely going to start watching the SEC baseball game of the week on a regular basis, but which one are you most likely to tune in (or watch in person) until the big leaguers get back.
Until the lockout ends, I’m most likely to watch . . .
This poll is closed
Minor League Baseball
Local high school or town ball
None of it
CPBL is the Taiwan league, in case you didn’t know.
So thank you so much for stopping by tonight. I’ll have someone get you your hat and coat. Drive home safely. And join us again tomorrow night for another edition of BCB After Dark.