Routine Pleasures (1986)
Directed by Jean-Pierre Gorin
November 26 at BAM, part of its "Chuck Amuck" Chuck Jones series
Jean-Pierre Gorin, 1986: sometime Godard collaborator, recovering Marxist, expatriate and…model-train enthusiast. Manny Farber: painter, film critic, Gorin’s fellow UC San Diego professor and "brain twin." In the 60s, Farber wrote a manifesto, “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art”: the former is overambitious, grandiose, ultimately uninteresting; the latter picks a territory and digs obsessively, with no thought for technique and the corresponding possibility of chewing through to something new. The top layer of Routine Pleasures is Gorin’s quest for America, or at least Americana, by gnawing on a group of middle-aged white guys who’ve been meeting weekly to run model trains... since 1958—the year of de Gaulle, Gorin points out lightly.
He narrates throughout: long and far gone from Paris, in SoCal he’s subject to “bouts of unspecific nostalgia.” American, French. Farber, who never appears except in photographs as a dome-headed baby, isn’t having it: these are not your things, not your past, he tells Gorin. When it’s tired of focusing on the trains’ landscape—tiny citizens, detailed towns, geologically sound rock formations and giant train-makers appearing godlike through trap doors—the camera pans over Farber’s canvases, bringing up another wealth of scraps: tools, more train tracks, toy farmers, notes to self. In this lower Farber-layer, Gorin seeks kinship, but really through all the strata of Routine Pleasures runs a deposit of the quixotic. In the end, two train guys, who’ve started wondering why Gorin’s taking so damn long with the movie, tell their story of an ongoing, endlessly unsuccessful quest for apple pie. We feel you, guys.