(Jean Vigo/Boris Kaufman, 1930)
This priceless, jokey little movie has got to be one of the very first self-conscious assaults on the 'documentary' aesthetic. Purporting to do for Nice what Walter Ruttmann did for Berlin, in fact the movie is constantly delving below surfaces, or else simply defacing them, with the obvious intent of generating as much outrage as possible. There's plenty of shots of the various goings-on about town, but from the opening animation of tourist puppets being swept up by the croupier, everything is subject to the most explicitly subjective commentary imaginable: a rich lady is intercut with an ostrich; a filthy alleyway precedes a lavish ballroom dance; grotesque papier-mache parade mascots give way to closeups of the miserable guys inside the costumes, and soon the whole parade devolves into a violent flower-flinging riot. One hilarious scene cuts from street musicians to countless citizens dozing in their chairs, then to a shot of a woman, which turns out to be staged as we dissolve to her in outfit after outfit, until finally she sits naked! Another sexual outrage comes toward the end, as a gang of excitingly plain women mug carnally for the camera while we look casually up their skirts. Definitely driven by contempt, but it's healthy and well-aimed contempt, ridiculing the artifice and inattention that has typified tourist-bureau cinema since the genre was invented. And it's more than justified by the mad invention and energy that the filmmakers - and their subjects - bring to the project.