I had never seen a proper art film, let alone a lyrical or essayistic documentary, before a friend took me to a screening of The Gleaners and I (2000), a quirky, moving, political, philosophical, expertly conceived and constructed but completely authentic documentary by the Greek-French director AGNÈS VARDA (born 1928). I watched it through naïve eyes, with no expectations and no context; I was floored. I became a Varda aficionado: La Pointe Courte (1955), Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), Vagabond (1985), Jacquot de Nantes (1991), and The Beaches of Agnès (2008) are the big ones, but there are many more to see and plenty of shorts too. Sometimes referred to as the “godmother of the French New Wave,” Varda was a trail-blazing visionary, just as avant-garde and intellectual as all the guys she influenced — but with more honesty and heart. (Less cool, you could say, and all the better for it.) Brilliant, eccentric, and unabashed, Varda became a role model; eventually, I began to direct my own documentaries. In 2008, I was invited to a Directors’ Dinner at the Toronto International Film Festival; I was there with my 2008 film Examined Life. Varda entered the room, and I couldn’t think of anything to say to her besides “Your movie changed my life.” Rather than utter this cliché, I skipped dinner. And yet it was true.
On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Cee-Lo Green, Countee Cullen, Randolph Bourne, Mel Blanc, Howard Hawks, Robert Calasso, Mikhail Bakunin.
READ MORE about members of the Postmodernist Generation (1924-33).