Old Favorite

October 3, 2011

I saw An Andalusian Dog when I was sixteen, in a public library of all places.  I wonder if any librarian would dare screen it today!  Now I can see it on Netflix whenever I want to, and I watched it last night.  A wonderful thing about this 1929 milestone of cinema and surrealism is that it simply is as it appears – weird.  Luis Bunuel used to make jokes about the deep interpretations that critics would apply to his montages and visual non sequitursI just liked how it looked, he would say.

Check out this comic by Max, Bardin, The Superrealist for a wild ride inspired in part by Dali, Bunuel, and their Andalusian Dog.


Listen, Let’s Make Love

September 20, 2011

Listen, Let’s Make Love (1967) is an Italian film set in Milan:  the image (on Netflix, of all places!) was grainy, the sound poor, and everyone is dubbed, even though some of them seem to be speaking their lines in English.  Some call it a satire, some an erotic comedy or drama, and some call it Eurotrash.  I’ll go for the satire and erotic drama, although there is no kissing, no nudity, and certainly no sex. (Perhaps it was filmed, then censored – the Italian laws changed at the end of the 1960s, making possible a slew of sex comedies and dramas with the likes of Laura Antonelli).  I’m still not quite sure why I watched it.

The film opens with shots of Milan and some heavy female breathing in the musical score.  There is a funeral, and a countess laments that she cannot attend, though the man who is being buried was her lover for twenty years, because all of Milan would talk.  Lallo (Pierre Clementi – an actor who inspires strong opinions) comes from Naples to attend his father’s burial and take up his profession, that of a gigolo to the social élite – mostly women, but now and then men.  His father left him nothing but his profession, and a room full of nice clothes.

Lallo proceeds to have a series of liaisons, including one with his aunt, before her husband flees with her to Venezuela to avoid prosecution for cooking his books.  In a story with Naples, Milan, financial élite, affairs with aunts, and an oblique mention of Stendhal  in the dialog, The Charterhouse of Parma must come to mind, and maybe even Before the Revolution.  The northern women like to make fun of Lallo’s Neopolitan upbringing, but that doesn’t stop them going to bed with him and showering him with gifts.


Things just sort of happen in the film.  It’s hard to fathom the characters, but then, most of them are shallow socialites.  The characterizations are not deep, and Lallo’s inner life, if he has one, is a mystery.  He slides into his niche as available male quite easily.  At times, he shows a nervy sarcasm:  “I am determined to sell myself to the lowest bidder,” and when he gets a killer look from a woman he dumped for a better client he says, “She gave me a look that mussed my hair!”  He has an early conversation with a friend of his father’s who gives him good advice on how to conduct himself in this business – seeing more of him would have added something to the film.  He only reappears at the end when, losing patience, Lallo kicks his current woman in the ass, sending her sprawling in the snow at a costume party where she’s dressed as a nun:  he appears in a full batman costume and expresses his exasperation with Lallo.

Lallo has fallen in love, truly, so he says.  He wants to marry the daughter of the countess.  She lies to him, saying that the young woman is his half-sister.  He dresses in full regalia to somberly lend his presence to her wedding to another bourgeois.  A jarring note of reality hits you like a brick in the head when the countess speaks the facts of life to her maid and accomplice in deception:  These young people…They can dress as they like, think as they like, have political ideas, and do what they want in private.  But, at least in Milan, money marries money!

The film has a lush soundtrack that veers from sounding like Muzak to commenting on the imagery very well.  The design is a tour of high-end 60s style and fashion, sometimes with an impressive and disturbing look to them.


Some Brits playing ugly Americans…

November 28, 2010

Whoaa!!  What a strange film this is, No Orchands for Miss Blandish! Sounds like a little parlor drama, doesn’t it?  Nope, not a chance!

I just happened to catch the second half of this on TV without knowing what it was, but I was hooked by the violence and sex.  What else is there in film?  It’s 1948, and British, but look at this lock-lipped kissing!  It goes on for quite a while – quite unusual.  The censors thought so too, and the film went into oblivion in the UK and the USA, only to become a “cult” favorite.  Apparently, it was revived in 2009.

Many comment on the fact that it is a UK gangster film set in NYC, and that the actors don’t quite get their accents right.  That didn’t strike me – I just thought it was an earlier film, made when actors still spoke in “stage English.”  That made its raw violence and passionate embracing seem even stranger.  From what I’ve read, I missed quite a lot in the first half!

What’s it about?  Some hoods kidnap a rich society girl, and she falls in love with the boss.  The usual interpersonal conflicts ensue among the gang members.

Here’s the cover of the source material for the story.  The image says it all.  I read somewhere that the novel is a pulp-ized version of Faulkner’s Sanctuary, a novel that is not short on violence, sex, and perversion.  What a lineage!

George Orwell wrote an essay comparing this book to the Raffles crime books, and now I’m dying to read the original!  Ah, George!  This is a classic line:

In Mr. Chase’s books there are no gentlemen and no taboos. Emancipation is complete. Freud and Machiavelli have reached the outer suburbs

[Note from 12/11/10:  Okay, now I’ve read the book, and watched the film again.  The book is one of the most sordid and lurid I’ve ever read.  The Grisson gang kills Miss Blandish’s kidnappers and takes her for their own purposes.  Their impotent psychopath gunslinger, Slim, takes a fancy to her.  Doc helps him out by keeping her perpetually drugged.  Ma Grisson, the brains of the outfit, likes Slim being occupied.  When she’s freed and the drugs wear off, she kills herself.  In the film, au contraire, she falls in love with Slim.  “Oh, I know you’ve killed people…but I love you!”  When she frees herself, she kills herself in despair at loosing her lover.  The only man who could…excite her.  Which do you think is the better story?]


The Many-named Jan Gossart

November 27, 2010

The Metropolitan has a marvelous exhibit of the works of Jan Gossart (he is known by a variety of names) that I visited today.  A northerner, in the pictorial tradition of van Eyck and other pioneering artists in oil, he, like Albrecht Durer, went south, and was enthralled by the ruins of the classical world and the Humanist revival in Italy.  He fuses this taste with his northern gothic tradition and produces something that is at times downright weird, but compelling.  The exhibit was unusual, I thought, in its emphasis on the sources in contemporary art of the north for many of his works.  Gossart was on the cutting edge; one of a group of humanist-scholar-artist afficianados who found deep-pocketed patrons to finance their new vision. 

As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

The image at the top was one of my favorites – a disguised portrait of a young girl as Mary Magdalen, so simple, plain, and lovely compared to the other Magdalen below.

His debt to Durer’s popular engraving is clear and direct, but he drops some of the classicizing of the print’s image.

   

Here, he cuts loose a bit and depicts Adam and Eve as actual human beings, rather “than Biblical Figures”, who are obviously quite attracted to one another.

The Virgin Mary, and Mary Magdalen:  The first is calm, contemplative, and shows that strange marble-like texture found in so many of his portraits.  He seems to enjoy painting people as though they were sculpture, sometimes to a degree that it appears trompe l’oeil.  The second is strange, twisted, writhing, and definitely tipping in the direction of mannerism.

  

Hercules and wife, classical architecture, bodies – see, her breasts are perfect hemispheres – and a weird, erotic entangling of legs.  The picture on the right makes use of blue pigment created from lapis lazuli that was as expensive as gold.

      

A bit of weirdly erotic classicizing…

A portrait of a man who was in charge of municipal toll collections, an important and lucrative post.  From his look, he seems right for the job.  If you look very closely at his eyes, at the white highlight on the iris reflecting the incoming light, you can see the image of the mullions of the window from which this scene is illuminated.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

June 16, 2010

While the mariners were landing in the New World (see previous post), the Renaissance intellectual literati were carrying on with their pagan wet dream in a dream.  Published in 1499, and a bestseller for centuries, I just finished Hypnerotomachia Poliphili [other posts] and I can confidently say that it is the weirdest book I have read.  Here are a few samples of the text which, as the translator tells us in his forward, has been considerably pruned of invented words and bizarre phrases to make it flow better for the modern reader.

One of the many architectural wonders Poliphilio dreams, and describes at tremendous length:

The threshold of the doorway was made from an immense leek-green stone, whose tough surface was marred with a scattering of white, black, and grey spots and various other indistinct stains.  The straight antis-columns rested on this, standing one pace form the edge of the threshold with their inner sides smooth and lustrous but their outer faces notably carved.  There was not sight of hinges either on the threshold, or above, nor any indications of iron hooks retaining the half-capitals which were of the same stone.  Above this there curved the arched beam or semicircle, with the requisite lineaments and measured fascias of the beam, namely balls or berries and spindles, arranged by tens as if threaded on a string; dog’s ears; sinuous or lapped rinceaux in antique style, with their stalks.  The spine, wedge, or keystone of the arch was worthy of admiration for its bold and subtle design and its elegant finish, which make it a splendid sight to see.

In his dream, Poliphilio meets an enticing nymph:

The white breasts were left voluptuously open as far as to reveal the round nipples,  The little virginal body rested on straight legs, and little feet, some of the bare within antique sandals what were held on by golden thongs that passed between the bi and the middle toes, near the little toe, and right around the heel, to join neatly above the instep in an artistic bow.  Some were in shoes, tightly fastened with golden hooks: others wore boots with soles of crimson and other gay colors, such as were never seen on Gaius Caligula, the first to wear them.  Some had high boots slit around their with and fleshy calves; others, slippers with masterly fasteners of gold and silk. Many wore antique Sicyonian shoes, and a few had fine silken socks, with golden laces decorated with gems.

Still in his dream, he finds Polia, and is invited into a pagan love-fest:

Does Mars dream?

Take your pleasure of me for a all days to come, and you will feel comfort and contentment that make you forget your former torments and past misfortunes:  they will dissolve under my caresses and kindnesses just as the mists, rising and thickening from the all-ruling earth are dispersed by forceful winds, as dust-motes float and vanish in the air.  Now take this amorous kiss’ (here he embraced me in virginal fashion) as the gauge of my inflamed heart, conceived from my excessive love.”  And as he hugged me tightly, my little round purple mouth mingled its moisture with his , savoring sucking, and giving the sweetest little bites as our tongues entwined around each other.

There is much sighing, some dying, some reviving, then dying more, then sighing, and loving and entwining.  But in the end, Poliphilio awakes, and it’s all over.  He curses the jealous sun that rose and ended his nightime bliss.


Leni

February 28, 2010
   
   

 
My first post on Kafka’s novel,  The Trial includes an image from the film adaptation by Orson Welles, showing Anthony Perkins as Joseph K, and Romy Schneider as Leni cuddling together.  Maybe it was the awful video transfer I was watching, but I couldn’t get through this movie, and I read the book twice in succession.  It’s another very faithful adaptation…again I say, perhaps too faithful.  But unlike Chabrol’s Bovary, and Heart of a Dog about which I entertained similar, but ultimately abandoned reservations, I’ll pass on this one.  Welles told Perkins that the movie should play like a black comedy, a directive very much in keeping with Kafka’s intent, I think, but the comedy doesn’t come through in what I saw here.

Romy, however, was fabulously seductive as Leni, the nurse of the imperious advocate (Welles) who terrifies his clients whom he is supposedly helping.  Like all the women in The Trial, Leni exerts a tremendous erotic pull on Joseph K, a pull which is simply “a snare” in Kafka’s universe.  A snare keeping Joseph from…what?


Hypnerotomachia Poliphili/Santa Maria sopra Minerva

February 13, 2010

The only gothic church in Rome is Santa Maria sopra Minerva, so called because it was erected on top of an ancient Roman temple of the goddess Minerva.  In the plaza in front, there is a statue of an elephant carrying an obelisk created by the great baroque artist, Bernini.   Why is it carrying an obelisk?

1999 marked the 500th anniversary of the initial publication of Hypnerototmachia Poliphili and also marked the first complete English translation of the work, in which this woodcut features.   It’s not surprising that Bernini would have been influenced by the book – every other educated European post 1499 was.

The publication of the original book is itself a landmark event, producing one of the most sought after pieces of icunabula, examples of the infancy of book printing, from the Latin for swaddling clothes.  It was printed by Aldus in Venice, and integrated the woodcut illustrations with the text, which itself was often displayed in novel configurations, e.g. pyramidal layouts on the page.

The text itself is written in Italian, despite the author’s preoccupation with the culture of antiquity – such humanists usually wrote their scholarly stuff in Latin.  But this is no scholarly text, and the author was no ivory tower intellectual.  He was a priest of no good repute and the language, according to the translator’s introduction, is arcane, filled with bizarre neologisms, and with words that even educated readers of the day would have found bewildering.

It’s title translates roughly as The strife of love in a dream, and it seems like an extended wet dream of an overheated imagination.  Whether the erotic longing is for a woman or for architecture is not always clear – at least not as far as I have read so far.  No doubt  as I read further in this antique stream of consciousness but that associations with Bomarzo will be present.


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