I am new to Perec, a member of the French Oulipo group. They were intent on creating literature with systems and constraints: a premier example is Perec’s novel, La disparition (A Void), written without using the letter ‘e’. (I’m not sure about the English translation!) Personally, I’m not keen on this sort of stuff, but Italo Calvino was an enthusiastic member, so, I’ll try some of it, even though his works that play with such number/word games are, to me, his least appealing.
La boutique obscure is a journal of dreams from the early 1970s. I’ve always been drawn to surrealism, outré romanticism, and films that incorporate dream sequences, so I found it very enjoyable. He records his dreams pretty straight; not at all the way Freud records dreams, as if they were taken from the text of a dense Victorian novel.
On and off during my life, I have recorded my own dreams. The more you do it, the more dreams you remember it seems! I was inspired by La boutique to start a new journal of my unwaking experience. Here are the first two entries, with explanatory, non-dream, info in brackets. Obviously, I am time-travelling:
Meeting with J. [a girlfriend from high school]
I am in a library, or some such public building. I am standing at a high table, like the ones they used to have in the card catalog section, or that you find at a post office. J comes in. We are both middle-aged adults. [J. died of a brain tumor before she was forty.] She is a tiny bit plump, as you might expect of a woman in her fifties who was extremely petite. She is wearing a brown business suit, and her long blonde hair is touched with some grey. She is rummaging in a very large, reddish shoulder bag that she throws on the table.
She tells me, “You stole my mother’s inheritance[?]”
I am indignant, and reply loudly, “I most certainly did not!”
She continues to rummage in her bag, and then says, “Oh, I found it. I see.”
Meeting with G. [a very wild male friend of mine from junior high school days]
We are sitting, with a table between us, sort of a card table. We are both adults, dressed in suits. G.’s hair is still full, and wild as usual. He is not so thin as when we were boys. There is half of a large Italian hero on the table between us. It looks very good; lots of meat and vegetables on good bread. G. is yelling at me about it, saying that it is somehow wrong that I am eating it. He is being outrageous and purposely irrational in a way that was typical of him.
Paddy Chayefsky had no business being angry about the treatment given to his screenplay for the movie Altered States directed by Ken Russell in 1980. Reportedly, he was angry about the way his beautifully crafted dialog was treated. Here’s a rant by whiz kid scientist Jessup (William Hurt) delivered while he’s raging drunk:
“What dignifies the Yogic practices is that the belief system itself is not truly religious. There is no Buddhist God per se. It is the Self, the individual Mind, that contains immortality and ultimate truth.”
Not far from the truth, but an absurd piece of dialog, in context. All the characters speak in this stilted, intellectual way, which, along with the deadpan treatment of the action, gives the film a comic-ironic dimension. Apparently, Paddy took the ideas dead seriously, but this story is ridiculous, and what redeems the film is Russell’s usual over-the-top imagery, in this case perfectly in sync with the psychedelic freakout ethos of this post 60s romp that seems trapped in Strawberry Fields. Religious, mythic, erotic, pop-cultural, oh that Ken, he’s something else!
In this series of images from Jessup’s mushroom induced hallucinations with rural Mexican Indians, Russell recreates the craziness of pharmaceutical mirages and seems to be paying homage to that milestone of surrealism, An Andalusian Dog.
As I said, the plot and the ideas driving it are laughable: it includes an extended interlude in which Jessup regresses, physically, to a primitive hominoid state, nearly kills some security guards, and finds peace only after breaking into a zoo and devouring a sheep raw. I wanted nothing but to survive that night, to eat, to sleep. Italo Calvino treats the same ideas, the bliss of pre-cultural consciousness, in his wry and funny piece, Interview with a Neanderthal Man, but, as I said, the screenplay of this film plays it straight.
During Jessup’s final trip, there are some nice images, and more homages to films, I think:
Could be Kiss Me Deadly. What’s in the damn box?
This definitely recalls 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The Love Goddess saves the day!
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 sequiturs: I 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.
When I was in high school, I loved Salvador Dalí. I knew all his paintings, read his biography, his novel, and his autobiography (The Secret Life of Salvador Dalí.) I vividly recall the first time I saw one of his pictures: it was in fourth grade, and I opened a book that had his premonition of the civil war. I thought it was the weirdest, most grotesque thing I had ever seen.
He did a lot of junk, but at his best, he was very good. I always wished I could have attended the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme and seen Rainy Taxi, with the bedraggled mannequin in the back seat, water cascading through the roof, and snails crawling over her limbs. Seeing the car in the lobby of the Figueras Theatro Salvador Dalí was a thrill. I still get a kick out of much of his work. There’s no surrealist like him. The ancient church across the street from the theater is a beautiful complement to his craziness, and one he surely appreciated.
Death in the Garden is a film from 1956 by Luis Bunuel. The plot is one we have seen many times in cinema: an unlikely group of characters is forced to work together in order to survive in hostile circumstances, outside of the boundaries of civilization, and in the process, their personalities and the old class distinctions begin to disintegrate. Nothing at all surprising here, and the film is, in fact, rather straightforward for those expecting a wild dash of surrealism, but that is not to say it’s boring. No, it was a wonderful, surprising, and sometimes poignant movie. It’s also in stunning 1950s color.
Our group comprises a rather uptight priest, a brash prostitute used to running her own show, an elderly miner, her former customer, who has decided to marry her and take her back home to France with him, the miner’s daughter, a pretty young woman who is mute, and a handsome adventurer running from the law. They all must flee their one-horse town in the South American wilderness when the high-handed actions of the corrupt local military man provoke an armed uprising. The miner and adventurer are falsely accused of crimes, the whore is implicated with the miner, and the priest…at first he is taken against his will, but after that, he’s a marked man too.
With the setting of the Amazonian jungle, it’s clear that The Garden refers to Eden. The philosophical and religious themes are piled on one after another, but with delicious irony and humor – you could ignore them if you wish and just enjoy a really good adventure yarn. Now and then, there is a touch that jumps out as distinctly Bunuel, but mostly his presence is felt in the sure direction, the interplay of image and idea, and the portrayal of human culture and norms as just this side of bizarre when seen in the context of nature’s ‘garden.’
I had never seen Simone Signoret as anything but a plump and almost matronly older figure. Here she is in her early bombshell days: first meeting with Chark, who is happy to pay for her company; in the jungle with the priest for company, desparately in need of a bath.
Chark kills a snake, and saves them from starvation. Later, the priest sees the remains swarming with ants. What would a Bunuel film be without ants? Was the priest having a vision, or does he really see it?
We see a shot of Paris at night, cars honking, and suddenly it’s an old snapshot of Paris by the light of their jungle campfire, the film suddenly runs down and the audio stops… Reminds me of the film breaking in Bergman’s Personna-which came first?
They are saved when they come upon the wreck of an airplane that was carrying a load of rich vacationers. Suitcases yield food, drink, fancy clothes, and even jewels! We see a well dressed woman opening a jewel box, and then are jolted to see it is the young Maria, dressed up, searching through the luggage. The priest tries to inject a note of law and order, but the lovely young girl is dazzled by the apples, er…jewels.
Djin, the whore, “looks like a real lady,” and makes quite an impression on Chark. They like each other, but they have to get past the fact that she turned him in to the police for a cut of his cash. What a bizarre shot this is – high fashion in the wilderness.
Obviously, this idea has a lot of appeal for people today.
The images below say it all: bare skin, the jungle, raw passion, jewels, civilization stripped away…I saw the advert on a huge billboard driving home from the airport after watching the movie on my flight. It exploits the jewels on naked-savage-skin opposition for different ends.
She’s tempted, but she’s innocent. Two of the group survive to escape down the river in a shot that brought to mind the end of The Great Escape, when Charles Bronson floats down a stream to freedom in a small boat.