L'Annee derniere a Marienbad (Last Year in Marienbad) 1961, d. Alain Resnais, writer, Alain Robbe_Grillet
Who ever picks up the last one loses...
Saw Marienbad ("once again-") for the first time in several years. I first saw and slept through 1/4 of it sophomorically at art school--but it clearly infested my dreams and my social life--to this day I long to have narrators in my films; a bit of plaster gilded molding will set off that voice recounting the journey down "these corridors":
"Once again - I walk on, once again, down
these corridors, through these halls, these
galleries, in this structure -- of another
century, this enormous, luxurious, baroque,
lugubrious hotel -- where corridors succeed
endless corridors -- silent deserted
and certainly any notions that I may have developed as a film student about sensible, linear, comprehensible narrative structure was relieved by the film. A friend reminisces that she found the film "intimidating" as a student. In my experience, the film usually does evoke terms like intimidating, modern, elegant, austere, serious, boring, enigmatic, repetitive or incomprehensible. But for this screening at BAM during the Alain Robbe-Grillet programs, I was surprised to find that the film runs only 90 or so minutes (much as I liked it in the past it seemed to go for hours!) and the words playful, passionate, parodic, self-referential, weird, intimate and romantic now come to mind. AND, spoiler alert, Marienbad has a happy, if dark, ending. I loved the grandiose music, the white on white titles, Delphine Seyrig's Chanel gowns and mask-like expressions. And there was the game we used to play in bars, which I gather from Wikipedia is called "Nim".
I think the key to understanding (accepting) the film is the story of the neoclassical statues in the garden: Is the man holding he woman back, protecting her from some danger ahead or is she actually pointing something out to the man, something marvelous"? Isn't it all perspective?
I feel a strong identification these days with the "plot" of the movie. I used to sort of see myself as the woman character--a bit flighty with my hand always to my throat but now, I am Giorgio Albertazzi, "X" and I am making the argument (which really is the gist of the whole thing--trying to persuade the other) to my very own Delphine Seyrig, "A" who may not remember that we met, had an affair and agreed to run away together as long as I waited for a year. Didn't we? We did! Or maybe I attacked you? Did I imagine it all? Who is that man with you? "Rappel toi!", X insists. There was something between us but you refuse to or cannot recall? Then she gets shot, or not, then he falls off the stone balustrade and she screams or then laughs...
But, wonderfully, at the close, A is "already getting lost, forever, in the calm night, alone with me."
I happened to be near MOMA on Friday with some time to kill. I thought I would take a quick look at the Dali/Film show but saw that "Black Orpheus"--which I've mentioned here previously--was playing. I've noted my ambivalence about the film but for this viewing I really enjoyed it. The screening was worth it just for the beautiful, wasp-waisted dresses and new-lookish big skirts on the women, the amazing color and mise-en-scene and the swirling, frenetic editing. The music moves the film along at an incredible pace. The story is mythical and the characters beautiful and flat...the whole thing is lovely. But that's not really why I'm here. My intention last night was to write a teasing post suggesting that the French would love to claim responsibility for the invention of Democracy, the Cinema and now Barak Obama! I wanted to cite a passage that appeared in several articles culled from Obama's memoir, Dreams From My Father,where young Barak attends the film with his mother.Obama remembers the film, set in Brazil and helmed by French director, Marcel Camus, as condescending, depicting blacks as "childlike". He realizes, watching his white mother joyfully watching the film, that her images/imaginings of black people were formed, partially, by her experience of the movie, leading to her subsequent marriage to an African man, Barak's father.
Trouble began as I googled the pages from Obama's book. I found the excerpted passages quoted repeatedly in conservative blogs, and websites. They appropriated the pages (frequently and apparently without having read the rest of the book) to disparage Obama, supposedly proving his troubled (and troubling) identity, shaky psyche, shadiness and opportunism; illegitimacy and ultimately his racism towards whites. These numerous sites, to which I will not link you, traffic in casual racism, ignorance ("Community Organizing, what's that?!") and idiotic and insensitive attacks on both Obama directly and sweepingly on people of color, under the guise of some sort of political dialog. Why, like Claude Rains, am I so easily shocked? This comes on the heels of an article I wanted to write about by Armond White, who inexplicably disses the candidate and links his "post racial" campaign to another black fantasy movie. White legitimately (film/cultural critique-wise) but harshly tears Will Smith a new one for his superhero summer gig, "Hancock".
Can we afford to be disillusioned so soon and so thoroughly?
So, having recovered my nerve and after more searching, I found the full excerpts from the book--thank goodness I didn't have to type them myself (which was the whole lazy rationale)! Here is a rather dispirited version of what I had intended...
Apparently, we have the French to thank for Democracy, (the Cinema) and Barak Obama!
Barak Obama’s mother has a life-changing encounter with a movie, Black Orpheus (1959) by French director, Marcel Camus:
"One evening, while thumbing through The Village Voice,
my mother’s eyes lit on an advertisement for a movie,
Black Orpheus, that was showing downtown. My mother
insisted that we go see it that night; she said that it was
the first foreign film she had ever seen.
“I was only sixteen then,” she told us as we entered the elevator.
“I’d just been accepted to the University of Chicago
-Gramps hadn’t told me yet that he wouldn’t let me go
-and I was there for the summer, working as an au pair.
It was the first time that I’d ever been really on my own.
Gosh, I felt like such an adult. And when I saw this film,
I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.”
We took a cab to the revival theater where the movie was playing.
The film, a groundbreaker of sorts due to its mostly black,
Brazilian cast, had been made in the fifties. The story line
was simple: the myth of the ill-fated lovers Orpheus and Eurydice
set in the favelas of Rio during Carnival. In Technicolor splendor,
set against scenic green hills, the black and brown Brazilians
sang and danced and strummed guitars like carefree birds
in colorful plumage. About halfway through the movie,
I decided that I’d seen enough, and turned to my mother
to see if she might be ready to go. But her face, lit by
the blue glow of the screen, was set in a wistful gaze.
At that moment, I felt as if I were being given a window
into her heart, the unreflective heart of her youth.
I suddenly realized that the depiction of childlike blacks
I was now seeing on the screen, the reverse image of Conrad’s
dark savages, was what my mother had carried with her to Hawaii
all those years before, a reflection of the simple fantasies
that had been forbidden to a white middle-class girl from Kansas,
the promise of another life: warm, sensual, exotic, different.
I turned away, embarrassed for her, irritated with the people around me...
“Kind of corny, huh,” Maya said as my mother went to the bathroom.
“The movie. It was kind of corny. Just Mom’s style..."
...She stopped and laughed to herself.
“Did I ever tell you that he was late for our first date?
He asked me to meet him in front of the university library at one.
When I got there he hadn’t arrived, but I figured I’d give him
a few minutes. It was a nice day, so I laid out on one of the benches,
and before I knew it I had fallen asleep. Well, an hour later-an hour!
-he shows up with a couple of his friends. I woke up and the three
of them were standing over me, and I heard your father saying,
serious as can be, ‘You see, gentlemen. I told you that she was
a fine girl, and that she would wait for me.’ ”
My mother laughed once more, and once again
I saw her as the child she had been.
Except this time I saw something else:
In her smiling, slightly puzzled face,
I saw what all children must see at some point
if they are to grow up-their parents’ lives revealed to them
as separate and apart, reaching out beyond the point of their
union or the birth of a child, lives unfurling back
to grandparents, great-grandparents, an infinite number
of chance meetings, misunderstandings, projected hopes,
limited circumstances. My mother was that girl with the movie
of beautiful black people in her head, flattered by my
father’s attention, confused and alone, trying to break
out of the grip of her own parents’ lives. The innocence
she carried that day, waiting for my father, had been
tinged with misconceptions, her own needs.
But it was a guileless need, one without self-consciousness,
and perhaps that’s how any love begins, impulses and cloudy
images that allow us to break across our solitude,
and then, if we’re lucky, are finally transformed
into something firmer. What I heard from my mother that day,
speaking about my father, was something that I suspect
most Americans will never hear from the lips of those
of another race, and so cannot be expected to believe
might exist between black and white: the love of someone
who knows your life in the round, a love that will
survive disappointment. She saw my father as everyone hopes
at least one other person might see him; she had tried
to help the child who never knew him see him in the same way.
And it was the look on her face that day that I would remember
when a few months later I called to tell her that my father
had died and heard her cry out over the distance."
I really love this clip of Totò (Antonio De Curtis) and yet find it disturbing (I remember seeing a Punch and Judy show once when I was small and being terrified). Isn't there always some guy with a knife waiting backstage!
This reminds me of some motif that fascinate me in musical films and comedies, sometimes in dramas--having to disguise oneself (as a clown , a minstrel, or an actual black person); hiding on stage, going mad on stage, a production or movie that goes out of control, being forced to be onstage or to remain on stage by someone backstage (a guy with knife or gun, your wife or the police), dreaming you are on stage, of course.
The archive and preservation worlds are abuzz with news of the discovery of missing footage from Fritz Lang's, Metropolis.
Stills from the rediscovered footage are here at Zeit Magazine.
My primary project right now is the "Lincoln Film Conspiracy" my short film and multi-screen installation project. The LFC is sci-fi, musical, comedy, mystery that combines archival footage, new video segments and digital image manipulation to recreate the style of vintage films. The story is about a researcher’s search for early black movies that may have vanished. What Happened? They may have disintegrated or exploded like many silent nitrate films, or were they destroyed by a light-skinned actor who wanted to pass for white in Hollywood and needed his past destroyed--Or maybe they were abducted by Aliens leading to the Universal perception of Planet Earth as a paradise inhabited by glamorous African-Americans. The stolen Lincoln films constitute, for the universe, the anthropological data representing the planet Earth.
LFC is set in the present, reflects on the past, and imagines a
visionary future, while humorously confronting the practice of film
preservation and archiving, particularly of work by minority and
regional artists. The themes of the LFC project, include the complex historical relationship of marginalized people to cinema and media representations and the project speculates about how culture and technology might have been depleted by the loss of an accessible and coherent black cinema.I am producing manufactured artifacts; props, lobby cards, posters and “archival film fragments” that represent the remaining material proof of the vanished film company.
My film hopes to redress the loss and/or suppression of black cinema--more about the LFC later...
The articles included here prove that all is not lost. Meanwhile, keep hope alive!