Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Bird With the Crystal Plumage

Part of the reason 8 Weeks of Art and Madness was originally conceived was to hopefully bring to a larger audience bodies of work which, because they contain art, and madness, in some form, reflect something about both, but also to penetrate the difference in the vernacular understanding of these terms and to return them to the undifferentiated continuum of production, or creation, or what the neo-platonists called 'the one', which Plato called "The good" and said was 'beyond being'.. In a way, this is tantamount to saying that being, any kind of beingness is a madeness, whose exact origin is ineffable, or beyond the essence of the result, and when you think about it, could certainly lead, and has to a good deal of madness through the centuries, in various forms, but language too is a madeness, and so everything we can possibly give life to as an idea in words is at a double remove so to speak, because 'beyond words' can still be spoken as words, and so the gap still gets taken up in the progression of production. It is certainly odd to consider all this under the rubric of a film which has been grouped many times with something called Vernacular cinema, which in its simplest definition could be said to be "obvious cinema". A cinema whose metaphysical values are cognate only with the movements, characters and events as they are presented in the film itself, or for the most part, a non-symbolic cinema. But 'The One' let's say always has other ideas..

 Let's take for our starting point in this sojourn into non-obvious cinema, the opening title sequence itself where the killer's hands, we assume they are the killer's hands because of the black gloves, but that's because we've been conditioned by vernacular cinema to see that, but what if they are really the hands of the surrounding blackness, what if the killer's hands are the hands of 'the one', or 'the good' as Plato called the creative principle.. For Plotinus, the first principle of reality was an utterly simple, ineffable, unknowable subsistence which is both the creative source and the teleological end of all existing things. Okay, so does it end there? Not quite, there is something in the frame, a pale lavender artefact which appears to be a section of the lightbulb which illumines the killer's desk, and by the way, IMDB let's us know that every instance of the killer's hands in the film wearing black leather gloves are Argento's own hands. That pale closed arc is a clue to our non-obvious cinema. In a mere 3-4 frames the pale closed arc-like form exhibits a very thin line from its tip to the letter Z in the name of Eva Renzi, or the character known as Monica Ranieri, the wife of the gallery owner, who seems to be the only victim in the famous gallery scene of the film, but what does the shape remind you of?

Well, if you said, Brancusi's bird in Space, then you are probably about as non-obvvious as I am, and that is the other thing it could well be, an I, eye, or 'The One'.. And so what is another way of saying 'The Bird with the crystal plumage'? Could it be The bird with invisible plumage? or The bird with no wings? certainly. In mathematics the letter z is often used to connote the 3rd dimension of space, if the bird is I, or 1, with Z that makes IZ, or is, or the linguistic copula coming straight at you right out of space, like a knife, or a victim.. Maitland McDonagh, in his book-length study of Argento, has pointed out that even in its own time, relatively unsympathetic viewers when asked were impressed with the remarkable scene with the double glass doors. McDonagh writes, "The power of this image transcends its function in the narrative". He then goes on to see the scene as a species of reflexivity wherein the image in its incompleteness is a trap serving to draw us in, but then stopping us in a hermeneutic limbo, a space where knowing and unknowing are both present in equal if cryptic amounts. Later in the film, a knife with a similar shape to bird in space is used against Sam Dalmas, which he dodges, but even then we notice that this bird in space knife is black, all black, and that in missing Dalmas he has tapped into a vein of exposed water, not something likely to happen at all when you think of it, another nod to a non-vernacular reading. Has the killer, or the artist tapped into pure creativity, which is in effect pure destruction, ie, the one. This idea isn't so far fetched when we think back to the grotesque character of the art displayed in the gallery which can be read either as gruesome or sphinx-like.

At this point, it might also be appropriate to touch on the sphinx like history of Brancusi's original bird. In 1926-27, Bird in Space was the subject of a court battle over its taxation by U.S. Customs. In October 1926, Bird in Space, along with 19 other Brâncuși sculptures, arrived in New York harbor aboard the steamship Paris. While works of art are not subject to custom duties, the customs officials refused to believe that the tall, thin piece of polished bronze was art and so imposed the tariff for manufactured metal objects, 40% of the sale price or about $230 (over $2800 in 2010 U.S. dollars). Marcel Duchamp (who accompanied the sculptures from Europe), American photographer Edward Steichen (who was to take possession of Bird in Space after exhibition), and Brâncuși himself were indignant; the sculptures were set to appear at the Brummer Gallery in New York City and then the Arts Club in Chicago. Under pressure from the press and artists, U.S. customs agreed to rethink their classification of the items, releasing the sculptures on bond (under "Kitchen Utensils and Hospital Supplies") until a decision could be reached. However, customs appraiser F. J. H. Kracke eventually confirmed the initial classification of items and said that they were subject to duty. Kracke told the New York Evening Post that "several men, high in the art world were asked to express their opinions for the Government.... One of them told us, 'If that's art, hereafter I'm a bricklayer.' Another said, 'Dots and dashes are as artistic as Brâncuși's work.' In general, it was their opinion that Brâncuși left too much to the imagination." The next month, Steichen filed an appeal to the U.S. Customs' decision which he won and the duties were refunded and dropped.

 There are several other clues in the film to our non-obvious cinema. In the gallery scene there is an immense bird claw whose summit terminates roughly into a giant capital letter T in the same way that our light bird was connected to the Z in the titles.. Isn't 'The One' Transcendence itself, or is it Time? or if that's too remote or non-vernacular for you, then I suggest you try finding the name of the sculptor who made these pieces. If you can find it, then you must be a better detective than me, or just like Sam Dalmas, 'the great hope of american literature, now writing manuals on the preservation of rare birds..'  But are any of these things really built on purpose into the film? perhaps not. but what does Tom's friend say when he picks up the newspaper? he says, "Ah, The usual garbage".. or is it kitchen utensils, or Hospital supplies? I guess it's all fairly obvious at this point. Can you find the Bird in Space in any other scenes of the film? Are we all rare birds in space? Like the film, these questions of non-obvious cinema must, like this very film, remain conspicuously inconsistent, or at least that's part of the fun in detecting them..

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Escape to Athena

Now, in the mornings after I get off nightshift, I usually put on a movie and depending on how good it is, I will drink either one or two bourbons. This one was a two bourbon flick, and had many good laughs for me. The reason this film kicks ass is firstly because of the cast, and secondly because it is one of those rare campy sci-fi nazi fantasy films in which the Nazis have some kind of badass trick up their sleeve which we the good guys thwart. The thing that nearly made me fall out of bed laughing was the giant greek orthodox jesus head mosaic through which came a giant nazi missile flanked by solemn ceremonial nazi guards wearing what can only be described as ultra-chic 1970's motorcycle ninja gear replete with mirrored face shields. This is not LOW CAMP, it is transcendent CAMP.. Over the top! Don't get me wrong, there are some dull clunky parts, but David Niven playing a slave archaeologist and digging up statues with huge boners is pretty funny, and sort of sweet. Stephanie Powers and Elliot Gould do a vaudeville act wearing crazy Patriot show clothes for the Nazis who love it and clap wildly. Stephanie has crazy ancient Roman lady-hair too! This is strange territory. Amazing. Telly. And then there is Telly as a kind of Christian Bling wearing Greek nationalist. This sort of restores my faith in humanity. I mean I will probably be really depressed when the rich deep vein of 60's and 70's B film is exhausted and I have mined much too quickly. I am going to watch this film again today. I can't believe I've never seen this! Pathetic, I know, but what can I say, I am child of my generation, and the sly absurdism and great cast is just something that never gets old. It's like a low-budget version of Niven's Casino Reale combined with Thunderball. Literally. It is that grand. One more spoiler. There is a great fight scene with a nazi frogman! How many films can boast of a fight scene with that?

Not many.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Fight For Rome

Or Kampf um Rom I

This is exquisite! So many of our favorite people! Check it:

Laurence Harvey ... Cethegus
Orson Welles ... Emperor Justinian
Sylva Koscina ... Empress Theodora
Harriet Andersson ... Mathaswintha
Honor Blackman ... Amalaswintha
Robert Hoffmann ... Totila
Michael Dunn ... Narses
Ingrid Boulting ... Julia (as Ingrid Brett)
Lang Jeffries ... Belisarius
Florin Piersic ... Witichis

This is a standard sword and sandal, but of a very high quality. In fact, this is the film which should be a proto-type for ALL sword and sandal. This is vintage. [Kissing sounds..] Orson Welles as Justinian? OOOH YESSS! Laurence Harvey is divine as the Roman field ambassador! This is cool! He is speaking to the arrogant Byzantine midget ambassador.

In this scene He says, "Then let 'Nozzis' fight while Sethicus intrigues for him.."

Here is Orson Wells as a very tired, disappointed Justinian.

I don't think ordinary people know how finding this is like finding a really skanky smelling cheese that tastes awesome. This is true cinema heaven. Honor Blackman as an early late classical Gothic queen.. I think that say it alll..

Even tho IMDB says there is a character called 'Totila' when it is said, she says


or when Lawrence Harvey says

"We missed you Tor-tilla.."
so fucking wry! this film! ooooh



Friday, October 31, 2008

Watcher in the Attic


fruit is kind,
and kindness
flowering, the
two lovers
are murderers
in the attic
their green veins
glossy, loose,
and able to ascend
to the surface
of the skin, black
drops of ink
and arsenic
explode and

time catches each distorted droplet
as it shatters:


fruit is sliced
by a silence replacing
tongue, the sense
of it undone, disrobed,
the eye, glossy,
loose, as it shatters
their green veins
flowering into fruit
more kind, distorted,
ascending through
the skins again,
and again, two
lovers trading
veins now filled
with ink, light,
cold cream,
blight, attic
come crushing


written after watching Noboru Tanaka's _Watcher in the Attic_
based on the writing of Edogawa Rampo.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Final Programme

Sterling Hayden as Major "Wrongway" Lindbergh.

Jenny Runacre as Miss Brunner.

A giant pinball parlor!

Jon Finch as Jerry Cornelius, and Hugh Griffith as Professor Hira in The Final Programme (dir. Robert Fuest, 1973)

Synopsis from IMDB:

After the death of his Nobel Prize-winning father, billionaire physicist Jerry Cornelius becomes embroiled in the search for the mysterious "Final Programme", developed by his father. The programme, a design for a perfect, self-replicating human being, is contained on microfilm. A group of scientists, led by the formidable Miss Brunner (who consumes her lovers), has sought Cornelius's help in obtaining it. After a chase across a war-torn Europe on the verge of anarchy, Brunner and Cornelius obtain the microfilm from Jerry's loathsome brother Frank. They proceed to an abandoned underground Nazi fortress in the Arctic to run the programme, with Jerry and Miss Brunner as the subjects.

I ate this up with a spoon! Based on Michael Moorcock's first novel in his Jerry Cornelius themed series, this is pretty bubble-gum sci-fi from the golden age of 70's British acid fiction. I have already watched this 3 times, and it is just a hoot. Sterling Hayden's hippie military advisor, Major "Wrongway" Lindbergh is completely stunning, as is Hugh Griffith as the guru who teaches Jerry about the Hindu temporal system, namely the Kali Yuga.. This is just a shamelessly nostalgic romp through an adolescent fantasy world of drugs and kooky science and adventure. Completely insane details pop up throughout, most of which involve props or sets! This is exactly the kind of thing I adore! If I still smoked weed, I would have burned one off for this one. Really "okay" print for VHS, but I'd love to see this come out on DVD. I've ordered the collected Jerry Cornelius books just to poke around in that lost world of Moorcock's. All I ever knew about was Elric of Melnibone' which I remember a few of my friends read and loved in highschool, but I never really liked fantasy. I was always a sci-fi guy, and stuck pretty much to hard sci-fi, or 'hippie sci-fi', ie acid visions, weird sex sci-fi, etc. This was a real coup finding this for me as it was in the Hammer section, and I thought I had seen everything..

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Le Deuxième souffle

Raymond Pellegrin as Paul Ricci

Wonderfully choreographed smoking showgirl dance in Le Deuxième souffle (dir. Jean-Pierre Melville, 1966)

Lino Ventura as Gustave 'Gu' Minda escaping from prison.

While not nearly as entertaining or hard-hitting as Bob le flambeur, I found this film very watchable, if abit long. There were some very memorable characters including the Detective Blot, who had everything figured out even before it happened, and who seemed to echo very closely Joe Friday if he were a French smart-ass. I think more could've been done with this film, I'm just not sure what. There was good use of the frame, some intriguing incidentals like the smoking showgirl dance, but while I didn't fall asleep watching this, my wife did. Lino Ventura also looks like Robert Deniro in a few of the scenes when he is in disguise. The film combines, prison escape, internecine gangster revenge and caper film all in one, so it's quite a bag. I was glad it did not try to have a love angle, because it just would not have fit with these mugs, elegant as they were!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dr. Terror's House of Horror

Poster showing Peter Cushing as Dr. Sandor Schreck in Dr. Terror's House of Horrors (dir. Freddie Francis, 1965)

The copy I got of this was really dark, but it was still a very watchable film. With the two giants of Hammer film horror, Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, how could you go wrong? Well, it is one of those Portmanteau films, you know, the ones with multiple stories hinging off of a single backbone narrative. Each story, and there were four I believe, were pretty good and each revolved around a Tarot reading by Cushing. The weakest one might be the one with the killer plant in it, but I even liked it pretty much. I think I would have liked this a little better with a better print, and plus, I am kind of at the dregs in my Hammer experience, I've seen most of the Hammer horror films 3-4 times over the years, and I know I've seen this one twice. I like the first story and the Jazz story best. This is a good solid Hammer horror film. If you are a Hammer fan you will like it. There are weird takes on the werewolf genre and on Tarot in horror. I think it is a shame not to remaster all of these old films if they can. The acting is good in a way that is hard to describe. I think it is the solid natural enunciation of the British people of a certain type. It just works in a gothic way. That's probably a really goofy way to say that they still sound good to me.