El ángel exterminador [1962)

Dear friends…it has been awhile.  And I have been stuck inside a nightmare.

A party, but a nightmare all the same.

On this New Year’s Eve when so many rush to their engagements…I have thanks to give…yet it all seems so surreal.

For many of us we battle mental demons.  Usually, we don’t mean demons literally.  And I certainly don’t.

Yet, the world is so strange that we can’t help wondering whether there is something beyond science which is driving certain events.

These sentiments…these questions, are the stuff of El ángel exterminador.  This is not a relaxing film, but it is absolutely essential.

It is a work of art which is irreplaceable in the global canon of creative thought and philosophy.

Luis Buñuel had immense courage to make this film.  And yet, he was an old hand by this point.

His first film (made in collaboration with fellow-Spaniard Salvador Dalí) was 16 minutes which shook the world:  Un Chien Andalou.  That was 1929.  The slicing of the donkey’s eyeball.  Before the stock market crash.  And verily, the cinematic parallel of Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps.

Outrageous surrealism.  Think of his collaborator’s La persistència de la memòria.  The same fount of Freudian cess.  From the pool of the taxed mind comes melting clocks…(and in the case of Un Chien Andalou those familiar ants).  We will always see Dalí as ants…as ants on James Joyce’s egg-yolk universe…Humpty Dumpty having represented the fall of man (“…sat on the wall/…had a great fall”).  [Or as Joyce so singularly put it:  bababadalgharaghtakamminarronnkonnbronntonner-ronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk!]

Luis Buñuel had the mad genius of Joyce.  In 1930, he followed upon his famous 16 minutes with 60 minutes in L’Âge d’Or.

I had the privilege of knowing Buñuel by way of his first two films and (in bookend fashion) two of his last three films:  Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie (1972) and Cet obscur objet du désir (1977) [his final creation].

But none of this could have prepared me for the devastating, scathing critique of Western civilization that is El ángel exterminador.

The genre known as “comedy of manners” becomes a grotesque apocalypse the hands of Buñuel.  In that sense, El ángel exterminador is closest in spirit (or subject matter) to Le Charme discret de la bourgeoisie.

But it is very important to note that El ángel exterminador is operating on multiple levels.

Is it a damnation of the rich?  Sure.

Is it a mockery of polite culture?  Of course.

But the lethargy and incapacitation we see in El ángel exterminador are the result of very mannerly people being reduced to complete inaction because routine convention has been circumvented.  We see the short-circuiting of well-meaning people who do not know how to cope with change.

And on that level, this film is universal.  It just so happens that the overly-precious manners of the bourgeoisie serve best the filmmaker’s purpose.

Not to disappoint the more visually-stimulated among you, but there is no swooping angel of death in this film.  There is, however, a tense, suffocating masterpiece which makes Hitchcock gems like Lifeboat and even Rope look like the products of lazy philosophy in comparison.

One last thought…  For those who think that the wonderfully-bizarre Alejandro Jodorowsky appeared out of nowhere, El ángel exterminador sets the record straight.  Buñuel was taking aim at the impotence of religion before Jodorowsky was in short pants.  In this film we see the kernel of imagery (lambs, a smashed cello, bits of debris…) which would make La montaña sagrada the beautifully freakish creation it is.  Both were, incidentally, shot in Mexico.

Though Buñuel (a Spaniard) and Jodorowsky (a Chilean) came from different corners of the Spanish-speaking world, their lives would both include important time spent in Mexico and France.  Jodorowsky is, in some ways, still the future.  But to know the future, we must first know the past.

 

-PD

 

British Sounds/See You at Mao [1969)

Bloody fucking bollocks!

I’ve wanted to say that for a long time.  I’ve said it before.  But it looks better in writing.

It has a sort of permanence to it.  Yet we never know.

Why the non sequitur expletive?  Because this film is a brilliant expletive deleted.

Long ago…in a galaxy…in OUR galaxy, as a matter of fact,

there were some clever blokes (?) who called themselves the Dziga-Vertov Group.

Chief among them, of course, was Jean-Luc Godard.

But it is telling that he wanted his celebrity subsumed by something greater than himself.

Ach, Gott!  Fuck this.  I have caught myself slipping into a routine voice.

A routine voice will tell you nothing about this film.

And so we come to the crux of this experiment:  struggle.

Film is a struggle between images and sounds.

In a Godard film, even images struggle amongst themselves in a feeding frenzy.

It is a manifestation of a mind trying to process the unfathomable complexity of the world.

In the film under review, it is especially the sounds which cannibalize one another.

But this is not new in Godard films.  Always, ALWAYS…there is a plethora of content.

Like a honey ant ready to explode.

[                                                      ] Space left intentionally blank.

Analogous to paragraph.

If you are thinking poetry,

you are not far off.

We miss the mark daily.  It is not a Christian confession.

There is not a way to look over the summary to this film on Wikipedia.

In that sense, I am offering a service.

Yet, I am giving you a very subjective, personal impression of this film.

I write film criticism which strives to harmonize with each individual film under consideration.

In other words, each film must be reviewed differently.

There really isn’t, despite a tendency to the contrary towards generalization, such thing as

a film like all the rest.

Yet I have my patois.  My schtick.

Take it or leave it.

Only know that the message is under continually scrutiny.

Self-criticism of film criticism in a controlled system seeking to explain it all.

If you are looking for the answer to the question,

“Who’s in control?,”

the answer is,

“No one’s in control.”

I’m sure my friends at the CIA will agree with me on this.

To clarify, I have no friends at the CIA (that I know of).

Speaking sequentially and descriptively with deference to “plot” is useless here.

We have lost the plot.  [Thank God!]

And so a guitar can change he world.

And some extremely-advanced students can change some Beatles lyrics (months after The White Album was released).

You must struggle in the mud.  Mud and blood.  Le sable et le sang.  Rimbaud.

I failed miserably.

And she was hoisted into the air on a Panavision boom.

Nude ascending a staircase.

This just in…THREE LEVELLERS SHOT BY CROMWELL IN BURFORD…

ORIOLES DEFEAT WHITE SOX IN BOURGEOIS VACUUM

Ah,…now I am weeping for the revolution…or for the auteur.

But the auteur has given us a lasting oeuvre.

Was Truffaut’s only English-language film Fahrenheit 451?

It matters.  Here.  …et ailleurs.

I am weeping for the old auteur…before he’s even gone.

And next I will view but not review.

Solely my own experience.  To remember where I started.  (which is basically where I am at this very second)

I have not moved an inch.

It is essential to see British Sounds.  To hear British Sounds.

As an English speaker.  In April 2015.  You won’t even need the Italian subtitles.

They are telling us we are losers.  THEY they.

I have no message.  “Too many messages.”  –Harry Partch

I am just floating on the waves of free association.

Go on:  call me an amateur.

A lover , not a fighter…who didn’t claw his way up to gargle in the rat-race choir.

He lives.  Let me check.

He lives.

Regardless.

And we have no way of communicating with our fellow man.  The life sucked out of the 21st century.

This is by design.

“Separation is the alpha and the omega of the spectacle.”  –Guy Debord

I present the conspiratorial view of history applied to cinema.

Paranoid nonfiction.  I have never read Dick.

Quicker than you can say Jack Robinson.  The difficulties.

Such a quintessentially British euphemism.

The Troubles.  Northern Ireland.

We know nothing.  It’s not as easy as shot/reverse/shot.

It’s like the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ).

KGB calling it a CIA false flag.

Need we remind the perceptive reader of world history that Dr. Ewen Cameron was being paid by the CIA to carry out hideous psychiatric experiments at the Allan Memorial Institute on the grounds of McGill University in Montreal as part of Project MKUltra over a period of time which overlapped with the activities of the FLQ? That is established fact and not a conjecture with which the KGB had any connection.

And so the question becomes, as Godard and co-director Jean-Henri Roger ask, [to paraphrase] “Is Marx the best weapon with which to confront the situation before us?”

Baltimore is haunted by the past (capitalism).  China is haunted by the present (vestigial communism).  In America there is no present moment (minus the times when reality erupts within the spectacle).  In China there is no past.  Not really.  It is forbidden.  Communism requires the primacy of the present moment.  History is history.  Gone.  Capitalism requires the continuation of the past.  Inheritance.  Both suffer from the status quo.  Capitalism is no longer capitalism…and communism is no longer communism.  The great irony is that monopoly capitalism and totalitarian socialism are no longer easily distinguishable (if they ever were).  Why more people don’t seek out the power elite of this two-sided conspiracy coin is beyond me.

Fear.  Fear prevents us.  Only the dispossessed have what is called courage.  Rage.  Courage.

-PD