Arse Gratia Artis

An enticing exhibition, but alas it had ended before we hit the Cinematheque.

The fascination of the scatalogical… actually, the word is a misnomer, because there’s no logic in it…

Shameful to admit, but two of the greatest pleasures of the Cinematheque Francaise were a couple of gratuitous arse gags.

One came in the form of an anamorphic illusion. A painting of distorted shapes on a disc is surmounted by a shiny metal column. Reflected in the concave surface of the column, the distorted painting magically undistorts itself to reveal –

No, not a pretty snowflake as in the above example, but a naked man bending over and examining his arse in a mirror — what he sees is not the reassuring sight of his parted buttocks and hairy anus, but a memento mori, a grinning deathshead! Let that be a warning to you.

I can picture Henri Langlois chuckling over this after picking it up in an antique shop. Then taking it home and trying the mirror trick himself.

The other bottom-related event was a silent short called ERREUR DU PORT, starring a fellow named Dranem. Here’s Dranem in an early sound experiment –

But he’s not quite so charming in ERREUR DE PORT. The film begins with him in a train station (obvious backdrop), asking a guard for directions. Dranem is clad in bumpkin attire including huge, spongy clogs, which seem to give him some difficulty.

The guard gestures towards a sign marked WATER CLOSET. Dranem nods and heads over, but enters the nearby telephone kiosk instead.

Cut to inside the booth. Dranem, ignorant hick that he is, doesn’t realize this isn’t a toilet, and approaches the telephone counter, lowering his trousers and squatting on it. Cue grotesque gurning facial expressions as he exerts himself fully in the act of evacuation.

Cut to the station again. A smartly dressed gent is waiting for his turn in the phone booth. He taps his foot — how impatient he is! Dranem emerges, miming immense satisfaction and relief at the is successful conclusion of his business. He staggers off, nearly going over on his ankle in a wince-inducing stumble as his sponge clogs give way beneath him. The impatient man hurries into the phone booth…

To emerge, choking, eyes rolling in horror, a handkerchief clasped to his face. He exits, wafting a hand under his nose in urgent pantomime of disgust. THE END.

The director of this affair was Ferdinand Zecca, top helmer at Pathe Freres — here’s a more pleasant creation from the Great Man to serve as a kind of palate cleanser –

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4 Responses to “Arse Gratia Artis”

  1. Paul Duane Says:

    Yes, who would have expected a cornucopia of filth in the home of cinephilia? Our howls of laughter reverberated across the room, bouncing off the box containing Meliés’ cloak and bashing into the bird mask from Judex. Dranem is a great name for a low comedian, too.

  2. Dranem and weep!

    It’s hard to say if the film is funny because it’s actually performed with any skill, or just because it’s so joyously crass and stupid.

  3. The late great Raymond Durgnat was a big Zecca fan. Somehting tells me Kenneth Anger is too re Eaux d’Artifice.

  4. From what I’ve seen, there’s Melies, because he’s first with everything, then Segundo de Chomon, who repeated everything Melies did and did it better and added animation, then there’s Zecca, who added toilet jokes.

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