The Chymical Wedding

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DARK AT NOON, AKA L’OEIL QUI MENT (THE EYE THAT LIES) is a bi-lingual Raoul Ruiz fable with John Hurt and David Warner keeping the British end up. Unfortunately, this was another sub-optimal Ruiz experience for me since my copy had no subtitles for the French bits. And I think the French bits may have contained a  number of clues, at the very least, as to why what was happening was happening.

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Nevertheless, it seemed that John Hurt, as the Marquis, wasn’t feeling too well, as his body had been invaded by a second John Hurt, a manufacturer of prosthetic limbs, and his young bride, who were attempting to create a child INSIDE the first John Hurt. The scenes of John Hurt possessed by a male consciousness down one side and a female down the other recall Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in ALL OF ME. The mad science aspects suggest that a more profitable pairing might be with FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND, another film where John Hurt violates the creator’s laws (and a film which might have been well suited to Ruiz, since it has Mary Shelley and her fictional characters inhabiting the same film-universe, quite a Ruizian trope. All this and time travel too). Anyway, the pregnancy has peculiar side-effects for the Marquis:

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Nasty. Are you taking something for that?

(Given that the only Chilean filmmakers I know are Alejandro Jodorowsky and Raoul Ruiz, I really wonder what else they’re getting up to in that distant land…)

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The credits appear over luridly coloured shots of eels, which look like a scrambled cable porn channel viewed in a  hotel room — fittingly enough, since the eels are what our hero (Didier Bourdon) sees when he looks at John Hurt’s sperm through a microscope. “There are three forces in the universe: elcectricty, gravity… and sexuality.”

Add in a plague of Virgins (apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary), rogue levitations and a boy whose unsanctioned miracles are wreaking havoc with the prosthetic limb industry, and we have a typically peculiar Ruiz brew. I liked the special effects, especially the luminous B.V.M.s and David Warner’s paintings, which exude fungoid conwebs that ensnare the unwary while subduing them with a powerful soporific perfume. Now if only I knew what the French characters were on about — it might help me understand what the English characters were on about.

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Or it might not. For a while there, each Ruiz film I saw made more sense to me than the last. I can’t really say that with this and TREASURE ISLAND, but neither was an ideal case, T. ISLAND having been forcibly hacked down from four hours, and this one being only half-English and unsubtitled. I shall choose the next one with care…

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34 Responses to “The Chymical Wedding”

  1. Multiple personaliteis/identities are a constant with Ruiz. There’s always a “double” (from an alternate universe) lurking round the corner. Shattered Image is a fairly pro forma example of this. In Dark at Noon John Hirt appears to be in on the joke.

  2. “Dinner time approaches and the paintings are getting hungrier and
    hungrier…”
    David Warner

    Did Ruiz ever use so many special effects in a film? Also Ruiz and Greenaway’s style are so often compared (both worked on TV Dante) and they are at least superficially simialar. Why then do Ruiz’s failiures seem more interesting than Greenaway’s successes? Where does Ruiz succeed?

    Another quote-Ruiz, shooting his new British film with Tom Conti is told of a continuity error
    “You British, always so concerned with reality”

  3. Hurt’s performance is a mixture of gleefully endorsing the joke, and not understanding a word he or anyone else is saying, or even how to pronounce them. Which seems to work.

    Greenaway’s visual style is much more… consistent than Ruiz’s, which is another way of saying he’s rather boring. PG has some interesting intellectual ideas, but these are always “explored” in his awkward, on-the-nose dialogue, leaving the visuals to do what they always do. Whereas Ruiz’s ideas are part and parcel of his unique approach to narrative (which he probably regards as being in a long and honorable tradition, but which to me is a distinct departure from the stuff that inspires it) and his visuals can either present these ideas or present other, unrelated ones. Greenaway is order and Ruiz inclines towards chaos.

    Tom Conti seems like a good, Ruizian actor! And not busy enough, or at least, not usually in anything I’d go and see, so this is a nice development.

  4. I’m in the middle of Ruiz’s book “poetics of cinema 2”. I’m no theorist, so I don’t understand most of it, but it’s still full of wonderful ideas and quotes… I’ll post some of ’em when I’m through.

    Whenever cinema threatens to become unexciting (say I’ve just watched Alexander Nevsky twice in a row) I remind myself that I’ve got about a hundred Ruiz movies left to see, and that fixes it.

  5. Whenever cinema threatens to become unexciting (rather frequent these days) I watch Good News.

  6. Reminds me, I’ve got to watch my friend Kris’s copy of Summer Stock before I see her tomorrow.

    My next Ruiz will probably be City of Pirates.

    Cinema never threatens to lose excitement for me, though modern mainstream cinema doesn’t hold much.

  7. Well cinema never becomes unexciting for me. No matter how many times I revisit films. Heck whenever I feel down and low, I see a film and suddenly all is right. Even if the film is something like Bergman’s ”The Silence”(which I was able to see again on a big screen this year, really really great).

    “Film is a drug. The only cure for it is more film.” – Frank Capra.

  8. Did Capra say that? Scorsese stole it!

  9. Scorsese quotes the line and properly cites it to Capra in the opening of ”A Personal Journey”. John Ford also said something like that. They were friends.

    It’s the single best definiton of cinephilia that I know(though Capra was referring to making movies likely, Ford certainly did).

  10. Making movies is extremely addictive, even though no part of the process is particularly pleasurable while it’s happening!

  11. Yeah, why can’t it be like that all the time?

  12. Because we’re not Fellini.

  13. Could be.
    The realistic version of that ending would be everybody comes down the stairs and then disperses chaotically into the wilderness, while Guido runs around with a sherpherd’s crook trying to get them to form a circle as discussed in rehearsals.

    Actually, thinking about it, I’ve tended to enjoy directing a bit more whenever I’ve got to do it recently, especially if I’ve actually been allowed to fulfill what I see as the job description. Unfortunately, durecting opportunities have been rare, and opportunities to actually BE the director, rarer still.

    But that could be about to change.

  14. We’d all enjoy directing Claudia, Marcello, Anouk, Barbara et. al.

  15. Truffaut said that the only film that interested him was one which expressed the joy or pain of making a film, he was uninterested in anything in-between. Then he made a film about the in-between, ”La Nuit Americaine”.

  16. And it’s extremely accurate. Probably the best film for capturing the mundanity and magic of filmmaking. Fellini captures the stress and terror and magic.

    Cuadecuc-Vampir might be one of the greats on this subject, actually, although it works quite well if you ignore the fact that they’re making a film — eliminate that possibility from your mind, and then try to work out what they ARE doing…

  17. For Scorsese, the only two films on film-making are ”8 1/2” and ”Peeping Tom”. The former is about the glamour and passion, the latter is about how the camera violates, about the thin line between fiction and documentary.

    I like ”La Nuit Americaine”, beaucoup. But I think it could have been better if the film they were doing was more ambitious. Like the, “Je vous presente, Pamela!” is obviously quite lousy.

  18. Yes, that’s not going to be a film any of us would want to see. Even Truffaut’s director doesn’t seem too enthused, really. Around that time, I think a few of his projects have a “What film can I make this year? What actress would I like to have an affair with?” feeling about them. Although the exceptions are truly exceptional, like L’Enfant Sauvage and La Nuit Americaine.

  19. You are forgetting ”Deux Anglaises et le Continent”, and ”Domicile Conjugal” the third Antoine Doinel feature. The former is a masterpiece, a hugely influential and highly personal film of breathtaking beauty(courtesy Nestor Almendros). It has one of Jean-Pierre Leaud’s greatest performances. The latter is a pretty neat follow-up to ”Stolen Kisses” and a wonderful film.

    Truffaut was mostly consistent throughout his career. The sixties were better and more unified then the 70’s but that period had some of his most mature and most moving films.

  20. Fassbinder’s Beware of a Holy Whore is a great film about filmmaking as is Maximillian Schell’s Marlene, the Maysles’ Grey Gardens and Godard’s Contempt.

  21. I need to revisit both of those. Maybe Doinel Week would be a good idea sometime. I agree that everything FT made is worth seeing (if you respond to him as a filmmaker, which I do) but still think that, as you say, the 70s and 80s work is more up and down. The highs are very high indeed. But I wasn’t too taken with Mississippi Mermaid, despite the stars and my love of Cornell Woolrich, and I could never see much value in The Last Metro, despite my having an absolute fascination with that period of French life. Consider that the Grand Guignol theatre was at its height, and very popular with the Nazis, but all the actors were in the resistance… there’s a much more interesting film in that: the fake horror on stage and the real horror in the audience. Like Bogdanovich’s Targets. And then I love Tavernier’s Laissez Passer.

  22. And then there’s Eskimo Nell, a comedy about the wretched British soft porn industry, made by all the people it’s parodying. A bad comedy parody of bad comedies… it does seem to hit the nail on the head, and that nail is the last one in the coffin of the New British Cinema…

  23. Well I have never really properly seen ”The Last Metro” so I can’t comment. Only seen scenes on TV here and there. But it has some defenders. They say it’s a tribute to the films Truffaut saw as a kid, the French films of the 30s.

  24. The Last Metro was one of Truffaut’s biggest hits. But as my (sadly late) friend Jonathan Benair said of it “To Truffaut the worst crime the Nazis committed was coming late to the theater.”

    I love La Sirene du Mississipi, BTW. That’s maudit like Momma used to make!

  25. Been meaning to look at La Nuit Americaine again. I recall it as being lovely and charming. Godard, in one of the nastiest interviews he ever gave claimed that the entire film was engineered so Truffaut could have an affair with Jackie Bisset

    — to which I can only say “And you have a problem with that?’

  26. That ended their friendship apparently. Godard later tried to make up with Truffaut in the 80s but Truffaut refused. He died few years after that.

    But from what I read, Godard’s objection seemed to be that in ”Day for Night”, everyone of the cast and crew are shown as
    bed-hoppers save for the director, which was plainly not true for Truffaut(as his cameo in ”Adele H.” where he tries to hit on Isabelle Adjani on-screen makes clear) and Truffaut himself plays the director. That seems a legitimate criticism though Godard’s phrasing is very, very crass.

    What do you think of ”The Woman Next Door”, I find that a highly immensely fascinating work. The framing and the editing is superb. His last film is a nice way of going out(he knew he was dying when he made it). I also think that ”L’Amour en fuite” is a remarkable film of it’s kind and ”The Green Room” is his last masterpiece(and best performance).

  27. Crazy about The Green Room. Next to Jules and Jim it’s my favorite Truffaut. Would like to give The Woman Next Door another look.

  28. The Woman Next Door is pretty compelling. Very good performances. Depardieu’s character has an amusing job — whenever Truffaut was inventing characters and had to give them jobs, the job is usually some sheer nonsense.

    Love The Green Room.

    The last film is Vivement Dimanche! Lightweight but very enjoyable.

    I think the worst thing about Godard’s letter was, wasn’t he also hitting up Truffaut for some backing for a film, at the same time as insulting him?

  29. He was. Even for Godard, that’s pretty damn Godard. Still a genius of course and at least he tried to apologize(even if it’s too late) and in one of his videos, he rightly installs Truffaut in a high place in French culture. Truffaut in any case wasn’t too close to Godard as a friend. Of the New Wave crowd, his closest friend was Jacques Rivette. So close that Max Ophuls asked them if they were together when they did an interview with him. Suzanne Schiffman worked with both masters as did Jean Gruault(the Dudley Nichols of the French New Wave).

    Eva Truffaut once asked about ”Stolen Kisses” said that the one thing about her father’s work she felt was lacking was that his characters never seem to have real jobs. She felt that Truffaut had led such an unusual and individual life that he couldn’t really show…normal people. But then she’s forgetting ”La Peau Douce”, where the occupations are fairly believable, that’s one of his very best and most personal films.

    The most unusual job of Truffaut’s is in ”The Green Room” as a writer of obituaries(where his editor is all praises for his prose). Jonathan Rosenbaum once said that the film with it’s homage to the dead is Truffaut’s testament to the auteur theory and dealing autobiographically with his years as a critic. So Jean Daste must be Andre Bazin(although Truffaut said that his doctor in ”L’Enfant Sauvage” was Bazin and the kid was him). After all when you are talking of the still living dead…where else can you possibly look for that then in the cinema? Especially the films of the past which never grow old. Truffaut made that film at a time when Jean Renoir and Hitchcock were on their deathbeds as he very well knew. Ironic part is that he’d himself be gone in five years.

  30. I liked it at the time, but I loved it even more by the late 80’s-early 90’s when 3/4 of my nearest and dearest friends were dropping dead from AIDS.

  31. Yes. It’s a desperately moving film. The dead remain with us.

    Godard’s foreword to Truffaut’s letters (or is it his collected criticism?) is very gracious, if elusive. Seems like Godard made his peace even if FT didn’t.

    Obituary Writer is a great job for a movie character. I think there might be an obituarist in Rene Clair’s It Happened Tomorrow — but no, it’s just the guy who works in the newspaper “morgue”. So that’s a career that’s been underexploited by the movies.

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