Archive for October 28, 2010

Asylum Streakers

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2010 by dcairns

Over at The Daily Notebook, this week’s Forgotten tackles the most recent film ever in the history of my august column — 2005’s LUNACY, from the Alchemist of Prague himself, Jan Svankmajer. Shortly after enjoying Svankmajer’s folding of the Marquis de Sade into Poe’s The System of Dr. Tarr and Professor Fether, I watched another version of the same story, THE MANSION OF MADNESS, sometimes known (in truncated form) as THE TORTURE DUNGEON OF DR TARR.

This is a pretty hysterical version/vision, one of several Mexican movies incorporating elements of Poe — director Juan Lopez Moctezuma (he of the awesome name — this is his debut, and he later gave us the impressive ALUCARDA) anticipates Svankmajer by seeing in his source story the genesis of a social microcosm, something Poe arguably did not intend. In this Jodorowskian madscape, a gang of demented criminals have taken over the madhouse and imprisoned the staff, leading to the memorable chant, “What’s under the celery?” to which the answer turns out to be, “The asylum director.” The evil madman who’s taken his place carries on the benevolent “Soothing System” instigated by his predecessor, but with bizarre and Sadeian modifications: inmates are starved in dungeons, or imprisoned within chimneystacks, since the warmth given off by a maniac’s exertions are found to be useful to the heating system. All these weird and lovely ideas have nothing to do with Poe, but are somewhat in the spirit of his conte cruelle.

The vaguely hippiesh arts-crafts look of the costumes and decor (the surrealist author and artist Leonora Carrington has a credit as art supervisor, whatever that means) gives the sense that this is about THE revolution, suggesting a conservative worldview where a youth revolt would lead to greater oppression. Svankmajer’s vision is more sophisticated, and more despairing.

The film is never less than handsome, with a Gilliam-like use of wide-angle lenses in decaying industrial settings — the asylum, limitless and unchartable as Gormenghast, must surely be a conglomeration of different locations, all rendered rubber-walled by the distorting fish-eye. Nudes and fantastically costumed beardies cavort through the cavernous halls, all led by Claudio Brook (the old villain from CRONOS), toothy, ebullient and magniloquent.

“Blame the less soothing aspects of the Soothing System.”

Yay! John Astin.

Posted in FILM, literature, Television with tags , , , on October 28, 2010 by dcairns

Storming, yet nicely conversational, rendition of The Raven by the Great Gomez himself. He somehow doesn’t meet the emotional demands of the “Lenore” bits, but he has a rare quality of seeming actually frightened rather than seeming like he wants to frighten us — which makes the story all the more effective. Plus he’s the best match, visually, for late-period Poe (the final, disheveled, portrait) I’ve ever seen.

“He was a poor drunk devil and had no defenses against the world. So he fled into drunkenness. Imagination only served him as a crutch… Imagination has fewer pitfalls than reality.” ~ Franz Kafka on Poe.