Archive for Bunuel

Vex and Silence

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2022 by dcairns

OK, so Gillermo Del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities delivered two stunningly bad takes on Lovecraft yesterday, all sound and fury, signifying more sound and fury. Within minutes I could tell each one was going to be leaden. Pickman’s Model buried the story in irrelevant self-mutilations and was among Lovecraft’s least filmable works anyway — even Nyarlathotep would do better as basis for a scenario — since it’s about unbelievably horrible paintings. Imagine – some poor commercial artist had to try to produce paintings so repulsive they warp the mind of the onlooker.

Now, admittedly, Albert Lewin’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY managed to come up with a rotting portrait equal to Wilde’s conception, or near enough. But what Lovecraft seems to be requiring is beyond even that.

While Pickman’s Model falls into all the inadequacies the story’s nameless narrator credited himself with, in his strained attempts to mimic Pickman’s morbid style, and adds grotesquely amplified squelching sounds in a last-ditch effort to gross us out, Dreams in the Witch House starts out at peak volume and proceeds further and further over the top as it goes on. Actually, it starts with the Shostakovich waltz from EYES WIDE SHUT, thereby proving that the filmmakers have no interest in being original.

Altogether more agreeable to me is DAUGHTER OF HORROR, the film playing in the movie theatre in THE BLOB (version originale) and its director-approved first cut, DEMENTIA. John Parker’s not-quite-a-feature (well, I guess it’s around the same runtime as SHERLOCK JR…)

DEMENTIA is completely wordless, apart from the printed text of the credits. DAUGHTER OF HORROR had a hammy voiceover added, spoken by Ed McMahon, thereby subtract (in part) the film’s USP. The narration just makes everything more obvious, and the story of a man-killing sex worker already has a somewhat rote symbolism to it. The imagery and George Antheil’s score (with vocals by Marni Nixon) provide all the exposition we need.

As a wordless film I thought it sort of less interesting than Ray Milland’s THE SAFECRACKER Russell Rouse’s THE THIEF. In DEMENTIA, we see people talking but we don’t hear them — the suggestion is we’re never close enough. In the Rouse film, nobody talks to him and he’s party to no conversations, and the sense of loneliness created is quite striking. DEMENTIA could have done with that. But the absence of dialogue takes it closer to dream, which is the goal.

Possibly the only movie whose origin lies in a dream recounted by the director’s secretary — John Parker went on to cast Adrienne Barrett in the movie, which seems only fair: It’s your nightmare, now live it.

You could group the film with oddities like ERASERHEAD, SPIDER BABY, CARNIVAL OF SOULS, NIGHT TIDE. Outsider art that’s horror-movie adjacent without quite committing itself — more disturbing because less definable. If the opening scenes, where Barrett walks through a skid row hellscape of varying forms of male oppression towards women, have some of the hectoring obviousness of a commercial, it’s nonetheless all strikingly shot: Parker is determined not to allow a flat or ordinary image into his movie. It’s all expressionist gloom and cartoony forced angles, with continuity and naturalistic behaviour alike sacrificed to the jazzy morbidity.

Packing visual pleasure into every frame, the film nevertheless feels like one of those nightmares where you’re running without making progress — the 56 minutes never seems to end, until of course it does. But that seems entirely appropriate, even if it’s not a sensation you could call enjoyable. When a sleazy guy throws a dress at Barrett and all at once she’s wearing it, we seem to have entered the visual language of, not the horror film or noir (the Venice, California locations prefigure TOUCH OF EVIL) but the musical, and the film’s unending vibe aligns with those distended Gene Kelly ballet sequences which threaten to overflow the movies they’re part of.

The ensuing nightclub scene made me think of SIMON OF THE DESERT, that other underweight surrealist fever dream, and its new York conclusion — are they dancing the Radioactive Flesh? And is that Shelly Berman? It is!

SIMON is it — the perfect double feature pairing for DEMENTIA. When the money ran out, Bunuel’s producer considered showing SIMON with Renoir’s PARTIE DE CAMPAGNE. No. (Great though the Renoir is.) This is the one. Am I too late with that blinding insight?

Page Seventeen II: Attack of the Clones

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 6, 2021 by dcairns

Leaving the Church changed Luis’s intellectual habits as well. Until then, he had coasted along on the usual teenage reading: Sherlock Holmes and Nick Carter, with the occasional Spanish feuilleton. Afterwards, Darwin, Nietzsche, Kropotkin and novelists of the Spanish realist tradition replaced them. Luis never went back to reading for recreation. In his seventies, the books on his shelves were histories of the Church, some surrealist poetry, and Heni Fabre’s pioneering texts on insects. If one wanted sex, action and travel to exotic lands, they were more easily found in the real world.

“I’ve had time to think it through,” Boyd said. “I’ve come to terms with it. I can accept the fact, but not too well, only barely. Luis, do you have some explanation? How come you are so different from the rest of us?”

He did not believe, and yet he admitted the supernatural. Right here on earth how could any of us deny that we are hemmed in by mystery, in our homes, in the street, – everywhere when we come to think of it. It was really the part of shallowness to ignore these extrahuman relations and account for the unforeseen by attributing to fate the more than inexplicable. Did not a chance encounter often decide the entire life of a man? What was love, what the other inescapable shaping influences? And, knottiest enigma of all, what was money?

The 12th came, and he shot wretchedly, for his nerve had gone to pieces. He stood exhaustion badly, and became a dweller about the doors. But with this bodily inertness came an extraordinary intellectual revival. He read widely in a blundering way, and he speculated unceasingly. It was a characteristic of the man that as soon as he left the paths of the prosaic he should seek the supernatural in a very concrete form. He assumed that he was haunted by the devil – the visible personal devil in whom our fathers believed. He waited hourly for the shape at his side to speak, but no words came. The Accuser of the Brethren in all but tangible form was his ever present companion. He felt, he declared, the spirit of old evil entering subtly into his blood. He sold his soul many times over, indeed there was no possibility of resistance. It was a Visitation more undeserved than Job’s, and a thousandfold more awful.

Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. There was a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser’s closet; but John’s eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, rivetted on a portrait that hung on one wall, and appeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to moulder on the walls of a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in the countenance, but the eyes, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they can never forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have exclaimed in his after-life, ‘Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light.’ – Thalaba.

‘Excuse me,’ said the impenetrable Scotchman. ‘I beg to suggest that you are losing the thread of the narrative.’

‘Anyway,’ Mavis was anxious to reassure him that she had not lost track of the original topic, ‘it’s the same with Swiss Cheese Plants. They’re strong. Any conditions will suit them and they’ll strangle anything that gets in their way. They use–they used to use them, I should say–the big ones to fell other trees in Paraguay. I think it’s Paraguay. But when it comes to getting the leaves to separate, well, all you can say is that they’re bastards to train. Like strong men, I guess. In the end you have to take ’em or leave ’em as they come.’

Seven extracts from seven pages seventeens selected willy-nilly from my charity shop hauls and library visits. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale is my current reading matter, and very thrilling it is too, with shipwrecks, murder, dream detection and sinister schemes. It actually has a chapter entitled “The Plot Thickens” and may even mark the origin of that expression. Highly recommended if you want something fat and gripping, and you have no Laird Cregar in your life.

Thanks to Jeff Gee for the Simak.

Bunuel by John Baxter; Grotto of the Dancing Deer by Clifford D. Simak, from The Best Science Fiction of the Year 10 edited by Terry Carr; La-Bas by J.K. Huysmans; The Watcher by the Threshold by John Buchan, from Scottish Ghost Stories, selected by Rosemary Gray; Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin; Armadale by Wilkie Collins; The Transformation of Miss Mavis Ming by Michael Moorcock.

Forbidden Divas RIP

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 19, 2020 by dcairns

Lucia Bosè’s death earlier this year wasn’t much publicised in the UK — David Melville Wingrove discovered it months later, and wrote this beautiful piece. Some more months later, I’m finally publishing it, with apologies.

Imitations of Lives

“There are many ways to commit suicide and still go on living.”

~ Lucia Bosè, Of Love and Other Solitudes

There are stars whose off-screen life is a thing entirely apart from their on-screen image. Then there are stars whose lives on and off the screen seem to intersect in uncannily intimate ways. The Italian (and later Spanish) actress Lucia Bosè was emphatically a star of the second type. In 1967, the whole of Spain was agog at the break-up of her marriage to Luis Miguel Dominguín, the country’s most illustrious matador. Two years later Bosè starred in Of Love and Other Solitudes (1969) – a bleak and anguished drama of marital dysfunction and break-up. This was not so much a case of Art Imitates Life as one of Life or Art, What’s The Difference?

For most of the 50s and 60s, Bosè and Dominguín had been the premier glamour couple of Franco’s Spain. They lived in a palatial villa, had three gorgeous children and their inner circle included Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Jean Cocteau and, more ominously, the dictator General Franco himself. “I can’t say anything bad about Franco,” Bosè remarked years later. “To me he was just a normal man. But my husband was more franquista than Franco, in any case.” It is comments like that which reveal the marriage was not a happy one. There can be no doubt that Bosè married her bullfighter for love. But as the years wore on, she felt increasing dismay at his right-wing politics, his compulsive womanising and his stubborn refusal to allow his wife to work. It did not help that she hated bullfighting and nothing would induce her to attend a corrida.

Anyone could see the couple came from radically different worlds. Lucia Bosè had been born in great poverty on a farm outside Milan. She had little if any formal education and had to work from the age of twelve. As a teenage girl, she survived the Allied bombing and saw the corpses of Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, hanging upside down in the main city’s square. “I learned that horrible things happen every day,” she said. “All you can do is pull yourself together and keep going.” By the age of sixteen, she landed a job behind the counter at Galli, the city’s most elegant patisserie. One day a dashing older man walked in, took one look at the girl and declared she ought to be in movies. The name of this man was Luchino Visconti. It appears he had no ulterior motives; he was gay and had eyes at the time for his young and handsome assistant, Franco Zeffirelli. But he took Bosè under his wing and groomed her systematically into a star.

At first, Visconti had plans to star her opposite Gérard Philipe in a film called A Tale of Poor Lovers. But the funding fell apart so he introduced his protégée instead to Michelangelo Antonioni. She became that director’s first muse and starred for him in Chronicle of a Love (1950) and The Lady without Camellias (1953). She went on to work for other European auteurs, notably Juan Antonio Bardem in Death of a Cyclist (1955) and Luis Buñuel in Cela S’Appelle L’Aurore (1956). This was the career she gave up in 1955 in order to marry Dominguín and lead, essentially, the life of an upper-class Spanish housewife. At the time, she assured the world’s press that her marriage was worth every sacrifice. (One can assume Dominguín was phenomenally good at something apart from killing bulls!) But after twelve years, Bosè decided enough was enough and made her break for freedom. She demanded – and won – sole custody of her children and became the first woman in Spain since the Civil War to be legally granted a divorce.

The events in Of Love and Other Solitudes are in no way as dramatic as these. María and her husband Alejandro (Carlos Estrada) are a well-heeled couple who live in a villa on the outskirts of Madrid. He is an economist and university professor; she is an artist who works in stained glass. Her job, of course, is symbolic. (Be warned this is one of those movies where literally everything is symbolic of something.)  The art of stained glass is not primarily the art of creating anything new or even of reshaping objects in a new way. It consists almost entirely of altering the light in which things appear, of making them look new when in fact they are not. The couple have a son and daughter and a sizable domestic staff. But their house, with its long wood-panelled corridors and walls of clear glass, looks more like an expensive hotel than a family home.

The most annoying thing about Alejandro is that he does not do any of the things that bad husbands in movies traditionally do. There is no reason to believe he is cheating on his wife. Apart from one feeble effort to chat up a girl at his office, he seems to lack the imagination or the energy an affair would require. This is not so much a bad marriage as one that has gone stale. The husband and the wife have simply run out of things to say to one another, assuming they said much in the first place. María consults a psychologist who tells her: “Everyone who gets married is convinced their marriage will be different from the others – and then it isn’t.” What is interesting in this film is not the drama (there is virtually none) but the arid bourgeois lifestyle it evokes. Alejandro and María lead superficially modern lives, but in a country where social and religious attitudes have changed hardly at all since the Middle Ages.

María is the one character who seems in any way aware of this disjunction. Her family background is that of the pro-Franco upper class. A full-size portrait of Franco hangs just inside the front door of her parents’ house. In the next room, in a glass display case, are her father’s medals from the Civil War. She has an obscure sense this is not the world she belongs in – and expresses it in odd and somewhat childish ways. On one wall in her studio hangs a poster of Theda Bara in Cleopatra. In World War I this star was Middle America’s image of the Vamp, the Temptress, the morally and sexually transgressive Apostle of Sin. But it now takes a great deal of naïveté to see Theda Bara as threatening or subversive in any way. She entirely lacks the sophistication and sexual autonomy of the silent Italian divas – most notably, that of Francesca Bertini whom Bosè oddly resembles.

With her vast and haunted dark eyes, her ivory skin and her lustrous torrent of black hair, Lucia Bosè has all the allure of the silent divas and then some. There are stray moments in Of Love and Other Solitudes where she suggests Leonardo da Vinci’s portrait of the Mona Lisa – who has casually stepped out of her frame and deigned to wander about among mere mortals. There are other moments where we notice her chunky and ungainly hands, her way of walking that is at once elegant and strangely awkward. Details like this do not destroy the illusion; they only make us like her more. This film proved a succès d’estime for Bosè and her writer-director Basilio Martin Patino. She followed it with a string of increasingly odd movies. In Arcana (1972) she plays a witch who spits live toads out of her mouth. In La Messe Dorée (1975) she is a socialite who hosts an orgy based on the Roman Catholic mass and winds up giving a blow-job to her son. Was it entirely an accident that her ex-husband’s friend General Franco dropped dead not long after?

She survived into old age as a truly glorious eccentric. At eighty she sported bright blue hair and a designer punk wardrobe and said she had every intention of living to 105. She appeared occasionally in movies but her true passion was a museum she opened to display her art collection, which was made up entirely of images of angels. Her closest companion was her son Miguel Bosé, Spain’s first out gay pop star and the transvestite Femme Letal in the Pedro Almodóvar film High Heels (1991). One almost wishes Almodóvar had starred his mother in a flashy, trashy remake of Travels with My Aunt or Auntie Mame. She could have played either or both roles to perfection and would, in fact, have barely needed to act.

Lucia Bosè passed away in March, 2020 due to complications arising from Covid-19. She was the first famous person in any country to fall ill and die in what would become a global pandemic. Her life was spent knowing that terrible things happen every day and the one choice we all have is to pull ourselves together and keep going. In the world as it is today, that stands as a legacy in itself.

IN MEMORIAM LUCIA BOSÈ (MILAN 1931-SEGOVIA 2020)

David Melville

Lucia Bosé dies at 89 from pneumonia | Spain's News