Archive for Triumph of the Will

A Hard’ Day’s Reich

Posted in FILM, MUSIC, Politics with tags , , , , , , , on July 30, 2015 by dcairns

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A very  weird thing. In A HARD DAY’S NIGHT, Paul McCartney is filmed with a camera hung from a rope from the stage roof, so that the camera can circle him 360, more or less smoothly — it’s basically a hand-held shot, but the rope adds a degree of stability. And this is a shot invented by Leni Riefenstahl for TRIUMPH OF THE WILL.

In the opening credits, one could reach for some connection between the waving hand gliding across the screaming fans, with the way Riefenstahl films Hitler’s outstretched salute from a moving vehicle, a disembodied hand flying over the heads of the volk.

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The fab four’s departure by helicopter at the end, by this logic, reads like an inversion of TRIUMPH’s opening, in which the Fuehrer descends from the skies.

I’m sure there was another connection which struck me but I can’t recall it. I don’t remember a speeded-up sequence of the Fuehrer mucking about in a field. Though John Lennon does attempt some garbled German in the bath (“Heinrich! Headphones! Help!”)

I don’t think too much should be made of any of this. Since Lester and his team were making a conscientious effort to keep their film as light as possible, cribbing from Leni doesn’t seem an appropriate technique. She may be many things, but light isn’t one. And I think the (slight) similarities are not much to do with David Bowie’s theory (“This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide!”) that there’s something dark and fascistic in rock. See Peter Watkin’s PRIVILEGE, which clones the floating hand shot exactly and pointedly, for that view.

Lester’s approach was to try to be useful — it’s all practical problem-solving, according to him: it’s just because his mind works differently from anyone else’s, his solutions are not those many others would choose. Riefenstahl said that her job was to make Hitler look good, though she denied this had any political meaning (!) — Lester was hired to make the Beatles look good. How can we make a single person performing seem dynamic and interesting when they are stationary> The moving camera is a way of tricking the eye into looking at something for longer than it would normally be satisfied to do.

Right — announcement time — let’s do THE KNACK Film Club on Friday 7th. If you’re able to get the film watched before then, or if you’ve seen it and have strong memories of it, we can all have A Heated Debate on that day. I’ll try to serve up some mini-observations along the way and suggest some possible points of discussion.

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The Sexy Sex Secrets of Sexy Sex

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 25, 2008 by dcairns

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Not, it’s not Sexy Week again, but it IS Antony Balch’s lamentable masterpiece SECRETS OF SEX, which I received through the generosity of cartoonist Douglas Noble. I am forever indebted!

Balch, a William Burroughs associate and cinema owner, collaborated with Burroughs on THE CUT-UPS and later made HORROR HOSPITAL, a deranged Brit-horror comedy thing, which has to be seen to be belittled/bemoaned/befouled. “Starring” Robin Askwith and Michael Gough and a dwarf, with a magnificently inebriated guest appearance by Dennis Price (one might call it a “walk-on” except he doesn’t walk and probably couldn’t) as a talent agent who leers at Askwith’s denim-swathed bulge, and featuring a Rolls Royce with DEATH RACE blades for decapitating fugitives from the titular place of healing, it’s not exactly good but it’s far far more imaginative than most British horror films, bearing comparison with the likes of SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (whose writer, Christopher Wicking, just died, all too prematurely).

But SECRETS OF SEX is something else again. A little closer to Balch’s Burroughsian side, it’s a scrapbook of ideas strung together by the narration of Valentine Dyall as an Egyptian mummy. Because naturally, when you make a sex film, you want it narrated by an animate corpse, don’t you?

It may be time to re-alert Shadowplayers to Operation Prole-Wipe, the initiative put in place by the Heath government to reverse the postwar population explosion by putting the British public off sex. While America and Europe bathed in a fountain of hardcore filth, some of which, by virtue of it’s sheer gynaecological explicitness, could be seen as vaguely instructional, plebeian Britain was subjected to an endless and debilitating stream of softcore “comedies”, designed to make sexual activity of any kind seem off-puttingly ridiculous, undignified and ugly. While the ruling classes continued to yank their planks to yellow-sleeved volumes or erotica with Aubrey Beardsley illustrations, the proletariat were suddenly exposed to the sight of Robin Askwith’s heaving bum working away like an oil derrick amid the soap-spew of a malfunctioning washing machine, Liz Fraser as a character called Miss Slenderpants, and graphic shots of the face of Bill Maynard, a gifted comic whose “distinctive” appearance radiates anti-orgone, the sex-destroying energy, causing him to spend his life within a force field of celibacy, a walking bubble of not-getting-any.

Britain’s acting establishment threw themselves into the proud task of sterilising the nation’s manhood, and renowned thespians such as John LeMesurier, James Robertson Justice, Irene Handl and future prime minister Tony Blair’s father-in-law Tony Booth, rushed to wallow in the steaming tide of buttock-thrusting pantomime. While low-grade pornographers like Derek Ford found themselves elevated to near-mainstream status, with actual budgets and actors to contend with, respected filmmakers like Val Guest enthusiastically mutilated their own reputations with tosh like CONFESSIONS OF A WINDOW CLEANER and AU PAIR GIRLS, films whose existence can only be accounted for by their makers’ fierce dedication to the production of widespread erectile dysfunction.

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Into this realm of conspiracy comes Antony Balch, with a project boldly conceived to rip the lid off this covert sex/class war. SECRETS OF SEX renders the anti-erotic propaganda overt, so that it can no longer be hidden. What other excuse for the repeated ECUs of an eye with a loose contact lens; the man terrifying a Hill’s Angel with his pet lizard; the male homosexuality, which in 1970 would have struck terror into hetero wankers; the glove puppet deformed baby; the closeups of puckered and wrinkled derrieres; the castration/disembowelment by guillotine blade; and that damned mummy?

Just as Goebbels reckoned Leni Riefenstahl’s TRIUMPH OF THE WILL was too overtly propagandistic to be effective, Balch’s overseers in Whitehall blanched at his deliberate flaunting of their anti-erotic mission, and effectively blacklisted him from their 1984-like plan to pacify the masses with porn. But what remains is a truly demented Odyssey through the sick, the strange and the transweirdening. The only thing that really gets fucked is your head.

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Like Jerry Lewis’s SMORGASBORD/CRACKING UP, Balch conceives his film in the loosest terms, then violates those terms wantonly. A highly colour-coordinated spy spoof starring Maria Frost (Lindsay Shonteff’s PERMISSIVE, but she’s — incredibly — not good enough for a starring part there) stops dead while the characters watch a silent porno where everybody is in drag and nearly everybody is a violent rapist. Storylines are introduced (by the nodding mummy) to illustrate some philosophical point, but never do. The battle of the sexes is introduced as a theme, and Balch seems to take this VERY seriously, seemingly longing for the day when it becomes a shooting war, but no theme could truly account for the souls reincarnated as flowers skit, the bit with the lizard, or the grand fireworks display at the end.

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Whaaa?

SECRETS OF SEX may actually be the weirdest film I’ve reviewed here — the weirdest thing about it being that it’s seemingly intended to fulfill some sort of commercial purpose. Antony Balch is hereby inducted posthumously into Shadowplay’s LEGION OF UBER-HEROES.

Anger…and Other Deadly Sins

Posted in FILM, literature, MUSIC, Mythology, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2008 by dcairns

Shadowplay guest blogger and part-time benshi film describer David Wingrove, who writes as David Melville, reports on Kenneth Anger’s appearance — or should one say MANIFESTATION? — at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Read it up!

On a grey and rainy August afternoon (in Scotland, that is not a contradiction) two friends and I took a train to Dundee to meet Kenneth Anger. He is a…well, I could say ‘living legend’ but that hardly seems to do him justice.

David Wingrove on his way back from Dundee, photographed by Fiona, who had just managed to get her camera to work.
For 60 years or so, Anger has been the uncrowned king of gay/experimental/avant-garde/underground cinema. (Just watch Fireworks (1947) or Scorpio Rising (1963) and slot in whatever adjectives fit best.) He is the notorious author of Hollywood Babylon and Hollywood Babylon II, still the most scabrous books of movie gossip. His long-promised Hollywood Babylon III lies buried under a heap of threatened lawsuits. An alleged Satanist and avowed disciple of Aleister Crowley, he was unwillingly linked (through his ex-boyfriend Bobby Beausoleil) to the grisly Charles Manson killings.

At four years of age, Anger played the Changeling Prince in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 film of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, still Hollywood’s most purely intoxicating blend of Art and Kitsch. He is one of several distinguished survivors from that film – others include Mickey Rooney and Olivia de Havilland – and Warner Brothers’ failure to recruit one (if not all three) of them to do a commentary on last year’s DVD must count as a Crime Against Celluloid Memory. More than 70 years on, Rooney and Anger remain pals. Olivia may still be fuming at that snapshot of her in black lace lingerie (!) that Anger slipped into Hollywood Babylon II.

 

Either Dundee Contemporary Arts, or David Cairns Associates.

No wonder we felt a tad nervous, trudging through a downpour towards Dundee Contemporary Arts. (If the Great Beast didn’t come and get us, the wrath of Miss Melanie very well might.) So it’s a pleasure to say that, in person, Kenneth Anger is a joy. Gentle, soft-spoken, immaculately tanned, he looks a good two decades younger than his 78 years. In the bar after the show, he shared his enduring love of Shakespeare, commedia dell’arte and Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis. “Not long ago, I went to Paris for a showing. My God, have you seen the state of the print? It was so horrible I hid my eyes and ran out of the theatre.”

 

Kenneth Anger, in Dundee.

Judging from that night in Dundee, Anger’s own work has been strikingly well preserved. Lucifer Rising (1981) gave us Marianne Faithfull as Lilith, Mother of All the Demons – looking eerily beautiful with her face painted blue. Invocation of My Demon Brother (1968) had a soundtrack by Lilith’s old flame, Mick Jagger. Cheekily, Anger cuts in a few near-subliminal shots of the Rolling Stones and their court, in between the all-male orgies and the Black Mass. Rabbit’s Moon (1950), with its lovelorn Pierrot lost in a moonlit wood, is an achingly gorgeous evocation of both Shakespeare and Carné. It has the wistful and fragile beauty of a Verlaine poem.

 

Mouse Heaven (1992) is Anger’s celebration of the original Mickey Mouse drawn by Ub Iwerks – a subversive, anarchic little imp – before Walt Disney turned him into an icon of all-American cuteness. One of the most purely joyous pieces of cinema I have seen, Mouse Heaven sparked a ferocious copyright row with Disney. The wounds, for Anger, are still raw. He confided his long-cherished ambition to blow up Disneyland. “If it really is ‘the happiest place on earth’ as the ads say, why do so many children come out looking disappointed? Just look at their faces! Kids know when they’ve been cheated.”

 

Anger’s more recent films, shot on digital video, bear witness to his enduring love of the male form. My Surfing Lucifer (2007) shows a gold-haired beach boy riding the sort of waves that, in Southern California parlance, are called ‘tubular’. Foreplay (2007) spies on a soccer-team as they stretch and limber up before a game. The sight is numbingly normal to the players themselves, yet richly homoerotic to Anger and his camera. Once the official programme was through, Anger invited the whole audience up to the gallery for a ‘private’ showing of I’ll Be Watching You (2007) – a piece of hardcore gay erotica. Two cute French boys make love atop a parked car, while a third cute boy watches on CCTV and…er, enjoys it too. This may be the sexiest film ever made by a man old enough to be your granddad.

 

But the highlight of the late work was the not-yet-officially-premiered Ich Will (2008). A chilling yet weirdly erotic montage of documentary footage of the Hitler Youth. (The title translates from German as “I want!”) Starting with idyllic Sound of Music-style gambolling amid the lakes and mountains of Bavaria, it builds up to a full-scale Nazi rally that evokes the nightmare world of Leni Riefenstahl and Triumph of the Will. Its menace is underlined, brilliantly, by the ominous tones of Anton Bruckner’s Ninth Symphony.

 

Invocation of my Demon Brother?

It’s not often one can go from Disney to Riefenstahl – from the Magic Kingdom to the Third Reich – with barely a hiccup in between. That is perhaps Anger’s unique gift. It was only on the dark, wet train ride back to Edinburgh that I got to pondering how similar these three artists really are. Walt Disney, Leni Riefenstahl, Kenneth Anger. All three create images that bypass our conscious mind and enter, direct and perhaps unbidden, into the depths of the id. We are aware, with other filmmakers, of a voice and a vision beyond our own. Disney, Riefenstahl, Anger…they speak from within.

 

The official premiere of Ich Will is set for the Imperial War Museum in London on 29 October. (All Souls Night, as Anger points out gleefully.) One shudders to think what the invited audience of elderly war veterans will make of it. Still, as Anger freely admits: “I’ve always enjoyed being a bit controversial.” That may or may not go down as the greatest understatement of the 21st century. But it will do very nicely for the first decade.

 

David Melville

 

Thanks to the Amazing Dr. Anger, to Yvonne Baginsky and Fiona Watson – who shared the experience – and to the fabulous staff at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

Special thanks to David for being there and writing it down.