Germaine Dulac was one of the original French film ‘auteurs.’ She was also a film theorist and feminist. She had a relatively short career as an avant-garde filmmaker, making such works as ‘The Smiling Madam Beaudet (1923) and ‘The Seashell and the Clergyman’ (1928) which is often credited as being the first Surrealist film.
In this film, the title translated as ‘Those Who Make Themselves,’ we follow a destitute drunk woman who appears to yearn for the life of a prostitute or to engage in some sort of tryst. It is also possible that she is simply despondent over rejection by a lover. She appears to fail at everything she tries and eventually walks down a staircase into the Seine river. It’s a very simple film that manages to convey a deep sense of loneliness.
Dulac insisted on being credited as the author of her films, not accepting the standard partnership between a screenwriter and director.
Here’s a 1923 quote from Dulac:
I believe that cinematographic work must come out of a shock of sensibility, of a vision of one being who can only express himself in the cinema. The director must be a screenwriter or the screenwriter a director. Like all other arts, cinema comes from a sensible emotion … To be worth something and “bring” something, this emotion must come from one source only. The screenwriter that “feels” his idea must be able to stage it. From this, the technique follows.
First, here’s a nice review and interview about the film at Dangerous Minds. Want to follow a secret identity artist through a dangerous Los Angeles as he escapes and hits like a criminal? Hang on and watch carefully. You may need to watch it 14 times to catch the drift. But you’ve probably got that kind of time anyway. This is a Los Angeles crime film. But it’s as if several films on celluloid fused together and what you end up with is an art film that gets overwhelmed by urban documentary and then collapses into a narrative thriller. It’s filled with hints, clues, evidence and misdirection. Images, ideas and sounds bounce off each other, mirror each other. There are secrets in this film. You have to watch carefully, through layers to catch things. I’ve tried to make a film that moves like disjointed thoughts toward the preordained ending. Continue reading …
While I was running through the Getty Center’s flagship portion of the massive citywide ‘Pacific Standard Time‘ art exhibit, I was struck by just how great this Wallace Berman fellow really was. Known primarily as the ‘father’ of assemblage art, he was also a member of the Beat Movement. He made a single film which occupied much of his time through the 1960s and 70s. It’s less than eight minutes long and it’s a drop dead gorgeous thing to see. He’s one of those film artists interested in what I like to call the messy image. The film seems to have been dragged through ink and dirt. It’s been scratched, wrinkled, folded, cut, slashed and stained. Letters flash by like subliminal messages. Pop culture crashes into modern art. He films magazines, papers, radios, faces, hands, rock stars, body parts, buildings, streets and apparently just about everything he had lying around in his studio. This film is a quiet little reminder that crystal clear HD and super sharp focus are not anywhere near the concerns of some artists.
And here is California assemblage artist George Herms talking about Berman recently as part of the Pacific Standard Time series of exhibits:
It’s all very confused and mysterious. In 1972, the Rolling Stones hired photographer and filmmaker Robert Frank to make a film about their American tour. He made something wonderful called ‘Cocksucker Blues,’ which immediately angered the Stones because it actually showed them to be the ultra coolest and baddest band in the world. They sued him to keep the film out of circulation. Go figure. Why would you sue a guy for making the one absolute piece of evidence that you are what you say you are: ‘The greatest rock & roll band in the world?’ Well I don’t know the answer. Drugs and addled minds perhaps. This short film is actual footage taken by Frank on Super 8 cameras. It’s been edited by someone called Videodrumz on YouTube and put together with ‘Rocks Off’ from the ‘Exile on Main Street’ album. It’s good. It works. The footage is absolutely recognizable as Frank’s.
Here’s an extremely rare underground Halloween treat for anyone who loves film. Ah, but only the very fewest of you will actually watch this all the way through! Give it a try. Not only is this film underground… it’s underhanded. Pere Portabella made ‘Cuadecuc, Vampir’ in 1970 by filming on the set of a Christopher Lee film called ‘Count Dracula’ that was being directed by Jesus Franco. Portabella’s underground classic is on its surface a silent horror film. But it’s also a documentary about the making of the Dracula film. It tells its story by stealing scenes from the feature being shot around it, almost as if the film were a mashup of existing footage! The high-contrast black and white photography evokes such cinema greats as Carl Theodor Dreyer’s ‘Vampyr’ and F.W. Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu.’ We see typical horror scenes like a stagecoach racing through the wilderness, or a dusty crypt, interrupted by the arm of a prop person using a fan to blow fake spiderwebs or a cameraman shooting from behind furniture. These slippages from horror into documentary actually produce a weird terror when you realize that the film was being shot under the watchful eyes of Spain’s dictator, General Francisco Franco. What the film really is underneath all the fantastic and disturbing imagery is a vicious attack on Franco and the false media manipulation that keeps all dictators in power. The portrait it paints of Franco himself is one of a sad, disturbed and largely ineffective vampire who lives inside a mental construction based on the past. The other characters in the film seem to be wandering through this psychotic realm, trying to find a way out.
The soundtrack incorporates jet engines, muzak, electronic music, opera singing, jackhammers, stuck records and various other electronic sounds. Don’t let this throw you because the soundtrack is one of the most eerie and unsettling that you will ever hear.
And I’m thinking that Criterion needs to jump on this and make a nice blu-ray release out of it.
Filmmaker Andre Perkowski is working on a huge 3 hour plus adaptation of the novel ‘Nova Express‘ by William S. Burroughs. It’s a wild, ragged, disjointed, warped, damaged, serious and funny mashup of found footage, original film and Burroughs’ reading voice along with others. It’s got those incoherently combined sci-fi and thriller elements that Burroughs so easily manipulated as if in a delirium. The film is itself a kind of cutup, mirroring the technique Burroughs used that involved gathering unrelated bits and pieces of other books and newspaper articles to formulate sentences that somehow ramble on without necessarily leading anywhere specific. The novel is about exposing the secrets of those who attempt to control all thought and life with virus-like ideas, machines and drugs.
Perkowski is a filmic oddball who delights in making things that are messy. He draws and collages to create new images, purposely ruining his images to create the unexpected. I think his mental immersion into Burroughs is leading him through his wonderful film with great assurance. Apparently, Perkowski is constantly adding to the film and changing it. He has at least six different ‘drafts’ of the film. As he goes, he posts chunks of the film on his YouTube channel which I happen to think is a fantastic idea. There are similarities between the way he works and the way I work on films like my ‘Yellow Plastic Raygun.’ I have often told people that I suspect the video scrubber button in non-linear video editors that allows a filmmaker to fly through a full length feature film in seconds is perhaps the single most important cinematic tool of the last thirty years. It is this little tool that allows for the searching and matching of cinematic elements that could never have been found in a human lifetime before the non-linear editor. So it leads to entirely new form of cinema. That’s what you are watching here with Perkowski’s film. It is a powerful work of new cinema and may well be the best adaptation of a Burroughs work that I have ever seen.