Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Surrealists Are So Pretty But Then So Many Artists Are Forgotten

A couple of weekends ago I watched a Netflix triple feature: The Triumph of Love, Romper Stomper, and Once. It was lots of fun as none of these films had anything to do with each other and I'm the kind of person who only listens to her ipod on shuffle.

Romper Stomper is really disturbing and really well done, but judging by a quick google search it has been embraced by every stripe of wannabe violent asshole, which is a pity. It's a show boaty, high energy Clockwork Orange-influenced tragedy about Australian Nazi skinheads. It was Russell Crowe's second major film role and he is really, really good in it. His performance as this really menacing, tightly wound skinhead is so completely different from the likable character he was in Proof (directed by Jocelyn Morehouse, PJ Hogan's wife), a movie I really adore. Once, as basically every other person on the internet has already said, is a complete joy. Triumph of Love was sort of a mess, a filmed version of a Marivaux play, starring a sort of incompetent Mira Sorvino. It had a lot of ideas, such as seeing flashes here and there of a modern day audience sitting on folding chairs watching the action. It was directed by Tasmanian Clare Peploe, who got her start as the writer of Anonioni's hippie epic, Zabriskie Point. Which brings me back to The List I started a couple of posts ago.

Lois Weber is someone I had never heard of until I began researching female directors for this blog project. According to IMDb, she directed 132 films (although according to Film Reference the number could be well over 300) and was the first woman to direct a feature. There is a clip from her film Hypocrites on YouTube and it really makes me want to watch the whole thing. It's beautifully shot, and I'm not entirely sure what is going on but it features a priest and a naked ghost girl and it's super ethereal and lovely (Note: the music used, however, is super annoying. I suggest you mute it). Lois Weber was a rabidly successful silent actor, director & producer. She was the highest paid director at Warner Bros. and from what I can gather (up to 90% of all silents are lost, few of her films survive), she explored moral hypocrisy and society's ills from a kind of early 20th century religious/progressive/feminist perspective. Her films looked at abortion, birth control, capital punishment and drug addiction and made lots and lots of money. Like many successes of the silent era, the combination of a messy personal life and the coming of sound killed her career. She found some work as a script doctor and then died penniless in 1939. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (6518 Hollywood Blvd.), and is all but completely forgotten.

Maya Deren. Why are all the lady surrealists all so, so lovely? Maya Deren was an experimental film-maker who although she rejected being classified as a surrealist, made a number of films which share many qualities with the films of Cocteau, Buñuel and Duchamp (who she at one time collaborated with). Her most famous film Meshes of the Afternoon, is like a dream. I do not mean what is usually meant when people describe things as being "dream-like". It is just like a dream, in its constant repetition of events with slight variations, confusion of identity, its use of the subconscious and of ritual. It was playing on a loop at the Tate Modern when I was there, and I just sat and watched it two or three times in a row. I love At Land, which somehow manages to build an unimaginable tension through its imagery and silence. In 1947 she received a fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation to travel to Haiti and study Voodoo. She died young in 1961 from a brain hemorrhage brought on by malnutrition and amphetamine addiction. Or possibly from a voodoo curse. One never knows.

1 comment:

That Fuzzy Bastard said...

At Land is indeed wonderful, and I'm also very fond of her dance films, which were hugely innovative in their combination of choreography and camera movement. Whenever I hear critics bitching that '50s-musical full-body no cuts is "the only way to shoot dance" I want to sit them down in front of Deren until their little brains pop open.

Her life was also pretty fantastic---if you get the chance to see In the Mirror Of Maya Deren, I highly recommend it, and not just for Stan Brakhage describing Deren throwing a full-size refrigerator at him!