Three films from “The Destruction of Plot and Narrative” section of the Vogel.
There is an unbroken evolution towards vertical rather than horizontal explorations – investigations of atmosphere and states of being rather than the unfolding of fabricated plots … art once again returns to poetry and the significance of poetic truth … The elegant characters created by the older masters of world literature, the “full” explanations of human behavior, the delineations of the characters’ past, are replaced by dimly-perceived personages whose actions and motives remain ultimately as unclear as they are in real life: we are all enmeshed in knowledge of others or self that is forever incomplete, forever tinged with ambiguity.
Akran (1969, Richard Myers)
Clips in slow-mo with freeze-frames of… well, if I start listing all the footage sources, I’ll never stop. An Aaron Eckhart-type guy lying in a bed that’s rolling through a park is a memorable image. Entire scenes are constructed from stills, but out of order. Gives the impression of a normal narrative about an attractive young couple who get married, the rushes then handed to a team of maniacs who hated the film but were contractually obligated to turn in a feature-length edit.
Some kind of malicious Marclay-like tape manipulations on the soundtrack. The sound occasionally corresponds to the image, but when people speak we never hear them, instead we hear a cut-up interview about having sex with the devil. Shocker when there’s a sound-synced monologue a half hour in – an older guy who, in keeping with the rest of the film, starts repeating himself. Later, an overlapping montage of monologues may cause insanity in the viewer. A poor moviewatcher myself, an art unappreciator, whenever the audio got too extremely harsh I’d skip ahead a couple minutes.
What even happens in the movie… definitely some dreams, some politics, probably a semi-story of newlyweds hitting the town, fucking and fighting. Escalates somehow to blindfolded executions, gas masks, a mob attacking a car. Ends on a long still of bus passengers – I feel like that’s a callback to a scene I’ve already forgotten.
A lifelong Ohioan, Myers was teaching at Kent State when the cops killed those kids.
Described by the director as an “anxious allegory and chilling album of nostalgia,” its penetrating monomania is unexpectedly – subversively – realized to be a statement about America today: the alienation and atomization of technological consumer society is reflected in the very style of the film.
A Married Woman (1964, Jean-Luc Godard)
A round-haired girl lays naked in bed – she’s Charlotte (Macha Méril, murdered psychic of Deep Red), with a plain-looking guy (Bernard Noël of Roger Vadim’s La Ronde remake). They love each other, but she’s married to someone else (Philippe Leroy of Le Trou, Monocle Guy of The Night Porter). Very unusually for a French chick, she won’t show us her boobs. Lovely shots of legs and hands though, fading out and into the next one, before they stand up and semi-normal scenes proceed. But JLG isn’t here to make a normal love triangle movie, and after we see her with both guys for a half hour, it proceeds to numbered interview segments, the husband then wife explaining their philosophies to unseen/unheard interviewer.
The “plot” of Une Femme Mariée – twenty-four hours with a woman between husband and a lover – is… merely a pretext for vertical, in-depth explorations of values, atmospheres, textures; of relationships, lies, ignorance of self, sex-as-communication. For audiences brought up on Hollywood, the style, tempo, and content of the film is maddening … Alienation is caused in the love scenes by fragmentation and in the interview scenes by the use of real time. This prevents conventional identification with the protagonists, rather compelling the viewer, in Brechtian manner, to ponder the social ramifications of the action.
Anticipation of the Night (1958, Stan Brakhage)
Silent film, so I asked the AI chatbot what music the late Brakhage intended me to play while watching, and it said selections from Thumbscrew’s Never Is Enough, which coincidentally I just bought on half-price sale. I played six of the CD’s 9 songs, treating them like chapters of the film.
Light filtering through glass indoors, intercut with wild swinging camera among nighttime street lights, a silhouette figure opens the door and goes on a trip. Suburbs through a car window, but cutting back and forth to the house.
“Never Is Enough”
The figure returns home, tumbles through the yard, sees a rainbow in the garden hose spray, just as I did 15 minutes ago. Awesome transition through color fields to the night streets as the camera walks into a bush, as if the night hides inside the shrubbery. With all the quick intercutting to the dark scenes I’m starting to make sense of the title. The music gets amped when a baby is sighted in the grass, filmed in constant motion and way too close, of course.
“Emojis Have Consequences”
There’s not much to see in the night scenes – I can’t tell the moon from the streetlights. This must be one of Stan’s films about seeing, how the world was seen before we understood what we saw? An orange color field then the night scenes pick up when we visit an amusement park, the camera panning fast as children whip from left to right, then the camera-eye gets onto the ride.
More rides, beginning with the ferris wheel, then a chill merry-go-round for younger kids, showing how the young riders and the surrounding lights look from each ride, Mary Halvorson’s pinging guitar helping greatly with the blurry nighttime feeling. We leave the park and examine some lit-up atrium from the dark distance, in a series of precision movements.
Driving, trees rush overhead, flash glimpses of a deer, of children in bed, the lighting and music both more blue than before. Wow, the kids are dreaming a water bird, flapping and preening, filmed in zoomed-in fragments, or all at once but defocused.
Is the sun rising or has he wheeled a giant lamp into the sleeping kids’ room? I think the latter. Still intercutting to the nighttime trees, and now a bear instead of the bird. Flashing between night and dawn as the music gets more loopy, then firmly into morning, the silhouette person hanging disturbingly from a rope in the tree.
In the Defining Moments book Fred Camper calls it Brakhage’s first major masterpiece, and says it is not one of the child’s-eye films:
Quite the contrary, it opens with a man’s shadow falling across the frame … we observe his travels as he tries to establish some connection to the world. But except for some brief bursts of light poetry, such as flickering shadows on the wall, the film is largely a depiction of abject failure … the mechanical movements of the [amusement park] rides are the severest versions of the almost mechanical repeating motions through which the camera depicts most of the film’s world, trapping all in the kinds of fixed movements and mechanical rhythms that Brakhage’s later work largely overcame.