Friday, March 18, 2011

Joe's One Stop Dream Shop

Dreams That Money Can Buy(1947)
Directed By Hans Ricther
Painter and film theorist Hans Richter and some of his friends in the old time surreal avant-garde gang; Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Max Ernst, decide to get together and direct a surprisingly accessible (for these guys this is "Oceans 11"), film about a man who sets up a business selling dreams to people, who cant have any of their own.
After all, as our narrator Joe informs us, "If you can look inside yourself, other people shouldn't be any problem".
Assorted characters come into the Dream shop, a gangster, a repressed banker, an overzealous pamphleteer, a blind man, a bored housewife, etc, and all are given dreams, each one directed by a different surrealist; Ernst, Duchamp, Ray, etc.
Which alternately, delight, offend, disturb, and annoy there patrons.
In that respect it's a little like an anthology film, with each dream, a story in the story, the best of which is a satire of conventional 1940's relationships, staring two mannequins who fall in love and get married.
It's a surprisingly charming and funny little feminist music video (I want the song from this sequence!).
Though the rest of the music is handled by experimental composer John Cage, who gives the film both a traditional comedic tone and one of ambiguous minimal drones and squeaks.
The narrative of the framing tale, that is the story of Joe, owner and dream weaver of the business, is also distinct in that, none of the characters mouths move, and when dialog does take place on screen it comes as voice over, usually with one characters monologues followed by the others.
Most of these are spoken in a kind of Beat style rhyming (this is also a decade before any of the big Beat writers Keroac, Ginsberg, etc, start publishing.).
Though this rhyming can take a minute to adjust to, it gives the film a much needed sense of rhythm and continuity, as a good framing story should.
If you like early avant-garde films or the artists involved, this is an absolute must see, but if your also just interested in early comic fantasy, stories about dreams, poetry, or just watching something visually different, that doesn't just dismiss narrative as a nuisance, it's worth the price of admission.
Few films see the relationship of dream, cinema, and audience this clearly or eerily, but don't take my word for it...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

They Lost Their Lives In Backyards

Directed By Giorgos Lanthimos
Dogtooth is a film about a family who has never let their children of out of the house.

I say “children” but by the time we see them they are well into their 20’s, the eldest perhaps even her early thirties.

So that they do not become confused when reading one of the very limited, and in all probability, heavily redacted books, in their home the parents have taken the time to replace certain unknown words with more tangible ones.

The “sea” they are told is the word for the armchair in the living room, a “zombie” is a small yellow flower, and a “pussy” is a large bright lamp. “For example “If you turn out the ‘pussy’ the room will plunge into darkness”, the mother tells her inquisitive daughter.

I am perhaps giving you too much information up front, the film is largely silent in passages, preferring to tell its story visually and subtly.

It’s not until a substantial way into the film that are we are told what “Dogtooth” means. What we do see and quite early on is that the father brings a blindfolded woman to his home regularly to have sex with the son, who has become increasingly aggressive toward the fence which separates him from the outside world.

Lacking any understanding about why he hates the fence he can only taunt it and hurl objects at it, while suggesting that he can do a better job of cleaning the carpet than it ever could.

A haze of cognitive dissonance pervades everything.

This is all deeply disturbing, and things only get worse as they continue on. Some of you who have seen the 1968 horror film “Spider Baby” also about three adults living and functioning as children and living out a macabre combination of extreme innocence and violence, may experience a sense of deja vu.

“Dogtooth” like “Spider Baby” is also full of pitch black and bleak comedy, but in Dogtooth the comedy is more brutal, surreal, incisive, and believable.

When I first really started this blog a few summers ago, I remember a story that was big on the local news, around the time of the election riots in Iran, about a man in California who had kidnapped a girl, and kept her in his basement for years.

He fathered several children with her, and eventually (with his wife who was aware of all this) moved this second family into the backyard, where they had small shacks concealed from view with a tarp.

There is the Fritzl case, years before that where an Austrian man imprisoned his daughter for 24 years in a basement and abused her, resulting in several children.

I remember then thinking (ignoring for the moment the horrors of the kidnap, perpetual rape, and other likely tortures) about what it would be like to be raised completely cut off from the world. Not just Amish-style culturally cut off, but with no real concept of the outside at all.

The three children of "Dogtooth" having grown up with all things equal begin to become aggressive as the new visitor (the woman brought to have sex with the son) becomes something they cannot share, and begins herself to exert her new found celebrity over other members of the house.

We don’t get any background as to how this family began or why. We can’t understand the parents motives any more than the children could. When silent the family resembles a scene of domestic perfection (the children clad in white), but when the parents speak they sound mysterious and absolute as Gods on a distant mountain.

If you were or have ever met someone who was had a prolonged and sheltered upbringing you might note a familiar childishness in the small gestures of the actors. It’s not just that they are pretending to be children, they are intelligent enough to realize something is wrong with the world, but lack any background knowledge that would tell them what it is.

In a scene which recalls Luis Buneul’s "The Exterminating Angel" (about a party where the guests find themselves unable to leave for reasons that never get explained) the children watch their father leave for work at the edge of the open gate, peering out, but not daring to cross the threshold, like an invisible forcefield had been thrown up at the edge of the driveway. They are told the only possible way to leave the house is in the car. The floor is hot lava.

“Dogtooth” is a satire, of the perfection of the nuclear family, the idea that children can be raised without being contaminated by the rest of the world, but its execution is so ruthless and comical that its easy to forget that its about anything else than a family living in their own private universe. What does freedom mean when the word for freedom might translate to “wood shed”?

From this train of thought, outside of the obvious hypocrisies of the parents and the deeply uncomfortable sexual episodes (akin to the thematically similar “Splice”), we can see a variety of questions emerge about the role language plays in shaping reality (never have Orwell’s notions of a limited language creating limited human beings been better expressed), and the reactionary feelings many people have to modern technology (which revolves for better and worse around communication).

We don’t know exactly why the parents have done this terrible thing to their children but we almost understand their need to create their own perfect world, as instinctively as the son understands that the fence is his natural enemy.

Dogtooth is a very cerebral horror film and if you have dark sense of humor, also an exceptional domestic comedy. It’s rare that I am shocked in a movie, but there were many moments in “Dogtooth” were my jaw was on the floor, or my hands defensively covering my face to keep the images away.

Everyone may see something different in “Dogtooth” “it’s about the homogenizing effects of capitalism”, “the horrors of traditional patriarchy”, “a critique of modern Greek politics”, and they may all be right, when a movie has an ending as devastating and tension filled as the ending here, such considerations take a back seat.

“Dogtooth” takes us into this world of inverted logic, wicked parents, and disastrous siblings rivalries, a place where you might sit on the sea under the gentle light of the pussy with a zombie in your hair and reflect on all that you’ve seen and done and then on the much larger region of all that you don’t know, haven't done, and can only vaguely imagine if at all.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Guy Maddin: Ranked

The Feature Filmography Of Guy Maddin In Order Of Personal Opinion
My Winnipeg(2007)
The Saddest Music In The World(2003)
Twilight Of The Ice Nymphs(1997)
Tales from the Gimli Hospital(1988)
Brand Upon the Brain!(2006)
Cowards Bend The Knee(2003)
Archangel (1990)
Dracula, Pages From A Virgins Diary(2002)