4 = 1
I don’t need to post all of these films. Actually, one would suffice. I propose that they are all the same film in different forms. I could easily add others to the list (the FINAL DESTINATION franchise, for example) but these are, I believe, the peak manifestations of a common theme.
1 = 0
No. It’s something more than a “theme” that these films depict or explore. It is a state of being…or a becoming into something other than a state of being. They depict, as best as possible, the materialization of death in life.
Or, again, there might be something more ominous and hidden that unites them thematically and spiritually: something not so easily described in summary.
4 – 1
I don’t have access to a free, streaming version of DON’T LOOK NOW, but I needed to post it anyway, in conjunction with the other films here, so as to complete a picture with four corners: a kind of Jungian mandala in which one piece remains in the shadows.
-1 + 1
DON’T LOOK NOW and LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD are both well known and critically praised films and by posting them I am not abiding by my self-imposed limitations for movies belonging on this blog. Nonetheless, I believe that they are enriched and, as Donald Trump might put it, “imbiggened” by considering their relationship with the other two films posted today.
THE INFERNO OF HENRI-GEORGE CLOUZOT is a documentary about the making of a film. One must truly stretch the definition of “horror” to include it in the genre, but it is nonetheless a most specific embodiment of what the genre reaches for…like a guided missle. THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION, though horrific, is ultimately unclassifiable although it is based upon a novel by J.G. Ballard which is commonly referred to as “experimental science fiction.”
Of the four, only DON’T LOOK NOW, the film for which I have not provided a link, is widely considered horror.
Directed by Nicholas Roeg, DON’T LOOK NOW depicts a grieving man’s obsession with a spectral girl in a red rain coat that he keeps seeing in the streets and alleyways of Venice. She reminds him of his own daughter who died less than a year before. He thinks it might be her. Meanwhile, Venice is also haunted by a murderer who is definitely no ghost. The plot is just a device for Roeg, who uses it as the basis for a movie that runs like clockworks, layered with coincidences and synchronicities, that push the protagonist, inescapably, to a horrifying conclusion. At that point every other aspect of the movie and, indeed, the character’s entire life and identity, are realized and contained in an extreme moment of completion. Death, itself, manifests.
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD is a picture that seems broken but is perfectly complete. Using repetition, a carefully controlled rhythm, and an eternally roving camera, the great director Alain Resnais, working from a script by the equally great writer/director Alain Robbes-Grillet, creates a kind of cinematic puzzle. Scenes and sections of dialogue repeat themselves, slightly different and in different locations, slowly changing over time. The movie, itself, feels as if it is both hiding and revealing something of immense importance. The ambiance is deja vu. The emotion evoked is confusion, curiosity, and dread. One needs to understand it, but one becomes wary of what it is that may be revealed by one’s understanding. The structure of the film itself, like the ornate architectural structures it depicts, is an endless series of mirrors reflecting each other into…eternity? Can we conceive of eternity? Can it be contained within a work of art…a roll of celluloid? No. We only have death as an image of eternity: death seen from the perspective of life and yet outside of its control. It is death like a moment in time always lost forever. A moment in time interchangeable in one’s memory with any other moment…even now. A moment in time like a painting in process, alway changing, always lost under another layer of strokes. It is a reality made torturously imperfect by perfection.
I’m using pretentiously pseudo-poetic language that may not be very precise or artful. I realize that. What I am describing, and what these films depict, is not some rarified concept only existing in the realm of philosophy or romantic art. It is, nonetheless, an experience that might be most familiar to artists or poets…even bad poets. Every time an artist completes a true work of art they die a little. An entire world of becoming dies in every completion. This is what the French call the “little death.” This is also a term used to describe the orgasm. By avoiding precision I am avoiding orgasm. Bad art is tantric.
Outside of DON’T LOOK NOW, THE INFERNO OF HENRI-GEORGE CLOUZOT is perhaps the most accessible of the movies I am (or am not) posting today. It is a documentary about the uncompleted film, INFERNO, which the director Clouzot (THE WAGES OF FEAR) approaches with the obsessive ferocity and contradictory attitudes toward “control” that any artist might feel when attempting to create something truly novel, important, and complete in our world. At first the documentary is simply fascinating, particularly for including many screen tests through which Clouzot experimented with new film techniques. Many of these are Op Art inspired, fantastical, colorful, and alluringly iconic images of his main actors. The tone does not cross over into horror until nearly 40 minutes into the documentary. You might not call it “horror,” but that is nonetheless what it is. Anyone who has ever suffered from chronic anxiety, the condition that inspired Clouzot to make his film, can understand the mechanical spiral into damnation that curses the director and his film as its production unfolds. I truly believe that, if Clouzot’s film had been completed, all those involved would have died…perhaps sucked down into the depths of the artificial lake which is central to the film. If they had not died, they would have been haunted by death like the survivors in a FINAL DESTINATION film.
THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION is one of only a few films that attempt to translate one of J.G. Ballard’s experimental novels into a moving image. It is most definitely more loyal to its source than any of the others. In fact, it is the kind of novel – no obvious narrative arc, interchangeable characters, and obscenely preposterous imagery and ideas – that is often described as unfilmable. To even attempt it is a feat of daring and the creators of THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION have succeeded admirably. In this film the common themes from the other three films above are realized within the context of our media-enhanced, mediation-entranced world. It depicts a mad psychologist attempting to recreate all reality and its history, with all of its incongruous elements, through “experiments” that resemble morbid, ritualistic experimental plays. His ultimate aim, and by proxy the aim of the entire world he is representing, is the creation of a “generative” World War III. The meaning of this apocalypse and the psychologist’s motivations unfold throughout the film.
THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION depicts the end point of the process of “elective insanity” that occurs as a result of encapsulating one’s entire experience of reality within a controllable medium. This is not the virtual reality of a Star Trek holo-deck, it is the virtual reality of social media, politics as entertainment, and the overload of decontextualized information now available through the internet and in the palm of our hand. It asks the question, “How do we create and embrace meaning in a world in which all meanings are available and competing?” It asks, “How do we conceive of ourselves in a world in which all of reality can be encapsulated in sound bytes and memes?” Ballard proposes that the “world,” itself a representation of our own psyche, seeks out death as an answer to these questions: an artificial death. By this logic, a cell phone is a miniature coffin that we keep in our pocket and, within it, day by day, we bury ourselves one piece at a time. To what end…?
THE INFERNO OF HENRI-GEORGE CLOUZOT (2008):
You must use subtitle option in Youtube for English subtitles…
LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD (1960):
I cannot link directly to this page, but you may copy and paste the following link to view the film –
THE ATROCITY EXHIBITION (2000):
DON’T LOOK NOW (1973):