VENOM AND ETERNITY
As a moviegoer I'm pretty jaded. I just can't deal with the same old crap. I recently put on a DVD of Saw II and turned it off after 10 minutes. What absolute adolescent masturbatory garbage, a rehash of rehashes.
Last night I had the misfortune to attend a screening of Grandhouse. It started out well enough. Rodriguez's film was a loving tribute to the early works of Carpenter, Cronenberg and Romero (but with the obligatory gun-fetishism that is such a tiresome component of his films). It was fun enough, but Rodriguez is no Carpenter, Cronenberg or Romero (who were thought-provoking and subversive beneath their drive-in exteriors). He's more of a Bob Clark (may he rest in peace), Charles Band or Fred Olen Ray. So if you're paying tribute to that kind of crap... in the end, you're going to wind up with crap. And whether it's self-aware or unintentional, all crap smells the same.
But the real shocker was Tarantino's film. I'm not a critic of his, and not particularly a fan either, but he can usually be relied upon for an entertaining (if overlong) movie. Not anymore. After watching this movie I would have to declare him creatively bankrupt. You think I'm joking. Go see it. I was outraged... I wanted to demand my money back (until I realized it was a free screening). It was the most self-indulgent, pointless, boring, thematically flawed, regurgitative, adolescent thing I've ever seen. I think he was aiming for a cross between Hellman's Two Lane Blacktop and Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes but completely dropped the ball.
Why am I going into all this? Stay with me, there's a point. It just so happens that I'm working on a project for Kino right now that is directly relevant to this cinematic weltschmerz. It's called Traite de bave et d'eternite (Venom and Eternity), by Jean Isidore Isou. I'd never heard of it either prior to this project. But it has absolutely blown my mind.
I haven't seen this much passion and cleverness and wit in a movie in months, probably years.
It is a French experimental film of 1951, and it sprang out of the Lettrist movement, part of the philosophical underground of Saint-Germain-des-Pres. Well what it is is a long, angry manifesto about filmmaking, and a passionate assault on cinematic convention and conventional tastes. It rejects conventional narrative, conventional visual devices, conventional editing, conventional structure, conventional music, conventional language (some of it is in jibberish, believe it or not). For almost two hours it is this passionate young cineaste belching out his hopes and philosophies and criticisms over stock footage and shots of himself walking around Paris.
The film stock is often scratched, defaced, and turned upside down. "Let people come out of a movie with a headache," the protagonist declares, while people jeer him angrily in the background, "There are so many movies from which one emerges as stupid as one entered. I'd rather give you a migraine than nothing at all. I'm not paid by an optometrist to bring him clients, but I should rather ruin your eyes than leave them indifferent."
I know, it sounds pretentious, but it lacerates pretentious cinema. How's that possible? How's this... when it premiered at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, it caused a riot, and the police had to turn fire hoses on the mob to break it up. Can you imagine that much passion about film? It almost brings tears to my eyes -- considering the depressing state of film appreciation in the world today (which I've blogged about repeatedly). Venom and Eternity wears its heart on its sleeve and furiously declares its love for Stroheim, Griffith, Browning, Chaplin, Cocteau, with almost embarrassing earnestness. And bear in mind, this was before the French New Wave (Cahiers du Cinema would begin publication that year).
Yeah, it's got some drawbacks -- depicting the main character as a heroic womanizer, but even some of that can't help but bring a smile to your face. "I know that love has never been enough for a young man, but always wanting to conquer the world," the spurned girlfriend says at one point, "You are defying the world, Daniel,"
The Lettrists were a pretty radical bunch. They supposedly disrupted Easter high mass at the Notre Dame cathedral. Supposedly they gagged, bound and stripped a priest, then one of the Lettrists put on his garb, ran up to the pulpit and said, "brothers, God is dead!" before the worshippers tried to murder him (he was saved by the police).
So... seeing a movie like Venom and Eternity takes some of the sting out of something as witless as Tarantino's Grindhouse entry. Just confirms what I've been saying for years. The contemporary cinema is an artistic sinkhole.
I wonder what Isou would have said about something like Saw II or Grindhouse.
Incidentally, Venom has only been seen in America in a truncated 77 minute edition. I'm now completing the restoration, which re-integrates deleted footage and brings it up to 111 minutes.