6th screening: BEAUTY AND EXCESS
June 23th, 2013
Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center
107 Suffolk st. New York, NY 10002
Two films inspired by the relationship between excess beauty and its grotesque mirror image. For these men and women, entombed in their luxury, a cloying surface glamour belies desperate desire, proving that all that glimmers is not gold. Each feature is preceded by a short introductory film.
1949 • USA • 6 min • dir. Kenneth Anger
A glittering procession of dressing gowns gently leads us into a world of Classical Hollywood opulence, where an effervescent odalisque’s only worry is deciding which perfume to wear that evening. Anger’s love affair with Hollywood glamour started early (he first made his appearance on film in the 1935 production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM as the Changeling Price, if the famed fabulist is to be believed) and—along with his other major obsessions, the occult and homoeroticism—informed much of his work. In films like PUCE MOMENT, INAUGURATION OF THE PLEASURE DOME, and SCORPIO RISING, Anger combines frenetic pacing, oneiric imagery, and a profound pop music literacy to create a cinematic language that has been appropriated by many (makers of music videos everywhere surely owe a debt of gratitude to Anger!) but remains uniquely his own.
WRITTEN ON THE WIND
1956 • USA • 99 min • dir. Douglas Sirk
German-born émigre filmmaker Douglas Sirk made his name in the 1950s with a series of big-budget, over-the-top melodramas that included MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS, IMITATION OF LIFE, and WRITTEN ON THE WIND. Dismissed at the time because of their lurid, overly wrought plots and histrionic acting, his melodramas are now often considered masterpieces of the Classical Hollywood cinema. Extravagantly composed and richly colorful, Sirk managed to critique the conventions of classical cinema by stylizing to the point of hyperbole. His characters writhe on screen, playing out their fates in such a way that would not feel out of place in a Greek tragedy. In WRITTEN ON THE WIND, love and betrayal arrive hand and hand for each of the four main characters—tortured Kyle (Robert Stack), glowering Mitch (Rock Hudson), demure Lucy (Lauren Bacall), and lustful Marylee (Dorothy Malone). After Kyle woos Lucy in an improbable whirlwind romance that leaves best friend Mitch in a jealous torpor, the couple moves back to Kyle’s hometown of Hadley, Texas (named after his oil baron father, who gave Kyle his riches, along with an equally massive inferiority complex, of course). Meanwhile, Marylee desperately attempts yet another seduction of Mitch, who she’s loved since their childhood—but of course, Mitch returns no such feelings. Spurned affections and a bungled medical prognosis set in motion a chain of events that have disastrous consequences for all involved. Despite the at-times absurd twists and turns of the plot the film remains light on its feet and contains moments of sheer comedic visual brilliance—watch out for the shot that ends the scene where Kyle receives some bad news, for instance—and some truly inspired performances—Dorothy Malone practically sizzles on screen (she received an Oscar for her efforts). Although Sirk left his career at the height of his success and would not make another major film after the 1950s, he inspired a whole generation of filmmakers that includes John Waters, Wong Kar-wai, Pedro Almodóvar, Quentin Tarantino, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and many others.
THE BITTER TEARS OF PETRA VON KANT
1972 • West Germany • 99 min • dir. Rainer Werner Fassbinder
Fashion designer Petra Von Kant (Margit Carstensen) is no stranger to beauty; neither is she a stranger to cruelty. Waking each morning in her lavish bedroom, filled with nude mannequins, fur lined carpet, and a massive reproduction of Poussin’s Midas and Bacchus, Petra rules her private domain as an iron maiden. She exerts total control over her silent servant/lover Marlene (Irm Hermann, who incidentally had a similar real-life relationship with director Rainer Fassbinder) and revels in her power until the arrival of Karin (Hanna Schygulla) prompts a role reversal along with a new obsession. With an all-female cast and an intimate, almost claustrophobic style—the camera hardly leaves the confines of Petra’s bedroom for the duration of the film—Fassbinder creates a compelling image of love and power. Fassbinder made over 40 years in a fifteen-year career; he died at the age of 37. Fassbinder came to international prominence in the 1970s with ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL during a period when he turned to the works of Classic Hollywood—particularly Douglas Sirk melodramas—for inspiration. Like Sirk, Fassbinder took lurid—even sometimes trashy—domestic issues and transformed them into subtle, poetic commentaries on the human condition. Whereas Sirk’s films moved with a quick step that highlighted the absurdity of the rich and beautiful, Fassbinder’s meditations proceed at a tectonic pace, leading its brittle, wounded characters inexorably to their fateful end.
© 2013 Black Mariah Films