photo manipulation by nacrowe
who decides the meaning of a piece of art? the audience? critics? the artist him/herself?
LE CORBEAU (CONTINENTAL FILMS, 1943) by french direftor HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT is an absolute enigma. its meaning has been the subject of focus by film critics since its debut during WWII.
after NAZI forces blitzkrieg-ed their way through FRANCE effectively reduced the country effectively to a neutral player during the remainder of the war. this was the case officially but most industries in the southern VICHY region were known to be collaborating with their new overlords. whether this was done by choice or by coercion is still a matter of historical debate. CONTINENTAL FILMS was a german-controlled french film company that produced LE CORBEAU. obviously this is still quite controversial as it implicitly asks a viewer to question for whom this movie was made.
the film itself deals with a poison-pen letter and the secrecy and duplicity that surrounds its content and violent aftermath. could this film be a cautionary tale of what happens when you attempt to surreptitiously usurp the NAZIs or is it a take of how to partake in counterrevolutionary efforts.
the fact is CLOUZOT got the germans to pay for the film, which in and of itself can go either way. was the director an immoral collaborator with the NAZIs or a great political/cultural revolutionary who got his oppressors to pay for his lampooning of them.
i do not know the answer. you should watch the film and decide for yourself.
i will say that this double interpretation was something QUENTIN TARANTINO recognized and use to great effect in INGLORIOUS BASTERDS (THE WEINSTEIN COMPANY, 2009) where double agents set to murder HITLER in a movie theater playing, of course, LE CORBEAU. genius.
if you are a fan of ALRED HITCHCOCK or classic suspense films in general, then this or any of the other major films in CLOUZOT's catalogue are worth your time (THE WAGES OF FEAR and DIABOLIQUE especially). couldn't recommend them any more forcefully.
art by nacrowe
watch HERE for our most recent episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC which explored the golden age of country and the modern americana movement that rediscovered that rootsy appalachian vibe. under no conditions did we ever consider playing any of that commercial pablum that passes itself as modern country. that stuff is utter shit.
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO as well as other MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC shows like MAKE HER SPACE, NOWHERE FAST and THE SYNTHESIZER SHOW are available here at the DEER GOD website.
it's funny. there's a lot about writer ERNEST HEMINGWAY that i don't like or identify with; his killing of animals for sport, macho sense of white privilege, womanizing, etc. that being said he was of his time for better or worse.
but for my money for a 30 period from the 1920s through to the 1950s he was one of the most adventurous both in terms of his wanderlust and his editing. yes i said it. when i think of what i like about HEMINGWAY, its his ability to showcase complex psychology using concise declarative sentences with minimal superfluous decorations like fancy adjectives and obscure references. in essence, the opposite of my writing style.
i am aware that this style came about from his time as a journalist both stateside and abroad as a war correspondent for the KANSAS CITY STAR during the spanish civil war of the 1930s. he is a case study in economy. to say the most with the least. its not minimal in the sense of a WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS poem where he is playing with the form itself, for HEMINGWAY i believe he was more interested in the conveying a thought like a straight line to the heart. in a way its kind of a similar ethos to punk rock, three chords and the truth except with him its a subject, verb, object and a typewriter.
i've read and taught HERMAN MELVILLE's MOBY DICK (1851) in my prior life as a secondary english teacher. what's intellectually stimulating about it is its breadth of knowledge about nearly every aspect of whaling in northeast america in the late 18th century. it's encyclopedic. the exercise in reading that book, beside its volume, is trying to surmise which religious, cultural, economic, political allusion to attach to a given part of the narrative. several times the actual plot works on several of these levels simultaneously, which gives the book depth. so basically MOBY DICK is both massive in terms of its breadth and depth.
HEMINGWAY isn't interested in that with THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (1952). to me the plot is more of a rorschach test where you can enjoy it for whatever you want it to be. the biblical story of job, sure. a treatise on the hardships related to aging, absolutely. an expression of HEMINGWAY'S depleted vitality and interest in life, maybe. to me HEMINGWAY presents something to project onto, as apart to MELVILLE where it feels more like an endurance test, like a marathon. love them both, but i feel the superior trick is to view the reader as an equal partner in the creation of meaning through the written word.
this was HEMINGWAY's calling card and gift as a writer. respecting his reader.
collage by nacrowe
when i think of the weimar-era german painter OTTO DIX, who famously depicted the WWI veterans as contorted, disfigured amalgamations of flesh and mechanical attachments, i think of someone interested in the idea of how identity is attached to one's physicality.
his work almost brings about notions of the paradox surrounding the Ship of Theseus, being that if you replace every piece of wood on a ship at some point it is no longer the original ship, except when exactly does that transformation happen? does it happen?
the german soldiers in his paintings are often seen to be missing limbs and parts of their face that have crudely been replaced by then-modern technology. even paintings showcasing soldiers in action on in the trenches find them wearing gas masks and charging towards the viewer like deranged madmen in a barren dream-like hellscape.
FRANCIS BACON used contorted figures to provide insight into his fragile mind-state and strikingly express the depths of his psychosis. with DIX i think that his use of body disfigurement was more to showcase the fragile collective german mindstate in the years after their defeat in WWI. along with the work of GEORGE GROSZ, i find his work endlessly compelling as it attempts to honestly channel psychological realism about the psyche of a nation. its power is what made it so dangerous to like of the third reich who later deemed it degenerate and attempted to suppress it in order to spin a much darker narrative with "realistic" historical paintings that were very much a quixotic fantasy.
ironically hitler's need to mock the work of DIX among others is what preserved their work. go figure.
artwork by nacrowe
first full disclosure: my senior honors thesis in college was on this guy. so i'm biased. like really biased when it comes to film director BILLY WILDER.
the guy had a gift for dialogue, specifically his ability to portray the rhythms, cadences and spoken vernacular of the era, which was unrivaled and utterly baffling as he was an emigre who came to the america speaking german. the man who wrote DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944), THE LOST WEEKEND (1945), SUNSET BOULEVARD (1950) and ACE IN THE HOLE (1951) had barely a decade of speaking english under his belt when he began directing his english language scripts. that accomplishment alone is astonishing.
i love all of his early films and some of his later comedies, think films like STALAG 17 (1953), SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959) and THE APARTMENT (1960), but what i really appreciate about the man was his edge.
being a displaced austrian jew that watched the dismantling of his childhood when europe fell under the spell of the nazis and their anti-Semitic sycophants, WILDER had an instinct for calling out injustice, even in his new homeland. at the early peak of his career he created two films that i hold in the highest regard, SUNSET BOULEVARD and ACE IN THE HOLE. both provided a mirror to a growing celebrity-obsessed media culture that favored gross spectacle over human decency. both went after two aspects of mass culture goliath: film and newspapers.
SUNSET BOULEVARD is a case study of the corrosive effects of celebrity-culture, from those attempting to maintain relevancy to those attempting to achieve it. in a total master-stroke, WILDER casted silent-film era siren GLORIA SWANSON as essentially herself in NORMA DESMOND, with her butler/man-servant played by german silent-era director ERICH VON STROHEIM. not trying to spoil this film, but essentially using a has-been to play a has-been to make a commentary on an industry that both worships and discards its icons in equal measure was utterly brilliant and biting at the same time. pure wilder.
while SUNSET BOULEVARD goes after the film industry, ACE IN THE HOLE focuses its ire on that of the general public in the age of a burgeoning mass media culture. this film is essentially the first to question the responsibility of the media in producing a mass spectacle for ratings. a washed-up east coast beat reporter played by the iconic KIRK DOUGLAS finds himself reassigned to new mexico when he comes across the story of a local man that gets caught in the cave. rather than assist the victim or provide help, he milks the story for all that its worth with week's of exclusives designed to gain him relevancy and a shot back at regaining his reputation as a journalist. much like SUNSET BOULEVARD goes into the toxic horse-trading aspects of celebrity-culture, ACE IN THE HOLE digs deeper and exposes how we are all accomplices to the process. by following coverage we are tacitly responsible for the methods and means by which that information was acquired.
nothing has changed. at all. ACE IN THE HOLE was a flop, but in my mind it was WILDER's greatest moment made only the more incredible given his emigre status in the united states.
artwork by nicholas crowe
to adequately verbalize the cultural impact KENNETH ANGER has had on modern filmmaking is beyond the scope of this brief blog entry to do with any semblance of adequacy. but i will try.
when i think of his work, most notably SCORPIO RISING (1963), i think of the fluidity of meaning behind his choices regarding imagery, symbolism and music. he is often credited with creating the modern language of music videos, but i think feel such feeble revisionism blunts his impact and limits it o this form. i think he expanded the vocabulary of filmmaking by using music in a more complex manner with various political, sexual and cultural overtones.
his use of contemporary music to provide tone and commentary on an unclear narrative has been borrowed ingeniously years since by the likes of DAVID LYNCH (BLUE VELVET) and QUENTIN TARANTINO (PULP FICTION, KILL BILL) among countless others over the years. just watch his use of transformative use of the music of ELVIS PRESLEY, THE CRYSTALS, RAY CHARLES, RICKY NELSON, THE SURFARIS, THE ANGELS, MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS, BOBBY VINTON and LITTLE PEGGY MARCH in SCORPIO RISING (embedded below).
as you can see from the film, music is often used to provide commentary on themes regarding the nature of sexuality, masculinity, religion and film culture, all without uttering any dialogue or providing any verbal exposition. quite the trick and in my opinion showcases how fluid the nature of language is, both verbal and visual.
Painting (1946), Oil on Linen, Museum of Modern Art
FRANCIS BACON was a 20th century british painter best known for his post-WWII work that often included crude depictions of animal carcasses, popes, and portraits of himself and his peers. it is often said that his work related an existential unease of many during the post-war period where many were forced to reevaluate their place in the world, both as individuals and nationally. being a highly intelligent homosexual man during this dark, less-enlightened period only further compounded such national and individual issues of identity.
i find his work fascinatingly inventive and gloriously opaque, its fractured nature almost the art analogue to LEWIS CARROLL, except way more self-examining in nature and more sinister in its implications for what constitutes human nature. essentially his beauty is visible in the grotesque and unsavory dark corners of the human psyche.
his work has influenced countless artists, a recent example being the MARK ROMANECK-directed 1994 video for the NINE INCH NAILS song "CLOSER" (embedded below).
if interested, i found this 1966 BBC documentary "FRAGEMENTS OF A PORTRAIT" to be particularly insightful into the psyche of this most impenetrable of artists.