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.
photo manipulation by nacrowe
legendary german film director WERNER HERZOG is renowned for chasing extremes. at times his singular obsessive focus to get a shot has resulted in bypassing moral boundaries other directors would have long abandoned or outright not even considered.
his transgressive reputation is based in part on his self-produced films AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972) and FITZCARRALDO (1982), both statrring KLAUS KINSKI and both dealing with the extreme emotions of obsession and mania. here i will go into FITZCARRALDO, but no doubt I will cover the former in another later entry.
FITZCARRALDO relays true story of a fanatically industrious irishman attempting to build an opera house in the peruvian rain-forest despite several seemingly insurmountable technical obstructions. the climax of this film is the physical traversing of his steamship on land uphill so that he could traverse the PACHITEA RIVER from its neighboring UCAYALI RIVER. this is the height of insanity and HERZOG filmed it with the help of locals, some of whom died while making the film. in much the same way that the real-life FITZCARRALDO exploited the local population for his own ends, people have often leveled the same criticism at HERZOG himself.
if anything, this is a singular film with an epic performance by long-time collaborator KLAUS KINSKI in the title role. i'm absolutely ambivalent with this film in the same way i am with capitalism in general. i recognize fully that day laborers have toiled over the most of the food i eat, have been underpaid for the clothes i wear and bear the environmental burden for the technology i use and ultimately discard. i know there were costs and by consuming the product i am supporting its methods of production. i explored this dilemma earlier in my written piece on the artistic merits of LENI REIFENSTAHL's nazi propaganda films. with regards to FITZCARRALDO, i chose to view it as emblematic of the faustian bargain we are all a part of when tacitly buying into, pun intended, capitalism and its brutal, debased, inhumane underpinnings.
i highly recommend this film because it is artistically and morally complicated. you are amazed yet terrified by its production and real-world consequences.
art by nacrowe
it is often assumed that innovation in the arts is coupled with an expansive worldview that further enriches humanity. think LEONARDO DA VINCI with his visions of helicopters and future mechanical technology or SHAKESPEARE writing plays that ultimately sought to comment publicly on the role and responsibility of leaders (MACBETH, HAMLET, RICHARD III, KING LEAR) for then-current and future monarchs.
LENI RIEFENSTAHL mastered the relatively young art of cinema by bending the documentary form to her, umm, will in the epic nazi propaganda films OLYMPIA and TRIUMPH OF THE WILL. the very vocabulary of film shots was altered after her involvement, introducing crane and various dramatic aerial shots that sought to showcase the grandeur and sheer scale of a 1934 rally in nuremberg. massive widescreen shots of thousands of soldiers acting in unison is commonplace now (think NORTH KOREA military parades) and part of the fascist lexicon.
watching her films is a lesson in appreciating the craft while recognizing but disregarding the political, social and cultural repercussions of the message. it is difficult, much like appreciating the works of CARAVAGGIO, BERTOLT BRECHT, CHUCK BERRY, EDGARD DEGAS, WILLIAM S. BURROUGHS, PAUL GAUGUIN, JAMES BROWN, WILLIAM GOLDING and MORRISSEY after knowing their crimes or dispicable worldviews. i believe it can be done.
the fact that RIEFENSTAHL was a lesbian who was more than complicit in the propagation of a corrosive worldview that impacted millions of people, including those that shared her own sexuality, heightens her hypocrisy in scale beyond those of the artists i mentioned, so in a purely utilitarian argument she is much worse. she is the ultimate hypocrite and complicit in the holocaust and history should judge her for that.
at the same time when i view her work i see someone that is interested in the human form, both individually as with the famous divers form OLYMPIA (reminiscent of EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE except her figures are in flight) or en masse as a proverbial singular body politic in TRIUMPH OF THE WILL (which is basically the most warped BUSBY BERKELEY routine ever). the fact that her work is so visually compelling only makes it that much more sinister, as the diving bodies are meant to showcase the superiority of the Arian race and the mass of synchronized bodies a sign of the singular power and vision of the state.
to not watch her films is a mistake. appreciate her craft and be mindful of its dire implications, if anything her nazi filmography is a case study in the power of film to shape consciousness, just not those that suit our better angels.
to make a connection to how this lexicon of images she created applies to today is too obvious. all i am saying is be aware of it next time you see a mass of people in a political video trying to sell you on conformity.