Saturday, May 9, 2009
[flicker]I Love You: Positively Disturbing Scenes from the Mall
“So you know the words by heart. You can play the tune blindfolded. You can even wear that black leather jacket, chew a cigar, sharp shoes…. keep your hat on. But the question remains- Can you feel the blues? Do you have the soul for it?”
- Toots Sweet
Life can be one helluva drag. We all live with that. Or there’s that gun under the pillow. Too messy, can’t trust your nerves… public transport can take care of that. But do it quick. Do it before they get to you.
‘They’… they’re everywhere these days. Step out the house and they’re looking at you. They’re charming (I have to give them that much), even seductive and they’ll seem about as docile as a pet dog but there in lies the great and fundamental deception. Don’t believe them. Don’t believe in fair skin. Don’t believe in politically active tea or cornucopia of happiness insurance. Don’t believe in the Lotus. Don’t believe the Hand. Don’t believe the cricketers (pray for scores but that’s about it) and as difficult/heartbreaking as it is, don’t believe the ever winking woman who asks you to apply for credit cards. A wink for every time you pass the circle… Bloody fucking whore, I wonder how I couldn’t see through that. After that bitch left me homeless, penniless, hungry, paranoid, destitute, scabbed, dog-bitten… broken everything inside of me that was good and living and the company goonda took away my last belonging of any value I called up my ex-wife and apologized for calling her a ‘massive deep-space vortex that sucked the life force out of me’. I told her she had always been right… I did have a tendency to over-react.
So here I am… on the streets, lugging the sack of all that remains of what once was respectably middle-class, gawking helplessly at all the steel and concrete and glass where only a few months before, I would have been salaamed in at the gates. If I gawk helpless it’s not because of any desire to enter these places, damn them to hell, but what else is there to see. Some parts of the city, you cannot even see the sky without something phallic inserting itself in the view. Sprawl it over, seems to have been the motto. Double mayonnaise on the McMahacity. I don’t claim to anything inside of those walls. All I have is the sack and all the sack holds is the word of the Prophet. His name, make no mistake, is Philip K. Dick. He knew about them and they got him in the end but his word survives, in paperbacks with spaceships and strange planets and multicolored humanoids on the cover. (You can just imagine the fundamental dumbfuckery of them who even repossessed even my cheap China made mixer-grinder but dismissed my collection of Philip K. Dick. The jokes on you, motherfuckers. HA HA.) I don’t want to sound snobbish, but if you’re destitute and paranoid and refuse to accept what is being dealt to you as inevitable, I would recommend Old Phil’s manuscripts. His nemesis, my nemesis, our nemesis… is reality itself or this façade, this pack of blatant lies that struts along as reality but scratch the surface and the bile pours out on everything. Phil’s vision is to introduce that scratch, to fracture this taken-for-granted, none-to-impressive, drab reality in the quest of the truth… the ecstatic truth.
It is science fiction. That’s reality. It is subversion. That is the truth.
Yesterday, I managed to get myself into one of those film society screenings (advice to the destitute or ones soon to be: if you look just about homeless enough and yet manage to be respectable, they will let you in for free. If you don’t want to ruin your clothes atleast muddy your shoes well and sound real apologetic. That seems to work with those sucker NGO-types), and saw not a film but a vision on par with that of Dick- an eccentric, offbeat vision that slightly relocates its reality in the search for the truth and a meditation of the human condition. The vision was that of Marco Ferreri- the Franco-Italian enfant terrible, otherwise known as ‘The Master of Bad Taste’. A most flattering epithet but unfortunately, it fails to convey in full measure the vigor of the vision that the self-described ‘comic anarchist’ brings to his cinema. I remember to have seen a bit of his masterpiece ‘La Grande Bouffe’ (The Grand Feast) which had the 60s greats Marcelo Mastroianni, Michel Piccoli, Phillipe Noiret and Ugo Tognazzi playing middle-aged men, sick of their plastic, polythene lives locking themselves up in a grand gothic castle and participating in an orgy of food, drink and sex till they were subsumed and killed by the sheer grotesquerie of excess. Nihilist, surrealist, apocalyptic… a vulgar joke gone bizarre until it maddens the mind and sickens the guts. For the part of the film which I saw, it was a tour-de-force orchestrated by a master. Yesterday’s film, not one of Ferreri’s most regarded ones, ‘I Love You’ whilst lacking in the carnival mindfucking brilliance that seemed to possess ‘La Granda Bouffe’, still contains the director’s mad yet vital and frighteningly prophetic vision put forward with rare surreal mischief.
I said it once, I’ll say it again,” The jokes on you, motherfuckers.” Myself included.
‘I Love You’ opens with a panoramic vista of the city and the protagonist Michel (played by Christopher Lambert) not just dwarfed but eclipsed and rendered invisible against the urban sprawl. The character of Michel is something of an art-house/independent film cliché- the alienated, isolated, expressionless stranger seemingly wandering the wretched urban terrain in a constant introspective daze. Ferreri’s take though is refreshingly sans romaticization and Michel is but a soul-crushed zombie of a man. He seems petty and selfish and our only sympathies lie in the fact that it’s not entirely his fault with him living in a fucked up world and also that at moments he reminds you with enough lucidity, of yourself.
Early in the film we witness Michel bidding goodbye to a lover. They meet in his factory-like modern house where he insists on keeping her photographs on the shelf but seems and sounds emotionally blank. Ferreri insists on expositing the break-up sex with bizarre TV images of a cartoon of a vulture attacking a raging bull. Then as the woman is about to leave at the airport, she berates Michel for not asking her to stay back even as she debates with herself whether or not she would have stayed anyway. He gives her a plastic doll calling it a ‘baby’ and she proceeds to break it by slamming it on his head. ‘Would you have done it with a real baby,” asks Michel as the woman walks off. In a world coming apart even as it comes closer, where the real has been replaced by the manufactured, Ferreri etches the ineffable disconnect that keeps people from each other and possibly themselves. And since such subtlety and delicacy is not exactly the director’s forte, Michel soon finds a keychain that responds to his whistle with- “I love you”.
Like most of his films, La Grande Bouffe (four middle-aged men eat and screw to death), By Bye Monkey (King Kong’s son is raised by a man), in ‘I Love You’ too Ferreri stretches a one-punch premise for a joke (man falls in love with a key chain) into the absurd, neurotic reality of the film. It is very much a film set in the 1980s but one could easily classify it as science fiction. The landscape and characters of ‘I Love You’ reminds one of the Perky Pat episodes of Philip K. Dick. In Dick’s seminal work ‘The Three Stigmata of Peter Aldrich’ aka ‘The LSD Astronauts’, the Martian exiles faced with the unbearable isolation and strangeness of the Red Planet are sold ‘Perky Pat’ dolls and accessories by the company which the exiles assemble into intricate scapes of Planet Earth. What the company also supplies and at considerable cost, illegally, is the hallucinogenic Chewy-Z which allows the exiles to enter the reality of ‘Perky Pat’ and simulate the experience of wandering through the cityscapes, walking on manicured lawns and even promiscuous sex. This devious reality of comodification and consumerism is exactly where ‘I Love You’ is set. Words, emotions, relationships all devoid of essence, cheap as money.
Ferreri furiously satires the modern image- the televised image. He lampoons television with a surrealist’s relish- taking a dig at everything from the news to Aerobic shows to reality freak shows to ads. Even Michel’s obsession with the keychain comes to its own as he switches over from a ridiculously baroque porn film to static, places the keychain against it and begins to masturbate. Consumerist fetish has rarely seemed so absurd, so grotesque, so…. Evil. Ferreri ups the kinkiness to a form of sado-masochism especially in the scene just after Michel’s jealousy is invoked when the keychain responds to his friend’s whistle and a mysterious masked black-stockinged woman visits him and he proceeds to have sex with her even as he whistles to his damn keychain. As our hapless protagonist is thrown further down the spiral of deception by one of the most curious femme fatales in cinema, he flings himself in outrage against a wall on his bike and loses his teeth and his ability to whistle. The once cool, uber-composed Michel is now reduced to a mere circus monkey winding his music box on a sidewalk in order to hear those three haloed words from his beloved keychain- ‘I Love You’.
To break this vicious cycle of seduction and addiction, Ferreri strangely invokes one of his greatest films, the counterculture cult classic ‘Dillinger is Dead’, on the television nonetheless and quite suitably, fails to do so. It’s almost like the director is acknowledging that the joke is on him too, motherfuckers. While it is a most odd decision to invoke his own film, it is also a brave one where the director forgoes his God-like position and owns up his own limitations. Just like in the Philip K. Dick books where the narrator on most occasions is as clueless, as trapped and as flawed as the reader.
Thereafter the film literally drifts into the red dawn of the apocalypse.
HA HA. Not quite.
The sensibilities of Marco Ferreri are truly bizarre and resist any attempt to classify them. Mr. Comic Anarchist- neither art-house, nor commercial, nor the limbo called middle cinema. You can’t box him and feel comfortable about it. His mis-en-scene is complex and loaded with meaning. Look closer and you will find the critiques, the subtexts, the symbols, the signs, the odd reference to surrealist painter Giorgio Di Chirico, perhaps even a response to the ‘Cinema du Look’ that had just swept the world cinema scene but Ferreri refuses to treat them as art-installations like the art-house masters would have liked to indulge nor does he allow these brilliant set-pieces to be blunted by the mechanics of the plot, like the commercial and middle cinema directors. Another important aspect of what makes his cinema great is that he is no ideologue. In a telling scene, a woman picked up by his unemployed friend tries to get close to Michel but he instead prefers to whistle to his keychain. The woman suddenly slaps him and berates him and accuses him of preferring subservient women and in the fit on anger, she grasps the hand of his loser friend calling him, of all things, a brave and courageous man. Ideology and prejudices, according to Ferreri seem to limit your understanding of the world. And it’s because of this belief that the beguiling images of Marco Ferreri acquire a rare freedom, thus taking it closer to the truth.
The greatest triumph however of the anarchist is that once you sleep over the film, the next morning acquires the funk of doom. Reality crumbles at the edges and if not completely defeated, acquires that scratch through which you can seen the grand delusion of the world around you. It is at that moment, you realize that the film has metamorphized into a howl. Listen close and you can hear yourself.
It’s not funny anymore.
Consider this a first warning.
The coming monday, I intend to blow up into smithereens one of the steel and concrete phalluses that pollute the landscapes of the world and of my mind. (Requests are accepted as to which motherfucker has to be blown sky high). But if you do indeed work in one of those places, I kindly request you to stay away. Or face the consequences.
It’s not personal, It’s not political. It’s about the blue blue sky. I think we deserve that much. That would be nice.
”The values that once existed no longer exist. The family, the bourgeoisie — I’m talking about values, morals, economic relationships. They no longer serve a purpose. My films are reactions translated into images.”
”The cinema has always been a place open to everyone. When the cinema arrived, for a few cents, people who were rich or poor finally found themselves laughing and crying together.”
- Marco Ferreri
“Perhaps all pleasure is only relief.”
- William Burroughs
Marco Ferreri Links:
(painting, smoking, eating by Philip Guston, Metaphysical Interior with Large Interior, The Disquieting Muses, Enigma of the Hour, Double Dream of Spring by Giorgio de Chirico, Little Machine Constructed by Minimax Dadamax in Person by Max Ernst, Automatic Drawing by Andre Masson. All pictures by Wikipedia. Marco Ferreri on the sets of Bye Bye Monkey by Stellavista.)
(Cross-posted at www.passionforcinema.com)