Feature Friday: “Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors” (1964)

It took me a while to catch up with this one, but when I did, I saw it projected at the Siskel. The experience was utterly beautiful and overwhelming, so see it in a theater if you can. It’s one of the greatest love stories I know.

Parajanov is frequently mentioned in comparison to Andrei Tarkovsky, but he’s sadly not gotten anywhere near the attention. The two were friends and fellow rebels against Soviet Realism. Tarkovsky ended up exiled. Parajanov got sent to Siberia, 1973–7. (He was later imprisoned again in the early 80s.) Despite this, both men continued making films until they both passed away (Tarkovsky in 1986, Parajanov in 1990.)

Parajanov’s work is in some ways similar to Tarkovsky’s, but also extremely different. Like Tarkovsky, he was a master of composition, and made extensive use of it. (I initially came across both Parajanov and Tarkovsky due to my interest in other composition-based directors, like Jack Smith, Peter Greenaway, and Derek Jarman.) That’s not to say that Parajanov didn’t use montage—he did—but that you have to read the mise-en-scène to know what’s going on. (Pay close attention, for instance, to Shadows‘s use of color.)

That makes Parajanov sound like work, but he’s really quite fun. All of his films, even the much more sober Color of Pomegranates (1968), are pretty silly. His work often reminds me of Calvino’s, being similarly rooted in folktale and folk poetry, and heavy doses of the supernatural. (He’s also not unlike Wes Anderson, I suppose—though giddier, and with fewer Stones tracks.)

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Feature Friday: “The Devils” (1971)

I was looking for a copy of Lair of the White Worm (1988), my favorite Ken Russell film, but couldn’t find it. So we’ll have to make do with The Devils, another extraordinary (and far more notorious) film by the late master.

The Devils was hard to find uncut for a long time, and was even banned in the UK, because it’s giddily blasphemous and offended a lot of people. I watched it in the late 90s and thought it was “OK.” Either I saw a severely edited version, or I was half asleep at the time, or just feeling jaded, because The Devils really is pretty nuts.

And, sure, it’s blasphemous. So what? People blaspheme daily, and so art should, too. And it’s not as though Russell was targeting only “Catholicism” or “Christians” or “religion”; he got a rise out of criticizing everybody. He had too solid an understanding of humanity—of its many accomplishments and its many failings—to take anyone’s sensibilities too seriously. (In that regard he’s a lot like Paul Verhoeven and even Peter Greenaway: folks who’d rather be honest about what is grotesque in human nature.)

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Feature Friday: “The Baby of Mâcon” (1993)

Time Magazine, Peter Greenaway had you beat back in 1993—and then some. Below the jump you’ll find the polemical Welsh director’s response to a similar debate in 1993, when the perennially outrageous United Colors of Benetton ultra-outraged Britons with an ad featuring a newborn baby (still bloody, its umbilical cord still attached). Greenaway replied:

What is so horrible about a newborn baby? Why is that image (one that is seen many times a day in hospitals all over the country) so unacceptable, when much more horrific images are presented on television and the cinema, featuring murder and rape, but glamorized and made safe?

And thus he set out to make a film that would be exactly what he thought audiences wanted.

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We would gladly have repainted the trees and the sky

Peter Greenway’s film A Zed & Two Noughts (A.K.A. Z00) [1985] begins with a swan crashing into a car, killing two people. The driver survives, but lives the remainder of the film as an amputee having lost her right leg. By film’s end, the amputee decides to remove her one remaining leg and falls in love with another double amputee.

Writing is an act of disability

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This is the book I’m most looking forward to this year

And it’s a reprint, and I already own the original:

It’s that good.

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An Interview with Me at Untoward

just went up—well, Part One did, in which Matt Rowan asks me questions about my first book (Amazing Adult Fantasy), G.I. Joe, geek culture, Ota Benga, Ayn Rand, George Orwell, and bad writing habits; we also discuss Curtis White, Theodor Adorno, Viktor Shklovsky, and ninjas, among other things.

[Update: Part Two, which focuses more on my first novel, Giant Slugs, is now up.]

Jerry Lewis’s “The Ladies Man”: The Dollhouse and the Forbidden Room

He’s become a punchline here in the US, but that doesn’t make Jerry Lewis any less of a cinematic genius. Case in point: his 1961 masterpiece The Ladies Man:

Whether you’re a fan of Lewis’s eccentric comedy or not, this film is worth watching for its legendary “dollhouse” set alone, supposedly the largest built by that time (it occupied two Paramount soundstages), and still one of the most elaborate ever constructed.

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