Saturday, February 25, 2006

Viva la Muerte

Several days after watching it on DVD, I still find it difficult to describe Fernando Arrabal's Viva la Muerte (1971), and how strangely and utterly moving I thought it was. [Note that clicking on the Arrabal link will take you to an introduction page where a little midi or wav file where the melody of Viva la Muerte's theme song plays...] A deeply, openly surrealist (wait, does the Panic Movement qualify as a large-s Surrealism?) and politicized film that recasts some of Arrabal's own autobiography (his father was an anti-Franco prisoner who escaped prison never to be heard from again...) in both literal and symbolic terms. Especially considering that this was his first film, Arrabal is remarkably adept at sliding down any number of axes--emotionally pitching his scenes as scathing Buñuellian anti-bourgeois tableaux one moment, and moving images of childhood memory the next; working with the flatness of an image almost like his own ciné-tract, or telling a sequence of childhood cruelty (visually composed "in the round"). Really interesting.

I don't know Jodorowsky's work, except some of (I think) The Holy Mountain. Time to try to fix that ...

On a completely unrelated note, those who habla español may want to check out Enfocarte, a Spanish online journal devoted to art, philosophy, culture, cinema, poetry, etc. I just discovered it the other day and though I haven't (tried to) make it through a full article, a quick perusal of the contents was intriguing ...

10 comments:

HarryTuttle said...

Coincidentaly I saw this last week!
A very unique film indeed, formally inovative and visually much powerful (and I thought more provocative, sexually/religiously/politicaly, than any Buñuel film).
Thanks for the sample of the theme song, these chords are hypnotical. I loved this song sang by children in a language difficult to identify (was it gibberish?). I'd love to find a MP3 with the voices.
The opening credit illustrated by Topor is quite something.

What do you mean by "visually composed 'on the round'"? I can't place the scene you refer to.

James Russell said...

Interesting. The Arrabal film is about to make its DVD debut here in Australia soon, and I'm looking forward to it.

Zach Campbell said...

Glad you liked the film too, Harry.

To say a scene or image is composed "in the round" is to say that it operates in the illusion of three-dimensional space, with multiple planes (think Renoir). Around the time that this film was made, there was a lot of talk in film theory (esp., Brian Henderson's "Toward a Non-Bourgeois Camera Style," 1970) about this kind of space and its alleged, implicit "bourgeois humanism." Godard spearheaded a flat visual look which, so they say, didn't give in to this capitalist illusion of a "deep" and "meaningful" world. It's basically a question of the sort of space one projects through cinematic images--whether it's flattened to echo the flatness of the screen, to appear artificial and to make clear that it is staged & filmed, or whether it's an inscription of a space that a viewer could "move through"--it's 'real' and 'three-dimensional' (like the scene in the film when the bullies chase the kids and grab Fando and beat him for being a communist's son).

HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for the information Zach, I didn't know about this. The depth of field states a clear aesthetics distinction of style, although I'm baffled by their political interpretations.
Yes that scene is beautifully filmed. The location was most impressive also, some kind of empty naval construction site I assumed...

Maya said...

Intriguing review of Arrabal, and even more fascinating explanation of composition in the round!! Thanks for that. I guess one of these days I should really take a film theory class instead of trying to make it up as I go along.

I take it you read and speak Spanish? Are you familiar with Miradas de Cine?

http://www.miradas.net/

Zach Campbell said...

Harry, I'm a little baffled by the alleged political implications of flat/round filmic space as well. But some people (programatically or instictively) made films and wrote articles with this presumption in mind.

Maya, I know some Spanish--I'm not fluent. Thanks for the link to Miradas, I've bookmarked it and will check it out soon. As for film theory ... I think most of us make it up as we go along! My next blog entry will be titled "A Theory of the Panopt(i)cal Subjective Gaze: Towards a Radical Hermeneutics of the Deleuzian Conceptions of Foucault, Bergson, and Bazin." Pow!

Maya said...

Heh. That makes me want to sneeze.

HarryTuttle said...

Does it mean cinema was never bourgeois before Welles? I can think of so many counter examples... of was it only relevant to the 70ies?

re: Jodorowsky
The only one I've been able to track down so far is Santa Sangre. A great bloodxploitation flick! Visually extraordinary, and a rich story stuffed with symbols and surrealism. I could see the notable influence of Arrabal when I watched Viva La Muerte.

Zach Campbell said...

Harry, I believe that a lot of this anti-bourgeois, anti-'round' sentiment was directed against narrative cinema in general. (This theoretical-historical is not a special area of interest for me, so I'm necessarily working with vague generalities!) I'm almost finished reading Noel Burch's Life to Those Shadows, a great book on early cinema and the entrenchment of what Burch calls the 'Institutional Mode of Representation.' One of the peripheral points of the book is to critique (in a friendly way) the kneejerk championing of the "primitive" cinema among intellectuals and avant-gardists in the 1960s/70s. Somewhere in my files, I think, there's an article (also by Burch? or perhaps Hal Foster?) that investigates films like, e.g., Tony Conrad's The Flicker for drawing upon practices of early cinema, before the IMR, before "voyeurism" and "the male gaze," before the illusion of bourgeois life & morality "in the round" were so deeply entrenched.

I tend to think of this theory/practice of "flatness" in the same way that Nicole Brenez thinks of 'death of cinema' rhetoric from the 1980s/90s: it's quite wrong, but it produced some fantastic new things ...

Maya said...

I tell ya, one of the great things about being retired on a disability pension is having the time to pour a second cup of coffee to read that post a second time. I love learning, man, thanks!!