Move Your Boogie Body

Selections by Jason Philip Wierzba

Part of the basic pleasure of YouTube is the opportunities it affords the casual web surfer for taking in some of the more twisted and outré examples of bananas pop culture ephemera to have emerged since the dawn of the video age. The following list comprises a fairly broad lay of that berserker land.

10. Viral Eduard Khil performance

Since I first saw this video of Eduard Khil a few months ago it has gone viral. Many of you have likely already seen it. I have even seen a parody somewhere starring Acadamey Award winning actor Christoph Waltz. This blast from the Cold War past is both a shocking suggestion of possible Soviet variety show treasures yet to be unearthed, and an invitation to insert your own Victor Broge jokes in the comments section (e.g.: “in Soviet Russia sometimes song lip synch you.”).

9. Stuart Anderson – "Here's tae the Gordons"

My sister who lives in London sent me this one. I mostly just love it because this strange child appears to be dancing with his underpants full of chocolate pudding. The Scottish are not known for how well they treat their children.

8. A synthesizer, a girl...

I love this clip. It reminds me of the kind of weird shit I would find on Canadian cable at 3:00 AM as a kid in the late-’80s-early-’90s whilst trolling for partial nudity. When the aliens come and they see this I am afraid it will tell them more about human sexuality than it by any rights should.

7. Vitas – "Smile"

Strobe vocals!

6. Chuggo

Come on, fuckin’ guy! If this guy gets pussy then there is really something wrong with pussy.

5. Bollywood Weird

No list like this would be complete without some kind of contribution from Bollywood. I defy you to find something from India weirder than this little doozy.

4. Move Your Boogie Body

This ’80s Jungle MC jazzercize freestyle throws down the fucking gauntlet!

3. Mark Gormley – "Little Wings"

It’s actually a sort of pretty piece of acid folk, not unlike David Bixby. But Mark Gormley is not a pretty piece of anything. He looks like he might put something in your child’s chocolate milk.

2. "Chacarron"

“Chacarron” is what happens when you combine electroconvulsive therapy with a beat. Beware of the drool.

1. Big Mouth

While you do have to stick with this video excerpt from Pilipinas Got Talent for about 1:40 before you get the payoff, I assure you that it is worth it. Prepare to have your life fucking zapped!

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The Rite of Palm Springs

Sphere-splitting brain-dissection at the 2010 Film Fest

by Jason Philip Wierzba

Palm Springs Film Fest Logo

Appropriately enough on the final day of the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the Monday where they show all of the award winners and audience favourites, the torrential rain started coming down hard and it hasn’t stopped since. The shit has gotten biblical, Southern California in a state of emergency.

It was a wonderful festival, all in all, even if it did take place in what a friend of mine calls the Necropolis of Palm Springs, with an audience principally composed of bitter old WASPS and mainstream Republican homosexual males. Most of the films I saw did not cater to the narcotic, aesthetics-as-anesthetic needs of these dour, pain-in-the-ass Necropolitans. This was a festival that will always exist in my mind as the festival of walkouts and vociferously voiced distaste. Nothing could stop these fucking corpses from lining up an hour in advance for films they had no business seeing, one after the other in an endless succession of acts of misplaced cultural yearning. They bitched and moaned, tugging at the loose-fitting clothing of overwhelmed staff and volunteers, murmuring guttural disapproval like gay and/or gray Frankenstein monsters.

As if to issue one final fuck you, the festival gave the FIPRESCI prize for best foreign language film to … arguably the best foreign language film, the monumentally crowd-displeasing De ofrivilliga / Involuntary, meaning that Ruben Östlund’s absolutely brilliant film was given one more opportunity to piss off fans between audience choice award winners on Best of the Festival Monday. My significantly older Jewish friend tells me he could hardly make his way to his car afterwards through the mob of incensed moviegoers wondering “what the fuck was that?”

A bevy of wonderful, fair to middling, and pretty wretched films kept me happily engaged between bouts of fastened-to-the-pavement zombie watching. The best performances by actresses were all by Korean women (one of them, Bae Doo-na, in a Japanese film), which is hardly a surprise anymore. I am thinking particularly of Kim Hye-Ja in Mother, Bae Doo-na as the wry and adorable Dostoevskian idiot of an Air Doll, and Kim Kot-bi as the shit-talking put-upon schoolgirl giving as good as she gets from Yang Ik-Joon in his own roughshod Ddongpari.

The best actor award for me is an absolute no-brainer: Olivier Gourmet, know to even the most cursory of world cinema aficionados for his incredible performances for the Dardenne brothers, appeared in a total of three films that I saw at the festival and was brilliant in each. I especially liked him in Frédéric Dumont’s Un ange à la mer, which is also my vote for best debut feature (even though Dumont has been directing short films on a regular basis since 1986).

Best cinematography I have to give to cinematographer Francisco Gózon for Altiplano, and this in a festival where two of the five greatest contemporary cinematographers, Agnès Godard and Mark Lee Ping-bin, were accounted for with new work. As for best film and best director, I have to give it a two-way tie for both: Marco Bellocchio for Vincere and Ruben Östlund for De ofrivilliga (the latter of which would also have the best screenplay). Both of these films were sphere-splitting brain-dissectors.

Below my ensuing list of the top ten films of the festival (out of 23) you will find my reviews of the two best films, a third that I though to be of especial interest, and finally a fourth concerning the worst film I saw.

Top Ten Films of the 2010 Palm Springs International Film Festival

Vincere

Vincere

It turns out that crammed like a sardine into the middle of the front row directly at the base of the towering screen is a pretty kick-ass way to experience Bellocchio’s masterpiece. It were as though the film were straddling my chest and repeatedly pistol-whipping me with its exclamatory genius.

Like a Straub-Huillet historical cine-tableau on crystal meth merged with an artillery shower of intertextual newsreel footage and fragments of other films (like Chaplin’s The Kid (’21) and Eisenstein’s Oktyabr (’28)), Vincere is a multivalent barrage serving to undermine the play of shadows and games of strategic omission that inform the way dominant history gets written and especially how it gets imaged, assimilating strategies from opera, fascist-futurist art, tabloids, costume drama, Soviet montage, and the aforementioned cinémathèque newsreels, in order to directly undercut the strategies of self-mythologizing, power-consolidating history-making of one prospective-media-baron-turned-intractable-imperial-despot (Mussolini), and to implicitly inform on another (why Mr. Berlusconi, bien sur).

Vincere is a ruthlessly subversive-seditious film that not only frames a fascinating historical narrative but which simultaneously interrogates how the cinema and other cultural forms become accessories to crimes before, during, and after the fact. By putting the audience in a position of identification with Ida Dalser, the woman who loved and helped to make Benito Mussolini, who may have been his first wife and was certainly the mother of his firstborn son, and whose legacy is that of an individual not safely intelligible within the history-as-process-and-reproduction-of-its-own-limit surrounding her, which she helps to set in motion, so is thus buried in a loony hatch, the film both forces us to identify with complicity in the manufacture of autocratic models and then with the helplessness of being crushed, muted, redacted by the draconian forces that we have helped to set in motion.

This is a historical film that is unflappably told in the future-perfect tense. It is right now! And it is an absolute masterpiece. One which nobody saw coming from late-period Bellocchio or from contemporary cinema in general. We have so little to compare it to. There is the aforementioned connection to Straub and Huillet. Occasionally it looks somewhat like the most beautiful sections of Ken Loach’s The Wind That Shakes the Barley (’06). The acerbic appropriation of Soviet montage set to pounding, insistent silent cinema piano music on a few occasions brought to my mind Guy Maddin’s brilliant short The Heart of the World ('00). The guttersnipe pummeling also invokes the rat-a-tat-tat raised-fist journalismo of Sam Fuller.

But nothing I have seen comes close to paralleling Vincere’s incendiary polyphony. It’s totally radical and out of this world. The title says it all: the fascist orthodoxy demands that the voice of power WIN. Bellocchio’s film doesn't just speak truth to power in its detailing of a buried treasure tale that the powers that be would rather we didn't know about. It undermines the whole semiotic apparatus and explodes the network from within. It's like a bomb. A bomb in the house of power!

De ofrivilliga / Involuntary

Involuntary (film)

Involuntary, Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s second feature proper, was easily the most pleasant surprise of the festival. It was a film I knew nothing about until I did some cursory reading-up after the festival announced its lineup, and was made sufficiently curious about what I found to purchase a ticket and check it out. Am I ever happy I did. It is an exceptionally deft portrait of contemporary Sweden telling five interconnected-but-narrativistically-unrelated stories in a style that superficially resembles Michael Haneke’s 71 Fragments of a Chronology of Chance (’94), but is even more experimental and profound.

Instead of an exploration of violence, causation, and contingency, which define the Haneke and have served as the core thematic concerns of a myriad of other films before and since, Östlund’s masterpiece is about something I have never seen encapsulated by the cinema so directly: the element of human nature, running parallel to our ethics and informed by drives bound up in our apperception of mortality (or in denial of it), which manifests itself in the things we do that we know we shouldn’t do but that we do anyway as if we cannot help ourselves; as if we are doing these things involuntarily.

Östlund’s film does not only approach this theme from five different angles, it does so in such a way as to legitimately lay claim to something like the status of a quintessential national portrait: particularly in its depiction of Sweden’s drinking culture and the domination of forces of repression that define it as a famously polite society built atop unsaid things.

Four of the stories are about unsaid things or actions not taken: in one story a man attending a party at his home in his honor gets drunk and sets off a firecracker in his face and nobody will force the issue of his getting medical attention, with disastrous results, knowing that he is intractably stubborn; in another story a semi-famous stage actress accidentally breaks a curtain rod in the bathroom of a bus and will not cop to responsibility when the driver, assuming that roughhousing kids are responsible, refuses to continue driving until somebody fesses up; in a third story a pair of rambunctious young girls get incredibly drunk and when one passes out in a park whilst they party with a group of young people, the other fails to do anything about it, putting her friend at serious risk; in a fourth story a group of young men retreat to a cottage for a weekend’s drunken getaway and unspoken sexual patterns, behaviors that normally get repressed, cause one of the young men confusion when he cannot decide whether he wants to leave or to stay after an uncomfortable sexual humiliation takes place and which he confides in his concerned-but-amused girlfriend. The fifth story looks at the other side of things: a young schoolteacher, who does speak up when she believes that a student has been reprimanded by the woodshop teacher in a manner that “crossed the line,” faces ostracization from the rest of the staff.

In each of these fragmented, interlocked vignettes we see how uncomfortable situations cause people to do things that they know they should not, to keep mum when they know they should speak up, and to participate in the acknowledged perpetuation of unhealthy illusions so that they do not incur reprisal or risk complete alienation in a society built on false illusions that refuses to allow for its members to be human and imperfect. Early on the teacher who is later ostracized leads her class in an exercise in conditioning by having one girl wait in the hall and telling the rest of the class to contradict her every time she chooses the longer of two lines in a series of graphics until the girl finally picks the line which she empirically knows is the wrong one. This scene is Involuntary in microcosm.

It is a brilliant film about falling into line against our better judgment, told in fragmented long takes that place the viewer in a position of ontoepistemological estrangement. The camera consistently remains in discomfiting counterintuitive relation to the actions of its characters, retaining, along with its dense and extraordinary soundtrack, a profoundly immanent character as our heightened senses are excited by the oddness and destratified concretion of what we are experiencing and how we are experiencing it.

There is a demanding, hyper-involved quality to Involuntary that is remarkably unique and experientially rich. It is extremely minimal yet of an ever-growing moment-to-moment intensity. A fascinating and penetrating work of art almost alien in its alacrity and formal audacity. Momentous!

Kynodontas / Dogtooth

Dogtooth (film)

Hard to know where to begin w/ Dogtooth. I guess it’s kind of about how we can be suffocated to death by protection. It is just so giddily, aggressively odd and unsettling. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s absolutely singular. Like if Lars von Trier, Michael Haneke and Samuel Beckett tried to make a film based vaguely on the recent story of Austrian psycho Josef Fritzl and his family.

It is a very funny film on a lot of levels, none of them indicative of sound mental health. A family where nobody is named. Father is some kind of industrialist, working in a factory that produces God know what. He keeps Mother, Older Daughter, Younger Daughter, and Son (those are their names in the credits) locked up in the house and its adjoining yard (w/ a pool!). He has created a world for his children w/ an absolutely berserk psychic topography, filling them w/ completely insane ideas about how things work. The children are told that they will die if they leave the compound. The only way to survive is in his car. They will not be allowed to learn to drive until they have grown something called a “dogtooth.” They are told that their mother is pregnant w/ twins and a dog. Words have all kinds of twisted meanings and gnarled logic rules the day. Vaginas are “keyboards.” A “pussy” is a dining room light. “Zombies” are a kind of yellow flower.

The film is episodic and shot w/ lengthy takes, mostly close-ups. When there are establishing shots they don’t work like establishing shots. The close-ups and medium shots have a quality of interchangeability. The montage is very odd yet totally precise. Scenes and sequences develop their own geographies slowly but surely, like a world the viewer is building in their own brain as the sensorium tries to situate itself, sounds from one scene overlap onto another, often the sound cuts out all together, and the whole film has the quality of a patchwork w/ holes in it, much like the language within the film, which is in a constant state of being modified and expanded upon, bumping into walls, hiccupping, stop-start lurching, knitted together by the experimentations and odd game-generating activities of the adult toddlers, developmentally stalled as they are, intractably bound up in polymorphous perversity and unable to direct their sexual drives toward any kind of utilitarian end, so constantly searching, fumbling, spazzing, playing around.

This family has developed its own semiotic realm at once confused, elaborate, and wickedly amusing. This sense of language functioning from a degree-zero is very reminiscent of Beckett’s plays. Apparently if you speak Greek, a really upset Greek guy told me after the screening, Dogtooth is even stranger. We never have any idea why Father keeps up this ridiculously complex charade, how exactly Mother figures in, or how a man capable of thinking the way Father does is able to pass in the outside world.

Invariably the film is partially about that. How little we know of guys in suits who keep their cards close to their chests. The only time we see him communicating at the office it is to explain to a co-worker why his wife doesn’t like having visitors. But the outside world is not entirely held at bay. Father brings home a blindfolded female security guard named Christina from the factory whom he pays to regularly fuck the Son (who looks like a young Russell Crowe if you kept him in yr attic for a few months), until she starts bribing Older Daughter to lick her keyboard in exchange for gifts like a hair band that sparkles in the dark and hair gel. Older Daughter persuades Christina to trade her two video cassettes for a week in exchange for a final keyboard licking, because what the fuck does she need w/ hair gel?

Father finds the tapes, duct tapes one of them to his hand and then repeatedly bashes Older Daughter over the head w/ it. Later he beats her so nastily w/ the VCR I think the girl I was sitting next to actually started crying. At this point Christina is no longer allowed in the house, blindfold or no blindfold. So Father gets the idea that Older Daughter should have to fuck Son. The ensuing sex scene, awkward and uncomfortable (you think?) produced the first wave of very loud and vociferous walkouts from the audience.

There is levity, however: cutting away from the sex to the two of them lying next to one another in bed, Older Daughter tells Son: “you do that again, bitch, I’ll tear yr guts out!” Later Older Daughter, apparently pretty fucking sick of the status quo at home, smashes her own face to smithereens w/ a small dumbbell in front of the bathroom mirror, spitting her teeth in the sink. Again, a thunderous wave of walkouts. Older Daughter, bloodied-up in her nighty, missing a bunch of teeth, hides in the trunk of the car. The family searches for her to no avail, barking like dogs to ward of the murderous cats that they figure must have gotten her, Father having warned them that a cat can eat a person whole after Son disemboweled one w/ hedge clippers subsequent to its having happened to hazard onto the lawn, Younger Daughter calling out “Bruce!” as per one of the many games the girls have concocted in which Older Sister moves around the room and sits in various places and positions, moving her head in recognition of the name Bruce.

The next day, nothing resolved, Father drives to work and parks out front. He goes into the factory. The camera holds on the car’s trunk for an inordinate period of time. Nothing happens. I’m guessing Older Daughter probably suffocated in there. The end. Holy shit! Nice!

Pokrajina St.2 / Landscape No. 2

Lanscape No. 2 (film)

Landscape No. 2 is something else, man. This is some seriously awful filmmaking from the word go. Everything about it stinks to high heaven. I have never seen a Slovenian film before and was curious, being a huge fan of Slovenian philosopher-celebrity Slavoj Žižek and generally interested in the nation’s fascinating history. My curiosity was rejoined with Landscape No. 2, an utterly bizarre and in every way incompetent apologia for dormant fascist sympathies suffused within the national character presented in league with an aesthetic and worldview so skuzzy and deranged that the mind can merely boggle at its garrulous, insipid wretchedness.

It is apparent that aside from the many other things that capitalism and democracy have brought to bear in Slovenian culture, the nation can also thank the West for exporting a particularly execrable form of the fanatical rightwing made-for-cable thrillers of the 1980s. The film is about two extortionist thieves, the older, wiser Polde, and his young, idiotic pussyhound lackey Sergej, who make money by stealing and holding for ransom illegally-obtained artworks from wealthy and powerful benefactors of the nation’s onetime communist elite. At the beginning of the film Polde and Sergej break into an ex-general’s opulent home, without much effort at all, to steal the titular landscape painting, which the general appropriated from Nazi-sympathizers who were summarily executed shortly after the end of the second world war.

Instead of being happy with fulfilling this basic criminal task, Sergej also breaks into the general’s safe, without telling Polde, pocketing some cash and a set of documents the significance of which will only come to be known to the young man well after it is far too late to stop the wave of atypically sloppy murders precipitated by the efforts made to recover them.

These documents, as it turns out, betray the general’s central involvement in those post-war executions that have heretofore gone unpunished. The general brings in a ridiculous heavy played by the glowering and seriously fucking humorless Slobodan Custic as one-quarter Terminator, one-quarter Boris Karloff, one-quarter Michael Ironside in Scanners, and one-quarter No Country for Old Men’s sociopath-for-hire Chigurh, to go retrieve the documents whatever the cost in human lives.

Effortlessly tracking the painting through one of the two unreliable people in the whole world who knew of its existence (the general’s cleaning lady who is also friends with Polde’s family), the assassin doesn’t take long in disposing of Polde, who doesn’t know a damn thing about any documents and whose made-to-look-like-a-suicide death is witnessed by his Down syndrome-suffering son Igor (seriously), who somehow escapes unscathed despite the tendency of Custic’s ridiculous villain to really messily murder everybody in his path whether it is necessary or not, especially if they are women or homosexuals.

Finally tracking Sergej to a cabin in the woods owned by the family of one of the two women the young criminal has irresponsibly impregnated – which happens to be directly adjacent to a surrounded-by-candles-of-mourning hole in the ground from which the remains of the dead Nazi-sympathizers that the general is responsible for having executed just happen to be in the process of being excavated – the assassin chases Sergej to the precipice of the mass grave and then, because during all his killing and following of leads the general who has dispatched him to do the dirty work has died of old age, himself jumps out of nowhere to his death, leaving Sergej standing there looking dumbfounded, just as the cops show up ready to pin the trail of dead on the poor young thief, the documents that explain everything having just been incinerated by the candles aligning the really big, and apparently deep, hole in the ground.

The acting is abysmal, with everyone genuflecting and mugging like they’re in a silent movie. To show how happy Sergej is about the money he just stole from the safe he takes the money out off his pockets in the middle of the street and starts exuberantly sniffing it. When his fiancé finds out that she is about to be murdered, impossibly slowly so that the choreography works just right, she goes about methodically running directly into every piece of furniture in the room.

This is almost one of those movies that fits into the SOBIG (so-bad-its-good) sub-genre, pace Ed Wood or Menahem Golan’s The Apple (’78). There are indeed moments here of unintentional hilarity that are as funny as anything in your average decent comedy. It is almost a triumph viewed from the standpoint of parody.

Besides that the film had two moments that really struck me as awesome in the same way early Paul Verhoeven is awesome: in the first such scene we see Sergej, as he waits for his hot redheaded pregnant-girlfriend-on-the-side Jasna to return to bed from another room, manually keeping himself hard whilst watching the remains of bodies being recovered from a mass grave on television (something I can see myself putting in a film); the second awesome scene, shortly after the first, finds Sergej giving nude-under-her-coat Jasna Larry Clarke-realistic head in the middle of a well stocked grocery store, up against a grocery cart, in what must be the most tantalizing and spirited celebration of the joys of consumer-capitalist consumption I have ever seen.

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Radically Free

The cheeky, batshit crazy and absolutely singular vision of Yugoslavia’s Dušan Makavejev.

by Jason Philip Wierzba

Free Radical

Dušan Makavejev was one of the great countercultural sui generis voices to emerge from the convulsive antiestablishment bedrock of the 1960s, w/ its various new waves and locally global movements for the emancipation of desiring-machines and their assemblages from the clutches of social-machines in the East and the West. (Social-machines as manifested by the military-industrial complex, malevolent forces of Capital and State, sociocultural estrangement, and what New Left post-Marxist critical theorist Herbert Marcuse called Technological Rationalism (the destructive drive inherent to the state apparatus of the Soviet Union just as much as those of Western Imperialism)). His films bring to mind May ’68 French student slogans such as: “take your desires for reality,” “it is forbidden to forbid,” and “under the paving stones, the beach.”

While many of the radical cultural and social movements in the West maintained ideological allegiances to Stalin, Mao, Trotsky and Marxist-Leninist discourse in general, radical artists and dissidents in the East who lived under the tyrannical sets of controls erected around European communism throughout the nations aligned beneath the aegis of the Warsaw Pact saw the failings of Marxist-Leninist ideology, as the supposed dictatorship of the proletariat became nothing more than a base plutocracy supported by military power, a fact that became visible to the whole world in 1968 when the Soviet Union intervened militarily in Czechoslovakia to put an end to the popular Spring Movement for socialism w/ a human face under Alexander Dubček.

Radical writers, artists, and filmmakers (as well as politically active dissidents) throughout the Eastern Bloc had long before come to know how difficult it was to freely communicate — or especially to enact — ideas in this repressive climate. Yugoslavia’s Novi Film movement, made-up of outspokenly critical artists – besides Makavejev, the movement included Aleksandar Petrović and the seriously fucking bitter Živojin Pavlović – was one of many, many movements that skirted censorship by embossing their critiques in films that were superficially made to resemble the standard socialist-realist fare promulgated by the Serbian Communist Party’s Ideological Commission in their case.

Makavejev, who started out working in the ’50s after having gorged himself on disparate cinemas, high and low, at the Yugoslav Cinémathèque, quickly developed a unique style, combining bricolage, intertextuality, frank sexuality, documentary style, and sly commentary. Makavejev’s cheeky films push ideology to the foreground to lambaste and undermine it, showing how people get tangled up in it, overwhelmed by it, and ultimately trip up, all in tizzy. He mocks the image of a functioning, idyllic collectivity foisted on the masses by the existing institutions, making a mockery of popular forms and idioms, along w/ their underpinning ideological scaffolding.

What his films celebrate is unbridled personal liberation of a sexual or performative nature that breaks through any constricting bonds the outside world may seek to impose upon libinal drive. The form of his films likewise takes on a freewheeling, open-ended, asymptotic wildness, turning on a dime, heading off on new lines of flight, employing multiple narrative forms and voices, crashing through barriers, and enacting new schema, landscaping new root-systems, wherever they may burrow. He was able to practice his termite art under the radar for well over a decade before being exiled in 1973 after the release of his greatest masterpiece, WR: Mysteries of the Organism (’71), a free-form cinematic essay celebrating Wilhelm Reich and his theories of the primordial cosmic energy he called “orgone,” which essentially amounts to the orgasmic energy that connects all things to the Universal force of Life and which pulses out of the earth, down from the heavens, and through organisms.

Reich is the ultimate subject for Makavejev, whose entire body of work, leading from his early experiments in Yugoslavia, to his twin masterpieces of performative libidinal desublimation, the already Criterionized WR and Sweet Movie (’74), and culminating in a series of sneakily subversive international co-productions, has continually broken down the decrepit structures of any-given-position-whatever, to allow energy to flow and explode new possibilities out of the formulaic gridwork of narratological and ideological precedent, replacing meaning or discursive reiteration w/ sped-up ecstatic and anarchic joie de vivre, an endless making passionately active of reactive forces, fixed to blast through any institutional moorings in its path. Criterion’s bare-bones new Eclipse series box, Free Radicals, presents his first three Yugoslavian features, showcasing the early, putative emergence of Makavejev’s absolutely singular vision.

Covek nije tica / Man is Not a Bird

Man is Not a Bird

Man is Not a Bird (’65) opens w/ a crazed-looking oddly-coiffed mesmerist, the “youngest hypnotist in the Balkans,” delivering a soliloquy on his chosen trade. He speaks about “the negative aspects of love,” explaining how he has used hypnosis to free a young girl of the “delusion” that she was in love w/ a particular boy, because of some occult spell she had been put under, who it was deemed was no good for her. He talks directly to the camera, as in a documentary, riffing on the various kinds of magical thinking, old wives tales, silly superstitions, and absurd beliefs that play a major role in everyday life. “The moral,” he says, is that “magic is absolute nonsense.”

How then, the ensuing film seems to ask, should we understand love? What of its magic? What of its madness? What do we do w/ desire? What follows is a fractured narrative, interrupted by various documentary asides, about two copper factory employees in the remote region of Bor. One, Jan, is relatively high up the factory ladder, an assembly expert who is in the throws of a messy affair w/ his landlord’s daughter, a tempestuous hairdresser named Rajka (the sexy and diffident and oh-so-flexible Milena Dravić). The other is Barbulović, a hulking, fiendish member of the lumpenproletariat, who loafs around, gets wasted, and fucks whomsoever he can lay his dirty hands upon (a depiction of the communist laborer that is almost ridiculously subversive in a culture used to seeing such figures hoisted up as selfless, heroic, defenders of the little people – and funny, because there is never really any reason for him to be constantly interrupting the love story that we are nominally watching).

The story (or the stories-that-are-the-story), which in its way details the endless frustrations of its characters bound up as they are in demoralizing work and the vagaries of relationships that are frustrating, untenable, and impossible to cleanly extricate oneself from, is constantly being interrupted by scenes of hypnosis (the title coming from one such scene wherein a stage full of hypnotized audience members are made to flap about the stage fully believing that they are, in fact, birds), odd carnivalesque performances, digressions on Beethoven, and a mordant tour of the factory where a guide pontificates on the wonders of this worker’s paradise before a group of rapt school children while we witness Barbulović trapped in filthy, exhausting labor, an emasculated object of the collective gaze.

The film depicts taxonomy of humiliations and desperations within a set of conditions not conducive to life. Even love becomes a baleful purgatory fraught w/ dangers and conditions as poor as the barracks that house the workers. The film suggests that love and ideology are two kinds of hypnosis that can entrap entire populations of people in a mnemonic thrall from which they are unable to awaken themselves, and in which their individual strivings, desire having been hijacked by external forces, amount to little more than a mad zonked-out Serbian dude flapping his arms in an impotent, vainglorious attempt at taking flight.

Ljubavni slucaj ili tragedija sluzbenice P.T.T. / Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator

Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator

Almost a streamlined variation on the not-a-love-story between Jan and Rajka that made up a good part of Man is Not a Bird, Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator (’67) tells the temporally disjointed story of Hungarian telephone operator Izabela (Eva Ras, often naked and lazed-out in odd positions like Milena Dravić before her) and her older Serbian Muslim rat exterminator boyfriend Ahmed (the adorable and diminutive Slobodan Aligrudić, almost overwhelmed by his clothes). It’s a story that the temporal disjointedness lets us know early on is not going to end well when one of Makavejev’s trademark documentary digressions flashforwards to the recovery of Izabela’s body accompanied by a dry dissertation by a doctor concerning the handling of the corpse.

As the arc of the relationship between our two lovers goes from the heights of blissful cohabitation to bedeviled tragedy after a dalliance w/ the horny local mailman causes a guilty and sullen Izabela to collapse the love affair from within, sending mild-mannered Ahmed back to the bottle and culminating in her unfortunately unwitnessed accidental death at his blotto hands.

Again, the film is routinely bisected, interrupted, and rerouted back and forth by Makavejev’s patchwork exploration of the subject from every possible angle and vantage, as a sexologist and criminologist take turns lecturing to us, elucidations on the history of phallus worship are presented along w/ erotic sketches from antiquity, fragments from Dziga Vertov’s Enthusiasm (’31) appear on the TV, a shot of Izabel’s bare ass is graphically matched w/ a pair of eggs, then with two mounds of flower into which the egg yolks are dropped and kneaded as part of a subsequent lesson in strudel making.

The film throws all of its disparate elements together in freewheeling collage, turning what is essentially a neorealist-style staged documentary into and artfully arranged hardscrabble poetic tapestry of fragments that reflexively align w/ one another, mimicking the autopsy performed by the coroner of the film as by all of its experts and talking heads who, in one way or another, for all their pompous elocution, scientific deduction, and myriad of truth-claims (like those propagated and upheld by the socialist state in its reification of the fixed tenants upon which it is all-knowingly erected), are unable to grasp the generally messy, inextricably complicated, and never semantically reducible complexities of lives as they are actually lived, carried out, and brought to thorny and difficult ends, often not morally coherent or easily assimilated by easy encapsulations as these are.

Love Affair is mussed and diffuse, never equivocating one way or the other, hard to fix judgment upon, just as is life. Here we are seeing Makavajev begin to structure very directly his evolving tendency to show how ideologies, systems for endogenously producing hard-and-fast truths-in-themselves, employing bureaucracies of voices that refuse, or deploy energy to repress, the anarchic life-forces that dispel the illusion of their claims, how powers that have the tendency to narrate histories, no matter how marginalized or entrenched, in their own voice, using their own systems of signs, actively destabilizing any opportunity for critical thought, doubt, or disharmony within the apparatus of a limited and limiting expressivity, ultimately fail to uphold the frames that they impose upon the world when exposed to even the slightest countervailing exposure.

Nevinost bez zastite / Innocence Unprotected

Innocence Unprotected

With Innocence Unprotected, the most conceptually rich and formally busy film from his early Yugoslav period, Makavejev further encroaches upon the mash-up terrain of his subsequent masterpieces of intertextual collage, WR and Sweet Movie, that directly follow it, w/ a “new production of a good old film,” as the opening title card half-truthfully informs us. The title is taken from a 1942 film of the same name as Makavejev’s, the first talkie made in Yugoslavia, though the communist powers that be tried to suppress the fact since it was made under Nazi occupation, thus making it incompatible w/ the self-mythologization of the state (this being a film whose production had to be kept secret from the Nazis for similar reasons!).

The bulk of Makavejev’s Innocence Unprotected is actually given over to an arch and extremely funny repositioning of the actual 1942 film, often tinted or hand-stenciled so that Makavejev can impose his own jokester antics on the carapace of the original itself as though he were tagging it like a Brooklyn subway car. Made by the absurd and extremely popular dangerous-to-himself-and-others muscle man, acrobat, daredevil, escape artist, and workaday locksmith Dragoljub Aleksić, the original film is a boisterously over-the-top vamp-fest featuring incomprehensibly bad acting and a shopworn plot – intercut, in a way that perhaps foresaw Makavejev, w/ documentary footage of Aleksić’s various fucked-up what-the-hell-is-he-doing? feats of highwire derring-do – about an everyman hero who saves his true love from being raped by an evil industrialist scumbag in the upstairs bedroom of the home where she is kept by a heartless old slag who has sold her out to the letch for favors already performed (or soon to be returned) in gratis.

The film had one public showing during the war, but was subsequently squashed from the records; its director-star accused of collaboration and nearly sold down the river. Makavejev comes onto the scenes 26 years later and rounds up Aleksić and his collaborators on the classic-that-wasn’t-to-be, interviewing them, letting them do oddball shit in front of his camera, and filming nearly-septuagenarian Aleksić flexing on a rotating pedestal w/ some seriously gorgeous babes dangling off of him. These are some self-effacingly goofy people whom age has in no way softened. Not only does Makavejev intercut the modern versions of the players in this forgotten blip on the radar of cinematographic history, he also mines moments of surprising poignancy by offsetting moments in Aleksić’s ridiculous melodrama, such as when the love interest in a moment of longing and lamentation poses crestfallen at a window to peer out on the outside world, w/ newsreel footage of the war-ravaged streets of Sarajevo, reminding the viewer of the real world context of the film’s impossible-seeming production and the extraordinary tragedy that befell Yugoslavia not only as one of many countries to be raped like an innocent young romantic in an upstairs loft by the Nazis, but as the only country to be bombed by both sides during the war.

Suddenly the original movie’s corny plot and cardboard heroics take on a moving subtext, as a celebration of individuality and shared values in a world in which values were thrown out the window to make way for imperialistic plunder and catastrophic violence. Innocence Unprotected becomes a wild and wooly gaff w/ serious underlying resonances that milks a historical text for easy laughs only to turn the gambit around on us revealing a genuine and complicated pathos. It is a celebration, a mockery, and a solemn and powerful reconfiguration of its own berserk and heavily mediated contents, a batshit collage that Makavejev would soon outdo once again, with WR and Sweet Movie, his two subsequent jaunts into outer-fucking-space.

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