The Exterminating Angel (El ángel exterminador, Mexico, 1962)

Dooming and dooming the rest of us

Doomed and dooming the rest of us

Luis Bunuel was good at excoriating the bourgeoisie; in The Exterminating Angel they are trapped at a dinner party for no apparent reason and their reason soon goes. The civil veneer of the the ruling classes is shown to be just that and beneath the surface most of them are scumbags (the doctor, however, is decent). Are the bourgeoisie these days the 1% who own 99% of the world’s wealth? Or do they include the ‘squeezed middle’ who politicians (including Labour!) seem so concerned about? Whoever they are they remain as self-centred as they have been since the rise of capitalism. The brutal behaviour of the guests in The Exterminating Angel is being meted out to the poor in Britain and elsewhere. Hopefully Syriza’s victory is the start of a left-wing revolution that will end the economic nonsense of ‘austerity’, the Tories announced today they are promising more if re-elected, that has devastated many people’s lives. Good on the Greeks, a third of whom live in poverty, for giving the ‘troika’ the finger.

As Marx suggested the bourgeoisie are doomed, the only question is whether they will destroy the rest of us. Climate change, fuelled by unsustainable economic growth, will finish us off given long enough. However, given the stupidity of neo liberals who, irrationally, still believe in the ‘free market’, it could be that civil dissent causes a meltdown before Gaia does.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu, Czechoslovakia, 1970)

The perils and pleasures of growing up

The perils and pleasures of growing up

Another dose of bonkers Czech cinema is good for anyone with a jaded palette; it’s good for anyone anytime.  The marvellously titled Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is based on a 1930s surrealist novel by Vítězslav Nezval, which was why the post-’68 censors allowed it, Nezval having been a ‘good communist’. As a good surrealist, he poked fun at bourgeois values but, as noted in the last post, bourgeoise sensibility wasn’t limited to the west of the ‘iron curtain’ so the Czech establishment got more than they bargained for in this exploration of a 13-year old’s ‘coming of age’.

Much of the imagery is startlingly beautiful, with wonderful stylised compositions; in one scene Valerie runs through a misty field – the film is worth seeing for that alone. The plot draws on numerous influences, Alice in Wonderland and the vampire genre are two obvious touchstones. Like Daisies, if is female-centred, the men are predatory with the possible exception of ‘Eagle’ who may, or may not, be Valerie’s brother. He does rush to her rescue a lot. Whether Valerie always needs rescuing is open to doubt as the film dramatises the excitement at, and fear of, sexual awaking. Valerie’s body, obviously, is important and the degree of nudity is surprising given that Jaroslava Schallerová was actually 13 when the film was made. The film, however, is far from prurient and Schallerová’s performance is magical.


Deep End (West Germany-UK, 1970)

Not exactly swinging

Deep End is one of those rare treats for an ageing cinephile, a never-seen but much-mentioned movie suddenly available to view. It has been mired in rights issues and needed reconstructing for its re-release last year (see here for more details). And it’s pleasing to report that the film does not disappoint.

Made in the same year as Performance, both films share a cynical view of the post-swinging ’60s era; though Deep End lacks the others pretension. Set in a seedy public baths, the film focuses on 15 year-old Mike’s growing infatuation with the slightly older Susan (Jane Asher terrific in both looks and acting). She is a not unkindly tease, however her affect on his hormones is quite catastrophic.

Like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (UK, 1965) this casts the effects of ‘sexual liberation’ as horror, though not in such an obvious way as the earlier film. The Polish sensibility, Deep End‘s writer-director was Jerzy Skolimowski a friend of Polanski’s, seems to have been ideal to offer such a skewed vision of Swinging London. Most of the film is set in the seedy baths (actually shot in West Germany) that take on an increasingly surreal look as the putrid greens start to be replaced (by a painter) with blood-red.

Another key setting is a 15-minute sequence shot in Soho, then the absolute epiphany of seedy sexuality; this is accompanied throughout by Can’s Mother Sky, giving a psychedelic edge to the proceedings. This mix of realism, the location shooting and narrative where little happens, with the surreal, at one point a religious group pops up proselytising against sex, helps set the mood for the brilliant finale.

The realism is also evident in some of the scenes that are clearly improvised; such as when the protagonists play with famous ‘pregnant man’ public information poster. Other elements that seem surreal now, such as the teacher molesting his female teen charges on a visit to the baths, may actually have been more real then! Similarly, the scene in the porn cinema where a policeman has to remove Mike for molesting Susan, who’s with her boyfriend.

So, a ‘lost’ ‘classic’ ‘found’.

The Grandmother (US, 1970)

Giving birth to granny

Giving birth to granny

This is a very early David Lynch short that mixes animation, pixelation and live action to typically obscure effect. Lynch is one of those directors for whom the auteur theory does work and the ‘seeds’ of his later work are apparent here; particularly the disturbing soundscapes he produces. On the ‘The Shorts of David Lynch’ DVD the film is introduced by the director in hilarious non-explanatory fashion; though I can never work out if Lynch is ‘taking the piss’ or genuinely ‘out to lunch’. It doesn’t matter, in the tradition of the surrealists, Lynch makes films that disturb bourgeios complacency and that’s to the good.