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Parky at the Pictures (DVD 15/3/2012)
Nine decades have passed since the German Expressionists took a leaf from their Scandinavian counterparts and began using shadow, distorted shapes and stylised movements to convey the psychological subtext of their pictures. Still widely emulated in horror and film noir, such tropes were refined by such influential directors as Robert Wiene, Fritz Lang and Paul Leni. But the master of disconcerting chiaroscuro was FW Murnau, whose 1921 thriller Schloss Vogelöd is a welcome addition to Eureka's excellent list of silent and foreign-language titles.
With torrential rain already threatening to ruin the hunting party thrown by the aristocratic Arnold Korff and Lulu Kyser-Korff, the atmosphere is further strained by the unsolicited arrival of count Lothar Mehnert, who is reputed to have murdered his brother, Paul Hartmann. His widow, Olga Tschechowa, is also a guest, along with her new husband, Paul Bildt, and she has several accusatory encounters with Mehnert that prompt her to announce her imminent departure. She is persuaded to stay, however, by the news that her confessor (Victor Blütner) is travelling to the castle. But, when he suddenly disappears, the tension begins to mount again and suppressed secrets slowly begin to emerge.
Adapted by Carl Mayer and Berthold Viertel from a serialised novel by Rudolf Stratz, this study in class, lust and guilt may disappoint those hoping for another Nosferatu (1922). But this studied variation on the old dark house theme offers a sly social commentary on Weimar Germany, as it struggled to come to terms with defeat in the Great War and the crippling burden of reparations that had been imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. This is the old order atoning for past sins and the dream sequences - in which a sinister hand plucks a sleeping figure from its bed and a servant turns on his master - suggest a shift in the balance of power that is going to have disturbing repercussions for the junker elite.
Technically, this may lack Nosferatu's audacious use of variegated speeds and negative images or the gliding subjective tracking shots of The Last Laugh (1924). But Hermann Warm and Robert Herlth's evocative sets and the moody photography of László Schäffer and Fritz Arno Wagner ensure that the reveries are deftly realised and, if some of the staging seems a little theatrical, the playing is notably restrained (especially by the debuting Tschechowa, the niece of Anton Chekhov who would go on to become a particular favourite of Adolf Hitler) and Murnau's cunningly employs long shots to locate the characters in their disconcerting environment. Indeed, the sequence in which Tschechowa and Bildt are situated at the extreme edges of the frame to convey the emotional distance between them is brilliantly reinforced by the addition of two rectangles of light at the far end of the cavernous room, which could be interpreted as either a way out of their predicament or a gaping, coffin-shaped hole from which there could be no escape.
Just as Murnau helped transform German cinema in the 1920s, Edgar Reitz was a key figure in its revival from postwar moribundity in the 1960s. Reitz was born in Morbach in the Hunsrück on 1 November 1932 - just three months before Hitler came to power. His father was a watchmaker, whose fascination with radio, photography and astronomy had a profound influence on his son. While attending high school in Simmern, Reitz became a voracious reader and worked as an assistant to the local cinema's projectionist in order to indulge his new-found passion for film.
Dropping out of technical college, Reitz transferred to the University of Munich in 1952, where he managed to squeeze in a degree in theatre, art history and literature in between his myriad other activities - writing poetry and stories; founding and editing a literary magazine; running an experimental theatre troupe; performing with an avant-garde electronic music group; and seeing up to 20 films a week. He also made his first films - Gesicht einer Residenz and Auf offener Bühne (both 1953), which he co-directed with Bernhard Dörries and Stefan Meuschel.
From 1957, he gained experience as a production assistant, script supervisor and cameraman at various Munich TV stations, before turning to instructional films and documentary shorts like Schicksal einer Oper (1957), which was also co-directed with Dörries. He followed the award-winning scientific film, Experimentelle Krebsforschung (1959) with Baumwolle (1959), which he shot in Peru, and Yucatan (1960), which took a prize at the prestigious Oberhausen Festival of Short Films.
Exploring society's growing reliance on technology, Moltopren I-IV (1960) and Kommunikation - Technik der Verständigung (1961) led to Reitz's appointment as head of experiment and development at Insel Films. He soon proved his worth as both artist and technician with Kino Eins - Geschwindligkeit (1962), which not only generated three new photographic and processing techniques, but also several international awards.
Moreover, it placed Reitz among the 26 other signatories of the Oberhausen Manifesto, which denounced the state of mainstream German movies and declared `Papas Kino ist tort' - Papa's Cinema is dead!
Later in 1962, he teamed with Alexander Kluge and others to establish the Institut für Filmgestaltung at the Academy of Advanced Design at Ulm. He was to teach cinematography and montage here until 1968, during which time he also produced over 50 commercials and such pioneering installations as DB-Vision (1965), a publicity film for the German Federal Railroad that exploited a system called VariaVision (co-devised with architect Paolo Nestler), in which synchronised images were projected on to a series of overhead screens.
Having served as Kluge's cinematographer on Yesterday Girl (1966), he formed Edgar Reitz Filmproduktions, which he launched with the short Kinder (1966). Next, he wrote and directed his first feature, Lust for Love (1967), which is now available on disc in this country for the first time, along with The Tailor From Ulm (1978).
The story is deceptively simple in its focus on a suicide's self-obsessed widow remains blithely ignorant of the realities of life as she marries a new American husband. But, making bold use of handheld camera and jarring cross-cuts, Reitz challenged the rules of conventional screen narrative, with the contrapuntal music and dramatic asides starkly conveying the alienation gnawing at the rigid conformity of West German society in the mid-1960s.
Georg Hauke and Heidi Stroh impress as the ambitious medical student and promising photographer whose meeting on the Hamburg waterfront culminates in a pregnancy that instantly changes their lives. Four more children arrive over the years, as the couple settle into a stultifying routine that saps the spirit of both, despite the attempt to maintain a Bohemian façade. The mundanity of the sequence in which Hauke, whose business has failed, attaches a hose to the exhaust pipe of his new Volkswagen is chilling in the extreme and makes Stroh's relationship with Mormon Peter Hohberger all the more joyless.
Yet, despite taking the prize for Best First Feature at the Venice Film Festival, Lust for Love was denied a domestic release because of the commercial sector's stranglehold over distribution. Consequently, Reitz co-founded the Arbeitsgemeinschaft neuer deutscher Spielfilmproduzenten (Syndicate of the New German Film Producers) in a bid to break the monopoly. A decade later, he was still trying to establish himself among the front rank of Das Neue Kino auteurs. But the fact-based period drama The Tailor From Ulm was more significant because its failure galvanised Reitz into embarking upon the project that would finally make his reputation.
Although he is clearly intrigued by protagonist Albrecht Ludwig Berblinger's mind and engineering acuity, Reitz is just as much concerned here with the exploitation of innovation by political and/or military powers. Much attention is devoted to setting the historical scene and establishing the threat posed to the German states by a bellicose, post-revolutionary France. But the allegorical message is readily evident and it's hard to see how contemporary critics failed to recognise the film's ambition and sagacity.
With Prague and some studio sets standing in for Ulm and Tilo Prückner outstanding in the title role, this bears comparison with Herzog's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974) for its recreation of period detail and intellectual temperament. Dietrich Lohmann's photography and Winfried Hennig's artwork are impeccable and Reitz's direction has an inventiveness that matches Berblinger's own. Yet this long-cherished venture proved a critical and commercial calamity. Heavily in debt and deemed a reckless maverick by the film industry at large, Reitz withdrew to the island of Sylt to consider his future. The result was the eleven-part Heimat - Eine deutsche Chronik (1984) and the rest, as they say, is history.
While Reitz was reaching a career crossroads, Volker Schlöndorff was about to hit his apogee with The Tin Drum (1979), a lavish adaptation of Nobel laureate Günter Grass's 1959 novel, which not only shared the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival with Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, but also won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. Although he had been a significant figure in New German Cinema alongside Reitz, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders and his former wife Margarethe von Trotta, Schlöndorff had always been something of an outsider, having learned his craft as an assistant to such French luminaries as Louis Malle, Alain Resnais and Jean-Pierre Melville. But the consistency of features like Young Törless (1966), The Sudden Wealth of the Poor People of Kombach (1971) and The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1975) convinced Grass that Schlöndorff sufficiently understood the German psyche to entrust him with the book whose filming he had previously resisted.
Even while in the womb, Oskar Matzerath (David Bennent) recognises the folly of the world. He recalls with disdain how his grandmother became pregnant with his mother when she allowed a Kashubian fugitive to hide from the police under her voluminous skirts and he is no more impressed on his first encounter with mother Agnes (Angela Winkler), her husband Alfred (Mario Adorf) and her cousin (and Oskar's probable.father), Jan Bronski (Daniel Olbrychski). Having been promised a tin drum on his third birthday, Oskar endures the trials of his dysfunctional family until he finally receives the gift from Jewish toy shop owner Sigismund Markus (Charles Aznavour), who harbours a crush on Agnes and periodically replaces the drums after Oskar opts to stop growing (staging a fall down the cellar steps to disguise his wilfulness) and communicate solely through beats on his drum and piercing screams that can shatter glass.
Born into the Free City of Danzig in the mid-1920s, Oskar continues to view the neighbourhood with a jaundiced eye. However, with the rise of Nazism in the 1930s and Alfred's rise through the Party ranks, his scorn becomes more pronounced and proactive and he ruins a rally by beating a waltz time during a marching parade and causes everybody to dance. Clearly amused by the effect, he runs away with a troupe of dwarfish troubadours led by Bebra (Fritz Hakl) and Roswitha (Mariella Oliveri) and finds himself entertaining the troops manning the Channel defences. However, having witnessed Berlin fall to the advancing Red Army, he returns home in time to see the ludicrous demise of Alfred, which seems to satisfy his need to rebel and he abandons his resistance to physical growth.
Scripted by Schlöndorff, frequent Luis Buñuel collaborator Jean-Claude Carrière and Franz Seitz, this bleak satire on the venality, carnality and susceptibility of human nature lacks the scope and absurdist ambition of Grass's epochal novel. However, Piotr Dudzinski and Zeljko Senecic's production design is as superb as 12 year-old David Bennent's performance in conveying the seething cynicism of the emotionally and intellectually mature individual trapped within a consciously stunted body. The scenes in which he seduces Alfred's mistress Maria (Katharina Thalbach) would later attract accusations of child pornography and a ban on the picture in Oklahoma. But they disconcertingly capture the sense of a society out of kilter and expose the idiocy of the adults who allowed Europe to be dragged into conflict by charlatans posing as saviours.
The theme of tacit resistance had been explored three decades earlier by Jean-Pierre Melville in his first feature, Le Silence de la mer (1949), an adaptation of a semi-autobiographical novel that had been published in 1942 by Jean Bruller under the pseudonym Vercors. Having himself fought with the Maquis during the war, Melville was determined that his account should be as authentic as possible and he promised Bruller that he would destroy the negative if he and a select group of veterans objected to his approach. Funding the shoot in Bruller's house with his own money, Melville eschewed mainstream techniques and not only received the author's warm endorsement, but was also commended by the influential critic André Bazin and landed a commission from Jean Cocteau to film Les Enfants terribles.
Some time in 1941, German lieutenant Howard Vernon arrives in an idyllic provincial town and is billeted on Jean-Marie Robain and his niece Nicole Stéphane. Although Vernon gives the outward appearance of being polite and seems aware of the imposition his presence represents, Robain and Stéphane take the decision to abjure all communication with him. Thus, they sit in silence each evening as Vernon discusses his hopes that France and Germany can reach a level of mutual co-operation befitting two civilised nations.
However, his enthusiasm for his hosts is always tempered by a fierce loyalty to all things German, from music and philosophy to matters military and moral. Consequently, when he returns from a three-week furlough in Paris, during which he was subjected to boastful accounts of liquidations in Treblinka, Vernon is a changed man and requests a transfer to the Eastern Front as an act of atonement for his contribution to the subjugation of France and the genocide that is about to gather hideous momentum across the continent.
Such was the national shame at the capitulation of June 1940 and the subsequent acquiescence in the rule of Marshal Pétain's puppet Vichy regime that the Occupation was long a taboo topic in France. Films made in the immediate aftermath of the Liberation, such as René Clément's La Bataille du rail and Le Père tranquille (both 1946), suggested that everyone had played their part in defying the Bosch and driving them back over the Maginot Line. But Melville refused to let the populace off so lightly and rather than presenting Robain and Stéphane's taciturnity as heroic he condemns their complicity in allowing the country to be conquered and controlled.
Vernon may seem like the archetypal `good German', but his opinions on a Franco-German partnership echo Pétain's own views on what they could achieve in tandem. Moreover, he very nearly wins over hosts who live in a town where Jews are denied service in bars and there seems to be little evidence of underground. Indeed, it is Vernon who ends up recognising the brutality of the war and this refusal to judge any of the characters that makes Melville's interpretation of a book that inspired millions all the more provocatively ambiguous.
His audiovisual style is also deceptive in its simplicity. Atmospherically photographed by Henri Decaë to emphasise the shadowy claustrophobia of the interiors and the beauty of the changing seasons outside and with Jacques Carrère's sound mix using ticking clocks, crackling fires and Vernon's measured tones to reinforce the tension of the stillness, this barely seems like a war film. But the battle for hearts and minds is fiercely fought and it is fascinating to compare this with Melville's later studies of the same period, Léon Morin, prêtre (1961) and L'Armée des ombres (1969), in which the lines of demarcation were more clearly drawn.
Melville proved a huge influence on the nouvelle vague, as, in his very different way, did Roger Vadim. He will forever be remembered for making a star of Brigitte Bardot. Yet, she had already made several films before their landmark teaming on ...And God Created Woman (1956). Moreover, even though they were briefly married, they only made another four features together before she retired from the screen in 1973. Among them was Love on a Pillow (1962), an adaptation of a novel by Christiane Rochefort that is also known as Warrior's Rest in a translation of the French title, Le Repos du guerrier. In a way, this has much in common with Le Silence de la mer, as it is also a study of manipulation and taking the line of least resistance. However, it is nowhere near as cinematically sophisticated or dramatically challenging.
Ecstatic at inheriting a fortune from an aunt, Brigitte Bardot gets lost in her hotel and blunders in the room in which Robert Hossein has just taken an overdose of pills. Having rushed him to hospital, Bardot visits him and accepts his offer of friendship. Much to the bemusement of her mother, Jacqueline Porel, Bardot ditches fiancé Jean-Marc Bory and becomes an item with Hossein. However, despite being a Maquis veteran, he is something of a wastrel, who dabbles at sculpting, playing jazz and writing a detective story when not devoting himself to drinking and gossiping with artist friend James Robertson Justice and his girlfriend Macha Méril.
Ignoring warnings that Hossein is bad for her and is bending her to his will, Bardot agrees to a vacation in Florence and Vadim and cinematographer Armand Thirard revel in making the city sites look ravishing. But the trip proves little more than a glitzy digression before the scene shifts back to Paris for the wholly unconvincing denouement in which the love of a good woman transforms a cad into a decent cove.
Hossein has his moments, as he debauches with pals, flirts with strangers and uses Bardot as an outlet for the copious self-loathing that may or may not have something to do with his wartime experiences. But Vadim asks much less of Bébé, who barely reacts to her fortune being frittered away and her values being decimated. Indeed, she is required to do little more than lounge and pout when not looking quizzical or hurt at Hossein's latest rant or misdemeanour. As always with Vadim, style triumphs over substance, with Michel Magne's jaunty score adding to the slickness of the enterprise. But this offers little, either as an offbeat romance or a cynical satire on bourgeois complacency.
Another amour fou dominates Barbet Schroeder's feature bow, More (1969), which was co-scripted by Paul Gégauff and took its inspiration from the myth of Icarus and Daedalus. Strikingly photographed by the great Nestor Almendros, it is now better known for its Pink Floyd soundtrack than the performances of Klaus Grünberg and Mimsy Farmer. However, it was also notable for its enduring British Board of Film Classification ban on the supposedly instructional aspects of the scene depicting the preparation and injection of heroin. But, with the missing one minute and 23 seconds and the dips in the dialogue track now restored, this can be seen in this country in its original form for the first time.
On finishing his degree, Klaus Grünberg hitches from Lübeck to Paris in search of enlightenment and adventure. He is befriended by Latin Quarter sharpster Michel Chanderli, who warns him against falling for American party girl Mimsy Farmer, who gives the naive German his first taste of marijuana. Besotted with the enigmatic émigrée, Grünberg is so desperate to follow Farmer to the Spanish island of Ibiza that he joins Chanderli in a robbery to pay for his passage. However, he is distraught to discover that Farmer is already involved with Heinz Engelmann, a former Nazi who smuggles drugs as a sideline to running a tourist hotel.
Anxious to prise Farmer away from Engelmann, Grünberg suggests she moves into the villa he has borrowed. But she can twist him around her little finger and not only coaxes him into sleeping with her lesbian friend Louise Wink, but also into trying heroin and he quickly becomes hooked. Indeed, so gnawing do his cravings become that he starts dealing for Engelmann and not even the entreaties of the newly arrived Chanderli or an attempt to wean himself off `horse' by experimenting with LSD can save Grünberg, whose fate is sealed when Farmer dumps him after a furious row.
Resisting the temptation to create an audiovisual equivalent of the trips the protagonists are experiencing, Schroeder seems content to film them lounging in the sun, copulating, arguing and getting spaced out. Unfortunately, while the lack of lifestyle judgement is laudable, this doesn't always make for the most riveting viewing, especially as Grünberg is such an unyielding screen presence, particularly alongside the vivacious Farmer, who was already a drive-in favourite back in the States and would go on to become a scream queen icon in Italian horror.
If Schroeder was occasionally capable of shocking audiences - he hired real fetishists for his 1976 study of sado-masochism, Maîtresse - he encountered fewer problems than Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was already a published poet by the time he arrived in Rome in 1949 as a gay, Marxist country boy whose poverty quickly reduced him to a criminous association with the ragazzi or slum punks with whom he identified and from whom he would continue to purchase sexual favours until he was murdered by one in 1975.
In addition to participating in a gas station robbery, Pasolini also helped a bandit escape from the police and he had achieved a certain notoriety before he published his first novel, Ragazzi di Vita, in 1955. Fending off a charge of obscenity, he followed this with Una Vita Violenta (1959), which served as the basis for Accatone (1961), which centres on Franco Citti, a Roman street hood who falls in love with Franca Pasut when he attempts to recruit her as a prostitute. He vows to go straight, but is soon forced to commit increasingly risky crimes.
Having started screenwriting in 1954, Pasolini hoped to use his contacts to fund the film. But Federico Fellini withdrew his support when he saw some test footage, which bore a naive resemblance to Carl Theodore Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc (1927). However, another previous collaborator, Mauro Bolognini, was more impressed and he persuaded Alfredo Bini to produce and Sergio Citti not only to co-script, but also to enlist his brother, Franco, for the title role.
Bernardo Bertolucci, who served as an assistant director, claimed that Pasolini was more influenced by Renaissance painting than cinema in seeking `an absolute simplicity of expression'. Yet several critics have proclaimed that Pasolini's intuitive artistic sensibilities shaped the iconic, if anti-heroic Citti's squalid pilgrimage around a city of seemingly redundant religious reliquery to the strains of Bach's St Matthew's Passion. However, traces of René Clair, Jean Renoir, Vittorio De Sica and Roberto Rossellini can be detected both in the occasionally sentimental humanism, its use of authentic locations and non-professional players and in the unsophisticated style, whose raw realism was to remain a feature of Pasolini's cinema, most notably in his masterpiece, The Gospel According to Matthew (1964).
Despite their obvious differences, it's surprisingly easy to draw parallels between Pasolini and Christ. Both abandoned the religion of their youth and so alarmed the authorities with their outspoken views that they were charged with blasphemy. Both presented fresh interpretations of established texts - Christ the Old Testament scriptures, Pasolini the plays of Sophocles, the masterworks of medieval literature and, of course, Matthew's gospel. And both lived among society's outcasts and perished at the hands of the very people they sought to champion.
It's not difficult, therefore, to see why the gay, Marxist poet and film-maker would be drawn to the life and teachings of a Palestinian carpenter. Pasolini was inspired to make the film after reading the New Testament on a visit Assisi. He rejected Mark's gospel for being `too obviously written for people of little education', while Luke and John were dismissed for respectively being `too literary and mellifluous' and `too much of a mystic to be transmitted visually'.
Matthew, however, presented a `purely poetical and natural, non-denominational' account that afforded Pasolini the opportunity to `re-consecrate' and `re-mythicise' a remarkable story that he believed was becoming increasingly unfamiliar to most Italians. Moreover, by removing the gospel from its biblical context, he was able to focus on its political nature. As a `rank-and-file Communist without a card', he had always shared intellectual Antonio Gramschi's faith in the revolutionary potential of the Italian peasantry and his Christ delivers a message that is as politicised as it's compassionate.
What makes this interpretation all the more remarkable is that Pasolini quotes directly from the gospel throughout. There are a couple of borrowings from Isaiah, while Salome's dance is imported from Mark. But, apart from the odd shift in chronology, this is a faithful rendition of the text, which received a sort of tacit establishment approval by dint of the fact that the English subtitles were provided by the respected theologian, Monsignor Ronald Knox (although Pasolini resented the inclusion of `St' in the translated title). This, too, is rather remarkable, considering Pasolini had incurred Catholic wrath with `La ricotta', his contribution to the 1962 portmanteau picture RoGoPaG, in which he'd shown an actor playing the crucified Christ in a crassly commercial movie die from a surfeit of cheese while left hanging on the cross during a lunchbreak.
A dedication to the recently deceased Pope John XXIII and a visual style that astutely combined the revolutionary and the reverential also went some way to deflecting Vatican criticism. The tableaux owed much to the devotional art of Piero della Francesca, Rouault, Masaccio and Botticelli, while the restrained depiction of the miracles and the crucifixion meant it avoided the sentimental pictorialism of Hollywood offerings like King of Kings. But the employment of handheld cameras and zoom lenses enabled Pasolini to achieve a modernity that had its roots in Dreyer's Passion of Joan of Arc, neo-realism and the nouvelle vague. His use of music was similarly eclectic, switching from Bach's St Matthew's Passion to the Congolese Missa Luba and such blues standards as `Motherless Child' and `My Oh My'.
More contentious was his decision to shoot in southern Italy rather the Holy Land (which he considered too commercialised) and his choice of cast. A Spanish architecture student, Enrique Irazaoqui was selected for Christ on account of his El Greco-like demeanour (although his lines were dubbed by Enrico Maria Salerno), while the director's mother, Susanna, was cast as the Virgin Mary. Other roles were taken by Calabrian peasants, while Judas was played by Roman trucker Otello Sestili, Andrew by poet Alfonso Gatto and Mary of Bethany by novelist Natalia Ginzburg.
There was an inevitable Marxist backlash against the film's `reactionary ideology' and Pasolini admitted to being ashamed of some moments of `disgusting pietism'. Yet it won the Special Jury Prize at Venice and an award from the International Catholic Film Office. But its finest achievement was in fulfilling Pasolini's aim to depict `the life of Christ plus two thousand years of storytelling about the life of Christ'.
Ironically, the line `there is no god' can be heard at one point in Medea (1969), an adaptation of the Euripides play that completes the Pasolini triptych new to disc. Made two years after his version of Sophocles's Oedipus Rex, this would have teamed Maria Callas and Richard Burton if the operatic diva had gotten her way. Instead, she had to settle for co-starring with former triple-jumper Giuseppe Gentile, whose acting limitations might have been more cruelly exposed had Pasolini not decided to place more emphasis on posture and gesture than eloquence.
The action opens with Chiron the centaur (Laurent Terzieff) telling Jason (Giuseppe Gentile) about his ancestry and how the Golden Fleece that had once been the prized possession of Iolchos had been stolen by the people of Colchis. Returning to his homeland, Jason demands that his uncle abdicates the throne he had usurped. However, Pelias (Paul Jabara) insists he will only relinquish power if Jason retrieves the Fleece and he sets sail immediately with his Argonauts.
On arriving in Colchis, Jason is unexpectedly assisted in his mission by Medea (Maria Callas), the daughter of the local king and a high priestess who is first seen making a human sacrifice that bears a marked resemblance to both the Crucifixion and the Communion ritual. She is smitten by the handsome newcomer and enlists the help of her brother Absyrtus (Sergio Tramonti) to help steal the Fleece. When he turns on her, Medea slays him and Jason takes her to Iolchos in gratitude. However, Pelias refuses to honour his bargain and the couple set up home in Corinth, where Medea bears Jason two sons and struggles to adapt to her new fashions and status.
A sudden leap forward sees Jason tire of Medea and turn his attention to Glauce (Margareth Clémenti), the daughter of King Creon (Massimo Girotti). On discovering his infidelity, Medea vows vengeance and draws on her prowess as a sorceress to send her sons with an enchanted wedding robe that causes Glauce to throw herself to her death and a distraught Creon follows her example. Jason pleads with Medea to see reason, but she sets fire to their home and perishes inside with her children.
With Ennio Guarnieri's camera picking out the contrasts in landscape and architecture achieved by production designer Dante Ferretti (in locations in Turkey, Syria and Italy) and the striking stylisation of the costumes created by Piero Tosi, this paean to the primitive and pagan assumes a visual fascination that more than compensates for the often brusque editing of Nino Baragli, which facilitates Pasolini's enigmatically elliptical approach to retelling a familiar tale. Recently jilted by Aristotle Onassis for Jackie Kennedy, Callas contains her pain behind an impassive visage that nevertheless manages both to smoulder and suggest vulnerability. Unfortunately, the only experience Gentile could draw upon was breaking the world record twice in a single day during the 1968 Mexico Olympics and he does rather hop, skip and jump his way through the role.
Yet Pasolini even manages to turn this to his advantage, as he conveys Jason's skittish unpredictability and implies that no one this beautiful and raised in such harsh surroundings could ever be accepted within the politer society of the great metropolis. Perhaps he was simply reiterating the moral of Accatone that while it might be possible to take the boy out of the hovel, one can never take the hovel out of the boy.
The sheer audacity of Pasolini's technique is surpassed by Miklós Jancsó's bravura use of camera, landscape and human and equine forms in Red Psalm (1971), which requires just 28 intricately choreographed shots to produce an exhilarating account of a peasant uprising on the Hungarian puszta in 1890. Replete with the circular tracks that had become Jancsó's trademark in such masterpieces as The Round-Up (1966), The Red and the White and Silence and Cry (both 1967), this agit-prop folk opera swaps monochrome for colour and widescreen for the Academy frame. But, even more daringly, it also employs zoom lenses to alter perspective and shift the focus within a long take to a new element of the mise-en-scène.
Adopting the Eisensteinian tactic of utilising a mass hero, Jancsó opens with some farm labourers steeling themselves to go on strike in protest at their treatment by the local landlord. He dispatches his bailiff to sort them out, but he fails in his bid to bribe them with extra grain and they pitch him onto the bonfire when he torches the sacks to teach them a lesson. Realising the situation is getting out of control, the landlord sends in the militia. But one trooper refuses to fire upon his brothers and he is resurrected with a kiss from a militant young woman when he is gunned down by his comrades in arms.
The landlord ventures into the breach himself, only to keel over and die after completing his diatribe, while the local priest is immolated inside his own church. Now acting on its own initiative, the army begins massacring the peasantry. However, a young woman stands tall against them and picks them off one by one with a pistol.
Despite the passage of four decades and the forsaking of the Communist ideal, the political message conveyed by Jancsó and screenwriter Gyula Hernádi in what is, for all its artistic validity, still essentially a work of propaganda remains surprisingly potent. Jancsó won the Best Director prize at Cannes as much for his organisational skills as his vision. But the virtuoso brilliance of János Kende's camerawork stirs the soul as much as Ferenc Pesovár's choreography and musical arranger Ferenc Sebo's use of traditional folk songs and appropriated resistance ditties like `La Marseillaise' and `Charlie Is My Darling'. The performances of an ensemble that includes Lajos Balázsovits as the officer cadet, András Bálint as the count and Gyöngyi Bürös and Andrea Drahota as the feisty peasant girls (not to mention the trio of naked figures who drift through proceedings as the supposed personification of the Three Graces) are also vibrant, whether they are debating, declaiming slogans or forming regimented patterns that Busby Berkeley would have envied.
Jancsó was a contemporary of the unsung Polish maestro Wojciech Has, whose genius for subverting time, space and truth was evident in The Saragossa Manuscript (1965), a bold adaptation of Jan Potocki's labyrinthine 1813 novel, which all-but disappeared after being savagely edited. In 1999, Jerry Garcia teamed with Martin Scorsese and Francis Coppola to restore its epic length and the tale of Flemish captain Zbigniew Cybulski's bid to rejoin his regiment in Madrid was hailed as a trippy classic.
Certainly dream, reality and surreality tumble in upon each other at regular intervals, especially once Cybulski reaches a manor where Gypsy raconteurs outdo themselves in intertwining ingenuity. But the ominous presence of the Inquisition makes this less a Munchhausen-like fantasy than a dark, allegorical satire on life in the Soviet bloc in the mid-1960s, where no one and nothing could be trusted and truths could be twisted to suit the teller. It's fiendishly complex, but overwhelmingly compelling.
`In the dream that is a film,' Has once stated, `one often has a singular time loop. Things of the past, issues long gone, are overlaid on to current reality. The subconscious invades reality. Dreams thus allow us to reveal, to show the future.' He certainly made dazzling use of such temporal, spatial and psychological Cubism in The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973).
Five years had passed since Has completed his first colour venture, The Doll (1968), during which time he had become fascinated by the writings of the Polish Kafka, Bruno Schulz, who had been shot on the street by the Gestapo in 1942. Incorporating the journey motif that had recurred in all of Has's finest films, this palimpsest of Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass follows Jan Nowicki as he boards a decrepit train to visit dying father, Tadeusz Kondrat. However, once Nowicki arrives at the crumbling, cobweb-strewn clinic abutting a graveyard, he seems to enter a new dimension, as Dr Gustow Holoubek - who has discovered a way of reactivating the past and, thus, keeping Kondrat alive - has sent time into reverse and Nowicki finds himself recalling his own childhood in a Hasidic shtetl, as well as dreams, thoughts and fantasies that he had long forgotten.
From the moment he settles into a compartment filled with somnolent Jews and topless women, sexual, biblical and historical allusions jostle for Nowicki's attention, along with the Emperor Maximilian, some mechanical soldiers, a band of spear-wielding natives, waxwork figures who become animated with the help of a stamp album, and nurse Janina Sololowska, vamp Halina Kowelska and waif Bozena Adamek. Even the Three Wise Men appear to offer Nowicki advice on buying on credit.
The blind ticket collector who sees all is one of many sinister portents of the genocide to come, but Has never strains to convey the imminent decimation of Yiddish civilisation. Indeed, cinematographer Witold Sobocinski and production designers Andrzej Plocki and Jerzy Skarzynski invest the temporal and spatial transitions with the seamless logic of a subconscious reverie, while simultaneously reinforcing the dizzying aura of decay, dislocation and dejection that permeates every scene. Wilfully impenetrable, this defies repeated viewings. But it's thrillingly evocative and provocative in equal measure and leaves an indelible impression.
In this section
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 23/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 16/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 9/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 2/5/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (In Cinemas 25/4/2013)
- Parky at the Pictures (DVD 25/4/2013)