Tag Archives: cinema

Giraffes on Horseback Salad

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews Giraffes on Horseback Salad: Salvador Dalí, the Marx Brothers, and the Strangest Movie Never Made [Amazon, Bookshop, Publisher, Local Library] by Josh Frank, with Tim Heidecker, illo. Manuela Pertega.

Frank Heidecker Pertega Giraffes on Horseback Salad

As an admirer of both the Marx Brothers and Salvador Dalí (and who isn’t?) I was surprised that I had never heard of their abortive Hollywood film project Giraffes on Horseback Salad until finding this book, which resurrects and fulfills it in the form of a graphic novel. In the “unmade movies” department of my cultural awareness, it now has a roost next to the documentary Jodorowsky’s Dune, which also involves Dalí, strangely enough.

Josh Frank is responsible for the research and reconstruction of the film from the preliminary script, studio pitch, and notes by Dalí, and he also supplies most of the front matter and end matter with notes on his process, history of the project, Dalí’s relevant biography, and related speculation. There is also a note from comedian Tim Heidecker, who helped to flesh out the reconstructed feature, and a short essay on “Dalí and Harpo” by Bill Marx, Harpo’s son.

The artist for the central graphic novel is Manuela Pertega. Her drawings are expressive and effective, and I was especially pleased by the large full-page panels and two-page spreads depicting irruptions of the surreal. Her ability to represent the Marx Brothers as comics characters unfortunately falls well short of the lofty standard set by Dave Sim in Cerebus, but is nevertheless a reasonable success. Happily, she is in no way constrained by cinematic feasibility of the 1930s. It would be a treat to see a short based on her visual imagination in one of the more extreme scenes, now that digital effects make nearly any concept realizable on the screen.

Dalí’s “film” tells the story of Jimmy, an expatriate Spanish aristocrat in the US, who is torn between the forces of mundane power and transformative dream, represented in the persons of his fiancée Linda and the mysterious Woman Surreal, respectively. It includes several musical numbers, designed after the American stage and cinematic tradition to be easily abstracted from their narrative context. Although there is no musical scoring in the book, the verses are hypothetically realized with never-written tunes by Cole Porter.

I enjoyed this book for its historical perspectives and creative efforts.

By protecting others, you save yourself. If you only think of yourself, you’ll only destroy yourself.

Akira Kurosawa, & al., Seven Samurai

Hermetic quote Kurosawa Seven Samurai protecting others save yourself

Låt den rätte komma in

When I saw the movie, I didn’t know there was a book. I think the movie just kind of showed up one day and moved into my Netflix queue. All very normal. Who knew? Then, I watched it. I was so amazed by the originality and atmosphere and everything of the movie that when someone mentioned, “The book is better,” I knew I had to read that too. However, it sat on my stack unread. In fact, I almost gave it away as a present since it seemed a shame to waste a brand new book like that if I wasn’t going to read it.

Then, I’m not sure why, but I picked it up. And, devoured it. But, the whole time I kept thinking to myself, “I wish I’d read the book first.” The pacing seemed really slow to me as I was reading it. I felt that had to be because I’d seen the movie and so I wasn’t discovering the story for the first time. It had to be something, because it was a wonderful story to read.

Well, maybe the word “wonderful” isn’t right, is it? It’s a bleak affair, after all. The pacing is part of the atmosphere. Everyone is struggling to find love in spite of their dysfunctions in a world which indifferently exists around them. I’d say hostile, but that’s not really it. Everyone is doing what they can to survive as wounded individuals, and sometimes that means hurting other people. But, it’s not really out of malice, even the bullies are really not so much vicious as much as indifferently cruel because they are living. And, there’s really no good people, per se, as much as everyone being flawed in such a way that it’s all ultimately ambiguous. And, in the cold and wintery dark, isn’t that idea the real horror? To be alone is to die, but to be around others is to get hurt. To live is to decide to continue hurting and being hurt, and to refuse this is to refuse to go on living. And, that struggle is one that strangles the heart in strange ways, unless you can find the right one that balances out that struggle for a while. So, try to let the right one in.

(It’s an odd coincidence, which will only make sense to those having read the book, that I was proofreading Liber Cordis Cincti Serpente as I was reading the book. After you finish the book, go and read through this Liber to see why this stuck me as synchronicity.)

Then I finished with the story and watched the movie again. As I watched the movie, I realized how very different the two were from each other. The pacing of the movie really was strikingly fast, and after the book the movie is almost dizzying. The movie literally zooms from the start to somewhere in the middle of the book across a couple of minutes. I was really shocked at how much wasn’t there from the book that I had to reassure myself that, in fact, the author was also the writer of the screenplay. Now, that makes it very interesting to think about what got left out, by the author’s own hand; in collaboration, to be sure, but still. Re-watching the movie, I realized there were things that couldn’t have made sense the first time, things that must have seemed odd or wrong about the plot. The movie could have been so very much creepier and scarier. But, it also turned the story from one of many individuals trying for survival, trying to live in a indifferently hostile world, into more of a love story.

In fact so much was left out, that, given what was left unexplored on screen the first time, I’m holding out a bit of hope now that the Americanized remake will actually be truer to the book. Faint hope to be sure, if I’m relying on American cinema to outdo a European film for awesome moody dread and willingness to go uncomfortable places, without turning to shlock and satire.

Of course, I’m reminded of anything by Bergman, but that’s too easy. Like in Cyrano de Bergerac, no one really gets what they want in the end. Like the end of The Princess Bride, it’s really not clear how much time there’s left for those riding off into the sunset. And, as I think about this I’m strongly reminded of my experience of The Silence of the Lambs, because of the realization that instead of any of what would normally be the creepiest stuff, the violence and gore and so on, what really was creepy was the psychological, existential horror that went on in the exchange between the main characters.

While reading the book, there were two places where it seemed to me the translator’s choices stuck out in odd ways, and there was one point past the half way point in the story where I had a feeling that the style of storytelling had abruptly changed. But, all in all the writing and translation seemed to carry me along and into the narrative without making themselves obvious, dissolving into a seamless experience. Nothing here like a tour de force of language, but well suited to the story and did well to maintain my immersion and momentum through to the end.

Now I’m flummoxed over whether I’d rather have read the book first or not. I actually like the movie a lot less now than I did before I read the book. The book is a much richer tapestry and much creepier and much more compelling. I can only, in the end, recommend both, and highly, even in spite of my confusion. They’re such different creatures, the movie and the book, that they both almost live unlives of their own. Both manage to survive, to find a way through the dark; both manage to come out in the end. At least, for a while.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at Låt den rätte komma in.

As great an actor to enact Crowley as this

Not only didn’t I mind Simon Callow’s Crowley, I thought Callow did a really good job … but in a crappy movie. Or, at least, I assume so. I really couldn’t watch the 2nd half of Chemical Wedding because it turned super stupid. I suppose it’s possible that the end managed to turn it around, but I gave up; and, when I talked with people that stayed for the whole thing I’m glad I left.

However, the first half really made an impression, which I was disappointed that the rest didn’t live up to. I kept thinking how interesting, as high concept, to ask what would it be like if Crowley were somehow brought back to life today. What would he say and do, and what would his personality and ideas be like, when placed within a current cultural context. What would he applaud and what would he lament and what would surprise and what would shock, anger, confuse? And what insights and breakthroughs could be made given more time in a new time?

For that matter, it’s an interesting idea which you could ask of any historical figure. Any of the historical figure re-enactments is an example of how this can be compelling. I’m thinking primarily of Holbrook’s Twain and Jenkinson’s Jefferson as these seem to be exemplars. Or, I suppose also the Riverworld stories of Farmer are also examples of this idea of moving historical figures into another context. Maybe some more good examples are the alternative history stories that come out every once in a while and even the recent trend of adding zombies or whatnot to historical literature.

Well, anyhow, I was watching the special features on Branagh’s Hamlet, and I was struck by how closely he seemed to me in some of the videos to resemble Crowley in some pictures.



Branagh [source], Crowley [source]

Admittedly the picture of Branagh above is not the most flattering, but he’s so often smiling that it’s the best I could find on short notice to show side-by-side.

Anyhow, leaving aside the high concept of time travel and resurrection, wouldn’t it be something to see a decent period bio-pic of Crowley done with such production values and acting that someone like Branagh could bring to it? There’s certainly enough material to be interesting. Like the life of Sir Richard Francis Burton which really has only ever appeared once, and then only a short bit, in The Mountains of the Moon (which is actually a really well-done movie that I recommend); a decently done movie about Crowley, with warts and all to be sure, of course, please, but not something that is just stupid sensationalism or worse a really crappy B-grade film, would really be something to see.

Originally posted over on my personal blog at As great an actor to enact Crowley as this.

I Am Legend

Lucifer Benway reviews I Am Legend, dir. Francis Lawrence, in the Key 23 archive.

You know the drill. Will Smith in the supposedly truest to the book version of the novel I Am Legend. Made in the 60s as a vehicle for Vincent Price to pine for his dead wife (Last Man on Earth) and in the 70s with Charlton Heston being camp as all get out (Omega Man). In this one, Will Smith is an Army Lt. Col. who worked on the virus that’s turned human beings into zombie / vampire creatures or meat. Riding around in flashy cars with his German shepherd and hunting elk in the streets of New York, Smith is surprisingly convincing. Carrying a picture by oneself is a difficult chore to say the least and for a guy who started out rapping about getting grounded and dressing like Punky Brewster, Smith turns out a far better than workmanlike performance.

The Good: Creepy zombies, good cinematography, killer tracking shots of the deserted city, and more “last man on earth” fantasies than you can shake a stick at.

The Bad: He’s got running water, which is kind of weird but once you go down that route, the nuclear power plants would have exploded. Also, a bit of a downer.

The Bottom Line: Seeing Will Smith being that intense with graying hair is a bit emotionally jarring, but this is a symphony on film. Minimal blood and gore, maximum terror.

The Golden Compass

Lucifer Benway reviews The Golden Compass, dir. Chris Weitz, in the Key 23 archive.

Philip Pullman’s screed against organized religion hits the screens in a family-friendly Christmas release. It is, of course, little surprise that the film’s Gnostic message has been entirely purged from the film. However, the core attitudes about the oppressive nature of organized religion shine through. Did I mention polar bears with thumbs fighting in armor that they welded themselves using iron from fucking meteors? Sam Elliot in a hot air balloon as a cowboy?

The Good: Set design and special effects are fairly epic, befitting this film which is supposed to be a sort of follow-up to LOTR for New Line.

The Bad: The story is a little rushed and key elements are changed or left out. But what do you expect?

The Bottom Line: Take your little cousins to see this and give them an education in free thought.

Apocalypto

Michael Szul reviews Apocalypto, directed by Mel Gibson, from the Key 23 archives.

With the 2012 meme hot on the minds of alternative archeologists, occultists, religious fanatics, and the rest of us crazy people, the Mayan civilization has started its steep upward climb back into the minds of modern civilizations. Mel Gibson – fresh off of his Passion of the Christ work, in which he laughed at traditional movie distribution all the way to the bank – decided to try his hand at the ancient civilization equation with his Mayan epic Apocalypto.

As the title suggests, this is a story about the beginning of the end of the Mayan civilization, as told through the narrative of Jaguar Paw. His village invaded, and his people captured, Jaguar Paw is trekked across the Mexican jungle to a great Mayan city to be sacrificed. His only goal: surviving to get back to his wife, whom he left down a shallow cavern to save her.

Jaguar Paw’s ordeal is your traditional action/adventure; but his story allows Mel Gibson to give viewers a glimpse into the world of the declining Mayan civilization during a time of an immense drought, waning resources, and resulting in a large number of human sacrifices.

The movie, for the most part, is historically accurate, with some liberties taken to enhance the awe of the spectacle. Many people have complained about the movie being inherently racist with its portrayal of the Mayan’s as bloodthirsty savages; and though I will admit that the scientific and mathematical accomplishments of the Maya were glossed over in favor of the human sacrifice, we do know that a great deal of human sacrifice did occur during the Mayan decline. Gibson may have portrayed the Maya as overtly savage, but the scenes between Zero Wolf and his son showed compassion, and the city scenes showed a complex society built on more than just bloodshed.

Another complaint that a few had, was that they felt Gibson was portraying the conquistadores at the end as the “saviors with crosses” of these savage people. I disagree. If this were the case, then Jaguar Paw would have been “saved” by the them. Instead, he returns to his wife and seeks a “new beginning” deeper into the forest, away from the Spanish.

The DVD contains a nice documentary about the making of the film. Particularly interesting is the making of the city and costumes. The deleted scenes – or should I say scene – only contains one brief moment where an injured deer passes by.

The film itself is phenomenally entertaining and anyone caught up in the 2012 meme – or anyone who’s an ancient cultures buff – would do themselves a good deed by sitting down and watching it.

Nymphomaniac

The librarian John Griogair Bell reviews the film Nymphomaniac by Lars Von Trier, with Charlotte Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård, et al.

Lars Von Trier Nymphomaniac

This is a dramatization of a conversation between the Old Aeon and New Aeon with the inevitable result.