Siren of the Tropics

For a couple of months I had a silent picture column that came out once a week on Sunday. In that column I covered iconic figures from the silent era ranging from Buster Keaton to Rudolph Valentino to D.W. Griffiths. I enjoyed delving into an era of film that I had left unexplored until that time. Due to some restrictions, I was forced to stop the column, but I still make a point of including more silent pictures in my viewing habits. Because I mentioned this column, I suppose you could guess that this is one of those silent pictures that is all moving images and overwrought music. You would be correct.

Like most silent pictures, I decided to watch Siren of the Tropics because of who is in it and the impact it had on various people’s careers. The star is Josephine Baker and because of this film and a couple of others we have some of her dances captured on film. However that is about all this film is good for. Let me cut to the chase and say this was not a good film. The storytelling was clumsy, the sets were god awful, and the insertion of her dances are always awkward transitions. I would recommend only watching it for Josephine Baker. Man is she charming. Her huge eyes flicker, her crazy athletic legs flail and she has got your attention for the rest of the film. A pity that everyone else paled in comparison.

 

Let me back up a bit. The film centers around a young woman, her evil godfather, and a lovely young engineer who is in love with the young woman. But twist: so is the married, much older and crazy rich godfather. He would do anything to get this young engineer away from his god-daughter so he sends the engineer to one of his islands to kill him. On the island the engineer meet Papitou (Baker) a half native who is basically a child at heart and loves to be mostly nude. (She was known for her mostly nude dances and she was African-American so it would follow that she would be a native) This Papitou saves and then falls in love with the young engineer (who is basically a walking zombie. He exudes no personality whatsoever) only to have him return to France. She follows him to Paris, gets discovered as an amazing dancer, and finds him only to be incriminated in some tryst plot that the godfather concocted. She gives up her love for the engineer and leaves to become a famous dancer which seems like a way better life than staying married to such a bland man.

The main problem with the film is that there is just not enough Baker in it. She is far from the main character in the film and I guess was only there to add color to the dull plot. But every time she is on-screen, she is doing something so entertaining that it is such a chore to go back to the main plot. In one scene where she sneaks onto a ship because she doesn’t have enough money for passage, her comic timing is impeccable. They play off her being a different color than literally everyone else in the film in such a way that I hope that was the one scene Luis Bunuel got to do (he is credited as assistant director on this picture… I can’t seem to escape him). Then when she dances once in her island home and then twice on the Paris stage (where she does her famous version of the Charleston) she lights up the room with her angular gestures and rubber legs. There is a point in one of the dances that you wonder how she ever got her legs to bend that way. If you watch these dances you can see where famous dancers that have come after her got influenced by her. She is so spectacular that you don’t care a bit what else is going on around her which doesn’t help out the structure of the movie at all.

If you were to watch this film, please don’t expect anything other than fascinating dances, beautiful clothes (on Josephine at least), and nothing else. I am warning you now only watch it if you are interested in Josephine Baker because you will get little else. Trust me. I am only looking out for your well fare.

 

 

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The Beaches of Agnes

For weeks I have been going through Agnes Varda’s filmography (at least part of it… see my Gleaners and I post for more on that subject) and it comes to an end today with this magical film. What a way to end a study on a one director’s life than a film that wraps up her life and work while establishing that she is very much alive and full of ideas, theories and life.

The Beaches of Agnes uses the beaches (a favorite location of hers) that frame each stage of her life to tell her story. But it is more than just her story. It is the story of the French New Wave, the story of her lover Jacques Demy, the story of her children and the story of all the famous and not so famous artists that she has met along the way. Each person is treated with gentle kindness and affection. Even the famous recluse Chris Marker is given a cat avatar and a distorted voice to respect his need for anonymity while still giving him a place in her film. Her interaction with that animated cat and distorted voice betrays an intimate relationship that she has had with him for some time. Each person that makes an appearance either in bodily form or through her art (like her photographs of famous stage actors) is given the same respect and gentleness. She doesn’t just use these figures to tell her story but have them tell their own as well. This is the case especially with the story of Jacques Demy, her lover and best friend. Jacques died in the early nineties from AIDS and he looms over this film as a loving ghost. She tells the story of how they met, how they lived, why they lived, what drove them to respect each other’s art from a distance and how they celebrated his life right before he died. The story of how she made his life into a film with him constantly on set overseeing it was incredibly touching. Only Agnes Varda would do this for her lover.

Agnes says at one point in the film while standing in a house made out of old discarded film strips that she has lived her life in cinema. I could not agree with her more. I wish my life will turn out at least half as well as Agnes’ life has. She is a whimsical person that still has her sense of play about her even after she has seen everyone around her fade away. She is a great filmmaker who will always have an impact on my life. I guess that is the best way to end this retrospective. I hope she continues to make beautiful films for many more years to come. Happy Belated Birthday Agnes Varda. You are amazing.

Top 5 Shows From Childhood That Still Hold Up

When I was a kid I watched a crap load of television. I have always been an entertainment junkie but in my childhood I had less discriminating tastes. If it was flashy, had a hot guy in it, or was vapidly funny I would enjoy it. But when I grew up I rejected all of my previous tastes like they were yesterday’s newspapers. (I have always wanted to use that analogy and although it doesn’t fit nicely I am keeping it damn it!) I was into arty films, cult television shows that were over too soon and everything that was considered weird by “normal” entertainment seeking people. Basically my rule of thumb was if my parents liked it, I could not like it at all. Teenager stuff I know but it lasted way past me being a teenager. But as I grew up (I’ll be 24 in a week!), I realized that some shows I watched as a kid were actually good shows. So this is a top 5 list to convince you cynical bastards that can’t enjoy anything from your youth that maybe you didn’t have as bad of taste as you thought you did.

5. The Adventures of Pete and Pete

I watched this show to learn the rules of flashlight tag, to know that in order to train for an athletic endeavor you must put deodorant on around your neck, and to mimic Artie’s superhuman feats. All of these things were decidedly childish to me and I gave up the intricate knowledge that was this show as I became 13 hell even 14 years old. When I started to read pop culture blogs, this show began to creep up again and again (The AV Club seems to be maddeningly in love with this show) and I decided to rent the DVDs from local video store. As I watched the show, I recognized underground early nineties music, character actors that have since gone on to do awesome things (including my character actor crush, Steve Buscemi… will you be my BFF?), and music icons make guest appearances. All of these things would have gone over my head when I was obsessed with the plate in Mom’s head when I was a kid, but now I see how much it enriched the show. Also the stories may seem to be inconsequential, but they are treated like the epic feats. This lends to the dark humor of the show and the intriguing story lines. The passing down a bowling ball, killing the school’s mascot (a squid), staying awake in order to break the adult conspiracy, and being a dot in the school band marching contest are all treated as entries in the Odyssey. This mirrors most people’s experience with childhood where everything that happens to you is the biggest thing ever. Because of this and all the silly characters  including Petunia, Artie, Open Face, Endless Mike, and Nona I still find this show enjoyable.

4. Bill Nye the Science Guy and Dexter’s Laboratory

I was never a science geek, but I have always wanted to be. I used to watch these two shows after school and wish I was smart. With Bill Nye I did seem to be smarter than I thought because I understood what he was laying down. It was only later when he was used as a teaching tool in school that I realized he was trying to teach me something which instantly turned me off of him and turned me on instead to Dexter’s Laboratory. Dexter was not teaching me anything but he was still an enjoyable science geek. As I grew up I realized that Dexter’s Laboratory did actually teach me some things (like French!) and Bill Nye was actually an enjoyable school lesson. If I ever have kids (haha fat chance!) they will be forced to watch these shows on repeat. For more on my love of Dexter’s Laboratory please see other top 5s of mine.

3. 3rd Rock From the Sun

This is one of those shows I used to watch with my parents before I was a cool teenager. I used to laugh my butt off every time they would receive transmissions from the Big Giant Head in the sky. I had a huge crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt (and still do!). Every night after I watched an episode I used to wish that I was an alien sent to earth to figure things out. But as I grew into a sulky teenager, I refused to be in the living room any time my parents were there, so it limited me on 3rd Rock From the Sun exposure and I finally forgot about the series.  In recent times the show has popped up on Netflix Watch Instant and as I am constantly in need of new entertainment, I decided to watch the series again. I forgot how genuinely funny most of the show was. The premise and their adventures are still basic cable cheesy, but it doesn’t matter in the hands of these comedians. The wordplay is easily something that I completely forgot about. I still can’t believe something that made my father laugh is still funny this many years past. I mean he watches Sanford and Sons now. Can you say Ugh?

2. Daria, Beavis and Butthead, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Ahh! Real Monsters

Most of what is on MTV and Nickelodeon now is horrible. Filled with inane reality shows, shitty premises, and Spongebob, the networks have definitely gone downhill. But there was a time where they did have awesome and edgy shows. Rocko’s Modern Life was about an Australian wallaby that got into absurd misadventures with his dog Spike and his cow friend Heffer. The absurdist nature of the show broke my young kid brain in half and I watched it on repeat (in between Rugrats of course). This was the same with Ahh! Real Monsters. Shows that enjoy high cult status now like Adventure Time, Invader Zim, and Regular Show all owe large debts to these two shows. They broke the Transformers mold and showed that kids can still enjoy some really scary premises. Daria and Beavis and Butthead were my version of rebelling. Beavis and Butthead were on every parent’s radar as being full of crap, and Daria got tainted by association (made by the same people and on the same network). But both of these shows were integral to my life and they still hold up even a decade gone. I watch Daria on repeat still and I can’t believe how much I wanted to be like her. (I kind of am in some good ways and in some not so good ways)

1. Saturday Night Live

There is this weird phenomenon with Saturday Night Live where as the show changes casts, the audience that loved the previous cast says the new cast is shit and the people who hadn’t watched the previous cast say that those improvisers were horrible and this new cast is super awesome. My cast was the early 2000s with Ferrell being the primary funny man. Literally when he left the show I cried. He was the source of oft quoted lines in high school. I rejected previous casts like they were trash. And everything after I equally rejected as being the worst ever. But as I grew wiser I realized that Saturday Night Live will always have slump periods but overall there will be funny people, funny writers, and funny premise present in everyday situations. I have grown to appreciate every different cast for their break out sketches and forgive them for their half-baked ones. I think you should to. Just breathe and let go of the anger that Andy Samberg brings just by appearing on-screen with his too handsome face. He is funny, just not all the time and that is okay.

TV Shows that do not hold up at all (Why did I watch this crap?):

Clarissa Explains it All

Saved by the Bell

Power Rangers

Wings

Northern Exposure

Friends (controversial I know, but come on this show was one big soap opera with pie in the face gags)

Melrose Place

Dawson’s Creek (Watch Beware the B in Apt 23… It’s a pretty funny rift on the Dawson phenmenona)

7th Heaven (I only watched one season of this and realized how incredibly boring it was… some of my peers weren’t so lucky)

Ally McBeal

Becker

The list could go on forever, but I will save you some cringe worthy shrugs at your attempt to really like these bland situational shows.

Swimming with Sharks

Although Swimming with Sharks is about a very specific field of business, the ideas expressed in it are universal. Everyone hates their bosses. It is a universal fact that if you work for someone chances are that someone is a dick (A dick in this case can mean male or female). If you are anything like me than you spend your free time at your shitty job thinking of interesting ways to torture this boss who makes you dread going to work everyday. In this film, the protagonist not only gets to live this fantasy but also ends up getting what he wants. It is a promo for doing just what you like right? Well not so much, but it is a pretty interesting take on torture fantasies and the horror of actually working in Hollywood.

Why are people so fascinated with Hollywood? Why do so many talented people want to degrade themselves at thankless jobs in order to make films? Why do they put up with such shit? At one point the protagonist, Guy, is asked essentially this same question. And he answers in a way that you will find most people answer that want to enter the film world. All of his favorite memories are highlighted by the films he likes. He can’t remember a time where films didn’t matter to existence. He endures the shit because maybe one of these days he will make films that a younger him would want to watch. He will have the impact on millions of people just like him. This is why I like this film. I have never had a studio job so I cannot attest to the truth of how Guy is treated (although I have heard a lot of stories and this treatment, although extreme, is still spot on) but I can attest to his motivations for wanting to make films. This is me. This is my fellow classmates. This is my favorite professor. This is everyone I have ever met who wanted to make films. I know that there have been hundreds of films made about filmmaking, but no film has said the reason behind Hollywood even existing so bluntly. It is refreshing.

Kevin Spacey has never been that amazing of an actor to me. Sure he is good to watch if you want to see an over the top breakdown, but usually not more than that. He is an over actor and that can get exhausting very quickly. But there are roles where this over acting can be an asset instead of a crutch. This is definitely one of those films. He just seems to be having so much fun playing the sadistic executive that I forget that I kinda don’t really like him that much. His infamous speech about the difference between Sweet and Low and Equal is so hard to watch while also being insanely entertaining. In fact the only part of the film that I thought was boring were the parts where he was no longer in control. The wet blanket that is Frank Whaley (Guy) is so frustrating when he is trying to wig out and be a psychopath. He needed to take some lessons from Kevin Spacey to be sure.

This hidden gem from the early nineties is a unique enough spin on the behind the scenes Hollywood picture for me to recommend it to anyone that likes this type of film. Although nothing is said that is too earth shattering it is a nice way to highlight all the shit people go through when forced to work for other people. It is nice to see an aspect of my life that I don’t particularly like represented in film.

The Gleaners and I

Before I start this review, I want to make an appeal to film distribution companies. Agnes Varda is just as important as Truffaut or Godard and she deserves to have her works more widely available. There are several titles in her filmography that need to be released in order to fully understand her as a filmmaker. I feel bad that this retrospective of her films is so incredibly incomplete. One Hundred and One Nights of Simon Cinema, Daguerreotypes, One Sings, the Other Doesn’t, The World of Jacques Demy, and Jacquot de Nantes only a couple of films that I feel are well worth a release and could potentially turn a profit at least with art film lovers. Please… Please… Please love Agnes Varda as much as I love her.

I decided to put this appeal at the start of this film review because I feel guilty that I have skipped over a decade in her filmography. A decade where she was more prolific than other decades and yet none of those films are available at all or they are available in extremely expensive and bad copies of VHS or DVDs.  I think this is wrong. Sorry for the whining. Now on with the review of this delightful film.

To glean is to pick up what is left from the normal harvest. This is a common practice that dates back centuries but comes with stigmas that can be worrying. If you glean or scavenge (what it is now normally called) than you are either a hippie or homeless. But as Agnes points out that is far from the truth. Many people are gleaners, they just don’t know it. Whether you find an artwork in a warehouse, eat leftovers, or take things out of storage you are still gleaning.

Through out the film she meets several people who refuse to be pitied. There is a man who hasn’t paid for anything for ten years, a woman whose family has gleaned for generations and does it more out of tradition than necessity, an artist that uses objects that he has gleaned in his art pieces, and families that need to glean in order to supplement their pittance of a salary. Each person is placed in a tradition and is given legitimacy for their way of life. She treats everyone with dignity and wants nothing more than to hear their story. She also highlights the need to throw things away and our consumer culture. These people are working against this prevailing philosophy and they make the world a better place for the rest of us. But because these people are working against the prevailing philosophy, they bump up against laws, societal norms, and the owners of the land they are gleaning from. Varda has landowners, lawyers, and the people who glean explain the laws and regulations. Each person interprets each law and regulation in a different law. In a particularly humorous sequence, she interviews people who pick up mussels around major mussel farms. They have to be within 8 or 15 or 10 feet away from the farm area, they can only pick up 2, 12, 18, or 20 pounds legally. The numbers and the legality changes as each person explains it.

Each person she interviews is interesting and represent a certain aspect of gleaning, but what is most interesting is how she inserts her life into the picture. She puts her profession of filmmaker into the world of gleaning. She gleans images from other people’s lives and fits them together to make a story. She illustrates this by setting a bushel of grain over her shoulder and standing like a famous gleaning painting. This philosophy of filmmaking has been explored before, but I haven’t seen it represented so overtly before. She also lifts the veil of her filmmaking process to reveal her long rides and her giddiness with emerging digital technology. She loves being able to carry a lightweight camera with her wherever she goes and she turns it on to explore her liver spots on her hands and to play a silly game where she catches passing semis with her hand and releases them. All of these images filled me with a sense of wonder and a need to one day meet this wonderful filmmaker.

This film is beautiful. It represents Agnes Varda’s philosophies more than any other film that I have seen so far. She wants nothing more than to explore motivations behind unique people’s actions. I could write about this film for ever but it would be nothing more than I liked this person or this image or this phenomenon so I will stop it here. I hope you seek this film out and that you discover the whimsy and the love of art that Varda has. She is inspiring.

Woman of the Year

Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy have gone down in history as an iconic couple. They shared the screen for nine films, engaged in a tumultuous affair in their private lives (mostly due to Tracy’s antiquated ideals and hypocrisy) and charmed audiences with their charisma and banter. They seemed to always have been in love, but each couple has their start even if it is a couple that exists solely on-screen. Woman of the Year was that start for them.

Woman of the Year is a simple story about opposites attracting and falling in love only to realize that it might not work. Katherine Hepburn is a political journalist that is very famous. She speaks several different languages, makes grandiose speeches, is intimate friends with very important people, and writes columns about the war. She wants to make a difference in this messed up world of ours and she seems to be doing it. Spencer Tracy is sports journalist that just loves a good baseball game. He has his own column and a modest sum and that seems to be just fine by him. When Hepburn’s character Tess Harding blasts baseball on a radio interview that Tracy’s character Sam Craig overhears, Craig takes to his column to call her out. She blasts back only to have both of them called into their editor’s office and forced to make up. Sam likes the way Tess looks and invites her to a baseball game. After this baseball game they are both smitten and decide to get married. But Tess has no time for Sam. She doesn’t wait patiently for him to come home from a trip to Chicago or fix him meals or compliments him on his new hat. This of course spells trouble for the marriage. Struggles ensue and a break up happens only to be… well I won’t give anything away, but let’s just say it was made in the forties.

Although the film is overtly sexist, it is still Hepburn’s film. Tracy sort of lumbers around like a whiny sports loving wet blanket, but Hepburn charms the pants off of everything. You just cannot take your eyes off of her. She pulls off comic scenes with ease but then can be dramatic without aping or crying. It is a wonder to behold. I could watch her all day. Tracy however could be anyone. The charisma is not quite there for the two of them yet. You can see a hint of magical surprises to come, but nowhere near the point of Adam’s Rib for instance.

The domestic struggles and struggle for gender dominance will be a continuing theme for Hepburn and Tracy’s career on-screen together. However it will be handled in a more even way than this film pulls off. From the moment Sam steals a look at Tess fixing her hosiery, you know that Sam is going to be in the right and Tess is somehow always in the wrong. It is frustrating to know that instead of having them learn how to eschew traditional roles, Tess instead is going to be forced to be the docile housewife. I hate when you can see the directors hand and prejudice from the beginning.

If you want to see Hepburn and Tracy together making movie magic, I would suggest watching the films they did with Cukor instead. He was more sensitive to the roles that men and women play in relationships and he gave both of them equal time to shine in both their comedic and their dramatic sensibilities. I would suggest this film only after you have seen everything else of their output and want to see the origin of it. Or if you like odd hats and elegant women pantsuits.

Vagabond

A young woman, dirty and homeless, is found dead in a ditch in the middle of wine country after a particularly cold night. Who is this woman? Why is she homeless? Why didn’t anyone help her? All of these questions pop up in the viewer’s mind when seeing this beautifully twisted young woman covered in dregs and dirt, but Varda chooses not to answer these questions. Instead she decides to show the viewer how this young woman reacts to the people around her and how they react to her. In doing this, Varda reveals a little bit about her past and her current philosophy, but not one of these people really understand this young vagabond. She remains a mystery to them, an interesting mystery.

Through her lens, Varda takes us to places that have hardly ever been filmed before. We see Arab migrant workers’ quarters, an abandoned mansion, a bus station, a poor sheep farm, a groundskeeper’s kitchen, a professor’s posh apartment, and the deserted frozen wine country of the heart of France. But more importantly we see people’s lives that are not commonly shown. We see the back breaking work of a vine cutter, a maid that takes care of a neglected rich aunt, mechanics, truck drivers, and grifters constant need to pull tricks in order to find money. We see all of these things through Mona’s fearless eyes. Everything Mona sees is murky, slightly dirty and yet enduring and inviting.

Mona at the beginning is a vibrant young woman who doesn’t take anything lying down. For instance she scores a ride with a truck driver and when he insinuates that she needs to blow him in order for him to take her on, she hops out and flips him the bird. She has sex with who chooses for reasons that sometimes does not seem completely moral (for instance she has a relationship with this guy for his grass), she dances to popular jams on the radio, she eats fiercely and she doesn’t wash her clothes. However with each encounter and each person either trying to put her down physically or psychologically, she grows weak. Everyone wants her to be something that she is not. She does not want to own and work a farm (despite what she says), she doesn’t want to live in the mansion forever with the grass filled man, she isn’t a hopeless romantic, she wants to get in the way of things, she doesn’t want to be paid to have sex with strangers, and she most definitely does not want to be saved by a hoighty toighty professor. She wants to be free. However freedom comes at a price.

Vagabond incorporates Varda’s inante knack at documentary work. It feels like we are a fly on Mona’s backpack. But man the fly most definitely has the best seat in the house. The photography captures this region beautifully. This region is filled with Varda’s trees and the subject matter comes up here again in the form of a disease that is attacking a certain type of tree. This disease came over when the Americans arrived in France during WWII. Influence always affects the host, just as Mona is affected by the people that surround her.

Viridiana

For some reason lately I have been on a Bunuel kick. Here is another film that is very important in his filmography. After years of making pictures in Mexico, working for the Hollywood system making American releases into Spanish releases, and generally being misused by the film world, he returns to Spain to make his comeback. Viridiana represents the first film of a string of films that established him as an important auteur. Because of this film, he would have enough cache to make his two most famous films, Belle De Jour and Discreet Charm of the Bourgeois. Unlike L’Age D’Or where his vision was there but not fully developed, this film represents Bunuel exploring his favorite themes with an eye of a professional. His fetishistic tendencies, his digs at organized religion (especially Christianity) and his subversion of regular relationship roles all are present here.

Before she becomes a nun, Viridiana is encouraged to visit her old and rich uncle one last time. He has provided her dowry to the convent and she performs this visit as a way to thank him. However when she comes, the uncle realizes that she looks exactly like his wife who has died. He begs her to put on his wife’s wedding clothes and then proposes. Shocked by his aggressiveness, she refuses only to drink drugged coffee that he has given her. He wants her to stay with him and the only way he can do it is by taking her virginity. Yet he lacks the ability to go through with it. Instead he decides to commit suicide and leaves his farm and fortune to his estranged son and her. The son comes to live in the mansion and Viridiana confines herself to a lesser building. Deciding not to return to the convent, she gathers the towns beggars (they range from drunks to blind people to lepers to prostitutes) and gives them a place to live and eat. These beggars treat her as if she is Mary but when she is gone they resort to their old ways. The film culminates in a massive feast that beggars take part in when the masters are away. They break into the mansion, prepare a feast and destroy the dining room.

Although there are several images that seem surreal in nature, the film feels very realistic. Bunuel once said that in order to really point out the flaws of society you have to make your picture as plausible and as absurd as possible. (I am paraphrasing here. I don’t remember the exact quote but it can be found in the documentary supplement in the Criterion release of this film) Each character is neither wholly evil nor wholly good. The uncle who attempts to rape Viridiana is seen more as lonely and sad than a sadistic male. Each beggar that destroys the dining room and takes advantage of Viridiana’s charity are just acting the way they are taught by society to act. For instance giving an alcoholic a place to live and a steady meal does not necessarily meant that he will give up drinking. Drinking is what he or she knows. It is a comfort to them. Viridiana is also seen as too dogmatic in her views of Christianity at the same time she is seen as giving and charitable. This is more akin to what happens in real life than in films. Bunuel does not give anyone a happy ending or an easy plot wrap up. That is just not how it is.

L’Age D’Or

Luis Bunuel is most famous for making Un Chein Andalou with Salvador Dali. A shocker of a film, one of the first images is someone slicing open a woman’s eyeball. It scandalized Parisians when it debuted in 1929 and went on to be one of those essential films that you have to watch if you are into film history. Following the success of this film, Bunuel and Dali decided to team up again and with money a wealthy aristocrat gave them, decided to make The Golden Age or L’Age D’Or. Troubled from the start, the film destroyed Bunuel and Dali’s close relationship, derailed Bunuel’s career for several years, and scandalized even the more liberal of France’s intelligentsia. In fact after its week run, the film would not be seen again til some decades later.

The film starts out with a banal documentary sequence on scorpions. I started to think what this archive footage of the ways and attributes of scorpions had to do with the rest of the film in an angry fashion and then I realized that is exactly how Bunuel and Dali wanted the audience member who is seeing this for the first time to think. The philosophy of surrealism is complex and at the same time simple. They want you to look at a painting or listen to a piece of music or watch a film and wonder the whole time what each image or note or sequence has to do with the next image, note or sequence. They want to put in this state of intense thought and wonder. You may get it at the end of the film, but they don’t necessarily need you to. All that matters is that you watched it, you tried to figure it out and that you thought about how everything is interconnected. Sorry to go on a tangent but surrealism is crazy interesting to me. Yes I do own several posters of Dali’s paintings of clocks melting. I am one of those people.

So to continue with the film after the scorpion sequence, the main “story” begins. In Rome, a pompous religious dedication is interrupted by two lovers making it loudly in the mud. They are pulled apart and for the rest of they make several attempts to get back to each other. Making love is a messy and awkward thing which is shown in great detail when they finally get back together. They seem like they have never made love to each other before. They bite each other’s fingers, fall off of lawn furniture, and generally make a mess of things. They seem to want to bite each other’s faces off. When the male goes off to answer a phone call and the woman left by herself with a Roman statue, she begins to suck on the statue’s toes with such passion that you would think it was her lover’s toes. Although this animal lovemaking may be shocking to modern audiences, what shocked the Parisian movie going population was the overt images of religion’s (especially Christianity) ineptitude. Bishops sit on a ledge waiting and praying seemingly nothing and sit there til they die, the host shows up several times only to be shoved off to the side of the picture, Jesus Christ is invited to an orgy, and the cross is shown with the female victims of the orgy’s hair with jaunty music playing behind. People were so angered by these blasphemous images that they threw paint and slashed the one movie screen that it was playing on. It caused a major riot which led to the L’Age D’Or to be banned in France. This is a legitimate response to the film in the eyes of Bunuel.

L’Age D’Or is a good showcase of all the things Bunuel would develop in his later films. Sexual perversion, depictions of sacred images and figures in irreligious settings, and sequences don’t necessarily make sense until the end of the film are all present here. But more than just an interesting precursor to Bunuel’s more mature films, the film serves as an innovative art piece that takes awhile to fully digest. I love films that take me out of my element, show me images that I have difficulty deciphering. I only wish filmmakers would do it more often.