Above is the cover to my favorite piece of packaging of Summer-'08-so-far. Pause was indeed taken at the Best Buy, and investigation thereafter commenced. Would Paddy Breathnach's Irish-Danish-Dutch co-production be one of those films of a concept-so-high that the marketing suffices, in effect, as the movie?
Not exactly, but not exactly the converse, either. It turns out to be one of those films where, alright, the concept's so high you can gauge the beginning, middle, and end without looking at the marketing; just grok the title (Shrooms), the 'genre' ('horror'), the year of premiere (2006), and you'll super-easily divine the story in its length. From there, actual viewing reveals Shrooms additionally to be one of those films that shows American girls speaking in the serious tones of advice-sharing (pause, and reverse-search: you might not have divined the framing idea of: "American 20-odds are on vacation in the forests of deepest Ireland for the express purpose of scoring intense/Irish 'psychedelic mushrooms' under the guidance of a handsome semi-echt-Eire point-person" — forward-search); one of those films that presents catalog-models, who never had a thing to think about in fiction or in Short Hills, now assuming (not in the sense of "adopting") the poses of grave deliberation; one of those films with the craziest purée-pulse-cum-distillation of (pop-)cultural anthro-archetypes; one of those films that 'bus-shots'-in its frights as a means of bringing girls closer to boys (on-screen and off-; in the dark no-one can hear a handjob; etc.); one of those films with ingenuous confessions like "It's supposed to heighten the sexual experience ten-fold"; the non-sex, the "No sex.", the not-sex, one of those films with the sex that kills — that is, one of those films with the sex that can't be shown, but the violence that can be and, so, wherein the violence will exist in place of, stand in for, the sex — as though there's an equation, and as though it must be balanced, and as though — as though — — — The supreme interruptus.
Yes, the cheapest American gothic now 'does' global, and vice-versa. (But, question: If, in a film, a character has to have his penis bitten off within the first 35 minutes, wouldn't it be more interesting to let him live until the story's end?) (One more Q: If you're tripping, do you ever actually refer to something as "trippy" — except in total stoned meta-acknowledgment-satire?) By and large, a movie of today is not really a canvas for ideas or a machine of ingenuities (film-investment business-models couldn't dream of the real drugs/horror movie "high"-concept, the one that produces mind-blowing exploitation that only begins at titles like, say, The Abandonist, or Gas Mask for a Pig), but rather a delivery-system, a device that produces x style-tableaux (a system predicted and understood, by the way, by Godard as of Une femme mariée, fragments d'un film tourné en 1964 en noir et blanc [A Married Woman: Fragments of a Film Shot in 1964 in Black and White, 1964]).
Speed Racer, speedballs — it's the oldest correlation of the movies, for we must remember that the practice of exhibition of a film before a spectator (that is, the exhibition-distribution of a film; in French, l'exploitation) is only ceded its genesis, as far as most film-history accounts are concerned (and how they do go out of their ways to emphasize this distinction), at the point the Lumière brothers showed the moving-image, in large and projected, to paying customers. (In taking this tack it's easier for the account'ants to pronounce, as they indeed often do, that, well, this happens to be the origin of the movies 'of course,' because it's the inception-moment of the cinema as an art, what with the Lumières selecting their subjects, framing the world... Yet — didn't Edison do the same? 'Art' or 'not-art', it seems to me he created works that were there... which we can project at varying speeds, telecine... exploit...) — The cinema, then, has really always been considered an opiate ready for the scoring. And in the context of so many creations (grandeur) and expirations (décadence), how near can Truth ever really be to Beauty?
And so there exists Vogue and Elle and Tokion — and Shrooms. As with Thomas Edison, we can only take Paddy Breathnach on his own terms: he's no sad hand at Scope composition, for instance — is very competent, in fact — meaning he knows well enough how to 'work' the 2.35:1 frame to the degree of spatial balance required by a scene. If he's executing a conversation sequence, he's likely to tamp down in any particular shot the background focus, along with that of a foreground character or object — but one positioned strategically to parcel out the subject (in-focus, 'popping' in the middle-ground) within a 1.37:1 or 1.66:1 area of the frame, thus creating the tight "close-up" or "medium-close-up" that Scope, by its natural aspect-ratio, cannot provide for the human face, given the 'dead' space that must result on either side of the subject's head, or body. By way of this 'framing-within-a-frame' the director can instill within the spectator the sense of a simultaneity of space — e.g., the long-shot at the level of the Scope-frame-as-a-whole that operates as a medium-close-up at the "interior" 1.37:1 level.
Does this sensorily permissive quality make Shrooms as good as shrooms? Not quite, even if its psilocybic high-hyper-focal-def mise-en-scène makes it, all the same, not-unbeautiful. Light-bulbs may be alien to Breathnach's manufacture, but he still invented a film in league with the petty-theft, preterite thrills of the American Mutoscope & Biograph Co., a Frank Mottershaw, or a Sean S. Cunningham. (If you really want to go where this film thinks its ideas are, watch Stan Brakhage's The Wold-Shadow .)
There's a great article by Luc Moullet in the newest issue of Cahiers du cinéma called "Monicelli, or Extreme Comedy" ("Monicelli ou la comédie extrême"). It begins: "In the Radio Cinéma Télévision of 21 April 1957, I asserted: "Among the newcomers of the Italian cinema, there are authentic hopes." I then named Cottafavi and Mario Monicelli. Soon after I received a frenzied letter from Lo Duca, co-founder of the Cahiers. For him, these were vulgar commercial filmmakers. One doesn't mix dishcloths with napkins..." — and ends: "The comedy is more extreme still in Hurricane Rosy [Temporale Rosy, 1979], which pivots around female-wrestling, the sort that also inspired Aldrich's beautiful last-born, ...All the Marbles . Rosy benefits from a French star, [Gérard] Depardieu, with a very deliberate stiffness, and takes place in Paris and Flanders, in studio sets made to be destroyed by the wrestlers. The battles are conceived like ballets, with suites de coups and movements of an unbelievable virtuosity and dexterity. A poetry based on the alternation between communal places (circus, ships, port-side dive-bars) and the incongruity of the actions. I couldn't keep myself from laughing all throughout. Rosy was a flop. Too new, not Italian enough on the surface. And yet, it's pure Commedia dell'arte. Monicelli's masterpiece." (my translations) — I urge all lovers of writing to read what comes inbetween.
(You can pick up the e-version, and in English, at www.e-cahiersducinema.com.)
Two music clips:
(1) From 1974, one of the finest music "videos" ever made (but directed by...?). Brought to my attention by Jessica Felrice:
(2) This is why The Clash were THE CLASH —
But now this sound is brave
And wants to be free.
Une femme est une femme [A Woman Is a Woman] by Jean-Luc Godard, 1961:
Tension by John Berry, 1950: