Bataille, Story of the Eye, “Simone”

Pull out your pencil–we’ve got another awkward fantasy to illustrate. So, in this one, Marcelle’s legs are over the narrator’s shoulders, she’s pissing on him while he’s pissing on her breasts, and Simone’s also pissing on her back, and he’s poking Simone’s nipples with guns that have just been shot, and Simone’s pouring creme fraiche on Marcelle’s anus, and that pretty much covers it. When you stop and think about it, the length of time it takes to get into this position is probably longer than the amount of time they can spend enjoying it. Also, synchronized urination is probably fairly difficult to achieve. But that’s the beauty of fantasies, I suppose.

Part of my efforts to gain more time in my day and health in my life has involved poaching an egg every morning. If I fail to cook my egg, I don’t get to eat until lunch. If I try making it and it explodes or something, I only get to eat what I can fish out of the bowl. I’ve been trying to not just “try harder” at doing stuff–I’ve been actively punishing myself for failing, all across the board. Punishments work so much better than rewards.

But this chapter is where our star duo begin playing with eggs, raw, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, in the bidet, in the toilet, in the anus, you name it!…which is going to make breakfast tomorrow morning significantly more unhappy than usual for me.

Something about the eggs strike the characters as particularly blush-inspiring. Eggs, like eyeballs (yes, she tries to suck the narrator’s eye out of his head); eggs, like testicles (which, unfortunately, we’ll come to a wonderful description of in a later chapter). A fascinating parallel here is in this novel’s being published a year before the release of Un Chien Andalou, Bunuel’s first film, in which that classic eyeball-slicing scene takes place. (Yeah, you know you want to see the eyeball-slice…so here you go, you hero, you.)

Upon my asking what the word urinate reminded her of, she replied terminate, the eyes, with a razor.

Published a year before Bunuel filmed this scene!! And so long as we’re discussing Spaniards and testicles, it was Lorca who described Spain as stretched out “like the hide of a bull. . .it has the shape of an animal hide, and a sacrificial animal at that. In this geographical symbol lies the deepest, most dazzling and complex part of the Spanish character.” And, indeed, the characters will make their way to the bullfights (where the testicles make their dreadful appearance).

As the chapters progress, you might have noticed, the symbolism is getting piled on pretty thick, complete with italics, just in case you missed the connection between eyes and eggs (a connection which must also be in French, as I’d ALWAYS mix up those two words while speaking French, particularly while grocery shopping, to the horror and delight of my pals).

Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this extended run of entries about Bataille, but for now we’ll have to say farewell to him for a little while, as we’ve reached page 40, which according to my reading list means it’s time to move on to other books for a while.

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Sex Books, Day 1: The Story of the Eye & The Story of O

And so we begin by speaking of love. The tamest, most secret longings our hearts felt in grade school. We stray at some point, a million stories left untold. But, we reach today, when our fresh stories are more interesting to us than our stale ones. And then what? You get involved in stories of love that are so painfully hilarious so as to lead one to the grocery store determined to find this or that to correct potential vitamin deficiencies and swearing not to resort to prayer and absolutely not to read one’s horoscope.

In short, I turn to the one genre my bookshelves hold the most of…determined to approach the books with the same aesthetic eye as I do everything else. When I read Shakespeare, I do so with one question: what turns me on? And that’s in that electrical aesthetic sense that makes Walter Pater still a glorious read despite the knowledge that he’s no longer a trustworthy source…he writes beautifully. But, as with anyone else, it is not simply beautiful sentences, elegant concepts, and poignant stories that turn me on…it’s also all the basest, most animal horrors of the boudoir that I approach with the same delicacy as when deciding which apples, in all their bruised, cloudy-skinned, fingernail-marked pageantry I’ll take home with me. Usually to forget and let rot in the fridge. What can I say?

So, assuming my potassium intake is sufficient, out comes the books! Let’s take a look at two of their intros and rate their efficacy:

The Story of the Eye and The Story of O.

The Story of the Eye

For the record, everything romantic that’s ever emerged from France was thanks to native-English speakers.

Eye begins with the author’s origin-tale, explaining quickly that things are about to get fucked up for reasons that can be explained away in psychoanalysis: from a young age, both he and his gal have felt a nervousness about all things sexual. What I didn’t understand the first time I read this book was that this nervousness is indistinguishable from other things that make one nervous, insofar as their manifestations go. Without that understanding, the book won’t make sense. Before a first date you feel much the same as before a job interview. This may include nausea. Nausea is also the feeling they get after decapitating a girl accidentally. The point being that while we can say “dates cause anxiety” and “job interviews cause anxiety,” the nausea and dry mouth and shakiness, we don’t tend to associate the two with each other beyond that. Much more so if we consider “dates cause anxiety” and “near car-accidents cause anxiety.” The two in this story do treat the anxieties as one and the same. So it sounds like fiction because…well, who does that?

There’s one key detail that it hinges on, though: the anxiety never dissipates. And that’s why I don’t think this story could have been written before The Great War, because it was there that we first learned on a mass scale what constant anxiety does to people. What if the anxiety remains, through the first date, through the second, through the hundredth, through a million orgasms? At that point anxiety is resolutely tied to love, to sex. And if even looking at a girl’s knees gives you anxiety, then how do you possibly handle the things in life that would give anyone else anxiety? How do you handle pain and fear and death?

And that’s the only way I can make sense of this book…I refuse to allow it to be a story of two creepy kids doing creepy things with each other. I had a friend whose sex life was extremely violent. I mean, by mutual consent. So, when the woman told him she wanted the relationship taken to the next level, i.e., he move in and be like a father to her son, my friend said “no way” and the woman clocked him right in the face. Out of anger. And my friend, (this is actually a friend of mine, not a story about me, I swear, I think the story is just as fucked up as you do), my friend was confused because he wasn’t sure if she just wanted a nice romp…or if she was actually angry.

And that’s why I don’t read in bed–because the last thing I want to do is associate reading with sleepiness. How does chapter one score? Like, 2 out of 10, like, trying to hang an electric blanket on a flagpole on a breezy day. But…that 2 of 10 is enough to bring me back to the next chapter.

The Story of O

The Story of O. Here’s where my logic entirely breaks down. If Eye could only come post-WWI, then O could only come post-WWII because I just don’t get it. It’s like, okay, so people’s faces melted to their chests in Hiroshima, I get it, but I don’t really, really get it. I mean, that’s crazy shit. The most remarkable thing in this chapter is the author’s endless descriptions of all things cloth, whether as clothing or upholstery. How it moves, feels, appears in the light, its drape, its emotional value. It’s that sort of thing that leads one to say “ah! this was written by a woman” and which leads me to say “ah! this was maybe written by Somerset Maugham.”

Secondly, I remark upon the narrator, who takes it upon him/herself to describe, midway through a somewhat sexual sequence taking place indoors that “the rain had stopped and the trees were swaying in the wind while the moon raced high among the clouds.” Fascinating. For a number of reasons. Firstly, the moon does not race anywhere ever. It’s about as well-regulated as anything possibly can be. It’s the clouds that were racing due to the wind that swayed the trees. Also, the moon was not anywhere “among” the clouds–it was in the same moony realm in which it’s always resided. This calls to mind the thin streak of cloud moving across the moon in that horrid Bunuel/Dali film, immediately followed by the razor slicing the eyeball in much the same fashion. And, so this relatively tranquil scene is followed immediately by the heroine tied up, whipped, gang-raped, confessing “I love you” while a man is gagging her with his dick, and being turned into a slave.

Let’s pause here to mention that one of my favorite films is Secretary. I understand the concept of wanting to do anything for love–that is, of absolutely needing to define oneself through another’s projected image of you. That’s the desire to be loved. Project who you think I am on me, I’ll play along if you’ll possess me, and hopefully by the time you realize the truth you’ll be in so deep that you’re stuck for life. Love!

And I’m not horrified in reading this. But I’m not turned on in any way whatsoever. I don’t care. I don’t feel titillation or excitement or a fetid desire to turn the page. I just don’t care. I’m achingly bored. This gets a 0 out of 10 in my opinion. That’s like turning the flagpole into aluminum cans.

So, if you had to guess, it’d be that I’m more turned on by stories that involve anxiety disorders than stories that involve BDSM. But not by much. And…overall this experiment is, so far, failing.

Lorca: “Deep Song” (1922)

In a lecture in 1922, Lorca discusses the Oriental and European origins of “deep song” and how it has affected contemporary music. He then goes on to discuss its poetry. I originally picked this book up because of his role in surrealism, as he is the “Andalusian Dog” referenced by the film’s title, he was hated by Dali  and Bunuel, as they thought he was a hack. Honestly, I don’t enjoy his poetry. But I do enjoy his lectures and his inspirations. He’s another example of that last generation of poets and artists who actually had educations to speak of, before the horrors of WWII led to the horrors of widespread undergrad degrees.

I remember where I was sitting when I began reading this. At the bar at Amherst Coffee, by the window. Perhaps not. Perhaps that’s only where I met Marta. I was reading, though, that’s true. I’d been to the Moan and Dove the night before, speaking to the bartender, and when I wound up sitting next to him at  Amherst Coffee the next night, I asked Marisa for whatever he was having. A glass of scotch. We continued talking, I continued pretending to sip mine. And as soon as he left I gasped that I couldn’t drink anymore of this horrid stuff. She said “of course not! you need ice in there!” And from across the bar, Marta leaned over and asked if I wanted to taste her drink. I’d never met her before, but that embodies my entire experience with her, I suppose. That’s how she lives her life. And fortunately, I’d been reading Lorca and had fallen in love with the anonymous verses he includes in his lecture. I was interested in Spanish now, and here, before me, a girl, a poet from Asturias. It was winter and where I lived we had no heat, so she brought me back to her room at the top floor of one of Amherst’s mansions, dimly lit with string lights, where she had a space heater she’d borrowed from someone, and she put it in a paper bag, and with that I went home and would secretly plug it in at night and hide it under my bed (my bed was actually a table) during the day because my landlords didn’t allow space heaters. Anyway, as this poetry taught me how to mourn, so Marta taught me how to rejoice, how to live, and I can only conclude that my emotions were all born in Spain.

The poetry, even in translation, crushed me. I’d never read anything that affected me so deeply upon a first reading.

The moon has a halo;
my love has died.

Its focus is continually on unrequited love, and lost love, and death. But, I encourage you to read on through the rest of these fragments given by Lorca. And then consider the difference between the Andalusian deep song’s treatment of the subjects, and its treatment by Byron in his first volume of poetry and its stylized flowery mush, or Petrarch, both before and after Laura’s death, which, even as sonnets, seem painfully bent on avoiding any truth.

The difference is of personality, perhaps. The deep song verses are universal, they speak of the heart’s greatest longing, that which Byron and Petrach sought to expose or imply, but which for them, as for most, translation is feeble at best, or perhaps impossible at best, as it should never be attempted after years of translating Latin verse. The beauty and greatness is that it exposes the truth of life so elegantly because it does so concisely.

Cry, keep crying, eyes,
cry if you have cause.
It shouldn’t shame a man
to cry over a woman.

And how does Byron treat such pain over a woman? Like so:

When I dream that you love me, you’ll surely forgive;
Extend not your anger to sleep;
For in visions alone your affection can live,–
I rise, and it leaves me to weep.

Okay, well, I can read it, but I don’t feel it. And here’s another, from Petrarch, (who I really hope is burning in hell right now.)

Shouldn’t a fire reasonably be quenched
by all the water that my eyes pour forth?

Love–and I clearly should have sensed this sooner–
wants me distempered by a paradox, 
and uses snares of such variety
that when I most believe my heart is free
he most entraps it with that lovely face.

How am I supposed to give a fuck, Petrarch?! Onward, as I can only rail on for so long about him. Tu Fu. Let’s consider what the orient can teach us, and see how it makes us feel:

Wavers. No word from those I love. Old.
Sick. Nothing but a lone boat. And
North of frontier passes–Tibetan horses. . . .
I lean on the railing, and tears come.

So, not the sorrow of heartbreak by a woman, but sorrow expressed concisely, in a way that we can understand even if we are not old, sick men. In the deep song examples, one of how it feels to be alone:

Only to the Earth
do I tell my troubles,
for nowhere in the world
do I find anyone to trust.

Finally, before moving on to the real treats, let’s look at a snippet by Tagore, from a land that Lorca says sent away the Gypsies in the first place, and which I’ve read was populated first by Persians, which will lead us back to verses from the Middle East in a moment:

There seem to be people all around me,
I can’t speak my heart in case they hear me.

Weeping is wasted here, it is stopped by walls,
My weeping always comes back to me.

Oh. Simply. We’ve been there. This is something felt. And now compare this to the anonymous deep song:

You will knock at my door.
Will will never get up to answer,
and you must hear me cry.

Both touch me, both treat the experience of anguish in such a way that we’ve lived, in a way that, in a sense, we live every day to some extent.

It doesn’t matter to me
if a bird in the poplar grove
skips from tree to tree.

Ah, I have lost the road
on this sad mountain.
Ah, I have lost the road.
Let me bring the sheep
for God’s sake into your cabin.

In the dense fog
I have lost the road.
Let me spent the night
in the cabin with you.
I lost the road
in the mountain mist.
Ah, I have lost the road!

Out in the sea
was a stone.
My girl sat down
to tell it her pains.

Every morning I go
to ask the rosemary
if love’s ills can be cured,
for I am dying.

I climbed up the wall.
The wind answered me:
“Why so many little sighs
if it is already too late?”

The wind cried
to see how big the wounds were
in my heart.

I fell in love with the air,
the air of a woman,
and since a woman is air,
in the air I stayed.

I’m jealous of the breeze
that blows on your face.
If the breeze were a man,
I would kill him.

I’m not afraid of the galleys.
If I had to row, I’d do it.
I’m only afraid the wind
that blows out of your bay.

At night I go to the courtyard
and cry my heart out,
to see I love you so much
and you love me not at all.

When you see me cry,
don’t take away my handkerchief,
for I am in deep pain,
and crying I feel better.

If my heart
had windowpanes of glass,
you’d look inside and see it
crying drops of blood.

Siraj-al-Warak:

The turtledove that with her complaints
keeps me from sleep
has a breast that burns like mine,
with living fire.

Ibn Sa’id:

To console me my friends say
visit your mistress’s tomb.
Has she a tomb, I ask,
other than in my breast?

Hafiz:

Even if she did not love me,
I would trade
the whole globe of the earth
for one hair from her tress.

Hafiz:

My heart has been ensnared
in your black tresses since childhood.
Not until death
will a bond so wonderful be undone.

If I should happen to die,
I order you,
tie up my hands
with your black tresses.

Hafiz:

I weep endlessly: you are gone.
But what use is all my longing
if the wind will not carry my sighs
to your ears

I sigh into the wind,
Ay, poor me!
But nobody catches my sighs!

Hafiz:

Since you stopped listening
to the echo of my voice,
my heart has been plunged in pain.
It sends jets of burning blood
to my eyes.

Whenever I look at the place
where I used to court you,
my poor eyes begin
crying drops of blood.

It was a love
I must not remember,
for my poor heart is weeping
drops of blood.

Hitchcock: The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934)

There’s a technique surely everyone’s now familiar with in suspense or horror films: humor. Often the first part of the film is lighthearted, which serves to…well, you know, make it so that everyone in the audience is really primed to be emotionally demolished.

Hitchcock’s actors in the Man Who Knew Too Much included Peter Lorre, who worked with Brecht, and Nova Pilbeam, who  married Pen Tennyson, great-grandson of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, who took over the post of Poet Laureate from Wordsworth, who’d assumed it after Robert Southey, totally mocked by Lord Byron, and Tennyson’s descended from Edward III, of pseudo-Shakespeare fame, and Blake pseudo-fame. Hitchcock, who considered Bunuel the greatest director, Bunuel who worked with Dali, Hitchcock who was worshiped by Truffaut, Truffaut who called Night and Fog the greatest film ever made, which was made by Resnais, who thinks Nathalie is a sweetheart, and so do I, and tomorrow I really need to call her.

I mean, when you stop and think about it, that’s all so much more fascinating than the lies we’ve been told about the good intentions of George Washington.

Hitchcock remade this film in 1956, my comments here, and the film is fairly dense both structurally and in terms of character development. It’s a gorgeous example of the director knowing more about the characters than he lets on, and because there are no explanations, we’re left believing these people are real. Is it necessary? No. Does it make the film more forceful? Yes. But what other differences are there?

Well, to start with, I’ll remind you that this is a story about a child being kidnapped and how his parents go about saving him. The 1956 version has a weaker female lead whose strength is in her musical ability, weakness in her mental fortitude, and the film is just as much about the saving of a child as the saving of a marriage. The 1934 version has a couple with a delightfully sense of love and humor, a British version of Nick and Nora Charles, though The Thin Man‘s earliest European release date is from the same month as this film’s release! So much for Nick and Nora Charles being essentially American. The mother in this story also happens to be a sharpshooter who saves the day not by singing, but by sniping the baddie off the fucking roof. Yeah. Imagine Doris Day with a rifle.

It always gives me a little chill when Brits show anything that look like real emotions. Maybe that’s why I like Lily Allen.

In the 1934 version the child is played by the 15 year old Nova Pilbeam, who’s made to seem much younger, but who, in actuality, was a total hottie, and one of the only starlets of that era with whom I still have a chance to, you know, get with. Even if she is 90. I’ve seen some pretty vibrant nonagenarians. If you have her email address, please let her know.

Compare her with the boy in the 1956 version. Both kids are talkative and walking calamities, but Nova Pilbeam is adorable and the boy is insufferable. I hate him. The kidnappers can have him, because I hate him from the very first scene. It’s also worth noting that Nova Pilbeam’s acting stands out as superb, especially considering the differences compared to other actors of the period. The final scene, when she’s a little hysterical/shell-shocked, is stunning–it’s unlike any sound I’ve ever heard uttered on film up until that point. And her pajamas, prisoners stripes, are a sickening addition for the wardrobe. I must add, though, that anything I watch from this period is with one eye toward the trenches of the Western Front, another eye toward Dunkirk, and that awful understanding that as this film was being made, even one of its stars had already fled Nazi Germany.

We only think time goes quickly because we have the capacity to suffer so horribly during short periods.

But a hundred summers ago we had no idea that the British Empire was about to collapse. King Edward died in May 1910, which means that the film Mary Poppins begins before that date (“it’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910 / King Edward’s on the throne, it is the age of men”) — Kaiser Wilhelm, his nephew, was at his funeral, and the family name was still Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Wilhelm blamed the German disillusionment with the war, and subsequent collapse of the country, on the Jews, stating that they should be wiped out as a vermin.

“And if we spoke we’d never see her again. It’s her life against this fellow, Ropa’s. Why should we care if some foreign statesman we’ve never even heard of were assasinated?”
“Tell me, in June 1914, had you ever heard of a place called Sarajevo? Of course you hadn’t. I doubt if you’d even heard of the Archduke Ferdinand. But in month’s time, because a man you’d never heard of killed another man you’d never heard of in a place you’d never heard of, this country was at war.”

And there you have it. That’s how the world works. That’s logic that every single person in the audience would have understood. Our ancient history hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps it reminds you of today. A man we’ve never heard of is supposedly going to open a building whose purpose we don’t know, on a street none of us can name and certainly can’t find on a map. And the whole country is in an uproar because the Republicans see it as evidence that our president is a terrorist sympathizer. We’re all slaves, every single one of us. Stupid fucking slaves whose lives, to our leaders, are worth less than the ink on our birth certificates. But god, we know how to suffer. We know how to take a bee-sting and feel it for an eternity. So it’s easy to think you have all the time in the world, easy to think the Great War happened before the invention of consciousness. But it was just yesterday. I’ve met and touched a man who fought there. There’s so much more to life than the petty shit you find important.

And here’s some recommended reading on Hitchcock’s 1930s films as anti-German: http://www.filminfocus.com/article/hitchcock_at_war/print

and lyrics and footnotes to “The Writing of Tipperary” http://www.mysongbook.de/msb/songs/w/writingo.html

film: Godard: Pierrot le Fou (1965)

pierrotDear Meg,

I really am trying to write. Actually, the truth is that I haven’t begun writing at all. I have all the materials I need to begin writing, but there’s this present lack of something in me that leads me to a persistent inability not only to finding my words, but also to having real thoughts. Letter writing has failed me, travel has failed me, adventures have failed me, digging up family ghosts have failed me, I’ve tried all these things in the past few weeks and I find myself unable to write like I once could. It’s terrifying. So now I’ve been watching Godard and some opera (I don’t mean just any ol’ opera, I mean un certain opéra) and hoping desperately that forcing myself to write about these things will bring me quickly back to my senses. If nothing else will, then that’s that, I simply am unable to write ever again and I will have to just be ilwriterishly for ever after.

In the meantime I’ve been reading a lot of old reviews regarding works I’ve been involved with—and it seems to me that critics are quite possibly the dullest bunch ever formed by god, and I can only hope that someday a new sort of criticism will emerge, in which the critic will begin under the assumption that the artist knows precisely what he or she

(must I include ‘or she’–or can I just go along with the old rules of grammar in which the masculine gender is attributed to an indeterminate subject? or am I supposed to switch back and forth, like in the science safety videos where all the kids always have names we’ve never heard before? honestly, Meg, sometimes I can’t even lift my pen because I don’t know what to do with my pronouns! How do you deal with this?)

has created, has made every decision with infinite deliberation. That’s how I always tried to approach creative writing classes, in which I’d assume typos to be artistic statements. That’s how critics should be approaching everything—with a reasonable touch of taste, but mostly with confidence in the artist. Full disclosure: I was a critic for a big newspaper for four years, so I can assuredly say that there are few critical sins I did not leave uncommitted. But I suppose the special hell for critics will look very much like a Ben Franklin arts and crafts supply store.

The thing about these films that so agonizes me is how they speak to such vast numbers of people. The memory of France I most wish to rid myself of is of that smiling idiot and his expensive camera and his  adorable ‘I make websites for a living and go camping on weekends’ outfit photographing Brassai’s old apartment building and the Bunuel/Henry Miller/etc etc etc etc cafe beneath it. I want them to speak only to me. When I saw Jules et Jim originally, in the ‘foreign language lab’ I’d sneaked into so I could borrow the film from the French department and watch it wearing rubber headphones on a tiny yellowed television. The brilliance I drew from it was the following: it was made to be a very long and boring film so that at the very end the audience could be shocked by the casual treatment of death and cremation. Last I saw it I found it unspeakably beautiful, it was a whole world. So with Godard, my introduction to him, all on the large screen, was quite similar, looking for his funny sound-effects, his references to other films, his odd usage of the camera for conveying dialogue, his breaking of the rules. I understood that he was making art for its own sake, not for the sake of beauty, not because he might be able to make things new. I once looked at art as something to only be dissected, to be treated like a vial of blood to be separated and analyzed, to eke out cell-counts and percentages and meaning, when the truth of the matter is that George Michael refuses to get himself checked for HIV because he’s afraid of what the results might be—and if we took some of his blood and scientists analyzed it for every possible measurement it could yield, those scientists would find nothing telling of his sweet singing voice. That’s a proper comparison, isn’t it? Because although George Michael’s HIV status won’t change what he’s accomplished as a singer and what he still accomplishes today, his knowing the status could be helpful in prolonging his life and whatever other good that might effect. So perhaps although treating a film like a picky child treats a chicken leg might be useless in terms of understanding its beauty, perhaps it comes in useful when determining its longevity. But I sure hope not.

My great fear is that with age, if I’m finding these films beautiful now, that I someday might end up like that proto-emo kid in American Beauty who videotapes plastic bags blowing in the wind. He can go to hell too, along with everyone who gathers in big groups and lets go of balloons. But besides that, once you reach the point of finding beauty in plastic bags you’ve probably lost all usefulness to humanity. One needs standards. Here’s a standard: Sri Lanka is actually an island, and its political boundaries are not at all shaped like Vietnam.

“You speak to me with words, and I look at you with emotions.”

This is spoken by the woman to the man in a conversation I feel central to one of Godard’s concerns here, which is the failure of communication between men and women.

Briefly: Belmondo runs off with his babysitter, Anna Karina, and the two of them do what everyone does in Godard films. But they do it while being criminals and committing many crimes it’s difficult to slight them for, also Belmondo gets water-boarded twice without the camera cutting away from him

(which, if you’re counting, means that the actor Belmondo was water-boarded at least as many times as was once claimed of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed)–

but what’s most important is that the two of them run away together and there’s never really any motive established except their love for one another (ultimately questionable) and an equally fierce longing for romanticism in life. Do you know what a Carioca is? A native of Rio de Janeiro. Can you imagine how different things would be if  Columbus had thought he’d landed at Rio de Janeiro, and then he’d call everyone Cariocans. It’d be such a mess. Belmondo finds himself at peace when they live by the sea, quite romantic, he reads and writes, she says “I don’t give a damn about books” and declares herself quite bored. By the time they lose each other in a brief accident involving murder, dancing, and water-boarding, I’m led to believe that she didn’t want to stick around, and when they find each other again, I don’t entirely believe in her love anymore.

The problem is that I identify with both of them. How many times a day do I not give a damn about art before rushing and clutching its limp bodies off the floor to cover them with kisses?  I think if anyone else I know identifies, you do, because I’ve seen you take both sides. Is that everyone’s eternal struggle?  I don’t quite know what it is to be a man or to be a woman. I don’t know if I speak with words or with emotions, I don’t know if I look with words or with emotions. I’m afraid I’m quite changeable. What is certain, regardless, is that both their dreams I love instantly—and even their violent ends seem terribly merciful of Godard, because it would be much worse to led them languish in a courtroom.

But to the point: how should I be taking this film? intellectually or emotionally? All the essays in the world don’t change the fact that Brecht consistently found factory workers easily comprehending his plays while intellectuals got it wrong, and got it wrong, and got it wrong. They didn’t begin writing the screenplay for this until the day before shooting began. Yet some assert that every film of Godard’s deserves a book to dissect it. Does it? Or is that too simple and insulting? Is it supposed to be experienced and sensed, or is it supposed to be turned into words? is it supposed to be felt or reduced to concepts? is it meant for everyone or is it only for wealthy undergrads? What does it show me to be attainable in life? What’s most attractive and what’s worth sacrificing? Have I learned anything about myself? I hope so.

Could I have written this better? Absolutely? Could I have? No. I’ve totally failed.

For this I also read Review: [untitled], by Michael Klein. Film Quarterly. 1966. University of California Press, which was a bunch of shit, as most everything ever written about film is apt to be.

In the next thing I write I’ll be writing about Une Femme est une Femme—and I’ll write about the people who don’t deserve to enjoy French new wave cinema and why.

film: MacPherson: Borderline (1930)

Click picture for source
Click picture for source

I was always judged very harshly by my appearance, which was something I never took much time to consider. It was around the time that my sister told me I’d taught her a valuable lesson, “that it doesn’t matter what other people think of you,” when I found myself with a host of new values, spending all my time shopping, grooming, tanning, fine-tuning the science of conversation, and, in a word, only caring about what others thought of me. Most people I went to school with are hard on the path to marriage now, and most seem to have really let themselves go, and me? I’ve grown more irresponsible and vain with every passing day, dedicated to nothing more than satiating my senses, living fantastic stories, and doing all I will to brutalize these deep breaths, my firebrands, my progeny, my animation. So, I suspect one of the key reasons I’ve been so enchanted by silent films lately is purely a sexual matter, whether it be Rudolph Valentino or Mary Pickford, so be quite sure that I’m not exaggerating when I claim to be in love. They entice my eyes. But H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), oh no, she does not. And yet she was Pound’s lover, and I find him to be enthrallingly handsome…so, clearly, her intellect could shine through that dangerously steep forehead and that brick of a jaw, a face I could not even bring myself to look at until I tried to convince myself she was actually a man, oh, the relief when she was finally murdered in this film. But why, oh why, did everyone else in the film have to be nearly so ugly as well? What I mean is I don’t care about art or entertainment: I care about pretty.

Director Kenneth MacPherson was a film theorist whose sole surviving film, Borderline, was considered by G. W. Pabst as “the only real avant-garde film,” remarkable considering this film was made in the same year as L’Age d’Or, and Le Sang d’un Poete, both the latter of which Henry Miller extolled for many years (while consistently leaving MacPherson’s work off his lists). This leads one to consider the logistics of distribution of art films in Europe at that time, given Borderline’s role in advancing the career of Paul Robeson and being what would today be considered an international effort—and also wonder why Cocteau and Bunuel’s work went unmentioned. While the use of montage may not add to the semblance of a narrative (indeed, what narrative might one draw from a film exploring the dictates of the unconscious?), it does not hinder the flow, adding something of a poetic rush to it, Eistenstein under restraint; this is furthered by the hand-held use of the camera, giving the film a naturalistic feel amongst the violent strobing. And this is where we find art, perhaps, couched somewhere in between the unnecessary and the useless.

Maybe Pabst looked highly upon this film due to its use of excessive facial close-ups, something he made use of in his 1929 Pandora’s Box¬. Things taken for granted now were, for most of the history of drama, impossible, viz., subtle facial expressions, and this is one of the key elements that differs between pop and art films of the silent era; recall Dreyer’s Jeanne d’Arc and the way that facial close-ups are even now some of the rarer shots in contemporary film. One can see the progression through Feuillade or Chaplin as expressions slowly take the place of grandiose gestures…perhaps it’s only logical that it progressed so far as New Yorker fiction, in which plot was replaced by subtle character development, character development later replaced by inferences, and presently the inferences have been replaced by drivel. And you wonder why I drink myself onto the ceiling every night. Today, perhaps it’s the expression of the full body emphasized, or even the tone of voice, something early sound films did poorly, as a soft voice is analogous to a face’s subtle expression, and radio depended on flailing rather than lilting voices. I’ve written a bit about William Powell and how by 1932 he was a shining example of modern speech. Indeed, the majority of this film is carried by expressions, conscious hyperbole (as opposed to early film’s somewhat vaudevillian methods of acting), and frequent synecdoche as close-ups are used not only on faces but also on hands, arms, and torsos. Silent film may be likened to a deaf person whose other senses are thus heightened, and rarely does a film make use of all our senses. In this film one feels dirty from the spilled drinks and blood everywhere, tastes and smells the smoke and booze through its glorification on every character’s breath, hears the piano and phonograph so constantly seen, and lives the anxiety of the cutting, the lighting that switches from shot to shot, a film one lives, not views.

Borderline (okay, let’s try to be mature and academic) comprises extensive cuts, both in the physical film itself through the montage sequences, and in the domestic fight scene, during which H.D. wields a knife wildly and cuts her lover in a few places. And then there’s the demarcation of male and female, homo- and heterosexual, black and white, shadow and light, dream and reality, indoors and outdoors, hardwood doors and beaded curtains, water and alcohol, dancing and fighting, violence and joy; there are the fluids that will not remain in their vessels, whether blood that gushes, or drinks that spill, and, throughout all, the heretical concept, the heart of borderlines, pulses that nothing can remain static, nothing is born in its grave, that all will break free and finally converge.