Jeanne d’Arc, part 1.

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I’ve always been highly conscious of lingering energy, though part of it may be my imagination, I’ve been to where Martin Luther King was shot, and it made me shiver a little, even at age 8, not because of what had occurred there, but because I knew without a doubt that he had been there himself. When I walked up the Statue of Liberty, despite the terror at the way it swayed in the storm, with every step I thought of all the great footsteps that were beneath mine. At Versailles, it was not the princes I identified with anymore, it was the poor running through the palace seeking the king and queen. For ten years I dreamed of the Hall of Mirrors, I pictured the gardens outside, it was a feat of unmatched la gloire! and at this age when very little surprises me anymore, I found that the Hall had been greatly enhanced by my imagination, I almost vomited in a London bathroom that looked similar.
What caught my eye was something behind the mirrors: my face. Would it only take one change of clothes, perhaps a haircut, to let me see what these mirrors must still remember? I think of young men and ladies looking at themselves in these mirrors, and I think of the revolutionaries running, always running in my imagination, through that hall, did they stop and stare? Did they know what to expect? Did it infuriate them to see the excesses, or were they awed by its magnificence? When I step inside any cathedral I have the same argument with myself–how many people could this cathedral have fed if it had never been built? Will Durant suggests that over-control of the population, leaving the failures in charge of procreation, is the downfall of some civilizations. If they stalled, is that what gave Marie Antoinette enough time to escape? And when they found the rooms empty, did they walk or did they run back out? Did they touch
anything? They tore down weather-cocks from the houses of the wealthy. The chambers below the Hall of Mirrors are pathetic, whitewashed, dark, low-ceilinged, even depressing when the windows are open, the library of men destined to never be great, to be filled with knowledge but fail to outlive the king. The bed where the queen would insist the entire court watch her give birth, how does a queen spread her legs? how does she scream? does somebody consume the afterbirth of the sun-king’s descendants? I can’t even clip my fingernails without thinking of Sir James Fraiser’s list of peoples who consume fingernail clippings and earwax in the endless battle against bad magic. I take a particular pleasure when in large cities of clipping my nails out the window, here’s something that won’t kill anyone it lands on, isn’t as immediately disgusting as spit, and gives the recipient the opportunity to retaliate. I suppose the only thing better than that would be to just slit your wrists out the window. I’ve heard that defenestration isn’t nearly as funny as it sometimes seems.
When I stand at the windows, I don’t care for what I see, but I care for what has been seen, and by whom. I care that this view once meant something. I care about the ways that stone steps are so weathered by footsteps in the Louvre as I trot to the top floor with one hand prepared to cover my teeth if I fall. I send out little prayers to the dead, even the dead who don’t deserve it, for what we’ve taken from them. And that’s the point I’m trying to reach, which is that I feel like going someplace allows us to take a little bit of it away with us, we don’t need to take photographs because we’re taking something of the essence in our hearts.
But…can it run out? I think so. But isn’t there more to it that I feel? Yes–it’s that I only take away what I’m seeking, or what I feel or know is there. I never take away ghosts I do not know. Which is why I feel nothing of kings and queens–for Marie Antoinette’s toilet, I only wonder what that second little hole is for? Céline says tampons and smiles. I wonder about the revolutionaries, not as revolutionaries but as people, because I identify with them as people, I identify with standing in the houses of the wealthy and poking my head around and gasping. I take a little bit of the revolution away with me, god knows there’s none of it left at the place de la bastille. Between the revolution and napoleon, the messiah comes and history gives way to modernity somehow, it’s not the Champs-Élysées of Joni Mitchell (or David Geffin, if you’re going to get picky) I walk down, no, because on one hand I’m trying to figure out where I can possibly throw a clementine peel since there’s no goddamn trashcans, and on the other I’m trying to figure out how
long I have before that quiche and its burnt chevre explode from my ass and how many years I’ll be put away for manslaughter afterwards, sorry Paris, is this still Paris? no public toilets or trashcans? That’s just fine. Because I’m crying softly for the Champs-Élysées of Watteau, and if forced, of Degas, and all I can feel are the goose-steps of Nazis, I can’t even feel Napoleon. Modern, modern is when you order all your soldiers confirmed infected with plague to be shot in the name of mobility. Do you remember what happened to your car-phone? Some would call that cruel, and some would call it merciful. I’m not afraid of death, so I call it kind. I can’t bear to walk all the way to the Arc de Triomphe, mostly because of the diarrhea, but also, let’s be serious, why do I care to see a testament to ultimate failure? It breaks my heart that Napoleon broke up with Josephine, and that’s why I hate him. That’s the only reason I hate him. Because I’ve read his love letters to her. Monogamy, the one thing princes cannot overcome, even Leonard Bernstein had to marry against his sexuality to assure himself a job conducting the NY Philharmonic. Life is rough. I don’t have enough money to see Blake’s illuminated manuscripts at the
British Library, and I don’t have enough to see the uncensored copy of Nin’s Winter of Artifice at the Biblioteque Nationale. Life is rough. Four different people have told me in the past 24 hours that they’re the only person who truly understands me. Life is rough! I nod weakly. The whole family is worried that I’m drinking too much and not eating enough. My first reaction to returning to Ameriker was to lose fifteen pounds. My mother says my belt isn’t tight enough, and to think these pants made my package look huge just last November!
Unlikely as it may seem, Jeanne d’Arc has always been one of my heroes. I remember where I was sitting precisely when I first saw Bill and Ted’s something-something Adventure, and two characters jumped out at me: Billy the Kid and Joan of Arc. I was better situated to pursue Billy the Kid’s footsteps, so I’ve trekked through deserts, cemeteries, ghost towns, I’ve stood on cliffs, been in the dirt houses of those people we still called Indians, I’ve seen the bullet holes in the walls, my skin has cracked in the dry heat, I’ve been blinded by the dust, I’ve been thirsty, I’ve been tired, I’ve held guns, I’ve felt my skin burnt by trucks on fire, I’ve been cold at night. And always that one foggy image of Billy the Kid, the idea of him hiding in bedrooms, his youthfulness and sharpness, his inherent greatness. One night at a bar Scott and I decided a new rule was in effect: wedding rings meant nothing, we would chase married women if they dared to look us in the eyes. In a way, murder is okay when it comes to legends. Daedalus is an object of pity, but I become uncomfortable to think of him as the murderer of his nephew. But Jeanne d’Arc…what has she meant to me that has lasted for so long, what does she mean to me now? How is it that I continue to feel attached to her? It has something to
do with all three of the things that have obsessed my aching mind since first my eyes were opened and I was ashamed, many years before I could even spell my own name: death, sexuality, and god. Since then it’s been Dreyer’s portrayal of her, and Shakespeare’s, and it’s been the way she’s haunted my memories of my future, the way I’ve always felt like a sacrifice, the way I’ve presented myself as the goat destined for Azazel, the way they tested me for scoliosis twice every year until I was 16 because they couldn’t understand that every time a butterfly died the muscles in my back would grow a little bit weaker. I haven’t quite learned to lift with my legs yet, though I’ve seen the signs a thousand times, I just never paid attention.
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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.