Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Dream A Little Dream of Me

So this week's adventures into avant garde went slightly better. I think I'm starting to grasp the concepts of the films (a bit) better and I'm starting to like them more as well. The theme of this week was psychodrama and surrealism.
So again, my review/thoughts (in order of viewing this time):
1. "Symphonie Diagonal," Viking Eggeling (1924)
This movie reminded me of what "Fantasia" might have looked like if it was made in the 1920's and without music. The images are compelling in and of themselves, but for me I feel like music is necessary to evoke a certain response. I'm not quite sure what to think when shown this film of geometric shapes dancing across the screen. I do feel that the shapes start out complex and then break down to singular lines, their simplest forms. I think that's what Eggeling was trying to do with the film; he was breaking cinema into its most basic form. In this short, there is no need for narrative or other techniques; the film can exist completely on its own as a look at form and elemental parts.
2. "Rhymthus 21," Hans Richter (1921)
The same thing that goes for Eggeling goes for Richter. He wanted to break cinema down and show it at its most simplest form. However, I feel like the images that Richter uses are slightly more interesting. Maybe this has to do with the fact that shapes are more familiar and presented in a more interesting manner. The effect can be quiet hypnotizing at times. Also about half way through the film (minute 1:28 to be exact), I realized that this film reminded me of an opening sequence of another movie: Monsters INC.  Monsters INC uses colors and music but I feel like the shapes and the way they move are reminiscent of each other.
 The final four films viewed in class all had the similar theme of dreaming executed in a number of different ways. The diverse techniques and styles express not only the director's own unique perspectives, but also the type of dream-like state they want the viewer to experience.
3.) "Un Chein Andalou," Luis Bunel & Salvidor Dali (1929)
In "Un Chien Andalou" Bunuel and Dali have created a dream that means something different to each individual. The film was created in the style of the exquisite corps, with each piece created separately and with no relation to each other. Any image connected to a "remembrance," "cultural pattern," or "conscious association" was immediately disregarded because the directors did not want images that were previously tied to any feelings, thoguhts, or ideas (Bunuel qtd. in Sitney 4). The association comes only from the viewer of the film and the connection they make with the images on the screen and their own personal life.I found myself trying to create a narrative out of the images despite the fact that they were disjointed. I think that Hollywood cinema has indoctrinated us so much that we crave narrative structure, it is what we expect in seeing a film.
This film does not have to follow a narrative structure or any conventional cinematic forms because it takes place with in the world of the dream. It can play with time and space and image because in a dream these things are often distorted. Also, the film pokes fun at conventional cinema by using title cards displaying common phrases such as "once upon a time" and "eight years later." These lure the audience into thinking that perhaps this film may share something in common with films that they are used to seeing. However, this is not the case. The directors use these cards to show time and how it changes throughout the film. Many times, the card does not signal a change in time but a change in scene, almost like hitting a reset button.

4.) "Meshes of the Afternoon," Maya Deren (1943)
Deren also plays with time, but over all there is more of a structure and narrative flow in her film. We talked a lot in class about the reoccurring symbols of the flower, the phone, the key, the knife, and the mirror and what part they play in the film. Some saw them as symbols (the key for freedom and the mirror for the inner self etc), while others saw them as entities that exist separately from the cyclical form of the film. I see these objects as markers of time and space in a film which takes a liberal use of both.The objects show the viewer where in the dream they are in relation to the other dreams. There is always something on the staircase, but depending on what level of the dream you are viewing it could be anything from the phone to the knife that ends up there. I think these objects just gauge the time and show that since they moved they must be in a new location because of what happened in the previous dream.
The layers of dreams and their relation to each other made me wonder if Chris Nolan found inspiration in Deren's films in his creation of "Inception" and the multilayered dream-state. 
5.) "At Land," Maya Deren (1944)

This was by far my favorite film of the group. Deren's editing, specifically her cuts between scenes creates an effortless dream that switches from a dinner party to the beach with ease. The actress in the film finds herself crawling across a dinning room table, surrounded and ignored by the fancily dressed guests. This image is juxtaposed with that of the same woman crawling and climbing through grass. These images seem to suggest that the woman does not belong in the world of the dinner party, she is exploring unfamiliar territory. The way the scenes were shot it seems almost as if the one party of the scene was reality, while the other was the imagination of the character.
One time in the film, the actress finds herself in a room framed by doors and unable to escape. This is showing the close mindedness of society and her inability to escape. The only way the woman can find freedom is through nature and a return to the sea where she belongs. The chess piece she knocks off the table is able to do this because it returns to the natural world, escaping the confines of society. I also think that the people at the dinner party stand for more than just the confines of society. They represent the ideas of "conventional" cinema that looks down at abstract cinema as something "experimental" and not for the masses.
6.) "Fireworks," Kenneth Anger (1947)
 Anger's film is more of a social commentary revealed through a dream rather than something to build your own opinion on. In the beginning the voice-over narration explains that this film documents desires that can only come about at night. "These imaginary displays," the narration says, "provide a temporary release." This is the first film of the bunch to directly express its aims and to explain what is being viewed. I found this helpful because it was easier to follow and see the point that the director was trying to make.
The images of Anger's film are much more substantial because they are paired with a message and a desire for social change. The violent scenes and disturbing images are much more powerful because they seem less like a dream. Anger himself says that the film was inspired by his feelings on "being seventeen, the United States Navy, American Christmas, and the Fourth of July" (Sitney 91).

Sitney, P. Adams. "Magnus" & "Meshes of the Afternoon." Visionary Film: the American Avant-Garde, 1943-2000. 3rd Ed. University Press: Oxford, 2002. 3-15 and 89-119.

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