La Villa Santo Sospir by Jean Cocteau

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A 35-minute color film by Cocteau entitled La Villa Santo Sospir. Shot in 1952, this is an “amateur film” done in 16mm, a sort of home movie in which Cocteau takes the viewer on a tour of a friend’s villa on the French coast (a major location used in Testament of Orpheus). The house itself is heavily decorated, mostly by Cocteau (and a bit by Picasso), and we are given an extensive tour of the artwork. Cocteau also shows us several dozen paintings as well. Most cover mythological themes, of course. He also proudly shows paintings by Edouard Dermithe and Jean Marais and plays around his own home in Villefranche. This informal little project once again shows the joy Cocteau takes in creating art, in addition to showing a side of his work (his paintings and drawings) that his films often overshadow.

La Villa Santo Sospir, 1952, 250 mb, (AVI)

The film is in French but Ubuweb provide a subtitle file if you know how to use those. This isn’t really essential however (despite the copious narration), the film is more concerned with giving the viewer a guided tour of the villa and its decorations. Fascinating seeing Cocteau working with colour even though many of the drawings and murals on display are his characteristic black lines on a white field. Nice also to see again his habitual delight with cinematic trickery in the reverse-motion sequences, wiping a blank canvas with a cloth so that a drawing appears, or piecing together living flowers from fragments of stalk and petal.

Un Chant D’Amour by Jean Genet

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Genet’s gay classic at Ubuweb.

Un Chant D’Amour, 1950, 269 mb (AVI)

Packed with shots of full frontal hard ons, masturbation, and extreme close ups of sweaty feet, armpits and thighs, Jean Genet’s only film is confrontingly explicit. Though no sex takes place, the erotic factor of Un Chant D’Amour is off the scale, and makes for a sensational viewing experience that feels like watching porn. As well, as a twenty-five minute black and white avant garde short, it’s everything but commercial, and it was even abandoned by its director who, à la George Michael, disowned it in the mid seventies on the grounds that he had reached a far more sophisticated plateau of artistic expression, and was embarrassed by this crude early work. No wonder then, that Un Chant D’Amour has been banned, censored and blacklisted ever since its 1950 release.

This is quite a shame, for apart from being an excellent and extremely horny short film, Un Chant D’Amour is quite the hidden treasure, an underviewed and lushly romantic avant-garde tribute to yearning and desire, and and a frustrating glimpse of what might have been if Genet had kept making films.

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Stuck in airless and solitary prison cells (somewhere in Algeria, presumably), sexy inmates drive themselves to the edge with obsessive erotic longing for each other. Almost mad from solitude and longing, they blow cigarette smoke through mini glory holes, and writhe against thick concrete walls, knowing their man is on the other side. A sexually suspect guard spies on them, one by one, peep show style, and they sometimes notice, and perform for him. He gets so worked up he breaks into a cell, whips the inmate, and gets him to fellate his gun. Symbolism and dream sequences abound, but are hard to distinguish from the narrative proper as Genet’s use of repetition, ritual, and stylised movement is unrelentlingly hypnotic.

Un Chant D’Amour’s resonance is mostly due to images that would never make the cut of modern pop culture, certainly not a modern commercial film. Saying that most gay-interest films pale in comparison, then, is unfair. However, Genet’s sensuous presentation makes his two central characters’ almost insane cravings tangible and heartfelt. No amount of dialogue compensates, and furrow-browed pleas for tolerance and happiness drag things in the opposite direction fast. The fantasies of Un Chant D’Amour involve smoke, flowers, dance and forests as well as hair, sweat and muscle. This rocking back and forth between lush romance and salty carnality is a little dizzying, but masterfully (unknowingly?) evocative. By comparison, most other gay films look like tupperware parties, gatherings of politically activated animatronic eunuchs.

Like The Deep End, Un Chant D’Amour taps into elemental energies and ignores politics and socialisation, and as a result comes closest to capturing (pre-rainbow flag) “gay” on screen.

Review by Mark Adnum
www.outrate.net

View: The Modern Magazine

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Portrait of Charles Henri Ford in Poppy Field by Pavel Tchelitchew (1933).

View magazine was an American periodical of art and literature, published quarterly from 1940 to 1947 with heavy emphasis on the Surrealist art of the period. The astonishing list of contributors included Jorge Luis Borges, Alexander Calder, Albert Camus, Marc Chagall, Joseph Cornell, Jean Dubuffet, Lawrence Durrell, Max Ernst, Jean Genet, Paul Klee, Henry Miller, René Magritte, André Masson, Joan Miró, Georgia O’Keefe, Pablo Picasso, Man Ray, Edouard Roditi, Yves Tanguy, and Pavel Tchelitchew.

Continue reading “View: The Modern Magazine”

Impressions de la Haute Mongolie

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Metamorphosis of Hitler’s Face into a Moonlit Landscape with Accompaniment (1958).

Impressions de la Haute Mongolie (1976/Salvador Dali/José Montes-Baquer/Germany)

In any list of films I’d currently most like to see but can’t due to lack of availability, this bizarre “documentary” collaboration between Salvador Dalí and José Montes-Baquer would be near the top of the list. I saw it once, probably shortly after it had been made, when the BBC screened it as part of their Omnibus arts series in the late seventies. By this time I was already very familiar with the Surrealists, Dalí, Magritte and Max Ernst especially, so it was great to see Dalí himself declaring a supposed mission to explore Upper Mongolia in a search for giant hallucinogenic mushrooms. This premise aside, I remember few other details, the whole film was as delightfully confusing as might be expected. The most distinct memory was of the painting above being shown, then the camera pulling back some distance to reveal the full extent of Hitler’s face which is only hinted at in the original. Happily, a web review now provides us with some more details:

Homage to Impressions d’Afrique (1909), is a free-associative poem written by Raymond Roussel (1877-1933), even though he never visited Africa. The film is dedicated to this French author, forefather of the Surrealists, who developed a formal constraint system to generate inspiration from dislocative puns.

Dalí does the very same thing with this chimerical pseudocumentary leading us to the mysterious realm of High Mongolia where a gigantic white soft mushroom grows, many times more hallucinogenic than LSD! From his studio-museum in Cadacès (Spain), he proceeds to report on the alleged scientific expedition sent out by himself to retrieve this precious treasure, with newspaper clips and newsreel. Childhood memories (like the picture above) are the opportunity to explain more thoroughly the source of his inspiration. This bucolic landscape is in fact a close up of Hitler’s portrait (his nose and moustache) turned to the side!

Wholly Dalíesque, this film experiment pieces together astonishing combinations of superimposed images, fading in and out, switching scale with odd perspectives. Dalí invents a filmmaking process and applies his very language to cinematic purposes, bending the rules to serve his desperate need for originality. Travelling through a microscopic close up of paintings or rough surfaces, his voiceover commentary gives sense to the landscapes taking form under his eyes.

Impressions of Africa was also the title of a Dalí painting from 1938, of course:

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It’s probably too much to hope that this will turn up on TV again, so for now I suppose I’ll have to look forward to it appearing on DVD at some point in the future. How about it José?

Update: Ubuweb has a copy!