The form of this film is also its meaning. What is this form? It is best described by analogy: it is like the interior monologues of Leopold Bloom. Scenes vividly delineated, so that both the characters and the action take on large elements of caricature - The Cremator more Czech expressionism than Czech surrealism -, suddenly shift to others equally striking; the only connecting link a word, an image or a metaphor they both share. This is a film constructed out of a complex series of association of ideas. David Hume the major influence on a movie made under a regime where Karl Marx held the monopoly on thought.
Friday, 21 November 2014
Saturday, 8 November 2014
New things out of old things. The artist thinks:
A swarthy boy opened a book and propped it nimbly under the breastwork of his satchel. He recited jerks of verse with odd glances at the text:
-Weep no more, woful shepherd, weep no more
For Lycidas, your sorrow, is not dead,
Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor…
It must be a movement then, an actuality of the possible as possible. Aristotle’s phrase formed itself within the gabbled verses and floated out into the studious silence of the library of Saint Genevieve where he had read, sheltered from the sin of Paris, night by night. By his elbow a delicate Siamese conned a handbook of strategy. Fed and feeding brains about me: under glowlamps, impaled, with faintly beating feelers: and in my mind’s darkness a sloth of the underworld, reluctant, shy of brightness, shifting her dragon scaly folds. Thought is the thought of thought. Tranquil brightness. The soul is in a manner all that is: the soul is the form of forms. Tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms.
A thought enters. It swims around. And disturbs the domestic fauna, who shuffling and fluttering kick up the mud and scatter the stones that lie on the mind’s sea-bed. Around and around it goes; almost aimlessly; when suddenly - desire comes like an exclamation mark - it feels the urge to mate. But…the water is dark and misty. But what luck! This intruder - we’ll call him Clive - is too consumed with sexual craving to care about the niceties of the orifice exposed to him. No matter that it belongs to a different species. Instinct only is left. He penetrates. She conceives. A fluorescent fish swims by to reveal…no, not a whalophin, but a new idea - “thought is the thought of thought….” After the conception there follows an epiphany - “tranquillity sudden, vast, candescent: form of forms” -; although to less refined ears it sounds like post-coital repose.
Sunday, 2 November 2014
I am trotting through Professor Radkau’s sentences when suddenly I encounter an idea of mine; one that I conceived only a few weeks ago… There she is! Standing alone on the grass by the side of the lane. Young and beautiful, she is wearing a long red skirt, a pink blouse, and a green waistcoat embroidered with flowers. She holds a parasol high above her head and she smiles mischievously. “Didn’t we meet last week in the Critic as Clerk?” she asks. “Yes, we did”, I reply. We exchange names - “Fanny zu Reventlow, the Countess of Schwabing"; "Paul Schloss, a professional amateur" -; and pay each other compliments; going on to talk about Robbe-Grillet and Edmund Husserl and a few other things. We end our brief chat with a promise to meet again in the near future. As I ride off down the lane I laugh to myself, and yet feel somewhat disconcerted - how can such a character exist independently of me? And then a curious thought enters my mind (along with the smell of manure from a neighbouring field): am I a replica of her own carefully tailored beauty? A mile further on I meet another woman… And this happens again and again, my journey punctuated with ideas that I have thought up and written down before - in the Critic as Clerk, in The Temperate Zone, in Freedom Against Freedom. Two weeks ago I thought gemütlichkeit a good way to describe the New Left. Now I read that Max Weber was highly critical of what he regarded as this specifically German characteristic. A coincidence for sure. But I doubt the sanity of the world when Weber tells me that the resistance of concrete things to the easy flow of abstract speculation is what makes us think. How could I have known of these ideas in advance of reading them?
Sunday, 26 October 2014
It was supposed to be simple. I wanted… Well, this is something that has always worried me: whose letter is Ernest actually talking about - his, Hélène’s or Alphonse’s? Too lazy to watch the film again I decided to seek expert advice, and thought I would find it amongst the pages of The Masters of Cinema Series. Excited, I am impatient, and as I take the booklet from its plastic case I become frustrated at its recalcitrance; and tear it to pieces…Oh dear! I’m… Can you hear it? That thick bludgeoning thump! as my friend faints to the floor… There is a cloud of dust; his partner is coughing; the kids screaming, shouting “dad! we can’t see the screen…” Then suddenly: silence. And through the settling dust we hear…a groan; hiccupping tears; a whispered cry…my name is mentioned. Not, I might add, with either finesse or decorum. But, my friend, what can I do now? I’ll try not to scratch the DVD….
Of course I could have searched the film for the particular scene I needed. But I thought my question too important for any critic to ignore. I certainly didn’t ignore it; albeit in my original piece I disguised my uncertainty, preferring to develop the logic of my argument to its most extreme and consistent conclusion: Hélène’s love for Alphonse is founded on a complete fiction. Oh! Sorry! I see that I am losing you. We must take a break. Go and sit over there; there; there on the floor by that pile of Dickens. Here’s a cup tea (Russian Caravan with a shade of milk and one and a half teaspoons of sugar; it should do you quite nicely). And here are some ginger biscuits. You don’t like ginger? What about a Victoria Sponge… Nice, yes? Oh, I should hope so… So you’re…you’re comfortable? That’s good. Here is the film. And here is my original review. I’ll be back in a couple of hours.
Sunday, 17 August 2014
Penelope Houston was a great critic. We imagine her in a long skirt and a tightly fitted blouse, whose pearl buttons go all the way up to the neck; which she covers with a ruffle of fine lace. In her hands she has a long pole with an enormous net which she swishes over a meadow of wild flowers; the tall unruly grass undulating around her hips. The net goes down. It rises up again. And her face smiles out in exultation….
Let us look at her in action, as she uses her words to capture the essence of a masterpiece.
In the last scene of this film we see how, under the pressure of salaried employment, a couple disintegrates into two isolated individuals; both are alone and both are self-absorbed; Arati mistakenly thinking her husband is angry with her; Subrata soliloquising to himself about the meaning of work - it makes us weak, he says. Here are “two minds [that really are completely] at sea”. But then husband and wife reconcile, and walk together through the streets of Calcutta into an unknown future. The old world, with its well-established certainties based on custom and habit, has collapsed, and the big city has been invaded by odd stories whose endings no one can confidently predict. The only certainty is love, which provides the emotional resources these characters need to navigate the psychological states Penelope Houston describes in her insightful sentences. This film about a place whose foundations are suffering an earthquake.
Ray has an unmatched feeling for the moments when a situation catches people unawares and minds perceptibly expand or contract when confronted with some infinitesimal stress. Mahanagar is particularly rich in these glimpses into minds at sea. (BFI Notes.)
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Too often I criticise the critics. A couple of punches, a head butt; one carefully placed kick to the goolies, as they approach the postbox to mail their manuscript, usually has the effect I desire. Take that old fella… Down he goes, his sentences sprawled on the floor around him; “Grahame Greene as an early English example of transgendered martyrology” spreading across the pavement like vomit. As I stamp on “the aporia generated by an upper class whore whose infidelity becomes a fundamentalist religion” he pleads for his research grants, the three children at public school, the wife who works for the Macmillan Trust… Suddenly I see myself for the hooligan I am. I walk away, pleading youthful exuberance and too much literary testosterone. I crumple up rationality, and throw logic into the nearest dustbin.