Saturday, November 6, 2010

Of Daisy-Cutters & Olive Oil

While watching a fan-made video (Youtube, same window) of Foster the People's Pumped Up Kicks I noticed that one of the stills in the montage used by its creator seemed vaguely familiar. Curiosity piqued, I asked, and was promptly informed that it was a still from Věra Chytilová's surrealist Sedmikrasky (En.Wiki): Czechoslovak, surrealist, and grittily modern; predictably enough - considering how many of those things no longer exist today and the absolute sucker I am for things long extinct - I picked up the movie (no, I pirated it really) and sat down to watch. Note: There are some spoilers after the jump, mixed in with my own impressions of the movie, not that it counts for much in a movie such as this.

I found the first few minutes of the movie – with the opening credits transposed over a rotating flywheel interspersed with stock footage of combat aircraft making strafing runs, to the intermittent accompaniment of blaring trumpets and ringing percussion – to be thoroughly enjoyable, so much so that I have caught myself humming the tune several times since.

The movie presents, in no strict chronological order, the mischief wrought by two young girls, both named Marie, with a cynical disregard for societal mores that is matched only by their voracious appetite for food. A favorite stratagem involves allowing men to treat them to luscious banquets at expensive restaurants under the promise that their generosity will be returned via sexual favors that never happen, and the girls leave their erstwhile companions time and again aboard an outward-bound train while they sob alligator tears or wave handkerchiefs ruefully on the platform before breaking into fits of contagious giggling. The train sequences themselves, carrying duped men away from Marie I and Marie II, or, in one case, the girls away from a particularly tenacious old coot, are evocative and make use of what were doubtless impressive and inventive techniques at the time: the discoloration of images, the rapid playback of frames and the concentration of liquid color in the rails themselves in these sequences, as they bend and turn around the countryside, conveys in stylized form the nauseating, frantic motion of escape.

The movie is lauded as a groundbreaking feminist work, but this aspect was lost on me. If anything, the Maries' wanton manipulation and exploitation of men, and the feminist trope of cutting up various phallus-shaped treats; bananas, sausages, baguettes etc, while a desperate lover stands proclaiming his love for “Julie” at their doorstep struck me as a satire and criticism of contemporary feminism, obsessed not with furthering its own agenda but focused on demonizing men, something post-modern feminism has eschewed. Perhaps it is only evident in hindsight, but Sedmikrasky's brand of faux-feminism appears shockingly sexist in the way it stereotypes the characters of the two Maries as careless and aimless, intent only on disrupting the rubric of life, heedless of consequences, and, ultimately, disappointed, repentant, and unhappy.

Much of the movie takes place within the the walls of their apartment, which are covered with names, pictures, cut-outs and random scrawls – trophies if you will – of the various friends and lovers they have had, something that I felt might resonate especially well with the Facebook generation. Their milk bath and wasteful use of food – blamed by the authorities for the ban on the movie's release in Czechoslovakia and blacklisting of the director – may be interpreted as a rejection of a world that lacks substance and emblematic of the Maries' quest to find substance and nourishment, life, in a world that offers only food and continued existence, survival. The theme of existence, including questions of an inherent purpose for existence and whether the default state of existence is one of happiness and contentment, is one that recurs frequently in their conversations.

Even the final sequence of the movie is led into by the girls exploring a cavernous installation in search of “nourishment,” and stumbling upon a lavish banquet laid out, presumably, for state officials. I was particularly affected by the choice of musical score in the background: it sounded quite like the first movements of Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra, and I wondered whether the ensuing gluttonous food orgy was a criticism of the Over-man, or merely a continuation of the existentialist themes that ran through much of the movie, or even both.

In sum: sexist, faux-feminist, anti-Communist, anarchist, anti-Bourgeois, dadaist, surrealist, areligious, existentialist, are some of the labels that occur to me in describing the “message” of the movie, or lack thereof. I like to remind myself that much of my perception of the movie is subjective, conditioned by my own cognitive biases; that there are several other interpretations that might hold up better to detailed analyses, and that they may all yet be wrong. All art is subjective, and the mere fact that the movie was enough to get me thinking along these lines is at least indicative of its artistic merit. There is, however, also an objective value by which something as subjective as art may be judged; beauty is to art as flavor is to food. An hour and a quarter of two beautiful women trying – and almost succeeding – at having a good time at the expense of a world where “nothing makes sense anymore” is indeed beautifully presented by the work. I'm glad I asked that question on Youtube. Thank you again, Internets.

No comments:

Post a Comment