Thursday, February 16, 2006

"Sweetness, I was not only joking"

So, I realize that I've been promoting a lot of hard to come by material lately. Shit, mentioning anything that you can't get on DVD from Netflix has come to be interpreted as being demanding of an audience. Well, I don't buy that pacifism. There used to be a time when people had to watch the printed pages like a hawk for the one screening the film that they had waited years to see. Now you can "on Demand" it. But you can't "on demand" everything, and sometimes those works that slip through the cracks are the most rewarding. So, no, you cannot netflix the movie I am about to write about. Sweet Movie has never even been released on DVD and was distributed through Facets not-too long ago. The director, Dusan Makavejev, has always been on fringes of cinematic culture. He has attempted, with little success, to enter the mainstream, but his works on the fringes (god that's a phrase to make anyone cringe) remind you of the fantastic possibility that film presented before it was taken over completely by commercial aspirations.

Sweet Movie is the story of two women's quests, but Merchant Ivory this is not. The first woman is a certain Miss Canada, winner of the chastity belt Miss Monde competition which is really just a covert operation to find the most beautiful virgin for an obscene Oil tycoon who is SO rich, he literally has a golden penis. She spurns him and is sent packing by a strapping black man in a suitcase that goes all the way to Paris. In Paris, our now mute and demented heroine meets El Macho, a Spanish Superstar who seduces her. The two make love under his pink cloak in the Eiffel Tower and become genitally inseparable. Once removed (in a bustling kitchen, no less) she is tossed away with the compost and found by a Therapie-Komune, whose ringmaster is (as the credits state, yet he is shown only briefly) Vienna Aktionist, Otto Muehl (who you can read about on my January 17th post). "Therapy," in this particular commune concerns spitting partly chewed food out at one another, adults breast-feeding, shitting and pissing on themselves, and retarded singalongs that are truly narrativizations of the works of the Vienna Aktionists (at one point, we happen upon what could just as well be the middle of Muehl's Schiess-Kerl(Shit Ass): the colonists smear shit over the mid-section of one performer as he gleefully wets himself) and was certainly influential to Lars Von Trier's Dogme 95 film, The Idiots. Eventually, the girl recovers, (rubbing her face on an uncircumcised penis helps) and is included in a chocolate commercial (pictured above) in which she rubs and writhes in a ocean of dark chocolate, which may or may not have occurred before this whole debacle.

The second story concerns Anna Planeta/Captain Anna, a ?political activist? who helms a ship with a mast shaped like Karl Marx (who, coincidentally, the film takes great joy in confusing with Lenin). She sails the Seine, singing songs of the proletariat, attracting the attention of a Sailor from the Battleship Potemkin. He joins her crew (of two), fucks her ("like a proletariat"), witnesses the killing of a group small children (whom she seduces with both candy and her cunt, grinding her crotch in their youthful faces) and is eventually killed in a huge vat of sugar. She speaks in Russian, he in French, yet of course they understand one another perfectly. Interspersed with the story is archive footage of Holocaust grave excavations that add a severe level of seriousness to this otherwise absurd film. This element of seriousness is maintained by the film's frequent political referencing, as well, which to (I must sadly admit) a viewer not too well versed in political history can become alienating, as do a poor understanding of French and non-understanding of Russian. I believe that this is perhaps the film's intent. You cannot help but become swamped in the sea of references. The film is a difficult one to discern particularly for this reason, or, more succinctly, its intentions are difficult to understand. The aesthetic is not, and the visual prowess of the film (on which now-celebrated French director Claire Denis worked - and it SHOWS) allows for the reveling that the narrative does not, because, on an extremely visceral plane, the movie works quite well - the vats of sugar, the pools of blood, the pissing golden penises...

Sweet Movie could never be made today, which is really (and sadly) quite easy to say about a great many films. Yet even for its time, the film owed more to the works of the Avant Garde than it did to narrative cinema. Seeing as how he takes his films to a far more humorous and inconsequential realm, it is a pity that John Waters is given credit for a lot of elements he gleans from his many influences(some of whom I have already discussed on this site). Makavejev is certainly one of those such influences. Look at Sweet Movie and tell me that you don't see a far more graphic and perverse world than that presented in a Waters film. You can also see a great deal of Sweet Movie in The Raspberry Reich. Both are intensely critical of yet enamored with political histrionics. And LaBruce, like Makavejev sees political and sexual liberation as inseparable. A great deal of the Anna Planeta/Captain Ann character can be seen in Reich's Gudrun. She is completely given to her political cause (whatever that may in fact be in Anna Planeta's case). It is a challenge that is well worth the effort. I saw Sweet Movie about two years ago and had not forgotten one frame of it upon my second viewing. And that is about the best compliment I can imagine.

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