Sunday, April 09, 2006

Oh, I think so...

In a history deprived society, there are times when we forget our roots. We know what something has become, but not always how it got there. Even the "grandfathers" picked up a thing or two from outside sources. And while I have credited Jack Smith with being a sort of father of Camp (and Waters more a perverse second cousin) he certainly didn't "make up" Camp aesthetics(hardly - in Sontag's Notes On Camp she traces it even before Wilde or Versaille, even). What he would make - which would then later be defined as (high) Camp - came from a direct lineage of more extravagantly confused efforts. Films that aimed at a particular aspiration, allowing all other elements typically required of film to fail abysmally. This is the case in the films of Von Sternberg.

So also is it the case for Universal's "exotic" Cobra Woman. Starring Maria Montez (who else), the film was made right at the onset of Color pictures. In her early color films, the production was more preoccupied in visual opulence than anything else. Red is not red but RED! The sets are not realistic but fantastic. Everything else, plot, characterization, originality all go by the wayside for visual decadence. And I mean this in the best possible way. Cobra Woman just played a midnight stint at a local art-house cinema here in LA where I was fortunate to see the film that time would have you forget.

To call Cobra Woman fabulous would be a drastic understatement. The film is so glitzed up in its own revelry that you must pinch yourself to prove it truly exists. The plot concerns two twin heirs to the thrown of Cobra Island who are separated at birth. The elder (and benign) is taken to a neighboring island, whilst the younger (and malevolent) stays to rule. Of course you can guess what happens next, and if you can't, it really doesn't matter. All you need are eyes with which to soak up the saturated spectacle of the film.

The film shines as a series of sequences - there are two in particular that deserve special mention. The first - and one which obviously inspired Divine's "nightclub act" from Waters' Female Trouble - is the evil Montez's snake dance. You see, they mean it when they say Cobra Island, and the god here is a "giant cobra" (who, you may have already guessed, resembles rubber tubing more than an actual serpent). Evil Montez also serves as High Priestess and must dance the cobra dance in a glittering sequined dress. As King Cobra is riled more and more, he lunges and that group of people are sent to feed the volcano. Like Divine in the previously mentioned film, this sends Evil Montez in a ecstatic fury, going all Abigail Williams on the poor townspeople (who are so hopelessly "brown" or "exotic" in their pastel sarongs). Her fervor is ridiculously entertaining and she twists and spins her hands about extending an index finger to the next who shall be condemned.

The other scene is that in which Evil and Good Montez face off. Part of the brilliance of Montez is her poor mastery of the English language which makes the early English language efforts of Antonio Banderas seem PhD. caliber. When she faces herself, it is like a war of cardboard cut outs - all the more thrilling because it ends as quickly as it begins. This is an absolute must for any connoisseurs of Camp. It is not on DVD officially, though a bootleg copy can be acquire through this website.


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