Near the beginning of Gaspar Noé’s dance-horror movie Climax, we are introduced to the dancers via their audition interviews, which are played on a TV surrounded by VHS titles (it is set in 1996), which include such gonzo avant-garde/horror films as Suspiria, Possession, Salo, Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome and Un Chien Andalou, further signalling (just in case you missed the bloodied body crawling through the snow at the start, and that it is a Noé movie) that what is to follow is going to be a full frontal assault on the senses. Whether you love it or hate it, Climax certainly succeeds as an overwhelming experience.
But before we go down to Hell, we get a glimpse of Heaven in the extraordinary dance scene. Shot in one very long take, the young and diverse dancers, in their final rehearsal before leaving France to tour America, produce a thing of beauty as they krump, vogue, freestyle and strut their awe-inspiring stuff. The exuberance, energy and sense of collective euphoria on display is truly joyous to watch. Naturally the beautiful people want to party after such a success. Simmering with polymorphous sexual tension, a note of discord is introduced in the bitchy and potentially amorous conversations. Following another stunning series of set pieces by individual dancers, filmed from above, and around the time Thomas Bangalter’s Sangria kicks in, the dance crew begin to realise that the sangria which they have been drinking (most of them anyway) has in fact been spiked with LSD, the mood accordingly darkens and the party degenerates rapidly.
What follows is the mother of all bummer trips, an epic Grand Guignol freak out that is almost unbearably intense as the dancers descend into a netherworld of paranoia, violence, debauched sexual excess and over-saturated primary colours, perfectly captured in the nausea inducing camera angles.
Full credit to the cast, who with the exception Sofia Boutella are dancers not actors, and the spectacular choreography of Nina McNelly. The pulsating soundtrack charts the journey from sublime ecstasy to raging madness wonderfully, below are two tracks that feature when the vibes start to get heavy.
While I was enjoying my usual 3AM snack of Pot Noodle (heavy on the Tabasco) and a wee glass or three of Absinthe (absolutely with the sugar-cube) before retiring, I did a little more research on Gaspar Noé new movie, Climax, the subject of my last post, and as well as discovering the reason why he decided to set the movie in 1996, (because 96 is the opposite of 69 and is therefore the year of collective impossibility, whereas 69 was the year of, yes you guessed correctly, coming together), I was delighted to find the complete playlist of the soundtrack, and oh boy, it is definitely killer.
This is to be expected, however, as whatever faults Noé possesses, his soundtracks have always shown impeccable taste. The opening credit sequence of Enter The Void combines elements of the soundtrack of Noé’s 2002 movie Irréversible, composed by regular collaborator Thomas Bangalter of Daft Punk, with LFO’s Freak to produce a dazzling marriage of sound and flashing graphics that was immediately imitated in the music video field.
The stand out track of the above-mentioned soundtrack from Irréversible is Rectum, which takes its title from the hellish nightclub featured in the movie. Rectum is an aural distillation of pure dread; nervy, queasy and ever building, a perfect realisation of the demented Boschian world portrayed.
As Climax is a dance movie set in 1996, electronic, house, techno and industrial music from the 80’s and 90’s naturally features heavily, including songs by Gary Numan, Aphex Twin, Daft Punk and Giorgio Moroder as well as the Rolling Stones. I have included below two tracks, Lil Louis’s seminal Chicago House track French Kiss, which includes some of the heaviest and sexiest deep breathing on record since Serge Gainsborough’s Je t’aime, and Soft Cell’s combined cover of two Northern Soul classics Tainted Love and Where Did Our Love Go.
Please note that the clip for Enter the Void contains flashing images and I hope you enjoy, though probably best to avoid if you have been drinking Sangria.
Regular readers may have noticed that I tend to be somewhat fixated on the art, literature and film of the past, rarely does anything post-1980 featured on these pages, and certainly not movies that I haven’t even seen yet. However, as the premise of Gaspar Noé‘s new movie, Climax, which recently premiered in Cannes, actually made me pause during my favourite early afternoon breakfast of Black Forest Gateau and original Irn-Bru, I decided to make an exception this one time.
Billed as a dance-horror movie (who knew there was such a thing?), Climax, which is apparently based on true events, tells the story of a young street dance troupe’s descent into collective madness after drinking the LSD-laced Sangria during the final rehearsal party, all filmed in Noé’s seizure inducing visual style and with his trademark horror-porno aesthetic. Described as The Red Shoes on literal acid, Step Up meets Salo and a Satanic DJ set, any minuscule reservations I had about leaving Chateau Du Cake to see this in the movie theatres when released are dispelled by the trailer, featured below.
The British directorial team Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, known collectively as The Archers had spent WWII producing odd, idiosyncratic propaganda movies for the British war effort, mainly in black and white (a notable exception was The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp of 1942, which Winston Churchill hated for its civilised, sympathetic portrayal of the German best friend of the Colonel).
With the end of the war The Archers changed direction and produced a series of sensuous fantasies filmed in the most glorious Technicolor by Jack Cardiff, intuiting that the British public, still in the midst of wartime rationing and austerity, longed for something more than the standard dourly realistic fare then be served. This led to the hallucinatory Black Narcissus in 1947, a melodrama full of simmering tension and repressed eroticism, followed by their most famous film a year later, the ballet movie The Red Shoes. As Michael Powell noted , ‘For ten years we had all been told to go out and die for freedom and democracy; but now the war was over. “The Red Shoes” told us to go out and die for art.’
As the above quote illustrates this is a movie about the primacy of art over life. Indeed it could be argued that The Red Shoes is a Symbolist movie, though it is a rather late arrival to the party. Drenched in aestheticism, with a curiously timeless fairy-tale ambience and the rarefied, hothouse ballet setting, TheRed Shoes is valiant attempt at a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art, an important concept in Symbolist aesthetics). However it also owes as much to Hollywood, especially the extravaganzas of Busby Berkeley, as it does to the various European avant-gardes.
The story is simplicity itself. Aspiring, ambitious ballet dancer Victoria Page, (unforgettably played by ballerina Moira Shearer, surely the most gorgeous red-head to ever grace the silver screen), comes under the auspices of Boris Lermontov, (an outstanding performance by Anton Walbrook) the impresario of the Ballet Lermontov who is clearly modelled on the legendary Sergei Diaghliev of the Ballet Russes. At the party where they first meet Lermontov asks Vicky, ‘Why do you want to dance?’ to which Vicky replies, ‘Why do you want to live?’ Quite.
At the same time Lermontov, who has an eye for talent, employs the young composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). The scene is set for a particularly bizarre love triangle. For Lermontov isn’t just a Svengali, the demands he places upon his company shade into the Mephistophelian. When his current prima ballerina Irina (another ballerina Ludmilla Tcherina) decides to marry he remarks, ‘You cannot have it both ways. A dancer who relies upon the doubtful comforts of human love can never be a great dancer. Never.’
Irina’s leaving opens the way for Vicky to become prima ballerina in a new ballet that the company is producing, The Red Shoes:
Boris Lermontov: The Ballet of The Red Shoes” is from a fairy tale by Hans Andersen. It is the story of a young girl who is devoured with an ambition to attend a dance in a pair of Red Shoes. She gets the shoes and goes to the dance. For a time, all goes well and she is very happy. At the end of the evening she is tired and wants to go home, but the Red Shoes are not tired. In fact, the Red Shoes are never tired. They dance her out into the street, they dance her over the mountains and valleys, through fields and forests, through night and day. Time rushes by, love rushes by, life rushes by, but the Red Shoes go on. Julian Craster: What happens in the end? Boris Lermontov: Oh, in the end, she dies.
Craster is the composer of the score and The Red Shoes premieres in Monte Carlo, Monaco. Daringly The Archers interrupt the narrative to present the centrepiece of the movie, a stunning seventeen minute ballet sequence exactly half-way through the movie. Both expressionistic and surrealistic, with scenery (designed by Hein Heckroth) and effects that could be never replicated in any theatre anywhere at anytime, the ballet is a phantasmagorical tour-de-force.
Vicky and Craster fall in love while working on the ballet, with dramatic and indeed tragic consequences as life grimly mimics art. During the delirious final scenes Lermontov says to the sobbing Vicky:
Vicky…Little Vicky…There, there. Sorrow will pass, believe me. Life is so unimportant. And from now onwards, you will dance like nobody ever before.
The ending is entirely appropriate for this lush fever dream of a film. For The Red Shoes isn’t just a movie you watch, it is a film to be surrendered too, and once you have surrendered, to luxuriate in.