Another Glass of Sangria

Climax-Gaspar Noé Climax-Gaspar Noé 2018

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.

The Birds

The Birds-Alfred Hitchcock 1963
The Birds-Alfred Hitchcock 1963

Alfred Hitchcock’s horror movie The Birds from 1963 is very loosely based on Daphne Du Maurier’s novella of the same name. Hitchcock’s first American film and international success had been an adaption of her Gothic melodrama Rebecca, and later Nicholas Roeg would adapt du Maurier’s eerie story Don’t Look Now, which became a staple on the late-night movie circuit in the 70’s.

du Maurier’s original story is more concerned with the revenge of nature, exemplified by the suddenly hostile birds working in concert to punish humanity for its hubris and arrogance. As such it can be seen as a fore-bearer of a particularly English sub-genre of ecological apocalyptic fiction, John Wyndham, J.G Ballard and Anna Kavan all produced work in this vein.

Hitchcock told the screenwriter Evan Hunter to keep the central premise of unexplained bird assaults but to develop new characters and expand upon the plot. Given the end result it is hard not to see The Birds as a symbolic take on the ungovernable nature of female sexuality, in all its myriad forms.

The Birds centres on the character of Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hendren), a chic and irresponsible socialite who becomes a cuckoo in the nest when she impulsively follows love interest Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) to his home in the small coastal town of Bodega Bay, California with a pair of caged lovebirds in tow. Mitch is defined solely in relation to the women in his life; his overbearing and jealous mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), his younger sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and his ex, the local school teacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Soon after the birds begin to inexplicably attack the residents of the town, massing, with even birds of different species flocking together to launch aerial invasions. At one point a hysterical mother in the diner expressively connects the menacing behaviour of the birds with the arrival of Miss Daniels. Somehow her presence upsets a delicate balance, unleashing all the forces in nature inimical to humanity.

Below is a short clip of the school scene, a masterclass in suspense.

Climax

Climax-Gaspar Noé 2018
Climax-Gaspar Noé 2018

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 Pleasure Dome

Samuel Taylor Coleridge was one of the leading figures of the first generation of English Romantics writers, along with Wordsworth and William Blake. An influential critic he was first to advance the idea of ‘the willing suspension of disbelief’ as a necessary component for the aesthetic enjoyment of certain types of art and literature. He was also injected the heady idealism of German Romanticism to British literature. However his best remembered for two extraordinary poems, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and the fragmentary Kubla Khan.

Subtitled A Vision in a DreamKubla Khan is perhaps as well known for the manner of its composition as the actual poem. Coleridge relates in the introductory preface that after falling into an opium induced sleep while reading a book about Kubla Khan he experienced a astonishingly vivid dream that formed into a entire poem of about two or three hundred lines. Upon awaking the poem he retained the lines and set about writing them down exactly as is. After he completed 54 lines he was interrupted ‘by a person from Porlock’ (a nearby village in Somerset) who wished to discuss some unspecified business. Upon his return to his desk Coleridge discovered that the vision and the poem had disappeared, never to be recaptured.

Given the manner of composition, it is  hard not to see Kubla Khan with its lushly sensual and opiated imagery  as a proto-surrealist work. It certainly seems to prestige the darker strains of romanticism that would dominate as the 19th Century progressed.

Kenneth Anger’s cult movie Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (full movie with the original score below) is obviously inspired by Coleridge, and one version that was screened on German TV in fact included a recitation of the poem at the start of the movie. This baroque psychedelic (and very camp) movie is a re-creation of Crowleyite ceremony that involves Anger, The Scarlet Woman herself Marjorie Cameron, Curtis Harrington and other members of the LA occult scene getting off their tits whilst on acid. Oh and for some inexplicable reason Anais Nin sports a birdcage as headgear.

Kubla Khan

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

S.T Coleridge 1816

The Falls

The Bird on the Hill-From The Falls-Peter Greenaway 1980
The Bird on the Hill-From The Falls-Peter Greenaway 1980

I have previously featured a short clip of Pollie Fallory  (# 74 in the VUE directory) giving the Bird List Song socks in my post Persistent Rumours of Encroaching Ice, however I only mentioned the film it is excerpted from in a very casual aside.Well, there is a time and place for everything and a more detailed summary seems in order as part of the series on birds in art, film and literature.

The Falls is an experimental mock-documentary from 1980 and was the first feature length film of the director Peter Greenaway, who would later go onto direct A Zed & Two Noughts, The Belly of an Architect and his most famous, or rather infamous film, The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover. 

The Falls purports to a filmed representation of the biographies of 92 (a number that recurs frequently the movie, its significance however remains unexplained, like so much else) victims of the Violent Unknown Event (or VUE for short) whose surnames begin with the letters FALL. The 92 people listed are meant to represent a cross section of the 19 million people worldwide who were affected by the VUE.

As the cause of  VUE is obviously unknown, we can only gather clues from the biographies, all of which are filmed in a bewildering array of techniques, though all with a earnest, old school documentary style narration. The VUE may, or may not have been the Responsibility of Birds, but it has left those afflicted with an obsession with birds (and/or unaided flight), as well as bizarre medical conditions including six part hearts and re-opening of old wounds. The VUE also resulted in 92 new languages appearing and sexual quadmorphism (in addition to the traditional two sexes another two have come into being and accorded classification).

All in all this perplexing, brilliant and infuriating movie comes over like a cross between Borges and Monty Python, with elements of Kafka in its portrayal of bureaucracy. It does however slyly acknowledge its own limitations, with many scenes of cars or taxiing air-planes pointlessly going around in circles, and with the deadpan voice-over commenting that the various ridiculously named characters suffer from the inability to tell a good joke from a bad one.

I have included illustrations of birds drawn by Peter Greenaway (who started his career as an artist) featured in the film, along with a theatrical trailer.

Feather at Night-From The Falls-Peter Greenaway 1980
Feather at Night-From The Falls-Peter Greenaway 1980