It wasn’t just the grating banter from otherwise likable film presences, or the lazy ugliness of its images, or their coddling familiarity.
Peter Greenaway has long been an arthouse staple, his background in painting evident in nearly every carefully considered frame. His cockeyed narratives (along with their ubiquity of actual cocks) have made him celebrated and divisive in equal measure, and Eisenstein in Guanajuato is arguably the British auteur at his most divisive, and definitely his most breathless.
Hearing Guy Maddin narrate My Winnipeg last week was important to me.
I remember trying to watch The Saddest Music in the World early in high school, when I was digging up anything people on movie forums described as “weird,” but lacked any of the cultural touchstones to understand what I was seeing.
It’s relatively rare for a film to begin with a mission statement, but Man With A Movie Camera — Dziga Vertov’s 1929 Constructivist ode to man, machine, and revolution — is not an ordinary film.
Before Vertov presents a dizzying, self-reflexive montage of a day in the life of post-Revolutionary Russia, he informs the viewer:
THIS FILM PRESENTS AN EXPERIMENT IN THE CINEMATIC COMMUNICATION OF VISIBLE EVENTS
WITHOUT THE AID OF INTERTITLES
WITHOUT THE AID OF A SCENARIO
WITHOUT THE AID OF THEATER
THE EXPERIMENTAL WORK AIMS AT CREATING A TRULY INTERNATIONAL ABSOLUTE LANGUAGE OF CINEMA BASED ON ITS TOTAL SEPARATION FROM THE LANGUAGE OF THEATER AND LITERATURE.
Battleship Potemkin and Sergei Eisenstein, its visionary creator and Soviet film theorist, loom so large over the history of cinema that there seems little left to say at this point. Treatises, books, films, encyclopedia entries have all been produced on the film’s tale of mutinous sailors and the triumph of the proletariat over murderous Czarist forces.
Here’s what transpires in the astonishing first 56 seconds of Ménilmontant, Dimitri Kirsanoff’s 1926 avant-garde masterpiece.
Delicate curtains flutter inside a home’s open window. Suddenly, a woman’s frightened face appears behind them, an assailant trailing. The doorknob turns frantically. The door finally opens and the woman emerges.