January 28, 2017 -- There are some wonderful clips from some great films in this collage from director Thom Andersen (“Los Angeles Plays Itself”). There are enough of those to make up for the B movie clips of snake dancing girls and the fortune cookie intertitles that look like bad translations from the writings of a French philosopher.
We see obscure Maria Montez clips of “Cobra Woman” (1944) because she was the favorite actress of movie actor and director Jack Smith (“Flaming Creatures”). This snake ceremony goes on for quite a while in the film, followed by an intertitle quote from Jack Smith, “Oh Maria Montez, give socialist answers to a rented world.” This is immediately followed by another favorite, Debra Paget, who dances seductively, near naked, in front of the world's least convincing fake cobra snake in “The Indian Tomb” (1959). I wondered how that scene got past the Hays Code. The answer is that it wasn't made in Hollywood. It is a German film by Fritz Lang (original title Das indische Grabmal). This is followed by a clip of cavorting naked women in Los Angeles in 1996 with a Rolling Stones soundtrack. It may not be art, but it should sell, to men, at least.
From another intertitle, we learn that Ludwig Wiggenstein's favorite movie star was Carmen Miranda. Maybe he liked the fruit. The dense, inscrutable intertitles make more sense when you consider this film was inspired by French philosopher Gilles Deleuze (“Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus” 1972). This explains the stuff about communism and unions, for instance, but other references are less obvious.
The film clips start out with silent films, but jump back and forth in time and from one genre to another. There are a couple great clips from Laurel and Hardy and Marx Brothers movies. Most film clips are not identified at all, some are identified by setting and date of filming, instead of by name of the film and year of release, so “Cobra Woman” (1944) is identified as “Cobra Island” (1943) for instance. The names of the films are not listed in the credits, either, just the names of the directors. This makes it difficult to look up the names of these films.
Another old German film clip (from “The Testament of Dr. Mabuse” 1933) had me thinking about the current state of politics in Washington, as Dr. Mabuse is visited by a super creepy looking ghost who warns him, “Because the ultimate purpose of crime is to establish the permanent empire of crime, a state of complete insecurity and anarchy founded upon the tainted ideals of a world doomed to annihilation. When humanity, subjugated by the terror of crime has been driven insane by fear and horror and when chaos has become supreme law ...” Even better would have been another quote from the same movie, “This godless world, devoid of justice and compassion, consisting only of selfishness, cruelty and hatred.”
The screen goes black for an extended period in the film as we listen to the soundtrack of “To Have and Have Not” which the intertitle indicates Thom Andersen recorded on a tape recorder and listened to over and over again, inspiring him to become a filmmaker. Just put your lips together and blow (and Hemingway didn't write that).
Some things I learned watching this is that 4,000 people died every day during the siege of Leningrad in January, 1942; the United States dropped 600,000 tons of bombs on North Korea during the war, destroying every town and city (well, maybe not all of them, but the bombs are probably why we just can't seem to get on North Korea's good side); that Norman Mailer did not like the aesthetics of the World Trade twin towers; that Chubby Checker's version of the hit “The Twist” is a nearly identical cover of Hank Ballard and the Midnighter's song, which, unlike Checker's was not played on white radio stations.
The film also contains other odds and ends, including film of an American pilot apparently being captured in the Vietnam War, and some discussion of the wrongful conviction and 12-year imprisonment of Randall Dale Adams, the subject of the Errol Morris film “The Thin Blue Line,” the great documentary that got Adams his freedom, only to have Adams end up in a legal battle with Morris himself over the use of his name.
Even though the film's structure didn't really hang together, and the scenes didn't really seem to mesh all that well with the philosophical intertitles, there are a lot of good film clips in this, and some thought-provoking material, too. It was a lot easier to watch than a lot of art films. This film rates a C+.
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