Saturday, December 29, 2012

The cart before the horse: Addenda to a contribution to Senses of Cinema's 2012 World Poll

Or, everything really is cinema, more or less: part one in an ongoing series

Cerise Howard and Otesánek
Your humble correspondent pausing
a moment to pose alongside a
prostrate Otesánek, who, doubtless a mite
peckish, is just biding his time...
Senses of Cinema's annual world poll supplement will be posted online early in the new year. Meanwhile, so itching have I been to ensure there's some new content gracing this seemingly moribund blog before year's end, and so eager to expand, especially illustratively, upon some of the arguably more fanciful aspects of what I've contributed to Senses of Cinema's latest poll, with particular respect to claims towards the everything-is-cinema-ness of all things, that, well... here we are!

Some of what follows – whether for better or for worse, I cannot say – will adopt certain of the characteristics of a travelogue. This is somewhat unavoidable as this post's central cases in point were the stuff of recent adventures abroad, for, not so terribly long ago, I was summoned to my beloved city of Prague to sit on a jury at Mezipatra, the Czech Republic's wonderful queer film festival, or at least for the Prague leg of it. Now, to either side of my gleefully adopted Mezipatra duties – not to mention right smack-bang in its midst as well, of course (samozřejmě!) – I had me some (extra-)cinematic adventures, as demonstrated below and which will link to my corresponding part in Senses' 2012 world poll, as and when it's live.

By the way, wrapped up in all the pictorial splendour and waffle below lies in wait an allusive announcement, whose time I can comfortably say has almost now come, with respect to a project of mine and certain esteemed others set to launch in mid-2012 and shake up stuffy old Melbourne town, where too many film festivals is never enough...

But let's deal with one horse before its cart at a time – on with the picture show – roll camera!

Backdrop to the 2012 Mezipatra closing ceremony
Here's the rather de Chirico-esque big-screen backdrop above the stage at Kino Lucerna ahead of this year's Mezipatra closing ceremony. Should I hasten to add that de Chirico was cinema? After all, I've just watched Alain Robbe-Grillet's Eden and After (1970) (thank you thank you thank you! the Slovak Film Institute, for releasing this on DVD!), and if those scenes in the Eden nightclub weren't de Chirico all over (if also a few parts Mondrian, after a '60s Godardian fashion), then my name isn't Cerise Howard, and nor has it always been.

(Mezipatra's website hosts a fab gallery covering its closing night, which was altogether rather busier and more glamorous than my photo above would suggest, and in which I make a few appearances.)
Now, I could scarcely have timed my journey to Prague any better. For unbeknownst to me at my journey's outset, what should happen to be on in the very centre of olde Prague but...

"Jan Švankmajer: Dimensions of Dialogue – Between Film and Fine Art"

in the House at the Stone Bell in Prague's Old Town Square
(26 Oct 2012 – 3 Feb 2013)

Per my world poll contribution, "Dimensions of Dialogue" is "room after Rudolphinian room a-glut with Švankmajeriana. Magical, obsessive, capital-S Surrealist objects abound, all riffing on relationships, direct or indirect, with Švankmajer's 48-year-long filmic output, with one film, whether long- or short-form, looping in its entirety in each room, and the exhibition's great plenty of uncanny objects organised correspondingly. Magnificent!"

Please find here following a corroborating, annotated gallery:

Conspirators of Pleasure room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
This is a room devoted to Conspirators of Pleasure (1996), which also featured a number of "tactile portraits", object-characters from the film and, centre-frame, its unforgettable masturbation machine, which had in fact been switched on for the exhibition. (On which note, Prague's Sex Machines Museum is just a hop, skip and a wank away from the House at the Stone Bell and the Old Town Square, but I don't recall it having anything half so elaborate, nor half so modern, let alone half so amusing, as the Conspirators of Pleasure machine amongst its offerings. If anything, as memory serves – I visited it several years ago – its exhibits are not terribly far removed from those in Prague's cheesy mediaeval torture museums...)
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
In the room devoted to Historia Naturae, Suite (1967) can be found collaged drawings and objects, imaginary creatures, and taxonomic descriptions thereof galore, in a fabulous demonstration of the full rein Švankmajer has always given himself towards the creation of alternative zoologies, ones to long outlive we sadly less fabulous critters to presently have the run of our grimly imperilled planet.
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
Natural enemies in the wild?
Historia Naturae, Suite room in the Jan Švankmajer exhibition
The scenes in this and the preceding image have more than just a little in common with Salvador Dalí's 1936 painting, "Autumn Cannibalism". See also the second section of one of my favourite Švankmajers, his final short film, Food (1993).
Tableau from Švankmajer's Alice
A tableau familiar from Alice (1988). This, like so much of JS' work, is equal parts Švankmajer and Švankmajerová.
Tableau from Švankmajer's Alice Characters and sets from Švankmajer's Alice
Characters and sets from Švankmajer's Alice.
Some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust
Waiting in the wings with some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust (1994)

Some of the cast from Švankmajer's Faust
Some of the cast atop and within a set from Faust.
Cerise Howard and some of the cast in a set from Švankmajer's Faust
Several of the oversize puppets from Faust, and one oversize human from Wellington, by way of Melbourne.
Scary set from Švankmajer's The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope
Scary prop from Švankmajer's The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope (1984), as designed by the late, great Eva Švankmajerová. Fortunately, perhaps as much an OH&S consideration as anything else, it was rather more still in the exhibition than in Švankmajer's brilliant film. I don't think Poe has ever been as frightening on screen as in The Pit, the Pendulum and Hope.
Otesáneks, and parts thereof, galore.
Otesáneks, and parts thereof, galore. As seen in Little Otik (Otesánek) (2000).
Oh, and did I mention that I actually had a chance early morning encounter at a Prague tram stop with Švankmajer himself? Were that I could have captured the look in my eyes in that moment they locked fleetingly with his! Were too that I wasn't so dumbstruck by the occasion that I so easily let him slip by my clutches before I could surprise him with some strongly Australasian-inflected Czech, conveying some sort of gormless, grating, ingratiating précis of my adoration of his work ever since I first encountered it in the '90s. Actually, perhaps it's for the best I did keep my mouth shut after all. Next time, though, Švankmajer, next time... I'll be prepared!

"Slovanská epopej" ("The Slav Epic", Alfons Mucha, 1912-1928)

Now hanging permanently, if not without controversy, at Veletržní Palace, a campus of the National Gallery in Prague

Now, I may have made some slightly contentious claims in my poll contribution, if, I would argue, not really either as specious nor as spurious as all that, for Czech Art Nouveau godfather Alfons Mucha's 20-colossal-canvas-strong magnum opus "The Slav Epic" as cinema...

Here follow only a meagre few photos – my photography simply hasn't done these magnificent pictures justice – in under-substantiated support of certain aspects of my flimsy hypothesis. Happily, much better quality reproductions of Mucha's magnificent masterwork can be found all over the Web, and they do my lunatic theorising far prouder than my own underwhelming photography here can hope to.

2nd canvas of The Slav Epic
This is the 2nd canvas in "The Slav Epic" – now, I ask you, is that a big screen, or wot? (Refer relative size of awestruck, darkened space-inhabiting gallery patron to artwork.) This is "The Celebration of Svantovit in Rügen" (1912).
Detail of the 2nd canvas of The Slav Epic
This is a detail – almost a close-up, even – of that same canvas, from centre bottom. To stand but a foot away from the painting is for mother and child to fill "the frame". This woman's eyes have haunted me ever since I laid mine upon them.
Detail of the 1st canvas of The Slav Epic
Eyes no less haunting – a detail from the 1st canvas of the Slovanská epopej, "The Slavs in Their Original Homeland" (1912).
Detail of the 5th canvas of The Slav Epic
An awful purdy doodad which wouldn't be at all out of place in Argento's Suspiria (1977) but which is in fact merely a detail of the 5th canvas in "The Slav Epic", "King Otakar II of Bohemia" (1924).

Further postcards from Europe to prop up one's claim that everything is cinema

And now for a little more photographic everything-is-cinema-ness, surplus to requirement as addenda for my contribution to the 2012 Senses of Cinema world poll, as I in no way alluded to the following in my poll text, nor need have. But I no got worry.

I'll let the photographs, if necessarily aided to some extent in each instance by their captions, speak for themselves...

Jiří Trnka installation in Veletržní Palace, Prague
Elsewhere in Veletržní Palace, this permanent installation pays tribute to the great puppet animator, Jiří Trnka. (He was pretty handy in a few other fields, too.) There'll be more from me about Trnka hereabouts, and in the pages of Senses of Cinema, soon – that's a promise! (For many happy reasons which will become apparent in due course.) It's a shame about the shadow of a certain gormless pillock in this one. Reflective surfaces: the scourge of amateur photographers everywhere!
Vintage film posters in Veletržní Palace, Prague
In the same room as the Trnka installation can be found these gorgeous vintage film posters. The two leftmost are for Gustav Machatý's 1931 film, From Saturday to Sunday. "Jsem děvče s čertem v těle" translates as "I'm a girl with the devil in (her) flesh"; it's credited to director Karl Anton and is instantly as tantalising a film to hunt down as any I've heard tell of any time lately.
Vintage film posters in Veletržní Palace, Prague
Also from that same room. I haven't figured out which films these gorgeous images pertain to – something by Martin Frič, perhaps? Anyone, any leads?
Oh lookee here – seems we've taken a wrong turn mid-exposition, as can happen, and have wound up in Vienna.

The Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna's Prater amusement park The Wiener Riesenrad in Vienna's Prater amusement park
The Wiener Riesenrad – which is to say, this is the Ferris wheel seen in The Third Man (d. Carol Reed, 1949) in Vienna's nowadays impossibly kitsch Prater amusement park.
Magic Dreamland in Vienna's Prater amusement park
Kitsch? The Prater? With this photo, I rest my case.

Still: what is this post if not a paean to the "Magic Dreamland" that is the cinema, anyway? And is that really any less naff a term than "Dream Factory", that popular epithet for Hollywood?
Well, that'll do for now. I've more piccies from other far-afield adventures in cinema recently had, but it'd be remiss not to save some for another day, which would greater risk this blog's going another few months without an update...

But wait – a pledge! Yes, I hereby pledge, contrary to all recent indications, that this blog will actually regularly feature new content in 2013. Truly!

Let's see then if I'm not yet as good as my word. (And here I'll confess to knowing something you don't, at least, not for very much longer – my year in film in 2013 will be a very busy one, and it'll sure need some documenting and ballyhooing here. Stay tuned!)

Toodles for now then,