Monday, June 4, 2007

The Dregs of Surrealism

I hadn’t really intended to have a double feature of Arrabal’s J’irai Comme un Cheval Fou (1972) and Jodoworsky’s The Holy Mountain (1973) but I can’t claim it’s entirely an accident since after all I manage my own Netflix queue. My four-word review is the title of the post and it wasn’t until later that the connection of the two directors in the short-lived Panic Movement came up. (Actually “short-lived” seems generous since Panic was apparently just a name they applied to their activities for a year or two and was never any kind of actual movement.) Surrealism itself quickly became another ism and easily copied—there are people today still devoted to automatic writing, a technique with a period of usefulness that barely outlived a mayfly—but many of its deeper impulses have informed a century of art in all media. Arrabal and Jodoworsky probably don’t think of themselves as surrealist and that’s true enough though determining such designations is always a fool’s game. Both directors pulled from surrealism but also from a superficial understanding of Artaud and a typically 60s idea of epater le bourgeois that mostly consisted of nudity, body fluids, half-baked esoterica and hurting animals. I’m all for unmotivated weirdness but their work generally leaves just a bad aftertaste with nothing else to compensate.

I had seen all of Jodoworsky’s features except The Holy Mountain and Tusk but the latter still hasn’t appeared on DVD so I had to give the first a shot. The nicest thing that can be said of Jodoworsky is that he’s a complete and inhuman charlatan (see the documentary The Jodoworsky Constellation for proof and then wonder at the sad little fans he attracts). The surprise is that The Holy Mountain is partly entertaining though in the manner of a laughable heavy metal video; I half expected to hear Beavis and Butthead on the soundtrack. Portentous meaning piled upon meaning packed with the expected blasphemy, “shocking” events and misogyny means that the first half isn’t dull even though it’s almost completely free of any substance. And that’s at least merciful because in the second half when Jodoworsky starts trying to build some social critique based on the Tarot, alchemy and astrology, well, just stop snickering. Really, unless you’re somebody who thinks Genesis P-Orridge is a genius (and I have met such people) there’s nothing of the remotest interest in The Holy Mountain.

J’irai Comme un Cheval Fou manages the neat trick of being even less interesting. It does have a story of sorts: man suspected of murdering his mother hides in the desert, meets Nature Boy, has wild adventures that point out how Society represses our true selves. The message is hammered home over and over. It’s always interesting that people who make statements like this tend to be comfortable city dwellers (as you can see in the video interview with Arrabal). They’re sorta like Python characters: “Apart from sanitation, medicine, food, safer streets, art, shelter and stability, what has Society ever done for us?” Still, it’s less misogynist than Jodoworsky’s film and has noticably fewer animals harmed. Small victories, it's true.