Monthly Archives: October 2021

  • Daisies            (Sedmikrasky)     Vera Chytilova

    Daisies            (Sedmikrasky)     Vera Chytilova (Czech; 1966) Jitka Cerhova; Ivana Karbonova


    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema, 24 Oct 2021; ticket: £7

    The woman point

    Vera Chytilova’s ‘Daisies’ is film as a philosophical proposition. A feminist diatribe delivered with the stylistic logic that only film, with its intercut collision of images and worlds, its disassociations, its discontinuities, its multiplication of series, could assemble as a coherent assault on patriarchy as a hierarchy of destruction violence and sexual exploitation. In contrast to the polemic in Godard films such as Tout va Bien or La Chinoise, Chytilova doesn’t do direct didacticism. She exploits collisions of settings script and gesture to create a satire that is savage and unwavering in purpose. Daisies was immediately banned in Czechoslovakia and remained forbidden until 1990. The Communist Party seeing its anarcho-feminism as an critical attack on the society over which it presided.

    Chytilova’s movie brings together her knowledge and understanding of Czech radicalism. Through image and scenario ‘Daisies’ draws on the national tradition of stop motion animation, the satire of Hasek’s Good Soldier Schweik, and also Czech/German critical writing of the 1920’s and ‘30’s as exemplified in the work of artists such as Karel Teige.

    What ‘Daisies’ does is to pull all these influences together in a dynamic that fashions them into an original creative work. In exploiting stop motion as the basis for the structure of her film, Chytilova understood the political message implicit and endemic in both in its biomechanics and its discontinuities. Using her two ‘Daisies’ as protagonists she extended Schweik’s incompetence and ‘innocent’ malevolence out into the contemporary world incorporating their iconoclastic determinism as a way of being in the world and as a means of delivering her underlying philosophical point.   After the opening title sequence which intercuts the cranking of a machine with clips from aerial bombings and strafing’s, overlaid on the track by the beat of a drum, we see the two ‘Daisies’ flopped puppet-like directly in front of the audience. Marie1 says: “Everything is going bad in this world.”    Marie 2 replies: “Then we are going bad as well.” This opening section introduces the idea of a marionette show, but these puppets are going to be let off the string.

    ‘Daisies’ style is characterised by its relentless intercutting and intra-scenic switching between different film stocks and lens filters. Chytilova’s use of visual agitation works in the context of her stop frame animation structure which is premised on outrageous impossible jump cuts and radical discontinuities, and as such folds into the expectation of the animation form. The proposition of illogical discontinuities of course runs counter to the ‘Marxist’ ideology that underlay all permitted thinking: that history was a continuous developing of an unfolding historical dialectic which had reached the end of its course with the establishment of the USSR and its sister socialist republics in Eastern Europe.  History it was supposed had come to an end. Chytilova saw that what had actually developed was a dead inert structure incapable of change and lethal to creative development. Its only hope was to be shaken up, big time. ‘Daisies’ is the expression of that realisation.

    The political message of Chytilova’s script is that her Daisies make the conscious decision that they should take control of their lives thereby undermining the patriarchal rules and conventions that prevent change and manipulate women into positions of inferiority.

    ‘Daisies’ comprises a series of vignettes which chronicle the playing out of the Daisies decision to go ‘bad,’ to take control by going out of control. Running through most of these episodes are two uncompromising visual motifs which define Chytilova’s film: the made-up faces of the two protagonists; and use of food as a signifier of rejection of social/political convention.

    Our face and our attire function as expressive means that give out signs to others about our status. Faces of course also are means of expressing emotion, but it is status that is central to Chytilova’s premise in ‘Daisies’. The look of face is subject to strict conventions in many societies; veiled/unveiled; shaven/cleanshaven; natural/painted.

    Film has always been in love with the face both as a object of expression leakage and as a sign of status. Both Hollywood and European movies strictly regulated the conventions of male and female facial representation. For respectable women the purpose of make-up is to align the face the more closely to the gender stereotype: no wrinkles (foundation), lipstick to shape, accentuate the mouth and eye make-up to deepen the eyes. The Daisies destroy these conventions and adopt outrageous make-up displays that actually become masks. Masks differ from makeup in their purpose is to represent the face not as self but as something other. Masks invoke in design an exteriority, an external force separate from the face behind it. The Daisies adopt a mask that calls up the Egyptian all seeing eye. Their faces are dominated by their painted eyes which sit in the centre of a large blackened proscenium shaped area which stretches over the cheeks and forehead. They do forth masked both as statement and rejection of convention. These girls are blind to nothing and no one can be blind to them.

    Like make-up, like attire, food lies at the core of our social conventions, of how we interact with each other, defining of both gender class and caste.   As such it is fair game for Chytilova. The elite class, the Brahmin the nomenklatura all define themselves in relation to food: what is eaten and how it is eaten. Women in particular are expected to eat demurely: control the amount they eat, to eat cleanly without getting their faces mushed up, without spillage, without mess; not to burp or fart. The Daisies are explicitly transgressive in this respect setting themselves to demolish the image of feminine prandial fastidiousness. In the eating scenes at the smart hotel the food is slopped, spilt, dropped on clothes slurped and spat out as if this behaviour was simply normal table manners. In the final banquet scene the action is explicitly over the top. Coming upon a banquet table laid out with fine fancy and expensive food they demolish the feast con gusto in a spectacle reminiscent of the finest excesses of the silent movie days. The effect is sacrilegious but of course what Chytilova is attacking is what is symbolised by the starched white table cloth, the silverware the cut glass wine goblets and the expensive food. The food and the table represent the established order which underneath its smooth exterior is rotten to the core.

    After the banquet scene, the last shot of ‘Daisies’ comprises a final aerial bombing clip, over which Chytilova prints the subtitle: “ Dedicated to those of you whose sole cause of irritation is a trashed trifle.” Point made.

    Adrin Neatrour






  • You the Living (Du Levande)       Roy Anderson

    You the Living (Du Levande)       Roy Anderson ( Swe; 2004;) Ensemble piece.

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 3rd Oct 2021; ticket £7.00

    The end of an era

    What is absent in Roy Anderson’s ‘You the Living’ is as significant as what is present. Walls and windows dominate the settings of the scenario, but there are no mobile phones, no computers. This is a film made at the end of the era of walls and windows at the point where the era of screens was starting to dominate the parameters of existence. From about this point in time it was the relationship between humans and the digital membranes in which ‘we the living’ were now starting to live, that was becoming critical.

    Cinema has played a significant role in portraying built environments and exploring its effects on those who have to function within their ambit.   Silent movie makers such as Chaplin and King Vidor (the Crowd) used industrial and office settings to emphasise the dehumanising de-individualising nature of contempory work areas. Later as modernist architectural structures started to dominate public space, Jaques Tati, as supreme clown, explored and played with the effects that these buildings have on the behaviour and psyche of people.

    In ‘Playtime’ Tati moves through the world of the newly built massive glass structures of transnational corporate capitalism.   The core of the ‘Playtime’ thesis is most vividly played out in the sequence that takes place in a large glass fronted office block. Contemporary building is seen as afflicting on the ‘common man’ a state of mind in which disassociation/discontinuity are the prevalent and sometimes dominating characteristic of modernist urban experience. These structures are haunted by beings who struggle to remember why they are there and who lapse into fragmentary confused states of mind as their purposes languish, overlaid by disorientation. Deterritorialised gaggles of people wander through the space their agitation and continual motion distracting them from their initial intention. Ultimately they are left with only the transitory reflected glimpses of themselves as a memory of where they have been. Tati’s humour offsets, intensifies and points up the human condition in these places.

    Spatially Roy Anderson’s film works in kindred territory. Like Tati he also exploits contempory settings, both public and private, to invoke humour as a vehicle for stripping back the human experience of modernity to its painful core. Although ‘You the Living’ uses dialogue to fill out the scenario, like ‘Playtime’ the essence of Anderson’s film rests on his visual virtuosity and a strategic employment of in-camera framing. Unlike Playtime, Anderson’s movie is dominated by his radical use of colourisation as a defining feature of its design.

    Every scene in the film is characterised with the same overwhelming colour schema: a sort of deadening matt blue grey tone washes through the picture. This colour design comprises an invariant visual field which not only informs the performances of the ensemble, but also affects the consciousness of the viewers, shaping their emotional response to the visual material as it works to offset the deadpan humour. The film comprises sketches, some inter-related, whose humour mainly derives from exposing and provoking the mordant character of the irony implicit in everyday life situations. Some of these vignettes work better than others. But even when script and scenario are weak, the persistence of the omnipresent colourisation filling out the field of vision, sustains the mood of the audience, ever more deeply confirming their emotional knowledge that they are watching a statement of a world view that is defined by a bleakness of destiny.   Anderson’s vision is that we are trapped within the walls of a twilight world that anticipates death; there are windows but there is no daylight.

    But ‘You the Living’ marks the end of the era of films made about the effects on people of the built environment: a world where there are walls and windows. Because inexorably it is the world of screens that has become the key defining feature of our lives. Screens are not windows letting in light, giving out onto a singular view; they are portals, gateways to an infinity of worlds.

    In the sort of life which we used to lead, defined by a traditional built linear environment we were contained and conditioned by those structures which ordered our day to day existence. It was a world of surfaces that contained us and which we confronted physically. A world that projected itself onto the individual, where the vectors of meaning were directed out from the world and onto the human. With digital technologies mediated through screens and keys, this order of relationship is reversed: vectors of meaning now run from the individual outwards into the world in ever increasing feedback loops of intensification. The individual is now the centre of the world and projects themselves out into multiple universes. Once the world was defined by actual surfaces. Now we have virtual surfaces, instable constantly changing disintegrating reforming particles that continually resolve their configurations according to our projections. They are the vehicles of our own vectors of meaning and signification – Facebook, YouTube and multifarious other platforms.

    Central to ‘You the Living’ is that it paints a picture of a society under immanent threat from unseen forces. The last days of this world are being captured before the cataclysm, before it is destroyed. The last shot certainly suggests an approaching catastrophe. In Anderson’s movie characterised by ‘walls and windows’ we are watching the last days of a certain type of psychological stability when it made discrete sense to ask what was: true or false; real or virtual.   In our time of the reversal of vectors of meaning in which screens now enable individual projections to define the world, traditional ideas of signification and collapse into a myriad streams of shifting signs where there is no stable ground. Questions pertaining to: true and false, real or actual cease to have definitive meaning. The significant questions relate only to who is writing the programmes?

    As is appropriate Anderson has the last laugh. In the final shot he sends in his squadron of heavily armed virtual nuke bombers to blow the shit out of ‘You the Living’ so that we may become ‘You the Dead’.   With this deliberate decision to end the movie with a digitally composited SFX effect, Anderson announces the end of the world of surfaces and advent of the new age of screens and technical images made concrete through the quantum particle world of contemporary physics.

    adrin neatrour  


  • Valerie and her Week of Wonders   Jaromil Jires (Cz; 1970)

    Valerie and her Week of Wonders   Jaromil Jires (Cz; 1970) Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzove, Petr Kopriva, Jiri Prymak

    viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26 Sept 2021; ticket: £7.00

    film wonderland

    Jaromil Jires’ ‘Valerie’ is film as delerium. Film that knows no form other than the prerogative of its own chosen logic: the dream vision. It’s film as a flowing medium alive and excitable captured in crystalline light, in the immediacy of water and the cascading locks of young girls hair. Film as an outpouring of sensuality tactility and burgeoning physicality mediated through the character of the menstruating becoming young woman, Valerie. The effect of Jires’ movie is that the audience don’t so much look at the worlds Valerie enters but rather they are absorbed into their translucent tracery, enveloped in their immanence.

    ‘Valerie’ shares some common ground with Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Both works feature young women who by force of unexpected events enter into adjacent contrary worlds whose familiar aspects belie the fact that nothing is what it seems. As in Alice, so in ‘Valerie’, it is not plot that is important; rather the idea of movement, the ability to keep on travelling through, even surviving, encounters with sets of menacing and ever stranger circumstances and situations. Although finding occasional allies both young women ultimately come through by relying on their own psychic resources which include an understanding of the power of their own bodies and a grounded intelligence that is flexible enough to adapt to the immediacy of particular demands. The imaginative vistas through which the two travellers move are quite different. Alice’s’ journey is through the convoluted logic of mathematical dimensionalities; Valerie moves through the heightened physicality of the dream with its orgasmic visions and vampire blood centred logic. Both Alice and Valerie are archetypal embodiments of female types: centred in their physicality and able to use intuition logic and reason to move through any world on their own terms.  

    Carroll’s work was written as a benign caricature rather than a satire of Victorian England’s moral sensibilities; Jires’ ‘Valerie’ based on the novel by Vieteslav Nezval, evokes a trenchant anti-clericalism reminiscent of Bunuel. Jires’ film was made in the context of the Czech New Wave, that time following the unsuccessful Prague Spring, when although nationalistic political developments were blocked by the Soviet invasion, there was little the ‘authorities’ could do to stem the tide of Czech cultural and artistic rejection of the communist ideological straightjacket. The consequence was an explosive release of energy from a Cinema that had been constrained for too long by the political tenets of social realism. This Czech Cinema from the mid ‘60’s to ‘70’s overflowed with ideas, with the possibilities of expressing countercultural and surreal structures in creative ways that were not possible within the barren bounds of dialectical materialism. In about the same period in the Soviet Union Tarkovsky and Parajanov had also pushed and broken through the orthodox strictures of Goskino (the state film production company), and made films that were products of personal not political vision.

    Whereas the mise en scene, lighting and cinematography all create a sense of spacial movement through worlds of horror fairytale and surreal imagery, the acting itself is absolutely solid. The actors, in particular the grandmother, all play out their characters as expressive architypes rather than playing into and internalising them. They work with heightened classical control over the musculature of their bodies, all movement executed with acute physical precision. This stylistic gloss has the effect of presenting the actors as performing on a different plane from the chaos through which they move, both offsetting and exaggerating the dream like quality of the imagery.

    The music is a wonderful complement to the movie. The soundtracks of many contemporary films are characterised by synthesised music, contoured and shaped to exaggerate the desired emotional affects of the script. Valerie’s score is a rich amalgam of evocative Slavic Melody and Classical music that combines, underlines and enriches the scenario, but is not used as a means to manipulate emotion.  Its effect is celebratory, ‘in tune’ with Jires’ underlying motif.

    Jires’ ‘Valerie’ with its uncompromising primacy of vision feels like harbinger of the break up of the Soviet Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union itself, which in the form it took was ultimately held togather by an unsustainable rational mythology.

    adrin neatrour