Monday, July 14, 2008

Film Club's (almost) darkest hour

The great Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel provided last night's film club fare. We tried out his 1962/63 work Exterminating Angel.

I like to think I'm not at the unintelligent end of the spectrum; I get huge enjoyment and satisfaction from relatively "difficult" and challenging pieces of theatre, cinema and music.

This one, though, I'm afraid slipped past me in a haze of complete failure to understand what Signor Bunuel was trying to get at. Perhaps I should have been watching in the same way as I approach an artwork; "what is the overall impression, how does it make me feel?" Rather than "what is the director trying to say?"

Exterminating Angel is a strange piece concerning a group of unsympathetic bourgeoisie dinner guests who, without explanation, find themselves unable to leave the drawing room of their host's house. During their interminable lolling about and looking pained, they supposedly disintegrate into bestial behaviours which is represented by a quite ludicrous bit of rolling about on the floor.

Once the arse-clenchingly dull characters find a way to escape their fate, we see them assembled in a church and the film ends with some dire special effects. Frankenkeith did say he liked the special effects which consisted of dual camera superimposition a la 1960s Dr Who, only less convincing; I think he was using 21st century irony. There follow some inexplicable scenes of soldiery shooting civilians in an unknown location which seems to have nothing whatever to do with what had preceded it.

Little is revealed of the characters' make-up or motivation: there is a two dimensional "doctor" who looks concerned a great deal and kneels meaningfully next to numerous patients as they either expire or have nervous breakdowns; several highly strung divas and an engaged couple who do delicate 1950s style rumpty-tumpty in a cupboard before killing themselves.

A small bear and a flock of sheep make a couple of appearances for reasons that are equally unfathomable to the rest of the film.

So - the Millbrooker Towers Film Club verdict on this one is that it really didn't do it for us. Bunuel is, by all reckonings, a master surrealist and this is acknowledged as one of his most inaccessible works. Apparently when asked about this film, the maestro replied " explanation? There isn't one." Fair enough. Cinema doesn't have to be purely about entertainment, it is an art form in its own right; just like any art form each work must be taken on its merits, and this one's merits are well buried beneath a pile of pure and unadulterated humbug.

On a scale of "Death in Venice" to "Pan's Labyrinth", where the former is the worst evening that Film Club has endured and the latter probably the best (or at least very close), Exterminating Angel reaches the enviable position of the second worst evening's viewing, failing to be quite as dire as Death in Venice by virtue of being shorter and not featuring quite so many long shots of Dirk Bogarde's eyes.

Here's Shazzerooneypoos, Dong and Frankenkeith delivering the verdict, Dong posing gracefully with the offending DVD atop his finely glowing napper:

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