Life Is A Bed Of Roses

            La vie est un roman (1983) opens in 1914, just before the outbreak of WWI. Count Forbek (Ruggero Raimondi) has assembled his closest friends, a collective of France’s most esteemed aristocracy, for the dedication of his proposed utopian city that he calls “The City Of Happiness” to his fiancé Livia (Fanny Ardant). As Forbek’s friends begin to applaud, the camera takes the viewer into the model of this proposed paradise. As this tracking shot of “The City Of Happiness” continues, the background fades to black, and then erupts in bright flames and explosions as the Great War desolates the land. Then there is a cut to a shot, which evokes Arthurian legends in which a cloaked handmaiden escorts an infant child, presumably the heir to the throne, from a castle laid siege. This sequence continues as the maiden emerges from a secret passage out of a tree in the midst of a forest. As the maiden exits the frame, a car drives by in the distance, introducing a third time period as well as a narrative, though this time in a contemporary France. This will remain the structure of the film, a triptych of narrative and location concerned with exploring not only the imaginative history of “The City Of Happiness”, but also the basis of the condition that society has defined as happiness itself.

            La vie est un roman is the second film Alain Resnais directed from a script by Jean Gruault, following up the critically acclaimed film of Henri Laborit’s life Mon Oncle d’Amerique (1980). Stylistically, La vie est un roman is a return to philosophical debate in the narrative form, though this time in the genre of the musical. Like all good musicals, La vie est un roman relegates the breaking out into song to moments of personal revelation and emotional duress. Resnais sees to it that the visual component of the cinematic dialect of musicals is uncharacteristically underplayed, preferring static wide shots to the boisterous camera moves of either Stanley Donen or Vincente Minnelli. Even the close-ups of characters in song are static, and devoid of any and all traces of choreography. This unusual tactic immediately repels the audience, reminding the viewer that the world of La vie est un roman is as fictitious as it is physically two-dimensional. The result is unpredictable, but it could be construed that by removing the viewer temporarily from the narrative of the film serves the purpose of a catalyst designed to stimulate an objective reading of the lyrics sung, which in most cases convey the thesis of a scene or the illuminating of a suspected subtext.

the fantasy section of the film

the fantasy section of the film

            The visual dialogue of La vie est un roman is even more complex. The Romantic medieval section of the film is rich in cinematic and painterly quotations, utilizing small sets with matte paintings in both the foreground and background, lending these scenes, where there is undoubtedly singing in a Wagnerian fashion, the artifice of live theatre. Fantasy is the rule of the day, following a trend of post-modern films whose sense of the fantastic and concerns with the classical are derivative, visually speaking, of Fritz Lang’s epic Die Nibelungen (1924). Resnais’ simplistic staging of his fantasy sequences negate the gravitas of these post-modern fantasy films, be it Eric Rohmer’s Percival le Gallois (1978) or Hans-Jurgen Syberberg’s Winifried Wagner und die Geschichte des Hauses Wahnfried von 1914-1975 (1975), evoking simultaneously the Czech Fairytale films of the previous decade.

            Forbek’s portion of the film, set in the twenties, makes a number of references both in terms of narrative, set design, and costume design to the serials of Louis Feuillade [Fantomas (1913-14), Les Vampires (1915)]. Resnais’ purpose in this is clear; for similar to his design of musical sequences, Resnais insists that the audience immediately recognizes and confronts their respective assumptions pertaining to the mechanisms of a particular genre. By alluding to Feuillade’s films Resnais guarantees that the audience will invest their suspension of disbelief into a familiar world, albeit a fictitious one. The tropes of Feuillade’s serials also serve as signifiers to a few stylistic expectations on the part of the audience, primarily with the melodramatic and Gothic qualities of the genre.

            In juxtaposition to these more fantastic elements is the seemingly realist world of contemporary France. Of course this reality, despite the modern wardrobe and technology, inhabits the same space as Forbek’s narrative. This section of the film is set in “The City Of Happiness”, now a school whose primary objective is to educate children via the children’s own imaginative powers. At the moment the narrative in this section of the film begins, attendees of a conference on imagination in education are beginning to arrive at “The City Of Happiness”. The realistic world of contemporary France links to the other narratives not just spatially, as in the case of Forbek’s narrative, but physically. On several occasions the children at the school will run or dance through a scene focused on the adult characters and the camera will follow them, cutting to a match on action in the Romantic world of Arthurian legend, where the children quickly exit frame. This tactic links the artifice of the two fantasies discussed above with the more realistic primary narrative, equating all three equally as fantastic inventions of the cinema. The other equalizer being, of course, the musical element prevalent in all three narratives.

            The medieval portions of La vie est un roman are the most simplistic. Visually, the camera is static in every shot of these sequences. In terms of narrative, detail and development are hardly needed because simple signifiers will do. The narrative tells of a King sent into hiding as a child until he reaches adulthood. At which time he becomes a great warrior, slaying first a lizard creature and then reclaiming his throne from a would be King by leading a peasant revolt. At which time the rightful King and hero of this narrative marries a princess, is crowned, and declares to all of his subjects that the “age of happiness” has indeed arrived. This is a very simplistic fairytale meant to suggest the crux of all legends in Western culture; freedom is happiness. By restricting this portion of the film to a two-dimensional narrative, La vie est un roman is able to pinpoint a primal understanding in mankind and therefore in the audience that will contrast with the more complex definitions of happiness that the films other two narratives suggest.

the Count Forbek section of the film

the Count Forbek section of the film

            Count Forbek’s narrative centers around his megalomaniac aspirations to achieve utopia after the architect of his “City Of Happiness” is killed in the trenches of WWI and his lover Livia has married another. Still determined, Forbek completes as much of his “City Of Happiness” as his money will allow, inviting his remaining friends, including Livia and her husband, to come live with him once it is completed. Upon the arrival of Forbek’s guests, he makes a strange proposal. Forbek appeals to his friends to undergo a transformation that will return their psyches to infancy so that they may experience only those stimuli that approach “true happiness”. Forbek reveals that his intention is to first rid his friends of all sensations of pain, then, he intends to unleash his procedure onto the world. Forbek’s process is made up of a pulpy mixture of Eastern mysticism and Jungian psychology, which, keeping with the genre, proves lethal to one of those undergoing the process. However, unbeknownst to Forbek, Livia never drank her potion and has retained her adult consciousness. Once she is aware that the guest who has died is her husband, Livia attempts to rescue her friends, but fails, leaving her to confront Forbek. It is in this pivotal scene that Forbek reveals his intent to create a harmonious global state of “true happiness” to Livia. Livia, repulsed by this idea, maintains that it is her individuality and freedom that give her happiness, even if it comes at the expense of other’s misery. Enraged, Forbek attacks Livia, though she repulses his attack with a blow to his head.

            The Forbek narrative complicates the final thesis of the medieval portion by raising the moral question if it is worthwhile to achieve happiness at the expense of others. This line of thinking is at the heart of the contemporary narrative centered at the conference for “Education Of The Imagination”, which for all purposes functions as a sort of dating game for the participants who continually pair off into couples. The concerns of this narrative are not as transparent as the previous two I have discussed. Firstly, there is the question of imagination as a means to happiness, the act of retreating into one’s intellect to escape the pain of reality. This concept is epitomized by the character Elisabeth (Sabine Azema), who, having recently lost both of her parents and a lover of two years, retreats into the romantic fantasies of a young girl. She directs these imaginative fantasies first onto Robert (Pierre Arditi) and then Walter Guarini (Vittorio Gassman). In the end, she selects Walter as the manifestation of her romantic delusions, primarily because of his romantic nature, though that has already been proven to be nothing more than a means to an end for him.

the portion of the film set in contemporary France

the portion of the film set in contemporary France

            Elisabeth is at the center of another ideology; is it acceptable to give a physical life to one’s imagined happiness? This concept is first breached when she presents a model, much as Forbek did, of her student’s idea of an ideal school, which is as much a theme park as it is a museum. In her presentation of this model, Elisabeth sings of love, freedom, and individual growth. The conference reacts in pandemonium, chastising Elisabeth and arguing that by granting a physical reality to something imagined, imagination stifles, falters, and ceases. This counter argument cuts to the heart of Elisabeth’s romantic projections onto Walter as well as the career dilemma of Robert, who decides after Elisabeth’s presentation to quit being a teacher and become a clown. For like Elisabeth, Robert, having realized his imagined happiness as a teacher, has become unhappy (though in Elisabeth’s case she presumably drifts from long term relationship to another).

            Wish fulfillment and the means be which it is achieved provide the fundamental thesis of the contemporary narrative of La vie est un roman. Resnais makes it clear that within a society it is impossible for the collective whole to find happiness, just as it isn’t always possible for one to be happy without others paying a price, even if it be a small one. For Resnais, happiness is a limited experience, restricted to only a few moments. But it is clear that in Resnais’ mind, these moments comprise a majority of who one is and in what direction one takes one’s life. It’s interesting, in terms of a sociological context, that at the time Alain Resnais made La vie est un roman France had entered into a new age of political conservatives. Resnais’ desire to make this film seems to be out of a desire to navigate a direction away from oppressive politics and the anonymity of popular conformity. Likewise, Resnais’ films had become widely criticized for not being optimistic enough or too opaque by many French film critics, indicating the kind of reception such ideas were to receive in France at the time. Regardless, in terms of style and content, La vie est un roman remains one of the most optimistic and escapist films in the long career of the late Alain Resnais.

-Robert Curry

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Define David Lynch

            Currently, Philadelphia is immersed in the art and films of David Lynch. PAFA and the Prince Music Theatre are both host to career spanning retrospectives that demonstrate not only Lynch’s outstanding gifts as a visual artist but also his versatility. Lynch’s fine art varies from sculpture to collage to painting; each medium touched by his unique sensibilities and interests, just as his films are. Where Lynch’s fine art is manifest in a variety of mediums, his film work spans a number of genres, though this aspect of his filmography seems, to me at least, to be generally under played by both critics and fans alike.

Lynch

Lynch on the set of Twin Peaks

            Today, David Lynch’s most popular works are Twin Peaks (1990-91), followed by Blue Velvet (1986), Mulholland Drive (2001) and The Elephant Man (1980). Of these titles, Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive are genre pictures; thrillers to be exact. Lynch has manipulated the thriller genre to explore themes that are not conventionally associated with thrillers, thereby making the films both deeply personal and to an extent less accessible than his other films. The popularity of Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive is due largely to their Academy Award nominations and high critical profile. Whereas Twin Peaks found a new legion of fans via the popularity of its DVD box set on web based social media, thusly canonizing the short lived show as a staple of hipster culture. The Elephant Man is Lynch’s most mainstream drama, adhering to the popular mechanisms of the filmic biography. What makes The Elephant Man distinctly the work of Lynch despite these genre mechanisms is the cinematography by Freddie Francis coupled with the sound designs of Alan Splet, which in conjunction recall Lynch’s first feature Eraserhead (1977).

            Eraserhead is the first of two films by Lynch that can only be categorized as personal filmmaking, the second being Inland Empire (2006), since not only are they so heavily indebted to the visual palette of his fine art, but because their worlds are so insular, as if Lynch has captured images from his subconscious onto film. In contrast to Wild At Heart (1990) or Lost Highway (1997), two films completely concerned with narrative function, Eraserhead and Inland Empire evidently function in a totally different vein of the cinematographic langue. In an even starker contrast to these two avant-garde epics is Lynch’s family film The Straight Story (1999), released by Disney.

Lynch & Montgomery

Lynch reviews lyrics with Jocelyn Montgomery in the studio

            It’s clear that Lynch fits Andrew Sarris’ model of auteurism, but the diversity of these works, without even bringing Dune (1984) into the argument, is a testament to a kind of fluency of the cinematic language that one typically reserves for Howard Hawks or Fritz Lang. Like the giants of the studio era, Lynch has the uncanny ability to successfully make a genre film whilst imprinting the film with his own identity. It’s doing David Lynch a disservice to categorize his work as a filmmaker, be it avant-garde, experimental or surreal. Lynch is exclusively none of these things. Yet more and more audiences are pigeonholing him as one thing or another. Why not simply call David Lynch a filmmaker or an artist?

-Robert Curry

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Supply & Demand In The American Cinema

            It’s widely known, just as it is widely reported, that the primary motivation of any financial endeavor is profit, and such is the case with Hollywood. Films of a certain cost are designed to recoup their expense not only from ticket sales, but also by franchising into other markets. Independence Day (1996) had toys, video games, and books, following a model popularized by George Lucas, who may have learned a thing or two from Disney’s Davy Crockett: King Of The Wild Frontier (1955). But these tie-ins and franchises have become so prevalent in our culture today that they go by almost unnoticed, and the effects these marketing strategies, and Hollywood’s approach to the cinema as a whole, are rarely analyzed for their effects outside of the market place.

The fathers of the blockbuster on the set of Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom.

The fathers of the blockbuster on the set of Indiana Jones & The Temple Of Doom.

            If one compares the cinema to other forms of art such as painting, one finds that the cinema is severely lacking in regional dialects or aesthetics. There has been, since the advent of the blockbuster, a unifying series of styles that have come in and out of vogue, essentially restricting audiences’ filmic literacy to these accepted aesthetics. These aesthetics themselves have found prevalence, and have therefore become stylish trends because of their marketability, due to the management of film studios and distributors as corporations and not curators of art. When audiences reacted positively to Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998), a slew of films were made that resembled that film in some way. Similarly, Miramax’s acquisition of In My Left Foot (1989) resulted directly in the acquisition of In The Name Of The Father (1993). Both instances represent this trend in American cinema explicitly. This is not entirely new, but as the internet spreads positive criticism of once hard to find films like Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (1970), why are so many movie goers allowing Hollywood to dictate which films are imported to this country?

            The Criterion Collection released a box set earlier this year that was curated by Martin Scorsese and represented the first instance that many of the films contained within were available in this country. Each film represents a unique cinematic voice indigenous to a world beyond our borders. This is nationalist or regionalist cinema, one a smaller portion contained within the other. Such imported expressions are almost verboten in the American theatrical market because their ability to fill seats or spark a franchise is as uncertain as it is untested. These circumstances are a testament to the ignorance of the American moviegoer, and perhaps every moviegoer in the Western World.

A once obscure Czech film has found a mainstream following.

A once obscure Czech film has found a mainstream following.

            Regional cinema is all around us. Filmmakers toil unrecognized in every corner of the world, yet their work is lost to the general public because of an inability to meet a marketing quota. Online streaming and distribution offer an array of options, but the industry is still primarily focused on the festival circuit. Like all businesses Hollywood and American film distributors will only meet supply with demand. As an audience the American public must therefore demand that foreign regionalist films and even domestic regionalist films find wide spread theatrical distribution.

-Robert Curry

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Style For The Sake Of Style

It’s been years since Wes Anderson transcended the cult status of his earlier films. Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1998) offered a highly stylized, if not completely unreal, suggestion of what was to come. Anderson’s first foray into the realm of high style, and a break from any tangible means of reconciliation with our own reality, occurred with the masterful choreographed and acted The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). The Royal Tenenbaums took as its structure the novel, and would plant the costumes, design, and Whit Stillman-esque dialogue of the film firmly behind the guise of the novel’s artifice. In Anderson’s follow up picture (co-written by Noah Baumbach), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004), the highly stylized nature of the film was again made an aesthetic necessity because of the nature of the film’s satire; a campy parody of the wildlife documentarians of the 1970s.
The Grand Budapest Hotel
Anderson’s subsequent films pursue the kind of “trademark” style that was first suggested in Rushmore, but without the aesthetic justification of these earlier films. That is to say that highly artificial or stylized films aren’t necessarily without worth, just that their style must be motivated either aesthetically or out of narrative necessity. Anderson runs into trouble because he has constructed a singularly codified means of cinematic expression that relies heavily on the fact that the audiences who saw Rushmore or Bottle Rocket have indeed returned to see more of the same and that the number of these devotees has grown.

The fans of these films are not making matters any easier. Their devotion to Anderson and his “trademark” style have become a means of determining the worth of those with whom they interact. Their use of Anderson’s films as a sociological acid test inhibits the growth of the films themselves it would seem; requiring that Anderson continue to make more of the same. Sadly, it is only recently that critics have begun to cite this problem with Anderson’s films; he is indeed just making more of the same.

Consider for a moment The Grand Budapest Hotel (2013). This film, like The Royal Tenenbaums, relies on a literary structure [albeit in the form of a memoir of a confession that deliberately references Milos Forman’s Amadeus (1984)] and therefore in turn upon a voice-over narration that makes any meaningful character development redundant. What I mean is that the narration provides the viewer with the kinds of character details that another filmmaker would imbue into the scenes and performances, thus making anything short of simple caricature negligible.

Anderson goes further, codifying these caricatures by casting performers who he has worked with before in roles that are painfully similar to their roles in his previous films, relegating such actors as Bill Murray, Willem Defoe, Jason Schwartzman, Jeff Goldblum, Edward Norton, Owen Wilson, Adrian Brody, etc., to be nothing more than basic signifiers. And what they signify is an archetype indigenous to Anderson’s prior films, thus making it a necessity to enjoy the film that one be as familiar with the director’s previous works as possible.

In terms of narrative convention, The Grand Budapest Hotel barrows heavily elements from such classic post-WWII European thrillers as Ten Little Indians (1965), and the numerous film adaptations of the works of Graham Greene. Anderson seems disinterested in analyzing the devices and conventions of this pseudo-sub genre, preferring to employ them to further codify his film with familiar narrative arcs.

This leaves only one redeemable quality of The Grand Budapest Hotel; style. But it is style for style’s sake. There is no significant expression or idea behind the film other than to push a familiar style to new limits. Which, if one ignores the inherent ramifications of such an errand, becomes an effort of very little merit and almost no possible effect.

-Robert Curry

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Dušan Makavejev’s The Coca-Cola Kid

Eric Roberts as The Coca-Cola Kid

Eric Roberts as The Coca-Cola Kid

            Dušan Makavejev has acquired a reputation, as a result of his most critically acknowledged film WR: Mysteries Of The Organism (1971), for being a political satirist of the highest order in the cinema. It’s strange that such a reputation is founded primarily on one film, since most of his earlier work is only now becoming available. Dušan Makavejev’s earlier films, which conform to the Yugoslavian Black Wave of the sixties, are equally scathing depictions of the Soviet political machine. Innocence Unprotected (1968), Dušan Makavejev’s experimental exercise in filmic reflexivity, epitomizes the concerns of both WR: Mysteries Of The Organism and his Canadian production Sweet Movie (1974), whilst simultaneously pointing toward the sociological concerns with regards to human sexuality that made his two most popular features so controversial at the time of their initial release.

            Working within the Black Wave movement, Dušan Makavejev established a correlation between human sexuality and political policy that always remained intrinsically Serbian and therefore anti-Soviet. Logically, his films moved away from such thematic material and began to approach other political entities with his unique brand of satirism once he left Yugoslavia. Sweet Movie was Dušan Makavejev’s first film to move away from the Black Wave, followed ten years thereafter by the Cinecom Pictures production The Coca-Cola Kid (1985), from a screenplay by Frank Moorhouse. An Australian production, The Coca-Cola Kid represents Dušan Makavejev’s most traditionally narrative film since Love Affair, or the Case Of The Missing Switchboard Operator (1968) as well as the director’s first outright criticism of American Imperialism.

            The Coca-Cola Kid follows an eccentric executive of Coca-Cola named Becker (Eric Roberts) as he attempts to bring a soft drink monopoly to Australia while pursuing a love affair with his secretary (Greta Scacchi) and being mistaken for a CIA operative. The film is littered with comically surreal images indigenous to Makavejev’s previous films such as a love scene amidst white feathers from an exploded pillow case between Scacchi and Roberts while they’re dressed in Santa Claus suits. Trademark moments like these are augmented by expositional scenes that stress the cultural barrier between Australia and the USA, as well as America’s role as an invasive force of capitalism.

Scacchi in the film's famous love scene

Scacchi in the film’s famous love scene

            Eric Roberts’ portrayal of Becker is so highly stylized that it intentionally metamorphoses into caricature rather quickly, permitting Makavejev to create an emotional distance between the audience and the character, so that Becker becomes representative of America as a whole. Albeit this summation of American culture and political policy as signified by Becker is subjectively European.

Strangely, it is Roberts’ outrageous performance that makes this film Makavejev’s most accessible film to a mainstream audience unfamiliar with his prior works. Though The Coca-Cola Kid has never achieved the cult status or infamy of either Sweet Movie or WR: Mysteries Of The Organism.

-Robert Curry

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The Nature Of Terrence Malick’s Films

Not too long ago I watched Terrence Malick’s The Tree Of Life (2011). This prompted a visitation of his film before that, The New World (2005). Though one would not suspect a traditionally narrative film to possess the same spiritual quality as a wholly philosophical film (The Tree Of Life), there was an undeniable sense of the abstract and celestial to the images of The New World.

Tree Of Life

Typically, most audiences and critics cite Andrei Tarkovsky as the master of emoting the diverse realm of the human spirit with the images in his narrative films, but I find that the same is equally true and just as prevalent in Malick’s filmography. Even The Tree Of Life resembles Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975), and not just in its unconventional structure, or in its fusion of a tangible reality with the fantastic. What’s most important to the spiritual potency in the films of Malick and Tarkovsky is the perfect hybrid of sound and image.

In most films, this marriage of technology is directed to articulating an aspect of the narrative. Walter Murch’s work on Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation (1974) is a prime example of this intent. Every sound on the audio track gives the image a sense of space in our own shared reality, lending the film’s narrative credibility. If Gene Hackman’s character lifts a toilet seat, the sound will be exaggerated, though only slightly, to suggest the weight, material, and all of the other details associated with the object and the room that it inhabits.

Contrary to this traditional approach is Terrence Malick. Malick takes what Tarkovsky has done before and pushes it further into the abstract, which in this case is the world of the human consciousness. Malick’s Days Of Heaven (1979) has the most obvious example of this tactic at work. When Linda Manz’s character enters Middle America atop of a rail car we see first her face, then what she is seeing. What she sees is a sea of grain at magic hour, a golden ocean of grass expanding as far as the eye or the camera can see. In conjunction with these images are a mix of subtle diegetic sounds, non-diegetic music, and a voice over sitting on top of the mix. This image of nature and the suggestion of a tangible world provided by the diegetic sound suggest a familiar reality. But this reality becomes an unreal and expressionistic manifestation of the interior of the character’s mind. Though this may seem like the old parlor trick of any seasoned filmmaker, Malick’s films find a new spiritual depth in such moments largely because of his genius for choosing images of nature that are powerful, other worldly and yet familiar.

It’s this familiarity that sets Malick’s work apart from that of Tarkovsky. When Tarkovsky’s films began to probe more philosophical and spiritual issues more explicitly with Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), such powerful images were manufactured in part by the genre of the films, science fiction. The Mirror along with Tarkovsky’s later films come closer to what Malick is able to achieve, though Tarkovsky never really abandoned the more conventional approach to wedding sound with image in his films.

Malick has never really changed his approach to sound, but he has found more dynamic images for his moments of spiritual contemplation. The Thin Red Line (1998) and The New World are both films dominated by the most grandiose of trees whose dominion over the frame is over whelming, though their natural beauty is never undeniable to the audience. Such elements of the natural world, when presented in this manner, become representations of complicated emotions experienced by characters within the films, though they are never verbally articulated in the film. They never really have to be.

The Thin Red Line

Once I had revisited a few of Malick’s films I took a walk. I was surprised that these moments were so potent in their representation of emotional truth that I found myself truly moved when I happened to stop and gaze at a particularly gigantic elm. This is a rare accomplishment in the cinema. Often films manage to squeeze an emotional reaction or even rarer, revelation, if the film is done well. But to experience a new means to approaching one’s understanding of what one sees and it’s ramifications as a signifier is something to be cherished.

-Robert Curry

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Boxing Helena: Pseudo Feminism

Sands and Fenn

Sands and Fenn

Jennifer Chambers Lynch’s debut feature Boxing Helena (1993) has never been a popular film. It has found some longevity among the fans of her father’s films, but has for all purposes drifted into obscurity in the wake of poor reviews that followed it’s winning of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1993. For the most part, the critics who publicly lashed Boxing Helena in 1993 did have a few valid points.

For instance, it has widely been agreed upon that the film is too dependent on the shocking nature of Dr. Cavanaugh’s (Julian Sands) amputation of Helena’s (Sherilyn Fenn) limbs as a means to control and manipulate her; making her his own Venus Di Milo. The sexual nature of this violence and of the relationship between these two characters is, in how the film is paced, made gratuitous, laboring a point that was more than evident at the beginning of the scene.

What merits a reevaluation of Boxing Helena is its approach to feminism. Lynch doesn’t follow the rule of feminist film by constructing a visual codification around a female signifier who is designed to engage the demographic of feminists. In fact, Lynch does just the opposite. She creates her scenes from the perspective of the sexually obsessive Cavanaugh, lighting and choreographing Helena’s love scenes with her boyfriend (Bill Paxton) in a manner instantly recognizable as the soft-core aesthetic of Zalman King. These subjective POV love scenes are the epitome of the male gaze, heightened to the point that the image becomes ridiculous and utterly absurd. Cavanaugh’s view of the world, as illustrated by Lynch’s camera, enables the feminist demographic to see and recognize this worldview as a perverse approximation of our own.

Note the Zalman King influence.

Note the Zalman King influence.

The motif of Cavanaugh’s voyeurism is persistent in demonstrating how the masculine demographic perceives the female form as a vehicle for sexual gratification. In turn, Boxing Helena is more concerned with how masculine audiences view women in film than with the superficial cautionary tale of sadistic chauvinism acted upon; an interpretation that remains prevalent today.

Admittedly, Lynch’s inversion of the feminist film aesthetic is just a subtext in Boxing Helena. I myself had to view the film twice before detecting what Lynch’s primary concerns were. What detracted from the film in the minds of critics in 1993 is exactly what makes any sub textual reading so difficult; the gratuitous nature of Lynch’s depictions of violence and sexuality.

-Robert Curry

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