Monday, January 14, 2008

My Salon at Marienbad

Despite growing up in the often less-than-progressive Queen cities of Cincinnati and Charlotte, I became fascinated with surrealism at a very young age thanks in large part to my grandfather Big Bill's collection of Serriers. Parisian surrealist painter Jean-Pierre Serrier (1934-1989) never became a household name alongside contemporaries (and strong influences) like Dali and Magritte, but his work has always had a firm grip on my imagination.

"Now go out and do my bidding!" I would think.

Big Bill not only collected Serriers, but commissioned the artist to create corporate art for his apparel company Velva Sheen. My impressionable mind (then and now) was extremely impressed that my Dad and Grandfather worked for a company represented on canvas by a horde of levitating men in bowler hats with vacant black eyesockets.

Serrier led me to a lifelong love of Magritte and, I suppose, explains to some extent the explosive reaction I had in college the first time I saw director Alain Resnais and screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet's 1961 masterpiece LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD. Long story short, I saw in MARIENBAD all my beloved cold, fascinating, inward-looking surrealist images sprung to life.

Well, sort of. "Frozen in death" may (or may not) be more accurate than "sprung to life" from my point of view, but you can (hopefully) see what I'm trying to say.

Only the shadows know

Because my VHS copy of the film is now collecting spiderwebs with the rest of my remaining tapes, I hadn't thought of the film in a while until yesterday's New York Times article "Marienbad Returns, Unsettling as Ever" written by Mark Harris. The article not only sheds some light on Marienbad's controversial, contentious and surprisingly successful initial run in New York, but also made a personal connection that was so obvious that I never once considered it.

But the movie’s nightmarishly looping, repetitive semi-narrative, drenched in incantatory voice-over and toxically discordant organ music, is as disturbing as ever and retains its power to frustrate anybody who hopes to shake loose some answers after 93 minutes. The people who walked out (literally) of “Inland Empire,” David Lynch’s “Marienbad”-influenced 2006 film, saying “What was that all about?” will find similar though more elegantly concise cause for discomfort here.

The nonlinear, schizophrenic dream-logic elements in Lynch's work (particularly TWIN PEAKS, LOST HIGHWAY, MULHOLLAND DRIVE and INLAND EMPIRE) that I find so wonderfully unsettling are a direct descendant of MARIENBAD's haunted, unsolvable psychotropic puzzle.

This flyer for a 2001 deejay gig of mine "borrowed" from Mr. Magritte

As virtually anyone who stayed up late with me at one of my 1990s bachelor pads will attest, one of my favorite audio-visual background combinations was whatever beat- and loop-driven electronic music I was into and a muted MARIENBAD playing on the set.

How I wished I could spend some time wandering the grounds and playing the matchstick game at Marienbad.

Good times...

POSTSCRIPT: In surfing around and sampling the plethora of online discussions of MARIENBAD (yes, work was slow today), I came across one from author Thomas Beltzer that was particularly excellent here. This pullquote speaks to me suh-in' fierce:

In the dark of the theater all of our wishes are fulfilled. However, despite our materiality and the ephemeral flickering of illusion before us, there in the dark we feel ourselves to be mere ghosts, lesser beings in the presence of screen grandeur. We know we matter less as real brings than the fictional beings before us.


Matthew Hennessey said...

Well, Word Playa, you finally directed a big grapefruit my way. I must confess to having spent many trance filled nights in bachelor pads with your name on the door. Don't recall the films on the TV, although I do recall MANY Posadas wearing MANY rings. Which has come to seem surreal, looking back on it.

Just about the most surreal thing that ever happened to me, by the way, revolved around a Latin King gang-mobile, an impulsive tennis ball tossed from a moving car and a somewhat bewildered (though well-placed) policeman.

Put that in your blacked-out eye socket and smoke it.

Mr. Word Player said...

Ah yes, I remember it well. Four for tennis, two pitchers afterwards at Shakey's on Santa Monica Blvd., one errant throw out the window heading up on Beachwood Dr., me thinking I was gonna get a severe beatdown, and yes, a parked squad car whose placement just up the road seemed nothing short of divine intervention.

Good times.