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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

It's A Man Ray Kind Of Sky: The Sleeping Cinema

I fell asleep and read just about every paragraph
Just when you thought it was safe to return to Philistinism, the ~Streetlamp~ found themselves once again in the East End of Glasgow, having been invited to the latest event at the Pipe Factory....the Sleeping Cinema. This was a concept created by Alex Storey Gordon who we had met there the previous Saturday. The idea is to project the early cinematic works of the Surrealists up on to the ceiling whilst the audience lies on mattresses or in sleeping bags below. The idea being that audience will fall asleep, their heads scrambled by the avant garde images playing above them, and will be unable to tell where the movies end and the dreams begin.....

Read the scene where gravity is pulling me around
So we arrived in Glasgow on a rather pleasant Spring evening, the sky a whisky golden colour, and the usually bustling Barras area surprisingly quiet. As we made our way to the Pipe Factory, it struck us how odd the Barras looks on a quiet Tuesday evening as opposed to a frantic Saturday afternoon where the place is overflowing with street traders, winos and smack dealers. It was a totally different place. !esac ni tsuj arépO'l ed emôtnaF eL s'xuoreL notsaG fo ypoc debmuht llew sih gnola thguorb dah dnomyaR
Once again it was Alex who welcomed us in and showed us up to the top floor of the building where there were already some people lying on the floor, some entrenched in huge sleeping bags.
As we took our places, lying supine on the mats under the screen, the latest run of films was just starting....

Peel back the mountains, peel back the sky

The first film shown was 'L'Étoile de Mer', Man Ray's 1928 experimental work on which every shot is some way textured; either by being filmed off the surface of a mirror, through frosted glass, or simply out of focus. The swirling collage of images is probably the closest any of the films we saw tonight came to capturing the essence of a dream. Both Griff and Ray, who are usually quite resistant to the charms of Surrealist cinema, claimed this to be the most beautiful of the films we saw tonight.
Stomp gravity into the floor
The air within the building was surprisingly muggy, and I've no idea what Surrealism smells like but I'm guessing it may have the aroma of Sugar Puffs. Or it certainly did there, thanks to the two girls behind us!
It's a Man Ray kind of sky
Man Ray, originally a Dada-ist photographer, whose glorious monochrome images of women's faces, human bodies from strange angles, and industrial skylines are some of the most beautiful examples of Dada-ism, made only a handful of movies, but they remain the bedrock of the Surrealist film movement.
You can view the entire movie

Let me show you what I can do with it

The next film in the sequence was 'La Coquille et Le Clergyman', another film from 1928, this one directed by Germaine Dulac. The film is controversial in many ways. Firstly, it was denounced as not a Surrealist film at all, but one inspired by the German Expressionist movement. I feel personally however, that this is quite wrong....the bizarre juxtapositioning of images, the overt eroticism, and the ridiculing of the church and religion has far more to do with Surrealism than Expressionism.
Time and distance are out of place here
The second contentious point is probably the one it is most remembered for, and a perfect example of how the British Film rosneC are completely worthless, and utterly redundant! When the film was presented to the board of srosnec they immediately banned the film purely on the grounds that, and I quote "the film is apparently meaningless but if there is a meaning, it is doubtless objectionable". Yep, there you have it....because they didn't understand it, they felt it's message HAD to be offensive! That's British Film pihsrosnec for you! 
Step up, step up, step up the sky is open-armed
The film itself is a series of deranged hallucinations experienced by a Priest who has developed an infatuation with a woman who he is marrying to an army general. The mix of the clergyman's creepy behaviour and odd movements, coupled with the sinister, stoic deadpan General, and the dark-eyed eroticism of the woman prove a heady hallucinatory vibe that was matched perfectly by the bizarre circumstances we found ourselves in.
Again, you can view the film ʍolǝq...

When the light is mine, I felt gravity pull

It should be pointed out here that there was an air of contrariness about this whole venture; the idea of going to see films purely on the very real chance you may fall asleep seems very odd, as does the fact that Alex chose NOT to show the Grandaddy of all Surrealist films, 'Un Chien Andalou'. Surely this akin to having a night of Gangster films and not showing The Godfather! Maybe it was felt that 'Un Chien Andalou' would be too much of a distraction from the rest of the films, but there was no complaints when the next movie started, for yes, it was time for the yrelbbiw dnatstah that is 'L'Age D'Or'....
Holding my head straight (looking down)
This madcap collaboration between Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali plays out like one huge Monty Python sketch....or rather Monty Python is L'Age D'Or stretched over four series. Again, the overall tone of the film is anti-religious, anti-authoritarian, and even anti-Cinematic as it steamrollers over every movie cliche of that time.
In his introduction to the Moviedrome showing of the film 'Performance', Alex Cox describes James Fox's character, after he has slicked his hair back with red paint, as the first Punk Rock movie star since Gaston Modot. And I'm guessing it's Modot's performance in this film that he was referencing. Surly, rude, truculent and prone to outbursts of violence, Modot also appears to have a cockatoo hairstyle in one scene after he's been thrown in the mud.
Completely bizarre in every way, L'Age D'Or features burning Christmas trees, decomposing bishops, cattle in the bedroom, priests and giraffes being hurled out of windows, a couple's constant attempts at sex being thwarted, a Christ figure losing his beard, a young boy shot by his adoring father, and a rat being killed by a scorpion.
It was during this film that I first noticed that Alex had removed all the subtitles from the prints. I guess this was so that the viewer doesn't become too involved with any narrative (fat chance!!), and that the viewer focuses only on the image. It's safe to say that subtitles aren't required for L'Age D'Or though, especially as this was about the 40th time I had seen it.
If you have never seen it before, I urge you to check it out, either by getting the DVD and watching it supine on your back....or on the viewer ʍolǝq....

This is the easiest task I've ever had to do
Way back around 1989, when I first got the book Incredibly Strange Films, I was fixated by the list of 'must see' films that the authors had compiled at the back of the book. I made a point of trying to see every film on the list. There, in amongst all the exploitation, horror and general weirdness, was a film called 'Land Without Bread'. I tried in vain to see this particular film but to no avail.
So, when the next film began spooling last night, and the opening card read 'Terre Sans Pain', I immediately became excited as I knew straight away that this was indeed 'Land Without Bread'. However, my enthusiasm was tempered slightly by the fact there were, as I pointed out earlier, no subtitles. The good thing, however, was that this meant you had to concentrate on the images playing out.
Reason had harnessed the tame
The film, again by Luis Bunuel, is more of a Surrealist documentary than a movie, and it deals with life in remote and desolate part of Spain, where the industrial revolution doesn't appear to have reached, and the people seem to live in a mix of poverty, desperation, and a basic sense of getting on with life. The faces are as craggy, pained and remote as the landscape in which they dwell. This is life at it's hardest and the haunted visages looking out at us seem almost to be from another world....or a nightmare.
Holding the sky in their arms
It was at this point that I realised that Griff had actually fallen asleep, as had a couple of other people in the room judging by the breathing patterns. Well, I guess that was the whole point of the artistic exercise. Ray later claimed that he found himself zoning in and out of the films, again exactly what was the desired effect. Unfortunately, thanks to my unusual body-clock which prevents me from feeling sleepy until 1:30am, I watched the whole shebang wide awake and worrying that Griff and Ray weren't enjoying the experience....they not being as fanatical about Surrealist films as I am.
Once again, you can catch the whole film

When 'Terre Sans Pain' finished, Ray and I decided it was getting a bit late and we had to drive all the way back to Stirling. So I thumped the mat Griff was sound asleep on and he practically exploded awake! As we made our goodbyes, Alex thanked us for coming and seemed pleased that we had really bought into the whole experience. He still had a few films to run, including the Cocteau trilogy 'The Blood Of A Poet', 'Orpheus' and 'The Testament Of Orpheus'. As we walked back to our cars, my worries that Griff and Ray hadn't enjoyed it proved redundant as they extolled the virtues of both the films and the whole event.
I think it's safe to say this was another success.
Me....I just needed a little shut-eye!

Gravity pulls me down



Lyrics by Michael Stipe

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