Nov 11, 2019

De Palma

Unlike superlatively soulless anti-poets-cum-pop-artists like Quentin Tarantino and prosaically pretentious pseudo-arthouse posers like Darren Aronofsky, who I will always loathe with an unrivaled passion, Brian De Palma (Dressed to Kill, Scarface)—a virtual deracinated wop Hitchcock, albeit even more materialistic and pathologically-inclined—is a filmmaker that I used to really, really hate but have somewhat warmed up to over the years, in part because I look at him and his oeuvre from a quite different perspective than when I initially judged his work. Indeed, when comparing De Palma to great cinematic artists like Ingmar Bergman and Carl Theodor Dreyer or truly subversive auteurs like Fassbinder and Pasolini, his films seem like shallow exercises in masturbatory technical aptitude and excess-ridden escapism, but when one looks at him like his hero Alfred Hitchcock (who, not surprisingly, came from an engineering background that involved, “mechanics, electricity, acoustics, and navigation”) as a sort of hyper rational scientific and mathematical-minded nerd of sorts as opposed to an intuitive artist or poet (in fact, De Palma first studied Physics, Math, and Russian in college), his films can be appreciated as sort of insanely immaculately stylized sleaze and the masterful expressions of a corpse-cold megalomaniacal mind; or, in short, the diseased Faustian male mind of modernity. In short, De Palma is a sort of ‘tyrannical technical auteur’ with the virtual mind of an Aspergery surgeon (which was his much resented father’s trade) that somewhat curiously got involved in the art of cinema, yet an auteur nonetheless as his entire body of work is riddled with the same obsessive themes/tropes (e.g. perverted voyeurs, slutty/bitchy blondes, antisocial antiheroes, political conspiracy/corruption, etc.) that one would expect from an artist with his own distinct Weltanschauung

 While De Palma still makes films, he is clearly well past his prime and has now become, not unlike his American New Wave/New Hollywood buddies like Peter Bogdanovich and especially Martin Scorsese, a sort of prematurely enshrined cinematic hero and legend among young filmmakers that fetishize that era (Without question, out of all the modern young filmmakers that are obsessed with this period, Paul Thomas Anderson, who is like the cinematic broad of Hal Ashby and Robert Altman, has been the most successful in in terms of capturing its spirit). Undoubtedly, probably the greatest example of this new De Palma hero worship is the hardly-popular documentary De Palma (2015) co-directed by fellow mischling filmmakers Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow where the eponymous auteur gets in VH1 Behind the Music mode and summarizes his entire career in a fairly candid and vaguely personalized fashion that emphasizes his professional highs and lows (yet mostly ignores his failed marriages, children, etc.). Just as Bogdanovich once did the same by promoting the work of older cinematic heroes like Orson Welles and John Ford, Baumbach followed in this tradition by not only producing the De Palma doc but also co-producing (with fellow hipster humorist Wes Anderson) the mostly mediocre screwball comedy She's Funny That Way (2014). Rather unfortunately, quite unlike Bogdanovich, who certainly paid his dues in terms of cinematic research, these younger hipster filmmakers seem to be way less literate and cultivated than their filmic forefathers so instead of getting something like the classic film text Hitchcock/Truffaut (1966) by François Truffaut (which, incidentally, acted as the subject of a 2015 documentary of the same name directed by Kent Jones), we get a sort of less involved documentary equivalent where the filmmaker is never challenged but instead offers a mostly chronological summary of his failures and successes while (rightly) condemning the corrupt industry that oftentimes failed him as a filmmaker. Indeed, as De Palma states in the doc, “The Hollywood system we work in, it does nothing but destroy you. There’s nothing good about it in terms of creativity. So, you’re battling a very difficult system, and all the values of that system are the opposite of to what goes into making original, good movies.” Starting in the underground as someone influenced by everything from static Warhol trash to Michelangelo Antonioni's existential melodramas and learning the trade by making propaganda for the NAACP and amateur shorts for underground film festivals, De Palma's life has certainly been one long strange cinematic journey so it is not surprising that Baumbach and Paltrow's 107-minute doc feels like the CliffsNotes version of his career.

 Aside from a couple exceptions, including Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972) and the apparently-uneven commercial sci-fi-horror-thriller The Fury (1978), I am very familiar with De Palma’s oeuvre and even went to the effort of watching his endearingly crude experimental cinephiliac short Woton's Wake (1962), formative meta-horror feature Murder a la Mod (1968), and ‘avant-garde’ split-screen doc Dionysus in '69 (1970), so I am very well aware that the auteur has a big veiny pulsating hard-on for Hitchcock and, to a lesser extent, Jean-Luc Godard. In fact, De Palma’s glaring flaunting of these influences is one of the reasons that I initially found his films be so outstandingly annoying, as I may be a cinephile but it is hard for me to respect a filmmaker that knows a lot about cinema but very little bit about real-life (not to mention, culture, philosophy, etc.). Yet, as the documentary, which rather fittingly begins with footage from Vertigo, reveals, De Palma’s personality is indubitably intertwined in his work as he is, not unlike a character from one of his many films, a voyeuristic pervert of sorts that not only played peeping tom on his philandering father, but also broke into his padre’s office to get photographic evidence of these traumatic extramarital excursions (not surprisingly, as he alludes to in the doc, De Palma's is a mommy's boy). While he does not say it outright, De Palma recognizes he is an exceedingly emotionless prick that, due to circumstances, was forced by circumstance to develop a fighting spirit, or as he explains in a relatively cold and collected fashion, “I lived in a family full of these incredible egotists who seemed to be very insensitive about the kind of damage they were doing to each other and my middle brother is very sensitive. I don’t feel that he was powerful enough to stand up to these forces. I used to protect him all the time. He doesn’t have the kind of combativeness that I have. So, it would be like this little kid trying to say, ‘Stop shouting, it’s not his fault.’ And nobody would pay any attention to me and I was basically ineffective, and I became very tough because of that.” Indeed, while De Palma did not get the opportunity to cut up human flesh like his father, he got to cinematically simulate it many times in a highly sensationalized fashion and ultimately project such unsavory fantasies to millions of people from around the world via his fucked films. 

 In the doc, De Palma makes it quite clear that he was big on babes from an early age and was prone to do stupid things to impress them, including quite characteristically secretly filming an all-female sex ed class. Naturally, the auteur would eventually use his success as a filmmaker to become a pussy-magnet and this led to three curiously short-lived failed marriages, including his first (and longest) marriage to Dressed to Kill (1980) and Blow Out (1981) star Nancy Allen (who undoubtedly owes the best roles of her career to De Palma). Not exactly the handsomest or most kindhearted of bourgeois goombah chaps, it is not easy to see why it might be somewhat hard for De Palma—a reasonably educated fellow from a well-off yet dysfunctional upper-middleclass family—to keep a dame, but there seems to be more complicated reasons, namely his obscenely obsessive workaholic loner mentality. Indeed, as the filmmaker proudly boasts in the doc, “That’s the upside of being a loner, for the most part, you can suddenly say, ‘This isn’t working.’” Somewhat surprisingly considering his dorky exterior, De Palma also reveals an alpha-male-mentality when it comes to women and work, even boasting in the doc, “People in your life can be threatened by your intense concentration, your complete immersion in what you’re doing. My true wife is my movie, not you.” Of course, this also explains De Palma’s sheer and utter lack of a knack for the truly romantic despite his flagrant obsession for fine (unclad) female flesh. In that sense, De Palma’s films are about as sexually mature as the sort of slasher trash that he wonderfully parodies in a Psycho-esque fashion at the beginning of Blow Out. Undoubtedly, it is also fitting that De Palma’s failed Nicholas Cage vehicle Snake Eyes (1998) concludes on a question mark as far as the semi-sleazy antihero Rick Santoro’s romantic interests are concerned. While De Palma might be a sometimes obnoxiously formulaic filmmaker, he’s also somewhat of a realist and cynic that knows nothing in life is guaranteed, especially where love is concerned. 

 As his incredibly uneven Godardian comedy Greetings (1968) reveals in a rather obnoxious fashion, De Palma is a shameless draft-dodger and he even goes so far as to detail his experiences in a self-satisfied manner in the doc, remarking with a certain sickening degree of bourgeois chutzpah, “I mean, if you wanted to stay out of the war, and you were a middle-class kid, you could figure out a way to do it. I finally had to go in and I had a letter from a doctor. I took everything to make me allergic, so I could hardly breathe. I was up all night and I was running around, wheezing. They took me right to the psychiatrist. I had to dead stare right at his forehead and talked about my homosexual feelings. I was a communist. I was a homosexual. I was crazy. And I think with my letter from my doctor, that got me out.” While I can certainly see why someone would not want to fight in the Vietnam War, De Palma would go on to cinematically heap insult on injury to the young vets of his generation by directing the trying antiwar turd Casualties of War (1989) where he uses his privileged position as a famous filmmaker to depict GIs as sociopathic rapist killers of the inordinately ravenous redneck sort (and, of course, it is urban half-Hebrew Sean Penn of all putrid people portraying such a preposterous caricature). Aside from working with redundant material on a case that had already been covered almost two decades earlier in a more intriguing and subversive fashion by German auteur Michael Verhoeven’s O.K. (1970)—a film so controversial that it literally caused the end of the 1970 Berlin International Film Festival after the jury president, overrated Hollywood maverick George Stevens, demanded that the flick be removed, thereupon resulting in the resignations of the festival directors—De Palma’s Vietnam War flick is pure sensationalized shit; or, more specifically, grotesquely emotionally manipulative celluloid manure as directed by a shameless draft-dodger that actually dares to shit on men that were considerably less fortunate than him. Notably, De Palma would do almost the same exact thing with his all-the-more-insufferable digital diarrhea Redacted (2007). Aside from being audaciously aberrant agitprop of the lowest order, this positively putrid abortion demonstrates De Palma's desperation in terms of attempting to be relevant as a filmmaker as it is found-footage-feces—a popular cheap gimmick at the time it was made—where the auteur discards what he does best in terms of technical prowess.  Needless to say, Palma's war films have about as much sincerity and credibility as a serious dramatic film about child sexual abuse as directed by Roman Polanski or Woody Allen.

 Admittedly, another reason I used to have a much lower opinion of De Palma is because he responsible for directing the favorite films of wiggers, rappers, and gutter-dwelling gangsters, including Scarface (1983) and Carlito's Way (1993), henceforth making him responsible for at least inspiring some of the most savage untermenschen criminality of the past couple decades. Indeed, I can remember being in middle school during the late-1990s and noticing that seemingly every single male negro and wigger I encountered was sporting a Scarface t-shirt that was two or three sizes too big and matching saggy pants.  In fact, it took me well over another decade to ever to gain the open-mindedness to actually watch the film as I naturally associated it with the worst sort of retarded rabble. Luckily, in the documentary, the viewer discovers that De Palma—a distinguished dork that has virtually nil in common with the ghetto lumpenproletariat that the film inspired—is seemingly disgusted by this phenomenon and refused to endorse it despite the potential for monetary reward, or as he explains in regard to the ultimate legacy of Scarface, “A decade or so later, it found its audience with the hip-hop generation. Well, since I’m not a big fan of hip-hop, I knew nothing about it until people basically told me about it. Universal came to me and asked if I would approve a hip-hop soundtrack to SCARFACE, and I said absolutely not.”

Despite his seemingly lifelong philo-semitism (aside from once being married to Jewess Gale Anne Hurd and having a daughter with her, De Palma's virtual autobiographical stand-in in Greetings and its 1970 sequel Hi, Mom! is a swarthy anti-white degenerate would-be-pornographer named ‘Jon Rubin’), De Palma has mostly shied away from PC bullshit as demonstrated by the rabid anti-wop rhetoric of Sean Connery’s heroic mick cop character Jimmy Malone in The Untouchables (1987) and the various unflattering racial caricatures featured in The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), including an evil Hebraic district attorney that opportunistically uses an interracial hit-and-run case to help further his re-election. Of course, it also goes without saying that De Palma has also deeply offended various LGBT authoritarian types over the decades with his depictions of trannys and lesbians in films like Dressed to Kill and Passion (2012).  One also cannot forget that De Palma has mostly been an equal-opportunity-hater when it comes to the so-called fairer sex, as you arguably won’t find a film with a more unflattering depiction of horny high school girls than his classic Stephen King adaptation Carrie (1976). Even in his later failures like Femme Fatale (2002) and The Black Dahlia (2006), De Palma manages to seamlessly create an association between feminine beauty and sociopathy, as if femininity itself—or at least femininity in its most physically fine and statuesque form—is innately deadly and destructive, but I digress. 

 Interestingly, in an interview with Joseph Gelmis featured in the book The Film Director as Superstar (1970) conducted when De Palma was a virtual unknown, the then-young-filmmaker would confess, “Godard’s a terrific influence, of course. If I could be the American Godard, that would be great.” Of course, De Palma, who is not even in the same universe as Godard in terms of artistic and cultural literacy, would inevitably take the virtual opposite route, which he foretold at the very end of the same interview when he stated in regard to his next film, “It’s probably going to be a Hitchcockian suspense movie, which I think will be good for us. I’d like to try a change of pace and concentrate on a technical, stylistic exercise. I’m interested in things like split-screen and 3-D. I’d like to work in a different form for a while. I wouldn’t mind doing something like PSYCHO the next time, something that reprieves me from the political and moral dilemmas of our society for a while.” Needless to say, I do not think it is a coincidence that mechanical-minded De Palma ended up a successful Hollywood filmmaker and the rather mercurial Godard would eventually isolate himself into increasing esotericism that undoubtedly reached its zenith with the 8-part avant-garde video project Histoire(s) du cinéma (1988-1998). 

 While there are many criticisms that can be made against De Palma and his films, I think it is safe to say that he is Hitchcock’s greatest and most ambitious heir, as he has cleverly utilized some of Big H’s greatest tools and techniques and taken them to their natural degenerate conclusion, at least in his greatest films like Dressed to Kill.  Compared to Hitchcock's Australian disciple Richard Franklin (Patrick, Psycho II), who undoubtedly made some entertaining films despite being somewhat of a hack, De Palma seems like a great master.  While one could certainly argue that François Truffaut was the superior filmmaker, I think it is safe to say to De Palma even manages to show a greater innate affinity with his uneven Vertigo-esque Schrader-penned feature Obsession (1976) to Hitch than the French auteur did with flagrantly Hitchcock-esque The Bride Wore Black (1968). Likewise, Sisters (1973) might be an obscenely onanistic hodgepodge of hyper Hitchcockian cinematic debauchery that can be accurately described as a glorified slasher, but it still works. Thankfully, De Palma has always given credit where credit is due and has never obscured his influences, even if he probably should have had more eclectic influences.  Of course, if you're a very literal-minded math/science nerd type that does not understand poetry or art in general, Hitchcock—a virtual cinematic engineer—is probably the most apt filmmaker to steal from as his films were practically created in pre-production and storyboarded to death to the point where the English auteur apparently found the actual directing of the films to be the most boring part.

Naturally, in the doc, De Palma constantly references Hitchcock, though the most revealing moment comes when he remarks, “People talk about Hitchcock all the time, you know, being so influential.  I’ve never found too many people that followed after the Hitchcock school except for me. Here’s a guy that developed those incredible visual storytelling vocabulary, and it’s sort of going to die with him. And I was like, the one practitioner that took up the things that he pioneered and built them into different forms in a style that I was evolving. It’s like a whole modern form that he created. Having studied a lot of directors and having lived now to practically being 70, you see that your creative periods are in—most directors are in—in their 30s, their 40s, and their 50s. They, and obviously, they can go on and make another 20 movies or 10 movies, but you’ll probably only be talking about those movies they made in their 30s, their 40s, and their 50s. You know, and I’ve always thought Hitchcock was a great example, because, you know, after VERTIGO and PSYCHO, and you can talk about THE BIRDS all you want and all the movies he made after that and then of course, the critical establishment finally caught up with him and started to write about what a genius he was. Except those movies aren’t as good as the ones he made in his 30s, his 40s, and his 50s.” 

 While I have to disagree with De Palma’s assessment of Hitchcock’s oeuvre (Undoubtedly, I think Vertigo and Psycho are assuredly his greatest films), the Italian-American auteur seems to have personally found a parallel with his hero in terms of the trajectories of their filmmaking careers. In my opinion, De Palma has not directed a truly great film in well over three decades. Indeed, aside from Body Double (1984) being what I would describe as the last great truly De Palmian film, I would argue that the filmmaker’s underrated genre/gender-bending horror-musical Phantom of the Paradise (1974) is also superior to anything he has done in the past three decades. Additionally, at best, I see films like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible (1996) as not much more than expertly-crafted hack work and De Palma even more or less admits in the doc that he was chasing fame and fortune when he chose these specific highly commercial projects. While De Palma has somewhat gone back to his roots in recent years, including depicting deadly dykes in Passion and rather cynical utltra-violence and political corruption his latest Domino (2019), he seems incapable of matching his contemporary William Friedkin with a film as insanely and intoxicatingly idiosyncratic as Bug (2006) or as freshly fucked as Killer Joe (2011). In that sense, the documentary De Palma feels more like a sort of autobiographical obituary of a filmmaker than a mere career-spanning tribute. Either way, I hope I don’t live to see the day when such a film is made in honor of Noah Baumbach or his shabbos goy compatriot Wes Anderson (indeed, it is no exaggeration for me to say that De Palma is easily Baumbach’s most entertaining and least insufferable film). Compared to documentaries on European arthouse auteurs like Daniel Schmid - Le chat qui pense (2010), Mondo Lux : The Visual Universe of Werner Schroeter (2011), Roland Klick: The Heart Is a Hungry Hunter (2013), and Fassbinder: To Love Without Demands (2015), the documentary certainly feels more superficial and less arty and intimate, yet that also seems somewhat fitting considering the almost clinical filmmaking method and demeanor of its titular subject. In that sense, we should be extremely grateful that Jem Cohen did not direct the doc.  I also found it rather fitting that De Palma is a one-man-show and not plagued with the sort of prosaic puffery or pedantic pontificating that typically plagues film docs featuring actors and film historians.  I am not sure about De Palma's philosophical influences, but Thus Spoke De Palma would have certainly been a more appealing name for a doc about such a cinematically monomaniacal man.

 Say you will about deathly dry and deracinated dago De Palma—a weird wop that attended a Quaker school as opposed to a Catholic one—but he has earned his place in cinema history by creating some of the most exciting Hollywood films during the most exciting time in Hollywood history when he could have just as easily degenerated into an autistic basement-dwelling dweeb like actor-turned-auteur Keith Gordon’s character in Dressed to Kill and today be an elderly virgin that collects action figures as inspired by film franchises created by his more money-grubbing-inclined buddies George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. One must also respect De Palma’s lifelong use of split-screen and putting the technique to better use than Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey did in their playfully plodding experimental anti-epic Chelsea Girls (1966).  As to what makes a real ‘auteur,’ De Palma provides a simple yet fairly concise answer at the end of the doc when he states, “You make a certain kind of movie because that’s the way you see things. And these images keep reoccurring again and again in your movies. And that’s what makes you who you are.” As to the meaning of an uprooted guido Quaker of the spiritually vacant sort being one of the more interesting mainstream Hollywood filmmakers of his generation, Spengler certainly foresaw the future of art when he wrote, “Two centuries after Puritanism the mechanistic conception of the world stands at its zenith. It is the effective religion of the time. Even those who still thought themselves to be religious in the old sense, to be ‘believers in God,’ were only mistaking the world in which their waking-consciousness was mirroring itself. Culture is ever synonymous with religious creativeness. Every great Culture begins with a mighty theme that rises out of the pre-urban countryside, is carried through in the cities of art and intellect and closes with a finale of materialism in the world-cities.”  Undoubtedly, with his hopelessly urban fetishistic post-Christian voyeuristic gaze, De Palma has—whether he knows it or not—artistically embraced the twilight of the Occident.

 Undoubtedly, De Palma’s films represent—in their nonchalantly nihilistic depiction of sex and death and lacks of pathos despite constant depictions of human suffering—this decidedly detached modern materialism where the figurative Nietzschean ‘Death of God’ has inevitably lead to such pathetic things as spastic scopophiliac killers and bourgeois-endorsed performance art that involves negroes raping white women (e.g. the ‘Be Black, Baby’ segment from Hi, Mom!), among other things. Of course, I would argue that Mission: Impossible is the sickest of De Palma’s films as its popularity reflects the collective cultural, artistic, and spiritual bankruptcy of the majority population (whereas, despite its degeneracy, a dreary De Palma flick like Blow Out at least recognizes an innate spiritual sickness of sorts that ripples throughout society). Likewise, Vertigo feels like a deeply spiritual film when compared to the metaphysically barren landscapes associated with virtually all of De Palma’s films. While the documentary does not make the case for De Palma being a sort of hopelessly spiritually despoiled M. C. Escher of genre filmmaking (which is how I see him), it does (largely unwittingly) demonstrate that the auteur is a sad symptom of his era and his films are a symptomatic of his own sicknesses, or as the filmmaker states himself, “Most of my movies are about megalomania and guys that live in the insulated universes and the crazy things that happen within those insulated universes, which is something that continues to fascinate me.” In the age of technics, De Palma—a cold and almost creepily calculating character that seems to interpret every aspect of life as some sort of scientific experiment or technical problem to be rationally solved—is the auteur we deserve but probably don’t need, as no one deserves the horror of living in a world full of ebonics-literate troglodytes sporting size-XXXL Scarface t-shirts.  Still, there's no denying that Dressed to Kill is one of the most shamelessly stylish films ever made, not to mention a nice escapist aesthetic antidote to the tyrannical tranny terror that has recently plagued the Occident.

-Ty E

Nov 4, 2019

L'Age d'Or

A number of years ago, I had a somewhat peculiar experience after getting a blowjob on a large coastal island-cum-park. As my then-girlfriend and I were walking back to her car, a wild Spanish pony appeared out of nowhere on the path and scared the shit out of my lady friend due to the loud noise it made as it galloped by us.  In fact, her fear was so frenetically intense that it initially scared the shit out of me too, as if I had to immediately prepare to take on a homicidal killer with nil notice. Upon getting back to my girlfriend's car, I discovered between twenty and thirty tiny deer ticks crawling up my foot and sock, which were surely the consequence of the partly wooded beachside BJ. Needless to say, when my girlfriend and I finally got home, we administered full-body cavity searches on each other shortly after sharing a long warm shower. While we did not find any ticks, my girlfriend felt something on her head a couple hours later after we were lying in bed together and I soon found myself using tweezers to carefully pull off the parasitic bloodsucker. Naturally, the gf was postively pissed and took her revenge by repeatedly brutally stabbing the less than sentient Ixodidae to death in what was a genuinely sadistic rage that I will never forget.  While everything I said above really happened, I cannot help but think the story is somehow allegorical, at least after recently watching the surrealist masterpiece L'Age d'Or (1930) aka The Golden Age directed by Spanish master auteur Luis Buñuel (The Exterminating Angel, Belle de Jour) and somehow saw it as a depicting something akin to my own failed love affairs. While most people might find the film to be indistinguishable from bad gibberish of the arcanely archaic sort, I somehow found a kindred spirit lurking inside the film, as if I—a proud conservative libertine and born-again post-Yockeyite—found my soul in sync with a nearly ancient film that once caused right-wing riots against commie scum. 

 Indeed, it is hard to imagine liking a film directed by a filmmaker that was then-flirting-with-communism and that was produced by the part-Jewish mischling descendant of the great Marquis de Sade, but a lot has changed in the Occident in the nearly-90-years since the film was first released and even some leftists back then actually had balls (also, while the film’s co-writer Salvador Dalí was literally obsessed with Hitler’s testicles, Buñuel would eventually realize that commies and other related rabble are retarded). Oftentimes feeling like a romance film created by a lovelorn schizophrenic lunatic that dreams of engaging in orgies in hell with the mangled corpse of Pasolini and de Sade in the vain hope that he will finally get over his forsaken perennial lovesickness, L'Age d'Or is unequivocally a rare piece of technically-quite-antiquated celluloid iconoclasm that still has the power to offend and disturb today. A radical piece of gleefully scathing cynical romanticism where the seemingly foredoomed cultural history of the Occident is blamed for the innate impossibility of love conquering all in the spiritually moribund modern age, the film is also anti-Christian in the best sort of way by depicting Christ as a two-faced Sadean killer of hot young nubile girls and, in turn, worshiper of death and female defilement. Indeed, in the film, the protagonist is more or less cockblocked by civilization, which is indubitably one of the most audaciously absurd premises in cinema history and something that makes Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times (1936) seem like the patently prosaic expression of a posturing prole philistine, but I digress. 

 Undoubtedly, one of the reasons I loathe leftists, especially leftist activists, so much as the majority of them tend to be self-loathing hypocrites and the nadir of the very bourgeois they loathe (indeed, Judaic background aside, Marx was also a failed bourgeois, not to mention the fact that he never worked a single day in his entire life). While one could accuse Buñuel—a Spaniard from a distinguished background that, as recounted in his memoir, looked down on the poor as a youth—of such glaring hypocrisies, he never really tried to hide his roots and as he eloquently explained in his short-but-sweet memoir My Last Sigh (1982), “Like the señoritos I knew in Madrid, most surrealists came from good families; as in my case, they were bourgeois revolting against the bourgeoisie. But we all felt a certain destructive impulse, a feeling that for me has been even stronger than the creative urge. The idea of burning down a museum, for instance, has always seemed more enticing than opening of a cultural center or the inauguration of a new hospital.” While this might seem like harsh words, especially considering Buñuel, who was initially influenced by Italian Futurists like Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, was already fairly old when he wrote them, L'Age d'Or is so intoxicatingly iconoclastic and awe-inspiringly aberrantly absurd in its essence that one cannot help respect the great passion of the auteur, especially since he manages to seamlessly express such savage surrealist sentiments alongside a strangely endearing (ill-fated) love story as the bourgeoisie—and its retarded rules and customs—becomes the ultimate callous murderer of love. Indeed, as Buñuel also wrote in his memoir, “Although Dalí compared it to American films (undoubtedly from a technical point of view), he later wrote that his intentions ‘in writing the screenplay’ were to expose the shameful mechanisms of contemporary society. For me, it was a film about passion, l’amour fou, the irresistible force that thrusts two people together, and about the impossibility of their ever become one.” Speaking of love, Buñuel and Dalí, who previously demonstrated to be great collaborators on Un Chien Andalou (1929), had a major falling out after the former choked the latter’s new whore muse-cum-future-wife Gala, thus the film is mainly the brainchild of its director (according to Buñuel, only one scene, which involves a guy walking around with a rock on his head, was written by Dalí). In fact, even more than his debut film Un Chien Andalou, L'Age d'Or is like a virtual artistic manifesto where Buñuel outlines the themes, obsessions, fetishes, and visuals that would come to dominate his truly singular filmmaking career. In short, it is an imperative (albeit technically formative) work from one of the greatest and most important filmmakers of cinema history. 

 L'Age d'Or begins in a fashion that is considerably less fairytale-like than Un Chien Andalou as it is comprised of primitive vintage orthochromatic footage of scorpions doing evil scorpion things and related creature qualities that are ultimately compared to humans, including toxic aggression, ungodly survival instincts, and tendency towards the most evil forms of treachery against its own species, among other things. Just as the scorpion has “five prismatic joints” and a “sixth vesicular joint,” the film has five main segments and a savagely subversive Sadean concluding segment. As British surrealist scholar Robert L. Short noted in regard to the possible esoteric meaning of this literally quite gritty documentary opening, “The scorpion is the zodiac sign that governs the genitals and the anus. As such, it’s the symbol of sex, excrement, and death. Thus, this opening sequence introduces the ambivalent dynamic that powers our impulses of attraction and repulsion alike and officiates at the alchemical marriage of shit and gold.” Needless to say, L'Age d'Or is a film with an intrinsically ironical title as a tragicomedic romance trapped inside of a purgatorial absurdist cinematic nightmare where nothing goes right and evil, especially of the nasty Nazarene sort, triumphs in the end.   In short, aberrant avant-garde cinematic alchemy where human shit is elevated to artistic gold.

 After the scorpion doc that opens the film, a group of ornamentally dressed Catholic bishops, who certainly look more glamorous than the average meth-addled drag-queen, practically wash up onto some rocks where they soon turn into ornamentally dressed skeletons yet their dubious ‘sacrifice’ seems to be totally triumphant as they leave an indelible mark on the land as demonstrated by the fact that their martyrdom (or whatever) is soon followed by a ‘golden age’ as a large colonial entourage subsequently arrives that includes priests, military men, government whores, etc. and it is soon declared, “Upon this rock I shall build my church.” Naturally, the group of humorless bureaucrats becomes exceedingly angry when a sort of religious ceremony that they're performing is interrupted by the great ecstasy of two lovers (Gaston Modot and Lya Lys) engaged in exceedingly orgasmic mud-wrestling. At this point, the lovers—the film’s main protagonists—are separated for the first time and the rest of the main section of the film involves the man played by Modot’s strange quest to be reunited with his beauteous beloved. As the film eventually reveals via spasmodic flashback, Modot is a special agent of the so-called ‘International Goodwill Society’ and is ostensibly on a “goodwill mission” that, as described by his ‘Minister of Interior,’ is based, ”On your spirit of self-sacrifice and proven valor depend many lives. Children, women, old men. The honor of our Fatherland rests on the outcome of this noble enterprise.”

 Needless to say, lovesick Modot completely ignores his audaciously altruistic mission as he has much more important things to think about than the lives of children, namely being reunited with his lover. Hardly a humanist or lover of animals, Modot is not beneath kicking little dogs like soccer balls, senselessly stomping on beetles, and assaulting blind men, yet one finds it hard to fault such a passionate lover. Suffering from a sort of Freudianism is reverse, immediately visualizes women masturbating when encountering advertising (or as British film theorist Raymond Durgnat described, Modot “‘sees through’ the impersonal, commercialized eroticism of the posters to his anima”). As for Modot’s lover Lys, she has her own problems, including suffering the banality of her bourgeois parents, large cows invading her bed, and a magic mirror with racing clouds that seem to express her lovesick erotic longing. Of course, the two lovers are soon reunited but, like most great romances, the love affair does not last and ultimately concludes on a quite chaotic, if not downright cataclysmic, note that inspires apocalyptic dreams. 

 Using a special certificate that proves his on a certified “goodwill mission” to supposedly save millions of children and elderly people, Modot is able to finally escape from two cops that are senselessly parading him around the absurd decaying civilization “Imperial Rome”—a modern metropolis that looks nice from a bird's-eye view yet is quite brittle and decayed as revealed by the fact that buildings randomly collapse—so that he can make his way back to his lover. While never made totally clear, Modot may have once been a true idealist and humanistic do-gooder like so many naive and/or otherwise idiotic young people, but now he simply has a monomaniacal obsession with lady Lys. After his odious odyssey, Modot eventually makes his way to a large party at Lys’ family chateau where many absurd things occur, including a maid being blasted with a roaring flame and a pesky Mongoloid child being shot after daring to annoy a man while he was rolling a cigarette. Clearly infatuated with Modot and his masculine majesty, Lys can only look on in delight when the hero slaps her mother in the face for the crime of spilling a drop of wine on his rather stylish suit. Plagued by the spiritually moribund etiquette and the callously contrived civility of the ball-less bourgeoisie, Modot finds it seemingly impossible to get to Lys at the party as he is constantly approached by pestering guests attempting to make small talk with him. In what is arguably one of the most shamelessly yet touchingly romantic scenarios in all of cinema history, Modot and Lys’ eyes remain ecstatically glued to one another while being hassled by party guests as if they are the only two people in the entire world, at least in their own minds.  Unfortunately, fate has different plans for the ill-fated lovers and it does not even involve full-on fucking.

 It is only when the party guests begin congregating at a garden in preparation for a sort of makeshift Wagnerian concert that the lovers are able to finally reunite outside with some privacy near a male statue. Rather unfortunately, the reunion is only momentarily happy and very much abstractly resembles the most absurd of botched orgasms. Indeed, not long after the two begin smooching, Modot is forced to take an emergency phone call where he is berated by his boss, who subsequently commits suicide, for causing the deaths of men, women, and especially children due to his negligence.  Undoubtedly, in his eager willingness to sacrifice the lives of millions of innocent children for the sake of a love that isn't even guaranteed, Modot's behavior symbolizes the ugly emotional extremes of romantic obsession. Meanwhile, Lys, who is clearly quite horny, begins fellating the toe of the statue as if she cannot wait to mouth Modot's member. When Modot finally gets off the phone and reunites with Lys after a two minute ordeal that feels like a decade in terms of abject anticipation, the two seem incapable of properly channeling their repressed passion for one another as if their love has become necrotic. For example, Modot hallucinates that Lys is an elderly grey-haired woman and the two become very sleepy. While the couple continues to kiss as if trying to chase a bliss that just doesn't exist, they are soon rudely interrupted by a seemingly demented conductor that walks over to them with his hands gripping head like a neurotic somnambulist on acid, as if his performance of Richard Wagner's “Liebestod”—a splendid piece of music that reveals Buñuel's own monomaniacal tendencies, which are almost always characteristic of all great men, in that he used the same exact work in his previous film Un Chien Andalou—has caused him to suffer a complete mental breakdown. Immediately inexplicably spellbound by the unhinged old fart as if she suffers from serious daddy issues, Lys leaves Modot and then proceeds to embrace and French kiss the cracked conductor with a certain girlish gusto. After his love affair comes to a swift and brutally bizarre end, Modot gets his revenge against his (ex)lover by immediately going to her room where he proceeds to tears up some pillows like a tyrannical toddler and then begins hurling stuff out of the window, including a wooden plough, bishop, bishop's staff, burning Christmas tree, and giraffe statue, among other phallic items that arguably hint at a sort of spiritual castration.  At this point, Modot is probably done with love and ready embrace de Sade.

 While the film’s love affair ends on a rather erratically brutal note where the protagonist suffers soul-crushing defeat in the romance department in the most preposterously pathetic of ways, the quasi-epilogue—a virtual homage to the Marquis de Sade’s posthumously published The 120 Days of Sodom, or the School of Libertinage (1785/1904)—is a sort of allegorical final nail in the coffin of Western Civilization that begins with a long scrolling inter-title that reads: “Just as these feathers fell but a long way away…the survivors from the Château de Selliny…emerged to return to Paris. 120 days earlier, four godless and unprincipled scoundrels had, driven by their depravity, shut themselves away…to indulge in the most bestial of orgies. To them, the life of a woman mattered no more than that of a fly. They took with them eight lovely adolescent girls…to serve as victims for their criminal desires…plus four women well versed in debauchery…whose narrative skills would serve to stimulate…their already jaded appetites…whenever interest flagged.” After the pseudo-moralistic inter-title, a bearded Jesus/Duc de Blangis figure—a character that may or may not be a ‘liberated’ post-love Modot—emerges from an ominous (yet somehow goofy) gothic castle where he is followed by a couple similarly tired and debauched-looking aristocrats. When a wounded young woman, who may or may not be Modot’s ex-lover Lys, emerges from the castle, Jesus takes her back inside and assumedly murders her. In the end, Jesus loses his beard and a couple female scalps are depicted hanging from a large Christian cross as snow falls from a sky in a scenario that arguably allegorically symbolizes the twilight of romance in (post)Christian Western Civilization. 

 While Buñuel bemoaned the tragic character of love and the impossibility of two lovers becoming one, L'Age d'Or is, somewhat ironically, the artistic consequence of the auteur’s one-time collaborator-cum-friend Salvador Dalí finding his great love-cum-muse Gala and thus only playing a minor role in the film. Of course, despite his anarchic spirit, Buñuel was rather bourgeois in his romantic dealings as he courted his future wife, Jeanne Rucar Lefebvre, in a formal Aragonese manner—complete with a chaperone—and stayed together with her for nearly half-a-century for what was the rest of his life after marrying her in 1934. As noted by Hermann Hesse in Steppenwolf (1927), the artist is one of the few things that redeems the bourgeoisie and Buñuel was certainly one of the greatest masters of this form of critique, especially in regard to the modern post-religious bourgeoisie. After all, it is no coincidence that the auteur wrote in his memoir, “I’m lucky to have spent my childhood in the Middle Ages, or, as Huysmans described it, that ‘painful and exquisite’ epoch—painful in terms of its material aspects perhaps, but exquisite in its spiritual life. What a contrast to the world of today!” A man of the past that created art of the future, Buñuel was, in the sense described by Uncle Adolf's #1 fan-girl Savitri Devi in her magnum opus The Lightning and the Sun (1958), a ‘Man Against Time’ that ultimately used a destructive aesthetic power for life-affirming purposes, thereupon performing a sort of aesthetic alchemy by turning the shit that is modernity into artistic gold. Considering that L'Age d'Or caused reactionary riots and was banned from public exhibition in late-1930 after the Prefect of Police of Paris arranged to have it banned, one could certainly say that Hesse was right when he wrote that, “The bourgeois today burns as heretics and hangs as criminals those to whom he erects monuments tomorrow.” On the other hand, Buñuel—a man once associated with communist cunts and other degenerates—is now attacked by ‘bobo’ (bourgeois bohemian) leftists—undoubtedly the nadir of the slave-morality-ridden priest types that Nietzsche condemned for destroying Europa—with ad hominem oriented buzzwords like ‘misogynistic,’ ‘xenophobic,’ ‘homophobic,’ and other completely meaningless modern vile, thus confirming that his fears about the future of the Occident were not in vain as things have only gotten ten times worse in terms of their surreal stupidity and inanity. 

Undoubtedly, after recently re-watching L'Age d'Or and doing research on Buñuel, I could not help but reminded of the following excerpt from Steppenwolf: “Every age, every culture, every custom and tradition has its own character, its own weakness and its own strength, its beauties and ugliness; accepts certain sufferings as matters of course, puts up patiently with certain evils. Human life is reduced to real suffering, real hell, only when two ages, two cultures and religions overlap. A man of the Classical Age who had to live in medieval times would suffocate miserably just as a savage does in the midst of our civilization. Now there are times when a whole generation is caught in this way between two ages, two modes of life, with the consequence that it loses all power to understand itself and has no standard, no security, no simple acquiescence. Naturally, everyone does not feel this equally strongly. A nature such as Nietzsche’s had to suffer our present ills more than a generation in advance. What he had to go through alone and misunderstood, thousands suffer today.” When I watch Buñuel’s films, especially L'Age d'Or, I fell as if I am being confronted by the excremental excesses of the Occidental collective unconscious in an eccentrically esoteric form; or, the prophetic cinematic daydreams of a very real future nightmare from a mensch with the keen artistic sensitivity to foresee that which should not be seen, at least by those that still value their sanity. In that sense, it is only fitting that the film was funded by the direct descendant of de Sade who, in all his savagely sadistic degeneracy, still expressed something very real about the ‘liberal’ future to come (as a far-left degenerate aristocratic revolutionary that was an elected delegate to the National Convention during the French Revolution, de Sade also actively created that forsaken future). After all, child drag-queens, the chemical castration of children, sex changes, wiggerism, and fat rights activists are modern phenomenons that are more surreally disturbing and/or absurd than anything that you might find in a Buñuel flick. 

 Recently, I discovered that the ‘great love’ of a childhood friend of mine was recently tragically killed after a police cruiser ran her over. Notably, this girl brought great misery to my friend and everyone around them when they were together (for example, she would sneak into my parent’s home to get to my friend while they both had restraining order against each other), yet I could not help but feel a certain degree of sadness for my old comrade, as if the final lingering sense ecstasy of his l'amour fou had been finally fully extinguished for all of eternity via absurd tragedy. Even today, I cannot help but be reminded of bittersweet memories from a love affair that began nearly a decade ago, or feel an irrevocable sense of loss for a fairly recent all-too-brief romance that happened that—for better or worse—reminded me what l'amour fou feels like. If you want to experience what it feels like to be in heartsick hell and back in a film that somehow manages to unintentionally reconcile the miserably melodic lovelorn lyrical pathos of John Maus and pre-apocalyptic Occidental despair of Oswald Spengler with a certain Dirlewangerian depravity thrown in for good measure, L'Age d'Or is certainly the film to see. As to why the average spiritually neutered bourgeois would find both l'amour fou and a film like Buñuel's quite disagreeable, Hesse summed it up quite well with the words, “The bourgeois treasures nothing more highly than the self.... And so at the cost of intensity he achieves his own preservation and security. His harvest is a quiet mind which he prefers to being possessed by God, as he prefers comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to that deathly inner consuming fire.” 

-Ty E

Oct 28, 2019

That Obscure Object of Desire

Out of all the great cinematic auteur filmmakers, Spanish surrealist Luis Buñuel (Los Olvidados, Belle de Jour)—a virtual one-man-cinematic-revolution—was probably the greatest in terms of sheer longevity, eclecticism, and artistic consistency as a succulently scathingly sardonic morcillismo humorist with an intrinsic flair for the intoxicatingly (yet elegantly) iconoclastic, sensually absurd, playfully pessimistic, and merrily misanthropic. Indeed, whether it be the uniquely unforgettable eye-slicing and juxtaposition of surreal sexual sadism with Richard Wagner's “Liebestod” from his opera Tristan und Isolde in his debut Un Chien Andalou (1929), proto-Aguirre, the Wrath of God action-adventure jungle allegory of Death in the Garden (1956), preternatural depictions of race-hate in the unconventionally humanistic southern gothic The Young One (1960), simultaneously psychotic yet erotic religious allegory of Simon of the Desert (1965), or the plot-free aesthetic anarchy of his perfect penultimate film The Phantom of Liberty (1974), Buñuel—with his big brown bull-sized balls—always produced something strikingly singular that defied classification, expectation, and impressed his contemporaries, including respected figures ranging from a Hemingway-esque Hollywood maverick like John Huston to a melancholic Nordic master like Ingmar Bergman. As far as I am concerned, only Robert Bresson is comparable in terms of being able to manage to churn out subversive modernist masterpieces in the late-period of his career when he was technically already an old fart. In that sense, it was probably not a simple cope when Buñuel once declared, “Age is something that doesn't matter, unless you are a cheese.” In fact, I would argue that Buñuel’s swansong That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) aka Cet obscur objet du désir—a film that is truly like no other aside from sharing some aesthetic/thematic similarities with other Buñuel flicks—is unequivocally one of his greatest masterpieces, which is somewhat ironic when one considers it also one of his most linear and, in turn, accessible. Admittedly, unlike with a lot of Buñuel’s films, I found myself especially enthralled for somewhat personal reasons upon a recent re-watching of this singular cinematic masterpiece for the first in well over a decade, thus confirming to me that the auteur’s films only improve for viewers with age and experience. 

 Undoubtedly, watching a man put pussy on a pedestal is a putrid thing to witness and surely something that revolts both men and women alike, albeit for somewhat different reasons. While both sexes are appalled by the emasculation that comes with such groveling behavior, women are especially disgusted by it as it spells desperation and—arguably, worst of all—a sure-thing as ladies like a chase and are bored by a pathetic bastard that is ready to commit to the figurative monogamal ball and chain. In That Obscure Object of Desire, the viewer watches with oftentimes Fremdscham-inducing delight as an old mustached frog of the rather wealthy sort as portrayed by Spanish leading man Fernando Rey disposes of all self-respect and becomes an emotional wreck over a hot twat Spanish flamenco dancer as portrayed by two different actresses (Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina). Concluding in a virtually apocalyptic manner with the violent deaths of both the lovesick hero and his fiercely frigid would-be-beloved in a film set in a world plagued by an increasingly-tedious terrorist insurgency, the film also manages to express Buñuel’s lifelong obsession with linking sex and death, or as the auteur once expressed in his memoir My Last Sigh (1982), “And although I’m not sure why, I also have always felt a secret but constant link between the sexual act and death. I’ve tried to translate this inexplicable feeling into images, as in UN CHIEN ANDALOU when the man caresses the woman’s bare breasts as his face slowly changes into a death mask.” War oftentimes results in death and, as they say, love is a battlefield, but Buñuel does not depict the pangs of lovesickness in a fruity fashion as That Obscure Object of Desire presents it as the most obscenely odious of irrational obsessions; or, the most pleasantly painful path to senseless self-destruction. 

 By mere coincidence, I recently watched That Obscure Object of Desire back-to-back with Marcel L'Herbier’s singularly striking silent avant-garde feature L'Inhumaine (1924) aka The Inhuman Woman—a film that somehow manages to reconcile Expressionism with Art Deco—and could not help but notice the stark contrast between handling the central theme of a lovelorn gent going to great extremes to warm the cold cunt of a seemingly impenetrable ice queen. In L'Herbier’s aesthetic hypnotic flick, a young playboy-cum-Dr. Frankenstein not only fakes his own death to ‘impress’ his rather evil Gorgon-like opera singer love interest, but he also manages to use his pioneering techno-wizardry to bring her back from the dead in what is ultimately a rather unconventionally happy ending that almost (seemingly unintentionally) manages to mock the absurdity that comes with romantic pursuit. Not surprisingly considering the auteur behind it, That Obscure Object of Desire is nowhere near as classically romantic or heart-wrenching in terms of its depiction of the perils of all-consuming love as it is a virtual autist-garde anti-love story where the viewer begins to eventually feel contempt for both the frog protagonist and Spanish cocktease that has completely contaminated his psyche. Indeed, quite unlike L'Inhumaine, the film not only does not provide any sort of solace in the end, sort of like a ruined orgasm during self-immolation, but it is rarely, if ever, romantic, as if one of Buñuel's main objectives with the film was to completely demystify the majesty of love and romantic conquest altogether.  Undoubtedly, if that was his goal, he certainly succeeded as That Obscure Object of Desire is a virtual contra Casablanca (1942) and brazenly brilliant because of it.

 Notably, That Obscure Object of Desire is based on French lesbo-lover Pierre Louÿs’s novel La Femme et le pantin (1898) aka The Woman and the Puppet, which was previously adapted no less than four times, with Josef von Sternberg’s The Devil is a Woman (1935) starring Marlene Dietrich undoubtedly being the greatest and best known of these earlier adaptations (filmmakers Reginald Barker, Jacques de Baroncelli, and Julien Duvivier also adapted the novel). Of course, it goes without saying that Buñuel’s version is easily the most subversive and anarchistic of these adaptations.  It should also be noted that the auteur apparently previously made a failed attempt at tackling the source novel, henceforth revealing his strong commitment to the project. When asked by actor and screenwriter Tomás Pérez Turrent what interested him about Louÿs’s novel, Buñuel replied, “The idea of a man who wants to sleep with a woman and never manages to. In the book, of course, the man ends up sleeping with her. Then she tells him, ‘If you want to see me sleep with another man, come to my house tomorrow.’ The next day he went, and there she was with another man. But I was more interested in the story of an obsession that can never become a reality.” Ultimately, the film is a morbidly merry tale of male masochism and the female sadism the propels it, or as Buñuel explained in regard to what motivates the (anti)heroine’s heinous behavior, “A sadistic feeling. She takes advantage of him, she knows it’s in her best interest to keep him happy, but at the same time she hates him to death, she enjoys tormenting him.” In that sense, the film is a reminder as to why it is never a good idea to let a woman know how you really feel about them, lest you become a pathetic pawn in a grotesque gynocentric game where no gash will be smashed and all hope will be lost. Better yet, the film is also a reminder to all men that, in regard to women, one must: “abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” 

 Obsessing over any one woman, especially those that you’re not even sure you can obtain, is never good and oftentimes a glaring sign of beta-boy bitch behavior yet, as someone that finds very few women attractive, including those that are technically physically attractive (yet have the personalities of gnats), I have personally fallen into this pathetic trap. For example, I somewhat recently started a ‘romance’ with a girl that, despite all the obvious red flags and qualities that I would usually consider major ‘deal-breakers,’ I could not help but be inordinately infatuated with her to the point where I felt as in control as a negro on PCP in a titty bar. Needless to say, as my intellect informed me it would probably be from the very beginning, this erotic excursion was rather brief and cost much more (especially emotionally) than it was ultimately worth, but such is the tragedy of a tyrannical testicular trance. Still, I can thankfully say that, as someone that does not physically resemble a sort of decrepit old Super Mario like the film's protagonist, I have never been in a position that was as sexless or patently pathetic as that of the rich old fart in That Obscure Object of Desire who dedicates his life and tons of his money and energy to attempting to defile a dumb dame that repays him with nothing but sadism, indifference, and heartbreak. Personally, I wanted to slap the shit out of the protagonist, as his superlatively self-deluded campaign for cream of the crop cooch is absolutely sickening to watch in a film that deserves credit for featuring the most irksome depiction of a dude thinking with his dick in cinema history in what is ultimately one frivolous farce of a dis-romance. In short, That Obscure Object of Desire is the renegade anti-romantic-comedy par excellence and a prophetic expression of avant-garde anti-thottery. 

 That Obscure Object of Desire ‘hero’ Mathieu (Fernando Rey)—a wealthy middle-aged widow that is hardly handsome yet seems to think his wealth makes him worthy of a real-life Venus de Milo—demonstrates a special sort of hatred for a young woman at the beginning of the film when he sadistically dumps a bucket of water over her head as she attempts to board the same train he is taking from Seville, Spain to Paris, France. The woman in question is the protagonist's young (ex)girlfriend Conchita (as portrayed by both Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina) and the viewer soon discovers how Mathieu got to hate her so much in a series of flashbacks that are told to a small group of fellow travelers, including a midget psychology professor, in the same train car as him after they bear witness to his water bucket belligerence. As one can except from an old fart attempting to cultivate a clearly one-sided romance with a much younger woman that is way out of his league, Mathieu is at least partly responsible for putting himself in the pathetic position he is in as he was dumb enough to almost immediately offer virtually the entire world to Conchita soon after they initially met at a house where she was working as a friend’s maid.  Of course, Mathieu probably also felt it would not be too hard for a rich prick like himself to obtain a mere maid, but he could not have been more wrong.

Undoubtedly, Conchita’s behavior almost immediately raises a number of glaring red flags, including her patently preposterous claim that she is an 18-year-old virgin despite looking at least decade older and her naturally slutty behavior (among other things, she's a stripper with a loyal following of male friends). Additionally, aside from the fact that her father committed suicide under seemingly dubious circumstances, Conchita’s mother (María Asquerino), who Mathieu almost immediately begins financially supporting, is a somewhat nutty old bitch who, owing to being once-rich, refuses to work, bragging, “I’d rather kiss church steps then sweep doorsteps. My daughter helps me but I don’t want her to work. Because of the bad influences.” Notably, Conchita is similarly worthless as a woman as revealed by the fact that she proudly boasts after admitting she refuses to give her dubious virginity to Mathieu, “I don’t like sewing. I can’t cook.” On top of everything else, Conchita is friends with a group of handsome young twink criminals that rob Mathieu, yet the protagonist seems completely blind to the profound dubiousness of this. In short, aside from being bloated with all sort of personal and emotional baggage, Conchita has nothing to offer aside from her statuesque beauty yet Mathieu just cannot get over her despite not being able to get a little carnal taste of said beauty in a sad scenario that is akin to being friend-zoned by a Maenad. 

 As the film progresses, Mathieu’s patience is increasingly tested as he chases after Conchita while trying in vain to penetrate her main vein as a terrorist insurgency brings chaos to Europe in a backdrop that somewhat parallels the protagonist’s seemingly perennial failed (anti)romance. Although Conchita eventually allows Mathieu to touch her titties, she adamantly refuses to give up her much prized virginity as if it is the only thing she really has to offer (it is!). Eventually, Mathieu gets so fed up with Conchita’s callous cockteasing that he attempts to penetrate her by force, but ultimately fails after spending no less than 15 minutes attempting to takeoff a canvas corset that acts as a virtual chastity belt. On top of everything else, Conchita derives a sort of sadistic glee by cuckolding Mathieu, including sneaking young handsome males into her room, dancing naked for Japanese tourists, and even forcing the protagonist to watch as she fucks a male friend (though she later tries to play off such behavior as a ‘joke’ and claims the male friend was actually a homosexual). Needless to say, Mathieu completely loses it after being so ruthlessly cucked and beats her to a bloody pulp, thus inspiring the heroine to questionably proclaim as blood drips from her face, “Now I know you love me. Mateo, I’m still a virgin.” In the end, after telling his entire savagely sordid story to his rather attentive traveling companions, Mathieu still cannot help but desire Conchita despite the fact she pays him back by dumping a bucket of water onto his head. Luckily, the rancid romance comes to a swift explosive end when the two are killed in a terrorist explosion at a mall shortly after mutually admiring a seamstress that is symbolically mending a bloody nightgown. 

 Although a virtual cipher of a character, the titular twat of That Obscure Object of Desire also happens to be one of the most intensely intriguing love interests of cinema history as a sort of archetypical Madonna–whore creature that embodies qualities of both the naïve virgin and savage slut in the most insufferable ways (hence the incidental brilliance of utilizing two actresses to play one character), as if it was Buñuel’s goal to create the greatest she-beast—a cravenly cruel character-without-character (like so many women) that basks in inducing male anxieties and lovelorn lunacy, sort of like a young child slowly killing a fly—in cinema history. In that sense, it almost comes as a great cathartic relief when the protagonist and his love object are blown up in the end, as if the tension created by their emotionally terroristic disharmonious romance could only conjure up such a cataclysmic scenario. Despite the glaring pulchritude of the two lead female actresses, their beauty is almost completely extinguished in the viewer's mind by the end of the film, as the character embodies some of the most repugnant negative female stereotypes, including jealousy, pettiness, sadism, shallowness, narcissism, histrionics, stupidity, hypocrisy, projection, unreliability, flakiness, and deceptiveness, among other things. While an absurdist masterwork of cinema that is packed with plenty of playful dark humor, the film’s heroine is ultimately scarier than the greatest of female villains of both cinema and television history, including Elsa ‘Rosalie’ Bannister of The Lady from Shanghai (1947), Nurse Ratched of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), Catherine Tramell of Basic Instinct (1992), Alexandra of Alexandra's Project (2003), and Cersei Lannister of Game of Thrones (2011–2019), among countless other examples.  Undoubtedly, only fellow Mediterranean Marco Ferreri (The Seed of Man, Dillinger Is Dead) has come anywhere near to Buñuel in terms of exquisitely yet brutally depicting the unflattering character of European women in the age of Occidental decline.

 Rather humorously, despite being a wealthy widow that should be worldlier when it comes to the wayward ways of women, the film’s protagonist Mathieu seems like a pussy-novice compared to his lowly servant Martin (André Weber) who declares when asked by his boss about the so-called fairer sex, “I have a friend who loves women very much, but he claims they’re sacks of excrement.” In a humorous misquote of Nietzsche, Martin also declares after examining the room where Mathieu has just brutalized Conchita, “If you go with women, carry a big stick.” In fact, the Nietzsche quote in question is from Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for All and None (1883) and actually reads: “You go to women? Do not forget the whip!” Rather revealingly, it is only when Mathieu uses his figurative whip and beats Conchita does she express any sort of love to the protagonist in what can certainly be read as a classic display of female masochism (though one certainly doubts the sincerity of her rather conveniently timed declaration of love). Either way, there is no doubt that Mathieu was too ‘terminally nice’ to Conchita to the point where the viewer could not help but feel a certain deep-seated disgust for him, especially after multiple viewings of the film. Going back to Nietzsche, he also once wrote, “Ah, women. They make the highs higher and the lows more frequent.” Of course, the tragedy of Mathieu’s character is that, not unlike Nietzsche with his supposed great love Lou Andreas-Salomé, he does not really even get to experience any sort of high and thus comes off as the lowest of men despite his wealth and social prestige, thereupon revealing the true innate chaotic destructive power of women. 

 While Nietzsche is probably not the best guy to seek for advice on women, he probably had a point when he wrote, “Everything in woman is a riddle, and everything in woman has one solution – namely, pregnancy,” hence the proliferation of uniquely unhappy and prematurely-aged spinsters and wine aunts of the sexually used-up sort that now pollute the Occidental world and promote such socially deleterious things as intersectional feminism, xenophilia and third world alien ‘refugees,’ child drag-queens, government-subsidized abortion-on-demand, Holocaustianity, general neo-commie horseshit, and Marvel movies, among various other forms of garbage that appeals to infertile ressentiment-ridden broads that are in total denial that they wasted their lives on the false song of sexual liberation. While one could utilize Freudian psychobabble to argue that Conchita is a symbol of the male libidinal drive and the continual frustration of said drive naturally causes the explosion in the end, That Obscure Object of Desire proves to be a more enriching experience when viewed today as a cautionary tale about putting modern-day post-feminist pussy on a pedestal. Despite the film’s rather unflattering depiction of women, it apparently offended the sensitive sensibilities of gay terrorist extremists in a rare instance of ‘life-imitating-art,’ or as Buñuel—a man that, incidentally, practiced fag-bashing in his youth—explained in his autobiography, “Ironically, a bomb exploded on October 16, 1977, in the Ridge Theatre in San Francisco, where the movie was being shown; and during the confusion that followed, four reels were stolen and the walls covered with graffiti like, ‘This time you’ve gone too far!’ There was some evidence to suggest that the attack was engineered by a group of homosexuals, and although those of this persuasion didn’t much like the film, I’ve never been able to figure out why.” 

 Interestingly, despite concluding his career with a film as radically anti-romantic as That Obscure Object of Desire, Buñuel—a proud lapsed Catholic atheist and iconoclast that seemed to believe in nothing aside from the power of biting humor aimed at all form of authority (including the commies he once sided with in his youth)—was apparently a strong believer in not only love, but sacrificial love, as indicated by his words, “I would willingly sacrifice my liberty to love. I have already done so . . . I would sacrifice a cause to love, but each situation would have to be considered separately.” Indeed, as British film critic Raymond Durgnat noted in his book Luis Buñuel (1968), “He declared that he would renounce being the person he could be, if that were the cost of being sure of his love. He would think highly of a man who, to please the woman he loved, was willing to betray his principles.” While Buñuel also replied “I don’t know” when asked if he believed in love’s victory over the sordidness of life (or vice versa), he would also state, “I should still ask him not to betray his principles—in fact, I’d insist on it” in regard to the sacrifice of self for love. Of course, Buñuel’s belief in love can be seen in his depiction of l'amour fou in his rarely-seen Emily Brontë adaptation Abismos de passion (1954) aka Wuthering Heights. While it has certainly did little good in the long run for my life, I also believe in the power of love, including ‘mad love,’ which is also why I find the one-sided lovesickness of the protagonist of That Obscure Object of Desire to be so completely infuriating as it is a waste of pure diabolic energy on an unloving dumb dud of a dame that is probably lame in bed and really has nothing to offer outside the aesthetic appeal of a carefully manicured mannequin, hence the ‘object’ of the film’s title.  After all, at least from my experience, love tends to be a carefully cultivated post-coital phenomenon that requires a certain degree of mutually expressed emotional and physical intimacy (and anything less seems to be simple beta-boy infatuation conjured from too much fantasizing about the totally intangible). After recently re-watching That Obscure Object of Desire, I can safely say that Buñuel was onto something when he wrote, “Sometimes, watching a movie is a bit like being raped.” And, while I find the idea of a woman being able to rape a man somewhat equivocal (and I say that from experience!), Buñuel’s film demonstrates beyond a shadow of a doubt that a woman—even an insufferably stupid woman—can certainly completely ravage a man’s soul and turn him into a pathetic shell of his former self. 

-Ty E