Oct 1, 2011
I cannot for the life of me think of another film with such as suitable name as Pink Narcissus (1971). I discovered the film after watching an episode of the (unfortunately) short-lived film anthology series John Waters Presents Movies That Will Corrupt You. As one would most likely guess from the title, the film is about a narcissistic gay man but, fortunately, not in the violently cliche, sardonically shameless and repellant self-obsessed-Hollywood-drama-queen-tabloid-formula that is oh-so common and contagious today. At its worst, Pink Narcissus is a barely-feature-length silent surrealist arthouse journey through quasi-pornographic phallocentric-purgatory that is worthy of being compared to the work of F.W. Murnau, Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, Derek Jarman and Jean Genet but filmed on a budget (estimated at $27,000.00) one would expect from an ultra-gritty realist work directed by Paul Morrissey (it was originally rumored that Andy Warhol had produced Pink Narcissus). The history of Pink Narcissus is almost as strange as the film itself as no one even knew who directed the film (the film concludes with the inter-title “Produced by Anonymous”) until the mid-1990s when a writer named Bruce Benderson, who was fanatically obsessed with the work, went on a stalker-like journey to eventually discover that it was directed by Manhattan-based photographer James Bidgood. Although featuring a variety of flesh-colored Netherworld realms worthy of any Kenneth Anger fan’s total gaze, Pink Narcissus was almost entirely shot in Bidgood’s small New York City apartment during a 7 year stretch (1963-1970). After watching Pink Narcissus and later discovering how it was made, I was nothing short of shocked and awed as the various magical worlds contained within the film left me nothing short of strangely enthralled. Although shot on consumer-grade 8 mm film stock, Pink Narcissus features a keen alpha-aesthetic all of its own that takes the viewer on a journey through scenarios that are more colorful than a mongrel circus performer jumping over a neon rainbow on fire.
Like F.W. Murnau’s magnum opus Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927), Pink Narcissus begins with a long atmospheric shot in a seemingly organic wilderness setting, but, is in fact, a completely contrived apartment set. After this breathtaking introductory shot, the viewer is introduced to a youthful prostitute who – like the Narcissus of Greek mythology – cannot help but look at his own reflection in a most satisfied manner. Eventually, the young gigolo fantasizes about a variety of subversive erotic scenarios where he is naturally the central figure. Not only is this prostitute hopelessly perverted but he is also a dilettante student of history who hopelessly fantasizes about traveling through various historical periods and places. For instance, the young man becomes a Spanish matador who finds himself antagonizing a young Aryan biker that resembles Scorpio of Anger’s Scorpio’s Rising (1964). The young prostitute also trancedly dreams of the prospect of being a slave who is routinely sexually manhandled by a sadistic Roman emperor and becoming the virtual dick-tator of a male harem. The film also features a gay urban street where pants-less perverts with exaggerated members wander like ghosts on the midnight prowl. The downtown street scenes foretell the world Rainer Werner Fassbinder would create with his final work Querelle (1982), including a gay sailor who roams the streets in the hopes of satisfying wholly unsavory desires. Like Querelle, most objects (including messy hotdogs and slimy snails) are phallic in form. Despite its miniscule budget, Pink Narcissus is undoubtedly strangely more hypnotic and phantasmagorical than Fassbinder’s infamous film.
Despite featuring surreal cumshots and a boner-swinging belly dancer, Pink Narcissus is barely pornographic, thus the film is not restricted solely to sexually inverted male audiences. In fact, I believe that Pink Narcissus is a film that every serious cinephile and aesthetic addict should see as it is a work that certainly brings withstanding scopophiliac glee long after it concludes. Echoing back to the silent film era, Pink Narcissus features not a single line of dialogue but instead demands that the viewer refrain from blinking an eye so as to enjoy the thoroughly enamoring visual ride. Despite being over 40 years old, this delightful cinematic daydream is most certainly as potent and controversial as when it first appeared mysteriously in underground arthouse cinema theaters during the early 1970s. Like all great works of art, Pink Narcissus is indubitably the truest and most honest expression of a wonderfully self-indulgent filmmaker, hence the original anonymity of the film's clearly embarrassed creator (although Bidgood claims he removed his name from the film because editors "changed his vision"). Indeed, Pink Narcissus may be a figurative and literal work of cine-masturbation on the auteur filmmaker's part but that is to be expect from all truly great and authentic works of art. After all, it is not often that one is treated to such an adroit kaleidoscope extravaganza of killer colors like Pink Narcissus.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:53 PM
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