Jun 26, 2012
Despite my general disdain of virtually any and everything relating to feminism, sexual ‘liberation’, and gender politics, every once in a while I find myself exceedingly – if mostly unintentionally – amused by pretentious works of art of this thoroughly deplorable persuasion. Most recently, I had the distinct (dis)pleasure of viewing the man-hating quasi-Freudian film Daddy (1973) directed by Franco-American feminist sculptor Niki de Saint Phalle and British documentarian Peter Whitehead (Charlie is My Darling, Benefit of the Doubt); a work of degenerate-art-gone-awry yet somehow done somewhat accidentally right, but for all the wrong reasons. Although co-directed by Whitehead – a filmmaker best known for documenting the London and NYC counterculture scenes of the late 1960 and creating proto-music-videos for groups like Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones – Daddy is essentially an embarrassingly intimate and incestuous, as well as contemptuous and sadomasochistic (un)love letter to Saint Phalle’s unfortunate father. Whitehead originally intended to create a documentary about Phalle and her artistic works, but this idea later dissolved into what is one of the most glaringly grandiloquent and inadvertently ludicrous films ever made. Best known for her mostly aesthetically displeasing sculptures (including a horrid blob-like Golem statue located in Kiryat Hayovel, Israel) and paintings, Daddy features many of Niki de Saint Phalle’s childlike artistic creations in various forms, which do a splendid job accentuating the would-be-audacious auteur essence of her discombobulated mind and schizophrenic Electra complex. From the very beginning of Daddy, it is most apparent that Saint Phalle both adores and abhors her dear dad and his pesky philandering phallus. As a daughter of a French banker, Saint Phalle created a rare work that expresses the downright petty personal problems of a spoiled bourgeois debutante whose starvation for attention is played out in such an absurdly hyperbolic and hysterical manner that one would think assume she survived a famine; or at least an overextended third world mass gang raping. In short, Daddy is a patently pathetic and erratic exposition of what it means to have never struggled in one’s life and the rare neurosis such a lavish yet unnatural la-di-da upbringing sows.
Featuring giant cocks in coffins, buckets of blood and naked voluptuous beauties on altars, and elderly pseudo-aristocrats in pancake makeup and drag, Daddy is a decadent daydream for the more debauched members of the blasé bourgeois. Of course, if one can look past the putrid pettiness of Saint Phalle’s next-to-nonexistent personal problems, Daddy makes for an engaging and curiously worthwhile cinematic effort. Divided into chapters by Phalle’s toddler-esque color drawings, Daddy feels like a Victorian Gothic kitsch piece directed by posh preschoolers, except ridden with mostly distasteful fetishistic sex scenarios that would probably only interest demoralized bluebloods and novice swingers. In fact, I would argue that Daddy is like an Alberto Cavallone (Zelda, Blow Job) film had the Italian director taken himself too seriously, and lost his technique and sense of humor, but I guess that is what one would should expect from an ostensibly discordant collaboration between a feminist erotomaniac and an uninspired hippie documentary filmmaker. Lacking any true daughterly affections for her cold, collected, and cunning father, Saint Phalle channeled these eternally desired but never consummated suppressed emotions into an unhealthy and pathological sexual form, thus enabling her to identify with the unloving fornicator and misogynist whose semen she was spawned from on some level; no matter how utterly base, socially taboo, and exceedingly revolting. To appease the bestial appetite of the man whose attention she hopelessly sought, the woman even offers her dandy-like daddy a virginal vixen in between sexually degrading him in a variety of perversely infantile and unequivocally vulgar ways. Needless to say, Daddy is the sort film Sigmund Freud would have lauded as it plays out like one of his fantasy-inspired theories; or would have at least provided him with a masturbation aid. Narrated in an incautiously contrived and ridiculously wooden manner and performed by a cast of incompetent non-actors, Daddy is a work that even Camille Paglia couldn’t have sit through without smirking snidely, yet these flagrant flaws also act as some of the film's greatest and most idiosyncratic attributes.
Although Saint Phalle attempted to reject the conservative values of her family, even causing her kinfolk to decry and shun her art in the process, she inevitably ended up marrying and becoming a mother at a relatively young age, thus turning into her own worst enemy and eventually suffering from a nervous breakdown of sorts. After watching Daddy, I was not the least bit surprised to learn of Saint Phalle’s seemingly hypocritical destiny as her love-hate relationship with her family – most specifically her father – seems so deeply enrooted in her being and artistic creations as expressed so vividly in Daddy that deracinating herself from it could have only resulted in a much more extreme and detrimental psychological break. Whatever I may think of the quality and beauty (or lack thereof) of her art, I do believe that Daddy is a true and genuine artistic expression of the artiste, even if created by a somewhat soulless woman (or an emotional retard if you will) who was probably given more pet ponies than hugs as a child. If there is a film that boldly yet disastrously expresses the stereotype that feminists are often inspired to adopt their ideology due to having weak and decidedly detached fathers, it is incontestably Daddy.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:55 AM
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