Oct 2, 2012

Black Moon

Admittedly, when I first saw Louis Malle’s postmodern post-apocalyptic  fairytale Black Moon (1975), it somewhat irked me – not least of all due to its deep-seated narrative incoherence and seemingly mindless anti-erotic imagery – yet the film never left my mind, thereupon I consequently decided to give it another chance, which undoubtedly proved to be the wise decision. After watching an interview with Malle in regard to the film, I am quite sure that he also had no clue as to what Black Moon is about, at least in any concrete sense, but if one thing is for sure, it is that the surreal spastic celluloid work is an excellent escapist window into the French auteur filmmaker’s seemingly aberrant subconscious. Inspired by the timeless fairytales of Lewis Carroll and the director’s mixed feelings on the fermenting feminist Women’s Movement of the 1970s, Black Moon is a curious pomo celluloid concoction that blurs the often fine-line between delightful dream and nefarious nightmare. Filmed on location of Malle’s own 200-year-old manor house at Le Coual in the Causses region of southwest France, Black Moon – although an intrinsically disquieting work of wonder and mystique – has a certain newfangled yet compelling welcoming warmth to it that few other cinematic works can boast. With its many scenes of the scenically surreal, it should be no surprise that pioneering Spanish alpha-auteur Luis Buñuel’s daughter-in-law Joyce acted as a co-writer for the screenplay of Black Moon; a cinematic work that both transcends and acts as a translucent tribute to the early twentieth century art movement. Gorgeously photographed by Bergman’s main cinematographer Sven Nykvist (Persona, Fanny and Alexander), Black Moon, despite its lack of narrative coherence, is indubitably a preternatural panoramic feast for the eyes with its marvelous yet macabre mix of gloomy grays and beautiful blood. Aside from lapsed Warhol Superstar Joe Dallesandro (Trash, Blood for Dracula), most of the actors featured in Black Moon were relatively unknown. Cathryn Harrison, the granddaughter of legendary British actor Sir Rex Harrison (My Fair Lady, Doctor Dolittle) who began her acting career in a secondary role in Robert Altman’s British-American genre-crossinng psychological thriller Images (1972), would never play in another role as prestigious as the protagonist she played at the mere age of 15 for Black Moon, which is not a surprise when considering she probably typecasted herself after allowing an elderly wench supple on her nipples in the film as such a conspicuously grotesque and perturbing scenario is not soon forgot. Needless to say, aside from the avant-garde porn flick Through The Looking Glass (1975) directed by Jonas Middleton, Black Moon is probably the most perverse Lewis Carroll-esque work ever dreamed up by a filmmaker. 

 Black Moon begins abruptly when the film’s female protagonist Lily (Cathryn Harrison) sows roadkill after running over a furry creature with her automobile. Dressed like a tomboy to hide her lack of protruding genitals, lil white Lily fights for her life to escape the man-hating mayhem of a gender-based civil war where female guerillas wearing ghastly gas-masks delight in torturing male captives and men merely lineup members of the fairer sex to be communally executed. Eventually abandoning the mobile manmade machine that murdered one of mother nature’s creatures, Lily is soon engulfed in an area full of crawling insects, assorted fuzzy friends, and naked feral children running around with a similarly colored giant pig. Soon after, she discovers a cozy mansion full of animals and a fatherless family that seems to have regressed into some sort of atavistic state. The human animals of the house comprise of a bed-ridden old lady (Jewish-German actress Therese Giehse in her final acting role) and her two sexually androgynous and seemingly incestuous children, both of which are also named “Lily” (Joe Dallesandro, Alexandra Stewart) like the film's protagonist. Displaying symptoms of dementia and with a keen proclivity towards regurgitating gibberish and conversing with animals, the old lady lures Lily into her madness which ranges from infantile temper tantrums to something of a more sinister slant. Depending on her daughter Lily for nourishment, the old lady drinks from her peculiar progeny’s teat; a particularly perverse practice that the lead character Lily will later be coerced into in what is one of the most drastically debauched scenarios ever captured for non-pornographic cinema, but I guess Malle couldn't have contrived a better surrealist portrait for the frightening and visceral peroid of a girl reaching biological womanhood. Having trouble communicating with the homo sapien members of the household, Lily eventually finds her greatest conversationalist in the form of a degenerate black unicorn with a small yet bloated build. Agitated with Lily’s unkind words regarding her un-unicorn-like appearance, the seemingly impure symbol of purity states, “The most beautiful things in the world are the most useless. Peacocks and lilies, for instance.” Of course, the unicorn’s snide remarks perfectly highlight the marvelous misanthropy of Louis Malle’s lurid celluloid fairytale where the looking glass is decidedly shattered and where genitals act as one's combat uniform. 

 Beyond question, one of the most exquisite and bewitching moments of Black Moon is when Lily plays “Liebestod” – the final aria of Richard Wagner’s opera Tristan und Isolde – on piano while the Lily siblings soulfully sing along. Not long after, brother Lily beheads a giant hawk that flies into the maniac mansion, thus symbolically spark the dissolution of the rapturous fantasy world as the siblings begin to frantically destroy each other and machinegun bullets and bomb blasts soon bombard the area. By the conclusion of Black Moon, Lily is left all by her lonesome, aside from armies of animals surrounding the house as if she is in control of them via some sort of black magic. With the old lady gone, the unicorn – who has the demeanor of an antagonistic lily-licker – is the only lady left to suck on Lily’s blossoming bosoms, thus acting as a symbolic declaration of her newfound and fully developed femininity. Needless to say, Black Moon poses more questions than it answers, but this is also one of its greatest attributes as a work about a strange soul in a strange land that demands one to embrace its diacritic dream logic. As such, Black Moon requires multiple re-watchings for all of its exceedingly erratic and eccentric themes and determinedly discordant storyline to properly sink in. Described by Louis Malle as, “the most intimate of my films, I see it as a strange voyage to the limits of the medium, or maybe my own limits,” Black Moon – although by means an immaculate work – is also his most extraordinary and experimental cinematic effort.  Not unsurprisingly, the film also acted as a bold and blatant bridge between his French period and American period. That being said, if you loath the cheap talk of My Dinner with Andre (1981), you might love the terribly tongue-tied realm of Black Moon.

-Ty E

1 comment:

Andrea Ostrov Letania said...

Interesting as an idea but doesn't come off.

Like Alice in Wonderland crossed with Godard's Weekend.