Jun 15, 2013
Apparently influenced by the similarly titled and homoerotically themed arthouse work Pink Narcissus (1971) directed by James Bidgood, Pink Ulysses (1990) is a potent yet unwaveringly pretentious piece of esoteric pomo homo celluloid that radically reworks Homer's epic poem the Odyssey in a campy, carnal, and even comical fashion that trades in cinematic action-adventure conventions for a sort of arcane celluloid aphrodisiac. Directed by Belgian auteur Eric De Kuyper (Naughty Boys, A Strange Love Affair) who described his contemporary cross-European heritage as follows on his official website, “I was born in Brussels. So I speak and write English with a French accent; Dutch with a French accent; and German with French and Dutch accents!,” Pink Ulysses, although a Belgian-Dutch co-production, features dialogue in German, French, Italian, and English, yet one does not need a serious understanding of any of these languages to appreciate the work as it is virtually a modern silent film featuring a number of exquisite tableaux in the camp dandy spirit of Werner Schroeter, albeit more butch, with some aesthetic and thematic ingredients from Kenneth Anger, Carmelo Bene, and Luchino Visconti thrown in for good measure. In fact, even if one understands all of the scantly spoken languages in De Kuyper’s postmodern tragicomedy, there is no guarantee that one will be able to follow the film as it is an audacious yet oftentimes cinematically archaic arthouse flick of the sometimes pornographic sort that mixes kaleidoscopic images of Odysseus’ return home after twenty years of exile in Troy with seemingly pointless modern day black-and-white footage of a funny self-fondling fellow who seems to live the life of a lonely male ‘housewife’ doing such daring and heroic things like ironing shirts, masturbating in front of mirrors, treating homely naked women like cheap furniture from IKEA, and other activities that would have probably inspired our hero Odysseus to commit suicide out of sheer boredom. Director De Kuyper, who also wrote the ‘original’ screenplay, described the film as follows: “‘Homer tells us how Ulysses’ wife Penelope used to weave Laertes’ shroud. The work she did by day she unravelled by night. That process was not dissimilar to the creation and production of Pink Ulysses. Gradually images (collected here and there, also from film classics) and well and lesser known music created a texture of sight and sound, resulting in a variation on Ulysses.” Featuring excerpts from classic silent films like Battleship Potemkin (1925), most specifically the most seemingly homoerotic scenes (apparently, Sergei M. Eisenstein was more on the pink team than the red one), Pink Ulysses is essentially an acutely arcane and fiercely fetishized homophile molestation of both Occidental history and cinema history, yet it will mainly appeal to arthouse fans of any stripe, including those with nil interest in terribly tanned 1950s beefcake pinups, hence why De Kuyper’s film was well received at the 1990 Rotterdam Film Festival and virtually everywhere else it was screened and is not known outside the world of European arthouse cinema.
If Jean Cocteau ingeniously used the ruins of post-WWII Paris as the perfect setting for updating the classic Greek myth of Orpheus with his masterpiece Orpheus (1950) aka Orphée, Eric De Kuyper somehow thought it would be wise to turn the Homer's Greek hero Odysseus into a 1950s-style crypto-homo muscle mag hunk that is lacking in both wit and heroism, at least in any realistic and genuinely masculine sort of way, with Pink Ulysses, a suavely stylized epic without much action, but tons of man meat and muscles. Of course, the Odysseus of Pink Ulysses is far more interesting than the flagrant fairy that makes up the contemporary black-and-white portion of the film. Opening the film ironing his shirt in a rather erratic and seemingly nonsensical fashion, the prissy ‘modern man,’ who never puts his shirt on again for the remainder of the film, enjoys masturbating and gazing in the mirror, which is indubitably an expression of his narcissism and loneliness, and when an unclad automaton of a woman shows up at his door, he clearly does not know what to do with her as a less than manly mensch who prefers to spill his seed instead of spreading it in the vaginal realm. If anything is for sure, Odysseus and his journey offer the contemporary character not only an elaborate romantic fantasy of the marvelously masturbatory sort, but also a striking dichotomy for the viewer of a majestic mythic past and the prosaic present, where domestic chores like ironing make for a stupendously banal way for one to spend one’s day. Of course, Odysseus, who need not worry about wearing shirts and electricity, has so much free time that he can spend a scenic and sensual seven years with a beauteous babe named Circe, who looks good enough to be his wife but is all the more spellbindingly seductive. Despite his propensity for attracting striking statuesque women, the orgasmic (indeed, he always has a smile on his face as if someone is continuously smoking his pole) Odysseus of Pink Ulysses has a seemingly endless proclivity towards softcore exhibitionism, especially around other men, who have nothing on his brawn and biceps. If Odysseus of Pink Ulysses is cunning, it is only in the most philistinic hustler-like sort of way, simply using his Breker-esque physique to lure in his pretty prey. Naturally, as everyone knows, many male suitors attempt to claim Odysseus’ wife Penelope by trying their ultimately inferior skill at the great king’s bow, but the great king and his son Telemachos inevitably kill them all in the end, thus immaculately handling family matters with gusto. Like Alberto Cavallone’s Le salamandre (1969) and Federico Fellini’s And the Ship Sails On (1983), the director and his crew are revealed at the conclusion of Pink Ulysses, henceforth demystifying the movie myths and slapping the viewer across the face with the banality of reality.
In regard to his take on Odysseus’ twenty years of epic limbo, director Eric De Kuyper offered the following hint regarding his rather idiosyncratic and inventive celluloid puzzle: “Perhaps Penelope began to love her son more than her distant, absent husband? And possibly Ulysses began to love the ‘ideal Penelope’ he recognized in magical Circe more than his wife, who would be waiting for him in Ithaca? Perhaps… and the imagination lingers on… How this materializes in a film, a fabric, is Pink Ulysses’ secret. An exploration, an adventurous wandering.” Indeed, Odysseus’ odyssey materializes in a rather classically camp, anti-reality sort of manner that, whether the intention of the director or not, demonstrates how really absurd the Greek tragedy truly is. Why Odysseus, who is on what amounts to a permanent vacation full of captivating scenery and otherworldly sensuality, even bothers to go back to his wife and son in Pink Ulysses is anyone’s guess, but it is quite obvious that director Eric De Kuyper was looking to make a piece of aesthetically antagonistic body worship that spends just as much as time fawning over the ultra-masculine male physique as it does obscuring its message. An arthouse anti-epic that, in terms of action, only features vintage silent footage of men wrestling men and other crypto-homo scenes from film history, Pink Ulysses is masculinity painted pink by a man who is obviously not a fan of Spartacus (1960) and David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), but has clearly scoured every curious crevice of cinema history to show that homos have always sat in the director’s chair. Featuring excerpts from The Fall of Troy (1911) directed by Giovanni Pastrone, Strike (1925) and Battleship Potemkin (1925) directed by Sergei M. Eisenstein, and the Cocteau penned work Love Eternal (1943) aka L'éternel retour directed by Jean Delannoy, Pink Ulysses is essentially a celluloid love letter to queer film history that goes to great pains to make sure that Steven Spielberg and even Sam Peckinpah fans find the whole experience to be completely and utterly impenetrable. While Pink Ulysses does feature an authentic pulsating cock busting a load, the film does not feature any scenes of real gay romance, thus following in the cinematically orphic footsteps of the homo auteur filmmakers that came before. Of course, like Pink Narcissus, Pink Ulysses is not a ‘fags only’ flick, but an exquisite, if not flawed, cinematic work that reminds all viewers that, in their need to conceal and obscure their sexuality, queer filmmakers found creative and allegorical ways to express themselves, which certainly beats the slavish cult of victimhood and lack of originality that plague most mainstream (and so not so mainstream) gay films today. Indeed, I doubt anyone would care about their films today if master sodomite auteur filmmakers like Pier Paolo Pasolini, Curtis Harrington, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Jean Cocteau, and Kenneth Anger made propaganda works promoting gay marriage and queers adopting children. Pure, classic, and cultivated camp, Pink Ulysses is evidence that Nordics can still make worthwhile arthouse films if they try.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 12:05 AM
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