Nov 25, 2013
Apparently (and not surprisingly) considered a ‘lost film’ until its release in late 2008 on DVD by a French company, Le grand départ (1972) aka The Big Departure aka The Great Departure also has the dubious distinction of being the first and sole feature-length film directed by French Nouveau réalisme artist/painter Martial Raysse, a fellow who had the honor of having some of his paintings exhibited with Jean Cocteau in 1958 when he was just still a young man. Rather unfortunately, Le grand départ, although an experimental feature-length work utilizing some minor (but rather dominant) special-effects, is not exactly up to par with the cinematic masterpieces of Cocteau, but is instead an innately incoherent and plot-less counter-culture-inspired work featuring merry morons in animal masks frolicking around gayly, pedo-worthy scenes of little girls naked, and other forms of would-be-hip hippie hijinx and hedonism in a positively passé flick that would probably be described as celluloid beatnik feces. Indeed, fittingly titled ‘The Great Departure’ in English, Le grand départ is an ostensibly avant-garde work that seems to reject most conventions of cinema history as a nauseatingly nonlinear piece of whimsical yet seemingly lethargically-assembled cinematic pseudo-libertinism of the putridly pretentious and plodding sort that reminds the viewer that art and drugs do not always mix well. A member of the French Nouveau réalisme (New realism) movement—a sort of frog equivalent of the Warhol-dominated Pop Art movement in New York that was in part inspired by Dadaism/Marcel Duchamp and placed special emphasis on collage and assemblage (incorporating real objects directly into their artwork)—auteur Martial Raysse certainly assembled a flashy piece of celluloid postmodern posturing with Le grand départ, a sort of whimsical celluloid wreck that says very little in its overly long 70 minutes or so of hallucinatory hippie hysterics. Almost entirely shot in kaleidoscopic negative exposure that was done via reversed color (negative) developing process, Le grand départ looks like a living painting directed by German völkisch symbolist artist Fidus where he an autistic hippie with an obsession with psychotropic drugs. Marginally enjoyable for a minute or two in a sort of ‘outsider artist’ sort of way, Le grand départ is virtual, archetypical failed 1970s counter-culture cinema from beatnik froggy hell that makes Franco Brocani’s equally obscure work Necropolis (1970) seem like an unsung masterpiece.
Starting with images of a seeming tropical island paradise, Le grand départ soon demystifies the viewer by revealing that the images were merely that of a flabby fellow’s Hawaiian shirt who is sitting beside his rather bitchy wife watching the news on television. From there, the Hawaiian shirt man and his wife are rudely greeted by a menacing yet strangely merry man who is wearing a creepy cat-mask and is riding a cheap motorbike. The cat-man is a criminal trickster and delinquent of sorts and most certainly a degenerate who, when not mugging people and stealing their cars, hangs out with a totally unclad prepubescent girl who he promises to take to “heaven” and sort of does so by allowing the little lady to ride in one of his pinched automobiles. The cat-man also has a rather strange knack for rescuing people, which he totally discredits by raping multiple women. The cat-man is also a Grim Reaper of sorts who represents ‘death’ as demonstrated by the fact that virtually all of the people he runs into end up dying, many of whom he personally kills, or as some burnt out hippie broad states, “This cat brings death.” Meanwhile, a group of mask-wearing hippies hang out in the forest and dream of some sort of intangible utopia of sorts just like all drug-addled flower child bastards. Eventually, the cat-man hooks up with a charlatan hippie guru named “M. Nature” (American commie/leading man Sterling Hayden) and his dirty and delinquent mask-wearing followers. Mr. Nature, on ‘the advice of the almighty,’ has built a raft that is retardedly named “raft of freedom,” that will supposedly take his followers and the cat-man around the world in what is apparently the ‘ultimate voyage’ to a ‘land of peace’ or something. As if part of the LSD division of NASA’s Apollo program, M. Nature and his crew are counted off for lift off and soon enter a psychedelic trip of sorts via the raft of freedom. In the end, the negative exposure film finally reverts back to normal colors and the cat-man’s naked preteen friend appears once again, thus concluding what is essentially a short film that has been painfully stretched out to feature-length.
For anyone who has seen Clive Barker’s self-described ‘home videos’ (aka early no-budget avant-garde shorts) Salomé (1973) and The Forbidden (1978), especially the latter film, Martial Raysse’s Le grand départ seems rather redundant and absurdly over-long by comparison. Indeed, Le grand départ, like Barker’s The Forbidden was shot in negative exposure, but whereas in the horror short it makes aesthetic and metaphysical sense as a piece of morbid psychosexuality, Raysse’s films feels like an obnoxious celluloid gimmick of the pseudo-liberating sort that has long worn out its welcome in just the first ten minutes! Undoubtedly, if any film personifies the aesthetic puffery and counterfeit rebellion of the counter-culture generation, it is surely Le grand départ as a work that pretends to be cinematically subversive simply due to the fact it was shot in negative exposure (making the majority of the film have a neon pink/purple tint!), has nil plot and preteen tits, and features a ‘cool cat’ of the rapist sort as its (anti)hero. Naturally, Le grand départ also reminded me of E. Elias Merhige’s Begotten (1990) and Din of Celestial Birds (2006) due to its negative exposure imagery, but also due to its pseudo-Biblical themes. Of course, while Begotten is a flawed and overly long work (the first 15 minutes are immaculate, but the rest seems like a 'nightmarish mess'), it left me nothing short of entranced in multiple parts, which I certainly cannot say of Raysse’s Le grand départ, even if I found it to be slightly more provocative and interesting than, say, the latest Hollywood blockbuster. Described as “A Martial Raysse fable” during the opening credit scenes and featuring a bunch of hippie hedonists frolicking around the woods, Le grand départ is like a The Wicker Man for braindead acidfreaks(and that is giving it too much credit!) For experimental/rare film completists only who like Hebraic Beat poet Ira Cohen's totally intolerable avant-fart short The Invasion of Thunderbolt Pagoda (1968) , skip Le grand départ, drop some acid, and re-watch Kenneth Anger's Lucifer Rising (1972) instead.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 9:51 PM
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