Apr 1, 2014
While I’m sort of a novice in regard to his life and work, decidedly decadent dago dandy and ‘proto-fascist’ poet Gabriele D'Annunzio (1863-1938) is certainly someone I can respect as a true Renaissance man who, not unlike Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima, was one of the few artists to be a true master of pen and sword. In other words, D'Annunzio was not merely a sedentary scribbler of flowery bullshit nor passive dreamer, but an active artist whose art far transcended the written word and real-life Übermensch who managed to go from being a mere literary figure to a national war hero whose style, aesthetic, and politics Benito Mussolini ripped off (indeed, among other things, D'Annunzio became the ‘Duce’ of the short-lived nation Italian Regency of Carnaro in Fiume between 1919 and 1920). After someone tried to assassinate him in 1922 via defenestration, D'Annunzio permanently relocated to the villa in Gardone Riviera overlooking Garda lake in the province of Brescia, Lombardy where he would create what was arguably the crowning achievement of his life. Indeed, with the help of his architect Giancarlo Maroni, D'Annunzio would spend the rest of his life (17 years!) meticulously pimping out his Villa Cargnacco and building a museum, ‘The Vittoriale degli italiani’ (aka The Shrine of Italian Victories), which he would donate to Italy and what would ultimately become an official Italian national monument (the poet’s birthplace in Pescara would also become a museum). Naturally, when I discovered that a German filmmaker directed a documentary about D'Annunzio’s Villa Cargnacco, I could not resist, even with a title so brazenly derogatory as D'Annunzios Höhle (2005) aka D'Annunzio's Cave. Directed by a seemingly stereotypical ethno-masochistic German intellectual named Heinz Emigholz (Schindler's Houses, Goff in the Desert) who specializes in experimental documentaries about architecture and who is a Professor of Experimental film at Berlin University of the Arts and at European Graduate School (in Saas-Fee, Switzerland), D'Annunzio's Cave is essentially a failed pseudo-avant-garde agitprop piece that juxtaposes cockeyed shots of the Villa Cargnacco with intentionally annoying and dissonant computer sound effects. In short, D'Annunzio's Cave makes for an unintentionally dichotomous work that demonstrates the stark contrast between D'Annunzio's exceedingly elegant architecture and priceless knickknacks and the unhinged ugliness of a particularly pompous left-wing filmmaker who would not know true beauty if it buggered him in the bum like a Red Army grunt in post-WWII Berlin.
Part of Emigholz’s ‘Architecture as Autobiography’ series (the director has also made films on Bruce Goff, Adolf Loos, Robert Maillart, Rudolph Schindler, etc.), D'Annunzio's Cave is the seemingly aesthetically autistic result of what happens when a little man goes in a dead big man’s home and thrusts his impotent jealousy and scorn all over the place with the sort of inane irrationality one would expect from a kindergartner throwing a temper tantrum after not being allowed to watch their favorite TV show. On June 24, 2002, director Heinz Emigholz and three of his filmmakers buddies—Irene von Alberti (a xenophile filmmaker/producer who likes directing films about brown people, Elfi Mikesch (a lesbian cinematographer/filmmaker who is best known for shooting Werner Schroeter’s films), and Klaus Wyborny (an old school experimental filmmaker who Werner Herzog once paid tribute to by using some of his footage in The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974))—go to the Villa Cargnacco and separately shoot footage in fifteen different rooms of D'Annunzio's singularly lavish and delectably decadent home. Despite utilizing four different cinematographers with handheld cameras (Emigholz only opted taking the four-camera ‘cinematographic jam session’ approach so he would not have to pay location fees for multiple days of shooting), the documentary seems like it was shot by a single seemingly stoned/spastic tourist who has yet to learn how to use their camera properly before going on vacation. Indeed, while it is impossible to tell which cameraman is which, virtually all of the footage in D'Annunzio's Cave was shot in an intentionally erratic and waywardly framed manner so as to induce abject disgust in the viewer. Fortunately, the glorious aesthetic majesty of D'Annunzio's fasci poet pleasuredome is too aesthetically pleasing to be completely molested by shoddy, limp-wristed left-wing camerawork. Ultimately, the most grating and equally redundant aspect of the documentary is asinine atonal sound effects and computer-generated voices, which quote the words of D'Annunzio, Mussolini, Joseph Conrad, kosher commie Joseph ‘Red Roth’ Roth and apparently some pissy film producer. Indeed, while Emigholz attempts to elicit cognitive dissonance and metaphysical horror in the viewer as if he was attempting to mimic the sound design of a David Lynch flick, the whole thing comes off as a patently pretentious, if not preposterously pathetic, joke as if he wants to conjure evil where evil does not reside. Overall, I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that D'Annunzio's Cave makes an infinitely more interesting and captivating documentary with the sound turned off and some neofolk music playing in the background.
Among other strategically calculated tidbits, one learns while watching D'Annunzio's Cave that the decadent Duce indulged in degenerate jazz, especially songs sung by Josephine Baker. Of course, Emigholz attempts to establish a link between fascism and murder/evil by including the following D’Annunzio quote, “I have created this alcove in purple, beautiful color of blood.” Undoubtedly, my favorite quote included in the documentary is, “I imagine the dead feel no animosity against the living. They care nothing for them,” as it expresses what D'Annunzio would think about a loser like Emigholz, who is not even fit enough to shine the shoes on the poet's corpse. Of course, nothing is more intrinsically fascistic than mother nature, so I could not help but smile after hearing the following quote, “A hill so green with small meadows with plain trees—cypresses, laurelin chestnut oaks—while help the Latin race rediscover her past greatness.” In a scene shot in the most esoteric and religiously-themed room of D'Annunzio home, Emigholz demonstrates his respect for the dead by including a sound clip of some less than eloquent vulgarian yelling things like, “fuck you” and whatnot. The last five minutes or so of the documentary features the Brian Eno & David Byrne track “The Jezebel Spirit”, which features a sound clip of an actual exorcism. Indeed, leftist true believer Emigholz goes so far as to attempt a cinematic exorcism of atheist D'Annunzio, thus demonstrating the quasi-religious perspective he is taking in his rather corny crusade against the ‘demonic’ decadent poet. If nothing else, D'Annunzio's Cave proves that Francis Parker Yockey was right when he wrote, “A moment's reflection shows that Liberalism is entirely negative. It is not a formative force, but always and only a disintegrating force,” as left-wing choirboy Emigholz’s documentary only attempts to defile and negate that which is beautiful, yet it even fails in that regard, as the shitty camera work and calculatingly contrived sound effects of the documentary are no match for D'Annunzio’s classic aesthetic prowess.
Despite auteur Heinz Emigholz's metapolitical intentions with the film, D'Annunzio's Cave only made me respect Gabriele D'Annunzio and his irreplaceable legacy all the more. Had Emigholz actually constructed an artistically interesting film out of D'Annunzio's Cave with the same cliché anti-fascist message still intact, I would give credit where credit it due, but ultimately the documentary—with its contrived computer noise, pseudo-disturbing heavy breathing, and pathologically crooked camera angles—seems like an overextended power electronics music video gone awry. Another glaring flaw of D'Annunzio's Cave is that even Emigholz's hatred seems rather misguided and even contrived, as if he made the documentary to impress his academic buddies and wanted to prove that antifascist sentiments can still be ‘edgy’ and ‘provocative.’ Of course, Emigholz was not the first Teutonic filmmaker to direct an experimental documentary on the aesthetics of fascist architecture, as German auteur Alexander Kluge's first film Brutalität im Stein (1960) aka Brutality in Stone—a poetic 12-minute short co-directed by Peter Schamoni (No Shooting Time for Foxes, Hundertwasser's Rainy Day) that takes a sort of contra Riefenstahl approach and utilizes montage as a means to critique some of the neo-classical architecture of the Third Reich—predates D'Annunzio's Cave by nearly a century and is infinitely more effective. The only crumb of credit I can give to Emigholz is that he did not attempt to obscure his hatred nor complete and utter lack of objectivity regarding D'Annunzio, as an agitated little man who even went so far as posting the following words on the official site for D'Annunzio's Cave, “Gardone, June 24, 2002. An abyss of the state of the art. Considering this spectacle, my hate began to recede, covered by my satisfaction at the dust that had settled like acid on everything and the chatter of the guide who had taken over D'Annunzio's empire and had to present culture to astonished tourists. I felt as if I were on the inside of an embalmed corpse whose intestines and brain had been shunted away because they had begun to stink. Now the state has to take care of this empty husk, because the poet wants to communicate with us through it. What the collection shouts out is the recognition that museums are useless and only a method of doubly losing life. The fate of modern art, which begs for patronage, is inscribed in it. Every kind of aimless filth would be prettier than this treasurehold of loot owned by one who, in the name of art, robbed people of language and flushed it as lotion into his own mummy. The thousand-year empire of house dust; house dust mites and those in flakes of skin take command.” Indeed, D'Annunzio's villa might have a little dust, but D'Annunzio's Cave is infected with a metaphysical disease that glorifies grotesquery and slavishly mocks aesthetic majesty, as if the film was directed by a jealous lumpenprole who lacks the cultivation to take in what he sees, with his philistine brain overheating as a result. Ultimately, D'Annunzio's Cave is a piece of inverse fetishism where the director projects his irrational hostilities on D'Annunzio, though it is quite clear that the director is hopelessly infatuated with his subject, sort of like how Spielberg is obsessed with Nazis. As for D'Annunzio's villa, I think the Poet said it best when he stated regarding the legacy of his museum that it is “not a fat inheritance of lifeless riches, but a naked heritage of an immortal spirit.”
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:19 PM
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