May 11, 2014
Aside from Alejandro Jodorowsky (Fando y Lis, El Topo), Raphael Corkidi (Angels and Cherubs, Pafnucio Santo), and Juan López Moctezuma (Alucarda, The Mansion of Madness), Gelsen Gas (née Angel Sánchez Gas) was another subversive, if not lesser known, auteur with a special knack for surrealism who helped to revolutionize Mexican cinema, yet he ultimately only directed one film, Anticlimax (imdb gives the year 1973 but apparently it was made in 1969), during his entire filmmaking career thus making him sort of an enigma of cine Mexicano. Although Gas never directed another film, he did produce and star in the documentary short Robarte el arte (1972) directed by Juan José Gurrola, which documents a journey where he, the director, and Brazilian pianist Arnaldo Cohen went to Documenta 5 in Kassel, Germany to steal a work of art. Undoubtedly, Gas’ act of theft gives you a good idea of his mentality as a renegade filmmaker from south of the border, with his fittingly titled work Anticlimax reflecting the auteur’s revolutionary and even criminal essence as an artist. Written by Luis Urias (who appeared in Jodorowsky’s Fando y Lis and did art design for The Holy Mountain), shot by auteur/cinematographer Rafael Corkidi, and featuring a charming, if not all too brief, cameo from Jodorowsky, Gas’ film is undoubtedly a dream collaboration created by the best Mexican filmmakers of the time and it is certainly as brazenly bizarre as it sounds. Directed by an iconoclastic poet Renaissance man of sorts who has worked in virtually every single artistic medium (he is best known for his paintings, including his tribute to Belgian surrealist artist René François Ghislain Magritte, ‘Homenaje a Magritte’ (1969), and his self-portrait ‘Autogelsen‘ (1971)) and is even an inventor of some distinction (he invented the ‘Hemifrontis’, which is a radiator made out of volcanic rock, among various other things), Anticlimax—a black-and-white work that is virtually silent aside from some surrealist poetry spoken by an off-screen narrator—has more aesthetically in common with the early cinematic experiments of Luis Buñuel (whose influence on Mexican counter-culture is probably greater than anyone else) and Dada artists like Hans Richter, Man Ray, and Marcel Duchamp than the films associated with Jodorowsky and the Panic Movement yet the film is distinctly Mexican in character as a sort of esoteric absurdist response to modernity, including the rise of the Mexican middleclass and importation of American materialism. A multi-medium film by a multi-medium artist, Anticlimax features Gas’ abstract sculptures, paintings, and poetry as encountered by a vassal-like protagonist who tries in vain to bring meaning to a life without meaning as a servile individual who is unwittingly imprisoned in an increasingly technocratic world of industrialization, urbanization, overpopulation, militarization, and crappy brainwashing TV shows. The closest thing to a ‘Mexican Eraserhead’ (of course, being set in a third world, things are not quite post-industrial yet); the film utilizes cinematic haikus to express disillusionment with the political, cultural, and sexual repression of that time. Indeed, starting production about a year after the Tlatelolco massacre (aka ‘The Night of Tlatelolco’) when the military killed upwards of hundreds of students protesting the 1968 Olympics and released just a year before American and European rock music was outlawed in Mexico due to its purported degenerative powers, Anticlimax is also a ‘left-wing’ work that somehow manages not to be repugnant or preachy as it is far too wacky and idiosyncratic to back any sort of concrete political cause and is thus best looked at as containing a singularly wayward Weltanschauung that transcends traditional political philosophies which is semi-esoterically disseminated by the Gas Man via symbols, sounds, and editing rhythm.
Beginning with sinister laughter off-screen and an image of a muscular man in a speedo juxtaposed with the narrated words “Gelsen Gas…because I’m alive,” Anticlimax immediately expresses a sense of third world dime-store psychedelia when the title floats across the screen as if it were inside a lava lamp, but that soon ends in the next scene where a man digs up old film canisters in the middle of a desert. Indeed, Señor Gas has unearthed a film for you from the bottom of his subconscious that is as nihilistic as it is strangely goofy. The protagonist of the film is a young middleclass man named Gonino who seems to be fairly vacant when it comes to a personality, but he has the drive to make it as an architect, inventor, and mass consumer. At the beginning of the film, Gonino leaves his apartment and asks a chubby cop (as aquatic bubble noise is played in the background, with strange sounds being quite prominent in the film, which is further accentuated by songs by French avant-garde composer Pierre Henry) for directions, but the officer points him in the wrong direction and he runs into a pack of pesky Mestizo schoolchildren exercising who somehow morph into a flock geese. After going back to the cop and getting the right directions this time, Gonino ends up in a building packed with automaton-like workers and grotesque sculptures where he is given a job. The protagonist is hired by a man sitting at a translucent floating desk and surrounded by jagged sculpture who tells the new employee that his benefit package is as follows: “4500 to start with. Two weeks off in August. 3 courses in the processing area. Information verification and speed reading. Meals in the cafeteria: carb controlled.” After leaving his new job site, Gonino takes a public bus and stares at the voluptuous thighs of a naughty nurse while a bloated Mesitzo boy salivates while looking inside the skirt of an obese woman who is trying in vain to cover up her nasty bits. Late-1960s Mexico must have turned into modern day America overnight, as Gonino ends up going to a food stand where he dishes out $3 a hotdog, which he opts for cutting up into small pieces instead of eating. While playing with his wieners, the film’s (non)hero also catches sight of three Mexican military officers speaking German (of course, this is a cliché allusion to fascism). After spotting a sign that reads “Check Your Weight,” one of the officers gets up and weighs himself on a fancy scale and being a fat ass, he probably does not like what he sees. After getting done grinding his Frankfurter into what looks like vomit, Gonino is picked up by his friend (whose car has an anatomically correct bull decal on the back, with cock and balls and all) and heads to a hip party (shot at Mexican artist/artisan Feliciano Béjar’s real house) where a little girl pops out of a fridge, various people ballroom dance, a woman attempts to perform fellatio on a painting (the place is covered with a number of modernist works of art), a poet writes poetry, a flamboyant fellows performs ballet, and a fur-coat-sporting Alejandro Jodorowsky sits with a hot chick on a couch.
After the party, all the fun ends and Gonino must accept his new life as another cog in a corporation machine. After having a salacious dream of a busty babe’s ass being repeatedly flogged, Gonino wakes up and begins working on some architecture blueprints. After the protagonist goes to work at a hellish construction site, an off-screen narrator reads the following roughly translated words: “I have collected words, words. Useless sounds from dogs as our souls are kicked. Useless accusations against those who operate our happiness in mechanical calculators. In public they reveal our innermost secrets, in magnetophones, in filters where the secret noises of love is taped. We rip out each other’s eyes, just because, because it’s dark. In this world, petrified like fish eyes, we neither come nor go. We’re only sustaining the disease of the universe.” From there, an image of a black African baby suckling on his mother's nipple is shot with a shotgun, with a bullet going directly through the eye of the impoverished negro child. Back at his new job at the factory, Gonino begins designing white roses, which are magically mass produced with mechanical machinery. Gonino has been assigned to work with a guy named Gonzalo, who stresses the need for the flowers to be absolutely perfect, as if they can somehow do a better job than Mother Nature when creating roses. From there, we see a series of intentionally redundant scenes of Gonino doing the same things over and over again (i.e. walking to work, working, walking home, watching TV). Gonino’s new salary has certainly turned him into a good little mass consumer as he throws hundreds upon hundreds of cans of food in a shopping cart while in a grocery store and purchases everyone of them. Indeed, the protagonist’s overabundance of food seems to be making him a little bit crazy as he nihilistically opens hundreds of cans of food just to play with the contents, as if he is an inquisitive child. At the office, Gonino ends up developing a fetish for paper airplanes, especially during the most busy moments of the work day. For about the final 1/3 of the film, Anticlimax is comprised of a variety of spacey dream-sequences that begin with the introduction of a beauteous babe frolicking around ancient ruins that are covered with creepy baby dolls in weird poses. Gonino meets this little lady later that night and they carry a gigantic crucifix together to a curious church where Jesus Christ is on display in a jail cell. The next day, the two lovebirds travel to an amusement park where they ‘ride’ inanimate rides and the girl matter-of-factly remarks that, “everything is mechanical.” After briefly going to an art museum, Gonino goes by himself to a patent office where he gets a strange and seemingly worthless invention patented by a secretary wearing a classic wedding dress. Gonino and his girlfriend end up getting married at a fancy Catholic church and an archetypical Mexican 'Lucha libre' wrestler in the tradition of El Santo (who was also a popular film actor and folk icon) sporting a cape and mask wraps a noose around both of their necks in a rather symbolic scene. From there, the newlywed couple has sex and eats forbidden fruit in a seemingly magical forest where wayward mirrors cover the trees. Eventually, the lovers get lost in a room full of mirrors and without gravity where they crawl up the walls and ceiling. Towards the conclusion of the film, a number of people led by a man pushing a friend in a wheelchair attempt to walk on water but merely sink. The people in the water eventually salute Gonino and his wife as they embrace. In the end, it is revealed that Gonino’s story was merely a film played in a movie theater, thus Anticlimax ends quite anticlimactically as advertised.
While black-and-white and featuring none of the fiercely flamboyant pageantry typical of Jodorowsky and Corkidi's films from the same era, Anticlimax is certainly just as important and innovative as auteur Gelsen Gas’ cinematic compatriot’s work. Indeed, while Corkidi’s oeuvre focuses on Mexico’s dark history, Gas' film is a work that wallows mostly in the contemporary, even if it does feature references to the pagan past and the stranglehold of Catholicism, as it includes important iconic scenes from three different city centers that reflect the modernization of the third world nation: Celanese Corporation tower on Avenida Revolución (in Tijuana, Baja California, México), Ruta de la Amistad (a monument featuring 22 large sculptures created just before the 1968 Summer Olympics to serve as permanent markers of the event in the landscape of Mexico City), and new Periferico highway (which is featured prominently in a scene where Gonino’s friend picks him up). The film is also notable for being one of only a handful of totally independent Mexican films shot on 35mm film stock. Ultimately, Anticlimax seems like the relatively successful cinematic experiment of an (anti)modernist Mexican artist that was fed a steady diet of Buñuel flicks, Dadaist art, and silent comedies by Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton who considered making a psychedelic film but was far too cynical and sardonic to make a work about such banalities as drugs and free love, so he opted for making a wicked and whimsical work that not only slaughters every sacred cow of modernity, but also deconstructs cinema as an artistic medium as a highly reflexive piece of celluloid that begins with film reels being unearthed from a desert and concludes revealing that the entire film is a fabrication that has been projected in a movie theater. A trying celluloid trip that might prove to be a rather bad one for less enterprising filmgoers, Anticlimax is playfully pernicious cinematic poetry with bite that does not betray the viewer in terms of constantly bombarding them with a variety of images and gestures that demonstrate a decided disdain for the modern world and all its abstract mechanical intricacies. Set in a technocratic ‘fasco-capitalist’ dystopia where dieting is dictated by employers and even fast food restaurants, Xerox copies are considered just as authentic as originals, flowers are manufactured as opposed to naturally grown, consumerism has become the new state religion, and—arguably, most interestingly—cinema is more captivating than real-life, Anticlimax is ultimately a ruthless revolution in cinematic form that spares no prisoners and proves that a relatively unknown Mexican filmmaker understood over four decades ago that the entire world, including the third world, would be devoured by American hegemony, spiritual degeneration, and inflated hotdog prices.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 10:23 PM
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