Jan 3, 2015

The Mozart Bird

Like many artists who do not go out of their way to put women on a pedestal and depict them as somehow morally superior to men and/or perennial victims of the pernicious patriarchy, South African auteur Aryan Kaganof aka Ian Kerkhof (Ten Monologues from the Lives of the Serial Killers, Western 4.33) has been accused of being a dreaded misogynist. Indeed, after doing the seemingly unthinkable by receiving the prestigious Golden Calf—the Dutch equivalent of an Oscar—for his low-budget feature-length directorial debut Kyodai Makes the Big Time (1992), Kaganof would follow up his hit film with a work that would be somewhat less well received, The Mozart Bird (1993) aka De Mozart Bird, which was attacked in the press, including by the director’s friends, as somehow not being gynocentric enough for feminists. For instance, in his review of the film with the less than thoughtful title “A Shoddy Film Difficult to Take Seriously,” Kaganof’s self-professed pal Jeremy Dowson wrote regarding the work and its creator: “It comes as little surprise that THE MOZART BIRD, an attempted study of a man’s destructive relationship with his lover, contains much of everything I’ve ever taken issue with him about: misogyny and pretention in the form of smart-arse nods, not only to the likes of Nietzsche but to his own “filmic oeuvre” […] I cannot take seriously this shoddily edited, ramblingly scripted, stiltedly acted, over-long 16mm exercise in Boy’s Own intellectual masturbation.” Of course, Kaganof is not the humorless pretentious twat that spiritual eunuch Dowson makes him out to be as demonstrated by the fact that the filmmaker humorously decided to use the negative review as the cover-art for the DVD copy he sent me. Notably, the cover of The Mozart Bird also features the wonderful words “a film about cunt cuntness cuntility cuntissue,” thus guaranteeing not only cunts, but fun to anyone with an actual sense of humor.  A comfortably claustrophobic chamber piece divided by shots of post-industrial architecture and urban decay in gloomy Amsterdam about the rise and fall of a hot, heavy, and eroto-philosophical romance between two slacker expatriates of the overly educated and considerably self-indulgent sort who spend most of their time fucking, fighting, and pseudo-philosophizing when they should be looking for jobs, Kaganof’s work is the film that Richard Linklater’s pseudo-existentialist celluloid excrement Slacker (1991) and Before Sunrise and the miserable Mumblecore abortions by infantile would-be-auteur dildos like Joe Swanberg wish they were, as a visceral and even vicious, albeit oftentimes devilishly humorous, no bullshit look at romance and relationships during the age of Occidental nihilism and rampant bourgeois degeneracy. Far from misogynistic, The Mozart Bird, not unlike the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, does not hold back when it comes to dissecting and prodding at the idiosyncrasies of both genders, as the sort of ruthless work that would make the man-children that direct Mumblecore malarkey piss their skid-mark-stained Superman panties. Described by Kaganof around the time of its initial release as follows, “It's light! It's uplifting! It's THE MOZART BIRD! My new improved formula feature film. See Howard sulk! See Selene throw a temper tantrum! See people just like you doing all the stuff nobody thought was worth making a film about! See another film about very little...(slowly),” this super subtly tragicomedic and shamelessly lurid (anti)love story ultimately manages to find quaint pulchritude in the fine art of mis-romance and emotional immaturity. 

 Howard (Argentinean actor Daniel Daran, who also appeared in Kaganof’s first feature) and Selene (Stacey Grace, who later appeared in Kaganof’s third feature The Turner Revelation (1995)) are two over-educated expatriate lovers that look like brother and sister who talk a lot but don’t say much and suck off the teat of the Dutch welfare state, hence why they have so much time to chatter and chatter about nothing.  As a couple that is afraid of being a couple, their romance is doomed to fail.  Their relationship began when Selene ripped off Howard’s “best summer shirt in front of ten thousand anti-racist demonstrators,” which he saw as “an invitation for a fast and furious fuckaboo,” so he naturally followed the dame back to her apartment where they spent about ten minutes of pseudo-philosophizing in the dark before having sex.  After that first night, Howard basically never left and made Selene's apartment his own. Howard has pretensions towards being some sort of great writer of erotic novellas in the spirit of Alain Robbe-Grillet and approaches life in a soulless and pedantic fashion as a sort of ‘perennial observer’ and bohemian Don Juan who is afraid to get truly emotionally involved with anything, especially women, who he tends to use until he gets bored and then throws them away.  To Howard's minor credit, Selene has rode many different cocks in her life and seeing as she lives in Amsterdam, she has a pretty good idea of the typical bedroom behavior of the native Dutch population, which she describes as follows, “They’re not really into eating it [pussy]. The Dutchman is like an in-and-out business like fuck. He likes it without the trappings…as straightforward as possible.” Of course, Howard, who is short and swarthy, is certainly no Dutchman and has no problem committing to cunnilingus, even after his girlfriend has confessed to him that she wet her panties after another man stared at her in a seductive fashion, but it is the least he can do since Selene literally worships his feet and has no problem fellating his feet (!), thus reflecting her masochistic side. While Selene more or less prays to Howard’s prick, she does not think much of her lover's writing talents, even at one point asking him, “You actually see yourself as a writer? I mean, someone that can contribute to the tradition…to the canon,” to which he naturally replies, “God, you’re a bitch. A real cunting bitch.” To Selene's chagrin, Howard will ultimately make her into a character in one of his shitty erotic novels just like he does with all of his sexual conquests, which was her greatest dread, for as she reflects after their relationship concludes, “I still hold onto the idea that being with me was different from everyone else,” yet he ultimately treated her as just another token lay for his extensive literary ‘research.’ 

 While The Mozart Bird is for the most part in chronological order as a work divided into long and emotionally grueling dramatic sequences in a fashion that is not all that different from an Ingmar Bergman flick, the work is sprinkled with post-relationship narration from Selene in regard to her mixed feelings on her failed romance and how she just feels like another one of Howard’s fuck objects yet at the same time yearns for him to call her.  It certainly seems that part of the reason the relationship failed was because Selene was not all that good at stroking Howard's precious little hipster playboy ego. While lying in bed together, Selene compares Howard’s behavior to Nietzsche’s (failed) attempt to escape from the banality of his sterile existence via the “flight into art” and eventually the “flight into knowledge” and then berates her beau by stating, “if you don’t let yourself get hurt, you’re going to suffer real emotional damage in the long run. You use your life like some small scale reenactment of the mythical dramas you know you’re not capable of writing about,” to which loverboy angrily replies, “You know what I find so sad about you? You think you’re so god damn original.” As Selene later accurately states to Howard regarding their hopelessly banal and somewhat phony relationship, “Did you ever listen to us? Our conversations are like some schoolboy’s conception of self-referential dialogue and the ultimate postmodernist urban wasteland serial. You know, littered with name-dropped debris. We don’t talk, we unclutter.” Indeed, the only time the two lovers seem like they’re not bullshitting is when they are screwing because otherwise they sound like two babbling automatons that have been lobotomized by too much postmodern theory.  When Selene does attempt to be more of her real self by discussing her love of Howard the Duck comics and Alan Moore's Swamp Thing series, Howard seems to get turned off, as if such things are beneath him and his towering intellect.  Towards the end of the film, Howard forces Selene to read some of his latest writings, but she is more interested in talking about the dubious state of their relationship and remarks when her self-absorbed boyfriend complains about her lack of interest in his work, “you want a standing ovation? I never took you for a couple’s guy, Howie. All that cunt and bitches bullshit…it was all just special effects, like your writing.”  Like every time they fight, Howard chalks up Selene's bitchy mood to ovulating, but little does he realize that it is the beginning of the end of their relationship, which merely fizzles out as opposed to going out in a blaze of glory.

 Towards the conclusion of The Mozart Bird right before the two lovers break up for good, Howard readily admits he is a total literary fraud that has always been looking to make the big time, or as he arrogantly states himself, “I have always been looking to sell-out. No one was buying then.” When Selene attempts to compliment him by stating, “You’re the first man I ever met that actually enjoyed talking about sex […] I loved the sound of your voice,” Howard makes the smart-ass yet totally truthful reply, “I didn’t have much to say. Still don’t. I just play around with words. Everything that needs to be said has been said and no one noticed.” As for romance, Howard describes it as a, “means to an end: fame and wealth; what else,” thus reflecting his nihilistically materialistic and superlatively shallow view of life and love.  Although Selene “fell in love with a man that didn’t care about money,” it never occurred to her that that man never existed and that Howard was merely putting up a false front to protect his ego in regard to his sorry lot in life when they were together. During the final scene before the credits, Selene and Howard sit with their backs against a window for a couple minutes while not saying a single word to one another in a scenario reflecting the complete bankruptcy of their romance, which has now reached an exceedingly emotionally impoverished point where the two lapsed love birds no longer even have the desire to talk to one another, not to mention the fact that they no longer seem to like to fuck. When Selene goes to pick up her things from ‘her’ apartment (Howard moved into the place and ultimately took it completely over, with Selene being the one that had to move out) after their relationship has fizzled out, Howard barely acknowledges her presence and says some typical phony cliche bullshit about how they should remain friends. Needless to say, that never happened and the two went their separate ways without ever looking back. It is dubious as to whether the two ever even really loved one another in the first place as indicated in Selene's confused confession, “There really were a few moments that I felt both of us felt something. I don’t know if it was love…but something. Maybe that was why he could infuriate me so much…because I felt he was trying so hard to cancel out those moments…so afraid to just let them be.”  Selene does not seem to realize that people that are truly in love do not have to question it, as they feel it, thought it is clear that she took the relationship more serious than her less than devoted ex-beau, who was cheating on her with a chick named Robin while they were still together.  After the credits scene concludes in The Mozart Bird, the viewer is treated to an extra scene where Selene and Howard bump into one another at a bar. Howard is now a successful novelist and absolutely infuriates Selene by proudly letting her know that he has “immortalized” her by using her likeness for one of the characters of his latest hit novel. Indeed, in the end it becomes clear that their relationship was ultimately nothing more than research for Howard’s book. Of course, when Howard got successful, he no longer needed Selene anymore, as he was able to obtain much younger and hotter babes.  Needless to say, Selene gets a little bit bitchy when Howard introduces her to his new hot young Guido girlfriend.  In a singularly memorable ending, The Mozart Bird concludes in somber yet completely cathartic fashion with Irish singer Roz George (aka Rosalind George) appearing from the back of the bar and walking towards the camera while singing a lament with the biting lyrics, “...my thoughts shall be with you.” 

 After watching The Mozart Bird, I can only see it as baffling that anyone could interpret the film as being in any way misogynistic, as the male (anti)hero ultimately comes out looking like a soulless parasite and psychic vampire that drains women of their emotions and exploits their vulnerability just so that he can have material for his hack novels. Indeed, what male would not appreciate a woman that was able to fall in love with a man that did not care about money. Despite the somewhat sullen and somber tone of the film, I oftentimes found myself laughing, especially during the borderline graphic sex scenes which, although fairly realistic as demonstrated by Selene's completely sweaty sex-drenched body and the numerous shots of the characters going down on each other, would probably turn off most viewers, especially those expecting some sort of pseudo-chic Radley Metzger-esque fuck flick. Kaganof must have found an excellent folly artist, as I have never heard such loud and scratchy ‘slurps’ during blowjob scenes before, as if the female lead was performing fellatio on a metal pipe covered in cum. In an assumed attempt to mock the contrived naturalism of certain avant-garde filmmakers, Kaganof included a number of extended under lit scenes lasting upwards of ten minutes where virtually nothing can be seen. As his short The Dead Man 2: Return of the Dead Man (1994) demonstrates, Kaganof is a master of mise-en-scène and would not shoot such an exceedingly underexposed scene unless it was completely intentional. Indeed, from the ritualistic cunnilingus scenes to the barside Celtic laments, everything about The Mozart Bird is carefully calculated to the point of cryptic self-deprecation where Kaganof mocks his own dialogue and previous ‘romance’ flick Kyodai Makes the Big Time. Described as ‘Last Tango in Amsterdam’ by various reviewers upon its original release and described by Kaganof himself as an installment in his “urban wasteland serial,” the work does what most similarly themed European arthouse works fail to do be expressing the cold hard truth regarding empty relationships based on soulless sex, pathological posturing, and innate dishonesty as personified in shallow characters that cannot even be honest with themselves, let alone a lover.  Surely, more so than Bernardo Bertolucci's somewhat overrated Brando vehicle, The Mozart Bird eloquently expresses the death of true selfless love and romance in Europa, which is surely not surprising for a corpse of a continent that hates itself and has become more or less a tourist attraction/museum for the United States and a colony of the third world and lazy western expatriates. Notably, the film also playfully pokes fun at the fact that the two protagonists are leeches of the Dutch welfare state whose own romance is literally ‘funded’ through the generosity of the patronizingly liberal Dutch (as an expatriate himself, Kaganof probably knew this all too well).  After all, had the characters actually had to work, they probably would not have had time to waste on dead-end romances and banal intellectual twaddle.  Despite being carefully marinated in melancholy and cynicism, The Mozart Bird is ultimately a work that somewhat surprisingly concludes with a sort of Bressonian catharsis that reaches its zenith during Ms. George’s haunting lament, which is certainly something that cannot usually be said of most real-life relationships.

-Ty E


jervaise brooke hamster said...

I wish that pussy had been completely shaven, then it would`ve looked much more like JonBenet Ramseys ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

I know the geezer is heterosexual (thankfully) but in that first picture his facial expression makes him look like some kind of highbrow elitist woofter.

Jennifer Croissant said...

In a way it is a bit of a shame that you`ll never reveiw Jaque Demys "The Umbrella's of Cherbourg" (1964) or "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967) on this site, because although they are admittedly very poofy pansy woofter poofter fairy faggot pansy queer movies (and your hatred of musicals is legendary Ty E), they are still very aesthetically pleasing films (especially "Cherbourg") which, after all, is apparently what this site is all about ! ! !.

jervaise brooke hamster said...

The greatest thing about Europe is that it did produce the "O`Rourke" clan in Ireland, and hundreds of years later its greatest and most astonishing product (as it were) appeared in the United States (but only for 12 short years unfortunately), she was called Heather and she was THE most incredible gift that Europe ever gave to America.