“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

my humble prayer

Well, I am still stuck in this unremunerative task, writing this preface to Silja's book. God is punishing me for all those times I said the Lord's Prayer sideways. Come on, God, don't be like that, dude. Send me that angel of inspiration. I promise I'll, uh, be better. How about: no cocaine for a whole year? How about: I'll get back in contact with the old man?... No, don't think I'll do the latter. Probably I should - oh well.

In the meantime, I'm going to cheat and recycle a post from 2005 on La Salamandre.

Here it is...

My friend D. sent me a little CD the other day. It had the Rage against the Machine song on it, Killing in the Name of. D. is an old Metallica fan, from before they had an on-call psychoanalyst. Myself, I love noise, but I am not a metal person. I particularly hate the voices that a lot of metal music features, in which some singer has to assume the precise sound that would be made by the Cowardly Lion on meth – a fake monster voice, full of empty volume and scatchiness.

All of which gets me, by a detour, to today’s topic: La Salamandre and Nietzsche.

A couple of days ago I saw Alain Tanner’s La Salamandre. I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It was made in 1971, and Tanner had obviously seen his Godard, his Antonioni. It has the political language of Godard, and it has the dissipative structure (minus beautiful dresses and garden parties among statuary) of Antonioni. But the political language – exchanged by two down and out writers, one of whom makes his real money as a part time house painter – is all quoting the quotation. In fact, in the 80s, when I was a grad student, this had come to be the default style. Language inspired, distantly, by Marx, or Adorno, bantered about and at the same time made into an elaborate in joke. Being taught how to analyze, with the old male elegance, the oppressive structures that one hadn’t a chance of overturning or gaining the slightest bit of power over. And the dissipative structure wasn’t about the vanishing of purpose so much as the omnipresence of impromptu – each character making things up, including jobs and ends, as he or she went along. There was, of course, a firm sense in La Salamandre that after the trente annees glorieuses a form of capitalist paradise had been established. But all the characters were well aware that this was a predator’s paradise, and they were prey.

The plot of the film is simple. A young woman, maybe twenty, is accused of shooting her uncle in the shoulder with his army rifle. The scene is set in Switzerland. Two writers are paid to write a screenplay for tv about this fait divers. Both writers sleep with Rosamunde, the woman, played by Bulle Ogier. Rosamunde is the name of a sylph, and Ogier’s face alternates between lighting up, beautifully, to show the sylph, and plunging into sallow and slack darkness, the sylph turned tree, or at least like the trees in Dante’s infernos, the bark over the suicide. Rosamunde had a wild hair in high school, then got jobs like the first one we see her doing: working on the assembly line in a sausage factory, holding the skins that are filled with sausage meat shot from a tube.

Rosamunde is prey. While the two writers have a certain intellectual distance from predator’s paradise, or at least pride themselves on it, Rosamunde is pure prey. And… and this is what I like … and she responds to being prey by quitting frequently and listening to the 1971 equivalent of metal. Just noise, although recorded without the modern technology. She bobs her head, turns up the record player of the juke box, becomes vacant.

That’s the prey deal. We can do little to deny the predators. They have the power to occupy our desires, our hours, our minds. Their photos, films, demands, schedules, signatures on our paychecks, politics and wars go on whether we want them to or not. But Rosamunde can choose to be invaded by noise.

Which is where I thought about Nietzsche. Particularly that Nietzschoid saying that lept from the page right onto the walls of innumerable public toilet walls: that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. There is a certain fate to grafitti, because that saying is all about shitting in a public toilet. That which doesn’t kill me isn’t what is outside me. It is what invades me. The site for the mythical invasion is just that encounter of the asshole and the public toilet plastic seat. The myth about getting disease here is really about something aberrant in this glitch in the system, since Americans are generally so careful about their hygiene. But let down your pants once and the Alien crawls right into your gut. That is what the predators do. The mimicry of that act, and the momentary release from it, is to fill oneself, to let oneself be invaded by noise. Rosamunde, nodding her head with a totally vacant look to the wordless electric guitar sounds, wrung my heart. This is, in a sense, what we do at LI. Every post is, essentially, noise. Meaningless noise, boom boom boom. But it brings a small relief, it produces a gap between invasions of the predators, who rule and who will always rule, with maximum greed, lust, and callousness the little paradise they’ve trapped us in. Their pictures, their politics, their celebrities, their gossip, their cars, their restaurants, their money, their businesses, their porno, their church, their gods,. their bozo leaders and bozo adulations. It is a joke to think that the prey will have any effect on this, but somehow every invasion – if I can choose it, if I can turn the volume up -- makes me feel stronger.


patrick j. mullins said...

I've long been fond of this film, which I first saw when it came out and then again a few years back. Bulle Ogier is a wonderful actress, she's also a dominatrix in 'Maitresse' with Gerard Depardieu about 1976, and has that same humour as in 'la Salamandre.'

I've been thinking of the prey and predator in films, though. A fictional story in films places it in a different place from a fictional story by a novelist or short story writer. I've finally stopped giving into films much: I see the actors more than the characters, at least the characters disappear quickly, whereas the actors linger: They continue, after all, and they are often the predators of their characters. Maybe less so in a small film like this, rather unique and even Swiss. But Bulle Ogier is no unknown in France, and take it a few steps higher and you have huge celebs doing poor sad characters with simple lives. Salaries given for Deneuve and Auteil in some films are only about 10 % of what absurd Hollywood stars get--and that in itself is meaningful if Catherine Deneuve only makes about 2 million dollars on a major mini-series of 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' from 2003, when Glenn Close in 1989 in the same role (for which she was hardly born) probably made more. Daniel Auteuil is a brilliant actor and makes maybe a million for some films, compared to the $20 million plus made by the aging teeny boppers that preen their stupid marriages. Still, they all go back to something that isn't at all like Rosamunde, nor at all like Deneuve's factory lady in 'Dancer in the Dark' or Auteil's disappointed middle-class lover in 'La Separation' or Isabelle Huppert's no-nonsense lady lawyer in the recent 'A Comedy of Power.'

I've wondered if much of the appeal of Joan Didion hasn't always been that it seems very personal about very hidden, remote, obscure personas that she somehow identifies with but has little contact. In the White Album, she [but then I went ahead and googled and found literally the precise comparison I was thinking about: The Dallas Beardsley starlet-ad story and how that and all the rest till 'Magical Thinking' were kept very distanced , which is probably why actual immediate death of immediate family in the same room would be the only thing that would disturb this coolness in a truly radical way (and it did)

http://www.nysun.com/article/41038 ]

Kirsch has written one of the very few critiques of Didion's glacial attitude that I have been able to respect. Her snobbism is well-known and tolerated, of course, because of her superb gifts, because she can still usually convince you that she is sincere. I am sure that she is, but she is the cleverest kind of predator, and it's nonsense to pretend anything else. What he's written about the social separations she outlines much too broadly in 'Notes Toward a Dreampolitik' are very specific and the Dallas Beardsley story had come to mind because, while finding Beardsley an ideal subject, she is nevertheless a part of Hollywood, within which Didion was already working with the big names, hanging out with Streisand. The cool attitude about other unfortunates has 2 sides to it: She has some concern (going to the Statue of Liberty with Kasabian after visiting her in jail, albeit for professional reasons mostly), but these are always clearly divided from 'her people'. 'Her people' are like Vanessa Redgrave, who will play her opening in about a week her in the play version of 'Magical Thinking'. These psychological states all work together to make possible putting your grief on Broadway, but what struck me about 'Magical Thinking' and also why I am not interested in seeing Vanessa do some Joan impersonation 'that is not literal,' etc., is that it seemed weaker than all her previous work. All of it had depended on her continuing to be truly strong, and the spectacle of her finally weakening moved many people. The book IS moving in some ways, but it is in no way as profound a piece of writing as her supercilious account of meeting Dallas Beardsley, and her way of describing Palms, California. After all, 'Goodbye to all That' was about how she left New York because, in part, she could not bear seeing all those rich East Side ladies affording things she couldn't. When she could afford these things, she moved to the East 70s.

patrick said...


I think may have fucked that link up, but it's worth reading even if you have to do it manually.

roger said...

I wrote a long reply to you Patrick and apparently the fucking blog ate it - I can't stand IE 6 anymore!

I'll write another one this evening. Gotta run.

roger said...

Well, lets see if my own damn comments thing lets me comment.

Patrick, I loved your thought about the character being prey to the actor. I've always been puzzled by moving acting, because it happens in such discrete sections, it can apparently go from one take to another, and it doesn't even have to happen in logical order. Yet, the editor and director extract, from this, acting that we see on a film. And in fact, after this sampling of acting is made into a connected film, the actor takes on a life of his or her own. It is so different from theater - there, Diderot's idea, in Paradoxes on the Actor, that actors coldly calculate their acting makes sense. Just as the latter idea of immersing oneself in the character makes sense. But not for film acting - those modes don't seem right. Not for the hunt and peck of scene making. There's a funny scene in Irma Vep where the french director, who is obviously going through some crisis, hires Maggie Cheung to star in his vampire film because of the stunts he's seen her do in various Hong Kong films, and she says, bewildered, but you know my stunt double did those things. A director, of all people, should know not to trust what he sees on the screen, of course.

patrick said...

[I've had trouble with eaten comments here and with some haloscans, so if they're long, there's no choice but to just quickly click to copy and see if it works. I sometimes still forget, but it has happened frequently here.]

There are a lot of degrees and mutations of this, including that in theater it can happen, but the powerful actor will exude the strong roles more directly from his persona after quitting them than a film star (even if he's also a stage star like Redgrave), because it's not interrupted by infinite hype. Also, certain characters by Racine and Shakespeare may temporarily 'eat' their actors, and Artaud may have been fully eaten. So it's also the nature of the character: a predatory character could be played by a predatory actor, but Rosamunde could not be played by a 'prey actor', is my guess. I just looked at the 'magical Thinking' schedule: It's to last, in its 'strictly limited engagement' until August! Despite the greater fullness of Redgrave's looks, this is an interesting case of strong personalities: Redgrave is not afraid of excess and great pain, one knows that from seeing her do 'Hecuba' 2 years ago. Didion wants to be this courageous, and can do it for shorter periods; this is admirable. But is there a predator and prey here? There possibly could be. I think Redgrave should have done a 2 month run, she is a chain smoker and seems to want to sacrifice herself. Can you really see Didion with that attitude? I can't, even though I'm one of her biggest fans. This will be more taxing than Diana Rigg doing 'Medea' every day for months back in the 90s.

There is a fine post by Kenrufo at Long Sunday on Heidegger and Baudrillard. I made one of my rambling comments, but you'll want to read his piece--it's excellent.

I'm really glad to hear someone talk about 'Salamandre' again. Her mimicking of the guy in the shoe store is one of the most hilarious moments in all film. I simply couldn't believe it and all of a sudden the fat bourgeois 'Mais vous etes FOU!'

roger said...

Patrick, I still haven't seen the next film (?) of Tanner's, Jonah, because my vid store doesn't stock it.

As for theater - theater in Austin is, of course, a far cry from NYC, a mousy whisper. However, there is a lively interest in doing unusual plays in small spaces, and there is an ensemble in this town - The Rude Mechanicals - which has achieved some fame. When I was growing up in the suburbs of Atlanta, there was a great theater troupe which sorta gave me my notion of theater. It was called Kelly's seed and feed, and I used to drag my older sister and her husband to see them, until her husband refused to go anymore. They specialized in Brecht and Theater of the Ridiculous - their version of the Mokeeater still lives in my memory, as well as their Baal - the only Baal I've ever seen with an appropriately satanic Baal. I sometimes still hum the song to myself: "Baal came out of a hoooole in the ground/some men are born but BAAALLL was found/with a bottle in one hand and his pecker in the other/the night was his father and the earth was his mother."

On a much more boring topic, though - I'm sorry about the haloscan eating comments. I have the feeling about this blog that people have about old, much loved but shaky autos - all the defects have meshed with all the virtues so that I am afraid to fuck with any of it, for fear the whole thing will fall apart.