L’Age d’or

Criterion Files

Luis Buñuel’s adaptation of Octave Mirbeau’s novel “Diary of a Chambermaid” (1964) was made at a decisive point in the master filmmaker’s long, dynamic, and illustrious career. The film marked Buñuel’s second foray into European filmmaking after an almost thirty-year hiatus, during which time he made a large number of films in Mexico, contributing greatly to what is now considered the nation’s midcentury cinematic Golden Age. The Spanish filmmaker first returned to Europe to make Viridiana (1961) in Spain (the only film Buñuel ever completed in his native country). Viridiana proved a sensation in every sense of the word: it made a huge splash for international critics and audiences starting with its enthusiastic reception at that year’s Cannes Film Festival and it was met with legendary controversy (no stranger to the filmmaker) in Franco’s tightly-regulated Spain. Viridiana revisits several of Buñuels’ thematic preoccupations from his Surrealist years in France and his pseudo-social-realist films in Mexico, specifically in terms of the infamous atheist’s routine subversion of religious iconography. The now-iconic scene where a group of vagrants sit around a grand dinner table, positioned in a way reminiscent of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper (1495-98), proved to be a heretical image for one audience and a brilliant and beautiful inversion for another (By the way, why did nobody in the Catholic community say that critiquing Renaissance art isn’t heretical? Is Da Vinci Jesus?).

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Culture Warrior

Acts of spontaneity have been an essential component of artistic expression in the twentieth century, based in the notion of a perceived “purity” within the spontaneous act that allows art to be directly articulated without mediation or interference from social pressures and constructs. From the improvisatory paintings of Jackson Pollock to the idea of the rewrite as heresy within Jack Kerouac’s prose, spontaneity in many cases is seen as the only way to make art that has any “real” meaning. According to Daniel Belgrad, mid-century efforts toward artistic spontaneity provided a means of expression free from the constrains enforced by an oppressive, conformist hegemonic culture: “This new avant-garde shared the belief that cultural conditioning functioned ideologically by encouraging the atrophy of certain perceptions and the exaggeration of others…In the recovery of such an alternative “reality”…they saw the only basis for constructively radical social change.” Spontaneity through art then doesn’t alter perception as much as its restores it to its ideal original state, allowing artists and spectators of art to see beyond a regime’s oppressive confines.

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Criterion Files

One of the unwritten wish-fulfillment articles I’ve had in mind for Culture Warrior that nobody will ever read is an overview of cinematic adaptations of the work of the Marquis de Sade, including anything ranging from an early cinematic adaptation of his work in the landmark Surrealist film L’Âge d’Or to his comparatively more mainstream embodiment by none other than Geoffrey Rush in Quills to osbsure examples from all over the globe like Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmejer’s part-live-action/part stop-motion animation film Lunacy. At the center of this hypothetical list, of course, would be arguably the most famous and easily one of the most divisive adaptations of de Sade’s work, and one of Cole Abaius’s all-time favorite films, Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom (1975).

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Culture Warrior

Culture Warrior is our weekly walk on the wild side with actual film school graduate (now with even more Doctoral candidacy!) Landon Palmer. In this week’s installment, he takes on the biggest film of the summer, name drops Andre Breton, and tackles the notion of art dealing with the real world. Not that Armond White’s anti-for-anti’s-sake, straw-man-constructed brand of film criticism deserve the merit of serious examination, but there was something in White’s review of Inception that struck me as particularly problematic…

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