Category Archives: world cinema classics

Metafiction, metapoetry, metatheatre, metafilm and metapainting

I was in my teens. One day, on television, an Italian film. The central scene takes place at a movie theater. A cowboy in a Western film points his gun at the theatre and pulls the trigger, killing one of the viewers in the audience.

When examined by the police, the projection screen reveals a small bullet hole.

Each time the film with in the film is played back someone else is shot. The last victim, a policeman who knows the shot is coming and who tries to evade the gunman by running up and down the theatre is followed by the cowboy, who merely adjusts his aim and mercilessly guns the man down. The cowboy then throws his cigar butt through the screen, which — if my memory doesn’t fail me — is later found by the police.

The film left an indelible impression on my teen brain and only after many years I found out it is called Closed Circuit (central scene on Vimeo).

What this cowboy did was breaking the fourth wall. Breaking the fourth wall indicates self-awareness of the medium and can be found in all the arts. The practice is usually designated by the prefix “meta- ” + “art form x.”

There is metafictionmetapoetrymetatheatremetafilm and metapainting. All of these have meta-references, meaning that they reference themselves, they are self-referential.

Related terms to self-referentiality include mise en abyme, the Droste effectrecursionMatryoshka dollsstory within a story and tautology.

I like it a lot.

A specter is haunting the world: the specter of capitalism

I finally watched Cronenberg’s latest film Cosmopolis and understand why it was top ten film for both Cahiers du cinéma andRichard Scheib.

Memorable moments: the rats, the prostate that has to “express itself”, the Jenny Holzer-like LED screen with the slogan “A specter is haunting the world: the specter of capitalism ” (above), the Nancy Babich-scene, Robert shooting a hole in his hand[1]and of course the prostate examination in itself.

The film is World Cinema Classic #139.

It’s a political film and a philosophical film.

The Cut-Ups is World Cinema Classic #108

The Cut-Ups is World Cinema Classic #108

The Cut-Ups

Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello.
Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes? Hello!
– Look at that picture – Yes, hello.
Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes? Hello!
Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello.
Yes? Hello! Yes, hello.- does it seem
to be persisting? – Yes? Hello!
Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! – Good!
– Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! – Thank
you – Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes,
hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes?
Hello! Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes,
hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes?
Hello! – Look at that picture – Yes,
hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes?
Hello! – Does it seem to be persisting?
– Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes, hello.
Yes? Hello!Yes, hello. Yes? Hello! Yes,
hello. Yes? Hello! – Good! – Yes, hello.
Yes? Hello! Yes, hello. Yes? Hello!
– Thank you!

The Cut-Ups[1] is an experimental film by British filmmaker Antony Balch and American writer William Burroughs, which opened in London in 1967. It was the second time Balch and Burroughs had collaborated after their earlier Towers Open Fire. The Cut-Ups was part of an abandoned project called Guerrilla Conditions meant as a documentary on Burroughs and filmed throughout 1961-1965.

The film contains 19 minutes of someone saying “Yes, Hello?”, “Look at that picture,” “Does it seem to be persisting?,” and “Good. Thank you,” accompanied by a repetition five or six basic film clips shot in New York City and featuring Brion Gysin.

Inspired by Burroughs’ and Gysin’s technique of cutting up text and rearranging it in random order, Balch had an editor cut his footage for the documentary into little pieces and impose no control over its reassembly. The film opened at Oxford Street’s Cinephone cinema and had a disturbing reaction. Many audience members claimed the film made them ill, others demanded their money back, while some just stumbled out of the cinema ranting “its disgusting”.

Included in The Cut-Ups are shots of Burroughs acting out scenes from his book Naked Lunch. The idea of bringing Naked Lunch to the big-screen was Balch’s dream project. First developed in 1964, a script was completed in the early 1970s which would have adapted the book as a musical. Personal differences between Balch and the film’s would-be leading man Mick Jagger caused the project’s collapse.

For an indepth description of the films of William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, and Antony Balch, see brightlightsfilm [1] by Rob Bridgett.

“Gradiva” by Alain Robbe-Grillet out on DVD Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle) by Alain Robbe-Grillet

Still from Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle) by Alain Robbe-Grillet

The good people at Mondo Macabro[1] are releasing Gradiva (C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle), the last film by French master-erotomaniac Alain Robbe-Grillet, Robert Monell points out in a recent post [2].

C’est Gradiva qui vous appelle (2006) is a French language film by Alain Robbe-Grillet starring: James Wilby, Arielle Dombasle and Dany Verissimo. It premiered at the 2006 Venice film festival on September 8 and in French cinemas on May 9 of 2007.

The film, Grillet’s last, is a Franco-Belgian production loosely based on Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fancy by Wilhelm Jensen. The setting has been updated to modern times, at least, no earlier than the 1970s, based on vehicles and appliances seen in the film. It begins with an English art historian named John Locke is doing research in Morocco on the paintings and drawings that French artist Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) produced when he spent time in that country (back then, a French colony) more than a century before. Locke spots a beautiful, mysterious blonde girl (Gradiva, of course) in flowing robes dashing through the back alleys of Marrakech, and becomes consumed with the need to track her down. Like most of Robbe-Grillet’s cinematic output, this film is highly surrealistic and also involves a surprisingly explicit amount of “sex slave” nudity and S&M, although it is a serious film and not just softcore fluff.

Some of the film’s prehistory.

via Gradiva: A Pompeiian Fancy

A Pompeiian Fancy is a novel by Wilhelm Jensen published by in German as Ein pompejanisches Phantasiestuck (Dresden and Leipzig: Carl Reissner) in 1903.

The story is about an archaeologist named Norbert Hanhold who holds a fascination for a woman depicted in a relief that he sees in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Hanhold later dreams that he has been transported back in time to meet the girl, whose unusual gait captivates him as he imagines her walking on the stepping stones that cross the roads in Pompeii while the hot ashes subsume the city in 79 AD.


Delusion and Dream in Jensen’s Gradiva (1907) is an essay by Sigmund Freud that analyzes the novel Gradiva by Wilhelm Jensen from a psychoanalytical point of view.

After that, Gravida became a favourite of the Surrealists. Salvador Dalí used the name Gradiva as a nickname for his wife, Gala Dalí. He used the figure of Gradiva in a number of his paintings, including Gradiva encuentra las ruinas de Antropomorphos (Gradiva finds the ruins of Antropomorphos)[3]. The figure Gradiva was used in other Surrealist paintings as well. Gradiva (Metamorphosis of Gradiva)[4], 1939, by André Masson explores the sexual iconography of the character.

In 1937 the Surrealist wirter Andre Breton opened an art gallery on the Left Bank, 31 rue de Seine, christening it with the title: Gradiva. Marcel Duchamp designed it, giving its door the form of a double cast shadow.

via Gradiva

Harvey Keitel @70

Harvey Keitel (born May 13, 1939) is an American actor best-known for the “tough-guy” characters he portrays and for his memorable roles from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction, Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, Ridley Scott’s The Duellists and Thelma and Louise, Jane Campion’s The Piano and Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant.

Bad Lieutenant (1992) – Abel Ferrara []

But surely, his most unsettling film is the Bad Lieutenant by bad boy of American cinema Abel Ferrara.

The film is squarely located in the oasis of American cinema known as the NC-17 pond. Its thematics are religion, rape revenge and general hardboiled existentialism. Its protagonist is Keitel who is tagged as Gambler. Thief. Junkie. Killer. Cop. Keitel’s nameless character is a corrupt police lieutenant who, throughout the movie, is spiralling rapidly into various drug addictions, including cocaine and heroin. His lack of success at gambling reflects his lack of faith. The turning point in the film arrives when the Lieutenant investigates the rape of a nun and uses this as a chance to confront his inner demons and perhaps achieve redemption.

The film features male frontal nudity of Keitel, a rarity in American cinema.

Most recently, erotic photographer Roy Stuart, in his Roy Stuart, vol. 5 reenacted the scene when Keitel stops two young girls in their car, discovers that they have no driver’s license and forces one to bare her behind and the other to simulate fellatio, while he masturbates.

Werner Herzog is to release a similarly titled film in 2009: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans starring Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer. According to Herzog, the film is not a remake of the original. In fact, Herzog claims to have never seen Bad Lieutenant, nor to know who Abel Ferrara is.

Bad Lieutenant is World Cinema Classic #101.

Landru @140

Henri Désiré Landru (born April 12, 1869 in Paris, France – executed February 25, 1922 in Versailles, France) was a notorious French serial killer and real-life Bluebeard. Landru was the inspiration for Charlie Chaplin‘s film Monsieur Verdoux (1947).

Landru by you.

Henri Désiré Landru (born April 12, 1869 in Paris, France – executed February 25, 1922 in Versailles, France) was a notorious French serial killer and real-life Bluebeard who was guillotined for at least 11 murdered women. Landru was the inspiration for Charlie Chaplin‘s film Monsieur Verdoux (1947). The method of lonely hearts killing was also used by the real-life couple portrayed in The Honeymoon Killers.


I was surprised to find in that film, Verdoux, references to Schopenhauer. When Verdoux is told that he appears to dislike women, he protests: “On the contrary, I love women, but I don’t admire them. He goes on with a chthonic trope and adds “Women are of the earth, realistic, dominated by physical facts.”

Last time I heard [an implied]  Schopenhauer mentioned in a film was Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. Verdoux thus becomes World Cinema Classics #95.

P.S. There is a pretty good YouTumentary on the guillotine here[1] with an incredible soundtrack, “Élégie” by Igor Stravinsky.

Musidora @120

Musidora by you.

Musidora in Les Vampires (1915)


Musidora in Les Vampires (1915)

Musidora (February 23, 1889December 11, 1957) was the stage name of a popular French silent film actress of the early 20th century. She is best-remembered for her vamp persona in the roles of Irma Vep and Diana Monti in the early motion picture crime serials Les Vampires (1915) and Judex (1916), respectively.

Poster for Les Vampires

Adopting the moniker of Musidora (Greek for “gift of the muses“) and affecting a unique vamp persona that would later be popularized in the United States of America by actress Theda Bara, Musidora soon found a foothold in the nascent medium of moving pictures. With her heavily kohled dark eyes, somewhat sinister make-up, pale skin (see the heroin chic aesthetic) and exotic wardrobes, Musidora quickly became a highly popular and instantly recognizable presence of European cinema.

Beginning in 1915, Musidora began appearing in the hugely successful Feuillade-directed serials Les Vampires as Irma Vep (an anagram of “vampire”), a cabaret singer, opposite Edouard Mathé as crusading journalist, Philippe Guerande. Contrary to the title, the Les Vampires were not actually about vampires, but about a criminal gang cum secret society inspired by the exploits of the real-life Bonnot Gang. The somewhat surreal series was an immediate success with French cinema-goers and ran in ten installments until 1916. After the Les Vampires serial, Musidora starred as ‘Diana Monti’ in another popular Feuillade serial, Judex, filmed in 1916 but delayed for release until 1917 because of the outbreak of World War I. Though not intended to be “avant-garde,” Les Vampires and Judex have been lauded by critics as the birth of avant-garde cinema and cited by such renowned filmmakers as Fritz Lang and Luis Buñuel as being extremely influential in their desire to become directors.

I’ve previously mentioned Les Vampires[1].

Carl Theodor Dreyer @110

Carl Theodor Dreyer, Danish film director (18891968)

Vampyr (Carl Theodor Dreyer) by hipecac

Most iconic image of Dreyer’s career, from Vampyr

 by nequest

Second most iconic image of Dreyer’s career, from Vampyr

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc

Still from The Passion of Joan of Arc

Carl Theodor Dreyer (February 3, 1889March 20, 1968) was a Danish film director. He is regarded as one of the greatest directors in cinema. Although his career spanned the 1910s through the 1960s, his meticulousness, dictatorial methods, idiosyncratic shooting style, and stubborn devotion to his art ensured that his output remained low. In spite of this, he is an icon in the world of art film.

At the same time he produced work which is of interest to film lovers with sensational inclinations, which merits his placement in the nobrow canon.

Thus, we tend to remember best of his oeuvre films such as Vampyr (a vampire film) and The Passion of Joan of Arc (for its execution by burning scene).

The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film produced in France in 1928. It is based on the trial records of Joan of Arc. The film stars Renée Jeanne Falconetti and Antonin Artaud.

Though made in the late 1920s (and therefore without the assistance of computer graphics), includes a relatively graphic and realistic treatment of Jeanne‘s execution by burning. The film stars Antonin Artaud. The film was banned in Britain for its portrayal of crude English soldiers who mock and torment Joan in scenes that mirror biblical accounts of Christ’s mocking at the hands of Roman soldiers.

Scenes from Passion appear in Jean-Luc Godard‘s Vivre sa Vie (1962), in which the protagonist Nana sees the film at a cinema and identifies with Joan. In Henry & June Henry Miller is shown watching the last scenes of the film and in voice-over narrates a letter to Anaïs Nin comparing her to Joan and himself to the “mad monk” character played by Antonin Artaud.


Vampyr is a French-German film released in 1932. An art film, it is short on dialogue and plot, and is admired today for its innovative use of light and shadow. Dreyer achieved some of these effects through using a fine gauze filter in front of the camera lens to make characters and objects appear hazy and indistinct, as though glimpsed in a dream.

The film, produced in 1930 but not released until 1932, was originally regarded as an artistic failure. It got shortened by distributors, who also added narration. This left Dreyer deeply depressed, and a decade passed before he able to direct another feature film, Day of Wrath.

Film critics have noted that the appearance of the vampire hunting professor in Roman Polanski‘s film The Fearless Vampire Killers (1967) is inspired by the Village doctor played in Vampyr. The plot is credited to J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s collection In a Glass Darkly, which includes the vampire novella Carmilla, although, as Timothy Sullivan has argued, its departures from the source are more striking than its similarities.

Vampyr shows the obvious influence of Symbolist imagery; parts of the film resemble tableau vivant re-creations of the early paintings of Edvard Munch.

Vampyr and The Passion of Joan of Arc are World Cinema Classics #83 and 84.

RIP Charles H. Schneer 1920-2009

RIP Charles H. Schneer, 88, American film producer


skeleton scene in Jason and the Argonauts

Charles H. Schneer (1920 – January 21, 2009) was a film producer most widely known for working with special effects pioneer, Ray Harryhausen, best-known for producing films such as The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts.

The sequence in which seven animated skeletons (see above) rise from the earth and attack Jason and his comrades is widely considered to be among the greatest achievements of motion picture special effects.

Jason and the Argonauts is World Cinema Classic #81.

Happy birthday Radley Metzger!

Unidentified photo of Radley Metzger

Radley Metzger, American filmmaker, distributor and producer turns 80 today.

If all roads lead to Rome, Metzger‘s birthday leads to The Image, one of the sexiest films of the 1970s.

She lifts her skirt for her mistress.

The Image / The Punishment of Anne (1975) – Radley Metzger [] [FR] [DE] [UK]

The Image is a 1975 film directed by Radley Metzger. The film is based upon the 1956 French novel L’Image, written by Catherine Robbe-Grillet, wife of Alain Robbe-Grillet.

The story of Jean (played by Carl Parker), a writer who meets an old friend, Claire (Marilyn Roberts), at a party and is soon drawn into her world of sadomasochism along with her slave, Anne (Mary Mendum, aka Rebecca Brooke, and Metzger’s girlfriend at the time).

Watch out for the fountain scene if you ever get to see this gem, it makes very clever Freudian use of a free Parisian spectacle.

The film is World Cinema Classic #80.