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Sunday, June 19, 2005

HMMMM... YES, BUT IS IT ART?!?!?

Well, if you know me or have ever read some of my blog you know I am sort of a walking encyclopedia of useless film information. While I do know a great deal about film, I know more about films and their makers from the 1968 to present. And, to be honest, Over the past 5 years or so I've become far more versed on modern French and Asian film making than films from any other countries.

Anyway, there are certain films that for one reason or another I never got to see or, that when I saw them I was far too young to fully understand what I was seeing. As I was growing up the films of Bernardo Bertolucci always caught my eye and the images he created sort of burned into my brain. However, I never understood anything he presented. The closest I think I came to comprehending was THE CONFORMIST. And, even then, there were elements that I found rather worrying or confusing. And, of course, THE LAST TANGO IN PARIS, was way too much for the psyche of a child. However, as I grew up and continued to watch this particular film its various levels of meanings and pretention began to mean more to me. I do think it is his finest hour as a film maker. Often imitated, but never duplicated.

There was one film he made which stared Jill Clayburgh called LUNA. At the time of its release I must have been about 13 years old. I remember it was quite the controversial film and it was never shown in many parts of the US. At the time, I was dying to see it --- not so much because of the controversy, but because it seemed to generate a similar mode of discourse that I had been aware of regarding TANGO. I can remember seeing angry women on Donahue and other such shows railing on about how the film was a glorification of drug use, incest and child pornograpy. I also remember being aware that Jill Clayburgh, who was a VERY popular and beloved actress at that time essentially saw her career go down the tubes after this film was released, discussed and flopped. I think she appeared in leading roles in several other "big" Hollywood movies (STARTING OVER, IT'S MY TURN, FIRST MONDAY IN OCTOBER) but I do believe she had already started filming two of these and had signed contracts for them at the very least prior to the release of the doomed Bertolucci film. But, I never got to see it.

It showed up on one of the early movie channels (Showtime?) but got pulled quickly. I did get to see a bit of it, but I couldn't follow what I was seeing as we didn't pay for the channel and the sound/picture quality were quite bad. However, as with all of his films -- there were images which stuck with me; Clayburgh and an actor dancing in against the backdrop of a gorgeous ocean in what seemed to be an almost violent dance as the man used a fish and a gutting knife to mimic the dance moves of the early 70's, a leering man sexually embracing a young boy on a seedy looking dance floor while a Bee Gees song played, the same boy trying to have sex with a girl in an odd movie cinema with Marilyn Monroe on the screen and the roof of the cinema opening up to reveal a moon shining down on the boy and the girl, the boy stabbing his arm with a fork as he forced his mother to turn a spoon of some hot liquid over the wounds or an image of Jill Clayburgh (the mother) and the boy (her son) either fighting or attempting to have sex on a small bed. None of it seemed to make sense and much of it was in Italian.

About a year ago I managed to secure a bootleg copy of the film uncut (it is not available on video/DVD -- I don't think 20th Century Fox is willing to put it out) on DVD. I finally watched it last night. The whole thing. And, you know what? I am still not sure I understood what I saw. Sure, I was able to follow the story --- but could find no point, no real plot, no full character development -- and absolutely no ability to understand the motives, actions or reactions of the two main characters. At times, it almost seemed like Clayburgh was more confused than me. Stumbling thru some of her scenes as if trying to find some form of direction for her to fall --- and the pouty actor playing her son seemed to be lurching between anger and mania for the full 2 hours and some odd minutes. The cinematography was beautiful (filmed by one of film history's most gifted photographers), the sets were haunting, the music choices were stunning -- but the whole thing had the feel of of trying to be as shocking as possible while striving to make some odd comment on coming of age and the relationship between mother/son and the moon. The mother, an opera singer who seems to have "perfected" lip synching decades before Britney, discovers her 14 year old son is shooting up smack because he is "lonely" ...being an artist, I suppose the idea of seeking professional guidance for both she and her son does not enter her mind. No. Instead, she opts to get her son off the H by becoming his lover. His first love. ...and to form an alliance somewhat similar to that of his "real" Italian father his "real" Italian Grandmother --- who, we can only gather, have been living as lovers ever since she ran back to America with her son and married her manager. ...played by the "Herman" from The Munsters.

I can't say that I was "shocked" or "offended" by the film. Tho, I doubt this movie could ever be made today --- if it were made today it would surely be branded with an NC-17 Nor can I say that I was not somewhat entertained by the insanity of the actions unfolding on my iBook screen. Tho, I was somehow ready for it to end about an hour into it. I can say that I have no idea why someone of Jill Clayburgh's abilities would have wasted her time on such a venture --- actually, I can't say why any of the talented people involved bothered with this film. Even that actor/writer who made the popular concentration camp movie from a few years back, Roberto Bellini (sp?) makes an appearance as a curtain installer! How did such a film get financed and distributed by a major Hollywood studio? And, while this is certainly not a film intended to "go with the sofa" ---- I do find myself wondering, is it art?

Has anyone out there heard of or seen this "art house" film from 1979 --- the year disco started to decline and being a punk rock singer sort of meant something.

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