Jan 7, 2013


Mr Cousins and I were getting on like a house on fire.  I was auditing his course, if you will, on my couch, watching his documentary, The Story of Film An Odyssey.

Getting on like a house on fire, we were, right up until the French New Wave.  And, then it got ugly.  There were points I wanted to throw napkins at the screen.  

No mention of Rohmer or Melville, at all.  And, barely any time devoted to Godard.  Instead, Cousins went rapturous and riot over Fellini, Pasolini, and Antonioni.  Now, Nights of Cabiria is a no doubt masterpiece, and Fellini is obviously a massive influence on just about every director since, including one of my heroes, Bob Fosse, but the rest of his oeuvre does very little for me. Pasolini looks intriguing, if a little heavy, and Antonioni's "Trilogy" is a bridge I will eventually cross when I know that the time is right.  Just like, I have finally realized that I am ready to devour Godard's 60s films at this moment, right now.  

There are other problems I have with Mr Cousins' course, too, notably about the New American Cinema.  But, I am going to save my powder for that until another time.  And, anyway, all is forgiven, because Mr Cousins introduced me to Sedmikrasky (Daisies), directed by Vera Chytilova in 1966.  (Before the Soviet tanks rolled in to Prague in the Spring of 1968 and shut that whole party down.)  

Daisies is an absolute revelation to me, on so many different levels.  It is one of the finest "Women's Pictures" ever made, full stop.  That, of course, sounds like a back-handed compliment, but should not be considered such.  I have never seen a film so in tune with what it means to be a young woman in the Industrial West.  I am near tempted to say that it should be compulsory viewing for every college age female (and male, honestly) in the Western World.  Near tempted, because, I obviously do not really mean that.  It would take so much joy out of the experience of discovering something so fresh and new, discovering something quite on your own, the feeling that you held a splendid secret to yourself.  (And, who were those worthy of sharing that secret with? One of the greatest personal pleasures of enjoying art.) 

Daisies seems to be lauded as a dadaist or surrealistic work.  (Like much of what I speak on in this space, I have not done extensive, or even cursory, critical review.  I would rather get my thoughts down first, and then compare.) But, I do not see that, at all.  Obviously, style leaves its fingerprints all over this fantastic motion picture.  But, it plays to me as a straight symbolic work, right out of the old-world tradition.  There is a story here, if not perhaps of the classical three act Hollywood variety.  

I say symbolic because Ms Chytilova has so expertly used the symbols for her story, as not to be enigmatic or pretentious, but illuminating.  The female symbols are:  eggs, apples, daisies, butterflies, roses, etc, ... The main male symbols are newsprint, newspapers, and magazines.  I know of no other film that best exemplifies the magical, other-worldly sensuous (not sensual) relationship between food and drink and women than this one.  

Ms Chytilova has crafted the tale of a young, free-wheeling spirit, eager (but not desperate) to lose her virginity and become an adult.  (But, does adulthood come with losing your virginity? In 1966, maybe.  Now, not so much.) Chytilova uses two actresses, playing two parts of a whole, Marie I and Marie II, to portray the Catholic/Western Madonna/Whore complex.  But, Chytilova pokes fun at that, too.  By using two female characters for what may be considered the male and female forms of a woman's psyche, she has ultimately rendered men unessential.  The men in this film are either workmanlike tools, or wealthy bourgeois idiots.  (One of my favorite moments in the picture is when Marie I, Marie II, and a wealthy businessman are at the train station.  The man asks Marie I to get him a newspaper, so he can have some time alone with Marie II.  When Marie I finally shows up, she has not just the Prague paper, but every single other newspaper and magazine available at the tote.  If that is not one of the greatest representations of the typical, generalized male/female relationship then I am a fool.) Marie I, the virgin side of the psyche, eventually realizes the futility of her efforts, and absorbs the other half of herself, Marie II, the whore, and becomes whole.  It is not a statement of lesbianism, despite men being so infrequent and foolish in the picture, as a statement of self-actualization and empowerment.  

But, there is another thread here that I would like to unravel.  

Greil Marcus changed my life in the book, Lipstick Traces, in which he proposed that, like Jung, that there must be a collective Western subconscious that speaks to artists across the decades and centuries.  

This collective subconscious played crazy tricks all over my mind as I watched Daisies yesterday.  

Look at the cabaret scene in Daisies.  Look at the way Marie I completely resembles the great stage actress, Gwen Verdon.  

Now, is it more likely that Ms Chytilova, behind the Iron Curtain, in Communist Czechoslovakia, had seen the Broadway or Hollywood production of Damn Yankees or any other things of Fosse's work? He had not made a film yet.  Or, was Fosse exposed to Daisies at some Broadway or Hollywood party after hours, as "Check this out.  It will blow your mind."

The fingerprints are all over it.  You would think there is no way that Cabaret or that Daisies were not influenced by each other, whichever one it was that did it.  Or, is there a true collective subconscious that is holding us in its thrall?

Just a couple of Czech girls drinking Pilsner Urquell at the cabaret


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