Tuesday, April 1, 2014

NSFAC (Not Safe For Adam Curtis): A Brief Review of Outbreaks ofCompulsive Dancing on Film (Updated)

German fun. Less scary than it sounds. Especially for a film from the interwar period. What percentage of these actors would emigrate from Germany by 1933?

Ernst Lubitsch left much earlier than that. Some smart businessman in Hollywood figured out early on the cheapest way to dominate a foreign film market was to buy a handful of their best directors plane tickets to Los Angeles. They got one of Germany's best in Ernst Lubitsch. Billy Wilder had a sign on his office wall that read, "What would Lubitsch do?" If you'd like to see how well Lubitsch adapted to sound, adapted to making comedies in English, and his feelings on authoritarian states check out Ninotchka (written by Wilder, starring Garbo) or To Be Or Not To Be.

And for those who are unfamiliar with the great Adam Curtis and/or his uncanny fear of watching people dance...
...a good place to start would be It Felt Like a Kiss.

It's mostly about pop music, but, being a film about disintegrating metanarratives, it also deals with some much larger subjects and themes Curtis would develop more in a less overwhelming, more conventional doc format for his equally great All Watch Over By Machines of Loving Grace about the decline of the Enlightenment ideal of man's mastery over nature (and thus human progress), Ayn Rand, The Commune Movement, war in the Congo, and various other seemingly unlikely points of contact with the birth, sustaining myths, and outrageous crimes of the tech industry.

He also has a very good blog.

Anyway, back to this man's nightmares. 

Trigger warnings: Dick Powell, gams.

To be fair, the above isn't all that compulsive. I feel like the end of 42nd St would apply better, but it's too ridiculous to ruin it for you here. But the point can still be made, Bugsby Berkley musical numbers usually have absolutely nothing to do with the films they appear in and thus are always kind of apocalyptic disruptions of the world they exist in. The end of the world for Berkley was made with human flesh collected and systematized in a clockwork not unlike the spinning, firey wheels of the prose Henry Miller saved for his most frenetic visions of his contemporary doomsday, prose that seemed to echo the Hindu and Buddhist mandalas that inspired the pattern of his thought, something like the web of networked, alienated humanity philosophers like Adorno saw the culture industry and the regular industry forming around the time 42nd St was made. Is this the source of Adam Curtis's anxiety?

Trigger warnings: expressionistic French dialogue, beautifully lit Binoche.

Love makes us dance. Everything about love is a little weird. Perhaps Curtis, beneath his aging-punk-with-a-doctorate-in-poltical-science pastiche, is just too British to see something like a love authored by Carax, fed on a gaze of softly lit Binoche, taking hold of a man body and soul, with smoke for breath and his fist in his own gut.

Trigger warnings: ...uh, I guess a little bit of orientalism. Also, not enough screen time for James Cagney!

The above is a little more compulsive in context. Stage director, James Cagney, and the actor who was supposed to star in this scene just got in a fight in the wings. After the scuffle, Cagney falls on stage and has to perform the scene himself. You can provide your own trigger warnings for this clip in the comments, if you like. Maybe Mr. Curtis will join you there.

Trigger warning: maybe you've seen it before, but I don't care.

We may never know why for certain, but all the above clips look like this to the director of The Power of Nightmares:

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