Wednesday, April 25, 2012
MEDEA THE MOVIE
Today was a double-header, 2 movies, one after the other. First one was Lars vonTrier's MEDEA. The second one was Paolo Pasolini's MEDEA. I had not anticipated them arriving same day. All the better. I wanted to see the Pasolini first, but the dvd player wouldn't accept it. I watched the vonTrier first. Radically different approaches to the Euripides play. The vonTrier vision took hold at the end of the play, telling the first part of it in a brief paragraph at the beginning. He played the starkness of her decision and carrying it out. It dwelt on Medea's despair, as it is, after all, her tragedy. It seems like it is Jason's, her husband's tragedy. It wasn't named Jason. It was Medea. Jason divorcing her and marrying a young daughter of Creon the king was more than Medea could bear, given that her psychic powers helped him find the golden fleece that made him the top general in the Greek armed forces. When he abandoned her for the young princess, Medea got mad and she got even. To bring him down, she killed their two boys and killed his bride. She was then exiled back to Turkey where she came from. In the play, a chariot drawn by dragons came in the sky to pick her up and take her back to Turkey.
After a dozen or more attempts to get the Pasolini dvd to take, it finally took hold. I tried it in the computer after attempting in the dvd player, and the computer took it, leading me to believe the film was indeed on the disk. That gave me hope to keep on trying to see if it would take in the dvd player. Eventually it did. I'd been wanting to see Pasolini's Medea since it was new in 1970. Never had a chance to see it in a theater and eventually netflix happened. There, it was noted "long wait," then that label was lifted and it came today, same day as vonTrier's Medea. Medea happens to be one of my very favorite Greek tragedies, the other Prometheus Bound, so seeing these two interpretations in one day was quite a good time. Pasolini was making his films in the time I had access to an "art house" movie theater, the 1960s, and I was able to see a few. It was in the time Fellini films and other directors and actors from Italy were wowing the world; Sophia Loren, Anna Magnani, Marcello Mastroiani, Anouk Aimee, and many more. Those were the years I was discovering films that made me an enthusiast. Hollywood movies didn't do much for me after seeing LA DOLCE VITA. That film pointed my life down a lane I didn't know was there. I'm still a foreign film art house nerd and from the looks of all the great films at netflix, I'll be satisfied seeing the kinds of films I like til the end of my days or the end of netflix days, whichever comes first.
Pasolini's films are excruciatingly imaginative, and he uses landscapes for the "set," this time a place I suspect in North Africa somewhere, mounds of earth with holes dug into them, I suspect some kind of sandstone people carved living quarters in. In THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST MATTHEW, he used some ancient landscape I have no idea where it was. He dresses contemporary Italian teenage boys in mini-skirt togas with barber shop haircuts and has these guys running all over the place in about every scene. Pasolini's interest in Italian teenage boys reminded me of Dick Clark in the 50s promoting Philadelphia Italian pretty boys who couldn't sing for shit. Gonna make you a star. Pasolini is just as boring with his pretty boys as Dick Clark was with his. The only problem I have with a Pasolini film is his silly passion for teenage street thugs. One of them killed him in the end. Some years ago I found a novel he'd written. Couldn't read it. It was all his romance with the street boys. I never questioned his art, but I've always questioned his mind. Kind of like Roman Polanski in that way. I respect his films, but they leave me feeling creepy, like I'd spent some time in his sinister mind.
Lars vonTrier leaves me feeling creepy too, though in different ways. He reminds me of how thin and fragile a membrane what we call the conscious mind is. He keeps me reminded that the mind can go way out of whack and continue to interpret "reality" in all new ways. He takes me inside the minds of the characters and shows me how that person thinks, and he puts people together with minds that don't work very well together and finds his drama there. As in life. He used large expanses of beach in winter, flat landscape to horizon. Barren landscape paralleled barren soul. Throughout his vision of Medea, she was orchestrating her own tragedy, she knew it; step by step, she calculated every step of the way. Hers is a revenge tragedy, willingness to self-destruct in order to have revenge. Much water--emotion--flowing through the film. The soundtrack music was ancient North African music, the kind King David probably played and danced naked to. Both films had the same kind of haunting music that takes us way, way back in our soul's journey.
Pasolini's vision of Medea revealed her in her role in our collective unconscious, gave her and her context their place deep inside us, the observers. His landscape goes as far back in our collective unconscious as the music. Pasolini reminded us that in the early phases of what became civilization the people were visiting oracles, having shamanic trances, dancing as in a trance, moving unconsciously, sacrificing to the gods. Early, early in our primal time, living archetypes, a time when fire was a living entity, in the time of gods and goddesses, and the dark side, too. Medea, herself, was a sorceress. I translate it psychic and advanced in the arts of sorcery, spells, spirits. People were afraid of Medea. The king in Pasolini's told her he was exiling her because he was afraid of her. She had not yet discharged her bomb, which explained why he was afraid of her. He had good reason. But, like she said, he hadn't wronged her; only his daughter and Medea's husband had wronged her. She made light of her power. When she set her plot into action, there was nothing left for her but to get out of there and and go back where she came from. She was not welcome around there anymore. Moral: do not severely piss off a woman. She may not be able to kick yer ass, but she'll get yer ass. Maria Callas made an unforgettable Medea.