I get tired of how generic and tame and polite most pop fiction is. It seems to be an affliction with comics and especially TV and movies these days. Most stories tend to be generic, they have to be in order to ensure commercial success. They're subjected to review by editors, producers, executives, sponsors, investors, and forced into compromise. You can't really blame the system. The system is about doing business and making money after, making Art is considered optional. Sure, we could start talking about how there are only seven stories out there but it's really all in the telling. I miss stories, be they movies, TV or comics that are utterly unique and tinged with a madness that could only have come from the mind of its creator. What really irritates me is stories that are hyped as "edgy" when they're nothing of the sort. Forget superhero comics. DC's BLACKEST NIGHT strives for "edgy" but it's really just adolescent in the way it's just about finding ways to punch the douchey baddies harder. For Hollywood, "edgy" usually means something that's a little bit different and features people wearing leather rather than any real thought. A "visionary" director usually means a guy who turns in a movie on time that's a hit but whose content is very inoffensive. Hollywood's idea of visionary directors are safe dudes like Tim Burton and Spike Jones, neither of whom would ever do anything truly frightening, shocking or controversial. Not everyone can be David Lynch. There can be only one of him, just like there can only be one Alessandro Jodorowsky, directors whose voices and points of view are so unique and singular that they can't be replicated. Well-written, well-made stories are always needed, of course, but we need the crazy, unique ones to give us variety, to remind us that the storytelling forms are flexible and some rules should be broken from time to time to show us something we could never see otherwise.
So I had a pleasant surprise when I discovered that Andrzej Zulawski's 1985 movie L'AMOUR BRAQUE has finally been released on DVD with English subtitles. Zulawski is one of the last unknown cult movie directors you've never heard of. Originally from Poland, he settled in France and a major chunk of his filmography were French or Western European movies. He made 1981's POSSESSION, where Sam Neill and Isabella Adjani's crumbling marriage culinates in her bloodily giving birth to a kind of Freudian nightmare in a German subway station and she ends up having sex with the tentacled lump back at home. He made an unfinished, reviled, and heavily-censored Polish Science Fiction movie ON THE SILVER GLOBE from his uncle's novel, where an astronaut wanders an alien planet, slowly losing his mind as the savage descendents of a lost expedition worship him as a god. It was like LORD OF THE FLIES crossed with SOLARIS. I was shown a five-hour bootleg video of the movie with no ending, and it blew my mind. HARDWARE and DUST DEVIL director Richard Stanley sat through the bootleg and practically had a religious experience right there, declaring that it captured what his dreams looked like. The clips on Youtube are trippy enough as it is. From those two movies, you could tell Zulawski was a storytelling that danced entirely to his own tune, and he didn't care if you could keep up or not.
But it's 1985's L'AMOUR BRAQUE that I've always had a soft spot for. A completely bugfuck adaptation of Dostoyevski's THE IDIOT that relocates the story to contemporary Paris with bank robbers and gangsters, it was the movie that made Sophie Marceau a star in France and she also ended up living with Zulawski for the next 17 years. I could almost picture a pitch meeting: "It's THE IDIOT, only the innocent, saintly "idiot" is a bank robber with a heart of gold, his evil best friend is a gangster and the woman they both fall in love with is a femme fatale!" Come to think of it, I'm surprised Hollywood hasn't tried to do a straight version of this pitch, but Zulawski's adaptation is anything but straight. The obsessive love triangle at the heart of THE IDIOT seemed to give Zulawski the perfect vehicle on which to hang his recurring themes: the destructive, screaming, psychotic nature of Love. There's a feeling of sheer fucking insanity throughout the movie and I think that's Zulawski's point about Love. Zulawski draws on different references in filmmaking, taking his cues from comics, Eastern European theatrical theory that favoured intense and unrestrained primal screaming from the actors, the crime genre, Sam Peckinpah and a sly political outlook. Naturalism and realism were completely optional to him: why have people walk into a room and talk to each other when you can have come run in screaming at the top of their lungs, occasionally hit someone and then run out again? Then there are the high-speed car chases and machine gun fights, just because he can. It's like a parody of what you think European arthouse movies might be if you were on speed. It moves at a frantic pace, there's nothing slow or lugubrious about it at all, there's lots of sex, nudity, blood, violence and then there's the oddball poetic wordplay and puns to keep things from getting too dull. And the thing is, it's not a mess. It's made with the utmost planning and calculation – you can't film those elaborate scenes of actors screaming and fighting with each other in a single take without a lot of preparation. You can't film a high-speed car chase with shoot-outs and crashes on the streets of Paris without serious planning. This was filmmaking with the utmost discipline, even if the story was completely batshit. If you crossed Michael Bay with Andrei Tarkovsky, you might end up with someone like Zulawsiki. He has a completely unique and comprehensive point of view and he's managed to get the funding and resources to realize it. And this being France, it's a hit.
I still don't know if it's good, but it's definitely unique. It puts almost everything else out there this year in the pale. I don't buy many DVDs these days, but I sprang for the limited edition with the book of interviews and soundtrack CD because this is the kind of cult movie that's so mental you just have to explore its mysteries.
Hmm… looks like this year's Christmas pantomime on TV will be HAMLET with David Tennant. It won't be as nutty as Zulawski but I'm sure it'll be a good laugh.
More information on this and Zulawski's other movies on DVD can be found at Mondo Vision's website
Waiting for madness at firstname.lastname@example.org
© Adisakdi Tantimedh