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11 JULY 2014

The Phantom of Liberty: humorous critique of bourgeois conventions

"Luis Buñuel's The Phantom of Liberty was quickly dismissed upon its release in 1974. Not only did it have to contend with the lingering success of 1972's similarly themed but significantly less abstract The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, but it was quickly followed by the dreamlike, bi–polar romantic entanglement of the director's last film, That Obscure Object of Desire. Like Discreet Charm, the plot–free Phantom of Liberty is a patchwork of comedic sketches and sight gags through which Buñuel ravages a complacent European culture and the various sexual hang–ups and historical and cultural disconnects of its inhabitants. This heady, almost off–putting masterwork isn't particularly easy to decipher (maybe we aren't meant to), which is why it's best to approach it as a literal comedy of manners.

Films structured around daisy chains of dysfunction are a dime a dozen; most, though, are as tiresomely long–winded as they are content with their own strained circularity. This isn't the case with Phantom of Liberty, which begins with a shot of Goya's 1808 masterpiece 'The Third of May.' The painting depicts Napoleon's army executing a group of faceless Spaniards, and via a reenactment of this struggle, Buñuel depicts how one of Napoleon's captains tries to defile the monument of Doña Elvira only to be smacked on the head by the moving arm of the statue of the woman's husband. (He later intends to sleep with the woman's corpse, and when he opens her coffin, he's amazed by how her beauty has been preserved.) It's the first of many sight gags in the film, each and every one as startling as they are perversely funny. All these moments are possessed by a sense of shocked wonderment and discovery, and they all more or less evoke fragile pasts and characters trying to reconcile their historical detachments."

(Ed Gonzalez, 13 September 2003, Slant Magazine)

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TAGS

1974absurd situationsabsurdist humourabsurdity • Adolfo Celi • Adriana Asti • Anne-Marie Deschott • apparition • Arch de Triomphe • archaic rules • Bernard Verley • black humour • bourgeois • bourgeoise societycancer • chance encounter • cigarettes • Claude Pieplu • coffin • comedic sketches • comedycomedy of mannerscorpsecritiquecultural conventionscultural pastdaughterdining practicesdinner tabledisappearancedoctor • Dona Elvira • eatingepisodic structureetiquetteEuropean cinema • European culture • faith • Francois Maistre • girl • Goya • Helene Perdriere • hotel • housemaid • humour • impulses • internal logic • intrusion • Jean Rochefort • Jean-Claude Brialy • Julien Bertheau • Le Fantome de la Liberte (1974) • Luis Bunuel • mailman • masterwork • Michael Lonsdale • Michel Piccoli • Milena Vukotic • Monica Vitti • Montparnasse • morality • nanny • narrative preconceptions • obscene • ostrich • parodypatchwork • Paul Frankeur • phallicphallic symbol • Philippe Brigaud • Pierre Maguelon • policepolite societypostcard • postman • psychoanalysisritual • rooster • rulesschool • schoolchildren • Serge Silberman • sexual hang-ups • sexual taboo • sight gag • sketch comedy • sniper • social behavioursocial conventionsSpanish filmsubconscioussurrealist cinemasurrealist filmmakertaboo • That Obscure Object of Desire (1977) • The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) • The Phantom of Liberty (1974) • The Third of May (1808) • toilettriptych • vanished • visual gagzoo

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
12 MARCH 2012

Wild Strawberries: expressionistic and Freudian dream sequences

"There are other Expressionist and certainly Freudian dream sequences in the picture, almost always with the old man appearing in them as his present self. And some of these, largely because so many have badly copied, now look a little self–conscious– arty even. But the film's ability to engage the emotions makes it notable for more than just technique.

One of the prime reasons is what can only be described as the transcendent performance of Victor Sjostrom as Professor Borg. Sjostrom was the great Swedish silent–era director, who died aged 80, not long after the film was completed and whose The Phantom Carriage had so influenced Bergman. It was he who made the final scene one of the most serene of all Bergman's endings. 'Sjostrom's face shone', said the director. 'It emanated light – a reflection of a different reality, hitherto absent. His whole appearance was soft and gentle, his glance joyful and tender. It was like a miracle'.

Later, Bergman admitted that the character of Borg was an attempt to justify himself to his own parents, but that Sjostrom had taken his text, made it his own and invested it with Sjostrom's often painful experiences. It is still, however, chiefly concerned with forgiveness between parents and children and the lost possibilities of youth."

(Derek Malcolm, 10 June 1999)

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1957 • carriage • clockcoffincorpsedeathdreamdream sequenceexpressionism • expressionist • expressionisticfilmfilm-maker • forgiveness • Freudian • hearse • in the mindIngmar Bergman • lamppost • lucid dreaming • Lund • medical scientist • mysteriousnightmareold manpainful experiencesphantompsychology • redemption • silent-era • somnambulistStockholmSwedishSwedish filmmaker • Victor Sjostrom • visual metaphorvisual spectaclewheelWild Strawberries (1957)

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
26 JUNE 2011

Victor Frankenstein's horror at infusing life into an inanimate body

"The different accidents of life are not so changeable as the feelings of human nature. I had worked hard for nearly two years, for the sole purpose of infusing life into an inanimate body. For this I had deprived myself of rest and health. I had desired it with an ardour that far exceeded moderation; but now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room and continued a long time traversing my bed–chamber, unable to compose my mind to sleep. At length lassitude succeeded to the tumult I had before endured, and I threw myself on the bed in my clothes, endeavouring to seek a few moments of forgetfulness. But it was in vain; I slept, indeed, but I was disturbed by the wildest dreams. I thought I saw Elizabeth, in the bloom of health, walking in the streets of Ingolstadt. Delighted and surprised, I embraced her, but as I imprinted the first kiss on her lips, they became livid with the hue of death; her features appeared to change, and I thought that I held the corpse of my dead mother in my arms; a shroud enveloped her form, and I saw the grave–worms crawling in the folds of the flannel. I started from my sleep with horror; a cold dew covered my forehead, my teeth chattered, and every limb became convulsed; when, by the dim and yellow light of the moon, as it forced its way through the window shutters, I beheld the wretch – the miserable monster whom I had created. He held up the curtain of the bed; and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me. His jaws opened, and he muttered some inarticulate sounds, while a grin wrinkled his cheeks. He might have spoken, but I did not hear; one hand was stretched out, seemingly to detain me, but I escaped and rushed downstairs. I took refuge in the courtyard belonging to the house which I inhabited, where I remained during the rest of the night, walking up and down in the greatest agitation, listening attentively, catching and fearing each sound as if it were to announce the approach of the demoniacal corpse to which I had so miserably given life."

(Mary Wollstonecraft (Godwin) Shelley, The Project Gutenberg)

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beingbodybreathe life intocomposites • conventional morality • corpsecreation of a new speciescreatorcreature • demon • demoniacal corpse • design responsibilitydiscoveryethicsexperimentationFrankensteinguilthorrorhuman being • human life • human nature • human society • inanimate body • Ingolstadt • lifemankind • Mary Godwin • Mary Shelleymoral dilemmamoral imaginationsnatureProject GutenbergPrometheus (mythology)speciesspeculative fictionspeculative researchVictor Frankenstein • Wollstonecraft

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
09 JUNE 2004

Julia Kristeva: Theory of Abjection

"According to Julia Kristeva in the Powers of Horror, the abject refers to the human reaction (horror, vomit) to a threatened breakdown in meaning caused by the loss of the distinction between subject and object or between self and other. The primary example for what causes such a reaction is the corpse (which traumatically reminds us of our own materiality); however, other items can elicit the same reaction: the open wound, shit, sewage, even the skin that forms on the surface of warm milk."

(Dino Felluga)

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abjectbodybreakdowncorpsedisgustfear of the abjecthorrorJulia Kristevamateriality • revulsion • theory of abjection • traumavisceral
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