Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sweet Movie - 1974

"Sweet Movie" - 1974
Dir. by Dusan Makavejev - 1 hr. 38 min.

Boat Entrance (scene)

by Clayton Hollifield

"Sweet Movie" is somewhat ironically titled.  It's one of the most bizarre, willfully wildly inappropriate, messed up films I've ever seen.  Even understanding that's it's somewhat in the vein of Alejandro Jodorowsky's work (although I don't consider this film to be on par with Jodorowsky's films), which is to say that it's a product of a specific time, place, and aesthetic, which is another way of saying that's it's just plainly messed up, it's a film that wavers between occasional brilliance and scenes that would get people arrested (no foolies).  Also, like Jodorowsky's work, writing about "Sweet Movie" is exceedingly difficult, as this is a film that must be experienced to appreciate the depravity contained within.

There are two main plots (although the plot is less the point than trying to create a series of spectacles that provoke, with all that statement implies).  The first follows Miss Canada (Carole Laure) through a series of events that start with a chastity game show that she wins, which earns her the hand of what seems like a Texan blowhard.  Once the wedding night is over, she is discarded, literally put inside of a suitcase, and then loses her mind after a sexual encounter with a singer on the Eiffel Tower that ends in a "love cramp."  Miss Canada goes catatonic, and ends up being breastfed in a bizarre scatological collective.  The second thread follows Anna Planeta (Anna Prucnal), who is courted by a sailor, whom she ends up murdering while they make love in a giant container of sugar below deck.

First up, if you're considering watching this movie, understand that this is a boundary-pusher to the extreme.  If you tried to imagine the filthiest pornography made, you'd still come up short of what's present in "Sweet Movie."  The only real difference is that, while male and female nudity (and sexual acts) are omnipresent, they're not explicitly shown.  That's not to say that there isn't a very high explicit nudity quotient (you will see everything anatomically available, and I mean everything), but actual sex acts aren't shown in close-up.  Having said that, Miss Canada's story ends with her pulling someone's penis out and nuzzling it to her cheek, vacantly staring off in the distance for what seems like half an hour.  That's one of the lesser sights in "Sweet Movie," although it was apparently the breaking point for Laure, who quit the film after this scene.  Also understand, if what I'm describing doesn't seem that extreme, I'm leaving a lot of things unsaid.  According to "Sweet Movie's" wikipedia entry, Laure quit the production in disgust, Prucnal had her Polish passport revoked over this film (effectively exiling her from her home country), and director Dusan Makavejev based filming of "Sweet Movie" in Canada because he had already been exiled from his home country of Yugoslavia over his earlier work.  Next time you hear some celebrity talk about "haters," put it in context.  None of them have ever been banned from their home country over their work, nor has anyone created a piece of work in years where you might look at the situation and think that reaction was reasonable.

These sort of things are relevant for one reason: the entire point of "Sweet Movie" is to provoke a reaction, and then push viewers past their breaking point.  Sometimes, there are visual aspects that are spectacular (like the giant face on the front of the boat, or the White Stripes-themed murder visual of bright red blood mixing with the pure white of the vat of sugar Anna and her lover are in, or Miss Canada being shoved into a suitcase and literally being treated as a piece of luggage), and these are the moments that make you think maybe director Dusan Makavejev knows what he's doing.  And then there are the scenes like when Anna lures four kids onto her boat with the promise of candy, then basically gives them each a fully-nude lapdance (this was my breaking point, and the scene seemed to go on forever) before murdering them that makes you think that maybe Makavejev ought to be imprisoned.  There are scenes like when Miss Canada ends up being brought to the collective in a wheelbarrow, as if she'd been picked from a restaurant's trash-bin and ends up mutely not comprehending the orgy of bodily functions going on around a communal dinner table that suggest that Makavejev assembled this film because he knew a bunch of weirdos who wouldn't mind dropping a deuce on camera.

Watching "Sweet Movie" raises a lot of questions.  On the most basic level, does "Sweet Movie" has artistic merit?  There are moments where you'd have to say yes.  There were moments where I'd also say that it was unrepentant trash that's only purpose is to shock.  But John Waters' "Pink Flamingos" came out only two years prior, and if it's more infamous, it's only because fewer people have seen "Sweet Movie" (and also because "Flamingos" is more of a "movie" than this is).  Is this a good movie?  Man, I don't know.  There's a big part of me that thinks seeing "Sweet Movie" at home, on a big fancy TV and by myself is a complete bastardization of the intended experience.  There was no home video when this was made, and I can see "Sweet Movie" making sense in a darkened, sticky-floored room, and in a crowd, where the viewing becomes more of a "how much can you take" competition, where half the fun is being in a crowd that's groaning and half-covering their eyes, and you can take pride for lasting longer than the people who tap out and flee for the exits.  The first time I saw "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" was at home, as a rented VHS tape, and it's appeal in that context was completely lost on me.  I'm not going to pretend "Sweet Movie" is any good, but I would pretend that was the aim, either.

"Sweet Movie" is deservedly reviled.  There's no other way to put it.  Makavejev wants to make each viewer hate what they are watching, and he accomplishes that.  Everyone's bar will be set at a different point.  I had a real problem with the scene with nude Anna writhing around and on children, but I had an even bigger problem with the spliced-in footage showing the results of a Polish massacre that was unrelated to anything else.  It seemed like an umbrella under which Makavejev hoped to hide beneath, in an attempt to claim artistic credibility or to "make a statement," while grinning madly at the crap that he was pulling on everyone.  I can deal with the content of the film (even if uncomfortably), but those clips felt like Makavejev was breaking the fourth wall in a bad, counterproductive way (which also undermined the final image of the film).

So watch "Sweet Movie," if you dare, but don't say I didn't warn you.  I don't know if it's great or completely evil, but at least it was something.

WTF / 5 - Streaming

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