In memory of the most illustrious hanged man in history, whose birth we commemorate this month, I’ve decided to explore two European motion pictures that end with institutional hangings. The first won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 1977. “The Ascent,” by Soviet director Larissa Shapitko. It details a young revolutionary’s climb to the gallows. The second film, from year 2000, Lars Von Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark,” features Icelandic pop singer Bjork as a blind, young, single, factory worker bound for the noose. Watch these two films and then come join the discussion.
We often reach back through literature to find parallels in treatment of subject matter. This months subject being capitol punishment I didn’t have to delve very far back for something stellar. Like Kafka’s “ In the Penal Colony,” “The Ascent” is not about capitol punishment. Nor are the two films in this series.,Even though their story lines climax with executions, they are about something much more personal to each of us. As I see them, both films are focused on the integrity, or lack of, in each character more than the right or wrong of the punishment. At least Von Trier states as much, on the commentary track for “Dancer in the Dark” (Criterion edition).
We aren’t given that much time to sift through credos or dogmas in either film. The masterstroke in Shepitko’s opus must be how we are permitted to acquire sympathy for the humanity even in the enemy, especially the ruthless police inspector, whom the camera successfully susses out for that torturing angel of conscience that flits up in his eyes.
“The Ascent” becomes, essentially, a passion play. We don’t realize it until the very end. Gradually, the character Sotnikov’s peculiar compassion takes us in, but his motives can not be instantly, fully ascertained. When he finally does transcend, we don’t have long to admire him. That’s is usually how this type of story unfurls. But instead of thieves on the crosses beside this savior, there swing innocent folk on those ropes, including an elder farmer, a single mother and adolescent girl. All three of those punished with Sotnikov are utter strangers to the condemned man, which seals his second to last breath with karmic remorse. The last one is reserved for a redemptive exchange between the accused and an innocent in the crowd of onlookers for whom this hanging has been staged.
I cannot adequately describe the poignancy with which the execution scene in this movie is presented. We’ll try to provide you with a reference. The image above, of a painting by Paul Delaroche, “Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1834) seems to harbor some of the same spirit. This roughly 8 X 10 foot canvas is among the most emotionally overwhelming objects I have ever seen. Coincidentally, this particular image of the painting that you are looking at has been cited as one of the finest images on the entire English Wikipedia. Search your conscience, while examining this image, for a key to the end of “The Ascent,” and “Dancer in the Dark.” What’s wrong with this picture? Lady Jane was elevated to the throne for less than a month before she was deposed and beheaded by a relative, in a bid for power by protestants against Catholics during that time. The victim was scarcely 17 years old.
“Dancer” will be zoomed in on next month. In “The Ascent,” the child actress, Lyudmilla Polyakova, gets to be a part of one of the most tender and lyrical passages in cinema, just as the noose slips around her neck. Shepitko orchestrates the scene for maximum heartbreak. It’s like something straight out of Chaplin’s “The Kid,” but with darker twists. Let’s begin dissecting this sequence with her approach to the noose. It was obviously tied up there for someone much taller. Because, evidently, not even the chief of the gallows could correctly anticipate the needs of this hanging. So a square apple box booster is hastily brought out and laid on top of the too short trunk of tree. All these things look gigantic next to the sparrow-like frame of the little girl. Those heavy implements of demise take on the scale of sandbox toy or circus ring geometry, reminiscent of children’s playthings. She’s a hatchling, for God’s sake. Those goddamn Nazi’s plan to hang her. That’s an act of terror. Tissues please.
Shepitko cares about human beings that will die before they outgrow the playground. She confronts us with an innocent being blatantly victimized. Watch this one take that giant step. She’s literally lifted off the ground by the hangman, by taking hold of his hand. The staging evokes some father helping his daughter on the jungle gym. She slips her head through the loop and peeks out at the spectators like baby bird on a limb. It is an evocation of pure pathos. Why should a child go through this? Authorities commit such atrocities to provoke fear.
What are we afraid of? Before he’s captured, in those wintery wilds of Russia, near the close of WWII, Sotnikov appears too physically weak to buck the status quo. Marooned in the forest, sporting a bad cough in his chest and a slug of lead in his leg, he rails against the branches on a low hung bow. Right out on the screen, for all to comprehend, here, a “man for the people” rues the masterplan’s unraveling, but at this stage, all we can see is a hurt soldier trapped like a rabbit under a tree. There’d be scant evidence that he’s a figurehead for the resistance, except for this one, raw expression of rage.
The backdrop for this rabbit hunt is rendered all the more claustrophobic with shrouds of snow dust whipping about all the time and a howling wind singeing everything else back down to zilch. By the way, let’s own up once more, thanks to Shepitko’s camera crew, to how old-fashioned 1:33:1 black and white film can convey the menace of frigid skies and fields as good as anything digital and new.
“The Ascent” has been called Shapitko’s masterpiece. I can’t find any reason why not. The filmmaker made her warm-hearted tragedy in the bitterest cold. Her ability to capture such subtly nuanced performances, consistently, in uncommonly long takes, under harsh conditions indicates bona-fide directorial grace. Her actors display world-class gifts. Sensors often made it hard for auteurs working inside the Soviet egg to make their movies competitive at international contests, but this one broke the shell.Prolonged, intimate close ups invite us to witness and be amazed at the ways ligament and scruple can hitch and mesh inside the human face.
In the political chess game of that took place during those times, history lays much of the blame on Nazis. Including this in her anti-war film probably helped Shepitko avert big showdowns with censors, but it was popular with everyone because she struck a universal chord. There was evidently enough of an openness to gender equality built in to that republic at that time, for an enlightened woman director to make positive contact with the outside world. Shepitko’s movie as well as Delaroche’s painting propose, at the level of conscience, we are all pretty much the same. Everyone that looks at them comes to the same conclusion.
“The Ascent” is an adaptation from the novella “Sotnikov” by Vasili. Bykov. I don’t know how it begins, but the opening of Shepitko’s film frames a blizzard on a Russian landscape. Violent gusts whip snow crystals and ice dust into pale, grainy gradations of grey. Silent telegraph poles lean both ways like staggered burial markers along the railroad right of way.
A vanishing veil of snow serves as a wipe reveal of a village, in the near distance, in which no one is left to defend.
This and a hand full of other shots are re-inserted after the finale of the film, like bookends. Was the filmmaker suggesting that the way out in of this predicament is the same as the way in? Or are we simply left reminded of home and liberty lost at the end?
A vacant village and machine gun fire is the first sign we see and hear as the film begins. Then a man’s upper body pops up from a hiding place and signal’s to retreat with his arm. Many heads pop up. What’s left of the population of that village ascends into view from the bottom of the frame. We watch from behind, the backsides of folks in retreat, fleeing in fear. Does this ascension accentuate a notion of this population’s “rebirth” as refugees, or perhaps The Rapture is being interpreted quixotically?
Either way, through lashing wind, extended families and neighbors carry what they may and make their way over snowscapes warily. A few rifles hang off uniformed shoulders of mutinous soldiers, shepherding those gentle folk as kin. As 2013 comes to an end and 2014 begins. Let us pray this historical trend stops before it sweeps us all in.
Are we sleeping? Do we need a wake up call? Good stories call out our common conscience. If a major goal of democracy is to give everyone a gun, then a major goal of storytelling must be to prevent us from pulling the trigger. The preservation and protection of personal liberties could not be of greater importance in the minds of the great storytellers. The films in this series have that in common.
It is high time that Charlie Chaplin’s “Modern Times” (1936) be fit into our massive blog on Humanity and the Machine. It is not technically science fiction, as most of the films in this series are, but neither is Geoffrey Reggio’s “Quatsi Trilogy” which opened the series and yet it informs us so richly about our future.
Contextually, Chaplin’s “Modern Times” presents us with a romance between two optimistic homeless persons. Ideologically it pays respect to the poor and working classes during the height of the industrial era. As a piece of research into what makes humans laugh, “Modern Times” conducts us through a prolonged, elaborate and ingenious series of gags accomplished by a combination of rigged sets, split second choreography and virtuosic variations on the mechanization of humans.
I have pitted guns and movies against each other in this series more than once. “Modern Times” gives us a chance to compare the two very similar looking machines that produce them. Compare any state of the art factory assembly line, making say weapons of the WW I era, with the one in the movie set that manufactures laughs in Chaplin’s blockbuster movie. Both depend on a huge collective of workers. Both were made for a profit. It could be argued that Charlie Chaplin’s factory has produced something of much greater and lasting value for the benefit of more people than any other factory of its time.
As for the argument that movies are fantasy and not accurate when compared to the real world, even though it premiered almost seventy years ago, “Modern Times” managed to foresee the two-way screen that enables Big Brother to eavesdrop on law-abiding citizens. “The Matrix (1999), reminds those who have taken on the questionable karma of invading the privacy of the masses, that they too are being watched at all times, no doubt from all angles.
Surveillance may be a dandy method for catching criminals but it sets up the environment for a war on thought. Another fine science fiction film that delves into this subject and would deserve to be included in this series, if it wasn’t already discussed in these pages a few years back, is “Fahrenheit 451” (1966). As if we were actually paying attention, the French New Wave prophet Francois Truffaut brought Isaac Asimov’s science fiction classic to the screen to provided us with advanced warning on the totalitarian wet dream that is well on its way to becoming the norm in America today.
Storytellers by nature are prophets. Could our best contemporary ones be on par with the old world prophets of scripture? Hardly. Those great oracles in the scriptures have had a long time for their prophecies to be adulterated by hypocrites. Their words have been being cooped by power brokers for thousands upon thousands of years. The modern day prophets haven’t been recognized yet.
There is an amusingly prophetic sequence in “Modern Times” where we were warned about this recent very grave and disastrous privacy violation imposed on Americans by our government. The Little Tramp is not a tramp yet but a factory worker. The first act of Modern Times deals with the events that lead up to his homelessness. His trouble begins when he clocks out for lunch two minutes early, ducks into the washroom and leans back on a washbasin for a cigarette break.
“Hey you! What are you doing there? shouts the boss,
The startled worker almost falls in the sink scissoring his legs twice in the air before his feet return to the floor.
Get back to work?”
From an enormous screen that moments ago was only a wall, a hard nosed executive frowns down on the little, blue-bibbed man.
Charlie drops his smoke and scurries back to the jangling noise and repetitive stress of the factory assembly line.
So many Americans seem to have skipped the shock response altogether and rushed back to their business without question.
Most of us who watch a lot of movies share a fascination with human nature. I could say I’m a movie lover or that I am in the midst of a lifetime research project, either would be accurate. I’m particularly interested in examples of heroism such as the kind exhibited in our movie this month.
Just like every art form before it, movies will pass out of fashion some day. This may come to pass far in the future, or maybe way sooner. The mode in which they are told will continue to evolve, but stories and storytelling will never die.
A story is a product of our necessity to ruminate with language. It is the tongue of the soul. Stories began sophisticating our human brains long before they could be applied to any commercial pursuit or conscious artistic statement. Stories are a shared context inherent in everything we do. As storytellers humans themselves are the living record.
Motion pictures, coupled with the digital domain, are morphing into something more that we can’t yet fathom. Even as we speak, something more wondrous than cinema is being born in a way similar to how painting and music delivered us to the doorstep of motion pictures, but let us not forget that humans are the repository of these stories.
Neither the libraries, nor universities, not Netflix, Amazon or any religious institutions, nor even the gathering clouds of digital domination will ever have a corner on the market of story. We are supplying the stories to them. Nevertheless, while new mediums of storytelling are always being born, in our day and age, the common tongue is still spoken most eloquently with cinema.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), directed by Josh Zeitlen, has already garnered the film world’s most prestigious awards. It achieves awe-inspiring performances, gritty splendor and universal relevance with amateur actors, a miniscule budget, and a script adapted from a one-act play.
The most universal stories are also the simplest and this is the great achievement of “Beasts.” With stubborn, giddy pride and self-reliance, a motherless child and her undomesticated father obtain material sufficiency, one day at a time.
None of the three antagonists in this story are human. The foremost is Nature, with whom the characters collaborate for survival. The next most formidable threat is everything beyond the levee–our world in other words–regarded as a kind of modern Mordor by those gentle folk.
The opening shot elegantly represents the entire microcosm of the pre-adolescent protagonist’s ordeal as she coddles a little bird in one hand while fashioning a pillar of mud for the creature to stand on by itself. This procedure comes across as both child’s play and a demonstration of maternal instinct. If the bird represents the little girl, then the little girl represents a benevolent influence providing refuge in a dangerous world.
Who is the protector, while her six-year-old figure wanders half-naked through a shabby, littered landscape, interacting familiarly with a turtle, chicken and hog? When she confides how little she understands them, the filmmaker is inviting us to discover how inadequately we comprehend his subject and the squalid environment she calls home. A visual clue is inserted in the introductory shots to listen for the heartbeat, the mystery that unites the greater universe.
Her immediate universe is revealed to us as a rag-tag regiment of raunchy revelers on Fat Tuesday. They savor their seclusion and simplicity relying on meager livestock, abundant booze, and semi-regular boons of gulf shellfish for subsistence. In that universe life is a party and the party goes on pretty much uninterrupted on top of whatever calamity happens to befall them.
With the glow of moonshine and fireworks on their faces, an assortment of sodden misfits, young and old, parade, royalty-like, down the same single track that most of them will jamb in order to escape nature’s wrath the next day. Among them are fishermen, freeloaders, saloon owners and a witch/teacher that warns her of global warming and the cowardliness of “pussies.”
The imagination of our child hero concocts an apocalyptic myth, woven through her voice-over, about how she prepares for the return of prehistoric predators unlocked from the melting ice-caps. The quest for her present day mother is contrasted with this and her future, destined with the fate of mother earth, to be drowned by the flood. It’s either that or be domesticated and formally introduced into institutionalized poverty.
Most of humankind huddles closely together over the dividing line between poverty and self-sufficiency and Josh Zeitlen’s lens stands squarely over that fulcrum in “Beasts.”
“When you get sick over there,” she says, “they plug you into the wall.” Is this meant to epitomize the sacrifice of the “wild” who become domesticated? The country they are talking about is our country. We must be the “pussies,” they keep referring to.
Like any animal in her jungle, the turns of events in the life of this little girl are fateful and decisive from the beginning. In an early scene her daddy collapses from a mere thump of her fist. Shocked and bewildered, she skedaddles to the witch,” I think I broke something.” When the flood does come, engulfing everything, she faces fear valiantly, while her juiced-up father calls out the rain groping with shotgun blasts for the jugular of the hurricane.
In nature, there are always casualties. This film is an ode to the offspring that survives. “For all the animals that got caught in the flood, the end of the world has already happened.” The little moppet grows philosophical under pressure, with wisdom well above her years, yet never do any of her quips seem fake spilling from her lips. “They’re all down at the bottom now trying to breath through water.”
This film speaks so elegantly in the common tongue to anyone that feels the constant dread of impending disaster hanging over their head. It articulates the pressures of living on the shifting sands of modern existence and it indicts preceding generations for inadequately providing for and preparing us to meet the future.
Therein lies the real antagonist in this rural chamber piece and how you would identify it depends on your social orientation. It’s been called poverty, ignorance, the ravages of alcohol, the existential crisis of being human. I grant it a distinct regard from the previously described beasts because, while we can not tame the monstrous destructiveness of Nature, or reverse the damage our bad upbringing has had on the modern world, we can, and this diminutive heroine does, confront the adversary at her core and does so in a way that is an example to us all.
This is part 2 of a continuing investigation into a Cult of Venus that thrives today in modern movies.
I recommend, if you haven’t recently, or perhaps ever, take a look at “Stealing Beauty”(1996) and “La Belle et la Bête” (1946)–a double feature in which we compare a movie that is often ignored with one that is beloved by all.
We might as well resume with a film made by someone from the culture that gave Venus her name. Bernardo Bertolucci has been probing, adoring and obsessing over modern versions of her for over five decades. Take his movie, in which Liv Tyler plays a cosmopolitan virgin on the verge.
“Stealing Beauty” has been trivialized by some critics who fail to find real nourishment beneath its confectionary facade. To be sure, the picture looks like something a food writer might describe as pastel farmhouse over a bed of grapevine on terra cotta crust. Why the visual excess? Because “Stealing Beauty” is a fable. If you do not subscribe to this, you may be dismissed.
Anyone who paid keen attention would be able to guess, with the backdrop of idealized nature, archetypal sculpture and the way director and crew pump the painterly schema, “Stealing Beauty” automatically adopts an atmosphere of mythic escapades.
Young love never looked so yummy. It smacks sugar sweet indeed, but there is blood at the center of a good allegory and a hyper touch of it’s color is found in almost any composition in this film. Take Lucy’s last act skirt, or her father’s first act shirt–a photographic rapport that suggests their bond. The attention-getting hue calls to mind menstrual flow, birth blood and wedding night scarlet too, but especially the precious, stirring succulence that circulates the limbs of holy youth which fine art and the movies entice us to adore.
While we’re delving in to Bertolucci’s eye candy, let me point out that silk-draped portal off the barn that billows like some feverishly stoked kiln, which is echoed later by that campfire that permits just enough exposure in the obligatory scene.
Before the days of color cinematography there worked, in motion pictures, a fanatical servant of Orpheus. He too, like Bertolucci, was a poet before he became a filmmaker. He was born before cinema, but then perhaps we are speaking of the first poet of cinema too. They became one in the same in Msr. Jean Cocteau.
I cannot contain my suspicion that Bertolucci installed his curtain in the farmhouse to connect it with a fabulous opus on celluloid that the first poet took upon himself to frame. With his stolen one, Bertolucci often cheers Beauty on from the sidelines of that French master’s enchanted tale. He is also, coincidentally, restating for everyone or at least everyone paying attention, that this film is a fable like Cocteau’s inimitable “Beauty and the Beast,” better known as “La Belle et la Bête”.
If you’ve watched Cocteau’s masterpiece, you’ll never forget the sequence in which the character of Belle, played by the luminous Josette Day, arrives and enters Bête’s magic castle. Watch as she pushes in those massive doors and is snagged by the magnetism of her terrifying host. The halls are lit both-sides with regiments of disembodied arms, sprouted from walls instead of human ribs and each supports a glowing candelabra. One room is followed by another even more mysterious. The inner sanctum is decorated with a row of moonlit, floor-to-ceiling-draped windows.
The magnetism of La Bête grows so strong, by then, that something between the floor and Beauty’s feet conveys her to Him. The possessed castle inhales and sucks the diaphanous shades toward the swooning Belle. She comprehends only later that this is Bête in magic drapery drag, privately pawing her as she passes.
This brief passage is one of the most sumptuous in film history. It reveals not only the perverse pleasure that Bête takes in observing Belle without reserve, but takes in the ravishment of the senses that she experiences inside his enchanted in-breath before fear sets in.
First hints of dread come from a dressing room laid out for Belle. Objects in there whisper aloud, offering their service to her. With such animation in the world of things she is unfamiliar, or perhaps she comprehends, finally, that this castle has eyes to which she does not wish to be further exposed. So she runs but, naturally, all roads lead to La Bête. Suddenly, there he towers, with dashing, full-face beard, ivory fangs and diamond spangles. “Ue Allez Vous,” he bellows, blocking her way, and the trembling, exquisite, adorable and defenseless Belle instantly faints…
…meanwhile, back in our movie seats, ten bucks makes the goddess appear overhead, flick, flick, flick. Once more, radiant Venus descends to the world of men, flicka, flicka, flick…
The opening credits of “Stealing Beauty” play over a home made video. Here again we have a voyeur stalking a beautiful maiden from behind a magic glass. In his prying lens, Lucy is unsuspecting captive. Ironically, it is Bertolucci voice issuing from the secret admirer as he drops the tape of Lucy in the sky down to Lucy on the tracks. The video was recorded on the plane from America and then by train to Siena. It’s all we’ve had to look at so far. We’ve watched a lot of claustrophobic angles of Lucy sleeping, thinking, looking out the window, moving freely about the cabin, listening to music, sleeping some more. We get a cool glimpse of some drool dripping down her chin.
Why cool? Because this is Venus, adorable, immortal, woman-child, sex diva, war goddess. Though it should not be true of the audience, all of this is lost, of course, on luminous Lucy who embodies a ravishing ideal of lady luck with, delectably, zero awareness of our prying eyes.
Now would you just look at how that hand of hers sleeps so close to her blue jean-ed crotch. Is it meant to recall that infatuating pose painted by another celebrated high-priest of Her sect? He who is nearly five hundred or so years Bertolucci’s senior, and is known as Titian, a northerner like him, but from Venice instead of Parma. That Titian was a titan of Venus.
In case you never have, allow your gaze sufficient contact with the “Venus d’Urbino” to observe how gratified she is to lay naked in your presence. It is enough to make one doubt her virginity no? Edward Manet recaste that archetype a few centuries later, transforming Venus into Olympia, a haughty, prosperous, young whore (1864). Next up, Signore Bertolucci rigs his photo reel to ritually restore Venus’ virginity so he can steal it once more.
What is it about this little rite in which movie going mortals regularly love to partake? It is far from the first time that Venus has been around this block. That hottie and her posse are preserved in stone hewn from cultures that reach back to earth’s earliest inhabited zones.
Meanwhile, back to the future, Lucy’s awake again and looking out the window, descending to the land of men. She never acknowledges being watched by them though. You, I and the filmmakers are as graced as La Bete to peek into this pure maiden’s personal space.
Getting back to Bertolucci’s “Beauty”, is Venus really listening to those headphones? No, she’s asleep again. So we begin probing even closer, with the insistence of this mystery lens–much closer than we should. The filmmaker has gradually imposed on his audience a hip, ethical predicament, but it’s not our camera, so we can’t be blamed. Right? We are only watching.
Is that right, or wrong? We’ve just been going along. Now, we begin to ask ourselves if we should continue on when, suddenly, Venus is awakened by the mystery documentarian, advising her to un-dock now, having arrived at her destination.
Lucy grabs her grips and flits onto the platform stopping quick to fix a lace. “What are you doing?” she asks, staring down the lens for very the first time? “I was on the plane.” He whispers, just like Beauty’s dressing mirror in “La Belle et La Bête”. “This is for you.” The tape drops out the window. “Shit!” Lucy exclaims as fright breaks over her fetching forehead. Bingo, Bernardo, you just scored! That furled brow shows how it feels to be Venus in a Venus crazed world.
Because the maidenhead of a virgin is referred to as “her secret,” it makes sense that there is a secret at the core of this story. Is it the same mist that shrouds the sculptor when he wonders why Lucy’s stepfather wants him to sculpt her? “Why did he send her to me?” he confides to his fellow Irish ex-pat wife. “He’s never liked my work?”
I prefer to think the sculptor and Lucy’s step-father both understand why the step-father sent her from New York. I prefer to think that the sculptor’s wife, with whom he is speaking at this moment, does not know the reason and the sculptor is probing just to be certain.
There is also, most definitely, a beast at the core of this Beauty tale. It amounts to almost everyone else in the script. The whole world seems to be chasing this fox. The character of Richard presses most aggressively but, ever since the man with the video camera, each new character from the sculptor to the dying playwright is poaching after her. Every female in the script is getting off on Lucy in some way or other as well. Beastly nature–what can you do?
If I had a daughter, I’d encourage her to see this film as she approached adulthood, with the hope that it could provide a pertinent preview of the pleasures and pressures of becoming sexually active.
After the close call with a young seducer, it is a relief that the boy Lucy eventually connects with is not a slave to the sexual mores of his peers. Lucy’s salvation materializes in the form of the rake’s gentler cousin, a boy of the same age. Osvaldo is the only character in the story that hasn’t attempted to steal her beauty. His head of bucolic locks spells out “nature boy”, cinematically, and foreshadows the spherical canopy of a great tree suspended over Beauty’s sexual setting free.
This iconoclastic heist flick argues that all larcenies perpetrated on Venus are not equal. The sculptor has permission and his wife’s offense, for instance, is petty and meant to amuse when she outs the 19 year-old’s maidenhood. She and her family and friends all indulge in good-natured gossip out of sheer boredom.
Other predators in the upper age limit commit benign infractions as well, filling out this randy romance with spicy minor roles like a sleepwalking art dealer, played, most charmingly, by none other than our most beloved Beast player of all, the French matinee idol Jean Marais and Jean Cocteau’s erotic muse until death. Does anyone out there still dismiss the notion that this film is Bertolluci’s “La Belle et La Bête”?
Embracing a bountiful bouquet of wildflowers that she’s gathered from a classic Monet meadow nearby, Lucy finally asks the sculptor point-blank for the last piece of her puzzle. Where were you in August of 1975?” He takes a while to answer, “That must have been when I did your mother’s portrait.” With this line, the sculptor admits to Lucy her paternal claim. “That’s what I thought,” she replies to accept it. The sculptor levels his next line so that it’s meaning cannot be misunderstood. “It was one of the few times we (he and his wife) have ever been apart.” “Oh, I wouldn’t ask her,” she says, to assure she’s understood. “These are for you.” Lucy hands her father the bouquet, then dabs a tear. Whether it comes from a sense of profound connection or the lack thereof is only next made clear.
The master shows the finished work for which she modeled. It is pure essence. A massive tree trunk yields to sensuous curves in smooth, even grain, articulating immaculate skin on cheeks, forehead and chin. All this is presided over by inquisitive eyes of a curious, absorbent youth in soft, yellow pine. The sculptor confesses, in an earlier scene, his works are about himself. In this case it rings true at least a couple of ways.
Rather than dwell on his accomplishment, the sculpture praises Lucy for how lovely she turned out and she, in turn, looks proud as any branch could ever be for being immortalized by her secret trunk in the trunk of a real tree. To prevent hurt feelings with the sculptor’s wife, it is framed as cool to keep their truth concealed. On this she does agree, then father and daughter embrace, finally. Ironically then, the camera tracks away, in a wide radial around that great chunk of tree, finally showing some respect for Venus’s privacy.
This surprise plot detail attempts to define the unique bond of the artist and model. It points to a shared ambiguity, the secret to which each of them holds a key. I haven’t time to go into this subject here carefully but I will, in the next installment of this series on Venus, so stay tuned, please, if you will. Now, with Lucy’s daddy I.D.’d, we can get on with her inaugural foray.
Sweet surrender in the Siena hills under the verdant ball of an enormous tree. Earth pauses on the head of a pin for Venus and the Chosen One to get it on. Come spy with me on the pretty pilgrims perched above a vine-rowed rise, with the Tuscan sunset reflected in their eyes. Dappled cloudheads cradle rising stars. Campfire illuminates breeze-blown branch sighs, while down slip virgin panties from virgin buns and thighs. Nature Boy avails and proceeds to make love instead of screw. The coolest thing, besides the obvious, is next morning when Osvaldo confesses, “It was my first time too.
For the duration of Spring and throughout the Summer we will focus our lens on what I have identified to be an ancient cult of Venus thriving in our culture and how its system of belief is spread and practiced through motion pictures. Venus and her predecessors are the most idolized archetypes in history.
Venus is archetypal, that is to say, built up over the ages in our grey-matter through progression of intelligence, meaning she is much older than the early Roman Emperor that named her. Venus embodies a Latin version of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, who was, even earlier, appropriated from Mesopotamia. Time has washed away all but the outlines, but a vast majority of humans still revere and serve Venus.
Few of her modern adherents still connect with her illustrious lineage. Present day folk are less superstitious and more literal. She’s morphed from The Morning Star into The Ideal Babe, blown up twenty feet tall at the local movie theater. Like a projector with a screen, we superimpose Venus on the attractive female in the movies. Our imagination makes her into an actual person. In our mind, she’s perfect.
The camera worships her and this gratifies us. Can she actually ever really become flesh? Or will her ideal live on only as a biological driver in our brain?
If you were born in Rome six thousand years ago, Venus comes from the realm of the gods, but she does consent, on occasion, to consort with humans. Venus is a Diva–the reverse of the archetype of the Catholic Madonna (who came to Rome much later). That Mary starts out human, then turns into a demigod, an immaculate female who disdains sex with mortals and in return for that distinction, her womb is seeded by the Almighty. She is turned to by her devotees for divine guidance, spiritual favors and all manner of indulgences.
In her peculiarly nature-driven way Venus motivates the development of the highest potential in humanity, as well, inspiring us to accomplish great deeds worthy of her favor. The history of humankind is loaded with heroic stories in which we sacrifice our brute nature in order to serve that ideal of beauty which Venus represents.
The first humans identified the proto-Venus with springtime, as a tribute to the awe-inspiring pageant of life and death in her fertility cycles. Her maidenhood has been closely associated with the butterfly for its subtlety and fleeting nature. Her fertility arouses unbridled passion and aggression. While her nature may be fleeting, filmmakers work tirelessly to promote and preserve her image for the ages. Fates of the actually lived lives of sex-symbols and their adorers have flamed out endlessly like sparks in a bonfire, while a luminous starlet’s face that was lens-ed a hundred years ago is still capable of illuminating an audience with her charm and grace in the present day.
Through the movies, we pay our respects to her exquisite face and features. Each and every one of us spurted up through her crack when she was called The Fountain of Youth. We all sprung from the Goddess of Sex in our primal brain. Through her we seek initiation into, and then later feed our nostalgia for that first bold flush of youth that we all experienced when we came of age.
Behind every boy/girl mating ritual Venus is the Mystery Date, first fruit of the creative matrix we call Mother Nature and the personification of good luck. Mars is her male counterpart. Men and women alike are hard-wired like a magnet to Venus. Soldiers comfort themselves with her image while at war. Suitors fall head over heels when at court. Women strive daily to imitate her in all her voluptuous venality. We all pay homage to her in the movies, engaging not in idolatry, but idealism.
A heavy metal projector spins out a fantasy of her ethereal charms so that we can encounter The Cosmic Babe in all her gorgiosity. Why do we go back again and again for a fleeting illusion? Because she works wonders.
Now hear all ye’ worshippers of Venus, collect the seed from tasselled ears of tallest grain. Have them roasted on low fire in heaps and drizzle them with butter from the fatted cow. Now make a salt offering. Take this feast and gather all different kinds of people in caves and eat of her harvest while watching your goddess recline there, front and center. Enjoy her beaming down on you right now, your desire joined with hers, intimately. Somewhere up in the blue sky of love chemistry in your brain, she’s giving you heady suggestions of sex, with plenty close-ups on the incomparable premise of ideal love and beauty. Now frequently consume this feast and while away the hours in her presence and you will feel blessed.