Thursday, 23 July 2009

Puce Moment

The images, forever beyond comment or criticism, exist without context. Any meaning that is tangible enough to be put into words is placed there by the viewer, who can choose to see the film as silent, as it may have appeared in 1949, or with the Jonathan Halper folk-tunes that were added in 1970 to offer a vaguely ironic juxtaposition between the implied 1920's decadence - and the Garbo-like suggestions of glamour that are central to the film's design - against the somewhat psychedelic, heart-on-sleeve longing of a strummed acoustic rhythm, backed by an electric lead.

That Puce Moment (1949) was originally created as a rough sketch for a planned but never completed feature-length project to-be-titled Puce Women is in no way a mark against its character. Even in its surviving form of a minuscule six-minutes and fourteen seconds of screen time in total, the actual filmmaking technique, and the way in which the audience is able to tease out a story, however vague it might be, is never less than fascinating; drawing on our natural associations with the aforementioned G. Garbo, whose request to be left alone saw her self-imposed seclusion in a New York City penthouse, or of the world of a film like Sunset Blvd. (1950), where the faded glamour and existence in the shadow of Hollywood writ large becomes a world of illusion, between dream and insanity.

Puce Moment directed by Kenneth Anger, 1949:

As a complete work and in its own right, Puce Moment is a mesmerizing spectacle; an absolute marvel of colour and composition, lighting and shadow - as the swishing gowns that open the film take on an almost kaleidoscopic approach, where collage turns to montage and the accumulative effect of these images becomes absolutely astounding. However, when viewed within the context of the Anger filmogaphy as a whole, one could argue that the film doesn't quite compare to the genius of projects like Fireworks (1947), Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) or Scorpio Rising (1963), which feel like complete works, as opposed to unfinished sketches. In contrast, Puce Moment, like the brilliant Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965), probably plays more like a music video than as a comprehensive piece of work, especially when we view it from a contemporary perspective of MTV.

Puce Moment directed by Kenneth Anger, 1949:

However, this isn't to take anything away from the film or the experience that is offered, with the sheer fact that Puce Moment predates the music video industry by several decades being further proof of its incredible Proustian ability to transcend the notions of time. Not only in terms of the basic form, but in the sense that this is a film that feels like something from the 1960's, produced in the late 1940's, looking back to the 1920's, and one that still holds up as a fascinating example of the true power of cinema at its most basic level (of sound applied to image) sixty-years after it was first conceived.

It is, as the title might suggest, a burst of lush, feminine colour; a mirror ball reflection - either critical or celebratory - of ornate grandeur (a house on the hill) and days that are filled with sleep and nothing. Where the preening excess of the central character, as played by Yvonne Marquis, becomes an evocation of life's great emptiness - the act of getting herself ready and looking fabulous for walking the dogs or lounging listlessly on the veranda - or an ode to the vacuous vice of vanity. Although Puce Moment, as a truncated demo-piece, suggests one of the many great could-have-been moments in the career of Kenneth Anger, it nonetheless remains a intriguing insight into the working mind of one of the most exciting and integral filmmakers that ever lived.