Today's Post Vol. 2 (of 2)

Anyone who is eager to see good films will rarely be satisfied by the big expensive productions or by those that have won critical praise or wide open popular acceptance. The personal story, the private individual drama, cannot, in my opinion, interest anyone who is truly alive to the contemporary world.”

- Luis Bunuel, 1953

*Oh that card. I ran into this lovely quote in the liner notes for the new R1 dvd release of Luis Bunuel’s infamous directorial debut, “Un Chien Andalou”; fortunately, I didn’t pay the full $20 retail price, which is pretty steep for a 17-minute short film and less than forty minutes of supplements. Transflux Films handled the release, apparently their only R1 dvd thus far. Watching the film again, I was struck by how it always manages to be a bit more subdued, a little more quiet than I ever manage to recall it being. Simply reading about this much-discussed film, conceived with Salvador Dali and released in 1929 with the director handling the soundtrack manually via phonograph (his pockets, according to legend, filled with rocks to repel the audience in case of a riot) might give you the impression that the short is a relentless barrage of bizarre and confrontational images, a feverish meltdown of rational perception. This is an inaccurate, though understandable impression; quite a lot of the film takes place in and around a woman’s apartment, with a male actor playing different characters (aspects of the same character?) who wander in and out of the action. It’s a surprisingly grounded setting, allowing for a far dreamier atmosphere than the expected (or remembered) bubbling of mayhem, largely because there’s a certain anchor in reality (after all, how can one fully defy reason without establishing reason’s default tyranny?).

Naturally, there are still the famously unhinged bits, like the world-famous opening sequence of Bunuel himself taking a razor across the lead actress’ eye, or the image of a man with ants streaming out of the stigmata upon his hand, or scene where an amorous version of our male lead finds himself suddenly unable to approach the object of his desire as his hands are dragging ropes attached to a pair of priests, a set of grand pianos, and a decomposing duo of donkey carcasses. Not to mention the sequence where he lustfully caresses the actress’ breasts through her dress, which then magically fades away to expose both the view of his mind’s eye and much of his beloved’s body (this technique was not innovated by Bunuel; I’ve seen it used in at least one pornographic film of the day, possibly where Don Luis picked up the idea). And yet, I find myself returning to the more serene, quiet moments, like that of a man blissfully sauntering through the woods as a gaggle of fellows bear away a corpse, which is lying in the grass, all figures suddenly dwarfed by the trees as Wagner’s music soars (the soundtrack for this version of the film was assembled by Bunuel in 1960 to match the manual phonographic cues of the film’s original presentations). It is said to be a grave mistake to attempt to attribute meaning to this film, so intent it is on frustrating interpretation, but individual scenes can always be enjoyed for their own peculiar mood, and Bunuel’s overarching notion of aching desire would not flee from him through the rest of his career.

Did I mention it’s funny? One thing that I appreciate about Bunuel is that he’s always willing to throw some laughs into the stew, something which cannot be said about every canonized grand master of world cinema. For example, right in the middle of the aforementioned groping sequence, we get an excellent reaction shot of the young man, his eyes rolled way up into the back of his head, lines of drool pouring from his chin, a shot anticipating the works of Tex Avery, or Lloyd Kaufman perhaps.

Just to keep things here square on the comics, Dave McKean shows up in the extras, with a two-picture image gallery, a one-page biography, and a one page statement on why this movie rocks the house. Far more interesting is a pair of interviews with Bunuel’s son, Juan-Luis, one covering general Bunuel info, and the other focusing explicitly on the deterioration of the relationship between Bunuel and Dali. Judging by who’s talking, I think you can safely assume who’s side of the story is going to get maximum exposure; Dali is generally characterized as a fame-starved exploiter (albeit an occasionally brilliantly talented one) who betrayed his friends for public acceptance and callously destroyed Bunuel’s early career in Europe to buff his own rising star. Not that Juan-Luis leaves his father smelling like a rose; he also shares a bizarre story about Bunuel being invited to a Christmas part at Charlie Chaplin’s home, where every guest would be expected to bring a gift to exchange blindly. Bunuel didn’t like this set-up, seeing it as insufferably bourgeois, so upon the completion of dinner he and an associate rose from the table, tore down Chaplin’s Christmas tree, and trampled all of the gifts to pieces beneath their feet before being ejected from the premises. Such is the life of the Legends of Cinema!

*What the hell?! It’s 1:33 AM already? Well, it’s still ‘today’ for my west coast readers - right, crew? West coast Comics Internet representing!

Shining Knight #1 (of 4)


I’m getting the feeling that Morrison might be having a laugh with us regarding all of this ‘modular’ business in plot construction. I’m not trying to be snarky or anything here, I’m genuinely curious: how exactly is this issue a stand-alone story? I only ask because quite a few very intelligent and well-spoken people have dubbed the comic in just that way, and I don’t understand it. This is a classic set-up issue for a miniseries. We get the background of the title hero, a little origin tale, maybe, the continuing plot is set forth, and we’re left hanging to see what comes next. Villains are brought in, chief among them the Medusa-like Gloriana Tenebrae, of the wicked Sheeda, who first popped up as mind-controlling pixies in Morison’s “JLA Classified” arc (I really hope DC is planning to include those three issues as some sort of prologue in the inevitable “Seven Soldiers” collected edition), then expanded into a more timestream-threatening force in the recent “Seven Soldiers” #0. Archvillain Neh-Buh-Loh also makes a special guest cameo; I kind of like how every artist involved with this character gives him a slightly altered style; Simone Bianchi draws him with big, curved, almost floppy ears, with only two eyes. He’s also lost that smart suit of armor J.H. Williams III had him styling in “Seven Soldiers” #0. Plus (Easter Egg!) he appears to be riding into battle atop a smaller version of the spider-thing that the heroes of “Seven Soldiers” #0 strived so mightily to vanquish. And hell, why stop there? This book also sees the termination of six heroes, the seventh away on some personal business, just like in the prior entry in this project. And for a fan of DC history, apparently the book is awash in little references and nudges in DCU lore. Not to mention the superficial resemblances to Morrison’s own “Seaguy”.

So there’s a lot of stuff in here. Except for a resolution, a finale, even a cursory ending. Sure, if you squint and turn your head you might be able to see the book’s final pages, with the titular hero plunging into the modern world and being led away by the cops, his talking steed apparently dead, as some sort of cursory twist ending (hey, another connection to “Seven Soldiers” #0), if you insist on reading the issue as a stand-alone unit. But this view of events seems awfully unintuitive, what with the big ‘To Be Continued’ sitting there and the villain probably still running around and the fates of the heroes left largely uncertain. And I concede it’s a minor point, an utter quibble. As an introductory issue, this moves much smoother and with greater entertainment value than most of today’s intro outings, in the Mighty Marvel Meandering Manner for instance. There’s a ton of information released, backstory tossed out as quickly as the action will allow. It’s almost reminiscent of the chaotic early scenes of “JLA Classified”, except Mr. Bianchi is more than up to the task of breaking down Morrison’s reams of info into something resembling an intuitive, entertaining state. A veteran of the Italian comics scene, Bianchi sports an attractive style, heavy on the shade and rounded realist features in close-up, but lightening into softer, flowing lines in the back (check out his rendering of Vanguard’s tail; it’s like water). He’s ably assisted by colorist Nathan Eyring’s rich tones, creating a painted feel when combined with Bianchi’s weighty foreground art. There’s rarely a lack of storytelling clarity, which occasionally confounded “JLA Classified”, though this story might me operating on a similar level of idea overload.

As I’ve said before (and as several reviewers have said before me), the rapport between our young knight and his talking steed seem initially similar to a similar dynamic in “Seaguy”. But this work is less immediately arresting, with little in the way of the satire and less room for rounded characters, so thick is the introductory presentation. It’s only the first issue of a miniseries though, and this is a very nice start, but once again, only a start. And if the work isn’t entirely fulfilling the ambition that its writer attributes to it in interviews, it’s at least comfortable in its position as a pleasing if hustling work of comics adventure.