What is Hollywood, you ask, dear children? A quorum of whores babbling endlessly on about fucking while the bordello is razed for a penny arcade -- Paul Bern

Thursday, April 21, 2011


 “Vespas dressed her hair…”

"Eisenstein's montage was linear, like a chain. Distance montage creates a magnetic field around the film... Sometimes I don't call my method "montage". I'm involved in a process of creating unity. In a sense I've eliminated montage: by creating the film through montage, I have destroyed montage. In the totality, in the wholeness of one of my films, there is no montage, no collision, so as a result montage has been destroyed. In Eisenstein every element means something. For me the individual fragments don't mean anything anymore. Only the whole film has the meaning." -- Peleshian

This astonishing and crucial four minute sequence in Only Son  where Ozu almost too casually draws in a lusty Austrian operetta into his surgical theatre of connotation becomes the most daring auteurist gesture of Burchian de-centering – as if to say: Watch! anything can be in, even outside, my story and still be my story.  And the crucial thing with Ozu is how that art of connotation, montage of spirit, can be kept intact, and even strengthened, like Peleshian’s films, mysteriously, over some distance.

The sequence, a musical whole that is perfect by itself, but also indivisible from the rest of the film, begins with the ghost infection of the prior one. They have just visited the beloved schoolmaster played by Chishu Ryu, the implicit cause of all the “trouble” in the diegesis, poignantly and embarrasingly reduced to selling pork chops – the banner let fly for an unseemly amount of time, almost mockingly. The schoolmaster loaned our hero a charm to keep the baby asleep and without tears. It works too well. The charm ritually displayed upside down on the wall pulls us back to the pain of the schoolmasters smile. Then, Ozu gives us the shot of the hero’s wife sewing alone in the house. The shot reverses, we see her back and a different sort of charm on the wall: Joan Crawford. One vamp leads to the other, one blonde face to another, and we are cut directly into the operetta. It is only after a healthy bit of song that we see that our hero has taken his mother to the movies, the yowling of which that she obviously finds incomprehensible. When he pulls himself out of reverie to notice her disquiet, he explains, with the full force of Ozu’s comic effect, that “it“ is called a talkie. The fraulein keeps singing, and then when Ozu cuts back to the mother, she is looking at her bedazzled son with a look of contempt. At this point, we realize, along with her, that the mother’s visit has not been the mild irritation he has suggested to others, but he has usurped it as a selfish holiday for himself.

The film within the film goes into an erotic crescendo, as the leading man, overcome by his own swooning emotion, moves to kiss the fraulein’s hands in close up. This risqué moment prompts our hero to worriedly check his mother’s reaction. Of course, she is dozing. And then he looks over to check to see if his neighbors have noticed this breach of excitement from his bumpkin of a mother. And then we see his own exasperated contempt at her for having his narcissistic pillow ungently ruffled. The mother wakes up, smiling sheepishly, indicating that he too can return to his preferred dreamscape. Meanwhile the Fraulein has run into a field, and the camera tracks with her coy and halfhearted escape from her suitor. Now we see that this is the secret reason for the “appropriation” – in the clash of dynamism (economic and/or social) versus stillness, in the "willing" girl who wants to be pleasantly trapped by erotic circumstance – this both formally and connotatively fingers our protagonist’s metaphysical problem: his swoony fatalism. It is this problem, this moral failing in her son, that the mother diagnoses in the movie theatre, even while asleep.

Look over these images again. The part is utterly the whole.

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