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Woton's Wake  «
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Sunday, April 7, 2013
Beginning with this post, and leading up to the U.S. release of Passion, I'll be moving through Brian De Palma's filmography movie-by-movie, chronologically, to post links, etc., to articles, essays, and other items that may have fallen through the cracks of this site within the past couple of years. We start the "Spring Special" with Brian De Palma's early short, Woton's Wake, which sometime last year was included on the DVD compilation The Weird World Of Weird, Volume 2, from Something Weird Video (the same company that a few years ago released the first-ever DVD or video edition of De Palma's Murder A La Mod). Thanks to Chris for bringing this release to my attention.

As noted back in 2011, Arrow Video included Woton's Wake as an extra feature on its Obsession Blu-Ray. The Digital Fix's Mike Sutton wrote of the short, "Woton's Wake, from 1962, concerns one Woton Wretchichevsky, a sculptor who kills people with a blow torch. He's played by William Finley, an actor who has appeared in eight of De Palma's films and also did the voice for Bobbi on the answerphone in Dressed To Kill. There's no dialogue in the film but there are songs which comment on the action. It all ends with an orgy and the outbreak of war. Needless to say, this is hopelessly pretentious but it's also - presumably intentionally - quite funny and the black and white compositions are striking."

About a year ago, Mikael Gaudin-Lech posted an essay about Woton's Wake at Stardust Memories. "A mythological digression," states Gaudin-Lech, "Woton's Wake is a wandering made of odds and ends, nightmares and dreams, cardboard and ghosts, figures of haunted expressionism (currently in the spotlight at the Cinematheque) which reflected 'the eternal concern of the German soul which seeks to meet in dreams and fantasy' [H. Eisner Lotte quote from 'Notes on the style of Fritz Lang', in La Revue du Cinema, February 1947]. Similarly, if 'burning from within is what best characterizes the Murnalien actor' (Hervé Joubert-Laurencin), Woton embodies this character's internal combustion, a monstrous creature who disappears behind distorting makeup, ablaze, making his entire grotesque face unrecognizable (fire, smoke, scabs, hair pieces, makeup)."

Later in the essay, Gaudin-Lech, while describing the first scenes of Woton's Wake, notes a direct reference to Alain Resnais' Hiroshima, mon amour, which is one of the published screenplays that appears on the bookshelf at the start of the film (see image above). "In the foreground, Woton, Nosferatu hybrid and elusive, haunting the rooftops, surprises an embracing couple with an ignited blowtorch, creating a vivid picture that obviously brings to mind the bodies of Hiroshima, mon amour. Using canted angles, fades, close-ups, a persistent contrast between the white of the sky and the black of the buildings, highlighting the salient edges of natural scenery and the thrust of its frames, DePalma transforms the film school where his film was shot into a universe dreamlike and strange, made of rubble and devastated warehouses in disarray. Of course, the German Expressionist cinema was summoned, but also abstract art, the underground cinema shot in Bolex 16mm, contemporary architecture..."

Posted by Geoff at 10:57 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 7, 2013 11:01 PM CDT
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Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The Hollywood Reporter reported today that "Amos Vogel, creator of the influential Manhattan avant garde film club Cinema 16 and co-founder of the New York Film Festival, died Tuesday in his apartment off Washington Square Park. He was 91." At Cinema 16, Vogel, who has been called the ultimate cinephile, juxtaposed films the way filmmakers such as Eisenstein collided images. In the documentary named after his seminal book, Film As A Subversive Art (which can be viewed here), Vogel explained, "When I showed five or six films on the Cinema 16 program, they were always selected from the point of view how they would collide with each other in the minds of the audience. On one program there would always be an abstract film, a scientific film, an avant-garde film and a political documentary, because my intention at all times was to subvert audience expectations by showing such diverse and different films on one and the same program." Cinema 16 was founded in 1947 by Vogel and his wife, Marcia.

In the 2005 book A Critical Cinema 4: Interviews with Independent Filmmakers, Jim McBride (David Holzman's Diary) was asked by author Scott MacDonald if he used to go to Cinema 16. "I was a member for a couple of years, I think," said McBride. "When I was at NYU, Brian De Palma, who I knew from the neighborhood, was making these little 16mm movies and getting them shown at Cinema 16, which I thought was kind of amazing. I remember going to see Woton's Wake [1962]. We did see some interesting stuff at Cinema 16. Certainly Maya Deren, but I'm not sure what else. In those days, anything you could see was a plus."

The Hollywood Reporter article quotes Martin Scorsese: "If you’re looking for the origins of film culture in America, look no further than Amos Vogel. Amos opened the doors to every possibility in film viewing, film exhibiton, film curating and film appreciation. He was also unfailingly generous, encouraging and supportive of so many young filmmakers, including me when I was just starting to make my first pictures. No doubt about it — the man was a giant." In 1963, Vogel founded the New York Film Festival with Richard Roud.

Posted by Geoff at 11:58 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, April 28, 2012 4:19 PM CDT
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Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Adrian Martin begins his Sight & Sound review of Alain Resnais' Wild Grass with the following:

It starts like a Brian De Palma movie, in a mode of full exhilaration. Shots of feet take us to a chic shopping centre. A voice-over informs us that a woman – Marguerite (Sabine Azéma), whose face will not be fully seen from the front until six and half minutes into the film – has special shoe requirements, and this specialness is what will kick off ‘the incident’ (the title of Christian Gailly’s novel) at the heart of the narrative. Point-of-view rules, but on a split register: both the character’s sensorial experience of her surroundings, and the camera’s insistent display of its own, peculiar way of seeing things. Sudden bursts of slow-motion linger on the saleswoman who thrills Marguerite (it is her secret), and eventually on the roller-blading thief who snatches her purse. Mark Snow’s musical score soars. Within the shoe shop itself, we could almost be watching a scene from Sex and the City: a rapid but luxuriant montage surveys shelves, brands, boxes.

Straight away, Alain Resnais’ masterful new film announces its proudly mixed-up character. Resnais is a director who has always complicated drama with comedy, realism with surrealism, philosophy with pop culture – and vice versa. Invention and surprise are his watchwords: as the French critic François Thomas once remarked, Resnais’ gambit as an artist is to outrage or confound viewers at the start of a film, but hold them in their seats to the very end.

At the start of De Palma's 1962 short film Woton's Wake, the camera briefly pans over a set of books on a shelf. Included on that shelf amongst published screenplays by Ingmar Bergman, film theory books by Sergei M. Eisenstein, V.I. Pudovkin, and others, are separate published screenplays for two early films by Resnais: Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year At Marienbad. Armed with this fact, one can detect a seemingly conscious (though perhaps subconscious) strain of Marienbad in De Palma's early feature Murder a la Mod. The influence of Resnais on De Palma's work is worth investigating, especially now that it has come full circle to where a major critic sees De Palma in late-period Resnais.

Posted by Geoff at 11:35 PM CDT
Updated: Sunday, April 7, 2013 5:45 PM CDT
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