Monday, December 20, 2004

SOMETHING STINKS: BARBET SCHRODER'S "MORE"


I was never particularly tempted to see Barbet Schroeder's The Valley (Obscured By Clouds), a French head trip picture that was popular during my early college years, even though it sported a fairly popular art film actress (Bulle Ogier) who, it was said, wasn't averse to casual nudity, and also featured music by pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd. The prospect of staying awake until 2:30am (I don't think this movie ever played anywhere before 12:00 midnight during its entire American run) to witness a psychedelic take on Lost Horizon never held any appeal for me, and, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never had much desire to discover for myself whether my predispositions and prejudices about the film were in any way warranted. And though his Maitresse (1976), which features Ogier and Gerard Depardieu, is on more solid ground creatively, I've always felt Schroeder's tendency toward oddities of film language and sensibility worked better in his early documentaries, like Koko the Talking Gorilla (1978) and his devastatingly fascinating, horrifying, and funny General Idi Amin Dada (1974), where his subjects needed only to express themselves, to be, in order to lend themselves toward the faintly surrealist shadings favored by the documentarian.

But this week I "experienced" Schroeder's first movie, More (1969), a shambling, druggy "story" spottily narrated by a math student who wants "to live, to burn all the bridges, all the formulas, and if I got burned, that was okay too." It's a good thing this guy's okay with getting burned, because it takes very little running time to suss out that More is going to shape up (if it can even be said to have a shape) into a post-summer of love cautionary tale of a clean-cut young fella who gets in over his head with drugs, all for the (zombified) love of a Warholesque heroin addict played by Mimsy Farmer (who is also not averse to nudity; alas, she's no Bulle Ogier-- the movie's funniest scene comes when, after an argument, she lays down on a bed and invites him to do whatever he likes: "But I'm warning you, I'm not going to move!").

More is jampacked (using such an action-oriented descriptive when talking about a sluggish drag like this just seems weird, man) with aimless wandering through scenic European locales (where the movie was a hit when first released), "wild," dimly lit parties designed to scare your grandmother, lots of hash smoking, a hint of lesbian sex, more than a hint of full male frontal nudity, and long, dull patches of dialogue that might seem improvised if only the actors didn't come off so authentically impaired, in a pharmacological sense, that a suspicion they weren't capable of much creative spontaneity seems more than reasonable.

The three-and-four-word sentences that make up much of the dialogue are actually credited to Schroeder "in collaboration with" Farmer and the other addicts-- er, actors. And really, if you were a first-time director, wouldn't you want to defer credit for the creation of your screenplay to your coconspirators if this kind of exchange was the result? (The setting is one of those "wild" parties):

PULCHRITUDINOUS CHICK (WASTED ON HASH): Something stinks!
UGLY SCRAWNY BEARDED GUY (ALSO WASTED): It's me!
PCWOH (after some consideration): May I kiss you?
USBGAW (incredibly): No. Beard's too long.
PCWOH (somewhat more incredibly): I dig it that way.
USBGAW (shrugs, officially now the recipient of the favor of a film director's fantasy): It's up to you. I stink, and I prickle!
(PCWOH hops on USBGAW's lap and proceeds to grind on him in a most unpleasant manner. Mercifully, Schroeder cuts away to a long, anthropologically oriented hash pipe-loading sequence...)

Our student hero eventually hits the dregs of full-on heroin addiction, a scenario which I'd be willing to bet felt almost as tired at the time this movie was released (around the time of Easy Rider, when happy endings were not the cloth of which most youth-oriented films were sewn) as it does today, in the wake of The Panic In Needle Park and the even trendier, zippier Trainspotting. One ends up wishing for the movie to suddenly take an unexpected turn, featuring, say, climactic wholesale machine-gun slaughter of the entire fuzzy-headed cast a la If..., another surrealist fantasy, of a sadistic bent, that was popular around the same time More was sweeping the continent. But cooler (and I mean really cool, man) heads apparently prevailed.

One aspect of More that does not disappoint is the music, which is, like that of Schroeder's The Valley..., provided by Pink Floyd (or, as they are credited during the film's opening title sequence, "The Pink Floyd"), and which is even more rife with dated, daisy-eyed psychedelic imagery and monotonous chord progressions than their work on the later film. A friend of mine recently observed that he knew he'd grown up when he realized that Pink Floyd was nowhere near as profound as they had once seemed in the altered states of his youth, and that that was not a bad thing. While I still hold their 1977 album Animals in high regard and continue to be thankful that neither excessive classic rock airplay nor Alan Parker have totally ruined The Wall for me, I still wonder how many fans of More-era Floyd, or Barbet Schroeder's movie, will still hold it in high regard once this musty artifact of Continental drift and Purple Haze is loosed into the harsh light of the digital age next year (a DVD release is apparently being readied).

And anyone who might discover that More fails to hold up to their youthful experience of it isn't likely to be consoled by the director's late drift into the arena of generic psychological potboilers like Single White Female, Before and After, Desperate Measures and Murder by Numbers-- though his Our Lady of the Assassins (2000) was thought by some to be if not a return to form, then at least to a form of serious intent. For those seeking such intent that does hold true by the test of time, the documentaries on Idi Amin Dada and Koko are by far the most solid ground in Schroeder's oeuvre. Alas, despite its hip time capsule credentials, More is in most ways simply a fairly typical first film, featuring all the excesses, indulgences, diversions and distractions, as well as the expected trendy patronization of the youth culture craze of the time, that one might expect; no more, no less.

1 comment:

Zak said...

You're forgotten that wonderful movie directed by Schroeder, "Bar Fly" starring the devine Faye Dunaway as well as an incredible acting job by Mickey Rourke , with a script by Charles Bukowski.