Saturday, June 23, 2007

scenes from a parallel life

Some notes on Sara Driver's Sleepwalk (1986):

An eerie, clambering sense of paranoia runs through Sleepwalk's progressively nocturnal space, making a somewhat surprising engagement with Cat People and Kiss Me Deadly (visually, Driver's film compares especially well with Tourneur's). More interestingly, is this, despite whatever technical modesties of 'the debut feature', the secret response of contemporary American cinema to the narrative traditions of Feuillade, Cocteau, and Rivette?

At least Rosenbaum, I think, has compared the film favourably to Duelle, and it's a fascinating alignment that is making Sleepwalk richer in memory by the passing day. In isolated events, such as the chilling scream that comes out of nowhere and shatters the silence in both films: Hermine Karagheuz in Duelle, and Ann Magnuson in Sleepwalk, the latter upon losing all her hair, just like the selfish woman in the ancient Chinese text that her roommate Nicole (Suzanne Fletcher) is translating till late in the night, alone in the run-down building that houses the print shop where she works, where lights and machines silently switch on and come alive when no one is around. In the fact that the characters in the two films are circling around an object that is desired for its supernatural powers, passed from one to the other in acts of confidence and/or subsequent betrayal.

There is also the context of the fiction resulting from the process of the engulfment of one narrative by another (cf. Duelle, where there is a progressive construction of the 'narrative' by goddesses after a magical gem that possesses transformative powers, directly controlling the actions of all other characters), as the events from the manuscript invade 'reality', and of the terror that is conveyed by this gradual dissolution of any difference between the reality of Nicole's daily life and the fantastic occurrences seemingly unleashed by the manuscript, the centre of which is the nightmarish sequence in the elevator, immediately followed by Nicole's long walk back to her downtown Manhattan apartment through dark, deserted streets and alleys that seem to be charged by her somehow-transformed presence.

Speaking about Rivette's Histoire de Marie et Julien, Michael J. Anderson says:

"Rivette structures his film not as a dream or a series of dreams, but instead eviscerates any distinction between dream and reality, establishing a logic present only in fiction – there is no distinction between consciousness and subconsciousness, dream and reality, life and death, but rather, all is fiction."

All is fiction. The smell of almonds, the bleeding fingers, eyes that glow green, the barking man, Ecco Ecco, the 'kidnapped' son and his feeble attempt to escape from the suitcase he's been zipped in.

I think I'll have some more to say about the film after another viewing, which I look forward to.


Caravaggio, Salome With the Head of John the Baptist (c. 1609, oil on canvas)

Georges de La Tour, Repenting Magdalene / Magdalene Before Mirror (late 1630s, oil on canvas)

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