Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
With a love that will echo through the Ages: Reincarnation, the Lost Lenore, SHE, Kate WINSLET, the Mummy, etc.
(Note: This blog was written a month or so ago, but I wanted to wait on it until sufficient time had passed that it no longer makes sense. When you read it, I think this will become clear.)
(Note 2: 70,000 years later I've added some minor details and corrections)
Rushing to write down my thoughts about ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, which I just watched again on DVD, alone, nursing heartbreak and nicotine withdrawal.
The moving part of that film lies in the concept of lovers through time, it works as a metaphor for reincarnation and the loves that echo through the ages, such those in SHE, PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN, and the MUMMY.
To commemorate the release of a “special version” of the 1935 epic SHE, I wanted to blog a bit on the nature of love via reincarnation. I just finished watching ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND. The last time I saw this amazing movie was with my Swiss-French mistress who is now gone from me (for the third time). The third time that she left me, plus the second time I saw the movie equals where I am now… in the race through time of love. But is it love? Is it love like the love Boris Karloff has for his princess in 1932’s THE MUMMY? This cat Im-Ho-Tep (Karloff) went all out for lovely Zita Johann, even stealing the secret scroll of Thoth to impress her. For his troubles he gets mummified alive in a flashback that spans the ages, and a huge chunk of the center of the film. It’s a stately affair, brilliantly filmed by ace cinematographer Karl Freund. On a big DVD screen you can count the pores on HER face, not just on Karloff’s very shriveled and dead-eyed silken Ardath Bey (his nom de plume once he’s unwrapped thanks to an expedition some years before.)
Before what? Before he meets…her (Joann), his lost princess from the days of ancient Egypt, now reincarnated as a jumpy, cat-eyed English girl of high social position (her dad the British governer of the Sudan, her mom a royal Egyptian), Helen Grosvenor. Johann is an interesting screen presence: she actually seems to be a reincarnated something or other, a cat maybe, and she exhibits the same bland spookiness that her character requires, although it seems an accident. (She was only in a few other films, but what pips they were, including THE SINS OF NORA MORAN). Her acting style seems to reflect a spiritualist's vague contempt for all mortal striving, such as David Mannes' earnest lovemaking and when she remarks how grateful she is to be away from that beastly hot Sudan, a world weary flush passes like a fast cloud over her desert sand visage.
Naturally, Ardath Bey alias Im-Ho-Tep has no problem seeing right through the veils of time to spot his beloved princess reincarnated into this woman, who--alas is stuck on David Manners. Plus, she’s with her father… and they recognize Ardath Bey from the old expedition, some years before, and it begins to dawn on them they're outgunned as he uses his long range hypnosis to get Helen over to his love shack.
Reverse the formula and you have SHE, which makes its DVD debut this month. Did I tell you that already? A very stoic, humorless and therefore (to me) strangely sexy woman named Helen Gaghan is the titular She, who is immortal because she bathes in the art-deco fountain of youth. To get there you have to climb over various rocky architectural leftovers from producer Ernest B. Schodeshack’s previous film, KING KONG (1933).
Doing this is Randolph Scott as a rugged explorer who discovers She (Who cannot be Named) and her art deco fountain and hordes of slaves and nubile servants high in the Arctic. Perhaps she is related somehow to Im-Ho-Tep because she rules her subjects with this broad statement, “I am past, present, and future; I am sorrow and longing and hope unfulfilled. I am Hash-a-Mo-Tep-She who must be obeyed.” Okay, Hashamo. The "longing" in this statement is for her lover, dead these many aeons. But who does she find reincarnated in Randolph Scott? He’s got a David Manners of his own to cling to and prefer to a love that will transcend time itself--chipper little trapper's daughter Helen Mack.
All this can either seem like some mid-life crisis fantasy (“my true love is no longer in my 45 year old wife, but has left her mortal husk and flown into the pleasing shape of this 19-year old homewrecker”) or it can seem like hope for a love beyond romantic expectation waiting for us across the veil of time. We see this later with PANDORA AND THE FLYING DUTCHMAN (1951) and ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND (2004)... both of which are deeply romantic in the way films can only be when they step outside the confines of linear time. In the latter film, near everyone in the cast is discovering their lost loves through the veils of time, but in this case, time is only a few weeks at most. Does it really matter? As we get older doesn't childhood memory at times feel more 'recent' than things that happened the previous week?
Another either/or lies in the issue of reincarnation. Presuming there is such a thing, and it’s as easy to believe as anything else, do we in fact keep coming back in the same patterns, meeting the same people, passing into intra-dimensional portals to near realities? Don’t let your fearful super-ego convince you to laugh it all off as “hooey.” There’s a lot you don’t understand even about how your own understanding works, understand? I thought not. I’m talking to myself here, but it’s good company just the same. Actually you are reading my voice with your brain, and probably not even “hearing” me at all. It’s all good… though…
Did I mention the new SHE DVD is colorized? Now before you get all bent out of shape, let it be known that producer Mirian C. Cooper envisioned the film originally in color. The problem was RKO ran out of money and had to fall back on good old black and white. So many moons later, Harryhausen lends his name to the project to make sure the color’s done right from the bottom of stop-motion animation’s crazy beating heart. I already have the 1998 Kino DVD which is nice and all, but not as remastered as I was hoping. I imagined from my shitty VHS dupe of yore that it wasn’t the movie’s fault it was so boring; it needs to be seen on a big screen in beautifully restored detail. Colorization? If Ray Harryhausen says it’s okay, I say it’s okay --in a way is it not a meta reincarnation commentary on the eternal youth of film?
I am going on like this because my heart is broken and, like all bloggers deep down, I hope one day my beautiful soul mate will read these words and something will click in her head and she’ll remember me. I get that way looking at Naomi Watts sometimes, and Helen Gahagan too, while we’re at it. I don’t get that way looking at Zita Johann, though. Not my type. But ultimately is this how our types are chosen? Is my memory of comforting Miss Gahagan after her career sank (due to SHE bombing at the box office) real or false? IMDB tells me that she entered politics after this and eventually lost a seat in a congress bid against old Dick Nixon. You can see archive footage of her in action against old Nixon in Oliver Stone’s film, NIXON. That seems like a scary prospect, though. To imagine SHE who is eternally young getting old…and being in NIXON!
Now you know why I am so down, don’t you? That and I’ve noticed my hair-line receded again. One never actually sees it recede, you know. It comes following a period of “unstable euphoria” when one sees only the “ego ideal” when one looks in the mirror. But then, invariably, something happens that shatters your little teepee of ego-mirrors and leaves you seeing the "real" you in the mirror, time beating relentlessly upon you with a big stick of wind and weather. When the shattering of the mirrors comes, at first it feels glorious and freeing... we fall in love with the person who triggered it, like we were an imprinting newborn baby chick. Later we come home damaged by defeat, or torn by obsessive fall-out from petty triumphs...What is this ego shattering moment for you? What is it that splinters your sense of self and time so that for the rest of your life you long to gaze into those shattered shards just one more time? Maybe it’s the the moment you finally got a chance to tell the girl you truly love how you feel and she wasn’t into you. Or maybe you realize that the girl you thought you were in love with years ago, you really weren’t. It was just that she was so gorgeous, and so damaged, and looked like she would fade so fast.