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Name: Dan Sallitt
Location: New York, New York, United States

Saturday, May 19, 2007

The Media Format that Dare Not Speak Its Name

I went to the Quad Cinema on Monday to revisit Bunuel's Robinson Crusoe in the H&M High Line Film Festival, a selection of Latin American and Spanish-language films "hand-picked" by David Bowie. The Quad upped their prices to $12 for the festival, then proceeded to project the Bunuel on DVD, with no warning to the audience that it was doing so. It's certainly not the first time that I've seen a DVD projection in a theater, and I'm not especially finicky about print quality, but I resent being sold a pig in a poke. Sadly, only a few venues are honest enough to keep audiences informed about print quality. I guess most specialty theaters are in such a state of financial terror these days that they feel they can't afford to play fair.

The film itself raises the question of how valuable subversion is for its own sake. There's no doubt that Bunuel found many ways of expressing his true feelings about Defoe's attitudes toward virtue and civilization, and there's wit in his effort, but not a lot of emotional resonance, to my mind. The best scene in the film, the long sequence of Crusoe reaping his crop of wheat and baking bread with it, does not subvert Defoe at all: Bunuel adds to it an earthy physicality and gives a giddy, stubborn quality to Crusoe's perseverance, but respects Defoe's celebration of the act. A particular story can't be made to serve just any old artistic end.

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Blogger David said...

I recall hearing that the surrealists all loved Defoe's book, so maybe subversion wasn't the only thing on Bunuel's mind. The idea of a single man setting up his own society alone on an island is the kind borderline-surreal scenario that Bunuel may have wanted to play straight.
In terms of emotion, I do love the barking dog at the end, that strikes me as sheer poetry and rather moving. I agree that the rest of the film has a slightly flattened affect: O'Herlihy seems unusually stiff. Actually, a few of LB's literary adaptations strike me this way: WITHERING HEIGHTS has a great ending, but isn't too involving the rest of the time, DIARY OF A CHAMBERMAID is quite strong but i HATED the ending in that one.

May 26, 2007 4:45 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

I agree about WUTHERING HEIGHTS: the ending makes it, the rest didn't overpower me. What bothered you about the end of CHAMBERMAID?

May 26, 2007 11:45 AM  
Blogger David said...

Well, it seemed bluntly didactic and political. Bunuel always seemed more indirect in stating his case in other films, and he works best by attacking the status quo rather than calling for direct action.
The ending I saw actually felt studio-imposed, except that it was calling for revolution rather than defending the norm.

May 28, 2007 10:59 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Doesn't the fascist get the girl? That's a rather odd overtone that I found interesting.

May 28, 2007 11:57 AM  

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