Mid-week Anger: Puce Moment (1949) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Mid-week Anger: Puce Moment (1949)

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The Kenneth Anger films discussed as part of this project are available for purchase in a collection from Fantoma.

A dark I can't get behindImitation can be a form of flattery or eerily close to the point of origin and cause discomfort in the audience.  In recent years we developed a term for special effects which approach this level of discomfort as the uncanny valley.  But savvy cinematic artists have used different film stocks, shutter speeds, lighting, and acting styles to create this disconnect for as long as cinema has been around.  Much like how motion smoothing on modern TVs creates more information than our brains can comfortably process between frames, early cameras presented audiences with their own version of "cinematic reality" which changed as the years went on.

This is all to say that I'm aware of the craft behind Kenneth Anger's Puce Moment but this realization does not stave my unease watching it.  Cameras had become capable of smoother motion capture at higher resolutions but Anger was more interested in filming a version of "cinematic reality" which hadn't been in theaters for several decades.  I didn't need to listen to Anger's commentary track to find out  he designed Puce Moment as an ode to the silent era as it's widespread in Puce Moment's mise en scène.Dancing off the shelvesPuce Moment opens with a shot which wouldn't be out of place in a television ad.  Anger's camera holds steady as a rack with a large number of dresses move toward the audience then fly off the rack.  What makes this unnerving is that the dresses are both approaching and being removed from our line of sight with a great degree of enthusiasm, like the dresses are "dancing off the shelves".  But there's no consumer, no person who is driving the action, and once they exit our field of vision they might as well not exist anymore.

The elegant woman (Yvonne Marquis) who is apparently going through these dresses is introduced seemingly in the nude.  She clutches the dress like a lover and finally slips it on but uneasily, like someone is off-camera helping her.  But there's only the woman, and the overall impression is that the elegance will come and fade away with or without her there to admire the multicolored glittering line of dresses.Just about gussied to the point I likeAnger's decision to manipulate the camera speeds makes the independent and indifferent specter of material wealth an unsettling observer.  The gown slides on like sandpaper and the woman's movements after are still sudden and jerky.  It's like this is a daily routine but frequent rehearsals haven't made the process any smoother and it rings phony every time.

Every decision Anger makes adds to this "inauthentic" experience.  The gown looks like a flapper dress, the perfume bottles are vintage to the silent era, and Marquis acts almost entirely with her eyes and mouth because her body movements are so jittery due to Anger's manipulation of the frame rate.  I'm not surprised Anger would later go on to write about Hollywood gossip in Hollywood Babylon because his insistence at using period appropriate artifacts and techniques highlights the artifice.  When the woman is staring into the night toward the end it's because nothing is reflected back in these glamour-filled days and nights.  Even the music aided this disconnect as the soundtrack was filled with songs which sounded like sub-par Beatles though Puce Moment was released when all the Beatles hadn't even reached double-digit years on this planet.Peek over the veilPuce Moment didn't trigger the same sort of intense self-reflection I felt after watching Fireworks last week.  The gaps between action and consequence of Fireworks resulted in me filling in details from my imagination instead of wondering what external forces were directing the consumerism of Puce Moment.  Another way of putting it is the constant disconnect between who is doing what action in Puce Moment required me to think more conceptually of what the camera is versus the gaps between actors in Fireworks making my brain create images complicit in the lust and violence.

Anger seems to, so far, work best in these areas of artificiality and desire.  Fireworks had its dreamer ignoring his waking desires for his fantasy space and now Puce Moment exists as an ode to the silent era but becomes uncomfortably unmoored as it pulls inspiration from different cinematic eras.  Puce Moment is a step down for me, but still a considerable and unsettling cinematic experiment.

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Posted by Andrew

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