Mid-week Anger: Eaux d'Artifice (1953) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
16Dec/150

Mid-week Anger: Eaux d’Artifice (1953)

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

All that glitters is this fanI wasn't expecting Kenneth Anger's Eaux d'Artifice to be better than the experience I had last week with Rabbit's Moon.  The lowered expectations were necessary in part because Rabbit's Moon is not only my favorite Anger film so far, my repeated viewings vaulted it into one of my favorite movies period.  It took me almost two weeks to figure out just how I was going to write about it, where my experience with Eaux d'Artifice required only an hour or so.

This isn't to say Eaux d'Artifice is without its pleasures and while it isn't the revelation Fireworks was it is still a joyful expression of cinema.  The important part is to focus on cinema, as Anger's vision couldn't be fully expressed on a single canvas or piece of music.  Anger's joy with the camera is literally gushing forth from Eaux d'Artifice from the surprising opening where what appears to be an ornate fountain is actually a woman standing in front of a fountain far plainer than the extravagantly dressed woman now walking toward us.  This joy continues on in his examination of water and light with the woman walking alongside the water which flows from each fountain onto steps and through stone faces.Star waterPausing for a moment, I don't think "joyful" is the best word for Eaux d'Artifice.  The gushing images Anger lingers on would more accurately be described as orgasmic.  Those first closeup fountain images certainly bear close resemblance to someone climaxing repeatedly, and the sounds of Vivaldi on the soundtrack with those shots makes the experience feel like slow sex on a hot afternoon.  The various shots of water backlit in different ways are like trying out new positions throughout the day when you get back in the mood.  So we walk around with the woman, orgasm a bit (which makes the frequent edits to stone faces funny as an "O" face moment), then relax until we're ready to go again.

I love the contrast between the typically male stream of ejaculation associated with the water fountains and the repeated climaxes more associated with female orgasms.  Anger maintains a curious magnetic pull with the juxtaposition through the woman wandering through the fountain-filled plaza as she looks to be slightly out-of-place.  Turns out that's because Anger went to Federico Fellini to find a midget - Anger's words I should point out - because ,"He knew all the freaks and weird people in Italy because they were in all his films."Descending the staircaseThis helps keep the off-kilter dreamy allure of the film as she takes steps we think would move her further in between the fountains.  The fountain shots are spectacular and surprisingly varied as water gushes out onto the frame or appears in perfect orbs before disappearing.  They look so tactile at times it felt like I was watching a Stan Brakhage film, and I was surprised to find out the only direct stock manipulation was when he added a beautiful gold sparkle to the fan the woman pulls out halfway through the film.  Anger spent a great deal of time preparing for these shots when the light would hit the walls and foliage just right as in some cases he had only a handful of minutes to get the shot he wanted.  All that work for a bit of pleasure...maybe the sex angle isn't too far off.

Eaux d'Artifice is the expressionist version of what's called a "hangout" picture - where the characters are so compelling you just want to hang out with them for a while.  Only in this case it's feeling the personality and strength of each fountain and following the pleasant trail of water through the plaza as the woman goes on her adventure.  Anger's presented what looks to be a simple pleasure at first and when we think of how he managed to make it all seem so easy we can marvel at the orgasmic craft underneath.

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Posted by Andrew

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