Previous Top Ten By Year: 1949 Posts:
Top Ten By Year: 1949 – Poll Results
100 Images from the Films of 1949
What I’ll Remember About the Films of 1949: A Love Letter
#10. The Queen of Spades (UK/Dickinson)
#9. Rendezvous in July (Becker)/Au royaume des cieux (Duvivier) (France)
#8. Too Late for Tears (US / Haskin)
#7. The Heiress (US / Wyler)
#6. The Set-Up (US / Wise)
#5. Caught (US / Ophüls)
#4. The Passionate Friends (UK / Lean)
For those unaware of my Top Ten By Year project:
The majority of my viewing habits have been dictated by this project since September of 2013. Jumping to a different decade each time, I choose comparatively weaker years for me re: quantity of films seen/quantity of films loved. I use list-making as a way to see more films and revisit others in a structured and project-drive way. I was sick of spending too much time trying to decide what to watch, or watching films just to cross them off another dumb canon list. I wanted to engage. I wanted films to be enhanced by others, by looking at a specific moment in time. I wanted something that led me to seeing or revisiting things I might not have gotten to otherwise. Lastly, my lists are based on personal favorites, not any weird notion of an objective best.
This is the first year I’ll be doing separate posts for each film. #9 will go up Monday. After that, one will go up each day until the end. Then I’ll post them all together so they are gathered in one place. There are a lot of films I loved that did not make the cut. In particular, Flamingo Road, Such a Pretty Little Beach, On the Town, Inspirace, The Reckless Moment, Reign of Terror, The Rocking Horse Winner, and Samson and Delilah are all films I thought at one point would be on here. Of all of these, Flamingo Road was a sure thing until it wasn’t at the very last minute. Please go watch it.
#3. Puce Moment (US / Anger) (first-time viewing)
(you can watch the film here. It is just over six minutes.)
Puce Moment is about that slinky diva from Singin’ in the Rain. You know the one — the vamp that never speaks. Every so often she can be seen skulking through the frame with her long cigarette & droopy posture that cries “Exotic!” Kenneth Anger’s short is about the Pola Negri’s, the Alla Nazimova’s, the Greta Garbo’s of the world. Just as Singin’ in the Rain was a love letter to Hollywood and the silent cinema, Puce Moment was about, in Anger’s words, his “love affair with Hollywood, silent film goddesses”, a bygone era where everything was etched in memory as performance and pose.
Bewitching garments of fabric shimmy towards us. A methodical pause is granted to each piece before it moves down the line. This is a fashion show without bodies. Whatever is happening, it’s as if it must be done. A close-up of a woman. She is fully made up, and blazingly modern. She holds fabric to her face. She looks up in ecstasy as the dress is lowered onto her, as if putting on a gift from the gods. Everything is deliberate and practiced. It is a ritual. After all, this is Kenneth Anger, and this was his ritual. This rack of pastel flapper frocks were artifacts belonging to Anger’s costume designer grandmother. When he was a child he would sneak up to her room and put one on in a similar fashion, going through them one-by-one each time.
It becomes clear that Puce Moment is some kind of witchery. There is a shot of this goddess’s vanity and its compact pastel glamour. I think about playing “Pretty Pretty Princess” as a kid and how this image is exactly what I imagined those worthless pieces of plastic to be. Boudoirs were made for her, and she was made for her lair. She takes time to bask in the act of lounging, existing to exist in this space. Suddenly the couch moves. Then she is outside. It’s different. Being outside demands a purpose. Enter the Borzois! just as exotic as she. There are an irrational amount of them.
Though nothing can meet the process inside, she leaves her fortress in Mount Olympus. She is ready to meet the world with her dogs. It’s not night. It’s the late afternoon, but she must make something of this lazy hour. Who is this all for? For us? For her? Puce Moment is about the presentation of self as its own art form, as represented by the immortal celluloid siren. Today, Lady Gaga practices this publicly (calculated transparency and branding have supplanted mystery. Female pop stars are the only people who have preserved a small piece of what was). She is the diva walking her Borzois. Anger can’t imagine these women any other way. For him, the public self is also imagined to be the private self.
The woman’s movements are halting, as if she’s slightly off balance. While standing still, she wobbles. This is because Anger shot Puce Moment at 8 frames per second, evoking the silent period and planting the film firmly on its own plane of existence. There are other reasons the film feels out of time (but very much not out of place). The original soundtrack featured a piece by Verdi. But 20 years later, after falling out with soon-to-be Manson-ite Bobby Beausoleil over Lucifer Rising, he fled to London, got involved in the rock scene, and in 1970 re-released Puce Moment with a Jonathan Halper song attached to it. His psych ambience reverberates over those visuals as we hear him sing “Yes, I am a hermit”. A psychedelic sound added to a film from the 1940s, about the 1920s and its evocation of the no-longer, that already felt borne out of 1960s counterculture? No wonder the film feels like it exists in some far-off glitter dimension we can otherwise only hope to catch glimpses of in slumber.
Puce Moment is but a fragment, the only fragment, of an intended feature length project called Puce Women. The film would have been made up of different women representing different parts of the day. Instead we get one woman and a slice of something undone. Kenneth Anger uses the short film to go towards Hollywood while others working in this mode, avant-garde outsiders with limited finances, were doing the exact opposite. It feels fitting that Puce Moment is all there is. Its mysterious power remains absolute. It is a spell cast on the viewer, but one manifestation of Anger’s paganism. It is the luxuriant feminine eternally out of reach.