Tuesday, June 30, 2009


In a fever, a week ago, while sitting in the dark, grading with colorist extraordinaire Dan Stonehouse, I started describing - amid listening to Rick Ross, Sparklehorse & Dangermouse and other sordid treats - an imagined, outrageously high budget music video I had in my mind. I wanted to know, I asked Dan, whether what I wanted to do was possible. He said:

- "Uh. Look I know it's not exactly the same (i.e. your idea is a very shit version of what I am about to show you) but have you seen this?..."

He clocked up a clip on Youtube and pressed play. It was Michel Gondry so, clearly, alarm bells were ringing. I almost wept.

Which brings me to the point of this post (and a shameless story about being in the audience at the Berlinale while MG introduced the premiere of 'Dave Chappelle's Block Party' where the confused festival host first introduced MG as the director of 'Dave Chappelle's Black Party' then got a gushing blood nose on stage, while MG, amused, sympathetic and then, seeing an opportunity, started taking photos and laughing) and that point is: whimsy.

Michel Gondry breaks my heart. I know I'm not alone, I know we are all obsessive about him, but the kid's crazy. Everything he makes I love. There are sequences in Be Kind Rewind, Science of Sleep, Human Nature and of course, the perfect Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, that are the joy of cinema if it was boiled down to a moment, just as Chaplin's floating ball in the Great Dictator or the trolley car sequence ride in Sunrise (jeezus, what happened in between?) express the impossible joy of being able to do just about anything with this artform.

So my love for MG is, I think, mostly because it is so rare to find whimsy in film these days. The idea of pursuing an idea because it gives pleasure, no matter how mercurial the initial inspiration may be, and finding a way to express it visually in a way that honours the impulsive, joyous fragility of whimsy, is something extraordinary. His longer films have a hand made feel, full of the clunky special effects, the hangdog characters, the shameless romanticism and the sheer pleasure of watching stuff blossom or fall over (as long as no one gets hurt), that is the most precise expression of an almost inexpressible state of being (to be whimsical: subject to, led by, or indicative of caprice; capricious, in turn being defined as being subject to, led by, or indicative of whim).

The thing is that whimsy, which is, to my mind, the poetic opposite of rationalism, is the first thing to be beaten out of a script when confronted with the industry of script doctors and brutal narrative rationalists. Yet, as the intense appeal of films like Gondry or Jeunet and Caro - and possibly even the dynamite-in-fist whimsy of Elia Suleiman or the dreamlike whimsy of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang - attest, whimsy equals pleasure and pleasure equals happy souls and happy souls like movies. Everyone knows that.

So, this is the thing. Whimsy is a deeply underrated quality in a shitty, tough, burnt kernel of a world. And I'm the first to admit that I'll walk over hot coals to watch Michel Gondry smear his poo on a page because I know there will be a cheeky childlike joy in the way that he does it that will make it something truly unique. The other brilliant thing in this world of noise and hypertension is that punk is no longer punk. Whimsy is fricken punk. As surrealism first taught us, there is nothing so truly destabilising as that which rails against the rational. We are surrounded by people reasoning and ruling the life out of cinema. Allowing us the simple pleasure of watching, of folllowing the whims of the filmmaker, or their characters, feels like balls out rock, because it has not tried to calculate how we will respond, how sensation will equal controversy (of the broadcast/circulation and, therefore, promotional kind), how excess will generate noise. Instead, it deliberately courts danger by letting the film play with the indefinable.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Gondry's films make me cry and cry and cry, and then I wake up the next day, think about them and cry some more.
And then I go to the video store, and there they are: all sitting in the comedy section.