Film and TV

Blue Movies

New York City, 1936. Several members of Europe's expat avant-garde community have gathered in Julian Levy's Madison-Avenue gallery for a screening of artist Joseph Cornell's homemade film Rose Hobart. Cornell is operating the projector. The film, now recognized as a groundbreaking masterwork of Surrealism, is a crudely edited collage of scenes featuring actress Rose Hobart culled from a 16-millimeter print of the B-movie East of Borneo. Any narrative from that film has been left on Cornell's cutting room floor leaving only image after image of Hobart.

For the screening, Cornell uses a phonograph to play a truly cheesy record titled "Holiday in Brazil," letting it function as the soundtrack for his radically edited film. He sets the projector to run at about 1/3 of the speed of the original to slow the images down to the tempo of a silent movie. And perhaps most interestingly, Cornell projects the film through a lens of blue glass. By doing so, his intention may have been to create the atmosphere of "night" as it was portrayed in the silent era. Or maybe the color blue punningly symbolized Cornell's confused and repressed sexual longing for a woman in celluloid form.

Or, maybe he just thought it looked cool?

Rabbit's Moon (part one of a film by Kenneth Anger)

Filmed in 1950 through a blue filter with a score for its first release (in 1972) consisting of 1950s-era doo-wop songs (and excerpts of what sounds like Indonesian gamelan), Kenneth Anger's Rabbit's Moon is one of his most appealing and accessible works. Jean Cocteau said of cinema: "Through its mediation, I write in pictures, and secure for my own ideology a power in actual fact. I show what others tell." Anger, a devotee of the occult and Aleister Crowley, took Cocteau's concept a bit further in that he believed simply projecting a film had the shamanistic power to invoke spiritual forces and hypnotize its audience. For Anger, film was literally attempting a seduction of the viewer.

And the blues in Rabbit's Moon are truly seductive. The color perfectly compliments the classic costumes and stylized mime of the film's pierrot and harlequin. And like Cornell, Anger is also probably alluding to "night" as it appears in silent-era filmmaking. The film's title is Rabbit's Moon after all. And at least one of the songs used for the original soundtrack has the word "moon" in its lyric, although the doo-wop version of Blue Moon had, at the time of filming, yet to be recorded.

Years later, The Psychedelic Furs would use the power of various shades of blue, purple, gray and tan in an iconic video for their song "Love My Way." The distorted reflection of singer Richard Butler in a quicksilver-like pool of water, the ritualistic marimba ostinatos, and the haunting background vocals of Flo and Eddie are, as visual and aural components, connecting to a mysterious and incantatory power also found in the films of Cornell and Anger.

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Chris Becker
Contact: Chris Becker