Film festival looks into power of eyes

In collaboration with the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), Images Cinema is presenting the “Eyes on Film” Festival through Thursday to celebrate Louise Bourgeois’ new outdoor sculpture, Eyes. Featuring the films Un Chien Andalou, directed by Luis Bunuel, Eyes Without a Face, directed by Georges Franjou and Eyes of Laura Mars, directed by Irvin Kershner, the festival opened on Friday with an opening night special triple feature. When taken together, these three films create a diverse, disturbing and thought-provoking evening. Of these films, Un Chien Andalou ranks as an experience not to be missed, and the choice of Eyes of Laura Mars is perhaps the most questionable inclusion.

The opening night event included finger food, drinks, eyeball candy, eyeball cookies, and eyeball gifts, as well as free refreshments from the concessions stand. Alexandra Kalmanofsky, Images’ artistic director, introduced the films.

Un Chien Andalou (French for “Andalusian Dog”), is a 1929 film written by surrealist innovators Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali and directed by Bunuel. The 17-minute-long silent film inundates the viewer with disturbing and uncanny images. Un Chien is a collection of vignettes that reflect on each other through the repetition of theme and image. Some of these repetitions include a man’s hand with ants crawling out of it, a disembodied hand being poked by a woman in the middle of the road, and the eye of a woman being sliced open with a knife. This famous image set the tone for an evening, which emphasized the eye’s vulnerability.

Un Chien has the effect of 100 nights of nightmares experienced at once. In one scene, a man who feels an aggressive, passionate urge for a woman attacks her in metaphor, dragging two pianos topped with dead cows towards the woman in a beautiful symbol of violence. The inability of people to connect with others and the need to express violent rage are running themes throughout the film. However, the source of the characters’ emotions is never explained, following the surrealist dogma that art should emanate from the subconscious.

While Un Chien Andalou is a film requiring a second viewing to unravel its ideas, images and themes, the next movie, Eyes Without a Face, was a slow-moving experience that gave too much away. This French film from 1959 had the novelty of a good “Twilight Zone” episode, but suffered from its length of 98 minutes.

The film followed the story of an experimental surgeon who pioneers a method called “heterograft,” the transplantation of living tissue from one organism to another, a process which in the film takes the form of removing the face of one persona and grafting it onto another. After his daughter’s face is mutilated in a car accident, the doctor and his assistant (a prior success), attempt to find female students whose faces they can steal. While the police attempt to unravel the mystery of the missing students, the daughter deals with her status as an object in her father’s eyes.

Eyes Without a Face tends to distrust the audience’s imaginations to fill in blanks. In one extended grotesque sequence, Franjou shows the doctor removing a victim’s face. This will prove difficultfor the squeamish to watch, while others might simply wonder why the director felt the need toinclude this sequence. Furthermore, every step of the plot is exhaustively explained on-screen. Throughout the film, the only unanswered questions, and thus the only sources of suspense, are those of how the police will discover the surgeon’s secret and how his daughter will react to her situation.

The third film of the evening seems to have been chosen to ensure Images’ offering of a more standard piece of Hollywood fare this week. Eyes of Laura Mars, starring Faye Dunaway and a young Tommy Lee Jones, was made in 1978, and is interesting mainly as a time capsule documenting the height of disco-era fashion in New York City.

Kalmanofsky introduced the film by saying, “You can’t really go wrong with good clothes, good actors and a funky story,” but after seeing this film it was clear that you can. Eyes of Laura Mars is little more than a clichéd “jump-out-and-scare-ya” Hollywood slasher.

Laura Mars (Dunaway) is a controversial photographer who depicts beautiful women as perpetrators and victims of violent acts. On the evening of an exhibition’s opening, Mars has a vision of the murder of her publisher, only to find later that the murder actually occurred. Soon, the people in her life are being slain, one by one, with each murder accompanied by a concurrent vision. A detective (Jones) protects Mars while he attempts to both come to grips with the psychic dimension of her story and understand the behavior patterns of the serial killer.

In her introduction, Kalmanofsky explained that this film created a major controversy when, to enhance its horror factor, it was originally released with subliminal images. This method was soon declared illegal, so the Images version of the film has these images removed. Knowing this, one wonders whether the film-watching experience might have benefited from this underhanded device.

The plot of the film is contrived to overtly cast suspicion on three major suspects while carefully ensuring that the audience can’t figure out the killer until the end. In many scenes, including one in which Mars has her manager cross-dress in order to help her escape a dangerous situation, the motivations of the characters are subordinated to the needs of the plot.

The theme of “eyes” and perception runs through the film, but the constant emphasis on plot advancement does not allow time for reflection on these ideas. The audience is left with many questions at the end of the film, including the cause of Mars’ psychic abilities. However, this is left unanswered not because the open ending is in any way satisfying, but because the film is contrived in such a way that a satisfactory answer would be impossible.

Another problem was the film’s schizophrenic stylistic changes. At some times it was a B slasher film, and at others a glitzy example of ’70s culture, and later on the film fell into the style of a soap opera love story. However, possibly to the filmmaker’s credit, these disorienting shifts throw the audience enough off-balance for it to be surprised by the twist ending. The overall predictability of the film does not make it seem capable of its ending, but even this surprise does not make the overall experience worthwhile.

As an event planned to complement the new sculpture’s installation on campus, the “Eyes on Film” Festival is a wonderful idea, and it partly succeeds in its goal to inspire deeper discourse on the nature of eyes and perception. However, in its execution this festival leaves something to be desired. Eyes of Laura Mars deals with appropriate thematic material, but one finishes watching it certain that there must be another thematically appropriate film that could leave an audience thinking more about eyes than about why the film was made.

Un Chien Andalou and Eyes Without a Face will show at 9 p.m. through Thursday at Images. Eyes of Laura Mars will be screened at 7 p.m.

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *