Monday, October 16, 2006

Are mushrooms next year's owls?

You can always say I told you so.

This vintage novelty print fabric can be found on Little Veggie's e-bay store. The craggy blue mushrooms are nice, but of course it's the snail who really vivifies the scene. The colors and organic details remind me of the 1973 French-Czech co-production Sci-Fi animation, La Planete Sauvage.

I saw the Legend of Suram Fortress this weekend, a film by Sergei Parajanov. Based on a Georgian Folk tale, and involving political allegory that was mostly lost on me, the film was still dazzling, even on a tired VHS tape, even on my crappy 11 inch tv. Medieval Georgia is conjured up in scenes that involve wide shots of open plains and rituals. There are almost no close-ups in the film, one gets lost in the paegentry of it, what with horses and camels and whatnot, and can miss the details that propell the plot forward (especially on a tiny screen).

Images still resonate in my head. A man is forced to toss pomegranates in the air as drunken warlords slash them in half laughing. The tableaux between the scenes showing peacocks and tapestries. A woman (her name, I think meaning "Rose of my heart") travels to different shrines offering animals of increasing size (a dove, a rooster, and finally a lamb) in hopes that she will find her lover who promised to return.

I wish I had written down the name of the actress who played "Rose of my heart"(I had a slight fever at the time, alas). She was marvelous, and kinda looked like Bollywood star Kareena Kapoor. There was this scene where she visits a fortune teller who dies in the middle of her reading. The fortune teller's family descends on her cave, buries her and carries off her few possessions, a man on a cane even muttering bitterly that he can't believe that all she had was a rug. The townspeople ask Rose of my heart to stay on as their seeress. Rose of my heart sits down and rocks from side to side as the fortune teller had done. As she does this, a middle-aged woman begins to peer out from behind her. Slowly they change places, until the younger woman is obscured from view and vanishes and the middle-aged woman remains. Oh honey, I thought, I know exactly what you mean.

Reading a little about it now, I discover that this 1984 film was the first that Parajanov made after many years imprisonment in a Soviet gulag, apparently in connection with the content of his 1969 film "The Color of Pomegranates". The main plot thread, about a young warrior who willingly walls himself up in the structure of the fortress, looks different in light of this. While watching the film, I was just thinking of cornerstones. There are traditions all over the world of human sacrifice connected with architecture, and many ancient buildings contain human remains as part of the cornerstone (of course now that I am writing about it, I'm not finding anything good to link to on this), the idea is that someone's spirit would protect the building. In the film, the Suram fortress keeps inexplicably crumbling, and until this sacrifice is made the King declares that the Georgian nation is not safe from its enemies. Though it does not appear that anyone is invading Georgia, nor are they at war.

The other fortresses are seen only as diagrams presented to the King and drawn on animals skins (more sacrifice). The final shots of the grieving mother of the boy are then about the violence at the heart of nation-building. Watching this movie now, in our current political climate, I can't help but think of all the violence that has been unleashed in the name of security.

The Color of Pomegranates had a huge impact on me. I saw it when I was 14 years old on my first trip to New York. A very glamorous friend of my older sister was nice enough to take me to Film Forum to see it. This was especially sweet of her since I think it was terrifically boring for her.


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