459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

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kaujot
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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#76 Post by kaujot » Mon Mar 23, 2009 3:23 am

I finally got around to watching Simon, and I was really sort of perturbed about the whole thing. I don't know. It's the most un-Bunuel Bunuel film that I've yet seen (and my first of his Mexican output) of his, and it was just so somber and serious. I've never sat with such a straight face through one of his movies, though the scene with the healed man and his family was pretty funny. I wasn't expecting a laugh riot, but the tone really threw me for a loop.

And the ending. I didn't get a big revelation like Schreck did. I obviously missed something, but the whole thing was just all of a sudden over.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#77 Post by Matt » Mon Mar 23, 2009 4:40 pm

Huh. I think it's one of his funniest films. But then I don't agree with Schreck and GringoTex that Simon escapes ridicule. I think Buñuel makes him come off like an arrogant prick (he's practically rolling his eyes at his followers) and that we're definitely meant to side with the Devil.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#78 Post by HerrSchreck » Mon Mar 23, 2009 5:08 pm

Oh I think it's hilarious, but quietly so; you have to be "there" in that spot w Bunuel that he's carved out. It's like-- ever been in church or temple or whatever you been in when a kid, and you're with your brother or sister or friend or cousin, and they've got you on the spot cracking up... or something happens w the priest or in the pewsthat makes you crack up (like one time me and my next oldest brother were bored out our minds in the standing phase of Catholic church and some 6 or 7 yr old kid BURIED his hand in the ass of this little 9 or 10 yr old pretty blonde girl in ribbons, just WHOMP and thru her skirt he must have grabbed her deep apertures like the finger holes on a bowling ball... she nearly shot up to the ceiling... it was great) and the more you try and stop the more funny the situation gets? It's kind of like, for example, there was a kid I hung out w in 8th grade, this black kid named David. He had a huge afro, was skinny as a rail, had thick taped glasses, thought he was a 1960's Hendrix Hippie, and was totally NUTS. He'd always be muttering under his breath all the time, off in his own world, every once & a while cracking himself up with these little self-satisfied laughs coming from outer space, laughing and muttering stuff that I mostly couldn't make out no matter how I tried to make it out and track it to put it together. I'd be sitting in math class watching David rolling his eyes, reacting in his seat to prompts from another galaxy, stiffening up, raising his finger to get his own attention, etc.

You know how some people have that power over you, but you've got to NOT be constantly busting out laughing in the guys face simply because he's right there in fron of you? That's Bunuel in this movie. Nothing is overtly "comedy" like the Jesus & itching gags in L'Age D'Or (if that's what you're expecting). It's rarely super bawdy likke the feast in Viridiana.

The Simon figure doesn't really DO much that's funny-- in other words the character of Simon is molto serioso about it all. But what makes it so fucking funny to me is how Simon LOOKS. It's all right there on the edge of parody, ready to fall over into complete absurdity-- but it holds and never slips.. like Simon up there on his old column.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#79 Post by kaujot » Mon Mar 23, 2009 5:16 pm

Well, I wasn't expecting to be laughing out loud (something I rarely do during one of his films), but I did expect to find more that tickled me, more in the vein of The Milky Way, I guess. I'll have to give it another viewing.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#80 Post by zedz » Mon Mar 23, 2009 6:55 pm

kaujot wrote:Well, I wasn't expecting to be laughing out loud (something I rarely do during one of his films), but I did expect to find more that tickled me, more in the vein of The Milky Way, I guess. I'll have to give it another viewing.
I'm with Matt, and I do find it laugh-out-loud funny (a dragged-up Jesus drop-kicking a lamb?), but I'm a much bigger fan of Bunuel's Mexican period than his later French one. Oddly enough, I feel like it's in those films that he takes himself (or the idea of himself) more seriously. For me, Simon is the closest Bunuel got to Tex Avery, even down to the inventive variations-on-a-theme structure.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#81 Post by Doctor Sunshine » Mon Mar 23, 2009 9:38 pm

I'm not sure we can abet the comedy much by explaining it but here's what I like about it anyway. You have this self-serious ascetic--humble before God and all but still kind of a jerk--preforming this epic feat (plus miracles!) and no one really cares. The priests give perfunctory praise but really just want to get on with their day. The thief gets his miracle then promptly forgets that Simon exists, smacking his kid with said miracle on the way out for good measure. Then the priests later denounce Simon but quietly dismiss the whole thing when it's discovered Satan put the cheese in his food sack. And Simon just makes a great straight man to the Devil.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#82 Post by bunuelian » Mon Mar 23, 2009 11:11 pm

I think zedz is on to something in the idea that Bunuel took himself more seriously during his Mexican period. There are plenty of anecdotes about his unhappiness during much of this period, probably a combination of his sense of exile and alcoholism. His Mexican efforts to "cut the eye" have a gravity that shows little interest in humor, while his French work sometimes veers into sheer zaniness, as though they are his idea of an old man making a fart joke.

I would expect that when he began to recover his artistic freedom he knew that he had to protect it by not producing something so radical that it would justify a move by the Mexican establishment to shut him down. But I also think that Bunuel had little interest in cheap vaudeville laughs. His laughter wasn't the mocking variety that dominates Western comedy today. This is especially true of his barbs aimed at the Catholic Church, which were never delivered with even a hint of mockery. He took his disdain for the Church very seriously, and chose his battles carefully.

I strongly encourage anyone who hasn't explored the Mexican films to do so. The vast majority are excellent, and even the more commercially dull films have exquisite moments.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#83 Post by domino harvey » Mon Mar 23, 2009 11:18 pm

kaujot wrote:Well, I wasn't expecting to be laughing out loud (something I rarely do during one of his films), but I did expect to find more that tickled me, more in the vein of The Milky Way, I guess. I'll have to give it another viewing.
As someone who rates the Milky Way as Bunuel's best and this as a close second, it saddens me to read you didn't get much out of Simon. I mean, I know comedy's not debatable, but even the very first scene in the movie is a riot: a rich man buying Simon a nicer pedestal to deprive himself upon? Brilliant!

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#84 Post by zedz » Mon Mar 23, 2009 11:37 pm

bunuelian wrote:I think zedz is on to something in the idea that Bunuel took himself more seriously during his Mexican period.
Actually, I was trying to say sort of the opposite, so you should credit kaujot with this insight (though it's probably only implicit in his post).
There are plenty of anecdotes about his unhappiness during much of this period, probably a combination of his sense of exile and alcoholism. His Mexican efforts to "cut the eye" have a gravity that shows little interest in humor, while his French work sometimes veers into sheer zaniness, as though they are his idea of an old man making a fart joke.
I see the Mexican films as both darker / tougher and more playful / anarchic - sometimes by turns and sometimes all at once. Generally, I just find them more surprising, while the later French films seem to me to traffic in a more consistent (and maybe calculated, but that's probably unfair) 'Bunuel brand'. I like both modes, but it's the Mexican films that gnaw away at me.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#85 Post by GringoTex » Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:32 am

zedz wrote:I see the Mexican films as both darker / tougher and more playful / anarchic - sometimes by turns and sometimes all at once. Generally, I just find them more surprising, while the later French films seem to me to traffic in a more consistent (and maybe calculated, but that's probably unfair) 'Bunuel brand'. I like both modes, but it's the Mexican films that gnaw away at me.
I agree- the French Bunuels are films of a man who's very much at peace with himself and his surroundings and this is expressed through his almost transcendent effortless style. The Mexican films are war zones where anything goes, and Mexican genres are the battlefields. As great as his French films are, I think only Obscure Object carries the pathos of Subida al Cielo, Olvidados, Susana, Illusions, Bruto, El, and Criminal Life.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#86 Post by nsps » Tue Mar 24, 2009 4:32 pm

I agree with Matt that Simon comes off as an arrogant prick, and his holier-than-thou attitude is part of the film's humor. He basically does nothing but stand on his pillar all day and posture, acting superior to those around him.

I remember laughing a great deal during the film, although I haven't watched the Critierion editions yet (got a bit of a backlog at the moment, and decided to give some films I've never seen priority).

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#87 Post by GringoTex » Tue Mar 24, 2009 9:55 pm

nsps wrote:I agree with Matt that Simon comes off as an arrogant prick, and his holier-than-thou attitude is part of the film's humor. He basically does nothing but stand on his pillar all day and posture, acting superior to those around him.
Bunuel admires this standing on a pillar. It's a surrealist act. It's the herd around Simon that Bunuel is ridiculing.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#88 Post by nsps » Tue Mar 24, 2009 10:44 pm

I agree that Buñuel shows some degree of admiration for Simon's steadfast resolve, but I certainly don't think he lets him off so easily. A "surrealist act" it may be, but Simon isn't doing it to be a surrealist, nor do I think Buñuel views his motives that way. As soon as I rewatch the film (it's been quite a few years), I'll return with either textual support or a change of opinion.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#89 Post by david hare » Tue Mar 24, 2009 11:12 pm

If we're comparing the Mexican and French periods it's far preferable surely to look at the continuation of Bunuel's ideas and synergies, instead of making what to me are meaningless value judgements about one block of work being "better" than the other. We should be following Durgnat's line (still the best work in English on Luis) and focussing on the formal and production value differences and the way Bunuel expresses his mise en scene through them, from relatively impoverished to relatively deluxe production regimes.

Even the Mexican period is a mixture of "Serious" and "playful". Olvidados which is a great movie no doubt, was definitely calculated to grab the attention of the Festival Arthouse audiences after such a long exile with an apparently "socially conscious" narrative. Bunuel often complains about the compromises he had to make on something like Subida, for instance, but this was still produced by Dancigers, his real champion through the Mexican period, right down to having a purpose written (and very funny and clever) musical score. So the budget forced him to use models for the two scenes of the bus climbing up and then down the mountain, and the budget didn't run to letting him finish Simon the way he originally intended. But he simply deals with these facts of life as he did with the debacle over the two actresses in Cet Obscur Objet and turns what would be bad luck for anyone else into a virtue.

If there IS one short period which I think of as his weakest it's the four French language movies from the 50s - for the most part they are - to my eye - burdened with a relatively didactic political dimension, and they lose verve and pace and humor in the process, although perhaps the most successful of them - La Fievre monte a El Pao - lifts itself out of the Parti doldrums with not infrequent side trips into all too brief hallucinatory imagery.

What is nice now is - one way and another, be it R2 French and Spanish discs and sharefiles and a couple of Lionsgates and Optimums - it's basically possible to see all the Mexican work, with English subs in a least reasonable and sometimes excellent prints on DVD. They just all need pulling together.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#90 Post by bunuelian » Wed Mar 25, 2009 12:15 am

zedz, I took "Oddly enough, I feel like it's in those films that he takes himself (or the idea of himself) more seriously," to mean "that Bunuel took himself more seriously during his Mexican period." But you were expressing an opposite view? I'd enjoy fleshing this idea out, because I think it's quite interesting.

My impression is that Bunuel's late French period was heavily influenced by his close collaboration with Carriere. That seems especially the case in Phantom, at least judging from Carriere's take on things. So at least in part, I chalk up the looser quality of the later films to this collaboration. Not to take anything away from Carriere, who I think deserves a good deal of respect in his own right.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#91 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 25, 2009 5:11 am

bunuelian wrote:zedz, I took "Oddly enough, I feel like it's in those films that he takes himself (or the idea of himself) more seriously," to mean "that Bunuel took himself more seriously during his Mexican period." But you were expressing an opposite view? I'd enjoy fleshing this idea out, because I think it's quite interesting.
That 'those' was supposed to refer to "the French [period]", but I can see how confusing the throwaway phrasing could be. What I was talking about was that idea of the more consistent 'Bunuel brand' that I referred to in the follow-up, whereas the sense I get of the Mexican films is more improvisatory (as David was alluding to with the production constraints) - you never knew where he'd be coming from or going to next.
My impression is that Bunuel's late French period was heavily influenced by his close collaboration with Carriere. That seems especially the case in Phantom, at least judging from Carriere's take on things. So at least in part, I chalk up the looser quality of the later films to this collaboration. Not to take anything away from Carriere, who I think deserves a good deal of respect in his own right.
I agree that Carriere is key to the flavour of that French period. I know it's somewhat counterintuitive, but I don't see the late 'unstructured' French films as 'looser': they seem very calculatedly anti-conventional to me and quite deliberately crafted (by Carriere and Bunuel) in their 'anarchy'. (Which isn't a value judgement)

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#92 Post by GringoTex » Wed Mar 25, 2009 10:27 am

david hare wrote:instead of making what to me are meaningless value judgements about one block of work being "better" than the other.
Nobody in this thread has done that.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#93 Post by david hare » Wed Mar 25, 2009 6:20 pm

Gringo, if I'm outta line say so, but the way I read Bunuelian up the page, and by inference Zedz, is that the final French period is qualitatively inferior to the Mexican. Maybe I'm misreading them. In any case I think both eras have their low points - not meaning to nark DH 2, but Milky Way is one of the least satisfying Bunuels from the French period, just as Robinson Crusoe is equally less interesting to me from the Mexican period (strictly speaking, in terms of production provenance.) His changes in tone over certain subjects, rather than temporal periods is what interests me here.

Incidentally out of nowhere Universal Australia who haven't released anything interesting under their own label here for a thousand years are dropping a very large bunch of Foreign Studio Canal titles here May 6, including Tristana. No edition details or specs up but almost anything would be better than the BFI shocker linked here.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#94 Post by zedz » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:20 pm

david hare wrote:Gringo, if I'm outta line say so, but the way I read Bunuelian up the page, and by inference Zedz, is that the final French period is qualitatively inferior to the Mexican.
It's always dangerous to traffic in empiricism. I prefer the Mexican period, but that's purely subjective. Or as I put it above:
zedz wrote: I like both modes, but it's the Mexican films that gnaw away at me.
I don't think Bunuelian is dissing the French period either. What we both seem to have in common is that we perceive a distinct stylistic difference between the periods, but we can't even agree on what that is, so take it all with a Lot's wife of salt.
david hare wrote:In any case I think both eras have their low points - not meaning to nark DH 2, but Milky Way is one of the least satisfying Bunuels from the French period, just as Robinson Crusoe is equally less interesting to me from the Mexican period (strictly speaking, in terms of production provenance.)
Even though I prefer the Mexican period, I also think it's a lot more uneven than the French one. More highs, but also more lows: more films!

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#95 Post by david hare » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:41 pm

Thanx Z. The only possible conclusion I can come up with from this is that the Don had a significant other as major collaborator in each case - Figeuroa in Mexico (although he didn't shoot the earlier pictures including Subida) and Carriere in France (who also didn't supply all the screenplays, notably Chambermaid and Tristana.)

I may well be subconsciously channelling other articles and blog pieces I've read over the years in which people argue about Carriere's influence, not always favourably.

Generally, it's fascinating to see shifts in one's own responses to some of his pictures. I did not care that much for Simon on first viewing (1967), in fact I tended to share kaujot's view at the top of the page. Indeed I hadn't seen it again until the Criterion arrived, and in complete reversal of years ago, another completely different response - it basically has me on the floor. In the same way as the more outrageous blasphemies of things like the drunken Nativity Play in Streetcar. or Tristana exposing herself with wooden leg to Saturno from the balcony and the snap cut to the statue of the Virgin Mary. Or Arturo de Cordova's El taking to the new bride with needle and thread, or even wilder, perving furiously on the orgy of feet and shoes in the opening church service, while Bunuel's camera cuts to the priests prostrating themselves at the choirboys feet. There's only one Bunuel!

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#96 Post by kaujot » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:51 pm

Hey, in 42 years I'll have a nice surprise. ;)

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#97 Post by david hare » Thu Mar 26, 2009 12:27 am

Babe you should live so long - it's an experience.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#98 Post by bunuelian » Thu Mar 26, 2009 1:41 am

I didn't mean to suggest that the French films are bad - hardly, I absolutely love many of them. I just find the best of the Mexican period to have a certain added pith that for whatever reason the French films lack (with the exception of Obscure Object, subjectively speaking).

Carriere is not the only difference, of course - the French films are higher budget and, critically, have more professional casts. The amateur casts lend qualities to certain of the Mexican films that make them special. They enhance the strangeness of Exterminating Angel, the realism of Los Olvidados and Nazarin, etc. Of course, Bunuel himself was dissatisfied with the quality of actors in many of these films, so perhaps the French films are closer to what he would have made had he been well funded throughout his career. I enjoyed the anecodote on the Exterminating Angel disc (or is it in the booklet?) about his frustration with the way the actors wore their tuxedos.

I find some of the "surreal" moments in the French films to lack the subtlety or psychological impact of the best moments from the Mexican films. Compare Jaibo's amazing dream sequence, with his mother holding out that huge piece of meat, to, say, the soldier's dream in Discreet Charm. Here the stylistic differences account for a lot of why I prefer the dream of Los Olvidados: the cinematography of Jaibo's dream gives it a wonderfully unsettling feel with high contrasts and the gleaming, bloody chunk of flesh along with the lustful mother - this is "true Surrealism" in the classic sense. The solider's story, on the other hand, takes place in an unmasked studio set (perhaps intentional, but uninteresting, if so), and although there's some fun there, it's an intellectual fun ("Why are all these soldiers interrupting their dinner? Why is this soldier's story of his dream even interesting to these people?"). Now, I've always loved that great moment when he realizes that he was talking to a guy who is dead, and then starts to panic and call out for his mother, so it's not to say that this is an especially bad sequence, just that there's a different quality to it that is not as satisfying as what Los Olvidados achieved.

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#99 Post by david hare » Thu Mar 26, 2009 4:00 am

B I totally agree with you about the greater edginess of those pictures.

But let's take the Soldier's dream announcement within Bourgoiesie - I find the totally classical framing, and the jump cuts, which he builds up with a faster rhythm of cutting to be equally as amazing as Jaibo's scene with the Oedipal Dream. For instance.

Isn't this what counts, though --the total consistency of his formal view.

I obviously think both movies are masterpieces. One of the things, I suspect Luis got outta Warners dubbing period, etc was the sheer velocity of the cutting and indeed montage in those matinee precoders - for exmaple look at all the disucssion at Kehr's blog about Wild Bill Willly et al.

MAn this motherfucker was dubbing this stuff at some point as his sole job, admittedly under Iris Barry, so his life then was a bit of a trip. And then you go to Mexico, and kick start your fucking career.

Fukc!

Still on for that date, Rich?

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Re: 459-460 The Exterminating Angel and Simon of the Desert

#100 Post by zedz » Sun Apr 05, 2009 5:36 pm

I watched the Criterion disc the other night and loved this all over again, but the thing that really struck me is what a magnificent looking film this is. The setting and situation provides so many possibilities for striking shots (high angles, low angles, crane shots, giddy tracking shots, compositions in depth, skies, landscapes, crowds, empty expanses) and Bunuel and Figueroa just tick them off, one by one. This might well be Bunuel's best looking film. In my memory, the encounters between Brook and Pinal had expanded at the expense of the stuff with the priests, but that's pretty funny as well (e.g. the young priest marvelling that Simon hadn't drunk much water over the course of a week, but that the water he'd left in the gourd had mysteriously transformed itself into a vile smelling fluid).

As for Bunuel's attitude to Simon, I think he's considerably more satirical here than in Nazarin. He relishes the inherent ridiculousness of the situation in which his character's placed himself, and adds brilliant little ornaments to it to underscore that ridiculousness - the transfer to the superior pillar, the standing on one foot. He's also eagerly skewering Simon's sanctimoniousness, but he's equally critical of the naivete and self-interest of the fawning priests and the indifference of the public. Simon comes off okay because he's got a perverse integrity. He's allowed to retain his dignity, but this is more a factor of his role as straight man to Pinal's devil than any directorial endorsement of his self-seriousness.

Now for the weird stuff -

Watched Simon; went to bed. The next day we wanted to pop on something pleasant but ignorable while doing the housework, so I opted for the unwatched DVD of music videos that came with the 'Matador 15' compilation. Removed the 'Simon' disc from the player, inserted the 'Matador 15' disc. Since we've been on a bit of a New Pornographers binge lately I selected the video for their 'The Laws Have Changed' to start with, and was floored when it proved to be a remake of the last five minutes of Simon of the Desert. It started out as: "Oh, what a coincidence - another guy on a pillar" and rapidly descended into stupefaction. Was Don Luis pulling my tits from the otherworld?

Would have been a nice easter egg for the Criterion disc. Unfortunately, I can't find the video on YouTube.

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