There are movies, of course, and then there are movies stark raving mad movies that make up what they may lack in rigor, taste, and coherence with runaway gargantuanism, operatic flamboyance, lunatic ambition, and egomaniacal faux-profundity. It's the impulse not to make a movie but to make The Movie, and though you could cut a grand auteurist folly to pieces with a butter knife, absurdly overstuffed monsters like Intolerance, Napoleon, Duel in the Sun, 1900, Apocalypse Now, Brazil, Once Upon a Time in America, and even New York, New York can inspire allegiance like no film half as huge and 10 times as wise. Like legend-making friends whose reckless lives burn twice as bright, film follies are challenges to death, God, and the ordinary scale of experience, and who can blame us for being carried away?
Not Pauline Kael, surely, who was the first to stake out the irrational ground of folly fandom, and not Stuart Klawans, Nation film critic and author of the new Film Follies: The Cinema Out of Order (Cassell). Every inch the graceful, reasonable writer Kael wasn't, Klawans sings the ballad of cinephilia with verve, asserting right off the bat that follies are "movies for people who want to die from too much cinema." A dry, trenchant, and besotted history of moviemaking gone godlike (whose subtitle seems redundant; when has cinema as a culture ever been "in order"?), Klawans's book traces the folly's family tree back to the medieval fair and its modern equivalents, World's Fairs, as well as the 18th-century architectural "folly," the aristocratic landscaping fad that plopped ersatz pyramids, Greek ruins, and oriental pagodas onto wealthy British estates.
Sounds like an occasion for a film series, and so MOMA runs a Klawans follyfest starting next Monday. Like the book, the series is mostly greatest-hits: Intolerance, Greed, Duel in the Sun, Metropolis, Apocalypse Now. (Klawans's climactic folly, Leos Carax's Les Amants du Pont Neuf, is absent but will be released this spring by Miramax, if their promises mean anything.) The gifts are an opportunity to see Ophüls's historical fruitcake Lola Montes (alas without subtitles) and Kalatozov's ludicrously gorgeous I Am Cuba as they should be seen very fucking large as well as the rare meal of Marcel L'Herbier's L'Inhumaine (1924), the famed futurist boondoggle insanely designed by Ferdinand Leger, Robert Mallet-Stevens, and Alberto Cavalcanti, and featuring one of the most surrealist plotlines of any pre-Buñuel film. Smaller and quainter than its berserk brethren, L'Herbier's vintage avant-gardism is nonetheless 151-proof folly, if not of hubris then of ideology.
'Carte Blanche: Film Follies Selected by Stuart Klawans'
At the Museum of Modern Art
February 8 through 16
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