Saturday, November 03, 2007

O Lucky Man! d. Lindsay Anderson, 1973

November is National Novel Writing Month, whence thousands of people attempt to write a novel - with no concern for quality - during the month. It's a sort of Oulipean exercise in constraints, an exercise whose singular purpose is to get one to write, just. I tried this three and, again, two years ago; I failed both times - the first found me at four pages, the second around fifteen.

I'm trying something different this November. Inspired by the profound effect that dedicated, routine writing has had on my friend Dan, and also by the really fascinating, fantastic writing of Ryland Walker Knight (who is in three of my classes this - my final - semester, and is just as intelligent, if a little less intimidating, in person as he is in print) and all the folks at The House Next Door, I'll be attempting to write about every thing I see and hear this month.

Alright, okay: not everything. My goal is to write - with length being no concern - about every film and television episode I watch. A word, a sentence, a paragraph, a thesis: length is, really, no concern. I'm frustrated with academia, with worn out posture I assume in my graded papers. I haven't used this space in a long time, and when I have the writing has been stilted and overly academic, caught in the trappings of my other life. I want - I need - to break out of that. Added to the above, these write-ups will be impromptu mostly - off the cuff, ad hoc, there will be typos and digressions and lapses in reason and argument. I've proved in academia that I can argue effectively; I need to prove to myself here that I can write something interesting. So: words about everything, no limits to length, and whatever comes to mind. Here goes:

I unabashedly love O Lucky Man!. It's the type of film that makes me fall for movies all over again, unafraid of the bits that are routinely dashed off as sophomoric devices: intertitles, audacious editing, meta-narratives, allegory, metaphor, musical interludes, and on & on. Folks say it's loosely based upon Candide, but it becomes pretty clear after 30 minutes or so that, no matter how loose the basing, Candide is the spiritual kin to this film, the out and out inspiration.

Their divergence is important, though. The eponymous hero of Candide begins as an idealist, but becomes embittered by the end of the novella; so it goes for Mick Travis (Malcolm McDowell, reassuming, in name at least, his character from If....). But Candide itself operates as an ironic, political screed throughout, offering no glimmer of idealism whatsoever. O Lucky Man!, while not exactly a dose of unlaced happy pills, gives a little more credence to idealism, claiming it as an alternative to other -isms: nihilism, socialism, etc. The result isn't entirely pretty - Mick finally succumbs to that other dreaded -ism, capitalism - but it is a valid way of going.

The "devices," then, become essential: the form of the film is idealistic, exuberant about the possibilities of film. In the end, when the film wraps in on itself, introducing the making of the film itself as what the film has been about, idealism is left as a viable possibility for film, a mode of going that isn't undone; you can - the form of O Lucky Man! argues - be excited about and employ the apparently trite tropes of film. Maybe, then, film is an idealistic medium, a space wherein a Utopian world can be actuated, if not in content than at least in form.

(Got a little didactic at the end there, but I'm cool with that. This is actually a pretty good reading if you've seen O Lucky Man!. Apologies to those who haven't.)


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