noted, November 13, 2013
In the movie, The Last Tango in Paris (1972) by Bertolucci, Francis Bacon’s paintings are quoted from the very first. There is also a story that Bertolucci took Brando to see a Bacon exhibition to prime him to play the role of Paul. And then on wiki the art director discussed how difficult or at least different it was to make an orange movie, for the carpet in the apartment is orange. But they seemed to have ended up in an empty apartment whose main piece of furnishing was the carpet because of the influence of the wide open platform space in these Bacons. In this context, the floor, the blank space below, equals existential angst: the bottoming out, the knocking down, the downward drop to the abject.
The fact that the Bacon is orange relates to the apartment, and then the
pink platform of this painting would talk about sex, and the other life
saver surface in the movie: Maria Schneider’s yellow body.
She is yellow, and often wears this yellow dress. It shows a lot of leg, and is so
high, with high boots to hike the focus up inside, and a muff all about, that the
focus of this dress, circa 1972, is the crotch (and we are going through
another crotch season as well, now).
The apartment is an odd place–unfurnished, an orange carpet, the walls are yellow.
There is also a kind of staining device at the level of the wainscot, a maroon
or red coloring, that sometimes looks like a watermark left after a flood, at
other times looks like a kind of landscape, a further levelling out. In
terms of painting, the stain may be the actual transposition of a Bacon into an art directed set element in the movie. Once they both show up in the apartment,
looking it over, Brando then, as Schneider later accuses him, rapes her, though
she does not resist. He knocks her down out of the curtains on to the floor,
they roll, clothes open as needed but do not come off, there is a grunting and
a pushing and a rolling and a rolling around on the carpet
The scene opens up wide, as her legs open and relax to receive the blow. The
wide carpet expresses the creation of a new floor for the relationship, a
receptivity, but also an emptiness
And then the carpet allows her, when it is done, to roll off, out and away from him,
and him to roll down into himself, head in hands, humiliated and upset. In
this separation onto the carpet also we see her “carpet, “ that is, in the parlance of the
traditional male question about the coloring of it, if the carpet
matches the drapes, her pubic hair. This metaphorical reference may be the reason why in this movie Schneider has the second fullest bush I have ever seen in the
movies, second only to the bush of the ambushed blonde in Orloff and the
Invisible Dead (third would be in The Blood Spattered Bride). Carpet meets carpet, carpet becomes carpet; on that level, he is now snared in the piles of her carpet.
This is a tableau of mutual I don’t know what, existential loss and yet some experience, best exemplifying a Bacon translated by Bertolucci. It is his equivalent of other paintings where twisted figures, burned by negative energy, eviscerated and effaced, writhe about on the floor with an excess of existential angst. What might be the nature of that angst? for one thing, as noted in a previous note, madness in the rational mind is not crazy thoughts, but paralysis. It is the feeling of being so stuck and frustrated by the nothing-happening of life that one is weighed down by life. You become stuck, and then you snap. Second, it is depression, and depression happens in a low place in the psyche. The mind and the body can hardly lift itself up, one is filled as if with a black sludge, that, as even the medievals knew, in their concept of black bile, paralyzes the self, immobilizes one and nails one to the floor. Thus, to lie on a floor in this state is to surrender fully to it, it is not a good place in the universe to be.
The movie, elsewhere, never quite leaves the floor. This is because the apartment
they continue to convene as strangers at has no furniture; that leaves them the
floor, and the bathroom, and since the bathroom figures so prominently, it affords
Schneider many moments to be nude in. I cannot tell what she is doing in this
scene, she is simply emoting, bodily, topless, on the carpet. It is almost a
kind of existential calisthenics, the opposite of yoga, a venting, a
Baconizing of the emotions
Her hair out, uncombed, her shirt off, her breasts exposed, the curtains dingy, the
wall scarred and stained, the bedding unmade, the floor is the place of
abjection. Here she strikes a questioning pose, that faintly resembles a pose suggested by Bacon too.
I include this shot as reference to my above claim that this big haired girl had
equally big hair below. That the big hair below makes her the dark goddess of the carpet, irresponsible in her toying with or humoring of this depressed man. This metaphor for her hair is reinforced by the fact that he happens to be shaving.
And it keeps up. In the early 1990s, I devised a proxemical model for art galleries
and what it meant when art was positioning itself differently in space. If art was on the walls, that indicated a steady market and a fairly confident and complacent satisfaction with the rules of the life of the field. If, however, art began to float up to the ceiling, that indicated an effervescence, a heating up, a floating away, a bubble and its hysteria. If, however, the art dropped to the floor, then that meant that the bottom was going to drop out of the market. It also meant that things were sliding-signifying away, in a poststructuralism nomad slide of meaning, a bad place to be. I felt that in the 1991 to 1993 market cycle art dropped to the floor in response to the collapse of the market (on that, later).
In any case, when you drop to the floor and do things on the floor that in
civilized life should be done on furniture, the proxemic logic of it means that you are getting down to an existential state. The fact that as the movie proceeds Brando choses to conduct his progressively more perverted assaults on her on the floor means something. He is bottoming out, working out his grief, somehow, doing it
through her. In this scene, he anally rapes her, meaning she does not exactly
want it, and, in the missionary ethos of sexual contact in the male-dominated 60s, such an address was considered almost abusively perverted. The fact that it happens on the
floor makes it an existential act, so, once again, here is another formal
variant on Bacon as filmed by Bertolucci.
I don’t quite understand this shot (below). The only shot I know like it comes from D’Argento’s Suspiria, when we view the scene through a ceiling lamp. The suggestion there is that the space as a whole is the lamp of hypnosis by which the witch, Elena Markos, puts a spell on all.
I cannot tell exactly what it means here. A lamp in a room would be a suggestion of a figurative presence, occupation, person. Its presence is civilizing, but, sometimes, dangerous, because it conveys the idea of antiquity or outofdateness. Here it is a fixture on the ceiling, the only furnishing in the room. It represents furnishing abjectness, it glares blankly. It also overcasts his backside pumping into her from behind, it censors her anal rape. It seems to say this is about how bright and emotional this act was, it was part of the fixtures.
At one point, proving to me that Bertolucci was yet another modern director
working with key underlying metaphors connecting pubic bush to the movie and
its surfaces, in this case carpet to carpet, we get a good closeup of Schneider’s
carpet, for no apparent reason. Another possibility is even more pejorative. One of the movie’s most famous Baconesque moments is Brando’s searing encounter
with his dead wife, a horrifying scene, where he uses the c word three or four
times. This scene then may in fact equate c–t and carpet in an
unfurnished apartment. Vagina let out to be the garbage dump of a stranger’s
existential angst, that would be one definition, in the modern period, of a
c–t. That is, a sex organ entered in love is a vagina, a sex organ reduced
to a facility like a toilet in the bare surface public world is a c–t. By where this takes place, and what it does, dirt and c–t are associated. It should also be mentioned that in another scene she bathes, and he cleans her with a wash cloth, odd).
At the end, of course, he is better, and pursues her, but she resists. She wants to forget the encounter, to grow up and move on. As part of this sequence, the last tango occurs. It too ends up on the floor of the dance floor. Then she runs off, she claims that he raped her. When he refuses to back off, when they come to another apartment, she shoots him. This is his last view of Paris, the rooftops of the back part of the view of the town: his abject state, his cemetery, his underworld.
And then he crumbles into a ball and ends up after all that back on the floor in a
Bacon pose: meaning that the last way in which the place and positioning of his
body in the movie was Baconesque was in his death.
All in all, then, this movie instrumentalized carpeting and flooring, and then made a metaphorical bridge between it and the strange woman and her bush, to represent the abject state of existential grief that he was in, after the suicide of his wife. In another note, I suggested that nunsexploitation movies made a good deal of use of the imagery of the floor as a place to express the abjection of self in the life of the convent. There are many scenes of nuns caused to be prostrate and punished on the floor, and their subjection to authority and to the rigid restraints of their life are epitomized by their life on the floor. Last Tango another movie where the floor was made use of, but in a different way, an existential way, derived, I think, from painting. I cannot at present say if flooring in Bacon stands for the existential abject state, the bottoming out of psyche, in the loss of all figure and shape of hope in life, but it appears that this is the idea that Bertolucci was working with. In modernist film, one, safely, cannot underestimate the amount of sexism that lingers in the last fiber of the deepest unconscious enlistment of properties and instruments in film: so carpet is related to woman and to her bush. It is a good example of flooring and especially carpeting being instrumentalized to represent the distress of the hero–and then the carpeting and the drapes made to match.