Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Not a Review of The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus

This is not a review. After many hours of discussion of Terry Gilliam's (and Heath Ledger's, and Johnny Depp's, and Jude Law's, and Colin Farrell's) The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Max and I have decided to quit. Trying. To make sense.

Our original idea was to write a blog together that would include three things: the movie, the riff from Black Sabbath's "Supernaut," and a third thing we can't remember now. So we'll be writing about these three things together, always leaving out the third, which keeps in time nicely with the rhythm and logic of Dr. Parnassus.

You don't understand, and neither does Max. Although, he is quite confident that he DOES understand the movie. I am confident that he understands Black Sabbath, at least better than I do. The fact that our third object of discussion has escaped us both is sad. We both understand sad.

Some things about the movie: it features a villain, who is a relentless capitalist, and who leads supposed friends to ruin. This villain is not the devil, although, The Devil does feature prominently in the film.

Max: I like him.
Vanessa: Who? Which?
M: The Devil. Not the capitalist.
V: Ok. I like him too.
M: He's a little disruptive, but he always has jazz playing.
V: Actually, I thought we hated him because what he likes best is status quo.
M: Oh that's right, I hate him, don't I? (suddenly in a British accent)
V: I thought so. At least I used to think so. I meant that I like Tom Waits.

We are sitting under a blue and red neon sign that says "OPEN" out to the street. This means at least two things to me: (1) other people could eat here, at the Vegan Express, and, (2) we're hyperactively conscious of signs and symbols after being in the Imaginarium.

But back to to Black Sabbath. There's a riff, which opens the song "Supernaut," that goes waaauh-wauh-wauh-wauh-wauh-waauh-waauh-waauh. Max says Frank Zappa says this is the Ultimate Riff. This means: this is perfectly stupid, and holds very intense power. Max says a riff is something that's cyclically repeated, allowed to build on itself. It's more like a spiral than a circle. The power is a kind of hypnosis. The only difference between a riff and Gregorian Chant is that a riff ends sooner, brings you somewhere new, fast.

Which, now that we think about it, is what The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus does. (Vanessa says: I knew I wanted to put those things together. I wish we could remember the third thing. I really do.)

Here's what happened:
Vanessa was lying on the couch crushing Anthony. Max sat across the room.

the other power that riffs have is that they can introduce an idea or a feeling to you with a kind of viceral immediacy. The sad thing about heavy metal is that sometimes these are really absurd ideas about dragons, but sometimes they are things like "I want to reach out and touch the sky" which is a cliche, but with a metal riff it achieves a level of profundity. We are confronted with objects and ideas in the Imaginarium that have an evocative power, but are not directly symbolic or representational in the ways we're used to. This makes them profound, even though we can't explain their "meaning." Also, Max's right temple started throbbing during the movie and hasn't stopped. A riff is a partially melodic, partially harmonic, repetitive motif that sometimes doesn't do all of what we've described. Sometimes it only conjures body sensations, or is used in place of more developed music, without explanation. Critics have accused The Imaginarium of being this second type of riff. We disagree, and think it much more like Black Sabbath's.

Vanessa: Max, let's co-write a blog about Something-We-Won't-Remember, Dr. Parnassus, and Black Sabbath.
Max: Yeah! Although I don't see what Black Sabbath has to do with it.
Vanessa: Oh, it does.
Max: Good. Yes.
(Exeunt, to Vegan Express)

At Vegan Express, Vanessa ate a mock-chicken wrap. Whole wheat lavash bread, romaine lettuce, tomatos, avocados, and a protein source that had been perfectly fried in kamut. In a small silver gravy boat, waaah-wauh-wauh-wauh-waaauh, a savory tahini white sauce.

Max thinks this is all very funny.

Vanessa: I'd like to say something that means something, and then stop.

My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (--its will to power:) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement ("union") with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on--
from The Will to Power, s.636, Walter Kaufmann transl.

The Will to Power was the 3rd thing.


  1. I'm convinced. We all should see the movie. Three times in a row. Best review ever.

  2. Ah! That's what a really good riff does! I used to meditate in garages lost in on or many and never did I connect also enjoying gregorian chants, or metal that combines such riffs with gregorian-like chanting. I will see this movie and now I'll know it better. You two just revolutionized the movie review. I mean you took a knife to the old style, which needed a knife taken to it.

    We all must write as multitude more and always. I'm thinking of Deleuze and Guattari and will write a blog on the subject right now.

  3. Having recently seen this film (last week?), I have some thoughts that are quickly going stale.

    First, this movie should be viewed on a large screen.
    Second, I didn't consider Dr. Parnassus to be a capitalist, his daughter seemed more concerned with money. Also, though I don't fully understand the previous arrangement with Mr. Nick, I didn't understand why he would risk peoples' souls again and again seemingly to prove a point. That may be slightly incorrect. It seemed as though he "needed" people to choose correctly, needed to believe that people could do so.
    Third(ish), I'm not sure if it was that Mr. Nick liked status quo (can see that), or that he enjoyed having someone to toy with/torment. He bends the rules to beat Dr. Parnassus, but changes them when he feels like Dr. P needs encouragement (has gotten to the point where he doesn't want to/won't play any more). Could this be argued as the necessity or balance? Yin/Yang, Light/Dark, Masculine/Feminine, etc? The hero would not be needed/not exist except for the villain, and vice versa, which brings up the chicken/egg question. Dr. P skirts this by using Mr. Nick and Dr. P, meaning that it is implied that Mr. Nick has been around longer. Even though it hints at God vs. Devil, Mr. Nick clearly has the upper hand.