The Color of Pomegranates (Parajanov, 1968) and The Notorious Bettie Page (Harron, 2005)

Sergei Parajanov’s The Color of Pomegranates is a tough film to discuss.  I remember seeing it in college, but I haven’t seen it since until recently.  Parajanov’s film, a visual, impressionistic look, rather than the generally favored biopic approach, at the life and work of Sayat Nova, is tableau filmmaking and as much an antecedent to Greenaway, Andersson, Makhmalbaf, or Ruiz, as to Tarsem, the music video world, and Shirin Neshat

Parajoanov’s style plays towards camera not for being unaware of the separation between theater and film, and also not for trying to roguishly break the fourth wall, but to present its subject matter in a certain historical light, and to tread the line between interpretation and generally accepted narrative approach.

I’ve heard that Parajanov was really inspired by Tarkovsky’s brilliant Ivan’s Childhood in 1962.  Like a Tarkovsky film, this one is filled with iconography that I don’t fully understand.  It’s also slowly paced, and filled with a sense of yearning, mostly achieved through character expression, deliberate movement, and an emphasis on objects.

But Parajanov’s style is really quite separate from Tarkovsky’s otherwise.  As you’ll see in the selection of images below, he frequently favors flat images with little-to-no-depth.  When there is depth in the image he often shoots at a slight high angle to mitigate it.

He seems fascinated with tangible material, handmade objects intermingling with crumbling locations, and specific figure grouping.  These images represent a cross-section of those that I really loved in the film.  Some for their sense of color, others for spacing and others (like that third one) for contrast and makeup.  The final image is one I’d like to restage at some point.  It’s a dramatic angle and feels like an intersection of Jodorowsky and Bunuel (or even Arrabal or Ferrari).

The second and third-to-last images feel a bit more like social realism.  I can see Andrei Rublev in the third-to-last and Dovzhenko (one of Parajoanov’s mentors) in the second-to-last.

In lieu of trying to interpret these images, maybe it’s best just to check them out:

Picture 1 Picture 2 Picture 3 Picture 4 Picture 5 Picture 6 Picture 7 Picture 8 Picture 9 Picture 10 Picture 11

The Notorious Bettie Page

I have no reason to pair these films together other than the fact that I recently saw both of them, but perhaps both are different looks at the biopic.  While Parajanov favors the impressionistic approach, Mary Harron goes for something more traditional in terms of narrative arc, but still shuffles up the timeline.

All I know of Harron’s filmography outside (now) of Bettie Page is, of course, American Psycho.  I’ve unfortunately never seen I Shot Andy Warhol.

Bettie Page is an odd film mostly in the way it moves through time.  It seems to lurch around and is a bit unwieldy.  It’s as though Harron doesn’t completely finish her thought before she jumps forward or backward.  There’s some great costuming in here, and good turns by both Gretchen Mol and Chris Bauer, but it all feels so uneven.

The film makes you wish that Harron would have either made it entirely linear, or spent more time within each scene.  Instead of trying to tie Bettie’s entire life together in a slapdash kind of way, Bettie Page would probably have been more interesting with a more standard structure.  It’s odd for me to say this: I’m a fan of non-linear narratives and attempts to get inside a character’s head, but here it doesn’t gel.

Still, there are scenes to like, some that are really funny, and other times – like a courtroom scene – that are somewhat heartbreaking.

Here’s the lesser-used poster, which I prefer:

BPage_Teaser_MECH.qxd

It’s nice design – I like that her name is given more space than her body, and that she’s hiding, when the implication is that she didn’t hide much.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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