A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Innocence Unprotected (Dusan Makavejev, 1968)

Ana Milosavljevic in Innocence Unprotected
Oh, where to start? Perhaps by figuring out exactly what Dusan Makavejev's Innocence Unprotected is. A good movie about a bad movie? A profile of a man you've probably never heard of but who had an ego that rivals Donald Trump's? A documentary about life in a country that was at the epicenter of some of the most terrible passages in 20th-century history, from the origin of World War I through the "ethnic cleansing" of the 1990s? But all of that makes Makavejev's film sound like no fun. Granted, some of it is horrifying, particularly the use of documentary footage of Serbia during wartime, but the tone of Innocence Unprotected is more amused than appalled. That's because its central figure is the astonishing Dragoljub Aleksic, who in 1942 made the first talking picture ever filmed in Serbia. It, too, was called Innocence Unprotected, and we see what appears to be most of that movie within Makavejev's film. Aleksic was a bodybuilder, an escape artist, an acrobat, and maybe something of a con man. He is, of course, the hero of his movie, playing himself as he rescues a young woman named Nada (Ana Milosavljevic) from the clutches of her evil stepmother (Vera Jovanovic), who wants her to marry a rich and hideous older man played by Bratoljub Gligorijevic. Mostly we get to see Aleksic flex his biceps, preen for the camera, and perform death-defying stunts. He even sings (badly) two love songs to Nada. It's a godawful mess of a melodrama, which Makavejev can't resist tarting up a little with some touches of hand-coloring -- viz., Milosavljevic's lipsticked mouth in the still above. But Makavejev also interpolates interviews with the surviving cast and crew members, who recall with pride their participation in the film, even though it was suppressed by the occupying Nazi forces and went unexhibited until well after the war, when Aleksic literally dug it up from where he had hidden it. Even then, the postwar communist authorities were suspicious that Aleksic had made it without Nazi supervision and grilled him thoroughly before allowing him to show it. What holds Makavejev's film together is Aleksic's magnificently irrepressible ego along with Makavejev's own amusement and skill at putting together this improbable film. There are touches of Buñuel, of Godard, of Fellini in Makavejev's choice of images and in his montages, but the end product is startlingly vivid and original.

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