Monday, January 5, 2009
Films I Love #13: Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy (Martin Arnold, 1998)
Lasting only 15 minutes and consisting entirely of footage taken from the Andy Hardy teen comedies, Martin Arnold's Alone. Life Wastes Andy Hardy is a mini-masterpiece and one of the funniest films I've ever seen. Arnold's experimental short films relentlessly deconstruct narrative cinema by pulling apart scenes from Hollywood movies frame by frame, repeating key images in stuttery, syncopated rhythms that reveal hidden subtexts and create new meanings for previously innocuous moments. In this film, Arnold stitches together brief scenes from three of the Andy Hardy movies, starring Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, stretching out moments that apparently passed within seconds in the original film but here go on for several minutes each. In the process, Arnold creates a new narrative of sexual desire between Andy and his mother, an incestual subtext of meaningful glances and hesitant touches that pays off in the wonderful scene where Garland and Rooney kiss, and Arnold cuts back and forth between their clench and a reaction shot of Andy's horrified, jealous mother. It's hilarious, as is the unexpected final scene where the repetitive editing turns the young couple's post-kiss smiles into an orgasmic bout of pig-like gasping and wheezing. It never fails to send me into hysterics, though the effect is hard to capture either in stills or in prose.
This is also Arnold's most sonically rich film, deconstructing the soundtrack every bit as much as the image. He emphasizes the breaths and murmurs between words, cutting off much of the speech in order to create a breathy, sibilant soundtrack composed almost entirely of abstracted verbal noises a perfect complement to the film's Freudian digging into psychosexual impulses. Best of all, though, is the way Arnold rips apart a Judy Garland musical number, allowing her only one syllable at a time, keeping her locked in a repetitive groove like a record that keeps skipping to the same spots over and over again. As she coos and trills, her face going through matching patterns of expressions to emit each abstracted note, the music track runs backward and folds in on itself, while very slowly the song is allowed to emerge from this morass as recognizable words and musical phrases take form. It's a masterful manipulation of sound.