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.

7 comments:

Marilyn said...

I am completely unfamiliar with this filmmaker and now I MUST see his work. I hope the films aren't hard to find. Thanks SO MUCH for highlighting this film and director.

Ed Howard said...

Marilyn, a great collection of his films is available on DVD if you're able to get ahold of foreign DVDs (it's in PAL format, but not region-coded). The Austrian DVD label INDEX (which is amazing in general) has released a collection titled The Cineseizure, which features a small but filling sampling of Arnold's most substantial work and some miscellaneous ephemera, like his deadpan 1-minute trailer for Psycho. Two of the other short films included on the disc deconstruct To Kill a Mockingbird and the Lumieres' famous train movie.

Index DVDs are also distributed in the US by Erstwhile Records. Arnold's a hilarious and fascinating filmmaker.

Marilyn said...

Thanks. I'm sure I can find a way.

Jon said...

just happened to see this (jumping over from Brian O's blog to check out what my man Ed has been up to recently), and would like to also note that the prices on the whole Index label have just been lowered.

hi, Ed!

Ed Howard said...

Thanks for checking in, Jon, and thanks for the update. It's been a while...

Also, do you have any particular recs for the Index label in general? I have the Tscherkassky disc, and one of the Krens, but I'm not sure what else is worthwhile from them, especially from among their more recent releases.

Jon said...

I haven't seen anywhere near all of them, and the Arnold, Tscherkassky and Kren-Structural Films are probably the top picks of the ones I have. the Sonic Fiction comp is good also, there's a Radian video on there and something by Billy Roisz. the Gustav Deutsch and the Manfred Neuwirth are probably the next ones to check out after that, at least from what I've seen. if you want to buy a bunch at once and will review them here, maybe I can give you a deal, e-mail me.

kitty packard said...

I am thoroughly intrigued and am now on a mission to gobble up all the information I can about this Martin Arnold!