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» Film-Tech Forum   » Community   » The Afterlife   » Black Orpheus (1959)

Author Topic: Black Orpheus (1959)
Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5200
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 03-04-2007 04:24 PM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I am not sure if this is the place to post this because it is not a DVD I am talking about but the film itself which I had the misfortune to have to run yesterday. And at the risk of being flamed by all the movie buffs who think this is one incredible "work of film art," or "the greatest film ever made," as some have stated on IMDB, I have to give you my impression of it only because I found it so much the opposite.

Look, I know Camus is supposed to be a great director -- sorry, his stuff was never very appealing to me -- and I know people have orgasms when you just mention Black Orpheus, but geez, am I the ONLY one who thinks this is just one big turd of a film? Just because you grab a classic myth and dress it up in new cloths doesn't give you a pass and all the elements that are necessary to make an interesting, worthy film. Let me elaborate on just what irked me about this film.

From from the opening credits this thing has a soundtrack that is akin to hearing fingernails scratching on a blackboard. It's loud, unbalanced with over-emphasis in the mid and high end and it is populated with B actors who Camus seems to compensate for their lack of acting ability by directing them to over act, mostly by shouting lines at the top of their lungs and at the high end of their vocal range. The women especially scream like banshee throughout the entire film. I was asked to turn down the volume three times during the film and I was later told that at least 5 people walked out even after I had the fader down to 4.5. So it wasn't my imagination. Thing is, I think no matter WHAT level it was played, the damn track was still screechy and annoying.

It also seems this director realized that the Greek myth could be told in about 1/3rd the time of a full length feature, so to compensate, he simply drags his camera to Brazil for carnival and subjects the audience to rolls and rolls of footage that looks like a bad travelogue. There is a scene with a voodoo dancer where she screams out over and over like someone demented or overdosing on drugs or both. It's annoying for the first two minutes, after 10, it's downright painful.

There are endless scenes of revelers in the streets dancing and singing (mostly overdubbed and sounding totally incongruous to the visual). None of these scenes (it seems like they go on for about half the film) do anything to move the story along or even to create an establishing mood. Three or four minutes of those shots would suffice -- twenty minutes and that's more "mood" than anyone needs.

And "symbolism" that he throws around during the film to represent death (a guy in a skeleton Halloween costume -- WAY inventive) and music for life which the admirers of the film love to wax poetic about to me are just easy nonsense that are thrown around because they are "artsy" but don't do anything to make you want to know a thing about any of the characters or even to ponder those life mysteries. And the payoff, some children singing in the fields, affirming life in the midst of death, IMHO not nearly worth all the torture Camus puts you thru to get there nor the hour and a half out of your life that you could be watching a REAL classic. now flame me for being a boorish oaf who's not "sensitive" to the great works of film art and symbolism and all kinds of shit like that. Come on, I can take it.

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Wayne Keyser
Master Film Handler

Posts: 272
From: Arlington, Virginia, USA
Registered: May 2004

 - posted 03-12-2007 08:57 PM      Profile for Wayne Keyser   Author's Homepage   Email Wayne Keyser       Edit/Delete Post 
You boorish oaf who's not "sensitive" to the great works of film art and symbolism and all kinds of shit like that!

There, are you happy now?

The film has many flaws - reading your post I wanted to say "yeah ... yeah ... that, too, yeah...but I still love it." Maybe you had to be there in the art house (pre-VCR), surprised in the dark by this one. Maybe you need to be more of a romantic to appreciate it despite its audio (which I don't think is QUITE that bad), garish color (hey, it's about Carnaval, what is there NOT garish about Carnaval?) and "goofs" (that streetcar jam-packed with revelers hanging off the side? And the ferryboat crammed with revelers? Look closely...the inside and far side of both are empty.)

But there's a certain "Bicycle Thief / Battle of Algiers" charm about the dragged-off-the-street actors, I think - and a certain "Cocteau after drinking a case of bad whiskey" broadly-drawn beauty to the allegory. The voodoo scene - that's a real voodoo ceremony and a real "believer" behaving as they do when "possessed" by spirits (there's no 'sinister secret' about voodoo, it's accepted there as a religion, and it's only a 'secret devil cult' in bad American mysteries).

I do have trouble with it in the light of its attitude. Camus views the slum setting as charming, and appropriated his title "Orfeu Negro" ("Orphée Noir" in French) from the title of Sartre's 1948 essay on the literary-political movement called "negritude." Sartre characterized négritude as an "anti-racist racism" necessary to achieving ultimate racial unity. Camus trivialized it (looking in from the outside) into a story of "happy dancing negroes in their charming colorful slums." In retrospect, that turns the film into something more like a minstrel show.

That said, the bottom line for me is still this: if we (like many/most discriminating people) complain about the vast majority of movies today being mindless crap, imagine someone just coming to that awareness in the early 1960s (that's me) when most movies were just as bad. But, in the big-city repertory theater I haunted, entranced by wonderful stuff like KNIFE IN THE WATER and M and ALEXANDER NEVSKY and dozens more, BLACK ORPHEUS hit me hard, and it's a very fond memory.

[ 03-12-2007, 11:17 PM: Message edited by: Wayne Keyser ]

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Frank Angel
Film God

Posts: 5200
From: Brooklyn NY USA
Registered: Dec 1999

 - posted 03-13-2007 04:04 AM      Profile for Frank Angel   Author's Homepage   Email Frank Angel   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
Wayne, I LOVE that you loved it. Never in my wildest dreams would I ever discourage anyone from seeing and feeling what they see and feel in a film. Like any work of the imagination, film art works its magic in a multitude of layered ways. I love film, and although from my rant, someone might not get that impression [Wink] , and I will readily admit I can be as boorish as the next dude. Anyway, when I see that a film stirs that inner excitement in someone, I am happy for him/her. If it doesn't have the same effect on me, then it's my loss and I will try to understand what that person "got" that I didn't. There are plenty of films that absolutely mesmerize me while my friends just look at me in disbelief like I am an alien from another plant (which I am). And then there are others films, evidently like this one --- and THE PIANO comes to mind, that everyone in the world went ga-ga over while they do not only nothing for me but were pretty much revolting. And again, I accept that it's my loss that I didn't enjoy what others apparantly have no difficulty in enjoying.

I will have to revisit this one again...hopefully after my ears recover....maybe it will be better to see it with an
audience rather than showing it from the booth.

Thanks for your critique, Wayne....good show!

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Paul Burt
Film Handler

Posts: 46
From: San Francisco, CA, United States
Registered: Apr 2006

 - posted 03-13-2007 11:06 AM      Profile for Paul Burt   Email Paul Burt   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 
I've always had mixed feelings about this film. While I love the music-I found the score to be a revelation when I first heard it-I've always thought the recording was shrill and thin. But it was recorded on the street (I believe), so you've got to make some allowances. And of course when played with the shabby mono systems available in 1959, it was relatively OK. Now play it on your THX-certified six-channel 6,000-watt sound system, and it's got to sound like it was recorded in a tile bathroom.
And, well, yes, the plot is a little shaky and obvious, but at the time it was released it sure was a welcome relief from the standard Hollywood fare. And if it seemed a little long, maybe you were paying your dues to the spirits of independent foreign cinema, so that was fine, also.
But I still listen to the soundtrack CD from time to time. And I still enjoy it, too.

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Michael Barry
Jedi Master Film Handler

Posts: 584
From: Sydney, NSW, Australia
Registered: Nov 1999

 - posted 05-08-2007 08:52 PM      Profile for Michael Barry   Email Michael Barry   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post 

Thank you for mentioning THE PIANO. Same for me: pretentious, boring twaddle that EVERYONE seemed to love.

If you get a chance, check out Tom DiCillo's film, 'The Real Blonde'. There's a great scene in it where people start a conversation in a restaurant about something called, 'Il Piano'. Yep. It's a classic moment, and when I saw it I finally thought, OK...I'm not alone; someone out there got what I got from it too.

But as you say, if it made someone happy (and apparently it did) then that's great and who are we to want to deprive them of that experience? [Smile]

PS. I haven't seen Black Orpheus yet but it doesn't sound as if I'll like it either, although I'll keep an open mind anyways. The actual music by Antonio Carlos Jobim IS great, however (if you like Antonio Carlos Jobim, that is, which I do!)

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