Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation
July 6, 2009 8:50 AM   Subscribe

"Understanding that "A" and "M", and perhaps "X", in Marienbad are all holographs would enrich our enjoyment of an otherwise incomprehensible film ... Without Morel, Last Year at Marienbad is mostly an exercise in formalism; however, with the intertextual juxtaposition of the two, it becomes another, different work. It becomes an early false reality film, perhaps the first ... we now have a flood of these ontological vertigo films - Total Recall, Dark City, The Matrix, Existenz, The Thirteenth Floor, The Truman Show." Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation. (Now available on Blu-Ray!)
posted by geoff. (26 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
I've been applying this technique to my own life with great results.
posted by SmileyChewtrain at 8:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


All of them rip-offs of Philip K. Dick.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2009


I love this movie! But I can't always stay awake while it's on.
posted by Slothrup at 8:58 AM on July 6, 2009


All of them rip-offs of Philip K. Dick.

Except Total Recall which, according to the opening credits, is a rip-off of Phillip K. Dick.
posted by item at 9:07 AM on July 6, 2009


I was able to confirm the information by consulting the Encyclopedia Britannica

I guess Wikipedia must have been down that day.
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on July 6, 2009


The Invention of Morel is worth reading. I happened upon it and then Last Year at Marienbad happened to be playing right after I finished it. I highly recommend them both.

Also, item I'm going to out-pedant you for just a second and point out that it is indeed Philip K. Dick.
posted by clockwork at 9:25 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Adolfo Bioy Casares' "La Invención de Morel" is not the only Latin American story or novel plumbed by European and American artists that somehow fail to give them direct attribution. This has happened with Borges, Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar ... that's just off the top of my head. I guess Latin American literary immortals dont have the same kind of legal teams US writers of lesser caliber have at their disposal :)
posted by liza at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2009


I think Item was pointing out the insertion of an extra "l" in the Total Recall credits.
posted by kmz at 9:31 AM on July 6, 2009


item's referencing the fact that his name was spelled incorrectly in the credits.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:32 AM on July 6, 2009


No way! It's true! How the tables have turned. I deserved both those corrections.
posted by clockwork at 9:37 AM on July 6, 2009


did you know that philip k dick's name is spelled incorrectly in the total recall credits?
posted by wayofthedodo at 9:38 AM on July 6, 2009


Robbe-Grillet's book Le Voyeur is just amazing. Just came here to say that.
posted by milarepa at 9:47 AM on July 6, 2009


Did you guys see this yet?

Total Recall (1990) (short story "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale") (inspiration) (as Phillip K. Dick)
posted by orme at 9:48 AM on July 6, 2009


I'm waiting for a movie version of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.
posted by Ironmouth at 9:51 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ya'll know Phillip K. Dick's misspelled on all his books and all but one of his movies, right?
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 9:57 AM on July 6, 2009 [2 favorites]


This is certainly a fascinating thread.
posted by sleevener at 10:08 AM on July 6, 2009


I meant, "certainlly"
posted by sleevener at 10:12 AM on July 6, 2009


I'm waiting for a movie version of Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said.

Aside from the fact that a real adaptation was announced at one point, there are several references Flow My Tears in Southland Tales, the terrible, terrible follow-up to Donnie Darko by Richard Kelly (including having a police officer literally say "Flow my tears" and having the main character(s) named Taverner). Also, Built To Spill has a really good song with the same title as the one by Taverner that's mentioned in the novel.

In my opinion Flow My Tears is pretty dated because the setting is so tied to the specific political issues of the 60s, but I'm guessing whoever adapted it to a screenplay would probably "update" it to be a more generic dystopian future setting. Like a lot of PKD's stuff I think it would be difficult in general to do a straight-up adaptation of the plot in general too, and I'm not sure what a mainstream movie audience would think of the Alys character and her role in the story. I think Ubik would probably be easier to pull off successfully (and an adaptation of it is apparently in the works).
posted by burnmp3s at 10:37 AM on July 6, 2009


Thanks for posting this; thanks to Criterion's wonderful reissue, there's been a ton of public discussion about Marienbad lately, which is great, except for the fact that so much of it falls into the "this movie is amazing, but totally incomprehensible" category. I think this is a somewhat bogus meme, both because it's a pretty lazy approach to the film and because it might scare off potential viewers. Beltzer's essay makes clear that the movie does make plenty of sense, provided you're familiar with the source material (Morel). In fact, I'd argue that Marienbad is perhaps one of the greatest adaptations of all time--if not the greatest adaptation of all time--precisely because the film perfectly captures the themes of the book, while nonetheless completely altering its setting and narrativization. Because the film doesn't provide any backstory, it's almost as though it's a sequel to the book, just blankly depicting these sedimented layers of holographic projections.

Anyway, great FPP, geoff, hopefully this will spark some more interest in this awesome film (and book).
posted by Lee Marvin at 11:20 AM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think Ubik would probably be easier to pull off successfully (and an adaptation of it is apparently in the works)

Ubik is the scariest thing I have ever read.

But I just love Dick's characters. More than the reality-questioning even. The depth is so amazing. Another great one for that is We Can Build You.

Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said probably can't be made into a movie because the explanation for what happens would be really hard to make intelligible in a film.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:30 PM on July 6, 2009


If you can find it there is a cool interview in Sight & Sound from the early 1990's with Peter Greenaway who says if he could preserve one film it would be Last Year at Marienbad. I have a copy I read every now and then. In part he says:

After 100 years we probably have not seen any cinema yet; We have seen a 100 year prologue. Cinema is still too much a mimetic mongrel art, a multi-hybid that has been slow to develop an autonomous character.... Most cinema is still essentially illustrated text.... Most films easily slip back into their literary origins.... The question of only one film preserved is hopelessly reductive. You're saying the rest can go. Okay, keep Marienbad, the rest can go. Now let's try to reinvent the cinema....
posted by Rashomon at 2:26 PM on July 6, 2009


But I just love Dick's characters. More than the reality-questioning even. The depth is so amazing.

I agree, and the fact that his characters are usually deeply flawed and are clearly over their heads in whatever weird situations they find themselves in really defines the tone of his stories. One thing I don't like about his characters is the way he portrays women, most of his female characters tend to be either a vindictive cold fish (usually in the form of the protagonist's wife) or a hyper-sexualized femme fatale. After reading a bunch of his novels, I wasn't exactly shocked to learn that he went through five different marriages and divorces, he definitely had some relationship issues that came through in his work.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:57 PM on July 6, 2009


I went to re-watch Last Year At Marienbad every time it returned to the Circle Theater in DC, hoping to some day understand what it was really about. I guess I finally decided, in my early twenties, after maybe 10 viewings, that it just was.And that was fianally OK with me.
Now I learn that there is a backstory. Thank you, Metafilter and geoff.
posted by Hobgoblin at 4:56 PM on July 6, 2009


The idea that Marienbad is a secret sequel to Morel is compelling, but I'm a little skeptical.

Beltzer offers three proofs for his premise: biographical notes from a dustjacket of a completely different book, which he doesn't quote; an acontextual sentence from an encyclopedia, with no further source or citation; and his own suspicions:
Reading the obsessively thorough screenplay, one gets the feeling that Alain Robbe-Grillet is striving to remain faithful to some unnamed rubric whose invisible influence shapes every move his characters make. One senses that the laborious screenplay is based on some prior text, whether novel or play or short story...
"Obsessively thorough," huh?
Now the shadow of the column — the column which supports the southwest corner of the roof — divides the corresponding corner of the veranda into two equal parts. This veranda is a wide, covered gallery surrounding the house on three sides. Since its width is the same for the central portion as for the sides, the line of shadow cast by the column extends precisely to the corner of the house; but it stops there, for only the veranda flagstones are reached by the sun, which is still too high in the sky. The wooden walls of the house — that is, front and west gable-end — are still protected from the sun by the roof (common to the house proper and the terrace). So at this moment the shadow of the outer edge of the roof coincides exactly with the right-angle formed by the terrace and the two vertical surfaces of the corner of the house.
That's from Robbe-Grillet's La Jalousie, of 1957. Totally original (as far as anything can be totally original), yet the whole book is every bit as obsessively thorough as his Marienbad script. "One" may "sense" all one wishes, but if the screenplay reads as meticulously overdetermined, it's actually more likely that Robbe-Grillet was just being his own obsessive self than that he was scribbling over a Casares palimpsest.

(What's with the condescension to Borges and Casares? "More progressive...in their comfort with intertextuality, but...extremely traditional in their view of false realities and false people." Thanks for the contrarianism, guy who cited the Encyclopedia Britannica as an unimpeachable textual authority!)
posted by Iridic at 5:47 PM on July 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


It turns out that Morel's invention fame is a diabolical holographic recording device that captures all of the senses in three dimensions. It is diabolical because it destroys its subject in the recording process, rotting the skin and flesh off of its bones, thus gruesomely confirming the native fear of being photographed and also, perhaps, warning of the dangers of art holding up a mirror to nature.
....it gives us a warning - if you go to the movies too often, you may never come back. Your own life may become a fiction, you could become a nameless character wandering forever in the present tense, alive or dead one cannot be sure.
RIP MJ
posted by otherchaz at 7:38 AM on July 7, 2009


I agree, and the fact that his characters are usually deeply flawed and are clearly over their heads in whatever weird situations they find themselves in really defines the tone of his stories. One thing I don't like about his characters is the way he portrays women, most of his female characters tend to be either a vindictive cold fish (usually in the form of the protagonist's wife) or a hyper-sexualized femme fatale. After reading a bunch of his novels, I wasn't exactly shocked to learn that he went through five different marriages and divorces, he definitely had some relationship issues that came through in his work.

I agree. Even the androids and genetically engineered characters are usually flawed and as you said, "in over their heads." I do think he does justice both ways though--see Jason Taverner in Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said. He steps over everyone and is manipulative and uncaring. Unfortunately, there are a lot of those people around. He was way, way, way ahead of his time in recognizing the existence of these types of people and the damage that they do. It is like he populated his books with archetypes from our era, even though the best of them were written in the 1960's.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:53 AM on July 7, 2009


« Older The Early Days of Blogging...   |   Scenes sculpted with nails by ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments