Early this week I wrote about human vision and the scarcity of circular photographs. This led to a post about the retinal photograph of a rabbit and a couple of posts about circles and bunnies (here and here). All of this got me thinking about avant-garde cinema. Surely there must be a film about bunny-eyes?
I started with the surrealists. There is eyeball mutilation in Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou (1929), but no bunnies:
Then I watched Emak Bakia (1926) by Man Ray. What a great little film – and I’m not just saying that because it includes Kiki de Montparnasse. It has lots of circles and eyes but, alas, no rabbits:
I found more of Kiki’s eyes in Ballet Mécanique (1924). The movie was made by Fernand Léger with cinematography by Man Ray – still no bunnies.
Kiki was friends with Jean Cocteau. Cocteau seems like someone who might have put together some bunnies and eyeballs. He didn’t – but in 1950 Cocteau brought to France a young American filmmaker he admired: Kenneth Anger. While in Paris, Anger used his recently botched suicide as the basis for a film, Rabbit’s Moon:
Still from Rabbit’s Moon
The title of the film refers to Japanese myth. “It’s interesting that the Japanese do not see a face or Man in the Moon as we Westerners do,” said Kenneth Anger, “but see a mythological animal, the white rabbit.”
The movie shows the clown Pierrot continually failing to grasp the moon. Harlequin appears and taunts Pierrot. Later we learn that the moon is a metaphor for Columbine. In Elliot Stein’s book Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions, he writes:
All of Anger’s films are separate movements in one vast film, a large symphony in which all kinds of rituals occur as here with the stultifying return of zoom after zoom into the blinding full moon which looks down on the progress of Pierrot from romantic illusion to destruction. If Pierrot is Anger himself, then Pierrot’s new toy, the Magick Lantern, is obviously the cinema.
Due to a studio scheduling conflict, Anger had to stop shooting and left the film uncompleted. But it suddenly resurfaced in the 1970’s with a strange pop soundtrack. In a fascinating essay, Michael Cohen describes how he spent years tracking down the man behind this soundtrack:
Finding the identity of the song, and a copy of an official release, became my personal mission. I began referring to it as “the most obscure song in the world” and as “the greatest song no one’s ever heard.” For seven years, on and off, I searched for any clue….
The song literally seemed to have come from nowhere—as though Kenneth Anger, desperate for the perfect soundtrack, had conjured it ex nihilo from the depths of the netherworld in some shadowy deal with Lucifer. I shuddered to think what Anger must have offered in return.
Finally, in early 2004, as I was losing hope—a sudden surprise breakthrough. Through a string of coincidences involving an Australian woman named Anne I tracked down the aforementioned Andy Arthurs. He was indeed the culprit, and identified the song as “It Came in the Night,” an extremely rare non-album track by A Raincoat. A month later I ordered the single from an Australian record dealer for a mere $10 plus shipping. At last, I scratched that seven-year itch.
Cohen goes on to do a bunch of interesting research on Andy Arthurs. His biggest single was “I Can Detect You (for 100,000 Miles).” I love the picture of him wearing binoculars. I just wish the magnifying glass he was holding was round:
- Listen to It Came in the Night here