all of the films chosen by the director terence davies for the era new horizons film festival dealt with dysfunctional families. the magnificent ambersons most overtly so. kind hearts and coronets, a story of exclusion from a family. and in vein of black comedy, an attempt to exclude that family in order to regain ones place by erasing not the exclusion itself but the excluders. and meet me in saint louis, perhaps most complex in its presentation of the dysfunctional, through mascarade, through pretence of not only the normal but the normative. why do i mention this? simply because today i felt a great urge to watch meet me in saint louis which got me thinking about the film, and about why it was precisely that i wanted to see it.
meet me in saint louis is a happy film. and its a film that makes you happy. but its not a blunt, oblivious happiness, not an empty joke designed to make you laugh. i’m not claiming that meet me in saint louis is a dark masterpiece, far from it, but like a lot of hollywood utopian escapism, it fails, (perhaps because it is impossible) to escape from the accumulation of all that it represses, restricts and banishes to the periphery. and thats what makes it happy; what makes us happy. the most accurate metaphor for the film might be one of derailment, with which it flirts in passing, in the most acceptable guise of the child. yet even if the film does not fall of the tracks, the possibility is still there, blatant and unashamed, and no amount of happy songs and smiles can make the viewer (me? terence davies?) just forget.
first of all, the central image and song, the trolley song: a happy encounter of the girl next door with the boy next door among the multicoloured extravagant hats and happy faces of fellow passengers, as contrasted with the girls prank, the body on the tracks. the body which is nothing but a rag doll, which nonetheless by its very semblance to a body allows for the possibility of sending this happy trolley of its tracks. people could have died. but they didn’t and i’m always disturbed by how easily the issue is resolved through laughter. perhaps laughter is the easiest remedy, and perhaps some things just need to be kept away. yet even this happy family holds the potential for disaster and it is that potential that has to be kept safe, laughed away. or perhaps because going to the dance is more important than the younger daughters destructive urges that there is something inherently progressive about the nonchalant attitude with which her misadventure is treated. precisely, as a misadventure. she remains morbid and essentially wrecking and still part of the heard in an understanding that thats how little girls are. are they? do little girls almost derail trolleys? do little girls burry their dolls once they succumb to terminal diseases? there is a specific brand of the morbid little girl wednesday adams would perhaps be the prime example or maybe lydia from beetlejuice, but they belong in the fun house mirror families that expose the middle class american family dream as nightmare. and perhaps meet me in saint louis is precisely the dream itself exposed as a distorted mirror reflection itself. you can say: there is no dream, because the fantasy is already a dysfunctional construct.
and than of course there is the corseted and powdered derailment of judy garland. judy the gay icon. judy the queen of queer. judy who complained to dirk bogarde (sic!) that her funeral would be gays waving flags. judy with too much bloom, and her life ahead of her, but of course, because we know where it ends, we can’t just watch an smile (or can we? yes we can). we know while the celluloid doesn’t and the gap between the imprinted and the received is like the very definition of cinema. the film strip 24 frames per second which remains there, and carries the there inscribed on its very matter, on its body, embodies. and the here and now, which is only too aware, and which by the very awareness does not allow for innocence.the now which has to function in the double pull. which derails. which says this is fake, but of course it is. but it is real in a way too, only to real. it is brechtian, a lot of things are to be honest, because brechtian is not only a technique but a way of seeing. but while the preformed might be nothing else than preformed and it always is because preformed is never ever real than the performance is. the fact of the performance, these people existed, and they preformed, and they performed it this exact way and the camera registered it. i know sounds really simple (because i’m just stating nothing more than the state of affairs and that is always simple) but think of the whole escapism/ realism discourse, they are nothing but modes, but modes which have in them a truth a reality that is as inescapable as it is elusive. thus judy derails her own trolley, and this time, its not a joke and can’t be laughed away.
is that really what i wanted to see?