7/14/09

The Nightmare within the Dream: Pink Narcissus

1971's seldom seen art film, Pink Narcissus is a peculiar little movie. Allegedly made over a seven year period, filmed mostly in the director's apartment, shot using an 8 mm camera, and starring an angelic looking street hustler (Bobby Kendall), Pink Narcissus was released without the director / writer's name attached. Film-goers only saw the credit, "anonymous" at the movie's end. Rumors persisted for years, that Andy Warhol was the maker of the film. Those rumors proved false as the actual director was costumer, set designer and photographer, Jim Bidgood, who supposedly did not like the final outcome of his film, and therefore had his name removed. The thread-bare plot of Pink Narcissus involves Kendall lounging about his impossibly technicolor saturated apartment while day dreaming of his sexual fantasies. He is a matador taunting a leather man on a motorcycle in a public bathroom, the great god Pan, a dancing harem boy, and both a slave and Roman emperor surrounded by a bevy of beautiful young men (played by mostly "working boys").Most of Pink Narcissus is lush and poetic, like a Maxfield Parrish, painting come to life. Stop animation butterfly's flutter about, big band or classical music fills the soundtrack, and yes, kids, there is sex, gay sex, both implied and actual. For every shot of a beaded curtain, or a jeweled costume, there is a close up of the male appendage in various states of arousal. Oh, and Kendall's butt (which is either bare or encased in the tightest pair of pants ever made) is also featured quite prominently. But then, at about the half way mark, Pink Narcissus morphs into something dark and disturbing. Once we leave the confines of Kendall's apartment and his flights of fancy and make our way to his fevered dream vision of the streets of lower Manhattan, things get downright creepy. First we see a highly stylized skyline......and then, suddenly we witness a rogues gallery of freaks wandering the grimy sidewalks.There is the street vendor selling dildos and "artificial anuses" ...
...the filthy looking bag man searching for clothing through garbage cans (similar to the "monster" who lived behind the dumpster in David Lynch's, Mulholland Drive).A pant less street hustler stands in front of a drug store, while an odd-ball pharmacist whirls like a dervish in his shop, and a priest wanders along waving his incense holder, seemingly oblivious to everything going on around him.A demented looking ice cream man pushing a cart of "Groovy Humor" sells frozen goods made of urine and human excrement......things become even more disturbing as we see stop-animation rotted corpses and skeletons sulking around doorways and alleys.During this danse macabre, the soundtrack has changed from music to weather and traffic reports, sometimes we can hear what is being said, other times, it's all just static or white noise. Frankly, this section of Pink Narcissus is nauseating, morbid, and strangely compelling. I am ready to bet my last dollar that David Lynch saw this movie as much of this part of the film put me in mind of Eraserhead as well as various other Lynch films (even his latest, Inland Empire). As ghost images of older men float about , it becomes clear that Kendall's vision of the streets where he earns his money is his own nightmare within the dream - he hustles his way amongst skid row, picking up well dressed gentlemen and does whatever they want. It might be demeaning or distasteful to him, but he does what he has to do to survive; and then he retreats to his colorful apartment festooned in gauzy fabrics and lit with stage show lights, where he can think of what he really wants, where he can partake in carnal flights of fancy while he lay his head on a silken pillow and dreams of erotic Brigadoon-like scenarios ... until he wakes up and realizes that the life he leads must make him face the nightmare that waits for him outside his front door ...

3 comments:

MonsterScholar said...

Wow this sounds fantastical as well as dark and disturbing. I wonder what ending the director had in mind before he disowned this movie.

Pax Romano said...

MS, this is a very compelling film. The copy I saw via Netflix was scratchy and the colors seemed muted. I understand that a remastered version is out there, and I'd like to see it. There is also an interview with the director floating around out there in cyber space.

The Dreaded Rhubarb said...

I hate to admit it, but Pink Narcissus really did nothing for me and I normally love low-budget artificial world kind of movies. I didn't even find it particularly sexy. It reminded me of Derek Jarman, whose films I always want to like but never do.

Maybe I should give it another chance, I only saw it once and I was insane at the time.