To the Wonder: tanz für mich

[It is useless to read the following before my review of The Tree of Life, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick.]

To follow the stream of the river is unnecessary to identify all the allusions buried in these films. Most of the time our intuition is enough. We do not need to make the connection with Fritz Lang’s Spies to understand who are The Tree of Life’s clown and his spectator. The same for that man playing tricks with his hands to Jack. It took one year and a half to arrive to Cocteau, but was that indispensable to feel the director’s metacinematic play? No. It certainly made everything clearer, but that was all.

Marina in erotic suffocation. A you in me, me in you situation. Marina already did the same with Neil.
This small introduction to speak about gauze and textiles with some degree of transparency (like tulle, lace). There is gauze in BadlandsDays of Heaven, The Thin Red Line, The Tree of Life and To the Wonder. It must be important. Although all the final allusions made with gauze are not yet clear in absolute to me, some useful notes follow.

Fellini: the veil of fantasy.
Tati, the veil of nostalgia.

Gauze is metacinematic par excelence. Few things are so deeply associated with the screen. As you know, a gauzy veil was commonly placed in front of the lens to achieve certain effects, namely to lent the image a misty, watery, dreamy look. Gauze puts you in a mood for dreaming.
Directors consciously used gauze metacinematically. An undisputable example is found in Olivier’s Henry V: through the curtain we enter the play. More are possible. Like that shot of Pasolini, alluded in Days of Heaven, where gauze is associated with voyeurism.
The River of Life is not exclusive of cinema. And so the allusions to Bataille. The River is the sacred, in the sense defined by the French writer. Cinema, through this experiment, functions as a door to it. That is its value.
The Messenger’s kiss becomes simple from this perspective. The goddess
of the 7th art envelops the River of Life in her magical veil and offers his call to the director. It is particularly remarkable how the kiss is felt by the Architect as he is crossing the “bridge.”
The tapestry dedicated to Touch with its dreamy erotic aura in To the Wonder.
How is it to feel the caress of an image? The haptic function of the eye is long been theorized in the context of cinema. This art form appeals to our sense of touch in sometimes disturbing ways. When we feel its kiss, the Doubting Thomas inside us also feels the whole notion of “seeing’s believing, but feeling’s the truth” shaken. For a second he found illusion adorned with the attributes of truth. Present material truth, what lacks the moving images the most.


Gauze was essential to the glamour of Hollywood. Americans used gauze to make scenarios and dresses in such a way the classic period is inconceivable without it. Well, gauze was used lavishly or discreetly by almost all great artists of the cinema.

Hitchcock and Cocteau. Gauze is the most phantomatic of textiles. It is “almost nothing”. Like it was trying to negate itself. It is perfect for the apparel of ghosts or to appear in ghostly scenes. And so to the cinema, ghostly par excellence.

Bergman, a great gauze lover: Persona, The Silence, Smiles of a Summer Night.


L'eclisse, apparently one of Malick's favorite films.

Singin' in the Rain. The apotheosis of gauze.
The Tales of Hoffmann.

Visconti: fetishism, entrapment, suffocation.

Copolla, Apocalypse Now Redux. It fades into the midst of the river.

Gauze’s most important property is that it filters light and so, especially in black and white, it allows all kinds of graduations, suggestions, subtleties, poetic touches. Impossible not to mention Dreyer, who took the “art of gauze” – just crafted this horrible term – to the limit in Ordet (the curtains in the coffin’s room). And Bergman, in the house of Persona.

Gauze, as a textile, bears the memory of painting, of the canvas. First, Dieterle, Portrait of Jeannie. Second, Dreyer, Dies Irae, the lovers through the Primavera. Third, Leone, nebulous opium dreams.

Gauze is also a kind of fetishistic material and a material perfect for fetichization. It floats, almost magically, asking to be played with. It engages desire. It excites the imagination. It enchants. If you want to lose yourself in miles of gauzy curtains and dresses there is nothing like Sternberg. He was the absolute king of lace, gauze, nets, veils. He had worked with lace when he was young and certainly got the taste for it. In his films gauze reveals, divides, traps, obsesses. Serves erotic plays and stages plays of death. It is so present it can be taken as a symbol of his cinema as a whole.
Gauze is a veil. The veil allows viewing one way and frustrate it the other. The veil is mystical. It is a material associated with passage, secret and revelation. To lift the veil, we say.

The veil of Mabuse.
It is a material associated with the sacred. As you know, there was a veil in front of the passage of the inner sanctum in the Temple. It marked the limit of the divinity, of the taboo. It is a “door” in the sense we have been talking about.
Malick’s experiment oscillates between fetishism and profanation. Between losing oneself in the infinite veil of cinema and torn it down to find the real.

It is curious how we again come to the avant-garde. Not many viewers of Battleship Potemkin know Eisenstein’s comment to its final shot. He compared the movement of his ship crossing the screen to the dagger of Plancher-Valcour. According to the legend, this French actor and director of the Délassement Comiques (a Parisian theater of the late XVIII century) torn down the transparent curtain separating the actors from the public when the Bastille was taken: « Vive la liberté ! » The veil had been one of the impositions obtained by the envious Comédie Française.

Cleopatra. To torn the veil as rape. Do not forget the allusion to Cape Fear made in Badlands. Gauze, as the material of veils, is both bridal (not far from the hymen) and mortuary. Buñuel made an excellent perverse synthesis of these two values in Belle du Jour, Viridiana and Wuthering Heights, for example. Have also a look in The Fall of the House of Usher, co-written by the Spanish with Epstein. The veil is one of the most important motives of the film.

Like Baudelaire’s child, the director (former spectator) would not rest until he saw his toy’s soul. His experiment has the presumption to be the last film. Even if in Badlands he wishes Holly a happy and long life, he envisages one forever under his shadow. Not only her past, also the future. This is truly the paradise lost in question: cinema’s.

To torn the curtain was a revolutionary gesture, bringing together the people and art(ists). Politics and the screen. Reality and image. Something like the shout of someone who had just profaned an entire palace of taboos: art for art’s sake is dead, hurrah!
The veil – through the Veronica – and the shroud – through the Holy Shroud – as part of impression techniques non manu factus integrate photography’s “pre-history” (something to have in mind, especially when considering RL’s shot). But only with photography image and index would fuse, that which is illusory and the vestige left by contact, the proof of a gone presence. What potentialities and what risks arouse from this absent presence? Of this ripping off the old veil?



“What does one need to pay to see everything?”(God’s Wedding) The complete disclosure of Holly cannot be accomplished without the price of the director’s head. When the last veil touches the ground it will roll: the torn veil will become his flesh. Holly is his victim but also his executioner. She will be naked before him, rapped of every secret, but she will have his head on a plate. To kiss “his cold, dead lips.” (Sunset Boulevard)

“I want the head of John of God the Baptist” (The Last Dive) Monteiro’s Salome asking for his own head. To be understood in the tradition of self-portraits in the form of decapitated men (Caravaggio, etc.).

The dance danced in To the Wonder is the dance of death began 40 years ago. In the supermarket (the metaphor of “supplies” to build the film goes back to Badlands) Marina plays with a package of toilet paper (a reference to the subject matter exposed in the last post) and with a mop, like Kit did just before he met Holly. This is his dance, his death ballet. In more than one way, this is true. And this allusion to Psycho is one of the keys to that “He is killing me!” But, let us hope, you understood that Anna told Marina nothing more than to vivre sa vie. Something was already written on that film around here.

Guido’s bride.

To be continued.
[As you may have seen, The Imaginary Family of Terrence Malick was abundantly reformulated. Aspects emphasized in past versions are now absent or lost their centrality, waiting for the precise identification of the allusions they contain. The understanding of some other points changed. Minor modifications in other posts happened and might still follow. HNY.]