Monday, January 3, 2011
Hans Richter - Dreams That Money Can Buy (1947)
This film is an ambitious project of the german Hans Richter, one of the most influential members of the cinematic Avant-Garde.
The plot is simple:
Joe/Narcissus (Jack Bittner) is an ordinary man who has recently signed a complicated lease on a room. As he wonders how to pay the rent, he discovers that he can see the contents of his mind unfolding whilst looking into his eyes in the mirror. He realises that he can apply his gift to others ("If you can look inside yourself, you can look inside anyone!"), and sets up a business in his room, selling tailor-made dreams to a variety of frustrated and neurotic clients. Each of the seven surreal dream sequences in the diegesis is in fact the creation of a contemporary avant-garde and/or surrealist artist, as follows:
Desire Max Ernst (Director/Writer)
The Girl with the Prefabricated Heart Fernand Léger (Director/Writer)
Ruth, Roses and Revolvers Man Ray (Director/Writer)
Discs Marcel Duchamp (Writer)
Ballet Alexander Calder (Director/Writer)
Circus Alexander Calder (Writer)
Narcissus Hans Richter (Director/Writer)
Joe's waiting room is full within minutes of his first day of operation, "the first installment on the 2 billion clients" according to the male narrator in voiceover, whose voice is the only one we hear in the non-dream sequences.
Case number one is Mr and Mrs A. Mr A is a "methodical, exact" bank clerk. His wife "complains [he] has a mind like a double entry column; no virtues, no vices". She wants a dream for him "with practical values to widen his horizons, heighten ambitions, maybe a raise in salary". Joe asks Mrs A to leave the room during Mr A's consultation. Mr A reveals that within his ledger he has a collection of art images cut from magazines, including drawings of a woman reclining in bed; another on an old man's lap; another being shot by an animal-headed man; a filmic image of red liquid passing through water, and another of a melting wax figure of a woman.
Joe "finds a dream" for Mr A based on these interests. In the dream ("Desire") leaves fall to the ground beside a red curtain. A woman in white reclines in a red-curtained four-poster bed. A small golden ball rises and falls from her mouth as she breathes. She swallows the ball, smiles and falls asleep. Bars appear by her bed, and a man watches from behind them as she dreams of nightingales with calves' hooves. It appears the man is part of her dream, and telephones her to ask in voiceover for details. She tells him in voiceover "they talked about love and pleasure". Her telephone falls to the floor and excudes a misty smoke, which envelops her bed.
The film won the Award for the Best Original Contribution to the Progress of Cinematography at the 1947 Venice Film Festival.