Sunday, July 05, 2009

It Felt Like something

The dramatic bar was set very high after Masque of the Red Death; the relevancy bar similarly high with The Tunnel. So what about It Felt Like a Kiss? It follows many of the Punchdrunk tropes: detail, sense of place, smell, and most of all the feeling that we as audience are participating in a particularly dark personal tragedy brought about by larger social forces. Walking in small groups through the suburban houses of those for whom the New Frontier was really a dream it's clear we are in a far more specific narrative, polemic almost - which makes sense for at the centre of It Felt Like a Kiss is a documentary film, edited with Godardian skill, by Adam Curtis. The film makes the links between pop (before the Beatles or the Stones) and violence; between chimps and AIDS - and space flight; between Rock Hudson and Doris Day movies and the semiotic "other" life led. There's even a marvellous clip of Richard Nixon and Nikita Khrushchev having a great translation-saturated spat. There's no Edgar Hoover, but there is the JFK murder.

The film is the centrepiece; but in the Red Death (at Battersea Arts Centre) the centrepiece was a Victorian cabaret with cross-dressing strippers and Absinthe on tap: the communal worked - even if we the audience were all wearing raven headmasks to maintain our anonymity. Here with Kiss we are much more alone, at first metaphorically and then in the post-film sequence literally as we experience early 60s style Guantanamo techniques. Ultimately we run, genuinely frightened, down a tunnel alone, worried that the chainsaw wielding stranger might be following. Before I experienced Felt Like a Kiss I suspected Edward Bernays crossed with Mad Men: I wasn't far wrong, but the echoes of James Elroy, Peter Whitehead and Godard feature too.

The allusions throughout are spot on: Mailer's American Dream; B.F Skinner; IQ tests and cold war fetish. Deep Throat in the car park and The b/w Avengers came into my head as well. What is missing, and surely this could have been possible, were actors. Kiss has little of the fragile sexy energy of the Red Death, and for every perfect recreation of Vertigo influenced suburbia there was an equally imperfect sense of what live theatre (rather than oversized dummies) could have brought to our experience of this Punchdrunk environment.

It Felt Like a Kiss was still an amazingly fraught experience: in the end though it never quite escapes the idea of conspiracy theory meeting the John Soane museum. More when the nightmares stop.

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