I’ve enjoyed Mac McGinnes’s performance to Judex forever (if 2005's forever), but I think I only came close to getting Norma Cole’s script this time around in Portland. In retrospect, the block was pretty simple. Because you see birds everywhere on the screen, I was thrown by all the references to monkeys. The birds come in the form of guests at a costume ball, each wearing exact and exquisite masks that encase the whole head, transforming the wearers into weird Max Ernsty avian/human hybrids in punctilious evening wear. The action centers on a magician, who produces doves or pigeons or whatever it is magicians produce from the partygoers’ sleeves and folds. Judex himself is a famous French detective—the film is Franju’s homage to (copy of?) the prior silent serial—who asserts the powers of ratiocination against the shameful instincts that drive man, that “serious monkey,” to crime.
The strangeness of a situation where the guests shed their own identities for pleasure, and take such a child-like pleasure in the birds they imitate, seems to be the starting-point for Cole’s meditation on the vanity of identity—our tendency to puff the self up through philosophy, cultural frippery, and the “monkey see, monkey do” mimicry of formal social codes. The brainy humor of the piece comes from the gap between highfalutin’ concepts like “the Heideggerian conjugation of the personal” and the “shameful poetry” of our “inadmissible passions,” which punctures the high-flown diction in the form of homey “yups” and “kiddos.” Franju’s magician suggests the sleight-of-hand it takes to make us forget those few genes that separate us from the apes, but also the conjurer’s ability to reveal our sense of what’s true to be a trick, pulled from thin air. “They seek the truth too far from themselves, while it is right near them”: up a sleeve, behind the mask, in the cup you’ve just sipped from, there on the screen.
34 minutes ago