May 21, 2019

45th Annual Seattle International Film Festival: A Collage of James Mason Clips in Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03) (2018)

While I think that it is usually best to go into a film cold in order to enjoy it fully, the work of Austrian filmmaker Norbert Pfaffenbichler benefits from some explanation. His experimental works are accessible, but require preparation. Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03) (2018), which features clips from 160 James Mason films is a riot if it catches you in the right frame of mind.

The film is the final installation in Pfaffenbichler’s Monologue Trilogy, a series of films in which he has compiled clips of male movie stars in surreal juxtapositions of moods, ages, and situations. In the first two films, which featured Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff, his stars interacted with themselves in different roles. I had the opportunity to watch the Karloff film, A Masque of Madness (2013) at SIFF 2014 and found it mesmerizing to watch the actor performing with himself across time, even chasing himself at one point.

This time Pfaffenbichler shakes things up by adding women to the mix. Mason is shown loving, beating, berating and romancing his leading ladies in seventeen thematic episodes. Unlike the Karloff film, Mason disappears from the screen for lengthy periods as the women in his cinematic life regard him with disappointment, fear, and very occasionally admiration. It is in essence a violent portrait with a sprinkling of lust and romance to make it a shade more palatable.

Pfaffenbichler uses sound and music to challenge the emotions evoked by these clips, placing lushly romantic music with grim imagery or adding repetitive clicks and the like to increase the tension of a sequence. It is this editorial hand that makes the film more compelling than the strictly-themed collection of clips it first appears to be.

I hate to say that a film is not for everyone, but I have to admit this might move too slowly and erratically for those who prefer a conventional narrative. It’s worth a look for fans of classic film though and especially Mason fanatics. While firmly advancing through its structured themes, it is also curiously freeing, because it releases the viewer from narrative storytelling and allows somewhat untethered exploration of all the feelings, images, and sounds that make movies, and their stars, so thrilling.

The SIFF screening of this film includes Austrian filmmaker Virgil Widrich’s amusing short Copy Shop (2001).

Tickets for the May 30 screening of Invest in Failure (Notes on Film 06-C, Monologue 03) can be purchased here.

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