Sunday, July 25, 2010

Rooftop Films ’10: Daisies

“The world’s gone bad” two manic sisters tell us. It would get much worse two years later when the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia put an abrupt end to the period of political liberalization known as Prague Spring. Along with the tanks they also brought along many unamused censors who effectively ended the Czech New Wave of avant-garde filmmaking. Despite earning laurels on the international festival circuit, many significant Czech films were banned for decades, including Vera Chytilová’s already verboten Daisies, eventually acclaimed as a classic from the movement’s only female director. Now safely liberated from the vaults, Daisies has a very public screening this Wednesday as part of Rooftop Films 2010 summer season.

Since the world has gone bad, Marie I and Marie II decide they might as well go bad with it. For the duo, this seems to involve terrorizing prospective sugar daddies and consuming vast quantities of food in the most disruptive manner possible. In short, they are the dread terrors of Prague’s fine dining establishments. Politically though, they couldn’t give a toss.

In addition to being the only woman director of the Czech New Wave, Chytilová was arguably the most experimental as well. Freely toying with tinted filters, optical effects, and collages, epileptics should be warned on the way into Daisies. Yet, it should be a pretty groovy viewing experience for most of the Rooftop audience.

However, as a discrete cinematic statement, Daisies is more aptly described with words like “historic” and “significant” rather than “classic” and “enduring.” It is most definitely a product of its psychedelic time. Forty-some years later, the film’s provocations have lost some novelty, but the annoying Maries have not appreciated in charm.

Still, it is easy to see why the Communist apparatchiks pulled Daisies from theaters and black-listed Chytilová. It is a world away from Soviet Realism, finding heroism in hedonism. Indeed, the anarchy loosed on screen was simply bad for business in a captive nation, especially post-1968.

Today, post-post-1968, Daisies is often interpreted in feminist terms, sometimes dubbed a New Wave forerunner to Thelma & Louise. While there may well be some validity to such approaches, it seems like Chytilová was primarily concerned with testing boundaries—aesthetic rather than social or political. Still trippy after all these years, Daisies is not cinematic perfection but it is a fascinating time capsule. It screens for free courtesy of Rooftop Films this Wednesday (7/28) at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City.