Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dionysus in '69 (1970)

Dionysus in '69 (1970) 

The Metrograph in NYC is showing a Brian De Palma series, showcasing 28 out of his 29 full length films. Brian De Palma is one of my favorite directors, having directed 4 films I would rate a 9 out of 10, which include Carrie, Phantom Of The Paradise, Dressed To Kill and Body Double. He has many other very good films, including Sisters, Scarface and Hi Mom. He also has about 14 movies I have not seen yet, so this is my chance to see as many of them as I can make time for, so expect to see me reviewing all the ones I have missed or skipped due to disinterest. Nothing I like more than rounding out the catalogue of films I have yet to see of a particular director, especially one held in such high esteem.

I got to see this last week during a chunk of movies which I have yet to review.   Sometimes I just see to many in a day or week!  This one is an oddity, as it is not exactly a movie, as much as a document of a particular performance during a particular time when something like this could happen.  Brian De Palma had used William Finley, who he met in school, in Muder A La Mod, and The Wedding Party, both of which he had filmed previously.  He had lost touch with Finley and someone told him about this performance that The Performance Group were putting on live in downtown Manhattan.  Finley was in it, and De Palma loved it so much he wanted to film the performance.  He got together two guys from NYU and they filmed this live performance at The Performing Garage, which also gave birth to The Wooster Group.

This was an environmental theater production, and there were no seats, only carpet on the floor and towers and scaffolds that had been built..  The audience shared the space with the performers, and audience participation was allowed.  Other than the audience participation, there were other New York theaters firsts that would include full frontal nudity, both male and female, and man on man kissing.  The piece was adapted from Euripides' The Bacchae, and although the production was never complete, that was the way the director worked, always changing and adding and rotating roles during the runs of his productions.  

This version was shot over two days in June and July of 1968.  The film is shown in a split screen, to capture both the main performance going on, and the other actors and audience at the same time, giving it a closer feel to what the audience experienced during its run.  This may have been the first split screen experience for De Palma, but it was far from his last.  That is one of the amazing things about seeing De Palma films, you can spot little things that he uses, reuses, and changes over the years.  There is a lot of crawling over the floor in this film, especially between William Finley and William Shephard.  If you watch the ending scene in Phantom Of The Paradise, you see as William Finley's character is dying, William Shephard is right next to him, crawling along just like in this film, though in Phantom Of The Paradise Shephard is just an audience fan, versus one of the main characters in Dionysus In '69.  That's just one of so many little things you can find in De Palma films, which make seeing them all the more interesting.  

Now, the thing to remember about this film is that being such a specific kind of document, its entertainment value may be lost a bit, but its historical value has grown considerably.  Seeing the camera work, the split screen, the early acting of William Finley, and the experimenting being done during this performance, all of it is amazing.  If I were reviewing this random recorded play from 1968, I might not be impressed, or maybe even bored a bit.  But this was not only relatively entertaining, but such an amazing sight to behold for someone who enjoys film history and Brian De Palma.  

7 out of 10 stars.