#261) Eaux d’Artifice (1953)

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#261) Eaux d’Artifice (1953)

OR “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

Directed by Kenneth Anger

Class of 1993

The Plot: With Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” as its soundtrack, “Eaux d’Artifice” is a short scene of a mysterious woman (Carmilla Salvatorelli) dressed in 18th century garments wandering around the Villa d’Este and its many garden fountains. And then she goes near the water and ends up becoming the water, or something like that.

Why It Matters: The NFR gives a brief synopsis and calls the movie “[o]ne of Anger’s more elemental though highly stylized films”.

But Does It Really?: I didn’t get this one at all, but I’m always willing to give a slight pass to underground filmmakers. Although after doing some research on Kenneth Anger, I wonder why the NFR picked this film over the likes of “Fireworks” or “Lucifer Rising”, which seem to be more representative of Anger’s art and worldview.

Everybody Gets One: One of the first openly gay American filmmakers, Kenneth Anger’s movies covered homosexuality at a time when such displays were deemed “obscene” (though the California Supreme Court deemed “Fireworks” art rather than pornography). Fun Fact: Anger was friends with both Alfred Kinsey and Mick Jagger!

Seriously, Oscars?: No Live Action Short nomination for “Eaux d’Artifice”. Coincidentally, the winner that year also centered around a piece of classical music: “Overture to the Merry Wives of Windsor”.

Other notes

  • We got us another nationality dispute, though this one is a bit more philosophical. If your filmmaker is American, but the entire production was shot in Rome, is it still an American film? (You could also point out the French title, but that reeks more of pretentiousness than actual heritage).
  • Kenneth Anger made it to Europe thanks to his friendship with filmmaker Jean Cocteau, who invited Anger to France to collaborate on a film version of his ballet “The Young Man and Death”. Like many of Anger’s films, “Young Man” ran out of funding and was abandoned. After that, Anger went to Rome to film a short about Cardinal Ippolito d’Este, feeding into his love of the occult. But Anger only managed to film the first scene, which became “Eaux d’Artifice”.
  • Carmilla Salvatorelli was a little person who was hired for this film to make the fountains appear larger. It worked.
  • Uh-oh, we got flooding stairs. Did someone put a stopper in the bathtub?
  • I’m really enjoying this music. Did Vivaldi score any other films?
  • Goddamit, NFR, you tricked me into watching another “staring at water” movie. The only difference between this and the likes of “Study of a River” is how artsy this movie is. That’s all well and good, but I’m still looking at fountains.
  • Nice dramatic close-up on one of the fountain spout faces.
  • Why you runnin’?
  • I guess the shots of the fountain at the end have some sort of homoerotic subtext? I didn’t get any of that. I feel so uncultured.

Legacy

  • Anger is still with us; making the occasional film and putting curses on people who have wronged him. Among his many post-“Eaux” accomplishments is penning “Hollywood Babylon”, the gossip book all other gossip books aspire to be (even though most of the book has been disputed).
  • Antonio Vivaldi’s life story (as well as the creation of “Four Seasons”) was the basis for the musical “Jersey Boys”.
  • As for the legacy of the film itself…I dunno, the fountain show at the Bellagio?

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