Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience: Daisies

Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience continues with Tim Wickens delving into strange territory behind the Iron Curtain with the Czechoslovakian film Daisies (1966).

Generally speaking when one thinks of psychedelic films, the focus rests on those two nations who were at the forefront of it: Britain and the United States – not a repressive Communist country squarely behind the Iron Curtain like the former Czechoslovakia. Vera Chytilova is probably not a film director with which many are familiar. There are some who classify her as feminist while she herself rebuked this designation claiming to be an individual. Her film Daisies is a surreal allegorical and nonlinear “critique” of bourgeois society. You would expect nothing else from a good by the book Communist…Scenes change color from black and white to purple as well as containing jump cuts and other editing techniques.

Director Vera Chytilova had her film banned soon after release for its excessive display of food waste. It wasn’t till Daisies won the Grand Prix at the Bergamo Film Festival in Italy that the film was screened in her native land. Things would take a turn for the worse for Chytilova with the Soviet Invasion and the crack down of 1968. She would not make another film after Fruit of Paradise (1969), which was completed before the Soviets invaded, until The Apple Game (1976).

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A brief period of time from 1963 -1968 saw an opening and flourishing of Czechoslovakian film in terms of experimentation and freedom. This movement or period was known as the Czech New Wave, Chytilova was part of this movement. Three of its most distinguished names are Milos Foreman (Loves of a Blond (1965) and The Fireman’s Ball (1967)) and Jan Kadar and Elmar Klos who co-directed the Oscar winner The Shop on Main Street (1965). One film brought together many up and coming directors of this new school – Pearls of the Deep (1966). This name is in reference to a collection of short stories by Czech author Bohumil Hrabel. His book set the surrealist absurdist standard of criticism of life in modern Czechoslovakia like Daisies that would follow. Czechoslovakia’s leading new directorial lights brought together for the film were: Jiri Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm, Jaromil Jires, and Vera Chytilova. Chiytilova’s segment is straight forward compared to what she would unleash with Daisies.

Daisies is the story of two girls, both named Marie, Marie with red hair and Marie the brunette. We first see them in black and white as they sit in bikinis acting as marionettes or something stiff robotic. They soon set out on a never ending series of misadventures. Getting men to take them to restaurants as they stuff desserts and alcohol down their throats. All this happens in varying arrays of colors and montages. Nothing has any meanings for them, they are like hippie chicks with no principle apart from that of pleasure. The film does offer a dazzling, swirling colorful, psychedelic trip down train tracks. It is a film that must be seen to fully appreciate. There are many vignettes of absurdity within the frame. The two Maries even get into a scissor fight cutting off limbs and heads. It is not bloody as it is done completely playful and absurd with simple split screens and montage editing. This scene harkens back to the beginning of the film where the two act as dolls. Are they real? What does all the shenanigans they pull off mean, do they have an ounce of substance?

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At only 70 something minutes Daisies packs more than a few films double its running time. There is a true Dada feel to this film, an anti-bourgeois film that focuses on the freedom of two women. They are presented as marionettes and often comment about not understanding concepts such as love, but is that the whole picture? The two Maries are an absurdist attack at the wasteful capitalists yet their beauty and the use of colors seems to highlight the joie de vivre they so wantonly display. There is a drab morose feelings in how the characters they come into contact are shown. The Maries are also the only characters that have a continuing role in the movie. It is possible the movie’s theme is the absurdity of life in general. That we are partake  from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as the two Maries symbolically do early in the movie, eat and enjoy ourselves shutting our thoughts to the meanings this world has created. This is what links the film to others termed psychedelic.

Let us end with Chytilova herself who wrote a letter to the President of Czechoslovakia, Gustav Husak to get her career back during her blacklist of the early 70s. She calls her film a ,”morality play”, claiming as she would onward that it was a critique of the two Maries not a film to praise them. That is the beauty of such a film, with each viewing more can be both gleamed and enjoyed from it. Daisies like any work of art needs to be viewed often to fully see and comprehend the multilayers and meanings of this unique film.

FMV Rating ****

The next instalment of Tune In: The Psychedelic Film Experience will continue with Brian Gregory looking at Head (1968) starring The Monkees, written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson



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