The Potted Psalm (1946)


*. This is a short, experimental film that likely won’t change whatever opinions you might have about such things.
*. I was unimpressed. It’s basically American surrealism, which I don’t think was any different than European surrealism except for being decades later. None of the tricks or effects we see here are anything new. The imagery isn’t interesting, and even the arrangement and rhythm of the editing strikes me as unaccomplished.
*. Things get off to a good start with a really nice rising pan that reveals a cityscape that takes you by surprise. And some of the images that immediately follow have a kind of found poetry feel to them. But then . . .
*. According to the MOMA program notes included with the Kino DVD “The filmmakers [Sidney Peterson and James Broughton] wrote and discarded a dozen scripts during production, and what was finally cut from thousands of feet was a clever melange of visual jokes.”
*. A dozen scripts? Really? What we have are just a series of shots, and I’m not sure their arrangement even makes much difference. And what are the visual jokes? I just see a bunch of techniques that, in typical surrealist fashion, emphasize irrational elements and distortions of the human form. Bodies are made elastic in various ways, or appear without heads, or wearing masks.
*. Since none of it holds together as telling a coherent story (or stories) we are left to admire isolated passages. I can’t discern any political, emotional, or thematic coherence to it, and it seems to me you have to make an effort to erase your film of all such meaning or significance. I mean, some of the images here are suggestive, but that’s about it.
*. About the only item of interest is the subjective point of view. This may be what is being symbolized by the food imagery and the keys. Peterson’s camera eye is a window, or a mouth, or a doorway, forever being redirected (feet in particular draw its attention) and taking things in. The shots of the beer and cigarettes being consumed by the camera/viewer directly reference this. In The Cage he would take things a step further by making the camera a free-wheeling eyeball.
*. That’s the most I can make out of it, anyway. Perhaps it has something to say about death, since we begin and end in a graveyard and the image of a small animal’s desiccated body is returned to several times, but beyond that I couldn’t tell you anything. Even the title remains unclear, and is probably just an idle play on words. In 1946 none of this was really avant grade, and clearly it wasn’t leading anywhere.

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