Daily Archives: June 23, 2019

Panicky Picnic (1909)

*. An idyllic picnic in the woods turns into an episode of Fear Factor as directed by Lucio Fulci. Bugs come spilling out of the sausage, eggs hatch into mice, and the cake is filled with worms. Then, when a storm chases the group to an inn, things start to get really weird.
*. This, however, is seeing the movie in hindsight. At the time the model for upsetting such a bourgeois picnic was Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe, a painting that shocked contemporaries. I think this is the tradition director Segundo de Chomón is working in, inspired by the revolution in painting that led up to surrealism, which was in turn a movement that had a natural affinity for film.
*. It’s said Segundo de Chomón should be better known, and this is true, as his work stacks up well alongside that of his peers. He’s quite inventive, and while most of his films are mere trickery you could say the same for Méliès et al. What’s more, I think there’s a point behind all the tricks, in that they’re used to evoke that world of dreams and nightmares that surrealism took as its native ground.
*. What I find interesting is the connection to later developments in the horror genre that I began by referencing. While the surrealists understood that the sleep of reason could bring forth monsters, we don’t often think of surrealism as horror. A razor blade cutting through an eyeball is shocking gore, even by today’s standards, but Un Chien Andalou isn’t a movie that fits into any subsequent horror conventions.
*. Panicky Picnic (or, more midly, Une Excursion Incohérente) presents itself as a lark, but we can clearly see the outlines of where horror movies would be going. The picnic brings to mind all kinds of rotten feasts. The inn might be our cabin in the woods. The spirits raised in the kitchen recall the labs of various shady wizards, going all the way back to the original film Frankenstein rising from an alchemist’s vat. The shadow play in the bedroom might lead us to think of Suspiria, to take just one later example.
*. That none of it is “real” is where the surrealism comes in. The main animation sequence plays out on a blanket that forms a screen between a sleeping couple. Is this the sleep of reason? And then the whole thing winds up falling into a well, that longstanding symbol of the unconscious. Perhaps there was something in that bad food they brought to the picnic that gave rise to these hallucinations. But I prefer to think that if you go down in these woods today you’re sure of a big surprise.

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