Hans Richter’s 1947 Dreams That Money Can Buy reads like a roll call of 20th century avant-garde art luminaries and despite its flaws and, as it was accused at the time, ‘laziness’, it is a must-see for any fan of cinema that exists in the intersection between the film and art-worlds. A Berlin-born Dadaist, painter, film theorist and filmmaker, Ritcher was deeply involved in avant-garde cinema for four decades and his ideal was to produce a cinema that saught "dramaturgical forms as will make an audience that is reluctant to think do precisely that, with ease and without loss of pleasure." Dreams That Money Can Buy is the culmination of Hitcher’s vision and he managed to attract a fine group of collaborators to direct the seven segments that make up the whole: Fernand Léger, Man Ray, Marcel Duchamp (with John Cage), Alexander Calder, Jack Bittner plus himself.
The film has been criticised for being uneven and pretentious, but seen in the light of contemporary art film culture, it is a witty romp through Hollywood as the dream factory combined with sarcastic references to the art world and its audiences. The framing story, set up in hyper-Noir style, is centred around Joe, a young man down on his luck who discovers he has the power to create dreams. With such a wonderful gift in hand, he sets up a business in order to sell those dreams. The aforementioned collaborators devise the dream sequences according to what a sequence of clients express as their desires.
The overall result varies greatly because each one of them uses their own recognisable styles. True, the artists do repeat themselves to compose the mise-en-scene of their respective slots (hence the accusation of laziness and back-slapping, I guess) but is the use of a signature style mere laziness or the deserved prize for creating something uniquely personal? It probably depends on one’s attitude to modern art. However, one merit that Dreams That Money Can Buy is to remind us that linear narrative really is a commercial, rather than a ‘natural’ prerogative of the medium. If you accept that film doesn’t have to Tell A Story but instead, tells us millions of stories, besides providing pure visual pleasure, then Dreams That Money Can Buy is a thoroughly successful experiment that deserves further recognition and assessment. The DVD also includes three short films by Richter – watch out for the playful Ghost Before Breakfast (1928).
Plus: (Fantastic Planet (La Planète sauvage), Dir: René Laloux. Released by Eureka!): The winner of the Grand Prix at the 1973 Cannes festival, Laloux’s psychedelic sci-fi animated feature is a rare example of where the genre transcends mere ‘jaw-dropping’ entertainment to provide food for thought. And there’s plenty on offer here. Very much a product of the Cold War era, it is often described as an allegory of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, where the film was produced (at Prague’s Jiri Trnka Studios).
Fantastic Planet tells the story of ‘Oms’, humanoids who are kept as domesticated pets by an alien race of blue giants called ‘Draags’. The story takes place on the Draags’ planet Ygam, where we follow the narrator, an Om called Terr, from his infancy (when he’s rescued as a pet by a Draag family, crying by his dead mother) to adulthood. He manages to escape enslavement from a Draag learning device use to educate the savage Oms and joins forces with his counterparts who live in the wild, leading them to a successful revolt. All this set against a background of surreal, eerie landscapes and creatures that only very fertile imaginations could have conceived. The soundtrack, an exotic easy-listening blend of retro-futurist rock, is also a treat for vintage aficionados.
Fantastic Planet achieves a feat that quite a lot flesh-and-bone features attempt to but often fail to do: to plumb the depths of the human condition and our drive towards freedom in a way that is philosophically lucid and original (and quite French, too…). Definitely a sign of intelligent life.
Dreams That Money Can Buy and Fantastic Planet are out now. To buy a copy, please follow one of the links provided and support Kamera by doing so.