February 07, 2011

In Search of Christopher Maclaine 15: The THE END Tour - A Work in Progress 13: CHRIS C

This is the 15th in a multipart series unofficially conjoined to the publication of Radical Light: Alternative Film & Video in the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945–2000, and the accompanying film series currently being presented by the Pacific Film Archive and San Francisco Cinematheque (in partnership with SFMOMA).

With my friend Brian Darr, proprietor of the great Bay Area cinephilia blog Hell on Frisco Bay, I’ve been scouting out the San Francisco locations used in Christopher Maclaine’s Masterpiece, THE END. What began as an attempt to identify and document what physically remains of the often mysterious places at which THE END was shot has evolved into a larger project to also analyze the film, and to identify all its many actors and extras, all of whom appear uncredited. To read the full version of these preliminary remarks, including info on how YOU can participate in this project, click here. For further information on Maclaine, check out the intro, which serves as the series hub. For the previous post of this Tour, click here.

NEW FEATURE: A YouTube of the CHRIS episode is viewable here.

NOTE: Portions of Maclaine’s Voice-Over narration are transcribed in italicized sections. The images, for the most part, are stills documenting many (but by no means all) of THE END‘s shots. Those unfamiliar with this film will probably want to watch the video clip found above first, before making their way through the (hopefully enjoyable) notes and explication.

We now resume the Vision “A Character”/Chris was experiencing towards the end of CHRIS B.

Then the world and its music comes back to him, and he hums a little song, and hears an echo:

69) I reprise most of the above narration from the end of the previous post. The “and he hums a little song” was heard over black, a brief moment serving as an interlude to the Vision’s next phase. “And hears an echo” is heard as Maclaine cuts to this shot of a wave splashing over rocks similar to the one shown in picture 63.

70) The white and black plastic dolls set to dancing by an unseen street vendor/performer we’d previously encountered in the introductory montage. Maclaine intercuts one more shot each of the water splashing/lapping against the rocks and of these dolls. With the first of these, we hear the first faint strains of the “Ode to Joy” from the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. The title of the “Ode” is from Friedrich Schiller‘s poem, which Beethoven set to music in the 9th‘s climax; this was the first instance of a great composer creating a choral symphony.

71) The legs of Dancer (Stanley Willis) begin a performance seemingly in time to the “Ode.”

72) Another shot of the water lapping against the rocks. Is it just me, or do these shots of water against rocks in this segment have a particularly and peculiarly generative flavor?

73) Maclaine cuts to a strange shot of an unidentified street (which Brian and I suspect is somewhere on Telegraph Hill), angled at a Dutch tilt. A man’s legs suddenly make a backward leap into the frame!

74) The shot shown in #73, immediately above, continues. Upon landing, the man takes a backward step, and suddenly a yo-yo drops into view. Awfully playful stuff, Chris!

75) But Chris/”A Character” is still mid-Vision. There must be something serious afoot here.

76) The dancing white plastic doll, as portrayed in this still, seems to look up to the leggy dame on the left with an expression conveying something along the lines of “HI-YA, TOOTS!”

77) More rock/water play of a generative character. One can almost smell the fecundity.

“He who had the great good fortune …

78) As a strange, very much female-sounding voice replaces Chris’s on the soundtrack to recite a stanza from Schiller’s “Ode” (used by Beethoven as the libretto of the 9th‘s choral), bizarre things are a-happening on the screen: from roughly the angle depicted in the above picture, we see a shot empty of human activity aside from the reflection of a dark-shirted man making a similar leap to what we see above, but in an off-screen area. His reflection is obliquely visible in the left window of the two black doors on the right side of the frame. Maclaine then jump-cuts to this shot, which is very much like what we’d seen in #73 of the man’s feet entering the frame via a backwards leap. No sooner are these seen, than Maclaine cuts away to yet another rock/water play shot, with these feet seemingly left stuck midair. Play is clearly very important in this segment, no?

… to his friend, a friend to thee …

79) After this latest rock/water play shot, Maclaine returns to the apparent continuation of the shot seen in #78, immediately above. Again, our leaping friend makes with the yo-yo. Though having no way to confirm this, I have the distinct impression, based on physique, that this leaping fellow is none other than Chris Maclaine himself.

He who’s won …

80) “HEY — PICK ME!” The white plastic doll and his mating dance have returned. How many men and boys struggling for a female’s attention can identify with this absurd little fellow! Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller, in his book THE MATING MIND: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature, builds on Darwin’s theory of sexual selection to describe how the traits and talents of various animals, including humans, have evolved over the course of millennia by female selection of mates on the basis of various “fitness indicators,” such as strength, physical attractiveness, and behavior which indicates intelligence, self-assuredness, and such skills/talents as playing the electric guitar. An example from the animal kingdom which has entered popular lore is that of the peacock’s tail, whose only purpose, aside from the decorative, is as an example of strength. The beautiful and giant tails are a pain to lug around, and the peahen is supposed to make her selection amongst cocks largely on the basis of the ability of the winner to manage his tail. Miller speculates that human attributes such as higher intellectual functioning and artistic abilities — dancing, for example (see our little fellow above) — evolved in this manner.

The evident good humor of this metaphor for the male’s relationship to woman (cf. little plastic doll dancing from a string) contrasts profoundly with Maclaine’s recent image of our psychotic “Character,” who meant to storm a house (and perhaps a woman) by force. Chris’s Vision is that of a psyche Miraculously transformed.

… a noble woman, let him join …

81) Similar to the plastic doll in the previous shot, Dancer performs the Mating Shuffle.

… our jubilee.

82) In another instance of Maclaine’s mastery of conventional technique, the filmmaker makes a match-action cut to this reverse-angle of Dancer’s feet as they perform their Shuffle. Aside from this shot being quite a bit brighter than the previous one, the illusion — and Maclaine’s technique — is “perfect.” If the locations of these two shots are the same, they would appear to have both been done at the same place as previously seen in image #7 of the first Tour episode (Prelude) and images 31, 33, 35, and 39 of JOHN B. This location, with its two extras seated on the couch in the background, could have been the house which appears to have been the main set for JOHN, or some other house, or possibly a club, coffeehouse, or hipster crash-pad.

83) Keep up the a-Visioning, Chris! You’re seeing great (or at least fun) things.

Yes …

84) After another brief bit of the dancing doll, we cut to this shot of a flock of birds (blackbirds?) rounding one of the Palace of Fine Art’s giant urn-like structures.

… and who a single other soul on earth can call …

85) Dancer spins around, revealing more of the possible house, club, coffeehouse, or hipster crash-pad. Is that a coffeepot resting on a table or stove in the background? If so, this space is beginning to reveal a definite homey or crash-pad-y feel.

… his own.

86) The progenitiveness thickens.

But let him…

87) A low-angled medium shot of a short-dark-haired Beat girl. Is this the same remote anima-figure who previously haunted WALTER (#9), and possibly CHARLES (#39)? Judging by her purple jacket, and what looks to be a black beret held in her right hand, she is almost definitely the woman circumnavigating the Palace of Fine Arts column in the last two CHRIS episodes (#s 15 and 62). Her remoteness and apparent sadness are characteristic of a profoundly, if inadvertently seductive anima-type. By reaching out to console her, one reaches in to console the archetypal part of one’s psyche to which she corresponds.

…who’s not achieved it…

88) Chris’s (?) yo-yo play is suggestive on different metaphorical levels: on the one hand representative of childlike, playful behavior suitable to the process of seduction and mating, the yo-yo on its string itself might also be a would-be seducer’s testes, with which he engages in this effort. In this shot, Maclaine elegantly suggests an irony: as the female reader of Schiller’s poem recites “let him who’s not achieved it” (e.g. winning “a noble woman”), the man who might be Chris makes a slight stumble over his yo-yo. Buck up, lad — you can do it!

…steal away in tears, alone…”

89) After returning briefly to the sad-seeming, short-dark-haired anima-figure of  87, Maclaine reacquaints us with the birds from 84. More ironies: as the flock of birds “steal away” together, not “alone”, they wheel past an amassed group of nonetheless isolated figures who won’t be stealing away anywhere: these are further examples of the Palace of Fine Art’s “’weeping women’ who lean onto the structure’s top, holding their faces in their hands”, as discussed in #21 of CHRIS A.

90) The lone seagull flying against the wind above Seal Rocks (?) from #44 in WALTER B, which I described as serving as “a moving metaphor for Walter’s fraught journey”, is now given a mate. Perhaps pairing off will be the means of the “Maclaine man”‘s rebirth?

91) Our yo-yo man from 73-74, 78-79 and 88 seems about to tumble down his hilly street as seen in this even more extreme Dutch tilt. This could be the ultimate image of the askew “Maclaine man”.

92) The shot portrayed in #91 continues: Yo-yo man moves down the slanted street with the exaggerated foot and leg movements of an astronaut getting his bearings on some distant, alien planet.

93) Our shot from 91-92 continued: the astronaut’s movements take a slightly elegant turn, and his yo-yo dips down into the frame.

94) Contrary to my idea from 91, this is the ultimate image of the “Maclaine man”: he has learned to negotiate his off-kilter world with playfulness.

95) After jump-cutting to a shot of Yo-yo man/Chris’s (?) feet scrambling up the hill somewhat elegantly with what appears to be a slight slow-motion effect, Maclaine cuts to the barefoot anima-figure in rolled-up or Capri pants from CHARLES (#39), then to this version of the “fantastically beautiful Kodachrome shot of Tulips being manhandled by a male vendor” previously seen in image 35 of WALTER B. The “Maclaine man” makes contact with his anima.

96) Is this the short-dark-haired Beat girl from 87, above, who is possibly the anima-figure which has been haunting us throughout THE END? Unlike with CHARLES (#39), she walks towards us, probably indicating the “Maclaine man”‘s reconciliation to his anima.

97) Amidst continuing inter-cutting between our possible Beat-girl-in-Capri-pants-anima and our Tulips-as-anima being manipulated/gathered, Maclaine cuts briefly back to the close-up, in profile, of himself: “A Character” continues to Vision.

98) Yo-yo man/Chris (?) continues his amble/assured yo-yo-ing down the tilted street, making only one awkward step shortly before Maclaine cuts away.

This is a good time to recap the stanza from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy”  recited during this segment in what I described above as a “strange, very much female-sounding voice”, and reproduced in very fragmented text form throughout this post:

“He who had the great good fortune

to his friends, a friend to thee

He who’s won a noble woman,

Let him join our jubilee.

Yes, and who a single other soul on earth

can call his own

But let him who’s not achieved it

Steal away in tears,


Both Schiller’s poem and Beethoven’s condensed and re-written version (scroll down) present a Vision of liberty, love, brotherhood, courage, and creativity under God and connected via Joy. Maclaine’s use of Beethoven’s music and Schiller’s words implies an at least tacit embrace of their Visions, but his isolation of this particular stanza strongly indicates that his “Character”‘s Vision focuses on the love portion. Will ecstatic connection to the universe be found in romance and/or the pursuit of orgasm?

99) Maclaine cuts to an out-of-focus shot of rosy/golden lights surrounded by blackness. Is this a metaphor for post-orgasmic glow, or an alchemical Vision of inner gold developing from the interaction and purification of contrary elements of the psyche? Perhaps both? The indistinctness of the image could also be mocking all attempts to derive abstract meaning from this segment’s disparate imagery. Oh, Chris — you take us this far just to turn mocker? Ah… right — your japery re-enforces the all-important ingredient of play in romance…

100) We go to black. After a brief moment, Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” rapidly fades out. Maclaine takes back the role of Voice-Over narrator from the female reciter of Schiller, and begins to intone the last of THE END‘s at turns ironic, absurd, philosophical and despairing monologues:

The person next to you is a leper. Poor damned soul… Would you give him a drink of water and your blessing? Around the corner from you, strong men are dying of hunger. Most of the citizens of the earth are hungry. You are somehow aware of this, but… how do you go about giving a glass of milk and a loaf of bread to a starving man, woman, or child… in Mesopotamia? Well, never mind! It is too late…

No sooner has Maclaine spat the poisoned darts of the first two lines of this monologue, than we are suddenly sadly returned to the philosophy of despair brought on by the Atomic Age which no doubt prompted THE END‘s production in the first place. The atomic, and later hydrogen bombs introduced a sense of collective guilt and hopelessness regarding the nature of humanity to sensitive Americans for perhaps the first time. The Civil War, and all that led up to it was no doubt a precedent, but the bombs exploding on Hiroshima and Nagasaki eventually occasioned a deeply troubling question in response (no doubt usually semi-conscious) which could have no precedent: what could one say for a species that might cause not only its own demise, but the fiery destruction of possibly the entire planet? This anxiety undergirds THE END — it is in its light (or, rather more aptly, darkness) that each of the film’s successive protagonists have been presented for our consideration. Each lives in the shadow of The Bomb, but each also is subject to a nature which might have inspired The Bomb’s invention, or which is at least reflective of the species that brought it into being.

From the first two lines of this monologue, we are also — contrary, somewhat, to the spirit of the episode of the CHRIS narrative we’ve just encountered — plunged into a Christian sensibility: the world is fallen, we are all “damned souls” as a consequence of original sin (or, at least, this very recent one). We can pay for this sin by ameliorating the pain of our fellow “man, woman, or child”, but in the Atomic Age we must concern ourselves with humanity as a whole, and a humanity whose collective guilt has been ratcheted up by an incalculable degree. By locating the theoretical “man, woman, or child” “in Mesopotamia”, understood by the 1950’s as the birthplace of civilization, Maclaine also ties the conundrum of The Bomb into the very foundations of technologized man, redoubling the ancestral guilt at its source.

Then, too, there has always been a mythical feeling about the identification of Mesopotamia as civilization’s birthplace — images relating to this almost infinitely ancient culture are so scarce, and so connected to a childlike sense of wonder, that we are brought by this point of THE END (or, at least, I am) to a strangely painful, yet sweetly innocent sense of this impossible dilemma. There is sadomasochism in Maclaine’s framing of these issues, as there is an inherent masochism and millenarianism to Christianity — the longed-for restoration to Paradise can only come about through Apocalypse. And, at least when incited by Man, this is the very act and situation which THE END ostensibly protests.

How shall this Gordian knot be cut? Possibly the answer will be found in a continuation of “A Character”‘s Vision? It will not come via our narrator, for “well, never mind! It is too late!” are the final words heard in THE END.

Click here for pt. 1 of “The Gordian Knot Broached” AKA “The Story of PIPEGIRL and MATCHMAN”, as portrayed in CLIMAX A.

Click as indicated for the previous post of this Tour. Click as indicated for the intro to this series.

Click here for an interview with Stan Brakhage concerning Maclaine, circa 1986.

If you have any information or (nonpublic) feedback to contribute to the Tour, please click here.


eagull flying agthe wind above Seal Rocks (?) serves as a moving metaphor for Walter’s fraught journey

Comments (2)

  • Brecht Andersch says:

    Shhhh, Chris, not so loud. Let me whisper —-

    it’s about sex. or poetry. or maybe poetry about sex. or sex about poetry? you decide…

  • What exactly do you mean by “a particularly and peculiarly generative flavor?”

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