Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Berlioz meets George Antheil The Spectre of the Rose

Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance, orchestrated by Hector Berlioz, the music upon which Fokine created the ballet La spectre de la rose (1911) for VaclavNijinsky. But that's not all!   George Antheil re-adapted Berlioz re-adapting Weber for the movie Spectre of the Rose (1946). Antheil created the music for Ballet Mécanique, the brilliant Dadaist masterpiece created by Ferinard Léger. Antheil was at the heart of the Paris avant garde in the 1920's, hanging out with Man Ray, Stravinsky and pretty much everyone. For him, film was an art form, created by intellectuals for lively minds. Even in Hollywood, Antheil managed to connect with the adventurous and creative.  Lots on this site about Antheil, and on the other experimental and art film of the 20's and 30's.

The movie, Specter of the Rose (1946) was so quirky that there was no way it would have been a hit at the box office hit like so much else that Ben Hecht did.  Allusions to art and the arts community crackle all through the script: it's a highly crafted satire with killer bon mots. An elderly former ballerina sits knitting. She's importuned by a bankrupt promoter called Poliakoff, played by an actor called Chekhov, as the personification of High Camp. In this little world of losers who once had dreams, characters  sport fancy foreign names and speak with theatrical flourish, and repartees as sharp as in Marx Brothers comedy. There's a brilliant vignette when a hardboiled hack gets drunk and spouts philosophy (which is actually quite radical pointed, politically). "We lived in a poem" says Mme La Sylph.  Hence the story is built around the ballet La spctre de la Rose. where a young girl falls in love with the idea of art and imagines that a Rose has come alive. to dance with her.  The movie, however, morphs into murder mystery.  Did the principal dancer Sanine (played by an actor called Kirov!) murder his first wife in a fit of madness?  She died dancing on stage. Will he kill his new dance partner, his new wife Heidi.  

Against all odds, the company, on the verge of bankruptcy, becomes a hit. At the peak of success, Daniner and Heidi disappear and the show closes. Sanine has had a psychotic episode. "The rose has a thorn, the rose has a knife and dances around you till you die"  Sabine puts on his Rose costume and dances about the apartment in a mad scene, where Antheil's reworking of Berlioz/Weber explodes into mayhem. With a Nijinsky-style leap, Sanine jumps out of the window, to his death. Poliakoff , now broke again, goes back to tacky touring shows "with the trunks, the hair pulling and the mad love songs from Old Vienna", "It's better than begging" says Mme La Sylph.  Then you realize why she's a tricoteuse. The Specter of the rose is gallows humour.

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