J’irai Comme un Cheval Fou
“…where you go look for the grotesque, the dirty, you find God, happiness, beauty…”–Fernando Arrabal
FEATURING: George Shannon, Hachemi Marzouk, Emmanuelle Riva
PLOT: Accused of killing his mother and stealing her jewels, Aden Rey flees to the desert. There, he discovers a mystical dwarf shepherd named Marvel who offers him refuge. They develop a friendship verging on romance, and Aden decides to take the innocent nature boy (and his favorite goat) to see the big city.
- Together with and , Fernando Arrabal founded the Panic movement (named after the Greek satyr god Pan). Starting in 1962 in Paris, the Panic movement staged disruptive live public “happenings” and plays that included (reportedly) live animal sacrifices, Jodorowsky being stripped and whipped, nude women covered in honey, and a replica of a giant vagina. The movement was inspired by the idea that Surrealism had become too mainstream and lost its power to shock the viewer; Jodorowsky officially dissolved it in 1973, after the three principals had already gone their own ways.
- I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse was Arrabal’s second film as director (after 1971’s surreal fascism satire Viva la Muerte). He may be best known to 366 readers as the screenwriter for Fando y Lis, which he adapted from his own play. ‘s 1968 debut
INDELIBLE IMAGE: The most unforgettable image in I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is one I actually wish I could forget: Aden and Marvel silhouetted in the sunset, squatting back to back, defecating. If you need something less repulsive (and we do, for illustrative purposes), go with the dwarf making out with a skull so fresh that bits of meat still cling to it.
THREE WEIRD THINGS: Synchronized pooping; cross-dressing skull-birthing; butt-flower eating
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: With its sharply dressed, on-the-lam hero wandering the streets of Paris as the cops close in, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse plays at times like an exceptionally strange nouvelle vague crime flick—as if Alejandro Jodorowsky seized control of the project, firing and installing a dwarf as the love interest. Oedipal, mystical, scatological, blasphemous, surreal, and still shocking even today, Crazy Horse is crazy indeed.
DVD release trailer for I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse
COMMENTS: Fernando Arrabal’s sophomore feature I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is rich with themes; at times, it seems like too many themes, but they do weave together into an unexpected harmony. It’s a satire built around the conflicts of nature with technological society, it’s an exploration of Freudian mommy issues, and it’s even a bizarre Christ allegory. It’s confusing (in its digressive narrative) and obvious (in its anti-bourgeois intent) at the same time. The story is often interrupted by brief fantasias whose significance isn’t always clear (an insert of Aden as a child menaced by a giant spider while wearing aviator goggles, for example). Every now and then the camera pauses to focus George Shannon’s handsome face as the sound of clomping horse’s hooves plays. The film is studded throughout with surprises, some of which I won’t spoil (and given the packed nature of the film, it would be impossible to spoil them all without turning this commentary into a shot-by-shot catalog of shocks). Crazy Horse is not incomprehensible, although it can be overwhelming. The main storyline, though fantastic, is clear and relatively simple to follow, providing just enough of a tether to keep the viewer afloat in the sea of stormy subconscious imagery.
The central conceit of Crazy Horse is the simple (some would argue simplistic) contrast between uncorrupted nature (represented by the pre-lapsarian Marvel) and bourgeois, technological society (championed by Aden). This theme, and which side Arrabal comes down on, is obvious from the opening news broadcast, which covers the “black tide” of a bird-killing beach oil spill, bombing of civilians (presumably in Vietnam), and African famine, along with contextually ironic praise for society’s newest discoveries (“the progress of science never ceases to amaze us”). The dwarf Marvel lives the life of a hermit in the desert, blissfully unaware of all these ills, living in peace with his animals and causally practicing magic (he is able to turn the sun on and off with a snap of his fingers) merely because he is in harmony with his surroundings. Aden, a persecuted refugee from society, is nevertheless convinced that his noble savage and new bestie deserves to see the wonders of the modern world, which he describes as fantastic and perfect (in a monologue he delivers while Arrabal shows a scene of two people making love while wearing gas masks). Once in the big city, Aden’s attempts to convince Marvel of civilization’s wonders unfold about as well as we expect. The dwarf is disappointed when their luxury apartment has no soil, and he cries when he learns that civilized people eat his beloved animals for lunch. Aden’s plans to get Marvel laid go nowhere when his girlfriend refuses to have sex with “a nauseating dwarf,” although the shepherd later finds a bride on his own (the wedding ceremony is presided over by his goat). Arrabal can lay his anti-modernity message on a little thick, but humor (the dwarf briefly becomes a sideshow freak, who happily frees the circus animals during a performance) makes the lecture go down easier. And some of Arrabal’s ideas about “natural” behavior are more challenging than the obvious hippie tropes (the film’s pan-sexual morality will shock homophobes, and Arrabal’s repeated use of feces as a symbol of innocence will shock everyone else).
Running parallel to this nature vs. society conflict is the story of Aden’s complicated and conflicted relationship with his mother. Whether Aden really kills his mother, as the police conclude, is revealed in the plot (I won’t spoil it), but whether guilty or not, it is clear that he harbors matricidal impulses. Their relationship is slowly revealed in flashbacks, many of which have sadomasochistic overtones: at one point, after they’ve shared a romantic waltz, mom lights her son’s erect penis like a candle. Some of the humiliations respected actress Emmanuelle Riva (Hiroshima, Mon Amour) is willing to undergo for Arrabal’s film are shocking, and even potentially career-destroying in 1973: a tasteless sex scene where she’s whipped and verbally abused by a fat middle-aged lover, for example. It’s not clear whether the flashbacks represent memories or repressed fantasies: did young Aden really bite his mom on the neck, vampire style, while she played the harp, causing her to urinate in ecstasy? I would say no, but the psychological reality that Aden was too close to his mother, jealous of her lovers, and harbored secret incestuous desires is all too clear. Naturally, Aden attempts to exorcise these memories by dressing up in his mother’s corset and reenacting his own birth. Does all this Oedipal wrangling have anything to do with the film’s other major themes? Probably not directly. We note that mothers seldom come off well in Arrabal’s work; the matriarch of Viva la Muerte was a collaborator who turned the protagonist’s father in to the fascists (Arrabal’s own father was imprisoned by Franco’s men during the Spanish Civil War). Is the writer exploring his own mommy issues, using George Shannon as his stand-in? Some quotes from the interview included on the DVD suggest that this could be the case, but whatever the answer, it is strange that this parallel plot should coexist with the utopian fantasy of the noble savage that dominates the rest of the story.
The third major theme is less pronounced and less incongruous with the film’s main thrust, although it is nevertheless another wild, stray offshoot: the Christ allegor(ies). What is especially strange about this line of inquiry is that the film gives us two potential Christ figures. Marvel is the obvious one; he is sinless, empathetic, and even literally a “good shepherd.” He leaves Paradise to live and suffer with men. More surprising, however, is the depiction of Aden as a parallel Christ. In flashbacks, his mother even calls him the baby Jesus, and we see him in a manger scene where she drives nails into his penis (!) Because most of these references occur in the unreliable fantasy flashbacks, it’s not clear if Arrabal means for us to see Aden as a genuine Christ figure, or if it’s merely a symptom of his delusions, or if the director is simply indulging his taste for blasphemy for shock purposes. But, despite Aden’s lack of innate goodness, he does suffer, is persecuted, and sacrifices himself (though not entirely willingly). And in the film’s final scenes, he and Marvel merge into one, in both a spiritual and carnal sense (you’ll have to watch). Aden’s journey to redemption is therefore, in a sense, Christlike. Jesus himself even makes a cameo to bless the proceedings. Marvel stops in a church and is moved to tears by the priest’s fiery homily about the tortures suffered by the messiah—so moved that he removes the thorn of crowns and a nail from the chapel’s crucifix, which makes Jesus smile. It’s no surprise that Arrabal, who often resorts to anti-clerical blasphemy in his films, proposes that Marvel’s behavior is more genuinely Christlike than that of the hypocritical Catholic Church: like Pharisees, they consider the sinless man a blasphemer for daring to ease the statue’s suffering.
I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse is a personal, psychological, and spiritual Surrealist film lodged between two overtly political films in Fernando Arrabal’s short filmography. Compared to his colleague Alejandro Jodorowsky, Arrabal is a much more politically aware filmmaker, and his doctrinaire Marxism sometimes works to the detriment of his early movies (though Arrabal broke with the Communists in the late 1970s, adopting political anarchism instead). Despite the shock value and big themes here, it’s important to remember that Crazy Horse is, in essence, a comedy—it’s a bit of a breather and a vacation for Arrabal, who would soon return to viciously excoriating the Francoists in 1975’s The Guernica Tree. Little moments like Inspector Gay (!) scratching his sideburns with a tiny backscratcher, or Marvel feeding Aden his specialty (goat dung wrapped in rose petals), forefront the film’s comic nature. This humor, the sense that none of this is meant to be taken completely seriously, helps to insulate Arrabal from charges of pretentiousness, as does the blatantly over-the-top nature of the satire. Fans of Jodorowsky will find Crazy Horse a welcoming destination, familiar in its excesses, though less mysterious and occult and more in-your-face in its provocations. Crazy Horse is a slice of pure craziness that reminds us that the Panic movement ran deeper than Jodorowsky alone. Mix hippie sympathizers with Berton-trained Surrealists, and you’re bound to drop a strange artifact or two.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…a surreal sermon that takes on modern religion using a string of increasingly bizarre and offensive set pieces that will have many reaching for the eject button.”–David Michael Brown, Digital Retribution (DVD box set)
“Fernando Arrabal’s bizarre, Freudian, surrealist nightmare, I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse, is a movie as much about murder and mystery as it is about nature versus technology. “–Sean Leonard, HorrorNews.net (DVD)
“Arrabal’s bizarre imagery can say everything and nothing at the same time… [He] may be guilty of numerous cinematic sins, but boring the viewer isn’t one of them.”–Derek Hill, Images Movie Journal (DVD)
IMDB LINK: I Will Walk Like Crazy Horse (1973)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse Movie Review – Not-safe-for-work video review of the film (incorporating many of the most provocative clips)
Twelve-Tone Cinema: A Scattershot Notebook on Sexual Atonality – Andrew Grossman’s essay on “atonal” queer cinema includes a segment on Crazy Horse, which he calls “the liberating surrealist potion for which I thirst”
DVD INFO: Cult Epics released I Will Walk Like a Crazy Horse on DVD in 2007 (buy). Besides an excellent transfer, the disc includes a slideshow of lobby cards and an interview with a then-71-year-old Arrabal. The interview is interrupted briefly by a phone call from God (which just goes to show how dedicated Arrabal is to his Panic persona). Also included is a trailer for Viva la Muerte (although none for Crazy Horse).
Cult Epics also released this disc as part of the three-DVD “The Fernando Arrabal Collection” set (buy). Its companions are Viva La Muerte (1971) and The Guernica Tree (1975), making this set a complete overview of Arrabal’s early career and perhaps the definitive Arrabal collection (his post-Guernica movies are even more obscure than these three).
Abkco released a two-DVD “Panic Film Movement” set pairing Crazy Horse with Alejandro Jodorowsky’s seminal acid Western El Topo (buy). Any special features on this out-of-print (but available on the secondary market) release remain unknown to us.
To our knowledge, none of Arrabal’s films are available either on Blu-ray or on video-on-demand at the current time.
(This movie was nominated for review by “Christoper,” who astutely said “I think its the only other film out there that comes close to [J]odorowsky’s aesthetic sensibility and its very long overdo for discovery by a wider audience.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)