Tag Archives: Time

271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

Sanatorium pod Klepsydra; AKA The Sandglass

“For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause. “–Hamlet, Act III, Sc. 1

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DIRECTED BY:

FEATURING:

PLOT: As the film opens, Józef is on a train headed to a sanatorium where his dead father is being kept. When he arrives, the grounds are deserted and decrepit, but eventually he finds a doctor who leads him to his now-sleeping father’s room and explains the patient’s comatose-but-alive status: “the trick is that we moved back time… we reactivate past time with all its possibilities.” Józef then wanders through the sanatorium’s grounds, meeting his mother, a collector of automatons, a parade of men dressed in bird costumes, the Three Wise Men, and other strange characters.

Still from The Hourglass Sanatorium (1973)

BACKGROUND:

  • The film was primarily based on Polish Surrealist author Bruno Schultz’s short-story collection “Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass,” although it included ideas from some of the author’s other short stories. (A Schulz story was also the inspiration for the ‘ stop-animation nightmare “The Street of Crocodiles“).
  • Wojciech Has worked on this project for five years.
  • The Hourglass Sanatorium did not receive the blessing of the Polish censors and was banned. Has had copies smuggled to the Cannes Film Festival, where it tied for the jury prize (at that time, essentially third place). In apparent retaliation for his insubordination, the Communist Party did not approve any of Has’ new film projects for the next ten years.
  • In Poland, an hourglass is a symbol of death.

INDELIBLE IMAGE: Oddly enough, especially given how visually sumptuous The Hourglass Sanatorium is, the image which best evokes the movie isn’t even in it. I speak of the famous theatrical release poster by Polish artist Franciszek Starowieyski, which depicts a giant orange eyeball perched on a jawbone, with a grill of teeth through which a worm crawls (a limbless woman’s torso is also stuck between its molars), while numbers and arrows illustrate features of bone anatomy like occult footnotes. The poster seizes upon the film’s major theme of death; Starowieyski was also picking up on the repeated motif of eyeballs which occurs throughout the Sanatorium, from the train conductor’s blind stare to the cobweb-covered eyeball collection Józef finds under the bed. To illustrate the film, we ultimately chose the image of a toppled wax automaton with his eye-socket popped open to reveal the gears inside—but when I think of The Hourglass Sanatorium, I always think of that poster first.

THREE WEIRD THINGS: Crow frozen in flight; Józef spying on Józef; eyeballs under the bed

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: The Hourglass Sanatorium is a rare work of genuine Surrealism. Seldom has any film ever captured the free-falling feeling of being lost in a dream so well: the portentous but inexplicable visions; the tenuous, tantalizing connections between ideas; the smooth and continuous shifting of realities. Let a blind conductor be your guide inside a crumbling hospital whose rooms hold wonder after wonder.


Brief clip from The Hourglass Sanatorium (in Polish)

COMMENTS: Sanatorium pod Klepsydra opens on the silhouette of a Continue reading 271. THE HOURGLASS SANATORIUM (1973)

CAPSULE: THE END OF TIME (2012)

DIRECTED BY: Peter Mettler

FEATURING: Peter Mettler (narration)

PLOT: Documentarian Peter Mettler interviews people from various walks of life about their thoughts on time, using poetic footage of lava flows, particle accelerators, and digital mandalas as visual backgrounds.

Still from The End of Time (2012)
WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: While The End of Time is way, way outside the average filmgoer’s wheelhouse, despite a few acid flashback moments, it’s not really weird per se. It is also somewhat overshadowed by similar visionary non-narrative documentaries like Samsara and the Koyaanisqatsi trilogy, more expensive productions that achieve more spectacular vistas.

COMMENTS: The subjects of The End of Time include a 1960 record-setting skydiving free-fall from over 100,000 above the earth, lava flows on a volcanic island, and a squadron of ants bearing away a grasshopper’s corpse. None of this has much to do in particular with time, and yet it all does, because time is inescapable (despite the documentary’s occasional implication that time is an illusion). Rather than talking about time per se, the narration begins with the words “in the beginning there were no names,” and as the movie slowly flows and curls about like magma it returns periodically to what appears to be that central point: ultimate reality is inexpressible, and language (and abstract concepts like “time”) are our feeble (and possibly counterproductive) attempts to freeze and analyze the endless flux of reality. At least, that’s my view of Mettler’s position; the documentary is ostensibly time-neutral, giving equal weight to all experiences. Speakers are never identified by name or credentialed, and so the doc gives the same weight to the particle physicist’s opinions as those of the guru, the hermit, the artist colony potter, and a woman I’m guessing is the director’s grandma. Some of the earnestly proffered opinions, particularly the New Age-y ruminations from the granola crowd, are easy to mock, but please resist the urge. It is so rare for people to actually discuss grand, abstract concepts in movies in an irony-free way that it’s incredibly refreshing, and I’d hate to discourage future explorers from setting out towards similar territory.

Philosophy aside, the cinematography (by Mettler, Camille Budin, and Nick de Pencier) makes End of Time worth your time. Mettler draws visual parallels between the circular construction of particle accelerators and Hindu mandalas, between a corpse carried on a funeral bier and a meal carried away by ants. In between monologues Mettler throws in pastoral passages of eye poetry: stars dissolve into snowflakes, and we see a cat in a field quietly perceiving time in his own way, then camera draws back to show the same footage on a big screen television in an editing studio. The most remarkable scenes are the mesmerizing flows of magma from an active volcano; it’s amazing how quickly the outside edges cool to a black crust while the inside still glows red hot, and the entire mass creeps along, knocking down trees and incinerating the ferns that grew up since the earth’s mantle last leaked to the surface. The final act is a lysergic digital freakout presumably representing “the end of time,” beginning with the extinction of the sun, which turns into a bunch of glowing green mandalas and segues into a cosmic Malickian montage. The overall result—abstract and meandering, sometimes deep, sometimes pretentious, beautiful but frequently slow as molasses—is definitely not for all tastes. At times the movie gets a little too trippy-hippy-dippy for its own good, leaning too far to the “far out, man” end of the profundity spectrum. But you have to give Mettler much credit for his courage in thinking big and tackling deep questions that would terrify less ambitious filmmakers.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“There’s a touch of the acid mindset here, certainly: towards the end, many of Mettler’s images come together in an abstract montaged freak-out that might have made a very effective credits sequence, but feels too trippily ‘heyy-wowww’ when incorporated into the main body of the film. At moments, The End of Time come perilously close to a tone of nebulous new-age amazement, a touch too Koyaanisqatsian for comfort.”–Johnathan Romney, Film Comment

READER RECOMMENDATION: CHRONOPOLIS (1982)

Reader review by Morgan Hoyle-Combs.

DIRECTED BY: Piotr Kamler

FEATURING:

PLOT: In a lost city, that may only be found in time, monolithic figures try to break free from

Still from Chronopolis (1982)

their continuous state of immortality by crafting, and destroying, time itself. Two keys to their demise are a curious white sphere and long legged explorer, both of who have no interest in putting an end to the gods of Chronopolis.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Piotr Kamler created one of the few silent stop-motion arthouse films synched with an electrical atmospheric soundtrack that has yet to take on a cult audience. Made with a 1920’s 35mm Debrie Parvo camera over a five year period, Kamler didn’t hesitate to tell a story though calm visuals and masterful animation which beckons a new face to the pure, dreamlike wonders that surrealist cinema has to offer.

COMMENTS: Everyone has some type of love for the strange, somewhere. When I was a teen, I recall searching for movies set in a dystopian steampunk world. The name Chronopolis popped up, but with very little info, let alone links. I shoved the title on YouTube, desperate to see fancy steampunk. Chronopolis was not that; in fact, the video was so pixelated I could hardly tell what was happening. I wanted more. After researching, I finally found the whole movie; it forever changed my perspective on viewing cinema and the world through an eye piece.

The fact that this stop motion movie is rarely spoken of and had a very little release adds more to it’s strange nature, almost like it was intended to be forgotten by time. In reality I think Kamler did not do a fantastic job of publicizing his work. A VHS edition was released from a now deceased video library in Boston in the mid 80’s. The movie earned it’s fame, however, through its inclusion on a 2007 DVD collection of Kamler’s shorts, although this version was cut by 20 minutes or so. Kamler originally stated that there were some gratuitous scenes when he initially released it to the public. I watched both, and found the 66 minute version to be a little darker Continue reading READER RECOMMENDATION: CHRONOPOLIS (1982)