Feb 17, 2023

Lulu (Ronald Chase, 1978)

Ronald Chase’s idiosyncratic feature debut is arguably his sultriest and most melodramatic piece, originally created to accompany a production of Alban Berg’s opera of the same name, itself adapted from Frank Wedekind’s plays ‘Earth Spirit’ (Erdgeist, 1895) and ‘Pandora’s Box’ (Die Büchse der Pandora, 1904). Although set in the Victorian era, ‘Lulu’ seems to be filtered through the prism of the 70’s sexual liberation and, in the words of media arts theorist Gene Youngblood (1942-2021), it is “an impressionistic meditation on, and evocation of ‘Pandora’s Box’ as a prophetic cultural myth, as collective erotic dream”. Cloaked in pure sensuality that permeates the filmmaker’s oeuvre, it often sees the camera caressing the characters as if in a foreplay, all the while providing glimpses into their souls / inner states by means of facial expressions and/or body movements. The heightened artifice of everything from the set design to title cards evoking the silent era creates the oneiric atmosphere that is gradually toned down in accordance with Lulu’s descent from libidinous fantasy to dark reality.

In his 1978 write-up for magazine ‘Take One’, Lawrence Weschler questions whether the film’s perspective is misogynist or, on the contrary, feminist, adding in conclusion that Chase comes “very close to the nerve of some highly vexing issues”. Personally, I find the titular heroine – in the bold, uninhibited portrayal by non-professional actress Elisa Leonelli – to be strangely innocent (must be the white dresses) in her playful sexual dominance over a plethora of male lovers, as well as over one female admirer, and that the problem lies within their desire to possess her and mold her as they please. Her seductiveness is a reflection of her ‘temporal displacement’, so to speak, and as such, poses as a huge thorn in the side of debilitated patriarchy rearing its psychopathic head in the tragically climactic, unnervingly tense and misleadingly calm epilogue.

The film is available at the author's official Vimeo channel, HERE.

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