Thursday, September 1, 2016

On Dušan Vukotić's Concerto for Sub-Machine Gun

(This is another post from a working part of my dissertation. In the interest of appealing to a wider readership, I don't reference important film studies scholarship. In the dissertation, I will certainly consider Paul Wells's work on animation genre and various writings on animation and violence. I will also offer comparisons to Ivan Ivanov-Vano and Yuri Norstein's Secha pri Kerzhentse / The Battle of Kerezhenets (1971). Film studies readers of this blog are welcome to offer recommendations of other material. All help is appreciated.)

In his early shorts, Dušan Vukotić studies the conventions of various Hollywood genres. Koncert za mašinsku pušku / Concerto for Sub-Machine Gun (Dušan Vukotić, 1958) falls within the borders of the heist film. In the three canonical heist films of the 1950s -- The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950), Riffifi (Jules Dassin, 1955), and The Killing (Stanley Kubrick, 1956) -- a group of men seek to carry off the major job. They develop a clever plan, one we admire because of its precision. They are masters of time and space. They are masters of their craft. But their mastery fails in the face of their own base natures. They are criminals, after all, with low morals, as willing to betray each other just as they are society's sense of human decency and religious devotion to capitalism. A dame gets involved -- thanks Yoko -- and convinces one of the members to break up the band for his own good. Greed takes over. The heroes die or find themselves arrested, doomed to a lifetime in prison.

In Koncert, the master planner is a technology genius -- there's as much science fiction here as there is film noir -- and a master of the two-dimensional universe of "flat graphic" animation in which he lives. He manipulates the imperfections of his society's value system, namely its adherence to justice and and its deification of high culture. But in the end, his fundamental nature destroys him. Greed and an indifference to the lives of others leads to his own violent death and his entrance into a particular hell in which his greed will leave him perpetually as non-sated in the afterlife as he is in this world. There are no dames in Koncert and the anti-hero lacks any history, any character development, any desire to pull off the "last job." But Vukotić does follow plenty of the tropes of the genre.

There's much to consider in the short, but I would like to most to discuss its approach to violence. Huston, Dassin, and Kubrick focus on their heroes' doomed rebellion against the capitalist order, their death drive, their internal human suffering. Vukotić emphasizes that which Hollywood would not discover until the climax of Bonnie and Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967), namely the mutilation of its heroes' bodies.  In Koncert, policemen are systematically riddled with bullet holes. The criminals are decapitated, their circular heads are removed from their quadrilateral chests and torsos. In the climax of the film, the master planner kills his minions. The shapes of their bodies break apart. The lower body of one of the minions becomes a mess of squiggly lines and loose paint. Just as the master criminal attempts to break apart the wonders of the society aboveground, so his own body -- made up of the lines and paint of his animator/maker/father -- must be destroyed, lose its sturdiness, its unity, and its order.

A nightmare.  

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