Friday, May 20, 2011

The Best Films I've Never Seen Before: Rose Hobart (1936)

Rose Hobart (1936) **
Directed by: Joseph Cornell.
Featuring: Rose Hobart.

I have to admit it – the first time I watched Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart, I had no idea what the hell it was supposed to mean. It is an 18 minute short, where Cornell re-edited the 1931 film East of Bornero, focusing entirely on the film’s female lead – Rose Hobart. Scenes are edited together completely out of order, with some transitions jarring in effect, as everything around Hobart changes from shot to shot – the setting, the other characters, her costumes – yet because everything is shot at essentially the same angle, and because Cornell chooses shots to sit next to each other where Hobart is in a similar position on the screen, or making a similar movement, it appears to be one disjointed scene. The plot of East of Bornero is completely excised, as is the dialogue, as Cornell uses music over the whole thing. We remain fixated on Hobart throughout the film, and with no context with which to view the images, we have to rely on the images themselves. This results in differing views of Hobart from scene to scene – as a sex object, a surrogate mother (to a monkey no less), to a damsel in distress, etc. Cornell plays with our ideas of film grammar, because his re-editing breaks all of the rules we have come to expect. Devoid of context, we have to rely on the images themselves. The entire movie has a blue hue – which Cornell originally achieved by projecting the film through blue glass.

After a first confused viewing of Rose Hobart, I went and read a little bit about the film, and came back to it again. After all, it is only 18 minutes. Once again, the film had the same effect on me – by depriving us of any context for the images on the screen, we are forced to evaluate them as they stand on their own. Cornell is highlighting the images themselves, not their context.

I suppose to some, this could be considered art. Salvador Dali apparently attended a screening in 1936, and was angered because he said had the exact same idea for a movie – although he never wrote it down or told anyone about it – and that Cornell had somehow “plagiarized his dreams”. To a certain extent, Rose Hobart can be seen as a similar film to Un Chien Andalou, the infamous short Dali made with Luis Bunuel. Both films have no plot, and that’s the point. That the images are meant to be taken on their own, and the filmmakers want to play with our idea of what a movie is, and what the images mean.

For me though, I didn’t find Rose Hobart, the film, to be all that interesting – even the second time through. I have to admit that I still do not entirely “get” the film, so if you’re a fan of the film, or Cornell, then feel free to dismiss my opinion. Art is in the eye of the beholder, and while many think that Cornell is a great artist, based on my experience with Rose Hobart I think I have to admit that he’s just not for me.

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