Dead ... and Loving It

OnDVD: Forest Lawn: The First Hundred Years

In 1955, Jacques Rivette wrote, "It seems to me impossible to see Voyage to Italy [Rossellini, 1953] without receiving direct evidence of the fact that the film opens a breach, and that all cinema, on pain of death, must pass through it." But that notion has been buried alive with the residue created by the portal blown wide open with the release of Jeremy Weiss' Forest Lawn: The First Hundred Years, which must now be regarded as the Citizen Kane of cemetery documentaries, an incredible filmic achievement that for 36 brisk minutes immerses spectators in the rich, vibrant and—dare we say?—saucy history of Southern California's premiere memorial park and mortuary chain. Indeed, there are moments in the history of cinema when a critic is compelled to declare a decisive sea change in film, a new "crest line" of radical achievement, an emergent kind of purity that instantly surpasses everything hitherto seen. Shadows. The Killing of a Chinese Bookie. Les baisers de secours. Reservoir Dogs. Ernest Goes to Jail. And now Hundred, splendid, uncomplicated Hundred, with its cinematic death grip on the rise of a family business—that is headquartered in Glendale and has six regional parks, including burial grounds in nearby Cypress and Long Beach; advance planning available, please check local listings—and its role in the re-shaping of the funeral industry, revering faux ancient Greek statues and colonial American slave owners, and sustaining life on this planet as we know it. And death—they really, really lay on the death here. Historians, park officials and art curators speak in hushed tones—this is a mortuary for God's sake: respect!—but layered ever-so-gently, like the thinnest death shroud, are themes of birth and death, of creation and destruction, of tombstones vs. flat burial markers—at a more buried, abstract but no less powerful level—as philosophical and anthropological challenges of "classification" or categorization loom ever so large. We can type no more because this monumental achievement giving vivid life—LIFE!—to the highest works of promotional cinema is leaving us breathless, near tears and fantasizing big-time about doing unspeakable acts on a cold mausoleum floor with Six Feet Under's Brenda Chenowith.


—with apologies to Melbourne Age film critic Adrian Martin


Also recommended this week: Doctor Who: The First Series; The Matador.

 
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