Thursday, June 18, 2009


Puce Women was originally intended as a feature about Hollywood actresses in the Nineteen Twenties. Unable to procure funding, Anger abandoned the project, eventually releasing the six minutes he had in the can as Puce Moment (1949; color). This fragment casts Yvonne Marquis (identified elsewhere as Anger's cousin, though he makes no mention of it in his commentary) as a star(let) selecting a sequin dress of the title shade from her vast wardrobe, reclining dreamily on a chaise longue, and walking four magnificent borzoi--an archetypal image oddly prefiguring Barbara Steele's memorable entrance as Katia in Mario Bava's La Maschera del Demonio (1960; U.S. Black Sunday). Puce Moment exudes the austere ambience of a silent film, achieved through eight-frames-per-second camera speed and Marquis' languid movements. Anger has said of his original conception that "I was, in effect, filming ghosts," and certainly his actress seems to exist in another, transdimensional time. There is much to savor here, from the screen-filling image of flapper gowns dancing on their racks as Marquis chooses one--they shimmer and shake like phantasms--to the Florine Stettheimer-inspired sequence of the siren on her floating couch.

MTI's digital transfer of the archival internegative looks grand. The perennially obscure Jonathan Halper's songs, the dissonant "Leaving My Old Life Behind" and the more introspective "I'm a Hermit," were added in 1971 (possibly supplanting a Verdi overture in Anger's original withdrawn version), and augment the film's temporal dislocation. The first tune's furious feedback sounded muddy in previous prints and especially benefits from Fantoma's upgrade. Anger observes in his commentary that Marquis later became mistress to former Mexican President Lazaro Cardenas, and states that the film's dresses were worn by the likes of Clara Bow and Barbara Lamarr. He also recycles the story that his grandmother was a costume mistress in the days before sound, but Anger's siblings have vigorously disputed this. The booklet credits the director as photographer, though most sources cite his fellow cineaste Curtis Harrington, who modestly demurred that he "was sort of there, you know, pushing the button."