A bit of history first. In 1884, Belgian poet Albert Giraud wrote a collection of poems based on the Commedia dell’Arte figure of Pierrot, the sad clown always pining for Columbine. Twenty-one of these poems were adapted into an operatic melodrama by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912. And then BruceLa Bruce got his hands on it.
What we end up with is a deliriously weird movie that appears to have only the slimmest of connections with the original material: a black-and-white silent movie that feels like an experimental art-house piece, juxtaposed with the complete operatic score (with subtitles, since it’s in German), with a plot that has to be seen to be believed.
While I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, not everyone did. I could hear some audience members fidgeting and some straight up walked out halfway through. No doubt the (very fake) gore and murder might have crossed a few lines, and the whole thing was probably way too out there if not in the right mood.
In this re imagining, Pierrot is a butch lesbian, already going out with her lady Columbine. But Columbine’s fat capitalist pig of a father susses out that Pierrot (who actually passes pretty well) is in fact a woman. Much drama ensues as the fat capitalist pig drags Columbine away, and Pierrot operatically curses her female body. If only she could change it, and show the fat capitalist pig she can be a man worthy of wooing his daughter! Cutting off her breasts is easy enough, but that’s only half the job. So Pierrot decides to check out strippers and hustlers in order to find the perfect penis to steal. A few attempted murders later Pierrot finds her prize, and shows it off to Columbine and her fat capitalist pig of a father. She’s horrified, but he seems to approve. The film ends on this ambiguous note.
Weird enough for you? On a scale of 1 to WTF, it still doesn’t beat gay zombies fucking each other’s wounds, but the operatic dimension as well as the old-school film atmosphere puts it in a class of its own. Superb.
Fun fact: Susanne Sachsse, who plays Pierrot, also sings the operatic vocals. That’s damn impressive.
Pierrot Lunaire: Butch Dandy. Directed by Bruce LaBruce. Translation by Otto Erich Hartleben. No further screenings at the 2014 Vancouver Queer Film Festival.
Nicolas Demers is a web developer and blogger living in Vancouver’s West End. In his spare time he enjoys science-fiction, photography, and is actively involved with the Vancouver Gay Volleyball Association.