The Carnival of Souls
By Viggo Mortensen and Fabián Casas - translated by Ollie, Rio and Zoe
2 March 2012
Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro
We just finished a long weekend and my house was surrounded by the sound of Carnival being held on Avenida Independencia. The drums of the street bands were becoming unbearable for me. Guadalupe, my wife, told me that when she was a girl, she liked to celebrate Carnival, that she wore a costume and played with water. I remember that I had an ambivalent relationship with Carnival. On the one hand, I loved to go out with my siblings and my parents to see the parade, the street bands, pass along Avenida Boedo. (I lived at the corner of Boedo and Estados Unidos [tr. note: street name translates as United States] and I think now that the crossing of those streets could have prefigured our friendship. Probably Dr. Jung would agree with that and Dr. Freud would laugh at it.) I loved seeing the Cometas de Boedo and my mom had a replica of that band's outfit made for me, but sized for a ten year old boy.
Los Cometas de Boeda, from 1959.
On the other hand, I had an aunt named Cristina; she was one of my mother's younger sisters. She was what's called a bombshell in erotic terms, a mixture of Watusi and Catwoman in a twenty-four-year-old body and right away, with her presence in my parent's house, she activated and advanced my puberty. But I remember one Carnival night in Boedo, with the colored paper on the floor, the smell of perfumed water and the snow that we men threw on the women, I remember that my aunt Cristina had taken me out to see the parade and because she was so incredibly beautiful, she was quickly attacked by a mob of adolescents who dumped snow on her head and hit her with some plastic clubs, similar to police ones, which at that time were very fashionable at Carnival. Luckily, now I don't see those terrible, misogynistic toys at the parade. But as I was telling you, they attacked my aunt and I came out to defend her, kicking those boys until a policeman, who used to be on the corner of Estados Unidos taking care of the block, intervened. (Later these policemen were no longer available, assassinated by urban guerrillas, and therefore, pulled from the corners they were guarding, where they were easy targets.) I wonder what kind of relationship you had with Carnival? Did you get to experience a porteño Carnival?
Carnaval de Boedo.
I remember them, but the truth is that our family (my father being from Denmark and my mother from the northeast of the United States), didn´t get very involved in the carnivals. I´d dress up to celebrate them, as would my buddies in school. My two brothers would also dress up. But we would always dress up, not only for carnival days. As gauchos, cowboys, Tobas [tr. note: An ethnic group of Gran Chaco] and warriors from other tribes, and as Lakotas, Comanches, Superman, Batman, Robin, Vikings and - of course - as San Lorenzo players. We had great fun, but we didn´t attend the carnival parties.
The great Comanche, Quanah Parker.
Is your Aunt Cristina alive? What sort of relationship did you have with her years later, as an adult? She seems like a special woman who loved you very much. The image that you paint of the adolescent kids going after your beautiful Aunt Cristina reminded me a bit of Elizabeth Taylor´s character in the Joseph Mankiewicz film, Suddenly Last Summer, based on a Tennessee Williams play that Gore Vidal adapted to the screen. It´s a very crazy film about psychosexual problems and all kinds of lies. The homosexual cousin of Taylor´s character (Catherine Holly) uses her as a bait to attract boys he fancies. Excuse me if I offend you comparing Cristina with this character by Taylor. Of course that melodrama has nothing to do with your aunt, but take a look at those photos of Liz playing `Cathy´ in that film.
Going back to the Carnivals: in Spain, where I am now, they are celebrated in a big way in many places. The dentist I go to here in Madrid is an ingenious man. He and his wife make a big effort every year to make the costumes, do the makeup. Quite an artisan´s homemade job. This year they won an important prize, I think it was in a party connected with the Italian Embassy, for going as the Addams Family.
The Addams family.
I was with him in his clinic a couple of weeks ago. Usually I hate going to the dentist because I feel very, very mortal there. Do you remember in the Quixote when the hidalgo [tr. note: nobleman of a low rank] looks at a tooth of his which has fallen to the floor and speaks about death? I cannot remember exactly what the old knight says. Like many, many phrases and descriptions in that great book, the comment on the teeth is a mixture of the serious and funny, a deep truth. What I´m saying is that for some reason, I have always had sensitive teeth. Buddha is supposed to have said that "pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional." I agree with that idea, and the truth is that for half a century, I have endured a lot of broken bones, cuts, tears and burns without complaining that much. But, for some reason, the blows to the teeth and dentists' interventions bring me close to an existential void. Everything seems useless and my physical decay, that process that, as much as I usually ignore it, feels very close to me, keeps advancing inexorably. I usually think that dentists, for all the delicacy with which they handle their instruments, are playing with my skeleton, nibbling at it, grinding it up. But this dentist, Ángel, treats his patients very gently and keeps us entertained (distracted) with his stories. While Ángel was fixing a fucked-up molar, he asked me how they cover up mustaches and beards in film and theatre. He had to play a bald man, Uncle Fester (in Spain I think they call him 'Tío Fétido'), and he didn't want to shave off the lovely mustache he has. I asked him why he didn't play Gómez Addams (in Argentina he's called 'Homero Addams,' right?), the head of the Addams Family, who has a mustache and who also resembles the dentist quite a bit. He told me another family member had already taken that part. So then I suggested he try to cover it up with wax and then cover it with makeup in a color similar to that of his face. I think in the end they covered the mustache with a mixture of melted sugar and something else. He said this homemade process hurt a little, but it sounds like the "look" turned out very well.
Ángel is a very cultured man, and an excellent dentist. I think the people who work with him get a little nervous every time I go to the clinic because we spend hours talking about history, anthropology, medical discoveries, theatre, books, music, the evolution of agriculture, whatever. The last time I was there a fuss was kicked up because while he tried to fix my molar, there were patients waiting while the dentist, besides asking about the makeup requirements for the Addams Family, was telling me about the history of anesthesia, with horrible details about war injuries and horrific accidents. He talked about all sorts of terrible amputations that they did before the discovery of anesthesia, very savage and grueling things. He had to give me two pain shots for the molar he was fixing for me because he spent quite a while talking about medieval slaughters between Moors and Christians.
Some dentists cause pain.
Ángel is a great lover of life and wisdom in general. From what he's told me, he was a clever, slightly mischievous little boy who grew up in the arid countryside of Castile. He ended up being a very respected dentist in the capital, but he still has the curiosity and life force of that precocious little boy. Later I'll tell you more about what I learned from this extraordinary man who's such an optimist.
Another thing that comes to mind if we're talking about the word "Carnival" is the classic horror film from 1962, Carnival of Souls, directed by Herk Harvey. Do you know it? It's tremendous. It was made with [only] $33,000, but it's not a B movie. It's a special work, a jewel of an independent film, a cult film. I ended up seeing it every year during Halloween (October 31st) when I lived in the United States.
It has very weird organ music and the story totally transports you to a very original mental state, creating an hallucinatory atmosphere without the use of special effects. I think that David Lynch likes this film a lot. It's based on a Lucille Fletcher story called "The Hitchiker." Besides being the source of the film, Carnival of Souls, this story was adapted by the young Orson Welles for his radio program during the time he was filming Citizen Kane and it was also adapted for an outstanding episode of the 1960's television series Twilight Zone. Actually, what they did for Twilight Zone is more faithful to Fletcher's story, where a woman who is traveling by car is continually tormented by a guy thumbing a ride.
The Twilight Zone- "The Hitchhiker".
But I love the film, Carnival of Souls, because it's so weird. In the flick, the woman is pursued by the ghosts of two passengers who fall into a river with her and her car. The woman escapes from the accident and moves to a new town to forget the tragedy. She gets a job as an organist in a church, but she can't escape from the ghosts. There are times when no one seems to see or hear her, as if she's also been turned into a ghost. The most interesting aspect of the film is how the world of the living and world of the dead coexist and mingle.
I'm really intrigued by the movie you recommend. Undoubtedly, achieving certain atmospheres without using special effects is a little like what Adorno said regarding the abuse of exclamation points by writers. He said that the text in and of itself should be intense, without needing to have the punctuation bring out what wasn't achieved by the skill of the writing. The name of the story that inspired the movie - "The Hitchiker" - also seems brilliant to me. I'm going to try to find all that and see it. This week I saw The Descendants, a movie I liked a lot. I don't know if you saw it. I liked that idea, which was also on display in another very successful movie called Little Miss Sunshine and which, like The Descendants, deals with families and their essence. I'd say that every family is dysfunctional. Here we can refer to Tolstoy's famous opening line from Anna Karenina: "All happy families resemble one another; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way".
I'd say that all families are, to a large extent, sick, and that the acceptance of that is what makes our family ties more intense, more real. What it means is that either we fight windmills, like Don Quixote, or we fight and reconcile with our real loved ones. When Clooney's character leans toward his comatose wife and says, kissing her, "Goodbye my love, my pain, my companion," it's clear that the package he bought, in spite of the great dissatisfactions she brought him (Clooney finds out from his daughters that his wife was cheating on him), is what he wanted.
Clooney in The Descendants.
On the other hand, it's been many years since I've seen my Aunt Cristina; she was part of my nuclear family that was scattered when my mother died. I know she got married, had a lot of kids, and that she lives in the province. I hope she's doing well. What you said about the incidence of the dead among the living reminds me of what happened to me when Luis Alberto Spinetta died. I don't know if you listened to him, Viggo, but he was a brilliant musician who I felt a connection with from a very early age, due to his great sensitivity, with a new way of being Argentinian: being Spinettian. From the time we go to school the older kids sum up what we need to be. Well, discovering Spinetta, his lyrics, his brilliant melodies and his way of dressing was always very inspirational for me, so much so that I think that he managed to introduce a new province into the Argentine monad. And the night that Spinetti died, I was sleeping and in my dreams the wind beat strongly against the windows of the house and I dreamed that my wife was telling me, "Close the windows; a storm is coming," and I calmed her. I told her, "It's Spinetta, it's Spinetta."
Beautiful, that thing about the wind in the dream hitting the windows, brother Cuervo
- that the presence of a poet would arrive that way. Yes, I know Spinetta's music. He had just started the successful first stage [of his career] with Almendra when my brothers and I left Buenos Aires with our mom, but I remember my first encounters with that voice, that poetry, that courage, that nakedness. Years later, I found out what El Flaco
had done and his significance in Argentina while I spent my adolescence thousands and thousands of miles from the country of my upbringing. A great loss not having him with us so that he could create new beauty. As you said so well, he marks a before and an after in the music and culture of Argentina. Although everyone knows him, I'm putting a link here to his tender song "Muchacha (ojos de papel)
" [Girl of paper eyes] sung by El Flaco
and his Almendra band members, with commentaries about how they made it and what it expresses:
and a little bit more of that song:
and a little of Almendra rehearsing in 1970:
and to finish up, one more gem - Barro tal vez [Mud Perhaps]- with lovely pictures of the poet:
The body is gone, but his words, his voice and the inspiration that they awake in us continue on with us.
I don't know if you saw the exhibition match between Switzerland and Argentina. Messi was from another planet. He's a complete warrior, a criollo
rascal who never lets up. His game was clever, generous, impeccable. He scored some incredible goals. The first, the result of a lovely wall pass from "Kun" Agüero, demonstrated the tremendous physical control and mental serenity that la Pulga
has in critical moments. I hope that "Kun" and the other members of the national team continue cooperating so well with Messi. That's what was lacking in the Copa América last year. We'll see if some of those who say that Messi's no good without Iniesta and his other Barcelona teammates will start to shut up. I'm putting up a link here to those goals in Switzerland:
And our beloved team? Now, there's rhythm and hope. It looks like Madelón's good example is helping renew confidence and hope. We won our game with Argentinos [Juniors], and now the great domestic clásic
o is coming up. Are you going to the pitch?
Welcome home, my son. Shall we play a little?
...And on March 8, the Cuervos will celebrate a great step forward:
How great, what you told me about Spinetta. Today was the first day of preschool for Anita, my daughter. And we had to go, with her mother, for her orientation. What happens is the teachers introduce themselves and talk to a circle formed by the parents, a pretty informal thing that seemed relaxed and just great to me. We parents and the children were there and the teachers decided to dedicate this year to music, and they handed out a beautiful song by Spinetta to begin the school year. The song is called "Seguir viviendo sin tu amor" ["To Go On Living Without Your Love"], and it's on the album "Pelusón of milk". It was beautiful; we all sang it and many people's eyes filled with tears. As Spinetta said in another emblematic song of his: "Even if they force me, I'm never going to say that not all time because it has passed was better; tomorrow is better." It´s better because when I started school, what we sang was the national anthem, something I can´t help relating to people marching off and dying. I heard the national anthem when the military overthrew Isabel Perón and I heard them on the radio when they sent a lot of boys to die in the Malvinas. It might be a slogan but it strikes me as revealing: every time the State decides to kill, it calls itself the homeland. On the other hand, as I told you, I watched the match against Argentinos Juniors in a little house in the middle of a wood, on the beach, with my friend Lisandro Alonso. It seemed to me that CASLA defended themselves better and could have won by more goals. Bueno was not that sharp, but that`s also typical of the goal strikers.
Argentinos 0 - San Lorenzo 1.
Now Boca's coming, a difficult team, mathematical, anti-lyrical (although Riquelme is playing), one you have to get around by playing as Ciclón's history requires - attack, without thinking about it, taking the lead. In this kind of situation, the first fifteen minutes are going to be key. Well, whatever the result is, tomorrow is better.
A Cuervo hug
Last edited: 19 March 2012 15:42:17
© Viggo Mortensen/Fabian Casas/Club Atlético San Lorenzo de Almagro.