I often question why I vastly enjoy or keep returning to certain works of art. Why are the paintings of Edward Hopper so appealing to my visual and emotional sensibilities? Why do I love the music of The Beach Boys so much so that I often spend entire weeks on end listening to nothing but their music? What is it about Chaplin’s ‘Little Tramp’character that tugs so strongly at my heartstrings that it brought tears to my eyes the first time I saw him finally walk off into the long distant road at the end of Modern Times?
All of this art I remember enjoying at first for an ‘outward’ reason. The visual compositions of Hopper are interesting, the music of The Beach Boys sounds great, and Chaplin’s character is uproariously funny and dreadfully tragic all at the same time. But why keep returning to this art; why keep consuming it over and over again? Why does it mean so much to the person I consider myself to be?
As time goes by, I realise that the inwards ‘myself’ part is key here. Our favourite art isn’t just something we keep going back to merely because we find it interesting or entertaining, but rather because we see elements of ourselves within its reflections. Think of your favourite film right now. Think of the protagonist, the issues they face, their hopes, dreams and fears, their achievements and their flaws. It doesn’t matter if they are an animated animal, a brave superhero, a struggling parent, a mafia crime lord, or a talking pig; there is something there that bypasses the intellectual programming of your conscious thought and heads straight for your soul, whatever that may be. The film may reflect an element of your life, your childhood, your personality, a great fear you hold; it may reveal something about who you would like to be, or who you fear you may one day become.
The reason I say all of this is because Vera Chylitova’s 1966 film Daisies recently made me think… why do I keep watching this film? I’ve seen it so many times, but yet I’d easily stop writing this right now just to go and watch it again.
The first time I saw the film, I enjoyed it for those ‘outward’ reasons. I loved Chylitova’s camera work, the rebellious editing style and non-linear… narrative, if that word can even be applied. I remember watching one scene where our main characters, both called Marie, persuade a wealthy older man to buy them dinner at a well-to-do and presumably very expensive restaurant. They soon start acting very silly, eating and ordering huge amounts of food, causing a minor scene, and breaking just about every social etiquette rule in the book. As this happens, the film too breaks a few rules of its own, switching abruptly to different camera coloured filters that rudely pronounce themselves onto the screen before swiftly making way for the next random colour, evoking a harshly hacked jump cut within the footage each time this happens.
To some viewers, what I just described may sound like a nightmare of a scene, but to 12-year-old me, this was incredible, I wanted more rules broken, I wanted more silliness; I wanted to see every filmic and social etiquette rule stomped firmly to the ground in a rebellious triumph. But yet, I didn’t want anyone to get hurt, I didn’t want any character to be made to feel bad, I wanted to see society laugh at itself and feel good for doing so. I may be a minor social rebel, but I’m not a revolutionist. Like the film, I’m not out to take down the social system, but I do find it both infuriating yet very comical all at the same time.
This is a film about just that, about two women who break the rules, not because they want to, or because they are trying to prove a point; not because they want to change the world or because they want to take anyone down. They act with silliness out of frustration, which proves to be an effective mechanism by which they attempt to navigate and understand the world around them.
At the end of the film, when the two Marie’s encounter a huge buffet and destroy the entire thing in a giant food fight, they do so because the prospect of throwing food seems more exciting than eating it. They take apart something that has been crafted and layered, turning it into a complete mess. Yet, interestingly, once the fight is over, they carefully attempt to reorder the broken plates and squashed food back to the exact way they found it – or at least the best they can.
My point here is that, the first time I saw Daisies, I thought it was the swift editing style and creative camera work that may me love watching it so much. And while that’s true, what keeps me coming back to view the film over and over again is its spirit, and how that spirit relates to my own personality.
I myself am a quiet person who struggles with social rules, I understand their purpose for existing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t frustrate me to no end sometimes. I enjoy picking these rules apart by being silly, by making fun of them, and by taking joy in breaking them from time to time. And yet, when the fun is over, I politely return to trying as hard as I possibly can to pick up the pieces and make sure no one is negatively affected.
This film enjoys being a ‘polite rebel’, it doesn’t fit in, and doesn’t always care, yet doesn’t not care either. It tries to act in what is sometimes the best way to act, to recognise that most things are silly, most things don’t matter as much as we first think, yet does so in a way that doesn’t look down on the viewer, but encourages them to feel the same way about the film itself.
Daisies knows of its own absurdity while never taking itself too seriously, not even for one second, and I think we need more art like that in this world. As with all great art that we love, this is the reason I keep returning to the film over and over again.