dreams and fantasies

Dreams and Fantasies

The dream creates its own laws which belong fully to the domain of neither man’s conscious – nor his uncon­scious­ness. Compared to the chaotic everyday life of the waking, dreams are not strange but rather clear and candid …”

Thor­sten Botz-Bornstein,  Films & Dreams

Facts are not as important as are dreams in genres, thus serving as dream­s­capes for their audi­ences. Dreams and night­mares are the emotional baselines for storytelling in the genre approach. The world of the night­mare is central to the horror film and to film noir. A world where dreams come true is central to the Western, the adven­ture film, and the musical …”

Cooper & Dancyger, Altern­ative Screenwriting

Here is a contra­dic­tion: Film is the most prosaic of mediums, dealing with the concrete and specific evid­ence of our senses; and yet it is also, at the same time, the most subjective; one that seems to be directly connected to the interior world of our feel­ings and imagination.

Maybe because, as Ingmar Bergman has claimed, our absorp­tion in a good film is a kind of surrender;  where we are primed and laid open; not unlike the submissive, hypnotic state exper­i­enced on a psychiatrist’s couch or in the privacy of our bedroom. We go to the cinema, in effect, to dream – or in the hope of achieving some­thing like that rapt and trans­formed state.

Such stuff as dreams …

Perhaps exactly because films are a kind of waking dream they have a unique fluidity. In dreams it is possible to flow between different dream states without restric­tions and the same kind of freedom seems to exist in the cinema, We are not just more suggest­ible, sitting in the dark, we welcome this kind of explor­a­tion, the line between fantasy and so-called reality becomes blurred.

You can see this happening in some of these clips taken from films that do not belong to a fantasy genre but have many attrib­utes of films that do.

Wild Straw­ber­ries 1957

An ageing medical professor reas­sesses his life while jour­neying to his former univer­sity to receive an honorary degree. The old man recalls the disap­point­ments and disil­lu­sion­ment that have left him cold and guilt-ridden, attrib­utes emphas­ized when he encoun­ters his equally cold and resentful son. Bookending Borg’s odyssey of self-discovery are a series of symbolic images at the begin­ning of the film (a clock without hands, a man without a face) and a haunt­ingly beau­tiful finale, in which professor is beckoned back to the “perfect” world he left behind so many years earlier”.

Hal Erickson, Rotten Toma­toes


Alice in Wonder­land 1966

Directed by Jonathan Miller, and shot in a crum­bling old Victorian hospital, this version of Lewis Carroll’s story has the ‘trippy’ feel very much asso­ci­ated with its era. Behind that, however, is a serious attempt to uncover the Freu­dian roots of the book. It’s still one of the most original adapt­a­tions for the screen.

Repul­sion 1965

Roman Polanski’s film is the story of a woman losing her mind in 1960’s ‘Swinging London’  where the extro­vert liber­alism of the setting  – groovy people doing groovy things – is contrasted delib­er­ately with the cruel frag­ment­a­tion of its protagonist’s sanity. Cath­erine Deneuve is perfectly cast as a fragile, slightly vacuous, beauty whose narcissism hints at her inner flaws.

The film includes many of the themes and some of the imagery that was to feature more graph­ic­ally in The Tenant (see below) and reflect Polanski’s exper­i­ences as an outsider living in foreign coun­tries. For its time, this low-budget study of para­noia; tech­nic­ally unsoph­ist­ic­ated and shot in a restrictive, almost claus­tro­phobic style; was quite distinctive and defin­itely helped launch Polanski’s career in the west.

Read the Photostory
Photost­ories used to feature in old style film magazines. They tell the story of a film in still photos with captions. This photostory of Repul­sion (PDF) is from an Orbit public­a­tion called The Movie.

The Tenant 1976

Although also a study of madness, like Repul­sion, this is a much more auto­bi­o­graph­ical film. Polanski himself plays the central char­acter and the para­noid perse­cu­tion he under­goes was based on Polanski’s own personal exper­i­ence as a foreigner living amongst xeno­phobic Frenchman. There’s also more than a hint of the super­nat­ural in the story.

Eraser­head 1977

Henry Spencer, a man living in an unnamed indus­trial waste­land,  agrees to wed mother-to-be Mary (Char­lotte Stewart) and moves her into his tiny, squalid flat. Their baby is a strange, reptilian creature whose pier­cing cries never cease. Mary soon flees, leaving Henry to fall prey to the seduc­tion of the girl across the hall (Judith Anna Roberts). An intensely visceral night­mare, Eraser­head marches to the beat of its own slow, surreal rhythm” –  Jason Ankeny, Rotten Toma­toes

One of the strangest films ever made, Eraser­head never­the­less has an internal logic that somehow makes sense and contains images and sequences that could have been the result of a collab­or­a­tion between Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. A remark­able example of how the fant­ast­ical is some­times more truthful than any attempt at realism.

Read the Photostory
Photost­ories used to feature in old style film magazines. They tell the story of a film in still photos with captions. This photostory of  Eraser­head (PDF) is from an Orbit public­a­tion called The Movie.

In addi­tion, you may also like to read this article on David Lynch (PDF)

The Hour of The Wolf 1968

This is another study of mental disin­teg­ra­tion and the closest Ingmar Bergman ever came to making a genre movie. Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullman are a couple who live on an island where Von Sydow, an artist, is recov­ering from a supposed mental break­down. There are people on the island, including a sinister, ‘vampire-like’ family, but we are not sure if they actu­ally exist or are simply in Von Sydow’s mind.

There are some extraordinary scenes in the film where Bergman manages to create a strange, hyper-real, genu­inely dream-like feel to the action without using any special effects. It makes you wonder what he might have done if he’d ever attempted to make a conven­tional horror film

Seconds 1966

In this psycho­lo­gical thriller directed by John Franken­heimer, an ageing and burned out banker (John Randolph) hears about a myster­ious organ­isa­tion that can give you a new life and iden­tity – at a price. Hamilton decides to undergo the procedure and becomes Rock Hudson, an artist who lives in Malibu. Although made in the ’60s, tonally the film is much more like the para­noid thrillers of the seven­ties which it prefig­ures in its themes.

Making this movie was quite a brave choice for Hudson, a main­stream star at the time, but perhaps he iden­ti­fied with a char­acter who was ‘living a lie’. In this inter­esting early ‘psyche­delic’ sequence – very much in the zeit­geist in 1966, but also still fright­ening to most people – the banker is black­mailed with a mind-bending drug into doing some­thing incriminating.

Don’t Look Now 1973

Nic Roeg’s film, based on a story by Daphne du Maurier, is ostens­ibly a super­nat­ural thriller but its interior life is evident from the very first shot. Roeg’s speci­ality and talent as a film­maker is this ability to penet­rate the mundane and take us into a hyper-real dream world and this is one of his most successful attempts.
The film centres on Laura and John Baxter (Donald Suth­er­land and Julie Christie) who lose a child in a tragic acci­dent and make a trip to Venice to try and recover from it. The atmo­sphere of the film relies as much on its setting as its story for effect.

Mark Cousins intro­duces the film

Script extract
Taken from the opening sequence Don’t Look Now extract (PDF)

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