I am still working on my main review of the film but I wanted to go ahead with my postings on THE MOON IN THE GUTTER, so I am starting with the critical reactions post.
The critics ranged from being not kind to downright nasty on Jean-Jacques Beineix's innovative and brave follow up to his successful DIVA. While a few seemed to accept the film on its own terms, something that is essential to do with this work, most fought it with everything they had. It seemed 1983 wasn't a good time for an ambiguous European art puzzle...one wonders what the reception would have been like ten years before or ten years later?
"Delirious...Too bad it isn't a homage to anything but Beineix's monumental self indulgence...a headlong plunge into sheer ludicrousness...unrestrained, and often near incoherent...silly and tedious...a gorgeous bore. Beineix wastes alot, an unusually warm and assured Kinski...lots of enticing seedy settings, part of an entire Surrealist world designed imaginatively by McConnico and sumptouusly photographed by Philippe Rousselot."
-Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times-
"THE MOON IN THE GUTTER sits up and begs for the brays of derision which greeted it an Cannes...with all its faults, THE MOON IN THE GUTTER shows a filmmaker straining every nerve to make a film."
-Tom Milne, Monthly Film Bulletin-
"Portentously and preposterously absurd...Beneix's studio marooned THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is bad enough to be almost relish able...Depardieu and Kinski are encouraged to move and react with the verge of somnambulists."
-John Coleman, New Statesman-
"unmitigated disaster...static and boring...Kinski seems to have forgotten everything she has learned about acting..."
-David Denby, New York-
"you will never come up with anything more idiotic than THE MOON IN THE GUTTER...load of rubbish...as the characters go mad, the audience does too...so contrive and obscure it seems to have been made by a man who was hallucinating...Kinski is hopelessly dazed and out of place, but isn't she always...the girl is a cabbage head...THE MOON IN THE GUTTER was unveiled this year in Cannes, where it was greeted with screams of rage, boos and audience insults."
-Rex Reed, New York Post-
"TESS Made Kinski famous. Her films since then have made her infamous. They've been beyond bad, fiasco's. It's as if she brought out the worst in those directors attracted to her...when a director was thinking his fuzziest, he thought Kinski...miasma of artifice...incoherent."
-Joseph Gelmis, Newsday-
"a big failure...mostly sill, still you can still see the great talent in Beineix."
-Jack Kroll, Newsday-
"If cinema were really a visual artform, THE MOON IN THE GUTTER would not deserve its rude reception. Where it fails disastrously is in the invisible structures of drama, narrative, psychology and sociology. It connects neither with its genre, nor with its audience."
-Andrew Sarris, Village Voice-
"a sumptuous, dazzlingly photographed melodrama that becomes, alas, relentlessly boring. It is all style and no heart, and the giveaway is that we never really care about the characters even though each one has a suitably tragic story...I emphasize that the movie is beautifully photographed because the visuals are really the only strength...I saw the film at this year's Cannes Film Festival where it really tried the patience of the audience. For its American release, the distributors have trimmed 11 minutes. Since the whole film is of a stylistic piece, that can only mean 11 minutes less of what was wrong in the first place."
-Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times-
"Coming right after Jean-Jacques Beineix's sparkling, gift-wrapped DIVA, this oppressive romantic tragedy, in which Gérard Depardieu plays a stevedore obsessed with memories of his dead sister, may be a shock, but it's the kind of excruciatingly silly movie that only a talented director can make. (Hacks don't leave common sense this far behind.) Beineix is celebrating the poetry of the movies, which for him is the poetry of artificiality. Nastassja Kinski is posed like Hedy Lamarr in ALGIERS; she's the unattainable-the moon that shines on poor Depardieu down there in his Brando T-shirt in the film noir gutter. The actors are helpless, because the movie isn't about their characters' emotions-it's about Beineix's swooning response to the earlier movie stars that they're standing in for. Beineix can sometimes engage us by his visual flourishes--abstractions of men at work, blood that's like spilled fingernail polish, a cathedral like a witch's palace. But it's a suffocating, empty movie in thick, nocturnal color, and with glamour music that's an exaggeration of Hollywood's old soaring and slurping scores--the kind that make you wince during revival showings."
-Pauline Kael, New Yorker-
"Beineix does manage to charge the affair with a sense of fierce anticipation; that aside, the film seems like an exercise in the non-development of narrative. In the end, though it's not the disaster the French press cracked it up to be, only the images stay in the memory as the Fabergé egg lies smashed on the floor, a pile of glittering fragments."
"In general, David Goodis's noirish thrillers have inspired short black-and-white movies, but Beineix followed his successful debut with this long and lush adaptation of a 1953 crime novel stressing the somewhat surreal aspects of the writer's work. Extravagantly and audaciously, if not successfully, he shot the entire movie in a studio, encouraging cameraman Rousselot to put a high gloss on the murky story of a worker (Depardieu) obsessed with finding the rapist who drove his sister to suicide. The critics, including the French, rounded on Beineix, having heaped praise on his Diva."
"Yet another variation on the favoured Gallic filmic outsider-meets-babe fantasy. Almodovar, even Fassbinder, revisit Hollywood genres with evident irony-in-excess but with Beineix's try-hard exercise in style one's never sure whether its just not bad taste at work, for surely nothing this laboured can be taking the mickey out of anything, let alone itself. Depardieu looks like he's walked off the set of West Side Story, Natassia Kinski fulfils her usual eye-candy function and Victoria Abril is virtually unrecognisable under an 80s perm."
"stylish but downbeat melodrama in which the adjectives “delirious” and “pretentious” sum up the movie correctly...The Moon in the Gutter is visually stunning. It was filmed in elaborate studio sets, mostly lighted by arcs and photo floods, with an elegiac music score by Gabriel Yared, in which the camera movement and choreographed gestures by the actors (call it Stand and Pose Method Acting) were sometimes used as a replacement for real character motivation or plot logic...The cast-particularly Kinski and Abril really rise above the film style and Beneix provides both actresses fantastic entrances: Kinski’s arrival to the café is hauntingly memorable and Abril’s scene on a swing is one of the most erotically charged sequences ever...The Moon in the Gutter may be indulgent and pretentious, but it's never banal or routine, it received uneven reviews on its initial release and won a French Cesar Award for its production design."
-Pablo Vargas, The Spinning Image-
What strikes me in looking at these reviews is the inability of almost anyone to concede that the very things they are criticising are exactly what Beneix was going for in his film. THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is very much a film about film, about artifice, about gloss, incoherence and dislocation. Ironically Rex Reed's complaining that it seemed the film was made by someone who was hallucinating is actually pretty dead on, but just not in the way Reed meant it.
The only type of films that inspire in me the kind of bile many of these 'critics' spat out in the above quotes are films that are lazy carbon copies of other films with no imagination, style or life of their own. THE MOON IN THE GUTTER is a raging, poetic film that is totally unique and alive. It baffles me that so much rage could be thrown at a work as unique as THE MOON IN THE GUTTER, but that is the way it goes a lot of the time. Just go back and check some of the original notices to LAST YEAR AT MARIENBAD or BLADE RUNNER, or any other film that dared to sacrifice some of the things that complacent audiences and critics had to have spoon fed to them in order to appreciate their films.
Is THE MOON IN THE GUTTER flawed? Yes, but beautifully so...I would rather spend two disorienting hours with it than have any time with most of the so called 'experts' above that crucified it nearly twenty five years ago.