Dreams That Money Can Buy Review

Dreams That Money Can Buy sounds more like the product of some alternative Hollywood than it does the real thing. The film in which Hans Richter, leading exponent of the Dadaist movement, met the B-movie and invited some of the elite of the European avant-garde along for the ride, it’s hard to believe that this production ever went ahead. And yet it did: the ultimate film maudit, a feature-length US-produced English-language curio which gathered together such key talents as Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Max Ernst, Fernand Léger, Alexander Calder, even John Cage. Furthermore, it’s a complete one of a kind, existing solely on its plain. Though locatable, perhaps, within such genres as science fiction, fantasy and film noir, it’s too rich and too strange to ever be satisfactorily pinned down; there’s so much to see, and be surprised by, that it’ll never fit into any easy categories.

We can break it down, however, Dreams That Money Can Buy being an anthology picture with each of its co-creators tackling their own individual segment. Richter takes control of the framing narrative – a poor schmuck wannabe poet by the name of Joe (the ultimate everyman) discovers the power to summon up dreams for others – and relinquishes the rest of the picture, save for his own noir-ish dream sequence, to his fellow directors. Thus Ray comes up with Ruth, Roses and Revolvers, an evocatively titled and self-reflexive piece about cinema and cinema audiences, Léger turns in The Girl With the Prefabricated Heart, a bizarro musical piece “starring” storefront mannequins, and so the list goes on. The overriding connection is that no director’s contribution resembles the other: Ernst’s blend of horror and erotica, for example, bears little ultimate relation to Calder’s charmingly naive puppetry pieces.

The results, then, are a terrific melting pot of divergent themes and ideas, an exultant cry of “vive le difference!” We may have our own preferences with regards to the respective merits of the individual sequences (Ernst’s, Léger’s and Duchamp’s being my own particular favourites), yet in combination they lead to a fruitful whole. The fact that we can shift from Grand Guignol to noir to pre-cinema cinema in the space of a single picture is especially liberating – and the further fact that each of these represents a personal expression only emphasises that feeling. Indeed, given such circumstances it seems difficult to justify or explain the claims of “domesticated surrealism” which have been levelled against Dreams That Money Can Buy and are repeated amongst this disc’s liner notes. After all, isn’t Discs, the fearsomely aggressive combination of Cage and Duchamp, as hardcore an example of experimental cinema as you’re likely to find; certainly, it would attain such a label had it been released as a stand-alone short. Similarly, The Girl With the Prefabricated Heart is much in the same vein as Léger’s earlier, and almost unanimously celebrated, Ballet Mécanique, whilst Desire, Ernst’s section, is as striking as anything else the artist produced in whichever medium you care to mention.

Moreover, there’s little of that Hollywood “sanity” surrounding Dreams That Money Can Buy. Narrative conventions may in place in relation to the framing device and Richter’s Narcissus episode, but then Richter – the man previously responsible for Rhythmus 21 and Ghosts Before Breakfast - isn’t the kind of director who adapts easily to classical Hollywood forms. For starters, the soundtracks were recorded entirely in post-production and are thus disembodied from the film to a great degree, plus we have various flauntings of standard syntax to contend with. Besides the use of actors and a linear storyline, there’s little which ties Dreams That Money Can Buy to conventional cinema and as such comparisons to the Dali sequence in Spellbound, say, or the alcoholic nightmare in Powell and Pressburger’s The Small Back Room (films which did subsume surrealism and experimental cinema into more conventional works) are ultimately futile or at least misplaced. For this is a film which floats along all on its own, a remarkable achievement in itself, yet also one which is backed up by its own distinctive, often astonishing results.

The Disc

Finally gaining a release in the UK courtesy of the BFI, Dreams That Money Can Buy arrives onto Region 2 disc as a highly covetable package. The film itself is, presumably, presented as well as could be expected. The budget was, of course, low and as such both the image and the soundtrack show signs of less than perfect production values. Edits seems to have scars on the image during certain cuts, there are a number of pops and muffles to contend with regards to the music and dialogue, plus the colour process under which Dreams That Money Can Buy is far less vivid than Technicolor would have been. And yet there’s nothing the BFI’s handling of the material which seems to have made any of this worse. Rather we’re getting the film, flaws and all, no better and no worse than the materials allow.

A further note with regards to the soundtrack is the presence of an alternative. The Real Tuesday Weld, a British combo who have meshed their work with cinema before, have come up with an intriguing accompaniment which they had initially toured live. Though maintaining much of the original dialogue via samples and the narration of “English Alchemist” David Piper and Brazilian chanteuse Cibelle, the band really do put a different emphasis on proceedings and the results are, at the very least, interesting. Certainly, the original is more than likely going to be the one which you return to more often (especially as we’re not dealing with silent cinema here), but it’s a welcome addition and one which, personally speaking, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of.

Elsewhere the disc also provides an interview with the Real Tuesday Weld with regards to the picture itself and their efforts and, most welcome of all, a trio of Hans Richter’s early shorts. Rhythmus 21, Ghosts Before Breakfast and Everyday are all here in there entirety and make for great companions. (Although, to be perfectly honest, the fact that these are released onto DVD is more than enough, no matter what their accompaniment or reason for being issued.) From a modern point of view it is perhaps Ghosts Before Breakfast which remains the most pleasurable, though all three deserve their place in the history of experimental cinema. A bizarre, funny stream-of-consciousness Dadaist epic involving crude animation, bowler hats and plenty of the unexpected, it’s as gleefully different as the main feature itself and certainly as deserving of as many repeat viewings.

Rounding off the package we also find a 28-page booklet which includes liner notes by Phillip Kemp, an interview with Richter conducted in the late fifties for Film Culture magazine, notes on each of the contributors (including the Real Tuesday Weld) and full credits.

As with the main feature, optional hard of hearing subtitles are available where applicable.

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Last updated: 19/04/2018 04:42:17

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