A change in collective attitudes often takes momentous events. While the moon-landing of 1969 was mildly underwhelming, the image captured in preparation for the American eagle’s landing, a year earlier, was immensely moving – revealing a vastly expanded mirror to our home that spoke then, and speaks now, directly to our physical and spiritual senses. Guiseppi Ungaretti had fitting words …
‘What are you doing earth in heaven? Tell me what are you doing silent earth?’
With hindsight we can see how major historic events are being incubated years in advance to their happenings. Artists have a knack for shocking us before a message becomes endorsed, which is why I connect the film ‘To Witness Daisies’ (1966) with the earth-rising image, both testing limited perceptions. A click on the title should bring up the movie on your tube.
Not unlike the awesome view from outer space, Věra Chytilová presented an equally powerful pointer to our poor stewardship of earth. Initially forbidden in the former Czechoslovakia, her tragic comedy was released two years before the Prague Spring, and two years before the earth-rise image promised a new respect for nature. I hoped for a greater understanding of cosmic interconnectedness, and an assessment of the fear-based need to subdue and control the wild, the primitive, the imagination, soul … all the ignorant projections on the feminine principle, which, I think, are responsible for spoiling our planet and wounding the psyche of men and women. Film critics felt uncomfortable with Věra Chytilová’s controversial, iconoclastic statement on the demeaning role assigned to women in our cultures. Niels Bohr expressed, ‘As long as an atom is not seen it does not exist, it is a ghost.’ To me, this implies that seeing, individually and collectively, is an active process, influencing the reality of our existence.
Watching ‘To Witness Daisies’ for the first time in 1994, I was struck by its theme of psychic starvation – sharply relevant today – and the insanity of societies where women are kept in an infantile state so as not to threaten male supremacy. The symbolic power of the film’s images, with their rhythmic and gradually peaking orchestration, creates a timeless sphere of magical reality, where meaning is expanded and revealed. The opening sequence of the film gives the context. A mechanical wheel turns relentlessly to the sound of regular drumming. The scene is interspaced with silent images of war, bombs exploding, mainly into the sea, symbolically representing the mother of all life on earth. Next, the frame shows a sun-deck by a pool. Filmed in black and white, the deck re-appears as a transitional stage. and one could add, a place at the edge of the personal unconscious. Here a question is voiced, ‘What next?’ The two teenage girls wear bikinis and their movements are mechanical, like the wheel. The sound indicates a lack of oil in the system, and the funfair trumpet played by one of the girls suggests a flat and mocking victory.
The outlook is set. ‘I’m a doll, everything is been spoiled in this world.’ And, as a way out of boredom, ‘If everything is being spoiled, we will be spoiled too.’ The decision to mirror a spoiled world is made, a death wish gains momentum. Daisy Blond wears a daisy chain and uses it at intervals as divination device. When the chain is thrown out of the frame, it lands on water and signals the next mise-en-scène, like a Garden of Eden where the girls dance, and where Daisy Blond picks the legendary fruit, affirming ‘their kind’ are products of a biblical myth with politically useful interpretation that prevail.
Film critics felt uncomfortable with Věra Chytilová’s controversial, iconoclastic statement about the role assigned to women in our cultures. Acted by Jitka Cerhová and Ivana Karbanová, the Daisies have various names throughout the film. I call them Daisy Black and Daisy Blond, though they are one and the same, since their communication resembles an internal dialogue trying to deal unsuccessfully with a moral conflict that offers no bridge between good and bad. To Daisy Black nothing matters, she has a timeless distance to things, everything is a game. For Daisy Blond, the extrovert, hunger makes food a central theme of the film – hunger in the sense of wanting to fill her sense of emptiness with substance. I won’t venture into psychology, but it’s easy to draw a connections to the Anorexic symptoms many young women suffer from.
During a film degree course in 1994, I wrote a long essay on ‘To Witness Daisies.’ Unable to transfer the old Mac files when switching to a PC with internet connection, many essays need re-typing, which I hope to achieve once other projects are out of the way. For now, I thought I inspire you to watch the film – and maybe share your thoughts about it.