Vintage Films: Central Bazaar

1970s, bfi, Central Bazaar, films

central bazaar

It’s not an original pun, but Central Bazaar by Stephen Dwoskin is really, truly bizarre. We watched it in two parts about a month ago, and even after much discussion and thinking on it, I am still unsure as to quite what I think of it. Many of the online reviews likened it to a Seventies version of Big Brother, where a group of people – locked in the director’s house – are filmed over the course of a couple of weeks. But that is to do it an injustice, and suggests that it may be some kind of cultural snapshot of the period. These people are a disconcerting mix, chosen without a structure in mind (there are no ‘types’ that I can clearly identify) and appear to spend most of the time in a druggy haze, having been instructed to act out private fantasies with their fellow housemates.

The actual soundtrack to the action is stripped away and replaced with a discordant, electronic hum. Which is both uncomfortable and completely soporific (hence the need to watch in two parts, we both drifted off to sleep about halfway through). The shots are lingering, wobbling, moving in and out of focus rather than fast-paced editing.

It really has rather more in common with an improvisation, the performers daubing themselves with make-up and pulling on random garments from [what I assume was] a provided dressing-up box, before enacting ‘scenes’ – usually sexual and psychological. There are threads of potential stories, punctuated with a few moments of relief from the electronic hum where people sing songs or read stories, but since there is no speech and no context, it is difficult to follow. But in itself, this is fascinating. It means the film is as good as your imagination and patience.

In many ways, it is a perfect example of style over substance. It looks incredible. Or at least, it looks incredible if grubby Seventies sex, interiors and dressing-up are your kind of thing. These characters all look the part of interesting, sensual, bohemian people. But whether or not they actually are is completely obscured by the techniques of the director. If you have a yen for something truly unique, but which many have deemed “unwatchable” (a word which usually makes me prick up my ears and click the ‘rent’ button on Lovefilm) then it is certainly worth a watch. Otherwise, these screengrabs capture what is best about the film – the visuals.

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