MAD DOG MORA
PORTRAIT OF A PROVOCATEUR – PHILIPPE MORA
In »Howling III: The Marsupials«, ageing horror film director, Jack Citron, is without a doubt a caricature, but one that is portrayed with great love and deep appreciation. Andy Warhol’s dream of erasing the borders between popular and high culture - a dream of a gonzo creature feature being considered art - has been one of the great aspirations of Modern Art since the 1920s. These traditional and obsolete categories that separate art from trash - the very categories that are created and perpetuated by ideology as well as the market - should once and forever be annihilated.
Citron’s creator - the filmmaker, auteur, documentarian, and painter - Philippe Mora has always lived out this dream in his work. Films such as »Howling II« and »Howling III« constantly defy all conventional classifications; the same goes for the paintings from his time in London in the late 60s and early 70s and his novel »Sixties Apocalypse«, fi rst published in 2012. Pop is art, and art is pop. It can be as easy as that.
A great photograph from 1970 shows Mora, no older than 21 years old, in front of one of his paintings: »Popeye and Olive’s Expulsion from Paradise«. It is a splendid appropriation, which sets the characters from the popular comic book by Elzie Crisler Segars into the simple scenery from one of Albrecht Dürer’s famous wood engravings: »Expulsion from Paradise«. Two worlds come together - worlds that have had no point of contact until that moment, but nevertheless determined one another. A marvelous, unbelievably liberating humor lies in this painting. One of the saddest and most bitter stories in the history of mankind suddenly loses its pathos as two extremely exaggerated comic figures reveal its truly tragic dimension. Laughing about a disaster becomes a weapon against it. And it is precisely this dialectic of his - the intoxicating play of opposites - that pervades Mora’s films. What is seemingly incompatible and in no way belongs together according to conventional wisdom is paired up and unified in his films with the utmost matter-of-factness. His found-footage documentary »Swastika« - a portrait of Germany in the years of the Third Reich - was screened for the first time in 1973. The film offers no commentary to the visuals but the film aptly ends with his touch: a recording of Noël Coward’s »Don’t Let’s Be Beastly to the Germans«. The sarcastic tone of the song not only underscores the dread of the images we have just seen but also and importantly cues the viewers to open their eyes to another and larger picture. After all, there is only one real purpose for mankind: the fight against the evil. Only then will Everyman become a Sisyphus or a Captain Invincible - the betrayed but not completely defeated Superhero. And he will be, in spite of it all, a happy person.
Born in Paris in 1949 as a son of a German-Jewish Resistance Fighter and raised in Melbourne, Philippe Mora, like every major modernist, is a relentless provocateur. His works incite discomfort and always run the risk of being misunderstood. Films like the orgiastic horror show »The Howling II«, or »Absolutely Modern« - an homage to the Australian Art scene of the postwar era, full of affectionate tender love and delicate melancholy, offer an open, completely unbiased perspective. Only through this can he open their entire bursting richness, closed to all other conventional limitations, to a way of seeing born out of the free and eccentric spirit of the 60s.
This era, decried over time, whose ideals were perverted and buried in terror, lives on in Mora’s films; its longings and hopes, its artistic dreams and revolutionary politics that flowered in 1967 when Mora first arrived in London and began his painting career. And his core never wavered. Like Roy Lichtenstein in the preceding generation, or Sidney Nolan who belonged to the artistic circle of his parents Georges and Mirka, Mora threw himself into each of his works: from the new into the inexhaustible reservoir of pop culture. And at the same time, managed to transcend it.
It is undisputable that both of his »Howling« sequels and his epochal teen-horror »The Beast Within«, just like the superhero musical »The Return of the Captain Invincible« and his contemporary adventure movie »A Breed Apart«, are shaped by genre conventions. But for Mora, these are only a frame - beyond which he can take any moment. Every free fall plunge into in the realm beyond the frame is equal to an epiphany. And so a film like »Howling II« becomes a subversive school of the art of watching: Punk and Art history, orgies in fetish costumes, and Goya’s Saturn, are perpetually and permanently reflected in the bizarre throne room of the werewolf queen Stirba.
Mora’s films - the genre works of the 80s and 90s just like his more recent independent productions, in the purest sense of the term, such as »German Sons«, »Absolutely Modern«, »Continuity« and »The Sound of Spying«, bear witness to a world in which the sublime and the primitive are inextricably entangled. Out of their dissident union grows an individual art form and truly unique body of work. It’s a universe unto its own, and a universe in which the seed that was first planted by Surrealists and later by Pop-Artists, eternally blossoms.