The Porcelain of Seagull Island in The Deadly Bees (1966).

 

rev., May 29 2013

Posted May 24, 2018, to mark the fifth anniversary of rmarts blog.

The movie, The Deadly Bees (1966), has a quite thorough arrangement of white porcelain figures scattered throughout the rooms of the farm houses and pubs of Seagull Island. It has some of the best porcelain in all of British Horror, and, it would seem, makes use of porcelain to communicate tacit unspoken meaning about the character and mis en scene. These are some examples of the good porcelain. In every main set of the movie, there are good examples of porcelain. In Michael Ripper’s pub, lovely deer bookend guardians on the mantel;

bees 1in the beekeepers main parlor,

bees 2where the farmer-landlord’s wife sits unhappily, an extravagant figure;

bees 3in the agent’s office, with also a rare horror movie sighting of Beatle memorabilia (behind the porcelain lamp)

bees 4in Suzanna Leigh’s bedroom, as we see sequentially, a virgin mary,

bees 7but, then, also a faithful dog

bees 8when the police look into it

bees 5and in Findlay’s lair,

bees 6a changing exhibit of porcelain. What does it all mean? In the pub, the porcelain on the mantel is apotropaic, indicating, as much as Ripper’s wary eye, that the pub has seen a lot in its years and is always on the lookout for more. In this space, the porcelain are miniaturized guardian figures. In the parlor of the beekeeper, however, the porcelain speaks of the wife’s view that the husband has become a stone figure, her ill will, her boredom, has made him that. He represents the something gone wrong in their relationship, and he is shown quite often, coming in and out of the space. In Leigh’s bedroom the Virgin Mary porcelain only bespeaks its meaning when Leigh is lifted half naked into bed by her rescuer after having almost been stung to death by the deadly bees. She is there for intercession, for best wishes. The dog next to her adds the element of guardianship to it. There is no cult figure in the house. In Finlay’s house, however, the porcelain plays a somewhat different role. A very odd thing about his room. Leigh thinks it is lovely. But he has a very odd set up that gives him away right away, though the movie successfully misdirects us away from it: he has inserted his apiary into the window of his rooms, so that the bees cover one wall, separated only by a pane of glass. When he first shows this set up to Leigh the porcelain on the bureau below the window is a shepherdess, but when he shows her what it is really all about at the end the figure is different, it is male, and a shepherd. Probably just a continuity error, but perhaps indicating a certain falseness about his set up, that it is premediated and covering something up. These porcelain, along with the butterflies and deaths head moth, are specimens, collected, they are relics of discovery, they indicate that he is a scientist, and more likely than not the mad scientist. Just by reading the porcelain then one can tell what is going on, if one wishes to read it. In each case, the porcelain bespeaks the character of the person who owns or will live in the room shown. Finally, the fact that in every case on Seagull Island all characters have secrets, have a cold and unfeeling exterior, then hide their emotions, and do not communicate well with others, it all indicates that they are constructed porcelain figures. The figures in this case say something about their condition as human beings. After having set up the scene with these porcelain linchpins in each setting, I expected in each case the porcelain to be broken or made use of in some way to act to resolve the problem. But in fact only one piece of porcelain was broken in the movie (unlike in Hitchcock’s original, when a whole row of hanging teacups are sawed off by the bird flock). It was also somewhat disappointing that no porcelain was injured in the sense of being used in the plot, in some way. The fact that they were not indicates to me that perhaps the director did not know the language of the kingdom porcelain anymore and simply put it all in there because that is what he was taught to do, but then he made little use of them. This means that in the end while extravagant the porcelain in The Deadly Bees is conventional, and not instrumental; or, rather, it has some instrumentality, in speaking of characters, but was not instrumentalized in a creative way in the mechanics of the plot.

If Hitchcock had his birds razor of teacups, and destroy all the china, it would seem natural that a swarm of bees in a house ought to have caused the character under attack to fling their arms about in a way that knocked over all the porcelain. But this is where the Englishness of the movie and the transience of the medium of film in the B movie comes into play. Some modern cinema, in the studio style, was rooted in the unconscious of literature and books. There is an attachment to books here too, with, in fact, the bookshelf and books becoming a major instrument of the plot. That is, Finlay’s ruse is to go by the other place to get a copy of Simmons beekeeper book, but then Leigh sees that he has it right there on his shelf and he is lying. So, it plays a part: it is authority, but also reveals the true situation in terms of who is the mad beekeeper. But then there is also a second unconscoiius for modern film, the theater, and its conventions of set direction. One suspects that porcelain property originally developed on the stage for various reasons. It exists in film, then, as a carried over convention, with, perhaps, little clear sense by any film directors as to what its purpose is. It is just there, because it has to be there. As a result, it lies in the unconscious of the film, and, for that reason, communicates the unconscious of the character. Thus, when we come to the final confrontation, Finlay identifies himself as a British gentleman scholar to the end by confessing to his aggression with a cup of tea in hand.

bees 10The fact that his serving tea serves to try to keep the misdirection going and dissemble his aggression makes his picking up a teacup with hot tea in it a possible aggressive act, but, in an understated, almost unconscious way, British style. But he is embodied and epitomized in his politeness by that tea cup. It is not just that tea time makes everything right, in Britain, but that tea cups do indeed tell us whats what witt the characters in British movies. All the British need do is read the micro body language movements of his service, to tell what kind of man he is. All of this tacit body language is British, and most likely unconscious even to British audiences. Finlay has then planned a very tidily instrumented death for her. The bees are right there, in the wall, a slide of glass away. He has the formula, he was douse her with it, open the window, voila, she is dead. But she turns the tables on him by getting hold of the solution and splashing it on him: and so his bees attack him, and, in doing so, they do take apart the tidy room that he has created for himself.

bees 11Again, the movie has a very tidy instrumentation. The bees are kept in an apiary; But he has made a killer bee variant. They can be controlled by the tape recorded sound of the death’s head moth, which he has, and which hypnotizes them into stillness. But then the ammoniac smell of death attracts the bees, and they attack anything covered with it. He puts on the tape recording of the death’s head moth whir, but then she gets the smell of death on him, and that causes him to back off and knock his pictures crooked, one of the death’s head itself, the other of a picture of flowers, as if art made for the viewing pleasure of the bees. All of this way touched off by one toss of a mantelpiece porcelain, which set off the chain reaction in which the solution gets on the wrong person, but the right person for the movie.

The movie’s instrumentation is expanded upon based on his theory of the smell of fear, which attracts animals. It’s a very intimate thing for a horror movie to be based on, smell. More so, that the smell is transmitted by clothing, hands and onto skin. The contagious element of this causes a few deaths by mistake, both the dog and his wife get killed by mistake because of rub off of the smell from a rag in a bucket. But then Finlay plants the smell directly onto Leigh’s clothing, and when she strips for bed and hangs the dirty jacket on her bedpost, that is what attracts the bees. Then when Katy Wild takes the jacket out to the laundry that brings the bees through the woods after her, in a verbatim recreation of a typical Hammer vampire attack in the woods, though this time with bees (a vampire variant, then).

bees 12The most brutal attack scene in the movie involves the wife of the beekeeper getting stung to death. But the most important attack in the movie is directed of course at Leigh. It is always the outsider that brings in trouble, and, Hitchcock suggested, always the unattached hysterical woman who stirs up nature and sets it awry. The move does have a variant of the conventional shower scene. But it is not a shower scene. This is because Leigh had to have at least some residual rub off of the smell of fear still on her skin, her hands and maybe her upper chest where the sweater covered her. So, it is a brushing teeth scene, but she is in her bra.

bees 13But, when she hears the bees, the fact that she is in her underwear, gathers from the scene the sense of vulnerability that penetrates to the viewer, in any case

bees 14And then the bees fill the room

bees 15The fact that she is in her bra makes her fright a good opportunity not only to see all of her facial grimaces but to see her body, in particularly her chest, react too, and when she tries to push a towel under the door and set it on fire every push of her arm muscle causes her breasts to quiver

bees 16It is also during these attacks, that the movie fails most grieviously, perhaps fatally. The bees swarm in the foreground, the scene is in the background: it is done by superimposing one film or using rear projection. Then, spliced in with that, are a few shots where a real bee was set on a real towel, or in hair, on, one or two, on Leigh herself (earlier, with the death of the wife, interspersal went for a lot of extreme close ups of bees stinging human skin, almost as if from a medical film). And, then, in between, general unpeopled shot of bees swarming through the room. The problem with these three separations, if you will, is that they remain too far apart throughout, they never come together, and never therefore coalesce into a convincing filmic event that makes you think it is actually happening to them. The special effect therefore looks very unspecial, and fails to convincingly render the horror of a bee attack. In fact, Leigh only really succumbs at the end to the smoke, at which point she is rescued. Then, as if to recoup, or in a second thought, she immediately, in her recovery bed, has a dream sequence replay of not just her experience but the whole sequence of events. Surely the instrumentation of such a dream would be that she figures out whats what through it, but it only serves for her to re-experience it and when she wakes up, the bees gone, but she still is in shock and thinks they might be there, she responds to the room itself. And in this moment, we peel back a layer of veneer to see what we should think of the room, as she glances at a landscape painting.

These are pretty good agencies, but the sequence wraps up with the apparent villain putting her to bed, the sacrificial lamb of an island dispute between two beekeepers, the primary agent of the movie, with her body and clothing, the main agent connected to her, followed by books (not to mention a car, the dog) leaving porcelain to play a supporting role here. Porcelain in this arrangement then comes to represent the everything staying the same that country folk like, the repressed incommunicative unhappy lot they live in, day in day out, not to be disturbed by outsiders. At last, then, in these country locales, porcelain is apotropaic, but, warning, stay out, don’t bring your problems to us, leave things as they are, it’s the English way.

bees 17Which is actually epitomized by a contrast between the same shot as above, which traumatized Leigh sees, looking out into her room

bees 19and then the room again, as is, but without her, and without the bees, because they are not there anymore, though the landscape painting then free to represent place, but always threatened by things coming at it from over the horizon

bees 18in Leigh sitting traumatized on her bed, seeing the bees even when they are gone, in fact, the inadequacy of the special effect might have been better utilized, to advance beyond simply doing some Tippi Hedrun hand gestures and neck jerks of re-experiencing, if she had developed a sense that bees were still there in her purkinjee imagery, and she saw bees for a while, but she doesn’t. In any case, this exposes the wallpaper as too busy, exposes the odd pillar and the door to the bathroom as a bit threatening, because odd, making her feel vulnerable, and there she is, vulnerable, there, her raised exposed armpit suggesting the danger of that corner, and then the innocuous landscape painting is exposed as, what I theorize it is, bringing outside in, and outside fears in, an introjection, in the room, of her fear of the country, and so it attracted the bees, by one reading, and still might harbor them. It’s a good reading of the secret meaning of these apparently benign features.

One last comment about the main room property of the movie, Finlay’s apiary insert

bees 20It, at least, is not simply a structuralist reference to some other aspect of the film (as the two way picture mirror in Cabin in the Woods is, introduced, then plays no role whatsoever in the movie, it only serves to fill us in than some higher than average level of meta distance is in control in the movie). At least, this odd eccentricity of rural Brit life turns out to be the primary instrument of the movie, and its malfunction in the end results in the concluding crisis: that is, he opens it up, the bees hypnotized by the death’s head, but, then, she tosses the monkeywrench porcelain, the tape goes bad, the smell is spilled, he is attacked, all gone wrong. So, it has a high degree of instrumentation, it’s not just passing scenery.

 

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Black Christmas (1974) Revisited: Margot Kidder’s Barb torn apart by the world in a time of transition.

 

Rev., May 15, 2018.

Dedicated to Margot Kidder, d. May 13, 2018. Disclaimer: readings of the tea leaves of inferences in the text as they speak to me in a particular viewing are not “views” that are necessarily those that I hold regarding current social issues.

As an observance of her death, I watched Black Christmas (1974) again with attention to the role that Margot Kidder played in it, Barb, the sharp-tongued, heavy-drinking, entirely-messed up, but fun, and very much of the moment sorority girl, who comes to a bad end. It is a small, but fierce performance, and in many ways the movie is not imaginable without it, indeed it won her some awards. But, then, the question is, why? why does her performance capture the nature of the movie better than anything else in it? The main issue is that Black Christmas, like several other movies of the time that I remain intrigued by, is a kind of shambles, and filmed in that shambling, unclear style, full of loose ends, that a lot of 70s directors were toying with at the time (The Exorcist was one of these, but also Midnight Cowboy, The Omen, several others, it was the style of the time, it was gritty, realistic, but upsetting, so many loose ends, such an obtuse way of making a movie). I have not yet been able to put my finger on what exactly accounts for the special character of these movies, except by way of talking about the invasive-contagious associational chain created at the start of The Exorcist, but by focusing on Kidder’s Barb in Black Christmas that might get me there.

The movie starts out with a house invasion, with the killer of the 13-year-old in the park coming to roost in the attic of the sorority house. Then we see life inside, and it is spun about by Barb, coming down the stairs, with a drink in her hand (also note the honeycomb Christmas decoration, an all-directional apotropaieon, which, for that, screams look out)

amar 1while she stirs the pot

amar 2the killer invades the house

amar 3and it will stay like this, it is almost as if she is the “reason” or at least the symbol for the reason why the killer is there, which is that is he a first entry in the counterrevolution in horror against the sexual revolution, a victim-psycho of the sexual revolution who now wants his revenge at all the slutty girls in the world (there is little question that underneath the unhinged liberalism of the 70s, that is, detached from progressive actual politics, there was a riptide current activated). So it is important to note that while the killer is already, in media res, psycho, she is already, at the very start of the movie, pouring heavy, and drinking a lot

amar 4and while her dog collar indicates a perhaps sadistic edge, her open blouse is revealing of a woman comfortable with her sexuality, even flaunting it all over, and then, of course, a cigarette to make of her a moll, a wild girl who is indulging in everything (Kidder died of throat cancer thus I fear this pose took ten years off her life in real life)

amar 5she is even tending the bar, opposed to the bookshelves

amar 6and in a synchrony that is quite strange her drinking is paralleled to the psychokiller finding a place to squat up in the attic, and it features several shots of the rocking horse, why would that be up there? being rocked back and forth

amar 7I mean, it is a trope, instrumentalized

amar 8a lot

amar 9the last time I had to deal with the rocking horse was in dealing with the true haunting of Biddesden house, where it might be that a legend of the old duke riding his horse up and down the main stairs was perhaps the basis for rocking horses showing up as the toy du jour in all the upper floor bedroom nurseries. It may be that the rocking horse also signifies the nursery, as spelled out in English lore of the upper class, that is, the special out-of-touch world of the upper class nursery-educated, with their secret languages and way of talking. It is also true that the “rocking horse people” are mentioned in Strawberry Fields, and they may be taken to be people who have become accustomed to living in fantasy, stiffly, plasticly, going through the paces of corporate or middle class or upper class life, but detached. The horse aspect might also bespeak a wild animal element to this too. So, having seen this settling, we get Barb on the phone, calling upstairs, no problem, because she is also a loud mouth, and has no problem screaming

amar 10and it is almost as if the movie is timed to make the point that by calling up, she situated the killer at his point of remove, and so he took up his place, vis a vis her, or all the girls, all “whores” represented by her sluttish ways (again, this psycho POV)

amar 11then she goes back to talking, she is talking to her mother, and when she says, mother you are a real gold plated whore, but also that she has a ski place in the country, we learn that she IS a rich girl, but has been entirely neglected by her family, so has a deep hurt in her, for that

amar 13when she calls her mother a whore, she is seen POV by the killer, the first in-house sighting by him of anyone of the girls, all of whom are characterized thereafter as whores

amar 14and, of course, Kidder’s performance is so special because she manages to slip in between her moments of public bravura moments of private pain and fragility, as when, after the call, she is quickly devising a face-saving proposal, so her sisters don’t know what a messed up person she is

amar 15When, then, they get the first obscene phone call, in the movie, though it is suggested this has been going on for a while, Barb takes an interest in it, and is curious about its twisted sexuality

amar 16at one point even admits to being rather impressed that he has upped his game to talk of licking pussies, big pink pussies

amar 17and, then, another gem moment for Kidder, whatever this means, is she turned on by this? is her sexually liberated sex drive got so unhinged that some talk of oral sex by an obscene phone call turns her on?

amar 19she even has a smoke, listening in

amar 20and then returns fire and reassumes her role as the golem or guide in these matters, the front person, of the group, in dealing with the evils of the world, the experienced girl, and she taunts him, and almost at one point turns it into phone sex, and the other girls are horrified, thinking that maybe she is encouraging him, or putting a target on her back (which she is)

amar 21and then when Martin says that she is playing with fire, because a townie was raped last week, she says, you can’t rape a townie, meaning that townies are too tough to get raped, that is, it was part of it, for them, but also, she says, this is a sorority house not a convent, that is, we talk about sex, sex is good, sex is almost the point of all this, so, no need to worry

amar 22then when Carol, the first victim retreats, not being able to take it, Barb shoots at her, I know a professional virgin when I see one, and the others tssk along, though no doubt all sexually experienced by this point

amar 1 1and then the movie moves on. Later, at a house on campus (I am unsure of the timeline), where the sorority is staging a kid’s Christmas party, she reveals her even worse sense of the inappropriate by, in front of all the kids, at a public event, deciding to continue her binge, drinking bottle-heavy

amar 25she even SERVES ALCOHOL to one of the kids, while the father of the missing girl, Carol, is talking about his missing child on the phone (for this she might be arrested today).

amar 26then at the police station, when the Carol case begins to actually develop into something, she is back at “the man”, at playing at hijinks by relaying the sorority number to the dumb desk sergeant, this an old trope, it is FE exchange, that is Fellatio 2450, etc (note that when the girls first gather around the obscene phone call, the side of a calendar one sees only spell out, on screen, FE FE FE FE FE, for February)

amar 27and, then, that evening, the drinking still continuing, she is at dinner, or after dinner, sitting on a couch, paging through no less than a Penthouse magazine, while the father worries

amar 28it is a Penthouse, with a centerfold of a female nude, which she was scribbling on, and the question would be why is it in the house, if not to satisfy, in the logic of the picture, a same-sex vibe in her character (could she be miserable because closeted?)

amar 29then she gives her talk about turtles having sex for three days without stopping, unlike men, who take about three minutes, another jab, and after that, she is shown to bed, for she, they all now realize, has had way too much to drink

amar 30but not without a total reaction that she has internalized a bunch of inferences that, because of her taunting of Carol, she drove her away, to her room, and by upsetting her, and not letting rest in the group, she caused her death, and she is like, why don’t you say what you are thinking? you think I had something to do with this, I caused this, it’s my fault

amar 31one more time, some time later, we see her again, as we find out that she has yet another weakness, she has asthma, and should not have been drinking for another very good reason, it triggers episodes, but she did, and here she is, attending to by Hussey

amar 32but for this, she comes directly into the POV radar of the killer

amar 33then Hussey tucks her in, but not really, as she is pretty exposed, indicating her weakness, perhaps she left her chest exposed to help her breathe

amar 34and she goes, because drunk, right back to sleep

amar 35but while it was previously suggested that her first introduction and her rambling attack on all things by way of being drunk and wild, echoed the ingress of the psychokiller into the sorority house, making of him an all but homunculus form of her, them the two sides of the same coin, the failure of the sexual revolution, here, there is now a direct misdirection involving her to allow her to die unattended by the protection she was promised by others. As the killer steps aside, to hide, passing a picture of sorority girls past

amar 36Hussey is drawn downstairs into seasonal ritual by the appearance at their doorstep of the Christmas carolers

amar 37she then has to snap out of it, from the emergency mode, and having all these troubles in the house, to play the hostess, in a pro forma way, for the kids, for the season, and stand at the door and as part of the ritual listen to the kids sing out their song, next to the red star

amar 38and yet it is almost as if the red lit wreath star is this movie’s version of a shower sequence, as it is to the obligations of the season acts as the device that causes her, behind her back, to NOT PAY ATTENTION to what she should be paying attention to, and in that backstab blindspot behind her, behind the formal niceties of the season, the red lit star is contrasted directly and immediately with its eclipse form, the parodic black mass version of Christmas cheer placed by Barb on her dorm room door, the black Christmas wreath, ornamented with little bottles of alcohol

amar 39and made darker still (ie, black), by the killer’s shadow in POV falling on it

amar 40and then he enters the room, we see him in silhouette, but figured out by the glass unicorn in Barb’s surprisingly delicate collection of glass figures, the arty nature of which I have commented on in another note. But, at this point, I want to point out the unicorn nature of the nexus itself. That is, this is a clash of two injured people, a psycho and a drunkard, both are easily breakable, he is animalistic, she is glass, the horn perhaps represents his knife, his weapon, his ill intent, but the “unicorness” of it represents, in keeping with my previous analysis of the movie’s use of the trope of the Dead Eyes of the World, the absolute wrong-place at the wrong time stupid nonsensicalness of them coming in contact with each other, to this bad end. In this capacity, a unicorn represents an act of violence of shocking unnecessariness, a freak accident, as they say, but, here, a freak killing, with no point, except that it happens. And Clark is saying that this happens, this reduction to glass, in the wake of pro forma keeping of things like the holidays, and behind or in the eclipse of a wreathe reversed by alcohol into a black mass negation, which ten breeds other darkness. But, it is important to note, Clark is not saying that this killing has any agency, this is a clusterfuck incident in the big wide rationalized modern world, and not a ritual killing done in some contra or psycho world divorced from it, this is just the fuckedupness of the god of carnage of the world, expressing itself. I previously noted that Barb’s barbs are all expressive of pure spite and messing with the system and “the man” and have no serious point or in any way other than just being acting out of her hurt and pain and giving it to others. That is, I think Barb operates relative to the world of the 70s, much in the same way as the bikers in California biker movies in the 60s acted out irrationally and absurdly against “the man” and “the system” and in that sense I see their actions as but reactive responses in pure spite or hate to the current oppressiveness of mass modern life (see my piece on what the Swastika most definitely does NOT mean in a 60s biker movie, ie it is NOT a regression to neonazism). What to call this? I graph out her situation like this

amar 41

that is, while it is tempting to say that she is living in a glass onion, to see the world through it, and feel impulses from the wider world’s Sentients and Ambients through it, I do not think that is what is going on here. She has let herself, perhaps by drink, maybe by sex, be dissociated entirely into the far scaffolds of rationalization that afflicts modern life, where symbolic and utterly stupid secondary issues clog up the brain and carry things away in endless rationalization. And, then, out there, caught in a clusterfuck maelstrom, wider Sentient forces come in against her, and, because she is defenseless, having given in to all the world’s pressures, and let the world tear her apart, the Sentients whirl in in a manner of cutting, and tear her to pieces, leaving behind a raggedy ann doll ruination. I ran across a quite good word last night, in Gibbon. He talks of a sixth century Byzantine treasurer, Alexander, who reduced the size, but not the figure, of Byzantine coinage, so that the same size denomination was worth less, for that he was called PSALLICTION, the scissors. I believe I will call “psalliction” the process by which far off Sentients of a menacing sort tear to pieces persons who have allowed themselves to get caught up in the riptide of rationalization on the scaffolds of meaningless resentment and unhappiness in modern life (its symbol, then, a paper honeycomb decoration). And there is little question to me that Barb in Black Christmas (1974) is portrayed, for all her pulledapartness, as a girl who has been psallicted or subjected to horrible psalliction by the turn of the times from the 60s to the 70s, where a kind of hook of contrary red and green flows not unlike in a tornado circulation made those few years quite difficult to navigate. So, this is the particular locale of a particular tearing-apart mechanism of the world, and Barb in her bed is in that sour spot, ready for the kill

amar 42

and I noted before how odd it was, such a vivacious, aggressive woman, a sitting duck, dead asleep because of her drinking

amar 43even even uses the unicorn horn as the murder weapon, again, I will call a “unicorn” a basically freak killing, with no sense, or the victim thereof, a person who simply did not have to die, and, perhaps, I have talked about another of this type in The Undertaker, The Black Swan, here a kill that makes no sense, except as to convey the idea that these times are totally fucked up, Barb the Unicorn getting it then

amar 1 2and the minute before death shot, also a trope

amar 45some interaction with her visuals in her room, again reinforcing the “she asked for it” vibe

amar 46then, that’s that, there is a sense of the scene, she does reach up, to fight back, but she is helpless, it is over quickly

amar 47and the movie ends the rather sharp contrast between Christmas Caroling and Christmas Harrowing by pulling back to the black Christmas wreath, festooned thematically with a whisper of blaming at what made of her not only a sitting duck, but a unicorn death.

amar 48now, there are a few odd complexities that I did not pick up in an earlier screening, for one thing, now that Barb is dead, psychokiller can spend some time in her room, so the next call, I think, comes from her room, the empty bed that of her roommate, and by the phone, though I do not know how calls could be made from inside the house, nor does the movie try to explain this oldest of urban legends, and we see by the phone a poster for the McHenry sisters

amar 49then, I think, Andrea Martin must be her roommate, because she comes right in, to see if she is ok, and she gets it too, easily, from behind the door, so he stayed put

amar 50and I would certainly like to know what these posters are, but cannot make them out *though it has both a Che Guevara and a spreadeagle vibe)

amar 53then, later, when Hussey is told, leave the house, she nonetheless, being a good girl, has to go up and check for Barb and Martin, and so she comes back into the black Christmas wreath eclipse too

amar 54and it is at this point that she sees his Christmas wreath, Martin and Kidder wrapped up as if in a parody of triabic consummation, and is terrified

amar 55and since he is STILL on the other side of the door, we get a view of his eye, the cycloptic POV of the killer, from behind the door, looking, now, at her

amar 56two things here, or three. One, first of all, I would wish to know what the posters in Barb’s rooms were, because if by one’s being swept away by contact with elements of popular culture one is completely unfamiliar with that one is put into a state of unhingedness that can lead, in fact, to psalliction. I recollect being regularly exposed, on a the film schedule at my college, a whole series of early 70s current movies, if not blockbusters, then at least in theaters, such as Joe, Straw Dogs, Scarecrow, Panic in Needle Park, Deep Throat (yep), Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, Monte Walsh (terrible), and on and on, in which one was yanked out of one’s comfort zone to be asked to confront aspects of life one did not even know about, and sometimes this was quite upsetting (I can document this movie going as I have a record). The capacity of the 20 year old to absorb all this is limited, and thus can lead to simply feeling the scratching effect of psalliction. If we knew what she was watching, we might have a better sense of how close to the edge she was, in just reacting angrily to a world, nothing of which was working for her at the time (a feeling common in the early at-sea, unhinged 70s) (the most extreme example of which would be the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, by the unreal fantasy regime of the Symbionese liberation army, but which resulted in realworld confusion for her, and a severe case of disassociative disorder)

Second, I have noted that the killer was introduced as if in a duet counterpointing Barb’s first great spin of this-worldly bravura and posturing through the house. Then, Barb was killed when Hussey had to be watching her, but was distracted by the pro forma obligations of Christmas (the nondiegetic irony of this might’ve amused Kidder, whose career was said to be launched when Brian di Palma left a giftwrapped copy of a script for Sisters under her 1971 Malibu Christmas tree). Finally, Hussey, breaking the cop’s rule, and the cop failing to get her out of the house, first realizes with shock that it is all real and she is in trouble by seeing Barb murdered in her bed, now Christmas wreathed with Andrea Martin. Thus, at this door, at the nexus of this black wreath, symbolic of the fuckedupness of the times, she is now sent running. But, she cannot get out of the house, so she retreats to the basement, so the opposite of the attic. And this is where a very odd scene occurs, and one which places the movie entirely into the rationalized zone of the world’s fuckedupness, far from actual horror. She has previously realized that in so far as Peter (Keir Dullea) was with her, coming down the stairs, but in a false positive way to us, that is, made for a moment to be the killer, when the third obscene phone call was made, he could not possibly be the killer, she is relieved. But, at the same time, she is very upset with him, and they have been fighting, even on the phone, fed into the cops’ suspicions, by the fact that she has told him she is pregnant, she wants to get rid of the baby, he is adamantly opposed. So, there is an inference in his shadow on the basement window that maybe she confuses the two. But, once he gets in, not only is he solicitous in his calling her name, but, seeing her, smiles, what are you doing back here? but, then, the movie breaks, and when the cops break back into the house they find her unconscious in the basement, with Peter lying dead on top of her, and so they assume, yep, got him, Peter was the killer, take her up to recoup, to leave her there for the final crawl away

amar 1 3I mentioned in a previous note a certain medieval cast to this bedside vigil. Then amazement that the police did not search the rest of the house, or even the attic. But they did not because they thought they had their man, Peter, killed by her defending herself from the psycho killer, the killer of one girl in the park, then three or four girls in the house. But THEY ARE WRONG, that is, the movie, this movie, in a way that is not all common, gets itself wrapped up entirely in the red herring, and glories in the red herring, and it concludes inconclusively by the police thinking the red herring is the solution. And Hussey it turns out, to get her way, to be free as a woman from the burdens of children, Hussey committed murder of a person she knew full well was Peter, not the psycho, she killed him, and will get away with. So, here again, THIS, in the whole mis en scene of the movie is itself a PSALLICTION.

I have not mentioned the obscene phone calls. They are odd. They are also the basis for the urban legend that the calls were coming from inside the house. But, the weirdest thing about them, is that they were beyond irrational, they addressed no one, they just gave voice, like the opposite of oracles, to the madness of the outside world, of life now, of the times we live in, and in the use of the many voices, the splicing is almost as interesting in the annals of strange recordings in 70s movies as the backwards ramblings of the devil in The Exorcist, or the like. I do not have the patience to work out the details of the rantings, or where the clips all cut together, into chaotic but frightening nonsequiturs of rage, punctuated by obscenity, come from, but they bespeak the times, and the chaos of the movie’s mis en scene, and, moreover, they are the ultimate expression of a way of expressing onself that even Barb has taken up, all just things said, crazy comments, one liners, all over the place,

you’re a real gold plated whore mother you know that?….. you can’t rape a townie…..this is sorority house not a convent……I know a professional virgin when I see one…..rare species of turtle that screws for three days without stopping, not three minutes, like most men.

Meaning that the obscene phone call, and the phone, strangely enough, for this is quite antique, first expressed, in the group call, by the holes in the receiver

amar 58then after all the hijinks about phone numbers, and then all the cops and robbers about the way in which calls are traced, and then the full phone, unanswered, in its cradle, as the symbol of the filter by which the voice of the angry Sentients come into this world

amar 59and again, the urban legend, he is in the house with you

amar 60all of this speaks to the fact that the obscene phone calls were the very central instrumentation of the movie, then reflected in the character of Barb, and that the irrational, multivocal, schizo, multiple personality insanity of the clipped sequences of the phone were also reflected in her all-over crazy retorting, and that then all of this represents aurally the ingress of Sentients into this world in a way that by the depleting process of PSALLICTION in rationalized scaffold places can tear people to pieces. For all this, in addition to all the issues raised in a previous note on Black Christmas (1974), Black Christmas is, as one of those ramshackle 70s movies that tried to capture the roughshod nature of the transitions of the times, a quite good movie, and one in which the all but unknown Margot Kidder kind of stole the show, in her brief performance of a young woman very much of the moment, Barb.

When Ambients Attack: hypnagogy in Justin Fitzpatrick’s contemporary art and in Red Eye (2003, Korea).

FUSION byline. FUSION entries make connections observed in passing between trope instrumentalization in horror movies, and in contemporary art, without any claim of influence or artistic intent–entirely my POV.

Dream guides class: Land of Nod Adjunct Ambient; Lattice-whoosh Adjunct Ambients.

Rev., Feb 15, 2018.

 

In another fusion moment, I commented on a work of contemporary art on FB by Justin Fitzpatrick

kor 1

 

And posited with four images, how it might’ve come to have such a decidedly odd, “wriggling” form. I supposed that it is based on a memory when, perhaps, he was napping on the couch, but nodding off while watching Jason and the Argonauts, where there is a work of art, of Hera as figurehead of the ship that talks to Jason to guide him

kor 11

And, then, in the background, his mother was doing the laundry, but had to hang up his socks on an indoor rack, maybe because of breakage of the machine, or it was winter, and so I related the laundry aspect of the piece, that there are sails in formation, but they are made out of hung athletic socks, and so that form develops from the trope of encountering a horror in the laundry, such as in The Creeping Terror (1965)

kor 3

And then the laundry

kor 4

And it turns out as this.

kor 6

But, then, all through the other works like this, with Sodomy, for example, there is a sexual inference

kor 7

and other works

kor 8

a close-up, strange things

kor 9

And the press release does mention sex

kor 10

So it can be inferred that there was a sexual element to this nodding in and out from the movie to the scene happening out in the room (a light land of nod state of hypnagogy I have written about a lot, but this then following from my treatment of the Land of Nod in Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and then my eternal evocation of the “tincan hollow” of hearing the world from out of a light nap, on the couch, just like this, so that Hera, from the movie)

kor 11

Suddenly asks him, in a trope that is right out of a porn scripting, “Do You have a boner?!” (in this rather extreme version of the trope mom realizes that her trick to get her hub up, by switching Viagra for Aleve, has backfired, as son has “accidentally” taken some, and now has a four hour erection, and in trouble

kor 12so like a good mom and because it is “her fault” decides, ok, I’ve got to help, so gives him a hand- and then a blowjob, then, of course, that doesn’t work, so it ends up with full sex, all an alibi formation to exonerate both from “we shouldn’t be doing this,” these alibi formations very similar to dream states, but mainly rationalized as daydreams). This is not what I am saying happened in the above, but suggest a similar trope scenario (lack of attention to the soft power cultural forces of porn and other scripts underlying a lot of strange sexual behavior in the culture, now being called harassment by all those subject to it, once somewhat just brushing it off, now rejecting it, as they pull back to radical positions, is what makes the current debate shallow, and bound to fail, these things are deep-seated).

kor 13And, then, in this case, the broom comes into it, because embarrassed real-world mother wouldn’t want to touch him, so nudges him awake with a broom, to shame him into pulling in his boner (and, in truth, I was given the broom once, when staying over at a young woman’s apartment she was annoyed by my snoring but perhaps thought it too erotically suggestive to in the middle of the night, in her night gown, actually touch me, to nudge me to stop, so she took a broom and I woke up  being poked, hard, A LOT, by a broom, no kidding!)

And that is my breakdown of what I think is its only explainable rationale, and in this first linkage of wriggling with a light dream state, I link this work to the Land of Nod, as a work of art conceptualized by way of remembrance of a hypnagogic moment of a sexual nature in one’s teens, projected into adult works of art.

But, then, my interest in the scene was deepened by the fact that the night before I had watched the Korean horror movie, Red eye (2003). In that one, a lovely food cart girl, Mi-Sin, begins to have haunting experiences. And this is indicated as happening in her POV, in the lattice, in its chandelier, by this shot

kor 15and in the best sequence in the movie, after looking at a little boy’s drawings, she is surprised to see how thorough one drawing is, as if in a Where’s Waldo way identifying every passenger on the train, but, the problem is, it is not THIS train, but this train on a night in 1988, and so she holds out the drawing

kor 16and then drops it, and it turns out that the whole train has converted to as was in 1988

kor 17and she is in that picture, so has walked into this dream memory place

kor 18

which is confirmed by a newspaper she finds out the seat

kor 19but, then, in an amazing moment, in the far back corner of her peripheral vision, she senses an unexpected movement. There is a backpack in an overhead and it moves, or, it moves on her eyes, she is alerted to trouble

kor 20

then, it rather remarkably, and I could not freeze the split second when it had arms reaching out overhead, it comes at her, a big figural blob of Idontknowwhat

kor 21

and it attacks

kor 22

and then consumes her, leaving only one eye staring out

kor 23

and then she drops to the floor, and it empties out, she snaps back to the present. But, what was this? Ambients are figures that haunt one overhead circling around you, or below, and come at you from the margins of your field of vision. There is the frontal field of vision, more or less straight ahead including all things off maybe forty degrees either side, and then there is peripheral. The peripheral vision of human beings stretches quite far off and back and if you hold your arm out you can still see your fingers move even if the arm is held someways back of the head, so the field goes out 180 degrees left and right, but also, even if you are looking ahead, thirty degrees back behind your head. But, as I have discussed before, human beings can have troubles with their peripheral vision. They seem to require that the periphery is covered, that is, there is some manner of protection there, so that they do not feel like they are being followed. I have conjectured that the sight of Castor and Pollux on white chargers at the far periphery of Roman battle lines, as reported in the Aeneid, and elsewhere, is a classic manifestation of men in a high state of fighting fervor needing to feel safe and protected on their flanks, and so to avoid feeling weak there they have provided the gods with the job of standing guard over their flank. I also noted that in the Land of Nod there is a tendency to see things far off in the periphery, as haunting. But this formation seems a bit deeper. There is an implication that in the lattice shot thus shot, with the eyes glancing back and forth, that this is happening at stage three lattice light dream, obsessing heavily, and then the periphery involved is expanding horizontally out from that, in a kind of animating complexity that can bring alive and make a wriggling monster of anything out there. Moreover, since being in the lattice has made you paranoid, all those things, in this state come at you much more forcefully, and maliciously, and, indeed, they come at you in a way that mirrors the movement of a haunting hand bearing down on you, to strangle you, a formation I equate with the whoosh, so, it could be said, this sort of thing starts out in lattice-activated adjunct states, then comes through the lattice of one’s obsessive POV, to then cast down to a nightmare state, to cause one to snap out

kor 24

that is, the lattice settles in, then it flips out into adjunct space, to animate it, to pick up adjunct objects and animate them, to turn them by successive states from hints, to homunculi, to wriggling forms, to monsters, to then come jump at you, on the lattice, then pull you down through it, to then snap you awake, out of a nightmare. It is an adjunct attack way to nightmare, in a semi-waking state. So, I equate these peripheral animations in the far adjunct spaces of the lattice as Ambients, but of a particularly dark, demonic nature, I guess for the moment I will call THESE particular Ambients Homunculi, with wriggling formation coming in to attack.

But, then, the fun twist in the movie is, a girl then finds a wig in the aisle. That means that the object is rationalized back in waking life, as a wig that has fallen out of a backpack (this is also the dream girl who can see hauntings, so this is not good)

kor 25

she then passes it to another girl, who eagerly hits the bathroom mirror, to try it on and see how it looks

kor 26but, then, as malicious wriggling forms will, it is animated, evilly, it strangles her

kor 28and it opposite-of-wigs her, that is, covers her, her face, reducing her to cyclops form of victimhood

kor 29

and she is suffocated by it, that, then, being the nightmare of it. So, I classify this as an Ambient attack too, and to me it is somewhat related, simply in its form of dream structure, to the Underworld piece by Justin Fitzpatrick noted in my treatment of his work today (while hair is clearly an obsessive trope in Asian horror, and it’s long-haired, therefore, ropelike, twistable form lends itself to spiralling in a way that conveys the possesion of the self by vertiginous forces leading from the lattice down the whoosh, it also has to be said it has a full-body quality too, invasive of all aspects of the body. In Don’t Click (2012), for example, an evil video on line shows a voodoo doll being stuffed with rice

kor 30and (amazingly) hair

kor 31the girl does seem to be lead along, as if haunted, by her own eidol come back to haunt her, that is, turning against her, repeated view of a model lashing out her hair (besides the Robert Longo origins of this fashion photographer trope, the only example of the use of the trope in US culture is in a lowdown form as a sign of “stripping bare” humiliation when the wigs come off as the women fight on the Jerry Springer show)

kor 32and then in a haunting evoking bodily disgust she feels rice emit from her body

kor 34and also hair

kor 36

which totally freaks her out, as a result, hair anywhere where it is not wanted, it is a deep horror in the culture).

Thus, this FUSION note finds a common ground, and a common means of creativity, in a work of contemporary art of the moment, by Justin Fitzpatrick, which, in my view, has to be called “wriggling”, and a Korean horror movie of fifteen years ago, both of which sought to capture the certain something in things imagined in hypnagogy, one in the first stage entoptic state I call the Land of Nod, the other in the ajunct zones of the lattice, or third level of hypnagogy, but, in both cases, taking a certain form, when Ambients attack.

The Crouching Venus and the cult picture in She-Devil (1957).

Rev., Mar 9, 2018.

Sometimes, it is almost unbelievable, how constant and unchanging is the secret language of film, the inferences suggested by the placement of properties in the background of sets by art direction, whether knowingly or not. And, often, I ask myself, how did they know this? and, even, more extreme, did they know what they know? But, in the movie She-Devil (1957), the docs are talking over the problem they are having with Zira, a woman who was dying, but whom they brought back to life with a fruit-fly serum that makes her immune to disease and injury, and, also, able to change her hair color at will, and, also, by the way, become a fierce femme fatale who uses and throws away men at will.

aash 1

in this scene, they are trying to reign her in, to bring her to surgery, for them to correct the error of having made her too immune from moral pain, and this is done in front of a classic mantel, the hearth of the house, representing the mentor doc’s power, and him in front of a landscape painting representing trouble, but also, perhaps, his control over that trouble, his ability to manage it

aash 2

but then she says, forget that, I am happy with who I am, I am going to stay this way, too bad for you, I’m leaving this house, and marrying the millionaire, leaving them to fear for the worst, as conveyed by the landscape painting

aash 3

and then it happens, as she walks out of the door of the room, there is a little statuette on the bureau or radio, where from they have been hearing bad news of her killing spree, and this is, no question, a variant on a trope I now call a Crouching Venus

aash 4

it is not quite the same thing, but very close, and visually fits the type, it is, in my view, a Crouching Venus trope object, which signifies on screen, just as the docs are now talking about pineal hypertrophy being the cause of her problems, that she has left their care and is about to pass down into the deeper, evil goddess run amok culture of her doing, and, here it is, meaning exactly that, just as in other movies I have found it in, the Korean movie Phone (2008)

aash 81 phonethe giallo movies The House with the Laughing Windows

aash 59 houseDeath on a FourPoster

aash 55and Hotel Fear

aash 58 hotel fearin the American movie Stormswept (1995)

aash 60(then, too, oddly enough, a Crouching Venus trope showed up in Glenn Brown’s current show at Gagosian in London, and it was serving the correct function, relative to the rest of the art in the show (see another FUSION note on this, when posted)

aash 62

this trope now is dated to 1957, saying exactly what it does, as a dream guide standing up top over the threshold of the whoosh down into nightmare

aash 5the event which precipitated this crisis was that they had a dinner party for benefactors the night before and she was the talk of the party, then even more so because she hit on one of the richest men in town, he took the bait, then when the wife threatened her for making out with her husband in the garden, she killed the wife. And in the moments of concern, the picture of her being introduced as the object of attention at the party

aash 6

is accentuated as involving her having graduated to goddess level by other goddess pictures, in the background, in the relational space on screen

aash 7

this is a classic goddess picture, meaning we are leaving modern civilized life, and descending into ancient instinctual life

aash 8then she goes off, and is a scandal again, as earlier, another good newspaper shot in this movie

aash 9

but the fun thing is, and this is closely related to the picture play in Female Vampire (Japan, 1958), a picture shows up at the house, by mail, it is covered, they place it in the hall, to open it

aash 10

he unwraps it upside down, in shot of a picture they already have up in the hallway

aash 11

then he wows over it, fondling and looking at it, it is her, in large scale portrait art, a goddess cult picture

aash 13

so he has the sarcastic maid hold up for him to get a look at it

aash 14

she of course makes a face at its totally inappropriate level of exposure, and its massive amount of egotism, besides its more evil purpose of not letting the doc get over her, even as she is gone

aash 15

and the doc is so smitten by it, he holds it out from his midsection, again

aash 16

then bounds past the other picture in the hallway, knowing exactly where he will put it

aash 17

and takes it up the stairs, not unlike Clark Gable dragging Vivien Leigh up the stairs in Gone with the Wind (now, apparently, a movie that the #metoo wing of the party finds unwatchable).

aash 18

earlier, she had wowed the docs, especially him, as a blonde, doing a whole cakewalk down from the landing

aash 19

and in that walk walked by the presiding hallway picture of the house

aash 20

then, the doc, excited, in front of that picture, but moreso her as a blonde, utters the movie’s best LOL line, “this calls for cocktails!”

aash 21

I cannot make out what this picture is

aash 22but it is often, as I have worked out in Tanya Robert’s The Last Victim, a shot of people in action, a picture of the world, a threshold picture for over the sidetable you toss the keys on, or such, and it speaks to the leaving the practical everyday world, but living in the house for that world, it is a feet on the ground picture, but says that things are still happening

aash 23it would be difficult me to ID it, but it looks like Caillebout type Impressionist urban scene, and though it is a bit too distinctive as a genre picture, that is, a picture where people are doing something, to be an Utrillo picture, it is somewhere in between, indicating in general the commerce between house and the world that goes on in the house, the living in the real world

aash 24and, of course, by fixating on her, by investing himself so deeply in her cult, he is losing contact with practical, modern sense, and entering into her goddess world of primal forces. Formerly, up in the bedroom over her bed, she had a banal flower picture, signifying depletion of spirit. In another funny earlier scene, the men, after promising they would not, treat her like a guinea pig by insisting, after hearing that she shopped, that they all go up and look at all the new lingerie and underwear she bought, when they, of course would never do that with a “normal” woman in the real world

aash 25

this picture even has an unpleasant thrift shop quality to it, so is doubly depleted, she IS a guinea pig in a cage

aash 26a picture

aash 27

but now, with her gone, he takes the picture she sent him, to torture him with memory of her, to keep her always before his eyes, upstairs to her empty bedroom, and takes down the flowers, and puts up the cult picture of her as goddess . Later, when she returns, after the death of her husband (she murdered him), she comes in with the cold and the action of the real world all on her, on her clothes, and in one shot she almost fuses with the transition, purification picture in the hall, as if to say she too has been out in the world

aash 28

but lovesick doc, delighted to have her back, even if she is a stone cold killer, ushers her up, just like he did the picture

aash 29and “makes love” to her at the end of the bed, mainly by showing her that he hung the picture of her she sent him over the bed, and that, get this, he would often come into her bedroom, and gaze upon it, and having it made it seem to him like she was really there, in other words, his scientific interest and his infatuation with her has fused into a curdling two-dimensionalizing horror zone where he sees her as a thing

aash 30

That is, he promised her she would not become a guinea pig, but she has, and, worse, in that context, with that power over her, he fell in love with her, making his love a destructive, two-dimensionalizing thing. She also has had this problem and the movie does, on the side, apart from this primary plotted picture play, play with mannequins for a bit, there is some of that, of her seeing herself as a walking science experiment, not a full woman, in the dress shop incident

aash 31

then there is the movie’s weirdest device that she has the power to change her hair color in order to survive, and does this in front of the mirror, again suggesting that her physical appearance is just an eidol, a ghost, in front of her deeper reality as a science experiment, a walking test tube, I think there was even a joke to that effect

aash 32

but the movie in fact more clearly plays with the mannequin theme when after marrying her playboy sugardaddy she is bored by their weekends in the country and in this exchange it struck me that the trophies of deer and such on the walls bit a bit more deeply than usual to signify that each sees the other as trophies too, as not real three dimensional beings, and, for that, are miserable

aash 33

and then worse, with all the guns all over the house, are quick to the trigger, and there is killer rage in her and even him too, as he shoots her

aash 34

trophies often mean that the man of the house is an objectifier, so that holds, but this is a bit more particular in accusing both of them of having, by the poison of exploitative motives of their relationship, degenerated into trophies to each other, venetian blinds completing the visual symphony of shadiness

aash 38

the movie then sets us up for its one Frankenstein moment, when he is shocked at who he has married, and, by the way, with the most exposure of her flesh in the movie, when she tells him, on the way to get help for her, having been shot in the shoulder, that the wound is gone, baring her shoulder

aash 39

and at that point, she veers them over the cliff

aash 40

This is, in fact, an oops moment, when the subconscious of the movie conveyed by the properties, is forced to the surface by exposure of its poor special effects, and it fails to work, bellyflopping. But, while this crash scene might have played OK and acceptable in a general sense in the run of the movie in real time as played in the theatres then on TV back in the day with the Pause button we can trace the arc of the turn of the flying car and from this toy shot it is all too apparent that in midflight the car flipped over, both of them are exposed to the air, and they are now going to come down hard, and fatally, however she might recover, this crash is going to take off her head, break her spine, crush her shoulders, it is unrecoverable from, no question

aash 41

and then she just walks away, released again from her mannequin state

aash 42

so, the movie does take an outward or periaqueductal spin around the picture play, to take the issue of mannequins as an expression of her theme of concern over being made into a guinea pig, and his lack of professionalism in exploiting that power imbalance to fall in love with her, making an illicit cult of her, but, then, it gets worse.

Movies are filled with hundreds and hundreds of bedroom invasion scenes, Vampires, Dracula, wolfmen, woman for the whole of the 20th century have been menaced in their beds. This movie, and I have to say it is a pretty swell construction, working out in a trope perfectly the mixed feelings of the lovesick doc’s desire to get into that bedroom and do what people do in bedrooms, and then he fears that his experiment has gone totally awry, he has created a monster, and she must be killed, or at least corrected, so they decide that, in more daft science, an organism is taken down by its own waste system, so lets feed her carbon dioxide through the radiators, we will close all the windows, and gas the room, that will knock her out, so that we can do surgery. And that, no foolin, is what they do. She is asleep, in that bed the doc so badly wanted to be in with her with

aash 43

but he seals the door, rather than touch her intimately

aash 44

the older doc sets up the gassing mechanism through the radiator (a classic moment in the whole milieu of 50s mad scientists living in their own suburban houses)

aash 45

they come through the window, while she sleeps, the candle I think is for them to know when there is enough gas to put her out, the candle will go out at that point

aash 36

a candle at a bed now means something, in this bizarre context, evocative of his trapped mental and emotional state, different

aash 47

they are now, as scientists, the monsters at the window, peeping in on a sleeping blonde

aash 48then she feels the effect, and there is, again, an occult gown prowl, really a run for the windows, she knows she is losing breath and consciousness

aash 49

and so the doc, the monster doctor of this whole scenario, who dreamt up the mad mad science, who did, in fact, use her as a guinea pig, then, worse, fell in love with her, though never got to touch her, really, he gets his chance, but it is in a classic monster carrying the damsel in distress trope moment, him the monster

aash 50

and, then, it worked, but, oops, it also unworked, that is, she reverted to have the disease she was dying of in the beginning, and that ‘s that, this time it is fatal, now in her bed as hospital bed again, at home, under that portrait

aash 51

leaving him to wonder with mixed feelings, after her death, this now a memorial picture as at a funeral, if it was all worth it, or if he is glad to be rid of it, he is not going to do THAT again, but, either way, a portrait still serving as his cult portrait of her, his victim, no doubt to be kept in place

aash 52

for the movie to actually end with her smiling at us, something she, in fact, did not do much of in the movie

aash 54

and that is She Devil. It is more a melodrama of a Frankensteinian sort, a doctor-patient drama, than a full on horror movie, but it did have a curious picture play as the pictures of the house doing what they do in a well-run rational, everyday house, are subordinated to the intrusion of a new resident, a monster, and then a new portrait representing her wild monstrousness out in the world, and then the strange science-house complex becomes a kind of cult place in worship to her, then, finally, a private hospital where she is killed. So, it is curious, an inbetween space, a palliative space, created by exploitation and mad science, pictures, by picture play, figuring out the changing trajectories of emotion in that conflicted zone. But, the single, little, undoubtedly unnoticed object that announced to me that we are stepping down into a subconscious zone where rational behavior is usurped by dark instincts, the land of the goddess, introduced by a Crouching Venus.

Veit Laurent Kurz’s Oracle (Berlin, Winter, 2018) and the stripping down of contemporary art to pure agency (with comparison to same effect in Turkish horror movies).

 

Rev., Mar 2, 2018.

Byline FUSION. Disclaimer: As I did NOT see this exhibition in person, and rely entirely on pictures, this is only a POV think piece, not a review. FUSION byline seeks to discern crossover between popular culture (genre, horror movies) and contemporary art.

This week CAD featured pictures of another installation by artist Veit Laurenz Kurz, in Berlin, and this is the seventh iteration of the same project idea he has done since it was first tried in the backyard of a Bushwick rowhouse, two summers ago. This ensemble of work by lots of fellow artists is my favorite thing going in the world art world today, and it is time I try to figure out why. First of all, all of his installations start with a terrific series of drawings he has done which constitute a what if, if vampires took over running the government and world, what would that look like. This is a fairly common horror movie idea, but as an administrative play, something new. These are great drawings, of great interest to me for their crawlspace acuity.

kurz 1This remove represents, in its thoroughness, and in the seriality of the pieces, creating the sense of an alternative universe, a countering to the standard formula of art work in the art world today. Viewer, come see my, the artist’s work, see my art, it is an expression of my genius as artist, aren’t I great, done. But here, Kurz breakdowns the art, to then, as its’ “artist” is put in parenthesis, and he turns his back on it, and on his “art” and then posits it as a counter (not a contra) reality to the current going reality.

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the thing about a counterreality that is hard to grasp is that, it is not a contra state, that is, toe to toe with those in power, but, basically, fighting them point for point within the same paradigm and, for that, trapped in a wrestling grip from which no real solutions come. There are no answers in “resistance” inside the paradigm of the controlling power structure. Only a new way of doing things will do it. It is interesting to me that Kurz’s latest is called Oracle, because oracles, and especially their frequent use in Greek culture, are of great interest to me (there were also a number of oracles in Lynch’s Twin Peaks Return last summer). Why did the Greeks rely on oracles? It is because it provided two advantages. One, in debate in a council over what to do next one side would develop one stand, and that stance was supported by their rational mind made irrationally certain by their ego defense, and thus they would not give an inch; and the same thing on the other side, meaning that they do nothing, debate is nothing but the wrestling of two fixed viewpoints, impolitic impasse contestation, that is, fighting. So how to break that logjam? Both sides deferred to a higher cause (ie arbitration, but magically so), and in that simple gesture, underscored, if not admitting, the limits of their humanity. They then let a stoned woman on a chair over a cleft of gas at Delphi say something tripped out crazy and then they would all, starting from scratch, sit down, disarmed of their certainty and try to figure out what it all meant. And if they did not know, they would wait til something, some coincidence, some marvel, alerted them to the meaning, and then they would move on that. In other words, they turned their back on the reality of their certain rationality, made impolitic by ego and rage, and deferred to a counterreality where all the rules of engagement were different, and in that space, they had to live again in the uncertain present moment, not fixed to a time when they came to their conclusion, and engage in the moment, and life, and wake up in truth (truly be woke) to life, to make a decision based on deeper, god-given intuition, and not some resentment, or desire for revenge, or other illicit motives that cloud the clarity of the mind. So, a counterreality is a place where all the rules are different. I do not know if there are any “rules” in Kurz’s set up, but in his drawings it is not simply that he is drawing a world where timbering seems to be a symbol of a stripback to intuitive thinking, below the veneer of its ersastz status in modern culture, and from that begin to reason through art for a new mind again.

And, then, what he does in these remarkable installations is that he feeds the counterreality back through the former reality of the set up of the rules of the art gallery, and creates that counter space in his drawings by way of ostension in the real world, a move I call reverse agency (based on the concept that I think in making this particular move, one is engaging in reverse engineering of the reality you are replacing)

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and this is what that looks like, this time out.

kurz 4(it is important, in order to communicate that these forms are transported to the ostensive “present” or “reality” by means of countering and reversing, not to bring the reverse reality too far into actual reality, and that is why the set up eschews entirely the wow whoring of technical art, but comes only in cardboard, roughly assembled, all at loose ends, loosey goosey unreal.

But, then, the question is, where, now, is this space? You are in a gallery, of course, but you are not, mentally, in a gallery anymore. You are in a counter/reverse space, a space with a peculiar topsy-turvy agency. First, the most interesting thing about this set up is that it is not so much a group show, or even an installation, but a counter form, in the context of which the “art” takes all but second place, usually having to be sought out, then, when found, very small scale and knocked down, temporary, transient, which is fun, no pretentions

kurz 6But, still, where is this? In a fusion moment, I would compare the timbered aspect of VLK’s cardboard world to signify that same thing that timbering does in country villages when encountered in, for example, Turkish horror movies. Such houses, in Turkey, seem to be extremely spooky, because modern folk know that dark stuff lurks within. But, then, in the town returned to, for example, in the Turkish movie Dabbe 4, which I have written about before

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it also turns out that a stripping down has occurred. The hunter after haunters does not, strictly speaking, have art on his walls, he has talismans, magic charms to ward off evil.

kurz 8What this means is that art world art, viewed through the veil of rationalization as pretty, as beautiful, as pleasing, as calming, as political, as whatever it is that, by its rationalized utilization by the middle class it does, has been stripped back to straight up, raw, basic, apotropaic function.

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I graph it out, for now, as the reverse agency countering looking back a second time on “art” as it is now, all its prowess and pretentions, and that is wholesalely iconcoclastly negated, to then take form in reverse forms, which backbuild or retrogress to a cult space before art, where the only visual display was straight up magic objects which served the basic purpose of the basic agencies, including the apotropaic, warding off evil. And it is this double-counter negation, with retrogression, that has happened in the state of fear which the ghost hunter is at. And, then, even better, and more clearly stated, they come to the doctor’s relatives’ house, and while there is still art on the walls (though it does, in the genre, bespeak fear), its voice has been stripped back by the placement of actual talismans (which he later says is a mistake, as it draws the demon in).

kurz 11And, then, later, when they come to the man who they saw on the road, his house is entirely an armed camp not of art, but something like it, a whole visual field of art stripped back to actual talismanic graphs and drawings which have an immediate agency and purpose, in his emergency fearful state, to counter immediate evil

kurz 12It is quite good. And, I think, a similar breakdown of art and the art gallery as a concept has, in fact, occurred in the countering then then reverse engineered a situation from it, in VLK’s Oracle. All the rules of installation are different, and it would seem that the artists involved get it, they are not being asked to be involved to show off one of their “works of art,” though they are that, they are being asked to as it were reach deep down to their raw human state and offer for the squat place a very temporary but therefore very intense amulet or object directly involved in direct agency to do something in the world. And this is why each corner of the exhibition is so dead on, well made. Each speaks directly to a hunkering down, a squatting, a finding a place, a making of a meaning, that’s that.

Then, even more so, there seems to be an undercurrent of deeper negativity. I have sensed in a good deal of Euro art over the last three years a deep sense, once again, of the purposelessness of art, of a wholesale critique of the whole art concept, the idea that art can do all the things that all the curators think it can do. This, of course, would correspond to my own situation, so I have taken up more intense interest in “things people hang on their wall” for purely personal at-home protective or worship or other reasons, that is, crap art, not art, art stripped down to its basic agencies, and I often do in fact say, I could just make a painting of this and that would be an exhibition, this is my art, why do I need contemporary art? etc etc. so, I sense this here, that there is also a spin on the agency in questioning while it is done if this is worth it or going to work in the end, a touch that gives everything a loosey-goosey noninsistent almost hippie nonchalant feeling. No one in this world is going to force their opinion on you, no one is going to shout you down, or fight with words, if you can’t stand down from your ego, your never giving an inch, your resistance, your revolution, your eyeswideshut “woke”-ness, and let your mind fall asleep in its soul, to become again a human being, then, no go here.

This attitude is nicely conveyed by pics which look for work, so the Pancho Sanchez donkey signature piece, naming the show (and since there was also in Berlin at the time a show Don Quixote, with a typical ‘tilting at windmills” critique of whatever, this might break all that down too), so you look behind a tower, to the end of the hall, there it is, hidden in back (a trope I call The Place Apart)

kurz 13And then there is a “picker” question, as you are in this instance “rummaging,” not gazing, is that art, or not? though there is what looks like art behind and over it

kurz 14and then, behind that board, the donkey, like the cold eyes of the world, a familiar trope using dolls or stuffed animals in desdemonic movies, steps back, to let you look at the art, but somehow by all that making your looking ridiculous, or magical

kurz 15in these, what shall I call them? counter-reverse/negated-reversed/stripped back retrogressive postures (no, that won’t work!), I especially like the homuncular presence imitating kitsch artifacts found and held to with mixed feelings in homes of Jannic Joray’s art, here again a good piece

kurz 16and with glass of wine in hand, countering a Juliette Blightman picture of a woman walking in paradise but apparently having a problem with her period (I just watched two movies this week, one from Taipei, The Tag Along, another from Spain, Veronica, in which girls struggle with the mechanics of what goes on below the navel and between their legs, likely a retrogressive effect reversed from accepting the facts of life by the rupophobia furor rushing through the contagious culture worldwide at present), it does seem to be a comment in pathos of the middle class nature of the metoo moment, which does think it can legislate sex, and here I end with this homunculus nestled down in his little multi-level crawlspace

kurz 17so, in a short FUSION note, this is the first time I have written about this movement of art at the moment. It is, by far, in sending up and taking down most of the pretentions of “contemporary art” today, my favorite movement in the arts today. And this my first attempt to make sense of where oh where it is all coming from.

Footnote

Posted on FB, Mar 2, 2018.

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The horseback assassination of Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

Rev. Dec 31, 2016.

In I Shot Jesse James (1949), Sam Fuller’s 1949 treatment of the fate of Robert Ford, the shooting of Jesse James is shown, and then a variant of it is shown as it was performed afterward on stage, and, then, in my treatment of it, I indicated that even the way it was shown in the movie was at variance with the depiction of the event in the press at the time, and then even the reality. Why these variations? is what I explored, but mainly to explain why so much was made of other types of pictures later in the movie. There is also the issue that the event itself was more important than the details, and the thing about the event that surprised and intrigued viewers, the art-life nexus, is what captured the imagination. In another treatment, I conjectured that the problem Robert Ford had was that at the time Jesse was thinking of retiring to a domestic life, and the picture represented that. In that context, Ford not liking that his idol was thus reduced, he decided on an assassination to usurp the leader, and move on. But, in the public mind, they did not know about the current situation of Jesse James, and his gradual domestication, all they knew about was his Wild West history and when they heard of the event they immediately imposed over it a Wild West scenario, in the context of which shooting a man in home was bad, fights like that should happen at high noon on main street, but then shooting a man in the back was against the code of the West, and therefore appalling, both of these misreadings, making of Robert Ford a coward (apart from the fact that the word rhymed with Jesse’s pseudonym in town, Tom Howard). I also suggested that the coward trope might have stuck with him because of the coincidence that James was hiding out under the name of Howard, which nicely rhymes with coward. That is, his cowardliness was entirely a creation of the popular culture processing the event, a tabloid entity.

But then I watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2010), based on Ron Hansen’s novel, and some other things come up. The movie is like two movies, there is the point up to the shooting, which is one kind of movie, and then there is the point at or after the shooting, which is another type of movie. The early part of the movie, and most of the movie, is an arty cinematographically excess minimalist paean to the rugged reality of the old West. Even if the text is explaining that Jesse’s great days are behind him, and he is now hanging out with some total losers, and the mis en scene is all about moving from safe house to safe house, and then visiting former associates like an angel of death to kill them off, to keep them all quiet, the visuals of the movie still make it all sepia tone romance in a movie tradition going way back. This artiness always fools critics into thinking the film is art, but, more often than not, most of the beautiful images are all about confusion and suspicion. The main problem I have with the ersatz minimalist tradition is that it seeks indexicality in the film. That is, it tries to be real, and pretend that it is real, when it is romance and a retrospective mediation of the past by way of sepia toned old photographs. All the rooms in all the houses are shaker serene, white washed and pure. The table is simple, the vests are brown, the people, it is implied, are good people, good all Americans

hors 1And when they go off to church the beauty of the cinematographic image again attests to simplicity, and purity, and all American okness.

hors 2I have complained about this “sepia syndrome” in another Pitt movie, Benjamin Button, and here it is again. The problem is not that the view of the past is mediated through old photos, the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War did that a generation ago, but that this device then sets aside the postmodern premise of seeing the past through media first, and reimagines, essentially, the past as actually like those old photos, like old media. This reversal of postmodern representational critique dangerously sets up a propaganda past in which however bad the people depicted are they are good because they are Americans from the American past.

The main problem with this visual shakerism, besides that it is bland catnip to the critics who think if it is minimal is must be arty, is that it offers no sense of how these people lived in their time, and made homes for themselves by setting up an array of images which bespoke the shape and depth of their personal culture. Jesse is shown just sitting around on a rocking chair in a bare white room, everything else nondescript. It is as if he is a guest at some house not his own, he is depicted ill at ease, and though it could be said that the rocking chair in this shot plays off the chair because it is what he is going to stand on, to dust the picture, and thus die on that chair, it does not seem as if the movie has this in mind

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It is almost as if the cinemagraphic purists, devoted to pure filmic imagery, and eschewing crude manipulation of properties, thought that they could evoke Jesse James through character alone, and not filling in the blanks of him by way of depicting some of his personal culture. This leads to serious problems when it comes to depicting the actual shooting, because there is no doubt that the shooting occurred in and around pictures of a particular sort, and it is them in context of the shooting that made the shooting so queer, in terms of an art-life irony, to the public. At one point, the whole proceeding was so minimalist, that I began to think that they would make do without any picture, dismissing the whole picture trope as a romantic device not in keeping with authentic fact. The only play of media in the movie seemed to happen inside the head of Robert Ford, as he emulated and then imitated Jesse, and then Jesse teased him for that.

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This adulation was grounded in his love of adventure story books in his childhood, all about Jesse. That is, the movie is a cult movie, describing the cult of Robert Ford of Jesse, and how that cult went bad, causing Ford to respond to it in the way he did.

hors 5but, then, the movie surprised me. At one point, well on three quarters in, Jesse, coming back from Palm Sunday church, says, Im going to take off my guns, and lays them on the couch. And then a whole new movie with a whole new tone comes into play. We now see for the first time that, in that lonely house on the top of a hill

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there were some pictures on the wall, as there would be, and the one they chose to place most prominently on the wall was that of Jesse’s mother, in back in this shot, to the right

hors 7This shot apparently reverses the power of the previous shot, when Jesse was teasing him, with the picture of his mother over him, and Ford on the outs. Now, Jesse is shown haloed by thought of his mother, and his blank faced manner, with Ford behind him, strongly suggests a directorial reading of this staging as an example of suicide by cop, this is reinforced when he gets up to dust the picture by the fact that Jesse gazes into the glass on the picture to see Ford reflected just before he shoots, and does nothing, a whole interiorization of the shooting which, I think, is entirely bogus, and weakens the depiction. According to this scenario, Jesse took Ford back into the circle because he saw, with his cleverness, and rough wisdom, that he could use Ford’s unsteady emulation of him, to induce him to kill him, in other words, this was a planned suicide. I reject this reading, but it is in the fabric of this telling (see further essaying on this point, post visit to the real site). Then Jesse, as improbably as the pictures come into play, gets up on a chair to dust the picture. It is an odd moment.

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the rocker does not seem to be the type of thing you would get up on. The picture is placed on the far wall of the room, a placement at variance with history and with the depiction of it all in I Shot Jesse James. It is also shown as a mantel picture, that is, a legend picture of the household hearth, and it is a picture, a portrait of a horse. The picture that Jesse was dusting or straightening in reality was a Bless This Home needlepoint. The picture that Jesse was dusting or straightening in I Shot Jesse James was a large photo of his mother, as shown here back in the opposite corner of the room. In neither case, was there a horse, though there were horses in the staged version of the shooting as depicted in other pictures off to the right of the main event in I Shot Jesse James. But it was not a horse. Why? Why would the art director and director make this decision? One, I think it does remind us that this is Jesse James, and it places him back on his horse on duty on his travels, in the Wild West. It removes from the shooting the implication that it was done out of disgust by an acolyte that wanted more of his idol than messing about with dusting objects in a boring domestic life. It masculinizes Jesse, and essentializes him (in spite of the opposite tendency of the plot in this regard) as unchanged Wild West Jesse James. This also would correspond to what the public wanted of him, more Wild West, and thus implicates Ford in cowardice for shooting a man at high noon duel in the back.

hors 9It also means that Jesse is not exactly fussing over art, but he is engaging in another act of devotion to his horse, or some horse of his past. Since the horse is placed over the mantel, and thus represents the central mythos of the house, it also indicates that he has not surrendered, and remains dedicated to his life on horseback out in the wilds. Here in this shot we also get the heroization of his domestic chore, as he in fact seems to use it as a mirror to look back at Robert Ford, and seeing him aim his gun

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The interesting thing about this shot is that it is backed up by the portrait of the mother, and the portrait of the mother is not the picture being straightened by Jesse. This indicates that Ford now steps into the role as the nemesis, always warned of by Jesse’s mother, as the man who would some day come to kill him, and so Ford is doing the work of Jesse’s mother’s hard prophecy. This placement empties out the wilds-domesticate nexus that Ford might have actually acted in, doing away with an idol that disappointed him, and returns it to being an expectation in Jesse’s mind, on how it might all end. This reversal of power, as if the killing is a prophecy of the mother, also feeds into the reflection of the crime in the glass, making of it a suicide by cop. But then, even odder, they show the shooting in a direct and brutal fashion. In the sequence, the horse picture presides. It is like Jesse is just being shot off a domestic version of his normal horse regalia. He then, when shot, smashes his head against the mirror, not seen in other versions

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Then lifelessly bounces off the horse, again, recreating a killing in the wild

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he flies down in the space between rocker and mantel and picture, the chair he was on scooting off to the side

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and then he is dead, in that corner

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as such, then, it removes all the dichotomies that titillated the public imagination about the shooting, and returns it to being an old west good man shooting. But it does make use of picture, but only to serve that reversion to the public version of the killing, that this was Jesse James shot down in another legendary duel, but backstabbed by his partner in a domestic setting of the duel. This alignment of the depiction with the public’s framing of the event does not leave him much room to move about in, in the aftermath. Here he again, as in I Shot, does a stage version, with the added detail that his brother played Jesse, and, weirdly, even began to revert to thinking he was Jesse, in the reenactment

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The stage version is an exact replica of the version we see in the movie, horse picture in the reality, horse picture on stage, though this time Ford is in the chair. And we also see Ford is made up, making it more artificial, and that the voice of the public comes disembodied from the crowd, crowding out his performance by the call of coward

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The movie takes it onto his killing in Creede, but without commitment, and still without any picture or media play. The media play in the movie is not nuanced, and results in a distortion of reality that is, in fact, oddly, less documentary and authentic, than the version concocted by Fuller in 1949. This is likely because of the degree to which old photo aesthesis has sludged over the view of the past, since the issue of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary 25 years ago, in which the past in America is depicted as an old photo, and life in the past was all sepia and ordered, with some chaos, but generally a coherent and materially-bound space. This is evoked by the fact that so much is made of his posthumous picture, bringing the telling into the zone of Wisconsin Death Trip (1978)

hors 17and then the view through the lens, and the long wait for the exposure to be over

hors 18and this then reified and by ostension made real by the fact that his wake entailed him being laid in-vested on ice in a butcher shop for all to come by to see. This reminded me of a scene in Lola Montes, when man paid money simply to touch the woman in the cage who was famous for fucking so many lovers in high places over the years.

All in all, then, it is an odd treatment. It pretends authenticity, by its arty minimalist style, but it in fact draws away from authenticity, for a vision of the event that corresponds more closely with the public’s perception at the time that Jesse was an icon of the Old West, and he died with his boots on in a duel in a house, but it was all just another shoot out in his long career. All of the domestic tension and betrayal was elided out, except as rivalry by devotee and idol. The result is a shooting enacted like a furniturized horseback shootout, presided over by a horse picture he did not own, and then too even interjecting the idea that Jesse OKd it all, as a good way to go, and, for that, the movie serves to heroicially depict Jesse in a rather unseemly way as the legend that he was, all of which less of a character in a movie. For this, though this movie received accolades in 2007, my guess is that that came from ersatz formalist movie critics who equate slow pacing and minimalist scenery as art, and thus they mistook the look of the thing, for art, when the movie is actually even less art than I Shot Jesse James is, de-problematizing and remythologizing the heroic Jesse James.

Picture as trauma trigger in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James (1949)

 

December 21, 2016.

Note: First of three posts on the picture involved in the assassination of Jesse James.

In Sam Fuller’s OK movie I Shot Jesse James (1949), at one point, later in the story, Robert Ford tries to get his girl back by inviting her to come to Creede, and meet him and marry him. With money he has won from the silver mines he does up his room at the hotel swell, with lots and lots of flowers, and it is already decked out with de rigeur rococo painting, perfect for the ladies

aj 1he is even doing the housekeeping, and in front of fancy lace curtains, which certainly bespeak the room being a shrine to the ladylikeness of the lady

aj 2elsewhere in the room, we see that it is deluxe, with floral wallpaper, of a very busy sort, several genre scenes, a piano, Belter furniture, the works

aj 3but then he is shocked by the fact that she does not love it, in fact, it kind of creeps her out. That is, it is rendered, in the movie, not as the convention, but as an instrumentalized version of the convention over the top, to signify his frantic, overly intense desire to have her back. The fact that he wants to marry her, right then and there, is also a shock to her, and this is indicated by the fact, a trope in 40s movies that one can also see in The Maltese Falcon, there is, as she ponders, and looks about, an open bedroom door, with a sight of the bed. What this means in general is that the woman has experience in the bed, and is something of a whore; but it does not seem to indicate that here, here it seems to scream, ew, that would mean he wants to have sex with me, ah, no.

aj 4and when she refuses his ring, with the open bedroom door backing her up again (or again whispering that she’s had so much sex she is in no hurry to tie herself down just to get it), she is also saying, there will be nothing here, no sex

aj 5this is pretty ingenious of Fuller  (or art directors). It strikes me that he and his art direction team knew the convetions of Saloon décor, all nudes downstairs, and rococo ladies upstairs, and then went a step past that to make an emotional-dramatic point, that he is way over doiing it, and has become oppressively obsessive. I would like to say that this instrumentalization also means that the individual pictures are also amplified in their meaning, but it would not appear that they are

aj 6though as I discussed in Billy the Kid vs Dracula this, with a possibly tapestry picture set into in an oval the mantel of a boudoir, with porcelain statues blocking it, is an “odd furniture” amalgam bespeaking the fact that things are not what they seem, or we are dealing with a peculiarly unique individual. Indeed, the actress who plays this role is so obtuse, and her character so uncertain, she almost hardly makes a mark on the screen

aj 7The question, then, is, why, or rather how? How did Fuller and crew see that if Ford’s state of mind was to be effectively presented on screen he had to engage in picture play but do it in a clueless over the top way that actually turns the woman away? The first point in answering that question is to note that it had already been done in a previous sequence in the movie. Earlier on in his trying to cope with his not wanted fame, he shares a room with Kelley in the same hotel. Getting up in the morning, he discovers that his ring has been stolen

aj 8the interesting thing about this shot is that a landscape painting, meant to convey a sense of calm presence in the West, serves its deeper purpose, derived from horror, to communicate that trouble has come to him from beyond the wall. Moreover, I again feel like the movies are mocking me as a month ago I almost bought a horizontal oval landscape painting of a dark sort with a dark frame, but balked, but then one showed up as a symbol of dreams gone sideways in Splendour in the Grass, which would place the style in 1920s Kansas, and now we have one show up in a hotel in Colorado in the 1880s, alsoo indicating things going sideways for him (and the fact that it is an island might also bespeak his increased isolation, not wanting to be recognized as Robert Ford)

aj 9this picture might also represent Cynthy as earlier she is seen, and visited, in and around that sort of picture too

aj 10determined to find out who stole his ring, he bounds out of his room, and it is to be noticed that he slept in a room right off the balcony right over the grand hall of the saloon, in a set up that it is possible served as the prototype to parody in Carry on Cowboy, and its treatment of saloon rococo

aj 11he passes a large picture, entirely obscured by the bannister railings, indicating trappedness

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at the boundary between the saloon and the rooms above is a vertical oval classical ruin picture in the manner of Guardi or Robert, and houseplants to guard the upper quarters.

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the oval picture, specifically, in the context of the movie and this saloon, indicates anger thinking of Kelley, as earlier he had broken up a shooter to save Kelley when Kelley got into an all out brawl in the saloon. In thanks, bloodied, beat down, he was emblematized in his ruination by the picture

aj 14the picture of a ruin had also as it were overseen the ruination of the saloon in the traditional trope of the brawl, so it bespeaks the desolation that the décor, quite often, does not (but this is picture play)

aj 15then he goes to the main desk, and there is a nifty rococo Boucher over the desk, to signal to those checking in of the possible offerings of the house

aj 16and since it is a nude, that is a nude, on screen, but by way of the embrasure of a frame within the shot, in 1949

aj 17and then he comes over to the bar, and asks there too, who took it, or where is Kelley? This nude on one level would relate to Kelley, because he is in competition for the girl, Cynthy, they both want, she is the one ultimately on his mind, in this rampage, because the ring stolen was meant for her, and a symbol to him of someday getting her back. But, then, more particularly, during the brawl, another, somewhat odder rococo picture came into play as Ford saw a cohort of the house try to surreptitiously shoot Kelley and so he shot at him, to disarm him. In this regarg the ballet can represent a saloon nude but now pirouetted into action to slyly comment on the ritualism of these proceedings

aj 18but now we have double shifted to the nudes in the saloon, indicating what is on his mind, both right now, regarding the ring, and down the road, regarding how that ring is going to help him get her back (movies then making us of properties for the added reason of filling out the propentive, multi-framed nature of the thinking of the characters). And then there is another more classic Courbet style nude

aj 19we have seen this nude before, as it were the threshold picture, beyond the houseplants of danger, announcing that you are leaving the saloon proper and entering into the hotel-brothel portion of the building, just peeking its points out over the fronds of the plants, as customers mount the landing, and corkscrew to the stair to the upper floor

aj 20but it was not noticeable. But, now, he has a talk with the old timer at the bar, who suggests go into silver, then get money, then come back and get her

aj 21the nude in this shot is no longer simply “the saloon nude” in the background, because that it what is in those places, but Cynthy, the girl he left behind, the girl he thinks about getting back, and the old timer has now offered him an idea that just might make it possible to get her back, and it would only seem natural that thinking about her, and getting her back, he would think of her in the marriage bed, nude. The fact that her hair entangles with his indicates this, and then her breasts and her sex represent the steam coming out of his ears

aj 22so, here too, there is a sequence, but it is not just a sequence, but the sequence altered and shaped by his consciousness, what’s on his mind, these are all but perceptual image usages of the properties, to convey a deeper sense of problem. But the question remains? Why in this movie, such an overthetop fancy ladies room up top, and then such generous saloon nudes below?

The answer has to be that paintings per se somehow became linked up to Robert Ford, and his predicament in life. The story is about Robert Ford, the man, or former partner, and friend, who shot Jesse James. In fact, he shoots Jesse James in the back, unarmed, at his house, while Jesse is up on a chair straightening out a picture. He and Jesse are just sitting round, Jesse gets up on the chair, his back to him, vulnerable, and Ford makes his move

aj 23we get a close up of Jesse straightening, it is presumed, a large portrait of his mother

aj 24and he is shot dead

aj 25

I suppose I ought to have known how Jesse James died before watching the movie, but, in fact, I did not, or did not remember. However, the code of pictures immediately told me that there was trouble brewing in the James household, as first shot of antsy Jesse shows the crooked picture of the mother

aj 26a crooked picture indicates deep trouble, so much so as to bring down the household. That it is a crooked picture of the matriarch, more so. Then it is contrasted with a horse scene, on the other side of the stove, indicating his split loyalties, him under the picture of his mother, bespeaking his worries or mentalities, she under the picture of the riders, indicating her worries and fears of him getting shot, and always asking him to quit

aj 27more oddly, the picture is subject to a kind of décor shrine, a rocking chair below, maybe hers, and then a mail or magazine pouch, so indicating news from the outside world, other art to the left too

aj 28

the other picture to the right rather comically being of two cows in portraiture pose bespeaking the pressure to change his lifestyle, to just be a farmer, it is rare and strange piece indeed. Equally strange is that the house is as it were raw board, a kind of large log cabin, with even a heightened space above, it is a very odd set

aj 29back over by the door there is another piece of furniture, and more pictures over that, so this is a home that can afford pictures, and then above the entry way a horizontal thing that looks more like a needlepoint

aj 30and seems to say something in welcoming too, of the Home Sweet Home sort

aj 31All in all, then, and admittedly the movie gets off to a somewhat stagey beginning, it is a psychodynamic stageset to by its pictures bespeak Jesse’s worries and the push-pull pressures that he is feeling at that point in terms of either keeping on with the gang or retiring to country life with the wife. And then Robert Ford shoots him in the back while he is undertaking a cult act of straightening the picture of his mother, as if to unconsciously state, I have made my decision, I will retire, and stay home (even though in real life as indicated by TJ stiles the mother was the haradan entirely responsible for raising a psycho bushwhacking son)

aj 32

but now, the funny thing is, Robert Ford then becomes famous. The shot immediately goes to the newspaper headlines, covering all, far and wide

aj 34But then, the movie tries to depict how Ford was caught up in the nexus of fame, where life and art are devilishly mixed, by indicating that he took some money to appear live in a theater production in which he reenacts the killing, with actors. That is, in this representation of the real thing, there is only one real thing, him, everything else is fiction. As if to show this distance, everything is more or less “wrong” in the depiction of the setting

aj 35the drama of Jesse’s life, between house and gang, is simplified and broadened, by a simple comparison between a landscape, instead of a riding picture, and then a different picture of the mother, but they got the it being crooked thing right

aj 36the landscape has two vanishing points, which, since I saw one in Farewell my Lovely, I guess I have to call a thing. There it indicated extreme depletion, and maybe the set tried to convey the same sense of Jesse being cornered, and dead, as we speak of him, to the audience, by this picture (I am not quite sure yet).

aj 37(note too that the earlier “real” house might have been set up in the movie as having a higher ceiling for it to relate more clearly to the “theatrical” representation of it later in the same movie). Now Jesse gets up, and contemplates another picture, not pictured, and this too broadens the reality to over stress and connect the dots more forcefully, he was an art connoisseur, he was looking at paintings, thinking of his family, innocent

aj 38this shot then reveals that the split landscape painting represents not the split mind of the actor in the fiction but the split mind of Ford as Ford playing Ford in a reenactment, he wants to do it, but at the same time he does not want to do it, he as actor wants to, he as man who actually did what is being acted out, does not

aj 39Jesse the actor then gets up on the chair to straighten the picture, and bring order back to the house, just like he did in real life, and real Ford stands to reenact what he really did in real life

aj 40at this point, he balks, and has a psychological moment. The movie dissolves between a flashback of the real scene, and this reenactment, and in that confusion, he cannot do it, he withdraws his gun

aj 42and then walks off stage to boos

aj 44the need to distinguish between the original shot and the reenactment stage shot might account for the fact of the difference between the original setting and the reenactment on stage. Not only are the pictures different, but the room on stage has wallpaper, the original did not(in the movie, in life it did). But the primary difference is that while in real life the mother is depicted as a hardened battleaxe, in photographic form, enlarged in a way that bespeaks cult and also possibly death

aj 45on stage she is depicted as a much more conventional “mother” image, as per the schema of popular culture, and is framed in a more gentle, loving way, sentimentalizing the scenario of his mother love

aj 46this is a clever play of imagery by Fuller and crew, acknowledging that the prototype reality is one thing, and then its cult rendering in emblematic form for the purposes of appealing as an object of offering of emotion of sorts or warding off this or that, in the array of its agency, is another thing, simplified, and distanced, and rationalized, to be made less messy. As a result of the popularization of the story in a legend Ford is guilty of killing a man who was a criminal, but a weird sort of hero, in the back, as he was engaging in an act of love for his mother, in his home, “in the bedroom where my wife sleeps, and my children play”, wait, I got sidetracked to Godfather there, and this, this depiction of it as a betrayal of a good man is what caused Robert Ford to morph reverse into a coward. He confronts this almost immediately when he goes to drown his sorrows in a bar, then encounters a serenade who sings the song of the Coward Robert Ford, where by he gets the full image of his dilemma, caught in a negative spiral art-life nexus in which art has totally misread the reality

aj 47

(one possible tangent here. Fuller likes rough WASP white men of old with hearts of gold after all. He is at times almost sentimental about the being square and fair and honest and true with men’s men. Thus above Ford is being honest with himself is hearing the truth, the singer almost embarrassingly balks, not having it in him to sing such an awful verse in front of the man himself. This same sort of heart of gold sentimentality showed up in Park Row, a not good movie dragged down by its critique being watered down by sentimentality about the stature and glory of the good old days. It is to be noted that in that movie Park Row itself, with all the press offices in the 80s, was depicted almost as a kind of metropolis, with its hero eidols of the gods, Greeley watching over. All of which means that Fuller has a thing for icons, eidols, role models, and the conflict between their reality and their picturing of them. Thus, it is quite possible that by this point in the movie Ford did not know the difference between the reality and the story either, and was wandering in the nexus of icons and eidols that were crashing around him. And this then would explain why by later in the movie he is a little crazy about paintings, they mean a lot to him, because they trigger the moment that changed his life, they represent life and death, and the iconic values that people have of things. Thus, the saloon nudes are not only very good examples, by a director who appreciated the iconic in things, but especially important mental images of Cynthy on his mind as he is trying desperately to recover himself and put his life back on track. In the same way, he goes overboard with the room, the pictures, the wallpaper, all the rest, because he has been lead to believe, by trigger and trauma, that pictures are important, that they can convince, that they can cause people to become hypnotized, and that they can persuade a public that what is depicted is real, when it is not. The problem is, she comes in already all in knots, as here, as always, heavily curled hair in the 40s represented too much on the mind, the wheels turning too fast, conspiracy, other plans, disappointment

aj 48and through that bedroom door, representing the sexual part of marriage, is a dainty picture of flowers over the bed, representing anodyne lack of emotion, emptiness, suffocation, especially for her, all tied up in her defensive duds, with the strange birdlike, uncatchable fur attachments

aj 49I mean they almost look like a hawk being born on her hat, and a spider perched on her chest, she is all up in defense, and not having it

aj 50and indeed, to demonstrate that the whole scenario he had built up, to have the ring, too get the ring back, to get her back, was all based on a misconception, Kelley shows up, and just as inside the bedroom door is an empty floral piece, outside the room door in the hall is a robust genre piece, evoking life without

aj 51it also slyly depicts the life of real men, implying that real men do not beg for love in the unseemly and mad way Robert Ford has, overvaluing painting, almost mental with painting, for having committed a crime while someone was looking at and fixing up the painting, so seeking redemption in the currency of painting

aj 52then, truly bizarrely, even Frank James gets mixed up in Ford’s fantasies, comes into the hot house of Ford’s overdone bridal chamber, and with now the wallpaper, and paintings, and, now, here again, the carpeting, which is also suffocatingly busy, there is a showdown and James is shot

aj 53since I am a connoisseur of these busy carpets, representing shifting ground, ground walked on too much, worn down, depleted (see my treatment in The Conjuring 2 as it relates to a carpet like this I encountered this summer in Lincoln at The Isles, Havelock section)

aj 54and there it is, in I Shot Jesse James (1949), Fuller with staff, seeing that the crime happened while Jesse was looking at a painting, decided to make a special point of capturing the psychosis of Robert Ford by using paintings to more forcefully represent his thoughts, and, in the end, to go way over the top in his use of paintings and flowers and décor in his mad plan to win back his woman. It is well done, and, of course, it would not make sense if he did not fail, as it is Kelley, come out of the saloon, with Cynthy by way of the saloon nude on his mind, to kill him

aj 55

 

Footnote

The strange thing about the larger picture of this issue is that while there is a clear difference in the movie between the prototype depiction of the real murder scene, and its sentimentalized depiction as offered to audiences requiring a more readable message, there is the added dimension that the home where James was killed in St Jo Mo is a real place, that really still exists. And, oddly, the original place in history is different than depicted in the movie

aj 56

and then when it was reported in the press, they got it all wrong, in the details

aj 57

and in this one I think bringing in the duster, which was on stage in the movie, but then placing it in a bedroom, him even more feminized (But TJ Stiles in Jesse James, records the dusting a picture version of the tale), further polarizing the picture

aj 58

even getting the type of picture wrong, several times

aj 59

then the house claims that the space looks like this, and the sampler up to the left is what James was straightening, not any picture, and the bullet hole is up there too, with the chair below, and other pictures, not seen in any rendition in movie or press

aj 60

but then the actual site is memorialized and museumized as a shrine site, reverting to cult, by buying in his gun (or one like it), and framing it there (it is not the actual one is a question), and then since a simple sampler with a bullet hole would not tell the story, imprinting the space with a legend picture, an authentic legend picture, which shows the event that took place in that very spot in 1882. But then the astonishing thing being that the picture shows the event as if seen from the other room, with Jesse flying, and the picture, not at all the space that one can confirm one is standing in

aj 61

a Legend picture is a cult picture, but in a removed state from the original cult space, which is the prototype space as was when the event happened. Time causes the space to recede from its prototypicaly, and withdraw into an array of cult functions which are primarily symbolizing and singularizing, legend making, in nature. The orginal is what it is, with whatever it is in the room, then what happened happened, all cult objects in cult space, because immediately linked to the scene of the crime, forensic, then. But, then when the cult develops it must report on the event through mediation and this is done by setting up an array and spins from node to node, cult, intercession, apotropaic and to votive, to both, by that circulation, half and simplify the items, connect the dots differently, but stretch and distort the event out of shape, quartering it, if all four, polarizing it, if just two, to make it more black and white and readable to the public

aj 62

but at present I don’t know any real life stage representation of the event. So we have the movie, which has the movie-mediation of the event, removed from the stage-mediation, and then in the movie, the original event and the stage-mediation

aj 63

and then going back to the original, there is the house itself, but intermediated by the influence of time as it thins out by way of mediation in stage and movies and etc., so that while it is more directly connected to the real thing, it is also strangely somehow more distant, and needs to mediate on site with a painting

aj 64

that is, while the mediation continues distancing itself away from the cult space, pulled that way by time, the house stays on in the original cult space, but is precipitated over by the mediation and by time, so that it ends up as mediated as the other mediations, setting up an artificial array that is not interested in retaining the authentic indexicality of the place and the moment when it happened (I mean do they even have a clock stopped to the minute?) but sets up an array of mediated agency, whereby the cult spot is the bullet hole, but the bullet hole is scary (but is NOT the bullet that killed JJ, that stayed in his body, it is not even clear where this bullet hole came from; but my guess is 99% of visitors think it is a bullet hole made by the bullet that killed JJ then passed through his body into the wall, a magic bullet), and it is also larger than a bullet hole because people took bits of wood from it no doubt as a powerful charm to protect them from shooting, and this is such good look dads even hold their newborns up to the bullet hole

aj 65

and then the legend picture is an intercessional conjuring device to help you imagine that scene, to help you step back in time to the place, and see it

aj 66

and then going back to the original dispute over what image Jesse was fixing, the real site taking the stand that it was a sampler needlepoint that in the movie is exiled to over the door, but here is set up as the mediated votive offering site representing the domestic life and all of Jesse’s noble wishes in that regard that the shooting by the Coward Robert Ford interrupted thus, by prototype, by mediation, in stage, in press, in movies, in stage in movies, then in house preserved, and in house preseserved influenced by mediation, to set up its own array of agentic im-mediation, giving viewers access to the reality epitomized in a cult like way by the magic bullet hole. This is all a very strange nexus, or triple nexus of art-life spins evoking the moment when Jesse James, killer, straightening a picture at home, was shot down by the coward Robert Ford.