Horror of floors, relative to art, in nunsploitation films

Horror of Life byline, Sep 7 2013.

(Note: there be nudity in this entry).

Recently, I have been thinking of carpets. And conjectured that carpets represent a zone where the madness expressed in, for example, a mad scrapbook can spread. Then, too, however, I associate carpeting with comfortable at-homeness, and with regard to wide expanses of carpet, as a kind of wide open sea in that world, a zone of reverie. Also, in the past, I have associated the floor in, for example, a gallery space, as a sign of sliding signifiers, that things are falling apart, drifting off, away, losing momentum. But this is a formalist model. I require additional anthropological data to determine exactly what a floor might come to represent.

A good example of a most curious use off the flooring comes in the Italian nunsploitation movie, The Nuns of Archangel (1973). There is a good deal of sex in this one, and evil head mothers, and the like, but what is most striking is the attachment of the dear sisters to lying about on the floor or in bed. For example, when the Mother Superior dies, she is pallborne to her wake, not on shoulders, but dragged along the floor, to symbolize her abjection and humility

flo 1

The fact that her feet hang out, and drag, intensifies the symbolism, she has been
killed by a power, and is truly dead. And then, even more odd, she is laid out
on a sheet on the floor, surrounded, rather intriguingly, by candles,

flo 2

In prayer for her, the nuns also walk circles around this strange enclosure (and notice that her feet are unshod). The nuns are used to making use of the blank flat surfaces of things, to create meaning. At their long dining table, barren of cloth or utensil, rank is implied, as is distance and respect

flo 3

There is a constant association between the other place they may lie on, a bed, and
the floor. When a new girl comes to be a noviate, her divestiture or her wordly
garments is a ceremony. She is sat upon the bed that thereafter will not see

flo 4

And is inspected for her virginity, oddly, by the placement of this act in the room, linking her unviolated hymen to the unviolated space around the edge of her matress

flo 5

When her devotion is doubted, she immediately kneels down on the hard floor, in
glass, again, the floor

flo 6

The ceremonial aspects of the induction are, in fact, more fully instrumentalized, in Story of Cloistered Nun, generally a poorer movie that this one. That movie is less about exploitation, more about the reality. For that, the tortures are internalized into the décor of the convent. When the inductee shows up in all her finery, she is a stark contrast to the grim surroundings, and the roughly carved, almost acheitopoetically simple image of the virgin.

flo 7

She passes through a gateway that rather unmistakably reports that it is the gateway to hell, or heaven by hell on earth

flo 8

Elsewhere, the convent has a remarkably strange door, like a torture instrument

flo 9

All of which communicates that she is leaving this world, and entering another. And the actual induction is much more carefully itemized, step by step. And several of the steps involve stepping out of her clothing, with a good show of nudity,

flo 10

Her transformation is reflected in the glass, as a leaving off of this world

flo 11

And then, as a specific step in her induction, she has to go spend some nights
alone, in a private cell, in a state of abjection,

flo 12

And at the time of compline, she lies on the floor, again in the cross shape

flo 13

The movie also ritualizes the hair shirt, and makes a more thorough property of it, as part of it

flo 14

Then she suffers, and, if I recollect, balks

flo 15

At which point, she has to reassert her submission to mother superior, who is evil in this one, by crawling or more properly worming her way with her body on the bare floor of the main hall licking it as she approaches, something like, you’re not worthy to lick the ground I walk on

flo 16

So these initiations are floorbound in detail as well. In an equally bizarre floor-bound event, truly a work of ceremonial art here, the sisters later arrive to witness the induction of the noviates. They are nowhere to be seen, where are they? It is a Mike Kelley,

flo 17

(note: this is a quite odd coincidence since I early responded to Kelley’s particularly Catholic parody of the Good Godder banners, devised by Sr. Corita, that arrived in the church in the 1960s, and which I always loathed as bad art; here, he may be channeling a yet deeper catholic rite. This also is mentioned because I also have thought of a visit we once made to recluse nuns in rural Wisconsin, which freakethed me out).

they are under the large black coverlet laid out on the floor,

flo 18

Lying prostrate, in the position of the cross, in an arrangement, a battery of five touching crosses, a double act of submission, not only lying low, but, as if imitating the shadow of the crucifix on them, devoted to him

flo 19

In their rooms, at night, however, the temptations of the reclining position, in bed, are many. Some sisters have taken men into their beds. Those that do not have men, make love to the bed. This one goes to bed in the nude

flo 20

And then scrunches up her pillows and sheets into a poppet, a semblance of a
figure, a man, and makes love to that, in masturbation

flo 21

In its abstractness, repeated in other movies, like The Antichrist, and in most scenes, of the time, of psychotic masturbation, the movie underscores the endless creativity of human beings when it comes to making much of little, of demanding a human response from inhuman surface (she may have been encouraged in the animation of a twist of bedsheet by the profusiveness of her pubic hair), and of the capacity to animate inanimate objects, even if there is only a very small suggestion of the presence of figure. The theme of minimalist animation of the inanimate is one of the most intriguing elements of nunsploitation movies. (again, I do not take an extramural dismissive attitude towards these movies, simply counting up boobs; I acknowledge that the movies pruriently exploit a genuine and difficult situation, with pathos in it, young women with normal sexual urges and without the vocation being farmed out to convents, and that they excel when they acknowledge their predicament or plight, and devise ways to ‘figure it out’ within the terms of their life).

The movie rather remarkably touches upon the erotic potential of soft surfaces, in
a world of hard floors and prostration, when the nuns partake of the annual
fest of tossing of the strawman, a scene rendered in Goya, it is a sheet, used
to toss up a figure, it is as if those who have impure thoughts, seek for it to
invest their sheets, and those who remain pure, seek to exorcise the soft
contours of their sheets and their foldings of any suggestion of figure, quite

flo 22

Here is the Goya (at present this dance, since done by women, is a kind of conjuring for a man, from whom one of them will choose; among nuns, it was perhaps sanctified to refer to Jesus the Groom).

flo 23

Just as there is a potential figurative dimension to the sheets of the bed, so the sheets can be sterner, and a kind of substitute floor, on which the only way a sterner nun will allow herself expression of eros is through punishment and an attempt to beat it out of her, here with a hair shirt, which in some authentic movies describe that as an itchy rope twisted around one’s torso,

flo 24

It is interesting that both here, and here (where she is enjoying illicit sex)  

flo 25

The nuns keep part of their wimple on. Partly, this signifies to outsiders the
injured aspect of their fate, that they are stuck in an impossible situation,
having urges but not a vocation, so it represents the bandages over their
scars. At the same time, however, it renders them half-persons, poppets,
indeed, like the one being tossed, their bodies reduced by the environment to a
nuisance presence, which they seek to exorcise, but fail. By keeping on this
signifier of their puppetry even when committing violating sex, they
communicate their tortured, conflicted state. It’s impressively coherent.
Finally, those who cannot find a way to resolve their conflict in the sheets,
drop back to the floor, and lie on it, all night, in abject prostration,
offering up their discomfort as a way to ward off urges,   

flo 26

The movie then breaks its reverie on the floors and coverings, on the conflict between prone on the floor and prone on the bed, by having them, in their compromised life, discovered, and then tortured, and they are real tortures, none of which is relevant to floors, except that the last torture is saved for the mother superior, and she is humiliated, of course, on the floor

flo 27

Therefore, in this movie, Nuns of Archangel, the floor represents abjection, discomfort, being reduced to something less than human, in service, for dropping off furniture, and the needs implied by them, and either torturing oneself or being tortured, to reduce one’s humanity in order to better serve a higher power. This highly anthropological analysis of the floor then would parallel my previous assignation of that site as a signifier of dissolution, but it does not correspond to analysis of it as home. Carpet, then, may civilize the hard cold floor, and mean more than most assume it does. To be continued.




The method of the hypnotist in Close Your Eyes (2002): a model for hypnagogy in art

In Close Your Eyes, the American hypnotist makes use of a technique that is deeply informed in the mechanics of sleep. A little girl will not speak, traumatized by a kidnapping. He sits down next to her. She is watching a random abstract video

close 1

He then manipulates the remote control to make the colors wash out, and go white,
and he asks her to focus on that whiteness.

close 2

Then he returns to straight static, like in The Ring, only this time it is beneficial, inducing a staticy hypnagogic stage

close 3

He then has her close her eyes, and we get a nice shot of how the static translates to the natural static caused by entoptic imagery on the inside of her closed eyelids

close 4

So, he has spent some time in inducement, in an open eyed state, but he does come, eventually, as the culmination of the static stage, to the closed eye world, and he immediately frames this world in the metaphor of a universe, with millions of stars, making her open up and feel like floating into it. Alone, this would be part of stage one, but with a frame of meaning placedover it, and a command to take in all the stars, this becomes the glass onion, the next stage of falling asleep, where a series of sigils and symbols and a sporadic sigilistic signification in a whisper is visualized.

The lattice stage is when that space is overlaid with a steady single image, and it sits there for a bit, allowing one to settle in, to bottom out, to depress, and this happens here when he asks her to concentrate on a single star.

close 5

Then, he conceives of this state has having two dimensions, far and nearer, as he asks
her to focus on one star, and imagine it coming closer to her. This is leading,
then to the second stage, what I call the glass onion stage of falling asleep

close 6

A really interesting part of his technique is that in order to reinforce the
effect of the light coming closer to her he actually gets up and pushes the tv
with its static closer to her, he asks her to feel the heat of it on her face
and skin, and, of course, it will emit some real heat, to reinforce her
imagining of the heat.

close 7

I have never seen this before, it is pretty creative

close 8

This stage, when she dwells with the image close up, is the lattice stage, and we do linger on it, as it brightens

close 9

Finally, he asks her to at last pass through to the other side, to the place you lost
your voice. This begins to pinch, when the falling-asleep system drains down a
single aperture and moves vertically again through and down. So, we pass
through into and down through space again. It is pictured here as a wormhole,
and this might be called the wormhole stage, the breaking through from not
being quite asleep, to that magic undetected moment, which you never know of
until after you wake up, when you do fall asleep

close 10

Oddly enough, it is imagined here as breaking through the tunnel, out into another
space beyond the tunnel, pinpointed by the target star, which one keeps going

close 11

And, finally, one breaks through, the equivalent of falling asleep, and beginning to dream, where we see, rather fantastically, the space in which she was kept, when kidnapped, and even the killer

close 12

A really interesting thing is that, in this stage, she acts out how she behaved there, running to get away from him, through all the halls

close 13

And then he asks her a few questions, she whispers some things, and he wakes her up. This is quite ingenious. And it oddly enough identifies the stages of falling asleep just as I have, from the video in Ringu, the static entoptic stage, the glass onion world of the purkinjee tree, the lattice stage, the wormhole, and then deep dreaming. This model breaks down hypnagogic imagery into five stages, each having a part in a process. As a process, this model can be superimposed over any aspect of life that requires, due to overstimulation, some measure of calming down (this would be a parasympathetic process). And it can be seen that even cultural events, art, and culture at large is designed as such to put people asleep to waking life, which is alive, free of the interferences, stress, mental jam ups and confusion of beta wave consciousness. More to come.