The Last Tango on the Floor: drapes matching the carpet in Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris (1972).

noted, November 13, 2013

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In the movie, The Last Tango in Paris (1972) by Bertolucci, Francis Bacon’s paintings are quoted from the very first. There is also a story that Bertolucci took Brando to see a Bacon exhibition to prime him to play the role of Paul. And then on wiki the art director discussed how difficult or at least different it was to make an orange movie, for the carpet in the apartment is orange. But they seemed to have ended up in an empty apartment whose main piece of furnishing was the carpet because of the influence of the wide open platform space in these Bacons. In this context, the floor, the blank space below, equals existential angst: the bottoming out, the knocking down, the downward drop to the abject.

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The fact that the Bacon is orange relates to the apartment, and then the
pink platform of this painting would talk about sex, and the other life
saver surface in the movie: Maria Schneider’s yellow body.

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She is yellow, and often wears this yellow dress. It shows a lot of leg, and is so
high, with high boots to hike the focus up inside, and a muff all about, that the
focus of this dress, circa 1972, is the crotch (and we are going through
another crotch season as well, now).

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The apartment is an odd place–unfurnished, an orange carpet, the walls are yellow.
There is also a kind of staining device at the level of the wainscot, a maroon
or red coloring, that sometimes looks like a watermark left after a flood, at
other times looks like a kind of landscape, a further levelling out. In
terms of painting, the stain may be the actual transposition of a Bacon into an art directed set element in the movie. Once they both show up in the apartment,
looking it over, Brando then, as Schneider later accuses him, rapes her, though
she does not resist. He knocks her down out of the curtains on to the floor,
they roll, clothes open as needed but do not come off, there is a grunting and
a pushing and a rolling and a rolling around on the carpet

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The scene opens up wide, as her legs open and relax to receive the blow. The
wide carpet expresses the creation of a new floor for the relationship, a
receptivity, but also an emptiness

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And then the carpet allows her, when it is done, to roll off, out and away from him,
and him to roll down into himself, head in hands, humiliated and upset. In
this separation onto the carpet also we see her “carpet, “ that is, in the parlance of the
traditional male question about the coloring of it, if the carpet
matches the drapes, her pubic hair. This metaphorical reference may be the reason why in this movie Schneider has the second fullest bush I have ever seen in the
movies, second only to the bush of the ambushed blonde in Orloff and the
Invisible Dead (third would be in The Blood Spattered Bride). Carpet meets carpet, carpet becomes carpet; on that level, he is now snared in the piles of her carpet.

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This is a tableau of mutual I don’t know what, existential loss and yet some experience,  best exemplifying a Bacon translated by Bertolucci. It is his equivalent of other paintings where twisted figures, burned by negative energy, eviscerated and effaced, writhe about on the floor with an excess of existential angst. What might be the nature of that angst? for one thing, as noted in a previous note, madness in the rational mind is not crazy thoughts, but paralysis. It is the feeling of being so stuck and frustrated by the nothing-happening of life that one is weighed down by life. You become stuck, and then you snap. Second, it is depression, and depression happens in a low place in the psyche. The mind and the body can hardly lift itself up, one is filled as if with a black sludge, that, as even the medievals knew, in their concept of black bile, paralyzes the self, immobilizes one and nails one to the floor. Thus, to lie on a floor in this state is to surrender fully to it, it is not a good place in the universe to be.

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The movie, elsewhere, never quite leaves the floor. This is because the apartment
they continue to convene as strangers at has no furniture; that leaves them the
floor, and the bathroom, and since the bathroom figures so prominently, it affords
Schneider many moments to be nude in. I cannot tell what she is doing in this
scene, she is simply emoting, bodily, topless, on the carpet. It is almost a
kind of existential calisthenics, the opposite of yoga, a venting, a
Baconizing of the emotions

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Her hair out, uncombed, her shirt off, her breasts exposed, the curtains dingy, the
wall scarred and stained, the bedding unmade, the floor is the place of
abjection. Here she strikes a questioning pose, that faintly resembles a pose suggested by Bacon too.

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I include this shot as reference to my above claim that this big haired girl had
equally big hair below. That the big hair below makes her the dark goddess of the carpet, irresponsible in her toying with or humoring of this depressed man. This metaphor for her hair is reinforced by the fact that he happens to be shaving.

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And it keeps up. In the early 1990s, I devised a proxemical model for art galleries
and what it meant when art was positioning itself differently in space. If art was on the walls, that indicated a steady market and a fairly confident and complacent satisfaction with the rules of the life of the field. If, however, art began to float up to the ceiling, that indicated an effervescence, a heating up, a floating away, a bubble and its hysteria. If, however, the art dropped to the floor, then that meant that the bottom was going to drop out of the market. It also meant that things were sliding-signifying away, in a poststructuralism nomad slide of meaning, a  bad place to be. I felt that in the 1991 to 1993 market cycle art dropped to the floor in response to the collapse of the market (on that, later).

In any case, when you drop to the floor and do things on the floor that in
civilized life should be done on furniture, the proxemic logic of it means that you are getting down to an existential state. The fact that as the movie proceeds Brando choses to conduct his progressively more perverted assaults on her on the floor means something. He is bottoming out, working out his grief, somehow, doing it
through her. In this scene, he anally rapes her, meaning she does not exactly
want it, and, in the missionary ethos of sexual contact in the male-dominated 60s, such an address was considered almost abusively perverted. The fact that it happens on the
floor makes it an existential act, so, once again, here is another formal
variant on Bacon as filmed by Bertolucci.

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I don’t quite understand this shot (below). The only shot I know like it comes from D’Argento’s Suspiria, when we view the scene through a ceiling lamp. The suggestion there is that the space as a whole is the lamp of hypnosis by which the witch, Elena Markos, puts a spell on all.

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I cannot tell exactly what it means here. A lamp in a room would be a suggestion of a figurative presence, occupation, person. Its presence is civilizing, but, sometimes, dangerous, because it conveys the idea of antiquity or outofdateness. Here it is a fixture on the ceiling, the only furnishing in the room. It represents furnishing abjectness, it glares blankly. It also overcasts his backside pumping into her from behind, it censors her anal rape. It seems to say this is about how bright and emotional this act was, it was part of the fixtures.

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At one point, proving to me that Bertolucci was yet another modern director
working with key underlying metaphors connecting pubic bush to the movie and
its surfaces, in this case carpet to carpet, we get a good closeup of Schneider’s
carpet, for no apparent reason. Another possibility is even more pejorative. One of the movie’s most famous Baconesque moments is Brando’s searing encounter
with his dead wife, a horrifying scene, where he uses the c word three or four
times. This scene then may in fact equate c–t and carpet in an
unfurnished apartment. Vagina let out to be the garbage dump of a stranger’s
existential angst, that would be one definition, in the modern period, of a
c–t. That is, a sex organ entered in love is a vagina, a sex organ reduced
to a facility like a toilet in the bare surface public world is a c–t. By where this takes place, and what it does, dirt and c–t are associated. It should also be mentioned that in another scene she bathes, and he cleans her with a wash cloth, odd).

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At the end, of course, he is better, and pursues her, but she resists. She wants to forget the encounter, to grow up and move on. As part of this sequence, the last tango occurs. It too ends up on the floor of the dance floor. Then she runs off, she claims that he raped her. When he refuses to back off, when they come to another apartment, she shoots him. This is his last view of Paris, the rooftops of the back part of the view of the town: his abject state, his cemetery, his underworld.

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And then he crumbles into a ball and ends up after all that back on the floor in a
Bacon pose: meaning that the last way in which the place and positioning of his
body in the movie was Baconesque was in his death.

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All in all, then, this movie instrumentalized carpeting and flooring, and then made a metaphorical bridge between it and the strange woman and her bush, to represent the abject state of existential grief that he was in, after the suicide of his wife. In another note, I suggested that nunsexploitation movies made a good deal of use of the imagery of the floor as a place to express the abjection of self in the life of the convent. There are many scenes of nuns caused to be prostrate and punished on the floor, and their subjection to authority and to the rigid restraints of their life are epitomized by their life on the floor. Last Tango another movie where the floor was made use of, but in a different way, an existential way, derived, I think, from painting. I cannot at present say if flooring in Bacon stands for the existential abject state, the bottoming out of psyche, in the loss of all figure and shape of hope in life, but it appears that this is the idea that Bertolucci was working with. In modernist film, one, safely, cannot underestimate the amount of sexism that lingers in the last fiber of the deepest unconscious enlistment of properties and instruments in film: so carpet is related to woman and to her bush. It is a good example of flooring and especially carpeting being instrumentalized to represent the distress of the hero–and then the carpeting and the drapes made to match.

Fellini’s Satyricon (1969) and the art of the real Roman Empire (October 1, 2013)

In the modern era, which I define as from 1860 to 1980, rationality was the measure of the real, and any relation to dream was considered irrational or surreal: the dream was compartmentalized, and linked to mental illness, even. Today, in the context of what I call relational-physiological criticism, art is worked out from templates deeply embedded in the physiology of the human being, and the distinction between rational and irrational has become considerably more complicated. Because in 1969 movies were expected to be new wave or realist or whatever, any reference to dream was suspect somehow, or at least read in higher profile as confusing. A cursory review of the contemporary critical response to Fellini’s Satyricon would seem to confirm this, as everyone only responds to its exceptionally odd dreamlike quality.

But, today, it is better recognized that most of the art of film is dreamlike, and the operation of film per se on the waking mind is not unlike a kind of dreaming (Belting). As viewer interacts with the film, he experiences it, and imprints it with his own readings, and then draws other inferences, it becomes in the mind of the medium of a human recipient, a kind of dream. So, I no longer find Fellini’s Satyricon particularly dreamy: or rather, it is important to map out the physiology of relations that make it dreamy. There are five stages of falling asleep, which can be exploited to induce one in film to a kind of dreaming, and Fellini uses all of them. In the static or entoptic stage, a static of smoke in the eyes, of which there is much here. The main theme by which this is made clear is the primitive: since most of the action happens outside of Rome, Fellini is free to imagine a much less marble society. The plainness of décor strikes one as stagey, minimal, and dreamy, as in here, the volcano apartment complex

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With regard to the glass onion stage of falling, which is conveyed by symbols and sigils, the most distinctive way this is shown is through the constant use of a strange semaphore of hand signals, it really is very curious, but in keeping

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At the third stage, the lattice forms, fixating images, hanging there, and here
Fellini combines two aspects of Roman art, the everpresence of the emperor,
which makes him imagine his image showing up in the oddest of forms of
devotion, including this classic lattice chariot

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And in the constant presence of spectator faces staring at the camera, which is typical of extreme drowsiness, I will take this example as typical of the visual composition he repeatedly seeks, the profile from the side, classic lattice formation, and then people looking out, here in the art gallery

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This also allows me to say that he conveys a storybook sense of the look of the
culture by taking off on its art. Though this is a later time, and the poet
deplores the death of painting, so all of these examples are in the art museum,
which is modeled on museum displays of triumphant banner paintings,

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He (or his art directors) also makes repeated use of Pompeii, as if the style spread through the empire. Here is a loose take off on the Villa of the Mysteries Dionysius mural

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In front of which he stages some gentle and fun sex play with the boys and a very
cute good sport, an African slave

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Finally, with the wormhole, he has many labyrinths and passageways

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and then, I suppose, for its time, the pure deep dream are some of the ritualized actions of the time, as depicted by him, and likely seen as fantasy and exaggeration by audiences of the time. So, Fellini does a wonderful job of creating a reverie, a dreamy hypnagogic state, in which we float, in the movie.

But then there is the deeper issue. In recent years, my view of Roman society has shifted over from a rational-civilizational to the voodoo-cultural: that is, from a civic-judicial view, to a religious-superstitious view. This view better frames the reality of the art. As a result, the textbook images and interpretations of Roman art seem lacking, they do not have enough of the magic and religion of the image in the image. Worse, they have little sense of the agency of the image, the fact that as ancients Romans had some art, but much of it remained ritual objects used for agentic reasons: either in cult, intercession, votive-sacrificial or apotropaic form. In exploring how to visualize the more prominent role these purposes played in Rome, distorting the art past art, and too often in forms that have not survived, skewering our perception, I in fact had occasion to reference Fellini. And what struck me was that his description of a Roman triumph parade, though simplified, was probably much more accurate than straight history. In his parade, crucified soldiers were carried in parade. Since we now know that there was a wax effigy of the dead Caesar on his cross at his funeral, it is not outside the realm of possibility that this is an accurate depiction of agentic history,

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He showed very large statues being carted off, and carted before the people, booty, and we now know, both from Mantegna and historical reconstructions, you cannot exaggerate how much booty the Romans paraded through their streets, these objects then set in the halls of the Forum as the world’s first art museum, but all of it trophies, votives of a sort

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Since we know that the Romans like the Greeks were obsessed with capturing the palladium of a place, the fact that Fellini fashioned for an Egyptian one a cart with
other objects, suggesting in this arrangement as well that these carts may have
been the prototypes of the circus wagons they are said to be the grandfathers
of, this made sense to me

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The Roman interest in panoply, fantastical accumulations of armor, may have extended to instruments, maybe this surreal object, clearly a fantasy, will be found some day to have a counterpart in reality.

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But we certainly now know the parades were festooned with large long canvas banners
depicting the history of the campaign and images of the emperor so this unique
image as far as I know is by no means an exaggeration

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As long as you view history as judicial, then this sort of thing will be minimized; the minute you overlay onto it an agentic purpose, booty to offer in triumph and therefore good luck and good omen to the gods, then any amount of exaggeration is possible. This is what the agentic view, it washes away the restraints of reason, to allow for a more accurate depiction off the vitality of the living moment in culture. And that is all Fellini, with his actionable instincts was doing, it is not dream, it is an attempt to capture the sacred real history of the Romans.

This theme carries over in his sense of their ritualism. Their plays are plays, but also partly religious ceremonies, connected, so they are about what they are about, they are also tributes to Caesar. If they look odd, that is because they are religious

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Women alone in private will still do offering to their goddess, Romans with their
functional and other gods, had a god to thank all the time for everything, they
were always at it, as the complexity of their lives multiplied, so their gods

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In the apartment, perhaps private citizens, story may tell, dressed their wives up
as goddesses too, or insisted that their prostitutes dressed that way, to bless
the proceeding

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Though I confess I do not know what this tangle is, unless a stirigulated spooky stick, a female equivalent of the axis mundi

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some works of art, in the art museum were likely once religious statues

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Particularly impressive on this theme, the cult theme, is the banquet of the wealthy man. It starts with a surreal scene in which all of his acolytes or those who depend
upon him gather in a bath and stand their naked offering him praises, with
candles, very odd, but not outside the realm of possibility in a world with
lares statue rituals, the keeping of the lares and the vestal virgins keeping
the flame, and other elements like that

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As for his banquet, it is clearly a major occasion, full of omens and portents,
again a quasi religious lares-religious household event. For that reason, the
meat has to be cooked whole, and presented, as presentation is what makes the
gods pleased

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since the gods need proof that they are being offered the best, perhaps you crown
them, the greeks just put ribbons on their sacrificial lambs, but the Romans
would be gaudier

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The evening moves along from dinner to after dinner talk, it drifts into ritual, the lares is there, the pater familias serves as the household priest by saying some philosophical things, there is nothing here that is entirely out of keeping with a view of Romans as more superstitious

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I especially like it that the scale of the cooking makes it a kind Romanized civilized version of Greek animal sacrifice, domesticated into cooking and consumption, making it more householdly and personal. At the same time, if a guest offends him, which would bring bad luck on the house, it is his job to then expel him, and sacrifice him, and so the great fire is also a pyre on which a human criminal can be burnt. It makes sense

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Then we find out that likely taken from Petronius’ view of decadence this is all a
ruse, a practice mock funeral so that the old man can elide the difference
between life and death and perhaps not fear death so much by going through
rehearsals of his funeral, for which he has hired all sorts of performers to
play the part of the mourners

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On the ship of another master, we find another example of decadence: master who
must prove his manhood, at his age, by wrestling, and then when he falls for a
boy, he wants to marry him. The boat is a modernist idea, but not entirely out
of keeping with what I have seen of Roman ships

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Here too everything is about sacrifice: this is an animal sacrifice to bless the
ship and bless the ceremony

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The strange wedding is held (he might merely have been marrying his human good luck charm)

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Then the boat is taken over and the master is decapitated, the wife relieved, and
the regime ends, with a triumphant parade. The final scenes represent the
wanderings of the friends. The ritual suicide of another couple is entirely in
keeping with my knowledge of the Romans. The house they leave behind for the
men to romp in with an African slave is a fair copy of a Pompeiian house. Then
they find out about an oracle, and one imagines that this is off in the empire
somewhere, but the Romans in fact did deify hermaphrodites and were absolutely
mad about augury and prophecy, so this too shows them at their superstitions
worst, or best

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So, cult (lares), intercession (oracle), votive sacrifice, aprotropaics, it is all there: if you release Rome from the bracket of judicial rationalism, and treat it as the agentic religious society it was, which, faced with decadence and complexity, became more and more superstitious, almost bureaucrats of the superstitious, with all their functional gods, in fact the Romans were more like Fellini than Ben Hur.

But I save for last an added layer: the Romans, seeking more gods, more luck, more booty, more empire, became mad syncretizers. I have looked to Satyricon over the years not because I like the movie, because when I saw it I was absolutely nonplussed, but because of a lingering sense that it captured the strange mixtures of cultures that occurred in the outer reaches of the empire. I see Satyricon taking place in the same part of the universe as the salt mine scenes in Barrabas, and I also see a strong connection between Fellini’s attempt at Rome and the Rome or Greece depicted in the robust sword and sandal epic movie industry in Italy at the time. Those movies I have looked to to guide me in imaging agency as it applies to ancient art in a more robust way. I have found some examples, many mistakes, but standard practice is to freely mix up elements from other cultures, and mix elements of Rome and parts of the empire to create fantasy type states of being. This strategy of cinematic syncretism was also adopted by Ray Harryhausen in the Sinbad movies, especially Eye of the Tiger. And so when we get to the Minotaur in the maze, in fact, compared to The Minotaur, a sword and sandal movie, Fellini pulls back in from the dreamy exaggeration of agency, and makes of him a hired soldier with a mask on

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The young man then enters into the maze. The maze has art, and the art is rather
Picassolike, it does not look like art of the time, or, if so, more graffiti
oriented art, local scatchings,

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And again.

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At one point however the fight goes into a room made of tablata, which is an
Egyptian thing, reassembled on a lark, here

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And then out front, there is an odd owl herm, marking the boundary, it has a greek

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But then we find that the maze in fact is more like a garden maze without a roof,
and it is sport being watched by crowds up on a cliff. This cliff, the image
carved in it, though I do not know where the detail of the crowds positioned
like that comes from, derives from 1st century Bamiyan, Afghanistan,

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This is clearly copied off of the Buddhas

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And then when we get out in front of the maze, we find out that this is the
tradition of the Minotaur, from ancient Greece, incorporated into the practices
of recreation of foreign sites in the gladiatorial games, and the gladiators
then have a power to dispute the call. We also find out that this is a festival
of mirth, and a stranger has been put to this test as a practical joke, but
also to bring good luck on the town, so it is related to some story or
tradition. But then when the young man is released from his poor performance he
must then perform another kind of good luck ritual. He must make love in public
in front of the cheering crowd to the great Felliniesque concubine and
fertilize her as his erection and his coming will bring good luck to the town.
And this outdoor bed, set around a dug trench, is graced by a large female
statue from way stone age Malta, not something the Romans would have known

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When he fails the test, because he cannot “get it up”, there is no pity, as he has
brought bad luck on the town. He is also shamed because in the era of Priapus
male prowess was the symbol of one’s manhood and the blessings of the god upon
you, without it, you are doomed. So he is taken by the now rich poet to the
local Garden of Delights. This, it turns out, is a most curious ghetto,
structured not unlike the volcano ghetto, as a series of mudbrick apartments
around a central well. The walls are painted with images that syncretize Indian
and Hindu painting, plus the kama sutra, from a later time. The floor is sand,
raked into zen gardens by a gardener

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The cure for his impotence is to get a whipping with sticks on his backside, a
custom still carried out in some parts of East Europe, as whipping was thought traditionally to stir up the blood and the blood then would run to the penis. There are also swings, which I don’t know if the Romans had (though the Greeks did, and the
Cretans had images of goddesses swinging, as their open skirts were said to
bring fertility, a skirted tradition carried on by gypsies claiming husbands

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And then, since this fails, he is distraught, and he seeks out a cure at another
far off oracle, this one apparently at the African side of the empire. There,
Fellini tells the wonderful story of the witch cursed to provide all the fire
of the town by having her loins created fire, a really wonderful story (and one
which struck me as uncanny in coincidence of time since I wrote of the fiery
nature of Whitewood in Horror Hotel (1960) a few days ago)

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The swamp is the goddesses, as symbolized by an ancient fertility item under the
surface of the water

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There is at the site too a classic African voodoo fetish (one supposes that, theoretically, these might have existed  then), with nails pounded in.

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And then in the fire, and the heat, he is given the Fellini solution to impotence, more flesh, mounds of flesh, big women, monumental women, who look like the ancient fertility goddesses of mankind, when they lay back to take you in. And while the truth is that any objectifying modern lovemeister would back off in fear of falling into such an expanse of dark feminine power, the young man climbs aboard and goes to his business, and is successful, he is cured, he is virile again. And then the movie winds its way down.

In its dreaming structure, then, in its expansion of the conception of the Roman to an agency-obsessed decadently-religious culture (that is, coping with complexity, stretching religious practice into regressive magic), and in adapting for more arty purposes some standard fantastical practices of spaghetti Sword and Sandal movies, Fellini in fact, in my view, creates a rather accurate-in-spirit picture of the mindset of the Romans in the time of Petronius. It is not dream, it is not authorial fantasy, it is not Fellini imagination, it is not surreality, it is not weirdness for weirdness sake, it is good anthropology, reinforced by Fellini’s grasp of the essential dramas of human life, and his knowledge that movie is dream, that all makes it come out as a fairly effective treatment of ancient Rome.





The Thriller in Thriller: anatomy of a cult video.

On the thirtieth anniversary of Thriller, December 2 2013.

Thriller (1983), directed by John Landis, excels as a video because it has a structure that is as complex as film. It is not clear what “the thriller” is, until you pause to listen to the lyrics, and carefully appraise Jackson’s gestures, and the overall structure of the video. In the beginning of the video, we are surprised to see MJ in a letter jacket, and Ola Ray dressed up like a 40s bobby soxer.

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Her outfit in particular seems old fashioned, and since in American movies this outfit was usually worn by white June Alison type girls in the 40s, suggests an odd sort of assimilative pop art/we-can-belong-too ethos to the sequence (MJ was a true believer). In the context of the costumes, the opening dialogue, I’m not like other guys, comes off as clichéd, typical movie stuff. But then he turns into a werecat

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The transformation is a classic movement from dream to nightmare as what begins
with a figure in the middle ground ends with a monster in the foreground with his
claws reaching in close to you, to cause you to involuntarily flinch

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And this is exactly what happens, as we find out that this is a scene from a
“movie” that is being watched by MJ and his date, who have been projecting
themselves onto the screen. They are back in 80s clothes, MJ in particular is
wearing the blood red thriller jacket, he has not taken it off for the movie

thril 4

Now, this is a classic gendered scene, the boy laughing and having a great time with horror, the girl cringing away and hiding her eyes, and soon she will say, as a girl, hanging her blonde hair down as a veil against the screen, during the finale bloodbath in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, whispered angrily at me once, “why did you bring me to this?” jeez, as if I knew (and of course the amazing nexus aspect of this conflict was that it was a contagious aftereffect of a scene exactly like that in the movie, when, almost in the manner of  American Werewolf in London, Cybil Shepherd is affronted when full on sex comes on the screen, Travis settling in for a good time, “this is a dirty movie” she says and leaves).

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So, here is the same moment again. She leaves, he decides to stay, but then he decides, ok, he will leave too. I have discussed before that Thriller was possibly the name of the movie they were watching, and that it played at a theatre that was also showing Vincent Price in Corman’s Masque of the Red Death, with echoes on MJs red jacket

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This kind of implicates MJ in a boyish conspiracy, as, as I pointed out, in
discussing The Blob, that being upset by how bad the movie is, laughing at it, is all part of it, but so is the girl getting upset, the guy not, they fighting, then he has to calm her down, but she has been agitated, and then, it is part of a seduction, he makes his move.
And that is exactly what goes on in the foyer, MJ must save his date, he must
talk her down from her anger. And odd thing here, little noticed in commentary,
is that the Vincent Price movie shown on the poster in back, between them, is a
movie of deception, of a failed artist, or duped woman, and of an attack on
that woman. Again, this seems to implicate MJ, and suggest that he was seeing
his projections of how the date might go, if he pounces on her, to get sex, in
the movie.

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I do not know the movie poster behind, here, but she is calming down, lowered eyes, she is saying, ok, maybe….the date is saved, and we see a classic scene of a monster carrying a passive unconscious largely exposed woman

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The Mad Magician, amazingly, shows up, even, perhaps again commenting on what MJ is up to, the dashing operator (odder still that a theater in 83 is obsessed with Price, and odder still that I did not see The Mad Magician, ever, in my House of Wax childhood, but only saw it for the first time in 2010).

thril 10

So, this incident marks the movie as a “cult” movie, The Thriller is that movie, a cult movie, marked by one’s projections, and by the sort of headspinning contretemps that you have to go through regarding it in the context of a date. At this point, MJ gets the evening moving forward again, in the groove. And at this point, the song is all about how HE will be the thriller, and the love he gives her, the turn on he gives her, the sex, what she feels from it, will thrill her a thousand times more than any thrill she
had in the movies. Here he also does the grooming arm of protection around
here, gesturing with a making-a-screen gesture, that he will protect her from
the terror on the screen

thril 11

Ola Ray has her best moments in the video, here, when her 80s high heel, hair tossed back, tails out, strut, takes on a dancelike cadence, emphasizing behind. This reminds us that during the 80s was the last heyday of the big hair, and the era of hair, and hair as an attractant metaphorical of wildness and animality; and perhaps this even more so in Rap culture at the time. Indeed, Ola Ray had already done a layout in Playboy, and the poses, all echolated with double entendres to assist young men to get enough out of these rather chaste shots to excite them and aid them in masturbation. And in this one she is all hair thrown back, tail above, an tail behind.

thril 12

I apologize for this rather impolite inclusion and only mention this because in the “she’s so hot” appraisals of her performance here, from Playboy, the video is in fact playing off of the symbolism of her hair, and her look, which mimicked in fashion a hunted animal.

OK, so, on one level, there it is: a movie, a problem on a date, talked down, and then MJ smoothens everything over. But then they walk past a cemetery, which is odd, and Vincent Price begins his priceless rap

thril 13

They are not aware that they have walked into another movie. It is happening around
them, out in the dark, but they are not aware of it.

thril 14

The best line of the rap is that the zombies are corrupted with “the funk of 40,000
years,” and earlier in the song it was said that “the thriller’ has 40 eyes.
Just lyrics, but they must mean something, and have a good sound to them. In my
view, a beast with 40 eyes would be an audience, 20 people looking at them, 20
people now seeing them happy, on a good date, on their way to having sex, and
being jealous of that. So, evil eyes, the envy of the outside world. So, this
is us, we have moved from the film-in-video to the reality-in-video, to
them-in-video and us-watching-video, they have walked out of their date, into a
crowd—us—ready to undo them. I have theorized that what the funk of 40,000
years refers to is the Cyclops: as Mayor has conjectured that the Greeks
imagined the Cyclops, the one-eyed monster, from finding a skull of a mastodon,
with odd forehead construction, from 40,000 BC: and so the Cyclops has, in its
conceptualization, the funk of 40,000 years on it. And it is the ithyphallic
excess of the world, the sex drive, the boys will be boys idea, forcing MJ to,
once again, betray his embrace of protection, and turn on and turn against her,
like the undead, a being of pure blind lust, regardless of her feelings.

thril 15

Note that this one is coming out of a sewer. And then, when
they are encircled, MJ at first protects, but then springs the trap, he really
is a monster, ready to pounce, he is a zombie

thril 16

This sideways glance is important, it is a demon’s glance, cases of which I will collect, to support the argument. And so, now, Ola disappears, and MJ goes off to rap dance with all the zombies of the world, in the video’s most terrific sequence. Still, today, seeing MJ up on his toes, doing the Dracula gesture, a monster of sex drive, is (blocking out biographical retrospect)—thrillllllling, now MJ, per se, himself only, is the thriller

thril 17

Then she runs away, to a house. We now recreate Night of the Living Dead, in a vivid
house invasion by the zombies, in fact, doing more than in Living Dead,
breaking through the windows, up through the floor, its terrific stuff. We are
still in the movie of reality, of the wild world of boys, of all the boys out
there, all the “that’s all they want” boys, as routinely, cynically appraised
by girls in teen movies, etc etc.,

thril 18

As in other movies, again, now, there is a genuine suffocation nightmare sequence, as they all converge, hands out, to smother her, and grab her, we close up on her eyes, they are wide, symbolizing her crazed vision (and it might be pointed out that in her nudes Ray’s eyes and aureoles were repeatedly echolated off of each other, to arouse, so it is possible this was read in its day as a sign of sexual arousal, in spite of her
fear, MJ getting her turned on

thril 19

But then she looks up, and MJ is back being the helpful who me? innocent protector Thriller, the one who will keep her safe, protect her from the terror on the screen, and be better at thrilling her, with sex and love, than anything on that screen

thril 20

What house are we in, whose is it, did they go home to her house, her parents maybe not home? It is not clear, they were on the couch, making out, maybe the zombie sequence was her imagining in her head what it felt like to kiss the grave tongue of MJ and the hesitant quaking ground of his flesh, for him and his uncaring, lying touch to touch her breast, maybe she was conveying how the making out with him was most definitely NOT thrilling her, as this all was in fact part of the MJ ruse, and then she wakes up to sweet noncontender nice guy not boyfriend material MJ.

But then as he takes her back under his wing, and they depart, he makes one last turn to the camera (my god, what a complicated date he is, no more!), his eyes go all werecat and Price cackles for him an evil laugh of I got her, after all. Notice too an obelisk on the drawers and tables, both phallic and mystic, occult (in movie tradition), apart from MJs opening disclaimer

thril 21

These are the eyes of deception, and so the video ends where it began, in the movies, with the problematic dynamics of dating, sensitively recorded by MJ, who had no doubt anxiety about all that, even at age 24. In its sequence of twists, its tricks, its going back and forths, it does to viewers, male and female, what the film within did to them, it marks the video with cult events, initiatory complexes, that has in fact made it a cult video. So, like a cult movie, this video is a clever accordioning of moments, disjointed, to elicit cult response, and enable it to become a vehicle of initiation into the rites of dating. For that complexity, but then too of course for its amazing music and dance, Thriller remains one of the very few pop culture videos that are genuine works of art.

Other notes related, forthcoming.