Munch and the Blue Moon: the “pillar of the moon” motif and tormented love.

Rev., August 30, 2012.

The blue moon became a symbol of the end of summer this year. It also symbolized my situation with regard to summer: I am only ever able to get out once in a blue moon. I also connect it to my personal visual culture, and so that is why at one point I named a private press of mine the Blue Moon Press, as I am only ever motivated to get a work of mine published also once in a blue moon. Here is how the strands of experience formulated that symbolism for me in the last days of the summer.

First, I learned that it was time again for another blue moon. There had not been one in a while, and would not be another until July 31, 2015. This kind of date puts a landmark on the calendar and gives you a target to still be alive on. So that was good.

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Second, there have been a few other astronomical observances this summer, and this year, including the large moons of recent times. A third association was made for me when I looked it up online and learned that Slooch space camera was going to broadcast the event, and they associated with the recent death of Neil Armstrong. Though I believe that they were making a simple moon-bound linkage, without irony, and while over the years it could be said that in his noted shyness and lack of publicity-seeking Armstrong has often been suspected of what today looks to Americans like lunacy, and he did look rather moonish in his official suited up NASA portraits sitting in front of a large format photo of the moon, almost to the point of wanting to see his face not the man in the moon, the fact that America has not returned to the moon in two generations makes its Blue Moon phase an apt symbol of the program, and our changed relationship to it.

Fourth, I did tip a cap farewell to Armstrong on his death because he was a great American who did a great thing at a time when great things were being done, and they are not being done anymore. But my involvement in the space race was purely fed in by the culture of the time, it was not an intrinsic interest. So in some sense he was the manufactured hero of a manufactured space race, all for the purposes of propaganda and strictly a cultural phenomenon. Still, at my age, the passing of any great figure from the period of my childhood I mark as another slough of the world in whole toward the Old Jerusalem of death, and so it brought out a tear. But I was more interested in the blue moon as it speaks of summer and its symbols. Therefore, it was of interest, when it was asked if the moon actually turned blue (no, it did not), it if ever had turned blue, leading to the creation of the phrase.

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Fifth, then, it seems that in 1883 after the explosion of the Krakatoa volcano the ash in the air cast a pall over the earth up to Norway and it did in fact turn the moon blue. This discoloration followed upon an earlier discoloration in the evening, the sky at sunset turning a bright red.

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Sixth, it has been theorized by that the red sky in Edvard Munch’s Scream if not literally at the moment he had his eureka for the creation of the painting then figuratively afterwards influenced the amazingly blood red sky of The Scream. Munch’s description of the moment of inception is that as he was walking on a road from the hill of Ekeberg near Oslo, from the asylum where his sister was kept, he was tired and ill, and “stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. This became The Scream.” A few things. First, the blood red sky. Incidents of airborne algae had accounted for what was called Kreuzregen, a rain of blood read by recipients as also falling as crosses and arma Christi, in Europe, since the 1500s. In the Storm in the Valley sequence in Friday the 13th One, Kevin Bacon and his girl looking out over the lake, she confesses to a chill, and says that she had dreamt of a blood rain. The blood red sky, the sky of blood, then, is a known folk motif. What distinguished the moment is that he heard a scream passing through nature. Traditionally, in horror, this motif is usually triggered by gusting wind. It can be heard in the background of the wall-of-sound amplifications of the thunderous repetitive riff in the Beatles Heavy and in the shout in the Alan Bates movie The Shout. A scream passing through nature, coming up, at it were, out of nature, would also theoretically qualify as a nomos, a cri de Coeur. Munch did not mention wind. How does one get from blood red to a scream, then. (Was the Kevin Bacon stabbed from below through the neck shot though inspired by the Scream?)

Seventh, one explanation of the mechanism by which this happened would be that Munch experienced a depersonalization disorder episode. This disorder entails a kind of derealization, in which, momentarily, one feels detached from one’s body (which could have the effect of making one aware of one’s body’s pulses as external to you, as part of nature; therefore, he would have felt a nervous tizzy as something happening in nature), or have a sense of being an automaton, to phrase it differently, going through life, but without feeling (in which case the gap between self and world is so great the friction might generate the scream). More interesting are other elements of depersonalization order such as a feeling that one is in a dream, or having an out of body experience. Again, in the latter, the inner workings of his body would have been experienced as happening in nature. And in the former the lack of lines between planes of reality in dreams would have spread them through nature, and also, if in the dream state, he experienced something that started him awake, accounting for a disruption that could be theoretically vocalized by a scream, a nightmare shiver that wakes one up. But out of body experience has also been called an example of magical thinking, caused by hyperactivity of the parietal lobe, leading one to externalize causality to an agent and as a result see oneself as another person outside of oneself and one’s body. This kind of experience is akin to thinking that a double stands next to you, or the same excitation of the parietal lobe due to grief is attributed to the gullibility of seancers who want to hear from their loved ones again, and do. So the fact that Munch was, it is said, just leaving from seeing his institutionalized sister means that he may have contagiously picked up her manic-depressive energy, it disoriented his sense of reality, and see saw the scream in the scene.

Last June, one of the few copies of the Scream sold for millions of dollars. Commentators poo-poohed the purchase on the grounds that the image is such a cliché that it is not worth it. It is often claimed that it is impossible to see the Scream because it has been reproduced and parodied to death in popular culture. This is not true. The Scream is worth it because it is completely perfect example of pictorial composition saturated top to bottom in the echoes of a single emotional state. In the reflective state of art, this is so difficult to master, to bring off without hesitation or flaw–just for that, it is an extremely rare work of art. The head of the figure, his hands, his positioning on the bridge, the echo of the linearity of his figure in the clouds, and in the fjord, they all are so many echoes of his face, a perfect visual expression of the experience of Munch in the moment. That is, the picture has psychological power bottled up as in a battery in the majesty of a breathtakingly perfect capture of a single moment of negative energy. This power, because it was so intense, adheres to the image: as to an icon, as to a miracle picture.—it still has presence in itself, in the sense of a Benjaminian aura. Therefore, it remains real, and real in spite of the fact that is has been reproduced so often. These psychological state explanations also offer a eureka a mechanism to explain the power of the image. Munch was experiencing one of those chain-reaction nervous vibrations that if one does not stop them, they can get dangerous. If he had not found a way to cathect his bad feelings before he crossed that bridge he might have ended up standing in the shadow of the faint figure in the background and jumping off the bridge. Perhaps that figure is a premonition of himself committing suicide (did he say to himself, if nothing happens, if I get to the middle of the bridge without something happening to stop me, I am jumping off? Maybe): it represents a chill or shiver of backed off terror, as one might have at the edge of a cliff, thinking how close one is to oblivion. But the Scream itself is the catharsis, is the apotropaic mask that wards off that worst scenario outcome. It breaks the circuit, and lets him step back, and reflect, and record, and make art, and survive. And for the artist, that moment is always a eureka, an idea to make a work of art, an idea that makes on want to run back to the studio and not jump off that bridge. Art made by a person who dies while making it one thing, this may be art that talked him down out of suicide.

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Circuit breaking was the secret key to the instrumentation of apotropaic images in ancient times. Most ancients did not conceptualize the supernatural as existing in a singular zone elevated away from the mundane. They pictured the supernatural as flowing through nature like a force field. It therefore still required magic as well as rite to manage it. According to Frazier, magic simply involved the false logic or an early conceptualization of how nature worked. Religion involved the creation of a supernatural zone where gods dwelled and intervened miraculously in nature. In magic, good and evil was expressed by pathways of calm or nervous energy either making you feel comfortable in your skin or like you wanted to jump out of your skin. There was nothing worse than getting stuck in chain-reaction. The most important thing to do, in old magic, was to stop it, to put out the fire, to defuse the situation. This they did by breaking the chain-reaction through shock therapy. An apotropaic figure threw a monkey wrench into the works, and stopped them. The startle effect broke the momentum of the frisson; the scream depleted the pent up dangerous negative menace of the moment. You can see this build up and this dissipation pattern in hundreds of horror movies and stories.

So, the face of the scream is an apotropaic image: it stops the scream, as it offers it a catharsis. As a result, eight, it must then be seen that in addition to the blood red sky, the picture is notable for its steely blue fjord. This is very late dusk, sunset is already being overtaken by the darkness. Night is on the water. That night is blue, on the night of a blue moon. It is likely that though attention has been given to Krakatoa’s blood red sky, and this is what Munch mentioned, its blue moon was also instrumental in the eureka of the picture (Some art historians have rejected the Krakatoan explanation as a too literal or positivist explanation for an artist who was an expressionist. But even expressionists still find the spark to ideas in the circumstances and opportunities of lived experience. Exploiting, even if he was unaware of Krakatoa, the unique quality of sky that night of inspiration, is in keeping with all I know of models of inspiration). The blue moon is depicted only reflectively here, by the certain distinct blueness of the night as it creeps in upon the fjord.

But if you situate The Scream in the context of the series of paintings it was part of, The Frieze of Life, then the blue moon emerges as a presiding spirit, even goddess of the series. In The Voice, which I like as much as The Scream, a woman stands shrouded in moonlight in a white dress in the woods. The moon casts its glow on the water. The caption reads, “How pale you are in the moonlight and how dark your eyes, they are so large that they blot out half the sky.” The Moon is above the top of canvas, pushed out, she is the moon.

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In Moonlight, the moon is rendered as a smudge in the window, “the image of her standing there in the light summer’s night with the pale moon above hung there before him, “ causing him insomnia.

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In The Lonely Ones, the moon is small, off to the side, a couple stares out at the water, “his gaze is lost in the whiteness of her figure.

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In Two Women on the Shore, “the smile…became the ugly fateful smile of the Medusa’s head, a frightful grimace of unhappiness.”

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In the Mermaid, ‘there is a mermaid in the pillar of the moon gazing at the large round orb above the horizon, she rocks in the pillar of the moon.”

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In The Tree Stump, “you could see a little of the moon, large and yellow,” and again the occult image of the pillar of the moon on the water.

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In Attraction, the light is greenish and bluish, however, his face is pale.

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In Woman/Sphinx, “the mystique of the whole development concentrated into one,” a nude woman stretches by a shore. Jealousy, a green face, “eyes are as concentrated as in a crystal of many reflections.” Ashes, “I felt that our love lay on the ground like a heap of ashes.” Kiss, “I felt her body clamped tight against me.”

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Vampire, “he felt two lips on his neck, it sent a shudder through him, a shiver of desire.”

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Madonna, “moonlight glides over it so fully of earthly beauty.”

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Angst, “The people who glided past him like pale ghosts.”

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And then….the Scream.

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Two things. First, the pillar of the moon is the key visual device of the series. It represents a romantic image, moonlight on water, hardened by a kind of calentures of vision into a hard pillar. Medusa was mentioned, and then in The Kiss and others the closeness of the space is created by a joining together of planes and space and dark moonlitness in the same way. This happens as a result of a particular kind of vision or eyesight: the unconnected connect, the three dimensional becomes two dimensional, the soft hard, the hard soft. A sense of claustrophobia is created by this effect. It may be that this visual effect (well known to me) is derived from some sort of visual acuity that Munch had that foreshadowed his later optical problems: it may be the visual expression of a migraine, and create a hypnagogic state at the very least a dreamy reverie. It likely linked to his personal visual system, the origin of his so-called expressionism (just as Poe’s visual system was grounded in his macropsia, so Munch’s was grounded in some particular type of visuality). But woman in this system is placed in a state of tenuous visibility, passing in and out from one plane to another, attracting one, then spurning one, creating a frisson of approach and rebuff that builds up into a frustration. Especially in Attraction and The Kiss one feels the friction of the relationship Munch is describing, a kind of painful resistance that can cut one to the quick and rent open space in a way that would occasion a Scream (It is possible, given the origin of the milieu in darkness on haunted inland lakes, under the moonlight, that slashing as a motif in movies derived from the same frisson of frustration in that sort of situation. That is, the true origin of the slasher film lies not in punishment of teenage sex, as has become the common explanation, but in rejection of the male by the unapproachable female, worse, the female who lets you in, then rebuffs you). I know of this dynamic because I experienced it. This is a wonderful, erotic place to be in, but also can be extremely painful.

In most of the paintings the moon is shrouded by mist, and yellow. In Dance of Life it is white, in Anxiety that blue spot in the upper left hand corner might be a blue moon, or not. In any case, it is clear that the series is presided over by the moon and that this series is all about the veiled moon goddess dimension of woman, both good and evil sides. Goddess exegesis no doubt could be used to tease out more dark meaning. But maybe there is another ancient source for this atavistic goddess. The fact that throughout faces are effaced by moonlight and by sadness and preoccupation, again signifies the frustrating what’s the matter with you tonight, what’s the matter now, tension of these encounters. Rosenblum conjectured that Munch got the idea for the odd skulllike figure in the Scream (also interpretable as a demon of insomnia) from a Peruvian mummy.

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This has been disputed, but it makes a certain sense, even if not literally true (how can we tell what books he looked at, after all?). At the time, in an art historical urban legend since debunked, it was thought that mummies screamed because they were persona non gratas who were buried alive and so struggled some time after their burial to be free. Thus the “it’s true” terror of this particularly rich storied motif (quote here from The Pit and the Pendulum). That fears of being buried alive were still in the air at the time contributed to the support of the plausibility of this myth, a key factor contributing to its power (again carrying over into modern gothic horror). (We now know that it was just bad mummification that lead to mouths opening postmortem). .

Transposing all persons in the Frieze of Life into walking mummies, as they do indeed look, in Angst, would provide just enough effacement of emotion to complain of their lack of feeling as masks, smiling, phlegmatic, calm faces, and also suggest to Munch the extreme result of a swoon of depression that might follow upon the upset at his predicament in Ashes or Vampire. The feeling that everyone is dead could also be read as another kind of depersonalizing experience. One does wonder, with Angst, if Munch gave rise to the visualization of the zombie. All in all, then, for the moment, it would appear that the blue moon as well as the red sky contributed to The Scream, the Frieze of Life and the hypnagogic state of visual upset that Munch was in as a result of the events described or felt symbolically in the series. Could it even be likely that when Munch looked up at the pillar of the moon he saw on top of that pedestal a face, a woman in the moon, but with the face of the figure in the scream?

A final thought. Wikipedia always, of course, links any fact in life to popular culture, for nothing is real, in the American universe, unless it has life in popular culture. For Blue Moon, then, they mentioned the song, but not American Werewolf in London, where it is the first of several moon songs through the course of the movie, all indicating phases of possession. More intriguingly, the Blue Moon was utilized in The Smurfs, an awful movie that I nonetheless screened in the house before the blue moon came out over the tops of the trees in back (my DeGraw Street apartment), as the occasion of a portal opening up in their submushroom world (making them counterparts to mushroom figures in Mayan culture), cutting a hole in a waterfall, off of a peak got to by Danger signs over a path, a peak not unlike the iconic peak in the Dark Shadows movies, and transporting them to New York, and especially, of course, tourist New York, the Central Park universe, which is in fact part of toddler town New York.

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Thus, the blue moon as portal: this suggests that Munch was not simply being an expressionist in exaggerating angst but had been transported to a hypnogogic state and was simply reporting what he was experiencing and visualizing in that world. So, several agencies at work here.

 

The Beatles down the wormhole: prophecies of breaking up in the dreamworld of HELP!

Rev. July 28, 2015.

(Now) And now my life has changed in oh so many ways (My independence) My independence seems to vanish in the haze (But) But every now (Every now and then) and then I feel so insecure (I know that I) I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

–HELP!

I have long suspected that the movie HELP laid down the framework or scaffolding for my “imaginary” ever after, but it now also strikes me as a prophecy of the future of the Beatles. In fact, we embraced and loved the movie, but with a lot of second thoughts and confusion, and a sense that something was getting out of control and falling apart. This note will make a few points to explain this. In Help!, the insular world that was all and only about The Beatles, in A Hard Day’s Night, was reversed, and the Beatles were cast back out into the big wide world and made to see if and how they fell. They complained in retrospect that they felt less in control of the movie, that Richard Lester told them less what was going on, and that is true, though that may have been a Lester tactic to keep them always off guard and at ease. There are also reports that they were, as Ringo was quoted as saying, having marijuana for breakfast and so high and in giggle mode all the time that filming the movie was fairly chaotic (there was one scene with famed Brit comic Frankie Howard (House in Nightmare Park) that had to be cut because the Beatles simply could not get it together). The entire “split” nature of their new world, the under-attack quality of the Beatles-in-the-world, was epitomized early by a wonderful recording scene, that then is no good because the recorder hears a buzz, and it is a buzzsaw undermining the archetypal iconic Ludwig drum set of Ringo, causing him to fall, like in a silent movie villain scenario, through the floor. This falling represents a dream world, above it, all is appearance

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In the structures of dreaming,  the Beatles would be placed as a kind of interconnected lattice, hanging in the world, but suspended too. The world they are thrown into is depicted as a wormhole distributed into a swiss cheese sort of network of holes all pulling them down. Indeed, the floor coming out under them happens in another scene. In that one Ringo is dropped down with the escaped tiger, who can be put to sleep with Beethoven, resulting in a comic anthem enjoined by all, to Paul’s funny singalong encouragement,

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And there is another hole too, in the temple resituated, by some miracle, to the Bahamas, entered into from a false front,

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This then allows for the Kali statue to end up on a beach in the Bahamas, no less,

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And if to comment on the surrealism of this displacement of the real into a world as imaginary wormhole whoosh of adventuring/dreaming, the movie pulls back to dedicate it all to the inventor of the sewing machine, which perhaps refers to Breton’s remark about surrealism (“a chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”), or maybe to the stitched together nature of the proceedings. In any case, in the deadpan humor, which was part of the English side of the sense of the humor of the movies that we did not quite get (though, again, the word SINGER is placed above the four Beatles, in the embrace, visually, of Kali), situates it in an apparent new anythingcanhappen reality

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The epitome of the figures embodying adventurers, parodying the interpenetrable James Bond fantasy world world, was the swimmer of the English Channel, forever searching for the White Cliffs of Dover (bespeaking England’s declining place in the world). First, he appears in natural context, but then he pops up under the ice, after the explosion of the “fiendish thingee”, in Switzerland, and he also pops up at the very end, coming ashore in the Bahamas, the last gag of the movie, an emblem of the lostness of the Beatles in the wide world (here, John points the way)

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It is also to be noted that even Buckingham Palace was penetrated by outside invasion, as a hose comes through one of the pictures, and then invades and attacks them, while they are hold up. Here’s a nice shot of the Beatles sitting around between takes, on set, by Michael Peto

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To review dream structuring, in the entoptic representation of the world, all is cleanly abstract, compact, and relatively monotone-oriented, as the zigzag of a polygraph line, this sort of formalism penetrated AHDN. Then, in the lower, glass onion stage, there is  communication through abstract, usually graphic, symbol alone, represented by the iconography of the Beatles logo, the logo on the drums, the worship of their guitars, the graphic use of their haircuts, the mop tops, etc etc. But, then, with the Beatles, as a foursome, there was always the heavier, riskier element, the chandelier element, the lattice, and that would be the representation of the Beatles themselves in various jugate formations (to be studied in detail later) pressing against the world. My thesis here is that while the Beatles projected (through unconscious body language), an allforone togetherness in AHDN, in Help! their body language was entirely dislocated and turned inside out, and not in sync with each other anymore. Perhaps in order to outrun this, Lester and scriptwriters devised a scaffold of James Bond parody in which the story was precisely a self-reflexive commentary on coming apart, in constant attacks on the Beatles, so nobody would see that the Beatles were in fact coming apart at the seams. And this required a wormhole/downthedrain structure, constantly running down and away to absurdism. The wormhole vision of interconnectivity is a dream vision, and, measured against the demands of waking life, somewhat adolescent, as, for example, any geomyth which would connect peoples on the opposite side of the earth by means of an underground geological link, like I was told about Chinamen on the end of long roots in the garden, or Dr Seuss had a lot of those geomyths too, would be an example).

The response of the Beatles to the world that was attacking them was to obey their manager, even if he said the next recording session had to take place on the Salisbury plain, but then moreso to regroup by retreating into the defensive position of their jugate unity of four against the world. This was represented by the rather cute fact, that we all enjoyed, that though they had separate doors, they all chose to live together in a lavish four-partitioned but shared space,

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It is apparent even here, however, in this symbolic unity space, that there are divisions, in each space each Beatle indulges in a little personal fantasy, so George has the gardener on call residing in his bedroom, sitting on the floor, ready to trim when needed

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(I have not been able to identify that picture on the wall, an alien comic

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then John had his book, which he retreats to his belowfloor bed (again, an under the ground image) to indulge in, and Paul had his organ, which he hits up in an oompah sort of way, selfparodying his taste. It would appear that the vending machines, which we thought was a mighty cool idea, for a bachelor pad, was Ringo’s domain.  He was Mr. Pop, wanting to exploit pop culture. This whole set up, of what I would now call the inflorescence of personal territory, inside of or inturned from a larger quadrifrons jugate arrangement with the others, of course thrilled me because at the time I was living in a bedroom with two other brothers, including my twin, and the territorial wars were fiercely internecine, generating, in backtracking of the imagination, worlds within worlds, worlds under beds and in drawers, miniature keepsake paces or crawl spaces, defensively carved into the wider shared space. Thus, the Beatles solution for the same problem seemed like a fantasy, the overall effect of which was to further spread out the world they lived in

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But then of course that whole realm was itself attacked. Ringo almost lost a finger to the vending machine, there were armed terrorists coming through the window, the mad scientist shows up with a gun, and on and on. They were constantly under attack in their own home. Once again, the world was not going allow the Beatles be, it was tearing them apart. This shot is telling, because in the semiology of the use of furniture items as property in modern film I have since come to see that the turned over lamp, the knocked over lamp, even the tilted lamp is a universal sign of chaos, and here is a rather unique instance of a lamp on its side being used as a weapon against the mad scientist to chase him out. It is the Beatles besieged (Ringo had been splashed with red paint in order to be sacrificable to an arrow shot at that moment). (Not to address here the role of the purely allwhite apartment as a décor fantasy projecting innocence and childhood where it is being violated, a common trope even today in routine pornography–and Paul did appear Lilliputian naked in his all-white adventure on the floor)

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We sensed this, it was exciting, but, also, I believe, upsetting, disconcerting, a bit worrisome. In July, 1965, the world was changing, very quickly. This was more. Somehow, we loved the movie, at the same time we sensed this weird undertone of things coming apart. In AHDN, the Beatles were the world, and the world revolved around them. It was their world, “very English,” not a world we could enter, we were just looking over their shoulders. In this one, the world was wide open, and full of dangers (even if in fantasy form), and the Beatles were looking back over their shoulders at it. Moreover, this world was entirely an illusion, nothing but deceit and deception, it was a pretty grim message.

It is hard to recreate how we sensed this. But, the first thing is, as mentioned, the world was distributed as a series of wormholes down which they whooshed, through the false doors of which they zoomed from one part of it to the other, and many times being out of control. Chase scenes conveyed this. In AHDN the chase scenes involved girls chasing them, and the Beatles seemed to enjoy it as part of the ritual of being the Beatles (Ringo almost swaying in his running), their runaway moves seemed in control and humored by it all. Not here, their dodging from danger has about it a completely different body language, they are scrambling, as here (this is in the montage sequence of “more attacks in the weeks to follow”, in this case bagpipers suddenly spraying paint

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The movie put the Beatles in all sorts of situations in which they suddenly were just running for their lives, and all out of sorts, in their body language, all taken apart, as here (seeing the Beatles torn up like this had a superficial thrill to it too, I recollect only one 1964style scream during our opening-week screening of the movie, when the out of control handdryer in the men’s room ripped off Paul’s sleeve and George’s shirt,

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but in all of this, the action has gone spazcam, and the Beatles are no longer ‘acting the Beatles,’ they are four guys, who are not actors, being roughed up on camera

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As noted, Ringo and Paul have confirmed that for the most part they were stoned and giggling most of the time, while making the movie. This would account as well for the loosey-goosey improv nature of the proceedings, as well as its spaceyness, especially in the Bahamas sequences, which barely hold together as a movie. Some of the Ringo mask discovery sequences go to almost cinema verite in their roughness, on the beach and in the waves, it is chaos. (It’s also true that there was an odd need, in face of this improv reificiation, that is, being knocked out of Beatle character, to just be J, P, G and R as individuals, cameras running, trying to come up with something amusing, that they took up more hijinks and mugging for the camera, like people who don’t know what to do in front of the camera will do (a plague against representation now that we live in selfieworld). In my view it was at this point that both John and Ringo caught the mugforcamera bug in real life, and then they could not stop. This added to the chaoticness of the scenes, with John and Ringo mugging in the waves below. So, while in AHDN, the Beatles were corralled to play The Beatles, in Help! they were reified, improv’d and mugged, all out of sorts. For Lennon, in particular, this would become a form of acting out, a nervous tick that one imagines, after a certain point, he simply could not stop doing, as I have seen him do it to “goose” the moments in tapes of him in India, and even in his Jesus whites with Yoko landing in New York’s Laguardia. (I have not more deeply delved into the fact that at roughly the same time the actor Jack Nicholson began to ‘act’ by means of ‘acting out,’ and perfected his ‘acting out’ acting, based perhaps on the theme of “faking it” in Five Easy Pieces, that is, always mugging and making believe, in The Shining, 15 years later). ( this is another Grossman photo)

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Sometimes this was exciting, opening up the Beatles to new horizons, as in this sequence on the rocks in the Bahamas (but this graceful shot, seconds before John starts mugging), again, these nice pictures by Grossman

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But it is also true that during that sequence Paul was strumming a surreal replacement of a guitar, a standing (very sexy) girl with her arm out, wearing a bikini, also mugging for the cameras

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Here and elsewhere, we had the alienating sense that the Beatles had now broken out upon the wide world and were enjoying it in ways, very  grown up ways, that were beyond us and possibly served as fantasy formations and gameplans for us in the future. Maybe this was a good thing, maybe not: as this picture of Ringo with a lot 1965 girls in bikinis shows, gone are the page girls adoring the Beatles, here Ringo is adoring the greater bikinimania of 1965 (also by Grossman)

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The weirdest part of the arrangement of spaces in the movie was that in many places they forecast developments in future Beatle interests, that would over time separate them. We suspected, uneasily, that we were witnessing the first breakup of the Beatles, in Help!. I mean, why would they be screaming Help! if they did not want Help, if this was not a cry for Help, that their career and its pace was killing them. What this meant is that laid in as dream zones of deep REM sleep at the bottom of the network of wormholes, in the interconnecting fantasy world above, a deeper world, of  some new interests, was emerging.

The eastern elements of the movie surprised us, we had no idea who Kali was, or that India had any connection with Britain. The orientalism is there, but so is the mockery of it. But two things. I have noted that in AHDN the Beatles developed a tight formal means of representation of their foursomeness by means of quadrajugate picturings, and one of them involved punning in stopaction shots on Beatles as beetles, the insect oriented nature of their being (all this lattice level imagining).

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This involved a manyarmed sequence of stage set design, which I think carries that pun, that was then enlisted by Lester to give form to the fantasy musical sequence of Cant Buy Me Love.

But, then, here it is again, but it is externalized and exoticized into the dream world, it is pushed down to a surreal state, and to Kali, a killer goddess, who wants to kill the group, by killing Ringo. The hyper beetleness in the Beatles has morphed, by dreamwork, into a killer mother who wants them dead. That killer with her, we hardly noticed, exposed breasts, is also likely a conglomerate composite of the Beatles-eye-view being sick to death at all the screaming girls, screaming, by 65, just for the sake of screaming  (twelve hands here)

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And Kali (ten hands)

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It is unlikely that the Beatles consciously adopted this, often even in conscious life we act unconsciously. All I know is that the Beatles’ MO was running away from their fans, running ahead of us, making us catch up, it was a game of cat and mouse, and in time they came to also mock us and even make fun of us for our silliness—this would be an unconscious threshold point of that. Kali is also adored by cult members in strange, but wonderful gear, and there is human sacrifice, and of beautiful girls (another commentary on Beatlemania), (my favorite line in the whole movie is the young girl being bathed by her working class Anglo Indian mom, the morning after, lamenting, “coming home at all hours painted all colors!” )

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Years later, I strongly suspect I developed an attachment to then-contemporary Hammer movies of the time, which engage in colonialist orientalism, from The Serpent to The Wrong Box, as a way to have back, but on an adult turf, this fantasy vision of the world. It is also true that it was in a dream down this Eastern wormhole that George found meaning, as, even in the very opening twangs of Help, we hear the sitar, and the announcement– that early!–of the interest in the sitar by which George would take the guitar into a dream world, dramatically opening up the Beatles music. It was a strange foreshadowing, full of portent, for us, then.

Then, too, at one point, the Beatles inside the movie Help! actually dress up as an old time oompah band, to disguise themselves, and participate in a crashing sort of way in the events of the wide world. We see them go retro to antiquated form, foreshadowing their development of this idea, using alter ego formations to survive in the wormholed dream imaginary, in Sgt Pepper, three years later, (twice in the movie, also with Beethoven, they makes jokes at the expense of the Germans, a very 1960s thing, but telling—its possible we are looking at Paul have his idea for Sgt Pepper right in this photo)

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This masquerade as others would become the basis of most Beatle culturing over their remaining years. And it would become one the mainstays of constructive response to the self in the postmodern era, for an entire generation, lingering on in a way in art that I have liked, from Cindy Sherman to Karen Kliminik through Matthew Barney, all of which I think ultimately goes back to the parody of self in the mod popular art of Help!.

If, prior to then, in the lifecourse of Beatlemania, the Beatles existed inside the static-entoptic imagery phase, or then the icon-creating glass onion, with their foursomeness of course always weighing them to the lattice stage, Help! was the movie that let us fall asleep and begin to dream with the Beatles. With Help! we entered into a dreamworld representation of the world, an imaginary, so-called, which held fast for us most of the rest of our lives. Again, the wormhole is got to by way of a threshold and gateway, and then the world, rhizomatically, by a series of whooshes, whooshes down, and the resulting network of passageways all lead down to and drop through to the REM dream state. It is a low state of dreaming, it ought to be being woken up from in growing up, but in this the Beatles went down in, with Help!, and then lived in that zone, and we with them, and maybe we never did in fact grow up.

Postscript

Tieing this in, as Belting said we must, to personal exposure to the same, and my analysis of the movie as a script for life, my life corresponds logically to the rites of passage embedded in the movie by the fact that we happened to see the movie at the Riverside theater in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  It is on the right

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I have construed that situation psychogeographically, a theater, just over a bridge, over a river, leading into ‘downtown,’ the theater on the right, Gimbel’s on the left, and a vista of grown up life, as a key threshold in my life, entering upon a new phase, and here is where I saw Help! the imaginary filter or barrier that seemed to have had the effect of ensuring that, ever after, in my imaginative life, as I passed through that threshold, it was the filter through which I would see life, and the taste of that filter would persist in my taste for a certain kind of art or space. Thereafter, I would live in the world, but one formatted by a lattice of wormholes, full of secret, occult connectives, and be in effect too, not so much, as I always self-describe myself, a rolling stone, as that lost swimmer of the English channel coming up under the ice in the Alps, or the beach in the Bahamas, for George to silently point, thataway. In his pointing, and in so many other ways, Help! also served as the script that set the table for the final stage of the Beatles’ amazing career in the world—their retreat to the studio, to dream and to breaking up. But, that was in the future, in 1965, their second American tour was about to start, and that was the tour during which they would begin to hate being The Beatles.

Floral wallpaper and grave rubbings: The microspace of fear in Jessica’s mind in Let’s Scare Jessica to Death (1971).

rev., June 30, 2015.

In the 1971 movie, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, there is a dreamy atmosphere created by the fact that, Jessica, having just recovered from suffering a nervous breakdown, talks to herself, in a constant flow of self-monitoring, to make she is not going backwards, or that no one sees that she is going backwards. This constant level of self-monitoring is fairly common in normal, everyday human cognition, which does things, and then thinks about doing things, but what sets her apart, and what perhaps gives the impression that this is an aftermath state of her nervous breakdown, is that very often the self-monitoring thoughts are intrusive, and of a negative quality completely at odds with what is going on in the room. This keeps happening all the time, making several scenes, which, on their face, are not that thrilling, interesting. For example, at one scene in the kitchen she monitors her husband’s interest in the new girl. That is fairly normal, though if her intent is to foist her off on him, because she thinks she is no longer good enough to love, then it is a negative, reverse to self thought, he likes her. But then something else happens, and looks down at the meat on her plate, and has a dark vision of mutilation. So, these are contrary, intrusive thoughts, indicative of recovering from a mental breakdown.

The question in the movie as a whole is how much these thoughts pervade all of it, and how reality meets her, to help or hurt her. Since one of her symptoms was seeing things, as that was apparently thought to be symptomatic of “being nuts” back then, the fact that they move into an old house shrouded in mist may give to it a quality that enhances the capacity to see things.

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The house, moreover, is a nest of old-fashioned floral pattern wallpaper, always a signifier of trouble in modern horror

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Not only that, this type of pattern is conducive to pareidola, that is, seeing things, as it is busy, in a way that incites our capacity to see faces of ghosts or monsters in it. It is then only reinforcing that the hippie girl they find squatting upstairs, is discovered in that spider web of wallpaper, and she is also wearing a camouflage military style jacket, meaning that she is from the first a something seen, not quite real

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The fact that in the upper left hand of this shot is another, if illustrated on wallpaper, rendition of the fern or rhododendron fronded plant, as representative of evil, makes the use of the floral motif more interesting. Again, because of the shape of the large fronded plant, with a stand, legs, a body, and then limbs that reach out, and then many of them, this plant came to be seen as, not unlike a suit of armor, a home décor element of Victorian design that could often make one start, thinking one has seen something or someone out of the corner of the one’s eye. And here, she is lined up directly in front of it, and in camouflage, not that differently, when it comes to this sort of recessive shot, than Doctor Blood in front of the frond plant in the outer hallway of the doctor’s office. It becomes clear as the movie progresses that the art director or director chose to instrumentalize the evil flower in a more thorough way than one might normally see, all to set the stage of an unreal, and possibly not good for you country. Here, Jessica turns about under a birch tree, a birch tree is always symbolic of entering through the static of hypnagogy into the realm of dream. The fact, however, that these trees are also near an apple orchard combines the two to suggest a sort of opposite of a garden of even they were looking for

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Later, after the ghost manifests herself as such, wearing a vintage gown, hippie style, we see her materialize as the thing seen in what now appears to be much more complicated vinelike wallpaper patterns, extremely conducive to physiognomy sightings

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We also see that it was the style of the time to not tamp down this floral complication, but amp it up, by putting another pattern over it, the chair, and then the director spins it even further, by reflecting it all again in a mirror in the same shot, complicating the situation even more (and making a jungle of the décor to house the stuffed animals above)

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The pictures on the wall float in a field of hypnagogy, and the fact that the young man she is seducing wears patterns too results in weakening his resistance to fading into the woodwork with her, in sex

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There is a very odd moment in an antique shop, when they go selling. While the husband is trying to sell, she is introduced to malfiori lamps, or flowers of evil lamps. In reality, they are called millefiori lamps, or thousand flowers, but in the flipside of horror, that was translated as mal to make them evil, meaning that this old lamp, which she mopes over in interior monologue wonderment at how it could be evil, because it is so beautiful, though she does not buy it, carries on the evil flower motif into her being itself,

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One of the oddest shots in the movie is at the end, when she is trying to escape, she runs into the orchards and gets sprayed on by the pesticide machine, manned by the dead hand, and she cowers like a flower that has been attacked by chemicals, so she is the flower too

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That is, the flower motif as a property convention has been instrumentalized to become an internalized property expressive of her inner struggle. The use of it here brings the evil flower into her own bad self-scripts and worries, making her the flower of evil. She even sleeps in a floral nightgown and on floral pillows, the décor is relentless in pulling her into the dream world where her evil thoughts are given flight again

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As this shot shows, the core worries of her wellbeing are sex and death. Her breakdown has obviously knocked out the couple’s sex life, which is why she is so worried he will try to fulfill his natural need, in the language of the 60s, with the other girl. But then when they finally do get into the clinch, she acts out her worry over him maybe having a venereal disease, or not really being concerned about her, but only about his selfish needs, by finding a vampire mark on his neck. At that point the room like in Rosemary’s Baby is filled with old people, and this view, which I believe is nightmare looking up from REM Stage through the lattice, to apparent waking, makes her freak, she sees her life threatened i.e. sex IS death, and runs

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From the first, an unhealthy preoccupation with death, according to standards of the modern period, was the prime symptom of her fragile post nervous breakdown state. To be thinking about death all the time was to be haunted, or to make one susceptible to being haunted, to the extent of putting one at risk of going mad again. The fact that as a couple they have bought a hippie hearse, and that she goes romping in cemeteries to get rubbings of old graves, a popular pastime then, accentuates this (it also means the husband is accommodating her in maybe not quite healthy ways). The fun thing about the movie is that the rubbings she makes are then transferred by her to the walls of her bedroom. Normally, a picture of this sort would block out the pattern, but here it seems to deepen it, to make of it on the wall a complex double layer of meaning with flowers and death combined into another flower of evil motif

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If one makes use of Uexkull’s model of the Umwelt as being the dwelling-world or immediate-surroundings of tones or meanings made by the feelers or sensing organs of animals, then the Umwelt is what that microworld looks like from inside the worldview or POV of the animal, and the Bewegung is what it looks like from the outside, in the world at large, the latter usually therefore imposing upon it an external meaning derived from the culture at large. Thus, in a generic face like this, it will speak to you as a mirror image, if you are thinking of death, but, then, from the outside, it looks like a blank face, and an evil presence, suggesting that there is a cypher quality to the appearances of the scene, and some darker haunting presence is there. It is in the microspace between the POV of the Umwelt and the imposition of the external view of the Bewegung on the same image that the little hauntings of horror are often fought. Let’s Scare Jessica to Death in fact exploits her idea of wallpaperings the floral pattern of the bedroom with rubbings, quite well, with an almost inspired instrumentation. She puts them up above her bed, what this means is that they will become involved in whatever cognition she might indulge in lying in bed either trying to get to sleep, or, more common in modern horror, to seek safety

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At one point, it looks like she is gradually warming up to the squatter girl, and becoming friends in a way that might make reality set itself back down in reality, wipe out her contrary interior monologue, and get her in the swing of things, or flow of life, again. But it is at this point that the girl in fact betrays her, by making a lesbian pass. It is not clear that Jessica entirely understands what has happened, but only that it was too close, and freaked her out, she runs

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And well she might of, because at this point the girl identifies herself in her vintage dress self as in fact a manifestation of the drowned Bishop girl, living like a vampire in and around the lake and town ever after

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So Jessica runs away, and runs to the safety of her bedroom (why moderns thought bedrooms and bed in particular were places of safety I can’t tell, it goes back to childhood)

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Now she bunkers herself in, pushing the closet in front of the door, but, then, worried, spooked, she is now persecuted by her own interior voices, and they are fed by fears of the monster outside and the fear of herself going mad again represented by the rubbings’ faces

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But the most interesting thing is, if she sensed that the floral wallpaper spooked her a little, but then, contradictorily, challenged herself not to see faces and figures in them, by putting up rubbings with faces, she is, holding her pillow too, taking refuge in the space between the rubbings, and the wallpaper, and between the bedding and her mind

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She now has very whispery self-thoughts, and they are given physical form by drafts, that lift up the edges of the rubbings, hung loose, and keeping her on the alert, that through the tiny microspace, between wall and lift, between rubbing and wallpaper, the demon might get into her

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As the haunting proceeds, it closes in further, she is now obsessing on the possibility or fear that the rubbings and their faces might be the vehicle by which the ghost could pass into her

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And we get close-ups on those spooky faces, now made scary, in the context of her whispering session of panic

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And then, as if to finally symbolize that she has fallen down into that state, and given in and succumbed to the closing in, she gestures in a way that accidentally pulls a rubbing down over her head, that image of a head and her head touch, and she is closed in on by the crawlspace of fear created between image and fear of image, an actual physical manifestation in film of the microspace of her Umwelt turning against her, it’s a wonderful moment, a great shot (nice directorial work by John D. Hancock)

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And then she is suffocated in the lattice, the image of her impending death having now invaded her, and become real

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She must then drop down the wormhole, and this would be, as traditionally done, by the stairs, but then with a tomb image in her way, the case of the bass at the foot of the stairs, oddly, but, then, she sees placed there to, as joked about in the beginning when it was in the hearse, as a surrogate coffin, so it spooks her as an image of her impending death, not unlike like in Scrooge. It signals that she has dropped down into full-on REM stage, but, experienced waking, a nightmare of madness

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But then the further complications get her in any case. Still, an Umwelt is the small sum in one’s dwelling space of the feelers sent out to create a space, while the Bewegung is that same space seen, drained of your meaning, from the outside, and the blinkering back and forth from one to another is perhaps the stuff of a spooking. Let’s Scare Jessica To Death has a wonderful grasp of the in-between crawl space one is in, mentally, after recovery, and the dysfunction of hypnagogic states of burgeoning mental illness, but then truly surprises by going to the microspace of the Umwelt and actually physically rendering it in the wonderful scene in the bedroom, where the rubbings she loved at last come off the wall and they turn on her too.