rev., July 27, 2015.
(recommended to review Part 1 prior to reading).
Continuing with exploring the meaning of the art in the movie, Annabelle (2014), after the murder of the neighbor’s daughter in their nursery, the couple decide to move. They come to live in an old prewar Pasadena building, called The Palmieri, it has about it a wonderful Rosemary’s Baby quality. It is unclear if they have moved into a pre-furnished apartment, or if they did the apartment, but, if the latter, then it is both weird and uncanny, that she designed it, because once again her tastes run close to my mother’s in her taste for purple and green in the fancier rooms. It must have been the acme of elegance at the time.
She even comes to dress up to live, here in purple too, and all in all, it is clear that they are trying to put on airs by living on a more fancy upper middle class “made it” level of elegance. And since the lobby is a little chapel of California hacienda style, with old master paintings, wrought iron grillwork, and figurative ceremonial sculptural relief elements
She has to upgrade the art too
All of her owls and knitted tchotchkes are exiled or compartmentalized as embarassing inside the sequestered space, now (no longer at the center of their life) sewing room, left there to fester as much as it wants, but never to gain as much free power to move through all taste in the house. Back in the fancy main rooms, the art is more like modern art, it is “real art,” and the main event is a green and purple Braquelike painting in the main room
This is not a Braque, but Braque did work in green, and, most importantly, did work in binarily composed still lives, with a bottle of wine standing on the right
We see this painting a lot now, here it is overseeing her sleepily watching, and then not watching, her baby, the crib pulled into the main room
In this shot, the simple display in the painting of a bowl of fruit on the left, and a carafe of vino on the right, works out, in this shot, signifying her as asleep, and yet the house being awake and troubling outside of her sleeping
In another shot, the picture rearranges to become as it were part of her armor, an expression in apotropaic form, of her desires and insistences, when he is not listening, and not responding
Here above the bowl of fruit bespeaks her face, her breasts, her hands, beseeching, and his is the impassive object, upright, sitting greenly self-involved, not getting it.
this mapping of their relationship in the disconnectedness of the picture is repeated in this shot, when, again, she is looking away, in purple, and he is not paying attention, in green
This provides solid evidence that this picture over the couch in the living room, is a classic example of a ‘predicament picture,” as I have described in Tales that Witness Madness, and in Demon Seed—and now stand convinced it appears in lots of other movies too. Again, a predicament picture sums up in it all the various aspects and dimensions, or rather knots, of the life predicament that she is in at the moment. And the predicament she is in is that the husband has moved her to a new place, she is trying to set up a new life, be a good mother, yet something is wrong, she is being haunted, and he is not paying attention. It is a serious problem.
Predicament paintings also tend to be static thesis statements, that is, they backdrop as properties some key scenes of interaction between the characters involved, but they are not involved in the haunting directly. That remain a convention of display of the tensions in a relationship, where visual image is needed to give three dimensionality to the sense the viewer-listener is getting from listening to them, and it stays there. For the actual haunting, it would appear that the pretensions of the predicament painting are too tightly woven, to allow of ingress by a haunting. This is ‘art,” as ‘art’ it is believed to stand impervious to haunting, by the armor of its formal strengths, and its representation of their pretensions. But the problem here is that, while this is a pretentious painting, and would appear to be a painting by George Braque, and at least in the tradition of American movies going back at least to the 1930s, epitomizes the abstraction that people would put up in their house to put on social airs, as opposed to good old American art, it is not actually a George Braque. It is a fake Braque, and that is apparent because it is so conveniently purple and green, and goes with the couch, and the décor. It is, in fact, that middle-level in-between type of painting that you can still see sold on Amazon in the house furnishings department, “décor art.” And, quite tellingly, she has a good amount of it. We see in passing a lot of décor art, up and down the railroad hallway of their flat
The derivation of this kind of artwork in culture is somewhat complex, and poorly understand. I wrote an article about its persistent on the square at Montmarte in 1989, and then tagged it as third generation impressionism, or, worse, third generation Utrillo. That is, art history was art history when he was painting it, it remained art history when a few artists making a living as artists followed him, but, eventually, the style ‘fell out of art history’ and drifted down into a décor zone where aftertaste lies, and rests, and thus become, what I have at other times called “noncontemporary art by living persons,” and, since it is often bought in travel contexts, as emblems or souvenirs of the country, I also call “tourist art.” I know about this art because my parents also had a good deal of it in their house, I lived with it. We used to make fun of it, the artists had odd names like Pazzi and Putso, and we would mock them. By we had paintings of this sort, put up purely to add a touch of elegance to a preestablished décor taste, in the living room, over the fireplace, in the dining room, at the end of the table, in the den, over the chairs. Much of this art was of the post-Braque mode, and much of it, for various reasons of taste, in our house, of a Spanish sort, because at one point my dad got into ‘collecting’ this sort of stuff on tour. I know this because the names and titles of much of this non-art art showed up on the list of possessions of my stepmother after she died (a year ago), and I passed on being able to posses most of it, I consider most of it to be ‘junk,” and so did the appraiser, as none came in more than $250 each, I let it go (for purely cultural reasons, and because I end up having to write about this kind of work in this context, I guess I kind of regret not having salvaged one or two of them). Documentation exists of the actual property listings on the holdings, at the time of her death. Jose Beulas is a fairly well known artist, of the subgenre, here an entry from a website oddly or cannily called maybeart
(and it is very odd to think I grew up in a home where paintings by Jose Beulas invisibly hung for all those years, the below image makes me think the large townscapes in the upper den where my mother spent her last years were the Beulases; perhaps too the innocuous phony Turneresque seascape over the fireplace).
The same sort of thing on Mia’s walls
In any case, tourist art is where the conflicted tasted of the sewing-based collectible mindset goes when it is upgraded, but retains its gaps between absolute good taste, and the harboring of some retardant retro tastes. These paintings stretch because they are a stretch, for the owner, trying to stretch out, with some pretense, their limited taste to something that looks like it is more. So it is quite keenly insightful that the art directors had Mia fill up her pretentious new digs with a lot of tourist art, which she probably thought of as real art (my father often tried to involve me in a debate over the values of this or that nonpainter). The dislocated nature of the painting, the fact that, though not harboring her predicament, they still embody her split-apartness, her vulnerability, means that as non-art art they are inherently haunted. And so, they form a keenly observed setting for her haunting.
And this is proven by the fact that one of these works in particular emerges as an actual haunted painting, to suggest the presence of a ghost, and the escalation of the haunting to the point where the ghost will inhabit and attack. We get a first glimpse of this haunting painting, which serves to bring the demon in, innocuously, in passing,
I was not sure what it was, but then saw that it was a muledriver, with a mule. Of course, below even the level of post-aftertaste-impressionism, is the lingering on of the bad taste of realism, and genre painting from the 19th century, which survived underground and outside of art history in tourist markets up to today. And so it was common for middle class people in the 1960s to respond to the identifying naivete of the life of peasants and such, to scenically from outside in picture their lives as such, so peasant painting was common (and I believe we had a few). Of course, it is problematic that it has shifted over the figuration, and that it is black. In terms of my model of dream states, it represents, then, the arrival at the crisis, the dropping down into actual haunted state. Every time she is alerted, and becomes embroiled in a haunting, she walks past it, it is part of it
when we get deeper into a haunting, and she now momentarily fears the appearance of a demon around the corner, there it is
perhaps it would be to stretch its meaning too far, but certainly a mule as a beast of burden of peasants, and a symbol of carrying a heavy load, having, then, a lot on your mind, is echoed in the peasant nature of the pictures of Satan she researchs, all of them, in vintage 60s LeVay norm, in the goatlike form
And then when she returns with the baby for a new crisis, it is the mule that it is in the picture
and the mule that brays as she runs
and the mule that witnesses her collapse at the front door, deeply in it, now
As a black presence, heavy and obscure, it IS the demon, and the painting IS the vehicle or membrane through which, at least on a visual-symbolic level, by means of starting at suggestive form, the demon is let into the house
(mules were so obligatory as emblems of the laboriousness of life, that required some relief or solace in art, that even Picasso, as a youth ,was compelled to do a mule. If this requirement then becomes dated, and negative, then it becomes haunted over time, and, through cultural migration, can come to host a demon
(it would, in my view, be too much to impose upon this innocuous work of non-art, a heavier state of dream meaning. But it is true that since Goya included a mule at a Witches Sabbath, it may be that, since a reproduction of this painting appeared in Rosemary’s Baby, and since that occurred in a haunted old prewar building like the Palmieri, that there is a deeper intent of haunting in the presence of the black muleteer in her apartment. She thought she was just putting in a naïve scenery of the labors of life, to gently console her, not a presence of a burden, to haunt her, but it haunts. (Such a segway would of course link this statement to my previous piece of the picture of the Burning Church in Rosemary’s Baby, blog rmarts, June, 2013)
Interesting, it is only in the context of this last haunting, that we get to anything of the energetic, opened up, sexual woman, in this one. In this shot, she is reeling from a scaring in the closet, and jumps back, offering a brief upskirt bit of exposure
And that then would explain why when in the final haunting she decides to jump out the window, and the window becomes the exit way for this particular haunting
With a creepy little whoknowswhat it is she hung up on her wall, to the left of the window, reminding us that it is the spirit of Annabelle that has followed her to this house, having left the doll, and possessed the baby, and then her, and only to be exorcised by giving her a soul to go away into
All in all, then, Annabelle (2014) stages the plausibility of Annabelle’s albeit creepy acceptability in middle class homes in 1969 by situating her intermedially in a different world, by placing her in the context of the compromised and suspect taste of an idle middle class wife who has gone a bit overboard with the sewing and knitting thing; and then, even better, it reinscribes the disembodied haunting of her spirit in the upper middle class digs of their strange new apartment, in a pretentious, but naïve, array of tourist art that haunts, including both a classic example of a predicament painting, and a classic example of a haunting painting, both of which belong to the class of tourist art, that is, not real art, but imitation art made by lesser craft-artists for the tourist market. It is all very well done, and makes for a haunting of deep rich plausibility, leading to genuine scares.
Note: Again, it is the purpose of this type of entry to record what I sensed from works of art used in art direction décor in the movie as it was shown. Any later correction based on research is another thing, I am only interested in the degree to which the setting “worked” in the watching.