Annabelle (2014) and awful art: the shifting taste of Mia as a conduit for haunting by Annabelle. Part 2.

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.

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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

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She has to upgrade the art too

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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and again

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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

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(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).

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A close-up

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The same sort of thing on Mia’s walls

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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,

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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

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when we get deeper into a haunting, and she now momentarily fears the appearance of a demon around the corner, there it is

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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

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And then when she returns with the baby for a new crisis, it is the mule that it is in the picture

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and the mule that brays as she runs

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and the mule that witnesses her collapse at the front door, deeply in it, now

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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

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(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

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(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)

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Annabelle (2014) and awful art: the shifting taste of Mia as a conduit for haunting by Annabelle. Part One.

rev., July 27, 2015.

In the very good sequel to The Conjuring, Annabelle (2014), the directors and writers decide to circle back through the bookcases of the Warren’s paranormal museum, where Annabelle appeared as a case study prelude to the story pursued in that movie, and then follow Annabelle back to her origins. In terms of art direction, the main problem was how to recontextualize a doll which looks so obviously hideous to contemporary tastes, to a time when its acceptability, while fading and marginal, was still within the realms of collectible plausibility. I mean, here in the present, this doll would not but scare anyone, child or adultana 1

The solution is to go back to 1969, and nest the Annabelle in the context of a lot of different sorts of tastes and trends, that are totally different from today. The fact that the director of the movie is long time cinematographer John Robert Leonetti, and that he is 60, means that he remembers, and also, and more importantly, he has witnessed how the taken-for-granted tastes of then, have curdled in time to haunt and give one the willies. This involves setting up a whole different intermedial nexus, in the context of which the Annabelle can be believeable as a collectible. He does this, or his art directors do this, partly through straight intermedial situationalism, and then through relating the art in the hosue to the tastes established by the intermedial tastes. So, the first thing, is that there is excellent use of the black and white freestanding box tv, which is the tv that people had in their house prior to 1980 (it still shows up as such, authentically, in Halloween (1980). This scary little box, projecting an image of a black and white world, and a dim world, is the very glass darkly itself through which, in the 1960s, people saw the world. Back, then, though, they lived in early-adopter mediated-transparent present, they thought that this was cutting edge, and cutting through to a new media life. In retrospect, we see it as is kind of limited blindness, a dead end, a fishbowl, in which only confusion is visible. It is therefore amusing that Annabelle decides to enlist itself alongside of Tragic Ceremony and other movies as another Manson-related movie, as what is on TV is the Manson killings.

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It was said then that “tv brought the Vietnam war right into our living rooms,” and so, in retrospect, we see this as a haunting, a bringing of that out there, into the home under discussion. Oddly, the Manson image is contagious in the house. If Charlie Manson is also the norm image of crazy in 1969, it can also be inferred, but admitting only of a whisper, that something is said in this shot of the Mansongirllikeness of the Annabelle doll

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In this shot, Manson is shown bringing a Manson Girl under his control, and as such the image serves as an emblem of forces turning this strong independent woman, into a weakling, who brings haunting into her own home. Though Annabelle Wallis is strong, and very knowing throughout, she does have some serious lacunae and blindspots, as a typical 60s wife, in her taste. In these lapses, she opens the house up to haunting, more so in retrospect, so she is partly to blame, in her prefeminist nesting in the home, for the troubles that befall her. This is communicated by way of the TV when it is part of a haunting, that is, when its fritzings are as telling of haunting as a flickering of the lights, and she is sitting there in the middle of the afternoon watching General Hospital.

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This will be laughed at by working women today, but not by my mother, whose domestic chores occupied her until after lunch, and then she sat and watched the soaps. The fact that this shot comes from after she is bedbound by the previous attack on her pregnancy, only deepens the pulling-in power of the lethargic nest. It should be noted that, even after they at last move, she brings the soaps with her, and here their interference and static is directly part of the haunting.

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Equally odd is that when her guilty husband promises her a romantic dinner, by coming home from the hospital early, she gets all ready for it, since that is basically the main event of her empty day, but then he is a no show, and she sits and drinks the whole bottle of red wine. And making this haunting-inciting moment so good is that the director chose as the anthem of this haunting Cherish, by the Association. This song by then, in the movie 1970, was dated already, it was the makeout music, and, for us, slow dancing music of the cyo dance, or the early teen years. It was to slow dancing in presexual preteen years that the male body from shoulders to hips across the chest got to feel, from chest to chest, what a female breast felt like pressed against you. It is to Cherish that the steam of this contact rose up, to all but fog up the glasses, it is to Cherish that the woozy IcantbelieveImdancingwith (and we had one public school girl we all wanted to dance with, what must have gone through her mind accepting another slow dance from another loser whom she knew was only interested in dancing with her to get a chestbump feelup of her large boobs?), it is to Cherish, then, that boyish and girlish, presexual, outgrown sexual romantic urgings were enacted. Cherish then was the soundtrack to coming of age, before sex; once a woman had had sex, married, and had a child, for her to play Cherish is to represent her harking back to some immature girlish desire or ideal that has been lost in adult life. She is literally emptying herself out, and the black circle and the inward spiral of the vinyl recordplayer, which has made a remarkable comeback in horror in the post-record player era, captures her haunting

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It is in the context of this intermedial stew, then, that her odd taste in old fashioned dolls makes sense. She is an adult woman, in 1969, who seems to like to collect old dolls, and especially collectible dolls.

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Even odder, when she opens the box and sees Annabelle, she—smiles, there is not a trace of whatthehell?

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So, the work has been done, if you do not understand how a grown woman would want a doll that looked like Annabelle, then you have to go back to what tv was then, what music was then, and what women were then, at least housewives were then, and from that umwelt recreate her taste. And this movie does a very good job of doing that.

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But what interested me most about the movie was how they closed the gap between media and dolls, by way of the décor of the houses. And, also, since, by a terrible thing happening in it, and a haunting, they are chased from their first house, and then move inland to Pasadena into a more upscale building, the movie offers a sociological chart out of how tastes might change as you move from a middle class home to an upper middle class fancy apartment, in a short time. The main event in securing the media and the dolls, the thing that holds her world together, is the sewing machine, This sewing machine is smack dab in the center of her life, it is what she does, and maybe does too much with this will of course mean that one of the very first supermedial hauntings of machines or media in the house, is the haunting of the sewing machine, as hub wakes up to find it whirring away in the dark

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It is to be seen, from the sewing machine outward, that her taste runs toward the crafty, towards the knitmade, or crotcheted, that many of the ‘works of art’ on the walls consist of little projects she has undertaken either with sewing machine or with needle and thread (again, my mother alsoo exerted her creativity this way), and it is all over the house. In this shot, it is suspected that three of these things on the wall, are of her own making

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Most oddly, these creations always tend toward the ‘exercise,’ that is, superscribe upon a technical taste, the chore of making a fillinthblank, she chose as her test case, an owl, and, then, having technically mastered that, seemed to make a lot of owls. There are owls all over the house. In this shot, it is clear that the owl is related to her sewing machine, but so is the crotcheted flower panel next to it, flower in the abstracts always indicating idleness and decadence

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This is pretty gruesome stuff

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The owl shows up a lot, it literally haunts the house. Here, not only does its whoo undermine the husband’s shows of strength, but her mastery of the exercise book owl has made of it her mascot, and then the taste spread to owllike or inhabiting adjunct tastes, like a cuckoo clock

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this then spreads to her plateware, and her seeing of plates as objected to be framed too, and collected, in the very Pennsylvania Dutch, patterny kitchen, carrrying on sample-book taste

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then even to the household mantel, not made much of it, but clearly overcome by the same taste for animal based mascot imagery, in which case a fish

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one owl in particular keeps popping up, though I failed to make a documentation of it, it is the macrame creation on the back wall just over her left shoulder (to her right), in this shot. This suggests that her sewing sensibility spread out from samplebook mastery of the owl exercise, for it to become a mascot, for her to then make and like anything having to do with owls, and then expanding her knitting practice to include bags and whatever (again, a similar train that my mother followed, though by and large my mother’s social taste meant that she left most of the mascot-exercise book level of cute figuration that often inhabits that dark pool of bad taste in the past).

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(To document that it is an owl, and that one really must wonder about Mia, if she would hang that sort of thing on a wall

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and we see all the accoutrements of knitting and sewing, and her woman’s work creativity, all over the house, and it is into that nest of macrame and stitching that Charles Manson invades.

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It really is a pretty wonderful art direction arrangement of the average tastes of a relatively lower middle class-middle class housewife in 1969, her world held together by the sewing machine, her creativity expressed and marked by the small achievement of her sewing experience, starting with a low level exercise-book of sample creativity, the making of emblematic figures, then staying there, and spreading out, with the owl overall becoming her mascot. Problem is, the owl kind of serves as a type of her own expression, as with her straight nose and sucked in cheeks look Wallis does have a sometimes owlish look about her. Worse, in horror, an owl stands for trouble, a warning of bad things to come. And so she has not only haunted her own nest, but brought an evil omen into her house. And then the shock is that Charles Manson’s mania strikes right across the yard, next door, and their daughter returns home to kill her parents, for the sake of a cult, and when they interrupt, she comes back into their nest, and ends up getting shot by police, back in the nursery, holding, Annabelle, another raggedy ann dead doll, with that mark, among all the crotcheted and stitched and yarned dolls and dolllike things in the chair

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But then the fun thing is that, in a single movie, and this is relatively rare, they move, and when they move, it is clear that the husband has landed a better job on staff at the hospital, and they have stepped up in the world. Their art troubles in the new digs to be covered in part two of this piece.

Part Two forthcoming.