Rev., March 15, 2016. byline. Houseplant: Journal of the Arts.
I am on record for arguing that in horror movies, the large houseplant in the corner of a shot is just like a suit of armor, to surreptitiously, by a fake-out, in an alibi form, suggest the presence on the mind or in the vicinity of the person in the shot, that a dangerous figure is coming. But the odd thing about the houseplant is that it is likely that it became so pervasive and everpresent that people just forgot what it was supposed to mean, and it depleted then to incidental presence. But, even so, there remains moments of salience activation, when the incidental houseplants chug to life, and emit some notion related to the story or the fears in it. A few thoughts then on a few sightings of houseplants in recent quick run-throughs of not good movies.
For example, in the awful Beach Balls (1965), which nonetheless is bookended by three fabulous cameos by the Four Seasons, The Righteous Brothers and The Supremes, the guys in their snazzy plaids sit among the houseplants of the club
and this club is a swinging rock n roll club, as here is a houseplant set next to one of the Four Seasons, and there is also a stained floral motif on the bamboo mounted screen in back
and this does look to be one of those 60s clubs that worked with the tiki exotic style
All of which would seem too relate tiki, and drinking, and rock n roll, and having fun, to the jungle behavior of folks that live in houseplant heaven. But, then, there is the added attraction, which is really the whole attraction of the movie, and that is that all the girls not only appear in bikinis, but repeatedly, to accentuate the nakedness of themselves in bikinis, play peek a boo with the camera, an strip to their bikinis, this happens twice, and since it is the job of the dancing they did back then to shake their junk, and their hair, and if possible all the fringes and tassels on their suits, that relates to houseplants too
This is, the leafage of the plant, its low-hanging fruit aspect, relates, by jungle association, to the available body of the bikini-exposing female, presumably fast in matters of sex. The notion that the body of the woman is equated with aspects of the male gaze and with natural forces is made apparent in the not too great, but not bad either title sequence, when the eyes of a binoculars zeros in on the eyes of the female body, her breasts
And then that sort of pleated suit girls wore back then, to give a waddle to their wiggle, was immediately related, in the animation to a wave of the ocean, so the connection is made. It is also true that the male gaze is played with again when the nerdy girls show up to bring dignity back to their class
And they are all done up in all but costumes of oldfashioned uptightedness, worst of all in their sleeping outfits, but then, of course, after they do the whole who me we’re shy bit at the beach, they turn out to have the best bodies (one of the left, very best body) on the beach, made more so by the fact that they are not proud of them, and more or less defer off any ogling
So, a very simple point to make, but it is possible that the houseplant virus that spread through movie culture in the late modern period is attributable to tiki culture, and gain life by relating that aspect of the sexual revolution as played out on screen in the form of girls baring just about all in bikinis (and it really is rather amazing, the whole movie around the movie is truly terrible, but, what survives? The classic rock n roll of great performers, and then the bodies, not anything that comes out of their mouth, or is acted by them, but their bodies, they survive with the full charge they had back then, in the movie.
A second possible linkage of houseplant to the indoor-jungle idea as it relates to wildness is suggested, a bit more sinisterly, in Black Klansman (1954). In this one, a man of mixed parentage, who can pass for white, but is black, has a fling with a white girl in a motel, and yet the room is fairly screaming be careful, as there are not only two large landscapes spelling out trouble coming at them, but a large houseplant in the corner
but then his night is ruined when he learns over the phone, the phone entangled in the plants, that a family member has died, killed by the klan. In this context, the plant represents the wildness on the other side of the phone, but, also, now, in him, in his rage
his ideas trigger so quickly from his previous posture as basing his life on love, regardless of race, to being a black man again insulted by the society at large, and in a rage of triggered anger he zeros in on the woman who two seconds before was his love object, as the symbol of white power, and strangles her, in the grip of the houseplant
and then, even better, making, here, a direct, immediate, associative visual rhyme with the houseplant fringe leaves, with his hands, backing off, appalled at himself, and his urge to violence. An association which quite clearly links the houseplant to the threat of a figure from outside the shot, and even with, in this context, a racial connotation of wildness and primitiveness, though in 54 that was pretty late in the day for that (this nice shot also includes a very rare example of a gun picture in a house)
Then he is so shocked at himself, and upset at his news, that he has to go, and that means go back out into that jungle, and for that he pulls on his pants in between two towering houseplants, bridged by a pretty nice painting
The painting is not the easiest thing to figure out, but it has about it a quasi-surreal but then alsoo quattrocento appearance to it, as if to depict a city in whole, and for that I guess I would have to term this a predicament painting (urban landscape subgenre), as it is a white town, in a strange place, and there is an implication of the difficulty fitting in
and then of course when he runs off, and the woman having vacated the bed, we see the full on view of the two paintings over the bed, whose danger was momentarily blocked by her breasts
That is, working here with an idea I developed in considering the bad movie, Lurkers (1987), that looked at from woman-first up to pictures, its double forms represent her, and a life with her, and a world of romance seen through her body, and as such they are an extension of, neutralized in their danger by her breasts below them, so breasts
But now that he is leaving, she is flushed away, out of the picture, and he concerned head on, without seeking refuge or protection in love, with the dangers of the world. And that would be a world where the danger signified by the houseplant morphs into a hard form, the burning cross of the Ku Klux Klan
and that is as far as I wish to take this note: simply that in two movies from the late 50s and early 60s it does occur to me that the houseplant serves also to whisper of the jungle wildness of both women in bikinis and African-American men who are angry at the society they live in.