Counterreality and crawlspace in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster (1990s).

Rev., July 21, 2015.

It is difficult to watch Matthew Barney’s Cremaster today, primarily because video has changed so much, and moved so far toward cinema, that the audience even in the gallery is more likely than not to look at it through the viewfinder of cinematic expectations. Fortunately, Cremaster has scenic cinematographic features, as well as imposing music, and guest appearances by Norman Mailer and Ursula Andress. So, it is true, at some point, in his foray into video, Barney met up again with residual cinematic tastes lingering in his mind and went with them, to expand his practice, and that will all seem legible to today’s audiences, but there is also the danger that that legibility will also obscure its deeper truth relative to his art.

And it is also true that it is best to see art in its context, and in neoconceptual art the context is the sequence of exposures to the art which one is granted in the context of an installation in a gallery. It was in its embrace of the possibly narrative, in any case the sequential, embracing a theatricality that Fried rejected from sculpture, that neoconceptual art in the late 1980s moved away from its conceptual forbears. What this meant in general terms is that the sculpture was not a self-contained plop set down in a formal white cube, representing ideal reality, and to be appreciated in formalist ways, but it was a property of a sequence of cultural migrations or movements of mind in and about the sculpture, which created the general milieu of it, and allowed the mind to move rhizomatically, or in the matter of sliding signifiers, the depleting running off energy of poststructuralism, around it. Matthew Barney in fact made his impression by descending into this ongoing discourse, and introducing more radical departures of the style. If through scatter art and the like other artists were showing how the gallery space could host sliding signification in a sequence of objects which one looked at in the manner of investigating the forensic evidence at the scene of the crime (the primary metaphor of the time), Barney interjected himself into that terrain by playing the part, or making of a sculptor, the criminal of that crime. In the first work of his that I saw, introduced in a group show at Althea Viafora Gallery, at the corner of Prince and Broadway, Barney included an object, in plastic, if I remember, in the show, but it was clear that it was touched or marked by some sort of performance activity around it. And then the accompanying video, which showed the real work of art, showed Barney with excruciating exactitude scaling and descending the walls of the gallery with climbing gear all to go up to gather up some Vaseline jelly, and then descend seven times, once for each orifice of the body, to apply it to the object. What could it mean? All it meant to me was that, here I was talking about sliding signifiers, and here was an artist who took that literally, and was climbing the walls of the gallery. I was interested in scene of art, and here was an object in a gallery, purporting to be sculpture, but which really was forensic evidence after some event. I was curious about the spideriness of space in the time of the sliding signifier (I did a show on this theme, Arachnosphere, in Summer, 1993) and here was an artist who was spidering on the walls. Whatever the fetish reasons for his actions, too, the fact that he by that made the strange shape into a kind of body, or a fetish representation thereof, was also of great interest.

In contemporary terms, I would say that Barney had found a way to give new agency to sculpture by performing sportlike acts around it, in a way that wrest the object from the white cube, and made of it a link in a chain of performative acts. It means that, especially in his reascensions to the ceiling, on that line, he was draining away the white cube, he was extracting himself to some crawl space at the side of the white space, outside of power, but, somehow, more powerful. At the time, I could only identify the space he occupied vis a vis art and the white cube as psycho space, thinking of crawlspace psychos in movies that inhabited air ducts and the like to spy on showering girls in their apartments. But now I would say more generally Barney saw that the reality of sculpture had somehow become depleted in an irrecoverable way, therefore he turned away from it, then, in seeking out a world beyond where new sculpture could be made, he fell back on a counterreal posture, in an outlying crawlspace, to come in over the top with a new commentary and a new narrative of meaning, and, by means of application, or multiplying through it, created, through the sculpture, through reverse engineering his feint away, a new kind of reverse agency sculpture with an inherently opposite charge in it than mainstream conceptual or minimal sculpture. And his work has ever since retained that sort of in-between, leftover, scene of, stageset transferred, quality, which I have always liked. But how then does this relate to Cremaster?

What caused Barney to begin to ascend in the neoconceptual scene was that as scatter art played out, he ascended with the same notions of departure of the white cube and resignation to sliding signifiers, to push his sculptures and performances into installational projects which, for the time of the performance, or the viewing of them, became non-white cube spaces. Perhaps his most dramatic step in that direction occurred in a show at Barbara Gladstone where he showed all his work in an installational environment that smacked of a basketball gym, or a sports space, and in the front gallery, in a small enclave, was a strange refrigerated unit, Transsexualis, replacing entirely the white cube in another kind of space (this effect derived from the boy art at the time seeking bachelor machines to stage simulacrum terrestrial events, with even, oddly, a Barney and Kelley connection here), with then objects in it that depended entirely on their physical being by the nonwhitecube qualities of the space, that is, if they were not kept cold, in that unit, they would melt. This was genius, in the terms of solving the problems facing the program at the time, and broke him through to a totally new level. What followed was a resituation of all of his art in an imaginary space beyond the white cube, with all of the extraterrestrial feeling and trappings (and Damien Hirst’s sharks certainly profited by association with Barney’s program at the time), and it was on, Barney’s imposing ascent to Cremaster.

So, that is the first thing. Cremaster ought to be watched in a gallery because Cremaster is an extension of gallery space, or rather, a farther extension of Barney’s mission to already move beyond white cube space. But it is best seen at the far end of a telescope consisting of a white cube. In Cremaster, we repeatedly see evidence, that the cinematic scenarios, put to music and given time, are in fact nothing more than imaginging where his sculpture might fit in the wide world, or, even more boldy, how the world as developed from his sculptures might look. The dynamic is apparent in Cremaster One, where we find beautiful and sculpturally aloof stewardesses of Goodyear balloons idling, over a stadium, waiting for something to happen. There is a table with grapes on it, as if to host a soiree or art opening later that evening. In the middle, taking the part of the ice sculpture that would be there in the real world, is a property, but, actually, a sculpture by Barney—so it is Barney visualizing cinematically the notion that the sculpture is ‘like an ice sculpture centerpiece at buffet table on an old Zeppelin balloon.”

crem-1There are two balloons, one each, one presumes, for each testicle, referred to by the title Cremaster, but under each testicular sculpture, is a hole in the grapes, a typical Barney orifice, a signifier of all of his sculpture, which could be called nothing but a tissue of orifices, and connectives

crem-2And then through that, is a crawlspace. And one of the most classic of crawlspace, where people hide, and which people fear, is under the table, just as under the bed is a classic place of horror. We find that under that table, is a living being, an occupying spirit, a nymph (if I can use that term to describe a figure who is said to occupy a crawlspace outside of primary space)

crem-3the way that she parcours about trying to get comfortable, like a kid trying to camp out under a bed, or like an embryo in the womb, is also fascinating, and in many ways simply a reproduction of some of Barney’s performative gesturings. It is also telling that she has her hair done up in 40s styled curlings, to subliminally refer to the female sex organ, something rarely seen in movies after, for example, as I mentioned in a 2010 blog entry, Bride and the Gorilla

crem-4And here is Bride and the Gorilla (1953)

crem-5Now, I mentioned under the bed. In a recent piece on The not good Hammer movie, Woman in Black 2, I did give some credit to the understanding of the nature of crawl space as a compressed two-dimensional counter-real place where hauntings could occur. With deep roots in horror lore, the under the bed is the classic space, where, because of its underness, one fears that the things down there will come alive, and, since it is under us, we fear that the space as a whole in the form of a monster will come alive. The movie was quite good in mapping out this space, spread throughout the dormitory and again showed some canniness in creating unreal space beside real space where hauntings might occur, in the case of the fake shell bomber plane set on the runway, a completely unreal place.

This place is the same sort of place. And, it is interesting, once you are stuck in there, you do try to get back to reality, and she does tear at and finger the hole, again a classic Barney gesture

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And does stick her eye through, suggesting that cycloptic one-eye look is not so much the evil eye as the marginalized eye now coming back at you, and scaring you

crem-7we also find out that this woman in the womb space in the crawlspace, has gained for herself some power from her counter-maneuver, and can therefore reverse engineer into existence a new reality, one she directs. And here is the artist returning, now she can use the grapes she steals from above (this happening in two balloons in duplicate) to order the world, using sigils and signs of obscure meaning (with obvious meaning that it is power from her womb, by her spread eagle positioning) (of the various action-memes or motif of Barney’s work, a basic musing on the act of creation is always part of it; one is well advised to reread the title of the work as Creation Master, or Master of Creation, and you can see it, somehow, an allegory of the creative process, or even the six days of the creation of the world)

crem-9And the world below becomes an all but platonic reflection of this sculpture world of creation above. For this Barney uses the formal motif of cheerleaders but then replaces them with his preference, showgirls from Busby Berkeley days, and descending from his new source of creation, the church of the upskirt universe (the degree to which Barney scaffolds his imaginary with the upskirt universe, a trope and form of the male gaze upon women in the modern age, and which began to be replaced by a more deeply unconsciously rooted specular vision in the mid-1950s, indicates that the fetishistic nature of his precipitated out exposure forms, those small repetitive actions, are based on childhood memories with women (this is a direct reference to Berkeley’s shot in 42nd Street, the young and healthy number, one of the masterpieces of the upskirt universe vision of the world, and, in my view, one of the most famous frontshifted abstract representations of sexual intercourse on film

crem-10So the model is there from Cremaster One. This is a visualization of the world as seen from inside his sculptures and performance. His has taken his vocabulary of sculptural terms and extended them now into a narrative space lying past or through them. To find his sculpture, he retreated to a crawlspace adjacent to the white cube, there he synthesized and purified his sense of the real in a counterreality composed of only highly charged exposure-precipitations based on his psychological experience of life.

Then he moved down upon form and space and made sculpture and performance from this countering, by reverse agency multiplying them through ‘contemporary art’ to create new work. And, then, to complete the illusion, once he made objects existing entirely in that network of steps, that series of arcs and loops, he fell back a second time to create a scenic reality derived from movies from them.

In Cremaster 2 it is apparent that, though the metaphor now shifts to bees, and birds and beeing, his crawlspace of departure, in counterspace, remains the under the table.

crem-11And if he is to look at life, it is through under the table, and through his art, and its filters, this is what sex looks like in the Barney counterreal universe. It is not that different from what sex might look like in the mind of a young boy accidentally caught under the bed when his parents by surprise go at it over him.

crem-12some of Barney’s extensions are not as successful. His interest in cars, and in using his sculpture to walk back to and then overcome and take into his art his former interest in cars, like a blob eating up the former interest, are less successful, though this extension of white carved form glomming onto a Mustang at least all but stands as a sculpture, simply given a scenic out of gallery context in film

crem-13Sometimes sequences in Barney’s films start with a form or surface that he might have had an interest in making sculpturally, and this may have been one, such as this

crem-14But then he turns away from it a second time to create a still more elevated second counterreality of almost fantasy where forms he could never make live, and he uses film, much as the musical directors of the 1940s, who only used to film to fantasize on film versions of stage performances and sets that could not be done on stage in reality, to envision a fantasy from insideout of his sculpture. This necessarily involves compressions and dovetailings and Barney’s fusing here of the Mormon Tabernacle choir and the US senate is one of this greatest scenic achievements

crem-16but this is a new sort of compacted agency, this is the sculpture itself imagining its broader reality. That is, it is second degree Barney. It is not Barney as sculptor imagining his sculpture placed in an ex-white cube context, but it is those ex-white cube sculptures themselves, from within, imagining their wider reality. At this point, it must simply be argued that Barney’s mind moves poetically, meaning that it is moving in all sorts of different ways, rhizomatically stimulated by association. I suspect that at the arrival of these flags in Cremaster 2, there is a bit of an authorial undertone of Barney doing his own version of, perhaps, a sequence he admired, the opening title sequence of Kubrick’s The Shining, and, then, on top of that, mockery of extraneous chatter around the movie, that it is imbued with secret codes. If you want a secret code, once we get West, here’s mine, sigils on flags

crem-17And again the sigils will imagine their reality, and after a few flutter flap out into a three d reality. Again, if you think the Overlook looks symbolic, or like a rocket, or the Apollo II landing, here is my version of the flag sigil, made real: it’s a circle of mounted police riding around on a strange Star Warsy island

crem-18The movie then does in fact begin to soar, just like at the beginning of The Shining (1980), the island is even a variation on the island that has been assigned some meaning at the beginning of Kubrick’s title crawl

crem-19And this island

crem-20Then we get to a little lodge, and there is, in a gold encased room (Kubrick’s Overlook associated by some with the gold standard), not unlike a merry go round room found in a number of different house of mirrors sequences in movies (I am thinking in particular of the merry go round room in The Haunting, but that is 1999), there is a sculpture in the middle. This is classic installed sculptural Barney, placed in a scenic counterreality, far from the white cube. The following is an imagining of space from within it

crem-21Indeed at one point, the space verticalizes, again, very Kubrickian, and it leads down the wormhole, to a deeper imagining of itself

crem-22Here, too, a similar tilt in perspective in The Shining too

crem-23At the very end of Cremaster 2, we recoil back to the sculpture, we see it more close-up, we see that it reflects, has facets, has, in fact, a lot of reflectivity, all of which signifies a capacity to imagine, and the whole movie back to when it first appeared can be envisioned as an imagining of reality through the filter of a sculpture in Barney’s second degree fictional world

crem-24(oddly similar to the large driftwood piece in the Overlook in The Shining too  (though I make no claim that Barney was influenced by this)

crem-25and here is the close up

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We go back through the surface glitter, reimagined, on the micro level, expanded to macro inside, to a river of ice, a glacier

crem-26This brings us back, by way of one of Barney’s favorite comparisons of his sculpture to another kind of sculpture in the real world, centerpiece work, this time of ice, melting

crem-27And on that stage, is Stanford White somehow representing the Valhallan God of the Old Anglos, and also Houdini, made into a principle of escape, on a podium in the middle of a great hall, greeting an inspecting woman, some sort of goddess also of Valhalla (the fact that Barney would represent the mountain gods of Anglo America by magnates of 1900 is also in keeping with The Shining comparison as some secret code readers of that text believe that all the folks at the party hosted by Jack’s avatar in 1921 were Wilson administration officials, many of them having to do with the decision to end the gold standard, making of the Overlook a kind of redoubt for those who had faith in Fort Knox America

crem-28And this takes place in a vast garage, filled again with vocabulary forms Barney has folded into his practice, as if the kunstkammer of his influences, elevated to a pantheon state, the floor wet from the melting ice

crem-29and it turns out to be another variegated and faceted surface, a pavilion in iron

crem-30(again, I see this mountaintop Fair’s pavilion, as a cousin to the Overlook),

crem-31And in it nature is paralyzed, and stuffed, and encased,

crem-32and we see that it is in fact an abandoned old display hall from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, when America announced its arrival as an industrial power on the world scene, which also featured an appearance by Houdini (the relation of Barney to the Fair would be through a common culture of material display, a kind of sculpture used at the fair to display produce, and which Barney may envision as a forensic model for his work, from a parallel culture)

crem-33and yet all of it has been magically transported to a mountaintop, far, far, away, way up in the west

crem-34all of which, as I see it, are eight loops of internal musing by the sculpture itself, as to what it would look

And what it envisioned of itself in its glitter and reflection was being a godlike presense like an ice sculpture in a hall of prized collectibles in an old World Fair pavillion transported to the mountains and the mouth of a river of ice. His vision of America. (This is a tendency I deeply respond to now, with regard to megafigural imaginings of Western lands: it may seem “anglo” to deify the forces of nature in the Western US in a way that would usurp and replace Native American gods and sacredness, but maybe not, later on this). My personal view is that Barney had tongue very far up cheek, to the level of silent absurdism, countering the essentialist discourse that sees the history of land in America as a two-step from essential-native to invader-desecrator-Europeans, to preferring a panglobal view of America as, like any other landmass, the site of numerous, if not endless, comings and goings.

My view also is that this scenario was the high point of Cremaster. Here was where the testicular muscle after which the series was named retracted the gonads up into the body of American mythology, to protect them from the cold being emitted from his art. In Three, Barney involves his marginal countering too much in urban laboring, it seems fussy; in Three, it is too much, as if trying to make people understand, a return to the scene of the art world itself, the Guggenheim, and then the need to scaffold the notions with cultism, and working out art world issues again, while I simply do not quite see how Five’s Andress opera fits in (maybe, someday). The Cremaster I like is the Cremaster which moves its musclature up and down from the core creative physicality of Barney’s original performance-sculpture based drive to transcend the white cube and find a place for art in the wider world. Cremaster works best, and is best seen as Matthew Barney sculpture dreaming about itself and its possible future in life—free from the hand of Matthew Barney. It exists in two phases, warm, when the drama of counterreality creating is represented by an action in a sculpture, usually in the person of Barney (though in my view his appearance in his series is the least successful part of it) to order reality without; and cold, when the sculpture itself, seemingly without Barney, imagines it’s own future, and, from that, is able to exploit the fly’s eye rhizomatic multiplicity of the vision of things to shoot out to a much broader canvas. But whereas the neoconceptual program sought to scatter sculpture into theatrical places it had never known, it intersected with a cultural development of social complexity that allowed for the colonization of crawlspaces, and counterspaces, and living life in a permanently counter condition, and Matthew Barney provided the mythology for that moment in time, in the first half of the 1990s, just before the internet changed the disposition of the human beings to living in the actual world ever after. Therefore, it is absolutely essential that Cremaster be viewed as a filmic fantasy of works of sculpture, and that it be remembered as a document of a specific time, the peak years of the postmodern age (1976-2001), which would be the neoconceptual moment (1988-1996).

 

 

 

The problem of discourse in the age of the troll: a few notes.

Rev. December 14, 2015.

Note: February 15, 2016: I dedicate this “essay” to MarShawn McCarrell, Columbus, Ohio, whose suicide, I believe, was caused by one of the gaps discerned below (not sure which).

A good talk, and a chance at communication, happens when two agents of a debate interact with each other as equals, armed with more or less the same body of knowledge, and debate points regarding the issues, sometimes on major dividing points, sometimes on fine points, with plus-minus charges, as such

disc-1That is, all involved have agency, and exist (parentheses) in relation to each other. All have bought in, and all are on the same page, A to A, and not talking at cross purposes. The listener, then, V, seeking through the debate intercession (I) with an issue, that is, understanding, gains something from the exchange.

There is, however, in the age of the internet, an increasing temptation for an expert in one field, to fixate on his or her expertise, and then think, because of the apparent ease with which the internet appears to jump from field to field, that he or she can then offer an opinion regarding the other field’s debate. This field-jumping erases the fine points, and usually is characterized by the original agent exploiting or fixating upon the applicability of some aspect of his or her discourse that can ‘travel’ and then exploiting that travelling issue to take it on the road, into another area, in order to gain more notoriety as a more activist expert. But, as noted, when this happens, the debate ends up to be more a clash of field perspectives, fine points erased, than an actual debate

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Even worse, is when that expert taking his or her views on the road, begins to double fixate on their views as actionable in the context of activism, and thus they square off their views, they become blunter, and then they begin to simply photobomb other discourses with an off-topic definitely not even in the same book let alone on the same page ulterior commentary, the cardinal sin of what one writer calls the commentariat, and, in this regard, vis a vis the debate, this activist-commenter is all but a troll. This happens a lot in online art writing in particular. One of the most disturbing things about a lot of online art writing is that the editors don’t seem to know the difference between art writers actually writing in the art world, and activist-commentators who come in over the top and in a completely off topic way, making no attempt whatever to understand the internal dynamics of the debate, just, off the cuff, condemn a work of art, for all the wrong reasons. (Hyperallergic, in its nature, would seem to codify this sort of “hyperallergic” i.e. overly sensitive debate-bombing, as it features all sorts of these clickbait efforts by some online commenter to attack art in the broadest way possible, to generate the most clicks online. but for that all end up, as art criticism, hypo-critical).

Then the fact that a complete outsider, with no interest, whatsoever, in the field or issue under discussion, but only their interests, are exposed to this horror, and then add their protest, and, in that, make of the point a double-fixated upon meme, for it to then travel in absolutely fixed form, as a meme, from mouth to mouth without any critical filtering at all, sweeping through the wading pool of the internet, makes the situation even worse. We are very far now from debate

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Thus we see in the current situation a debate structure where the debate as it is called actually, as it operates, backs off from the point, and gets further and further off topic, until it ends up floating in meaningless outer space. This is exactly a structure we all know, for having been at least once in our life engaged in the late stages of a bad fight, when people at some point just forget about what they were originally fighting about, and just say nonsense, pointless back and forth, saying anything

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This centrifugal dynamic, this squaring off, this pushing off from each other, this reduction to shouting matches, this polarization, is so characteristic of discourse of our time, it is disturbing. And it is because down in that meme world of repeated unexamined memes is the world of gossip and rumor and mobs  and all that nasty stuff. This is also why the “daily rage” or the “furor” of the halfweek, the issue on which moralists stand, and rant, and rage, and posture, and feint, and offer this or that ridiculous I know you are but what am I nonsense, all of them just run out of steam. People stop because at some point they must realize they have lost touch with “what were we talking about?” and so the whole thing dies down.

But the point is, the whole thing begins to go to off topic discourse-bombing, and peaks with pointless shouting, and ends with a whimper.

The same thing, alas, happens in street demonstrations, which is why I have always been highly suspicious of a demonstration in the street. The street is by no means a good discourse place. It immediately, because of the dynamics of the a gent crowd  (A) and the power it seeks to intercede against to get action (C-A), a strained power relation (in s previous post on graffiti, 2013, I did a more micro appraisal of the demonstration space vis a vis power)

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The form of address is also different. A crowd in a demonstration communicates symbolically, inside the parenthesis, through the agency of mass of people, signage, and posters and slogans and chants, and what have you. All of these represent generalized and symbolic expressions of the issues at hand. Because generalized, and symbolized, they tend to fixate on certain aspects of the issue, and do so in bold print.

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They tend then, and then too because shouted, and in and across the street, and up at power, to polarize, and even as they approach and shout, the formulation of the issue grows ever harsher and more insistently simplistic. This new offensive state of communication causes the government, the power the crowd is seeking intercession against, to react by turning on the defensive, and countering the mass voice with apotropaic power, to stop them (at this point, signs and such are usually dropped). This makes the space formerly quiet and engaging between street and state space negative, and in it the voice screams louder and louder, and, the government not hearing it bounces it back against itself, reducing the crowd into a voice fixated on its not being heard.

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As it is rebuffed, and then tries again and again to scream across the gap in communication, the crowd and its voice metastasizes into a “mob”, that is, a crowd of people who are getting angrier and angrier at not being listened to or heard. The fact that this mob is also now gaining media attention, feeds it to seek more assaults on power, but then, also attracts to it lots of agents with ulterior motives, who come in from the sides, and over the top, and by their inclusion gradually change the message

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Once the “mob” is ignored and does not have its needs met a few more times, however many that is, each attempt and rebuff recoils to another entrenchment of position, hardened away from the place of dialog. Thus, by natural attempt-rebuff progression, and then being fed in at each rebuff by exploiters who only want to work with the phase, not the original message, the positions harden, and harden, and get further and further away from possible dialog

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It is when this happens multiple times, so that the mob itself loses sight of its original purposes, but only now is concerned with affronts to it in the response space of the rebuffs, the insults, the anger, whatever, that the rebuffed crowd now truly fixates into a pure anger mob, and fixates en masse too as an entity which now stands in whole as a threat to the powers that be. When, that is, and we have unfortunately had a number of these situations of late, when the crowd now stands in fixated state of anger awaiting some outcome in the process of law or government, with the implicit threat, by its presence, that it will resort to violence, if it does not go their way, at this point, the government is held hostage by a foreign presence, and the crowd now morphs, truly, old school, into a full blown mob (but I do not in this model discuss an out of control riot, by mob I simply mean a crowd beginning to rage at its failure to communicate).

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This mob, too, now so thoroughly polluted from its original front line position by the importation of so many other messages, by all sorts of fellow travelers, by hangers on, or late joiners, who just want to jump on the bandwagon, because the site of this mob, in its fixated structure, has become a stage upon which the world, for the media, happens for a short period of time, everything in it, however related or not, whatever state of rumor or reality or not, it doesn’t make any difference, this state is totally rhizomatic, and chaotic, and has little chance at this point of getting across any productive or progressive message. It’s just discourse chaos

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And it is at this backed off back off the front stage, when the mob is pure rhizome, going every which way, that the genuine outside agitators, so famous in urban legend, but, in fact, in my view, part of the organic whole of the lifetime development of the phases of crowd-mob transformation life, come in over the top. And if they are countering the debate, they can counter the protest, simply to create an occasion for violence, or, worse, they can come in over the top, exploit the loosey goosey nature of the crowd-mob, and resort to violence (mostly through vandalism), to try to set the whole mob alive with violence. And then that happens, this is an assault on the very space between cult and agent, between government-petitioned and crowd-mob, and thus violence in the end in a mob situation destroys the space of agency, depletes the energy of the dialog created at the beginning of the episode, and in that depletion, it kills off the demonstrations, and the stage, and ends the cycle, with nothing accomplished

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Formerly, the same sorts of problems plagued marches. I remember going to marches in the 80s, and after wading into the mass, found just a loose mélange of all sorts of hangers on pushing this or this extremist position, all of it ending up as a big zero. But none of that gained mention in the press because it was off the front line. Now, it does, and it does too with the help of the internet, glorifying the troll, and offering him oopspowerment (seen today by the common trope by the young demonstrator standing at the rampart yelling his tirade at the line of stone faced cops, which is not exactly communication). Thus, it is clear, as a platform of debate, I find the internet to be entirely too porous to prevent the debate from quickly backing off into off topic and not on same page nonsense. In the same way, I suppose I think that the street demonstration is an obsolete form of governmental address, and simply by its nature, and then the certainty of its failure, it only ends up, as it approaches power, acting in such a way that causes it to recoil from power, and then get consumed by the mob darkness and the violence behind it. We like to think of proud marchers marching to the ramparts, for liberty, for all, but, today, the truth is, power is so rarely solicitable from the street to a building, that the march takes place on a moving sidewalk moving the wrong way, the more it tries to walk forward, the more its message is pulled backward by the reactionary organic movement of a mob fixating in frustration at its failure to communicate, resulting in a resort to violence. It’s almost like Sartre said, consciousness itself creates pools of nothingness. The same would seem to hold true for crowds today, so easily turned away to become mobs of trolls.

Some inklings of a history of 80s painting in the background of horror movies: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988) (with a note on Slumber Party Massacre 3 (1989)).

Rev., September 12, 2015.

It would be foolhardy to claim that there was a parallel development in the history of painting in the context of the art world and the history of art, and the representation of painting as a property of art direction in the movies. The two cultural paths rarely, in my view, overlap, and the space between them is considerable. At best, I would say that in the flow of the intramural tradition of the genre of the horror movie per se the use of art in a certain way as a property expressive of aspects of what is going on in the movie gets lodged there, and then drags behind, meeting the needs of the conventions of the genre, the actual progress of the history of painting in the art world. I would guess that on average the perception of what painting is, in horror movies, and in the world of horror movies, lags about thirty to fifty years behind what is actually going on in the art world. Thus, painting as represented in movies represents a parallel universe of the representation of painting that lags behind and does not march parallel on pace with art. And yet, it is possible that in the opportunism offered by the market, and the will to exploit which characterizes any given present, that someone in the art direction actually put up the periscope of limited genre gaze to peer out of the genre over the shoulders of persons and trends in other areas of culture, and thus paid attention to something going on over there in painting, and thus incorporated it without understanding in the movie. I had this vibe twice in the last week, screening movies from the 1980s which seemed to have a slightly more adventuresome use of pictures as properties than in movies of the 1970s. I want to make a note on this occasion.

The first instance involves the possible incorporation of painting into a shower scene sequence. Well, that would be the case, because on one level the entire movie, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, is developed in and around a shower sequence. The sequence starts with a typical shower sequence scenario, the girl undressing to take the shower. But two things here, this girl is typical of the style of the girl of a very brief moment when big hair and baggy clothes were all the rage, for reasons which are not quite clear to me. And so she has already been tossing that big hair all over the place, and she has been entirely covered up, and has a lot of clothing to drop off

kill-1even here however the movie gives us very little of her body, she remains covered up

kill-2Even the standard shot of the nude feet of the nude woman, one leg remained clothed, and it does so to emphasize that she has carried something in with her, on her clothes, and that would be this popcorn

kill-3while she spends all her time in 80s style fixated on working on her very big hair

kill-4then when she gets out of the shower, she rather unaccountably gets entirely dressed again, again in more baggy clothes (unlikely in fact if the same sweaty dirty baggy clothes she just got out of

kill-5and then she is attacked by the little homunculi that the popcorn tossed by the killer klowns turns into, backing up with her sweater, to the shower curtain

kill-6which then reverses the shower sequence of norm, the victim in the shower being attacked by an outside object, to turn it around and use the shower head as a weapon to attack the homunculus

kill-7And then the shower curtain as a shroud to cover and blind it

kill-8I sense in this, then, an enfolding, or rather another accordioning of material to spirit, in that it would appear in the logic of the scene that it is based on a magical onionskinning of the fabrics involved in the sequence, of varying thickness, clothes, carpet, curtain, skin, water, and folding back out water, skin, clothes, water, curtain, to get away from it. I sensed this same odd onionskinning of materials, from thicker to thinner, from physical to spiritual, in the not terrible Slumber Party Massacre 3 (1989) where the shower sequence of note is an after sex shower sequence, and it starts with her clothes being removed, then her exposure of skin, on her breast

kill-9but then there is a malfunction, and he cannot get it up, so she suggests he goes down on her, and it is not apparent that he was entirely successful at that. Her walk after sex into the bathroom is entirely ambivalent. The fact that she is reflected in the mirror means that she is less of body than she was before. This might mean that, in so far as sexual satisfaction releases pent up bodily pressure, she was satisfied. The fact that she has chosen to only dress herself after in a bedsheet is also a classic prowl of successful sex, a classic trope. But, then, the fact that she is reflected in a mirror means that she is not quite all there, and her mind is wandering, suggesting maybe not, it is not entirely clear

kill-10the fact that she then finds a vibrator in the bathroom drawer and makes a joke to herself about no one getting any satisfaction (is how I heard it), suggests again that it all did not quite work out for her. That is, she is recovering from a not so great sexual encounter.

kill-11it’s at this point that she enters the tub, which has stairs, and glass bricks, and there is exposure of her behind as she does, a putting behind her

kill-12But then there is an odd dematerialization sequence, in which the dematerialization of self into a silhouette of her seen blurred behind a shower curtain

kill-13is matched by a shot of lingerie tossed over the lamp back in the bedroom

kill-14And her dropped sheet, off the bed, and now on the bathroom floor

kill-15And then we cut to the blur on the shower door again, and it goes dark, obscuring her even further

kill-16and that’s when the killer takes the vibrator, flicks it to on, then drops it in the tub, electrocuting her

kill-17It strikes me then that there is a contagious onionskinning of materials, successfully dematerializing, to signal weakness, vulnerability, and fear on a new level, in a much more thinly sliced way, and that this economy, if you will, of fabrics in her after sex life communicates danger to her. And it would seem to me that the same sort of relationship between the shower curtain and other fabrics in and around it, including skin, as way to communicate not just a set shot but a chain reaction frisson of vulnerability and danger, is also in evidence in Killer Klowns. And if that is so then it also allows me to posit that painting is also part of the assemblage of fabric surfaces in the house, because as she runs from the homunculi in her room, she comes upon a killer klown out in her main room. The room is dominated by a very graphic washy 80s abstraction, lots of color. We see her run by one figural one, which seems to be painted by her, making it a prophecy that this day would come

kill-18here is a close up, possibly using real clothing, which I saw a lot of in the 80s, and relates to her dressed state

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and then we see the main painting

kill-19Its graphic nature, its color, its size, its overallness, its combination of geometry and abstraction, it all suggests to me that someone in art direction was actually looking across cultures from movies to the art world to look over the shoulders of the art world and actually lift a sense of what was current in art then to make of her attempt to be an art a plausible reality. It’s not the most terrible thing I have ever seen

kill-20But the main problem who the painting is that, just as large houseplants, lamps, suits of armor, and any figurative work of art, the large central purple formation in it seems to suggest a figure, and is indexed and made to come alive with a who’s there? start

kill-21And, unfortunately, for her, it is not a false positive, because as she turns around from the figurative feint in the painting, she sees that it has in fact become real and figured out in the room, and big giant purple killer klown, which she bumps up against with a rather humorous oh fuck!

kill-22Then, more proof that the painting is being used as screen to suggest the startled who’s there? of a figure, that is, that it is an alibi property, is that it has three columns top to bottom of activity, from right to left , the blue, the purple and the black

kill-23and then that triplicate form, to enhance the power and shock of the vision, also fills in in triplicate

kill-24but then the humorous thing about this, is that at this stage the painting as property evolves from mere alibi picture, and an onionskin of shower curtain picture, but reverts in fact more to the shower curtain as a holder of her body, because the painting does have at the bottom a rather rounder formation and even to the right of it a cowering formation, and she now cowers on the couch, in jeans echoing on the form on the right, and the three figures looming over her zap a twisty turn doodle of light at her

kill-25this zap then builds up in a multi circle spin around her, as if overwriting the painting itself (almost in the manner, technically, of painting in computer programs today)

kill-26This light then solidifies into a yellow ball, as if taking on the substance of shower curtain or canvas

kill-27and she finds that in the progress of her evening she has gone from being behind a shower curtain to being caught inside a big giant plastic ball, it’s fun, it is almost an inversion of the shower

kill-28There is more to the role than that sequence plays in the movie as a whole, but what struck me was that by exploiting the larger and more colorful look of 80s painting to make the stage direction painting in this scene more flamboyant, and then exploit it to the full, by it staging or profiling the appearance of the Killer Klowns, the movie was acting in very 80s way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brief musing on Walter Robinson’s pulp fiction pictures: on occasion of his opening at Jeffrey Deitch Projects, September, 2016.

Since I can’t make the show, a few comments from afar on Walter Robinson’s work. First, it looks like a terrifically curated show, and the credit for that goes to the eternal supporter of the East Village scene, Barry Blinderman, who first staged the show in his balliwick of Normal, IL. The main reason this particular show is so much fun for me is that though I’ve known WR’s work forever, most of this stuff, I never saw–which is always fun.

About the work. Why in 1992 did I put WR in a show on Tabloid art as opposed to pop or post-pop art? Because pop art gloried in commerciality and style as a zone of escape from baggaged personality, while postpop art thought we could have our cake and eat it too by glorying in the escapism but then also reserve our encumbered selves by making the cake out of irony and cynicism, to save our sense of high and mightiness even when eating it, immersed in all the junk. But in Tabloid art there is no redemption, no saving, no stance you can take to separate yourself from the godawfulness of it all. Everything is topsy turvy, it is world of lies, conspiracy theory, urban legend, no way out. In mining covers of pulp fiction books or mags from the 40s WR would seem to be casting an ironic eye back on the past, to, from our high and mighty stance, laugh at their stupidity. It’s called a fissure, you watch an old movie, something about it seems, oddly, funny, it wasn’t funny for them, but in the time between when the movie was made and when you saw it (all this more commonly happening in younger minds, older folks’ war wounds makes them more sympathetic), some seam has opened up in the image to make it seem funny for you, so you laugh and enjoy feeling superior (this is exactly how Cindy Sherman created her film stills, the art was in nailing the old poses dead on perfect).

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But it’s almost as if WR gets into the microspace of the fissure and freezes the image in its basic absurdity BEFORE you get to the redemptive, retrospective laugh. That is, while in Sherman you can climb up onto the razor’s edge of the opened (brought to consciousness) fissure and see how the stereotype has changed, to give a little three cheers for feminism, or whatever, WR doesn’t let you, he stops you short, you are left in a quandry in the cleft of the image before it begins to pop its seams (it’s possible I am saying that WR preempts the effect that Craig Foster found in Sherman, but I haven’t read that essay in many years).

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This is not oh look how stupid men and women related to each other in the preffeminist totally sexist era, they were all sexists, kill them all, ha ha, this is, gee, all the rules seem totally different, they talk different, their body language is different, they dress different, they touch each other differently (her hand on his shoulder, above), it’s amazing, they all want the same thing, but all the rules were different, but, for all that, they kind of made a go of it, and that’s all they had to work with, and it was their life, right then, that was the only time they were going to be 20 years old, they had to go with what the culture offered, and they got through, just for going for it with those rules encumbering them, that was kind of sexy of them, they had many regrets, no doubt, but it was their life (I concede a gender “bias” (angle of perspective) in the sense that a male viewer would pick up fissures in female behavior first, but, hell, if I had to keep up all the Raymond Chandler Damiel Hashett banter back in the day I’d never even landed a single peck on the fricking cheek, exhausting!).

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The paintings are just too warm to be full on critiques in the postpop ha ha way, if you read them as ironic ripostes to I don’t know the battle of the sexes, I don’t think so, they are existential, and, for that, their laconic resignation to how absurd it all is after all made it, and still makes it, for me, tabloid as opposed to postpop art.

Anyways, I’ve stolen some images from lots of posts from my feed and one picture in particular by Katya Kazakina (her Facebook page, apologies for the picture-ubering) inadvertently captures the problem om a nutshell (these my two fav WRs in the show).

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Back in the day, when Peter Lawford (the man in the pic upper left) was hot, at an opening or party, you show up as “man” and “woman” in suits and glam dresses, everybody smoking of course, and whatever else at a fancy opening (where in some movies there actually are some old painted pics like this), I mean, you’d be dressed to the nines, super elegant, Hollywood, 1946

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it was still all about who’s fucking whom, but they choose to do it all dress up style. Today, stop by with a hospital supply bag retrofit as a purse and some really, really weird lofted shoes because we are all like super cool forever young revolutionaries. Hey, maybe it will work. Same game, all the rules are all different. Here’s the glam Marilyn Monroe copycat look, you wonder, did it work for her? and that question is right there in the paint

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Even with the rules, too, there is intimate space to manage, so you got to crack wise, or create some levity, you do things out of embarrassment, or anger, or playfulness or whatever, going to look totally stupid to the next generation, but you are trying to get by, to work it out, this is sexy, or NOT! or super coy, or really corny, or what, it’s just making a go of it, the old wiggling the hello toes bit, with some embarrassment in the painting of it

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the rules play out as well with a whole layer at the time, even as it is going on, of laughing at itself, of playing with it all by way of stereotype fictions (hello, Bachelor in Paradise), which is why the hunky mobsters and dames of the old pulp fiction seem to tragically wtf way is that to do it too

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One muses: Who are the 20somethings of 2016 to criticize how the 20somethings of 1996 worked it out, or the 20somethings of 1976 (mois), or the 20somethings of ‘66, or the 20somethings of ‘56, or ’46 (most images here, I’m assuming a lot of this is WR work from late 70s?), or 36, or 26? We all want the same thing, most of us, as the game is played out, ain’t going to get it, we worked it out as best we could, but every ten years rules are totally different, meaning in the end you realize, with a kind of warmish, even pitying humanism, which is embodied I think in what some say is what caused WR’s work to be “cut” from the pictures theory main group, its simple, kind-of unpainterly oh-wellness (oh, yes, I also consider this a variant of “bad painting” but won’t get into that now), it really IS all absurd, but we are too.

I get this a lot when I watch old movies, everybody trying to make a go of it, all the rules, in the push pull polymorph (i.e. envelope) of the moment’s power struggles, totally different, most failing. Film noir is particularly bleak with this issue, which I suppose is why I like it (in the movie, Dark Corner (1946)

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the man confesses to be in a “dark corner” of confusion, the film noir condition, Lucille Ball tries to help, but for that just shrugs acceptance that she will spend most of the movie batting off with great panache (with lots of baseball jargon, “swing and a miss,” “that one is low and outside), endless propositions to go to bed (before, that is, she submits). Even when they kiss duplicity is exposed by the reflection in the mirror, her hairdo means her mind is always calculating—the one mistake my generation made reading all this, in the 1970s, is we took it all at face value, in fact, a lot of self-critique was already built in). This, for me at least, is the special I guess you could call it laconic quality I get from WR’s pulp fiction work. It’s kind of surprising we found our way to getting it, it took a long time, and it may take a long time again, and again, too.

The tragedy of the goddess in Contempt (1964): Camille’s insistent theme.

rev., January 30, 2016.

Once again, listening to a commentary over the DVD version of Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt (1964), I protest. The commentary was all about how throughout the movie Godard was commenting on this or that aspect of the health of the film industry, and as such it was entirely anecdotal and exterior to the movie. Nowhere in the commentary did this academic approach say anything about how the movie was actually filmed, and why it works as a movie. So I have to give it my treatment. Again, according to my theory, though I agree with Belting that a movie, because it shares real time with us, for a period of time, seems to us like a dream in offering access to the lives of others that real life does not, it is also true that throughout the modern period the structural unconscious of film remained light, and not time, and that by and large all modernist directors feared that the characters, dialog, plot or whatever, those elements of the film that speak directly to the audience, would not be enough to communicate to them the full scope of the drama. For this, then, art direction began to be developed in which the concerns of explicit text of the movie could be doubled up and reinforced, and foreshadowed and recalled, through a constant playing with the properties of the set, then those set in conventional genre sequences. In this way, by this play, hints and questions were raised up around the explicit scene, to mentally deepen the scene, to build up suspense, and to make the subsequent events entirely believable when they happen. This is how I map it out

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This means: the viewer with eye and senses takes in the explicit text, with all of its moving parts (actors, action, dialog etc), and that alone is pleasurable, but it is not enough to make a movie a movie. In order for a movie in time to penetrate to one’s soul it must be taken up by the mind behind the eye, which is in some ways processing the movie vis a vis other movies, possibly working against the movie intertextually, and so in that turning away seeks reinforcement of the explicit in the tacit meaning of the movie embedded in the background of the movie, in its properties, its cinematography, its wardrobe, its art direction etc. This is why for me while we remain in the auteur-uber-alles era in academically-trained movie historians, for me a movie is an entirely collaborative effort with the director having only the final, managerial say in bringing it all together. From this point of view, however, there is the explicit movie, which merits review, but then, to get the full effect, and get at the full meaning of the explicit text, one has to go to the subtext. This is certainly true in genre movies, where a convention only makes sense vis a vis a convention as played out in other movies. But in art house movies too, directors felt, rightly or wrongly, to get down to pure film, the explicit text had to be effaced, and made cryptic, usually by the interference of purely filmic devices, most of which looks stilted in retrospect, but then also by symbolism embedded in the backdrop properties.

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That is, the explicit text effaced presents itself to the confused viewer, the viewer now turning away from it, because his or her expectations of a movie were not met, and in that turn away they usually swing back through more mindful consideration of the movie, which in turn swings back to focus on the backdrop symbolism as the key to the secret code of the movie. If they remain open-minded and relational to the movie, this is fine. The problems only start when they fixate on its effacement, deploring it, so abandon the movie as the source of meaning, and think it lies somewhere out in the world of the director.

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In this way, we get to the point where a code-breaker has so fixed the movie that is simply becomes a document of directorial intent, in the context of which conspiracy theory can thrive, and it relates as a document only of his or her views of some issue of the time in the world (thus the absurd Apollo 11 interpretations of The Shining, for example, which see the movie as a confession by Kubrick that he did stage the fake moon landing cinematically with the help of the US government).

But my argument is simple: the movie is the movie, and it is the main source of meaning in the movie. It may provide an interesting gloss that something in the movie is related to something on the mind of the director with regard to the world of the time without, but it does not say much about the movie itself. For this reason, it is necessary to submit Contempt to an agency approach, measuring if the director did something of interest with the background elements of the movie, in order to enhance or even explain the agency of explicit material, which remains still somewhat confusing.

I guess we can start with this rather odd shot, I’m pretty sure mostly missed by most viewers. It comes after the group has decamped to Prokosch’s garden for tea, and the husband is late. As a result, Camille is pissed off at him.conte-4In it, Camille (Bardot) is hidden behind a tree, sitting on a piece of garden furniture, paging through a coffee table book on Roman art. The view gives us a nice look at her tremendously shapely legs, but the rest of her is effaced, with some breast showing. She is being aloof, because she is angry, and now she is distracting herself. But what does it mean? Well, this book plays a surprisingly large supporting role in the movie. The book has been offered to Paul, to give him some ideas about the Odyssey. But, here it is again, and this is a scene in Prokosch’s house, where Paul is a bit embarassed because he had made a pass at the assistant, and it did not go over, and now they stand by the window not doing business but paging through a book of erotic paintings from Pompeiiconte-5The book then plays a major part in the bewilderingly complicated, and quite long, fight scene between Paul and Camille, back at their apartment. First Paul looks at it, and then, later, Camilleconte-6In this context, they represent a different state of being in their relationship, a time, perhaps, when it was alive sexually, and now it is not. Camille knows why, Paul is confused. In the book, then, they hark back to earlier days, when things were good. At the same time, the book is pornographic, in the Roman sense, and perhaps hinted at bounty outside of marriage, that they might be interested in exploiting. But, then, the main point is that this is Roman painting, and Prokosch thought it would help Paul isualize the Odyssey better. The fact that disputed interpretations of the Odyssey act as subtext to what is going on with Camile and Paul is actually part of the explicit script, so no need to address it, but this Romaness, this is something else.

It would appear that Romaness represents three phases of romanticism (to borrow from Neoplatonic theory), the goddess phase, when the man adored everyhing about a woman, also called the honeymoon phase; then the regular-marriage phase, when the woman has settled into a certain role, and has a certain function, as do other women; and then there is the exploitation phase, when woman returns to being just prey, to be trophied by hunting men. The movie as a whole seems to be about the slippage of a marriage from phase one to phase two, then three. That is, Camille appears to miss the time when she was the goddess, and perhaps wants her goddess status back. But it is gone, in spite of her beauty. Then, Paul, he wants the marriage to work, but perhaps only to have her in that role. Then, too, as her ideal has fallen, she toys or flirts with the possiblities that might come her way, should she break away; and Paul, now a screenwriter, and meeting lots and lots of beautiful women, is already toying with the idea of playing with lots of them. In an odd way, then, the images in the book, as they are flipped through, and shown straight up, and being paged away, are tristereoscopic, that is, they all have three dimensions, they represent in full the complexity of their longings at just this minute, the pictures therefore serve as “predicament pictures,” capturing in fullness the conflicting emotions that they are both caught in.

Visually, the Pompeiian nudes compare most directly on screen to pinup adoration goddess shots of Bardot in the nude, but posed with only her behind showing, most of the time. These shots intersperse the text of the movie, usually to remember that time when they were living together in spontaneous and reckless love, like this one (but there are others)conte-7The opening sequence of the movie in fact shows that adoring the goddess is one of the major tasks of the husband in this marriage, as she rather insecuredly itemizes her physical beauties, asking if he likes them. It’s an odd scene, and it also, inside of it, color shifts from red, to blue, to real color, which is odd. A big question in the movie is if she is going to go to Capri or not, because that is where the movie is being shot. She defers, but then goes: of course she does, it is goddess country, and there she has moments of being the goddess again, striking the same poseconte-8In all this, there is strong undercurrent of the myth of Actaeon and Diana, goddess of the hunt, in fact represented in the form here of Artemisconte-9And then an odd shot of statues in the fieldsconte-10In the story of Diana, Actaeon profaned nature by seeing her in the nude, because the purity of nature is something that is beyond man, and should not be seen by man. It would appear that Camille is of that sort, a goddess, and one feeling misunderstood and now appreciated. And yet this man had the gall to marry her, and see her in the nude, and make love to her, and now she despises him, if only because he is no longer the worshipper of her. This seems like an odd take on the movie, the angry goddess theme, but it seems to work. When they decamp to Capri, Paul becomes rather stiff and pathetic, he realizes the game is up. He becomes only a spectator of a life that is returning to its goddess state, and leaving him. This odd shot has always confused me, now I think it is Godard trying to recreate a classic painting, with Actaeon gazing out upon natureconte-11Without research, the shot is comparable to the set up of the scene in most classicizing painting, for example, Jacob Jordaens version, violating gazer left, nature rightconte-12When he gets inside, here too, he gazes, rather dumbstruck by it all. I have in my reckoning a notion that to live in a very beautiful place can be problematic. I call such places “natural theaters,” they were much valued as sacred places in ancient culture, and Capri of course has been the resort of the wealthy and playground of the horny for over 2000 years. But a natural theater presents you with such a surfeit of nature it can empty you out, and make it impossible to get anything done. It is the big picture, but one which paralyzes, and creates danger. Clearly, this is what this view out this window is, on first view, it is awe-inspiring, but, then, if just one little thing goes wrong in paradise, it can curdle quickly, to become a hell conte14he stands exactly like Actaeon over Camille as she has impulsively sought to catch some rays, by stripping naked, and he is rather taken aback by the fact that she has done this outside of their planning or life, just by herself, to glory in her own physicalityconte-13even when she goes, after that, down the house, then down the hill, and all those dangerous crags, she strips and dives in, and we see her swim, naked conte-14it recreates one of the rush shots that so amused Prokosch earlier, a woman swimming naked in the clear blue water, a goddess image.conte-15So, on one level, Camille is the goddess, this movie is a reenactment of the myth of Actaeon and Diana (events of which happened up the road at Nemi, not Capri, but close enough), and it is about a goddess who rages that she has fallen off the pedestal, as her husband runs after other goddesses. But the complicating factor is that while at face value and read historically a eidol of a god or goddess was meant to serve man as a role model to emulate, in modern movies, especially modern horror movies, a bust of a classical statue usually signifies that the man of the house has come to his power illegitimiately, and that he is an exploiter (see my note). Thus, on one level, the gods, but, on the modern level, the exploiting fates conte-16Which brings us to the second level of goddess culture, the regular marriage phase, when women in the modern world just become operatives, beings with functions and duties like anyone else, and thus live trapped by their treatment in an objectifying universe. Prokofsky clearly sees women as tools, and showing this involves, counterpointing the statues and the pictures of erotic love, strange bodily gestures that signify modern instrumentalismconte-17the oddest one of these “functioning” gestures occurs in the labyrinthian bath argument of Camille and Paul. At one point, he has stripped and bathed, but without soap, so just a rinse off, and now walks around the house in a large towel that becomes, now, a toga, so they are functional gods in a Roman household. She too then has to bathe, so also strips, but wears a large red robe. Once, when they come together, she makes a strange playful gesture, but also one that is possibly aggressive and dismissiveconte-18I cant quite figure this one out, but it does lift a leg into the between the legs of the man, so has to be considered a sexual invitation. But at the same time, it has a goosestep quality about it, indicating power. There is also something forlorn and mechanical in her use of it, as if it is one of her old tricks, but it does not work anymore. Later, she wears/unwears this same towel to eaves drop on him answer the phone, it’s her motherconte-19and later still when she returns to bed, kicks him away, in the movie’s most exposing view of her upskirt powers.conte-20then she really gets mad, and, in a fateful move in a marriage, takes up her sheets and pillows, and decamps to sleep on the couch. But, here, she adopts a goddess pose, as if, now, taunting himconte-21It is also done in the shadow of their very own lares, representing her goddess state, a statue of a Roman cast, of a nude. In this shot, it declares her the goddess estranged. But in an earlier shot, it underscores, as it would in most movies, her having been reduced to an object, and now resorting to trying on wigs to spice things up.conte-22Also, when he is talking to her from out in the other room, he plunks on the statue, it is hollow, and there is a clear sign here that he understands some magic has departed the relationship, and she has reverted to an angry, exploited thingconte-23This interaction with the statue in this way may also indicate that Paul himself, however upset he is by the turn of events, has also faded from the cult of the goddess, and now sees her more as a useful tool. And this, after all, brings us to the heart of the flare up which causes the break, on the few days covered in the scenario of the movie. That Paul has wolfish qualities looking after other women, is made apaprent by his pass at Prokosch’s assistant, this too done in the company of more functionary Roman goddesses, used here as it were as concierges of seductionconte-24Their whole interaction, in a strange scene, is worked out through the statuary, as functional in nature, he is trying to hit on herconte-25at the end of it, he actually puts his hand on her ass, and later thinks that maybe Camille saw this, or heard about it, and THIS was the event that caused her to suddenly decide, I hate youconte-26But the truth is actually deeper, and perhaps even below the level of consciousness of Paul. Earlier, when she shows up, he introduces her to Fritz Lang, and there is a poster of Psycho in the backgroundconte-27This cannot be a coincidence. In this shot, Lang is Hitchcock, Paul is Norman, and, I would guess, Camille is the victims of Norman, Marianne Craneconte-28The way in this shot that he smiles looking at her smile at him suggests that he has begun to make use of her as a go-between to help seduce producers and others to get ahead in the business. This is perhaps something that is below his level of consciousness, but the juxtaposition of property, the look on Norman’s face, and his, makes this clear. Then, even stranger, is that the movie makes REPEATED use of a poster for a movie that perhaps was a good seller at the time, but which has faded into obscurity, Hatari. It back drops, and gives meaning to the first meeting between Prokosch and Camille, that he is the hunter, and she the hunted, the girlfriend perhaps looking on with alarm, seeing his hunting tactics, offering rides, to lifeconte-29It is right there, when the decision is made for Prokosch to drive Camille, and Paul will walk. Prokosch is even more of John Wayne, in command of the hunt, doing well in the hunt, having landed his prey, she the angry prey, glaring at Paul, as he walks sheepishly by. THIS is the moment when she began to hate him, and she began to hate him because she suspects that she is being used by her husband as a pimp would use a whore to seduce a producer to make the business between all of them go better her way. This is not what she signed up for.conte-30Even later, after their fight, when they go out to the movies, and he, again, impassively, with resignation, but still all but unconsciously using her, sits her with others, Hatari, same poster, shows up in the theater, overseeing the scheming of the hunting men, this time though to target clearly on Paulconte-31(While it is always possible that the use of this poster is purely incidental, as it was a 1962 film that was doing quite well, that seems unlikely in a director so careful as Godard. Perhaps it simply symbolizes old films, the films of Howard Hawks, with all that adventure and character and things, the things that Prokosch wants, and he is not getting. But if so it then could be dialected against Camille’s look of death and the coy way in which romance between John Wayne and Elsa Martinelli is carried out in Hatari. That is a relationship that never at any time rises above the functionary state of modern life, it is a pedestrian affair, nice, cozy, charming, but I must say John Wayne’s way of romance struck me (age 9) as very odd. That said, Hatari is really known for its action sequences, and for the fact that the hunters were collecting specimens of wild beasts for American zoos. Overwhelmingly, then, for me, if this poster is included, juxtaposed to the complication that Paul has cast Camille into, it represents her as hunted animal). It is amusing that posters for Hatari did in fact show the hunted animal fighting back, knocking at their jeep, so a visual parallel perhaps (more so even with the odd crash scene at the end, which only makes sense in the logic of the myth of the violated goddess)

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I’m sure it is also entirely incidental, but a big part of the Hatari sales pitch was that of voice, of calling out the word hatari, which means, danger, if I remember. So it is a movie about a call, as is Mepris, a crie di coeur (in any case, this brush with more popular, mainstream culture, nonetheless reminds me that popular and arty culture are always much closer together than they imagine themselves to be in their times, when the categorical bean counters keeping things straight are alive to referee them, But I suppose I could make a series of direct visual links between Hatari and Mepris, but I wont).con-35

Which brings us back to her and the book in the trees. In addition to suspecting Paul of having pimped her out, he is now doubly in trouble because Paul is late in getting there, and she suspects that he delayed to give Prokosch time to do something with his wife, or for her to make her play, to seal the deal. She is digusted. Like a hunted animal, then, she hides in the bushes, and mourns her goddess life, or, conversely, says to herself, if he’s going to play the field, then so can Iconte-4The point of this treatment, deriving from the book of Pompeii erotica, is that while Godard souped up his explicit text with lots of filmic literalist devices, on the surface of things, deep down in this outing he proceeded much in the manner of a traditional modernist movie maker, making use of properties to signify complexities of hidden emotions otherwise not communicated by voice or body. But, then, the final proof of his grasp of the property conventions of film at the time, is that he also makes distinctive, instrumental, even inspired use of the lamp. Lamps in movies serve a set function, to distribute light in a shot, but, symbolically, “under the lamp” are private, intimate events that we are being let in on. Then too lamps signify thinking, and the three-dimensionality of a figure, or a person. Lamps signify the power of the house, so when one falls, that represents chaos. In this movie, Godard stages their tug of war over whether or not she will go to Capri in a pan shot across a lamp. It’s rather too arty, but still. Set in the middle of the shot, so much lamp serves the destructive function of the property, a sign of a break, of destruction.conte-34At the same time, it’s clear Godard knew that a lit lamp indicated ideas, or I have an idea, because as they go back and forth, and he tries to get out of her what she does not want to let out, he keeps flicking it on and off, on and off, indicating a deconstruction of this functionconte-35They are trying to communicate, but fail to communicate, and only come to some impassed understanding to disagree. In the sequence, the lamp has magically been transformed from a symbol of having an idea, into a symbol of breakdown of communication. She is now the embodiment of that new womanconte-37For all this, then, the properties of the movie, and their manipulation according to time-tested rules, sometimes deconstructed and subverted by Godard, but for the most part well isntrumentalized according to the film conventions of the time, tell me that the whole movie is an essay on the nature of love, even the three kinds of love, agape (goddess love), fraternity (functionary love) and eros (skirtchasing lust), and the tragedy of a goddess, who, resisting her fall from goddess state, recklessly tears down a marriage, to see what will happen. And that is why she is killed in the end, as with Actaeon, so with all in this one, to toy with the goddess, even if it is the goddess in oneself, is to invite death and destruction. This is why I think that Contempt may be the saddest movie ever made (acknowledging in 1963 we are dealing with a prefeminist goddess theory position espoused by men): think of it, you (the male viewer) are married to Bridget Bardot, and one morning she wakes up and realizes she doesn’t love you anymore, and there is nothing that can be done for it, as a goddess it is her prerogative, sudden decision, done–that has to be one of the worst mornings of your life.