The Other Stairway to Heaven: the influence of George Harrison in the cult of Beatlemania and beyond, a personal perspective.

Rev., November 28, 2016. Written in dedication to George Harrison on the 15th anniversary of his death.

On the fifteenth anniversary of George Harrison’s death, some further refinements of my sense that he was, for me, the most influential Beatle, which means the one I could identify with the most. Playing a supporting role throughout the heyday, his position in the group seemed to reflect my situation in life as a middle child AND a second born twin, but then the fact that he still managed to interject himself to play a major formative role in the overall evolution of their sound, especially in the arty years after 1966, was one thing about the Beatles that encouraged me, and still amazes me. I say that George Harrison was my first, second, and even third role model, in that his model of playing the guitar influenced me to 1) want to play the guitar; 2) take the guitar to new places (my theory of medium transcendence, see my June, 2013 rmarts posting), and then 3) the spacing out of my guitaring in the early 70s, which took me to interesting places, indeed, though eventually, alas, lead me to get stuck in a cul de sac, and then lose interest. But, from the age of ten to well on the age of 33, the role model of George Harrison guitarist remained my guiding star. It is easy to debate the relative merits of this or this person in a band, especially in a band where there was no weak link, and there seemed to have been a pact to make them share in the power equally, but the truth of any appraisal of who is the best Beatle, or whatever, must be grounded in the path of influence that one or other of them laid down on my life, and the seam of influence-received that I then acted upon, and grew up with. It is easy to say I was a manic Beatlemaniac, from 1963 to 1970, but it is more accurate to say I was a very particular type of Beatlemaniac when it is measured by how they influenced me not just as a fan, but as a person with some creative tendencies. In this note I want to sketch out in the broadest possible way the path by which George Harrison threaded me through Beatlemania to come out the other side a somewhat accomplished guitarist in my early 20s. Since I am not at all a musicologist, but a musician, and tire even of the level of detail you might find on George Harrison’s page on Wikipedia, I will not address these issues in any musicological way, but try to stay honest and true to my experience as a learning-guitarist in the midst of Beatlemania.

harrison-2

And that was the first thing. Within one year of the eruption of Beatlemania in my life, I begged my mom to get me a guitar for Christmas, and she did. She did that because I wanted it, not because she was trying to get me to play violin or whatever, it rose out my Beatlemania, and my enchantment with the guitar work in their songs, and wanting to make it more real by replicating it on my own. For that, it is clear to me, that for me and the Beatles it was always, from the very first, about the guitar. And if it was all about the guitar, though ironically I ended up playing rhythm in the only rock band I ever participated in, it was the lead breaks played by George Harrison that caught my ear and imagination, and hooked me from the beginning, even unto today. I did not understand why lead breaks existed, but I did sense that the 12 bar blues was the basic structure of all pop songs, and that the Beatles were covering some classic rock and roll simply by changing the pace, and adding emotional depth to some of its elements. Without going into it, one element of the classic 12 bar blues song structure that the Beatles excelled at, interjecting intense emotion into it, was the bridge, a section of the song where, after two singings of the verse, you shift to the middle of the key, and play a kind of escapist flight from the regularity of the beat, and float there, as in a hiatus, and then you come back. The Beatles did incredible bridges, were the masters of bridges, and both John and Paul made use of their voices in special new ways, almost to the point, though, sometimes, of Paul crooning, and John screaming, to give to their songs’ bridges a sense of abandon and despair, as the mood called for it, and a real feeling that the song could come apart on you. I have traced out the bridge mastery of the Beatles earlier, but in this note I will say that the lead break, also an inherited, and received trope of the classic 12 bar blues, as if to give the singers a break, and to give the audience one too, from the singing, this too was something that the Beatles decided to intensify by overlaying on it a deeper emotion. In straight up rock and roll, the lead break was just a point where the song was handed to the lead guitarist and he would go off on a riff showing off his skills, it is a conoisseurs’ interjection, to remind us that deep down all of this rock and roll stuff was fueled by the guitar and the guitar alone. But right away, just as the Beatles were deepening the bridge, so too Harrison decided to deepen and intensify the lead break. His breaks were never show-offy, though, so what was he up to? The breaks were not just about him showing off on his guitar with some fancy licks, he subordinated his lead breaks to the song, but, then, miraculously, by as it were letting the song speak for itself during the vocal pause he spoke to the architecture of the song, and expressed it in a stately, even majestic way that gave structure to the song that was entirely new. I can’t even tell you the number of early Beatles songs that, were it not for their architecture, their structured purity, would only have come off as OK (the structure of Beatles songs helped them greatly in live performances where, in spite of endless problems with sound equipment, and proper modulation of harmonizing, the live performances always strike you as real because they have a locked in structure that nothing can damage). What I mean by architecture is that the song was a 12 bar blues, it had a structure that had a deep psychological power, that’s why it emerged in the blues, the lament, the repeat of it, the sighing deferral, then the airy oh what the hell of the lead break, and then to return to it, more intensely, to wrap up and make a closing statement. Lesser artists just ran it through, but the Beatles nuanced the lead in, the breaks, the returns, and even the final statements, and fade outs, in a whole new way, with a whole new artistry. And in the middle of it, Harrison’s breaks, either imitating the vocal, or elevating the vocal in key or range, or counterpointing it, in amazingly subtle ways, he drew out the sighs or regrets or second thoughts under the vocal, and let the mind of the listener rest in those spaces between the vocal and his break, and then once that kind of mental relief was provided, he would return you. Sometimes the song would return from the lead break to repeat the bridge, in other songs, it would return to the verse, but it would always return in a new spirit, either of revival, or emphatic determination, the emotions that were laid out in the thesis part of the song, now being stated again, much more forcefully. By carefully leading the verse from stage one to stage two Harrison’s lead breaks were architectural, by summing up the song in a kind of instrumental condensation of it all, Harrison’s lead breaks were architectural, and by entertaining counterpoints that filled out the full range of possibility in terms of the emotion in the song or the tune, Harrisons breaks were architectural. In their simplicity, so often underestimated, in their beauty, also ignored, in the dazzling economy and amazing harmonizing, Harrison became, for me at least, the master of the lead break, and the greatest architectural lead break guitarist in the lead break era. It is in inspiring me to want to play the guitar, and, more than that, to play HIS lead breaks, to understand how he did it, how he got that sound (and I never quite did, the Rickenbacher, of course, was beyond my range, that twangy sound remains pure aural nectar to me), George Harrison was my first role model, in giving shape the my particular path of devotion through Beatlemania.

But then, there is a second reason why George Harrison became my role model as a guitarist. Because as early as the Rubber Soul album, but certainly in Revolver, and on, he sought to move past the limitations of the guitar as an instrument played, and stop playing the guitar, but play….music. And in this, he sought to transcend the guitar, or, if you prefer a less formalist language, to greatly expand its vocabulary, so that the guitar could do things instrument-wise it had never done before, and was never made to do. Let’s face it, and I know this from hours in Catholic guitar masses in the 60s, the straight strummed guitar can get pretty boring, it can get so monotonous that one is likely to just surrender to its limitations, and stay put. But Harrison had another idea. It started with the lead break, at some point, which I will have to work out, he began to do something MORE with the break, he began to change the voice of the guitar. This lead both to the inclusion of clavier and organ and piano lead breaks, to broaden the range (Lennon and McCartney playing a lot of these), but also, from George, to the sitar, which he was only ever interested in as a transcendent form of the guitar, he explored it and its possibilities in terms of stringing and sound to see where he could take the guitar. He introduced not only the sitar, but then it backtracked over his guitar work to influence it to try to speak in a clearer voice in an instrument-transcending. This started in Rubber Soul, and it continued on through the great albums to follow. It is a wonderful thing to hear happen, and for me it was the PRIMARY site of the development and deepening of the Beatles’ music in 1966 and after. That is, it was not simply that John and Paul were deepening their talents (Paul especially growing leaps and bounds in songwriting ability), but George’s playing with the guitar, to try to see how he might, while still playing the guitar, transcend it, this was ground zero of Beatles music at the time, the primary focus of my interest in and amazement at them, so during the period of the ascension to true art, from pop music, George Harrison’s guitar work was at the central of this drive. In addition to using other instruments to expand the range of the lead break, Harrison also enriched the basic lead break by realizing more deeply, an insight he must have got from sitar, that he could give VOICE to his lead breaks, and that as a result they were VOICED as actual human voices, and he was singing in the song with his guitar. This voiced lead break began to emerge in 1966 as well, and it became a second element of the growth of guitarwork that is little appreciated. From then on, his guitaring is much more richly voiced, with tone and nuance, and he can feel that with the guitar he is singing along, or dueting with the lead singing. This lead to two more developments, he developed a riff that he would play under the verse, and then let it break out in the lead break, and then after the lead break he and the singing of the song would in fact basically engage in a duet. This happens, for example, in And Your Bird Can Sing, a simple song with an amazing amount of difficult guitar work of this sort. The exchange between underplayed accompaniment and the surfacing lead break added greatly to the guitar quality of later songs. And then there was a third consequence of this, he developed the lead guitar that ONLY enters the song at about two minutes in, and becomes the very voice of transcendence, taking the song to a whole new level. This is my favorite type of leadbreak-takeover device in Harrison’s guitar work, and you can hear it best in Let it Be, where the big booming voice of god comes in at two minutes, and, even more so, in She’s So Heavy, where it literally is the whooshing voice of the dark universe, taking over the whole last half of the song. This voicing of course was not invented by Harrison: in standard rock and roll and blues, BB King, Elvis Presley, it was also quite clear that the singer and the guitarist (Elvis and Scottie Moore, RIP) were engaged in a back and forth call and response duet with each other. But Harrison embedded this in the structure of the song itself, not in the space between singer and guitarist, and made the whole song, through the guitar, respond to the song, tying it all together with a new organicism that was something to hear, and largely responsible for the “manic” response to their early music. It is as the master of voicing the guitar, in the middle years, that George Harrison became my role model for a second time, guiding my guitaring.

Finally, there is transcendence of medium as an end in itself. It is clear that at some point Harrison realized that in order to do great things with the guitar he would have to transcend the limitations of the instrument once and for all. As a result, he quickly moved past just playing the guitar with mastery, to a metaphorical level of playing the guitar, trying to get effects by way of striking strings, or whatever, that recreated on the guitar various other noises, I have detected a programmatic desire to imitate traffic, doors slamming, cars crashing, etc etc., this accounts early for the strange syncopated nature of his jerky lead breaks (Honey Don’t), but also for the overall metaphorical depth of his later playing, imitating all sorts of sounds (the idea is playing the guitar while in the mind you are trying to imitate a jet plane changes the way you play the guitar, drawing out new sounds, I am speaking figuratively, not literally here). And then, having reached the metaphorical stage, he went for absolute transcendence, which he found with the sitar and its influence, and with sitar inspired song, but others would find with attempts to metaphorically recreate on the guitar the noise or static at the end of the universe, and the like. (My simple model for medium transcendence I have laid out before, simple rubric, just listen to three songs by the Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man, technical mastery, Turn, Turn, Turn, metaphorical guitar playing, and Eight Miles High, absolute guitar transcendence, while still on the guitar). But in this model, I see transcendence as still happening in the guitar, there is also an end beyond it, and that takes us to the last role model Harrison.

I know that there is a simple model that lead breaks in the early 60s were structurally simple, and then later on the guitarists took over and began to indulge in extravagant song-stopping lead breaks, but this impulse is much more instrument-related, the seeking of transcendence, it was all over the air waves in 1966, Dylan’s switch to electric, the Doors Light my Fire’s lead break forever and ever, then the Byrds were basically mined in imitation of the Beatles but, in my fashion, no wonder I like them so much, directly imitating and expanding on George Harrison’s drive to take the guitar to different places. This drive to transcendence of course also was picked up by Eric Clapton, and certainly his wailing guitar way in the background of the final part of the long instrumental section of Layla is his pounding on the gates of heaven with his guitar. By this model, then, it is from this third effort that my guitaring sought for post-Beatle models in Neil Young, in Chicago, and in other groups who took the guitar to new places. My playlist basically is all about post-Beatle George Harrison musing on where to take the guitar. In the seam of this influence, things got very spacey. I will call it spaced-out post-transcendence. I used to have a model of how the spaciness developed, play a simple 12 bar blues, in a bluesy way; then play it with picking or whatever, more folky, and then finger to the high frets and play it spacey and wide and let it go, up into outer space. This was the primary post-Beatle influence, no doubt catapulted to that place by the late Beatle albums, which on one level could be seen as attempts to replace the guitar with studio orchestration but which I viewed as all part of a drive of instrument transcendence. I even played the harmonic parts in Neil Young’s Heart of Gold as a finger-picked lead break; and I also had mastered the crazy violin effect of the final crescendo of A Day in the Life. It could be said that the crescendo effects of Day in the Life, in fact, though not by George, had a profound exiting strategy influence on my guitaring. I was so enamored of the buzzsaw strumming I had to do to get that sound that I began to try to play all songs in the buzzsaw manner, and then even flipped it so that the buzzsaw was my ONLY method of strumming, and then that itself creating a sort of pure transcendent sound, I just drizzled in over the top whole fingering of songs in staccato bursts of inferences of the song way at the end of the universe of the buzzsawing, nothing but interference at the end of the universe (and which I can only reproduce on a recording in the spaz-guitaring that the Byrds did in the beginning of the lead break for Eight Miles High on my left hand counterpointed, off cinque, to the buzzsawing of my right hand). I called it junk rock, and played it a lot. It was fun, my own style of rock music, and, I believe, still unimitated. This was enhanced by deep study of the modes of Greek music, and it has amused me in recent years to learn that Harrison was also experimenting with getting different sounds by using the various modes, Dorian, Ionian etc (I did not know this at the time, I have not been able to recreate how I came to them); this wonderful period, since I looked up what this words meant, also lead to a deep study of Greek mythology, and then too I got the idea of just superimposing regardless of sound maps of the constellations or other shapes onto the keyboard, and by that counterlogic also developed another flank of junk rock for my own private delectation. All of this was watered in the fountain of George Harrison’s drive to transcend the guitar. It was along this path that I not only bought a twelve-string guitar, which I loved, and which, by itself, sounded more like a harp than a guitar; and also a Glen Campbell plastic bow back, which also to me had a different sound (I still have them both, but the 12 string is broken). It was in the context of this development that all my literary and poetic studies also flourished, a wonderful intellectual part of my life. Problem was, it all took place alone, in my basement, without an amplifier on an electric guitar, and I never was able to ever break out of that cul de sac, meaning that over time that cul de sac became a cult of secrecy and then closed in over me as a dead end which eventually choked my guitaring and life to its death, as it had come to provide me no support in making a living, or forming a life based on it (by this point I had become very cynical about my more professional or mainstream playing, and when asked to play Classical Gas again, which I mastered in 1965, I would move my hand like the needle and arm on an old record player, ha ha). Still, though, in this regard I have to be somewhat bittersweet about this post-Beatle influence of George Harrison on my guitaring, this was my culture, it was a terrific, creative time, and he was its presiding god. And then it all ended.

All in all, then, this was my path through the Beatles, and leading all the way was George Harrison. As role model one, he got me to play the guitar, and devote more than 13 years of my life to it; as role model two, in the Beatles rising-to-art phase, he coaxed me to find a way to interject voice into the guitar, and truly play music, not just an instrument, an instrument, that is, transcending itself; and as role model three, in the late and post-Beatle phase, he was the guru behind the strange mania that overtook guitarists in the late 60s and early 70s, we set foot on the stairway to heaven, and wanted to climb it to the top, by way of the guitar, we wanted total instrument transcendence, to spaces beyond, while still playing the guitar we loved so much. While this last episode became in the end a dead end to my guitaring, it was in the crucible of that strange mania that my sense of what art is, and what art can be and do, was born, and its lessons have stayed with me for my entire adult life. Therefore, on this the fifteenth anniversary of his death, I again assert, but most particularly from my deeply personal point of view, that George Harrison was by far the greatest and most influential guitarist of my generation, and certainly the artist who had the most direct and real life-changing influence on my life in creative matters in the years of my coming of age.

Voodoo dolls, weird blue art and magic chain reactions in Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1974).

Rev., August 12, 2015.

In a subgenre of 1970s horror which I will call Califhorror, or Califhate, movies, seeing California as a far off Arabia of wonder, film was used by numerous fascinated directors who wanted to participate in some way in the discussion or scare which followed upon the Charles Manson killings of 1969. What happened on Ciello Drive in particular to Sharon Tate, for various reasons which will be discussed, reverberated far and wide in the culture, sending a pulse of terror through the mind of California, resulting in a whole host of movies about young people suborned by Satanic cults to do terrible things. All of these Califhorrors are set then in a counterreality or crawlspace circling round back of Ciello drive, and probing it indirectly for that reason. This coincidence space, as it might also be called, leaving the veil of legality over its obvious relation, is there, but not there, it seeks to re-experience, or feel what it must have been like, but then projects fantasies and fears into it.

One of the more interesting of these Califhorror movies is the not entirely great Blood Orgy of the She Devils (1974), which is the story of a beautiful model type who falls under the spell of a Hills witch, and almost is killed for it. The witch is abrasive, and given her age, and the claustrophobic darkness of her house, up in the hills, her lair seems to be a combination of the abandoned mental hospital seen in the 1999 remake of House on Haunted Hill

bloog-1or the fancy but somehow unhealthily secluded digs of Alison Hayes in the Attack of the 50 Foot Women

bloog-2The narrow dark hallways, creating a labyrinth effect in the house, typical of the corridors and stairwells of Roman villas in various giallo movies, such Death Smiles on a Murderer

bloog-3and then the casual countryhouselikeness of dated 1920s notions of glamor, the arched window (the house I grew up in, built in 1925, had arched windows of exactly this sort

bloog-4All compositing to somehow echo on the elegant casual countryness of the Ciello Drive house in the Sharon Tate murder. There is also another aspect of the décor that adds to the sense of claustrophobia, and that is that all the houses and all the rooms in the houses feature that full wall curtaining effect which was de rigeur in stylish interior design back in the day, but which obviously, as I have discussed with relevance to Devil Girl from Mars, and Devils of Darkness, since curtains like that implied persons being able to hide there, and thus fear, a whole wall of fearful things coming in. It is a kind of screen wiper-clean, to put us in an entoptic, what are we seeing state. So here

bloog-5And then when we see a haunted crime, that is, the man made robot by voodoo work against him, to kill his wife

bloog-6Then again at the social gathering where the Turkish clients expect their victim to be killed, having hired the witch to do so. These unhappy souls are caught between a rock and a hard place of not only rhododendron horror signification, but that in metal, and then a panoramic stage curtain effect

bloog-7it is suggested that the entoptic state as embodied by that curtain creates a zone that allows her spell to move more freely, and so through the curtains it comes down on him, and the thing behind the curtain attacks and kills him

bloog-8Interesting enough, even the witch doctor of the movie, raised up by McRay and friends to fight the witch, he lives snugly inside a protective shell of full length wall stage curtains, that is, a dream state

bloog-9In this outing, I might mention in passing, full wall curtains exceed in importance, everpresent carpeting, but it is also apparent that the new style of all over carpeting was viewed by some as creepy in some way, in allowing of creeping to come in on one, and those who lived in a spell of curtains, were killed by having them dropped to carpet floors, thus it was also a conductor of spell

bloog-10The final element that strikes me as derived countering from the Tate Murders is that an impossibly beautiful girl is involved, and being pursued.

bloog-11Later, at the end, when she is hypnotized into dancing, we find out just how exceptional she is, as, while there are several girls making a dream-machine flicker effect of moving arms and legs to deepen the hynagogy to the glass onion stage, McRay stands out without competition, a fabulous figure, a beautiful way of moving, nice dancing too (greatly improved on her poor dancing in Girl in the Gold Boots (1969))

bloog-12The woman who is too beautiful for her town and whom everyone in town wants is a staple notion in folk tales, and in mental constructions of envy in agrarian culture. This theme is addressed often in horror movies, and is meant to represent the core haunting of people in a locale, by means of one of the seven deadlies, envy, envy that she cannot be yours, and an envy that is all but impossible to live with. It is also possible that traditional thinking continues to lament the Sharon Tate killing because of two things, one, traditionally, dead youth were said to in spirt be quite pissed to discover themselves dead (so American Werewolf in London had that right), because they were young and had so much life to live. As a result, they might “spirit jump” into another, and thus soldiers returning from battle had to walk apotropaically through the streets of Rome to have roses tossed on them to purify them of the spiritual menace of battles where so many young die. But it would follow from this tragic notion of death, the young dying always being, to human appraisal, tragic, that the beautiful young dying would be even more impossible to bear. If she was moreover a person whose beauty bewitched you, you’d be in extra trouble for a bad haunting. It is of interest to me that, having been presented, as a superbeautiful presence, McRay is never shown in undress, and remains more or less bottled up throughout. But then at the end, while not nude, she is in a bikini and dances up quite a storm. At one point, the witch explains, and I concede that I have never heard this before, they are naked so that the spirit can pass through you better, as clothes block the spirit, and that would fit perfectly with the logic of this traditional knowledge. Second, the fact that Tate died with a second death inside of her makes her death doubly horrible, and that too fed the horror of it all. In any case, all of these elements add up to the fact that when you watch this movie you have to be primed to enter into the cultural counterspace where the murder of Sharon Tate became a scare source in the 70s, and a persistent obsession and interest in the culture at large. That is, while all the above elements might be a big so what to unprimed watchers, all of them attract interest to themselves, and meaning, by being viewed as existing in a crawlspace out past the Sharon Tate murders.

Stepping deeper now into the intriguing Hollywood Hills construction of space in this outing, the movie is also quite effective in addressing how exactly the witch involved brings the supernatural force into her world, and how her physical domestic and practice worlds are arranged to assist in that. The movie starts with a blood orgy, which apparently, because it is repeated at the end, occurs under every full moon, it takes place in a done up and costumed ritual space set up in the basement of the house, it’s the club house

bloog-14Upstairs in the main part of the house, she has an office where she does business with the two who want a competitor killed by witchcraft, so no one finds out, and she here too has another wall hanging, reminding her of below, and then it has a weird gold shield on it, to maintain the cult authority

bloog-15In this, it would appear that the cult space is below, and this space above is an annex to it, coming from it back out into the world of agency, and she is the conductor which brings the force from below or behind, to above and in front of these men. This would suggest that she traffics is subterranean gods, and demons, and deals directly with hell, and is as it were, to place her in an above-below posture, a harrower of hell, who then eurydicates herself up, back to daily life. So, that is a vertical passage of cult power from a behind to a foreground.

But then it appears that she exploits the labyrinthlike nature of her house, which is quite dark throughout, to create of her upper house a kind of spiderweb or lattice in which she can catch powers coming from any other directions.

bloog-16It is not quite clear that she works magic on one floor or another, but it appears to me that she has slowly, over time, in such a big old house with so many rooms, occupied with her cult a number of chambers, as chapels, where she does specific things. That is, selection of the space, going into a particular space, not unlike at a doctor’s office, where you proceed from waiting, to waiting for, to actual doctor’s office, is meant to add rite power to each act she does, and create a general sense of ritual. For example, twice in the movie we see that one thing she will do for people is to have them face into a standing mirror, and then by hypnosis, she will lead them to see their former life. Since that former life is, she explains, only visible to them from the moment they die out of that life, this experience will not be entirely pleasant, as it will necessarily involved re-experiencing not the life but the death of that life, but there it is. Of interest to me is that this is a type of picture. A mirror is an agent that looks back upon the self, that is, it will give a view of the mind of the sitter. But she has to stand behind the sitter, moving the cult round back of her, to act as the force which extracts the power from the deep beyond in the mirror, to come forward, into the person, for the mirror then to convert into a tv screen. That is, the witch sees the force, the former life, deep in the mirror, to her this is a portal to cult space behind her foyer to it, but the sitter then is interposed, so that the zap will come, not into the witch, or possibly into her by way of being a medium, and then by touch, project through the head and eyes of her client, to be broadcast on the mirror

bloog-17She does this early with a client, I think this is McRay, and made into a projector by the medium of the witch, she glows blue, like a tv

bloog-18This is better worked out in a second visit to the mirror, to show how the witch makes money on a daily basis, where you can buy what service you wish, when she orchestrates a vision of a former life.

bloog-19we then have a sense, her hand lain on the client’s head, that the client’s head begins to open up and broadcast, we go close up, and now it dissolves, to reveal a scene within

bloog-20the scene is a quite oddly flat scene, as if filmed during a break in a staff picnic, out in the local countryside, and in one take, no rehearsals or dooovers. But it only works because we see it in this context as what she is seeing inside her head, having been lead there by the witch. What she sees is that her previous life avatar has been accused of being a witch, and she is stoned to death

bloog-22And when she sees this, she feels it, because through that last sight vision, the drama of it is refluxing as it were up back to her, which makes her grab her head, and shake it and scream, but now she knows

bloog-23It’s a pretty interesting take on the use of the mirror as a portal, by way of a double or jugate reflection of witch taking client, witch over client, but witch, as medium to power behind, bringing that back around through her, to, in the mirror space, pass it to the client, for her to have her psychic eyes opened, for the mirror to then turn into a midrange tv screen where she sees that past life, visible only through the last event that happened to her avatar.

Since this service seems to be reserved to be practiced in one room, she has a kind of sanctuary lamp and a chair to make of it a kind of consultation office, and the blue flame bespeaks the nature of the mediumship, transmission, projection and avatar backprojection that will take place as a result of the use of the mirror for magic

bloog-24The movie is equally precise in working out the fact that in yet another upstairs room, the voodoo room, the witch has another arsenal of paraphernalia, to assist her in casting spells by way of voodoo. There seem to be two voodoo spaces in her house, but it is actually one space, seen in two different ways. When she casts her spell on the person she has been hired to kill, it happens by way of picture voodoo, the picture put in a large jar, then fired, in a larger room with red curtains, a more formal ritual space . A formal front view represents amassing of power, the sending of the spell

bloog-25And it would appear that the presence of the curtains, and the presence of a more formal and tall candle, indicating a special rite taking place, that the spell is made more conductive through a curtain, to another curtain, and there it is

bloog-26but then, as she is a real witch, and not just a witch for hire, she has to also kill the men who hired her. For this, she engages in more devious, more private, presumably more evil, turned around, twisted, and messed up acts to do her deep shit voodoo. Here, the same space, seen from the side, seems more provisional, we see mostly, fire, then an owl and some taxidermy, it makes the whole of the space feel like a kind of visiting area or bedroom, she has a table, and on it a fire, and even décor, an owl, other things, and it is here that she lights it up, to cast spells

bloog-27In this space, she makes voodoo dolls, and casts spells against the person the Turks wanted her to kill, she’s doing her business, making her $30K

bloog-28The voodoo dolls are quite good, and the fact that she has interesting ways of undoing others, including her favorite, dunking them in jars so they suffocate

bloog-29Since curtain to curtain transmission does not work quite as well here, the fact that this is deep, more frightening voodoo, than official voodoo, because she is doublecrossing her clients with it, is indicated by the figurative nature, and by the fact that it is blue. From the very beginning of this movie, her power has been conveyed by the color blue. In the title sequence, she hypnotized McRay by way of a blue flame

bloog-30when McRay is hypnotized in the mirror, she is covered in a blue aura

bloog-32when she sets up shop in a little room upstairs, the sanctuary lamp burns blue

bloog-33when at the end, her house pulses with dark magic, it is blue

bloog-34All of this indicates that she has two levels of magic, red or official magic, that has about it a certain career legitimacy, then darker blue magic, where she just evilly doublecrosses clients out of pure malice, or for the sake of her deeper cult. It is therefore fun that all of her voodoo dolls are blue

bloog-35And even more so that the world about her, where he enemies are, seem to have reciprocated in the magic-making of the world by hanging up blue art. Even in the doctor’s house, all curtained sanctuary, the painting behind the boyfriend, in discussion of the dangers involved in his lovely one attending a séance at the witches’, is blue

bloog-36As such, this is a problem picture, a conductor of negative energy from one place to another, from one character to another, I have discussed the role of this genre of picture with relation to the donkey picture in Annabelle. But then, when the doc goes to get a drink, and in his curtained sanctum, this bizarre ceramic figure popped up, I sat up straight, wow

bloog-37Now I have heard of houses where the ceramics served as knockdown emptied out trophies of vanquished enemies or feared outside intruders, in the house I grew up, we had English face cups, and also a spooky set of ceramic heads of Arabs in turbans, but this, what is this?

bloog-38The extravagant nature of the figuration of this thing crosses over from mere decoration to apotraopaion, that is, it is a protective figure protecting the house, it is meant to ward off evil. The problem is, it is over the top, very scary in itself, seems in the sequence of the scene to bring the watch that they are talking about into the room with them, or at least give her an ear so that through it she can hear what they are saying, and since it is blue, and figural, it represents,s according to the very strict economy of the movie’s magic, that voodoo done with blue dolls could well be transmitted to this vulnerable household. Casting about for any parallel which might explain how the art direction person could put such a thing in the shot, and the director let it be, I would propose that evil clowns had begun in the 70s to appear, and sometimes they were made more gruesome by having blue in them. This is the clown with the blue hat from the original Poltergeist, the only problem here being that that movie was made eight years after this one

bloog-39since the topic of discussion is whether or not McRay will be let go to a séance, when the doctor addressed her, the shadow on the curtain, suggesting a threat from outside, there is also a dark figurative picture

bloog-40Like so many vague unmakeoutable pictures in horror, it is hard to see it, but it does serve a purpose, it appears to be somewhat blue, and in the style of Picasso’s blue period, so does, upon the beautfilly curtaining pleats of McRay’s outfit, suggest threat. But then even better than this bizarre thing, is that when the Turks are at home to exult over their plan having worked, the witch having killed their enemy, they actually freaking have a clown painting over their sofa

bloog-41It’s a pretty gruesome thing, deep now into its cultural afterperiod, where Walt Kuhn tragedians, and Picassan blue period melancholies, have curdled into scary child-frighteners.

bloog-42Moreover, it is clear that this picture serves as a relay figure in a chain reaction of voodoo, giving the doll still more power by conducting its negative energy against a person near a painting that looks just like a voodoo figure. And then, when he puts the blue voodoo doll in a large jar, for it to suffocate, then turns it upside down

bloog-43It passes through the framed blue clown to zap the man, and make him fall over and die

bloog-44I will also say of this shot that one of the staples of Califhorror is the stone wall fireplace, in this context however it acts in the same way as a curtained wall to, by likeness to the stone walls in the cult spaces of a witch space, conduct the energy of that space to this space. And now she must be able through that jar’s reflections to see that her other nemesis, has a white sweater on, because this time she works with a figure more in the form of a twisted and tied handkerchief

bloog-45And since she will be after his eyes, a shot of her owl helps in the transmission (so here, transmission from doll, through owl, through fire, through wall, to sweater, to him)

bloog-46then he goes owly into the carpet, dead

bloog-47Which brings us to the main cult events, when she is present, and center stage, and the medium herself, without the use of dolls, to bring the force or god from behind or above or below in. This happens in a quite well worked out séance, where she makes clear that in bringing an outside force, which she calls down, and presumably comes through the blue stained glass windows behind her, she is the substitute for a cult statue in the ancient world, the medium, and the cult spirit of an Indian Chief literally comes into her, for the interaction with those presence at the séance

bloog-48and only when she passes back, and has to send the spirit away, does a ghost, to give figure to its departure, take form (one presumes through projection)

bloog-49The same thing happens in the basement rites. In the basement, the god is not there, yet. It must be invoked and called down. This is done by increasing the state of energy in the room, and one way to heighten the electrical charge of the cult space, going way back in historical time, is cult dance, and here we have a lovely mélange of hindu and other dancing

bloog-50I suppose it is the orgiastic nature of the writhing that gave this movie its odd title, unless there is a nude version, which would really be an orgy, maybe so

bloog-51there is also the requisite Negro (sic) bongo drummer, absolutely essential before 1980, to bring the god down in, because it was thought African Americans were more in tune to and closer to spirit belief. The fact that every one is uncovered, or naked, as she says, but they are not, is explained, uniquely in this outing, that naked skin allows the spirit to flow more freely through a body, that is a naked body in addition to exciting the charge level of energy in the atmosphere, making transmission more likely opens up the pores of the space, to invite the god in, its nicely done.

bloog-52But I also want to point out, that she is calling the god down, and the point of the ceremony is calling the god down, it is hard work, and it is not apparent that it is entirely working. For that, the room does have some more structural entry points, and one of them appears to be this strange, backgrounded, almost invisible picture, back of the shoulder of the bongoer

bloog-53This one I think I can identify, it appears to be, from the placement of a horizontal body form below, and the address and turned toward us shoulder of a figure in collars to the left, a cut out or close up or cropped copy of Rembrandt’s famous autopsy picture

bloog-54Only it would appear that only the figure seated immediately to the left of the corpse and the corpse have survived, all others removed

bloog-55this would be a perfect entry point, it is also a great example of what might be called contraction, whereby a device is deemed useful because it will do, and only because it will do, because it has the minimum necessary requirements that add up to a projection of what is going on in the chamber, thus the corpse represents the body of the boyfriend to be sacrificed, and the doctor represents the witch, calling the god down in. Because of this like equals like logic, this picture is “open” to outside energy, and thus would serve as an entrance-portal to bring the god in. It makes sense. The rest of the chamber is draped in cloth and carpets, therefore impervious

bloog-56the problem that the witch has is that for the first time, on behalf of saving McRay, she has a competitor, the doctor who has the power to psychometrize the space, that is, put up a wall of energy that will block the transmission she is attempting

bloog-57this therefore causes some difficulties. The orgy goes on, and one sorely regrets that McRay magically moving about her body in a way that outshines all others, keeps her bikini on, perhaps intended to indicate failure to reach maximum heat

bloog-58but now the energy fails, and things begin to fall apart. Moreover, the stress of the positive and negative energy fighting against demons in this space, creates as it were an internal earthquake, which sends all the spears used as decoration on the wall flying, to pierce and kill the girls, but also knocks the bongo drummer out of business

bloog-59and you know that the game is up when the chief assistant seeks refuge with him, and together in tableaux they represent the reversing of the meaning and purpose of the picture behind them. And the fact that the picture is cocked at an angle means that its capacity to serve as a portal is jeopardized

bloog-60and then, just as the priest falls, the picture falls off the wall, and we know that through magic that is a sign of the end of the world, the jig being up

bloog-61I have repeatedly argued that picture off wall means death and destruction, but this is one of the most explicit uses of this device, in code, to signify finality to the viewer, amplifying the action by symbolic reinforcement, off of his right shoulder

bloog-62and then when the victorious doctors come through a Saradanapalus posed mayhem of dead almost naked girls, the picture is on the floor on the right

bloog-63And because it fell, the capacity of it to by imitation of a sacrificial figure and a witch in it to help with the ceremony, is upended, and as a result all the dancers all end up corpses like in the picture too, another tableaux, picture closed off on the far right

bloog-64And to the very end, McRay rules, I think this is her in reclining pose in the middle of the shot. I was thinking how thrilled she must have been, in the audience during the intial screening, to see her big oldd undefended on an unconscious body crotch right up there in the smack dab middle of the picture, but that represents another closing off, the ultimate death, and again in the subtext of this move, the visual death of never getting to see this figure served up on pedestal and plate nude, oh well

bloog-65All in all, however, while clearly a cheapie, and an indie, and with several problems, which will only be more glaring to viewers unprimed to few the niceties of Califhorror of the 1970s, Blood Orgy of the She Devils is, in terms of explicating its magic, and using props and properties to trace out the chain reactions by which witch magic could plausibly be made to work in the world, quite a good little essay on agency, power, spellcasting and the electric battle between opening and closing, evil and good energy.

The American Girl doll at Canisius College, Buffalo: another hate crime in the days after Trump’s election?

Rev., November 12, 2016.

Note: this prelim analysis of a hate crime is based on news reports from The Buffalo News and other local publications and broadcasts in the two days after the event. I also reviewed statements made by Canisius College. As is always the case in these situations, we hear that “an investigation is underway to determine if it is a hate crime,” but then we never hear anything after the headline. Here is some of what might be looked at.

A recent hate crime is interesting for its special character, and so I want to make a note on it. Most of the hate crimes after the Trump election have been fairly routine, including graffiti, with swastikas, of course, some fights, a few muggings, and that sort of thing. For the most part, these are either persons on either side of the fence getting too worked up, and it comes to fists; or, actual criminals, or bullies, who are always looking for new cover stories to hide behind, coming in over the top of the current contretemps, to exploit it, to kill or whatever. Unfortunately, the press, addicted to Gradgrind facts, just the facts, m’am, always report “One Killed in Portland Demonstrations,“ when a more accurate headline with be “Killer Exploits Demonstrations to Get Even at Friend.”

But the finding of a black doll tied to an elevator at Jesuit run St Canisius college in Buffalo is much odder. Here again, out in the viewfinder of internet-news culture, which is only a crude checkerboard format radar, sight of a black doll is read as a threat to black persons, and thus a hate crime, and the presence of a piece of rope or string next to it, puts two and two together to make up a mock lynching. There is no minimizing this flat reading, as it did feed into the fears of students who had already been complaining of racial incidents at the 75% white college, but there is some question if this is actually what is going on here. So, it needs to be studied anthropologically, as a behavior, and by agency, or what power invests it.

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The word from the college is that the object and incident only has meaning inside of a roommate dispute. This immediately lowers the scope of the crime, and makes it a parry waged in a tug of war between two roommates who are having trouble with each other. Roommate troubles are notorious in college lore, and very serious. The problem is working out how it came to this. First, there is the roommates doing OK with each other. Second, there is the roommate getting on the other roommates nerves. Third, there is dividing off from each other. Fourth, when the damage does not stop, there is each going on the offensive to try to get the other’s goat, by humor or other means, to get the upper hand (a dangerous phase when one does not know if things are intentional or accidental). Only when things turn bitter, and desperate, one would think, fifth, does it escalate to the point where one would undertake a symbolic-physical, or ritualized, aggression against the roommate, thus committing a hate crime. And this is so weird, indeed, as it is the last stop before, six, the outbreak of violence. In order for this cycle of animosity leading to symbolic threat of violence to reach this point, one must imagine how the image of the doll came into the flow of the fight. Perhaps the roommates were of different races, tried to get a long for a time, then faltered, and at last fell out. In dividing off, stage three, they might have built barriers against each other. This might entail placing apotropaic objects on the borderline, including images or objects of things the other roommate had previously expressed he hated. If these escalate, they might get insulting and racially charged. If, then, there is a constant back and forth battle of knocking them down, and putting them back up, some symbol might emerge as particularly insulting. Maybe that would be a 3D image or effigy of the lament, not just a picture or word. At last, then, we get to the point where a symbolic-physical act using an object is waged against the victim or bully. This might involve a racial doll, to represent racial issues. But I am going to guess that the vandals here were boys, and so the reference is to a girlfriend. Maybe one had a girlfriend that the other hated. Maybe the one had a multiracial relationship, and brought a black girl by, irritating the roommate. If he witnessed a gift giving that he thought ridiculous, that could provide fuel for an insult. If he had to overhear sex (a classic trope), that would be real irritating. If an insult was directed at the girlfriend, it might take the form of the black doll. This doll then, while racially charged, would have been restricted to referring to a girlfriend of a roommate that became the main bone of contention between two men.

But then the added problem is that they took it outside their dorm room. They “went public” with the fight, and brought it to the whole corridor and dorm building. At this point, lots of other people get involved, and since one is now also posturing to one’s supporters as well as continuing to throw insults at the other, things escalate. The interesting thing here is that it is said that the use of the doll was serial. First, it was set up in the laundry room in the basement. Then, some other students found it and strung it up in the elevator. And then a second group found it and strung it up in a window, presumably back in the original room where the fight started. That means that the doll travelled from laundry room, to elevator, to room. In this, the doll was taken far out of the room, then slowly brought back in. This seems like a strategy designed to make real, in an ostensive way, what might have been depleted by the victim thinking it all in his mind, and then imply threat from bringing it closer and closer to the victim. Each time the doll came closer, that is the cause for another scare. This is a well-known horror movie trope, and one has to guess that the perpetrators knew this, or understood the convention. When you have a scary doll, the case of Pinocchio’s Revenge will do, at first it is fine, existing in doll space, at the perimeter of life

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what scares you is that the doll is so realistic that one begins to attribute human feelings, so 2) imagines it is lonely, and therefore is gazing longingly, and feeling left out, on human gatherings

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3) suddenly, the doll is found in places where there is no explanation how she got there, at this point, however, it is easily passed off as “suzy must have left him out here.” as when he shows up jealously watching a mom and her beau make love on the couch

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4) this then escalates when he shows up in places for which there is no explanation, and one is certain he was not there, now his gaze emits an evil eye, one is concerned, he becomes malevolent

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5) it is unexpected appearance serially in such places frightens, this, if I remember, is her second run in with Pinocchio, so she is what?

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6) its coming closer gives it sentient will, which is scary, he is now animated with menace

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7) it beginning to “do something” or “seem more real” as a result of being in other situations, adds to the scare, Pinocchio begins to kill. First other dolls in doll world

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and then humans

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All of this can be worked out elaborately, as the whole plot, or simply, in tableaux, as in the preface of the first Conjuring movie, a very clear model of creepy doll conquering. There is also a recent movie with Jaime Presley in which a Latino doll said to curse a house is adopted by the newcomer (so any leftover doll is evil), and then it takes on a life of its own. All old porcelain dolls are also routinely scary. There is little doubt that the realism of the American Girl dolls has elicited such uncanny valley creeps in humans, resulting in a phenomenological motive for this play. Particularly important, in the last stage, is that the victim begins to attack and try to destroy the doll, but then it keeps coming back.

In terms of how the doll was put to use, the supporting discourse in horror which validates the scary doll trope is voodoo doll tradition. But t is unclear if the doll here was marked, and what the doll means personally to those involved. Only if it is marked can be called a voodoo doll. In that, it is an icon of the victim, maltreated to symbolically maltreat the victim. Its placement might have insult implied simply by its manipulation by moving. This however has to remain a grey area, as there is no report on it. However, a voodoo doll is the model for the use of dolls in horror movies too. It is not just that the doll looks too real, and thus bespeaks others, it is that the doll can come to represent the girl, and thus give the witch the power to manipulate the girl by manipulating the doll. A very clear example of voodoo, where what you do to the poppet is done to the subject, is in Vengeance of the Zombies (1971), where the magician pours blood over a wax figure, symbolizing coming to life,

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then he lights it up

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since this doll is associated with a body in the morgue the combination of blood and fire wakes it up and brings it to zombie life

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There is no record that any sympathetic magic like this happened, though I suppose a logic of placement could be thought up whereby putting it in the laundry room or on the elevator was mocking things about the girl. But I see no markings or even distressing of this, in any way: it is ersatz, in that way, therefore, no voodoo logic was involved.

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Girls reporting on the scene says that she is an Ity Bity baby black version of an American Girl doll, as a result of claiming that the string was a feature on that model, therefore  is a string not a rope, they discount the event, this ad actually calls her blackface

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and one that they played with (though the white version) as kids. Since American Girl dolls are lifelike, and their pr is off the charts, including having girls have birthday party lunches at the Fifth Avenue store where the guest girls bring their dolls and treat them to lunch too, serving them, has become part of the lore of the 2000-2010 childhood of American upper middle class kids, no doubt the source of humor. Thus, the gaze could be activated. It is also true that, as agency sometimes is derived from the affordance of a thing, and not the direct result of prior human intention, the craziness of a doll like this, come into the hands of a student in an unknown way, might have itself made some crazy idea occur to him, and then he did it. A less crazy doll might have laid fallow, without suggesting an idea, therefore generating no crime. That is, the doll itself has to share some of the blame in this (yes, indeed, I am partly blaming the doll, and the policy of blackface dolls, and the like), as it is a pretty weird doll, worse, in a mental world, where, in college, kids are saying goodbye to their childhoods by disparaging all things of them with “how could I ever have liked that?” horror, and therefore making fun of it, or imitating horror movies in making them bespeak their horror) (A perfect example of this is when my daughter, finishing up college, heard that it was the tenth anniversary of High School Musical, we exchanged some “horrified” texts on how she could ever have liked this).

If in the previous fighting, this doll came to stand for the black girlfriend of one of the fighting roommates, it became a haunted effigy of a person. Then maybe it lost its oomph inside the room (“again, with the doll shit?”), so the fight spread out. Putting it first in the laundry room is clearly designed to exploit a creepy environment to elicit fear. Laundry rooms, going way back to Rosemary’s Baby, are notoriously scary places. In RB, it is in the laundry room where Rosemary meets the girl who will shortly after kill herself, and finds out for the first time what Tanis is. They both confess to not liking the place, it is creepy

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This is likely due to the fact that they are placed in the basement: doing laundry is a personal thing, and getting caught doing it in public can be embarrassing; it also involves the laundering of very intimate things which can and often have been used as props to introduce one to another, to break the ice. All of this altogether acts not unlike a shower sequence to make a young woman especially feel vulnerable in a basement laundry room. It is not a trope I have studied much, but it has a lot of sources. But a laundry room is again another situation with unique mix of the oil and vinegar of intimacy and vulnerability. For her to then (I guess now I am assuming it is a fight against her staying over so often, and invading the room’s life, so now she is doing her laundry) come upon a creepy doll that she knew (some sights have just been headlining the story with generic pictures of black dolls, but I strongly suspect great specificity in its meaning) would freak her out as a sign of escalation. It would also signal a coming closer of the assault, almost to intimacy. Alas, we have no picture of the doll in situ in the laundry room. Nor do we have a record of who saw it there, or if the intended victim did either. Still, placing it in the laundry room can be deemed a gesture designed to intensify its menace.

The next step is the step that was pictured in the press. Apparently, the perpetrators intentionally decide to move the doll, to enhance its scariness, and give the impression to the victim that it was coming after him or her. The other possibility is that others outside the loop saw it in the laundry room and just took it flatly as a prank so brought it up with them, but then let it go by tieing it to the rail of elevator. The main sticking point in this is that the doll was tied to the rail with a string or rope. This has been a point on which the reading of the thing has been contested. If you read it, as some white girls commenting on the whole thing as a mountain from a molehill

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then it is just an identifiable string that comes with the doll, and they all knew about because they played with them as girls, and the heads came off and were connected by that string. As a result of this knowledge, they discount the hate aspect of it, claiming that a mountain is being made out of a molehill That technical argument for them seems to cancel out the possibility of the string being read as a “rope” and thus they reject the hate crime construction of this appearance. There is no doubt that it is just that string, part of the apparatus of the doll, the doll is also nicely tucked into the rail, to look like it is “hanging around.”

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This minimization also rationally sees it as “just a doll” and might even find a rationalized way of relating it to dolls that truck drivers or even artists put on objects, to represent many various emotional states unrelated to this context.

The problem with this is that, in addition to gendering in the reading of it which I won’t go into, it ignores the fact that with the doll used as some sort of communicative device, we have entered into the symbolic realm of the glass onion. The doll has become an effigy of someone or something, no longer a doll. That also means that its meaning is symbolic. It is a hard votive object, representing a sacrifice, or, menacingly, someone who must be, to make the magic work. What this means is that a two dimensional or partial representation of the elements of a symbolic statement only have to be sketched in. Realism is not required, an actual rope is not required, the representation can be pared down and indexical, with just enough of a reference to a known trope to elicit a response. An example of this would be the uncanny effect raised by the props in the Broadway production of The War Horse. No one would think to disqualify these as horses in the context of the play because they were not actual horses

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it is not enough to disqualify the string being read as a lynch rope, because it is a string with a specific purpose prior to its use here (this is often done in contemporary art, so magic-slating clean of objects once they are “decontextualized” in art is part of the legacy of ersatz modernism). In the symbolic dimension of the glass onion, you only need to suggest a rope. My reading is, and many others agree with me, that the string is to be read, in the context of stringing up a black doll, as a rope, and therefore the whole image as the image of a lynching.

The idea also was to scare people with a pop-out horror when the elevator doors opened up. This surprise would add to the horror. The closeness of space in elevators too. Elevator scares are a deep trope in horror, examples abound. It was used expertly, covering all its blind spots, and, again, that devilish mix of vulnerability and closeness, in di Palma’s Dressed to Kill (1980) (and the hiding figure IS in the corner of the elevator)

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I thought perhaps the two pieces of paper on the floor of the elevator below might’ve given clues, but they appear to be just flyers, already on site before this

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It is unclear how many students were scared by it in this way. The girl who took the picture for social media apparently took it away. No, my reading is, in the symbolic universe, where only a suggestion is needed, it does not matter if the string is not a rope, it is meant to be read, vis a vis the doll, as a rope. As such, I identify the tableaux as a hate crime, it represents a lynching, by way of the string, or an African American, by way of the black face of the doll.

A lynching, originally, was a hanging. By the end of the 18th century, a lynching was a mob version of a hanging, that is, the mob, furious at a judgment, would take justice into their own hands, kidnap the perpetrator, then string him up. A lynching of the maid is shown in the 1994 movie of Frankenstein, for example. Over time, a custom also developed of hanging people at the edge of town, or crossroads, and then leaving the body hanging as a gibbet, for it to act as a sign that “we don’t put up with nonsense” in this town. Some of these were seen in popular culture in the first Pirates of the Caribbean (and it is of course from a gibbet that Frankenstein first got his body

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This then gained specific racial character when lynching of black persons to shut down as a warning any other uppity risings became a new intimidation norm in the South after the Civil War. It does seem as if lynchings also become something of a ritual, or even dark sport, after 1880. People would attend lynchings like hangings, but also in the spirit of a barnraising, a community event, pictures were taken, they mailed postcards, it was a dark proof of community solidarity.

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Then when they faded out, and plain old murder took over, lynching-hangings survived in horror as a particularly vicious, racially charged, retrogressively evil crime. Any reference to lynching has, in my experience, been excised from public discourse on race matters for at least 50 years. The word occasionally comes up metaphorically, but not very often. Once again, as with blackface, I am startled to see, in the Millennials, this language return. Though it is possible that kids are so stupid that they do not know its meaning, or think it is all a joke, or a trope depleted by comic lore into a meaningless device, like making a pulling a rope around my neck gesture at something being said that makes me “want to kill myself” it is again clear that lynching in this context, situated next to a black doll representing a black woman, or black persons in general, is meant to sting racially, bringing back old school wounds (the Black Lives Matter narrative is also a neoessentialist levelling out of any progress made in these matters over the past 50 years, to just a square one “America is racist” and as racist as it was, presumably, in the bad old days, that is, that no progress has been made. Some BLM supporters talk as if the USA is still living during the period of the Civil War. I reject this plantation model of race relations in the USA: I believe that progress in all matters relating to race was made between 1950 and 1995, and then, somehow, the rock began to be rolled back (I guess I will say that the racially split response to the OJ trial made me realize that the progress that had been made had somehow begun to be compromised). I was genuinely surprised at incidents of overt racism on college campuses post-9/11 using language and images that I could not recollect seeing in public since the early 1960s and wondered what had happened. My model is that a careless retrogress during the time of post-9/11 panic has resulted in the outbreak of neo-racism, but also that the neoessentialism trafficked in by BLM has only added to the divisiveness).

Then, it is hard to tell if such an effigy is a general statement of menace (a votive-effigy), which is scary but indirect, or a direct threat (and intercessional-effigy directed at cult), which is far more dangerous. Here, too, context, in terms of the ongoing roommate fight, and then its escalation into the public space of the hall and the university, counts. I have argued earlier that in the escalation of a fight the resort to symbolic-physical objects or events with a history of having gruesome utility, is itself an escalation of danger, and a threat. If this doll is hung this way, having been in the laundry room, not “worked” (ie scared anyone) there, so moved up here, the seriality of the intention also adding in, in the context of an escalation of hostilities, though the elevator is a general place, the specific nature of the placement in a corner, the careful way it is placed, the peculiar way you would come upon it, indicates to me that it IS a direct threat. This makes it not only a hate crime, but a specific, dangerous hate crime.

That said, it is also true that at the very most this was a hateful act that spilled out of a dorm room into the general dorm, but was not meant to go any further than that. It was just another example of that nasty stuff that still goes on in dorm rooms, where social life is compressed into a dangerously bully-susceptible place (The first night in college, I closed my door to get some sleep, and woke up the next morning nicknamed, forever after, the “mystery man;” in sophomore year my room was situated at the zig zag of a corridor and became the backstop of almost nightly games of hallway hockey, one night a close game resulted in a water fight breaking out and I found myself sitting in my room in an inch of water as a whole bucket of it had come in under my door; in senior year I roomed in a corner room that, when a friend heard about what room I had got in a lottery in late Junior year, said I was in trouble. He was right. I was cornered on four sides by hardcore alcoholics who would routinely throw beer bottles at my door because I would not join in, and mornings I would come out into a corridor covered in broken glass, and them already at it getting it drunk by 9AM. When one night I decided to simply disappear, ie move off campus, the dean then called me in to wonder if I could not have reasoned with them, I laughed at him, right. In retrospect, I consider all these normal give and takes of dorm living in the 70s to be hate crimes, in that they made a permanent negative mark on my personality, but no one knew about them but me and the guys involved in the dorm). Now a person who was not in the loop and did not know the context or the people involved snapped a picture, and put it online. She even asked, what does it mean? meaning she is quite clueless, ie she does not seem to know about lynching or its history, and I have taken the time to write the impromptu analysis for her. But, at the same time, she is the one who took it out of context and broadcast it into a more general cultural context of “hate crimes in the week after Trump’s election,” which is itself a narrative that is rooted in a previous narrative that “Trump’s hateful speech has enabled bullies and racists to come out of the woodwork,” both of which I would have to question (there is and was plenty of racism in media and entertainment prior to 2016; the problems that elected Trump did not suddenly emerge with his election). She is the one who evolved an apotropaic threat device in a limited real space into a poster for a large-scale public issue, represented by this case. This act, more so if it went viral, then every talking head of the commentariat, including myself, put their two cents in, this act made it a poster effigy that stood large, like the fright mechanisms of animals, in the culture, causing much more fear response than it might have had if she had not sent that image. So, she is partly to blame for this image, though I do think it is a hate crime, being made large into a full-scale threat object, contributing to a general atmosphere of menace on campus (On this point I would then go into reports that the campus has reported previous racial incidents, with one black student who was interviewed said that he had already been thinking of leaving, and maybe this has decided him. I will not go into that now, as it more or less take things to an issue level floating far above the actual event).

And then it was moved again, a third time. This movement is, however, even less clear. It is suggested that some other students, not in the thick of it, picked it up and brought it upstairs. They might have been laughing at it, or oh-wowing at it, or they might even have been doing a postmortem on what they saw as the failed attempt, and decided to keep it as a trophy of a threat attempt gone flat. Some at the university, including the university itself, called this all a prank.

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A prank is a joke, a practical joke, deep in the lore of college life, meant to be, overall, fun. It can cause some upset, like a panty raid, it can have an element of vandalism, it can get nasty, if things are getting worse, but the overall purpose of a prank is to upset the conflict with a big joke that makes everyone laugh, and maybe it defuses the situation. This is not that. It is too specific, and its meaning is too mysterious and individualistic. But the guys bring it up and hang it in a dorm room window. And then pictures are taken from it from outside (how does it look?), and then posted online. A reference is made to Trump, but the weird thing is the joke is that they are “hanging babies.” This suggests to me that while they got the hanging part (and read the string that way, so there is your proof), they misread, or did not know the context of the fight, because for them it just reverted into a representation of a baby. Hanging it out the window also links it to any number of simple devices that are hung out of dorm room windows to mark an occasion, anything from a flag to xmas decorations (that it looks kind of tucked into the ledge, not entirely visible, seems to render it incidental) (there is even the possibility that the chyron on this photo is a ironic comment by a critic). The fact that the dorm is entirely ersatz and the thing might have hung high up, hardly visible, adds to the inference that this part of the prank was misunderstood or just plain cluelessness

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This could also link up with satanic lore of sacrificing babies to keep the crops great, or whatever. Jokes might’ve been made of it becoming a negative mascot, to drive them to study harder. How mascot trophies are worked in college is weird, and this looks to me like that evolution. In fact, having placed it in the laundry room, and then the elevator, if you were the orchestrator of the sequence of fear escalation, the next sight would be more private and more pointed. While it is true this is closer to the rooms, it does not seem to be the same room, and therefore is part of the overall dorm space, thus defused from its original fight, moving away from it, in fact. It strikes me that this third picture is trying to read the thing, failing to do so, tacking opportunistically Trump news on it, and then playing with the babies ideas (“they think we are so bad, we’re going to eat our babies,” something like that; Satanists, lots others, always accused of baby crimes), to make of it a trophy of the moment, an up yours victory device in a general way related to the election by students who up to then were no doubt silenced from mentioning their hidden support of Trump. In this move, it depletes from a dangerous threat-effigy back to a more general rationalized pop culture iconic something or other, with the agency of a trophy, of no particular (ie depleted) intent or value.

I don’t know who on campus saw the doll hang from the window. But it was inside the ledge, and one doubts it even caught an eye, just another mascot trophy in a dorm room, like millions of other strange things (and I have a whole collection in images from horror). The twisted nature of it might be part of it, the fact that it is trophy of an actual event is another. This links up to the topsy-turvy (carnivalesque) tradition of racial humor in college life, going way back, and in my view entirely inappropriate, but somehow it has come back to life (see above). So, the more twisted the better. Some examples from Animal House (1978) or the like might suffice that the meaning of these things is always occult, with the overall purpose to laugh at the outside world, by making the meaning private. They are offensive, if offense is taken, but those doing it think it is a joke

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This would laterally link up with what I call, in another note, the lattice tradition of frat house décor, all sort of ersatz pop culture references, rendered in effigy artifice, and this would even include, perhaps, an unthinking tradition of using dolls (the most common doll being a sex doll, no doubt, if even only for entertainment and suggestion), here is a stuffed doll house, a cult trophy thing, in Detroit, it happens

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Therefore, I am going to rule that the third event is NOT part of the hypothesized serial placement, is NOT part of the escalation of the fight, and represents rather a detour coopting of the serial by others, who then used it in an indexical way to comment or joke on the general atmosphere of racial politics at the moment. This is rude, but it is not a hate crime.

The second iteration of the doll is a hate crime, however. It seems to read like a hate crime. It is too bad that animosity between two students took on a racial character, then went public. This happens. But this and its posting on social media means this is also the image that got out into the world, and was reproduced. This also means that this is the image by which black students measured the event, and in interviews with TWC news there is no mistaking that most black students on campus read it as a hate crime, and, moreover, all citing previous problems, another event in a series of events, in which race played a part in others trying to get the upper hand on them.

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It goes without saying, however, that the image might have been pre-read for them by publications whose slant is so distinctive that it amounts to a blindness, interpreting it as one thing and only one thing from the start. I mean, you do not expect any other explanation from the Black Lives Matter site (even though it too is just patching through the same ersatz report), that it is a hate crime, up front. This is perhaps suggested by the hyperracialized headline photo (not the doll in the pic) (actually more lifelike, I don’t know, a “positive image” of black young women?)

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Therefore, I reject the notion that this was just a prank, put forth by apologists for the string, and by the administration as well. But as a hate crime, there are qualifying factors. Since the doll itself cannot be examined, it is impossible to tell if actual voodoo was used on it, giving it menace. But its serial placement strongly suggests a campaign of fear. In this context (and, by the way, symbolic violence is bad, but way better than actual violence), the string morphs into a rope, and its meaning is clear. But then it reverted to being a doll, and its use thereafter is less apparent. I therefore classify it, agentically, as an apotropaic-threat or apotropaic-warning image, using the mechanism of a scary doll from horror movies, but the outcome of all but a gibbet figure, meant to intimidate and cause fear. The specificity of it suggests intimacy, the serial placement of it suggests premeditation and a campaigning, the display of it after confirms that if it was a prank, it was seen, even by pranksters, as a pretty nasty one. All in all, then, by measure of the crime against its trope in life, and in horror movies, I rule that this WAS a hate crime, and that the student who got so carried away with hatred that they took it to this level should be expelled, but they should be expelled for taking a dorm room fight to that level, using race in it, and not because “he is a racist” in the general sense.

I do not often write on acts of public menace, and their symbolism. I do, however, see examples of this sort of thing in horror movies all the time (I consider myself something of an expert in frat or sorority films, never having been part of that culture, I suppose I am fascinated—though this was not in Greek life). But the overall point of this note is to demonstrate, in the roughest sketch (without any research of the event, which could be done), that we need not be left in semantic uncertainty in these matters, agency theory can be used (here along with migration theory as to the travelling of tropes of popular culture) to actually pin down the change of meaning that occurs in an event like this as a symbol is manipulated in public space for political reasons, to make a determination of just how dangerous such activity, on a case by case basis, is.

Springbreakers breaking from life, to dream and nightmare: the “heavy” artiness in Harmony Korine’s Springbreakers (2013).

rev., July 15, 2015.

Again, with Harmony Korine, following in the footsteps of Julian Schnabel, in crossing over from art to film, it is apparent that a new sort of art film is in the process of emergence. As film, this genre may break off from abstract painting, then sink in the culture to intersect with mainstream genre film, in the dramatically enacted representation of highly pitched emotions. That is, there is a filtering out process occurring whereby set piece scenes of intense emotion, which movies used to take their time to get to, are beginning to dominate the entire mis en scene of the film. The model might be this: in the modern period, the machine age, there was a strict belief in conscious life, in mastery of the skills and wiles of the prefrontal cortex. Sanity was required, to make it in the world, and when sanity was compromised or lost, the movie then spun down a wormhole of effects into dream or psychotic states. The “vertical formalist” model that I developed to describe this descent is based on dream theory. According to this model, there is waking life, and there is sleeping, or dreamstate life. The intent of most art is to capture consciousness, if often in genre or reverie heuristic shorthand forms of representation. But, then, in hypnagogy, are the dreamy in-between states between waking and falling asleep that I have mapped out before, the static/entoptic, the glass onion, the lattice, the wormhole and the REM deep sleep. That is, as you begin to fall asleep you hang in a state of light sleep when static and entoptic imagery fugues endlessly by the eye, with also a constant constellation of what we call ‘visualizations’ but really are just static of memory or thinking of things as they manifest in the static. If you stay too long in that state, then you will not fall asleep. You must then drop down to the next stage down, the glass onion, which is when the world begins to appear to you, still in a run-on fugue, but as a series of symbols or sigils, or abstract patterns which work out a language all their own composed entirely of the components of their symbolism. At some point, your eyes get heavier, and you feel the first pinch of truly falling asleep. This occurs as you drop down to the lattice stage, where one image or complex of images begins to suck all other symbolism into it and it just hangs there, without movement, as you zero in on it. The concentration of the lattice, then at least eats through to the fourth stage, the wormhole, where you genuinely feel yourself fall to sleep, by spiraling down a hole. And then you land in the world of deep REM sleep, which we all know about. Again, in the modern period, the focus of art was on consciousness, or abdicating entirely from consciousness, in a state of mind opposite to it they called the unconscious. This polarized approach tended to keep art either up in consciousness, and involved with the divertissement of it, or dropped entirely into surreal dream. There was no in between.

But in the postmodern age, the states of dream, which follows a model more or less mapped out by Aldous Huxley, have been more generally accepted as a normal fact of half-conscious in-between state, hypnagogy. It used to be thought that you can only get to those states by way of drugs, or hypnosis, or meditation, etc., there was also alcohol, but it is now more commonly accepted that you can get to those states by any number of different means. One of them is art. Under this new model, art has colonized the different states of hypnagogy more and more. Much contemporary art proliferates in different levels of hypnagogy, with the purpose of granting consciousness a tie-loosening from the stress and pressure of conscious life as you enter the white cube, to re-envision life from the distance of entoptic imagery, glass onion symbolism, lattice formation, wormhole sequencing or deep dream scenarios. It is a way to get high or low, either way in a state of fullness away from the ignorance of consciousness, to gain better perspective on life.

It has not been easy to map out the different terrains mapped out by the spread of this colonization of hypnagogy in contemporary art. But it is apparent that, besides being others things as well (being mainly concerned with the intramedial relation of the fictive to the support space in the back of painting) what Walter Robinson tagged zombie abstraction is simply a whole mass movement of proliferation of abstraction to colonize the static or entoptic state of light dreaming (more specifically, a play of color, form or pattern in the narrow gap between fictive space and the support behind). The charm of entoptic imagery is that it dazzles the eyes, creating a screen of color, and then what marks or signs it pops up, without any clear definition at this stage, just can run on and on and on, without end. Of course, the annoying thing about entoptic painting, as in entopty itself, is that there is a built in expectation in the mind that it will eventually lead to something deeper (i.e. you will fall asleep into the art), so if the work does not build that dynamic into the overall look of the work, that is a problem, met with impatience and pullback. At present, I generally place Harmony Korine as among the zombie painters, as he seems to be primarily concerned with creating easy looking lite abstract static or entoptic states of reverie in waking life, making looking at canvas on par with that dreamy state of first falling asleep just after the head hits the pillow.

But then the interesting thing is, if Korine had limited understanding of the need to build a vertical dynamic into the hypnagogic state of his art on canvas, he has a very sure hand in developing this missing element in film—and this may influence his art. Indeed, as you begin to watch Springbreakers (2013), you expect a conscious storytelling, with some effects to express emotional states or dramatic moving events. There is some of this, in the early robberies etc., but right from the get go there is also a distractedness or a dissociation from the events in the cinematography which indicates how split the girls are in their lives. We see that they have already sought to bouy up their shaky grasp of the demands of conscious living, by retreating to hypnagogic dream states. One of these would be religion, and this is a telling, if odd, shot of one of the girls in church, full of doubt, looking away from her candicolored religious world

spring-1Then we go to a classic frat party, of the kind that has been being documented on film for over 75 years, but, here, right from the start, Kormine seems like an outsider ooing and ahing at the, what shall I call it, existential, gladtobethere, thisiswild, whatisthis, oddness of it all. This toilet papered tree is a classic lattice formation, it announces that we are entering a world of prankishness, kidsstuff lawlessless, a party world

spring-2The fact that the rolls stream down, might indicate it as a wormhole condition, dropping us down into dream, but I am not sure (or Korine is not). But then it is also multicolored, and it is significant that it is red and green, a color scheme that signifies the push-pull of fear with a deep, deep heritage in the horror genre, with Korine here, perhaps unconsciously, calling up predecessors ranging from Fisher, to Bava and Corman. However, at present, because the alternate flashing from red to green and back is the very binary flashing pattern of basic entopty, I will say for now that Korine has entered into a party to show us a light dream state, a world not quite real or unreal. While it is difficult to make claims of connections between filmic and visual art, between movies and paintings, as in truth they might be compartmentalized and unrelated, but the fact that many of Korine’s abstract paintings are, strictly speaking, static level abstraction, with some turbulence behind, indicates his pure visual interest in the dreamy nature of this space. This is Shroomy Check (2014) (continuing the modernist belief that only inducement by shrooms, whatever, brings on this state

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There is also evidence that Korine does not have a perpendicular into-picture relation with abstraction, but a scanning horizontal relation with various abstract elements of the static state, and provides a scenic tour, as it were, of the effects (almost as if, for example, Huxley’s detailing the codes that emerge in the state), so, here, apparently unrelated, Starburst (2014), another effect of the state

spring-4Back in the movie, it is interesting to me that he makes use of a more intense lattice image, as it covers over a person entirely and would pull him down, in two wonderful shots of guys who have passed out drunk, and then, at the party, became subject to the very folk art of that dream world, being made over into a mock mummy, an act of pranking

spring-5The party scene then progresses, but with only a breaking in purpose. Parties excite visually and emotionally because they are all-over, 360, space is meandering, there is multiple unexpected one might almost say rhizomatic possibility, and then everyone is intent on moving around and letting off steam and there can also be breakdowns and intense drunkenness, and then things can spill out, and get out of control, and life can run down. This sliding space is classic static space, it is the light sleep half-dream purpose of the party, a kind of hypnagogy of social life. But, then, what surprises is that, having dived in, the girls then are so close that they back out, and then watch all their other friends go off on Spring Break while they are stuck at home. Here Korine pulls us back up to conscious life, and shows us its bare walls and ugly blank nowhere tedium, in some very effective scenes. The girls then realize that they, among themselves, are going to have to create the circulation, to get themselves on a roll, and out of there. The movie has some terrific jugate formation depiction of the foursome to show that they are feeding off of each other’s power. That is, they are a gang, the whole of it overruling individual doubts or hesitations, and by their mutual encouraging of each other they form a lattice, which decides to spider down to deeper levels. This is actually shown, quite remarkably, in their antics in the hallways, as if they are spiders

spring-6That is, in terms of dream states, the girls as group, in spider formation, form a lattice that hangs heavy in static space, and presses down through it. It is through them, that we will fall asleep. It is also at this stage of the descent into full on dream, as the static takes on heavier form, that figuration emerges as a pressing force. It is therefore intriguing that Korine has in fact represented this heaviness in the quadrajugate form of his girl gang. And, then, too, here I find many more productive parallels with Korine’s visual art, as, though mostly abstract, he often does give voice to figural presences, pressing in. By formalist terms, to show figure on one canvas, and abstract on another, would be to violate body of work: but in the sliding scale of dream imagery, abstraction, as it gets heavier, condenses to figure, and in the stage of the lattice in particular the figure is of a spidery, and usually black sort. And that is exactly what shows up in the gallery, as if crashing the abstract painting party. This from Shooters at Gagosian, in 2014

spring-7And the Drunken Flexers (2014) are in fact direct counterparts of the girl gang in Springbreakers

spring-8I have noted before, in my treatment of The Shining, that if a visual artist rests easy in the entoptic stage, he or she is a “light” artist, if, however, they drop down to the glass onion, they are “smart,” it is only at the lattice stage, when something from above presses down, and the flickering movement stalls in the concentrated heaviness of one thing, that they become “heavy” (and then that too is distinguished from being deep: I think I said Kubrick was a heavy not deep artist). Korine, by this measure, is a heavy artist, in that while it would appear he is interested in the entopic imagery flowing through his background, in fact he is obsessed exclusively with the lattice heaviness created by the unnatural connections of the members of his girlgang, that gang is the lattice, the heaviness that sends them sinking down through the world of dreams, into a nightmare.

Then having got themselves in a state of mind in which it is possible for them to act on deciding to rob a store, to get off to Spring Break, they don the deep sea diving gear of their descent, and go down the wormhole. This is shown in one of Korine’s most masterful sequences in the movie, the robbery. They go through one door, we see it indirectly through successive windows, and through the windows of the getaway car as it knowingly circles round to the front of the store, and after the robbery the girls come tearing out of the front door. At this point, the front door is, of course, red, as this is the color of danger

spring-9Well and good, Korine yanks us back up into conscious life, and we think that we are in a 2013 version of Palm Springs Weekend, to follow the antics of kids having a blast letting off steam at a Florida beach. This is a quadrifront jugate formation expressive of personal power, of being on a roll, of life going your way. The fact that the girl enthusiastically narrates over it an excited description of all the fun they are having, wakes us up even more

spring-10Korine spends a good deal of time in the glass onion stage of representation of Spring Break. And that would be Spring Break as a concept reframed as a fugue of abstract symbols running across the eye. In this world, girls are teats and ass, guys are beers in hand and dicks. Everyone is naked, providing the static surface of naked skin, and many of the girls are topless, as, in order to keep the level of excitement up about skin in a culture which is now 75 years into total exposure by way of the bikini, the breast has had to be bared to express, woo ho, that we are in a deeper stage of wild fun, and so we splash and slide and our mind is boggled, and does not believe what it is seeing in the glass onion

spring-11It goes without saying that “people” in three dimensions disappear in the glass onion, replaced by two dimensional automatons, who are undoubtedly drunk, therefore divested of their restricting decorum, and so more bodies than minds as they usually are in life. As such, the body foregrounds them, their exposed nipples attests to their acceptance of this fact, it is all but their ticket of admission into this stage of release from consciousness, and so the agentic body, but in reverse form, as automaton, grooving with the crowd, takes over

spring-12Some of this glass onion symbolic sex play gets pretty heavy, and seems to weigh down toward the point of becoming a lattice. The danger in this in-between zone is that as the partying gets harder, and the drinking gets heavier, consciousness drops down to nearer to unconsciousness, as actions become entirely automatic and unremembered. Thus, the men now entirely strip off, and are demons or rather incubi of bongs, distributed their down-the-tubes poison to all

spring-13(It is difficult for me, not to see in this image, and underlying image from Ken Russell’s Gothic, his version of Fuseli incubus

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Oddly, in the cult of the one-eyed monster, who is not only the dick, but the man reduced by drink to a dick, to monocularly fixated on sex, but sex as the acme of fun, just because, because nobody is going to remember anything, girls have acquiesced to being the sacrificial not-virgins, and they usually end up partying along on their backs, by receiving the bong splashes, by being the table on which the drinks are served, by being the chessboard on which sex talk is bantered, and usually they are on the floor, getting close here to lattice fallthrough

spring-15It is also at this stage that girls seem to allow themselves to play the part of furniture, mainly tables off of which to do shots or whatever. This is a symbolic act of sponsorship of the drug taking, but also a submission to the whole atmosphere created by it. It is hardly surprising to me that some dense boys mistake these purely symbolic steam-let-off actions, as old as man, in ritual sacrificial cults, as invitations to sex, but they are most definitely not that, but only ‘play,’ and play that must remain play in the context of an intact lattice, but a lattice of let down from the glass onion, all of this hypnagogy. This is as far as Korine goes towards critiquing the nature of the subjugated body that has emerged in fornicagraphic culture, where fantasies accost girls on workplace surfaces, they engage in various jobs, many at the same time, all stretched out, multitasking, like a lattice spider, between acts, they are marked on all their exposed sides with reading, tattoos, aware that they are decorative screens, or altars for all this. It may be that in showing the “new normal” of the party entoptica Korine is also providing the basis for the girls’ disgust, and wanting, altogether, to drop through (but there is also a hunt here that the agentic body, when subjugated as a spider, is the lattice body too).

spring-16This, then, symbolizes all further states. And then this is an all too typical of the pornographic imagination, wanting to put all parts to work, on the job, but, then, with the odd proviso, that the girl also pleasure herself, while she is pleasuring him, as all sex in porn is in truth 3D mutual masturbation (indicated by the fact that in 99% of porn bodies only touch by way of sexual organs, there is no other personal touching). The lattice form of both leads me to think that there is a manifestation of body that differs for each phase, but we will see.

Now a more political activist or moralist author might at this point have pulled us back up to conscious life by showing an instance of a young man in such a state forgetting the rules of the dream state play and actually exploiting these symbolic acts to have actual sex with the woman, resulting in rape (which is what happened in Palm Springs Weekend, fifty years ago). This is a tragic misunderstanding on his part, it is caused not by either one or the other of the participants being dressed or undressed or suggestive or not in any particular way, but because for some reason he did not understand the rules, and took it where it was never intended to go. But Korine is not a moralist of that sort, he is more an existentialist. He therefore does take things to the next level down, but does so by a blurring sort of visual effect which I think symbolizes losing of consciousness, and exhaustion shutting down the party. This is represented by what looks like an act of whatamIdoing trainwreck sex, and it all goes pooowwwwww

spring-17At which point, in an oddly obtuse, meandering and dreamy scene, not at all the It’s a Raid! Hands up! Nobody move! convention of cops breaking up the party, they are ushered into one of the motel’s rooms, and arrested. It all comes crashing down

spring-18But the thing is. The girls were already showing signs of having created their own little world amongst themselves, so that as a group they were too heavy for the lightness of the scene, and falling through it. Already, from the very first, they cut right through all the party shit of Spring Break, and go right for the beach at sunset, to glory in the beauty of it, the escapism of it all

spring-19We see them sit and hug and talk and have a time of close bonding, alone together, over by the pier

spring-20While the parties rage elsewhere, they describe their wonderful time, but are sitting in their motel room, the lighting is yellow and purple, also hypnotic colors, I want to say of the glass onion state itself

spring-21They are pictured lounging by the pool, of not wanting to go back, and seeking, even here, a deeper escapism, something more, or this, but this permanent, freedom from all their problems. In my short experience of beach life in the southern US I was struck by the fact that while for me just to be on a Gulf Shore beach was paradise, when I talked to locals it was no longer anything anymore to them, they all wanted to go off to Mexico, and seek out a farther shore. Thus, when escapism becomes the push, pushing one as a force through the stages, it will not stop, and a weird sort of deferral or leapfrogging to the next level takes over. In the pool, the girls are shot with their heads about water, but everything else below water. They are also as a group incredibly touchy feely, but all that happens below water (just as later two of them will have sex with Franco, but all of their touching is screened or filtered into a dreamy sort of thing by the fact that it all takes place under water). What this means is that they exist in a state of dissociation. There are various sorts: but here are three, one I call sinkholing, which is when you experience what you experience, but then any remembrance of something else not happening or something lost in life in some instance or thing, causes the brain to sinkhole down a hole; or oppositioning, which is when on the surface you enjoy what you are enjoying, but deep inside you also know that this is not working for you or giving your deeper soul what it needs and so there is that dark voice back behind consciousness criticizing everything; and finally, intrusive thoughts, which see things as they happen, but then interpret them really, really negatively. All of these examples of dissociation will cause the hypnagogic dive to accelerate downward, they will precipitate a wormwhole whoosh, but, coming from the lattice, they will result in nightmare

spring-22The most interesting thing, and I can hardly think realistic thing, about the whole arrest sequence, with a very nice capture of the bureaucratic nowhereness of police space, meant to jolt them back to life, to make them come to their senses, is that the girls go to court, stand before the judge, do time in the hall, and in their cell, sleep in their cell, and are released, without ever changing their clothes, or being offered anything to cover them, they do the whole sequence in their bikinis. I can hardly believe this can happen in real life, even in a beach town where it might be expected beach life has allowed states of undress to invade even courtrooms, through the expediency of and normalcy of naked flesh. But what it says here is, like that dream where you are naked in front of others, in a real life situation, they are stripped down, as brides will be in the dream state, and in that state are, in fact, not being drawn back up to sense (though one girl drops out at this point, to take the bus back), but they are now diving down the wormhole.

And the demon that greets them at the entry way to hell, as lattice drops into the spiral downward, is James Franco. He’s a pretty unsavory guy, and we know he is up to no good, but then he becomes less dangerous to us when we realize he is complete white trash whose dream in life is to own a bunch of stuff of no import or value of any kind in the real world, he’s got the mind of an 18 year old kid, and just wants more, it is fantastically delusional speech, not unlike Gatsby and his shirts, with Daisy, and his trophies of guns over his bed, and his bed, not a 1940s glamor queen’s throne of sex goddessness, but his UFO spaceship, leading him to dream worlds in sex, it’s just jawdropping in its complete misapplication of priority

spring-23But there is a mirror, there is a litany, and there are these guns, which rattle us down, the stuff that dreams are made of, the maker real of pure fantasies in the unreal America underthebottom

spring-24The twist that finally brings them down in, is ostensibly a scene where they get the upper hand with them, but in fact it is how the surviving girls had to declare their love to him, their new mad bond, and he gets it, because he gets out of what might have been a dangerous situation, if he had let it surface back to real life, by doing mock-oral sex on the gun, and on them, and they fall into a downward spiral of love

spring-25To celebrate their having fallen down in, they celebrate as Liberace might have, in a classic Scarface inspired Miami Beach beach fantasy, but donning their unicorn pink facemasks and singing altogether an anthem of inspiration by Britney Spears, in the pink of the sunset over the wonders of the endless escapist bay of the ocean, it is delirious dream scene, far in the underworld

spring-26All of this involves deeper bonding, and masking, and basically changing each other into dream figures

spring-27Now they must celebrate their newfound level below, with a stronger pose of jugateness, of three-in-oneness, but now faceless, replaced entirely by guns

spring-28And by their own seaside fireworks display, but in this case a gun salute

spring-29For reasons which are not entirely clear, Korine decides to go sideways with the dream developments here, by knocking another girl out of the descent. She gets shot in the arm, the homemade surgery at home is too much of a shock for her, so she has to leave. It is interesting that the means she leaves, to gain ascent, not descent further, is a restorative, uplifting, crying shower, in red

spring-30And then back to blue: the shower acts as a counter to the lattice, and lifts her up (I’m thinking here of the bowl in the volcano that lifts up the professor and crew in Journey to the Center of the Earth), so she is out, and again gets onto the bus, symbolic of the return to empty, banal, surface, conscious life, no where America. But with the remaining, there is a delirious crime spree sequence, not that different in many ways from the same sort of sequence that has been a feature of crime movies since the 1930s, then there is a bit of plot with a confrontation with the boss, the three of them spend a good deal of additional time hesitating, idling, do we want to do this thing? And at last decide to go kill the boss who had them shot at. And while Franco is shot and killed, the two girls, all the while chanting, this is like a dream, go down another wormhole, purple

spring-31There is a classic Miami shootout right out of Scarface, including a shooting into the water

spring-32Then they kill the boss…….and then they grab his car, drop all their bad life, and, rising up quickly, a bit too quickly, almost giving one the bends, to return to ‘normal life,’ whatever that might be (though one would expect that at some point the law would come after them). All in all, with a few zigzags, and some confusion here and there in having the vertically-descending mis en scene lift up for a bit, then descend again, sometimes making it not entirely clear if we had a catch, to then result in a dysfunctional drop to the next layer down, but by and large what distinguishes SpringBreakers from spring break movies is that while most movies of the genre are movies shot in consciousness to show the complications or fun, or enticements of the fun, all in conscious life, the girls of this springbreak, had developed, through perhaps an overly close bonding, a dissociated sense from the world and society, and so, when they jumped into this glass onion world of fun, they sunk deep through it, into dream and then nightmare. But throughout Korine shows great command (more so, I suspect, if I studied in detail his use of color, comparing it to Bava or Corman) of hypnagogy to capture the dissociated state of mind of these girls, and, by that, to create in any viewer an awakening of existential angst, to make the viewer ‘blank out’ in sadness and a sense of hopelessness at the transience and the quickpassing emptiness of life.