Capturing the conflictedness of the moment, 1974 A.D., in Black Christmas (1974).

Rev., Dec 22, 2017.

In discussing Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (1974), it is now impossible not to see the movie from the point of view of later times, after which he had then flipped to the completely opposite point of view, and shot A Christmas Story (1982), a movie which captures so perfectly nostalgia, and good feelings about even bad things going wrong in good old times, that it surprisingly, after failing in the theaters, took on a life of its own on cable TV and has become a seasonal classic for the more ironic keepers of the day. For Black Christmas is a paean to anti-nostalgia, and even to feeling good about the present moment. I have said before, and often, that no other movie exists which better captures the particular mood of the moment, 1974 AD. I was in freshman-sophomore year that year, and suffering mightily. We still lived in the shadow of the 60s generation, the upper classmen, but, for us, it was no longer that time. We had become cynical, but in a kind of clueless-cynical way. We were vaguely aware that the freedoms gained in the 60s were now going to be bringing some bad side effects. This is nicely captured both by the pre-slasher movie quality of this movie, and by the nature of the crime, and its uncertainty, at the moment, in the movie.

Let me start with this shot.

blackx 1I have noted before that no shot in the movies better captures the conflicted nature of the times, than this one, it (or a nighttime variant, repeated) screams 1974. And the question is, why? To use my variant on Barthesian photo theory, I argued (in a catalog for a show “Inherent Vice,” at the Photography Center of Woodstock, NY, in 1991), that while Barthes believed that a picture captured a single, solid plain, and then there was a detail which the POV of the viewer picked up, or a general awareness of some aspect of it infusing it, the punctum, my argument was that, no, that argument is too rooted in a holistic view of subjectivity with intention who controls what he or she sees (the singleton ego view of life), in fact, all photographs, as a medium, outside the self, in the world, have an “inherent vice,” which means elements which are degrading to its stability, disabling its homoestasis, and resulting from the as it were movable plate tectonics of two overlapping fields (the term was invented by conservators having to work with trying to preserve modern paintings which might have included anything from mustard to spilled alcohol). Since 1974 was the year in which I first used the word “postmodern” in a paper at school (circled in red, and wreathed in question marks), I guess I would say that this photo theory is my variant on my original intuition that the hero of Sartre’s Nausea simply had no access to reality in-itself in modern Paris therefore did not suffer real nausea at all. I did not believe that reality was objective and to be taken for granted as an ontological whole, I also did not believe that subjectivity was a whole uncontested “self” which singletons in particular seem to entirely believe in uncritically (the word at the time, which I had never read, had an uncanny ring to it, as “modern” meant up to date, happening now, so how could you live in the present post of another time, but I was also speaking to a complaint that too many of my hippie teachers were telling me, the 60s is over, time to synthesize the results, James Joyce was in the 20s, no more innovation like that; I also quickly after began to see how, in fact, people could live in the present in a culture of “aftertaste” from another time, and, upon my move to NYC, discovering myself a zero in the world, devised the notion that I was henceforth “posthumous,” so my use of the word postmodern had more college-student-angst inferences in it). Today, using my post-formalist movie-based dynamic agency theory, I guess I would map out the problem this way. Barthes thought the scene was solid, with a single subjective eye picking out this or that (here placing the single plain in the fictive zone of the shot)

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I on the other hand saw it this way

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that is, spacing the planes of the film image diagonally, according to the fore, middle and background division, push-pull from before and aft, and as seen with preference by the POV of various parties, and then there also being a POV of a V viewer who saw only into the gaps in the image, because it had somehow begun to age, or wrinkle, or diffuse, or deplete, its “fissures,” as I called them, coming apart (this is why photos “worked” in one time, and began to “age” and look corny in later times, see my treatment of picture theory postpop painter John Currin), this made a photograph per se a very temporary rapprochement of contested POVs and therefore an unstable entity without essence, without ground, without in-itself, without any of the certainties that a modernist sought in things. So, when I look at the above image, in the foreground, in the framing, close to the viewer, is the image that has just moved off screen, the killer, it is HIS eyes which watch this scene of persons going away; but there is also an implication imposed I think by the mis en scene by Clark that we are also meant to look upon this with the dead eyes of the killed girl with her plastic bag over her head, so this as it were, in a general, exploitational way, beyond POV, deadens the scene, makes it cold. Then, there is my eye, my eye that looks into the gaps in the image, the passing through the gate, the space between the two people involved, a rather overdone battle between the righteous father and the landlady of the sorority house. They have previously had a visual contretemps over the fact that the missing daughter, now upstairs dead in the attic, had been doing some growing in college, and developing some testy ideas

blackx 4and at one point now to implicate the girl in having joined in with the others, or been evilly influenced by the others, also enthusiastically join in a project of devirgination, and having lots of sex

blackx 5this contretemps is a bit overwritten, perhaps purposely, meaning that they are fighting a rear guard action against a reality that the girls have already moved on in. All the behavior of the other girls, and the problems they are dealing with, makes the parent’s concerns, as expressed in an outburst by Margot Kidder, quite retro, out of step with the cynical times. All that is in the background of this shot. But, then, the overall nature of the shot is controlled by the exploitation reframing of the killer’s POV, a double POV, as it were, where it is the haunting almost undead presence of the girl in a plastic bag who looks

blackx 6interestingly enough, some of the posters for the movie “got it,” that some sort of metaPOVing of the POV of the killer was being introduced here in a truly chilling way, the inference that she watched the proceedings.

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and again, wreathing her, as if her dead eye view bespoke the season too

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and then another one sought to animate her, to further imply that in a strange way, by her presence, and sitting in the attic in a rocking chair in the nature of the mother in Psycho, she is observing all that happens after her killing, and in a movie that is entirely about her disappearance and finding her

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and again

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and again

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So, again, just a few years later, in 1978=80, the POV of the killer, the predatory POV, would be introduced, as the slasher movie takes solid form as a subgenre, and is developed. But, here, it is not quite formed, it is a bit amorphous, and, as I map it out, Clark has withdrawn back into the pure instrumentation of the film or movie in itself as a machine to make it bespeak the mechanical “stripping bare” of modern life, and then project THAT ice cold view of things back into the movie by way of the truly creepy inference, far creepier than the idea that the killer is watching, as sometimes evoked by this eye, and his POV, as to see in a moment, but the idea that SHE watches, as dead (this parallels to an idea expressed in King’s recent 1922 on Netflix that a dead mother can see the fate of her children, it has deep lore)

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but this view, of course, folds into the movie nicely because it is, after all, an interesting, even inspired take, and only, again, by inference, as there is never the idea that she is alive and sees this all, an extension of a very common trope in horror, the cold eye, or the dead eye of life, often expressed by way of the expressionless eyes of taxidermy, dolls, and the like, “witnessing” but in a cold dead-eyed hyperobjective way that bespeaks the horror movie ethos that in the stripped bare world of modern life the world does not care one little bit about you, it watches on impassive, cold and indifferent. Examples of this trope are so numerous it hardly needs to be mentioned but in the movie Scared to Death (1980), the voyeur scores in his peeping, by seeing his victim nude, thus “stripping her bare” to the extent that his evil sexual-killing impulse having been awakened he no longer sees her as a human being

blackx 13and then when he strikes (he being in this case a monster), Raggedy Anne, the most evergreen trope of this type, the Raggedy Anne as roughed-up-by-life tossed-all-over mess of a doll extraordinaire, epitomizing victimized objectification

blackx 14and in this one they even take it one step further by having some blood spatter on her, so she can even ignore that, the blood of her keeper, and she does, not, care

blackx 15Thus, when I look back on this shot

blackx 16it is this structure of seeing it that I see

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and that means that I see it as a push-pull tug of war between the foreground awareness of the killer POV, meaning I must have felt threatened at the time; the dead eye imposed over the shoulder of that meaning that I must have felt the world did not in any care one little bit about me (I did not then know that this was a trope in movies, so I cant count that in); then I saw into the contretemps of the adults as irrelevant and stupidly clueless, then saw college and hated college and hated my life in college so saw it on a negative background.

But, for all that, this STILL does not quite cover the picture, as it would appear there was still one final overlay, which as it were seals it all in one tight compress or composition of disparate elements and that is that I have developed nonetheless a kind of counternostalgic appreciation for the special battle that I was engaged in in 1974, that I did lose it, but survived, but also that this takes place at an elite university, I thought maybe Cornell, or in any case symbolize that state of comfortable eliteness that one gets at places such as Cornell (but it is Toronto(, and feel that had I been accepted at an elite college and not ended up at a feeder college, things would have gone much differently. This is what I think Clark infers by this shot, the dead eye over the stately church tower, on campus, a symbol of insider elitism

blackx 18I am not one of those people who say no regrets, that is simply ego talking. Life is  filled with so many decisions to be made and roads taken and roads not taken that it is ridiculous to stubbornly in recollection stand one’s ground and say, no regrets, I have many regrets, and my junket to see an artist in January, 2013, to Cornell Univ., so filled me with a queer sense of undefinable loss and time passing, that I know that I deep down (but not really) believe that had I been accepted at Cornell, everything in my life would have been different, here is the graph of that, a further pullback of meta POV, taking in the whole shot, all its fissures, as a great “negative,” projected from a cult goal negated by failure to get it, to turn the whole picture into the very image of regret

blackx 20This, then, for now, and, should I never be able to write about this shot again, as I have thought about it several times, this is as far as I will go with it, but at present I see it as a hornet’s nest of five contested POVs, but, for me, the “punctum” in the general infusing sense of the punctum of Lincoln’s killer Payne soon being dead being the punctum, according to Barthes’ reading of that picture, see Camera Lucida

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For me, the punctum is, that is SO 1974 because I was not where I wanted to be, and knew I would’ve done much better if I had been somewhere else, and I suffered in the gap of that missing and that loss, and have ever since, and resent it, and still know, with a horrible longing to belong, that if I had got through the door at the place where I wanted to be, everything in my failed life might have gone better for me. So, in addition to looking at this picture through all the conflicts I have outlined, I suture it all back together to with a sick what-if sense of having back a thing I lost so see the gate as homey, and the snow as homey, and the view of going for the cab as reminding me of some time when “I was alive” or more alive than I am now, and, all that, wrapped up in it, makes this picture such an important shot for me (we are waaaayyy past Craig Owen’s simple analysis of film stills here). (The fun, inspiring detail, of this writing, is that this morning a 50-year-old dorm was imploded at the local University, and I took the occasion to recollect, on FB, using just these terms

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And the pics

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But, that, then, is enough of that shot. At least, at last, I have written something on it (even if not entirely satisfactory still).

The rest of the movie is also a nice essay on POV, and troubles with it. As for the mood of the times, and the confusions both visual and mental, the girls are “typical” 70s sorority girls, not yet by far the much more sororial mean girls after the 80s, so there are thrilling moments of them encountering some terrible new realities of the world in the negative fall out of the 60s in the 70s. When all of them gather round to listen to the obscene phone call, him using the c-word even more times than in The Exorcist, there is a look of appalled fascination on the faces of the girls, they are repulsed, but weirdly in awe of the horror of life which that voice represents (classic Freudian trope). They are also meant in this shot to be facing up to one of the unfortunate fallouts of the sexual revolution, some guys couldn’t measure up, couldn’t hack it, and so, according to slasher lore, dumped and damaged by women, went psycho, to take it out on girls in revenge, and maybe deep down the girls knew that due to their lax behavior they kinda deserved it (again, in he lore of the slasher; how different from the rationalizing pieties of today’s #metoo moment). Here is Andrea Martin, who is excellent here, the perfect wiry undergrad circa 1974, all those emotions in her face

blackx 24then there is Olivia Hussey, the star, who goes through most of the troubles, but is a modern 70s undergrad who will not let female life conventions keep her down, so she has the red herring battle with Keir Dullea over the fact that due to their having a sexual relationship she is now pregnant, but she wants to get an abortion, he to keep it, it leads to trouble

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and though it appears she survives, though it is not clear with what mental health, in the end

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she became frightened by Keir Dullea’s animosity and anger, he also complicated the situation by in one sequence actually playing the false positive red herring substituting for the killer because he had had such a free run of her part of the house he had taken a nap up in her bed, waiting for her to come home, and here is represented as it were by the uniquely odd, and somewhat inspired instrumentation of the spider cobweb covered Christmas tree, blue lights prominent, indicating Christmas spirit effaced by the problems everyone is having

blackx 27and then when he comes at her while she is cowering in the basement she thinks he is the killer and he comes in one her in this shot, as a blue mystery light (as per the trope of the blue lamp), meaning she is confused, and she kills him

blackx 28so, her POV is also contested (I will discuss her experience in searching the house in a moment). Then, too Kidder, she is the sexy, experienced, sassy, the liberated woman, sex she knows of, ie slut, of the 1970s, perfectly cast, fine performance, taunting the peeper

blackx 29but, then, very oddly, she is not even given a chance to be a fightback girl, her sassiness is unmanned by the fact that she ends up being murdered in her bed, just like lore says everyone should be worried of

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then, even stranger, acting all big and tough socially, in private she collects glass figures, representing extreme fragility, and the killer takes up a unicorn, representing, then, an exception, a quandry and enigma, and uses that symbol of a fragile enigma to kill her

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and the only shots we see of this fightback girl fighting back are grasping for life, clearly undone, knocking about her glass figure collection

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and Clark lingers, perhaps again interjecting some personal POV inference of vengeance over a kind or type of girl at the time who, in the lore of horror movies, did a lot of careless damage (in the literary tradition of Tom and Daisy)

blackx 33and again, tres arty

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but now we circle back to the eye of the killer, in the broader frame around the frame of the nest of character POVs (though I will return to Hussey in a bit)

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the hidden stalking/peeping slasher is, of course, a trope, but the mistake that, if I recall, the remake made, and which a movie like The Boy (2016) also made, is that at some point it is felt by rationalizers that a person has to be made known, revealed, figured out entirely and, worse, explained, psychologically. But that usually ruins him, as in a hidden state he remains a bogey man, the figure representing all the random fears that pester modern life (heard that the Sydney Loofe killing, this month, RIP, in local news is, by rumor, even being blamed on the Rulo Cult, of the 1980s, I had to look it up). But, in this movie, he is a mere POV, who then, in a not so much abstract but abstract-ized way, kills. That is, like the bagged dead eye of the girl, whose gaze nonetheless usurps him, and, as we will see, also becomes the eye of the “to be continued” trope at the end, he is never shown, not even caught, the figures in the attic not caught, the police entirely absorbed in the girls (as if the movie plays on them the joke Kidder played on one dim cop by giving her a phone number spelling out Fellatio). But, his POV is suggested by the evergreen trope of constantly looking up and down the wooden stairway of the sorority house, the central feature of the house. We see it, after a rather too attendant following of the POV of the killer as he finds a place as the hidden homunculus haunting the house, early on, he is up above, in his wild space, civilization, their space, is below, the stairs are the great divide

blackx 37we get it often, moving up and down, between lives, from one experience by one character to another, as a transitional device

blackx 38in this shot, there is a formal portrait, perhaps of a former house mother, who knows, it is there, but did not play much of a direct role in anything

blackx 39the view gets longer when the prowl in danger begins and there is something interesting, relative to the above picture, in this prowl

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as she moves upstairs, she is searching for evidence that there is trouble, she has not, as advised, left the house, but is looking, but the interesting thing is, and often shown, outside in particular Kidder’s room door is a raft of very traditional house pictures of the history of the sorority and group shots of former members, and classes, and all that

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the camera approaches these pictures from afar, then comes closer, as if to equate the space in the house to public space in the sense that this is not space owned by the girls, but only temporarily lived in by them, and therefore the prison of the railings and the newell posts are emptied out even further by the ersatz bureaucratic group-culture group-think mechanical of modern life as exemplified by such pictures, the one strafes the other, they interact, quite inspiringly

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as she gets closer, it is as if the slats of the bannister, the equivalent of venetian blind slats in bespeaking shadiness and questioning on screen, are accented in their emptying effect, and worry, by the form and layout, in quite long form pictures, of the pictures. It is also of interest that these pictures cluster most about Kidder’s room’s door, as she is the most contentious against the traditions of the house, and the life, and the prime violater of house rules, in every way

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and as we close in on her door, visually attempting to increase the tension, there is a ratcheting up of both the slat strafe and the group picture facture, both by crepitation itching away at our confidence in the scene, the ironic Christmas wreath on her door also speaks

blackx 48now the camera pans over the long pictures of the groups and classes, almost as if this was the sorority house equivalent of the family tree portraiture of a family, an evergreen trope if ever there was, but this emptying things out in a more extreme, as if not only communicating that the house is in trouble, and she is in trouble, but they are in trouble because the lifestyle itself is archaic and corrupt

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then, I also like this detail, on Kidder’s door is not an apotropaic keep out sign, but a “life of the party” trophy, a sign that says, we drink and have lots of sex in here, a black Christmas wreathe with tiny whiskey and other bottles attached as ornaments

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a few things about this. Each year about this time, I see a bush at the corner where I fell (19th and Washington) and it is littered with tiny bottles of alcohol, with which the men litter what I even call after them, my street, Fireball Run, so this is funny to see the same trope in 1974, epitomizing the world of that wreathe, dorm life (sorority variant), that so tortured me (my version of a wreathe tossed? the straw that broke the camel’s back for me and dorm life was hearing bottles breaking all night outside my door, then opening the door in the morning to find the corridor littered an inch deep with broken bottles all over). But, two, it is also interesting that the posters for the movie tried to make a possible reference to this by making the wreath the central device, including horror in it, though not corresponsing to the mis en scene in the film

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and here, with a reference to Kidder, so it might be connected,

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other posters focus on the ornaments, with a dead body in it, not lifted from the movie, and then the tree in general, but this seems the source of that sort of resymbolizing of the movie, or postering of it. But, then, the punchline is only a punchline to get in the uncut version of the movie, and in this viewing was the first time I ever got the uncut version, because she is horrified when she opens the door to see a kind of wreath of two bodies on the bed, as if the killer combined the art of collecting glass figures, and making Christmas decorations, with fantasies of all the twisted sex that was going on in this house of sluts (in the language of the day)

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In actual fact, Kidder’s body is merely placed over Martin’s body, but it visualizes as a pretzeling knot, suggesting, in a bed, of sex, of the accusation, common among men angry at refusal by women, of triabic lesbianism in the attraction of women as friends to each other, it is not as great a shot as it might’ve been, but for 1974, it is a lot (and, like I said, edited out of all versions I have seen of the movie before this screening) (one also fears that it is from a musing serpentinely on the wreath on the door as well as the webby christmas tree plus this suggested as the extenuation in a psycho mind of what a Christmas tree of sex would look like that the remake got the truly awful and unscary only gross idea of having the psycho’s tree decorated with organs of the murder victims, ew).

blackx 54later on, returning now to the girl who was the victim who ended up as the dead eye in the plastic bag suffocated, but to represent the dead eye POV of the cold world, she is not at all the Kidder type, in fact, quite tame, a more reasonable college girl, living between flowers and stuffed animals, in a dream of innocence, however the envelope stretches

blackx 55but then we see that she is being talked through a dry cleaner plastic bag hung over her clothes in her closet

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and that is how she ends up as the first victim, and as the dead eye of the movie

blackx 57but, then, at the end, after we have apparently, down in the world of the living, in the house, in the space inside the cops’ investigation, wrapped things up, with no furhter search of the house, we trail away from the bed

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some sort of grave rubbing of a medieval sort, meaning that Hussey was one of those, 1970s post60s undergrad escapists gone gaga on medievalism

blackx 59then we pull back through the corridor, light tinkling over the pictures of the sorority groups past

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and the camera on its own, representing film per se, the dead eye of the world, pans, crossing the doors of rooms where victims were killed (thus, in this second, is clear proof that in this movie the sorority house pictures, the group picture trope, was definitely instrumentalized, and quite creatively, and may or may not have influenced the next great, and best use of them, unnoticed by most, by Kubrick in The Shining (1980).

blackx 61the first victim’s stuffed animal gives us a last dead eye glance

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the camera crawls upstairs (can’t ID that pic, too dark)

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we are informed, almost unbelievably, that the police did not find the two bodies in the attic

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we even now pull out of that space by way of the window, and by way of the primary dead eye of the movie, victim in a plastic bag

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to reduce her (the movie already working with the classic urban legend of the killer being, during a babysitting job, in the house upstairs) to the classic urban legend trope of the face in the window, that never moves, that is always there, eliding here into a ghost

blackx 66and in a “to be continued” withdrawal it is promised that, since he is still in there, it is going to happen again, because sororities are sororities, they don’t get fixed, it will happen again, he is the evil homunculus not yet formed into a conscious slasher with a distinct MO, is the abstraction vaguely haunting the lives of young women of the 1970s around the edges, that something has gone very, very wrong with the sexual revolution, and the world as a whole has converted into a place of threat and danger

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and so Clark pulls all the way back to the POV beyond even the POV of the dead eye, which is in turn beyond the POV of the dead eye, to speak to us once again that in 1974 the world suddenly seemed scary (even if it wasn’t), and cold, and impassive, and it is from the pooling of this alienation and sense of corruption and emptiness, that the official slasher would, a few years later, emerge. For all of this–and this has only been a stab taken at a very difficult problem, one which I have mused on for some time, why this movie captures so perfectly the mood of being 21 in 1974 AD–Black Christmas (1974) continues to grow on me, as one of the best evil or scary Christmas movies ever made, and by the exact same guy who made A Christmas Story!

Note

This note another of many I have written about sorority houses in horror movies, no doubt all for some fantastical psychological purpose of recoup since, in real life, as the college I went to did not have Greek life, in never once set foot in a real sorority house in my college years.

Tracking the green slime in The Green Slime (1966): intermedial representation of an invasive horror, Part 2.

Rev., Nov 22, 2017.

This is Part 2 of a 2 part treatment of The Green Slime (1966)

https://rjamahoney.wordpress.com/2018/01/03/tracking-the-green-slime-in-the-green-slime-1966-intermedial-representations-of-menace-in-60s-sci-fi-horror-part-1/

Having mapped out the movement of the green slime, in the movie The Green Slime (1966), I have thus far (in part 1 of this note), found two different times in which its movement escalated to a new level of excitement. Then, if that was not enough, the movie excites a third time, by ratcheting things up to the next level. And that would be that as the number of these things grow, they are slowly taking over the place, section by section, the crew is slowly being cornered, as they shut down one section after another, repeatedly having to move out, and shut off the doors, and this entails at several points, after isolating the monsters, going in to try to push them back to other zones, which involves a whole quite tense involvement of them going in with lights, which they realize blinds them

slim 48to go face to the face with them, more cycloptics

slim 49and, on it goes

slim 50on this level, in the real, fictive space, then, things go entirely polyphemic, that is, monocular, fixated on the monster, and its horror. In this, this is not only an expression of the movie having zeroed in heavily to focus on one thing only, in the lattice, these creatures then becoming the figure of the lattice, but in a menacing, monstrous form, the monocularity of it endangers the crew as well, because they might not be paying attention to other things. Of course, in every horror movie since the beginning of the 50s, there is a “debate” among the crew over what to do about these things, and this entails the age old war between the scientists, who want to study it, and the soldiers, who want to kill it. This, in this version, in these corridor wars, ends with the scientist getting his, taking care of that approach for good, so in this case the monocularity is composed of getting rid of all debate and focusing with totalitarian oneness of purpose to kill the thing, as it kills off science (in fact, the scientist having snuck into a block invaded by them, to study them, and, of course, they kill him, upon opening of the hatch, the crew gets a jump scare from the eyes-wide-shut corpse)

slim 51moviewise, this is a good thing. As I have repeatedly argued, the debate is certainly a good thing to have, but if the horror movie is going to move along, and escalate to horror, it has to come to a decision on the matter, and allow the debate to zero in on the emergency, to create that climate. Now, the debate was earlier engaged with some discussion over what it is. The scientist holds forth with some wonderful slide shows of the microscopic findings, an age old trope going back at least as far as Nosferatu (1921)

slim 52since microscopic reality is “gross” to the normal eye, he then describes some preternatural or extraterrestial power that the thing has, that fascinates him, but kind of freaks everyone else out, since this sort of thing inevitably shows that there is some sort of invasive anomaly that grows at a rate or in a manner menacing to mankind

slim 53it is to be noticed that this type of visuality entails, again, people in the fictive space, in the movie being watched, watching a movie, so it is intramedial, and in this case, the intramedial relation is between life-size space and under-the-microscope space, again, an age old trope. There are countless examples in horror, and if they are really well done, as here, it adds greatly to the movie. But, because the screen event cannot be in the fictive space, it inevitably is to be placed in the opisthodomic space, the back space, the realm, here, of the originating toycraft miasma discovery. That is, this is intercom space, casting back through fictive space into background space. The investigations in this sequence are shifted back and forth, under the wondering eye of the scientist, to the lab too, where its growth is then again remarked upon as phenomenally fast, and entirely abnormal, and we see it grow abnormally, from small

slim 54to large, with the device of stop action

slim 55it is well done, and, again, it sets up visually the idea of the thing expanding not just in fictive space, but in background space too, it has become doubly invasive

slim 56by this analysis, the viewer is asked to join in the wonder of the eye of the scientist in research to focus in on the slime C as an intriguing case. He then doubles up, and distances, his POV by secondarily making use of a microscope, then broadcasting micro discoveries in an enlarged format on the wall, distancing it all, it is now both in the reality, and in counterreality. But what the soldiers see is

slim 57that is, they cancel out and look through any gains to be made by research or science, and see with apotropaic eyes, this presence, on their craft, is, ipso facto, dangerous. The further demonstration of the slide show only intensifies their apotropaic vision, and convinces them, on a skincrawling level, that this C cult thing is a deadly menace, ie the backward C. As a result, we have the classic POV split of 50s horror between the benign liberalism of the scientist, and the apotropaic protectionist conservative rejection of a menace by the military. Fortunately for the movie this battle is decided by the soldierly POV coming to be realized by the fact that the thing starts killing.

But, the main event,visually, is that at some point this slideshow of science loops back to the previous remote control camera sightings of far off events, distanced, to have to be combined, when they trap one in an adjoining chamber, after the battle of the rolling beds in the infirmary. At this point, we get a good inyourface screensmear of the green slime, star of the show. This would have zero fearful impact or disgust reflex if not expertly set up as a horrible escalation earlier

slim 58and then the disturbing thing, which makes us to ick, is that it moves, of its own accord, spilling toward us

slim 59it is at this point, they retreat into a closed off chamber, but can view the thing by remote control by surveillance camera, that the movie reaches its new threshold of menacing visuality. I have previously worked out that this use of the camera, flat to the camera filming the movie, and reducing them to passive viewers of the screen, equal to us as viewers of the movie, as a device moves the entire visuality of the movie up into the pronaos or frontis space of the movie, in our face, upclose, highly engaging

slim 60

but the view here is now to something sequestered off in the background opisthodomic space

slim 61that is, there is a kind of visual boomerang, everything is brought forward into our space, to menace us, but then to do so by showing us something in the distance, by way of this distancing device.

slim 62now, the special character of that distancing is that it makes the scene acheiropoetoi, that is, without human hands, that is, an nonhuman eye is able to look in on it in a way that the eye in a human would not be able to, because what is happening is too horrible, or would kill, or we just could not get that close, as a result, we get to see things that, like an unmanned spacecraft, predicting future real life exploration of space, in fact, removing the mankind from it, we would not otherwise, and it makes out skin crawl, the horror of its pure, untouched, miasmic, outofcontrolness

slim 63that the movie then indulges us in this horror, this horrified POV, by showing us things about the monster we did not see before, all of it taking place on its own, without us, is terrific

slim 64And then it goes further, into what I consider true visual art. The director et al had to think of a way to make it all the more horrible and inhuman. It did this by a very special type of involution, as I believe I have discussed before. Well, in fact, it looks to me like it engaged in a double involution, as such

slim 65what THIS means is that in the opisthodomic space, itself divided into fore, middle and back ground, is spliced off in the foreground of the slime monster the abstract element of the slime itself, then having abstracted it, it activated the microsplicings of it sequentially, to create some truly bizarre abstract art, the remote show goes back to the abstract shot of the green slime

slim 66then, someone notices, its moving, and move it does, independently, nauseatingly, with an animal force

slim 67it wriggles, it is disgusting, as it moves, where is it going?

slim 68now, in the involution of it, as mapped out above, it reagently reaches back out over the preexisting plot points of the fictive level action of the movie as a whole to recreate that whole sequence on a micro level in the abstract splice space in the fore of the background distanced space, as it begins to invade a duct, with will

slim 70it takes up some sort of coagulating form, suggesting consolidation

slim 71it appears to want to get out

slim 72it is dripping down, in a form too suggestive of the whole thing, ew. The fun thing about all this is not only that it is entirely abstract, but it is in a reagent countering way recreating in micro abstract slime movement the previous plot points of the lifesize drama on board, so this comes off as a little abstract synopsis event, of that, but then all this is made possible by a second involution whereby this can only have been motored on screen, we know, by the spillage of some green slime, being run in reverse, backwards, a common technique, to give it its appearance of self-motive power. These two involutionary loops are inscribed above. But, then, there is a third!

slim 73

as once again, the remote viewers see a further something that absolutely sends chills through them, not only does it move on its own, and with an apparent will, knowing how it must invade vents, and attack with sense, in another little piece of it, looking like a puddle of vomit

slim 74it appears that in its very bubbling up, without any other source of procreation, it produces other forms not unlike the monsters sequestered and multiplying

slim 75and these bubble up so fast, no nine months in the womb for them, so instantaneously, to take micro form, with the red cycloptic eye in tact, that it totally freaks them out, and us, a truly terrifying shot, the centerpiece moment of the movie

slim 76then twisting the I-cant-believe-what-im-seeing lens even tighter, wiping off the lens, showing it more clearly, multiple monsters, multiplying at an alarming rate

slim 77it is at this point that the movie enters its emergency phase, they all realize they cannot possibly win, evacuation is recommended, to contain the menace, and so we pull back now, back up in the preset spaces, to see the whole station floating in the space of the background miniature space of the movie

slim 78it is really quite remarkably well done. And, then, it shows off even better. Most of the later part of the movie, as there are more and more places that the humans cannot go, is reduced to men looking at screens, just like us, it is all remote surveillant vision

slim 79and in a swell later sequence, they realize that a door is blocked, or there is trouble on the outside of the station

slim 80and here too the outside cameras now take a look, and shows us still more mindboggling, well done shots, the exterior entirely taken over by hundreds of them

slim 81and these shots, of just daft creativity, terrific

slim 82I mean just shots of Japanese extravagancce in model making, here also involuting the interior scenes into a remoter exterior

slim 83and again, superlative model making, and reimagining of the interior horrors plus the micro abstract horror propelled  out to the exterior

slim 84these also by involution of the previous plot points on the macro scale, now propelled into the deepest possible background space of the opisthodomic space of the movie, and looping back again to the visual abstraction of it all, from a remote view, and then repeating the interior battle sequences again, but back in a lifesize posture

slim 85

and then the movie even sends out some spacewalkers to swing round lifesize fictive space to reengage the lifesize monsters on it, and there is all sorts of swell swinging and dipping and darting, zapping at them

slim 86it is just a space game, lots of fun

slim 87and then a repeat of the encounter within, but now we are in fricking outer space

slim 89then there is the big final battle, where one of the captains gets killed, and the death of the one captain, of course, solves the problem of who Paluzzi will sleep with, and, by the way, they blow up the contaminated station, and thus save planet earth from an infestation of an uncontrollable biological enemy too horrible to think about

slim 90it is all remarkably well done, and incredibly complicated in the conception of it. But the thing that I like most about it is the intramedial dimension of the close-up distancing push-pull which becomes such an important source and visual device of horror in the modern period. Indeed, I would say that these remote visions of a self-generating monster are on par, in terms of their sheer horror, and visual artistry of an abstract sort, with the incredible video segment in Quatermass and the Pit, of the same period, where they see through some eyes a visualization of the first invasion of the monsters five million years ago on earth. This is a very high quality, and so for that The Green Slime is an exemplary piece of the art of combining model-making miniatures along with intramedial intercom/surveillant space visuality to visualize monstrosity in modern horror.

Tracking the green slime in The Green Slime (1966): intermedial representations of menace in 60s sci fi horror, Part 1.

Rev, Nov 21, 2017

In the past year, I have sensed a continued retrograde movement in the culture, which is worrisome. According to my thinking, the culture has been in a retrograde motion for more than a decade, and as such that serves as a riptide that, even as those on the left wrestle with those on the right, continues to pull the whole grip of the wrestlers in the tide further right, right out to sea. At the same time, I have argued that when a liberal pingponging begins to reveal itself, succumbing to the riptide by in anger only, and without sense, beginning to mimic and pingpong rightwing attacks of a former debate period, this inversionary irrational movement creates “monsters”. In the same way, when they attack from the position of having let the person they attack control the conversation, allowing themselves to be hypnotized by and paralyzed by anger and rage, by his tweeting, falling, therefore, into the troll war, which has been raging since May, then he becomes a “god”. That is why we are no longer in a period of presidents and peoples, but of gods and monsters. Then, one more thing, I began to wonder, well, then, if the climate is so contested, how do you get back to your original position, to reestablish your ground and fight from a POV originating in your voice, and not a reaction to his? Formerly, I have argued that art only begins to occur as one gradually drops off the training wheels and approaches the heat and fire of the central core of elan or life force which circulates vertically through my way of thinking. To state that differently, one moves from rationalization and all its scaffolds, in adjunct spaces, to the space of agency, in the heat of life. But, lately, I have begun to acknowledge that the way can be so blocked by so much confusion that this leaves the artist to start making art from the margins and, in fact, make the art itself about the wriggling that must be done, as if through a narrow, underground cave channel, in order to crawl to the light (this modus have much in common with forms of divination, which I have also been greatly interested in of late). Thus, I developed the idea, partly verified by a number of developments in the art world, especially in Euro, of troll sculpture or wriggling figuration.

A major document in my development of these ideas in the Spring of 2017 was the movie The Green Slime (1966), which I saw not once, but twice. It is quite good, for several reasons. But, most of all, it struck a chord because the green slime is represented in a wriggling way that bespeaks the situation and status of creativity in the current moment. For that, I first have to figure out how and why the movie “worked” as a visual experience, and in fact, for all its obvious phoniness, made itself come off as a real terror. In the movie, there is the fictive space of the characters

slim 1and then there is the constructed space of the outer space, basically a stage set with artificial creations, where they act.

slim 2this space also includes scale models which they can interact with on set

slim 3And then toy miniature models which they do not

slim 4there is no question, from the first, that one is not expected to be fooled by the artifice and special effects, and think them real. No, that point is granted, this is miniature toy work, made famous as a film art all its own by the Japanese, here being imported by the Italians with American help, to be enjoyed in its own right. The only point that makes or breaks the movie is if at some point in the interaction of the spaces what is obviously fake somehow emits a vibe of visual compellingness that comes off on screen, within the context of the screen, as “real,” even if for a moment. This effect, which I call, to oppose it to the uncanny valley, the uncanny peak, is essential to a movie with special effects, and, as these primitive movies in the miniature art form indicate, the issue is not whether the special effect is special or believed to be real, the issue is whether or not they interact with the actors in a way that is convincing in a dramatic way in the moment on screen.

As a result, the space of the movie is set up, to use my model developed to address radio pictures, as follows

slim 5

and in this movie, as noted, the fictive space is the middle of the movie where the characters are located, then the background space is where the miniature creations occur

slim 6

within the background, the backmost level being space, the middle is host, the object on which things are happening, and then the slime itself seems to be staged in the foreground of the background. Then, within the fictive space, there is the background set, the characters and actors in the middle, and then their interaction with an assailant of some sort in the foreground. But, in this particular case, what really happens is the background set of the middle space becomes as it were the doorway into the magical miniature unreal background space in whole and by that parenthesis of the background and the background of the middle a parenthetic coalition of space and style is made to convince the audience that what they are looking at is a cult space, outer space for real

slim 7

in which the A defining the parenthesis, being artifice, balances with the C cult space of some sense of actual ground in a depiction of outer space being made, to transit over that terrain in a way that makes for good convincing visuals for the viewership. And it is by this strong impulse, emphasizing artifice, that one comes to, even in the fictive space, accept, in the manner of suspending one’s disbelief, in the fact that in this one the actors are more or less going to be playing with dolls and mannequins for the whole time, and, for the run of the movie, you are OK with that

slim 9

but, then, it is necessary for the movie to suture these layers together in a fun and also convincing way, in order to work, in order to not to seem like just another “rubber suit” movie, and this it does by impressively creative visuals. This is done by mixing it up in the elements of the background, but, more importantly, continuing to send elements of the background forward into the middle space, to mess with them. This takes a good deal of balance or finesse, and right from the start, the movie shows its skill in this. The first sighting of the green slime occurs when the space troop has a mission to collect a wreck on a meteor hurtling through space. It is a typical big rock, probably made of clay, then a further backdrop set behind it, stars.

slim 10The fact that the first object they have to do something on in space is a meteor and not a planet adds a certain oblique eccentric zest to the proceedings, first of all because it is amazing in a futuristic way that they can land on a zooming meteor, but, then, meteors are less well known as terrains, so they are estranging, then, too, as they are small and moving, at least in the average mind of the viewer, this allows for the spaceship that transports the characters from fictive space to background space to make as it were a glancing blow against the thing

slim 11where the eccentricity of the sighting, in the mind at least, provides as it were an alibi for the bouncing awkwardness of the model in its movements, to momentarily collude in a brief illusion of “realism” relative to each other so that in that little wobble of visual-mental space it feels, however artificial it is, like outer space, it is grounded

slim 12

then they revert to standard carts on the surface of another planet routines, which are filmed according to the norm, but with just a hint of the uncanny, because they are doing this on a meteor

slim 14but then, having come in over the gap to collude into an illusionistic moment, by contact of craft and meteor, in the middle space of the background, they now further avail themselves of the eccentricity of the meteor by allowing in the fore-nooks of it, in the foreground of the model, an element unseen by the crew, a pollution, a contagion, as a promiscuous meteor would, in fact, be more likely to pick up, according to the miasmic-contagious imagination, the green slime itself, nice tucked as it were into the foreground of the mission

slim 15this is quite well done, to present it in this way

slim 16

it is also true that right from the first, the movie as it were pauses, to undertake an abstract study of it per se

slim 17it has a life of its own

slim 28 1it, as it were, is pushed forward out of the front of the background space, into the front space of the visual plane of the movie, in the viewer’s space, who comprehend it, by the rules of frontal hypnosis, as a kind of abstract entoptic presence, which wows by the fact that in its abstraction it seems to have burrowed in under the fictive space it passes to take on as well as character and a dramatic motion and the like. It is in your face, from the get go

slim 18

but. then. the fun thing being, for the suspense of the movie, is that the characters are oblivious, and as it was first introduced, as an eccentric oops in a nook in the front of the meteor landscape, now it hitches a ride with the man in the spacecraft and thus finds its way into the fictive space of the movie

slim 19it is by the push-pull of the background space, on the fictive space, and by the first glancing blow, then next intrusive inyourface presentation of the slime, then, at last, to cause it to recede again to the feedback loop of glancing, hitching a ride, that by this back and forth a tension is created all of which acts together to evoke a sense of menace coming from space against the characters in the movie.

Then, next, in order to accentuate dramatically that the menace of the green slime is being carried forward by accident back to the mission site, the source of its contamination must be blown up

slim 20but then, while that blow up saves earth, it jeopardizes the crew, because the blast will emit a force field that will take them down (an age old trope, used to convey the danger of space) so their shield takes a hit and in the taking of the hit turns green, suggesting, but not saying, that the green slime is aboard

slim 21and then the blast force of the blast makes the overheated space without dangerous and green

slim 22and their escape brings jubilation back at the base

slim 23but, it is also here, that the movie makes first use of advanced futuristic visuals, of having, somehow, a camera that can track them in space, and show their route, and their survival (where that camera would be is uncertain)

slim 24this introduces the element of the movie that I want most to write about. Since this is a TV in a movie, it is fundamentally intermedial, but an intramedial representation of it. Since it is asks us to view it as viewers pretty much in the same way as we view the movie, but with one remove of frame, so that it is a movie inside a movie, I place this in the frontal space, the inyourface accostive space of the movie. Moreover, in order to work, it requires that a character comes forward out of the fictive space (though not really, but I cant work out the complexities of that) for him or her to as it were play the representative of the viewer looking at the movie, but looking at the movie over his or her shoulder, so that, for a brief moment, the movie abdicates its position as a movie happening in fictive space, to step forward to simply represent itself as a movie being watched by other movie watchers in the movie, along with us.

slim 25

then, the most important part of this is that provided by the vertical inset graphic, which indicates that addition to bringing a character forward in an emissary role to then represent us as we view the movie as a movie in a movie with him or her, the view back into the movie, in the fictive space, and in the background space, is by way of a distancing device. That is, and most of the time it looks through the fictive space into some background miniature space, the movie situates the frontal space up in the glass onion level of communication by way of graphics and abstractions only, but then forces you to view the content of that sight down the whoosh of falling asleep, where what happens in the background is seen as if through a telescope turned around, my favorite metaphor for micropsic perception of space, unbelievably so, disorientally so, imagined as being in the other room, in other words, this distancing suturing is an oblique and estranging way to add mystery and allure, and the line of sight that I title it is intercom space. It is in, in fact, intercom/surveillant space, the space of sightlines by way of the remote control camera, this movie’s version of a type of intramedial visual distancing or intensification devices which go back to the origin of modern horror in Nosferatu, and all the way along a great line of examples of weird videos of horrors in horror, this is the dark and wonderful heart of this movie.

Now, the invasion of the ship by the slime is carried out, cinematically, in both the fictive space, and, then, to accentuate it, in the intercom space between the frontispiece or pronaos and the opisthodomic (background space) (these terms, while undoubtedly pedantic, taken from Frazer’s commentary on Pausanias, nonetheless allows one to talk in a regular way of the fact that all ritual space had a fore and backspace, and a cult space or holy of holies in there too, the pronaos is the front area before getting to the cella, the interior space, and, then, all temples also had a backspace, an opisthodomic space, so, that is what, when I deal with this in a more physical way, I call them. Thus, this movie has some good give and take in the cella, or middle fictive space. In one sequence, all the staff are in the mess, having a party, but the fun thing is that the walls are decorated with snazzy mod graphics of a swirling nature which communicates to us both that we are in outer space, and the place is décor’d accordingly

slim 26and that, somewhere in the back area of the cella or fictive space, there is a contamination happening, which results in the slime and its creations coming aboard, this pattern referring to its red eyes

slim 27the fun part of this back and forth is that it, as all horror movies do, implicates the humans as weak for taking their eye off the ball, as when humans party, and pour the champagne, just as much as when they shower, there is trouble brewing

slim 28this implication is then further subdivided into the fact that the tension between the skipper and the captain over the heart and body of Ariana Paluzzi is the main source of tension in the place, and both that specific tension, and her sexual energy, wakes up monsters in the miasmic horror universe

slim 29indeed, unless I am mistaken, it is when skipper handsome guy ex asks her to dance

slim 30and he then insists with his phallic jaw that she still loves him, making her wet, in a way, that the foaming something in the pants in the storeroom, if not on him, foams up

slim 31and tumesces into its mature, identifiable form as the green slime manifest

slim 32and then surges forward into the pronaos space of the camera, closeup, to give us a green slime boner, if you will, bam

slim 33this further sequences the crazy pop art pictures behind the worrying current with added impulse of emergency beckoning, as they go red

slim 34then code red breaks out, foreign presence in the ship

slim 35so, that is a nicely orchestrated section, as per the time-tested traditions of horror of blaming contaminations from without on sexual tension. Then, there is a second very good confrontation sequence, also entirely in the fictive space, the model work having moved forward onto the stage of the cella. Here, they encounter the thing, whatever it is, in half grown form, on a catwalk, it’s quite a good, halfformed whatisit?

slim 36then, spliced by the railing, it reaches up its tentacles, also very good

slim 37then the green slime monster is introduced to us also in an entoptic way as filtered through the what am I seeing? mesh of the net tossed over it

slim 38and, at last, the cycloptic red eye of the thing invades the picture space

slim 39now, sometimes, the cella sequences, that is, on the stage of the real people and actors, interacting with the models, in the fictive real space, are simply, wonderfully daft. The set director or someone had to obviously figure out some interesting ways in which the crew would have to encounter these little R2D2 contraptions of slime with feelers flinging out all over, and since that was their structure, the encounter had to be of a nature where things are circling around it in a somewhat dodgy way in order to give maxium look out! just missed! energy to the rotation of its menace. This is best done in a truly wonderful visual sequence of the thing invading the infirmary of all places, using the age old device of evening out or handicapping the contest by making one side infirm, in this case, the human, and so too the humans involved get to cast themselves in the victim role, fighting off a more powerful other. So the thing breaks out, and starts lashing out

slim 40beds are wheeled out of the way

slim 41there are lots of good action shots, broken by abstract shots of the tentacles feelering out at them, grasping, wriggling at them

slim 42then, there is a confrontation

slim 43and an attack

slim 45then there is a counterattack, and more good shots like this

slim 46now, it’s true, since one of the major purposes of the station is to be a hospital, the movie felt that, having done that sort of thing swell once, let’s do it again, it might’ve gone to the well once too often, but here too more of these strange shots of beds being rolled around by nurses in a game of musical chairs, but of beds, with a menace abstractly imagined as the figuration of the very wake space left in the conning trail of all the visual bed zooming

slim 47In Part 2 of this note, having noted some routine use of space in the fictive space, especially with the art, I will focus on some amazing intercom/surveillant space creations in which The Green Slime not only takes on a life of its own, but seems to become a menacing character evoking the overall menace of space in whole, that is, it finally becomes a cult presence.