Rev, Dec 21, 2017; Jan 22, 2018; note, Feb 16, 2018.
Byline FUSION. The FUSION byline features articles which compare and contrast the instrumentation of tropes in movies and in contemporary art both, regardless of whether or not intended by either party. Similarities at present are also deemed coincidental. It is also recognized that fusion remains at present inadmissible in specialized discourse.
Note: 40 days after I wrote this article, Jef Geys, at age 83, a classic Belgian conceptualist died, I dedicate this to him.
In the not bad 80s slasher movie The Undertaker (1988), Joe Spinell plays Roscoe, a mortician down on his luck, who needs to drum up business by killing all the young things around town, and then he gets into a tad of trouble with necrophiliac impulses too. But, his psycho visuality is nicely worked out, and it struck me that his desk, in his basement, in a woodpanelled cell, is not bad. It includes a classic landscape picture of a barn, as if an idyllizing of his own situation.
he also has one of those scenic lamps, also from the old days, though the doubling up on them might indicate double trouble, or that he prefers is ominous landscapes in a more enclosing form. Since it also casts shadows on the under the lamp world of his desk, and his maid’s assistance, it might also bespeak the funereal aspect of his vision. Otherwise, his funeral home, though nicely spaced with warnings of houseplants, is routine
though then there is the problem that underneath it, in the basement, through a zone of solid woodpanelling, bespeaking, by then, out of date decadence, coffins are stored, which always means, replacing all the furniture expected of a room with coffins, that death looms
and then it seems that at the end of the basement hall, as in so many other mad scientist labs, he has a special chamber, a stonewall dungeon, in which he does his dirtier work, keeping pictures of his kills like trophies over his desk, planning the next kill to supply, nonsensically, bodies and business, presumably paid for by the morgue, to his faltering business
the interesting, if maybe overdone, bit about this movie is that it makes quite clear this his visuality is grounded in a prototype visuality related to the movie, The Corpse Vanishes (1942), a quite good, Bela Lugosi cheapie, when Lugosi’s career was beginning to tank. The story there is that Lugosi has delivered to brides on their wedding days poison orchids for them to sniff upon saying I do, to then apparently drop dead, then Lugosi shows up as the faux coroner to take the body back to his place, to drain it of whatever to then use it in serum form to restore youth to his aging wife, suffering at aging. It’s quite good (and, more or less, true to trope, this template trope, of course, also the form used to format 2017’s breakout horror hit, Get Out, same plot). This movie features a basement dungeon, against a stone wall (in fact, a whole maze of a basement)
Since this movie shows up time and again, it is to be assumed that it rests like a filter of black eyed glasses or glass darklies over his eyes, for him to see the world in that way. For someone operating in 1971, to see the world through the eyes of a mad scientist of 1942, what this means is that a grown man, past middle age, has reverted by stress and degeneration of his business back into a kind of madness whereby he sees the world of the 1970s as if it is of the years of his childhood, the 1940s. It then becomes a situation where you have to assume, in everything you see in the movie, that the visuality of The Corpse Vanishes is operative, and, in the gap between what it assumes should be there, and what is there, is his judgmental outrage and perverse POV, and this difference creates the edge or slash, that allows him, in moral impunity, to kill. And, then, with this, what is fun is that, in fact, the movie shows clear signs to, at least, try to work out this visuality in the movie.
For one thing, all the rest of the interiors in the movie are a bit dowdy, as if his basement office style spread through the world. This is a common horror movie practice, a palliative zone of 2d imagining, where the boundaries between life and death are depleted, is cast over the whole procedure (even in The Conjuring (2013) we saw this trope). Here, the apartment of one victim is decidedly old fashioned, this for a hot young woman of the 70s
it even seems to have, on the other side of the body bag, some Mary Shelley pictures, which belong in a haunted house, not a modern single woman’s apartment
though it has to be said, these could be very strange amalgams, gilt frame, traditional Mary Shelley presentation, and yet close-up they seem to have a pin-uppy quality, even a Bettie Page look to the posing, it’s very odd
Even weirder, the offices of the investigators seem to have ridiculously out of place pictures of a romantic, antique sort
this one is a horse and buggy racing picture, so, OK, it is a sport picture, in the tradition of sport pictures at bars where men hang out, but in an oval, and painted, and framed in gilt, it’s like they found an antique at the local store, and this might have a “this is suburbia” vibe, and just plunked it up
then, even stranger, at the main cop’s office, a truly traditional motel room landscape painting, bespeaking trouble coming, even with the winding road down the middle, which says so, immediately
so, it is as if, the retro aesthetic of the funeral home, through his POV, has spread itself out over the whole milieu, which is strange indeed.
And then it gets stranger. There is a very good, or a few very good shower sequences in the movie. This nails the movie, as per accumulation of trope, as a sexploitation movie, probably played on the Deuce, which will make an appeal-to-audience appearance. But, the funny thing is, having set up the old-fashionedness and outofdatedness of his POV, and then compared it to the today’s world, the gap between the two causing him to develop a sense that the world has gone mad, a scapegoat (in the psycho mind) is found to blame for the moral degeneration he sees having happened from 1942 to 1972, and that is all those ridiculously sexy girls showing way, way, way too much of their skin, getting everyone excited, being total whores, immoral sluts (this is a very common trope in the moral outrage trope plot of 70s horror, see Judy Geeson in the Spanish movie, It Happened at Nightmare Inn (1973, where a woman did the killing), and so takes it upon himself to embody the gap between then and now in the bodies of sexy young woman, and to erase that gap and distance by killing them. So, there is a first really good shower, in which we see the young woman who lives in the above apartment undressing to a robe
that must include, he supposes, her at one point removing her bra
then there will be a shower, and a full on view of her in the nude (this shot, as discussed, previously framed-within-framing to as an iris evoke the voyeuristic, peeping tom aspect of it as a “score,” that is, after a time peeping, actually seeing what you are after, nudity! Bingo! (and in the 70s this accentuatedd for the raincoat crowd too as actual nudity, not partial nudity, by the capture of her pubic bush)
and then we get some good beating about the bush shots, him outside, his eyes now fixated upon the bush he has seen, going round the bushes, to get in
this shower sequence, in fact, somewhat reverses the charges, from the norm, the nudity came in the run-up, then in the shower, but the looking away from the world, the preoccupation with bodily intimacy that causes the woman to for a moment not look after herself happens after, not when she is washing her hair, but when she is putting that hair into a towel turban
and then she sits down and watches some TV, too attentive to the screen, not watching her back, the turban then in this compound trope becoming the sign of her pedestaled egotism not attending to her care
but then comes the punchline, and the surprise part. A modern day woman, in 1970, 20 years old, after her shower, sitting around naked in her robe, sits down to watch Abbot and Costello in Africa Screams (1949)
Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), with just then (in 1982) elected President, Ronald Reagan
and then two horror movies, Roger Coreman’s The Terror (1965)
and another one I know, but cant name at the moment, from the 30s
with the head in the suitcase (a warning she ought to have taken, but she is complacent in post-shower turban royal-treatment, guard-down relaxation)
and, then, almost as if a throwback to silent horror, the hand comes through the window, once the sum total of household scares, and poisons her
it makes no sense in the diegesis of the movie. The girl is born in 1950, though I remember as kids watching Johnny Weismuller movies from the 30s, and even a good deal of silent comedy, on some strange shows, not to mention Shirley Temple, and Boys Town seemed to be part this viewing culture, that was all before we were ten, it happened under the shadow of parental viewing habits, in their culture, we were being indoctrinated into their world, by twenty, one would have entirely broken out of that, and begun to watch what 20 year old women watch, new stuff. So, this is weird. It has to be accepted at present as a device derived from the POV framing the whole movie, to create a palliative state to make his somewhat less than plausible killings, a bit more plausible, as everyone is more or less sleepwalking, and thus it represent the contamination of even the so-called objective space of his target’s lives with his surveillant POV, to the extent that it alters the viewing content.
The same thing happens in another scene, a girl is at the movies, then walks out after
but the movie she is watching is….the Corpse Vanishes, possibly at a midnight showing, really?
she then evades an attack, followed by a car. But the important point in this sequence is that it is suggested that the movie is being watched if not actually at one of those theaters, then certainly in the milieu of The Deuce, the ultimate grindhouse of 70s movie culture
indeed, the 1980ness of the moment is conveyed by seeing, this always amazes me, a billboard I actually remember from seeing in real life, for the revival of 42nd Street, the big hit of that year, but also where Gower Champion dropped dead on opening night
and, then, of course, as a serial killer, he primes himself, he keeps himself in the mood, and in the zone, by repeatedly playing the Corpse Vanishes, so that it is as if he is living in that zone, in a timewarp, lost in time, in a psycho space as it were
and, I have to say, the extent to which the movie now and then brings the clip from The Corpse Vanishes forward for it to merge with the cinematography of this movie effectively blurs the two worlds in a convincing way that speaks to his loss of sense of reality, it’s effective, and fun
so, the world of movies that he imagines these girls all live in is the Deuce, it isn’t, anymore, but that is where he places them socially, and, since he is obviously no longer at the top of his game, trolling the Deuce looking for actual victims among the population of woman who were still there in 1980, prostitutes, as that would be too challenging, and unrelated, perhaps, to his business needs back in the burbs, he fixates on the nearest field with conveys the idea that women today are all sluts and completely immoral monsters who deserve to die for how much they are torturing men with the illicit exposure of their impossibly sexy bodies, and that would be workout or gym culture. Well, this IS the 80s, and even Fulci made use of the workout craze and its revealing fashion to design a fantasy New York where all women were undressed and unnecessarily sexy in the context of working out (in New York Ripper). Spinelli’s psycho tastes seem to be more boyish even than that, as we revert to that universal trope, the locker room, here, of course, lots of girls, some nude
and it is in this round-back adjunct culture to his atemporal POV that we also get the benefit of some shower scenes, and nudity
his imagination cannot keep out of the lockerroom, we are back there in another context, later
and another psycho scream shot of :I can’t believe that women today are walking around like that, all naked:, we even ogle with excited disapproval, and they deserve to die moral outrage that there is no way sexy women like that would fuck him, in the park, resting, sweating, after running, all entirely leaving zero to the imagination
but, now, it is fun how this movie plays with us, in this adjunct space, off to the side of, and misidentified from his notion that the world is still The Deuce, and all those porn movies, a particular young woman shows up, this shot she is done showering and dressing, talking to the others
but we had seen a lot of her earlier, sweating, after her workout
and sweating during it
and, in fact, we see so much of her, it is more or less, according to the rules of the genre, expected that the killer will glom onto her, follow her, and kill her, but, then, she completely disappears from the movie! On one level, this could be just inept movie making, fixing on a really good looking “perfect girl” (almost the soft whipped cream type, in any era in the modern era), just to get things started, but it is also possible she represents his no doubt repeated pshaw that men with Candy Shop complex as I heard it once called in New York in the 80s, the realization that there are just too many beautiful women in the world, why make a choice? So she represents that, but as she is definitely dangled before us and then withdrawn without consequence means to me that she is a type of red herring but as applied to the victim, and for that I am going to call this trope, if trope it is, the Black Swan. The Black Swan is a red herring presented as a possible victim, and is simply thrown away, leaving you nonplussed. So, to find this “dead end” as it were at the end of the workout adjunct adventure in his fantasy visuality is fun.
Then, the movie tosses in another loop, looping out from a different source, but in a way that loops farther out from this, in to his fantasy world. There is a teacher, she teaches necrophilia
she, in fact, gives one of her student’s the idea that maybe his uncle is doing that, at his funeral home. She then also has to fend off his advances, and somehow gets involved in looking into the crime. This also means that she becomes another kind of target, which means that we loop into her private life too, and, yep, end up in the shower with her
but for her the attack in the shower is a false positive, it is just a girlfriend, this too a trope, having no problem at all pulling the curtain back talk something over with her wet, nude girlfriend
and then it turns out that it is them, those two, who are at the park in such undress, and this then justifies for his POV yet another psycho charge of moral outrage, they must be lesbian! a common mansplain blaming of too sexy women who reject their entrees
then it turns out that, in fact, that’s right, they are, indeed, “degenerate” lesbians who, in the undertaker’s psycho mind, deserve to die
and then the final complications come at the funeral home, when one comes to search, and the other comes to search for the other, if I remember, so the whole movie eventually does go town the whoosh or his dark fantasy vision of the world, to his death
thus, then, this landscape painting over a basement office is not simply a motel room painting warning one of trouble coming. It is deeper than that. It is an iris that in its datedness, its depletedness really to the point of being mentally dead, its ersatzness in the sense that maybe he has not looked at it in 20 years, its projection out into the world of a fantasy view of rural goodness which it turn makes the urban, modern world a degenerate den of iniquity of evil sexual women whose death will be no loss to the world, thus it anchors his justification morality for the killing, all of this is grounded in that picture, that signifies the entire POV of a very sick psycho undertaker who ahs taken up a serial killing spree on the flimsy pretext that he is only trying to save his business.
Now, the interesting thing about this picture, right now
is that a very similar work showed up in the context of contemporary art in the work of veteran conceptualist Jef Geys in a show at Dusseldorf covered by Contemporary Art Daily.
in a fusion mood, I see a new wave of bad painting reconsideration, that weirdly parallels my working out the symbology of haunted paintings and other paintings just hung on the walls in the background shots of horror movies, and then my making a distinction between a work of art and the “things people hang on their wall” (Wanddingerhangen is my joke word), and then thinking that in scaling back from art to things people hang on their wall, as indicated by this retrench in Turkish horror movies to purely apotropaic talismans on walls replacing art on walls, direct address replacing indirect address, do, in the matter of a collocation, get back to a more base and common way of thinking that people do, which acts as a sort of ground of “what human beings are really like” stripped of the rationalizing prevarications and rationalizations of higher culture life, and, alas, art. There is a temptation to get all essentialist about this, much in the manner one might with so-called outsider art. But it also strikes me that there is a comeback in the sort of art that makes use of ersatz motel room painting styles as the template for types of bad painting in contemporary art but undertaken with a more pointed and holistic sharpness with the intent of undermining the very idea of the critique of contemporary art. And, indeed, I often find myself, when delighting in finding an actual language, thinking, who needs contemporary art, or, more common of late, a fusion is on the way, THIS, the things I have learned, is what pictures mean, placed in certain places in rooms, or in certain genres, THIS is what they mean, anything artists devise is secondary and rationalized. So, this interested me, Geys is working with the motel room painting genre, with nonart
and there might be some understanding of their nature of ground in the use of wallpaper patterns to back them up, or drag them down. But, it also has to be said, he never did arrive at fusion point, because he still felt the need to alter the picture with a Magrittesque inclusion of a collaging surreal sort a shovel, to, I suppose, parody it as just a plot of grass. This is unnecessary, and, also, btw, a misreading of the picture.
He also sets up the installation, not as he ought, if he “gets it,” as Reese did a few years back, but in a schoolroom setup, with the desks placed as if to look at the pictures, as if they are lessons, this is a rationalized leading the witness device that comes by intellect over the top to highlight the point in a too obvious way, and ruins it (attributable to his generation of conceptualism)
and the whole installation is set up like this. While this vibe might relate to the experience of looking at paintings in doctors’ offices
and the wallpaper scratchback of their status as art too
and he actually bases his conceptual program on the discovery of a manufacturer artist of nothing less than motel room paintings which showed up all over the world, Martin Douven
which is a real thing
and, indeed, Douven’s over the couch style is so familiar, it might even be that the picture behind the desk in the office of the psycho undertaker in The Undertaker is a Douven, it IS close
And he a lot of entirely ersatz warning landscapes
Geys is more concerned with the manufacture side, and relating it to high art, and thinking over that gap, and imposing over his consideration rationalized structures of critique that derive from ersatz conceptual art tropes, rather than just descend into the reality of where the Douvens ended up to explore the anthropology of how it was they spread, what people got out of them, what they mean, and, the eternal question I ask, watching horror movies, why do people hang the things they hang on their walls? Then, too, that, in horror, they have, no doubt, a meaning, none of these questions are addressed. Meaning, Geys’ art is rationalized conceptual art, not actual conceptual art with agency consideration of the degree to which this form of art has or has not agency, and actually communicates what movies says it does, etc (again, very much of his generation). So, it is very interesting. A movie and a dated psycho POV, resulting in some odd placements of visuality over all, and then, at the same time, a work of contemporary art which appears to swing close to a consideration of the same type of work, but does not in fact approach fusion, and remains aloof and rationalized in the cul de sac of high brow conceptual art, not to encounter psycho space.