Picture as trauma trigger in Sam Fuller’s I Shot Jesse James (1949)


December 21, 2016.

Note: First of three posts on the picture involved in the assassination of Jesse James.

In Sam Fuller’s OK movie I Shot Jesse James (1949), at one point, later in the story, Robert Ford tries to get his girl back by inviting her to come to Creede, and meet him and marry him. With money he has won from the silver mines he does up his room at the hotel swell, with lots and lots of flowers, and it is already decked out with de rigeur rococo painting, perfect for the ladies

aj 1he is even doing the housekeeping, and in front of fancy lace curtains, which certainly bespeak the room being a shrine to the ladylikeness of the lady

aj 2elsewhere in the room, we see that it is deluxe, with floral wallpaper, of a very busy sort, several genre scenes, a piano, Belter furniture, the works

aj 3but then he is shocked by the fact that she does not love it, in fact, it kind of creeps her out. That is, it is rendered, in the movie, not as the convention, but as an instrumentalized version of the convention over the top, to signify his frantic, overly intense desire to have her back. The fact that he wants to marry her, right then and there, is also a shock to her, and this is indicated by the fact, a trope in 40s movies that one can also see in The Maltese Falcon, there is, as she ponders, and looks about, an open bedroom door, with a sight of the bed. What this means in general is that the woman has experience in the bed, and is something of a whore; but it does not seem to indicate that here, here it seems to scream, ew, that would mean he wants to have sex with me, ah, no.

aj 4and when she refuses his ring, with the open bedroom door backing her up again (or again whispering that she’s had so much sex she is in no hurry to tie herself down just to get it), she is also saying, there will be nothing here, no sex

aj 5this is pretty ingenious of Fuller  (or art directors). It strikes me that he and his art direction team knew the convetions of Saloon décor, all nudes downstairs, and rococo ladies upstairs, and then went a step past that to make an emotional-dramatic point, that he is way over doiing it, and has become oppressively obsessive. I would like to say that this instrumentalization also means that the individual pictures are also amplified in their meaning, but it would not appear that they are

aj 6though as I discussed in Billy the Kid vs Dracula this, with a possibly tapestry picture set into in an oval the mantel of a boudoir, with porcelain statues blocking it, is an “odd furniture” amalgam bespeaking the fact that things are not what they seem, or we are dealing with a peculiarly unique individual. Indeed, the actress who plays this role is so obtuse, and her character so uncertain, she almost hardly makes a mark on the screen

aj 7The question, then, is, why, or rather how? How did Fuller and crew see that if Ford’s state of mind was to be effectively presented on screen he had to engage in picture play but do it in a clueless over the top way that actually turns the woman away? The first point in answering that question is to note that it had already been done in a previous sequence in the movie. Earlier on in his trying to cope with his not wanted fame, he shares a room with Kelley in the same hotel. Getting up in the morning, he discovers that his ring has been stolen

aj 8the interesting thing about this shot is that a landscape painting, meant to convey a sense of calm presence in the West, serves its deeper purpose, derived from horror, to communicate that trouble has come to him from beyond the wall. Moreover, I again feel like the movies are mocking me as a month ago I almost bought a horizontal oval landscape painting of a dark sort with a dark frame, but balked, but then one showed up as a symbol of dreams gone sideways in Splendour in the Grass, which would place the style in 1920s Kansas, and now we have one show up in a hotel in Colorado in the 1880s, alsoo indicating things going sideways for him (and the fact that it is an island might also bespeak his increased isolation, not wanting to be recognized as Robert Ford)

aj 9this picture might also represent Cynthy as earlier she is seen, and visited, in and around that sort of picture too

aj 10determined to find out who stole his ring, he bounds out of his room, and it is to be noticed that he slept in a room right off the balcony right over the grand hall of the saloon, in a set up that it is possible served as the prototype to parody in Carry on Cowboy, and its treatment of saloon rococo

aj 11he passes a large picture, entirely obscured by the bannister railings, indicating trappedness

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at the boundary between the saloon and the rooms above is a vertical oval classical ruin picture in the manner of Guardi or Robert, and houseplants to guard the upper quarters.

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the oval picture, specifically, in the context of the movie and this saloon, indicates anger thinking of Kelley, as earlier he had broken up a shooter to save Kelley when Kelley got into an all out brawl in the saloon. In thanks, bloodied, beat down, he was emblematized in his ruination by the picture

aj 14the picture of a ruin had also as it were overseen the ruination of the saloon in the traditional trope of the brawl, so it bespeaks the desolation that the décor, quite often, does not (but this is picture play)

aj 15then he goes to the main desk, and there is a nifty rococo Boucher over the desk, to signal to those checking in of the possible offerings of the house

aj 16and since it is a nude, that is a nude, on screen, but by way of the embrasure of a frame within the shot, in 1949

aj 17and then he comes over to the bar, and asks there too, who took it, or where is Kelley? This nude on one level would relate to Kelley, because he is in competition for the girl, Cynthy, they both want, she is the one ultimately on his mind, in this rampage, because the ring stolen was meant for her, and a symbol to him of someday getting her back. But, then, more particularly, during the brawl, another, somewhat odder rococo picture came into play as Ford saw a cohort of the house try to surreptitiously shoot Kelley and so he shot at him, to disarm him. In this regarg the ballet can represent a saloon nude but now pirouetted into action to slyly comment on the ritualism of these proceedings

aj 18but now we have double shifted to the nudes in the saloon, indicating what is on his mind, both right now, regarding the ring, and down the road, regarding how that ring is going to help him get her back (movies then making us of properties for the added reason of filling out the propentive, multi-framed nature of the thinking of the characters). And then there is another more classic Courbet style nude

aj 19we have seen this nude before, as it were the threshold picture, beyond the houseplants of danger, announcing that you are leaving the saloon proper and entering into the hotel-brothel portion of the building, just peeking its points out over the fronds of the plants, as customers mount the landing, and corkscrew to the stair to the upper floor

aj 20but it was not noticeable. But, now, he has a talk with the old timer at the bar, who suggests go into silver, then get money, then come back and get her

aj 21the nude in this shot is no longer simply “the saloon nude” in the background, because that it what is in those places, but Cynthy, the girl he left behind, the girl he thinks about getting back, and the old timer has now offered him an idea that just might make it possible to get her back, and it would only seem natural that thinking about her, and getting her back, he would think of her in the marriage bed, nude. The fact that her hair entangles with his indicates this, and then her breasts and her sex represent the steam coming out of his ears

aj 22so, here too, there is a sequence, but it is not just a sequence, but the sequence altered and shaped by his consciousness, what’s on his mind, these are all but perceptual image usages of the properties, to convey a deeper sense of problem. But the question remains? Why in this movie, such an overthetop fancy ladies room up top, and then such generous saloon nudes below?

The answer has to be that paintings per se somehow became linked up to Robert Ford, and his predicament in life. The story is about Robert Ford, the man, or former partner, and friend, who shot Jesse James. In fact, he shoots Jesse James in the back, unarmed, at his house, while Jesse is up on a chair straightening out a picture. He and Jesse are just sitting round, Jesse gets up on the chair, his back to him, vulnerable, and Ford makes his move

aj 23we get a close up of Jesse straightening, it is presumed, a large portrait of his mother

aj 24and he is shot dead

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I suppose I ought to have known how Jesse James died before watching the movie, but, in fact, I did not, or did not remember. However, the code of pictures immediately told me that there was trouble brewing in the James household, as first shot of antsy Jesse shows the crooked picture of the mother

aj 26a crooked picture indicates deep trouble, so much so as to bring down the household. That it is a crooked picture of the matriarch, more so. Then it is contrasted with a horse scene, on the other side of the stove, indicating his split loyalties, him under the picture of his mother, bespeaking his worries or mentalities, she under the picture of the riders, indicating her worries and fears of him getting shot, and always asking him to quit

aj 27more oddly, the picture is subject to a kind of décor shrine, a rocking chair below, maybe hers, and then a mail or magazine pouch, so indicating news from the outside world, other art to the left too

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the other picture to the right rather comically being of two cows in portraiture pose bespeaking the pressure to change his lifestyle, to just be a farmer, it is rare and strange piece indeed. Equally strange is that the house is as it were raw board, a kind of large log cabin, with even a heightened space above, it is a very odd set

aj 29back over by the door there is another piece of furniture, and more pictures over that, so this is a home that can afford pictures, and then above the entry way a horizontal thing that looks more like a needlepoint

aj 30and seems to say something in welcoming too, of the Home Sweet Home sort

aj 31All in all, then, and admittedly the movie gets off to a somewhat stagey beginning, it is a psychodynamic stageset to by its pictures bespeak Jesse’s worries and the push-pull pressures that he is feeling at that point in terms of either keeping on with the gang or retiring to country life with the wife. And then Robert Ford shoots him in the back while he is undertaking a cult act of straightening the picture of his mother, as if to unconsciously state, I have made my decision, I will retire, and stay home (even though in real life as indicated by TJ stiles the mother was the haradan entirely responsible for raising a psycho bushwhacking son)

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but now, the funny thing is, Robert Ford then becomes famous. The shot immediately goes to the newspaper headlines, covering all, far and wide

aj 34But then, the movie tries to depict how Ford was caught up in the nexus of fame, where life and art are devilishly mixed, by indicating that he took some money to appear live in a theater production in which he reenacts the killing, with actors. That is, in this representation of the real thing, there is only one real thing, him, everything else is fiction. As if to show this distance, everything is more or less “wrong” in the depiction of the setting

aj 35the drama of Jesse’s life, between house and gang, is simplified and broadened, by a simple comparison between a landscape, instead of a riding picture, and then a different picture of the mother, but they got the it being crooked thing right

aj 36the landscape has two vanishing points, which, since I saw one in Farewell my Lovely, I guess I have to call a thing. There it indicated extreme depletion, and maybe the set tried to convey the same sense of Jesse being cornered, and dead, as we speak of him, to the audience, by this picture (I am not quite sure yet).

aj 37(note too that the earlier “real” house might have been set up in the movie as having a higher ceiling for it to relate more clearly to the “theatrical” representation of it later in the same movie). Now Jesse gets up, and contemplates another picture, not pictured, and this too broadens the reality to over stress and connect the dots more forcefully, he was an art connoisseur, he was looking at paintings, thinking of his family, innocent

aj 38this shot then reveals that the split landscape painting represents not the split mind of the actor in the fiction but the split mind of Ford as Ford playing Ford in a reenactment, he wants to do it, but at the same time he does not want to do it, he as actor wants to, he as man who actually did what is being acted out, does not

aj 39Jesse the actor then gets up on the chair to straighten the picture, and bring order back to the house, just like he did in real life, and real Ford stands to reenact what he really did in real life

aj 40at this point, he balks, and has a psychological moment. The movie dissolves between a flashback of the real scene, and this reenactment, and in that confusion, he cannot do it, he withdraws his gun

aj 42and then walks off stage to boos

aj 44the need to distinguish between the original shot and the reenactment stage shot might account for the fact of the difference between the original setting and the reenactment on stage. Not only are the pictures different, but the room on stage has wallpaper, the original did not(in the movie, in life it did). But the primary difference is that while in real life the mother is depicted as a hardened battleaxe, in photographic form, enlarged in a way that bespeaks cult and also possibly death

aj 45on stage she is depicted as a much more conventional “mother” image, as per the schema of popular culture, and is framed in a more gentle, loving way, sentimentalizing the scenario of his mother love

aj 46this is a clever play of imagery by Fuller and crew, acknowledging that the prototype reality is one thing, and then its cult rendering in emblematic form for the purposes of appealing as an object of offering of emotion of sorts or warding off this or that, in the array of its agency, is another thing, simplified, and distanced, and rationalized, to be made less messy. As a result of the popularization of the story in a legend Ford is guilty of killing a man who was a criminal, but a weird sort of hero, in the back, as he was engaging in an act of love for his mother, in his home, “in the bedroom where my wife sleeps, and my children play”, wait, I got sidetracked to Godfather there, and this, this depiction of it as a betrayal of a good man is what caused Robert Ford to morph reverse into a coward. He confronts this almost immediately when he goes to drown his sorrows in a bar, then encounters a serenade who sings the song of the Coward Robert Ford, where by he gets the full image of his dilemma, caught in a negative spiral art-life nexus in which art has totally misread the reality

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(one possible tangent here. Fuller likes rough WASP white men of old with hearts of gold after all. He is at times almost sentimental about the being square and fair and honest and true with men’s men. Thus above Ford is being honest with himself is hearing the truth, the singer almost embarrassingly balks, not having it in him to sing such an awful verse in front of the man himself. This same sort of heart of gold sentimentality showed up in Park Row, a not good movie dragged down by its critique being watered down by sentimentality about the stature and glory of the good old days. It is to be noted that in that movie Park Row itself, with all the press offices in the 80s, was depicted almost as a kind of metropolis, with its hero eidols of the gods, Greeley watching over. All of which means that Fuller has a thing for icons, eidols, role models, and the conflict between their reality and their picturing of them. Thus, it is quite possible that by this point in the movie Ford did not know the difference between the reality and the story either, and was wandering in the nexus of icons and eidols that were crashing around him. And this then would explain why by later in the movie he is a little crazy about paintings, they mean a lot to him, because they trigger the moment that changed his life, they represent life and death, and the iconic values that people have of things. Thus, the saloon nudes are not only very good examples, by a director who appreciated the iconic in things, but especially important mental images of Cynthy on his mind as he is trying desperately to recover himself and put his life back on track. In the same way, he goes overboard with the room, the pictures, the wallpaper, all the rest, because he has been lead to believe, by trigger and trauma, that pictures are important, that they can convince, that they can cause people to become hypnotized, and that they can persuade a public that what is depicted is real, when it is not. The problem is, she comes in already all in knots, as here, as always, heavily curled hair in the 40s represented too much on the mind, the wheels turning too fast, conspiracy, other plans, disappointment

aj 48and through that bedroom door, representing the sexual part of marriage, is a dainty picture of flowers over the bed, representing anodyne lack of emotion, emptiness, suffocation, especially for her, all tied up in her defensive duds, with the strange birdlike, uncatchable fur attachments

aj 49I mean they almost look like a hawk being born on her hat, and a spider perched on her chest, she is all up in defense, and not having it

aj 50and indeed, to demonstrate that the whole scenario he had built up, to have the ring, too get the ring back, to get her back, was all based on a misconception, Kelley shows up, and just as inside the bedroom door is an empty floral piece, outside the room door in the hall is a robust genre piece, evoking life without

aj 51it also slyly depicts the life of real men, implying that real men do not beg for love in the unseemly and mad way Robert Ford has, overvaluing painting, almost mental with painting, for having committed a crime while someone was looking at and fixing up the painting, so seeking redemption in the currency of painting

aj 52then, truly bizarrely, even Frank James gets mixed up in Ford’s fantasies, comes into the hot house of Ford’s overdone bridal chamber, and with now the wallpaper, and paintings, and, now, here again, the carpeting, which is also suffocatingly busy, there is a showdown and James is shot

aj 53since I am a connoisseur of these busy carpets, representing shifting ground, ground walked on too much, worn down, depleted (see my treatment in The Conjuring 2 as it relates to a carpet like this I encountered this summer in Lincoln at The Isles, Havelock section)

aj 54and there it is, in I Shot Jesse James (1949), Fuller with staff, seeing that the crime happened while Jesse was looking at a painting, decided to make a special point of capturing the psychosis of Robert Ford by using paintings to more forcefully represent his thoughts, and, in the end, to go way over the top in his use of paintings and flowers and décor in his mad plan to win back his woman. It is well done, and, of course, it would not make sense if he did not fail, as it is Kelley, come out of the saloon, with Cynthy by way of the saloon nude on his mind, to kill him

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The strange thing about the larger picture of this issue is that while there is a clear difference in the movie between the prototype depiction of the real murder scene, and its sentimentalized depiction as offered to audiences requiring a more readable message, there is the added dimension that the home where James was killed in St Jo Mo is a real place, that really still exists. And, oddly, the original place in history is different than depicted in the movie

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and then when it was reported in the press, they got it all wrong, in the details

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and in this one I think bringing in the duster, which was on stage in the movie, but then placing it in a bedroom, him even more feminized (But TJ Stiles in Jesse James, records the dusting a picture version of the tale), further polarizing the picture

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even getting the type of picture wrong, several times

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then the house claims that the space looks like this, and the sampler up to the left is what James was straightening, not any picture, and the bullet hole is up there too, with the chair below, and other pictures, not seen in any rendition in movie or press

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but then the actual site is memorialized and museumized as a shrine site, reverting to cult, by buying in his gun (or one like it), and framing it there (it is not the actual one is a question), and then since a simple sampler with a bullet hole would not tell the story, imprinting the space with a legend picture, an authentic legend picture, which shows the event that took place in that very spot in 1882. But then the astonishing thing being that the picture shows the event as if seen from the other room, with Jesse flying, and the picture, not at all the space that one can confirm one is standing in

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a Legend picture is a cult picture, but in a removed state from the original cult space, which is the prototype space as was when the event happened. Time causes the space to recede from its prototypicaly, and withdraw into an array of cult functions which are primarily symbolizing and singularizing, legend making, in nature. The orginal is what it is, with whatever it is in the room, then what happened happened, all cult objects in cult space, because immediately linked to the scene of the crime, forensic, then. But, then when the cult develops it must report on the event through mediation and this is done by setting up an array and spins from node to node, cult, intercession, apotropaic and to votive, to both, by that circulation, half and simplify the items, connect the dots differently, but stretch and distort the event out of shape, quartering it, if all four, polarizing it, if just two, to make it more black and white and readable to the public

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but at present I don’t know any real life stage representation of the event. So we have the movie, which has the movie-mediation of the event, removed from the stage-mediation, and then in the movie, the original event and the stage-mediation

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and then going back to the original, there is the house itself, but intermediated by the influence of time as it thins out by way of mediation in stage and movies and etc., so that while it is more directly connected to the real thing, it is also strangely somehow more distant, and needs to mediate on site with a painting

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that is, while the mediation continues distancing itself away from the cult space, pulled that way by time, the house stays on in the original cult space, but is precipitated over by the mediation and by time, so that it ends up as mediated as the other mediations, setting up an artificial array that is not interested in retaining the authentic indexicality of the place and the moment when it happened (I mean do they even have a clock stopped to the minute?) but sets up an array of mediated agency, whereby the cult spot is the bullet hole, but the bullet hole is scary (but is NOT the bullet that killed JJ, that stayed in his body, it is not even clear where this bullet hole came from; but my guess is 99% of visitors think it is a bullet hole made by the bullet that killed JJ then passed through his body into the wall, a magic bullet), and it is also larger than a bullet hole because people took bits of wood from it no doubt as a powerful charm to protect them from shooting, and this is such good look dads even hold their newborns up to the bullet hole

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and then the legend picture is an intercessional conjuring device to help you imagine that scene, to help you step back in time to the place, and see it

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and then going back to the original dispute over what image Jesse was fixing, the real site taking the stand that it was a sampler needlepoint that in the movie is exiled to over the door, but here is set up as the mediated votive offering site representing the domestic life and all of Jesse’s noble wishes in that regard that the shooting by the Coward Robert Ford interrupted thus, by prototype, by mediation, in stage, in press, in movies, in stage in movies, then in house preserved, and in house preseserved influenced by mediation, to set up its own array of agentic im-mediation, giving viewers access to the reality epitomized in a cult like way by the magic bullet hole. This is all a very strange nexus, or triple nexus of art-life spins evoking the moment when Jesse James, killer, straightening a picture at home, was shot down by the coward Robert Ford.

A fusion reading of some works in Michael E. Smith’s exhibition at 500 Capp Street Foundation, SF, January, 2018.

Rev., Jan 24, 2018.

New byline, FUSION. Mention also made of Jutta Koetter, Bortolami, Baltimore project, March, 2018, all art pics from CAD. Disclaimer: As I did NOT see this exhibition in person, and rely entirely on pictures, this is only a POV think piece, not a review. FUSION byline seeks  to discern crossover between popular culture  (genre, horror movies) and contemporary art.

With the goal of writing more fusion pieces I am just going to mention a few “tropes” that Michael E Smith did or did not use, to his awareness or not, in an installation at Capp Street in December-January 2018. He included some set drawings by Ireland then there is the trope of the misplaced chair

asmi 1in fact, there are three of them, one in one door, two off to the sides, out in the hall

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and then one apparently shines, or reflects a light, from a source in front of it

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as such, across the way

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it is hard to explain what this means. But chairs and their slats were a trope in the original Cat and the Canary, indicating  bannisters and slats as an imprisoning forces. I recently saw this trope play out in the Japanese movie, Female Vampire (1958)

asmi 5and it was used again at the beginning of Get Out (2017)

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and again

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moving into the room

asmi 8It is also true that the empty chair is a trope that goes way back, indicating the presence of a ghost, or a haunting, as discussed in my entry “Smoking ground and the empty chair in Lon Chaney’s silent films (Rev., Aug 4, 2017)), not yet posted.

asmi 9and again

asmi 10and again

asmi 11It is also true that there is an empty chair as the focus of the drama for a ghost guest in the 13th Chair (1937)

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and, on a more basic level, the movement or scrape of a chair, not unlike the bouncing of a ball, can indicate the first entry of some supernatural spirit into a material scenario. It was made use of in this way both in the Pang Brothers’ The Child’s Eye (2002)

chairand even in the Mongolian horror movie, The Vault (2015)

chair 2And so there is some basic hint here of some ghostly thing…it is possible. In any case, all I can say at this point is using the trope of the chair, placed strangely in a house, it is haunting

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and a last one

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there is more business with other chairs, in another room, one with some odd something on it, then the one next to it turned upside down

asmi 15but this one at present stumps me. Then, there is another shot of a black cloth hung over a narrow hall

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this one strikes me as a magic device to increase the “what is it?” nature of the dark space of the narrowing hall, at present I relate it to, the best example of the trope on film, the ghost approaching Barbie Benton in Horror Hospital (1983), and then too the same effect of the witch of the dream come whooshing down at the woman in the dream a long corporate hallway in The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972)

asmi 18It also relates, in terms of the trope of space use, to this same figure or cloak as a whooshing effect so commonly used in Mexican vampire movies, and it could relate to the moving forward wall that is to crush you, which can be seen in figural form in Hellraiser (1987)

asmi 19Thus, by its very presence, Smith knows, this hanging, in that situation, causes discomfort, and that is what it is all about.

Another good piece entails reacting off a picture by Ireland in situ over the bed, by placing a cooler lit up in some way next to the bed, as if to state something about the bed having become a place of convalescence or the camping out that occurs when beds become more convalescence (an example, ahem, would be the onthefloor book shelf I have set up next to my bed). (this source of a possible use in contemporary art, however, is not related to movies, but to everyday life, and the little rearrangements and situating of things where there are not the means to fully realize functionality in a modern home, so by shortcuts, makeshifts and making do, things end up in odd situations, I will call them (see revew of Everyday object art, Summer, 2013). So, this too is a deft placement, I would, however, at the moment, have to work on any references to tropes in movies.

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Though I am on the record for arguing that this object on the coffee table in Mulholland Dr. (2001)

asmi 21is meant to indicate that the actions taking place in the scene are actually a fantasy of something that might have happened in the past

asmi 22there is also a crazy “installation” of a more arty sort in that objects are more clearly disjointed from normal posture as it looks like to me there is a joining of taxidermy and workout machinery to create a joke in the corner, an African artifact strung up in a way that better bespeaks what it really bespoke in the modern era, and then the hanging pair of baby pants is a bit disturbing, giving the room a psycho quality, but, again, this in my view is second line Smith, making some ‘installations” that are more readable as contemporary art because so obviously displaced

asmi 23but then my favorite is the Pikachu doll splat against the window.

asmi 28It bespeaks several things, with a fusion eye towards tropes in movies that act as culture-training devices that people then would relate to from sources other than in other works of contemporary art. The splat is like a crow that hits the window, a common trope indicating bad luck

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and a bad sign, see the Birds (1963), etc

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The Conjuring (2014) too, the face at the window, it goes way back, any number of such hauntings (this is Todd Slaughter effort, called, The Face at the Window (1930s)

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here perhaps unnecessarily accented by an African mask on the wall

asmi 28The fact that it is doll, however, speaks to the dead eyes of the world trope, such as epitomized by Raggedy Ann dolls, here in a Scared to Death (1981) I quoted in my treatment of Black Christmas, this the Cold Dead Eyes trope meaning that the world does not care about you

asmi 29But then the fact that it is Pikachu

asmi 30might more specifically and topically speak to the fact that in the middle of the Trump campaign when people had to have been paying more attention the Pokemon app game swept through the country as a fad and maybe it was true that they took the eye off the ball by playing that game and maybe some people were killed for lack of attention due to the game or some folks even killed or raped by being lured by an exploitational manipulator of the game to those spots in “augmented reality,” so that is funny (more sinister the possibility that the evolution of the bot trope of Russian meddling election-theft conspiracy theory is a kind of sick attempt at atonement by those with unspeakable-about guilt at having not paid enough attention)

asmi 32Then in a back room the art gallery, and here it is all yellow, following from Pikachu, and which I have seen a lot of, and then a cornered screening of a silent Fantasia, which I really liked for the lava flow scenes, commented on on my FB page as equivalent to my interest in flow as a sign of wriggling in heavy rapids confusing times

asmi 33this weird, backroom showing reminds me of the video sequence in Lair of the White Worm (1988), when the two snake hunters searching Donoho’s manor, the girl comes across her mother sitting in an otherwise empty room, watching tv.

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I am not quite sure what to call this trope, the Place Apart, or the Far Place, but what it signifies is that apart from the rest of the proceedings of the active household, there is a holding place, out in the ambient spaces, where a horror lies, or a person is arrested or reduced to a thing, and there she, sans any other accomodations, rests. And, then, in this context, Russell rightly gives her TV, but it is not TV as if watched by humans looking for entertainment or news, it is a snake charmer video, to pacify her

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and for that it is, in fact, a kind of entoptic hypnosis by way of pattern alone, she watches with an animal stupefaction, not human interest the daughter doesn’t understand that her mother is basically a hostage or animal in a cage being fed indoctrination video, to keep her in her snakeness (not unlike terrorist video priming in form, but with a zoo-cage keeping in purpose), so steps around to talk to her mother, as if she is still human

asmi 37but then a close-up reminds us, mother is gone, a creature entirely transfixed by the shining surfaces of the culture she loves, snakes

asmi 49with a look of drunk satisfaction on her face

asmi 40and, interrupted, like an animal, responds immediately, lightning quick

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It is a strange scene, but beautifully understood, and some artists today seem to be taking in awareness from other genres that in order to give to an object an aura that captivates, however abstract or elemental it might be, one has to lead the viewer to it, for it to then rest in the Far Place, where there is a mystery, and at that eccentric end of a trail, it recoils with symbolic meaning, that then has some dark  global meaning (In fact, I see the same effect in an an exhibition of Jutta Koetther, care of Bortolami, at a townhouse in Baltimore, where she leads you up the narrow stairs

asmi 42Through a narrow hallway, with a peek at a picture in a back, of course, back room

asmi 43And then we come to the room, there is a picture on the wall, we don’t know what it signifies, it is alone, too, we are in the Far Place, the Place Apart

asmi 44And it turns out it IS about a horror, Botticelli’s wedding night nightmare story of Nastagla degli Onesti, a hard-hearted woman who nightly was hunted down and disemboweled for laughing off her lover’s proposal, who knows to what effect here, however

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and with a self feedback loop of reference to traditional horror too, the Botticelli


but the point is, by coming at this in the Place Apart, at the end of Gown Prowl or searching-the-house trope to get there, all other meaning drops away, and the mind and eye begins to concentrate on a single fear (passing through the dream state I call the Lattice), which is then answered or resolved, in a final whoosh in to the close-up, or not, in one thing. Without doing any research, or having visited and experienced what steps one had to take to get from the rest of the exhibition, to this video, I feel Smith’s placement of the video in a room lit just so has a Place Apart energy, to work, as an eccentric setting, to give exclusive, global meaning to what appears to be marginalia in the exhibition.

And it also then ends one up watching the meaning of the exhibition as a whole allegorically in a video, and watching movies that speak to the moment happening on screen in horror movies is an old trope, here, the Lord of the Manor, again in Lair, seeing an old silent movie by Lumiere, with a white worm, this to suggest to him during his subsequent sleep that there is a connection

asmi 50between the painting on his wall, hung there for years, unseen

asmi 51and the news in that situation

asmi 52in the same way, the lone set viewing of the Fantasia video makes of it a foreshadow prophecy, an intercessional dream guide. But, later on, when he discovers Mrs. Trent in his house, as snake, she is seen hunkered down in the corner of an otherwise bare room, and the darkness of the room, and the content of the programming, and her fixation on it, indicates it is cult tv, a kind of visual snake charmer which fills up her zombie days, as discussed, so it is different, and changes one, perhaps to a state of dislocation

asmi 55the fact that the room is lit yellow, to host a video broadcast far in the corner, also might swing round and by involution put this video in the eye of Pikachu as a kind of warning, him seeing the end of the world in the thing. Yellow is also a color of complication, and usually means, when kids are going off to a haunted house, trouble. Here, Haunted House of Horror (1969)

asmi 56And, as my theme of the moment is liquidation, that is, discourses are liquidating, sinking in the green slime, I read it as lying out on the outlier offramp of the exhibition, an ambient presence, so this IS like a snakecharming presence, every splash of which speaks to the moment “out there,” My FB post of the video

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And the flooding, a symbol in sequence of the liquid moment (January, 2018)

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meant, I think, in each bubbling, capture another twist or spin of discourse in the present moment

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asmi 71And this idea likely spun off from the fact that the show is curated around some Ireland set drawings of a Karen Kilimnik sort, it’s Disney, but repurposed without the Disney.

asmi 72my sense of the space in other rooms is less clear, this, in fact, I do not know what it is

asmi 73nope, I still don’t know what they are, bags of cocaine hidden, folded up tshirts, no clue here

asmi 74there are other pieces, but these were the only ones I can fairly make out without seeing it all in person. This sort of house installation is not new. What is significant is that usually this sort of thing is, an artist just moves into a room and does his or her art. Very few artists know of, apparently, the haunting quality of houses and then how tropes have been used to express that by way of objects and thus use it in a knocked-down pure intuition “not calling attention to oneself as art” way, to just make some very creepy vibes arise in the space, and this, of course, is Smith’s forte.

I have followed tropes in many ways, and seen many varieties. Lately, too, viewing Turkish, Indian and other horror movies, the field of culture in which the tropes are worked also, it is clear, has a great influence on how tropes are played out, as, for example, the tennis ball bounce as a trope is much more worked out as a device of divination in Indian horror, and the mirror has a much more specific purpose in Turkish horror. In both cases, the expanded field provided the magic by the existence under secular modern life of a much wider and deeper spiritual base in the form of traditional belief and superstition which has shadowed, always, the development of Islam and Hinduism, and the same holds for Japan, allowing for greater expansion of the space. While a space by a modernist kunstkammer worker such as Ireland might force upon Smith a purely object-oriented approach to the issue, the house as such acts as an explanded space in the culture to help  to begin to read his strange and enigmatic placements, otherwise pretty much indecipherable to the art world.

The Ambients go down the Whoosh in Jose Majolica Marins’ Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1977).

Rev., Jan 26, 2018.

Dream guide class: Glass Onion level, Ambients.

In a recent note on Haunted House of Horror (1965) I noted how there was an irregularity of a trope shot that I relate to the entry into or descent into the whoosh, from a state above, meaning that the dream is getting heavy, you are falling asleep, and losing control.

hauntedI called this shot, the ambients, and identified the ambients as images or figuring forths of impulses in the brain that lie at the perimeter of the spin-down zone of dream, centered in the glass onion in the cingulate, and thus descending, perhaps, to more primal urges as introduced in the next layer down, the thalamus. But the question is, where are the ambients in the brain? At present, I relate them to tinnitus, and new theory argues that tinnitus only gets problematic when the auditory cortex sends signals to the self-same ACC at the front of the cingulate, which then vibrates that, and these noises then feedback to cause the sound to take shape and reverberate in the medial wall of the temporal lobe lying outside and around, or up above and at the sides of the cingulate. And, this, then, is where I locate the ambients, and argue that they introduce us to the deeper dream state called the whoosh, or wormhole, or maybe will use the German word, Wurmloch.

So, it is odd that, not soon after discussing this variant, I run into a few of the later movies of JM Marins, and in the unsuccessful Strange Hostel of Naked Pleasures (1976), while the naked pleasures are few, consisting mainly of an attempt to create a kind of immersive symplegma on screen, by way of closing in on one

mar 1this surround-sounding of breasts really doesn’t quite work, even to create a sense of an orgy, for whatever reason. Likely this occurs because it is an attempt to conjure up the ambients in waking life, and that is difficult. But, earlier, there was something else going on. Unfortunately, here JMM also tried to evoke the ambients in waking life, but at least he set it back into a ritual space, where the participants were a bit more free to be dreamy. So, we open with a variant of the ambients, a circle of women, circling round

mar 2and then they do something very interesting, up from out of the circle they have made by circling it as ambients, they rise up a flutter of hands and fingers

mar 3and it gets better

mar 4and better

mar 5and better

mar 6finally becoming a whole standing formation of the ambients, controlling all

mar 7but then he segways into dancing, and whatever visual magic was made by this flickering feature of the ambients is lost

mar 8or rather, I will say this last shot was an attempt to transition to the whoosh (fourth stage, spiral), the familiar trope figure of figures running back to front down or up a hallway at you. What this means is that he had a vague, but uncertain sense that somehow the fluttering the hands and fingers activated the ambients in a way that made their presence more insistent, if, here, a bit lightened up, that is, almost to reach back up to the glass onion, and even the entoptic, to pull all that down into the lattice, to create a kind of dream cave-in.

But then he did nothing else with it, and in my view that movie failed. But, then, Marins tried again with Hallucinations of a Deranged Mind (1977), and this one turns out to be his Busby Berkeley spectacle of making use of the same device to create an entirely body-formed lattice formation pulling the glass, onion rotation down into the whoosh, to descend to deep dream. There is a hint early, with a kind of BB effect of a leg tunnel, that this movie is, in fact, going to take place inside the lattice, where it is that, in general theory, all dreaming becomes as it were a reflection on the body that is sleeping without, so everything in the movie is architected as a structure of bodies (the same principle applies in the deep sex formations found in pornography).

mar 9but then this impulse expands to include a kind of hallucinatory sequence where it appears that he wishes a whole building were actually made of a pyramid of bodies, which he then shows his control over by walking on them

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the whole building is filled with bodies, paved, in fact, with bodies

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but, then comes the next nightmare, and the ambients transmute to the entirely original device of having not the fingers flicker, but the toes on the feet on the legs, raised up en masse from presumably a group of unclothed women, flicker

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and he (as Ze) walks through this gauntlet

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it is quite creative, Busby Berkley-wise

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and, then, even better, they all do the bicycle (a game we’d play as kids)

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then, once again, this acts as a kind of portal, to a deeper portal, obviously vaginal, leading deeper into dream, as imagined by a man having a nightmare of a woman leaving him through a clingy interiorizing of her body, imagined in his sleeping body

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he does revert to the hands again later

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he obviously just likes this effect

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but, for me, the feet are much more intense, suggestive, and full-body, and since more full-body than the use of hands a sign of the dream entering a deeper body stage, the lattice (stage three, fixating on single image)

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and then the vertiginous whoosh space shows up right on time, but it is also made up of bodies, this time partially clothed, but in a kind of kaleidoscopic whoosh where you don’t even know up from down

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so, let’s assume that is where we are. He has made use of a dream sense, or a reading of the phases of dream (and as a modernist not knowing of the transitions of hypnagogic light sleep, to deep REM dream), and decided that dream primarily takes place at the level of the lattice, and in that heavy, falling asleep place it is basically the body that is dreaming, the sleeping body that provides the heaviness, the physicalization of the dreaming that makes the dream be enacted in the mind as a dream of and built up of bodies, the body is the structure, and, in his world, because the dreamer is dreaming about his lover, and her body, the body is the content and materiel of the dream world, so this is what it looks like. Since it is likely that in his thinking he pancaked higher levels onto the lattice, we may say that the wriggling of fingers represented the entoptic pulled down to the lattice, and the wriggling of the feet represents the glass onion pulled down to the lattice. And, somehow, the fact that he knew that different and more involved and “heavier” and “sexier” parts of the body had to be involved to negotiate and symbolize that descent is pretty creative of him, I don’t know if I have seen the gauntlet of wriggling legs and feet before in a movie.

And, then, as I imagine it, he had a sense that there was a portal, a doorway leading INTO dream, and all the higher four stages were compressed into that door, all elided together to create a lattice-dominant entoptic-glass onion-lattice-whoosh form to lead one down into deep REM dream state. But, then, the fun or at least intriguing thing here is that, it does once again seem that JMM gave thought to the aesthetic problem, if the body parts I have shown thus far represent the falling into dream, what represents the being in deep dream. I strongly suspect he had a thought, deep dream is the realm of the buttocks

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because as we tumble down deeper, into a deeper zone reiteration of the whoosh, there is a stairway of bodies

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and then we begin to get bodies that are immured in floor or wall

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and the body parts are now separated off from one another, and left entirely dissociated, or alone, on their own

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though there is a contextualization of the big picture with references to body immured imagery that goes back to Dante

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but, most of the time, separate body parts stuck

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and, then, here, right here, a kind of startling shot

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this is two breasts, entirely isolated from the rest of the body they are part of, sticking out of the wall. Rarely do you see this sort of thing (except in close-ups), it is kind of shocking, and abrupt, it almost presents itself to the eye as an amputation, grotesque, unpleasant, as if they have a life of their own. And, then, it becomes clear that this in fact is the form that things are going to take here on out because now we discover that this lower region is inhabited by some much more intense ambients, in this buttocks people

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perhaps a carnival, certainly an entirely infantile, even slapstick mode of representation

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and they go all ambient too

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and, then, later, in the final nightmare, we reach the darkest tunnel (and again my giving sequential depth to these images is slightly artificial because he is repeatedly shifting back and forth with a kind of visual turbulence wrought by not fully understanding the levels of hypnagogy), the tunnel where the walls are butts, or boobs, here boobs, entirely surreal

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and stomachs, who knows, maybe Marins got the idea from cut out swimsuits of the time

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then boobs again

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there is even a very odd sequence where mice are dangled in front of boobs, a shot you do not see everyday in the movies

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and the tunnel of buttocks, very weird

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yep, that’s what that is

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and then this woven, not only to an apparently unrelated sequence in a statue factory, but also supercloseup of ambients crushed into a digestive mush of broken apart body parts even faces next to errant disembodied detached boobs, the ultimate ambient close-up nightmare

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it is actually the fact that the ambients have a kind of built in downward trajectory, it is no surprise that they begin to sound, and therefore appear at the lattice, but, then, the form they take, as a circle of faces, it all goes back to the black hand, which is the hand at the window, one of the oldest tropes in horror, but refocused upon from one’s POV outward as a hand that comes at you from afar and then closes in and closes in until, at the nightmare moment, approaching REM state, having closed in on you all the way down from the entoptic to the bottom of the whoosh, it closes over one, and one screams out of it–voila, the definition of an ephialtic (leaping) nightmare. This elemental dynamic I think underlies JMM’s clever expansion of the ambients’ presence from faces overlooking a captured self to a plethora of body parts, but mostly the feet sequences, which deepen things, and, then, once he whooshes down in (and I cannot decide at the moment if his salt mine Dantesque images of people immured being tortured is actually in deep REM zone or in lateral adjunct ie ambient whoosh zone), for that then to most creatively manifest in the form of the homunculi of the lower depths, made up entirely of body parts, and separated and disjoint busts and butts most of all. It is strange, though all the imagery could be taken as “sexual,” because it is bodily, and nude, in truth, this is a highly unsexual movie, it is fueled rather by a kind of body disgust that sees the body as a trap and wants to transcend it, as Ze expounds, so for JMM to envision the hell of the body as an architecture of body parts derived from the lattice formation of the Ambients, and the ambient trope, to pull one down to nightmare, is pretty creative.