The Crouching Venus and the cult picture in She-Devil (1957).

Rev., Mar 9, 2018.

Sometimes, it is almost unbelievable, how constant and unchanging is the secret language of film, the inferences suggested by the placement of properties in the background of sets by art direction, whether knowingly or not. And, often, I ask myself, how did they know this? and, even, more extreme, did they know what they know? But, in the movie She-Devil (1957), the docs are talking over the problem they are having with Zira, a woman who was dying, but whom they brought back to life with a fruit-fly serum that makes her immune to disease and injury, and, also, able to change her hair color at will, and, also, by the way, become a fierce femme fatale who uses and throws away men at will.

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in this scene, they are trying to reign her in, to bring her to surgery, for them to correct the error of having made her too immune from moral pain, and this is done in front of a classic mantel, the hearth of the house, representing the mentor doc’s power, and him in front of a landscape painting representing trouble, but also, perhaps, his control over that trouble, his ability to manage it

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but then she says, forget that, I am happy with who I am, I am going to stay this way, too bad for you, I’m leaving this house, and marrying the millionaire, leaving them to fear for the worst, as conveyed by the landscape painting

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and then it happens, as she walks out of the door of the room, there is a little statuette on the bureau or radio, where from they have been hearing bad news of her killing spree, and this is, no question, a variant on a trope I now call a Crouching Venus

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it is not quite the same thing, but very close, and visually fits the type, it is, in my view, a Crouching Venus trope object, which signifies on screen, just as the docs are now talking about pineal hypertrophy being the cause of her problems, that she has left their care and is about to pass down into the deeper, evil goddess run amok culture of her doing, and, here it is, meaning exactly that, just as in other movies I have found it in, the Korean movie Phone (2008)

aash 81 phonethe giallo movies The House with the Laughing Windows

aash 59 houseDeath on a FourPoster

aash 55and Hotel Fear

aash 58 hotel fearin the American movie Stormswept (1995)

aash 60(then, too, oddly enough, a Crouching Venus trope showed up in Glenn Brown’s current show at Gagosian in London, and it was serving the correct function, relative to the rest of the art in the show (see another FUSION note on this, when posted)

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this trope now is dated to 1957, saying exactly what it does, as a dream guide standing up top over the threshold of the whoosh down into nightmare

aash 5the event which precipitated this crisis was that they had a dinner party for benefactors the night before and she was the talk of the party, then even more so because she hit on one of the richest men in town, he took the bait, then when the wife threatened her for making out with her husband in the garden, she killed the wife. And in the moments of concern, the picture of her being introduced as the object of attention at the party

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is accentuated as involving her having graduated to goddess level by other goddess pictures, in the background, in the relational space on screen

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this is a classic goddess picture, meaning we are leaving modern civilized life, and descending into ancient instinctual life

aash 8then she goes off, and is a scandal again, as earlier, another good newspaper shot in this movie

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but the fun thing is, and this is closely related to the picture play in Female Vampire (Japan, 1958), a picture shows up at the house, by mail, it is covered, they place it in the hall, to open it

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he unwraps it upside down, in shot of a picture they already have up in the hallway

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then he wows over it, fondling and looking at it, it is her, in large scale portrait art, a goddess cult picture

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so he has the sarcastic maid hold up for him to get a look at it

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she of course makes a face at its totally inappropriate level of exposure, and its massive amount of egotism, besides its more evil purpose of not letting the doc get over her, even as she is gone

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and the doc is so smitten by it, he holds it out from his midsection, again

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then bounds past the other picture in the hallway, knowing exactly where he will put it

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and takes it up the stairs, not unlike Clark Gable dragging Vivien Leigh up the stairs in Gone with the Wind (now, apparently, a movie that the #metoo wing of the party finds unwatchable).

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earlier, she had wowed the docs, especially him, as a blonde, doing a whole cakewalk down from the landing

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and in that walk walked by the presiding hallway picture of the house

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then, the doc, excited, in front of that picture, but moreso her as a blonde, utters the movie’s best LOL line, “this calls for cocktails!”

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I cannot make out what this picture is

aash 22but it is often, as I have worked out in Tanya Robert’s The Last Victim, a shot of people in action, a picture of the world, a threshold picture for over the sidetable you toss the keys on, or such, and it speaks to the leaving the practical everyday world, but living in the house for that world, it is a feet on the ground picture, but says that things are still happening

aash 23it would be difficult me to ID it, but it looks like Caillebout type Impressionist urban scene, and though it is a bit too distinctive as a genre picture, that is, a picture where people are doing something, to be an Utrillo picture, it is somewhere in between, indicating in general the commerce between house and the world that goes on in the house, the living in the real world

aash 24and, of course, by fixating on her, by investing himself so deeply in her cult, he is losing contact with practical, modern sense, and entering into her goddess world of primal forces. Formerly, up in the bedroom over her bed, she had a banal flower picture, signifying depletion of spirit. In another funny earlier scene, the men, after promising they would not, treat her like a guinea pig by insisting, after hearing that she shopped, that they all go up and look at all the new lingerie and underwear she bought, when they, of course would never do that with a “normal” woman in the real world

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this picture even has an unpleasant thrift shop quality to it, so is doubly depleted, she IS a guinea pig in a cage

aash 26a picture

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but now, with her gone, he takes the picture she sent him, to torture him with memory of her, to keep her always before his eyes, upstairs to her empty bedroom, and takes down the flowers, and puts up the cult picture of her as goddess . Later, when she returns, after the death of her husband (she murdered him), she comes in with the cold and the action of the real world all on her, on her clothes, and in one shot she almost fuses with the transition, purification picture in the hall, as if to say she too has been out in the world

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but lovesick doc, delighted to have her back, even if she is a stone cold killer, ushers her up, just like he did the picture

aash 29and “makes love” to her at the end of the bed, mainly by showing her that he hung the picture of her she sent him over the bed, and that, get this, he would often come into her bedroom, and gaze upon it, and having it made it seem to him like she was really there, in other words, his scientific interest and his infatuation with her has fused into a curdling two-dimensionalizing horror zone where he sees her as a thing

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That is, he promised her she would not become a guinea pig, but she has, and, worse, in that context, with that power over her, he fell in love with her, making his love a destructive, two-dimensionalizing thing. She also has had this problem and the movie does, on the side, apart from this primary plotted picture play, play with mannequins for a bit, there is some of that, of her seeing herself as a walking science experiment, not a full woman, in the dress shop incident

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then there is the movie’s weirdest device that she has the power to change her hair color in order to survive, and does this in front of the mirror, again suggesting that her physical appearance is just an eidol, a ghost, in front of her deeper reality as a science experiment, a walking test tube, I think there was even a joke to that effect

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but the movie in fact more clearly plays with the mannequin theme when after marrying her playboy sugardaddy she is bored by their weekends in the country and in this exchange it struck me that the trophies of deer and such on the walls bit a bit more deeply than usual to signify that each sees the other as trophies too, as not real three dimensional beings, and, for that, are miserable

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and then worse, with all the guns all over the house, are quick to the trigger, and there is killer rage in her and even him too, as he shoots her

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trophies often mean that the man of the house is an objectifier, so that holds, but this is a bit more particular in accusing both of them of having, by the poison of exploitative motives of their relationship, degenerated into trophies to each other, venetian blinds completing the visual symphony of shadiness

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the movie then sets us up for its one Frankenstein moment, when he is shocked at who he has married, and, by the way, with the most exposure of her flesh in the movie, when she tells him, on the way to get help for her, having been shot in the shoulder, that the wound is gone, baring her shoulder

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and at that point, she veers them over the cliff

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This is, in fact, an oops moment, when the subconscious of the movie conveyed by the properties, is forced to the surface by exposure of its poor special effects, and it fails to work, bellyflopping. But, while this crash scene might have played OK and acceptable in a general sense in the run of the movie in real time as played in the theatres then on TV back in the day with the Pause button we can trace the arc of the turn of the flying car and from this toy shot it is all too apparent that in midflight the car flipped over, both of them are exposed to the air, and they are now going to come down hard, and fatally, however she might recover, this crash is going to take off her head, break her spine, crush her shoulders, it is unrecoverable from, no question

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and then she just walks away, released again from her mannequin state

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so, the movie does take an outward or periaqueductal spin around the picture play, to take the issue of mannequins as an expression of her theme of concern over being made into a guinea pig, and his lack of professionalism in exploiting that power imbalance to fall in love with her, making an illicit cult of her, but, then, it gets worse.

Movies are filled with hundreds and hundreds of bedroom invasion scenes, Vampires, Dracula, wolfmen, woman for the whole of the 20th century have been menaced in their beds. This movie, and I have to say it is a pretty swell construction, working out in a trope perfectly the mixed feelings of the lovesick doc’s desire to get into that bedroom and do what people do in bedrooms, and then he fears that his experiment has gone totally awry, he has created a monster, and she must be killed, or at least corrected, so they decide that, in more daft science, an organism is taken down by its own waste system, so lets feed her carbon dioxide through the radiators, we will close all the windows, and gas the room, that will knock her out, so that we can do surgery. And that, no foolin, is what they do. She is asleep, in that bed the doc so badly wanted to be in with her with

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but he seals the door, rather than touch her intimately

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the older doc sets up the gassing mechanism through the radiator (a classic moment in the whole milieu of 50s mad scientists living in their own suburban houses)

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they come through the window, while she sleeps, the candle I think is for them to know when there is enough gas to put her out, the candle will go out at that point

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a candle at a bed now means something, in this bizarre context, evocative of his trapped mental and emotional state, different

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they are now, as scientists, the monsters at the window, peeping in on a sleeping blonde

aash 48then she feels the effect, and there is, again, an occult gown prowl, really a run for the windows, she knows she is losing breath and consciousness

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and so the doc, the monster doctor of this whole scenario, who dreamt up the mad mad science, who did, in fact, use her as a guinea pig, then, worse, fell in love with her, though never got to touch her, really, he gets his chance, but it is in a classic monster carrying the damsel in distress trope moment, him the monster

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and, then, it worked, but, oops, it also unworked, that is, she reverted to have the disease she was dying of in the beginning, and that ‘s that, this time it is fatal, now in her bed as hospital bed again, at home, under that portrait

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leaving him to wonder with mixed feelings, after her death, this now a memorial picture as at a funeral, if it was all worth it, or if he is glad to be rid of it, he is not going to do THAT again, but, either way, a portrait still serving as his cult portrait of her, his victim, no doubt to be kept in place

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for the movie to actually end with her smiling at us, something she, in fact, did not do much of in the movie

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and that is She Devil. It is more a melodrama of a Frankensteinian sort, a doctor-patient drama, than a full on horror movie, but it did have a curious picture play as the pictures of the house doing what they do in a well-run rational, everyday house, are subordinated to the intrusion of a new resident, a monster, and then a new portrait representing her wild monstrousness out in the world, and then the strange science-house complex becomes a kind of cult place in worship to her, then, finally, a private hospital where she is killed. So, it is curious, an inbetween space, a palliative space, created by exploitation and mad science, pictures, by picture play, figuring out the changing trajectories of emotion in that conflicted zone. But, the single, little, undoubtedly unnoticed object that announced to me that we are stepping down into a subconscious zone where rational behavior is usurped by dark instincts, the land of the goddess, introduced by a Crouching Venus.

Veit Laurent Kurz’s Oracle (Berlin, Winter, 2018) and the stripping down of contemporary art to pure agency (with comparison to same effect in Turkish horror movies).

 

Rev., Mar 2, 2018.

Byline FUSION. 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.

This week CAD featured pictures of another installation by artist Veit Laurenz Kurz, in Berlin, and this is the seventh iteration of the same project idea he has done since it was first tried in the backyard of a Bushwick rowhouse, two summers ago. This ensemble of work by lots of fellow artists is my favorite thing going in the world art world today, and it is time I try to figure out why. First of all, all of his installations start with a terrific series of drawings he has done which constitute a what if, if vampires took over running the government and world, what would that look like. This is a fairly common horror movie idea, but as an administrative play, something new. These are great drawings, of great interest to me for their crawlspace acuity.

kurz 1This remove represents, in its thoroughness, and in the seriality of the pieces, creating the sense of an alternative universe, a countering to the standard formula of art work in the art world today. Viewer, come see my, the artist’s work, see my art, it is an expression of my genius as artist, aren’t I great, done. But here, Kurz breakdowns the art, to then, as its’ “artist” is put in parenthesis, and he turns his back on it, and on his “art” and then posits it as a counter (not a contra) reality to the current going reality.

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the thing about a counterreality that is hard to grasp is that, it is not a contra state, that is, toe to toe with those in power, but, basically, fighting them point for point within the same paradigm and, for that, trapped in a wrestling grip from which no real solutions come. There are no answers in “resistance” inside the paradigm of the controlling power structure. Only a new way of doing things will do it. It is interesting to me that Kurz’s latest is called Oracle, because oracles, and especially their frequent use in Greek culture, are of great interest to me (there were also a number of oracles in Lynch’s Twin Peaks Return last summer). Why did the Greeks rely on oracles? It is because it provided two advantages. One, in debate in a council over what to do next one side would develop one stand, and that stance was supported by their rational mind made irrationally certain by their ego defense, and thus they would not give an inch; and the same thing on the other side, meaning that they do nothing, debate is nothing but the wrestling of two fixed viewpoints, impolitic impasse contestation, that is, fighting. So how to break that logjam? Both sides deferred to a higher cause (ie arbitration, but magically so), and in that simple gesture, underscored, if not admitting, the limits of their humanity. They then let a stoned woman on a chair over a cleft of gas at Delphi say something tripped out crazy and then they would all, starting from scratch, sit down, disarmed of their certainty and try to figure out what it all meant. And if they did not know, they would wait til something, some coincidence, some marvel, alerted them to the meaning, and then they would move on that. In other words, they turned their back on the reality of their certain rationality, made impolitic by ego and rage, and deferred to a counterreality where all the rules of engagement were different, and in that space, they had to live again in the uncertain present moment, not fixed to a time when they came to their conclusion, and engage in the moment, and life, and wake up in truth (truly be woke) to life, to make a decision based on deeper, god-given intuition, and not some resentment, or desire for revenge, or other illicit motives that cloud the clarity of the mind. So, a counterreality is a place where all the rules are different. I do not know if there are any “rules” in Kurz’s set up, but in his drawings it is not simply that he is drawing a world where timbering seems to be a symbol of a stripback to intuitive thinking, below the veneer of its ersastz status in modern culture, and from that begin to reason through art for a new mind again.

And, then, what he does in these remarkable installations is that he feeds the counterreality back through the former reality of the set up of the rules of the art gallery, and creates that counter space in his drawings by way of ostension in the real world, a move I call reverse agency (based on the concept that I think in making this particular move, one is engaging in reverse engineering of the reality you are replacing)

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and this is what that looks like, this time out.

kurz 4(it is important, in order to communicate that these forms are transported to the ostensive “present” or “reality” by means of countering and reversing, not to bring the reverse reality too far into actual reality, and that is why the set up eschews entirely the wow whoring of technical art, but comes only in cardboard, roughly assembled, all at loose ends, loosey goosey unreal.

But, then, the question is, where, now, is this space? You are in a gallery, of course, but you are not, mentally, in a gallery anymore. You are in a counter/reverse space, a space with a peculiar topsy-turvy agency. First, the most interesting thing about this set up is that it is not so much a group show, or even an installation, but a counter form, in the context of which the “art” takes all but second place, usually having to be sought out, then, when found, very small scale and knocked down, temporary, transient, which is fun, no pretentions

kurz 6But, still, where is this? In a fusion moment, I would compare the timbered aspect of VLK’s cardboard world to signify that same thing that timbering does in country villages when encountered in, for example, Turkish horror movies. Such houses, in Turkey, seem to be extremely spooky, because modern folk know that dark stuff lurks within. But, then, in the town returned to, for example, in the Turkish movie Dabbe 4, which I have written about before

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it also turns out that a stripping down has occurred. The hunter after haunters does not, strictly speaking, have art on his walls, he has talismans, magic charms to ward off evil.

kurz 8What this means is that art world art, viewed through the veil of rationalization as pretty, as beautiful, as pleasing, as calming, as political, as whatever it is that, by its rationalized utilization by the middle class it does, has been stripped back to straight up, raw, basic, apotropaic function.

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I graph it out, for now, as the reverse agency countering looking back a second time on “art” as it is now, all its prowess and pretentions, and that is wholesalely iconcoclastly negated, to then take form in reverse forms, which backbuild or retrogress to a cult space before art, where the only visual display was straight up magic objects which served the basic purpose of the basic agencies, including the apotropaic, warding off evil. And it is this double-counter negation, with retrogression, that has happened in the state of fear which the ghost hunter is at. And, then, even better, and more clearly stated, they come to the doctor’s relatives’ house, and while there is still art on the walls (though it does, in the genre, bespeak fear), its voice has been stripped back by the placement of actual talismans (which he later says is a mistake, as it draws the demon in).

kurz 11And, then, later, when they come to the man who they saw on the road, his house is entirely an armed camp not of art, but something like it, a whole visual field of art stripped back to actual talismanic graphs and drawings which have an immediate agency and purpose, in his emergency fearful state, to counter immediate evil

kurz 12It is quite good. And, I think, a similar breakdown of art and the art gallery as a concept has, in fact, occurred in the countering then then reverse engineered a situation from it, in VLK’s Oracle. All the rules of installation are different, and it would seem that the artists involved get it, they are not being asked to be involved to show off one of their “works of art,” though they are that, they are being asked to as it were reach deep down to their raw human state and offer for the squat place a very temporary but therefore very intense amulet or object directly involved in direct agency to do something in the world. And this is why each corner of the exhibition is so dead on, well made. Each speaks directly to a hunkering down, a squatting, a finding a place, a making of a meaning, that’s that.

Then, even more so, there seems to be an undercurrent of deeper negativity. I have sensed in a good deal of Euro art over the last three years a deep sense, once again, of the purposelessness of art, of a wholesale critique of the whole art concept, the idea that art can do all the things that all the curators think it can do. This, of course, would correspond to my own situation, so I have taken up more intense interest in “things people hang on their wall” for purely personal at-home protective or worship or other reasons, that is, crap art, not art, art stripped down to its basic agencies, and I often do in fact say, I could just make a painting of this and that would be an exhibition, this is my art, why do I need contemporary art? etc etc. so, I sense this here, that there is also a spin on the agency in questioning while it is done if this is worth it or going to work in the end, a touch that gives everything a loosey-goosey noninsistent almost hippie nonchalant feeling. No one in this world is going to force their opinion on you, no one is going to shout you down, or fight with words, if you can’t stand down from your ego, your never giving an inch, your resistance, your revolution, your eyeswideshut “woke”-ness, and let your mind fall asleep in its soul, to become again a human being, then, no go here.

This attitude is nicely conveyed by pics which look for work, so the Pancho Sanchez donkey signature piece, naming the show (and since there was also in Berlin at the time a show Don Quixote, with a typical ‘tilting at windmills” critique of whatever, this might break all that down too), so you look behind a tower, to the end of the hall, there it is, hidden in back (a trope I call The Place Apart)

kurz 13And then there is a “picker” question, as you are in this instance “rummaging,” not gazing, is that art, or not? though there is what looks like art behind and over it

kurz 14and then, behind that board, the donkey, like the cold eyes of the world, a familiar trope using dolls or stuffed animals in desdemonic movies, steps back, to let you look at the art, but somehow by all that making your looking ridiculous, or magical

kurz 15in these, what shall I call them? counter-reverse/negated-reversed/stripped back retrogressive postures (no, that won’t work!), I especially like the homuncular presence imitating kitsch artifacts found and held to with mixed feelings in homes of Jannic Joray’s art, here again a good piece

kurz 16and with glass of wine in hand, countering a Juliette Blightman picture of a woman walking in paradise but apparently having a problem with her period (I just watched two movies this week, one from Taipei, The Tag Along, another from Spain, Veronica, in which girls struggle with the mechanics of what goes on below the navel and between their legs, likely a retrogressive effect reversed from accepting the facts of life by the rupophobia furor rushing through the contagious culture worldwide at present), it does seem to be a comment in pathos of the middle class nature of the metoo moment, which does think it can legislate sex, and here I end with this homunculus nestled down in his little multi-level crawlspace

kurz 17so, in a short FUSION note, this is the first time I have written about this movement of art at the moment. It is, by far, in sending up and taking down most of the pretentions of “contemporary art” today, my favorite movement in the arts today. And this my first attempt to make sense of where oh where it is all coming from.

Footnote

Posted on FB, Mar 2, 2018.

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The horseback assassination of Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007).

Rev. Dec 31, 2016.

In I Shot Jesse James (1949), Sam Fuller’s 1949 treatment of the fate of Robert Ford, the shooting of Jesse James is shown, and then a variant of it is shown as it was performed afterward on stage, and, then, in my treatment of it, I indicated that even the way it was shown in the movie was at variance with the depiction of the event in the press at the time, and then even the reality. Why these variations? is what I explored, but mainly to explain why so much was made of other types of pictures later in the movie. There is also the issue that the event itself was more important than the details, and the thing about the event that surprised and intrigued viewers, the art-life nexus, is what captured the imagination. In another treatment, I conjectured that the problem Robert Ford had was that at the time Jesse was thinking of retiring to a domestic life, and the picture represented that. In that context, Ford not liking that his idol was thus reduced, he decided on an assassination to usurp the leader, and move on. But, in the public mind, they did not know about the current situation of Jesse James, and his gradual domestication, all they knew about was his Wild West history and when they heard of the event they immediately imposed over it a Wild West scenario, in the context of which shooting a man in home was bad, fights like that should happen at high noon on main street, but then shooting a man in the back was against the code of the West, and therefore appalling, both of these misreadings, making of Robert Ford a coward (apart from the fact that the word rhymed with Jesse’s pseudonym in town, Tom Howard). I also suggested that the coward trope might have stuck with him because of the coincidence that James was hiding out under the name of Howard, which nicely rhymes with coward. That is, his cowardliness was entirely a creation of the popular culture processing the event, a tabloid entity.

But then I watch The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2010), based on Ron Hansen’s novel, and some other things come up. The movie is like two movies, there is the point up to the shooting, which is one kind of movie, and then there is the point at or after the shooting, which is another type of movie. The early part of the movie, and most of the movie, is an arty cinematographically excess minimalist paean to the rugged reality of the old West. Even if the text is explaining that Jesse’s great days are behind him, and he is now hanging out with some total losers, and the mis en scene is all about moving from safe house to safe house, and then visiting former associates like an angel of death to kill them off, to keep them all quiet, the visuals of the movie still make it all sepia tone romance in a movie tradition going way back. This artiness always fools critics into thinking the film is art, but, more often than not, most of the beautiful images are all about confusion and suspicion. The main problem I have with the ersatz minimalist tradition is that it seeks indexicality in the film. That is, it tries to be real, and pretend that it is real, when it is romance and a retrospective mediation of the past by way of sepia toned old photographs. All the rooms in all the houses are shaker serene, white washed and pure. The table is simple, the vests are brown, the people, it is implied, are good people, good all Americans

hors 1And when they go off to church the beauty of the cinematographic image again attests to simplicity, and purity, and all American okness.

hors 2I have complained about this “sepia syndrome” in another Pitt movie, Benjamin Button, and here it is again. The problem is not that the view of the past is mediated through old photos, the Ken Burns documentary The Civil War did that a generation ago, but that this device then sets aside the postmodern premise of seeing the past through media first, and reimagines, essentially, the past as actually like those old photos, like old media. This reversal of postmodern representational critique dangerously sets up a propaganda past in which however bad the people depicted are they are good because they are Americans from the American past.

The main problem with this visual shakerism, besides that it is bland catnip to the critics who think if it is minimal is must be arty, is that it offers no sense of how these people lived in their time, and made homes for themselves by setting up an array of images which bespoke the shape and depth of their personal culture. Jesse is shown just sitting around on a rocking chair in a bare white room, everything else nondescript. It is as if he is a guest at some house not his own, he is depicted ill at ease, and though it could be said that the rocking chair in this shot plays off the chair because it is what he is going to stand on, to dust the picture, and thus die on that chair, it does not seem as if the movie has this in mind

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It is almost as if the cinemagraphic purists, devoted to pure filmic imagery, and eschewing crude manipulation of properties, thought that they could evoke Jesse James through character alone, and not filling in the blanks of him by way of depicting some of his personal culture. This leads to serious problems when it comes to depicting the actual shooting, because there is no doubt that the shooting occurred in and around pictures of a particular sort, and it is them in context of the shooting that made the shooting so queer, in terms of an art-life irony, to the public. At one point, the whole proceeding was so minimalist, that I began to think that they would make do without any picture, dismissing the whole picture trope as a romantic device not in keeping with authentic fact. The only play of media in the movie seemed to happen inside the head of Robert Ford, as he emulated and then imitated Jesse, and then Jesse teased him for that.

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This adulation was grounded in his love of adventure story books in his childhood, all about Jesse. That is, the movie is a cult movie, describing the cult of Robert Ford of Jesse, and how that cult went bad, causing Ford to respond to it in the way he did.

hors 5but, then, the movie surprised me. At one point, well on three quarters in, Jesse, coming back from Palm Sunday church, says, Im going to take off my guns, and lays them on the couch. And then a whole new movie with a whole new tone comes into play. We now see for the first time that, in that lonely house on the top of a hill

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there were some pictures on the wall, as there would be, and the one they chose to place most prominently on the wall was that of Jesse’s mother, in back in this shot, to the right

hors 7This shot apparently reverses the power of the previous shot, when Jesse was teasing him, with the picture of his mother over him, and Ford on the outs. Now, Jesse is shown haloed by thought of his mother, and his blank faced manner, with Ford behind him, strongly suggests a directorial reading of this staging as an example of suicide by cop, this is reinforced when he gets up to dust the picture by the fact that Jesse gazes into the glass on the picture to see Ford reflected just before he shoots, and does nothing, a whole interiorization of the shooting which, I think, is entirely bogus, and weakens the depiction. According to this scenario, Jesse took Ford back into the circle because he saw, with his cleverness, and rough wisdom, that he could use Ford’s unsteady emulation of him, to induce him to kill him, in other words, this was a planned suicide. I reject this reading, but it is in the fabric of this telling (see further essaying on this point, post visit to the real site). Then Jesse, as improbably as the pictures come into play, gets up on a chair to dust the picture. It is an odd moment.

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the rocker does not seem to be the type of thing you would get up on. The picture is placed on the far wall of the room, a placement at variance with history and with the depiction of it all in I Shot Jesse James. It is also shown as a mantel picture, that is, a legend picture of the household hearth, and it is a picture, a portrait of a horse. The picture that Jesse was dusting or straightening in reality was a Bless This Home needlepoint. The picture that Jesse was dusting or straightening in I Shot Jesse James was a large photo of his mother, as shown here back in the opposite corner of the room. In neither case, was there a horse, though there were horses in the staged version of the shooting as depicted in other pictures off to the right of the main event in I Shot Jesse James. But it was not a horse. Why? Why would the art director and director make this decision? One, I think it does remind us that this is Jesse James, and it places him back on his horse on duty on his travels, in the Wild West. It removes from the shooting the implication that it was done out of disgust by an acolyte that wanted more of his idol than messing about with dusting objects in a boring domestic life. It masculinizes Jesse, and essentializes him (in spite of the opposite tendency of the plot in this regard) as unchanged Wild West Jesse James. This also would correspond to what the public wanted of him, more Wild West, and thus implicates Ford in cowardice for shooting a man at high noon duel in the back.

hors 9It also means that Jesse is not exactly fussing over art, but he is engaging in another act of devotion to his horse, or some horse of his past. Since the horse is placed over the mantel, and thus represents the central mythos of the house, it also indicates that he has not surrendered, and remains dedicated to his life on horseback out in the wilds. Here in this shot we also get the heroization of his domestic chore, as he in fact seems to use it as a mirror to look back at Robert Ford, and seeing him aim his gun

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The interesting thing about this shot is that it is backed up by the portrait of the mother, and the portrait of the mother is not the picture being straightened by Jesse. This indicates that Ford now steps into the role as the nemesis, always warned of by Jesse’s mother, as the man who would some day come to kill him, and so Ford is doing the work of Jesse’s mother’s hard prophecy. This placement empties out the wilds-domesticate nexus that Ford might have actually acted in, doing away with an idol that disappointed him, and returns it to being an expectation in Jesse’s mind, on how it might all end. This reversal of power, as if the killing is a prophecy of the mother, also feeds into the reflection of the crime in the glass, making of it a suicide by cop. But then, even odder, they show the shooting in a direct and brutal fashion. In the sequence, the horse picture presides. It is like Jesse is just being shot off a domestic version of his normal horse regalia. He then, when shot, smashes his head against the mirror, not seen in other versions

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Then lifelessly bounces off the horse, again, recreating a killing in the wild

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he flies down in the space between rocker and mantel and picture, the chair he was on scooting off to the side

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and then he is dead, in that corner

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as such, then, it removes all the dichotomies that titillated the public imagination about the shooting, and returns it to being an old west good man shooting. But it does make use of picture, but only to serve that reversion to the public version of the killing, that this was Jesse James shot down in another legendary duel, but backstabbed by his partner in a domestic setting of the duel. This alignment of the depiction with the public’s framing of the event does not leave him much room to move about in, in the aftermath. Here he again, as in I Shot, does a stage version, with the added detail that his brother played Jesse, and, weirdly, even began to revert to thinking he was Jesse, in the reenactment

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The stage version is an exact replica of the version we see in the movie, horse picture in the reality, horse picture on stage, though this time Ford is in the chair. And we also see Ford is made up, making it more artificial, and that the voice of the public comes disembodied from the crowd, crowding out his performance by the call of coward

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The movie takes it onto his killing in Creede, but without commitment, and still without any picture or media play. The media play in the movie is not nuanced, and results in a distortion of reality that is, in fact, oddly, less documentary and authentic, than the version concocted by Fuller in 1949. This is likely because of the degree to which old photo aesthesis has sludged over the view of the past, since the issue of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary 25 years ago, in which the past in America is depicted as an old photo, and life in the past was all sepia and ordered, with some chaos, but generally a coherent and materially-bound space. This is evoked by the fact that so much is made of his posthumous picture, bringing the telling into the zone of Wisconsin Death Trip (1978)

hors 17and then the view through the lens, and the long wait for the exposure to be over

hors 18and this then reified and by ostension made real by the fact that his wake entailed him being laid in-vested on ice in a butcher shop for all to come by to see. This reminded me of a scene in Lola Montes, when man paid money simply to touch the woman in the cage who was famous for fucking so many lovers in high places over the years.

All in all, then, it is an odd treatment. It pretends authenticity, by its arty minimalist style, but it in fact draws away from authenticity, for a vision of the event that corresponds more closely with the public’s perception at the time that Jesse was an icon of the Old West, and he died with his boots on in a duel in a house, but it was all just another shoot out in his long career. All of the domestic tension and betrayal was elided out, except as rivalry by devotee and idol. The result is a shooting enacted like a furniturized horseback shootout, presided over by a horse picture he did not own, and then too even interjecting the idea that Jesse OKd it all, as a good way to go, and, for that, the movie serves to heroicially depict Jesse in a rather unseemly way as the legend that he was, all of which less of a character in a movie. For this, though this movie received accolades in 2007, my guess is that that came from ersatz formalist movie critics who equate slow pacing and minimalist scenery as art, and thus they mistook the look of the thing, for art, when the movie is actually even less art than I Shot Jesse James is, de-problematizing and remythologizing the heroic Jesse James.