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.

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