Amoeblog

The Marriage Plot: Lucky McKee and Jack Ketchum's The Woman (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 16, 2011 10:29pm | Post a Comment
the woman poster

Having never seen Offspring (Andrew van den Houten and Jack Ketchum's adaptation of the latter's novel about a Northeastern cannibalistic kin, who first appeared in the book Off-Season), I took its sequel's opening pre-credit sequence to be a phantasmagoric continuation of I Spit On Your Grave where the eponymous Woman retreated into nature after having escaped the tyranny of Man and patriarchal culture. Surely, Lucky McKee and Ketcham's The Woman is more than an accidental synecdoche for the original title of Meir Zarchi's classic, Day of the Woman. Their film is, at its core, another rape-revenge film, but with the twist that the victim is feral, so outside of man's law. The misogynistic repression perforce comes from a different place than horror's generic South, since its resident hayseed hordes are uncultured and would likely sympathize with the bestial Woman. Zarchi's victim-protagonist Jennifer HIll, on the other hand, was an urbane writer who had culture stripped from her by barbarous rednecks. The Woman has just as much dirt under her fingernails as those rednecks, her language isn't much more than a growl, plus she's a cannibal (a taboo even greater than the use of the contraction "y'all"). Therefore, her victimization is a form of structural violence, that which is the repressed base of the status quo. The central fear expressed by The Woman isn't in having the Woman's culture dismantled (as it was for Jennifer) -- for she is pure cultural Other and has none -- but that cultural normativity is structured around the primordial violence she represents. Hillbillies can't victimize her any more than animals can victimize other animals, but the nuclear family can in the same way that a suburban adolescent might torture a cat.

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Choking Whiteness: Bone aka Housewife (1972)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 10, 2011 03:21am | Post a Comment
bone housewife poster


Given my recent essay on Whiteness in alien invasion flicks, I can't think of a better film example than Larry Cohen's Bone (aka Housewife) that demonstrates the way Whiteness is defined negatively through its imaginary other, Blackness. So here's a review from the past of that movie:

Replace the repressed white male anger of Fight Club with that of the repressed white housewife’s in order to explore the terrain of Jungle Fever and you get the gist of writer/director Larry Cohen’s debut. Instead of fitting squarely within the genre of blaxploitation, the film examines some of the stereotypical representations of the black male which helped make the genre possible to begin with. 

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Cultural Vegetables vs. Cultural Vegetables: Audience-Proof vs. Critic-Proof Movies

Posted by Charles Reece, September 26, 2011 01:21am | Post a Comment
bela tarr   michael bay
Béla Tarr                                                                         Michael Bay

A few months ago, when reading about Meek's Cutoff, I ran across an essay by Dan Kois titled "Eating Your Cultural Vegetables." It's one of those confessional pieces by a professional critic where he boldly claims to not like some unpopular art to his audience, most of whom probably share his distaste (otherwise they'd be reading someone else). Novelist Jonathan Franzen wrote something similar back in 2002 regarding difficult literature (that is, all of this has gone on before). In response, there predictably came the defenders of the boring aesthetic and experimental writing. Of course, an argument between Franzen and someone like Ben Marcus isn't exactly an entrenched battle line drawn between low and high culture (albeit some critics do dismiss the former as middlebrow because of his focus on the bourgeoisie). And, similarly, how far off is Kois' general aesthetic from Manohla Dargis or A.O. Scott?From what I've read of them, I suspect not much. At least Marcus does write truly experimental fiction that's not as immediately forthcoming to his reader as Franzen's own stories, but Andrei Tarkovsky's narratives aren't particularly difficult to understand, just slow (e.g., Stanislaw Lem's Solaris was, if anything, conventionalized by the filmmaker, removing the invented scientific and philosophical papers through which the story unfolded). The same can be said of Kelly Reichhardt (who also directed Old Joy and Wendy and Lucy). Contrary to Kois, I didn't find her Meek's Cutoff boring; it's slow, yes, but undergirded with a tension, a potential threat of death, that never lets up. I'd call it slow burn dread, an affect not unlike what's felt in Claude Chabrol's Les Bonnes Femmes or Takashi Miike's Audition.

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Mighty White of You: Juxtaposing Cowboys & Aliens and Attack the Block

Posted by Charles Reece, September 12, 2011 09:06am | Post a Comment
What follows is a slightly altered version of a two-part series of posts I recently wrote, now combined as my entry for Pussy Goes Grrr's Juxtaposition Blogathon

juxtaposition blogathon

In the realm of categories, black is always marked as a color [...], and is always particularizing; whereas white is not anything really, not an identity, not a particularizing quality, because it is everything -- white is no color because it is all colors. This property of whiteness, to be everything and nothing, is the source of its representational power.
-- p. 127, Richard Dyer's "White" from The Matter of Images


Reading Dyer's above quoted essay reminded me of the classic Saturday Night Live skit where Eddie Murphy went undercover as a white man to discover what whiteness is really like. He receives a free newspaper, gets cash from a bank without any credit and, once the city bus is free of minorities, the whites have a party. Instead of whiteness being the default or normative position from which every other ethnicity is otherness, Murphy's blackness is the norm and whiteness is seen as excess.

A less ironic and more recent example of what Dyer's getting at is the colorizing of Marvel's superheroes: Nick Fury is black in the films and Ultimate line; the Ultimate version of Peter Parker was killed off and replaced by a half black, half latino kid named Miles Morales; Kingpin was played by a black man in the Daredevil film; and more controversial among the Aryan supremacists was the decision to make the Norse god Heimdall black in the Thor film. The difference here between whiteness and otherness is that Peter Parker isn't first marked as white, second as Spider-Man, but Miles Morales is foremost a mixed ethnicity and secondly a superpowered human. If he were to live with his aunt at a near poverty level, that would be part of his ethnic narrative, whereas it's not really a part of Peter's being white. For Peter, those are qualities which merely help the audience sympathize with his struggle as an individual (they aren't anything but dramatic attributes within a particular narrative). The white narrative, through its dominance, seen as normative, is hidden, only revealed by contrast with what falls outside, or underneath.

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Mighty White of You 2: Attack the Block (2011)

Posted by Charles Reece, September 11, 2011 11:02pm | Post a Comment
 attack the block poster

[Attack the Block] would start like an Abel Ferrara film or a Michael Winner film with this archetypal situation, this deliberately stereotypical situation and then this thing would fall from the sky and everything would change. And you would start the process of humanizing and exploring and dimensionalizing the characters. That was absolutely the inspiration.
-- Writer-Director Joe Cornish

Attack the Block begins with the mugging of a young white woman named Sam by a group of South London teenage thugs in hoodies. In contrast to a "stereotypical situation" from Winner or Ferrara, the process of humanizing the gang was already implicitly underway before the audience learns anything else about the characters: Sam is neither raped nor killed, only loses her purse. That is, thieves are a lot more human than rapists or murderers (e.g., Cary Grant was allowed to play the former in To Catch a Thief, but the studio insisted that Hitchcock absolve Ray Milland of wife killing in Dial M for Murder). Identification won't prove too taxing, since a falling alien disrupts the event, unburdening the empathic bond between audience and the criminals we'll be asked to feel as heroic later on (nevertheless, some still had a problem with the film's anti-heroes). The position of "Whiteness" is, for the present film, about class, the structural haves and have-nots: Sam is a nurse in training with an economic future; the gang members have to take what they need. She'll move away from the area after residency; the gang is stuck there. As with Cowboys & Aliens, the fantasy of extraterrestrial invasion erases the structural conflict, the leftover being what unifies the two represented classes, namely their jointly held humanity. Sam eventually joins her former attackers (the plot if you want it), reasoning that she's safer with them than alone against the (true) aliens.

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