Amoeblog

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.

The Besson Touch: Colombiana (2011) & Taken (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, September 4, 2011 10:02am | Post a Comment
 columbiana poster  

I caught both of these films the past week, Colombiana at the theater and Taken on blu-ray. The former was directed by Olivier Megaton, the latter by Pierre Morel, but it's the scenarist as auteur who interests me. Although both were co-written by Robert Mark Kamen, I mean the other scenarist who also served as the producer, Luc Besson. If there's something like pure cinema, Besson specializes in pure entertainment. He's unconcerned with any realworld attachment to his cinematic diegeses. His heroes exist in a hermetic reality where all the laws of physics are on their side, cooperating with whatever stunt they're performing, ensuring their success. The only moral code is to be the one performing the violence, not receiving it. This recently resulted in a protest from Colombian-Americans regarding the Besson-world Colombia, filled only with really bad drug dealers killing a couple of really bad drug dealers who happen to love their daughter. Loving little girls is about the only good act in Besson morality, no matter what else one might do for a living (cf. The Professional or Wasabi). Typically that love is expressed through teaching the girl how to perform violence (La Femme Nikita), or to use your professional killing skills to protect her (again, The Professional). In other words, love is violence. 

The present examples are no exception: Taken is about a retired black ops hatchetman for the US going on a rampage through France to rescue his kidnapped daughter from Albanian slave-traders. Colombiana is about the aforementioned daughter from Bolota escaping to Chicago where she meets up with her assassin uncle, who trains her to be a hired killer -- the purpose of which is to eventually exact revenge on the people who killed her parents. Besson, of course, loves assassins, particularly of the young, lithe, winsome and female variety. But that's not what really sets his cornball action tales apart; it's his little flourishes of perversity that I'm calling the Besson Touch.

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