Amoeblog

Incestern: Pursued (1947)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 27, 2013 06:54pm | Post a Comment
pursued poster italian

Just watched this on blu-ray. As Martin Scorsese says in his introduction, Pursued is known as the first Western Noir. That's because it features cinematography by James Wong Howe, one of the best at conveying the menace of the big city through its shadows (cf. Sweet Smell of Success), and here he treats the alleys (or, maybe, just alley) of the small town in New Mexico as if it were every bit as dangerous as New York's hidden arteries. He even gets claustrophobic configurations off of barns in the middle of the day. Contemporary Westerners could learn a thing or two from him, too, about how to shoot a man on a horse: counter the heroic three-quarter shots with ones of his reduced significance against an infinite landscape. Another noirish characteristic is Robert Mitchum, as Jeb Rand, narrating the movie through a diddly-diddly flashback as if everything's preordained (cf. Out of the Past) with his present situation the only possible world. Along with the flashback comes a lot of Freudian-inspired psychosexual plot twists that were really popular among scenarists of the time. 'Solid' is as good a word as any to describe director Raoul Walsh, so it's the sexual suggestions that make the film into something a bit more special (which I'm guessing came from Nevin Busch's script). His matter-of-fact style adds to the perversity, whereby all the questionable emotional entanglements seem commonplace.

After losing his family to a blood feud with the Callums, Jeb is taken in at a very early age by Mrs. Callum, who raises the boy as a son. She has two children around the same age as Jeb, daughter Thor (short for Thorley) and son Adam. Jeb's only memory of life as a Rand is that he keeps his name and has a recurring nightmare of a spurred boot heel grinding into the ground. Everything else is repressed, but that doesn't matter to the one-armed stranger, Grant Callum, whose only goal in life is to erase the name Rand from existence. Along with occasionally taking a shot himself, Grant acts as a slick talking demiurge, convincing others to help him kill Jeb -- one of whom is Adam. Not that this was particularly difficult, since the selfish prick has held a long simmering animosity against Jeb whom he sees as an intruder. What his adopted brother intruded on was the two-way relation with Thor. These three kids are raised in a ranch version of Flowers in the Attic with few contacts but each other and Mrs. Callum. Leaving Adam a third wheel, Thor and Jeb eventually fall in love and decide to get hitched -- as if one can freely choose to no longer see one's sibling as a sibling. To reinforce this incestuous theme, it's revealed that the reason Grant hates Jeb so much is that the boy's father stole Mrs. Callum away from Grant's brother (Adam and Thor's father) ... that's right, just like Jeb stole Thor away from her brother. Furthermore, the narrative never makes it clear who the boy's biological mother is or when Mrs. Callum's affair took place and how long it lasted. All we know is that Grant sure wants to get rid of the Rand boy. Maybe he would've been doing Thor's future children a favor, but we'll never know for sure due to the sibling union being treated with the Production Code's mandated happy ever after.

Transgressively Yours

Posted by Charles Reece, October 20, 2013 03:03pm | Post a Comment

susan mcnamara richard kern my nightmare


I recently wrote an essay taking a perverse perspective on this comic book called Fukitor. It mixes questionable views on sex and race in a comedic manner that, I believe, undermines any straightforward reading of the book as mere support for white male power (the straightforward approach caused a brief controversy here and here). But, because it clearly revels within genres that are exploitative, the comic could hardly be thought to be clearly promoting good progressive values, either. Without a doubt, the book contains images of bigotry, but it's no more a sympathetic portrayal of white male privilege than a film like Fight for Your Life. All the white men in the book are knuckledragging imbeciles, but the comic (like said film) uses the bigotry for comedy, which is just too much for some people.

Being a fan of exploitation and not a fan of bigotry, it seems to me that the disagreement over exploitative imagery has more to do with the political demands one places on art rather than any necessary disagreement over politics itself. I don’t need to agree with the ideology of the art (whether or not it’s actually the view of the artist) to find some enjoyment there. In fact, like Groucho Marx, I'm skeptical of anyone who pats me on the back. Karns’ critics, however, seem to oppose his comics based on the fact that they aren’t expressing a correct view. I’m not the least bit sympathetic, for example, to Martin Wisse’s view on transgression ('transgression' being the word for 'exploitation' that lends it intellectual respectability):

Continue reading...

One Bad Day: Breaking Bad, The Killing Joke & Something or Other about Mark Millar

Posted by Charles Reece, October 2, 2013 09:48am | Post a Comment
breaking bad: jesse reacts to andrea's murder

As if you don't know, that there is Jesse Pinkham from Breaking Bad having one very fucked up day (in the episode "Granite State"). He's just witnessed his ex-girlfriend, Andrea, get knocked off by Todd, whom Jesse has appositely summed up as "that dead-eyed Opie piece of shit." Todd belongs to criminal clan of ratio-instrumentalist racist rednecks and he's the least emotional of the bunch when it comes to taking care of business. He shot a child witness last season without flinching, now terrorizes Skyler by threatening to kill her baby girl Holly should anything come out to the cops about Lydia (Todd's crush and criminal business partner), followed by murdering Andrea to prove a point. The point being that Jesse better keep cooking meth for Lydia and the rednecks or he'll kill Andrea's boy, Brock, just as easily as he did his mother. Contrary to the cannibalistic hillbilly savages that Hollywood tends to depict the under-employed and -privileged white Southerner as, Uncle Jack's family are real cold motherfuckers. Everything is about profit and risk assessment. They are the smartest criminals in the the entire five season run of the show. And they're probably the most evil, too, for that same reason.

Andrea's murder is the most heinous of all in a story that has featured many, many murders. Why? Because of its iniquity: she was killed because of what it would mean to Jesse, not because -- as was the case in killing Hank or even the boy witness last season -- she had anything on Todd's family or business associates. In terms of the criminal ratiocination that makes up the show's diegesis, her death was the most unfair. Hank was actively going against the criminals, so chose to put his life at risk. And the boy on a bike, at least potentially, had knowledge that might've been actively used against Walt, Todd and the others. Andrea had nothing on which to ever actively go against the rednecks. Instead, she was killed as pure means to an end of which she had absolutely no knowledge or ability (potential or actual) to alter as a free agent -- that end being the continuance of Uncle Jack's family business. Her death was pure collateral damage, in other words. Hank went out with honor, accepting his fate as a result of trying to live as a moral agent, Andrea's life was simply used by others.

Continue reading...

Breaking Bad Maintained Course and Didn't Get Lost

Posted by Charles Reece, September 30, 2013 08:34am | Post a Comment
breaking bad finale walt dying

I found every final showdown Walt had, including with himself, to be emotionally satisfying, maintaining a consistency in characterization to the very end. I'm sure some will say it was all too pat and wrapped up, but the show was never big on narrative realism (it was, however, great at the psychological variety). Besides, the opposite criticism was made of The Sopranos, so there's no way Vince Gilligan and team could satisfy everyone. Also, was the final shot a big raspberry blown at the most notoriously disappointing finale in TV history? To wit:

lost finale jack dying

His Mother's Voice: Only God Forgives' Feminism

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2013 06:10am | Post a Comment
only god forgives poster gosling bruised

"In the beginning, in the uterine night, was the voice, that of the Mother." [p. 74]

That line is from Michel Chion, borrowed from Kaja Silverman's The Acoustic Mirror, since it could easily have served as the epigraph for the psychodynamic plot of Nicolas Refn's Only God Forgives. In Bangkok, Julian (Ryan Gosling), a man-child, is all seething impotency under matriarchal oppression (Crystal, played by Kristin Scott Thomas), yearning to be punished by patriarchal law (Chang, aka the Angel of Vengeance, played by Vithaya Pansringarm). Julian is without a father figure, since he murdered him at Crystal's insistence some time prior to the current story. Her maternal control is a smothering totality that's produced this one son who can't make any decision without mother's approval and his older brother, Billy, who proves his virile independence by brutalizing and killing adolescent prostitutes. The Oedipal theme could hardly be more explicit as she incestuously traces the muscles on Julian's arm or discusses with his dinner date how he has the smaller cock of the two brothers. After Billy is killed at Chang's insistence for the murder of a girl prostitute (the police commander actually makes the father of the girl do the deed), Crystal demands that her surviving son exact familial revenge, regardless of what Billy might've done. This seems to keep with Chion's description of the uterine voice of the mother as an "umbilical net," which he considers "a horrifying expression, since it evokes a cobweb."

Refn expresses this uterine trap through Lynchian styled oneiric cinematography: a voyeuristic camera follows Julian's imaginary wandering down sanguine hallways without an exit. It's not the male gaze that haunts his dreams, however, but his mother's. Despite being trapped in this seemingly endless tunnel, he also desires a reconnection with with the womb as he moves forward, reaching into the darkness. His hope of a maternal reconnection is cutoff when the dream image of Chang, the substitute father, performs symbolic castration with a sword that severs Julian's arm just below the elbow. This is, as Silverman might explain it, a Lacanian version of the Oedipal: the child yearns for an imaginary union with the mother, but the father says, "No," which introduces the kid into the symbolic register where laws, such as moral injunctions, operate. This original 'no' is the law of the father, a symbolic castration that "grounds" (interpretatively retrofits) all future symbolic behavior on a fundamental lack that has removed the child's feeling of being the center of everything -- i.e., that comforting blanket of squishy sonority that surrounded Julian in the womb, before he became old enough to realize what a repressive force his mother is. Thus, he has typical mommy issues, which are made more troubling by the fact that she's a treacherous drug-dealing crime lord.

Continue reading...
BACK  <<  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  >>  NEXT