Amoeblog

Horror, The Universal Language 4: Freedom vs. Conformity in Blind Beast (1969) & Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 17, 2010 11:52pm | Post a Comment
 blind beast poster french   invasion of the body snatchers poster

Halloween's coming, so why not continue with my horror double-feature suggestions? Although based on an early 1930s story by Edogawa RampoBlind Beast can be seen as Yasuzo Masumura's inverted take on John Fowles' abduction classic The Collector (made into a 1965 movie by William Wyler, which might've been recommended here if it were a better adaptation). Fowles' book is about class and the empty exercise of capital, in which an alienated office clerk moves up the economic ladder by winning the lottery, but remains on the outside looking in. His only passions are in the form of commodity fetishism: collecting butterflies and fantasizing about a beautiful young female artist whom he obsessively watches from afar. He uses his newfound wealth to kidnap and imprison her with the hopes that she'll discover who he truly is, you know, on the inside. But what he is is nothing more than a guy who collects things, with no more connection to those things than that they fulfill some mental checklist. His is a life reduced to reification where an emotional bond is seen as two stamps being placed together in a book.

In Blind Beast, the kidnapper, Aki, is a blind sculptor who poses as a masseur in order to get tactile inspiration for his art, surrealistic walls of female body parts. Being a sadist, Aki finds his perfect model, Michio, a woman who begins as his victim, but with the transgressive sexualization of pain (or, perhaps, the Stockholm Syndrome) is transformed into a willing masochist. As Luis Buñuel explained his attraction to surrealism:

For the first time in my life, I'd come into contact with a coherent moral system that, as far as I could tell, had no flaws. It was an aggressive morality based on the complete rejection of all existing values. We had other criteria: we exalted passion, mystification, black humor, the insult, and the call of the abyss. Inside this new territory, all our thoughts and actions seemed justifiable; there was simply no room for doubt. Everything made sense. Our morality may have been more demanding and more dangerous than the prevailing order, but it was also stronger, richer, more coherent. -- quoted here

Whereas The Collector's Frederick never sees his captive as more than an object, thereby reinforcing his own alienation, Michio's abduction is cause for an aesthetic release from objectifying social restrictions. In a spiraling dialectic of slicing and dicing, she and Aki achieve an intersubjective bond through sensuousness (more painful than I'd prefer, but you get the picture).

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Horror, The Universal Language 3: Identity in Seconds (1966) & Face of Another (1966)

Posted by Charles Reece, November 8, 2009 10:15pm | Post a Comment
 seconds poster   face of another poster

Thinking? At last I have discovered it -- thought; this alone is inseparable from me. I am, I exist -- that is certain. But for how long? For as long as I am thinking. For it could be that were I totally to cease from thinking, I should totally cease to exist. -- René Descartes' res cogitans from "Second Meditation" of Meditations on First Philosophy

In hindsight, who could've been more perfect to play the bought face in John Frankenheimer's Seconds than the most infamous of closeted actors, Rock Hudson? Irrespective of his own intrinsic make-up, Rock's bread-and-butter came from being sold as the perfect masculine physiognomy to wannabe-Doris Day housewives everywhere. As such, this film might be considered the actor's ontological biography. Here he plays the new body bought by an aging businessman who's tired of his family and life. Along with the new body comes a new social identity, that of an artist. Sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, Rock can't forget who he was/is, and when he discovers that the community he now lives in is a group of commodified identities like himself, the horror is manifested. He's the Cartesian cogito lost in a world of pure doubt, where everything is mere appearance and nothing is real, but (here's the clincher) he still has his memories. Not being able to forget the past keeps him from being able to commit to the manufactured fantasy. Consider the way such a realization can screw up sex:

This 'imagined part' becomes visible in an unpleasant experience known to most of us: in the middle of the most intense sexual act, it is possible for us all of a sudden to 'disconnect' -- all of a sudden, a question can emerge: 'What am I doing here, sweating and repeating these stupid gestures?'; pleasure can shift into disgust or into a strange feeling of distance. The key point is that, in this violent upheaval, nothing changed in reality: what caused the shift was merely the change in the other's position with regard to our phantasmic frame. -- Slavoj Žižek, "Love Thy Neighbor? No, Thanks!"

Hiroshi Teshigahara's Face of Another is even more explicit in the horror that comes when a grounding fantasy is realized as such. In a spin on Plato's invisible man fable, Mr. Okuyama (Tatsuya Nakadai) is given a realistic mask after having his face melted in a chemical explosion. The mask is modeled on another man's face, behaves like a regular face, but can be removed. The doctor who invented the mask warns Okuyama that its continued use might distance him from his self, diminishing the sense of moral responsibility (just like invisibility). His "true" face remains hidden under bandages until he applies the new one. The real misery begins when Okuyama tests his wife's fidelity to that old adage of loving one for what's on the inside. As you might expect, grotesque disfigurement wasn't doing much for his sex life, particularly given his constant depressing whine. His wife tries to be supportive, but he's not having it. Instead, he puts on the mask and seduces her as "another man." When he confronts her, she claims to have known it was him all along. But even if she's telling the truth, does it make his realization any less horrific? It suggests (going with Žižek) that she's always been making love to a fantasy based on appearances (his old face was a mask, too), rather than the internal qualities he believes to constitute his core being. He feels (quite rightly, it seems) reduced to another's "phantasmic frame." Clearly, something needs to be violently repressed; what or who will it be? To misquote Sartre, hell is intersubjectivity.

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Horror, The Universal Language 2: The Body in Videodrome (1983) & In My Skin (2002)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 27, 2009 11:51pm | Post a Comment
 videodrome poster french   in my skin poster french

Karen Conterio, founder of the in-patient "A Safe Alternative Program for the Treatment of Self-Injury" at University Hospital in Chicago, describes the average self-mutilator as intelligent and sensitive. She has low self-esteem, comes from a middle- to upper-class economic background, and began injuring herself as a preteen. Her parents are generally high-achievers who have trouble effectively communicating their feelings and often neglect their daughter's needs. -- Teen Magazine

My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist. -- Johnny "not the face" Depp

When it comes to dealing with depersonalization disorders, David Cronenberg was ahead of the curve. He's the undisputed master of the Cartesian horror film, where the self is never wholly integrated with the body. Even his recent crime film, Eastern Promises, shows such a detachment where the Russian mob doesn't trust memory, relying instead on tattoos to signify their identity. Unfortunately for them, anyone with money can get a tattoo, Megan Fox, suburban mall punks, or an undercover cop. Therein lies the problem with trusting the body: it's too easily manipulated and controlled by external forces. As any self-flagellating monk could tell you, the surest way to sin is in reducing self to the earthly constraints of body, the locus of empty spectacle.

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Horror, The Universal Language 1: Insanity in Repulsion (1965) & Clean, Shaven (1993)

Posted by Charles Reece, October 25, 2009 11:43pm | Post a Comment
In terms of movies, horror is the most philosophically rich of the various genres, generally giving a more truthful commentary on us humans than any of its generic brethren (science fiction is equally compelling as a literary genre, but it just hasn't lived up to its potential in film -- cf. Tarkovsky's religious mockery of one the great atheistic novels, Solaris, to catch my drift). Since my only costume for Halloween is a wet blanket, why not offer a series of double-feature suggestions as a way of getting into the spirit? I'm going to stay away from the ones everyone should've already seen (yes, Kubrick's The Shining is the greatest horror film ever made, end of discussion) and none by directors with the initials D.L. I plan on doing one a day, ending either with Halloween, or until I run out of categories, or I just get plumb sick of doing this. First up, the fear of the irrational, or, more appropriately, the fear of losing one's grasp on reality.

clean shaven poster   repulsion poster

A common refrain in horror film criticism since the 70s has been that the genre makes us confront the faults in the architecture of reason. This critique usually goes by the name of postmodernism and its big bugaboo by the name of the Cartesianism. René Descartes had some difficulty reconciling how all the immaterial, mental stuff was able to effect changes in all the meaty stuff we call physical, creating the primary Cartesian dichotomy called mind-body dualism. No one's figured a way out of that mess yet, but who cares since we're talking about horror movies. The important point is that Descartes tended to privilege reason over all that biological machinery, so he gets the blame for all the scientistic / instrumentalist / phallocentric / logocentric / patriarchal domination that has supposedly developed since the 17th Century. (I remain skeptical of this demonization of the Rationalists for the simple reason that I'd prefer to live after the Enlightenment than before it.)

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