Honky-Tonk Angels: Martyrs (2008)

Posted by Charles Reece, April 25, 2010 10:24pm | Post a Comment

I wanted to interpret a hymn to the triumph of the soul over life. What streams out to the possibly moved spectator in strange close-ups is not accidentally chosen. All these pictures express the character of the person they show and the spirit of that time. In order to give the truth, I dispensed with “beautification.” [...] 

Rudolf Maté, who manned the camera, understood the demands of psychological drama in the close-ups and he gave me what I wanted, my feeling and my thought: realized mysticism. But in Falconetti, who plays Joan, I found what I might, with very bold expression, allow myself to call “the martyr’s reincarnation.”
-- Carl Th. Dreyer on The Passion of Joan of Arc 

Torture is not the point of Martyrs. The film deals with human pain, the meaning of it, which is something completely different.
-- writer-director Pascal Laugier

My attraction to repulsion occasionally yields a transgressive masterpiece, but, more often than not, it's just proof of a strong emotive fortitude combined with some twisted prurience that I never grew out of -- that is, a willingness to endure aesthetic defilement. Despite all the highfalutin cant that's been written about it, I doubt sublimity is the prime selling point for Un Chien Andalou. But I'm with the Marquis de Sade in that art has no obligation to depict virtues. Morality enters into our relation with the art, however reprehensible it might be. The intrinsic morality of the art is but one side of the dialog. It is for this simple reason that I don't support obscenity laws of any sort. The desideratum of Nekromantik needs no more of a defense for its existence than Jennifer Aniston's current love interest. So, with that in mind, I caught up with some of the fairly recent horror films coming out of France; to see what, if anything, they say to me. First up is Martyrs, easily the nastiest of the bunch, so it's only uphill from here.
martyrs morjana alaoui   passion of joan of arc maria falconetti

spoiler alert!

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Flossin' Season - Leprechaun Movies, Music, &c

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 17, 2010 12:30pm | Post a Comment

Vintage Leprechauns

Vintage St. Patrick's Day
LeprechaunEveryone knows a couple of things about leprechauns (aka lurachmain, Vintage Leprechaunlurican, leprechawn, lepracaun, leprechaun, lubberkin and lurgadhan). They’re small, tricky gingers that, if caught, will show you the money. One theory about the word’s origin is that it comes from luacharma'n (or luchorpán), the Irish word for “pygmy.” Another theory is that the word is derived from leath bhrogan, meaning “shoemaker.” Not as many people know but leprechauns usually find employment as cobblers or shoemakers. Presumably they make and repair the shoes of other faerie folk and Tuatha Dé Danann, because how else could they make money off each other if they all practice the same trade? And leprechauns make money. If you lay your eyes on one, don’t look away or they’ll vanish.

Although the Irish believe that leprechauns emigrated from the island of Fir Bolg, they’ve nonetheless become one of the most common stereotypical images of Eire, along with that Romano-British Englishman, Sanctus Patricius, whose saint day is (of course) today.

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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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