Amoeblog

SAM FULLER'S CIGARS 3

Posted by Charles Reece, November 23, 2009 08:31am | Post a Comment
An aging hero (Barry Sullivan) stares down a youthful outlaw:




But what is he fixated on?



The villain's pistol, of course:



Violence in the Old West. Forty Guns is available on dvd.

 

SAM FULLER'S CIGARS 2

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2009 11:48pm | Post a Comment
 

Before there were gyms: Men being men to an off-camera balladeer singing, "You may find that the woman with a whip is only a woman after all." One of the all-time greatest Westerns, Forty Guns is available on dvd.

SAM FULLER'S CIGARS 1

Posted by Charles Reece, November 22, 2009 09:13pm | Post a Comment
 

There's something vaguely Freudian about the way Cuddles (Dolores Dorn) cools down with some ice. Image from Underworld U.S.A., available in The Samuel Fuller Collection.

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
    

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.

Face of Another is available as part of Criterion's boxset for Teshigahara, along with 2 other uplifting tales from scenarist and novelist Kôbô Abe, Pitfall and Woman in The Dunes. Seconds is unfortunately out of print (in the U.S., at least), but it ain't too hard to find.

Next up, freedom versus conformity.

Part 1
Part 2

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
    

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.

Where once vivisection was performed on animals just to see the parts move -- having no soul, their pain was dismissed as illusory -- Marina de Van's In My Skin vividly details the same experimental procedure when logically applied to one's own body. The film is ambiguous regarding the causes for its protagonist's condition, and instead asks if there's anything in bourgeois existence that might help her reconnect. The answer isn't positive, but there's some great, verisimilitudinous use of CGI.

Pornography is a good metaphor for this disjunct as it takes the most primal unison of mind and body, namely coitus, and reduces it to mere physical excretion. In Cronenberg's Videodrome, the ontology of self is supplanted by a porn video simulation, rendering the individuated act of sex a reproducible commodity. In one of the most memorable scenes, James Woods' body becomes a gooey VCR into which the new mass identity is inserted. Where cyberpunk suggested a lossless transference of consciousness into an immaterial, digital realm, Cronenberg shows something more horrific, the body as pure machinery being controlled by the fading analog input of a corporation -- "new flesh," as it's called in the film, or newspeak for manufactured consciousness. Even the cutter's use of self-mutilation to return some proprioceptive sense of the body is rendered ineffective by reducing pain to images in a snuff film. That's transubstantiation under capitalism.

Videodrome is available on a swell dvd by Criterion and In My Skin's dvd contains a really good short by de Van.

Next up, the other half, identity.

Part 1
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