Why Silent Hill is Feminist Dark Comedy Disguised as Horror, By Guest Blogger Klingon Vanna White

Posted by The Bay Area Crew, June 2, 2015 07:37pm | Post a Comment

The Amoeblog welcomes guest blogger Klingon Vanna White, a self-proclaimed "Blingon" and outcast from the planet Kronos. To find out more about Klingon Vanna White, visit her website

What do Walking Dead’s Andrea, the Borg Queen, the antihero female navigator from Pitch Black, and the beloved beheaded dad from Game of Thrones, Ned Stark, all have in common? Did the title give it away like perchance, a spoiler? Well Silent Hill is from 2006; if you’re into horror, you’re adult-esque so don’t cry over spilled plot lines from a nine-year-old movie. Maybe you should watch it now. Maybe you’re the kind of person who would enjoy pointing out all my mistakes to justify your existence. I wrote this whole essay from memory. You’re welcome. Let’s get started.

In Silent Hill, pretty much every line is spoken by a female character. Never once do you feel like you’re being patronized in some Fried Green Tomatoes-Traveling Pants-50 Shades of Grey FOR THE LADIES movie kind of way (I haven’t seen any of these movies but I know I hate them). In fact, you don’t even notice it until weeks later and you’re all, OMFG that movie passed the Bechdel test like 500 times and I didn’t even know I was watching a lady movie the entire time!!!!

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Female Experimental Filmmakers: A Noncomprehensive A-Z

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 18, 2015 12:27pm | Post a Comment


There are almost as many types of experimental films as there are experimental filmmakers. Many of them come to film from different directions than conventional filmmakers -- weaving together psychology, painting, dance, poetry, literature, theater, sculpture, and other fields. This being Women's History Month, I thought I'd have a crack at compiling a list of some of the names with which I'm familiar. If you have additions you'd like me to insert, let me know in the comments. 


Amy Greenfield was born 8 July, 1950 in Boston. She is an originator of the cine-dance genre, her namefor her artistic intersection of experimental film and dance. In addition to film she's created holographic moving sculptures, live multimedia pieces, poetry, and video installations.


Bady Minck was born in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg. She studied sculpture at the Academy of Fine Arts and experimental film at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. Her debut, 1988's Der Mensch mit den modernen Nerven, was screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 1989. Minck today divides her time between Luxembourg and Vienna.

All-Female Bands of the 1970s -- Happy Women's History Month!

Posted by Eric Brightwell, March 4, 2015 09:31pm | Post a Comment

I wrote a post on all-female bands from the 1910s-1950s, and a post covering all-female bands of the 1960s -- here's my attempt at a conclusive A-Z (and other alphabets) of all-female bands of the 1970s. Details are often sketchy or non-existent and as always corrections and contributions are appreciated!


Die Atztussis were an anarcho-punk band from the Kreuzberg section of West Berlin, active at least as early as 1979 when they played the Antifaschistischen Festival. The members were Cordula (vocals), Kiki (bass), Menusch (guitar), and Petra (drums).


'B' Girls in 1977 (image source: Rodney Bowes)

Cynthia Ross, Lucasta Rochas, Marcy Saddy, and Rhonda Ross formed 'B' Girls in Toronto in 1977. Although they recorded a handful of demos, they only released one single, "Fun At The Beach," on BOMP! in 1979. Roaches was replaced by Xenia Holiday before they broke up in 1981 or ’82. A collection of their recordings were released as Who Says Girls Can't Rock in 1997.



BeBe K’Roche were formed in Berkeley by Jake Lampert, Pamela "Tiik" Pollet, Peggy Mitchell, and Virginia Rubino in 1973. They released one single, “Hoodoo’d,” and an eponymous LP in 1976 on Los Angeles’s Olivia Records.


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His Mother's Voice: Only God Forgives' Feminism

Posted by Charles Reece, September 2, 2013 06:10am | Post a Comment

"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.

By substituting the maternal voice for "the word" in John 1:1, Chion associates, as Silverman argues, the former with pure, formless sound while reinforcing the meaningful sound of words with the paternal (the absent father in this case). Although, in terms of origin story, unlike the Bible, he places the maternal voice prior to the paternal word, this hardly makes for a reconsideration of the importance of motherhood in shaping subjectivity, in placing the child into the symbolic order, since "this anteriority implies primitiveness rather than privilege." [p. 75] After the aforementioned dinner where his dick size is ridiculed, his date Mai, a prostitute he regularly hires as his only significant relationship (see Madonna-whore complex), asks why he lets Crystal talk to him like that. He answers, "because she's my mother." The sex Julian pays for doesn't involve ejaculation, only slight arousal by being tied down to a chair while he watches Mai. His only outlets from existential impotence comes in the form of rage: various violent acts and hysterically screaming at Mai the way he'd like to scream at his mother. As Silverman puts it: "Trapped within the suffocating confinement of the mother's voice, the newborn child resembles a prisoner or prey." [p. 75] And from there, predictably, a bunch of online articles decry the film as "misogynist." (How much longer before all countries follow Australia's lead in officially redefining this word as a two-bit synonym for 'sexism'?) But is it? Furthermore, is it even anti-feminist?

Contrary to the tendency in cinema criticized by Silverman where "the discursive potency of the male voice is established by stripping the female voice of all claim to verbal authority," [p. 77] the person doing most of the talking in this movie is Crystal. She controls and manipulates others through her words, by possessing a quicker wit and more commanding voice than all the men around her. Chang, the other pole of authority, is a man of few words. He doesn't have to verbally manipulate anyone since his position as police commander grants him all power he needs over others. When searching for who put a hit on him (i.e., Crystal), he isn't one for Sherlock Holmes' discursive method of deduction, instead preferring the brutal use of sharp metallic objects. Ethically, Crystal might be just as bad or worse, but she certainly fulfills Silverman's goal "to speak about a desire which challenges dominance from within representation and meaning, rather than from the place of a mutely resistant biology or sexual 'essence.'" [p. 124]  How else could she be the only verbally dominating character without being so within the supposedly patriarchal realm of the symbolic, where "representation and meaning" operate? 

Julian's situation isn't all that different from George Toles' take on Psycho's Norman Bates: "The law of the mother is the only law he has ever encountered or complied with." [p. 191] Norman killed his literal mother, but slipped into her skin by dressing like her and adopting her gaze to the degree that anything he does or sees is ultimately being controlled by this imaginary bodily reunion with her. "The tiniest assertion of a male prerogative to stare where he chooses is promptly checked [...] by the unappeasable Puritan matriarch built into his gaze." [p. 192] "Mother Bates" makes Norman feel guilty for looking at a "whore" through his peephole, whereas Crystal reduces Julian's prostitute girlfriend to a "cumbucket." It's the female gaze that follows him through those dreamy red halls. Maybe he requires being tied down while he watches sexual acts to prevent what happened to poor Marion Crane when Norman became aroused. Julian gets his chance to slip into his dead mother's skin, too, quite literally, when he slides his hand into the open wound Chang has sliced into her womb. When he goes to accept his punishment from Chang (limb removal, of course), it seems less like he's finally identified with the patriarchal voice than accepting responsibility for his family's crimes (unlike Norman who is last seen hiding behind the maternal voice). 

Downton Rapey?

Posted by Charles Reece, March 8, 2013 10:08am | Post a Comment

Lady Mary Crawley

The porn debate is underscored by two fundamentally antagonistic views of the purpose of law in society. 

The first view, to which pro-sex feminists subscribe, is that law should protect choice. "A woman's body, a woman's right" applies to every peaceful activity a woman chooses to engage in. The law should come into play only when a woman initiates force or has force initiated against her. The second view, to which both conservatives and anti-porn feminists subscribe, is that law should protect virtue. It should come into play whenever there has been a breach of public morality, or a breach of "women's class interests.
-- Wendy McElroy, "A Feminist Defense of Pornography"

I recently watched the French documentary Mutantes: Punk Porn Feminism, which contains interviews with women who participate in and/or support what you'd think based on the title. One of the main points Virginie Despentes makes with her film is that much of the antagonism the sex trade continues to face is rooted in an old fashioned patriarchal control of women's bodies. It's as if the entire familial tradition would crumble if women were allowed to do with their bodies what they want, giving sex away for free or for cash. This same notion can be seen in pop culture in the way rape tends to be seen as the worst thing that one can do to a fictional female victim, not murder. The contamination of a woman's body, the violation of her "virtue" is too evil to face, rather just kill her and get it over with. And, despite how much I love the subgenre, the same might be said of rape-revenge films, even those with an ostensible feminist message (e.g., I Spit on Your Grave), as if the moral equation balances out with the quid pro quo of rape and murderous vengeance. But the feminist view here (at least the right one) is that a woman shouldn't have virtue forced on her, solely defined by others to have her live as they see fit. This is McElroy's quoted distinction in the two views of law, which accurately places certain feminists on the side of traditional conservatives.

Concern for social constraints is, of course, the central dramatic structure of Downton Abbey. The appeal of the "period piece" mostly comes down to modern audiences feeling secure in no longer subscribing to such otiose moralisms while feeling bad for the poor wretches having to live in those unenlightened times. I became fascinated by the show's minimalist, opiated approach to soap opera. The issues that come up are barely issues at all ("we're going to lose Downton and have to move into a smaller estate!"). Something happens to a character; out of decorum that character fears telling anyone; the secret is revealed anyway, but the resolution is that no one particularly cares. That's pretty much the show, methadone for people trying to ween themselves off of melodrama (and period pieces, for that matter). So I was surprised to discover that I'd dozed through the show's depiction of a vicious rape scene. ... Or that's what passed for obvious on some blogs that I read after disputing the issue with Sean Michael Robinson.

Kemal Pamuk

Rather than go quote-for-quote with these other blogs (search for 'Downton Abbey' and 'rape', e.g., here and here), I'm just going to offer my  own reading of the scene in question: Series 1, Episode 3, beginning at 27:00. Kemal Pamuk, a Turkish diplomat is brought to Downton for a visit with the Crawleys by mutual friend Evelyn Napier, during which he aggressively pursues the Lady Mary, visits her bedroom and doesn't take 'no' for a final answer, only to die of a heart attack during the throes of passion. I suspect most people read the show the way it was intended, as a young woman giving in to her desire when given a secretive opportunity, and not as a radical justification of rape, or an example of socalled "rape culture" (which is a tawdry rhetorical term meant to shut up any possible objections, i.e., you don't see this as rape, because you've been rape enculturated). The rape thesis is dependent on reading fear into Mary's face, not granting any subtext to her use of 'no' and her supposed inability to cry out for help. As this blog should indicate, I don't have a general problem with ideological and/or counterintuitive readings (I love them, in fact), but I do when they're demonstrably wrong. So this will be a defense of commonsense (what the show explicitly provides), because sometimes that's exactly what's called for. Covering each of the three points in turn:

Instead of fear, I, like many others, registered her face as one of shock at Pamuk's advances and worry at being publicly shamed should she act on her desires and be discovered. With only a frame, it's ambiguous:

She protests: "You and my parents have something in common. You believe I'm much more of a rebel than I am." But the scene doesn't stop here, there's a continuity of images with movements, actions and reactions, such as this:

I don't think there's much ambiguity there. That is not fear, nor the learned helplessness of some traumatized bunny. However, for the literally minded, she does say among her pants, "now, please go." But Japanese pink cinema this ain't: she wants what Pamuk is offering (which may or may not be coitus -- the show leaves it to our imagination), so the two fall to the bed, even though Mary continues: "I'm not what you think I am. If it's my mistake … if I've led you on, then I'm sorry, but … I'm not …."

They begin to kiss more and Mary asks, "won't it hurt? Is it safe?" Pamuk answers, "trust me," and the scene ends with a passionate embrace:

The intent, however one might wish to read the look of her face in a few frames, is quite clearly that she's not afraid and is actually desirous of Pamuk's advances. So why say, "no"? This gets back to the quote that I began with. This is the law, or the collection of social constraints, speaking through Mary, because that's what's expected of her. She's not the rebel of the family -- that would be her youngest sister, Sybil, who runs off with a Marxist chauffeur and publishes radical suffragette pamphlets. The scene wouldn't work the same way with her, since she wouldn't be attracted to this asshole and would've told him to go fuck himself. No, Mary is the oldest sister, concerned with upholding the traditions of Downton and the aristocracy (which makes her an asshole, too). But the girl still has desires, society or no society, and is, in fact, envious of Sybil's freedom, which she makes explicit in the Christmas special for series 2: "Sybil's the strong one. She really doesn't care what people think, but I'm afraid I do." Mary is supposed to say certain things and is supposed to like certain types of guys. Her dramatic conflicts are rooted in the character trait 'dutiful', of which 'concern for virtue' is a distinctive feature. So no matter how much she might want to have sex, she's not supposed to explicitly express that.

And what of Pamuk, the cad? In a world where his potential love interests -- the class of women he's allowed to be interested in -- aren't allowed to be literal and explicit in their desires, he has to apply some subtextual criticism. This situation, where a lady is surrounded by acceptable suitors competing for her attention is seen earlier in the episode when Mary is surrounded like a fox in a hunt by Pamuk, Evelyn and Matthew. It's a genteel version of a wolf pack, so there's a reason why Pamuk attracts Mary's attention instead of his politely docile competitors, you know? He's better at reading the women in his environment than others. He knows that Mary is expected to say no to his advances, or as he says to her: "You are just what I think you are." The audience is supposed to prefer Matthew because he's the liberalized bourgeois substitute -- not the capitalist thuggery of Sir Richard Carlisle (whom Mary almost marries for reasons of duty), but enough of a modern democrat to bridge the gap between aristocratic ways and contemporary beliefs.

As the show increasingly liberalizes the Crawleys over the three series (acceptance of Sybil's Marxist husband, acceptance of homosexuality, being amazingly tolerant of any questionable choices the staff makes, etc.), it becomes more of a white washed apologetic for what was in reality an odious social arrangement. At least, in series 1, when the butt of all the jokes is Matthew and his mother, there's a hint as to what kind of family we're supposed to find sympathetic and likable in this representation. This class of people was raised to be assholes, was attracted to other assholes and generally behaved like assholes. Pretending otherwise is where the show really becomes immoral (if one insists on treating the show as if it's making a serious commentary about reality). If anything, it's Mary's eventual attraction to Matthew that's forced on her. That's what should be protested.

So why would Mary not cry out if she were truly fearful? The other view suggests that she's concerned with her virtue and how it might be socially tarnished if it were discovered that a man was in her room (even if uninvited). But it's pretty clear from the show that Mary's parents always support their daughter (e.g., upon learning of the whole Pamuk affair in the Christmas special, Papa Crawley says he'd rather have his daughter endure a scandal than be unhappily married to that capitalist scoundrel, Sir Richard), so what evidence is there that Mary wouldn't have cried out if she were truly in fear of Pamuk? I submit: none. But the real clincher comes when Cara (her mother) asks, "did he force himself on you?" Mary pauses for a second, looks off to the side at her housemaid Anna as if she wants to lie, but reluctantly shakes her head no. If protecting the semblance of virtue from her parents was so important that she wouldn't yell for help when being raped, why would she then go on to lie about the rape to her mother, which would only make it seem as if Mary willingly threw away said semblance? The only rationale that makes sense here is that she didn't originally cry out before the sexual encounter because she didn't want to. Her only fear was that of being discovered, which is exactly her focus when talking to Cara about moving Pamuk's corpse back to his room.

Finally, there are Mary's reactions after Pamuk's body is back in his room:

Where Anna consoles a distraught Mary who says while weeping, "he was so beautiful." That doesn't exactly sound like PTSD, does it? Or what about her reaction to Eveyln's summation of Pamuk: "Actually, he was a terribly nice fellow." (See, all assholes.) Reminded of those supposed qualities (and no accounting for taste), Mary begins to uncontrollably sob:

Evelyn asks, "perhaps you saw his qualities for yourself?" Mary can't talk and runs up the stairs to her room. Eveyln pretty much spoonfeeds the audience what the show has set up: "Which obviously … you did." But, if there's some lingering ambiguity to all of this, Mary clears it up when talking to Matthew about the Pamuk affair in series 2's Christmas special: "It was lust, Matthew! Or a need for excitement … or for something in him that I … oh God, what difference does it make?"

To ignore all of that and treat Mary's 'no' as a true indication of her desire is tantamount to subscribing to the conservatives and anti-porn feminists' conflation of social prohibitions with a woman's inner-life. It's also a really thickheaded approach to a TV show.


Downton Abbey
, Series 1, 2 and 3

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