29 October 2010

my halloween film suggestion

"outer space" - a 10-minute experimental film short that i really really dug. the film-artist basically re-edited the true story ghost-rape film, "the entity" and created an assaulting de-construction, both visually and aurally. i'm sure it can be interpreted a bunch of different ways, but to me, it looks like the point of view of the ghost that is attacking the main character, trying to break into the real world to do this horrible act. check it out!

24 October 2010

SFAI essays - #4: Response to "The Cinematic Body"

this is an essay response to Steven Shaviro's The Cinematic Body (Theory Out of Bounds) - specifically, two chapters entitled "Lines of Flights" and "Literal Perceptions." it's a great book that challenges the cult-like wave of psychoanalytic film theory that usually misses the point of the visceral experience of film-watching.

you can find more about, or order, the book here:


Steven Shaviro’s The Cinematic Body is like a breath of fresh air in the world of film criticism. By using a Foucaultian approach to analyzing film, he rightfully denounces the psychoanalytic critics and their essays, who seem to insist that the sole importance of a film is in what the images represent, to the extent that the images exist because of these ideas. This phrase from the “Lines of Flight” chapter sums it up succinctly: “The forms of ideology must indeed be included among immanent power relations, but they are not the basic, ultimate forms of power’s efficacy and intelligibility.”

Film criticism can be very heavy-handed with Freudian theories, castration hypotheses, and the like; to the point that I was starting to wonder if films I consider to be beautiful and visceral experiences (along with my own filmmaking) were not considered to be “good cinema” because they didn’t neatly fit into these pre-made symbolic categories. By emphasizing the inherent power of viscerally experiencing the image and its accompanying sound, Shaviro has restored the idea that filmmaking can be enriching and complex through mise-en-scene and montage, without even bringing the idea of representation into the mix. Suspiria is an ideal example of this.

There can be a plentiful amount of analyzation of this film - the way the brutally masculine hands penetrate the pure female bodies in the murder scenes, the manly demeanor of the female dance instructor, Madame Blanc’s name contrasting with the Black Coven, for some examples. But this film was obviously made as a sensory experience, and its critical praise should be based on that. In direct comparison to Shaviro talking about being violently affected by “this image and this sound,” Suspiria pushes our senses to the limits, creating a high amount of constant tension and fright to which most horror films can only aspire.

For instance, when Suzy Bannion first arrives in Germany, we know something is not right - partially because of the use of the creepy, foreboding soundtrack that we only hear when the doors to the outside darkness are opened. Later in the film, unrealistic, ultra-saturated washes of red light are visual cues of something horrendous about to happen. Quite often, the nightmarishly vibrant images combine with the abrasive, teasingly repetitive soundtrack to overload our senses to create what Shaviro calls an “automatism of perception” - a physical shock effect that disrupts the normal expectations of vision. The hyper-real sensory experience created by Suspiria intensifies this automatism of perception, making the viewing experience a physical one. Taking all of that into consideration, what symbols and representation can be attributed to these scenes that can compare with the feelings they produce?

Images are shot and edited a certain way for certain effects - I fully agree with Shaviro when he says that these images are really raw contents of sensation, first and foremost. Yes, you can attribute alternate symbology and representation by analyzing the plot to the nth degree. But, with a film like Suspiria, where image and sound are constructed so vividly and with such purpose, the result is visceral. And the visceral experience is something immediate that bypasses our reflective and cognitive responses.

If a film’s primary goal is to bring the audience into the film, to identify with the character, then Suspiria accomplishes this goal perfectly - by creating that “physical shock effect” through the mechanics of filmmaking to match the shock that the main character must be feeling when she encounters the supernatural. Any attempt to symbolize that shock will pale in comparison to the feelings that this film creates through the actual process of filmmaking.

And, yes, further analyzation of this film would most likely yield psychoanalytic theories of some sort - but, as Shaviro states, these symbols and representations do not create the film we are witnessing; rather, they are a consequence of the mechanisms of cinema. These ideas come after analyzation of the plot and characters; the plot and characters do not exist because of the ideas.

21 October 2010

Babyland video clip from 2006

...from when they played the Vanguard in LA. filmed the whole show, multi-camera. don't know why it didn't get approved for editing the whole show, as this clip looks rad, IMO...

SFAI essays - #3: The Shining

I stand behind Christopher Hoile’s reading of the The Shining, with his read on the animistic nature of the characters and the idea of the mirror-self. In comparison, while K-Punk’s essay on Hauntology makes some good points, it also stretches a little too far, to the point of inaccuracy.

I believe K-Punk’s arguments are strongest when describing Jack’s reaction to living at the Overlook - “It’s very homey. Never been this happy, or comfortable, anywhere.” Drawing comparison to a Freudian analysis, that sort of supreme comfort, along with the feeling that one has “been there before,” can be interpreted as the maternal body. Jack feels this way, not only because there is an actual feeling of connection to the hotel (which we see at the end of the film, in the photograph); but because the hotel is actually shaping him, causing him to transform, and “birthing” him into a new being. There are hints throughout the film that Jack has been on the edge of a mental break - alcoholism, abuse, an obvious disdain for his family - but the comfort and warmth of the “homey” hotel allows that maniacal side of him to become manifest.

K-Punk’s description of the ballroom atmosphere is also spot-on - specifically his idea of music accentuating the idea of being a “winding down gramophone of memory.” The amount of reverb on the song is almost unrealistic - partially because of the size of the room, but also because it feels like the sound is just barely emanating from the past, so the sound is echo-y, ghostlike, like a remnant of what it once was. Or, as K-Punk puts it, the song indicates that “what is forgotten may also be preserved, through repression.” The song being played when Jack is being “debriefed” about what must happen (and what has already happened) is “It’s All Forgotten Now” - as K-Punk points out, that’s no coincidence.

Plus, the haunting of the hotel by the Gold Room’s party full of “a genuine American leisure class of an aggressive and ostentatious public existence” makes sense when coupled with the idea that the hotel was built on top of an Indian burial ground - so the ghosts of the past, in classic ghost story fashion, would remain to haunt the present, due to the travesties that took place on the sacred land.

My agreeable view of K-Punk’s article ends there. He extends this “party of prestigious people” idea to an intensely Freudian end that, while makes sense for this scene, would be a pretty weak central idea for the film. He states that Jack wishes to belong to this crowd so badly, that “the bartender” and “the waiter” become maternal and paternal superegos to him - to the point where Jack feels that he would “fail in his duty as a man and father if he didn’t kill his wife and child.” While I do see the connection K-Punk is making, the points made in the other articles - Holie’s, in particular - give the film a much more consistent reading, whose ideas can be attributed to the WHOLE film, and not just specific scenes (like this one).

While he does makes some points that definitely encourage further thought and analysis of The Shining, I don’t believe that the film was really made with these ideas in mind, consciously or unconsciously. Admittedly, I think this way after reading the other articles - Christopher Hoile’s being the most analytically accurate. But, I also see K-Punk’s analyses of Jack and Danny a little off.

The perfect example of this is when he states that Danny escapes Jack in the maze by “walking backwards in his father’s footsteps.” First off, that’s impossible, as Jack never ran past Danny until AFTER Danny did that - Danny retraced his own footsteps, thereby confusing his father. Even if K-Punk was talking metaphorically, as he believes that Danny will “psychically” not escape his father, the real psychic difference between the two is so great that there really is no reason to think that Danny actually will become his father someday.

K-Punk tries to back up this theory of Danny becoming his father through the argument of abuse begetting abuse, through family blood (Jack’s father passing on the “abuse genes” to Jack). This issue is explored in the book, but not so much (if at all) in Kubrick’s version - so, this argument simply can’t be made for the film.

However, K-Punk’s idea of the Overlook being a maternal force does come into play at one other point - when Danny is ejected, or “birthed,” from the hotel into the cold and harsh world of the outside, after they trap themselves in the bathroom. Shortly before this point, he had been mostly infantile and immobile, sucking his thumb and childishly yelling “redrum” over and over. Having been forced into the outside by his mother (through the tight opening of the bathroom window), he has to quickly grow up and figure out how to survive. Hoile’s article describes the scene like this, but it would also follow suit in the mind of K-Punk, based on his ideas about the Overlook.

This is where Hoile’s article gives a great example of what the film is about, and where K-Punk falls short - at this point in the film, when Jack pursues Danny in the maze, the idea of going forward perseveres over the idea of regressing. Danny is able to both live with his animistic side AND move out of his almost-infantile state (essentially, to grow up) to outwit Jack. Jack, on the other hand, is so keen on killing Danny, that he progressively becomes more and more animal-like as he trudges further into the maze. His screams of “I’m right behind you” become nothing more than growls and snarls; and when Danny’s footprints come to an end, Jack’s regressed mind doesn’t know what to do. In a way, it’s his obsession of fulfilling some sort of obligation from the “past” has regressed him.

The Shining is a film that can be read in multiple ways - Freudian, Hauntology, the idea of an animistic side to human nature, or just a complex ghost story - none of the ideas kill the debate of what it’s about. All have valid points, some more than others, reminding us of the brilliance of this film.

SFAI essays - #2: Slasher Films

Q: Clover, Dika, and Magistrale all talk about the anxiety and obsession of the Slasher film in relation to the viewer. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on how the writer or director is implicated. Are the theories of these authors ever based on the creator's desires rather than the consumer's?

The theories of these authors are definitely based on the creator’s desires. Vera Dika sums it up best - “Halloween functions to envelop its viewers in a precisely orchestrated system of gratification and shock.” In this film, in particular, John Carpenter has chosen to shoot scenes he has specifically written to get his desired effects. So much so, that it would be difficult to say that the anxiety and obsession of this film is not based on his own desires, feelings, and/or hang-ups. And, seeing as how all 3 authors acknowledge the influence this film had on future Slasher flicks; these films have effectively developed a formula based off of anxiety and obsession.

Dika gives a great example of this by pointing out the Freudian symbolism in Halloween. There are several scenes that demonstrate that Michael and Laurie are mirror images of each other: She is the good girl who isn’t a sexually active teen, and she is basically playing a motherly role by babysitting and protecting the children at all costs. Perhaps, most tellingly, she is the only one that senses that something is wrong in the neighborhood. None of her girlfriends actually see his face, even when they die; but Laurie spots him all over town throughout the film. The reason for this can be argued as such: as Dika describes, Michael Myers is her “id,” - she senses him, but does not confront him until there is no other choice but to defend the children. When she sees him amidst the swinging laundry after she comes home from school, she forcefully slams the window, trying to “keep him out.” And, it is this mirror-image quality between the stalker and the heroine that Clover has named as a major trait in what she has coined as “The Final Girl” - a character that has been adopted and used in virtually all subsequent Slasher films.

You could even go so far as to say that Carpenter wanted to establish this connection in the scene when he spies on her from the Myers house - as she walks away (after effectively handing him the key to the house of his youth), she sings a love song; while he spies on her, breathing heavily like a pervert. Now, you could say that this is all coincidence or unconscious decisions made by Carpenter - but seeing as how he chose to place homage to classic horror flicks that are all about confronting the “id” - The Thing and Forbidden Planet are playing on the television as part of a horror-thon - it’s difficult to dismiss it as such. Whether conscious or unconscious decisions caused these elements to become manifest in the film, Carpenter used these ideas to create anxiety, tension, and suspense - classic horror film elements for which Halloween is known.

However, I don’t believe that Slasher flicks are based solely on Freudian ideas and obsessions. What is great about the genre, especially when used in times of global and/or domestic uncertainty, is nicely summed up by Magistrale: “it is most adept at revealing our general impotence at the same time as it speaks to our hope for endurance.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is a great example of this - the United States was at a domestic low-point when the film was made: gasoline shortages, we were no longer the “good guys” after needlessly invading Vietnam, and there was a general feeling of disillusionment after Kent State and multiple assassinations. In this movie, the feeling of helplessness is represented through nihilism, with a family that has been left behind by an industry that has embraced mechanization and technology. This unease is the tone and vibe, from the get-go, of Texas Chainsaw - through the consistent radio broadcasts of depressing news, juxtaposed with the seemingly aimless youth, traveling through an unknown countryside, looking for who-knows-what. These elements create anxiety and tension that isn’t Freudian in nature - but is still a creative choice by the director to set the mood for the film.

Wes Craven summed it up best in the 2001 documentary on 70’s horror, The American Nightmare: “There’s something about the American Dream, working hard, white picket fence, happy children... and discovering that that’s not the truth of the matter. I think that’s what gives American horror films and additional rage.” Whether it is Freudian or societal in nature, the directors of these films we’ve discussed have used this rage to create the anxiety that has set the standard for future Slashers.

SFAI essays - #1: Rosemary's Baby

Q: Discuss and compare the two films Rosemary's Baby and the Stepford Wives - both based on books by author Ira Levin - in terms of domesticity and conspiracy.

In Rosemary’s Baby, Rosemary finds the above phrase on a piece of paper in her new apartment. It serves as both a warning and a foreshadowing as to what eventually happens to her. The same phrase can be applied as the literal conclusion to Joanna in The Stepford Wives (the original film, not the comedic bunk of a remake). It is obvious that the two films were based off of books by the same author, Ira Levin; as the filmmakers were able to convincingly tap into a paranoia in two very different women - Rosemary’s fear, besides being afraid that her satanist neighbors want to kill her baby, is rooted in her traditional domestic order being thrown into upheaval. By stark contrast, Joanna’s fear is the growing possibility of being forced back into the same order from which Rosemary comes.

By viewing both films solely from the female protagonists’ POV’s, the suspicion by the protagonists (and us) grows to the point of conspiracy. For example, when Guy leaves the room in Rosemary’s Baby, we only see and hear from Rosemary’s perspective - fragments and hints of what is, or might be, happening. Rosemary holds fast to her domestic dream and continues to compile lists, shop, and buy new clothes. Rosemary then starts to take an active role in piecing together what her neighbors are up to, only after she deduces that her baby is in danger.

In The Stepford Wives, Joanna is active throughout most of the film, striving to be both a housewife and a fine art photographer. She even strives to start up a sort of “women’s lib” group in her neighborhood, out of frustration that no woman wants to do anything but cook, clean, and serve her husband. Rosemary and Joanna probably wouldn’t have gotten along too well! However, like Rosemary, Joanna forms her own conclusions (along with the viewer) based on the pieces of the puzzle she overhears and uncovers. She actively seeks the truth, but out of fear for her own life. In both films, the truth ends up being more horrific then what they could have imagined.

The underlying conspiracies can be seen as domestic in nature, based off of Edward Bernays’ idealized society of consumption and homogenized domesticity to ward off the evils of what might be lurking in the human unconscious. Rosemary strives to hold on to these ideals; but a new order threatens her, with the goal of taking her baby and ushering in a new age of chaos and carnal pleasures (as evidenced by Rosemary’s rape-dream). Roman’s proclamation at the end - “The Year is One!” - says it all.

Joanna’s fears are just the opposite - in the town of Stepford, she strives to change that idealized order to which Rosemary willfully subscribes. In contrast to Rosemary, Joanna finds that the danger is a conspiracy to cement a homogenized lifestyle of suburban domesticity into the town of Stepford. The leaders of Stepford followed the ideas of Edward Bernays to a perverse level - the women might very well embrace liberation and disrupt that perfect domestic order - so, take out that human element altogether and replace them with robots!

In The American Nightmare - Horror in the 70’s, Robin Wood asserts that surplus repression makes us into “monogamous heterosexual bourgeois patriarchal capitalists” (Wood, p. 25). The conspiracy in Rosemary’s Baby is to destroy that ideal; while the Men’s Association in The Stepford Wives seeks to prevent potential liberating lifestyles from manifesting, and holding the safe domestic order in check. In both films, the protagonists lose their way and give in, by surrendering and by force, to their new domestic lives.