Thursday, 30 November 2006

The electrocardiogram and the attraction

Another useful thing in Koven's study, which he quotes by way of Christopher Wagstaff's work on the Italian western, is Anthony Mann's critique of their “electrocardiogram” dynamics:

“The shoot-outs every five minute reveal the director's fear that the audience get bored because they do not have a character to follow. In a tale you may not put more than five or six minutes of 'suspense': the diagram of the emotions must be ascending and not a kind of electrocardiogram for a clinical case”

What Mann was perhaps not aware of, however, was the way in which Italian westerns would sometimes be re-edited by their international distributors. Thus, for instance, whereas the Italian La Resa dei conti runs 105 minutes, its English counterpart The Big Gundown runs only 84. This is also evident with many Italian thriller and horror films, with one of the most striking examples here actually being Argento's own Profondo Rosso. Alan Jones notes how Nick Alexander, the man responsible for preparing the English-language versions of countless genre films over the course of more than 30 years, argued with the director that his edit of the film, running over two hours, was too long for English audiences and markets. While the film was never releated theatrically in the UK, its US version, with the more exploitative and less enigmatic title of The Deep Red Hatchet Murders, only ran 98 minutes, suggestive of Alexander's commercial imperatives outweighing Argento's artistic ones. Perhaps tellingly, Argento's subsequent film Suspiria – still his greatest box-office success worldwide – runs around 98 minutes in all its versions, with only minor variations due to national censorship / classification standards.

What is also interesting here, beyond demonstrating that different vernacular audiences would often be given different films tailored to their specific tastes and interests, is that the Italian versions were also often the longer ones, perhaps implying more of a balance between action, spectacle and set pieces on the one hand and plot, character and conventional narrative on the other.

Perhaps more important for my own purposes, however, is the way in which this electrocardiogram approach might be related to the “cinema of attractions”, in which the experiential dimension of a pre-reflective Piercean “firstness“ or the phenomenological “natural attitude” that things are what they appear to be unless and until demonstrated otherwise, are paramount. Here is is also worth recalling what John Carpenter says about Halloween – a film he acknowledges as having been strongly influenced by Suspiria – functioning like a "rollercoaster" and the line of descent that this suggests from the early "cinema of attractions" through to the assaultive "attraction"/"repulsion" shock tactics of the Soviet montage filmmakers and the Surrealists (Eisenstein, for instance, wanting to glue spectators into their seats, while Artaud fantasised settings of bombs beneath them) all the way to something like the pins-over-the-eyes scenario within Opera.

No comments: