Saturday, 7 July 2007

If you are limited, X is limited?

“For every surreally beautiful set piece, Blood and Black Lace contains at least one equally dull and conventionally photographed sequence whose function is to advance the story – most scenes involving the police, who are ineffectually looking into the matter fall into this category”

“Like Blood and Black Lace [...] the visual style of The Bird with the Crystal Plumage is conspicuously inconsistent. Scenes involving the police are tolerable at best, tending towards wooden exposition”

While I agree with Maitland McDonagh that the police sequences in Bava and Argento's films are less visually interesting than the set-pieces, I don't know this necessarily makes them uninteresting.

Rather, I would ague that in sequences like these the conventional nature of the mise-en-scene might be considered as a more “poetic” way of intersubjectively externalising and expressing the mindset of the professional investigator as it is characteristically presented within gialli, that way in which, as the line in The New York Ripper puts it, he thinks “according to fixed patterns.”

It is, of course, these fixed patterns that the plots of both films, with their multiple maniacs and confusions of identities – perhaps particularly gender identities – confound; what both film-makers are telling us, perhaps, is that we need to perceive the world afresh.

They are also patterns which, we might argue, are paralleled in the way the work of these directors and the filone more generally tend to be approached with that familiar concentration upon spectacular visuals at the expense the rest – the swinging sign and telephone receiver that bookend Bava's film or the choreographed to-ings and fro-ings around the handbag containing the coveted diary seem perfect examples, along with the parallel investigation into enigmatic sound accompanying that into sight in Argento's – and of all-encompassing psychoanalytic interpretations as to what they are 'really' about.

A remark by Merleau-Ponty seems apposite here, getting to the heart of why I find a phenomenological approach to the giallo film truer to my experience:

“[T]he question is not so much whether human life does or does not rest on sexuality, as of knowing what is to be understood by sexuality. Psychoanalysis represents a double trend of thought: on the one hand it stresses the sexual substructure of life, on the other it 'expands' the notion of sexuality to the extent of absorbing into it the whole of existence. But precisely for that reason, its conclusions [...] remain ambiguous. When we generalize the notion of sexuality making it a manner of being in the physical and inter-human world, do we mean, in the last analysis, that all existence has a sexual significance or that every sexual phenomenon has an existential significance? In the first hypothesis, existence would be an abstraction, another name for the sexual life. But since sexual life can no longer be circumscribed, since it is no longer a separate function definable in terms of the causality proper to a set of organs, there is now no sense in saying that all existence is understood through the sexual life, or rather this statement becomes a tautology.”

1 comment:

Curt Purcell said...

For the most part I like McDonagh's book, but like you I didn't quite buy these criticisms you address.