Wednesday, 30 September 2009

A.A.A. Massaggiatrice bella presenza offresi... / A.A.A. Masseuse, Good-Looking, Offers Her Services

Given the popularity of the giallo in the early 1970s it is no surprise that Demofilo Fidani, "the Ed Wood of the spaghetti western" should have contributed to the filone through, albeit under his own name rather than his preferred SW pseudonyms of Dick Spitfire and Miles Deem.

What is more surprising is that A.A.A. Masseuse, Good-Looking, Offers Her Services is not completely and utterly hopeless.

This is not to say, however, that it's by any means a good film. Rather, it is one of those lower echelon gialli in which the poetic/prosaic set-piece/narrative distinction discussed by Mikel Koven is in evidence.

The story, which sees the clients of the titular masseuse, played by a young Paola Senatore, falling prey to a killer, does not seem to be up to much.

The marigold killer?

Often as not, it functions as a justification to have Senatore's character, Cristina, parading around in various states of undress, although fans of her later work should note that there's no full-frontal nudity nor anything beyond softcore simulation. Critics of giallo exploitation may also care to note that the role of the voyeur/spectator is also implicated here prior to his punishment in our stead.

You are the voyeur

At other times AAA.... is talky, focusing upon Cristina's relationships with her sleazy boyfriend - seeing as he's played by Howard Ross, sleaze tends to come with the territory - her flatmate, confusingly named Paola (and played by Fidani's daughter), Paola's boyfriend and Christina's respectability-obsessed and estranged father.

Dig that fur coat / white roll neck ensemble Ross is wearing

The investigation of the clients' murders is left mostly to the police which, coupled with the fact that Cristina herself does not appear to be in too much danger in the Edwige Fenech manner nor is especially proactive in the Susan Scott manner, results in a pretty slow moving and unengaging movie at times.

Mack Sigis Porter rocks!

On the plus side AAA... has plenty of tasteful 70s costumes and sets (both credited to Fidani's wife, Mila Vitelli Valenza, who also had a hand in the writing in that keep it in the family / economical way) along with a good sleaze/suspense score from Lallo Gori, topped off with a closing track by the immediately recognisable Mack Sigis Porter ensemble.

Unusual blocking

You can also see that Fidani was at least trying not only in the set pieces, most notably the unmasking of the killer, but also in some of his compositions and use of yellow objects. This said, the decision to outfit the otherwise classically black clad, straight-razor wielding killer with yellow gloves comes across as a step too far, unless the intention was to connote a kitchen-sink domesticity to them...

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Dawn and Day of the Dead

For anyone in Edinburgh or nearby:

Dawn and Day of the Dead, with Ken Foree and Joe Pilato Q&A's

Dubbing and poster art correlation?

On ebay at the moment there's a Belgian poster for The Strange Vice of Signora Wardh, with titles in Flemish and French:

The poster art itself is the same as the Italian version.

It makes me wonder: During the heyday of European popular genre cinemas, was there a correlation between whether a country dubbed or subtitled and whether they had their own poster art or not, beyond simply having the translated or other title and perhaps emphasising the native star above the foreign one.

Did ' bigger' markets, or ones with a particular national orientation, have their own art, whereas smaller ones just used pre-existing art?

La signora in giallo

Any non-Italians care to guess which US TV series the title 'La signora in giallo' (the lady/woman in yellow/giallo refers to)?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thesis work #5

Deleuze's understanding of philosophy, art and science along with his emphasis upon difference and becoming rather than sameness and being give him a distinctive view of truth. As James Williams explains in The Delueze Dictionary:

Deleuze's work is opposed to the coherence theory of truth and to the correspondence theory of truth. The first claims that the truth of a proposition depends on its coherence with some other propositions. The second claims that the truth of a proposition depends on its correspondence to some objective facts. So a proposition is either true due to certain logical relations or due to a relation to things in the world.
For Deleuze, both theories are wrong-headed from their very premises. That is, propositions are false simplifications of reality and cannot be bearers of truth in any significant sense. Objective facts do not exist and cannot be identified or shown, because real things are limitless and always caught in endless processes of becoming. To abstract from these processes is to give a false image of reality.
So, in contrast to the two traditional and dominant theories of truth, Deleuze defines truth in terms of creativity and construction. We create truth in complex constructions of propositions and sensations that express the conditions for the genesis and development of events. [...]
Thus to say something is true is not to say something verifiable in some way, but to say something that vivifies and alters a situation. A poem about World War I that makes us sense it and live through and with it in a different way is truthful. A statistic about the war that is not accompanied by sensations and transformations is not truthful. (2005: 289-290)

This notion of truth, a Nietzschean one, appears in the Cinema books in both general and specific terms. The books as a whole present concepts which Deleuze hopes will "vivify and alter" our understandings of cinema. In the preface to the English Edition of Cinema 1, Deleuze explains that:

This book does not set out to produce a history of the cinema but to isolate certain cinematographic concepts. These concepts are not technical (such as the various kinds of shot or the different camera movements) or critical (for example, the great genres, the Western, the detective film, the historical film, etc.) Neither are they linguistic, in the sense that it has been said that the cinema was the universal language, or the sense in which it has been said that the cinema is a language. [...] What we call cinematicographic concepts are [...] the types of images and the signs which correspond to each type. (2005a: xi)

Within Cinema 2 Deleuze discusses issues of truth in relation to what he ironically terms the "powers of the false," or of creativity, in relation to various directors and figures within the cinema of the time-image. I will return to these figures later, highlighting their relevance to the work of my directors.

Besides being about the creation of concepts, another way in which the Cinema books are distinctive is in their post-structuralist opposition to phenomenological and structuralist interpretations of cinema, such as those advanced by Andre Bazin in the 1940s and 1950s and Christian Metz in the 1960s and 1970s. Deleuze is however less critical of Bazin than he is of Metz. While declaring phenomenology to have less to offer us than Henri Bergson's vitalism, Deleuze also makes use of Bazin's work, along with implicitly using phenomenological concepts in some places (Sobchack, ??; ??, ??). In contrast, Deleuze asserts that the semiological and psychoanalytic theories of Ferdinand De Saussure and Jacques Lacan that inspired Metz have little to offer. Besides questioning approaching cinema as a language in the passage above, he elsewhere remarks that psychoanalysis has given cinema just one image, or concept, namely the primal scene (2005b: 36).
Crucially, however, Deleuze does not reject C S Peirce's semiotics. As Bogue explains, the key distinction here between Peirce and Saussure's general theories of signs is where they place their respective emphases, a distinction which also explains Deleuze's orientation here:

Saussure's semiology has its basis in the linguistic opposition of signifier and signified, whereas Peirce's semiotics is founded on a non-linguistic triad of representamen-object-interpretant. Many French cinema theorists adopt a Saussurean approach to the sign, and Deleuze's effort is to propose an alternative that maintains the autonomy of the visual sign from the linguistic sign. (2003: 66)

The issue here, according to Bogue, is that approaching cinema through semiology and its emphasis upon language means emphasising the narrative aspects of cinema over its treatments of space and time. I would agree with this assessment to a degree. But it must also be acknowledged that the Cinema books are themselves concerned with exploring the way cinema treats space and time principally through examples drawn from fictional feature-length narrative films. Though Deleuze does refer to documentary cinema, such as Flaherty's Nanook of the North (2005a: 148); experimental cinema, such as Michael Snow's Wavelength (2005a: 125); and the ethnographic cinema of Jean Rouch (2005B: 145-59) on occasions, these are the exceptions which prove the rule. Indeed, these cinemas may requiring the creation of new concepts of their own. While John Grierson's famous definition of documentary films like Nanook as "the creative treatment of actuality" allows scope for the genre to be art, it also arguably has a more scientific or functional aspect than fictional cinemas. Traditionally documentary been more about finding and expressing 'the truth' of a situation than exploring the creative powers of the false.

One thing that makes Deleuze's semiotic rather than semiological approach particularly valuable in relation to my film-makers is the nature of their work. Leone's spaghetti westerns, for example, are famous for their pared down dialogue ("If you have to shoot, shoot, don't talk," as Tuco remarks in The Good the Bad and the Ugly) and unusual emphasis upon music, natural sounds and their visuals. Likewise, mainstream criticism of Argento's films, most obviously, Suspiria and Inferno, frequently comments upon the slightness and/or incoherence of the narratives as much as upon the affective qualities of their visual and sonic excesses. While comparable commentary upon Questi's work is lacking, this is again because he is less well known.

The reason that Deleuze favours Bergsonism over phenomenology as a means of understanding what cinema does is based upon their different implications as far as cinematic perception is concerned. Bergson and the founder of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, were both critical of the cinema as they encountered it in the 1900s. Deleuze explains that Husserl's phenomenological critique was that cinema could not replicate natural (human) perception. Seen from another perspective, this is of cinema's greatest strength, its unique, singular aspect. As such, Deleuze argues that cinematic concepts cannot be based primarily upon phenomenological philosophy. Bergson's vitalist critique in contrast was directed more at the early or "primitive" cinema and did not anticipate what cinema subsequently became: Bergson ironically failed to see that cinema could and would evolve, becoming movement-image and then time-image.

Prior to exploring Deleuze's analysis of these central concepts, it is however necessary to say a bit more about the early cinema. This is first and foremost because it is a subject which has a perhaps surprising relevance to my filmmakers work, and second because it is an area where Deleuze's discussion needs some supplementing. The issue here, as D N Rodowicz (2003: xiv) notes, is the distinction between Deleuze's analyses of his chosen philosophical texts compared to his film ones: Whereas Deleuze's reading of Bergson in relation to cinema is innovative and subtle, his readings of cinema itself are relatively traditional and less nuanced.

The issue here is that Deleuze's discussion does not engage with the new film history of 1890s and 1900s cinema, associated with the likes of Tom Gunning and Thomas Elsaesser. This is ironic inasmuch as these authors present this cinema in a more rhizomatic, less arborescent manner than the traditional history Deleuze draws upon. In traditional film histories, the early cinema is seen as leading to the emergence of forms of cinema that have continued largely unchanged until today: The Lumiere brothers actualities provided the basis for realist and documentary filmmaking, while Melies trick films provided the basis for formalist and fiction filmmaking. To Gunning this straightforward teleological model downplayed the early cinema's distinctive features whilst overplaying its apparent similarities. In particular, early films were about spectacle rather than narrative and were exhibitionist rather than voyeuristic in their mode of spectator address. They worked as a "cinema of attractions," where the attraction was that of the new technology and what it could do in themselves, not as a "cinema of narrative integration," where the emphasis is upon the use of cinema as a narrative medium. They were not so much a "primitive" or underdeveloped narrative cinema, as a non-narrative cinema of spectacle.

Deleuze only mention the cinema as an attraction in relation to Eisenstein (2005a: 37). He correctly identifies the affinities between Eisenstein's attractions and circus attractions, but fails to relate these to their common point of connection in the cinema of attractions. If his own approach is less straightforwardly evolutionary than traditional film histories such as that of Bazin, with his relentless progression towards the (near) convergence of cinematic and real perception, he nevertheless characterises the early cinema for what it is not. Specifically, the early cinema did not present the movement-image, or the first of Deleuze's two great overarching concepts of the cinema image. Deleuze's remarks here are, however, somewhat contradictory. Initially he remarks that "cinema does not give us an image to which movement is added, it immediately gives us a movement-image." (2005a; 2) Shortly thereafter he remarks that "We can [...] define primitive state of the cinema where the image is in movement rather than being movement-image." (2005a; 26). Taking the latter statement as the conceptually correct one, what Deleuze is getting at here is the difference between a early cinema where the frame was fixed, and a movement-image cinema where the frame was mobile: One defining characteristic of the early cinema was its tableaux style presentation. The camera was static, fixed in front of the scene, which was presented as if it were taking place on a theatre stage. Figures, human or otherwise, or images were present in this scene and moved. But they were the only source of movement. There were no cuts to another scene, or to close-up details within this scene. The frame and the set, to introduce two more key concepts, were thereby equivalent. In contrast, within the movement-image the camera may panning or tracking or there may be a cut to another scene or a close up. Additionally, there is also an out of frame, that someone or something can also move from off-screen space into the screen space or vice-versa.

This notions of movement as being in the images or things on screen but not elsewhere within the early cinema is, however, less important for my purposes than the notion of the spectacular attraction. As I will demonstrate, one of the defining characteristics of Leone, Argento and Questi's films, or the images they present us with within them, is their frequently spectacular quality. This may be in itself, in the form of the attraction style set-piece or effect, or more significantly as a (poetic) fusion of spectacle and narrative. Again, these are concepts to which I will return later.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Phone Sex Psycho

Cool parody giallo trailer:

NB: The purportedly related videos are not work safe.

Thesis work #4

Neo-realism occupies an important position for Deleuze in his Cinema books. It represents the break-point between the classical cinema of the movement-image, the subject of Cinema 1 (2005a [1983]), and the modern cinema of the time-image, the subject of Cinema 2 (2005b [1986]). Prior to engaging with these works, which will form the core of my Deleuzean reading of Leone, Argento and Questi's key films, I would argue that it is necessary to discuss Deleuze's thought in general and the place of the Cinema books within it.

The first reason for this is that Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 present an encounter between the "industrial art" of cinema and philosophy, an encounter that leads Deleuze to develop a number of "concepts" around the cinematic "image". As such, we need to first see how Deleuze understands art and philosophy, along with what he means when he talks about a concept. The second reason is that while beginning by repeating Andre Bazin's question "What is Cinema?" Deleuze concludes the Cinema books, having provided his answers, by asking his own question: "What is Philosophy?" (2005b: 269). This would serve as the subject and title of his next work, co-authored with his frequent collaborator Felix Guattari. In What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari present their understanding of philosophy and how it differs from art and science, along with explaining the concept. The third reason is that, besides the likes of art, philosophy and the concept, the Cinema books are replete with references and allusions to Deleuze's earlier works, both his own and those co-authored with Guattari: For example, Dziga Vertov's films present the "molecular" woman and child (2005a: 41) thereby implying that other filmmakers must have presented their "molar" counterparts. Likewise, if "the infinite set of all images constitutes a kind of plane [plan] of immanence." and "The image exists in itself, on this plane" (2005a: 61) then we are talking about a distinction between the planes of "immanence", as explictly mentioned, and "consistency", as its implied other. On the same page and elsewhere (81) Deleuze also refers to the "machine assemblage" of movement-images, later further referring to the "always deterritorialised" quality of cinematic images (98) and thus their inherently "rhizomatic" quality of being able to be connected in "an infinite number of ways" (113). In the same volume Deleuze also refers to Kafka (102-104). Kafka is mentioned again in Cinema 2 in relation to the work of Third World and minority filmmakers as instances of a "minor cinema", comparable to Deleuze and Guattari's discussion of the German-Jewish-Czech author's position as a writer of a "minor literature" (2005b: 209-211). Not all of these concepts are relevant for the purposes of my discussion of Leone, Argento and Questi's films and their relationship to postmodernism. Deterritorialisation and the minor, for example, are more useful than the molecular.

The most important concepts in Deleuze's work, the ones which appear and and reconfigured time and again within it, are arguably difference and becoming/immanence. These are ideas which have been marginalised within the wider tradition of western thought, in favour of sameness, being, identity and transcendence. In earlier works such as Difference and Repetition (19??), Deleuze understood immanence as a minor tendency in philosophy, represented solely by figures like Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Nietzsche. Contrastively within What is Philosophy? immanence is conceptualised as something present in most philosophy, but which has been repeatedly been subordinated to transcendence on most occasions. Paolo Marrati (2008) contends that this new understanding of immanence derives in large part from the Cinema books' analysis of "forms of action and agency and their transformations" (x) within the time-image in particular; a point I will return to later once Deleuze's concepts around the cinema image have been elucidated.

The centrality of difference and becoming to Deleuze's thought marks him out as a post-structuralist philosopher. While Deleuze and other French post-structuralists, such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida, were not self-consciously a group, they do have certain characteristics in common. Each responded in his own way to two previous schools in French and Continental European thought, phenomenology and structuralism. Phenomenologists looked for a more secure foundation for knowledge in experience itself. Structuralists then questioned this foundation, arguing that experience was meaningless in itself. Consequently they looked to the systematic structures that made experience possible. For example, we can only understand man by reference to related terms such as animal, woman and child. Post-structuralists then questioned both these groundings for knowledge. For example, the term man can only be understood by reference to what it is not. But then it follows that animal, woman and child can in turn only be understood by reference to what they are not, namely man. There is nothing that exists outside the system which can be used to securely anchor the meanings of the structures within it. For Deleuze this was not something to be lamented, but rather celebrated. It gives us the chance to create and transform life.

Behind the post-structuralists' critique of phenomenology and structuralism, that no grounding could be found for knowledge, lay a challenge to the longer history of western thought. A key figure here was Hegel, and the particular interpretation of his thought within French thought in the 1940s and 50s through Kojeve. Hegel argued that Enlightenment philosophy represented the end-point of history, becoming and difference, where everything could be understood in relation to the "spirit".

Returning to What is Philosophy? and Deleuze and Guattari's formulations of philosophy, art and science, they suggest that the three "powers of thinking" can be understood as follows: Art is about the creation of percepts and affects. A percept is what we perceive, while an affect is what affects us. What art does is free affects and percepts from the particular individuals that experience them. For instance, within Argento's Deep Red, we experience fear, even though we are not in the position of the characters within its diegesis. As such, the power of art is its ability to make us experience things in a new way. Philosophy is about the creation of concepts, or ways of thinking about things in a new way. Science, finally, is about the creation of functions, or ways of thinking about things in a consistent way. As such, the three realms of thought cannot be placed in a hierarchy, subsume one another, or have their specific terms of reference used with regard to the others. That which is good for science, namely consistency or sameness, is bad for philosophy, and vice versa. I would argue that one issue here with regard to Deleuze's Cinema books and more generally is that science is marginalised: As a philosopher of difference, Deleuze is inevitably more interested in difference than sameness, or the inconsistent over the consistent. In the cinema books this manifests in various ways. First, his emphasis upon the differences between the movement-image and the time-image over their similarities. Second, his emphasis upon a small number of apparently distinctive filmmakers and films (the different) over the apparently larger numbers that are not so distinctive (the similar). Third, in his emphasis upon cinema as art and philosophy to the detriment of industry, or its functional role. Deleuze looks at film texts for their percepts, affects and concepts, but not at their functional values: Whether a film was efficiently produced, reached an audience, or was well received by this audience are not things he really considers. Rather, the history of cinema is a "martyrology" of film artists and philosophers against its scientists.

In relation to my filmmakers, I will argue that Leone and Argento are notable in being film-makers whose work (like that of Ford and Hitchcock) succeeds in each regard, albeit with their successes qualified by neither being 'respectable' European art cinema directors nor 'popular' US directors. Questi is someone whose successes in artistic and philosophical terms, that he went further than Leone or Argento, must be qualified by his relative failure in scientific terms, that his work did not reach their audiences. His films were too different from what audiences and critics, here assuming the two are incommensurable, had being primed to accept and acknowledge.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Don Camillo / Keiner haut wie Don Camillo / The World of Don Camillo

Produced, directed by and starring Terence Hill, Don Camillo could so easily have been a classic example of an actor's overextending themselves with a hyphenate vanity project.

Happily, however, it proves nothing of the sort, with Hill acquitting himself well on all fronts.

He may be a relatively lightweight, non-serious actor who gets through everything with that same twinkle in his eyes, but you feel that is exactly what the role of the titular town priest needs, especially as he written for the screen by Hill's wife Lori.

Hill also proves a competent director who is not afraid to try out different techniques, with some effective angles and use of slow-motion, as well as some larger scale set-pieces that indicate an ample budget, and thus something of his skill and ambition as a producer.

But if the film was clearly intended for international distribution - the version I watched had German titles and had been dubbed into English - this is also where it suffers in certain regards.

The Don Camillo character was created by Giovanni Guareschi just after the Second World War, with a series of massively popular novels being released over the course of the 1950s, along with a number of film adaptations. Ins that the battle for hearts and minds between Don Camillo and Communist Party mayor Peppone lay at the core of these stories and films, they were very much a product of and commentary upon the situation in Italy in the mid-1940s to mid-1950s: While both Catholics and communists had made important contributions to the anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi resistance, the Cold War resulted in communists being recast as the enemy within.

Permanently excluded from power at the national level and hostile to the - equally hostile - institutions of the Catholic church and the DC state, the PCI thus established its own organisations in an attempt to offer the workers an alternative to official life and culture.

Without this background, specific aspects of the film make less sense: Why is it that Don Camillo refuses to set foot in the PCI's casa dell popolo, or House of the People? Who is that young man in a portrait prominently displayed on one of the casa walls?

Nevertheless, at least these elements are there for those who know to look for them; the portrait is of Antonio Gramsci by the way.

What is more problematic is the way that the stories have been updated to the 1980s: With the Cold War having thawed considerably and the PCI having distanced itself from the old USSR-led Leninist, Stalinist and post-Stalinist orthodoxies along with seeking a "historic compromise" with the DC in the 1970s, there was less for Hill's Don Camillo and Colin Blakely's Peppone to be fighting over.

In part the Hills seem to implicitly recognise this. There are various incidents within the episodic narrative that see the priest and the mayor guilty of the same little transgressions, such as poaching for game on private land; using marked cards; or bringing in outside ringers for the supposedly locals only football match between their factions. Likewise, there's an emblematic scene where Don Camillo refuses to baptise Peppone's son with the first names Lenin Liberty, with the two men reaching a compromise that he can be called Liberty Lenin Camillo Peppone. (It's a bit like how Asia Argento's official first name is Aria, her full name being Aria Asia Maria Vittoria Rossa Argento.)

If these mutual encounters give the clear sense that both men genuinely want to do what they feel is right for the town and its people but simply disagree over parts of the details, there are nevertheless also some awkward spots. The football match, in which Don Camillo's team (in blue) is named The Angels and Peppone's (in red) The Devils, is an obvious example. Besides situating the PCI within a DC discourse as the villains, whilst simultaneously depoliticising them, the depiction of the match includes US-style cheerleaders. Given PCI hostility to US consumer culture as cultural imperialism along with Catholic hesitancy about the materialism and lack of morality in this culture, they seem misplaced.

If all this serious criticism is irrelevant to your way of watching films, the thing that has to be emphasised is that Don Camillo is also genuinely funny - not least when the priest is talking with his personal Jesus.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Psychopath

Between the mid-1960s and mid-1970s Freddie Francis directed a number of horror and thriller films. Unfortunately it was often often a case of quantity over quality as he took on unpromising assignments from Hammer, Amicus and whoever else was offering steady work. Yet if The Deadly Bees and Trog are notorious examples of bad cinema, Francis also directed some intriguing films such as Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny and Girly and The Vampire Happening.

The Psychopath, made under the auspices of Amicus, is also one of Francis's better efforts, clearly gaining from his experiences in helming a number of Hammer's mini-Hitchcocks and the curious British-German krimi co-production Traitor's Gate.

Images from the title and credits sequence; thanks to the guys at Cinemageddon who put together this German version with the English audio track.

Indeed, the story here comes across as something that Edgar Wallace could easily have penned in the 1920s, given a 1960s update in the manner of the Rialto films from West Germany.

Almost everyone except the investigating Inspector Holloway is a suspect, be it the group of old war colleagues initially targeted by the killer; the young medical student who is dating one of their daughters, or the widowed old woman confined to a wheelchair through a psychosomatic rather than physical condition who lives with her Milquetoast son in a house full of dolls.

"No love lost in the House of Dolls" - a relevant Joy Division quote, given the war crimes that have something to do with the case.

Dolls also figure in the killer's modus operandi, as a doll bearing the features of each victim is left with their body. Besides being a nice Wallace-esque quirk courtesy of screenwriter Robert Bloch, the use of the doll / mannequin trope also helps position The Psychopath as another point of connection between various 1960s and 70s thrillers:

One of the dolls that signal death

Bloch had also, of course, written Psycho, whose mother-son relationship is vaguely echoed by that between Mrs Von Sturm and her son. Psycho's shower scene murder provided a major source inspiration for the likes of Freda and Bava, who upped the stakes in films like The Ghost and Blood and Blood and Black Lace respectively: What Hitchcock suggested a blade could do to human flesh, Freda showed. Where Hitchcock gave audiences two murder set pieces, Bava gave them six.

Bava's film, of course, also featured mannequins and people as mannequins in those body in pieces and Hans Bellmer kind of ways. ("Mannequin comes from the French word mannequin, which had acquired the meaning "an artist's jointed model", which in turn came from the Middle Dutch word mannekijn, meaning little man, figurine.")

This theme would be taken up would later gialli like Torso ("They were only dolls - stupid dolls, made out of flesh and blood!") and Deep Red, along with the Spanish Pieces ("It's exactly what you think it is.")

Nevertheless, there are also differences between Francis's film and its intertexts. While The Psychopath features a number of stylish compositions and makes conscious use of a limited colour palette primarily consisting of reds, greens and the black-white scale, it's far less imaginative and excessive than Bava's work.

Insofar as the two men were great cinematographers and technicians, I would ascribe this to a general film cultural thing. Take an English Gothic by Fisher or Francis, and an Italian Gothic, even one nominally made in an English style, by Robert Hampton or John M. Old (Bava's reading of his distributors request to make up "an old English name" under which he could be credited) and you immediately get the difference.

A US poster for the film; did Glenn Danzig see it on a double bill with Fanatic? Unlikely, since Fanatic was a Hammer production, but a nice thought....

Francis's Taste the Blood of Dracula is perhaps exemplary in this regard, insofar as he apparently only gave the film's cinematographer Arthur Grant colour filters he had previously used himself somewhat reluctantly. Had the film been directed by Bava you suspect he would either have functioned as his own cinematographer or encouraged whoever was his cinematographer to use more stylised lighting from the get-go.

Returning to the krimi, there are also some distinctive omissions: First, no attempt is made to signify that the film is indeed taking place in London, England. Instead, this is just taken for granted. Second, the usual developing romantic attachment between the woman in peril and the Scotland Yard man aspect is missing, perhaps because Patrick Wymark is not a dashing and dynamic lead in the Joachim Fuchsberger or Heinz Drache mould.

As far as placing the film temporally the treatment of Mark Von Sturm is noteworthy. Had the film been made a few years later, I got the feeling that he would have been made into an explicitly homosexual figure rather than being given artistic inclinations. As it is these inclinations still lead into fairly coy Peeping Tom-type artists and models territory as far as nudity and sleaze are concerned compared to five years later.

Two final aspects of the film that must be commented upon are the effective score by twelve-toner Elizabeth Luytens, one of those serious composers who benefited from the opportunity to do the kind of high-culture music she wanted within the low-culture format of the horror film, and the titles, with their use of an eerie eyeless doll's head vaguely recalling Halloween's pumpkin head.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Thesis Work #3

The Electronic-image and the new "cinema of attractions" and sensations

At the point of Leone's death he was involved in preparatory work for his next project, a film about the Siege of Stalingrad. Given the intended scale of the film it would quite possibly have been the most expensive film ever made to that point, with some sources estimating its budget at $100 million. Coupled with the idea of a train whose cargo of cars morphed from 1960s to 1930s models before our eyes in Once Upon a Time in America, or the similar plunge into the depths through layers of the past with which Leone had at one time imagined opening the film, Leone thus might be positioned as an artist who would love to have worked with digital technologies. Had he lived a few years longer, he would perhaps have been the first Italian film-maker to use CGI effects, not Argento.

Had he used the new electronic image, Leone could again be positioned as a film-maker who partook of both movement-image and time-image in a distinctive way. While Deleuze is critical of television and other electronic images within Cinema 2, it has to be borne in mind that he was writing at a time when computer technologies were still in their relative infancy. Pixar, for instance, was not established until 1979, as the Graphics Group. Drawing a parallel with Deleuze's analysis of Bergson's dismissal of cinema, as one occuring at a point when it presented movement but not movement-image, we might say the electronic image's "strength" and "essence" were not established by the early 1980s. Just as the early "cinema of attractions" had not yet developed any sense of moving the camera or from one shot to another, primitive CGI were as yet capable of doing little but functioning as an attraction, a sign of future potentiality. Nor was the much-maligned MTV or music video type aesthetic, with its eclectic combination of contemporary (and initially principally analogue) image manipulation technologies and Soviet-inspired montage particularly influential at the time Deleuze was writing: MTV did not begin broadcasting until 1981. Here it is also worth noting that Argento has used the closely related television commercial form as an opportunity to experiment with new technologies and techniques which he has subsequently incorporated into his films; Leone also made commercials in the 1970s during the period when Once Upon a Time in America was in its extended pre-production.

While Ronald Bogue characterises the "television image" as "fundamentally a type of time-image" (2003: 195) it also needs to be acknowledged that contemporary digital technologies have given rise to new varieties of something closer to the movement-image: Contemporary special effects driven blockbusters could be construed as present a new version of the action-image. Kristin Thomson's (1999) criticisms of films such as Speed (Dir: Jan De Bont, 1994) and Armageddon (Dir: Michael Bay, 1996) and the response of Angela Ndalianis (2004) are exemplary here:

The focus on action and special effects [in Armageddon] result in a lack of depth with regard to character development and their motivation of "causal action" (14). [...] Thompson herself may see the film as a "failed" or "incorrect" attempt at classical form, but audiences recorded their belief in the film's "correctness" through their contribution to box office returns. Likewise, Speed "suffers," according to Thompson, because it "uses up too much narrative energy in the bus episode without leaving any dangling cause at the end" (26). The end of the film (in the train) is viewed as an isolated episode that lacks concrete connection (in a classical sense) with the cause-and-effect patterns of the rest of the film. In other words, the film ignores the pattern of classical storytelling that Thompson identifies and instead succumbs to spectacle and action that ride on minimal story causation. (

Recasting Thompson's neo-formalist analysis and Ndalianis "neo-baroque" response in Deleuzean terms, what we see here is a distinction between classical and modern action cinemas: Classical action cinemas, like the western, were based around the SAS' form. Clear situations provoked clear sensory motor responses, propelling the narrative along. Today's action cinemas, perhaps particularly within the science-fiction and fantasy genres, present spectacular images that characters do not know how to respond to. The issue is what to make of this inability to act. Comparing Bay's images to those of Rossellini, for instance, they would clearly appear to be lacking: The Hollywood director's protagonists and audience are not confronted by a same kind of "shock to thought". But if we consider these images as a contemporary version of the "cinema of attractions" we might view them more positively. The difficulty here is that Deleuze does not really address the cinema of attractions in Cinema 1 and 2. Instead he identifies only a "primitive" state of the cinema which featured movement only within the frame via the figures present within it, "where the image is in movement rather than being movement-image" (2005b: 26). When discussing the "montage of attractions" in Eisenstein he is also uncharacteristically hesitant, saying that "In our view the 'attractions' consist sometimes in theatrical or circus representations" (2005a: 37). As Deleuze was keen to identify the essential aspects of cinema that distinguish it from other artistic forms, we might assume a degree of wariness as far as such "attractions" are concerned. Today's attractions cannot completely be equated with their turn of the 20th century predecessors. As Tom Gunning contended (19??: ??), the likes of Star Wars (Dir: George Lucas, 1977) were about "tamed" "effects". Nevertheless, it is also notable how contemporary directors, such as John Carpenter, refer to a "rollercoaster" metaphor in explaining the dynamics of their films.i Likewise the spectacular special effects and stunts are there to be seen and to astonish the viewer. As such, they follow the exhibitionist logic of the cinema of attractions rather than the voyeuristic logic of the classical "cinema of narrative integration" or Deleuze's own movement-image. Precisely by being there to astonish, however, such effects may be unsatisfactory from a Deleuzean perspective. They would seem to determine the typical viewer's response more than genuinely provoking thought through the reverberations of the image itself:

Everyone knows that if an art necessarily imposed the shock or vibration, the world would have changed long ago, and men would have been thinking for a long time. So this pretension of the cinema, at last among the greatest pioneers, raises a smile today. They believed that cinema was capable of imposing a shock, and imposing it on the masses, the people [...] However they foresaw that cinema would encounter and was already encountering all the ambiguities of the other arts; that it would be overlaid with experimental abstractions, 'formalist antics' and commercial configurations of sex and blood. The shock would be confused, in bad cinema, with the figurative violence of represented instead of achieving that other violence of a movement-image developing its vibrations in a moving sequence which embeds itself within us." (2005b: 152)

Whereathe a good movement-image cinema presents a clear chain of action-images or sensory-motor situations, and the time-image the thought-provoking breakdown of this chain, the bad movement-image cinema breaks the chain without provoking thought. Moments of spectacle in themselves, as interruptions to the narrative, are largely unsatisfactory to Deleuze. He does however allow for an exception in the likes of Vincente Minnelli's musicals with their creation of "dream worlds" (2005b: 60). This is significant not only because of the (admittedly vague) comparisons that have been made between Minnelli's set pieces and those of Argento, "The Vincent Minnelli of Ultraviolence" as critic Kim Newman has termed him (1988: ??), but also for the Pasolinian reading that may then be drawn out. Pasolini, as we saw earlier, distinguished between a classical "cinema of prose" and a modern "cinema of poetry". While he recognised that there were poetic interruptions in the classical cinema, where the 'real' film and its possibilities broke through, he was also wary of their very separation from the rest of the film. Narrative and spectacle remained separate and distinct. In the modern cinema of poetry by contrast they are clearly intertwined: The camera consciousness of Bertolucci or Antonioni said something in itself, something that related to what they were saying about the contemporary world. Relating back to my discussions of Koven's analysis of the giallo and Martin-Smith's analysis of the western all'italiana, the point here is the distinction Argento, Leone and Questi's work within these filone compared to that of the majority of their contemporaries. Whereas Koven sees most giallo filmmakers as only attaining a (vernacular) cinema of poetry within their films' set-pieces, I am arguing that Argento and Questi's films are poetic in the more thoroughgoing sense identified by Pasolini himself. Whereas Martin-Smith sees spaghetti westerns like Corbucci's Django as presenting a succession of spectacular set-pieces as a SSS rather than a SAS' narrative, I am arguing that Leone's later westerns successfully integrate narrative and spectacle in a poetic manner. In each case, this poeticism is both what redeems their films in Deleuzean terms. It is also, by virtue of being a time-image trait occurring within generic movement-image forms, the thing that takes these directors work beyond Deleuze's movement-image / time-image binary in a pioneering way.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thesis Work 2

Neil Campbell - The Rhiziomatic West (2008)

The Rhizomatic West (2008) examines the American West through a perspective derived from Deleuze and Guattari's co-authored work, emphasising their concept of the rhizome. Author Neil Campbell interprets the rhizome as both "root" and "route", to engage with ideas of the west and 'westness' as they have manifested in a number of media including film, literature, photography, architecture and music. In terms of film specifically, he discusses Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns. Besides the "cultural roots" controversy identified by Frayling(1998), Campbell suggests that they might be considered a "critical" or "minoritarian" cinema of the sort introduced by Deleuze towards the end of Cinema 2 in relation to Third World and Quebecois cinemas. The idea of a minor cinema, comparable to that of a minor literature, comes from Delueze and Guattari's reading of Kafka. Significantly Deleuze interprets minor cinemas as going beyond the movement-image and time-image alike in certain ways: The overtly political cinema of the Soviet filmmakers and of populist Hollywood directors such as Frank Capra was based upon the premise that "the people" already exist and merely needed to be mobilised. "In American and in Soviet cinema the people are already there, real before being actual, ideal without being abstract." (Delueze, 2005: 208) While Hitler, Stalin and the failures of the "American dream" each challenged this belief, the majority of filmmakers in the West continued to endorse it, even within the time-image:

"[I]f there were a modern political cinema, it would be on this basis: the people no longer exist, or not yet... the people are missing.
No doubt this truth also applied to the west, but very few authors discovered it, because it was hidden by the mechanisms of power and the systems of majority. On the other hand, it was absolutely clear in the third world, where oppressed and exploited nations remained in a state of perpetual minorities, in a collective identity crisis. Third world and minorities gave rise to authors who would be in a position to say, in relation to their nation, and their personal situation in that nation to say: the people are what is missing. Kafka and Klee had been the first to state this explicitly. (208-209)

Although there are obviously differences between the position of my Italian directors and the likes of the Brazilian Lino Brocka and the Quebecois Pierre Perrault, there are a number of reasons for considering the films of Leone, Argento and Questi in relation to such Third World and minoritarian filmmakers beyond those identified by Campbell.

The spaghetti western and giallo filone might be understood as differently accented takes upon the dominant Hollywood western and thriller genres which, in the hands of Leone, Argento and Questi, cannot be aligned completely with either the classical Hollywood movement-image cinema nor the modernist European time-image cinema. In this regard it is significant that while Deleuze himself never mentions Leone in the Cinema books, he does suggest that "it was the neo-western that first demonstrated [the] break-up" of the "American people" (208). The point is that the likes of Altman's McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971), Penn's Little Big Man (1970) and Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch (1969) would probably not have been possible without the Italian westerns of Leone and others. While Penn and Peckinpah had both made westerns before Leone, Campbell significantly positions Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate (1980) as a US reworking of Once Upon a Time in the West, noting their common themes and motifs, such as capitalism, prostitute protagonists and epic scale.

It is also notable that the spaghetti western was popular with Third World audiences, as demonstrated by the way Sergio Corbucci's Django is positioned within Perry Henzell's The Harder They Come (1973) as an inspiration for reggae singer Jimmy Cliff's "ragamuffin" anti-hero. More generally, the more overt "political spaghettis" of Corbucci and others, which Leone later critiqued with Duck You Sucker, were popular with Third World audiences. They appreciated their anti-imperialist and colonialist sentiments, problematic though these undoubtedly were from the perspective of western film theorists such as the Cahiers du cinema collective and the Screen group. Another point of connection here is Glauber Rocha. His Black God, White Devil (1964) has been cited as an inspiration for Once Upon a Time in the West, with both films exploring the relationship between myth and history and featuring duster coat clad gunmen. In addition Rocha also appeared as an actor in Godard/The Dziga Vertov Group's Wind from the East (1970) alongside Gian-Maria Volonte, with the film itself being Godard/The Group's reinterpretation-cum-deconstruction of an Italian western. Within it Rocha actually comments on the relationship between different cinemas, outlining the distinctions between Godard's political cinema and his own, as a Third World/Third Cinema filmmaker.

Relating the Italian western back to its domestic context, meanwhile, the important point is that the films often played to a terza visione audience which was disproportionately southern Italian, rural, male, working class and less educated. Else, as with Leone's films, they had a crossover appeal and played to the terza visione alongside their prima visione counterparts, disproportionately northern Italian, urban, middle class and more educated. This ability to reach the terza visione audience was what made Italian intellectuals, themselves disproportionately northern, alternately despair about and engage with filone cinema. On the one hand, for example, the Bologna-born Pasolini described Rome's Cinecitta studios as [belching stomach quote]. On the other hand, he appeared in neo-realist theorist, historian and director Carlo Lizzani's western Requiescant (1967), as a revolutionary priest. The terza visione audience can thereby be understood as having affinities with the Third World and Quebecois audiences: They too were a Deleuzean minority, in terms of power if not numbers. Likewise, if the films of Leone and Argento, two Romans with southern parents, were successful at the Italian box office, this was down to their cross-visione appeal more than the approval of hegemonic northern Italian critics. Here the contrast between Argento and Bertolucci regarding to Leone is telling: The two younger men were hired by Leone for Once Upon a Time in the West as the "young intellectuals" who could assist in taking his filmmaking to a new level. Subsequently the Parma-born Bertolucci, whose father Attilio was a poet and critic, proved more critical of the limitations of Leone's films than the Rome-born Argento, whose father was a film producer. As John Fawell (2005) says in his discussion of their collaboration, Argento was a "true believer" in the filone cinema in a way Bertolucci was not. If we think about Questi, meanwhile, the issue is again that he made films which were too filone or movement-image for the majoritarian Northern Italian critics, but too arthouse or time-image for the minoritarian Southern Italian audience.

Crucially, these are all aspects of Leone's work and its relation to Deleuze which Campbell does not address. Nor, perhaps more surprisingly, does he discuss Deleuze's anti-Bazinian analysis of the Hollywood western as a genre which was as much rhiziomatic as arborescent:

[I]t would be dangerous to reserve an epic genius for Ince and Ford, attributing to other more recent directors the invention of of a tragic or even romantic western. The application of Hegel and Lukacs' formula of the succession of these genres works badly for the Western: as Mitry has shown, from the outset the Western explores all these directions - epic, tragic, romantic - with cowboys who are already nostalgic, solitary, ageing, or even born losers, or rehabilitated Indians. (151)

The issue here is one of squaring Deleuze's impressionistic analysis with Will Wright's more empirical work: Whatever its limitations, especially with regard to the Italian western, as Frayling (1998) argues, Wright's Sixguns and Society (1975) also has the virtue of charting the rise and fall of different western narrative forms in relation to their box-office popularity. If there were already westerns which departed from the dominant formula in the 1930s and 1940s, such as Raoul Walsh's Pursued (1947), then their commercial success or otherwise (to the extent that such factors as star presence can be factored out) provides us with an indication of which trajectories or "lines of flight" for the western, whether arborescent or rhiziomatic, worked best with the majority audience.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009


What is the most fucked up transcendental/or immanent music you can think of? Whitehouse, Albert Ayler, Brutal Truth, Tuvan Throat Singing, Gamelan, The Germs?

Woody Strode

Was Woody Stode ever cast as a cowboy before Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West?

In Ford was he a 'negro'? In Sergeant Routlegde, for instance?

Who was the first white director (i.e. not Oscar Micheaux) to present a 'black' actor as such? Great though Micheaux was, I feel he was too much part of the race cinema of the US in the 1920s, 30s and 40s to see beyond its restrictions.

Thesis work #1

Paola Marrati – Gilles Deleuze: Cinema and Philosophy (2008)

Paola Marrati’s key idea is that the Cinema books are as concerned with politics as aesthetics. In particular, they introducing new ideas of action and agency that Deleuze would further develop in What is Philosophy? – a book that, significantly, takes up the question and its title from the closing lines of Cinema 2 (x, 89).

Within What is Philosophy, co-authored with Guattari, Deleuze develops a notion of immanence diverging from that found in earlier works, such as Difference and Repetition. In these, Deleuze had characterised immanence as a marginal tradition, practiced by occasional figures like Duns Scotus, Spinoza and Nietzsche. In What is Philosophy? he argues that immanence is in fact more prevalent, but that the historically tendency for it to be subordinated time and again to transcendence has prevented us from seeing this (90-91).

Relating this back to the Cinema books, Marrati emphasises that the idea of immanence is also central to the notion of the time-image advanced in Cinema 2, such that filmmakers in the post-war period were (asymptotically) in advance of their philosopher and political theorist counterparts (xv).

This claim is founded upon a series of distinctions between the movement-image and the time-image, which might be summarised as follows: The movement-image cinema was based upon 19th century understandings that were transcendental and historicist. Filmmakers such as Griffith and Eisenstein believed in a world to come and the effectiveness of human agency, as epitomised by the sensory motor schema of the action-image and the large SAS’ form, to actualise this world. Compared to these common elements the differences between them, of Griffith’s emphasis upon the individual and the US as Christian utopia, and Eisenstein’s emphasis upon the collective and the USSR as Communist utopia, were unimportant:

If Griffith and Eisenstein privilege the active form of montage, it is because they share a faith in human agency and in history. However different their conceptions of history might be, they share the belief that history is made through humans’ actions, and in this respect it matters little whether what triggers the events is the passions of a traitor, the love of a woman, or class struggle. The form of classical cinema – American cinema, doubtless, but not only American – is constructed around the action-image. (51)

Belief in transcendence, historical telos and the efficacy of human action were then shattered by the Second World War, clearing the way for the emergence of the time-image cinema based upon immanence. The breakdown of the action-image and the concomitant emergence of the seer, the long take and other new figures and concepts in the time-image allowed filmmakers to explore new ways of thinking about our place in this world: “The greatness of the filmmakers of time is that they were able to create other livable [sic] configurations of thought in images themselves; this is how they attained a force comparable to the now failing force of the action-image.” (79)

Though Marrati does not specifically mention him, there are possible affinities here with Siegfried Kracauer’s (1960) notion of cinema as the “redemption of physical reality,” albeit taking place within a specifically time-image understanding of ‘reality’.

More important for my purposes, however, is to relate Marrati’s reading of Deleuze to modernity and post-modernity. The issues here is that, like Deleuze, Marrati uses the former term but not the latter. I would contend, however, that her analysis, as it implicates a single meta-narrative within the movement-image followed by a multiplicity of language games within the time-image, can be understood in postmodern terms. What we have, that is, are a ‘classical’ cinema of the movement-image which is (19th century) ‘modern’ insofar as it believes in a transcendent Truth and a ‘modern’ cinema of the time-image which is (post World War II) ‘postmodern’ insofar as it denies this in favour of immanence and localised, performative, contingent truths.

Relating Maretti’s analysis to my filmmakers would seem to have differing implications. Leone,
as an Italian pessimist sceptical about the “American dream,” would seem presents an obvious modern/postmodern/time-image counterpart to the classical/movement-image John Ford, with his optimistic belief in this dream.

While Ford himself admittedly became more questioning of the US utopia in his later films such as The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend”) and Cheyenne Autumn, it is significant that these were the films Leone felt came closer to his own understanding of the west. As Neil Campbell (2008) summarises Leone’s remarks on Once Upon a Time in the West:

My version of the story of the birth of a nation” acted by “the most worn-out of stereotypes: the pushy whore, the romantic bandit, the avenger, the killer who is about to become a businessman, the industrialist who uses the methods of a bandit. These “worn-out” figures exit the stage to leave the whore to be transformed and transforming, to symbolize this “birth” of a new nation and the end of another world—“the beginning of a world without balls,” […]The “ancient race” (as the film calls them) of mythic men linked in chains of brutality is “worn-out”

As I will also argue Leone’s ‘America’ trilogy thereby provide different, immanent, alternatives to a faith in a transcendent utopia.

For Argento’s gialli thrillers the obvious point of comparison is Antonioni’s anti-gialli, most notably Blow-Up. The apparent problem here, besides the near-unassailable position of Antonioni as one of the masters of the time-image/postmodernist cinema, is that Argento’s films tend to present a re-engagement with action following a period of becoming seer: Whereas Blow-Up’s Thomas is witness to a murder and proves unable to act, his Deep Red double/virtual image Marcus (both characters being played by the same actor, David Hemmings) resolves to solve the case and as such becomes (something of) an agent again. Argento’s own journalistic criticism of Blow-Up, as Antonioni’s “abandonment” of his “duty” towards the audience, is instructive: The two filmmakers would seem implicated in different language games here. Blow-Up suggests a lack of faith in any truth (there is no body and thus no murder...), Deep Red a faith in a “will to truth” (there was murder, as demonstrated by this body...). The point, of course, is that Antonioni and Argento’s language games can only be judged in their own (performative) terms, of what works best in their particular contexts, not by some universal criteria. What worked for Antonioni’s arthouse audience (along with the mass audience brought in by the promise of a flash of pubic hair, as first for 1967; we must not forget the exploitation cinema and its configurations of "sex and violence") was not necessarily what worked for Argento’s crossover audience in 1975.

Crucially Marrati also suggests that the time-image itself allows for action, so long as it was sufficiently considered, rather than automatic, and geared towards immanence rather than utopia:

It is not out of passivity, powerlessness, or resignation that one is no longer capable of immediately and “appropriately” responding to a given situation or event. It is quite the opposite: the response is suspended because one has become aware that certain actions are powerless. Habits of conduct, patterns of behaviour, are deemed to express weakness or strength, love or contempt, indignation or revolt. Not to engage in the appropriate response, not to express the appropriate affect may seem to imply passivity, or worse. Deleuze’s point, though, is that sometimes, perhaps even often, “acting in the appropriate way” is precisely the lack of response and the refusal to acknowledge our helplessness. (xii)

The issue then becomes that of interpretation, of one filmmaker’s time-image formulation against that of another, alongside the point at which a refusal to act, or the apparent inaction, paradoxically itself constitutes a form of action.

In Leone’s cinema we may think, for example, of Noodles’ refusal to accept the role of assassin-avenger than Max assigns him in Once Upon a Time in America, and of whether this refusal occurs in actuality or virtuality. We might also consider the likes of Dr Villega’s refusal to jump from the explosives-loaded train in Duck You Sucker, despite the forgiving Sean’s imploring that he do so, along with the alternatives of desperately trying to escape versus stoically facing death that are presented to other revolutionaries as they face firing squad. In Questi’s cinema, meanwhile, we might think of the passivity of Tomas Milian’s unnamed protagonist in Django Kill, his refusal to act for gold/dollars or revenge, as would conventionally provide the spaghetti western protagonist, as seen in Leone’s films, amongst others, with ample motivation. (Perhaps Deleuze’s anti-phenomenological, post-modern, existentialism does not provide us with the clear guide to action that Sartre’s ‘no excuses’ phenomenological, modern, existentialism did? The limit situation of facing an executioner, of giving a gaze of defiance or attempting to escape at the likely cost of others’ lives, would presumably represent the test case here.) This combination of classical movement-image generic situation, that Django Kill is a western which should present a clear SAS’ narrative as Milian’s character gets his revenge and/or the gold, followed by a time-image development, as he passively observes, might also help explain the film’s and Questi’s marginality relative to Leone and Argento: As a postmodernist avant la lettre who refused the high/low, art/popular, time-image/movement-image binaries still extant in a structuralist 1960s, Questi made films which confounded audiences on both sides of each binary. Leone and Argento by contrast were less extreme in their images and more adroit at performing a balancing act on these either/or binaries.

Related to this, the problem is perhaps that we cannot use postmodern in brackets: If we say ‘postmodern’, in whatever formulation, we immediately bring into play a set of assumptions about what this ‘postmodern’ is, with these inevitably defined positively or negatively in relation to the ‘modern’. We lack a vocabulary which is both/and or neither/nor, that something may be ‘modern’ and ‘postmodern’, or neither of these, depending on how we define our terms. In relation to Deleuze’s Cinema theories, this is compounded by his movement-image/time-image distinction, as one which he identifies as being about the ‘classical’ and ‘modern’ cinema rather than, for example, the ‘modern’ (1920s) and the ‘neo-modern’ (1960s), as in Orr (1993).

[Let me know if you want more, as I can happily post one or two thousand words a day of this stuff; apart from anything else I would like comments from the ordinary and academic audiences.]

Monday, 7 September 2009

Horror Top Trumps

When I was a child one of the things that my friends and I used to play with were Top Trumps. These were themed packs of playing where each of the 32 normal cards in a set had ratings for various different attributes; in the case of the horror ones these were Physical Strength, Fear factor, Killing power and Horror rating, which scored between 45 and 100.

The rules were pretty straightforward, and went something like this: Each player got the same number of cards and drew the top card from their hand. One player then selected an attribute, probably the highest one of the four. Whichever player had the highest number won the cards, and then played their next card. This continued until there was only one player left.

The thing I really liked about the two sets of horror themed cards, Dracula and Devil Priest, was the garish artwork and inventive monsters, although even at that time I recognised that Dracula was more specifically a Christopher Lee Dracula. Over the years, however, I've come to realise that a lot of the monsters appear to have been inspired / taken from horror films and often just had their names changed:

The Dracula Set
Prince of Darkness – Onibaba
The Mad Magician – London After Midnight
Madman – Doomwatch
The Freak – The Reptile
Lord of Death – The Phantom of the Opera (Julian / Chaney)
Phantom of the Opera – The Abominable Dr Phibes?
Skeleton – The House on Haunted Hill?
The Hangman – The Phantom of the Opera (Julian / Chaney)
Two Headed Monster – The Thing with Two Heads

The Devil Priest Set
Colossus – The Colossus of New York?
Creature from Outer Space – This Island Earth
Fire Demon – Dr Who story The Daemons?
High Priestess of Zoltan – based on Lavinia in The Curse of the Crimson Altar?
The Jailer – Fritz in Frankenstein (Whale / Karloff)
The Living Gargoyle – based on the Martians in Quatermass and the Pit?
Zoltan – the monster in Lady Frankenstein?

Anyone recognise any others, like The Thing? Both sets are at if you need a refresher ;-)

Sunday, 6 September 2009


What we have here is an encounter between continental philosophy and a selection of often obscure, often extreme horror films, many of Italian origin, that is premised upon the idea of “cinesexuality,” the cinema as a lover whom we entertain in a masochistic way.

As a text which brings into contact the likes of Deleuze and Guattari (both singly and in combination), Blanchot and Irigaray with such films as Fulci’s City of the Living Dead and The Beyond, D’Amato Beyond the Darkness and Margheriti’s The Virgin of Nuremberg, it’s intriguing but daunting.

Most people who are into such philosophy are not going to be into Italian horror, while most people who are into Italian horror are not going to know very much about continental philosophy.

While there are definite connections to be made, as around the role of faciality in The Virgin of Nuremberg, with its Red Skull-like plastination-faced ‘Punisher’, or the fact that the common inspiration for both Fulci’s absurdist horror entries and Deleuze and Guattari’s “body without organs” was Antonin Artaud, the general impression is of two bodies of texts that don’t come together terribly much, where the theoretical texts dominate their film counterparts rather than there being a dialogue between the two and where academic shibboleths are more important than everyday communication:

“The images in The Beyond and City declare war on organizations and organizing principles, of narrative, of causal movement and result and of the organized body. Death results not in Mars’ slaughter of desire and subjects but the Order of Venus. This is a war on war, against the Order of Mars which is the war against creativity and thought as productive imagination, thus it belongs to the Venusian Order: ‘In other words [they resist] a phenomenon of accumulation, coagulation, and sedimentation that, in order to extract useful labor from the Body without Organs, imposes upon it forms, functions, bonds, dominant and hierarchized organizations, organized transcendences.’ (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 159) Fulci too has it in for the organization of the organs, (di)splaying flesh in a number of increasingly gruesome ways – spiders chew out eyeballs, crucifixions and acid baths abound, Emily’s throat and ear are ripped out by her guide dog in a more bloody homage to Suspiria. In City brains extrude from scalp, eyeballs bleed, heads have holes through their apex, intestines are spewed up and bodies are punctuated by clusters of writhing maggots.

The body in The Beyond and City is only successful in disarray; those bodies that remain organized end up wandering the empty wasteland of the beyond of the title. Fulci’s message is ‘destroy the organized flesh or be relegated to a land of pure nothingness’. Or perhaps nothingness is plethora, and as minoritarian bodies are relegated to nothing in majoritarian culture it may be an attractive option, nothing as everything.” (104-105)

To this I would merely ask and add, isn’t the symbol of the beyond itself neither that for Mars nor Venus but for Saturn?

Author Patricia MacCormack’s response might be to say that I am being overly literal, too concerned with the facts, the truth and other outmoded phallologocentric conceptions that she and Fulci’s films are against.

My rejoinder, assuming I haven’t (de)constructed a straw (wo)man out of her arguments here, is that by making me think about the planetary/astrological symbolism here, she has started me on the road to developing a new truth, as I then consider the contrast between Cronos (Saturn) and Aeon in Deleuze’s Cinema books, to thus relate the logic of Fulci’s films to the time-image; in so doing I’m drawing upon a Deleuzean notion of the truth, where what matters is being productive in a Nietzschean will to power/will to truth type way rather than correspondence with an external object or being logically consistent with the rest of the theory.

But most horror fans aren’t going to want to do this, just as most film academics won’t have any familiarity with these films beyond what MacCormack tells them.

As far as the film specialist is concerned, it is also worth noting that MacCormack doesn’t engage with Cinema 1: The Movement-Image and Cinema 2: The Time-Image. Although she mentions the work of Anna Powell, who has sought to relate concepts from these books to popular horror films, in passing, it is more to signal her difference in approach than build upon it in relation to less familiar films. (Suspiria is an exception, with both authors discussing it in their particular ways.)

Summary dismissal characterizes MacCormack’s approach to the likes of Michael Grant’s reading of The Beyond in relation to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The film, she claims, is not Gothic but Baroque, albeit (re)defined in a particular way that relates more to contemporary continental philosophy than art history. This may help us think differently about The Beyond, but why the need to deny an another alternative and the truth it creates?

Given that the book aspires to be “a pervert’s guide” to cinema, MacCormack’s choice of Italian horror films is also perhaps slightly disappointing: The pleasures of The New York Ripper are absent, along with those of D’Amato’s Dominican Republic films and the Cannibals Holocaust and Ferox.

At issue here, I suspect, is that certain (cine)sexualities, those that involve deriving sadistic pleasure from the non-concensual suffering of Others, remain beyond the pale, even (or especially) within the Queer Interventions series the book forms part of.

Away from film, one thing that’s telling in this regard is McCormack’s contrasting of Slayer’s 213, as a sufficiently genuine song about necrophiliac desire, and Cannibal Corpse’s “Necropedophile, where paedophilia, necrophilia and naughty swear words emphasize the act [of necrophilia] extravasated from desire at all, simply offered as something to shock by hitting sanctified lines of social values”: If Cannibal Corpse gets you off, has a use value for your pleasure, what’s the problem? You/they aren’t hurting anyone, after all. Also, where’s the mention of Slayer’s earlier cod-Satanist shock value Necrophiliac (“I feel the urge, the growing need, to fuck this sinful corpse”) here?

An 'it’ll never happen' imaginary round table idea: MacCormack and Pete Sotos discussing Maladolescenza

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Black and White and Blue: Adult Cinema from the Victorian Age to the VCR

[Yet another paracinema post, rather than Eurotrash]

With Dave Thompson’s book (not to be confused with David Thompson who is sufficiently mainstream not to do this), yet another hitherto marginalised, forgotten area of cinema goes under the microscope.

This is the “stag” film, or the clandestinely produced, distributed and consumed sexually explicit one-reel short film, as it existed from the turn of the 20th century to the 1960s. At that point the hardcore loop, for private peep show booth viewing, and the hardcore feature, for consumption with a theatrical audience, took over.

The title is slightly misleading, insofar that the VCR’s privatisation of the sex film is hardly addressed. Likewise, while the emergence of amateur porn in the 1980s and beyond, with cheap video cameras and latterly digital cameras, is addressed, this is only in the conclusion. This also means that the late 80s/early 90s emergence of “gonzo” porn, with little or no pretence of a plot to string together the sex scenes, is downplayed.

But, these criticisms aside, Black and White and Blue is an impressive piece of work, as Thompson, aided by several unfortunately but understandably anonymous or pseudonymous informants, digs deep into the history of the form as it existed in the US, UK, France, Germany, Mexico and elsewhere.

These are films whose provenance is difficult to establish. While hairstyles and other incidental details provide clues, these merely point to the earliest point at which a film could have been made, with the delay between the metropolis and the small town frequently suggesting anywhere within a decade or two, or epoch. But they were also often localised in the US context, that what was shocking in one state could be normal in others. (Or, with the limited circulation of stags, that each state developed and reflected its own morality.)

Where Thompson is most astute here – and where his work also gains value for social historians, to the extend he hasn’t drawn from them, as he likely has – is in charting the demotic, that, for example, “eel skin” meant condom in the 1920s, whereas “fish skin” only emerged in the 1930s.

He also charts the prevalence of various sexual practices over the period in the US. There’s a normal and the pathological, or a normalisation and pathologisation, here, that oral sex was gradually normalised by the stags whilst male homosexuality (as distinct from female pseudo lesbianism), mixed race relationships, anal sex, watersports, bestiality and other ‘perversions’/perversions were not.

A fascinating read...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Art / porn?

The Paris cinematheque and porn?

I am reading Dave Thompson's Black and White and Blue, a discussion of adult cinema from the 1890s to the 1980s.

As part of this, he deals with the shadowy history of the silent era and 1930s sex film in France. His discussion is largely in terms of beneath the radar, unofficial, research.

But, going further, did Langlois's Cinematheque screen these films, and were Bazin and the future nouvelle vague aware of them, as part of the whole of cinema, especially as porn = realism, sort of?

Heroes #1

"Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky?
He got an ice pick
That made his ears burn

Whatever happened to dear old Lenny?
The great Elmyra, and Sancho Panza?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?

Whatever happened to all the heroes?
All the Shakespearoes?
They watched their Rome burn
Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?

No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more"
- The Stranglers, No More Heroes

One of mine: