motion picture, it's called

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Our Lovely Paranoia Keeps Us From Being Bored

Memling, Last Judgement, c. 1469, National Museum, Danzig (Gdansk)

Kachyna's The Ear, Robson's The Seventh Victim, Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us, Bruce Wagner's Wild Palms and Friedkin's Bug.

Most of the afiaciandos of horror, poor undereducated devils that they are, often try to extend the history of the genre back to the particularly luxuriant Mannerist growth of the Jacobean revenge drama. Besides the frequent ghosts and supernatural occurances, the over-explicit scenes of perverse violence, the revenge drama often feature political conspiracies that resemble modern political paranoia.

Of course, since most horror aficiandos are political naifs or wonder-children, they do not recognize the difference between the aristocratic conspiracies we see in Jacobean drama, and the paranoia of the modern state. Part of this is the much higher level of technology that the modern state both uses and intentionally creates. And the modern bureaucracy is
perhaps the greatest technological invention of the modern state.

Thus, once the conspirators of the aristocratic revenge drama are gorily killed, the aristocratic state quickly returns to it's eternal role of attempting to find the most virtuous prince to rule it (even if no princes immediately show up to properly occupy the throne). The aristocratic state undermined by conspiracy and revenge quickly collapses, allowing other princes to fill the vaccuum.

The Jacobean revenge drama ultimately makes us nostalgic for such a simple and easily comphrensible politics. As the above five films show, the modern state does not permit us to so easily dispense with our modern paranoia.

All five films clearly show up a perplexing phenomenon of modern life. As we know from John Locke, the modern state removes the colorful and exciting political turmoil and honors of the old aristocratic and royalist states (the turmoil precisely depicted in the Jacobean revenge drama) in favor of almost all citizens focusing on private business (i.e., commerce or capitalism) with government religated to a dry and hidden technocracy. All five of these movies show the impossibility of this - the bourgeouis life is simply too boring for humans to exist in it.

Or, in other words, Plato was correct in claiming that part of the soul is spirited and desires honors or fame or nobility or virtue. In a noble or well-formed regime, such desires could be properly channeled into public activities that satisfied such desires with benefit to the state. In the Jacobean revenge drama, an evil aristocratic regime prevents the virtuous young men (such as Hamlet) from assuming the throne through the conspiracy. The gory mass murder at the end of the Jacobean revenge tragedy is the only way the thwarted noble desires of the spirited young men can be assuaged.

I.E., in the Jacobean revenge tragedy, even though the tragic land (Denmark or Malta) is ruled by a conspiracy, the conspiracy is limited (by technology and it's character as an aristocratic conspiracy). Virtuous young men by ominous and dire deeds (and noble counter-conspiracies) can undo these regimes.

In the modern paranoia state, however, we see that the young people desire to do good, but that modern society drives them by design away from noble public service. In The Ear, the young politician is swallowed up in the infinite bureaucracy of the state. Thus, he perverts his soul by engaging in minor and bloodless political infighting and superficial consumerism.

In Paris Belongs to Us, the young students of Paris want to do good things, but the immensity and opacity of the interlinked Cold War security apparatus does not even allow them the basic information of what their states are engaged in. Since the modern state has forbidden all clear paths to revolting against it (unlike the more changeable aristocratic state).

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Few Really Scary Movies: Horror for October

Franz v. Stuck's Lucifer (1890)

Horror movies are not a genre that I'm particularly fond of. That's not unusual, but unusually, I'm conversely a fairly enthusiastic fan of horror literature. My problem with horror as a film genre lies in it's seeming inability to hit the emotional profundity regularly encountered within the best horror literature.

The greatest horror literature in my opinion was created in two short time periods: the three decades of the 1890s and 1910s (until about 1913), and the period of 1945-1975. I find most horror works before 1880 or so to be personally less appealing. The Yellow Nineties and Double Oughts however produced a cornucopia of the most excellent horror literature, ranging from Henry James, Edith Wharton, Gertrude Atherton, Oliver Onions, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, E.F. Benson, M.R. James, Lafcadio Hearne, W.W. Jacobs, Robert W. Chambers, William Hope Hodgson, Ambrose Bierce, M.P. Shiel and many others. Writing at least an occasional ghost story was almost required to be a fiction writer of the time – beyond the aforementioned Henry James, Wharton and Bierce, such figures as Maupassant, Wilde, Twain, Hardy, Beerbohm, Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, O. Henry, and many more would at least try their hands at a ghost story.

Odilon Redon's Crying Spider, 1881 (charcoal, private collection)

Conversely, while the immediate after-war period produced many excellent horror works, they were largely written by writers who specialized in horror writing, and many of whom were neither well-known during the time nor today. The best of these figures were Richard Matheson, Robert Aickman, Fritz Leiber, Fred Chappell, Ramsey Campbell and Gerald Kersh.

However, the horror movie has not been as successful as the literary genre has been. Notable stand-outs tend to be few and already widely heralded: such stand-by's as Dreyer's Vampyr, Tourneur's Cat People, Mizoguchi's Ugetsu Monogatari, Wiene's Kabinett of Docktor Kaligari, Murnau's Nosferatu, James Whales' 1930s films............and that's about it.

Furthermore, perhaps more than most other genres, horror movies made outside of the Anglosphere received little attention until the recent recognition of J-horror. Even the recognition of J-horror has largely been limited to recent Japanese horror productions, and ignored that the ghost and demon story genre is many centuries old in both Japan and China. Even worse has been the almost total ignorance of continental European horror except for a narrow genre of movies made in Italy.
So, I'd like to celebrate Halloween this year by focusing a month's writing upon lesser known horror films and also trying to avoid the Anglosphere as much as possible.

Here's some potential topics:

Jean Epstein's Fall of the House of Usher
Paranoia Quartet: Rivette's Paris Belongs to Us, Kachyna's The Ear, Mark Robson's The Seventh Victim and Friedkin's Bug
Pereira dos Santos' How Tasty was My Little Frenchman
Franju's Blood of the Beasts

As usual, I'll be decorating with my posts with appropriately frightening artworks.

Michael Wolgemut's Dance of Death, 1493 (woodcut print, illustration for Schedel's Chronicle of the World, Nuremburg, 1493)