Monthly Archives: June 2009

With the help of his robot friends

So, inexplicably, my last post – a random little overanalysis of a government flyer – has received almost 100 views in the past two days, more than this whole blog has gotten in the past several weeks. I can’t account for this except, maybe, to say that having “teen” and “sex” as tags encourages viewing – but after all, those were just honest descriptions of the post’s content. So, for what it’s worth, people like reading about teen sexuality. Or just sex. Sex. SEX!!!! I’ll keep that in mind.

And now, as promised earlier, I plan to explore the fertile territory that is MST3K.

Mystery Science Theater 3000

For the uninitiated, Mystery Science Theater 3000 or MST3K is a television show (1988-1999) and cultural institution, the brainchild of comedian Joel Hodgson, in collaboration with a number of other brilliant minds from the Twin Cities area in the late ’80s. Other important names associated with the series include Trace Beaulieu, who played mad scientist Clayton Forrester, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy, voices of Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo respectively, Mary Jo Pehl, who played Clayton’s mother Pearl, and of course the great Michael J. Nelson.

The premise of the show was absurd and simple: the Mads, by virtue of being mad scientists, wanted a guinea pig on whom to experiment, so they took a worker, Joel (and later Mike), “shot him into space,” and forced him to float around on the Satellite of Love watching terrible, terrible movies. It’s as ridiculous as the plot of any Bert I. Gordon B-movie, creating a meta-structure from which to gaze upon several decades of mediocre, low-budget cinema. If you’ve never seen MST3K before, here’s an excellent example of the show at its prime.

This is Mike and the bots riffing on a 1950 informational film called A Date with Your Family; as any bad-movie lover knows, un-self-conscious, unintentionally hilarious, and poorly-made films readily inspire mockery, or “riffing.” This is MST3K’s guiding principle. Maybe I’m being overzealous in laying out the show’s basics, but, well, you’ve gotta walk before you can run. After all, I take this show for granted – growing up while the show was running, watching it on the Sci-Fi Channel on Saturday mornings, episodes like Devil Fish and The Screaming Skull, and supplementing this with locally-broadcast shows like Horror Incorporated and frequent viewings of much-beloved opuses of badness, whether from the Godzilla series, other specimens of daikaiju cinema, or homegrown horrors involving Boris Karloff or Edward D. Wood, Jr. All of which is to say, the ethos of MST3K has very much informed my movie-watching experiences.

Statler and Waldorf

So the reason I felt compelled to start writing this blog was that, watching the show almost every day as Ashley and I do, I started thinking about its unique approach to entertainment: it’s hyper-cannibalistic, drawing its entire value from merciless dissection of another work’s flaws. The other day, we were sitting on a couch pissed off about this and that, and realized we were yelling at someone who wasn’t there (perhaps an embodiment of the State of the World). And I observed how we were like Statler and Waldorf, the two hecklers from The Muppet Show who would sit up in the balcony having exchanges like this:

Waldorf: Just when you think this show is terrible something wonderful happens.
Statler: What?
Waldorf: It ends.

I then added that Statler and Waldorf had always been two of my many, many heroes – eternal malcontents, never willing to give the performer any credit, just as we endlessly must gnaw at the ankle of the status quo, never giving it a break: after all, even if there are 1 or 2 nice reforms, that doesn’t mean the system’s fixed. Women’s suffrage was granted just about 90 years ago, but the fight is far from over; thus are hecklers and malcontents a role model for activists everywhere. Or so it is in my cracked worldview.

So I return to the ideas, absurdity, and influence of MST3K. The title, visual aesthetic, and content are all deeply rooted in a heritage of bad science fiction movies, starting around 1947 (I always trace it back to the Cold War, and Kenneth Arnold‘s sighting of the first UFOs in Washington State) and continuing maybe until somewhere between 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars. The facts are (more or less) these:

1) we have media outside the movie theater to thank for our knowledge and love of these movies, as they were rediscovered in the ’60s-’70s on late-night TV by the generation containing my father and Joel Hodgson, and later on through VHS and DVD  by everybody up to us. Also, since they’re so cheap, low-prestige, and, well, bad, they’re low-cost and easy to distribute – hence the dollar store DVDs or 50-movie sets you can cheaply buy, making a treasure trove of B-movies available to new audiences in search of ironic entertainment.

2) enjoyment of these movies is primarily based on ironic appreciation of their badness, an interesting and already heavily discussed fact that’s given rise to a whole subculture across America – midnight screenings of Plan 9 or Glen or Glenda, and affectionate documentation of the past like Tim Burton’s film Ed Wood, which can be viewed vis-à-vis MST3K as a similar demonstration of this kind of film appreciation; also compare Michael and Harry Medved’s influential 1980 book The Golden Turkey Awards, which propelled Plan 9 to its current status as the anti-Citizen Kane. Or look at the Golden Raspberry Awards, continuing the trend of what I described as “recognizing suckiness” (The Carl, 2/27/09, p. 20).

It’s this idea that if something aspires to great enough levels of bad, it somehow becomes worth watching. Or reading, if it’s the poetry of James McIntyre, or listening to, if it’s the music of The Shaggs, who have themselves achieved a kind of cult status. I think you could probably connect this interest in the bad with the disillusionment of postmodernity. You could, if you knew how to use those words appropriately. Maybe it’s something like cultural overload. We’re so overburdened with millennia of literature, music, and art – we live in such a fractured, overwhelming world full of such doom and gloom that it’s easier to take comfort in a kind of anti-sublimity. I’m not condemning it at all. Hell, I’ve done it all my life and I love doing it. I’m just going off of the symptoms and speculating as to a possible diagnosis.

So we have Mike Nelson, stranded in outer space with his robot friends. “Now keep in mind Mike can’t control / Where the movies begin or end.” Stuck in a neverending cavalcade of godawful movies, always in a sisyphean struggle to escape but inevitably thrust back into his cinematic womb. And then there is the riff.

This is one of my favorite MST3K shorts, a (dubiously) educational film from 1940 called A Case of Spring Fever. As Ashley and I have noticed, watching it over and over again, the short is hilariously pointless: one clod, as Mike describes him, wishes away all the springs in the world, causing an animated “spring sprite” named Coily to appear and grant his wish; minutes later, after some groveling, Coily returns the springs to their rightful places, and the clod spends the rest of the short lecturing his visibly bored and frustrated friends about the many uses and benefits of springs. Sure, the viewer – while also becoming bored and frustrated – does gain some valuable spring-related knowledge, but the moral of the story seems to be that if you become obsessed with springs, you’ll become a paranoid wreck and alienate all your friends!

Coily, the spring sprite

So, needless to say, it’s dumb. And cheesy. Low-rent. Uninteresting. Really fucking dull. Perfect fodder for MSTing (oh yeah, it’s a verb): the awkward pauses between lines can fit hilarious commentary about the moronic premise, poor acting, inane dialogue, ridiculous set design, and everything else under the sun. Including, of course, allusions to everything from Gilbert Gottfried to Eleanor Roosevelt, It’s a Wonderful Life to Tamagotchis, and Looney Tunes to munchkin Billy Barty – this diverse allusiveness is another sign of MST3K’s cultural omnivorousness, its integration into the whole of late-20th century popular culture. It’s not expected that any one person will understand every single reference, but they do speak a common cultural language – hoping we’ll get the joke about Billy Barty’s height, or Gilbert Gottfried’s strident voice, or the iconic twang at the beginning of the Looney Tunes theme song. It presumes, perhaps, that we’ve watched some movies & TV. That we’ve participated in the flow of recent pop culture, the same touchstones, with a glint of recognition when we hear “Merry Christmas, you wonderful old couch,” presumably fueled by recollections of yuletide television consumption.

The long, open comedy format of MST3K is especially appropriate for this hodgepodge of allusion, grabbing at high and low culture, since as Trace Beaulieu explains:

There was a lot of room in that show. It was 90 minutes long, two hours with commercials. I remember sometimes thinking, “Man, that just doesn’t do it for me at all.” But it didn’t matter… there was space. And I think the thing that was great was that if it did work for somebody and didn’t work for me, there’d be that rare moment where somebody out there would hear a joke and say “I get this, I don’t think more than eight people would get this.” And that was a very personal moment.

Maybe it’s especially fitting that so many people have interacted with MST3K itself in so many ways, when it’s a highly interactive reappropriation of past “junk” culture, deriving endless entertainment from what would otherwise be considered virtually null in terms of entertainment value. One way of viewing the show is as standing in this very disillusioned viewpoint I’ve described, so overdosed on culture, with an assembly line churning out another blockbuster every other Friday – slick, glossy, well-made products with about as much meaning as “art” as Plan 9 (if not less; it’s a question worth asking, since at least Ed Wood had some kind of artistic vision and desire).

And we stand here after so many cultural upheavals, from one movement or rebellion to another, repeatedly recycling and processing and then commodifying the artistic credibility of yesterday, and now we interrogate the junk of the past. A Case of Spring Fever could be the stream of electromagnetic radiation flooding the cosmos, reruns of bad sitcoms stretching into the outer reaches of the galaxy, or another kind of space junk, perhaps a derelict satellite, some forgotten Soviet space probe, bumping up against the S.O.L. in the midst of its orbit. In 1961, Newton Minow referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” And now here we are, practically standing amidst a giant cultural dumping ground, trying to track down genuine artistry anywhere in the huge heaps of refuse; go to Best Buy or turn on cable or browse through the IMDb, and what do you have? One TV show or movie or whatever after another, all begging for your attention – and you can choose what you want to read about or watch, you can make your cultural decisions clear via your spending money, you can align yourself with this cult or that. It’s a disorienting state of affairs.

So with MST3K we, the jaded & wiser members of the Most Recent Generation, can begin the cultural excavation – watching and laughing at the follies of the “unemotional” past, to invoke the narrator’s hilarious mantra in A Date with Your Family. So often Ashley and I will manage to get out a sentence or two amidst our laughter: “How could they have made this? What were they thinking?” (I forget why I mentioned that. It ties in somewhere.) And so often I find myself repeating “Noooo springs! No springs, my friend!”

I don’t know if I’m quite doing justice to how & why MST3K works as well as it does, and what it really does, but it’s so interesting to explore: it’s as if it’s in the show’s in the business of cultural (a word I use very, very often) reconstitution, perhaps? We denizens of a splintered yet globalized world, closer but further apart than ever before, trying to get back into some kind of common understanding – like Mike, tethered to the planet but still far away, desperately wishing to get back into the loop of earthly affairs, trying to “keep his sanity” by criticizing the movies, processing them through the machine of highly allusive, acerbic comedy, and rendering them entertaining through the resulting synthesis of old junk and new commentary.

So this is part of what MST3K does: it gives us another way to view – and repurpose, and recontextualize – movies, interacting with them, talking back to them, inserting hilarious dialogue we wish was there in the first place. Telling the movie what it’s really saying. It establishes a kind of tether between this localized past of pro-spring or anti-emotion ephemera, of wholesome families with Brother and Junior, and with the otherwise historically and culturally adrift present, connecting the two via the line of sight between spectator – even if it’s the silhouette of a robot with a bubble gum machine for a head (building the erudite viewer Tom Servo out of yet more ephemeral junk) – and the junk piece of cinema. Even if we are so much more cynical and self-aware, at least we’re able to somehow relate to this past we’re watching.

So this is kind of my attempt to scratch the surface as to what makes MST3K so good, unique, and compelling, and why I love watching it and have for most of my life. It popped up at just the right time in recent memory; Ashley points out that people have always done that with movies, but MST3K made a show out of it – it codified this universal idea of making fun of what you’re watching, as I’m sure the groundlings did in Shakespeare’s Globe Theater, into “riffing” or “MSTing” for the 21st century. Watching MST3K, I’ll be struck for a moment by how odd it is: I’m watching a movie, but also listening for – and laughing at – the superimposed reactions of three other viewers, the new, absurd dialogue they inject into the preexisting scene; the narration and impressions they toss out; the side jokes and jibes they come up with.

For a moment, contrasted with my usual solemnly contemplative movie-watching style, it’ll strike me as odd – but after all, it’s not so different. For me, the viewing experience is all about participation. If you’re passively letting some pictures and sound wash over you, well, what’s the point to that? After all, no one goes to an art gallery and just allows the paintings to wash over them; it’s obvious you’d get about as much from that experience as if you set a book in your lap, flipped it open, and said to it, “Be read.” That, I think, could be why TV and film have, for so long, gotten such a bad artistic rap. Of course, this is a really big kettle of fish (mmm…) to open as I’m quickly approaching the end of the blog, but it’s worth exploring in the future. Why, after all, should film be any different, why should you just lie back and feel the light and noise bouncing off you? And so, I think maybe MST3K encourages that kind of active viewing: it takes intense participation and investment in the movie to analyze intelligently and draw conclusions, but it takes similar effort to come up with riffs that witty.

I could write a lot more – hell, there may be a book somewhere in this – including my (and Ashley’s) love of the show’s handmade, unrefined aesthetic, as well as the defiant self-awareness of the theme song (“Just repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show / I should really just relax'”), but I’ll keep it (relatively) short. It’s a fantastic show; probably one of the best. And so, if you’re still relatively unfamiliar with it, you can take some of these ideas in mind, go forth, and watch! Browse the list of episodes and keep in mind that most are available on YouTube, including classics like Space Mutiny, Manos: The Hands of Fate, and Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The Internet seems a very fitting medium for continued viewing of a show that so effectively embodies its damn-intellectual-property, DIY attitude – especially a show whose copyright wrangles cause no end of DVD release issues. A show that introduced the name Torgo to a whole generation of film-lovers.

Robot roll call!


Filed under Cinema, Media

Sex is SCARY!!

I am here in PA with Ashley, so while we may be busy together and unable to write, when we do it shall contain the full force of both of our creative wellsprings. (PS: it’s fucking awesome.)

And so, in addition to a number of wholesome, fun activities together (kissing, watching movies, eating) we have been watching a number of MST3K videos together on YouTube. Now, although my face is all leaking and itchy for some reason, making me disoriented and uncomfortable, I’ve been trying to form & express coherent thoughts – and now I’m going to try this in blog form. Because of course, as I was telling Ashley yesterday, the analysis never ends. The words “media studies” on my CAMS major t-shirt mean studying media: i.e., every single form of communication since the beginning of history is up for grabs. Movies, yes, and the Internet, TV, radio, pamphlets, skywriting, tattoos, posters, messages engraved on satellites, smoke signals, cave paintings – they’re all media.

"Teen Talk"

This also includes a flyer we were reading entitled “Teen Talk” distributed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Population Affairs, which details the Department’s opinions on teenage sexuality; although it’s an ephemeral piece of informational literature, it’s nonetheless worth analyzing on a number of levels: the style and content of the flyer can show us, for example, what the U.S. government (as of 2003-2005) wants to tell the youth of the nation, and how they think they can best get these ideas across.

To be honest, its existence as a product of organizations within organizations, under the banner of the federal government, has kind of an Orwellian vibe to me – as if it was being produced by Pornosec within the Ministry of Truth or something. And you can know that someone with a talent for graphic design and a supposed eye for what appeals to kids these days was hired, at some point, to put this together, probably to arrange the pre-written script into a presentable format. We see a bunch of totally typical-looking kids – really carefully typical-looking, that is, engineered to be your ordinary, ethnically diverse group of sexually confused, inquisitive teenagers – presumably asking questions like, “Should I have sex now or wait?” The information is written like a pseudo-FAQ: no one’s really asking them “What should I know if I decide not to have sex?”, but dammit, the question’s going to be answered; it’s also interesting how the phrase “Decisions about sex may be the most
important decisions you’ll ever make, so think before you act” is placed at the top of the page, in quotations, as if citing some great youth educator, but without attribution – so it’s really just another message from the great, amorphous, and apparently reliable “Office of Population Affairs,” which wants you to know that “You Are More Than Just a Body.”

I’m not condemning the flyer’s messages or anything. Young people are stupid and them having less sex would probably be a good thing. But Ashley and I both noticed its resemblance to the hilarious exploitation masterpiece Sex Madness (1938), whose climax involves an otherwise innocent woman blinding her husband and killing her baby, if I recall right, with her secret shame, syphilis. “STDs can be painful,” the flyer explains with a typical penchant for bolds and italics as emphasis devices. “They can make it impossible to have a baby. Some are incurable, and some may even cause death.” DEATH! INCURABLE! NO BABIES! It’s pretty damn sensationalistic; it goes for the “educate through shock value” approach. And what better way to scare kids away from sex than the by using the hellfire-and-brimstone of human sexuality, the STD.

(We’ve been talking about the terminology used, and Wikipedia helpfully explains: venereal disease, of course, is the more outdated term coming from Venus, the Roman goddess of love; STD describes a disease – i.e., symptoms are being exhibited; and STI just means an infection, that the infecting agent is present in your body even if the disease hasn’t exhibited itself yet, so it’s more inclusive.)

I just find it really interesting how the government tries to reach young people. And, more often than not, they end up leaning toward puritanical Sex and Reefer Madness-like extremes, because apparently subtlety just doesn’t work when you’re trying to get into the heads of the young. And besides, it’s just really fun to overanalyze whatever’s available. It makes stays in medical waiting rooms far more entertaining. Why, for example, do they capitalize specific letters? “DON’T BE FOOLED into thinking most teenagers are having
sex.” Capitalization for emphasis IS SUCH A HANDY TOOL. Just so long as you know how and why to use it. Also, why are so many of the headings capitalized like titles – “What Should I Know About Pressure?” Doesn’t look a title to me; I think “What should I know about pressure?” would be way more effective to preserving the illusion of these being actual questions asked by teenagers. So, all that said, on the surface you might just say, “It’s a fucking flyer about teen sexuality. Nothing to analyze there.” But I, obviously, beg to differ.

I was going to continue this post by discussing MST3K, but in the midst of research, I got very distracted – so I’m going to write a whole post about it later on.

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Filed under Media, Sexuality

Asserting freedom in the face of bullshit

Fucking bullshit.

I feel like there are many lifestyles being practiced in this country at this time that will soon be outmoded and abandoned. I say this from the vantage point of west suburban Minnesota. Sitting in a library. Hearing people converse loudly.

Fuck it all.

The Rules of the Game (1939)

I was thinking about Jean Renoir – one of the greatest of directors – and how his work seems to focus on social interactions and relationships. Whether class barriers, romance, families, the individual’s place in society, always focusing on the ties between people. It’s a thought. Renoir, as shown by his performance as Octave in Rules of the Game, was a large and boisterous fellow. His films have a joie de vivre; they see value in forging ahead and trying to make it past all the upheavals and turmoil happening in the world. In the end, happiness can be achieved, like the formation of a family unit amidst the greatest difficulty at the end of The Grand Illusion, or the cyclical return present in the imagery of The River. I like how his films embrace life and enjoy themselves and their own beauty. I started watching The Southerner this morning, and that’s what started this trail of thought.

Futility. That was the title of the Morgan Robertson novel that presaged, in great detail, the sinking of the Titanic by 14 years. I know very little about the book but the title seems to suggest that building a transportatinal behemoth like that is futile, because it’s all going to be destroyed anyway. And the sun will eventually blossom into a red giant and burn away all the oceans of the world so no ships can travel, leaving behind a big salty desert covering this warm little chunk of dirt and moisture we call earth. Here we are, tossed back and forth in a neverending clash of happy and sad, purpose and pointlessness, struggling to build something from who we are and what we do, only to have it crumble like a sand castle at high tide. Here I exist as one person among many, wandering sleepily in the June sun, with ideas and traditions built from centuries of human life tumbling around in my head.

Last night I read a depressingly accurate article in the Onion. Maybe I should start reading news that doesn’t satirize the bleak emptiness of my life and the lives of everyone around me. Or maybe this can somehow spur me to action. We do fucking spend our lives in front of boxes and it’s depressing. But, well, is it so wrong if said box is showing me a Jean Renoir movie which I can then analyze in the context of my field of study (film history) and life in general? Movies are there for us to learn from, after all. But nonetheless… these are depressing truths. That a vacant glow from state-of-the-art machinery can occupy so much of our visual attention. I want to escape. I also think I want to become an anti-corporate activist. Idealistic or not, I feel like this big category I call “corporate bullshit” is the cause behind so many problems for just about everyone. Something is rotten as fuck in the state of Denmark, as Shakespeare would say. Hail back to the days of the muckrakers – Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, and so on – exposing late 19th century corporations for what they were: faceless, soulless aggregations of wealth and power, both economic and political, dancing like puppets under the control of a few greedy fuckers. Greed like this, and our susceptibility to it and everything that follows, can be blamed for the pollution of our minds, souls, and planet; I just want to stop consuming and stop buying. I want to drop the fuck out of the system altogether.


I guess I’m just really fucking bored with whatever this framework has to offer. The problem is that it’s nearly impossible to escape. It’s like a question of whether you’re going to be a Morlock or an Eloi – nonparticipation is not an option. Wherever you live, you’re under somebody’s domain, and it’s perfectly likely there’s a McDonalds within driving distance. And cars, too. Goddamn cars, another object of my ire. And why, you may ask, is it McDonalds, Disney, Wal-Mart, etc. that are being perpetually complained about as the primary corporate transgressors, well: these are some of the most obvious, unavoidable, advertising-heavy corporations throwing their cheap shit out there (often in collaboration) and goading you, the consumer, to pay for it. They’re enormous octopi wedging their fat tentacles into every niche the world has to offer. Well, fuck them. And of course that’s just empty talk, because what can I do? On my own, not a whole hell of a lot. Maybe I’ll reach out and try to find local anti-corporate organizations someday.

In any case, I’m sick of all the bullshit of the world. I want to discover and embrace real, genuine, meaningful, passionate art, not just manufactured shit churned out by an unfeeling system. God, how many times am I going to voice this desire via this blog? I need to get my stream of consciousness, well, a little concentrated. On something. Only I don’t know what. I need to find a different lifestyle to lead. Next year I’m staying at college over the summer, dammit. Any Ivory Tower is preferable to this valley of ashes.

Valerie Solanas (1936-1988)

One person I just keep returning to in my mind over and over is Valerie Solanas, the woman who founded SCUM (the Society for Cutting Up Men) and shot Andy Warhol in 1968. I guess she’s just one of those people who’s too weird, unusual, and interesting for me not to fixate on. And she wrote a manifesto. As I was discussing the other day, she wasn’t enslav’d by another Man’s system, she did not Reason & Compare. Her business was to Create, dammit. Most of my knowledge about Solanas comes from Mary Harron’s 1996 film I Shot Andy Warhol, although I know biopics are always loosely based and fuck around with what actually happened. Nonetheless, from what I’ve read, the movie seems to have captured the general spirit of Solanas’s life, if not its letter. The point is that she was an extremist. She did not Reason, Compare, or fuck around: she took action. Maybe shooting Warhol didn’t further her goals at all. Maybe it really hurt Warhol, a great artist in his own right (though that doesn’t worsen her crime or anything; people can be killed painfully and horribly, artists or not). I grant this and as I’ve said, I don’t condone or encourage violence. Violence sucks. Fuck violence; I’m a quasi-pacifist. But that doesn’t limit my fascination with Solanas. She studied psychology in Maryland, worked frequently as a prostitute, got involved in the Warhol Factory. She supported forming an all-female society. Now naturally I don’t endorse her version of radical misandry as a practical solution to the world’s problems, but it’s something, it’s an idea, and it’s uncompromising. Solanas’s whole manifesto can be read here; I have yet to read it in its entirety myself, but plan to in the near future. I think manifestos are good. Laying out what exactly you plan to accomplish and what course you’ll to take in order to accomplish it. And Solanas is such a great mix of attributes and values – a rebel in terms of politics, gender ideology, class, a historical figure, an artist herself (author of the willfully obscene play Up Your Ass). Would she be pissed off to see some white male student living 20+ years after her death gazing wistfully at her historical visage, puzzling over her actions and ideas? I wouldn’t be surprised.

Finally: one topic I find my main perpetually returning to, which I will probably continue to discuss in the future: neurochemicals. All the molecules and compounds and chains of whatever flitting around your brain, from gland to organ through the blood stream, being produced endlessly to trigger the various parts of your brain to act this way or that. One reason I’m glad I’ve taken so many intro psychology courses is that they taught me a little bit about neurochemicals. All those neurotransmitters – dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, adrenaline, melatonin, good old acetylcholine – modifying the signals fired off from one neuron to the next, subtly altering your mood, attitudes, behavior, thoughts, anything. And all of this is happening inside you, all the time, and when it goes wrong… well, OK, when you break an arm or leg, when your liver or kidney stops working, it sucks and it’s your body backfiring, but there’s always something you can do about it, right? And it’s just a part of your body. You can live with 1 arm or 1 kidney.

But your brain? That’s where you are localized. The you you call you, your self and identity, your consciousness and subjectivity, however you conceive of it, whatever your theory of the mind’s processes are, that doesn’t change the fact that it’s all inside your brain, cradled in your skull, working away and with a whole body around to carry and protect it. That’s some fucking important hardware between all those synapses and neural connections. It basically is who you are, what you think, and what you do. And so, neurochemicals: they make you sad, and glad, and bad. They make you desire, whether for food or drugs or orgasms or TV or video games or gambling. It’s all a matter of some chemicals transferring from one cell to another in your brain. That’s all pleasure is, after all. Some happy little chemicals get moved around and voilà, you’re happy. Pain works the same way. So when the system gets fucked up in one way or another? Well, that’s when some serious problems can start. Which can make you have sensory perceptions out of nowhere, or feel emotions for no bloody reason. This really is just right out of Psych 110; it’s nothing that groundbreaking. But I find it plays a big role in informing my thinking about emotions and behavior. Many, many times I’ve cried, “Goddamn neurochemistry!” It’s not like you can blame it for just anything. But nonetheless, being at the mercy of some malfunctioning brain chemicals is painful, depriving you of control over your own life, and also a basic part of most lives being lived on this planet.

And here we are. Under the heel of a million different frustrating, oppressive forces, with the freedom sucked out of us like marrow from our bones. And we just have to make the best of it.

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Filed under Cinema, Media, Personal, Politics, Sexuality

I will not Reason & Compare

While walking to this library a short time ago, I spotted two very young children standing next to a church and mumbled something to myself about how I hope they make a good next generation for the world. And, well, it depends a lot on what circumstances they’re born into. It’s just kind of sad how some kids are surrounded by neglect or bad intentions – and stranger still how sometimes despite the worst conditions, some become fantastic people. There’s a very confusing correlation here. I can’t claim to understand it well.

I’ve also been thinking more about similar ideas to what I was discussing yesterday – about the effects that the economic systems in which we live have on our lives. How we make compr0mises and sacrifices, just in order to get enough money to be able to do this or that, pay rent and eat food, buy products and services outside our homes. We have strange relations with the concept of consumption, negotiating our options and desires. Everything seems to flow in an unbalanced cycle, from factories and natural resources into stores and shipping, to trash cans, streets, dumpsters, landfills, wherever… as a wise man named Deep Throat once said, “Follow the money.” And in the midst of this system all of us live, trying to puzzle out its ins & outs, causes & effects (or not – or happily accepting whatever the systems chooses to throw at us, and passing it along, enabling the cycle). We did not ask to be born into this world but we were born nonetheless.

I’ve been reading a lot of William Blake lately – I once cited him as an “especially deluded and fractured artist” – so pardon me if I allow his writings to heavily inform my thinking; he speaks to the necessity of creation & imagination, the confusing conditions of life on earth, & my love of ampersands, so I find his ideas very valuable in my lines of thought. So consider these lines from his “Auguries of Innocence”:

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born.

Every Morn & every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight.

Will we be born to misery or to sweet delight? We really have no say in the matter. It’s just a matter of fortune. I’ve marveled many, many times during my life that I was born to an affluent society on a dying planet at the turning of what we call the new millennium – what are the odds of that? Why wouldn’t I have been born to what Blake calls “Endless Night,” or born centuries ago, or in some antique land? Why here and now? Some would say there’s purpose behind all of it. Others would say it’s all completely random – but why my particular self, my identity, my subjectivity, in this body temporally localized within 1990-2009 and so on? Well, here I am in this current mix of misery & sweet delight.

"The Shadow Out of Time" (1936)

This also reminds me of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Out of Time,” which I read over the course of a few weeks this spring. Its premise suggests that a Great Race, who dwelt on the earth before the dawn of man, learned how to transfer their minds into bodies spread across time and space, and thereby mastered time travel, eventually able to forgo their own extinction by fast-forwarding to the bodies of a species that lives after the death of mankind. Using this ability, they were able to see the conditions on every planet where life exists (or has ever existed), deep into the past – to the very beginning of life – and into the future, till the existence of the last living thing. The Yithians are a race capable of avoiding this random placement into misery or sweet delight, as they can switch between the two whenever they choose (albeit with the aid of an easily-constructed device). This connects back to my earlier explorations of how authors of speculative fiction, like Lovecraft, can comment on existential problems hounding us at this very moment.

Anyway, here I am and here we are, in the midst of unending strife & chaos, attempting to be good people but constantly foiled by the way we are and the way the world is. It just occurred to me that there are a lot of quotes and speeches that zero in on how there are two kinds of people in the world. The kind I’m specifically thinking of are the ones that identify the givers and the takers – good people who lose out, and bad people who get what they want. Though here’s another kind of quote like that, from John Waters’ Pink Flamingos, as said by villainess Connie Marble, played by Mink Stole:

I guess there’s just two kinds of people, Miss Sandstone: my kind of people, and assholes. It’s rather obvious which category you fit into. Have a nice day.

This is an interesting tendency itself: dichotomizing the entire human population into good and bad, light and dark, lions and lambs, hunters and hunted, doers and talkers, whatever. For what it’s worth, I say, Fuck that. People are psychologically complex organisms. Hitler liked his dog. Etc. We have irrational, conflicting drives affected by numerous factors, biological and environmental; this isn’t Brave New World and we aren’t systematically conditioned from birth to be an Alpha Plus or Gamma Minus or somewhere in between. Granted, we are systematically conditioned from birth. And I’m sure a lot of advertisers wish (on some level) that people could be brought up in corporate schools where they’d have product consumption associated day after day with pleasure, and non-consumption associated with pain. Hell, kids want candy, toys, and explosions as it is. But my point is that it’s far from absolute. There’s a lot of space in human minds still devoted to curiosity about the world outside themselves, experiencing new and different sensations, and creating something new. And my point is that consumerism and advertising tend to oppose this. I haven’t read Brave New World in an awful long time, but its lessons are still very relevant. “The more stitches, the less riches.” Throw away everything dusty or old; covet only the shiny and new. I’m really not sure what point I’m driving toward here, but I seriously do have a point.

For a long time, money has disgusted me. It still does. I was thinking the other day how it felt like money & alcohol, two things which have ruined countless lives and brought on endless misery, were being shoved into my face by my peers, by authority figures, and by society at large through popular culture, advertising, media products, etc. To me, this is tantamount to waving a jar of rat poison in my face as a delicacy. In my view, money should be treated like kryptonite or plutonium and contact should be limited. Carrying large quantities around could cause a disease far worse than radiation poisoning. But I’ve said all this before. But consider how readily people become willing to sell off the world’s great treasures just for a quick cent. To quote Al Roberts, the doomed sucker at the heart of Edgar G. Ulmer’s film noir masterpiece Detour: “Money. You know what that is. The stuff you never have enough of.”

But I think what I wanted to talk about in the first place was our position here as consumers/producers (?) stuck in the middle of a world not of our own creation. And it brings me back to the William Blake quote I was considering when I started writing, what Blake called “The Poet’s Motto”:

I must Create a System or be enslav’d by another Man’s.

I will not Reason & Compare: my business is to Create.

It’s this issue of trying to fit into the grand scheme of things while retaining your personal sovereignty, your independence, your freedom as a human being – which is itself highly in question in the first place, living both in this economic system and in an unwanted contract with a domineering government. But at the very least, your artistic selfhood, individuality; your ability to create what you want without being strangled by “another Man’s” System. Of course, it all depends on how you read this quote, since no one starts out a genius – not even Blake himself – and we all have to place our roots somewhere in antecedents. It’s the tension between being ourselves, being 1 person, and yet being only one of many, one single element of a great mass, a collective brotherhood of mankind spanning the entire earth and all its history. How do we reconcile this? I have no fucking clue.

Incidentally, in the course of researching Blake online I found this highly appealing book, William Blake and Gender by Magnus Ankarsjö. Because of course, with every artist, it’s always more fun when you analyze their attitude toward gender & sexuality. From my reading so far, I really can’t discern too much of Blake’s opinions on this matter, but hey, here’s a resource to explore it! Includes such appealing chapter titles as “Apocalypse, Utopia and Gender.” Oooh.

Come to think of it, yesterday’s viewing of Béla Tarr’s Werckmeister Harmonies connects pretty well to this whole issue of art, society, and necessity, so why not invoke it. The film is long, eerie, slow, and cryptic. The plot is simple: a small town is on the edge of violence for some reason – rumors hint at economic troubles and growing unrest of some kind. A circus trailer arrives in town housing a giant whale and “the prince” who can apparently bend others to his will. Crowds gather, people go crazy, a night of violence ensues, and the film ends with its innocent protagonist János recuperating in his uncle’s care. It’s hard to determine the film’s intended meaning – some of course might say “It’s not supposed to mean anything!”, an assertion that invariably pisses me off – but I think, maybe, it shows how close a superficially civilized, organized group of people lie to full-scale panic and hysteria, ultimately storming a hospital and smashing everything in sight.

The town seems to be a fairly empty, quiet place during the film’s first half, an impression reinforced by the stark B&W cinematography, the drawn-out long takes, and the frequent spells without dialogue. And then the creaky system that held it all in place falls apart, and almost everyone descends into madness. Tarr insists that films can’t be metaphors – he’s photographing something real, and since physical objects are recorded, they exist as they are and not as symbolic stand-ins for anything else. I can concede this point – though it does raise some interesting questions which remind me of André Bazin’s theories – but I still feel like the lack of specifics, the anonymity in Tarr’s film enables me to draw out broader conclusions, with this town as any town and these people as any people, although they speak Hungarian.

So, my ultimate point, I guess, is that it’s hard to exist both as one man and as one of many men (men used here purely in the “mankind” sense). And I want to be able to live and make decisions outside of the constraints imposed by most institutions, be they media conglomerates or the United States government. I don’t mean a kind of Nietzschean way of living beyond the concepts of good & evil endorsed by everyone else. I just mean being able to live outside of this cage imposed on us by the Powers That Be. Which is all very nice and revolutionary-sounding, I know, but this really is the conclusion I’ve been drawing to (more or less). My business is to Create.

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The eternal conflict of money and art

So here I am yet again sitting in the Westonka library using a free, government-provided computer and writing away. I don’t really have an agenda today but I didn’t want this blog to get dusty, after all. For that would be sad. It’s noisy and dull in here, surrounded by people going about their weary lives. I think pretty frequently about the interaction between art and commerce. Inevitably, we seem to live in a world where we must have money in order to eat, be clothed, have a roof over our heads, etc. – even have money in order to keep producing art. It’s a necessary evil that’s pretty much dogged all cultures since the beginning of time, whether Imhotep needed the Pharaoh’s patronage, or Michelangelo battled with the Pope, or Mozart had arguments with Emperor Joseph, or whatever the case. The moral has been: artists need to create art, but artists need money. Well, fuck.

One reason for me to contemplate this eternal struggle is my interest in film. Unlike writing, for example, film is a medium heavy in physical necessities, whether you’re talking people, equipment, sets, location shooting, the film itself, everything. Filmmaking has always been expensive, an investment on the part of someone who has the money to invest. The result is that while anyone can write a novel by scrawling down all their inner desires and dreams, committing anything and everything to paper, with no regard for who or what will end up reading it, a film is considered a failure by its producers if it fails to obtain an audience and high returns. This often leads to sacrificing what a few people want (say, the personal vision of the artist[s]) for what many people want – the millions, the unwashed masses. If you can’t reach them, well, your movie’s a flop. This creates the tension between art and entertainment, between highbrow and mainstream, between Persona and Transformers 2, to use a random example.

This problem, like oh so many, is created by money. If filmmakers didn’t have to worry about recouping what was spent on production, they could make whatever the hell they wanted. They could go in any direction, untethered to the needs or desires of the public. This is what avant-garde or experimental filmmakers tend to do – since they don’t need anyone to go and see their movie, they don’t have to worry if it sells. Of course, they also can’t spend as much on it, unless they have a wealthy patron who likes their style.

(Am I overgeneralizing? Fuck yes. Will I look back years later on this post, as well as the rest, and go, Wow, what was I thinking? Probably. But hell, I’m writing to write and maybe try to say something. I’m slightly educated, but far from fully. I see what I can see, and comment on it as I feel appropriate. If that’s not up to your standards, well, fuck you, I guess.)

So I try to let this knowledge of the tension between the commercial and the artistic inform my criticism and analysis. You can’t satisfy everyone, and if you try to, your product is likely to suck. After all, as I remind myself whenever I worry that people aren’t as stupid as I say they are, Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer’s Meet the Spartans was the top-grossing film in the nation for a short time in 2008. By all accounts, a dreadful, worthless, and pathetic attempt at a film, and yet statistically the most favored film in American theaters for a week. It’s times like these when I wish I knew anything about economics.

My point is that commercially successful films can certainly be good – take last year’s The Dark Knight as a perfect example – but by and large in order to reach across demographics and into the wallets of as many Americans as possible, you have to have something shiny, bland, and simple. Like Titanic: two pretty leads fall in love across class barriers (isn’t it romantic?), the ship sinks in a loud, visually stunning display, somebody dies (aww, sad!), and we get all the automatically generated pathos we can handle. James Cameron, you’ve done it again.

So I think it’s always good, especially when looking over received wisdom like the “greatest movies ever,” to consider money as a factor – was the movie made that way to be good, or was it made that way to attract lots & lots of viewers? This is nothing new. I think it’s revelatory that Thomas Edison, Wizard of Menlo Park and all, was more interested in the moneymaking capabilities of film than the artistic. In fact, I believe he was reluctant to switch from simple peepholes to projection, because then more than one person could watch at once, and where’s the money in that? This is a big issue in all of the arts, but I think it’s just always interesting to think about. Maybe in the future I’ll come up with further, deeper commentary about it.

The bleak imagery of Sue Coe

© Sue Coe, presumably

I think blogs are prettier when they have images in them, so here’s an image: during the spring, I checked out but was never able to finish the book X by comics artist Sue Coe, who apparently collaborated with Art Spiegelman. If you can track the book down, it juxtaposes the Civil Rights movement and the speeches of Malcolm X with poems about the treatment of animals and the struggle of the poor in a warring, wealth-dominated nation. It’s pretty disturbing, especially with Coe’s pestilently expressionistic illustrations.

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And what would you do if you met a Jibboo?

Do you ever have the feeling nobody’s out there? Like that one episode of The Twilight Zone? That everybody’s gone, somewhere, somehow, into oblivion and there you are, left by yourself: no more broadcast media left because there’s no one there to broadcast it. Except reruns. Or infinite infomercials. But no original content, ever. This is a fear I have sometimes – not necessarily of really being alone, but of feeling alone. Of becoming an island unto myself, cut off from the rest of mankind. Of being unable to reach out and find somebody there, like Robert Neville in every film version of I Am Legend, endlessly calling out via shortwave radio into the darkness, wondering if there’s anyone else left. Isolation is a fear that preys on us. Being left behind or left by ourselves, to fend for ourselves against the dangers of the world without the assistance of our friends or family. We make various attempts to neutralize these fears through one defense mechanism or another, but ultimately it’s still there, and we have to keep crying out to reassure ourselves: “Is there anybody there? Anybody?”

That said, classes are over. I start my only final in an hour. I figured I’d blog to pass the time. Last night, watching The Ghost and Mrs. Muir reminded me of someone I should blog about – I want to start an ongoing series about Actors/Actresses Who Are Awesome. Having already touched on Charles Laughton and Edith Massey, I now turn my attentions toward the great George Sanders.

George Sanders

The consummate English gentleman of leisure, Sanders was frequently smarmy, cultured, and sybaritic. Sometimes he played an out-and-out villain, other times he was something of a hero, but more often he was a high-class lowlife who couldn’t be counted on to commit a murder or save a life. More likely, he’d be reclining on a divan, reading poetry and possibly making witty insults. With all these resemblances to Oscar Wilde, it’s no surprise he would play the dissipated Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), or that this Spanish-language website would describe him as bisexual. Regardless of whether this rather dubious source is at all accurate, sexual adventure and extravagance were a part of the Sanders persona. Frequently he’d play the secondary character who’s not quite evil enough to be a villain, but is still pretty amoral, as in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir or Jean Renoir’s This Land Is Mine. Other times he’d be a tainted, womanizing, but basically honorable protagonist or ally: Rage in Heaven, The Lodger, Lured.

His best roles came in Hitchcock’s Rebecca as the title character’s slimy former lover Jack, who happily adds on layers of confusion to the heroine’s situation (I won’t comment on his other Hitchcock collaboration, Foreign Correspondent, which I haven’t seen in forever), and in All About Eve, where he’s the ultimate Sanders character, venomous theater critic Addison DeWitt. DeWitt looks at others with constant derision, scheming when he can, frequently tearing down egos and careers. Sanders’ performance is a masterpiece of amorality, and he even gets a chance to introduce Marilyn Monroe to film history as “a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.” Early in Sanders’ career, he starred in 2 film series – The Falcon and The Saint – though he eventually gave up both, handing the role of the Falcon over to his brother, Tom Conway, in the fittingly-titled The Falcon’s Brother. Beautiful how things work out. By the ’60s, Sanders, like many great actors, was reduced to supporting parts in cheap, bad movies (although he did play the menacing tiger Shere Khan in The Jungle Book). He overdosed on sleeping pills in 1972, leaving a suicide note only George Sanders could write:

Dear World, I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.

Regardless of what problems he had or what sadness his actions reveal, that note contains a surprising amount of audacity and wit. You can imagine George Sanders in the afterlife, above or below, raising an amused eyebrow as we toil from day to day and cutting down all our efforts with a single snide remark.

"The moon was out / and we saw some sheep."

Yertle the Turtle – possibly the best book ever written on the subject of turtle stacking.” – Lisa Simpson

Switching gears slightly, I’ve been thinking about the imagery in Dr. Seuss books. Earlier, I read a profile of lesbian comics genius Alison Bechdel, who listed Seuss (or Theodor Seuss Geisel [1904-1991]) as one of her creative/artistic influences. When you browse the Internet, Seuss generally comes up in a context of “My kids love this book” or “This book is great for kids.” So my question: Is there any reason for adults to look at Seuss’s work? I read some of his books many, many times at a young age, including One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, which was the source of the rather chilling image pictured above. Why are the sheep going for a walk in their sleep? Seuss himself never provides any answers, but you can just guess they’re up to no good.

Oh, the Thinks You Can Think! (1975)

Seuss’s books often teach a variety of fairly simple lessons, be they “Don’t let strangers ruin your house” (The Cat in the Hat), “Try new things” (Green Eggs and Ham), “Don’t fuck with the environment” (The Lorax), or “Don’t let the U.S. and the Soviet Union get into nuclear stalemate” (The Butter Battle Book); however, sometimes he just cuts loose and lets his imagination run with itself, as in One Fish, Two Fish or, as I recall, in Oh, the Thinks You Can Think!, a book I was describing to Ashley recently as containing bizarre, unearthly architecture, with towers possibly modeled on the skeletons of dinosaurs and lands with multiple moons. I feel like, to some degree, Seuss must’ve been influenced by Escher – only he added a lysergic pastel rainbow, and creatures with wavy hair that were unrecognizable, but vaguely mammalian. He was decidedly multitalented, able to meld these visions from the boundary between dream and nightmare with bouncy, anaphoratic verse. Take for example this piece from One Fish, Two Fish; accompanied by a picture of two kids lugging what looks like a sinister walrus in a barely-large-enough tank, it’s haunted me for years.

Look what we found
in the park
in the dark.
We will take him home.
We will call him Clark.

He will live at our house.
He will grow and grow.
Will our mother like this?
We don’t know.

This is, mind you, all there is to that particular story – it’s a self-contained vignette, so we never get to see how large, exactly, Clark grows, or if their mother likes it. It reminds me of a similar incident in There’s a Wocket in My Pocket: the narrator mentions the vug under the rug, who is briefly shown as a formless lump; he then quickly moves on to the next creature. Here’s another picture from Wocket.

Beware the Jertain!

A pair of vaguely chicken-like legs with no real clues as to how the rest of the body looks. Seuss knew a thing or two about preserving ambiguity in the service of excitement and fear. So what’s my point here? For one thing: as Bechdel’s testimony shows, I think, Seuss can easily be an artistic influence, especially when his fantastic creations are some of the first books children are exposed to. Secondly, he seems to put forward an accepting worldview, observing in One Fish, Two Fish that “from there to here, from here to there, funny things are everywhere,” and priming children for their imminent bombardment with events both good and bad, ordinary and strange. Some of his bizarre imaginings are good, others are bad. “Why are they sad and glad and bad?” Seuss asks. “I do not know. Go ask your dad.” (Of course, no one’s dad could ever explain the reasons behind good and evil either, so he was just passing the buck.)

So ultimately, I recommend taking a critical glance at Seuss’s books. I think that beyond their simplistic language, they explore some pretty fertile territory of the mind. And after all, if children’s books aren’t good enough for adults, why should they ever be read to children? Why should we expose children to shit we can’t stand? Seuss is one of the many great 20th century multimedia artists. He deserves better.

Also, I suspect that if I met a Jibboo, especially in a stark and spectral landscape like that one, I’d run like hell away.


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Women as animals: Kahlo and Cat People

The Little Deer by Frida Kahlo

This is a painting by Frida Kahlo from 1946 that I encountered in a book the other day. I think it’s very pretty and it raises a lot of interesting thoughts in my head. I guess the first few are thoughts like, Why is she a deer? as well as the inference that this is about herself being a victim. I love how she’s standing up straight, with a neutral expression on her face, bleeding. And how dead and ominous the forest and background look. I don’t have much insightful analysis to do here, but I wanted to incorporate this into a blog because this painting just struck me, as much as of Kahlo’s work has. Struck me in an unusual way, maybe in the part of me that feels sympathy, or the part that distinguishes between human beings and animals. The book I was reading mentioned that she paints herself as a male deer, with antlers and testicles. I don’t know too much about her biographically, but I wonder if she saw herself as some kind of gender outlaw. 9 arrows, piercing her flesh. Lost in the woods with a branch under her hooves. And that mesmerizing unibrow, always the most memorable element of Kahlo’s appearance. Who would shoot that many arrows into a deer like that, anyway? Maybe it’s a riff on St. Sebastian.

The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna

According to Wikipedia, St. Sebastian has received the cultural status over the centuries of a gay/religious icon. Taking Kahlo’s own bisexuality into account, maybe this is significant. I don’t really know. All I know is, I saw this picture in a book and it struck me. A woman’s face – and not just any woman – on a deer pierced with arrows and bleeding. It’s a very eerie, even upsetting painting. She looks like she’s in pain but not begging for pity.

Aside from looking at random paintings, I haven’t been up to much intellectually speaking or otherwise. Classes are at end and we’re in that twilight season between scholastic pursuits and running off to be united with my distant lover. But here’s something worth discussing.

The film is Cat People (1942), the first work of producer & master of horror Val Lewton. I realized today that it’s probably one of my favorite movies and one of the best horror movies ever made. Once you’ve watched it, it has a grip on you (kind of like that painting above). And it’s probably no coincidence the two works I’m discussing today involve treading the line between human and beast. It’s fertile ground; it has been since the days of Ovid’s Metamorphoses and before that. But that’s a broad topic and I won’t go into it now. Cat People attains a sort of pulp horror perfection. It’s a cheap movie – in fact, that’s part of the point – that plays with lights and shadows, bouncing through the water of a public pool at night, or along a desolate street where a woman walks alone, and turns it into pure fear.

Much of this is courtesy of Nicholas Musuraca, a cinematographer whose work went back and forth between horror (The Ghost Ship and the brilliant The Seventh Victim, other Lewton productions) and film noir (Cat People director Jacques Tourneur’s other masterpiece Out of the Past and Fritz Lang’s Clash by Night); this flexibility on Musuraca’s part, I think, demonstrates the kinship between the noirs of the early ’40s and Lewton’s style of moody urban horror. Cat People could very well be a film noir. Except its femme fatale, big surprise, turns into a cat and mauls people. A few months ago, I wrote a review of the film for this issue of the Carl, and summarized the plot like so: “boy meets girl. Girl is afraid she’ll turn into a giant cat. Boy cheats on girl with other girl. Girl turns into giant cat (or does she?).” It’s a simple premise emerging from vague dreams of dark and foggy Serbia, whence the cursed heroine Irena emigrates. (Serbia here is as good as Transylvania or Latveria or fill in your random eastern European country.) And we start out with a beautiful picture of American heterosexual normalcy until, well, Irena’s secret inbred something starts to catch up with her. We’ve got the classic scene where a feline stranger in a Serbian restaraunt addresses Irena’s as “sister” and disappears. The film is so rich with quasi-Freudian psychosexual confusion, more than enough to match the haziness of the lighting.

I’m going to bed now (it is 4 am, after all), but I highly recommend you watch Cat People. I want to see it over and over again. It’s a subtle, fascinating, seriously scary movie and I love it. The monster is the most sympathetic character, played by the cute, vulnerable French actress Simone Simon (who played another kind of femme fatale in Renoir’s La Bête Humaine [1938]), lost and alone, beholden to the chaotic emotions and powers brewing inside her. If you’re interested, Cat People is currently on YouTube here (though the fuckers won’t let me embed). Watch and be drawn into the strange and frightening nightmare which Lewton, Tourneur, and Musuraca create, as it gradually enfolds Irena and carries her off.

And pleasant nightmares to you, too.

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