Tag Archives: jean renoir

Link Dump: #51

You know what’s an underrated animated/horror movie? Henry Selick’s Coraline. And you know who voiced a kitty in Coraline? Keith David, Childs from The Thing and Roddy Piper’s co-star in They Live and an all-around bad-ass. You are awesome, Keith David. In other news, you may have noticed a mighty hush lately across Pussy Goes Grrr. Long story short, we’re currently resting and preparing—sorting out writing projects and real-world obligations as our big end-of-year sprint across the finish line approaches.

December is going to be mind-blowing. In order for that to happen, though, November has to be kinda “meh.” You’ll see! It’ll be worth it! In the meantime, here’s a few cool links:

No good search terms this week, alas. We hope that next week brings a search term bounty, however, as befits Thanksgiving.

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Horror is everywhere (1)

Since so much of the critical discourse around horror tends to describe it as a “ghetto genre,” stuck in the gutter of low budgets and low culture, it’s easy to imagine it as walled off from the rest of film. But, well, that’s just not the case – and the sooner we realize it, the happier we’ll be. Because the fact is, as I say in the title of this post: horror is everywhere. It’s not just in ’50s B-movies and ’70s slashers and monster rampages and gore. It’s all over the place in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It’s in austere art films. Only a thin, imaginary line separates the worlds of Herk Harvey, Lars von Trier, Herschell Gordon Lewis, and Ingmar Bergman.

In order to demonstrate this point, I’ve gone through the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They? aggregated list of the 1,000 highest-ranked films of all time, and picked out ones that show the influence of the horror genre. Because horror isn’t just a hidden, perverse bastard genre. It’s an impulse whose tentacles reach into all eras and regions. Horror touches all artists whether they like it or not. So here are some critically acclaimed films that deserve to be located within the tradition of horror.

Citizen Kane (1941) – TSPDT ranking: #1

Who do you think dwells in that far-off, menacing mansion? Maybe Dr. Frankenstein? Mr. Sardonicus? No, that’s Xanadu, the final home of the title character in Citizen Kane. In the film’s opening sequence, Welles invokes haunted house iconography, moving us closer and closer to Xanadu through a series of eerie dissolves; Bernard Herrmann’s creepy score accentuates the feeling. Welles was no stranger to scaring people (remember, he’d punk’d the nation with The War of the Worlds just 3 years earlier), and he knew how to make Kane seem distant and foreboding: introduce him with a dash of Gothic horror. Kane’s rigid, Karloffian outburst after Susan leaves him later in the film just drives the point home.

Vertigo (1958) – TSPDT ranking: #2

Like Welles, Alfred Hitchcock was no stranger to horror. He flirted with the genre throughout his career, producing movies that were terrifying and mysterious, but still better categorized as “suspense” or “thrillers.” Still, he made one of the earliest serial killer movies (The Lodger), and helped establish the slasher and killer animal subgenres with Psycho and The Birds. In Vertigo, often considered his masterpiece, he even dabbled with the supernatural through a red herring reincarnation story. Sure, Madeleine/Judy turns out to be a total fake, but the film still contains moments of potent psychological horror – like the wonderful dream sequence pictured above, which is easily one of my favorite cinematic nightmares.

The Rules of the Game (1939) – TSPDT ranking: #3

I’m not trying to suggest that Renoir’s playful, lusty tragicomedy is secretly a horror movie. But I just really love Camille Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre, and I love Renoir’s very theatrical take on it. This macabre little dance routine is performed by members of the nobility for the benefit of their friends, and also for us, the audience. In a movie where trivialities and misguided passions lead to serious consequences, it only makes sense that skeletons and ghosts should be reduced to characters in a brief entertainment.

The Third Man (1949) – TSPDT ranking: #30

Postwar Vienna is a scary place. At least, that’s the lesson learned by hack writer Holly Martins after he pays the city a visit. In addition to dealing with international politics, canted angles, and the maybe dead, maybe evil Harry Lime, Martins and his not-quite-girlfriend Anna have to evade this creepy little Austrian kid who’s accusing them of murder. Throughout the film (which is one of my favorites ever), director Carol Reed pours on the expressionism, to the point that you’re not sure whether Holly and Anna are coming or going. The war-damaged state of the city’s streets and buildings doesn’t help. Combine this disorientation with a demon child right out an Austrian version of The Omen, and you’ve reached the point where noir meets horror.

The Conversation (1974) – TSPDT ranking: #166

Most of Francis Ford Coppola’s least-recognized masterpiece sits in “lonely paranoid thriller” territory, very much in line with the ’70s work of others like Scorsese, Pakula, and Polanski. But toward the end, as Gene Hackman’s surveillance expert Harry Caul realizes the complexity of the conspiratorial web he’s trapped in, the movie has some hallucinatory moments of real horror. Caul glances around an empty hotel room where he suspects a murder has been committed, then innocuously flushes the toilet… and out pours blood in a Shining-style deluge. We’ve also got Robert Duvall’s bloody handprint smeared on a window.

Initially, The Conversation‘s iciness and formal refinement may seem light-years away from the off-the-cuff gruesomeness of something like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But really, to paraphrase Gloria Grahame in The Big Heat, they’re “sisters under the mink.” Or, to put it in more prosaic terms, they’re “surprisingly similar after you disregard artificial notions of high and low culture.” Whether you love or hate horror movies, it’s time to set aside these false distinctions, break through the self-imposed barriers, and realize that all of cinema is interconnected. And to hammer that point home, I’ll have more “Horror is everywhere” for you each week throughout October.

Pleasant nightmares, all!


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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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