For five days he ran like this until every sign of man had disappeared.
America is on the tip of my tongue; mysterious and illusive. It is a world from the outside fragmented and projected through mass media syndication - resulting in a spectacle of which there is no comparison. Journeys within the country itself - particularly from east to west and throughout the rural south - are illuminated by the personalities and legacies contained within and on the way. Cultural artefacts, particularly creative writing, film, and popular song seem to best capture the continent’s most dreamlike and optimistic qualities. Charged with the feeling of the future - undeniable, there is something intangible that lies within. The immense cities and varied rural landscapes hang in a delicate balance. Artistic figures are perpetually drawn to this mysterious and hypnotic, often undefinable place - seeking to examine and reinterpret - in turn developing the style, iconography and mythology that tends to dominate global culture.
Having spent time travelling the area, and having now the time and distance to reflect upon my journeys, I am reminded through my own travels that some of the most prophetic, illuminative works documenting and exploring a particular country - particularly the US - tend to come from outsiders. When referring to outsiders I speak of recent immigrants, travellers, foreigners, young people - those seeing the land for the first time, or with unfamiliar eyes. The act of exploring a continent is full of sensual pleasures - new sights, smells, tastes, thoughts that remain as a memory of a first experience. A fragment of which to draw upon. Our memories as ruins of a past that is in constant flux, that as of this second exists almost purely in our minds alone. The remembrance of the city space is negotiated through one’s experience text and images once the space has been passed through.
The concept of foreignness, travel and cultural geographies are of interest in relation to the moving image as it is such a lucid, visual medium, expressing thoughts and feelings in images rather than words. Words give space poetic enterprise and often fictitious, mythic properties, whilst also enforcing barriers that direct one’s physical movements through the urban world. Reflections expressed through the moving image give the viewer the ability to become immersed in a particular place, almost like being there. The experience of moving through unfamiliar landscape is extraordinary, alienating, sometimes both - it continually expands your definition of the outstretches of both one’s mind and the external world. Chris Marker’s ‘San Soleil’ meditates around themes of memory, travel, and the hypnotic nature of images to overtake our thoughts especially those involving past travels. Rimbaud’s travels in Africa were sparked by his desire to reinvent himself; to live as someone else - stating the need for travel was sparked by the desire to ward of the apparitions that had assembled in his brain - his quest to reinvent himself as an animal trader - anything but a Parisian infant poet - is now loaded with some strange psychic mythology. The French filmmaker Louis Malle’s documentaries, particularly those set in America itself (God’s Country & And The Pursuit of Happiness) and India (Phantom India & Calcutta) express the act of exploration as unique, timeless, personal, capturing a certain place at a space in time that is forever fleeting, yet monumental. Although he created many feature films set in France, Germany, America he stated that ‘Phantom India’, shot for the BBC was by far his favourite work. This is interesting as the film was entirely constructed in the editing process - he looked through hundreds of hours of raw footage, placing a voice over. India is shown from an outsiders’ perspective and Malle is our innocent, overly curious host. This experience of travel is interesting in artistic terms and holds a strange allure and inspiration for those familiar to the predicament of being outside, alone and in unfamiliar landscape. The action of being an outsider, by being ‘not from here’, by exploring around; one has a more objective, comparative view of a particular area than those that might have been raised there. There exists an active, fresh comparison to draw from, as the environment is being seen by the naked eye.
Sometimes foreignness is obvious, whereas other times there lies a potential to blend in, to become part of it all, depending on the potential for cultural cohesion. America often holds this possibility as it constantly reshapes itself, representing a mass conglomerate of people, ideas and cultures - a major percentage of which originated elsewhere. With over 500 million people mostly concentrated in cities and urban areas, cultural groups are making their mark and forging lives for themselves, and there is always both optimism and dissent in the air. Jean Baudrillard describes America as “Utopia achieved”, and with this in mind interesting to think about works of art that depict foreignness, strangers, unfamiliar lands and the desire to travel.
Wim Wenders’ film Paris, Texas (1984) presents America as an ephemeral, conflicting and almost lonely place. The film opens to midway through a story. Many transgressions have occurred to the lives of the characters within, and at first it is unclear what events have taken place. Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) provides through his initial silence and exile, a great deal of mystery. Sam Shepard’s screenplay and the music of Ry Cooder characterise the continent in a stereotypical sense, using slide guitar, truck stops, and desert scenes. The images and landscapes shown throughout emphasise the isolation and beauty of natural landscape, appearing as a surreal antithesis to the throbbing metropolis - in this case Los Angeles. The desert represents a kind of fractured idealism that exists more in the mind of most humans than in their daily life and travels. It is desperate, magical and somewhat forgotten. The opening of the film depicts Travis walking throughout the landscape, where he comes across as some sort of escaped flaneur. He is detached, with no direction or no explanation as to his quest. He is aimless and shut-off to his surroundings, which are immense and sublimely beautiful.
The film emphasises the fact that you can be lost or at home in any environment - It is the bond between people where you find your place. The film is so visually appealing as it is unique in its portrayal of the American experience, particularly of the landscape and horizontal architecture typical of the western and southern states. It is the landscape, rather than the people - that define Paris, Texas as America n - as the relationships portrayed experience problems that are seemingly universal. The deserts shown are undefinable, unlike anywhere else on earth. Further, there is a visual delirium enforced through the medium of cinema that perplexes the foreign viewer. As we are so often introduced to the country of America though various artistic and commercial mediums, it becomes hard to find a sense of the place without seeing through the splintered lens forged through our exposure to screen based media.
Paris, Texas has the romantic feel of a classic western - yet the main similarities to that of the Western is that of the landscape abundant in the first part of the film. Like the Western, we are subliminally in awe of the overwhelming panorama of the environment presented. With the elements of the film set in an urban situation, we cannot escape the feeling of being inside the television. It is when one is actually in the rural surroundings such a deserts, plains and mountains that the natural America takes hold, one we are not so familiar with - wild, and mysterious.
Jean Baudrillard’s text America takes the form of a travelogue from the last years of his life; after he had retired from a life in academia and undertaken extensive travels. His book reads like nothing else, a crystallisation of his ideas relating to technology and the postmodern world. Baudrillard plays out his theories in real time, through travel, reflection and everyday experience. Within American contexts, Baudrillard’s ideas see themselves crystallised - realised to their most extreme, incarnate potential. The media cycle and the sheer velocity of ideas that America perpetuates through its various channels of culture, and velocity of travel that it’s geography dictates eventuates in an overload of sensation and experience. France and America are ideologically and culturally opposite in many ways thus all the more interest lies in his intrigue. Baudrillard explores the speed, hypnotism and seductive nature of America’s cities, and relates the sublime abject of its deserts and plains. The deserts are chaotic, defiant, an antidote to the human race, an eternal paradox. He states that ‘The Desert is a natural extension of the inner silence of the body”. Deserts hold for us feelings and implied potential we cannot explain. Cities stand as the opposite, containing an energy drenched from the capitalist machine. There is no quality control in the desert, explains Baudrillard - everything is on the same page. The very existence is their greatest feat - they have nothing to lose and nothing to gain. Like in outer space, the human race is obsolete. Baudrillard’s travels cover a country that is elusive, varied and misrepresented. He is not seeking any kind of neutrality, more so creating a philosophical commentary that reflects his own personal background and ideologies.
Whilst travelling throughout America I was frequently reminded of the cultural geographer J. B. Jackson, whose interest in horizontality and the eternal frontier became his life’s work. Also born in France, he resided for most of his adult life in New Mexico, the location of some of the most dramatic deserts on the continent. On New Mexico, he states; ‘We see and never quite forget the horizon of range after range of mountains of diminishing blue. In every background there lurks another kind of past, far less easy to comprehend than the strictly human history on display’ . He continually returned to the term Vernacular Landscape, pertaining to the ideology that landscapes would refer to the cultural practices of its inhabitants. Jackson wrote extensively of the horizontal, of border towns, neglected space, of parking lots, derelict buildings, town squares and parks. Of particular interest is his writings referring to roads within rural landscapes and deserts. Jackson looked at various social and environmental meanings often neglected in other observations of landscape. His ideologies frequently referred back to the geographical, natural aspects of an area and its unconscious ability to shape the architectural structures and human activities that took place there, particularly in the realm of public space. The constructed landscape of America is predominantly horizontal, low-lying, as its natural features are so spread out; endless. The vastness of the place effects many architectural, social, and emotional developments and infrastructures within the continent. Like many American artists (Raymond Pettibon’s drawings declaring his hate for restoration and repair, Ed Ruscha’s photographs documenting the broken and neglected in the urban landscape of old cities, particularly disused and in-between spaces such as car parks, and of course Warhol & Duchamp’s readymades) - the obsession with regeneration, development and renewal is of interest.
Jackson treasured the idea of ruins in the rural landscape. He saw them as beautiful, evidence of a more natural, simple form of human life that had by his time almost ceased to exist. Ruins and neglected, derelict structures acted as evidence of the passing of time and antithesis to acts of cultural renewal that the country is so known for. He states; ‘Their shabbiness served to bring something like a time scale to landscape, which for all its solemn beauty failed to register the passage of time’. On the idea of landscapes reflecting culture of the people that lived there, he states; “The older I grow and the longer I look at landscapes, the more convinced I am that their beauty is not simply an aspect but their very essence, and that that beauty derives from the human presence”. Ruins in effect reveal the act of humans as transient, forever evolving. Ruins hold a romantic value, shrouded in the mystery of a history and people not quite clear, aluding towards our own memories, dreams and past experiences. Ruins take a place in our imagination that surely eludes us, like a dream you once had about a particular place, where your vision is blurred - a surreal monument to a more simpler, abstract understanding of the world, a place that postmodernity and the contemporary has almost erased, a sculpture onto its own. Gaston Bachelard states in relation - “In analysing images of immensity, we should realise within ourselves the pure being of pure imagination” (1)
In Paris Texas, the landscape is not a backdrop to the plot being laid out, it is crucial to the plot, it propels it. The monumental aspects of the landscape serve to dramatise the emotional relationships between the characters, while also capturing the desolation and horizontality of the continent. The film is interesting in the sense that we see two worlds - Travis is seen as ‘crazy’ and irrational when he is out walking in the desert, as he is the lone human element in the landscape, the contrast, almost like he has given in to it. He slowly comes back to ‘normality’ when he reaches the city limits, communication the idea of the modern city having ‘sanity’ attached to it - or more so a sociological need to conform. Marc Auge’s theoretical work relates the experience of modernity as one of ‘Non-Places’ where so much of the space is dictated by barriers and ‘neutral’ space devoid of community or individualistic values. The city has so much negotiated space with its own limitations in that sense it is filled with oblique ruins and dead space that exists now as a barrier, a border, an ongoing compromise to uninhibited, free space. There is no possibility of the unknown - ‘wild children’, seen in Paris, Texas as Travis, must become ‘re-socialised’, equating the inability to form language at first renders him outside the limits of civilisation. The postmodern city is forged in and through language, and as highlighted in the writing of William J Mitchell, it now determines our geographic movements, rather than one’s personal intuition. Travis’s use of language, and the ability to talk about past events emerges as the city does. Before he could exist without language, as the world around him does not centre around it, unlike the city space.
Jackson states; “Ruins provide the incentive for restoration, and for a return to origins. There has to be an interim of death or rejection before there can be renewal and reform.” Thoughts now turn towards ideas of authenticity and realism as a point of polarity to the deserts, plains and mountains. Development and architectural forms within the city environment are of interest to Baudrillard in this sense. Europe is known for its pre-war architecture that still remains, yet America’s constructed monuments look toward the future rather than the past. Therein lies a stark contrast when places alongside America’s natural forms and their sublime, silent, untouched presence. He relates the ‘Fakeness’ intrinsic to urban infrastructure. Mark Auge relates; ‘Large scale contemporary urban architecture reproduces in reverse the relation with time expressed by the spectacle of ruins. What we perceive in ruins is the impossibility of imagining completely what they would have represented to those who saw them before they crumbled.’(2) Simulated experience has become the prime form of entertainment, rather than ‘real’, explorations within nature. Hence the prevalence of immersive media such as gaming arcades, 3D cinemas, and theme parks. Mike Davis’s prophesied cities in ruins particularly his thoughts on Los Angeles of the apocalyptic dream of cities in distress is reflected through many new media representations, even dating back to King Kong, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, War of the Worlds. James Donald states, ‘this image has become iconic not only of New York, but also of Baudelaire’s vision of the modern uncanny that haunts Le Corbusier’s modernist skyscraper… They play on fragile, shifty boundaries between human and technology, between human and nature, or between adult and infant. They remind us of that ineradicable unease about who we are and where we belong that also haunts the very way we walk the streets of the modern city.’5 Civilisation seems to have the potential to explode and implode at any given moment within the urban confines of the city. Nature is mythologized as a endless, despite the fact it is finite, endangered.
Baudrillard states that ‘When you emerge from the desert, your eyes go on trying to create emptiness all around; in every inhabited area, every landscape they see desert underneath, like a watermark.” he further relates that the polar opposite of the American desert are the film studios that propel and centralise the Los Angeles city space. However, all hold strange mythical properties. He sees film studios as a constructed world of forgery, optimism and illusion. Walking through the constructed landscape of film studios, theme parks and shopping malls refracts a hyper-real sensory experience of the outside world, an update of Baudelaire’s flaneur. One is moving through space dictated by language and physical barriers, becoming all the more difficult to transgress. Is everything in the human landscape ‘fake’? What natural landscape lies underneath or is it ‘dead’? At first these surroundings look glamourous and belonging to a world somewhat outside the human realm. As most people reside in urban centres far removed from nature, immersion within the postmodern city space is one of of over-sensation, the realisation that our world is no longer ‘natural’, dictated by consumer industries and the market economy. “In the Modern City, Space is experienced as Time “(6) Perception itself is experienced as time rather than space, as space has been dictated for us. James Donald relates further; “The imagined landscape of the city has become, inescapably, a cinematic landscape.. film presents urban space as itself representational, as simultaneously sensory and symbolic.. it establishes distraction as an ontological norm” (7)
The postmodern obsession with restoration and renewal and the quest to achieve perfection in an imperfect world reveals a seemingly never-ending quest to make everything ‘new’ again. The constant reinvention, restoration and renovation of cities like Los Angeles and Las Vegas furthermore places the desert which marks the borders of these cities - as its antithesis - as architecture doesn’t exist here, and culture doesn’t replace nature. There is no culture, and the desert resembles to us outer space on earth. Here there lies small fragments indicative of human life but it stays in the shadows, refusing to dominate over natural structures and smaller life forms. A ruin in the desert is a reminder of everyday modern life - and arguably they way we are headed. A ruin is beautiful, organic, simplified, a reminder of a world forgotten, a world lost, void of history, language or meaning. A ruin is the action of humans left behind as opposed to pressing forward. Everything gets left behind in one way or another in the sense that we are entrenched in ruins, only in urban centres they are disguised as something else, painted over.
“The desert is a sublime form that banishes all sociality, all sentimentality, all sexuality. Words, even when they speak of the desert, are always unwelcome” (8) The desert reveals our absolute nature rather than sensationalism present in American urbanism, characterized by the spectacle of Times Square in New York. Guy Debord’s Spectacle is now realised as an evolving, pulsating, enveloping space, where there are so many screens you don’t know where to look. Mike Davis’s City of Quartz/ Dead Cities examines Los Angeles as a wreck, as prophesied by cinema and literature. The glory and glamour of Hollywood has, as most societies, the potential to be a wrecked, and Davis’s sadistic fantasy of the Hollywood Hills in the midst of an apocalypse exists as an ironic wish fulfillment, the ultimate paradox.
The city itself has now become a theme park with rural areas and the desert the benchmark of history. The deserts in and around Paris, Texas, Oregon’s mountains and forests portray a sense of the sublime, abject, mystery - a second culture. The vastness of America dictates the way one would travel through it - and the car itself frames the way one will take in the landscape flying by. The experience of travelling is framed within a car window, moving at cinematic speed. An aesthetic voiced best by Le Corbusier, who said that in order to embrace modern planning we have to “kill the streets.” Before the invention of the car, the experience of the city was dictated by human journeys, rather than machines. The flaneur exploring the street next to an influx of cars and trucks has the tendency to be alienating and distracting. Marshall Berman states; “For (Corbusier) the street epitomized disorder and chaos. The idea was to create some other system that repelled the city street. There is some fear of the city that plays an important role in 20th century culture. It created an endless series of completely sterile and empty gigantic spaces all over the world. “
Octavio Paz is right when he argues that America was created in the hope of escaping from history, or building a utopia sheltered from history.. America made a break.. found itself in a situation of radical modernity - Jean Baudrillard (9)
“What would happen, for instance, if we simply erased from the blackboard all the different equations (representing the ‘work’ performed by humans on the environment) on the city side of the interaction. What would remain on the nature side? Indeed, what is ‘underlying’ urban nature without human control? Would the city be gradually (or catastrophically) reclaimed by its original ecology, or by something else, possibly more like a chimera? “dead cities’ in other words, might tell us much about the dynamics of urban nature. But what forensic expert has ever examined the corpse of a great city? Who has ever put a microscope to the ruins of metropolis?” - Mike Davis (10)
‘The allusion to the past complicates the present’ - Mark Auge (11)
(1) -Bachelard, Gaston The Poetics of Space p 184
(2) -Auge, Mark , Non-Places pXVII.
(2) Donald, James Imagining the Modern CIty p89
(3 )ibid, Imagining the Modern City, p77
(4) ibid - Imagined City p68
(5) Baudrillard, Jean, America p75
(6) ibid, America p87
(7) Davis, Mike, Dead Cities, p 363
(8) Auge, Mark , Non Places p56
**Landscape photo 1+2+4 by Angela Garrick
**Landscape photo 3 by Jack Mannix
Taken in California and Arizona, November 2010.
Prison of Flesh
PRISON OF FLESH
Lucio Fucli’s Nightmare Concert - also known as Cat in the Brain (Italy, 1990) is a true leap of faith. It has been run-over, gone outside of itself. The film opens to a shot of wild cats picking at and consuming a large mass of mysterious flesh. As the scene progresses, it is revealed as the brain of Fucli, the infamous Italian director who also stars in the film, playing himself. His brain is shown as deranged, mangled, eaten - at the very onset of the work. It is a small taste of what is to follow. We move to a shot of a woman’s body lying on a table with a square of flesh missing. The shot focuses on the flesh, with no explanation as to how she got there. Clearly on the verge of madness, with the audience already aware of it, Fucli is disgusted by a steak on offer at the local restaurant. The meat disgusts him, as it is all too reminiscent of human flesh. All flesh throughout the film is represented is symbolic - repesentative of horror, delusions, madness.
After years working in horror film, Fucli’s borderline between fact and fiction begins to blur. The limits of reality are skewed and full of strange illusions. Fucli suffers nihilistic, disturbing visions, seeking help in a local psychiatrist - who subconsciously indulges his own sadistic desires onto Fucli, pushing his sense of reality over the edge. Fucli is a man alone with himself, elderly all too soon. He is irrational, full of extreme doubts about the artistic validity of his life’s work and his own self worth. At a loss with his legacy and its future, Fucli spends his time walking around local streets and parks, a horror filmmaker’s take on Baudelaire’s Flaneur - walking and philosophising about his killings and violence depicted on screen and the best way to capture it, questioning whether he is a killer himself or whether it is an illusion. The morality of his profession becomes a source of great confusion.
Although Cat in the Brain in itself is almost ridiculous, overplayed, repetitive, and concluded to be a joke by Fucli - it is intriguing in terms of Fucli’s desires to portray the figure of himself, driven completely insane by obsession. His desires to create films so specific, stylised; his aim to be the master of his craft is admirable no matter the subject. Horror films often hold a lesser artistic validity or merit in a traditional or academic sense - taking the role of shock value entertainment, something you would watch as a teenager with a group of friends over. It is this that holds my attention, and the fact he is trapped within his chosen genre, never to escape obscure cult status. His works are the opposite of most mainstream ‘canons’ of cinema, and have hardly been written about, particularly this film.
Fucli is grappling with common problems - survival, loneliness, old age, creativity in a unique way, as Nightmare Concert did hold parallels with Fucli’s real life. These issues are further emphasised by the fact extreme violence and surreal special effects dominate the events played out. Fucli was known among horror fans as the eyeball aficionado. Every film had a particular eyeball gouging scene - it was his trademark.
The real figure of Fucli emerges as some kind of flawed hero, consumed by an unexplainable drive to create, by the insecurities and emotions that are relative to that process. Fucli states in relation; “I ruined my life for it. I have no family, no wife, only daughters. All women left me because I never stop thinking of my job…” 1 After a long period where his health was deteriorating due to chronic disease, Fucli died alone at his apartment in Rome in 1996 at 68 years of age, unsure of how his films would come to be received. The choice to explore the affect of horror on one’s mind-frame in a filmic form reveals his curious, playful side as he is able to explores his fears and insecurities in a self-reflexive, creative way. This is not seen in many horror films, which is why Nightmare Concert is interesting. Michael Haneke is modern proponent of this exploration, with his ‘Funny Games’ series in which the perpetrator of violence turns his attention to the camera, and in turn, the audience.
A lot of scenes in Nightmare Concert are concerned with the filmmaking practice. His daily routine consists of often editing scenes for hours on end, which involves much pausing, fast-forwarding, thus becoming over-exposed to the same images up close, and putting them in some kind of linear, logical order. It is no wonder he wishes to portray himself losing his mind. The pure exposure of these images seen repeatedly, in slow motion during the editing process represents some kind of eternal death drive. The killing itself becomes immortal, mythologized, forever in repeat. This continual replay is explored in one particular moment when the frame is frozen on a woman’s face, about to be strangled. Her eyes at that particular moment, are in eye contact with the audience, almost looking directly at us. Combined with the personable and intimate relationship that the director has with his actors, and in turn, the footage created, Fucli is creating an arrangement of order in a way that he sees fit, and the image chosen is particularly haunting.
Others have explored aspects of creativity, insecurity and desire within their work, as It affects all kinds of artists. This creative crisis of the male in later life is of particular interest. I am reminded in particular of Rousseau’s Reveries of the Solitary Walker. Wandering around parks and natural areas on the outskirts of Paris throughout the final years of his life, Rousseau’s thoughts written down in these short forms reveal his love of nature, the outdoors, the unknown, and a calling for a return to simplicity in life. Rousseau had no formal academic training, thus his work was consistently vilified for being inconsistent, impractical, and poorly researched. He was vilified by his home state of Geneva, and for the most of his life remained stateless, living off the patronage of sympathetic citizens of France and England. Over time he became increasingly paranoid, convinced all of society had rejected his philosophies, in particular those outlined in The Social Contract (1762). He states; My imagination had lost its old power, it no longer takes fire at the contemplation of objects that inspire it, nor does the delirium of reverie transport it as it once did.2 He is a broken man, referring to his own body as a decaying prison of flesh, aimlessly wandering, navigating his surroundings and thoughts alongside one another, trying to understand what his life had become. Grand statements like the following indicate his emotional turmoil and confusion over his own creative worth and the state of his world. The difference with Fucli is that on his walks of self-doubt someone’s head gets sawn off. Rousseau’s emotional statements, which, although at times conflicting, would and inspire many progressive and intriguing political thinkers including Karl Marx, Immanuel Kant, The Jacobins, even Satre’s foremost thoughts on Existentialism (In relation to the natural man, and ideas of isolation and civilisation). The irony is that Rousseau had deceased by the time his ideas took relevance be it both for positive or negative means. His most interesting, and notable statements follow.. “I was not made for this world” (p48) Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains* The strongest man is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty ** Rousseau’s complete lack of trust and confidence in fellow mankind leaves his voice completely shattered at the end of the line. It is a poignant call of both desperation in a setting of sublime beauty unique to his time.
Another figure of interest to me is Louis Malle. His flawed heroes dominate most of his fictional works throughout his oeuvre - and in this case The Fire Within is of particular interest. Maurice Ronet portrays suicidal Alan, to whom Malle confided was his most relatable character. The semi autobiographical film related to Malle reaching a peak in his early life. With Elevator to the Gallows (1956) the films’ subtle elegance vastly defies his age. Starring Jeanne Moreau and scored by Miles Davis, the film was released when he was 24. The Fire Within, released in France in 1963, posts manyquestions and concerns - mainly relating to the ability to maintain a certain level of production and creative standard over a prolonged period of time when you know the world is watching you. There is a similar theme relating to Rousseau and Fucli of the romanticism and disgust of a broken man trying to grapple with his doubts and fears over the future and his life’s work. Malle’s Alan - a writer, is torn between worlds - women, drugs and alcohol - his main vices - and his roll for which he is known for; the creative act, in this case, writing - the one that gives his life validity. The film is arguably some kind of necessary catharsis, a revelation that helped to make way for Malle’s older persona, moving on to make dramatic works such as Damaged and many documentaries such as Phantom India, Calcutta and God’s Country. Malle repeatedly said that The Fire Within was the first of his films to satisfy him totally. It’s also probably the one that worked as an exorcism and liberated him from his former persona ‘3 Fucli is all the more seemingly alone than Malle as his work was not well received or well respected. His work was constantly compared to his contemporary, fellow Italian Dario Argento, whose films, particularly Suspiria, were internationally acclaimed - a source of great jealousy for Fucli. The Fire Within is markedly different from Malle’s other films as it confronts more final, nihilistic ideas and for the audience there is no reprieve.
The heroic figure in all works discussed is past their prime has and has made some sort of fatal mistake through a personalty flaw or insatiable desire. Presented as a work of art it reaches out to the extreme elements human curiosity as the inability for the artist to create is a struggle that voyeurs love to partake in. When the hero encounters fatal, comedic or life threatening situations it is of interest as it is something relative to the human condition, we can all relate to it. Aronosky’s The Wrestler is a modern exploration of this predicament - Our hero has fallen from grace, and he now despises others and himself - he was once labelled a ‘genius’ - now an ‘eccentric recluse’ constantly plagued by depression and illusions of suicide. It seems that in The Fire Within that suicide is all that Alan has left, it will be his final achievement as in his mind, nothing would live up to his former life or creative works. The Fire Within is so complete as a film, despite the fact it answers no questions and leaves no hope. It is Malle’s requiem, his statement on his own fame, glory, creativity and age, theorising on the absurdity of living, sustaining creativity and the the effects on the psyche.
The soundtrack by Erik Satie is subtle, eerily sombre, quite the opposite of Davis’s brassy tones played all throughout Gallows. Satie’s sound elevates more drama and melancholy that perhaps the images themselves. The piano exists as a dark force, there is no optimism in the notes and arrangements and it is a perfect complement to the visual style being established by Malle, achieving a unique synasthesia. There is a subtle elegance to Malle which is very defining - The Fire Within’s beauty certainly lies in its pure simplicity. Malle so often depicts the story of successful, beautiful male character brought down by a certain flaw. Lacombe Lucien (1974), Elevator the the Gallows, Damage (1992) and The Fire Within in particular depict male subjects that are predominantly overcome by either lust, passion, ego, or drink. They are often willing to give up everything, every aspect of their lives that they have worked for or come to know for this one ideal or object. In Damage, Ana (Juliet Binoche) states; Damaged people are always better off because they know how to survive. Stephen (Jeremy Irons) seems to have led a charmed life - wealth, friends, family, power, everything within reach. His flaw materialises though Ana. Without much effort she aids a chain of events that eventually destroys his life. She represents the figure that makes him - like her, irrevocably damaged.
Back to Fucli, he presents a completely different kind of film. But like Rousseau and Malle Cat in the Brain is introspective, thoughtful, confronting and self-reflexive. The questions Fucli raises to us are concerns like; Where do you go from there? How many ‘gags’ can you pull? Even throughout this film, a certain magic and suspense is lost on the fact you are sure in every scene an extreme killing - usually involving a decapitation or eyeball popping out - is going to play out. This both embraces and rejects the very foundations his work rests upon - suspense, as it becomes overly predictable very quickly. Fucli’s success is achieved in the moments where he conveys a sense of claustrophobia, the act of being overexposed - perhaps not just to horror but filmmaking itself - exposing the familiar act, the eternal return of the same, highlighting the experience of filmmaking and horror as such a specific genre. Satire is used in a clever way, combining a pastiche of old and new images, the most extreme perhaps depicting a human head melting inside a microwave and heads getting sawn with chainsaws. It is so violent it would be almost unwatchable save for the fact it is so clearly fake.
The act of casting Fucli as himself - reveals he is playful, humorous, yet insecure as an artist as the work concerns a lifetime of filmmaking and the effects on the creator. The film is almost reminiscent John Waters and some greats of Trash Cinema. The revelation of a personal and professional decline is somewhat loaded particularly relating to the fact his delusions are the murders of all of his friends and family. The use of parallels between ‘real’ life and the creative work reveal Fucli to be a unique character, he is using art as a path to self knowledge.Simply the subtitle Cat in the Brain eludes to this very predicament. The philosopher/physicist David Bohm reflects in relation; Many artists have tried in their work to express the present state of confusion, uncertainty and conflict, probably hoping that if these are given a visible shape and form, then somehow one can obtain mastery over them. This is a resurgence of a primitive ‘magical’ way of thinking..
One would consider there must be something ‘sick’ about the creator if art is essentially constructing your own universe, and their sense of order is of a violent murder spree, albeit an illusion. Perhaps it is an action that lies dormant in most people, the potential lying somewhere inside our brains. The horror film-image is overly abject, aimed to disgust the audience, who is trained, expectant to be ‘shocked’. The traditional role of art is to portray beauty or reveal the potential for beauty within things, thus the everlasting appeal of horror lies in its function to defy the purpose of the image - to portray beauty and/or innocence. Horror is ignoring the veil of social order and following the most basic primal human urges - to create and simultaneously destroy.
Fucli dares to asks the most ultimate question - is killing creative? The plot and events that play out are crazy, surreal. Many artists have tried in their work to express a present state of confusion, uncertainty and conflict, probably hoping that if these are given a visible shape and form, then somehow we can obtain mastery over them. This is a resurgence of primitive ‘magical’ way of thinking that Bohm speaks of, creating a modern magician or trickster. Nightmare Concert, and Fucli’s earlier works (notably Zombie and The Beyond) entertain ideas of violence - containing projected, third party and imagined violence. In the case of Alain’s suicide in The Fire Within, the violence is markedly different as it is self inflicted, contained within a ‘drama’ film seems more unexpected and extreme than within a context of multiple killings.
The role of cinema is to appeal to the audience as a voyeur, presenting the ‘life unseen’ up on the wall for all to see. Thus, the taking of life almost contradicts this illusion. Rousseau’s writings present self loathing in the creative role in words rather than images which has a lasting poignancy as it is reflective and written down as thoughts.
1. Fucli, Lucio Interview with Lucio Fucli,
2. Rousseau, John Jacques, Reveries of the Solitary Walker p35
3. Cowie, Peter The Fire Within - Pale Fire http://www.criterion.com/current/posts/524-the-fire-within-pale-fire
4 Bohm, David ON Creativity p37
All my dreams are dreams of violence.
“…There was something once that set me apart… Somebody’s got my whole life and thrown it down a sewer. “
Ghosts of the Civil Dead (dir. John Hillcoat) explores the nature of human evil, through differing examples of punishment and power. Set inside the maximum security ‘Central Industrial Prison’ somewhere in the Australian desert, we meet Weevil (David Field), a new prisoner. He is brought, against his will, into an alien environment where he will have to adapt in order to survive. This new generation of correctional facilities is shown to be the final destination of one’s fateful choices led astray. On his entrance, it seems as though Weevil will have to use his strength to protect himself from the other prisoners, but the audience learns his main enemy is himself. In this prison we quickly learn that one’s own mental state often seems to be one’s greatest deterrent. The audience immediately feels compassion for his condition, as although his crime remains unexplained (to Hillcoat’s merit) it begins to seem as if no actions could warrant such a situation, as it the facility seems purely inhuman - an ‘Electronic Zoo‘1.
Attention is shown to Weevil, a few other select prisoners in the surrounding cells and occasionally the prison guards, swapping between these select first person narrators, giving a unique portrayal of the experience of a modern prison. The direction of the prison, carried out through the guard’s human force belongs to an unseen organisation called the Administration. The film at times is almost reminiscent of the distopian fiction of HG Wells, and more specifically Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We, particularly in relation to the city made of glass, as there in no privacy within the world Hillcoat presents to us.
At first the daily life of the prisoner is explored - their personal interests, needs, desires. Prisoners are seen in their cells painting, writing, playing cards, taking drugs, and so on, basically occupying themselves with activities to make their stay more endurable. The camera is seen as unaware, blending in with all the other surveillance present. We the audience, are both on the level of the prisoners but also switching to that of the guards, expressing their fears of prisoner rebellion and at times their own personal safety - thus what emerges is a seemingly even cross section of the powerplay and control within everyday prison life, namely one’s own sense of moral and/or personal ‘duty’, be it to themselves or others. One voice over however, speaks of a ‘new kind of prisoner’ that is truly evil , a breed that has been perhaps generated by the experience of living in one of these new ‘super-maximum security’ technological ‘facilities’ that seem to have no concern over the welfare of its occupants, as the film’s title suggests. Thoughts turn to the mental ‘limits’, if there is such a thing and how those barriers are blurred within the confines of the gaol. The examples of prisoners in solitary confinement is the most extreme, as it is seen as though the administration just simply forgets about these prisoners. The ongoing monologue spoken by a prisoner in solitary is undoubtedly the most harrowing, as they cannot even interact with other prisoners, be that either good or bad, rendering them truly as living ghosts. The prison memoirs of Warren Fellows and Margrit Schiller come to mind due to their experiences of life in solitary and the mental capacities needed in order to come out ‘sane’.
The eyes of the audience reflects the very eyes of the Administration - where no one can hide and privacy is now obsolete. We, the fractured narrator is stuck in ultimate control - control in the instance of being able to see - the unseen by others but all seeing electronic eye of the prison. With this perspective presented by Hillcoat there are ties to Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon prison plan - essentially an architectural structure that has still never eventuated to the exact dimensions he proposed. Michel Foucault explored aspects of the Panopticon as a philosophical concept in Discipline and Punish, revealing it to be the ultimate metaphor for power and control. Bentham’s ideologies were that of an administrative building - be it a school, hospital, or prison, that was centred around a main watchtower that the one could station themselves in order to keep watch on every movement in the surrounding outer rooms. Only the occupants, in this case prisoners, were not aware of when they were being watched. Bentham’s structures of power, thus are about psychological control rather than physical - which makes it all the more prophetic in the times of video surveillance, lie detectors, digital communication and so on. The fear of being watched or controlled by an unknown oppressor is what will, ideally, keep prisoners in check. This is what we see played out in the first part of the film… with the prison guards as the symbolic forces, carrying out ‘orders’ they must enforce. Bentham interestingly stated that ‘all punishment is evil2’ - with violence breeding nothing but more violence. It seems that in most cases the act of punishment is put in place as to set an example for the general population- its usage acts as a deterance - a ‘lesson’ to others that may be tempted; ‘In Bentham’s eyes, punishment is first and foremost a spectacle - it is insofar as punishment is not intended for the punished individual, but for all others, that the execution of a punishment is a spectacle’ p3
We see this in the abject horror of modern society - televised riots with protestors being arrested or tasered.. Shots of crazed killers on death row, etc. As the film progresses we see that this indeed is the case as the prison escalates all of their authority, enforcing “lock down’, removing all prisoners’ sense of purpose - the cells are raided and all interests, crafts, are removed and destroyed. Now there is now nothing for the prisoners to live for and no sense of ongoing, shown through paintings or something to work on each day. Now that exists is only that very moment - and subsequently the focus switches onto other people, rather than introspective creative pursuits. The society’s faith in its government for ‘protecting the innocent’, is seen to have a more sinister edge - one to use the prisoners as a means of psychological control. We see that this new technologically ‘advanced’ prison is more about appearances and political power than rehabilitation, hence the ideology that some prisoners are almost written off as ‘unsolvable’. The further effects are seen particularly through the character of Weevil, as once the raids begin and his civil liberties are removed - in his case both by the guards and other prisoners, he commits the most extreme act of violence.
Meanwhile, the hazy submission and and agonised power of the guards hangs in fine balance. The brutality of the guards is just relative to the fact they are ‘just taking orders’ from the Administration. The guards however, do see the inmates as ‘scum’, they are presented as robots, with no compassion or sympathy for human life/frailty - only when their own safety seems compromised. What results is an environment where everyone is on edge - the lethargy and desperation of the prisoners is played out infront of a captive audience, ie the prison guards. What eventuates is a masculine frenzy with prisoners pacing up and down the tiny cells, feeding off one another’s claustrophobia and feelings of despair.
The point where Maynard (Nick Cave) arrives is where everything seems to splinter, as just one new personality that refuses to compromise or submit to the authority slowly but surely sets everyone off. Many transgressions begin to eventuate - a direct result of the removal of the personal items. The inmates have lost the ability to ‘do’ anything.. Which over time proves either violent or futile - Maynard’s use of his own blood to make paintings for example. The prisoners are desperate for any kind of stimulus other than their own bodies - thus why outward violence becomes prevalent. The boundaries now start to blur - the guards become prisoners and the prisoners take control - the guards now feel the fear presented to the prisoners by them on a daily basis. Despite the task each prisoner has to try and stay sane throughout the duration of their sentence, some are slowly learning of the government’s political imperative - the fact that the sensory deprivation is in aid of sending the prisoners crazy on purpose. That combined with the raids - are denying the prisoners basic civil liberties. They have now reached inhuman status in the eyes of the state - forgotten.
Turkey Shoot, (Australia, 1980) explores this concept in a more fantastical setting, presenting almost a satire of a distopia - however the elements of dry comedy reside in both. Turkey Shoot focuses more on re-education and behaviour modification in a prison camp for ‘Deviant individuals’. The year is 1995, the future, where macoshism and murder games are rife as typical punishment for ‘deviance’ - a blanket term for almost anything. The systematic torture and beatings enacted within the camp are almost nothing in comparison to the ‘Turkey Shoot’, where particular chosen prisoners are set free only if they can endure a day in the surrounding forests as the subject of the camp leaders’ sport targets - as human sacrifices. The camp leaders are shown to be completely hedonistic, stating ‘excess is what makes life worth living, for people like us’. They use the prisoners for their own spectacle, as ‘fresh meat’, the ‘lowest form of life on earth’, within any given context seems actually humorous as it seems they are the only ones committing and such ‘deviant’ crimes. An important parallel between the two films, as they are very differing in matter, tone and form - is the fact - perhaps as they are both films of the 1980s - surveillance and control seem to be escalating with the advent of newer technologies. It is interesting as other films set in prison, notably Bresson’s ‘A Man Escaped’, devotes itself to the act of escaping from one’s cell - something that would be almost impossible in modern times. ‘The ‘administration’ within Ghosts.. is an unseen, almost inhuman organisation, giving the entire film a unsettling, chaotic edge, Turkey shoot presents them as overly present - constantly fawning over the screened executions taking place within the prison, (‘Beats the hell out of Network Television’) the voyeurism almost always having a sexual element.
Within both films the prisoners are seen as a symbol rather than a person. The state must prove their efficiency at getting a certain number of people behind bars that ‘deserve it’ otherwise the people will lose faith in their governments ability to rule. In Ghosts…, it is almost as if one is forced into a corner within the modern prison - the omniprescence/ constant presence even in silence an eerie feeling that something is about to happen would make almost anyone lose their edge. Not only the guards, but the prisoners control the prisoners - we see heavy ties and illegences form - combined with rampant amounts of drug use - a heavy perception of “killing time” while doing time is the only way to get through it alive.
In Roman law, a ‘Civil Dead’ has no legal rights as a person. They are subject to all kinds of punishment, discipline, to the use of a moral spectacle - The ethics of containment are of interest - as it seems that developing animalistic tendencies are inescapable if one is to survive. Thus the fact that one’s attentions turn toward one another with the prison seeming like some kind of halfway house, almost a paranormal like place with its inhabitants teetering between sanity/insanity - life and death - as ghosts are eternal, bound to earth yet unable to participate in its events.
“God permits the crimes to the extent that these crimes cause the good in this world to surpass evil to the greatest degree possible - God permits the crimes to the extent that it is precisely because of these crimes that the created world is the best of all possible worlds” 4
1 p26, O’Regan, Tom Australian National Cinema, Routledge, London, 1996
2 p3 Bentham, Jeremy Panopticon Writings. Verso, London, 1995
3 ibid p10
4 p17 Bozovic, Miran in Panopticon Writngs, Verso, London, 1995
Stone, released in 1974, is the only feature film directed by Sandy Harbutt. The film, over time has become synonymous and symbolic of Australian biker mythology.
Police Officer Stone goes undercover, joining the notoriously dangerous ‘Gravediggers’ outlaw motorcycle gang. An unknown perpetrator has been killing the members of the gang one by one - so its up to Stone to find out ‘whodunnit’. The Gravediggers seem to have it all - women (moles), drugs, their gang ‘colours’, and the rival motorcycle gang ‘Black Hawks’.
Although the film has aged in such a way it almost seems like a parody of itself, and of 1970’s counter culture Sydney, there are some interesting explorations of morality, trust, and the group mentality buried beneath the surface. The Australian biker comes across as some kind of wolf split from the regular pack - or perhaps bushranger for the modern age, sticking it up at life with any other misfits he can find around for his company.
The exploration of biker culture was not a new concept - the subject for many films, books and photography particularly in the USA. Hunter S. Thompson’s book ‘Hells Angels’, (1966) the account of his time on the road with America’s most infamous outlaw gang was a seemingly revealing insight into the subculture. Sonny Barger, the main character studied in the book and the head of the gang, claimed in his memoir that Thompson was a ‘sissy’, he portraying himself as the fearless Rolling Stone reporter riding high and fast with the Angels - but in actual fact he remained in his room and out of sight most of the time, scared for his life. Regardless of Hunter’s behaviour, the book and his photographs from his time with the Angels are an incredible document of the subculture - the imagery, iconography, and politics in particular.
The road movie as a genre was perhaps forged to mainstream audiences through the releases of both Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda’s ‘Easy Rider’, (1969) starring Jack Nicholson - and Monte Hellman’s Two Lane Blacktop (1971) with James Taylor and the Beach Boys’ Dennis Wilson. Blacktop documents traversing Route 66 at the beginning of the 1970’s as some kind of lost, eternal journey, almost pre-empting Sarafian’s Vanishing Point.
Easy Rider centres around two friends taking an ill-fated motorcycle trip. The images of two men speeding their lowrider cycles along the highway has become synonymous with the image of motorbike riding and the road movie, of which is an enduring and often explored style of film, (See Mad Max, Quadrophenia, The Motorcycle Diaries, etc) arguably the first being Brando’s The Wild One. (1953) The images in Easy Rider combined with the iconic soundtrack - The use of Steppenwolf in particular - captured some kind of adolescent desire to be free, to be ‘wild’.
Peter Fonda had earlier played a biker alongside Nancy Sinatra in the mainstream Hollywood production ‘The Wild Angels’, (Roger Corman, 1966) which follows a gang on their numerous ‘outrageous’ exploits, their club slogan stating; ‘Their credo is violence, their God is hate”. A memorable scene concerns a wake of a deceased gang member, where the body is taken out of its coffin at the church funeral, the minister punched out, and propped up at a table with a joint in its mouth, GG Allin style.
Although all the films mentioned were seen to be particularly gritty and explosive in the context of the time, which to an extent they indeed are, STONE is another matter altogether. There is no compassion for the character Stone, despite the fact he is trying to help - and the Australian geography makes for a more deranged and isolated setting. The Australian Ugliness has replaced the American Dream.
Both Henry Fonda and Nancy Sinatra were stars in their own right, and exude some sort of depraved glamour about them - Nancy’s hair is never a pin out of place. There still exists here some kind of cinematic myth-making in The Wild Angels and Easy Rider where most things are idealised, romanticised. Stone holds none of these qualities - it is loud, weird, and strange in parts. The fact most of the cast and crew were not ‘industry professionals’ is perhaps illuminative in this context.
Stone himself, (played by Ken Shorter - a real-life cop, which information makes some of his actions all the more humerous) finds himself caught between two worlds - The seemingly straight police force, greater society and culture, and that of the drinking, drugs, ‘moles’, relative social isolation and high velocity riding undertaken by the gang. Throughout the film Stone comes to symbolise the folk hero, the lone outsider - trying to do the ‘right’ thing - seeking to uncover why someone would want to murder a pack of bikers, and to understand the dynamics of the group itself - as it comes across to him as a very alien landscape. The complex relationships and politics that form a strict highrarchy led by the aptly titled ‘Undertaker’ (played by Harbutt) is of great interest to Stone, as from the outside the group seems to have no laws or specific ideals. It turns out however, to have its own peculiar sense of order. The gang is a world onto its own, at times seeming quite isolated despite their camaraderie and relative freedom. The bikes’ interactions with each other, the fact a few of them are Vietnam Vets, the way they treat their leader, intricate moral code that goes into arranging the death of a member is all of interest here. The funeral scene towards the end of the film, with the procession of hundreds of motorbikes is a moment of striking eloquence.
Ausrtralia’s history is littered with folk devils and its subsequent moral panics, starting with bushrangers in the Colonial era and leading us up to Bikers, Punks, Goths, virtually anyone looked upon as an outsider. Bikers are seen as though they were born to be bad which sets them apart from the other subcultures mentioned - the prevalence of bike related interviolence where bystanders have been killed or involved has been the main source of this opinion. Stone gives a human face to an overly stereotyped subculture that actions of few represent the way many are perceived.
In present times we are still in the midst of bikie related violence, perpetrated by gangs such as the Rebels, Notorious, Comancheros, Bandidos, and Gypsy Jokers. Events such as the Milperra Massacre in 1984 and the Sydney beating in 2009 are ingrained into the Australian psyche. In the 2009 event, the Comancheros were involved in a well- publicised incident at Sydney airport where a Hell’s Angel member was bashed to death with a metal bollard at Sydney Airport. Apparently the men has all been on the same plane from Perth, and called in others who met the man at the entrance to the airport.
Australia in the 1970’s is perhaps looked upon as a culture otherwise idyllic. The use of locations such as the Domain, Gore Hill Cemetery, Balmain, Northern Beaches and the most iconic, Middle Head, reveal the potential for crime and violence that lurks behind every surface, noting that things are not always as they seem - with the bikes themselves being subject to more violence than any other party. The violence present in Stone its not implied, its seeping though its very core - like the ability to fight is an inherent part of each character.
In the 1970s, an effort was underway by the Australian Film Institute and other funding bodies to generate a film culture that was stand alone, serious, indicative of our quickly forging national identity - wanting, as a new country, to portray through film an idyllic paradise. Stone is so good it represents none of these things - now categorised as an ‘Exploitation’ or for a better word ‘Ozplotation’ film. RICHARD KUIPERS, the director of ‘Stone Forever’ (1999) a documentary dealing with the cultural climate and enduring legacy of the film, states that Stone “was sent out on the ‘ozoners’ circuit on wild double and triple bills with exploitation gems such as ‘Girl On A Motorcycle’, ‘The Losers’ and, best of all, the notorious Italian cannibal gore-shocker ‘Man From Deep River’. I was too young to sneak into Caringbah drive-in and saw it for the first time on Channel 7 when it aired the AO Modified TV Version in 1980. Even without the final scene which made sense of the whole film and minus the famous decapitation, Stone left an indelible mark on my consciousness as the first Australian film I could relate to. I wasn’t into bike culture and didn’t aspire to be but we had The Rat Pack MC in Gymea and here at last were representations of these scary Australian dudes up there on the big screen. It had something to say about the real Australia which historical dramas popular at the time simply didn’t. Everyone watched the same broadcast and it was the main topic of schoolground discussion for weeks afterwards. Those with older brothers who’d seen it on the big screen held court with painstaikingly detailed descriptions of what 7’s censors hadn’t let us see.”
The fact that Stone is Sandy Harbutt’s only feature film as director gives the work all the more mystery, as we have nothing to compare it to, there is no path within his ouevre, its all alone - it also works in its favour, it becomes more of a grand statement, its own entity. He, like his silence since, has become a bit of a mystery, furthering the intrigue into ‘Stone’ as his only statement.The film has endured the test of time, both inside and outside motorcycle culture, with 34,000 motorcyclists gathering on the Newcastle Freeway to mark the 25th anniversary of the day 400 motorcyclists turned up to take part in the famous funeral procession scene.
*** Stone will be screened this Sunday at DOME HOME CINEMATHEQUE, 7pm at TONE in Surry Hills.
Burt Deeling’s 1975 film Pure Shit is a true classic of Australian noir. Unlike other films dealing with drug-related material, Pure Shit does not over dramatise or distort, generating a more realistic, heavy sense of addiction and its implications on the everyday life of users. Films such as Performance, Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting use many classic cinematic conventions including elaborate montages, dramatic sound effects and notable actors to portray a sense of hopelessness and glamour as a window toward the characters’ perspective of life under the influence of drugs. Pure Shit holds a gritty realism unlike that of the films mentioned, and although the work is a narrative feature, it has the rough feel and aesthetic of a documentary.
The plot centres around a group heroin addicts living in Carlton, inner city Melbourne. Following their movements for 24 hours, the film presents their ongoing struggle to find the next hit. A large portion of the cast and crew were users at the time of production, subsequently many of the drug dealing scenes taking place are unsimulated. Interviews with Deeling and cast members has eluded to the fact other scenes were real, such as the scenes involving direct drug use.
Many scenes involving dialogue were also improvised. One of the crucial parts in the film where the robbing of a pharmacy takes place is particularly interesting, as the actor meant to devise the action didn’t show up to the shoot. Deeling instigated the killing of another character in its place at the moment of shooting. This scene in particular is quite frantic and chaotic and it is perhaps the fact it was being made up while shooting what helped to propel this motion.
The 24 hour time frame becomes a ‘day in the life’, a small snapshot into a group of friends held together through and by drug use. These social interactions and movements are usually undercover and out of reach for most. The search for the hit and the necessity of that goal ensures that the film is unique in its velocity and sheer speed. There is a frantic pace to it the film which is insatiable, infectious, similar to the hypnotism and psychedelic pace portrayed in Performance, by NIcolas Roeg. The narrative and speed in which the the plot seems to disintegrate into sheer desolation and chaos is parallel to the amount of drug use and its subsequent effects within the characters. As the plot of Pure Shit splinters (represented as the point they enter the house of the couple) and descends into a mess of confusion, the viewers’ journey is placed into a frame of mind similar to the users as they try to make sense of it all.
The film does not act as a judge, nor present the material for the viewer to judge either, it just IS. It is just a day in the life of four people who happen to be heavy drug users. It doesn’t over sensationalise or really delve into the personalities presented. There is no emotional attachment, it is more a sequence of entertainment, and the film is indeed funny in many parts.
Films like Pure Shit, Wake in Fright, even Snowtown are interesting in terms of Australian culture in that they portray the country in a negative light focusing on illegal, ‘uncultured’ and antisocial activities. The power and continued relevance of the moving image often lies within its ability document and archive all different sides of life, more increasingly it seems that Australia’s preoccupation within the Arts and particularly Arts funding is to support creative works that present Australia to the world as a beautiful, idyllic place to be cherished and visited by outsiders. This is seen through the Australian films like Peter Weir’s Picnic and Hanging Rock, Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout and Baz Luhrman’s Australia etc. Works like Rolf De Heer’s Bad Boy Bubby, Pure Shit, Richard Lowenstein’s Dogs in Space and Stanley Harbutt’s Stone portray a new history, that of the counter-culture, the oppressed, the outsider, and those on the limits of life. That revealed in these works is the bleak yet harsh reality of everyday existence for many people.
There were a whole bunch of people right across the process who were prepared to destroy Pure Shit rather than let anybody see it - Burt Deeling
In a way it is a miracle the film has physically survived after all this time. At the first public screening in Melbourne, a police squad arrived and destroyed all the posters on display in the foyer of the cinema. Soon after the film was banned - then released with the ‘HIT’ missing from the title, being ‘Pure S’ . After that time there was no VHS, DVD release or any of that matter untill 2008 - so the only copies were two 16MM reels.
“Why bother to see a 30-year-old, $30,000, 16mm movie - except maybe to have a good time? Because this is one of those early films that got made (despite the best endeavours of the AFC) before The Control took over our film industry. It was a time when a thousand flowers bloomed. We thought that this little flower was the beginning of a type of film that would have many companions. Films that dealt with breaking issues before the mass media took them over and ‘interpreted’ them. Films with scripts that sounded like real Australian speak. Serious films with great music and a few laughs. Sigh. It never happened - despite a shelf full of unrealised projects. Never under-estimate the power of middle-class taste. But at least the Melbourne Herald called it ‘the most evil film ever made’.“
- Bert Deeling, October, 2007.
Pure Shit will be screened tonight at the TP cinematheque on Elizabeth ST, Surry Hills, 7.30pm onwards.
Like Waves in Space - Nic Roeg’s iconoclasts.
Indefinite explorations take place in the films of Nicholas Roeg, notably in that of Performance (1968), Walkabout (1971), and The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Throughout his oeuvre, the audience is engulfed in a sensory experience, pertaining to basic human fears and desires relating to change, memory and identity. His films express a remarkable visual style - exploring colours and sound in a playful, unique way. The combination of these elements relate to the audience some kind of depraved glamour, whether depicting an extraordinary meeting of people and worlds, or a familiar situation.
Perception is redefined as tantalising, hedonistic and often destructive, often posing more questions than answers. Roeg is interested in limits of human life and the possibilities of direction within these parameters. His films reflect themes of identity, evolution, civilisation, and the nature of interaction, opening up a prolific dialogue, of which shapes progressive ideals and further thinking.
The journeys experienced by his characters are often the culmination of elements of choice, circumstance, and coercion. Roeg initiates a rhizomatic structure, through initiating newfound possibilities and environments, where a myriad of scenarios have the potential to arise. Identity and its continual sense of becoming remains ever present. Personalities are presented as always in transition, with the chosen protagonist making sacrifices in the quest for progression and survival. In some instances, particularly in Walkabout and The Man Who Fell to Earth, the lives that interact would never have usually crossed paths. The combination ensures a fatal collaboration - where decadence and revelry push the limits of human experience to its outer fold.
‘Identity itself is always in motion, no matter how rooted it seems or how fixed. Not only that, but all identifications are in motion, since any fixed state of an object is merely a stage of apparent rest before another change’ 1
There are four elements that are often present - preservation, sacrifice, identity and salvation. Our hero is in need and must interact with a stranger, often of opposite ideals or background, to achieve a necessary goal. Sexuality is at the forefront of all needs, revealed as a driving force, an element of power and spirituality that sanctifies the relationships portrayed - whether it eventuates into ‘real’ life, or remains implied. Identity may be preserved, but something must always be sacrificed to reach salvation, whatever that may be.
Roeg’s portrayal of human sexuality is presented as animalistic, primal - a metaphor for greater issues. Walkabout is a great example as architectural structures and natural materials are juxtaposed throughout with the textures of flesh and the human form, subconsciously setting a base for the implied relations between the two main characters that never quite plays out. Sexuality is an essential part of Roeg’s visual style - in other cases, a particularly difficult situation to capture on film, subject to controversy and overshadowing the other content. The sexuality of his films, particularly Performance and Bad Timing (1980) is highly erotic, charged. Laced with hedonism and fantasy, it is unique the way he can make an alien seem attractive.
The act of the journey is another integral fixture. The plot is forged through the need to change a certain situation - meeting its end through the interactions with others - be them both positive and detrimental, sometimes disastrous. Don’t Look Now (1973) is very unusual as it begins with a catalyst; the sudden death of the protagonists’ only child. The journey presented is the aftermath of the event that has transpired. The social functionalities, constructions of the modern world no longer apply, as the couple (Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie) have transcended everyday life through their efforts to deal with inconsolable grief. Their experience is headed towards unclear territory, an area where Roeg continually travels, capturing life at the limits, behind closed doors, in its many forms. These worlds exist for some as an everyday experience - but that is often undocumented, as humans in exile are seen as static. In most cases for some reason they cannot remain in their familiar world, they are stuck in a new environment. Identity becomes a product of the situation - shifted through interaction with others, remaining illusive. Metamorphosis is in part a liberation from one’s former self - a Miracle as described by Caroline Bauman 2. She also relates; whether we think of change as, at one end of the spectrum, replacement or, at the other, an unfolding of an essence or core forever present, our conception of change is intrinsically tied to conception of entity or identity 3.
In most cases an attempt to escape one’s identity and forge a new one is slowly unravelled and revealed as a natural task, an inherent change in human nature. David Bowie’s Thomas (The Man Who Fell to Earth) and James Fox’s Chas (Perfomance) experience a complete departure from their previous selves to get what they need - which essentially, is to survive. Tommy must conceal himself as is human instead of alien, and Chas must hide from the outside world. They take on chameleon-like traits, covering up their past identities through disguise. However once they get too close to the new people in their lives, notably those of sexual and/or romantic interest, (In Chas’s case Pherber, and Tommy’s Mary-Lou) their identity must remain static in order to maintain the relatinship and it becomes increasingly harder to harbour a secret. In most cases it is these outside forces represented through relationships with others that create the most dramatic change, rather than the subject themselves.
The idea to transform oneself through sexual relations and connections with others is often revealed in cinema - it is arguably one of the mediums’ most ephemeral, visceral forces, as it is immersive, visual by nature. Roeg’s portrayal of the sexual act is fluid, organic, empowering, and in most cases the source of the real power within relationships. Sex conveys that nothing is fixed, that gender, personality, emotions are all interchangeable be it forever, of for an instant. The Man Who fell to Earth is of particular interest in this context, revealing no limits between people and alien forms. Roeg places us as the ultimate voyeurs through his depiction of the introduction of humanoid sex to an alien. Candy Clark’s Mary-Lou urinates at his disclosure - but transforms from horror to arousal within minutes. Both the human and the alien have chameleon-like abilities adapt (emotionally) and transform (physically) to a given situation. The sex scenes in Performance, between almost all of the characters, take on a life of their own. The consumption of illicit drugs corresponds with the fragmentation of the plot, and chaos descends from this point onwards. It is Roeg’s calculated intention to confuse us, to be unsure who is really sleeping with who, who is a man and who is a woman, and who is really in control.
In The Man Who Fell to Earth, Thomas’s obsessive fixation with television as a window to human life echoes our own fascination with cinema, and in turn the hedonism and sexuality of the characters portrayed. The function of cinema is parrallel to television as a multi sensory spectacle unlike any other. Thomas’s curiosity over everyday objects and experiences such as alchohol, sex and television portrays in a very humanist and clever way the absurd nature of the things that western society renders normal. Roeg further tantalises the audience - anticipating our desires - that being of rock stars in acting roles, a couple in the aftermath of a tragedy, collision of culture, the limits of sanity, an oversexed psychoanalyst, and so on.. We are waiting for Turner’s creative crisis or the moment that in Bad Timing where Alex (Art Garfunkel) commits the ultimate sexual transgression. Roeg plays on the audience’s teenage fixations, revealing that desire, as an active - yet unconscious emotion is purely primal. It is the one part of human nature that has never evolved.
The function of actors is to distort, reshape, and provide an illusion to the audience in the guise of entertainment. There is a didactic of role playing in relation to the actors (through using non traditional actors, unknowns, family members, main characters without speaking roles, famous musicans) and the fact the characters they are portraying experience an challenge notions of identity, action and performance within the film itself. This presents an interesting refraction on the fluidness of identity and the human and constructed elements of a film which are often overlooked.
Social and moral transgressions are shown as often the catalyst of the plot - for example, the suicide of The Boy (David Gulpillil) in Walkabout, the rape of Teresa (Bad Timing), the midway through Performance when both Chas (James Fox) and Turner (Mick Jagger) experience crisies of identity relating to both their past and futures. These acts are essential to the self discovery of the characters and ensure revelations and great changes from here onwards. These actions and events act as a metaphor for wider issues - and in each case innocence never prevails. Discoveries are usually undertaken through exposure to drugs, sex or death. There are no moral codes, and Roeg passes no judgement, leaving that task up to us. This is interesting in the context of 1970’s and 1980’s Britan, the age of ‘moral panics.’ Roeg’s folk devils stand for exploration and the limits of society; a testament for our own ideas and reasoning.
Performance was in a way Roeg’s debut film, created with Donald Camel in 1968, released by Warner Bros in 1970. Turner cannot live up to his name - he feels he has lost his ‘magic’ and his career is over. Drugs and sex prevail, providing a fragile balance between right and wrong, good and evil. It is all a symbolic expression of life and its abstract nature. The film is markedly different from other crime thrillers of that time. Our ‘gangster’, Chas, is on the run and takes refuge in Turner’s home of which is a world of comparable difference to anything he is used to. Inside the seclusion of the house and its many rooms, it seems that all the characters are hiding. The house is in a way unpenetrable or so it seems from the outsider’s perspective. Pherber (Anita Pallenberg) is untouchable - she is a trickster, living by her own rules in her own universe, taking the role of our fractured narrator. Drugtaking is presented as an extension of identity - giving one superpowers, extending one’s identity to the limits. I believe it is Roeg’s intention to only scratch the surface - in the sense that Chas and and a greater extent Turner remain behind glass, mystifed to the audience. Nothing is quite resolved or explained either, leaving us wanting more, consumed with insatiable desire to learn about their lives. The four main characters are seemingly young, beautiful yet to an extent tormented and willingly exiled. The fractured lovemaking presented in Performance is so confusing no-one is even sure what is going on. It is unexplained, unpenetrable like the characters.
The house itself is so intricate, seemingly infinite, it becomes as intriguing as all of the characters, a character onto its own. The house holds echoes to the structures reflected in Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, and Georges Perec’s Life: a User’s Manual as the it expresses and paralells the sentiments and concerns of the characters. The detail of the house, the many rooms and undefinable depths seem unexplained, closed off - despite the fact the majority of the film is set there. Objects are personified, with serious attention given to the detail of surroundings, colours and textures, that seen only otherwise in commercial advertising.
The Man Who Fell to Earth is indeed a science fiction - but in a sense so are all of his films in the way surrealism and fantasy exists, and has the potential to exist in everyday life. We see unique combinations such as a scientist and an alien, a gangster in hiding and a fallen rock idol, an aboriginal boy and a lost tourist. These unlikely partners often thrust into predicament without choice, and through their interactions , they reshape each other, forging new identities and illusions. Roeg gives us exactly what we want to see, yet leaves us wanting more. He presents the sacred and the profane together, illuminating and discarding one another. He pushes voyeurism to the extreme, revealing all our teenage fantasies rolled into one package.
In Don’t Look Now, all innocence has vanquished after the death of a child. This is why that notorious sex scene is a crucial part of the film - as John and Laura beocme open to discovery through sexual means. Within the context of the film the scene seems more shocking or unexpected as the couple, experiencing immense grief are not seen as sexualised. There are links here with David Bowie’s Thomas, as his ‘Alien’ is indeed sexualised - it is eerily strange and awkwardly comforting in a sense, as at that exact moment that he encounters his first sexual experience on earth, he becomes ‘human’ from that point on. The three characters mentioned exude a certain tragic vunerablity, their portrayal of sexuality staying outside ‘normal’ bounds, taking an abstract formation, or a new, unidentified role. Their sex is a reclaim to youthfulness and innocence of which they only encounter in sparse moments. The nature of the sex acts in those films in particular are almost iconical, mesmirising, unlike anything else - proving the audience to be the ultimate voyuers. The morbid nature of sex and death becomes intertwined, yet it is the act of trying to deal with a tragedy and all the pitfalls of those left behind, rather than the sex itself that is more confronting.
The irony of Roeg’s filmic explorations is that at their resolution, despite these prolific gender, personal, psychic and physical explorations the hero cannot ultimately escape their own skin. This is the crux of most works - concepts of self, society, love and sex are played with and interchanged but in reality it is mostly an illusion - a mixture of smoke and mirrors. Turner is still turner, and Tommy is still an alien, destined to live forever exiled from his home planet.
The focus Roeg constructs within a given situation relays this to us before it is pronounced, for example, Don’t Look Now begins at the aftermath of a death, rather than the lead-up to. The Man Who Fell to Earth begins with an alien ostracised from home, we never see him leaving or reunited with his family which is what he constantly desires. In Performance, Chas is in hideout from the outside world, but unlike other ‘gangster’ films, the fact that people are looking for him is virtually ignored, we are literally locked inside the house, with all the characters, ensuring claustrophobia and similar feelings to Chas. The resolution is most often the direct opposite of a happy ending, because Roeg doesn’t ever set up the situation for it to happen. There is never a possibility to find the way ‘home’, and even if there was, too much has transpired in between for it to be practical anyway. Roeg is interested in these various rites of passage, in all stages of life.
1. Sutton, Damian/Martin-Jones, David - Deleuze Reframed, I.B.Tauris, 2008, p45
2. Bynum, Caroline Metamorphosis and Identity p.17, Zone Books
3. ibid p.20
My daughter was bursting with pride. But I thought that her admiration wasn’t worth anything unless I could prove myself absolutely incapable of doing anything evil. And as black cannot exist without white, I logically conceived the most horrible deed that I could envision right at that moment. But I want you to know, for me killing is not the worst thing.
- Raymond Lemorne
The Vanishing, George Sluizer’s 1988 film adaptation of the novella ‘The Golden Egg’ by Tim Krabbe`portrays a kind of obsession that the viewer cannot forget. Our Hero, Rex, is on a mission to discover the fate of his girlfriend Saskia, of whom mysteriously vanished while they were together on a cycling holiday. The couple stop at a petrol station - the ultimate in-between place, where she goes inside to purchase a drink and never returns. There were no witnesses, and she seems to vanish without a trace - Rex is left completely alone in his grief. Over time, the quest to discover her fate consumes him, taking over his life. As the film progresses to three years since Saskia’s disappearance, we learn that time has served only to fuel his desire to find out what really happened to her. The futility and loneliness of his situation has only driven him further to uncover the mystery, rather than move on. He is not willing for his life to progress even though the possibility is symbolised through a new relationship with a woman. However, his obsession travels to the brink of his reality, crushing any hope for a new life. The woman ultimately leaves him, as he cannot and will not escape the past.
Simultaneously, Sluizer reveals to us Saskia’s kidnapper - a wealthy, respected family man named Raymond. This seems to be a curious move in terms of the typical nature of horror and suspense film. Instead of wondering who killed her, it is revealed to the audience almost immediately - so the suspense is focused instead onto Rex’s handling of loss, and the relationship that develops between him and the kidnapper. It is a very unique situation. One begins to wonder that Rex’s view of Saskia has become completely idealised - due to her absence - he even admits to his new lover that they more than likely would not still be together had she not disappeared.
The film explores the limits of human curiosity in such a manner we begin to question Rex’s grip on reality and his ability to move on. After time he is not missing the girl - it is the eternal unknowing that drives him mad, even arguable that he would rather know her fate than have her back without any explanation.
Raymond’s curiosity is also explored, as he learns of Rex’s quest to find Saskia through a television program and decides to contact him, confident he will never be caught. When they finally meet there is a great deal of anger inside Rex, and although he would have the strength to ‘get even’, our calculating kidnapper anticipates correctly that Rex would rather find out what happened. This is indeed what Rex is offered.
The film holds ties with Nicholas Roeg’s horrifying Don’t Look Now - as they both portray a very human exploration at the aftermath of a personal disaster with the loss of a loved one. In dealing with loss and the effects of grief, Don’t Look Now looks at the undoing of a relationship - The Vanishing is all the more horrifying as it depicts a man alone with himself, dealing with his impending madness. He has no one to share his experience with apart from its perpetrator.
Simplicity is what makes this film so intuiging - Sluizer makes use of the voyeur abundant in human nature to build up towards an ending like no other. Although Rex may be mad, we also want to know exactly what happened. Giving us insight and a voice to the attacker further elevates the curiosity as it makes the whole scenario seem all the more evil as he will never be caught. Combined with repeated imagery such as the prophetic ‘golden egg’ of which first came to Saskia in a dream, and the constant use of tunnels - the physical and mental caustraphobia eluded is effortless and elegant.
*** The Vanishing will be shown at DOME HOME, a new bi monthly film and music night, at TONE on Wentworth Avenue, Surry Hills, Sydney on Sunday, 24th of April, 4pm.
Supreme inspiration comes from the work of German born contemporary film director Michael Haneke. His work encompasses many complex thoughts and ideas that dominate the viewer, often long after viewing. He conveys to his audience a critique of modern narrative cinema and our somewhat futile relationship with screen based media.
Haneke trusts in the intelligence of his viewers. The subtle and sublime nature of his films provokes thinking, further illuminated by the fact most of that revealed remains a mystery. He explores themes of alienation, cultural and classist divides, the nature of humanity and their ability to adapt themselves to extreme situations. The domestic setting is of consistent interest as it is where the most abject potential for disaster lies. Plots are revealed through complex layers revealing existential musings and social commentaries confronting the nature of violence and visual media. The influence of Robert Bresson, Gilles Deleuze and Henri Bergson is evident with reference to philosophies on the nature of cinema, the visual object in time and space, and broader concepts relating to memory, class, modernity, perception, time and free will.
The pace and aesthetics of his films - particularly of Hidden and Funny Games - is unique to its genre, with many long, stationary shots and non-subjective cuts. This ensures that the audience does not overly empathise with the characters, unlike most films where the combination of editing and cinematography is stylised towards generating an emotional attachment. Haneke’s visual style, which is self-reflexive, sparse, often meticulously arranged establishes a kind of relationship with the viewer that is unique - proving challenges and questions rather than a pre-destined or specified meaning. A question mark hangs over ones head at the film’s conclusion, as a ‘point’ or ‘revelation’ is not emphasised, something we are acclimatised to experience due to the prominence of the hollywood standard.
Haneke states in relation; ‘“My films are intended as polemical statements against the American ‘barrel down’ cinema and its dis-empowerment of the spectator. They are an appeal for a cinema of insistent questions instead of false (because too quick) answers, for clarifying distance in place of violating closeness, for provocation and dialogue instead of consumption and consensus.”
Oliver C. Speck states further in his review of Haneke’s oeuvre; The film is shifting the major part of the process of meaning onto the viewer, who is thus forced to perform a task that is normally done for the audience in mainstream cinema, that is, providing connections and explanations’1
With editing, the ‘get it’ montage we are acclimatised to experience is often adapted by other foreign films in an attempt to be widely received and fit with these conventions. One particular example is 2009 Argentine Thriller The Secret in Their Eyes (El secreto de sus ojos). Haneke does not compromise his vision in aid to fit with a certain process and convention. In Hidden (released as Cache` in France), the viewer experiences slow cuts, long shots and close-ups, in two particular areas, mostly domestic spaces - at a dinner party scene, out the front of the house that holds setting for the film’s events. Often there is no montage present, almost akin to ‘real’, or non-cinematic life. This makes the reflexive and personal moments all the more affecting to the audience. As we realise that cinematic footage is actually surveillance, a sinister, inhuman edge sets in to the opening of the film, with every previous movements now contextualised to include an unknown, unsaid third party. The frame is now reframed - this highlights the voyeuristic, almost intrusive nature of image base-media in modern times. The camera in Cache` tends to follow subjects or sit at an equal level, - some shots almost hand-held. The feeling is very close, subjective, like the cameraman is also a family member with a hidden camera. Sometimes the shots are almost too close, enforcing the feelings of paranoia and anxiety the subjects are feeling. The alienation, passive aggression, unseen or unjustified violence seen throughout the film preys immensely on the everyday fears and horrors that that affect almost everybody. Maybe the cameraman himself is evil, as everyone is implied into the paranoid potential for violence and mistrust. The act of changing the viewing perspective is unnerving for the viewer as we see that the game is not fixed, it is fluid, changing over time.
Haneke often experiments with time and and visual perception. Benny’s Video is also of interest as a lot of the shots used and their use in sequence is relayed through a screen - we a watching a screen watching a screen of an event - The violent images portrayed look no different to a typical slasher flick or the daily news, enforcing the fact that we are overexposed to images of extreme violence in new-media, and it deadens the implications as it will just ‘cut’ to a lighter scene or a joke. The setting that Haneke uses to present violence commiserates a very loaded scenario, where we feel the true extent and aftermath of this violence in a way we do not usually experience in film.
The characters portrayed in his films seem to belong to a certain kind of society - upper-middle class, caucasian and heterosexual. They also seem to have everything, to be overwhelmingly ‘perfect’ and flawless. The un-emotional attachment to our victims that Haneke subtly establishes ensures we almost relish seeing horrifying or unplanned events eventuating. An idea emphasised is that nothing can save anyone in the face of unplanned events - money, power and class are all irrelevant, and the materialistic nature of modern society is flawed on many levels. Nuclear families are prone to breakdown and it seems that in some ways Haneke relishes portraying this situation as it is a repetitive motif within his oeuvre. It is an unjust world we all live in, and people are not always as they seem, especially those in high places or those close to you. Cache and Benny’s Video in particular focus on a series of unplanned events leading to the breakdown of a seemingly perfect family unit. In other filmic portrayals of family breakdown, it usually is the cause of actions within an internal relationship or the actions between people inside the family unit with outside forces. With Haneke, complete outside forces break inside (Funny Games, Cache`) and destroy everything within a seemingly short period. The movements often seem unjust as the characters seem undeserving of their fate, as they are ‘good’ people. What is revealed is that there is no true distinction between ‘good’ and ‘bad’, that they are abstract, indescribable terms, and that one person rolls fluid between one point and the other. With Hidden, Haneke swift-fully plays with this concept by suggesting that family members may or may not have been involved in the attacks, almost teasing his audience with slow handed revelations of knowledge. This further enforces feelings of paranoia and destruction - as no one is named at the film’s conclusion, it remains a mystery. The prolonged suspense with an indefinite resolution holds ties with George Sluizer’s 1988 thriller The Vanishing. The Vanishing plays on elements of a basic thriller film, but like Haneke, suspends information by shifting the focus of his attention onto the subjects in the aftermath of an event and the unknown. Sluizer looks not on the crime that has been committed, the victim or the perpetrator, but the victim’s partner and his subsequent life. He becomes obsessed, paranoid, giving up everything in hope to find out what really happened to his girlfriend. His desire becomes so immense the focus is not even on her being missing, but what actually happened to her on the fateful day she was abducted. He is completely consumed with the desire to know what happened. This desire overtakes everything, forever changing the course of his life, with fateful results. Between the three films there is this common question of concepts of bad and good - both as undefinable and in attributable, as abstract terms - but in the primal sense there is a common problem of seemingly ‘good’ people going down. It is unjust, unfair, and often unexplained to the viewer, leaving them insatiable and wanting answers.
The aesthetic style of Haneke is quite simple, with the focus and the narrative being privy to the use and function of certain everyday objects, brought into a new context. Haneke pays attention to the affect your surroundings have on your state of mind. Commonly placid, domestic surroundings begin to hold something symbolic, sinister, edgy. We see through the environments he establishes the potential for destruction in everything. Horror and absurdity becomes projected through objects such as video tapes, eggs, baguette sticks, birds. They take on a sinister ideology and use beyond their usual means. The use of common objects that would exist in the households of most of his viewers reflects the viewer’s own surroundings enforces a blur, almost melting my room into the frame of the film, complementary to the framework of Haneke’s suspense tactics. The lamp, the artwork, the pillow I am resting on now holds potential to be a torturous, horrifying object. Books, ornaments, things once felt inanimate and one-sided obtain some hidden pathological mystery about them that goes beyond the framework of the film itself. The film viewer’s room and the room containing these projected objects becomes intertwined, loaded, strange. It is in these moments that I wonder if Haneke is a Nihilist, but I think he is interested in exploring accepted practices and activities and reframing them to make the everyday seem absurd and abstract. His use of framing and exploring situations that could seemingly happen to ‘any of us’ reveals the peverse and voyeuristic nature of cinema, and the audience’s inability to enact or ‘save’ a given situation.
Age seems to be important in context. Youth and children are sometimes the catalyst for the worst fear and games. On the the surface that are seen as innocent, ‘inherently good,’ part of a functioning society. When the children are represented as victims, they seem to have more of a desire and drive to better the situation, whereas the parents seem lacking or unable to imagine a way out. When they are the perpetrators, children seem otherworldly almost, much smarter and evil than they are normally perceived, understanding much more than they are seen to believe. It is almost as if they are another species, thrust into an absurd world of adults that they are trying to understand. In Benny’s Video - children act as rulers - getting away with murder, literally. The viewer swings between feeling horror at what Benny has done, or wondering if his actions are just a product of his detached, professional, shallow parents. In Time of the wolf - the children seem to deal better with the situation than the adults, having some desperate calmness about reaching a better life.
“And if from the point of view of the human eye, montage is undoubtedly a construction, from the point of view of another eye, it ceases to be one; it is the purest vision of a non-human eye, of an eye which would be in things.”
- Giles Deleuze 2
Self-reflexivity is interesting in any form, but in this case it is particularly interesting in the context of crime and violence. In Funny Games, the character of Paul talks to and looks at the camera. Through this action he becomes ‘human’ / ‘real’ for a small moment, despite the fact he is committing unspeakable acts. Each time is a junction, a pause, a break in the film almost - It is increasingly frustrating as we the audience want to reason with him, convince him to stop. His contact only serves to reveal that the torture its all a game to which the audience is also a part of, but only in their inability to help any of the victims. It is a moment emphasising the strange passivity of cinema. This notion of the passive spectator, the action of looking but not touching, communicating is a device constructed by Haneke to reveal the nature of the human psyche and the one-sidedness of film - for his character to address the audience directly is something that we don’t ever expect. We become all the more aware of the futile nature of the ‘funny games’ and the inability to ‘save’ the situation - there is no humanity or empathy, only the futile, one-dimensional nature of narrative film - on a certain trajectory at which the audience is powerless to stop.
As previously stated, the violence portrayed cleverly references hollywood and contemporary representations of violence - but here it is presented from a more psychological point of view. The implications of the actions enacted seem more real than the video game style standard imparted in most violent thrillers. Considering the ‘Scream’ series of films, the action, aftermath and the frequency violence is overplayed so much it feels like a cartoon, an unreal world where extreme violence is usually justified or accepted - usually pertaining to some kind of ideology that the victims were too ‘dumb’ to survive. With Haneke violence is presented in a myriad of different situations: loaded, implied, often unexplainable, sadistic, and masochistic. (With ‘Majid’ in Cache’ and ‘Erika’ in The Piano Teacher) Hidden explores violence in subtle, unseen forms - with Cache’ the portrayal of violence is of the most interest as elements of terror are projected into a seemingly ‘normal’ situation - a modern family - the violence acts as a little trigger or a new focus - which destroys the relationships from the inside. It is an exploration of human strength and frailty - a paradigm for our times. He chooses to focus on the effect the implied or potental for violence can affect people’s daily lives. With Funny Games, the focus of violence takes an opposite turn, being confroting, brutal and unjust. The portrayal of killing, particularly relating to the killing of Georgie, the child seems to send a message questioning the validity of violence as entertainment in film. On a grander scheme we are confronted by the often unmistakable problem of being unable to control one’s life - where resistance is also futile. The ‘Games’ enacted seem so unjust, as they are being enacted onto ‘good’ people - with the combination of the reflexive elements woven into the narrative we remember that Haneke is the puppet master controlling all these games - in turn controlling us and our reactive emotions. He is some kind of moral judge - an unseen enemy - forcing us to think about judgements about innocence, truth, ‘good’ or ‘bad’. He reveals that they are fluid, not fixed. Everyone is sucked into the Game, even the audience, and it becomes a spiral impossible to escape where the objective is protection and the ability to remain safe from harm. The act of seeing a family killed seems like a private moment, not something that should be seen, especially as the parents grieve for their child - but Haneke taints the ‘Peeping Tom,’ voyeur in human nature, the desire to consume, to know everything and how everything ends. The irony of this is that despite the fact most films provide a complete explanation at a resolution, Haneke leaves us hanging, questioning in turn ourselves, the nature of film, emotion, and violence.
1. Speck, Oliver C. Funny Frames p2
2. Deleuze, Giles Cinema 1 The Movement Image p81
Tully Arnot: Chromin’
Viewing Tully’s show, as the spectator, I feel that I am also in a strange way a conqueror
- that Lynchian notion to come inside, beyond the door, beyond the curtain, where many mysteries await. Chromin’ invites us into the personal realm of the artist and his thoughts at present.
A strange lucidity to many of the works that provokes a type of thinking where curious
possibility and non-linear ideas emerge - we see the potential for mystery that lies within everything. Tully is to me, something like a prince in need of a kingdom; which is why he makes art. The objects that have evolved during his residency at Serial Space embrace this notion. He has embraced elements of chance and exploration to create a series of playful works that emerge from the ‘other’ side of his brain.
In viewing this show, my thoughts drift to Tully’s previous inflated sculptural works. Black Out (2007) epitomised these forms. Essentially a large garbage bag crafted into an inflated sphere, it was literally the exhibition of an idea in motion. Notions of an object defining and exploring a universal space (more meta than physical), we come to an understanding that we are all carrying the experience of Camus’ L’Etranger - lost in a world devoid of meaning, but unified to another through the shared vision of an object, which though surprising, is comforting.
The absurdity of the object, further illuminates Tully’s musings. Once proposed as a shelter, the work is more of a visual spectacle than a functional object, which to me is at the centre of Tully’s work - this idea of the potential for beauty lying in the everyday, the abstractness of everyday objects, and the mysteries of being and creating.
I remember a time far in Tully’s past, and realise things seem to have come full-circle. He once screen-printed Nietzsche (God is Dead for example) quotes onto old t-shirts, made a kissing booth where the host (Tully) is drunk, discussing it as an architectural and sculptural form with a (sexual) life of its own. There were songs about lost brain cells, miniature plans on tiny pieces of paper of large scale sculptural works embedded in some Ballardian urban landscape, that never eventuated into ‘real’ life. I still have them somewhere, in-between old books. Everything was an experiment, an adventure. Simple movements, actions to make a mark in our dreary landscape were forged through thought rather than feelings, on impulse and accident rather than a sketched out theory or plan. These accidents (no farce!) began to take shape, to set a standard for themselves, and only now beginning to ‘have a place in history, through its (and my) memory1’
In Black Out, although the object’s meaning was verging on seriousness, the reception in a gallery setting eventuated in spectators playing with the object as if it was some massive toy made for adults, though with some secret potential to implode or explode at any minute.
This same element of playing and reality pervades much of Chromin’. Play in Tully’s work marks as a statement; a reaction - the opposite of death, war, heartbreak and everything that can be explained. He is the champion of youth, the individual, the ephemeral, and the transcendental.
The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.2
These new works elude the act of creation, the very motion itself; notably Painting my
way out of a paper bag. It mimics the clumsy exploration one would make emerging from a childhood clubhouse. There are little trails left behind, evidence of the artist’s presence, through movements and simple expressions of paint. I’ve always thought that painting is like drawing with water - and in this example Tully uses the temporary fluidity of painting in a new way - as an escape route, a performative introduction to a new medium within his practice. The fact he leaves the evidence behind for us to see - all crumpled and ill-formed, is a testament to a time in space, to fluid motion and to the intuitive act of creation. The first thought and movement in a situation has dried up on the paper as evidence to either confirm or crucify.
This making and breaking of shelters, the building of a temporary home outside, the
construction of a personal universe is something that runs through Tully’s practice -
particularly his inflatables - and it stems from his interest in non-formal architecture. We see the ability to make a home in an instant, and then destroy it again, just for fun. Like Gordon Matta-Clark’s Splitting (1974) and Days End (1975), we see that leaving your mark on a structure eventuates in the forging of a familiar yet unique action - which played out in a strange land makes you forget you’re not at home.
Other works explore colour as a pure force, as simple yet powerful, almost a medium itself, particularly with Tabula Rasa / Cleaning Dirty Paper and Still Life. I think of the ability to express emotions and ideas without the use of words, therein the colour in Chromin’ finds its true glory. Colours are seen as elements, with personalities and histories of their own, as the most primal force that ever was. Still Life reveals the elemental nature of everyday objects, nowadays seen more as trash than anything else.
Tully is expressing a world that is playful, yet meaningless. I know deep down that he is
a nihilist and the potential and magic that lies in everyday objects and surroundings only serves to prove their arbitrary nature and uselessness. When viewing the show as a whole, I am reminded of the great Brion Gysin, who states “I enjoy inventing things out of fun. After all, life is a game, not a career.3” Essentially, Chromin’ is about instinctual actions as a form of communication and exploration; a mission impossible for some, yet this work that stands follows that exact proposition. Things that unify and destroy are those that reveal the absurdity of human existence, and this ideology colours the actions of the artist. The only real and true things are his physical experiences, which are shown through the actions and evidences left behind.
I may write only what I know in space: I am that I am.4
1. Virilio, Paul – The Accident of Art, p96
2. Jung, Carl Gustav – In my dreams somewhere…
3.Kuri, José Férez Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age, p9
4. Kuri, José Férez Brion Gysin: Tuning in to the Multimedia Age, p44.
the pain journal
Life is my full time job, and the pay stinks. I feel like a prisoner on the rock pile, pounding big rocks into small. Not only is there no pay, but I’m beginning to wonder what’s it all for, is it even worth it. Here’s where I think the advantages of IV pain meds at home would greatly outweigh the dangers. At the rate I’m going I’m at a much higher risk of saying fuck it all. I need some damitall type of spark to smoothen out the rough edges so I can devote some time and energy to something else besides the constant body maintenance and the huge effort it takes to do something as simple as trying to get a decent night’s sleep or getting up off the couch to take a shit without feeling like i just ran the fucking marathon….
Bob Flanagan is a troubadour, a luminary, a figure unlike any before him. To me, he is undefinable and indescribable. His last piece of writing; The Pain Journal is an experience to read unlike any other.
The book concerns the last year of his life, amidst living with a terminal illness, maintaining a relationship with his wife, being the subject of a feature-length documentary. In between he tries to find the energy to create and contribute to his ongoing legacy of art and ideas.
Born with Cystic Fibrosis, Bob’s existence was permeated with illness. His ongoing fascination and exploration with S&M became a way of taking the control away from his illness and back into his own hand. Inflicting pain on himself became a form of empowerment, an act of creativity.
I’m interested in the way he uses and reflects on his experiences with pain. It became in many ways an exploration in self-medication, something he could control - as his body, most of the time, he could not.
The use of pain as a way of gaining control over a body powerless, on a certain trajectory towards a near death is remarkable, revolutionary. His will to submission, the act of giving in to pain and his master, becomes a worthy form of empowerment - the act of SM becomes for a time, a way to a new life, and a new body.
The Pain Journal is not always an easy read, as it is a journal of a steady path towards death, and this is not an easy thing to face - not matter the circumstances. Flanagan is seems to be accepting of the idea, writing himself a eulogy for use in the film about his life. He has survived without odds, and has strived to create, to love, and to live in ways many able-bodied people cannot.
What stands out amongst the many things Flanagan explores in his writings is his enduring love for his partner Sheree Rose– whose afterword in the book is truly incredible. The statement that stays with me is here:
Together we transformed shame and sorrow into a transcendent state that defies logic and reason and death
Through Bob’s life and legacy, and his relationship with Sheree, we see that there are many depths to dying, and it is a progression, alike birth and the elements and stages in life. Bob’s sheer act of trying to create amidst the everyday struggle of living enforces thoughts on creative motivation and the fact that for some artists and thinkers, the act of creating is a need rather than a want. For Bob it was certainly a need.