JUMP CUT
A REVIEW OF CONTEMPORARY MEDIA

 

 

Notes

[1] Norman Mailer, The Presidential Papers (Berkley Medallion Books, New York: 1970), p. 4
[return to page 1 of essay]

[2] From the interview, “Cinema Is Over,” which appeared in The Guardian (April 29, 2005):

“‘[Tarantino] says he admires me, but that’s not true,’ Godard muses, then makes a cryptic remark about the torture and humiliation of prisoners by U.S. guards in Iraq. ‘What is never said about Tarantino is that those prisons we are shown pictures of, where the torture is taking place, are called “reservoir dogs.” I think the name is very appropriate.’”

[3] There is an exchange relevant to this question in Juliane Lorenz’s documentary, Life, Love and Celluloid (1997). Waxing despairingly about the state of independent cinema, Geoffrey Gilmore of the Sundance Film Festival says,

“Now too much of it’s being measured by the box office, and that’s the last thing we should be doing with American independent cinema…Then we become just an extension of Hollywood, and that’s unfortunately, something that a lot of different independent filmmakers are doing…In fact, we know for the most part that most of the people who are making independent films would jump, jump with both feet, at a Hollywood contract…”

To which Ms. Lorenz responds, “That’s what I think!”

[4] Moonlight Mile (2003), a recent commercial film that strives for the feel of an independent production, is marked by this kind of one-dimensional, “wall-to-wall” use of music. We know the characters are happy and in love because Van Morison’s “Sweet Thing” is playing on the soundtrack; in another scene, we know they are sad because Bob Dylan’s “Bucket of Tears” is playing. The weight of cinematic atmosphere, once borne by editing, lighting, camera movement, acting — intrinsic elements of film language — is here displaced onto a song that is already an instant signifier of mood. In a severe reduction of artistic possibilities, and as a direct result of turning the movie soundtrack into a false god, film becomes little more than a string of music videos laid end to end.

[5] Mailer, ibid, p. 5
[return to page 2 of essay]

[6] One could compare The Addiction with another horror film that reworks the vampire mythology in a uniquely modern context, David Cronenberg’s Rabid (1977). In this film Rose (Marilyn Chambers) undergoes a biological mutation after an experimental skin graft operation: she grows a clitoris under her arm, with a needle-like head which she uses to puncture people and siphon out their blood. As a side effect of being bled, her victims contract rabies, and a deadly citywide epidemic ensues. Cronenberg’s vision explores an all-out horror of human sexuality. It was not coincidental that he chose the most celebrated porn star of the late 70s, Chambers, to play the vampire — here, a seductive and predatory carrier of infectious disease. Indeed, the scenes in which she finds her victims are played out as seductions based on pseudo-porn scenarios: a girl in a hot tub, an old man in a barn, a trucker who picks her up hitchhiking, a teenage boy at a shopping mall. Like Rabid, The Addiction treats vampirism as a kind of biological mutation with a distinctly sexualized component: blood is the desirable common fluid that erases lines of gender specificity. Already an allegory of the Freudian sexual polymorph, the vampire moves easily from prey of the opposite and the same sex because it’s the “asexual” blood within the body, not the body itself, that is sought. Rabid can be read, all too clearly, as a frighteningly apocalyptic predictor of AIDS as a consequence of rampant sexual permissiveness, just as The Addiction takes place, pointedly, in a post-AIDS world. When Kathy goes to the hospital after she is bitten, a doctor tries to reassure her by saying, “The AIDS virus wouldn’t manifest itself so quickly, if you’re worried about that.”

[7] Delmore Schwartz, “Rimbaud in Our Time,” Selected Essays of Delmore Schwartz (Edited by Donald A. Dike and David H. Zucker, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1970), pp. 54-57

[8] Tom Wolfe’s recent novel, I Am Charlotte Simmons, is essentially a neo-con tract about how the Ivy League universities “went bad” when they started letting in women and blacks, thereby “poisoning” the rarefied air of the all-white boys’ club which they had been since their inception. Supposedly, women and blacks challenge and overthrow the rule of mind by supplanting it with the disorderly, instinctual rule of the body, in the form of sex and athleticism! The players of basketball, the single most black-identified sport, are the villains of Wolfe’s book. And for the young female protagonist the message is clear: she would have been better off getting married after high school and becoming some Puritan’s housewife, rather than moving away to college where she learns how to be little more than a common prostitute. The Victorian mythos of the Fallen Woman returns here in the form of a girl barely out of puberty who has been “ruined” not so much by the actions of a single male as by the all-prevailing messages of her culture. Only in today’s neo-con era would such reductively racist and sexist ideas, such an unabashed yearning to return us to the segregated 40s and 50s, find any cultural cachet whatsoever.

[9] The milieu of philosophy students and teachers was a brilliant strategy on St. John’s part to incorporate heady Big Ideas as convincing, naturalistic dialogue — even while there is something resolutely anti-naturalistic about The Addiction’s insistence on set pieces and speeches. In the end, Kathy’s reign of terror, however bloody and unreasonable, is a revolt against the presumed irrelevance of her life inside the academic “ivory tower.” Hijacking the lofty attitudes of centuries of western thought in the name of destruction is her way of “going postal,” popular slang for all frustrated employees who snap one day and commit mass murder within the very places where they work.

[10] In December, 2005, Mr. Alpizar, a middle-class Latin-American passenger on a commercial flight in Miami, was reportedly behaving strangely; also, he would not let go of his briefcase. Believing that he may have been a terrorist with a bomb, though there was no clear evidence to support this, the National Guard surrounded Mr. Alpizar on the runway and held him at gunpoint. After a standoff in which the language barrier was apparently something of an issue, the unarmed man was gunned down. His widow later said that she tried to tell people that her husband was bi-polar and off his medications. But hardly any media coverage was given to her; and almost all the editorials came out in favor of the “difficult” job of policemen and military officers and how it’s better, in these cases, to be “safe than sorry.” The obvious questions: safety for whom? And are we so blinded, so unable to look back and self-examine, that we are no longer encouraged to express even legitimate regret for any mistake that results in the loss of human life?

In the metaphorical world of The Addiction, this tendency of the military to “shoot first and ask questions later” would be explained as simple, overpowering bloodlust; and the societal archetype to which those military officers would be said to conform would be the vampire.

[11] Mailer, ibid, p. 22
[return to page 3 of essay]

[12] Kathy’s defiant strength is brought out well by actress Lili Taylor. Physically, Taylor’s presence has always been unique: small and thin, but strong, brimming with frizzy-haired, raspy-voiced energy. I vividly remember watching the episode of The X-Files where Taylor guest-starred. She played a blind woman who becomes a suspect in a series of brutal slayings. Though completely sightless, she finds that she can “see” through the eyes of a killer while he commits his crimes, and she struggles to reach each crime scene in time to prevent the killer from murdering his victims. Her tough-talking loner persona, and her refusal to explain how she knew where and how the murders were committed, make her seem guilty to the police. But renegade FBI agent Fox (David Duchovny) sees her vulnerability. The indulgent, almost loving way that Duchovny looked at Taylor in that episode was a deliberate tribute to the way the counter-culture (and much of the mainstream) looked at her: as a kind of boho-hipster coffeehouse angel who could do no wrong. Taylor’s fascinating characterizations of strong, brainy, nihilistic women — especially in The Addiction and as Valerie Solanis in Mary Harron’s I Shot Andy Warhol (1996) — confirmed that she seemed to be rebelling against gender stereotypes and male power in everything she did. The truly tragic elements of her characters were somewhat swept away on a gleeful tide of what could be called “post-feminist camp.” If the camp of the 50s and 60s thrilled to delirious images of female passivity, suffering and hysteria (Valley of the Dolls being the classic example), then post-feminist camp (Gregg Araki; Sandra Bernhard in The King of Comedy; Pamela Anderson in Barb Wire; the media coverage of Karla Faye Tucker, etc.) gets off on gratuitous female violence and mayhem.

[13] The music of “gangsta rap,” another 90s cultural phenomenon (and integral to Ferrara’s films, in the rap songs composed and performed by Schoolly D), has been viewed as picking up where the rebellion of 60s rock left off, questioning dominant values and arguing with authority by expressing the raw feelings of an underclass. And yet, rap has also opened itself up to the criticism that it replaces positive and pro-active rebellion with a kind of solipsistic, selfish wallowing in crime and degradation, “selling out” rather than trying to change the world for the better. Of course, it could also be said that rap, for all its nihilism, has done more than any single piece of legislation to help cement a certain equality for blacks in society, by giving them a real voice that was enthralling and seductive to whites and other blacks alike. Rap emerged, at a moment after peaceable solutions to the race struggles had seemingly been exhausted, to confirm black superiority over whites as a fait accompli: the very sound of rap confirmed it, with its laid-back, sexed-up swagger. The low-key, drawling delivery of many of the male rappers stood out in stark contrast to the desperate, impotent shrieking of the white male grunge-rock singers, to suggest that a balance of power (sexual and otherwise) had shifted.

Perhaps it was because these new images were birthed from, and remained trapped within, the confines of the entertainment industry that, ultimately, blackness-as-product (like the symbolism of woman-as-fantasy-avenger) lacked the real political energy to change legislation or even rewrite the codes of the dominant paradigm. In today’s hyper-militarized, corporate culture, it is still the white men who flex their muscles, in spite of the fact that their image has come to be somewhat tarnished within the culture industry itself. The white guy in the suit is a straw-man villain defeated again and again in the movies, even as he grows more ravenous and regnant in real life. Perhaps this “tarnishing” has only served to make white men appear harmless and defeated, while leaving their power essentially undiminished and allowing it to flourish covertly.

[14] In The Funeral, there is an exchange that is directly relevant to this question of the uses of sainthood.  Jean (Sciorra), the browbeaten wife of a mobster, is caught praying at her shrine to Saint Agnes by her sister-in-law Helen (Gretchen Mol):

Helen: Who is that?

Jean: Saint Agnes.  They slit her throat when she refused the advances of some guy, she was twelve years old at the time.  They still have her headless body in some church in Italy.  She’s the patron saint of Purity.

Helen: You pray to her? Jean: She’s just there to remind me what happens when you say no.

Cynically, we see that belief in saints is already a kind of internalized good-cop/bad-cop routine: the consolation of homiletic, self-sacrificing piety on the one hand, and on the other hand, a way of keeping people fearful and “in line” in this world.

[15] Mailer, ibid, p. 7

[16] Mailer, ibid, pp. v-iv

[17] Mailer, ibid, p. 6


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