copyright 2009, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut
, No. 51, spring 2009

Culture wars: some new trends in art horror

by Joan Hawkins

“When the Korean director Park Chan-Wook walked away with the second-most prestigious prize at the Cannes Film Festival last year, it did more than raise a few eyebrows and critical hackles. It signaled that this wasn’t your father’s hoity-toity snooze-fest; this was the new, improved Cannes, baby — fast and furious and genre-friendly. Mr. Park’s award-winning “Oldboy,” a blood-spattered revenge movie that features death by hammer and other such tasty sport, might have been an exploitation flick, but it was an arty exploitation flick.” — New York Times critic Manohla Dargis on a special screening of Park’s work at the BAMcinématek

Culture wars

In March 2005, BAMcinématek in New York mounted a retrospective honoring Korean director Park Chan-Wook. Park is perhaps best known in the United States for Joint Security Area (2000), a conventional but surprisingly moving thriller about the politically charged friendships that develop among North and South Korean border guards. Emblematic of a certain kind of U.S. arthouse fare, Joint Security Area stresses psychology and human emotion over brutal action. The violence — when it does come in the film’s inevitable climax — is played less for gore than for heartbreak; the fatal result of a tragic geopolitical standoff.

If Park’s subsequent films had followed the same generic pattern as Joint Security Area, the BAM retrospective would have opened, as so many do, with little fanfare. There would have been a respectful notice in the New York Times and some individual film reviews. Perhaps a lament that Korean cinema is not better known in the United States — not as well-distributed as Hong Kong action flicks or Japanese yakuza movies. But Park’s subsequent films have not followed the same generic pattern. Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002) is a violent thriller about organ-theft and kidnapping; Oldboy (2003) is a chilling horror-revenge movie that ends with a man cutting off his own tongue. Although Oldboy won a Grand Prix Second Prize at Cannes and solidified Park’s reputation as an international auteur, the graphic elements and general creepiness in this film, as well as in the rest of Park’s recent work, has also made him a favorite among cult and horror aficionados. And it is this — his dual status as international arthouse auteur and as cult/horror auteur — which troubled the opening of his BAMcinématek retrospective.

Writing for the New York Times, film critic Dargis used the Park retrospective as an occasion to write a scathing review not only of Park’s art-horror films, but also of recent trends in U.S. international arthouse fare.[1][open endnotes in new window] Dargis writes in a passage worth quoting at length,

“The ascendancy of Mr. Park in the last few years, is partly a testament to his talent. He knows where to put the camera, how to build tension inside the frame and through editing, and he has an eye for how striking fake blood can look pooling over the ground or blooming underwater. But the filmmaker’s success in the international arena, his integration into the upper tier of the festival circuit and his embrace by some cinephiles also reflect a dubious development in recent cinema: the mainstreaming of exploitation… Movies that were once relegated to midnight screenings at festivals — and, in an earlier age, grindhouses like those that once enlivened Times Square — are now part of the main event.”[2]

In many ways, Dargis’ lament is simply a new variation on an old theme. Historically, art horror has troubled critics. It challenges generic assumptions (which are always already under siege both by the rise of generic hybrids, and also, as Thomas Schatz convincingly argues, by the inevitable evolution of genres themselves) .[3] But more importantly, art horror challenges continuing cherished assumptions about culture and taste. What’s troubling to Dargis about Park’s work is not the violence or the exploitation elements per se. In fact, Dargis often gives favorable and perceptive reviews of “pure” horror films (those which are not received at Cannes). For example, she called George Romero’s Land of the Dead “an excellent freakout of a movie” and wrote one of the best pieces on the film that I have read .[4] Rather, what is at stake for Dargis in Park’s Cannes reception, is the erosion of a certain idea about art cinema. This idea elevates art cinema as something culturally superior to and clearly distinct from exploitation. It is Oldboy’s “integration into the upper tier of the festival circuit” that bothers her, and the erosion of art/trash distinctions that such an integration implies.

As I have argued elsewhere, the lines between arthouse (high culture) cinema and trash (exploitation, horror, soft porn etc) have never been as clear-cut in the United States as taste critics would like to maintain.[5] The midnight screenings and “grindhouses… that once enlivened Times Square” — mentioned in Dargis’s review — were historically the site where high art and trash cinema commingled in the United States. During the period of the Hays Code, all films that did not receive the Breen Office seal of approval were shown outside mainstream theatrical release. In practical terms, this meant that Times Square theaters showing a film by Godard one week frequently showed a biker or J.D. (juvenile delinquent exploitation) flick the following week. Often they showed these films to the same audiences. Further, European art cinema was frequently advertised in ways that called attention to its “scandalous” and exploitation elements: It was sexier than U.S. cinema and the ads for the films generally featured provocatively posed, lingerie-clad women. A number of U.S. and European films — especially but not solely art-horror movies — routinely migrated between taste categories depending on the titles and distribution they received.[6] And given art cinema’s willingness to transgress the boundaries of good taste (e.g., Buñuel's films, to cite just one example), the lines dividing high art cinema from low horror have not always been that easy to see.

The blurring of the boundaries between art cinema and body genres, what Dargis calls “the mainstreaming of exploitation,” is not really then “a development in recent cinema.” It is part and parcel of the history of art cinema in the United States (and even to a degree in Great Britain).[7] More recently, that blurring has continued in the “guilty pleasures” programs offered at art theaters and in the inventories maintained by the catalogue companies and websites catering to paracinema and art cinema fans.[8] DVD companies have capitalized on the longstanding high/low dialectic with new releases of cult favorites. Criterion, for example, which continues to publicize its dedication “to gathering the greatest films from around the world” has recently added to its lineup the paracinema classics Fiend without a Face (Arthur Crabtree, 1958), The Blob (Irwin S. Yearnworth, 1958), and Carnival of Souls (Herk Harvey, 1962).[9] Facets Multimedia of Chicago — a rental and sales outlet specializing in arthouse, experimental and avant-garde cinema — has long maintained an extensive “guilty pleasures” and trash cinema list, which includes cult classics by Russ Meyer, Roger Corman, John Waters and Ed Wood Jr. as well as Elvis Presley flicks, blaxploitation, grade B sci-fi, and trailers and commercials.

In fact, if there is a contemporary trend toward the “mainstreaming of exploitation,” it is not happening at the high end of the culture spectrum (arthouses and film festivals), where taste-cultures have always been eclectic. Rather it is happening at the level of DVD sales and stock, and in shopping mall bookstore/DVD chain outlets, such as Borders Books and Music. Films that used to be available in the United States only on low-resolution video tape transfers from European laser discs are now frequently available as high quality DVDs, complete with all the extras DVDs traditionally offer .[10] Anchor Bay has released an extensive list of titles by European horror favorites Dario Argento, Jess Franco, and Lucio Fulci. BlueUnderground has released Rolf De Heer’s cult favorite Bad Boy Bubby (1993) as well as a series of drive-in classics. And because the films have been released on commercial DVDs, collectors no longer need to go to specialty companies to find them.

This commercial mainstreaming of exploitation and euroshocker titles has not, however, completely mitigated the need for specialty houses. Sadly, there are still many films —such as the arthouse horrors Alucarda (Juan López Moctezuma, 1978) and Death Walks at Midnight (Luciano Ercoli, 1973) — which have not been commercially released for the U.S. home market. Nicheflix, a relatively new DVD rental company, caters to people who own multistandard DVD players precisely because they cannot find everything they want in an U.S. format.[11] Luminous Film and Video Wurks, one of the best and longest running collector companies, has added international region formats to its inventory and its website has links for the “best code free/region free DVD player,” the Malata DVP-558 (www.lfvw.com/news.html). Facets Multimedia similarly offers a limited number of imported DVDs to its customers. These include previously unreleased (in the U.S.), unsubtitled films by Henri-Georges Clouzot (La Prisonnière, 1968) as well as some cult favorites. And the web is full of collector sites that cater to fans of Asian horror cinema (eday.com, for example).

In addition, there is still a thriving alternative market, where consumers can find many of the art and exploitation films that have not yet been commercially released for home viewing. DVDs burned from the kinds of video products described in my book Cutting Edge ossify and fix (literally “burn in”) analog trash aesthetic elements (the “cool” effects of many collector videos: grainy pictures, washed-out and wandering colors, de-magnetized sound).[12] But the digital process also adds what one of my students has called “new paracinema effects” peculiar to the medium: pixellation, flashing, and other markers of digital reproduction (these are there, of course, whether the DVD was burned from a video transfer or from another source). That is, just as collector videos announce their status as “rare” objects through markers of home recording, so too rare collector DVDs bear all the signs of being burned on a home system. Discs often come in little white DVD-R sleeves, with the names of the films handwritten in magic marker on the DVD itself.[13] Catalogues are less prevalent now, increasingly replaced with websites and listserv postings. But the catalogue aesthetic has remained dominant, as collector websites maintain the no-frills functional format of the now outmoded print publications. There is frequently (although not always) a digital image from the film and a brief description of the movie. Sites selling commercial DVDs include a list of specs (aspect ratio, languages, etc.) and of any extras (interviews, author commentary, etc.) included in the package. Sometimes there are reviews and customer comments, but these are rare. Collector commentary is generally reserved for listserv communiqués, blogs, chat rooms, and individual websites.

I have written at length about collecting and home viewing because for those of us who cannot afford to go to the prestigious film festivals and who do not live in urban centers, art horror has simply not become mainstream enough. Most of the titles cited in this article received limited theatrical release in the United States. I saw all of them for the first time on a home DVD player. Many of them I have never been able to see projected (either on celluloid or digitally) in a commercial theater. Home viewing is not only increasingly the preferred mode of viewing for many U.S. spectators. In many instances it remains the only way the films that Dargis describes in her review can be seen.[14]

Freaky treasures

As one friend remarked, to work on Asian and European cinema while living in the United States is — in the present commercial climate — akin to doing anthropology before ethnography changed the discipline (the time when strange and curious artifacts were exhibited and studied, completely outside of their cultural and social context). Changes in mainstream commercial distribution patterns in the United States mean that there is no longer any coherent attempt to bring foreign films to U.S. audiences, certainly not the kind of coherent attempt that companies like New Yorker once made. Instead of buying and distributing groups of films — all of Miike Takashi or all new Japanese cinema, for example — companies pick individual titles that appear to have a marketing hook.[15] Outré sex and violence is one obvious such hook, but there are others. For example, more Afghan and Iranian films were released in the United States in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. And earlier, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was — temporarily — increased access to Eastern European films.

But even when several Japanese or German films are bought and distributed, they are shown as interesting, individual artifacts, from which the viewer is expected to infer an entire culture and an entire industrial relation (that is, the individual film’s connection both to world cinema and to its own national cinema). The films are shown out of context. Those of us who live outside the festival/cinémathèque beltway frequently do not see the other films — national dramas and genre films, for example — to which these U.S. theatrical releases might be responding. And frequently we know little of the cultural or political tensions within the societies that produce them. As a result, the main selling point about foreign films tends to become their very exoticism. They seem to be in conversation with some other film tradition, with some other culture, which we do not entirely understand. They become, in Chris Anderson’s words, “freaky treasures.”[16]

The epistemological problems posed by the current U.S. system are a little less severe for those attempting to study international generic developments in art horror. Although the inclusion of titles (particularly those by unknown directors) in a list can seem haphazard, collector companies and specialty houses do make a coherent attempt to represent national cinemas (within a limited generic scope), generic trends (subgenres) and auteurs. Italian horror and gialli, for example, are well-represented in catalogues and on websites. Thus it has been possible to get a sense of the different trends and tensions in their generic development from the 1970s t0 the 90s. Certainly, it has been easier to get a complete sense of the evolution of Dario Argento’s career during this period (since the collector sites also sell tapes of his television productions and interviews), than it is to get a good sense of the evolution of Godard’s work with Anne-Marie Miéville. Claude Chabrol’s Le Cri du hibou (1987) and other French thrillers of the 1980s were available for purchase from Luminous prior to their mainstream U.S. commercial distribution; so those of us working in art horror could look at the move toward horror themes in Chabrol’s career as well as get some sense of the horrific developments in 1980s French polars and thriller films (La Balance 1982, One Deadly Summer 1983). The fact that the same companies also sold splatter French gorefest movies (Jean Rollin’s films, for example) helped to provide some of the cinematic context against which to read the increased violence in thriller/art-horror flicks. Just how transgressive (in the French context) was the violent climax of Chabrol’s 1995 La Cérémonie and how did it compare with the gory narration ending Nancy Meckler’s Sister My Sister (1994), a British film based on a similar story? These questions can be approached now, through judicious purchases from the collector catalogue companies.

That is not to say, however, that all the epistemological problems outlined above can be neatly avoided if one sticks with the art-horror genre and turns to alternative DVD sources. Part of the problem U.S. critics have had in reading the recent art horror French formation which James Quandt calls “the new French extremity” (the films of Catherine Breillat, François Ozon, Gaspar Noé, etc.)[17] , for example, rests with distribution problems. While the new French films have been distributed here and are readily available on DVD, the Beur and banlieue films against which (at least in part) they must be read are rarely seen outside the festival circuit.[18] If you do not speak French or Arabic, and you do not have access to a North African or Moroccan store, you will be able to locate only a handful of select banlieue titles in the United States. Even within the festival circuit, they can be maddeningly difficult to find; one title one year, one title the next and then one or two years of no titles at all. So it is nearly impossible for U.S. viewers to gain a good sense of the kind of impact they have had on western audiences and young French filmmakers. And, of course, if we do not visit France or Europe all that often, or have regular access to the local media, we can easily forget just how tense the race-class situation is right now in Paris.

The current system of distribution should make intelligent critics like Dargis wary of making sweeping qualitative judgments about arthouse cinema and the devolution of taste. At least it should dictate that reviewers frame their comments with the caveat that market forces have helped to delimit and impoverish the range of cinemas which U.S. audiences are readily able to see. Some critics — most notably Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader — do routinely remind readers that many of the best Asian and European films do not receive theatrical distribution at all.[19] Or they receive such limited distribution that only critics (those who watch films for a living) or collectors (those who track films as a kind of obsessional avocation) are able to see them.

The new extremity

The Dargis review of Park’s work (with which I began this essay) is interesting in the way it links some disparate trends in art horror under one rubric: the new extreme cinema. In part, this naming is itself a function of distribution. As Dargis notes, Park’s works are distributed by the British-based Tartan Films,

“which puts out works of undisputed artistic worth, genre classics, and pure schlock under the rubric Asia Extreme.”[20]

Asia Extreme also distributes Breillat’s Anatomy of Hell (2004), a fact which enables Dargis to link new French “extreme” cinema and Asian horror in interesting ways. So Takeshi Miike’s Audition (1999) is mentioned here alongside Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (Irreversible, 2002) and South Korean director Kim ki-Duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter and Spring (2003). Along with Park, these directors, Dargis writes,

“have earned critical and institutional recognition, partly because of their ability to invent ever more visually arresting ways to turn violence into entertainment.”[21]

Certainly, there are similarities that suggest comparison. But while I think Dargis is right that there is a certain extreme quality to the violence in contemporary French and Asian films, I do not think it is helpful to homogenize the traditions — as though all “visually arresting ways to turn violence into entertainment” ultimately mean the same thing, or even have the same visceral effect. Certainly, Oldboy invokes a despairing masochism that I am not sure is present in the new French films. In even as masochistic a work as Dans ma peau (In My Skin, 2002), Marina De Van’s film about cutting, mutilation is accompanied by a kind of erotic euphoria rather than the almost unbearable guilt which accompanies it in Oldboy. And the reversal of shock effects in Irréversible and in François Ozon’s recent 5x2 (2004), both of which begin with rape scenes, yields a totally different affect (and reading strategy) than the shift to violent-horror (in the second half of the film) which Audition visits upon its audience.

Interestingly Park’s success with Oldboy at Cannes provides the jumping-off point for what ultimately amounts to an invective (by Dargis) against the new extreme cinema — both French and Asian. For, in many ways, Oldboy is an extremely old-fashioned film. And it also intersects with other trends in art-horror — trends which I suspect Dargis would find less objectionable than the “new extremity” and which sadly go unmentioned in her critique.

Oldboy begins with a kidnapping. Oh Dae-su [Min-Sik Choi], an unruly drunk, is abducted one rainy night and imprisoned in a room for no apparent reason. Drugged and hypnotized, he spends the next fifteen years in a state of near madness, wondering who is keeping him prisoner and why. Suddenly released (the rationale for his release is as unknown to him as the reason for his capture), he sets out to find his abductor and exact revenge. But his captor has an agenda of his own. He gives Oh Dae-su an assignment. The former captive has five days to find out who instigated his abduction and why, or Mido [Hye-jeong Kang], the young woman who has been helping him and whom he has grown to love, will be killed.

There is a great deal of violence in the film, but surprisingly little gore. As in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1991), the most gruesome scenes actually take place off-screen. The visual suggestion that someone is using a claw hammer to forcibly extract teeth — and revenge — is enough alone to make many viewers look away (it is perhaps no surprise that Tarantino was on the Cannes jury which awarded Park the prize). Much of the violence that does take place on screen has a comic book quality that mitigates the effect. For example, an animated line appears on screen and seems to link Oh Dae-Su to a potential informant at the opening of one menacing moment. And there is a black-humor sequence about suicide that seems almost Monty Pythonesque in its abruptness. In addition, there are continual shifts in register (at one point Mido imagines herself on a subway train with an enormous ant) that work to occasionally blunt, or at least distract us from, the film's humanistic message — that revenge is pointless.

I believe this last aspect of Oldboy — its lack of a consistent humanistic tone — brings it closest to the films that James Quandt has dubbed “the New French Extremity”[22] and makes it part of the new “extreme” arthouse cinema that so troubles Dargis. As with the affective films of Breillat and Noé, it is difficult to know where on the ideological spectrum to place Oldboy, difficult to find anything like the film’s “moral center.”[23] In that sense, the film itself becomes something of an extension of the jumbled television images that Oh Dae-su sees during his fifteen years of captivity. The serious and the trivial, the deadly and the banal are juxtaposed into one vast sociopolitical cultural jumble.

But the film also taps into another cycle of art-horror movies, the new spate of which, for want of a better term, I will term guilt-trauma films. These include Bad Boy Bubby, James Wan’s Saw (2004), and Brad Anderson’s The Machinist (2004), films in which male protagonists find themselves imprisoned without fully understanding why. Like the protagonists of Saw and The Machinist, Dae-su only knows that he is guilty and must discover or (as in the case of Trevor Reznik/Christian Bale in The Machinist) remember what he has done. The film's incarceration sequence is, in many ways, Oldboy's strongest and most unbearable moment. Here we watch Dae-Su struggle to make sense of his situation, escape (by digging a hole in the wall) and keep sane. As with all such incarceration films, it becomes abundantly clear here what a tenuous hold on sanity even the most grounded of us really have. Although he has a pencil and is able to keep a sort of prison diary, Dae-su chooses to keep track of time by tattooing lines on his skin (one for each year of imprisonment). In part, this chronicle-on-the-flesh works to ensure that he will not be unmarked by what has happened to him, that — like victims of Nazi concentration camps — he will carry a permanent sign of freedom's arbitrary nature.

Each of these films has a strong tone of existential alienation and angst. In that sense they have a great deal in common with modernist arthouse films of a bygone era. Saw unfolds like a horror version of Sartre’s No Exit, as two men awaken to find themselves chained on opposite sides of a room — with what appears to be a dead body between them. The Machinist pays homage to Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. And Bad Boy Bubby is a sad and terrifying meditation on Sartre’s famous dictum that existence precedes essence. Abused and kept locked in a room for thirty-five years, Bubby has become a product of his environment. When he finally escapes, he has no point of reference against which to judge the world and can only mimic what others say and do to him. Like Bubby, Oldboy builds audience sympathy for its main character during the incarceration sequence. Voice-over narration gives us access to his thoughts, and the use of split screen (media images from the TV playing on the right, while Dae-su waits on the left) constantly reminds us of his sudden removal from history (and, incidentally, how much time is passing).

In terms of distribution, the guilt-trauma films have fared somewhat better than the European and Asian films discussed earlier in this article. And since two of them — The Machinist and Saw — are U.S. films, it is easier to see them within their cultural context.[24] Both films received wide theatrical distribution and the DVDs have been picked up by Blockbuster and other major outlets. Oldboy is becoming easier to track since Netflix and Nicheflix have purchased it, but for a long time it was available in the United States only as a promise (there were websites, but it was not clear when the DVD would actually become available).

The Australian-made Bad Boy Bubby has suffered the most in this regard. Arguably the best film in the cycle, it has received little play in the United States despite winning the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival. This is depressing, given the film’s artistic and experimental qualities. Using a method similar to the one employed by John Cassavetes, director De Heer shot the film in sequence. In order to build sympathy for the main character, he experimented with aural-perspective, creating a soundscape unlike anything I have heard before in cinema. Finally, he used thirty-two cinematographers to shoot discrete scenes in the film. None of the cinematographers saw previous footage, so the film unfolds as a remarkable series of vignettes or shorts, which are held together (and given continuity) primarily by the sound. From a purely formal point of view, therefore, the film needs to be seen, studied, and discussed. The fact that it also tells a moving and intelligent story simply underscores its importance.


What I have aimed to do in this essay is to open up some of the antithetical impulses in art horror for discussion, and also to revisit and update the taste culture arguments that characterize my book Cutting Edge. I have chosen Dargis’ review as a point of departure, not out of any desire to paint her as obtuse. Rather, precisely because she is a perceptive critic (particularly in the area of horror cinema), her review of Park seems emblematic of a larger set of cultural blind spots. That there is a continued replay of the age-old taste debate is depressing for scholars who work in this area. But it is also a reminder how almost willfully ignorant of our own cultural history we are. And the ongoing tendency to speak as though everyone in a country like the United States has equal access to festival culture becomes here a necessary reminder of just how class-inflected the debates over taste remain.[25]


Special thanks to Chris Anderson, Mark Benedetti, Burcu Bakioglu, Nathan Carroll, Robert Clift, Ian Conrich, Skip Hawkins, and Greg Waller for their help and encouragement; and to the collectors, specialty houses and Video Watchdog who all make it possible for me to do my work.

[1] By this term I mean the international films distributed in the U.S. which still play by and large in the festival and arthouse circuit, outside “mainstream” cinemas.

[2] Manohla Dargis, “Sometimes Blood Really Isn’t Indelible.” New York Times, March 3, 2005, p. B7. Italics mine.

[3] See Thomas Schatz, Hollywood Genres, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.

[4] Manohla Dargis, Not Just Roaming, Zombies Rise Up.” New York Times, June 24, 2005, p. B1

[5] Joan Hawkins, Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

[6] Tod Browning’s 1932 film Freaks is the classic case in point here. Released initially as a mainstream film, then shown on the exploitation and drive-in circuit, and finally resuscitated as an arthouse film. Georges Franju’s Les Yeux sans visage (The Horror Chamber of Dr. Faustus, Eyes Without a Face, 1959) and Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom (1959) offer further examples. For more on this, see Joan Hawkins, Cutting Edge: Art Horror and the Horrific Avant-garde, Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2000.

[7] Even the “the integration” of body genre films “into the upper tier of the festival circuit” has historical precedent. Taxi Driver, which was considered a hyper-violent film whose cultural “value” was debated at the time of its release, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 1976. To be fair to Dargis, though, the Festival traditionally prefers less violent films. Jospeh Losey’s Go-Between won the Palme in 1971, the same year that saw the release of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs and Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

[8] Paracinema is an elastic category which includes low horror, grade B sci-fi films from the fifties, hard-to-find European titles, sword and sandal flicks, Asian horror, juvenile delinquent films, exploitation and softcore porn, avant-garde cinema, and historical social guidance films (to name just a few genres). As Jeffrey Sconce has argued, fans with this special cinematic taste, are commonly linked by reading strategies and a certain cultural capital. For more, see Jeffrey Sconce’s, “'Trashing the Academy’: Taste, Excess, and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style” in this volume and Hawkins’ Cutting Edge.

[9] Other recent additions advertised on the website include Carl Theodor Dreyer’s Joan of Arc (1928), and Anthony Asquith’s The Browning Version (1951). See www.criterionco.com. For more on Criterion’s DVDs see James Kendrick, “Aspect Ratios and Joe Six-Packs: Home Theater Enthusiasts’ Battle to Legitimize the DVD Experience,” The Velvet Light Trap, no. 56, Fall 2005.

[10] Hawkins, op. cit., pp. 8, 87-116.

[11] See <www.nicheflix.com>

[12] See Cutting Edge, 33-52.

[13] Nathan Carroll, Public Access and Private Archives. Unpublished dissertation, in progress. Indiana University, Bloomington. For more on DVDs see the Fall 2005 special DVD edition of the Velvet Light Trap. Forthcoming.

[14] According to an Associated Press release, 75% of Americans polled for an American Online survey said they preferred to watch films at home.

Dated June 18, 2005. (Accessed July 6, 2005). For a detailed study of home viewing see Barbara Klinger, Beyond the Multiplex: Cinema, New Technologies and The Home, Berkeley et al: University of California Press, 2006.

[15] Currently, even the attempt to sustain the brand-name of an auteur seems to have been abandoned. Companies will buy the rights to an auteur’s film and then just keep it in the vault, often for years. Occasionally the film will finally turn up as an extra on a DVD many years later. For more on current distribution problems in the U.S. see Jonathan Rosenbaum, Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See, Chicago: A Capella Press, 2000.

[16] I am indebted to Chris Anderson for these observations and the quote.

[17] See, for example, Catherine Breillat’s Anatomie de l’enfer (Anatomy of Hell, 2004); François Ozon’s 5X2 (2004) and Regarde la mer (See the Sea, 1997); and Gaspar Noé’s Irréversible (Irreversible 2002) and Seul contre tous (I Stand Alone, 1998).

[18] James Quandt, “Flesh and Blood: Sex and Violence in Recent French Cinema” Artforum, February 2004, pp. 126-132. Beur is the term applied to second generation children of North African immigrants, who are born in France. Banlieue is the term for suburbs, and refers to the areas surrounding Paris where many people of North African descent live. They are not the only inhabitants, however, and the term “banlieue film” refers to films set in these troubled areas, which may be made by white filmmakers or members of other (non North African) ethnic groups. Roughly speaking, these films are the equivalent of ‘hood films made in the United States.

[19] See Jonathan Rosenbaum, Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We Can See, Chicago: A Capella Press, 2000.

[20] Dargis, “Sometimes Blood Really Isn’t Indelible,” p. B7

[21] Ibid.

[22] Quandt, op.cit. p. 127

[23] The French films which James Quandt links under the rubric, “the New French Extremity” are themselves a disparate group and a difficult cultural read. Quandt cannot decide whether they have more in common with the “épater les bourgeois” spirit of the French Surrealists or with the work of the right-wing anarchist hussards of the 1950s. That is, he cannot determine whether the films of these new cinematic provocateurs align politically with the Left or with the Right, whether they are culturally progressive or reactionary. In a sense, like many of the horror films Robin Wood discusses, they are both and it is perhaps this imbrication — or perhaps dialectic — of liberal and conservative tendencies which makes the films so deeply troubling.

[24] Stephen Holden’s review of Saw in The New York Times discussed the film in terms of the Iraq war, for example. Stephen Holden, “A Gore Fest, With Overtones of Iraq and TV.” New York Times, October 29, 2004. Archived at

[25] See Pierre Bourdieu Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, trans. Richard Nice, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984.

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