Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"LOVE IS A REBELLIOUS BIRD THAT NO ONE CAN TAME"

ON JOSEPH GAI'S KARMEN GEI



What-- for it is a question not of who, but indeed of what-- is Karmen Gei? For it does seem inadequate simply to treat her as just one in the multitude of characters in Joseph Gai's adaptation of Georges Bizet's CARMEN, set in contemporary Senegal. She does not function according to the same rules as other characters, she does not operate in the same economy of relation, she occupies a separate ontological status. She cannot quite be fit into the scheme of the social order, in terms of occupying a functional productive slot within its system, but seems at the same time to be at the center of everything. What is she?

She is, for her community, the sacred, or the gate of the sacred. Karmen Gei is "she who creates havoc"-- not in the sense (necessarily) of chaotic destruction, but as a primordial chaos, the chaos of the sea, of an unrestricted current of energy. She dissolves the relationships of a restricted economy and liberates the energies and flows which it has contained.

A brief brief brief note on Restricted Economy/General Economy for those not familiar with the work of Georges Bataille: Bataille regards the world in terms of the flow and distribution of energy-- the base state being a vast powerful well of unrestrained energy with a maximum state of potential. In a civilization, some of this energy is naturally used towards satisfying the basic needs for survival-- the question is how does the rest of the energy get used. In what Bataille calls a Restricted Economy, all energy is directed toward some productive end, toward some utility or measurable yield (very often, the production of an economy) with no surplus energy left over. For Bataille, this is generally a pretty repressed and oppressive state of affairs. A General Economy (which, it must be noted, is not a state that can be fully realized; one instead takes steps toward it) expends energy with no quantifiable yield. For Bataille, these sorts of interactions are where serious gestures can be made and serious realizations can arrive. That's the brief brief brief version.

Is Karmen Gei not a force of excessive expenditure? What function does she play in her society? What does she "produce"? She certainly does not fit into the scheme of the repressive political authority of Senegal; even in the Dakar underworld, there is an order of functions-- the club runs, the lighthouse is manned, the drugs are smuggled, money is made-- an order which Karmen stands outside. Her contribution is the dance, the ritual (not commercial) performance, the dance for the sake of itself. The act is without quantifiable yield, but not without effect. Karmen's presence and performance works to sacralize spaces, to reterritorialize sites of oppression as occasions of celebration. Under her influence, the women's prison becomes a place of joy and freedom-- it is almost as if it becomes her temple.



How does a space become sacralized? It becomes sacred when it is removed from the relations of restricted economy. Karmen supersedes restricted economy by way of the gift. The nature of Karmen is to give, and give freely, but not to take. She gets money, she gives it away freely. She may love but will not accept a suitor ("Let's go away together," Lamine says after the smuggling transaction. She rejects him).

This transformation initiated by the gift is displayed remarkably during the arrest of Karmen by Lamine. As he leads her off to jail, her manner becomes coy. She is a gift to him, she suggests, and she plays with the rope by which he has bound her, looping it around a lamp post, forcing Lamine to come to her. For Karmen, what had been a detention now becomes an offering. For Lamine, what was seizing has now become receiving.



If there can be an exchange for Karmen's gifts, it must take place only in the mode of ritual-- in song or dance. These occasions open up a space outside of economy, a discourse that can comment on the present situation but is not fully anchored within it, which instead seems to float above it. The manner in which Karmen may be approached is embodied by the blind woman on the beach who sings to the sea, an expenditure without stake to a force that cannot be measured.

In the latter section of the movie, both of Karmen's rejected lovers mount separate attempts to "contain" her, and it is by this entanglement in restricted economy that Karmen's luck, her grace, ultimately runs out.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"WE HAVE TO GO TO THE DESERT, BABY"

ON DAVID LYNCH'S LOST HIGHWAY



The 1997 David Lynch film LOST HIGHWAY was not well received by critics, who labeled it a "surrealistic" "neo-noir" and "incoherent." I contest these charges on all counts. While Lynch's style is strongly expressionistic, his work contains little in the way of non-sequitur or the gleeful anti-rational assault characteristic of Surrealism. And, though it borrows some of the genre's iconography, LOST HIGHWAY is not particularly concerned with the moral philosophy of the Noir genre and cannot properly be labeled as such. As to the charges of incoherence, one must wonder if the confounded parties were paying attention at all. While the world of LOST HIGHWAY may not behave like ours, there is a powerful internal logic at work, and the learning curve is not much higher than anything in the director's prior work. Indeed, the film fits comfortably in the continuum of Lynch's filmography as a particularly bold foray into the director's longtime thematic concerns. The film is good, and you should watch it.

But my intention here is not to mount a defense of LOST HIGHWAY or a tirade against its brainless fuckhead critics, nor will I attempt a top-to-bottom analysis (if you are looking for a thorough working of the film, I suggest Slavoj Zizek's ON THE ART OF THE RIDICULOUS SUBLIME, which I found quite astute). Instead, I wish only to say a couple words regarding one facet of the film, which is objects. So let's talk about objects.

Strange Objects abound in the work of David Lynch-- a mound of dirt on a dresser, a severed ear, a log, a blue rose, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of these in LOST HIGHWAY; I'm thinking in particular of Fred and Renee's cavernous house and the photograph at Andy's place. These are not just scattered around for the effect of ambient weirdness, although they are, in a way, content-empty.



The theme of strange objects is a familiar one in the cinema tradition. We see them often in the form of the MacGuffin, the object desired by all characters, the pursuit of which drives the film. The characteristic of the MacGuffin is that it is not the unique nature of that object which causes it to be desired; rather, it is a repository of desire and a placeholder for their fulfillment. The object itself is unimportant. It could be anything.

Because of their position within the economy of desire, MacGuffins are a pretty good place to start as we try to unravel the nature of the Strange Object. After all, in Lynch world, desire is the name of the game. Lynch's films take place at the contact points where the undercurrent of repressed desire starts to rub against the fabric of the constituted self. In Freudian terms, we might say that Lynch films deal with intrusions of the id into the domain of the ego, and the attempts of the superego to regulate these intrusions.

Lynch toys with MacGuffins (what is behind the door in Ben's apartment in BLUE VELVET?), but this is not exactly what we are talking about when we speak of the Lynchian Strange Object. After all, these objects are not merely abstract vessels beyond the vanishing point of desire, but play active roles in the drama, transmitting messages, triggering realizations, initiating changes. Frequently, they erupt with elemental energy, streaming fire, dust, smoke, light. A lamp is never just a lamp! These objects are nodes through which libido flows, coursing with energy that pours through from the world of forbidden desire!



In one magnificent scene from LOST HIGHWAY, Lynch diagrams the construction of a Strange Object. It happens in the midst of a vision; Fred Madison sees a burning cabin in the desert fold the fire back inside itself. Now the power is contained in the structure; we know that this is a contact point, the edge of the abyss, and when Fred goes there it will transform him.

Within this context, it is worthwhile to consider the idea of The Woman As Object as it pertains to Patricia Arquette's character, who manifests in two different forms over the course of the movie. In her initial form, she is Renee and is a subject, that is to say, a real character, though she is sketched from the perspective of Fred Madison. For Fred, Renee is an embodiment of mystery and terror, the impenetrable "feminine mystique" which he is unable to comprehend and therefore master. The contours of her desire elude him; she comes to be a symbol of his impotence, which we see played out in his pathetic attempt to sex her up. Renee is a brunette, and Lynch shoots her in dark hues, forever moving through the shadows, impossible to grasp.



Renee reincarnates as Alice Wakefield, who is not a character but an object, constituted in the fantasmatic reality of Pete Dayton. Alice is blond, filmed in light, sexually responsive, radiating energy like a battery. She is the object upon which the Pete Dayton fantasy is constructed, the nexus at which it has split off from reality. As he draws closer to her and the fantasy starts to degrade, she becomes more and more intense until, at the site of the desert cabin, that crypt of memory, that libidinal furnace, she glows like a light bulb, impossibly bright, impossibly charged, then folds back into the void as the fantasy splinters.

Monday, August 29, 2011

AUXILIARY TO 'ON BRUTE FORCE'



Some detritus from the brainwerks:

1. I'm thinking about ways that the physicality of an actor colors the effect of his character. Quite interesting that Jules Dassin chose Hume Cronyn, who is short and not particularly imposing, to portray Captain Munsey-- and how appropriate given that Munsey's power is entirely positional and institutional and not an effect of singular personal ability. The suitably strapping Burt Lancaster counterposes the bureaucratic Munsey with his of-the-earth look-- he is a natural man, sweating, muscles in perpetual strain-- the specimen of human life inside the dehumanization machine. Other actors with striking physical presences: Lee Marvin, Robert Mitchum.

2. BRUTE FORCE takes place in a world totally devoid of nature-- everything is iron, industrial, administrative. I'm wondering about the role that nature plays across the noir genre, particularly in relation to the genre's outgrowth from the Western (I think a pretty reasonable case can be made for this).

The nature-civilization dichotomy is obviously a recurring subject in the Western idiom. Nature, in all of its beauty is the godless zone, amoral, apathetic to sentiment and human endeavor. Good, bad, ugly, the sun gives not a damn and will roast them all equally. No water shall spring from any stone to help the noble cross the prairie. One wonders if the blindly hostile Native Americans that so often materialize out of the wilderness to terrorize cowpokes and pioneers may (in addition to all the racist colonial stuff) manifest the anxiety of leaving the domain of morality and divine providence-- the assailants are, after all, "heathens", "savages", "unchristian", etc. Nature is not the expression of god's grace, but its absence. Its law is primal and Darwinian.

Those who comport themselves by this rule-- hierarchy of the fittest, dominance by force-- are the villains of the genre. The great anxiety is that their way is stronger than ours, that the true order of the universe is that The Strong And Vicious Shall Rule The Meek. The heroes of the genre are those who reject the "natural order", erecting against it the institutions of civilization (Law, Justice), epitomized by the figure of The Sheriff.

The belief in these institutions has totally eroded by the noir period. Law is a scam, Justice is a sham, they're all rotted to the core. As we behold these uninstitutionalized, of-the-earth men like Burt Lancaster's character, do we sense nostalgia for the nature that has been left behind?

3. The signification of noir-- headlights on the road at night, high speed. Engagement with mystery and the ecstasy of the sensorium. I am gripped by this image no matter how many times I see it. BRUTE FORCE has a good one. THE LOST HIGHWAY employs this imagery to a more metaphorical end. The greatest example I have encountered is probably in the opening sequence of Robert Aldrich's KISS ME DEADLY. Magnificent.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"WE'RE BURIED, AIN'T WE? ONLY THING IS, WE AIN'T DEAD…"

ON JULES DASSIN'S "BRUTE FORCE"



While visiting Chicago last week, I was lucky enough to catch Jules Dassin's BRUTE FORCE, which was showing on 35mm at the Music Box Theater as part of the Film Noir Foundation's Noir City: Chicago series. Dassin made a couple of classic noir films in the 40's and early 50's (THE NAKED CITY, NIGHT AND THE CITY are the other ones I have seen) before Joe McCarthy and his cronies pushed him out of Hollywood. He survived the blacklist by going to France, where he continued to make cool gritty movies into for another 25 years. BRUTE FORCE, made in 1947, is raw bleak noir through and through.

Westgate Penitentiary-- iron, grim, omnivorous, impenetrable upon its island beyond a curtain of fog and rain! We remember Ginsberg:

"What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate their brains and imagination?…Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbones soulless jailhouse and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judgement!"

This is a prison film, and it's about men who have been fed into the grinder. There are a couple of plot lines, but the gist is pretty simple: Westgate is a mancrusher, and the prisoners of cell R-17 (led by Burt Lancaster's Joe Collins) have to get out before it breaks them. More oppressive than the hard labor, the boredom, the overcrowding, is the rule of Capt. Munsey (Hume Cronyn), chief of security, who demands absolute obedience and submission.



Munsey's rule gives us some insight into the nature of Authority, which operates as a mythology of the social order. The practice of Authority requires its constituents to accept a particular order of power relationships, and each player must accept the terms of their role. Thus, Munsey demands that the prisoners not only acknowledge his superior firepower and ability to mete out punishment, but also that they observe the social customs that reify his role as Keeper of the Law. A "good morning, sir," from each prisoner in the mess hall! (We see Collins buck Munsey's authority early on by refusing to call him "sir", addressing him by name instead.) Munsey asserts himself even as he calls off a guard who strikes a prisoner that has blocked their path, establishing himself as Hierarch, Controller of Force, Dispenser of Mercy.

The orderly detention of the prisoners is only a byproduct of the central pursuit. The true triumph of Munsey and Authority is the ideological victory, the acceptance by the prisoners of his version of the power structure in which he is the master and they are the subjects. He needs them not just to observe the rules but to believe in them. What's at stake, then, is the ability of pride, dignity, and principle to survive the inhuman apparatus.

The single touch of gentleness in the film is the sympathetic portrayal of the prisoners in R-17, most of whom seem to be romantics who have fallen astray of the law. Their stories tend to follow the same lines-- the men break one law or another in an attempt to jump out of their social class or to procure money or goods that are needed to survive yet inaccessible to them. There is a woman in every story, and these dames are collectively represented by a rather chaste looking pin-up that hangs in their cell. This emblem, as a token of belief in their own goodness, is a large part of what keeps the men from breaking under the pressure. The remainder is made up of the internal code practiced by the prisoners-- loyalty, discretion, and the understanding that a snitch is lower than a rat.



The critical scene comes towards the end of the film, as Munsey interrogates a prisoner about Collins' escape plan. Munsey brings the man into his office, handcuffs him to a chair, produces a club, and closes the curtains. The style of the film suddenly switches, breaking from its measured grittiness into a nightmarish expressionism (Wagner's Tannheuser Overture rising on the phonograph). Here, in the dark, we enter one of those hidden chambers of the Social Order where unbound-- even transgressive-- violence lives. These zones occupy a curious place in the power structure-- all constituents must believe in their existence, yet this understanding cannot be acknowledged and these places must never be seen by the public. In other words, Authority and its Law are assured by the perpetual fear of its subjects of the incomprehensible terror and violence that befalls those who violate the rule. Yet this violence must only happen out of the public eye, lest the sense of order and civility of the Authority and Law dissolve. So long as this violence remains behind the curtain, the sense of order and well being may be preserved. This hidden violence, I claim, is the "brute force" of the title.

Slavoj Zizek has been writing a lot on the subject of this "hidden violence" of late, particularly the recent LIVING IN THE END TIMES. A word from the man:

"The obscenity of the barbarian violence…sustains the public face of law and order….Every monument of civilization is a monument of barbarism, has a precise impact on the very notion of being civilized: "to be civilized mean to know one is potentially a barbarian." Every civilization which disavows its barbarian potential has already capitulated to barbarism."

I think it is particularly appropriate that he characterizes the lurking transgressive violence at the heart of the social order as "obscenity", for there is something crass about it, it rubs against our notions of propriety and decorum.

There is certainly a baseness to the BRUTE FORCE's interrogation scene. As the prisoner is brought into Munsey's office, the Captain is out of uniform, polishing his gun at a rather bawdy angle-- he seems to be stroking his big metal death cock. Dassin makes sure to let the viewers notice the objects that decorate Munsey's office: a rack of guns, a picture of himself in uniform, also a muscular sculpture and an intense drawing of a man straining violently with arms bound behind his back. In the frenzy of Munsey's violence, these symbols of order and authority (gun, uniform) are charged with the fetishistic sadomasochistic energy of his art-- the same energy that smolders in the heart of those very institutions.

(some SPOILERS ahead)

In the end, the prisoner refuses to speak. "Any connection between Gallagher and Collins?" Munsey's aid asks. "No. If there was, he would have told me," Munsey responds. The final mundanity of Munsey's brute force is thus revealed. It is inconceivable to him that there could be any principle higher than the body, any cause that could be more powerful than physical pain.

Heroic triumph and beating the system are not themes we see too often in the noir genre-- it's a bleak game, and BRUTE FORCE is no exception. By the end, there's not much that the prisoners can claim as a victory other than their pride. Though Munsey cannot break them, the escape plot is unsuccessful and the status quo perseveres. Authority, after all, is bigger than men. It is an ideological machine. All that matters is the schema and the components may be swapped out and slotted in at any time.


Monday, August 15, 2011

"THE PROSPECT OF VENGEANCE IS THE BEST REFRESHMENT"

ON ABULI AND BERNET'S TORPEDO 1936



A big chunk of the last two days has been dedicated to tearing through a couple volumes of Enrique Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet's TORPEDO 1936, which has been such a pleasure in part because of the book's sheer nastiness and pitch black humor. TORPEDO is a Spanish comic, and began publication in 1981, running through the late 90's (I believe-- not 100% on the end of its run). The book takes place in the New York of 1936, following a Sicilian immigrant named Luca Torelli (not to be confused with Rhapsody guitarist Luca Turilli) a.k.a. Torpedo, who has found his calling in the new world as a hired killer.

That's about it. There is not a lot of genesis to his character, or variation to his exploits. Torpedo takes a job, figures out a clever way to kill his target, sometimes kills the guy who hired him, and once in a blue moon gets outwitted. Torpedo is not a hero, nor is he an antihero. He has no hint of a conscience, and has no prospects of redemption. A pure motherfucker. He kills for money, he kills for revenge, and sometimes kills for a punchline. He abuses his partner, Rascal, and takes advantage of women. Sometimes he rapes them. In one episode, he shoots a priest, splashes his face with holy water, and steals the alms box on the way out. In another ("The Tip Off", one of my favorites), Torpedo pretends to spare a target who has renounced his life of crime and is shipping off to fight Franco, then shoots him in the back as he goes toward his train.

The nihilism of the series was intense enough to drive off its original artist, the legendary Alex Toth, after two installments. However, it is my claim that the function of art is not the instruction of ethics, and the real question is what can be gathered from a story with an irredeemable protagonist.



A way into this riddle might be to look examine Torpedo's world, his place in the social order. Torpedo is contracted by all sorts of people, rich and poor, hardened criminals as well as "upright" citizens in a jam, and is thus granted a unique mobility, moving comfortably through all social strata. He also exhibits these chameleon properties in the course of his work, frequently employing disguises-- clown, nun, cop, groom, Santa Claus-- and passing effortlessly in every role (there is a bit of Souvestre and Allain's Fantomas in him).



The unifying factor is that he deals exclusively with people who are at their basest states-- desperation, greed, obsession, vengeance hungry, etc.-- and these conditions permeate through every level of the social body. Torpedo is really an agent of misanthropy and malevolence, a do-er of the dirty work, a genie of secret desire. He may pass himself off as anyone and anything, but in his true form-- killer-- he is repugnant, anathema, loved by no one. Indeed, he is a dangerous figure, not just for his tendencies toward bloodshed. He is evidence of a social undercurrent that undermines the mythology of the social order (ethical, just, evolved, enlightened, Land Of Opportunity) but is necessary for that social order in practice (savage capitalist, commodity reductive).

The brilliance of Jordi Bernet's pulpy style really comes through in these moments where the primal face of the social order is unmasked. He is an expert at conveying the mania that overtakes men on an obsessive kick, and his scenes of stylized violence give way to reveal an ugly brute intensity.



I want to say a few more words about the politics of disguise and substitution, particularly with regard to Torpedo's speech. The killer puns constantly, passing on grounds of his ostensibly bad english. "I've deformed," he tells a prison warden who inquires why he would snitch of the escape plans of his fellow prisoners. "I said I've reformed!" Torpedo's language forms a sort of shadow dialectic, drawing connections between the manners of a social order and the ugly condition beneath the signifier.

It ain't for the weak-in-the-guts, but for those interested in crime books, TORPEDO 1936 is definitely worth a look. It's currently being reprinted by IDW, who have been on a real winning streak with their crime books, also publishing Darwyn Cooke's excellent adaptations of the Donald Westlake's PARKER books (worth examining too to see the influence of Bernet on Cooke, which is clear).

This is some cold blooded shit, folks. Just the way I like it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

AUXILIARY TO "ON DEEP RED"

Other assorted thoughts while writing the previous essay:

1. Interesting that the image of the murder is drawn on the wall of the old house, preserved invincibly beneath the paint. It is difficult to image a realistic circumstance in which this picture could have been drawn on the wall and not seen by somebody else, but of course that isn't really relevant. This seems evident of another tendency which strikes me in DEEP RED, which is that The Truth Must Be Revealed, or perhaps The Truth Must Be Uttered. Haven't quite fleshed this idea out, but started thinking about this theme (a recurrent one in horror films) while watching John Carpenter's third best movie THE FOG a couple of weeks ago. A secret can never lie still. In DEEP RED, Helga Ulmann refers to thoughts of a crime hanging around a place like cobwebs-- it lingers past the presence of the murderer, and rises to the surface of its own accord. In THE FOG, clues literally disgorge themselves from the walls into the public stage. In DEEP RED, it's as if the building inscribes itself with a memory of the crime.

There is something going on here with mouths as well. Mouths do all sorts of spewing and getting bashed in over the course of DEEP RED. Something to do with the fact of uttering, perhaps? Those that know the crime must lost their ability to speak? Both Helga and the killer release liquid from their mouths, what is the parallel there?

2. I realize that there is a kind of scene that I always enjoy, which is when we get to watch a character have an idea and put something together without getting too far inside their heads. The scene with Dr. Giordani in the bathroom is a really good example of this, and really captures the excitement of things clicking in your mind. Other similar sequences of note: Travolta matching his tape to the photographs in De Palma's BLOW OUT. McNulty and Bunk figuring out the trajectory of the bullet in the "fuck" scene during the first season of THE WIRE? Others that come to mind?

"I'M FASCINATED BY THE WHOLE THING IN A MORBID KIND OF WAY"

ON DARIO ARGENTO'S DEEP RED



I want to propose a methodology for looking at horror films, although it certainly need not be strictly confined to that genre alone. The method is this: consider the protagonist, and consider the menace, and imagine that the protagonist is at the center of the whole universe of the film and has somehow called the menace to him, has conjured it despite himself like a repressed dream. Now consider the protagonist at the beginning and the end of the film and the transformation that he has undergone, and often this is what indicates to us what the film is really about. What desire has called this horror, this one and not another? What emerges from him when he faces it, and what is shed to make way?


This is hardly an original approach, and it may not work in every single instance, but for me it certainly helps to crack Dario Argento's giallo masterpiece DEEP RED. A few notes on the film before we get any deeper. The film was made in 1975 and looks like it, which I mean as a compliment. It is often called Argento's best film, and though I do not like everything about it, I do think it is pretty terrific and one of the best giallos I have seen. It is basically a slasher movie, and though it attains transcendent heights that most of its peers do not approach, it adheres pretty close to the slasher premises. Getting your head around it will certainly provide some insight into that subgenre as a whole.

It is also the earliest Argento film to star an actor that I have seen in anything else (for whatever that's worth), the actor in question being David Hemmings a.k.a. Mr. Miserable a.k.a. The White Slacks King a.k.a. Frowny Starks. If I had infinite time, I would compile an epic montage of David Hemmings moping around and looking irritated and being unpleasant to women in movie after movie. I do not have infinite time, so you will have to do the research yourself, but trust me, the evidence is out there.

DEEP RED concerns a serious of imaginatively grisly murders committed by the requisite black-gloved killer. Ol' Black Gloves, you scamp! The whole affair is set in motion when a psychic catches a whiff of murder-mind in her audience and proceeds to publicly flip out. This psychic is of course the first victim to be dispatched, and the act is witnessed by conservatory pianist/perennial gloomboat David Hemmings. The rest of the film concerns his attempts to uncover the original crime while eluding a cleaver to the melon.



The thing unfolds in a surreal, baroque Italian cityscape, captured beautifully by Argento. Despite its miraculous ornamentation, it seems like a fairly miserable place. Figures sit on benches smoking idly, people stand unmoving in the nearly empty bar, the palate is all grays and pale greens and anemic blues and off whites, the characters move and speak with a sort of woodenness amid all their marvelous rooms. Can we blame Mr. Hemmings for being so dour? The absurd dub (I watched the American version) actually works in the film's favor, adding a further level of disembodiment between the characters and the words that come out of their mouths. The photography through most of the film is actually rather stagy; the camera fixes or slowly pans across meticulously composed sets as the characters awkwardly shuffle through them.

And suddenly the rigid composition breaks. It happens at moments of action, of revelation, of violence. Abruptly the camera spins in a frenzy to disorienting angles, the phantasmagoric theme erupts while diegetic sound attains a startling intensity. We must notice the camera during these moments; sometimes we are behind the killer's eyes and sometimes we are floating in the third person. This is not a HALLOWEEN perspective-of-the-killer trick. Rather, in these moments we are coming up against the walls of the stagnant symbolic order and passing over into the furious libidinal economy which churns beneath it like a swirling sewer. Water streams out of an open mouth, steam fills a room-- sudden explosions of elemental force intrude into the pacified civilized domain in discharges of repressed erotic and violent desire (note the steaming pot on the stove in the background of the origin-of-the-crime scene!). The signifier for all of this is, naturally, the "deep red" of the title, the red which surrounds our doomed psychic as she first senses the presence of murder and of the glowing ring of Hemmings' flashlight as he nears the hidden secret and of the blood that spurts over the rococo interiors. A red message glimpsed in a school lavatory: "KILL YOUR MOTHER AND FATHER". It may as well read "DEATH TO THE SYMBOLIC ORDER!"



"I'm the proletariat of the keyboard, and you're the bourgeoise," Hemmings is told by his drunken piano player friend/double Carlos, and this turns out to be the critical statement of the film. Poor, repressed David Hemmings! How isolated is he from the elemental, grounded in his plastic modernist hell filled with soulless set pieces, toying constantly with cigarettes that he never manages to smoke (his ashtrays are empty too)! Contrast this to the mad world of the killer, whose assortment of objects are cathexes of powerful energy. Can we blame him for being drawn to this world of primal violence?

(I will intrude here to say SPOILER ALERT sort of)

Much of the criticism I've seen regarding DEEP RED focuses on gender, which I am not very interested in, as the film's gender politics seem fairly incoherent to me. To that end, however, I will say that it seems relevant that the "original crime" involves the murder of the patriarch. It is this act that banishes Marta from the symbolic order (hetero-bourgeois-materialist) and strands her in its underbelly. Her pancake-makeup look seems kind of like a burlesque of the feminine object, the corpse of the iconic female.

(end spoiler alert)

Escape, David Hemmings! Escape wooden world, escape endless drudgery! Find power! Find desire! Find violence! He does, and by this is animated, and is immersed, at last glimpse, in deep red.

(This trailer is pretty super great, but gives away most of the kills and some of the plot as well, so I'm going to go ahead and SPOILER ALERT it for those who haven't seen the film and are interested in its intrigue as well as its sensual pleasure.)