Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Acting by the Void

I've been deeply reassessing old favorites under the new light of DVD lately. Re-visiting CARNIVAL OF SOULS in the midst of a panic attack/nervous breakdown/hazy lazy Sunday evening, the swanky Criterion DVD version with the benefit of clear focus and brilliant restoration. On a big screen, it's like I am finally melting into the film, the pure Cronenberg-ian mecha-flesh union, where eyes become sex organs embedded deep into the silver screen womb of dream. Steve Shaviro should be proud of me!

If that seems florid, consider the nature of CARNIVAL OF SOULS and its place in the cult canon; left of PERSONA, right of PSYCHO and PSYCHO's British mirror-twin, CITY OF THE DEAD (AKA HORROR HOTEL). From there SOULS branches off near THE BIRDS, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and REPULSION. This area of the film family tree  has had initials carved scalpel deep in the Freudian recesses of the American fetish icon bark--the "glacial blonde" wet wood pulp just beneath as portrayed by Janet Leigh, Candace Hilligoss, Tippi Hedren, and Kim Novak. This is where I like to visit, with my copy of Camille Paglia's Sexual Personae tucked neatly under my arm, to peer down in through the grates and watch as directors like Hitchcock and Herk Harvey point out the fascinating lobes and regions of my mom's brooding Viking cerebral cortex for my amazement.

In addition to being able to enjoy solid 16mm black and white cinematography to the fullest, which is pretty full, the DVD in hand gives you a sense of ownership over the experience. I have been trying to decipher what it means that I must keep spending way too much $$ as every wish I made as a 14 year old classic monster movie-obsessed child is suddenly, painfully, gratified. Back in the 1970s as a haunted 11 year-old I would fantasize about having all my favorite Bela and Boris movies at my command, being able to project them on the wall at will.

Of course, my trying to decipher the motives behind such reckless spendsmanship is akin to the searches conducted by the attractive blonde female protagonists of these films themselves. In my attempt to "own" a first-rate DVD of PSYCHO, for example, I "become" Norman Bates trying to "own" Janet Leigh, so he can display her as a stuffed trophy. I should mention my own mother is a blonde who, in the era of these films' original release, was a comparable icy beauty, so there you go... we the insane little boys of the audience craved to possess the silver screen mother and now we can, in a way that teens in the 1950s and 60s could only dream of. It's like nailing a bird to the wall in mid-flight, an owl with its wings outstretched, longing to get unspooled through time and air and white light once more.

I think that, by buying PSYCHO and CARNIVAL OF SOULS on DVD and watching them faithfully through the decades, I harbor the forbidden, unconscious notion that I might undo the action of my original birth via the death drive. I feel it pull me northwards, my chakras revolving in accordance with the earth as it goes round the sun like a slow, hypnotized dancer. The blondes seem to sense this first, even within time and screen, like miner birds. They start the wheel a-spinning, betting all the money on red or black or whichever drips out first from between their beautiful alabaster projector thighs.

SPOILER ALERT - Candace Hilligoss's character in CARNIVAL "wakes up" into death, but so do they all, and so do we all. We artists-- whether organist, writer, lover or dreamer--are called there first and we go alone, and our friends and family fade to blurry behind us. We hear them asking us to come back, but the voices are faded and drenched in reverb. This is addiction, the siren's song luring your ship to the horny rocks of salt and delirium tremens and jail sentence suffering. From now on, your movie will exist with a gaping wound. Now there will be a centerpiece narrative shift.

But going back to the family and the friends, calling vainly to your fading speck of light from their safe dull haven behind that veil, seems worse --that life is spent, played, cashed. Any love you found still left there would just be crumb-like and fleeting. You know the only road left is the one to God, but it's so corny and such a total sacrifice of all one's coolness that you refuse to go. And so the priest suggests that you resign, and Norman's mother's chair starts to rock in agreement. But nothing is happening, and you finally know why that is, or do you, Miss-us Jones?

The truth is that you're living in a maze where every dead end's been gone over a hundred times and all the little treats have been eaten and there's nowhere to go but beyond. But instead of shuffling thy mortal coil like a good little organist you just hang around, drifting from town to town, department store to park to boarding house, waiting for the minotaur to set you free. You'll never know if you're even in the right maze until you finally feel his horns against your weeping eyes. Here be those horns! Honk! Awooga! Woman, thou art goosed, gandered at, and never gone again.

Where'd ya lose those eyes?

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