Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception... for a better now

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Vampire Lesbians of '76-'67

Dress your wife like you do the women in the streets
believe me, you'll have a vampire too.
                               --Vamps of '28 (Whistler's Jug Band)

The song lyric above refers to the aggressive gold-diggers of the late 20s-30s, who were far more common before the economic changes of WW2. The "vamp" was also a silent film staple, regularly luring long-time devoted family men into financial destitution with the help of their blackmailing boyfriend/pimps. Theda Bara (below left) was this old school vamp's ultimate expression. And then she was gone. And when she came back, she was gay. Men could now walk the streets in relative safety, unless they were having a mid-life crisis of course...

While the (straight) girl vampire in 1928 was a femme fatale in an age when sex was commodified on a much less simulacratic level than now, the vampire lesbian was/is different. A functional metaphor for the seductive magic of cinema itself, she is simulacarum squared, the viewed viewing itself being turned on by its own reflected image. She doesn't need the masculine gaze to exist, and that soothes the weary masculine gaze, big time. To not be needed for the performance to exist, is this not the dream of the one who elects to stay home from the theater?

Her mystery cave beckoning victims to a Venus flytrap-style blood draining down in her crypt/playpen, the vampire woman conjures an erection wherein the blood isn't kept inside the phallus, but drained from there, so eventually the man's whole life and soul and wallet is sucked up through his..."ahem" like some kind of straw. The mythic, 'draining' power of the vampire can leave men--once their orgasm has passed--with a depressed, gasping for air feeling; the whole horrible truth of the grand genetic bait and switch is made bare only at that time, the hour or so when he has no sexual desire at all--but he's too weak to make a getaway, to get make some excuse that won't arouse her ire (after all - she has merely to drop by his house while he's at work and chat with his wife, and his world collapses - best not to piss her off). The wizard's curtain is, in this brief period, ripped back to expose the snarling, endlessly self-replicating human reproductive drive. "What have I done?" the man thinks. But it's too late, the trap snaps shut. He may as well do it again, once he's had time to --ahem--recharge.

Cinema offers a similar bait and switch: it beguiles us with lurid posters promising our wildest fantasy 'coming next week' but only keeps us mildly entranced this week, we sit until we feel we've got our money's worth, then cinema dumps us to the curb. All we have left for our money is a little ticket stub and a strange feeling of emptiness "what do we do now? Go home." Most of us can't stick around and see a second movie (sneaking to a different theater in the multiplex, maybe); we have to go home and process, to look at roads and traffic and friends and menus, at least for awhile, until we're recharged. The vampire woman and cinema then have the same effect. We mustn't get too close to either lest they destroy us--and the safety of the film screen's relative distance lets us at least admire our vampire woman from afar. She may drain us but never fatally - we emerge pale and dizzy from the theater, but not dead. She meanwhile keeps drinking.

But if she does so with another woman, there's no jealousy. No reason for power position jostling. We can safely dissolve into the ether.

Dracula's Daughter (1936)
That so many vamp ladies are lesbians speaks to humanity's problem of being unable to successfully civilize the basic act of animal copulation. Lesbianism can seem from an intellectual point of view to be more evolved than "straight" sex with its messy pregnancies, STDs and unsightly ejaculates. Male orgasms leave us hopefully transported for a few seconds but it's still this vile reproductive cycle, this demon drive for life that's got us in its sway. As personal and intimate as it all is, we haven't exactly invented the wheel, just been driven to do what humans have been doing since before they were apes. Movies too, are something we all do. Everyone can see any movie and have the same reactions, the same sense of intimate connection, the same subsuming of our egoic identity into the oceanic narrative. We're all just 'the masses' each with a little pair of 3D glasses that screen each other out so it's just us and what's onscreen... alone in an elaborate ritual dance.

Vampire lesbians don't have a need for 3D. They're already beyond the masses; they're undead, beyond concerns of reproduction, and--even better-- they have only one particular use for men, as a drink. And most importantly for our peace of mind, their sexual preference relieves us of another tiresome aspect of straight masculinity - our feeling of responsibility towards women as protectors. They choose to do without us, so we can enjoy their rampages without guilt. As men in the audience or at home watching DVDs, we're free to cheer on our own coming irrelevance.

The vampire male meanwhile (presuming he's straight) has only one chance at keeping his cool in the face of such staggering chic, to just not put out... ever! It drives the Kristen Stewarts wild!! But at what cost?

If you're an artistic, deep vampire dude with perfectly-mussed hair who's been having good sex for say 90 straight years--with partners living, straight, gay, and undead curious--then I can imagine you have moved on from caring much about it, needing to boast of it to your bros. There's nothing left to prove. Most spiritually evolved beings will tell you that after a certain age, sex falls away like a booster rocket. One may make love like a lesbian, i.e. more orally motivated, less genital/orgasm-centric... more giving, but the sex drive will eventually come back and throw you off your game --so best not even start. It's much nicer to be a eunuch, free from being anchored to the demanding phallus --after all we neuter cats and dogs largely so unfulfilled sexual 'heat' doesn't make them crazy-miserable (there's no such thing as doggie condoms)--aren't we as humans deserving of the same liberation?

But then... Kristen Stewart is so cute. You have a big dilemma, don't you, Edward? Don't you wish you could be a vampire lesbian?

Though a certain train of feminist critical thought sees the appeal of lesbian erotica to men as a kind of a priori mastery/ownership --i.e. that we (men) see the sapphic mise en scene as waiting for us to step into the screen and supply the third wheel missing ingredient--I've always argued the opposite. Male identification is more complicated than a simple 1>1 equation. It often takes the form of rivalry or fraternal admiration or distrust rather than the presumed 'identification'. We want to admire the courage of men as if they were our older brothers; we don't want to see them spazzing out and embarrassing us, you know, like real little brothers. This is something filmmakers often misunderstand, forcing annoying sidekicks like Jar-Jar or Short Round or Robin on us. Men want to see men they can learn from and respect (Han Solo not Luke). We actually identify, as Carol Clover's counter-Mulveyan theory in Men, Women and Chainsaws, more with the female characters than the men - the male characters are seen as competition, as threats. I'd posit a Jungian insertion there, that we do so because our anima finds a suitable projector screen therein. It's not 'ownership' of woman that lesbian erotica provides the male, it's ultimate freedom from ownership, which as part of its contract includes the threat of other men, competitors (the bull sea lion who fights young bucks all day to keep his harem) and our dreaded responsibility--as male viewers--for the onscreen actions of our wives and progeny.

The pure lesbian vampire scenario then actually frees us from all direct "identification" inside the narrative, including the fraternal, so we're free of having to 'compare' our size, if you get my drift, or worry about not fulfilling our responsibility to fret. If there is a guy character in the lesbian vampire scenario who's not a slimy sadist or English hippie deserving death for being so trusting then we eventually may come to like him, but generally without a man in the picture we can retire our narrative outsider status and dissolve into the amorphous perspective abyss. We still admire the sex and carnage but from a nice respectful distance, the distance of an unborn spirit that may now stay unborn, for there is no seed in the picture by which to sprout into tedious life.

Vampyres (1974)
That's why my interest in lesbians always pulls to a grinding halt when they get all mushy over adopting a child or getting their hands on some sperm either from a donor or a trusted friend (which is why I couldn't get five minutes into THE L WORD). Ladies, I wanted to scream at the TV, you just took the coolest thing about being lesbians and changed it in order to be as cloying in your pro-family sentiments as the heterosexual behemoth we were rooting for you to destroy all this time.

The Vampire Lovers (1970)
Luckily,  being both a vampire and a lesbian is a double whammy of reproduction prevention, ensuring no last minute addition of a shark-jumping "Oliver" to your inner TV show. Still, in case you're a novice, and this post has encouraged you to enter the vampire lesbian realm, tread lightly, by which I do mean hold off on Jess Franco's VAMPYROS LESBOS and Jean Rollin's anything, until you're ready. Stick with Hammer's THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970), and now in Blu-ray, VAMPYRES (1974), and of course DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS (1973), and the gray-market only but Jeeze it's Vadim's best film, BLOOD AND ROSES (1960, top). Classic horror fans already know that DRACULA'S DAUGHTER (1936) is pretty cool too--with the cinema's first coded lesbian vampire seduction/murder--though I don't like Gloria Holden's austere peasant hair style; and if you're all out of other options, you could do worse than THE HUNGER (1983, below) but the hair is even worse than Holden's (see below and cringe in pain for those doomed 1980s).

The source material for all this lesbian vampire chic, Le Fanu's Carmilla, is an English novel from the golden year of 1872. In other words, its very Gothic and  tres erotique et domaine publique. It's included in the Criterion set for VAMPYR (1932), which presumably has a lesbian vampire somewhere in the story (I've never managed to stay awake to find out). You can also read the whole 1872 text for free here. Dig this passage, told in first person from the innocent young girl victim's point of view:
She used to place her pretty arms about my neck, draw me to her, and laying her cheek to mine, murmur with her lips near my ear, "Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my strength and weakness; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. In the rapture of my enormous humiliation I live in your warm life, and you shall die, die, sweetly die into me. I cannot help it; as I draw near to you, you, in your turn, will draw near to others, and learn the rapture of that cruelty, which yet is love; so, for a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit."

 And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she would press me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glow upon my cheek. (Chapter 4)

So next time you're alone in the night somewhere, try whispering in a sexy voice, "Carmillaaaaa" over and over, really slowly, and see what happens. If no one answers maybe you haven't even been born yet.  But I bet someone answers. I bet you learn the rapture of that cruelty which yet is love...and that you dress your wife like you do the women in the streets, and believe me, you'll have a vampire, too, lord lord. So for god's sakes, bring protection, the cross, the stake, the jimmy hat, and the will to run back to your wife, praise Whistler's Jugs! Mama, slaughter the fatted calf for dada's home for now!

1 comment:

  1. I've been intrigued by Vampyres since stumbling across this post earlier this summer:

    (Does that count as porn spam? But - but he's got non-naked posts too! Like this one, which is awesome by the way:


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