Sunday, January 29, 2012

CinemArchetype #2: The Anima

Jung described the anima--the ego of the feminine unconscious to the male conscious mind--as like the sphynx or the Mona Lisa - enigmatic, cryptic, mostly silent - neither alive nor dead nor undead, but a dweller in the space beyond such trivialities. Her refusal to be known fully by her outer male / consciousness is perhaps an underlying cause of so much patriarchal oppression in our world. We can't silence her midnight reproaches so we try to silence her outer projections. But it never works.

In order to placate her we must make an effort to 'find out what she wants' through much patient sitting in asanas and art. She is the ultimate 'unknown' that the male ego spends its life trying to seduce, make contact with, capture on canvas, harness, destroy, embrace... but she can never be fully known or possessed, only accepted as the enigma she is.  And thank god, because if she was ever understood fully, the world would open up into the pure white light of the infinite. And then what do you do with your time? Where do you find your inspiration?

Here's one of my attempts to show that, it's a Dorian Gray deconstruction of a scene from Nightmare Alley (1947). 

Erich Kuersten "Nightmare Alley" 2003

Man projects the anima into his girlfriends, wives, daughters, and then is crushed when she disappears from their faces. The girls of the movies and of his dreams are ageless and enigmatic, so they take over the job. So there's the ghostly obsession of Jimmy Stewart in Vertigo for the 'nonexistent' Madeline, Twin Peaks for Laura Palmer, the Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute, or the ghost vengeance of a Jess Franco nymphomaniacal heroine like Maria Rohm in Venus in Furs. Or there's her inescapable nurturing, her madonna-like perfection mocking your violent failings even as she consoles you, as with  Jessica Chastain in Tree of Life (below).

Eye's dark pupil, mirrored
Some feminist critics might decry these characters as unreal or male fantasies, but they miss the point - they are male fantasies but who is doing the fantasizing? The conscious man tries to understand his unconscious woman through fantasizing about her. Perhaps it is also the other way around, our inner anima fantasizing life as a man looking at herself in his mirror. Madeline is obsessed with the painting of her past life, like Jimmy is with her present.

Men can't control their unconscious mind (by definition) any more than we can (most of us) decide what we want to dream about when we sleep. If a man can make peace with his anima, either through art, meditation, astral voyaging, lucid dreaming, good deeds or just accumulated wisdom, he is en route to becoming a 'whole' soul. When he writes it is more like dictation. When he paints he just sits back and lets his inner woman guide his hand. The anima steps out of the shadows of the unconscious, halfway during dreams and art (and sometimes really good sex), and he steps into it, halfway, he lets go of the wheel and lets the wife drive for awhile --and then they are married in the Jungian reunification alchemical ritual.  But he will never understand her, never know her except that which she wants to reveal.

The anima speaks only in dreams or moments of poetic artistic rapture (or madness),
a ghost woman you love more than any living woman,
but you can't easily understand her language...
One day you learn that the language she speaks to you is French,
it takes you years but you learn French and finally you get to understand her,
finally she is yours to understand
for that one conversation.

But the next time you get a chance to talk to her
she speaks only in German.

So now you have to learn German.
So then she only speaks Japanese, and so it goes...
She runs through every language known to man, back into ancient Greek and Latin,
Sumerian, Mayan, and lost Atlantean.
You dog her heels every step of the way.

Finally all out of languages, she refuses to speak at all.
She merely smiles the enigmatic Mona Lisa sphinx smile.

When you finally match her even then, even learn this new language--the hardest of all to learn--the silence...

Then the only thing left for her to hide in
is what lies beyond silence,
and when you go there too, meditate in total quiet, she surrenders
at last, and
you are finally married
and on your honeymoon,
and she's waiting in bed...

But to get her to strip,
you're gonna have to learn poker.
1. Kate Hepburn - Bringing up Baby (1938)

In the best romantic comedy there is the idea of a gender-flux sprite as Shakespearian elemental - the sprite who raises mischief and chaos to fluster the male ego, to reduce its prominence in the constellation of consciousness by exposing it to the chthonic forces of nature. Rather than civilizing herself, this untamed tomboy mare wildernesses the civilized; she forces the westward expansion to, at last, contract. She is the inhale after the land-grabbing exhale.  No one is better at this getting a professor to inhale than Kate Hepburn in Bringing up Baby, Carole Lombard in My Man Godfrey and Paula Prentis in Man's Favorite Sport?

Katharine Hepburn doesn't normally embody the anima, she's more the 'wild wise woman' (see CinemArchetype 11). She's too independent, too her own woman, too conscious and wily and, like Jane Fonda, contemptuous of the very concept of mystique. But with the aide of a familiar, especially if it happens to a be a wild animal (like a leopard), she nails it. In Bringing up Baby, Cary Grant's absent-minded paleontologist has been keeping his right-brained feminine unconscious on such a tight leash it finally snaps off, freed by the backdraft of whizzing golf balls, golf carts, car running boards, sock burning, crazy phone calls, clothes theft, bone-burying dogs, and finally a vicious leopard shadow twin.

2.  Laura Palmer - Twin Peaks / Fire Walk with Me

Hey! Where were you for the last hour? I've been looking all over for you.
I was standing right behind you, but you're too dumb to turn around.

Laura Palmer's absence creates separate fantasies in all her men. Her dopey eyed self-serious biker hunk, James (I hate him), keeps trying to drag her into a tortured teen lovers-style Twilight-esque devotion, "Quit tryin' to hold onto me so tight, baby," Laura says (after having just tooted up before homeroom), "cuz I'm already gone... gone... gone."

Lynch's female characters tend towards this kind of nebulous lostness, this 'hold me as tight as you want but you'll never find me" paradoxical elusiveness. He knows enough to know how little he knows--how little can be known--about the anima. And because he does know he doesn't know, he's able to depict her frustratingly (to her lovers) ephemeral contours way more succinctly than most. It's a quality tied into cinema, with its form of idealized feminine mystique -- i.e. we fall in love with her via an image onscreen, and she enjoys our collective adoration/attention. The character's (or actress's) lover/husband on the other hand, craving closeness, exclusivity, and full knowledge of her ways and thoughts, might go out of his skull with jealousy and self-pity from having to 'share her'--the real her, i.e. her image--with any lovesick fanboy with a TV set. If we knew her personally, we'd feel less involved, less like we have the right to project our anima onto her. The lens of the anima works in reverse to the regular lens, in that the more you focus on details, to see the 'real' woman below the persona, the less you can see of the anima. When she's in total clarity, your anima has nothing left to work with.
"Women who are of 'fairy-like' character especially attract such anima projections, because men can attribute almost anything to a creature who is so fascinatingly vague, and can thus proceed to weave fantasies around her." - Maria Von Franz
I'd argue with Franz that saying the men weave the fantasies is perhaps a little general, if we're talking about the anima we're talking about a part of the male psyche that is not under the control of the male ego. The feminine unconscious either spurns or approves of the 'screen' woman on which to project itself; while the specifics may be structured by male conscious desire, that structure is just another puerile dead end if the anima is not onboard. If it is, the fantasy goes far deeper than any genital or pre-genital-based eroticism or maternal salve; it goes to the true union of the divided self, which seems--to the easily-spooked male ego--both the ultimate fantasy and a truly terrifying proposition.

3. Maila Nurmi as Vampira
"I once loaned Maila a copy of Carl Jung’s Man and His Symbols. In particular, I wanted her to read the chapter on the “anima,” Jung’s term for female archetypes – witches, goddesses, vampires, saints, etc. – that are actually fantasy projections of the inner male psyche, i.e., of the male’s unacknowledged feminine aspects. (When a woman does it, the projection is known as an “animus.”) After returning the book Maila declared, “I am an anima.” - C. Jerry Kutner (BLAD 1/11/08)
4. Brigitte Bardot
"It is better to be unfaithful than faithful without wanting to be." -BB
Bardot is a hero of mine for her decision to use her money and fame to bring attention to animal cruelty, The Brigitte Bardot Foundation. She understands her mythic anima resonance--her remote silence covers men in reproachful invitation. We will never measure up to her staggering hotness, never quench the simple fire of discontentedness in her warm pout. She evades us as effortlessly as a swan evades a pool of sullen sharks. This evasion causes strip clubs to stay in business, the tips are like the replacement divots on the green of missing connection. At least with the foundation, those tips go to a good cause, and are tax deductible. Give what ya can... these wild things deserve it.

5. Marlene Dietrich 
"Mystery is a woman's greatest charm."

Like Bardot and Garbo she became reclusive once her looks could no longer be maintained. Movie stars like Dietrich are artists of the persona, sacrificing a normal life in the public eye (ala charity galas, Curtis Harrington hag horror TVMs) so their anima cachet can resonate forever, siphoning the energy of our desire until we fall back, weakened by masochistic reverie and aged into shriveled eye stalks while they stay young forever, captured in the mystic black and white eternal, soaking up viewer after viewer like a Bathory sponge of gaze. Our romantic memories, dredged up from our dating history are absorbed into the celluloid of the vampire anima, light up her skin through sleep's latticework shadow. In withholding her 'whole' self (which includes unsavory aspects like suffocating vanity and hausfrau cleanliness-obsession) our inner projection of the anima finds its focus for the first time in Dietrich, again and again, like a dead ship igniting into windswept sails and mizzenmast hoisting. 

 6. Kim Novak in Vertigo (1958)
 "The movie turns on the slightly malicious question, "Who is Kim Novak?" a question which becomes more frightening, and unanswerable, once the secret of her dual identity within the film is revealed. The initial sequences, for all their beauty in summoning up the enchantment of the anima archetype, belong to a familiar-enough theme in psychology and art--the man as victim of seduction. The fall of James Stewart's character Scottie into "acute melancholia complicated by a guilt complex" is what he deserves from biting into this familiar apple. Indeed, the cumulative kitsch elements of the romance--the staginess of the exposition of the preposterous plot; the tourist's view of San Francisco's prettiness in the long, languishing silent sequence; the poor quality of the "museum painting" of the nineteenth-century woman Kim Novak is supposed to be obsessed by; the monotonous unreality Novak brings to the reading of her lines; and the ponderous earnestness of James Stewart as he becomes her victim--all have a wearying effect, much like the depression of coaddiction." - John  Beebe (The Anima in Film
6.5. Jennifer Jones in Portrait of Jennie (1948)

A romantic ghost story, it cost a fortune to make and Jones was bland as a ghostly girl, and smitten artist Joseph Cotten more like some genteel old grandfather having his DEATH IN VENICE pre-stroke moment than an ardent young painter discovering his anima muse in a ghost or vice versa. Barely disguising his bafflement with the terrible poetic dialogue that no one in their right mind would ever speak or write, you want to smack Cotten with a cast iron 78 of "In the Gloaming" for making things worse instead of better by bringing cornpone sincerity to what should be a semi-mad poet (like say, Mischa Auer would play him). Instead we're stuck with treacly strings letting us know just how full of macabre melancholic whimsy we're supposed to feel while he mopes around waiting for another vision. Lillian Gish as a nun lets us know the Jennie Cotten he loves is long dead, but hey, he has the painting he made of her, and her promise she will return, leaving him only a scarf as a signifier she was real. It's a scarf she leaves him by the sea like my anima leaves me at the end of THE LACAN HOUR (2004) and I hadn't seen this when I made that movie!

And I'm sorry I've seen PORTRAIT at all, but hey, the final shot of the painting is in color makes it all worth it, like a bit of Oz ruby color stain on Dorothy's farm girl girl dress in black and white reality, which I think would have been a groovy touch. It's worth seeing for that final color shot though, especially if you see that shot having come home high from meeting some random new girl who's really hot and you felt a deep connection with her, and it's trailing you home, a giddy reverie, though you don't have her number or remember her name but your whole life's lit up in ways it wasn't before, and that color shot of the painting comes randomly on TCM, while you're just half watching it and you realize your anima just banked a three coincidence bumper shot, projected three different levels of meaning, and whoa, your writer's block is knocked into the side pocket, freeing the table as she wafts back in your life for another flickering ghost shadow stretch. Just don't try to touch her.

David Thomson writes a great bit about Portrait of Jennie in his highly recommended Have You Seen...? He covers the troubled history of the film, how Selznick was in some ghastly downward spiral, blind to everything but pleasing his wife at the time, Jennifer Jones...
"One cool observer of the whole fiasco was Alfred Hitchcock, at the end of his rope with Selznick and nearly free of his contract with him. My reason for saying that is the hunch that the man who would make Vertigo learned a lot from Portrait if Jennie: the erotic allure, the morbid sexual fantasy, the being in and out of life, the green light even (the original Jennie ended in a wash of green [which has been restored by TCM - EK]) and above all, the intuition that this love story would work best if allowed to strike dread." (682)
7. Lana Del Rey

The critics who attack Del Rey for her 'makeover' from Lizzie Grant show in their hostility just how effective this adopted persona is as an anima. She is the Marlene Dietrich of her time and we should remember that Marlene too had a makeover upon coming to Hollywood -- losing thirty pounds and four back molars, among other modifications. There's not a single Hollywood star, I'm fairly sure, who is 100% 'real' according to Del Rey's detractors' definition. So it speaks to the raw archetypal sore spot Rey's poked that so many critics feel they must attack her, while others, like me, feel the need to defend her. When you become something to fight over, it's not even 'about' whether you're 'real' or not. If someone tells you they had a dream about a witch would you say, "Bro, that witch is totally fake"? Of course not. What's important is that Del Rey is the anima of 2012; she is the amnesiac succubus, the Diane Selwyn of Mulholland Dr. and the candy colored clown they call the sand woman in Blue Velvet. Her seemingly augmented visage is like if Madeline / Novak had plastic surgery to resemble the portrait of Carlotta Veldez.... or

8. Rita Hayworth as Gilda (1946)
"They go to bed with Gilda but wake up with me." 

Del Rey's weird lips make her a kind of anime comic book version of Rita Hayworth, who showed she understood her persona's hypnotic effect when she famously said the above line. But Hayworth never bowed to the pressures of being an anima, of trying to be a living archetypal image. Rather, the anima rather bowed to her insistence that she was indeed a woman and not a phantom projection. Her image is strong enough it can thrive even in such a self-imposed prison--one literally imposed almost by force of her animus onto her in Gilda--thus Stephen King's novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption" is about prison. That's why I always get a little sickly claustrophobic watching Gilda - the feeling of suffocation caused by her seedy choice of men, namely the very square-headed and seemingly shorter than her Glenn Ford, who tries to rope her off the way those icky brothers all tried to rope BB in ... and God Created Woman (1957), by cockblocking her, stifling her libidinal-elemental archetypal freedom. I've hated him ever since, regardless of his role (he's pretty great in this, tho).

9. Ava Gardner as Pandora in Pandora and the Flying Dutchman (1951)

Di Chirico "The Profit," 1915

No one was going to cockblock or stifle Ava Gardner's libidinal-elemental archetypal freedom, not a possessive homicidal bullfighter, a racing car driver, or any of the would-be suitors who dash themselves upon her rocks in the haunting and underrated (naysayers need to watch it again on Blu-ray) Pandora and the Flying Dutchman. Only James Mason, the original flying dutchman who promises her deathless timeless love aboard his slick craft, knows what to do with all Pandora's aching archetypal beauty. And he embraces her enigmatic grace first by painting her before he even meets her (top), and then after she angrily blots out her face with white he incorporates the white into a De Chirico type mask, restoring and enhancing her unknowable elemental mystery rather than trying to reign it in like the other men orbiting her. An archetype himself, the Dutchman whisks her from the time-bound concerns of mortal men and into the constellations where she belongs.

 10. 4-Way Tie: 
a. Gene Tierney as Laura (1944)

Falling in love with a painting is easy; your anima projects right onto it like a silver screen. But if the painting comes to life (as you so devoutly and ill-advisedly wish) all of a sudden it's not a projection screen but a dark, swirling muddy mess of paint that never dries and thinks you're beneath her social class... or at any rate you think she thinks that. Detective Dana Andrews falls in love with Laura via her image while investigating her murder, but when Laura appears suddenly off the canvas and replaced by a real woman in a boxy raincoat and sour wet expression she's no longer an anima, and he's disappointed as well as intimidated. Naturally his anima is going to have to pick more reliable projection screens if he wants to develop an unhealthy obsession - hence her preference for dead celebrities like Marilyn Monroe (like Poe for his Lost Lenore), who will hopefully not suddenly return from the grave and demand you get a job or take out the trash. 

b. Rebecca (1940)

The painting / initialed sundries, and sumptuous bedroom of truly dead Rebecca on the other hand is so fogged up in anima-projection that her still living and ever-brooding Laurence Olivier all but ignores his real life new young wife, played by Joan Fontaine. He loves young Fontaine at least in part because she seems pliable, young and as anti-anima as possible. Meanwhile Rebecca's ghost overflows all screens and no real woman can compete lest she become more ruthless and wicked than Rebecca herself. 

C. Ligeia - Tomb of Ligeia  (1964)

All of the Corman-Poe cycle films are filthy with devolved animas but as the morbid end game of the de-evolution of a psyche where the anima projection screen endures even into death, Ligeia takes the metaphor deep. In Laura the woman in the painting was still alive, in Rebecca dead, and in Ligeia undead, alive in cat form and hot corpse-spirit possession form, i.e.  abstracted into necrophilia (this is one of the few films where 'pussy-whipped' is a genuine action).

11. Christine Gordon as Jessica Holland in I Walked with a Zombie (1943)

Jessica is a great example of the unassimilated anima; the one that will not fade all the way back into the shadows nor merge into the male consciousness even in part; thus she is a cross between the madwoman in the attic ala Jane Eyre and the painting of Rebecca. She was evidently Rebecca-esque in life--i.e. manipulative, slutty, and bi-polar--and now she is halfway into becoming as dead as Rebecca, as undead as Ligeia, and as immortal as her own (nonexistent) painting.  And as an anima she serves only to cockblock her nurse and tear a tropical island family apart, all while Calypso singer Sir Lancelot recounts her misdeeds in his honeyed, irresistible voice. 

I'm not the first to question Leo's insistence on dead wives: check out Nathaniel R's awesome Dead Wives Club poster above. The question is, why? An anima has actually more power in her 'dead' state, yet is less of a threat; she is neither bound up in the eternal sleep of zombie Jessica and the sleeping Snow White nor alive like Laura or Bardot. She is free to rule the psyche of the 'male' consciousness without worry of clashing with the 'real' thing. In other words, unlike Dana Andrews in Laura, Leo never has to worry about his obsession suddenly coming to life and doing un-anima things like taking too long in the bathroom or nagging him about his drinking. He can just stay up late and guzzle hooch and stare at her framed photo--eyes welling up with tears. This is the ideal state for all actors afraid of being upstaged or getting too intimate and open, i.e. unmanly; the dead wife allows all the anima interaction to occur deep down in the dream state, so she can't embarrass you in front of your friends. And it's a great excuse for binge drinking... and not stretching. Amen

Thursday, January 26, 2012

No Sex! It's a Gentleman's Agreement...

Design for Living (1933) centers around a "gentleman's agreement" that there will be no sex between sketch artist Miriam Hopkins and best friends Frederic March and Gary Cooper. There's a very good reason for this: they like each other so much, they don't want to fuck it up. American ex-pats in 1930s Paris, they meet on a train, so neither March nor Cooper can claim to have seen her first and have any 'finder's rights' and Hopkins refuses to choose one over the other. She is 'very fond' of both, so the agreement is she will be a 'mother of the arts' and spur their work--March's plays and Cooper's paintings--to success, which she does, and friction will be sidestepped by their gentleman's agreement, its offshoot artistic sublimation in part responsible for their triumphs. But once March is off to London to shepherd his play's West End opening, Hopkins takes Cooper into her boudoir to console him over their mutual loss, and beds him for she is "no gentleman."

Meanwhile her boss, advertising mogul Everett Edward Horton, patiently waits his chance to woo Hopkins. He hasn't even 'gotten to first base' with her and as is the case so often with such lame duck lovers who are never quite all the way spurned or accepted, feels it's his duty to attempt to shoo the other boys away but of course he's little more than a fly at a picnic thinking it's the other way around. That is until he eventually 'wins' by default, even though he's too beholden to Eaglebauer to give her a, well, it's a semi-long story.

But what price no sex with guys as gorgeous as Cooper and March? And in this film they are tall, well-dressed and full of callow insecurity coupled with 'they don't know how hot they are" extra hotness -- and the result my favorite performance from either of them.  I don't think I've ever seen March more relaxed, less like his usual coiled spring thespian self, or Cooper more beautiful, almost feminine with his eye liner and creaseless face. Look at his visage in the top picture; not a furrow on either's brow. Or look into Cooper's haunting eyes, has he ever seemed more alive or intelligent or sensual? Together they display the kind of rapport you seldom see in men outside of a rock band, the military, or Howard Hawks movies (Hawks collaborator Ben Hecht wrote the script loosely patterned off of Noel Coward, for whom the boy-boy romance was surely more complicated).

Paris, 1933 (March - right)
Now that Criterion's awesome blu-ray is out we can forget about trying to find it elsewhere and savor the lush image and Kim Morgan's awesome essay, "It Takes Three." which is included in the liner notes:
What’s so touching about this threesome is how much they genuinely like each other. When you see them giggling on a bed (feet off the floor), they could just as easily be braiding each other’s hair or challenging one another to a wrestling match. Sex gets in the way, of course, but equal intelligence is an asset here. And since Gilda is essentially a good woman and not a mere indecisive tease, she can’t tear these two best friends apart. Rather than torture them with bedroom flip-flops, she sacrifices her own happiness for . . . Edward Everett Horton.
Morgan's tight journalistic prose and willingness to gaze without flinching into the murky abyss of feminine desire is an inspiration for my own writing and I appreciate her approach to the film is a lot more about the desire while mine is about the 'agreement.'  I found out early on that if you love beautiful, intelligent women, but don't sleep with them, or even hit on them, ever, just love them and let them inspire you, then your art will bump up several notches and you will keep the beautiful inspirational women as friends for life (as lovers you'd lose them after a few months or years and never be inspired by them again). If Deneuve's traumatized beauty had a friend like that in Repulsion, she may have been able to just cook the rabbit and watch some TV. God forbid you hit on her and get rejected! you'll never write again, but if you can do the trickster thing and resist temptation you just might have a shot at getting actually good at your craft, and not getting pregnant or slashed to bloody ribbons in the process.

One of my own personal gentleman's agreement-style bonds is captured in the picture below, circa 1991. It wasn't quite the gentleman's agreement of Cooper and March and Hopkins because she was his girlfriend but the effect was the same as in Design for Living, a three way love affair for alcoholic ages: he and I were in a band together and housemates; her and I played a lot of gin and drank a lot of gin. The three of us went everywhere together. We were like Design for Living times Performance! In some ways, my relationship with the both of them was 'purer' then theirs as a couple. They fought and sulked and needled and I rose above it all like a third wheel spinning in the sky; my own girlfriend snug and quiet in her genie bottle of Old Grandad (green label).

N. Myrtle Beach, 1991 (me - left)
Losing her in the mid-90s to a conventionally successful and 'grounded' E.E. Horton / Ralph Bellamy type helped make me the critic of marriage I am today. No offense to him personally, he's a right enough chap, but he's not... us. I've lost so many great friends to marriage, it's like small pox, or Logan's Run (below). Right around the age of 30 they float up to the altar at the 'carousel' and are zapped off to the suburbs. Suddenly they can't stay out late because they need to catch the last train home and or relieve the babysitter. I'm happy for them if they're following their bliss, but if they're following the herd I say halt, herd!

"I do."
But! I am for group marriages. Maybe a three-way marriage could have allowed sex to flourish within the tri-bond of of Design for Living.  I wished I could have married all my friends in a big collective group back then, bound to each other body and soul (well, soul anyway). Instead we live with the daily injustice that we may be best buds with someone for 20 years and then can't visit them in the hospital or share their inheritance, while some chick they drunkenly married a week ago in Vegas suddenly owns half of everything we watched them earn and shuts us out of the visiting room on detox day. I know at least two beautiful, smart girls who never see or hear from their dad anymore because of his jealous second wife. And that's your 'noble institution' in action? No wonder wits like Hecht and Coward and Lubitsch were so suspicious of it. Much better to cherish those friends you love via the gentleman's agreement, so that the mystery and sublimation need never cease its sparkle.

And of course, breaking that agreement then becomes doubly exciting.

PS -- if you're happily married and getting pissed off reading this, forgive me, I'm really only talking about the media's sickly  unconscious Horton-esque sanctification of the suburban status quo (i.e. new baby sitcoms like Up All Night) and overall avidya-style short-sightedness compared to the witty out-of-the-box genius of Design for Living. I do know many fine marriages where I revere and love both members and even their children or lack thereof. It's only because no one else is even trying that I would widen the shrinking aperture of what the media shows as success and happiness in this most dying and overpopulated of all possible worlds.


See also other films that recognize the gentleman's agreement: My Best Friend's Wedding, and The Good Thief or what about the electric synergy of Fred and Carrie on Portlandia?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Quilty Makes This World: 12 Tricksters (CinemArchetype #1)

This post commences a series on Jungian archetypes in film and media, wherein we gather an assortment of characters, icons, and public figures who all fit the same functional mold, the better to unravel our iconographical lexicon. The first archetype celebrated here on Acidemic is, naturally, 'The Trickster' for he is the most psychedelic. Just ask Ken Kesey or Timothy Leary, if they weren't dead....Trickster makes this world (by Lewis Hyde).

For sake of polarization of type we've limited this to males, but of course the trickster is by nature beyond gender, beyond personal gain as well. He lives in a state of identity flux, bound to no one persona (though perhaps he can be in service of an abstract cause, like 'the paper') and is seldom on the level as far as sincerity and yet this allows him perhaps greater leeway in his altruistic ambitions, for he need gratify no urge, for him there there is no one persona to 'want' anything. You are most likely to meet him on the road to knowledge, and if a trickster helps you on your way, be grateful but not indebted. And beware: for every two or three favors he gives, one wry screw-over is guaranteed. But you can't just walk away after two favors, what if the third is legit, too? Dude, turns out none of them are favors, they're gin and tonics. He'll confuse the simple and clarify the incoherent, and never justify anything, let alone means or ends. Take Elliot Gould's doctor in MASH for example,who seamlessly incorporates an operation on the child of a prostitute into his Tokyo boondoggle and just as effortlessly employs blackmail of the resident officer to make it happen. He expects no reward from the mom and brooks no condemnation from the Army, he demands neither a freebie nor accepts a guilt trip; he doesn't think ahead or crave validation - he's just a dancer in the Shiva flame. That's a trickster.

1. Peter Sellers as Clair Quilty - Lolita (1962)
"The woman always goes for the trickster, because he cannot be shamed; he is too transparent, always able to drop his 'story' the moment it gains any weight, embodying instead a series of roles each easily discarded for the next. The James Mason types by contrast inevitably resort to violence, for they presume their warped idea of dignity and ownership is an essential right, worth killing over, no matter how abstract. They feel justified in the use of firearms against the trickster who mocks them — and in the 1960s it was because the repressed guy was closeted, or abused, or a mélange of the two like in Bertolucci's The Conformist. The trickster's game involves exposing these straightedge characters for the damaged bullies they are, and so they can't help but leap across the mess hall table and start strangling Donald Sutherland (Burns in MASH) or shooting Quilty, so we realize the whole time said losers have been festering in their self-made prison of masochistic desire. But even here the trickster's power is healing and transforming — his opponent's straightedges have been rounded off against their will. Maybe after some time in the booby hatch, Burns will learn to smoke pot and lift weights in his garage, like American Beauty or get a motorcycle like in Wild Hogs!" (All Tomorrow's Playground Narratives)
2. Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice (1988)
"Instead of accepting 'the fate' as is, Beetlejuice attempts to create his own rules. Beetlejuice's ostracism is the result of his anarchic 'supernatural' politics; his mindless rebellion against any mediocrity (both worldly and underworldly) and, ultimately, his powerful unpredictability."-- Helena Bassil-Morozow, The Trickster in Contemporary Film (Routledge)
3. Heath Ledger as The Joker in The Dark Knight (2008) 
The meta-textual similarity of Joker's burning money scene to the wasteful expenditure of the film's vast budget and its justification via huge box-office profit -- all for what amounts to a big loud explosion of nothing -- is eerily prescient. Dark Knight pays lip service to how "Gotham needs a hero" but it's just a really a big, loud, leftist version of Death Wish, with our sympathies reversed. When Joker sets fire to his half of the money we can imagine Batman rushing in to save it, cradling it in his arms and screaming to the sky: "Damn you, Damn yoooou!!"In this one scene, Joker proves he's the only truly sane man in Gotham, the only "true" soul in this dark mess, the only one with inner Zen stillness and joie de vivre; the only one not hypnotized by his or her "life story." No matter how harshly he's screamed at (Batman growls and shouts until he's hoarse), the Joker never loses his mellow-gold cool; he's already at peace with himself and his mania. He's in the flow like one of those old drunken masters in the Shaw Brothers films. (see: "Burn your money!")
4. Groucho Marx
"Let me know when you want to be attacked and I'll be there five minutes later to defend you."
5. Bugs Bunny
"Bugs Bunny gets a charge out of driving people crazy. And that may be why he lasts. He doesn't seem like a character of the '40s, but rather a character of today. His wisecracking, gender-bending, anti-authority antics broke ground long before punk rock, or David Bowie, or Jerry Seinfeld. He's impossible to pin down in any specific sense."  --J.J. Sutherland, Trickster, American Style
6. Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow
"Me? I’m dishonest, and a dishonest man you can always trust to be dishonest. Honestly. It’s the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they’re going to do something incredibly, stupid."
7. Eli Wallach as Vacaro - Baby Doll (1956)

Vacaro wins Baby Doll via a constant ebb and flow of masculine aggression, a flow that pushes her boundaries and then moves back a bit to let her catch her breath. He chases her but when she stops running, he stops chasing. When she chases him, he runs. Genuine play is introduced into the mating ritual, letting Baby Doll assume a more pro-active role. Once he has her where he wants her (trapped on an attic beam) instead of demanding sex he forces her to sign the statement against her husband; she's disappointed. Why this film outrages the Catholics may lie more in this area than in the idea of a man obsessed with an "under-developed" woman (Baker doesn't seem the least bit under-developed, merely inexperienced). There's an implicit notion in code-sanctioned romance that the sex must be dealt with quickly - one dissolve between a kiss fade-out and a cigarettes-in-full-dress afterwards-- and then move on with the story. BABY DOLL lives in the twilight realm of that fade-out. The "did they or didn't they" ambiguity is allowed to drive the censor stand-in (Malden) to a point of sweet insanity. --The Tell-Tale Dissolve

8.Robert De Niro as Conrad Brean - Wag the Dog (1997)

And it's most certainly NOT about the B-3 bomber.
There is no B-3 bomber.
I just said that! There is no B-3 bomber. 
I don't know how these rumors get started!

9. Elliot Gould as Trapper John  - MASH (1970)

You can't even go near a patient until Col. Merrill says its ok
and he's still out to lunch.
Trapper John: 
Look, mother, I want to go to work in one hour.
We are the Pros from Dover and we figure to crack this kid's
chest and get out to the golf course before it gets dark.

10. Cary Grant as Walter Burns - His Girl Friday (1944)

Walter Burns
Look, Hildy, I only acted like any husband
that didn't want to see his home broken up.
Hildy Johnson
What home?
Walter Burns: 
"What home"? Don't you remember the home I promised you?

11. Roy Scheider as Dr. Benway - Naked Lunch (1991)
 "You'll see how elegantly this works (he mixes black powder into water or juice for Bill to drink). The black will disappear completely. There'll be no smell, no discoloration. It's like an agent, an agent who's come to believe his own cover story. But who's in there, hiding, in a larval state. Just waiting for a time to hatch out."
12. Max Von Sydow - The Magician (1958)

Bergman's film itself refuses to guess whether Sydow's character is a poor beardless blonde actor begging alms for his attempt to entertain and terrify, or the actual mystical creature he appears to be in the beginning and by the end. Even the embittered empiricist for whom most of it all is being performed can't tell which if either are the act, but he's at least wise enough to see that the denuded magician / beggar is just another persona. There is no 'single' true self with him.

Thursday, January 19, 2012



We all love vampires, but what's the deal with all the 'good' ones in films like We are the Night (2nd down from top, below), Interview with a Vampire, The Lost Boys, and Near Dark, wherein people become vampires presumably to be badass but actually only to also become hypocritically pious by refusing to slaughter humans, and giving the vampires who kill and drink humans a rough time?  Give them a goblet of blood, they'll drink it and never ask where it came from, but killing humans is, like, wrong, just like the 'good' Terminator can only shoot humans in the legs, and Batman risks the lives of god-knows-how-many innocent bystanders to not run over the Joker (The Dark Knight) and we pretend meat comes from the grocery store rather than the abattoir. We'll eat a burger, but don't ask us to press the cattle puncher button.

We are the Night - oh you girls as so faux-naughty!
In Germany's We are the Night, the protagonist is a badass Femme Nikita-style punk but, once she becomes a vampire, she develops a goody-goody conscience and refuses to kill. She even refuses the advances of the hot Teutonic blonde bitch goddess leader of an all-girl vampire clan, all just so she can get all boringly hetero with some handsome, safety-first copper. Rather than perch in the rarefied aerie of Vampyres, The Black Swan, Xena, Daughters of Darkness and Bound, this (Sex and the City materialist-brand) edgy horror-action drama, We are the Night hastily races down to the the last-minute heterosexual switch-back imperative dungeon, a dank, stifling room already crammed with films like Kissing Jessica Stein, So Close, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and others too disappointing to remember.

Interview with a Vampire
And not even to harp on that issue, but We are the Night is made by Germans. Germans! Why not take a risk and dare us to identify with a genuine human-killing vampire, i.e. one who truly is the night and isn't just kibbitzing? Are you afraid we'll draw the 'wrong' conclusions about ze current state of German non-sociopathic compassion? Do you think humanity itself will cease to exist if we get to see a happy lesbian vampire for a change? You parachute this glum boy cop in there like the film needs him but we don't need anymore generic hunks --sent in like some aversion therapy door prize. I thought we buried this type of clueless beard back in D.E.B.S (2004). Did I think in vain?

That's why this new Underworld: Awakening (released next Friday-ish) looks good to me. After Melancholia and Rise of the Planet of the Apes it may be the first movie to wise up and root for the other side, to trust we're smart enough not to start biting people because we rooted for the 'bad' vamp, or that we'll hate humanity like we don't all ready hate ourselves worse than we ever could our killer.

Awakening's plot is that Kate Beckinsale and company are now hunted down by humanity instead of werewolves or vice versa. As humanity has become a dreary bore lately, what with the old white devil sea / Republican debates, I'm sure I'm not alone in rooting for our extinction: in his review of We are the Night on Spellbound Cinema, Daniel Orion Davis brings up Sartre's concept of 'bad faith:'
Inevitably, comes the turn, however.  We are socialized to reject "vampirism" in all its metaphoric capacity.  Taught, for very socially beneficial reasons, that might can not make right.  And so we must deceive ourselves, practice "bad faith" and call the fantasy a nightmare.  If it is wrong to dominate others, then it must be wrong to fantasize about dominating others.  And so the figure of the brooding vampire, the repentant sinner, the...sigh..."vegetarian." 
I say a humanity that can cheer its own demise, that can trust itself to fantasize against its own best interest, is a saved humanity, for it is this exact perspective about ourselves that saves us! What exploited, tortured laboratory chimp among us will feel vindicated by Rise of the Planet of the Apes? None, but we made it anyway. That's good. What vampire action group will howl in outrage if the good vampires don't stick to their 'animal blood' diet? None, but filmmakers seem to think a whole contingent of nervous 'defamation of the undead' anti-lobbyists are outside on a picket line. A morally ambiguous approach would add all sorts of modern resonance and it is not here. The misanthropic approach of Rise and Awakening is ballsy bravery;  Night is squeamish cowardice.

And why is killing a human more offensive than killing a chimp, or a deer? If you had a choice between one human test subject dying and ten thousand test  chimps which would you pick? What if it was between three dolphins or a pedophile? A thousand kittens vs. a foul smelling old vagrant who never had an altruistic thought in his life?

You chose the kittens?

Dude, that smelly old vagrant... was me.

Bill Paxton. Too bad the 'hero' is someone else: Near Dark
Animals are always innocent; ourselves almost never, and PS-we should learn to eat insects, as nature intended, and I will only accept your decision that it's gross after you've killed and skinned at least one of the mammals you've eaten (not that I ever have, knock on wood). That our 'good' vampires are too squeamish to do what thousands of brave slaughterhouse workers, snakes, wolves and micro-livestock enthusiasts do everyday is a sad offshoot of our see-no-evil carnivore guilt; even our vampires are of cowardly conscience made. At least in Germany, and in the films before 1997, the BQ era (before Quentin).

The Underworld series on the other hand isn't great, but it's no worse than the average story in Heavy Metal magazine and it employs a lot of classy Brit thespians like Michael Sheen and Bill Nighy and Beckinsale, who is a good actress, foxy, and damned hot without being tacky or sleazy in her skintight leather outfit, more Emma Peele than Barb Wire. And they all play it dead straight. Sometimes something can be great just by being better than Bloodrayne, and that's always been double true if the greatness includes daring to return to moral ambivalence. So go get us, Kate!

Believe me we deserve it.
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