Because the screen is the only well-lit mirror in town

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Age of Asherah: ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968)

"The creepy nature of the film is not in its special effects, but in its realistic premise. The story takes place in a real apartment building (the Dakota) that has a real reputation of attracting eccentric elements of New York’s high society. The evil coven is not composed of stereotypical, pointy-nose witches but of friendly neighbors, prestigious doctors and distinguished individuals. They are elegant, rational and intelligent and are connected to important people. The realism of the movie forces the viewers to ponder on the existence of such groups, to a point that some feared that the movie, after its release would cause an all-out witch hunt" --Vigilante Citizen
“This is no dream, this is really happening!” - Rosemary Woodhouse
The first film perhaps ever to exploit our deep dread of, old folks, 1968's Rosemary's Baby gazes deep and diabolically into the murky waters wherefrom skeletal hands of grandparents reach up to pat their captive breeders' kicking bellies, the waters wherefrom crawl real life abominations like the 2012 male-only hearing on women's reproductive freedom and the stoning to death of women whose hair is accidentally exposed at fundamentalist Muslim markets. At a certain depth, Christianity and Satanism become indistinguishable, especially once Asherah--Mrs. God, Yaweh's female counterpart--is excised from the Old Testament and patriarchy squashes women's rights as if in terror of them. A million witch burnings later and who can blame the devil worshippers for being so well-hidden from the public eye?  To the persecuted Asherah-worshipper, Christianity is as the KKK is to African-Americans, or Nazis to the Jews, and proof that if you go too far in any direction you become your own opposite. 

A typical early Christian demolishing an Asherah pole (by Dakota O'Leary)
So for a perspective high enough, let us rise out from that murky water into modern 1968, a key point, if there ever was one, for Asherah to cautiously lift her head above the murk of sleep and look around. In Polanski's work comes the super-paranoid feeling Asherah has been worshipped all the while, but we've been left out of some shared secret; Mrs. God has become a vengeful Medea --and who can blame Her? This feeling of being excluded from a dark secret taps into the unconscious memory of when we were children and any "sh-the adults are talking" moments seemed fraught with mystery. And we were too small and powerless to fight back against even the wussiest adult or older kid, and we could sense evil around us always, parents were our only protection. If they betrayed us, we were doomed.

Since we see the entirety of the film from Rosemary's point of view, we know that she is treated like a child, never privy to what's going on. Her husband doesn't even think she has a right to know to whom he has sold her womb. We have to guess, just as she does, until the very end, where babies really come from. The entirety of the film is absent direct visualization of any devil practices (the paintings at the Castavets are removed when Rosemary comes over), as if they only occur in a weird dream-alternate reality. Strangely enough, that paranoid hallucination conspiracy angle was jettisoned for most of Rosemary's imitators, to be replaced by external signifiers like robes, horns, pentagrams, possession, smoke and mirrors and screaming naked virgins. The imitators got the surface iconography right but missed the paranoiac angle, 1974's The Exorcist included, and above all missed the idea that if devil worship seems evil, remember all things are relative, and the devil's minions have a long way to go before they equal anything close to the Spanish Inquisition. 

Polanski knew to never show such iconography or mindless externalized malice, and even the "this is really happening" dream sequence is kept surreal and strange. Polanski knew a Satanist with a gentle smile and a natty bow-tie and no real malice in his eyes could be far scarier than one that 'looked' scary, i.e. with a goat horn cowl and black cloak sacrificing virgins on an altar. We never allowed (never old enough?) to see Rosemary's unholy baby, or the molesting devil (a hand and yellow eyes aside); the old people chanting around her in the dream are naked, no robes, and no horns or forked tail (a motif repeated with the witches in Polanski's Macbeth) can compare in uncanny dead to the mystery and horror of the human reproductive system, or a flock of naked old folks standing around your bed while you're writhing in a drugged stupor.

If you know this blog you know I've had my own drugged demon visitations (see here) -- I believe the boundary line between the real and the vividly imagined is traversable in ways our minds as yet cannot consciously grasp, but who knows if certain ancient cults haven't figured out how to do just that, to creep in through the basement of our psyches?

For instance just last night on Late Night with Craig Ferguson he was talking with an author about how characters sometimes break away from you when you're writing them - they show up in places and do things you don't consciously expect as you're writing - as if they notice you writing about them; I had that happen to me writing my first novel wherein my character realizes some people he met the other night at a coke party are Yaqui crow trickster shamen, and right at that moment I could feel real Yaqui crow trickster shamen sensing me writing about them, and they began to begin to stir in their far-off nests, sending psychic representations forth through the gossamer tubeways of thought to climb out of the page to get me, like they could blind me or destroy me with their unified field of chant just as the coven had done to Tony Curtis in RB. 

But there's more to the story of Rosemary's Baby than just combined creative unconscious drives commingling to blind God long enough that a dream lover spawn might sneak across the uterine expanse of Mother Gaia unburnt-at-stake dimensional dividers (after all, souls of even non-devil babies have to come from somewhere)

It wasn't just Polanski's film and his wasn't the only life it allegedly destroyed. It had as a producer the legendary master of ballyhoo, William Castle, and by 1968 his gimmicks weren't cool anymore; he needed to go deep, as the Castavet cult does in the film, to stop with the cardboard horns and skeletons and go right for the unconscious, the power of paranoia. I'm not saying, mind you, that he made up a Macbeth-style curse hanging over the film's production, that his linking of strange on-set accidents and tragedies to the film's subject matter was straight up Castle ballyhoo in a new bottle. But if he did do that, then maybe the unconscious trickster shamen of alternate dimensions noticed him weaving a paranoid associative rumor nexus for Rosemary's ballyhoo and sent their Satanic kidney stone calling card across the gossamer web that connects myth, dream, mind, soul, and nerve endings... to 'help' as it were. We attribute a lot of recovered Satanic abuse memories to False Memory Syndrome today--but which came first? If a cult uses hypnosis to mask its presence in a victim's life, and then the memories are recovered via a clinical hypnotist later on, who's to say which is the cover memory, which is the reality?

David Parkinson writes about the hate mail Castle received for the film, the curses leveled at him, and how composer Krystof Komeda and Castle were both struck down with crippling, painful ailments shortly after the film premiered, and then the murder Polanski's real-life wife Sharon Tate (who co-starred in Eye of the Devil, see: The Blonde Devils of '66,) and the untimely womb ripping of their child; he omits the eerie similarity to the violation of Rosemary in the film and Polanski's own rape charges, to end with a link to John Lennon's death in 1980:
John Lennon had spent the spring of 1968 with Mia Farrow at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's ashram in India. During their stay, Lennon had written "Dear Prudence" for Farrow's sister (who shared a name with Sharon Tate's Yorkshire terrier) and it featured on The Beatles' White Album that November. Charles Manson claimed that the LP contained coded messages about the impending race war he hoped to provoke with the Cielo Drive slayings. Lennon himself met a violent end in December 1980 when he was gunned down in New York — outside the Dakota apartments." (more) 
For Polanski, a child survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, the coven aspect of Levin's novel surely tapped into the paranoia of his childhood hardship. Part of the Nazi's rationale for their homicidal anti-Semitism was that Jews were a mystical black magic Protocols of the Elders of Zion cabal, and just as educated women had to lay low for centuries lest they be burned at stake, so too this feeling of a secret conspiracy lingered in the Jewish intellectual community, creating separateness, enforced perhaps by Aryan rivals for Jewish business (or property disputes--as in Salem), or disgruntled employees getting passed over for promotion in favor of some kid fresh out of Yeshiva school, or ghettoization (as in Merchant of Venice), or your learning your Jewish fiancee was being pressured not to marry you by the mother of one of your Jewish friends. Which came first? The secrecy and elitism, or the goy intolerance? The shit goes way back, the sluggish slouching of Christianity from oppressed to oppressor, past Moses, past Asherah.... deeper... deeeper... getting... sleepy... sleepy....

This works on a macro level too: in America we can't imagine what it's like to be invaded, to have an openly evil and oppressive system turn human compassion and morality upside down, to obliterate all traces of rhyme and reason, to be persecuted for something we didn't even have a say in. But for Polanski this is a formative experience. He knows all we see and hear of 'reality' is only the tip of a black iceberg. Behind closed doors, who knows what monsters still dwell, working spells and deals to ensure they win all the marbles before the game is even started? If we knew those spells, wouldn't we use them, too? Didn't we, in a way, already? 

In the 1930s, America was the unquestioned benefactor of German intolerance, as all of Europe's intellectual Jews, gays, physicists, artists, and filmmakers fled to our shores, bringing their strange occult customs, their atomic bomb formulas and expressionistic lighting designs.

But after the war, America turned away from seances and toward atomic age anxiety, lots of giant bugs and rockets to the moon. The suburbs were born, a place where junior could play catch in the back yard and old people with rakes smiled from cross the street. Occasionally a dad could go insane (as in Nicolas Ray's Bigger than Life) or kids could grow up into spoiled brats (as in Douglas Sirk's All that Heaven Allows), but childbirth was holy and the country club was 'restricted.' Babies, housewives, and old people could never be, you know, evil. We'd taken steps to esnsure they weren't, steps so drastic as to nearly emulate the foreign intolerance we'd just destroyed.

A few exceptions came and went. There was The Bad Seed, and a spate of crazy old broad movies launched by the success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But Jane and Rhoda were psychotic, flash-frozen before their brains developed an empathetic response --we knew this from the get-go. But what about the sane, gentle sweethearts bringing you vitamin shakes to help your pregnancy, or the 'no arguments young lady' condescension of top shelf pediatricians played by stalwart salts like Ralph Bellamy as Dr. Sapirstein who tells Rosemary "And please don't read books. Don't listen to your friends either." Sapirstein could be espousing the Muslin fundamentalist sexist line, or America's before the dawn of the sixties. He might as well add "and please don't vote or wear slacks." Rosemary's only form of revolt against this trap is her short hair-cut, which to Guy is tantamount to her drawing on the wall in crayon, or otherwise defacing his property.

In conveying Rosemary's gradual awakening from compliance ("you're gonna think I really flipped,") Polanski exploits our willingness to grant power to unseen forces, and thus allows us to see the link between paranoia and pregnancy, and how the patriarchal condescension in the big city can completely dominate even a free spirited young woman from Iowa whose determination to be hip is both her saving grace and undoing. Taken in total, her story has devils of both the psychoanalytical interpretation variety (paranoia brought on by hormonal surges due to pregnancy) and the physical arrival, up from the subconscious realm, of a devil ("Hail Satan!"), in other words, Rosemary's Baby is the opposite of a film like Inception - which is a story about people invading other people's dreams. Baby is about a dream incarnated into living tissue.

When we sense something is being kept from us, whatever it is gains in power as our fears project onto it and projection is exactly how the coven operates: they chant together and use combined mind projection to astral travel along an associative nine-dimensional curve via an item belonging to the victim into that victim's nervous system. This is the same 'reality' that paranoid schizophrenics and remote viewing agents live in; it's an ocean wherein all dreamers are linked together, are as fish, surfers, sailors, drowners, whales, or dolphins, in a matrix of nonlocal consciousness. The Satanist sails on the surface (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a navy man, like Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control); the psychedelic shamans surf until they're wiped out; unconscious dreamers bob in the waves; and the schizophrenics drown. Rosemary's dream begins on the ship and winds up bobbing, then sinking, before clawing her way back to land (finding the secret passage between the apartments). In the end she joins with the cult because her maternal instinct is too strong to resist. "What have you done to its eyes?!" she asks, horrified. "He has his father's eyes," Castavet answers. And its the eyes of Guy's rival for his coveted part that are affected by the telepathic sabotage of the coven.

It's interesting to note that in both Rosemary and the Exorcist there is a mother alone with her child and an absentee father (since the devil only shows up in her vision), and a kindly old friend who dies in mysterious circumstances. The males are all either dysfunctional, absent, or very old and full of strange oaths and bearded like the bard. Is God Dead? so trumpets Time Magazine!

The last proper dad we see in the film, played by Maurice Evens, is the proper authority figure of the old school of monster movies, the enlightening scientist, or in the Hammer films, the merry fire-toasted Van Helsing type, outlying some grim history: "Adrian Marcata lived there, so did the Trent sisters." It turns out of course that Marcata / Mocata, it's all the same old man in the painting above the Castavet's mantle. The name Adrian Marcata should of course remind Hammer fans of The Devil Rides Out and its villain Bob Adrian Mocata, played by Charles Gray (below left), which came out the exact same year but, compared the resonant contemporary realism of Polanski's film, seems to be from a much earlier era. Even Rosemary's utterance "Hey, let's make love," while they're eating dinner on the floor in their empty apartment, is straight out of the 70s, while in Devil Christopher Lee is throwing magic beans at giant spiders.

Mocata, Marcata
The first time we see Roman Castavet AKA Steven Marcata, he's wearing a Satanic dark red velour shit that contrasts sharply (especially in the recent brilliant hi-def version) with the dark surroundings. The first time we see him he's off by himself, seated in a big chair far enough away from the couch whereon Rosemary, Guy, and Minnie are squeezed together to indicate his mastery over them, as if he's on stage, and just his talk about having been all around, every town on earth, makes him seem ageless, omnipresent; his ability to seem familiar with Guy's work is standard suggestive manipulation ala fortune tellers at the carnival.

The cynical self-serving unconscious bluster of Guy is apparently sensed by the Castavets, which is why he's brought in to their fold and not Rosemary. They sense in her a deep goodness that he--self serving prick that he is--lacks. When the news announces "Pope Paul VI arrived at 9:47 AM" - he excitedly shouts, "that's a great spot for my Yamaha commercial!" as if as a paltry actor he has some say in media buying. We later hear some of his true vitriol come out while he's rehearsing with his crutch, shouting the line "I'm in love with no one, especially not your goddamned fat wife!" as if anticipating Rosemary's swollen belly. He would almost be forgiven just because he's so bad at hiding things. Some actor, he can't even act the part of a concerned doting husband convincingly. It's a part that also shows Cassavettes' limits as an artist and actor: he was always better playing a charmless swine who genuinely thought we were all awed by his wormy charisma and Polanski nails all that down around Guy so all Cassavettes can do is squirm and pace the room and seem utterly confused by the fact that Rosemary's not charmed into submission by his patronizing grin.

Coming as it does so buried within the more 'normal' surfaces of Polanski's mise-en-scene, the lengthy dream sequence centerpiece to the film is a benchmark in how such sequences can enhance the story rather than diminish it. Most films' dream sequences are cop-outs, places to dump the sexy weird shots or artsy ideas that don't fit the story but which the producers want so they can use them in the poster and coming attractions. Only great surrealists like David Lynch or Luis Bunuel understand that dreams are the real part, it's life that's the artsy diversion. When Rosemary momentarily comes out of her trance to note that "this is really happening" it's terrifying because we can't really fathom which parts of what we see and hear are the dreams and which are reality. Polanski knows the power of the mind and the flexible nature of space and time and that in these areas lurk real horrors. The blue laser eyes and telekinetic devil children of later films are just the opposite, which is not necessarily bad. In externalizing and literalizing the threat, we can laugh at our own fears and so in some small way, allay them, But with no monster in sight, no matter how far we look, and no 'seen murders' (no blood), there's actually a crisper sense of dread in Rosemary. Of all the horror films of the last 20 years, only The Blair Witch Project has fully exploited this murky power. 

"This is no dream..." 

The conspiracy theories of authors like David Icke, re: the Illuminati and Zionist banking cabals, work on a similar level to these terrifying ambiguous dreams, all suffused with strange symbols and meanings that tend to make one slightly insane if they get too into it. Irregardless of its authenticity, the Illuminati-Zionist-Rothschild banking conspiracy is vibrant, fascinating myth, operating between truth and fiction, allowing us to see through reality until it dissolves into a a series of stages, mirror reflections, or stereograms. As Peter Tork once said: "the mind can't distinguish between the real and the vividly imagined." He said that in HEAD, also from 1968. And the reverse is also true - the mind cannot conceive of itself as an unfractured whole except through a projected hallucination, and what's the difference between a graphic artist working with a computer to create a hidden 3D pattern in a stereogram and a shaman chanting a spirit into existence? And this is the power and importance of ritual initiation ceremonies in indigenous tribes (and why Satanists and CIA brainwashers allegedly use inflicted trauma to create dissociative states and split personalities in their subjects). I myself noticed this with the one instance of prolonged unbearable pain in my life, which was when I dislocated my knee cap on the Bellevue dramatic therapy stage. The extreme sensory pain launched my perspective into a split distance, on the one side me in agony, screaming, on the other me standing slightly back, impassive, the white hot pain in a sense knocking me into both a contemplative serenity as if I'd left my body behind to sort itself out. The later shot of morphine at the hospital brought me deeper into that calm detachment, and I knew it was no coincidence I'd been conducting a group therapy AA meeting on the importance of telling doctors you're an addict so they don't give you opiates earlier that very day.

I didn't say a fucking word to that doctor, and when I heard the word morphine my blood surged in excitement. 

The breathing exercises of Lamaze also tap into this, as well as Stockholm syndrome: the agony of childbirth shifts the consciousness of a woman into that of a mother; the pain of ritual initiation-- torture for boys becoming men; menstruation for girls; hazing for frat guys; one's first beer funnel --it all coincides with the journey from mythic third eye visualization, 'the becoming', the five senses perceiving 'the becomed' sixth in a kind of recoil motion, vomiting the soul up into the mythic outsider "observer" position, the subject moving from being an honored child guest, kept out of the adult swim, to being initiated into a cosmic truth too ambivalent and full of surface hostility and danger (such as Christian persecution) for children and innocent Iowa girls to grasp unaccompanied.

Most devil movies end with the coven being swallowed up in flames (ala Suspiria, Inferno, The Devil's Rain, Ride with the Devil, etc.) which is why the burning church painting Rosemary finds when she finally breaks through the hidden door into the Castavet's apartment is so wry (and which she recognizes from when it was "really happening" below decks in her dream). There are no flames for the devils, the fiery climax is frozen in amber and it's the Christian church that burns down, but safely contained in an oil painting on the wall of the devil's domicile (top) or in the past, or in the collective subconscious (where Rosemary saw it). When Marcata declares that God is dead you feel that he just might be right, since He can hardly have been said to help the poor girl. At any rate, the party Rosemary bursts in on is, after all, hardly the typical cliched evil power mongers. They're eccentrics - they're funny - such as the miffed old lady trying to rock the cradle, and the weird guy from Japan. In finally solving the mystery, Rosemary doesn't trigger the usual inferno that burns down the devil's house in all the Corman Poe films, she just realizes God's church is already burned down, metaphysically, in reality, and in memory. Enlightenment isn't always a matter of restoring patriarchal supremacy, or conquering evil on behalf of good, it can also be about finally telling your husband to fuck off, and recognizing no amount of negativity has ever killed a devil yet. But slowly rocking it back to sleep, with a loving, forgiving gaze? Momma, that's murder. 

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