Cleansing the lens of cinematic perception... for a view so clear it would scare Dr. Xavier to blind himself

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, to pagans or just women in general, Christianity is as the KKK is to African-Americans, or Nazis to the Jews, Andrew Jackson to the Native American Nation, 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 raise her head like the Titanic and look around. Maybe in Polanski's film the real unease comes the super-paranoid feeling Asherah has been worshipped all the while, but we--her children--have been left out of some shared secret; Mrs. God has become a vengeful Medea and we may be the brood she bashes for revenge --and who can blame Her? This feeling of being excluded from knowledge of both a dark crime against our mother (the primal violation of Rosemary  reflection of the primal violation of Asherah by the Council of Nicea), and her plans for revenge, 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 slightly older kid. Back then, especially at night, we could sense evil around us, a tangible if non-corporeal presence, parents were our only protection. If they turned evil on us, we were doomed. And sometimes it felt like they would... and sometimes hypnotherapists would make even senators think they had. 

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, denied ownership of her own womb. We have to guess, just as she does, until the very end, where babies come from. As an extension of this, 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. This was almost a relief. Those films are for more fun than Polanski's. Those are the ones we return to again and again on Halloween. These 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. We're never allowed (not old enough?) to see Rosemary's unholy baby, or the rapist devil (a hand and yellow eyes aside); the old people chanting around her in the dream are naked, no robes (a motif repeated with the witches in Polanski's Macbeth); and no horns or forked tail 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. It's so creepy it's almost never been repeated in these imitations, yet it's all right there - no wardrobe budget needed.

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 and partially manifest?

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 shamans, and right at that moment I could feel real Yaqui crow trickster shamans 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. Were these the same shaman who guided Carlos Castaneda? That you only had to start writing about them and they'd flutter up through the interdimensional tubeways into your unconscious and take over the typewriter?

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. Rosemary 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 for a new signature gimmick, one for the turbulent times. He decided to do as the Castavet cult does in the film, to stop with the cardboard horns and skeletons, the axes and insurance politics, 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, if he started the rumor up, in the vein of Tut's tomb opening, then maybe the daemonic tricksters 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' Castle along, as it were, a king of tacky pun-style joke of the sort devils and witches love (i.e. his name is Castle, let's make stones materialize in his urinary tract).

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.... in the end we're back at Cain and Abel, the molten core of every thrown rock.

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 sit, 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? If we forgot, was it even us?

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 and cheered the space race. 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 ensure they weren't, steps so drastic as to nearly emulate the foreign intolerance we'd just destroyed, or at least replaced.

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 at childhood, before their brains developed the foundations of the 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 for the love of Mike, don't vote or wear slacks." Rosemary's only form of revolt against this trap is her short hair-cut, an expensive 'very chic' affront, which to Guy is tantamount to her drawing on the wall in crayon, defacing his property. As she's getting dangerously thin, pale, and pain-wracked, the effect of the short hair is to evoke the camps all over again... even right there on the UWS, the camps exist. 


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!")--the womb as interdimensional gateway, the airport with connecting flights from Hell on the wings of combined chanting and herb-spiked dreams. 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, like fish, surfers, sailors, drowners, whales, or dolphins, in an oceanic matrix of nonlocal consciousness. The Satanist sails on the surface (hence Rosemary's dream of being on a boat and seduced by a Naval officer, like Nicole Kidman's fantasy in Eyes Wide Shut - see Make-Up Your Mind Control); the psychedelic shamans surf until they're wiped out (whoa bro, you rode that wave!); 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. The secret passage behind the cupboard at the end of the hall is like a mirror of the interdimensional womb/chanting gateway by which the horny devil entered the boudoir. "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. The oceanic matrix connects all parts of all things. They should name the child after the blinded rival actor, and close the circuit.


It's interesting to note that in both Rosemary and the Exorcist there is a mother alone with her child and an absentee father (allowing room for a 'new' one), 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 backstory exposition scientist, 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. Yet the two evil patriarchs are as alike as two sister craft. Are they the same man? Or are they twins, only one of which is smart enough to keep ixnay on the orns-hay and obe-ray irgin-vay acrifces-say. 
Mocata, Marcata
The first time we see Roman Castavet AKA Steven Marcata, he is 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 (even as its folded into his folksy homilies) 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 into their fold and not Rosemary. They sense in her a deep goodness that he--self serving prick that he is--lacks. What she is, on the other hand, is naive and easily smitten - the common thread associated with 'goodness' as mere lack of experience (otherwise she'd know him for the prick he is) 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. So bad at hiding things, and such a weak actor he can't even commit to the part of the concerned doting husband. It's a part that also shows Cassavettes' limits as an artist and actor which fits the character he plays and which would typecast him for decades: the charmlessly charming swine who genuinely thinks we were all awed by his wormy charisma. 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. This is a kind of evil we're familiar with, for it stems from vanity, like the fallout of getting by on your charisma for so long you're no longer able to function like normal people, when your looks fade, you find yourself without the one thing that masked your inability to function in society from the society itself. Such a person is so ripe for Satan's book it's hardly new to imagine Satan helped make him attractive to begin with. 

But that kind of paranoia leads to madness. As we let ourselves get obsessive over the obscure elements of the film, it begins to take its place in the 'evidence' of a global Satanic conspiracy (for realsies). Take the central dream/rape sequence, a benchmark in how surreal dream sequences can enhance reality 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 mirage. When Rosemary momentarily comes out of her trance to note that "this is really happening" it's terrifying in a way no film has been before or since, because suddenly 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 materializing the threat, we can laugh at our own fears and so in some small way, allay them (i.e the smiling black man with the yellow eyes in The Devil Rides Out)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 same murky power. 

"death 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. Irregardless of its authenticity, the Illuminati-Zionist-Rothschild-Bildenberg 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 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? Nada.

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 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 therein. When Marcata declares that God is dead you feel that he just might be right. At any rate, now that they're in charge, he advises them to accept Rosemary's belief (her "oh my god" outburst) in order to not become as barbaric as the Christians before them. 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, of merging into the unconscious realm the way her baby has broken through into consciousness, 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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