Thursday, September 07, 2023

Sex Negative: Lucio Fulci's THE DEVIL'S HONEY (1986)

 "Sex is nostalgia for when you used to want it... Sex is nostalgia for sex." - Andy Warhol 

“The male has to will his sexual authority before the woman, who is a shadow of his mother and of all women. Failure and humiliation constantly wait in the wings. No woman has to prove herself a woman in the grim way a man has to prove himself a man. He must perform, or the show does not go on. Social convention is irrelevant. A flop is a flop.”  -- Camille Paglia, Sexual Personae

"War does something to a man, (it) takes away the gloss." - (film-within-film dialogue overheard while a sadistic sax player shocks his girlfriend by getting fellatio from his fey music producer in a Venice Cinema)- The Devil's Honey 

Can only an emotion as strong as grief wake you up to the emptiness of a love based on debasement and humiliation---even if that sex is super hot (and takes away your usual baseline suicidal ideation), in the way only sex with a crazy sadistic-abusive super freak can be?  Lucio Fulci knows. And he's using a distributor's brief to deliver another 9 1/2 Weeks (a big-ass hit in Europe) to answer the kind of tough questions9 1/2 director Adrian Lyne would pee himself in fear if you ever asked him. In short, if 9 1/2 Weeks is a naughty couples-only dip into Sandal's 'bondage night' (safe word posted on the wall in case you forget), Fulci's The Devil's Honey is a hard pistol butt thwacked in your face, followed by a little waterboarding in the romantic beach side surf. And not a lifeguard or a safe word for 5 kilometers in any direction. 

Don't say 'it's just sex' like you'd say "it's just leprosy.' Sex is serious. 

Our sex drive, it seems is itself a crazy sadistic-abusive super freak, demanding ever greater risks of safety, self-esteem and sanity just to get the same old rocks off. Safe words kill the fantasy as sure as condoms kill our 'sweet sensations.' With the intrusion of 'sanity', it's just play-acting.  like sooner or later an opiate addict needs too much for his body to handle, stranding him on the shrinking sandbar between the overdose abyss and the encroaching tide of withdrawal, so too the sex addict thrill seeker has to resort to Hellraiser- style "Jesus Wept"-style agonies for the same old kicks. Our common sense kicking and scream to be let off the ride, even as our subconscious paralyzes us with aroused excitement with every clank up the ramp. The alternative in each case is the hell of boredom, of safe healthy relationships and responsible bed times, wherein every life-affirming smile of your boring ass spouse, their big box of prophylactics and safe word rolodex ever at the ready, makes me want to rip your own genitals out and nail them to the front door.  

But wait, is that danger seeker even really us, or have we been taken advantage of by some sadistic lover who allies with our unconscious sex/death drive against our ego's judgement? On some level we know a lot of this abuse is all being done to please us. We forget how quickly our comfort zones shrink to noose size if left unassailed. And so we learn to hitch ourselves to loose canons, only to then complain when they roll all over our decks, crashing into mizzenmasts and crushing our toes? 

In other words, is it still rape if you call them for another date the next night? That question has been legally answered since the 80s, thank god, but there's a whole other line of moral questioning, posed only in brave films like Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant, Duke of Burgundy, Belle du Jour and The Devil is a Woman -- films which carry a lot of Criterion cred, that go all the way around to the back door of the same thorny issue, and are all considered art. But add a Lucio Fulci film like The Devil's Honey to their midst and those film snobs start sneakin' away, quietly striking your name from their bourgeois opening invite lists. AND I'M FINE WITH THAT! You can take those lists and stick 'em in your undiscovered country. 

Yes Honey, like much of Fulci's work, is too tawdry to the bourgeois types to give the same leeway they give to Bunuel or Fassbinder. And yes, it's a film where a saxophone solo is blown between a sexually supercharged girl's naked thighs in a red sound booth while his producer and engineer are out having lunch. And yes it's guilty of things that were having a last gasp back in the mid-80s, when every European filmmaker was chasing the elusive butterfly of 60 Shades of Grey, 9 1/2 Week$ but it's Fulci, not some perfume ad-music video hack. His genius stretches deep no matter what the assignment. He started out in dated sex comedies of the sort America has been largely spared (it has plenty of its own). And I think after cranking them out for the first Promise them Fatal Attraction, give them Guantanomo Beach. 

If Bunuel or Von Sternberg were around today, would they know what to do without the heavy breathing hypocrisy of the censors lending their every cryptic gesture a portent at once sophomoric and heroic? When forced to bury sex under mountains of respectability, that you get sex through somehow anyway is heroic, the way drinking during prohibition was considered patriotic by many of the writing class ('hic') I have the same problem now with marijuana, when you could go to jail for having a single joint, being part of the in-crowd carried outlaw cachet. Now, you're just another consumer, so who cares? A Fulci special isn't going to shock with sex when sex isn't shocking. He's too 'gone' for that- he'd rather bypass sex altogether, to get at the ugly truths not of love but of 'what it takes to keep your partner's interest, and your own' - the sex drive is, as Camille Paglia point out, very un-PC. Nature observes no moral code aside from might makes right, it's the whole reptilian cortex kind of shit, domination and sublimation. The only way out is through awareness, real Lacanian confrontation with the hideous staring eye at the center of horror of raw, undiluted existence, where Kali rips heads off of soldiers with one set of arms, and screaming babies out of bloody wombs with the others. So. much screaming and yelling - the only way to drown it out is to scream yourself. Fucli says, hey - go ahead. 

Because you see, gore and eyeball mutilation are the specialty of la Casa Fulci. Sex is something for Jess Franco or Jean Rollin, or even Joe D'Amato. Fulci wants no part of it. You can call some of his films misogynist, but he never fetshizes female suffering or the female body (beautiful faces and hair, yes, shapely figures, no) he presumes instead upon a Carol Clover kind of "Her Body Himself" projection.  There's no objectification of the female form with Fulci since in nightmare logic there can. be no 'satisfaction' or cuddling. Lust is a prison where the only release from your cell is enough gratification to stop the biological belittling for a little while, it buys you some time, like a $10 tray that at least takes your gorilla jones away, to paraphrase Girl Scout Heroin Gil Scott-Heron It's sex as a hungry ghost pining for the time before it mattered. 

For Fulci it's all just a dead end to the path of the 'stare' - not the 'gaze' but the 'stare' back at the gazer. Someone like De Palma emulates Hitchcock but Fulci 'one ups' that kind of scopophilia by emulating Dali instead - i.e. going right for the eye. Like Oedipus, Fulci knows that that the smallest of return stares can snowball into the murder of children (Don't Torture the Duckling) or lesbian neighbors (Lizard in a Woman's Skin). So the safe move for all humanity is if we just gouge those offenders out right now. Ah, but what movie do you see when that cloud editor's knife ravages your one good moon like a Melies rocket? You already know the answer. 

Fulci makes movies for the post-envisioned, forging a detour through the dream pineal pipeline, the dreamer's magic box, wherein we can behold our own blindness with rueful amusement, fully aware of the paradox but just not giving a shit. 


For someone like Hitchcock, the handcuffs and short leash of censorship and his own Catholic guilt, keep him 'peeping' through keyholes to the end. For him and his disciples, Catholic repression is the ultimate aphrodesiac.  Hitch could funnel acres of sex into a single drag on a cigarette. With Fulci, the funnel spills out on the ground, the soggy cigarette explodes and the smoker vomiting ever last acre of sex back up and all over the floor. For Fulci, if a naked woman is presented for our gaze it's scary because she's looking back at us--to use Rear Window parlance, it's as if "Ms. Torso" suddenly whirls around and stares back up through Scotty's zoom lens in a way that would make Lars Thorwald pee his big boy pants. 

(1986) Dir. Lucio Fulci
"There isn't any reason, and I wouldn't want you to go around thinking that there was." - Ned Beaumont to the DA, The Glass Key (Dashiell Hammett)

In the sordid psycho-sexual chamber piece that is The Devil's Honey, the two male characters in the film straddle the disinterested whore of time, as if two aspects of the same man - one the tired, middle-aged male surgeon (Brett Halsey) with the stricken look of men my age when we finally see what lies at the bottom of the hill we're finally over (and we realize the car we're locked in has no brakes, or reverse, or door, or seatbelt, or steering wheel), and the younger, sadistic adrenaline junky colossus of the lite jazz saxophone scene who flies into a rage if his girlfriend ever wants to cuddle. In other words, he's on the upside of the hill, where the top is all he can see. He considers himself immortal, a god. Sex has made him into an ogre, the sadist, but is he like that because he 'gets' his girlfriend, knows how she sexually responds to being a 'piece of meat' to him?  

On the other side there's no doubt the burnt-out (Fulci-stand in?) surgeon played almost too well by Halsey, is trying to treat his hooker like a piece of meat (1t) , or at any rate she treats him like a temporary annoyance that's over before she can figure out if she even likes it, peeling her still-warm chewing gum off the mirror on her way out - no sense wasting it, and he treats her roughly the way a crippled kitten might play at being a lion for a few seconds before shrinking back into a world of consumptive coughing. His wife meanwhile longs for some sexual contact, wishing he'd man up. She's forced to say embarrassing things like: "Treat me like a whore," and, after she leaves him: "There's no use coming back unless you take me to bed," He'd rather mope, and never thinks to take his phone off the hook long enough to get her where she needs to be. 

Though he's extra stricken by her departure, he's stricken like Florence Pugh's boyfriend in Midsommar, cowed by some ego ideal he feels he needs to embody even while every fibre of his being is struggling to rid himself of her.  After she leaves and Halsey's eyes say it all - he'd rather be abducted and brutalized by an unhinged hottie than deal with Corinne Clery and her big haunted pleading eyes. Needless to say, he never goes home after this, 

Fans of YOR! (and who isn't?) know exactly how this feels; Clery does the insecure possessive clinging GF almost too well. She's got all the goods in all the right areas, but there's something about her that makes you want to chew off your own arm rather than wake her up and there's no clear reason why other than her neediness. Halsey is maybe a little too adept at seeming world weary and flaccid to the point we viewers long for his delivery from feeling obligated to feel bad about her wanting out.  Nothing is more tiresome in a movie than a character halfheartedly trying to stop a girl from leaving him that you feel deep down he wants her gone too, but can't admit it, because he's told himself he's not that kind of a guy. We saw this most recently in Midsommar, but it goes back to the start of Antonioni's L'Eclisse (1961) where we watch the morning after some apparent all-night breakup, as some lame dude lopes miserably after Monica Vitti, until we finally rejoice when she closes the gate on him.  Antonioni knows we hate this guy on principle, just like we hate the guy in Midsommar, that he drags us through it all anyway shows us that, like Fucli, he's a sadist in ways not quite associated with pain or mastery. 

Above all he plays against expectations, and every camera move or line is 'off' in a telling way. There's the absurd idea that there could ever be a lite-jazz sax player with a groupie (in the US especially). Eve  shot of Jessica walking outside, mourning him by wearing his sweater, seems unreal. A long tracking shot as she glides down a line of white fencing on her way to the doctor's car, in the rain, is given a surreal gleam, as we seem to be gliding along after her. And when she pulls out a knife to threaten our abducted doctor - the music doesn't get predictably ominous but surges into big guitar stings and jangly 80s air rock.

The Opposites Subtract Effect

It would be nice if we saw any change in Halsey's tired demeanor after this drastic turn of events. But aside from the dog scaring him so much he pees his pants, or when he watches her smash up his car with a hatchet, there's not much he offers in the way of reaction-- his eyes have that stricken sad guy look, the kind of mid-age crisis where you're over and start going down the hill - and see the spikes at the end, and there's no brakes or steering wheel, no way to unfasten your safety belt. All you can do is stare in that stricken way - and let it come. 

I tell you what though, Blanca Marsillach is rather amazing as Jessica. Singing and laughing to herself, eyes wide, staring - staring at him saying "Why did you let him die?" over and over, smiling gleefully - laughing ("so the great surgeon has peed in his pants."), Marsillach, you're one for the ages!!

"I can look straight into your eyes," she says 

As she walks around the beach house, moments from her past with Johnny seem to be happening at the same time. He seems always around the corner, coming down the stairs or out from the beach; the only difference is in lighting filters. When he says "You know I always come back," we wonder if he's a ghost, until he says "I can't live without you." Dude, I wouldn't worry.

Unless we've seen some Argento movies we may find it strange she's made so violent by the death of the man who treated he so meanly. But we who've seen The Stendahl Syndrome, Bird with the Crystal Plumage, etc., we know better. We also may know if we found ourselves adopting some of our ex-lover's habits after we separate from them, drinking their brand of whiskey, etc. We unconsciously move our habits around to accommodate for the sudden absence. Here it's forcing the doctor to eat dog food. Forcing him to operate on a doll she got from Johnny that he later broke in a violent rage. ("I love you I love you. Can't you say anything else?" he shouts, as if her string is broken). Eventually her memories stray from the house into Venice, made Don't Look Now uncanny, with Fulci once again making things super weird without half trying, through the simplest of close-ups - such as the sudden appearance of a smiling Nicky.  

I won't spoil the end. But of course they are in a Venice cinema, with a movie in English playing (we never see it only hear its stilted "WW1 vet coming home to find wife with another man' kind of British drawing room drama. 

As someone who's suffered from depression all my life, in one way or another, and had a lot of bad psychedelic trips as well as good ones, I can vouch that nothing snaps you out of a funk and into the moment like pain and fear. Thus masochism is often a remedy for depression, and the pain of one thing can be transmuted to ease the pain of the other, a kind of focusing/exorcism. And no pain is worse than severe depression --cutting, etc. is a relief. And if all it takes to forget your marital and malpractice troubles is to suffer a massive head wound, or wake up in some strange house with a naked psycho hottie named Jessica giving you the full Guantanamo, then hey where do I sign? 

And if you're Jessica, suffering to the point of madness because your now dead thrill-seeking dom boyfriend kept you constantly in that state of the "now" through abuse alternating with love and affection (like how Fulci treats the viewer), how natural it would be to spread the love/anti-love by subjecting the doctor--whose depression indirectly killed the man who was killing her depression (because the doctor was failing to cure his wife's depression he couldn't concentrate)--to an even more violent and domineering extended session of abuse. 

Is this Fulci's way of looking for some kind oar artistic underpinning to his life's work, as if his art itself is waking up to the abusivness of its 'total' self? A kind of apology by way of Italian art as espoused by Camille Paglia.

By the end, the meat treating will be almost completely purged from both grieving objectified girlfriend (sifting through her memories of his behavior and gradually realizing which came first, the chicken d'Sade or l'ouvo de Masoch) and the ennui-crippled midlife crisis special called Halsey-- whose wife shouted she'd rather he let his patient die in the OR than miss date night (in the end he does both)--will find himself still caught in his premature ejaculation problem (never mentioned but c'mon- you can count the amount of thrusts he gets --pants still on--with one hand, so to speak --at his age there's no excuse for that) but maybe at last - he'll have some idea how to enjoy sex without all the sub/dom booolshit..


That's really the point though of Fulci's feminine orgasm, perhaps and a sick kind of capstone. The outrage, the onus is on the woman and the complex web of her attraction and repulsion to the constant forcing of anal sex, thrusting at her from behind while she fumes and fusses as if always ready to try and surrender ("no, please, it hurts!") but determined to resist and fume. The idea of whether a masochistic part of her responds - they really need a safe word, but what are you going to do?-- feeds into the eroticism is, in Fulci's clever handling, always open to interpretation (does even he know?) Either way you can tell this lite jazz colossus doesn't really give a shit about her orgasms. He can't afford to, if he's to keep 'em coming. What a delicate dance, if that's what it is. 

And maybe it is, since the moment he's not pushing or pulling, she sulks. She sulks if he abuses her and she sulks if he doesn't.  She's sulking even on the ferris wheel. When he tries to be nice she pouts and fumes, angry that she had to leave him even just so he could finish recording his album, so desperate for him she hurls herself against the soundproof glass of the recording studio as if his horn's magnetic pull overpowers her, crotch first. And yet, if he does anything to please her, she'll lose all interest, like the secretary in Fassbinder's Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant. Without the cycle of anger/abuse/make-up sex (and as Camille Paglia always points out, that's why abused women often stay -- after he's all contrite and sweet later one, the make-up sex-- sharpened by all that fear and dopamine)-is almost worth it (ala the "Stella! Stella!" sequence in Streetcar).

By the end, the cycle of abuse will be almost completely purged from both grieving objectified girlfriend (sifting through her memories of his behavior and gradually realizing which came first, the chicken al l'abuse or l'ouvo de Masoch) and Halsey's ennui-crippled midlife crisis special. As if any doubt is still in your mind, when his needy wife shouted she'd rather he let his patient die in the OR than him miss date night (in the end he does both) she loses all sympathy (get that lady a pool so she can have a pool boy, bro). Free of both of their misguided guilt (Halsey's real guilt comes from refusing to admit every fibre of his being is screaming to escape Clery's claws; and Johnny's girl's guilt over accidentally killing her animus projection before any closure can be attained), maybe they stay together out of a kind of shared post-traumatic paralysis. Maybe they've burned out each other's mopes, both realized they don't even really want the heavy trip of their previous love's insecure brutality. If abuse overrides depression, then maybe exhausted release of past self-perceptions overrides the need for any kind of resistance to the initial depression in the first place. Few negative emotions live for long when you no longer fight them. 

And yet, our poor doctor will still find himself still caught in his premature ejaculation problem (it's never mentioned but c'mon) and at his age there's no excuse for that. Physician, heal thyself (you know what I mean).

Monday, August 21, 2023

It's Jory Time!

Confession: I'm a late-blooming Joryhead, what the kids all call a "Joryphile," or a Jory Doodie, or a Jory Rider. A lot of film snobs won't even know who I'm talking about, but they'll notice him every time, but then not think about him. He just does his job, so the character gets the credit, not him. Taking over scenes with an effortless depth of delightful evil, he can radiate a sullen abrasiveness but his irrepressible intelligence crackles like electricity out of his occasionally crazy blacker-than-black eyes. That deep melodic nicotine voice, totem pole posture and vulture nosed visage made for a perfect Lamont Cranston/Shadow (in the 1941 serial --easily the best of all adaptations, which isn't saying much, alas). He could bring dripping racist venom to a Tara overseer in Gone With the Wind, or do a crippled bitterly racist Tennessee Williams' cuckold as easily as he could radiate stoic steady-burn decency as a half-breed fisherman getting the Bellamy treatment by a flinty little grifter who barely comes up to his belt buckle. He could bring baritone ethereal majesty to a night-tripping fairy king with head-to-toe black glitter glam, rocking stag horns and black lipstick like he was to mid-70s androgynous alien glam rock spectacle manor born. And when times were tough, he could bring aggro peevishness as a petty cash astronaut whose idea of battling cat women on the moon is to sulk in a corner and then pitch furious woo to his 'by the book' commander's girlfriend! What a range! 

In real life, he was born way up there in the frozen Yukon at the start of the century, this Coast Guard boxing league champ, this trodder of the Broadway boards, this "A-list Charles Middleton", this king of men. The glint of a keen madness sparked often in his jet black eyes, making them hypnotic and full of delightfully macabre implication. His aquiline nose evoked a totem pole hawk that was coming alive at the sight of a passing muskrat. Unpredictable, never quite over the top, but ever perched there, he made even ludicrous characters seem grounded and grave, all while goosing the movie ever forward with that smoldering smokestack engine of a voice. Imagine him as Rasputin, Ming the Merciless, or Abe Lincoln, or anything calling for a tall, dark and strange characrter, Jory would crush them all, and have some left over for Dracula, Dr. Frankenstein his monster, and Prospero of The Tempest OR Caliban

That's Victor Jory, honey! His birthday is August 15, 1945, so we just missed it. But to make it up to his deserving legacy, let us make every day a VJ day. And demand TCM honor him with a Summer Under the Star retrospective!!

1. Oberon - Midsummer Night's Dream


I love about 4/5 of this film to pieces, and 1/2 of it unto death and another 1/4 of it is just painful. I refer to Weimar expat Max Reinhardt's wild imagining of the enchanted, fairy-filled night and the truly wondrous and archetypically resonant performances and costumery of Jory's Oberon and Anita Louise's Titania. My feminine unconscious/anima has chosen her for its projection (it used to be a girl on a Virginia Slims billboard in Seattle, so she's moving up in the world) and when I need solace or to commune or to ask her to stop tormenting me, or just need to see her, I pop in the Midsummer. Her voice is way too high and shrill, almost causing microphone hiss in its high register, but she looks marvelous, and the unconscious is nothing if not images (sound a distant second) and one has to suffer to be with the anima. That's why there's Mickey Rooney as Puck.

That's the thing about the movie. You can tell this was a stage show and--sometimes an issue when a play is put on film--by the way the actors project way too loudly and intensely, as if forgetting they're in a film and not still roaring to be heard way out in the far tree-lined picnic areas of the Hollywood Bowl. Mickey Rooney's Puck for example is so over the top you can't help wondering if you should call an EMT as someone spiked his water dish with enough amphetamine to kill three ordinary children. and the braying hamminess of Cagney seem imported wholesale from the stage (he makes it work though, cuz he's goddamned James Cagney and his character (Bottom) is supposed to be bursting with good working class scamp cheer. And then when he's all ass-headed and in Louise's enchanted lap he reins it in, making a fine contrast- as if being an ass (he's not called Bottom for nothing) humanizes him, delightfully introducing himself to Titania's armada of little people fairies.. But then there's the constant tittering of Herbert over everything anyone says at rehearsal, as if words themselves were inherently naughty.. I'm okay with the rest of the laborer team, even Joe E. Brown as Flute, the Bellows Mender, is all right with me. 

But Jory doesn't have to strain or pierce or bray -- that booming voice comes with its own echo chamber, from deep in the vast  caverns where the titans wait, chained, for their chance to rise from the volcanoes of the world--that's where Oberon's voice picks up its timbre.  My favorite moment is when he's just standing and leaning back on his horse, the changeling by his side, his huge black cap trailing out behind him as the curtain of night over the slow procession of his daimonic bald dancers and their amours, a curtain protecting them from the first pink lip of the dawn, all of them stately and walking riding towards the camera, Erich Korngold letting rip every ephemeral nuance of that gorgeous Mendelssohn music, Jory somehow manages to access some deep reserve of godliness for this sequence that's truly otherworldly. Holding that pose, staring of into, past and through the camera, his face alight with full awareness of that sweet sadness that always comes at the end of one of those perfect, magic nights. That's why it's so important he shows back up with Titania at the very end. Last night's magic won't come again, but why mourn when we can just fly ahead of the dateline and stay in night forever?

God knows I tried, Oberon. God knows I tried. (see also The Hold Steady's "First Night")

2. Kip - Cat Women of the Moon 

We're in a rocket that looks like a garden shack cum amateur radio operator's man cave, replete with several hammocks, set up for his buddies. The crew seems culled together from a neighborhood personal ad: Doug, a callow radio operator; Walt (Douglas Fowley), the capitalist hustler engineer, whose every line of dialogue is related to monetization (he's thinking of bottling moon mist, plugging motor oil on spec, stamping letters from the moon--he's out of control!); there's a woman navigator, Helen (saucer eyed Marie Windsor), and clo-pilot Kip (our boy of the moment, VJ); Laird (Sunny Tufts) is their cranky commander, and he's Helen's boyfriend; and--sulking peevishly for one reason or the other, Kip can't help but go for her in a big way, passive-aggressively one-upping the commander every step of the way.  Questioning his orders, refusing to leave his .45 automatic in the ship, sneering at Laird's weak assertion that everything be done "by the book" and coming onto Helen every chance he gets, Kip is kind of a jerk but he's our hero, and Tufts--a drunken 'star by wartime default' he seems tailor-made for dupe status, even before he started to pass out on sidewalks and bite ladies on the thigh, and be really excoriated by the Medveds in the needlessly snide but undeniably influential Golden Turkey Awards.

Yes, yes it's CAT WOMEN OF THE MOON: a movie too cheap to wake up to its own absurdity, which is why it rules the outlier places wherein self-conscious camp imitations like Queen of Outer Space can't even get past the doorman. Though it casts a soothing spell, the occasional presence of a giant horned spider on strings pops up to wake you if you fall asleep. You could laugh at the spider's strings, but why? As Louise Bourgeois proved, big spiders is ART. Sure it's shitty, but there's something poetic too, something that comes from some cavern of unconsciousness far deeper than even your wildest dreams can reach, aided no end by the moody music of a then-just-starting-out Elmer Bernstein. 

Yeah, it's all about Jory here, like it was in Midsummer. He can be just a supporting player but--like any one of us--his characters act like it's their movie regardless. Note: this is not the same as hamming. Someone like Mickey Rooney or Jerry Lewis try to steal their scenes, radiating the kind of neediness that can't stand to see anyone else getting applause, but Jory just inhabits his character to the point that character just becomes interesting, even if the character is just sulking in a corner.Very few people live their lives like they're supporting players. It's their life after all, and that what Jory does--his Kip is so beside himself with love over Marie Windsor he reacts with the news the cat women are out to kill them like a sarcastic school boy. Then he remembers that literally twisting her arm breaks the cat women's spell sos she finally tells the truth! "Don't let go, Kip!" Once again macho domination breaks the sisterhood qua-lesbian spell (I can only imagine the excited spit-takes if this film is ever shown in a feminist film studies class).

Hilariously, one truth he gets out of her is more important (to him) than any news about Alpha's (Carol Brewster) grand plan to kill them all: whom does she really love? It's you, Kip! Then he uses the opportunity to make out with Helen passionately, right in front of Laird, even as the cat women are making their move--as if determined to make Laird's humiliation complete. It's so unimportant to him by then he kills them all offscreen and just shouts earth's victory from off camera. Oh that Kip! 

3. Jabe - The Fugitive Kind

As the racist morphine addict bedridden husband of Anna Magnani in The Fugitive Kind, Jory overflows the banks of bitter redneck opiate-addicted patriarch cliche and steals the picture right out from under Brando's reshaped nose. He even steals the film from Joanne Woodward, the sole source of light in the whole place, as a drunken libertine (i.e. town tramp). She's great but stays within the limited borders of her stock character (she tries to save him by leaving with him, but he only pats her head and smiles). But Jory's invalid junky husband Jabe is alive. Sweating and speaking very slowly, and deeply, with coded-homophobic (kinda) slow burn rage, he's more of a man than anyone else in the film, and that goes double for Brando's pontificating coded-bi/gay Christ figure, moving heedlessly towards his crucifixion with a warm resigned smile. Even fans of Williams, such as myself, may roll our eyes at all this, but Jory takes what could easily have been an over the top performance of spiteful venomous drug-fueled malice and turns him into a human cobra. 

As far as vivid Tennessee Williams adaptions go, this is strictly bottom of the shelf as far as clearly was written when he was much younger, and more flowery and poesy-prone (ala Glass Menagerie) and Lumet foolishly tries to have it both ways, both nitty gritty and waxy poetic, but he can't find the through line. He's too much of a city boy to depict southern hostility with any measure of complexity. Sydney, you best stay in the city until you're ready to bring a Philadelphia cop back down there to straighten things out, rather than leaving all these ladies (including a hypnotized Maureen Stapleton) trapped in the orbit of Brando's Christ on a Quaalude (he's name is.... Valentine) and Lumet's NYC actor's studio rage against the Jim Crow/homophobic goof ole boy machine. What a shock you'd take offense at them, Sydney! 

Thing is, a guy as gorgeous as Brando is here-all a shimmer in Boris Kaufman's black-and-white photography--should be New York or San Francisco, or at least New Orleans where he can find what a local magistrate calls"mixed" parties, why he decides to linger in the podunk town when he's able to leave, is a total mystery. Unless he's got a masochistic yen for tree branch noose-a-fixion, to coin a phrase it's a big leap to think he's staying around for Magnani's ever-unsmiling general store owner, who married one of the pricks who destroyed her life, ala Lady Anne, Duchess of York, or Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. But hey, say what you will, Jabe is a man. And like the other film in this post, Jory has that rare ability to make you feel like his character exists prior to his scenes, like he's been talking and setting shit up while you've been downstairs, following handsome Brando acting all far away but transfixed by Magnani's weirdly sexy frumpery. 

Good thing Jory is there. His Jabe may be a sweaty junky monster but he's still the only one cool enough to chopper out of Lumet's self-righteous hick inferno when the time comes. In the meantime, excuse him if he upstages Brando and Magnani even from upstairs and off-camera. Seething a fine gothic menace, he  runs refreshingly against the grain of the typical 'jealous cracker going loco' stock Karl Malden ushers into Baby Doll, and/or Ed Begley's hypocritical air-hog blustering name in Sweet Bird of Youth. Jabe is not a cypher or a type, Jory croaks him into real life, a man tortured by jealousy and the constant flow of misery tempered by narco-bliss that is drug high / opiate withdrawal cycle that his whole soul is warped by the poison. (more: Tennesse Williams at the Mill of Rubes)

4. Nick: He Was Her Man

Jimmy Cagney and Joan Blondell do their Warner Brothers grifter schtick in this half-good WB drama. It's pretty familiar stuff: hustling and flowing from the Turkish baths of NYC, to the running afoul of mobsters in Chicago, to hiding out on the shores of Marina Del Rey, to the seeking safe harbor in a small Portuguese immigrant fishing community (the kind of Podunk town that "showgirls" go for their second chances in countless Warner commodities). One wonders what the censors had to do with Blondell turning respectable to marry some terminally decent, slow-witted townie (see also: Tiger Shark, Anna Christie, The Wedding Night, and The Purchase Price, to name merely a few) whose lunkheadedness is almost like one last dig at the sanctity of--as Blondell's heart-of-gold whore puts i--"good honest decent hardworking people, which you wouldn't know anything about, Dick Jordan!" 

Eventually screwball comedies would poke fun at this kind of thing, using the censor's own dopey creed against him, but for now, with the Breen office settling in to ruin movies for everyone but the kind of stern frowning women who run Dallas out of town at the start of Stagecoach, the good honest guy gets the girl. She's reformed, Dick Jordan!

Believe it or not, the big surprise here is Victor Jory as the chump. With his deep voice, looming height, the stoic poise of a stock company Sitting Bull, and gravitas that belies his then-lean years, he might have a bizarre accent and mangled fisherman syntax, and Cagney might talk faster and hustle more but Jory's tortoise wins the race, legitimately, and we don't roll our eyes the way we would at Ralph Bellamy in years to come. While such a result certainly pleased the censors (then looming ever closer), the film's subtext never sides with the forces of small town decency: the sanctity of marriage may prevail, but as Cagney walks off into the sunset, arm-in-arm with his killers, it's him we follow, even if that means going straight over the cliff to the briny marina credit depths. 

And that's the Jory! 

Til next time, Jory-heads, keep the Jory in! 

Thursday, May 25, 2023

All-Seeing Blindness: THE BIRDS' Omniscient POV and the Oedipal "Gaze"

Today we're using a single shot in Hitchcock's 1963 classic THE BIRDS as a jumping off point for a fusion of Freud, Jung, Paglia, Wood, and Zizek that will catch HALLOWEEN, FORBIDDEN PLANET,  PSYCHO, even SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER in its devouring maternal phallus beak / knife / impossible tree sloth claw maw. Have you done your homework and seen all five? More than once? 

Good, then together we will FIGURE out the connection between the weird domestic drama and the bird attacks. Turns out, it's Lydia's fault! I take it you've met Lydia? 

I saw the BIRDS after a long walk in the trees, just cuz it was on Showtime when I got home. This bit of info is important. Like a 'random' spread of tarot cards, the unconscious sometimes finds a functional mythic common language in the images the conscious mind takes in, life finding figures and faces in clouds or rock formations. 

This symbiosis betwixt the personal subconscious (i.e. the viewer) and the collective consciousness (i.e. the film)  might otherwise be denied when the conscious mind 'picks' the film. I wouldn't have chosen THE BIRDS on after getting home, all exercised and starved for TV, it was just on. That's the collective unconscious at work, alive in the randomness of chance, the feeling god or something is always communicating with you through some medium or image, be it a random bird call, the passing cop car siren, the dog food commercial, your unconscious is always watching you somewhere in the field of your vision. Can you spot him/ her / it? That's (the) UNCANNY, bro!

Nowhere is this more vivid than THE BIRDS (1964); its icebergs go so deep their edges cut through the outer hulls of waking sanity. Like any enduring classic, it continues to make more and more sense the longer you watch it (i.e. for me, 40 years of seeing it regularly at least once every couple of years). As a kid I was just irritated waiting for birds to finally attack -then it rocked. Now as an adult whose read Paglia's indispensable BFI book on it, as well as the writing of Robin Wood, Zizek, etc. - it's Lydia's parts that rock me. The bird attacks can get indulgent, but Lydia is always watching.... us 

As the unrelated (or so I thought as a child) connection between the human drama and the bird attacks becomes clearer and clearer until a certain awareness of nature as a reflection of the human unconscious (or vice versa) takes shape. We don't see the link until the link sees us first. Watching Birds as a child with my own parents, we used to bemoan the boring subplots of Melanie and her facile would-be screwball flirtation. ("Get to the birds already!" my dad would shout). If there's a direct link between the domestic drama part- the strange love quadrangle going on between Mitch, Melanie, Annie, and Lydia of Bodega Bay--and the birds attacking, it eludes most casual monster-craving viewers, maybe for good reason. And for the first dozen viewings I didn't see it either; I still felt it was all more akin to the obligatory qua-romantic sidebars of things like It Came from Beneath the SeaBeast from 20,000 Fathoms, or Tarantula, rather than the deep dish Id dive of Forbidden Planet.  

That's the connection so key to this post: When you remember woman shares her elemental subconscious with nature itself, and that Lydia is a quintessential devouring mother archetype, suddenly the bird attacks make perfect connection with the drama.

If you know classic cinema of the late 50s-early 60s you have probably gleaned just how big a cocktail party talking point was our Dr. Freud. He was mainstream in a way that is impossible to understand in our streamlined 'talking down' artless popular cinema. Maybe it's because without censorship, sexual repression and open homophobia, there's less 'sub' to rise up like a monster in the popular consciousness. The last monster who took off with nearly everyone in this way was Hannibal Lecter. But now even Hannibal has been homogenized. Censorship no longer represses sex; instead it represses repression itself.   As we're clearly learning in our modern age, it's nowhere near as fun. Rather than gaining pressure like a clogged whiskey still and then exploding, modern repression kind of implodes on itself, finally realizing just how empty niceness can be. Also, we're more stupid. The idea of the middle class reading Freud on their own time, as entertainment, is totally absurd, Yet when I was in Buenos Aires a few years ago, Freud was everywhere. Everyone was talking about him. He was once on the bookshelf staple of every liberated couple, alongside the Kinsey Report, The Joy of Sex and Erma Bombeck's Life is a Bowl of Cherries so what am I doing in the Pits. Today even the academics have dismissed him. All his ideas are out, purely because they are sexist. Sensitivity and tolerance, rather than genius, is what we want in our cinema. People who don't know anything about his work proudly sneer at him as being outdated, parroting the en vogue academic posture. 

But in the 50s, Freud was even handed to us children on a PSYCH 101 platter, via Psycho and Forbidden Planet

The latter offers the explanation of the monster from the id in a way that makes sense no matter what your age. Kids are amateurs at repression, their hormonal desires seeping through the fabric of society and into the natural world. We can imagine our own monster tearing up our grade school, mean teachers, bullies, and even some girl for no reason we yet understand, while we sleep, sort of glad we never have to take responsibility for our desires coming true the way Morbius does. But if we woke up to find everyone all ripped limb-from-limb, we might get a guilty feeling without knowing quite why we should. We didn't have anything to do with it, and that's true in a way. Should Jekyll be punished for Hyde's crimes? When we realizae that the crux of the ego and its centered 'consciousness' is just the loudest voice in the room, and when it finally quiets, strange beings living downstairs in our brain basement creep up the stairs, all drenched in the vile shit you've been dumping down the laundry chute, the bathroom pipes, and under the floor. 

And there's someone else down in there too, even below the basement selves, boy, and they resent being locked down in the fruit cellar. 

Do you think they're fruity, boy?  


No matter how many times we get that oft-belittled Freudian epilogue lecture in PSYCHO, for example, the implications of Norman and his mother complex stay mysterious. The elemental subconscious doesn't suddenly become 'solved' just because we're given a first-rate cinematic example, explained patiently by a learned psychiatrist.  The idea of "mother" transcends our own psyche, envelops and devours us, and if we don't hack our way out of the apron string morass, we drown. Mother fills in for us. 

The psychiatrist shows us the ladder down into the hole but only guides us far down as the censor will allow. There's still an endless abyss waiting below even the fruit cellar. And even there, mother is. And she's clawing her way... up through your own morass of macho boys' club sexual boasting and posturing, refusing to stay down, yelling its your bed time in your ear of ears, right as you're on--as we say in hooking up terms--the ten yard line. 

If she can reach...up... and hijack our unconscious id monster, maybe she can hijack the natural world's as well... The birds can become her own id monster/ She's connected to the turnings of nature the way  men can never be, consciously.

As with Morbius' Id monster, Lydia can't be blamed for the bird attacks. It wouldn't / couldn't be a conscious connection. She wouldn't even be aware she's causing it. There's no one to tell her either. No PSYCHO psychiatrist inhabits Bodega Bay to explain the link. There's  no Krell brain boost equivalent that would allow Mitch to guess the origin of the bird attacks (i.e. paraphrasing Forbidden Planet: "Mitch, the birds are your mother's fear! Tell her you don't love this girl! Tell her you'll never leave home!").  No one in Bodega Bay understands poltergeist activity, nor do they know of animal familiars, elemental manifestations of unconscious drives, or the dangers when the wise old woman's natural magic is misappropriated by the her jealous savage devouring mother unconscious (inside every Athena is a Medusa trying to get out). Lydia can't quite control her powers--or even be fully aware of them--any more than could Morbius, or Norman. Each kills--or tries to kill--all younger rivals, be they Leslie Nielsen or Melanie or Marion. to keep their child at home, to foil attempts to empty their recessive egomaniac remote planet / small town kingdom. Empty nest syndrome has its roots in some vile pre-Promethean mire of incest and human sacrifice, Cronus eating his own young, and all that shit. 

Autonomous Oedipal Expressions - Bob (Twin Peaks) Morbius' Id (Forbidden Planet) ,

After a few dozen viewings of each of the three films, after age and insight and the human mind's need to find meaning even in random coincidence, it all makes sense as if some GRE series of associative thinking questions:

Norman <--> Mother  --> Knife--> Janet Leigh

Alta < --> Morbius--> Monster --> Leslie Nielsen

Mitch <---> Lydia --> Birds-->-Tippi Hedren

For Psycho, the mother in Norman's mind is a horribly blurred version of the superego's harnessing the Id to manifest the phallus of the mother (the knife) before the phallus of the Norman gets to experience enough pleasure/power to escape the poisonous incestuous bond. Norman killed the mother and her lover the way Lydia tries to stuff Mitch, like some ornithological specimen, in her living room and keep any interested females in Bodega Bay blinded by her flying monkey gulls and kept where she can keep an 'eye' on them. When Melanie devolves into a child after her bird attack, her voice gets a note of hysteria, all high and whispery in a kind of super demented child kind of way, indicating she's regressed and is no longer a threat; Lydia instantly relaxes her grip (note that the birds don't attack after that). 

The borderline between Norman and his mother and the (phallic) knife; Mitch and Lydia and her birds, (or the opposite version, Morbius, Alta and the Id) all become startlingly clear once they're all compared and filtered through your Penguin Freud. How could we have ever missed them? 

It's no idle accident the kids are watching Forbidden Planet on TV in Halloween. The equation is one slightly altered since there's no strong parental figure therefore, aside from Dr. Loomis and the sheriff. Here the instigator is biology and the forceful peer pressure of Jame Lee's friends.   

Jamie lee Curtis <----> virginity // Michael -->sex

FORBIDDEN PLANET on TV (left) in HALLOWEEN at left: The approaching (invisible) id monster's footprints onscreen go unnoticed by Nancy Loomis and her babysitting charge; heightening subliminal associative chills. 

Let's take a deep look at one very telling shot that makes the Halloween parallel clear:

Part II:


 "an anthill at the foot of a bridge" 

It's an extraordinarily eerie moment, giddy and exciting: we go from the noise of the cafe--the doubting ornithologist with her dry, chirpy lecturing; the hysterical mother frightening her own children (a clear case of maternal projection in microcosm to lend a shadow to the larger one outside); the old drunk repeating "it's the end of the world!" - it all instantly stops with the cry of "LOOK!" and a rush to the window. 

Outside, the gas station attendant is hit by a gull and falls over, dropping the gas nozzle; the gas leaks in a fast downhill pool towards the feet of the traveler trying to understand the panicked noise from inside the cafe. He drops his cigar match... BOOM

Halloween (1978) Killer POV
It's like the explosion knocks our POV into the sky. After all the noise and action below, up here in the sky it's quiet and peaceful. We feel strangely safe for a moment. It's as if we just joined the winning side so all our worries are over

But something is off. The camera isn't floating or swaying in the air currents. The POV camera is just standing still up there. It's not a bird's eye view. Birds don't usually stand stock still, neither do helicopters, usually. And weirder still, we hear a muffled but heavy breathing, as if through a thick heavy mask, or from inside a snorkel.

 Seeing it this time, after the walk, by chance, I was reminded of Halloween's opening tracking shot with POV clown mask as young Michael mounts the stairs. Here it's the same sense that we're wearing the mask. This arial god's eye / bird's eye view comes with breathing that sounds like we're a kid in a snorkel looking down hundreds of feet through clear turquoise water/sky to the ocean floor/fire, people scrambling like tiny crabs in the sand below. 

Even then we wouldn't be able to hang suspended in place, not this Steadicam smooth. 

This shot in The Birds though, this high up, the person whose eyes we're looking through seems to have his feet firmly planted on some invisible ground. Can it be Lydia, up there, like Marcello Mastroanni in the beginning dream of 8 1/2? while asleep back at home, shuddering from the sight of her eyeless neighbor Fred, her elemental unconscious soaring skywards above the damage her id is causing, but connected to her death driving instinct while asleep, forced to look down through her rending harpy bird of prey eyes at the carnage below, like Faye Dunaway forced to see the killer's POV in Eyes of Laura Mars? But she's not bobbing in the wind as she's also grounded in her bed? 

At the time, the first viewings, we may not even notice how odd that is, that weird breathing and sense of motionlessness, such odd choices go unnoticed in the chaos of the scene. We're too busy enjoying what we assume is the 'bird's eye view.' The change in shot helps us even out our sympathies. Rather than the sense of eerie dislocation and unwilling complicity we get from a killer POV in a good slasher film, we're allowed a kind of lordly relaxation. Now we're running with the flock, so we can size up our own target for the dive bombing. The killer POV implicates us and scares us with its 'too close for comfort' mortality. The bird / Lydia POV is so abstract it frees us from responsibility.

Dozens of viewings over the years later, and the odd details start to accrue in our minds but this motionless, heavy breathing arial shot refuses familiarization. The sound of muffled breathing is eerie. This is certainly not meant to be a bird's eye view in the traditional sense, Hitchcock would not miss even one key detail of this sort by accident. He brings us somewhere way outside normal space, some giant deer-stand or motionless Ferris wheel from which to peer down on all those scurrying, burning ants.

 How did Hitch get such a still shot? It's not a photo, (maybe a process shot) as we can see the flames burning below; even as the birds gradually circle down around and into the frame in front of it, there is no movement from the camera. The birds come in on all sides of the camera but the camera doesn't even flinch, as if it is representing some out of body experiencer, ordering her minions down into the scene like the wicked witch directing her monkeys from a bomb sight in the belly of a frozen in time B-17 while lying in bed at the same time.... Lydia... is that you?.


In grand Oedipal style, wherever Lydia's goes with her animus bird force, she leaves only blinded reflections, henpecked children, and symbolically neutered adults in her wake--the anti-sighted. The male gaze, the female gaze, all gazes are snuffed out, the bird claws and beaks act as the censoring scissors; Medusa, turning men from gazers into inanimate portraits or pajama wearing eyeless corpses. Amok maternal instinct creates a legion of blind, hobbled, castrated men, ala the men who crash the matriarchal corn king crowning in The Dark Secret of Harvest Home, or the remake of The Wicker Man. 

But as the snapping biting birds rage out of control, children too are symbolically violated, like an out of control once-benign victorious army "looting and pillaging" a defenseless civilian population, one that poses no threat at all to Lydia's maternal empire; and finally spilling over and threatening even Lydia herself (just as Morbius is threatened by his own id).

Even Melanie is guilty of this, noting proudly of her nonprofit: "We're sending a little Korean Boy Through School." sounds almost like their keel-hauling him through the sky somehow, or floating through the belly of a whale: "After that we're sending a German girl through a jet engine."

Even the daughter, Cathy is guilty of this: she has the two imprisoned love birds, as trapped in their cage as Lydia wants to make Mitch and Cathy in Bodega Bay. The two imprisoned birdies, forced to shelter in one spot while all around the fellow creatures are flying loose and free, attacking their former oppressors and jailers (one can see them flying up to SF to blind the pet shop owner from the first scene  on her way home from work). 

By the presence of the blinded father (above) in the upper left portrait (the darkened eyes is no coincidence), we realize the return of the blinding agent (the maternal phallus - beaks, knife, etc) is inherent in this dynasty. Note the arrangement of the scene: Lydia, sitting, cuddled with Cathy, denotes her new place as another child of the Lydia, or at any rate, subservient. Mitch seated below the portrait, uncomfortable on a bench, as if waiting in line for an Oedipal "haircut" (his eyes darkened beneath his heavy brow) and Lydia, centered, organizing the table as if arranging a tea party for her stuffed animals. The father's expression in the painting is one of bland eyeless contentment - death has allowed him to escape the predicament the others are in; being dead and blind means he's paid for his escape already --he's out of Lydia's reach. This is the aspiration of Mitch - an escape from Lydia's clutches, from the rending scissor talons of the enucleating barber.

But the father's blindness is more than just a symbolic castration in the Lacanian sense. In joining the social order, submitting to symbolic castration, one gains a third eye vision not limited to any one POV. In a way it's like the privileged position of the viewer. We have no visible representation in the film, so can move our sympathies everywhere and nowhere. Most of the time our action is squarely centered on Melanie, but then Lydia goes by herself to Dan's farm; we even get the omnipotent POV the master of the birds. We're free.

And we still have our eyes.

(above: X, Halloween, The Birds (dad's painting), Jaws, Psycho)

It's not just that Michael never speaks in Halloween that makes him scary, it's that you can't see his eyes. The black socket effect we get from Mrs. Bates or Dan with his broken tea cups, may be 'actual' rather than merely hidden, but the omnipresent aura is the same. Note that Michael's eyes are not hidden by, say, sunglasses or even a more recognizable mask, something that would bring a distinct symbolic identity - i.e. sunglasses, an Italian giallo killer ski mask, a rapist-style nylon over head, a motorcycle helmet, a clown mask etc.) The features or identifiable marks of the mask of Myers are stripped away, even the skin pigment of the original (William Shatner) mask is removed. The lack of identification of those images by which we detect a soul's presence, is what creates the uncanny chill - the blinded person is made tragic yet free- the movie can't 'get' them now. They see no evil. Forever.

Of all the imitators that came after Halloween, only Jason --the first Jason, with the sack cloth mask-- in Part 2, understands the importance of the banal / nondescript in a facial covering, something to drain every last possible attachable symbolic reference from our pareidolia lexicon. Our egoic consciousness is revealed as a desperation--to the point of panic-- to label and therefore dismiss the as yet unidentified possible threat. Any attempt at humanization therefore comes via the 'window to the soul.' Michael is rendered at least 50% less terrifying in the original Halloween once his mask is torn off and we briefly see a vaguely mongoloid young man with glazed-eyes and a slack-jaw. Jane Addams is terrified by a savage cry in the jungle night is terrifying until smarmy David points out it's a "guarana monkey" (in Creature from the Black Lagoon). A photo of a strange beast in the water is freaky and exciting--is it the Loch Ness monster!!?!!-- until someone points out it's an 'Irrawaddy dolphin.' Hey, stop ruining this for us, science!

The dolphin, is still the same uncanny monster but now it's suddenly 'friendly.' as someone calls it a dolphin. The cry is still the same bit rendered banal by knowing it's a monkey. The mask of Michael cannot be quantified or safely ensconced in the symbolic rolodex however. We can know it's a Capt. Kirk mask, but it's at best an uncanny variation. The lack of features helps it resist personification.

Acid trippers know this too well. Staring into the bathroom mirror to check your pupil dilation (proof your dose has 'kicked in') is a time-honored tripping tradition. You lean in to check your pupils for the tell-tale in-out dilation, but then you're pulled through into the inky void inside your own pupils. You too, in your deepest core - the black hole in your being-- are a shark, or a killer, or a doll--emptiness finally recognizing its total lack of distinguishing features. At your core you are the black pool deep inside the electric well from which all perception flows. To have perfect vision would be for the whole eye - and beyond-- to encompass the black of the pupil... an eternal stare in the mirror void. All is else is transitory, shadows and light. The blackness of the pupil, beholding its own darkness, the void staring into the void, this is our eternal truth --it cannot be qualified or labelled. The self and the emptiness of space are one; suddenly you are like a cloud finally realizing you were only ever water and air; you've never been permanent - just a sudden locus of perception through which the I AM tries to understand its own black vastness. The dark of the dark is technically blindness - but it is all-seeing. You are seeing through its porthole right now.

The concept of 'all-seeing blindness' can expand to the merely limited rather than blind outright: a killer in a full head latex mask has their vision and hearing substantially curtailed, making them easy to evade in real life; but in the case of Michael Myers, he crosses past human associations and into the god/dead zone (the lofty arial perch we 'see' from above Bodega Bay). Even with obscured eyes, this chthonic devouring god 'sees' the total picture, i.e. Oedipus' full realization of who killed his father and just who Jocasta really is (or Sebastian in Suddenly Last Summer, seeing "the fact of God" by watching the sky fill with hungry black birds swarming down on baby sea turtles).

Even Dan, the neighbor friend of Lydia's, who is the first killed by the birds is granted a kind of lewd all-seeing power in the jagged jump cut close-ups as Lydia sees him (top), as if he's sitting up in bed to receive an early morning lap dance.

Or as Ray Milland originally said in X-the Man with X-ray Eyes after he had blinded himself, "I can still see!" - a line considered too horrible for mid-60s audiences to contemplate so was edited out of the final cut.

Our unconscious selves--the monsters from the id included--after all, see without benefit of our open eyes (i.e. we're usually asleep when they come) and they see and know way more than us. And its their job to process things we've seen that are so shocking our conscious selves can't even admit they happened. We black it out. But something in us still has to have seen it, the thing that has no eyes of its own, only the plates, the films, it reviews and stores after our eyes finally go dark.

Violet Venable (Devouring Mom #3)

IV: "With all due respect to Oedipus"

All of the Birds' id-generated carnage is Mitch Brenner's fault. 

If he was stronger--less a mama's boy--he would have shacked up with Annie Hayworth regardless of his mother's machinations, and they would have escaped Bodega Bay, Lydia's fledgeling bird volleys crashing harmlessy against their windshield. 

Now it's too late: the combination of Lydia's grief over her husband, plus the supportive presence of Annie Hayworth ensures a kind of continued arrested development for Mitch (does he sneak over to Annie's house for booty call quickies after Lydia and the censors go to bed? If so, does Lydia sense it, and is that part of why the birds eventually kill her?)

Coded Sex references abound in The Birds. They "strike, disappear, then start massing again" not unlike an erection during an extended sexual bout, 

Lydia does some massing herself, gradually working herself into panicked frenzy worrying about what will happen if the birds--her own monsters from the id--get into her house--or consciousness--penetrating her Krell steel shutters, so to speak, "like tissue paper."

"And now this, too? Harm my own daughter??" - Morbius and Lydia realize their amok unconscious drives are breaking into the real world, threatening their own children (ala Bob in Twin Peaks). Gulp! It's the end of the world!

Now that we're so deeply engaged in the Freudian reading of the film, I think the ending, having a radio announcement that the birds have risen up all across the west coast, maybe even the world, is unneeded and undoes the psychiatric relevance by 'making a federal case out of it' so to speak. The radio announcer says "the reason for this does not seem clear as yet" - but if Hitch is going to go there, the psychiatrist treating Lydia should phone in and explain the reason originated with a domineering mother on Bodega Bay. The shrink Psycho explains how Norman became his own mother, for The Birds it would be the reverse. In The Birds the mother becomes her dead husband in a weird attempt to become the non du père and thus keep Mitch from achieving maturity. She wants to become a good 'pack leader' (to use the Dog Whisperer vernacular), but she is too scared and full of self-doubt, so a demonic air elemental (ala Ariel in The Tempest) from her repressed chthonic unconscious (repressed even by her own animus, locked into the form of her dead husband) takes over the job. And, like Morbius's monster from the id, makes Lydia's most perverse unconscious desires, her repressed-libidinal paternal phallus burlesque-- come true, like some base incestuous desire, long buried under the floorboards of consciousness, spilling out into the real in a furious harpy whirlwind of claws, beaks, blood, and fire, trying to blind everyone around at the time (or lobotomize them ala Suddenly Last Summer), lest they bear it witness.

Once Melanie is 'broken' like a wild mustang by Lydia's rending avian animus, she too is no longer a threat, and the mother assumes matriarchal dominance. Mark her relieved smile as she cradles Melanie's head once Lydia is reduced to a state traumatized childlike dependence. The birds are calm. Lydia has what she wants. She's gained a child rather than lost one. We can only assume now that Melanie will need to stay monosyllabic traumatized PTSD sufferer, dependent on Lydia's care, if the birds shall disperse, the maternal panic that overwhelmed their avian drives now dissipating, their baseline orientation restored, they can go back to peaceful living there in the Bay. 

Similarly, if the captain had decided to stay on the Forbidden Planet to marry Alta and start a family, giving Morbius some grandchildren, it's likely that monster from the id would gradually dissolve in force, going down to maybe some poltergeist dish rattling when Morbius felt too ignored or unappreciated. The couple will know by the broken coffee cups they need to spend more time with him. The planet, no longer forbidden, shall become only Altair-IV. Until he dies - then... hmmm will the Krell boost ensure his total consciousness lives on with all electric power at his command?

No one Can Argue with a Dead Father.

 Probably always a bit controlling to begin with, the death of Lydia's husband triggers the demonic bird version of the Krell brain boost from Forbidden Planet. Lydia lies there for "a night and a day" (grieving her husband) and then emerges from her cocoon with a psychic power too harpy/chthonic for her consciousness to handle, but not her repressed shadow, which sends massive wild signals into the ether, tuned to the same frequency the birds use to relay migration and approaching hurricane or earthquake but the psionic equivalent. In order to clear the airwaves and stop the buzzing in their brains they need to attack the source of Lydia's anxiety. Granted almost unlimited signal strength by her unconscious psychic energy, the range of her unconscious fear and rage signal spreads farther and farther out from the Bodega Bay center. And it won't stop until Lydia and Annie both are safely blinded, bled, and still.

Consciously neither Morbius nor Lydia can't recognize this force as their other self, the sustainability of their overdeveloped egos hinge on not being able to recognize their complicity in anything evil. In fact, like Oedipus, their dominating egotism us what causes the 'hysterical symptom' in the first place- a build up of repressed psychic energy that the Id sees you're not using, so it steals it all before you even know it's there, so you can go back to your little ego fiefdom, (3). If either Lydia or Morbius--king and queen of their respective islands, so to speak--were able to recognize their complicity--the murders wouldn't happen in the first place! This is one of the reasons therapy is so effective. The therapist is able to hold a mirror up to the ego and show it all the things it cannot or will not see about itself (i.e. the ugly back of its own beautiful head). The ego may lash out, announce they're blind and that's it, no matter how hard the therapist pries their clamped-shut eyelids, BUT if the patient is worn down enough to interrogate that knee-jerk response within themselves, they finally realize that, as I once said to my own therapist, "I know you're right because what you just said makes me want to yell at you and run out of the room and never come back."  With confession, and self-acceptance, the ability to recognize and resist one's own egoic panic, the bottle repressive energies that have been fueling the outbreaks of beaks or claws and (hysteric or not) blindness dissipates like opening a well-shook soda bottle only tiny tiny bit, so the air can gradually leak harmlessly out rather than explode all over your lap and the cinema floor. 

In short, if Lydia had a therapist, there wouldn't be a bird problem in Bodega Bay. This is the miracle of our modern age, and a perfect place to stop. Until next week then, and here's your bill. Just a dab. And if the rage returns, remember to just crack the bottle top a teensy bit.... 



1) If you read certain passages of the Old Testament, you know which god I mean. It's the god that puts the Jews through hell with painful prolonged rituals, and animals with endless sacrifice (each new member must bring 20 doves and a sheep, letting their blood washes over the altar before they're nailed to the church door, etc. It's the god of the Aztecs and Mayans and maybe the Picts and Romans, a god recognizably bloodthirsty, who spares you his wrath when you throw him someone or something else's soul torment, their life energy. 
3. i.e. like Poltergeists!!

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