Sunday, May 26, 2024



Tough GenX SWMs like me were confused when we first saw James Dean in movies. He looked badass enough on the posters that adorned our dorm walls, smoking with his feet kicked up over his steering wheel in the one from Giant, or his loafing against the wall with his red windbreaker and cigarette for Rebel, or smoking in his big black coat up in a rainy Times Square for Dennis Stock-but who had seen his movies? No one. So when Rebel without a Cause came to our college's revival house we were psyched for a dash of serious cool. 

Instead we got goddamned crybaby narc!

This doe-eyed gentle little greaser faun who cries cuz his parents are too easy on him? Who snivels at the cops' office because his dad doesn't hit his mom? This kid was worse than a narc, he was a jinx. Such a coward over a friendly little knife fight he gets three people killed? 

"If he'd just... belt her one, occasionally."
You doubt me? Consider the facts: No sooner has he arrived at his new school than he's stomping on the school seal, befriending a craven puppy killer, and trying to crash the A-list with his stupid planetarium "Moo!" The A-list, a rowdy gang of toughs (that include Dennis Hopper!) give him a chance to audition for the gang, a friendly invitations to gentlemanly switchblade duel. Outside the planetarium on a nice sunny LA day, what a pleasant way to get to know the boys. Sure maybe a few little cuts, punctures, but that's hazing, Jim! You want in, you gotta play be the rules, not run to momma. It takes so long to goad Jim into that by the time he's finally started his stick and move routine, the afternoon is over--the astronomer in residence is yelling at them to stop. That kind of leaves everybody hangin' as they say, so they have to reschedule for an evening chicken run instead 

He's a jinx, that's the thing. Picked up on a public drunkeness? What did he get a little sip of a beer somewhere? A weensy little pint of Wild Irish Rose? Crying like a little bitch in a cop's office because his dad's not mean enough, trying to give his jacket to a little wuss hauled in for killing puppies!  Screaming at his parents like a hissy fit-throwing neurotic because mom and dad can't decide how to punish him.  This is the guy with the cigarette on the posters in our dorm rooms!??? 

Rumors were Dean was bi, into sub/dom shizz, would go to gay bars and ask guys to stamp their cigarettes out on his chest. This was the 80s -- we couldn't believe it. Right up there with Richard Gere mouse rectum scandal - maybe just a rumor. That was enough back then. 

We couldn't know just how brave it was back in the early 50s for a young man too be gentle and faun-like. It was a time when men had to pose and posture in studded leather straddling hogs to indicate they weren't gay. Times change, but one thing that doesn't is the behavior of Jim Stark in this movie--separate from Dean's sensitivity--makes him not only a literal (as well as figurative) Buzz kill, but a little bitch--in a sense that has nothing to do with feyness or tortured posturing, but everything to do with being a narc. In other words, Jim is no better than that blonde hash slinger in Over the Edge. He had a pool, too. 

That Rebel has all the postures and JD rites of cool makes Dean's narc attitude especially problematic. This is a Nicholas Ray's film, after all, a man who never met a drug he didn't want to get at least an ounce of, or a person he didn't want to either fight, borrow money from, or have an affair with, a filmmaker second only to John Ford as far as violence to denote and enhance rites of masculine passage. Only with Ray, who came a bit later, that violence was no longer accepted, or was being drained of its ceremonial initiatory function, either by laws or draggy moms (moms seldom factored into Ford's equations--if anything they rooted from the sidelines while the men tried to block their view). In fact, if you couch Rebel with Ray's Bigger than Life, and In a Lonely Place, you get the full spectrum of male dysfunction- the rites of Ford run smack into the iron mom of Hitchcock. 

The tragedy with Ray is in the matriarchal obstacle: We could have easily overlooked Dean's many faux pas in the police station, and even the planetarium because that night at the chicken run he's all of a sudden cool as McQueen. It's his one big moment of Wild One moxy, and he does it all real good, but then after Buzz goes over the cliff, he undoes it all by trying to rat out the attendees after everyone runs home.  Jim, the jinx. And now the narc. You've got one person killed already through your bad decisions, through trying to do the right thing (according to your overbearing mom). But the night is young, isn't it Jim? And don't blame your mom, either! Even your mom is cooler than you! After Buzz's death she wants him to just shut up about it, never say a word to anyone, and go to bed, like all the other kids who were there. He snivels and demands his dad back him up in his desire to throw himself at the feet of strong police men, no matter who else he drags down with him.

Son, both parents think you should forget about it and go to bed. That's what you call a 'free pass'!! 

The gang sure made the right choice by scorning him. Imagine if he was accepted by the gang and someone gave him a puff of a reefer, you know, Mary Jane?  He'd probably freak out, and demand the gang drive him to the ER, shouting: 'Sorry, but just this once I wanted do something right!' as everyone at the party is led past him in a handcuffed row... for their own good. So they don't get hooked, right Jim?

And just imagine who Jim would want to bring around to gang meetings if he was in. Considering his new best friend is a super needy rich kid who just killed a whole boxful of puppies the night before, which is the slam dunk hat trick of red flags.

God help your cat, Jim, if you ever cancel a playdate. 

And man was he getting close! Luckily three guys from the gang found him first - So Plato shoots one, then hides out in the planetarium (where the days trouble began). Our bright 'right'-doing Jim Stark decides to save the day by racing past past the cop's cordon and into the planetarium to try and talk Plato into coming out, without even explaining his intention to the cops. Think, Jim! How can they know for sure you're not bringing Plato ammo rather than taking it away!? 

Then, in a final jinx move, staggering in its idiocy, Jim gets Plato to give him the gun, then takes the bullets out, but then gives him back the gun!! You should have just given him the bullets, Jim. The cops don't shoots kids who wave bullets at them, as you will soon find out.

Dean's big acting moment, the one that almost made him live up to the hype as a powerhouse actor, is his great slur-shout of "I-got-the-BULL-ets!" after Plato falls dead. Waving them ineffectually, as if trying to shoehorn his own roaring teen angst into Plato's big Buffalo Bill butterfly moment, I think we're supposed to 'feel' for his chutzpah at this juncture, and even rail against the callousness of the Big Bad World. But I say if its big and bad, its to protect itself by 'heroes' like Jim Stark.

 Jim, next time, just shut the fuck up when people make animal noises. You're worse than Tony in West Side Story, who gets two people killed just because a girl he met a few hours ago tells him "any kind of fight's no good for us."  Well, at any rate, Jimbo my lad, now now you don't have to worry about your cat. 

I know it's not a popular trope these days, but as a deep tissue Jungian I'm partial to the idea of masculine rites of passage. I think it's imperative for masculine identity to make a social rite out of the brave facing of fear, pain, death and humiliation, and above all, most importantly, cuts and bruises (women's reproductive system includes built-in rites, they don't need any more).

 John Ford gets it. Nicholas Ray gets it, Colonel Blimp and Crocodile Dundee get it. Apollo Creed every boxer in the world gets it. Tyler Durden, John Wayne eventually gets it, and all of Ireland.

Luke Skywalker, squares, Maria, Jim Stark don't get it. Cops and school principals don't get it but they're not supposed to, so it's OK (they're the referees) 

If we'd all just belt each other occasionally. 

You got to do something. 

I used some color screenshots, as I generally don't like colorizing, but in this case it's by a fan on YouTube for
their own amusementand in Teen's case the purple/green schemata adds a weird sense of dislocation

Teenagers from Outer Space (1959) does plenty -- it's the rampaging Yin to Rebel's puling Yang.  Dean might get all the posters can't hold a candle to the endearingly Dumbo-eared Derek (David Love) as one of the....TEENAGERS. Almost totally emotiionless, he gives an actually lovely demonstration of how a man might be sensitive, and decent, and nice yet no coward, kibbitzer, or narc. He's not some 'rebel' against middle class conformity, to him middle-class conformity is rebellion. The planet he comes from is void of things like comfort and emotion. So when he winds up in a perfect small town, as warm, inviting as Rebel's is dour and lockstep, in soothing b&w instead of Rebel's garish color (Natalie Wood's garish lipstick makes me shudder just to think about). But after that the similarities are striking. 

For example: both occur within a single day/night. Both involve a new guy in town who finds himself protected by a girl who likes him and pursued by a gang of boys who want him to stop trying to change the Way Things Are. Both involve puppy killers who pay for their crimes, alas, indirectly. In Rebel the black sheep is surrounded by perfectly into their small town 50s conservative (heteronormative) social structure; he finds a small group of fellow outcasts, who like him are unable to sublimate their dysfunctional daddy issues.  Meanwhile a runt with a gun tags after him, demanding full attention -i.e.trying to Jim into his daddy.

Derek comes to a new town from a lockstep conservative but all male (structured around one big daddy issue) social order where being an outcast means longing for small town heteronormativity, and finds one in a friendly 50s social structure where there is no daddy at all just a friendly old suspenders-wearing Harvey P. Dunn, and you know he's harmless and gentle because just the sight of a girl with long nails nearly kills him in Ed Wood's NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, and his cool granddaughter, just about Dereks's age.

 If only Jim and Derek could trade places! 

I'll grant you, Derek really lucks out when he stumbles onto friendly gramps and his nerdy-cool granddaughter. Unlike Jim Stark, he doesn't need to be all "you're tearing me apart!" whiny about feeling alienated from his assigned-at-birth tribe. Derek never freaks out, just flatly asserts his preference for a warm, emotional environment. But you know how that team can be when you try to jump ship and who can blame them?

I love a lot about Teenagers from Outer Space (though the title put me off seeing it until only a few years ago): I'm a big fan of post-sync dubbing with these lower budget numbers as it lends them a weird dreamlike unrealistic air--Carnival of Souls wouldn't be half as surreal without it, and it's a perfect vehicle for Derek's flat emotionless (in character) delivery, he's like the anti-Dean. His rebellion stems from realizling his peers are going to bring in the 'gargal' (indestructible giant shadow lobsters) and turn Earth into kind of giant pasture / feed lot / lobster bed. How does it feel to be thought of as food for someone else's food, America? Probably not very good. You might ask the third world how they cope. You migth ask the buffalo... or Black Elk. 

The hypocrisy here comes not from American society but from the aliens. They're not supposed to bring the gargans to an inhabited civilization-havin' world, but Thor, his psychopathic saucer mate, decides a zapped dog's tag is not sufficient evidence to halt the plan. As far as Thor goes, they're not supposed to wipe out sentient beings, the way the US Cavalry is not supposed to massacre all the Native Americans, including unarmed women and children. In other words, the powers that be want 'plausible deniability' in order to get rid of the problem once and forever, therefore the underlying (nonspoken) orders are carried out ("with extreme prejudice") contrary to the written 'official' order.  Feigning empathy with those you kill in order give your country's liberals are a panacea for their guilt is the bedrock of 'colonization.' Thor--jealous and bloodthirsty, trades on the friendliness of the townsfolk in his pursuit of Derek, but repaying kindness with merciless zapping as he goes, like any good 'civilizing' influence might wipe out the indigenous population of a land they were claiming for the crow after first getting to know them, maybe taking some pictures, directions, gold... and then, almost as an afterthought, wiping them out on your way to the next. 

But Derek, true teenager in his liberal phase, undoes the hidden meaning in a reverse counter-revolution --sticking to the letter of the law, using the oppressor's law against the unwritten (he even gets the press involved, symbolically at least). You go, Derek! That's the kind of teenager rebellion that works - a rebel with a cause. 

Take a lesson, James Dean / Jim Stark, Derek rebels against his corrupted order via its own strict guidelines, like a boss. 


Luckily the more rabidly homophobic the society the less gaydar they seem to have. Dawn Bender surely doesn't have any--all but chasing Derek around and instructing him to make decisions based on her interpretation of things she doesn't understand, clueless her new man's alien orientation. She uses her old boyfriend-friend (i.e. the equivalent of that guy who loves her unconditionally, even under the condition he's relegated to 'friend' status, so common to movies even today, though the 'gay bestie' has now taken his place), a reporter played by Graef himself, to do the legwork so we can easily go from q) to z) as far as getting the whole town to back Derek up as Thor comes blasting. It's a refreshing switch from the tedious swaths of parents and cops not believing the teens in the more conventional (i.e. straight shot) films, perhaps reflecting a kind of 'grass is always greener' along the outlaw divide effect, where the outcast fantasizes about communal acceptance and vice versa. Meanwhile, in her naive moral certitude, Dawn becomes a kind of saint /  heroine / representative of all Anytown USA has to offer. She and gramps become kind of a fantasy for lonely orphans--- instant love and acceptance, as if they'd been waiting all this time just for them. For St. Sebastians lashed to the wheel of intolerance, they are the ultimate heteronormative/tolerant backup, the solace they dream of. Meanwhile, someone like Ray Stark has to go to all sorts of ugly lengths to escape the accepting arms of his own family, clumsily lashing himself to whatever wheel he can find, invariably leaving one arm free in case he needs to itch, or take a selfie of his anguished struggle. 


As with a lot of post-sync films from the era, the air itself seems different -- eerily still. There is no wind, very few birds, everything is muted, the voices all right up front, the way people's talking sounds when you come to from a concussion, the way Carnival's small Kansas town becomes when Candace Hiligoss is suddenly plunged into an in-between place where no one can see or hear her. The difference here is that the weird quiet is benevolent. Before this film I didn't think a benevolent alienation was remotely possible. There's something for everyone here in town! There's even a foxy and sexually assertive single girl down the street-- with a pool! I mean, I suddenly wouldn't want to leave either. Too bad his jealous ex is stalking him, disintegrating everyone he meets--all of whom are too nice and kind to realize what he threat he poses, including the pool girl. It breaks my heart every time. Why not leave her alive, Thor!!!?

Like Jim in Rebel, Derek is a stranger in a strange world, but unlike him, Derek is no narc. In the end he makes the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity in general and the small town in particular, and he does so without any browbeating, giggling, grandstanding or adult-shaming.  Even after the boys send for his sugar daddy, his hairy-chested biological papa, the leader of their planet, he stands firm. I don't think Jim Stark would be able to. For him and his daddy-starved friends, Derek's papa would be like a gift from god. 

With those hooded Peter Lorre eyes, Bette Page bangs, Edith Massey teeth, 'Bette Davis whispering into the ear of a sleeping Val Lewton' vibery, and that starchy retro-hipster dress, Dawn Bender is a totally unique presence in movies. It's like a whole new category of 'types' has to be invented to support her her.  A whole new kind of 'small town cool' is born. Perhaps it's the queer perspective of the film that she--the only woman with any real skin in the game--is the most unique and thoughtful character, a true lead and not just another endangered love interest / lab assistant. In yet another of his innovative but weird editing choices, Graeff lets all her scenes play out a few seconds longer than an ordinary editor would, letting his camera keep an eye on what she does after the action in the script is completed, how she fills out the gap between the end of the scene and the actual cut. She uses the time by wistfully gazing through windows as if she's Lilian Gish on the lonesome prairie after yet another day with no mail from her far-flung fella in a DW Griffith silent. It's archaic yet ahead of its time. It wouldn't matter if she just shut down emotionally at the end, like a robot; we'd still be with her all the way, enraptured and confused by her weird charisma. (As in so many films by gay auteurs, the women are as handsome as the boys are beautiful.)

Regardless of which tent you currently live in, Dawn's gentle sewing needle and Dunn's folksy business can patch the tears, reminding us--regardless of how we perceive its perception of us--not all small towners are intolerant. And even if some are, all they need to change their minds is the right alien boy, the right Bronson Canyon cave mouth, and the right stock volcano explosion. Proof that innocence and sincerity can thrive without sacrificing difference. At least in this one film. This one time.

Oh, also in Charles Laughton's Night of the Hunter.  Just these two times. 

I forgot about Night of the Hunter--another movie about the strength of innocence in the face of hypocrisy  that was made by a gay man? And the only movie that man directed? And recognized as a cult classic only long after that man was dead? 

What is wrong with this f--ed up world? 

Less then a decade after making Teens, Graef would kill himself with car exhaust. Seven years after the critical and box office failure of Hunter, Laughton died of cancer, or a broken heart. 

God bless little children. They abide. 


Saturday, March 02, 2024

The Joy of Recycling: THE WHITE GORILLA (1945)

If your idea of endlessly re-watchable half-asleep outsider gold /accidental surrealist multi-meta collage is the same as mine--which seems almost impossible--viddy well the THE WHITE GORILLA (1945), streamable everywhere. and don't even bother trying to figure out what's going on with all the flashbacks and animal reaction stock footage cutaways. It's better that way. Just find the best transfer you can, wait until you're nodding off in your easy chair with  slippers, loyal wolfhound, glass of port, and unlit pipe at your side, and stream away (you can find it on my YouTube mix Vintage Jungle Madness). Why? Low stakes, a pleasing narration, and the gorillas, and the liberating sense of 'seeing the seams', whereas the tools of covering lack of budget are revealed. Stock footage, foreign releases, public domain classics, home movies, silent documentaries--whatever is in the fridge, so to speak, can become integral to some story tellable only by the few actors and sets you have at your temporary disposal. When it 'works' it's priceless, that sense of found object outsider art you might get at the gallery show at a mental hospital.  
Ed Wood validating his cross-dressing via blue collar conversation heard over industrial footage of steel girders pumping white hot out of the forge, or building a movie around a home movie of Bela Lugosi sniffing a flower outside his house for Plan Nine--it's like poetry structured from whatever word magnets happen to be on the fridge. And what about the way 1981's Game of Death II composites a Bruce Lee performance out of classic footage (stretching back even to when Lee was a child actor), outtakes from Enter the Dragon, and even Lee's actual funeral? Ingenious, even if it, or especially because, it never quite gels. And Curtis Harrington Queen of Blood with young pre-fame John Saxon and Dennis Hopper as astronauts encountering a a martian queen conjured up via footage from a Russian sci-fi film?  Sublime! Peter Bogdanovich making Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women from a different Russian sci-fi film by folding in new scenes of Mamie Van Doren in a blonde wig and glittery silver hip huggers? I'm floating on a lava sea of Lady from Shanghai references. And like Ed Wood's Bride and the Beasand the Luigi Cozzi Godzila Redux, of late, two composite gems I keep on my emergency dial, so to speak, made eminently hypnotic by the ingenious methods they use to match footage from disparate places. I've recently found a new favorite... alas it's barely an hour long. Would it was a million.

 (1941) Dir. Harry L. Fraser
Starring  Ray "Crash" Corrigan

"The jungle.... weird...."

Godardesque meta manna cascades like a waterfall, thundering library stock music crashes and recedes in glittering harp glissandos over the credits proudly kicking off the post-modern edge with a credit that says "An All-Star Cast." We know right away that the normal handrails of narrative are going to be coming and going. And then there is Ray Crash Corrigan"--usually inside a gorilla suit or doing stunts-- stars, narrates, and probably fights himself. He's kind of got an Ed wood drinking buddy vibe (I hear they were). He's no milquetoast. He's played gorillas in every movie ever made, and here is in a gorilla movie, as a human, (and probably also one or both gorillas). We're off and walking! We cut through the usual roster of dangerous African animal stock footage as his narration sets the scene, and the result: magic. Flashbacks are composites of three sources: animal footage, which silent film characters react to but was clearly shot in a totally different place (sometimes it even seems like a zoo) and then Steve in a separate frame as well, shot later--each in turn reacting to something it can never share a frame with - leaving us watching suddenly feel eyes on us: god watching us watching Steve watch silent serial stars watch even older safari footage. We feel seen, at long last. 

And hurrah for Corrigan, mostly underplaying as Steve Collins, a chewed-up guide who stumbles out of the African jungle and into the trading post (the actual only non-stock set) where three white guys are drinking and kvetching about jungle noise. Naturally after a drink to steady himself he starts with his tale of the doomed safari he was guiding, and how his client, Bradford "wouldn't listen" to him. And would always camps near a stream ("always near a stream,"--an odd detail, he'll mention again, though we never see one, or even a camp). And so we flashback to the meat of the movie, highlights lifted from the only known surviving chunk of an old silent serial Perils of the Jungle (1927). Silent Tarzan Frank Merrill is Bradford, sporting an arm band tattoo (or claw mark) and getting into all sorts of scrapes with animal footage while searching for 'the Cave of the Cyclops' (just a statue, alas). We get lots of lions try to break through the cabin door, while sad-eyed apes look on, or charging elephants, angry natives running hither an yon, a little jungle boy (it's all good cuz he's fiercely Hawksian deadpan rather than Sheffield cutesy) who does all the deux ex machina rescuing, including operating the arm of the cyclops statue so the tiger men think his crazy mother--who wears horns and rattles a skull stick--speaks for the gods. 

Steve, wishing he could help
These scenes are all narrated by Steve and peppered with regular cutaways of him peeking out from behind bushes or up in trees, periodically offering rationalizations like "with the lions between my hiding spot and the endangered party, I was powerless to help" to explain why he never shares their frame.  Like a good guide that he is, he merely bears witness. 

Yes, he's less of a fighter and more of a rationalizer, and Corrigan does his weirdest bit of acting when spying his nemesis the white gorilla through the trading post window back in the present, while about to take a shot of whiskey. Instead of pounding it to steady his nerves like a real man he lets it slip through his fingers in the most ridiculously forced manner, and starts this intense little pule / whine of "there it is," almost like he's in a long bathroom line. Then he's back to narrating derring-do with lions always trying to break down thatched huts ("as the lions continued their attack, I thanked my lucky stars for my decision I made never to be caught too close to Bradford...")

Since Corrigan is usually the one growling and snarling (he plays every gorilla in 40s movies), it's surprising to hear his soothing, masculine and low-key voice that fits him perfectly. He's kind of a beefy, normal looking guy, but the lyrical language and conversational way he speaks (in a kind of repetitive hypnotic style where the key word of the previous sentence is the first word of the next) creates a pleasant kind of trance. Distant jungle noises outside the trading post, the nature footage, and the rich music, and foley for the silent film flashbacks, all run under his voice, like soothing 'green noise.' It's mostly seamless, even if they sound recorded on vastly different equipment. 

Furthering the pleasant sense of dislocation is the use non-spatial distance and tribal relations in this part of the jungle ("jungle where the natives hated the white man.") Steve says he and Bradford stayed at he old man's camp 'for months' while coming ever closer to finding the treasure via his coveted map. So they trek all day and then turn around and trek back? The inner jungle turns out to be almost two-dimensional, with native villages overlapping each other and the camp in a foggy blur where no shot seems aware of its connection to the one that precedes it. It turns the camp of Bradford, and the trading post are all no more than few miles the Cyclops cave (which is where Steve leads Bradford and co about to to be fed to a pair of anachronistic tigers--clearly stock footage of them trying to climb up the concrete wall in the zoo enclosure-- as a sacrifice). When the other guys at the post go off to check it out they're back the next day, it's just long enough to give Steve just time enough to face off with his deadly alabaster foe, and rescue the girl. Her strategy: shoot once, scream three times, throw the gun to the ground and pass out at the white gorilla's feet (Steve notes "as I passed her rifle laying on the ground, I knew something had happened").

The climactic highlight is a battle with the much larger black gorilla, who slaps his own face and conks the white one with a big stick from behind his back. The likely grim fate of Bradord, the jungle boy, his horned mom, Bradford, and the daughter of the blind treasure hunter better left unsaid. The other men return from checking it out and note there were only bones and the two tigers. Since that's where the surviving chunk of Perils ends too, Case closed! So Steve is going home to America with the rest of them, rationalizing once again in his conversational, muffled tone: 
"After all, we have no right to the jungle. It belongs to the natives, and the animals, not the white man. It was theirs before we came, it should be theirs now." 
All is right with the jungle, the white outsiders are all gone--even the little jungle boy--and Steve has learned some important things.  Even as they walk away his narration continues, no longer bearing witness, but just imagining the jungle's denizens giving the gorilla a kind of moment of silence as a sign of belated respect.  Considering the blithe unconscious colonial racism and animal mistreatment on display in 99% of all other jungle movies from that era, it's almost woke. Not that you'll be by then, if you watch it late at night in bed like I do, almost every night, always near a stream. 

Monday, November 27, 2023

CinemArchetype 28: The Elemental

Getting into the pagan dark magic of the earth, air, fire, and water is as easy as doing almost nothing.... and as hard as doing less. Just like the truth about alien involvement in our evolution is--despite the mountains of evidence (19 seasons of the History Channel's Ancient Aliens and counting--almost impossible to fully accept consciously, our unconscious won't let go of it-- no one can stay truly neutral, truly objectively 'skeptical' (in the original definition) on the subject. That's because our unconscious--the basement of our mind--has connections... to the anima mundi. And the mundi has an airport.

Same way our phones handshake with the cloud, the deepest level of our dream basement connects to all other basements via this hub. And to the earth itself, filtering its blinding high-speed flashes through the lens of myth, rusheth other realities, McKenna's "high strangeness." Through this deep dream spelunking thou mayest widen the girth of your soul until it's a big as all outdoors. This is how you float to heaven; the demons cannot grab you when you're empty air, nor drown you when you are the ocean. 

We haven't really discussed the anima mundi here in the CinemArchetypes, and that's as it should be. We've been wrapped up in the Self's little whirlpool smokestack of archetypes, and now it's time to look at the world's gnarled, breathing roots. There is a tree we're all tendrils of, and one by one, its own archetypes appear in dreams--the elementals. 

Like a sock puppet slipped onto the hand of Gaia, so too slips a persona onto the amorphous shape of the natural world's unstoppable forces. A beautiful illustration can be found on a classic SNL sketch where Christopher Walken plays a "man who's very scared of plants" and so puts googly eyes on them--essentially creating earth elementals, showing--in a sort of emblematic sense--the reason for elementals in the first place. Which came first? Wrong! 

Saying these personifications are all in our head is forgetting we have barely a handful of breadcrumbs by way of proof we've ever probed our inner forests. Our ego wants us to forget those woods are down there. Like a jealous lover trying to alienate us from our biological family, the ego wants to keep us home nights. With science being so logistical, it's understandable why its acolytes would consider "all in your mind" grounds for dismissal of any phoenomena. They're scared of their own darkness, a force which nags at them that the world view they've embraced may be just a case of forest denial. 

When I say 'we' generate sentient autonomous energies through our belief in them, science scoffs, but exorcists and snake oil salesmen understand. We'll never know which came first, the demons or the humans whose fear gave them names and raison d'etres. But if they're not 'real' then neither are we. And as for faith healing, the snake oil heals all ills if the the salesman did a good job of pitching it. Placebos are the true miracle drug of our age, if you believe in them--which means you need a charismatic pitchman with the power of persuasion at their disposal, a kind of placebo reiki. 

Thus these forces are the basics, the root chords, the pigments from which our (cinema) 
archetypal world is painted. 

They're all in the world's head, of course.  Luckily there's a cure for that --and it's only a dolla. 


Both sympathetic and terrifying, like children of a certain age, these oceanic elementals can be temporarily captured and harnessed but never broken. Cage them and you rule the waves but gain an immortal enemy. Release them and you bring on yourself the mercurial mood swings of weather systems and underground earthquakes. Love them and be one with the sea, a drowned sailor slowly turning into both a jaunty skeleton and part of the sea itself. Now that's amore. 

1. Naomie Harris - Tia Dalma / Calypso
(series, starting w/ Dead Man's Chest - 2006+)
Dir. Gore Verbinski 

Say what you want about how exhausting these films get by their belated ends, Verbinski's Pirates of the Caribbean series is packed with termite imagination, ingenious art design and keen little details, all of which are impossible to absorb in one sitting (I like catching them on network TV already in progress, watching them in about one hour increments on idle channel-flipping weekend afternoons, often drifting off before the last reel from sheer overstimulation.) 

And for me a big selling point is the cosmic archetypal romance between the ocean-floor bound Davy Jones--a truly virulent and mind bogglingly well animated character whose octopus head is covered in breathing bivalves (an under-appreciated bit of CGI mastery)-- and the sultry Calypso (Harris), the ocean elemental long kept bound to land by some magic spell that has been allowing men to sail her surface without being crushed by her stormy wrath when it's 'that time of the month', lunar-tidally speaking. And so she runs a cafe/bar where everyone hangs out when not aboard some ship or stranded on some desert isle. 

Harris' Calypso speaks in this sultry Jamaican accent where she kind of grabs the backbeat of normal conversational tones, so that her voice becomes like warm tea or whiskey, filtering in through the cracks of sailing man's bluster, suddenly turning the world a little more full and magical through her voice alone. The sequence in Dead Man's Chest, wherein the pirates free her from her chains, to allow her to return once more to the sea (so she can wipe out the advancing British armada), is full of questioning: will a water elemental, long-imprisoned, feel bound to any bargain with pirates?  Why would the ocean keep a promise to the mortals who've long enslaved her? It's certainly a unique situation. 

But maybe if you learn to love the hurricane, your own elemental immortality may result. It's about letting go of the mast and, with a hearty yell, plunging into the maw of the kraken with the free abandon of a trusting infant being thrown into the air and caught again and again by their giant, loving father, never once entertaining the idea dad's hands may slip.  Thus cavorts Depp's Captain Jack, feyly staggering to and fro with ingenuity and immorality. And what water elemental can't help but smule?

2. Linda Lawson as Moira 
(1961) Dir. Curtis Harrington 

A sense of desolate loneliness runs through Harrington's debut feature that makes it--watching it alone and sad at 5 AM--a little too close to home for comfort, yet comfort comes anyway, thanks to the lure of the sea. Harrington--hip to the power of elementals as part ot the California magick crowd--lets the sandy  isolation find solace with the caress of cold, lapping waves. So it is a a beautiful sideshow mermaid Moira (Linda Lawson) connects with a shy sailor on leave (Dennis Hopper)--the only other solo wanderer in all the deserted Santa Monica Pier, an eerie late night locale that feels like a NYC side street rolled up and smoked by the inky ocean. Harrington gradually let go of mer-perso mhystique as we realize another seafarer, a retired captain, is responsible, maybe for filling her head with whatever blarney will keep her tied to him. So will this Calypso find a new Flying Dutchman or stay landlocked with her retired captain semi-father?

Fortunately the film's unique spell is so strong (Harrington was/is all into magic with pals Kenneth Anger and  Marjorie Cameron --who has a small role as the film's equivalent to Elizabeth Russell's strange cat lady "sister" in Cat People - a clear inspiration') that any amount of sober explanation in the denouement doesn't detract from the archetypal spell. 

In the end, the young Harrington's lonely drifting "we're all ghosts here at the fair"-style poeticism captures well the personification of the ocean elemental (his style of occult magick gets most of its energy from these kind of forces, so it makes sense). Ask not if she's real or a wave morphed by pareidolia, just listen and hear her siren lure heard faintly in the roar of ocean wind passing ghostly through the sea snail coils of your cochlea. Yea, though she may be the corrosive effect of long term salt air exposure on your rum-soaked neurons and the prolonged sexual frustration of being too long at sea, that that doesn't make her any less real. She's the mystic crossroads where your desire and the Anima Mundi intersect, the phallic beam of your film projector giving shape and substance to the formlesss/all-forms silver screen ocean. She's the point of infinity wherein you may well disappear, for it is said no drowning man ever feels alone again. Wrapping you up in her permanent warm embrace, she's all you ever took to sea for. 

 (1978) Dir.  Tsugunobo Kotani

A kind of oceanic ghost story, the delectably weird and Jungian archetypal 70s TVM, The Bermuda Depths sails the same lonesome sailor's anima currents as Night Tide and even Beach Blanket Bingo's touching affair between Bonehead and Lorelei. It's such a perfect illustration of the anima (i.e. a sexually frustrated sailor's desperate paeredolia-spiked mirage, so seals, even rocks, take the form of beguiling women in the oceanic haze) it's practically emblematic. But we're discussing the elemental aspect as well, which is much stranger and more unknowable and she functions this way too. We may think she belongs to us, our personal anima, but she is the ocean's anima, not ours.

Maybe it's because I'm a Pisces, but I love this weird TVM, I'm even haunted by the theme song, "Jenny" ("Have I only imagined her?") I was dissatisfied with the end but, aren't we always dissatisfied when we wake up from dreaming about her? I watched it while switching back and forth to hurricane Dorian on the Weather Channel. Man, what a perfect symbiosis to my sailor psyche. I couldn't stop thinking about.... Jennie-- with her raven hair, perfect olive tan, waterproof no-smudge eyeliner and the ability to reflect light from her eyes so they glow like an inhuman fish, or like Dorian's twirling eye, which was heading towards Bermuda as I watched. What are the odds? It was like she and her giant turtle were letting me know they knew I knew this synergy was no accident. 

Though this literal dream girl trope ("have I only imagined her?") often irritates me in other films, it works here as there's plenty of evidence she's more than just a fantasy or a psychotic hallucination. The men who don't believe she's real are--after all--trying to catch a turtle the size of a Victorian mansion in a rinky dink tug boat-- so they're not reliable arbiters of reality. And besides, she's real to Magnus (Leigh "will soon play the dick EPA guy in Ghostbusters"  McCloskey) and to us. And she goes goes with the turtle, we learn, and the turtle might be the devil. Weird choice, Satan! 

No matter how far down the bizarre Bermuda Depths goes, it never loses its Jungian "on-the-one" beat. The film itself is a dream within a dream, and there is no waking, thankfully, only a renouncement of one layer of the dream for another, which may or may not be a transition to adulthood but is certainly a tragic end of innocence and a smart adios to the ocean. Only the sailors yet to be, not yet castrated by their entry into the social sphere, are naive enough to think there is any difference between the sea, the sun and the land, or between dreams and 'reality.' Hopelessly enamored and ever risking being dragged to hi death, Magnus does what I had to do with alcohol. He turns his back on the one thing he loves most. He chooses not to drown in the arms of his warm oblivion. He self-beaches. One a mythic level, this is more than the usual castration needed to enter the social order--this is fishing out that which was cut away (the Lacanian objet petit a) feeling whole for a brief minute, then throwing it back into the ocean. The alternative? Drowning, in all it uncut glory.

The Anima Mundi's most abundant and strangest element. It's neither here nor there. Bullets cannot harm it, only H-Bombs, "exploding even the air itself" (-Eros) --the ultimate cheat/imbalance thrower. The Air controls the birds of the field, and wraps the earth in its love embrace.  

 5. Lydia/Melanie 
THE BIRDS (1963)

Sure it's an oblique connection, but that's the beauty of Hitchcock's film. In going to Bodega Baty--leaving the toy shop (as they say)--Melanie brings the birds with her, but it's Lydia's sky. Everything you bring to it will be used against you. in this case to create a poltergeist-style crypto-incestuous manifestation of crypto-incesteuos  anxiety. Strong pre-Edenic human emotions,--the ones kept way down where Cronus eats his young--are the only fuel a 'Mother Nature' elemental manifestation needs to shriek its way into existence  When it reaches its apotheosis you can even hear its Michael Myers-like breathing / killer POV up in the sky, gazing down at the flaming Bodega Bay gas station.  

Notice that once Melanie is reduced to hysterical child--in shock and powerless--the birds are calm. Lydia doesn't have to worry about Mitch remaining in her nest, the threat has been neutralized. 

The air elemental has a similar elusive quality. It both is and isn't in any particular place at any particular time. When it inhabits a body, or any electromagnetic non corporeal matrix, it can always lift or melt away. Similarly the bird attacks are mostly terrorizing rather than deadly. They can get lucky and peck out some eyes or break the skin in enough places the victim bleeds to death (like Melanie's potential rival Annie) but basically it's the uncanny sudden surplus of them that's unnerving, that they can appear and disappear and choose their moment. The sudden surplus of Melanie's presence, too, in this very settled town, unnerves the locals who tie her to the disturbance, rightly, even thought they're not sure how. The beast's exitence isn't her fault, though, she's only the father. 

6. Anita Louise - Titania 

With that crazy proto-glam sparkling outfit, Louise shows a dancer's grace, waving and moving her hands as if she's the same density as the air around her, alight with night-tripping changeling stealing, breeze riding elegance. It's almost a relief that her falsetto voice is so annoying, maybe two registers above Louise's normal speaking voice, almost causing feedback in the recording equipment, but if she hit a low Hawksian woman register, like, say, Lauren Bacall or Margaret Sheridan, I'd probably have to kill myself to stop the pain of my ardor. Oberon, the king of the night, is also a night elemental but I just wrote about him in my Victor Jory appreciation. He the absence she fills, the black of the sky while she is the moon and/or stars. They are as one.

7. Rex Ingram - the Genie
Thief of Baghdad   (1940)

The more times I see him as God in The Green Pastures or Lucia, the Devil's son, in Cabin in the Sky  the bigger my awe of Rex Ingram. For Thief, he's a terrifying but ultimately good-natured 'chaotic neutral' genie or djinn- no Robin William pally-wally stuff for Rex's genie, so don't mistake his boisterous good nature for allegiance beyond those obligatory wishes. And if one of those wishes is to set him free, like Calypso in the above, you have to just pray this nonhuman force decides to keep its word. So it is, perhaps, that dealing with elementals is like putting the gun down first in a stand-off- we can only hope we don't get blown, burned, drowned or buried as we step out of our magic safety circle and contend with the mercurial unknowable forces of the world. We take their love for granted at our peril. From a Jungian angle, keeping humble and granting them autonomy is a way to give yourself your wildness back. Without that kind of lunatic trust in wildness, life gets mighty stale, and then symptoms of hysteria break out -- a numb arm here, an earthquake there, hysterical blindness here, floods there--and fire always waiting to burn you out of the equation. 

8. Sandra Knight - "The Girl" - THE TERROR (1964

While the Hellman style wasn't yet a recognizable 'thing' in 1963, after seeing his more acclaimed features (TWO-LANE BLACKTOP, THE SHOOTING),  you feel that innate "Hellman-ness" in THE TERROR's dreamy 'edge of forever' iconography: tidal pools, spinning compasses, crashing Big Sur waves., ambiguity of relationships, and the fluidity of feminine identity (they tend to be nameless, billed in the credits as "the woman" or "the girl"). Such anima ambiguity perfectly fits the ghostly figure played by Sandra Knight in THE TERROR, who is, like many of these elementals, also functional as anima. She can appear as a hawk, swooping or circling overhead amd/or swooping down on someone to kill them.  or wandering around the cemetery ether. Depending on which of the film's many directors was at the helm, she's an elemental hawk/girl spirit, a local girl possessed by a vengeful ghost, or a normal human girl who thinks she's a ghost thanks to hypnosis coordinated by the mother of the son who the Baron killed when he found her in bed with Ilsa, his young wife, or--as Wonka would say--reverse that. If that melange of identities seems unclear remember that Hill and Hellman were coming in for the second half of a project begun by Corman as a straight Poe-ish Gothic, and continued by Coppola as a folk horror tale of hypnotism and revenge. Rather than twisting further toward Corman's Karloff Gothic or Coppola's folk horror, Monte and Jack came along brought it farther out, turning Helene into an enigma reflecting transmigration of souls, the transitory nature of the flesh and the relentless ocean tide whiplash reframed as a mirror to eternity's corrosive caress --in other words, bring on the Hellman, and bring out the best. (full)


9. The Fire Itself - BACKDRAFT (1991)

Ron Howard is too earnest for me a lot of the times, but he's a solid director, a kind of William Wyler of his time, and Backdraft has one great aspect, the portrayal of the fires these guys go against as a kind of conscious entity, eagerly surging ahead to, well, who could top Owen Glienerman's masterful succinction:
In Ron Howard’s Backdraft, fire comes roiling across the top of a room in billowy, black orange waves. It gets sucked behind the walls, like a genie pouring back into its bottle (for a few seconds, the film seems to be running in reverse motion), and then, fueled by a surge of air, it explodes outward with ever-greater lightning force. During a climactic inferno in a chemical warehouse, it seems to come at the fire fighters from every imaginable angle — an elusive, shapeless hydra with a thousand incendiary heads.
Owen! You ruled the 90s, at least for me, with my free EW subscription and the world so much simpler.
10. Bob - Twin Peaks

There are several ways the dimensions between worlds--the dream abstraction of the Black Lodge, and regular mundane Twin Peaks, Oz and Kansas--can be bridged - one is deep meditation and/or DMT opening the usually closed halls and tunnels of the mind so that your consciousness can finally meet itself--another, is FIRE. Fire crosses over--if you look deep into the flames while listening to a story at night, the flicker acts as a kind of organic stutter-stop in a film projector, blocking the transition from frame to frame out of our vision. Bob then moves through those black shutters, jams up the sprockets so the film, whose images are so fleeting that, if one stays under the blazing lens for more than a few extra seconds, it starts burning a hole in the film. Isn't that what trauma does? It splits the film in two. This is how the Eyes Wide Shut / One Eyed Jacks crowd--also very big in Oz symbolism---use incest to turn young girls into normal people by day, sex slave assassins by night? To gain power you must corrupt the innocent, that corruption is the spark that starts the fire that--as the Log Lady warns Laura in Fire Walk with Me--is hard to put out once it starts consuming goodness. 

And so Bob is always burning--Lynch often glazes him in fire overlays---a fire elemental--but is trapped in the void where fire must wait, dormant, contained until he's able to enter the minds of those who allow him to, from there to corrupt and kill like the fire he is. Putting him out to take a whole season, as we learned in Twin Peaks: The Return. But fire walks with us whenever a match is struck, ready to light a cigarette or burn down half of Nevada. And anyway, you got to have him to keep warm, and to make the slain creatures you consume taste good. 

Smaug (voiced by Bennedict Cummberbach) 
- The Hobbit movies

More than some abstract monster in the giant lizard vein, Smaug speaks, has a great sense of smell, and a tremendous lot of gold to horde. In Jungian terms, he's the anal chakra, that sense of power and control when infants first learn to hold in their poopies. As a fire elemental he materializes the full empty obession of greed, the way greed can run amok, destroying everything in it's --'ahem' ---past, determined to burn the world down to save the gold it ultimately has no actual use for, aside from a bed. The mountain he sleeps in is the perfect model for what we might imagine contains fire, keeps it out of sight--fire sleeps in the mountains. 

"These little shreds shall, indeed, stand for all."
                                          - Walt Whitman

12. Poison Ivy - BATMAN & ROBIN
13. Deborah Reed -Creedence Leonore Gielgud - TROLL 2

Bottle cap glasses-wearing, hair-in-a-bun, horticulturists by day, sexy wild-eyed wild Earth elementals by night--each using their beauty, evil and chemistry to greenify an undeserving world--sounds like your kinda gal? Well, rejoice! One is a cult classic that just gets better with repeat viewings.and the other--shot at about 100,000x the budget--is unendurable, but in each they transcend in the earth elemental sorcerous hotness. 

In BATMAN AND ROBIN (1997) Uma Thurman plays a bottle cap glasses-wearing horticulturist, hair-in-a-bun horticulturist by day, who becomes a sexy, wild-eyed Earth elemental by night, using psychoactive plant powders to create a green inflatable-muscled henchman (a way more fun Bane!), and to 'greenify' Gotham by eliminating its pesky human residents into mulch for her beloved plants. The rest of the film is awful as hell but she's great

Batman & Robin was poorly received with good reason--marred by terrible casting choices (Alicia Silverstone and Chris O'Donell are all wrong for Robin and Batgirl, like Sophia ----- as X-Men Phoenix). Hell, I walked out after the first ten minutes, to sneak into the movie next door (as one does at multiplexes). But now, later, catching it in a Sunday afternoon stupor on cable after seeing the infamous and much beloved TROLL 2 the night before, I officially love some of it it in all its terrible glory. The two actually make a great and terrible outsider fantasy double feature, especially when one considers the similarities between Batman's Uma Thurman (channelling Mae West) as Poison Ivy with - (channelling a tripping Margaret Hamilton) as Melora Cregar in Troll 2.

ALL THAT aside there's clear references to both the 1934 Black Cat and the 1932 Blonde Venus. And though her sub-par Mae West double entendre dialogue is badly written ("my garden needs tending" / "some lucky boys are bound to hit the honey pot"), pulsing with missed opportunities, Thurman seems to be having fun and looks great in her Miss Jolly Green Giant couture. Rolling her eyes, carrying on about Mother Nature having her day, and 'greening Gotham' after ridding herself of the feathered and furry caped crusaders, Uma alone finds that perfect balance between the high camp of the TV show (borrowing a page from Julie Newmar) and 'blockbuster'-style acting. As someone who always felt guilty over the purposeless murder of evergreen trees at Christmas, I applaud the tru-baller anti-veganism, which makes her the spiritual earth elemental sister of Deborah Reed in Troll 2 (1990)

And for TROLL 2, Reed is the bomb- overacting more than Batman and Robin's entire cast put together, she's truly a sight with her terrible teeth and wild hair as both the climactic full-on witch and the sinister-sweet librarian gardener of Nilbog. But she does have one scene where she sashays all sexy into the TV and trailer of one of the last morons standing and makes his cob pop something fierce. The bro just stands there, terrified, erect and immobilized, leaving us to wonder: is he waiting for a direction from off camera, maybe trying to hide his erection or not blow his first opportunity by saying or doing something awkward? Either way, his popcorn is soon so ready he'll want another bag.

Jennifer Lawrence is an idealistic pregnant Mother Nature who just wants to be with her man and have a quiet night at home while she works on fixing up the house and he labors on his poetry in the sky, or upstairs. But of course an out of control violent human population, driven mad with religious devotion to their poet hero, end up mobbing the place for an impromptu party that burns all out of hand, zigging up from the Old to New Testament. The way Aronofsky films the mounting chaos via going from room to room as J-Law tries to get these ragers from destroying her plumbing will ring eerily true for anyone whose ever had to call the cops on their own party to get the ravenous hordes of strangers out of their house before it's completely destroyed. Some critics and audience members can't handle certain scenes but anyone familiar with Catholic and pagan iconography surely won't object to seeing their symbols concretized. Lawrence has been very hit-or-miss lately but here it's a definite hit as she goes organically from happy wife to annoyed host to terrified home invasion victim and beyond into thunderous avenger of her own lost abundance. 

15. Skinwalker / Evil Tree Spirit - 
EYES OF FIRE (1983) 

Films like this highly uniquely otherworldly and long-unavailable episodic folk horror film is one of those regional recent rediscoveries, like Blood Beat, Death Bed, The Child, Lemora, The Witch Who Came from the Sea, and The Bogey Man that reminds us how startlingly weird and fresh 70s-80s horror could be--the trick was finding them in the endless sea of hack cheap slashers. This one is drenched in horror-adventure period piece magical realism along the same general plot and time frame as The Witch --i.e. late-1600s America, when the wilderness was still largely the domain of Native Americans, a few British or French military-maintained outposts, wandering fur traders, and small, remote religiously uptight enclaves. And--of course--earth and fire elementals are around, luring and devouring the wee ones roaming unchecked in the woods. The elemental here is a witch doctor earth spirit hypothesized to be made from the blood of innocent creatures, killed to give life to other less-innocent monsters, pooling in the earth until it takes the shape on an avenging earth spirit. As with The Witch, we have a a delusional preacher patriarch of the kind that essentially made the laws privileging white males so deservedly obsolete--in this case an itinerant preacher who takes up with the wife of a long-absent fur trader and her gaggle of kids. They end up needing to escape downriver when the town tries to hang a redheaded girl stepchild just because she knows how to speak with the trees. Sailing on a wooden raft, shot at by Native Americans, they end up finding a place of their own in a patch of woods the local Shawnee fear to tread, haunted by a malicious soul collecting tree spirit magus who is soon sucking them all down to his web of interlocked roots and shroom filaments til all that's left is their faces jutting out of trees. Gradually the survivors barricade themselves into their fort walls defending against the ghost band of past settlers and Native Americans turned into a naked bunch of Woodstock style mud dancers, glowing with lysrergic red energy, and even an evil changeling shuttled into their midst that the preacher takes as his own. 

And hey -- the 20th century brought us new elements to personify, most notable HEDORAH, the pollution elemental, and....
oops we're out of time.

But check out this full list of all of Erich's CINEMARCHETYPES!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

10 Reasons PARANORMAL: CAUGHT ON CAMERA has Your Collective Unconscious Ripped Wide Shut

A staple of the game shelf over every 70s rec room closet.

When you're no longer afraid of being scoffed at for not scoffing at it, when you can let go of the borders between de-classifying known phenomena back into monsters and magic, masterful deep-cover short form found footage, deeper into deadpan-meta than a double Heidecker, a kind of retrogressive folk horror "return to subjective reality' movement (i.e. a future where anyone dressed slightly vintage seen otherwise deserted forest, graveyard, or tourist trap  can become a black-eyed child when seen in an otherwise ordinary video), NY's hottest club is: Paranormal... Caught on Camera. Only on the Trvl Channel.

If you can surrender to its paranoid free association panel of experts, weird videos, stock footage and old time illustrations; if you can pretend the goalpost of conventional reality has been moved waay back; if you can be cool with intentionally believing yesterdays superstitions were never shamed into the Jungian shadows by conventional psychology., you can feel archaic primal electricity  roaring back through your neurons.  Jung has partnered up with the Travel Channel to usher those skittish superstitions back out into the sun of the 'visible' world. Come to the agrarian cult of the paranormal and get a taste of how wild and weird the world around s before stupid science came along with their stupid-ass naming and classifying and magicidal quest to bust up our myths. Take our diseases and ignorance, but leave us our myths, man. We need them. Disney can only string us along on fairy tale fentanyl for so long, if we don't get a hit of the real Grimm stuff soon, our roster of Jungian archetypes will rise up and drag us down to the mire, and probably take our place at the helm. Someone.... or some thing  knows where they'll take us - but we know we'll end up beaching on the rocks.

Luckily then, for Paranormal: Caught on Camera, which rips a hole open in the floor and let loose the accumulated pressures of archaic folklore, giving the archetypes the access to fresh air they were craving. They roar to life, erasing years of science from our blackboards. Familiar animals are made strange again. Videos invariably show something that could be taken at face value (aka pareidolia) with a little effort. Thus our eyes are restored to those of children to whom the world is a wild, unknowable place. Tall black rocks seen from far away are possibly Bigfoot staring at the camera; ropes covered with ice chunks drifting down the winter river are sea serpents, misfired rocket boosters are strange UFOs. Just because a flying shield might actually be the sun doesn't mean you will die in battle against ancient Rome. Our beliefs make this world into what we see it as. So even if we know from other TV shows that a paradigm-shattering sign of the apocalypse may also be a bunch of silver balloons, or a dead sea serpent blob thing actually a chunk of whale blubber, or a flying witch a spider traveling by web parasail, we should keep it to ourselves, like religious views at Thanksgiving, you're not going to convert each other, so just let there be two answers. It's not going to make a difference to your daily life unless they're asking you for money. So if it gives some people the thrill of mystery and the return of myth, why bust their bubble like some third grade Santa-truther? If we're ever going to avoid Civil War II, we have to begin with this mutual respect of each others' realities along the conscious/unconscious divide.

And besides taken as a whole as an object/record of folklore, not unlike an Alan Lomax recording library, the show offers the perfect fusion of past and future, of living myth.  Everyone now has cameras at the ready, along with infrared, and all sorts of ghost hunting apps - and they're using them to unearth glimpses of what before could only be relayed as campfire anecdotes. These videos which "catch" the uncatchable, make visible a small shard of our collective unconscious' broken dream mirror--even if we're just seeing what we want to see, we can at least see what that is, and just who inside us wants to see it. 

At any rate. we can interpret--along with the assembled and very colorful group of talking head experts-- but we're can never see enough to get the whole picture. We're always so close, but, season after season, we never get closer. Maybe it's important to keep it that way. Knowing none of it is real would be too sad, knowing all of it is real would be too scary.  But not knowing either way, we're like a cat chasing god's red laser pointer--if the cat gets frustrated that he never seems to catches it, well, he's looking at it all wrong. If he realizes the futility, gives up and goes back to loafing around, he's missing good exercise for his ancient hunter faculties. But if he suspects it's all an illusion, but still chased anyway, recognizing the benevolent hand of their owner behind the curtain but not letting on, that's myth in action. So even if you think you know the whole story, one way or the other, keep it to yourself, act 'as if' and don't ruin it for the younger kids!  

 “I shall not commit the fashionable stupidity of regarding everything I cannot explain as a fraud." - Jung

The Ouija board: there is perhaps no better illustration of Jung's collective unconsciousness and its ability to manifest autonomous threads into the fabric of (conscious) reality. With everyone's hands on the planchette--presuming no one is consciously trying to consciously move it--the combined unconscious energies fuse together to generate an autonomous spirit, a combination fictional collaboration wrought by our inner children, and perhaps some real incorporeal spirit that's been waiting for just such a surplus of electro-magnetic energy to cohere into 3D time/space reality (the invitation of the ouija users being the equivalent of removing the password on your combined WiFi.) Sure, the answers the resulting 'it' gives may be nothing more than a fiction generated by our combined unconscious desires. Then again, it may be disembodied autonomous spirit, a shared ancestor / past life, or even a nonhuman intelligence, like a demon, using your combined unconscious energies like modeling clay to sculpt itself into a form you'd recognize in your collective memory. Be the demons that manifested at the dawn of civilization (daimons), personifications of the repressed energies that allow modern civilization to properly function (demons) or even elementals dredged up from the slumber of nature (elementals), these beings may transcend the boundaries of self, reality, expression, tine, space, and consciousness. 

Then again they could be ghosts of people who lived in the area, or portions of their souls that never quite found the white light exit. 

Then again, it could just be a lot of giggling and saying "you moved it!" "No I didn't! You did." and then moving on to some other game. That's my memory of it. And that's just as valid, in its way--that's what Jung's mythic archetypal landscape is all about. Sure it's your own inner journey translated into narrative myth, but it's also 'just a dream.' 

But like all good myths, the Ouija board has evolved with each new generation of telephone game mythic improvisation. What was once a harmless spooky slumber party pastime has become the paranormal version of a loaded gun left in the dresser where your kid can find it. To the ghost hunters and psychics who've come to help you with your haunting, admitting you used one in the past has become the myth equivalent telling your doctor you still smoke three packs a day even though you have COPD. The look in their eyes says "you f**ked yourself'." Because you see, in today's world, demons are the ultimate catfish, the psychic internet predator to whom all prey--no matter what their age--are children. And everyone who ever used one, it seems, forgot to lock the front door before going to sleep. 

Note figure running in distance

2. LEGIT Creepines:  Shadow People, Skinwalkers, Orang Bunian, Gnomes, Duende & Black-Eyed Children, Kuntilinaks, Reptilians, 

I can take or leave all the videos of unsightly 'paranormal researchers' breaking into abandoned properties in search of subscribers to their YouTube channel. It's funny when they start yelling at ghosts to get a reaction, then running away shrieking in a panic when the ghosts oblige. And I can take or leave the nighttime UFO sightings - they could be anything from that far away. BUT those maybe-accidental captures of shadow people, poltergeist action, trail cams, security cams, and shaky stuff shot by quick-thinking normal people who suddenly see something really weird and remember to film it. Favorites include a strange naked woman/dog thing running around in the jungles caught by accident on some jungle snake expert's nature show; a sleeping panther/human caught on Skinwalker Ranch; a Belgian cyclist's glimpse weird lizard man dropping down into a creek bed in Thailand; a pair of deformed, shadowy orang bunian lumbering out of the darkness towards a foolish ghost hunter in Indonesia (lots of terrifying stuff coming out of Indonesia!); black-eyed children in the background of videos of some kid dancing around the living room' jet black shadow people suddenly peering around the corner or standing in the dark of the basement, darker than dark; babies and dogs reacting to some unseen thing in the corner; weird little monsters captures accidentally running around behind cupboards or reaching out to touch the hand of a kid playing in the closet, or appearing in a basement stairs doorway like some evil little black imp. I'm getting pleasantly scared just thinking about some of this stuff! And I'll take scared of the unknown vs. scared of some real thing. 

I also love what I think may be legit ghost when there's an orb shooting by right before something weird happens, and it sometimes elongates or takes a kind of shape before melting away into some action. If any of this shit is real, it's these--and if these are real, than goddamned we live in a crazy world with dimensions far beyond what our human eyes can normally see, an' shit. 

3. Earnest witnesses who are either great actors or legit scared out of their skulls 

Sure there's a plethora of scabby dirtbag ghost hunters, a most unsightly lot in general (the American ones in particular, no offense) which casts--bearing their yen to acquire YouTube subscribers in mind--doubt on their findings-- but then something happens to them in their videos and they're scared out of their minds, running out of the room, shrieking in a high register nobody would ever intentionally fake. I mean, it not a good look. And either way, horror film actors should really take a good listen.

Most of the witnesses though are normal people from around the world who just happen to catch really weird shit almost accidentally, like little hands reaching out from corners to touch the child they're filming playing in a cupboard; shadow people peering around corners; people on motorbikes in India who pass some bizarre glowing white sheet wearing figure or large naked lady in the rain walking backwards - it sends them driving past, screaming at the top of their lungs. Nothing can stop the involuntary high-pitched shout and exhale screams that come roaring out of their mouths before we lose sight of the thing and the picture goes all chaotic as they race for their lives down the road, or stairs or back to their cars.  I especially love the Muslin djinn hunters' in the Middle East, their panicky but rather lovely prayers when things get weird, all translated with subtitles on the show almost like poetry: "I seek refuge with the complete word of god, from the evil which He has created." one man shouts when things get weird. "In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful " all rattled off in this mounting panic as they hear doors slam shut. It's worth its weight in gold. 

Then again, they freak out over a smudge on a window because it's almost a face and they never think twice about pareidolia, which throws everything into question. 

4. Folklorist Lynne McNeil 

Here is the kind of folklorist/paranormal expert I like: Lynne regularly espouses the correct dualistic approach towards the paranormal, recognizing that a perceived phenomenon may eventually have a scientific explanation without losing its mythic heft. In a landscape marred by reductionist either/or-ness,  McNeil brings this eternal paradox into the mainstream. She gets the fluidity of meaning, so concentrates instead on gut reaction, the relevance of folklore's eternal function as the sonar we use to sound the abyss of our collective and personal unconscious. And she knows just what to say that makes the video scarier, even while slyly placing it in the context of folklore rather than conventional reality.

She has the best understanding of how beliefs affect reality as well as vice vera ("You actually draw things to you with your attention to them.") as anyone I've heard, outside of Jung, Patrick Harpur, and Graham Hancock, because she's not afraid to seem like a flake rather than professor, and at the same time is clearly vice versa. G'head, Lynne, keep this shit grounded in a mythic folklore contest, even while treating it all as possibly real as well as psychically symbolic. It's all three, and more.. "We romanticize an openness to belief in children, and we pathologize a belief in adults--we think adults should be over that by now, and that's incredibly unfortunate that we do that because belief is one of the most therapeutic tools we have - if we could get over this inclination to either totally oversell it or totally over-pathologize it, we might actually be able to do something really important and useful with it."

Well put, sister. Belief in a higher power is endemic to survival if you're an alcoholic--fight it as ye may--and the tighter mainstream science circles its wagons, the closer they get to the church that used to burn them. Getting the two to work together--like Col. Potter pitching placebo pain killers in MASH after the drugs run out--and almost nowhere else.... except if ya like to get campfire urban legend-style scared!! 

5. Brian Cano

Stoic, slightly wistful, Cano's gently measured brand of freeform sincerity and soul-eyed extempore is the gentle heart of the show. To paraphrase one of his own comments, he makes me question my skepticism. He talks like the camera like he's working the Burning Man chill-out tent, distracting some dosed-out 16 year-olds with supernatural wisdom so they don't start screaming again. (In other words, America).

It's important to remember that all the paranormal expert talking head reactions are presumably unscripted and with Brian it sounds like it, but that just works to his and our benefit, as he lets each para-phenomenal gust of air lift his Socratic wings aloft. Most of the pundits keep it pretty real, not ever-reaching for some kind of profound summation of the human experience but Cano 'goes for distance' and that's why he--so quietly--rocks. I wrote out three my favorite Cano-isms to give you an idea:

On a Loch Ness video:

"Why are people fascinated by lake monsters and things of this sort? Because it infuses wonder back into our world .... The thought that, all right.. there's something out there... that maybe something is eluding us and evading us, and maybe that means all our other hopes and dreams... are possible."

On a UFO video: 

"Unidentified flying object: it just means there's something in the sky and I don't know what it is... but I feel like someone knows what it is --and even if I'm not aware of the explanation and.. even if it's not something for public consumption... someone has to know... what that is."

And on a unicorn video:

"While this video isn't definitive proof unicorns exists, it does raise.... questions. And where there are questions there has to be follow up. Maybe someone will want to follow up on this video and go 'you know what? Let's see if we can track down this unicorn..."

I hope if he reads this he doesn't think I'm being snarky. My own freeform talking head style is not too far off. To do it right you have to trust your inner self -- just leap into the air of a thought and hope there's. another there to catch you... it's high wire stuff.

Aaron Sagers "are we ready for that?"


They're all well edited together to brainstorm all the wild theories they can within the brackets of commercials, for the oddness they've seen, to deliver a smorgasbord of opinions, precedents, past folklore and modern phenomena. With those ring lights surrounding their pupils like some otherworldly intelligence marker, casually talking at or past the camera in a way that's not alienating (unlike the experts in the British version, Unexplained: Caught on Camera, which does everything wrong that Paranormal does right). Aside from when they sometimes use "spirit" as a singular name/noun even for plurals (like "deer" or "fish" ) there's no one amongst them I don't like. I like especially Aaron Sagers, for his sharp sartorial sense, calm but not cuck-y demeanor; the always visceral and funny Ghost Brothers (in the later seasons, when Travel starts cross-promoting/synergizing) who've been in many recent seasons and provide the unashamed total fear response, and the sweet Susan Slaughter, the blonde babe of the show--i.e. the one with bleached feathered blonde hair, substantial but expertly applied eye liner, and beguiling matte lipstick-- prosaic but informative--especially about cryptids in Central American (her area of familial origin). Saphire Sandalo is the hot brunette, sweet and full of gorgeously gruesome details about the vast and lurid lexicon of cryptids from her own ancestral home of the Philippines. Derek Cayman is the grounded facts-relaying guy, with his podcaster hat and another fine beard (these guys all have jet black beard stubble) Mark Moran with his pale, shaved countenance and ever-present black (Civil War?) infantry hat gives us a measured, thoughtful analysis. Rachel Evans is the one with the quirky glasses and seems to have the most natural, intelligent reaction and seems genuinely amused, genuinely into it in a way that she makes kind of vivvid by contrast to the others who labor a bit towards professorial seriousness. 

Taken as a whole, they're all either endearing for trying to sound like an authority at a lecture, pointing out good mythic anchor points, or expressing their natural reactions, it's like a whole camp-out campfire of people with cool stories their grandmothers told them about their own encounters back in wherever, and endearingly flaky insights... and...this being the age it is, they have their videos on their phones to pass around, making everything seem twice as possible. 


I imagine there are some people who get a smug satisfaction when a video later turns out to be a hoax, or misidentified natural phenomena, or pareidolia but those types have been mostly weeded out of the paranormal TV landscape. The powers that be finally realized no one is watching these shows to hear that ghosts aren't real, or the UFOs are swamp gas. And now that UFOs are finally destigmatized, those rubes look especially foolish and dogmatic  and can ghosts be far behind? One gets the idea we're never gonna know for sure either way, so let's ride on it being real--it's more fun. As long as the hoaxers are willing to fully commit to the story, and it looks realistic, it's real enough to get the shivers we want, which are the reason for watching it, then let's do it. I'm in. It worked with Blair Witch (see my piece in "Frightened Male Monthly") And if any of it is real, which I mean centuries of eyewitnesses and mountains of evidence can't be all wrong, then this is the frontier!! Just don't spoil it, science!

Just like civilization mows down the forests in its expansion, so too science crowds out the mythic and magical by incessant investigation, and the magicidal urge to name things, to file them away in phyla and kingdoms and trace their DNA until all their mystery and monstrousness is gone. They ask for a hair from a Buddhist relic of a yeti scalp, so they can find out it's from a bear and just ruin the party for half of Tibet. The doofus mythbusters find the secret water supply inside the weeping virgin Mary statue out behind the church, thus rendering a thousand hopes and dreams dashed. Placebos can work miracles, but not when these buzzkills are around. 

And hey, they aren't around... on Paranormal: Caught on Camera.

8. The Wry and 'on it' Stream-of-Consciousness Editing and Music

The ability to zip up and in and provide almost everything we think we want to see to back up the theories espoused and witnesses testimony, showing the clips' over and over, zooming in on the creepy parts and freeze framing, each segment opening with a big red blob plopping down over its place of origin; masterful cuts of movement editing, slow-motion zooming in and out of the frame, inserts of TV static between shots, closeups of lights and outdoor security cameras. A lot of stock footage images of helicopters, hospital staff, computer screens with shadowy tech guys, close-ups of newspaper clippings, friendly dogs gazing lovingly at their owners, plenty of old paintings woodcuts, cave drawings, old time sketches of Native Amrericans beholding grey aliens, drone footage of the region,  sketches, Northwest forest tracking shot, mountains, volcanoes, dragons, olde historical photos, magic marker illustrations of weird cryptids, enough to keep a dozen interns busy searching for royalty free images off the internet and enough to make each segment so much more than just the video and expert reactions.

I'm not necessarily a fan of their constant use of spooky music even during scenes where we should be straining to listen for creaky footfalls. But generally they do quiet down if we're listening to some EVP or crackle in the attic. And they know just when to insert some Carpenter-style piano, Hans Zimmer-style coxic-buzzing drones, and grinding surges of drums, string samples, and mounting synth tension.


Another great illustration of the collective mythic unconscious in action - 'Blobsquatch' - how so many videos seem to just show a black blob in the distance, as if the Squatch has the ability to blur out his own image on tape, like the producers do for T-shirt logos. Similar to the night time UFO lights - these can have the feel of a 'RORSCHACH BLOTS - CAUGHT ON CAMERA - with the experts all talking about what they see and think it is, letting their pareidolia run wild and free. 

Sure it's hard to believe the skunk ape video where he looks like a skinny guy in a black sweatshirt, so waterlogged it sags dow in the arm inseam, trying to run through the swampy muck (it's no easy thing to be blurry and indistinct yet still unconvincing) but in general I like to give them the benefit of the doubt (i.e. that they're not just hoaxing it to sell skunk ape keychains) but that's genius or pareidolia, we have no control over it--our brains will try to make a recognizable face out of just about anything. 

But I also believe Sasquatch is real--on some level-- because when I accessed the Akashic records back in 2008, they told me so -- he's the descendent of the nephilim, who live for over hundreds of years. They're hiding from the greys who had a mandated from their extinction via the Great Flood, from back five or six thousand years ago. The ones who survived fled to the mountains where the water never reached or underground in vast caverns full of oxygen-producing moss and trippy mushrooms. Don't think they are ancient just because we still see the same ones that survived the flood (antediluvian people, like Enoch. father of Noah, lived for hundreds of years). They are actually only a few hundred years old since they avoid the greys by skipping through time via alternate dimensions. (When making us, their replacements, they de-activated the DNA strands that let us hop time and space, and also gave us--not unlike that bastard in Blade Runner, a shorter life span, lest we become a threat through our accumulated power). That's why even though they are more primitive in a lot of ways, they're still way more powerful than us. We'll never catch them because they were never really here, or there-- yet they've always been here, more than us. 

Yet they are hungry or encroached on they will you and your pets. So if they visit your backyard, leave them some apples or leftovers. Maybe the blobs will come to enough focus you can get a close-up, like this bad boy: 

I believe in this pic - caught by a guy who says they're more human than ape. I think people
confuse them with guys in gorilla suits ala the old dark house movies, or 2001, showing the difficulty
we have with imagining a true missing link. But they're just as much hairy
giant humans as they are apes. I might be wrong, but this pic is so outside the expectations 
we have  I feel like it might actually be real.  This and the recent Colorado train sighting -- 
where he's taller than Chewbacca and blends in  so well one wonders if his hair changes 
to golden brown during droughts. 

That's the Pisces dualism in me: I believe it's all a pareidolia hallucination but I know it's real --more real even than we are. Us trying to trap one is like a sketch of an orange trying to trap a falcon. Or vice versa. 

10. Paul Kaup's Narration.... is always..., dependable

Sure he always phrases everything exactly ..... the same way, with that build up...and then.... the point. When he says "Whether it's someone..." you know he's going to pause then add "or some thing."  After awhile you can finish... his sentences,  while you fold... laundry. And though I miss the kind of voiceovering that was over-the-top ala the old Scariest Places in America show, which ran on the Travel channel 10 years ago-ish, and was awesome in a totally chintzy, Impact font-using melange of tour guides, B-roll, weird insert shots of screaming interns in cheap wig and period costumes--or the grave importance of the guy who does A Haunting, I accept and enjoy his more hinged delivery and less..... hammy... speaking style. Kaup, you're all right.


In case you think I'm a flake for loving this show, you're right. But I'm also a die-hard Jungian. and fascinated by the sociologic need this show fulfills. I know Jung and fellow comparative myth analyst auithors influenced by him like Joseph Campbell, Bruno Bettelheim, Maria Louise von Franz, and Robert Bly would all dig it.

 These days we don't necessarily get grandparents and nannies sharing the weird folk tales and cryptic encounters told them by their own old country grandmothers the way we used to. Cable TV has stepped in to fill the gap and man is it coming through. Its cup runneth over by rolling with the "it might be real" half-fulls rather than the "but it's probably fake" half-empty skeptics. Sometimes you feel like you've taken crazy pills sometimes when the talking head gallery doesn't roll their eyes at things that are clearly projector images on clouds, box kites covered in foil, big silver balloons running out of air and attracted to the cooling asphalt at night so it looks like they're walking down the street, video artifacts, or barn owls peeping over roofs, possums with broken tails, and so on, but that's just part of the myth-building. This is a zone where the demystifying classifications of science are undone, so known animals are returned to their phantom monster status. 

Magicidal (if it's not a word it should be) science is like the gaggle of pinch-faced moral majority bitties running Claire Trevor' chthonic mythic archetypal prostitute out of the town at the start of John Ford's Stagecoach. Luckily there's a border (1) these prim types will never across, to a place where we can be "safe from the blessings of civilization," Those rancid rationalists and false skeptics (1) may pretty brave in town, but dare not follow us into the Geronimo country where truth and reality fall away from each other like amok booster rockets, and found footage horror fiction, analog horror creepy pastas, and  real phenomena (which is which?) all swirl together for the ultimate TV equivalent of telling true ghost stories by the fire, PARANORMAL CAUGHT ON CAMERA! 

\Further Reading:

 Erich's 2012 Guide to Cable's Paranormal Ghost Shows

Frightened Male Monthly: Blow out the flickering student in celebration! Blair Witch Project's 20th.

Zelots of Doubt: Why Skeptics are the New Cranks

Demon Sheets: Sleep Paralysis Theories

Bigfootage: Blobsquatch (2009)

1. (the paranormal is alive and well in Mexico)

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