Thursday, December 20, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle - Pt II. - pg. 6


Click it. Grow it. Read it.

Next: Books, Booze, Rock n' Roll.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle - Pt I. - pg. 5


Click to read way up close.

Next: Pt. II. More crosshatching, watercolor, assorted bitching, moaning.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle - Pt I. - pg. 4


Click for legible, if no more coherent, reading size.
Next: End Pt. I/ Brink of Death.


Also:Whiling away the hours, indifferently awaiting the boring conclusion of Part I? I heartily recommend occupying the time with the only comic even more delayed than our present entertainment, Mr. Alan Moore and Mr. Kevin O'Neill's impossibly densely composed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier. The adventure is as cracking fun as ever, but with the further expansion of the historical timeline, the literary gamesmanship has simply gone bonkers. The story is fractured and experimental, at least as madly ambitious as the "New Traveller's Almanac" in Volume 2. That breathtaking brain-bender was my favorite League piece, and it's been surpassed by Black Dossier.

I mention this here, because the fictional-text crunching has long left obsessive Victoriana, and now extends into the 1950s, which 1) allows a gratifying opening sequence of Mina Harker smashing in James Bond's teeth and lamenting his thuggery and misogyny, and 2) opens the playing field to a dazzling, crazed expanse of film and television referents. Cinephiles who could normally take or leave such delights as singularly dirty-mouthed Shakespeare pastiches, are advised to check it totally out. Carry On in-jokes! Avengers obscuriana in the opening pages! A Gorgo gag that's worth the price of admission! A Chaplin reference that will blow your goddamned mind! Extended Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? riff includes cruel Rock Hudson joke! You won't believe what you're seeing. Bone up on your Quatermass and the Pit and Fireball XL5 creatures before diving in.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle - Pt I. - pg. 3


Click to read in big-style.
Next: "It is wrong to be harsh with the New York critics, unless one admits in the same breath that it is a condition of their existence that they should write entertainingly about something which is rarely worth writing about at all."
-Raymond Chandler

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle - Pt I. - pg. 2


Click for reading-sized.
Next: I Am Curious (Viridian)

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle: Prologue


The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle, which may or may not truly be an "essay," will be posted one page at a time. Its three chapters run approximately fifteen pages. Click for a version sized for reading.

Next: Measure by beginning anywhere.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Air Ducted


As Agent Dana Scully explores the Eurisko building's ventilation system, as detailed in the X-Files episode "Ghost in the Machine", we witness a special instance of three personal pet peeves coinciding in a single moment.

1. Air Ducts
Have you, valued reader, ever been in an air duct? You have not. Don't get confused by hazy memories based on a pazillion movies and TV shows, but have you ever really seen such an air duct? You've probably never fired two guns at once, been attacked by a killer you presumed was dead, or dangled off a building, either, but at those exciting action/adventure cliches are fun in the moment, and based on recognizable real-world objects and events you have witnessed. But look around the room. Do you see an air duct? Do buildings, even offices, military installations, or abandoned factories converted into cocaine manufacturing plants have air ducts large enough to house a full-grown adult? While we all possess some small degree of latent claustrophobia, is it thrilling to watch people wriggle around in these imaginary silver tubes, which seem to have no correlative in reality?

I hate air duct scenes.

2. Killer Computer Episode
Every fantasy, sf, or horror program will get around to the Killer Computer episode, if left to its own devices long enough. There's nothing inherently wrong with contemplative sf asking tough, original, informed questions about AI... but obviously most Killer Computer episodes fail the basic driving test. As Mr. S.L. Jackson once said, I hate this hacker crap, and worse, I hate hearing fake compu-gobbledygook. "Ghost in the Machine" brings up the important issue of "what if a computer was like a crazy panther and when threatened, started biting people?" The answer is: Scully would have to climb into an air duct.

The X-Files managed to squeeze a Kill-'Puter in by episode seven! At least Buffy the Vampire Slayer was refined enough to hold off till episode eight. "Ghost in the Machine" is fair-to-poor as the show finds its sea legs, and chock-a-block with rips from 2001 and Gremlins 2 (including... AIR DUCTS!), but sadly is only the first of The X-Files half-dozen Killer Computer episodes in nine seasons. Snore-baiting as the surfeit of demonic microprocessors may be, for sheer numbers it runs well behind such X-Files Mad Libs episode templates as Revengy Ghost (easily the winner), Supernatural M.O.'d Serial Killer (also uncountable), Idyllic Small Town Where Something Isn't Right and its frequent twin Occult Murder Club Confidential. This brings us to...

3. Mytharc Vs. Monster of the Week: How to Watch The X-Files
This one's X-F specific. The strong public preference for the scarier, less-convoluted MOTW X-Files is evident once more, as news/discussion/indifference spreads of the impending second feature film spin-off. Conventional wisdom is that either the Mytharc episodes — those detailing a baroque government conspiracy and its connection to various and sundry UFO-stuffs — were either boring to begin with, or eventually became coy with their secrets, jumbled in logic, or petered out due to poor planning. And therefore the stand-aloneish episodes are superior. And nearly every fan-favorite list will be populated by the same two dozen highlights of the scariest, funniest, and most innovative episodes.

But that's just the peeve that I've gotta pet. Conservatively, the Mytharc is a third of the series. Realistically, the continuing mystery of the Consortium, the nature of alien phenomena, and the quest for Samantha Mulder is what fueled the popular frenzy over the program for the first several years, and set it apart from the pack as more than a handsomely photographed Kolchack: The Night Stalker variation. It is the heart and soul of the series narrative. Undeniably botched and confusing as the yarn became as it tangled into unrecognizable knots, the mishandling of the Mytharc is symptomatic of the entire series. Character arcs became illogical, plot points were dropped or revised, storytelling was mud-clear as a matter of course not just over the Mytharc, but during dozens of individual episodes, including Monster of the Week installments. For every beloved "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'" and "War of the Coprophages" there are two "Sanguinarium"s. Two "Ghost in the Machine". You say you don't like the Mytharc, and you're denying yourself the operatic heights of "The Red and the Black", and "The Sixth Extinction" and the most intimate character moments of "One Breath", "The Blessing Way", and "Gethsemane" - some of the best writing the series has to offer.

The Myth, see, it isn't just about keeping track of alien factions and wondering what the hell happened to the morphing bounty hunters. That story, as a story is irresponsibly handled. They broke it, if you buy it, try not to cut your fingers on the jagged edges. Instead, focus on the moment-to-moment, the only way The X-Files can hang together, and see the whole nine-season thing is Mytharc. In the end, Mytharc episodes are just as stand-alone as any other; the show is crafted to work scene to scene, act break to act break. It's about how thrilling, suspenseful, intriguing, funny, scary or sweet the moment can be, even if it's to be negated in the next scene. The MOTW episodes reinforce the Arc, because it's about the characters on what passes for a journey, beat to beat. So those romantic moments where Scully and Mulder sit on the rock together in the middle of a lake and talk about Moby-Dick in "Quagmire", a fine Low-Rent Loch Ness Monster of the Week: that's Mytharc in a sense. You don't fully comprehend the importance of the quiet moment with the characters without knowing where they've been, and in turn, it's what makes you care, if you're invested in their bigger Mytharc adventure. The Arc brought them there.

It sure wasn't the air ducts.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Performance and Image/ Circle and Diagonal

Strange visual resonance found on the covers of two upcoming Criterion Collection releases.


What can it mean?
Will you close your eyes and refuse this disconcerting correlation? Or like the churchgoers faced with the mural of destruction in The Seventh Seal, will you look and think upon it until it becomes more frightening?

The bottom image appears when the two covers are laid upon one another. Otherwise polarized, the nodes where the photos connect allow both covers full 360-degree transformation. The motionless wet-wool blanket sky of the Bergman set (fast inside, slow outside), the sickened buzz-blur of the Two-Lane Blacktop landscape (slow inside, fast outside) are both fine snapshot summaries of the respective films. When linked, the images roil and fuzz out, with the friction of their opposite approaches to the same existential conundrum. The sea and pavement become rippling solid. A man perches atop a spinning wheel. The '55 Chevy points off to contemplate a stark horizon somewhere between America and Sweden.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Winona Ryder at 36 - A Birthday Card


The Exploding Kinetoscope's personal patron saint turns 36 this October 29, and today the paens to her ring from on high. One can make a mix-tape consisting entirely of songs about Winona Ryder. Songs by those who loved her from up-close and from afar. Perhaps because pop music is best at depicting subtle gradations of romantic misery, every one of them - excepting several novelty records - is a written from some state of agony over Ms. Ryder, be it resentful, pitying (Old 97's' "Rollerskate Skinny" is a bit of both, in which Rhett Miller, who scored one date with the lady, sort-of laments his inability to go on more dates) or longing (Matthew Sweet fantasizing about trying to call Ryder, who doesn't answer the phone in "Winona"). The finest of these, however, chronicle the possibilities of the universal Winona to be found in the specific Winona, making them more than filksong fantasia or musical scandal sheet.

Beck's heart-fatigued "Lost Cause" from 2002's Sea Change, with a simplicity both lush and tender, burrows into the detailed pain of the Hansen/Ryder breakup that it comes out the other side, and is about every breakup. Beck slurs thickly through all possible scenarios of blame and regret; first the lost cause is him, then L.A., then the relationship itself, then her. Ultimately, he decides that whoever might be declared Most Responsible, there comes a point when one lays down arms, or blows every mental circuit by endlessly retracing the paths of loss. The Winona Ryders in your life are too much work to deal with. The Winona Ryders in yourself, troubled, fickle, love-crazy, will keep pushing on, landing in the same messes, baffled every time.

Bostonian shoegazers the Drop Nineteens placed Ryder at the center of their 1992 single from Delaware, "Winona". Amid the bright, woozy drone of their three bicycle-chaining guitars, the dainty monotone melody speaks of a planet spinning too fast for those stuck to the surface, and ponders: how fares Winona Ryder through this world? Her petite frame is slung from record shop to outer space to the brink of a chasm in time itself. A step into the microcosm outside Winona Ryder's front door lands her on the astrogeological Xanadu, before they finger her for Coleridge's damsel with the dulcimer. The Nineteens seem to have decided that as we the plummet into the "gap in the 20th century" which "fills the world with dreams," either Ryder is the ideally suited traveller, or indeed, emblematizes a generation as Winona Ryders, all, for better or worse.

Ryder as Icon is a link in the short, vital chain of the anti-star, inescapably bohemian, those key generational touchstone celebrities, who cannot be tamed by the gossamer glamour expected of the prefab model. No matter how good she looks in a vintage '40s evening gown, no matter how many Matt Damons or Best Supportings they try to marry her off to, she's the chain-smoker with dyed black hair and Tom Waits collection crashing the party. Winona Ryder is our Louise Brooks, here to perpetually cut through the bullshit even as she willingly pariticpates. We need those stars, glorious messes as they are. By "we", read: the glorious messes of the world.

There she is, in Alien: Resurrection, bitching and moaning that an android would be created with feelings, and reveling in how good it feels to feel sorry for yourself. There she is, in Reality Bites, a fake-o stand-in for the most irony-drenched generation of Americans, sputtering that she cannot define "irony." There she is in Bram Stoker's Dracula, yelping "I love you! Oh, God forgive me, I do!", halfheartedly begging forgiveness for her self-centered devotion to Dracula, who is, rationally, surely the wrong guy, and total bad news, but impossibly attentive and makes such grand romantic gestures. There she is, walking the screen as your silly impulses, your cloudy judgment, your sorta-bad, well-intentioned choices. There she is as the Rolling Stone Hot List cover girl in 1991 (her second time as designated Hot Actress!). The article mentions an abandoned project in which Winona Ryder would play "a female Jesus." Somehow, no casting could be more apt.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Ryder. I don't know what we'd would do without you.

Bonus: The Drop Nineteens video for "Winona". As per '90s alterna rock rule, the video has little to nothing to do with the song.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Happy B(ava)-Day: Golden State Lets In ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK!


30-plus years in the researching/writing/designing!
12-plus pounds in the hoisting!
1128 pages in the binding!
Tim Lucas' exhaustive, exhausting Mario Bava - All the Colors of the Dark is arriving all over the world.

The crepuscular rainbow shines down into our own living room today. Actually, it got to L.A. on Wednesday, but anyway, there are photos to prove it: here's me and my All the Colors of the Dark! That grin is half unrestrained glee and half lifting-grimace.

First Impression: This cinder block of biography, history, criticism, and analysis is truly monumental in several senses of the word. That much will be clear after reading only a chapter. As a biography of Bava alone, All the Colors of the Dark is immediately the standard reference work, but Lucas covers so many bases it's like five or six books in one.

All the Colors is also an art book. This is absolutely the best design and layout work Donna Lucas has ever done. Elegant and clear, tasteful but playful, somehow, there is something fun on every page - photos, publicity art, sidebars, color spots, subtle halftone beds, something - and it's balanced organically with the text. Designing a large format art book that is also a massive critical biography and a reference book is a special, crazy challenge... and this one is 1128 pages of special crazy challenge. Did I mention the four columns of text on those pages?

As the photos demonstrate, the first thing that happens when you get the book is you flip to the chapter on your favorite Bava movie - Blood and Black Lace in this case - and then your mouth opens. And you just kind of look at it.

Let us be honest. People have waited a long time for this book, and surely we're all delighted when it arrives. But Long Time is relative. It's not like other film books, because there is a built-in audience awareness of the author's effort and dedication. If you hadn't been following its progress in Video Watchdog, the final stages of production were documented on a dedicated blog about the Bava book. To hold the finished book is to be impressed. But I wonder. I wonder what happens when a biographer spends so long in pursuit of his subject? When a critic pores over the same texts for so long? When one stares into a film for decades, and it finally ends, do the colors persist? Or do they all go dark?

I reckon I'll find out, somewhere between the covers, under the mask of the demon. Just order the book already.

And yes, that is a stack of my first editions of Tim Lucas novels on the couch.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sniper Team Observer Winona

Alien: Resurrection: not only is it Exploding Kinetoscope's very all-time favorite Alien sequel, but it provided the only collectable action figure recreating the personage of Winona Ryder! Despite more than twenty years of nonstop movie stardom par excellence, Ryder has been captured in plastic just once, unless one stretches to include toys based on the Beetlejuice cartoon show. Why is this? Imagine the throngs who would snap up polystone statues of Veronica Sawyer from Heathers, posed with a croquet mallet and a fistful of Red Vines!


Life is lonely for this, the doll-sized version of Annalee Call, Resurrection's resident adorable robot with feelings. When Cocteau said the poet must shed the white blood of his soul, he must have been talking about those sad robots! Sorry they don't print miniature copies of Catcher in the Rye, Winona Ryder doll!


The resemblance is uncanny! And out of focus! For many years has the Call doll sat around, weirdly bow-legged, slightly walleyed, and without the company of other Winona Ryder-looking toys.


Hark!... a knock upon the door spurs our heroine to adventure. Your sculpt is square jawed and determined in ways the real Ms Ryder has never been, so: Rise! Face what others dare not!


Music like a hundred harps of gold with strings of fire crowd the soundtrack! A new dawn is come, borne on the back of this strange new visitor!

Another figure sculpted to resemble Academy-Award nominated actress Winona Ryder exists! Plainly unlicensed - perhaps illegal - and based on no motion-picture entertainment source, this "N.Y.P.D. Emergency Service Unit : Sniper Team Observer 'Winona'" figure promises to make dreams into 1/6 scale reality! The grim packaging (disrupted by splashy pink "Winona" script) claims that gun-totin' Noni boasts an impressive 12" inch "highly-flexible" body, and a "life-like head with character"! She is not endorsed or sponsored by the NYPD, as the box points out. Why a scrawny bohemian actress who has never played a cop was the inspiration for this figure is a mystery for the ages. But when the box promises the triple jointed limbs allow "difficult poses", who is not thrilled? The Call figure cannot handle such difficult poses as "standing unsupported".

Issued in 2000 by Dragon Models Ltd., the company website lists Sniper Team Observer Winona as a discontinued item. The hobby store price tag on the box marks her at $34.98 American greenback-dollars. Surely the collector's market price increases exponentially every passing hour.


Do it Winona Ryder doll! Stand face to face with the Sniper Team version of yourself, and know you are equals! The box must open!


I...

?

...

Uhm...


Crowd response: Tom Kitten, obviously freaked-out beyond belief, becomes numb with horror, unable to react.

Blythe remains cool and impassive. The stony, impartial angel offers no judgement.


The strange Sniper Team visitor is clearly no kin to the Alien: Resurrection figure. Team Observer "Winona" may be out there, somewhere, observing or sniping or whatever, but for today, only an ugly man-head stares back, where she was supposed to be.

An unexpected melancholy descends gently as the scene closes. While she faces no competition from obscure, semi-legitimate corners, she also feels no sisterhood, and must bear the burden for every Ryder character who is not immortalized in poseable miniature. Uncontested, legs awkwardly wide, she stands wobbly and alone: the only Winona Ryder action figure.

Special thanks to our own Sniper Team Observer, Linda Pine, for finding this horrid thing and bringing it home to me.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Echo Chamber - Antonioni Moving, Reflecting, Passing


Our place in the world is unnecessary. Roving sparks of dying energy, bouncing like aimless, dimming embers against the cold, hard planes and the streaming seas of numbers that comprise the planet's surface. Retracting into ennui, or reaching out in desperation, humanity makes its own mysteries.

Michelangelo Antonioni's films document those deepest mysteries of human existence; what space lies beyond a draped picture window, behind each pillar, around each corner; the inability to leave imprint where we have walked, loved, quarrelled, wept, moved. The mystery of L'avventura is not an unresolved disappearance but the unresolved continued existence of everything, of form and of void. The puzzle of Blow-Up is not a beguiling amateur sleuth story, but a genre implosion, demolishing the entrance and exit points of detection drama.

Not anti-mystery: ur-Mystery.


If we say Antonioni died on July 30, 2007, or was born September 29, 1912, it is to trace a narrative with selectivity. It speaks to a compulsion to give shape to a matterless tour through one plane of sight, sound, experience. But the sands of a red desert are at once unintegrated granules, restless and shifting, and members of a vast, open, sun-blasted expanse; the unified field image of a photograph at once the objective frieze of a moment in time and space, and a death-mask reproduction, built of microscopic chemical blobs, depthless, unmoving. The harder we insist on giving them shape, imbuing them with meaning, the greater the margin of slippage, until, indeed, in the fluoroscopic light off the eclipsed sun, it may be said that Antonioni was never here at all.


The master image of Antonioni's filmmaking is the glacial mask-face of Monica Vitti, staring into some middle distance, beyond herself, and back into herself. Feeling too much (Red Desert) or too little (L'avventura), the space she occupies simultaneously a non-space hole where a woman was-not / is soon to not-be, and the inside-out nexus of her body, molecules in continuum with the architecture, the landscape, the universe, the net of maths stretched into the infinite. What moves behind those black eyes, what world can be shut out by the drawn draperies, what fracture can there be between lovers, when they are all isolated, but intrinsically connected? Like the subatomic push-pull that unites/tugs at all things, mirrored large scale by the bind of gravity, the looping orbit of astronomical objects bound on track but never meeting , the affirmation of 1, negation of 0, Antonioni pierces the illusory continuity of a life-as-narrative, of the character as collected traits moving to resolution, of the cinema as the device to capture a world in motion, and finds beyond the veil, a deeper continuity; mystery surviving resolution, unresolvable.


Mastroianni and Moreau on the flat, ordered stage of a golf course in La Notte, wander the corridors of their marriage, and land in the soft, disordred hazard zone of a sandtrap. She reads a love letter, plucked out of a lost pocket in a version of their story that could-have-been. He asks who wrote it, and she tells him: "You did," and they are lost and found, all possibilities and dead threads of their story before and continuing beyond the film at once preserved, and gone in the loose doom of the sandtrap.

The all but wordless romantic breakup that opens L'eclisse is the death of a relationship, but to join the stream as it closes existence indicates it once existed. Alain Delon and Vitti in languor, posed in pain, moving only long enough to freeze once more, but the undulating trees outside the window, the oscillating electric fan, signal invisible movement the audience cannot see or feel: air, moving in time, around the eroding bodies and objects on the motion picture screen.


Monica Vitti sat on this sofa. This street lamp stood upon this corner. This loaf of bread filled this movie screen in Zabriskie Point. Michelangelo Antonioni was born 1912, died 2007. These grains of sand surrounded this pool of oily water in this desert. And BOOM, they were gone. Some were chosen for documentation as they passed through, but none were Truer than the others. Which caused the others? Which stories are over? Where are they now? To isolate the image, movement, object, life, drains it of context; to imply its place in even an unfathomably large whole is to superimpose a beginning, end, solve it, reduce it, conscribe it to history. To say Michelangelo Antonioni is gone is to say : Michelangelo Antonioni was here, and thus always here. Time shuffled the molecules of Michelangelo Antonioni into form, and pressed outward on that form until they dissipated once more.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Boulevard of Glamour


It's a parade of human perfection all day, every day, here in Movietown! Only the sexually attractive and well-proportioned are allowed entrance to the streets of Glitter City, where the stars shine all day long, and carouse all night!

Why it's that paragon of womanly splendor, Angelina Jolie! Never has a movie-picture performer captured the erotic feeling one gets when looking at a rubbery-skin-type android!


Star of all sizes of screens, both small and large-ish, it is truly no "Simpleton's Life" for Ms. Paris Hilton! If it were not enough to be given vast amounts of money by brithright, she is also chromosomal perfection! This reporter only wishes that in Ms. Hilton's bid to become her generation's Vincent Price, the House of Wax remake had been filmed in the 3-Dimensional Stereoscopic picture process! Va-va-va-whee!


What a catch, ladies! Hollytown is now officially renamed Hollyberg, for the pictures' hot new wunderkind, Steven Spielberg! Such a physique, and beard combined with fashion-forward ballcaps and movie-magical touch, Mr. Oscar won't know what hit him! We can all agree his movies only get better and better, and so does his handsome head!

You never know who you'll meet in Movietown U.S.A! But you can be sure they are superstars, and therefore gorgeous!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

WATCHERS' COUNCIL: The Long Way Home


Here's the sitch: The Watchers' Council is Exploding Kinetoscope's newly designated slot where I'll be holding forth at length about Buffy the Vampire Slayer-and-Angel-related topics. Why would someone give themselves a column in their own undernourished free-form blog? Because that's how we do things around here. It also lets you know that whether review, exegesis, analysis, or op-ed, Watchers' Council makes assumptions of fan-level fluency.

This installment: Buffy Season 8: The Long Way Home. The first chapter in the Dark Horse comic book series is complete, with issue #4. The arc will be assembled in a collection on November 14, 2007, along with the more stand-aloney issue #5, but as of this writing, second printings of all issues are available at fine comic shoppes everywhere. Here's a first take on "Long Way Home".


"The thing about changing the world... After you do it, everything is all different." Nobody could quite put it like Buffy Summers, whose opening line to Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Season 8: The Long Way Home packs a lot of layers, some she does not intend, into that silly attempt at profundity. It's wistful on one hand, because Sarah Michelle Gellar is not saying the words, however clearly we may hear her voice. The medium, thus the world, well, it's different. Thrilling as it is to have new canonical Buffyverse stories, it is also a little sad. The story of how Buffy changed the world had an ending. A beautiful, important ending, probably TV's greatest ending. Now, as they said in Sunnydale, not so much. Because Season 8 shifts to Dark Horse comics, even if creator-guy Joss Whedon says they are Officially For-Reals Season 8, the series ending isn't undone. It can't ever be undone, from the perspective that BtVS was the collective endeavor of its writers, cast and crew: they built that world. Now, in comics, it is re-created by Georges Jeanty's pencils, and even with Whedon personally writing the first arc of the series, it's all different. Question becomes: can you deal?

BtVS ends properly with Buffy directly addressing some problems with Slayerdom as a female empowerment metaphor (e.g.- why's she got all the powers? Don't other girls need powers?) spreading her abilities to any girl in the world who needs strength. From a writer's perspective, it does not leave the Chosen One or her world in a ship-shape spot for telling stories of the nature it was designed. From the perspective of fans of the program satisfied by the daring ending, maybe we should not have more stories. Whedon Storytelling Rule #Made-up-Number goes that the artist has a responsibility to give the audience not what they Want, but what they Need. We may want this to go on and on forever, but deep down, that may not be good for us.

Conflicted as we may be about the cruel lonely weight of Slayerdom having been thrust upon Buffy, it is doubtful anyone has been itching for tales of a Slayer army. It's the one funny, resilient blonde girl we like, not a sea of anonymous faces; if the fan ambivalence over Season 7's surfeit of Potentials taught us anything, it's that too many Slayers spoils the cake. Or some mixy-metaphor like that. One facet of the Slayer metaphor has always been that those teen girls with magic kung-fu powers that place them difficult positions represent how we all choose to use our agency and power, or abuse it, as we walk alone through the world. So it's an aspect of the Chosen One left in the cold by "Long Way Home"; it was lost at the end of "Chosen", but sacrificed to a greater good, for the more central, specifically feminist message... which was also okay because after the last episode, no writers or actors need Buffy to be a singular presence anymore.

Here is the Buffyverse Unleashed. No limits on budget and scope, restrained only by Whedon and Jeanty's imaginations. Jo Chen's striking portrait gallery of cover paintings, stylized, idealized, mythic-toned visions of the Scoobies, are a beautiful wrapping and properly indicate the best qualities of the contents: heightened, and fantasy-rich. The ability to visualize creatures, battles, mystical realms and Willow in tight leather pants without a platoon of technicians is a double-edged axe-stake-thing. BtVS, as borne out by the slicker, more sophisticated filmmaking of Angel, intentionally restrained its scope, in exchange for intimacy. It was the right choice, for there is little in the woolly, globetrotting adventures of "Long Way Home" as emotional, poignant, or even character-oriented as the TV show. Bluntly, there is nothing in the first comics arc to make one weep, and BtVS was Cry Central Station for seven years. Season 8 did not have to be an action-driven comic. Comics, hand-held, a one-on-one interface that must be undertaken alone, with images able to be pored over, is the perfect medium for intimate storytelling. A choice was made, and the choice was to use the opportunity to tell the over-the-top monster-ass-kicking superheroine stories that could not be told on TV. Now: can you deal?

Buffy is a military general now, for all intents and purps, which sort of means she's failed to live the normal life she always wanted. So score one for the fight against Evil-doers, and one against the California girl who wants to go shopping. This is both disappointing - are Buffy fans really into military strikes? - and feels right. The Chosen One remains surrounded by people who care, but essentially alone. That maddening skill for shuttling between self-reliance and self-pity makes the girl tick. It's partly what draws Buffy to Angel and also what drove them apart. These notes obviously focus on the stingily parcelled out character drama, so, crucial moment in "Long Road Home": Buffy waxing wistful in soliloquy that she misses sex and churros.

Xander has moved into Command Central as the Slay Squad's de facto Watcher, which maintains his place as Buffy's Eyes and/or Heart. But sadly the action is now so perilous, the Everyman is relegated to watching a bank of video monitors in a Scottish castle stronghold (?). Willow has apparently been MIA for a year, not even bothering to call her BFFs, and can click between her world-destroying dark and light powers with as much consequence as flipping a light switch. This seriously steps on the toes of Willow's series arc, in which she learned to find healing strength in herself and her friends, not to use black magicks to avoid emotional pain. It was arguably a botched story on the show, but "Long Way Home" make mincemeat of Willow's journey from nerd to goddess nerd. So far. Because again, the last moment we had with her, that was her Ending. She'd Become. That's how Willow's story was supposed to end, and damn it, damn it, I miss her too. But it's want versus need. Can you deal?

"I used to be a Watcher," reflects Giles in his brief appearance. Now he sort-of trains unprepared Slayers, but the rules are so changed, the world so new, that Buffy knows more about preparing the girls for battle than Giles. He cannot love them all like daughters, and they do not need him to. Giles used to be a Watcher, but that seems a million years ago, in a town that is dead and buried. What is he now? Giles now has more Slayers to "watch" than ever, and is possibly feeling more useless than he did when he left Sunnydale way back in "Tabula Rasa". Hands full, but slate blank.

Dawn Summers, having likely lost her virginity to some magical being called a Thricewise, finds her growing pains have literally inflated her to giant size. Dawn's supersizing is one of Whedon's fine metaphors-made-flesh. The greatest point of pain in "Long Way Home" comes when Dawn refuses to confide in Buffy, instead pining for Willow to return: "I don't mean to slam you... But Will's like a mom to me." Ouch. Score another one against the Buffster. The younger Summers girl's perpetual whining is grating, but it is, all things said, the Definition of Dawn. No matter what sacrifices are made for her - and Buffy has literally died for her sister - Dawn never appreciates it, never believes or remembers it, never feels loved. Dawn's put herself in trouble's path? It must be Tuesday.

It is, however, a BtVS tradition to begin the season in an uncomfortable, unfamiliar place: Seasons 1 and 2 with Buffy disoriented and arriving in Sunnydale, Season 3 with Buffy reluctantly reclaiming the Slayer mantle, Season 4 with an alienating, intimidating entry into college life, Season 5 a battle with Dracula starts silly and becomes frightening, plus the shock-reveal of Dawn, Season 6 with Buffy dead, and Season 7 with everything turned upside down. Bearing this in mind, the slippery footing on which "Long Way Home" begins is probably intentional, and why it begins with the epigram about newly changed worlds. We want Sunnydale, but it's gone. It was nothing but a zone of trouble for Buffy, but there she is, looking out over the Scottish moors and wishing she were back in demon-infested So Cal.

However disconcerting, those season openers are stories in carefully pitched tone. So what's the story here? It's difficult to say, as like all BtVS season arcs, it's a slow build, with a surplus of misdirects. For e.g.'s.- a race of giant reptilian demons is on the rampage, but that's too rote as a Big Bad. More compelling but even less exotic, it seems the U.S. military has declared war on the superpowered teen girls. The military-industrial complex, in the form of the Initiative, got squarely roundhouse-kicked in the jaw by the supernatural way back in Season 4. In real world logic, it's only natural the government would reopen the X-File on the Slayer after she, say, demolishes an entire city. In story logic, it may feel like you've Been Here Before. Or maybe that's what "Long Way Home" means. This plot could play out as a snappy/complex head-on engagement of patriarchy vs. female empowerment issues that the series skirts around, toys with, or grapples on an ideological level, but rarely allowed to crystallize in the drama. "Long Way Home" is too busy playing catch-up with the cast to elaborate, but that's a forgivable choice when any and every reader cares about these characters so deeply.

Reemergences of Ethan Rayne, Amy Madison, and, frustratingly, Warren Mears, are momentarily thrilling for the long-haul fan, but are all problematic. Whedon dispatches the no-goodnik Chaos magician Rayne with a prosaic bullet to the brain, as if to add heft to the new Big Bad military man General Voll, but it is an inglorious end to a long-long-time favorite minor menace. Not that Ethan Rayne has a destiny to complete, but he dies with no final showdown and/or reconciliation with Giles, which seems sloppy and let-downy. Though he assists Buffy by guiding her through her own brain's dreamspace while she's gone Briar Rose-snoozy under Amy's enchantment, it's hard to get warm fuzzies from Ethan's change of heart, because unless rationale is forthcoming, it comes out of nowhere. Whether his motivations become clear later in the season, it is still Ethan's implied history with Giles, not Buffy, which lends him any mystique, and links him to the core story in a meaningful way.

Amy Madison's Long Way has been intertwining with the Scoobie Gang's since the very thirdest episode, "Witch". Her slow ascendance into powerful villainy from victimization has struck some Season 8 readers as desperate recycling, but it can also be seen as a natural story to tell, picking up one of the few loose threads left accessible in the cataclysm at the end of "Chosen". The rest of those threads are just buried under too much rubble.

The resurrection of Warren Mears is a different matter altogether. Yanked out of the Hellmouth, and striking a deal with General Voll, Amy lures and incapacitated Willow to her new paramour's lair. Whedon gives the undead, still skinless S6 Big Bad a killer entrance, and a truly great monologue. Warren asks Willow, whom he's strapped to an operating table, and about to go Injury-To-The-Eye-Motif on with a scalpel: "I wonder... are you 'bored now'?" reminding the witch of her cavalier blow-off as she once had him bound and pleading for his life. But the crux of the problem is that Warren needs to be dead. Willow needs to have killed him. Whatever esoteric magical explanation may be in the wings, likely that he's "technically still dead" in some way (Warren gives a lovely poetic explanation: "her magic is my skin"),the metaphor and Willow’s terrible act of murder are partially undone. Divisive as it may be, the power of the controversial sixth season is in the inexorable slide into despair and the difficult crawl back to the light. To earn the strength she finds in "Chosen", Willow needed, in storytelling, emotional and mythic terms, to have killed Warren. It is the ultimate transgression against her religion, power, her friends, the memory of Tara, and Buffy's duty; Willow murdering Warren is the climactic moment of losing the girl we loved. This resurrection nonsense has Buffyverse precedent, of course, with Anya being ultimately "let off the hook" after getting sworded in "Selfless", with Angel's return from Hell, with Spike's rematerialization on Angel, to say nothing of the Slayers' own life sacrifices. While it is hard to begrudge those slights-of-hand, because they provided opportunity for fine stories, all those Lazarus tales work at the expense of definitive moments of the series. But frankly those characters weren't truly finished; Warren's tale was well-served by his ending but the troubling thing is how it subtly twists Willow's journey over the series.

Warren's greatest function was as illustration of the banal but real evil that is waiting line with you at the comic book store or sitting in the basement playing video games: petty, small, juvenile, unexotic misogyny and violence. That's why he was a startling, great villain. Now he's running around with powers and no skin and a souped-up tech-witch girlfriend. In the emotional math of story construction, Warren Mears' death was the balancing of an equation in the tale of The Worst Thing Willow Ever Did; while grief-blind Willow thought (didn't think exactly, but felt) she was righting the scale of cosmic justice for Tara, that's not what was going on. The universe was repossessing on a debt Willow owed for resurrecting Buffy. It happened all Season 6 long, as Willow fled down dark alleys to avoid emotional pain, and ironically caused nothing but worse, fresh agony in her wake. It's scary and fucked-up that Willow killed a man in cold blood. We don't want it to have happened, but we needed it.

Whedon is investing the kind of personal attention in the comic he should have given the last years of the show, so S8 could be a perfect opportunity to sort out some of the damage inflicted on the stories and characters in the flummoxed Season 7. Or it's a chance to throw whatever he doesn't like into the crater where Sunnydale used to stand. It was never possible to judge a BtVS season until it was complete, so it goes with Season 8; serialized fiction is only a serial the first time through. Unable to nail down what plot points are mysteries and which are dump-areas, or how the shape of the season looks from a balcony vantage, issue to issue, some moments are hair-raising, some frustrating, all tantalizing enough to keep one antsy for the next installment. There are enough interesting irons in the fire to expect good things of the finished season, but the comics structure is All Different from television. Thus far S8 hasn't dipped into the kind of self-contained chapters and episodes within/working toward a season arc that made BtVS such a structural marvel. Issues 1-4 feel like maybe two "episodes" - or one of the two-parter season openers - though the massive battle action, beasts, and army of zombies in kilts blow two seasons of budget, including Gellar's salary, on special effects alone. Series editor Scott Allie reports there could be fifty-plus issues comprising Season 8, originally announced as only 25. That sounds like a canvas as ample as any 22 TV episodes, though one prays publication can be sped up, because commercial breaks between acts are one thing, and multiple month gaps are quite another.

Could be "Long Way Home" is supposed to come out of the gate, hooves pounding, eyes popping and snorting fire. It's been four years, after all, so some heraldry, trumpets, kilt-zombies may be in order. Otherwise, Whedon's got the superhero comics writing knack, knowing you can Do Anything. So besides just action spectacle, he plunges us into demon dimensions, multiple mystical non-corporeal planes (yipes, what is this, Angel or somep'n?), and beads out smart page and panel breaks and reveals: funny cutaway panel of Andrew bored at a Slayer slumber party, surrounded by nubile super-teens in teddies... and an already-notorious splash panel torn from inside a sex dream far more insane than any Angel/Spike/Buffy three-way fanfic you've ever read. Mostly because there's a nurse uniform involved. Here's to hoping the pace can slow, and characters can begin sharing real scenes, not just a few panels. Promising story leads in this direction: Gojira-Dawn's problems are already more interesting than anything she's done since Season 5. Apparently Kennedy sorta-died off-stage, straining her romance with Willow, which gives one hope. Xander's got a mutual bone on for Renee, one of the Slaylings, though it's hard to tell where his heart's at right now. It is all breathless-fast and vague, but most intriguing is a complicated subplot romantic-mystery involving Buffy receiving a magic wake-up kiss of True Love (no, for real), tell-tale cinnamon lip-gloss, and Satsu, a Japanese Slayer (finally), who is obviously in love with the boss-lady. It's adorable. It plays out over a handful of panels through the story thus far, so delicate casual readers may not notice. And it is about minutia and people painting themselves into emotional corners. Y'know: the stuff Buffy is about.

In "Long Way Home"'s final moments, Buffy is told that from the military's perspective, she and her Slayers-in-Training are at war with the human race. That from General Voll's vantage, they are in effect no longer human beings. It is a question that has been a long time coming. The Slayer line was produced by inhumane means and for questionable purpose: a prehistoric girl, bound hand and foot to the Well of the Slayer, raped by the essence of a demon, all of it engineered by the first patriarchal Watcher prototypes, the Shadow Men, too chickenshit to fight their own battles, foisting the blessing/curse on the unwilling heroine. Human in physiology, mind and soul, or not, the calling of the Slayer is to protect the human race. If Buffy has renegotiated all the other terms of her contract, why not this one, too? Voll tells her "it's you against the world." Taken aback, she bleats "Oh..."

She thinks about it for a beat, darkens, and finishes: "'Kay."
Well, nobody could quite put it like Buffy Summers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The COBRA WOMAN Codices: Drafting a Psychic Map of Cobra Island


The Door

A soft blue rectangle beyond a door in High Priestess Naja's orange chambers indicates the sky outside. The door leads to a balcony, and perhaps is only a window when seen from the opposite side. The balcony overhangs a courtyard in the palace. The courtyard is sometimes open to the public throngs, but impossible to access once inside the building. Outside, sometimes it is night, sometimes day, but in the orange room the sky remains perpetually powder blue. The menacing environs of the jungle island outside and the dangerous royal intrigues within are separated and/or united by the irrational, impossible space between, leaving nowhere in the geography of Cobra Woman as safe ground.

Set in a thick forest of matte paintings, projected ocean waves and secondary-color keyed slabs of curlicue set dressing, loomed over by a tiny-huge volcano that exists in eternal midday, the terrain of Cobra Woman is seared by dream-fever, coast to coast. Native Indian sidekick Kado (Sabu) feigns sleepwalking to eavesdrop on his pal Ramu (John Hall)'s plans to visit Cobra Island, but a day later indicates he was really in thrall of a visionary dream. Has he ever truly awoken? Has the spectator?


The Somnambulist

A small rocky hill is, in the eyes of Kado, a great black wall enclosing a lost world — the same he encountered in his dream — but it grows between shots to a pointed yellow mountain. As Kado and Ramu scale the peak, the rock bends like rubber to leave Kado dangling precariously, though strong Ramu is able to suspend his companion's weight while bent at the waist and without tumbling down the precipice. Where these yellow-black wall-mountains are located cannot be surmised. Though they render the island inaccessible in the unreliable dialogue, travellers during the film and in its unseen backstory go to and fro with little difficulty. Fire Mountain, omnipresent punishing god/volcano, is visible at the same angle from every window of the palace. Ramu is advised not to voyage to Cobra Island by his future father-in-law MacDonald (Moroni Olsen) but in the same conversation MacDonald shows him exactly where the lost world is located on a map, in close up.

The twisted DNA-bound saga of separated twins Tollea and Naja (Maria Montez, Maria Montez) locked in power struggle over the title of High Priestess of Cobra Island has infected the land, the sea, the air, the people and animals, the celluloid itself; the sparks between the sisters fly off, creating new aberrant twins wherever the fire lights. This is the logic of the double-traced map of Cobra Woman: everything has its twin, identical but reversed, sharing space with itself. Every character, prop, setting, line of dialogue, event, operates while cooled in the shadow of its opposite; often these twins are created by throwing all gears in reverse, negating their own existence. Hava (Lon Chaney, Jr.), mute flunky of the Cobra Island queen, feigns blindness as he travels to Tollea's village though his plan does not require it, and the blind-Hava that should not exist on seeing-Hava's mission tips off Kado that something is amiss. Hava's task is to abduct Tollea, but is in more properly to re-abduct her to her forgotten birthplace, Cobra Island; in effect to remove her from her home that he may bring her home. By the climax, Fire Mountain erupts, only to be declared permanently dormant seconds later.


The Sisters

If Tollea/Naja embody splits between unwitting savior and gleeful murderer, between skeptic and religious zealot, between, simply, nice and mean, they are also divided by strength and weakness, for nothing Tollea specifically does, short of show up on Cobra Island against her will, actually contributes to Naja's downfall. Theirs is not simple a dichotomy of good and evil, but of will and circumstance, too. The high priestess even causes her own death as she backs over the unlikely balcony wielding a spear in Tollea's direction, a blurred defensive/offensive posture. To complete the proper opposition of forces, Naja's bloody dictatorship does not give way to benevolent rule by her twin, but dissolves into off-screen anarchy: in the coda, Tollea flees the throne to return to her man, leaving Cobra Island with no leadership.

Like the omnipresent Fire Mountain, the pliable rock walls, and the mutable courtyard space, which all bend to the necessity of situation, the populace of Cobra Woman's world find themselves shuttled from location to location by means none can explain. Kado arrives with much effort and swinging from ledges at precisely the correct dungeon window where Ramu is being imprisoned, though there is no way to identify the chamber from outside the palace. The entire plot hinges on the backstory conceit that infant Tollea was smuggled off Cobra Island aboard MacDonald's boat, when he chanced to visit the island at the same time the baby was supposed to be put to death. But the tale goes that MacDonald was knocked unconscious and woke up on his vessel with the Cobranian stowaway. Who placed her there, when, and why are subjects never broached. Ramu steals the robes of High Priest Martok (Edgar Barrier), and walks undetected past palace guards, but how he locates Naja's quarters in the vast building cannot be known. Friendly chimp Koko materializes inexplicably on Cobra Island, but the tale of her journey from India by separate means from the Hava/Tollea and Ramu/Kado boats is never to be told. Duty calls, and so: there they are, just as one may look up anywhere on Cobra Island, and see Fire Mountain, smoldering against the blue sky. There it is.


The Mountain

Here then is Cobra Woman as the genre theorist's perfect text, in which characters' movements, the shape of the universe, and order of events to not stem from internal motivation of free-willed characters, but are at the mercy of the unyielding dictates of external story, diamond hard, immobile in place, before the players took the stage. Why do they keep coming? How can so many continue to arrive on the rocky shores of this forbidden, secret home to a lost civilization? Cobra Island draws all fish into its golden net. There is no resisting its irrational pull.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Thinking Bloggers U.N.I.T.E.

Much gratitude to Mr. Adam Ross of DVD Panache. Not just for the TBA (er, Thinking Blogger Award, don't you know) at left, but for sending The Exploding Kinetoscope a good deal of traffic that means more to me than the continual GreenCine snubs (j/k you guys). Adam's Friday Screen Tests, profiles of the coolest, funniest, and smartest film and culture blogs, are an uncommonly generous and always fun exploration of the blogosphere's outer reaches. And they let bloggers do what we do best, namely write about ourselves.

The Rules
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
3. Optional: Proudly display the 'Thinking Blogger Award' with a link to the post that you wrote.

I suspect we tend to find about five blogs and read them incessantly. I don't write much about my blogroll, but read everything posted there. When I find a blog I like, I invariably read every single backlogged post, as well. Everyone listed at right demonstrates expertise, writing skill taste, or simple curiosity above and beyond: those links are there for my convenience as much as to spread the love. So my picks are five rare gems, big-brained, smartly written blogs all. I can't say that they all read me, but if you aren't reading them, kick yourself, then get busy:

1. Anna Biller's Blog: Anna Biller posts even less frequently than yours truly, but has a good excuse, as she's busy making movies. Her films, gorgeously photographed avant-camp tightly align with this blogger's aesthetics, too, taking sexplotitation, feverish low-budge horror and pop kitsch nonsense seriously, edging the glurge with the subversive bite of good natured sex-positive feminism. As insight and peepshow into a film artists's creative process and show & tell of her pulp paperback collection, Le Biller's blog is not to be missed.
Highlights: Circus Sex Witch, Bigger than Life warps another human mind, and the only director who willfully claims kinship to Andy Milligan. VIVA!

2. Confessions of an Aca-Fan: Henry Jenkins is the man who inspired a million papers on gender issues in McCoy/Tribble slashfic. As a communications studies academic who really kind of has to be blogging to demonstrate his theses in practice, the Confessions blog is another step in H.J.'s noble career-long endeavor to make dubiously nerdy activities legit. Heady stuff compared to most other blogs, but Jenkins also writes on topics like how awesome he thinks Supernatural is. Oh Media Blogs: the great leveler of 21st century taste!
Highlights: Everything. It's like a free book.

3.Giallo Fever: Gialli and films noir are arguably the most elusive genre animals, objects of fascination no school of criticism has ever fully cracked, and which no single critic can wrap all five fingers around. At Giallo Fever, Keith Brown, with single-minded determination to explore every nook and cranny of one strange genre ends up not exhausting the subject, but revealing with thus-far bottomless curiosity that the investigation never ends. Supposedly "particularly" dedicated to Dario Argento's films, Brown always finds more that hasn't been said, more connections to draw, more work to do... even if it sometimes takes upwards of fifty posts in a month! Giallo Fever is feverish indeed, and everyone else in the Cinephile Auxiliary of Blogtown looks scatterbrained and cursory in comparison.
Highlights: Glove fetish, magazine fetish, elevator fetish.

4. Passport to Dreams Old and New: There are several good Disney-related blogs at right, mostly chronicling historical anecdotes and ephemera collection show-offs. Foxxfur's detail-obsessive investigation of all things Imagineering is in some ways the most ambitious of the dozens of worthy Disney blogs. As she tries to nail down a unified field theory on how attractions, geography, advertising and corporate strategizing combine in a grand narrative, she shuffles freely between nostalgia-tripping, Disney esoterica, freewheeling art criticism and personal diarist. It's almost enough to make you forgive her devotion to Walt Disney World over Anaheim... Almost.
Highlights: Remembrance of Florida's Mr. Toad's Wild Ride slips into a discourse on ride vehicles, the prescient character design of Orange Bird, and the rhetorical brilliance of the EPCOT Opening special.

5. The Black and White Cookie Review: Jordan eats black and white cookies gathered from all over New York. He takes photos of the cookies. Then he writes about them. Somehow in the process, things get intensely personal, wildly surrealistic, and hilarious in ways that have little to do with black and white cookies. But by the end you'll also get a pretty good idea of how the cookie tasted. Maybe.
Highlights: Batman Beyond nearly distracts cookie reviewer, tiny, tiny cookies over excite cookie reviewer, and red cookies baffle cookie reviewer, "with a capital FF".

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Defier of Reason: THE WIZARD OF GORE (2007)


"What is a magician? A person who tears asunder your rules of logic? And crumbles your world of reality?!"
-Montag the Magnificent, 1970

It must be love. No other force on earth could motivate a remake of Herschell Gordon Lewis' 1970 warp-brained The Wizard of Gore. The Lewis film is possessed of one of the gore god's strongest premises: the blood and gut show illusions of lunatic magician Montag later come true as his audience volunteers die later, of identical wounds, far from the stage. But the camp-tinged title and cult-audience name recognition provide very little cache. If anything the Lewis pedigree is something remake director Jeremy Kasten and screenwriter Zach Chassler have to fight against, in their film's crackpot desire to be taken seriously. Love, of course, frequently misguides us all.

Lewis' Wizard is structured around a series of grotesque stage illusions, as Montag (Ray Sager, in a ham-and-cheese performance for the ages) hacks up victims on stage, tricks which appear bloodless to the in-house audience, but are revealed as bloody messes to the filmgoer. Not that there is anything coy about the rest of his work, but if most of Lewis' horror pictures are stories built backwards to justify graphic scenes of dismemberment mayhem, Wizard of Gore proudly declares itself: we're all here for the blood. A subplot - or is it truly the plot? - as TV host Sherry Carson (Judy Cler) investigates, leads back into itself, a mystery trail laid in the shape of a question mark. There is no answer to the riddle of Montag's powers, of his motive, his means of evading authorities, or significance of his weird rituals; in baroque philosophical stage patter, direct to the movie audience, Montag insinuates that perhaps we are dreaming, not watching his stage show, not watching a film, perhaps that we've never been awake, dreaming even that we wake and dream. Like a Zen kōan, there is nothing to "figure out" about H.G. Lewis' Wizard of Gore, no secret kernel hidden in its gory heart. Lewis' film continuously worms in and out of metaphysical conundrum with a thick, stoned confusion, as if the story has surprised itself.

So while the rough timbers of the plot are good material for an H.G. Lewis movie, it may well be that the story is unfit for any other use. The Wizard of Gore 2007 keeps the icky magic show its deadly consequences, but reverses the spectacle: the jaded underground clubgoers in Montag's audience are misdirected to believe that the magician is actually brutally hacking apart Suicide Girls models as he delivers loopy life-advice speeches. When they flee for the exits, the bloodless reality is revealed... and later that night the audience volunteers turn up roasted, gutted, dismembered, etc, ad nauseam, literally. In these vicious main attractions Wizard of Gore fires all chambers at once. Presided over by Crispin Glover in pristine white and immaculate pompadour, Montag reborn as blood and thunder tent revival preacher, his stage patter berates the audience of glum hipsters, slouched on folding chairs in a moldering cathedral warehouse, for the sins of ennui, of cynicism, of casual misanthropy, of joyless hedonism edging into misogyny and brutality. Equally self-righteous and self-loathing, Glover is magnetic/pathetic as he squeaks terrible lies and more terrible truths, as he mimes the mutilation of beautiful flesh, and whirls the blame back at his audience, pleading "did you feel something?"

The greatest slight-of-hand in the exploitation filmmaker's repertoire is to pay lip service to important issues and charges critics may level against the film, creating an impossible tangle of politics and potential complications. Are Africa Addio auteurs Jacopetti and Prosperi racist or have they made a career of pointed social criticism? Is Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust a circumspect investigation of man's inhumanity to man, or pandering and hypocritical? Is Lucio Fulci's New York Ripper profoundly conservative, humanistic, hateful or satiric? Do a few cathartic moments of horrifying, violent vengeance by victims transform I Spit on Your Grave, or Mother's Day - or Death Proof - into a feminist statement? Or are they all just dishonest? Jungle-dense ambiguity or cheap parlor trick? If the artist is bluffing, is it wise to dignify the insult by responding in a civil fashion? What is reality? How can you know that you are really sitting there in your chair, and not asleep in your bed, dreaming that you are here?

Kasten's film walks this interesting line for a little while, as one Edmund Bigelow (Kip Pardue), trust fund slacker with a late '40s retro fetish that puts cartoonist Seth to shame, sets about writing a review Montag's show for his zine. Edmund finds himself and/or loses himself in an amateur murder investigation that begins to point to his own involvement in the crimes. Or are there crimes? The plot unfolds in double bind flashback, and a theme throughout is not to trust one's eyes. With cinematography that coats every surface in a slimy sheen, enough jittery negative-flash-frame editing for a mid-'90s alternative music video marathon, canted angles and screwy characterization from the opening frames, there can be no sense of mounting unreality or a man losing his grip. A frenzy of exotic plot points are announced in every scene, each wilder than the last, none disguising or relieving the fact that the story is essentially a man wandering around LA, sweating, and obsessively watching a magic show every night. What's going on, and what's real is up for grabs at any point, so take your pick from an escort service for sadists, CIA MK-Ultra-style brainwashing experiments, Oriental psychotropic neurotoxins, newspapers printed in human blood, gore-soaked sex dream sequences, spontaneous combustion, shark attacks, paper bag chemical huffing, Alice in Wonderland allusions coupled with L.A. strip club in-jokes, spams of electrical flashes that seem to reveal the Tron set or the Matrix code or something beneath the walls, signaling either virtual reality, Edmund losing his mind, or whatever. Depending on one's generosity, the voyage down the rabbit hole is either established or botched from the beginning. Either way, it all reads more interesting than it plays.

And either way, the remake, as seriously as it takes itself, comes up with no greater statement on reality and illusion than the crazy H.G. Lewis original. Without the brazen/stupid flare that buoys Lewis' movies, Wizard '07 just isn't any fun. Too chic to be unnerving, too banal to be horrific, the film's desire to freak itself out goes utterly splat, because it's too busy making cute to go bonkers.

By the time Wizard '07 reaches its climactic revelations and everything we've seen is not what we've seen - or, as Montag would have it, the trick began before the audience entered the theater - there is no bottom to drop out from under the audience. While striving for the puzzle-box psychodrama mystery of Lost Highway or Memento, The Wizard of Gore can achieve only low-rent mind-fuck of Hellraiser: Inferno (2000). Inferno, a fellow mish-mash-mush of horror noir, and Wizard both end up as films about sadistic murderers who have built walls of fantasy around themselves to protect their mean old brains, but eventually get their comeuppance when the appearance of otherworldly forces (Pinhead and Montag respectively) tears down the safe-zone, and reveals a private hell. Both films' main strategy for creating mystery and surprise is to exasperatingly withhold information, spring twists that only work because the audience has been lied to, and makes its dippity-doo reveals in undercooked page-long expository speeches. When a magician employs a skillful misdirect, part of the trick is in not pointing out that there's a trick.

Setting horror films among the Manic Panic and neck tattoo set never really flies. For as much as the subculture's aesthetic owes the history of horror film and literature, the posturing self-made freaks of 2007's Wizard of Gore look dour, silly and too big for their britches next to Herschell Gordon Lewis' inspired stilted, tacky, gleeful madness. When you promise to bring the weird, you gotta be able to bring the weird. The Wizard of Gore '07 has Jeffrey Combs as Montag's sideshow geek opening act, sticking a handful of wriggling maggots to his tongue. It has Brad Dourif as a mad acupuncturist who helps bleed all the brain-control drugs out of the antihero's body and walks around with leeches stuck on his back. It has these cult-favorite spaz-specialist actors, going through Jim Rose Circus Sideshow paces.

The Wizard of Gore 1970 has a guy wearing fake white eyebrows and a top hat telling everyone they aren't really there, then cutting off his own head with a guillotine. For no real reason. At the beginning of the movie. Which one is truly, bafflingly, unforgettably Fucked Up?

"That's some nice misogyny you got going there," snaps Edmund's nagging girlfriend Maggie (Bijou Phillips), when he enthuses about Montag's layered and electrifying magic show. During this lover's spat, as Maggie and Edmund back-and-forth about whether Montag's act is trash or High Art, there is a brief glimmer of a larger fish beneath the Wizard of Gore remake's stagnant pond. Grasp for it, and realize: this is how Mr. Kasten hopes his audience will quarrel about his film later.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Know Thyself


The capstone image in Wes Craven's Scream is a a densely layered but starkly composed and giddy-edged moment when horror movie fanboy Randy (Jamie Kennedy) slumps drunk and alone on a sofa before a television, groaning advice at Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in Halloween, as he is being lurked by Scream's own resident serial killer. Though he has ranted about the "rules" which govern slasher movies, and is aware off the structural contract of the genre to move from murder setpiece to murder setpiece, and the apparent puritanical ideology that designates victims — Do Not Drink, Do Not Screw, Do Not Be Alone — Randy finds himself inevitably caught in the mesh of the slasher genre chess game, drunk, and alone, and eventually attacked. He survives on a technicality — by his estimation, it is "because" he is a virgin — but his self-awareness as a genre expert does not afford Randy extra agency within the story's machinations, merely a heightened sense of impending doom. Jamie Kennedy mumbling intoxicated advice to Jamie Lee Curtis slurs "Turn around Jamie, turn around," but neither one does, neither is meant to, and it is almost as though neither can. Indeed, the tragedy of Cassandra figures, unable to alter the fate they foresee, becomes an explicit theme of Scream 2 and there Randy meets his death, seemingly punished for his inflexible insistence that sequels suck and horror sequels especially suck.

On its release in 1996, the Randies of the real world began grumbling that perhaps the celebrated metafictional conceits of Scream were not so original, and Kevin Williamson's screenplay had cribbed from the 1991 independent horror comedy There's Nothing Out There. A 2001 profile of TNOT auteur Rolfe Kanefsky in Femme Fatales magazine (?), reproduced on the buggy DVD of the minor cult item, passive-aggressively implies the same thing. In There's Nothing Out There a carload of overaged high schoolers vacations in an isolated house in the woods, and is set upon by a globby space-toad which picks them off, one by one. Among the fresh batch of alien-meat is obnoxious, wisecracking neurotic Mike (Craig Peck), who has "rented every horror film on video" and constantly warns his fellow irritated victims-in-waiting that they're walking into certain death, not to wander off alone, and correctly surmises given a few clues that they're facing a space beastie rather than escaped mental patient. Mike eventually masterminds the plan to defeat the monster and escape with the survivors — and advises them to boot an alien-impregnated hitchhiker out of the getaway van — vindicated in his belief that it's entirely possible that the party crew has wandered into a horror picture.


Whether Craven, Williamson, or any personnel connected with Scream had seen There's Nothing Out There is beside the point. Scream is the scarier horror movie, funnier comedy, and richer statement on genre storytelling. The films share a common deconstructive sensibility, even if superficially, Scream tugs at the seams of slasher movies while TNOT is a violent monster movie spoof. "The story is different," Kanefsky explains, "but the gimmick is the same." The film geek characters both recognize signals that artificially imposed Movie Rules are at play, and it's a toss-up who has the edge as a devotee. Mike spots early warning signs as his friends drive past cops investigating the scene of an earlier monster victim, notices mysterious rustling bushes, growls that some interloping skinny-dipper bikers are clear "foreshadowing," and is incredulous when he falls victim to the time-honored Cat Scare ("I love how these animals just fall out of nowhere, right into your hands!"). But Randy has the upper hand in deconstructing the horror genre's thematic underpinnings. Mike fails to warn anyone of the dangers of drink, sex or being an ethnic minority. No matter, for neither horror fan is able to channel their awareness to extricate themselves from the situation, or avoid those pitfalls they know are coming. Mike notes both that the scenario reminds him of Invasion of the Body Snatchers and that in the other film, the invaders are not stopped. He fortifies his bedroom and arms himself, but is continually foiled by his nonbelieving friends who lock him in the basement, helpless. Randy rants to anyone and everyone (including the murderers), and is laughed off and ignored in short order. Even once the boundaries are discovered, all characters are still beholden to the laws of the genre; their self-awareness gives them no real leg-up on less savvy characters. Regardless of the film history knowledge that got them there, Mike and Randy simply become recasts from the same mold that popped the teens in The Blob and Dr. Bennell in Body Snatchers. No one listens, no one believes, and their expertise lapses into impotent frenzy.

Randy and Mike belong to two close family lines, with a history of crossing and merging: the genre-geek expert and the lineage of characters aware of meta-fantasy unfolding around them. Neither Randy nor Mike press outward against the celluloid to commit the ultimate breach and meet their creators. Other adventurers through the metafictional fantastique have braved the leap: She-Hulk, Animal Man and Cerebus have in comics, Roland the Gunslinger in Stephen King's Dark Tower, and Freddy Krueger in Craven's own New Nightmare (1994). The almost uniform result is a humbling revelation that the creator-god-artist feels his own hand is being forced as well. There's Nothing Out There, in a throwaway sight gag, allows a character to Tarzan-swing off a low hanging boom mic, but otherwise Randy and Mike never pierce the Fourth Wall sharply enough to run smack into a film crew, confront the audience, return to their trailers or escape the films. It is as if the skin of the genre is too tough to burst. They see the horror movie around them, but another world outside is opaquely glimpsed at best. As casual horror scholars and horror characters both, they've become interpolated into the genre so thoroughly they resist their own salvation with something like magnetic repulsion. Randy doesn't leave Woodsboro until the murders end, Mike doesn't call a cab and get out of the woods. They both end up alone, with the bear at their backs. As Ro-Man might put it, "I cannot!... Yet I must!"

In the pre-Scream, much-lacking Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (1994), the only intriguing scene concerns a mutual sympathy between characters played by Renée Zellweger and Marilyn Burns, last woman standing in the 1974 film. The two Final Girls look at each other across the span of four Chain Saw movies, across 20 years, and mourn the loss of ability to escape the genre's constraints, even as they understand the function of their stories to tell audiences something about terror. In The Next Generation, the story itself has been engineered by some vague possibly-government/Freemasons/aliens conspiracy, the muddied point being that when we enter into contracts with the fantastic tale, we shake hands, and everybody's hands are tied.

"Horror," Stephen King used to be fond of telling interviewers, "Is as conservative as a three-piece suit." The theory going that the genre's foundation is the invasion of the familiar by the unfamiliar, in tales where the reaction is fear, disgust or disquiet. The theorem also might imply a tradition of formatted rules, plot points and unforgiving schematization. Randy and Mike may be genre experts, but perhaps because they insist upon the limited choices available to genre characters, in the end they are in essentially the same position as the hapless Chain Saw girls. They all survive their nights of torment, but it is largely by being lucky enough to shift into one of the few available Designated Survivor slots.


King himself laid the rest of the groundwork for Mike and Randy, horror afficionados who find themselves in a horror story: 12-year-old Mark Petrie in King's 1975 novel 'Salem's Lot, his bedroom a shrine of Aurora monster models, is an outsider oddball whose insider monster expertise — and enthusiasm — actually does him some good once vampires begin bringing the sick soul of his small town to light. The monster kid hero is vindicating wish fulfillment for all the Mark Petries of the world, ostracized for the stack of E.C. comics under the bed, but triumphant when the monsters arrive on Maple Street. In King's universe, Shock! Theater is a basic training educational filmstrip for survival, and variations on the theme are threaded through his work, from It to Creepshow to Dreamcatcher and beyond. The more one leans toward good-natured geek conversant in fantasy scenarios, the better the odds of survival. The liberation available to self-aware horror buffs continues through Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn (1983), The Monster Squad (1987), and resonates through Joe Dante's Gremlins diptych.

What separates Mike and Randy from their younger geek ancestry? In their cynically comic stories they become a new guard of meta-genre experts. Scream is not a rip-off of There's Nothing Out There, but part of a longer tradition. Randy and Mike sit on the same branch of a common family tree, a darkened reflection of Mark Petrie, grown up, caught in a video feedback loop where a postmodern sense of intertextual play cannot save you. Don't you know it's no good to yell advice to the characters in a horror movie? They're going to open that door, walk into the woods, investigate the terrible house, go down to the basement, and get scared by the cat. They have to. They always had to. There was really never any other choice.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mr. Lewis' Birthday Zap-In!

Now it's Prime Time to celebrate!
Ramses Catering made no mistake,
It was a long, hard one to decorate -
Have you ever had an Egyptian birthday cake?

Grab a knife and let's get cutting!
A Taste of Blood - or is that just frosting?
The Big Blast band will play and sing!
The Colonel brought some thighs and wings!

The guests are here; hey, Lucky Pierre,
Stop peeping at Miss Nymphette's underwear!
The odor of Lysol and beef in the air?
Astrid, please get that tongue out of here!

Monster A Go-Go, you old killjoy,
Alley Tramp would dance, if you weren't so coy!
Don't touch the art, Jimmy, Wonder Boy,
The Adam Sorg paintings aren't a toy!

Those maniacs from Pleasant Valley
Brought homemade drinks; right up your alley.
This stuff'll kill ya... so fill 'er up!
Uh, Abraham Gentry, do you need two cups?

A toast! To Gordon Weisenborn,
To R.L Smith and Seymour Sheldon,
Hoist a glass to Armand Parys,
That man of many pseudo-names,

Hats off to Herschell Gordon Lewis,
King of All Arterial Spewage,
The Gore-Gore Boy, the Sultan of Splatter,
Happy Birthday, and thanks for the movies, Godfather.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Google Searches of the Damned

How does the common man find his way to the Kinetoscope parlor? Why the olde tyme Google Search Steam-Engine, of course! This genie that grants whatever informational wishes burn in every brain also provides direct access into the strange desires of our patrons. Here's a completely frivolous peek!

the shinning wendy sees man in animal costume
This search, or variations on it, are the #1 reason Googleyers come to this blog. And you know what's cool? If they're willing to read a twenty-page essay, they will get something resembling an answer to the Riddle of the Sex Bear! Most other pressing Shining questions (such as: maze motif in the shining and "The Shining" Kubrick "fire axe) are also addressed.

warning signals used by the Chinese watchmen on the great wall
I dunno, man. But you know where the Chinese keep their armies?
A: In their sleevies!

"teenage werewolf" basketball crowd
I think in that scene it's actually a female gymnast that Michael Landon kills.

movie about monsters that transform into creatures there is a space ship there is a hero that transforms too has spiked elbows
I'm calling the WGA right now.

Roseanne masturbating episode
That episode is about D.J. masturbating, but I'm sure if it had crossed Roseanne's mind to do the above storyline, she would have.

tonie perensky gallery
Not likely, my young Varsity Blues enthusiast. Not likely.

chemosphere grand theft auto
It's the house in Vinewood that looks like a pie on a stick. The real Chemosphere is only accessible by riding a little elevator-car up the hill... and I strongly suggest you do not sneak into the driveway at night and get in the elevator car, push the button, freak out when it moves, then run away.

the texas chain saw massacre real story, photo
Try "Ed Gein". Also: Eew!

sympathy for mr vengeance "i did not understand"
It's not about understanding, it's about sympathizing. You may find, by the end, that sympathizing is not necessarily the same as condoning or justifying.

scroll saw+jesus crosses+wook wood
"jesus crosses" = nearly as baffling as "wook wood"

elvis presley paid for jackie wilson's hospital bills
Yep. That's what you get when you do an awesome cover of "Don't Be Cruel"!

candy stripers 1978
Well, okay, you asked for it...
This article wasn't up when this search occurred, by the way.

aliens ripley queen feminist bishop film OR movie OR analysis OR review OR critique OR critism
There's feminist readings of Aliens? Huh. Go figger.

editing analysis term paper on kill bill vol. 2 movie
Don't tempt me. Seriously, I'll do it, and you know I will.

What is a Kinetoscope
The weird thing is this is a dictionary or encyclopedia question ("What is a Dictionary"); either way, this blog is about halfway down the page of search results, and all four sites above it - particularly the Featured Article Class, well-written and thoroughly illustrated Wikipedia article - answer the question exhaustively... Unless one prizes a silvery-wisp answer over hard data, which is what we specialize in here: the Kinetoscope is the hazy dividing zone between the science of moving-photographic experiments and the art of cinema; the incandescent-lamp-heated wooden cabinet the womb in which the movies were incubated and from which a race of cinephiles were born.

As to related queries such as: Kinetoscope blueprints and how do you build a kinetoscope?, sadly there are only six first-generation Kinetoscope cabinets extant and no full blueprints, which incites much debate over obscure construction details, and means you can't have one in your house. Believe me, I've looked too. A crusted-up specimen of related off-spring, the Projecting Kinetoscope, recently sold on eBay for $1,025.11, and a cabinet viewer eyepiece for some $800, both successfully escaping my bids. The cabinets sold in 1894 for $250 a pop, and even then, at 25 cents a picture, the cost of seeing a movie was ridiculous. The more things change...

desire costeau and john holmes clips
Deep Rub, Female Athletes and Pizza Girls. And learn to use the IAFD yourself next time. P.S. these movies are all dumb except Pizza Girls.

van helsing architects, chicago
It's true, the firm of Cushing, Van Sloane, Jackman and Hopkins built the Windy City entirely out of wooden stakes and garlic wreaths.

amber benson alyson hannigan willow tara love scenes
They're love-sceneing with Warren and Wesley now. For those in perpetual denial, visit the notorious, fascinating and kind of sad Kitten Board, where a tiny segment of Buffy fans who just couldn't/wouldn't deal have sequestered themselves and excised massive chunks of fictional reality, and no mention of episodes without Tara are allowed. Drama: better without dramatic conflict!

how to emergency tracheotomy
"Emergency tracheotomy" is currently the second most frequent path to this blog. There are about 340 episodes of M*A*S*H that will show you how to perform this simple (and fun!) procedure with a pocket knife and a pen.

santa monica cable our friend the rainforest jollie rogers
soco i kill her youtube
oz fanfiction lets give them something to talk about ripley cannon
Say what? Er, "i did not understand".

Monday, June 11, 2007

"My Mother Was a Borderline Personality. So What?"


It's the same principle as the solar system.
The Sopranos
January 10, 1999 - June 10, 2007


As a doctor, I think what you're doing is immoral.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Critical Disconnect: The 120 Days of HOSTEL PART II

FRESH, HOT TORTURE PORN! Also: the world is ending.

I don't care about Hostel: Part II one way or the other, except that it may be a kick to see Edwige Fenech, Mrs. Wardh herself, on a multiplex screen.
I didn't think Hostel had either a visceral drive or poetic sense to rise above its 1-2-3 story, and the long voyage to the slaughterhouse dull and the splatstick adventure inside extremely silly, but never giddy.
I'm pretty sure I walked out with my soul intact.
I do know that the only people I know who enjoyed Hostel were women.
I do not know or particularly care what that means, one way or the other.

I know one thing. Any review, op-ed piece, or coverage of Hostel: Part II that includes the phrase "torture porn" as if it were a meaningful genre designation, I will not finish reading. A line must be drawn. We all have our limits.

Who comes up with this cute, holier-than-thou sloganeering? Calling Hostel torture porn - like accusing art of being nihilistic, or masturbatory, or self-indulgent - is a non-position that allows a critic not to engage the work. It's critical name-calling.

Nihilism is as valid and complex a philosophical position as any, and isn't inherently linked to sexualized violence or misanthropy.
All artists are exhibitionists, all audiences are voyeurs, all art is masturbatory.
Ideally, artists should take some pleasure in what they do, and who else are they supposed to indulge but themselves as an ideal audience member?
And there's no such thing as torture porn.

The defining genre identifiers of pornography are that it explicitly depicts actual sex acts. That is the spectacle promised, fulfilled, and required for the genre designation. [Side note: And if you have fifteen minutes, and are interested in adult film as a narrative genre, I expanded this idea in a piece on 1978's Candy Stripers last month.]

If everyone agrees to play nice, we might agree that no one in the audience is literally masturbating during the torture scenes. There is torture in Hostel, and that is the spectacle promised, and fulfilled. It arguably links sex and violence in unpleasant ways, but Hostel does not depict real human bodies being subjected to real torture in the throws of real agony and death. That it is fiction does not negate its possible power, but disqualifies it from the spectacle of real bodies in unsimulated physical acts which identifies pornography. If this is torture porn, it's softcore at worst (best?). Equating titillation with pornography is short-sighted, because it turns the experience of all aesthetic pleasure into "pornography"; e.g. Van Gough paintings are color and texture porn.

Best way to prevent this silliness from gaining currency would probably be never to mention it. But is it fair to say American Idol "song porn"? Is Pirates of the Caribbean "theme park porn"? Is Spider-Man 3 "web-porn"? Is my beloved Antiques Roadshow "swap meet porn"?

Also on this season's Played Out, Meaningless Insult List: invoking "video games" and "MTV" as shorthand for "underwritten or repetitious plotting" and "the cutting is too fast for me to keep up with" respectively. Because of course, these accusations are facile, and are only made by writers with passing-to-zero familiarity with video games and MTV. MTV, for example, is extremely slow and boring and barely shows music videos, which have not been a series of non sequitur images for a long time anyway, and even then had just co-opted Underground movie aesthetics.

Labeling unremarkable throwback gore pictures "torture porn" is a habit of critics who don't spend a lot of time watching horror movies, and don't really know anything about or enjoy them. Oprah Winfrey, who has never added Fangoria back issues to her book club, once declared that she felt she was in the presence of capital-E Evil while viewing Interview With a Vampire. Roger Ebert, who matured as a critic by leaps and bounds since 1967, once wrote about being appalled that Night of the Living Dead made children cry, but admitted in that ancient article that he hadn't seen a horror film in years, puts Creature from the Black Lagoon in the same class as Attack of the Crab Monsters, and remembered horror movies as "fun to see." On unfamiliar ground, tasting a new cup of tea, and concerned for the Youth Of Our Nation. Check. Check. Check.

In the seduction of innocents that swept the country in the early 1950s, an entire generation was nearly transformed into axe-maniacs by E.C. horror comics. The E stands for Educational: education on how to decapitate people. Thankfully Dr. Fredric Wertham stepped in to scream "torture porn!" or, er, the 1954 equivalent. Check your local library for further reading, but the vile menace of Todd Browning's first-gen t*rt*re-p*rn Freaks, too explicit with the horrible-making for 1932, was run out of neighborhoods, towns, entire countries. What They said about those menaces 2 society circa 1931, Dracula and Frankenstein, well, one is surprised that the world remains largely intact after these titans of terror were unleashed. The Good Plain Goddamn Common Sense reading is that general audiences are more inured to violence than previous generations, and that is terrible devolution that we must combat. Alternate interpretation of the same data: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Horror is disreputable, always has been, and hooplah for that. Horror fandom is viewed from the outside with skepticism and nervousness, and frankly, that is part of the fun.

As David Bordwell put it, "there is a zeitgeist and films reflect it..." and if that non-revelation is all a critic has up his sleeve, banal in the extreme. Implying psychosis in an audience is something worse: plainly elitist and edging in on a display of contempt for any reader who disagrees.

Because this kvetching is not meant to discount or discredit at any serious reading of horror films that takes issue with violence, nor to scoff at making a real-world stand against art one finds politically offensive, morally irresponsible, or destructive. Quite the opposite, the problem of the day is that the phrase "torture porn" is passive-aggressive non-engagement with a film. It makes drastic assumptions that are never backed up, chief among them the implied sexualization of violence, of which Hostel, or Wolf Creek, or Saw or what-have-you may or not be guilty, may complicate, may critique, may even subvert, but the critic never finds out, because: who bothers with textual analysis of pornography? And who likes torture? You don't like torture, right?

You can't be glib and dismissive and hysterical at the same time.

Joss Whedon, whose beautifully constructed genre TV-shows have been extended existentialist wrassles with gender politics, violence and power issues, wrote the MPAA in protest against the billboards for Captivity. A later post to Whedon-fan-central, Whedonesque, linked certain H-wood horror trends, the video-recorded murder of Kurdish teenager Du’a Khalil Aswad, and ponders a Just-So Story about How Misogyny was Invented. It is not a film review, of course. But neither is it alarmist when it discusses film. Point is, Whedon is applying pressure where it counts, isn't posturing. And he doesn't use the phrase "torture porn". Because he's serious, and this is important.

And seriously: who are these stuck-up weirdo creeps pretending they don't like porn?