Nitehawk Naughties: Reclaiming 1970s Porn

As I embark on a new erotic film series in 2015, here’s a look back at what I programmed for the 2014 Nitehawk Naughties series…and why.

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I am a woman and I programmed a year-long dirty film series at Nitehawk Cinema.

It seems important to point this out given that some of the recent press covering the series and the current interest in “vintage porn” has had a distinctively male voice. I suppose it’s natural to assume that porn equals “just for men” but there is so much more to screening these older films now than to arouse a man.

I took the helm of our 2014 signature series Nitehawk Naughties program last year originally intending to highlight older sex pics ala Doris Wishman, of whom I’m a huge fan and who is an essential influence for both porn and mainstream cinema. However, my idea truly formalized when a friend posted a link to Vinegar Syndrome’s digital release of The Sexualist and I went down the proverbial rabbit hole discovering their commitment to restoring and historizing a golden era of porn and cult films (see the New York Times feature “Smut, Refreshed for a New Generation”). Learning of their archive made it impossible for me to think of any other direction of the series. This is reason number one: preserving cinema of any genre so that it can reach new audiences is vital to cultural history and should be an integral consideration in film programming.

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The Nitehawk Naughties program I’ve put together presents six films spread out through the year (there’s a pretty fabulous “Naughty Summer” section taking place in June, July, and August – get it, it’s hot?) that include: Radley Metzger’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven in 35mm (1976), Evil Come, Evil Go (1972), The Telephone Book (1971), The Sexualist (1973), Memories Within Miss Aggie (1974), and Wakefield Poole’s Bible! (1974). Made during the same period as the iconic Deep Throat (1972), a movie that broke ground in reaching a more mainstream audience, this era represents a crucial time in porn that focused on the act of filmmaking as much as much as the sex. With actors, innovation, and even social commentary, it’s important to remember that these films were made to be played in a movie theater. This is reason number two: in our immediate digital age of amateur and overabundant porn, I want to this era of 1970s porn back where it was originally intended to be seen…the cinema. This is not for nostalgic purposes but rather to reclaim a cinematic space for an often wayward genre.

Speaking of genre film, Nitehawk is no stranger to programming horror movies. The inevitability of the trauma experienced culturally from the Vietnam War, the disillusionment experienced at the end of the hippie movement, the full-fledged second wave of feminism, and all the social unrest that came forth from the late 1960s is all subtextually there in porn and horror from the early 1970s. And that the intensity of horror is seen as somehow, even if marginally to some, more acceptable than its sister corporeal genre of porn seems to be an enormous oversight. Think of how the violent eruptions in Wes Craven’s directorial debut The Last House on the Left (1972) or Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) were intended to invoke Vietnam traumas back in America. Then consider how pornographic films imbue the search for self, the quest for morality and righteousness, and question the sexual liberation of woman all through the explicit representation of taboo acts. This is reason number three: to put 1970s porn into the same socio-political and corporeal context as the horror genre.

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The six films included in our Nitehawk Naughties series detail a woman’s life journey. Yes, this journey is through sex that is often in relation to or in opposition of a man, but the women in these sex films have ownership to their actions. Whether it’s looking back at an intensely passionate life or whether it’s in an attempt to save souls, the female characters here own their sexuality and isn’t that what is ultimately desirable? This is reason number four: sexuality in film shouldn’t be solely associated with a man’s pleasure. Showing this past moment in porn just might give us perspective on the male gaze, cinema, audience, female pleasure, and humor.

Originally published on Nitehawk Cinema’s blog, Hatched (January 2014) 

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Notes on a Final Girl

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Below is a text I wrote for Nitehawk on women in horror film in conjunction with the film program, Final Girl…

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality.” ― Shirley Jackson, The Haunting of Hill House

Nitehawk’s Final Girl program celebrates fifty years of women in horror film by highlighting the iconic Final Girl. From Georges Franju’s depiction of beauty obsession in Eyes Without a Face (1960) to Adam Wingard’s role-reversing You’re Next (2011), this series focuses on the depiction of the woman’s role within the fictional realm of horror cinema and its association with the reality of daily life. The series eschews the popular bimbo slasher film stereotype by highlighting iconic female characters who experience a revelatory journey from victim to hero. Her on-screen transformation is hardly ever pretty, brutal by sheer necessity, but it realizes an important power shift: the stereotypical male gaze turns into her gaze and then to ours. Embodying Shirley Jackson’s description of Hill House, the Final Girl’s insane break from an “absolute reality” means that it is up to her, our heroine, to restore order when the familiar world becomes an overwhelming space.

When horror films are in top form they provide an incredible cultural analysis. Historically they’ve dealt with socio-political issues, from racism to capitalism, but gender norms have always been a constant. By addressing the patriarchal culture we live in, horror tells us what the possibilities for change are and, in its own visceral way, adjusts the imbalance. This marriage of women and horror actually traces back to 18th century Gothic novels like The Castle of Otranto and the genre has carried on the tradition all the way up to the self-reflexive postmodern heyday of the 1970s-90s. Because horror has the uncanny ability to simultaneously embrace and explode stereotypes when tackling women’s roles, it reveals a victim-to-survivor figure by depicting the “weaker” sex in a position of power with far superior survival skills and intelligence. This is particularly true when they show the struggle and sublimation of women in/out of domesticity via the haunted or evil house; it’s one constant that pops up in horror films and is the commonality amongst all of the films in our Final Girl series.

The concept of the ‘Final Girl’ put forth by scholar Carol Clover in her book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film applies directly to Shirley Jackson’s above description of the inherently evil atmosphere that permeates her novel The Haunting of Hill House written more than thirty years earlier. The extreme pressure of coping with an unreal horror that becomes the Final Girl’s reality is a commonality shared amongst many, if not most, cinematic horror heroines and it is an essential part of actually being a true Final Girl. This woman, according to Clover, is the person with whom the audience (regardless of gender) identifies with most because we share in her experience and desire for survival in the very strange land she’s found herself in. And ever since she emerged from the Italian giallo and subsequent American slasher movies of the 1970s and 80s, this Final Girl has become a reliable fixture within horror narratives. That is, of course, until post-post modern horror film tackled our comfortable associations with her head on. Regardless, whether she’s the lone survivor amongst her dead companions or the sacrificial lamb to the monster, the historic representation of women in horror is culturally significant. The two appear to be inextricably bound together.

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The House is Bad

I haven’t updated this blog in forever but that will soon change. And what better way to start than by sharing with you all the new issue of OneplusOne Journal, Occult, Magick, Evil and the Powers of Horror. Vol II, that includes my essay The House is Bad. I wrote this essay ages ago and it explores houses in the films The HauntingHouse of Usher, and Burnt Offerings that aren’t haunted but are, instead, evil by birth. Touching upon subjects I’m very interested in (space, place, and horror), I’m thrilled to have the first concretized bit of writing from me on the subject is finally published. 

An excerpt is included below but I encourage you to read read the entire issue (downloadable here) because it includes an interview with Graham Harman on H.P. Lovecraft and the horror of politeness in Michael Haneke’s Funny Games, amongst other stellar reads. Good stuff.

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Cinema was born with a house that was bad. In the late 19th century, George Méliès not only laid the foundation for moviemaking but he also established the association of horror and the home with his fantastical short, The Devil’s Castle (1896). Over one hundred years later, the idea of the “old dark house” remains unshakable; the recent phenomenal critical and commercial success of James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) is but one example of audiences desiring classic ghostly interventions within the familial space. But while the ubiquity of the house as a site from which spirits, psychotic murderers, and demonic forces come forth is genre commonplace, there are a select few films that expound upon the house itself as being evil.

So, what is an evil house? The evil house is considered here as Deleuzian/Bergsonian durational space, one that exists in a temporal status where there is a collapse of pasts and presents, interior and exterior, memories and events. The beginnings for a bad house lay in its construction; the time in which all of the above became embedded into its foundation or, as Roderick Usher says, the house contains, “every evil rooted within its stones.” In the bad house, the horror is unseen. It is not a portal for ghosts nor is it the manifestation of awful historical events. It is a vibrant living being born and transformed from wicked environments that systematically lure, destroy, and, occasionally, protect its inhabitants. Read the rest…

Aida Ruilova – GONER (2010)

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Quiet, guttural, and violent, Aïda Ruilova’s Goner (2010) is an intimate and full throttle engagement with the unknown. A young woman, clothed in only a long t-shirt and underwear, is covered in blood and alone in a bedroom. Laying face down when we first see her, with gashes at her ankles, the battle between her and the room in which she’s contained plays in an endless loop. Punching, stabbing, screaming, staring; she fights the small world around her. Heightening the sense of unease and inescapable containment are the ambiguities as to whether she is really alone, who or what is assaulting her, or if the room is even hers. Camera perspectives shift from an all-seeing eye to a personal gaze that becomes our own. The perverse imagination runs wild.

tumblr_mkvtrkWKDr1ri8asco1_500From the aesthetics and narrative established in the Italian giallo to the cliche tropes in the American slasher, Aïda Ruilova embodies the cinematic history of the horror film girl in under ten minutes. Goner is a rather forceful gesture towards acknowledging all the cultural and political implications associated with the complicated role of the young woman in horror film (the ‘final girl’, the survivor, the redeemer, the victim). Her evolution of weakness to strength unfolds before us as she becomes unwittingly involved in a landscape of life and death. At once an indulgence in stereotype and a liberation from that stereotype, the horror heroine is a violent and hyperreal representation of what is means to be a woman in the world.

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And what better space to pinpoint this disjuncture between the life and death of women than in the architectural realm of the home, the bedroom? With a heart shaped bed, the girl in Goner is in a position of desire and longing but as the room distorts, the idea of pleasure becomes one of intense pain. Here the psychological discord of a woman coming undone in her own home echos the sad intensity of Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965) in which a beautiful woman loses her insanity when alone and trapped in her apartment. It also makes reference to the physical and sexual assaults inflicted on a young mother by and invisible and ghostly being in 1982’s The Entity. Spanning one hundred years and as many films, from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to the current The Conjuring (2013), domesticity is the psychological realm where horror and women confront each other head on. This inextricable link between horror, the home, and women is the structural support of Goner as the mystery between a young girl and a living space rages on.

Watch Goner here.

Blackness. The Void. Empty Distances.

Essay written for Empty Distancesthe exhibition I curated for Mark Moore Gallery in Los Angeles (June 15 – July 22, 2013)

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Out of the darkness, the void emerged and invaded modern art with Russian artist Kazimir Malevich’s painting Black Square in 1915. As the totalization of everything and nothing at once, this landmark painting is infinite space represented on a flat plane. A undefinable negation that is at once cinematic and static, it is not a representation of the void but the void itself. A reduction of form and content to an absolute essence, Black Square conveys a simultaneous flattening and infinite expansion of space. Just as when the screen goes dark in the cinema, representations of distance are made palpable. There is horror within this unknown space. It is an empty distance.

hm4_1_30_0_bigIt has almost become a special art to paint empty space, to make it palpable, and to develop variations upon this singular theme. Not only are there pictures upon which almost nothing is painted, not only is it an essential feature of their style to make the strongest impression with the fewest strokes and the scantiest means, but there are very many pictures especially connected with a contemplation to impress upon the observer the feeling that the void itself is depicted as a subject, it is indeed the main subject of the picture….

For Void is, like Darkness and Silence, a negation, but a negation that does away with every this and here, in order that the wholly other may become actual. – Rudolph Otto, The Idea of the Holy: an inquiry into the non-rational factor in the idea of the divine and its relation to the rational (1923)

Nearly one hundred years after Black Square and Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, the void takes on new meaning in contemporary art and film. While Empty Distances stems from art historical traditions of emptiness as subject (think Yves Klein’s La spécialisation de la sensibilité à l’état matière première en sensibilité picturale stabilisée, Le Vide in 1958 or Michael Asher’s wall removal at Claire Copley Gallery in 1974), philosophically this exhibition is a provocation to rethink the void’s meaning by considering it in post-apocalyptic terms.

Taking 20th century theologian Rudolph Otto’s phrase “empty distance” and idea that the very act of pictorially depicting the void establishes darkness and silence as subject itself, Empty Distances positions itself at the collapse of society. The recent global financial crisis, governmental overthrows in Egypt and Libya, and the current protests in Istanbul’s Taksim Square (violent repercussions of human-produced horrors) have taken us to the other side; we are living in a post-apocalypse. But within this cyclical fall and rise of society is the promise a new future or, at the very least, an imagining of a different future that is both dependent and secluded from the past. Films like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and The Bed Sitting Room (1969) along with artworks like those in Empty Distances are able to provide unthinkable visualizations of what a new society would look like and, in context with current international events, suggest that we may already be living in a brave new world, only we don’t realize it yet.

Similarly, Eugene Thacker challenges a horrifying consideration of the spectral and speculative “world-without-us” in his book In the Dust of this Planet: Horror of Philosophy Vol. 1. Empty Distances takes Thacker’s provocation to task, arguing that through artistic representation we can imagine this horrifying and unthinkable realm devoid of humans (due to the cataclysmic fault of man, a world that either pre-dates man, or as a realm that exists independently of man) where the planet continues on its path of existence alone. Importantly, the attempt to reveal this void involves a spatial collapse and this is the where empty distances emerge. Through the influences of Black Metal, horror films, science fiction, scientific research, and magic realism, the artworks in Empty Distances connote a surface negative while implying infinite vastness. They provoke such diverse imaginings of a post-apocalyptic world through the depiction of the void, pulling the viewer into a speculative new world.

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Susan Hiller: “Channels” at Matt’s Gallery

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Susan Hiller’s Channels at Matt’s Gallery is an audio-visual conglomeration of near death experience (NDE) narrations told through a full-scale installation of television monitors. Whether these monitors simply house these personal stories or act as a portal through which they emerge isn’t clear. It doesn’t need to be. Bathed in the glowing light of these numerous screens, numerous voices come forth with one eventually becoming the clearest. Hours of recantations are housed here, in these screens, in this room. It’s the near-ghost in the machine.

Channels is a mixture of static, noise, and voices. Sometimes you wait a while for the static to clear and the stories to begin as if we’re all there using the televisions are our conductor to those who have experienced death. Told are tales of sensations of leaving the body, the past flashing before them, feelings of humor and regret, and, naturally, the tunnel of shining light. We also learn that there are qualifiers of what makes an NDE. They seem elastic. Significantly, these people are not dead. They are not the ghosts using white noise as a communication tool with the living. These voices are alive and they have conquered death.

Not dissimilar to Mike Nelson’s installation More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) next door, Channels deals with the unknown. Not strictly in the sense of questioning the ultimate unknowable (what happens when we die?) but in the very fundamental aspects of being: how do we hear? how do we recognize? how do we experience things? And like the film Poltergeist, these provocations occur through the mediation we are all familiar with – television (or if we want to think more broadly, media). Technology controls are interactions with each other and, as new technologies emerge, our relationships with one another evolve according to these new networks. Channels explores such a network of people with shared experiences, traumatic or peaceful, and uses the object of the television to shared these stories with us.

Hiller has made reference to dreams in previous works and the question of dreams and the way in which our mind constructs dreams while unconscious and how we process them while awake is significant here. In her book The Dream and the World Hiller writes, “If you start to think about dreaming, you may well find yourself in a vortex of philosophical paradoxes, enigmas and conundrums that liquefy any fixed notion of ‘self’ and ‘reality’.” And isn’t that what Channels produces? Is it possible that Near Death Experiences are simply an individual mind coping with the inevitability of death; a unique experience for each person with enough generalities of the human mind? Or is it more frightening to suggest that there’s something external producing these similar sensations?

The voices heard, whether alive or dead or even the real people who had a NDE, produce a series of hauntings within the space of the gallery. Here, these moments of the unknown are continuously re-lived and re-counted, processed and questions by those who hear them. Us.

Image by Peter White courtesy the artist, Timothy Taylor Gallery and Matt’s Gallery, London.

Mike Nelson: “More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac)”

The following is what I hope will be the first of many writings about the work of Mike Nelson. This particular essay stems from his recent exhibition More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac) at Matt’s Gallery in London and our conversation about architecture, horror films, and narrative implications.

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In Richard Lester’s 1969 post-apocalyptic comedy film The Bed Sitting Room, a select few find themselves living in the strange aftermath of nuclear war in London. Their natural attachment to objects (the city is littered with shoes, suitcases, millions of discarded things) and the old order of life shifts again when, suddenly, a new post-war effect takes place…they begin to turn into things themselves. A bed sitting room, an armoire, and even a bird (all with the power of human consciousness and speech) are the mutated forms of life. Although designed for the audience to laugh at the absurdity of this new existence, the film reveals there is a real horror in acknowledging the possibilities of what might happen when the world changes.

Mike Nelson’s latest installation at Matt’s Gallery, More things (To the Memory of Honore de Balzac), produces a similar provocation. Inversing the architectural structures he has become known for, Nelson has laid out a series of objects that are a series of suggestions or, as he put it, a “semblance of atmospheres.” The absence of an established “place” in which to house these things, aside from the gallery room itself, creates a sequence of open-ended narratives, connections to be made as one wanders through the room, stepping over objects, encountering mysterious forms like glancing giant skulls, trash cans grounded in cement, and long-form boards that are too low to be benches but high enough to become intrusive.

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What’s most compelling about Mike Nelson’s work is that it gives permission for this kind of immediate interaction. The passivity associated with art or film viewership cannot occur in his installations and, unless you only stand in the doorway at Matt’s Gallery, certainly can’t happen here. There is an active engagement of looking in More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) by walking over, through, and around these inexplicable objects that navigate and determine our bodily movements in this framed space. Whereas Nelson’s architectural environments provide an obvious context of our experience, the items usually contained in those places is now dispersed and fragments our associations with them. We become the last people in London who traverse the new landscape.

mikenelson-02This goes back to Nelson’s idea of a “semblance of atmospheres”, an uncontained atmosphere that suggests a narrative rather than providing a linear and literal reading. Much like in The Bed Sitting Room, there is a confusion of forms and their readings, a conflation of organic and inorganic that conveys a strange new world or, at the very least, the remnants of an old strange world. The absence of figures in the installation is outlined in pieces that imply human form; a deflated work suit complete with a hat hanging from a metal backbone and a shoe with spikes underneath (the other “foot” is a stick) lays in the corner while a similarly deflated sleeping bag holds court in the middle of the room, dirty and barren. Animal skulls dangle from re-structured chairs suggesting that, such as in the film, living creatures are now components of material form. Scalped masks lay frozen on the floor. More ominous are the wooden sticks (charred and jagged) formed into something between a grave marker and crucifix or the scarecrow-like figures with animal skin draped as a body and a tambourine.

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Though lacking an overriding or oppressive narrative, Nelson does subtly drop hints that could mark the cause of this barren landscape. As in his title reference to Balzac, there is no escaping politics and society here. Specifically, there is one sculptural object housed in the back corner that consists of a broken crate from Jaffa, Israel alongside a near-destroyed caution sign (enter at out risk) and hanging plaque with Arabic writing. There is the suggestion of a former architectural structure that seems to have been blown apart. A reference to the volatile and ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine, the dispute of land territory and agricultural ownership, this near obliterated object could contain the meaning to the end we are witnessing. That there are giant skulls framing the room doesn’t dissuade this argument. This is what could remain.

Both The Bed Sitting Room and More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) connote a very powerful presence through absence and explore what exists at the liminal boundary between the two. By acknowledging the unknown and a non-reality, they depict a possible reality of a new world born from and within the destruction of the old. And isn’t this what science-fiction, horror, and art do best? Show us possibilities of an existence that we cannot begin to fathom or visualize or formulate by ourselves? Providing a visual reference to the unthinkable, the unrepresentable, my reading of Mike Nelson’s installation is just that: disparate forms coming together to imagine what remains and what is possible in an unimaginable plane of existence. More things (To the memory of Honore de Balzac) doesn’t require an architectural guide to convey the abject terror of disassociation from the familiar; the sculpture entities are alone a frightening implication that we humans are not a part of this new other world.

Images by Caryn Coleman, courtesy of Mike Nelson and Matt’s Gallery.

Ways of seeing: the fearful role of art in Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY

Ways of seeing: the fearful role of art in Rod Serling’s NIGHT GALLERY

Rod Serling television post-Twilight Zone adventure, Night Gallery, is revolutionary in its usage of art (paintings, sculpture, and art-informed language) as the portal from which its frightful narrative emerges. With each introduction our curator (Serling) shows the audience an artwork that contains, reveals, and is born from the horror story we are about to witness. Here, artwork functions as a way to tell the kinds of stories deemed “unbelievable” or “unreal” – what Night Gallery proposes is that the real is elastic, subjective to our supernatural experiences, and housed within artworks.

Culling often from H.P. Lovecraft (in fact, many episodes are direct visualizations of his stories), Night Gallery shows a speculative reality that places imagined horrors into the realm of the real. Particularly in the beginning of the series, before Serling’s control over production waned, the episodes were present-day narratives in which past actions have otherworldly consequences. In this way Night Gallery is a clear extension of The Twilight Zone, its younger sister functioning as an unfolding morality play to reflect that what we do, the choices we make, matter and affect. It is a fantastical mode of expression for an popular-culture entertainment vehicle such as a television series to ground itself within visual art and to have artwork speak to its viewer. It is a statement that art has the potential for substantive power. Therefore, Night Gallery challenges a notion of how we see, not just artworks or television, but the world around us.

Night Gallery launched as a television movie on November 8, 1969 telling three tales of horror: The Cemetery, Eyes, and The Escape Route. Below I will discuss how each episode embodies the role of artworks and viewership in its depiction of social, political, and personal terrors.

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Deathdream: Vietnam Comes Home

[Essay written for the Deathdream screening at Nitehawk Cinema on February 12, 2013 that included an introduction by Adam Lowenstein, Film Professor and author of Shocking Representation: historical trauma, national cinema, and the modern horror film).

Bob Clark’s 1972 cult classic Deathdream (original title: Dead of Night) is part of a select group of films from the era that dealt with the trauma of the Vietnam War. These films positioned this trauma back onto the United States by expressing the horror of war returning back to a place in which it originated but wasn’t fought. Deathdream visualizes this return in the ghostly form of a young deceased soldier, finding his way back to his family and to establish his final resting ground on familial soil. However, unlike the visceral explosions played out in Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left (1972) and Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Deathdream is a representation of hope in the faith of certain death; his family wants so much to believe he is alive, almost as much as he wants to come to terms with his death.

imagesThe family structure lays at the center of these post-Vietnam horror films, no matter how messed up in its depiction (re: the Virgin Spring-inspired parental revenge and/or the in-bred role-shifting dynamic). In Deathdream there is a powerful, near transcendent, relationship between mother and son. The mother (Christine Brooks played by Faces actress Lynn Carlin) refuses to believe that her son Andy could possibly be dead, even when military officers deliver its confirmation. So when Andy returns, she delights in this truth even though his father (Charles played by Faces and Godfather star John Marley) suspects something is wrong. And wrong it is. Andy has indeed died, as the audience sees in the opening sequence, and has somehow managed to find his way home. He’s not a zombie or a vampire as many descriptions surmise (although he does drink blood to retain “life”) but, rather, a restless ghost whose soul is adrift, conflicted about how and where he was killed, and who needs to find solace in his hometown, with the love of his mother.

dead-of-night--2Immediately after Andy’s arrival back to his home we (and everyone except his mother) get the sense that there is something terribly wrong. Despondent and angrily violent, his behavior mimics the dissociation experienced by Vietnam soldiers trying to acclimate when back on U.S. soil. However, it’s much more than that – Andy is deadly. He kills truck drivers, the family dog and family doctor (uttering the brilliant line – I died for you, the least you can do is die for me) along with his former girlfriend and nearly his sister. The family dynamic breaks down in these realizations over the truth about Andy, resulting in a despondent father fighting with the in-denial mother. It isn’t until the very end, when his mother’s love rescues his soul that we see what Andy needed all along; to come home to die.

deathdream01Made before Bob Clark’s nearly unwatchable debut Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things (1973) and his brilliant horror opus Black Christmas (1974), Deathdream is a pitch-perfect revelation of the horror of Vietnam in cinema. Perhaps it’s not so different from our current political climate as we can sympathize with the painful unknowing of why one is fighting and dying overseas and how families continue to cope with loss. Watching Deathdream now, it’s important to recognize the importance horror film has to mirror the unseen and discarded painful aspects of human existence. While we may be seeing a reference to Vietnam unfold on screen, we are really looking at a reflection of humanity: war, death, life, loss, and love. Equally full of pain and affection (with a bit of Bob Clark humor thrown in), Deathdream reveals the universal potency of horror cinema in its most beautifully basic form.

On the Desperate Edge of Now: Joachim Koester

Part of an in-progress writing series related to an upcoming exhibition, On the Desperate Edge of Now, that looks at historical trauma and collective cultural memory in horror film and contemporary artists. These writings will eventually be published in volume four of Incognitum Hactenus and as exhibition catalogue. See previous post on Folkert de Jong here and Heather Cantrell here.

“Koester echoes in his investigations the magic at the heart of photography that fold the past into the future and the known into the imagined, a process that arrests time and captures possibilities.” – Lisa Le Feuvre

gJoachim Koester’s film and photographic work become persistent ghost stories that meld the historical with pop-cultural and fictional constructions. Seeming to gravitate towards the macabre, Koester inclusion of Charles Mason, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the occult, the opium trade, and speculative fiction writers such as Baudelaire and Dumas as well as H.P. Lovecraft result in a contextual montage that both familiarizes and complicated our understanding of the past.

Koester’s video Numerous Incidents of Indefinite Outcomes (2007) attacks the very concept of time in terms of mining the past and manipulating the present. This work processes textual fragments from the “weird fiction: of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Notes of Commonplace Book through a computer program that generates endless possibilities of speculative musings. This is a never-ending, never-repetitive, constantly morphing process is a theatrical word play visualized. Fusing new connections pulls the past into the present or as William S. Burrough’s observed, “when you cut into the present the future leaks out.”

Morning of the MagiciansThe video invokes the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft, an early 20th century writer who would, no doubt, be delighted to reach out from beyond the grave, manipulating his own words. Unlike his predecessor Edgar Allen Poe, who was more interested in the ghostly realm, the phenomenological writings of Lovecraft detail unseen worlds parallel to our own reality, often detailing an ancient monstrous civilization that exists on the liminal boundary between the past and the present. His infamous fictional cosmic entity Cthulu appeared in a series of stories as an ancient Elder God worthy of religious worship and capable of universal destruction while others, faceless and formless beings in The Beyond, threaten the limits of scientific and philosophical reasoning.

From The Beyond: “What do we know,” he had said, “of the world and the universe about us? Our means of receiving impressions are absurdly few, and our notions of surrounding objects are infinitely narrow. We see things only as we are constructed to see them, and can gain no idea of their absolute nature. With five feeble senses we pretend to comprehend the boundlessly complex cosmos, yet other beings with a wider, strong, or different range of senses might not only see very differently the things we see, but might see and study whole worlds of matter, energy, and life which lie at hand yet can never be detected with the senses we have…”

The-Beyond-Final-ImageKoester’s technologically regulated usage of this “weird realism” adds an additional layer on to the pile of memory, belief, cult structures, and an understanding of our existence being shared embedded in Lovecraft’s ouvre. Numerous Incidents of Indefinite Outcomes fragments and perpetually re-contexutalizes meaning while simultaneously releasing the ghost of Lovecraft (the utilized text was published posthumously) as well as the undead characters in these narratives and the generative ghost in the machine. It verbalizes to us that we cannot trust continuity, or technology, and that variance and change are inevitable. Most importantly it presents and represents an evolving past, playing out in the now and into the foreseeable future. 

Images:
Tarantism, 2007, 16 mm film installation
The Hashish Club
, 2009, 16mm film and B/W photo installation
Morning of the Magicians, 2006, 16mm film
Final scene in Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, 1981