Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year - R.I.P. 2007

Well, another calendar year rapidly winds down. I'm grateful for a healthy and productive year and look forward to 2008. The year promises good things; conferences, research in Spain, the first draft of a doctoral dissertation. Yes, it would appear that professionally - things are going very well. I hope my family maintains its health and that my friends prosper in the new year.

As for media musings, I'm knee deep in a dissertation prospectus at the moment, so I don't have much to babble about just now. However, I wouldn't mind sharing with you my favorite current shows on the telly - they bring me a good deal of pleasure:

DOCTOR WHO Doctor Who is in a word: Brilliant. Technically on its 30th season, the doctor shows no sign of aging, in fact for a bloke who is 900 years old, he's very well preserved in actors Christopher Eccleston and David Tennant. Fans wondered whether the BBC would successfully dust off their beloved cultural icon for the current cynicism and irony-laced collective psyche. I myself wondered if the show would translate well for the millennium generation, but my concern, wait, scratch that - concern implies something else entirely, let's say "curiousity" - was unwarranted. People fundamentally want quality. The contemporary media scene is shallow and largely pathetic, but that does not mean that quality shows don't exist. They just get lost often in an ocean of mediocrity, banality, and political economy. Sad, but true. The Doctor is back, going on four seasons now and is incredibly good. In my opinion, it is the farthest reaching (pun sort of intended) and most spellbinding show on Television. Do yourself a favor and tune in. As the Doctor would say, "Fantastic!"

Supernatural When I was a wee lad, I adored The Addams Family, The Munsters, and Kolchak. As a teen, I found Tales from The Darkside and Friday the 13th The Series (which would be a GREAT dvd release), so yes, I needed to have "horror" in some form or fashion on the tube. Apart from a few shows that had "horrific" aspects to them like, The X-Files, Buffy, Millennium etc, pickings were, as they say, slim. Supernatural addresses this, and it does so very well. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are a great team as the Winchester Brothers; charasmatic, funny, courageous loners who fight monsters and demons for a safer and more secure nation! Good stuff. The writing is extremely solid (although the intertextual jokes come off very forced - Dean is forever trying to link pop-culture horror references to whatever situation they are in, and it's a bit labored). I find the show addictive and tremendous fun. Seasons 1 and 2 were outstanding, 3 is coming along very nicely. I never miss it because it is on just after...

SMALLVILLE My love affair with Smallville has been very life-like. Waxing and waning, mostly waxing - but season 5 nearly killed the show for me. Joss Whedon (creator of Buffy, an important progenitor to Smallville) never (or seldom) talked down to his audiences. His postmodern playfullness often exceeded or downright fractured genre expectations and raised Buffy way above the mediocrity of contemporary mainstream television programming. I feel that Smallville had the same opportunities but played to genre contrivances and the old fashioned tried and true "secrets and lies" module (the Lana/Lex relationship of season 5 insults the viewers intelligence). Why would Smallville pander to Soap Opera conventions for the "manufacturing" of drama? I dunno. At any rate, season 6 took care of my gripes, it came back very strong and continues to deliver the goods. The show continues to grow and shows no signs of aging or having lost its focus - not really anyhow. I still am very in love with Smallville, but like any relationship, it's had its ups and downs.

That's about it (Iron Chef is also a favorite of mine), I wish you all a very Happy New Year. Peace.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Best DVD Label in the Business

I'd like to share with you some information about my good friends Jerry Chandler and Don May Jr. of Synapse Films. I had the pleasure of producing and directing a documentary about them in 2006, which has received some good press and generous comments (you can see it on the following Youtube link). And here's part one for you right smack dab in the middle of this post... I was also humbled when journalist, author, publisher, critic, and film scholar Tim Lucas paid me some handsome compliments on this project. He's know Don for "...half his life" so it was fine praise indeed!

There was also a write-up recently on them in the Detroit reader The Metro Times found here - the editor contacted me to make some comments on them which I was only too happy to do. Between my documentary and Jim McFarlin's article (and countless other links on the web), you can find out everything you need to know about these two cultural saviors, but I'd like to share with you some personal reflections about these two gentlemen.

I met Jerry and Don several years ago and we bonded instantly. I first met Jerry at his nephew's wedding, we got nice and shit-faced and had a great time. Shortly after that, at Cinema Wasteland in Cleveland, I finally met the ubiquitous Don. Our love of odd, eccentric, and transgressive cinema formed an instant super-glue and I've been pals/colleagues with them ever since. Don and Jerry's knowledge of exploitation film is damn near incommensurate. Don is a legend in the business, gathering accolade after accolade for two decades now and Jerry is a businessman par excellence, whose market instincts are only matched by his passion and knowledge of the field he loves so dearly.

I try and get together with Don as often as possible, but between our two schedules it's often dicey at best (I had a great time with Don a few months ago at a local post-production house as he color-timed the latest 42nd Street Forever release). But, I prefer to get them together - they form a sort of symbiotic being, especially when there's some drinky drinky goin' on. They are without equal in the DVD distribution and restoration industry. Love em'

Here are my top five favorite Synapse releases in no particular order. A damn near impossible list to put together.

Street Trash (1987) is one of the most original (if not the most origianl) horror films of the 1980s. A brilliant blend of grand guignol splatter-pop and social commentary, Street Trash was lovingly restored and given the royal treatment by the good folks at Synapse (they even went so far as to include a sticker of the infamous "Tenafly Viper"). Recently, Don and Jerry went all out and put out the super special meltdown edition (pictured). If you have not seen it, you won't believe your eyes when you finally do.

Brain Damage (1988) Brain Damage is a lot like Street Trash, not in content, but in aesthetic and general tone; both landscapes are made up of Surrealistic psychological nightmare worlds. Brain Damage is a brilliant little comedic gem of a film, one of Jerry's all-time favorites and one of mine too. If you haven't seen Brain Damage OR Street Trash, you are in for a truly great ride - buy em' both and have a double feature. You might even be bold enough to buy some ripple, Boon's Farm, MD 20/20, Thunderbird - etc, and make an audience participation event out of it!

Thriller: A Cruel Picture (aka "They Call Her One Eye") 1974 A remarkable film. The rape/revenge motif soars to new heights in this Swedish exploitation classic. The extraordinary Christina Lindberg plots revenge against her captor and his syndicate, who are responsible for the death of her parents and her current predicament - addicted to heroin and forced into prostitution. One of the primary influences for Tarantino's Kill Bill series, Thriller sings in a much higher register if you ask me. The most frightening aspect of this film is the level of realism it achieves in its first act. You are repulsed at the relative ease with which Frigga is abducted, drugged, hooked on the drugs, and then sold as commodity to disgusting johns' who abuse and rape her.

Night Train (1999) is a hard film to summarize as well as categorize. It is a very postmodern text, infusing historicism into its every frame. Many critics have called it a mix of German Expressionism and film Noir (of which these two cinematic movements are very closely associated) and they are quite right to do so. The other elements that make up the film are of a low-modernism, much like Noir's domestic roots, but director Les Bernstein injects soft-porn, snuff, and classic Exploitation tropes into the mix creating a visual feast in the process. A rare and fantastic film - it oozes danger and seediness. Please check it out.

Vampyros Lesbos (1971) This is where it all began for me as well as for Synapse. It was the first dvd I purchased from them and it was the first feature film that they put out under their newly formed label. What can one say about Vampyros Lesbos? Do we talk about the exquisite Soledad Miranda and her tragic death? Do we talk about the confluence of high and low art (the subtitle of this blog) embedded in its aesthetic? The amazing soundtrack? It's stunning Turkish locations? Jess Franco in general? Of course we talk about ALL of these things when discussing Vampyros - but not in a tiny capsule designed to merely point out my favorite five Synapse releases.

There are too many honorable mentions to actually list here - suffice it to say, I love their entire catalog - over 70 films now. Happy New Year Don and Jerry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Today I simply pay tribute to my favorite lady of all time. My childhood crush since the age of five. The devastatingly beautiful and talented Natalie Wood. There's something in the safety of falling in love with a woman who you know you will probably never meet and who is 30 years your senior. For lack of a better term, "A safe love". And, in the case of tragic Natalie, whose time here was cut so terribly short, her natural talent and radiant beauty are still mourned the world over. She was and always will be the most stunning woman I have ever seen.

For The Thousandth Time: Part II (Gone To Bed Series)

KOLCHAK'S COMIN' BACK...IN STYLE!!!! I am continuing my "Gone to Bed" column with a personal favorite that has always, and I do mean ALWAYS kept me company, cheered me up, commiserated with me, had a drink or two with me, consoled me, and gently put me to bed on ____ occasions (that information is at the bottom of the post). I speak of the massively influential (see "The X-Files, "Supernatural" etc.) and beloved 1972 made for TV thriller "The Night Stalker". It may sound like I've described a substitute spouse above, and well, to be frank, the "Gone to Bed" series is essentially just that - a media surrogate spouse. I'm sure that uses and gratifications scholars would be happy to hear that.

The Night Stalker was based on Jeff Rice's novel of the same name. The teleplay, adapted by the legendary Richard Matheson is certainly an economic and faithful adaption to Rice's original work, but I had read over the years that Matheson essentially turned water into wine with Rice's novel and after reading the novel several years ago, I feel that a good deal of credit must go to Rice for his work, which was exceptional and not in dire need of "saving" for the translation process to large or small screen. Matheson, as ever, turned in a very polished adaption and added his usual standard of excellence to what was, in my opinion, an already exceptional source work.

I first saw The Night Stalker when I was around seven years old (so, sometime around 1976 or 1977) and it made a huge impact on me. If I'm not mistaken, I saw it on the "4 O'Clock Movie" on WYXZ (Detroit) one day after school. Already scarred in a profoundly positive way by Universal's canon of horror and more importantly (from a psycho-sexual development standpoint - see pic just above if you please) Hammer's Horror of Dracula and Brides of Dracula, I found myself on the edge of my bed - gobbling milk and cookies, getting crumbs all over the place, eyes GLUED to the TV screen - especially during the showdown with Janos Skorzeny in that rickety, decrepit old home. I had trouble sleeping that night, and for a few nights after too. But, notwithstanding my excitement and fear, I made a friend that day. His name was Carl Kolchak.

Bill Gibron over at DVD Verdict stated ever so nicely:
"Carl Kolchak left that kind of impression on us highly suggestible youth. Ever since we saw him, an everyday Joe in a joke of a suit and a lark of a hat, we loved this demented, disheveled conqueror of the creepy. Whether it was battling a fierce and frightening vampire in The Night Stalker, and later taking on a sinister Civil War doctor with the secret to immortality in The Night Strangler, Kolchak was our Mulder. He was our Frank Black, a supernatural slayer like Buffy in a bad suit. He represented a retro revival of pure horror successfully meshed into the modern mindset."

Bill comes very readily to the point. Kolchak was a hero to me and countless others, a first- amendment, type-writer toting, bad suit-wearing, fearless slayer of monsters (usually however, the corporate entities were more fearsome than the "monsters"). Regardless, his unwavering courage was inspiring and his obsession with discovering and exposing "the truth" was a fine value on display to this young lad, whose world-view was constantly evolving at this tender age. Yes, warts and all, Kolchak was a fine role-model and remains one of Television's most enduring and faceted characters.

A few years later I was treated to the sequel to The Night Stalker, 1973's The Night Strangler. I can easily say that I am just as enamored with Strangler as I am Stalker. In fact, I quickly developed a crush on Jo Ann Pflug (which has lasted to this day). Oh brother, am I a sucker for beautiful eyes and a large toothy grin - both of which the lovely Jo Ann has in spades (this also explains my current fascination with Billie Piper, talk about eyes and smile, Eaaaaaaasy Wilbur...) As I was saying, The Night Strangler is every bit the movie it's predecessor was, and delivers a great deal more character development - especially between Carl and his ulcer-ridden grouchy counterpart, editor Athony Vincenzo (played brilliantly by Simon Oakland). The Seattle setting is picturesque as well as being tightly linked to the plot of the film, much in the same way Las Vegas was an integral part of The Night Stalker. First, Skorzeny's preying on showgirls was, as Carl puts it, not quite strong enough to "cause ripples" amongst the law enforcement community or citizens in general (at least not at first). Second, the industry/ownership/consumer interests of Las Vegas versus the public's right to know of potential dangers and threats, like a vampire on the loose, make for good sub-plot drama (which Peter Benchly would make good use of in JAWS, recall Amity Island's reluctance to share with the citizens the threat of the shark or the fatality of the first victim, Christine Watkins). In the same fashion, Vegas officials squash Kolchak's efforts to inform readers that there is a murderer on the loose for fear of ailing commerce as a result.

Now then, I had a VHS copy of The Night Stalker that I recorded off the telly for years, followed by the store-bought copy, followed by the Anchor Bay DVD release of the double feature Night Stalker/Night Strangler - now out of print (pictured at far right). However, MGM released the same double-feature a year or two ago - I didn't bother to buy it as I am quite satisfied with the Anchor Bay release. The two VHS tapes were completely worn out with massive drop out on both. The DVD has seen extensive use with both films being screened about twice to four times a month each. They took a back-seat for awhile when Universal released...

KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. Finally. I did not see the Television show near as much as the films growing up, but I did catch the occasional re-run and LOVED them. Again, I would direct you to Bill Gibron's excellent review of the first and only season of KOLCHAK as I am more or less discussing my bedtime viewing habits and have neither the energy or inclination to add anything when Bill has already said it all. The TV series is flawed in some ways, but severely undervalued and underrated - I showed an episode in my TV Crit class and was overjoyed to read many journal entries that found it influential, refreshingly honest, quirky, well-written and, of course, funny. Kolchak and Vincenzo, what a team! That's about it for this "Gone to Bed" entry. Many more to come. LUCKY YOU! I'd like to dedicate this particular post to my good friend in Chicago, Darnell Grossberger.

Approx. 500 times

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Some "Fab Press" Favorites

I thought I'd share with you a few of my beloved FAB PRESS books from the last several years... FAB press is truly a wonderful publisher.

FEAR WITHOUT FRONTIERS. Steven Schneider’s Fear Without Frontiers continues the dismantling of national barriers that Pete Tombs began in Immoral Tales and Mondo Macabro; Schneider devotes 300 pages to research in global horror cinema. It is the most comprehensive scholarly anthology of global horror films in print today with an academic approach.

There are no major claims in Fear Without Frontiers, rather the book aims at collecting various essays with various theoretical models on various exploitation films from across the globe. In other words, it's not a single authored piece of "original scholarship" - it's a brilliantly edited anthology devoted to foreign transgressive cinema. This book is a godsend to me.

TEN YEARS OF TERROR. My fellow droogie Fred actually plunked down serious cash for the striking black hardcover of this book as a gift to me. What a gift too. The pic of the book featured in this review is the affordable trade softcover.

This baby weighs a ton and is, in a word, GORGEOUS. 143 film entries, 733 illustrations, 48 pages in full color! It's beauty is only matched by the quality of the analysis you'll find in it. The analysis is in no way theoretical, rather it is critical analysis that contextualizes, summarizes and offers opinion.

Especially signigicant is the decade the authors decide to focus on. This was the decade of decline for the British horror film, a period where the genre waxed high in the beginning of the decade and waned to a few yearly productions by the end. A fascinating period to focus on - if this were an academic work, the question they would need to address in more sophisticated methods and detail would be.... why?
It remains one of my favorite books, if you're interested, the paperback is very affordable, the hardcover is probably oop, but it is massively impressive!

BOOK OF THE DEAD. Hold on to yer' hats kiddies. Jamie Russell's 'Book of the Dead' is, without question, THE MOST comprehensive single authored tome on Zombies in the WORLD (picture a good Mickey Rooney... "IN THE WORLD" there). The book is frickin' exquisite and worth every single bloody penny (hundreds of color and b & w stills and plates).

Russel's approach is somewhere between the historian and the scholar, essentially fusing the two and proving himself to be both simultaneously. Very nice critical analysis and the book's "up to the minute of publishing" (he discusses the Dawn of the Dead remake, Shaun of the Dead, 28 days later, etc.) accuracy is very welcomed. He covers it ALL my friends - from the origins to the cotemporary milieu. Nothing even remotely "zombie" is ignored.

If you love Zombies, run, don't walk (of course there's the run/walk fan binary about how fast zombies should move, so run or walk, the choice is yours) to your nearest bookstore and order this book - it is, nothing less than SPECTACULAR.

Lastly, though not a FAB press book, I always enjoyed "Horror - The 100 Best"

HORROR: 100 BEST BOOKS. It's a damn fine reference guide. 100 authors contributed by picking their favorite horror novel of al time. Kim Newman does a fine job of putting the whole project together. The collection put me on to a few titles I was unfamiliar with or perhaps needed a nudge to read, and I did. Although, tracking some of the titles down in the mid 90s was a major pain in the ass. Pre-internet mind you - it took me four years to track down a copy of Guy Endore's "The Werewolf of Paris" (made into the fine 1961 Hammer film The Curse of the Werewolf, a childhood and adult favorite of mine). But, half the fun was the "hunt". I highly recommend this book if you're looking for a pretty definitive list of the most powerful/influential "horror" novels of the last 500 years.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

From Hell - Some Musings...

One day men will look back and Say
that I Gave birth to the 20th century.
- Jack The Ripper, 1888

London, England - late Autumn 1888. Five prostitutes are brutally slain in an area known as Whitechapel - situated in London's squalor-ridden East End. Their throats were cut and their bodies savagely disemboweled; the murderer, who simply called himself Jack The Ripper, was never found or brought to justice. Although history has had its share of antecedent homicidal butchers, Gilles de Rais, Countess Elizabeth Bathory and Peter Stubbe notable among them, The Ripper murders, with their grisly, sensationalistic details and victims of lower class, economic level, and virtue proved to be an international scandal and fodder for newspapers across the globe.

"Ripperologists" debate over the veracity of the alleged quote that begins this essay, however, I take as my stance and point of departure the axiom put forth in John Ford's seminal anti-western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence (1962), "When myth becomes legend, print the legend." The Ripper "quote" is of some significance as author Alan Moore appropriated it as a wedge to interrogate the conspiracy theory put forth in Stephen Knight's Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution (1977); Knight posits the birth of a Monarchy/Masonic conspiracy to shield the Royal Family from public disgrace and shame. The progeny of this theory then was the "myth" of Jack the Ripper, while in reality (according to the theory) the butcher was Royal physician, Sir William Gull.

In his essay, "The Violence of Criticism: The Mutilation and Exhibition of History in From Hell", Barish Ali offers this succinct summarization of the film's scandal concealing diegesis:

From Hell traces the foundation of these [Ripper] slayings to Prince Edward Albert Victor (Prince Eddy), grandson of Queen Victoria, who secretly marries a working-class girl, Annie Crook, and fathers her child. When Queen Victoria learns of the child, she summons the physician William Gull, who has been rising in the ranks of his profession as a doctor and in his social position as a Freemason, and orders him to "silence" the mother of the child, who has been put in a mental asylum. Gull does so by operating on her, damaging her mental faculties, and laying the matter to rest. Circumstances become complicated, however, when Mary Kelly, an acquaintance of Annie Crook, and her friends Polly Nichols, Annie Chapman, and Liz Stride, all prostitutes, decide to blackmail the Royal family.1

I'll be posting the occasional tangentially "academic" musings from time to time here. So, the broader concerns of this essay/blog post then, target late Victorian society as a possible locus of ideological coordinates that ultimately chart particular formations - shaping and forming late modernity. Alan Moore, the author of From Hell, noted that "The Ripper murders — happening when they did and where they did — were almost like an apocalyptic summary of... that entire Victorian age. Also, they prefigure a lot of the horrors of the 20th century."2

I also take this statement as a wedge to engage in thematic analysis with From Hell's narrative - exploring both Alan Moore's graphic novel and the Hughes' Brothers 2001 film. Theoretically, this essay traverses the works of Marx, Freud and Foucault. Marxist analysis is indispensable when discussing class struggles and the economics of nineteenth century England, Freud's notions on the Uncanny are especially important with regard to the opium-laced visions of Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) and the gaze that they produce. And lastly, I turn to Foucault, who stressed that it is not the event itself but the formation of the event that is significant. The more formal aspects of this brief essay attempt to map a Foucaultian genealogy of the events that led to the Whitechapel murders and the residual effects they hold over the twentieth century.

Marxist Interpretations

Conceptually, Moore chooses an interesting criminological methodology for his graphic novel; he focuses on the Ripper investigation as a holistic procedure. In other words, Moore articulates through his narrative that in order to solve society's ills and transgressions, one must first cure the ills of the society.

At a societal level, the Marxist lens holds great dominion over Victorian London. Marx's exile from Prussia was spent in London; for over forty years, the conditions of his poverty-stricken life inspired his major works on class, communism, labor, and capital.

To discuss Marx and Victorian London is to weave a skein that cannot be undone. To quote another famous, although fictional, homicidal butcher, Hannibal Lector, "And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? No, we covet what we see." Whether Marx coveted the life of ease and delicacy so prominently on display in the West End of London is another matter, but for our purposes let us say that Marxist theory begins, in a sense, with Victoria's oligarchy. Marx's work while living in London would change the lives of hundreds of millions. London was the geographic center for the philosophical and economic frameworks that would inspire justifiable revolt and revolution in many regions of the world including, of course, the United States of America.

Marx literally saturates every sequential frame of the graphic novel; indeed he takes center stage at one particular point:

During one murder, scenes from the killing are interspersed with scenes from a nearby meeting of a socialist club, addressed by William Morris, where a portrait of Karl Marx comes to dominate the scene. In his appendix, Moore sardonically expresses regret that England never had a bloody revolution as France did.3

As we know, revolution is not the guarantor of social equality or harmony; the French Revolution should be evidence enough of this as often one form of corrupt self-government is substituted merely for another.
the setting of Whitechapel holds numerous, extremely important social and economic factors that require exploration. Judith R. Walkowitz notes:

To middle-class observers, Whitechapel was an alien place, a center of cosmopolitan culture and entrepot for foreign immigrants and refugees, whose latest wave consisted of poor Jews escaping the progroms of Eastern Europe in the 1880s… Whitechapel had come to epitomize the social ills of "Outcast London." Certainly, casual and seasonal employment, starvation wages, overcrowding at exploitative rents, an inhumane system of poor relief, declining traditional industries, and an increase in "sweated" labor were all marked features of living and working conditions there.4

Under these conditions, and especially at the dawning of a new century, it is not difficult to imagine a man such as Marx criticizing the current conditions in favor of a more equitable system of government.

From the sprigs of grapes (used as bait to lure the prostitutes) that denote an educated, upper-class citizen, through the mutilations - careful, deliberate, displaying a thorough knowledge of human anatomy, to the archaic rituals of fraternity witnessed in the chambers of the Freemasons, Marx provides our first contextual leverage in forming the social and hence societal conditions that led to the Whitechapel slayings.

Marx died four years before the Ripper murders but it is tempting to query how he would have responded, through an op ed or journal or perhaps a publication? How might it have read?

Freud and the Uncanny

Certainly, Freud informs both the graphic novel and film in several noteworthy ways. I wish, however, to specifically discuss Freud's writings concerning the uncanny.5 One of the more profound ways in which Freud is introduced into the text comes by way of the adaptation process.

As is endemic to the process, Moore's graphic novel compels abbreviation. But, rather than excising the character of Robert Lees, the London psychic who reportedly collaborated with the official investigation, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias combined the character of Lees with the protagonist of the film, Inspector Fred Abberline. In doing so, the visions that Lees witnesses are not severed from the film. They provide, arguably, some of the most impressive moments in the film as they interrogate multiple planes, temporal and spatial conditions of character, gaze and vision, and future events.

These visions then exist to serve compound purposes. Firstly, Abberline, who "chases the devil" in East End opium dens dreams bits and pieces of various crimes while in his drug-induced coma. It is hinted that this ability has had impact on his stature as an Inspector given his class status. Secondly, when not at an opium den, Abberline recreationally mixes cocktails of Laudanum and Absinthe while unwinding in his bathtub. Alternatively, The Ripper (Gull) is shown going through the exact same ritual before each and every murder. There is a direct link between Abberline and Gull both filmicly and psychologically, as if Gull were literally transmitting his thoughts directly to Abberline in an Uncanny method, telegraphing his strategy and tactics. These visions directly engage Freud's theories on the uncanny. Lisa Coppin offers the following summary of the uncanny in From Hell:

Moore and Campbell focus in the construction of their book precisely on the return of both textual and visual elements to create an uncanny feeling. Hereby they skilfully make use of their knowledge that our visual memory does not stock images in the same way our conscious memory stocks words. Images remain brand-marked on our retina in a subtle, often unconscious way… Via visual procedures such as the positioning of the camera and the graphic melting together of vision and reality, the reader gets drawn into the story, what [sic] contributes to the efficiency of the uncanny.6

The visual procedures of both Moore's graphic novel and its cinematic equivalent make skillful and powerful use of one of Freud's most interesting theories. This combination of historical accuracy and horrorific poetic license do indeed create a distinctly uncanny effect for the reader and viewer.

Towards a Foucaultian Genealogy

Foucault states, "Let us give the term 'genealogy' to the union of erudite knowledge and local memories which allows us to establish a historical knowledge of struggles and to make use of this knowledge tactically today."7 It is my goal to explore that which is not obvious, clear, or evident in contextualizing these various intersections, or indeed, collisions of society and culture.

But, how might one begin such a task? What questions do we ask? Judith Butler engaged in a similar inquiry when she interrogated just what events might have led to the event of September 11, 2001. She writes, "The raw public mockery of the peace movement, the characterization of antiwar demonstrations as anachronistic or nostalgic, work to produce a consensus of public opinion that profoundly marginalizes antiwar sentiment and analysis, putting into question in a very strong way the very value of dissent as part of contemporary U.S. democratic culture."8

I'd like to address a few things in this quote. To begin with, this is a fraction of many contemporaneous issues Butler raises in relation to September 11. With this in mind, let's focus on her stressing of contemporary U.S. democratic culture and in doing so, we should reflect for a moment on the political and social ideologies that were responsible for the American Revolution. It was precisely the injustices that were so prevalent in Great Britain that caused revolt among the commonwealth colonial citizens. These inequities continued to grow in scale and scope up through the Ripper murders of 1888.

Additionally, Butler takes as evidence for her claims prior aggregate opinions regarding politically charged controversy. She charts various discourses and their cumulative effects on public opinion and foreign policy.

This is where I have attempted to shape the contours of this genealogy. Are the xenophobic fears of a foreign cosmopolitan hub like Whitechapel currently extent in the United States? Did the Ripper prefigure so much of the twentieth century as his famous quasi-epitaph predicts?

One of the most intriguing chapters in From Hell consists of the ideological ravings of Sir Willaim Gull as he takes his coachman and unfortunate commoner accomplice, Netley ,on a "tour" of London. Lisa Coppin writes:

Gull intends to save the world from the decay caused by women and by doing so, he definitively wants to consolidate the age of Reason, or in other words, the patriarchy. In order to save patriarchy, one has to recognise again the ongoing war between the sun (the male element, light of knowledge, personified in the Greek god Apollo) and the moon (the female element, dark, creative, since the beginning of patriarchy personified in the Greek god Dionysus).9

In this tour, Gull lectures to Netley on the achievements of mankind and modern civilization, notable among this tour are, Cleopatra's needle, St. Paul's Cathedral, Parliament, and Buckingham Palace. He stresses that women who hold sexual, political, and religious power are to be considered dangerous and a threat to the status quo of proper society.

Might we say that these ravings are part of a hegemonic order in the contemporary United States?

I have argued "yes" to many of the rhetorical questions I have posed under this Foucaultian heading and would stress that the Ripper murders do in fact predict many of the horrors of post nineteenth century modernity. Whether the quote is emblematic of this, or in fact an accurate quote does not diminish its potency.

Lastly, I pose a question worth consideration: "is From Hell a horror film?" Indeed, on all accounts it would appear so. And although From Hell belongs to several sub-genres, such as, the historical/period film, graphic novel adaptation, and the police-procedural thriller, it traverses the terrain of our worst nightmares and anxieties and as such can be situated firmly within the horror genre proper. And why should this be of note? If Jack The Ripper and the Whitechapel murders predetermined similar events in the twentieth century, was Victorian England essentially, the navigator of these occurrences? What horrors did the Ripper anticipate or prefigure in his proclamation that begins this paper?

I suggest that horror has a face in the twentieth century, of that there is little doubt, but the face is not that of the werewolf, vampire, mummy or ghost. The face of horror often is, and was, the reflection in the mirror.

The failure of Enlightenment was the major catastrophe of the twentieth century. The by-product of which is a never-ending and collective negotiation of the loss of this dream. I offer as evidence the following formations, based on class, economics, imperialism, vernacular discourse and a profound absence of multi-cultural synchronisms. Consider the events caught in the wake of Victorian London and The Ripper Murders: the Model-T and assembly line production, first flight, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the Boxer Rebellion, World War I, Triangle Shirtwaist factory, the Titanic, The Russian Revolution, Mata Hari, Prohibiton, Women's Suffrage movement (U.S), King Tut's Tomb, Mussolini, J. Edgar Hoover, Mein Kampf, Monkey Trial, Charles Lindbergh, The Great Depression, Mohandas Gandhi, Empire State Building, Amelia Earhart, Adolf Hitler, Nazis, World War II, The Manhattan Project, Chuck Yeager, the Berlin Airlift, Apartheid, Communist China, the Hydrogen Bomb, McCarthyism, The Korean War, Rosa Parks, Sputnik, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., the Eichmann Trial, the Berlin Wall, Cuban Missile Crisis, The Vietnam War, and Charles Manson, a more modern incarnation of the Ripper.

Above all else, horror is civility and reason's lunatic. This statement predicts the transgression of law and social order that has become the prime component of all postmodern horror. The monster never really dies and is never brought to justice. Perhaps The Ripper was right after all.


1 See Barish Ali's detailed account of the metaphorical implications of post-mortem dissection in From Hell. The Violence of Criticism: The Mutilation and Exhibition of History in From Hell. Journal of Popular Culture 2005 605-31 May 2005.
2 Groth, Gary. Last Big Words - Alan Moore on "Marvelman," "From Hell," "A Small Killing," and being published. The Comics Journal 140, February 1991.
3 Ibid
4 Walkowitz, Judith R. Jack the Ripper and the Myth of Male Violence. Feminist Studies, Vol. 8, No. 3. (Autumn, 1983) 547.
5 For more see: Freud, Sigmund. [1919] 1955. "The 'Uncanny'." The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological works of Sigmund Freud. Volume XVII. London: The Hogarth Press: 217-256.
6 Coppin, Lisa. Looking Inside Out. The vision as particular gaze in From Hell (Alan Moore & Eddie Campbell). Image and Narrative: Online Magazine of the Visual Narrative - ISSN 1780-678X. January 2003.
7 Foucault, Michel. Genealogy and Social Criticism - The Postmodern Turn: New Perspectives on Social theory. Cambridge: Cambridge UP 42.
8 Butler, Judith. Explanation and Exoneration, or What We Can Hear. Social Text 20.3 2002) 177.
9 Ibid Coppin.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Bender's Big Score is Big and Brilliant

I always saw Futurama as the pick of the litter in regard to the slew of animated series that have proliferated in the last decade. The Simpsons has grown into such a massive universe that it has gotten away from me a bit - and I was around 19 or 20 when it premiered as a stand alone show. As such, I've been with it from the beginning and treasure every single episode. Family Guy leaves me cold, empty, and occasionally emotionless. It's a crack pipe approach to media, light it up and get your fix. I don't find anything necessarily "wrong" with this approach, but I echo Matt Stone and Trey Parker's sentiments that it is a somewhat lazy shotgun/non-sequitor approach to creating media texts - with little attention and development to the actual storytelling process (see South Park - The Cartoon Wars, Season 10) King of the Hill is consistently excellent. And American Dad? Well, I've seen a few episodes and find it to be an even cheaper version of Family Guy.

Bender's Big Score is probably more thought provoking and engaging than 80% of the product at your local cineplex. My buddy Fred has noted on more than one occasion that Futurama was almost too intelligent for its own good (which can be attributed to the series writ large). Futurama's humor was often quite high-brow (comparatively within the contemporary milieu) and an antithesis to show's like Family Guy which (at least since its resurrection) prefer to link pop culture references into a narrative chain that resemble anything but a cohesive cause/efffect character and situation driven plot and story. I do enjoy Family Guy, but am tired of being told how brilliant it is. What's brilliant about it is that it has hoodwinked millions into thinking its brilliant. In a nod to the old "Magic Bullet" theory of stimulus response hypodermic needle media, Family Guy gets an A++. It does inject you with a quick fix of pop culture intertextual jokes (based purely on cultural capital) often without having a situational device to set them in motion; hence the "remember the time..." modus. It's getting old (at least to me).

Futurama fans rejoiced this November when Bender's Big Score (a feature length DVD) was released. It does NOT disappoint. The plot is complicated but very traversable, the character arcs that began seven years ago also make considerable strides, and the show's charm, quirkiness and acute insight are all brilliantly on display. They begin by lampooning the "moronic" Fox executives that cancelled the show and end by sentimentally pulling on the heart-strings of their devoted fan base (your author being a Futurama nut). So much for objectivity. Hey, my scholarship is full of objectivity - this is my BLOG. Thank God for it! Watching Bender's Big Score was almost "event-like" - I got chills when I threw it into the DVD player and was full of childish anticipation. I'll repeat, I was not disappointed. And, I don't think you will be either.

Just Dig The Chanukah Zombie's TIE Figther!

Occasional Viewer? BUY IT
Casual Fan of Futurama? BUY IT

Sunday, December 16, 2007

For The Thousandth Time (Gone To Bed Series)

My very good and longtime friend (who coincidently was supposed to host this website) has convinced me that my mind has been for far too long concerned with overtly academic issues (I'm finishing my PhD). I think he's full of shit, but I was intrigued with the idea of being able to write without academic restraints.

So, my plan is to pretty much post my musings and occasional opinions on matters of popular culture - primarily media - as this is my area. I encourage participation, if any of you are inclined to drop a note or two.

So, what's the first post about??

I'll begin this blog with a continuing column that I will tentatively title "Films I've seen literally hundreds of times because I have gone to bed to them on just as many occasions" Or, simply, the "Gone To Bed" series.

Occupying the numero uno spot is a film that I would cross my fingers for every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. This exact moment is when the WXYZ (Channel 7 in Detroit and the local ABC affiliate) announcer would let this eager child know just exactly what Abbott and Costello film would be on the following Sunday, right after the painful Deedle Doors. Good lord, just what the hell was that show anyways? I'll tell you what it was to me, it was 30 or 60 minutes (gratefully, I can't remember) of pain. Pain because at 8:30 my beloved Abbott and Costello would come on and I would be transported away to the french Foreign legion or Alaska, or Mexico, or if was lucky and kept my fingers crossed - Bud and Lou would tangle with a monster, often culled from the Universal library (ownership has its priveledges).

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein(1948) is truly a great film. Not only is it linked to a sweet nostalgia for me, but it is a perfect synthesis of genuine thrills and solid comedic writing and performance. The monsters play it straight and let Bud and Lou provide most of the laughs; this may well be the secret to its endurance. Lugosi turns in a fine performance at his second and last performance on screen as Count Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. is predictable but very solid as Larry Talbot (perhaps his tortured tragic personae has grown a bit weary by now), and Glenn Strange does (as he always did) an admirable job of filling the heavy boots of Boris Karloff. The supporting cast is terrific, Frank Skinner's score is iconic, and it was a FOND, not cheap and shallow as some "critics" claim, fairwell (temporary of course) to the beloved monsters of Universal Studios.

I could write a great deal more on the subject and craft a formal, rhetorically sound argument - but as stated earlier, this blog is primarily about opinion, not scholarship. And as such, I'd like to keep things generally "light". However, the subtitle is a "confluence of high and low culture" and so I will certainly be discussing theory in my musings. At any rate, NO FILM, and I do mean NO FILM had such a profoundly positive impact on me; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was "it" for me and it still is. I continue to watch it (I'd say bi-weekly) and I listen to it in my car. I know every bit of dialogue by heart (of course) and if I had kids, they would be exposed to it as well (at the appropriate age). But, something tells me I'd have pretty media saavy youngins. It's the Holy Grail of films to me. No, I'm not saying it's as deeply profound as say, L'Avventura or as "important" as Citizen Kane or as visually stimulating as Days of Heaven - but, in a sense it's all those things to the six year old child in me who prayed every Sunday to hear the WXYZ announcer tell me it was going to be on... NEXT SUNDAY.

There's only a few other films that I have gone to bed to as much or more - and those shall more than likely be covered in upcoming posts in the exciting and interesting "Gone to Bed" series. Bet you can't wait.

Approx. 700 times