Tuesday, September 30, 2014

there's nothing to be afraid of

A note on life of late as the movie begins (the movie being Peeping Tom):

Actually, let me interrupt before I even get not going—opening shot with the backlot-looking city was awesome. I’d forgotten, also, this was a British film. Considering where I’m going with this blog this month, I rather like the immediate use of the first-person POV through the camera...

But, I wasn’t talking about the film yet. Or where I’m going with this blog this month, either.

On life:

It’s Monday and that’s going to be a particularly busy day for me for the next 10 weeks (i.e. fall quarter). Up by 6:30AM, left the house at 7:00, taught class 8:00 to 9:40 and 9:50 to 11:30...

The replay of the murder we’ve just witnessed being filmed over the opening credits is awesome, by the way. This is the first film I’ll be watching for this blog (it’s own entry, I mean) that I wasn’t 100% sure I’d actually seen before. It looks familiar, but also... not. The overall visual quality here is fascinating me, the bright hues, the slightly artificial setting... very cool.

...11:40 to 1:20, I’ve got office hours, then forensics class 1:30 to 3:10, followed immediately by a coaches meeting, followed immediately by a TA meeting, then 10 minutes to instructional comm, which goes nearly 4 hours. A long, potentially tiring day, but this first one of the quarter has me feeling a little bit physically tired but mentally exhilarated.

A note on this blog as the movie continues, and the titular character lingers in a newsstand that seems to sell a whole lot of pornography. Cut to an actual film set, with lights and everything. The movie is playing with cinematic boundaries quite interestingly. Hell, they just pulled out a fake brick wall to use as a backdrop inside an apartment. When outside the window there is an actual brick building across the way.

Oh, yes, the note:

I will not be watching one movie a week this month, each one for seven days. Instead, this “month” will be 33 days long, ending on Halloween, instead of the now usual 28. And, I will be watching 33 different films. I mentioned the other day that I would be getting into horror films again. I hadn’t intended to cover horror films the first month after the year-long exercise in Groundhog Day; rather, I deliberately began with The Ring so that I could title the initial entry “seven days.” But then research I had for that film led me to cover The Sixth Sense and The Blair Witch Project, and then to sort of round out something of the state of late-90s horror, I went with Scream. And, there I discovered the work of Carol J. Clover—notably the essay “Her Body, Himself: Gender in the Slasher Film” and the book Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film...

This titular character—his name is Mark—has some obvious issues. Notably, he not only films women in public in addition to photographing them in private, he can’t seem to interact normally with women—his models or this woman right now who lives in his building. He’s got an awkward thing going that rivals Norman Bates in Psycho, which I will be watching tomorrow, and which was released in theaters only a month after Peeping Tom in 1960.

A lot of this behind-the-scenes photography stuff, not to mention the Britishness, reminds me of Blow Up... which (I just checked) came out 6 years later. Like the opening scene seems obviously echoed in the opening sequence of Halloween, which I shall be watching in a few days. Mark’s footage of himself as a child plays like a trap, having captured his childhood and stunted his development. It’s an interesting thing that he then wants to photograph the woman watching the footage. Like he can only see things through a camera to consider them real.

Clover demonstrated far more concretely than I think I’d seen before the link between gendered roles, stereotypes and interactions in and around the horror film, especially slasher films. I’d written about gender before in regards to Groundhog Day... more than once, actually. Hell, one of the ideas I had for my Master’s Thesis involved the portrayal of gender roles within Groundhog Day specifically. I found it hard...

Another film set, this a commercial rather than a modeling shoot...

I found it hard to justify a detailed examination of a 20 + -year-old film specifically, as opposed to, say, a look at romantic comedies (yesterday‘s argument that Groundhog Day is not a romantic comedy excepted) in general, or the change in them over time... something closer to what I did last month in this blog. Though, last month I only dealt with a small sampling and a short time frame of romantic comedies, I tried to sample differing examples of the genre so that I could explore the genre more fully. I still don’t particularly like romantic comedies, but I think I can appreciate the idea of them a little more after sitting down with them for a month...

It is amazing that this film—Peeping Tom—comes before so many horror films that use the first-person camera, as it is effectively equating the act of filming itself with a voyeuristic impulse, inherently sexual and ultimately dangerous. Only 38 minutes in, mind you, I’m wondering if Mark is attempting, on some level, to capture the essence of these women to protect them from the same decay unto death that he saw in his mother as a child. If he can film them and then kill them, he immortalizes them even as he removes their mortality on a more literal level by enacting it. I’m reminded of a far more recent film—that I wouldn’t classify as horror despite its inclusion of murders—of the film adaptation of Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, in which the killer is literally trying to capture the essence of beautiful women and succeeds in creating an ecstatic experience powerful enough to overcome an entire village.

Right now, Mark is setting up a bunch of crates as a woman dances... and then into a crate she goes, willingly. And camera pointed at camera... Claudia’s line in the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire occurs to me—”How avant garde.”

I like the idea of exploring genres and themes in depth, getting to know them then leaving them behind. This month, though, I will admit, I am exploring a genre with which I am quite familiar...

Did the leg of his camera’s tripod just raise in place of his erection? Clover (1992) says this “film sets out with astonishing candor and clarity a psychosexual theory of cinematic spectatorship” (p. 168). When it comes to horror films, we are obviously voyeurs, stepping into the shoes, vicariously, of both the killer an the killed, the monster and the hero/heroine—the Final Girl. But, really, in any film we live vicariously, or at least are invited to live vicariously, through the various characters. I don’t think it is all necessarily psychosexual, of course, but there is a certain power we wield over characters and an attraction to them. The power we wield comes from the fact of our choice to be where we are, watching what we are watching; characters do not have this luxury, rather their actions are dictated by the script, and they have already been acted out, filmed, edited, captured and immortalized within the confines of the specific film we are watching. In contrast, we live before the film and after the film, and we are free to leave whenever we want, free to interpret however we want, free to take away from the story anything we choose. The attraction may not always be obvious, but it is necessary for us to truly engage with the characters, or with their story. We have to, even if only on the most thinnest of levels, want to be the character, or at least in the character’s shoes. And, this month I am looking to—and living vicariously through the characters in—slasher films, a genre with which I am quite familiar...

And, my two narratives here have twisted together, not entirely by design but somewhat deliberately.

Slasher films, a staple of my own childhood, that have scarred me... No. That have marked me in some permanent fashion not unlike the way Mark’s father’s filming him through his childhood marked him. Not, of course, to suggest that I go around filming and murdering women—for the record, I do not—but my taste in film, the way I may react to things I’ve seen in slasher films, even the ways, probably, that I think about gender, have been shaped by my ongoing experience with film in general, and with slasher films more specifically. I will be watching every film (minus recent remakes) in four notable series of films—the Texas Chainsaw, Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series—and, to tie somewhat to the new usual setup for this blog, I will be engaging these films not necessarily as entirely separate entities but as, perhaps, individual chapters in an ongoing cinematic conversation about murder, about fear, about gender, about... well, we’ll see, won’t we?

Clover refers to the doubling of the opening murder sequence in remarkable terms:

If the “present” or “doing” gaze [of the initial murder] was predatory, penetrating, murderous, at once brutalizing the woman and recording that brutalization, causing the event to happen, the second or “past” gaze [playing behind the opening credits] is after the fact, at some contemplative distance—a distance underwritten by the relocation of the image further back in our screen (in such a way as to show us a screen in a screen) and by the superimposition of screen credits. What was action is now speculation. What was present is now pluperfect. What was real life is now movie—now our movie, too. (p. 173)

On that last note, how contemplative is the film we are watching if it is one more level removed from the initial murder? Does that separation release us from any culpability in the murder itself. I mean, sure, the murders in film are not real. But, spend enough time watching murders represented and surely you become desensitized to the imagery. Not so much that you turn to violence, but surely enough that a little more brutal murder in the sequel is not so bothersome as it might have been.

Ultimately, I don’t think Peeping Tom plays quite like what we think of as a slasher film. But, the use of the first-person camera moving in for the kill—here, quite literally—coupled with the apparently (but not fundamentally) sexual motivation, suggests some clear roots to what would become the slasher film. And, it is entirely appropriate that the camera itself (or at least its leg) is doing the killing here. Because, the camera is our doorway into many a murder to come in the decades of film to follow (and the next month of this blog, as well).

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