The Journal of Film & Visual Narration
Vol. 05 No.01 I Spring 2020
Handwashing in Martin Scorsese's Aviator (Warner Bros. Pictures, 2004).
CONTENTS Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Letter from the Editor
29 The Rise and Fall of Walter White's Empire
ARTICLES 01 Orientalism, Star Power, and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema Calum Waddell
FILM FESTIVAL REPORTS 33 Feminist Overtones at the Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival Kelly Doyle
39 George Lucas: A Life
17 Untethered: Engaging the Senses in Post-2013 Space-Travel Films
42 Hitchcock and Horror
Greg Millard Douglas Long
45 Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock
18 Finding Community and Comfort in the Shadow of Religion, Exploitation, and Trump
51 Open Call for Papers
24 Showrunning, Motherhood, and Character-driven Storytelling Olivia Popp
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
ABOUT MSJ EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
Greg Chan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), Canada
Karen Meijer-Kline, KPU, Canada
Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada
Sanjay Singh Aujla, KPU, Canada
Richard L. Edwards, Ball State University,USA
Neil Bassan, UBC, Canada
Allyson Nadia Field, University of Chicago, USA David A. Gerstner, City University of New York, USA
The views and opinions of all signed texts, including editorials and
Michael Howarth, Missouri Southern State University, USA
regular columns, are those of the authors and do not necessarily
Andrew Klevan, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
represent or reflect those of the editors, the editorial board or the
Gary McCarron, Simon Fraser University, Canada
Michael C.K. Ma, KPU, Canada Janice Morris, KPU, Canada
Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration
Miguel Mota, UBC, Canada
is published by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada
Paul Risker, University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom Asma Sayed, KPU, Canada
Poonam Trivedi, University of Delhi, India
Paul Tyndall, KPU, Canada
FRONT COVER IMAGE REVIEWERS
Courtesy of Felix Mooneeram on Unsplash
Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada Jennifer Susan Griffiths, University of Georgia in Cortona, Italy
BACK COVER IMAGE
Jack Patrick Hayes, KPU/UBC, Canada
Courtesy of Jake Hills on Unsplash
Michael Howarth, Missouri Southern State University, USA Osakue Stevenson Omoera, Ambrose Alli University,
Faculty of Arts, KPU, Canada
Christina Parker-Flynn, Florida State University, USA
KDocsFF Documentary Film Festival, Canada
Asma Sayed, KPU, Canada
Andrea Meador Smith, Shenandoah University, USA Poonam Trivedi, University of Delhi, India
Paul Tyndall, KPU, Canada
Heather Cyr, KPU, Canada
Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada
Janice Morris, KPU, Canada
ISSN: 2369-5056 (online)
Patrick Tambogon, Wilson School of Design at KPU, Canada
ISSN: 2560-7065 (print)
WEBMASTER Janik Andreas, UBC, Canada
ii Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR Dear Reader, Film continues to be a reliable source of therapy. Who doesn’t benefit from the escapism and catharsis of sitting in a darkened theatre rapt in a story? Except now, of course, we find ourselves in a pandemic and under quarantine, so screenings are happening exclusively at home. It may come as no surprise that 2020’s preferred genres are dystopian thrillers like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion and docuseries reporting from the pandemic’s front lines like Netflix’s Lenox Hill. There has even been a resurgence in film noir and neo-noir, which speaks to our fears about the future. Binge-watching Black Mirror isn’t recommended; reportedly, showrunner Charlie Brooker is holding off on creating Season 6 because the series doesn’t appear to be set in the ‘near future’ any longer. However, there is a silver lining to quarantine and the shutdown of the film industry that defies the dystopia. For one, the cast of Contagion has become advocates for coronavirus education. No one can deny that Kate Winslet’s meta PSA, in which she teaches us the proper method for washing our hands, is a comfort we didn’t know we needed. Then there’s the rise of a video conferencing phenomenon: virtual cast reunions from our favourite television series and films. Could there be a better buffer for future shock than a nostalgic trip to catch up with, say, The Goonies? Not only did Reunited Apart with Josh Gad bring together the majority of the cast, 90-year-old director Richard Donner, and Cyndi Lauper, but also it reunited Michael J. Fox, Lea Thompson, and Christopher Lloyd to reminisce about Back to the Future. Not to be outdone, Stars in the House pulled off a seemingly spontaneous cast reunion of the classic 70s sitcom, Taxi; Gold House did the same with the cast of The Joy Luck Club, with the actresses re-enacting scenes in the presence of Amy Tan. Here at MSJ, we continue to reflect on the power of film, a medium that entertains, educates, and reminds us of our shared narratives. In conversations with the editorial team, I know that we are recommitted to building community through film studies scholarship. As reopening begins, I invite you to learn more about visual narratives through Issue 5.1. When movie theatres, film sets, and conference halls come back, we will be ready.
Stay safe and healthy,
Greg Chan | Editor in Chief
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
CONTRIBUTORS KELLY DOYLE
Kelly Doyle holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UBC; she currently teaches film and literature at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Her research and teaching interests focus on the subversiveness of gender and posthumanism in horror film. Her work on zombies in popular culture was featured on CBC Radio, Shaw TV, and in local newspapers, while her recent publications explore anthropocentrism, humanism, and cannibalism in zombie films, as well as the representation of gender and ‘the human’ in zombie transmedia. She is also a reviewer, copyeditor, and advisory board member for Mise-en-scène.
Douglas Long is on the faculty at DePaul University, where he serves as Director of the First-Year Program and teaches courses in Chicago in film, movie musicals, the films of 1939, and the films of Alfred Hitchcock. He earned both an M.A. in theatre research and literature and an M.F.A. in Directing from Indiana University and bachelor’s degrees in journalism and theatre from Ball State University. He has worked professionally as a theatre director and as a journalist, writing for several publications including PerformInk, and as editor of Indiana Theatre Journal. In addition to Mise-en-scène, he has served as a reviewer for Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
Gregory Millard (B.A., M.A. McGill, Ph.D. Queen’s) is currently Associate Dean of Arts at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. He spent his formative years in Halifax, Montreal, and Kingston, Ontario, before taking up a position as faculty member in the Department of Political Science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C. His publications include Secession and Self: Quebec in Canadian Thought (McGill-Queen’s), which was shortlisted for the Donald V. Smiley Prize, as well as numerous articles on nationalism, political ethics, and the politics of popular culture. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
iv Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Joakim Nilsson completed his Ph.D. At the University of Alberta. He previously taught at Pierce College and Simon Fraser University, and now teachers in the English Department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His teaching and research interests focus on representations of masculinities in American literature and film, and in medieval literature. He is currently working on an article exploring the representation of the male artist as a “kept man” in post-World War Two Hollywood films.
Olivia Popp is an undergraduate student in Science, Technology, & Society and Film & Media Studies at Stanford University. With the motivation to combine theory and practice, she has also studied critical science fiction at the University of Oxford and digital media at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences. Her interdisciplinary interests include global identities, speculative futures, queer socialization, and sociotechnical imaginaries. She currently writes online about film and television with a particular passion for genre fiction, thriller narratives, and dark comedy.
Douglas Rasmussen is a graduate from the University of Saskatchewan with a Master of Arts degree in English Literature. The subject of his thesis was the AMC television series Breaking Bad,where he explored the intertextual aspects of the series as part of a larger criticism on neoliberal economic policies and border culture. His primary areas of study are Film Studies and American Literature, but he has also written on music, comic books, and television for various websites and journals.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Paul Risker is an independent scholar, freelance film and literary critic, and interviewer. Outside of editing MSJ’s interview and film festival sections, he mainly contributes to PopMatters, although his criticism and interviews have been published by both academic and non-academic publications, that include: Cineaste, Film International, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video and Little White Lies. He remains steadfast in his belief of the need to counter contemporary cultures emphasis on the momentary, by writing for posterity, adding to an ongoing discussion that is essentially us belonging to something that is bigger than ourselves.
Dr. Melanie Robson is a film scholar and tutor at School of the Arts & Media at UNSW Sydney, and she teaches screen studies at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School. She is co-founder and President of the Sydney Screen Studies Network. Her current research investigates the aesthetic, political and ethical role of the long take in contemporary European cinema. She has broad research interests in film style, temporality and staging in Europe and Asia.
Calum Waddell gained his Ph.D. from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland and has since lectured in film studies at Coventry University and the University of Lincoln, where he is presently based. He also lived and worked in China for three years, lecturing in Suzhou. His monographs include The Style of Sleaze: The American Exploitation Film 1958 – 1976 (Edinburgh University Press, 2018) and the upcoming Images of Apartheid: Filmmaking on the Fringe in the Old South Africa (Edinburgh University Press, 2021). He also has an edited monograph on director Wes Craven in the works. In his spare time, Calum enjoys K-pop and producing documentaries on obscure filmmaking trends.
vi Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
viii Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema BY CALUM WADDELL | University of Lincoln
ABSTRACT Focusing on such films as The Man from Deep River (Umberto Lenzi, 1972), Last Cannibal World (Ruggero Deodato, 1977) and Black Emanuelle (Bitto Albertini, 1975), this article suggests that the presentation of Asian “Otherness” in these films, in particular the “exotic girlfriend,” is also developed to assist with the redemption of key white characters and our final appreciation of their grace under pressure. Nevertheless, with leading female stars, particularly the Burmese-born Me Me Lai and Indonesian Laura Gemser, these Italian exploitation cycles presented 1970s audiences with an influential vision of Asian star power. Whilst the roles may have been in the wider context of racist narratives and wrestled with a postcolonial panic about multiculturism, Lai and Gemser remain largely unacknowledged for proving that commercial cinema could be grounded on the promise of a newfound, and sometimes confident, Asian sexuality.
“There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate; the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power” (Said 44). “Thailand – a country where two thirds of the jungle is still unexplored. Here, death reigns. They didn’t know what kind of animal he was. They had never seen a white man before. And he had never seen such brutality. Barbaric violence was the law they lived by” (Voiceover from the international trailer of The Man from Deep River, Medusa Films, 1972). “It seems impossible that today there are still primitive tribes who have never seen a white man. Tribes still living in the stone age. It is very dangerous here. In fact, we have to be continually protected by armed men” (Voiceover from the international trailer of Last Cannibal World, err Cinematografica, 1977).
espite some recent academic writing on the race representation in blaxploitation cinema of the seventies1, very little has been published in regard to how popular and comparable exploitation cycles have presented Asianness, particularly in the two decades that followed the removal of the Western colonial powers from the continent.2 Ivo Ritzer, for instance, acknowledges that the Italian spaghetti western, Akira Kurosawa samurai film and what he dubs the “Chinese wuxia” cinema from Hong Kong shared both aesthetic and thematic tropes, as well as an interesting cross-cultural ethnoscape that included actors such as Lee Van Cleef and Lieh Lo (174). However, the author’s enticing argument--which I draw upon further in this article--that Asian ethnicity becomes interchangeable (with Far Eastern actors playing characters from different countries – whether China or Japan) is downplayed slightly in favour of a wider discussion of how the kung-fu film might be seen as breaking down global cinematic barriers,
1 See Yvonne Sims's Women of Blaxploitation: How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture and Stephanie Dunn's Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films. 2 There are three more recent exceptions that kept the European powers in the East past the 1940s and 1950s: Britain governed Brunei until 1984 and Hong Kong until 1997, while Portugal remained responsible for Macau until 1999.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
with its tropes reimagined within some spaghetti westerns. Whilst this conclusion is difficult to disagree with, the EastWest discussion regarding the so-called “Chinese wuxia” is further complicated, by Hong Kong’s placement during the genre’s golden age as a British colony and Western outpost. The internationalism of Bruce Lee or the Shaw Brothers could be argued, much as with the Italian spaghetti western, to have more to do with a sense of exotic familiarity for the audiences abroad (heroes and villains, comedic set pieces, widescreen Hollywood-style photography, Mandarin language to maximise appeal to Chinese expat communities) as opposed to any imagined ethnic unfamiliarity. Witness, in comparison, how Hong Kong cinema flourished, including with English-language speakers; meanwhile, the
In addition, despite the frequent, recurring, and sexist image of the “exotic girlfriend” in the 70s texts discussed in this paper, it can be argued that the Italian exploitation films of the 1970s initiate a problematic cinematic engagement with Southeast Asia and Southeast Asianness that can still be found in major American studio releases such as Brokedown Palace (20th Century Fox, 1999) and The Hangover Part II (Legendary Pictures, 2011). I will also discuss how and why this representation compliments images of carnally available, and exotic, female brides or sex partners with direct reference to the Emmanuelle (Trinarca Films, 1974) franchise and its many spin-off films. In doing so, I will maintain how this period led to a breakout career for Britain’s first and generally unrecognised Asian sex symbol, the actress Me Me Lai
less thematically-accessible Mainland Chinese film struggled (and struggles) to find an audience outside of Beijing, including with a scattered expat diaspora. It is the intention of this article, however, to argue that the Italian exploitation cinema of this era, although often Orientalist insofar as showcasing a clear nostalgia for European domination and occupation of “savage” lands, is nonetheless important for introducing and grounding commercially successful cinematic presentations of Far Eastern sex appeal. As opposed to Ritzer, I do not intend to argue that the films themselves are internationalist insofar as integrating genres, or even in purposing a clear financial interest in other global commercial cinemas.3 Rather, I maintain that at least two examples of female performers were given a rare chance to progress Asian sexuality (as a commercial vice) during the 1970s. Furthermore, such sexualisation still remains largely absent in Hollywood cinema, suggesting that mainstream America, even in an era of breakthrough popularity from attractive South Korean pop bands such as BTS and Blackpink, does not believe a wide audience exists for a similarly glamorous screen Asianness.4 Even so, and as I will discuss, confusion about Asianness and Asian identity continues even in the Academy, making these films in need of some degree of retrospection.
(Fig. 1). Indeed, Lai, as well as her most comparable contemporary Laura Gemser, deserves far more recognition for at least maintaining a leading lady presence in a period where white women, such as Silvia Kristel, were believed to be a more sexually desirable box office alternative than a performer of Oriental ethnicity, even when a role such as Emmanuelle called for the latter. For this reason, Lai and Gemser--who headlined popular commercial exploitation cycles--deserve far more attention, and arguably even respect, than has been previously awarded to them. At least one recent addition to addressing the time period of this article is the monograph The Hollywood Meme (2016), which contains a welcome look at the past cinematic trashiness of the Philippines under the Marcos regime. Author Iain Robert Smith acknowledges the Filipino appropriation of such Hollywood tropes as the spy-fi adventures of James Bond into low budget, satirical texts that adapt foreign ideas into an indigenous setting. Smith also argues that this appropriation of ideas from a dominant cultural form (Hollywood) into a third world locale (the Philippines, itself a former American colony) might be seen as a site of resistance: “One could quite imagine a study of transnational adaptations of Hollywood in terms of a subversive resistance to US hegemony, the Empire Writing Back through appropriating the very cultural artefacts which
The Italian cannibal films, for instance, feature real animal slaughter – making them a likely turn-off for even the hardiest of horror movie fans in the 1970s and incomparable, in terms of their content, to other narrative-driven fiction motion pictures of the time. In addition, the Laura Gemser film Emanuelle in America (New Film Productions S.R.L., 1977) features a pornographic sequence involving a female cast member and a horse, again unlikely to indicate an eye for widespread box office success. 4 Certainly, whilst Ritzer is correct to acknowledge the crossover appeal of kung-fu action stars such as Lieh Lo, any potential sex appeal was clearly never considered by western producers. 3
02 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Fig. 1 | Me Me Lai in The Man from Deep River, 01:09:00. 88 Films,1973.
embody this hegemonic force” (27). It is difficult to maintain a similar line of defence for the Italian cannibal cycle, a brief run of extremely gruesome horror cinema that flourished during the 1970s after the success of The Man from Deep River in 1972, and continued into the early-to-mid 1980s. However, this conclusion is not because, as some have argued, the Italian cannibal film is a “rare instance of an Italian exploitation cycle not so obviously indebted to a Hollywood box office success before it” (Kerekes and Slater 49). Instead, as this paper will discuss, the cycle exists in a larger transnational discussion of postcolonial Asian representations, using a white, civilised European protagonist to position the former as synonymous with exoticism, savagery, and sexual availability. Nonetheless, having acknowledged this, it should be ascertained that Lai’s Asianness – a clear selling point for the films that she starred in – can be seen, at least insofar as she is the leading actress (albeit to be lusted after by co-star and audience alike), to resist the Euro-normalcy of similar, sexually provocative cinema of this time. At least initially, the Italian cannibal films were set in Southeast Asia. The thematic of the texts take the fish-outof-water scenario from concurrent Hollywood westerns
The race-conflict, which in the American westerns of this period were situated around Native Americans and their resistance to European settlers, is adapted to exploit a sense of postcolonial unease about exotic lands. such as A Man Called Horse (National General Pictures, 1970) and Little Big Man (National General Pictures, 1970), and introduces them to a horror narrative. The race-conflict, which in the American westerns of this period were situated around Native Americans and their resistance to European settlers, is adapted to exploit a sense of postcolonial unease about exotic lands. White explorers collide with violent but tightknit tribes who have never been colonised and thus remain “primitive” and “dangerous” (returning us to my opening quote from Said about how Westerners “dominate” and Asians are “the dominated”). Dialogue in these films is also unmistakably reactionary.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
Underneath these offensive portrayals, however, we might also see a modern European voice entertaining an early identity crisis in the wake of post-war immigration from the former Eastern colonies. In Last Cannibal World, for instance, the natives are referred to as “goddamn little monkeys” and “insufficient idiots” by the narrative’s two white, European heroes. Attesting to the perceived need for European interventions and rule, we are told of their speech that “these are not words, these tribes don’t know language as we know it.” From this perspective, it is tempting to conclude that a film such as Last Cannibal World is little more than vulgar fascist and racist populism, but there is perhaps something more contemporary in the narrative, namely a backlash against Empire scrutiny and a rising tide of globalisation. This link can be seen a decade earlier in the popular Italian mondo-documentary cycle, with Africa Addio (Rizzoli Films, 1966) initiating a clear solidarity with British and French colonial endeavours. Making its leanings explicit, Africa Addio even ends with onscreen text that assures sceptical viewers: “This film, born without prejudices, does not attempt and has never attempted to create new ones. It has only tried to document the reality of how blood spilled anywhere represents a loss of wealth for the entire world.” Prior to this, however, the exposition makes no secret of what side of the colonial debate it favours. The African continent itself is described as a “big black baby,” and Europe is hailed as having “given far more than it has taken.” Recent writing on Italian cinema from Derek Duncan, albeit not addressing the country’s exploitation films, also discusses this factor and is worth acknowledging. The author admits, for instance, that after World War II, and following the collapse of European rule in African, Asian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern countries led initially
to an influx of labourers into the former Empire nations. Italy, which had been a comparatively minor colonial power, was nonetheless not able to resist migration either: “The question of what it means to be Italian has been thrown wide open” (195). Duncan, drawing on some other authors in the field, looks at the representation of Albanians in popular Italian cinema, a discussion that seeks to position how race becomes integrated into the cinematic landscape as neither “Other” nor quite indigenous. Interestingly, such a hypothesis can also be lent to Africa Addio and even Last Cannibal Word: in the former, the directors express sorrow for European retreat from a foreign continent and celebrate the integration of workers in apartheid-era South Africa (arguing that “they” will evolve into “us”). In the latter, a similar, equally obnoxious, proposition is presented wherein suspense is drawn from the idea that Lai’s beautiful but foreign tribeswoman can make it back to sanctuary in Europe with her white saviour, thus integrating herself into the “civilised.” Duncan thus raises an important question that I will continue to discuss: what device do these “foreign” ethnicities serve in both the narrative of Italian exploitation cinema as well as in what they are attempting “sell”? Marwan M. Kraidy also acknowledges that studies on cultural globalisation have fallen into two schools of thought: “as the transfiguration of worldwide diversity into a pandemic Westernised consumer culture” or “as a process of hybridisation in which cultural mixture and adaptation continuously transform and renew cultural forms” (16). The author challenges both, despite their prominence in the Academy. Reactionary films such as The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World, made by directors born before or shortly after the Second World War, may be seen to argue that Westernised consumer culture is not inevitable – even in an era of globalisation5. Last Cannibal World instead offers audiences a story of sophisticated Europeans and their various technical achievements, which are too far advanced for primitive Asians to even engage with, let alone understand. When a trapped explorer, played by Massimo Foschi, attempts to reason with the primitive tribe that captures him in Last Cannibal World, he is urinated on by the clan’s infants and threatened with violence by the elders. The tribe believes that, having seen his airplane land near their cave,
Umberto Lenzi, the director of The Man from Deep River, would drive this issue home in his later Cannibal Ferox (Dania Films, 1981), when a savage Latin American tribe comes across a victim’s wallet and casually throws away his American Express card – i.e. globalisation counts for nothing without prior colonisation. 5
04 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Fig. 2 | Me Me Lai and Massimo Foschi in Last Cannibal World, 00:53:41. Code Red, 1977.
he is actually some kind of bird-man, and their inability to comprehend modern technology leads them to frustration when their European captive proves unable to fly. As crude as these examples are, they are emblematic of the cycle’s problematic and racist attitude towards Asia – a land where, without colonialism, the locals might have retained their savage manners forever. Underneath these offensive portrayals, however, we might also see (again, to build on Duncan’s argument) a modern European voice entertaining an early identity crisis in the wake of post-war immigration from the former Eastern colonies. As such, it is not too far-fetched to believe that a film such as Last Cannibal World was made for an audience that needed a racist fantasy to feed its own cynicism towards the early stages of multiculturalism in Europe (Fig. 2). This factor is part of the reason why the initial run of Italian cannibal films is worth acknowledging (as I will explain, the demarcation can be separated into those which depict Asianness and those which demonise Latin America, concurrent perhaps with shifting geographical concerns as the 1970s bleed into the 1980s). However, these films can also be seen to have introduced, grounded, and inspired a run of Asian leading ladies within the
Italian film industry, including lesser-known names such as Chai Lee, the Chinese-Italian star of Yellow Emanuelle (Cineart Films, 1976) and, by extension, offered a competing Oriental sex appeal to viewers of exploitation cinema. Of course, through such hypersexual figures as Lee, they also provoke Orientalist assumptions – particularly regarding the exotic girlfriend (the sex partners for Lee in Yellow Emanuelle are also conspicuously white). Curiously, this exotic girlfriend presentation is not too far removed from a more recently commented upon phenomenon within the film studies lexicon: the so-called “magic negro” character. In his famous article "Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in 'Magical Negro' Films," Matthew Hughey describes the image of a recurring Hollywood film stereotype: the African-American character who exists to guide a white, usually male, protagonist to a romantically, spiritually, or financially fulfilling destiny. Describing this “cinethetic racism,” Hughey refers to a stock character that often appears as a lower class, uneducated black person who possesses supernatural or magical powers. These powers are
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
Fig. 3 | Me Me Lai in Eaten Alive!, 01:17:13. Severin Films, 1980.
used to save and transform disheveled, uncultured, lost, or broken whites (almost exclusively white men) into competent, successful, and content people within the context of the American myth of redemption and salvation. (544). However, it is also possible to argue that a similar cinethetic racism can be found in the tropes of the Italian cannibal cycle of the 1970s and their representation of Asianness. Although these films stop short of offering an Americanised view of the world, at least insofar as suggesting (per the “magical negro”) that white privilege and success is concurrent with societal stability, they do attempt to juxtapose the uncolonized savage with the submissive coloniser. Similar, then, to “cinethetic racism” in African-American representations, these films also provide a submissive, typically female character, who assists with guiding the European character(s) to safety and risks her life to do so. The narrative of the early Italian cannibal film is thus unmistakably cynical about Asian identity and government, but they also repeat an early facet of colonial societies in the Far East, which is that Oriental sexuality is desirable and easily available. For instance, author Piers Brendon mentions how a visiting writer to the island of Hong Kong, during early colonial 06 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
rule, would note the “lovely slim young Chinese girls and their neat and graceful half-foreign dresses” (637). Only through dominating this enticing and mysterious sexuality can the brave, trepid European manage to complete his or her own adventure within the Italian cannibal narrative and find spiritual satisfaction. To further highlight this argument and how what we might see as Asian “cinethetic racism” functions in this cycle, I will use the example of actress Me Me Lai in her roles in The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World. In introducing this argument, it is important to maintain that The Man from Deep River, a largely unknown exploitation film outside of fans of “video nasties” or the Italian cannibal filone in general, is far more influential – at least insofar as grounding representations of Asian sexuality in the cinema of the 1970s – than has previously been recognised. Both The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World are set in Southeast Asia, and Lai plays a glamorous tribal woman in each, unable to understand or speak English but increasingly more obsessed with a captured white European male who later has the opportunity to sexually dominate her. In The Man from Deep River, Lai dies shortly after childbirth, whereas in Last Cannibal World, she escapes from her tribe
Fig. 4 | Laura Gemser in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 00:30:48. 88 Films, 1977.
with an English explorer who proceeds to knock her unconscious and rape her. In the following scene, removed from the film’s UK DVD release, Lai serves her attacker fresh fruit and shows her loyalty, both sexual and spiritual, to him. She is later captured and eaten by her own people as revenge for her decision to copulate with a foreigner. The European later wins a tribal conflict, but his ultimate “success” and subsequent humiliation to the primitives is that he has bedded their most sought-after woman. The most famous production of the Italian cannibal cycle is undoubtedly Cannibal Holocaust (F.D. Cinematografica, 1980), a film that, despite its initial critical dismissal,6 has undergone some contemporary reappraisal.7 It is curious that when the cycle reaches a new decade with its most famous instalments, Cannibal Holocaust and Cannibal Ferox (Dania Films, 1981), Amazonia and the small port city of Leticia in Colombia replaces Southeast Asia as the narrative location. The reason for this decision might be found in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals (New Film Productions S.R.L., 1977), which takes Indonesian
actress Laura Gemser and her “Black Emanuelle” character to Brazil, despite the fact the filmmakers are clearly shooting in an Italian national park (complete with non-indigenous animals such as African chimpanzees and a Burmese python). Nonetheless, the juxtaposition of Gemser’s cosmopolitan Indonesian allure (she is introduced as a sophisticated, well-travelled journalist working in New York) with “primitive” Latin Americans may have sabotaged further attempts to repeat the beautiful, but savage, Oriental of Lai. As such, when Lai reappears in the cycle with Eaten Alive (Dania Films, 1980), she is cast against her previous exotic
Lai’s cannibal films can thus be seen to engage in a wider dialogue with other Italian exploitation cycles, in particular the Black Emanuelle franchise.
Landis, for instance, belittles the film as being “grotesque and beyond vile” (211). See Mikita Brottman's Offensive Films.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
Fig. 5 | Laura Gemser in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 01:10:45. 88 Films, 1977.
girlfriend stereotype as an unwilling member of a Jonestownstyle religious cult who seeks to flee her Western captors and escape to New York. She does not succeed and, per the title’s promise, is held at knifepoint and indeed “eaten alive” (Fig. 3). Gemser’s Asianness, then, whilst still of sexual availability as part of her exotic girlfriend role, is adaptable to a modern, professional, big-city career and setting. Lai’s cannibal films can be seen to engage in a wider dialogue with other Italian exploitation cycles, in particular the Black Emanuelle franchise (San Nicola Produzione Cinematografica, 1975). In his discussion of Albertini’s Return of Shanghai Joe (C.B.A. Produttori e Distributori Associati, 1975), Ritzer acknowledges that the director often fails to ground the Asian descent of his characters, noting that “the ethnic origins of the Asians are no longer of any interest” (170). This criticism could also be lent to Black Emanuelle. Before discussing this further, it is worth pointing out that while Gemser's and Lai's screen Asianness are not entirely identical, neither would have
seductive tribeswoman. As seen in Fig. 4, Gemser’s glamorous photo-journalist joins a small group of fellow American explorers in setting out to the Amazonas to find out if the legend of an ancient cannibal tribe is true in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals. She has a profession and a clear narrative purpose. Lai, on the other hand, portrays a mysterious primitive sexual exoticism that is lusted after by a European captive who must, in order to sustain his survival, take her virginity and “dominate” her, as happens in both The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World. Gemser’s Asianness is also presented as desirable (including to her male and female co-stars), and in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, her beauty saves at least one of her Caucasian colleagues from death. Gemser pretends to be an exotic “Water God,” arising from the Amazon river amid some shots from a flare gun (“the Indios are very superstitious,” she reassures one of her lovers), and the besotted natives allow her to take her colleague to safety, enthralled by her Asian beauty. There is still
evolved without the other. Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals would not exist without The Man from Deep River, and it is interesting to contrast how Gemser’s Asianness is juxtaposed with her exotic backdrop vs. Lai and her timid but
some cinethetic racism here – with the presentation of Gemser alluding to the “magical negro” character whose stock is to provide safety to the perplexed white personalities and monetary sexual gratification to the primitive
08 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Amazonians – there can be little doubt that her Black Emanuelle character has more independence than Lai’s equally hypersexual tribeswoman. Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals is the most blatant attempt to rewrite the cannibal film narrative, and in particular, its representation of the “savage” but irresistible, and ultimately subservient, Asian – sexually conquered and deflowered in her own land and frustrated among her own (desexualised) people. As bizarre as it might sound, it is not improbable that the producers behind the successful Black Emanuelle series were engaged in an attempt to appropriate Lai’s Asianness, and especially her exotic girlfriend persona, into a more modern setting and dominant persona. Gemser also brings a more predatory sexuality to her roles than Lai – she sleeps with multiple characters and usually on terms which she initiates (albeit in narratives designed to guide her through as many sexually exploitative scenarios as possible). This factor is in stark contrast to Lai’s rape and domination, which she eventually shows a fondness for, in Last Cannibal World. Nevertheless, Gemser is still – as with Lai – represented as the exotic girlfriend. Besotted white men, and women, are seen vying for her sexual attention and find themselves unable to return to “normal” same-race relationships afterwards. If cinethetic racism involves an ethnic minority altering the purpose and spiritual wellbeing of the dominant skin colour, then Gemser’s Black Emanuelle still fulfils this role. In postcolonial Kenya, the setting for Black Emanuelle, Gemser finds herself among wealthy white landowners who have created a “safe space” in the country’s vast highlands8. Immediately desirable, Gemser’s Asianness intrudes and disrupts the general white-on-white orgies and exclusive expat parties of Nairobi (which, in the narrative, is interchangeable with sub-Saharan African identity; despite her clear Oriental ethnicity, Gemser is asked more than once if she is local to Kenya). At the conclusion of the original Black Emanuelle, an unhappily married bourgeois English man (played by Angelo Infanti) travels miles outside of the Kenyan capital to try and stop Emanuelle from leaving the country so that she can consider a life with him. She turns him down and moves on with her adventures – the first indication that the series intends to progress in a different direction, at least 8
superficially, from Lai’s cannibal filone and their representation of the “exotic girlfriend” as trophy partner to a wealthy and “deserving” European male. I use the term “filone” here in the wake of Mikel Koven’s study of the Italian giallo, which the author sees as being part of the wider horror or crime genre. Koven sees in the giallo a “cluster of concurrent streamlets, veins, or traditions—filone” (6). Similarly, I would argue that the Italian cannibal film, which had a not inconsiderable five-year gap between The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World and Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, be seen as part of a wider genre in Italian exploitation-horror which would become notorious during the British “video nasty” period for its heightened practical special effects (see Ega) and images of women under threat (Fig. 5). I have already mentioned how both The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World exist in dialogue with Laura Gemser’s Black Emanuelle franchise, particularly in changing the “exotic girlfriend” from submissive and besotted to somewhat dominant and independent. However, the link between various Italian horror films of this period, representing different filone, is also clear in the occasional use of exotic settings: Zombie Flesh-Eaters (Variety Films, 1979) uses the Caribbean, Anthropophagous (Filmirage, 1980) is staged on a deserted Greek island, and Alien Contamination (Alex Cinematografica, 1980) takes its action to Colombia. In some cases, these exotic locations allude to colonial history – Zombie Flesh-Eaters, for instance, makes direct reference to conquistadors and ancient black magic rituals, but usually it is to initiate the fear of being a white “civilised” European in an anarchistic land. The Italian horror film remained profitable and prolific during the 1970s. As mentioned by Stefano Baschiera, the proliferation of second- and third-run cinemas across Italy, coupled with the import market of the UK, the United States et al. supported indigenous, low-budget genre products throughout the decade (45-46). The author also acknowledges how “1980s Italian horror has been analysed by scholars [. . .] through its most iconic sub-genres: cannibal and zombie films,” but then adds that the former “started at the end of the 1970s” (48). However, it is The Man from Deep River that signals the beginning of the filone as well as its relationship with Asian representations. Most of the cast
See Caroline Elkins's Britain's Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
Fig. 6 | Laura Gemser under threat in Emanuelle in America, 00:04:33. Mondo Macabro, 1977.
is Thai, with leading man Ivan Rassimov as the sole white character with any dialogue in the entire film. Although Rassimov is Italian, he plays an Englishman in the narrative. The Italian cannibal films, which Kay Dickinson acknowledges “concoct lurid fantasies about the non-Western world” (172), typically feature a white explorer, beset by “primitive,” antagonistic foreign natives. For instance, The Man from Deep River has Rassimov’s European travel photographer kidnapped by a tribe near the Thai-Burmese border and subjected to extensive punishments for his intrusion into their waters. The tribe mistakes him for a fishman when they see him snorkelling in the water near its village. What makes the 1970s strain of these films unique is that the white protagonist usually finds some kind of spiritual affirmation through a romance with a beautiful Asian woman or, as in Mountain of the Cannibal God (Dania Films, 1978), via being worshipped as a sexual deity. In each case, the message is provocative and clear: white, European sexuality is “sophisticated and dominant” (the coloniser), whereas Asian sexuality is “submissive and dominated” (the colonised). The films, despite their Italian nationality, act as a surprising nostalgia for European colonial thought, with only Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals – thanks to the
10 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
presence of Gemser – attempting to work against the filone’s narrative worship of whiteness. Nonetheless, if the concept of Orientalism involves “the Westerner in a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the relative upper hand” (Said 15), then a film such as The Man from Deep River plays a critical part in understanding how early exploitation filone sustain this perception of the Far East. When academic discussion of the Italian cannibal film has surfaced, as from Mikita Brottman (1996), Dickinson (2007), or Danny Shipka (2011), it has frequently been around the more infamous Cannibal Holocaust and with minimal, if any, reference to ethnicity or location. Perhaps this lack of attention is because, for any interested researcher, the relationship of the Italian cannibal texts to nationhood, ethnic representation, and even “Asianness” is confusing. Bernard, for instance, mentions how the films tend to “blend documentary realism with fictional filmmaking” (Baschiera and Hunter 162), but does not address how this stylistic attribute is muddied by an additional, and clear, anti-realism in regard to setting and race. Part of the racism most emblematic of Lai’s cannibal films, and also the Gemser Black Emanuelle films, is
Fig. 7 | Not Quite Thailand: Dutch model Silvia Kristel as Emmanuelle, 00:14:49. Studio Canal, 1974.
that Asian identity is considered transferable and indefinable. One does not need to be from anywhere in Asia because these films make it clear that Asian people are one and the same. As mentioned, Gemser also becomes transferable to Africa. Her first appearance in Black Emanuelle, on an airplane from New York to Nairobi, has a white passenger engage with her in Swahili, assuming that she is African. Gemser’s exotic, clearly Indonesian ethnicity thus becomes interchangeable with a perception of the “dark continent.” In later Black Emanuelle films, Gemser’s race goes unacknowledged, suggesting cynicism towards the audience for these exploitation texts and a presumption that they would not even know where Indonesia is. Adding to the confusion, despite claiming to be set in Mindanao in the Philippines, an island that still remains under martial law today due to Islamic separatists, Last Cannibal World uses Malaysia, most notably the iconic Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysian actors to play the onscreen tribespeople, with Lai as the sole exception. The [Orientalist] assumption was presumably that no one would notice the racial difference between a Malaysian and a Filipino, let alone someone of Burmese ancestry. This confusion of Oriental identity
continues in the cycle with Mountain of the Cannibal God, which is set in New Guinea but mainly filmed in Sri Lanka, and with Sri Lankan actors as the tribespeople, as well as Eaten Alive! (Umberto Lenzi, 1980), which comes from the same production company (Dania Films) and uses the same confusion between setting and location. Not only are the onscreen locations accepted as fact by Shipka, but also the supposed “third world” setting is treated with appalling disdain by the author, who seems to believe that shooting in developing countries is somehow concurrent with austerity scenery. Speaking of Mountain of the Cannibal God, Shipka notes how the “film does boast some slick production values, belying the fact that a majority of the film was shot in Sri Lanka and Malaysia” (119) – as if the filmmakers would have been better off recapturing the stunning Southeast Asian scenery in a Hollywood studio. Despite the popularity of Cannibal Holocaust, which has surely overshadowed previous films, the filone is thus a generally unrecognised but important part of popular and commercial Asian representation of the 1970s – particularly when even now authors indicate little knowledge of where they were filmed. Given that tourist-friendly Asian locations such as
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
Fig. 8 | Laura Gemser vs. nature in Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, 00:33:47. 88 Films, 1977.
That the Burmese Lai would play both Japanese and Chinese at the start of her acting career anticipates the later, aforementioned Orientalist assumption that all Far Eastern races are one and the same – and this would become an even more explicit factor of Lai’s first leading roles. Malaysia can still encourage such disdainful comments, it could even be said that some of these films were ahead of their time. Before the blockbuster Emmanuelle took its young, white swinger, played by Silvia Kristel, to Thailand – presented as a nation of sexual debauchery – The Man from Deep River introduced a similar fish-out-of-water story of someone seduced by the country’s lurid beauty and 12 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
irresistible, “exotic” women. Attesting to Lai’s success in the role of an alluring and sexually available tribal woman, the actress mentions that her second film in the filone, Last Cannibal World, was pre-sold on the guarantee that she would be starring in it: I believe that our sequel was sold well before Last Cannibal World was made. A cinema company, whose name I forget, paid all of my expenses for me to go to Australia to promote The Last Cannibal World. I was there for about three weeks and it was first class travel, a nice hotel and a chauffeur driven car! I appeared on all the famous talk shows over there and I recall someone telling me that if I was in a film, it was sold instantly to the Far East. How true this was, I cannot say, but I was having a great time! (Lai qtd. in Waddell 50) In both films, Lai exists as a character who assists in solving white European problems, especially topical to the postcolonial lands she finds herself inhabiting (it is made clear in The Man from Deep River that the tribe is present in a lawless border between Thailand and Burma). Born in
Burma (today’s Myanmar), raised in London, and currently residing in Essex where she is a grandmother and retired policewoman9, actress Me Me Lai could lay claim to being Britain’s first international Asian sex symbol, although she is given little recognition for this. Marketing herself with an exotic-sounding nom-de-plume in the early 1970s and (come the middle of the decade) large breast implants, the actress and model would first take to the screen as a typical example of Oriental window dressing: I got into acting, and also modelling, through some girlfriends who did some extra work on films and television. I also did some walk-on roles and my first speaking part was at the BBC – it was for the series Omnibus and in the episode entitled The Life Story of Modigliani. I play a French-Chinese girl called Elvira, who is painted by Modigliani. Peter McEnery played Modigliani. I have still never seen this particular Omnibus episode. (Lai qtd. in Waddell 48) Following this minor beginning, Lai would be cast as a Japanese character called Chi-San in Crucible of Terror (Glendale Films, 1971). The actress would also lend her skills to the role of a hypersexual, easily-seduced young Chinese expat called Nan Lee in The Au Pair Girls (Kenneth Shipman Productions, 1972). That the Burmese Lai would play both Japanese and Chinese at the start of her acting career anticipates the later, aforementioned Orientalist assumption that all Far Eastern races are one and the same, and this would become an even more explicit factor of Lai’s first leading roles. In both films Lai’s exoticism, rather than her actual ethnicity proper, is deemed exploitable and interchangeable: she merely needs to be indiscriminately “Asian” in order to fit with what each director presumes women of the East want and need (typically a “dominant” and hunky European male). Not only is this fact illustrated by Lai’s romance with captured and tormented European Ivan Rassimov in The Man from Deep River, but also by the original Italian title for the film: Il paese del sesso selvaggio. The translation reads as “The land of savage sex,” a nod to previous literary depictions of Thailand and an anticipation of the country’s representation in Emmanuelle, which 9
famously features travelogue-style documentation of Bangkok’s notorious Soi Cowboy red light district. The stereotype of Thai ladies as sexy, sinful and sordid (but never Thai men – in both The Man from Deep River and Emmanuelle, the male characters are predatory, violent or a mix of both) has a long legacy, which includes the British novel A Woman of Bangkok (also known as A Sort of Beauty, published in 1956). However, it could also be argued, given the interchangeable nature of “Asianness” during the 1970s and highlighted by Lai’s ability to be cast as Chinese, Japanese, Thai, and finally Filipino (in Last Cannibal World), that the more notorious The World of Suzie Wong (from author Richard Mason, published in 1957), set in colonial Hong Kong, added to the mystique of the Far East as a paradise of easily available, impossibly beautiful women for the wealthy European Playboy. Emmanuelle 2 (Trinacra Films, 1975) swaps Bangkok for Hong Kong and even introduces to the softcore filone Indonesian pin-up Laura Gemser, whose beauty would later catalogue the Black Emanuelle spin-off series (Fig. 6). In Emmanuelle 2, her Asianness goes unspecified: she just is. Assuming that it was her Emmanuelle 2 performance that instigated the Black Emanuelle spin-off filone, it is strange that her race later becomes African and not Asian. In addition, Emmanuelle 2 also anticipates the portrayal of Lai’s “savage” but sexual Filipino in Last Cannibal World by opening with a blonde, blue-eyed Caucasian woman recounting her rape by four Filipino maids during her stay in Hong Kong. The story is told to Emmanuelle (Silvia Kristel) as she sails to the former British colony on the lower deck of a crowded passenger ship and prompts her arousal. Again, the message is clear: Asian sexuality (not dissimilar to the “funky” Jack Johnston-type black presentations of the key blaxploitation cinema of this era) is “exotic,” “mysterious,” and even possibly “savage.” Nevertheless, Lai’s prominent role as the exotic girlfriend in The Man from Deep River remains trendsetting because it showcases what cinema had generally avoided: Oriental beauty as preferable to Western beauty. For as racist as the exotic girlfriend depiction might be, and Lai’s instant gooey-eyed subservience to the white actor Ivan Rassimov is certainly troubling, The Man from Deep River sets up the
See the documentary Me Me Lai Bites Back: Resurrection of the Cannibal Queen on the American Blu-Ray of Eaten Alive! for more details.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Orientalism, Star Power and Cinethetic Racism in Seventies Italian Exploitation Cinema
image of an Asian female, and of Thai women, that would prevail in [s]exploitation films throughout the 1970s. In 1975, for instance, audiences saw Laura Gemser visit the capital with Emanuelle in Bangkok (Flaminia Produzioni Cinematografiche, 1976). In addressing The Man from Deep River as a formative film in its representation of the exotic girlfriend, whilst being the first to introduce Thailand as a nation of “savage sex,” it is hopefully now possible to see how this lesser-known exploitation film and its filone influenced further examples of Asianness in later seventies exploitation cinema. Were the film to have been successful outside of its grindhouse audience, it is not too difficult to imagine that Lai’s exoticism might have even changed the direction of Emmanuelle, which is based on the adventures
films, insofar as shaping a wider dialogue about female race representation. And even if Grier has been accused, by at least one scholar, as offering a “pornographic vision of the black female body through a racist, patriarchal narrative structure” (Dunn 17), at least one can attest, even if in agreement of such criticism, that the actress – by way of her success – created a template for other African-American performers to build on. Similarly, from the Bangkoksetting of Emmanuelle to the spin-off Yellow Emmanuelle and beyond, Lai and Gemser were the original exotic girlfriends. And whilst their cinematic journey often did involve clear cinethetic racism by way of assisting white characters toward personal gain, either survival or spiritual or sexual satisfaction, they also provided an early insight of
of Thai author Emmanuelle Arsan. When the film was cast, however, Dutch model Silvia Kristel filled the role instead (Fig. 7). This decision, decades later, begs the question of what is more problematic: Lai’s “exotic” girlfriend role, in which she “saves” a white European from certain death in The Man from Deep River and Last Cannibal World – in no small part due to her sexual availability – or the absence of an Asian leading lady in a film based on the (possibly fictional) life of a Thai author. The Italian cannibal filone and the Black Emmanuelle film series provide problematic Asian representations, but seen in the context of the 1970s, these cycles also allowed two female performers, Lai and Gemser, to reach cult stardom and maintain a legitimate presence in the European cinema of the time and across different demarcations (Fig. 8). Moreover, unlike the male Asian stars that appeared in, for instance, the spaghetti western cycle, both were permitted to “sell” their respective films on a rare and unique presentation of Eastern sexual allure – sold, however explicitly and even perhaps cynically, as preferable to the European “norm.” Gemser would go on to gain critical acclaim for her (clothed) leading role in Love is Forever (Hall Bartlett Productions, 1982), where she portrays a character of Laotian descent, again testifying to the transnational nature of Asian ethnicity for producers of the time, whilst Lai would work with Lars Von Trier, headlining his early classic Element of Crime (Det Danske Filminstitut, 1984). Whilst both would retire from acting before the end of the 1980s, their status as sex stars of the seventies is certainly comparable to, for example, Pam Grier in her blaxploitation
how Asianness could “sell” a film on the world stage. For this purpose, both deserve to be reassessed as trendsetting figures in cult cinema – even if their respective and exploitative filones will give scholars of race representations plenty to denounce.
14 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
The Italian cannibal filone and the Black Emmanuelle film series provide problematic Asian representations but, seen in the context of the 1970s, these cycles also allowed two female performers, Lai and Gemser, to reach cult stardom and maintain a legitimate presence in the European cinema of the time.
NOTES Brottman, Mikita. Offensive Films. Vanderbilt UP, 2005. Dunn, Stephanie. Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Egan, Kate. Trash or Treasure? Censorship and the Changing Meanings of Video Nasties. Manchester UP, 2007. Elkins, Caroline. Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya. Bodley Head, 2014.
Landis, Bill. Sleazoid Express. Plexus Publishing, 2002. Me Me Lai Bites Back: Feature Documentary On the Queen of Cannibal Movies. Eaten Alive! American Blu-ray edition. High Rising Productions, 2015. Sims, Yvonne. Women of Blaxploitation: How the Black Action Film Heroine Changed American Popular Culture. McFarland Publishing, 2006.
WORKS CITED Baschiera, Stefano and Russ Hunter. Italian Horror Cinema. Edinburgh UP, 2016. Brendon, Piers. The Decline and Fall of the British Empire 1781 – 1997. Vintage Books, 2008. Dickinson, Kay. “Sights and Incompatible Sounds of Video Nasties.” Sleaze Artists. Jeffrey Sconce, ed. Duke UP, 2007. Duncan, Derek. “Italy’s postcolonial cinema and its histories of representation.” Italian Studies, Vol. 63, No. 2, 2008, pp.195-211. Dunn, Stephanie. Baad Bitches and Sassy Supermamas: Black Power Action Films. University of Illinois Press, 2008. Hughey, Matthew. “Cinethetic Racism: White Redemption and Black Stereotypes in ‘Magical Negro’ Films.” Social Problems, Vol. 56, No. 3, 2009, University of California Press. Koven, Mikel. La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film. Scarecrow Press, 2006. Kraidy, Marwan. Hybridity or the Cultural Logic of Globalisation. Temple UP, 2005.
Ritzer, Ivo. “Spaghetti Westerns and Asian Cinema: Perspectives on Global Cultural Flows”. Spaghetti Westerns at the Crossroads. Austin Fisher, ed. Edinburgh UP, 2016. Said, Edward. Orientalism. Pantheon Books, 1978. Shipka, Danny. Perverse Titillation: The Exploitation Cinema of Italy, Spain and France, 1960-1980. McFarland Publishing, 2011. Smith, Iain. The Hollywood Meme. Edinburgh UP, 2016. Waddell, Calum. “Queen of the Cannibals.” The Dark Side magazine #137, Spooky Publishing, 2013.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
16 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Untethered: Engaging the Senses in Post-2013 Space-Travel Films1 BY MELANIE ROBSON | University of New South Wales
he release of Gravity (2013) launched a cycle of American films and television series concerned with space travel: Interstellar (2014), Lost in Space (2018-), The Martian (2015), and Passengers (2016). These films evidence an increased turn in American cinema towards addressing the viewer’s sensory experience of film. Laura U. Marks calls this sensual address haptic visuality, in which “… the eyes themselves function like organs of touch” (Touch 2-3). Space-travel films draw on haptic visuality in a manner distinct from films set in Earth’s terrestrial space. Rather than accentuating the sense of touch, space films show the characters deprived of tactile connection to replicate their detachment from Earth. The characters’ skin is no longer their outer protective shell, and the skin as a liminal barrier between the inside ‘human’ world and the outside ‘alien’ world is an ever-present reminder of their vulnerability. Thus, the characters’ use of other objects as protective exteriors—a space suit, or a hibernation pod—is crucial to these films’ negotiation of haptic visuality. Once inside their protective outer shells, the characters’ capacity for tactile engagement is removed. Close ups of characters shielded behind glass helmets highlight their fundamental disconnection from the world, and crucially, these close ups allow us to participate in this disconnection
too.The deprivation of touch, marked by the donning of the space suit, makes apparent the inextricable relationship between touch, emotion and memory. For Marks, the sense of touch is “… capable of storing powerful memories that are lost to the visual” (The Skin of the Film 130). The space suit itself engages the viewer’s memory and reminds us what it is like, not just to touch, but to have touch removed. The removal of tactile connection is emphasised when characters reach out with their spacesuit-covered hands to grasp objects or fellow spacemen in peril. These are some of the few moments of touch, but the characters’ loss of tactility and dexterity is made palpable through them almost always being just out of reach. “More than any other sensory deprivation,” Marks observes, “the loss of the sense of touch creates a feeling of being an orphan in the world” (The Skin of the Film 149). Thus, space-travel films engage the senses by offering the viewer an experience of disconnection and vulnerability using haptic visuality. This approach offers the image of characters at the mercy of the limitless expanse of outer space, increasingly untethered.
WORKS CITED Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. Warner Bros., 2013. Interstellar, directed by Christopher Nolan. Paramount Pictures, 2014. Lost in Space, created by Irwin Allen, Matt Sazama, and Burk
---. Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media. U of Minnesota P, 2002. Passengers, directed by Morten Tyldum. Columbia Pictures, 2016. The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott. Twentieth Century Fox, 2015.
Sharpless. Legendary Television. Netflix, 2018-. Marks, Laura U. The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses. Duke UP, 2000. 1
A video essay companion to this feature can be found in the the online edition of Issue 5.1 and on our YouTube channel: https://youtu.be/u_rlcSfC8Bs.
Image from Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Warner Bros., 2013.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Finding Community and Comfort in the Shadow of Religion, Exploitation, and Trump: An Interview with Pollyanna McIntosh and Lauryn Canny BY PAUL RISKER | University of Wolverhampton
ere, Darlin’ (2019) writer-director and actress Pollyanna McIntosh and lead actress Lauryn Canny continue a thread of the conversation about introverted and extroverted personas from the previous issue’s interview with filmmaker Colin Minihan and actress Brittany Allen. When feral teenager Darlin’ (Lauryn Canny) is found at a Catholic hospital and is taken into the care of the nuns, she is manipulated by the narcissistic intentions of the Bishop. By taming the wild young girl and bringing her into the church’s fold, he hopes to prevent the closure of the convent through this miraculous conversion that he promotes publicly. However, unbeknownst to him, The Woman (Pollyanna McIntosh) is searching for her daughter. If Minihan’s What Keeps You Alive (2018) touched upon the fragility of trust and how it can be exploited by evil intentions, McIntosh’s directorial feature debut Darlin’ (2019), a sequel to Lucky McKee’s The Woman (2011) in which she played the titular character, also looks to the fragility of trust. When Jules (Brittany Allen) learns her partner Jackie (Hannah Emily Anderson) has sinister intentions for their first-year wedding anniversary, trust is broken between two individuals. In contrast Darlin’ taps into the anxiety and pain of the church’s breach of trust. Just as What Keeps You Alive centres around characters experiencing anxiety amidst an intense struggle for survival within the framework of genre, Darlin’ looks to the theme of survival in the sense of individual identity, the right to shape one’s own identity and discover a place outside of institutional, parental, or social pressures and expectations. In conversation with MSJ, McIntosh and Canny discuss the introverted and extroverted personas of creative individuals, address how the critical nature of the audience is a provocation of capitalism, and speak about their desire to liberate women from the male gaze.
18 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Fig. 1 | Pollyanna McIntosh and Lauryn Canny on the set of Darlin’.
PR: Are you more introvert or extrovert? LC: I’m a bit of both, and I was trying to figure this out only this week with my mom. I probably come across as an extrovert but I’m very… is it an introverted extrovert or the other way around?
PM: I say I’m an extroverted introvert. LC: I was always creative as a kid and my parents just aren’t. They were like, “Why are you always crying and making things up?” I’d come in and my cousins would say, “Just ignore her and she’ll stop.” I just needed to perform and do weird things and everyone thought I was just a freak. I used to chase my friends around with a knife [laughs], and it was funny for five minutes, but then, “Please stop it.” They were climbing out of windows and running away from me because I’d just get too into it. So I always knew I’d do something like this.
PR: Speaking with filmmaker Colin Minihan he said, “… because writing is so dramatically different than directing, I’m an introvert too. I lock myself away and I am writing for months to crack a script, and I edit my films as well… and that’s arguably more introverted than writing.” Is it
the case that the creativity or storytelling process gives a comfort zone for the introvert to become extroverted, and once removed from that space retreat back to an introverted nature? PM: I’d say that’s absolutely true and it especially makes me think of comedians too because they’re often introverted, but very extroverted on stage. You then expect it from them don’t you? You’re like, “Hah-hah,” and they’re going, “Urgh, just leave me alone; don’t look at me.” I remember reading an interview with Michelle Pfeiffer who was saying how shy she was, and I remember how surprised, but also how comforted I was by that. To be shy and still do this job was encouraging to me, because you turn yourself inside out and show all your emotions as an actor. You have to be sensitive to do that and you can also want to hold onto them and keep yourself to yourself a lot. But once you’ve stepped in there’s no choice, you just get on with it.
LC: You have to because you can’t be completely introverted in this career. PR: As actors you know you are putting yourself out there, but the portrayal of the character is a mask that offers a level of protection. PM: It’s a permission slip to be, and especially in the case of Darlin’, she’s as wild as they come and so it’s a permission slip to get into that. One of the things I loved so much about playing The Woman was: Well this is what the role requires. You could say, “I’m doing it because I’m playing this role,” whereas if you were still chasing your friends round with a knife, or going out there growling in the street, then of course it wouldn’t be so acceptable. And you certainly wouldn’t be getting paid for it. PR: I’ve always admired directors such as Stanley Kubrick and The Coen Brothers, who preferred or still prefer to let their work speak for them, that protects the aura of mystery. PM: Celebrity is such a part of our culture that we’re all celebrities at this point. With social media we’re all putting out our brand, our version of ourselves that we want other people to see or connect with. I’d love to just never talk about the film and just let people experience it how they experience it, because you don’t make a film to say, “This is what the case is, this is the truth.” You make a film to say, “This is something for you
Fig. 2 | Pollyanna McIntosh directing Lauryn Canny and Cooper Andrews
(Tony) on the set of Darlin’.
to experience,” and therefore inherently it’s the audience that makes what the truth is for themselves. Doing the DVD commentary for Darlin’, I talked about the wallpaper half the time [laughs] because I don’t want to say, “Oh, this is happening because...” There is no because; people have to interpret it for themselves, and that is what drew me to film - my experience of being alone watching the screen, interacting with it and experiencing these worlds and these lives as I interpreted them. I don’t want to tell anyone what they should feel. Often a journalist will ask, “What do you want people to take away from the film?” Of course I have an answer, and I have to, but I love a Q&A because I can ask the audience questions: “What did you experience? What did you think? How do you feel about it?” This is the real honor, pleasure and joy you get out of this work, that you’re connecting with people you may never even meet through their experience of what they’re bringing to the screen in the story. I’ll get very hippy or emotional, whatever you want to call it, but connection is the essence of what we do, and it takes both sides. So it’s hard to speak for a project when it’s a dialogue between you and the audience.
PR: Interviewing director Ant Timpson for Come to Daddy (2019), we were discussing the need to just enjoy a film, and to treat it as an experience. We are so cine-literate now that our understanding of storytelling can harm the experience. It’s important not to try to get ahead of the film or try to be smarter than the filmmaker, and in our adversarial society, the ego can derive pleasure from being able to anticipate. It’s a negative side of our culture, and while a twist may make sense and be inevitable, surely we should want to experience it in the moment? MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Finding Community and Comfort in the Shadow of Religion, Exploitation and Trump
Fig. 3 | From left: Lauryn Canny, Bryan Batt (The Bishop), and Nora-Jane Noone (Sister Jennifer), 22:04. Darlin’. Dark Sky Films, 2019.
PM: … Subconsciously we’re all doing it, we’re all thinking, ‘What are they going to say? What are they going to do?’ Of course we’re reading people all of the time, essentially for safety to see what’s going to happen: ‘Is it how I expected it to be or is something else going to happen?’ The thrill of going to the cinema is to say, “Well I am in your hands now, and you’re going to take me wherever you’re going to take me.” Not to go, “Oh, I’m going to work it out before you’ve got it,” and, “You don’t have me.” I absolutely want to be got by a movie. LC: There’s so much now of people not wanting to like a film, going into it wanting to pick at each flaw, especially with bigger films and those that are getting very good reviews. All art is flawed; it should be. It’s meant to be a reflection of life and life isn’t a perfect thing, so let there be flaws because it’s about the experience of the film.
PM: What you’re both talking about is essentially what a capitalist culture does to its people, to its society, is it says, “You’re not good enough. Buy this thing so that you’re good enough, so that you’re acceptable, or you’re with or ahead of the crowd.” Essentially we are all born with everything we need and then we put clothes on and make-up and whatever else it might be, and it’s very eroding as far as a sense of self is concerned, and as far as a sense of grounding and being enough. This is what this film is about. Darlin’ is fine as she is, and there are attempts to change her into this acceptable thing for the good, for the benefit of somebody else and not herself. 20 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
PR: I recall the quote, “God uses good men, and evil men use God.” This is true of The Bishop in the film, and of course, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin both have religious affiliations. PM: It’s like the bloody antichrist. It’s weird to write a film that becomes more relevant as it comes out. The evil that is talked about in the film has always been the case and I did consciously put in a direct Trump quote. When The Bishop is bashing on the lectern with his congregation, and they are all with him, that was very much like a Trump rally for me. When he says about the homeless women [who enter the church], “Get them out,” that’s a direct Trump quote. But yes, for it to be worse when the film comes out than when you wrote it is, oh, for fuck’s sake [laughs]. We’ll look back on this time at some point, and that will be interesting in itself. The blindness of what’s going on is so disturbing to me because it has been there before in different forms, and we are just running towards this separation of people, this division and conflict. It’s incredibly sad and uncomfortable, and the religious element has always been this way in the States. The separation of church and state, and the independence from religion and the government is just total bollocks. But that’s got a lot to do with the influence of money, business, and religion on politics, and it has become normalised that these interest groups are going to get their way. PR: Genre cinema commonly reflects the social anxieties of its time, but by bringing up the Catholic Church and abuse is there a danger of the film exploiting the suffering?
PM: There’s a great danger in power; that is not going to change anytime soon, and in genre cinema we get to kill those we hate [laughs]. Yes, it has been interesting to see in certain reviews people saying, “Oh, of course she’s bringing up the Catholic Church and the abuse, we all know this, it’s a very easy target.” I just think why wouldn’t I? Yes, of course we know about this, but the exploitative angle is very interesting to me. What was important was that we experienced these characters from their perspective and experience of life, so we weren’t just waiting to watch something awful happen to them, but we were experiencing it through them. Lauryn brought so much to the character that you love Darlin’ and we have her perspective, but also the other young girls in the care home, we are not going to watch them go through extended suffering - it’s not torture porn. I find it very hard to deal with and I don’t enjoy making that kind of work. Some people do it very well and I’m not saying there’s not a place for it to affect an audience, and to make them feel and think, but for me I didn’t want to do that here. So I feel we got the balance exploitation wise.
LC: We had so many discussions about this, and Pollyanna kept saying, “Darlin’ will not be exploited.” What’s so great about having a female actor as a director is she will not be and we will not have this be a male gaze over her character until the abuse scene. And it hits so much harder when she’s been allowed to be a crazy and wild kid for the whole film.
PM: When we’re watching Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (2019), there’s the scene of Sharon Tate in the bed, and we come up her body and we see a naked back, and it’s quite sensual. I was thinking, ‘Oh fuck, we are going to watch this body be slaughtered later’ and it really made me uncomfortable, and I can’t speak for Quentin Tarantino, but hopefully he did that intentionally. We’re so used to objectifying women and their bodies in film, and to see all the signs of it coming, I just remember that scene so clearly and thinking, ‘Oh God, don’t make her sexy and naked in that bed. I don’t want to go there, I don’t want to experience this’, because it was also vulnerability, and of course what happens in the film happens in the film [laughs]. With Darlin’ we had a female director of photography, Halyna Hutchins and a female editor Julie Garces, and I remember there was a moment when Halyna was shooting Darlin’ walking down a hallway - that school uniform, young, beautiful girl thing. As women we are still raised in the male gaze world. We’ve also got certain elements of what
we are told is attractive or interesting, or the way to look at things, and I find it with Sofia Coppola a little bit, that fashion industry twelve-year-old girl in vest top with no bra on kind of thing. I just go, “Ah no, stop.” And she probably has her reasons for it and they’re probably very smart, but this normalisation of the male gaze, of the young female still makes me uncomfortable. Speaking to Halyna about one of the shots, I said, “Move the camera up. We don’t want to see this young girl in a school uniform bum kind of shot. I don’t want that anywhere in the movie.”
LC: We’ve talked about this as well, of how fun it is to play these characters because taking what I know as a young girl, what do I do when I’m walking down the street? How do I walk? Am I walking with my tits up and shoulders back because this is what I’m told by society is attractive? These characters don’t know that, they have no idea what is expected of them by society so they can look and move how they like and that was what I loved about playing Darlin’. PM: Lauryn is a very physical actor and she’s also a very technical one, as well as being very emotionally free. It’s brilliant to work with her, and yes, your body is completely different as Darlin’ than it is as you. I think you are an independent strong person anyway, and so I am not saying that you are normally asking, “Do I look all right?” But as Darlin’, there is a completely different body that was raised in the woods, and it’s such a freeing thing to get to play, to drop feminine norms. The Woman walks with quite a wide stance, like she’s got a pair of balls down there because that’s comfortable, that’s how she is. PR: The film looks upon the church as a place that should offer comfort, but is unable to fulfil this role. By asking the question, “Where do we find help or hope now?” Darlin’ speaks to the need to be wary of institutions or groups, to instead seek out well intentioned individuals that we can trust. PM: I have a lot of respect for people who have their own faith and find community and do find that comfort in their faith. But right and wrong is not black and white, and just because you are pious doesn’t mean you are right, but if you come from a place of true faith, and if you seek comfort from it, then you should give comfort through it, not the opposite. There’s definitely a lot about trying to find your own community and your own comfort in other people in this film, and at the very end there’s this odd family that Darlin’ finds. There are a lot of characters that are flawed MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Finding Community and Comfort in the Shadow of Religion, Exploitation and Trump
Fig. 4 | Nora-Jane Noone (Sister Jennifer), Lauryn Canny, and students of St. Philomena's Catholic boarding school, 50:14. Darlin’. Dark Sky Films, 2019.
in this story that are still good for each other, and yeah, we save the ones we like and then we kill everyone else [laughs].
PR: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally? LC: We were this small crew in Baton Rouge and I’d never been anywhere outside of Los Angeles. I’d just turned nineteen which was a pivotal time in my life, and I’d never done anything like this. As an actor I do a lot of indie drama, and I just cry and cry because that’s what I do in my own life. Why I wanted to do this film was because I didn’t know if I could, and the great thing about being creative is you push yourself to do things that you’d never do, or you 22 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
shouldn’t be able to. We had a lot to go against us with the snow and budget being cut, and I felt, ‘Oh God, I might do something awful here,’ because from my point of view, I might not have enough time to be able to do this well. I don’t write loads of notes or try to underline - I don’t prep like that. I try to keep it as instinctual and natural as I can, and I was thinking about what it takes to get into the physicality of Darlin’, and what if it takes me two weeks to find her properly, and we only have a week? [Laughs]. But it ended up flowing nicely and I learned a lot about myself through Polly, and also gained a lot of confidence that I never had before. I didn’t believe that I deserved things or I could speak out and say, “I want this,” or “This is what I am owed here,” and she just gave me all of this confidence and I came home a different person.
PM: The first director I spoke to after I finished the film said, “Welcome to the club.” It was a you’ve done it now kind of thing, because it’s obviously a joyful experience, and it’s something I’m so looking forward to doing again and again, but I was so comforted to hear that because there is a part of you that thinks, ‘Oh my God, I made it through; I’m still alive’ [laughs]. You go on a journey writing the film, and it certainly was a transformative experience because I went through a lot of difficult emotions. Then you are planning everything in pre-production, and of course you know that it will go whichever way it goes. But you’ve got to plan it as well as you can, and there was such a lot of good energy on the set. I worked with people I knew well and I had worked with before, and I worked with people I also had no knowledge
of. We were this family and community; this specific group that will forever be the people that made this film, and I discovered that I enjoy leading a group of people through the mire [laughs]. I love putting people through hell… No, I love that role, and I’d say rather than transformative it was very much confirming my strengths and my faults. You can only hope that you learn from it and that you bring the same joy of looking forward to the positive elements, and then a new understanding of how to make the harder elements better for everyone.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Showrunning, Motherhood, and Character-driven Storytelling: An interview with Maurissa Tancharoen BY OLIVIA POPP | Stanford University
riter and producer Maurissa Tancharoen has experienced many sides of the industry, beginning in performance and working her way to showrunning. Tancharoen has written for series including Dollhouse (2009-2010), Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog (2008), and Spartacus (2010-2013, with Tancharoen serving as a producer from 2011-2012). She has worked heavily in seemingly contrasting areas: musicals and science fiction — yet all of her experience has converged in this very moment in time. Tancharoen currently showruns ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-2020) in collaboration with her husband, Jed Whedon; right now, she is further in the spotlight with undisclosed new projects on the docket and having contributed to Whedon’s newest album, Pulse (2020). By viewer data, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. — which will finish its run with a 13-episode Season 7 premiering in May 2020 — is Marvel’s strongest television brand, even surpassing all former Netflix series. As she completes production on the show, Tancharoen reflects on the experience and discusses going beyond being the forefront of a popular network television show, what her life as a showrunner is really like, and what inspires her personally and creatively.
OP: With your show, I think it’s safe to say that you are at the epicenter of television right now. What landed you right here, right now? MT: There are many reasons why I ended up here, I think. I was an only child for the first eight years of my life. During my childhood, screen time wasn’t really an issue — that’s my disclaimer before I say that I watched a ton of television growing up. This is no plight on my parents — now being a parent, I understand how television can sometimes be useful or screen time can be useful, you know, if you have your hands full! [Laughs.] I consumed a lot of TV — and now I’m going to date myself — everything from Three’s 24 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Company, Laverne & Shirley, Gilligan’s Island, Happy Days. Also, I was a huge I Love Lucy fan.
OP: I know you had some industry exposure while growing up. Looking back now, were you informed at all by what was happening around you? MT: I was very influenced by my father’s work because he was working on TV sets at the time as well. He was a driver — his first job as a driver was on Charlie’s Angels, so when I’d go to visit him, I started seeing production at a very early age. And I think now, it was sort of all meant to be that I ended up in this line of work. OP: You work a lot with music, and you were in a band at a young age. Did those interests start emerging when you were little? MT: With movies, it was all musicals. I think I knew The Wizard of Oz backwards and forwards at the age of five, and I could recite the whole thing. I had a little stuffed animal dog, and that would be my Toto, and I had my basket and pretended that I had a yellow brick road, and I would recite the whole thing from start to finish. That, and The Sound of Music, and The King and I — and so, I guess it’s pretty obvious that I was definitely an avid viewer. Because of that, I had a wild imagination, and because of that, I liked to perform, and then somehow that’s how I started working in the industry — kind of as a showbiz kid. OP: Having done musical content in the past, do you see yourself continuing with that in the future? MT: Jed and I come from a musical background. He was in a band, I was in a band — Pretty in Pink — from the ages of 13 to 16. Music is definitely a part of our lives. Have you seen Dr. Horrible (Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog)?
OP: Naturally! It’s a classic.
Fig. 1 | Maurissa Tancharoen (far left) and family on the set of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Photo courtesy of Maurissa Tancharoen.
MT: All we want to do is write the sequel, and I know we’ve been saying that for 10 years now, and that’s something we definitely want to do. Beyond that, yeah, absolutely — we want to write musicals. I love nothing more than seeing musicals, so that is definitely one of our bucket list things to write — whether it’s a feature or live show. That is something that we will do.
OP: I see a lot of the same thematic material and genres in your work, like science fiction. What do you find creatively rewarding about this genre? MT: For Jed and I, I think we’ve landed in this genre of science fiction because you can take a relatable human relationship or moment and amplify it with the world coming to an end or the girl who doesn’t feel seen actually being
invisible. The way we can play with metaphor in this genre is something that we like to watch as viewers. As a storyteller, it’s more freeing, and you can go to the extreme while also grounding it in the heart of the thing that everyone can relate to.
OP: Obviously, the personal must somehow seep into every creator's work. For you, what is that? What are those themes or areas of exploration? MT: For most of my life, I’ve experienced a lot of identity issues as an Asian American woman. I know for the longest time I wanted to be blonde; I wanted to be white. I didn’t understand why I wasn’t or couldn’t be, and a lot of that was influenced by the faces I saw and the media that I was consuming. I’m very fortunate to be working on a show MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Showrunning, Motherhood, and Character-driven Storytelling
where my partners — including my husband, and specifically my husband — are all advocates for diversity and presenting the world in which we actually live.
OP: With so many moving parts, how has motherhood changed you in terms of your personal and professional lives?
OP: Do you see diversity and inclusion as a core tenet of your work? What about it is important to you as a writer and creator of these stories?
MT: I’m not going to generalize about all working moth-
MT: One of my first jobs was a feature that centred around two Asian American characters. When I was working over at Fox, a pilot I had in development was about an Asian American family. So it’s always been my focus to sort of push our narrative forward. I do think it’s a prominent characteristic of our work, or at least the work that we’ve established on the show. Now, being in charge, being one of the creators and showrunners of a series that’s been on the air, and now going into our seventh year, we are all very proud of the fact that we have a show that does feature women of colour, people of colour. They’re just people who are working together — their differences aren’t highlighted. For me, I think that’s super important for any generation to witness, especially for my little one. OP: Can you elaborate on that? What about crafting stories for your daughter drives you as a creator and artist? MT: As far as my artistic and creative endeavors, I am even more focused on generating content that will speak to my daughter’s life and will speak to other children like her who are biracial or who are in the minority and who will have to navigate the crazy world and being a young woman in it. I already see how much she’s influenced by media. It’s very interesting — this has definitely been on my brain, so it’s good to talk about this! Any sort of character that we see, anything that she’s drawn to, she’ll go to the blonde one first. Like, “I want to dress her! I want to braid her hair!” And I blame that on Elsa! [Laughs.] And Elsa specifically is not to blame, obviously, but Frozen is such a phenomenon, Elsa is the main character, Elsa has a fabulous song and fabulous dress, and all of it, and so that character stands out for her. But that has definitely influenced what she's drawn to. So I started thinking the other day — man, I just need to make an animated feature that features a young Asian girl or something. It’s interesting and it’s so clear already — she’s four — how much that makes a difference. What you see is what then becomes programmed in the brain, and whether it’s conscious or not, you relate to that. If you don’t see it, you don’t know it. 26 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
ers. But for me, in becoming a mother, while running a show, it’s very hard to feel like you’re ever doing any of it right. You always feel like you could be more over here and more over there. Obviously, as soon as my daughter arrived in this world, I prioritized her and being her mother and being available to her. So that has shifted my work life. But because I’m very fortunate to have my partnership with my husband, we’ve been able to figure out a way to navigate all of it and to make everything work as ideally as we possibly can. And now there’s another aspect to my life as a working mother, which is my health. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but she was born very early because I have lupus, and things got very complicated during my pregnancy. I’ve had lupus for as long as I can remember, I was diagnosed at 15 — it only got life-threatening toward my 30s. But in having life-threatening flares, I still wouldn’t prioritize taking care of myself. I would prioritize work. But since having my daughter, I understand that my role is different now. Everything has shifted to where I have to place my health first, because without being healthy, I’m not going to be available to anybody. So that’s part of my new way of being a working person and mother.
OP: And I’m sure the show takes so much of your time, not to mention mental and physical energy. MT: Making this show — it’s insane. We try to accomplish so much within an eight-day schedule. We sort of cover all the bases in one episode — there’s action, there’s crazy visual effects, there’s also the drama, there’s the funny. We try to pack it all in one episode, and we were doing that for 22 episodes a season.
OP: There’s some sort of frenetic motivation to people who work in television. But it’s a collaborative process, right? MT: I can’t imagine how some people do it alone. Thankfully, I have my husband alongside me, as well as our producing partner, Jeff Bell, and we divide and conquer as much as we possibly can. The amount you have to churn out just from start to finish — meaning breaking an episode to wrapping the episode and then going into post. Sometimes when we’re in the middle of a season, we’re juggling three to four episodes at the same time — one being broken, one being
written, one being shot, one being in post, one being finalized. It’s rigorous, for sure. Are we exhausted? Absolutely. Do we think there is ever a better life outside of television? [Laughs.] There might be one that allows you more sleep — and try adding being a parent to that. At the end of the day, it’s all worth it, once it’s out there and we see how the audience reacts. But while you’re in the process, you do feel like you’re kind of a hamster on a wheel, you’re going, going, going, without seeing anything outside of it. There are many analogies like that. [Laughs.] We sometimes say that it’s like manning a sinking ship — sometimes you’re just plugging holes to stay afloat.
OP: There’s that one expression…like trying to drink from a fire hose. MT: But it’s so much fun. It keeps you on your toes. The end product is always worth it. You know how much of your blood, sweat, and tears has gone into it. And not just yours — your entire cast and crew and your whole writing staff. The people that we see in the writers' room we’ve seen every day for the past seven years of our lives! [Laughs.] They’re all so talented and wonderful, and we know each other so well at this point. Especially in a network television show — there are other kinds of schedules for cable and streaming platforms, there might be more time. But for our show, at least for the first five years, it was kind of around the clock. In between seasons, Jeff and I would maybe have two and a half, three weeks off, that by the time the finale was doing its final mix, two weeks after that, we’re starting up the [writers’] room again.
OP: What else do you specifically find rewarding about showrunning? MT: I remember the first day — I believe we were on the backlot at Universal, and it was just a giant day, where Michael Peterson (character on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., played by J. August Richards) was jumping from a building, and we were establishing Skye (character played by Chloe Bennet). It’s moments like this that never get old for us — the fact that we have an entire crew working to make a vision happen that you might have thought of a few nights before in like a fever dream, and now it’s actually happening. So I think, in a way, that it will never grow old for us. But I think just to see how the show has grown, and like I was saying before, this cast of new characters, new to the Marvel universe now, has their own canon, has their own
Fig. 2 | Maurissa Tancharoen (far right) and Jed Whedon (second from
left) work with actors Adrian Pasdar (second from right) and Chloe Bennet. Photo courtesy of Maurissa Tancharoen.
comic books. Just seeing the difference between the Season 1 visit to Comic-Con and going into Season 2, going back to Comic-Con — seeing the reception for characters that were new to people just a year ago was very special. Being a part of this family for seven years, everyone has seen each other go through ups and downs. There are so many S.H.I.E.L.D. babies from crew to us, and just to see everyone’s life change over the course of the show has been very special. Creatively, I do feel like we’re really proud of all of the actors and what they’ve brought to these characters, and to see how much our characters have grown as well.
OP: The series has expanded immensely within the last few years. What ran through your mind when you first began working on the show? MT: When Jed and I first started this show, during Season 1, we remember our first day on set and just the enormity of all of it. We had been working in television for a while, and we’ve always been very active in the production aspect of everything that we’ve worked on. But this specifically, because we co-created it with Joss [Whedon], we knew going into this show that the expectations would be so high and that the legacy of Marvel was so vast, and at that point, almost 75 years’ worth of characters at our disposal. This show was based on entirely new characters, so those were all from our brains and our hearts. So it was essentially like birthing a child. [Laughs.] MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Showrunning, Motherhood, and Character-driven Storytelling
the Marvel universe. That has sustained us over the years. Going back to your question about why the fandom is so loyal and dedicated to the show, and passionate about it, I do think with each year we’ve been able to reinvent ourselves while expanding our own mythology. We kind of do a reset every year, and that keeps it fresh. And mind you, we’ve also backed ourselves into many corners! [Laughs.] Then we've had to dig ourselves out of it quite a few times. But I’m excited for you to see what’s coming up.
Fig. 3 | Maurissa Tancharoen on set with S.H.I.E.L.D. cast and crew.
Photo courtesy of Maurissa Tancharoen.
OP: And these characters are very certainly beloved now — something about them really resonates for viewers. What about how they’re portrayed do you think has garnered positive attention? MT: I think we can attribute a lot of it to our cast and their interaction with the fandom. They’re very active in that, and it’s very clear that all of us do genuinely love each other. I think that’s not only obvious onscreen, which is part one, but it goes beyond that. Part two is that the show is this family that has been created — [Coulson] recruiting Daisy, formerly Skye, who was lost in the world, and May, with whom he had a long-term friendship, and recruiting Fitz and Simmons, and eventually Yo-Yo and Mack, and now Deke. But it truly is, at the heart of the show, a family. Regardless of plot and what they’re up against and all of that, you just know that what grounds it is this nuclear family. OP: For these characters, you’ve drawn from the comics, but a lot of content in the comics has also sprung from your show. It’s a symbiotic relationship. MT: Right, and that’s something that we’re proud of. Initially, people expected us to be tied directly to the comics, and we spent a lot of time in the first season pulling things from the comics, but we always put our own spin on it. Of course, we’ve had notable characters like Talbot, and Maria Hill, and the Patriot — all these things that we pull from the comics we sort of ground in our version. But another thing that has grown over the years is just our own mythology. I would say from Season 3 and on, we were kind of just existing in our own universe that we had created within 28 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
OP: We can see your work onscreen, but we don't always get the whole picture of your intentions and motivations as a storyteller. What do you wish people asked or knew about you and your work? MT: Oh, hm. That’s an interesting question. No one’s ever asked this before! So I’ve said this before several times about my process with Jed, and it’s that we value the joy of the process. I think together in our marriage, in dealing with my health and the challenges that we’ve faced together due to my health, it's an instant reminder of mortality every day. If the process is no longer joyful, it’s no longer worth it because life is too short. I think we are constantly aware that life is too short. And I think because of that, when it comes to our stories and our characters, we try to infuse it with that bottom line that no matter what is happening, what the overall arcing story is — thematically, it's important for us, for you to feel the heart of the thing. No matter what, these people are about one another, and that’s all that matters. At the end of the day, those relationships are all that matter, because that’s who we are and that’s what we are aware of as people, as a couple, as a mother and father. Beyond right now, nothing matters. What I hope people who view the show or know of our work get, I hope they can sense that sort of inherent value system and belief in what life is truly all about. And I think that's helped us in our actual work life because, yes, this can get so stressful. [Laughs.] But at the end of the day, what is the bigger picture? To constantly remind ourselves that this is small compared to what we’re actually going to remember before it’s all over.
The Rise and Fall of Walter White’s Empire BY DOUGLAS RASMUSSEN | University of Saskatchewan
ABSTRACT Breaking Bad highlights the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose poem “Ozymandias” is also the title of the third-to-last episode in the final season of the series (Season 5, Episode 14). The use of Shelley’s poem is indicative of Walt’s crumbling empire. In both Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and the Breaking Bad episode of the same name, the concept of hubris and being punished for grandiose projects that serve an individual’s egotism are central aspects of each work. The imagery of the poem centres around a singular character, the despot Ramses II, who serves a similar role in “Ozymandias” as Walter White does in Breaking Bad. This short look at some of the imagery used in the episode "Ozymandias" illustrates how hubris and ego lead to an inevitable and violent end for both Gus Fring and Walter White.
(2008-2013) alludes to the work of English Romanticist poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, whose poem “Ozymandias” is the title of an episode in the final season (5.14). In both Shelley’s “Ozymandias” and the titular Breaking Bad episode, hubris and egotism are central aspects. The themes of the poem and those of the series connect and give the viewer insight into the character of Walter White/Heisenberg (Bryan Cranston). Shelley’s “Ozymandias” tells of a pharaoh named Ramses II whose grand statue is now largely lost to time, corroded by the sands of the desert, an image that parallels Walt and his inevitable decline. There was a point when Walt could have stopped and redeemed himself. He does attempt to extricate himself from the drug trade and from producing “Blue Sky” methamphetamine, but the profit margin proves too alluring to resist for long. Walt continues his path well past the point where he can be redeemed, eventually corroding the man who was Walt and is now fully Heisenberg. The lines “Round the decay / Of that colossal wreck” (lines 12-13) foretell a dim and unpromising future for Walt, and the imagery of the series also informs the viewer of the inevitability of Walt’s downfall. I will discuss two notable episodes and how they represent the violent end of the drug trade: the episode “Hermanos” (4.8), reaking bad
which connects Walter White to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) through parallel imagery, and the dilapidated house at the beginning of the episode “Ozymandias,” which visualizes Walt’s ruin. In Shelley’s “Ozymandias,” the lines “half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown / And wrinkled lip of cold command,” are visualized in Breaking Bad’s “Ozymandias” when we see a close up of Walt hitting the dirt like the statue of Ramses II (Fig. 1). In a visually similar image in “Hermanos,” we see Gus fall, and a similarly framed camera angle displays a tortured expression as he sees his friend and business associate Max Arciniega (James Martinez) gunned down (Fig. 2). For Gus, this is the moral turning point at which he goes from a selfless individual willing to mentor someone and pay for their university education to a ruthless and calculating figure; thus, his transition echoes the poem’s line “sneer of cold command” (line 5). The two images also bring into focus the line from “Ozymandias” of “half sunk a shattered visage lies” (line 4), as the viewer sees a close up of Walt's and Gus’ faces hitting the ground in the respective episodes, thereby reinforcing the cyclical nature of tyrants from rulers to ruin (Figs. 1 and 2). It is evident with this imagery that Walt has become the “colossal wreck” of the poem, leaving only the wreckage MISE- EN - SCÈNE
The Rise and Fall of Walter White’s Empire
Figs. 1 and 2 | Close-ups from the episodes “Ozymandias” and “Hermanos” illustrate the similarity of the head position between Walt (11:07) and Gus (45:05). AMC Network, 2012-2013.
of his disrupted family life. Indeed, as we also see in the flash forward earlier in this episode, Walt’s home has been abandoned with only graffiti of a hastily scrawled Heisenberg left on the wall as a reminder (Fig. 3). Everything is gone, and just as Ozymandias left only part of a statue as a reminder of his legacy, Walt has left only a husk of a house whose occupants are squatters using the pool as an impromptu skate park. While Ozymandias at least left behind an artifact, though one partially eaten away by the sands of time, Walt has even less of a legacy: only graffiti remains as a reminder of his previous life. Angelo Restivo notes in Breaking Bad and Cinematic Television that the dark lighting, boarded up windows, and rotting house that is seen as a crack den in “ABQ” (2.13) has now encroached on Walt’s life, and “what was once the alien world has now taken over the familiar” (102). As Heisenberg, Walt was truly the king, but capitalism being as ephemeral and transitory as it is, all that Walt has to remind him of his Heisenberg glory in the end will likely fade away and crumble as it does for Ozymandias. Yet, as Walter Stephens asserts, hubris and punishment are not the only themes of the poem: “Shelley’s Ozymandias was a braggart, but the enormous fragments of his statue assure us that the achievements he vaunts were 30 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
real—a city, perhaps a whole civilization, once stood here, even if time and the elements have destroyed it” (156). By contrast, Walt’s house is a squatter’s den and far less impressive than the monuments of the Egyptians. By visually equating the darkened and rotting houses of drug addicts and squatters with Walt’s now ruined house, Breaking Bad is commenting on Walt’s destructive path to becoming a drug kingpin. Walt’s ruined and desolate house in the flash forward of Breaking Bad reflects another facet of Shelley’s poetic imagery: the dissolution of political power and the inevitable decay of art and architecture. In Shelley’s Romanticist estimation, the distortion of art as a means of strengthening imperialistic ambition, such as seen with Ramses II (Ozymandias), is a gross distortion of art as an authentic means of personal expression. The respective empires of Ozymandias in Shelley’s poem and Walt in Breaking Bad have been built on cruelty and tyranny: on the backs of slaves in the case of pharaoh Ramses II, and through violence for Walt. In Shelley’s poem there is at least a trace of sentimentality with the lost artistry of the Ozymandias monument, as is evident with the line “tell that its sculptor well those passions read” (line 6). Walt, however, denigrates the purity of his love for chemistry, which itself can be considered a form of expression, by using it to produce a highly addictive narcotic with no lasting value other than to create the desire to consume more methamphetamine. Even though Walt declares to Jesse in the episode “Buyout” (5.6) that, “I’m in the empire business,” the reality is otherwise. What Shelley’s ambiguity about the role of art reveals is that Ozymandias, in a sense, did form a legacy in that archaeological remnants of his empire are now on display at the British Museum in London. Walt, as an expression of pure capitalist greed, attempts to create a legacy by a making a product whose sole purpose is to be consumed and devoured and replaced by a craving for more, not entirely dissimilar to how capitalism creates false desires. Shelley denigrates Ozymandias’s tyrannical attempt to fulfill his imperialist ambition and immortalize his image by exploiting slaves, yet Shelley also conveys a feeling of loss over the impressive nature of what must have been a great work of artistry now lost to time. By contrast, Walt’s grand project is purely to produce a product for the sole purpose of profit. Anne Janowitz writes, “The de-monumentalization of the statue is recouped by the ghostly image of a monument restored by and to the
Fig. 3 | Walt's vandalized house, 02:10. AMC Network, 2013.
imagination” (319). By contrast, Walt’s house was, even in its pristine condition, bland and unremarkable. Alex Hunt describes it as a “generic, suburban, ranch-style home, making no claim to an identifiable place” (36). In essence, there is nothing monumental or grand about Walt and as such nothing monumental or grand is left in his wake. Breaking Bad, by using Shelley’s poetry, castigates Walt because of his choice—however noble his original motivation of providing for his family may have been— to proliferate empty desire among addicts only because it is of personal benefit to him. In fact, Brian Gibson describes Walt’s motivation as “pseudo-sublime nobility” (410). Walt’s downfall is concordant with the downfall of the British Empire that Shelley was alluding to in his poem because these figures ignore the importance of creation over consumption. Shelley’s poem relates the story of Ramses II, but also speaks volumes about empires in general. H.M. Richmond notes the moral of the sonnet that needs to be emphasized:
Because Walt perverts his skills in chemistry for a purely profit-based motive, and in doing so commits numerous heinous acts, his dismal fate is ensured. Walt is representative of neoliberalism’s economic motives and as such, the show’s use of imagery from Shelley’s “Ozymandias” mobilizes an ideological critique on empty desire.
“The ruin of imperial grandeur was a theme after Shelley’s own heart. His own treatment at the hands of authority made him delight in any demonstration of its impermanence and the supremacy of the artist.” (71) MISE- EN - SCÈNE
The Rise and Fall of Walter White’s Empire
WORKS CITED Breaking Bad: The Complete Series. (executive producer) Vince Gilligan, (performers) Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Anna Gunn, Dean Norris, Giancarlo Esposito, Jonathan Banks, Sony Home Entertainment, 2014. Gibson, Brian. “Romancing the Ice: The Problematic Poetry of Breaking Bad.” Critical Studies in Television, vol. 13, no. 4, 2018, pp. 405-421. Hunt, Alex. “Breaking Bad as Critical Regionalism.” Breaking
Restivo, Angelo. Breaking Bad and Cinematic Television, Duke UP, 2019. Richmond, H.M. “Ozymandias and the Travelers.” Keats-Shelley Review, no. 11, 1962, pp. 65-71. Shelley, Percy Bysshe. “Ozymandias.” The Poems of Shelley Volume Two 1817-1819. Editedby Kevin Everest and Geoffrey Mathews, Routledge, 2000, pp. 310-311. Stephens, Walter. ““Ozymandias”: Or, Writing, Lost Libraries,
Down Breaking Bad: Critical Perspectives. New Mexico UP,
and Wonder.” Modern Language Notes vol. 124, no. 5,
2016, pp. 33-48.
2009, pp. 155-168.
Janowitz, Anne. “Shelley’s Monument to ‘Ozymandias.’” Poetry Criticism Online 158. Ed. Lawrence J. Trudeau, 2014, pp. 314-320. www.galegroup.com.
32 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
FILM FESTIVAL REPORT
Feminist Overtones at the 2019 Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival BY KELLY DOYLE | Kwantlen Polytechnic University
n its second year, Vancouver Horror Show (VHS) screened an impressive and ambitious total of 32 shorts from nine countries at The York Theatre, including feature-length film Puppet Killer (2019), in anticipation of Halloween. Spearheaded by David Taylor and Meghan Hemingway, the VHS is a no-frills showcase, encouraging both costume and formal wear for the event’s red carpet, and featuring an informal Q & A and awards ceremony at the end of the second night. Divided into Shorts Program 1 (Oct 25) and Shorts Program 2 and 3 (Oct 26), the event offered viewers the opportunity to attend one, two, or all three showings. Horror is contentiously understood as “low-brow” on the one hand, dismissible in its excesses, violence, or grotesqueries, but on the other, it is scathingly subversive, able to critique and undermine social norms. Isabel Cristina Pinedo asserts that “the horror film is the equivalent of the cultural nightmare, processing material that is simultaneously attractive and repellant, displayed and obfuscated, desired and repressed” (40). So, while there may be a “humanist thrust of psychoanalysis that implicitly believes that our desires are primarily ones for possession, plenitude, stability and reassurance,” (Halberstam 154). Gothic horror pleasure is derived from violence, loss, disgust, and so on. The success of the VHS demonstrates that viewers continue to be drawn, at the current cultural moment more than ever, to horror narratives and their affective power. According to the event website, the VHS is a registered charity and a cultural event intended to celebrate great [film] and provide a platform for emerging talent in the world of independent filmmaking. The VHS believes horror is an exemplar genre to tell stories about the world we live in through a lens of the unimaginable. (“About the VHS”) One of horror’s appeals, due to, rather than in spite of, its “low brow” reputation, is its unpretentious invitation to the novice spectator and film-maker alike; the ubiquity of B horror films—often deliberately campy, low-budget productions—is a case in point. This festival features one-minute to feature-length films from student,
indie, and veteran filmmakers, providing a range of politically aware, formally experimental and unsettling shorts that speaks to the versatility of a genre rooted in the Gothic, which is itself steeped in liminality, ambiguity, and resistance to definitive definition. Shorts like Thirst Trap (2019) are amusing, while others excavate common ground for horror: a monster under the bed (No-one Will Ever Believe You (2018)), invocation of supernatural entities via social media (Here Comes Eddie (2019); #No_Filter (2019)), or the body horror of paying rent in teeth or limbs to an entity (Dulce Hogar (2016)).
Fig. 1 | Promotional poster for Consommé, Top Salt Studio (2015).
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Feminist Overtones at the 2019 Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival
Fig. 2 | Kali angrily leaves the apartment building and is tailed by an ominous truck, 00:46. Consommé, Top Salt Studio (2015).
Notable themes in the selections for this year’s VHS emerged: female-centric horror, trauma, mental health, and resistance. Films offered politically and emotionally charged musings about women as subjects, spectators, and consumers of horror film. Two of writer, director, and producer Catherine Fordham’s shorts were featured, both exploring and subverting the formulaic notion of the female victim and final girl in horror while addressing real-world horrors that women face. In Fordham’s award-winning KAYA (2019), a young woman tracks a caravan of sex-trafficking men in big rigs to a motel in search of her abducted teenage sister, rescuing another young girl and murdering her would-be rapist in the process. While the film ends with the woman and the rescued teen continuing the search together on a desolate desert road, the tone is one of hope and a reckoning to come. While much film criticism, particularly psychoanalytic theory, positions women in film as objects of the male gaze, bearing witness to their own powerlessness, fetishization, and abuse in a patriarchal framework, this effective short encourages viewers to identify with the protagonist and her rage in a compelling counter-narrative to the tired trope of the female victim. In tone and effect, KAYA recalls the rape-revenge subgenre of the 70s and invokes a sense of feminist pushback against unpunished female exploitation onscreen.
34 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Consommé (2015), a short licensed by AMC’s horror streaming site SHUDDER and screened as part of The Future of Film is Female series (“VHS 2019 Filmmakers”), turns horror convention on its head. Consommé follows Kali out of a Brooklyn apartment building late at night after an offscreen fight with a man inside. The promotional poster is rendered in ominous blacks and greys, the city looming hungrily over Kali (Fig. 1). Her fiery red hair and the flame at her heart at first glance suggest ostensibly irrational and dangerous fury, which drives her into the night and puts her in danger. An establishing shot of the building emphasizes encroaching darkness from both sides of the frame, while two streetlights highlight the tenuous safety Kali leaves behind (Fig. 2). The viewer recognizes that this is not a safe place or hour for a woman to walk alone, particularly when a pickup truck begins to follow her. A quick cut reveals Kali safe at home in bed the following morning. While viewers know she has survived her trek the night before, it becomes clear she did not do so unscathed: her eye is black, her shoulder is bruised, her knee is cut and bloody, and her stomach churns unhappily (Fig. 3). Despite the starkly white, orderly, and safe space of the apartment, viewers know something traumatic has happened, and flashbacks to the night before are juxtaposed with the present as viewers relive Kali’s trauma with her.
By shooting the morning with a Steadicam and scenes from the night before with a handheld camera, Fordham creates uncertainty and literal unsteadiness in the latter shots that echo the experience of latent threat particular to women walking alone: Kali is told by men to “Smile, beautiful,” and then, “Fuck you!” when she walks by. The camera impassively frames her as a vulnerable object. Unease builds when a pickup truck slows behind her and finally leaves as Kali shakily exhales. Quick cuts between these narrative timelines heighten tension for viewers as they wait for the looming violent event to occur (Fig. 4). When Kali is finally attacked, she is brutally kicked and punched before being thrown against a dumpster. Arguing that visual pleasure is coded in patriarchy, Laura Mulvey suggests in "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" that the gaze of spectator, camera, and on screen protagonist are all male (she withdraws this suggestion in her later work), which omits the possibility of spectators who are female, homosexual, or non-white, and reinforces a reductionist humanist binary that positions middle-class white men on the privileged side of binary constructions, particularly between men and women. Indeed, psychoanalytic frameworks are often accused of employing a phallocentrism that denies female subjectivity and that over-generalizes.1 As Anna Powell observes, “[P]sychopathology, drawing on Freud’s uncanny and Kristeva’s abjection, has dominated textual readings of the horror film” (64), the result of which is rhetoric focused on the misogynist representation of women. However, viewers witness a rage-fueled Kali shockingly attack her assailant with her teeth instead of a gratuitous rape-scene; the next morning, we finally see that her nausea is the result of biting off and swallowing the man’s ear and flesh from his face, which she vomits into the toilet before stoically flossing and brushing her teeth. Unlike most rape-revenge films, Consommé foregoes the rape that typically occurs in the first act before vengeance is wreaked in the third. Instead, the man is punished for looking and acting; the object of desire becomes the object of horror. In The Monstrous Feminine Barbara Creed examines the ways in which women have been framed as abject monsters in film, as does Linda Williams, who notes their representation as “biological freak[s] with impossible and threatening appetites”(20) that threaten both the symbolic order and vulnerable male power. In Consommé,
Fordham codes Kali as a threat to patriarchy and the male gaze, a woman who, in fact, is enraged with and unyielding to the overtures of victimization, victim blaming, and rape culture. It is worth pointing out the nuances of the film’s deceptively simple title: consommé is a clear soup of clarified stock, but it also means to complete or finish, to consume, or to consummate (“Consomme (n.)”). This title evokes horror, particularly disgust, at the “soup” Kali ejects at the end of the film, as well as body horror in consuming parts of her assailant. The consummation between rape-victim and assailant does not happen; the act is appropriated and redefined on Kali’s terms. In Julia Kristeva’s theory of abjection, this act of consuming and then vomiting is telling: she refers to vomiting as something that protects the body and the self (2), an expelling of waste or defilement that must be “thrust aside in order to live” (3). Vomiting is also Kali’s rejection of the consummation and a refusal to assimilate it.
Fig. 3 | Kali wakes in her apartment, nursing an upset stomach and
bruised body, 01:56. Consommé, Top Salt Studio (2015).
Fig. 4 | Kali’s walk home: her attacker waits for the opportune moment to
strike, 02:14. Consommé, Top Salt Studio (2015).
See Janet Bergstrom and Mary Ann Doane's “The Spectatrix" in Camera Obscura: A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory, vol. 7, nos. 2-3, 1989, pp. 5-27.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Feminist Overtones at the 2019 Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival
Rather, she survives and “sicks it up.” Ultimately, Kali’s resistance resonates with the anger and fire of the #timesup and #metoo movements. Shorts Program 3’s Let’s Go Down (2019) is a compelling political and social commentary on the #metoo movement, set in motion by the allegations of abuse, rape, and mistreatment of women by Oscar-winning producer Harvey Weinstein. While the movement began in Hollywood, it
Fig. 5 | Promotional poster for Let’s Go Down. Phil Davis (2019); Ember
immobilized as she is assaulted.
has resulted in dozens of powerful men across industries being held accountable for similar offenses. In Down, Kate Siegel (The Haunting of Hill House (2018); Hush (2016); Oculus (2013)), plays Ember, a young actress who recounts her revenge against pretentious director Michaelangelo (Jeremy Raddin) who drugged and raped her at a party (Fig. 5). Let’s Go Down opens with a tight shot of Ember’s face as she begins to tell her story to the camera/viewer. Notably, she has never reported the incident to the police or told friends. Extreme close ups of her mouth and eyes emphasize hearing and believing her story and then seeing it: when she says “let’s go down,” she literally steps down into the action of her 30th birthday party, where viewers witness the director’s insufferability and flashbacks of his crime. The camera frames Ember’s immobilized face through most of the flashback encounter, unflinchingly capturing her fear and helplessness as a tear runs from her eye. When, in the present, she drugs and buries him alive, the camera captures his wide eyes and immobility in parallel as he waits for the dirt to fall. What is striking about Let’s Go Down is not the horror of violence, but a haunting trauma: in the final shot, Ember is crying on the ground rather than reveling in her revenge, which she takes given the assumption that lawful channels will not punish her abuser. The burial is painful for her, and like anything buried or repressed in horror, it is apt to return again and again. Taking another approach, Dance with a Demon (Mitch Bax, 2019) stands out with striking cinematography and score (it won awards in both categories), dramatizing through dance the horror of fighting mental
Fig. 6 | A father tries to explain to his daughter that her mother is fighting a battle with a demon. Dance with a Demon, Hadron Films (2019).
36 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
illness and depression via a young mother fighting her inner demon (Fig. 7). The open and bright space of the family farmhouse (Fig. 6) is juxtaposed against a dark world of falling ash where a mother (Heather Morris) fights alone in a visually stunning push/pull against a demon and its minions who want to keep her trapped. The film’s affective message is strongest when the husband breaks into the dark world to help his wife fight, and best, the demon. The horror of depression is rooted in helplessness, silence, and isolation, to say nothing of the possibility of losing a loved one or oneself to the battle. The film’s resultant strength, then, is in its strong advocation for mental health awareness and action. Finally, it would be remiss to overlook Finland’s Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre (Ilja Rautsi, 2019), voted
Fig. 7 | A mother battles her inner demon through interpretive dance in a
dark world. Dance with a Demon, Hadron Films (2019).
audience favourite. This hilariously horrifying film draws on unsolicited advice mansplained to women. Once a couple’s car crashes during the Christmas season, they are rescued by a group of men who become zombie-like and mentally short-circuit when the female protagonist contradicts their worldview or threatens their egos. The men, notable winners of best ensemble cast, are unsettling in their deadpan delivery and the distorted, extreme close ups of their faces as they deliver pearls of wisdom: “Gender is a binary line!”, “Penis goes in vagina!”, “The car is a technical device! Men use the car!”, “You don’t have to be afraid of childbirth! The pain is only natural!”, and, in alarm, “Academic! Academic!” (Fig. 8). In order to escape the increasingly inhuman men, the protagonist is forced to massacre them all. Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre is a successful horror-satire that allegorizes a woman at her wit’s end after a litany of gendered assumptions. Overall, these films highlight horror’s affective political power. Powell claims horror’s cinematography, sound, and editing arouse visceral sensations in “a potent experiential process” (8). If “affective potency” does not distinguish between the impact of actual versus fictional horror (8), responses from fear to laughter might inspire viewers to engage productively with horror films’ political and social ruminations. Horror can be more radical and subversive “than works of conscious social criticism, which must always concern themselves with the possibility of reforming aspects of a social system whose basic rightness must not be challenged” (Wood 70). The feminist thrust of many of this year’s submissions to the VHS are examples of such progressive and powerful horror films.
Fig. 8 | Two of the couple’s would-be rescuers gaslight the woman when she tires of their unsolicited advice, 05:35. Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre. Ilja
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Feminist Overtones at the 2019 Vancouver Horror Show Film Festival
WORKS CITED “About the VHS.” Vancouver Horror Show, vancouverhorrorshow. com. Accessed 1 Nov. 2019. Bergstrom, Janet, and Mary Ann Doane. “The Spectatrix.” Camera
Let’s Go Down. Directed by Phil Davis, 2019. Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures, Macmillan, 1989. No-one Will Ever Believe You. Directed by Frédéric Chalté, 2018.
Obscura: A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory, vol. 7, nos.
#No_Filter. Directed by Michael Dupret, 2019.
2-3, 1989, pp. 5-27.
Pinedo, Isabel Cristina. “Recreational Terror and the Postmodern
“Consomme (n.).” Online Etymology Dictionary, etymonline.com/ word/consomme. Accessed 15 Nov. 2019. Consommé. Directed by Catherine Fordham, Top Salt Studio, 2015. Creed, Barbara. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis, Routledge, 1993. Dance with a Demon. Directed by Mitch Bax, Hadron Films, 2019. Dulce Hogar. Directed by Amaia Alonso, Dramatic Show, 2016.
Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film.” Recreational Terror: Women and the Pleasures of Horror Film Viewing, U of New York P, 1997, pp. 9-50. Powell, Anna. Deleuze and Horror Film, Edinburgh UP, 2006. Puppet Killer. Directed by Lisa Ovies, 2019. Thirst Trap. Directed by Steve Flavin, 2019. “VHS 2019 Filmmakers.” Vancouver Horror Show, vancouverhorrorshow.com. Accessed 1 Nov. 2019.
Halberstam, Judith. “Bodies that Splatter: Queers and Chainsaws.”
Williams, Linda. “When the Woman Looks.” The Dread of
Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters,
Difference: Gender and the Horror Film, Edited by Barry
Duke UP, 1995, pp. 138-160.
Keith Grant, U of Texas P, 1996, pp. 15-34.
Helsinki Mansplaining Massacre. Directed by Ilja Rautsi, Oy Bufo Ab, 2018. Here Comes Eddie! Directed by Christopher Schrack, 2019. Kaya. Directed by Catherine Fordham, Top Salt Studio, 2019. Kristeva, Julia. “Approaching Abjection.” Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, Columbia UP, 1982, pp. 1-31.
38 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Wood, Robin. “The American Nightmare: Horror in the 70s.” Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan … and Beyond, Columbia UP, 2003, pp. 63-84.
George Lucas: A Life REVIEWED BY GREGORY MILLARD | Kwantlen Polytechnic University
George Lucas: A Life (2016) Brian Jay Jones 550 pp. Black Bay Books ISBN 978-0-316-25742-8 $24.99 CAD
n 1983, George Lucas lamented to Time magazine that “Star Wars has grabbed my life and taken it over against my will. Now I’ve got to get my life back – before it’s too late!” (qtd. in Brooker 15). He never did escape the tractor-beam pull of Star Wars, of course. But one thing that George Lucas: A Life makes clear is that Lucas’s contributions extend far beyond that long-ago galaxy of Wookies and droids and its ineffable Force. Lucas was a pioneer of what might be called the “soundtrack” film—a concept so novel that his description of American Graffiti as “a musical” in which “the characters in the film neither sing nor dance” bewildered moguls and actors alike. Yet, for better or worse, everything from Happy Days to Forrest Gump and Across the Universe—an entire filmic sub-genre of “OK, Boomer” nostalgia—can trace its genealogy back to that film. Several aspects of the fundamental experience of contemporary cinema, including digitization and THX surround sound, owe their existence to Lucasfilm and its bearded commissar. Even Pixar germinated in that fecund soil. On top of that, there’s the iconic Indiana Jones, a collaboration with Steven Spielberg, yes, but very much Lucas’s baby. As for Star Wars, what can you say? Its influence upon the culture is so widespread, its iconography and vocabulary so universally recognizable, as to approach the level of shared myth. Who is this figure, then, this visionary introvert, equally revered and reviled today? Brian Jay Jones offers a straight-ahead, chronological biography which offers not so much revelation as intelligent updating and consolidation of established facts. The writing, unlike that of its subject, is smooth; the mining of the secondary literature, thorough. That it is unauthorized, and therefore without direct contributions from Lucas himself and with only a handful of interviews from those in his inner circle, is probably to the good, given Lucas’s obscurantist tendencies—exemplified by his long pretense that the Star Wars hexalogy was always a coherently planned whole, when most of the evidence suggests a truth best served by the famous Indiana Jones quip: “I’m makin’ this up as I go.” As is often the case with biographies, the exciting story of the subject’s origins, early struggles, and rise to fame MISE- EN - SCÈNE
George Lucas: A Life
proves more compelling than the subsequent plateaux of sustained success, domesticity, divorce, re-marriage, and eventual semi-retirement. We read of a classic push-and-pull between the sober father, who expected his son to assume ownership of the family stationary business, and the dreamy son, whose imagination marinated in TV and comic books and who showed an arty disinterest in the mundane. A dramatic car crash ended an adolescence of racing and smalltown California cruising—not that racing would ever be far removed from what Lucas put on film. Film school, then, provided the way out. And it’s striking how, from the very start, Lucas’s editing talents, visionary imagination, and— above all—refusal to be bound by the will of others marked him a man apart. Lucas arrived at the University of Southern California cinematography program in 1965 a budding prodigy, looking to make “tone poems” in which image and sound merged to evoke emotion without reliance on narrative or literal sense. He was ahead of his teachers on the way to his first major studio release, 1971’s coldly dystopian THX-138, which, like nearly every major project he ever did, both baffled and bewitched his contemporaries. And what contemporaries. Jones offers appealing glimpses of Lucas’s time as star film student and founding member of what came to be called the “USC Mafia” – peers who included screenwriter and producer John Milius (Dirty Harry, Apocalypse Now), screenwriter Willard Huyck (who helped on Star Wars and several other Lucas projects), editor and sound editor Walter Murch (Godfather, The English Patient), and multiple Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Caleb Deschanel (The Right Stuff, The Natural, Never Look Away). Steven Spielberg, who met Lucas following a screening of THX-138, famously became a lifelong friend, admirer, and rival. As for Marcia Griffin, the gifted editor whose c.v. includes The Candidate, Taxi Driver, and New York, New York in addition to sundry Lucas projects, George met her during a stint editing documentary footage for the U.S. government in 1967, and married her two years later. When a USC scholarship gave him the opportunity to observe a Warner Brothers film shoot—not a terribly inspiring prospect to a young, avant-garde Lucas—he encountered Francis Ford Coppola, who became the most important of a set of older-brother figures to whom the diminutive Lucas gravitated over the years. The relationship between the two landmark filmmakers forms a recurring theme through the book, and the contrast warrants a film onto itself: the extroverted, larger-than-life, eminently impractical Coppola, with—and versus—Lucas, the gnomic, introverted control-freak. Only 40 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
one fulfilled their mutual dream of a self-supporting, independent filmmaking community outside the Hollywood loop. That’s mostly because only one proved able to reliably make money and hold onto it. Speaking of money, for all that Lucas is synonymous with commercial appeal, money seems to have mattered to him mainly as a passport to independence. Over and over, Jones recounts Lucas denouncing the blinkered studio bosses, the money-men who, from THX-138 to Star Wars and beyond, never understood what he was up to or trusted him to get up to it. Again and again, in his quest for creative freedom, Lucas bet everything on himself. He used the proceeds from Graffiti to help fund a bizarre sci-fi film which almost everyone, including Lucas, thought sure to fail; then staked the profits from what became A New Hope to help finance its risky, stunning sequel; and finally leveraged Lucasfilm itself— surely, his true life’s work, a studio outside the Hollywood system, answerable to him only—to support his turbid and befuddling prequel trilogy. The gambles paid off big (mostly). In 2012, he sold it all to Disney for $4.05 billion. The price he paid, of course, was to watch Disney renege on a gentlemen’s agreement to use his story treatments in its own recently-completed Star Wars trilogy, a bait-andswitch which left him seething. Lucas wanted the franchise to continue following bizarre vectors, to keep discomfiting its audience. Disney preferred to ladle out comfort food— Luke, Han, and Leia doing their thing, alongside some new characters—to hungry fans. Of course, whether a third trilogy by Lucas (no gifted writer, by his own admission) would have surpassed Disney’s effort is quite another question. One suspects that the notoriously cantankerous legions of Star Wars fans who plague internet ‘comments’ sections would cry ‘NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!’ at such volume as to drown out the primal scream of Lord Vader himself. For all that, it is striking how consistently Lucas has been ahead of the curve. He understood before anyone else how popular music could drive a film. He grasped that Nixon’s America was rife with cynicism, darkness, and unhappy endings, and that an anomic and betrayed generation which had “grown up without fairy tales” (185) might embrace one in a new form. With this understanding, and informed by Coppola’s insistence that an auteur could not merely make movies but had to write them, Lucas spent years “bleeding on the page” (167) and created Star Wars so as to meet the cultural need he’d identified. His embrace of visual effects was, of course, epoch-making. If, in later years, he at first failed to grasp the full
potential of digital technology in film-making—that’s how he allowed what became Pixar to slip from his control— he nevertheless surpassed most of his colleagues in exploiting what digitization could offer. He pushed forward the potential of theme parks with Disneyland’s Star Tours ride, and of museums, with his Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts. Perhaps fittingly for a man who anticipated before most others the potential value of movie merchandising, he even foresaw (albeit incidentally) the rise of internet shopping. Jones, therefore, gives us a uniquely American success story, the life of one of the truly seminal figures in late-20th century popular culture. That legacy far surpasses Star Wars, but Star Wars is of course its nucleus—the midichlorian, one might say, to the Force that is Lucas’s overall achievement. That achievement, whether we like it or not, surrounds us,
and binds together important aspects of our popular cinematic experience. But is that experience best understood as shaped by a visionary imagination which has expanded the possibilities of cinema as a medium? Or is it primarily one of infantilization and carnal crowd-pleasing, with Lucas a key figure in a turn away from film as art toward film as explosions, soulless effects, and super-heroes? It might be both; but as this book implies, we are all, in some sense or other, children of George Lucas. Whether we succeed in bringing balance to the force he helped to create will be for future generations of filmmakers to decide.
WORK CITED Brooker, Will. Film Classics: Star Wars. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2009.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Hitchcock and Humor: Modes of Comedy in Twelve Defining Films REVIEWED BY DOUGLAS LONG | DePaul University
Hitchcock and Humor: Modes of Comedy in Twelve Defining Films Wes D. Gehring 290 pp. McFarland ISBN-13 978-1476673561 $83.00 CAD
42 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
ncredibly, humor has not been a central focus among the many books published every year about the films of Alfred Hitchcock. Some, like Susan Smith’s Hitchcock: Suspense, Humor and Tone (1980), have included it as part of a critical approach, but Wes D. Gehring’s Hitchcock and Humor: Modes of Comedy in Twelve Defining Films (2019) is the first to put comedy front and centre. This lens results in a major reassessment of Hitchcock’s work. As Gehring mentions in the introduction, Hitchcock often claimed his films were all dark comedies. He measures each of the twelve chosen films against elements of dark comedy, including “man as beast,” absurdity, and the presence of death. In addition to dark comedy, Gehring considers a variety of comedy sub-genres, many of which he’s written books about: screwball, “personality comedy,” the “reaffirmation parody” (a concept introduced in Gehring’s Parody as Film Genre:“Never Give a Saga an Even Break”), and slapstick. He also looks at the sources of Hitchcock’s humor (a strict father, a demanding mother, a rigid Catholic upbringing, his weight, silent comedy films, etc.) and the comic sources of the films, particularly from literature (Poe and Twain are among those cited) and film. Gehring has authored many books about people cited in this volume, including Chaplin, Keaton, the Marx Brothers, Leo McCarey, Laurel & Hardy, W.C. Fields, and Carole Lombard. In addition, he incorporates abundant scholarship, including numerous quotes from Francois Truffaut’s interviews with Hitchcock. Benefiting especially from Gehring’s comic gaze are Hitchcock’s British films from the late 1920s and ‘30s. The first five films Gehring discusses are from this period – Blackmail (1929), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), The 39 Steps (1935), Secret Agent (1936), and The Lady Vanishes (1938). Here Gehring seeks “to join the current revisionist celebration of his British period.” A primary beneficiary is Peter Lorre, who is celebrated as a “personality comedian” at the comic heart of The Man Who Knew Too Much and Secret Agent. The latter, Gehring says, must be re-assessed as being primarily a comedy, though certainly a dark one – consider the creepily comic Lorre laughing as he realizes he’s
pushed the wrong man off a mountain. Gehring quotes a 2004 London Guardian re-assessment of Lorre’s work in this film: “Lorre looked like a sleazy baby, his face registering every passing petulance, ready to drop from a hopeful grin down to a sulk.” Lorre’s “General” in Secret Agent is an early example of Hitchcock’s comic, likeable villains, later seen in Strangers on a Train (1951) and, as is pointed out in the epilogue, Psycho (1960). In addition to the comedy of Lorre’s kidnapper, the 1934 Man Who Knew Too Much (which Gehring far prefers to Hitchcock’s 1956 American remake) features a British take on the new American phenomenon, screwball comedy. Jill’s flirtations to make her husband jealous are likened to the sexual banter of Nick and Nora Charles. Other comic forms emerge in the film, including the Laurel and Hardy-like “personality comedy” of Bob and his dim friend Clive as they hunt for Betty’s kidnapper, Clive getting a tooth extracted and becoming hypnotized in the process. Of the early sound film, Blackmail, Gehring draws attention to The Artist’s painting of a jester, which he likens to the Shakespearean wise fool. The “sneering” jester witnesses the rape attempt, the murder, the lies, and even the disbelieved confession at Scotland Yard. Of Alice’s scene after the killing, Gehring writes, “As she picks up her clothes, the clown gives her another, even more biting ‘Gotcha’ moment.” Much of the success of The 39 Steps, Gehring says, is that it has a comic everyman hero at its centre, starting with Richard Hannay’s (Robert Donat) cheeky and ominous reply to Annabelle’s request to hide out in his apartment: “It’s your funeral.” Of the film’s last image, Hannay’s handcuff humorously slipping out from his sleeve, Gehring concludes that Hannay’s marriage to Pamela will not last. The handcuff earlier carried sexual innuendo when Hannay and Pamela are forced to share a bedroom; the Production Code didn’t apply to British film. The Production Code also would not have allowed Gilbert (Michael Redgrave) to hop onto Iris’s (Margaret Lockwood) bed after she has had him evicted from the room above, explaining that he’ll just have to move in with her, in The Lady Vanishes. Theirs, Gehring explains, is a classic screwball relationship – from hate to happy ending, but it won’t last (another Hitchcock dig at marriage). The film also features the “personality comedy” of Charters (Basil Rathford) and Caldicott (Naunton Wayne), who exhibit some of the physical comedy of Laurel and Hardy (low ceiling beams, one pair of pajamas between them) but also provide a comic realization of the film’s anti-Appeasement theme: they’re
essentially British schoolboys hilariously focused on cricket matches (turning sugar cubes into a cricket match on the train), but when attacked by foreign aggression, they buck up and defend the Crown. Perhaps the most fascinating revelation in the book is Gehring’s organization of Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Rope (1948), and Strangers on a Train (1951) as Hitchcock’s “Nietzschean Dark Comedy Trilogy.” Nietzsche’s Übermensch concept is at the heart of Rope – the least critically acclaimed of the three – but it fits the other two quite well too. Shadow’s Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) has the speech about the rich widows being unworthy “pigs” (who deserve to be killed for their inheritances) and Bruno (Robert Walker) launches Strangers’ plot by explaining that he and Guy (Farley Granger) each have someone in their lives who deserves to die. The challenge is proving that these Nietzschean thrillers are, in fact, dark comedies. Gehring charts this throughout Shadow of a Doubt, from Uncle Charlie’s brazen walk past his pursuers, to upbeat music juxtaposed with black train smoke on his entrance to Santa Rosa, to the bar waitress ironically droning, “I’d just about die for a ring like that.” Another dark comedy target is religion, as in Uncle Charlie’s dry welcome to the family returning from church, “Count the house?” Shadow has its own comedy duo too – Uncle Charlie’s brother-in-law Joe (Henry Travers) and his neighbour Herbie (Hume Cronyn), who are fascinated by murder but are “stun gun stupid” for not comprehending the attempted murder of Joe’s daughter right under their noses. Adherence to Nietzsche’s Übermensch theory is at the heart of Rope’s plot and its humor, with the superior-feeling Brandon (John Dall) zinging barbs throughout the party he throws for the friends and family of David, the classmate he and his partner Philip have murdered and stuffed into the trunk serving as the buffet (“We don’t want to leave our guest of honor alone during supper”). Gehring writes, “This film, more than any other in the text, embraces the fundamental elements of dark comedy” – killing as a Nietzschean “lab experiment” is both “man as beast” and absurd, and of course death is present from the opening strangulation. Hitchcock even makes himself a target of the humor: the two women at the party can’t recall the title of the movie they saw starring Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergman – it was, of course, his own Notorious (1946). Gehring also goes to bat for the two straight-up comedies which are often sidestepped in critical assessments of Hitchcock’s works: the screwball comedy Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) and the black comedy The Trouble with Harry MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Hitchcock and Humor: Modes of Comedy in Twelve Defining Films
(1955). Gehring rejects the frequent criticism that Mr. and Mrs. Smith is second-tier screwball and instead celebrates it as a dark comic look at marriage. He cites David’s (Robert Montgomery) surprising rejuvenation when he finds out that he and Ann (Carole Lombard) aren’t legally married, as well as Ann’s dangerous post-argument ritual of shaving him with a straight razor. The darker humor of The Trouble with Harry is charted through its many unusual, even taboo juxtapositions – murder amid a glorious Vermont autumn; older citizens flirting over a corpse; the Captain’s (Edmund Gwenn) surprising advice to Harry, “If you’re going to get yourself shot, do it where you’re known” (Gehring likens the Captain to Hitchcock’s new TV persona on his anthology series that began that year, 1955). The most radical analysis, though, builds on Donald Spoto’s claim in The Art of Alfred Hitchcock (1976) that Sam’s (John Forsyth) painting of Harry’s face resembles the Georges Rouault painting Christus. Gehring takes it a step further, claiming that this, along with the frequent burying and unburying of Harry, are Hitchcock’s darkly comic version of Christ’s resurrection. As support, he cites Hitchcock’s frequent focus on his Catholic upbringing and quotes from Jack Trevor Story’s source novel. The comedy of Rear Window (1954) is probably the most already-analyzed of the bunch, but Gehring makes many apt observations, citing its primacy among the Hitchcock films skewering the institution of marriage, from Jeff’s (James Stewart) frequent barbs (suggesting that the composer’s writing block came from “a very unhappy marriage”) to the neighbours across the way providing comic versions of bad marriages. And no one zings in Hitchcock like Thelma Ritter’s Stella, making Jeff almost gag on his toast as she theorizes that Lars Thorwald must have cut up his wife in the bathtub, what with all that blood. Gehring caps Hitchcock and Humor with a celebration of the comedy in North by Northwest (1959), in which he supports its oft-cited link to The 39 Steps. The reader is reminded that Hitchcock planned it as a spoof all along, with Cary Grant in the Mount Rushmore nose of Lincoln, who would then sneeze. That wacky event doesn’t occur in the film, but Gehring still has no trouble proving it to be an almost non-stop comedy – even his cameo, missing the bus, is slapstick. And there’s plenty more slapstick to come – Roger Thornhill (Grant) dressed as a train redcap, passing the man he’s paid off standing in his underwear with a wad of cash, and Roger’s drunken drive from the mansion, making comic faces Gehring likens to Charlie Chaplin’s in One A.M. (1916). 44 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
In part, it’s also a self-parody of Hitchcock’s “wrongly accused man” films (he’d recently made the decidedly unfunny The Wrong Man). And too it’s a “reaffirmation parody,” lampooning spy stories while also playing the genre for all its worth – we’re reminded that Ian Fleming based James Bond on Cary Grant in this film. If a reader isn’t familiar with Gehring’s writing style, they might be surprised by how casual and jokey it is sometimes. Of Norman Bates’s claim that Mother “goes a little mad sometimes,” Gehring adds parenthetically, “Paging Dr. Freud.” And “Boogie boogie” is a frequent adjective to describe something spooky. But this conversational style matches his comic approach to works that many consider primarily in terms of suspense. If at some point the book is re-issued, they could correct some misspellings and factual errors (Chaplin was older than Hitchcock, James Mason wasn’t in Notorious, Paul Lukas didn’t play Mr. Todhunter, etc.), but overall there’s no question that this is an important new book in Hitchcock scholarship and is destined to be used in future study, both in and out of the classroom.
Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock REVIEWED BY JOAKIM NILSSON | Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock (2016) Mark W. Padilla 336 pp. Lexington Books ISBN-13: 978-1498529150 (h.b.) $145.99 CAD
hen i first read the title of Mark W. Padilla’s book Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock (Lexington Books, 2016), I immediately feared that I would be reading yet another Joseph Campbell-inspired identification of Classical myths and archetypes, this time in the films of Alfred Hitchcock. What I found instead is a work that provides a theoretical approach that explores the complex intersection of Classical myth and literature, biography, and political, social, and artistic context in Hitchcock’s films. My assumptions about Padilla’s approach to studying myth were immediately dispelled by his Preface and Introduction. Padilla explains that he initially chose to analyze and categorize myths in a large number of Hitchcock films, but finally decided that a more in-depth analysis of four films would help him achieve his “goal of writing an academic and multidisciplinary study that appealed to classicists, film studies scholars, and general readers” (xvi)—and he has definitely succeeded in this goal. His study provides both a valuable, flexible theoretical model for exploring myth in film—a model he explains clearly in his Introduction—and an insightful, nuanced analysis of four Hitchcock films: The Farmer’s Wife (1928), The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), Rebecca (1940), and Strangers on a Train (1951). Padilla wishes to make his work appealing to a broad academic audience, and “as a courtesy to a wide range of possible readers” (xvi), he uses a variety of methods to make his work accessible. Recognizing that film students and scholars interested in Hitchcock may not be familiar with the Greek and Roman myths and stories he explores, Padilla provides clear summaries of the various works he discusses, some of which may be familiar, like Homer’s The Odyssey, while others, such us the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, may be more obscure. He also provides over 50 images; these include shots from Hitchcock’s films, which he compares to Classical sculptures and architecture and 17th to 19th Century paintings of Classical myths. These images convincingly demonstrate what he argues are the conscious, subconscious, and/or contextual influences of Greek and Roman MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock
mythology on Hitchcock and the late-Victorian/early 20th Century aesthetic and intellectual environment in which he worked. And to further help those readers less familiar with Hitchcock’s films, Padilla provides, within the respective chapters, in-depth descriptions and analysis of the characters and stories, as well as an “Appendix” with brief “Story Summaries” of the four films he analyzes. In his “Introduction,” Padilla outlines the theoretical framework he uses to explore the intersection of Classical myth and literature in film. Padilla explains that in his close analyses of the four films, he “seeks to straddle th[e] methodological divide” (5) between Reception Studies, which explores how “an artist ‘receives’ the past for a particular purpose or use” and Tradition Studies, which seeks “to map out continuities, whether as a history of ideas, as a network of shared cultural values, or the collective unconscious” (4-5). Arguing for a flexible theoretical approach that produces nuanced readings of the influence of Classical myth in Hitchcock’s films, Padilla explains the influence of Kallendorf and Haubold’s essay “Tradition and Reception,” in which they argue that “tradition” should “operate as ‘a pliable tool’ for suggesting new perspectives, in different ways on different occasions” (37, note 11). This negotiating between tradition and reception leads Padilla to a key critical concept, “tentative neoclassicism” (10-13), a critical approach that “does not advocate that films become pallid replications of classical texts (or repositories for archetypes) any more than it marginalizes the classical text or invoked ancient paradigm as an appendix to ‘presentism’” (12). Arguing that “a classical text or myth must be summoned, and thus known, if it is to be made relevant,” Padilla hopes his project will make classical texts “useful, that is to say operative in a new post-ancient place” (12) by using them to explore Hitchcock’s “underappreciated maturation in a classics-rich environment” (11). For Hitchcock scholars, Padilla provides valuable background material on Hitchcock’s life and education as they relate to his films, and insights into the artistic and political contexts in which the films were made. Exploring the role of the artist in Reception Studies, Padilla introduces a central method by which he argues for the conscious use, and subconscious influence, of Classical myth in Hitchcock’s films: details about the role that Classical myth and literature played in Hitchcock’s education at St. Ignatius College, London, which Hitchcock attended from 1910-1913 (age 11-14)—“ St. Ignatius’ curriculum … bestowed upon Hitchcock a treasure chest of motifs he 46 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
could reuse for cinematic purposes” (33). Padilla describes Classical education as also influencing those with whom Hitchcock collaborated: writers, art directors, set designers, etc. The author also uses biographical material to contextualize Hitchcock within his formative artistic context, as he explains that Hitchcock was “an early modernist working in a representational domain where late-nineteenth century and early-twentieth century currents—aestheticism, expressionism, realism, surrealism, and symbolism—intersect” (2). Highlighting the value of Classics as an area of study outside the context of Ancient Greece and Rome, Padilla shows how a knowledge of Classical myth and literature can provide readers insight into their role in Modernism, particularly the “engagement with antiquity” found in Hitchcock’s films, as well as “the works of William Yeats, Ezra Pound, T.E. Hulme, and T.S. Eliot” (19). Like other Modernists, Hitchcock wished to connect his work with the past, but also use the past to explore contemporary issues and experiences. Padilla insightfully explores the evolution of Hitchcock as an artist, and through a detailed analysis of these four films (one in each chapter) that span the first twenty-five years of Hitchcock’s career, Padilla convincingly demonstrates “the resilience of myth in Hitchcock and … how myth’s presences evolve over the director’s career” (34). According to Padilla, “England did not have a thriving film industry in the 1920s and 1930s, and filmmakers like young and Jesuit-trained Alfred Hitchcock mined the veins of classicism running through the bedrock of London culture” (22). This reliance on myth seems most pronounced in The Farmer’s Wife (1928), an early silent film by Hitchcock that Padilla convincingly argues is influenced, in its story and main characters, by traditional female gender traits associated with the goddess Hestia and by the myth of Paris’ Judgment of Three Goddesses (49-50). In Padilla’s reading, the film’s “hero,” Samuel Sweetland, a middle-aged Paris figure seeking a new wife, is rejected by the strong, independent women—who echo Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena—he pursues. In the resolution of the narrative, Hitchcock reinforces traditional gender roles by having Sam find happiness when he marries his housekeeper Minta, who embodies the traditional values of Hestia, and “is victorious through the exhibition of responsibility, patience, and loyalty” (58). In addition to its narrative reliance on Classical myth, Padilla convincingly argues the impact of Classical art on the look of the film. He compares specific shots of characters from the film to images of Classical sculpture and pottery, arguing that “it seems obvious that London filmmakers would
sometimes visit local museums to seek inspiration, especially the art designers whose task it is to establish interesting looks in the mise-en-scene. … Ancient images might offer readymade ideas for a studio crew on a fast production schedule” (64). Padilla also provides biographical details connecting the film to Hitchcock’s recent marriage to Alma Reville, stating that in adapting his source material, a 1927 play of the same name by Eden Phillpotts, Hitchcock “shifts the emphasis from daughter to wife, and better aligns the narrative center with the current emotional realities of Alfred and Alma” (55). Connecting the personal to the political, Padilla explains how Hitchcock shares with his source material a wish to explore “social changes challenging British culture, specifically the expansion of women’s rights” (50). Through his close reading of the narrative and visual elements of the film, Padilla insightfully explains how Classical myth allows Hitchcock to explore personal issues, while also creating a narrative that had broad appeal because it addressed specific social/historical concerns about changing gender roles. In his next chapter, Padilla analyzes how The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) echoes the Demeter and Persephone myth, as well as the myth of the Minoan labyrinth—narratives Hitchcock uses to again explore gender roles and current political anxieties. But rather than being a traditional domestic melodrama, like The Farmer’s Wife (1928), this film represents a significant step in Hitchcock’s artistic development, as it introduces “a new concept in English film at this time,” a concept that will become a central motif in Hitchcock’s films: “the idea of average people caught up in world events that require their response” (108). In this film, the kidnapping of their daughter places the troubled marriage of a strong, independent wife, Jill, and her weak, demasculinized husband, Bob, within the broader context of the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s, and it is through the couple working together to save their daughter that traditional gender roles, and harmony, are re-established: “the independent and play-girl evoking Jill retrieves lost skills of feminine empathy and awareness” (103), while Bob becomes “the hero who descends into the underworld to complete the rescue” (109). Citing the role myth in surrealism (104) and the music of Stravinsky (130), Padilla deftly situates Hitchcock’s film within the artistic and political context of the 1930s, and demonstrates Hitchcock’s ability to adapt classical stories to explore current events. In his chapter on Rebecca (1940), Padilla “argues that its powerful storytelling includes a redeployment of the Roman myth of Cupid and Psyche” (151), but he expands
his critical focus by also discussing the role of fairy tale motifs and elements of the Gothic. The film is based on Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 novel of the same name, a work that “represents a revival of what [Anne] Williams [in Art of Darkness: A Poetics of Gothic] calls the pattern of the Female Gothic” (155). Padilla argues that the Cupid and Psyche myth “offers a prototype for the beauty-and-thebeast paradigm” and that “this story pattern in turn lays the foundation for the Gothic narrative” (154). Unlike the previous two films Padilla discusses, in Rebecca, the narrative focuses on “a dynamic in the film organized around female power relations” (161). The author suggests that the fairy tale, rather than myth, is thus a more appropriate narrative model for this film, because “[t]he two narrative categories are to some degrees gendered in this fashion, with myth typically privileging male protagonists, and fairy tale offering a narrative space for both male and female laborers” (170). This film was a milestone in Hitchcock’s career, as Hitchcock was now part of the Hollywood system, and thus had less independence as a filmmaker. Citing the influence of David O. Selznick, the producer of Rebecca who signed Hitchcock to a long-term contract in Hollywood in 1939, Padilla explains that “the film reuses a lot of Du Maurier’s dialogue and retains the story structure, a faithfulness upon which Selznick insisted” (152). Thus, Hitchcock was less free to adapt the source material to reflect his political concerns regarding Adolf Hitler, “politics Selznick may have sought to repress” (183). In response, Hitchcock incorporates “Gothic poetics,” through narrative, but also through miseen-scene and music composed by Franz Waxman, an Eastern European Jew also concerned with the rise of fascism. Padilla identifies visual and musical references to Wagner, which “echo historical anxieties about the precipitous start of … the Second World War” (185). In exploring Hitchcock’s combining of Classical myth, fairy tale, and the Gothic, Padilla again demonstrates how, even in the Hollywood system, Hitchcock and his collaborators used “tradition” as a “pliable tool” to explore the intersection of character psychology, relationship dynamics, and current political events. When discussing Strangers on a Train (1951), Padilla again links the use of myth to the biographical: “An application of the Hermes archetype to the figure of Alfred Hitchcock is a natural one. The director in so many aspects of his life and career embodied the themes of boundary crossing and communicating” (215-216). According to Padilla, one of the boundaries Hitchcock crossed related to his “enigmatic sexual identity” (216), and he cites Robin MISE- EN - SCÈNE
Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock
Wood, whose article “The Murderous Gays: Hitchcock’s Homophobia” provides “an overview of homophobia in Hitchcock’s films as an operation of the repression of his gay sexual identity” (260, note 10). Padilla argues that Hitchcock’s ambivalent treatment of the theme of “the aberrant male” (216) is clearly, for 1951, explored in Strangers on a Train. What must be noted is that Hitchcock made this film in the context of the McCarthy Senate trials, a “political climate that was … reducing the thematic scope of narrative by putting pressure on filmmakers to limit messages of dissent,” which included the US Senate, in 1950, establishing a clear “attack upon artistic freedom by commissioning a study on ‘the employment of homosexuals and other sex perverts in the government’” (211, 212). So while the narrative “highlight[s] the maniacal actions of a charismatically amoral and apparently homosexual character” who is eventually killed for his actions, Padilla argues that “[if ] the exact politics of the film is a matter of debate, Hitchcock produced a film that proved courageous in treating such themes” (212). Tracing the liminal, ambiguous Hermes character from Patricia Highsmith’s source novel of the same name, to Whitfield Cook’s adaptation, to the film’s Neoclassical and “late-expressionist” (258) visual elements, Padilla effectively argues that the film’s narrative ambiguity reflects Hitchcock’s “unconscious” (212) exploration of his own sexuality. While this work provides readers with insightful readings of the four films that effectively demonstrate Padilla’s critical methodology, the book has a few weaknesses. The
WORK CITED Padilla, Mark W. Classical Myth in Four Films of Alfred Hitchcock. Lexington Books, 2016.
48 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
first is more of an occasional nuisance: there are numerous typos, such as referring to Alfred as “Albert” (28), “workplace” written as “workface” (33), among others, as well as various punctuation errors. The book clearly needed better proofreading. The other weakness may be more of a personal preference, but would also be a benefit to the “wide range of possible readers” (xvi) the author hopes to reach: the addition of a brief conclusion. This would reinforce the key ideas of his critical methodology, draw together some of the main themes and issues he has explored in Hitchcock’s films, and articulate the broader application of his methodology, in order to connect Classics studies and film studies. Instead, Padilla ends his book with his chapter on Strangers on a Train (1951), and somewhat ironically, he ends by stating how “Hitchcock’s films are typically strong on exploration of themes but weak on endings that point to a future that can carry forth generated ideas—as an evolution toward something” (257). But despite these small weaknesses, Padilla has written a work that provides valuable biographical material on Hitchcock as an artist who, like other Modernists, used classical myth as a source of stories and characters that he could adapt to explore personal and political issues through his films. Padilla also outlines and models a critical methodology that the reader/viewer can use to bring together the areas of Classics studies and film studies to produce complex, nuanced readings of films that do not explicitly reference Classical myths and literature.
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
50 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
OPEN CALL FOR PAPERS ISSUE 6.1 · SPRING 2021
For its upcoming issue, Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (MSJ) currently seeks submissions that encompass the latest research in fi lm and media studies. Submission categories include feature articles (6,000-7,000 words); mise-en-scène featurettes (1,000-1,500 words); reviews of fi lms, DVDs, Blurays or conferences (1,500-2,500 words); M.A. or Ph.D. abstracts
Mise-en-scène across the disciplines Transmedia Film spectatorship Auteur theory Adaptation studies
(250-300 words); interviews (4,000-5,000 words); undergraduate scholarship (2,000-2,500 words) or video essays (8-10 minute range). All submissions must include a selection of supporting images from the fi lm(s) under analysis and be formatted according to MLA guidelines, 8th edition. Topic areas may include, but are not limited to, the following:
Frame narratology Pedagogical approaches to film and media studies Genre studies Cinematic aestheticism
Documentary studies Fandom studies Seriality Film/video as a branch of digital humanities research
THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSIONS IS JANUARY 8, 2021
Please sign up as an author through the registration portal to begin the 5-step submission process: journals.sfu.ca/msq/msq/index.php/msq/user/register
MISE- EN - SCÈNE
ABOUT THE JOURNAL Situating itself in film’s visual narrative, Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (ISSN 2369-5056) is the f ir st of it s kind: an international,
ABOUT THE JOURNAL Situating in film’s visual peer-reviewed journal focuseditself exclusively on narrative, Mise-en-scène: The Journal ofasFilm & Visual the artistry of frame composition a storyNarration (ISSN 2369-5056) is the first of itsopenkind: an telling technique. With its open-access, international, peer-reviewed exclureview publishing model, MSJjournal strivesfocused to be a synsively on the artistry of frame composition as a stoergistic, community-oriented hub for discourse ry-telling technique. With of itsthe open-access, open-rethat begins at the level frame. Scholarly view publishing model, MSJ to costuming, be a synergitic, analysis of lighting, set strives design, community-oriented hub forproximities, discourse that begins camera angles, camera depth of at the level of character the frame.placement Scholarly analysis of lighting, field, and are just some of set camera angles, proxthedesign, topics costuming, that the journal covers. Whilecamera primarily imities, depthwith of field, and character concerned discourse in and placement around theare just of the topics the journal covers. While filmsome frame, MSJ alsothat includes narratological primarily with discourse in and level aroundofthe analysisconcerned at the scene and sequence film frame,media MSJ also includesand narratological analyrelated (television online) within sis the scene sequence level ofare related media itsatscope. Parand ticularly welcome ar ticles (television and online) its scope. Particularly that dovetail currentwithin debates, research, and welcome that dovetail current debates, theoriesare as articles they deepen the understanding of research, and theories they deepen the underfilmic storytelling. Theasjournal’s contributing standing of filmic storytelling. The journal’s contribwriters are an eclectic, interdisciplinary mixture uting writers are an eclectic, interdisciplinary mixture of graduate students, academics, filmmakers, offilm graduate students, academics, filmmakers, scholars, and cineastes, a demographic thatfilm scholars, andthe cineastes, demographic that also also reflects journal’sareadership. Published reflects readership. Published twice twice athe yearjournal’s by Simon Fraser University, MSJ is a year 2016, is the journal official film studies jourthe since official filmMSJ studies of Kwantlen nal of KwantlenUniversity Polytechnic University inCanada. Vancouver, Polytechnic in Vancouver, Canada. It is included in EBSCO’s Television It is included in EBSCO’s Film Film and and Television Literature LiteratureIndex. Index.
52 Vol.05, No.01 | Spring 2020
Issue 5.1 features articles on 1970s Italian exploitation cinema and"Ozymandias" in the neo-Western crime drama; interviews with filmmakers...
Published on Jul 17, 2020
Issue 5.1 features articles on 1970s Italian exploitation cinema and"Ozymandias" in the neo-Western crime drama; interviews with filmmakers...