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Archive for October, 2011

Although I’ve never been a fan of Stephen King, he hit the nail on the head in his book on the history of the horror genre, Danse Macabre, when he discerned that there are three phases of horror, from the crudest to the most abstract, all existing in the realm of darkness but differing in their forms of expression, as the phases of the moon.

The lowest is, of course, the gross-out.  It focuses mainly on the body and the violation of it.  It ranges from the earliest splatter films of Herschell Gordon Lewis, abhorrent in the formica clean early 1960s, with their bright red fake blood and mutilated organs (Blood Feast, Two Thousand Maniacs, and their ilk), to the bloody giallos and grindhouse gore/exploitation films of the 1970s (Twitch of the Death Nerve, Black Belly of the Tarantula, Torso, Deep Red, Suspiria, I Drink Your Blood, Last House on the Left, Last House on Dead End Street, I Dismember Mama, Three on a Meathook, Axe, I Spit On Your Grave, Bloodsucking Freaks, Cannibal Holocaust,  Maniac, Zombie, City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, etc.) and through the less bleak and more comedic ’80s/’90s brood (The Evil Dead, Night of the Creeps, Re-Animator, Return of the Living Dead, Bad Taste, Demons, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Dead-Alive, etc.) finally reaching a rock-bottom cesspool of excess in the abandon all hope ye who enter here torture porn of the empty aughts.

The middle range of horror is, of course, horror.  It also remains more on the material and physical side yet also ventures into the psychological terrain in depicting the divide between victims and those who inflict suffering.  Horror, in its most classic sense, begins with the monster movies of the 1920s/1930s (those pulp re-imaginings of European horror novels, such as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Phantom of the Opera, Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man) as they project the fears of the populace into foreign and enemy creatures who are, need it be said, creatures of the night.  They are the shadow side of humanity (the vampire who is a soul dead but given ever new life by draining the blood of its victims who then contract its disease and become vampires themselves, the gargantuan homunculus garbled together from the body parts of criminals and maniacs as a scientist tries to play God and create a new organism, the outsider or stranger who is so under the influence of the moon that he transforms into a werewolf.)  Other ’30s films moved closer to reality in their sense of horror, their sense that something or someone in this environment was not right, it was strange and isolated (White Zombie, The Old Dark House, The Black Cat).  This realism reached a new level in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.  The normal rules no longer applied.  The horror was no longer merely alien.  It was hidden in plain sight.  The murderer’s point-of-view was seen for the first time and it was a horrific perspective.  The main character was killed onscreen and the murderer’s psychosexual neuroses were exposed.  Mario Bava then took this new found realism and inverted it.  As labyrinthine as the ancient Italian culture of catacombs and cathedrals, rituals and reliquaries, his baroque and otherworldly spaces explored these supernatural and yet still entirely visceral themes in a visually evocative and aesthetically beautiful way which was entrancing and had never been done before (Black Sunday, Black Sabbath, Blood and Black Lace).  On a lower budget and Americanized were Roger Corman’s Poe adaptations which, although using the same sets and costumes from film to film, were also sumptuous and textured in comparison with other films of the ’60s, and they elevated Vincent Price from a B-movie horror ham to levels of cool intelligence and diabolical elegance (The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Masque of the Red Death, Tomb of Ligeia).  The supernatural continued to hold its primal pull upon the genre yet now ventured into regions more bloodstained and brutal than its past (Rosemary’s Baby, All the Colors of the Dark, The ExorcistDon’t Look NowThe OmenThe Shining). Horror would reach its apotheosis in two epochal films that mirrored the convulsive trauma of the times and two pivotal and defining years, 1968 & 1974 (Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  Both addressed the “beast within” archetype present since horror cinema’s beginnings (in the trope of the zombie and the cannibalistic family) yet also moved further beyond simple generalizations into a disturbing involution of social order and values.  They were capturing the disorder of the era more succinctly and fluidly than any other films.  How could there be a semblance of order anymore when atrocities continued to be committed in the war in Vietnam, poverty was still rampant, the violence against the Civil Rights movement showed America’s own hypocrisy, bigotry, and hatred, the assassinations of revolutionary leaders like Martin Luther King disillusioned generations and led to deeper despair, and the dependence on oil was a shackle which was fragmenting communities?  Horror had its coming-of-age. Unfortunately, it then descended into self-parody in the slasher film and related subgenres (although certain underrated gems such as Silent Night, Bloody Night and Black Christmas were still primarily psychological in their narratives of murder and the mind which commits it.)

The highest level of horror, that which is most abstract and lies deep within the mind’s eye, the stuff of mysterious dreams and haunting nightmares, is terror.  Terror is so much more than simply the presence of ghosts or the stalking of an assailant.  It is an awareness of a cosmic void which is engulfing and frightening in its depth of the unknown.  It is the greatest of fears–death–yet is not simply the putrefaction, decay, or violation of the body nor the suffering of the body.  It is the sense that what we felt we knew about our universe, our world, ourselves was an illusion.  Some would say this is liberation, this is not the stuff of horror.  But no–true terror is long lasting and goes beyond momentary dread.  Yes, this creeping dread of a moment in which we are lost, disconnected, disembodied, is the first experience of terror.  Terror spreads outwards and inwards from this spasm and shapelessness, this spiraling out of control.  Hence why terror can only be conveyed in the briefest of moments in cinema (a sick and dying girl whose illness masks a far worse condition of madness seen in the contours of her devilish smile and a man trapped and witnessing his own funeral from the coffin’s point-of-view in Vampyr or a lonely woman losing touch with reality and doubting her sanity in Carnival of Souls).  Terror is too ephemeral to ever be truly grasped in a horror movie.  Terror hits much closer to home and hearth, therefore terror is the skeletons in our family closet, in our own shadow selves we hide from others, in our own nightmares.

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SIGH.  They simply don’t make ’em like they used to….

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Perhaps the most personal album ever made. Restless, twentysomething Van Morrison alone with his innermost pain and bliss as he takes a walk down memory lane and struggles through the crisis of lost love and mortality. Aching, soulful and soul-searching vocals, poetic and impressionistic lyrics filled with vivid mystical imagery, romantic guitar, one of the most intuitive jazz rhythm sections, misty vibraphone and celestial string section–all of this ecstatic experience recorded over the course of only two days (two magical autumn evenings of spiritual inspiration.) This song was the climax of the sessions and was mysteriously referenced in the liner notes. It is the devotional crux of the song cycle. The ideal woman who is glimpsed as muse and then fades away. Listen closely to the section of the song in which he sings the line “Well, it’s getting late….” and the strings surround the darkness closing in like falling leaves drifting in the wind down empty streets and feel yourself shiver.

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Spiritualized were once described as the sound of angels jamming at God’s birthday party. Here’s what that sounds like–one of the greatest live gigs of all time back when they were the best band in the world.

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We must rebuild our society and our culture as one that is based much less on consumption and much more on production.

We must rebuild the spirit of community.

This starts at the smallest, yet most immediate, level–one’s own neighborhood.

Our immigrant ancestors came to America to found new communities–ones free from the rigid hierarchical socioeconomic structures which stalled their progress in the Old World.  The reason they saw America as a New World is because it reminded them of the small villages of their childhood in which even the most simple center, the home, was a cooperative building of community.  When friends, family, and neighbors constructed the framework of a house, it was so much more than a top-down manufacturing sold to the buyer in a complicated seller-lender-bank maze.  It was a sense of union and a vision of progress.  We take for granted this most important aspect of our daily lives–a home as shelter from the elements and a neighborhood where one is not merely a faceless stranger but a member of an extended family.

Yet such was not the reality in the Old World where one labored an entire lifetime without ever experiencing such a true sense of community.  The lord’s manor was the house set high on the hill, while the peasants toiled in the fields.  In the Books of Hours, there is never sight of such a hill, except in the distant background, in the foreground the constant turning of the wheel is present in the plow and reflected in the sickle.  The agricultural cycle has been celebrated since time immemorial.  The earth generously gives forth its bounty and the passage of the four seasons bound citizens together and to the land.  However, these peasants were never truly united with this land they endlessly labored over.  Feudalistic society, as the word suggests, divided the populace from the fruits of their labor and from one another.

The modern-day landlord and corporation, and the tenets of capital in the business markets of Wall Street, which have continued to cause such deep divisions between us as a society, this hierarchical concept of land, labor, and citizenry, shares the same inhumane vantage point as the ancient age of the pyramids and the polis.  The slavery which built the tombs of the pharaohs was still present in the democratic-republican ideals of Greco-Roman antiquity.  In the midst of the Renaissance and Enlightenment, bankers and landowner, royalty and aristocracy, kept glutting themselves with palaces and colonies, more grotesque versions of the medieval lord’s manor, while the people continued to barely scrape by.  Slavery to King Cotton was in plain sight in America.  They were not even treated as citizens, much less as human beings.  They were often treated worse than animals.  It was still present in the rise of modern cities during the Industrial Revolution as the factories and mills replaced the fields and orchards.

Some of the citizens had had enough.  They formed unions.  They scratched beneath the surface and dug up the value of labor.  The unions were bloodied and trampled underfoot by the corporations.  The society our ancestors hoped to create in America was a sham.  The fellow citizens meant to represent them in the government were merely vassals to the true lords of society—the kings of Big Oil and Wall Street.  Citizens even divided themselves from one another.  They berated each other’s’ culture and separated themselves as far apart as possible from one another.  The neighborhood, the village, the community that our ancestors struggled for no longer existed.  Even our most recent forebears, who were slaves to two horrendous world wars and many other horrible conflicts, who toiled to create the automobile, the highway, the skyscrapers in which big businesses hold their modern manors, were forgotten.  The projects they had achieved during the Great Depression were no longer conceivable.  The infrastructure they helped to create could no longer be produced.  The unions continued to be dismantled, the corporations continued to metastasize.  The cities fell further and further into disarray.  The small shops were gone.  The factories were vacant.  The streets continued to crumble.  The children could barely read.  The words of Martin Luther King, the spark that filled our ancestors’ souls, that America was a place for all cultures and creeds, all races and religions, a true community, were forgotten.  Segregation continued to exist.  It existed the same way it did in other countries.  In the end, the culture wars in America and abroad were, and continue to be, a pathetic and debased sideshow.  The true war is economic.  It always has been and always will be.

We must transform these swords of consumption, which continue to bleed us as a nation, depriving of us health care and infrastructure, of community and the rejuvenation of our neighborhoods, of our poor immigrant class of laborers, of the innumerable faceless slaves in every corner of the globe, into the plowshares of production.

Our financial resources must be drastically and radically re-positioned.  New laws which impose tighter and stricter regulations on the markets and corporations must be made in order to prevent ongoing corruption and speculation, price gouging and false gauging.  Our communities must be preserved and rejuvenated by keeping people in their homes and reinvesting in neighborhood renewal.  The cities and towns must be brought closer together through improved public transportation and a focus on small businesses.  The working class of America cannot be the working poor.  There must be adequate wages and there must be housing at adequate prices.  We can heal these divisions between us by rebuilding our inner cities and constructing more affordable public housing in every state.  This will implement so many new jobs and the economy can be stimulated by this initiative.

With stable wages and stable housing prices, we can reinvest in two fundamentally important prerogatives for America:  universal health care and universal education.  We can no longer tolerate the selfishness and fragmentation of our society.  Businesses will be rewarded and encouraged by investing in these initiatives and investing in another pivotal initiative—a new green energy economy.  We can return to being a community of production rather than slaves of consumption.  The green energy technology we create in every state can be a bulwark against the eroding forces of disintegration plaguing our planet and a uniting factor in the international community.  Credits will be given to companies that stop exploiting foreign labor, stop shipping jobs overseas, and start building right here.

Of course, there is the talk of cuts.  Since the first societies, the coffer never has a constant plenitude.  It always reaches a state of emptiness, a state of debt.  This is because the driving force of the economy is always in the wrong direction.  The pharaoh, the empire builder, the lord, the royalty, is forever facing the same brick wall.  Needless and unjust wars, labyrinths of departments which serve yet actually end up undermining the government, and a misallocation of finance, of capital, is always followed by the same result—gross overexpansion, barren contraction, stagnant distortion, and gaping inequality.

Stop the wars.  Bring the troops back home.  Close the overseas bases.  Dismantle the military-industrial complex.  Dispense with the expensive Pentagon and its related departments.  Reduce to the bare essentials of basic intelligence operations.  Dismantle the costly weapons manufacturing.  Dismantle the nuclear arms arsenal and restart the disarmament of the international community.  A law must be amended which returns the military to its original function, as a reserve.  Stop the exorbitant campaign funding.  Make it writ by the letter of the law that the representative of the citizens is, in fact, a citizen, and they can no longer be allowed to accept donations from corporations or other lobbyists or use televised commercials.  Debates are still allowed as they occur in a public forum.  The representative of the people will have to campaign on the ground in the community of the people.   A law will be enacted which no longer supports the reduction or clearance of debt when a big bank or big business fails yet perpetuates the indebtedness of working families trying to preserve their home or students trying to enter the workforce.  If the big bank or big business gives clear and detailed evidence that is contributing to the community, it will be given aid.  If not, it will be allowed to fail.  The working family and the student are contributing to the community (the public school and the college or university centralize a community and encourage the growth of small businesses which feed back into the community.)  The forgiveness of loan debt should be instated if the family or individual has shown rightful merit.

Wall Street, you are no shining city on the hill.  You are like those lords of old who built a manor to shield yourselves from the divisions caused by consumption and to continue to control the methods and manner of said consumption so that the profit and capital always return to their owner—you.  Land is no longer the structure by which you enslave your brothers and sisters.  It is credit.  If you do not recognize the error of your ways, you will soon be in the streets with an empty house.

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On the First Day of October

On the first day of October

You were born

Lucky as the clover

Raising brown dead leaves

To your forehead

In strawberry blonde benediction

Thrusting twigs

In woody diction

No words yet formed

On your lips

Tears raindrops gurgling

Laughter bright blossoms

Clearing out the gutters

Spoke more truly than their mutters

Our fidgety and fumbled glances

Turning over every rock

Finding only dirt

While you knelt within the pumpkin

Astride the pine cone’s burr

Oh!  How we yearned!

The smell of burning leaves

Every autumn returned

Photographs fished out

Tracing the course of your smiles

No map, no such adult wiles

Inside the infant search

Clean and white as the birch

Newly leafing midst the rock

Aye, where are the roots?

 

On the first day of October

Or maybe it was the tenth

Day of the tenth month

Once the eighth

No, it was the seventh of November

Grandmother crumbled away

You clutched at your guts

Dragging fingernails

Down the window frame

Phone dropping to the floor

Shame

Imagining the day

In golden autumn haze

Beside grandfather’s grave

Unknown, only heard of his rage

Ushering grandma out of her cage

Shadows cast past the hedge

Potted plants upon the window ledge

The blood bubbling in her veins

No longer danced, now it raged

And she died alone in that cage

How could we have forgotten her?

How could we have forgotten them?

Shame

 

On the first day of October

You almost lost yourself

You almost lost these words

Collecting dust on the shelf

You decided today was the day

To visit your oldest relative

The one you had never met

Whose ancestors, your ancestors, built this city

This city you have tried to forget

Were you ever meant to leave?

Will you still one day go?

Hush

Hear the creaking door

In this autumnal breeze

Close this computer

Turn off that television

Leave those bars

Those restless, raging cars

Walk to that old house

At the end of the street

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