Sunday, May 07, 2006

Dreyer, Fulci, Horror & Film Form

There's an interesting article by Michael Grant on Dreyer's Vampyr and Fulci's The Beyond available here.

On Vampyr (taking off from Bordwell):

This is one way of construing the fact that the narrative order of the film in its totality is not to be trusted. The status of what we are seeing has become undecidable, and as a result the temporal progression of the events we see has also become uncertain. The only order of time that we can trust is the time it takes for the film to be seen [...]. The result, in this case, is a tension. Vampyr exists as a movement by means of which whatever is imaged is abolished; and yet whatever is abolished is sustained, since the being of the thing is taken up into the being of the image. The world of the film is peopled by beings who are at once present and yet somehow shadowy, almost inhuman, monstrous. It is a world in which death may be said to have doubled the impulse to life.

Very much like Resnais' Last Year at Marienbad, if you ask me: these are two European art cinema milestones whose narrative veneer can still frustrate those who want to "interpret" these works as though we've seen a window upon events (rather than window upon window
upon window).

The gist seems to be: from the materiality of expression (romanticism --> modernism), the contemplation of 'the Real' (among other things, I suppose, that which pre-exists all material expression and cannot be 'named' by it, only evoked). I am temperamentally lukewarm on Lacan and psychoanalysis: I admit I don't know it because I've only read a small amount. So I won't attempt a Lacanian or Žižekian "reading" here of course.

But I can venture this much: one of the fascinating things about Vampyr is not only its aesthetic circularity (that it fundamentally refers back to itself, its own time, its own materials, rather than the projected fiction [the Symbolic?]), but that in so doing, it can pull apart the object of identification (the protagonist) in a really fascinating way. In this essay, Gilberto Perez suggests (after some deliberation): "One way of putting the difference would be to say that we identify ourselves with the young man in Nosferatu, whereas the young man in Vampyr is identified with us." And to a certain extent this is true, but while Allan Grey in Vampyr does "twin" our own consciousness, as Perez puts it, he himself is fractured into three different pieces two-thirds of the way into the film--sleeping on a bench, prowling around as an investigator, and pinned within a coffin. Dreyer essays a really fascinating conception of subjectivity and identification here--early in the film he shows us the frightening rupture of familiarity (when one of the two sisters, a feverish vampire victim, takes a sudden step towards the maniacal in front of her vigilant, horrified sister); at the later point he takes our protagonist Mr. Grey and just breaks him into protagono-trinity. (And people think Psycho was the first great modernist-narrative attack on audience identification with the subject!)

As for The Beyond, I don't remember it very well, but I do recall it featuring at least one gruesome sharp instrument to the eye, and those are always fun ...


David Lowery said...

It warms my heart to see The Beyond given such consideration; of all the glorious cinematic messes that I've developed an attachment to, that one is at the top of the list. And the restored print on DVD is gorgeous. Incidentally, I was this close to obtaining a relatively new 35mm copy of that print a few years ago. Ah, missed opportunities...

Eric Henderson said...

I really liked The Beyond, but for the love of good trash, stay away from Zombie.