From "the friend zone"…
The idea that women are only into “jerks” or “assholes” and not “nice guys” is one of the most insidious dating myths of the past 50 years. Look at Ryan Gosling. How do you think women reacted when he saved that woman from being hit by a car? Do you think we all simultaneously switched off our vaginas and said, “Omigod, Ryan Gosling is too nice, it’s such a turnoff, let’s stop naming our vibrators after him?” Now look at Vladimir Putin. He may be a “jerk” and an “asshole,” but if there’s one woman on the entire planet who has a vibrator called the Grey Cardinal, I would die of shock.
"If Grave Encounters 1 is like a cup of coffee, Grave Encounters 2 is like that same cup of coffee except someone has taken a dump in it, also you’re dying from Ebola."
My favorite scene in Inglourious Basterds is the La Louisianne tavern scene which involves a Mexican standoff between the Basterds and Gestapo Maj. Hellstrom. The scene, on top of being painstakingly suspenseful, has some of the most artistic and calculated dialogue in the film. It’s less noticeable example of the “story within a story” concept that is common in Tarantino films. (This technique is also evident later in the film at the screening of Nation’s Pride, the film within a film chronicling the exploits of Frederick Zoller.) I like to think of the tavern scene as a “story within a story within a story”. Bear with me.
There are three layers present in which each of the main actors takes on additional “roles”.
The Basterds, posing as German officers, are at a rendezvous with British Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender) and German-actress-turned-British-spy Bridget von Hammersmark (Diane Krueger).
Not only are the actors acting as their characters, but their characters are acting as German officers.After questions about Hicox’s accent arise, Gestapo Maj. Hellstrom sits down at their table under the pretense of having a drink, but really for the chance to closely examine Hicox’s accent. At this point the jig is not yet up, and they all pretend to have a good time. Nevertheless, the tension is evident on their faces: Hellstorm’s hidden suspicion of Hicox’s duplicity, the Basterds’s uncertainty of being made. You can almost feel the fearful carefulness of the characters as they pick out each word, helplessly attempting to get out of the fatal situation.
They begin playing the “Who-Am-I” card game, which is the third and final layer assumed in the scene. Hellstrom attempts to guess the name of a famous person written on the card attached to his forehead. His famous “person” is King Kong, and after narrowing down that he came to America by boat, and upon arrival was displayed in chains, he guesses that he is “the story of the Negro in America.”
Basterds film editor Sally Menke calls this part “a story in and of itself, which cinematically alludes to another oppressed group, the slaves in America.” This is one of several references to the Nazi’s distaste for blacks throughout the movie. In an earlier scene Joseph Goebbels is heard ranting that America’s Olympic gold medals can be measured in “Negro’s sweat”. Both scenes are unapologetically cruel and hardly of vital importance to the script. So what was Tarantino’s intention by including them? Perhaps it was to point out that Jews weren’t the only targets of Nazi Germany’s hatred, a fact that most Hollywood films on similar subjects seem to omit. Or was it to remind Americans that they too have committed their share of oppression?
Despite its serious subject matter, this “story” serves as comic relief from the insurmountable tension rising between the Basterds and Hellstrom. Their conversation continues with forced laughter and flattery, until Hicox is finally made through a slight but significant cultural technicality.
Fassbender, up until this point, has played Hicox (who is in turn playing a German officer) with the superficial rigidness of someone trying to enjoy themselves despite being in serious pain. His lines are interrupted with overindulgent smiles and obnoxious guffawing. Upon being found out, he drops the act and does an instant reversal back to his original character with one of my favorite lines in the film: “Well, if this is it, old boy, I hope you don’t mind if I go out speaking the King’s?”
At this point we can all exhale, as all the characters revert back to their original roles. Their first objective (to maintain cover) is lost, and now they move on to the second, which is figuring out a way to get out of this clusterfuck. Hicox is now back to the smooth-talking Brit that he was initially introduced as. He calmly lights a smoke, pours himself a Scotch, and now, as Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) foreshadowed in the previous scene, they “make bets on how it all goes down.”
In her analysis of the tavern scene, Menke explains the consternation her team faced at pulling off the lengthy and subtitled scene without losing the attention of the audience: “The daunting task of putting a 25-page dialogue sequence, spoken almost entirely in German, in the middle of the film, weighed heavily on everyone’s minds.” The very fact that Basterds, according to Menke, was only 30% in English, is an accomplishment in and of itself. A few years back, when the remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was still in the works, I remember many critics commenting on Americans’ dislike for reading subtitles. This would explain why so many remakes of foreign films are being made despite them being widely available to American audiences (i.e. Let the Right One In). Nevertheless, the audience is rewarded for their patience with the cataclysmic shoot-out that follows.
Lt. Archie Hicox, a well-published film critic before the war, is my favorite and most “literary” character in the film. His lines (although few) are highly polished and some of the most memorable. Earlier in his introductory scene with Mike Myers he paraphrases the Villon poem upon hearing of the plotted destruction of the Nazi’s: “And like the snows of yesteryear, gone from this earth.”
The Purge, Home-Invasion Movies, and Hollywood’s Obsession with White Prep School Serial Killers
The Purge, released in June, was supposed to be based on the concept of a nationwide “purge” where any and all crime is permitted—a 12-hour legal black hole in which all emergency services were suspended and humanity resorted to its Hobbesian version of the state of nature. This was supposedly for the betterment of the economy, and for the citizenry as a whole.
The film began with some light side-commentary about the pros and cons of the purge, heard over the radio in the characters’ cars or on the TVs in their homes. One pundit claimed that the purge was necessary to release Americans’ pent-up anger and frustration, since man is inherently evil and only held back by civilization. Another claimed that the purge is just an excuse to get rid of the “dependents” of society—the poor, the homeless, those on welfare—essentially, those who can’t afford an intricate security system for their home. So far, the film had provided a light exploration of the concept behind the purge—and then it forgot all about it.
Rather than exploring the concept, it isolated it to the home of the Sandins, a well-to-do suburban family with a top-notch security system. By doing this, the filmmakers also restricted the scope and potential of the film (and of the central idea behind The Purge) and wedged into one of the narrowest subgenres in horror cinema—the home-invasion movie. (Some notable titles include Straw Dogs, Panic Room, When a Stranger Calls, The Strangers and Funny Games.)
The rest of the film manages to be scary not in its exploration of the concept of a nationwide purge, but in idea that makes any home-invasion movie scary: that senseless arbitrary violence can happen to innocent ordinary people, often for no other reason than the oppressor’s desire. One less noticeable trend that the filmmakers chose to adamantly follow is the use of charismatic white teenagers as the killers. This trend goes all the way back to A Clockwork Orange, but recurs in several more recent titles.
In Funny Games (the 2007 remake of the 1997 Austrian original) Tim Roth, Naomi Watts and their son are terrorized by Michael Pitt and Bradley Corbret, neither of whom would look out-of-place on Dawson’s Creek. The two killers are well-dressed in spotless whites, charismatic, and (at least until they start killing off the family) ostentatiously polite. The killers give no hint of a motive or purpose to their killings.
Is it just me or does Brady Corbet (left) look a little too much like the group leader in the The Purge?
In The Strangers (2008), Liv Tyler and Scott Speedsman retreat to the good old cabin in the woods, only to be terrorized by a crew of masked sociopaths, this time led by a hot blonde (Gemma Ward). Notice also how the casting of the husband and wife is often safe and interchangeable actors, while the actors chosen for the killers look more like teen heartthrobs and models. Once again, the killers give no motive for their acts, other than the coincidence that the victims happen to be home.
Really? You cast a supermodel and put her in a mask? Really….?
Then in the The Purge, Ethan Hawke and Lana Heady, (who could just as well have been any of the pairs above; it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference) are terrorized by a gang of very collegiate looking boys and girls led by Rhys Wakefield, who wears a prep school uniform. The leader, as required, is calm, polite, and eloquent in his speech. What’s different about The Purge is that they take the time to emphasize the killers’ high social statuses, claiming that like the Sandins, the killers are also “haves”, as opposed to “have-nots”.
This guy is literally credited as “Polite Stranger”.
Thus, a natural formula for the creation of your own home-invasion movie would be:
- Affluent setting – either in a suburban home or scenic lake house
- Middle class white couple – children optional
- Polite and charismatic teenage serial killers – masks optional
- Killers have no apparent motive other than desire
Now I understand one response to this might be: “African Americans, Hispanics, and other people of color have been portrayed as villains in the vast majority of film and television but now that it’s white hipsters that are being turned into killers on screen you have a problem?”
No, that’s not it at all. What I’m trying to examine is the particular types of crime depicted in films like Funny Games, The Strangers, and The Purge, and it’s relation to such crime committed by the same demographic in the real world.
It is no secret that the majority of school shooters have been white males, many from middle class backgrounds, and many of them college students. Their actions, choices, and mental condition have been the debate and focus of most major media outlets throughout the country. Furthermore, their notoriety and popularity has been further enhanced by some very bizarre and disturbing fandoms online, particularly for James Holmes, with fans calling themselves “Holmies”.
I’m not proposing a link between viewing horror films and school shootings, but I can’t help but feel that the character depictions in the above movies glamorize the stereotypes associated with real-life school shooters. This is why when I left the theatre after viewing The Purge, I had a feeling that while the film was effective and entertaining, it was not necessary—as in, there is no reason for why it should have been made. Films like The Purge do a lot more harm than good by glamorizing and indoctrinating the charismatic white serial killer stereotype into a TV trope.
Before he starred in A Clockwork Orange, Malcolm McDowell was in a mostly forgotten British film titled If…. (no relation to the Kipling poem) about a crew of hooligans at a British boarding school. The film depicts a full-on school shooting amidst a student uprising. While the film deals more with the themes of counterculture and adolescent rebellion than it does with murder in and of itself, I feel like if it were made today, the focus would instead be on the mental insanity and bloodlust of Mick Travis and his crew. I wonder what response a film like this would get if released today.
I like to think of this as Malcolm McDowell’s audition for A Clockwork Orange.
What do a 13th century Swedish folk ballad and a 2009 rape-and-revenge horror film have in common?
1. The Virgin Spring (1960), Ingmar Bergman. The film that started it all. The Virgin Spring won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film, but what it’s infamous for is paving the way for the rape-and-revenge sub-genre in exploitation and horror cinema.
The film is based on a Medieval Swedish folk ballad titled ”Töres döttrar i Wänge” (“Töre’s daughters in Vänge”), about the three daughters of Pehr Tyrsson, who are raped and murdered by a group of vagabonds on their way to church.
"You either be highwaymen’s wives,Or would you lose your young lives?”
The highwaymen go along their way and coincidentally come upon the the girls’ father’s home, where the father, Pehr Trysson discovers their secret and kills them, avenging his daughters’ murders. Tyrsson (played by Max Von Sydow) then goes off to fight a tree (literally) and the film ends.
"There are three highwaymen in our yard,Who have our daughters slain.”Pehr Tyrsson grasped his sword,He slew the eldest two,The third he left alive
In the ballad, however, the story continuous into a somewhat Oedipal (plot-wise, not psychology-wise).tragedy. The father leaves one man alive to interrogate him. The man reveals that he and his brothers (the rest of his crew that just got killed) were banished from the household of the very same Pehr Tyrsson in their youth. So, to reiterate, the highwaymen had raped and murdered their own sisters, and were subsequently killed by their own father as retribution.
2. Last House on the Left (1972), Wes Craven. This is the horror version/adaption of Bergman’s The Virgin Spring. Even by today’s standards I’d say this film is still pretty brutal, if you can accept that it’s films like this one and its contemporaries that created the now cliche cabin-in-the-woods scenario, and not judge it for its time period. Very similar to I Spit on Your Grave, but differs in that the “revenge” is executed by the victim’s parents rather than the victim herself.
I Spit on Your Grave also got an update in 2010, in the span of years that seemed like a temporary comeback to 70’s and 80’s horror flicks, along with Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009), and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010).
3. Last House on the Left (2009), Dennis Iliadis, produced by Wes Craven. This is the remake of the 1972 horror-remake of Bergman’s adaptation of “Töres döttrar i Wänge”. This one loses steam pretty quickly, and has one of the most exhausting and inconclusive fight scenes since Sean Penn’s Bad Boys, only instead of one-on-one combat it literally involves the entire cast of the film but two. It’s even harder to watch as it features Aaron Paul playing the only character he knows how (Jesse Pinkman) and the annoying girl from Superbad (the one that gets punched in the boob) being even more annoying. As far as remakes go, the 2010 remake of I Spit on Your Grave is much better if only for it’s homicidal creativity.
For some reason I’ve always been fascinated with such examples of intertextuality and adaptation in film, especially in this case, when the adaptation involves multiple transitions:
- Nationality - Swedish to American
- Genre - art-house/foreign to horror
- Reputation - from the “high art” of Bergman’s art house cinema to the “low art” of Craven’s horror/slasher genre
"Subway Train" Gottfried Benn
Lascivious shivers. Early bloom. As if
From war furred skins it wafted from the woods.
A red swarms up. The great strong blood ascends.
Through all of Spring the alien woman walks.
The stocking, stretched, is there. But where it ends
is far from me. I sob upon the threshold:
sultry luxuriance, alien moistures teeming.
O how her mouth squanders the sultry air!
You brain of roses, sea-blood, goddess-twilight,
you bed of earth, how coolly from your hips
your stride flows out, the glide that is in your walking.
Dark: underneath her garments now it lives:
White animal only, loosed, and silent scent.
A wretched braindog, laden down with God.
My forehead wearies me. O that a frame
of clustered blooms would gently take its place,
to swell in unison and stream and shudder.
So lax, adrift. So tired. I long to wander.
The ways all bloodless. Songs that blow from gardens.
Shadows and Flood. Far joys: a languid dying
down into ocean’s deep redeeming blue.
From Supervert’s Gottried Benn Electronic Library
"Darkling Aspiration", Stephen Ellis
So that words can be
on the page: Art is
a form in which
ideals can be worked
with what is, so that
the result can
mirror itself back
on this world, that
we might have some
new idea about
who we might get
to be. It all starts
with intent: There is
that can prevail upon
troubling to make
a world in which
a “person” might
arrive, full blown
like all babies,
exactly the size they
are. Freud said
art is all about
the cunt, its ready
tightness, the pressure
upon one’s own
actualizing intent, yeah,
feels good, doesn’t it?
That’s what sex
and touch are for: They’re
Without them, the internal
human weather clock
stops us dead in our
tracks: We need drift
parsed. Hear the music
yet? The heartbeat
of one’s intent lingers
in the aftermath of being
decisive, finally, about
Never say, “I don’t
want to talk about it.”
Always ask, “What’s
for dinner?” And get on
about it: Make yourself come
true. The truth is,
if you’re not putting these
abstract things to bed
in some form of art,
where their dreaming sleep
can be potent, then
you’re letting them leak
through an unrepaired
crack you don’t even
know about (because it’s
real), where, like all
undecided things, they
begin to fall apart
and out of the flimsy
enclosures we suppose
for them, and change
from the rich earth of
raw possibility into
a formless substance
that is so toxic, that it
paralyses everything it
touches: When your
concept of a thing is
bigger than the thing,
you’re definitely in the dark.