Saturday, November 03, 2012

25 Horror Films: #8 and #7 (a double feature)


Blood of the Beasts (Georges Franju, 1949)

The image of a muscular, white horse instantly falling to the ground, its legs folding under it after it's been shot by a bolt pistol, will never leave me.

Many of the images in Blood of the Beasts are similarly striking and bizarre
, such as the legless and headless bodies of calves flailing around in some kind of post-mortem dance.

Here's what Amos Vogel wrote about the film in his essential Film as a Subversive Art (1974/2005):

"This documentary on the slaughterhouses of Paris is one of the great masterpieces of the subversive cinema; here, for once, we are face to face with death, and are neither protected nor cheated. Unlike Hollywood films, when the butcher raises the hammer to stun the horse there is no 'cutting away'; the camera, objectively and cruelly, stays with the event, making us its shocked accomplices. As these 'killers without hate', knee-deep in blood and surrounded by steaming excreta and vomit, murder animals in cold indifference before the camerathe number of animals dying but a fraction of a day's output of slaughterhouses everywherewe learn to see, and then perhaps to feel what we have not felt before. Violence here is neither fictional nor titillating; it is massive and real. [...] Forcing us to view another being's painful and sordid death in all its detailed enormity, [The Blood of the Beasts] subverts out habitual state of consciousness and opens us to greater insight. Franju, committed artist, resistance fighter, moralist, wants us to consider all slaughter anywhere committed on our behalf by those we hire to do our dirty work, so that we can sit down at clean tablecloths and deny complicity."

The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage, 1971)

From Wikipedia: "The key image of The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes is quite likely the bluntest statement on the human condition ever filmed. In the course of an autopsy, the skin around the scalp is slit with a scalpel, and in preparation for exposing and examining the brain, the face of each cadaver is literally peeled off, like a mask, revealing the raw meat beneath. That image, once seen, will never leave you."

For me that is not the key image, though it is certainly one that will never leave me. The key image of The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes is that of a detached, faceless and hollowed head of a man being scraped out as though it were a pumpkin. 

Why a double feature?

Because man becomes meat, and meat becomes man.

* * *

Once again, Amos Vogel:

The Act of Seeing with One's Own Eyes] is an appalling, haunting work of great purity and truth. It dispassionately records whatever transpires in front of the lens: bodies sliced length-wise, organs removed, skulls and scalp cut open with electric tools, blood drawn; a fly that walks on the sole of a foot, undisturbed. [...] Life and death are inextricable here, as doctors and orderlies (never clearly seen) mingle with and manipulate the inert flesh, dead and live hands often touching in strong close-ups. [...] A great desire 'to see clearly' informs the workthe film's title derives from the Greek meaning of the term autopsya refusal to sentimentalize or to avert one's glance; yet the 'objective' filmmaker continuously breaks through to compassion and horrified wonder in his selection of shots, angles, and filmic continuity.

"With almost the entire film photographed in close-up or medium shot and utter silence, form and content are for once perfectly blended to create a subversive work that changes our consciousness.

"This final demystification of manan unforgettable reminder of our physicality, fragility, mortalityrobs us of metaphysics only to reintroduce it on another level; for the more physical we are seen to be, the more marvellous becomes the mystery."

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