“New Who” has made quite a big deal out of its companion character arcs, quite blatantly asking us to emotionally invest in characters such as Rose, Donna and Amy and then to weep incessantly at their exit. I make no apology for admitting that, despite the lengthy emotional drama that surrounded the departure of each of them, I neither wept heartily or felt so much as a lump in my throat at Rose getting trapped in an alternate dimension, Donna losing her memory or Amy and Rory’s exile into the past. I love New Who but am still a little frustrated by its insistence on driving the point home to its viewers sometimes.
Watching Jo Grant’s departure at the end of The Green Death made me realise that not only was this how it ought to be done, but Jo’s subtle relationship with Jon Pertwee’s Doctor was exactly how I, personally, wanted to see a Doctor/Companion relationship. I’m not talking about this in terms of ideological representation of course, Jo is very much a product of 70s family viewing, a woman who can come out of the kitchen so long as she’s sure not to step in and threaten masculine dominance, and as such she can be a stereotypical dumb blonde at times, silly, air-headed, clumsy and annoying. So much so that during her first adventure Terror of the Autons, after the wonderfully liberating Liz Shaw I found her an affront to good taste and a step backwards for the show. Notably during their introductory scene the Doctor feels somewhat the same way, that she was gifted a position at UNIT and not remotely up to the task of being his companion. And yet she’s managed to work her way into the hearts of the Doctor and of fans of the show, and just three seasons later I found her departure to marry and travel the world with Cliff Jones to to be deeply moving.
Jon Pertwee and Katy Manning had undeniable chemistry together but it’s not until their second season when arguably the actual adventures started to get a little weaker that the depth of friendship between the two really started to emerge on-screen. And it’s this chemistry (alongside the clear joy fun they showed working alongside Roger Delgado’s Master) that raises up those perhaps mediocre adventures and makes this a truly great era for the show regardless of occasional scripting issues. There were many times watching these adventures when the closing theme would roll and I’d think to myself how much I’d enjoyed a little scene, a little moment shared between the two; small moments of characterisation that for all its breakneck pyrotechnics the newer show is unable to indulge itself in unless it’s in the service of driving the week’s story ceaselessly onwards. To name a few that stood out, mostly from adventures that are otherwise ill-favoured:
- Just before the end credits close in Curse of Peladon episode 4 the two have a brief exchange about seeing a coronation and the Doctor says “you know I haven’t seen a coronation since Elizabeth I’s .. or was it Queen Victoria” Jo looks at the Doctor and laughs freely “namedropper”. It’s significant because it’s not so much a joke as an intimate moment shared between the two. a minute later The Doctor tenderly strokes her face and says “I wouldn’t like to lose you” when the possibility of Jo’s staying on Peladon with the King arises.
- Jo looks distraught in the Sea Devils (I forget which episode!) as the Doctor steals a plate of sandwiches from her saying she doesn’t have time to eat them, promptly eats one, offers them around to everyone else and then hands an empty plate back to her much to her dismay. (continuing a running gag started in Day of the Daleks on a similar food theft theme)
- The well known Daisiest Daisy scene in episode 6 of The Time Monster, a ridiculously twee monologue from Pertwee which works so well because of the intimacy of the moment between the two. The Doctor apologises, saying “I’m sorry I brought you to Atlantis” and she replies determinedly “I’m not”.
- Finally, my favourite is a monologue delivered by Manning in Frontier in Space episode 4. The two are planning an escape but watched over security cam by The Master and so talk endlessly in an attempt to distract him. Jo ends up rambling for what feels like 5 minutes of screentime as the Doctor slopes off in a scene that pulls you in comedically and emotionally as Jo reminisces, talks about life at UNIT (and being considered tea-lady!) and complains about the Doctor’s attitude, even suggesting that he be nicer to The Master!
The points I’m making here are twofold. Firstly, that the classic show, Doctor Who, never once tells us that we’re supposed to care immensely about the relationship that is forming between the Doctor and Jo, it simply allows us to observe as a bond forms between them as they have adventures together and we, the viewers, share those adventures. And secondly that the way it doeshighlight the Doctor/Companion relationship is through moments that are not obsessively driving the story or plot-arc forward. Part of this is necessity of course, the 25 min episode serialised format of the show in 1972 is very different from the 45 min adventure of 2005-13 and in the former even the tightest stories have time and dead space to fill up, whereas the latter frequently struggles to get everything in. But that’s, I suppose, Serendipity…
Which brings me to the excellence of The Green Death, an undoubted highlight of the Pertwee era which provides a more than fitting closure to the duo’s onscreen relationship. The events of this serial had already cleverly been foreshadowed in Planet of the Daleks, as Thal Latep asks Jo to stay with him on Skaro. Jo sadly declines realising that she’s not cut out for a life away from Earth. The Doctor looks relieved and asks her where she wants to go and she replies “back home to Earth” The Doctor is a little confused by this, since he can’t so much as imagine her not wanting to travel time and space, but willingly obliges.
The Green Death opens with the Doctor excited about a trip he wants to make with Jo to Metebelis Three. Jo has other ideas since she’s interested in issues of pollution and corporate corruption on Earth. She defies the Doctor’s excitement and the Brigadier’s orders to go to Wales and help protest. This time the Doctor is less understanding and insists on going to Metebelis Three anyway, suggesting that it’s her loss. Episode One then sees the Doctor and Jo split and we’re actually offered a little side-plot with the Doctor journeying to Metabelis Three and having an adventure that only loosely has bearing on the Green Death plot (he picks up a crystal that turns out to be useful for resisting mind-control). What’s notable about it is that it’s both amusing, frightening and a little emotionally heartbreaking. The Doctor wanders around Metebelis Three seemingly a little lost with Jo, encountering huge scary monsters in a wild, unforgiving landscape. We frequently see shots of a monster followed by a horrified or scared face from Pertwee. The ferocity of Metebelis Three is clearly meant to represent and foreshadow the pain and loss The Doctor feels and will come to feel without Jo by his side.
That’s from episode one and the rest of The Green Death story contains no overt emotion or hand-wringing, although what’s coming is obvious if you know to look for it. Jo’s increasingly close relationship with Cliff Jones is nicely developed and similarly sees the biologist at first infuriated by her clumsy airheaded demeanour, but later enchanted by her sweet, good humoured and optimistic nature. However, it’s not essentially that different to the story of any other companion falling in love and choosing to leave the Doctor except through the way it is handled at the close of episode 6
Again, the show takes time out – but not an extraordinary amount – to allow for a quiet conversation between the two companions. There’s no flash, no forced partings, no histrionic orchestra, just a farewell conversation that is tinged with sadness and regret and which in my view is far deeper than the tear-fuelled scenes we see in the more show’s more modern incarnation.
Jo asks “You don’t mind do you?”
“Mind? Might even be able to turn you into a scientist
“Don’t go too far away will you? And if you do, come back and see us sometimes…”
…and Jo’s words could melt the iciest heart.
In conclusion The Doctor decides he should give Jo a wedding present, which turns out to be the Sapphire that he got from Metebelis Three, a fitting gift since it represents his separation from her and perhaps some of the sadness that he’ll feel from having to travel without her by his side.
They hug, Jo is pulled away and Pertwee’s Doctor doesn’t offer another word, slipping quietly out the door whilst the Brigadier toasts the happy couple. Jo turns round to see him gone, a look of sadness on her face, a long shot sees the Doctor walk up to bessie whilst music plays in the background, he gets in the car, pauses, listens and almost sheds a tear before driving off … into a sunset that now looks remarkably like the landscape of Metebelis Three.
What happened to writing as a political act?
I almost got embroiled in a lengthy facebook conversation a few weeks ago because I suggested that the act of writing should be political. The reply I received, of course, was that some people like to write for fun and there’s nothing wrong with that. Rather than launch into one of my usual tirades that generally lead to unceremonious facebook de-friendings I decided to sit on that thought for a few weeks; and a few weeks later I realised that I simply disagreed even more. Because whatever way you spin it, writing is a political act. And frustratingly authors and readers are in constant denial about the political content of their writing.
The recent self-publishing phenomenon has in many respects been one of the worst things to happen to my reading in a long time. It may be a great publishing model (I’m sure that I’ll be driven to self-publish something in my lifetime) but it has become a marketing and quality control nightmare, a constant cause of frustration and a huge reason for me to disengage with current releases. And frustrating because so many people want to engage with it for the very reasons that drive me away, they feel like they’re “sticking it to the publishing-man or something. As a fan/user of the popular reading site Goodreads and as a heavy Kindle user, one cannot avoid being bombarded every day by half-baked advertisements and half-baked literary content from a new author every day who advertises themselves as the next big thing in fantasy literature, or vampire fiction. Or romance. Or erotica. For myself I’m so staggeringly uncompelled to click, follow through or buy any of these (Kindle daily deal needs to die a death) that it just makes me loathe their very existence. Because Twilight is bad enough. 50 Shades of Grey is bad enough. The Hunger Games is … probably bad enough. I certainly don’t want to know about “The Lives and Loves of a Virgin Vampire Academy Princess” or “Fields of Thorns and Gods and Magic: The Drearily Pointless Overlong Saga of Magic Magic Magic and Dragons Part 5”. They’re not going to knock my socks off, I don’t need to read them to know I can barely get through the work of famed authors like Michael Moorcock for their derivative laziness, so “Hot Shades of Vampire Sex! Sex! Sex! vs Werewolves pt 9 for Young Adults” is clearly not going to work for me.
But it feels sometimes like that’s what the publishing – or self-publishing – industry has become. And of course someone is going to argue that popular literature is great and if people like to read it and people like to write then that’s great and we should embrace it and stick it to the man. And I do hate the-publishing industry as it stood pre-Kindle. And it is great.
Only, it kinda isn’t.
It isn’t because all of this writing is political and people are pretending that it’s not. Which means that an overwhelming ideology of not-caring about politics or society or life has flooded the book market. Readers are becoming lazy, writers are becoming lazier and reading and writing fiction has come to embody everything that I believed the act of reading not-to-be when I first opened Charlotte Brontes Jane Eyre as an older teenager. Because reading Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, Charles Dickens and so on during my informative years, there’s one thing I couldn’t fail to notice and that was that reading is a political act. Reading JRR Tolkien or Stephen Donaldson and George Martin, Gene Wolfe or Robin Hobb as a fantasy aficionado there’s one thing I can’t fail to notice and that’s reading these books is a political acts. By that I mean that as both a form of literature and as entertainment the people who have sat down and written these books have an ethos, a world-view, an ideology and an interest in society that they wish to convey by writing those books, and as a reader if I pick one up and start to read it I’m subverting the expectations to conformity of those around me by allowing my world-view to engage with and be informed by another’s. Through the act of reading I can become something more than the person who wakes up, goes to work, carries out tasks like a drone, agrees with what they see and hear on the news, and then goes to bed.
This isn’t a distinction between high and low art in the sense that many literary commentators would have you believe that there should be. I’m not arguing for the distinctive turn of Joyce’s prose over the childish strains of a Patrick Rothfuss or Scott Lynch. The psychological insight into the human condition of a Flaubert or Tolstoy over the petty concerns of a JK Rowling. I believe that “popular fiction” as it is called has as big a part to play in shaping who we are as the literary giants that make up the literary canon ever did and that one ignores either at their own detriment.
But what truly bugs me is the de-politicisation of the act of writing in an effort to allow more people to have more fun more of the time at better prices. An illusion of empowerment at the expense of a genuine political voice. If anyone ever asks me why I write – which generally they don’t because I’m unpublished – I tell them it’s because literature is important to me, because I’ve spent my entire life reading and engaging with it and I want some day to influence someone else – to change someone’s life – like many authors before me have influenced and changed me. To have someone say “I just do it for fun” seems to me to miss the point in the most fundamental way because it takes the act of writing and makes it a meaningless act, in a similar way to going to watch a football match. When people ask me why I criticise sport and prefer reading, and I respond that sport is repetitive and aimless and designed to stop one from thinking or questioning, they generally add into their argument “well you read stories and watch movies that are pointless anyway. Star Wars is pointless, Harry Potter is pointless” and so on, and it’s surprisingly difficult to respond to someone who holds theworldview, that “all art I pointless.” and to convince them that art, popular or literary, always has a point. Because to this sport-afficionado, whatever way you spin it we all live, go to work and die don’t we? So why not just have fun in the meantime?
And I genuinely want those authors to have fun and to enjoy self-publishing and I want people to enjoy reading those works. Only I don’t really. And I don’t want them constantly shoved in my face like the football results are. Because there’s a world of literature out there that doesn’t involve the narcissistic egotism that the self-publishing model so readily embraces. But how is someone to know whether they should reject a certain author/work – such as Stephanie Meyer (who isn’t self-published but reads like it and has been the dominant force in dumbing down attitudes surrounding popular literature in the last 10 years) – in favour of another if we reciprocate this idea that reading is for fun, as opposed to the idea that “reading is fun because it’s interesting and rewarding” it’s the difference between killing time and genuinely engaging with your reading.
How political an act it is to ignore politics!
It’s the ultimate political act, to say that politics don’t matter, engagement doesn’t matter. To essentially say that reading and writing don’t matter. It’s like voting by not-voting, since a no-vote helps the dominant political party of the day maintain power.
When I sit down to write if I thought that it didn’t matter I don’t think that I could ever bring myself to do it. The process would be akin to my day job and I’d be helping or enriching the lives of no-one. If someone ever reads my work and says to me “it’s a flippancy, it doesn’t matter” I don’t care if they enjoyed it, I’ll feel that I’ve fundamentally failed on some level.
Apart from a highly amusing scene involving a cute stuffed dog and some fireworks, Storage 24 is not a particularly good movie. It’s the kind of unremarkable movie that you probably won’t go and see and, regardless of whether its spread of reviews is slightly below or above average (currently mostly poor), it’ll never get the marketing behind it to find an audience. And no-one will particularly be missing out.
What intrigued me about this mostly cliched monster movie was that, despite the obviousness of the setup – people get locked in a storage locker, a random monster kills some of them and they try and escape – and notable lack of any interesting themes, story lines or visual flourishes, it still managed to break the mould of the traditional schlock horror in a couple of interesting ways. Firstly, the main character was a black male who was not remotely stereotyped in any way, shape or form. Played by Noel Clarke, better known as Mickey from Dr.Who, his character Charlie is very much a continuation of Clarke’s work on that show, since he’s notable only for being an average Joe in every way possible. He’s the kind of black guy I might actually happen to meet and know rather than the socially and economically deprived problem seen in The Wire. *shock*
The point is, for once, there’s no point. Clarke just happens to be a good actor for the role. (I like him. He has charisma)
Even more irrelevant is the female lead Shelley, a character with little screen presence who remained mostly unnoticed by me until she spectacularly failed to scream. After sticking a knife into a monster, running away and holing herself up into an elevator, Antonia Campbell-Hughes plays her character as realistically tense and nervous without opening her mouth in the way I’d come to expect she would at that point. It was a relatively successful scene and none the worse for the silence.
Both of these points are very minor and it’s not like we haven’t seen characters of these kinds in genre movies before. British horror cinema has in fairly recent years done a good job of portraying strong female leads in quality movies like The Descent or Triangle, but this instance stuck out to me because it wasn’t self consciously about women (and the movie wasn’t self-consciously about black people as was last years highly praised “Attack the Block”). I began to wonder if after a number of years of strong directors – from Ridley Scott to Tarantino, to Joss Whedon – making the point that women are far too strong and far too interesting as people in their own right to be routinely relegated to the scream-queen, that the message had finally started to filter through and is starting to be applied to regular genre cinema?
- Spoiler -
Another nice, unusual, touch occurred as the movie ended. Three of the cast survived and two of them happened to be women. One of those women, Shelley, had been morally promiscuous enough to cheat on Charlie with his best friend, and then to leave him upset after their 5 year relationship. Shelley didn’t jump back into Charlie’s arms after a “manly rescue” of her, she simply offered him a lift home, which he refused. This was another nice nod towards the idea that women have a complex emotional and sexual life and are no more to blame for the tough choices in life than men are. Shelley’s behaviour towards Charlie wasn’t amazing but she acknowledged the fault and the couple began to move on. In this movie, for once, she didn’t have to die for being a slut.
-End Spoiler -
On a more negative note, this is an independent British cinema release and not a mainstream US production. These attitudes filtering through to smaller movies is not necessarily indicative of a wider change and attitudes towards Black people have never beenm quite as hostile here as they have been in the States. Regardless, it was encouraging.
Sometimes I feel like I’m stagnating. Nothing feels fresh or new and every new movie or piece of pop culture is the same as the last. Whilst I continue to enjoy my constant headbutting with movies and literature I come away with the feeling that I’ve not challenged myself in any meaningful way. Whilst internet communities at large will have you believe that movie-watching is purely about “having fun”, I also like to think that there’s a positive purpose to it that involves pushing the envelopes of our understanding and bettering ourselves as people.
What I’m trying to say is that I need a new project and I’ve been struggling to find something that isn’t either overtly intellectual or too trashy, since both become a little tiring if overindulged. Today it dawned on me that for all my bluster about watching “foreign movies” I’ve slipped away from exploring new types of film in favour of catching up on Modern Hollywood classics. Having watched and admired the duo of Come Drink With Me and Golden Swallow these last two days I felt at home with the culturally unfamiliar again. I came across an excellent list of 100 Greatest Hong Kong movies from Timeout and was shocked at how many I hadn’t even heard of, letalone watched. Sure, I’ve seen Once Upon A Time in China and The Killer and In the Mood For Love and so on, but not a lot of the movies that never received arthouse attention in the west. Westerners have a tendency to be faddy about Eastern cinema, clinging onto the genre staples and discarding the non-popular, just as we do with our own movies. It also occurred to me that I’ve dipped in and out of Bollywood the last few years but never made an effort to watch the classic staples of Bollywood cinema, so I’m going to do that too. Totalfilm have published what I understand is a very flawed list of 50 greats, but I chose this one to watch through because it does at least dare to highlight movies from 1950-2010. I’ll brush up on the others when I’m done. There aren’t a lot of good Bollywood movie lists out there, though there’s a good looking book “100 Bollywood Films by Rachel Dwyer” that should help.
I’m excited by this 150 movie project because it’s going to mean a significant reduction in the amount of Western movies that I watch over the next couple of years (I’ll still be watching new releases at the cinema and I have a rom-com thing going on right now, too anyway). It’s also going to be a challenge to get hold of some of the films and the chase is just a little bit fun too! It’s not a feminism related movie project and I’m staggeringly not qualified to talk about the role of women in Chinese or Indian society and wouldn’t dare to. I will attempt to update my progress and throw out some recommendations when I encounter some good stuff though!
I found this quote relating to the status of Jess Franco’s (reasonably) well known Euro-arthouse sexploitation flick, Vampyros Lesbos, buried on an IMDB message board:
“This is a movie that film snobs will claim to like because of it’s “substance” Bull crap. This movie is just an attempt at titalation[sic] that falls flat on it’s face.”
It’s an interesting movie to watch because I was consciously aware of my own attitudes towards it as I was watching, given that I’m a male in a male-oriented society who enjoys gazing on pretty naked women a lot more than he probably should.. It’s probably as inevitable that any movie buff is going to eventually run into the work of Jesus Franco at some point as s/he is Russ Meyer, but equally as unlikely that the casual film viewer is going to encounter it unless – as I did when I was 16/17 – they happen to watch snippets on a late-night cable channel, inevitably getting bored when the realities of a title as promisingly titillating as “Vampyros Lesbos” can’t compare to the wondrous imagery it conjures within the imagination (pornography, soft or hardcore rarely can). Softcore sexploitation movies exist on the fringes of movie appreciation, some critics unfairly dismissing them as hollow and trashy, others overpraising them as beautiful, artistic and masterful. The above quote is a little strange since I’m not sure that there’s a cult of film snobbery around Franco’s work that’s remotely equivalent to Welles or Hitchcock and frankly I’ve never personally spoken to another film buff who rated Vampyros Lesbos as one of their favourite movies (as a contrast, Russ Meyer often gets a nod). Franco and Europeon Sexploitation movies do have a reasonable body of written work devoted to them now and interest is growing all the time as genre movies – beyond Hitchcock – become acceptable as art, but it remains a comparatively niche interest. Notably Quentin Tarantino is often cited as a Jess Franco fan and it’s not difficult to see why his movies appeal to his sensibilities.
It’s certainly true that Vampyros Lesbos does set out to titillate the viewer, so in that sense this quote is correct, but the writer also dismisses out of hand the idea that sexual titillation or titillating movies can be artistic or worthwhile on any level. It’s a sad fact that most movies featuring a level of eroticism tend to stoop to the lowest common denominator, descending to the depths of dull, routine, uninteresting film-making in order to satisfy the base desires of the market it wishes to exploit.(not that different from Hollywood then!) It’s very rare that I’ve bothered or been able to watch through a work of pornography in its entirety, even the more rated examples tend to be cinematic driftwood, and yet I didn’t find myself bored at all by Vampyros Lesbos, so it must have been doing something right to justify its position as a movie with some kind of substance beyond the titillating surface gloss. It’s probably not a “great” movie in the traditional sense of the word, it’s scrappy, messy, over-exuberant, a little silly and almost entirely without narrative sense or tension. It’s these faults that lead those looking for titillation only to think it a stupid movie because it’s a compelling central narrative that most casual movie fans are looking for. If anything, any attempt to watch Vampyros Lesbos should be made in the spirit of watching a David Lynch movie, only it doesn’t remotely come close to capturing the sense or spirit of Lynch’s twisted, bizarre dream-logic worlds.(Not that a movie made years before Eraserhead, from another culture, would be trying to, of course). But there’s a compelling consistency about the themes and imagery used in the movie that tie what we’re seeing together, and scenes of lesbian eroticism make sense within the context of the film, they’re not just thrown out there as the central focus of the viewing experience. They’re just a part of it.
Franco’s image of lesbianism in the movie ultimately falls within traditional boundaries . “lesbianism is titillating for men, but a little bit intimidating in reality” The central figure, the Countess Nadine – a lesbian who has turned from men, loathing them all because a man raped her – is a threat to the patriarchal society in which, lureing away Linda from her otherwise loving boyfriend with promises of lesbian lust and sexual abandonment. Ultimately her allure is rejected, she is killed and the threat contained, the danger of lesbianism rejected. I’ve always found it strange how men can both fantasise about and be afraid of lesbian love and this film clearly encapsulates this very classically masculine dilemma (which, isn’t to say that many women aren’t threatened by lesbianism either, or titillated by it). Yet, within the bounds of this framework, Franco still manages to question our assumptions towards what we’re seeing, driving the movie beyond the bounds of pornography, titillation and misogyny into interesting explorative areas.
The most intriguing – and erotic – moment in the movie is actually a reprise of a sequence that opens the movie. Repeating a scene that the viewer has already seen is in itself an unusual structural device, particularly within a trashy sexploitation flick, and so it’s quite clear that Franco’s intentions with this particular moment go beyond the expected and the predictable. The Vampire countess of the piece also happens to be a part-time strip-show dancer (of course! No, it’s never really explained!) and as the movie opens we see her dancing erotically with her partner, a static, lifeless model we wouldn’t believe real until she eventually moves, responding to the erotic caresses of the Countess Nadine. The intent of the opening scene is not, as it initially seems, just to show skin to the audience, but also for the audience to understand her erotic allure that Nadine has for Linda – a member of the audience – and why she is compelled to visit her on her island in ways that go beyond the classic Dracula “estate management” plot. Soledad Miranda’s performance is erotically alluring and the balance between stripshow and live sex show intriguingly maintained.
When the routine is repeated later in the film it initially feels gratuitous but it actually allow for the layers of complexity to be peeled back and gives the viewer an opportunity to understand the importance of this scene. One cannot but watch a scene such as this without thinking of Laura Mulvey’s arguments concerning the male gaze. That the sequence opens with Soledad Miranda studying her gaze in a mirror before writhing around in front of it seems particularly relevant:
“A male movie star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object of the gaze, but those of the more perfect, more complete, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the original moment of recognition in front of the mirror. The character in the story can make things happen and control events better than the subject/spectator, just as the image in the mirror was more in control of motor coordination. In contrast to woman as icon, the active male figure (the ego ideal of the identification process) demands a three-dimensional space corresponding to that of the mirror-recognition in which the alienated subject internalised his own representation of this imaginary existence. He is a figure in a landscape. Here the function of film is to reproduce as accurately as possible the so-called natural conditions of human perception. Camera technology (as exemplified by deep focus in particular) and camera movements (determined by the action of the protagonist), combined with invisible editing (demanded by realism) all tend to blur the limits of screen space. The male protagonist is free to command the stage, a stage of spatial illusion in which he articulates the look and creates the action.”1
Again, Vampyros Lesbos was made before Mulvey wrote this article, but it’s striking how cleverly this sequence questions and reconstructs Mulvey’s psychoanalytic assumptions regarding the male gaze in cinema. Certainly the gaze of the camera in this movie is that of the male and it is squarely on the female throughout, and yet, whilst the narrative of the movie conforms to that male gaze regarding lesbianism this repeated scene also asks us to question the veracity of that very gaze by having Nadine self-consciously partake in her own gaze upon herself and to ultimately show her control of it. Thus, there are several levels of gaze within this scene. The audience of the movie watching the sex-show who cannot but be hyper-aware that this scene is staged for them and not the second level, the audience within the movie who are actually watching the live sex-show (whom the camera highlights by intermittently cuts back and forth to). The rhythmic, enticing soundtrack (now considered “retro, but actually quite sultry and superb) the lighting and camera angles all markedly point out the impossibility of this scene being nearly as erotic in the flesh as it is edited through the eyes of a camera lens. Finally, there’s Nadine herself consciously watching herself in her own show. It’s the existence of this level that questions the motivations of those other viewers.
If the mirror highlights her own self-consciousness, her awareness of both her own sexuality and her allure for the multiple audiences watching her, the other trappings of the show are designed to mock their expectations. As Nadine undresses she places her clothes back onto the naked doll-like figure in front of her, highlighting the female status as sexual plaything. An obvious symbol, the doll-girl is a helpless, ineffectual part of the show there to be used as seen fit by both her partner – now, as a sexually aware female, in a position of power – and also as a piece of lesbian titillation for her audience. The big twist reveal as the sequence is re-played is that after initially kissing and caressing the girl for her audiences, Nadine lays her down helpless and rips out her throat for all to see. The audience clap politely as they would any show. The movie audience responses probably range from joy at the kill to frustration that there’ll be no lesbian sex, having been aroused by the eroticism of the dance. It’s an amazing twist, the performer, the gazed-upon , is thoroughly in control of the gaze, undermining and frustrating their expectations.
The movie is not this intelligent throughout, but it shows a level of self-awareness and more importantly an imagination and interest in the potential of cinema way beyond a casual viewer’s expectations regarding softcore titillation, beyond the natural assumptions made by the male gaze itself. I did like the film because of its substance. If it’s only sporadically intelligent, at its worst it is thoroughly well made. With sparse dialogue and haunting imagery, the movie is driven by its compelling soundtrack and a beguiling performance from lead actress Soledad Miranda, and its a perfect example of why I often seek out the unusual, the sordid and movies that are made on the fringes of popular culture. It’s also a fantastic example of how female representations in cinema can surprise you in the most unlikely places and in the most unlikely ways.
1Mulvey, Laura. “ Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, https://wiki.brown.edu/confluence/display/MarkTribe/Visual+Pleasure+and+Narrative+Cinema (accessed May 2012), 1975