Anatomy of a Sequence

The Exorcist

The Exorcist’s opening Iraq sequence is a masterclass in visual metaphors. By using only images and sound (the brief dialogue is in Arabic), a portending evil is introduced.

The scenes taking place in an ancient arid land (you can feel the heat) slowly lull the viewer into a hypnotic trance with its stark imagery. These symbols remain in the viewer’s subconscious and are called back in later scenes: the black cloaked women in the Iraq street scene and the white cloaked nuns in the Georgetown street scene, the demon face of the women in the carriage and “old altar boy” bum in the subway, animal images and sounds, all adding layers of complexity that the viewer absorbs and feels, but perhaps doesn’t consciously understand.

Many films today would forgo this prequel setup as being ‘too slow,’ but by taking its time and showing the ancient roots of the Pazuzu, demon of the wind, and the sense that Father Merrin has dealt with its evil before, the film gains more gravity and deep symbolic meaning that lingers in the viewer’s subconscious long after the shock values of the spinning head and silly spider-walk wear off.

Often this sequence is forgotten about by the viewer when they recall the film; but the symbols are planted, priming the mind to receive the rich and layered storytelling of a film that has stood the test of time for a reason.

A blood red sky shines down on the archeological site of an ancient spiritual temple ruins.

Screen Shot 2018-08-05 at 8.28.08 AM Continue reading “Anatomy of a Sequence”

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Great Villains Part Three

Psycho Bitches – The Borderline

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I won’t be ignored, Dan!

The best depiction of a borderline personality disordered individual ever committed to screen is Glenn Close’s Alex in Fatal Attraction. This Cluster B disorder (of which women are most afflicted) is marked by poor boundaries, impulsivity, and a violent reaction to any real or perceived rejection. At first these seductive femme fatales appeal to a man’s fantasy of the no-strings attached hot affair. The borderline’s lack of boundaries and amorality are a turn-on in the bedroom, but when the man tries to return, sated, to his wife or move on to a more appropriate girl (as in the case of Mormon boy, Travis Alexander), the borderline psycho bitch just won’t let go. She may, as in the case of Jodi Arias, at first subject herself to her lover’s diminishing returns and lack of respect (he famously referred to her as his three-hole wonder), but a girl can only take so much abuse. Her already dangerously damaged ego lies coiled like a cobra ready to strike. She shows up at his house looking cute and breezy—I drove from California to Arizona, but I just happen to be in town. He lets her in—hey, what’s one more lay? I can get her out of here in time for my trip with my new “virginal” girlfriend. Sorry lover. While you were showering off her stank, petite Jodi struck, and struck hard.

Continue reading “Great Villains Part Three”

Great Villains Part Two

The Charming Psychopath

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The Many Faces of Tom Ripley

In the 1999 Anthony Mingella film The Talented Mr. Ripley, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Marge (much frumpier in the book) knows something’s up with her missing boyfriend, Dickie Greenleaf’s weird friend Tom Ripley. But her Cassandra like prophesies are pooh-poohed as (hormonal) women’s intuition, but she knows. She knows!

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Don’t be fooled by that boyish grin.

While the Covert Narcissist must depend on the kindness of codependents (like a vulture circling wounded prey), the Charming Psychopath’s hunting grounds are much higher on the food chain, and therefore he must be in top form. Like an Olympic athlete training for the event, he prepares his body, tastes, voice, and mannerisms to blend in, ingratiate, and win at all costs. His weapons are flattery, acquiescence, sympathy and understanding. He is an expert at infiltrating, blending in, acting the part of the supportive friend, and then suddenly you realize (too late!) that you’ve let a shark in the pool. Continue reading “Great Villains Part Two”

Great Villains Part One

The Covert Narcissist

When your knight in shining armor slowly changes into an Orc (you never saw it coming) you may be dealing with a covert narcissist. We can all see those bombastic braggadocios of the classic narcissist blaring their horns from a mile away, but the subtle ones who appear so shy, so harmless, so needy…Ah! Beware those sneaky bastards.

They inflict abuse by establishing a honeymoon period of  love bombing, mirroring back your every wish and desire—at last someone sees the real you and gives you the validation you crave—followed by a slow period of devaluation: withdrawal of affection, radio silence on your accomplishments, poison darts of thinly veiled hostility, silent but deadly farts of disapproval. You become crazy and they become stronger, their narcissistic supply tanks filled while you are left drained and confused. If you have the misfortune of having one of these in your life, the best recourse is to run as far away as possible. The problem is that by the time (sometimes years, even decades) you’ve realized you’ve been slowly cooked over a rotating spit of negativity, they’ve infiltrated your friend group and perhaps your bank accounts and you’ve been drained of all your juice. But as long as you’re able to get away and recharge, there is hope.

There are many examples of the gaslighting psychopath in film and literature. Here’s one of my favorites (whoever made this video is a genius by the way):

Charles Boyer is portrayed as a more overt villain in the classic Gaslight, even if poor Ingrid Bergman is the last one to know.

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Darling, you’re losing your mind.

Continue reading “Great Villains Part One”

The Horror of Aging

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I’ve Had Those Moments

As a woman in my mid-fifties, I’ve experienced the horror expressed in this classic moment of cinematic grand dame guignol. I started a YouTube channel recently, and I admit to spending as much time on my make-up, hair, and flattering lighting as I do my “content.” Like many Virgos, I’m vain. I can relate to that famous literary Virgo, Blanche DuBois, who once bemoaned about the “hard knocks my vanity has taken,” and she was only in her thirties at the time.

Vivien Leigh still looks damn good under the bare light bulb. My God, Tennessee Williams was a genius. Check in time at the Tarantula Arms. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Continue reading “The Horror of Aging”

Voodoo Thrills

The Believers, a campy 1987 thriller directed by John Schlesinger and starring Martin Sheen, is a guilty-pleasure favorite of mine. So when I found The Religion by Nicholas Condé, the novel on which the film is based, I couldn’t resist checking it out.

The book is dated (New York has changed since the early 80’s), and the social distance between the white protagonist Cal Jamison, an anthropologist in the book, and the exotic Latino population did peak my PC meter a few times.

The same is true of the film (Roger Ebert justifiably called out the racist undertones when he reviewed it back in ’87). Appropriating religious beliefs for horror exploitation has gone out of favor, which is probably why we haven’t seen too many voodoo horror films since Angel Heart and The Serpent and the Rainbow (another campy fav).

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Malick Bowens as Palo.

But putting bad taste aside (this is horror after all), I thoroughly enjoyed both film and book, although the stories are very different.

Continue reading “Voodoo Thrills”

The Terminator, a Modern Prometheus

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Enter the assassin

If a movie I’ve seen at least a dozen times (maybe more) since its release in 1984 can still get my heart racing and my palms sweating when the steely endoskeleton rises from the infernal wreckage of an 18-wheel fuel truck, I know that I am experiencing a great work of art, tested by the passage of time and an 80’s perm: a true classic.

Nothing delivers the punch quite like The Terminator directed by James Cameron. A rare combo of action, sci-fi, and horror, it is the perfect movie with something for everybody, including a convincing and heart-felt romance. Okay, I admit the cliche orgasm hand grasp and slow-mo release is corny, but still…it works. My God! It all works.

Let’s break it down. Continue reading “The Terminator, a Modern Prometheus”

Mother! Issues

There will be spoilers…

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I went in cold to see this in an empty (except for one couple, should I have asked them out for coffee?), freezing cold mall theater yesterday at noon and came out feeling seriously traumatized. After reading a Daily Mail article (a daily bad habit, but I tell myself it provides grist for my creative writing) describing Mother! by Darren Aronofsky as the worst film ever made, I just knew I had to see it—right now! Continue reading “Mother! Issues”

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