Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: State University of New York Press
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Working on this book has been a baaaaaaad experience, by which I mean, lest there be any ambiguity at all in a vital and confusing matter of contemporary lingo, it has been wonderful. To edit a gathering of zestful, charming, and learned individuals such as one finds in these pages is the sort of delight for which an editor yearns but cannot expect to experience, and so I am moved ...
INTRODUCTION. From Bad to Worse
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That this book was originally conceived and contracted prior to September 11, 2001 has become virtually impossible, even for me, to believe. Since then the invocation of malevolence in political and social life and in our popular cultural fictions has seemed to mushroom, to have spread everywhere, and it is understandable how any discussion of the proliferation of negativity ...
PART I: Itâs a Slimy World, After All
1. Flickers: On Cinemaâs Power for Evil
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Could cinema in its essence be evil? When Georges Bataille (1981) claims literature for Evil, he is speaking primarily of the tales that literature tells, of the importance of transgression to literary narrative (vi). Evil is something literature expresses; it does not inhere in the very signifiers of the text, the materiality and perceptual qualities of literature. But with cinema . . . doubts arise ...
2. Monstrosity and the Bad-White-Body Film
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One of the implications of the whiteness in white culture is its presumed link to purity, innocence, goodness, and truth. We need only think of Shirley Templeâs golden curls, Claudette Colbertâs alabaster skin, Cary Grantâs well-starched style, Clark Gableâs radiant poise, or Doris Dayâs twinkly verve as renditions of white stability and âcleanliness.â But, we may well ask, what lies ...
3. Beyond the Thin Line of Black and Blue: Movies and Police Misconduct in Los Angeles
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The videotape showing Rodney King being forcibly arrested by twenty-seven Los Angeles police officers in March 1991 was seen around the world. That videotape, along with the April 1992 acquittal of four officers accused of excessive force in Kingâs arrest and the widespread violence triggered by the outcome of their trial, cast a bright spotlight on the deeply rooted tensions ...
4. Genocidal Spectacles and the Ideology of Death
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Representations of mass murder and the ideology on which they are based have held a place of centrality in American media culture since its inception. From D. W. Griffithâs falsified, racist version of the Civil War in The Birth of a Nation (1915) and his Fall of Babylon and persecution of the French Huguenots in Intolerance (1916), the cinema has been intimately associated ...
5. Bad, Worse, Worst: 8MM and Hollywoodâs Bad Boys of Porn
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Hollywood does porn the way Debbie does Dallasâwith an exuberant appetite. In fact, since the mid 1990s, Hollywood seemingly cannot get enough of films about porn and the porn industry. The People vs. Larry Flynt (Milos Forman, 1996), Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1997), and 8MM (Joel Schumacher, 1999) all deal with current porn ranging from Hustler ...
6. Toxic Corps: Rage against the Corporate State
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Almost from the moment of impact, the World Trade Center has come to stand for all of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Given the Trade Centerâs monumental image and the catastrophic death toll there, the logic behind the substitution seems self-evident. The mediaâs fixation on the horror of the attack, the fortuitous video footage of the second planeâs impact, and the ...
7. The Ghost World of Neoliberalism: Abandoning the Abandoned Generation
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Every society creates images and visions of those forces that threaten its identity (Bauman 1998, 73). In the aftermath of September 11, 2001, the most pressing danger facing the United States appears to come from Muslims, Arab Americans, and other alleged âterrorists.â But the foremost danger facing the United States predates the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and the ...
PART II: Auteurs of Negativity, Icons of Darkness
8. âHow Will I Get My Opium?â: Jean Cocteau and the Treachery of Friendship
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When World War II erupted in Europe, Jean Cocteau was aghast. âHow will I get my opium?â was the poetâs first response, and he added, âIâve been assassinated by the Fifth Columnâ (Steegmuller 1970, 436â37). The Fifth Column reference related to not the German advance but advance proofs of a venomous attack on Cocteau by Claude Mauriac, which was to be published ...
9. The Sweeter the Kitten the Sharper the Claws: Russ Meyerâs Bad Girls
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Russ Meyer holds a distinctive place in the pantheon of American film auteurs. In the wake of loosening censorship laws, he helped to transform exploitation film and to pave the way for the eruption of hard-core film pornography in the 1970s. His films are landmarks in exploitation filmmaking. In The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) he adapted techniques developed for ...
10. Wanted for Murder: The Strange Case of Eric Portman
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In part because they were able to transport lucrative star careers to Hollywood, a significant number of British actors have become well known in contemporary cinema, particularly as villains. George Sanders, Peter Cushing, Donald Pleasence, James Mason, Anthony Hopkins, Ian McKellen, Alan Rickman, Richard E. Grant, Tim Roth, and Gary Oldman are but a small ...
11. The Arch Archenemies of James Bond
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Ahero takes shape only in relation to his enemies. In the case of the James Bond films, these enemies, whether incarnated as Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Emilio Largo, Auric Goldfinger, Hugo Drax, Elliot Carver, Mr. Big, Franz Sanchez, General Georgi Koskov, Karl Stromberg, or under some other suggestive name, seem intent on total global domination through the disruption ...
12. From Fu Manchu to M. Butterfly and Irma Vep: Cinematic Incarnations of Chinese Villainy
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The emergence of the cinema in the late nineteenth century occurred at a time when European and American imperial conquests and colonial ambitions in Asia were at their height (Marchetti 2001a, 2001b). Perhaps more than any other country in Asia, China had a particular hold over the popular imagination globally. All of the major (and many of the minor) powers in ...
13. On the Bad Goodness of Born to Be Bad: Auteurism, Evaluation, and Nicholas Rayâs Outsider Cinema
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What makes a movie bad? When does badness happen? What happens when it does? Cinephilesâincluding auteuristsâhave long held a special key to cinematic enjoyment: the films that are the most fun to watch are often those deemed least in conformity to conventional conceptions of quality. For example, a well-known secret of cinephilia is that the films most deemed bad by ...
14. The Villain in Hitchcock: âDoes He Look Like a âWrong Oneâ to You?â
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Numerous observers have noted that Hitchcockâs villains are often the most interesting characters in their filmsâthe most charming, and, strangely, even the most sympathetic. Hitchcock often seems to identifyâhowever exactly we understand this termâat least as much with his villains as with his protagonists (although the matter is complicated by his equally strong identification ...
PART III: The Charisma of Villainy
15. The âEvil Medievalâ: Gender, Sexuality, Miscegenation, and Assimilation in Cat People
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As temporal categories go, âmodernityâ usually stakes a claim to progressive social mores, technological progress, and political enlightenment. As popularly the opposite of modernity, the medievalâespecially when used as an adjectiveâtends to register the complete absence of tolerance, lawful order, progress, or enlightenment. To describe an activity, belief, or political regime ...
16. Wicked Old Ladies from Europe: Jeanne Moreau and Marlene Dietrich on the Screen and Live
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As I have argued elsewhere, womenâs social position as objects âto be gazed atâ makes aging especially traumatic in relation to the sheer changes in the human body (Kaplan 1997; 1999). In western culture, âmenopauseâ retains some of its now-archaic biological implications, despite womenâs roles and positioning no longer being tied to such implications. Through misplaced ...
17. Darkness Visible: Images of Nazis in American Film
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It seems as though they have always been here, the stuff of waking nightmares. But, unlike their fictional counterparts who took shape in the deep recesses of our collective unconscious, these monsters walked among us. Flesh and blood beings, they triumphantly marched to power amidst distinguished cultural achievements in medicine and law, architecture and the arts: the poison ...
18. âThe Whole Fucking World Warped around Meâ: Bad Kids and Worse Contexts
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Heâs seated on his bed, shirtless; his eyes are dull, his diamond stud earring catches the light. Heâs focused on what appears to be a phone sex call, but just as he speaks his line, heâs distracted by his motherâs voice coming from downstairs, calling him for dinner. The boy looks briefly annoyed, covering the receiver with his hand, then continues: âI want you to lick my balls.â ...
19. Searching for Blobby Fissures: Slime, Sexuality, and the Grotesque
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In popular films of the last 40 years an explosion of grotesque and slimy figures has filled the screen. Critics have discussed how such monstrous images signal a fear of the feminine (see Creed 1993; Clover 1992), but discussion of this phenomenon seldom appears explicitly in critical reception of these box-office successes. In reviewing films from The Blob (1958) through The Exorcist ...
20. Crazy Like a Prof: Mad Science and the Transgressions of the Rational
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The âmad scientistâ has become an enduring fictional type, like the gunfighter or the boastful soldier. Psychologist Stuart Asch believes that a feeling of being rendered passive to be manipulated by a mad scientist and his infernal machine qualifies as a âuniversal delusionâ (1991, 187). My Google search for the phrase âmad scientistâ in March 2002 generated 209,000 hits. A cursory survey of the ...
21. Tom Ripleyâs Talent
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The Talented Mr. Ripley is a house of fabrications. No turn of the plot of Anthony Minghellaâs ânightmarish and highly aptâ (Rich, 30) 1999 film, or of Patricia Highsmithâs 1955 novel on which (along with RenÃ© ClÃ©mentâs 1960 Plein soleil, a film it frequently adores) it is based, is made without reference to Tom Ripleyâs (Matt Damon) talent for spontaneous inventionâ ...
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Page Count: 375
Illustrations: 21 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2004
Series Title: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video (discontinued)
Series Editor Byline: Wheeler Winston Dixon