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Infamy, Darkness, Evil, and Slime on Screen

Murray Pomerance

Publication Year: 2004

Violence and corruption sell big, especially since the birth of action cinema, but even from cinema’s earliest days, the public has been delighted to be stunned by screen representations of negativity in all its forms—evil, monstrosity, corruption, ugliness, villainy, and darkness. Bad examines the long line of thieves, rapists, varmints, codgers, dodgers, manipulators, exploiters, conmen, killers, vamps, liars, demons, cold-blooded megalomaniacs, and warmhearted flakes that populate cinematic narrative. From Nosferatu to The Talented Mr. Ripley, the contributors consider a wide range of genres and use a variety of critical approaches to examine evil, villainy, and immorality in twentieth-century film.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video (discontinued)


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pp. ix-vii


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pp. xiii-xvi

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pp. xvii-xviii

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 ...

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INTRODUCTION. From Bad to Worse

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pp. 1-18

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: It’s a Slimy World, After All

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1. Flickers: On Cinema’s Power for Evil

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pp. 21-38

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 ...

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2. Monstrosity and the Bad-White-Body Film

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pp. 39-54

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 Temple’s golden curls, Claudette Colbert’s alabaster skin, Cary Grant’s well-starched style, Clark Gable’s radiant poise, or Doris Day’s twinkly verve as renditions of white stability and “cleanliness.” But, we may well ask, what lies ...

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3. Beyond the Thin Line of Black and Blue: Movies and Police Misconduct in Los Angeles

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pp. 55-64

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 King’s arrest and the widespread violence triggered by the outcome of their trial, cast a bright spotlight on the deeply rooted tensions ...

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4. Genocidal Spectacles and the Ideology of Death

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pp. 65-78

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. Griffith’s 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 ...

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5. Bad, Worse, Worst: 8MM and Hollywood’s Bad Boys of Porn

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pp. 79-92

Hollywood does porn the way Debbie does Dallas—with 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 ...

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6. Toxic Corps: Rage against the Corporate State

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pp. 93-108

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 Center’s monumental image and the catastrophic death toll there, the logic behind the substitution seems self-evident. The media’s fixation on the horror of the attack, the fortuitous video footage of the second plane’s impact, and the ...

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7. The Ghost World of Neoliberalism: Abandoning the Abandoned Generation

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pp. 109-124

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 “terrorists.” 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

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8. “How Will I Get My Opium?”: Jean Cocteau and the Treachery of Friendship

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pp. 127-142

When World War II erupted in Europe, Jean Cocteau was aghast. “How will I get my opium?” was the poet’s first response, and he added, “I’ve been assassinated by the Fifth Column” (Steegmuller 1970, 436–37). 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 ...

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9. The Sweeter the Kitten the Sharper the Claws: Russ Meyer’s Bad Girls

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pp. 143-156

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 ...

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10. Wanted for Murder: The Strange Case of Eric Portman

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pp. 157-172

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 ...

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11. The Arch Archenemies of James Bond

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pp. 173-186

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 ...

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12. From Fu Manchu to M. Butterfly and Irma Vep: Cinematic Incarnations of Chinese Villainy

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pp. 187-200

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 ...

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13. On the Bad Goodness of Born to Be Bad: Auteurism, Evaluation, and Nicholas Ray’s Outsider Cinema

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pp. 210-212

What makes a movie bad? When does badness happen? What happens when it does? Cinephiles—including auteurists—have 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 ...

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14. The Villain in Hitchcock: “Does He Look Like a ‘Wrong One’ to You?”

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pp. 213-222

Numerous observers have noted that Hitchcock’s villains are often the most interesting characters in their films—the most charming, and, strangely, even the most sympathetic. Hitchcock often seems to identify—however exactly we understand this term—at 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

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15. The “Evil Medieval”: Gender, Sexuality, Miscegenation, and Assimilation in Cat People

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pp. 225-238

As temporal categories go, “modernity” usually stakes a claim to progressive social mores, technological progress, and political enlightenment. As popularly the opposite of modernity, the medieval—especially when used as an adjective—tends to register the complete absence of tolerance, lawful order, progress, or enlightenment. To describe an activity, belief, or political regime ...

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16. Wicked Old Ladies from Europe: Jeanne Moreau and Marlene Dietrich on the Screen and Live

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pp. 239-254

As I have argued elsewhere, women’s social position as objects “to be gazed at” makes aging especially traumatic in relation to the sheer changes in the human body (Kaplan 1997; 1999). In western culture, “menopause” retains some of its now-archaic biological implications, despite women’s roles and positioning no longer being tied to such implications. Through misplaced ...

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17. Darkness Visible: Images of Nazis in American Film

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pp. 255-272

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 ...

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18. “The Whole Fucking World Warped around Me”: Bad Kids and Worse Contexts

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pp. 273-286

He’s seated on his bed, shirtless; his eyes are dull, his diamond stud earring catches the light. He’s focused on what appears to be a phone sex call, but just as he speaks his line, he’s distracted by his mother’s voice coming from downstairs, calling him for dinner. The boy looks briefly annoyed, covering the receiver with his hand, then continues: “I want you to lick my balls.” ...

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19. Searching for Blobby Fissures: Slime, Sexuality, and the Grotesque

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pp. 287-300

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 ...

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20. Crazy Like a Prof: Mad Science and the Transgressions of the Rational

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pp. 301-314

The “mad scientist” 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 “universal delusion” (1991, 187). My Google search for the phrase “mad scientist” in March 2002 generated 209,000 hits. A cursory survey of the ...

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21. Tom Ripley’s Talent

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pp. 315-330

The Talented Mr. Ripley is a house of fabrications. No turn of the plot of Anthony Minghella’s “nightmarish and highly apt” (Rich, 30) 1999 film, or of Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel on which (along with René Clément’s 1960 Plein soleil, a film it frequently adores) it is based, is made without reference to Tom Ripley’s (Matt Damon) talent for spontaneous invention— ...


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pp. 331-336


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pp. 337-357

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791459393
Print-ISBN-10: 079145939X

Page Count: 375
Illustrations: 21 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 2004

Series Title: SUNY series, Cultural Studies in Cinema/Video (discontinued)