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22 | Abel Ferrara Contrary to such traditional fictions of destiny or becoming, contemporary American cinema massively construes fable as nightmare, narrative as anamnesis (an obsessive remembering that is also an erasure of past trauma), and thus (retroactively) the world as Limbo. Brian De Palma’s Carlito’s Way (1993), Scorsese’s Casino (1995), Jarmusch’s Dead Man (1995), and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1997) all elaborate this kind of nightmare. Ferrara uses the same structure but transposes it into a realist context. In the process, he returns to an early, precocious occurrence of this form: Cassavetes’s The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1978). The opening and penultimate sequences of that film depict the same character, Cosmo (Ben Gazzara), abandoned by life on a sidewalk—in between, the fable unfolds within dreamlike Limbo-spaces (centered on the nightmarish insistence of Cosmo’s debt). Another concept—à la John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned (1995)—is to present the world as already its own double. Body Snatchers unites both major modes: anamorphic intensification of a family scene, plus the fantastic re-elaboration of the world as a terrestrial hell. To put it another way, the great contemporary fabulations address the question of what can be depicted or represented. But they do this in a way completely opposite to the Freudian dreamwork, which dresses up a normal, standard situation in an oneiric image capable of opening an access-path to consciousness. Rather, it is a matter of exhuming the latent violence in a standard image (daily life), with the intention of reconstructing its most obscure and least acceptable determinations. Ferrara’s work on this level belongs to a collective American aesthetic movement. Its specificity at the heart of this current can be measured by the way it places a crucial structure—the narrative possibilities of what can be represented—at the service of a radical, critical project. What Is Passion? Central Figures of Hypermorality Forms of the Person: The Exigency of Infinity In coming to grips with the questions of evil and guilt, Rossellini found it necessary to renew fiction in order to restore our relation to belief and reason. Ferrara works on the same problem, but at the level of the body. His films invent powerful modes of somatization, or the translation of A Cinema of Negation | 23 psychic, political, and economic phenomena into corporeal terms. This enterprise of translation never ceases reinventing the relation between mental image and concrete image, opening up an astonishing repertoire of altered bodies: suffering, wasted, angry, convulsive, collapsed, haunted, even absent. His characters throw the telephone out the window because the bill is too high (Reno, played by Ferrara himself, in The Driller Killer); shoot out the radio because it broadcasts bad news (L. T. in Bad Lieutenant); kill any man who insults a woman (Thana in Ms .45); compulsively machine-gun the facades of Chinatown real estate (Mercury [David Caruso] in China Girl); erase the world to transform it (Frank White [Christopher Walken] in King of New York); kill in order to grasp that the only story is the story of evil (Kathy in The Addiction). Ferrara’s protagonists—Reno, Thana, L. T., Frank, Kathy, the Tempio brothers (Walken, Christopher Penn, and Vincent Gallo) in The Funeral, Matty and Mickey (Dennis Hopper) in The Blackout—represent figures of possession. Burdened with an undiminished fury, these characters are filled with an overflowing pain and a sublime ethical project that leads them to death. System of Ethical Life What logic underpins Ferrara’s system? First of all, two models should be set aside. This logic is not a doctrine that can be applied from one film to the next, over and above the content of the individual fictions. Even if the character of Johnny (Gallo) in The Funeral—violent, communist, hypersexed, and full of integrity—seems like the most seductive and idealized figure in his films so far, Ferrara nonetheless declares himself to be a perfect dandy who believes only in “antipolitics,” brandishing the motto, “I’m a limousine liberal.”17 Nor does the Ferraran system rest upon the principle of taxonomy or cartography —the exhaustive filling-in of an already mapped territory. Rather, his aesthetic system proceeds from a logic of extension and a politics of reprise. It is because of these reprises that we see—as one rarely does in cinema, beyond the major example of Godard—an artist reflecting on the sense of his own work. A first form of reprise is...


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