restricted access Cinema and Symbolic Reparation

From: Abel Ferrara

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150 | Abel Ferrara death (abortion, which is the erasure of someone who never even existed, registered as an indignity) to an active death (suicide, a logical and moral act), to conclude with the final resonant superimposition of love. Like other great films, including Jean Eustache’s Photos d’Alix (1981), The Blackout entirely reinterprets the cinematic apparatus as a psychic apparatus. But the central stake proves to be less reflexive than existential : to intensify a human experience by following every repercussion and echo provoked by a simple affect—such as the kiss given to a woman by a man who is not really completely “there” in his gesture—and following these traces all the way to their end, if necessary even beyond death. In the absolute exigency of ethical investigation to which it testifies, we could say that the work of this reputedly monstrous, addicted, muddled filmmaker is capable of conserving something of what Durkheim called the “moral patrimony” of humanity.101 Cinema and Symbolic Reparation Untimely Remains  Take a war, such as the first Iraq war of 1991. What does a narrative filmmaker do with it? Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet, who in that period were staging Sophocles’s Antigone at the Berlin Schaubühne, decided to dedicate their final performance of the play “to the thousands of Iraqis buried without graves (no name or even number) by the American bulldozers.”102 Ferrara made Body Snatchers in 1993, a film populated with the dead who go unburied since they instantly crumble into dust, like bodies disintegrated by bombs. In the early morning this human dust is thrown into garbage trucks that collect the debris of consumer society. The dead do not die; they disappear , secreted from the image in the same way that those sacrificed to the Third World economy are secreted from the collective American imaginary. Hollywood cinema has rarely shown with such violence that to maintain its brutal regime, the American Way of Life—this terrifying economic Moloch—exacts, every morning, a toll of human lives viewed as anonymous and of no value. In this film of ashes and slag—in which, it is worth remembering, the young soldier Tim (Billy Wirth) has returned from the Gulf War where he admits having killed people—there appears a particularly strange corpse. This corpse completely contravenes the economy of similitude A Cinema of Negation | 151 instituted by the principle of snatching (replacement of same by same). It is the father’s corpse, appearing from under the marital bed, which hardly resembles its original. While Steve is a young, almost boyish man, his double looks old, with white, ragged hair, all wrinkled and sticky. With its conspicuous, jutting teeth, this face resembles a skull; with its emphasized muscles and tendons, his body becomes a decomposing corpse, not a gestating fœtus, as is the case for Marti’s double, which is in the process of being born at the same time. I have argued elsewhere how, via this bizarre figure of the born-dead old person, Marti dreams of aborting her father, thus lodging herself at the heart of the father/daughter incest delirium that organizes the film’s figurative logic.103 But the question remains: Why do these untimely remains indeed ultimately resemble someone whom every cinephile immediately recognizes, namely, Abel Ferrara himself? Naturally, we can attribute this figurative surprise to a “signature effect,” a sort of macabre Hitchcockian touch. But we can also see here a sign that Body Snatchers displaces the question of the corpse, refuting its function as the organic, natural model for the image, whether in André Bazin’s Egyptian version (the “mummy complex” of “embalming the dead”) or Blanchot’s modern version (“cadaverous resemblance”).104 This contravening corpse disturbs the economy of resemblance: evil reflections that effect a spiriting-away. His individuated, wizened flesh suddenly imposes a true effect of presence, as incongruous as it is unassimilable within the fiction. His presence is even more striking because his face is turned towards us and because his viscous hand seizes Marti’s ankle—an act of prehension that is completely transgressive in relation to the self-matting logic of snatching. The iconography evoked by this corpse in mid-putrefaction returns us to other filthy, panting bodies, occupied with similar masquerades of death: the bodies of the Viennese Actionists such as Hermann Nitsch and Günter Brus, exorcising Nazi crimes; or those of Japanese performers, the Gutaï and Yomini Independent groups, refusing to forget...


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