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LAURA WYRICK Summoning Candyman: The Cultural Production of History ERNARD rose's i 992 film, Candyman, opens with dual sequences of narration. The first consists of the eponymous villain/hero's voice-over preface; it presents the Candyman legend proleptically, beginning with the words "They will say," and establishes itself as a fantastical alternative to progressive linear history, as it is spoken against a scrolling aerial shot of traffic-filled Chicago freeways and the Chicago skyline.1 The longer, second sequence foregrounds itself as official history by occurring within an academic setting, a classroom where history is produced and reproduced. Nonetheless, it links itself to Candyman's narration through the use of narrative voice-over—this time, of a young woman who is being interviewed about urban legends—and the emphasis on oral history. Although this account ofCandyman takes place in the past, as the interviewee tells a story about a baby-sitter who used the Candyman ritual (saying "Candyman" five times while looking in a mirror) to seduce her lover, it, too, carries proleptic force. Accompanied by standard slasher-movie images filmed "realistically" so as to construct a coherent short narrative, this sequence suggests that Candyman should be viewed as a conventional horror film, in which a female victim is punished for pursuing her desires—a misleading narrative and generic expectation that the movie subsequently problematizes.2 The two narrative sequences thus counter each other in form and content, stage the contested status of historical narrative, and question the reliability ofvisual proof. Together, they imply that Candyman is about the status ofnarrative and its roots in representational modes and in historical particulars. Arizona Quarterly Volume 54, Number 3, Autumn 1998 Copyright © 1998 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004-1610 9°Laura Wyrick As Candyman examines the relationship oflegend and myth to larger historical legacies, narrative serves preliminarily as an historical symptom , the effect of a specific cultural content. The film's literary predecessor , Clive Barker's 1986 short story, "The Forbidden," also draws its fractious narrative relationships from fractured social divisions. The largest shift from story to film resituates the female protagonist's search for Candyman from a white, lower-class British slum to Chicago's notorious Cabrini Green, a housing project readily identifiable in America with black urban despair.3 Both texts, then, marshal national discourses of social difference. In so doing, they reflect how narrative practices must conflict; narrative emanates from non-self-identical networks of discourse yet is grounded in repetition, repetition based upon difference . Whereas Barker's story suggests that the structuring trope of British history is class division, Rose's film presents race as the organizing principle of American history. By making Candyman (Tony Todd) the son of a slave lynched at Cabrini Green for his involvement with a white woman, the film overlays present American racial conflict upon the historical legacy of slavery; by making Helen (Virginia Madsen) a stereotypical white liberal academic caught in oppressive personal and institutional patriarchal systems, the film connects race to gender. Candyman thus presents American history as racialized, eroticized, and exposed to its own radical contingency. Ultimately, however, the film denies the possibility that narrative simply reflects culture or serves as a passive marker ofhistory. It instead suggests ways that narrative becomes what Michel de Certeau has called a historical "practice of meaning . . . that produces a symbol": through writing, givens are transformed into constructs, and past materials are shaped into representations rather than arranged to disclose verifiable truth (6). Film also operates a techne, as Candymaris self-reflexive concerns with narrative representation attest. The film explores, then, how historical narratives may be constructed and how the individual becomes subject to history. Using an analytic framework primarily drawn from psychoanalytically inflected theory, I will summon Candyman five times; that is, I will examine five ways in which the film stages its interrogations ofnarrativity, historicity, and subjectivity. In so doing, I hope not only to produce a multiple reading of the film but also to suggest how a mass-market movie such as Candyman can provide fruitful grounds for extending Freud's norion of a "case history," which according to Summoning Candyman91 Jacques Lacan is the rewriting or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1558-9595
Print ISSN
0004-1610
Pages
pp. 89-117
Launched on MUSE
2014-04-02
Open Access
No
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