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point, "political extremes and the antagonism of aesthetic positions hostile to one another receded into the past . . . Life had introduced decisive correctives into the former correlation between artistic movements." A Soviet reader, accustomed to meaningful understatement, may be able to interpret "life" as the Stalinist iron fist that imposed a uniform socialist realism on the theatre, but readers in the West require more candid explication. Laurence Senelick The GrandGuignol: Theatre of Fearand Terror Mel Gordon Amok Press; 188 pp.; $12.95 (paper) The Grand Giugnol was a theatre, located in one of Paris's seedier arrondissements , that made its living between 1897 and 1962 by capitalizing on "the collective phobias of its spectators." But of course the term denotes more than a building; it encompasses what amounts to a counterphilosophy. Mel Gordon begins his account by listing the eponymous theatre's characteristic concerns: "incest and patricide; blood lust; sexual anxiety and conflict ; morbid fascination with bodily mutilation . . . [and] an overall disgust for the human condition and its imperfect institutions." The Grand Guignolexplores both the history of a popular phenomenon and its development as a sensibility; but Mel Gordon is a little shy of the latter. Perhaps this is because, as he acknowledges early in his introduction, there is an embarassment to making overmuch of the Grand Guignol; it is an enterprise that begs for apology or at least justification. The current glut of po-mo analyses ranging from the semiotics of TV wrestling to the gender reversals of Pee-Wee 's Playhouse is making researchers and readers alike wonder whether there is, after all, less than meets the eye to cultural analogy; and I suspect Gordon worries he is in bad company. Not that there isn't much to commend in his presentation. While short on sociological speculation, the book is long on artifacts. The best of these are the complete texts of two Guignol hits, both by Andre de Lorde: The System of DoctorGoudron and ProfessorPlume (1903) and The Laboratory ofHallucinations(1916). That these are subliterary comes as no surprise , considering the academic conspiracy of silence that's kept them in obscurity all these decades. What is gratifying, however, is that they are well put-together-precursors, in fact, of the tried-and-true formulas of economic timing familiar to us from prime-time TV. Unfortunately, the middle of the book is given over to summarizing one hundred lurid plots that made the Grand Guignol famous. This section 162 quickly becomes tedious and then frustrating, fretted as it is with implicit but unanswered questions. For instance, it is interesting in historical terms that a play written in 1909 dramatizes the writing of "modern poetry" as a symptom of insanity. And that in a 1910 one-act entitled Sabotage a child bleeds to death while its father is out unionizing and singing the "Internationale ." An energetic deconstruction of a few plots like these would have helped clarify the peculiar sensibility of Grand Guignol. The Grand Guignol's strongest section is its introduction, in which Gordon confidently traces a native tradition of terror in European drama. But even there, many issues remain unaddressed. If Grand Guignol's influence is chiefly relegated to horror films of the '30s, how do we account for the Freddy Krugers and Jasons of the present? In a dramatic form that thrived on the sexually scabrous, why was there virtually no exploitation of homosexuality in the earlier repertoire? If Grand Guignol was so aggressively anti-bourgeois, why did so many of its plays reaffirm middle-class values? True, this may be faulting the author for failing to reach goals he never had in mind. Certainly the book is well written, and is enlivened with mysteries glimpsed in passing (such as the expatriate Ho Chi Minh's constant presence at Guignol performances). Also, the abundant posters, cartoons , and publicity photos that illustrate the text go a long way toward illuminating the repressed hysteria of this theatre at its best-or worst. In all, Gordon's work is groundbreaking but unfinished; though The Grand Guignol successfully establishes its subject's importance as a subgenre, it remains for another historian to forge the missing sociological links. Mead Hunter The FeministSpectatoras...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1537-9477
Print ISSN
1520-281X
Pages
pp. 162-163
Launched on MUSE
2018-01-03
Open Access
No
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