Saturday, August 01, 2009

Losing It In Style

Adam of Club Silencio here going off the deep end. This week saw the release of Roman Polanski's Repulsion on glorious Criterion DVD and Blu-ray. As per usual we're given a beautiful print of the film with a scattering of insightful extras. And the film itself has lost none of its power; a razor-sharp story of a manicurist whose foundation is cracking alongside her confining London flat. The film has become such an essential horror film throughout the years that it becomes quite simple to see echoes of a pert and psychotic Catherine Deneuve in the many films that have adopted Repulsion's structure and style -- usually in an attempt to peruse the psyches of their damaged protagonists. It begs the questions: do male directors somehow break the misogynist critique by having these women undone by dastardly, dirty men? And do blondes really have more fun?

Repulsion (1965)
dir: Roman Polanski

The final eerie frame lingers on a photo of Carol (Catherine Deneuve) as a child staring ambiguously into space, or possibly in the direction of her father. Repulsion never makes explicit whether Carol was a victim of sexual abuse and yet we're constantly faced with Carol's... repulsion... toward men. Their voices, their touch, their smell -- Carol's infinitely more at ease with the beheaded rabbit that's decaying in her living room. Even her apartment building takes part in a full on assault on her physical body. If these walls could talk... they'd say something smutty and grab your breasts. Carol's mind becomes a crumbling facade; a soft-spoken and elegant blonde woman is destroyed by some abstract primal fear. The question "why" really doesn't matter to Polanski, but much of the film's unnerving pleasure comes in the speculation of what could turn this lost little girl into an adult woman losing it with a straight-razor.

Images (1972)
dir: Robert Altman

Altman's film knowingly owes Polanski a great dept as we fall into the dark recesses of Cathryn's (Susannah York) broken mind. A children's author and her dull, hobbyist husband venture to their fantastical country home where we experience Cathryn's triple assault by her lovers (both living and dead), and witness doppelgangers of Cathryn at varying stages of her life... possibly. Her madness accelerates, but much like Repulsion, we're never sure where nightmare and reality meet, or if we've been behind Cathryn's corrupted gaze all along.

The Stendhal Syndrome (1996)
dir: Dario Argento

Undercover at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, inspector Anna Manni (Asia Argento) experiences the Stendhal Syndrome (a psychological fatigue caused by great works of art) and quite literally falls into the arms of the sadistic serial rapist she was trying to capture. Much like Repulsion, Argento places the narrative directly in sync with Anna's dissolving mental state. Unlike Carol however, Anna's initial response to her sexual revulsion at the hands of maniacal men has her adopting her very own masculine side in order to inflict harm on the men closest to her -- also she simplifies by just using a razor blade. Eventually Anna dons a blonde wig in an attempt to regain her femininity, but it becomes more evident that it's just a simpler disguise for her continual descent into madness.

Inland Empire (2006)
dir: David Lynch

Lynch's film unravels similarly with doppelgangers and ambiguously fractured mental states. Actress Nikki Grace's (Laura Dern) latest role has her transforming into a woman spurned by manipulative men, and transforming into another woman entirely. Susan Blue (Laura Dern), a prostitute worn by the streets and an abusive carny boyfriend, is confined to her dank apartment where we see her madness manifest in the form of strobe-lit screams and a theatre showing Nikki/Susan's life as it's happening -- to which Susan herself can only describe as a "mind f**k." Typical of Lynch, all of this is best left to the audience that is now left with their minds in comparable disarray.

All I can conclude is that this would make a wonderful movie marathon for anyone (man-hater or otherwise) holed up inside their apartment for questionable lengths of time. Ultimately these fine films are a reminder of the very fragile, unknowable state of the human mind. And a solid reminder to get out more.


fabrizia said...

I find this whole "blond women find men so repulsive" schtick a bit tiresome.

I guess what bothers me is that when the genders are reverse, people say "oh that's mysoginistic", as if only women were allowed to express their repulsion towards the male population.


i'm off to a wedding (not mine ;) but when I return it's sort of my only goal in life to find a day where i can hole in my apartment for 36 hours or so and then turn out all the lights and watch Repulsion (Criterions). So glad they've given it the treatment.

I haven't seen Images and i feel like i know zilch about Susannah York's career (though I do remember seeing her in various 80s movies... but it was before the cinephilia really kicked in) so it must go on the queue.

Adam said...

Sorry fabrizia that you're not a fan. Please don't find me repulsive.

I find this very niche genre totally fascinating. I would never ever label them "misogynistic" myself, that's why I mentioned that they may break such a critique. I brought that claim up simply because it's one leveled against some of these directors quite often (especially Lynch and Argento) and those few elements definitely link the films in some way. Believe me, I hate that term as well and its overuse, especially with directors making films as ambiguous as this.
If anything these movies are some of their more sympathetic portrayals of women because we're asked to identify with and understand even their most horrific moments.

"Images" is a real find and a great match with "Repulsion." Good idea for the viewing, Nat, and if you don't return to Film Experience within twelve days, I'll know exactly what happened.

Adam said...

Also I love that you have an exclusive tag on your site for "wigs," and am happy to join those ranks.

nerdy mcnerderson said...

The phrase "begging the question" (or "begs the question") does not mean, "raising/raises the question."

"Begging the question" is a form of circular reasoning and logical fallacy in which the proposition or statement that is to be proven is assumed in the premises of the problem. It has become somewhat idiomatic due to its abundant misuse.

Yeah, I'm anal. Don't mind me.

Adam said...

I'll file that under a question nobody begged? Kidding. I'm actually pretty content if readers can describe my writing as "barely literate." Thanks for the compliment!

Chris Na Taraja said...

I wore a blonde wig once, and it was fun, but not really any more fun than the time I wore a black wig. And I've had lot's of fun in my own hair. I'm not convinced just yet about the advantages of being blonde.

JS said...

I just ordered Repulsion from Amazon, I can't wait to see it. Paper Magazine did an interesting story on the release.

Miguel Cane said...

Hi Adam!

Fascinating post. Very clever. However, a small nit-picking: Deneuve's character is called Carol Ledoux.

Carry on!