Friday, 28 May 2010

Death In Movies!

The main thing about death in the movies versus death in real life is that death in movies is usually incredibly quick -- take any longer than a minute or so to die once you've started and you're taking far too long. On the other hand, death in films can't be too quick (that is to say unannounced or instantaneous) or else no one has time to say or do anything except react to the death.

People who are shot or stabbed or upon whom some large rock falls or who stumble from a flaming airplane wreck or who are buggered by an outsize alien monster -- all have time for a pithy line or two, something to resonate with viewers, before they close their eyes one last time and are silent. The exception to this is the person dying in a horror film or war film, someone whose death often needs no dialogue because it is by its visual nature entertaining enough without words.

If a character is dying of a disease on the other hand, they may spend much of the film dispensing wit and wisdom (if they're not too busy telling jokes) or 'just' visibly suffering, something particularly difficult to depict onscreen. Regardless, before their curtain closes, they too will normally have ample time for some ultimate gesture or speech (or both). Everything in film is dictated by visual economics, and death is no different.

If film puts limits on death in one way (duration), it also removes limits from death in other ways (notably circumstance but also finality). People die in films in ways that no real person has ever died or likely ever will die. People in films die making the grandest gestures and saying the most perfect things. Their deaths, which almost never come suddenly and unannounced, serve to bring dramas together, seal (or break) contracts and to move the plot forward. They look great dying and they sound great too. Film appears to transcend death itself and indeed will allow the viewer of a film to transcend death as they watch.

Like disturbing scenes, deaths in film have generated a great deal of lists on the internet: what were the best deaths? best kills? best falling deaths? best violent deaths? most sadistic? most gruesome? sexiest? and so on and so on. Perusing a few of these recently, I was surprised at how good many of these lists were. Better than I would have expected anyways, lots of good picks, excellent grounds for discussion for cine-morgue nerds (2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9).

A few things come to mind I didn't see covered, a few deaths that seem stuck in my own cranium for whatever reason. Spoilers ahead, obviously.

1. Best Seller (1987). At the end of this flick, Cleve (James Woods) is an assassin breaking into the home of a former employer who now wants him dead. The security guards Cleve encounters are all-too-easily disposed of; finally, Cleve forces one of these guys to lie down on a bed and then starts berating him, his lousy skills, how easily he was caught out... The guy very nonchalantly says "enough with the insults, just do it" (or something like that) and Cleve shoots him.

2. License To Kill (1989). In this Bond film, JB flips a henchman onto a large open shelf unit full of live maggots, shuts the shelf (which presumably locks), quips "bon appetit" -- and that's the last we ever see of this poor sod. Was he in fact eaten alive by maggots? Would he have asphyxiated first? Perhaps gone mad? I couldn't stop thinking about this mysterious henchman after the film was over; he could have lasted a week or more in there, possibly.

3. Ta paidia tou Diavolou / Island of Death (1975). There's a whole lot of crazy deaths in this nutty Greek movie, but of these I would highlight the one where our happy protagonists Christopher and Celia nail a guy's hands to the concrete patio beneath him and then force a can of white paint down his throat until he dead.

4. Ai no korîda / In the realm of the senses (1976). Kichizo falls in love with Sada and theirs is an obsessive affair, all-consuming and frenzied, with increasing forays into auto-erotic asphyxiation during which Sada strangles Kichizo while he is inside her. These sequences used a lot of red onscreen and something about the way it was shot managed to make me feel light-headed in the rep theatres I'd watch it in. When Kichizo finally dies onscreen, it's almost too much to take.

5. The Asphalt Jungle (1950). Eh, call me a big softie if you will, but the ending of this great movie, wherein Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) has been shot and he knows he's looking at the end of everything and that he's dying and now he just wants to get to the horse-farm of his dreams and he stops the car at that pretty field and opens the gate and he's running through the field and then he falls down there and the horses come over and smell him... *sniff*

Thursday, 27 May 2010

A couple of TG bootlegs!

If, like me, you are frequently forced to listen to autotuned pop hits for tweenagers, you may appreciate a little bit of an aural rinse every now and then.

Here's a couple of my favourite Throbbing Gristle (pre-reunion) bootlegs then: Assume Power Focus, a bunch of old live appearances bookended by newer solo Genesis tracks; and Rafters, a recording of TG's Dec 4, 1980 show at the titular Manchester club.

Throbbing Gristle - Assume Power Focus
Throbbing Gristle - Rafters


Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Sexy Posing With Knives Thing!


On June 15, 2006 - almost four years ago now - Lindsay Lohan went out on the town in New York City, partying at Bungalow 8 nightclub with Sean Lennon and friends; afterwards, she kept the party going at Lennon's Greenwich Village apartment, turning on the charm with a gal pal and some long kitchen knives. About 4:50 in the morning, pictures were taken on a cell phone. Some time later the cell phone's guts gave up the goods, likely copied while the phone sat in an empty vehicle (or were they?). By x17's account, the photographs were then sold to stolen by British tabloid News of the World before being released to the public nearly a year after they were taken.

The ensuing media frenzy was predictably hypocritical - almost all media sources decrying the pictures as "shocking", "troubling", "very worrying", etc., etc. while simultaneously running those same pics in their reports. Media was quick to suggest these photos implied suicidal behaviour, cutting or even a death wish. Some sources were far more caught up in the sexual angle, dwelling on how the girls were nearly naked or hot lesbians.

Initially, Lohan's friend in the photos was unknown, referred to by press as "a pal", "a girlfriend", or even just "some girl". Eventually her identity was revealed as Vanessa Minnillo -- former Miss Teen USA and co-host of MTV's Total Request Live. Speculation was rife Vanessa would lose her job as a consequence. Minnillo went on to distance herself from the evening; she "got caught up in the moment and thought it would be fun... they were only fooling around. This distancing seemed to work for her and her involvement was blamed on "the booze or the drugs".

As for Lindsay, who was in rehab by the time the pictures were released, they were seen as yet more proof the young actress was dangerously out of control, setting a terrible example to her fans, lowering the bar for young women everywhere (famous or not). Surprisingly enough, further antics overshadowed even the knife play and it was soon just another forgotten scandal in a career which seemed to scarcely go a week without a new tabloid headline.


Though I am personally a fan of neither Lindsay Lohan nor Vanessa Minnillo, I must admit the first time I saw these knife party photos, I was mightily stirred and shaken: the young women's faces evoke an easy ecstasy and a drunken rapture while the knives evoked death, plain and simple, quick and bloody.

The dynamic of these two powerful forces drawn together - sex and death - is not something one expects to see played out in cheap gossip fare, much less played out to such great effect as in this remarkable handful of shots. The women appear beautiful, relaxed, ecstatic - they are brazen and play to the camera with half-closed eyelids and half-open lips, radiating confidence and sex, and a giddy energy at the end of a fun evening.

I did not forget these photos but examined them again from time to time. They were so unusual, after all - for celebrities, apparently unique*. I wondered what would cause these two Hollywood starlets to take up knives and begin this act - did some comment or incident earlier in the evening set a tone? Plant a seed? People get drunk or high every hour of the day, but most of those people do not pose for photographs with knives at their face, even when their inhibition is gone and their mind is blotto.

Were the women playing to an audience? Was Sean himself watching at this point, maybe even taking the photographs? As a boy, his mother wrote his then-missing half-sister "Don't Worry Kyoko (Mummy's Only Looking For Her Hand In The Snow)" - might he have a thing for knives himself?

Speculations on the event aside, what cannot be denied is the influence Lindsay Lohan (and Vanessa Minnillo to a lesser extent) had on millions of teenage girls and young women. Surely it was reasonable to consider whether this behaviour was something that might be echoed in the greater population; might we see a fad of sexy posing with knives? Could this develop into some kind of new MySpace cliche?

There were some examples of such echoing certainly. For a while, holding a knife for a photo was seen as a way of suggesting an edginess, an untameable, wild aura. Such effective props proved irresistable for certain performers seeking a grown-up angle. The inevitable clash between such posturing and the reality of being knifed to death can make for awkward exchanges - Katy Perry was shamed for a photo shoot in which she brandished a knife contrasted with local teens dying from stab wounds; her handlers' response was that, "the knife picture was done to give Katy more of a sexy harder edge". Katy's response was to be photographed holding up a spoon.

This meme was taking a serious hit, going down in flames actually as far as I could tell. Soon only assholes would pose with knives. If posing sexily with knives was going to make a sexy comeback, it needed a classy champion, someone sexy but with social capital - like, maybe Beyoncé? Sadly, Beyoncé played with toy guns instead, and what we got in the way of sexy posing with knives was Sandra Bullock's husband's girlfriend Michelle McGee, and her white power kneecaps.

One hopes we've hit bottom now. And that brighter days lie ahead, when posing sexily with a knife will connote nothing beyond the fission of sex and death, least ways nothing like Katy Perry and Michelle McGee. When women may press a blade to their cheek or to their lips... and feel not the blush of shame but that of enjoyment if not actually getting turned on? Come quickly tomorrow's tomorrow and spare us the slow forgetting of yesterday!

*yes, Angelia Jolie has a well-known history of collecting knives and even using them during sex. This is more about the visual fact of the knife appearing in the photograph however, the transgressive image and how it is quickly co-opted.