January 15th, 2013


Unpleasant but Not Abnormal

In Blade Runner, there's a test administered to determine whether or not someone is human or a replicant, called an empathy test. In the movie's first scene, one of the questions posed from the test paints the pictures of a tortoise lying helplessly on its back, unable to right itself without the assistance of the interviewee, who is then asked why he does not help the tortoise. Maybe this will help explain why I find it so hard to form any thoughts on 1980's Cannibal Holocaust, how all impressions I might form are dominated by one scene in the film where the actors take a large turtle, turn it over, cut off its head while it lives before tearing it apart and eating it. The image of killing a turtle or tortoise in this way seems a perfect image of horribly puerile cruelty. And yet, from the fact that worse is done to a large extent every day just to keep McDonalds in hamburger patties I cannot agree that the makers of Cannibal Holocaust have done any real, extraordinary cruelty. Ruggero Deodato, the film's director, has nonetheless since expressed regret over what he'd done to animals in the course of making the film. In pioneering the "found footage" technique of horror filmmaking, the movie is undeniably influential to anyone willing to look at cinema without prejudice, and I'm certainly capable of enjoying an exploitation film, but I couldn't find any joy in this one.

I don't like to give a hard time to people I know who eat meat. I would be a hypocrite, considering I wear a fur fedora and a leather jacket. I've always said, quite honestly, that I'm a vegetarian only because I don't enjoy the taste of meat. But maybe it's because I don't eat meat that I haven't found reason to build up the necessary calluses, the dissociation between the enjoyable food and the needless killing done to procure it. But I'd also say I wasn't really bothered by the presence of actual animal death in Apocalypse Now or even the extraordinary number of horses killed for Charge of the Light Brigade. I suppose in the latter case it was because I didn't find out until later that the horses were killed, otherwise the triumphant charge sequence at the end would be too grimly ironic.

I think the reason it's so particularly troubling in Cannibal Holocaust is because of the way it was filmed. Not, as so many reviews and analyses say, for the realism of the filming but for the conspicuous artistic intent behind it. I suppose in 1980 when shooting a horror film in such a way, apparently inspired by Deodato's mentor Roberto Rossellini, was still new it might have seemed shockingly naturalistic. Though even Rossellini's films, compared to other Italian Neorealist films of the 1940s, have an artificial quality to them. What disgusts me about the way the animal killings were shot in Cannibal Holocaust is that they were shot lingeringly as they're killed in slow and unusual ways, particularly the coatimundi and the turtle, with oddly tranquil music, giving the moments the quality of a porno, as though audiences are supposed to masturbate to these images.

This style more appropriately suits the rest of the film which has the unreal qualities of a porno, despite being shot on location in South America with actual members of indigenous tribes. Before getting to the found footage segments, there's a long sequence starring porn star Robert Kerman as a professor seeking information about the group of young documentary filmmakers who form the subject of the movie's latter portion. In one absurd scene, to gain the trust of the Yanomamo, who don't appear to even be present at the beginning of the scene, Kerman takes off all his clothes, and walks a ways into a lake, when magically a number of beautiful young naked women appear and run into the water to play with him. Despite the fact that we're meant to take them as Yanomamo, their physiques and mannerisms show them to clearly be from a first world society. The movie also features a number of gratuitous sexual assaults that I wasn't remotely disturbed by as they were so clearly fake, the camera clearly showing several times that vaginal penetration was being mimed, if the inauthenticity of the performances wasn't enough to tell me that already.

Likewise, it seems bizarre now that Deodato was charged with murder by the Italian government as there is no convincing killing of a human being in the movie. Only animals.

Twitter Sonnet #467

Time is the worn lederhosen of pop.
Boiling water begets grateful oil.
Cocoanut's exotic to the milksop.
Dice grow hydra when planted in soil.
Twisty tie vampires remain in bread.
Notable glimpses of Argentina
Resemble tongue balloons vacating dead
Space whales in the tides of Inverse Lina.
Diamond brittle sweater vests pull the gang.
Opposite breaks in the broadcast pop grey
Sounds that shift from orbit gardens of Tang
Feeding astronauts who have naught to say.
Darkening daguerreotypes of sharp teeth
Sew soft curls into the scalp of belief.