Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The politics of catastrophe movies 2

More from Daney's Cahiers articles on sci fi, horror and catastrophe movies.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(Don Siegel)

(...) What is more surprising is that science fiction movies are precisely the ones where the feeling of strangeness is the least disturbing, where the idea of the Other would be familiar or ordinary. And these are often reactionary movies where man, far from going beyond himself - where he is so little -, ends up accepting, bitterly and convincingly, this human condition that some (totalitarian regimes let's say) want to deny him.

Cahiers du cinéma, issue 197, January 1968, my translation.

Night of the Living Dead

We haven't taken notice enough, in American cinema, of a tenacious and underground taste for the apocalypse. As if too much good conscience could only be carried through by bringing up the most definitive horrors - horrors which do not come without a certain pleasure, as clearly seen with DeMille (or with King in In Old Chicago or with Van Dyke in San Francisco), the filmmaker of the catastrophe and the accident, themes which gravity can impress and which productivity is not to be neglected since that on top of the photogenic destruction came the secondary benefits of revaluing the characters (at least those who survived) who, when reduced the state of rags, were more sublime and more human than ever. Great natural accidents but also ordeals largely-deserved by a futile humanity; it was so in DeMille’s movies and later in Hitchcock’s, or in these low budget Sci-Fi movies that were made suddenly possible towards 1950 by the idea of an atomic end, the abrupt mutations of a rebelling nature become absurd and monstrous, the ever so possible eradication of man, etc. (Five, Them!, Body Snatchers). And yet, there like elsewhere, the apocalypse disappointed, because men, stupid enough to deserve it, were also wise enough to stop it, opposing a united front from where – all differences having been erased – a feeling properly overwhelming of the human was coming to the light of day. Of the human as such, i.e. non-monstrous.

Cahiers du cinéma, issue 219, April 1970, my translation

Francis Ford Coppola, Apocalypse Now

(…) Ok, Apocalypse Now is an exceptional film. But it is also an average post-Viet Nam American movie. Recently American cinema keeps going around the theme of the presence of the Other in ourselves. Other as in “Alien”, the title of the biggest success of the summer in the US. "Ourselves", of course and one more time, is the American considering himself as a general equivalent of the human species. Except that to “be” an American is never that obvious or that simple (I pass on the melting-pot and other myths) and it seems that one is always ready to do anything to be more American (see Kazan). Ideologically, the idea of all these films (Alien, The Exorcist, The Deer Hunter, even Close Encounter of the Third Kind) is to make the Americans even more Americans by making them exorcise an Other (evil usually) which haunts or inhabits them. The novelty of these movies, their strength too, is that they have decided to stop being stingy on the (technological) means to show us the other, the alien, in ourselves. Until now it was often B movies which used to tackle this theme (in the 50s and through anti-communism) but with no resources, forced to resort to weak effects and script subtleties (the Tournerian off-camera) which could amaze only very naive or very sophisticated spectators (cinephiles). The decision to show what cannot be shown is recent. And there are different versions. With Cimino, it is the Asian who is responsible for having woken up the beast the sleeps inside us: we therefore kill him and shame him for having woken up the beast – a known melody. With Ridley Scott (Alien) it is the protean monster literally emerging from the human body and occupying the spacecraft like a cancer with terrifying unpredictable metastases.

Cahiers du cinéma, issue 304, October 1979, my translation


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