Monday, December 20, 2010


The following is a speech I thought to be lost that I gave prior to a showing of George A. Romero's Night of The Living Dead at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. It is part of a larger discussion I believe needs to be had on political cinema.
Radical leftist and anarchist Emma Goldman called, the Hollywood cinema, an “opiate of the masses.” Contrastively, filmmaker David Cronenberg felt that the horror film, post-1960's, was “non-bourgeois.” Cronenberg meant by this that horror's raison d'ĂȘtre is going to dark places psychologically or sociologically. In this process, it breaks dominate “bourgeois” social mores. Cult horror also has been somewhat shielded by Hollywood's morality due to it's low-budget “D.I.Y” nature. Does this mean though that horror is an “enlightened” and politically left genre as many a horror fan continues to claim it to be? Some of horror's common themes say otherwise. It is assumed to be so though since George A. Romero started the horror-film-as-socio-political-critique (and did it right) with Night Of The Living Dead. My criticism is that the popular themes of female liberation and a negative view of humanity, neither of which Romero has employed, keep the genre “bourgeois”.
The “female liberation,” the glorious achievement horror lays claim to is a bunch of garbage.  The horror genre has had a tendency to have women as main characters, something not common in “Hollywood.” Horror is patted on the back for this, but utilization of leading ladies always breaks down into “Halloween” feminism and “Aliens” feminism. “Halloween” feminist influence is seen in films that promote a sex-negative ideology that anything but virginal purity means death or with the case of John Carpenter's film, even worse, patriarchal culture will murder you for not having sex. Such is nothing more than “patriarcho-fascism.”
Then “Aliens” feminism allows women to liberate themselves, but men, the majority of directors, choose what way they can. First, you must fit what dominant patriarchal society deems as beautiful. Then, you must use vaguely pornographic Rambo-type violence. While in reality, if a male ruined a woman’s life due to an unconscious patriarchal act, men actually wouldn’t support violent or non-violent “liberation.”
When put up against actual feminist thought Halloween feminism kind of fits into “second-wave” feminism, as it was a white middle-class movement and somewhat of a Christian morality complex. Neither fit into the “sex positive,” egalitarian, and more enlightened modern Third Wave feminist thought. So it would be nice to see an end put to the “female liberation” theme since it in no way promotes actual “liberation.”
Into a darker realm, horror loves the Hobbesian view of human nature. Thomas Hobbes' political philosophy can best be summed up by his statement that: “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that conditions called war; and such a war, as if of every man, against every man.” So without centralized government, humans will be in a “war of all against all” due to their natural inclination to be violent and selfish. His thought has very much influenced Western “bourgeois” thought. Two classic and influential examples of “Hobbesian” films are David Cronenberg's Shivers and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining.
With Shivers Cronenberg took heavy influence from the very Hobbesian totalitarian civilization preferring psychology of Sigmund Freud. In the film there is literally a character named “Thomas Hobbes.” Cronenberg states with the film that one-day institutions, such as the state, will collapse due to their limited ability to stop our innate violent and aggressive sexual tendencies. Kubrick stated in a rare interview that The Shining’s purpose was to get out a sociobiology of the “ignoble savage” or more simply, brutal violence is innate. Recently, such pessimism towards humanity can be found in the “Neo-Liberal” philosophy of the Saw torture porn film series.
            On the left politically of this, we have Romero’s films. He accomplishes cinema’s purpose, as filmmaker Robert Bresson eloquently points out, that it is to “make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen.” Romero does this by making zombies literally us. This morbid poetic device brings us into an unknown reality far more than a Michael Moore documentary ever could. So, in his recent Land Of The Dead Romero literally had the proletariat of course, eating the rich. In a beautiful execution, he blatantly made the upper class’s leader a George W. Bush-esque character. Who is murdered by a proletarian who tried to move up the Neo-Liberal ladder, but was denied entry to the upper echelon. This 2005 film, made years before the current economic crisis, proposed a violent revolution against the mass inequality of advanced capitalism. Still, it was a paltry example of cinema and only has strengths conceptually. Then in Dawn Of The Dead he made us into consumerist zombies inhabiting a mall. Saying that capitalism infects everyone, anyone from Nuns, to children to a Hare Krishna devotee becomes a zombie. Romero, once again a visionary making Dawn years before the popularity of indoor shopping malls, ultimately proposes with Dawn that capitalism is cannibalism. Then with his first effort, N.O.T.L.D. Romero made a political statement far more polemical than most when the film was made in 1968. The zombies in this one violently destroy the nuclear family, become victims of KKK style racist terrorism and mimic the carnage going on in Vietnam. All while the corporate and state media consistently fail the survivors. Film historian Robin Wood also noticed that the zombie’s “cannibalism represents the ultimate in possessiveness, hence the logical end of human relations under capitalism.” His overall point was that the zombie’s victims represented the repressed “others” that “bourgeois” society oppresses. These “others” are the civil rights activists, feminists, homosexuals and left political people in general.  To end this, Romero’s films are an example of progressive political filmmaking. 

The reality on the streets is the horror community is one that rather support the idiocy of Saw over Pan's Labyrinth. Then when the horror scenesters cling to a filmmaker, they have little justification for it other than camp romanticism. Romero's recent films have been garbage. All I can say is we can look forward, in terms of political horror, are Alex de la Iglesia, Srdjan Spasojevic, Xavier Gans (whose Hitman was garbage, but whose Frontier(s) was one of the better political films in recent times (and whose next film The Divide maybe along the same political lines)), Catheriene Brellat (whose designation as a "horror director" could be debated, but she has horror elements in her work), and their is at least a social conscious in the horror-influenced films of Chan-Wook Park

In terms of the best horror films, political or not, in recent times we have Pontypol, The Orphanage, The Devils Rejects, Splice and The Mist. Let The Right One In was decent, but didn't pack any punches. It still deserves mention. As does the film House Of The Devil by Ti West, which has several issues as a film, but the control West should be commended. He goes for atmosphere and no one else is doing that in horror. He might be the next great American horror filmmaker.

Still, horror is an odd genre that should be personal and the personal is always political.


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