Monday, July 16, 2018

Is Tobe a "Take-Charge" Sort of Guy? And, The Bird Story.

SPIELBERG: "Tobe isn't what you'd call a take-charge sort of guy.  He's just not a strong presence on a movie set."

Is he?  No.  This doesn't mean he didn't have vision, or that he didn't have a backbone.  Texas Chain Saw alums remember a few tantrums.  He was a quiet, interior, sometimes inarticulate, largely mumbly artistic presence.  He is going to fare even less well on a heavy-stricture major studio set.  Does this mean he didn't direct his film?  No.  Are there other ways to exert your influence?  Yes.  It is these smaller, less conspicuous and showy ways that crew members ignore for Spielberg's more attention-grabbing producing.

"If a question was asked and an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming, I'd jump up and say what we could do. Tobe would nod agreement, and that became the process of the collaboration."

If an answer wasn't immediately forthcoming.  And in those cases in which he jumped in, he didn't really care!  "You want the clown to be skinnier instead of stubbier?  Sure."  And when he cared, you better expect he spoke up.  It became the nature of the collaboration: frustration on both ends.

"Well, the turmoil is essentially created by wanting to do it your own way and having to go through procedure.  That is why I will never again not direct a film I write.  It was frustrating for Tobe Hooper and it was frustrating for the actors, who were pretty torn between by presence and his on the set every day."

Procedure.  Spielberg had to suppress himself.  Things had to be uniformly agreed upon.  Hooper was the director.

Also, from my diligent Facebook stalking, I can confidently say there was at least one instance where a stand-up person out there who "happens to know a person who worked on the production," says that that person he knows said Hooper directed.  Whenever you find a comment saying "I knew/asked a crew member," it is almost always a vote for Spielberg, but there is one, golden post where the person who knows the person, and that person was a crew member, holy cow, said the person said it was Hooper directing.  There is at least one production personnel on my side, whoever you are. *weeps*

And I'll finish off this short post with the "Bird Story," graciously tipped off to me by a reader as invested in the Poltergeist story as I am, told by the late Lou Perryman on the Dead Pit podcast that you can listen to here.  It is a case of Hooper having a forthcoming answer...

"[Answering the question] Tobe directed it.  ... Tobe directed it.  You know, Tobe told me that what he had to do was accept reality.  He and Steve were writing a script, together, and they were probably gonna take 16 years to write it, who knows, with Tobe.  Who knows, I don't know, less?  But at some point, Steve wrote it, said, "Here's our script, this is what we're going to shoot."  And, of course, he's got, "Written by Steven Spielberg."  And I believe Tobe.  Absolutely I believe Tobe.  Tobe, Tobe had a [...?] story, and understood what needed to be in there, and was certainly conversant with Poltergeist and what was into that.  But Tobe directed me, and everything I saw while I was there he directed.  Steve was there, you're not gonna ignore Steve, but he's only gonna step-- he only stepped in... I think they talked about some stuff.  He didn't go in and take things over, while I was there.  I heard some of the stories that were... not flattering of Steve.  Of making trouble.  Remember the scene in Poltergeist where the mother is getting ready to flush the little dead bird, and there's the shadow of the dead bird on the toilet lid?  All of a sudden you see the shadow of this hand holding this bird... and evidently, Steve wanted Tobe to put his profile in that shot in the back of the toilet.  Anyway, weird; Tobe said no.  Tobe said, no, I don't believe I'll do that.  I don't want to do that, Steve.  And Steve stayed after him and [?] him about it.  And made almost an issue of it.  I believe Tobe on that one.  Tobe wouldn't tell that story, I'm sure.  But it's difficult, you know, we're all human and shit comes in, and he might've felt some breath from Tobe, I don't know what.  What can we imagine, that Steven Spielberg who was not the monster star even then as he is now, but with all the heavy weight that he was there... he was busy doing E.T., evidently, so he was there only a part of the time, so if there was anyone who was there part of the time, it was Steve.  But yeah, Tobe directed, Tobe directed me.  It was tense, you know, you've got Steve Spielberg looking over your shoulder, holy mackerel.  You're gonna be on your best behavior.  I've known actors that have been just so tense around certain directors who didn't make them feel comfortable.  I've worked with directors who didn't make me feel comfortable... god damn Oliver Stone, man.  Wanna be tense?  Holy shit, that's the guy.  God damn."

Friday, July 13, 2018

VIDEO ESSAY! "How the Pool Scene of 'Poltergeist' Could Have Turned Out"

I am no virtuoso, but here is my humble attempt at a video essay on Poltergeist's pool scene and how the script could point to a very different scene if realized by someone else other than Hooper.

Video-making is a tedious and difficult process, and so I'll admit to gaps in the larger argument result of a lack of patience to go back and fill them in.  I forget to put a point on the nature of the film's skeletons or corpses, in contrast to the "characteristic corpses" of the script that emphasize the morbid individuality of the dead instead of the "anonymity" of the corpses (I mention "anonymity" in the video, but probably fail to give it context).  Here is the commentary I had excised from the video:
As opposed to the characteristic corpses of the script, whether described as clad in burial clothes or flashing its embalmment paraphernalia, what we have instead is complete interchangeability marking the concept of death.  One corpse is described in the script with a “leathery face,” like the mummies of Raiders.  The "upsurge" of corpses is describes as a "black tie crowd," as if a scene from The Shining.  No, these are not ghouls for Hooper, they are merely the metonym for death and require no greater elaboration.
I also took out further commentary on Spielberg and Hooper's divergent approach to characters and dramatic scenarios.  While Spielberg is a dramatist and will traditionally develop characters by giving each their "moment" (such as Mrs. Tuthill telling her husband emphatically, "No.  Don't go in there"), Hooper only serves to realize a document of reality, not the measured dramatic display of a screenplay.  Thus, the Tuthills' personal deliberations over what to do with Diane are a cacophonous overlapping of their indecision and objections.  Mr. Tuthill's line, pointing out the bodies, is completely elided, looking down at the bodies, relegating him to an Other with no stake in the events.  Mrs. Tuthill's objection isn't the caricature-approaching, underlined moment of entitled bourgeois disengagement, but a proper wrestling with a character allowed humanity, the ability to be as afraid as Diane - she pleads with her husband, Hooper knowing the most understandable and universal instinct is not to judge (whether Mrs. Tuthill herself, or the audience in reaction to her) but to empathize, and we are allowed to do so with Mrs. Tuthill.
Tuthill feints a step toward the house before his wife, in rather typical Spielbergian fashion of overriding emotional caricatures, grabs him and sternly - whether in fear or an anti-noblesse oblige - and says, in its big bolded moment, “Don’t go in there.  Don’t ever go in there.”  It’s a statement towards Spielberg’s interest in measured drama and character work, as opposed to the instinctive, subliminal dramatic and character work of Hooper’s realistic zone.
Also, my most regretted omission, not pointing out the restaging of the scene that has Diane finally climbing out of the pool not at the shallow end but by climbing a large hose.  Absurdity through necessity.

Hopefully not too incoherent to extract something sensical every so often, please enjoy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018


The light fixture and the bouquet: two objects of fascination for Hooper, so far as I have gathered.  Here, they are, by happenstance, fused, as if from the same fount of knowledge and wisdom artists go to find the items of inspiration, the foundational index of that aesthetical ultimatum "Truth is beauty, beauty truth."  Where to find that highly sought after intersection between nature and civilization is in the latter's most man-made and most mimetic graces (through means of production): the harnessing of light - the dint of living through illumination - artificial or otherwise (or perhaps an atomic indeterminacy between the two), and the harnessing of nature, a bouquet an artificiality and a naturalism all at once.

All at once, in our state of nature, naked, nude, we are gifted a bouquet: an act of aggression, an act of devotion, towards our lovers, towards our living with freedom but without coherency.  Where do we stand as beings determined to achieve coherency but ultimately failed by the means of our communication (our language), the artifacts of our ascendancy?

Artifacts, such as clothing.  Another hand-out by the passive-aggressive lover.  Clothe yourself and you shall be one with our nature, our found-objects civility.  Hooper's characters adorn themselves in ways that characterize them, or that beautify them - the latter, a way to return to nature, a conjoining of our modesty-artifice and our search for grace.  The predominance of primary colors in Hooper's clothing, namely in The Funhouse and Poltergeist, is tied to the "bouquet of humans" he often tries to materialize.

"I'm speaking, subject."

While dressing... if Hooper's timelines weren't so compacted, he'd always have scenes of characters dressing.

"I'm listening, object."  One need only think of Lisa listening to Dr. Marsh in the hospital waiting room in Spontaneous Combustion to see Hooper's similar feelings toward the disjuncture between the means of our communication - subject, object (somewhere lost: predicate) - and the idea that our communication ever resolves our battling impulses toward nature and ascendancy.  Between coherency - at war with our desire to communicate in words - and false signifiers, that of language, that of self-identity... and self-assurance, that which we contrive as if natural.

The Human Bouquet


"Experiment in literary investigation."  The unknown, often elided inscription of a text gives away its method.  An investigation through documents, texts, and primary sources.  Hooper's filmography doubles as "experiments in literary investigation."  That which we cannot trust - whether images or words - we must use.


La nature versus la métaphore.  Granted their diversity, the concepts are one and the same, sprung from the same indexes.  One is our state of being, the other the Derridean dissemblance of it into that which is unrecognizable.  No concept is original, the metaphor is simply the investigation of a dissembling "nature."  Imagine each of Hooper's films beginning with this red-on-white-on-black text "NATURE" and then "THE METAPHOR" before beginning its postmodernist or modernist invective and you would not be too destabilized (save, perhaps, for Texas Chainsaw 2, Spontaneous Combustion, and The Mangler: the less self-conscious melodrama and fantasy).

"In Kinshasa," 

"... at a bend in the river."

The nude woman inducts a new Africa-centric world-building, with a gesture of the hand.  A nude woman inducts a new galactic-centric world-building, with a choke-hold on small men.

"Soon, everyone will need an interpreter, to understand the words coming from their own mouths."

The woman holds two roses before the man comes to her and throws the entire bouquet into her hands.  Nature becomes civilization's construct before our eyes as she extols our growing ability to dissociate from ourselves, allegorized by an increasing unfamiliarity with our own language and how we deem to use it, by dint of controlling the text.  Logo centrism is an illusion when the world designs to delude us, mire us in conspiracy, fool us of our own control over ourselves.

By way of the Fat Lady laughing at an unshackled Amy in The Funhouse ("Give up freedom itself," Godard will go on to announce, "and have everything returned to you"), we recall that a rose was meant to symbolize Amy in the confines of the funhouse in a mostly unrealized-within-film conception that Hooper trumpeted in a circa pre-Funhouse-release magazine interview.  "Amy is the rose" that we see in the film, he said to an effect.  It survives almost exclusively now in the opening credits, with the "faded gentleman" puppet holding a rose shown in conjunction with Elizabeth Berridge's credit.  Her nature is singularly that which can be returned to nature (by the end of the film), an innocence that can only reach its potential by giving up all freedom.  Contrast to this the freedom - of return - that the fancy thief Villamosh Anolisslovsky in The Heisters (also symbolized by a rose) only actualizes by never giving up freedom and self-interest, and thus his return is one only through death.

More dressing...

"There's never been a Nobel Prize in painting, or music."

Can the image be an achievement?  The lamp returns.  Hooper mentions Nick Ray in the Lifeforce commentary at the very moment the camera tilts and initiates an experiment in cinematographic investigation.

Once again, we dress.


And disrobe...


"Everyone can stop God from existing, but no one does."  
God in the contemptful, profane prologue to Djinn.

"I remember studying the Laurent-Schwartz-Dirac curve."

"Infinite in every point except for one which is zero."

"The two greatest inventions,"

"infinity and zero."

- "No."

Infinity and zero.

Hooper's images are that image infinite at every point except that which it is zero, the limits of the frame: meaning only derived where it is null, the father at the edge of significance.

Multiple points of focus merely derive the infinity in which there is none.  Sex and death imply the two limits of the image: that which gratifies, satiates, multiplies, and that which ends our search.  Beauty is truth, truth is the end of purpose and the image.  

Light is the closed circuit that represents our existence as a society, flickering on and off between an infinity and zero.

"Only free beings can be strangers to each other.  They have shared freedom, but this is what separates them."

Hooper's filmmaking is special and especially literate, in the same way Godard's is, in that his characters are not just symbols and representations, the same way Godard's oftentimes nameless characters are not just symbols.  They are everything in a relationship before they become zero.  This is why every relationship in a Hooper film is an ultimatum between fulfillment and loss (and perhaps why Poltergeist does not quite feel, thematically, like a Hooper film, save for perhaps the ultimatum between a relationship bestowed with a material abundance, and then, suddenly, a relationship divested of all those things).  The two filmmakers' lovers may not act and speak rationally, within the drama, but this is because the ideas are bigger than they are.  They are lobbed about and volleyed to and fro by ideas, perhaps due to their namelessness, their Hooperian or Godardian ordinariness, but they are always real.  Their emotions are real.  They are the zero within which every point around them is infinite.

Frankenstein, the dichotomy between living and dead, a horror story of society and nature, in which living is the construct.

What does your husband do?

"He's just an individual."  Hooper's characters do not fit into the narrative like clockwork.  They are flung and rapt by the waves of narrative.  Their freedom predisposes them to their fatedness, their ability to be strangers to each other and an alienation to the things around them.  They share their rebellion, which is automatically lost to them, as opposed to characters, within a narratology, who conform to narrative and thus steward their fate.  This is counterintuitive and paradoxical, but necessarily so.

If subjects always seem familiarized to the narrative, if they have this sort of "freedom," when in fact reality is a non-freedom, there is no image to create (without reality).

"Rodin's sculpture, The Thinker... you know it?"

Hooper literalizes the bouquet in human beings, when there are no flowers at his disposal.  Godard literalizes in order to metaphorize.

With the introduction of Godard's scatological logic, we realize it is again all about human behavior and individuality, and we open it up to the world that is a dichotomy between the public and personal.  We only need recall Hooper's bathroom scenes, from Eaten Alive to, yes, Crocodile, to Djinn, and we can zero in on Hooper and Godard's joint project of an "experiment in literary inertia."  The world opens up at this point, and suddenly the scatological is surmisable to war.




And undressing...

A moment rivaling Hooper's grimiest moments.  Death and conflict, degradation and humiliation - always based in relationships, in the ways we relate to each other or to things.

Dressing, undressing.  Undressing, dressing.  This is such a pivotal aspect in many of Hooper's films.  It shocks that a genre filmmaker can be so interested in aspects of human behavior and activity, in the nature of humans as exhibits of ontological phenomena.

"... paint not what we see, for we see nothing, 
nor what we cannot see, for we must paint only what we see.  
But paint that we don't see."


And dressing...

"... that men can be sincere with others and even with themselves, when they glorify a woman's kindness toward them. Although, all in all at the heart of their liaison circulates, constantly, secretly, unavowed to others or unwittingly revealed by questions, investigations, a painful concern. But this could not have arisen without the previous gentleness."

At the heart of liaisons is a "painful concern."  And so both Hooper and Godard constantly posit that these questions of freedom and communication are always tied to relationships.  If Godard often emphasizes the typical gendered binary, decidedly non-platonic, Hooper's questions of interrelation and suffering have often branched out to mutants, children, family, property, etc.  Simply, what is out there that can remove our autonomy?

"No one could think freely if his eyes were locked in another's gaze. As soon as gazes lock, there are no longer exactly two of us."

Misery - Sadness


"What's difficult is to fit flatness into depth."

Hooper and Godard's materialism and streamlined interest in things shows a willingness to access the brash zone of inner life.



"He says he's dying."

"So let him die."