Friday, December 18, 2015

THAS: Miscellany (On Night Terrors; Career Analogs; Hooper Article)

On 'Night Terrors'
Like most works of calculable, multivalent, and most likely an artisanal and thus extremely personal sort of craft, such works tend to congeal and become more cohesive the more time you spend with them.  The idiosyncrasies and creative choices become less jarring and more of a piece, tied to a vision and unifying function.  I find this is often the way of music, which is largely more about the whole rather than the parts, more about conceptual instinct than it is about "intellectualizing" every bit of the construction.  Meticulous construction does come into play, but it is not the main point, rather it is the result of the overarching vision, which entails a truer freedom (with instincts often associational) that in turn entails room for imperfections, which entails the necessity of a harder vision of a harder inspiration and harder connections (as Godard put it, as put to the reader in my previous post, in his King Lear film: "The more the connections... are distant and true, the stronger they needed to be").  In the creation of a film work, an intellectual whole is more often than not impeded by intellectualizing parts, which is characteristic of those who are technicians of story - those who seem to simply transpose a screenplay, ridden with momentary concepts and narratological mechanics, onto the screen, lacking that special freedom, that sense of continuity, that room for association, while little effect is actually done by the enhancing of elements of style or of visual indulgence.

The conundrum (that truly entices) of Hooper's Night Terrors is that the whole that congeals, that makes itself more apparent (the more time spent with it - as its most inspiring tics and lucid passages lose, slightly, their element of surprise) is its faithfulness to its sources, its self-aware, almost self-sabotaging competence in recreating the Euro-trash products of the 70s (some of which do transcend the inheritance of their time of manufacture).  In initial viewings, its script seemed nonsensical, Hooper's naive artistry and seeming incapacity for conventional thriller beats enlivening but simultaneously making incoherent the script Harry Alan Towers signed off (he who produced a number of Jess Franco films) and that was initially to go to Ken Russell, a far more outré but also more conventionally "capable" filmmaker.  Re-watching the film makes clear the boilerplate narrative that is intended of, once more, another Towers-produced erotic exploiter, while its thriller aspects would no doubt have flourished under Ken Russell's oversight, switched to White Worm, pulp-luridness mode with a dash of the Victorian lampooning he is so erudite and accustomed to with regards (such as in his odd, personal, and slightly underrated Gothic).  What surprises here is the competence of delivery I had undersold Hooper, who follows the weaving twists and turns of the erotic thriller with a general fealty.  Also "imposed" is the genre's luxuriating alternation between erotic set-piece and random bouts of exposition, Hooper successfully and obediently planting all the foreshadowing shifty-eyes and markers of paranoia customary to these films, in the given narrative parts.  It is almost dispiriting - almost.  He nevertheless goes the more subdued route natural to him, not quite achieving what he professed was his "Ken Russell picture," but successfully harkening back to Jess Franco's reign of oneiric art, gauzy and meandering erotics weaving in and out with the boilerplate (boilerplate ever since de Sade) murder plot.  The film almost seems to put its full faith in the value of its exploitation film roots - again, almost.  It is in the "almosts" that lie Hooper's personal craft.

I like to think of the film in microcosm as that scene of Genie (Zoe Trilling) weaving in and out of the debauched crowd of Chevalier's "rich fools party," the graceful capturing of a sensible participant (meaning Trilling) in a sea of misfits, as she floats through their midst with a watchful, skeptical, and soon disinterested eye, mirroring the film's own distance and "fish-out-of-water" status in the relationship between form and content.  Not caustic or undermining, though, Hooper's formalism drifts, understands, and finds the inner dignity in what it must observe and the screenplay it must serve (just as Genie makes herself present, and truly takes stock, of the party's attendees), dignifying fools and formula at once.

Career Analogs

The conundrum of Night Terrors, what Hooper does that entices so much, is enter a constant dialogue with the "narrative of mechanics" - that is, with the Towers screenplay that must be transposed and taken seriously, to some degree, for art cannot take itself lightly, and art that is obligatory is a defeatist art.  An art that does not believe in, to some degree, the story it is telling cannot enter into useful dialogue (just an impertinent one).  Hooper entices with a rigorous dialogue between the form and his content, one that does not condescend or self-celebrate, only asserts yet another attenuation of narrative convention by essentially questioning the very core of any film that would follow such a plot at face value (not that it is a bad plot - again, art should not be self-defeating - but that it is a burdened plot).  This is what Hooper did in The Funhouse (with the teen slasher picture) and Lifeforce (with the sci-fi epic). Where Jess Franco inserts poetry into the paradigm of the Euro-sleaze production, Hooper inserts personal thematic inquiry.

What makes me love Night Terrors so particularly is that it is perhaps Hooper's most straightforward "narrative of mechanics," that subordination of the cinema to plotting and piece-meal narrative event that I decried above.  It is a film whose indebtedness to its genre antecedents, in large part lacking most of Hooper's usual narrative predispositions, is a departure for its usually very particular filmmaker, and the imprint of such a thoughtful and opposite filmmaker - entering into a dialogue with the film's very make-up, successfully erecting the spitting image of an erotic thriller but somehow peppering the suggestion of its own lack, that it can have holes poked through it - leaves it slippery and constantly reaffirming itself in miraculous ways, without vainly tearing it asunder.  The feign of servility to its formula is the only way to truly confront it, "servility" more accurately described as a Socratic equality, and the constant, miraculous wit of it is found in the dialogue being performed with a "perfect" facsimile.

The trade-off made for this bit of true enticement - seeing Hooper work with a script that seems contrary to his habits and inclinations for narrative - is that Night Terrors does, in fact, feel like a B-side in Hooper's filmography.  It is not quintessential Hooper, it simply contains some of his most interesting intents.  It is the light-hearted Elena and Her Men to Renoir, the Under Capricorn to its Hitchcock.  What Night Terrors lacks is the unitary course of time, the unitary location, the disinclination towards intrigue and what-will-happen-next plot indefiniteness.  Hooper's choice of stories, usually, are always steeped in the inevitability of the void, or sacrifice.  Here, a judicial fervor is wielded, both narratively and formally, the finale an unequivocal meting of justice, ex aequo et bono (in contrast to the usual sigh of irresolution and melancholy finishing many of Hooper's films), while Hooper presides over the order and the law of the sequences (dreams weave with reality, historical snippets - made meaningful even though largely specious and clumsy; this film is, one can say by design, not Paddy Chayefsky - invert the present, and Hooper's cinematic backcountry is held to his thoughtfully writ constitution).

Career Analogs


I do love Night Terrors, though, which does function on a conventional level, a fact which both momentarily disturbed and then forged my love.  Its most illogical plot points became somewhat explainable; its sense of build-up, where I had previously sensed none, came to the fore.  This realization began by threatening, slightly, Hooper's lustrous work as a maker of connections rather than narratives, but soon the unwelcome logic of the narrative of mechanics began to congeal, itself, into something else, simply strengthening and making more robust the aspirant moral structures that pinned tightly the film's various threads, like a cloth doll affixed together by straight pins.  It was the film's self-reflexive intelligence, the existence of the logic being like a second organism in the same host body as Hooper's artistic inquirer.  Within this host body, it is not so much that there is not enough room for the two of them, but that they must be in constant relation to each other.  It was the realization of this dialogue between content and form, of the ability of something to be both competent and subversive, of something to be both somewhere on the fringes of the acceptable (such as an erotic picture) and dignified where ever it stands.  In an almost-inversion of my default stance on form trumping content: Form must be self-critical.  Content must be valued and of value.

Night Terrors represents to the strongest degree what makes Hooper's work so stimulating: they are constantly about themselves; about their relationship to their subject matter, the world, and our (and his) standards for "entertainment," qualified as a "popular" art, but a high, intelligent art nonetheless.  Djinn seems to have Hooper enact his most trickiest feat of form/content/context interrelation in his storied career: he places himself under the magnifying glass, erecting the "international film" by not hiding the fact of his cultural neutrality, all while the characters in the film wrestle with that very issue.

Genie's "journey" through the party scene continues with her meeting Chevalier (Robert Englund), the rupture point at which her journey becomes less about her drifting and more about the hard-and-fast oppositions and triangulations between her, her host, and his various guests (including Sabina, her companion whom she arrived with).  The conversation is depicted through a series of precise, segregated frames.  What better depiction of the evolution of conversation, and the accompanying stakes?  Precise like battle strategy, segregated like battalions.  Night Terrors is a film of conversations, encounters, and the underlying battle and transformations beneath every one of them.  As Hooper's films are conversations with themselves, this scene is the perfect embodiment of Hooper's self-reflexive rhythms and his spirit of inquiry.  Night Terrors exists as his B-side, an outré piece of unmarketable niche filmmaking, one that stews in its imperfections, but that is also the greatest expression for Hooper's controlled instincts and search for the ethics in art.  Night Terrors is the battle between form and content, the tug-of-war between shoddy provenance and a genuine artist's curiosity and respect.

Career Analogs

(A temporary low-quality picture until I can get a high-quality capture.)

Hooper Article For Revista Détour

ICYMI: I wrote an article for the online arts/photography/literature/film publication known as Détour (Revista) (@tdetour), run and organized by some very illustrious writers/critics/cinephiles in Spain and which is currently in the midst of their Edition No. 7.  They premiered my long-form article this last spring in their Edition No. 6, and I was beyond honored (check out their Facebook page or their blog for a sense of the sheer swathe of art, life, and culture they put a magnifying glass to).  

Premiered in a Spanish translation that I cannot thank Détour co-editor Óscar Brox enough for finding it worthy of his invaluable efforts he put in translating it, they were also kind enough to publish it in English.

Naturally, I already regret my wordier instincts in the English version of this article, but that's the way the publishing cookie crumbles.  Warning: Contains Nuri Bilge Ceylan potshot, which I apologize for but do not retract.  Note #2: This also marks the moment I stop being patronizing towards Hooper's Toolbox Murders.  It's a great movie.  The single-take shot of Angela Bettis with a beer while conversing with her husband is a stunner.  The dissolve to police lights as she is rescued by her husband is an image to treasure.

As for the article, I hope you enjoy it.