Sunday, August 6, 2017

Auteurism (or, Auteurism to The Mangler)

What's clear going from Poltergeist to The Mangler, initiated by The Dark and interceded by Spontaneous Combustion, is not an evolution - that is, outside of the filmmaker's personal growth, or the simple changes in his interests (one can pinpoint a change from an interest, in the Reagan 80s, in middle/upper-middle class strife, to working class plight and peasant-elite division in the 90s) - but a stacking, or within-career intertextuality, that is never so complete as when attributes recede then reassert themselves in waves, artistic inclinations never simply repeated but latent and simply reappearing when a dramatic narrative, in the realm of the cinematic arts and in the creative crap shoot of Hollywood, that is appropriate to his latent impulse, presents itself.  Thus, the uncanny as mere window dressing over perceived reality is carried from Poltergeist to The Mangler (skipping the deconstructionist movie-worlds of his Cannon trilogy and the less supernaturally-driven works of his 90s period); Spontaneous Combustion is a lumpy lumpen-proletariat soap opera much like The Mangler, almost - but never quite (never so retrogressive are they) - kitsch, if often kitschily lit, Mangler certainly being Hooper's Bava picture, which harkens back to LifeforceThe Dark's procedural aspect snakes its tendril through Lifeforce and then The Mangler, all involving cops or detectives, leading us to Hooper's noir leanings, with The Mangler's dumpy, gestural procedural, that certainly evokes the gumshoe meander of 40s and 50s detective movies, and incisive proletariat depictions, often manifesting in a web-like verbal system of blue collar speak and amiable bouts of kitchen sink humor, humor for and about the lower-classes, revealing a closeness to Lang that has cropped up since Hooper tried to make the snake thriller Venom his first Langian film of proletariat collateral caught in the abusive wake of fascist money and drug pushers and sociopaths.  Certainly The Mangler finally scratched that itch for which he was blue-balled when fired from Venom, The Mangler's lighting resurrecting the exaggerated low-key lighting, the "lighting from beneath," that Hooper's Venom footage was described as utilizing and referring to German Expressionist film.

The gallows body-bags-and-stretcher humor can be threaded from The Dark to Toolbox Murders, not to mention the implication of Los Angeles buildings and architecture as a sort of prodding provocation, or the perfect setting, for both films' wryly detached and unsentimental body count.

Most prevalent of all is Hooper's collapsed time structures, The Mangler certainly the fairytale-styled narrative he always wanted to make, in its contracted expanse of emotional quests and emotional pay-offs, that are either rewarded, punished, or doomed, within the span of a day.  It was easy to miss the attention The Mangler gives to its peripheral characters, or to the dual narrative that plays out in a similar episodic manner to Spontaneous Combustion.  What we have in The Mangler is the story of the cop and the story of the Blue Ribbon and all its actors within it, the compacted nature of the story making it feel clearly akin to Spontaneous Combustion and its soap operatic structure, structure that is both intimate, or small, and furiously paced as it intercuts, in ways both hard and soft, spontaneous and tender, between the two, and then sometimes intersects.  Poetic details are highlighted, such as Detective Hunton's stomach issues, present even before the film began.  Side characters, whether small (such as the policeman who laughs when Hunton attacks the ice box, then soon laughs no more) or larger (George Stanner, the foreman), become equal participants in the drama at large, due to Hooper's special attentions and the continued interest the filmmaker shows in ensembles, which persists to Toolbox Murders, in a more basic form, but pops up in incredibly rich and effervescent ways in films such as The Funhouse (his ensemble includes both the carnival stock characters and the puppets that always seem to appear far back in the shots once we've entered the funhouse, cropping up over and over again, even as we are not made to notice them) and here, in The Mangler, in which characters do not so much recur as they do simply link the film's jigsaw structure between their passing segments, John Hunton's passing car or Gartley's watching gaze from the scaffold above allowing these side players to hand off their momentary hold of the narrative with some sort of final say involving the transitioning main players (driving away or escaping back into the recesses of their isolated office-loft).  The police officer at the Smith's home where Barry Ellenshaw is killed is tasked to "burn and destroy" the infected ice box, and last seen helplessly processing all he's seen (somehow it makes it stay with you); Barry Ellenshaw himself reappears in the morgue, a "brave kid who broke his arm in six places."  I did not give this film enough credit - Jeremy Crutchley appears in two different roles, one in which he is caked in old-age make-up, much like Robert Englund, the other where he is not.  But his two characters do share the fact that they both work for the police department, and are John Hunton's immediate associates.  He has, as forensic partners, the only benign personalities to be found in the police department they work at, and they are played by the same person.  There is a logic, there is an artistic vision, as fervent as in the works of Hooper's heyday.

There is the atmospheric use of a radio or telecom system, parroting at the protagonist the wisdom or anti-wisdom of the day, another shared genetic characteristic between Spontaneous Combustion and The Mangler.  If the radio in Spontaneous Combustion is not quite like the telecom system in The Mangler, with Hutton's brassy female police operator on the other end, it is still not simply the news being broadcast but a talk radio in the former film.  We are hearing the voices of The People on the other ends of these devices, whether wise or kind or malignant or hysterical.  Radio voices carry a special aura in a Hooper film, for they telegraph the ills or the virtues of those who broadcast (such as in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, where the show is very clearly both Stretch's livelihood and her discontentment) and those who listen or create a dialogue with it.