The only emotion that doesn’t deceive is anxiety

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Slavoj Žižek presents his ideas or analyses of films of directors such as Hitchcock, Kieslowski, Tarkovsky, Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Cappola and others in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema. When I watched it I thought this would be a great supplementary material for this class because it offers a different perspective on a number of movies we have seen for this class. In this blog entry I will focus solely on the insights I found fascinating on Hitchcock as a director and his films, however, I would definitely recommend this Guide.
So before I begin I want to emphasize that Žižek uses psychoanalysis as his approach to this movies and some might think that he is seeing sexual themes or underlying motifs where there is not. While I will not argue for the Guide as a whole, I do want to highlight that Hitchcock created his films during the period when Freud and psychoanalysis was growing and given more focus in the U.S. Therefore, it is very likely that Hitchcock used these ideas in his films and intended for the viewer if not identify them, then at least subconsciously experience the effects.
In The Birds the son is split between his possessive mother and the intrusive girl. So the violent attacks of the birds of maternal superego, of the maternal figure trying to prevent sexual relations. The birds are raw incestuous energy. Žižek comments on the first attack that happens and explains that when a fantasy object, something imagined, an object from inner space enters our ordinary reality, the texture of reality is twisted, distorted and that is exactly how desire inscribes itself into reality – by distorting it. At the vocal level, anxiety is silence. For example, when the mother finds the dead neighbor, she runs out of the house with her mouth open, trying to scream but no sound is made. This action is much more effective in eliciting anxiety in the viewer as opposed to her running out, screaming at the top of her lungs. This feeling of the sound stuck in her, the implication of a sound but lack of it is unsettling.
In Psycho, events which take place in the mother’s house are at three levels as if they reproduce the three levels of human subjectivity. Ground floor is ego – Norman behaves there as a normal son; up is the superego, maternal superego because the dead mother is the figure of the superego; and down is the id – the reservoir of the illicit drives. We can see how very interconnected the id and the superego are when Norman carries his mother from the second floor to the basement. Žižek mentions a few things about the scene of Norman cleaning the bathroom after the murder: besides the length, the care and the meticulousness with which it is done and the spectator’s identification with it tells us about the satisfaction we find in work or in a job well done.
According to Žižek, the true tragedy of Vertigo is that it’s a story about two people who, each in his or her own way, get caught in their own game of appearances. For both of them, appearances win over reality. Žižek comments that “the first part, with Madeline suicide, is not as unsettling as it could have been because it’s really a terrifying clause but in this very loss, the ideal survives. The ideal of the fatal woman possesses you totally. What ultimately this fascinating image of the fatal woman stands for is death. The fascination of beauty is always the veil which covers up a nightmare. When you come to close, you see shit, decay… The ultimate abyss is not a physical abyss but the abyss of the death of another person.” In the second part of Vertigo, Scotty attempts to make his fantasy come true. “We have a perfect name for fantasy realized, it’s called nightmare.” This turn of fantasy into reality is always sustained by extreme violence. In order for Scotty to want her, to lover her, he has to mortify her, change her into a dead woman.

In conclusion, the overall sentiment that Hitchcock films evoke is that “it’s not that simply something horrible happens in reality, something worse can happen, which undermines the very fabric of what we experience as reality.”
I hope this brief glance at Slavoj Žižek’s ideas on Hitchcock films peaks your interest, I truly enjoyed watching The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema.

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Halloween, different take

To begin with, I thought you might enjoy this video, which definitely gives a different perception of Halloween.

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I definitely experience fear and anxiety while watching Halloween. One of the most obvious techniques that the film uses to create suspense is the music, which builds up to a crescendo as the process of stalking and killing progresses. The camera movement is shaky, switching from Michael’s point of view to the victim’s, which creates a sense of disorientation, an unsettling feeling, and puts the audience in a moment-to-moment viewing position. The villain is hidden from the viewer, more often brought into awareness by the heavy breathing, which makes him appear more dangerous and evil.  Lastly, the ending does not give a resolution but leaves the viewer with a sense of imminent danger still present, which has a powerful effect. The film builds up tension continuously, pretends to conclude to a release of the anxiety (the numerous times Michael was perhaps dead), and quickly returns to a stressful state, and in the end leaves the audience with these feelings. Halloween makes numerous references to Hitchcock’s Psycho throughout the film: the stabbing with the knife, falling down the stairs, using theme music to alert the audience to approaching danger, as well as other stylistic techniques. I contemplate that perhaps most importantly both films share simplicity in eliciting fear: a near lack of gore, blood, and graphic violence. By showing less, the films give the audience more – a very emotionally disturbing experience.

Of course, one of the most prominent themes in Halloween is sexual promiscuity and the price of this “sin.” It all begins with Michael witnessing an illicit sex act, which some might argue is what turns him from an innocent boy to the monster he is. This particular loss of innocence is portrayed as the root of the evil in the film. The only girl who survives Michael’s killing spree is the only virgin, while the sexually experienced girls are killed. In addition, they are open about their sexuality, the murder follows the sexual act, the easiness with which this “sin” is lived out intensifies the theme of the film. It is only the women who are pursued for being sexually active; the one male who is killed dies because he was just there. The film clearly speaks to the society’s anxiety of the change in women’s attitudes and roles, however, it is only women who are judged for their sexual behavior. This difference in treatment has persisted over the years and is unlikely to change as long as we continue to place such high value on gender differences, which are not as great in quality or quantity as they are perceived to be.

Here is another different view of the film.

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After watching The Exorcist and today’s discussion I thought it might be appropriate to post a video I found on youtube about real life exorcisms that take place.

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I was a little freaked out when I first watched the clip and did not realize that exorcisms were really still performed these days.  I think that the freakyness and curiosity that is associated with exorcisms and demonic possessions in general is one of the reason that The Exorcist is so popular to begin with.  We touched upon it in class a little bit today but I just wanted to bring up the reasons why a person would find a movie scary.  There are actually a variety of reasons but one of the main ones for me is that I find some kind of personal connection to the film or the situation/setting is realistic enough for me to suspend my disbelief and really allow myself to become scared.  Granted, I did not find this film to be one of the scariest I’ve seen.  The most it did was freak me out at some parts, mostly the possession parts but I can see why when it came out it was thought of as something completely new and terrifying and why this film has continued to remain popular so many years after its release.

I feel that exorcism is general is something that is a very touchy topic for people because of its place in religion.  This is not something that is thought of as so mythological or fake such as zombies or monsters, but is a real world threat and I feel that is what is so scary about a film like The Exorcist.  The clip I posted above shows a woman who believes herself to be possessed, undergoing exorcism to try and remove the demon.  It’s almost crazy to watch this woman as they try to exorcise the demon from her.  It seems a little ridiculous to someone like myself, who doesn’t really believe in the idea of the devil.  But for so many people, this exists as part of their belief systems and I can see why a movie about demonic possession would strike many people as very frightening.  I am still uneasy with the idea and may have been more scared by the film had the cinematography and production been a little bit scary, because I think just the idea of it is enough to cause anxiety.

In case anyone is interested there are more clips up on youtube about real-life exorcisms taking place.

The TUBE: Can you handle the truth?

After looking at the blog assignment, a YouTube video popped into my head. It was over a year ago that my friend sent me this clip from the 1976 satirical movie “Network.” I didn’t think too much about it then, besides finding it ironic that the clip showed a man ranting against the “Tube” while being a YouTube clip. To provide you a bit of background, the movie is about tv anchorman Howard Beale, played by Peter Finch and how he is shaken by his network for his poor ratings. He goes mad while live on camera and his ratings skyrocket. The network then gives Beale his own show where he rants and raves. In this particular segment, he speaks about his disillusionment with the media and how the television, man’s miracle invention, is filled with propaganda and lies that the public feed into without knowing any better.

Barely three minutes long, this clip touches heavily upon the topics of fear, anxiety, and paranoia that our class is based on in relation to the notion of “truth”. I have below the part of his impassioned speech that really hit home for me:

“We deal in illusions, man! None of it is true […] We’re all you know! You’re beginning to believe the illusions we’re spinning here! You’re beginning to think that the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you– You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even THINK like the tube! This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God’s name you people are the real thing, we are the illusion!”

The words were so powerful, especially in the frenzied way Finch plays his character. With each angry word, I was filled with anxiety. We take what we see on television and other digital media, as the unspoken truth. We learn our values from television, and we just hope that we’re being taught the right things. Isn’t it worrisome that what we see impacts how we think, and if we just watched or heard something else, maybe we wouldn’t think/act a certain way?

I know this kind of diatribe against the media is nothing new. No one can trust the media because it is biased, no matter which way you cut it. From Fox to CNN, all major news channels have their own motives for getting out certain stories while minimizing others. Then again, if we choose to never watch television or connect to the world through the media, does that mean that we’re too paranoid and choose to be ignorant of the world?

In relation to the movies we’ve watched, I thought the idea of truth, how we consciously (or subconsciously) try to hide from it, and how it can destroy the best and worst of us is evident in movies like in Touch of Evil and Memento. Quinlan in Touch of Evil hides the truth and frames people for committing crimes. Yet it catches up with him and he dies for what he’s done. Then in Memento, Leonard is forever on a quest to find the truth behind his wife’s murder, yet he’s actually sabotaging his own pursuits to fulfill his own needs. Just as striking was the fact that in this YouTube clip, Beale was a man denouncing the media while he himself is a player in the arena. It was insane that right as he was on the verge of finishing his speech telling people to turn the television off in the middle of his sentence, that he should faint in the middle of his sentence!

I don’t know whether he was staged to faint, but it’s still nevertheless an eerie omen–as though the truth is too much for one man to bear alone.

Also, you can find a longer version of the movie clip here:

The Cold War Through Music

The Cold War lasted approximately from 1947 to 1991 and it was a period of high tension and political conflict between the USSR and the US. There was not any physical fighting, but there was conflict behind the scenes: military alliances, espionage, propaganda, the nuclear arms race, and a race for technological innovations. 

I came across this song by Sting from his debut solo album, The Dream of Blue Turtles called Russians. In it, he sings of the consequences of the Cold War and of what we could do to save the world from the escalating shows of power. 

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The lyrics are: 

In Europe and America, there’s a growing feeling of hysteria
Conditioned to respond to all the threats
In the rhetorical speeches of the Soviets
Mr. Khrushchev said we will bury you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
It’d be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their children too

How can I save my little boy from Oppenheimer’s deadly toy
There is no monopoly of common sense
On either side of the political fence
We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

There is no historical precedent
To put the words in the mouth of the president
There’s no such thing as a winnable war
It’s a lie we don’t believe anymore
Mr. Reagan says we will protect you
I don’t subscribe to this point of view
Believe me when I say to you
I hope the Russians love their children too

We share the same biology
Regardless of ideology
What might save us me and you
Is if the Russians love their children too 


Please take the time to read the lyrics. Each line is really very meaningful. The song’s lyrics and Sting’s mournful voice really portray the despair of the situation. He wants the everyone to get along to ensure that a future will exist for generations to come.  The last four lines are really poignant. Sting says, we are all human beings; you and I are made of one and the same. Why can’t we just get along and live in peace and harmony?

I think Sting’s debut of this song was very taboo, but I applaud him for being courageous enough to come out with this radical song. People were very frightened by the prospect of another World War and there was a lot of hatred towards foreigners. They were anti-Russian, anti-Communist, and anti-foreigner. Sting tries to soothe people by singing about the innocence of sons and daughters, trying to convince them to unite peacefully for their sake.