Last House on the Left feels like a precursor to the 1990s, a self-aware artifact of the culture of violence in the 1970s that (rightly) predicted the apocalyptic violence present in many, many films/cultural artifacts/actual historical events from the 90s. It’s the end of the world, ma, and mom and pop are right there with us, stabbing and biting and chainsawing their way to the collapse of society as we know it. I find it particularly unsettling (and not at all surprising) that Mari’s parents resemble–in mannerisms and in appearances–Alex’s parents in A Clockwork Orange, as well as Mallory’s parents in Natural Born Killers. There is something about the 1960’s/1970’s, bright and optimistic (yet horribly grainy and raw) domestic space that is profoundly wrong. It is as though the home has attempted to be made a safe (albeit progressive) place–a truly “right” approach to family–that nonetheless remains seedy and uncomfortable, as certain behaviors and/or decor choices seem forced. Attempts to mask what is deep down and dirty inside of all of us.

Talking more about the relationship between the 1970s and 1990s violence. While violence seems to seep in from the edges of the frame in 1970s and strike in one or two horrible, shattering moments, the 1990s violence sprawls out everywhere, like a teenager bumming around on the couch, not giving a shit that he hasn’t showered for three days. This one of the reasons why I think films like Last House on the Left and Texas Chainsaw Massacre are so powerful. The violence still effects you, the films still assault you. Violence in the 1970s seems to be mostly a puncturing force, while in 90s it becomes a state of existence. This is not to say that this is how violence actually panned out in the real world…the Vietnam War was horrible, a million, billion times bigger than something like the Columbine massacre. But violence is violence is violence. What changes is how our culture decides to represent it and relate to it.

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This film was really powerful. Its psuedo-documentary quality made it that much more real and gritty–no melodrama for this family. It also had a very “punk” aesthetic, meaning that the film (aside from being low budget and DIY-y) had a very true, real, alive feeling. Certain moments in the film seemed to go on forever and ever while others passed by freight-train style, there and gone again. Some sequences were a single, long take while others were cut cut cut, almost-always-never there. The power was in the perfect-imperfect representation of human experience. Points of deep meaning and significance, never quite seen clearly. Everything is a bit foggy, much like Mable’s mind.

Another thing that was truly beautiful and bizarre about this film was the family itself. Sometimes walking stereotypes, Mable, Nick, and their children always seemed to break class, ethnic, gender, and age stereotypes just as I was beginning to feel as though I “got” their culture/experiences/background. Although they are a working to lower middle class family, they repeatedly behaved in ways that reminded me of my own, very privileged, WASP-y family. The truth of what family is, and what it is at its best and its worst, seems to be universal. The love of a mother is the love of a mother is the love of a mother. Nick tries to be a tough guy and leave the past behind–but he also loves and cherishes his children, even as he struggles with his own emotional issues and inability to fit into “the pack” of men he works with. The children know what’s going on, even if they can’t express or explain it the way an adult might. Mable herself knows “God, I am really crazy.”

There is no break for these characters or this representation of life. The very last scene is as false as anything else in the film, and it drove a knife through my heart. In its falsity, it seems to almost laugh at life, at what it means to be human. In this way, it seems to be speaking one of the deepest truths of all–we are nothing. But still, why not carry on? What else is there?

Why is this film so great?

We young malchickys like a good tolchock now and again, being all nadsat, like, and not at all the starry old sods you see on the tele these days. We say a few slovos and these vecks don’t get it, like we’re speaking all skorry or something. But that’s not the truth of the great big world, brothers. It’s more like…when you viddy a picture like that of Alex and the old ultraviolence, it shives into your very soul, being a young malchicky-wick such as yours truly. As if Bog himself came down from the heavens and stopped raz when you were having the most bezoomy night of your jeezny. We devotchkas and malchicks don’t want to viddy the world all great and big and full of problems that need solving. That’s for, like, those starry sods from the high-n-mighty skolliwolls. We just want a malenky bit of the old in-out-in-out and some drencroms until we’re so fagged and shagged we fall onto our podooshkas and say nighty-night to the big ol’ marble-place.

We itty and we itty and that’s the way it is, brothers. Those bratchnys don’t slooshy like because our slovos are all about having a good smeck. Maybe the world is a great big oozhassny place and we’re all on our oddy-knocky like the tele says. But brothers, we nadsats govereet like badiwad little skolboys because that’s how we choose to viddy the world. It’s all a grand ol’ horrorshow for young malchicks and devotchkas and we know it, as clear as an unmuddied river. So we keep on viddying A Clockwork Orange and our dear droog Alex because they viddy the world just as we do, brothers. And maybe, just maybe, little Alex and all his good Queen’s sinny viddy us, too.

* freeze frame in opening credits evoke a sense of nostalgia about the West and the Western film in general

* children in opening–> human nature, dirty colony (inherently violent) surrounded by nothingness

* the Bunch are like little boys playing cowboys. They are taken are housed, fed, and generally taken care of by the various communities that take them in. There is a sense that none of what they do is “for keeps” (until the last scene)

* more military presence, borders (although not visible for the most part) are talked about–sense of inevitability that the West will be gone. This is further emphasized by the presence of the car and the machine gun and the fact that the Bunch are caught up in the middle of a political struggle

* the scene where the trains collide suggests that things can’t help but collide in the ever shrinking west

* the Bunch’s violence is both a destructive force and a contructive force; it destroys the world around them, but creates a sense of “family”/community for them–they create their own world

* the Bunch seem to be better “men” than the majority of other characters throughout the film. Why is this? It seems as though the Bunch are generally good guys, but who ultimately thrive on violence as evidenced by the end.

* a lot of this film seems to be about boys (or boyish characters) fucking around with guns–> the scene with the generalissimo and the machine gun, for instance, examines the machine gun’s destructive power, but it treats it with a perverse humor. This humor is repeated throughout the film as the Bunch and various other Men laugh at violence and at war.

“American New Wave” is a perfect description for a film like Targets. Not only does the film deal with youth/young people gone wrong (among other things), but Tim even looks a little bit like Michel from Breathless. He has the man-boy performance down to a t, successfully interacting with the world like a curious child might interact with an ant and a magnifying glass. Much like other American filmmakers from around the same period, Bogdanovich seems to be incredibly concerned with the state of white middle class men and their relationship with the rapidly changing world around them. Anger, trapped-ness, and insanity seem to be at the very core of many of the men depicted in films such as these. In the case of Targets, a lot of this distress seems to originate from the media…however, it is not simply “the media makes men violent,” both something more than that. The media makes a culture, but a culture makes a media. The violence in American society in the late 1960s–a boiling point–is mirrored in the media. The constant babble of television, of radio screams bloody murder.

A then there’s the crazy climax. Boris Karloff as the past, history, a museum piece–he terrifies Tim. Tim cannot seem to kill him. The past history of American, of genocide and slavery and sexism, is still there deep down and Tim can’t do anything about it. The worst part is, he can’t go forward either. The past and the future stuff him into a little tiny box and he has no other response than to curl into a ball like a small boy. It’s upsetting, powerful, a perfect image of what the late 60’s and 70’s were for one particular group of people in American history.

 

Another collection of note-thoughts:

* opening scene (which reappears throughout) sets up the film as farcical in some way…we are watching the mentally ill for entertainment AND “we’re all mad here.” It turns out that the performers aren’t the patients, although that’s not clear until the end of the film. 

* the hospital functions much like a prison; the men do not wear clothes. It is humiliating, punishment rather than rehabilitation.

* it seems like the “crazies” are just speaking another language, as evidenced by the “preacher” who claims he is psychic. This is emphasized further when Wiseman cuts the “preacher”‘s speech together with an actual priest giving last rights. There is also a parallel to the communist who starts talking about his political beliefs. Although what he claims seems to be valid, he is still locked up in the mental institution.

* Is there only doctor for the entire hospital? Because that’s horrible.

* Wiseman’s doc seems to be relatively truthful until you consider how he structures his film. By revealing that the performers from the opening scene are not mentally ill late in the film, he creates a meaning that is different from the meaning we would receive if we learned they were not mentally ill right off the bat. Additionally, it’s possible that there was more than one doctor for the hospital, but choosy editing implies only one doctor and horrible conditions.

* Wiseman’s doc seems to get at a truth, but Errol Morris’ doc also seems to provide its audience with a truth despite the fact that the film’s style is highly artificial. Maybe style is more the truth of the film than its actual substance–the style is what the filmmaker is truly “saying” about the world.  

This movie is completely insane. Like, over the top, drop everything and scream, psychotic. So my first question is: is Kelly a pedophile or not? And my second question is who was Samuel Fuller? What kind of a person was he? Both of his films we’ve watched in this class have been really, really interesting…and, interestingly, for different reasons.

So first things first. Is Kelly a pedo? Throughout the majority of the film–and this may be because of the crazy, “domestic violence” opening sequence–she comes off as a sort of sadistic mother figure who is unhealthily obsessed with children. In fact, there is one particular sound bridge where it sounds as though the children in the hospital are screaming bloody murder. Even after it is revealed that Grant is a pedophile and Kelly lands herself in jail, she looks at children in a really uncomfortable way. Her hands grope the bars of the cell window with unbridled sexual tension. It is only when we discover that Kelly can’t have children that she seems to be let off the hook.

So why is Fuller fucking with our interpretation of Kelly as either a sweet, motherly woman, or a deviant, pedophilic prostitute? I’m not entirely sure. I suppose a simple, or more obvious, reading would be from the perspective of gender…Kelly has two sides, and we must confront our discomfort with Woman as Sexual Being. Of course, even the gender perspective is more complex than just that–our discomfort with Kelly originates more with her deviance than her sexuality per se. But I can’t shake the feeling that Fuller meant more than just this critique of gender/psychoanalytic approach to the film’s subject material with something as insane as The Naked Kiss. Perhaps there is a socio-political dimension to the film? Who’s to say?