Saturday, July 30, 2016

Shock Corridor- Exploitation in a Madhouse

            Shock Corridor is a low budget film of a journalist going undercover in a mental institution to uncover the facts surrounding a mysterious murder. He achieves this by getting himself committed by his girlfriend, who poses as his sister, claiming that he has been trying to sexual assault her.
            If you think this is a little extreme for a 1960s picture, you are correct. But controversial is a stable diet for director Samuel Fuller’s films. The director started off writing pulp novels before moving onto films. The term “narrative tabloid” was used by critic Grant Tracey to describe the director. He never shied away from topics of prostitution, child molestation, mental illness, incest, racism, police corruption, etc. All somewhat taboo topics at the time. And while his films were not highly praised at their initial release, time has given them a second life. The French New Wave claimed his work as a major influence.
Though there certainly are noir elements
            There has been a discussion for years on whether Shock Corridor should be classified as film noir or exploitation, or both. While it certainly does have that striped down film noir feel, the sexual element- very shocking for the time- is often played here for shock value. Particular a scene where the protagonist accidently stumbles into the ward dedicated to the treatment of nymphomaniacs and is nearly torn apart by a dozen in a violent sexual frenzy. Not only was it ridiculous, but also totally unnecessary to the plot.  It is touches like this, and the reason he’s committed, which tip the balance towards to exploitation.
            Apparently the director wrote the original draft of the screenplay in the 1940s, while working for Fritz Lang, under the inferior title Straitjacket. The filming itself was incredibly cheap. It was shot over ten days. There was only one set and no exterior locations. Which helps to give the film a closed in claustrophobic feel. In fact the sound stage was so small, Fuller hired midgets to walk around in the distant section of the corridor to give the illusions of depth.
            As the film progresses, the protagonist comes into contact with the three witnesses to the murder, each suffering from bizarre delusions. The first is Stuart. Who was captured in the Korean War and was brainwashed into becoming a Communist. Stuart was ordered to indoctrinate a fellow prisoner, but instead the prisoner's unwavering patriotism reformed him. Stuart's captors pronounced him insane and he was returned to the US in a prisoner exchange, after which he received a dishonorable discharge and was publicly reviled as a traitor. The character imagines himself to be Confederate States of America General J.E.B. Stuart.
            The second is Trent was one of the first black students to integrate a segregated Southern university. The constant barrage of bigotry drove him over the edge. He imagines himself a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and stirs up the patients with white nationalist dogma and attacks the other black inmates. Third is Boden, an atomic scientist scarred by the knowledge of the devastating power of intercontinental ballistic missiles. He has regressed to the mentality of a six-year-old child.
Now while the protagonist is trying to get information out of each one, they eventually lapse into sanity and begin talking about the murder. While this is happening, the film shot in black and white, is spliced with hallucinogenic color footage. This is the part that actually makes the film, which causes it to stand one. One little artistic touch. The hallucination sequences include footage shot on location in Japan for House of Bamboo (1955), and footage shot by Fuller in Mato Grosso, Brazil for the unfinished film Tigrero.
After a hospital riot, the protagonist is straitjacketed and subjected to shock treatment. He begins imagining that his girlfriend really is his sister, and experiences many other symptoms of mental breakdown. He learns the identity of the killer and violently extracts a confession from him in front of witnesses. He then sits down and writes his story. Immediately afterwards he lapses into a catatonic state from which it is believed he will not recover.
Shock Corridor is a bizarre film that rises high above its low budget. In fact, the lack of budget is what caused the director to try innovative new techniques to make the film stand out. Which he succeeds at brilliantly.
The entire film is below. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.


Friday, July 22, 2016

First Transsexual in Literature- Tiresias: The Blind Sage of Thebes

            Most of us will probably only remember the character of Tiresias from his deus ex machina appearances in the Sophocles’s dramas of Antigone and Oedipus Rex. He arrives already blinded, being led by a young boy on a tether and announces that the king at that time (either Oedipus or Creon) has their head up their royal rectum. The king rejects his advice, only to discover that lo-and-behold he was right all along. The blind man who can see further than those with sight, cheap irony at its finest.
          Unemployed English majors will also recall that his shade shows up in The Odyssey as well. Odysseus, completely lost, travels across the Acheron, the river of death, to commune Tiresias and find his way home. He fills up a hole with goat’s blood and beats back the other spirits until Tiresias shows to let him know the travel arraignments.
          But little known is Tiresias’s constant troubles with the Greek female deities.  Specifically the one where he is turned into a woman for seven years. The story of how this occurs revolves around Hera, the wife of Zeus and goddess of home and hearth.
 One day the young Tiresias was walking the woods at the foot of Mt. Cyllene, near the cave where the god Hermes was born, and came upon a pair of snakes copulating in the grass. In disgust Tiresias picks up a stick and bashes the female snake to death, allowing the male to flee. Hera, enraged by this blatant sexism, transforms the young man into a young woman so that he will better understand the role of a woman.
 The significance of the two snakes has often been linked to the caduceus. The staff of Hermes, messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves. But it is also linked to messengers in general and one story shows it being held by Iris (for whom that part of the eye is named) herald of Hera. It was often in ancient times used as a symbol of commerce.
The other interpretation is that Triesias in killing the female snake only, disrupted the natural need for both sexes to continue the propagation of the species. That is, he saw the male aspect as more important than the female. This leads to the idea that if he had killed the male, nothing would had happened.
 In despair and penance Tiresias becomes a priestess of Hera and takes a husband. The mate is never named, but apparently it was a legally binding ceremony in Greek tradition. And from this union she has three children: Historis, Daphne, and Manto. The last is significant because she becomes involved with the Apollo, who sends her on a quest to find an oracle dedicated to him. She later appears in Dante’s Inferno in the fourth bolgia of the eighth circle of Hell, suffering among the diviners, fortune tellers, astrologers, and false prophets.  She has her head twisted around and is forced to walk backwards for all eternity, blinded by her own tears.
          After seven years as a woman, Tiresias is once again walking on the same road and spots a pair of snakes rutting in the grass. Now she either leaves them alone this time, or stamps on them both (stories differ on this matter) and thus transformed back into a male. If he stayed in touch with his family is not mentioned in any other stories and they don’t pop up in any of this other appearances.
          This experience ties into making him a better sage as he could now understand both the male and female perspective. How he lost his sight is another story. One of which ties into his transformation. Apparently one day Zeus and Hera were having an argument over whether men or women enjoy the act of sex more. Since Tiresias had been both, they asked him the question. He replied, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only." Meaning that women have the better end of the stick in sexual relations.
          For this act of impiety, Hera smacks Tiresias blind. Zeus, not being able to undo the curse, gifts Tiresias with the ability of augury and the lifespan of seven people. From there he goes on to be the Tiresias of Oedipus and Antigone.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Cannibal Spell for King Unis

Estimated to be written around 2325 B.C.E., the Cannibal Spell is one of the earliest surviving Egyptian texts. It was inscribed inside the pyramid of King Unis (or Unas- depending on interpretation), in a place where it could never be read by human eyes after the building in which it was carved was completed. Spells (or utterances) of these types were common in pyramids and were primarily concerned with protecting the pharaoh's remains, reanimating his body after death, and helping him ascend to the heavens. This one however is a bit more bombastic than others.
Full of violent imagery, it presents the deceased king as ascending to the sky and taking on the role of the creator god in a perpetual cycle defined by the daily rising of the sun and the disappearance of the night sky, imagined as the king’s devouring of the stars, which are themselves deities. By consuming the other gods, the king assimilated their magical powers. It has been suggested that the Cannibal Spell was composed to be recited during the sacrifice of a bull or ox before a ritual meal that would have formed part of the king’s funeral ceremonies.
Inner Tomb of King Unis
The Cannibal Spell describes how the dead king —assisted by the god Shezmu—slaughters, cooks and eats the gods as sacrificial bulls, thereby incorporating in himself their divine powers in order that he might negotiate his passage into the Afterlife and guarantee his transformation as a celestial divinity ruling in the heavens
Of Unis himself, little is known. He was the ninth and last ruler of the Fifth Dynasty that ruled the Old Kingdom of Egypt (Upper Nile area) for 15 to 30 years. Who exactly his father was and how many children he had is unknown (He had at least one daughter that did not ascend the throne after him). He is primarily remembered for his near intact tomb which was unearthed in the last century.

                                  Cannibal Spell for King Unis
The sky has grown cloudy, the stars obscured; the (sky’s) arcs have quaked, the horizons’ bones shaken; and those who move have grown still, having seen Unis apparent and ba as the god who lives on his fathers and feeds on his mothers.
Unis is the lord of jackal-like rapacity, whose (own) mother does not know his identity:
for Unis’s nobility is in the sky and his power in the Akhet, like Atum, his father who bore him—and though he bore him, he is more powerful than he;
for Unis’s kas are about him, his guardian forces under his feet, his gods atop him, his uraei on his brow;
for Unis’s lead uraeus is on his forehead, ba when seen and akh for shooting fire; for Unis’s powers are on his torso.
Photograph of the Spell inscribed on the tomb walls
 Unis is the sky’s bull, with terrorizing in his heart, who lives on the evolution of every god, who eats their bowels when they have come from the Isle of Flame with their belly filled with magic.
Unis is an equipped one who has gathered his effectiveness, for Unis has appeared as the great one who has assistants, sitting with his back to Geb.
Unis is the one whose case against him whose identity is hidden was decided on the day of butchering the senior ones.
Unis is lord of offering, who ties on the leash (of the sacrificial animal), who makes his own presentation of offerings.
Unis is one who eats people and lives on gods, one who has fetchers and sends off dispatches.
Grasper of Forelocks in the kettle is the one who lassoes them for Unis;
Serpent with Sweeping Head is the one who guards them for him and bars them for him;
Overview of Unis's tomb
Gory All Over is the one who binds them for him;
Courser, the lords’ knife-bearer, is the one who will slit their throats for Unis and takes out for him what is in their belly—he is the messenger he sends to confront;
Shezmu is the one who will butcher them for Unis and who cooks a meal of them for him on his evening hearthstones.
Unis is the one who eats their magic and swallows their akhs,
for their adults are for his morning meal, their middle-sized ones for his evening meal, their little ones for his nighttime snack, their old men and women (fuel) for his ovens;
for the sky’s great northerners are the ones who set fire for him to the cauldrons containing them with the bones of their senior ones;
for those in the sky serve him, while the hearthstones are poked for him with the legs of their women;
for both skies go around (in service) for him and the two shores serve him.
Unis is the most controlling power, who controls the controlling powers; Unis is the sacred image who is most sacred of sacred images; anyone he finds in his way he will devour.
for Unis’s proper place is in front of all the privileged ones in the Akhet.
Unis is the god who is senior to the senior ones,
for thousands serve him and hundreds present offering to him;
for he has been given title as the greatest controlling power by Orion, the gods’ father;
Inside the tomb of King Unis
for Unis has reappeared in the sky and is crowned as lord of the Akhet;
for the vertebrae of spines have been broken up for him and he has acquired the gods’ hearts;
for he has eaten the red and swallowed the raw.
Unis will feed on the lungs of the experienced and grow content from living on hearts and their magic as well.
Unis will spit out when he licks the emetic parts in the red, for he is replete and their magic is in his belly.
Unis’s privileges will not be taken from him, for he has swallowed the Perception of every god.
Continuity is the lifetime of Unis, eternity is his limit, in his privilege of “When He Likes He Acts. When He Dislikes He Does Not Act,” which is in the Akhet’s limits forever continually.
For their ba is in Unis’s belly and their akhs are with Unis, as the excess of his meal with respect to (that of) the gods, since it was heated for Unis with their bones.
for their ba is with Unis, and (only) their shadows are (still) with their owners;
for Unis is in this (state), ever apparent, ever set.
Those who do (evil) deeds will not be able to hack up the place of Unis’s heart among the living in this world forever continually.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Ten Great Works of Literature Being Sold on Amazon for a Penny

Reading great literature doesn’t mean you have to cough up a huge chunk of change. While pursuing through the Amazon lists I came across these classic pieces of literature begin sold for a mere penny. These books are constantly on the top 100 books of all time, so if you come across one that you haven’t read you might want to consider grabbing it. Enjoy and Caveat Emptor.

1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. A novel of the Jazz age when Prohibition was nigh, yet everyone still drank. Gatsby is the new rich off of the bootleg business and tries to parlay his new wealth to fit into WASP society and the love of his life Daisy Buchannan. Much of this is eloquently articulated by Nick Carraway, Gatsby's modest Long Island neighbor who becomes his most trusted confidante. Nick is responsible for reuniting the lovers who both have come to different points in their lives five years after their
 aborted romance. Amazon Listing 
2. The Scarlett Letter
by Nathaniel Hawthorne. An excellent look at the hypocrisy of the religious rule of Puritan society.  Set in 17th-century Puritan Boston, Massachusetts, during the years 1642 to 1649. Beginning with the foundation of the town, this “place of Godliness”, yet the first thing they build as a community is a gallows and a graveyard. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and is forced to wear a red A on her clothes, to mark her as an adulteress- despite the fact that her husband was presumed lost at sea some ten years prior. She struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity and it all comes to a horrible end.  Amazon Listing 
3. 1984
by George Orwell. The dystopian novel set in an alternate reality where the socialist political structure has taken over the entire world. This tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality but who may not even exist. The Party "seeks power entirely for its own sake. It is not interested in the good of others; it is interested solely in power." Set in London, England (renamed Air Strip One by the party), the protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. At the very least this book is responsible for bringing several new words into the English lexicon. This is a must read for everyone in Western society. Amazon Listing
4. Darkness at Noon
by Arthur Koestler. Another warning to the West. It is the story of an old Communist who is arrested, imprisoned, and tried on trumped up treason charges against the government that he had helped to create. In truth he is swept up in the periodic purges ordered by the leader Number One (an obvious analogue to Joseph Stalin). Semi-autobiographical this story sets in personal detail the monstrousness of the socialist/communist structure, which required widespread destruction of its citizens and constant fear in order to function. As the pressure to confess preposterous crimes increases, he re-lives a career that embodies the terrible ironies and human betrayals of a totalitarian movement masking itself as an instrument of deliverance. Amazon Listing
5. The Catcher in the Rye
by J.D. Salinger. Nothing in this novel made me want to shoot a celebrity. Taking on the themes of alienation in a young man struggling against the reality that he now has to grow up and fully take on the responsibilities of adulthood. Holden Caulfield, 17, has just flunked out of an elite boarding school. Holden tells the story from a tuberculosis rest home, 1 year after the events take place. A young man who cannot stand anyone, yet cannot be alone, the protagonist is a mass of contradictions. In his struggles against maturity he runs afoul of a number of people who show him both ends of the spectrum. One a stable life of banality, the other a flophouse degenerate existence. Neither appeals to him and he sees that he must make a change in himself in order to exist in modern America. Amazon Listing
6. Lord of the Flies
by William Golding. Set during an evacuation of an unspecified nuclear war (or a war, it might be WWII), a plane load of preadolescent boys crash lands on a tropical island. After recovering and grouping themselves, the boys begin unknowingly begin creating the rudiments of a culture- with rules, roles, and even a mythology (ie. A monster in the woods). At first it seems as though it is all going to be great fun; but the fun before long becomes furious and life on the island turns into a nightmare of panic and death. As ordinary standards of behavior collapse, the whole world the boys know collapses and the savage beast in them comes out. Amazon Listing
7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. The novel tell of the journey of the narrator, Marlow, up the Congo River on behalf of an ivory trading company. Marlow tells his story to friends aboard a boat anchored on the River Thames, enabling the author to create a parallel between London and Africa as places of darkness.
He encounters the mysterious Kurtz, an ivory trader who exercises an almost godlike power over the natives of the region. The book demonstrates that there is little difference between so-called civilized people and those described as savages and explores the themes about imperialism and racism.
8. A Clockwork Orange
by Anthony Burgess. Another dystopian novel (why are they so great?), where the protagonist is a gang leader who enjoys cruising around with his buddies robbing and raping until his heart’s content. That is until one night where he accidently kills a woman, is beaten up by his friends, and left for the police. Inside he volunteers for a new experiment and is then conditioned to become unable to commit acts of violence and sex- leading him to become a victim of society. The book, narrated by the main character, contains many words in a slang argot which Burgess invented for the book, called Nadsat, and it really makes this work stand apart. By the end it feels as if you have learned a new language. The novel takes on the idea that if morality is imposed, is it truly moral. Though the author himself has dismissed the book as "too didactic to be artistic", he is wrong in this case. Amazon Listing
9. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
by Ken Kesey. For those who have only seen the film, the novel is significantly different. Primarily the novel is told from the perspective of The Chief and it demonstrates that he is indeed mentally ill. He narrates the story of McMurphy, a rowdy, brawling, fun-loving rebel who tricks his way into the world of a mental hospital and takes over. In this he struggles against Nurse Ratched (known as the Big Nurse for her large breasts) who rules the ward with an iron fist and is more interested in control than therapy. This strife, which started out as sport by the bored McMurphy, end in disaster and destruction. Amazon Listing
10. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. The seminal semiautobiographical novel of the author, and THE book to read of any on this list. Taking place in a small town in Alabama during the Great Depression, the center point of the novel is of the trial of a young black man who is accused of rape by a white trash girl. The book deals with racism and bigotry of the times with sympathetic verve through the eyes of the protagonist Scout, an eight year old tomboy.  Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, you cannot help but be touched by this novel. Amazon Listing 
  Hope you've found something to read on this list. For more suggestions check out the What I've Been Reading Page and Readings from 2015. Enjoy.