New Cross and Rotherhithe

Bob from Brockley writes:
“New Cross and Rotherhithe
From Goldsmiths blogger, John Hutnyk, a nice post on Prangsta in New Cross.From one of the most beautiful blogs on the web, a good place for a cup of tea and a think, a post on H’s Cafe, Neptune Street. (If you like this, check out sibling blog eggbaconchipsandbeans.)
posted by bob at 4:04 PM
[JH – clearly this is a reciprocal cross referencing love in. Check out Bob’s comments on the ‘cold’ Chomsky (inc.). Ha, rattle the cages of the captive Gods (you know where all that MIT funding comes from don’t you Noam?)]

The Seven Year Itch

The film Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, (dir. Howard Hawks – came out in the US the same year as the Kinsey Report – 1953. First Playboy out then too). It is famous for many reasons, but for me most importantly because it made movie stars into export commodities. This kind of export – crucially, like the arms trade, one of the few with a US surplus relative to imports – refers not just to the face of Garbo as make-up vehicle, as discussed in the now equally commodified Roland Barthes essay; but rather, with this film, the image of Marilyn also commodifies all women (see the Marilyn Reader, and Luara Mulvey’s essays). It makes a cosmetic America the standard model for women in Europe, bereft of menfolk, seduced by G.Is with nylons and looking for alternatives to war.

Cinematic commodification of woman has a long history. The possibly apocryphal story that Griffith invented the close up, of an anonymous leading lady. All the way to: Your Look Hits My Face – Barbara Kruger’s street billboards and The Face, the airbrushed, streamlined mass commodity, glamour puss into todays rent a face model scene (and leave Kate Moss alone, arrest Robbie instead).

So Jane Mansfield and Marylin Monroe belong to those who brought glamour and relief to post war Europe, and did so in the interests of retail. The Monroe thing is not sex, its commerce. Dancing for the Marshall Plan. As Lily Marlene did ideological work for NSAP Germany, Garbo was sold back to them by Hollywood, so now, Monroe becomes the white supremacist’s dream date – but the dumb blonde swaps sex/Love for money/diamonds routine is stale, and it didn’t take Madonna’s tribute to Marylin to let us know she was the Materialist Girl or to emphasize the economic investment of the Marshall Plan and the Cold War.

In the last interview she did for ‘Life’ magazine, Monroe said: ‘That’s the trouble, a sex symbol becomes a thing and I just hate to be a thing. But if I’m going to be a symbol of something, I would rather have it sex’. But it wasn’t to be – Sex transubstitutes for dollars.

Monroe starred in the Seven Year Itch (dir. Billy Wilder, 1955). The movie starts with a mock documentary voice over explaining that 500 years earlier in Manhattan Indian males packed their squaws off to the hills for the hot summer months.

I am not trying to be funny here, but the obvious sexual readings apply where Marilyn stands above the grate over the subway enjoying the rush of air as the train passes underneath. Curiously though, in this scene she does not look at her co-star Tom Ewell at all, but is rather absorbed in her own pleasure. Tom, publisher of 25c paperbacks, is the hapless male onlooker immediately after they come out of a screening – the film hoarding lit up behind them informs us – of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Poor dim Tom. Laura Mulvey draws attention to women’s pleasure in her essay … here its possible to discern that pleasure again in the somewhat unusual pacing of the subsequent sequence. Marilyn seems to be waiting for more, but not from her leading man. She is looking slightly off camera, as if at an audience, and though on the pavement outside a screening of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, there should be no audience, there clearly is (in the film documentary Norma Jean and Marilyn such an audience cheers as if at a football game).

Marilyn has explained to Ewell that she will be on television and after a discussion about the chances the ‘Creature’ has for being loved and wanted – a close-up of Marylin then Ewell is seen fixated on her ankles. She looks away.

He says – and I think this is crucial – ‘you sound like a commercial’. There is a kiss, in fact doubled, then a cut to Marilyn walking through the door to her apartment block waving Ewell’s hat as if that previous scene was way too steamy. The apartment upstairs, which we have already learnt is filled with African sculpture, is also hot like a ‘Turkish bath’. Ewell manages to get Marilyn into his apartment with the promise of air-conditioning in every room – heavy innuendo.

He is about to become a duck, a Freudian, an orator and a prude, trying to justify his seduction with psychoanalysis. After all the savagery in the film starting with Manhattan Indians, Turkish Baths, African statuary, he then wonders what he will talk about with Marilyn and speculates aloud about Freud and the human predicament: ‘what shall we talk about … psychoanalysis’ which leads him to speculate that ‘under this veneer of civilization we are all savages’. Marilyn meanwhile, in a syncopated monologue, is thinking of shopping, sleep, being cool, sleeping downstairs… Ewell responds to her not so innocent suggestion with ‘there are savages and savages, but that could be too savage’.

They are interrupted, of course, by the representative of working class uncouth lust, not far removed from the routines of Ewell, who, just as he dithers over the impending sex act ‘there’s such a thing as society you know’ [improbably anticipating Margaret Thatcher’s famous line in reverse]. He answers the door to the janitor – there is a scene in which Marilyn’s legs are iconically registered, and she is described, by the janitor, as a ‘living doll’. Of course the resolution involves Ewell’s return to his wife, after denying the ludicrous idea that he might have Marilyn Monroe in his kitchen. She’s there.

An aside for the publisher. The Ewell character is considering bringing out a book on psychoanalysis by a typically stereotyped German professor. Similarly, in The Big Sleep (dir. Howard Hawks) Humphrey Bogart investigates the death of Geiger, an antique books proprietor, or an underworld figure. In neither case is the book trade interesting enough to carry the plot. Though there is an incomparably great literary exchange with Lauren Bacall:
Bacall: ‘I thought you worked in bed like Marcel Proust’
Bogart: ‘Who’s he?
Bacall: ‘French writer, you wouldn’t know him’
Bogart: ‘Well, come into my boudoir’.

Of course the best scene between Bacall and Bogart has Bacall explaining to Bogart how to reach her: ‘you remember how to whistle Steve, don’t you? Just put your lips together and blow’. No-one can condemn Bogart for having no possible comeback to that line.
Some Like it Hot – another great film, this time with amazing scenes of the gaze, but cross dressing galore, and an ending that even today most film production houses cannot come close to.

Odd Obsession

Film Screening – all welcome (please distribute widely).

Goldsmiths College, Cinema, Tuesday 18th October. 6PM

Kon, Ichikawa’s

“Odd Obsession”

[1960 Colour, 107 Mins, Eng Subtitles.]
stars Machiko Kyo, Ganjiro Nakamura, Junko Kano, Ichiro Sugai…
“Aging… desire… jealosy… comic tragedy” – from the video blurb.

All welcome.

why film students babble on about Orson Welles

‘I still wonder why film students babble on about Orson Welles … Even the worst films of Russ Meyer are infinitely more interesting than Citizen Kane’ (Waters 2005:12)

I still believe we can learn a lot about the world as it appears to us today from an old movie from another time – Citizen Kane. The search for meaning is key in Kane, Welles tells us at the start there should be ‘no trespassing’ on the childhood drama that motivates Kane, yet the film of course does so trespass, tells us about Kane’s childhood, shows that not all can be explained by the sled.

Kane, and Welles himself probably, is fixated on childhood. So no doubt Freud should be called, but just in case he is busy we might look into that crystal ball, the snow dome, which Bazin describes: Kane ‘grasps this childish souvenir before dying, this toy that was spared during the destruction of he dolls room belonging to his wife Susan’ (Bazin 1972/191:65).


d – I’m not giving anything away here as from the start the journalists are seeking the meaning of this enigmatic last word. The journalists never find out what the audience get to know – the ‘truth’ remains undiscovered within the contrivance of the inner plot of the movie. We achieve, however, only what Kane achieves in the end in the contemplation of the snowdome – the grand overview of the complete collection with no central or final meaning. Within the contrivance of the investigative plot, the journalists amass much about Kane through interviews and records, but they do not discover Rosebud. Listing the trinkets collected by Kane or even narrating Kane’s life as a reverse sequence of scenes, would do little more than entertain. Without analysis we get little insight – iin the film the collection is on its way to destruction in the furnace. Kane dies lonely surrounded by the detritus of a decimated European culture, plundered as Europe was destroyed by self-hatred and fascism – Kane’s nostalgia a metaphor for isolationism.

Nostalgia – the sled, the snowdome, the trinket – the memory bubble the artificial world (Olaquagia). Trinketisation is one way to read Kane – the sled, marked by the haunting vibraphone music, is this inner plot of the movie an intended distraction, something to also throw the knowing viewers – as critics, after the event – off the scent? As, of course Kane himself, has missed the point. At the end the grand overview of the futility of the collection, the amazing final tracking shot into the fire in the failed fantasy jigsaw empire of xanadu, which leaves the media tycoon paralysed and immobile.

Rosebud, ultimately, is that insignificant icon of significance – the emblem of a lost past, the fantasy of another life. The immense power of Kane is shown as impotent because of this loss – indeed, ultimately ending up in a wheelchair, alone in his pleasure palace Xanadu – Kane confusedly mistakes loss of the past as the source of his errors.

There is much in the film worth noting, its innovations, authorship, controlling genius, lighting, shots, music, structure – the slow opening scene is interrupted by the crash of the racy newsreel, which some minutes later clutters to an end and is shown as the shadowy construction of journalists in a smoky room. Frames within frames. The film variously deals with New Deal cultural content, US hegemony ‘on the march’, the ‘battle between intervention and isolationism’ (Mulvey 1992:15). Isolation – the castle museum of European trinkets – in which Kane imprisons himself. Kane modelled on William Randolph Hearst, whose holiday playground in Guantanamo Bay is now a prison camp for Afghans and Saudis, funnily enough the lease for was due the same day grandaughter Patti got out of jail (Symbionese Liberation Army has faded into obscurity) and somehow the US failed to hand it back, Castro waits – it is a restricted area.

As is well known, Patti was kidnapped by, but later voluntarily participated in the activities of, the Symbionese Liberation Army. She was later to appear in John Waters’ films Serial Mom (1994), Cecil B, Demented (2000) and A Dirty Shame (2004).

Welles denied Hearst was the model for Kane, though curiously Hearst, who approvingly meets with Hitler in 1934 (as does Kane), owns newspapers and becomes a recluse (as does Kane), has a mistress (as does Kane) – and, though I will read no significance into this, Hearst’s secret name for his mistress Marion Davies’ genitalia was Rosebud (Leaning 1985:205). There is possibly reason to dispute this glorious piece of trivia: Pizzitola reports that Rosebud was the painter and family ‘friend’ Ocrin Peck’s nickname for Hearst’s mother (Pizzitola 2002:181).

There’s more to be said here… in the lecture…

The Akha heritage Foundation

“Today, I’d like to present excerpts from a
thought-provoking book by John Hutnyk, entitled ‘The
Rumour of Calcutta: tourism, charity and the poverty
of representation’. The book was already published in
1996, and some of you may remember that I mailed out a
summary at the time when tourism NGOs began to discuss
as to how to apply the ‘fair trade’ concept in
tourism. I’m now sharing this piece with you again
because I believe it is an excellent and highly
opportune contribution to the current debate on
tourism and poverty alleviation.

Yours truly,
Anita Pleumarom
Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team)”

Steve Vise

Hello My Darling Patpong Road: This is a link to video footage of part of Steev’s set at the Big Sur Experimental Music Festival, May 19, 2001. This clip shows the premiere of this performance piece. The piece was inspired by two books: Hello My Big Big Honey: Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews by Dave Walker and Richard Ehrlich, and Critique of Exotica, by John Hutnyk.