Finally, let us look to the psychoanalytically fascinating way the plot of the film is best resolved with that of the text, the events which lead to the film’s climax. The ape, which has become fixated on Dupin’s fiancée, is let loose on the L’Espanaye home by Mirakle. Camille is taken away to become the next test subject after her mother is killed and stuffed up the chimney. While the text saw both of the women, neither of whom Dupin knew personally, violently killed, the necessities of the new media set the borders for any common territory between text and film. Killing the heroine in the film would have been a crossing of those borders of a kind that wouldn’t be taken with any popular success until decades later, with Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). Further, with the elimination of the relatively-neutral sailor as the ape’s main authority figure in favor of the more determined and sadistic Mirakle, the plot has been arranged in such a way as to require a more involved resolution than Poe provides. Instead, Camille is brought back to Mirakle’s laboratory, but the scientist quickly loses control of Eric and is strangled to death, bringing one killing spree to an end while, with an amorous but enraged gorilla now on the loose, another threatens to begin. Ironically, Mirakle’s death as well as his experiments are rather in vain, as the liminality he was looking for, that space between human and animal, was quite within his grasp the whole time. If we return, once again, to the credits, we notice, further down the screen than the names of the starring actors and characters, another, strange moniker; Janos the Dark One. As full of foreboding promise as such a title is, the character is a rather standard one; Mirakle’s assistant who we first see during the carnival scene. While the carnival does not give us much time to observe Janos or determine the nature and severity of his ‘darkness’, he takes a more important role as Mirakle returns with Camille. Dupin has figured out who is behind the murders and, as a manhunt sweeps through the streets, Janos, a near mute, warns Mirakle briefly but effectively enough for the context: “Police!”. Mirakle sends Janos to secure the door, but he is no match for the gendarme, who come with rifles and shoot their way through.
Janos’ positioning in the film is puzzling in a few respects, but to understand his theoretical positioning better, we should look to the physical positioning of the character’s first appearance, that key sequence from early on in which we are also introduced to Mirakle and Eric. As Mirakle takes the stage, we are presented with a full, centered shot of the presentation space, but our view is divided into thirds by a pair of tent poles. Mirakle, the star of the show if not necessarily its big draw, is centered between these poles, in front of the map he uses to explain his concepts; his shadow overhangs the map, a detail that becomes telling for reasons we will soon ascertain. To the far left of the stage stands the ape’s cage, signifying the continuum that Eric and Mirakle represent. Standing before his diagram, a pictographic representation of his own theories on the course of man’s evolution into the present, in which the formation of language and the commensurate invention of the ‘I’ have been essential, Mirakle quite bluntly and literally stands in for humanity despite the fact of his audience’s impending repulsion with his efforts and his own indifference toward the social norms whose violations the audience reaction itself represents. Meanwhile, the cage itself seems like a sufficient barrier between the ape and the audience, the beast of the real and so many comparatively-puny members of the linguistic order, suggesting that the tent poles are not necessarily the barrier between the real and the symbolic, but that they function in some more complex manner. This is the point at which Janos’ physical position on the stage becomes meaningful; he is physically between the ape and Mirakle, suggesting the positing of his intellect as a marginal language user between the real and the fully-realized, fully-human symbolic order. The bars of the cage, the barrier between Janos and the ape, are quite solid, just as the language user becomes divided from the undifferentiated, non-linguistic real as soon as he begins to engage in the artificiality of language. But the symbolic implications of the scene are such that, while Janos is separated from the real by language, he is not entirely human, not in the way that Mirakle, Dupin, Paul, or any of the other characters who engage in conversation might be considered human. Remember Janos’ sole word in the film: police. Rather than participating in human discourse, and in doing so using the ‘I’, Janos is only capable of engaging in the most concrete, explicit of conversations. At best, his status as a language user, his grasp of the ‘I’ that definitively separates humanity from the real, is unknowable as we never actually witness him self-differentiate in any manner. The true utility of this approach is called into question,
however, when we remember that, at least by Mirakle’s own account, Eric the ape is actually capable of language. If this claim is legitimate—and there does exist evidence elsewhere in the film that contributes to this assumption, such as Eric’s romantic fixation on Camille—it would call into question the use of Mirakle’s experiments, as meaningful communication with the human ‘animal’ is no more complex than the act of translation Mirakle himself performs on the stage. At the same time, this also leads to the inevitable truth that, in being lingual, Eric is no more an authentic manifestation of the real than any other character, save perhaps Janos. Consider the driving forces, the desires, that affect Mirakle (his devotion to ‘experiment’) and Eric (his romantic pursuit of Camille): within Mirakle’s company, as well as the rest of the characters of the film, Janos is the only one who is not assigned any identifiable desire, that manifestation of the phallus that marks and is fueled by linguistic engagement. While desire is essential to the progress of full subjects of the order, those who have been commanded to mean rather than simply being, it can be a destructive and conceptually messy motivator when the relationship between the subject, his language, and his own identity as an individual are in question. On the other hand, the position of authority that the linguistic order is afforded is hard to ignore, and we could reasonably infer that Janos’ reference to authority is indicative of more than just the immediate threat, perhaps the same sort of disclaimer that someone might memorize when travelling in foreign territories (“Sorry, but I don’t speak your language”)? Might Janos, when confronted with the request to engage in discourse, only be able to name an authority, any authority, as he is not necessarily able to differentiate anyone above him from the higher authority of the linguistic structure of which he is barred from membership? This is a stretch, certainly, but an instructive one as, if there is truly some force or condition restricting Janos from full engagement with the lingual culture, it would seem that Mirakle has in his employ a citizen of that same liminal country he has been using the ape and the murdered women to try to discover.
The potential existence of this more legitimate otherly-linguistic option is not pursued, however, beyond Janos’ death at the beginning of the climax. Despite the wild potentialities of the structure they had created, the filmmakers must have understood that they would have their best chance of success by appealing to contemporary expectations at the most meaningful points, the chief of these being the ultimate resolution. Earlier, we effectively divested Eric of his position within the real, positing him instead as a language user and thus, for the purposes of this argument, human. Thus, it becomes especially hard to think of the man in the ape suit as anything but when the very juxtaposition of the two elements—ape and human—is at issue whether considering the fiction of the story or the reality of the media product. But this is what the filmmakers require of the viewer as Eric responds to his baser instincts—perhaps structurally-imbued by the spirit, the media memory, of King Kong—by carrying Camille away from Mirakle’s lair and up onto a terrain of sharply sloping roofs overlooking the Seinne. As expected, the beast and his damsel are pursued by Dupin, equipped with a gun. Dupin rescues Camille and shoots Eric, sending him plummeting into the river, back into the unifying waters of the real, back into a state of non-differentiation, by the only means possible: death.
My friends, the Poore Trekkies of the famous #AndoCon have their own Star Trek review blog! They’re watching all the episodes and films from every series in the franchise in their original release order; I’ve already requested to be a guest commentator for a few specific episodes, and they’re cool enough to let me tag along! Go check them out!
So, I have a lot of writing to do, and reviewswithb is going to make that hard; I’ve just discovered this WP and I already know I’m going to have a lot more reading to do!
Remember the Deadpool from X-Men? Well don’t, forget it, THIS is perfect. Ryan Reynolds was born to play this role! This trailer is the perfect representation of Deadpool. It is hilarious, vulgar, awesome music, and breaks the fourth wall in the perfect way. At one point he literally says about his suit, “Just don’t make it green, or animated.”! He sits on a roof and fucks around, tells a guy that he is going to shit his pants, and cuts people heads off and shoots them! Deadpool reminds me of an older Spiderman that just became more sarcastic and ass-holeish, but in the best way! T.J. Miller from Collegehumor seems to have a small role in this movie as what appears to be Deadpools best friend and they have an awesome conversation where he says stuff like “You look like Freddie Kruger fucked a topographical map of Utah.” I love…
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Cinetactics is doing some amazing work with a lot of films I hadn’t even heard of before. Remember that the point of exposing ourselves to alternative/underground/independent/foreign/dangerous films isn’t just to hear new voices, but to contribute our own voices to more conversations. Go check this WordPress series out!
The first scene opens upon a fair, presumably located on the shipyards of the Seine. While we might be able to associate this in some way with the sailor, the textual owner of the murderous beast, the carnival aspect is entirely new and separate from the text. Thus, the plot’s very first movement is one of both statement and intention. We are presented with a set of seemingly foreign characters—foreign to the plot of the short story, that is, though quite vaguely at home within the visual setting provided in the film, even if not convincingly French. This party, a group of two couples, is having a half-drunken discussion at a bar-stand along the concourse while, nearby, a barker in a turban calls out for them to come see the sights his show offers. As the quartet agrees to go inside, one comments that it’s a better fate than visiting a morgue. While the film will offer a few fair, relatively unvarnished interpretations of the text, we can see already that so much of the adaptation is constituted of nuanced levels of addition and invention. In fact, as we will come to find out, at least one of these characters is known to us, though of quite a different disposition in the text, as Dupin. Here, though, the most interesting detail is that of the mentioned morgue, serving as a reference to a setting that will, as it turns out, be of at least some importance to the reconstituted plot.
Here, though, we must fully assess the nature of the elements at work: the fabricated fair setting is situated as the occasion for a group of (at least partially) fabricated characters to have a fabricated conversation which includes reference to another fabricated setting which serves as a point in the fabricated sections of the plot. And it is only when we are so thoroughly ensconced in the material constructed for adaptation that the character who best represents the embodiment of that media difference reveals himself. After a few interesting displays along the concourse, Dupin, his fiancée (the female romantic lead, Sidney Fox, whose name was so prominently displayed in the credits) and their friends, Dupin’s roommate–an interesting character in his own right–and his young lady, enter the tent of Dr. Mirakle (rhymes with ‘spackle’). As they do so, the barker continues to urge other patrons on to see “the strangest creature your eyes will ever behold. Eric the Ape Man! The monster who walks upright and speaks a language even as you or I!… The beast with a human soul! More cunning than a man and stronger than a lion!” The patrons then proceed through an archway made between the legs of a two-story tall ape, painted onto the side of the tent. This positioning of the patrons, so many members of the linguistic order, gaining access to knowledge underneath the artistically-omitted but not truly absent genitals of that beast with whom the director clearly associated himself is a phallically provocative and quite assertive maneuver.
But, despite the clear temptation of our abilities to analyze such a detail, we must not be diverted from the richer material of the barker’s speech, which concerns speech itself. The barker gives us a preview of what will be seen—and heard and discussed—inside. Despite occurring so early in the film, the ‘carnival act’ is a central scene, at least in terms of our reading, as explores the ways in which the characters’ placements within the linguistic order, especially that of the gorilla, are skewed according to the demands of the co-opted plot. In order to adapt the print story to the new media of film, the filmmakers rely less on the grammatical structures of written communication in favor of exploiting the nuances of the spoken word and physical performance. Namely, the filmmakers chose to alter a central character—one of the few in any way native to the text—by investing him with a ‘language’ that he had not previously enjoyed, and thereby making him a ‘him’ in the first place. The issue of language itself becomes central as Mirakle disseminates the philosophies behind his work with the humanized animal. He claims to be presenting “a milestone in the development of life. … Listen to him, brothers and sisters: he’s speaking to you. Can you understand what he says, or have you forgotten? I have re-learned his language!” Mirakle moves to the ape in its cage and, as if translating, tells a tale of captivity and loneliness. Moving back to the audience, speaking again for himself, the doctor espouses the world view that inspires him; “Life was motion. Things changed into beings. … Behold, the first man! [Mirakle points back to Eric in his cage.] My life is consecrated to great experiment. I tell you I will prove your kinship with the ape!” Science has since provided ample evidence of such kinship, of course, but what Mirakle is proposing goes further than simple genetics. Instead, the implication of our shared lineage with the ape is a separateness from the real (by virtue of language) that is something less than absolute. We are threatened with a journey to the real, a quest for jouissance of a kind, that goes too far for contemporary sensibilities: if we define ourselves as human through our language, but the beast also has language, what then is our true proximity to the real, the non-lingual and therefore non-differentiated, those incapable of conceiving and taking ownership of the ‘I’? And, the even deeper horror to consider: if we are more like the ape than we are comfortable with, does it mean that our position in relation to the real is not ever-widening or even fixed, but, perhaps, contracting? Might the ape someday be an accepted part of our culture, or, further, might we find ourselves no longer accepted in the beast’s company, no longer the most ‘human’ animal in our own environment? Surely, Mirakle’s audience does not consciously take matters this far as they storm out of the tent in revulsion, but the revulsion itself is enough to show that their minds have been opened to an idea so traumatic to a sense of self within the social order that they are critically incapable of considering it.
The plot moves along from here as the viewer discovers Mirakle making good on his intentions to mix Eric’s blood with that of a human. But, for all the psychosexual imagery this proclamation might suggest, and the fact that Mirakle’s victims are all female prostitutes, the violation itself, the taking of blood samples and giving of unnamed medicines, is rather chaste. It is in light of this novel turn that the filmmakers finally provide the morgue, the ideal manifestation of difference with the text: we find that Dupin, here a young medical student, has been examining the corpses the police have discovered. Such a scene is worthy of our inspection if only for the combination of its difference from the text and its subsequent inclusion due purely to the expectations of iconography, the desire that manifests in language. In fact, the scene serves as a kind of connector, allowing the modified figure of Dupin to pursue Mirakle by accessing the evidence of the bodies the mad scientist has left in his wake in a way that echoes but in no way matches the depth of the textual deductions. Further, it is the end of this scene which brings us back to Dupin’s apartment, which, in the text, he shared with the narrator. However, as the uses of a narrator are quite different in film, the character has been divested of status, only to take on a much less influential but perhaps more psychoanalytically-telling role. As Dupin sits at his workbench, his roommate, here named Paul, cooks lunch as he complains that his fellow is not showing enough thanks for not having to worry about domestic attentions. His whining—like that of an old mother or wife—only becomes more incessant as Dupin continues to ignore him: “the macaroni’s ready and the coffee’s getting cold. … You give five francs to that old ghoul down at the morgue and I have to turn magician and pull a loaf of bread out of my nose so we can eat. … Pierre, why don’t you go down to the morgue and live there instead of making a morgue out of our home?” The role of narrator is central to the text insofar as that character, through his words, is the presenter of the tale itself; he serves as the wielder of the language that communicates the story and, as the linguistic order has been constructed by and to accommodate phallic power, so his powers of narration are rather comparable to those of Dupin’s deduction; a point that seems fundamental to a true understanding of the story. This is a functional distinction rather than a plot-based one, though. While the reader most directly accesses the story through the narrator’s words, such detail and preciseness of description is generally expected of a narrator, so that we easily overlook the character who is speaking directly to us, habitually paying greater mind to the abilities of Dupin than the vehicle by which those abilities are described. The narrator would support such a positioning of reader attention as, indeed, Dupin is also the focus of the narrator’s own attentions seemingly in all eventualities. Meanwhile, though, the cinematic divestment of narrative authority leaves the position of mere roommate—and whatever function may be served in that non-essential role—rather lacking. Assuming, for simplicity’s sake, some degree of functional agency within this character—a knowledge of his own demotion—his apparent feminization, as we have observed, actually works to his benefit, as it makes him quite a bit more conscious of the politics of power positions within a structure that has divested him of his own phallic potential. While he can exert no influence over Dupin, who has retained some of his phallic power in his medical knowledge (though much of the text character’s intuitiveness is lost, as previously noted), Paul’s understanding of his positioning means that he is on his guard for others who might jostle for what little power there is to be had within this domestic setting. In fact, fresh from his failure to get his roommate to eat, Paul deftly waves off the visiting morgue attendant who tries to beg for a portion of the meal. A small, though interesting exchange comes next, as Dupin explains to Paul what he has been working on and why he has been keeping late hours. Paul’s response: “Oh, so that’s what you were up to. I thought you were with Camille.” Though said dismissively, the acknowledgement that Paul had at least been wondering of the whereabouts of his friend and roommate, the other half of the discourse structure that had previously afforded him an important position in the tale, indicates that this is not a settled issue for this character, that he is enduring psychic tension. And, while Dupin may not yet know the identity of his own antagonist, Paul has come to ascertain a further threat to his already-diminished positioning: Dupin’s fiancée. However, the heteronormative conventions of a film plot of the time—and even, oftentimes, today—dictate that the hero and heroine must be together in the end. Accordingly, while Camille is only mentioned briefly, Paul directs his excess resentment toward the subject of Mirakle, indirectly at first as Paul pours over his notes on the murders, then more directly as the two men discuss the carnival show and Dupin indicates that he might consult with man. If Paul can no longer contribute to the transmission of the tale, he will instead serve as support of a kind, expressing the only sort of sympathetic aggravation toward Mirakle, his friend’s antagonist in the drama. Unfortunately, the dynamics of the ‘old mother’ position indicate that such empathy is inappropriate to the conventions of the film, and that this sort of character is meant to express frustration at his roommate rather than in solidarity with him. Accordingly, the scene ends as Paul shouts his roommate’s name in exasperation as Dupin reflects on Mirakle aloud, still not coming to the table for lunch.
Come back in two days for part 4 of 4.
But the relationship between film and text is not so easily rectified. On the contrary, other elements within the same frame point to the continuing problematics of such rectification, even as the title overhangs so much of the other on-screen information. The filmmakers chose to retain Poe’s full title perhaps because to do otherwise would have meant to address the difference between film and text too directly. The same problem of is evident in developing a paper such as this one; how does one self-evidently differentiate between two products with a common name? Fortunately, as the text is a short story and not a novel, we are saved here by the conventions of punctuation and style (‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’ v. Murders in the Rue Morgue). But the philosophical establishment of a dualistic identifier, whether duplicated, split, imagined, or otherwise, calls forth the situation of the ‘I’ in Freudian psychoanalysis. As the individual must rectify (or, in some unfortunate cases, fail to rectify) the sense of a differentiated self with the image of oneself, the ‘I’ that serves as referent, so the viewer is left to question the nature of the film in relation to the text. This would, at first seem like a simple question, and one whose answer has long been ideologically assumed in that textual primacy that we have already identified. And while the film will not settle the matter of its own nature, the text of the title card (‘based on the immortal classic’) does prompt the viewer to at least acknowledge that the film is, in some respect, a product of the text. But such an approach avoids addressing the possibilities of a symbiotic relationship, one in which the social influence of the film eventually affects readings of the text. Such situations are common amongst the popular of films, such as Gone With the Wind or Lawrence of Arabia, or even the recent Harry Potter franchise; each constitutes a case in which, relatively regardless of fidelity to textual plot, the visual performances serve to provide a structure for comparison with what the reader imagines—a process further cemented in instances where viewing of a film precedes a reading of the source text. It is fortunate for our examinations here, then, that neither this nor any other film version of the Poe story has ever so eclipsed the text as to precipitate such an inversion.
Elsewhere in this first title card, we again see Lugosi prominently identified. We might note the comparative size of the star’s credit to that of Poe, but it is more interesting to return to our previous line of thought regarding the signposts being shown for the benefit of those expecting some degree of similitude with the text. Here, Lugosi’s name appears beside Sidney Fox, the female lead and an actress of some popularity at the time. Thus, this indicator of divergence, though less blunt, is more subtly detailed; as there are no female characters prominent enough to warrant much more than a one or two line speaking role in a line-for-line adaptation—the widow and her daughter having been slaughtered just prior to their first appearance in the text—the familiar viewer is again left to suppose that what they are about to see is not simply divergent, but in a specific way that includes a female voice and, most probably, the already well-established film trope of a love story. And though such a progression might seem like over-analysis, the fact of the romance is borne out soon after the film opens. What we are then left with is a brief but potent chain of signifiers: actress’ name leads to presumption of prominent female role, which leads to presumption of romantic subplot. But the fact of the romance only seems to call into question that, among the stars listed in this first card, we do not see that of Leon Waycoff, the actor who portrays Dupin. If previous details have served as indicators of how the film diverges from the text, this absence might be taken as an indication of exactly where such fidelity ranks for the filmmakers, and all the more so since not only is the most prominent ‘original’ character absent from the first card, but the character does not even rate space for the fact that he is the romantic lead. In fact, when the Dupin/Waycoff credit does appear in a later title card, it is only after Lugosi and Fox’s second credits. While this could be explained sensibly as the highlighting of actors who would probably be better known and more attractive to audiences than Waycoff, it is nevertheless telling that more star power—and, most likely, more of the budget—would be invested in characters created specifically for this adaptation than in those that were imported from the source. Yet, the needs of the linguistic system must be served, and especially so by its own products; if the text was in need of amending in particular ways to make it more accessible to film audiences of the time, it is reasonable to assume that such media-friendly amendments would receive a greater degree of attention.
To move then to a final title card, a last piece of textual evidence which itself gives an indication of the more visually-symbolic nature of the entertainments in which we are about to engage. It has been common custom, from silent films through to the present era, for the director’s name to be displayed prominently and separately within the opening credits. Murders in the Rue Morgue adopts the custom, but with a striking addition. Rather than appearing before a blank or abstract background, director Robert Florey’s name hangs just below an artistic rendering of an ape—while not quite the orangutan of the story, the film is likewise ‘not quite’ the same as that of the text. Differential situation within the plot notwithstanding, though, the two animals serve the same function for a Lacanian interpretation; by being bestial, fundamentally non-human, both orangutan and ape represent the non-lingual real. In placing his own name, the linguistic identifier of his differentiation from other language-users, within the same frame as the image of the ape, Florey asserts his own phallic power, but he also, perhaps unwittingly, reveals the limitations of that power; while we would invest ourselves in the fiction of the film, ultimately the language itself must will out, both within the film and within our own frame of reference, as both are products of and subject to the language. We can go along with Florey so far in ascribing bestial characteristics to the ape, but ultimately it and everything else in this film act at the command of the director’s words, his phallic potency, represented here in the paired display of his title and name. If viewing a film—changing one’s frame of reference to adopt things that are otherwise false, even impossible—can be counted as a type of jouissance, we might then be able to view the ape as something appearing close (or closer than we) to the real. Yet, the ape is simply an actor, and that actor is being directed by Florey, himself a member of our same lingual society; in approaching that cinematic mirage we mistakenly believe to be the real, we are re-deposited, deeper than ever, in the midst of the order. What might at first be seen as an association of the most powerful single being in the story with the most singularly powerful personage on the set, what is really displayed is the inescapability of both factual and fictional from the artifice of language. And while we might have some grounds on which to assume the intentionality of other indicators, it is a hard to imagine that the filmmakers might have been so aware of their own situation as stewards of the order. Matters of likewise interest will be pursued to as we continue on to the film’s body… or, rather, two bodies… or, rather, still more bodies.
Come back in two days for part 3 of 4.
 Lugosi himself deserves some credit in this respect, as his performance in Dracula has served to shape the impressions of readers of the text ever since, even to the point that his own image, quite distinct from the character actually described by Stoker, has adorned several book covers and, quite likely, has stood in for more accurate imaginings during countless (or, rather, count-less) readings. Just for fun, compare the following to the images of Lugosi in-character as Dracula, as well as those provided in the images of the posters examined earlier: “I had now an opportunity of observing him, and found him of a very marked physiognomy…. hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth. These protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor.”
 It is, after all, rare to see a director’s name listed without any indication of his position or importance being cited simultaneously. Even if the director has his own opening credit (as he still so often does), the linguistic tag of ‘director’ is necessary to indicate the level of phallic power he wields.