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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


"The symbolic materials given to our senses, the Gestalten or fundamental perceptual forms which invite us to construe the pandemonium of sheer impression into a world of things and occasions, belong to the 'presentational order'. They furnish the elementary abstractions in terms of which ordinary sense-exerience is understood."-- Susanne Langer, PHILOSOPHY IN A NEW KEY, p. 98.

The other major facet of TROLL 2 that brought about its unlooked-for cult popularity is identical with the facet that vaulted Ed Wood to prominence in the 1980s: a lunatic disregard for the discursive mode of storytelling. What takes the place of this mode is just this "pandemonium of sheer impression," though in contrast to Langer's formulation it's a pandemonium that fails, due to authorial incompetence, to resolve itself into a presentational (or, to use Cassirer's term, "expressive") order.

Late in '08 I wrote an essay on the early Superman stories of Siegel and Shuster, titled "OCD on a Hotplate" as a way of describing how Siegel's scripts seemed to "wander without knowing what effect they're shooting for." But even Siegel's scripts are governed by more of the Aristotelian unities than TROLL 2. Rossella Drudi's script for the film clearly is trying to riff on many things at once. Two aspects already noted in TROLL PLAYING PART 1 include both vampire tropes and folklore about cannibalistic boogiemen (for which Scandinavian trolls *might* actually be better suited than Celtic goblins). I'll also speculate that given the film's heavy emphasis on the goblins forcing the beleaguered human protagonists to eat tainted food so that the humans will turn into plants, Drudi might even have been influenced by the mythic motif I'll call "eating the otherworld's food," which invariably causes mortals from Persephone on down to remain in the otherworld. All of these myth-motifs could have been arranged into some impressive presentational order, perhaps on a par with Jim Henson's 1986 film LABYRINTH.

But of course, Drudi and her director-collaborator Claudio Fragasso DON'T manage to arrange their sensational concepts into any kind of order, and what one gets is pure pandemonium. There have been many popular authors whose essential way of impressing their public involves basically throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at the audience in the hope of grabbing its attention. It's been a particularly popular strategy in the world of animated cartoons, which as I noted here are often the first contact young audiences have with presentational symbols lacking any discursive rationale. Of course, when Tex Avery bombards his characters with rapid-fire sensational events lacking any rationale beyond "telling a joke," both he and his audience know that they're participating in this kind of non-discursive form of entertainment. I view this form as identical with the sort of non-discursive order that Langer finds in the fairytale, whose "purpose is to gratify wishes."

But though TROLL 2 has sequences that were probably meant to be broadly humorous by Drudi and Fragasso, Fragasso's complaint that audiences were laughing at a lot of the other sequences indicates that neither he nor his wife could see how weirdly incongrous their rewritings of archaic myths had turned out. It may be remembered that Schopenhauer considered incongruity the basic appeal of all humor, and TROLL 2 is almost as much a montage of incongruous scenes as Wood's GLEN OR GLENDA. If cannibal vegetarian goblins don't seem incongrous enough, one encounters also:

--The kid-character pissing on a table of tainted goblin-food to prevent his beloved family from eating it--

--a spectral protector, the kid's grandpa, who in one scene can blast a goblin with lightning and in another gives the kid a mundane Molotov cocktail to throw at the boogeymen--

--the aforementioned use of a "double decker baloney sandwich" as a crucifix--

--an evil witch-goblin who can transform herself into a hot babe who then proceeds to have sex with a young dude while popping him some popcorn in a unique manner--

--and the source of the evil ones' powers, a "Stonehenge magical stone" which the heroes use to defeat the goblins, even though the creatures come back for a horrific coda looking none the worse for their defeat.

Appropo of my "kitchen sink" remark, I'd be tempted to call all this "kitchen sink surrealism" if an online search hadn't shown me that the term has already been used for a distinct artistic movement. But maybe something like "presentational incoherence" would be just as good to distinguish works like TROLL 2 or GLEN OR GLENDA from works that may be equally non-discursive but which show more authorial control, as per the examples of Tex Avery and Jerry Siegel. Certainly the makers of TROLL 2-- including the actors, costumers, etc.-- were all guilty of incoherence of some sort, be it conceptual or purely linguistic.

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