One reason that I felt compelled to write my tardy mini-obituary to Tura Satana is that lately I’d been giving more thought to a paradox involving certain types of exploitation fiction in the vein of FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL! The paradox is as follows: certain fictional works can put across the impression of being “dirty” even though one doesn’t really see the “dirt.” It’s a fair parallel to my concept of the uncanny-metaphonemenal, in which certain works can convey the sense that rational order has been violated even though it has not, at least not in the cognitive sense.
In this essay I suggested that functionally the best basis through which one could distinguish between whether a work was “clean” or “dirty”--a basis that would theoretically subsume any particular cultural standards--would be to examine how explicitly the work portrays the kinetic elements of either sex, or violence, or the two conjoined.
To recap: the violence of STAR WARS is clean because, apart from one cut-off arm, one sees very little evidence of bodies being broken or torn, while ALIEN is dirty because it is replete with dozens of scenes that violate the body’s integrity.
I didn’t give parallel examples of sex, but the same standard of explicitness applies. I should note that whether a work is clean or dirty has no bearing on how exciting its kinetic elements may be for a given audience-member. Some may well find the clean but vivid courtship-rituals of NORTH BY NORTHWEST more stimulating than the explicit dirtiness of LAST TANGO IN PARIS.
Complicating the problem even more is that even though sex and violence are cognitively separable, affectively they can flow into one another with very little encouragement. Admittedly, one can never be sure to what extent this is, for denizens of the post-industrial ages, a cultural construction spawned by the haunting spectre of Freud. But even if one concedes that Freud was right in some instances, it’s easy to see places where he overstated his case, to say nothing of All His Children, many of whom I’ve refuted on this blog, ranging from Wertham and Legman to Noah Berlatsky. The one common theme of these Freud-spawn seems to be that they do not recognize the element of “violence” as having its own integrity: it’s always an overcompensation for some sexual desire. Yet even with a film like ALIEN--where it’s clear that the filmmakers consciously sought to overlay the violent elements with sexual elements--the two remain cognitively distinguishable.
FASTER, PUSSYCAT! KILL! KILL!, however, is a even more significant blend of the two elements, even though the opening voiceover ironically insists asserts the primacy of violence:
“Ladies and Gentlemen—welcome to Violence—the Word and the Act. While violence cloaks itself in a plethora of disguises, its favorite mantle still remains—Sex!”
In a very different (but not incommensuable) context, George Bataille also asserted that sex was just violence misspelled:
"In essence, the domain of eroticism is the domain of violence, of violation"-- Bataille, EROTISM, p. 16.
I've disagreed with him as well, but Bataille was correct in seeing that the common ground shared by sex and violence is that both are a “sensuous frenzy” that violates human rationality. This quality of emotional frenzy provides the liminal psychic space where the two discrete phenomena intersect: the “Lookout Point” where the two conjoin.
However, what makes PUSSYCAT more impressive than ALIEN is that by the terms of my earlier definition, PUSSYCAT would have to be regarded as “clean.”
Reputedly director Russ Meyer had intended to film some or all actresses in the buff, but the local authorities were watching the shoot too closely, and he was forced to make do with a few discreet shower-scenes. And though the scenes of violence—Varla’s fights with two men, her attempt to slowly crush a strongman with her car’s bumper—are sensationally executed, they also avoid showing much in the way of bodily violation: of seeping blood or broken, disarranged limbs. (With both elements Meyer would become much more explicit in such later films as BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS.)
Thus it seems that even though PUSSYCAT looks as clean as STAR WARS or NORTH BY NORTHWEST, it suggests explicitness far more than the other two films, and therefore PUSSYCAT feels “dirty.” Thus, it is “affectively but not cognitively dirty,” a.k.a. “semi-dirty.”
I don’t actually plan to use this term on a regular basis, but it does serve to illustrate that intervening liminal space for possible future use. In the next essay I’ll trundle down memory lane to reminisce about some of the first films in which I experienced the quality of “semi-dirtiness.”
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