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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, October 23, 2013


At the end of THREE PROBABILITIES  I said:

Some specific examples of the different intersections of probability and sublimity seems called for. I'll be drawing on my examples from TEN DYNAMIC DEMONS, since that's one of the essays in which I invoked the now untenable, Aristotle-derived association of "the impossible and improbable."
For the time being I'll supply just one of the ten: the trope I labeled "perilous pyschos."  For this trope I chose the literary-and-cinematic figure of Norman Bates.

I considered drawing a comparison between the fictional character of Norman-- whose film I reviewed here -- and a film based on the principal real-life model for Norman, ED GEIN.  I do find GEIN to be a film bereft of the subtler types of antipathetic effect, of dread and awe: it is first and foremost a film about fear, where physical peril is the dominant threat.  Though GEIN tells the true story of the real psycho's misdeeds, it takes the form of "fictionalized reality" rather than a pure documentary. The film begins with a few quotes from persons who knew Gein or persons involved in his murders, but following this preface-like section, the film depicts all real-life events in a fictionalized manner, portraying events that a pure documentary could not legitimately represent, as with a scene where Gein traipses around his yard in his "woman-suit." Yet, even though GEIN pursues the tropes of fiction, it seems inappropriate to draw comparisons between even a fictionalized version of a real person and a completely fictional figure.

But it is appropriate to compare one version of Norman with another.  Here's the Anthony Perkins version, whom I view as "uncanny" due to the nature of his madness.

And here's another version, from the recent A&E teleseries BATES MOTEL.

MOTEL shuffles a few of the basic configurations of the original PSYCHO-- the nervous young man (still in high school here), his domineering mother, and the titular motel.  However, MOTEL shows none of the intensity of the madness depicted either by Bloch or by Hitchcock.   The ten episodes thus far aired have dealt with assorted mundane menaces-- a crooked sheriff, a white-slavery ring, a rapist-- who makes the mistake of raping Norman's mother, who retaliates by knife-murdering him-- and Norma Bates herself, who may be narcissistically devoted to her son but falls very short of the sort of dreadful madness one sees in Bloch and Hitchcock.  If the teleseries lasts long enough to develop the character of Norman-- who is depicted as nothing more than a slightly geeky, but not repulsive, young fellow who captivates some of the local girls-- BATES will certainly have him doing some of the same sort of things that the Bloch-Hitchcock character does.  But in the predominantly naturalistic atmosphere of the series, it seems unlikely that it will conjure forth any of the uncanny atmosphere utilized by either Bloch or Hitchcock.

A side-point: at the end of AFFECTIVE FREEDOM AND THE UNCANNY PT 1 I demonstrated the conditions under which a particular film-- in this case, the serial ACE DRUMMOND-- could have been naturalistic, uncanny or marvelous, depending on whether or not certain elements were present in the diegesis.  I viewed ACE as being dominated by the antipathetic affect of "awe" because I felt that this affect "trumped" those of "fear" and "dread," even though the other two were present and could have been dominant given the aforesaid alterations.  I want to add that it is feasible in some cases for the "subtler" affects to be "trumped" as well.  Hitchcock's suspense-drama SHADOW OF A DOUBT possesses a naturalistic phenomenality, for the monstrous "Merry Widow Killer" is principally a physical threat to anyone who discovers his identity, including his niece, "Young Charlie."  Yet though fear is the controlling affect, there are instances in which the film does depict moments of dread, a dread that stems from Young Charlie's anitpathy to her very relatedness to her insane relative.  This antipathy, at base a fear of psychological absorption by a threatening "Other," is not dwelled upon in SHADOW.  But roughly seventeen years later Hitchcock returned to a far more intense meditation upon that theme, thanks to his encounter with Robert Bloch's work.

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