Cat People (1942) Vs (1982) Vs Company of Wolves (1984)

The digitally remastered pool scene in the Cat People (1942) – 1.30 onwards

This is about as close we get to a transformation sequence in the 1942 version of Cat People. This is in part because Val Lewton who was in charge of the low-budget horror division at RKO would get a title, no script and $100,000 to make each film. This means banking on a strategy where more of the monster was suggested in the minds of the audiences than shown on screen.

The 1982 remake of Cat People had a bigger budget and was able to actually show the transformation sequence in full with the aid of fantastic practical effects. The remake was made with the same writer, Bodeen DeWitt, from the original 1942 film working on it and thus can arguably be said to be be faithful to the same vision they had in 1942, except with all the benefits of a bigger budget behind it.

I just wanted to point out that even though I didn’t get to mention the 1982 remake in my essay due to the page limit I was trying desperately to fit my essay into (and still failed), it exhibits many similar traits and characteristics as the transformation sequence found in The Company of Wolves (1984):

Across the two transformation sequences found here there’s a great amount of attention paid to faces, particularly in the tearing and destruction of faces. This calls to mind two things. Firstly, the Deleuzian and Guattarian concept of “the abstract machine of faciality” (168). D&G talk about the face as an abstract machine of faciality that’s made out of two parts, the white wall of signifier and the black hole of subjectivity.

To short-cut my reading and explanation I’m just going to quote from another reading I’ve been doing for another course that also mentions this (Really, NYU Spring 2016… why was your course selection so small and your offered courses so similar???):

“For Deleuze and Guattari, the face is the primary site of signification of subjectivity, the place where the organized body quickens all significations into one intensified point of textual transcribability. The face will tell us what race, gender, age and even class the rest of the body is without the need to see its entire form” – Patricia MacCormack, “Necrosexuality”

I get the impression that all this signification is only read off the “white wall” of the signifier though, and that underneath that, the “black hole” of subjectivity is an unknowable unknown within which, we might find panthers and wolves lying in wait, just waiting to  burst through.

While I felt that this concept of faciality and facialization would have been more appropriate to discuss the transformation sequences in these films, I needed a third text from the course to meet my assignment requirement so I picked Béla Balázs’ “The Face of Man” which served my purposes just fine (I think… ) and how that theory is used you can see from the main essay itself but this leads me to the the second thing I was struck by.

When trying to look at these transformation sequences through a theoretical lens, I found a multitude of similarities across some of the theories we covered in the course this semester and I honestly can’t tell if I’m more thrilled or disappointed every time I spot what I think might be an overlap.

I don’t ask this out of hubris but 1) do you guys see similarities across theories? 2) how do you feel or what comes to mind when you see these similarities?

 

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. (1987). “Year Zero: Faciality.” A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. pp. 167-191.

MacCormack, Patricia. (2008). “Necrosexuality.” Queering the Non/Human. pp. 339-362.

 

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Narrative of Unpleasure: Teresa de Lauretis Vs Laura Mulvey

Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” published in 1975 called for a a women’s cinema that spoke with “a new language of desire,” one that would bring about the destruction of visual pleasure (qtd. in de Lauretis 589).

Teresa de Lauretis in “Desire in Narrative” published in 1984, however prefers a “women’s cinema [that] must embody the working through of desire: such an objective demands the use of the entertainment film” (577). She does not advocate “the replacement or the appropriation or, even less, the emasculation of Oedipus” (590). Instead what she finds exciting about feminism in cinema is “not anti-narrative or anti-Oedipal… It is narrative and Oedipal with a vengeance, for it seeks to stress the duplicity of that scenario and the specific contradiction of the female subject in it” (590).

This is EXACTLY what one finds in ALL three films in the essay. It’s not hard to justify why The Company of Wolves (1985) with its Angela Carter rewrite of the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale turning it pornographic and in the process reclaiming it for women; and Ginger Snaps (2000) with its female head writer, Karen Walton, controlling the reigns of the narrative, repositioning the werewolf narrative as a distinctly female narrative by tying the lunar cycles to menstrual cycles are pieces of women’s cinema.

But Cat People (1942)  too, addresses de Lauretis’ call to action for women’s cinema and can be read retroactively as a feminist text. This, despite its all-male behind the scenes cast and crew, because of the way in which the female lead, Irena Dubrovna, is cast as BOTH victim and villain. The duplicity of the character highlights the contradictory roles women have been cast in.

Furthermore, all three films are highly watchable, unlike certain landmark films in feminist cinema *cough*cough*Born in Flames (1983) *cough* which I had to sit through last semester and didn’t enjoy at all…………………..

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Wolf-Ginger

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Special Effects director (the guy’s name is in the DVD extras but I wasn’t able to catch it and I don’t want to go back to the library and dig it up again for 5% of a course grade when I still have one more final paper to do in less than 7 days…), on Ginger Snaps (2001), commented multiple times on how specific director John Fawcett’s vision of the creature was – pale, sweaty and sickly looking, and hairless. He talked about how this was a nightmare for lighting a shot because no matter how dark they made the set the pale tone of the creature make-up would pick up the light and reflect it.

This actually parallels what de Lauretis says about the etymon of “monster” and how it arrests vision; the paleness of the transformed Ginger’s skin highlighted her “to-be-looked-at-ness” to borrow a term from Laura Mulvey. But instead of the looking being a choice of the viewer, there is something inherent in the creature design that demands to be looked at and forces the gaze of the viewer, thereby shifting the power balance in favor of the image/monster/object and reclaiming it for the female, made object by the Oedipal Narrative.

“I’ve Got the Curse”

Women being out of synch with their own bodies is not just some random melodramatic inflection given to Ginger and Brigitte in the manner in which they appear to dread the changes their body will undergo during puberty.

In April Miller’s 2005 essay “‘The Hair That Wasn’t There Before’: Demystifying Monstrosity and Menstruation in Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps Unleashed,” she quotes sociological studies that show that Ginger is not alone in referring to menstruation as a “curse,” in fact, about 50% of the women involved in the study refer to their menses as a “curse” thereby showing that the stigma surrounding menstruation is still alive and well.

Miller, April. 2005. “The Hair That Wasn’t There Before : Demystifying Monstrosity and Menstruation in Ginger Snaps and Ginger Snaps Unleashed.” Western Folklore, Vol. 64, No. 3. pp 281-303.